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Nemrut Dagi, Turkey ~ Inspiration for Star-Crossed with Scarlett

Nemrut Dagi, Turkey

Back in the early 1990s, Mr. Munro and I did an overland trip from England to Kathmandu. The trip proper started once we reached Turkey. It was my first visit to Turkey, the country where the west and east meet, and I loved the food, the beaches, the history, and the people we met.

We traveled around the Western coast, hitting the gorgeous beaches and then drove up the east coast of Turkey.

I’d never heard of Nemrut Dagi before, and to be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with our game plan once we arrived. We had to get up early to see the sunrise. I’d been promised a brilliant show before, and each time I’ve regretted the early start to get to the top of a mountain/hill to be in the perfect position to enjoy this magical time. The sunrise has never lived up to my expectations.

Mountains near Nemrut Dagi, Turkey

So, a little about Nemrut Dagi before I get back to the sunrise. You’ll find it in the Eastern Taurus mountains, and it’s a man-made funerary mound. The late Hellenistic King Antiochos I of Commagene (69-34 B.C.) made the mound, which consists of stone chips. The king had the structure constructed for his own use. Huge limestone statues face outward from terraces, and guardian animal statues stand at each end. Some of the giant heads have toppled while others stand in their original positions.

As I mentioned, I had no expectations of our visit, but I loved the weathered heads that stand taller than a person. I enjoyed wandering around the site. We were lucky because there were only a few of us—our group of eight in fact.

Heads at Nemrut Dagi, Turkey

Nemrut Dagi

Photos of some of the enormous heads at Nemrut Dagi. Note – it was still pre-dawn when the bottom photo was taken.

I remember feeling the cold, but for once the sunrise was pretty, the sky a wash of pink and pale blue. This time, the person who informed me a pre-sunrise slog up a mountain was a good thing was entirely right. Nemrut Dagi has remained as a bright memory, and when I started writing Star-Crossed with Scarlett, it was the perfect inspiration to add to the action and adventure of my plot.

Funerary Mound and statues

This is a shot of the burial mound and some of the statues (parts of them).

Sunrise at Nemrut Dagi

Sunrise at Nemrut Dagi

Two pics taken during sunrise. Of all the sunrises I’ve seen, this was my favorite!

Star-Crossed with Scarlett My memories of Nemrut Dagi inspired part of the plot for Star-Crossed with Scarlett, a paranormal, action-adventure romance. I don’t want to say too much. Spoilers, you know!

The Scarlet Macaw #research #travel

One of seventeen species of macaws, the Scarlet Macaw is becoming increasingly rare. In Costa Rica, Central America, we visited the Natuwa Macaw Sanctuary where they rescue, breed, and release the Scarlet Macaw.

I was very excited at the thought of seeing macaws. When our tour around the reserve started, my anticipation turned to disappointment because the Scarlet Macaw and the Blue and Yellow Macaw were in a huge aviary. Not great for photographic opportunities, although their aviary is HUGE.

But it turned out the sanctuary releases some of their macaws. Some of these pairs have returned and nest in boxes placed around the grounds. The Scarlet Macaw come and go as they please and have been successfully breeding, adding to the population. These ones provided excellent photographic opportunities.

The sanctuary houses many other animals such as jaguar, sloth, deer and other birds. Many of the animals are recovered from poachers or rescued when the animal butts up against man encroaching on habitat. Our guide was passionate and knowledgeable, and I enjoyed our visit very much.

Scarlet Macaw

Facts about Scarlet Macaws.

Scarlet Macaw

1. They live in the rainforest.

2. Their beak is perfect for cracking nuts and seeds.

3. The male and female look the same with white faces, scarlet and yellow.

4. They live to around 50 years of age in the wild. In captivity, they are known to live much longer than this.

5. They are intelligent birds and are popular pets but can be quite aggressive.

6. They usually mate for life.

7. Both the male and female look after the young.

8. Their bright colors help them to blend in the rainforest.

Scarlet Macaw Pair and Nesting Box

Star-Crossed with ScarlettI spent ages watching the macaws and found them fascinating. Already, they’ve found their way into my upcoming release Star-crossed with Scarlett. The birds make an appearance in the story and, of course, there is the heroine’s name, which is Scarlett.

The Adorable Sloth

The Adorable Sloth

Before our visit to Costa Rica, my knowledge of sloths was limited to the Ice Age cartoons. I thought of sloths as adorable and a little clumsy but with a great deal of charm.

