Saturday, March 28, 2009

Jil Aigrot at the Lisner

  Just got back from a concert for Jil Aigrot downtown at the GW Lisner Auditorium. What an incredible night!
  Ms. Aigrot is a very accomplished singer and actress and is most recognized for her work in the movie "La Vie En Rose," which was about 1940's French chanteuse Edith Piaf. Ms. Aigrot supplied the singing voice for the actress portraying Piaf.
  She was absolutely brilliant. That was one of the best concerts I've seen in a long time. I really fell in love with a voice tonight. Time to go download some Edith Piaf.

Friday, March 27, 2009


This came in my mailbox amongst a bunch of other junk today, and I just had to share. I guess I should be flattered, really. It's not every day that someone compliments me in such a thoughtful way. (click pic to biggify)


  “Hey buddy,” I said to the large brown horse standing only two feet outside my open window. “Can you get me a cup of coffee?” For a second, as he bobbed his head slightly, I thought he might actually do it. I reached out into the morning air to pet him, but at the last second, he pulled away and trotted off into the meadow.
It was already shaping up to be a glorious day. The deep blue sky was dramatically punctuated with a few random puffball clouds and the soft island breeze now drifting in was invigorating.
  I quickly showered and dressed, grabbed my gear and headed to the main lodge.
  I had used up my breakfast time sleeping, but I thought it was a fair tradeoff. I peeked into the dining area, nonetheless, hoping maybe they could give me something to go. I needed body fuel if I was going to be hiking all over the island all day!
  To my stomach’s delight, I found a very long table adorned with every kind of muffin, scone, cookie, fruit, bread and cereal product I could imagine. The chefs, I was told, were also taking orders for omelettes and such, but being short on time, I just scarfed up what I could carry. Let me tell you, those Islanders know how to make a giant oatmeal raisin breakfast-cookie.

  I was teamed with Charlie and the gang again, and our van ride to the eastern tip of the island took about fifteen minutes. Along the way, there was a little discussion with our guide about the reforestation of the island and how some areas seemed to be particularly flourishing. She wasn’t as talkative or personable as our previous guide, Nicolas, but she obviously knew her island.
  By the time we got to our destination at the bottom of Katiki, the second tallest mountain on the island, though, a little dissention was brewing. There was a bit of griping from some of our party about our guide’s lack of enthusiasm. Rather than address the problem in a constructive way or try to engage her, a giant bitch-fest of passive aggressive comments started flying from the back seat. Suffice it to say, I was only too happy to climb out of that van, shoulder my backpack and get headed up the side of that slope. I chalked it up to “morning grump” and put it out of my mind and ears.
  The weather this second day was dazzlingly hot. The sweatband of my hat became saturated somewhere around the fifteen minute mark, and I then realized that I hadn’t brought along any water. There had been bottles of the stuff on that breakfast table back at the lodge, but eagerness got the better of practicality.
I had carved myself a nice quiet swath of space between fellow hikers, and the only thing in my ears was the strange song of a few birds and the cooling, welcome stirring of the air.
  The angle of climb became surprisingly steep as we trekked on, but with every step, the view became even more glorious. Halfway up the hillside, I stopped among a group of thistle-type blooms and turned to look back. The black coastline stretched out far below, meeting the water in a turbulent line of white. Beyond, the crystal blue clarity of the ocean opened out to a horizon as sharp as a razor.
  After zig-zagging up a few switchbacks, we stopped for an extended break in the saddle of the mountain east of the summit. It was here that we saw one of the island’s oldest carved faces, now almost unrecognizable, in the side of a short cliff face. Had it not been pointed out, it’s doubtless we would all have missed it.
  Continuing on, the group spread further out as fatigue and heat began to slow most of them down. I found a comfortable pace third from front, but later split off and chose a route I felt was more appropriate for making the summit.
  On the way, I stopped to snap a picture of an odd sort of “mini-moai.” This round-bellied figure stood alone on the grassy hillside; no platform, no pomp. It almost looked as if it had been rendered in a completely different style from the rest. Giving in to temptation, I reached out and touched the stone, wondering whose hands had forged it into this shape, when, and for what purpose. There’s something electrifying about history staring you physically in the eyes.
  Less than ten minutes later, I had the summit of Katiki in sight. I passed a curiously red stretch of dirt and boulders, took two or three giant steps and found myself standing on the rim of the long-dormant volcano.
  I climbed on top of a large, chunky rock and took in the view. From this point, looking west, I could see both coasts of the island at once. My hoped-for 360 degree view of the island was spoiled, though, by a thick grove of trees shooting up out of the center of Katiki’s caldera. As the rest of the party began to arrive, I walked down off the rim and headed into that grove to explore.
  I was immediately swallowed by jungle and wondered if this is what the island had looked like before the first people had obliterated it of trees. It was a stark contrast to the open, rolling hills seen most everywhere else. Here there were dense, solid trees covered in deep bark mingled with lighter colored, twisty, leafy varieties that bore some resemblance to rubber trees. The forest floor was a carpet of rounded volcanic gravel matted with mulch. As I climbed along the length of a massive deadfall, I heard someone call out my name.
  Now that everyone had arrived and were taking a few minutes to relax, our guide had opened a tub of fresh pineapple slices. I’m not sure if these were grown on the island or if they were infused with some sort of bliss-inducing chemical, but I’d like to think they were the most delicious variety I had ever tasted. It was probably a combination of good mood, hunger and thirst.
  On the next leg of the hike, I found myself paired up with Goulding, and we had easy conversation. Half the fun of travelling to far away places is meeting people and hearing about their lives, whether they’re locals or fellow travelers.
On the backside of the mountain, we came across a small weather station and I made an exclamation. Taking a picture, I then explained to Goulding that I had a link to data from this very weather station on my blog. I didn’t expect to see precisely where that data had been coming from!
  The next couple of hours took us down the western slope of Katiki into a lush green valley. I swapped hiking partners several times over, and really got the chance to know some of the group better. During the last stretch, as we crossed into a ranch area, I was joined by Charlie and once again found myself thoroughly enjoying his posh-Englishness. At one point, while walking down an old, wallowed out two-track, he turned and said to his friend, as only he could, “Oh, Arthur, I’m in a rut.” You have to love that dry wit.
  Our van was waiting for us on the other side of a double corral of horses and cows. Three Rapa Nui cowboys were saddled up and preparing to ride out. One of them spotted my cowboy hat and smiled, gesturing to an empty horse nearby. “Cowboy! Cowboy! You come?” “MaƱana!” I said, and waved to them.
  We packed our gear into the van, chugged down copious amounts of bottled water and headed south toward the coast.

  Ahu Tongariki rests along the southeastern tip of Easter Island and features fifteen moai perched side by side on the largest ahu on the island. These moai were again victims of invading armies and civil strife and had lain toppled on the shore for many hundreds of years. At some point, most of the ahu had been destroyed as well, albeit due to a fierce tidal wave. It was as late as the 1990’s before the site was fully restored to the condition it which it is seen today. It also boasts the heaviest moai to be erected on the island, which weighs in at a staggering 86 tons.
  It was beautiful. The site was poised just slightly inland and had one of the most picturesque backgrounds of any of the ahu on the island. In the distance beyond, the green slopes of Katiki rolled gently down from the clouds before plunging sharply hundreds of feet into the foaming turquoise sea beside the islet of Moto Marotiri. It was very much the definition of picture-postcard perfect.
  Back at Explora, I dropped my gear off in my room and headed eagerly to the dining hall. I was famished, and I couldn’t wait to see what was on the menu.
  As soon as I arrived, I was spotted by my airport-running partner Fleur, who waved me over to join her party for a delicious lunch. These gals had gone to a different part of the island that morning, and we compared tales. Basically, they were on a flipped schedule from our group and would be climbing Katiki that afternoon. Fleur’s group had spent their morning at the quarry- the most famous site on the island- and she told me I was in for an amazing experience.
  I passed the next hour in my room with a very satisfied belly and a bit of rest. I also made sure all my batteries were charged and my photography gear was primed to go. The afternoon trip was going to take me to the very spot I had seen in National Geographic Magazine when I was a kid. That photo was the inspiration all my life to one day come here. Now, so many years later, here I was, and I was going to see it with my own eyes.

  About half an hour later, I stepped out of a van into the afternoon sun, slung my camera bag over my shoulder, and started onto a dusty trail heading north. This was the way to Rano Raraku, the stone quarry where all the island’s moai had been carved.
  At the head of the trail, one of the toppled stone giants lay unceremoniously on its face. It was one of many to come. The desire to see these monoliths righted once again into some form of dignity was understandably strong. There was no way to tell exactly how this particular moai came to rest this way, but the fact that it had come so far only to be disregarded was truly tragic.
  The trail continued on across the plains, passing along an enormous rock wall that seemed to go on for miles. Except for this and a few other feats of stone, the terrain was mostly unremarkable. It was only when we were within site of Rano Rarauku’s slopes that things got interesting.
  Because I had stopped to shoot portions of the wall, I fell behind the group, which was making good time over easy ground. Dropping down into a small valley, my view was suddenly cluttered by a thick grove of scrub trees. I was surprised to suddenly come across Goulding’s wife, Elizabeth, who didn’t seem to know where she was going or how she had fallen behind. I led us onward, up the other side of the valley and back out into the open, where we shortly caught up with the others. They had stopped next to a pair of fallen moai to take pictures.
  As I stood and listened to our guide Elena explain about the “fingers” carved into the sides of the statues, I abruptly noticed details in the hillside beyond. Just below the enormous dark cliffs of the mountain, the slopes were dotted everywhere with little black rectangles. Moai. Hundreds of them.
  As we continued, and I drew anxiously closer to the steep sides of Rano Raraku, I was able to make out dozens of large right-angled holes in the cliff face. The sheer scale of the scene was astonishing and I became a little impatient with how long it was taking the group to get there.
  This feeling was further exacerbated when we stopped at a small “rest area” on the trailhead out to the moai. Everybody wanted water, wanted to ease their feet, wanted to use the restroom. I was the only one who didn’t sit, choosing instead to pace back and forth like a caged animal. I ate some of the pineapple slices that were passed around, but I didn’t taste them.
  After about ten minutes going on ten years, we headed out on the curving, gently rising trail. I vaguely remember someone talking to me at certain points, but mostly I remember the sun, the clouds, the breeze, and the enormous, open view. I distinctly remember the energy in the air and the abruptness of the first group of moai, half buried in the dusty earth.
  They were there, solid and defiant in their features. Some sat with their shoulders exposed. Others were only half-heads; eyes peeking out above the grassline. Some reclined lazily, gazing skyward. They were dark, dramatic stone, common to each other and born of common artistry.
  It struck me almost immediately that these expressionless monoliths were, in fact, amazingly expressive. Each one, though rendered in similar style, had a unique feel to it- a vibe, if you will; almost as if you could sense what it might be thinking. It was easy to see the amount of genuine belief the early Rapa Nui people had imbued in these vessels. I was beginning to understand how they felt about the moai. It was a mass of will, determination, strength and most of all, faith that enabled these people to carve these massive figures and then drag them for miles across the island to stand watch over them.
  I shot photo after photo, desperately trying to capture the feel of the place, but accepting that I would ultimately fail. Some experiences just can’t be captured digitally, nor can they adequately be expressed in words.
  Among the swarms of moai, so very fortunate for the students of history, were some of these works in their incomplete form. At least three different carvings were left attached to the mountainside, never loosed from the surrounding rock. One was little more than a rough outline of the standard moai shape, but two others were nearly complete, laying in wait only for their backs to be chiseled free.
  Over the course of the next forty-five minutes, we rounded the side of the mountain, switched back onto a secondary trail, and headed back to the eastern slope. Charlie’s sweet wife had taken a bad tumble on one of the paths and headed back to the van with her husband and a couple other members of our party. I joined a much smaller group on another trail that would take us directly to the top of Rano Raraku.
  The hike was short and relatively steep, and we were rewarded with a beautiful crater lake at the top. After a few minutes enjoying the peace of the view, we turned to head back down and I experienced one of those great photographic tragedies I always dread.
  Low and indistinguishable at first, there came a rumbling. Just after I determined it wasn’t thunder, I looked up to the crater rim high above me and saw a herd of about thirty or forty horses running together. Their tails were bounding, their manes flowing as their powerful hooves pounded into the earth. The sunlight was behind them and caught their dust, lighting it with gorgeous golden tones. I grabbed for my camera, thumbed the switch and raised the viewfinder to my eye just in time to see them push over the ridge out of sight.
  I let out a disappointed breath and lowered my lens. The rest of the group was already halfway down the mountain. I was the only one who had witnessed that glorious scene. I smiled, took a mental picture and started down.

  That night, I strolled from my room showered and refreshed, and made for the dining hall. The clean evening air and my hunger were both fighting for my attention, so I settled for taking the long route.
  I passed through the large open doors of the lodge and found the room alive with people. Looking around, I saw Charlie and his group, Fleur and her family and friends, and a couple of new groups I didn’t recognize. I moved to a small two person table and sat down.
  Immediately, a hostess brought a basket of bread and I asked her for “Agua sin gas, por favor.” Before I could even open my menu, I caught a waving hand out of the corner of my eye. Across the room to my left, Ruby and Benita were smiling and signaling me to come over. I motioned to the hostess that I was moving tables and joined them.
   “We’ve been waving at you since you came in,” Ruby said. “Yeah, you got three good looking ladies over here waving at you and you don’t even notice?” Benita added. “I’m like that,” I said, and smiled across the table at an unfamiliar face. “Christine,” she said, and offered her hand. “Hi, I’m Brian,” I replied, and took it.
  A long and lovely evening followed with fantastic conversation about everything under the stars. We enjoyed a spectacular meal, good wine, and a lot of laughs. At one point, it almost seemed like a group interview, with the ladies barraging me with question after question. “You cook, too?!?” It became a little absurd.
  Ruby told me that I was the talk of the island all day; that mothers wanted to set me up with their daughters and single gals wanted to know my story. I had no idea I had become so popular, and I just laughed it off as talk. Apparently, they don’t get a lot of young, single men on these trips. Christine and her husband, as it turned out, live fairly close to me in the DC area. I learned that she works at a hospital with a lot of single “cutie” nurses she wanted to set me up with. I smiled and said, “Well, I do likes me some cuties.” This comment got huge laughs and became the phrase of the evening.
  As the night began to wind down and the hall emptied out, Charlie came over from his table, stepped up with no introduction, and dryly said, “You ladies really should keep better company.” They all cracked up at his unexpected chop-busting. Barely containing a wicked grin, he winked at me and made his exit.
  I filled the ladies in on Charlie’s story and how he had become one of my favorite people in the group. I then entertained them with an impression of Charlie’s English-accented “Oh, Arthur, I’m in a rut,” line from earlier in the day, which caused more hysterical laughter.
  I noticed then that Charlie was still making his way out of the room with his wife and their party and was wise to my impersonation. He returned to the table, talked with us goodnaturedly for a few minutes and then headed out once more.
   “Goodnight,” I called after him. “Goodnight, m’boy,” he returned, and waved over his shoulder. Just an all around class act. I loved him.
  At around 1:00 am, I dove for my bed and was asleep before I landed.

NEXT TIME, Day 3: Scuba diving and the island on horseback

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Week

  Yep, with a capital W. I'm having a bit of dinner right now and taking some "me time" to write this here blog. This week has really ramped up. It's like normal week x10. Which, for me, is some crazy number I don't even understand. Here's the rundown:

  1. MRI results showed some wearing on a nerve sheath in my lower back, which is what caused that crazy paralyzing back problem. I don't need surgery at all, and it'll heal itself. Doc put me on a corticosteriod for a few days to help that along. I was advised to take it easy. I think it would have been much funnier if he had said "Take it sleazy."
  2. I also scheduled a septoplasty for May. This means they're going to crack my nose open and fix my deviated septum. This will help me breathe better at night and maybe not suffocate so much. That's what I get for breaking my nose. As an added bonus, it will also help with my singing.
  3. Segue! The voice lessons are going incredibly well. Ms. Winter suggested this week that we expand our time from 45 minutes a week to an hour. I was more than willing to take that suggestion. We worked a lot on rythym this week, which is difficult and often has hilarious results.
  4. Classes at the studio are fantastic. I'm learning a whole lot about the core parts of performance and movement. I had to do another three minute pantomime this week, this time as Revolutionary War Naval hero John Paul Jones. The assignment was to pick a statue from around town and do a pantomime based off that. I chose him and the performance went very well. I've gone first on the past two assignments, which seems to be a terrifying prospect to some. I don't understand how you can want to be an actor but be afraid to be the first one to go up and perform? Weak! Thanks to the steroids, I even did a crazy balls-out dive across the room to the floor. In your face, England!
  5. In addition to the insanity of work this week, and a lot of extra hours crammed in here and there, by the time it's all done, I'll have read four plays, completed my music bookwork, practiced playing, practiced singing, rehearsed for two classes, made arrangements for three different trips, visited four doctors, hopefully worked on my blog and pictures/video of Easter Island, and made time for the glorious viewing of a new episode of LOST.

  Oh, and a rock busted my windshield.

  Hectic as this all is, somehow, I feel pretty balanced and I'm mostly enjoying life. Back to work now.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


  After working a half day on January 23rd, I dashed home and packed for my trip to Easter Island with only two hours to spare until my flight out of DC. I bulged out the sides of my worn blue suitcase with an array of photography and dive gear, chucked it into the back of my Jeep and roared off. The first leg of the trip was two-and-a-half hours of clockwork, and the pilot set us down in Miami like he was landing in a field of cotton candy.
  Things suddenly took a different turn, though, when I discovered that my flight from Miami to Santiago, Chile had been cancelled. All the legs of this trip were so tightly scheduled that a ripple of this magnitude could endanger the entire thing.
  Between the LAN gate attendant’s broken English and my admittedly rusty Spanish, we worked it out and got me onto another flight that would put me in Chile only an hour later than originally planned. After a raucous trip through the international security gates, complete with barking dogs, I had three hours to wait in the freezing terminal and then I was on my way.
  The nearly nine-hour flight wasn’t altogether unpleasant, save for a few long minutes of violent turbulence in the middle of the night. The plane was clean and well outfitted, the food was decent, and I got to practice my Spanish a little more with a painfully cute Chilean flight attendant.
  As the sun came up and we began our descent into Santiago, I strained to see out the window, but the view was completely hindered by clouds and fog. Finally, as we made our way under 1,000 feet, the sky cleared and gave way to the beautiful lush Chilean countryside. In the distance, jagged peaks thrust up from the landscape, and I began thinking about my long-delayed trip to climb Aconcagua. Even in this small glimpse, I got a sense for how beautiful this country was, and it made me all the more determined to return someday to explore it further.
  The Santiago de Chile airport was, to put it succinctly, a mess. An overly-long terminal walk finally dumped me into the waiting lines of the immigration checkpoints, where I paid the surprising sum of $130 for an entry visa.
  In the line next to me, three women were in a bit of a panic over possibly missing their next flight and were asking the visa agent about their departure to Easter Island. “I’m on that flight, too,” I said to them, and we decided to join forces.
  After a quick jaunt through the passport station, we made our way to the baggage claim, where we had to re-check our bags for this final flight. Thankfully, my bag came off immediately, as did the bag of one of my new friends, Fleur. She suggested that the group split up and maybe she and I could hold the plane, since it was due to taxi in just a few minutes.
  We had a bit of a problem initially convincing the security personnel that we could still make the flight, but they ultimately conceded and took our bags. From there, it was a mad dash across the deceptively large airport, aided in part by a helpful gate agent. Fleur had a little trouble keeping up, and I looked over my shoulder every once in a while to make sure she was still with me. After demanding a tip, the gate agent told me to run to gate twenty, with emphasis on the “run.” Fleur had fallen hopelessly behind at this point, and I decided I had better just beat feet and get to the plane. A quick check of my watch revealed that the official departure time for the flight had come.
  Moments later, I had gate twenty in sight just on the other side of a pair of glass doors. To my instant horror, I found the doors locked. I pulled on both of them again, hoping they were just stuck, but it was no use. I pounded my fist on the glass to try to get the attention of anybody nearby, but I was sharply ignored. As I turned to run back through the entire terminal to find another way to the gate, I heard my name called over the intercom. It was a final boarding announcement. I cursed under my breath and had just started to break into a run when I noticed that the announcement was being delivered from gate twenty-one. Tip-grabber had told me the wrong gate number. I whipped out my boarding card and stepped up to the jetway entrance just as Fleur came into view over my right shoulder. I waved to her and then we boarded the plane together, sweaty and out of breath. “Are your friends going to make it?” I asked.
  Miraculously, as I plopped down in my seat, my question was answered when I saw the remaining two ladies huff into the cabin. We had all made it.
  Knowing that these flights to Easter Island from Chile only happen once a day or less is an important part to understanding the urgency of the story.

  As I settled in for another five hours of flying, my excitement levels began to build. I was going to step off this aircraft onto Easter Island. Isla de Pascua is its official Chilean designation, but the locals call it Rapa Nui. Such a mysterious place. Such history and culture. I could only imagine what was in store.
  In between tiny naps and reading a book I had brought along about the island, I made new friends with my seatmates Ruby and Benita. It was an instant love affair with these two that happily carried over into the rest of the trip.
  Because of the anticipation, this flight seemed at times like it was going to drag on forever. Then, suddenly, we were descending. From the center row of the plane, it was difficult to see out any windows. When the pilot pitched over to make his approach, though, we were treated with a magnificent view of the green of Easter Island stuck like an emerald in the middle of the vast blue ocean. Cameras snapped and excited voices bantered throughout the cabin.
  Minutes later, we touched down on the tiny island and rolled to a stop on the tarmac. The requisite stairs were brought out, and in my haste to deplane, I forgot my brand new book in the seatback pocket.
  Then came the moment I had been waiting for. I stepped out of the cabin and took my first breath of air.
  One of the things I always notice when I travel somewhere new is the smell. Every place has a very distinct aroma. I flashed back to a similar moment in 2006 when I stepped off the plane in Tanzania, Africa. I remembered how the air smelled like campfire smoke and how it really hit me that I was actually in Africa. Here, the air was fresh, moist, full of life, and best of all, warm. I shouldered my camera bag, made my way down the stairs and put my feet on Easter Island.

  The tiny Rapa Nui airport was oppressively hot, noisy, and jammed with a mix of tourists and islanders alike. I was very relieved when I finally got my hands on my bag and stepped back outside into the breeze.
  After I found the Explora driver, he checked my name off his list and a gorgeous Rapa Nui girl draped a vibrant lei of yellow flowers over my head. “Welcome,” she said, and flashed a dazzling white smile.
  They loaded my luggage into a nearby van and I waited while they collected more passengers. The first to join me? Ruby and Benita! Turns out they were staying at the Explora Lodge as well.
  As soon as the van was full, we headed out for a quick drive-through of Hanga Roa.
  The entire body of Easter Island is only fifteen kilometers from tip to tail, so the tour of the island’s only town was understandably short. We saw cobblestone streets, tin roofed houses, lush green landscapes and a beach of jagged black volcanic rock. Thundering against the dark boulders was the most beautiful turquoise surf I’ve ever seen. I wanted to stop right then and there and just watch the waves crash, but we pressed on to the lodge.

  Minutes later, we arrived at Explora, the only real “hotel” on the island. Most all the other places to stay are residences in Hanga Roa converted into bed-and-breakfasts. The Explora Lodge, construction of which was finished only last fall, has thirty cabin-like rooms, lies roughly in the middle of the island and overlooks the southern coast.
  The room was an impressive blend of rustic island feel and modern amenity that included a jetted tub! Next to the very comfortable and certainly inviting bed was an enormous picture window overlooking a vast green meadow and the South Pacific ocean.
  Shrugging off my twenty-hours of flying fatigue, I changed, washed up a bit and had a quick snack at the lodge’s bar before I joined a group heading out for an afternoon excursion. I didn’t want to waste any of this short trip sitting around.
  As we drove across the island to our first stop, afternoon rains danced over us several times, as they would the rest of the day, but never stayed long enough to become a problem. The moisture, if anything, only served to enhance the colors and textures of the landscape.
  Ahu Akivi was our first stop and gave us our initial up-close look at some of Rapa Nui’s Moai. The seven giant stone statues, it was explained, were sitting atop altars called ahu, and were restored to their former glory in 1960 after laying toppled for nearly a century. These particular moai are among only a small number that face the ocean and are said to represent the “seven explorers” that found the island. They were constructed of various types of volcanic stone, including basalt, and featured eyes of white coral with obsidian pupils.
  Most of the eyes of the moai have been destroyed by erosion since they were first carved between 1250 and 1500 CE, but a few of them near Hanga Roa have been restored in recent times.
  Next, we travelled to Ana Kakenga on the western coast. We hiked a moderate distance across the rolling, treeless countryside, passing the stone foundations of ancient houses long since obliterated. Our guide, Nicolas, gave us a pretty thorough history lesson and also showed us a restored example of a chicken coop, again built of stones. The craftsmanship of the Rapa Nui people was impressive, most of all in the intricate nature of their masonry. Though they lacked modern tools, every block in every structure was a solid fit with no gaps.
  As we continued down the slope toward the ocean, I was struck by how vivid everything was. The grass was so green it was almost glowing. The dirt was the silkiest chocolate brown, the ocean and sky were almost match-perfect electric blue, and the volcanic rock was the deepest, richest black. Languishing on these hills were herd after herd of horses, grazing wherever they pleased with no fences in sight. I was told that though the island was bustling with these stallions, they were, for the most part, allowed to roam free because every rancher knew which belonged to them.
  Shortly, the grass gave way to a sheer cliff that plunged hundreds of feet to the heaving ocean below. There’s something quite mesmerizing about the sight of giant waves crashing into rocks. That hypnosis, and my endless shooting of photos, caused me to constantly lag behind the main group, but I didn’t care. There was no way to lose them out here, and I was going to take all the time I wanted.
  At the end of the trail, I caught up to the group as Nicolas discussed the islanders’ use of caves. There were two fairly large openings in the rock face nearby, but they weren’t readily accessible. Another burrowed into the ground near to where our vans had come to retrieve us. Most of the group ducked into the cave to check it out, with only a couple of claustrophobics staying behind.
  As my eyes adjusted, I was surprised to find quite a large underground room with a ceiling high enough nearly to accommodate standing upright. Nicolas shined his flashlight down a side passage and told us there were many such caves around the island. Some had been used for storage and others as hiding places during battle.
  “Does this come out somewhere?” I asked. Nicolas nodded, “Yeah, that way, not too far.” I asked if we could go through and he said yes, but to watch my head.
  As we moved along inside the ever shrinking room, I kept one hand on the ceiling at all times. Soon, I could see sunlight spilling through the small opening ahead. I eventually had to take my pack off and scuffle through on my hands and knees. It wasn’t the giant cave adventure I had hoped for, I thought, as I emerged onto the hillside, but it was still fun. I had the mud stains to prove it.
  Our last stop of the day was Ahu Tahai on the northern end of Hanga Roa. This site had several moai and was located right on the beautiful shore. As I walked from one ahu to the other, snapping pics, I could see several islanders on their boards in the waves beyond. It was a beautiful afternoon, and the rains had seemingly moved along. Now, all that was left was the sun, some really good surfing conditions and a striking full rainbow.
  Glasses of champagne were passed around as the sun began to set on our first day, and we were all smiles.
  By the time we were headed back to the lodge, I had come to know the members of my party fairly well. Charlie, the defacto leader of his group, was an older gentleman from South Africa who spoke with a droll English accent that reminded me so much of Thurston Howell from “Gilligan’s Island.” He was accompanied by his lovely wife, a man named Goulding and his wife, and their friend Arthur.

  Back at Explora, Charlie and Arthur and I sat down in the lounge, and I had my first taste of “Pisco Sour”- a drink I would soon come to realize was both deliciously addicting and devastatingly high in alcohol content. Two empty cocktail glasses later, I was feeling pretty fine. We shot the breeze for a good long while, and then saw by our watches that it was time to wash up and prepare for dinner. Charlie asked me if I would “care to dine” with his group that evening. I accepted and then staggered back to my room.
  After my first full shower in two days, I was refreshed and more than ready for a healthy meal.
  Everyone else was seated when I arrived, and the spread was surprisingly formal. As I sat down, still slightly buzzed, the wait staff attended to me and the group engaged me in lively conversation. For some reason, I started thinking about the scene in “Titanic” where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character pretends to be a gentleman and dresses up to attend a dinner with the ship’s aristocracy. These folks were nothing like those snobs of film legend, though, and we had a wonderful evening.
  The dinner was exquisite, and we were all thoroughly spoiled by the chef. The four course meal consisted of not-unusual fare; soups, salads, pastas, sinful deserts. What made it so unique was the combination of ingredients, the presentation, and the sheer quality of it all. A very good Pinot Noir rounded things out nicely. I can think of few meals that compare.
  I didn’t turn in that night until around 12:30 a.m. I wasn’t feeling the effects of time-zone displacement, since Easter Island is on Atlantic Time, but my total accumulated sleep for the previous three days was roughly five hours. That, plus all the hiking, the drinks, the full belly and a deep sense of peace put me out almost immediately.
  When I roused from my coma the next morning and opened my curtains, I came face to long face with a four legged peeping tom.

NEXT TIME, Day 2: mountain hike and the moai quarry

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cross section

  Check out my insides! I had forty-five minutes in the MRI chamber tonight, and it was a pretty interesting experience. Thankfully, I'm not claustrophobic. I can see why people with those issues might freak right the hell out inside that thing. If you've never done it- imagine being locked inside a metal coffin barely big enough to accomodate your body while one of those variety car alarms goes off in your ear for the better part of an hour. It may sound hellish, but I actually found it quite relaxing. I tuned out the noise after about thirty seconds and just closed my eyes and let my mind wander. Some might find it funny that the only thing that can get me to slow down is to throw me in an MRI chamber. I should suffer major injury more often!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Total WIN.

Not only did I take the long way to class tonight (just to teach my back a lesson about who's really boss), I incorporated my injury into tonight's performance and earned major kudos for not bailing out. I had some very fine moments up there, and I continue to be thrilled with the way school is going.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Back on my feet again

  Boy, did my weekend turn out differently than I was expecting.
  It was supposed to be warm weather, photoshoot on the National Mall, lots of rehearsal and working on the Easter Island stuff. Instead, it was pain, an ambulance ride and physical incapacitation.
  Saturday morning, I had just finished running and I was preparing some breakfast. Suddenly, it felt like somebody hit me in the lower back with a baseball bat. I literally cried out and dropped to my knees. I can’t recall a time I’ve ever felt a more intense and paralyzing pain.
  Shortly, I ended up in the fetal position on the kitchen floor, unable to straighten out or move. My phone was on the kitchen counter, only about three feet away, but it seemed like miles. Every attempt to sit up or move brought stabbing pain. Over several minutes, with tiny movements, I made my way to the counter and was able to reach up and get the phone. I dialed 911 and silently thanked God that my phone hadn’t been upstairs.
  For the next few minutes, I lay on the floor answering the 911 operator’s questions. During the course of the conversation, I remembered that my door was locked. They were going to have to bust it in. I told her I would try to make it to the door and get it unlocked, but it was going to be difficult. I was right.
  It took several minutes, and the operator was patient while I yelled in her ear every couple of feet. She told me a couple of times to just stop and let them break in, but I was determined (and a little stubborn). Just as the fire truck pulled onto my street, I was able to reach up and twist the lock open.
  So, long story short, the paramedics came in, slid me onto a stretcher and carried me out. I still couldn’t straighten out or lie on my back. Outside, they transferred me to a cart and slid me into the back of the truck. Luckily none of my neighbors were outside, so I was able to at least maintain some dignity.
  I’m pretty sure the fire truck hit every pothole in the city on its way to the hospital. I was sweating and breathing a little hard by the time we got there from enduring the painful jostling.
  I was transferred to a bed in one of the ER rooms, where I spent most of the day. The doctor came in and did a few tests and diagnosed me with a strain/sprain injury to the lumbar region. It’s still a mystery to us all how it happened. They gave me some pain pills and discharged me later in the afternoon. I still wasn’t able to stand up fully and could barely walk, but they ushered me out anyway. They told me there was a phone where I could call a cab, since nobody was coming to pick me up. I laughed out loud when she pointed down a very long corridor to the exit. Just getting from the bed to my feet had been a major endeavor.
  Like a stooped and broken old man, I hunched and shuffled my way very slowly down the corridor, past a roomful of staring patients. Bye bye, dignity. I then crossed a waiting room with more stares and called the cab. He arrived a few minutes later and took me home.
  The next problem I faced was having to drive to the pharmacy to get the muscle relaxers and Vicodin the doctor had prescribed. Thankfully, my Jeep is an automatic, which made things a little easier. The drive through window was an added bonus.
  So, the remainder of Saturday and much of Sunday was spent in bed, all tranqued up. I couldn’t take the Vicodin, because it contains the only thing in the world I’m allergic to, it turns out. I made significant progress yesterday and was finally able to stand upright by the middle of the afternoon.
  Today, I’m back at work, using this time to take care of things I can do at my desk. I’m walking with only a small amount of pain. I’m a quick healer, and I think I’ll be over all this completely in a couple of days. I think I’ll have to be, really, because I’m going to walk five blocks to class tomorrow night and deal with a lot of Metro staircases.
  Word of advice if this ever happens to you: avoid sneezing at all costs.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Micro blogging

So, I'm giving this Twitter thing a go. You'll notice in the sidebar there is now a thing called "SwashTwitter." I'm not stuck on the name, but Twitbuckle sounded too much like something I'd call somebody in traffic. I can now send little mini updates to the page when it's something I don't deem big enough for a real post- a thought, a quote or some kind of update sent on the go from my phone. Could be fun.

The snow doesn't give a soft white damn whom it touches

  D.C. has been gripped by a terrorist snow attack, and we've all be released as a result. Call off operations, people. Bullets and bombs are okay, but we just can't risk it with the snow.
  On the plus side, now I can squeeze in some extra rehearsal time and maybe even work on that pesky Easter Island blog and the photos!