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Wasabi Farming in Japan

Visited the largest publicly viewable wasabi farm in Japan, located a short train ride north of Matsumoto in the central area of the country.

Fresh mountain water flows over every plant root in this elaborate wasabi farm

The wasabi plant occurs naturally in rivers in Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, and New Zealand. Wasabi grows in wet areas, and attempting to recreate its environment can be very difficult—some experts consider it the most difficult plant to grow commercially.

To ensure that every root gets a fair share of the flowing water careful grading of the growing areas is required.

Real wasabi, until grated from the root, isn’t spicy. When grated in a circular motion, a paste is formed and hot vapors are released, and traditional Japanese restaurants will grate fresh wasabi to order. Wasabi loses its pungency after a mere fifteen to twenty minutes, so it needs to be served immediately after it’s turned into a paste.

The “wasabi” consumed in restaurants around the world is almost always an imposter: a green dyed blend of horseradish powder and mustard, two similar roots that are far cheaper. A pound of wasabi can sell for up to $100.

Actual wasabi is smoother tasting than the horseradish-mustard medley we commonly consume and instead of creating a sensation in the tongue and mouth, real wasabi impacts the nasal passages more.

Wasabi is extremely delicate and must be grown in a place that is cool with plenty of pure, clean flowing water. As wasabi is vulnerable to high temperatures and direct sunlight, a cover of trees or black cloth is employed to provide shade.

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Welsh saints and an eel.

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Storm Callum makes Llanddwyn island inaccessible

Dwynwen’s Tale – Llanddwyn, “The church of St. Dwynwen” is located on Llanddwyn Island off the coast of Anglesey, itself an island, in North Wales. She is the patron saint of lovers and lived during the 5th century AD, one of 24 daughters of St. Brychan, a Welsh prince. She fell in love with a young man named Maelon, but rejected his advances, and depending upon which story you believe, was either because she wished to remain chaste and become a nun or because her father wished her to marry another.

In any event she prayed to be released from the unhappy love and dreamed that she was given a potion to do this. However, the potion turned Maelon to ice and so she prayed that she be granted three wishes: 1) that Maelon be revived, 2) that all true lovers find happiness, and 3) that she should never again wish to be married. She then retreated to the solitude of Llanddwyn Island to follow the life of a hermit. Dwynwen became known as the patron saint of lovers and pilgrimages were made to her holy well on the island.

It was said that the faithfulness of a lover could be divined through the movements of some eels that lived in the well. This was done by the woman first scattering breadcrumbs on the surface, then laying her handkerchief on the surface. If the eel disturbed it then her lover would be faithful. Visitors would leave offerings at her shrine, and so popular was this place of pilgrimage that it became the richest in the area during Tudor times. This funded a substantial chapel that was built in the 16th century on the site of Dwynwen’s original chapel. The ruins of this can still be seen today.

Llanddwyn Island is situated near the southern entrance to the Menai Strait and became important in the shipping of slate. A beacon was built at the tip of the island to provide guidance to ships and another more effective lighthouse was built nearby in 1845. The older lighthouse has now returned to service after a modern light was placed on top

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Llanddwyn is not quite an island and remains attached to the mainland at all but the highest tides. I was there at the peak of storm Callum at high tide so access was impossible and there was only a fleeting glimpse of the remains of St. Dwynwen’s chapel.

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Remote beach near Llanddwyn

Added a few images below of the same location on a Summer’s day –

Saint Tanwg – A vague story but a few interesting location.

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Around 1 hour drive from Llanddwyn is Llandanwg, the “church of Tanwg”. Nestled in the sand dunes, the current small church is medieval, probably dating from the 13th century, although the presence of an inscribed stone which has been dated to the 5th century suggests the church was already in existence when Tanwg and his brothers arrived in the area early in the 6th century. This Llandanwg Stone is inscribed with two names, one being Ingenui; the other is indecipherable. Interestingly, the stone is not local and is believed to have come from the Wicklow Hills in Ireland and it is a reasonable conjecture that Ingenuus may have been the founder of the church in the late fifth century, and that St. Tanwg lived here a generation or two later.

