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Opulent Cityscapes and Other Such Beauty

December 15th, 2012 No comments

Maybe it was because we were fresh off of months in the no-stranger-to-squalor nations of Central America.  But then again we just had spent 24 hours in San Francisco, a good looking town by any account.  Even against that worthy point of comparison, Auckland was uncommonly beautiful.

We started our tour of New Zealand that early morning by walking a mile on foot, backtracking to make up for our hesitation to press the stop button press on our shuttle bus into town (we should have known that the Circus Circus we passed, the breakfast destination at which we were to meet our hosts, was in fact our cue to get off and no, it wasn’t one of a chain).  Even in the relatively pedestrian suburb in which we found ourselves, super reminiscent of the neighborhoods of my home town of Brookfield, Wisconsin, New Zealand’s polished nature and beauty impressed.  The air was clear &  invigorating, and the vegetation still wet with morning dew smelled simply delicious.

After holing up in a cafe to catch a proper breakfast, our host swooped in to pick us up right on time.  Back at their house we chatted a while over tea.  Charles and Amy are themselves about a month from commencing their own world tour, which gave us much to talk about.  It was somewhat humbling to be reminded what a big world it is when they described their own year-long path, one containing very little overlap with our own.

After an hour or so of visiting, my jet lag was getting the best of me and we settled in for a nap.  Here in the southern hemisphere the December days are long, so when I woke I guessed it was 4pm, maybe 5.  Nope, it was 8pm and still quite light.  To my surprise and utter non-disappointment, I had slept 8 hours, and felt thoroughly refreshed.

May we all be so blessed to have so comfy a bed to crash in after a 13 hour flight.

That night we made dinner (from the groceries we picked up earlier Tracy cooked lomo saltado, our favorite dish from Peru) and had a lovely little dinner party, topped with a drive down Auklund’s premier avenue for elaborate holiday decorations (a useful reminder that yes, we are in the Christmas season).

The next day, unfamiliar with couch-surfer protocol and wishing to err on the side of not being a needy or burdensome presence, we took to our own adventure of exploring downtown Auklund and its harbor area.  Charles set us up with directions and bus routes, and we were on our way.

This trip, during our day-long wanderings downtown and along the shores of the harbor, is when we realized that Auklund is ridiculously beautiful.  It’s a good looking town in general, but beyond that it’s pristine in an unreal kind of way, like visiting some sort of alternate universe utopia in the not-too-distant future.  During our whole day we saw not one bit of graffiti, not one homeless person, and I counted exactly 3 pieces of litter (they were floating near to one another in a little alcove of the shore).

Perhaps these typical marks of urban imperfection exist somewhere else in the city that we just happened to miss, but even if so it’s remarkable and deliciously disorienting to have them absent for even a whole city block, much less for hours of wandering about1.  Even the water of the harbor, this bustling harbor with shipyards and cargo ships all present and accounted for, lacks the usual grimy tinge to it in favor of gorgeous blue and turquoise that could be mistaken for the Caribbean.  Tracy’s got the pictures to back it up.

For lunch we hit a supermarket to assemble an impromptu picnic of wine, bread, cheese, deli meat, cucumber, and a pint of super tasty in-season strawberries, and took our bounty to a lookout point on a high hill overlooking the harbor, land and island formations dotted on the blue canvas below, and the city skyline across the way.

It was one of those “And this is what our life looks like right now.” moments.

Back at the fort Charles and Amy whipped up a smorgasbord of food and us two couples enjoyed our second little dinner party together, complete with wine and jazz music streaming from the collection on my laptop2.  Charles, a native Kiwi, and Amy, born and raised in China until 20, proved again to be delightful company, and yet another pair of data points to suggest that people from all backgrounds and walks of life are, well, pretty much the same when it comes to hopes, fears, ambitions, joys and all that other stuff that makes us human.

The next morning, rather than have us try to navigate early morning bus schedules to catch our return shuttle to the airport, Charles generously insisted on giving us a ride.  Since our earlier attempt at a greeting present of fresh roasted coffee smuggled all the way from Guatemala failed (turns out whole bean coffee is a bit of a niche gift around here, requiring the recipient to be a more than casual fan of coffee to own the requisite specialty equipment), I scribbled a note to accompany a box of Vizios that we would leave behind as gratitude Plan B.

This had the unfortunate side effect that my ballpoint pen through a single sheet of paper left a perfect imprint of my nice note upon the guestroom desk.  It’s one of those “Aw, crap.” kind of moments, because  “Hey, I just did something nice for you but defaced your furniture in the process, so, uh, I hope you still appreciate the gesture.” is not an ideal parting sentiment.  In the hustle of the morning I genuinely forgot to mention it to Charles until after he dropped us off, which made me feel like a bit of a spineless shit3, as though I were hoping they wouldn’t notice.  Two days later I did come clean with an email announcement of (and apology for) the defacement, which was met with a gracious assurance that they didn’t notice, that the desk was second hand & of no sentimental value, and would soon be in storage for a year.

Ah good.  I was hoping we’d be remembered as a net positive and welcome presence, and I rest reasonably comfortable that we will be.

So onward we flew to Queenstown, a town proclaimed 150 years ago to be fit for a queen.  Let me say right now that I doubt the city has lost any luster since that austere declaration, for it too was, ridiculously beautiful.  Nestled in the mountains and abutting several lakes, Queenstown, has all of grade-A natural surroundings, tidy small town architecture, and charming public spaces going for it.  Tracy and I felt immediately at home here, for Queenstown feels nearly identical to Colorado’s boutique mountain towns, fitting right in with the likes of Aspen, Vail, or Breckenridge.

“You get what you pay for” is a well known saying.  There are exceptions to this all over the place, of course (otherwise the Thunder Quotient™ would be a moot concept), but boy does it hold in the comparison of New Zealand to Central America.  After months spent acclimating to $3 breakfasts and decent lodging for $20US, New Zealand’s prices came with a dose of sticker shock.  Everything is beautiful, everything is immaculate, everyone is super nice, and prices for comparable goods are all somewhere between 2 and 5x.

It’s simply the tradeoff you make when going from the third world to the first.

So overall here in New Zealand we tread lightly, indulging in only a few of the pricy adventure offerings.  Our first was an excursion to Milford Sound, a 3-hour bus ride through spectacular terrain and a boat cruise through the sound out to ocean.  While winding our way through the Kiwi countryside I saw ample evidence that, yeah, there probably were more sheep than people in this two-island nation.  Our bus winded through lush valleys, over uncommonly blue rivers, and past more waterfalls than I usually see in a year.  Tracy’s photography brings this crude account to life.

The cruise through the sound was similarly beautiful, just on water.  Actually no: we also had a dozen or so dolphins keeping pace with our vessel on both sides, doing their fanciful dance of side flips and jumps as though deliberately entertaining for tips.  The masterstroke of this experience was when our boat pulled up close to a waterfall, forming a scene of dolphins literally jumping through a double rainbow formed by the falling mist.  It was the sort of scene that, to make more magical, would require something like Jesus riding in on a little cloud, flashing a peace sign and giving a wink before zooming off into the distance.

Again, score one for New Zealand.

By the time of the bus ride back my eyes were quite thoroughly saturated on natural beauty, so its splendor on the second pass was largely lost on me.  Fortunately, the time was made fantastic by a few simple joys: munching on a tasty takeout order of fish & chips, and watching a film of New Zealand propaganda, “The World’s Fastest Indian”.  Based on a true story in the late 60’s, Anthony Hopkins plays a delightful old New Zealander who goes to the US with dreams of setting a new land speed record with a motorcycle he built.  Basically his character is all chill and makes instant friends and allies with the motley assortment of (sometimes weird) Americans he meets along the way, a resounding endorsement of simple, down-to-earth friendliness if I ever saw one.  If every New Zealander we met wasn’t similarly charming and friendly I’d swear it was a contrived plot to make New Zealanders look good.  Nope, turns out his character is, uh, pretty representative.

Our second adventure was to hike a glacier.  We hopped a 5 hour bus to Franz Joseph with hopes of hiking the glacier there, but this turned out to be a small failure of internet research intel: it turns out with the recent trend of melting it is no longer safe to hike this glacier.  The other option was a helicopter tour at $330 per person, which, uh, wasn’t in the budget.  Confronted with the possibility that we’d come all this way without actually doing what we’d set out for, we opted for Plan B: to backtrack to the Fox Glacier the next town over, still walkable, and do the guided tour plus gear for a much more palatable $115 per person.  We booked it for the next day.

With our afternoon and night to kill in Franz Joseph, we went for the 5km walk to the glacier.  By this time my lungs were still keen to enjoying the clean as can be air, and it was a splendid walk through more nature that was just plain good looking and ecologically distinct enough to feel just borderline otherworldly.  The choice to use New Zealand as the setting for the fictional land of Middle Earth suddenly made so much sense.  The only letdown of our “glacial preview walk” was that the glacier, from a distance, looked like one big pile of dirty snow.

Fortunately the Fox Glacier was much prettier when we got up close and personal the next day.  Equipped with every layer that the tour company had on offer (socks, snow pants, and rain jacket–we are largely packed for summer conditions, after all), we strapped on our crampons4 as we descended on the entry point to the glacier.  Our British mountaineer guide brandished a pickaxe, and as we went along our path he now and again swung it windmill style like a pro to tidy up the small stairs carved into the ice (all the guides and tour outfits lend a hand in keeping the stairs in tact).

Again, Tracy’s pictures do justice to the experience which words alone simply cannot.

Fox Glacier has been receding for literally centuries.  As you drive on in to the valley carved out by ice many years ago, you see signs that “Fox Glacier was here ____ years ago”.  So the overall pattern of melt is nothing new, it’s just that it’s happening a lot faster than it used to.  During our hike, our guide showed up a white narrow tube jutting up from the glacier.

