Dogs and Aliens

El Marina Tenis y Yate Club has a nice beach and marina.

Here in retirement central up in Cerritos Beach, brown and leathery old ladies bask out in the sun like iguanas and become ever more brown and leathery. Although there are lots of very nice people at the condo here, there are also a few psychotic old biddies. I’m in charge of an adorable old dog, a rat terrier a little larger than a big cat, with a shy and gentle personality, well named “Funny.”

Funny, who comes from the Planet Cheron, whose people appeared in Star Trek

With his face evenly split black and white he looks like one of those early Star Trek characters — the people from the planet Cheron. It’s a good thing that he’s adorable because he has some really revolting habits like eating poop and his own vomit — not to mention fish bones and other assorted garbage.

Chief officer of the Commission on Political Traitors from the planet Cheron. White on the left side of his body and black on the right, Bele harbored racial bigotry against those of his people whose coloring was the reverse. For 50,000 years he pursued an alleged traitor named Lokai across the galaxy, and caught up with him on the U.S.S. Enterprise in 2268.

Star Trek: The Original Series

Previous     Next

Bele and Lokai

Bele hijacked the Enterprise to take his prisoner back to Cheron, but when they arrived they discovered a world long since destroyed by racial hatred. Lokai escaped to the surface, and Bele followed to continued his obsessive and meaningless pursuit. The Enterprise left them there to decide their own fates. 

There are lots of rules here at the condo. One is that dogs must be leashed on property. I thought I could sneak out the other day at the crack of dawn with Funny not on a leash. The place was absolutely deserted with not a soul up and about. The sun wasn’t even up yet. But the old biddies were and watching from the ninth floor. I was later warned by one of the nice folks here that a certain person had complained that she was “too terrified to go out for a walk”  because Funny exited the building not on a leash. God only knows what would happen if she saw a loose Great Dane . . . and she wasn’t the only one who complained.

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EGYPT

EGYPT

Smaller than expected

When we approached Egypt, my cruise mate declared that he didn’t really care about seeing the pyramids because he had seen plenty of photos of them. Incomprehensible! He preferred to visit the historic battleground of El Alamein and its museum and cemetery. To each his own.

The $189 Egypt, tombs and pyramids tour was well worth it. Our guide, a 40-something Egyptian woman was an engineer who stopped her professional life to have a family, then later  decided to become a tour guide, which required four years of study. Fluent in English she gave us an insider’s view of Egyptian life and culture and even taught us some Arabic words and phrases. Her name was Hala and she was excellent in every way — personable, intelligent, amusing. After about a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride from the port of Alexandria we reached Cairo and the pyramids. Somehow the pyramids weren’t as big as I expected — perhaps because our cruise ship was the size of Alaska, and by comparison everything else seemed small.

But still magnificent

 
 But they were wonderful nevertheless. It was a tourist/vendor war zone around the pyramids. Since no tourists had been there for eight months during the revolution, the vendors were ravenous and it was a feeding frenzy with the new crop of tourists. Anywhere you pointed your camera some vendor with or without camel and/or traditional Arabian outfit was planting himself in your viewfinder asking for money. We were well prepared for this on the ship and told not to look at or talk to any vendors unless we wanted them to follow us in perpetuity. Engaging in any contact meant that you wanted to buy something.
 
Not far from the pyramids on the Giza Plateau is the Sphinx, surrounded by mobs of people and fenced off, so you cannot walk right up to it.

 

Equally fascinating were the tombs of Sakara, where we actually entered an semi-excavated pyramid, crouching down to walk through a dark downhill tunnel to a chamber within. In another tomb beautiful hieroglyphics decked the walls.
 

Hieroglyphs

 
 
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Mediterranean on the Cheap (sort of)

Norwegian Jade, docked at Katakolon, Greece

GREECE-ING THE WHEELS FOR EGYPT

When I saw the Norwegian Cruise Lines 10-night Mediterranean cruise from Rome to Greece, Turkey and Egypt for $499 I had to go. Of course that was for the cheapest inside cabin with no window or porthole, and of course the airfare to Rome was nearly $1,000. Ever since majoring in art in college and spending lots of time on Egypt I’ve wanted to go there. Turns out most of the other people on the ship were there for the same reason — mystical, alluring, magnificent Egypt! Having visited Istanbul, Ephesus and Athens on a previous cruise I was pleased that our itinerary included some different ports: Izmir (formerly called Smyrna, one of Turkey’s oldest and largest cities and a major shipping port). Besides Athens we’d stop in Katakolon near the site of Olympia and the original Olympic games.

