Sunday, March 31, 2013

Research Trip to the French Polynesia

In a little over a week, I am going on a research trip to the French Polynesia as part of my grant project for the Minnesota Artist Initiative Grant. The purpose of the trip is to gather information by taking photos, making sketches, and talking with Polynesians about their culture, history, and political struggles. I will be hiking through valleys to hidden waterfalls, climbing up mountains, kayaking to outer motu's and exploring making notations about flora. It is a place that has embodied a sense of romantic, exotic wonderment for Westerners for over 300 years and has some of the most beautiful islands in the entire world. I became interested with the country with respect to my work when I learned about it's past of nuclear testing and the tension with the French government still controlling the country. It also contains the most important Polynesian archaeological sites outside of Easter Island. The marae ruins that are all over the islands are thought to be such very dark and spiritual places that Polynesians refuse to re-enact past rituals. Also, I am interested in how the rising acid and temperature of the ocean is effecting the coral life around one of the most secluded places on the planet. 

 *Photo: Tahiti Tourisme 

The trip will be 33 days ad I will visit 6 different islands: Moorea 5 days, Huahine 7 days, Raiatea 6 days, Bora Bora 3 days, Tahiti 5 days, and Nuku Hiva 7 days. Each island was picked for landscape and cultural significance. I am grateful for the length of time because it will give me the time to get to know each island (with the exception of Bora Bora but it is just a resort play-land and the island itself is so small you can bike around it in less then 2 hours) and explore without using expensive tour groups that will hurry past things that I want to sketch. 

*Photo: Tahiti Tourisme

Most of the people I've gotten into contact with on the islands so far have been very receptive to my project. Last year I came across the book Tahiti Beyond the Post Card: Place, Power, and Everyday Life (Culture, Place, and Nature) by Miriam Kahn that talked about all of the things that interested me about the country and the way tourism effects how the culture is perceived and how it influences the growth and change of the culture. Miriam was kind enough to put me into contact with Dorotea who runs the important Fare Pote'e Mavea Huahine. She will be teaching me about Polynesian culture and their past. Also, all of the places that I am staying at (with the exception of 1 night) are family lodgings and pensions. This means that I'll be staying  on the property of Polynesian families and will have close contact with them, and also use of a kitchen. The kitchen is important since a cheap meal can set you back at least $17. Lucky for me I can live off of instant oatmeal, tropical fruit, beans and nuts. Also being that it is a colony of France (yes a real colony with an elected Governor as a representative) there are always baguettes and good cheese around. Also, there are banana, mango, grapefruit, guava, coconut and passion fruit trees that grow in the wild so I plan on stocking up when I'm out hiking but there are fruit stands around as well if this proves to be untrue. 


All of this information that I am gathering will be used to create a large body of work about landscape of the Polynesian islands and will be shown around galleries in MN and include artist talks about the process and Polynesian culture. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Packing tips for a hybrid backpacker research trip

I learned a lot from our trip to Belize and Mexico about packing. It was a two week trip and each of us brought one carry one bag and a small backpack plus one extra small backpack and that was it. Most people would've had much larger suitcases for that long of a trip but we wanted to be very mobile without having to worry about huge luggage on chicken buses and such. In those small suitcases we brought lots of art supplies, notebooks, a backpacker blowup mattress, clothes for rainforest hiking, beach wear, medicine, and camera gear. We both kinda panicked when we realized that half of the clothes we wanted to bring would have to be left behind in order to fit all of our art related gear. However, we realized at the end of our trip that we could've taken even less and been just as happy because we just had everything washed halfway through the trip and some of our clothes were never even used.

Things I brought:

