Final Impressions On The Book – The Shack! Excellent!

January 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Second Post of the day.  Check down the line for others you might not have read.

A few posts ago, I was dead center in reading the bestselling book, The Shack by Wm. Paul Young, and I recommended that you read it without knowing exactly how it was going to come out….and whether I´d feel the same after I finished.  Well, here´s the rest of the review:

The Shack!  What a good book!  I literally couldn´t put it down and being here in this resort in Puerto Quito, Ecuador, afforded a great spot for lots of reading.  I love books that make me cry and this one delivered on that score.  It´s a real good read and highly-confirming for the likes of me, who has been talking to, and taking dictation from, both The Holy Spirit and from God, Himself, (though I prefer to refer to “Him” as The Great Creative Force) for almost fifteen years now. 

There, I said it!  Prior to reading this book…and yes, Conversations With God…I haven´t found much written in a popular vein encouraging this kind of daring give and take.  There haven´t been too many books that make a direct and interactive relationship with the Highest Heavenly Sources anything but reason to be thrown into the Hoosegow Hospital, and I, for one, don´t wish to make my private joy a reason to get into a wrestling match with a strait jacket.  So, I have held my tongue, but filled several thousand pages with what has passed between Us.

Perhaps now, inspired by this beautiful sharing in the pages of The Shack, I can let a litle of what I´ve experienced and what I´ve learned in the process, slip out into my blog and into the pages of the book I´m now writing, and perhaps, someday, a sharing of a few of those thousands of other pages themselves.

I didn´t undergo the sort of trauma described in this book, nor did I experience the wonderful weekend that this central character was given, but my initiation did, indeed, turn my world upside down and nothing was ever the same for me again.  I rearranged my life to fit the new me and left off religious practices that had, previously, formed my whole identity.  Each person´s private transformation is unique and individual, as it should be, and it always seemed to me to be far too great a risk to put so precious an experience up for scrutiny in the marketplace.  Better to cherish it all to myself was my rationalization based upon the results of my earliest, toe-in-the-water, confidentialities.

Now however, I would selfishly like to live in a world which has absorbed the Truths expressed in The Shack because I know that such a world would be somewhat inclined to be a little more kindly disposed towards folks like me.  This book tells The Truth, and Nothing But The Truth.  I highly recommend it.

My “Fitty-Dollah-A-Day” Sense of Entitlement

January 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Loro Verde Resort in Puerto Quito, Ecuador:

I´ve just awakened from a long and delightful nap, aided and assisted by a powerful, all-afternoon tropical deluge which has now filled the swimming pools almost to overflowing.  Though it has slackened somewhat, it shows no sign of letting up.

I´m settling into the situation a little bit now and getting a better perspective on myself.  They are such sweet people here, and after seeing what the actual “normal” standard is for the vicinity, I have to admit that they have created a much higher standard of living here than I, myself, could have pulled off if I were to live in this town.  Or, truth be told, than I do most of the time in my own home.  I mean, I have to really scurry when I have guest coming, and then I´m still aware of all the flaws and the ordinary things that I put up with when it´s just me that I have to please.

Much about this place IS luxurious, especially the swimming pool complex and this sparkling-floored, open air dining terrace overlooking it.  Plus, my fried talapia lunch was large and delicious.  And, they did try to ferry me back and forth to the internet, though I mostly wound up walking to town on my own timeframe.  Plus, they made the effort this afternoon to recruit Willow, an American, to translate in helping to set up an excursion to a Vapor Rock they want to show me.  So, we´ll go this afternoon.  Willow and I had a lovely poolside talk in the process.  She´s a 24-year old Minnesotian who has lived, off and on, in Ecuador for about two years teaching English.  We got into the topic of my writing and the Boomer Generation, my target audience.  She laughed when I hauled out my explanation of the “Hippie Generation – the original backpackers” because her parents were genuine hippies and still are, though their seven children now prevent any free-form traveling life these days. 

I´ve just had another interesting conversation with Nora, an Ecuadorian lady next door to me, who has recently bought a farm with ancient growth trees, planning to turn it into an eco-lodge.  So, undeniably, the Human Factor is an enormous influence on one´s impression of a place and upon one´s willingness to just go along, forgiving any perceived flaw or short-coming. 

