The Magic of Villa de Leyva

It was time to leave Isla Providencia. Mind you, this was no easy task. The tropics always do this to me: take me in their grasp, comfort me with their languid pace and remind me that moving  slowly is its own reward. And so it was for two glorious weeks. The gorgeosity of the water is with me still, will never leave me, and will beckon me back to the Caribbean again and again. May it have its way with me again soon!

I spent my last few days there hanging about with a few lovely Brits … overgeneralizaton that it is, I do so love the Brits I meet when I travel. And so it was with John and Tracey, lovely folks from Manchester who also work in the counseling field, so it was fun to share some of our common interests and engage in otherwise stimulating conversation: from online dating to Brexit and t-rump, to travel and heartache and you know, the stuff of life. Yes, we had some good laughs and a sweet connection.

Unlike the debacle of leaving Cartagena, this travel day was a breeze in every way. Even though it was 12 hours from point to point, everything flowed easily and smoothly. A blessing anywhere, but especially out here in the less-developed world. A taxi to the airport on Providence with Jerry, my taxi driver who I met when I first arrived and who I disappointed with my lack of interest in his repeated amorous invitations. But no hard feelings – he took me back to the airport, kissed and hugged me, told me he loved me (HA!) and saw me off for my 20 minute flight to San Andres. 

A few hours wait in San Andres for my connection to Bogota, a chaotic and very noisy boarding process that did nothing to fluster me as I simply took it all in, amused at the flurry of energy and disarray as we boarded the very full flight to the nation’s capital. I was still unclear whether I’d give Bogota a pass or spend a few days there before my flight out in a week or so, as a few folks had told me about parts of the city they quite enjoyed and which might be worth seeing. No need to decide anything about that just yet. 

I had read about the importance of getting an ‘official’ taxi at the airport and how to go about doing it. I was prepared. As I exited the airport, a man in a suit asked me if I wanted a taxi. He looked official enough and as I didn’t see any other official-looking people, nor an area of waiting taxis, I decided to follow him, directly, it turns out, to the very un-official taxi. I hesitated for a moment, but before I knew it, my very small suitcase and shoulder bag were already in the back seat and the taxi driver encouraged me to sit up front. I sussed out the situation enough to feel like it was okay, took the shotgun position and we were off. My intuition got a little shaken as we drove and drove through the clogged, urban streets and I wondered if I had made a mistake. I thought about how I’d escape the cab if necessary, how I would reach back for my bags somehow and make a run for it, to who knows where. It didn’t feel like a particularly solid plan, but I was hoping it wouldn’t come to that. As I was busy musing all this, he asked me to pay him before we arrived at the station. This did little to calm my simmering angst. When I asked why, he explained about being an unofficial taxi and the policia and the fine he would receive if caught. I pondered. I asked how far the station was and as we turned a corner, there it was in the distance. Okay, I exhaled, paid him and exited rather than escaped the cab without fanfare. All that conversation, naturally, happened in Spanish. 

The bus station has got to be the cleanest, most well organized I’ve ever seen in a foreign country, to say nothing of the infamous Greyhound ones I’ve seen in my few experiences in the US. Broken into four quadrants depending on which direction in the country you’re headed, I made my way to the El Norte section. There I met a young, earnest man who was delighted to practice his English as he directed me to the window for Villa de Leyva. In less than five minutes, I had my ticket and my bus was leaving in 30 minutes … wow! I boarded the empty bus, took my seat at the front, near the plastic poster of Jesus, across from the one of Mary and I figured they were good enough company to see me on my way. 

We plowed through the noisy, busy streets of Bogota, taking well over an hour simply to get out of the city, during which time I decided I had no desire to spend any time here. Granted, I was sure there were areas of interest, great museums, old districts to wander though and all the rest; and still, I decided that navigating a city of well over eight million people would required me to rev up to a pace I had no interest in. 

Four hours later and well into the dark of early evening, we arrived in Villa de Leyva. I decided I didn’t really break one of my few rules, since I had made an advance hotel reservation the night before on Providence. I had just traveled 12+ hours, from sea level to 7000 feet and immediately, I felt the elevation change in my lungs for the few-blocks walk from the station to the Plaza Mayor, where I would find, I hoped, Hospederia La Roca. All that indeed happened, easily and comfortably. The kind man escorted me to my room through a meandering, whitewashed, colonial courtyard of ornate furniture, Colombian artwork and overflowing plants and flowers: begonias and geraniums, ferns and anthuriums, tis and crotons, birds of paradise and even roses. As tired as I was, I was thrilled with my new surroundings and settled in to what I quickly decided would be my new home for my entire remaining time here in Colombia. 

Today’s my third morning and that decision is absolutely the right one. Plaza Mayor is known to be the largest in all of Colombia and maybe even South America. This sweet little hotel sits right in the middle of it. As I am wont to do, I’ve checked out other hotels and while many are charming and inviting, this one is just perfect for me. Picturesque as I look at both the surrounding hills and the courtyard out my windows, wonderfully quiet and get this: the first hot water I’ve had in three weeks! And I need it … yes, it’s chilly here! The days are fine, mid 70s, but the nights go down to the 50s and all I’ve got to keep me warm is my thin cotton jacket and my flimsy, but at least long sleeve beach cover up. For now, they’re doing the trick. 

My days are spent meandering through the streets, all of which are not quite cobblestone, more like a dry river bed. Sidewalks are the same or non-existent, so it’s like a walking meditation with every step, ankle-twisting territory that it is. The people greet me with smiles and “Buenas Dias” or “Buenas Tardes” and I enjoy some simple conversations. I’ve been delighted with the change of menu, as surprising as I am to have tired of constant seafood. Not much of a red meat eater at all, but last night, I indulged in a gourmet dish of crepes of filet mignon with mushrooms in a wine cream sauce, along with a glass of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, all for the hefty price of $7!

