Thursday, June 26, 2008


Heaven, we have arrived and thou art magnificent. It is about 7:00am local time here in Puerto Vallarta. I just woke up to the sound of thunder. There is a storm rolling across the bay here which is producing a good bit of lightning. Our Hotel is located right on the water with two incredible balconies that overlook our beach below and the entire bay. I wish that I were a better writer so I could more appropriately describe how awesome this place is. Haley found this place after many hours of pouring over the internet.

We are staying in a suite on the top floor of a hotel with only 7 rooms. As I said, it is right on the beach, though we do have to walk up and down about 5 flights of stairs to get there. They call the style of our hotel "Mexiterranean," which, while cheesy, is also appropriate. I think I'll just post pics so you can see for yourself how nice this place is. We were commenting on how in the states a place like this, on the beach, would probably easily go for over a thousand a night, but here it only cost about $180/night, shared between two couples.

Yesterday, after getting into town, we spent a couple hours at the beach in front of our house. It was Will and Paige's first time in the Pacific ocean - they weren't disappointed. after washing up in what has to be the nicest bathroom I have ever stepped foot into, we headed down to dinner. We went with the hotel's recommendation which was a little place about 10 minutes away, right on the beach. We watched an awesome sunset while eating shrimp tacos and Mahi filet. The food down here has yet to disappoint.

I'm kind of torn as to what we are gonna do here...part of me wants to go out and do all the activities we have planned and another part wants to stay here in the hotel all day. Today we booked a tour on a boat to take us out for some snorkeling. luckily it isn't until 2:00pm, so we will have the morning. We'll probably go into town and buy more stuff. Guadalajara ended up being expensive (and heavy), but I did get my tortilla press (solid mesquite) and a molcajete (mortar and pestle). I'll have to blog about guadalajara later.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tour de Guanajuato, Part II

Guanajuato early morning day 2 009 This morning I woke up around 6:30 to go out taking pictures. Normally I would be a little reserved about going out alone, but this city feels really safe. There is a lot more money here compared to many of the other cities we have traveled to. Guanajuato is where the richer Mexicans come to vacation and the city does a great job of attracting tourism by keeping things clean and safe. At first I was worried that with my absolute lack of directions I would get lost and not able to find my way back to our hotel. The city is a labyrinth of side streets and staircases that climb forever. If you are on foot, there are no dead ends, no matter what alley you go down. Each alley/street is either going up or down, with only a small part of the valley being flat, down by the city's main square.

Guanajuato early morning day 2 060 I managed to get a couple tunnel shots off, and a couple other cool shots during the 1st hour, but overall I was disappointed with the pictures I took. I think I regressed in my photo skills while sticking my nose in medical books for the past 2 months. The second hour was a little better as I climbed up into some of back alleyways behind our hotel. For some of those people who live in some of those houses, the nearest road is probably a 5-10 minute walk through the skinny walkways between other people's houses.

Guanajuato early morning day 2 080 After getting back to the hotel and washing up, we headed off to breakfast on one of the city squares. On the way down, we saw lots of people on bikes, but thought little of it. Then as we were eating, it seemed the entire city started to come out into the streets, and the number of bikers grew exponentially. by the time we were done, it was difficult to get out of the restaurant due to the crowds. We hung around to watch (to our disbelief) that they were setting up for a bike race through the city. Keep in mind the first two paragraphs of this post where I talked about how narrow the little alleyways were and how there are only limited roadways...

The first couple races were warm-up races for kids and other age groups. They went around the blocks a couple times, getting the crowds excited for the main attraction to come. It was cute, but the most excitement came when the adult that was showing the kids the route to take totally biffed it just after starting the race - please see the video in the previous post. When they let the main race group go, they released them in groups of about 30-40 bikers at 5 minute intervals. As far as we could tell, they probably let out about 200 bikers. After a good half hour or so, the first group of bikers they let out returned for the second lap. It was pretty fun as they whole town cheered on the bikers. It was kind of funny, because nobody really marked off the race route and nobody was keeping the route clear of pedestrians. We saw a good half dozen people almost get run over by bikers. It was funny watching the giant crowd tour de guanajuato 072boo at the people for getting in the way. 

Eventually we tore ourselves from the crowd and did a little shopping. After dropping our recently purchased souvenirs off at the hotel, we headed out for lunch. As we started to walk down some remote/narrow alleyways, some of the people on the street were telling us to be careful because bikers were coming down the walkway. We looked at them in complete disbelief only to find ourselves moments later almost getting mowed down by bikers with full suspension bikes coming down a huge string of stairs that we were climbing. We were so surprised/bewildered/impressed/shocked all at the same time. I can't believe the route took them up and down those narrow alleyways through the city. As we continued to walk (much more cautiously this time) we came upon another set of stairs (not near as hard core as the first set, but still kind of crazy to ride your bike down) and waited for the bikers. This time, I was ready with our video camera and my D200. Previously, I posted some video of that second set tour de guanajuato 114 of stairs.

ESPN needs to get on these Guanajuato bike races. They were awesome. In fact, I don't think there was any video coverage from any local news stations. I would think that in a city like this, with a bike race going through it, and being as hard core as the route is, they could really draw some serious worldwide attention. Will and I kept joking about coming back next year and entering the race. I guess the only thing that would hold me back was all the ambulances we heard throughout the city the entire day - after we climbed that first set of stairs, we heard someone biff it on their way down. We also saw a couple different guys who had bloody legs/arms.

haley's camera backup 167 We finally made it to lunch on the other side of town. We had to walk through a really busy  marketplace that made everyone a little uneasy. After lunch, we decided to walk/hike to a large statue on the hill called "El Pipila," which means "turkeycock" in Spanish. Turns out this statue was made in honor of a peasant who helped the Mexicans gain their independence by burning down the gates to the granary where the Spanish were holding out. The hike to the top of the hill/mountain that it was on was straight up a ton of little back alleys, which made for a good hike. The hike was worth it as the views of the city were spectacular. 