In the last resort, it all comes down to perceived value for the money.  A $10 per day hostel is expected to be a little soft around the edges, though in today´s competitive, review-posting, internet-recruiting generation, they are all forced to offer so many freebies, like breakfast and wifi, 24-hour check-in, internet, TV, and even in some cases, airport pickup.

In Quito, I was getting quite a bit for my $13 per day private room (complete with endless hot water) and my daily costs were no more than $25 – $30.  So, to treat myself to a $50 place is a splurge that I can only do for a few days per month, as I did last in Cartagena.  That place delivered an elegance that I considered well worth it, though it only offered breakfast and the burning Citronella was a necessary pain.  So, indubitably, price affects expectations and one can get pretty picky if they don´t seem to measure up.

Just now, Willow has been back to find out what I want for supper and we´ve had another long chat.  I passed on to her my newly-finished and much-loved book, The Shack, (more about that in the next post).  We are really enjoying knowing each other.  I explained to her about the water leaks in the bathroom and she told Alejandro when he came just now to spray for mosquitos.  That way, they can catch the problem before damage is done.

As I work my way down to Puerto Maldonado, a jungle river community in Peru, where I will visit my son´s boyhood friend, now a priest with a small Family of Jesus Brotherhood – all monks living very simply among the natives (or so I imagine) I sometimes wonder what Chris/Father Isaac would think of my spoiled rantings about petty details, such as are filling my blogs now.  “What´s she going to think of the lodges that Puerto Maldonado has to offer?”

That´s a valid question and it leads to one about why I travel in the first place.  Is it to find luxury or is it to “experience life as it is lived elsewhere?”  The answer is neither.  At Super Seventy, I´m finally old enough to tell the truth.  I´m not trying to be noble here.  I´m just trying to get by.  Plus, I have learned that a certain basic amount of bottom-line comfort IS available in most of the locations I´m going for, with the respectable amount of cash that I have.  If I have to put up with less and still pay, well then, I might get miffed about the fact that my hair is getting itchy and my legs are prickly because I can´t stand a cold shower and you can´t do those things in a hot tub.

That´s all I´m sayin´here!

How I Climbed Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador

January 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

(Another crowded-together posting…scan the rest to catch up)

Oh dear me!  I´m working under terrible circumstances in this my favorite internet.  Just this evening, somebody on duty wants to play this awful rock music, very loudly, and won´t turn it down in spite of my requests.  Why don´t others object?  One can´t think!  So, if this lacks something, that´s why…my brain is bumping and grinding…poor thing.  Now, where was I?

Oh yes, drinking hot chocolate on the equator.  Since we all were heading back to Quito, Carl, Jose and I hopped on the same bus.  Fortunately, Jose is a native Spanish-speaker and he learned that this was a much different bus, going to a much different place than we had in mind.  Both buses were blue.  After some discussion with the ticket-taker, he figured out how we could make it work and we eventually hopped off along the highway, wandered downhill (thank goodness) towards familiar territory, with him checking directions now and then. 

After many miles, we landed in the neighborhood of our respective hostels and I even hung out with them to the extent that I came along when they stopped at two excursion companies to inquire about climbing a mountain and doing some mountain-biking.  The first didn´t have any thing to offer and we went on to the next office that they had talked to earlier.  Not having a thread of an intention to do any such thing, I, nonetheless, sat down between them as the nice lady described the trek they had to offer the very next morning.  Wow!  Only $35 for the whole 12-hour outing!  Wow!  Climb up to touch a glacier!  How hard could that be?  There´s a smiling kid right there in the album she´s showing us.  Wow!  We get to mountain-bike downhill!  I could do that, though I don´t fancy myself a mountain-biker.  All I´d have to do was steer.  All of my Aspen, Colorado, memories of summiting Pyramid Peak four times came to the fore…neglecting the tiny factoid that this was over twenty years ago.

