Dance Videos & Zoo Pictures

Bamboo - Phoenix Zoo - Alex Berger

It’s been a busy few weeks with school ending for many of my good friends, the election dragging on, temperatures soaring, and life’s adventure in full swing. Two things to share with you all.

Zoo Pictures

Sunday 5/4/08 on a wild hair I decided to spend the afternoon doing a bit of urban tourism. I recently purchased two replacement Lithium-Ion batteries off e-bay for my camera and was curious to see how the generic brand batteries would hold up. The price difference was amazing – $10 for two 1800 rated batteries, compared to the $60-70 official price for one 1300 rated name brand battery through a major outlet. For those curious the batteries worked out great with over 3 hours of battery time each. Quite an improvement when compared to the dwindling 2-30 minutes of active time I’m currently getting out of my old battery.

I shot off a few quick texts before taking a power nap. As expected most of the people I contacted were busy or lacked interest in the Zoo. It was actually almost a relief. By and large I was eager to go and wander at my own pace, taking photos, enjoying the animals and generally spending some time as a tourist in my home city. It’s always one of those funny quirks – the way in which we travel hours and thousands of miles to explore foreign destinations and then forget to take even the smallest amount of time to explore the area around our own city.

After having a little trouble locating the Zoo (google maps showed a non-existent street) I eventually arrived a few minutes before 3 which gave me a full 2 hours of wandering before the zoo closed. All things considered the Phoenix Zoo has a lot to offer. It’s definitely not the largest Zoo out there, nor is it the nicest. It is, however, ideal for a lazy Sunday afternoon. If the 90+ degree weather left me wondering if it was still spring the blossoming flowers assuaged my doubts. The Zoo grounds were alive with the buzzing of pollinating bees and splashed in the reds, yellows, and golds of blooming flowers.

Phoenix Zoo - Alex Berger

Despite the heat I was surprised to find that a lion’s share of the animals were out and about enjoying the late afternoon sun…Though the lions and tigers themselves were holed up in the shade and all but invisible. The beauty, power and majesty present in some of the animals is truly amazing. A photo can express a lot, a great photo can leave you feeling like you’re there, but it never truly compares to being present in the flesh…Seeing, smelling, feeling and hearing the animal’s presence.

I spent my two hours lazily wandering through the Zoo before winding down shortly after 5. I’ve uploaded the photos from the trip here.

After catching a quick dinner with a friend as he passed through town I tightened up my laces, drank a hefty glass of water and made my way to Shall We Dance for the Sunday night salsa dance social. Nate and I have started recording some of our dances both for our own reference, and as a way to share with family and friends.

Dancing at a salsa club is vastly different than performance salsa. It’s dirtied, random, and lacks any sort of standardized routine. It’s fun, fast-paced, shoot from the hip style dancing that is both extremely enjoyable and always a unique experience. The following is a video of Michiko and I dancing next to Chris and Andrea:

The following is another sequence shot late last month of Mitchiko and I:

Here’s a third of Ashley and I dancing:

If you’d like to see more videos I’ve added a number of them to my Youtube page. Most are salsas but several are other dances (rumba, etc.). In addition to videos of me dancing I’ve also posted a number of videos of Nate and other members of our dance group dancing. View It.

London – Salsa Dancing at Club Salsa

Just a quick update – last night after posting my last update I decided I’d give Salsa another go over here. The hostel I was at was a bit out of the way and didn’t really have anything interesting around it. Added to that it was like a trendy hotel with shared bedrooms…just weird. Wasn’t the backpacker crowd and I wasn’t a huge fan of the people there – Now I’m sitting in the computer cafe part of the new hostel much closer to downtown now – just off the Lambeth North station and near the Imperial War Museum.

Anyhow – last night headed into town to try one of the two Salsa clubs I pulled off the web. To my suprise the club – Club Salsa – was located right off of Leicester Square and a very prominant restaurant/club. The place was huge – with great wooden floors all over the place. I arrived around 9 – towards the end of the lesson and was suprised to find at least a 100 people or so already there. It continued to get busier and busier. I was really impressed … there was a great atmosphere, the music was fun (though the DJs could have been a bit more focused on playing good dance music instead of showing off how good they were), and for the most part the girls were friendly, approachable, and skilled. I think of the 15 or so I approached, maybe 3 said no – not bad at all given the setting.

Danced up a storm, eventually ended up meeting a fun local. We spent a good bit of the night socializing/dancing before calling it quits at around 12:45. A recent university grad, she was just starting her masters after working for a newspaper for a bit. Unfortunately, the tube stops running at 12 – which meant the last tube run was at about 11:15. Only having a general idea which route to hop on, I wandered around for a good 20 minutes or so, grabbed a quick bite, then eventually hopped on the n97 – I knew the n9 and n28 would take me back generally near the hostel so I figured n97 would as well – which it did, lol..luckily. Even then the closest stop was a good 10 minutes walk through a deserted area at 1:00 in the morning….oops!

