Apr 12, 2015 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Exploring Arequipa over a weekend

Exploring Arequipa

Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru with approximately 1 million city-dwellers, was formed by Spaniards in the 1500’s after conquering the Incas. As you enter the Plaza de Armas at the heart of Arequipa, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into time and place outside of modern day Peru. Surrounded by 3 volcanoes, the view from Arequipa would have been reason enough for the Spanish to settle there. The sillar from these volcanoes is what forms much of the architecture surrounding the Plaza de Armas and crowns Arequipa as the white city. At 7640 ft (2300m) above sea level it is not the highest city in Peru, but it still has an altitude associated with some of the higher cities. If you are coming straight from Lima, you’ll definitely feel it; if you are coming down from Cusco, you’ll hardly notice.

If you’ve been to Machu Picchu, you may think that nothing can top that.  And while it’s true that Machu Picchu is amazing (or at least I’ve heard it was pretty awesome), but Arequipa can certainly hold its own and is well worth exploring and a great starting point for many other outdoor adventures in the area. Want to hike into a canyon?  Or go white water rafting?  Or explore volcanoes?  Arequipa is the perfect place for all that. Want to learn about the naughty nuns?  The ice princess? Or are you OK with just people watching.  Once again, Arequipa is the answer.

My weekend in Arequipa went something like this:  People-watching, nerding out on history, hiking down the world deepest canyon, people watching, and market exploring.  My sole reason for coming to Arequipa was to visit Colca Canyon.  I am not missing out on another awesome hiking expedition

One of my favorite things to do is just hang out in the square and people-watch, and the Plaza de Armas is the best place to do just that.

Nerding Out Part One: The Santa Catalina Monastery is one of the main tourist attractions in Arequipa and anytime I can get a glimpse of nuns behaving badly, I’m all in.  As a bonus, the cafe was serving apple pie and lemonade so I indulged my appetite after indulging my nerdy side.

Nerding Out Part Two:  After the monastery, I checked out the Andean Museum to see the “ice maiden” Juanita – the body of a young Inca girl found completely preserved (frozen) at the top of a nearby volcano.  To go in, you have to do a guided tour, which includes a 20 minute video about the discovery of the body.  The guide told us about the sacrificial rituals and the other artifacts found with Juanita’s body.

Day Two and Three:  Hiking that massive canyon

Day Four: More exploring Arequipa walking to the neighborhood of Yanahuara and its plaza for views over the city and of the El Misti volcano.  Market exploring and market eating.

Those view were well worth the walk up and Arequipa is definitely worth the time if you happen to be in southern Peru.

 

Apr 9, 2015 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Naughty Nuns of Santa Catalina

It’s no secret that I’m a history nerd. Throughout school, history was always my first choice of electives.  Need a religion credit– Catholic History and the secret lives of Monks and Nuns was a much better choice than Old Testament 101. My favorite time period depends on my mood and sometimes my location.  I have written a thesis about the Mayans of Mexico, a lengthy paper about the Witches of Salem, and traced Spanish explorers around the world.   My interest in English history began while exploring/ living in England and German/Prussian/Austria-Hungarian history while hanging out in those countries.  I was a kid and somewhat remember the Yugoslavian conflict and was fascinated while walking around Belgrade/Zagreb, Serbia, and Montenegro.  Italy is a history nerd’s dream, and Greek military history is fascinating [and a perfectly good reason to visit Greece]. My year long plus jaunt around South American had me dabbling in history of its countries, and there is much more to the continent than Incas, narco-terrorists, and dictators.  Enter Peru and its colonial history.

Arequipa is a #historynerd’s dream and is a great place for anyone who loves history.  If you don’t love history, but like pretty buildings, it’s good for that too. And if you’re overloaded on all things Machu Picchu, come to Arequipa; it’s like the Incas never existed. I went without any fixed plans and was content to wander and enjoy its colonial structures.  Arequipa might be my favorite Peruvian city. Lima, the capital, is rough, gritty, and crowded. Arequipa is more refined. Cajamarca, in the north, has interesting history as well, but overall  Arequipa, having better infrastructure, is just a bit better suited to travelers; it’s quieter, cleaner and moves to a slower pace.  It is just my style.

I always thought that had I been born in a different time and place I would have been a nun. Not necessarily because I’m a devout Catholic or would honor vows of purity, chastity, or poverty, but because nuns were the original bad-asses.  In societies where marriage was a means to an end, nuns spat in the face of that. And they were bad-asses in the health care arena too.  Yep, had I been born in the 1500’s, a nun was a much better deal than serf or some lord’s wench.

