E-Journals

 Europe 2010 - Istanbul to Athens

June 30, 2010: Istanbul, Turkey

  We've arrived in Istanbul, and after a good night's sleep we've adjusted to the disorientation that comes with a long flight.
  The flight here was exhausting and miserable, like all long distance flights. From Boston to Munich, then a brief layover until taking off for Istanbul - 14 hours total from leaving home to arriving here. The whole time some old lady, seemingly on her death bed, was coughing in my ear from the seat behind me. And it was a rasping, gargling cough that would come in long, violent bouts every few minutes. An hour into the flight I found myself hoping for her to perish. I gave her stern eye contact, hoping to frighten her, but that just made her coughing worse; it never ended. Let someone drink a gallon of thick cooking grease and then give them bronchitis, and that may explain it. Sick people should not be allowed on planes, unless they're stored below with the luggage.
   And then there were the crying babies, along with their idiot parents who think its a good idea to bring a colic baby on a flight across seven or eight time zones. One mother stood next to me in the isle with her eight pound menace on and off for hours, until I started passing obnoxious gas which caused her to retreat a few rows back to torture someone else. And like fifth grade students some people just can't sit still - up and down the isles, kicking my seat, leaning on my seat, back and forth. With the high sodium food my gas become more and more potent and horrible smelling as each late night breakfast or morning dinner came, so I started using it as a weapon to annoy all those around me. And I knew it worked, no one came near me.  And the nostrils of those sleeping nearby (including my wife's) flared like those of an angry horse's when I released. The man to my right grimaced as he slept, as though someone had shoved a rotten lemon into his mouth. And best of all the old lady's coughs became more suppressed and silent, wheezing, although no less frequent.
   We took the train from the aiport into the city, along with one tram, which saved us about 50 bucks in taxi fare. A Finnish girl studying in Istanbul helped us find the right tram, and once we got off in the Beyazit area two cigarette vendors helped us find our hotel. The roads here are very tight and cramped, and one of the guys called the hotel for us on his cell and then led us the way on foot all the way there, about a ten minute walk. A very nice welcome. The hotel is nice and offers great views from its rooftop terrace. The only downfall with the hotel is the tiny shower compartment in the bathroom. It's smaller than a telephone booth, and is barely large enough for me to stand in. My shoulders almost both come in contact with the sides standing in it. I bent over to get the soap and as I smashed my head on the glass door, I was simultaneously sodomized by an eight-inch face-cloth rack that protruded from the opposite wall horizontially. The hotel could spare a little more room in the shower stall. I large man, like Ed or Casey, wouldn't even be able to enter the thing, never mind have a romantic encounter with one as I now have.
   Both of us were still traumatized from our last trip overseas to the nightmare that is India, and were anxious about traveling again, and so far we are very happy with Istanbul. Clean streets. Nice genuine people. No scams...yet. Very European and comfortable. Some people think we're from Spain and welcome me into their restaurants with Hola Amigo.
   Some women wear headscarves along with their jeans and heels, and very few, two so far, that we saw, were wearing burqas. Most dress completely like any woman back home, bare shoulders, cleavage, short skirts. But it is a Muslim country, so there are mosques everywhere, far more numerous than churches at home. At least five times a day, at sunrise and sunset and several times in between, the whole city erupts with the musical-like call to prayer. It echoes everywhere, and I really like it. And you can hear many mosques at once, each one with their own unique voice. It adds a really exotic nature to the place when everywhere it can be heard over the sounds of traffic and people.
   We had a late night dinner last night, and then slept well and had breakfast - yogurt, fresh bread, olives, and eggs - on the hotel's roof. Excellent view of the Marmara Sea and Bosphorus Straits. Seagulls darting about shrieking.
   We went to the Grand Bazaar which has been standing before Columbus set sail, bought a few soveneirs. It is a giant maze of shops and kiosks, selling everything imaginable. We had strong Turkish coffee and tea, and just wandered the streets. Exotic, but very comfortable. I was here years ago, but barely remember anything about the place, other than getting robbed - TWICE - in a strip club. But having the Turkish mob threaten to break my fingers unless I hand over my wallet was a good story. Thankfully this trip Cindy has kept me out of such unsavory places.
   It's just passed 10PM here now, so we're going to go have tea on the roof and go to bed.
 
Goodnight


July 1, 2010: Istanbul, Turkey

  Over 90% of Turkey is in Asia, while only a tiny piece sits in Europe. Istanbul sits right on the Bosphorous Strait, which separates the two continents. Most of the city is in Europe, but a small portion of it is in Asia. We took a ferry today to the Asian side, which took about 20 minutes. On the way we saw a few dolphins swimming alongside our ferry. The Asian area that we visited was called Kadikoy, and actually felt more European than the European side. Lots of younger college aged students all dressed as you'd expect. The buildings were all newer and more modern than what we'd seen on the European side. And we still can't figure out the deal with the burqas and headscarves, because the few times we've seen women in complete burqas, with only their eyes showing, many times they were walking arm in arm with woman wearing short skirts and plenty of cleavage showing. I don't know what makes one woman wear a burqa and another wear barely nothing - maybe an iman for a husband. In all honesty, I saw more woman wearing burqas in London than in Istanbul.
   We've been taking the tram more and more, and have figured out where we are and can walk around without too much confusion now. Istanbul is tight and densely populated, but it's not very large area-wise, at least the area where a tourist would want to visit.
   I got scratched by a cat and went into a pharmacy looking for some alcohol, and the guy working their cleansed my cut and put a band aid on me free of charge. The Turkish people do seem to be genuinely nice and generous. I don't think that would happen back home.
   The food is good. Beef and chicken kebobs. Yogurt. Hummus. Fresh salads and fish. All is well. We're just trying to figure out if we'll be going to Greece from here or Bulgaria.