Arrived back at the hostel and made it in safe and sound. A great night all around. Slept like a baby until about 8 – the fun part about group rooms is inevitably 2 or 3 people decide that anything past 7:00 qualifies as ffa time and that it’s ok to talk in normal voices and bang around making a huge commotion. Gah.

Anyhow – stiff and sore today, but I’ll probably look into either catching Macbeth (Patrick Stewart) or the LoTR – depending on the cost. it’s a rainy day unfortunately, so probably going for museums and the lot!

Scotland

It’s about 11:00PM Sunday evening here – and I’m just winding down from an incredible 3 day tour of the Isle of Skye and Scottish highlands. After arriving and meeting a few of the guys in my sleeping area we hit up the town and explored a bit.

Day 1: The first night a group of 4 of us formed up and headed down to the local Three sisters Pub which has a large outside area and was showing the Scotland-France soccer game. The pub was packed and the energy level was insane – after a lot of back and forth Scotland eventually scored which resulted in an explosion of activity and excitement…everyone was jumping up and down and shaking things, pints, and pint glasses fell to the ground left and right, and the whole crowd was jumping up and down in excitement. After things settled down a bit Scotland eventually won, 1 zip which led to another round of celebration. From there we explored a few other pubs, met a number of other travelers and eventually found our way back to the Hostel.

Day 2: I woke up fairly early, did some wash, got settled and set out to explore the town with Chris – one of the guys from the night before. We started with a 3 hour free walking tour of the city, which covered history, and was just a great general intro to the city. Edinburgh is really incredible, because as a capital city – it’s incredibly small and has a fantastic historic/old town. In addition to the old town and tenement buildings, the closest part of the new town was all built in the Victorian era at the same time on a master planned design. So it has an incredible classical uniformity, beautifully laid out pedestrian and motor oriented areas and a great standard look. When the tour ended we explored the city proper a bit, found a market, the bus station, the train station, and a number of other random stops before returning to the hostel, cooking dinner, socializing with a few randoms in the kitchen, then taking a quick snooz. About 10:00 we woke up and made our way down to what I hoped was going to be an active Salsa club. Unfortunately, it was a standard night and the turnout was poor – i’ll try again Monday (which is a designated salsa night). After leaving the salsa club – pretty much upon entry we walked around a bit more and sampled a few other random pubs. Unfortunately, while Edinburgh has a ton of natural beauty, it’s missing natural beauties. About to give up and call it a night, we stumbled into an odd Cafe/bar that had a great local crowd and was full of attractive, friendly girls. After an hour or two we called it a night – both having early mornings.

Day 3: I decided to do a 3 day Isle of Skye/Highland Tour to really get a good taste. The tour consisted of 10 people. Myself, Simon (our Driver/Tour Guide, 2 other Americans, A Tasmanian, A Hungarian, 3 People from Taiwan and 2 Germans. From Edinburgh we made our way straight into the country side. Our first stop was the castle where Mary Queen of Scots was born for coffee/tea and to introduce ourselves. From there we made our way to a historic battle field where Simon shared a mixture of folklore and history with us. After the battle field we meandered through the lowland country side – which included a brief stop to feed/see a harry island cow (had to throw tater and carrot slices at the fat thing to get it to come visit/eat some more). When we crossed into the highlands we made a quick stop to look at the country side/rolling mountains/talk about peat at which time Simon also pulled a bottle of single malt Scotch Whiskey from his pocket and explained what made it special, before teaching us a traditional toast and then passing the bottle around. The bottle of scotch followed us throughout the trip and served as a fun little tradition whenever we had stops that were exposed, especially cold, or rural and significant.

After our introduction to the Highlands we continued on making a few other stops to explore lochs, glens, or take pictures. Eventually we arrived at the valley of Glencoe made famous in songs and folk lore that recalls the massacre that occurred there. The place itself is incredible. A riveting valley with rich waterfalls and steep, graceful walls all around you. We parked and walked the 1/4 of a mile or so down to the river where we paused for more lore/history before making the way back up to the bus. When I get photos up – this is definitely one set you need to see. From Glencoe we continued along our way making a few other stops and eventually coming to a reconstructed version of an old castle. The castle sat out on a small island and was connected by a bridge. Rebuilt to spec in the early 1900s it was incredibly picturesque. As the sun set, and the golden rays of dusk started to reach out and embrace the castle we took a few photos, shivered from the cold northern wind and piled back in the bus. From there we had one final brief stop at a super market to pick up food for the evening and headed to the hostel. All the while the sunset was one of the most incredibly and gorgeous sights I’ve ever seen. In fact, it was so incredible, as we wound down a 1 lane rural road we stopped to just take it in for about 15 minutes (the whole sunset lasted a good hour).

