Chicken Pizza

Chichen Itza-popular Mayan ruin. City was important between 600AD-1250AD, so when William the Conqueror and Vikings were kicking AngloSaxon and Celtic butt. The Holy Well. Cenote Sagrado. The water erodes the limestone and makes these huge natural cisterns. The Mayans sacrificed mostly valuable goods, adult males and children of enemies by pushing them off the edge.
Corbelled arch. Mayans didn't know how to build a keystone arch so the interiors of their buildings could not be as open as the Greeks and Romans.

The Palace of the Warriors. The political, military, and religious structures of the complex are all near eachother. Church/State/Military all entertwined. Thank goodness for separation of church and state. I can't imagine feeling empowered to use free will in the shadow of these monumental buildings. I would think that whoever stood at the top must know what they're doing and are chosen by the gods.

The main pyramid was made a 'Wonder of the World' in 2007. I wonder what site got demoted from the list to make room for it. But it is amazing. That is Soren to the right of the central slope of steps. When I was here 20 years ago, I climbed up the steep narrow steps. They don't allow anyone onto the structure anymore. I understand why but was disappointed that Soren couldn't go up.


Xcaret is a perfect mixture of a water park (snorkeling through the underground river), wildlife conservation park (they breed turtle, condors, etc) and cultural center (think the PCC in Hawaii). We saw cool animals, learned about Mayan culture and history and swam. It was a great day.
We got to see some turtles finally. We saw eggs, youngsters and adults. The park is actively involved in tortuga conservation and breeding.

The bees here have no stingers. Lucky Mayans.

Soren and Tapir. He weighs the equivalent of about 4 pigs. The Tapir, not Soren.


Cemetery. A hill over a candelaria underneath. The candles have been allowed to burn down so the wax build up looks like mineral deposit stalamites and stalagtites.
During the 2 hour show Xcaret puts on at the end of the night we say a Mayan ball game where two teams shoot a 6lb hard rubber ball through an unforgivingly small hole on the side of the court with their hips. Then they played a game that was literally 'ball of fire' hockey. It was like Irish hurling with a mini-comet. Then they portrayed the Conquistador invasion, Christian conversion, and mixing of races which Mexicans are proud of, symbolically through music and dance. The headresses were humongous. The dancing, the ranchera music and singers, and costumes were very well done. Mexicans went crazy during some songs--there was a dense feeling of patriotism there. At one point the mariachi band had 8 members and they raised the roof! There were also charras on horseback and an Andalusian I wanted to take home. Every school day, the park allows 100 schoolchildren from Quintana Roo to visit the park for free. It is an educational, fun, empowering experience that would make a Mexican feel very proud of his/her country.


Isla Mujeres

It's interesting that Europe was all about big, beautiful architecture. Here it seems to be about nature and people. Soren and I started to snorkel but soon, I was playing with some little kids. Their parents were at the side of the road selling windchimes made of shells. Tonio (11), Teresa (4) and Gustavo (1) helped me build a tortuga of sand (which the baby quickly sat on). Soren and Tonio went snorkeling and eventhough they couldn't communicate, they played great. Teresa and I sat on the beach. She stood up and pinched the skin on my back softly. She said my skin seemed 'como crema.' (like cream--hey! I thought I was pretty tan.) It shocked me--she said it without embarrassment. I paused and told her that her skin was 'como cafe', so together, somos una bebida muy rico. (Together we make a tasty beverage.) She looked at me like I was from Mars. It is a common beauty standard in many cultures (unfortunately propagated by certain interpretations of some religious texts) that the lighter the skin, the more desirable the person. Teresa at 4 needs to know deep within that her skin is beautiful. If she doesn't, she'll never feel worthy of a life that is made of more than selling trinkets to tourists. When I get to heaven I will want to know what happens to Teresa who I will never see again.
On the way back via ferry, Soren took a picture of me with the Mexican flag behind. It's a huge one. I like how it looks like the clouds are parting over it and rays of the sun are shining down on it. He was confused that Mexico was Los Estados Unidos (The United States) too. The proper name is Los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. I hear that Chiapas is a cool state to visit for eco-tourism. Maybe next time.
I got a pedicure. Yay. I am back to my old self again. Thank the gods for spa treatments. They are the most humane of all inventions.


