New York, New York…wattawunnerfultown

Since I last wrote we have been in and out of the big apple.

We left Virginia and traveled through West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and finally arrived at the home of our friends, Analisa & John who live north of New York City (Manhattan). A good time was had by all at the park enjoying s’mores and sharing a delicious meal and great conversation. In the morning, we packed a backpack and, armed with tips and recommendations for our days in the city, we left the motor home in their yard and took the train into Manhattan. We had heard horror stories of parking rates as high as $15/hour (yes, per HOUR)(!!) and we shuddered at the thought of the Dolphin lumbering down Park Avenue with cabbies honking behind and beside us. It felt funny to be free of our home on wheels again after such a short time back in it, but we soldiered on…little did we realize the amount of walking we would be facing in the big city.

Our first stop was Grand Central Station. Our first stop in GCS was in the restroom where I noticed the signs above the hand dryers that these were to be used for HANDS ONLY! (caps and exclamation marks exactly like on the signs). I didn’t see anyone taking liberties with the dryers and it was later that someone explained that people using the restroom to clean up before work may be found drying their hair at the blow dryers in the station. I guess when you live in a city as crowded as this one, you begin to think the public spaces are private places and behave accordingly. You’d certainly think so when hearing some of the conversations people have on their phones!

We headed up in a subway train towards Central Park with plans to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“the Met”). We walked around the entire building only to learn that it was closed on Mondays, so we headed to the other end of the park where Keegan and I visited the Central Park Zoo. Michael decided to sit on a bench outside and wait for us since he was already done with all the walking the city demanded of us. Woody Allen says that Californians would take a cab to get to the curb, and after a few hours in NY, this Californian would have to agree with him.

We got up close and personal with the birds in the aviary, and this one even posed for a picture! Our luck held out as we were by the clock just when it struck three, so we got to see the whole clock show made famous in the movie, “Madagascar”. It may have been famous before that, but I didn’t know about it.

The evening was spent in Brooklyn with Joel and Conor. Joel was a student of mine when I taught junior high a million years ago and through the wonders of Facebook, he has become my friend once again. It had been 25 years since I’d seen him last and I enjoyed an evening with him and his partner, Conor. Conor is a chef and made us a terrific pasta dinner complete with wines from Italy. I got us lost on the way to Joel’s and we took a subway into the wrong part of Brooklyn and then managed to make our way to the right part of Brooklyn after a moment of panic at being in the wrong place right on time. It was a harrowing experience and I’ve learned my lesson to get my directions correct before stepping foot on the trains. The upside is that we became pretty adept at the trains and said things like the locals…”Is this train heading uptown?”, “is this a local or express?”, or, to really blend, we’d say nothing, stare straight ahead with a sullen or pensive expression and never, never make eye contact, ever. I thought the subways were like an extended elevator ride without the muzak.

The next morning we headed out to the Staten Island Ferry for our chance to see the Statue of Liberty. For Free!

In order to go onto the island, you would take a special “Liberty Island” ferry. In order to walk up to the crown, you need reservations about six months in advance! To get into the lower section of the monument, you only need a few weeks. We had neither. We could have been one of the crowd walking around outside the monument at its base, but we opted for the ferry. (Also to get tix for entering the monument, you have to give the name and birthdate of any person who will be entering the monument) (National Security was in full force at the Smithsonian and at all New York transit/tourist destinations!)

Michael was disappointed in the statue’s size and proved that she was much smaller than had been reported.

Next stop, The Met for the much awaited trip to the Egyptian collection, complete with mummies!

Unfortunately I do not know how to turn the flash off on my new camera, so no pics from the Met.