Haley keeps raving about Guanajuato and how she has a new favorite city - move over Charleston. I also like the city a lot. It has a nice charm to it and all the people are really friendly. I think it has to do with the city being so rich and accomodating to tourists.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tour De Guanajuato

Here is some video of some  bike races that were going on today in Guanajuato...I'll have to post more later on how crazy these bikers were. Enjoy:

Endo from Rob Egbert on Vimeo.

Urban bike racing from Rob Egbert on Vimeo.


3 things to sum up the great city of Guanajuato: Hair gel, Making-out in the streets, and obsession with the dead.

Inside the Church Seriously, I'm not sure what the deal is with this place, but they LOVE their hair gel. I need to get some pics of some of the guys walking around here - Think vertical Mohawk, horizontal Mohawk, the combined vertical/horizontal Mohawk, the corn-row Mowhawk, the frosted, shaved side of head Mohawk, you get the picture. I can't imagine the amount of hair gel one must use to get their hair to do the things they get it to do, but they are masters of hair sculpting here in Guanajuato.

Making out in the streets: seriously, like everywhere. I don't know if this is a popular honeymoon spot, or just a good city to make out in - but people definitely take advantage of the make-out-ability of the place. Old, young, skinny, fat - you get the picture - all around you all the time there are people making out. If you ever visit Guanajuato, I would recommend staying out of dark alleyways at night - not because you will be in danger, but because you might walk Mother and Childup on something that would make you blush. If they are making out in the streets, I'll let you imagine what they are doing in the dark.

Obsession with the dead: We visited "El Museo de las Momias," or the Mummy museum today. Apparently the local cemetery got too full a while back and they started to dig up the bodies of people who's families never came to pay the "rent" or claim the bodies. The weather here is really dry and just the right temperature to preserve the bodies. Many of the bodies go back hundreds of years, and one body in the museum as recently as 1973. It was definitely kind of creepy, but at least this museum was tastefully put together...

The next museum was like a cheap Disney exhibit trying to scare little kids, only they used real bodies and then covered them in fake spider webs and cheesy lighting to try and make it creepy. I'm not sure what the thinking was on that, but I think dead people with their skeletons and eye sockets hanging off them is probably scary enough. The cool think about this museum was a bonafide chastity belt from the times of the inquisition - I'm not kidding - look at the picture. Those poor women.

Chastity belt Speaking of inquisition, our next stop was another cheesy museum (though it didn't need to be) of the torture chamber used during the inquisition to torture the accused. I guess there was some super perverted Catholic priest that was sent to Guanajuato to straighten things out - turns out this guy was one sick freak - all kinds of ways to twist certain parts of your body, dismember you, shove all kinds of spikes into you from all different directions, different ways to display what was left of you after they were done - you get the picture. Of course to cheese it up, they had all kinds of "special lighting," and our guide put on some kind of monk robes as he led us through the dungeon. C'mon guys, this was a torture chamber - already creepy enough without your cheesy music and fake cobwebs all over the place.

Lastly, we did get a chance to go to one of the mines. One of the reasons this city is so rich in colonial architecture is that for over 200 years, more than 40% of the worlds gold and silver came from the mines in the area. There is a labyrinth of underground tunnels that makes up the roads in the city as well as beautiful building abounding all over the hills in the area.

The city is rich with history, this being where Hidalgo beat back the Spaniards in Mexico's fight for independence. The city is also the birthplace of Diego Rivera and supposedly there is a cool museum, but we weren't able to find it.

Today was a really full day and we blew through a lot of money. I think tomorrow we are planning on just bumming around the city and maybe do a little hiking to see some of the city vistas.

Taco Time

Will leaving the USAAlright, so took the boards on Wednesday – glad to have that over with. Paced up our bags that night/Thursday morning, then headed to Haley’s parents place. It was really nice because they had the boat waiting and as soon as we pulled into town, they took us out to the lake for some wakeboarding. Turns out Haley is pretty good at wakeboarding – got up right away and didn’t biff it too hard. Then this morning, we got up at 4:00am to head to the airport. Haley’s parents were dropping off Haley’s sister and her family at the airport for a flight that left at 6:45am, so we went in with them, even though our flight didn’t leave until 9:45am. We are experienced at spending some quality time in airports.  

Then it was off to Mexico. Haley did an incredible job planning this entire trip, from the flights to the hotels, to checking the bus stations and taxis to get from city to city. She predicted that we would have enough time after we landed to get to the bus station by 2:00pm. Seeing as our plane didn’t land until 12:00pm, I was not as optimistic as her, but customs and documentation went really fast, we got our luggage really fast, we hailed a cab quickly, and as soon as we got to the bus station, we bought our tickets and loaded up on our bus that was already up and tractor running. After 5 hours on a Mexican luxury bus, we almost didn’t want to leave it (no – really, those busses are quite nice – the chairs lean back to nearly horizontal and have this leg thing that comes down and allows you to lie almost flat – about as much let room as your bed). However, once we pulled into Juanajuato, our stomachs were growling for some Mexican food. We hopped a cab to our hotel (cost about $4 bucks for a ½ hour cab fare). We weren’t sure as to what to expect from our hotel, but Haley and Paige picked out an incredible bed and breakfast right in the middle of town. Turns out that we pretty much have the entire place to ourselves, and it is incredible. I’ll have to post some pictures. I’m really looking forward to exploring this city – there is a whole network of underground caves, a mummy museum, silver mines, as well as plenty of shopping to do (I think haley’s more excited for the latter).

