Friday, November 30, 2012

Settling in in Sequim

A rainbow, the harbinger of 'riches' to come... over Discovery Bay.
By the way, Sequim is pronounced "Sqwim" and those of you who have been reading the blog for awhile will recall my visit here this last summer. For a lot of reasons, I made a decision to find a place to begin settling in for my 'elder years'. It needed to be a place with minimal snow and minimal humidity. I wanted to have access to an artistic colony of folks and older people, like me, who were still interested in traveling, being active, but not all in one place like these 'active communities' which have become so popular throughout the U.S.

Sequim Community Chorus in the first of three nights of
performances at Trinity United Methodist Church.
This is meant to be my U.S. retreat, like my Colombian one, but after living in Colombia for several years it is clear to me that my language skills are not improving well enough for me to think about getting really old there. As long as I can still make the trip there, I will be there for awhile. And I still have a lot of South America to see. But the idea of being old, ill and unable to communicate well is a combination that doesn't appeal to me.

I was lucky to find a woman who wanted a roommate and since we will both be traveling in different directions and at different times, we are more roommates in terminology than actual fact. I have a nice clean room with a view of the tall evergreens and am about a mile from the water. The house is in a quiet neighborhood with watchful neighbors about 10 miles from Sequim center. It turned out that "K" is singing in the Community Chorus so I went last night to their first performance and was delighted at the music and had happy reminders of my days singing in Lake City with our dear director, Alphonso Levy. When the group did the Hallelujah Chorus, my tears of joy and sadness mixed in with a prayer for him as I sang along with everyone else.

As I explore my new surroundings, I am sleeping on a new bed as well. It is supposed to be comfortable, but the 'cells' warm up from body temperature and when I get into bed, my own cells are already cold from the chilly nights we are having here... perhaps it will be some kind of new weight loss process because I will be expending calories warming up the bed so I can go to sleep... LOL!
Mt. Rainier as seen from the ferry on the morning I caught it for Sequim.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

49 Years Ago Today...

(I started this with the headline "50 years ago... but was reminded it was in 1963, not 1962... however, I was still in Paris.) I was in Paris, France and there was a postal strike, so I couldn't get funds for a French Thanksgiving dinner with my American pals (funds my father would send me came through American Express to the French postal office). I would somehow manage to come up with enough francs for a chicken soup, some bread and a hot chocolate. But that would be the least of my concerns as everyone around the world was mourning the late President, John F. Kennedy, who was killed in Dallas, Texas in a surprise assassination when he was in a motorcade there.

It was 49 years ago today that he was shot, but it was not on Thanksgiving Day. It was a Friday, the week before the national day of feasting. In France, where Jacqueline Kennedy had won the hearts of that nation, grieving continued as well and where ever we went, strangers would come up to us and tell us they were sorry. The black and white TVs were showing American news most of the time and it wasn't enjoyable to watch. He was buried on Monday, November 25, in a state funeral that overshadowed the following Thursday's Thanksgiving Day.

While it was 12:30 p.m. in Dallas, it was 6:30 p.m. in Paris when we first heard the news. Like others globally, we were stunned. My two American friends, Penny and Ginger, and I decided to head for the American Embassy. We were assured by the staff that we could return if we had any problems, but that there was no need to return to the U.S. I suggested we go to the New York Times Paris office and see what more we could find out. We were able to walk right in and go up to the second floor where the teletypes (this was before color TV, before wireless cell phones) were clack-clacking away with the reports on events as they were unfolding in Dallas. By the time we arrived, the news from the hospital was being delivered... Kennedy was dead. As I stood reading the teletype, someone came and ripped it off the machine and as I looked up I realized it was Pierre Salinger.

No one paid much attention to us, so we moved to another machine which was announcing that Walter Cronkite would give the official announcement in a few moments. Someone was rushing to get the TV channel tuned in and we stood with a large group of staffers and listened in shocked silence to his grim news report.

Years later I would have the chance to meet Walter Cronkite in Scituate, Massachusetts, while he was on his sailboat with his wife and we talked of that particular day. He said it was life-changing for him as he had never before had to report on the assassination of an American President and it signaled the emergence of a world he realized he did not know.