July 2, 2010: Istanbul, Turkey

 
   We were confronted with our first scam today - a fortunately unsuccessful one. After wandering around the huge and well maintained park inside the walls of Istanbul University, a shoe shine man was walking past me when a few of his tools fell off his little cart. I grabbed them and ran after him. He was all smiles and said, "A shoe shine for a gentleman, please", and had me put my feet, one after the other, onto his little table. I tried to refuse, but he basically pulled my foot up, so I let it go thinking he just wanted to show me thanks for saving him his tools. All compliments about America and my nation's God, Obama, and the Boston Celtics, honestly. Then another shoe shine man, a thinner, more devious looking one with a single yellow tooth, seduced Cindy into putting her shoe up on his little table. There I saw my error. I had Cindy follow me in retreat, and of course the shoe shine men went on about me being a kind American, and how I must pay him for his 3 or 4 children. We just walked off, and another Turkish college kid asked us what happened. We told him and he went back and scolded both shoe shiners, who scattered off and hit behind a van where a half dozen cats were licking themselves. Good.
  Friday is a holiday for Muslims, so the chanting coming from the mosques seems to be happening more often. And at most of the cafes people are eating spicy orange beans and rice, which I'm guessing may have something to do with it being Friday. Regardless, they were really good and were cheap, unless you got four servings of them as we did.
   I noticed at entrances to the Grand Bazaar the guards there, with there hand held metal detector wands, pay close attention to women in burqas. When I walk in they wave their wand quickly over my bag on my back without even speaking or stopping me. At the entrances to the Bazaar it seems there's always a few 250 pound woman draped in their black burqas accompanied by their even larger husbands with long black beards and skullcaps, arguing with the guards. Take that thing off, honey, and lets see what you got under there - or better yet, lets not. The guards are suspicous for a reason, so I imagine.
   To maintain my masculine body, I'll be going to a Turkish gym this afternoon. I'm hoping I can work out topless, so I can show this country that Americans, too, have chests covered in sweaty, tangled hair. I haven't been shaving my face, but that's because Cindy forgot to pack me my razor and shaving cream - plus socks and t-shirts. In another day or so I'll extinguish my clothing supply. And sure, you'll ask why didn't I pack myself, and the answer is because I'm an invalid, and I like it that way, so leave me alone. Cindy wants me to be an invalid too, because it gives her more power and control over me.
   We'll be leaving Istanbul tomorrow for Edrine, which sits on the Greek and Bulgarian border. Once there, we'll see if we can get to the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria without too much hassle, if not, into Greece and its nudist beaches.


July 3, 2010: Istanbul, Turkey

   My favorite activity in Istanbul has been to sit on the Niles Hotel's rooftop terrace, sip a cold drink in the evening or hot coffee in the morning, and watch the city from above.
   During the day I tend to end up hot, soaked in sweat, and irritable after walking around realizing I'm walking in the opposite directly from where I wanted to be going - and Istanbul is difficult to navigate through. Very few streets run straight, and the names of each are confusing and very similar. And no locals no where anything is, so it seems - not even the taxi drivers. Most of the roads are very small, too, more like alleys and paved footpaths than streets for cars. But it is great to see the different people - show shiners, orange juice vendors, religious and secular, guys selling corn on the cob and hazlenuts and cherries, and the most interesting are the men in the garment districts who are selling the bottom halves of maniquins - but not the tops. Another man across the way is selling the tops. And of course some punk took the time to take a black marker and quickly scribble pubic hairs on to some of the bottoms, while across the street other punks have darted on red dots on the breasts of a few of the others. The men selling them scream at the top of their lungs, and I wonder who the hell buys just a half of a manequin? Then watching this a woman in a full burqa with just eye slits to see out of walks by. A strange sight.
   On the rooftop everything is still and quiet. Istanbul, even on street level, tends to be quiet. Very few cars beep their horns, and people don't push when compacted together. From the roof though you can take it easy and enjoy the view, which really is exotic. There are mosques everywhere, evidenced by their rocket-like minarets that protrude from the low lying and ancient looking buildings, most with rusty colored roofs. And during the call to prayer, at sundown, it really is a sight to behold. All at once you can see where Europe begins and Asia ends, the Bosphorus cutting the two in half.
   And to the south is the Sea of Marmara which is covered in large ships, countless amounts of them, either coming and going to the Black Sea through the bottleneck that is the Bosphorous. Anything being shipped to or from Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, Armenia, Georgia, and Turkey, must go through the mile wide Bosphorous. At night the lights of the many ships looks like an extension of the city, far off suburbs, until in the morning you realize there is no city, but just convoys of quarter mile long oil ship and cargo vessels inching around. The ships alone are a sight to see - never have I seen so many, not even a fraction that are here.
   I just got back from a quick workout in the basement of some dreary hotel that felt more like a tomb than a gym. And to be honest I think there was a dead cat in the pitch black bathroom, because something was rotting in there. And my bride has just arrived too. We're off to the roof to have some ice tea and wait for the sun to set and the imans to start their chanting.


July 5, 2010: Plovdiv, Bulgaria

on iPod so I'll write more detail later.

bussed it from Istanbul to edirne, turkey which is right on the Greek border. very pleasant. one night there. then bus to Plovdiv, which is a very comfortable, pleasant place. go to smolyan in the mountains south of here for a few days then into northern greece and it's islands. write more detail later from regular computer, but the iPod is amazing technology to be in a cafe looking over the rodopi mountains of Bulgaria and writing to family and friends.

July 7, 2010:Istanbul, Turkey to Smolyan, Bulgaria

  It's been a few days since I last wrote, so what's been going on...

Istanbul, Turkey

  We did what you'd expect in Istanbul - visited the mosques, ate kebobs, sat in rug and hookah shops while negotiating with merchants for items we didn't want. They ask you in, offer you tea, coffee, or apple tea, you say yes to be polite, then suddenly you find yourself trying to explain that the $500 rug is nice, or the $200 hookah is cool, but you're just not interested in it, unless it was free.
  But what really stands out in my memory of Istanbul now is an altercation I had on the streets. We were walking in a crowded area, full of tourists, Americans, Europeans, and as we walked across a small intersection a small truck kept on inching up into us, until finally Cindy was pushed up onto its bumper and the front part of its hood. The truck was moving slowly, so Cindy was not hurt at all, but what it did was cause my fist to raise high above my head and then smash down on the truck's hood, leaving a pizza pan size dent. There were three young guys in the truck, the driver's eyes went white, and the passenger on the far side opened the door and started shouting at me. He went to get out, but then got back in. I called him a sonofabitch, and told him that if he came near me I'd bite his nose off. We kept on walking, and I felt pretty tough for about 15 minutes, all puffed up. Yeah yeah yeah, I should control myself. I'm too old to be acting like that, sure. I hope the guy has a fun time hammering out that dent.
   There was a French family eating at a cafe right next to the intersection where I hit the truck, and now that George Bush is out of office I thought it necessary to give them another reason to disapprove of Americans and the United States. So all was well.
    An hour later I had what I thought would be a refreshing yogurt drink, but what it ended up being was...well, fill a cup with ocean water, put a clump of bitter, flavorless yogurt into it, add additional salt, and there you have it. My first and every swallow was followed by the gag relfex, but being cheap I didn't want to waste the money I spent in buying it, so I finished the horrible thing. It has seemed to keep my digestive system regular, very regular actually.
   Istanbul was an interesting time. Four days was enough.

