Archive for August, 2008

Day 3, south of San Francisco

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

An eventful but very satisfying day.

We had hoped to visit an overwintering site – but how to do it? One was several hours’ drive south of San Francisco – and not too far away a specialist in growing Asclepias, the host plants for Monarchs. It seemed like a good opportunity, but the logistics of hiring a car and navigating out of the city…

To the rescue came Rita, a fellow 5W member. 5W is short for ‘Women Welcome Women WorldWide’, a networking group established for women who travel alone and are keen to host or be hosted by women who enjoy meeting other cultures and sharing travel experiences. Rita lived south of the city and when I had phoned her to ask the logistics of visiting Natural Bridges and Pete Michel, the butterfly gardener, she got into action. Emails flew between her and me, and we were welcome to catch the train south to near where she lived, and she would drive us over the hills to Natural Bridges, and later into the mountains to visit Pete.

In the end it was a party of five women who met up at the Lawrence Railway Station and piled into her Dodge truck. We stocked up on chocolate and coffees, we found a loo, and then we were on our way to Natural Bridges.

We were amazed at the colourful oleanders and Crepe Myrtles, flowering at their peak, but the rest of the countryside was burnt brown, with remnants of the bushfires evident alongside the freeway.

Natural Bridges is world-renowned for its yearly migration of monarch butterflies – you can see thousands during the butterflies’ peak season (mid-October to late January).

Chris, one of the rangers and who is in charge of the visitor programme was working with some preschoolers on educating them regarding weeds and planting seeds to provide more habitat, but soon welcomed us and showed us around, talked about the Monarch’s habitat and how they measured the size of the colony each year. We walked down to the currently empty Eucalyptus trees, awaiting the Monarchs’ return. Underneath the boardwalk was a mix of blackberry and poison oak, a sprawling weed which was a disaster to touch, highly toxic causing itches and bad rashes. However, it offered habitat for various critters so was left as ground cover.

Chris explained how Eucalyptus was a very unpopular plant as it had become a weed species – but at the reserve they respected it as it was more successful as a shelter belt than the Monterey pine, which was suffering from a virus and not faring too well.

We spent a fascinating few hours at the reserve, very much in admiration of their docent scheme and visitor facilities. It was great to be able to exchange information and learn different things about their Monarchs.

The scarcity of birds and insects surprised me – at home the outdoors would be buzzing with bees and bumble-bees, and garden birds… but suddenly I spotted a hummingbird outside the window nectaring on a bush! What a thrill – my first hummingbird.

And then it was off to Aromas, on the other side of the mountains, 40 kilometres south-east, and the property of Pete and Sandi Michel, who had established a nursery ten years ago to help the Monarch butterfly. Their 1.4ha (3.5 acres) site has been developed with a view to protecting the environment.

Pete told us that there are about 1,200 species of Asclepias in the world, and it is in fact one of the oldest plants, as such having a primitive reproductive system – pollinia rather than pollen. They are intent on encouraging the twelve species native to California, but the most prolific one they had available was OUR Swan plant, that and its larger form. (Gomphocarpus fruticosus, and G. physocarpus).

Once again, it seemed strange that here, in the height of the summer, there were no caterpillars to be seen, and throughout the whole day we saw three butterflies, a Cabbage White in someone’s garden as we drove by, and here in the butterfly garden, a lone Monarch came and went, and a Painted Lady briefly passed by. But it was windy, perhaps the reason.

We left them at 7pm, after an incredibly friendly and interesting discussion and tour of the garden. We learned lots, and we hope they did from us too.

We were a tired threesome who arrived back in San Francisco on the Cal-train about 9.30pm; and Kathryn had still to pack as she left for Philadelphia early the next morning.


Arrival in San Francisco

Monday, August 18th, 2008

We have arrived!