It’s with that mindset that Santa Catalina was high on my list of places to visit on my stop in Arequipa. Built in 1579, the monastery is a huge mini city within the city that was founded by the Dominican Second Order nun, Maria de Guzman. The Convento de Santa Catalina de Siena was initially meant for rich upper-class women from Spanish families [I would have had to settle for a bit more spartan monastery] and each family would have to pay a dowry upon their daughter entering the monastery. Some dowries were as expensive as 2,500 silver coins which would be the equivalent of $50,000 in today’s currency.  For their dowry, each nun got up to 4 slaves to do their daily chores but were also required to bring things like paintings, intricate tapestries, clothes, and other things would make the environment quite luxurious.  Nothing like the message “God is #1, but luxury is a close second.”  Maybe they didn’t get the memo that avarice was one of the seven deadly sins.

But gluttony and lust were equal pursuits

It was also pretty common for the nuns to throw extravagant parties in their quarters and rumor has it there are tunnels that connect to a local church so Mother Mary wasn’t the only invited guest.  On even more scandalous note, there are stories of pregnant nuns and monk baby daddies were fueled by the allegation that a baby’s skeleton was found encased within the monastery walls. [The Catholic Church denies the claims.]

The Santa Catalina Rave raved right on for nearly 300 years until 1871 when Pope Pius IX sent a strict nun [read: not part of the cool kids] to shut down the party at the Santa Catalina social club. Uncool nun also freed all the servants and slaves [OK, that part was cool] and sent all of the coins, paintings, tapestries, ect back to the Catholic Church in Spain in order to  reform the monastery.

The monastery is constructed from sillar, a white volcanic stone quarried locally and painted blue and orange within. The convent is considered the most important and impressive colonial structure in the city. Since Peru is known for its earthquakes, these continual earthquakes and tremors have forced changes in the structure of the monastery and thus is has some singular architectural characteristics.

In the 1960s, the monastery suffered significant structural damage due to two earthquakes that struck Arequipa. The 20 remaining nuns voted to open the monastery up to the public as a tourist attraction; it was opened to the public on August 15, 1970–a mere 430 years after the city of Arequipa’s founding. The nuns used the funds to pay for restoration costs, install electricity, and install running water.

These days #historynerds like me can freely roam around the beautiful grounds and learn about the naughty nuns that loved to have a good time. And for the navigationally challenged– there’s an interesting twist.   From the instant you walk in – you can only make left turns. I spent 5 hours wandering the monastery only making left turns.  It’s impossible to get lost, and for someone like me, who likes to wander and not pay attention to which direction I came from, it’s a godsend.

Mar 30, 2015 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Running around Charleston

I am many things, but one thing I am not is a runner.  Despite my many years of playing sports, running was always my least favorite activity. So how I let myself be talked into running a 10K as my very first (and most likely my last) is beyond me. In a flash of what I can only describe as temporary insanity, I signed up for the 10K.  The thinking was that if I knew I was going to run a race, I’d train for it. Ummmm…not so much.  I don’t enjoy running, and I enjoy cold weather less so October-ish was the last time I did any real training.

My goal is always the same– to not finish last.

Cooper River Bridge Run –        10K  RUNNER          26285
MICHELLE PRYCE         GREENVILLE, SC        Female / 35
Date Event Race Name City/State Age Bib Place Cat. Place Pace Time
2015 Cooper River Bridge Run 10K Michelle Pryce Travelers Rest/SC 35 26285 12536 810 10:53/mi 1:07:52

I wore trail running shoes instead of actual running shoes and warm up pants instead of shorts. To say I didn’t dress the part is an understatement, but no matter– I finished 12536th place… decidedly not last in a field of near 40,000 other runners.  My friend DJ finished a lot higher up than I did.

Charleston and I have a long, complicated history.

Part of my issue with running is that I get distracted by the scenery…and this is why I make a much better traveler than runner.

We were up much earlier than the sun to catch the shuttle boat from Charleston to Mount Pleasant.

night bridge
the bridge in the frosty moonlight…it was right around freezing when we headed over to the starting line

shem creek
we got to see the sun rise over Shem Creek before the race started


The American flag was parachuted in. It was super-cool to watch

At about 8:30 or so, I was off. The winner had already finished by the time I started. Since the main draw of the race in running over the Cooper River bridge, the bridge is the focal point.

bridge

it is a beautiful and architecturally interesting bridge.