Jack Ruby prepares to shoot and kill Oswald, who is being escorted by police to be sent to Dallas County jail
So for us, Americans in Paris, it was already a world in which we felt like strangers. It was like having your father shot and as young women in grief, we were in tears for most of the rest of the night. The next day we were all able to call home and speak to our fathers and reassured we would go on with our year abroad, but it would forever be marked by this singular event.

The photo to the right is a horrible reminder of the aftermath as we sat and watched TV in a French cafe near our pension and saw Jack Ruby rush up and kill Lee Harvey Oswald. I had nightmares for weeks afterward because I think this was the first time a killing was broadcast on national (and international) TV.

And today I am wondering, where are my friends? If anyone reading this knows of the whereabouts of Penny from Pennsylvania or Ginger from Georgia, maybe they will check in and let me know how their last 49 years have gone because I lost track of them once we returned to the U.S.

Finally, on this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful for so much... family, friends far and near (including those I have made through MM) and for health. Intending this is a better year ahead for all of us in all ways, for the highest and best good of all concerned, so be it and so it is! Whooooooo!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Five of 20 boats have retired...

The Vendée Globe solo around-the-world race began on November 10 with 20 boats and skippers. Sadly in the last nine days, five of those boats have had to retire before ever reaching the "zone of convergence" (doldrums) where the winds are practically non-existent before they reach the Southern oceans. Click here to see the rankings of those still racing.

Safran was the first boat to go home after the keel apparently fell off. Followed by Group Bel which suffered a critical impact near the bow after hitting a trawler, then Bureau Vallée had a glancing blow off a fishing boat damaging a forward stay too seriously to continue, and Savéol, skippered by the only woman on the race, was dismasted last week ending her bid. The most recent, Maitre CoQ, also had a break in the keel which was not repairable, so the skipper has turned on the engine to get the boat back to France.

With another approximately 70 days of racing, at this rate of attrition there won't be any boats in the race after 40 days. I feel very sad for all the skippers who have had to retire (sailing language for withdrawing) as each one went into the race with the highest of hopes. It cannot be easy to face the hard fact that your boat will not be seaworthy enough to continue competing.

Meanwhile, the Virtual Regatta has gained another 120,000 or so racers, bringing the total to 327,403 folks guiding boats in the game. My official place today in that race is 150,386 after starting about 103,000 something. Positions change frequently with the winds (or lack of them) so it may turn out to be a more interesting race than the real one.

NOV 25 -- Another two boats from the real race have had to retire. ENERGA skippered by Zbigniew Gubkowski was having serious problems with the autopilot, making for impossible-to-solve sailing situations for the solo sailor. Today PRB with skipper Vincent Riou was faced with a heart-wrenching decision. He was the winner of the last Vendee Globe and had a very good chance at repeating that success, but he hit a metal bouy in the middle of the ocean which damaged both his hull and the stanchion/cable for his mast. The carbon-fibre cable could not be repaired so he is heading to Brasil now.  The ocean may be big, but it is not big enough for all the crap that is allowed to be dumped or somehow floats out there and eventually it will cause a problem like this one.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The New El Dorado Airport in Bogotá

The new addition is on the left; the old 1950's tower is on the right.
Arrivals and departures out of Bogotá will be both easier and more enjoyable now that the all-new El Dorado airport has opened. There was not a hint of this wonderful outcome when I returned in September, although I have known there was work going on on this project since my first arrival several years ago at the outdated 1950's terminal. It is now managed by Operadora Aeroportuaria Internacional (OPAIN), a consortium composed of Colombian construction and engineering firms and the Swiss Flughafen Zürich AG, and the light and airy design is a winner in my book.

 Imagine my surprise and delight when the taxi from the bus terminal pulled up the ramp to the totally modern glass and steel structure to let me out. (By the way, the Wikipedia information is no longer totally correct as they have no new photos of the new facilities.)
The all modern, 'green' banjos will
try to minimize usage of paper.

Moving walkways are a great addition!
And there has been barely a hesitation as the staff adjusts to their new surroundings and bags are quickly processed while people are hustling off to their new gates to await boarding. The high ceilings and glass windows make it seem like each gate is really an open invitation to the mountains beyond, making it even harder to leave this wonderful and interesting country.