*2 pair of hiking pants(next time I'm bringing 1 since they are the kind that resist smells and sweat and I only wore them hiking)
*2 long sleeved, light weight, button up shirts(having 2 was great because they also work as swim suit cover ups and when it's a bit chilly at night)
*4 tank tops (2-3 is really all that's needed)
*4 t-shirts (2 is just fine, don't bring white)
*1 knit dress (I want to take 2 on my next trip because they are so easy and you can feel a bit more dressed up at nigh without the effort. Think packable, and cotton only)
*3 pair of shorts (only need 2, no sweat short or light knits. Think chino and denim. I made the mistake of taking these cute, light, sweat shorts to the Virgin Island and they looked terrible by the end of a long, hot day)
*1 swimsuit coverup (cute but unnecessary with the other button ups)
*3 bikini's (that was fun to have since I swam every morning in Mexico plus all of the cenotes but 2 would be better. Also make sure to have one bikini top that does not have halter straps because it can be hard on the neck when you wear them everyday)
*2 jackets (1 light weight rain shell, 1 jacket for at night)
*1 pair of flip flops (super comfy ones. I like reef because they have a bit of support and soft straps plus they never break)
*1 pair of classic keens (I know they are not cute but they comfortable, they can go in the water, and they are good hikers. I needed them for a caving trip that involved hiking, climbing, swimming, and lots of wading through rivers and everyone was jealous of my keens)
*1 pair of cute, comfortable, low profile sandals (great to have, think packable when choosing)
*1 pair of hiking boots (something that supports the ankle, waterproof, and good for HOT weather. These were great but I will leave them behind and just take my keens when I go to the French Polynesia because I won't have to worry about snakes and scorpions)
*Sports bra (much more comfortable when hiking and covered in sweat)
*lots of socks and under garments
*1 headband (this is great for preventing sunburn on the scalp, wicking sweat, and keeping the hair back. I liked this one a lot because it is a cool max that resists bacteria smells)
*backpacker blowup mattress (This was great to have at the $30 a night hotels. The rooms were clean, the people were nice, the beds were horribly uncomfortable. The backpacking ones are great because they roll up to be super small and only weigh 25 oz)
*Packpacker blow up pillow (this is a great alternative to those cumbersome neck pillows that take up so much space plus they pack to be tiny and only weigh 2.5 oz)
*Imodium AD, Pepto-bismol (they can be life saver)
*Electrolyte tablets (These Nuun tablets are amazing for hot weather when you are sweating a lot and they take up almost no space. Plus they are great when you are sick and lost fluid)
*Rehydration salts (didn't need but can save a life)
*Benadryl (You never know what you can be allergic to in a rainforest)
*Iodine tablets (in case you're lost in the rainforest or can't buy bottled water for some reason)
*first aid kit with compass 
*Lots of 30% deet bug spray (you have to use it unless you like creepy weird bites, dengue fever, and malaria)
*Plus lots of art stuff

Things I wished that I brought:
*a crushable sun hat
*snorkel mask (the rentals are terrible plus the best cenotes don't have rentals available)
*an umbrella (not for the rain but for the sun because it felt like I was being roasted when I was drawing in the direct sun at Chichen Itza)
*Anti itch stuff for bug bites


*Don't bother with much make up 
*Bring gentle soap like Dr. Bronner's that can be used for hair, face, and body.
*Biodegradable sunscreen is broad spectrum SPF, stays on much longer, and is the only thing that doesn't damage coral.
*Tiger balm will take the edge off of a bug bite in a pinch 
*Take a good amount of cash because nobody really takes cards even when they claim that they do

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Research Trip to Belize and Mexico Part 2

We took the new A.D.O over-night bus line from Belize City to Tulum. The A.D.O bus is much nicer then any bus I've been on in the U.S. and it the only major bus line to and from Tulum so we rode it quite a few times around the Yucatan. The only bad thing is the bus is really only an over night to Cancun so we were dumped in the middle of town at 3:30 in the morning. Lucky for us it was with a Canadian backpacker who was very fluent in Spanish because I was too tired to remember any of mine. So we got a ride in a cab to our hotel which turned out to be 4 miles (way further then I thought) from where we were dropped off. 

Of course it was worth it because we woke up to this everyday because our cabana was right o the beach tucked into the mangrove.

We stayed in a beach side cabana at the Vida Nueva de Ramiro that was complete with a porch and hammock.

It's a family run eco hotel set into the natural mangroves so they left everything as undisturbed as possible (They were one of the few places that did) plus they did work with the bio reserve down the road to help protect the sea turtles that like to nest in the area.

This is one of their lounge areas on the beach. It know, it was rough.

I'm not one to sit around long, plus it's a RESEARCH trip so here I am baking at Chichen Itza while I sketch the ball court. Dave was able to catch a rare moment where there wasn't a billion tour groups herding through.

We all know what this is. I wasn't very impressed because everyone makes such a big deal about it so I was expecting something taller but I saw much taller in Belize. However, it is interesting to see the influences of other cultures such as the Aztecs in Chichen Itza. 

They did have some well preserved statues though, but you couldn't get close to anything.

We rented bikes and went over to the Gand Cenote which is only 2 miles out of town. It is actually very small, but you can rent snorkel gear there and the cave is easy to navigate. It was fun and great relief from the hot sun.

I'm smiling and waiting for my juice but I was really sick from a salad I ate at an American hotel restaurant the night before. 

This is what our evenings looked like

I loved the limestone rocks in the area. This is where the locals and the birds would go to catch their fish for dinner every night.