Then, just as it began to rain, we shortened our stay in Manhattan and headed back to Analisa & John’s. The City, I’m sad to say, beat us. We were still struggling with the museum fatigue of the Smithsonian and we didn’t have the strength for the streets of New York. With the promise of Niagara Falls on the horizon, we went back and enjoyed another evening with our friends and set sail this morning across New York to see the famous Niagara Falls…

“Niagara Falls. Slowly I turn. Step by step. Inch by inch…” Bonus points if you can tell me who said that. I’m pretty sure Mark knows this one.

Life lesson: plan ahead whenever possible…be open to spontaneity, but go in with a plan. Without one, you may do much less than you hoped and walk much, much more.

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Sailing, Sailing

As promised, here is a blast from my not too distant past…But before I go there…Today at the waterpark was excellent. We thought we would finally have a cool day, but the sun came out and heated everything up. This was a small, public waterpark with only two slides, a gigantic pool and a couple of water playgrounds that served to cool us off. The best part was that when Michael and I were pretty much done for the day, the sky opened up and poured along with thunder and lightning to shut the complex down. We didn’t need to drag Keegan away from the waterpark, they closed due to the electrical storm and we hit the road for Pennsylvania. Tonight we are sleeping in Pennsylvania and tomorrow we’ll head into New York. We drove through West Virginia and Maryland to get here! For a Californian that is an amazing thing to think we’ve been in FOUR states today!

The blog below finds us in Colombia preparing to travel to Panama. The date…March 26, 2011.

Now there are many ways to get from South America to Central America. You can take an airplane; quick, easy and safe but expensive. You can buy a machete and hack your way through the Darien, a dense section of the rain forest that is impassable by car; neither quick, nor easy, nor safe. You can smuggle out with drug runners. This is probably quick, but to be honest I did not explore this option. Or, you can sail. Sailing is such a romantic notion. There are many captains offering sailing trips from Cartagena to Panama. Sloops, catamarans, and yachts dot the harbor beckoning to the explorer in you to take a chance and throw in your lot with the seafaring sort. (Can you guess which option we chose???)

We found an enticing flyer and had recommendations from the folks we had met in Cartagena and we chose to sail on “Fritz the Cat” a catamaran that had cabins for 10 and could comfortably hold about 12 people on board. We sailed with 13 passengers , 3 crew, 1 dog and 2 motorcycles. This stretched the boundaries of comfort from the get-go, but we gamely sailed on. Once your money and your passports are in Fritz’ hand, you are not getting your ID back until you reach land in Portobello, Panama.

This is the long shot view of the Catamaran called “Fritz the Cat”.

Keegan’s first job on board was juicing limes for the ever present limeade. No one was getting scurvy on this trip! That is a bucket of “limes” in the foreground. I never want to taste limeade again for as long as I live, but I did think the juicer was nifty.

This is a shot of our “cabin” which they referred to as the “honeymoon suite”. All three of us slept in this space which was hot and stuffy, but at least we could watch ourselves in the mirror. And we had a private bathroom which we shared with the other folks sleeping on this side of the boat.

This is our bathroom. What it lacked in size, it made up for in smell.

This is me on the boat…

I am most likely repeating an anti-nausea mantra since I got seasick on the second day out and stayed sick for the three days we were at sea. I was miserable. I also sat in the sun too long and got terrifically sunburned. You may have noticed the negative comments on the previous pictures. I did not enjoy the trip. I was ready to take a plane from any port anywhere to fly into Panama. That was not to be. Once we were sailing among the islands of the Kuna Yala, I was much happier.

This is Keegan with our captain and the canine companion to the trip. On the whole, Keegan had some fun steering the boat and looking out over the waves and having some sympathetic seasickness that didn’t last too long. He saw flying fish, dolphins and lots and lots of ocean. He and Michael spent a lot of quality time together during the trip. I will see if I can access some pics that were taken by another passenger…I took none, Michael took a few.

The trip was three days at sea and then two days in the Kuna Yala snorkeling and swimming. The last day was again at sea, though not so far out and then we arrived in Panama. A quick bus ride and we made it to Panama City. Keegan became adept at snorkeling and we saw some small coral reefs with lots of colorful fish. An exciting thing for a novice snorkeler! His swimming improved by leaps and bounds (kicks and strokes?) with so much time in the water.