“We do this and take measurements in collaboration with a few scientific survey endeavors happening around the world.  We put the pole in all the way, so that they’re flush with the ice.  As the glacier melts the pole rises relative to the surface on which we are standing.  You can see how it comes up to my waist now, which means there’s been about a meter of melting in the last 2 weeks.  That’s a lot more than in usually does.”

If climate change is a hoax, be warned that these friendly Kiwi’s with their fancy melt measuring devices are in on it.

After the glacier we returned to our hostel, and warmed up (kinda) in a small wooden box with infrared lamps posing as a sauna.  Tomorrow it’s off to Wanaka, another beautiful town on a lake in which to enjoy our last few days in this beautiful country.

Notes:

  1. It’s kinda like Clinton balancing the US budget during his presidency.  Sure there’s debate about whether or not he actually did, but that there’s a debate at all is stand out remarkable against his contemporaries.
  2. With my love of Genesis and other artists inappropriate for my generation, I don’t have a lot of what you would call “cool” music.  So it’s a nice occasion when I can serve up some tunes and have them be well met in mixed company.  Heck, I’m listening to Genesis right now as I write this.
  3. “Shit” in the delightful British sense of the word, like when spoken of a loved one who messed up, e.g. “Deary, you can be such a shit sometimes.”  Not nearly as harsh as the American usage.
  4. Shoe attachments which feature down pointing metal teeth, great for biting into the ice and making otherwise slick surfaces quite walkable.
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Over (a Lot of) Land, Sea, and Air

December 7th, 2012 1 comment

We’ve now set foot in 5 countries in just as many days1.

After catching our boat from the Pasajcap dock to Pana, we proceeded on to Guatemala City by shuttle to catch an overnight bus to Tikal.  At sunrise our bus pulled into our destination in Flores, and in our bleary-eyed state we fell prey to the sneaky doings of an overzealous tourism and transportation operator.  A fellow got on to the second level of our double decker bus and announced to the passengers that this was the place to get off for Tikal: just hop off the bus and on to the shuttle, and we’ll be taken to wherever we’re going in town.

It was so seamless, we assumed it was a benevolent add-on service provided by the overnight bus company.

We were heading for El Remate, a less touristy town about 30 minutes closer to Tikal than Flores.  Eagerly communicated Spanish assured me “Yep, we’ll take you there, give me your bag and hop on!”  After about an hour of cruising circles about town as the shuttle shuttled about its cadre of similarly bleary-eyed marks, we finally went onward to El Remate, roped in to pay 50Q a person when it should have been more like 20.  Not fatal, but annoying enough that I was delighted to decline Enrique the fare collector’s borderline pushy offer to set us up with a pre-dawn shuttle to Tikal, guide for Tikal, and subsequent transport continuing into San Ignacio, Belize.

“It should be 550Q but I give it to you for 450Q because I know her.  Good price for you my friend.”  (Indeed he knew Rutt, an Estonian gal I’d first met at the Mayan sun ceremony weeks earlier.  We’d coincidentally ran into her again on the overnight bus, and in the early morning shuffle Rutt was sold on our plan to stay in El Remate, making us travel companions for the day.)  It has consistently been my experience that the words “good price”, especially when uttered in English in a non-English speaking country, indicate a good price for the one doing the selling, as in “If you go for this I will have roped you in at a good price.”

Enrique first skirted around the fact that his good price didn’t include actual entrance to the park (150Q), and he completely neglected to mention that, when you go before 6am to catch the magic that is the sun rising over the Mayan temples while howler monkeys howl (which was part of his proud pitch), the price is 250Q.  Nuts to that, Enrique: if our transit to El Ramate is any indication, we’ll do way better to piece our trip around these parts together on our own, thank you very much.  (What can I say, I was still a little sore from the “aboard the sanctity of our bus announcement” hustle earlier.)

In El Remate, we hiked a quarter of a mile to accommodations, nicely nestled on the lake and tucked away from the main road.  The next day we did Tikal.

Tikal is a beautiful walk through jungle that has everything that is ominous and mysterious to love about it.  Well trodden paths through lush vegetation suddenly open up to massive clearings featuring one or more majestic structures of often staggering size.  In the morning a deep fog envelops both the paths and the clearings, giving the temples and eerie ancient vibe, which I suppose they well deserve.  Have a look at Tracy’s pictures of Tikal.

Unfortunately, due to a few deaths owing to presumably tragic missteps and/or jackass antics, most of the temples with their steep and endless staircases are off limits to climbing.  This is a shame because the view from that high, well above the lush treeline, is something worth witnessing.  The view from up on Temple IV suffices to satisfy pretty well in this regard, made available safely to all by the modern day winding wooden staircase built on top of still-buried portions of the temple.

(There were still a few jackasses who we saw early in the morning ignoring the signs and climbing other major temples.  My informal poll of Tracy and myself indicates an average 15% desire in people to see one of said jackasses fall as a gesture of instant karma asserting itself in real time.)

After Tikal we made our way on out of Guatemala and into Belize.  20Q got us out of El Remate to the next shuttle, and 50Q got us out of the country.  Our shuttle ride to the border felt like a Sunday drive with the family: we piled in to a minivan with 17 other people, 5 of which were in the front seat (3 small children).  Cramped but cozy, as we went and dropped people off we upgraded from our initial awkward position of facing backwards on a bench.

At the border we walked across the bridge, paid our 20Q a person to leave the country (sometimes I swear the guy stamping your paperwork at the border is making up the exit fee), walked forward 50 meters further and got stamped on in to Belize.  A quick cab and bus ride got us into our destination for the night, San Ignacio2.

The change was immediate.  After months in Central American where countries that mostly blend together, Belize was immediately distinct in terms of architecture (cinder block and corrugated tin roof construction is replaced with aluminum siding with wood trim), music (salsa is replaced with reggae), language (Spanish is replaced with English), and food (beans and tortillas are replaced by more Caribbean and other culinary influences).

The variation in food was quite delicious as we dined on Moroccan curry dishes, and the beer, Belikin, was quite tasty and more substantial than a lot of the pilsners we’d been having.  My mom and I took a trip here in late 20053.  Those memories plus the spoken English made Belize feel sort of like a homecoming, like we were reemerging from the deep jungle and back into civilization (which, of course, has a certain literal truth to it).

I needed a hair cut and wanted to fit one in before hitting the much pricier countries we were bound for.  I found a place in town called “Da Royal Cut”, and upon entering a laid back dude of like 26 greeted me and bid me sit down.  It was a little barber chair in the open air front room of what looked like someone’s 1st story flat.  He hit a button on the stereo and laid back reggae beats filled the room, it felt like the musical track of an MTV reality show makeover scene.  Then he grabbed the electric shears with a serious attachment and gave me the shortest haircut I’ve gotten in memory.  His technique seemed mindful but super chill bordering on lazy, I think he broke out an actual scissors for about 4 tidying cuts, possibly just for show.

I dug it.  It was like a barber shop trust fall.  The end result was tidy, and looked just a touch military.  $3.50 well spent.

We headed on to Belize City for a night in anticipation of our next day flight.  There’s not much to say about Belize City, but I must admit among blase scenery of urban decay there’s a certain scrappy pride about it.  In the morning there are folks out sweeping the sidewalks, going about their business, cheerfully bidding you good morning, and not trying to sell you anything with their politeness.

Among our limited 8am breakfast options we found only a place tucked away into the corner of the ground floor of the commercial center on the riverfront.  It had its name, “Butler’s Delite” spray painted on the wall above the entryway.  It was owned and run by a man and his daughter, happy to make us whatever we wanted from their motley assortment of options.  We settled on eggs, beans, coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, a little loaf of creole bread, and some stewed chicken that tasted out of this world.  “Holy crap that’s good chicken!” I thought as I sopped up the last of the sauce with the ample slices of creole bread.  The proprietors just opened two weeks ago, and I wished their venture well.  The tiny 2-table establishment describable as something between a food stand and a restaurant deserves to have a tidy clan of regulars.

We flew out at noon, onto our 2 hour layover back in El Salvador.  Our quest there while awaiting our plane was to catch a lunch of the delicious pupusas we’d fallen in love with 6 weeks before.  Unfortunately, airports tend to be really short of street food vendors cooking up legit deliciousness on tidy little portable griddles, especially behind the lines of airport security.  We settled for the only option we found, an airport bar advertising pupusas.  As you might have guessed, yep, they were rubbish.  But at least they cost us a lot more.

Onward then to San Francisco back in the US of A.  There once again the awesomeness of friends shined to make another 23 hour layover pass like a deliberate, joy-filled visit to town.  Ran, my insta-kindred-spirit and top-notch programmer friend that I met at Morgan & Jon’s wedding picked us up from the airport.  After catching sushi, Ran and I stayed up chatting and geeking out about JavaScript until 1am.  This says a lot to the quality of our quality time spent, for it was 3am according to my body with the time zone switches of the day, and after the lake I was accustomed to having a 9pm-ish bedtime.

Then next day Anna, a friend I picked up in Buenos Aires in ’09, played hostess to us in her fair town while we awaited our 7pm flight.  I must admit, during our stroll through the City Target I was a bit bemused by the prettiness of US-style retail as we wandered the immaculate and well-lit aisles.  A few months away can have that sort of thing instill a sense of wow once again.

After stocking up on essentials we made our way to her famous neighborhood of Haight/Ashberry for top-notch brunch.  After strolling the funky streets and the Golden Gate Park we parted company once more and made our way to the airport.  There during our wait I made sure to get a burger.  I found a good burger to be neigh on impossible to find in South and Central America, and didn’t want to miss out on my chance for one before venturing off to other countries of unknown burger quality.