What a difference a day makes

He looks good for being a vagabond. We traveled 12hrs straight yesterday and were so glad to come to a place where shameless capitalism rules. The hotels, food, roads, service are all so nice here in Cancun. And the water--clear turquoise, then lapis, then cobalt. Beautiful.

Oh cabana boy. Where art thou? I spent the afternoon reading my novel about the Dominican dictatorship in the 1960's.

I'm either mean or committed to homeschool to make Soren do homework in a cabana. He doesn't look too sad. The boy needs to practice writing as much as possible. Tomorrow we dive into Mayan culture. Yay!!

I got my ganas back and rented a car. We are back in the traveling saddle again. Today, though, laundry was the main mission. I told Becky that I have been wearing the same PJs for 4 nights. Yucchy to me. After schoolwork we hit the beach. White sand, turquoise water and uh, cabana boys that want me to take them to Xcaret with us. Apparently I look like Soren's sister without makeup. However Xcaret is mas tarde. Tomorrow is Isla Mujeres.


No Pura Vida Today

GPS died on the way to airport. Was told the San Jose airport was in Alajuela. Rental Car place was in Heredia (no one bothered to mention the slight difference to me.) Got lost. Got stopped by police (again. I am getting the rules down. Only Ticos can pass on the left). Had to drive behind large trucks going 20 kmh. Missed flight. Rotting in a Hampton Inn right now where they want to charge me $12 for a Haagen Daas carton of ice cream, but I can go across the parking lot to Fiesta Casino and get cheap beer and hookers. Bad day to ask me how I like traveling or worse yet, how I like developing countries. Annie, get your booty out on stage and sing the "Tomorrow" song before I give up and go home.


Tamarindo 2

Coming to Tamarindo was the only time I felt less than safe. (Mom don't read this part.) I was going a bit too fast and got stopped by a police officer. Becky, your advice came in handy. He wanted to confiscate my license and I told him under no circumstances was that going to happen. He wanted to charge me $40 and I said no way. Then he proceeded to bargain with me about the cost of the ticket. I told him to give me my passport back pronto and he ended up giving me a $20 dollar ticket and I got his name and badge number. We'll see what happens. Here is the Junior Adventure Companion. He is happy because he surfed today. He got up several times. His teacher, a coffee colored saint named Gilbert who says he is an "old school surfer," was a great help. He showed Soren the position to assume, when to assume it, and gave him a push when the wave began to crest. Who can resist a guy with male pattern baldness AND dreadlocks. Buy the video--or better yet, let me figure out how to post video footage. (Might take a while.)
A hermit crab he found.

The sunset here is amazing!! Here we are hanging out on the beach before the mosquitoes decide to eat us alive. This pic makes me excited for turning 40 when I get a boobjob. (What. Don't act like you didn't notice I could use one.)

Homework and surfing. Soren has a hard life right now. We are sad that I didn't book in time to see the leatherback turtles. It seems I didn't hear it right when the guy said to book by 2pm. (uh, he didn't say that--in spanish or anyother language. Does it sound like I'm down on Costa Rican men? I'm not.) But the $40 massage was great. I laid on a bed out in the garden by the beach under a palm roof. I heard the waves as I relaxed and the masseuse was really good. You know, firm in the places that need work but not too much to hurt. And note to self to remember Onassis, the waiter. Tomorrow is a drive down the coast. I don't know where we'll end up or what we'll do but I think it will have something to do with sand and waves. Then on to Cancun for some Maya and more playa!!


