Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
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As the crow flies, I was only a mile or two from the beach, but it might as well have been a thousand miles away. Despite ominous skies and the threat of rain, I climbed into my lemon yellow kayak, pushed off the ramp and slipped into Graham Creek. Silently gliding through slate waters, I navigated narrow twisting channels bordered by tall wire grasses that reflected subtle green mirror images on the unstirring water. Giant pines loomed over the dense vegetation like overarching staves of an ancient church and I paddled in silent reverence, awed by the overwhelming stillness of the place. My guide, Captain Chris Nelson, interrupted the hush to point out a cormorant at the edge of a marsh and a great blue heron standing stately in a high tree branch. As if on cue, the heron took flight, its beating wings echoing across the waterway.

Mirror images of Ingram Bayou

Half an hour into the paddle, the stream untwisted itself and emerged into Wolf Bay. According to Chris, dolphins are often spotted in the bay but they were hiding on that particular day, Read More

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Like most Americans, I was mortified by the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this summer. My stomach turned when I viewed the underwater photos of oil gushing from the breached well and I felt helpless, wishing I could help in some way but knowing there probably wasn’t anything I could do. Then, a few weeks ago, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism invited me to visit the area as part of their first ever press tour. Since I had long wanted to check out this part of the country I jumped at the chance, but I was anxious about what I would find, given the devastating images of destroyed marshes and glops of oil floating atop beds of sea grass that had been continuously flashed across the TV screen. To my great delight, I found stunning white sand beaches and crystal clear water. I also found a community that, from the very first day oil showed up on the beaches, made a commitment to tell the truth, believing it would be far better for visitors to be aware of the situation before arriving.

Can’t see the above YouTube video about the aftermath of the oil spill in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama? Click here.

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are dependent upon tourism and fishing, thus their economies have taken a double whammy during this disaster, since large portions of the Gulf were closed until recently and local fishermen missed the first part of the shrimping season this year. Fortunately, the fishing grounds have Read More

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What do you get when you cross a donkey with a zebra? A zedonk, of course! The owners of the non-profit Chestatee Wildlife Preserve near Dahlonega, Georgia got a big surprise recently when their mama donkey gave birth to her mixed breed foal. Since she was born with striped legs and a solid body, they named the baby Pippi Longstockings. The foal has attributes of both donkey and zebra. Though she sports stripes, she is much less skittish than a zebra and seems not to mind all the attention she is getting.

Can’t see the above YouTube video about the baby Zedonk born at Chestatee Wildlife Preserve in Georgia? Click here.

Chestatee Wildlife Preserve is a non-profit wildlife animal rescue operation that is set up like a zoo so that visitors can enjoy their residents. The facility is open to the public 7 days a week Read More

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I’ve feasted on shrimp all around the world, but Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama have, hands down, the most delicious shrimp I’ve ever eaten. I arrived last night and promptly dug into my first helping at the Gulf Island Grill; today I had a shrimp Po’ Boy for lunch at the Beach Club and this evening I had broiled skewered shrimp at Live Bait restaurant in Orange Beach. I’m here as a guest of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, enjoying four days on this lovely coastal barrier island and checking up on the status of Alabama beaches following the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

Gulf Shores Beach - pristine white and free of oil and tar

Fort Morgan Beach on the western tip of Gulf Shores

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From the top of Cenote Samula at Dzitnup I peered into the abyss. Only five or six rough hand-hewn steps were visible before the cave’s gloomy interior swallowed the ancient staircase. Digging my fingertips into sweating limestone walls I descended gingerly, concentrating on keeping my footing on the slick, uneven stones. At the bottom of the stairs, where sunlight could penetrate no further, I groped my way to a viewing platform carved into the rock and blinked, allowing my eyes to adjust to the semi-darkness.

Cenote Samula at Dzitnup, near Valladolid, in the north central Yucatan

Like an exotic dancer, the cenote revealed itself in stages. A narrow column of liquid white light poured through a small hole in the roof, illuminating massive tree roots that spilled over the edge. Frantically searching for water, the sinuous limbs tumbled into the crystal-clear pool at the bottom. Colors gradually emerged in the semi-darkness: black streaks and white guano painted patterns on the ocher and red stone walls, complementing the turquoise blue water cupped in the bottom of this perfectly circular cavern.

I had expected Cenote Samula to be crowded – these naturally occurring sinkholes are among the more popular tourist attractions around Valladolid – but to my delight it was deserted. Closing my eyes, I tuned into its cathedral energy. Water droplets plunked from sweating rocks into the pool and bats swooped back and forth through the sunbeam, emitting their high-pitched warning. Whispers echoed in the cavern; a giggle punctuated the silence. Had other tourists arrived so stealthily that I had not heard them descend via the stone steps? I opened my Read More

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Worship of a feathered serpent deity may have begun as early as 200 B.C. at Teotihuacan near present day Mexico City, but it reached its pinnacle at Chichen Itza, the Mayan cultural capital in the north central plains of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Named Quetzalcoatl by Nahua residents of Teotihuacan, to Maya the plumed serpent was Kukulcan, a name they also gave to the famous stepped pyramid that today dominates the archeological site.

Serpent protruding from ball court stadium appears to devour Kukulcan pyramid

Chichen Itza is rife with signs of serpent worship. Thousands of limestone blocks at the base of the great ball court are carved with scenes of athletes who, upon losing a match, were decapitated; the blood flowing from their severed necks turns into wriggling serpents. Giant serpent heads protrude from the ends of the ball court stadia, while still others stand guard at the bottom of the staircase leading to the top of the smaller Ossario pyramid. The Kukulcan Pyramid also features a pair of serpent heads but strangely, they flank only the north staircase; the other three grand staircases may have purposely been left unadorned as a clue to the significance of the solo pair. The Maya built the temple so precisely that on the spring and autumn equinox, at the rising and setting of the sun, the corner of the pyramid casts a serpent-shaped shadow on the side of the north staircase that slithers down to the serpent’s head at the base.

North stairway with serpent heads at base on normal days

Corner of Kukulcan pyramid casts shadow of a serpent’s body on north stairway during sunrise and sunset on spring and fall equinox. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

By all indications, the Maya culture at Chichen Itza was steeped in violence. In addition to serpents, other carvings feature jaguars eating human hearts, battle scenes, and row upon row of stones depicting human skulls. Even the cenote, which was undoubtedly their sole source of Read More