Balcony View Oh, for dinner we headed out and chose the first place we thought smelled good and had a bunch of tacos – you haven’t had good Mexican food until you have eaten it in Mexico. I also later bought a tamale off a street vendor. I feel I need to gain back all the weight I lost studying for the past two months (lost about 7lbs). I think after last night, I am off to a good start to gain it back.

Man, it’s good to be back in Mexico!

Monday, July 16, 2007


Tuesday, July 10, 2007
1:07 PM

As always, the most interesting stuff first. Last night, after dinner, Haley and I went with the group to "La Bodeguita," a bar/nightclub/restaurant. We had decided that because it was our last night in Panama, we would go out clubbing with the group (not something we normally do). After sitting with the group for a while and having a few drinks (Coca Cola for Haley and I) things were starting to get boring. Then they started playing some decent music that got us shaking our heads. Haley and a couple of others in the group would have no part of it. As most of you reading this blog already know, Haley is very self-conscious of her dancing. I (as well as others) kept trying to get her to loosen up and dance a little. Finally she let some of her inhibitions go (after convincing her that we all look stupid when we dance anyway and that is partly why it is fun) and we got those hips shaking. Then they announced they were gonna start karaoke. If you will recall from last year, we ended up doing some karaoke in a bar in Costa Rica (Los Angeles), but neither Haley or I got a piece of the lime-light. With some convincing from those in the group who had a little extra alcohol in them, Haley decided to go up and sing a little "I Love Rock'n'Roll" with Chrystal and Myra. They did an awesome job. Chrystal let me record the thing on her camera and I plan on posting the video in it's entirety as soon as I get my hands on it. Later we learned that Myra had singed our group up for singing "Bohemian Rhapsody." Somehow, they managed to get me on the stage for that as well, though I am sorry to say I don't think there was any video taken.

It was definitely a weird experience for us, but a fun one. We are probably the last people you would think to get up on stage in the middle of central America surrounded by local people that don't speak English and start to sing. But yes, it did happen and we have proof (at least that Haley did it). It was a good last night of our vacation. As far as Haley goes…well, it is always the quiet ones.

I realize that I am writing this in reverse fashion, so bare with me. Before our Bodeguita adventure, we headed out to another new mall here in Panama to eat at the "Paladar." The atmosphere was nice and the food was good. However, the most entertaining part of the night came from a fellow group of diners. In an effort to keep this blog family friendly, I will just say that there was more silicone in the table next to us than on the Red Frog Beach we had just visited up in Bocas. Needless to say, they took up most of the conversation as more and more top heavy women rolled in. People in our group thought they were just some friends getting together, but the absurdity of the largeness of the artificial peaks on over a dozen 30 year old females screamed adult entertainment industry. It reminded me of an experience I had working out in a gym in Las Vegas (the same gym where many similarly modified women worked out). If you get a chance, ask me about that story. It is a good one.

Okay, now working my way back…we started our day with a tour of Panama city and the Canal. I quickly learned that the big changes here in Panama have not been confined to Boquete and Bocas Del Toro. My backyard on Albrook has been changed into one of the largest malls I have ever been to. After spending 3 hours there on Sunday, I don't mind if I never set foot into a mall again. Ft. Clayton, once the largest Army thinger outside the US, has been converted into the "City of Knowledge" which hosts all kinds of learning and stuff. The Miraflores Locks now have a giant visitor's center, complete with a theater and a large collection of Canal artifacts. Downtown Panama City has probably undergone the biggest change as they continue to put up one apartment high rise after another. Quite literally in every direction you look downtown, you will see a dozen new sky-scrapers being built. There is a new bridge, the Centenario, that goes over the Galliard cut and also a new highway that goes out to the airport, cutting travel time considerably. It was really nice to come back and visit the place, though I'm not really excited to come back any time soon. I think part of what made Panama such a good experience for me was all the great people that lived here. I don't think I know a single person here in the country anymore.

After the tour, we headed to the fish market and got a couple nice pictures off. After that, Mike wanted to walk downtown to get a couple pictures. Always game to go take pictures, I joined him. The only problem was that we started our walk in a really sketchy neighborhood and Mike kept on wanting to pull out his camera to take some pictures. I was definitely nervous as I pulled out my $1,200 camera to take pictures of the dilapidated boatyard and the dodgy looking bums passed out on the side of the road. Later we learned that the area of town we were in is notorious for violent theft. I guess Mike must have prayed that morning to keep us safe because we made it out unscathed. As we continued our walk, the presidential motorcade happened to pass by. I couldn't believe the lack of security as the president of Panama passed right by us. Later, we passed the first lady on the sidewalk outside her house (which you can walk right up to, by the way). The lack of security marks the stark contrast between the country of Panama and a country like America (note the use of the word America instead of the US--refer to earlier post).

Oh, and before closing I wanted to mention how poor the hotel accommodations were at our last stop here. They have been really nice up until now. I highly recommend avoiding hotel Marparaiso, unless you are going for the pee-stained, crack-house atmosphere. They did have AC, Cable, and free high speed internet, but these perks were not enough to detract from the moldy walls, cold showers, and threadbare sheets.


Friday, July 06, 2007
4:03 AM

From the title of this entry, you may think it to be about Chris and Tyson. Don't worry, it isn't. I'll get back to the title later.