Edirne, Turkey

  It took us an hour to get from the hotel to get to the bus station, via the tram and subway. During these times I become quite intolerable. Lugging our 60 wheeled suitcase over cobblestones, hefting it onto my shoulder to get it up and down stairs. Sweating. Confused. This is when I go off about how I hate traveling. And I can always tell my smell when I am in a foreign country. The stench of body odor on Turkish buses and trains is unbearable, really. It's not so much a smell as a physically attack, I can actually feel the particles of rancid sweat slicing into the tissue of my nostrils. Horrible. And it's not one guy who's deoderant is losing effectiveness - it's half the men of a country who have never, ever, in their entire life, put on deoderant. You want to become sickend, go on a Turkish subway and stand next to a guy who has his arm raised to hold onto the ceiling rail. God. The once thing I can say about the Chinese with kindess is that they don't have body odor, God bless their Godless souls. It really is inexcusable, especially this day and age with deoderant available everywhere.
  But we eventually got onto the bus, and the 2.5 hour journey was pleasant. Air conditioned. Drinks served. Refreshing lemon scented wipes to wipe our hands and faces. Very nice and orderly. And the countryside was beautiful, farms, white houses with red roofs here and there, the sea to the left. At the station in Edirne a girl helped us find our way to the mini-bus that would take us into the center of Edrine, and even paid our way. I must say that the Turkish people have been very nice and helpful, perhaps the kindest I've encountered.
   Edrine and our hotel there were very nice, comfortable. There were lots of old wooden houses along the pedestrian mall, and it was packed with people out for drinks, food, and icecream. Greece was less than five miles away, so there were plenty of Greek tourists. The main mosque there has the highest minarets of any mosque in the world, outside of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. At night I enjoyed watching it from our hotel window, because green lights illuminated it and hundreds, literally, of sea gulls circled and swirled about it. I wondered what they were doing. It was a sight I'll remember. The dome. The minarets. The green lights. And countless seagulls.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

   It was five hours by bus from Edirne to Plovdiv, but two hours of that time were spent waiting at the border. Plus the bus was an hour late in coming, so we were standed in front of a hotel at a rest area the whole time. Oh well. I ranted a bit, but was tolerable.
   Some idiot Turkish guy, who all need visas to enter the EU which Bulgaria is a part of, didn't have a visa. So that held us up a while, until he was finally sent back into Turkey. Then some other guy, a guy with an Iranian passport that held an Iraqi visa inside, which the border guards didn't like, held us up for over an hour. Everyone on the bus was livid, screaming and fighting with the police. Why should we wait for this, all of us? The guy with the Iranian passport finally got on the bus and was approved to enter the EU, and I ended up sitting next to him. I immediately felt bad for ranting to Cindy that he should be beaten or imprisoned for a century during my rant for holding us all up for so long, because he was a nice guy. It turned out that he was Kurdish. He once lived in Iran, but after the USA invaded Iraq and disposed of Saddam he moved into northern Iraq into the almost independent Kurdistan region, where's he's been happy, safe, and doing well as an interior decorator ever since. He spoke well of America, that without it the Kurds would never have had a chance at independence. He said that many Euros and Americans go to Kurdistan in northern Iraq as tourists, and that it is completely safe. The south of Iraq, where the Arabs live, is where it is very violent, he said. He was no friend of the Arab people. He said I should come to Kurdistan. I think not. But he was nice talking to.
   So we arrived in Plovdiv, irritated and hungry. It's a very nice city, small and manageable, surrounded by mountains. The people are helpful and kind, and our Best Western hotel, although the shower soaks the entire bathroom, was great so far as location goes being right in the middle of the pedestrian walkway. That's where America has one advantage that I can confidently bring up over the Euros - showers. Either there is no shower curtain and water goes everywhere, onto the toilet, onto the walls, other there is a shower curtain that only goes half way to the floor. I don't understand it.
   Bulgaria is cheap too. Cup of coffe, strong Turkish coffe too that comes in a tiny shot glass is about fifty cents. A meal for two, less than 8 bucks, a good meal too. We've been content here.

Smolyan, Bulgaria

   After ham and pickle pizza, an old sausage that had the consistency of custard that I bought at the bus station, and a vegetable burrito (that was really a crepe coated in ketchup and filled with pickles), my stomach has gone down hill. Those ocean water yogurts in Turkey that provided so much regularity in my system are no more, and I have been confined for more than a day to the hotel room, to sip water and eat the occasional pretzel stick. And from not eating, I feel very weak. Feeling better now, but maybe I should go vegetarian like Cindy. The thought of meat right now almost causes me to vomit. I'm hoping tomorrow I'll be strong enough to move about.
   This is a very nice town, with the huge mountains of the Rodopi range looming around us. It's cool enough at night to wear a sweatshirt. It's pleasant, and we should be leaving tomorrow for Zlatograd, which is right on the Greek border. One night there, and into Greek, and hopefully its island beaches with no hassle.
   All is well, except my stomach.


July 13, 2010: Athens, Greece

   The Rodopi Mountains of southern Bulgaria had much potential. I imagined going hiking. Visiting rural villages. Swimming in lakes and rivers surrounded by pine trees and mountains. But that's not what I did. What I did was lay in bed in misery for three days, suffering from food poisoning, which grew worse each day.
    When we arrived in Smoyln, I felt off, a little tired. But by night my stomach was obviously falling apart - and I knew why. It was the old sausage that for some reason looked good to my hungry eyes at the bus station. I ate it, and as I ate it, I noted its tight skin that snapped with each bite, to only allow my teeth to dive into ever so soft, custard-like pink flesh. The next day I was in agony, and did my best to eat a little toast, but even that I put down after a bite or two. I stayed in bed all day, not eating. I developed a fever and a cold sweat by sundown, and didn't leave the room for the next 40 hours.
   At night, due to my fever, I was delusional and having insane dreams. All night, and at times while awake, I visioned myself in an endless dark void, in space, and in all directions were these infinitely long shiny metal tubes, stretching into infinity. Each spun in different speeds, some parallel, some crossing over each other, in all directions. And my fever delusioned mind I was in mental agony, trying to come to terms with the fact that none of the spinning shiny pipes were grounded, attached to something solid, since they went into the dark infinite void. And I was horrified by it, grinding my teething, sweating, tossing and turning.
   Then the nightmare began, in which I was compelled to dash to the bathroom. I still had my wits about me to strip completely, and then went to work at purging the poison from my body. It was agony, shivering, glazed with sweat. At one point I passed out in the shower, and slithered back to bed. I felt in the darkness for my place, thought I found it, dropping my weight, thinking that the bed would be below me, but I simply collapsed onto the floor, crushing my jaw and biting my own tongue. At the time the pain was a relief from the nausea and cramps, and I remember being happy to have not gone into a temper tantrum, the sickness freeing me of my regular self.
    THe next day both my eyes had turned blue, and after three days of this I had dropped ten pounds (according to the scale in the bathroom). Day three allowed me to eat a small pancake, and I felt optimistic. I felt better, eating some, and the following day we took a bus to Zlatograd, directly on the Greek border.
   Feeling no sickness any longer, I felt like a hero, and grateful. Zlatograd was a beautiful village in the mountains, a cluster of white plastered houses with dark brown wood roofs and beams, surrounded by dark green pines.
   We took a mini bus to the border, which was only 2 miles away, and suddenly found ourselves being turned around by Greek police. The Greeks were apologetic, but they could not let us pass from Bulgaria. They had no computers and no stamps for stamping passports, and could therefore not process our passports. Only EU nationalaties could pass. WE argued. I complained. I shouted. But to no avail. We were turned away. Such incompetence. We may has well tried to cross into some misrun communist nation. THe mini-bus continued on its way, and a taxi (free) from the hotel came to bring us back. I was livid, and both of us were defeated, sickened by the situation. To get to Greece, to get ANYWHERE, we'd have to backtrack to Plovidiv - 4 hours way. And that is what I did, me cursing and dropping the F-bomb every foot of the way. By nightfall we got some senses back, and decided to take a bus the next day to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, two hours by bus away, and then fly to Greece, Athens, the following day. We did. At the time, I wished Greece would fall into the sea, with all its inhabitants. I told Cindy the only way that this situation can be made right, for us being forced to waste two days and the money involved when were were right on the border. The only justifying that would ease me, at the time, would be a complete nuclear attack on Greece with the entire arsenal of the US.
   Sofia turned out to be a decent place. Calm. And pleasant. The cursing of the Greeks still lingered, but by the time we arrived in Athens after the hour flight all was well.
   Athens is a massive city. Much more organized than in Bulgaria, but big and gritty, like New York in a way. Our hotel, with its rooftop pool is great, but initially we did not like the location. If we were told we were in Cairo or Damascus we'd believe it, and lots of people around at sundown who are obviously on drugs. But after two days it has grown on us - we're just not big lovers of big cities. And Athens is as big as they come, busy, gritty, crowded, diverese - lots of faces from Africa and the Middle East. Sofia was big, but easy. After a few hours on the streets of Athens I am no less strung out and and my nerves fuzzed then when walking around Beijing. Hot too. We've seen the ancient ruins, the Acroppolis and all that non-sense, but I like the food the most - the mousakas, the wine, and the feta cheese and spinach sandwiches. Very good. And the people are nice.
   Tomorrow morning we have to catch at 7:30AM ferry to Syros, four hours away. It's a small place, with olive groves and beaches. Should be a nice getaway from Athens. 