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Another stone, called the Equester Stone, is of 6th century date. It is inscribed Equestrinomine, an unusual form of wording otherwise known only from 4th century inscriptions in Italy and Gaul. The church still holds occasional services.20181014untitled115303

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The Yorkshire Dales – Malham

Spent a lovely weekend in the Yorkshire Dales meeting up with old friends. We all stayed at an inn in the village of Malham. Gorgeous countryside and great company. During an early morning walk to Malham cove we came across a group of runners starting a 50 mile run through the Dales. For the more energetic, a 100 mile option was available. We chose the 5 mile stroll option.

Additional images from in and around Malham, including the reunion group;

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Nikko Grand Procession

The Grand Procession at Nikko is held to reproduce a stately parade held in 1617 which  enshrined the spirit of the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who had died the previous year.

Nikko Grand Procession 2018

The portable shrines play a prominent role as Shinto followers believe that they serve as the vehicle to transport a deity while moving between a main shrine and temporary shrine during a festival.

And they are heavy!

Other images from the procession………

Monkeys were believed to be sacred messengers between gods and humans and therefore good relationships with monkeys were essential. To reflect this old belief, young boys dressed as monkeys wonder within the procession and receive money thrown to them by the crowd.

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Yabusame in Nikko

As part of the grand spring festival in Nikko horseback archery, or yabusame, is performed. A yabusame archer gallops down a prepared track at high speed. The archer mainly controls his horse with his knees, as he needs both hands to draw and shoot his bow. As he approaches a target, he brings his bow up and draws the arrow past his ear before letting the arrow fly with a deep shout of In-Yo-In-Yo (darkness and light). The arrow is blunt and round-shaped in order to make a louder sound when it strikes the board.

If the board is struck, it will splinter with a confetti-like material and fall to the ground. To hit all of the three targets is considered an admirable accomplishment. Yabusame targets and their placement are designed to ritually replicate the optimum target for a lethal blow on an opponent wearing full traditional samurai armor which left the space just beneath the helmet visor bare.

Blessing honored guests at the shrine.Blessing the most honored guests – mostly old men in dark suits.

Shower of rain at the shrine main gate.

The most honored guests shoes have to be properly aligned during the ceremony.

Souvenir seller.

Checking the images of the day.

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Kuala Lumpur and Thaipusam

The Hindu festival of Thaipusam is about faith, endurance and penance. In Malaysia it’s dynamic and colorful, and at the Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur attracts around one and a half million people each year.

Thaipusam is a time for Hindus of all castes and cultures to say thank you and show their appreciation to one of their Gods, Lord Murugan, a son of Shiva.

It was first celebrated at the Batu Caves in 1888. Since then it’s become an important expression of cultural and religious identity to Malaysians of Tamil Indian origin, and it’s now the largest and most significant Hindu public display in the country.

Attaching limes to the body by what can best be described as large fish hooks.

Groups of musicians and drummers add to the carnival feel, and pilgrims follow in procession.

But despite the atmosphere of celebration this is a deeply reverential event for the pilgrims. Some carry pots of milk or “paal kudam” on their heads as a show of devotion and love to the god.

Others carry elaborate frameworks on their shoulders called “kavadis”, which have long chains hanging down with hooks at the end which are pushed into their backs.

Many of these pilgrims are pierced with two skewers; one through the tongue, and one through the cheeks.

The piercings signify;

  • that the pilgrim has temporarily renounced the gift of speech so that he or she may concentrate more fully upon the deity.
  • that the devotee has passed wholly under the protection of the deity who will not allow him/her to shed blood or suffer pain.
  • the transience of the physical body in contrast with the enduring power of truth

The devotees who go to these extremes say they don’t feel any pain because they are in a spiritual and devotional trance which brings them closer to Lord Murugan. The trance can be induced by chanting, drumming and incense.

Many men get their head shaved at the site of the ceremony.
A huge quantity of trash is created by the large numbers of people, and mostly it is just what one would expect. But who knows what this might be and why is it so colorful?

 

 

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To Christchurch

We spent 8 plus hours driving north from Te Anau to Christchurch but most of the day flew by quickly as the scenery for almost the whole of the drive was spectacular. Drove through several passes and saw Mt Cook in the distance. Weather was great the whole way.

Lindis Pass, New Zealand South Island.
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Mount Cook

Wasn’t sure what to expect arriving in Christchurch but the damage from the 2011 earthquake is still very extensive and will take a long time to repair.

Christchurch cathedral awaits reconstruction, 2018
Earthquake damaged complex presumably awaiting demolition.