I am sure it must have been easier on our bodies, flying twelve hours on a plane, countless movies to watch on our individual screens – everyone chose a different title – fed and watered at very regular intervals. Imagine a tiny insect flying that great distance – I suspect much, much longer. Amazing!

Air New Zealand’s service was fantastic. Beautiful food (supper and breakfast), and very tolerant, patient crew. Great NZ hospitality. We were delighted to hear that the All Blacks had won 19:0, and at last that five medals had been scored at the Games.

We all had great difficulty filling in the forms needed when you arrive… LOL. Mary was asleep when they were handed out, and with great difficulty I retrieved glasses from my bag in the overhead locker and filled out the green one and the white one. The crew had explained that it was very important that you fill them out correctly, no mistakes, no crossings out, but they would be around with more forms if you stuffed up. I filled mine out in about two seconds flat, and smiled smugly at sleeping Mary. She, of course, stuffed up. Not once, but twice. I (very tolerantly) suggested she follow my example. She pointed out my mistakes. I had the wrong words on the wrong lines. Thank you Mary.

I pressed the bell and got another form. I filled it out again, and noticed another mistake. I pressed the bell and got another form. And again, I stuffed up. The next time the steward gave me forms, he said I was doing such a great job, that he would give me TWO green cards.

At the arrivals counter, the smiling official pointed out that we’d all left areas blank. Even Kathryn Rowe, with her advanced education, had not got it right! She said that her pupils would laugh at her. But at least we had not made mistakes or crossings out (by this time), just caused a few more trees to be chopped down.

We had left on NZ Saturday evening and arrived Saturday lunchtime. No problems with jet lag yet… Found our shuttle and had a guided tour of the SF International Airport, courtesy of the driver, who wanted to get a full complement of passengers before he made the ½ hour trip into the city, understandably. He had a long argument with whoever authorised him to pick up passengers – there were various shuttles touting for rides – and an even longer altercation with one of the passengers when she disembarked and couldn’t pay the fare. But finally we got to our hotel.

The Renoir Hotel’s an old brick building right on the edge of the ‘urban renewal’ zone, so when you walk a couple of blocks through litter and one or two ‘bodies’ or homeless people you’re into the vibrant area of the city, tourists squeezing into trams or trolley buses to get down to Fishermen’s Wharf. They’ve heard that’s the place to go!

We walked and gawked, looking for a shop so my laptop could talk to the world. No success, so we walked even further and found a Taco Belle, realising we hadn’t had any lunch and that was causing the rumblings in our tums. No seats anywhere to be seen, but we found a huge garden sculpture and perched ourselves on that, sampling tacos and pesquadillos and other Mexican fare, yum!

I am a notorious jay-walker, and finds quick ways across the road between the cars, but you can’t do that here… well you can if you remember to look the other way, and the drivers do like to BEEEP at you. Mary will get used to that… but says she won’t pay fines or undertake prison rescues.

Finally we joined the tourists on a tram. “Watch out for pickpockets”, the man called to all as we climbed aboard.

Mary got two tickets, $1 each, and we could get back on and off any time between 9pm that day. Tourists squeezed into every nook and cranny, hanging onto straps as the tram jerked its way down Market Street. Stop-start-stop-start, the vehicle had only two speeds, GO or WHOA, so we were constantly being jerked one way or the other. We got a seat, and slid from side to side, playing bumper boats with our neighbour’s bums. Next time on I said to Mary that we’d sit facing the front, but now we were either thrown into the back of our seats like the crash-dummies on the TV commercial, or sliding forward off them.

I was out like a light, constant beeps and bumps, scares and sirens didn’t prevent me from getting a great night’s sleep.

Flying away …

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Madam Butterfly is flitting off to the USA…

I will be in the company of Mary Parkinson, from Tauranga, another Butterfly Lady, responsible for much of the hard work behind the Te Puna Quarry Park Butterfly Garden.

We hope to be keeping our blog up to date daily, telling you about our adventures… about what we learn, what we see. Please check back here often and add your comments!