So, by the end of the presentation, I was plunking my money down and joining the trek.  Yikes1  I have to get up at 5:30 a.m. to be at Coffee & Toffee at 7:00 a.m. for takeoff as…what was the name of that mountain??? was three hours out of Quito.  (Cotopaxi turned out to be the highest volcano in the world at 18,000 feet at the summit and one that climbers usually prepare/aclimate for by climbing lesser peaks.)   But, just then, all I could think of was whether my alarm clock would actually work.  Grabbing a humongous chicken sandwich, I ate half of it and hit the sack, waking up every few hours to see if it was time yet.  I made it though the clock never peeped. 

Luis was our guide and what a true sherpa he is!  We stopped at a remote nature hostel, PapaGuyo, and picked up two delightful young women, Justine and Fanny, from Paris, and then drove for seemingly hours to get to the park surrounding the mountain.  This Denali-like peak was perfect and completely snow-covered, sparkling in the lovely sunshine, showing just fine against the blue sky.  We were above treeline at 13, 940 feet when we parked, pulled on all our warmest clothing, and started hiking up the steep incline  on switchbacks.  We puffed and panted for an hour and a half over the soft lava surface.  At least, I did, with dear Carl hanging back to accompany me while the others seemed to veritably leap up the 900 feet rise that we were covering to the Refuge at 14,880 feet.

Oh. My. Gosh!  It was tough!  But, I made it and was greeted happily at the top by the others – my buddies.  Luis had, in the meantime, headed straight up the mountainside, scorning the switchbacks, carrying our lunch on his back and getting there ahead to prepare it.  While I collapsed at the rustic table, drinking hot chocolate and mint tea, he led the others on up another 600 feet in elevation to the glacier´s edge.  Me, I figured I´d seen enough blue ice for my lifetime and we were already up in the deep snow at the Refuge. 

(There´s a huge thunderstorm threatening to burst loose over this internet as I write this, but I plug on, optimistically, hoping an outage won´t wipe out all this writing.  I save often.)

Anyway, my clothes were beginning to freeze on my body as the first of the seven or so layers I wore were pure cotton and soaked through.  So, I ducked into the restroom and removed the wet stuff, putting a wool sweater next to my skin, thinking of all those people who have amputated their arms when caught in similar desperate circumstances and glad that my problem was so mild.  When the others returned, we tucked into the feast that Luis had prepared – guacamole spread, bread, crackers and fruit, plus plenty of hot drinks and water.  I hadn´t eaten breakfast, only a candy bar on the way, and that might have been contributing to my ascent difficulties.

Photos at the elevation sign and all the way down the long haul to the bottom on a soft ash ramp for which we had to use a different set of leg muscles entirely.  This time, dear Jose stayed close to my side while the others cavorted easily along.  At the bottom, my legs were so shaky that I opted to ride in the Toyota while the others rode their mountain-bikes over one of the most rutted dirt roads imaginable.  Six miles later, we loaded their bikes back on the trailer and headed home.  They had loved the ride but said that now their hands and arms ached like crazy.  I was happy in my snug spot in the warm car.

Chocolate cake at the PapaGuyo Hostel was my dinner and then the endless ride in the dark back to town.  How does Luis do such a life day after day.  So much driving and running uphill. 

My sweet goodbyes to my new InterGalactic Friends went something like this:

Me – “Will we recognize each other in another life when our paths cross again?”

They – “We´ll email you and when you get to Lima, our family will be waiting for your call!¨

Then, I got sort-of mugged within half a block of my hostel, when a running thief grabbed my wet clothing bag.  His accomplice was approaching me to snatch my backpack off my back when I turned around to face the teen and pointed to his snatcher friend¨s disappearing back. “Go after him and get my bag back!” said I.  He looked so puzzled and reflexively pointed to my backpack shoulder strap, as if explaining that this was what he was about.  I simply stood my ground and commanded loudly that he run after his friend and “BRING BACK MY BAG!”   Well, you know he didn´t but he did do me the favor of disappearing empty-handed and that was almost as good.   There were witnesses who recommended that I go tell the police standing just a block away.