Before I start catching up on my blog, I'll start with some recent events. Rather one event in particular. We are now in El Valle de Anton, arriving yesterday after a long 7 hour travel day (3 buses). Unlike Bocas and Boquete, El Valle is much as I remembered it. Haley and I just got back from the zoo, whose cages are still far smaller than a more humane-minded institution would allow. I did get some nice pictures of the rare golden frog, who until a couple years ago, the world thought to be extinct. While the zoo was sub-par as far as zoos go, it did get us out of the hotel room and enjoy the scenery here in "the valley."

Before the zoo, we went out this morning to see "El Macho" waterfall. It was quite the waterfall and I look forward to playing with some of the pictures I took in Photoshop. The lady at our hotel said that the waterfall was only about a 20 minute walk from the hotel. 45 minutes later, we arrived with a light rain accompanying us. It ended up being about 3 or 4 kilometers, most of it uphill. 20 minutes later, was started back down. By this time, it was starting to pour and I reminded myself how glad I was that I bought the camera with all the weather seals. While it's not waterproof, I had already proved it's weather hardiness after leaving it out all night in the pouring rain a couple months ago. After about 10 minutes of walking, out of nowhere, my intestines began undulating in such peristaltic synchronicity that I had to politely usher the rest of the group in front of me. Haley was kind enough to stay back and ensure I was okay. We were in the middle of nowhere, and nature was shouting. I had no choice but to run off into the bushes, wait for the tourist bus to pass by, and then bake some machine gun brownies right then and there. Luckily Haley happened to be carrying some "papel de bano" which saved the day. The rest of the walk was quite pleasant.

While Haley and I are having a good time down here, I am glad that it is only two weeks this time instead of the four last summer. Central America is a lot of same. It is good to be back in Panama, and I am excited to get to Panama city tomorrow, but I am also glad that we are gonna be back in the states on Tuesday. Haley is really excited to get back home to Gob, and heaven knows we have a lot of things that we still want to get done around the house before things start back up again in a month.

The night before last, we all ended up attending a Panamanian festival complete with cock-fighting, billiards, "tipica" music and dancing, and lots of drunk Panamanians. Earlier in the day, we had gone on a small tour to some hot springs. Our guide, Plinio, had told us about this party and encouraged us to attend. We all decided it might be cool to see a local Panamanian party and decided we would head up after dinner. We caught a cab around 10:00 and headed out to Caldera, the location of the party. As we drove up, we could hear the ruckus from a half mile away. The giant pavilion was decked out with street vendors, beer, and a ton of Panamanian people. The 5 of us were the only white people there (minus Myra, who is Ecuadorian). After donning our "party time" bracelets at the door, we were admitted. We quickly made it to a corner, "purchased" rights to use a table (which we later found out was located in the corner of the pavilion where all the men went to relieve themselves--nothing like the fresh aroma of uric acid). After drinking a soda or two, we ventured out to the dance floor. At first it was fun as Haley and I "danced," or more appropriately, "moved around like uncoordinated gringos." After a while, some short fat dude started coming around stapling these little papers on our shirts. We weren't sure what he was doing, but he did it with such a surety, that we figured it was normal. But then he started shouting "six dollars." Apparently he wanted money for some social worker and was trying to get us to pay by giving us the "receipt" in advance by stapling it to both mine and Chris' collar. We of course refused only to find out later that it is kind of the macho thing to do to show the ladies that you are giving to charity.

The cock fight was kinda nasty. I did manage to get a little video on my phone of the event. I can see why it is outlawed in so many countries. Chrystal was really excited at first, saying that it would never gross her out. Well, after the blood started flying and the birds pecked at each other's heads, she quickly changed her mind. I can now say I have seen and cock fight and can also definitively say that I am against them.

After the cockfight, we played some billiards. It was a nice relief from the dancing and cockfighting where we felt so out of place. At least the billiards rooms wasn't as crowded and the deafening music wasn’t quite as loud. After we were done, one of the locals asked me if I wanted to play a game (I think it was more like he challenged me to a game) and I reluctantly accepted. Marcel ended up being a cool guy and was even nice enough to allow me to win in front on my friends (I had asked him not to embarrass me too much). He showed me how good he actually was early in the game as he shot his first 4 balls into the holes on his first turn. Luckily, I sunk a couple myself and the thrown game didn't last too long.

Later in the night, Marcel came up to me and said it was nice to meet me and also asked me not to forget Marcel from Caldera. I thought it was a nice gesture and now that I am writing about him in my blog hopefully I won't forget Marcel from Caldera.

During the time we were at the party, there was a certain man who took quite an interest in Myra. As soon as we walked into the pavilion, he was eying and following her, asking her to dance. She refused at first, but with continued persistence, she wore down and he had his dance, or I should say his first dance. That dude did end up being a fairly decent dancer as he spun Myra around the dance floor. After they were done, Myra rushed back to our table, followed by the guy. He then thanked us all very much for allowing her to dance with him. He then continued to thank us. Then he thanked us some more. It was strange. Finally, after shutting him out he left. He returned a couple songs later, but Myra told him she was tired out and maybe one of the next couple songs.

Later in the night, with a little more ethanol running through the veins, he decided the Myra was worth another shot at love and came back asking for more. Admiring the guys persistence, Myra reluctantly agreed. He was really drunk and uncoordinated as he tried to dance to a faster salsa tune. It ended up being more like spinning around in circles and I am still surprised that they both made it to the end of the song without projecting their stomach contents onto the dance floor.

I should quickly mention the really nice restaurant we ate at before the great Panamanian adventure. Our hot springs guide, Plinio, had recommended the restaurant "El Pianista." It was a $.50 cab ride up the mountain in the back of a pick up truck to the middle of nowhere. We were the only ones in the restaurant and I would have thought us to be the only ones to have gone in a week except that the place was highly recommended. It was on a coffee plantation, complete with a coffee trees all around and a nice little waterfall just outside the window where we were eating. The food (pizza) ended up being really good and a nice change from all the rice and chicken we had been eating (though it was more expensive).

I have gotten a lot more opportunity this summer to speak Spanish, compared to our trip last summer. I think it is because we aren't as with as many people which is pushing Haley and I to go out on our own and interact more with the locals. Yesterday, on our busride, we stopped at a little rest area where I was able to talk to a local Kuna Indian and purchase one of her molas. It was really cool to interact with and hear her story. She was even kind enough to allow some photos. I have also gotten to talk with a lot of our guides and the locals at the markets. It feels good to converse with people in another language, especially after not speaking Spanish for over 6 years.

I know this is a really really really long entry. Sorry.

Happy 4th From Central America

Thursday, July 05, 2007
9:20 AM

We are quickly making a number of traditions as we travel. This is our second year in a row that we celebrated our independence day while travelling abroad. Luckily, the town where we are currently serving has a number of Americans living here and there was an impressive fireworks show. Last night, after dinner we all came back to our hotel to play a couple round of "scum" or "ash-loh," in German (you may be able to figure out the alternate English name from the German name, but this being a family oriented blog, I decided to leave that one out). During the game, we heard a number of gunshots at which time Haley and I realized it was the 4th of July and ran outside to see the streaming lights of gunpowder. The show went on for a good ten minutes and was especially impressive as we are in the middle of a canyon here in Boquete and the "boom" seems to be amplified on either side by the mountains.

Haley and I are sure starting to appreciate America and all that she stands for. This morning, the newest attack against our motherland came from an unexpected source: Our guide, Myra. At breakfast Haley was dressed in her Che Guevara t-shirt that she sleeps in. Myra questioned whether or not you were allowed to wear stuff like that in America. Apparently she didn't realize how free of a country America is. Once the bashing began, Myra started to give us a hard time for calling ourselves Americans. She, as an Ecuadorian, felt that she too was an American. Apparently many in her country feel this way, and she has spoken with many Canadians who are also upset with this particular naming strategy. I said fine, I am willing to call her an American if she wants, but she then said she would never want to be called an American. I said "okay," I'll be American and you will be Ecuadorian. She then went on and on about how our great country doesn't even have an original name to call ourselves and so we call ourselves the generic "American." She suggested that we come up with a new name or start calling ourselves "United Statsians." You can probably imagine how flabbergasted Haley and I were that she was even trying to argue this point. I suppose the British started calling us Americans and the name stuck. There are two separate continents, North America and South America. So, if the continent naming is an issue for her, there is no continent named America. She should be content, and proper, in calling herself a South American. Those north of Columbia who are not satisfied with calling themselves Mexican or Canadian can be content with the continent name of "North American" and not get confused with American. Those people who spend time getting angry at this naming scheme have too much time on their hands.

Okay on to other stuff. Tyson has now left the group. His partying ways didn't mix well with the family atmosphere of Boquete, Panama. This morning he headed back to Bocas with a couple Canadians and will rejoin us in Panama City on Sunday. Christoff is quite happy with this latest development, and isn't trying to hide his enthusiastic dislike of Tyson. I personally like Tyson, though our worlds are quite different. He enjoys drinking and hooking up with women, though he can never remember who exactly he ended up with the night before. He does have some good stories, however. Christoff is more mature and serious, and the two don't mix too well. I like Christoff as well, its just that the two men can quickly change into something ugly as displayed in our game of "scum" last night when the two got into a little quip over who had to deal. There was a bit of uneasy speech and "adult" words were dished out. I guess tensions had been building and the rest of us just kind of sat around not sure how to respond. If I were a great writer that made up quotes, I think for this story it would be: "A man's pride can be his greatest weakness." It is probably better that I don't become that type of writer.

Before I forget, I suppose I should touch on the Banco Nacional de Panama stealing $200 from my bank account. I had tried to withdraw that amount from the "cajero automatico" right after writing my last blog entry on the day we left Bocas. I withdrew the amount from the ATM, only no money came out, the screen said "transaction complete," and upon checking, the money had been debited from my account. I then high-tailed it to the local bank, and with only 20 minutes until our boat left harbor I was starting to perspire a bit above normal, even for the humid tropical climate. The lady I talked to couldn't be more apathetic to my cause. She gave me some drab form to fill out and said the money should be in my account in a week. I highly doubt that will be the case, and luckily I got her name and number and look forward to making many calls to the Bocas branch of the Banco Nacional de Panama upon my return to the states.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Stuck in Miami

Friday, July 13, 2007
12:53 AM

As I sit here at home in my new Ikea armchair I feel happy. It is about 1:00am and Haley and I have been putting together new Ikea furniture for the past couple hours. We purchased a table that goes against the wall (you know, those skinny ones--I don't know what they are called), and a island thinger to go in our kitchen. Ikea furniture has a way of keeping us up late at night.

We were supposed to get home yesterday. However, if you remember my previous post where I wrote about getting stuck in the Miami airport you won't be surprised that we once again got stuck in Miami. I don't know if I dislike the city of Miami more or American Airlines. Our flight home on Tuesday night was cancelled altogether and we had to spend the night in the airport to catch another flight home the next morning at 11:00am. Of course we could have gone to a hotel, but being cheap and adventurous, we decided to stick it out. I think Haley got about an hour of sleep and I got 5 (she did do a lot of reading and catching up with CNN).