Note: Due to the islands of Greece being so beautiful, I will be discontinuing my email updates. I'd rather look at the blue waters of the Aegean Sea with the Sun sparkling off its gentle waves than write about it in some dingy internet café. Forgive me, but I'll see you when I get home.


 Nicaragua 2009

February 14, 2009: Leaving Again

  It seems like its my habit to travel to faraway, foreign lands, and once there, immediately vow to never leave home again. I did it last year while in Southeast Asia and Panama, the year before while in the Philippinnes and Thailand, and the year before that while in China. Each time I promised myself that I would never travel outside the Western World again, never leave the comforts of home again, and each and every time I break that promise. This year, I've really done myself in.
  In the morning Cindy and I leave for Nicaragua. With us both being teachers, we have next week free. And that's why I'm a teacher - for the 14 weeks of vacation. Any teacher who says they're teaching to make a difference, or because they love kids is one of two things - full of sh#t, or in need of a lobodomy. 
  We felt a need to get away from the dark and depressing weather, and decided to head somewhere warm and sunny - and cheap. Flights to Central America from Boston almost always run less than $400, and sometimes even less than $300. And our modest hotel in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, costs less than 20 bucks/night. So, for a week in the warm sun in a foreign country, less than a grand for two people sounds like a pretty good deal.
  And I'm going to try, really, really try to NOT be myself. A like traveling, a lot, but rarely while I'm actually traveling - only later do I look back and say, "Hey, that was an awesome experience." Most times I'm crying or complaining about how much I like home better, and how stupid it was to leave the 10 mile radius around Woburn. So I better learn to really appreciate the great many positive things there are in the world, and ignore the few negative things - because like it or not, I'm leaving home tomorrow for Nicaragua, and my whole summer is already written off to China, Tibet, Nepal, India, Honduras, Belize, and Guatemala. For someone who dislikes traveling so much, I'm going about my life in a pretty dumb fashion. 
  Out.

February 18, 2009: Managua, Nicaragua

  All is well. My long email just got deleted, which described what we´ve been doing, and I´m not inclined to write again. I´ve wasted enough time in this smoky, dark internet cafe. Volcano lakes and warm seas wait for me to swim in them. I will write once I get home, when I have time to waste in the cold, dark, snow-shovel lands of Boston.

February 19, 2009: Managua, Nicaragua

  We arrived in Managua, Nicaragua's capital, tired and hungry after two connections in DC and Miami. Any place, particularly large cities in the developing world, can be intimidating when arriving for the first time, especially so at night. And this is made worse when your behind is itchy and you're slightly queasy from the ups and downs and unnatural cabin pressurization of several hours of flight.
  I'm always anxious when arriving in a new place, both uncomfortable and invigorated by the fact that I'm in a brand new place, unexplored, with surroundings that I know virtually nothing about. I hate it and love it with a passion. 
  I expected to be mobbed by desperate taxi drivers and peddlers outside the airport doors, so I was relieved when there was no struggle in getting into a taxi and communicating the price and destination. And we were off, with Spanish dancing music played loud, driving in third world style - fast and reckless in the eyes of people accustomed to roads governed by law and reason. 
  As always, the smells coming in from the taxi's open windows let us know that we were in another country, one in the developing world. With all the talk of the environment and being "green" in the United States, the air we breath is amazingly clean-smelling. It is essentially odorless, fresh even in the cities. I never realize how unpolluted America is until I come home from some nation where the average income is less than two grand a year.
  Every poor, hot, "developing" nation I've been to - whether it be Egypt or Laos, or China and now Nicaragua - smells almost the same. First, the stench of engine exhaust is thick in the air. Also, there is always the distinct, but not necessarily bad smell of burning trash, which is commonly piled in small heaps on the road side and left to burn, since most of the world does not enjoy Monday morning trash removal. And always, mixed in with all of this, is the smell of street food, greasy and smoking meats cooked on mobile carts throughout the night. And sometimes, where sewer lines have not been installed or are in disrepair, you may find yourself flinching from the stench of human waste. The third world smells unique, and the smell of diesel exhaust and campfires (which have had a few hot dogs mistakenly tossed into them) or pub restrooms with clogged urinals, sometimes brings memories to me of faraway lands. It's a wild world out there, and we are the ones with the unusual environment.
  Managua is a big, rather ugly city with an abandoned center, which was destroyed by an earthquake over a decade before. The streets are dark, with few street lights. And the buildings consisted mostly of single level, concrete squares made from cinder blocks. The buildings were often covered in Spanish graffitti and topped with barbed wire. Most structures were painted in pastel colors, and where there was no graffitti there were large ads for cerveza (beer) and pollo (chicken). Most of the roads were in disrepair, with large pot holes and stretches of open, rough dirt on smaller streets. For the most part, the streets were empty of people. There were more starving, stray dogs walking about than people. At first glance - and at last a week later, Managua was not an enticing place. Its reputation matched what we saw.
  Our hotel - the Nicaragua Guesthouse - although owned by an extremely nice man, was barely worth the $20 we paid for it. A hotel can make or break a trip, and we are now finished with traveling like lice-infested backpackers. Bright, white flourescent lights that are more suitable for interrogation centers; bare walls as thin as paper; beds, sheets, and pillows that were handmade a decade before my grandfather's birth and most likely bought from brothels; and a cold water bathroom that serves as a watering hole for every insect within the hotel, can make one desire home instantly.
  And outside, pitch darkness, and the sounds of crickets and odd insects of the tropics. Night, I find, to be scary in such cities as Managua. I feel trapped in a tiny lit capsule, vulnerable, and surrounded by God knows what. I never feel comfortable with a place until I can see it in daylight.
  Managua is not a city in the sense that Boston is, with orderly streets and large buildings and apartments and restaurants and cafes. It's as if someone collected thousands of rural, poor homes and shacks from the countryside, gathered them all together tightly, and then dropped them in a chaotic fashion, densely, in a small area and named it Managua. 
  We showered, and forced ourselves to walk down the street - a dirt road - to the Rotunda de la Virgin (Rotary of the Virgin Mary), which we saw from the taxi. A large statue of Mary, nearly 60 feet high, sits in the middle of an automobile rotary, surrounded by grass, food stalls, and people, mostly families and their children. It seemed to be a festive area, full of life, lost in darkness and a maze of shanties. It was well lit, with a Christmas "tree" of colored lights shaped out of steel wires standing next to Mary.
  Along the way, while walking, we passed mostly stray dogs, most starving, their ribs and hips protruding from underneath their thin skin. Most had blotches of furless scabs on their bodies, and the bitches all had long, worn-out nipples that flapped back and forth from their undersides. Mongrel, medium-sized, starving and diseased dogs with long flapping nipples are another sure sign that you're in the developing world, a place where an average American's weekly paycheck would be more than double that of a local's annual income.   
  By the time we got to the Rotunda, most people were begining to leave, and it was emptying out. We stayed at the Rotunda for less than an hour, attracting no attention from the locals - a good thing. We had no desire to return to the hotel, but no idea where we could go either, since outside the rotary it was unlit, nothing of interest in sight. It felt like we were standing in the middle of a night construction site. So we went back to our prison cell of a room for a restless night.
  I may have slept for thirty minutes in total, five minutes here, a minute here, all between the sounds of drunk, unbathed, lice-infested German backpackers screaming, and when they passed out, the sounds of wild dogs howling and barking throughout the night. Finally, with the rising sun, a rooster crowed (another sound you don't hear in our cities), and it was time to get the hell moving, never to spend a night in such a place again. 

