Sunday, July 5, 2015

Fresh Water & Fireworks

For the Fourth of July weekend this year, I returned to the land of the greatest of lakes.  Although I've traveled to a lot of cool places, there really is not anything that can compare to a day on a clean, sandy Lake Michigan beach.

Spending time on the water kayaking was relaxing as always.  The water was so still and clear that I was able to see the shattered wooden remnants of an old boat wreck several hundred yards off the shoreline (no pictures because I thought I might drop my phone in the water).  However, in Michigan there is always a catch - water that still and clear is usually c-o-l-d and the water temperature was about 52 degrees Fahrenheit (about 11 degrees Celsius).  I dove under anyway but popped out pretty quickly and decided that in-water activity was best in the kayak.

As the day ended, I tried my hand at another Lake Michigan sunset time lapse.  I've got to be more patient and not move the camera halfway through the shot, but otherwise it definitely turned out better than my first attempt last autumn.  It would be great to luck out with a clear sky and try again sometime.

Once the sun dipped behind the haze, I headed back to the city just in time to catch some fireworks with friends.  The show started just as I was finished passing through buildings along the way to our spot.  The echos between the buildings on the empty street were so intense it felt like the explosions were happening right next to us.

I still had my camera and tripod with me so I experimented with shooting fireworks for the first time.  I read this post from DIYPhotography on the way from the lake, but this post and this post are also helpful.  As always, National Geographic has amazing photos and tips as well.  I used Manual Focus, shutter speed of 6 seconds for the fireworks show (13-15 seconds for sparklers in the woods), and an aperture of about F8 (I think).  For a first attempt, I was pleased with the shots.

I also played around with some shots with longer exposures in the woods at night with some sparklers.  The designs also turned out pretty cool, and I'm looking forward to playing around more with these types of shots.  All in all, a wonderful relaxing day.  I hope you enjoyed the holiday too!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Inti Raymi 2015: The Andean Sun Comes to D.C.

While working in Ecuador, one of my most memorable trips with coworkers was to visit Cotacachi and Cuicocha, a couple hours north of Quito in the province of Ibarra.  The area is beautiful, and our trip was made especially memorable because we happened to arrive in the town during Inti Raymi - the Inca festival of the sun.  

Lago Cuicocha, Ibarra, Ecuador, 2013
Inti Raymi is a celebration of the winter solstice throughout many Andean communities across Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador (remember, it's the Southern Hemisphere so their winter solstice is the northern's summer solstice).  Taking place on the shortest day of the year, the festival is a celebration of the sun, longer days, planting, and the harvest to follow.  Although the festival itself is widely celebrated, each community has its own unique expression.

Inti Raymi Dancers, Cotacachi, Ecuador, 2013
On the day that we arrived, the festival was celebrated with groups of men in sheepskin chaps, tall hats, and metal whips whistling and dancing in circles, weaving their way through the town (with riot police on standby in case any dancer became overzealous).  The trip was a lot of fun, even with the gambles that come from eating street food and hitch hiking nighttime buses back to Quito.  

In Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian hosted its own version of Inti Raymi this year.  You can see Smithsonian's pictures from the event here.  The festivities began with an opening ritual for the fertility of Pachamama (mother earth) in the tradition of the town of Macha, in the northern Bolivian province of Potosí.  The festival incorporates both pre-Columbian and Christian elements.  

Tinku Pachamama Ritual
Then the dances began!  It's hard to capture here how amazing these dancers were.  They performed three performances with only a half hour break between each, but never lost any energy.  The beat pulsed through the museum with each unfaltering step.  

Bolivian Dancer
The first set of dances were the zapateados, dances that showcase the performers' footwork and focus on rhythm.  The next set of dances were the Huaylas, a dance from the highlands in which the dancers imitate the movements they perform in the fields while sowing potatoes.  

Huaylas Highland Dance
My favorite dance was the Tinku, variations of which are performed in parades.  This dance was the most energetic, with the dancers spinning and jumping, keeping pace with a quick rhythm.  The skill of the individual dancers, and the dancers as a whole, unparalleled with this dance.

Tinku Troupe Dance
The audience even got involved too!

The dancing, music, and colors were beautiful.  The festival as celebrated in D.C. had more Bolivian and Peruvian influences, but it was really cool to see how a festival with similar roots was celebrated by these communities in the United States as compared to the festival I observed in a small Ecuadorian town.  

I thanked one of the Bolivian dancers after the show for sharing her performance, and her emotional reply left an impression with me: "I have lived in this country for 28 years and have never felt more Bolivian than I do today.  To perform in the Inti Raymi festival, in the nation's capital, here in this museum is a tremendous honor for me."