We reached the hostel which was a great little place, then started cooking – as part of the tour we all paid an additional £35 which included lodging, breakfast, and dinner. We BBQd Ribs, Hamburger, Sausage, and Chicken before all heading to the local (tiny) pub to meet some of the locals and reflect on the day.

Day 4: (The Isle of Skye) – The day was a blustery, cloudy, rainy day – one quite different than the day before. We left our main packs at the hostel (we’d return there again for the evening after making a circuit of skye) and piled into the van. The first 30 minutes or so was pretty quiet as everyone suffered through their respective hangovers and tried to figure out what exactly had happened the night before – but then shortly after that we all got back into touring mode. A good 20 minutes took us to the main bridge from the mainland into Skye and another 10 minutes later we stopped at a lookout that sat across from a huge, majestic, bald, sweeping mountain. At the foot of the mountain and all around us there were – what looked a bit like large ant hills made in the peat. There Simon told us about the folklore that claimed that each was a Fairy den and how the locals avoided harvesting peat from them out of respect. As the weather continued to deteriorate we piled back into the car and made our way further up the coast. After a few other fun stops for local lore, history, or fun photo shoots we came to a set of high cliffs that reminded me of a miniature version of the cliffs of moehr (Moore?) in Ireland – except, unlike those cliffs a waterfall shot out and off the down one side, spilling crystal blue water out and down the 200 or so feet to the rocky cliffs below. On the other end of the lookout we could see the sheer cliffs as they plunged into the sea.

We left the cliffs and made our way to one of the old ruler’s former castle. The castle was perched majestically on the side of a cliff overlooking a bay, with a large island. The spot we stopped initially gave us a great vantage point while Simon told us a bit of the history. From there though, several of us decided to brave the rain and howling winds and make the 10-15 minute walk the long way to the castle. It was well worth it. After arriving at the castle and exploring it briefly the others (who had stayed in the van and come around to walk out a shorter – straight but less interesting path) arrived as well. Hunkered down in a corner overlooking the bay Simon again recounted more of the Castle’s quirky history. As we made our way back down to the van we had to cross a stretch of exposed coastline. The wind was so fierce that you could lean halfway into it. The sheer power of it inflated your cheeks and stole the breath from your lungs as the soft rain stung your face. It was incredible! The energy, power and crispness. The castle behind us, cliff to the side of us, beautiful gray torn ocean out past us and highlands in front of us.

Drenched, cold, and excited we continued on a short way where we elected to stop at a small goods shop. Where we picked up sandwiches, hot pies, and drinks – before heading down to the coast where teh waves were crashing in. Huddled in the van we pulled up onto the dock and faced out into the wind and the bay while we ate our meals and watched the wind blow the rain past us. The sea and sky merged into one gray, glorious entity as the waves came crashing in onto the black rocks dotted with orange seaweed and kelp. After finishing lunch we continued along our way and eventually came to stop at a beautiful waterfall near the road. Behind the waterfall as a majestic backdrop was an incredible stone formation that looked like a spear or spire sticking up from the mountain. Again after a few photos, a lot of water, wind and rain, and a few people slipping and sliding on the wet grass/hill we paused with the waterfall crashing down beside us to listen to Simon recount the story of an old man (who later became the stone spire) and the brownie he helped.

From there we continued along the way – almost all 1 lane roads – surrounded by hundreds of waterfalls, awe inspiring highland mountains, beautiful lochs, and peat covered in blooming heather (a beautiful red/purple low bush) to what Simon called the fairy Glen. The glen was a beautiful little area with a climbable spire – about 100 feet up that offered an incredible view of the valley, loch etc. Just visible through the mist and fog across the valley were huge waterfalls. Meanwhile in the glen there were sheep everywhere, wild ferns, peat, old treas covered in green moss, small streams and a gorgeous waterfall. We explored the glen for a good 40 minutes. It reminded me of some of the opening scenes in the Lord of the Rings/the parts around Rivendell – only it was real, the rain was still falling but more of a light mist and with just a bit of wind.

From there we continued along and stopped for goods and a snack at one of the larger towns on Skye. We checked out an interesting Himalayan bizarre they were having, i grabbed some chips (fries) and then we headed home.

I’ve left bits out, and I’ll try and follow up when I have better internet access – needless to say though – it was incredible.

Day 5: The return – I’m out of time now but it was also a great day. Mixed weather we stopped at Loch Ness, an incredible canyon where there was a beautiful waterfall with jumping salmon and moss covered trees, the last battlefield ever fought on British soil and a quick scenic stop. I’ll have to continue later as I’m out of time. Hope to get photos up soon!