February 20, 2009: Grenada, Nicaragua

  Most trips I've taken begin with exhaustion and discomfort, and its something I've begun to expect. Spending the better part of a day eating bad food in planes and airports, to only arrive late at night, disoriented and tired, in a foreign undeveloped country, has for me always been very unmotivating. And I know that it is best to accept this and do one's best to dismiss the first, several, usually frustrating hours in a new land, but its difficult to do in a bug-infested $20 a night room in Managua, listening all night to barking dogs and roaring drunk German backpackers tear apart their room.
  Our first night in Nicaragua was just one from a lifetime, and there have always been far more positive experiences than negative during my travels, contrary to the content of my emails. But, whether you're headed from the airport bound for the Managua Hilton or a $5 a night dorm room in the red-light district - anyone with eyes will certainly not say to themselves about Managua, "This is a really nice city. I'd like to move here." It makes Mattapan or Harlem look like well-to-do middle class neighborhoods.
  But even after a sleepless night, moods can change quickly for the better. After months and months of shoveling snow, clearing ice off windshields during freezing, wet, dark winter mornings, stepping out of my dump of a room into the guesthouse's unexpectantly clean and well-gardened courtyard, all the frustrations of the prior night disappeared and seemed pointless and stupid, and I was happy to be exactly where I was. Above me, blue skies, and a bright, warm sun keeping the air at a perfect 86 degrees. A few palms leaned over above, swaying in the breeze. In the distance, roosters crowing and the sounds of children playing and shouting in Spanish. Oscar, the constantly smiling owner, immediately brought out a table for us and gave us tea, coffee, and fresh fruit - pineapples and mangoes and oranges and bananas from the market around the corner. A perfect morning, and light years away from commuting to work in muddy slush.
  Our plan was to catch a bus to Grenada, about an hour east of Managua. Oscar led us to the corner several blocks away, where a public bus arrived to take us to the main station, and even paid our way (about 2 cents each), since the Cordoba bills we had were far too big to change on the bus. 
  Oscar proved to not be an anomoly as I first cynically believed - he was the way all the Nicaraguans we met were - unbelievably friendly, generous, and honest. I've been to over 40 countries, and especially in the poorer ones, there has always been the scam, the cheat, some way to extort money from tourists - but in Nicaragua, we were not once taken advantage of. Above all else, the people of Nicaragua provide the best reason to visit the country. Sure, the starving, long-nippled dogs were still out. The smell of burning trash was still in the air, as was smothering exhaust. And yes, Managua is ugly, and poor, dirt poor, nothing for the eye to admire. At night it was scary. But with the sun out, the empty streets had become filled with happy-looking people moving about busily, women dressed colorfully, and almost all of them more than eager to wave and shout to you, "Buenos Dias, Amigo!" And if you need help, you'll instantly be surrounded by several willing to do so for nothing in return but a smile - sounds cheesy - but its true.
  All public buses in Nicaragua are old, retired American school buses. Some are painted in rainbow colors, but most are still yellow, some still lettered with official signs like "Illinois State Law Requires You To Stop When Lights Are Flashing". We were the only white people on the bus to the main station, and the bus to Grenada, and some people, especially children, looked at us curiously, but most just smiled and greeted us with "Buenos Dias."
  It was getting hot, but pleasantly so. Sweat poured off me, while the locals wore long pants and some had light jackets on - it was their winter. Some may vouch to take tourist transportation while traveling, but the best way to see a country and a people is to do as they do - public tranport. Besides, it was only an hour to Grenada (only cost $1), and the road was modern, and well maintained, lined with palm trees.
  The bus station in Grenada was over a mile from the center of town, but an old man happily led us all the way. Grenada is a small, colonial Spanish town on the sea-sized Lago de Nicaragua (Lake of Nicaragua), and unlike Managua, has very nice architecture, and a beautiful town square with a large, bright yellow cathedral dominating the skyline. There were some sketchy areas, but overall, it was a nice, clean place populated by friendly, hard working people.
  For $45 a night, we got an extremely nice hotel with a pool and breakfast, which at home would cost close to $200 a night. Nicarauga is cheap, and can easily be seen and eaten in for $50 a day for two people, in very nice accomodations.
  I swam in the pool, laughing at my friends who were all certainly sitting in offices, while I was warmed by the sun. At night, it became cool enough to wear jeans and a button-up comfortably. We roamed about the busy little streets and markets, buying little crafts and odd fruits, having dinner for two bucks, and at night I enjoyed  30 cent 16 ounce beers, and Cindy 25 cent cups of tea. There were few tourists, and mostly locals roaming about, holding hands, eating in cafes, or playing soccer in the central park. A very authentic experience. And always - the music. Nowhere in Nicaragua is there no music - on the buses, the parks, the shops, the streets - always the romantic Latin American music echoing from somewhere.
  The stars were extremely bright and clear over the massive Lago de Nicaragua (which the Spanish first thought was the ocean because of its huge surf and size - over 150 miles long), and after a midnight swim, I fell asleep to the sounds of weird tropical bugs chirping and squeaking outside our room. A world away from Managua, and home.