Charleston and I have a long, complicated history. Charleston is where I fell in love with travel. I vividly remember an elementary school field trip to visit Ft Sumter, Drayton Hall, and the historic battery. It’s a short boat ride out to the fort, but my imagination stirred–what if we keep going? Where will we end up? What was daily life life in the 1700’s? 1800’s? 1900’s? As a self-professed history nerd, Charleston has everything. Pre-Revolutionary history all the way to today.

Charleston is also where I fucked-up the best relationship I’ve ever been in.  So now my relationship status with the city can only be described as “it’s complicated.”

Old cemeteries rock my world and Charleston is full of them.

Cannons still guard the entry [by water] to downtown

for shoppers, the city market is awesome… going strong 200 years +

my favourite meal ever–Shrimp and grits, and if you don’t care for that, there are plenty of other awesome places to eat and foods to try.

 

Mar 15, 2015 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Conversations from a bar

Every empty bottle is filled with stories

–a conversation that occurred in Medellin bar in August, 2010.

A Bar is a unique place

Colombia is a beautiful country.  The Andes Mountains, the Amazon jungle, the Cocora valley are all amazing. In addition to the natural beauty, Colombia has beautiful people.  Some of them are naturally beautiful and some of them–well, they have a little help.  The plastic surgeons in Colombia do a fantastic job. Medellin is my third stop in Colombia.  It is kind of like Goldilocks and the 3 bears.  The weather in Bogota was too cold.  The weather in Leticia was too hot, but the weather in Medellin is just right. The days are warm and the nights are cool. It feels like fall. [or spring]

A funny thing happened at a bar last night.  I went out with some English/Australian guys that were staying in the same hostels (We had actually met on the cable car that goes to the top of the city.) So at some point during the evening after an indeterminate number of drinks, in an unidentified bar, a conversation much like the following took place:

Guy 1:  “Are those real?”  (referring to boobs, but not mine of course)
Me:  “Nope.  No way”.
Guy 2:  “Yeah.  I reckon.  You can tell the difference.”
Guy 1: “Aha ha.  I agree.  Definite difference in shape.”
Me: “Yeah.  But there’s no way that they could be real.
Guy 2: Compare hers (Colombian chic) to hers (mine).  Definite extra perkiness. No offense” (referring to Colombian chic)
Guy 1: “I’m still not convinced.  They’re too good to be real.”
Me: “Why don’t you just ask her?”
Guy 1: “Huh?”
Guy 2: “What?”
Me: “Just ask her”
Guy 1: “That would be funny.”
Me:  “Yeah.  Go on.  Or I will.”
Guy 2: “I don’t know.  That’s pretty random.  Imagine if someone came up to you and…”
Me: “C’mon’.  It’s the only way to settle it.  Fuck it.  I’ll do it…”

So somewhere, in the night, after an indeterminate number of drinks plus a few more, in the same unidentified bar, another conversation, much like the following, took place:

Guy 1: “What the fuck did you touch them for?”
Me: “She said I could.”
Guy 1: “And so you just grabbed them?”
Me: “Yep.”
Guy 2: “And?”
Me: “Real.”
Guy 1: “Definitely?  Did she say so?”
Me: “Yep.”
Guy 2: “What did she say exactly?”
Me:  “They’re real.  Good hmm?
Guy 2: “In English?”
Me: “In English.”
Guy 2: “Fuck off”

Me :  You know, that’s the first time I’ve ever touched a pair of boobs other than my own…

busty plastic girls
These are definitely fake

Conversations similar to the above are, probably, not uncommon in Medellin.  It is, apparently, the plastic surgery capital of the world in a country that is probably the most plastic surgerized in the world.  Or at least close to.  Such a place has a significant reputation to live up to.  However, Medellin does it with aplomb, cosmetic surgical intervention striking you anywhere you turn.  Seriously, fake boobs are everywhere. They are more normal than natural boobs.  If you don’t have them, you’re the odd one out.  Old woman have them.  Girls far younger than the legal drinking age have them.  Yes, I even saw a cat that had them (this may or may not be true).  I read somewhere, but I now don’t recall where, that the prevalence of silicon in Medellin is largely due to Medellin’s former status as the center of the world cocaine trade.  Don’t ask me why that means fake boobs all over the place – I guess drug lords liked them big.  In any event, the reality remains, and it is one scary, bouncy and far too perky reality.

packin fellas
The same can be said for the fellas

The theory attributing Medellin’s curvaciousness to the drug lords is a popular one.  However, my own personal theory is that the female of residents of Medellin are paying homage to the great Colombian artist, Fernando Botero.