I dragged my tired self over to them, pantomimed what had happened and they duly walked me a thousand blocks to the police station where they insisted that I fill in two extremely long forms, showing no interest in my unimportant loss.  And it was unimportant.  I was just reporting it because Lonely Planet says to.  It was my wakeup call and I shall be more careful very soon.  However, it has now grown dark outside and I am hungry, so shall simply walk more cautiously the two blocks home after a nice hot soup supper across the street.  Didn´t bring much with me for them to steal.  That´s the smart part.  Even the thunderstorm has dissolved  without mugging me, just like that punk who couldn´t take a little confronting last night.

News Flash: Read the bestseller, The Shack, by Wm. Paul Young!

January 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Okay, this is one of those crowded-together posts and you will need to check previous ones to make sure you are up on the whole story.  And, believe me, this IS an ongoing story which I hope that I can capture down in the next few days before another chapter begins.  I slept a bit this afternoon, read a lot, and realized that I need to insert this new ingredient into my InterGalactic Friends story.  Still tired from mountain climbing yesterday and don`t want to be out after dark tonight…….because yes, my bag got snatched on the way home from the climb last night…..but all the sneak thief got was my ski hat, gloves, and three pairs of dirty socks.  Taught me a lesson, though, and if I can leave off the heavy philosophy long enough (which is where the reality really is) I´ll describe that “rawther funny” incident.

Update:  I will leave in the morning for Puerto Quito and a Cloudforest Resort in the jungles closer to the Ecuadorian Coast.   So, I need to get this Quito wonderment well documented because I`ll bet and I sure hope that new fun is just around the corner.

Okay, now why am I recommending that you read a book, right out of the blue, in the middle of this discussion of InterGalactic Friendship?  I´m not exactly sure myself, except that the coincidences are getting pretty spooky and I want this to be a complete reporting of the facts, man, “Nothing but the facts.”  One of the beauties of the hosteling life is that there is often a bookshelf open for exchange, so that you can contribute your newly-finished novel for one you haven´t yet read.  I always read more on the road than I do at home, especially during long bus rides or lone meals.

When I checked into the less-than-perfect first Quito hostel, I saw this book, The Shack, sitting on their trade shelf.  I snapped it right up since I luckily had some tradin´stock.  I´d heard of this title the night I spoke for the Clearwater Book Club.  It was to be their next study and someone was raving about it, saying it had sold over three-million copies and she could see why.  It´s about God, but different.

Oh yeah!  That´s right down my alley and I made a mental note to acquire it, though I hadn´t.  Well, now I´m about midway through the book and I think I see some cronky connection to what I´m trying to get across here in my description of InterGalactic Friends.  In subjects like this, and actually I have learned the hard way, in any discussion of my admittedly off-beat look at God and Cosmic Subjects, it´s really hard to talk about all this sort of thing….as the author mentions in his introduction.  Only, guess what?  If I´m with them long enough, I have found it very easy to discuss these subjects with my IGFs.  Didn´t happen this time, only because our time was absorbed in heavy-hauling athletic endeavors.  And now, they´ve flown away.

So, I shall labor on in my whole description with the hope that your exposure to this book might provide you with a glimpse of a new viewpoint that might possibly be stretchy enough to admit some of this new stuff I might try to throw out from time to time.  Believe me, I have a lot to say on a whole lot of subjects, but usually don´t for lack of understanding hearts.  I think that this was true of this author, Wm. Paul Young,  as well, but he has surely hit a nerve, though some story I read told of his long and fruitless attempts to get the book published; finally forcing him to solve things by self-publishing.  (He´s happy about that now, for sure.)  Seems he was simply too far-out for everybody…even the Christian publishing houses.  And this is a Christian-based book, which I usually don´t enjoy.   But, like I say, I´m only halfway through and I don´t know what will show up later.

The thing is, you´ll have to look at this through the corner of your eye to pick up any connection to my whole InterGalactic idea as it´s not (so far) terribly obvious.  It has to do with the “Warmth Factor,” which is also not a term in the book, but which I feel between myself and these individuals.  I´d better stop trying to quantify this.  Even if you don´t find any connection, you should enjoy reading the book.  So, get it. 

