Balboa Park Plants
NY 240th Street Yard
Castillo San Cristobal
Milkweed Beauty
Man Swims the Gowanus Canal

Women’s March on Washington

I went to the Women’s March on Washington today. I have only been to one of rally in my life, and that Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity. Clearly, I generally don’t go to rallies or protests, but this was one I really felt I had to go to. The day started out how I was sort of worried it might: a line to get into the Metro. I do have to compliment WMATA staff though. The trains were packed, but the workers were doing their best to keep things moving and helping people. They were helped by all the people going to the rally were in a really good mood and patiently waited for the train. Three trains went by where maybe one person could board because they were already full. Finally the fourth came, and there was barely anyone on it, and everyone in the station cheered and quickly got on. Then we got to L’Enfant to exit for the rally. We had to wait in line to get out. I think part of the problem was that all the escalators were off, which I think is a safety function when there are too many people. It wasn’t really a problem because we just started rallying in the subway station.

Then after getting to the surface, it was a slow walk towards the rally stage. I think I got as close as a block or so. After reading the news this evening, it was amazing I could get that close as all the streets were full. The published schedule was that the rally would be from about 10-1, and then the march would start. The march was supposed to be down Independence Ave, then turn down 14th St., then turn down Constitution Ave, and walk to The Ellipse. I got to the rally area around 12:30 and could halfway hear the speakers. Everyone was happy and joining in chants. After about 1:30, we started our own chants like “let us march” or just “march.” People were tired of listening to people and just wanted to march. Some time after 2:30, they said that there were too many people, so we would end on Constitution Ave, not The Ellipse. Then we thought we would march, but no, there were more speakers. There were many, many speakers. Then finally around 3, they said the route had changed, and now we would walk across 4th and then turn onto Constitution Ave. Finally a bit after 3, my area of people just started marching. Honestly I have no idea how many people had already started marching well before. I just followed people. When I was able to move, I moved. Evidently the people I followed either didn’t know where Constitution Ave was or didn’t care because everyone just kept walking to Pennsylvania Ave. There were people on Constitution Ave, and they all seemed to be walking back to join the people on Pennsylvania. So we marched on Pennsylvania, and people sat in the bleachers from the inauguration parade and cheered us on. People were in buildings all along the street cheering. I have to give props to DC police, National Guard, and everyone else out there who has to keep order. We were an orderly, happy, loud bunch, and they let us be. I am quite sure we were not supposed to be on that street, but they let us march. We chanted, clapped, and waved to people and let ourselves be known. One of the chants that I liked the best was “this is what democracy looks like.”

Trying to get out of L'Enfant Metro station

Trying to get out of L’Enfant Metro station

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March like a girl

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The guardsman on the left was taking photos of the crowd for people. They would hand him their phone, and he would take photos or a movie for them.

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Sometimes things just line up in a photo for you

Sometimes things just line up in a photo for you

An interesting contrast of people exercising their First Amendment Rights, in front of the Newseum with the First Amendment written on the side of the building with people cheering from the building with a "Welcome President Trump" sign

An interesting contrast of people exercising their First Amendment Rights, in front of the Newseum with the First Amendment written on the side of the building with people cheering from the building with a “Welcome President Trump” sign

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Snorkeling Belize

I went snorkeling today off the coast of Belize on part of its barrier reef. I have no true idea where I was, other than they said the boat ride was going to be about 14 miles. So that clears that up. Anyway, I saw several lobsters, a couple of rays, and a couple of nurse sharks. I was super excited by the rays and sharks. The coral was lovely, but somewhat sparse in that area. Also, there seemed to be a bit of what I can only assume was coral bleaching, which was rather depressing.

Nurse shark

Nurse shark

Eagle ray

Eagle ray

Coral

Coral

Ray

Ray

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

Nurse shark

Nurse shark

Coral

Coral

Coral

Coral

Coral

Coral

Coral

Coral

Coral

Coral

Seaweed?

Seaweed?