I still have a good number of things I need to put together before I am finished with this years travel blog, but that will have to wait until I am more coherent. Other thoughts for future blogging:

• Michael Moore is the problem with healthcare statistics in America: Fat Americans cause our statistics to look bad because their lifestyles lead to early death, NOT access to healthcare.

• America is really rich.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Red Frog

Tuesday, July 03, 2007
8:05 AM

Right now it is 7:00am on maybe a Tuesday morning. I decided to wake up early today to go around Bocas to take some pictures as well as catch up on my travel blog from yesterday. I think I got a couple good pictures, but not sure they were worth waking up early for.

I am continuing to love Bocas Del Toro, especially after yesterday's visit to Red Frog Beach. It was a short 10 minute boat ride from Bocas town. Following the boat ride, we had a short walk through the rain forest to get to the beach. They wont drop you off directly on the beach because of the difficulty in navigating the large waves that in part make Red Frog so famous in Bocas.

The beach was awesome. It was definitely one of the nicest beaches I have been to here in Panama, or in the world for that matter. The water was crystal clear, the sand was white, and there was plenty of shade to take it all in and enjoy (yeah, most people don't want shade when they go to the beach, but for Haley and I it was a welcome site). After putting our stuff down on the beach, I decided to head off and do a little exploring while Haley and Michael stayed behind to get situated.

Here's my funny story. When I was walking back on my walk, I walked by these two bikini-clad women lying in the surf. When I walked by, they were both smiling and waving their hands in a flirtatious manner. The reason this is a funny story is because of my reaction. It was the last thing I was expecting and I had no idea how to react. I'm sure I must have blushed and I think I half-waved, but it was so incredibly awkward for me I'm surprised I didn't trip over my feet right there and get a face full of sand. Nice to know I still don't have it (and don't need it).

After the warm up walk, Michael and I set out to find the ever more elusive Red Frog that gives this beach it's name. The Red Frog has been on the decline since the commercialization of Isla Bastimentos, where the beach lies. The problem is that this island is the only location where the Red Frog is found in the world. I don't suppose we were helping the problem by visiting the island and then hunting out the frog to get a picture. However, Michael and I were careful and our "hunting" paid off. We ended up finding two frogs on our trek. Though you can't tell from the pictures, they are scarcely bigger than your thumbnail. We had to walk through the mud and back in all of this tropical ground cover, following the call they were making. We found plenty of the uglier females (at least I am guessing it is the males that are colorful and the females that are a drab brown color), and finally a couple males. When we were walking back, I kept imagining tropical snakes, like the Fer-De-Lance, crawling down by my feet ready to strike at any time. Luckily we got a few pictures off without any snake venom entering our bodies.

On our hike, we found another beach after following another trail through the rain forest and over a rather large hill. The beach was really nice also, but with more rocks than Red Frog.

When We got back, I decided to give body surfing a try. I was hesitant to do so after reading about the strong undertow, but after seeing some other older gentlemen doing so, I thought I could handle it. The waves were probably 6 or 7 feet tall and very consistent. I couldn't believe how much fun I was having riding those waves in on my belly and even managed to convince Haley to come join me. After riding some nice waves and consequentially showing her boobies to the world one too many times, she decided to call it quits. I stayed out there for another half hour tiring myself out. I wish we had more time to lounge around and explore, but we had told our boat guide that we would leave at 3.

Then last night, we had an amazing dinner at "La Pirata." I had the 2lb snapper which was flavored and deep fried to absolute perfection. It was some of the best fish I have ever had. Even Haley was a bit jealous as she ate her spaghetti pomodoro. Haley was happy, however, with her ice lemonades (which were quite good). We sure haven't been saving any money with the food down here, but we have been eating well.

Today we travel to Boquete, up in the mountains. It should be much cooler, temperature wise, and will give us some time to relax from our more adventurous sides.

Proud to Be an American

Monday, July 02, 2007
12:03 AM

Man, do people from other countries hate America. Especially if those people from another country happen to also be environmentalists. Especially if those people happen to live off Americans and American things, but are unable to achieve the goal of actually being an American. Okay, not all people that hate America secretly want to be Americans, but I get the feeling that some do.

Today we set sail on an amazing catamaran tour of the archipelego of Bocas Del Toro. It was a rare sunny day here (being the rainy season and all) and the water was calm as we weaved in and out of small mangrove islands surrounded by coral reef. When we finally did drop anchor, we got to explore the amazing sea life that abounds here.

Much of the time out on the catamaran was spent just sailing along, listening to good music (not island reggaeton) watching the beautiful ocean. It was great and I highly recommend taking a slow catamaran tour instead of a speedy motor boat that will get you wherever you are going in a fractions of the time. Sometimes, especially here in the Caribbean, it is as much about the journey as the destination.

Our guide was really good and entertaining, except for part of the tour where he said things that provoked the opening paragraph of this blog entry. It all started when I mentioned having come to Bocas 10 years earlier, two years before this German had ever even heard of Bocas Del Toro. Then we got to talking about how things have changed over the years. Then he got to talking about how the area and the waters are going to pot (which he later admitted isn't really going to pot at all but continues to flourish) and the "gringos" are ruining all the rainforest on the islands. Then he got to talking about how evil America is for ruining the environment, refusing to sign Kyoto, the mess in Iraq, … It is no wonder that Americans have such pride in America. We have to stick together to navigate through tough international waters. The sad part is that the man was overly passionate about environmental issues and when we started to have good conversation about the topic, he let his passion get in the way and I wasn't even able to talk to the man. He just sputtered out things about how all Americans get so much propoganda about how China supposedly puts out more emissions than us which he said isn't true. It is good to have a cause, but try to keep things in perspective. The man was talking about how we need to have biodiesel fuel stations everywhere, but trying to explain that it takes crude oil to produce biodeisel was lost on the man.