Ionic columns

Our tiny cheapo cabin was fine — well designed with  shelves in every available space and lots of mirrors to make it seem larger. Two single beds could be converted into a queen and there were even pull-down bunks that would accommodate two more people — although four adults in this cabin was unimaginable, but two adults and two children would work. A TV channel tuned to the ship’s bow web cam provided a window on the weather and daylight. The bathroom was adequate with a roomy enough shower. Large people would probably not be happy in this economy cabin, but if budget is a consideration it was perfectly acceptable — a new experience for me, after staying only in suites or cabins with balconies.

KATAKOLON

A small, pleasant village of only two main streets, Katakolon is a tourist shopping town offering access to Olympia about 30 minutes away by bus or train. At Olympia visitors will see sections of the original 2,000-year-old Doric, Ionian and Corinthian columns and the Olympic stadium — mainly a grassy field reached through an arched entryway. Wild cyclamen were blooming in the fallen leaves.

Wild cyclamen

Our Greek guide, Apollo Ono look-alike

Our guide was a rotund, elderly Greek guy sporting a little chin stripe of a beard like Apollo Ono. Although he was a font of historical knowledge, his monotonous, droning voice put us all in a stupor. The nearby contemporary village of Olympia looked quite charming, but instead of staying in this appealing town, we whizzed through it and headed back for our “lunch in a local rustic cafe” in tourist-clogged Katakolon. Greeting us in a charmless upstairs room, no doubt designed for handling large cruise ship tours, was a cold lunch of felafels, feta cheese, pita bread, sausages and salad. The highlight was traditional Greek dancing by some local women drably dressed in ordinary black street clothes. The other highlight was a large bottle of ouzo on each lunch table — the only free alcohol we’d see on the entire cruise. So, I filled my water bottle with the leftover ouzo, since drinks on the ship were overpriced and watered down.

RECOMMENDATION

Instead of the $99 ship’s tour with a boring, droning guide to the almost equally underwhelming site of Olympia, the smart ticket here would have been to take the local train or bus to Olympia, wander around on your own, view the ruins, then lunch in that lovely little village versus the tourist trap of Katakolon. Some other passengers did this and told us about it.

Greek hats

Shopping, however, was good in this tourist trap of Katakolon with reasonably priced Greek icons, jewelry, clothing and intricately painted ceramics.

GETTING SMART IN ATHENS

After such a dud of a tour, my Canadian shipmate Kaitlyn and I took the local city tour bus when we docked in Athens. For 21 Euros (dollar was around $1.37 to one Euro) you got an all-day tour of Athens on a “hop-on, hop-off” double-decker, open-topped bus. We decided to take the whole route to see what was what, then on the second loop, get out where we wanted. This wasthe smart ticket. Ship’s tours, of course, included the Parthenon,

Acropolis and Parthenon

the Plaka (historic district and shopping area), and city sites — a must for first-time visitors and probably worth it. I’d already been, so this time enjoyed the long view of the Acropolis and Parthenon, which was wreathed in scaffolding anyway. Kaitlyn and I found a local flea market and enjoyed wandering around with the locals out on a Saturday, and having a baklava and cappuccino at a little cafe.

IZMIR

Izmir central square

Izmir is a lovely, clean, Turkish city with the ruins of an ancient Agora (market place) being excavated. Most of my shipmates took a tour to Ephesus — well worth seeing — but I’d been there. So, again, I got off the ship and took the local city tour bus for 10 Euros. As in Athens I did the full route first to get the lay of the land. These inexpensive city tours

Izmir clock tower and local folks

Exotic fruits in Izmir

Lovely Turkish outfits

 are wonderful. They give you a map of the city with its attractions and include ear buds and a recorded tour commentary in various languages. I decided to hop off at a local bazaar (souk) or ordinary marketplace. It was filled with shopping Turkish women in headscarves. I bought a cheap, pretty scarf and donned it, looking like one of the locals. I buried my camera beneath my clothes and was basically invisible. Instead of vendors hassling me as a tourist and hawking their goods, they thought I was a local and spoke to me in Turkish. I loved it.
  Turkey is scarf central since about 99.9 percent of the women wear head scarves, and I picked up some lovely, inexpensive ones. It was the day after a big national holiday and the whole city was decked out in the national flag and photos of Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey — even over the bathrooms in the park. Unlike many cities with industrial ports, Izmir has an elegant waterfront “corniche” lined with sidewalk cafes and a view of the sea.
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Taos and the Smoking Loon