This morning I was all set for an early outing to a nearby town and monastery. I asked the kind man at the front desk to confirm what I knew of how to get there. He called the station, only to find out that I had missed the morning buses and could take one in the early afternoon. We then discussed my other plans for day trips in my remaining days here. Geez, I have some plans for the next few days! I headed out the hotel door with a few hours before my bus to Raquira, turned around and immediately headed back in. It’s time to write, I decided. So here I am, sitting in this gorgeous courtyard, sipping my tea and changing my direction and plan like only a solo traveler can. 

This trip is very different, as I’ve already mentioned, than I imagined. I’m moving more slowly than ever and it’s perfect. I am taking the time to sink into place and myself and finding my stride of travel. I’m already considering some future trips for this fall and next winter. I have accessed that place within me that finds and creates home wherever I am, wherever I go. I can sit all day in this courtyard if I so choose, I can pick up and go in one direction when I thought I was headed in another. I can stop in to that lovely courtyard cafe and wile away the afternoon and not worry about not having seen this or that. I feel free to move at the pace that doesn’t push at me, that is calm and relaxed. I can sit, look out at the square, and keeping doing that for as long as I want. Or not. Ahhh, this ease, this freedom, this spaciousness. 

Soon, I will finish this post and head toward the bus station. Unless, of course, I decide something else in the meantime. 

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Full Moon Over the Caribbean

It’s a Bella Luna kinda night here on Isla Providencia. 

A gentle, warm sea breeze, enough to rustle the fronds of the palm trees, but nowhere near enough to break the spell of the deliciousness of this tropical heat on my body. Except for the annoying sand flies and mosquitoes, my skin is in humidity heaven, to say nothing of how the curls of my hair are responding.  Some of you will get this reference: “The sun is gonna come out tomorrow!”

It’s Friday night, which means virtually nothing to me out here, but to the locals, it appears to mean plenty. It’s time to party! So what the hell, I’m all dressed up with nowhere particularly to go! I’ve got my long red-flowered, strappy Aloha dress on with a flower in my hair and that come-fuck-me red lipstick that I love. Not sure anyone noticed the ‘Come Fuck Me’ part, but no worries there, it’s bravado anyway (although I’m rocking the lipstick for sure!). There have been offers aplenty and none so interesting to me to take them up on. I’m not sure, but I think I might’ve liked it better when I was a looser woman! Nah, that’s just bravado, too, I’m just not so inclined in a one-night stand kinda direction. Not that I’m ruling it out, mind you, oh no, not ruling it out one bit. But I also know that’s when it’s Three Twins that I want and all that’s available is some knock off, store brand with ice crystals, it just ain’t worth the bother. That sorta sucks as a metaphor, but you get what I mean. Kinda. But like I said, I’m definitely not ruling anything out. 

A walk on the beach, strolling through the water that seems to get warmer with every step, seduces me to jump in, Venus burning brightly above the water, the Full Moon on the other side near the mountain, shining through the coming and going of the clouds. It’s a gorgeous night, like every night here has been, like every day here has been. Never hot, never anything close to cold. It’s the Tropics. My body loves this temperature. Mid-80s during the day, high 70s at night. What’s not to love?

Can’t remember a time anywhere close to recently that I’ve moved so slowly. Every trip I’ve ever taken has been a surprise of some kind and this is no exception. The biggest surprise of all? Drum Roll please: I’m learning how to vacation. How to stop. How to let go of any kind of list of Things To Do and to do virtually nothing. To find a pace that is slow and nourishing and has nothing particularly productive or anything like accomplishing anything at all on it. 

I’ve been here on the island for 12 days. I spent the first several days touring around, checking out the town (just about nothing to it), walking the adjacent island of Santa Catalina that’s connected by a sweet foot bridge and has nothing but foot traffic on it; I rented a moped, cruised around the island, all 17 kilometers of it, proceeded to crash the moped and while the bruises and scrapes were blessedly minor, I took it as a sign and ended my very short-lived moped career. I went on a boat trip around the island, snorkeled in waters the colors of which boggle my mind like every trip in the Caribbean does for me. I swam with some turtles and I visited several other beaches. I’ve eaten fish and shrimp and lobster and conch and plantains and coconut pie and an ice cream cone or two. I have an ice cold beer at sunset as I watch the sun slip into the sea. So, with all that done and behind me, there’s simply nothing else ‘to do.’  

Blessed Be! 

These days, I wake up whenever I do, close to sunrise since I leave the curtains of all my windows wide open to let the morning light in. I read for awhile. I remember my very active dream life and I write them down. I have some tea and breakfast. I read some more. I lay in the hammock. I walk on the beach. I stretch my body. I swim. I write. I have something else to eat. I drink an ice-cold beer. I flirt with Jerry or Raynell or Milton or no one at all. I pet the many stray dogs that live on the beach, the sweet Beagle and the small Lab kinda one are my favorites. (I bought a bag of dog food at the market tonight, so they’re in for a big treat tomorrow!) I walk some more. I take a nap. I swim in the sea again and again. And I repeat some pattern-less variety of these activities throughout the day. 