The Natuwa Macaw Sanctuary is a refuge for other animals as well as the Red Macaw, and this is where I had a close-up view of two orphan sloths.

Natuwa Sanctuary

Sloth

They are the cutest things, and I spent ages watching them.

Here are some facts about Two-toe Sloths:

1. Sloths are herbivores and eat mainly leaves. Their diet is low-energy, so they don’t move around very much.

2. Their natural habitat is the rainforest in Central and South America.

Sloth

3. They are called two-toed sloths because of the two claws on their forearms. In fact, all sloths actually have three toes!

4. Predators such as the ocelot, the jaguar, and eagles are their enemies.

5. A sloth sleeps for around 15 hours a day.

6. They spend most of their time hanging upside down in their tree.

7. They go down to the ground to toilet and usually do this around once a week.

8. They are excellent swimmers and enjoy the water.

Sloth

Sloth

Sloth

Sloth

Sloth

As I said, I loved the sloths. They are mega-cute, and I am determined to write a sloth into an upcoming romance. Watch this space!

The Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, New Zealand

Whenever we have friends visiting from overseas, we take them to the Waitakere Regional Park. A short drive from the inner city and you’re in the middle of nature. The views from the visitor center are gorgeous, and it’s an interesting place for kids of all ages!

Waitakere View from Lookout

This is the view from the lookout at the rear of the visitor center. On a clear day, you can see for miles.

View of Auckland

It was a little hazy on the day I took this photo, but you can make out the Sky Tower and the other highrise buildings in the central city.

Native NZ trees

These are some of the native trees. The punga ferns were striking and pretty this day.

About the kauri tree

A Young Kauri Tree

A young kauri tree. This native tree is in danger from kauri dieback. It’s incurable, and currently, many of our tracks in the park are closed in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease.

The bush and river

Another view of the bush and the river.

Maori carving

Maori carving

Maori carving

These are some of the Maori carvings at the visitor center.

Shelley at Waitakere

And finally, this is me hamming it up with a view of the bush and sea behind me.

I’ve used the Waitakere area in my book Black Moon Dragon, and the heroine lives on the coast at Piha, which is not far away.

I highly recommend a visit to the Waitakere Ranges if you’re a visitor to Auckland. You won’t be disappointed!

Cruising Through the Panama Canal

Although I’ve visited Panama before via land (around thirty years ago) and peered at the canal from the shore, I was looking forward to actually sailing through. A small part of me wondered if I might get bored—I mean, an entire day of canals then lake then more canals before we hit the ocean again. I needn’t have worried because there is a lot to see and photograph.

We watched the men driving the mules, which are large vehicles that are used to keep the ships centered in the lock. They’re a bit like train locomotives since they run along tracks on the edge of the canal. We spotted birds and crocodiles sunning themselves on muddy banks and we watched the canals fill and empty of water, lifting and lowering our ship. It was also interesting watching the ship that sailed in the adjoining canal.

Here are a few facts about the Panama Canal:

1. The canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

2. It was built by the Americans and opened in 1914.

3. Complete control of the canal passed to Panama at the end of 1999.

4. Each ship is charged a toll, depending on their freight weight or passenger capacity.

5. The toll must be paid before the ship enters the canal.

6. Gravity feeds the flow of water that raises the level of the locks.

7. The average transit time to pass through the canal is ten hours but this can depend on the volume of shipping.

8. Pilots board each ship at the start of their journey through the canal.

9. The French attempted to make the canal first and lost over 20,000 workers to tropical diseases. Yellow fever and malaria in particular.

10. Once the Americans took over, they still lost 5609 workers to disease and accidents.

11. Nicaragua was also considered as a place to build the canal. The volcanoes in Nicaragua were part of the reason Panama was the preferred choice.

12. A swimmer swam the canal in 1928. He was charged 36c for his weight of 68kg. The toll charge for most ships is in the hundreds of thousands. The toll for our cruise ship was around $300,000.

Bridge of the Americas

Almost at the canal. It’s time for our adventure to start.

Ferrying lines

Despite our high tech times, these two men row out to the ships with lines. The big ships dwarf the tiny boat.

Entering the Miraflores Locks

Entering the first lock – the Miraflores. I was wondering how we’d fit as the lock didn’t look very wide!

Inside the canal lock

We’re partially inside the lock. It became more obvious that we would fit, but it was a tight squeeze.

One of the mules

One of the locomotions or mules that are used to guide the larger ships into the locks.