The Smoking Loon Bike

When my friend called my room to say she had met a woman in the coffee shop and was headed to an ashram, I thought it was one of her typical, wry, East-Coast jokes. My friend is not the ashram type. The pleasant-looking, salt-and-pepper-haired woman led us across the plaza, pushing her snazzy, red and yellow Smoking Loon (like the wine) cruiser bike.

I knew we were in for an adventure when my friend asked the woman what she did in Taos, and the woman replied, “I don’t answer that question,” and went into a philosophical diatribe about a person’s misguided identification with what they did vs. who they really are (with which I actually agreed), and then her spiritual basis and teacher for her beliefs, on to her great respect for Mother Earth and the perversion of homo sapiens, the “gestapo” that had ruined the planet and destroyed intact host ecosystems (but more on that later). In fact, she said, “I don’t like to answer any questions.” Hmmm, I thought. “What’s she hiding?” Being of a somewhat private and secretive nature, my friend expressed that she thought this was great and agreed with her. I, on the other hand, (being a Sagittarius)  like to get everything out in the open.

So, off we went down the back streets and alleyways of Taos, admiring old and new adobe houses.

Turquoise seems the trim color of choice in Taos

Beautiful Taos Home

Our guide took us to the very humble abode of author John Nichols (“The Milagro Bean Field War”) requesting that we NOT take a photo (no reason given — privacy issues?). Our guide expressed disgust for the newer adobe homes, which looked great to us and in keeping with the architectural style. I’m not exactly sure why she didn’t like them — I think it was the people who went with them. A woman in an SUV drove past us, and our guide motioned to her to slow down. I didn’t think she was going excessively fast. Whatever, the woman driver behind closed windows shouted “F*** You!” and sped past.

Finally, we crossed a lovely, tree-shaded creek to the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram. A tiny adobe hermitage sat off in the woods. The ashram houses the Hanuman Temple, named for the revered Hindu monkey god in the Ramayana story.

Larger than life-sized statue of Hanuman the Monkey God

Hanuman is the embodiment of service and devotion. A dread-locked young man who introduced himself as “Israel” (but looked more like a Chad or a Jeremy) welcomed us, and our guide offered us some chai and homemade bread. As we sat in a field behind the ashram she discussed prairie dogs and how they are the keystone species holding all 150-some other species together. She discussed how homo sapiens had destroyed all the native grasslands, now replaced with sage. Of course, being from Boulder — “prairie dog rescue central” — we agreed with her.

Our agreement, however, did not seem to satisfy her and she became more evangelical about the issue. Finally, we had had enough of the lecturing and needed to leave. We thanked her for her great tour of Taos and her “insider’s view” of things there. Despite this, she rode off in a huff on her Smoking Loon, saying she didn’t know why she was talking with outsiders and we should go back to Boulder. We later learned that she had been banned from a certain grocery store for yelling at a young mother about her noisy child. Of course, being from Boulder — our beloved city of evangelical eccentrics — none of this seemed that surprising to us.

Heavenly Stairway

Some of our local hosts who had emigrated from various urban centers said the New Mexico moniker of Land of Enchantment should be “Land of Entrapment.” There’s a lively “expat” community of rat-race escapees, artists, spiritual seekers and nonconformists, which we also experienced first hand at the Greater World Earthship, a sustainable, off-the-grid community just outside of Taos — another entire blog posting in itself. Their homes are built of recycled car tires, bottles, aluminum cans, earthen berms and adobe.

The scenic desert drive over the 650-foot-high Rio Grand Gorge bridge spans the chasm to another world — a world, however, that our Smoking Loon guide disdained because the remotely located Earthship people had to drive everywhere in their nonsustainable vehicles. You, too, can visit the Earthship community at http://earthship.org/

Oh well, utopia does not seem to exist anywhere on the planet. All we can do is keep trying.