Medellin born and Medellin raised, Botero’s sculptures dominate the public artistic landscape of central Medellin, his ludicrously proportioned, voluptuous and humorous bronze figures in the Plaza Botero in particular a highlight.  If you are not familiar with Botero’s work, I can probably sum it up for you in a single word – fat.  Not ‘ph’ fat.  Just plain old ‘fat’.  Like everything being seen through one of those crazy mirrors that makes everything look fat. Not ‘ph’ fat.  Just plain old lazy bastard fat.  Having viewed a reasonably large collection of his work in Bogota, it’s clear to me that his work is at its most impressive in sculpture – the central focus of his work, the roundedness aka ‘fat’, most effective and striking when experienced in three dimensions.  Fat.  Not ‘ph’ fat.  Just good old ‘if it sits on you it’s going to hurt’ fat.

Feb 9, 2015 - Wanderlust    No Comments

US National Parks | Chaos at Ninety Six

History and a [short] hike

I have begun to expect the unexpected whenever I decide to go for a hike.  It doesn’t seem to matter if it is a long, planned months in advance hike or a spur-of-the-moment trip 30 minutes from my house. Something unexpected is going to happen.  Such was the case when I tottled down to Ninety Six, South Carolina to wander around the Ninety Six Historical Site.

Ninety Six is an easy day trip from midlands or upstate South Carolina. Piedmont or low mountains North Carolina, and upper Georgia.  Ninety Six is also an important historical part of the Revolutionary War.

The History:

Ninety Six began as a crossroads between the English/Scottish Irish/German settlers that left Charles Town in search of a more prosperous way of life and the Cherokee that already lived in the area.  Ninety Six was the only town [early 1700’s] in the Carolina back country and Cherokee Indians traded deer skin for guns and metal with the settlers who then took the deer skins back to Charles Town and sold it to merchants who then shipped it to England.  Ninety Six was an important strategical location as nearly all Indian tribes west of the Cherokee traded with the French and all tribes east of Ninety Six traded with the English. Over time the Cherokee began to distrust the English [and French] which lead to the Anglo-Cherokee War of 1760.  The Cherokee reclaimed almost all of the back country but Ninety Six remained under British control.

The lingering tensions from the Cherokee-Anglo War contributed to the backcountry’s division.  Feeling neglected by the government in Charleston, facing high taxes, crime, and Indian raids, settlers on the frontier demanded more law and order in the back country.  Vigilantes took justice into their own hands: patrolling roads, hunting criminals, and whipping offenders.  Eventually the crisis ended without much violence, but unrest among settlers lingered.

By the early 1770s, Ninety Six contained approximately twelve houses, public buildings, and a few businesses.  The town boasted an imposing two story brick jail and a courthouse.  An observer noted: “Ninety Six is situated on an eminence in a flourishing part of the country, the land round about it is generally good.  Natural growth is Oaks, Black Walnut, Hickery, etc., which are very large and thrifty.  The land is cleared for a mile round the Town.  It produces wheat, Indian Corn, oats, Hemp, Flax, Cotton, and Indigo.”

There happened to be some re-enacting going on…and demonstration of weapon firing.

Twenty years later:

The fledgling American colonies have declared its independence from Great Britain.  The war has been on-going for 5 years.  Great Britain’s latest strategy is to retain control of the Southern Colonies while admitting defeat in the Northern ones.  The Siege of Ninety Six in 1781 was the longest siege of the American Revolution and pitted American vs American in the form of Patriots vs Loyalists.  It was as if the truce agreed upon a mere six years earlier had never happened.

