“Happy Veterans Day!”

"Baba"

“Baba”

“Happy Veterans Day, Baba!”

That’s what I would have said to my father, were he alive today. “Baba” served in the U.S. Army during WWII. He was assigned to mess duty and used those skills to open a succession of restaurants years later. He re-enlisted in the the U.S. 14th Air Service Group, 407th Supply and Service Unit that supported the Flying Tigers stationed in China.

His good friend, Staff Sgt. Lewis Yee, taught him how to drive the big tankers hauling fuel for the airplanes. There were harrowing trips driving convoys through The Hump, that treacherous area of the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains. The Burma road was a deeply winding route between India and China that was taken with big, unwieldy tankers next to sheer drops that required drivers with nerves of steel to navigate. I’ll tell you more about my father and his friend, Staff Sgt. Lewis Yee, in a later post.

If you see or know a veteran, please, please, take time to thank him or her for their service to our country. It can be any day of the year to do it. We owe them much!

“God Bless America!”

 

 

Kailash Satyarthi, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, is my ex-Boss: A brief Tribute

This story from behind-the-scenes is a testimony to those who have a beautiful mindset.

The Write Might

Kailesh-Satyarthi

I first met him in the fall of 1996 when he, in an ironed kurta-pajama, passed by me, and whooshed the door open to his small office. I was lazing at my desk, waiting for the Director, who I’d been hired to assist. The morning was overcast and light barely filtered through the window at the entrance, but the pure white of his cotton made the day appear brighter. I was young, and it was my first job.

It took a few months before the Director recommended that I work for Kailash Satyarthi – the Chairperson of Bachpan Bachao Andolan/Save The Childhood Movement (BBA) – whom we fondly call “Bhaisahab.”

His costume though it was bright, had an air of intimidation, because we’d witnessed all our lives in India, the white-adorned politicians who would often vanish after they’d won the elections, not delivering on their promises. Though I knew…

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“Hoda & Kathie Lee, I, too, have advice on taking my daughter out!”

Watched Hoda & Kathie Lee on the Today Show, talking about the former Navy Seal who had rules for his daughter’s future boyfriends: http://www.today.com/parents/rope-tornado-bottle-hurricane-dads-gives-daughters-potential-boyfriends-tough-2D80192078.

It reminded me of the time my daughter came home from college. She and old high school friends decided to meet that night at a local country western club. Three of the guys who lived in the community were coming by to pick her up to meet a couple more girls at the club.

The doorbell rings and a fresh-faced teen greets me. I invite him in and start my spiel: “Our daughter is very precious to us. You are responsible for her tonight. We expect you to treat her with respect and to keep her safe. That goes for the other two girls too.”

I want to meet the other two young men, so we go out to the car and I repeat my “talk.” Afterward, one of the boys says enthusiastically, “I’m going to say the same thing when I have a daughter!” I sure hope he remembers that when/if he has a daughter.

Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

February 17, 2014

We prepare to leave Granada for San Jose, Costa Rica. The owner says our taxi is coming. Up drives the owner’s son. Hmm …

We get into the car to go to the bus office. A couple of Dutch girls from the hotel join us. We ask how much. He says $5 each, to which we immediately protest loudly! We don’t care that he is going to two different offices – the amount is outrageous! One of the backpackers says firmly, “$1 each.” Faced with three fierce feminine scowls, he nods.

Not a peep from the other male in the car. That moment confirmed my earlier perception that some people will rather be over-charged than cause a ruckus. I have constantly cautioned my husband to remember the current country’s rate of exchange so we aren’t (too) over-charged. Well, he’s on vacation and has a laidback attitude regarding service charges. I think it’s because he knows that Central America is a poorer part of the world and to him, it’s alright if they ask for more than the going rate. If the taxi driver says it’s such and such amount to get to wherever, he says okay. To me, knowingly demanding more than the going rate is gouging. We already pay way more than what locals pay.