 Central America 2008 - Panama & Costa Rica


August 11, 2008: Ft. Lauderdale, FL, USA

   Never fly on Spirit Airlines. Our flight to Panama was canceled due to "bad weather", and after we were given several options, we've decided to spend one night in Ft.Lauderdale and then fly to San Jose, Costa Rica tomorrow morning. The worst part is that we have reserved and paid for about $550 in hotels and flights in Panama, and we will probably lose $300 of it - and of course, the airline will not take any responsibility.
   Besides the loss of money, we are optimistic. The hotel here as a pool, and once we get to San Jose all should be well. We'll have two weeks to explore eastern Costa Rica and western Panama. The only thing we will not be seeing in Panama that we had planned on seeing is the Panama Canal.
   We were going to draw straws to see who of the three of us got a bed to himself, but Moreno refuses to take the risk, and has opted instead to sleep on the floor. But to bother him, Quinn and I may just share a bed anyways.
   There was a small Japanese man, older, who checked in at the same time as us. And his room was next to ours, so before going into our room, while he was opening his door, we stood patiently behind him, as if we were with him, ready to go into the room.
   "The man downstairs put us together."
   "No." He said slowly. "There must be a mistake."
   "He said this is the only room. The four of us have to share this room."
   "But there are only two beds? We do not know each other so well."
   Then Quinn laughed out loud, and so did the man.
   Let's just hope our flight leaves for San Jose tomorrow as planned. Spirit airlines. I give them my stamp of DISapproval.     

August 12, 2008: Cahuita, Costa Rica

At the airport in Ft.Lauderdale, we sat in fear as we heard four Spirit flights get canceled. We all believed that our new flight to San Jose, Costa Rica would also be canceled, and we had already agreed on what to do, which was to rent a convertible sports car and drive home from Florida, taking two weeks to do so. But, the flight was on schedule, and we got to San Jose, the country's capital, on time.
   San Jose sits right in the middle of Costa Rica, high up in the mountains, so I was surprised when it was actually cooler than home, and cold at night. Although our taxi ride from the airport was at speeds nearing 100mph, the roads were modern, or perhaps just seemed so after spending time in Cambodia. As soon as we arrived at our cozy guesthouse in Barrio Amon, it began to downpour violently. But we had a room that could fit all three of us for only 36 bucks in total, and were content enough.
   Moreno's mood took a turn for the worst when he realized he had left his $250 IPOD in the back of the taxi. For the rest of the evening, he was not the happiest of people, and was rather unpleasant to be around, but so would I if I had taken the same loss as him. Moreno had fretted about not tipping the taxi driver just a moment before he realized his IPOD was gone, so I reassured him afterwards that the IPOD made a great tip. He didn't take it well. While Quinn and I ate excellent food, beans, rice, plantains, and beef at one of the many food stalls, Moreno raged off to a nearby bar. By 8PM and 8 beers later, he was in a better mood, so long as you didn't mention the IPOD.
   San Jose was nice enough. A bit rundown in American standards, but was busy with lots of bars playing Latin music and Reggae and restaurants and shops. It has enough to hold your attention pleasantly for a day, but not much more. But it is in a great location, surrounded on all sides by big, green mountains. And the crisp, cool air is nice.
   We went to the Del Ray Hotel because we were told it was home to the world's most beautiful women, but we realized immediately that it was just a front to a giant casino and brothel or cathouse, the term I prefer. The place was actually fancy and well kept with marble floors and chandeliers, a rancid hole at all. Upon entering and sitting at a table, nearly ten women wearing nearly nothing sat at tables near us, not being discreet at all about their line of work or their cleavage.
   "You're a very handsome man."
   "Then you need glasses, I for one think I'm ugly as sin." If only their endless compliments were honest.
   For every guy there were a half dozen girls strolling about. None of us sinned, really, and as soon as the girls realized with some disappointment that we wouldn't be persuaded to pay for their company, some actually talked to us like normal people. We were curious about their rates and services, and why they did what they did. Most were working to pay for school. Quinn and I said we'd pay for an hour with one, so long as Quinn and I could lay in bed under the covers together, while she read to us from a rocking chair. She laughed. Hey, it is what it is, and I thought such places only existed in James Bond movies or in rap videos, but they do, even for guys dressed in matching bathing suits.
   The next morning, at 6AM, we took a bus through some amazing mountains, thick steaming jungle where some trees were as wide as the bus we were in. After an hour, the mountains suddenly vanished and we drove through flat plains filled with banana trees.
   And after another two hours, we reached Cahuita, which sits on the Caribbean Sea, about 30 miles west of the Panama border. The place is so small, and so relaxed. A few shops and guesthouses, palm trees, and the crashing of waves in the warm water. We spent the remainder of the day at the beach, and until sunset I slept in a hammock. For dinner, the best burritos of my life. I think I may come to Costa Rica again, and Cahuita just may be the epitome of a tropical paradise.
   We all agreed that it was best to cut out the interior underwear from our bathing suits, because it is more comfortable, and it did end up giving us a good laugh. A girl, maybe Australian, not so attractive, walked by us while the three of us were sitting on a palm log.
   "You do know that all your balls are hanging out?"
   By the time we registered what she had said, she was 30 feet away, and we burst out in laughter.
   "Go ask her if mine were bigger, I wanna know." Quinn said. "Go on."
   We plan on spending two nights here. Our room has no electricity or hot water, but in such a place, with the door to our bungalow only 40 feet from the crashing waves, we don't care. On Thursday we think we'll be crossing the border into Panama, bound for another beach paradise, Bocas de la Tores. So that was yesterday and today, even if I may be punished by my young bride when I return home.