The STAR FORT and THE MINE [from the National Parks Service website]

When you walk out to the Historic battlefield, you’re walking on hallowed ground. The siege trenches are partially reconstructed, but the Star Fort is original.   Construction of the Star Fort started in December 1780 and finished in early 1781. It was built by Loyalist soldiers (loyal to the King of England) & slaves from nearby farms and plantations. It wasn’t a very popular design because it was hard to build, and couldn’t hold many troops, but Loyalist engineer Lt. Henry Haldane decided that an eight-point star fort would be better for the site than a tradition square fort. The star shape allowed musket and cannon fire in all directions.   The Start Fort had a gun battery which was located near the bottom center point in the picture. The long mound of dirt in the center of the picture is called a Traverse and was built during the Patriot siege of Star Fort (May 22- June 18, 1781). It was to be used as a second line of defense in case the Patriots breached the Star Fort walls. The Start Fort was an earthen fort. As you see it today is pretty much how it looked in 1781. The Star Fort walls were originally about 14 feet high with sand bags around the top giving it a height of about 17 feet during the battle. The walls are a little weather worn in places, but are original. No major reconstruction has been done to the fort.

The Mine has nothing to do with traditional mining, instead it was used by the Patriots (those fighting for independence from England) during the Siege of Star Fort at Ninety Six, May 22- June 18, 1781. The Loyalists (those living in the Colonies that were fighting for the King of England) held the Star Fort and General Nathanael Greene and his Patriot Army tried to take the Star Fort away from the Loyalists. Under the direction of Colonel Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the Chief Engineer of the Patriot Army, the Patriots dug a mine gallery out from the 3rd parallel. The idea was for the Patriots to dig the Mine underneath the Star Fort, pack it with gunpowder, and then blow it up, thus allowing the Patriots to storm the Loyalist held Star Fort. Patriot Sappers (trench diggers) and slaves borrowed from nearby plantations dug into the hard red clay to dig the mine. They had to suffer from the heat, bugs, broken shovels, Loyalist cannon fire, and Loyalist sorties (attacks made from a place surrounded by the enemy). After dark on June 9, 1781, a small group of Loyalists, under Lt. Colonel John Harris Cruger, attacked the Patriot sappers digging the mine. A British account stated that the Loyalists “discovered a subterraneous passage in which. . . miners were at work, every man of whom was put to death, and their tools brought into the garrison.” (The Royal Gazette,August 25-29, 1781) It was during this sortie that Colonel Kosciuszko was wounded in “his seat of honor” with a Loyalist bayonet, but was able to make it back to safety within Patriot lines.

In the 1973, archeologists actually found a bayonet blade near where Kosciuszko was wounded. The Mine was never used for its intended purpose because the siege was lifted before it could be used. In the 1920s, the entrance to the Mine was stabilized with brick. During the 1940-60s, local children used the Mine as a playhouse before the National Park Service took over its care. In the 1970s, archeologists wrote that the Mine was still intact except. Only 35 feet of the right gallery had collapsed. The Mine was re-opened again in April 2004. Today we know that the Mine starts with a 6 foot vertical shaft from the 3rd parallel then 2 galleries (or branches) go to toward the Star Fort. On average the Mine is 3 feet tall in most places. As the above picture indicates shovel and pick marks can still be seen in the walls along with niches that were carved out for candles for the Patriots to work by. The Mine at Ninety Six National Historic Site is the only mine that was used during the American Revolution.

One of the log cabins on site at Ninety Six Historical Site

The Hike:

The hike is a moderate hike using parts of the Cherokee Trail, Charlestown Road, and the Goucey Trail.  Parts of the trail allow for horses while parts are fairly rustic. An unidentified cemetery lies just off the marked trail that leads to Ninety Six Lake.  The entire loop was just over 6 miles. It took 3 hours including stopping for lunch at the lake, searching for the unidentified cemetery, and reading historical markers.

daffodils along the trail


1780’s men weren’t very big.

The Unexpected:

The unexpected isn’t always a bad thing.  Sometimes it is serendipity and my hike through the trails at Ninety Six certainly paid off.  At the beginning of the hike the temperatures was around 50F, and by the end there were snowflakes.

 

**image credit of the skeleton from nps.gov**

Jan 28, 2015 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Huffing and Puffing in Potosi

I am not a tea drinker, but I also don’t like taking medications. However, altitude sickness is no joke. And Diamox was not working. So, I bowed to pressure and tried the local cure for altitude sickness… coca leaves.  At first, the idea of buying coca leaves seems almost rebellious.  After all, coca leaves are the beginning product cocaine.  Drinking coca leaf tea was a novelty for me. It  has a bitter taste; it’s primarily coca leaves and hot water. But being in the world’s highest city requires some concessions, and for me, that concession was ingesting coca leaf–in my case, by chewing the leaves.