 

Life lesson: Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it… or, if you find yourself preparing to sail and the ship’s captain assures you that they have meds on board to address seasickness, be sure to carry your own anyway, especially if even the thought of a carnival ride already makes you a little bit woozy.

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Getting Up to Date

So, I am trying all kinds of new things to get my blogging back on track. My latest scheme is to blog about today and then go back and talk about something that we did that I haven’t yet blogged about. I am getting quite the backlog of adventures and they aren’t getting written up because of some previous adventure that wasn’t yet written up…so here goes…

We are currently in a GREAT campground in Centreville, Virginia in a county park. We are just 23 miles from Washington, DC and today we are going to the waterpark (yes, WATERPARK!)(slides and all!) that is located within the campground. Because it is early in the season, we are one of only about 20 campers here in a very large park. We are one with the birds and squirrels and the trees, oh the trees! I have often heard people from this part of the world comment on the lack of trees in California and I never understood what they were talking about until now. This place is lousy with trees. Deciduous trees, evergreens, conifers…you name it. They are here and all cozying up to each other. I can now see how Red Riding Hood could’ve gotten lost in the woods.

The weather is hot and humid. That sentence does not do justice to how miserably hot and humid it has been since we touched down in Florida. Yesterday we toured the Smithsonian (part of it) and the walking (and the sweating) were unbelievable. Give me dry heat any day.

 

We found a great parking space just across from the Washington Monument. For FREEEEEEE. And then we went on foot to find the wonders of the Smithsonian…

Keegan had the whole situation in the palm of his hand. (hahaha, I crack me up.)

At the Air & Space Museum we saw lots of planes and rockets and I didn’t take any pics because we did that at Cape Canaveral, Florida…or was it at the Air Force Museum in Texas? Either way, I have plenty of pics of planes and rockets and space vehicles and all that stuff. (all the right stuff)

 

 

 

 

 

Now this was an original. This airplane took second place in the paper airplane contest at the Air & Space Museum.

Air pressure (just air!) is holding this ball up. How does it do it? It’s simple physics, people. (translation: I can’t explain it)

And then on to the Museum of Natural History… dinosaurs and photo ops.

 

After six hours our brains were full and our legs were tired. I know that they say you need days and days to visit the Smithsonian, but we found that we were on sensory overload after one day. We stepped into the Museum of American History and that looked awesome, too. We will have to visit another time, not today.

Today is waterpark day! It is also the first day in two weeks that is not expected to be in the 90s. Wouldn’t you know it? It is currently overcast and cool. Actually comfortable! Ah well, it will still be fun and Keegan has been looking forward to it for days. It is finally Saturday and the park opens in an hour.

Tonight we drive…possibly as far as Philadelphia to be in NY on Sunday…I’ll keep you posted.

 

Life lesson: Museums hold things which house memories of our man-made history; these can be overwhelming when looked at as a group. Nature holds our past, present and future and is awe-inspiring when experienced on small or large scale. Nature wins.

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The Grossest Tourist Attraction EVER

I am getting a bit ahead of myself as I haven’t introduced you to Cartagena yet, but I have built up this topic and I can’t have you waiting around forever for it.

Outside of Cartagena is a volcano that is visited only by tourists. Locals may work there, but they never go in, unless it is to go in with the tourists. It is a MUD volcano and these are naturally occurring formations that dot the coast of Colombia. Cartagena is host to this volcano and busloads of tourists are loaded up several times a day to risk life and limb on the rickety stairs and to be dunked in the volcanic ash mud. It is sold as healthy and rejuvenating to the skin, but, honestly, what it is is gross and better experienced than thought about.