Earthship Visitor Center

Making old tires, bottles and cans into great architecture

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Purple Potato Salad and Green Chili Lager

La Veta Inn, La Veta, Colorado

On a recent trip to Taos, NM, a friend and I stopped in La Veta, CO, for lunch at the La Veta Inn. La Veta sits in a Shangri-La setting, nestled in a lush, green valley surrounded by majestic, snowy peaks. On a lovely, sunny adobe-walled patio strewn with flowers and gurgling fountains we enjoyed a lunch of delectable, creamy purple potato salad

Purple potato salad and savory sandwich

— made with purple potatoes grown locally in Center, CO, in the San Luis Valley, and possibly enhanced with sour cream in the mix. Our sandwiches were of goat cheese, roasted red peppers, pesto and tomatoes on a crusty whole-grain bread. But the coup de grace was Green Chili Lager, brewed at the Valle Caliente microbrewery in Alamosa, CO. It was light, not at all bitter, with a springy, fragrant flavor and a definite hint of green chili. I know, it sounds awful, but it was really good. Probably not the beer you’d want to drink every day, but definitely a thrilling novelty — and probably the most unusual beer I’ve ever tasted.

Green Chili Caballero - Valle Caliente Green Chili Lager is made in Alamosa, Colorado, at the San Luis Valley Brewing Company.

A brew to remember

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Purple Bees and Poppies

Purple Bee

Today, while enjoying  my morning coffee in my back yard I was admiring the bright orange Oriental poppies, but I was surprised to see a purple bee buzzing around inside of one. On closer inspection I noticed that the bee was covered with purple poppy pollen. His little “panniers” on his legs were loaded down with purple like heavy saddle bags. He was so purple-pollen laden he seemed to struggle to fly away from the poppy and clung to a blade of tall grass, seemingly catching his breath.

Bee Camouflage

I thought of the silly poem my mother used to recite: “I never saw a purple cow, I never hope to see one. But I would rather see a purple cow than be one.” Two purple bees danced around the poppies, burrowing deep into the purple stamens (?) and fanning them with their wings.

The poppy, too, was streaked with purple and burnished with a deeper red  — an amazing work of nature’s art — too pretty to replicate in paint or even photograph, but I tried. I continually find that my back yard is filled with greater wonders than destinations thousands of miles away.

Splendiferous Poppy

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The Beach Excursion from Hell

 
Isla Saona

It’s not easy to get to the beach from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. The guidebook says it’s a 15-minute drive to Boca Chica, the nearest nice beach. We spent about two hours getting there by “express bus,” which stopped every 30 feet to let people off. So we decided to look for a better way, and also explore another area. Boca Chica was actually quite a nice beach and charming little town with many small cafes including a tidy red-and-blue-trimmed pizza place called Napoli — owned by a real Italian — on the corner of the main drag across from Parque Infantil.

The fancy five-star hotel, Nicolas de Ovando, arranged a tour for us to Isla Saona, an island at the southeast end of the DR that’s part of the Parque Nacional del Este. The all-day tour, which included transportation to a boat, the boat trip, lunch

Lunch at the Beach Buffet

and visits to the island and a fabulous shallow spot “in the middle of the ocean” with starfish, cost $90 per person. A deal, we thought. The concierge said it was about a two-hour drive to La Romana where the boat would take us to the island in about an hour. So we left before sunrise at 7:00 a.m. on the dot with our driver, zooming down the coastal highway to pick up other passengers at various resorts. A nice Cuban couple joined us, then we took off for our next pickup. After driving for about 20 minutes the driver stopped to ask directions at a gas station. He didn’t know where the next resort was to pick up the passengers. Turned out it was way back in the original direction we came from, and our Cubans realized it was quite close to their resort. So back we went toward Santo Domingo. After backtracking another 20 minutes we finally reached the resort, where a family of seven piled into the van with us, along with a young French couple.

Tatooed Tourist from Party Boat

We resumed our original direction toward La Romana, noted in the guide book to offer “surprisingly little to tourists.” This was true. A bustling, but boring sugar-cane based town, the only attraction was a colorfully painted oblisque in the center of town — not even as good as the monument in the previous town, which consisted of a strange rocket-shaped object surrounded by a metal sculptures of a locomotive and a crab. Driving through the town, the driver once again stopped to ask directions — apparently not knowing where the boat to the island was — which we found strange for an organized $90 tour.