And then it was time for our 13 hour flight.  With its more than ample collection of on demand movies, our passage to New Zealand passed by swiftly4.

Now we are in New Zealand which, unlike the Americas, is for both Tracy and I a whole new world5.  In an hour we rendezvous with Charles and Amy, our Couch Surfing hosts here in Auklund for the next two days.

Notes:

  1. Technically it’s been 6 days on the calendar, if you count the magical disappearing of Friday when we crossed the international dateline this morning.
  2. In total our DIY price for what Enrique tried to sell us on (at 450Q per person) ended up right around 160Q, minus a guide for Tikal which we are generally more content to skip anyway.
  3. Mom, know that Tracy was duly impressed when I rattled off all the things we did in those 6 days.  When I think about it, I’m impressed.  We should travel again sometime, you got plans this Spring?
  4. For the record, I watched Love Actually (a fast-become holiday tradition for Tracy and I), The Simpsons Movie (seeing as how I was that kid who amassed like 16 VHS tapes of episodes painstakingly recorded off of television during most of the 90’s, it felt like I should cross that one of my list already), and The Campaign (as a proudly professed consumer of The Daily Show as my primary source for news, I have a soft spot for political satire).
  5. Unless you count familiarity gained by watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Man, a decade later New Zealanders still appear to be huge on the franchise, at least insomuch as it serves as a proud banner for tourism.  The actors in pre-flight safety video were all dressed like characters from the movie (for the record, Gandolf was pilot), and the in-flight magazine had a whopping 25-page feature on the soon-to-be-released The Hobbit.
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Designing Holidays Abroad

November 30th, 2012 No comments

And so the time came to leave the much vaunted Lake Atitlan, but not without a few more memorable experiences.

Just before Chaz’s departure we were reminded that Thanksgiving, which doesn’t get a lot of airtime in these here parts, was just two days away.  With our weak showing of spirit for Halloween (although I did carve a papaya back in Nicaragua), we started to come to terms with the stark reality that we stood to miss an entire year’s worth of holidays.  And unlike when you miss, like, one holiday, and hear sweetly reassuring sentiments from family to the tune of “Oh, we’re really going to miss you for this one!”, we’re starting to hear more like “Well, here’s what we’re doing”, which carries the subtext “…and you’ll not be here, and we’re used to it and we’re over it.”

It’s not an unkind sentiment at all, but rather quite understandably practical: who wants to spend a year getting even just a little bummed out every holiday over a pair of persistent & predictable no-shows?

Confronted with the reality that it’s up to us to make our own holiday fun if we were keen to having it (we were), I set about the apartment complex to arrange a proper Thanksgiving party in t-minus 48 hours.  My first stop was downstairs, for Garth had casually insinuated several times already that he makes a mean roast chicken whenever the topic of US Thanksgiving came up1.  Our Canadian friends had already celebrated their holiday of thanks in early October, but Garth was sporting enough to offer up his culinary participation for ours.  We hatched a plan that I would pick up a full chicken fit for roasting when I was dropping off Chaz in Pana the next day, and pick up some spices while I was at it.  Garth gave me directions to Sandra’s Grocery, a specialty shop catering to gringo tastes at which I could procure such items.

My second stop was up one flight and over to Barb and Fernando’s apartment.  Barb is from Canada and Fernando from Colombia.  We’d met around the property a few times earlier but only just that day had we had our first time real time spent together: during day 1 of the hypnotherapy course we were all taking.  I could barely speak out my invitation to US Thanksgiving before being ushered in, sat down, poured some rum, and served up a plate of super tasty cilantro-baked vegetables on a bed of fish with lobster tails on top (Fernando’s culinary prowess and sense for hospitality was keenly demonstrated in the space of about 45 seconds).  As you might imagine, they were immediately up on the idea of our forthcoming gathering, and eagerly volunteered to be a most worthy part of the potluck equation.

At 6 attendees I decided we had a good party for the upcoming holiday.

The next day in Pana, just after seeing Chaz off I found myself at the cozy and well appointed Sandra’s.  There I happened upon the opportunity to buy a 6 pound butter ball turkey, a rare find indeed.  I immediately phoned in to update mission control of the situation: “Hey Chef, how do you feel about me bringing back a turkey instead?”  “Bring it on,” my Canadian cook declared without hesitation, “and in that case then see if you can find a little jar of rosemary, eh?”

Roger that.  I picked up all the called for items plus as many boxes of bonus Vizios that my pocket full of 300Q would afford me without requiring an ATM visit, and was off2.

Thanksgiving was perfect.  Fernando made up a dish of top notch shrimp on a similar bed of tasty vegetables, plus a separate helping without shrimp for Tracy.  Garth did a bang up job of roasting the turkey, complete with a stuffing adapted for Guatemalan produce that included jalapeno peppers.  Tracy remarked of our (comparatively basic) contributions of mashed potatoes, baked yams and brownies for dessert that it was kinda nice for a change to be bringing the most boring entries to a potluck.

It was the best meal I’d had all month.  As we ate and drank wine we took turns declaring what it was we were thankful for.  Amid so many blessings on this night I found it fit to be thankful for our friends at the table, and how on such short notice we could all come together in the interest of allowing us United Statesians to get in a proper Thanksgiving while so far from our homeland.  You can see a shot of our troupe here.

After about 4 bottles of wine, a trio of great he said/she said stories of how the couples at the table met, and even a few inspiring tales of divorces gone past3, our 4 hour party laden with laughs gave way to triptophan-inspired sleepy time.  If we can do Christmas and New Year’s anywhere near this well we’ll be set.

During our last few days we got a bit of hiking under our belts: one day with a hike up to a waterfall in the neighboring town of Tzutzuna, and the next day up the same cliffs as the Mayan sun ceremony earlier but this time for an evening lunar ceremony, to mark the full moon and lunar eclipse.

Lest you suspect our time on the lake was all fun and games, let me assure you I made a rather lovely office space out of our 3-volcanoes-facing dining table, whereat I finished, among other things, a cheeky 29-page guide to using my brand of coaching software.  In a fine demonstration of collaborative working together during our travels, Tracy did a fantastic job of typesetting and laying out the whole thing.  I daresay it’s the most beautiful thing that we’re apt to make together until we start with the whole “making little people” thing in the next year or two.

Earlier today as we stood on the Pasajcap dock one last time awaiting our boat I stared good and long in all directions, savoring one last time the beauty of lake Atitlan and our now bygone residence.  And as always, what smoothed over the bitter pill of leaving behind a great living experience is the promise of the next one.

Notes:

  1. And to be clear: it’s not that our Canadian friends don’t know that turkey is the meat of tradition.  The chicken roast boast is an acknowledgement of how rare turkeys tend to be ’round these parts.
  2. Vizios are above-average delicious chocolate covered almonds which we were first turned onto in Peru.  We haven’t seen them anywhere since, so I jumped at the opportunity to stock up.  There’s something refreshingly fun about NOT having access to the same everything everywhere you go, even though that characteristic of modern living back home is a true marvel of supply chain management.  The hunt makes rare finds like Vizio’s in Pana a pleasant surprise, and has me appreciate, well, stuff much more.
  3. I have this quirk in that I can be impressed and inspired by how someone’s divorce went.  Against the baseline of my own parent’s splitting and subsequent fallout (which entailed literally decades of mudslinging and awkward holidays), I’m amazed when I hear of partings where affinity and workability are kept in tact.  As a result, I sometimes I literally compliment people on their divorces.  Almost in like a “well done, old chap” with a pat on the back sort of way, but with ample explanation.
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Doing Right by the Hosting Tradition

November 20th, 2012 No comments

One of the best things about hosting someone in a beautiful place is that you get to see that beautiful place newly once more, through the eyes of your guest.

By the time of Chaz’s arrival, Tracy and I had clocked right around a full month’s worth of time on Lake Atitlan, spread over our our past and present trips.  So to a certain extent we’d come to take some of the area’s charm as given, registering much less in our awareness under the category of “Holy crap this place is magical”.  In addition to his own many merits of personality, we loved Chaz’s visit for the reactions he had to our surroundings, which refreshed our own perceptions.

At around 8am from our dock I flagged down the passing boat bound for Panajachal (or Pana for short), a 40 minute ride which I shared in the company of a lovely woman named Dita.  Dita left her job as a partner of one of the largest executive search firms in all of Germany some 10 years ago, and with her husband came to live on the lake in a sprawling and beautiful looking house located two docks down from our place.  We’d just gotten to the topic of what it was like raising and home schooling their 7-year-old (who speaks 4 languages) here on the lake when our boat ride ended in Pana.  Though I invited her and her husband over for drinks at some point, I fear that perhaps the casual bond we’d forged in those 20 minutes of chatting might not be sufficient to entice an actual visit1.

From Pana I took a shuttle into Antigua, the appointed place for me to meet up with the incoming Chaz and escort him back to our place on the lake.  The fruits of Chaz’s high school Spanish study have largely withered on the vine, and so while the airport-to-Antigua shuttle is easy enough to sort out with English alone, the full trip to San Marcos take a bit more travel gumption the first time.  Thus as part of paying forward the fab hospitality from our friends back in Miami, I was happy to ensure his 8-day stay got off to a proper start with smooth transit to our accommodations.

We arranged to meet at Parque Centrale, as likely a drop off point as any for Chaz’s shuttle in from the airport.  When he arrived I was sitting on a bench, plying a native fellow to teach me how to eat a local fruit called hocote, and, in the process, sharing a bag thereof that I’d bought 10 minutes earlier.