Dancer with Andean Indigenous Movement flag

Monday, May 25, 2015

A (Free) Ticket to Paradise at the Smithsonian's Hawaiian Festival

Last weekend, the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian brought a little piece of paradise to Washington, D.C., with the 2015 Hawaiian Cultural Festival.  The festival, lasting May 16 & 17, brought together artists of all sorts to share hula, chanting, storytelling, traditional and contemporary Hawaiian music, food, traditional artists to celebrate Pele and Hi'iaka with D.C. residents and visitors.
Pele and Hi'iaka are Hawaiian deities that figure prominently in indigenous culture.  Pele is the goddess of fire, volcanoes, and maker of lands, and Hi'iaka is her brave and clever youngest sister.  Because Pele is the goddess of fire and volcanoes, she is honored by the color red.  Pele holds such a special place in Hawaiian culture that there is a custom in her honor as a volcano erupts.  It is said that as a volcano erupts and its lava flows down, a family should clean their home and set out a meal before leaving.  If they do this, it will be seen as a sign of welcoming and respect for Pele and her lava's path will part around the family's home, leaving it unscathed by her wrath.  
As shared by the Smithsonian, the epic journey of Pele and Hi'iaka (the abridged version; click here to watch the full story being told) goes like this:
Pele was driven out of the island of Kahiki (an island far from the Hawaiian islands) by her older sister Namaka.  Pele, the Fire Goddess and maker of lands, bids farewell to Kahiki knowing she can never return.  One majestic canoe carries her family across the vast ocean.  A favorite uncle and keeper of the sacred fire sticks travels with Pele, and she is led across the oceans by her brother Kamohoali'i.  After several battles with Namaka, Pele finally settles on the Big Island of Hawaii, where she occassionally spars with the goddess of snow and ice, Poli'ahu.   
Once, while in a deep dream, Pele travels to the island of Kauai and falls in love with a prince Lohi'au, an Ali'i (royal) of the island.  When her youngest sister Hi'iaka awakens her, Pele finds that she is far too weak to travel and begs Hi'iaka t travel and fetch Lohi'au for her.  Hi'iaka reluctantly agrees, as long as Pele takes care of Hi'iaka's sacred Lehua grove (a flowering tree unique to the islands) while Hi'iaka is on her journey.  Pele gives Hi'iaka a magic skirt of lei, and with it, Hi'iaka embarks upon an epic quest.  Along her journey, Hi'iaka battles fierce dragon-like monsters, the Mo'o clan and their leader Mo'olau.  Hi'iaka rescues Lohi'au from the monsters and brings him back to the impatient Pele, only to find that Pele, in her despair, had destroyed Hi'iaka's beloved Lehua grove.
This epic story was brought to life through the talented storytellers (and ukulele players) Taryn Lelea'e Wong, Moses William Goods III, and Kealoha Kelekolio.  These storytellers are phenomenal.  Thankfully, the Smithsonian recorded and webcast their tale, and you can watch it here!  

In addition to talented storytellers, the rhythm of the Islands filled the museum's atrium with performances by hula dancers to music by the Aloha Boys.  The dancers, dressed in red to honor Pele, brought to life traditional Hawaiian dances as well as showing newer forms of Hawaiian dance blended with contemporary Hawaiian music.  
Many of the dances were reminiscent of the ocean's waves, but the dancers evoked an especially fiery energy while dancing as Mo'o (fierce dragon-like monsters of Hawaiian legend).  
There were also several talented craftsmen and women showcasing traditional Hawaiian arts to visitors.  They showed eager viewers techniques involved and explained the significance of each item in Hawaiian culture.  
Here, William Char demonstrates traditional lei making with different leaves, plants, and flowers found on the Hawaiian islands.  The red lei represents Pele, and the white lei to the left represents the ice of Poli'ahu, the Snow Goddess.
Above, Taryn Lelea'e Wong demonstrates traditional feather leis that served a unique role in Hawaiian culture.  Because Hawaii produces no natural gemstones, feather leis were a sign of royalty and high social status.  
This black and red lei took approximately 80 hours to make.
Its black feathers are the naturally colored feathers of a mallard, and the red feathers are dyed goose feathers.
The feathers are either a natural color or dyed, and are incredibly time-intensive to make.  Because of the detail and time required to make a feather lei, they are expensive and thus reserved for those who could afford to pay.  
Unlike other markers of royalty in traditional cultures, Ms. Lelea'e Wong explained, different colors did not necessarily connote higher class or royalty standing - just being able to own and wear a feather lei in itself indicated royalty.
I gained a deeper insight to Hawaiian culture and history and hope to someday experience the islands first-hand.  I am looking forward to Smithsonian and the National Museum of the American Indian's next big cultural festival - the Inti Raymi Andean summer solstice festival in Washington, D.C., and New York City.  I had the chance to see this festival while working in Ecuador in 2013 and am excited to participate in the Washington, D.C., celebrations.  

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Walgreens Printable Coupons