Okay, I´m closing this post to keep the subjects separate, but will write another immediately describing the past few days. 

I Discover Some InterGalactic Friends At The Middle Of The World

January 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Be prepared for several postings coming quickly to catch you up on the many things that have happened in the past two days!  If I can whomp up the energy (much was spent yesterday), I will write several stories today.  Mostly though, I just want to curl up and go back to sleep because I climbed a big chunk of mountain yesterday…it`s exhausting to do that at 14,880 feet, dontcha`know?

But how did I get myself to that elevation?  The story begins on Monday, day before yesterday, when I finally made it to Mitad del Mundo, near Quito, Ecuador, which I had tried for and given up on earlier, due to heavy rains.  Such a blessing those rains turned out to be!  I wouldn`t have wanted to be there at the rather-touristy, monument-happy, souvenir-filled splash made of the Equator with all the Sunday crowds come to hear a big concert performance.  Wandering about an almost-deserted place on the sunny weekday was just fine with me.

After taking the obligatory photographs at Point Zero, I decided on a cup of hot chocolate before beginning the long bus ride back to downtown Quito.  Soon, a couple of friendly Americans asked if they could share my outdoor table and we got to talking.  Both are from Dallas, Texas, though Jose is originally from Lima, Peru, and they were on their way back to his home for his sister`s wedding on Saturday, taking a few days of sightseeing in Ecuador first.  Tall, blond, blue-eyed Carl is a high school Math teacher and Jose, whose smile just lights up the planet, works for American Airlines, earning them free mileage to explore the world on stand-by.

Well, it wasn`t long before I realized that we three are IGF`s or InterGalactic Friends.  Have I adequately explained this term on this blog?  My friends and relatives have heard me speak of it every time this happens.  It`s a word that I coined to describe a most unusual friendship which happens to me on a regular, but infrequent, basis and it`s the only way I know to quantify this consistent set of conditions that happens between me and certain people whom I meet in passing during these years of my life.

(Oh Blush!  It just occurred to me to check this out on Wikipedia to see if the phrase was already in circulation and, Lordy, Lordy, some American punk rock group called the Beastie Boys has recorded a song called Intergalactic Friends.  Yoicks!  I couldn`t find the lyrics though I`ll persist some other day…so I have no idea whose company I`m in or what they`ve had to say on the subject.  But, no matter.  I have a very well-developed idea of what I`m talking about, so please try not to be overly-influenced by what the punk rock crowd suggests, unless they feel the same way, of course.)

In my book, an IGF sticks out like a very healthy thumb, among the people I meet along the road of life.   One tipoff is that there is absolutely no time spent in the usual conversational sparring that makes up a new acquaintance.  We begin from a point of immediate familiarity and trust, as if we´ve recognized each other across the room.  Next, we talk quickly and thoroughly, as if we are catching each other up on the details of life since last we met.  And that`s the crux of the matter, as I always wind up explaining to a newly-discovered IGF; it`s as if, when we parted in some long-ago life, we wondered aloud about whether we would be able to recognize each other when our paths crossed in our next life, our next “galaxy,” as we spun along our individual paths through the dimensions.   

And unfailingly, no matter what their personal religious or philosophical background may be, not one IGF has ever questioned this theory when I put it forth to them, because only that string of cosmic explanation could possibly explain the weird feeling of closeness that we feel bound up in at that moment.  It´s just  not the norm; though it feels like the most normal of all connections at the time.  We immediately slouch into each other in an “old shoe” relationship, although it simultaneously contains more spark than other friendships.  This can happen with men friends and women friends and it just lights up the landscape of life.  Just two weeks ago, I wrote about discovering Luis and Salome, my two wonderful IGF`s working in the Medellin, Colombia, Casa Kiwi Hostel.  Now, here are Jose and Carl whose paths collided with mine at the equator in Ecuador and who have brightened my past 48 hours. 

Fawn Germer, back home in Clearwater, Florida, is almost the only IGF whom I have seen beyond the initial encounter, due to the fact that we both live in the same place.  I did keep in touch with two British IGFs for almost a year before we finally lost touch.   But, over the past nearly five years now, the depth and quality of that friendship with Fawn has never slackened.  I wish I could keep all my IGFs so close in proximity, but I continue to treasure them all.  Actually, I believe that a briefness of the flash is part of the equation in most cases.