Our first order of business was to get Chaz some proper lunch.  Appealing to his adventurous side we walked on into the Antigua market and sat down at one of those micro restaurants like those I described from Peru: a few stools and a counter at which you can get a big heaping plate of whatever someone’s mama is cooking up that day.  Today it was chicken, rice, mashed potatoes, and suitcase black beans2, all topped with this tomato puree red sauce that brings it all together and tastes so good.  All this for 20Q (about $1.30 US), so you may as well splurge 7Q more for a fresh blended, frothy pinapple/milk beverage called a licuado.

Chaz was already finding himself pretty sold on Guatemala, and generously vocalized as much.

After lunch we strolled on further through the market, picked up a few coconuts to snack on, marveled at how thoroughly boot-leggy some of the bootlegged merchandise was, and grabbed some produce to take on back to the house.  En route back to Parque Centrale for our 4pm shuttle I had one more order of business to tend to in town: buy a new pair of jeans.

If you see me walking among the native population anywhere in Guatemala, you’ll notice immediately that I, at 6’5″, stand out even more than I usually would in most any other country.  So by all counts the notion that the nation of Guatemala has any pair of jeans suitable for my stature within its borders ranks a little, well, perhaps naively optimistic.  But it turns out there’s a shop right off Antigua’s main square that carries my size, 34×34.  I know this because I bought a pair there back in ’09 to replace mine which had a bad rip up the left leg3.  On this occasion I had an ever growing worn patch around the crotch of my jeans and strict orders from the Mrs. to take care of the situation already.  With 5 minutes in my favorite jean shop in Guatemala (perhaps the world, I mean, I did wait several countries to finally do my jean shopping there) I was sorted, and we were on our way.

A few stops for beer marked our 2 and a half hour shuttle ride to the lake, and it was well past sunset when we got to the Pana dock.  We stepped aboard the half full boat (which comfortably seats about 20) at 7:07pm, and waited for it to fill until about 7:30 when we, aboard the last boat of the night, scuttled off into the darkness and across the water.  The boat dropped us off at the Pasajcap dock at around 8:10, and my what a welcome site was Tracy, waving down to us on the dock from our warmly lit apartment some 80 feet up.

“Honey, look what I picked up in Antigua!”  Tracy had done a lovely job of prepping for our arrival: after our long day of travel we settled in with beers, tostada chips with fresh made pico de gallo, and tasty tacos.  Chaz, pal that he was, brought us key items from the homeland, including zip-lock bags, some new credit cards that had arrived by mail and were lovingly forwarded along by my fab mother in law, and a dish wand, the hard-to-find luxury which so brilliantly prevents the unpleasant scent of sponge hand.

We had no firm plans for our visitor’s stay but had plenty of ideas to serve as building blocks for an itinerary.  Here are the broad strokes and highlights which aptly describe his visit:

  • Free* boat rides.  Free with an asterisk to denote that they weren’t strictly free, but close enough.  Jumping to San Marcos or San Pedro by water taxi was a 5 or 10Q affair, which Chaz deemed essentially a rounding error.  Compared to our $80 ferry ride to Cape Cod from Boston, I’d have to agree.  So we took the boat option for transport as often as possible.
  • Lakefront sauna.  Pierre’s property has a wood fire sauna in a stone edifice right at lake side, and for now it remains un-flooded by the rising lake.  So we partook one morning of the sit in the sauna/jump in the lake/repeat as necessary sauna ritual.  I was feeling the hint of a cold that morning, this cleared me right up.
  • Liters and liters of Gallo and Extra.  Gallo is Guatemala’s answer to like a Miller or Budweiser, and Extra is a common darker beer.  Chaz tells of having 3 or 4 beers while lunching in San Pedro, and an onlooking 8-year-old was stunned that he was still standing.  Apparently locals can’t hold their liquor quite at all like folks from the states; as a cultural norm they are just not as practiced.
  • Smokin’ Joes barbeque.  We were glad this fell on day 6 of Chaz’s visit, to give the man a chance to experience local cuisine long enough to have a gringo throw back be a welcome change of pace.
  • Breakfast party with neighbors.  Robin and Garth joined us as we pulled out all the stops to make pancakes and bacon, granting our party of 5 about 3 hours of top-notch entertainment.  It is all too easy to underestimate the simple joys of cooking for people.
  • Night out with live music.  I’d met a fellow on a boat ride who told me he and his buddy would be playing at Restaurant Fe on Saturday night.  In the sleepy town of San Marcos just coming off of low season, such a happening was remarkable indeed.  So we came out for beers, tunes, and a curry buffet.
  • Driving a tuk tuk4.  This one was all Chaz.  After our first ride in one he boldly declared “I wanna drive one of these things.”  To his immense credit, he managed to do just that during his solo field trip to San Pedro.  He missed the last boat back to San Marcos, so to get back he had to take a 100Q tuk tuk ride.  As coincidence would have it, he ended up sharing the ride with Pablo, the same Pablo who leads Mayan ceremonies high above cliffs (see what I mean about small town magic?).  They had already met, giving Chaz an in.  Pablo doesn’t speak too much English, but enough to broker Chaz’s request of the driver to drive a part of the way around the lake.  Sure enough, Chaz was allowed to drive through San Juan (another town along the lake), and his experience came complete with a mini lesson on, well, how to drive one.
  • General cultural immersion.  Walking the streets of town, visiting the markets, interacting with people.  Chaz put to words something I never thought to articulate but immediately recognized as true: the natives here consistently exude a way of being that is notably polite and respectful.  Well summarized.

We began the week with the stated intention that we ensure Chaz’s visit be a memorably positive one, bordering on (if not crashing into) “kick ass” territory.  Here at the end we all agreed this intention had been fulfilled.  This morning (the day before his flight) we took a boat back to Pana, and his confidence and comfort with moving about Guatemala was such that I needed only get him on a shuttle to Antigua and he would be good the rest of the way, including getting a place to stay the night and getting off to the airport.  This was quite nice as it saved me about 5 hours of riding in a minivan, but also delights me to know that he’s all set to have his own adventures traveling about this country.  Thanks for visiting, Chaz.  It has been a pleasure to show you around the settings of our current home5

Notes:

  1. Which is doubly a shame because in our conversation Dita was YET ANOTHER instance of a person insisting simultaneously about India that (A) they never got sicker than while there and (B) despite (A) you have to go, because it’s just simply amazing.  I really wanted a longer conversation to better sort out that apparent contradiction.
  2. This is the same black bean concoction as mentioned earlier: a refried black bean puree with onions and cilantro blended in.  The term “suitcase” derives from the cooked down consistency: a firmer texture that, when slid on out of a circular frying pan, can be folded over on to itself like a suitcase.
  3. Fun fact: one of my first blunders with Spanish immersion happened in the taxi ride that Tracy and I first took to Antigua at the start of our ’09 trip.  I, keen to practice my Spanish as I was, ventured to boldly ask our driver if I could eat more pants in Antigua.  Turns out the words “comere” and “comprar” (Spanish for “to eat” and “to buy”, respectively) are interchangeable for hilarious and/or awkward results.  Best part: since I figured this was an uncommon thing to ask about and because I had sufficient vocabulary to do so, I prefaced my question by asking “Do you mind if I ask you a weird question?”, making our driver all the more apt to take my question at face value rather than recognize a linguistic blunder.  Thank goodness Tracy was able to spot me and clear up the confusion before things got weirder.
  4. A tuk tuk is like a motorcycle fitted over with a rooftop enclosure containing the driver’s seat up front and a bench just barely wide enough for 3 in the back.  They are a minified version of cab-like transportation, and quite common here around the lake.  For example, 10Q per person will save you the 15 minute walk from San Marcos to Pasajcap.
  5. Editor’s note: Chaz’s ravings have already prompted some of his friends to make a trip down in December, and he himself plans to return for a month around March.
Categories: Travels Tags:

Lovely Lake Living

November 12th, 2012 No comments

How quickly one can get into a rhythm of things.

On the way back from our first visit to town, we met another couple who happened also to be staying at Pasajcap as the four of us sat under an awning, trying in vain to wait out the rain.  Andrew and Lanie, about our age, were at the tail end of a most enviable 2-month long honeymoon spent in these parts.  In the limited time we had together they graciously passed on knowledge and expertise of lake living to us over wine, most notably the what, when and where of the once-a-week barbeque in San Pedro.

“Yeah, we’re heading back to Ohio on Monday, but stop by around noon tomorrow and we’ll take you over for it.”  It’s a good thing we made friends with them during our limited window, for the Smokin’ Joe’s Sunday ritual is a rather magical thing.  The native cuisine here is good and all, but the occasional infusion of gringo culinary sensibilities and know-how is a great way to keep things fresh.

There, for example, 60Q (under $8 US) gets you a huge piece of bacon-wrapped fillet mignon, which (as all menu options do) comes as a plate with garlic or corn bread plus 3 top notch sides (show up early before they run out of the mac-n-cheese).  Chicken, pork ribs, to die for cuts of tuna, and more make up their fab menu, all grilled to smoky perfection.  It’s held in the yard of an outdoor bar with a rooftop terrace and full swimming pool; no waiters, just walk up and pay, they’ll call your name.  In total, barring those brief moments of handing over a few Quetzales while ordering or getting drinks, it feels just like being at the house of a friend who REALLY knows how to do a barbeque.  This for us has become a weekly tradition, and mindfully made a habit of paying the knowledge forward.

One afternoon, in order to keep up with my proper regiment of meat consumption1, I took a boat across the lake to a nearby town so that I could get a few tacos for lunch and pick up some bacon and chicken from the (comparatively) well appointed store there.  On the return as I hopped from the boat onto the private dock of the property I call home this month, I giggled, literally giggled to myself that, on a Thursday afternoon, THIS is what my life looks like.

