On Friday’s holiday, a postdoc and I trundled down to the beach to go swimming.  Protected by rocky arms, this tiny cove remained still as giant waves broke over the brown barriers.

I swum out in the flat water, enjoying not being pummeled by waves.  A man and a boy rode up on Paso Fino Horses, then tied them up under the coconut palms.  As we were swimming, the boy rode the larger horse, a dapple grey, into the water and they both began swimming.  He asked me if I could hold the bridle as he tied his shoes, then he hopped off the horse and swam alongside the equine.  The horse was non-plussed, but compliant.  The boy rode the horse up onto the beach, exchanging him for a smaller brown Paso Fino.

The second horse, spirited and younger than the first, held no interest in going in the water.  The boy led him toward the waterline where the horse bucked and flicked his tail, but eventually he gave in and followed the boy into the water, still bucking and kicking.

The boy lunged the horse in water about shoulder height, then took him out toward deeper water, and eventually rode the horse as it swum.

Back at the observatory, the coqui sang into the gathering darkness.

Saturday evening we were due to get rinsed by Tropical Storm Raphael.  I wanted to go for a run around the dish, so I checked in at the control room to tell the operator that I was going.  I looked out the window to see a raptor sitting on the railing, looking at us.

I pointed out the raptor to the TO.

“A Puerto Rican eagle!  I’ve never seen one.”  He ran off to grab his camera as the eagle and I stared at one another.  The eagle turned around, fluffed his plumage, turned around to eye me some more, then flew off after the TO returned with his camera, along with someone from electronics whose lens fogged up in the chilly control room.

Creatures, everywhere.

I ran around the dish, listening to the frogs sing.

The storm never arrived.

Fuji-san: Kawaguchiko (絶好調)

September 11-12, 2011

河口湖, Kawaguchi-ko, literally translates to “‘river mouth’ lake”, one of the eponymous bodies of water in the Five Lakes District.  Arriving at the lake was fuzzy in my memory: I promptly fell asleep as Tatsuya-san pulled out of the parking lot on Fuji-san and drove down the mountain slopes.   Continue reading

Suikawari: Japanese piñata with watermelons

Fruit is astoundingly expensive in Japan.  It’s about 380円 for a peach, roughly $5 at today’s exchange rates.  Want a box of figs?  That’ll set you back 800円 or so.  Such a contrast from the Middle East, where you could pick up a huge box of any sort of fruit for the equivalent of three or four dollars.  Watermelon in the land of milk and honey?  About 11 cents per pound.  As for figs, you could just eat ones the size of an apple off of your friends’ trees or in vacant lots for free.

Fruits from the vine

In Tokyo, an average small watermelon, or suika (西瓜, すいか, or スイカ), will set you back around 1,500円, in the neighborhood of $20.  The further from Tokyo you go towards the hills, they approach 2,000円!  And this isn’t for a particularly large watermelon!  At least they’re not exploding.

Why, you ask, an entire post dedicated to costly fruit?  Last Tuesday, our lab group drove and biked up to a spot along a river near Okutama west of Tokyo for an afternoon of grilling, swimming, and otherwise being outside of the city.  The cold river was a relief after the intense heat of Tokyo.  We spent hours hopping into the water, splashing in the shallows, and watching teenagers haul their friends into the river.


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After emerging from the desert covered in a thick layer of dust and salt, we made for the seaside kibbutz of Nahsholim, which means “tidal waves” in Hebrew. With a beach and ruins dating back to the time of the Canaanites, Nahsholim was resplendent with plumeria and numerous other flowers.


Pink plumeria

The northern beach had a sign admonishing us to not swim in the clear green Mediterranean water.

Don't swim?

In the evening, we drove up to the town of Zikhron Ya’akov and wandered off in search of dinner. We came across a pub called “The Hobbit”, complete with wizard decorations and not very low ceilings. The drink menu was in English, but the food one was in Hebrew, which made ordering somewhat difficult. We managed to get pretty good burgers and enjoyed listening to 1990s rock in the dark room of the pub.

The Hobbit

The next morning, Mor and I went to the restaurant in search of the breakfast provided by the hotel. I’m always timid about kosher dairy meals, but this was perhaps one of the best I’ve had: scrambled eggs; halva; fresh, stewed, and dried fruits; olives; and pickled fish. The 12 types of labane, yogurt, and cheese didn’t really appeal, but I was incredibly pleased with the food selection.

Later, some of us decided to explore beyond the resort beach. A small knoll stood to the north end of the cove, where we could see ruins from an ancient fortress. Excavations in the area have apparently found items left by Napoleon’s armada, and a group of archeologists were hard at work (not pictured) recovering relics and old pottery shards. When you have a site that’s been inhabited for roughly 4,000 years, you’re pretty likely to find all sorts of artifacts!

North from Nahsholim

Where the rocks meet the water, pools had been carved into the stones. Was this part of an ancient palace or fortress?

Herod's fortress

Ruins and waves

Timid exploration of the rocks yielded to jumping into the deep pools, mostly protected from the waves.

Swimming in the pools

Swimming group

After splashing around, it became apparent that the pools were deep enough to accommodate jumping, so Ben climbed a rocky knob and sprang into the water.

Ben launches

Kathleen followed suit.

About to enter

We spent the rest of the morning jumping off the rocks and exploring the small grottoes of the area.

Invisible chair

Houston, we have liftoff

Reluctantly, we loaded up the vans and headed back to Jerusalem.