Stay tuned for the story of how we three, my equatorial buddies and I, conquered the icy slopes of Cotopaxi Volcano yesterday.  But now I must head back to the hostel for a lie-down, as the mere memory of that glorious climb absolutely exhausts me.  Magical!

A Soggy Thing Happened On The Way To The Middle Of The World

January 25, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Mitad del Mundo, The Middle of the World, is an hour away from downtown Quito and I was headed there today but got caught in the every-afternoon rainfall and am giving up on the idea for now.  Maybe tomorrow, if I don´t leave for Baños.  With a do-it-yourself schedule, I can be flexible.

The Middle of The World happens to be the Equator which passes just north of Quito, Ecuador, one of the few highly-populated areas crossed by this line.  Small beach villages or Amazon jungle stretches are the only other opportunities on this continent to straddle both the Northern and the Southern Hemispheres.  Sunday, (today) is when the locals go and have a good time at the Equator and I planned to be among them until heavy rain turned me around, as getting there requires two bus rides and lots of walking. 

Life is not moving efficiently for me as I juggle a cold and wet outdoors, though I did spend many hours this morning poring over my Lonely Planet to decide what city to head for next.  This is not as easy as it sounds because the decision will affect all other places visited throughout the country as one must consider highways and bus routes.  Basically, there are three choices – the coastline, the Andean chain, and the jungle.  I´m combining mountains and Amazonia.

Yesterday, I pretty much completed my exploration of Quito, stumbling across an interesting native parade, street dancing, fireworks and some sort of Holy Day celebration on the steps of the beautiful Catholic Basilica.  After they left the area, I entered the truly lovely cathedral, which I appreciated much more because of the book “Pillars Of The Earth” just finished.

This close to the Equator and I´m bundled in double turtleneck sweaters and a waterproof jacket.  Altitude does this, blowing our impressions of Equatorial temperatures all to bits.  If I´m traveling tomorrow, I´ll be offline for awhile but will report in when I come to a stop.

Am Coping With Quito

January 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Today is Friday.  I flew easily into Quito, Ecuador, on Wednesday night and have been trying hard to love the place ever since.  It´s a big city and modern, as large cities go.  The currency in Ecuador is the U.S. dollar and frequently, on some streets, I could think I was still in America.

Of course, it has it´s own distinctive stamp as well, the most individual of which are the Andean people in their native clothing topped by a bowler hat who are the street vendors here.  I spent yesterday walking about in the Historic District.  It´s not a fortified Old Town or Medieval City which one expects in Eastern Europe and also, which Cartagena was.  This is an inland city and didn´t get those fortifications.  But, it has many historic buildings and many churches and cathedrals which date back to the 1500s.

We had a brief and wild thunderstorm yesterday and the weather switched to Northern Ireland status, but seems to be warming now.  All night, I was regretting that I didn´t even price that bright blue cashmere men´s sweater I saw in a store window.  Maybe cashmere is a bargain here and when it gets cold, I put on all of my heavy clothes – even to sleep, as there is no central heating here.

The first two nights were spent in a poor, little ól wanna-be hostel that doesn´t quite make the grade.  Some of it wasn´t their fault, though, as they are hosting a group of young women who are trying for the partying championship of the planet, who tilt their noisy way in at 5:00 a.m., make a ruckus getting to bed and then sleep half the day.

This morning I have switched to the very predictable Hostelling International Hostel here, which is the Holiday Inn of hostels, worldwide, but I´m still paying only $15 for a private room with bath.  It was only a block away from the first one.  I plan to spend the weekend resting, trying harder to love Quito, and researching all the great possibilities that Ecuador offers.  I can stick to the colder regions here in the more mountainous sector, or I can head either left or right, down to the jungles or the beaches and again put away my warmer clothes.