Coca leaves became an integral part of my day; I chewed the leaves multiple times a day, and each time, I got a little mental boost–a bit of alertness to soothe the metal sluggishness that goes along with altitude sickness.  In some way, I became addicted to the sticky green masticated leaves–it was the only thing that soothed my altitude sickness and made my stay in Potosi enjoyable.

coca leaf
Sticky, green, masticated, coca leaves… my only salvation from the crushing pressure of altitude sickness.

Altitude sickness aside, spending two week in Potosi, was a great decision. A better decision, perhaps, would have been to come to Potosi from La Paz instead of the realitively flat Cochebamba.

At 13,500 ft above sea level, Potosi will literally take your breath away, but it’s colonial charms will figuratively leave you breathless.

Potosi Bolivia 2

Potosi is a UNESCO protected city and walking around the flat parts of the city, it’s easy to marvel over the beauty of the buildings or wonder what the area must have been like when the Spanish discovered the silver in the Cerro Rico mountain that looms over the city. However, when walking uphill around the city, which is at least half the time, my will to explore was seriously in question. But my desire to explore won out, and while walking down the well-maintained colonial streeets it’s easy to imagine the hustle and bustle of the 16th and 17th century when Potosi was one of the world’s richest and had a population larger than Madrid.

cerro rico

On the darker side of things, it’s also easy to imagine the amount of work that mining the silver for which this town gained famed, and how that work would have been done. When the Spanish discovered the Cerro Rico in 1544 it was the richest source of silver in the known world. Potosi and Spain grew rich from the proceeds, but this wealth came at an tremendous cost in human and animal lives and pain and suffering. The Spanish brought an estimated 30,000 Africian slaves, enslaved indigenous locals, used untold numbers of horse and llama to get the goods to the Atlantic coast to ship to Spain. Historians claim that the system of slavery that Spain’s Viceroy Toledo created resulted in a massive depopulation of the Andean highlands. The mortality rates in the mines were amazingly high, and over the next three hundred years, the Spanish authorities, in collusion with the mine owners and the Catholic Church, pressed millions of indigenous Andean peoples into slavery to work in the mines.
It’s estimated that the barbaric conditions in the mines caused the deaths of between eight and ten million indigenous and African slaves.

money machine potosi boliva

So important was the Cerro Rico, and so entwined was the Catholic Church with the mines, that all the churches in Potosi point not to the east, but to the mountain, and some of the religious art is shaped to represent the pyramid shape of the mountain. If you want to see some Bolivian silver, there’s plenty on display in Potosi’s churches, but you could equally go to any of the major cathedrals in Spain to uncover where all that silver went.

san teresa convent

The Spanish brought the Catholic Church’s Inquisition to the Spanish colonies, something dramatically depicted in the painting below. As per usual, it was often women on the receiving end of ingenious methods of torture…

san teresa convent

Nov 29, 2014 - Life    No Comments

Flashback Friday | My favorite mistake*

*My favorite mistake, a song by Sheryl Crowe–one of my all-time favorite songs*

A few weeks ago, I drove down to Wilmington to check out the city to see if it is somewhere I might like to live one day, while trying to decide if I should visit my favorite mistake who was in Myrtle Beach for a work conference.  There is just something about the coast in late fall when the beaches are deserted. Restaurants are closed. Prices are much cheaper.  It’s still warm enough that a walk on the beach seems like a good idea.  Until that breeze blows in off the ocean.  Then you know that it is definitely NOT SUMMER any more.

myrtle-beach-november-2005
It’s *a little* less crowded in November than say July.

I didn’t go back to South Carolina for Thanksgiving. I don’t really regret that decision, but it certainly did not make me the popular kid. Being the new kid in town means I work all the holidays people really want off work for. Being an only child means having no siblings to celebrate or commensurate with…also no siblings means there’s no one to give me nieces or nephews to play with.  With my father having recently departed this world, it would not have been the most joyous occasion anyway.