My trip from Barichara to Bogotá was smooth (as the busses go) and I even slept a little this time. We arrived at the bus terminal in record time and because there was no festival ending or starting, the crowds were light, so I was able to get a taxi right away. As I was leaving my art class earlier the day before, my teacher just had to tell me a sad story of a woman he knew having a travel problem, but I put that out of my head and continued to intend my story was going to be different - and it was.
The shift in size is as big as the new facility; I'd be guessing, but it feels as
if the airport has quadrupled in size overall. Much needed, and as a traveler,
much appreciated! This is in one of the gate areas.
But one aspect of the airport will not get my praise. The restaurant Crepes and Waffles, usually offering great service and quality food, really disappointed me. At 5:30 a.m. there were not a lot of customers, but I still had to wait 20 minutes to even get my order placed. Then my fresh juice arrived, but nothing else... not hot tea, not sugar, place settings only. The men and couples around me who had arrived after me were served first as I waited and waited. Finally I called the manager over and explained what was NOT happening and immediately it was corrected. But the egg, while hot, was not cooked as I requested, and the croissant was not made that day. The wait staff did not come over to see if I wanted anything during my meal, and in fact only showed up to clear the table and then after 25 minutes of waiting for her to return with my check, I finally got annoyed and tried to find the manager again. No luck, but seeing me get up caused a reaction and the check was delivered. I have concerns about the ability of this restaurant to meet the needs of an international traveling public wanting to make their flights on time, not to mention keeping up their former reputation of being a great place to eat.
The full view of El Dorado Nueva from the runway.

JetBlue, American, Delta all have service counters here (as well as Avianca, Copa, LAN and Spirit airlines to name a few), but JetBlue still gets the nod from me for being the best airline to travel back and forth on. They have streamlined the ticketing and baggage handling process so that I didn't have to wait long in line, and their bi-lingual staff make any travel problems easily solved. They continue to provide affordable daily service to and from Orlando, not to mention LEGROOM on their aircraft!

Travelers waiting for their flights will appreciate the free and fast WiFi services, the many highly visible modern arrival and departure information kiosks, and soon (I hope!) more trash receptacles.
Preparing to take off from the runway at El Dorado.

It was clear that there is still a lot of work to be done in these early days of the new airport, and some glitches (I wonder what word is equivalent to that in Spanish...?) still have to be worked out - like having signs after clearing Customs that direct you to the gates - but the moving walkways, the new shops, and the duty-free options for buying, were all very operational. I think if you are just arriving in Bogotá, this new airport is going to give you a great first impression of the country and its people.

UPDATE: Read about the cease-fire between FARC and the Colombian government which will benefit everyone, but particularly it will be good for tourism because visitors will want to come and see this remarkable country if they can be assured of their safety.
Much of Colombia was under heavy clouds as we took off for the U.S.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A message from Me to E

My readers should know that E is a very special person to me. I don't get to visit her as often as I would like, but that's because E has a very busy schedule with school and pool plus friends and I am living about 4,000 miles away in another country.

Most of the houses in this village are between 250-300 years old. So if
someone ever says "You're as old as dirt," this may be what they are telling
you. Daytime temperatures range between 78-85 degrees when sunny.
But E is in my thoughts often. And so this blog today is dedicated to E - something to be shared with others as if Granny was doing a Show-and-Tell at school.

The 'new' place where I will store my
furnishings is here on the top floor.
I do not live in a grass hut in the jungle. But I do live in a house made of earth, called tierra in Spanish. The people here make a wooden form and then push the earth inside that form to make the walls which are about 21 inches thick. This is called "rammed earth" construction and is perfect for this climate because the walls keep the inside of the house, called a casa, at an even 70-72 degrees temperature day and night. No air-conditioning required, even though we live about 400 miles north of the Equator and the sun can get quite hot during the mid-day.

Even though the sun gets hot, I don't ever get sunburned here, and I don't tan much either. But I don't lie out under this sun. We do have swimming pools here, but they are kind of rustic. And I don't see many grandmothers swimming, which I wonder about... did they never learn how?