Our trip began at 2 in the afternoon with an hour long bus ride to the volcano site. The bus stopped at every youth hostel and Lonely Planet hotel in Cartagena until it was full up and we were headed out of town. German, French, Canadian and American tourists filled the bus and the air of excitement was palpable. A volcano? Of MUD? How exotic! How Exciting! And then we arrive…

That is the volcano of mud behind Keegan. We have been instructed to take off all jewelry and hand over the camera to the locals working this venue. We do with trepidation as we know that our valuables could walk away at any moment, but we needn’t have worried. These folks get paid (by us) for holding these things and taking the pictures. The remainder of the pictures posted here were taken by our personal photographer at the volcano of mud.

This is the last picture of Michael pre-mud bath. Here he is assuring the attendant that he doesn’t need help and is not so keen on the massage that has been offered.

Michael has been dunked and prepared for his close-up. Then he will be shoved over to the massage section. The mud/ash is very dense and you float on the surface. It is thick and smells like ash. (yes, that was ash. With an “h”)

These guys hang out in the mud all day and “massage” it into the tourists. It is more like being frosted than massaged and they are careful avoid sensitive areas, but I couldn’t help but think that they hang out in there all day rubbing mud into group after group of muddy tourists. Since you float on the mud, you are just kind of pushed towards the next massage guy and then pushed out of the way to float for the remainder of your time in the mud. This affords you plenty of time to think about what you have gotten yourself into.

Now it’s my turn and Michael is helping out with the massage. That look was frozen on my face in all pictures from this event. I am caught between hilarity, incredulity and revulsion. I later moved to surrender. Never quite acceptance, but surrender, nonetheless.

Keegan, on the other hand, LOVED it! If he could have ducked under, he would have. From this picture, it looks like he may have. He swam, floated, crawled and didn’t want to get out. He was the last one of our group to leave the mud and only left because the locals working the volcano insisted upon it.

This is our family portrait from the mud…

You can see how pleased Keegan is with the whole thing and Michael and I have on our game faces. You can also see the “massage” happening in the background and the size and scope of the group soak in the mud. I forgot to mention that the mud is not warm, rather it is ambient temperature and it is very dense, fully supporting your body weight although it is purported to be 200 feet deep.

The end of this event is not photographed, but ends the day perfectly. After climbing down the rickety steps covered in slippery slimy mud you are escorted into the water by a local washer woman. She then proceeds to wash the mud from your body in the nearby lake. She pulls off your suit whether you want her to or not and rinses it out in the water while you try to clean up the parts that were, until that time, covered. The lake bottom is deep in volcanic mud and your toes ooze through the mud as a final reminder of your time in the volcano. There is already another group in the volcano as they entered immediately after we vacated.

We then return to the area of the bus where a table of freshly cut watermelon awaits us. The massage guys, camera guys, washer women and other helpers come up and ask for their fee. 300 colons (about $1) are requested for each service rendered. They know exactly who they helped and approach you fully knowing that you will pay them. We were briefed in the bus about the services and the fees and were told that we could refuse, though the locals didn’t seem to know this and did not understand the English word “no”, although it is exactly the same as the Spanish word, “no”.

When asked if they ever got in the volcano for a soak they laughed and said no. It seems it is only the gringoes, and the crazy ones at that, who are fool enough to pay money to travel to a mountain of mud, climb up and into the mountain of mud, soak in the mud and then wash the mud off in the lake before traveling back to the cleanliness and comfort of their hotels.

Life lesson: Do your research and think these things through. If it sounds kind of gross when you hear about it, it’s probably really gross when you step (sink) into it.

 

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Last Shots of San Gil, Colombia

Before you can see the grossest tourist attraction ever (and the pictures of us immersed in it), I want to share some parting shots of San Gil.

This blog wouldn’t be complete without a pic of Multiplied. Keegan wanted a pet at every stop along the way and since we’d be in a hotel room for a week here that was located right next door to a pet shop of sorts, we gave in and Multiplied joined us for our time in San Gil and here are some pics of him (her?)