On the Monkey River

I took a cruise up the Monkey River today. Getting there was an adventure into itself. An hour drive to Placencia, then at least a half hour boat ride to Monkey River Town, to finally then cruise up the Monkey River. The journey ended at a spot in the jungle which is completely overrun by mosquitoes, but there are also some howler monkeys. The howler monkeys are about as loud as you can imagine an animal that gets the name howler would be. The Monkey River flows through a grassy and mangrove area that is quite pretty. There were numerous birds just sitting along the edge waiting to be spotted. Our guide also spotted a crocodile on the way back that nicely ignored us.

Dramatic storm clouds on the boat ride to Monkey River. These would later drench us on the boat ride back.

Dramatic storm clouds on the boat ride to Monkey River. These would later drench us on the boat ride back.

Monkey River

Monkey River

Little blue heron

Little blue heron

Yellow-crowned night heron

Yellow-crowned night heron

Bat

Bat

Focus tree strangling another tree

Focus tree strangling another tree

Howler monkey

Howler monkey

Howler monkey

Howler monkey

Howler monkey

Howler monkey

Mushrooms growing on a tree

Mushrooms growing on a tree

Palm forest

Palm forest

Making chocolate

I took a tour of Che’il Mayan Chocolate, which included an organic cacao farm and a tiny factory where they make chocolate. I am not sure it qualifies as a factory, but they make do make a small amount of chocolate there as well as some chocolate products like nibs, cocoa powder, and cacao tea. The tour was fascinating, and the following is a brief synopsis. It all starts off with a cacao tree.

Cacao tree

Cacao tree

The beginning of the deliciousness that is chocolate starts with a tiny, little flower.

Cacao flower

Cacao flower

When the flower is fertilized, a giant fruit or seed pod forms. The flowers bloom for months, and hence seed pods form and grow at different times.

Unripe cacao fruit or seed pod

Unripe cacao fruit or seed pod

The seed pods ripen to a yellow or red color depending on the specific cacao tree species.

Ripe cacao fruit or seed pods

Ripe cacao fruit or seed pods

Inside the seed pods are cacao beans covered in a white pulp. We got to take a bean and suck the pulp. The pulp was quite tasty with sort of a creamy, light fruit taste.

Cacao seed pod with seeds covered in white pulp

Cacao seed pod with beans covered in white pulp

The beans have a dark brown interior.

Cacao seed pods with seeds covered in pulp in upper half and seeds we sucked pulp off of in lower half

Cacao seed pods with beans covered in pulp in upper half and seeds we sucked pulp off of in lower half

The beans are first fermented in a box for several days. They are then roasted over low heat. In the photo below, the light beans (on the traditional Mayan grinding stone) are the beans that have not been roasted. The dark ones in the middle front bowl have been roasted. Cocoa butter is in the white bowl, and the bowl right in front of it are the shells from de-shelled beans. The shells are removed from the beans before roasting. After roasting the beans, they are ground into nibs, which can be seen in the bowl to the left of the cocoa butter.

Cacao seeds

Cacao beans

The nibs are placed on the stone and crushed.

Crushing cacao nibs

Crushing cacao nibs

Crushing cacao nibs

Crushing cacao nibs

The grinding motion with the stone pulverizes the nibs, and the pressure causes heat, which starts to melt the oils in the nibs. We got to taste it at this point, and the chocolate is rather bitter.

Crushing cacao nibs with liquid starting to form

Crushing cacao nibs with liquid starting to form

After quite a bit of grinding of the nibs, only liquid remains. Sugar and cocoa butter is added.

Adding sugar and cocoa butter

Adding sugar and cocoa butter

The mixture is ground more to mix everything. We got to taste the finished chocolate at this point again. It definitely was sweeter with the sugar, but to me, it still had a bitter after taste.

Finished dark chocolate blend

Finished dark chocolate blend

The liquid is then poured into forms and allowed to harden. These were put into a fridge to harden quickly.

Pouring chocolate into forms

Pouring chocolate into forms

The finished product. The mixture made was 70% cacao. It tasted a bit different from the dark chocolate I have had before. It also melted very quickly in my hands compared to store bought chocolate, which must have stabilizers or something. Interestingly, even though this was the same mixture as what I tasted before it was poured into the forms, after cooling and hardening, it had lost most if not all of the bitter after taste that I tasted with the liquid.