We drove out of town and into the countryside nowhere near the sea, past fields of sugar cane. Mountains began rearing up in the distance as we seemed to be heading into the island’s interior, which has 10,000-foot mountains. My friend Diane joked that maybe we were on the wrong tour — the mountain tour vs. the beach. On we went, with the paved road finally giving way to an extremely bumpy, potholed dirt road, where other drivers were weaving back and forth across to road to avoid the deeper holes. We hoped that the driver knew where he was going so we wouldn’t have to go back over the bad road again. Going slower and slower our driver finally stopped once again to ask directions. He obviously had no clue where we were going and I wondered if we were being hijacked.

Once again the driver made a U-turn and back we went over the miles of teeth-jarring road in the direction we had come.

Enduring the Beach Excursion

At this point, about three-plus hours into the drive Diane, the Cuban couple and I found this hysterically funny and laughed until we cried, while the French couple and family sat stoically. Back to La Romana we went, past the painted oblisque, where the driver once again stopped to ask directions. Off on another road out of town through sugar cane fields nowhere near the sea we headed. Diane and I gave up the idea of ever finding the boat to the island and were discussing not paying for the tour at all. Fortunately we hadn’t paid yet. After driving another half hour or so we stopped and the driver (who never told us his name) got out and went over to a small wooden shack, turning back, saying, “Mrs. Glenn do you have money for me?” “Not yet,” I replied, clearly irked and wondering again about hijacking. He returned with a handful of paper slips. Apparently, we had reached the entrance of the national park. It was now noon — five hours of driving since we’d left Santo Domingo, expecting a two-hour trip to the boat.

In fact, we had reached the boat! We piled out onto the beach where many small boats rocked in the surf. The driving pursued me, pleading for money saying he needed it for gas. He called his boss at the headquarters and handed me the phone. I told the boss that the driver had no clue where we were going and we’d been driving around lost for the last five hours and I wasn’t planning to pay full price for this tour. Clearly embarrassed he said to go and enjoy the tour and we’d discuss it later. Diane and I finally gave the driver about $35 for gas.

A small motorboat took us out to a big catamaran, where Latin music blared and hoards of somewhat tipsy American and European tourists were swilling rum and coke, standing around in bathing suits.

The Calmer Front of the Party Boat

A shapely, young Dominican woman — part of the crew — was swiveling her hips and shaking her booty with various passengers. Turned out we were supposed to meet the boat at 10. It was now noon, so the party boat was in full swing with rum and Coke being doled out as fast as the bartender could pour it.

Off we went barely able to converse with the deafening music and a master of ceremony leading the crowd in cheers and hip thrusts. After a few beers we mellowed out and didn’t care. We cruised fast over the blue waters and lay on the webbing in front, two feet above the water. Finally emerald-green palms gleamed on a white-sand beach — Isla Saona — and we anchored and zoomed ashore in smaller boats that were waiting to transport us. On the pretty beach were hundreds of tourists like ourselves and several covered picnic areas where a barbecue buffet was in progress.

Tourists at the Trough

We ate, walked the beach, swam in the clear turquoise waters and finally enjoyed what we’d come for.

What We Came For -- But Too Far!

After a few hours we met our group back on the beach to be transported back to the mainland. Diane and I ended up in the wrong boat, full of very rowdy French Canadians. It turned out that we’d return, not in our spacious catamaran, but in these little speedboats that were trying to out-speed and out-shout each other — a nerve-wracking and ear-splitting affair. At last after hair-raising, high-speed turns that excited our drunken revelers even more we reached the incredible shallow area in the middle of the ocean with starfish. It was nothing more than a slightly offshore sandbar, not far from the beach. Probably three-dozen boats with at least 30 passengers each anchored, everyone jumped overboard and waded around in the waist-deep cocktail party of rum and cokes. The particularly obnoxious and loud young man on our boat found a starfish, which he dangled in front of everyone. If the lone starfish wasn’t already dead, it is now, since everyone took turns holding it and having their photos taken. It was mass tourism at its worst.