This is a pic of Multiplied in the cage. And here is one of him clinging to the curtain rod while evading capture.

He was a friendly little parakeet that, for a day or two, would sit on Keegan’s finger and nibble on his ear. After he got out a few times he became more skittish and developed the demon eye you see in the photograph. (just kidding. Red eye repair doesn’t seem to work on parakeets.) And, as to the name, I’ll have to have Keegan explain that to me again and I’ll get back to you. We gave Multiplied, cage and all, to the receptionist at the hotel for her young son. She was very happy and assured us that the bird would have a good home (and a new name, I bet.)

This was a fun picture of a local restaurant that was never open when we went by, so we can’t recommend it apart from the sign.

Too bad the original Gringo Mike didn’t show up for a triptych, but my gringo men did their part to boost the local economy and the morale of the passersby.

The obligatory shot of two old guys feeding the pigeons in the Centro. The difference here is that every few minutes the fellow on the left would slowly lean down until he could snatch a pigeon up and pet it for a few minutes before letting it go. Do you think the bandage hides a pigeon induced injury? Doesn’t that pigeon in front look like a seagull/pigeon cross breed?

This pigeon flew to a high window and watched until it was safe to fly back down. I’m thinking he’d been snatched up and petted one time too many.

 

 

Keegan with a cotton candy beard.

I miss cotton candy in tumblers spun onto cardboard tubes. This was sold in bags, but still tastes just the same and disappears as quickly. (I am resisting saying, “Back in My Day, you didn’t buy cotton candy in bags from street vendors at every hoity toity tourist attraction, you waited in line at the Circus or the Boardwalk and you dropped it on the ground and it got covered in sawdust and people stepped on it and you ate it anyway because that was all you were getting and crying wouldn’t do you any good and you liked it.”)(and when I say I am resisting saying that, I mean that I am going to go ahead and write it. I hope you read it in a crochety old man voice because that’s the way I wrote it.)

This old guy would walk up and down the streets with the pile of rebar under his arm. Yes, of course, we gave him some money. We thought he looked like the picture below that was hung in our favorite breakfast restaurant.

 

Life Lesson: We prefer the small towns to the big cities. What they lack in culture they make up in personality.

 

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Adventure Travel Colombia, part 2…The Parque National

National parks are near and dear to our hearts since in the US they provide half price camping to “Golden Agers” and we have availed ourselves of these campsites on many, many occasions. ($4/night on the Gulf of Mexico in Texas was our best deal yet) National parks in Colombia are a whole different matter. They combine nature, history, civil pride and amusement attractions. I can’t imagine this in the US where our rides and their lines would trample the surrounding beauty. Here they exist side by side. I think the amusements help fund the park and they work pretty well in these venues.

This day we went to the Parque National Chicamocha. We took a bus from San Gil on a windy road up through the Andes. The bus was headed to the next town and just dropped us off across the highway from the park entrance. Our first adventure of the day was taking the bus trip careening along the sheer drop offs of the Andes, the second adventure was crossing the highway to get to the park entrance. Boy, you really get your money’s worth when traveling adventurously in Colombia!

Entrance to the Park. It gets more crowded, just wait.

First stop: Giant Slide. Safety precaution: sitting in a denim pillow case and wearing shoulder length mittens to avoid slide burns. Two rides: $3.00

Bungee trampoline jumping. (or “yoomping” in Espanol) at a very US cost of $10. But wait, I think he can see our hotel from here. Do I need to mention that Keegan and Michael spent the next hour or so determining how they could create these for our trampoline at home? Or that Keegan was trying to work out a fair rate to charge his friends for the privilege of jumping on it? Or that I was thinking of what this would do to our insurance premiums?