Coba is really spread out so you go around the different areas by bike. Luckily for us, most people just go to the big temple that you can climb and maybe a couple other things before they call it a day. This makes a lot of the smaller areas relatively tourist free. 

That building in the shot is part of the Mayan Tulum ruins. It is a pretty little site and the beach attached to it is great even with the crowds. Most people won't go past the ropes though so it is easy to get to get some good pictures and enjoy yourself.

When we first got to Tulum the small waves tumbled you around like a washing machine until you swam far enough out. The hotel owner explained that it was because of the full moon. Sure enough by the end of the week, their were no waves and the water was completely clear to the bottom.

You can never have to many sunrises

Monday, March 4, 2013

Research Trip to Belize and Mexico Part One

This fall I went on a research trip with my husband to Belize and Mexico so that I could research the landscape, Mayan ruins, and ocean to make paintings. It was our first such trip where our trip rested somewhere in between being full on back backing and just easy going about it. (we were the only 2 people traveling around on buses and staying in these small towns with rolling bags even though they can convert to backpacks if it got weird, but it never did) I wanted the experience to be somewhere in between tourist and exploring so it was hard to know what resources would work and what wouldn't until we were actually in the country. I will share some of the tips we learned along the way in future posts.

First off, I can't go on enough about how much we LOVED Belize! It is beautiful, the people are super friendly, it has almost no tourism in comparison to Mexico, 26% of the country is protected,  cheap, and easy to navigate once you get used to the fact that everything runs on "island time" like the rest of the Caribbean (even though Belize is actually nested between Mexico and Guatemala). P.S. they speak English. 

I fell in love with the Mayan sites in Belize that are nested in the jungles and on mountain tops. They are not nearly as excavated as the sites we saw in Mexico, and you can climb to the top of everything with stairs.  I loved wardering through the jungle and coming to an area with a temple that is 147 ft high (The famous Chitzen Itza pyramid is 97 ft high) plus ruins that are covered 1000 year old jungle growth.

Xunantunich (sounds kinda like tuna sandwich). 

This is my finished sketch on a temple in Xunantunich. I wasn't on the top to do it because the ledge wan't super wide and it kinda freaked me out to be up there for too long. You can see Guatemala in the background.

You can get to Xunantunich on a short bus ride from San Ignacio then is is a short half mile walk. We saw people taking expensive tours from fancy hotels but we liked taking our time about it and met some nice locals along the way.

That guy has a weedwacker.

Cahal Pech is a small Mayan site that is walkable from the town of San Ignacio that we stayed in. It is beautiful and completely worth the visit.

Me sketching in Caracol which is now believed to be the largest and most powerful Mayan city that ever existed with the estimated 150,000 people at its hight. (Don't believe the guides at Chitzen Itza)

These are the buses that you ride around the country in and they are the ONLY ones unless you get an expensive shuttle service from a tour outfit. We met some people who did that and I guess it is easy to hitch a ride on one with some extra seats. But unlike chicken buses in certain countries, these are safe, and a great way to meet some locals and backpackers and enjoy the country.

This is the path that takes you through the protected jungle rain forest to the main Caracol ruins. It is magical.

Small ruins in Caracol

The best part of the Caracol trip (it takes about an Hour and a half to get there because it is on the top of a mountain in the middle of a national park reserve) was standing on the high temple and seeing the misty, rolling mountains of rain forest. It was impossible to get a good picture to do it justice, but we did see a toucan.

This was the highest temple in Caracol. It is so large that there are 3 more temple on top of the platform that are hard to see. 

This is the Rio Frio cave that we were able to stop at on the way to Caracol. The mouth of the cave is at least 75 ft high. Most of Belize is said to be like swiss cheese made up of a huge labyrinth of unmapped cave systems (they're working on it). We also went on the A.T.M. cave expedition but they no longer allow photography because a tourist damaged a priceless artifact by dropping his camera on it. But rest assured, it that cave was the #1 best experience of my life! It is the most beautiful place Dave and I have ever been. The Mayans believed it was where the water goddess lived and to see it you understand why. Plus all of the Mayan artifacts have been left where they found them so it is full of pottery and bones with no roped off walk ways.

This is Caye Caulker off of the coast of Belize. It's one mile away from the worlds second largest barrier reef. It's a true hippie island, it's small, cheap to stay and get to, and you can arrange snorkeling tours. 

We stayed here at Yuma's place. It's a hostel which means no bathroom in the room but that is a very American notion anyways and we never miss it considering you're in paradise for $30 a night with a full kitchen and it's very clean, safe, and cute.

Thay have a large protected coral park that gives a place for fish to repopulate


This was our view in the morning.