Meantime, I´m finding some good restaurants, internets, and all the necessities of life.  In my effort to learn about ethnic foods, I foolishly ordered a half GUINEA PIG. ($8.95)  It didn´t kill me but once was enough, especially when I realized that the oblong-shaped thing was the head and all the teeth of the top jaw.  Tastes like greasy dark-meat chicken with a layer of fat on top.

Otherwise, the food here can be predictably the same all the time.  A slab of fish or chicken, rice and salad.  No beans and rice in sight yet.  I´d almost welcome them.  So long for now.

Cartagena, Colombia Is a Lovely Place

January 21, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

I´ve had a wonderful two days wandering about in this fortified Old Town, the most famous part of a famous city.  There is a New Town also, with high rise apartments and offices that resemble many Florida beaches, but the Old Town is the place to be.  Fortunately, my lovely guest house is right here in the center of things.

The weather is so consistently pleasant – hot and sunny – that the houses are completely open, without walls to insulate them from nasty weather.  To the street, there is nothing but wall right to the sidewalk and entry is gained through huge castle-like, wooden doors.  But, once inside, everything is high ceilings and cool darkness, tile floors and antique furniture, the common areas opening onto a greenery-filled patio space, which I understand many modern folks have filled with a swimming pool.  I love the garden idea much better and banana leaves swish in the breeze and birds flit and sing all the time.  The bedrooms have walls and doors that lock, but no glass in the windows – just wooden dowel decorative bars.  Mosquitos are kept at bay by a burning citronella sort of thing in its own screened pot.  High ceilings and fans keep up the air circulation.  My window and door opens onto the patio.

All over town, there are green parks every now and then and always the vendors with their carts full of fresh fruit or souvenirs.  There are also a few touts who work hard to get you to enter a jewelry store and even if you were headed there anyway, they open the door for you and thus put their claim on a commission from any sales made.  I didn´t buy so it didn´t matter, but I knew what they were up to.

One gruesome visit was to the House of Inquisition which displayed the many instruments of torture and execution used during the two-hundred-year bloody history of the Catholic Church´s persecution of anyone who might have acted suspiciously in their estimation.  Since Cartagena was Spain´s primary link to South America, the Inquisition was particularly heavy here and that atmosphere was still horribly evident in this large and proud house, which reminded me of the way the KGB buildings always felt on my visits to the Soviet Union.   This one gave me the same sort of creeps.

But, nearby was the Museum de Oro, or the Gold Museum, which gave a good history of the Pre-Colombian people who populated this country before the arrival of the Spanish.  So much gold and so much beautiful design and clever solutions to life´s challenges.  What a fine people they were!

Cartagena is also filled with lovely shops that must be similar to every Caribbean port city.  Therefore, there are also many cruise passengers about, moving in their groups and following their guides in museums.  A very lively place alright, and not an inexpensive one.  But, a good rest and a happy time.

Now, we shall see what Ecuador has in store.  Colombia has proven to be lovely, welcoming and safe.

Here I go Again, Heading to Quito, Ecuador Tomorrow

January 21, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

You won´t hear from me tomorrow, or until life in the Spanish-speaking fast lane settles down.  After investigating travel options to keep myself moving along towards Ecuador, I decided upon an Avianca flight.  This came about at the very moment I passed that airline´s office on my wanderings around Cartagena trying to decide whether to bus across the border and put up with days of freezing, sitting upright, watching violent movies; whether to go back to Medellin or Bogota or on to Cali and break up the trip with hostel stays in more Colombian towns…or just pay the bucks to fly.

$350 later and I have my ticket in hand for a four-hour flight tomorrow.  Cartagena to Bogota, Bogota to Quito.  Neat and sweet and I would have spent that much by going the slow, hard way.

So, that meant that I needed to find reservations to go to in Quito.  No problem, thought I, coming to this nice internet not far from my great little hotel here.  The site had many to choose from and I liked the sound of a place on the Geobotanical Reserve for $15 per night in a four-bunk room.  It was the promise of organic food, hiking trails and horseback riding that made it sound so good.  It looked rustic and mellow as well.  So, I booked it.