You can see the whole of what our living environment looks like from Tracy’s pictures of the property.  The little thatch-roofed nooks equipped with benches, chaise lounges, and hammocks are ideal places to make friends.  On about day 4 of our residence I crossed paths with Garth of Robin & Garth, our downstairs neighbors.  In place like this, it’s just natural and fitting to say to a person you just met “Hey, whaddaya say we and our mutual lady friends2 hang out in one of these tonight over wine?” and have it be met with a yes.

Garth and Robin are from Canada, and are a fine example of life lived with joy and laughter.  Both divorced, both early into retirement, they found they made fantastic travel companions to one another during a few months last winter and so are at it again this winter.

Robin’s a world class fisher woman, the kind of gal who catches fish bigger than she is3 and has a smoker at home big enough to accommodate her serious catch.  I’m told we should come by in the summer to partake of her smoked salmon.  If we can tie in shooting a pilot for the fishing show that she should totally star in (with me providing zany ad libbing of at least some of her lines), I’ll count that as a more than worthy visit just waiting to happen.

Garth is the very vision of a jovial retiree that I hope to grow into: genuinely funny, amiable and hospitable, and regularly singing the praises of our shared surroundings (e.g. “How’s it going, Garth?”  “Oh, I’m somehow managing to get along okay here in this paradise, eh?4“.  Garth’s career was in large scale drilling & mining operations, and he tells intriguing tales of months-long assignments in harsh Canadian environments chasing ore.  His background suggests that the solution to the problem of rising Lake Atitlan could be to drill a hole in the bottom that routes out to lower land, offering added benefits of generating hydroelectric power and irrigation, which to me is a fine way of looking at things from a creative problem solving stance indeed5.

One late afternoon I took to the quest of putting up flyers for Tracy’s private yoga instruction.  In the space of 20 minutes as I walked about the village I ran into (and was greeted by) about 9 familiar faces, which was not bad since we’d only been there a week and rather exemplary of why I love small town living.  There’s a feeling of connection and belonging you get that’s unlike anything you can experience while roaming a city as a largely anonymous figure among thousands of others.

Making acquaintances in this sort of environment seems proportionately easier as well, as evidenced by my meeting Pablo.  While winding my way through the pedestrian streets of town as my posting task drew to a close, a voice called to me from within the small, shack-like travel agency.  “Como se llama?”  I popped my head in to introduce myself, and got to chatting with the proprietor.  Before long I was told about a Mayan sun ceremony that was happening the next morning, and was invited to come.  I got the feeling I was being sold on something, so instinctively I asked what it cost.  “Solo donacion, amigo.”  Right on then, I’m here to have experiences, so let me throw caution into the wind and go for it.

The plan was to assemble at 5am the next morning at that very location in town, and then we would all walk halfway to San Pablo, the neighboring village to the west, and go to the ceremony site.  By the early rising of the sun here on the lake and the not-at-all bashful roosters on neighboring properties, waking up early enough for such an event would not be hard.  Rather instead, as I slipped through the big black gate of Pasajcap and onto the moonlit dirt road that leads into town, I found the early morning walk to be its own invigorating reward.

Just outside of town I saw two dudes walking along the same road in the same direction, wearing flowing clothes that looked super comfy.  It was one of those moments where at a glace we all knew “Yep, we’re all heading to the same place.”  With any lingering concerns that I’d been lured out for a pre-dawn mugging well put to rest, we continued on to the assembly point to meet about 7 others.  When Pablo arrived on the scene at about 5:05 our merry caravan of hippy-dippy types who go in for this sort of thing6 proceeded back up towards the main road and on out of town.

At a nondescript part of the lake-winding road Pablo stopped the group, and said in his very calm and easy-to-understand Spanish that here now we would begin to climb up the big bluff-like hill.  Now then, you know how sometimes we exaggerate to say things like “we thought they were joking when…”, like, say, when they announced Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate in ’08.  We know in these instances that they’re not really joking, it’s just a derisive way to editorialize the situation.  Well, in this instance I actually spent a good 5 seconds or so in earnest thinking Pablo was joking to say we would somehow climb up here.

Yet sure enough, Pablo and other members of the troupe began to ascend, making light and careful footfall on a trail barely visible and winding through cornstalks as they swiftly left the surety of the road below.  So climb I did, keeping up without too much difficulty on the crude path, and yet still impressed by the progress anytime I looked up or down.  The tops of the towering cliffs above looked insurmountable yet drew nearer and nearer with every minute as we made our way through brush, used the trunks of coffee plants for handles, and stepped up steps loosely etched in dirt.

Sun had broken above the tops of volcanoes across the lake, making every pause for breath a visually rewarding one.  Just the hike plus views of reflected orange in the lake so far below was already making this adventure worth the TBD donation price of admission.  About two thirds the way up we made a stop off into a shallow cave in the cliff which opens out to a view of the lake.  Pablo lit a candle and gave a blessing, and we continued on our way.

At the top I was surprised to see we had in fact scaled the cliffs that looked so imposing from below, putting us somewhere around 150 meters above the lake.  We’d climbed the equivalent of about 45 flights of stairs.  We circled a rock upon which Pablo made a fire from incense-like charcoals and an assortment of colored candles.  Pablo began the ceremony, in a mixture of Spanish and a dialect of the native Mayan tongue, with a note about the whole 2012/Mayan calendar/end of the world thing.  He explained that, no, the world is not ending, and rather instead Mayan tradition calls for a celebration for the completion of one era and the commencement of another.

I don’t know about you, but for me that settles it.  We’ll of course see next month, but hearing that all is well with the epoch-changing 12/21/12 from an actual Mayan dude at a sun ceremony upon high cliffs in this part of the world counts, for me, way more than any brand of sensationalist doomsday punditry arising from outside the Mayan culture.

The ceremony proceeded from there, largely comprised of blessings upon the earth, the sun and the moon, air, water, fire and light, and perhaps a few others.  I found it pleasing and calming to take time to appreciate these more simple things which comprise our elemental existence, it sort of puts the modern complexities of life into soothing perspective.

After the ceremony there was time to just relax and take in the scenery while sitting at the edge of the high cliffs.  Before long a kirtan broke out7: one fellow broke out a digery doo, another a flute.  Another girl had a small container filled with a little rice which subbed in for a proper maraca quite nicely.  There were a few other instruments floating about, and before long I was handed a kazoo.  For a half hour or more we were just playing.  The sounds built upon one another, interweaving complex melodies and rhythms.  For the record, I totally rocked the kazoo.  Seriously, I didn’t think there was much one could do with a kazoo, yet I found it easy dive in and add to the richness of the mix.

So I guess I loves me a good kirtan.

Life on the lake roles on in beautiful fashion, but tomorrow we’re in for a most welcome disruption: I pick up our friend Chaz, here to visit us for a week.

Notes:

  1. San Marcos on the whole is much better suited to satisfy vegetarian tastes, and experience has shown I get a bit punchy if I go more than a few days without meat.  I love me some vegetarian food, but my body ultimately calls this shot.
  2. Or “special ladies”, as the case may be.
  3. Even if she’s rockin’ about 5’5″ and 110 pounds, that’s still mighty impressive.
  4. Yep, real-life Canadians totally say the “eh?” thing, just like my childhood watchings of the McKenzie brothers taught me.  They are also, incidentally, quite good natured and good humored about insinuations lobbed from the US that they be miserable socialists, probably because they know the joke is on us.
  5. It turns out such a proposal was put before the Guatemalan government in 2010.  It was debated for about 30 minutes on the floor before being summarily rejected.  Apparently there is little sympathy for gringo lakefront property.
  6. Guilty as charged, your honor.
  7. “Kirtan” is a term that means, to a crude approximation, a bunch of hippies playing varied musical instruments in a loose, improvisational and jam-session like style.  I’m pretty sure drum circles fall under the concept umbrella.
Categories: Travels Tags:

Underwater Lakefront

November 2nd, 2012 No comments

Our day of wandering through San Salvador was pleasant but a little tiring.  After a while Central American countries start to blend together, appearing to be as self-similar as, say, adjoining states in the US’s midwest1.  So we sought out the distinguishing traits as much as possible.  We found two.

The first was pupusas, the delightful and ubiquitous street food fare cooked up on hot grills by El Salvadorean ladies all over the place.  Pupusas are like corn tortillas but stuffed with thinks like beans and cheese or pork and potato, made delicious by pork fat and a spicy cabbage/pepper salsa served in a small plastic baggie tied off with an impossible knot.  Three for a buck, take your pick mix-and-match style.  I’ll have dos con puerco for myself and una vegetariano for the lady: a perfect snack for Tracy and I.

The salsa is so good for spicing up the hearty flavors, and it was only on the bus ride out of the country that I worked out that you have to just bite open a tip of the little baggie in which it comes, and suck out a little with each bite of the pupusa.  That might seem a little savage but, yum!  No regrets: my mama dun raised me right with table manners, but this is a matter of street food rules.

The second distinguishing trait we experienced in our brief 24 hours was cab fares.  Against the recent experience of Nicaragua, where 10 Cordobas ($0.40US) would get you anywhere in Granada, we thought for sure we were being taken for a ride when we were told $5 for a two mile ride.  My offer for $2 was met with snickering, and we decided to go without.  Later that night we sought a cab for a ride back from the grocery store, not even a mile up the street.  $4.  “How about $2?”  Turns out I was bargaining in vain with the very same cab driver as before, and he called us out on it.

It was a fun exchange: I felt a little like an ass playing the role of gringo expecting the world for cheap, but in my defense explained how cheap cabs were in Nicaragua, and how often we get told rates that are 2, 3, even 4x what they should be for locals.  He countered to explain that in Nicaragua cab drivers are subsidized (we’d heard as much), and that in El Salvador they weren’t allowed to do collectivo fares (i.e. pick up others as you go and collect multiple fares on the same trip–strictly forbidden here, as it is in the US2).  And THAT was why, yes, fares actually are that high.