Monteverde and Tamarindo

Before we got to our cabana in Monteverde we drove around Lago Arenal--I saw a man training his Paso Fino to do a standing turn (in a trot) in his driveway between two hedges of high vegetation so he wouldn't break his perfect circle. Uh, the road got rough, real rough. We stopped off twice and I'm so glad we did. First, it gave us a chance to rest from the fourwheeling rough ride. The roads here are not always paved and have, shall we say "potholes and rocks." (Understatement) First was a stop at a small casa where a man let us press our own sugar cane juice. While we were drinking it and chewing on sugarcane (sorry Dad ((who was a dentist)) he showed us his machine made in 1891, his trout pond and allowed us to use his bano. He was trying to understand how Soren and I were traipsing by plane and car while mi marido (Cyler) was home WORKING hard and taking care of Ellery. I told him "solamente 2 semanas" (only 2 weeks) but he was not convinced it was at all fair. Needless to say, his wife did not come out of the house to visit or introduce herself, eventhough I know she was there, watching us. The next stop down the road was the home/workshop of a very kind man and generous family. I bought some rosewood bowls Jose Luiz "Licho" had made. He follows the law and only uses wood from fallen trees. He also showed us his orchid garden. You should have seen him talk about these tiny versions of orchids. He knew where each one was. What a kind heart he had. He saw that Soren had hurt his wrist on the zipline cable and put homegrown Aloe on it. He invited us to tea with his family. His daughter and wife chatted with us like we had been there before. They always host an exhange student or professor because Licho says it's interesting. He wanted to know what I thought about Obama. I asked him questions regarding Costa Rica's decision to be neutral and not have an army. He was so interesting. I am torn between the 2 sides of that debate. Two different households, the sugarcane guy and Licho--helps me remember to stop trying to make generalities. And then we entered Monteverde proper where there is not one place that is naturally flat.
Melissa, is this what you did? The Cloud forest hanging bridge tour? It was beautiful. We took lots of video camera shots to get the sounds of the birds, water and quiet. It was a mall of trees. One of every kind it seems like.
It's a tropical version of Montana. The Quakers and Ticos up here have their work cut out for them, making a living up here, but they are succeeding. And I can see why they love it here. Green, remote, all the time. Of course I imagined what it would be like to live here. Hard work, but so, so, peaceful and remote.

I got tons of footage with Soren on the video cam here (he is still coughing--started him on anti-biotics)and also at the hummingbird and butterfy garden. There is a cute creature here called the 'pizote' (in English I think it's Motmot)--they are like raccoon/monkey/badgers. You'll have to see the footage. Here are some pics of moi. We have been roughing it in our little cabana with no heat, no microwave and no road. Locals here go out to dinner in rubber boots. Cyler tracked me down via CC charges since I couldn't contact him in my cabana. He called the lobby all worried that I had found a gorgeous Tico or Quaker to shack up with. (uh, no I didn't) I guess that is why I have sprung for a touristy resort here in Tamarindo where we are now-- restaurant, American TV channels, beach, massages for $40/hr. Soren has a lot of make up work to do since he could not do it while we were be-bopping along the "road less travelled." It was way to0 rough to read and write in the passenger seat. So we are here with the scantily clad tourists to catch up on homework and to hopefully see the giant leatherback turtles that nest here this season. Hey, a beach is part of the ecosystem too lest you think I am here to be floja (lazy):)


Arenal, dia dos

The view from our casita. The volcano goes off every once in a while. Early this morning I heard the earth grumble and a loud blow torch sound. Below is my attempt to teach Soren about visual journey and composition in 2-D design. This was lying outside the casita. I thought it was a snake at first.

Jugo de Mango.

Casado (comida tipica). This traditional dish includes egg, banana, rice and beans, chicken and salad. Yummy especially at $4 a plate. 500 colones equals one dollar by the way.

We leave tomorrow for Monteverde (where I need to find one more night's lodging). The zipline tour in the canopy today was amazing. We did this tarzan type swing. I was worried I wouldn't be able to scream because my voice is still crackly BUT I definitely screamed/laughed/whooped it up. So fun to watch Soren zip down those cables!! Note to self: Don't forget Andreas, Karina and Johnny. I took video camera footage so I need to find out how to post that on the blog. It is raining tonight and Soren and I are in the lobby being flojos--he's reading for school so I guess only I am floja.
Oh I have to post some guidelines that were on a sign in our first hotel room in San Jose. They are so choice I had Soren copy them as a handwriting exercise. A great intro to a great country that apparently has had American visitors before us:) These are real, I'm not making these up:
  • Remember when traveling around Costa Rica to observe, listen, understand and empathize rather than see, hear, take pictures and boast. Be humble and speak English softly. You are a guest but not the center of attention. No one really cares if you are rich.
  • Use 'por favor' and 'gracias' and speak as much Spanish as you are capable of.
  • Ask before taking a picture of someone. and offer compensation (or discretely use a telephoto lens.)
  • Remember the excellent bargain you negotiate for a souvenir is at the expense of someone feeding their family on a wage of $1 per hour.
  • In the Central Valley men wear long pants or shorts below the knees.
  • Support smaller independently owned hotels, restaurants, stores etc. that gainfully employ more Ticos (my addition--Ticos are what Costa Ricans call themselves), buy supplies locally and recirculate income within Costa Rica.
  • Graciously accept whatever you are given.