I didn’t know it would be like this. I buzzed around Cartagena for my first several days and I loved it. And then, arriving here on the island, I downshifted into a way of moving that my body has been craving and I’d been moving too fast at home to notice. I have needed this deep, deep rest. And now, I’m getting it. I’m giving it to myself. Finally. I’ve surrendered. And my body just keeps saying, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

Just a few more days of this island. Then back to the mainland where the pace will change again. But that doesn’t concern me now. What matters to me now is taking yet another swim before I lay this body down and giving thanks for this day, this body, this life

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Scenes from the Isla

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” … you ONLY have to let the small animal of your body love what it loves … “

(with gratitude to Mary Oliver)

ONLY … that

Here’s what it is for me these days:

  • Floating in the warm, turquoise waters of the Caribbean
  • The sensual tingle of silky tropical breezes on my skin
  • Walking in a sarong in the soft afternoon rain
  • Falling asleep in the hammock, enraptured in the brilliant writing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera”
  • Quenching my thirst in the sultry heat of the afternoon with an ice-cold cerveza
  • Entranced with the ebony silhouette of the palm trees at dusk
  • Feeding my hunger with fresh fish and lobster and plantains and papaya and whatever else the island offers

The challenge of getting here is long behind me now, both in time and memory. Within hours of arriving, I felt myself shift into the lowest gear I have known for some time. There is nothing to do and two weeks to do it in. Yes, I walk and swim and explore, all at the pace that the tropics demand … s-l-o-o-o-o-w. 

My cabana at Cabanas El Recreo is perfect. Huge, simple room right on and facing the sea, a hammock on my lanai, a small frig for cold drinks. I arrive with no reservation and when I describe to my handsome cab driver what I want in accommodation, he takes me directly here. It is exactly what I want. We flirt, spend an evening at sunset walking one of the island’s beaches, and he suggests more, much more. I move more slowly. He is only the first who expresses such interest. Many others do, too. The men here are not shy and neither am I. An island romance? Anything’s possible; but for now, the flirting is fun and enough.

Isla Providencia: an island that time forgot, where the local people – Raitzals, as they are known, descendants of African slaves and English seamen – speak a Creole/Caribbean English as their first language, not Spanish, embrace their quiet lives, and chose recently to vote against an ordinance to enlarge their airport (and thus change the quality and pace of their island life irrevocably as has been done in so many places in the Caribbean). They don’t want more tourism, one man told me, they want a better hospital! No one here is living the high life, particularly, and no one here looks to be hungry, either. There are few hotels on the island, no American tourists I have yet encountered, and no buildings higher than two stories are allowed. The main beaches have almost no development on them, one with only one beach bar and otherwise untouched – just palm trees, mangroves, and soft, white sand. 

THIS is what the soft animal of my body loves. Nights warm enough to stay in my sarong. Moving my body to live Reggae music at a nearby restaurant (I’ll head there soon). Only the sound of the lapping sea from my lanai, along with a star-filled sky and a crescent moon I could reach out and climb onto, with nearby Venus bright and bold guiding my way. 

I swim. I eat. I nap. I read. I write. I walk. I explore. I dream. I rest awhile and then a little while more. 

No other place feeds my soul and brings me the sort of ease and contentment that I feel when I am at the sea. A warm sea. A tropical sea. The Caribbean Sea. Like right here. Like right now. This is what the small animal of my body loves. 

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A Taste of Cartagena Street Art


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It Was a No-Good, Terrible, Fucked-Up Day, But Then It Got Better

It figures that I would accidentally post this before it was even anywhere near finished. Because it’s been that kinda day. But now I’m starting this post over.

I forgot about these kinda days in the 3rd world. Then I remembered. 

It started last night. Or rather in the late afternoon on the bumpety-bump-bump boat ride back from Isla Rosario and Playa Blanca (yesterday’s photos) where I snorkeled and swam and saw amazing fish and coral. I didn’t realize it on the boat ride, but my back was very cranky getting pounded like that. By the time night came, this 60-year old hip went outta whack like it sometimes does and like my amazing chiropractor takes care of immediately. But he was nowhere in sight last night or early this morning when it was even worse. It’s still pretty awful, but that’s not even the story. 

After the boat trip, I asked the lovely Colombian woman who booked that trip for me about how I might venture onto my next destination — I thought I’d be taking a very early morning bus tomorrow morning, arrive in Barichara in the early evening and have my very nice Barichara time. Nope. It’s a 13-hour bus trip just to Bucaramanga, then a bus change for another 3-4 hour trip. I ought not count on an immediate connection either, I sure know that. The earliest bus would get me in there in the middle of the night. 

I don’t have a lot of rules out here, but I do have a few and even The Contrarian in me understands and follows them. Rule #1 – I don’t arrive to a new place without a hotel reservation, alone, in the middle of the night. Okay then. I could do an overnight bus instead and get there early in the morning. Yep, that could work, but then I miss all the scenery and how exactly do I feel about 16 hours on a bus anyway? Well, I’ve done it before and it’s been fine. I’ve even enjoyed it – I’m generally the only foreigner, engage with the locals easily and find my own kind of adventure in it. But my first one in Colombia an overnight? It doesn’t sound all that appealing to me. And the 16-hour part is less appealing every moment. I think it over ad nauseum, end up meeting a German woman at dinner that evening who just did a similar trip and she said the bus was fine – hers was not nearly as long as mine would be, but an overnight, comfy, safe and certainly doable. Okay, okay, I can do this. 

Wait a minute. How’s about I go to Isla Providencia first? Fly from right here in Cartagena, then do the cruising around on the back end. Being in the water and feeling that tropical, Caribbean vibe magnetized me. So I start my research. Nope. Too expensive and all the flights go through Medellin or Bogota, making them ridiculously, all-day long. Too bad, not gonna work. Back to Plan A – I’ll just make the best of this loooooong bus ride. 

Then this morning comes. My first slow, easy, breakfast-at-the-hotel rather than early-morning-out-and-about exploring before the heat of the day sets in. I meet yet another German woman at breakfast, also from Stuttgart, who tells me of a discount Colombian airline that flies to the island directly from Cartagena and for quite the pittance. How could I, in all my research, not have known about Viva Colombia? Now I’m excited and it feels very different than how I felt in anticipation of the 16-hour bus plan. 