Cocktail Party at the Starfish Sandbar

Finally we zoomed back to the marina at break-neck speed and found our van driver waiting on the beach. We hoped he could find his way back to Santo Domingo. As he started up the van, the motor roared at a worrisome pitch, as if the accelerator was stuck down. The Cuban guy said we’d never make it back to Santo Domingo. We started along the highway, but the van kept roaring and stalling out. Finally, with smoke and terrible fumes of a burning clutch, we pulled to the side of the road, all of us spilling out, coughing and covering our noses from the noxious fumes. Our Cuban guy came to the rescue, readjusting something in the engine that stopped the high acceleration. As we crossed a railroad track and I heard the toots of a train, I said, “What next? Now are we going to hit a train?”

Next, the driver stopped at a large building and announced, “Shopping.” Inside, all of the tourists who had been on the island were now milling around this giant, tacky souvenir shop. At least we could also buy beer and snacks — my one beer, tiny can of Pringles and a Twix bar cost $10.

Beautiful Beach at Isla Saona

 As I sat outside drinking my beer, the driver walked sheepishly over to me. He said it was the first time he had made the trip. He said he’d remember me from my conversation with his boss. I said I’d remember him, too, and asked his name. “Mickey,” he said.  I asked what kind of work he did before. “I worked in a grocery store,” he said. He’d lived in Boston for 17 years working for UPS and other companies. He said he had trouble with his wife, something about jail, so he came back to the Dominican Republic, where he was born.  He seemed a  bit of a scallywag.

When we stopped at the resort to let the family and French couple out, the van’s sliding door wouldn’t open. They’ll have to crawl out through the windows, I thought, a fitting end to a very aggravating day — so aggravating, it was comic. The door finally opened and they departed. As we drove into Santo Domingo in the dark, Mickey had trouble finding our hotel and we helped him. When we finally arrived we wondered how much we should pay him. He said his boss called him three times. He said he really needed this job and begged us to pay him the full amount.

Alms for the Poor

 We did, but no tip. So much for an easier way to get to the beach.

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The Oldest City in the New World

Nice Tile Work

Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic is the oldest European city in the New World and a city of firsts. Columbus landed here, naming the island Hispaniola, which eventually became divided between French Haiti and the Spanish Domincan Republic. In Santo Domingo there’s the first cathedral, first library, first university and the first paved street in the New World, Calle Las Damas, constructed for the ladies to stroll without mussing their dresses.

This is a charming, cosmopolitan city of some 2.5 million. Here in the Zona Colonial is the heart of the historic city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with monuments and history. Horse-drawn carriages clip-clop down the cobblestone streets, giving visitors a tour in the old-fashioned way.

The ubiquitous horse and carriage

Cafes line El Conde, a pedestrian mall filled with sidewalk cafes

El Conde Cafe on Colon Plaza

and beginning at the Colon Plaza, site of the New World’s oldest Cathedral.

Oldest Cathedral in the New World

It’s great for people watching, with locals, expats and tourists — and lots of dogs wandering about.

My friends Diane and Ron, a Zen nun and monk, are here to investigate starting a Zen Center. We’re staying in a 500-year-old mansion, purportedly the former home of Christopher Columbus’s grand daughter, the first vicerine of the Americas. We have a small pool, large, tree-filled courtyard and rambling house with many rooms, nooks, and crannies.

The Zen Folks, Ron and Diane

Birds sing in our courtyard in the palm and fig trees. Around the corner is the cafe scene and the Colon Plaza, and across the street is Hostel Nicolas De Obando, a five-star hotel with a lovely swimming pool that we enjoyed yesterday along with margaritas. They don’t know how to make guacamole here, but they tried.

The city is walled and has a huge fortress at one end that took two centuries to build.

El Fortaleza took two centuries to build.

Fortunately, I haven’t seen many street cats (my weakness), but there are a lot of street dogs — one that I tried to save from starvation by feeding her scrambled eggs. Ever since that she has disappeared. I guess she didn’t like the scrambled eggs. I could easily spend my winters here. The climate is very pleasant and it’s virtually bugfree, and it’s quite a livable place.

The only drawback is a bit of a hassle to get to the beach — only a 15-minute drive from the city, but about a two-hour expedition by bus, and the “express” bus stops every 30 feet to let people off.  At a later writing, I’m happy to add that after I left, my friends found a perfect beach and better bus ride directly to it. Hopefully, I’ll return and visit there myself.