Then the woman he was waiting for came out of the grocery store.  The cab driver wished us good luck (in only a slightly sardonic/dickish way) and was off.  The pendulum had swung hard from the opposite end of being a dumb gringo who blindly accepts being ripped off.  As penance we walked home, and were no worse for the walk and having gotten a dose of cab pricing reality.

The next morning we got up early to continue on our bus way to Guatemala.  From the station in Guatemala city we hopped right into a shuttle bound for Antigua, and after chatting with a few fellow travelers including the most angsty Australian I’d ever met3 we were back for the first time this trip to familiar territory.

Ah, Antigua.  This, plus San Marcos on Lake Atitlan (which we were soon bound for), was the site of our first trip together three and a half years earlier, a trip which cemented for both of us a lot of the mutual sentiment that “yep, you’re the one for me”.  So this part of the world holds for us a certain nostalgia, which, for want of not boring the reader, I shall herein thoroughly understate.

Nevertheless the cobblestone streets still hold a certain charm, and after checking into a place for the night and dropping our bags, my first order of business was to get a fully de-husked and ready to drink/eat coconut.  I procured this snack at the very stall in Antigua’s market that originally sparked my deep and quirky love for the hard-to-open fruit back in early ’09.

It was Halloween night that night, and though I would love to tell you we partied like 20-somethings at one of the many venues putting up festive decorations that afternoon, we were too knackered by days of bus travel to even get excited about such a thing.

Oh, that and we’re not 20-somethings4.

One of the restaurants we ducked into for dinner amid the evening drizzle attempted to card us to get in, which told our travel weary selves that this was not the place for us to dine.  We settled on the Casa de Sopa, which offered a much more varied and filling meal than you would expect from a house of soup.

The next day we were off, a two-and-a-half our shuttle would take us to Lake Atitlan, which we’ve been looking forward to returning to for some time.

Now then, let it be stated again for the record that expectations are indeed a curious and precarious thing.  Maintaining expectations (especially high ones) of anything which you can’t yourself control is an all-too-effective recipe for upset and disappointment.  And even if something/someone should live up to those expectations, well, you expected as much–which of course leaves precious little room for surprise and delight over the favorable outcome.

That all said, Tracy and I could scarcely help expecting that Lake Atitlan would be awesome.  With its temperate weather, cheap and delicious produce, views dotted by 3 volcanoes, fun little villages and much more we had ample reasons to expect a delightful return.

The result of our tempting expectation fate?  I’m happy to report that our presence on Lake Atitlan delivered and delighted once again, and was different enough for us to appreciate it every bit as much this time around.

So we overall got lucky, in the expectations department.

We began with a typical Guatemalan breakfast in Panajachel, featuring eggs, toast, sweet fried plantains, fresh farmer’s cheese, local coffee, and a sort of re-fried black beans infused with garlic and cilantro that is so very tasty.  From there we made our way to the dock to catch a boat to our place on the lake.

Dockside, our quoted rate of 25Q per person for the ride quickly dropped to the proper 20Q as we began to walk away, us knowing full well that 20Q (just under $3US) is the already-inflated price for outsiders.  I’ve no complaints about the inflated price, it’s just good to take a stand against even further distorted pricing.

Our 40-minute ride in the motorboat was a scenic purview of the lake and its many coastal villages, and before we knew it the driver announced “Pasaj Cap!” and it was our cue to gather up our heavy bags and step up on out onto the private dock.  From there we walked up the equivalent of some 6 flights of outdoor stone stairs, and were led by 3 rather large German shepherds to our host, Pierre.

Pierre is the owner and builder of the Pasajcap, a property of about 7 apartments just outside of San Marcos, and Tracy and I first made his acquaintance when we first researched Guatemala back in ’09.  We were gun shy back then about paying a $500 deposit to rent an apartment we’d found online in a country we’d never been to, but experience (past and now present!) revealed that the paradise property was in fact real.

We were quickly shown to our place, complete with a frontage of sliding windows measuring about 6 feet tall by 20 feet wide and with spectacular views just as advertised (here’s the shot Tracy took of it).  As much as we would have loved to savor the space, our first order of business was to walk into town and pick up some produce and other foodstuffs for our pantry and fridge.

San Marcos had changed only in a few ways, mostly trivial save one: the lakefront areas that we remembered from 3 years prior, down at the main dock and other places, were now quite thoroughly underwater.  It turns out that the water level has risen some 12 feet since our last visit.  The connecting lakefront path, where I several mornings did rounds of ninja training (my own label for a jog with intermittent breaks to do situps on reasonably flat patches of dirt), no longer exists.

Theories vary, but the general consensus seems to be that an earthquake a few years ago closed up a ravine at the bottom of the lake that had been serving as drainage to keep the level as it was.  Once closed, the equilibrium of rainfall and evaporation has been working to push it back towards the level it was at back in the 70’s.  Back then, it turns out, the lake was much higher BUT an earthquake then opened the ravine up in the first place, causing the level to drop as low as Tracy and I were used to.

The natives all know this history, which is why, it is suggested, their houses are nowhere near the lakefront–only the gringos are so enamored of lakefront/unaware of its precarious situation.

Our then and now familiarity with the lakefront essentially makes us privy to snapshots of geological history in the making.  Though the change breaks my heart a bit, how nice it is to be back!

Notes:

  1. To illustrate: if I showed you 100 photographs, 50 from Illinois, 50 from Indiana, do you think you could correctly label which was which better than 50/50 odds?
  2. Now that I’ve experienced the lively fun and fare-efficient joy that is collectivo-style cab driving, I wish it weren’t forbidden here or in the states.  Makes me wonder why someone saw it fit to actually pass a law forbidding it, rather than let cabs and/or the people that hire them dictate which style a given cab ride would be.
  3. In my total experience of world travel thus far Aussies have been remarkably consistent in their chill and above-average agreeable demeanor, so as a compliment to the whole of Australia let me just say that this fellow, well, rather stood out.
  4. I mean technically Tracy is for another 7 months, but mentally sometimes I think we rate and register around mid 40’s.  This means we suck at partying, but we do generally make good company for dinner parties.
Categories: Travels Tags:

On the Rooftop Terrace, Life Is Beautiful

October 29th, 2012 No comments

Or at least my every experience up there seems to suggest as much.

It was in back in Cusco that I first began to take advantage of something that I’m, well, kinda surprised that I hadn’t taken advantage of before: a first rate, live-in private yoga instructor.  I’ve always known that I liked Tracy’s style of yoga instruction (my attendance of her class constitutes the first five months of our knowing one another, after all), but for some reason I never thought to request private lessons in earnest since those early days.

In our chilly living room in Cusco my occasional yoga class was nice, but in the ambiance of the setting sun amid blazing orange cloud formations, just above the tree line and with gentle summery breezes, my private instruction on the Vista Mochambo rooftop seemed down right decadent, the perfect way to unwind after a hard day at the (cafe) office.  Tracy even saw to bringing up yoga tunes by way of her well placed Mac book, and indulged my desire to weave in Push-upTober activity just before sitting stretches and shavasana1.

The rooftop terrace was also my preferred place to write this month.  With great regularity in this apartment I wake with the light of dawn at around 5:30am.  This is no time to futz around in our partitioned studio apartment, for Tracy still sleeps like a normal person with normal person hours.  So what works beautifully is to grab a banana and a sweet roll, tote my laptop up the spiral staircase, and sit back in one of those folding chairs that features a hammock-like weave for the seat and back.  Palm trees and glowing grey skies that soon enough give way to brilliant sunlight make inspired companions for hammering out prose.

One morning Tracy came to join me brandishing coffee and breakfast, including potatoes and chorizo cooked just right2.  Another morning she came with news of our being accepted to house sit Mustard over the holidays.

Mustard is the dog of a lovely couple in Sydney, a pair who would be spending two and a half weeks out of the country and in need of someone to take care of their house and beloved dog while away.  We’d been looking into house sitting gigs a bit this month, and were recently a little bummed to have missed out on a great-sounding one in Perth.  (We’d made the finalist circle culminating with an interview over Skype, but ultimately weren’t picked, possibly because they had a pool and I’d never really taken care of one before.)  So after that minor disappointment, news that we were in fact sorted for an Australian house sitting job for the holidays was most welcome.

So the rooftop terrace was a very happy place indeed.  The only downside, as is often the cliche with this sort of ode, is having to say goodbye to it.  Yesterday was our last full day in Granada, and we made it count starting by taking our landlord out to breakfast at Kathy’s Waffle House.

Glenn again regaled us with tales, this time including a more detailed telling of how three for three wives of an unsavory real estate agent in town all happened to meet with tragic death, the third of which was Kathy of the waffle house namesake (parenting tip that probably generalizes pretty well: even if he would probably be a good provider, don’t marry off your 19 year old daughter to a 70-year-old who has had two similarly young wives die untimely deaths).

On our walk back I asked Glenn if he might show me the ropes for pool maintenance, figuring that ability might come up again in our now-burgeoning house sitting career.  Four delightful hours later I had a wealth of knowledge and hands on experience about cleaning, filtering, and chemical balancing a pool.  There was even time for lessons on plumbing and sewage systems, water pressure equalization, fail-safe water storage and dispersal mechanisms, and a few Tona’s.  Glenn played the sensai to my grasshopper beautifully, explaining things and quizzing me as we went.

My training in pool maintenance (and then some) was even more fun than when he had Tracy and I over for a barbeque the week before and his oven exploded3, and it makes me happy to call him my Nicaragua Pappy.

