Tag Archives: travel stories

Your’re Confused; I’m confused

Wait? Are you still in Rwanda? The Peace Corps? The short answer to that question is no. No, I am not.

As of February 3, 2019 I left Rwanda for what I think will be the absolute last time, but I’ve learned to never say never. Earlier this year I was medically separated from the Peace Corps. No hard feelings there, but as medical separation goes, it is a bit of a cluster-fuck.  PC rarely gives you warning that you are being medically separated, therefore there are a lot of unresolved issues that crop up. Rarely is there the opportunity to say good-bye to your cohort, let alone any friends you may have made in other cohorts, and even worse, there’s no opportunity to say good-bye to your community, or pack up what ever of your belongings you want to take with you.

Lake Kivu

I was medically separated on January 4, 2019. I was medically evacuated a week or so prior. I lived in the infirmary at Peace Corps Head Quarters in Kigali for 36 days. I left my little house on the corner on November 17, thinking I’d return in just over a week thanks to a Peace Corps training. But no, I never did return owing that to an injury suffered while at said training.

See the extremely swollen area to the left? That, my friends who are not in orthopedics, is a Morel-Lavalee lesion. It’s usually caused by blunt force trauma. In my case, I just tripped over a rock, and fell into more rocks. NBD, right? So, so wrong. This was the beginning of everything.

However, I already had Peace Corps vacation plans for the month of February so upon arriving back in the US, I did my laundry, organized my stuff, and prepared for returning to Rwanda [I KNOW!], this time not as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but as a private citizen with a still somewhat banged-up leg. I arrived to Kigali on January 22, spent the night in Kigali, shot down to Butare and hung out with friends. Made my way to Nyungwe National Forest… which was just as amazing as I thought it would be. Then I scooted up the coast of Lake Kive to Kibuye and Gisenyi, did some hiking on the Congo-Nile trail, crossed over into the DRC, scooted over to Musanze, made a run for the border and made my way to the ‘Equator’ sign in Uganda, and had a short but memorable safari at Akagera National Park. Finally it was onward to Kigali once again for the originally scheduled flight back to America.

The second continent on which I have crossed the equator

So to recap:  GSP–>ATL–>BRU–>KIG–>[11 days in Rwanda + 2 days in Uganda]–>AMS [7 hour layover in Amsterdam where I went out and explored the city]–>WAS–>GSP and in a month’s time I’ll go GSP–>WAS–>PAR–> LON–>ATL–>GSP. 6 weeks of a true whirl-wind exploring parts of Rwanda, the Netherlands, France, and England.

So what’s next?:  After my injury, I did some contingency planning and applied to a couple of grad school programs.  I just found out that I’ve been accepted to at least one of them. Starting tomorrow, I am back to work at the same job I was at before leaving for the Peace Corps [I’m not sad about that; I loved working there and my co-workers]. I still need some time to process everything that has happened in the last 9 months, but one day I hope to be able to look back on my time with the Peace Corps as a positive time where I did my best to help the people of the community of Mbazi. That time is not today, but I think with time, it will come.

Murabeho Rwanda

Wanderlust

Wanderlust

I do not think that means what you think it means… Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride.

 

The English word “wanderlust” already existed in German dating as far back as High Middle German. The first documented use of the term in  English occurred in 1902 as a reflection of what was then seen as a characteristically German predilection for wandering that may be traced back to the  German system of apprenticeship, as well as the adolescent custom of the ‘Wanderbird’ seeking unity with Nature.

 

The term originates from the German words wandern (to hike) and Lust (desire). The term wandern, frequently misused as a false cognate does in fact not mean “to wander”, but “to hike.” Placing the two words together, translated: “enjoyment of hiking”, although it is commonly described as an enjoyment of strolling, roaming about or wandering.

 

I am a wanderer… both in the historic sense of the word and the modern.