Anyway… and perhaps against my better judgement, I decided to soldier on to Myrtle Beach, where I did in fact meet my favorite mistake.  It’s been a hell of a three months. Loneliness + being overwhelmed both on a personal level and tragedy level, sometimes my head hurts from all the knowledge and skills being crammed in it on a seemingly daily basis.  Sometimes it’s nice to be with people who really know you, people willing to hold you when you need to be held, and kiss you when you need to be kissed.  I miss my life in South Carolina; I miss the people in that life.  I needed to leave, no doubt. I needed to not be around my family. I needed to not be around those two lying bastards I dated this year (one dated back to 2003). I needed to not be working at Hillcrest or GMH or the Children’s hospital.  Too many recent bad memories. I needed a fresh start, but by God, it’s hard.  It’s so hard to move as  a 20-something year old introvert who would rather hibernate than go out and meet people. It’s so hard to meet people in a city when you are trying to avoid the bars.  It’s so hard to meet people when you work the night shift. I don’t want to date my favorite mistake again, especially since we now live in different states, but my God, it was so good to be with him again.

myrtle-beach-november-2005-3
The incredible blue-ness of the water that you just don’t see during the summer

We did beach-y things like walk hand in hand on the beach with me stopping every 5 minutes to snap artsy photos. We had dinner at a local Italian restaurant. While he was in conferences I managed to leave the hotel and visit the state park. It’s so much more peaceful here than in the busy season.

myrtle-beach-november-2005-1

And we had long meaningful talks where I implored the universe to ‘show me a sign’. Give me some sort of direction of what I should be doing. Should I forget South Carolina and all the people there and make a new start in Durham, or should I learn as much as possible in Durham, but still make my life in SC. In with the new, and out with the old, or keep the old and make new? Please universe, show me a sign.

myrtle-beach-november-2005-2
And then this happened…

Clearly it was the universe talking…

Now if I only knew what the hell it means…

Nov 2, 2014 - Life    No Comments

Some people

I remember the first patient that I liked that died.  Really liked.  James was a 16 year old boy with Cystic Fibrosis.  He was surly, uncooperative, and mouthy.  He never wanted to take any medicines or do any therapy.  A lot of my co-workers would rather not have him as a patient, but whenever he was on the unit, I volunteered to take care of him.

One day, James said “you think I am sexy.  that’s why you always want to have me.’  I replied ‘1. You’re jailbait, little boy. 2.  You’re scrawny, and you can’t even cough without getting short of breath.  Let’s do your breathing treatments and CPT.’  And he would let me.  Every.Single. Time.  For whatever reason, he responded to me not treating him like he was sick.  I always give him a choice–“do this… you know what your other options are–get intubated, put on a ventilator, and we can suck the goo out of your lungs all day long or do the CPT, take the treatments, and cough.”  He always chose to take the treatments.  He knew that if he ever went on the ventilator chances of coming off were not good.

One day, he asked me if it hurt…does being on the ventilator hurt?…does being intubated hurt?  My answer was truthful–whether it does or doesn’t, I can’t say because I’ve never been in that situation, but I do know you would be on pain meds and meds that will make you not remember.  He said OK then asked if I wanted to play chair basketball with him.  And we did.  Because that’s what you do in peds.

The next day was the Duke-UNC basketball game [James was a big Duke fan].  He asked me if I would watch it with him, and I said I would with the understanding that if I got paged, I’d have to go.  He said OK.

I got through first rounds, saving him for last, and we did his therapies while watching the game.  Duke won and after the game he told me he was ready to be intubated because it was just too much of a struggle to breathe.  I asked him if he was sure and he said he was.  I found the resident and told him what James had said.  He went to talk to him and James called his parents.  They came and it was decided that they he would be transferred to PICU and started on the ventilator later that night.

I stopped by to see him later that night.  He was still awake, had his blue, fuzzy Blue Devils blanket on his bed.  James said, “I know I can be a pain in the ass.  I know I’m probably not going to survive this, but thank you for not treating me like a kid.”  What do you say to that?  ‘You’re welcome’.  My pager went off and I was saved by the bell.  ‘I gotta run but you know you’re awesome, right?’  In typical teenage fashion he said ‘Yeah, I  know.  See you in my dreams.’  My last words to him was ‘Hush your mouth, jail-bait.’

James was right; he didn’t come off the ventilator, and died a few days later.  It sucked, but it’s life.  He knew he had a terminal disease.  He knew that most people with CF as severe as his didn’t survive much past 20.  He accepted life and a death with grace and dignity.  He may have been just a teenager, but James had a wise soul.

Nursing Lesson #1:  Some people.  The memory of some people stick with you forever.

Sep 26, 2014 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Not just the home of a man in tights

I have always kept a record of my travels.  It used to be with a pen and paper and 35mm film.  Now it’s all digital. On Flashback Fridays I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog.

This installment takes us to the home of one of the most famous thieves of all time–Robin Hood and his home of Nottingham [Forest] England.