Crocodile Enjoying the Sun

A grazing deer

Some of the wildlife we saw while on the canal.

Inside the canal

We’re just about fully inside the canal and ready for the gravity-fed water to lift us up a level.

The gap between the canal wall and ship

Mind the gap! Check out the tiny gap between the wall of the canal and the ship. The rail tracks are those used by the mules.

Mimosa Time

Mimosa time! It was hard work watching and photographing the trip through the canal.

Gutan Lake

This is Gutan Lake, the man-made lake between the two sets of locks.

Gutan Lake Traffic

This is a shot of some of the other shipping traffic waiting on Gutan Lake for their turn to go through the locks. If you’re in a hurry, you can pay an extra fee to get through faster.

The last set of locks

This is the Gatun Locks, and it was easier to see because the locks went “downhill”.

Almost through the Panama Canal

Almost at the Atlantic Ocean. The final part of the Gatun locks.

Traveling through the canal on a cruise ship was a fun way to experience the workings of the Panama Canal. In truth, I thought the engineering and technical stuff would get boring, but the day went surprisingly quickly and I enjoyed it immensely. If you ever have a chance to do this cruise, I highly recommend it.

Cooking Class in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico #Adventure2019

Cooking Adventure 2019

Our cuisine in New Zealand is a fusion of European, Asian and Pacific influences with an emphasis on our fresh produce and seafood. We don’t get much in the way of Mexican food in New Zealand, and Mr. Munro and I decided to attend a cooking class when our cruise ship visited the port of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. We both love to cook, and this seemed like the ideal way to immerse ourselves in Mexico food.

I eat a mainly vegetarian diet with a little seafood, so we were in luck when our visit coincided with seafood day at the cooking school.

Chef Enrique runs these cooking classes from his home. According to him, one day he was lying in his hammock and he thought there must be a better way to earn a living. He loved cooking and food, he liked meeting and talking with people and the idea for his cooking school was born.

The class starts with an excursion to the local market to buy supplies. We visited a tortilla factory where the tortillas are made from corn. Our next stop was the fish market where we purchase a white fish, octopus and prawns. Eek! Who buys octopus? What does one do with all those tentacles? Well, I can confidently tell you that I’ve learned how to deal with an octopus, and even better, it was delicious.

A grinding machine at the tortilla factory

First stop – the tortilla factory where corn is ground into a paste to make tortillas. Something learned. I had no idea that proper tortillas do not contain flour.

Red snapper at the fish market

The fish market was spotlessly clean with not a fishy stench in evidence.

We purchased fresh vegetables and fruit including tomatoes, avocado, limes, lots of fresh herbs, chilies, and pineapple gaining tips along to way as to what to look for in fresh produce.

So many chilies!

There are so many varieties of chilies of all colors and sizes. Chef showed us his collection of dried chilies and I have no idea how he keeps them straight. Many, many chilies.

Starting to fill up the shopping trolley

We soon filled this trolley!

Our shopping done, we piled into our van and headed off to Chef Enrique’s home to start cooking. On our arrival, we were introduced to his family, given an apron to don and made to feel at feel. Mi casa es su casa. Drinks including tequila were available but most of us wanted to learn and stuck to the non-alcohol drinks in order to concentrate.

Chef put each of us to work. I squeezed limes and chopped onion while Mr. Munro cut the fish into cubes for the ceviche.

Chef and his family

Our fresh cooking ingredients

Our fresh ingredients are ready for class to commence.

The first course consisted of ceviche, guacamole, fresh pineapple with spices and two sauces. Our second course was a cactus salad, prawns, octopus, and more sauces. Our meal ended with a slice of beautiful caramel tart made by Mrs. Chef. It was glossy and almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

Chopping the snapper

Mr. Munro chopping the red snapper for the ceviche.

Making the ceviche

The ingredients for the ceviche.

First course ready to eat!

This is our first course, and it was yummy!

Experiencing the tortilla press

The tortilla press – an amazing gadget but not one we use a lot in New Zealand.

Octopus and prawns ready to eat.

Prawns and octopus ready for eating.

We had a fun day, and if you’re ever in Puerto Vallarta please check out Chef Enrique at Cookin’ Vallarta and his cooking class. You won’t be disappointed.

2019: The Year of Adventure #Adventure2019

Adventure 2019

At the end of 2018, I decided it was time to shake things up a little in my everyday life. I’m a creature of routine, and sometimes routine equals boring. Enough of that, I thought. It’s time to try new things and savor different experiences.