Diane and Ron at Boca Chica beach, a good place

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Thailand, March 2010

My Chiang Mai Kitties

Fifteen Minutes with a Tiger

Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand features tame tigers that have been hand reared. However, some of the posters advertising the price for a chance to visit with the tigers state, “insurance included.”

Visitors can choose among small (kittens), medium and large tigers to visit. We chose the large, which were two 18-month old males. Our package did NOT include insurance.

Big Kitty Bliss

Tiger Love

Tigers do not purr. But these kitties were lazy and enjoying an afternoon nap on a very hot day — like every other day in Thailand — at least 100 degrees and the same humidity. Several trainers entered the large cage with my travel companions and me. The trainers had only a small stick — like a police night stick. The tigers are not drugged and are accustomed to being with people. They are trained not to bite humans using this stick with a tap on their nose — as is used in dog training. Although electric shock, whips, chains, declawing, drugging and food deprivation/reward are methods sometimes used on tigers elsewhere, Tiger Kingdom believes the method of “nose tapping” is the only method that reduces harm to the tigers and remains a successful way of preventing human and tiger injury. I did not have time to investigate the validity of this claim and hope it is true.

The price of our visit — $10 for 15 minutes with the tiger — helps raise money to support the Ubon Zoo in Ubonrachatani and to insure the continuation of the endangered Indo-Chinese (or Corbett’s) tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti), a subspecies of tiger found in Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam. There are only about 120 wild Indo-Chinese tigers left in Thailand, mostly in the northeast. Adult male tigers weigh about 400 pounds and measure 9 feet in length. Females weigh about 250 pounds and measure about 8 feet. Entering a tiger’s cage, touching, patting, and even listening to the beating hearts of these magnificent cats is the experience of a lifetime.

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Back to reality — but not for long!

Boulder Winterscape

Well, I’m back in Boulder now for almost two weeks and my eco-turista experience all seems like a dream. I arrived from the tropics to 9 degrees at the airport, then the temperature plummeted to 12 below. Quite an adjustment, but I was so happy to be home I didn’t care. I could drink the tap water and brush my teeth with it, flush toilet paper down the toilet and not worry that every dish I used was going to give me Montezuma’s Revenge or worse. I’m still checking my clothes for scorpions, although during my entire stay I saw only one scorpion, casually ambling down the sidewalk one night.

The Lone Scorpion

After the exuberance of arriving home I checked my mail the next day and still no contact lens. I called my eye doctor and he didn’t have it either. He had sent it by UPS to Mexico on November 11th and now it was December 7th. I tracked the package online with my UPS number and found that my lens was still in Mexico City! Furthermore it looked like they were holding it for ransom again with all of the same red tape to send it out of the country as they had to accept it into the country! This was sheer madness.

After a month of patience and polite exchange, I now sent an angry e-mail to the Mexico UPS lady telling her I had done everything she requested, paid to have the lens returned, and had had it with them and their ridiculous regulations and to SEND THE LENS!!!!!!!!! Next, I called the local UPS office, which transferred me to the national and then international office. I explained my predicament, telling the whole sad story, and asked for their help. Some nice young man in Kentucky named David promised me he’d get it back for me.

Well, he did it. My lens just arrived this past Monday, Dec. 14, a month and three days after my doctor first sent it. Actually, it first went back to my doctor who then sent it regular first-class mail back to me. The Mexican UPS couldn’t handle any type of change of address. It had traveled round-trip to Mexico City at a cost of almost $100, spending most of the time sitting in some Mexico City warehouse while bureaucrats had a heyday holding it for ransom.

One-eyed kayak patrol on Akumal Bay

I had spent my whole time at the Eco-center like a cyclops wearing my left lens in my right eye. My left eye has nerve damage, so my right eye is dominant. But naturally, I had lost the right lens — Murphy’s Law. It was a little disorienting, but actually worked pretty well. I needed it for my bay patrol duties of snorkeling and kayaking.

So now in a few days I’m heading to Abaco, an island in the Bahamas, to spend Christmas with my son and daughter-in-law, whose parents have a place there. It’s a bit schizophrenic going back and forth from the tropics to arctic weather in my attempt to escape winter. Nothing much has changed in Boulder since I left, except the self-checkout software at King Soopers. My cats all survived my absence and I spent a week frenetically cleaning to restore cleanliness to my life and recover from Mexico’s buggy and bacterial experience.

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