And my personal favorite!!

  • If you want all the comforts of home, ask yourself why you are traveling.


I still haven't figured out how to post pics in order so they are a bit confusing. Yesterday began with getting our car and driving out of San Jose. I had no anxiety, fear about driving, nada. I love Latino culture and armed with a GPS, felt totally confident to get around. Soren had a bit of culture shock—getting used to food taste, how things smell, crowded towns, the shanty huts. The road to Sarchi is winding through the Central Highlands where coffee, sugar, corn fields are growing. Life is everywhere in a tropical climate—green, huge, warm and wet. We passed kids of all ages in their school uniforms, catholic churches, discotecs, men working hard on roads and in the fields. The land sloped so much at points where the cattle had no flat ground to stand. Sarchi was a fun stop and good intro to Costa Rica. The town is known for its festively decorated oxcarts but now they mostly make woven furniture, wood souvenirs and smaller oxcart versions of party trays/beercoolers. A pretty iglesia there had a cherry or mahogany type stained wood barrel vaulted ceiling as background to beautiful crystal chandeliers.

Arbol de platano.

I am like Dora the Explorer with my map and my backpack.

On the way to Arenal Volcano, we stopped at a tourist place and made hotel arrangements (Soren did homework). So we are at the foot of the volcano (it's active hasta 1968 after a 300 year nap!). This evening we walked to the hot springs and shared them with two guys from Ukraine, Valentin and Denis. They were very talkative and answered all my questions about post USSR Ukraine. They talked about their country being like the US west in the 19th C—free and often unfair trade—capitalism gone wild. They wanted to know how I felt about Obama. While sitting in the spring we could see an orange haze of smoke cresting the volcano as it got dark. AMAZING. It would have been romantic minus the two Ukrainians, a son, and plus a certain Cyler. It is after dinner now and I have used a decent amount of Spanish and am looking forward to tomorrow! Pura Vida ya’ll! (Pura vida is like saying "OK great. Sounds good." Literally it means "pure life.")



With Amoxicillin in tow just in case, we are almost packed and ready to go. I 've traded in European traipsing layers for cargo pants, tanks, DEET and swimsuits. We leave at 4pm today if I can get laundry done. I am getting my voice back little by little and am glad I won't have to try to speak Spanish while not being able to "speak" very well at all. (Should have heard me in church--it was pitiful). So here's the proposed itinerary. It's more loosygoosy than Europe was, which means more spontaneity. (Goals this trip: Ecology, Mayan history and culture, teach Soren love for diversity)

Nov 4-5 San Jose, Costa Rica
visit Sarchi Oxcart factory
on up to Monteverde Cloud Forest (try to get an oral interview with a local Quaker)
zip line tour in the canopies
Drive to Arenal volcano, stay?? (maybe La Fortuna), visit hot springs
Drive into Guanacaste and scope out some Baula turtles (leatherbacks--big honking turtles)
Then drive down south to la playa (Jaco and Quepos). Hey beaches are part of the ecosystem too but it will be nice to wear my flojos so I can get floja.

Nov 12 Fly to Cancun
Snorkeling at Isla Mujeres
Xcaret Marine Park
Tulum and Coba
Playa del Carmen and Cozumel (possible day trips--we'll see)

Nov 16. Drive to Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza
take a day or so to dilly-dally back to Cancun

Nov 19 Home for the Holiday madness

Will someone let me know who won the US presidential race?