The art gallery was damaged in the 2011 earthquake, but was reopened in 2015, and is a fine focal point for the city and its future. A few examples of the works are below.

Queenstown art gallery.
Antony Gormley sculpture outside the Christchurch art gallery. The figure is seemingly disgusted by the traffic cone thrown in the river.
19th century portrait of Maori dignitary by C F Goldie.
“Friday Night and Fraser has the Flu” by Jaqueline Fahey. Christchurch Art Museum. All the Fahey pictures have distinctive perspectives and relationships between people and objects.

Enjoyed walking this charming city in the summer sunshine, and finished at some of the events of the 25th anniversary of The World Buskers Festival.

Punting on the Avon, Christchurch.
Christchurch Botanical Gardens.
25th Annual World Buskers Festival.
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Te Anau via Kingston.

Te Anau was our “base camp” for a drive to Milford Sound. On the way we stopped at Kingston, at the southern tip of lake Wakatipu. Kingston town was once a major transport link between the Wakatipu district’s gold fields and the shipping ports of Dunedin and Invercargill. The train was the main transportation, coming to be known as the Kingston Flyer, which transported passengers, freight, and, most importantly, mail, most of which was picked up by ship for onward journey to Queenstown etc.

But the opening of the Kingston to Queenstown road in the late 1930’s saw the need for rail vastly reduced. Since the 1970’s various attempts have been made, with some successes, to maintain a portion of the railroad as a tourist attraction, but in recent years the rolling stock and other hardware has suffered considerable decay and is no longer functional.

But Kingston is nothing if not pretty, and the quaint library is an example of the nature of this relaxed community.

Library at Kingston, south sland New Zealand.

 

By the lake at Te Anau is a bird sanctuary, which is remarkable for having a small number of long thought to be extinct Takahe flightless birds. The first recorded European encounter with takahe was in 1849, when a gang of sealers found, captured, and ate one, declaring it to be delicious. Occasionally dead examples were seen and their bodies displayed. On August 7, 1898, on the shore of Te Anau’s Middle Fiord, a dog caught another takahe. This specimen was eventually displayed in the Otago Museum, and was one of four displayed throughout the world. For 50 years it was thought to be the last one.

But Invercargill doctor and amateur naturalist Geoffrey Orbell was not convinced. In November 1948, after detailed studies of potential habitats, he mounted an expedition to the remote Murchison Mountains in Fiordland and was able to film the existence of the bird. The news of what he found there stirred up the ornithological world and made headlines across the globe.

A rare Takahe bird in a sanctuary at Te Anau, New Zealand.

 

Lake Te Anau – great sunset;

 

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New Zealand West Coast and Franz Josef Glacier

Although the focal points of the west cost of New Zealand might be considered to be the glaciers the coastline itself is dramatic and fascinating. For the glaciers, the first European description of one of them was made in the log of the ship Mary Louisa in 1859. The glacier was later named after Emperor Franz Josef by a German explorer in 1865.

Setting sun on Franz Joesef glacier.
The reflecting pool  at Franz Josef glacier.

The Franz Josef Glacier is currently 12 km long and terminates 19 km from the ocean. It exhibits a cyclic pattern of advance and retreat, driven by differences between the volume of meltwater at the foot of the glacier and volume of snowfall feeding the top.

What was once a hike to the face is now finishes aroind 700 meters away from the face because of safety issues. Its not really a hike, more a casual walk and the number of tourists is very high.

Hiking to the glacier.

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Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand

The Abel Tasman Coast Track is a 60 kilometers long walking track within the Abel Tasman National Park on the north west of New Zealand’s south island. It is well sheltered and with mild weather in all seasons is accessible and open throughout the year. So for us it was an easy start, especially as its easy to do short sections.

We chose a short section between Torrent Bay and Bark Bay which incorporates some steep paths, beautiful views over the two bays and a crossing of the Falls River by a swing bridge. It was simple to setup, a boat trip from a nearby town and a scheduled pick up by the same boat from the beach at Bark Bay a few hours later.

Walking on a beach section, got a bit too close to the nest of this seabird.
So backed off to avoid a pecked head.

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Perfect weather, great location, beautiful views, and an easy hike – all accomplished without mishap.

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Lake Rotoiti, New Zealand, and some eel experiences.