August 13, 2008: Cahuita, Costa Rica

   "Are you two fools really going back to read? It's not even nine yet?" Moreno asked. "Is this reading rainbow or some sh#t?"
   "Yeah, right by the water." I said. "I got a good science fiction book for you. It's about aliens..."
   "Man, I feel like I'm with a bunch of old ladies. It's vacation in Costa Rica, bars are packed, girls wearing barely nothing, and you two go to bed," Moreno complained. "I'll see you later. I'll go drinking alone."
   Moreno had his own room, for 15 bucks, and Quinn and I were sharing a double for 25 bucks. Quinn and I were tired, and both of us, even me, were in a deep sleep by ten o'clock.
   At 5 the next morning Moreno woke us from what we both agreed to be one of the best sleep's of our life, nothing puts you to sleep better than open surf only a few dozen feet away. It turned out that Moreno had locked himself out of his room, had lost his glasses, making him virtually blind, especially after a dozen beers, and had had no choice but to sleep in one of the hammocks outside. When he first came into the room, I barely recognized him, since his face was so riddled and swollen with mosquito bites. After hearing his story, we burst out in laughter.
   "It ain't funny. I even had a girl coming back with me too." He cursed. "And I can't see anything. It took me an hour to get back here." The bar he was at was no more than 200 yards away. "If I don't find those glasses, I'm going home."
   "You ain't going anywhere but Panama, blind or not." I said, a smirk on my face.
   "And if we have to, John and I will lead you around by the arms, and you can get one of those sticks with the golf balls on the end, stumble around." Quinn said holding in his laugh. "And all the girls will think we're so nice, philanthropists, for taking our poor blind friend on vacation."
   "Girls do like blind guys." I agreed.
   The jokes were not recieved well, to say the least.
   Moreno eventually found his glasses in the bushes outside by the hammocks, and by noon, after a good breakfast all was well. We were all best friends again.
   We spent the day at the beach, and it truly is wonderful here. The water is so warm, and the waves are constant and strong. The whole beach is lined with palm trees, so you can lay in the shade and doze off or burn up in the sun. Costa Rica, so far, unless there are some soon to be disasters, is truly a wonderful travel destination.
   Most of Costa Rica has a Latin population, Spanish speaking, but in Cahuita, on the Carribean coast, there are many Africans who speak English. It reminds me a bit of the Bahamas, the same feel. A lot of rasta men.
   After the beach, I spent the whole afternoon until sundown taking turns reading and napping in the hammock, as the waves crashed nearby. It would only cost $300 to rent a room here for a month, and I think it would be possible for me to do so. There is no stress here at all, just relaxation and sun, with the occasional drizzle at sundown, so the locals say.
   We're all getting along very well, if not having laughs here and there at each other's expense. Cahuita is a nice little town, but Quinn is scared to go out now, since some teenager called him a "p#ssyboy" for not buying weed from him. Their waiting for me now at a nearby by. So I guess it's time to have a few beers.
   Tomorrow morning we'll be bussing and boating it to Bocas del la Toras in Panama. Part of our journey there will be through some canals that the Chiquita Banana company builts many years ago to bring bananas to ships waiting off shore.
   We have nothing lined up in so far as hotels, but we'll be fine. There's a certain freedom you get when you have no obligations or reservations. We'll just go, confident it will work out, which it will.
  
August 15, 2008 - Boca del Toras, Isla Carenero, Panama

   I don´t have much time to write today, nor will I for a few two more days. We have made it to a small island in the Boca del Toras islands, specifically Isla Carenero. There is really nothing here in regards to the modern world, so I had to ask some guy at a bar to quickly use his laptop computer.
   This place is absoluately stunning. The beach here is beautiful. And the water is warm, hot almost. It is definately a place like paradise.
   I should go now. So all is well. Wé´ve made a change of plans, and will be going back to Costa Rica from here, to Cahuita again, or the areas near it. We thought we´d rather spend the rest of the the time at the beach, in hammocks, than traveling about further south. I´ll write again in a few days, probably two.

August 17, 2008 - Puerto Veijo, Costa Rica

   Originally we had planned to go south in Panama from the islands of Bocas del Toros to the mountain jungles near the city of David, but because we'd have to leave the beautiful beaches and spend many hours on buses, we decided not to. We really won't be missing anything. We wanted to go to David to take zip lines through the jungle canopy, but we'll be able to do that in Costa Rica, nearer the beach.
   Bocas del Toros consists of dozens upon dozens of islands, with Isla Colon being the main one, the town of of Bocas del Toros on its southern tip. It was somewhat like Venice, with the entire coast being covered with the piers and docks of restaurants and hotels, with few cars but countless taxi boats darting about at cheap prices. It was an interesting place, with lots of bars and cafes, but no beach. Our hotel was nice, clean, and we could dive off it's dock into the water, but we left for the nearby island of Carenero after one night by water taxi.
   To careen a ship means to take it into shallow water, lean it on one side, and clean and maintain it. Columbus did that on Isla Carenero, and that's where it gets its name from. The place has no cars, no roads, just sandy paths through palm trees, where here and there there were guesthouses and hotels right on the very warm, very still water. We stayed at the Dona Mara Hotel, and it was absolutely perfect, a perfect beach paradise. And it was interesting to think of Columbus coming ashore over 500 years ago on the same place I was reading my nerdy science fiction novels. All the islands of Bocas del Toras, "the mouth of the bull", was named by Columbus too, because there is a cave on Isla Carenero that spouts water with the crashing waves, sounding like an angry bull from a distance.
   So, we spent two nights on Carenero, and did nothing but sit in the sun, swim in the water which really was hot in some places, and nap in hammocks. Everywhere you look there are fish, starfish, and pelicans dipping into the water to eat. Think of Corona beer commericials, and that's what Carenero was like. Perfect.
   Moreno and Quinn went to the beautiful Red Frog Beach on another island nearby, but I stayed alone for the day, reading and swimming. I had grown tired of arguing, arguing about who's cheaper, dumber, and fatter. I may be the cheapest, but certainly not the fattest or dumbest. So it was a nice day alone.
    There were little hermit crabs everywhere, which darted into little holes on the sandy edge of the jungle, and at night, while walking about without any light but the moon, we wondered what the constant scurrying and scratching sounds were around us. Moreno had a flashlight, and we discovered that at night large crabs, with bluish orange heads the size of baseballs and white claws the size of scissors, took over the land. Some I bet would be big enough to kill a small cat.As we walked down the paths, they would scurry past us, disappearing into their borrows. So fast and big. But walking on the beach at night really was great, with the moon shining on the water.
   "If you were a blonde, with a killer body, I'd take you to bed right now." Quinn said to Moreno while we walked the beach. "If I was a hot girl, would you want me?
   "Well, I'm not, and no.."
   "Put on a wig then."
   "Yeah, put on a wig. You'd look sexy."
   "I don't want to hear this right now."
   I think it was destiny that Moreno lose his glasses, because he did last night. A hostel on the island had a party, and with all the alcohol and nonsense, it was bound to happen. I guess I'm the cheapest, and Quinn is the fattest. And that leaves just one remaining award for poor Moreno. At least we all have our passports, and awards handed out accordingly.
   "I wanna be the fattest."
   "You can't. You're already the cheapest."
   "Man. Come on."
    So we're back in Costa Rica now, in Puerto Veijo, on the Caribean Sea. We plan on going back to Cahuita for four nights, since we liked it there so much. In Panama there were lots of retired Americans, and the dollar was the only currency used, so we had to change our money back into Costa Rican Colons, but we're here, and content enough.
   Three guys traveling together has its downs, the fights and dominance games, but its great, certainly an experience that would make a great sitcom. The three of us are nothing but cheap, dumb, and fat fools.
August 18, 2008 - Cahuita, Costa Rica

   We're back in Cahuita, in the same hotel, and the same room as last week. We'll be here for four nights, and then head back to San Jose for our final night and to catch our flight home Saturday at noon. We only hope Spirit Airlines will actually provide our flights ontime.
   Quinn and I are going snorkeling tomorrow morning, and the three of us plan on going for a trip into the jungle, to walk 200 hundred feet about the forest floor in the canopy, where you can take zip lines for miles and miles, with dozens upon dozens of tree top stations. There are sloths and all kinds of frogs and snakes and flowers to see. Supposedly, Costa Rica has the most diverse lifeforms in such a small area as anywhere on Earth.
   The life here is great, and many Americans and Europeans retire here, or just plain drop their lives and live here for a few hundred bucks a month. It would take some getting used to, because on the beach here, every day is the same, and you lose track of time. But maybe someday...
   Anyways, time for a few Costa Rican 50 cent beers. Goodnight in the tropics.