Our last meal in town was at El Camello, a restaurant by a Canadian fellow serving Middle Eastern cuisine.  It turns out by this time that even though Nicaraguan food was pretty agreeable, we were by this time quite saturated on gallo pinto (the national dish of red beans and rice mixed together) and its usual accompaniments: tortillas, plantains, and chicken.  A good meal from an entirely distinct culinary vocabulary had us leave Granada on a pleasant note, and reminded us it was time to mix things up once again.

This morning we awoke at 3am, and our timely chariot arrived at 3:30 ready to take us the hour’s drive into Managua for our 5am bus on to El Salvador by way of Honduras.  Technically we’ve visited two new countries today, but our drive by passport stamping for Honduras doesn’t count for any traveler street cred.

Tomorrow we aim to earn some here, during our (slightly) less fleeting visit through El Salvador.

Notes:

  1. “Push-upTober was my answer to Tracy’s now 3rd annual “Omtober”, an October month in which Tracy does an hour of yoga practice every day.  Push-upTober, then, was my daily discipline of doing, well, a bunch of push-ups.  I started at 15 push-ups a day (single set), and wanted to work up to 45.  You can see how I did as tracked by my spiffy coaching software in the graph just above.
  2. No trivial matter for a vegetarian–let it be said that when you’re as strongly carnitarian as I am, there still needn’t be any sacrifice in being wed to a vegetarian.
  3. The pilot light went out and Glenn carelessly turned it back on without venting the accumulated gas.  I had my head in the fridge at the time, grabbing some beers.  Singed hairs on the back of my legs is my only souvenir, and Glenn was similarly mostly unscathed.  A good start from a loud boom was our main takeaway.
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Coffee Farms and Other Magical Places

October 25th, 2012 No comments

Life quickly settled into a nice groove at Vista Mochombo.

I fast became a regular at the Euro Cafe, a place which I dubbed my office for the month.  If World Tour is in any way about celebrating simple joys in many far off places (and it is), then the courtyard of the Euro Cafe is an exemplary bit of the whole premise.  A quaint, round metal table to myself, baristas who knew my name, a varied and tasty menu, and a strong internet connection all made it a delight.  For ambiance a fountain & lush tropical vegetation comprised the view above my laptop, drenched in sunlight pouring in through the open air construction.

Some mornings I would start there with breakfast, or a tropical fruit smoothie, or just the fresca del dia.  Around lunch time I’d walk to the counter at the front, order something off the menu, and have it brought to “my desk” minutes later.  At the end of the day, sometime between 3 and 5pm, I’d pick out a sweet treat to munch on the way home and/or share with Tracy.  This day of camping and grazing in lovely surroundings would cost somewhere around $10US when I settled up on my way out.

After a hard day at the office I would do something that I vividly remember my dad doing when I was a child: go home and jump in the pool with the wife.  Save for the floatation device and scotch on the rocks, I think I emulated his style pretty well.  Dad, I always figured that was cool, and now I totally get the appeal.

Tracy and I would float about, catch up on our day, and generally talk about the state of our life while staring up at gorgeous sunset-time cloud formations and the lush vegetation.  As you might imagine given the surroundings, the regular consensus was that the state of life was quite good.

We got to inject some adventure and variety into this groove mid-month, when serendipity granted us a rare and fantastic opportunity.  My brother-in-law (or is he my second brother-in-law, as the guy who married my wife’s sister?) Jason would be in Nicaragua for a few days, working to design and scope out a philanthro-travel tour with the good people of Project Cure.  Jason owns a coffee roastery and his company does direct trade with a farmer in Nicaragua, and his company is doing a project called CURE Coffee (basically, through a collaboration with Project Cure, profits from the sale of his coffee from this region go towards medical and humanitarian relieve back to the region).

All of this is to say that Jason was kindly enough to allow Tracy and I to tag along with the entourage for the trip.  We got to see the rolling mountainous regions of the Nicaraguan country side, ride in the back of a truck while touring the hilly and beautiful expanse of the Santa Fe coffee farm (straight and monotonous rows of monoculture it ain’t–this was some seriously varied vegetation!), attend a meeting at the mayor’s office of Jinotega, visit the two clinics that would be the soon-beneficiaries of this charitable collaboration, and learn yet more of the process by which coffee goes from red little cherries to the roasted beans we all know and love when we wandered about a coffee dry mill.

The trip was amazing, and a constant delight.  I’ll be brief on the account for the beauty of it more pictorial in nature, so go check out Tracy’s coverage.

While we’re on the subject of magical, beautiful places, another location punctuated our existence of tropical apartment living bliss, and that was Laguna de Apoyo.  Laguna de Apoyo is a circular lake formed by a hollowed out volcano, some 6km across and stunningly pristine.  Lush vegetation abuts its whole circumference and from a distance what few buildings reside near are invisible, crowded over by the green growth.  Our first visit was with landlord Glenn, who was in general a really good sport about showing us around (the sentence “Papa Glenn is taking the kids out for a field trip” captures the essence of his invitations quite well1).  From a high lookout point we took in the view while downing a round of Tona’s, Nica’s local and preeminent beer.  At my beckoning Glenn was sharing stories from his most interesting life.

Glenn’s lived in Nicaragua the last 11 years with his wife, and it turns out did the whole architectural design of the lovely 1o-unit apartment complex in which we are currently residing.  He got his start as a more-than-just-vacationing presence in Central America while on vacation in Jamaica, there with his then girlfriend who told him he was working too much, and needed to take a vacation with her and leave work behind.

It was the 80s, and he was locksmith.

It started with helping a fellow resort guest unlock his fancy luggage (“the maintenance guy with a hammer can do it in 2 seconds or I can do it in 2 minutes, and if you can spare the time you might like the state of your $1000 leather luggage better when I’m done with it than when he is”).  After that a few guys on the maintenance crew invited Glenn to geek out over locksmithing challenges in the onsite shed a few times  (quite the thing to have to sneak away from the girlfriend for), dallying which ultimately culminated in a job for Glenn to rekey the whole property.

One thing led to another, as Glenn recounts it, and before long he was the “international expert” locksmith, designing and implementing new lock systems for resorts all over Jamaica, and his life as a business man outside of the US was well underway (incidentally he eventually broke up with his girlfriend).

In the present day Glenn, among other things, buys property now and then when good opportunities arise, and builds them up nicely as rentals like the one Tracy and I are now enjoying.  He’s also writing a book of stories about what it’s like to build in the third world, which, if his stories told in person are any indication, I look forward to reading (Glenn: sorry if my recounting of Jamaica is a sloppy rendition of one of your earlier chapters, and apologies for any spoilers!).

With views, beers, and stories of an interesting fellow our first visit to Laguna de Apoyo was pleasant enough, but taken in from a great distance.  Our second visit was with our kickin’ trio of neighbors, Katie, Kelly and Chris, and was a more hands on experience.  This time we packed swim suits and made our way to the Monkey Hut, a little resort nestled right by the water.  For six bucks you can get a day pass and enjoy their dock access to the clear and refreshing, bath-like waters of the lake, mill about onsite and order beers & have lunch, and grab a one-man kayak whenever.

While our party kayaked about my favorite activity was to fling myself over the side of my kayak and just swim.  I’m a tall dude, but the deep blue waters of the lake were clear enough that I and any onlooker could clearly see my toes outstretched those 6.5 feet beneath the surface of the water.  Did I mention the water was nice and warm?

As we lounged about off the end of the dock, floating in inner tubes, we saw them filming the closing scene of an episode of House Hunters International (if you’ve ever seen the show, you know the formula: “Well honey, which one should we pick?”  “I like number 2 the best.” “I like that one too–yay, let’s get that one!” Hug, walk off camera holding hands).  So at the risk of ruining the magic for you, the next time you see the end of an episode know that it probably took them a couple of takes to get it, and that someone off camera probably had to remind them “You just picked which house you’re going to buy… this is exciting, get excited!”.

Disillusionment of the process aside, we were happy to keep our voices down and not mess with their shoot.

Throw in a largely unremarkable yet well appreciated lunch and that was our day visit to the Monkey Hut–score a few more points for Laguna de Apoya!

Just another week here in Nicaragua… lordy, is it time to uproot again already?  I’d be bummed if I weren’t so excited about where we’re going next!

Note:

  1. Our first weekend I took Glenn up on his invitation to go to the massive market in Managua.  This visit ,amid a few other errands, ran over my expectations by about 4 hours, but at least I got to see cop corruption and bribery in action on the way home.  Our car was pulled over for, apparently, not abiding by the correct lanes through a roundabout.  100 Cordoba, or about $4US, was all it took to settle the matter on the spot.  “Collecting lunch money” was the phrase used to describe the situation.
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Underwhelmed in San Juan Del Sur

October 4th, 2012 No comments

We were so certain we would dig Nicaragua’s central surf hub.

Numerous people had raved to us about their time there, usually centered around some manner of yoga and/or surf retreat.  It seemed to be the gem of the country, the one place to go if you only had one to pick.

And yet after our quite smooth journey in from Ometepe (having done our previously-mentioned route in to Merida, the bus ride/ferry ride/taxi ride/2nd bus ride out to San Juan seemed a non-event), our impressions of the town were surprisingly underwhelming.  Surprising not just for the consistently rave reviews, but also because for literally months we’d been telling people–as part of our account of anticipated World Tour features–that Nicaragua would be mainly a month in San Juan with a place near the beach where we’d learn how to surf.

I’ve reported that factoid so many times my imagination is well primed with images of what it would look like.

We arrived in the afternoon, got settled in a cheap hostel as a base for our explorations & apartment hunting, and proceeded to explore and apartment hunt.  The beach was lovely, yes, but littered with the usual cadre of overpriced and (reportedly) mediocre restaurants.  It turns out there was no surfing in the horseshoe-shaped bay on which San Juan is located, it’s all to be found at beaches 10 or more minutes to the north or south.  This means that surfing, rather than be a “hey let’s go walk to the beach and surf!” sort of affair, was instead more destined to be more like chaperoned events (hire a cab or sign up for a bused excursion, plan the return in advance, pay around $10 per person each time).