Crowded launcha

Crowded launcha

 

At Lago de Attitlan, we were always told Q30. If you paid more than Q25 to ride a launcha to a few villages ’round the lake, you were over-charged. Some tourists were able to bargain down to as little as Q15. Locals, if I remember correctly, pay Q3 to Q5 per person.

 

Three-wheeled tuk-tuks are plentiful in Panajachel

Three-wheeled tuk-tuks are plentiful in Panajachel

 

If you ride a tuk-tuk in Panajachel, the biggest village on the lago, it’s Q5 a person. Locals pay Q1 to Q2 a person.

 

 

 

 

Again, ask a couple of different locals what the going rate would be to take a cab, the bus, etc. When we do, they tell us what they pay and what would be fair for a tourist to pay. We also read travel forums and sites before we left and knew what some of the rates might be. Those actions gave me the confidence to bargain. (Lonnie left negotiating to me as he preferred to play the nice guy in the “Good Tourist, Bad Tourist” game.)

Eventually, Lonnie started showing me his change before pocketing it. A few times I had to swing his open hand with the change back to the merchant and tell him/her that we have more change coming back. We’d get more change and an un-apologetic look. It must be a game to see how observant tourists are.

The rates are quite varied and it CAN get confusing trying to convert them. We saw:

Guatemala: 8 Quetzales = 1 US Dollar

Nicaragua: 25 Cordobas = 1 US Dollar

Costa Rica: 500 Colones = 1 US Dollar

 

Now, back to Granada … we get to the bus office and it’s locked. A woman at the open doorway next door says that they won’t open for a while. We’re taken to another location that is open. The reservation we made is nowhere to be found. A Canadian backpacker says he’s going on a bus that will take us to Costa Rica. He asks if we are going to Monte Verde too. No, we’re going to San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital and the country’s largest city. He says we can all go on the same bus as it will stop briefly and let him off on the way to San Jose. What a nice guy!

 

Lago de Nicaragua

February 16, 2014

Another warm day in Granada. We decide to get out on the water. Nearby Lago de Nicaragua is the only freshwater lake in the world that has sharks, though a local told me they’re rarely seen. The sharks have been severely overfished and a hold has been put on hunting them. Hopefully, it brings the numbers back up.

It is said that the 365 tiny islands in the lake were made when Volcan Mombacho had a ferocious eruption and spewed bits and parts into the lake. I can see that possibility, as most of the islets are like tiny tree-topped blobs, dotting the waters.

Telephone lines stretch across the lago, connecting homes that are fairly close to each other. Many of the islands we pass are concrete reinforced, allowing for more stability and enlarging surface areas.

The island in the foreground, Isla Jacqueline, looks like paradise. I think I spied a ball court and play area!

The island in the foreground, Isla Jacqueline, looks like paradise. I think I spied a ball court and play area!

The hanging sacs are actually bird nests!

The hanging sacs are actually bird nests!

 

This capuchin monkey's stranded, like on Gilligan's Island. People boat by, but never rescue him!

This capuchin monkey’s stranded, like on Gilligan’s Island. People boat by, but never rescue him!

Please don't throw chip bags on the island. This howler monkey, the capuchin's island-mate, is a curious sort.

Please don’t throw chip bags on the island. This howler monkey, the capuchin’s island-mate, is a curious sort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunchtime! Our guide takes us to an island restaurant. We place our order and enjoy the quiet just before a noisy tourist boat arrives. It becomes pretty crowded as there’s just so much space.

We stop by an island restaurant for their specialty, boneless fried fish. It's a popular tourist spot.

We stop by an island restaurant for their specialty, boneless fried fish. It’s a popular tourist spot.

 

When in Rome ...