Our big ride in a tram down into a canyon and back up the other side. This is a HUGE, maybe 30 minute, ride with great views of the canyon walls. Imagine them doing this in the Grand Canyon. A spectacular ride and minimal damage to the surrounding terrain.

I promised you a crowd earlier and here it is. Minimal wait for the tram from the entrance of the park, but a long wait from the Bucaramanga side~ this is the side with the good restaurants.

I love this picture. There are farms along the canyon walls and the residents trek up with their donkeys to get supplies and trek back down. This is not a tourist donkey, this is a working donkey that is parked here waiting to be loaded up to trek back down into the canyon. The windy path on the other side is the donkey trail for that side of the canyon. Tourists can walk it, but we didn’t see anyone doing that? We got a chance to see what “dirt poor” means as the people who live in this part of the world literally have little more than the dirt they live on and they carve out a niche for themselves where they can. It is a strange juxtaposition with the Parque National all around them.

This is part of the national monument at the parquet. It is a tribute to the men and women who demanded freedom from Spanish tyranny and won. It was a battle fought by the simple people of the town, led by the cry of a woman. Here is here picture from the monument…

She is calling out through her window that she is tired of being overtaxed. I know just how she feels. The man in front is angry both at the Spanish and at the pigeons.

Community zip lines dot the park. They haul up the groups of four and then let them fly over the canyon, over the trees, over the tourists…really, take your pick. We didn’t do a zip line. It is really high up and very fast; fun to watch, though.

This is a structure for the newest zip line that will literally carry people across the canyon! Wow, What a RIDE!

 

 

This is a final look at the parque national. You can see the monument in the background, the shops and tram entrance and some lovely landscaping. A good time was had by all.

Life lesson: It is possible for adventure and nature to exist side by side as long as adventure minds its manners.

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Adventure Tourism Colombia- Horseback Riding

Sorry for the long delay and the dirth of blog entries! The easy excuse is that there is limited internet connection in Central America and then on the cruise the price for internet connection jumped to 65cents per minute (!). The other excuse, not so easy, is that I got swamped with pics and overwhelmed with writing the blogs and so, well, I just stopped. But here I am, back again, and ready to knock out some blogs in the hopes that I will be able to post them when we hit land on Sunday.

When last I wrote, the blog was in Bogota while we were in Cartagena preparing to leave Colombia, but, as promised, I will update you on our adventures in Colombia and beyond. Today’s post…dun, dun, DUN…ADVENTURE TRAVEL and what that meant to US!

In San Gil, Colombia, we went horseback riding, caught a giant bug and visited a National Park. In Cartagena, we did what I consider to be the grossest tourist attraction ever, but, I get ahead of myself…

So, to begin…San Gil horseback riding

Our horses and our guide prepare for the day.

The view from the back is not the most flattering, but fortunately this was probably the only time Michael was in the back. He proved himself to be an able caballero and he and his horse enjoyed running up the hills and waiting for us at the top.

Stopping to trek to the top of a waterfall. We thought we were heading to the bottom of the fall, but that will be another day, I guess.

This is the view from the top of the tallest waterfall in the area. Its name escapes me at the moment. Yes, I should have written the blog closer to the time we took the ride.

Swimming in a pond~ the water was cold and fresh and felt great after the long hot ride and the climb to the waterfall. The horses are watering elsewhere and motorcyclists are racing towards us with our lunch. This is a “typical Colombian lunch” including many meats and grilled plantain and taro root and wrapped in a leaf…

Lunch. This lasted us for three meals.

While we were resting, Keegan caught a big bug.

The big black beetle was a diversion for several minutes. The boy does love his bugs.

This is one last pic from in front of a minor waterfall during our ride. After a few hours “oohing” and sitting on pillows we were ready for the next adventure…The Parque National.

 

Life lesson: We are much like the horses who walked away and raced back to their home. I expect our trip home to be much shorter than our trip away. There is a longing for the comforts and familiarity of home that even a day at the waterfall can’t compete with.

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