August 21, 2008 - Cahuita, Costa Rica

   It's been a lazy four days here in Cahuita. Not much else to do than sleep in until 9 or so, get a good breakfast and excellent cup of coffee, take a dip in the pool, then a dip in the ocean, get some sun, have a good lunch and a nap, then take another dip in the ocean and pool, get some rice and beans for dinner, then a few Imperial Costa Rican beers and bed before 11.
   Cahuita may look a bit run down at first glance, but I guess the town takes on the attitude of the people - relaxed, with no need to move too fast or worry about anything. It can be a bit sketchy here at night, with a few scrawny Jamaicans selling ganja or weed wandering about barefoot, seeming to look for some foolish prey, but if you're not stupid, you're fine. There's more tourists here than anyone else, two of which got beat up at the bar last night for some unknown reason by some locals.
   So Quinn and I went snorkeling the other day. A boat took us right from the front of Spencer's Hotel, from their own dock 40 feet from our room, out to the coral reefs. It was impressive, but the water was not very clear, and the reef seemed to have a slight dusting of silt. But, there were still droves of fish, some amazingly bright in color, as if they were being lit from inside by some little electric bulb. A few times I dove down 15 feet or so, farted, and tried to beat the bubble back to the surface, which I did most times. Once I even caught one of my own bubbles in my mouth for Quinn to see - and we're both still very proud.
   But today.....man, was it a truly awesome, thrilling experience coasting on zip lines above the rainforest's canopy. We were all a little nervous, but for the most part, I thought zip lining was more of a passive activity, in which you glide through the forest on a steel cable, enjoying the view. Some may be, but this experience was not relaxing or passive at all. It was pure adreniline, AWESOME in the true sense of the word, and for Moreno and me at times, very frightening.
   From Cahuita, it was about 40 minutes by car to the rainforest, where we were trained on the proper handling of the cables and grips. And then, off you go with what really accounts to know training - gravity does most of it.
   We took a tractor up into the mountains, thick jungle, with huge leaves the size of doors, and little bright red frogs, huge spiders, and leaf-cutter ants marching around. And monkeys too, small black ones with white faces. Then you climb a ladder up the side of a massive tree, where a hundred feet or so up there is a steel grate or station, where the cable is tied on to, a double cable, each one an inch in diameter, able to hold several cars. You have a harness on, and at all times you are either attached to the tree support, or the cable itself. Once on the cable by two clips, we were told to hold on to the strap coming from our crotches and connecting to the cable, and just go with gravity, nothing to do but enjoy the ride.
   One guide went ahead, and for a few minutes you could hear the zipping sound of him going off, a long way. They wait for you at each station, 12 in total. And once guide stays behind to secure you to the cable. I went first, and off I went, maybe 10 feet above some smaller trees, and larger ones to my sides and above me, and then, suddenly, the ground was 400 feet below me, a rocky river, and more than a quarter mile, 1500 feet, of empty cable ahead of me. You have two choices, close your eyes and cry, or shout profanities. I did the latter, it it was like nothing I have done before, more exhilarating than skydiving. Unbelievable. When I got to the other side, I came to a halt about thirty feet from the station, so I had to spin around backwards, and hand over hand, pull myself to the station, while 400 feet below rocks waited for me. Unbelievable.
    We did another cable, just as long, over jungle, with leaves hitting our legs, while holding on with two hands. This time I made it all the way, but Moreno didn't. He stopped about thirty feet out, panicked a bit, and tried to hold on to the cable with his arms, cutting them, flailing about. The guide went out to get him. Moreno was stunned, but more in a positive way than anything else. Awesome. 
    But the final 10 cables required you to hold on with only one hand. But even if you let go completely and didn't hold on at all, you'd still be fine, but it would be horrifying to be attached by the single crotch cord to the steel cabl, spinning about. Holding on gives you some stability to stop from spinning, and just gives you SOMETHING to hold on to for mental security. So with one hand you hold on, and with the other you hold onto the cable behind you, as a break, since you have this really heavy leather glove and an attached leather slider. You pull down, you slow down. You release, you increase speed, up to 40 mph.
    So off I went, feeling insecure about holding on with one hand. I had no idea how hard to really pull the break, and about halfway out, as I wanted to try it out a bit, 400 feet up, and close to 1000 feet of empty cable in either direction, I pulled to hard and violently spun around, backwards, still going fast. My break hand came off the cable, and I felt as if I was going to fall. Never, NEVER in my life have I been so scared and in shock, even more so than a fatal car accident I was in years ago. It is such a horrifying feeling to be dangling by a cord one inch thick, and nothing else, so high up. I felt so helpless and out of control. Eventually, proud as I am to say, I came out of the fear and got my balance back, and gradually reduced my speed, careful to put my break hand behind the moving clip, not in front, as that would crush your hand and possible dislodge your body's cord off the cable, and down you go. F# ck. Nothing like it before in my life.
   When I got to the station, my body was exhausted, and I was really shooken up, although I may not have shown it. Moreno's knees were shaking, and his hands and legs, but he was laughing, happy about his experience so far. I, was truly frightened to go on using the hand break. I just made me feel as if I had no control. Just the slightest touch of it decreased your speed so quickly, that any sudden movement could send you spinning recklessly, making you panic. AHHHH. The thought of it now scares me.
   I did a few more short runs, meaning more than a football field, but still felt awfully scared and insecure about using the break. I told them that I had to walk back, than I was done. But, 150 feet up in the jungle canopy, there were no ladders down, the only way out was the last two cables, both nearly a quarter mile in length. I had to go, every muscle in my body tight. I made it without going out of control, but I was really frightened, maybe of the height, but more so of taking another violent spin so, helpless.
     Unless you do it, you just can't understand how long a 1500 cable is, 400 feet high. So far, that you can just barely see the opposite station, and just barely see the people there. At first glance, without looking closely, it would be invisible in the distance, behind the fog of the forest. Crazy.
    God. This has been the ultimate highlight of the trip, and as crazy as I may sound to myself, I could try it again. And to think, there were cables that we could try that were over a mile in length, half mile up. Forget that. 
    Tomorrow we are off to San Jose, the capital, and we should be catching our flight home Saturday at noon. After zip lining, few things could be more of a rush, but keep your fingers crossed for us that Spirit Airlines keeps its promise to get us home. Over and out.
  
  




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