They sent me an email confirmation….AND a long page of directions on how to get there.  Here are a few of the salient points.  By the way, my plane lands at 6:10 p.m. so my arrival would be well after dark, but one takes a taxi from the airport, or so I thought. 

If I go there by bus, it´s 25 km outside of Quito.  No mention of taxis or even of getting wheeled transportation to the door.  I get off the bus at the trail to the volcano.

Then, I must walk 15 minutes uphill to the edge of the crater…a volcano called El Mirador.

Then I walk another 25 minutes down a steep dirt road, take a left at the junction and continue 100 meters and pay the park entrance fee of $2.50

I carry a 33 pound backpack and a loaded daypack/purse thing. 

There was no mention of all of this athleticism in the description of this place.  All I wanted was a place to lay me down upon arrival.  Luckily, I was able to also reserve, for the same tomorrow night, a reservation for a neat-sounding hostel in town, which I should have taken in the first place.  So, I do have an address to give the taxi driver that doesn´t involve climbing volcanoes after dark.  In the meantime, I have emailed the Bootsnall staff to let them know about this unclear description and in the hopes that they can void my reservation.

Plus, this country setting of the first one might have had me missing Quito altogether.  Perhaps after I have my bearings and have explored the big city a wee bit, I will really want to get out in the countryside.  We shall see if I could ever make it, under any circumstances, if I have to haul my own gear that far.  But, that´s another story.


I Fled At The First Arrow And Landed In Cartagena. Am I Glad!

January 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

If it hadn´t been for the noise pollution of twelve hours of high-volume, non-stop Spanish music playing in the neighborhood of my Taganga hostel all night and all day this weekend, I might now be swaying in a hammock under the palms on the beach in Tayrona National Park, but I´m glad I came on to Cartagena yesterday.  It took six hours to make the switch, riding a minibus from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., but I arrived in this most-famous port city just after dark and was so happy that I had found a very genteel and quiet landing spot.

My Taganga hostel hosts at Casa de Filipe were very understanding about my noise-allergy and they suggested Lucia´s home in the Old Town of Cartagena, even phoning her to make reservations.  The minibus ($27) deposited me at a large wooden door along the walled street, which opened immediately when Ingress, the maid, heard the knock.  Entering created that breathless moment when one takes in unexpected loveliness waiting to surround you: a floral tile floor, antique furniture, high ceilings, soft lighting, warm comfort…all flowing into a center garden filled with lush green plants in big terra cotta pots.  So old-world.  So New Orleans French Quarter.  So hushed and quiet.  My room with its double bed and ensuite bathroom costs $47 per night and doesn´t have air-conditioning or TV, but I don´t really like either of those ameneties very much.  Upstairs balcony rooms come equipped with those for a few dollars more.

Included in the room cost is the most gargantuan breakfast possibility on the planet.  This morning I could have eaten myself into a stupor, but stuck to the huge tropical fruit plate with seven varieties of peeled and quartered delights; a homemade bread basket with fresh berry preserves and raw honey; coffee and hot chocolate.  I was also offered bacon and eggs, pancakes, or cereal.  This was served graciously at linen-covered tables set with magnificent china, on the strip of tiled, roofed, walkway around the edge of the magnificent garden.  Birds sang in the banana trees.

If you ever get to Cartagena, Colombia, email Lucia Spragge Buelvas at [email protected] and this could be yours for as long as you want to vacation here.

A postscript on the sound barrage in Taganga:  I came to see that this is institutionalized noise pollution, apparently highly-valued by the residents.  First, passing the offending house in front of our hostel gates, I could see that this was no boombox.  In front of the door were two enormous stacked speakers creating percussion in the air.  I finally walked out of their range, only to hear the same song belting out from a business further down the hill.  Again, identical wooden speakers were standing just outside the open front door, blaring the broadcast to their coverage area.  I wouldn´t be surprised if another blast station existed down by the beach, too far to be served by these monstrous ear polluters.   Then, from the bus, I saw a house in downtown Santa Marta which also served the same function and sported identical stacked speakers.  A toothless man came dancing out the door, singing the words.  This is the way they enjoy the weekend, obviously.

I wonder if there is a lot of early-onset deafness in these parts?

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