So 20 minutes of recon revealed a highly developed touristy beach and surfing logistics that were way less appealing than the rosy picture lodged in my brain.  How about the apartment hunting?  Internet searches revealed only fancier, pricier, on-vacation-for-just-a-week-and-don’t-mind-a-splurge type options.  Lovely for sure, but not right for us for us trying to settle in for a month and live.  So we hit the streets looking for “Se alquilar apartamente” signs around.

What we found was on the other end of the spectrum: options from $200-300 for a month, essentially having us move into someone’s home while they would go crash elsewhere for the month.  Or some windowless bunker that kinda resembled a perhaps high-end prison cell.  Budget friendly for sure, but also not right for us trying to settle in for a month and live.

We sought a middle ground, and despaired to not find it in San Juan1.  But we didn’t sulk for long.  Though we’d be reneging on the forecast we’d given countless times, we remembered we had every right to remix our plans when the contemplated ones proved ill-fated.

Finding a nice apartment to live and surf in San Juan proved ill-fated, so we were going to remix our October plan.

I really liked Granada, much more than the beach front party environment of San Juan, so I took to googling “granada nicaragua apartment rental” to see what we might find there.  After Craigslist and AirBNB, result #3 was granadahomerental.net.  One click from there brought me to Vista Mochambo, a 10-unit apartment complex featuring hammocks, a pool, a rooftop terrace, banana trees growing in the courtyard, and well appointed everything.  All but the biggest unit were $550 a month.

Now that’s a middle ground worth usurping incumbent plans for.

The website clearly stated “These are all long term rentals from six months or more.” followed immediately by “However EXCEPTIONS can be made but there will be no overnight or weekly rentals.”  Would our bid to up the owner’s occupancy by 10% for the month of October be well received?  I wasted no time to find out.  Using my spiffy Google voice account I dialed the proprietor’s Austin-based phone number.

The kindly and paternal voice of Glenn greeted me on the other end of the phone.  I introduced myself, let him know of mine and Tracy’s underwhelm with San Juan, and told him if he’d be open to making an exception for a one-month stay, we’d be happy to be his guest for the current month and could get ourselves there tomorrow.  Our offer was well received, immediately making me glad I’d mustered the audacity to propose a stay term 1/6th the prescribed norm.

Glenn turned out to be fantastically hospitable, even in just the way he outlined the process for getting us settled in.  “Just give me a call when you get to Granada and I’ll come pick you up, we’ll go to the store first so you can stock up your fridge and pantry.  Don’t worry about getting your own sheets, we’ve got a spare set and will have it all set for your stay.”

The experience of being thoroughly handled upon arrival is welcoming indeed.  Excited that our bust of a visit to San Juan had morphed into a really nice setup in Granada (I mean, did you click the link above?), Tracy and I retired for the night.

The next day our transition went off without a hitch, even the legitimate hitch that presented itself was a delight: the power was out in Granada.  It went out that morning, and Glenn, during our driving tour of the city, explained that this happened from time to time and it was usually only for a few hours.

This was a delight because, as darkness descended and the day’s power outage stretched to a record duration, we just dealt with life without power.  With our new friends Katie, Kelly, and their visiting friend Chris downstairs and made a night of it.  We walked in the darkness to the generator-powered grocery store a few blocks north, got some provisions for an evening picnic (baguette, basil and cheese, a bottle of rum and of coke, and a rotisserie chicken), picked up a few a few candles on our way back at a small street-side tienda, and settled back at our place for a great evening of good food, drink, and life story swapping.

No lights, no internet, no problem.

So San Juan’s disappointment gave way to Granada’s delight.  Now we’re set in a in a great apartment with a great landlord and some great neighbors, and as of 10pm our first night the power is indeed back on.  October is looking good again.

Note:

  1. It turns out the rave reviews San Juan got were from folks who stayed at more resort locations on or around the surfable beaches to the north or south.
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Ometepe’s Splendor

October 2nd, 2012 No comments

After 2 days of bumming around Granada Tracy and I decided to continue our Nicaragua explorations with a trip to Ometepe Island, a sizable land mass in the middle of Lake Nicaragua whose shape approximates two conjoined circles formed respectively by two volcanoes.

I’m quite bad at committing foreign proper nouns to memory at just a few exposures.  So for the first 36 hours of my acquaintance with Ometepe’s existence I, when not trying to pass on reasonable facsimiles (“Olletombo?” ” No, you just mangled the name of an Inca ruin in Peru.” “Ommagumma?”  “No, you just did the same thing but this time with name of a hostel we once stayed in in Guatemala”), I just referred to it as “Boobie Island”.  Yes I’m like a 13 year old regard in some respects, and yes, I’m okay with that.

The path to our target location on Ometepe, the tiny village of Merida, was the stuff of hardy backpacker transit: a march through the squalorous expanse of the Granada market1 to the bus station, a 2 hour bus ride to Rivas, a 10 minute taxi to the dock, a 1 hour ferry to the island, and a 3 hour bus ride to our final destination (the last hour being 14km on an unpaved road).

But oh was it worth it.

Often (but not always), the effort required to get to a location is a strong predictor of how remote/cheap/unspoiled/awesome it will be once you finally get there.  Merida held up this correlation beautifully.  We stayed at Hacienda Merida, a tidy resort whose best cabin was on the upper level facing the lake, and featured a big ol’ hammock on the ample deck and choice views of some of the best sunsets you’ve ever seen (give Tracy a click for the visuals to back this statement up).

On the bus ride we met Brad and Yvonne, a pair of doctors from Australia who’d gone to great lengths to get to what is (for them) one of the ends of the earth2.  During our overlapping days they made fantastic travel companions, ready-made double dates for dining and excursions (thanks to their lead and our desire to follow, Tracy and I had our first horseback ride up to see a waterfall on the island).

At $32 a night the whole setup really encourages settling in for a while.  We had originally planned to stay 3 nights on Ometepe, but after I fell into a rhythm of paradise-like island life, I lobbied Tracy for a few more nights (the arrangement wasn’t ideal for Tracy due to the food situation: vegetarian fare was quite limited in the remote village), and we ended up staying 6.

What did the paradise-like rhythm look like?  The combination of lapping waves, cocks a’crowing, and faint sunlight showing usually woke me around 5am.  I’d go to my “office” (a round stone table steps down from the main building with a great view of the lake framed by on-shore palm trees) with my laptop, do a few hours of inspired coding or writing, have breakfast, work a few more hours more in the tropical breeze, wander “off campus” for lunch, read a while in a hammock, jump off the dock for a swim at sunset, have dinner, hang out a while in the hammock staring off at the lake, and bed time around 9pm.

With the exceptions of excursions, days were largely permutations of these building blocks.  Aside from food boredom (which set in for even omnivorous me at around day 5) I could see settling in to life like that for a easily a few months.  It marked a really nice balance between lounging in paradise and doing productive work, a balance which seriously blisses me out.  (These days I’ve got about a 3-day limit on unbroken leisure: after that I’d much rather be doing or creating something, things like writing or coding decisively overtake hedonistic pleasures in terms of enjoyability.)

There then came the time to mix things up once more.  Yesterday we headed off on the morning bus to slightly bigger Santa Cruz for our last night on Ometepe, and seeing the more jungle side of things was the mission.  After a lovely morning walkabout we had lunch at Restaurant Santa Cruz, where the friendly proprietor recommended we rent a pair of his bikes and ride off to the Ojo del Agua, a pool nestled thoroughly in nature and fed by cool spring water from the nearby volcano.

At first brush we were hesitant: did we have enough time?  Did we want to ride 30 minutes each way?  Did we want to pay for bikes and risk getting lost?  Basically, did we want to be adventurous enough to do something cool while we were here and had the chance, and resist the urge to act crotchety, tired, and travel-inept?

When you’re on super-extended travel, the urge to “take it easy” is strong.  We grappled with this for maybe 2 minutes before resolving that, hell yeah we should do things, we’re still young and strong, and owe it to the world that has so thoroughly blessed us to buck up and go see some shit already.

This is the stuff of maintaining and renewing one’s lease on traveler happiness.  Sure enough we had a great time and of course we had the stamina for the bike ride, of course we had ample time for the trip and enjoying the pool (what else were we there to spend it on?), and of course we could swing the bike rental (70 Cordobas per bike, or about $3 US).   Sometimes you need to step just a tad out of the comfort zone for a reminder of these important truths.

This morning over breakfast we met a couple with whom we’d exchanged nods yesterday as we all biked past one another.  More great company with whom to dine, Sky and Jenni were traveling in from Europe, and headed next for LA.  Sky does video editing and has a pleasing British accent, which he smartly brought to my attention as I told him about CoachAccountable and the need for a slick introductory video to show off the system.  As I work to get the marketing message together I take this meeting as serendipity’s good fortune.

Now as we leave Ometepe we are bound for San Juan Del Sur, the surfing town on the Pacific coast where we plan to settle the rest of this month in Nicaragua.  Our optimum mix of 1 week of travel to 4 weeks of setting in a home is reasserting itself as we yearn to once more have a proper kitchen and drawers to unpack our stuff, so onward we go apartment hunting in our next town!

Notes:

  1. Don’t get me wrong: Tracy and I generally love us some chaotic markets abroad, but the roughshod nature of Granada’s downtown market made produce shopping unappetizing even to us.
  2. From the US, it is all too easy to take our proximity to great countries like Nicaragua for granted.  Hearing Brad & Yvonne describe their trip to get there was a great reminder of how nice that proximity is.
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