Further north, along the Caribbean coast, a city called Cartagena looks a lot like another city I lived in, St Augustine in Florida. I think this is because both cities were built by the same architect from Spain. But nearby this city (which does have air conditioning in the tall buildings) many people do live in huts which have roofs made of grass or 'thatch' and bamboo walls because they need to let all that moist and warm air move around and through their homes.

The place where I will be storing my belongings is made out of cement blocks, so it doesn't have the same kind of insulation as a rammed earth house, but my space will be on the second floor so I will get lots of ventilation when I am staying here.
This is not some kind of rare, Colombia chicken. But they
call it "azul pavo real" and 'pavo' means silly... hmmm?

I am very lucky to be moving my things to a place where there are a lot of chickens and they roam around and eat nearly all the bugs and then produce a lovely egg. Some of those birds get creative and make the eggshell green! The yolk inside is still yellow, but a much deeper yellow than the commercial eggs in the United States and I think they have more flavor as well.

This is also a country that grows a lot of coffee. I don't drink much of it because it is very strong and keeps me awake, but it is very flavorful and my favorite way to enjoy it is in ice cream in a cone. The coffee grows on bushes, or trees, that need to be in a little shade and the bean looks an awful lot like a cranberry when it is picked. The outer skin is peeled off and the bean inside is roasted after it is dried. Perhaps when you are bigger, E, you will want to try tasting it.
This is Rebecca, a tame yellow-naped
Amazon parrot that lives on the
property. How beautifully she fits in
with her surroundings....

Also, E, when you next go to Pike Place Market, look at all the flowers there. Many of those exotic flowers were grown in the Bogota area or in Ecuador. I have a neighbor who travels around to the flower growers and she buys and sells them for export to Seattle or Chicago or San Francisco or Boston.

One other thing Colombia is known for is the precious stone called an emerald (you can read more about them here and see one in the rough). Recently there was a landslide and the peasants recognized right away there was a vein in the rocks and there were a lot of good quality emeralds to be retrieved. It was too far away for me to go and see, but I guess not for some folks and the small village was jammed with people hoping to get a few pieces of this valuable stone. Since it was not a legal mine, I don't know on whose land it was discovered, but for some people this may have been a miraculous land-fall!

Knowing how much you love cats, this message would not be complete
without a picture of my Colombian kitties enjoying the rocking chair.
It is my dearest hope that you will come here someday, E, and perhaps I can show you this fascinating country myself. But for now, just know that I am sending you big hugs from the northern Andes mountains up to the Olympics and Cascades and if you are reading this on Wednesday, I will be there soon!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Taking recycling to high fashion

Last night, after a couple of days of participating in the project at a very minor level (offering up a hammer, an ice tray and a couple of whacks) I watched the presentation of the Aquileo Parra school's recycled fashion show.
I would have liked to have a closer look at some of these
creations; very creative work happening here!
This was my personal favorite of the show; those are bottle caps used in
the bodice and the old umbrella has been brought to life with snack liners.
Dress made from egg cartons, left, dress from used CDs in
the middle and the one on the right is a variety of materials.
Who would imagine that you can take the plastic sacks used for chips and snacks and make them into a dress? Have you even seen a dress created out of old plastic CDs? Or a vest made from bottle caps? The mission was to create something out of a thing that was already used... there was a dress made from unraveling the cardboard of toilet and paper towel rolls, and another out of old egg cartons, and I was amazed at what could be created from newspaper and magazines!

By the way, the hammering was because the bottle caps have to be flattened to be attached to the fabric or paper being used. You can see that result in the dress with the girl carrying the umbrella.

The vivienda of the casa where I am
now living was a participant with this
colorful creation.

The use of newspaper, snack bags, candy wrappers and other recycled bits
were colorfully attached for this evening dress!
Unfortunately my camera flash could not overcome the deep darkness of the venue, so these are not the best of shots. But I hope that world-wide this idea will catch on because the children are so creative, and it helps to raise awareness of how much waste we create. It was a high-energy evening, but they didn't use up much electricity for it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Obama win is good for Colombia

Approaching Barichara, you can see one of the cordillas of the Andes stretching out ahead under the clouds.
I am not taking sides when I say that Obama's win is good for Colombia, but the last four years of working to strengthen the ties between the two countries will benefit from a continuation of the existing policy. While I do not want Colombia to become 'Americanized' in any way, inevitably that is going to occur with people all over the country watching the TODAY show, learning English, and having more tourists coming from the U.S.