Finished chocolate bars

Finished chocolate bars

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

I visited Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary yesterday. I did not get to see any jaguars, which is the reason the sanctuary was created. However, thanks to the rain the day before, I did get to see some of their tracks, which made me happy. It appears to me the sanctuary actually belongs to leaf cutter ants though. They are everywhere. They have created ant highways across all the paths, and their mounds are everywhere. I am rather in awe of what these tiny insects can do in transforming their environment. Numerous places of the hiking paths have the weeds completely mowed clear by the ants, so they can walk unhindered. The sanctuary is quite pretty, and I admit, one of my favorite things about it was the moss and fungus growing on trees that I became quite obsessed with photographing.

South Stann Creek

South Stann Creek

Huge palms create tunnels with the paths

Huge palms create tunnels with the paths

Shelf fungus on a fallen tree

Shelf fungus on a fallen tree

Jaguar paw print

Jaguar paw print

Moss growing on a living tree

Moss growing on a living tree

Small wetland area

Small wetland area

Leaf cutter ants, including a large soldier ant

Leaf cutter ants, including a large soldier ant

Leaf cutter ants

Leaf cutter ants

Leaf cutter ant highway, the mound can be seen in the far right underneath the dead palm frond

Leaf cutter ant highway, the mound can be seen in the far right underneath the dead palm frond

Fern

Fern

Rain: Madgalena Fernández at the Houston Cistern

After touring the Houston Cistern, we took another tour of it with an art installation completely encompassing it. Rain: Madgalena Fernández at the Houston Cistern is a video  installation with the video projected from all sides onto and into the cistern while sound plays. I don’t think I can fully explain it other than to say it is really, really cool, and you can read more about it here. The sound sounds likes rain, but it is completely human made sound. The video starts off looking a little like rain falling then becomes something that looks like how Hollywood loves to portray cyberspace. It is incredibly neat to watch, and I love the way takes over the space. img_1013 img_1020 img_1026 img_1030 img_1033 img_1038 img_1040 img_1050 img_1064 img_1073 img_1088

Houston Cistern

I love hidden places. I love places that you can just walk by and not have any idea are there. It just makes them more magical. I recently found out that Houston has an underground drinking water storage reservoir, a cistern. I have passed by this place so many times not having any idea it was there. The cistern was decommissioned in 2007 after an irreparable leak was discovered. Buffalo Bayou Partnership and the City of Houston turned it into space for people to visit and learn about the history of it and also a space that can be used for art installations. When functioning, the reservoir could hold 15 million gallons, but now it just has about 6 inches of water across. Enough water is there just for a neat reflection of the columns in it.

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern, the dark round object seen on the left side of the roof is a new access shaft

Houston Cistern, when it was operational, this was the only access to it

Houston Cistern, when it was operational, this was the only access to it

The cistern sits below the grass. In the foreground in an access shaft to the cistern.

The cistern sits below the grass. In the foreground in an access shaft to the cistern.

Nostalgia Ride

During the summer, the New York Transit Museum offers Nostalgia Rides, when they put some of their vintage subway cars back into service and bring a train full of passengers to some fun destination. Today I went on the Nostalgia Ride to Rockaway Beach. The train we rode on was two types of 1910’s and 1920’s BMT cars. The cars were complete with wicker seats, ceiling fans that “are machetes” according to the numerous warnings we got from MTA employees, and normal looking lightbulbs that are evidently powered straight from the third rail, which we were also warned not to touch. The ride is generally more exciting than the destination, and once we got to our destination, they offered some more rides back and forth for those who didn’t want to get off.

One of my favorite parts of nostalgia rides are the people in the stations we pass. They can generally be described in four different groups. The first, a small group, are those that see the train coming through but don’t seem anything abnormal about an antique train passing through. The second group, possibly the most common, are the ones that start smiling and waving, and grab their camera and start taking photos. The third group are those that just stare open mouthed or with a look that can only say, what the heck is that? The fourth and tiniest group are those that know we are coming and already set with photo and video cameras, sometimes with tripods. I once asked a Transit Museum employee about them, and she said they seem to know the route that the nostalgia ride will take before the museum does. Clearly there are transit fanatics spies about.