Anyway, the conversation was good until the tour guide who we were paying started going off on us gringos for being American. When you read in books and see in movies that all foreigners think that all Americans are cowboys, well, they really do think that. I guess I kind of like country music, but I don't really ride horses that well, and I don't know the first thing about herding bovine.

Anyway, I am proud to be an American. We do have a great country with a lot of good things going. We do need a lot of changes, starting with our government, but we also have it better than just about anyone else.

On a different note, our group this year is so different from the one last year. Two in our group (one in particular) is dedicating the night to going out, drinking until you can barely walk, hooking up with who knows who (no, really, he has no idea the next day) and then doing it again the next night.

I might as well end this entry with another "anyway." So, anyway, we are really liking it here in Bocas. We might go to "Red Frog" beach tomorrow and hang out in the sand. We might also have a go at surfing, but we are both kind of fried after lounging in the sun on the boat all day today.

Home Again, But Not the Same

Sunday, July 01, 2007
12:44 AM

Today as we crossed over a rickety, 300 yard railroad bridge spanning the Sixaola river separating Costa Rica and Panama, it felt good to be back in the country where I graduated high school. Ever since my trip to Bocas Del Toro, Panama, during the Christmas break of the 96-97 school year I have wanted to return. For that matter, ever since living in Panama from 1995-1997 I have wanted to return. Haley and I started planning our trip to Panama 2 years ago, took a detour last summer through the rest of central America, but now here we are.

Our journey to the Isla Colon within the archipelago of Bocas Del Toro began with an early morning bus ride, our long walk across the bridge, a van ride and an hour long boat ride. Bocas is much like I remember it, except a lot bigger and hippier (note that I didn't say hipper). Not that it has turned into a hippie town, just that there are a lot more rastafarian wannabe white travelers all over the place that were definitely not here 10+ years ago. I guess after this and the last place I am quickly realizing that I don't like these little surf towns where people smoke weed, sleep in hostels, and spend there nights in bars. I guess that means I'm getting old.

We just got in from having a deep conversation with the group about religion, politics, the universe and other subjects that both allow you to get an idea as to what kind of people you are traveling with and also force you to think of things in new ways as you mesh with people from other countries and with other belief systems. It is interesting to see how the rest of the world hates America. Now everyone seems to think Haley and I are alright people and there are certainly plenty of other Americans around that don't seem to bother them, but others don't like what America stands for. I guess I can kind of see their points of view. Some of us Americans are a little cocky and loud when we travel.

I am excited for tomorrow. We are gonna go on a full-day catamaran tour. These Catamaran snorkeling trips are quickly becoming something we do on every trip (with last years trip in Caye Caulker as well as on our trip to Puerto Rico a couple years ago). Should be fun. I hope Bocas proves to be as amazing of a place as I remember it being in my head.

Saturday, June 30, 2007


Friday, June 29, 2007
11:24 PM

Yesterday was rather boring, so I won't waste any time writing too much about it. We did go to a sloth "rescue" center, which was little more that a lady who likes sloths and takes them in to care for them. The people are in no way veterinarians, but feel that they are making a difference in the sloths life. I believe the story actually is that there is an overpopulation of sloths and these people just happen to like them, so the ones that mother nature tried to get rid of through death, they take in and treat as pets. After seeing the entire setup, you would think the sloth, or "slowth" as they call it, is endangered. I'm pretty sure that it isn't. It is probably about as endangered as the North American squirrel.

Don't get me wrong, they had a very nice setup with very nice facilities and a nice canoe trip through the rain forest. It was all entertaining, but very much overpriced to go see someone's pet sloths. Having said they, the sloths were awesome. I think about $5US awesome, not $15US worth of awesome, though. Oh, and then I bought the most expensive can of diet coke I have every purchased at $2US (oh, and it was canned just up the street here in Costa Rica, not imported).

We did end up having a nice bonfire last night on the beach where we messed around taking cool pictures with a flashlight. Tyson and Myra definitely take the cake when it came to being creative with the light.

Enough about the sloths…On to the good stuff

The Pacuare river emerges from a spring deep in the mountains of Costa Rica. As it makes it's way to the sea, it passes through two deep, fast, and beautiful canyons. The entire way is lined by dense green, primary rain forest. It has been named in the top five rivers for rafting in the world by the main rafting association (whatever that is), and National Geographic named it as one of the 10 most beautiful rivers in the world. It was easy to see why the river owns both those titles.

Most of our group went on the tour, so we got our own private raft with our own guide. The river was full of class 3 and 4 rapids, and with all the rain they have been getting down here the last couple weeks, they were really strong class 3 and 4. We went the entire time without any real accidents, though on the ride up they scare you about all the things that could go wrong and how to get rescued in emergency situations (they tell you this right before you sign your life away on the little waiver they give you). At one point we were going over a huge wave in a class 4 rapid and one of my fellow rafters jacked my chin which put a lot of pressure on my TMJ (temperomandibular joint--sorry, I now know the name and feel I should show that bit of information off) and now I can't bit down all the way because it hurts. I don't think I caused any real damage other that some mild inflammation of the joint--which does hurt quite a bit, but the way.

I was really proud of haley on the river. She paddled hard the whole time and when we were done four hours later, she wanted to keep going for another couple hours (everyone else including me was quite tired at this point). She even fell out of the raft at one point, but then we were all standing up with our hands interlocked in a circle as we went down a class 2 rapid. It just so happened that the way our boat turned that we all kind of pushed her and Chris (from switzerland) into the water. Don't worry, though, I rescued her quite swiftly. I also "rescued" a couple other girls in our group and when you pull them in you are put into a rather compromising position with the said person laying on top of you. It could potentially be awkward. Oh, and just to have a little extra fun, we went down one of the class 3's backwards (on purpose--some other groups repeatedly did it on accident) and then we also did another class 3 while closing our eyes. Our river guide, Diego, was really good and recently went to the rafting world cup in Ecuador (I don't know if he placed in any category, but impressive nonetheless). It was all a blast.

Oh, and it did have a light rain the entire time which both kept us really cool and enriched the already saturated green lining the canyon walls. There were so many vistas of canyon wall with clouds rising from the rain forests floor. Then there were over a dozen waterfalls along the river, some falling from over a hundred feet up. We joked that if we were to die on the river that we not realize it because we were already in heaven (unless some of us end up in hell, then we might notice a change in scenery). The only part that bugged me about the trip was that I was unable to carry my camera with me on the journey because of all the water.

One a side note, Haley and I have been listening to these books by Vince Flynn about terrorism and the CIA. They are really intense and hearing all the different stories kind of put me in commando mode where I am constantly on the look out for people that could give us problems (especially after the recent muggings in the area here).

I feel this entry was just a jumbled mess, but I wanted to get some of my impressions down really quick before I forget some of it. If you ever find yourself in Costa Rica, I highly recommend the Pacuare river, you won't be disappointed. It might end up being the highlight of the trip, depending on how Bocas Del Toro goes (I remember it being incredible as well).


Thursday, June 28, 2007
12:31 AM

Ah, Costa Rica. So we are getting back into the Central American spirit now. We had a 4 hour bus ride through the mountains and ended up in the little town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. We had previously heard about Puerto Viejo from our previous tour leader from last year. We had asked her if she had any advice on places to go and things to do and she said to avoid this place because it is getting dangerous. Then this morning right before we got on the bus to come here with our group our new leader, Myra, told us of her recent mugging. She was down here about a month ago and got robbed right outside our current hotel. Two teenagers came running up to her shooting off a handgun into the air and demanding all her money. She freely gave up all she had and went straight to the police who did nothing because the boys were minors. In the month since that time, there have been more muggings, including an entire group of travelers. While I don't think we will get mugged ourselves, I am sure to carry as little money as possible, enough to just get by.

Oh, and I'm also not worried because we have a bodyguard, Roberto. He seems nice enough and did come in handy when a local rastafarian kept on trying to sell us some "good weed." Of course I think it would be better if the gun holster he has on his belt were to actually have a gun in it. No, I'm not kidding, the man has a gun holster with no gun. He does have a cell phone however, and I don't doubt that he is prepared to use it.

After arriving into town, Haley and I walked around with Crystal, an aspiring schoolteacher from Canada and Tyson, a twenty-something professional traveler. Tyson has spent the past year and a half traveling to Switzerland, parts of Europe, spent the past snowboarding season in Canada, probably a couple more places I can't think of and is now doing the entire central America thing. He plans on traveling for the next three years as well. I guess he just got tired of work one day in Australia as an electrical engineer and decided to head out on the road for some travels. Us Americans don't really even think of traveling like that. In fact, we don't do much traveling at all. I'm proud of Haley and I for stepping out of the box and getting away this time. We have a good group and I think we will have a lot of fun in Panama. Tomorrow we are gonna go see a sloth rescue farm and have a bonfire on the beach. Then the next day we are gonna do a little whitewater rafting down the "best" whitewater river in central America. Should be fun as long as our bodyguard continues to watch and protect us. (there is both sarcasm and truth in that last sentence).

Manchu-Wok at the MIA

Tuesday, June 26, 2007
11:52 PM

So, here we find ourselves once again in Central America. And here I find myself once again starting up "" Back on vacation. I'd like to say that this trip has gotten off to a good start, and to be honest it hasn't been THAT bad. However, our two hour layover in Miami quickly became a 5 hour layover and then turned into a 7.5 hour layover. We had planned on doing a little shopping in San Jose (Costa Rica--where we are right now), but seeing as we didn't get to the hotel until after 8:00pm local time, we just headed to the corner restaurant and ate a nice meal (arroz con pollo) for under $5US. The rest of our group was out to dinner and we have yet to meet them. We'll be up early tomorrow to get going to our next destination, so we'll miss out on San Jose all together.

About the title of this blog…In an effort to appease our growing anxiety about the layover, the nice people at American Airlines decided to give us each $10US to buy lunch. The dude at the counter told us to walk to this chinese place, which had the best food in the airport. We figured the plethora of time on our hands and an opportunity to eat some decent food would make the 15 minute hike worth it. Unfortunately, the food was everything but good. The sesame chicken was old and laced with catsup, the spring rolls were soggy in greese, the mushrooms in my mushroom chicken tasted like pool water and you get the picture. So, if you are ever stuck in the Miami International Airport, I would recommend that you go to a place other than the Manchu-Wok restaurant next to gate D35.

Just being down here in Costa Rica, I am remembering how much I love it down here. The weather is a very nice 65 degrees out (it's also midnight), and I don't think it gets much over 80 here in the city. I even love the smell of diesel fuel out on the crazy roads.

In other non-travel blog related news, we went wakeboarding yesterday for the first time. Poor Haley caught the front edge of her board her first time up and whacked that water with a brutal force. We were all surprised when she insisted to try it again. The next time she got right up and wakeboarded like a pro. Unfortunately, she is now experiencing what we imagine is whiplash from that first fall. Oh, and I got up too, but don't have any cool stories to share other than it was a blast.