Research begins in earnest. My god, their site is even in English! Perfect! Early morning flight and sure enough – less than half of what I had read about from the other airlines! Yippeee! I’m going to the island tomorrow! Credit card in hand, passport number inserted and all the other pertinent information – The Most Capable Manager in me is activated, engaged and skillfully completing the task. And then the little round ball keeps going ’round and ’round for a long, long time. “Sorry we cannot complete your transaction. Please try again.”

I can’t tell you how many times I tried again. On my phone. On my iPad. Then, with the generosity of the hotel staff, on their computer. The Nice Hotel Woman tells me this has happened to other guests – I just have to try it more than once and it will work. By this time, it is so many more times than once, I have lost count. It is still not working. She helps me again. Calls Viva Colombia on the phone. The Nice Woman there helps me, too. Tells me the problem is trying to use a foreign credit card in Colombia. Gives me this instruction and that one. None of them work. Then she advises that I call a Travel Agency in Bogota (none here in Cartagena that can do this for me) – someone there definitely speaks English and they can complete the transaction for me over the phone. Excellent! But I cannot call from the hotel. The Nice Hotel Woman directs me to a Call Center where I can make the call. It’s 187 degrees outside. No problem. I walk to the Center, make the call. No one there speaks English after all and the transaction is too difficult between their no-English and my broken Spanish. “But no problem. Go to our website and you can do it all there.” Excellent! I walk back to the hotel and get back on the internet to find their website and book the flight. Nope. Doesn’t work. No seats available, even though the Nice Woman on the phone from Viva Colombia told me earlier that there indeed were seats on tomorrow morning’s flight. (Are you still with me?) I send them an email, explain the situation, ask them to help me. I wait for their return email. As of this writing now many hours later, it still has not come. I’ve stopped waiting. 

Then the Nice Woman at the hotel tells me she has another idea. If I make yet another reservation online, I can go to the super Mercado and pay for it there. She knows of another American guest who had this problem and that’s what he did. Okay. I make another online reservation – name, address, phone, passport and credit card numbers, emergency contact person, 16 other questions about whether I want an assigned seat, a checked bag, a carry on bag — all the questions I have answered 47 times already. I am getting cranky. The Nice Woman from the hotel can see it. “Patience. Patience. You need patience.”  “No.” I say. “Personas de Estados Unidos, nosotros no tenemos patience.” We both laugh at my attempt at humor in Spanish. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the Nice Woman speaks very little English. So then I’m feeling like my 1st world impatience and entitlement and all that shit is showing and I try to breathe and relax. But I am far from relaxed. And oh yeah, it’s 187 fuckin’ degrees!

But no problem. We have another plan and I’m on it! I make that new reservation and head off for the super Mercado – about a mile away. I find it easily and am pleased with myself, even though I know I look like a sweaty mess of an entitled American at this point. I ask the man at the door where I can pay for my airline ticket. “Not here, not possible,” he insists. I insist he is wrong and go off to find the person who can help me, so sure that she exists. I find her at the Customer Service desk and I just know I’m getting close now. Nope. Not possible. I need a bill from Viva Colombia. But I don’t have a bill, only a Record Locator number because the transaction won’t go through. There is no bill. And I can’t get on the internet because I need wireless to do that and there is no wireless at the super Mercado, and besides, this is just not going to work. I walk away and in the middle of the shampoo aisle, I start crying. I can’t help it, but The Manager (not the Store Manager, my internal Manager) starts scolding me and tells me to get it together and figure something else out. I walk out of the store and think that maybe that 16-hour bus ride is not such a bad idea after all. 

As I’m headed, dejected, back to my hotel, I see a busy hostel and think they might be able to help. The Nice Man there doesn’t speak English. (Most Colombians, I am finding, do not. They speak their lovely mother tongue at the speed of sound.) But he has another idea. Why not go to the airport and see if they can help me there? Good idea, one we hadn’t thought of  yet. Back at my hotel, I ask the Nice Woman if she can call Viva Colombia for me again to find out if this is possible. She calls, I tell the Nice Woman on the phone that it’s been something like 4 hours that I’ve been trying (she must know this, I’ve decided) and will this new idea work? “Please, I beg you, tell me the truth, will it work?”  “Yes, it will work. Go to the airport and buy your more-expensive-because-you’re-buying-it-at-the-airport ticket.” Okay, I’ll do it. I find a cab, he’ll wait for me while I buy the ticket and bring me back to the hotel. It’s now going on 5 hours since all this began. 

I get to the airport. I easily find the Viva Colombia kiosk. I’m excited. I ignore the ‘Cerrado’ sign since there are women on the other side of the plexiglass. Nice women, I decide. Nice women who will help me. No. They won’t. Yes, they are closed. Open in 30 minutes. I send the nice cab driver on his way and I wait. Even though there are now eight, count them, eight Nice Women inside. Still, they are closed. I return at 2:25. I talk nicely to the Nice Woman. Yes, she can help me make the reservation for the flight tomorrow. But what about my return flight? I don’t know anything about my return flight now, I explain. I’ll decide that later. No, says the Nice Woman. A one-way reservation is not possible. I must have a return flight. This is news. This is news that I don’t want. I don’t know when I am returning. I want to go to the island and decide once I am there how long I want to stay. This is how I travel. No reservations. No plan. Just go with the flow. Don’t you understand, Nice Woman? No. She does not. Sorry. This is not possible. Oh, she doesn’t speak English either, but I understand that this is what she is saying. Through the plexi-glass. I get her drift. And I don’t like it. Can I change the date of my return ticket if I want to? Yes, but not on the phone. You must fly from Isla Providencia back to Isla San Andres and then back to Providencia to change it. But I don’t know my itinerary! You must. You must get a return ticket now. I go silent. We look at one another. It is clear that like my few rules that I follow, she’s not bending this one. 

I walk away. I cannot decide. I sit on a bench in the airport and I cry again and My Manager lets me. I go back and forth too many times trying to figure out about the bus or the flights and the dates and not wanting to be locked in to dates, but realizing I have no choice. Okay, I have to decide here and now. I notice that every time I think about 16+ hours on the bus, I am even less happy than I am with all this mess of tickets to the island. I don’t want to take the long bus ride. Then I notice that I don’t want to admit that, like I’m some wimpy, sell-out of a traveler that I don’t want to do it; but it comes through loud and clear – I don’t wanna and I have the good sense to listen to that voice, Praise the Goddess! I sit with my phone calendar figuring and refiguring  and then figuring again. And then I return to the Nice Woman at Viva Colombia and tell her I am ready to book the reservation. She smiles. I smile. And I do. I make the reservation. Round trip. 

Ya gotta know when to keep on keepin’ on and when to stop pushing. When to be fiercely determined and when to let that shit go. When to surrender and when to never give up. Discern when to persevere and when to acquiesce. It’s not a simple or easy call out here in this 3rd world (or in any world, for that matter). I keep on learning and listening. 

I head back with a nice cab driver. I ask him to take me to the San Felipe Castle where I can stroll around awhile, act like a tourist even, because I decide I’m going to go on and have my day even though it’s 4 o’clock now. And so we have a nice conversation in Spanish and I have my nice afternoon. 

I take another walk to the walled city and a young Colombian woman approaches me, speaking English. She tells me that she and her friend are looking to talk to English speakers and would I be willing to talk to them? She seems like yet another Nice Colombian woman. I smile and say yes. She has a small brochure and she asks me how I feel about the future. I tell her that that depends on what we are able to do about the terrible dictator in our country right now. She empathetically listens and says, “yes, it’s a terrible thing, happening in many parts of the world right now. We are all scared about what is happening.” 

And then there, in the middle of the beautiful promenade headed into the walled city, I am suddenly crying, but this time different tears than about the airline tickets and trip plans. I am crying with this woman about my country. I say how ashamed I am of our government, how horrified I am by what these men are doing, how awful it is. But then, too, how heartened I am by the activism and the speaking truth to power and how complicated all these feelings are out here in the world as I also struggle with my frustrating, fucked-up day and the guilt I feel when I think about people being detained and deported in airports all over my country and how fucked-up their days are and how I know I don’t need to compare to make myself less entitled to my own feelings, but that it’s hard not to. I can’t believe I am saying all these things to this Nice Woman. I apologize. No need, she says. She gives me a sad face and says she understands. She hands me her brochure and starts quoting Scripture. 

It’s then that I realize they are Jehovah’s Witnesses!!! Oh. My. God. I am crying in the street with Jehovah’s Witnesses!!! There is some sweet, however twisted it may be, satisfaction in all this. I smile, take her brochure, walk away and I start laughing out loud like a damn fool. Has anyone seen this whole thing?

Then I take a self-guided tour of all the amazing Cartagena Street Art, I find a park where local people are making amazing music and dancing amazing dances. I have an amazing salad for dinner and my no-good, terrible, fucked-up day has suddenly turned around.

My back is still having a hard time. Stretching helps, but only a little. I’m still looking around for my chiropractor just in case he took a quick trip down here. 

That’s how it is out here on the road in South America. Yep, I had forgotten about how these kinda fucked-up days will happen. Rolling with them is part of the deal. So is celebrating how quickly they can turn to amazing. Now I remember. 

But hey, now I’m headed to Isla San Andres and hopefully onward to Isla Providencia, too, tomorrow! Stay tuned. If you can stand it!

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No Words … Just This!

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The Blog Comes Back to Life (and my traveling self does, too!)

It’s almost 88 degrees and as humid as it could possibly be at 4’oclock in the afternoon in the middle of a late January afternoon … quite the change from back home in Petaluma where it’s been raining, raining, raining and the kinda cold that convinced me to move to Hawaii all those years ago. Well, I’m certainly not in Petaluma anymore and far, far away from Hawaii, too!

It’s my first full day here in Cartagena, Colombia! 

As I was readying to leave, plenty of people asked me, “Why Colombia?” It’s a good question. Here’s my good answer: Colombia came onto my radar years ago when I took a several-month trip through Central America. That time, I started in Panama and made my way north to Honduras. When I was on the spectacular San Blas Islands in Panama, lots of people were headed south towards Cartagena or had just returned; and they were universally raving about how wonderful Cartagena and the Colombian people were – I should go, I should go! Since I had just started my trip, I didn’t want to change direction that quickly and dramatically, so I put it high on the list of ‘places to visit soon.’ 

Soon came and went, but I didn’t make it here. A relationship came and went, too, with someone not so accustomed to nor interested in this kind of traveling, and convincing him to come to a place like this was near impossible. So was staying in the relationship, but that took a while to figure out. More time passed and that meant not visiting Colombia. 

Then came last year, the relationship behind me; and I went to work on researching, planning and booking a two-month trip. I was going to Colombia! Another man came along, this time one I had long ago stopped dreaming was even possible. He was everything I ever imagined wanting in a man: open, real, deep, smart, present, sexy, awake, engaged, funny, sensitive, expressive, effusive, adoring, and over-the-top smitten with me. He’s a poet, for god’s sake! We fell madly, passionately, deeply in love. 

But my trip, my trip was already scheduled! He wouldn’t dare tell me not to go (“If that’s what makes you happy, I want you to go, I just can’t bear to be away from you for so long.”). I couldn’t bear it either, but I also knew I had to go. He understood. He too was a traveler. Maybe I’d shorten the trip. Even better, maybe he would meet me for some part of it. YES! I was still going to Colombia!

Then came, out of nowhere, his disappearance. Yeah, the man of my dreams left. Little explanation, many tears. He just couldn’t do it after all. The nightmare began. A day later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My world disintegrated. The least of my concerns, but still, I was very disappointed that Colombia wouldn’t happen after all. I spent that two months having radiation therapy instead. 

That was then. This is now. It’s been the hardest, darkest, most grueling year of my life. But I’m not here to talk about all that. I’m here now, without him and on this side of the cancer diagnosis, in Cartagena

I arrived in the late afternoon yesterday, almost dusk. It was a challenge at the Barranquilla airport and an instant immersion in being in a foreign place. First, I’m the only non-Colombian in sight and everyone knows it. The heat and humidity hit me like the wall of a furnace. I am far from complaining since I’ve been so damn cold, but I’m already dripping wet as I notice them sweat-free in their jeans and long-sleeved shirts. It takes some doing to find an ATM machine, not a cambio changer as I’ve already been warned about their bad airport exchange rates, but find it I do. My Charlie Schwab card does not work. Fortunately, the credit union one does. (I give myself a pat on the back for bringing them both.) With a pocketful of money, I head out to find my way to Cartagena. The taxi prices start ridiculously high. I know this game, I’m familiar with it, I even like it. I laugh and walk away, acting like I have an alternative. I don’t. Finally, after several conversations and walks around the airport, making myself only that much more noticeable and obvious in my foreigner status, a man helps me to get a taxi that will take me to the van that will take me to Cartagena for less than a quarter of the price. I call Charlie Schwab from the van and straighten all that out. I’m cruisin’ and feeling quite pleased with myself! 

I settle into my hotel, take a cool shower and a lovely walk in the neighborhood. I notice the hungry dogs, the skinny cats, the wheeled carts of strange sweets and tropical fruits, the men sitting, talking and drinking out of tiny plastic bags. I sip an ice-cold beer at an outdoor cafe and have a simple dinner. 

The woman in the parque on the bench next to me asks me if I am alone. “Sola?” Si. Yes. I am alone. And I am familiar with and reminded of this question and the surprise of local people since women my age traveling alone is such an oddity for them. I feel the loneliness tapping at me, wondering how different I might feel if I were here and in love, rather than here and yes, alone. I let myself feel it and I let it go. And it does go and I am grateful. I head ‘home’ to my room where I sleep and dream deeply and easily for the first night of my trip. 

I’m staying in the Barrio Getsemani, in a quiet, clean, simple hotel just outside the walled city. I’ve spent the morning and early afternoon today getting my 3rd world traveling legs on – walked until I could hardly walk anymore, ate fresh pineapple and watermelon for breakfast, a pollo empanada for a snack and yet more pollo, plantains and sopa de pescado for lunch. I sat in the tree-filled parques scattered around the city, gazed at flowing bougainvillea in every shade along ancient walls, delighted in the brightly-painted buildings, met the smiling Colombian faces with a smile of my own and practiced my rusty Spanish. 

Early in the day, a local man strikes up a conversation with me about Estados Unidos. “Ohhh, good place,” he says. “No,” I say. “Ahora, es terrible.” He points to a magazine stand with a photo of he-who-shall-not-be-named and says something about him being ‘my president.’ He doesn’t know what he’s said. A conversation ensues, mostly in Spanish. I say he’s not nor never will be my president. We speak of Obama and agree on how wonderful he was. (“Was?” Really? Does it have to be that tense?) He says, sadly, something about the wall this other guy wants to build. His dark face looks scared as he speaks. I am simultaneously thrilled to be speaking Spanish about something other than – ‘where is the bathroom’ and sickened that this is what we’re talking about. Again, I am experiencing the embarrassment of being an American. This time, though, there’s something about our dirty laundry being out there for everyone to see, especially after the dignity and grace of the Obama years. It’s an odd feeling that surfaces – this dirty family secret exposed that I don’t want anyone to know. And somehow him knowing, it being on a magazine cover here in a foreign city makes the nightmare all that more real. 

And yet … I am happy to be here right now. Just as I am. And to be writing on my long lost blog. 

And then, I go onto Facebook to let friends know about this blog and I’m greeted with a John O’Donohue poem:


When the heart is ready for a fresh beginning, unforeseen things can emerge. And in a sense, this is exactly what a beginning does. It is an opening for surprises. Surrounding the intention and the act of beginning, there are always exciting possibilities. Such beginnings have their own mind, and they invite and unveil new gifts and arrivals in one’s life. Beginnings are new horizons that want to be seen; they are not regressions or repetitions. Somehow they win clearance and become fiercely free of the grip of the past. What is the new horizon in you that wants to be seen? 

What indeed are those new horizons? I am eager to explore and welcome them!

Thanks for reading! 
It would be lovely to know you stopped by, so say hi if you’re so inclined! 💜

Posted in Colombia | 14 Comments

Welcome (Back) to Nicaragua

As we drove into Granada from the Managua airport yesterday, it was as if I never left this extraordinary country just over six months ago. It’s very rare for me to return to a place … I’ve done it internationally in only two places, both in Italy: My Manarola, which is scrawled so indelibly across my soul that I can’t help but return there over and over; and Venice, which calls me back to its canals and antiquity as if I am one of its own, which I have a feeling that I am, back from the courtesan days. But that’s another story for another time.

For now, as we drive on, with smoke billowing from the sides of the road where garbage is being burned, to the other side of the road where it is strewn amongst the cows grazing and the children playing, I am touched by my sense of familiarity with this place. The tropical flora and fauna and yes, that tropical heat, too – ahhhh, my body automatically takes a huge sigh of relief when I feel that steamy heat surround me. I may have Mediterranean roots, but the tropics have my heart.

And already, I’m learning something new from returning to a place once visited. Even as I look around, knowing clearly and obviously that I am very much in a foreign land, with its own culture and mores and language, there’s a sense of belonging and comfort that’s also available to me. I step right in speaking my learned-on-the-road Spanish that must sound ridiculous to the native speakers, but I make myself understood and that’s what matters. It’s sweet that I can direct the taxi driver to the blue house on Calle La Libertad, knowing exactly where we’re going. It’s sweet that I can point out the churches and the way to the lake and the yummy restaurant stops. And it’s super sweet to me that I sit writing this morning on the leather chaise lounge in the courtyard, where I sat many an hour before, drinking my morning tea from the same mug I used when I was here at Guillermo’s last time. Yes, I love that!

I love that we’re half a block from the city’s cathedral and Parque Centrale, where locals and visitors alike hang out, eat and stay cool under the huge trees that line the park. One block to a place with blind body workers offering massage for $12 an hour (I will be there later today for sure!). One block from Calle Calzada, the walking street where the open air restaurants open up after dark for the evening meal. Around the corner from the Spanish school where I will take daily Spanish lessons beginning this afternoon.

In the spring time, I arrived in Granada with a reservation at a Guest House that was undergoing renovation. They agreed I could arrive there, drop off my bags and go about finding another place. Sounded fine at the time, but another place was not so easy to locate. Everything was full, even at low season. I reluctantly agreed to the one room I could find at a nearby hostel. The young folks running the place were very welcoming and friendly, but the room was a dump. For $6, I agreed to take it after my full travel day, trusting I would find something else along the way. I unpacked immediately as is part of my arrival ritual and then headed out to explore. In less than ten minutes, I stumbled upon the sandwich board of “Room for Rent” outside Guillermo’s place and he happened to be walking by inside as I peeked in. What I saw then is where I sit right now: an old colonial house with a front room filled with white wicker furniture that opens to a huge square-shaped outside courtyard overflowing with tropical plants and foliage. In the back of the courtyard are the bedrooms, dining room and kitchen. The tall wooden-ceiling, tile-floored courtyard is filled with sitting areas of more wicker furniture, overstuffed leather couches and chairs, inviting hammocks, warm breezes wafting through and small birds flying around. I ran right back to the yucky place, packed my things back up in a hurry and moved right into Guillermo’s. I was home.

And now I’m home again. We’re all unpacked, settled in, the 5-gallon container of drinking water has been delivered and set up for us and we’ve been welcomed by Jenny and Marina, the two women working here while Guillermo is back in the US. And get this, there are no other guests here – we’ve got the whole place to ourselves! Okay then, I like it, I like it!

Ahhh, the courtyard!

Our bedroom has three very tall, double, dark wooden-door entrances and we open them all upon our arrival, letting the cross breeze cool us down. The fans help, too. No, no air conditioning and no hot water here – it’s the simple life here in Granada, just how I like it. I give Donna a tour of the house and we head out to explore the town, some on foot and some courtesy of the local one-hour, horse and carriage ride that takes us all over the city as dusk descends and the twinkling lights of Christmas trees from people’s homes attract our attention. It’s easy … everyone leaves their front doors wide open as they sit around talking together. There’s nowhere to go, there’s nothing to do; they’re just visiting with one another. And everyone’s house is wide open – we can’t help but look in and see that while their lives are simple and their furnishings basic, Christmas trees are everywhere.

After the whirlwind wildness that was the three-day stopover in Ft. Lauderdale to visit with cousin Stephen, this morning of rest and quiet is about as required as required could be. We went non-stop, eating and drinking, and partying and restaurant-ing, having psychic readings on the beach, taking a boat ride through the opulence that is the 1%’s lives and taking in all that life is in South Florida a` la the incredible generosity of dear cousin Stephen. Mostly what we did was reconnect as adults in ways that we’ve yet done together as cousins. And here’s the kicker:

This was the very best time I have spent with extended family in my entire adult life.

It’s true, there’s no hyperbole here. What made it so? Humor, of course, plenty of that. I laughed like I haven’t laughed in forever. And I got to be me, showing up as who I am and being seen and valued for that. I didn’t have to hide, I didn’t have to apologize, I didn’t have to make myself small or invisible or palatable to what is expected or preferred. And he did, too. There was room for all of us to be ourselves; and simply put, that’s not an experience I’ve known in my family. How do I say Thank You for that, Stephen?

Stephen also introduced me to his dear friend Naomi who came down from New York with him; his high school sweetheart with whom he has remained friends all these years. She and I enjoyed a most unexpected connection that delighted us both.

And then he brought me together with another of our cousins, Linda, daughter of my father’s brother – we walked into her house and as soon as our eyes met, tears flowed from both of them as we looked upon each other, dear childhood friends who hadn’t seen one another in over 30 years! Yet another over-the-top evening reminiscing, imbibing in gargantuan amounts of food and drink and meeting the next generation, two of her four amazing children! Young people who are funny and engaged and finding their ways just like we did.

At one point at her house, as we sat back down at the dining room table, this time for dessert, I looked around the table and saw not us sitting there, but the prior generation — our mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles, almost all of whom are gone now. It was as if their auras were floating above us, it’s as if we were sitting in their seats. And then I looked at Cayla and Colby, Linda’s two adult children, and they were sitting in the seats we had occupied all those years ago. And here I heard some of the adults saying the same things that those adults had said all those years ago. And here we were, engaging in the very same rituals our forebears had done, eating the very same kinds of food and carrying on traditions of connection that would have made our parents happy that we were choosing to do so. I’m not sure I can describe how clear this all was, but it’s as if I could see this entire familial process unfolding right there at Linda’s dining room table.

And now, although not so far away by air, far away from that table and from life in South Florida, I sit in a familiar city in a new country — Granada, Nicaragua. I’m mostly rested up after three days of hardly any sleep and now I’m ready to embrace this new leg of travel adventure.

This is a new one in another important way for me … this time my sister is traveling with me. We’ve never done this before and I’ve never traveled with someone else (except for a partner). Oh sure, I’ve taken vacations with others, but that’s something else entirely. I don’t feel like I’m on vacation and don’t feel like I have a life to even take a vacation from. I do what I think of as traveling, being on pilgrimage, on sojourn. It’s a different way to be out in the world for me and I’ve so appreciated my ability to step up and into the world and find home everywhere I go. But I’ve done that almost exclusively by myself. This is new for me and certainly new for my sister who hasn’t taken extended time off and generally hasn’t chosen to travel quite in the way I choose. So there are all kinds of opportunities and challenges and experiences ahead for us, individually and together. We shall see how we navigate those byways and find our ways into whole new worlds within us and around us.

Yes indeed, Welcome (Back) to Nicaragua! Let the mystery unfold, let it guide my way, let it show me what I need to know, what I need to hold on to and what I can let go of, and may I open with grace to what it has to teach me.

Now, it’s off to that cool shower, a walk, a meal and a massage and then my first day of one-on-one Spanish lessons!

Posted in Nicaragua | 6 Comments

Welcome Back to My Blog!

It’s like I almost forgot I had a blog. It’s like my life has almost been so full of living back here in the Bay Area that I’ve almost been too busy to focus here. But it’s not really true. It’s just that my attention has been elsewhere. True enough, life here in the Bay Area is rich and full and much denser than how I was living out on that remote island called Hawaii in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Ohmigod, yes, life here is different: classes with Ann Randolph and Terri Tate and Body Tales and The Motion Institute and going to movies and concerts and theater (The Golden Gate Men’s Chorus, Chanticleer, Concert in the Redwoods, Concert for Peace, Jennifer Berezan and Nina Wise, the San Francisco Symphony, the Scottsboro Boys, and so many shows at the Marsh I can’t keep track) and playing in San Francisco and Oakland and Berkeley and Petaluma and Tiburon and Spirit Rock Meditation Center and friends, oh, my dear friends, and singing and performing with the Love Choir in Sebastopol and the Wings of Glory Gospel Choir in Petaluma and attending Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco (yes, me attending church service!) and the trails of Armstrong Redwoods and the Marin Headlands and the Sonoma Coast and Point Reyes and all over Sonoma County and the wineries, oh, the wineries and the Golden Gate Bridge … my god, after all these years, my breath still catches when I cross it … and still, yes still writing personal ads and going on dates, ever the optimist, ever the determined, patient one to find my beloved, and the Election, ohmigod, The Election to which I was riveted with results far beyond what many of us could have imagined and the recent reconnection after thirty years of no contact with a man from my youth who, as dear Mary phrased it, “loved me into being” and rocked my world all those years ago and who has turned my current world upside down and inside out and working, too, oh, I almost forgot, I’m working again in Hospice … all of that going on …  has put this blog somewhere on the wayyyyy back burner!

Even so, as I ready now to leave the Bay Area for the winter, I’ve been thinking more about returning here to the Blogosphere to write and reflect on what the last six months has been about for me. It is winter time after all; and even though I’m escaping to warmer climes, it’s time to go inward for reflection and digestion and here’s a fine place to do just that.

When I started this blog, it felt important to write, unedited, whatever I was so moved to write, and to let people see it. In all my years as a writer, I had never done that before. Most all of my writing had stayed private. I was fearful of others’ judgment or rejection. So I kept it mostly to myself.

This blog changed all that. I edited nothing, even when I knew what I was sharing was really “out there,” even when I knew some of my readers and friends were turned off or even stopped reading as a result of what they may have deemed over-sharing or TMI, even when one of my dearest friends hinted her caution at my revealing such raw and intimate details. Still, I kept up the exposure. I let myself be seen. Geez, I mean, it is the Internet, after all; there’s not much privacy in these parts. I was challenged to quiet the ever-present internal editor, critic and judge that I so easily projected onto others. I needed to let myself see myself and be seen by others and let go of the fear of rejection or the longing for approval. All of that external response be damned, I needed to find it inside. Don’t be fooled by the past tenses in those sentences … it’s not like the process with the critic is over; it’s an ongoing dance through life and through art. But the dance is well underway and I’m learning as I go to let go and be seen.

And now I’ve upped the ante even more. Now my creative journey has taken a different path, one I didn’t see coming. My focus has shifted in an utterly new and unexpected direction. Now I’m working on a solo performance piece (hence all these classes I’m taking) based in large part on the relationship with this extraordinary man from my youth and what it’s like relating to him now. What I’ve uncovered in the process is that this is one of the big love stories of my life. I never let myself fully acknowledge or own that since it was so short-lived and so unlikely to be deeply requited. But isn’t that exactly what makes for some of the most potent love stories ever?

There’s way more to say and share. This love story isn’t finished. Of that I am sure.

Stay tuned as I head south soon back to Nicaragua where there will be plenty of posts in the making!

Posted in Back in the Bay Area | Leave a comment