Another great part of these rides and a reason why I love New Yorkers, is when the nostalgia ride is ending. We all get on at the same location, but at the end, they stop at several large subway stations, so you can get off wherever is easiest. The train pulls into a station and stops. Normal subway riders start lining up to get on because a vintage 1920s subway train running on the A line is evidently a completely normal thing to New Yorkers.  [To be clear, you don’t have to be a subway aficionado to know that these trains look very different from the regular modern trains running.] New Yorkers are just so nonchalant about it. A subway train, of some sort, has arrived at the platform. They must get on. They have places to go, and a train has arrived to take them there. MTA employees have to stand in front of each door and say “off loading only”. Some of waiting passengers will ask why. Some waiting passengers start peering in, and normally either MTA employees or nostalgia ride passengers will have to explain. This part of the ride always makes me laugh.

One final note about the nostalgia ride, the train runs wonderfully. My sincere compliments to the MTA employees who keep the vintage cars maintained. Maybe they don’t run like they were built yesterday, but the ones we were on were 100 years old. To me it is amazing that they are still running at all.

Vintage BRT train used for this nostalgia ride in station

Vintage BRT train used for this nostalgia ride in station

Signs on the vintage cars

Signs on the vintage cars

In between rides, MTA employees cleaned the windows

In between rides, MTA employees cleaned the windows

While at the Rockaway Station, the train was in the station long enough for everyone to take photos, including a few police officers who boarded to check it out.

While at the Rockaway Station, the train was in the station long enough for everyone to take photos, including a few police officers who boarded to check it out.

Swing bridge to Rockaway open during one of our trips

Swing bridge to Rockaway open during one of our trips

Going over the swing bridge that was previously open

Going over the swing bridge that was previously open

One of the bridges to Rockaway

One of the bridges to Rockaway

View from train of Jamaica Bay with JFK Airport in background

View from train of Jamaica Bay with JFK Airport in background

Coast side of Rockaway Beach

Coast side of Rockaway Beach

View from bay side of Rockaway

View from bay side of Rockaway

Icebergs DC

In what is now an annual tradition, the National Building Museum creates a fun, exhibit or installation in which children and adults can play. Last year it was The Beach, and the year before it was The Big Maze. This year, it is Icebergs. The museum’s great hall is filled with structures resembling icebergs, and blue mesh surrounds them to denote the water. The “water line” is about two stories high with the tops of many icebergs popping above it, like real icebergs. The exhibit is complete with an underwater bridge between two icebergs, which leads to two slides. White bean bags are scattered about, so you can sit down and relax.

Under the water

Under the water

Gorgeous giant iceberg

Gorgeous giant iceberg

Outside the exhibit, looking through the blue mesh

Outside the exhibit, looking through the blue mesh

Ice shoots

Ice shoots

On observation pier looking down to water

On observation pier looking down to water

On observation pier looking down to water

On observation pier looking down to water

Under the water

Under the water

Freshkills Landfill Turned Park

This past weekend, I got to check an item off my bucket list when I got a tour of Freshkills, the former landfill that is being turned into a park. This is probably not an item on most people’s bucket list, but I have heard so much about the landfill that when I found out New York City Parks Department gives tours, I jumped to sign up. The vast majority of the landfill has been fully capped and vegetated. The mounds are dotted by the landfill gas collection system with gas wells popping up from the high grass at regular intervals. The wildlife has already moved in. There were butterflies flying everywhere in the grass, and birds were everywhere. We also saw a family of deer. The wetlands are lovely and evidently filled with wildlife. Also, the view from the top of the mounds is spectacular. It will be a while before the area will be completely converted to a park and open to the public, but the transformation already is incredible. As an environmental engineer, I am incredibly happy to see it and proud of my profession that did it.

View of the last mound that has not been fully vegetated

View of the last mound that has not been fully vegetated

Amazing views with landfill gas well in foreground

Amazing views with landfill gas well in foreground

Landfill gas well

Landfill gas well

Bad photo of a family of deer

Bad photo of a family of deer

Osprey family

Osprey family

View of Manhattan

View of Manhattan

Landfill gas wells popping up in grass

Landfill gas wells popping up in grass

Wetlands in between mounds

Wetlands in between mounds