When in Rome …

 

On the way back, the driver gently guides the boat through a patch of water plants and cosies up to a tree on an islet. He cuts the engine and reaches out for a closed blossom and proceeds to show us a simple way to “bloom” it:

 

Later, Gerda takes time away from her biking tour buddies for an evening walk around Granada with us. We stop for dessert before strolling over to the plaza. The International Music Festival is a high energy event. Some of the spectators get carried away!

Granada, Nicaragua

Colonial architecture in the town square

Colonial architecture in the town square

February 15, 2014

We finally make it to Granada! It’s already starting to feel HOT. Maybe a visit a month or two earlier would have been better. Oh, well.

Granada’s a quaint city with Spanish influences and is sister city to Guatemala’s La Antigua. It’s said to be the first European settlement in mainland America. If the claim that it’s registered in the official records of the Crown of Aragon and the Kingdom of Castile in Spain is true, that, indeed, bespeaks of royal acknowledgement of an exceptional lineage! Granada may have been spared major damage from the Sandinistas in the 1970s – 1980s, but an earlier history of battles and invasions from other countries, a long-running, often violent feud in the mid 1800s with neighboring city, Leon, and other issues have taken their toll.

Although Granada (named after the ancient Spanish city) is not quite as well-maintained as its “sister”, the past decades have seen an attempt to revitalize the city and save its ancient colonial architecture. Judging by the variety of indoor shops and decent eateries here, the city is becoming a more desirable tourist destination.

We stop in the “calle peatonal”, pedestrians only street, to sip a beverage, watch people go by and browse the vendor tables.

An artist adjusts a link before selling Gerda his hand-twisted silver necklace

An artist adjusts a link before selling Gerda his hand-twisted silver necklace

Using just a reed and a snip from small scissors,  this boy creates a heart with arrow through it. At any age, artists work hard to make a living in Central America.

Using just a reed and a snip from small scissors, this boy creates a heart with arrow through it. At any age, artists work hard to make a living in Central America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                    We explore farther and discover the Iglesia de San Francisco. Firefighters from Italy walk by, but Gerda’s too shy to approach them and see if they will trade firefighter patches. (Ah, Gerda! Missed your chance to meet interesting men who share your love of firefighting!)

Iglesia de San Francisco is considered to be the oldest cathedral in Central America. Sadly, the famous robin's egg blue paint seems to have faded.

Iglesia de San Francisco is considered to be the oldest cathedral in Central America. Sadly, the famous robin’s egg blue paint seems to have faded.

Iglesia de San Francisco’s current building is fairly new – in 1524, it had wooden walls and a straw roof. It burned down about 160 years later to be rebuilt as a sturdier structure. In 1856, it was intentionally burned down by the infamous American scoundrel, William Walker. His men set fire to the city when they left, destroying most of it.

Walker was a power hungry mercenary who schemed to become President of Nicaragua with a goal to control all of Central America. Those other Central American countries took exception to the idea. Walker didn’t rule very long, a year perhaps. It’s said that in 1860, he was hunted down and executed in Honduras.

If you miss Catedral de Granada in the town plaza, you're looking in the wrong direction!

If you miss Catedral de Granada in the town plaza, you’re looking in the wrong direction

 

 

 

Catedral de Granada is a boldly painted church in the plaza. The sprawling building is quite prominent!

 

 

Enter a peaceful sanctuary

Enter a peaceful sanctuary

 

 

 

The cathedral’s first structure was built in 1583, destroyed by the previously mentioned 1856 city fire, then completely rebuilt by 1915.

 

 

 

To view more Granada iglesias, visit http://felipedelbosque.wordpress.com. 

 

All around us, the city shows off its bright colors! The Baroque style with Moorish influence is quite evident. Granada is waiting to see if it qualifies for the World Heritage List.

Many styles of architecture abound!

Many styles of architecture abound!

A horse-drawn carriage goes by cheerfully painted houses.

A horse-drawn carriage goes by cheerfully painted houses.

Locals hang around a beautifully detailed gazebo

Locals hang around a beautifully detailed gazebo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life in here seems to be slow and easy.