I’m getting better at reading train tables and I am making the most of my BritRail Pass by using the trains most days of the week.  Nottingham is just over an hour from Stafford and is an easy day trip.  Nottingham is famous for ties to Robin Hood and two of the world’s oldest:   the world’s oldest football team, Notts County [the team itself is not all that good] and the world’s oldest pub–Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem .  Today, it has a population of over 250,000 and is one of the larger cities in the Midlands region.

First up:  Nottingham Castle and its even more exciting caves.  Nearly everyone has heard of Robin Hood.  Most know that he lives in Sherwood Forest and that’s near Nottingham, but I’d never heard of the caves than surround [underneath]  Nottingham Castle.  Nottingham has more man made caves than anywhere else in the world…OK, maybe not the world, but at least the UK.  As I often do, I took to the local library to read about the history of the caves.  It goes something like this:  The caves used to be dwellings – and at one time it was believed that there were more people living underground than above ground. Many of the caves were inhabited until 1845…that’s when the St. Mary’s Enclosure Act banned the rental of cellars and caves as homes for the poor.  The caves are long tunnels which were used to bring up goods from the Trent Valley, others as storage areas for meat, wine and prisoners (including without doubt Robin Hood). There are some for waste (including human waste!) and some for short cuts to the pub [point me in the direction of that one].  I took nearly 50 photos in hopes of getting a good one of just the caves.  Be prepared for steps though…lots and lots of steps.

Mortimer's Hole

Mortimer’s Hole

Nottingham Castle

Nottingham Castle

Sherwood Forest

Sherwood Forest

Robin Hood

Robin Hood

Major Oak tree

Major Oak tree

One of the caves come out here…

Oldest inn in England

Oldest inn in England

and the oldest football team in existence… [Does anyone else wonder who the oldest team played.  Wouldn’t there have to be two oldest teams for a match to occur?]

Notts County Football

Notts County Football [pre-game]

Sep 8, 2014 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Long-term travel? It’s not for me

No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.

aberdeen-alley

There are thousands of travel blogs out there.  A lot of them are written by people whose job is to travel full time.  They are digital nomads. These people are even paid [in the form of free trips, freelance writing or photography, doing product reviews] to travel.  A lot of these same travel blogs have similar posts:  How to… Top 10 reasons… Best things about… Worst things about, ect… I am trying NOT to be like these blogs.  You see, I am not a full time traveler, nor do I ever plan to be.  I’ve never made a dime from traveling. In spite of that, I get out the door occasionally.

  • I’ve traveled the UK and Ireland for 3 months.
  • I’ve lived in Campeche, Mexico for a year.
  • I backpacked around South America for over a year.
  • I’ve lived in Moscow for 4 months.

but I still don’t consider myself a long-term traveller.   Why?  Because in almost all these circumstances I’ve had a home base [South America was my most nomadic existence, but even then I rented apartments, did home stays, and did a lot of ‘slow travel’].  Living out of a suitcase sucks.  Packing and unpacking every few days suck as well.  I know because I spent most of my childhood staying with various relatives.  Being in a new environment, not knowing where things are, hanging around bus/train stations–all of that sucks.

For some, the thrill of a new environment gets them going.  They love nothing more than to be constantly on the go.  I love nothing more than relaxing…whether it”s in my bed, on a beach in Thailand, or sitting in a coffee shop in a new location.  I love having a home base…somewhere to come at the end of a hectic day [whether its all day exploring or a challenging shift at the hospital]  that’s ‘my space.’

a-hairy-coo

I am an introvert.  I need alone time to recharge my batteries. I don’t necessarily like routine, but I do like familiar circumstances. Traveling, being on the go all the time, meeting new people, is exhausting.  It’s even more exhausting when you are constantly moving.  I don’t really have family roots, but I have strong geographical roots.  South Carolina is where I will always consider my ‘home’ to be.  Even if I’m living elsewhere.  I am at a point now where about the most time I can squeeze into a vacation is a month [and that’s really pushing it].  I know that getting to Point B from point A is the most expensive part of traveling.  Spending $1500 for airfare seems like a lot for a 2 week vacation; not so much if it’s spread across of 4 months. A lot of travel expenses are like this.

In a perfect world, I’d work for 3 months and travel for 6 weeks.  6 weeks in one location [or region] is enough time to really explore a region.  Still, 6 weeks travelling is not the norm [especially in the USA], but any longer than that, and this guy may forget who I am.

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