Friday, October 31, 2014

Point Reyes Lighthouse

As mentioned in the bioluminescence kayaking post, on our way to Tomales Bay, we stopped at Point Reyes lighthouse.

Point Reyes Lighthouse
It was a two hour drive from Sunnyvale and the parts along Highway 1 are an absolute treat to the eyes. The Point Reyes National Seashore Park has a lot of different beaches apart from the lighthouse. As we were short on time, we could not stop at any other points. Point Reyes is the windiest place on the West coast and the second foggiest place in North America. Luckily for us, it was a clear day and the wind wasn't too bad!

This is the view from the parking lot.

A short walk leads to a small gift shop and restrooms. From there, 300 odd concrete steps take you downhill to where the lighthouse is located. It was a lot smaller than I had imagined it to be. The view from the lighthouse was no different from up top. If you want to avoid the walk up and the down, you can totally skip it.
300 Steps
The interiors of the lighthouse were bare except for a massive instrument with the clockwork mechanism, glass prism and lens that is housed inside. A guide inside gave us a brief overview. The lighthouse was built in 1870 and it warned mariners about rocky shores for hundred years before it was decommissioned in 1975. The guide also explained the mechanism of the equipment but I wasn't too keen on it.

Lighthouse from up close

Guide explaining the Lighthouse mechanism

The climb back up was the toughest part and made me huff and puff! I did not enjoy that at all. As you can gather, I wasn't too impressed by the trip so I wouldn't recommend it. Honestly, I liked the lighthouse at San Diego much better than this one.

What: Point Reyes Lighthouse
Where: Point Reyes Lighthouse, Inverness CA
Hours: Thur-Mon 2:30pm-4:00pm
Fee: Free

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bioluminescence Kayaking At Tomales Bay

In continuation to my resolve to try my hand at different adventure sports after my last white water rafting trip, I decided to explore kayaking. I have kayaked once in the past so the activity itself was nothing new. However, this was bioluminescence kayaking. I had never heard about it and would have missed out on this had a friend not told me about it. It was a marvelous experience, one that is hard to describe and leaves you at a loss of words. I was completely awestruck by this amazing natural occurrence. Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures of this as both my hands were busy paddling.

Scene for the movie 'Life of Pi'

Bioluminescence is the phenomenon of organisms producing chemicals that emit light. In Tomales Bay, single celled organisms called dino-flagellates are present in the water. When we paddle through the water, the disturbance causes them to produce chemicals resulting in the water to glow. The effect is magical and it felt like a scene out of 'Life of Pi.' One can see this only when it is pitch-dark. Moonlight, vehicular light and any other strong lights prevent bioluminescence from being viewed.

I booked my trip through Clavey Paddlesports a month in advance as September-October is the peak season for it and tickets get sold out pretty quickly. We kayaked in the Tomales Bay (north of San Francisco) which is about two hours from Sunnyvale. On the way, we stopped at Point Reyes to visit the lighthouse which I'll cover in a separate post. We reached the designated place at 5pm. The guides gave us the gear namely personal floatation devices, a waterproof jacket and a skirt to wear around the waist and the kayak to keep the water from entering inside. A quick demonstration of how to paddle and operate the kayak was given and we were in the water at 6pm.

All the kayaking gear
 Luck was on our side as the weather turned out to be extremely pleasant. No chilly breeze or biting cold to take away from the fun. Fearing a cold and windy night, we had packed multiple layers of clothing but it was not needed. Until the sun set completely, we kayaked around the bay for an hour. We then stopped on an island for a short break. Hot cocoa was served which was very refreshing after the physical activity. The guide took a few minutes to explain what bioluminescence is and what we can expect.

Once we started paddling, there was a glow on the water along the paddles and the kayak. I dipped my hand into the water, and as the water trickled down my palm, it was glowing like silver-white pearls. It was a lovely sight. Occasionally, when big fishes passed by, they emitted a much stronger and bigger light which disappeared in a flash. One hour of this spectacular show was truly enjoyable.

You do not need to know swimming to enjoy this activity. All you need is to be in reasonable good health to paddle for two hour. Make sure you plan ahead and book tickets in advance. Camp sites are available if you wish to stay overnight.

This trip has made my love for water even stronger. I hope to someday enjoy scuba diving to explore more of nature's delights.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden

Volunteering with Bay Area Older Adults is always a fun experiences and this one was no different. Anne arranged a tour of the beautiful Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden in Stanford Campus.


It was an hour long docent led tour of the gardens. This garden was created in 1994. One of the master students from the anthropology department at Stanford, Jim Mason, after returning from a trip to Papua New Guinea, proposed recreating their art work on the campus. His proposal was approved and ten talented artists from Papua New Guinea were brought in to work on the project. The group consisted of five youngsters who did all the hard labor and five experienced artists who did the actual carving and painting. It took them five months to create all the 40 wood and stone sculptures. Plants in the garden complement the sculptures and were specifically chosen to mimic the look and feel of Papua New Guinea.

Kura-Mythological character
The country has two main tribes namely Kwoma and Iatmul who live along the Sepik river. Representatives from both these tribes were brought here. One of the tribes is a  master of carving wood while the other excels in painting. The art work is very distinct for each tribe and both are very intricate and beautiful. The sculptures depict the various founding legends and important mythological characters. The docent told us quite a few amusing stories from the art work.

Painted sculpture
There are some sculptures which are inspired from Rodin's work from the Cantor Art Museum. The artists used their creativity and presented their take on the master's work. Interestingly, the artists were only used to carving wood. When they asked if they could get some local material other than wood to try their hand at, they were given pumice stone and the artists took an instant liking to it. This resulted in a lot of stone sculptures being produced.

'The Thinker'

Stone carving
The garden is free and open throughout the year. Free docent led tours are organized every third Sunday of the month. If you want to get a glimpse of the fascinating world of the Kwomas and the Iatmuls, I recommend taking the tour. Parking is free on the weekend and the garden is completely shaded so there is no reason not to visit the garden and take in the gorgeous sights.

What: Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden
Where: Lomita Drive Stanford, CA
When: All year round
Fee: Free