Lake Rotoiti is in the South Island of New Zealand. It is a substantial mountain lake surrounded by beech forest and is 82 metres deep. We stayed at Saint Arnaud, a small community at the northern end of the lake.

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Lake Rotoiti, New Zealand

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Lake Rotoiti is famous for this now standard view from this jetty.

The first European to see the lake was John Sylvanus Cotterell on 18 January 1843. Other Europeans reached the lake in November 1843, and named it Lake Arthur, but the Maori name remained.

We took a boat and short hike to Whiskey Falls which are named after an illicit still found there in the 1880’s and they are an impressive 40 metres high.

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Boat trip to the falls.
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Whisky Falls, Lake Rotoiti, New Zealand.

The lake is famous for New Zealand’s very own freshwater monster, the longfin eel. Scientists believe that the New Zealand longfins are quite possibly the largest eels in the world. Males reach about 75 cm in length before they head off to spawn. In contrast, the females tend to live and grow much longer; the bigger a female grows, the more eggs she will produce. No one knows exactly how old they get, but by counting the tree-like rings on the otolith—small, calcified bones in the ear—scientists have found that the eels of Lake Rotoiti live to well over 100 years.

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For catching their prey, they rely on smell, with sizable “horns” on their upper lip which support a large nasal cavity that extends to the roof of the mouth. Their sense of smell is much greater than even that of the great white shark and any small quantity of blood in the water will soon lead to a large congregation. There are many stories and one or two genuine anecdotes of humans being attacked by groups of eels.

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The longfin’s feeding mechanisms resemble that of another top predator, the crocodile. Like their reptilian counterparts, eels are classic ambush predators, concealing themselves and lunging at hapless victims as they pass.

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The adults eventually leave their home and travel thousands of miles into the Pacific Ocean to spawn. The baby longfin’s journey back to New Zealand waters is possibly more incredible. Eels start out life as tiny, toothed larvae, which form part of the plankton. After seven to nine months in the open ocean, they arrive on New Zealand’s coast between July and December. Under the cover of night, they gather and ride the spring tides in to shore. Once in fresh water, they develop into darkly-pigmented juvenile eels, or elvers, which congregate in summer and begin a mass migration far upstream. It is believed it takes from 2 to 5 years of traveling before they reach their destination for the next several decades.

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New Zealand – Cape Foulwind

Cape Foulwind is a promontory on the west coast of New Zealand southern island. It was previously named Rocky Cape by Abel Tasman, the first European to visit it, in 1642. The present name was bestowed by English explorer James Cook in 1770

after his ship Endeavour was blown a long way offshore from this point.

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Cape Foulwind seal colony. several New Zealand brown seals can be seen on the more protected rocks.

 

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Sydney Sights

The iconic images of Sydney are hard to overcome, so some are shared here along with some less iconic, and some wildlife images. The Australian water dragon was fun to watch.

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Marcus, Iwan’s friend from college took us on a great harbour trip, with his boys.

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Evening races in Sydney harbour.

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Australian water dragon on the beach path.

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Australian water dragons have long powerful limbs and claws for climbing, a long muscular tail for swimming, and prominent crests at the base of the head. These spikes continue down the spine, getting smaller as they reach the base of the tail.

Including their tails, which comprise about two-thirds of their total length, adult males can grow to over 3 feet long and weigh around 3 lb. They live on fruit, insects and small mammals throughout most of Eastern Australia.

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Beach near manley.

 

Various other local friends, most but not all living in the Sydney zoo.

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Friendly guy on the walking path.

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Wild flowers close to the city at the botanic gardens.

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The original Harbour View Hotel stood in the way of the bridge construction. It was rebuilt close to the bridge and was in place and open before the old one was demolished, so no loss of business.

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Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur Heritage

The Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad building was opened in 1897 as the administrative headquarters of the Federated Malay States. Perhaps because the bulk of the population was Muslim the building was designed with an Islamic-styled design.

The Federated Malay States consisted of four protected states in the Malay Peninsula—Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang—established by the British government in 1895, which eventually evolved into Malaysia in 1963.

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Joget is a traditional Malay dance that originated in Malacca. It was influenced by the Portuguese dance of Branyo which is believed to have been spread to Malacca during the spice trade. The dance is one of the most popular folk dances in Indonesia & Malaysia and normally performed by couples in cultural festivals, weddings and other social functions.

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And finally;

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Relaxing after dinner in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur.