January 12, 2016 – Viggo In The Snow As It Blankets Riverdale

Previous Post: Viggo Checks Out Toronto’s First Real Winter Snow – Dec. 2014

I knew Viggo and I  were in for a great morning walk even before the laptop was shut and the  reading light went off for the night.  The weather radar showed bands of blue – that’s snow – coming from Wisconsin and Michigan. The weather man was predicting traffic chaos as southern Ontario dealt with a massive first wallop of snow! Ten centimetres – whoa!  And I’m thinking – “Bring it on!” (They tend to exaggerate these “snow events”  but I guess it’s their moment in the spot light.)

Jan. 12 lake effect snow

the blue indicates snowfall areas

You see, my dog Viggo is the worst bicycle chaser ever.  It means that during most of the year we can’t go down into the Don Valley – our favourite walk –  because of the heavily used bike path.  On occasion Viggo has taken after bikes as they come whipping through and, understandably, not everyone is thrilled to have a herding dog yipping and yapping and nipping at their legs. So – we usually don’t go down there.  But – put down a layer of snow and then there are no bikes (well, real hardcore cyclists and joggers excepted)!

the backyard at dawn - Viggo doin' his business

the backyard at dawn – Viggo doin’ his “business”

The backyard certainly looked good when I opened the patio door for Viggo at about 7:30. The dusting of snow – nowhere near the predicted ten centimetres – looked promising. It would make cyclists think twice about the Don Valley Bike Trail.

morning snow coming down

morning snow coming down

It looked to be an overcast kind of day with subdued light but by the time our critters – the two Abyssinian cats Maya and Bodhi  and Viggo, our Icelandic Sheepdog – had been fed and I had injected my essential two cups of coffee, it had stopped snowing.  The just-below-freezing temperature was pretty mild at -3ºC.  Viggo and I were ready for our walk.

our snow-covered street

Viggo poses for a shot as we walk up the street

Viggo poses for a shot as we walk up the street

Up our street we headed for Broadview Avenue and then the walk down the slopes to the Riverdale Footbridge which crosses the Don Valley and the Expressway.  When we got to Broadview I had Viggo jump up into my arms so I could carry him across the road. The city road crew had dumped a ton of salt on the road and by now it was a slushy mess and not something Viggo’s paws needed to be walking in.

a view of the city from Broadview Avenue

a view of the city from Broadview Avenue

panorama of downtown Toronto from the slopes by Broadview

panorama of downtown Toronto from the slopes by Broadview – click on to enlarge!

As we headed for the bridge and the steps half way across it that take you down to the riverside path, we stayed on the clean snow and away from the snow-free road and its stew of slush and water.

bare road thanks to a dumping of salt

bare road thanks to a dumping of salt

As we walked over the bridge we got a great view of another of Toronto’s excellent tobogganing hills.  The area you see is also an off-leash dog area but given Viggo’s chase drive he ends up chasing the sleds as they come bombing down the hill – so no Riverdale Park West on snow days.  The hill is empty in this pic only because it is a week day and the kids are at school.

Riverdale Park West and the great tobagganing hill

Riverdale Park West and the great tobogganing hill

On the east side of the Don River is the Expressway, a major traffic route into the downtown core. That is the Don River – straightened and managed and otherwise abused over the past hundred years by urban developers – running straight down the middle with the green Riverdale Footbridge crossing it.  The multi-use path is on the right.

down on the riverside trail - the Don Valley

down on the riverside trail – the Don Valley

And here is Viggo as we left the path and made our way to the river, breaking a fresh trail since no one had been there yet on this morning.

Viggo above the Don river banks

Viggo above the Don river banks

And as we approached one of my favourite views – a bend in the river where you look south and forget for a moment that you are one hundred meters from a major expressway smack dab in the middle of a city of four million.  I like T.O. – but I love that feeling!

a bend in the Don River

a bend in the Don River

Viggo, of course, is trying to recall exactly where that fish carcass that he rolled around in last October was located.  (Hint: it was about three feet in front of your nose, buddy!)  He stank so bad – from a human point of view – that he got an unplanned shower that morning when we returned home.

The spot - version #29

The spot – version #29

On the plus side, the sun was actually breaking through the cloud cover on occasion, creating some appreciated drama in the landscape. Viggo had his own ideas about creating drama. He has focussing his view on the ducks not far off-shore.

Viggo looking for some drama of his own on the Don River

Viggo looking for some drama of his own on the Don River

ducks in flight on the Don River

ducks in flight on the Don River

Viggo spots another duck needing herding

Viggo spots another duck needing herding

Back to the main path we headed, but not before passing through one of the prime camping areas along the stretch of the Don River south of the Bloor Street Viaduct.

winter campers on the banks of the Don

winter campers on the banks of the Don

As we walked by I went up to the tent door and asked if everybody was doing okay. I got one and then another  weak “yah” from whoever was inside. In the back of my mind when I approach tents in the valley in the winter is the horrible thought that – thanks to the effects of drugs or alcohol the night before – they didn’t make it through the night.

the main trail heading south

the main trail heading south

Viggo with a titch of snow on his nose

Viggo with a bit  of snow on his nose

We were heading down the main trail on our way back home when we came close to the river again. Who should be there but the two ducks that Viggo wanted to get closer to!

Viggo spots his duck buddies on the river

Viggo spots his duck buddies on the river

sun on the river

sun on the river

For the next few minutes it looked like a sunny day might actually break out.  The sun lit up the river in the shot above – and in the shot below it looks like it might actually break through the cloud cover!

heading south to the Riverdale Footbridge

heading south to the Riverdale Footbridge

Three bridges over the Don - the Riverdale Footbridge, Gerrard, and Dundas

Three bridges over the Don – the Riverdale Footbridge, Gerrard, and Dundas

Viggo heading for the bottom of the steps out of the valley

Viggo heading for the bottom of the steps out of the valley

On the Riverdale Footbridge I looked west to the hill. there were still no sleds on the hill but a half-dozen dog owners were there with their dogs.

Riverdale West hill an hour later

Riverdale West hill an hour later

sunlight over the Don Valley

sunlight over the Don Valley

Don Valley looking north - and different light conditions

Don Valley looking north – and different light conditions

As we made our way back up to Broadview Avenue, we met a number of dogs, all of whom required Viggo’s attention!

Viggo on a fact-finding mission

Viggo on a fact-finding mission

a tete a tete a tete at Riverdale Park East

a “tête-à-tête-à-tête” at Riverdale Park East

looking at the other great snow sliding hill - Broadview Avenue

looking at the other great snow sliding hill – Broadview Avenue

As we came up to the top of the hill Joey saw us and came charging.  He associates Viggo – or whoever is walking Viggo! –  with the possibility of treats. Such enthusiasm!

Joey bombing down the hill to meet us

Joey bombing down the hill to meet us

Joey zeroing in for the treat!

Joey zeroing in for the treat!

After a carry across the street we walked by the Rooster Café. I like to check out the bon mot for the day.  A Homer Simpson quote, a line from T.S. Eliot, a Schopenhauer zinger – it is always a surprise.  Given the response to David Bowie’s death, I was expecting a line from one of his songs.  Not on this day – it was Saint Augustine’s turn on the board!

Broadview Avenue and the slush and salt

Broadview Avenue and the slush and salt

The Rooster Coffee House - the bon mot for the day

The Rooster Coffee House – checking out the saying for the day

The Rooster patio and snow-covered chairs

The Rooster patio and snow-covered chairs

Viggo standing in solidarity with the two dogs as they wait for their owner to emerge!

Viggo standing in solidarity with the 2 dogs as they attempt to stare  their owners out of the café!

Update!  it is the next day and that David Bowie quote? Well, it  was indeed on the sidewalk placard! I should have taken a photo and stuck it right here!

I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.

 

back to our street - looking a bit messier than an hour before

back to our street – looking a bit messier than an hour before – the salt is working

snow and cedar catch my eye

snow and cedar catch my eye

Almost home, we passed by Cosmo’s house and Viggo went up to the porch to say “hi”.

Viggo and his buddy Cosmo pose for a shot

Viggo and his buddy Cosmo pose for a shot

And just we got to our house, who should pull up but John of Fit Dogs, a dog walking service (the very best of its kind).  Viggo’s part of a pack of dogs who get to romp on a fenced-in farm property north of Ajax on a weekly basis.  Here he is unsure whether to focus on me crouching in front of him or on John tugging him to the vehicle!

Viggo giving John a hard time

Viggo giving John a hard time

John and Viggo – and the other seven dogs – gone, I took a few minutes to deal with the two centimeters of snow covering our front walkway and the sidewalk in front of our property – all 17’4″ of it!

And there is my neighbour with a cup of coffee in her hand, heading for her waiting dog Shaemus in the car. They were off on their own walk in a different stretch of the valley trails.

snow shovelling job done

snow shovelling job done

We had spent an hour and a quarter on our walk. John had him for another three.  When Viggo came home at 3 p.m. he was ready to play!  Well, food first – but it didn’t take him long to pick up the ball he associates with our fetching game.  Finally at four  it was nap time for the Veegster. We would finish the day with another 45-minute walk at nine.

Tomorrow morning we get to do it all again – hopefully down in the valley along the banks of the Don. I better check the weather forecast – you just know I’m hoping for more snow!

Bolivian Travels: Walking Through The Ruins of Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna

Previous Post: From Copacabana To Isla del Sol

The night before we had walked up to the mirador – the scenic lookout on the island’s highest point. We then made our way back down to the Ecolodge La Estancia for dinner and a restful evening. The next morning we first headed for the village of Yumani. Our guide Javier had arranged for a restaurant there to prepare that day’s lunch-in-a-bag for us. I noticed a few lodges and cheaper hotels – and a lot of places offering pizza! –  in the village. You don’t have to stay at the Ecolodge if you’re on a tight budget.

The map below shows the path – the ruta sagrada – that we walked to the north end of the island. The cool of the morning – it was about 8:30 when we started  -and the entire island being vehicle-free, it made for a wonderful walk on a very well maintained path. It is about nine kilometers end-to-end.

[ Do note that the map below is turned 90º  to fit a landscape image format. The island actually angles from southeast at the Yumani end to northwest on the Chincana/Titi Khar’ka end.]

isla de sol map with sites

Isla de Sol map  – note that north is on the right and east is on bottom

A Two-Day Exploration of  Isla del Sol:  One Way to do it…

As mentioned, Yumani has a number of restaurants and accommodation options for those planning on spending a night on the island.  One possible plan would be to take the 8:30 a.m. boat from Copacabana to Yumani, find a room and drop off your baggage, and then spend the day walking to the sites at other end of the island and then walking back via Challapampa before dark to Yumani. (See map above for the route.)  If the thought of walking all the way back is too much, a boat ride from Challapampa back to Yumani is possible. The reception desk at your hotel/hostal would be able to help you plan it.

Early the next day you could walk up to the mirador (scenic lookout) at the island’s highpoint for the sunrise and then spend a few hours visiting some sites on the south end of the island before catching a boat back to Copacabana in the afternoon.

Yumani village road on Isla del Sol

Yumani village road on Isla del Sol

As we left Yumani we came to the toll gate where villagers from Challa charge $2. U.S. for passage.  The pix below show the scene as our guide took care of the details. This included writing each of our names and country of origin down in a registry!

Communidad of Challa toll gate on Isla del Sol

Comunidad of Challa toll gate on Isla del Sol

What looks like a pretty humble site is actually infused with a couple of millennia of history – if you know the story.   The archaeologist Charles Stanish’s Lake Titicaca: Legend, Myth and Science provides an insightful guide to the history of the entire region .  Of this spot, named Apachinacapata, he writes –

Apachinacapata has a long cultural history, going back at least 2000 years before the Inca. There is also a substantial Inca occupation on the site. This large site was a major point in the Inca-period pilgrimage.   It is the only site where the two roads intersect, is on the boundary between the communities of Yumani and Challa today, and is a major crossing area. It is precisely for these reasons that the islanders have established a ticket booth here, a custom that definitely goes back to the Inca period. (page 173)

 

trekking roup waits while guide pays the toll

our trekking group waits while guide pays the toll

El guía Javier records the names of the trekking group members at Challa toll on Isla del Sol

El guía Javier records the names of the trekking group members at Challa toll on Isla del Sol

Isla del Sol's pequeña Comunidad de Challa

Isla del Sol’s pequeña Comunidad de Challa

Leaving the ticket booth at Apachinacapata, we continued our way north to the major Inca sites. Looking east, I saw the Cordillera Real about seventy kilometres away and thought – “Tomorrow morning our trek will be starting at the foot of that peak on the left!”

looking east from above Challa on Isla del Sol to the Cordillera Real

looking east from above Challa on Isla del Sol to the Cordillera Real

The Illampu Massif from isla del Sol's pilgrims' trail

The Illampu Massif from Isla del Sol’s pilgrims’ trail

a section of the Pilgrims' Trail across Isla del Sol

a section of the pilgrims’ trail on Isla del Sol

another view from Isla del Sol's Pilgrims Trail

another view from Isla del Sol’s Pilgrims Trail –

The current edition of the Lonely Planet guide-book notes this –

The island’s most spectacular ruins complex, the Chincana ruins, lies near the island’s northern tip. Its main feature is the Palacio del Inca , a maze of stone walls and tiny doorways, also known as El Laberinto (the Labyrinth) or by its Aymará name, Inkanakan Utapa.

(Lonely Planet’s Bolivia)

Like a visit to the remains of other ancient sites – Machu Picchu or Mycenae or Sigiriya – the visitor needs to supply some constructive imagination for it to come “alive”.

a panorama of the Chincana ruins

a panorama of the Chicano ruins – enlarge in a new window with a click or two

In the case of Chincana, we have the ruins of a roofless building.  All that is left are the stone walls of a labyrinth-like set of rooms – some much smaller than others – and passage ways. Even without the roof it was occasionally difficult to see the way forward and once or twice I had to backtrack from a dead-end passageway.  It must have been fun finding one’s way around when the roof blocked off all the sunlight!

Isla del Sol Chincana doorways connecting three rooms

Isla del Sol Chincana doorways connecting three rooms

Chincana narrow passageway to room of left

Chincana narrow passageway to room of left

looking north over the Chincana ruins

looking north over the Chincana ruins

looking south over the Chincana ruins

looking south over the Chincana ruins

north end of Isla del Sol Lake titicaca chincana ruins and beach

panorama – north end of Isla del Sol Lake Titicaca – Chincana ruins and beach

Below the ruins of the Chincana is a beautiful beach.  On the day we were there three  backpackers had their tent up and they were walking along the beach or sunbathing – maybe not the greatest idea given the UV levels at 4000 meters! The beach, the water, the whole scene was breathtaking.

isla del Sol beach - a little slice of paradise

Isla del Sol beach – a little slice of paradise

Lake titicaca - Isla del Sol beach and campers

Lago Titicaca – Isla del Sol beach and campers

From the Chincana we looped back to the area of the Titi Khar’ka. I will admit that I was actually disappointed since the reality of the sloping sandstone rock face was not quite as dramatic as I had imagined.  There it is – a small bump –  in the middle of the image below. It is behind the remnants of a stone wall.

Also, given that a major temple complex once stood here, I was expecting to see some evidence of that.  Other than the so-called Ceremonial Table on the plaza area cross from the Rock, there was nothing. Where did it go? Did the Spanish really haul away all the stone blocks for their own projects?

approaching The Sacred Rock - Titi Khar’ka (The Rock of the Puma)

approaching Titi Khar’ka (The Rock of the Puma) – aka The Sacred Rock  (La Roca Sagrada)

And here The Sacred Rock  is from a different angle.  Titi Khar’ka means Rock of the Puma; it gets its name from its shape as pictured below.  If you can see a puma you are on the right track! This is a situation where it really helps to be told what you are seeing. Someone else might imagine a giant sleeping on his side!

looking at Titi Khar'ka from the south end

looking at Titi Khar’ka from the south end – a crouching puma?

In the pic above you can also see two cavities near the east end, one on top of the other. They are the birth place of the sun and the moon in Inca myth are part of what made the site so holy to them. In fact, next to the Coricancha in Cusco this site was one of the most powerful huacas (sacred spaces) in the entire Inca mythic worldview.

close-up of some of the Chincana rock face

close-up of some of the Chincana rock face

I left the rest of my group wander ahead while I worked a bit at different angles of the Titi Khar’ka. I would catch to them on the path that leads to Challapampa. We would catch a boat there which would take us for the quick visit to Isla de la Luna, another important huaca in the Inca world.

a view of the lake side of Titi Khar'ka from further south

a view of the lake side of Titi Khar’ka from further east on the path to Challapampa

panorama of Titi Khar'ka - the Rock of the Puma - on Isla del Sol

panorama of Titi Khar’ka – the Rock of the Puma – on Isla del Sol

Isla del Sol - from the path to Challapampa - Titi Khar'ka and the Mesa (Table)

Isla del Sol – from the path to Challapampa – Titi Khar’ka and the Mesa (Table)

The walk from the Sacred Rock to Challapampa and the boat was 2.3 kilometers.  It was just after noon and there was absolutely no shade anywhere as we walked in the full sun and heat of the day. The path and the elevation profile are illustrated in the Google Earth satellite map below –

from Titi Khar'ka to Challapmapa Trail

 

heading south east on the path to Challapampa on Isla del Sol

heading south-east on the path to Challapampa on Isla del Sol

looking down on a farm property in a Lake Titicaca bay near Challapampa

looking down on a farm property in a Lake Titicaca bay near Challapampa

an old wooden boat on the beach at Challapampa

an old wooden boat on the beach at Challapampa

what the locals of Challapampa are floating these days

what the locals of Challapampa are floating these days

Our next objective was the much smaller Isla de la Luna about 12 kilometres to the south-east.  It has one small Inca-era site which may -or may not – be worth the time and cost to get there, depending on how obsessed your are about things Inca.

leaving Challapampa by boat for Isla de la Luna

leaving Challapampa by boat for Isla de la Luna (aka Koati)

approaching Isla de la Luna's reddish northwestern tip

approaching Isla de la Luna’s reddish northwestern tip

The first thing you notice is the red colour of the island’s tip. It reminded me of the red colour of hematite used by Algonquian peoples in Canada’s Canadian Shield region to paint mythic images on countless vertical rock faces at water’s edge.

the tip of the Island of the Moon in Lake Titicaca

the tip of the Island of the Moon in Lake Titicaca

The map below shows the 12 kilometre boat ride from Challapampa to the north side of the island. There is a small community on the south side but we did not visit.

Lake Titicaca - Isla del Sol, de la Luna, and Yampupata

The image below shows the area we approached with our boat. The visitor centre and entrance to the site sit just above the dock.  A short steep walk up a series of steps leads you to the site itself – a natural amphitheatre – with its ruins of a stone temple and a supposed nunnery.  Some reconstruction makes it easier to picture how it may have looked.

dock and entrance to the Isla de la Luna Inca site

dock and entrance to the Isla de la Luna Inca site

At the top of the plateau before we entered the amphitheatre, we passed by the following wall.  It turns out that what we think of as amazing Inca stonework is actually the handiwork of those from this area.  The builders were the descendants of those who created Tiwanaku, a city state so fabled in the Lake Titicaca area that the Inca themselves incorporated it into their story.

stonework at Isla de la Luna

stonework at Isla de la Luna

The fact that the Spaniards used this island and Isla del Sol as sources for the stones they needed to build the cathedral in Copacabana mean that much has been destroyed. This island’s use as a penal colony in the early 20th century also  resulted in damage or outright destruction to more the original buildings.

a panorama of the Isla de la Luna site

a panorama of the Isla de la Luna site – enlarge with a click

Various names are used for the site Among other names,  I found it referred to as the Temple of the Virgins of the Sun, as Acllahuasi, and as Iñak Uyu.

 

Isla de la Luna - one side of the amphitheatre

Isla de la Luna – one side of the amphitheatre

What you will see is a fairly humble site. For many people the half-day dedicated to the visit must be a disappointment; for some, keen to experience  every little bit of Inca myth, it could be worth it.  Combining the visit to the site with a walk along the ridge and perhaps a stay in the village on the other side overnight might create added value.  You would have to make sure about boat connections since the island is not serviced regularly.  In my mind, spending more time on the nearby Isla del Sol instead would be a better use of your time and  allow you to ramble around there a bit more.

a reconstructed portion of the site at Isla de la Luna

a reconstructed portion of the site at Isla de la Luna

stone and mortar - and a bit of adobe - work at Isla de la Luna site

stone and mortar – and a bit of adobe – work at Isla de la Luna site

one the three sides of the Isla de la Luna site

one the three sides of the Isla de la Luna site

another side of the amphittheater structures

another side of the amphittheater structures

Isla de la Luna - entrance to small chamber

Isla de la Luna – entrance to small chamber

Thanks to fellow trekker Tony Coulson for the remaining shots in this post. For some reason I put away my camera at this point of the day!  After our brief visit to the site – perhaps an hour in all – it was back to the boat and the ride to Yampupata where our mini-bus was waiting to take us to Huatajata and our hotel room for the night.

from Isla del Sol to Huatajata to Sorata

from Isla del Sol to Huatajata to Sorata

Along the way we had to go back over the Strait of Tequina.  It was just before 6:00 p.m. when we pulled in to the hotel parking lot – Huatajata’s finest. Reception staff took our dinner orders while we checked in and an hour later we were in the dining room.

barge crossing the Strait of Tiquina with a Tour bus

barge crossing the Strait of Tiquina with a Tour bus

the front of our hotel in Huatajata

the front of our hotel in Huatajata

view of Hotel Inca Utama in Huatajata

view of Hotel Inca Utama in Huatajata

Huatajata - our cooks and driver wait to get going

Huatajata – our cooks and driver wait to get going

The next morning we would begin our trek with a last ride up to the start point. In the image above, our cooks for the trip Lucretia and her daughter Patricia are readying their food boxes and gear on the truck which will take them to the first of the trek’s campsites located just above the village of Llojena and accessible by dirt road.  A few days later, as the roads disappeared, a switch to donkeys and llamas would be made. The trek begins in the next post –  Cordillera Real Trek Day 1: South of Sorata to Alto Llojena

Useful Links:

Stanish Titicaca

The Lonely Planet guide-book to Bolivia has an excellent chapter on the Lake Titicaca area, as does the Rough Guide to Bolivia.

However,  Of all the books I read before the trip, Charles Stanish’s Lake Titicaca: legend, Myth and Science provided the most informative and scholarly exploration of the Inca and pre-Inca civilizations which flourished around the Lake Titicaca. Stanish has spent over twenty years doing archaeological work in the area and the depth and range of his knowledge make for a great read.

If there is one overall idea that the book left me with it is this – the  credit we give to the short-lived Inca empire often belongs to  civilizations of the Titicaca region like that of Tiwanaku which preceded theirs. The allure of anything Inca is so strong, however, that any trail becomes an Inca Trail and ruins are always Inca ruins – it is marketing gone mad and leaves travellers unaware of the true – and more complicated – story.

Next Post: Cordillera Real Trek Day 1: South of Sorata to Alto Llojena

City Lights: My Toronto in Mid-December

Toronto City Hall Square December 2015

eaton center reindeer

Note! My Toronto is only a small slice of that deluxe XL pizza pie they call the GTA.  I rarely venture north of Bloor, west of Bathurst, or east of the Beaches. The Danforth from Broadview to Pape  is my Main Street!

Temperatures have been unusually mild in Toronto this week.  During mid-afternoons it got up as high as 11ºC and no one is talking of a white Christmas.  Still, the Christmas decorations are up – especially in the shopping malls. Residential streets are slowly being lit up. This Friday afternoon (two weeks before Christmas Day) I passed by three Riverdale houses in the process of being festooned with strings of lights and other Xmas artifacts.

Danforth residential street lights

Danforth residential street lights

Notably absent from both the private and public displays is anything of an overtly religious nature.  Christmas trees, lots of coloured lights, candy canes, reindeer, ribbons of red and green…that seems to be the way to go!  I did, however, include a church or two in my  list of places to photograph. First I cycled over to Church Street and Shuter, just east of the Eaton Center and  St. Michael’s Cathedral (Roman Catholic).  Unfortunately, the church was closed for what looks like a massive renovation.

St. James Cathedral:

St. James altar area

St. James Cathedral on King Street – altar area

Then I cycled down to St. James Cathedral  (High Anglican) on King Street at Church Street, thinking that it might have a Baby Jesus In the Manger display. It is a special place I visit occasionally for its stillness.  Alas, no manger to be seen.  It may not be an Anglican thing to do.

candles - and a Station of the Cross on the pillar - at St. James Catehdral on King Street

candles – and a Station of the Cross on the pillar – at St. James Cathedral on King Street

The Eaton Center:

Then it was off to the Eaton Center.  It was about 3:30 so I figured I’d do some interior shots while it was still light out and then head to City Hall at 4:30 when the lights come on.  The Eaton Center did not disappoint.  It has lots of decorations to get the expected hordes of shoppers in the right mood!  If a culture reveals its deepest values by the nature of the buildings it invests a lot of capital putting up,  then shopping malls R us!

Xmas reindeer at the Eaton Center

Xmas reindeer at the Eaton Center

detail from the Eaton Center Xmas Tree

detail from the Eaton Center Xmas Tree

The tree looks like the same one that the mall has had since 2012, only with the colour changed from the original pink.  It has received mixed reviews over the past three years, with some critics pining for a more traditional – and real – tree. (See here for a Toronto Sun opinion piece.)

the Eaton Center Xmas Tree

the Eaton Center Xmas Tree

As I framed the next shot I couldn’t help but think of another Bible story – the one about the Golden Calf fashioned by the Israelites while Moses was up on Mount Sinai getting the Ten Commandments!

one of the reindeer in the 2015 Eaton Center Xmas display

one of the reindeer in the 2015 Eaton Center Xmas display

The Eaton Center is a wonderful space and the Michael Snow geese installation at the south end cheers me up every time I walk into the mall.

the Eaton Center - looking towards Queen Street

the Eaton Center – looking towards Queen Street

The Christmas Display Windows At the Hudson Bay Store on Queen:

Next up was quick visit across the street to the Hudson Bay store’s Christmas window displays.  Back in the day both the Yonge and Queen Street sides of the store would have displays but given the renovations going on at the corner, only five windows on the Queen Street side were decorated with whimsical reenactments. Here are a few of the scenes that caught my eye –

2015 Queen Street Bay Store Xmas display - - reindeer and children in Hudson Bay colours

2015 Queen Street Bay Store Xmas display – – reindeer and children in Hudson Bay colours

Santa's workshop with some vintage toys ready to be wrapped

Santa’s workshop with some vintage toys ready to be wrapped

Santa's name list

2015 Queen Street Bay Store Xmas display – Santa’s name list

Bay Store Christmas display - festive street scene

Bay Store Christmas display – festive street scene

three mice wrapped up in their Bay blankets

three mice wrapped up in their Bay blankets

Dundas Square – north end of the Eaton Center

Before I headed for City Hall I cycled up Yonge Street to Dundas Square on the south-east corner.  It wasn’t quite dark enough but this is what I found –

Dundas Square - December 2015 - hanukiah and Christmas Tree

Dundas Square – December 2015 – hanukiah and Christmas Tree

The Jewish nine-branched menorah (i.e. the hanukiah) was a nice touch and an actual religious acknowledgement. When I returned a couple of days later two more of the candles were lit.   Here is what a change in light can do for a photo!

Dundas Square after dusk

Dundas Square after dusk a couple of days later

The Christmas Tree – with its pre-Christian Germanic cultural  roots – stood at the other end of the square.

Dundas Square Xmas Tree 2015

Dundas Square Xmas Tree 2015

Two days later with darkness it looked like this –

Dundas Square Christmas Tree - December 2015

Dundas Square Christmas Tree – December 2015

Dundas Square Xmas Tree - December 2015 after dusk

Dundas Square Xmas Tree – December 2015 after dusk

City Hall Square and Skating Rink

City Hall Square gets the full light treatment each December. I was looking forward to lots of lights to make what is already a pretty neat public space even more magical.  It would be all that!

December 2015 - looking south over Toronto City Hall Square

December 2015 – looking south over Toronto City Hall Square

The early Christians could not have picked a better time for the birth of their Lord and Saviour than late December. They took the existing Roman festival of Sol Invictus (the Unconquerable Sun) and turned it into a celebration of the Son of God’s  incarnation into this world.  At the very time of the year when day light is at its shortest,  Jesus is born.  Add to that the manger story  and you’ve got a powerful narrative of hope.

However,  as with ancient Rome and the early Christians,  an existing festival has been repurposed so that it fits with  current cultural values and needs. The tree with its lights has become the central symbol.

2015 Toronto City Hall Xmas Tree

 

 

Standing in the square is a real tree – and a really tall one at that! As you walk towards Queen Street you approach the skating rink and the TORONTO sign that magically turns snapshots into postcards!

 

 

Toronto City Hall Xmas Tree and skating rink

Toronto City Hall Xmas Tree and skating rink

Toronto City Hall skating rink and TORONTO sign

Toronto City Hall skating rink and TORONTO sign – with City Hall in the background

City Hall skaters using platform for stability

City Hall skaters using platform for stability

City Hall skating rink at dusk

City Hall skating rink at dusk

Getting another Toronto icon – the CN Tower – required a bit of backtracking. I walked back up to the Tree and went up the ramp a short distance to frame this shot – and ended up noticing the Hanukkah candles- with one more lit than the display at Dundas Square!.

Hannukkah candles, CN Tower and skating rink at City Hall

looking south towards Queen Street from the Tree

looking south towards Queen Street from the Tree

The Distillery District:

It was now getting dark and I had foolishly left my bike light at home on the dining room table. I did make my way home on some well-lit one-way streets with my rear red light blinking all the way.  But first, I stopped for a few minutes at the Distillery District. It was a Tuesday so it was free to get in – as opposed to the $5. they are now charging weekend visitors!

Distillery District - the Christmas Market

Distillery District –  approaching the entrance of the Christmas Market

Distillery District - looking down from the main entrance to the tree

Distillery District – looking down from the main entrance to the tree

It was already too dark to capture any good shots but I upped the iso to 3200 and did wander around, taking in the scene. I was surprised at how many people were there on a weekday night. Maybe “free” is a real incentive?

Distillery storefront with Xmas decorations

Distillery storefront with Xmas decorations

Distillery District - the main shopping area

Distillery District – the main shopping area

Distillery District - hot drinks bar line-up

Distillery District – hot drinks bar line-up

Alexandro’s Square at Logan/the Danforth:

Back into the dark – and on the bike! – I headed home with one last detour. A ride along the Danforth to pick up something at The Big Carrot and I remembered the little Alexander Square at corner of Danforth and Logan.  I’ll have to visit again when it is a bit less dark out but here is what i found –

Alexandros Square at Logan:Danforth

Alexandros Square at Logan-Danforth

Chronia Polla and Alexandros at Logan Danforth

Chronia Polla and Alexander memorial at Logan-Danforth

Logan:Danforth - another angle

Logan:Danforth – another angle

Shopping at The Big Carrot done, it was down Broadview Avenue past one of the great views of downtown Toronto.  I had to stop and snap a few hand-held shots.

Downtown View From Broadview Avenue:

Downtown Toronto at night from Broadview Avenue

Downtown Toronto at night from Broadview Avenue

close up of downtown buidlings - Trump Tower included!

close up of downtown buildings – the Trump Tower included!

I pushed my bike across the street and wheeled by the The Rooster Café, stopping to get the blurry shot you see below.

The Rooster Cafe on Broadview Avenue - great coffee and great view!

The Rooster Cafe on Broadview Avenue – great coffee and great view!

It had been a fun afternoon cycling around my Toronto and looking for festive lights to photograph. On following days I would head out again to see what I could add to the collection.  I’ll post right here some of what I found in the next few days.

Yorkville Area and Hazelton Lanes:

What has happened to Hazelton Lanes?  Since it is not really my kind of shopping mall – I feel more at home at stores like Europe Bound and Mountain Equipment Co-Op or Home Depot! – I will admit I rarely visit. But I do remember – is it really forty years ago? – a much more vibrant and alive space that the construction site I found when I visited a couple of days ago. If not for Whole Foods the mall would be dead!

Hazelton Lanes Shopping Mall

Hazelton Lanes Shopping Mall – its centerpiece Xmas decoration

I saw as many guys with hard hats on my quick visit as i did shoppers at the upscale clothing stores that are still open.

Yorkville Avenue at dusk in December 2015

Yorkville Avenue at dusk in December 2015

Yorkville Avenue Xmas street decor

Yorkville Avenue Xmas street decor

Yorkville - the Lane to Cumberland Ave

Yorkville – the Lane to Cumberland Ave.

Christmas Tree at the ROM

Christmas Tree at the ROM

Cumberland Avenue lights

Cumberland Avenue lights

Cumberland Avenue Christmas Tree

Cumberland Avenue Christmas Tree

Yonge Street From College To Dundas:

Looking south from Yonge and College

Looking south from Yonge and College

Yonge Street northbound lane

Yonge Street northbound lane

Yonge & Dundas December 2015

Yonge & Dundas December 2015

Looking Up Yonge Street from south of Dundas

Looking Up Yonge Street from south of Dundas

Dundas Square Xmas tree - December 2015

Dundas Square Xmas tree – December 2015

Polar Bears Display at Dundas Square

Polar Bears Display at Dundas Square

Dundas Square - Xmas 2015

Dundas Square – Xmas 2015

The Danforth:

The Danforth - Logan area

The Danforth – Logan area

Danforth Ave. Restaurant front

Danforth Ave. Restaurant front

The Bloor-Danforth Viaduct has a barrier on each side to prevent suicide attempts. Called The Luminous Veil, it recently was completed when the lights were added to the steel cables.  The photo below shows the stream of traffic heading up the Don Valley at the end of another work day in the towers of downtown Toronto. The traffic southbound is a bit more sparse.

the Bloor:Danforth Viaduct - the Luminous Veil

the Bloor-Danforth Viaduct – the Luminous Veil

The Luminous Veil up close

The Luminous Veil up close

Still on my shot list are the following two locations: the Beach(es), especially along Queen Street and Harbourfront.

In the meanwhile, if you can think of any festive light ray spots that I just need to get to, let me know!

Links To Other Sites:

Just before I started uploading the photos this evening I checked my WordPress Reader for blogs I follow. One of them is by Doug Taylor  and it focuses on Historical Toronto. Well, wouldn’t you know it!  Earlier this week he posted the following collection of images which he titled Downtown Toronto’s Five Best Xmas Displays. Click on the title to access his post  and then check out some of the other ones. They make for great reading.

It is December 12 and above freezing temperatures are predicted for the next two weeks. That means no snow in the forecast!  December 2014  was a very different story. See the following post for the evidence!  

Viggo Checks Out Toronto’s First Real Snow Storm – December 2014

 

 

Bolivian Travels: From Copacabana To Isla del Sol

Previous Post:  From La Paz to Copacabana and the Shores of Lago Titicaca

Up at 6:30 we left the Hotel Rosario about an hour later. Our destination – Isla del Sol and the Ecolodge La Estancia.  Most visitors to the island that figures so prominently in Inca myth will take a boat from Copacabana itself for a day tour while a few will stay overnight on the island and return to Copacabana the next day in the afternoon.

early morning sun on Cerro Calvario in Copacabana

early morning sun on Cerro Calvario in Copacabana

Copacabana's Cerro Calvario in the arly morning sun - portrait mode!

same as above – portrait mode!

Our approach was a bit different.  Like those pilgrims in the Inca world, we made our way  along the coast to Yampupata.  It is  a small communidad seventeen kilometers from Copacabana at the tip of the peninsula across from Isla del Sol (see map below).  It would have been from here that pilgrims would take a raft across the strait to the south western tip of Isla del Sol and begin their walk to the temple complex and the Sacred Rock (the Titikala) at the other end of the island.

A boat would be waiting there to take us across to the island.  From there it is a 3.5 kilometre boat ride to Yumani harbour.

A tip to those planning to stay overnight: if you have lots of luggage, it would be best if you did not bring all of it along to Isla del Sol. If you can’t carry it yourself, leave it behind, taking just what you need for an overnight stay.  The rest can be stored in the hotel at Copacabana where you spent the previous night.

I watched an elderly German couple arrive at the Ecolodge with perhaps 40 kilograms of stuff each and then saw the poor donkeys who had hauled their rigid and heavy suitcases up the steep path from the shore.  The couple was understandably winded after their hike up the hill. I felt for the donkeys.

Copacabana-Sampaya- Yampupata - Yumani

The ride on the gravel road from Copacabana is quite scenic. The road itself is narrow and the few times a vehicle approached from the other direction some co-operation was necessary! The attempt at a panorama below was shot from the top of the bay just north of Copacabana.

the bay north of Copacabanabay north of Copacabana - two

the gravel road to Yampupata

the gravel road to Yampupata

Before I had joined my small tour group I had considered doing the visit to Isla del Sol on my own. Wanting to do what Inca pilgrims had done, I planned to  walk the seventeen kilometers from Copacabana to Yampupata and then catch a boat over to Isla del Sol.

While the scenery is undeniably  eye-catching, having seen the road I am glad to have been spared the experience. After 9:30 it gets very hot – and walking on a shadeless road with vehicles coming by and stirring up dust gets old pretty fast.  Better to save your time and energy and use it on Isla del Sol where you can walk from one end of the car-free island to the other on a pedestrian-only trail with similar views.

If you are still keen on doing the walk, an early morning (6:00 to 6:30 a.m.) would be advisable. Keep that backpack light!

one of the many fine views from the road to Yampupata

one of the many fine views from the road to Yampupata

Back to my small trekking group – to get our first bit of walking in we did not drive right to the boat launch area at Yampupata.  Rather, we got out just before the village of  Sampaya (see the map below) and spent a very pleasant two hours walking the five kilometers along a ridge trail used by villagers with great views of the lake and the islands. No vehicles, no rush – a nice way to spend the morning!

from Zampaya to Isla del Sol

from Zampaya to Isla del Sol

outskirts of Sampaya - football field

outskirts of Sampaya – football field

a morning walk through Sampaya

a morning walk through Sampaya

walking by a chapel in Sampaya

walking by a chapel in Sampaya

leaving the village of Sampaya on a rough trail

leaving the village of Sampaya on a rough trail

looking down to the road from Copacabana to Yampupata

looking down to the road from Copacabana to Yampupata

Above is a stretch of the road as it comes from Copacabana on the top middle of the photo. The photo below, taken from the same spot, shows the rest of the road as it heads to Yampupata on the right.  Already visible is Isla del Sol.

looking ahead to the village of Yampupata from the ridge trail

looking ahead to the village of Yampupata from the ridge trail

Always there when we looked east was the Cordillera Real, the Royal Range. In two days we would begin our two-week trek down the mountain range from Illampu at the north-west end  to Nevado Huayna Potosi some 110 kilometers south-east. In the photo below you also see Isla de la Luna, another island significant to Inca myth that we would visit before our trek.

looking out to Isla de la Luna and the Illampu Massif

looking out to Isla de la Luna and the Illampu Massif from the Zampaya ridge trail

passing by a shrine on our Sampaya ridge walk

passing by a shrine  on our Sampaya ridge walk

There were a few boats at Yampupata when we got there, including the one that Javier our guide had contacted the day before. One of benefits of being a member of a well-organized tour is how little time is wasted at transition points like this. Throughout the three weeks of our Andean-Summits-organized trek  there would be many instances where we would marvel at the clock-work efficiency of it all.  It makes the seemingly steep price worth it!

Yampupata harbour - boat launch area

Yampupata harbour – boat launch area

We took the above boat over to the island.  Pilgrims in the Inca world would have rafted over to the nearest point on the island and then would have started their walk to one of the most sacred spaces in the mythic world of the Inca, the Titikala or Titi Khar’kha, the Rock of the Puma, the very place of creation.

a view of the pilgrim landing area and Pilkukayna on Isla del Sol

Wikipedia source of image – here

I did not know it at the time, but our boat passed by the stretch of shoreline where the pilgrims of old would have disembarked. Walking along the shoreline past the Pilco Kayma (also spelled Pikokayna), all that remained of their journey was a final ten kilometers to the mythic Inca place of creation. Our approach would be a bit different.

 

The Cordillera Real from a dock at Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca

The Cordillera Real from a dock at Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca

A 4.5 kilometer boat ride and we were walking up the dock to the Isla del Sol shore. We did not land where the Inca pilgrims had or even the Yumani village harbour.  Instead, we headed a little further south for a dock near the shoreline restaurant where we would have lunch before walking though the fields up to the Ecolodge La Estancia.  We only had our day packs with us – the rest of the luggage Javier had arranged to be kept in storage at Yampupata.

south end of isla del sol

Lunch was a simple affair. The assortment of veggies below is what I worked on; the non-vegetarians – i.e. everyone else – had, I think, some chicken along with the various types of potatoes, beans, and corn that I nibbled on. I was still recuperating from the stomach problem that had laid me low a couple of days before so I don’t recall eating all that much of what you see in the photo below.

an Aymara campesino lunch

an Aymara campesino lunch

The photo ops, however, was stunning. Below you see Lake Titicaca, the red-tinged tip of Isla de la Luna, and the north end of the Cordillera Real with Nevados Illampu and Janq’uma prominent on the left side.  The distance from our lunch table to the mountains? About seventy kilometers (44 miles)!

the view from the lunch patio on Isla del Sol

the view from the lunch patio on Isla del Sol

Our accommodation for the night was the Ecolodge la Estancia.  I gulped when i saw the price of the room on the tripadvisor website – including taxes, it is in the $280. U.S. range per night! This does include dinner and breakfast if that makes you feel any better.  Click on this tripadvisor link here to see a full list of Isla del Sol lodging. You can definitely do much cheaper. I’ll admit that the Ecolodge with its attention to details and service made for a delightful stay.  Along with the excellent transportation arrangements and overall degree of organization, the quality of the hotels we stayed in help explain the cost of the trip.

the Ecolodge La Estancia from our front door

the Ecolodge La Estancia from our front door

our Ecolodge Estancia hut for the night on Isla del Sol

our Ecolodge La Estancia hut for the night on Isla del Sol

the inside of a Ecolodge La Estancia hut on Isla del Sol

the inside of our Ecolodge La Estancia hut on Isla del Sol

After taking our orders of that evening’s dinner, our group went for a walk to the island’s high point. On topographical maps it is labelled as Cerro Palla Khasa but most local people apparently just call it Mirador (Viewpoint) La Estancia.  We got there in maybe thirty minutes by zigzagging our way up though the terraced fields. There is another path from the Yumani that get to the top from the other side.  It was definitely worth the effort!

a cairn on the top ofIsla del Sol's Cerro Palla Khasa plateau

a cairn on the top ofIsla del Sol’s Cerro Palla Khasa plateau

a view fromt he top of Isla del Sol's Palla Khasa

a view of Lake Titicaca from the top of Isla del Sol’s Palla Khasa

a traveller contemplating at Isla del Sol's mirador

a traveller contemplating at Isla del Sol’s mirador

looking-south-from-cerro-palla-khasa

Visible in the above photo is the village of Yumani on the north end of isla del Sol. In the strait is the Isla Chelleca and behind it is Yampupata harbour. Copacabana, eighteen kilometres away, is visible on the far shore of the lake.

the look-out tower on Cerro Palla Khasa on Isla del Sol

the look-out tower on Cerro Palla Khasa on Isla del Sol

We stayed at the Mirador La Estancia (Palla Khasa) until dusk, entranced by the changing colour of the sky as the light fell.  Then it was time for an excellent meal down at our home for the night at the Ecolodge.

Isla de la Luna and the Cordillera Real from Isla del Sol's high point Cerro Palla Khasa

Isla de la Luna and the Cordillera Real from Isla del Sol’s high point Cerro Palla Khasa

the northern end of the Cordillera Real - the Illampu Massif

the northern end of the Cordillera Real – the Illampu Massif

The next day we would spend the morning walking the Inca Pilgrims’ Trail to Chincana  at the north end of the island; then we would boat over to Isla de la Luna for a quick visit before heading back to the mainland. Click on the link below if you want to see more…

Next Post: Walking through The Ruins of isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna

 

Bolivian Travels: From La Paz to Copacabana and Lake Titicaca

My three-week Mountain Kingdoms trip (click here for the itinerary) did not begin well!  On Sunday afternoon before I first met the rest of the group at the Hotel Rey Palace in downtown La Paz I had a prix-fixe lunch at the nearby Kuchen Stube that included a fresh salad. (I am guessing that it was the cause of my troubles; I may be wrong.)

On Monday the group and guide went off to Tiwanaku (sometimes spelled Tiahuanaco) on an excursion I had prepared for with extensive reading.  I stayed behind to let my stomach issue take its course. It was the only day in Bolivia that I did not take one photo! It would be four or five days before I felt 100% again.

satellite-view-from-isla-del-sol-to-la-paz

All maps and images enlarge and appear in a new window with a click or two. 

The day after my missed Tiwanaku  visit, we left La Paz for the first stage of our Cordillera Real trek.  In order to ensure adequate acclimatization the idea is to give the clients’ bodies some time to adapt to the thinner air of La Paz (3500 meters) and the Altiplano (4000 m) before starting the trek with its average campsite altitude in  the 4500 meter range.

panorama - The Cordillera Real and the city of La Paz

panorama – The Cordillera Real and the city of La Paz

With 900,000 inhabitants, La Paz is Bolivia’s third largest city. It sits in a gorge carved into the Altiplano – the high plains – of Bolivia. To the east of La Paz is the Cordillera Real and on the plains above is the sprawling and more recently established  city of El Alto with another million people.  We were on our way to the Lake Titicaca area. It began with a ride that took us up to the Altiplano. From near the top you get photos that look a lot like the ones able and below!

looking east towards Huayna Potosi

looking east towards the Altiplano and Nevado Huayna Potosi

We were on our way to Copacabana, a small town on the shore of Lake Titicaca famous for its statue of Our Lady of Copacabana, the patron saint of Bolivia. It is also the usual starting point for a boat shuttle to Isla del Sol, the island famed for its connection to the foundation myth of the Incas from the nearby Cusco region of Peru.

housing at the top of the hole that is La paz

housing at the top of the hole that is La Paz

During the next few days we would often be looking back at the Cordillera real and its various sections. The image below is of Illimani taken once we were on the west side of  El Alto. It is at the south-east end of the Cordillera; we would not get that far in our two-week trek, which ended on the north side of Nevado Huayna Potosi, the pyramid-shaped massif shown in a couple of the pix above.

Illimani view from Ruta Nacional 2 west of El Alto

Illimani view from Ruta Nacional 2 west of El Alto

Once past Huarina, which is about 75 kilometers from downtown La Paz, it was on the ferry which would take us across the 900-meter Estrecho de Tiquina. Before we got there, however, we stopped in Huatajata at the workshop of  Demetrio Limachi.  Born on the island of Suriqui, he became a reed boat maker at an early age. It was Thor Heyerdahl who chose him, his two brothers and neighbour Paulino Esteban for their reed boatbuilding skills when he had the Ra II constructed  in Morocco in 1970. The ensuing trans-Atlantic voyage proved to be a success. Below is a boat on display at the Limachi homestead/workshop.

reed boat built by Thor Hyderdal's raft maker

reed boat built by Thor Heyerdahl’s raft maker Dimitrio Limachi  and his sons

Lunch in Huatajata – and all along the Titicaca coast – centers on fish, with trout (trucha) being the most popular. I had the vegetarian alternative – i.e. the same rice and boiled veggies along with some substitute like a TVP patty. (It was not memorable; I can’t actually recall what it was!)

On to the Tequina Strait for the short ferry ride.  There is a small community on each side – and the locals are united in their opposition to the building of a bridge over the 800-meter-wide strait. They clearly want to keep earning a living doing what they have always done, ferrying the vehicles across on the barges while more comfortable boats take the passengers. All told it took us about forty-five minutes to continue on our way on the other side. With a bridge it would have taken a couple of minutes!

looking over the stait to San Pablo de Tiquina

looking over the stait to San Pablo de Tiquina

lago_titicaca

The strait connects the larger basin – called Lago Grande or Lago Chucuito – with the smaller Lago Pequeño or Lago Wiñaymarka (also spelled Huiñaimarca). The name Titicaca itself comes from the island we know as Isla del Sol. One explanation of the name’s roots bases it on the Aymara phrase Titi Khar’ka (Rock of the Puma). A couple of days later we would see on the north end of the Isla del Sol the Sacred Rock, in whose shape some claim to see a crouching puma.

map of Estrecho de Tiquina area

map of Estrecho de Tiquina area

looking across the Estrecho de Tiquina to San Pedro from San Pablo de Tiquina

looking across the Estrecho de Tiquina to San Pedro from San Pablo de Tiquina

Bolivian Navy Outpost at San Pedro de Tiquina

Bolivian Navy Outpost in San Pedro de Tiquina!

While Bolivia lost access to the sea with its defeat in the War of the Pacific  with Chile in 1879 it still maintains a navy which does service on Lake Titicaca and on rivers flowing into the Amazon. It also keeps alive the hope of regaining the access to the Pacific which they lost 140 years ago!  Sitting in front of the white and blue outpost is one of the 1,800 members of the naval force.

looking at Illimani - 120 kilomters away!

looking at Illimani – 120 kilometers away!

trucha is the big seller along the Lago Titicaca coast

trucha (trout) is the big seller along the Lago Titicaca coast

Less than forty kilometers from San Pablo de Tiquina we came to the great view of Copacabana as seen in the photo below. Framed by a set of hills on the north and south side it is somewhat elevated from the shore of the lake at about 3840 meters. The town of about 6,000 has one major attraction – the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana which holds the famous Virgen de Copacabana statue, seen as a powerful talisman by Roman Catholic believers who make pilgrimages to the site.

approaching Copacabana in early afternoon

approaching Copacabana in early afternoon – shooting into the sun!

And not just Roman Catholics.  It is thought that the site was a major pilgrimage centre even before the arrival of Christianity in the 1500’s. One explanation of the origin of the town’s name traces it back to Kota Katana, an Andean fertility goddess.  This might explain its continuing power to attract Aymara and Quechua pilgrims since it offers a synthesis of the Christian story with a much more local one.

Lake Titicaca and the two hills of Copacabana

Lake Titicaca and the two hills of Copacabana

On the north side of town are a couple of hills, again with pre-Christian meaning to the locals. And again, on top of local myths the conquerers built their story. So the higher hill became a Cerro Calvario, the Calvary hill which Jesus walked up with his crucifix.  Along the way are pillars representing the fourteen Stations of the Cross, key moments in the Passion of the Christ.

La Catedral de Copacabana

LaBasilica de Copacabana – approaching the entrance

Arriving a bit early to check into our hotel, we spent some time checking out the Basilica. Outside were the usual venders of religious icons and aids for religious observance – rosaries, statues, books and pamphlets.  I was intrigued by the items in the photo below. It seems that it is the custom to fulfill one’s hopes and dreams of material things by purchasing replicas of what it is that we seek.  Once blessed by the priest these items are kept at home as the supplicant waits patiently for his or her good fortune to materialize!

replica items to be blessed by the priest at Copacabana

replica items to be blessed by the priest at Copacabana

replica money and real estate - two popular items to be blessed

replica money and real estate – two popular items to be blessed

Another example of the magical thinking that is alive and well were the vehicle owners waiting for the priest’s blessing.  the photo below shows one family getting their car – a taxi – ready for the priest. When we exited the basilica a while later their job was done and they were waiting for the priest to arrive.

taxi owners preparing their vehicle for a Copacabana blessing

taxi owners preparing their vehicle for a Copacabana blessing

Virgen de Copacabana replicas for pilgrims

Virgen de Copacabana replicas for pilgrims

looking back at the entrance and the Three Crosses shrine

looking back at the entrance and the Three Crosses shrine

inside the church grounds at Copacabana

the three crosses of Calvary – inside the basilica grounds

a statue of Our Lady of Copacabana above the basilica entrance

looking up above the basilica entrance at a copper statue of Our Lady of Copacabana

Our Lady of Copacabana is the patron saint of Bolivia. Inside the basilica is a wooden statue dating back to the late 1500’s. Since its presence is credited with all sorts of miracles, it attracted pilgrims from throughout Bolivia and neighbouring Peru who come to pay their respect and perhaps leave a petition or two for Our Lady of Copacabana’s consideration.

Bienvenido Santo Padre poster welcoming Pope Francisco to Copacabana

Bienvenido Santo Padre poster welcoming Pope Francisco

In July of 2015 Pope Francis visited Copacabana as part of a whirlwind three-day tour of Bolivia.  while at the basilica he offered the following words of acknowledgement –

Mother of the Saviour and our Mother, You, Queen of Bolivia, who from the height of your Shrine in Copacabana attend to the prayers and needs of your children, especially the most poor and abandoned, and protect them..

 

the Copacabana car owners waiting for it to be blessed

the Copacabana car all decorated and ready to to be blessed

While there are dozens of humble lodgings for the local pilgrims, there is also more upscale tourist-class accommodation.  I’ll admit that ours – the Hotel Rosario – must be close to the top of the list.  We would spend a night here before we headed off to Isla del Sol the next morning.

the sitting area of our Rosario hotel room in Copacabana

the sitting area of our Rosario hotel room in Copacabana

In the meanwhile in late afternoon we walked to the top of Cerro Calvario. On our way we passed the fourteen Station of the Cross pillars; they all looked like the one I took a photo of.  It was, in a word, shocking to see such graffiti and rubbish littering the path on the way up and certainly contradicted the notion that this place has any special spiritual meaning to the locals – or to visitors.  How else can one explain that it is allowed to look like this?

Somehow some visitors are able to see past the garbage to experience another reality. How is this for a contrast?

This truly spiritual place is more than just a hill on the edge of one of the most spectacular lakes in the world, but a window into your soul.

I found the words in a fellow blower’s post!  I did wonder what he had been smoking.  Read more of it here for a more positive view than mine.

a typical Station of the Cross at Copacabana's Calvario

a typical Station of the Cross at Copacabana’s Calvario

On the positive side, once you look away from the graffiti and garbage, the view from the top is truly memorable.  Looking down towards the townsite you see the sweep of Copacabana beach and inland you see the Basilica gleaming in the setting sun’s rays.

the view from the top of Cerro Calvario

the view from the top of Cerro Calvary – note the graffiti on the bottom!

Copacabana from Cerro Calvario

Copacabana from Cerro Calvario

And looking west, we waited for that magical moment when the sun slipped below the horizon, leaving a golden glow for us to enjoy. Our guide had recommended we bring our head lamps; we needed them as we made our way back down to the town after dusk.  On our way back to the Hotel Rosario we went down a busy Avenida 6 de Agosto  lined with restaurants and less expensive hostals and tourist trinket shops.

downtown Copacabana

Given the nice vibe of the town, it would have been nice to spend another day here – maybe walking to the top of the hill you see in the photo above, spending more time in the basilica and the plaza and just walking along the beach. However, our itinerary was set and the next morning we set off for Isla del Sol.

Lake Titicaca sunset

Next Post: Bolivian Travels – From Copacabana To Isla del Sol

Photos of Photos – A Visit To La Paz’s Museo Nacional de Etnografia y Folklore

It was the last room I visited on my way out of the Museum. Inside was a temporary exhibit of photographs of the people of La Paz from 100 to 125 years ago.  As I went in I asked the guard – “Puedo tomar algunas fotos, Señor?”  I wasn’t expecting him to say “No problemo, Señor.”   Surprised,  I asked again -“Por verdad?” “Si, Señor.” “Gracias!”

an extended Paceno family portrait

What I found inside was a most engaging collection of images, some portraits  but also many street scenes. The theme was definitely the women of La Paz and of the Altiplano – las Cholas Paceñas. Some appeared in European style;  however, many wore the clothing – the bowler hats, the puffy skirts, the shawls, the boots – associated with the chola, the cholita.  These days Aymara and Quechua women use the terms with pride and defiance but when these photos were taken, they had a discriminatory sting to them.   

Photo after photo drew me in with questions about their lives and the struggles they faced. I was also reminded that one hundred years ago people related to a camera lens differently than we do today!

Paceno family portrait 1900

The seriousness with which they took the process of being photographed – difficult to grasp in the age of the “selfie” – comes out in most of the images. The clothing provides all sorts of clues for the anthropologist to discern rank and class and status and aspiration.

seated woman and two men

campasina women at a market

women at market in La Paz - circa1910

In many of the photos the subjects stare intently at the photographer and his unwieldy camera after he asks for five seconds of absolute stillness.  And now it was my turn as the photographer to peer back into the stillness of their eyes and search for scenes of the lives they lived.  There were about forty images in the exhibit and I spent some time taking them in – and then going back for a second look.

eight pacenas with bowler hats around 1910

Just where are these women in the photo below? What is the woman in the foreground looking at so intently?  And those girls in the next image – what are their stories?

campasinas outdoors

young Pacena girls starting at the camera

drinking and making merry in La Paz

Something I wish I had done is take a photo of the information card next to each photo with the title and the year it was taken. It would have given me more to work with two months later as I experience these images once again.

party in a La Paz courtyard

The exhibit ended with a one modern photograph taken by Fernando Miranda, a photographer from la Paz,  at Tiwanaku in 2013.

Fernando Miranda photo of campasinas at Tiwanaku

One of the striking first impressions of any visit to la Paz are the Aymara women, the cholitas,  with their characteristic clothing style.  The hotel I was staying at – the Rosario –  is right in the centre of the sprawling Aymara market area and just around the corner from the Witches’ Market where Aymara talismans and magic are for sale!   Looking out the window of my room I saw these two women selling more mundane products and waiting for potential customers to stop –

market women in the Rosario district of La Paz

The day after my visit to the Folklore Museum was a Saturday.  I had already visited Plaza Murillo the day before on my way to the museum but I decided to go back again. It is a twenty-minute walk from the hotel – down hill and up hill! – but Murillo Square is a great place to sit and watch La Paz life unfold. Well, I walked into the square as a major celebration of the life  of Bartolini Sisa was taking place.

In the streets were hundreds of campesinas representing various towns from the Altiplano, the highland region of Bolivia.  It would prove to be a history lesson that moved me to tears as I took in the speeches and music and marching delegations of mostly women looking very much like the women in the photos above from one hundred years ago.

main speaker at the Bartolina Sisi comemmoration at Plaza Murillo

main speaker at the Bartolina Sisi commemoration at Plaza Murillo in La Paz

delegation at Bartolina Sisi Day Plaza Murillo La Paz 2105

An upcoming post will focus on some of the pix I took Plaza Murillo, “the living room” of La Paz.

Rough Guides provides a brief background on La Chola Paceña here and a informative BBC magazine article titled “The Rise of the’Cholitas'” can be accessed here.

A One-Day Tour of Bago, Myanmar: A Checklist of Must-See Sites

If you find yourself in Yangon and have spent all the time you want to in the dynamic but crumbling city,  a day trip to the once-capital of a Mon kingdom in the lower Myanmar area is a worthwhile possibility. This is especially true if you are not stupa-fied and buddha-ed out by the thought of more zedis, pahtos, and monuments.  My threshold may be a bit higher than most so I was keen to make the trip.

Some seventy kilometers north of Yangon is the modern city of Bago, formerly known in English as Pegu. It was founded by Mon traders in the 800’s C.E.  From 1365 to 1625 C.E., it flourished under a string of competent rulers who left impressive religious monuments. These works not only expressed but helped strengthen their claims of spiritual legitimacy and worldly power.

Pegu hit its peak in the half-century from 1550 to 1600 under the rule of Bayinnaung, who made it the capital of his short-lived Taungoo Empire. Its impressive size is indicated in the map below.

map of Bayinnaung's Taungoo Empire in 1580

Pegu – today’s Bago – the centre of the Taungoo Empire

The hotel receptionist arranged for a taxi to pick me up at 7:00 a.m.  For $70. U.S. I would have the service of an air-conditioned car for the day. The driver Yan had done the trip often before so he already had a checklist of sites to visit in his head and we wasted little time getting from place to place. With another passenger or two to split the cost the trip would have been downright cheap! It was still worth it. We arrived in Bago around 9:00 and for the next six hours Yan drove me from site to site and waited in the car while I did my thing.

What follows is a list of sites that my visit to Bago included.  Some were more impressive than others; all would have benefitted from being visited in the cool of the evening near dusk when they would have been more alive with the presence of worshippers.

1. The Shwemawdaw Pagoda

Bago's Shwemawdaw Pagoda and terrace

Bago’s Shwemawdaw Pagoda and terrace

the fallen Hti and one of the eight planetary posts

the fallen Hti and one of the eight planetary posts

monks walking past one of the pavilions on the Shwemawdaw terrace

monks walking past one of the pavilions on the Shwemawdaw terrace

Click on the following title to access more pix and info on the Shwemawdaw Pagoda –

Bago’s Shwemawdaw Pagoda – Myanmar’s Tallest Stupa

 

2. The Hintha Gon (The Hill of the Hamsa)

Welcome To Hintha Gon Patho

Welcome To Hintha Gon Pahto

monk making devotions at Hintha Gon Pahto

monk making devotions at Hintha Gon Pahto

Click on the following title to access more pix and info on the Hintha Gon-

Bago’s Hintha Gon and the “New” Kanbawzathadi Palace

3. Kanbawzathadi Palace

Kanbawzathadi Palace

Kanbawzathadi Palace

another view of the excavated posts on display at Kanbawzathadi Palace in Bago

another view of the excavated posts on display at Kanbawzathadi Palace in Bago

Click on the following title to access more pix and info on the Kanbawzathadi Palace area –

Bago’s Hintha Gon and the “New” Kanbawzathadi Palace

 

4. The Shwethalyaung Buddha

Shwethalyaung - panoramic view

Shwethalyaung – panoramic view

Shwethalyaung - The Buddha's pillow boxes

Shwethalyaung – The Buddha’s pillow boxes

Shwethalyaung Buddha - face and lotus

Click on the following title to access more pix and info on the Shwethalyaung Buddha –

AN AFTERNOON IN BAGO – VISITING THE RECLINING BUDDHAS 

5. Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha Bago Myanmar

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha Bago Myanmar

elephant statue on the Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha site

elephant statue on the edge of the Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha site

Click on the following title to access more pix and info on the Mya Tha Lyaung Buddha –

AN AFTEROON IN BAGO, MYANMAR – VISITING THE RECLINING BUDDHAS

6. The Mahazedi Paya

the top section of the Mahazedi

the top section of the Mahazedi

the entrance ot the Mahazedi staircase - for men only!

the entrance ot the Mahazedi staircase – for men only!

a view the road to Mahazedi from the top platform

a view of Bago’s sites from the  Mahazedi’s top platform

Click on the following title to see more about the Mahazedi and the two following sites –

VISITING BAGO’S BUDDHIST SITES – THE DAY TOUR CONCLUDED

7. Shwegugale Paya

the Shwegugale Pagoda interior

the Shwegugale Pagoda interior

four of the seated Buddhas at Shwegugale Pagoda

four of the seated Buddhas at Shwegugale Pagoda

three seated Buddhas - each with a different mudra

three seated Buddhas – each with a different mudra

8. Kayak Pun Pagoda

the Kayak Pun Buddha pillar

the Kayak Pun Buddha pillar

Kayak Pun Pagoda

Kayak Pun Pagoda

Kayak Pun planetary pillar

Kayak Pun planetary pillar

Click on the following title to see more about the Kayak Pun Pagoda –

VISITING BAGO’S BUDDHIST SITES – THE DAY TOUR CONCLUDED

 

Visiting Bago’s Buddhist Sites – The Tour Concluded

Previous Post: An Afternoon In Bago, Myanmar – Visiting the Reclining Buddhas!

From the Mya Tha Lyuang Buddha we made our way back to the main road which heads straight for the Mahazedi Paya. The roots of the word – maha for great and zedi for stupa or relic mound – give a hint of what is coming up.  It was originally built in 1560 during the rule of Bayinnaung, the creator of a short-lived Taungoo Empire  with Bago (or Pegu as it was then known) as its capital.  Like other monuments in the city, time and invaders were not kind to the Mahazedi. It was destroyed when Pegu was sacked in 1757 and later earthquakes, especially the one in 1930,  finished the job.

Mahazedi overview -with staircase on right

Mahazedi -with staircase

the top section of the Mahazedi

Mahazedi – the top section

The current structure was opened in 1982 on completion of the rebuilding. It looks like  white and gold-coloured  coats of paint were applied fairly recently.  When I visited there was no one else there – the fact that it was a hot and humid early afternoon that only a tourist would be out in may be the explanation!

the entrance ot the Mahazedi staircase - for men only!

the entrance ot the Mahazedi staircase – for men only!

The two signs on the left of the staircase both remind females not to go up the steps. One reads – “Ladies are not allowed climbing upperside.” Up the one hundred and twenty steps or so I went to check out the views from the top platform.

decorative detail above staircase entrance

detail above staircase entrance

statue at entrance of Bago's Mahazedi

statue at entrance of Bago’s Mahazedi

 

“He (Bayinnaung) maintained close diplomatic relations with the Buddhist kingdom of Sri Lanka and offered munificent gifts to its palladium, the TOOTH RELIC at Kandy. In 1560, when the Portuguese captured the relic, Bayinnaung sought to ransom it for 300,000 ducats, only to have his emissaries witness its destruction in a public ceremony ordered by the archbishop of Goa. Legend says that the tooth miraculously escaped and divided itself into two, one of which was returned to Kandy, while the other was gifted to Bayinnaung, who enshrined it in the Mahazedi pagoda at his capital Pegu.”

Lopez, Donald S., Jr., Buswell, Robert E., Jr. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism.

The above is the an explanation of why the Mahazedi was built. For a while the fake tooth was kept in the stupa but in 1599 it was moved to Taungoo, the original capital of a now-reduced kingdom.  Apparently the tooth was moved again – this time to the Kaunghmudaw Paya in Sagaing where it has remained to this day. Stories like the one above are certainly a testament to the power of faith in dealing with reality.

the staircase going up to the Mahazedi's top platform

the staircase going up to the Mahazedi’s top platform

view from an upper level of the Mahazedi

panoramic view from an upper level of the Mahazedi

looking down from the Mahazedi at surrounding shrines

looking down from the Mahazedi at surrounding shrines

temple below the Mahazedi in Bago

temple below the Mahazedi in Bago

a view the road to Mahazedi from the top platform

a view the road to Mahazedi from the top platform

back down on the bottom terrace of the Mahazedi

back down on the bottom terrace of the Mahazedi

statues of monks in side shrine area

statues of monks in side shrine area

Getting back to the vehicle, I revelled in the cool as the air-conditioning kicked in.  It was hot out there and I was flagging.  Still a few more sites to go, however, so off we went. Our next stop was the  Shwegugale Paya, a zedi with a interior chamber circling the structure.  Looking at my pix when I got home, I was surprised not to find a single shot of the exterior!  I think I headed right for the cool of the walk around the interior, taking a look at the  64 seated Buddhas who line the wall  in the usual “Touching The Earth” pose.  The statues looked like they had been recently painted. The pic below shows one entranceway  to the ring of statues.

entrance to the inner circle of seated Buddhas at Shwegugale Pagoda

entrance to the inner circle of seated Buddhas at Shwegugale Pagoda

the Shwegugale Pagoda interior

the Shwegugale Pagoda interior

four of the seated Buddhas at Shwegugale Pagoda

four of the seated Buddhas at Shwegugale Pagoda

one of the Shwegugale Buddhas - head

one of the Shwegugale Buddhas – head

a Buddha head close up at Shwegugale Pagoda

a Buddha head close up at Shwegugale Pagoda

Shwegugale Pagoda - Buddhas

Shwegugale Pagoda – Buddhas

No one will be praising these Buddha figures for their profound artistic merit – they are cartoonish at best. I reminded myself that I was not visiting a museum but rather a living place of worship.  Artistic merit may be very nice and even something that a tourist may worry about. However, the karmic merit gained by contributing money or labour to the maintenance of the shrines is much more significant.

Who can say if the original Buddha figures here and elsewhere in Myanmar were any more skilfully done? Time has destroyed most of them and some pieces have moved on into private collections or to museums in Yangon or in other countries.  Myanmar for the past forty years has been one of Asia’s poorest countries; under the circumstances it has done the best it can with its religious monuments, sometimes to the dismay and disapproval of the world archaeological community.

After I returned home I came upon a copy of Buddhist Art of Myanmar (Asia Society, 2015). It was meant as a companion piece for a major exhibit of Myanmar art put on by the Asia Society in New York City.  Curated by Sylvia Fraser-Lu and Donald M. Stadtner, it contains ten brief but insightful essays on various aspects of Myanmar culture and a substantial collection of great examples of Myanmar art found mostly in various Myanmar museums but also in foreign collections. (Click here for more info on the book.)

Buddha figure in side shrine at Bago's Mahazedi

Buddha figure in side shrine at Bago’s Mahazedi

Shwegugale seated Buddha in the Have No Fear mudra

Shwegugale seated Buddha in the Have No Fear mudra

The Buddha figures above and below were remarkable for the simple fact that they had the Buddha in a pose other than the Touching the Earth mudra so characteristic of Myanmar Buddhas.

three seated Buddhas - each with a different mudra

three seated Buddhas – each with a different mudra

guinea pig = shrine - a planetary post?

guinea pig = shrine – a planetary post?

I have no idea of the stories behind the above and below pic. Given the presence of what I take to be a guinea pig, I thought it may be one of the eight planetary posts connected to the days of the week (with Wednesday allocated two posts). Myanmar Buddhists perform devotions at the post corresponding to the day of the week they were born. What is missing is a Buddha figure and the water used to bathe the figure – so …who knows! The two cartoonish chubby guys below – a set of western eyes would label them “soft” – may in fact be fearsome wrestlers or protectors when looked at through Burmese eyes.  More research may turn up a story about their connection to the bell.

Shwegugale - the mystery of the two plump male figures and the bell

Shwegugale – the mystery of the two plump male figures and the bell

Back to the car and then off to the next site – I can’t say enough about the excellent value of hiring a car and driver for the day in order to do a day tour of Bago from Yangon.  While Yan did not leave the car with me and take me through the various sites, his service was worth it. I actually prefer to visit these places on my own with a guide-book and, in any case, Yan’s English was pretty weak.

As mentioned in a previous post, the charge was $70. and with a tip came out to $85. I also purchased a ticket which allowed me access to all the sites – it may have been $10.  Had I shared the taxi costs with  another person or two it would have been even more of a bargain.

I stepped out of the car in front of the Kayak Pun Pagoda, a square pillar with a thirty-meter seated Buddha figure on each side, with each set of eyes looking towards one of the four cardinal points.  It dates back to 1476 (that is, before the time when invaders took control of the city and area from the Mon people) when it was erected on the orders of the King Dhammazedi.

the Kayak Pun Buddha pillar

the Kayak Pun Buddha pillar

Kayak Pun Pagoda

Kayak Pun Pagoda

the left hand of one of the Kayak Pun buddhas

the left hand of one of the Kayak Pun buddhas

one of the four Kayak Pun seated Buddhas in Touching The Earth mudra

one of the four Kayak Pun seated Buddhas in Touching The Earth mudra

Kayak Pun planetary pillar

Kayak Pun planetary pillar

seated monk with food bowl

Kayak Pun Pagoda side shrine – seated monk with food bowl

seated Buddha in meditation pose (dhyana mudra)

seated Buddha in meditation pose (dhyana mudra)

Leaving the Kayak Pun Buddhas, we headed for the Yangon-Bago Road and the ride back to the hotel in downtown Yangon.  One more stop at a site I cannot identify resulted in the photos below.

central shrine of a monastery

central shrine of a monastery

another side of the central shrine

another side of the central shrine

Buddha in parinirvana position

Buddha in parinirvana position

A visit to Myanmar is unimaginable without some time spent contemplating Buddha figures and the expressions of devotion by the locals at the payas – the zedis (stupas)  and pahtos (temples) – which are also often the prime attractions in the towns that make up the country’s tourist circuit.  At the end of this six-hour marathon it will not surprise you to hear that I was  pretty much stupa-fied and buddha-ed out for the day!

The next day in Yangon I would pay a third and last visit to Myanmar’s single greatest site – the Shwedagon – and I would do it in the cool of the late afternoon and dusk.

Paddling the Perimeter of Wabakimi Provincial Park – Overview Map and Links To Detailed Posts

wabakimi-perimeter canoe trip overview

Click here for the “live” Google map – you can zoom in and out for more detail. See the individual posts for links to the Canadian Federal Gov’t. 1:50000 topographic maps.

Canoeing Wabakimi’s Misehkow River

Paddling the Albany River (From the Mouth of the Misehkow to Petawanga Lake)

Up Wabakimi’s Petawa Creek Without A Paddle

Paddling From Auger Lake to Felsia Lake (The Mouth of the Witchwood River)

A Two_Day Paddle Up Wabakimi’s Witchwood River System

Up Wabakimi’s Raymond River to Cliff Lake

Down Wabakimi’s Pikitigushi River From Cliff Lake

The Topo Maps Needed For The Trip:

Jeff’s Topos is a great source for Canadian Federal Government topos.  They are available are for free download in Tif file format.  Jeff produces expedition-grade plastic copies of the maps for $19.99 Cdn a sheet.  He also offers custom jobs – e.g. joining parts of two sheets onto one.

Jeff's Topos Home Page

Click on the links below to access the maps and check out Jeff McMurtrie’s website here for more info.

  1. Burntrock Lake  052  I 13
  2. Coles Lake 052P04
  3. Greenmantle Lake 052P03
  4. Pruner Lake 052P06
  5. Crerar Lake 052P11
  6. Grace Lake 052P07
  7. Miminiska Pen. 052P10
  8. Opikeigen Lake 052P09
  9. Kawitos Lake 052P08
  10. Sim Lake 052P01
  11. Bilberry Lake 052P02
  12. Whiteclay Lake 052I15
  13. Linklater Lake 052I10
  14. Pikitigushi Lake 052I07

 

An Afternoon In Bago, Myanmar: Visiting The Reclining Buddhas

Previous Post: Bago’s Hintha Gon and the “New” Kanbawzathadi Palace

Bago, some seventy kilometers north-east of Yangon, makes for an excellent day trip if you are keen to spend yet more quality time with  Buddhas and stupas.

Formerly known as Pegu, the city was for a quarter-century in the 1500’s C.E. the capital of an empire that included all of present-day Myanmar, as well as a good chuck of Thailand and Laos and even a bit of China. Even in the centuries before and after Bayinnaung’s reign (1551-1581), it had been an important town – with the religious architecture to match.

Shwethalyuang reclining Buddha in Bago

Shwethalyuang reclining Buddha in Bago – panoramic view

I had left Yangon with Yan, my driver, around 7:00 a.m. and after we arrived in Bago around 9:00 I spent the morning at three different sites on the east side of the Bago River.  The following posts look at our morning itinerary in Bago –

Bago’s Shwemawdaw Pagoda: Myanmar’s Tallest Stupa

Bago’s Hintha Gon and the “New” Kanbawzathadi Palace

We took a one-hour break for lunch at a huge warehouse-like Chinese restaurant (the Kyaw  Swa), which seems made for tour bus groups.  Then it was back to our mission – visiting more of Bago’s many Buddhist monuments and stupas and temples.

The Shwethalyaung Buddha

Our first stop was the Shwethalyaung Buddha  pictured above.  As with most Myanmar Buddhist sites, the covered entrance way is lined on both sides with stalls selling all sort of items related to the site – from souvenirs to flower offerings to books and more. After the first few days in Myanmar I filed away my thought that this was somehow tacky and just accepted that my view was not theirs.

covered entrance way to the reclining Buddha of Bago

covered entrance way to the reclining Buddha of Bago

Bago - camera fee list

Bago – camera fee list

Getting the entire figure in the viewfinder proved to be difficult! Here is another attempt at getting in all 55 meters (180 feet) of the reclining Buddha.  Notice the distortion present in the image!

another Shwethalyuang - panoramic view

another Shwethalyuang panoramic view – click on to enlarge

dimensions in meters

dimensions in meters

Buddha head and pillows or boxes

Buddha head & pillow boxes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

front panel of one of The Buddha's pillow boxes at Shwethalyuang

front panel of one of The Buddha’s pillow boxes at Shwethalyuang

I went around the Buddha figure in a clock-wise direction and on the back side i found the last of a series of ten panels recounting the story of how the reclining Buddha statue came to be.  If you want to read the panels in the right order, it would be best to go round the back via the feet.

The construction of the original Buddha figure is connected to the conversion of the Mon king  Mgadeikpa  to Buddhism in 994 C.E. This was due to the magical powers exhibited by a Mon Buddhist woman with whom his son had fallen in love and who would only marry him if she was allowed to keep her religion. She was able to show the king uselessness of his pagan gods and the superiority of Buddhism.

the tenth and last panel of the story of who had the original reclining Buddha built and why

the tenth and last panel of the story of who had the original reclining Buddha built and why

Down I walked past the other panels until I found myself at the Buddha’s feet – all seven meters (23 feet) of them.  I went up the steps of a raised viewing platform to get the shot below.

the Shwethalyaung Buddha's feet

the Shwethalyaung Buddha’s feet with the markings of Buddhahood

And then it was back to the front of the Buddha and one more effort to get a decent shot that included the entire statue.

a couple of novice monks walk by the Shwethalyaung Buddha

a couple of novice monks walk by the Shwethalyaung Buddha

When the Mon lost control of Pegu with its takeover by Bagan, apparently the reclining Buddha was abandoned for close to five hundred years. (It does seem odd that a statue honouring the Buddha would be forgotten by the conquerors, who had also embraced Buddhism.)  It would be rebuilt in the 1500’s during Bayinnaung’s reign but when his Pegu fell to invaders around 1600 C.E. it was abandoned yet again!

Shwethalyaung Buddha - face and lotus

It would take a work crew building a rail line to Yangon to stumble upon the overgrown mound in 1881 and so began efforts to  bring it back to life. Most of what we see is the result of work done in the past one hundred years – the elaborate pillow boxes, the ten panels on the back side, the very roof over the statue.  I was left wondering to what extent the Buddha I looking at  – his face, his hand placement, the folds of his robe –  looks like  the original.

a close up of the Shwethalyaung Buddha face

a close up of the Shwethalyaung Buddha face

I have always associated the reclining Buddha figure with the moment in the historical Buddha’s life when, at the age of 80 on his death-bed after he had eaten the tainted pork, he is about to slip into parinirvana.  The youthful face of the Shwethalyaung Buddha did not convey this to me!

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha Bago Myanmar

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha Bago Myanmar

Not far from the Shwethalyaung Buddha (55 meters) is another even more colossal 80-meter reclining Buddha figure, a very recent Buddha installed in the early 2000’s thanks to the funds donated by local Buddhists keen to earn merit for their spiritual advancement. His youthful face and pose exude serenity and peacefulness.

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha - head

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha – head

 

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha - feet underside

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha – the soles of his feet with all the requisite symbols!

some of the symbols on the soles of the Buddha's feett

some of the symbols on the soles of the Buddha’s feett

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha - panorama view

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha – panorama view

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha - statue on the side

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha – statue on the side

elephant statue on the edge of the Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha site

elephant statue on the edge of the Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha site

Leaving the reclining Buddha behind, twenty minutes later I took the photo below while standing at the top of the Mahazedi  (literally great stupa) and looking back at the outdoor reclining Buddha site we had just visited; it is on the extreme right.   Also visible in the haze was the Shwemawdaw Pagoda; it is on the extreme left of the image below while the Mya Tha Lyuang Buddha is inside the rust brown structure.

the view from the top of the Mahazedi

the view from the top of the Mahazedi

Still to come are the Mahazedi  stupa and the Kyaik Pun Paya,  a square pillar with a 100-feet high Buddha figure on each of the four sides. A visit to Shwegugale Paya would end our hectic day day of site-seeing in Bago.  In would not have been possible  without Wan’s expertise and the occasional refuge of his air-conditioned car!   The Bago day tour ends with the post below!

Next Post: Visiting Bago’s Buddhist Sites – The Tour Concluded