My plan for seeking adventure started this month, and I’ve been having fun trying new-to-me things both big and small.

My January adventures include:
Hula dancing
Line dancing
Zumba
A Panama Canal cruise, traveling from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale
Climbed Mt Eden in Auckland
Cooking class in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Saw a baby sloth
Saw a toucan

Toucan

Toucan

I’ll be back with posts about some of these adventures and my ongoing mission to step out of routine.

Do you enjoy doing new things? Have you tried doing something new this year?

Ernest Hemingway House, Key West, Florida #travel #writing

When we visited Key West, I noticed the Ernest Hemingway House Museum and suggested to my long-suffering husband that this could be our bit of “culture” for the day. Although I know of Hemingway, I’ve never read his books (I know. Big gasp.) but, other writers interest me and seeing their offices is always fascinating.

Ernest lived and wrote at his Key West house for around ten years. He purchased the property in 1931 after he and his wife fell in love with the area.

The house, as it stands now, is full of furniture collected by the Hemingway’s during their time in Europe plus paintings and copies of his book. Descendants of Hemingway’s cats also have free run of the property. It’s said he acquired his original six-toed tom cat from a sea captain after he took a liking to the cat.

He built a swimming pool at a cost of around $20000. Very expensive at the time and the only one in the area.

There is a writing studio out the back of the house, which I adored. I wanted to move in and start writing straightaway.

Hemingway divorced his wife Pauline in 1940 and moved to Cuba with his third wife, returning now and then to Key West until his death by suicide in 1961. He was very productive during his time in Key West writing books such as A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Death in the Afternoon, The Green Hills of Africa, To Have and Have Not and Islands in the Stream.

Source: https://www.hemingwayhome.com/

Hemingway House

Me outside the Hemingway Museum.

Hemingway House

The front view of the house.

And me again!

A painting of Hemingway

A painting of Hemingway.

Hemingway Books

Some of Hemingway’s books.

Interior

Bedroom

This is the main bedroom with one of the descendants of Hemingway’s cat.

Writing Studio

These are the stairs that lead up to Hemingway’s writing studio.

Writing office

Hemingway wrote in this office. It was bright and light and airy, and I coveted his office. I’m certain I could write great masterpieces in this office. :-)

Dogsledding, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada #travel

During our visit to Churchill, we spent a morning at Wapusk Adventures, the largest dog sled kennels in Canada.

The owners are passionate about their dogs and sledding, and I found the owner’s talk both interesting and inspiring. After learning about the dogs and the sport of sledding, we got to meet the dogs and do a mile circuit with a team of sled dogs. Fun times. After our sled ride, I had to purchase a T-shirt to add to my collection. I am now the proud owner of an Ididamile T-shirt.

If you’re ever up in Churchill I recommend a visit to Wapusk Adventures.

Watch for Mushers

Some of the local signage…

Dogs

The dogs knew that some of them were about to go for a run. They barked and jumped around trying to grab attention. It was the doggie version of pick me! Pick me!

Shelley and one of the locals

Me with one of the locals.

Time for a sleep

I didn’t get picked. I think I’ll have a snooze.

Hubby and I with our dog team

This is hubby and I during our sled ride. So much fun!

Polar Bear Jail, Churchill, Canada #travel #animals

The locals in Churchill do their best to deter polar bears from wandering into town. Conservation officers patrol during the season and attempt to scare bears away from the Churchill township if they get too close. They use noise to scare them such as fire crackers and air horns and as a last resort set traps.

Once a bear is trapped, the conservation officers take them back to the polar bear holding facility, also known as polar bear jail. Here they stay until the end of the season when they are relocated. During their incarceration, the bears are not fed. Originally, the bears were fed, but this seemed to draw more bears to town, so the decision was made to follow nature and only give the bears water.

Guard

This was our guard at the the parking lot where we transferred from the tundra buggy to the bus.

Bear Trap

Bear Trap

These are the traps used to catch bears that come too close to town. Once the bear walks inside the trap, the door comes down behind it.

The polar bear jail

Hubby and I posing outside the polar bear jail. The public are not allowed inside to ensure as little contact with the bears as possible. They want the bears to remain wary of humans and stay away.

Polar Bear Jail

This is the mural painted on the side of the polar bear jail. Cool, isn’t it?

Polar Bear

A final photo of a polar bear. This one stayed far away from the traps!