Clearly my blog has been read by a huge number of Americans, possibly those looking for a nice retirement option. And Colombia is supportive of retirees (although you have to prove you can support yourself to get a visa) and welcomes Americans as visitors. Santos has been working hard to bring the FARC to the peace table and since Obama supports this, there are plenty of hopeful signs that an end to the conflict could occur. This would only benefit Colombia as a tourist destination country because it has so very much to offer.

Cathedral in Barichara - early morning shot
Although the U.S. State Department does issue travel advisories about Colombia, anyone visiting here and taking reasonable precautions for their personal safety should not be any more concerned about touring here than touring in the U.S. Don't bother wearing your expensive jewelry in any of the large cities. (If you are going someplace where you want to show it off, carry it in a pocket or something until you reach the inside of your destination, then you can put it on and remove it when leaving. That's what Bogotonians do.) Probably that's good advice in the U.S these days as well.

Anyhow, all you folks reading this, come on over and see Colombia for yourselves... the El Dorado airport in Bogota is being upgraded, you don't need a visa for a two-month visit, and it's well worth the trip!
NOTE: One village in northern Colombia is totally pro-Obama... read this!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Post-Move photos

Entrance to the Retreat also known as Caney
Communeros in Barichara, Santander, Colombia
I'm a little too tired to write much... the guys were great - on time, funny, and worked very hard. I just want to go on the record and say that if anyone in America has a chance to hire a Colombian, you will get your money's worth. They are such hard workers and most of the Colombians have such a great attitude about getting the task done well and fast, it is a pleasure to work with them. The only caveat is that there is a certain laid-back perspective to the culture wherein, "It will get done when I get there..." holds sway.
Second story apartment with 180-
degree views of Barichara countryside.

Example: I made an appointment to have my DirecTV dish antenna moved from one place to the other. I made the date a couple of days in advance of when I needed it, because I'd had one experience with that business already. The day came and went and no one showed up - or called. I called the next day and it was re-scheduled for Monday morning. Nope - no one came. I called right away. "He'll be there after 2 p.m." He wasn't. I called again. "He'll be there by 5 for sure." Guess what? We called the office at 5:30 and were told, "He's on his way." The sun sets here just about this time... was he going to do all this in the dark? Yep. And once he arrived, he worked doggedly and carefully to make sure everything was done correctly. By flashlight. Thankfully it wasn't raining. I was impressed.

Once I retrieved the cats from the other place, I secured the apart ment as best I could so they could explore and stay here, have a couple of meals and know it was home. Somehow they found a way out and went exploring last night, waking me up at 5 a.m. to open the door because however they got down, they couldn't get back up.

Small galley kitchen reminds me of my liveaboard life.
Then they had breakfast, laid around for awhile and around 9:30 a.m. I realized Sombra had gone. Ultimo was here all day watching the peacocks, the dog, the ducks, the chickens like a cat's idea of a great movie from the second story... tree house! Then just as it was getting dark, Sombra showed up again... she was freaked out, but at least she knows this is home... she ate and then she left again. This behavior repeated itself again today... and when she's here, she's almost panicky - not her usual purring and affectionate self.

I am hoping that in a few days she will start to be more like Ultimo, just hanging around and enjoying all the birdie entertainment. If anyone has any cat psychology ideas to share, please do!

Ultimo is relaxing and watching the various birds... now.
Today I watched Ultimo attempt to bring down a peacock... he sort of swatted at it, and in a few minutes he had the peacock's mate, a rooster, two ducks and some curious hens all beginning to crowd around him. He suddenly realized he was outnumbered by birds that are almost as big as he is... he took the smart route and headed back to the apartment. I was sitting at the top of the stairs and started laughing - poor cat, suffering such humiliation.

Anyhow, the move is done... and since I'm going to be away for a bit, I'm leaving some things in boxes until I return. It turns out the number on my apartment/retreat is "7" - if you are into numerology, you probably already know where this is going, but if not, click here, and read why I like living 'under' this number... I started the resting part today!