Napping 4-legged resident

Napping 4-legged resident

I was surprised to see sanitarily wrapped vegetables!

I was pleasantly surprised to see wrapped vegetables!

Stopping play to watch visitors

Stopping play to watch visitors

 

Often, you will see darling children, such as this one on the right, on my blog. Except in crowd shots, I always ask for permission to take their images if they are recognizable, be it for a photo or video. It’s a habit from working in media. It’s also the right thing to do. Especially in Central America, parents are very protective of their children. Several times, a negative shake of the head was sent my way and I moved on.

Tip: Please respect the cultures of countries you visit. I noticed that if I very politely and smilingly communicated with locals, they reciprocated. English-speaking locals or ex-pats were very kind to explain local customs.

 

Tip: If you are looking for a change of scenery, Granada offers a low cost of living, attractive incentives for foreign investors such as limited tax breaks and there are few restrictions on foreign ownership. Just be sure to visit before any decisions are made.

 

Volcan Masaya, Nicaragua

February 14, 2014

We had planned earlier to head to Granada. Gerda’s bike tour starts in Granada, so we all decide to travel there by taxi. But … Masaya is on the way. We book rooms and are off to see Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya! It has the distinction of being Nicaragua’s first National park and its largest. The area contains active and inactive craters and calderas. The last eruption was in 2008. It’s part of the Central American Volcanic Belt, running from Volcan Tacana in Guatemala to Volcan Irazu in Costa Rica.

"Wel-come to Ma-sa-ya!"

“Wel-come to Ma-sa-ya!”

We’re warned that we shouldn’t inhale the strong sulphur dioxide fumes for more than 15 minutes. It is amazing to be so close to an active volcano!

Cricket couldn't see through the thick smoke screen

Cricket couldn’t see through the thick smoke screen

The stairs up to the cross are closed, but we’re able to go around and take another path up. I should say, “they” are able to, as I can feel great apprehension beginning to build up in my chest as we begin the climb up. So, I decide to stop, turn around and take shots of the smoky landscape. With shifting wind and heavy plumes of toxic sulphur vapors, I finally head down to catch a clear breath.

Gaseous vapors drift past the cross as Gerda, Lonnie and another visitor explore the terrain after climbing up to the cross

Gaseous vapors drift past the cross as Gerda, Lonnie and another visitor explore the terrain after climbing up to the cross

I DO love horse rides!

I DO love horse rides!

We take a too short horse ride to the path up an inactive volcano to see the grand vistas. Cricket and I stay behind as Lonnie and Gerda hike up along the rim with our taxi driver. On the way here, our driver, Wilmer Jose, was practicing his English and playing his English learning tape for us. Instead of dropping us off at the Centro de Visitantes and leaving, he waited for us to purchase the tickets and took us up to the volcano and craters. So, we asked if he wanted to hang with us and drop us off at our hotel in Masaya, and tomorrow, take us on to Granada. He did! I think it’s his first time at the volcan and to ride a horse. Tip: If going by taxi, confirm with your driver that he will wait for you to purchase a ticket at the visitors center and take you all the way to the volcan’s parking lot. Don’t be left to walk that really long walk like I read someone did on tripadvisor.com.

Many people walk all the way around the rim

Many people walk all the way around the rim

On the way out, we visit the Centro de Visitantes to see colorful exhibits and balcony views of surrounding craters and lakes. A cool way to wind down from a tiring walk.

Idyllic scene

Idyllic scene

An overview of Masaya

An overview of Masaya

Gerda proudly points out her home! Note the dangerous pink lines of a mosaic of shifting oceanic and continental plates.

Gerda proudly points out her home! Note the dangerous pink lines of a mosaic of shifting oceanic and continental plates.

Laguna de Masaya in the distance

Laguna de Masaya in the distance

We finish with a delicious meal and dessert.

End of  a happy Valentine's Day!

End of a happy Valentine’s Day!