 

I grew up an introvert, sensitive, an only child, and a bookworm with a keen desire to explore beyond my boundaries.  Pictures exist of me, I could not have been more than three years-old, packing a bag and leaving home. Of course, at three, I never really went anywhere. I saved the real adventure until I was five. [but that’s a story for another day].  I was athletic and sporty;  I lived for summer basketball and soccer camp.  Then later, volleyball and softball camp. I loved being away from home, hanging out on college campuses, and imagining when I would finally be able to leave my small town for good. I was 8 and already imaging life at 18.

I come from a long line of homebodies, inwardly jealous of friends and classmates who went to ‘the beach’ every summer. Or Disney World. Or anywhere really.  My dad’s idea of a vacation was a weekend trip to Atlanta to watch the Braves or a fall Saturday to Clemson or Columbia to watch college football. Week-long or even multiple week vacations were unheard of in my family.  My fondest junior high memory was of being left behind at Martin Luther King center in downtown Atlanta.  Upon returning from the restroom, my entire class was no where to be found. Cell phones were in their infancy; no one I knew had one. But I knew the city well enough, or at least how to get to the ballpark.  I was 13, and on my own in the big city (at least for a while). It. Was. Fucking. Awesome. Right then and there I knew I’d been bitten by the travel bug.

 

There’s a word in Korean that means the inability to get over one’s addiction to travel, a perpetual case of wanderlust. Once the travel bug has bitten, it indicates, there is no cure.

 The fixation with traveling that began with memorizing world capitals and drawing country flags on notebooks took on a life of its own. At 14, I managed to sneak away from home for two days, take the train to Baltimore, watch a baseball game, and get back home without my absence being noticed.  And once I’d gotten my driver’s license, the back roads and hiking trails of South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia became intimately familiar.  I was determined to go everywhere… working on a bucket list that didn’t yet have a name.

Chichen Itza

I’ve never been one to advocate for quitting one’s job in order to see the world. Yes, I have worked in jobs I hated and for companies I hated even more. I’ve worked in jobs or positions that I absolutely knew was just a paycheck.  But I knew that this was temporary. I was waiting for one or two thing to happen and then I was out of there.  I’ve always known that working these jobs would allow me to pursue my dreams.  I worked PRN-status for 10 years so that I’d be able to create my own schedule and take time off when I wanted to.  Everything I’ve done has contributed to my seemingly disparate goals of 1: seeing as much of the world as possible and 2: becoming a nurse practitioner.  One is not mutually exclusive of the other.

I got my first real job, other than the odd thing here and there, when I was 18.  It was working in a home improvement store where I learned to mix paint, use a commercial saw, and do basic electrical things.  I also had to count nuts and bolts by hand during inventory. I was by far the youngest person working there although there were a few guys that worked there on their college break. For most of my co-workers, this was there career.  They were satisfied with their two weeks’ vacation and only being closed three days a year.  I made nearly $5000 that first year; I had to file taxes and thought I’d amassed a fortune.  I made another $4000 working in a factory spring semester of my freshman year.  Oh God, how I hated that job. I sat there, loading parts on a machine, conjugating French, German, or  Spanish verbs in my head, thinking ‘this is why I’m in college…’

The ultimate goal was to earn enough money to spend my junior year of college studying abroad in some as-of-yet-undetermined major.[Spoiler alert: that never happened]

At 19, I had the chance to go to England for two weeks; I jumped at the opportunity.  When things didn’t go as planned, instead of coming home and working at the factory yet again, I stayed three months. I still have the journal I wrote it when I left Atlanta. It’s funny now… and telling.

“I’m on a plane to London via Amsterdam. I AM ON A PLANE.”

“I JUST ORDERED A BLOODY MARY FOR DINNER.  AND THEY BROUGHT IT. I HAVE ARRIVED*”

“TRAVELING IS AMAZING”

A series of travel mishaps later, I end up at the flat of a friend of a friend of a friend. The flat was empty. The landlord came and asked how I knew of this place. I told my story. No, I’d never met the previous tenant. Yes, I was only visiting. No, I didn’t want to rent it, but then, I was offered the deal of a lifetime–200 pounds/month for June, July and August for a 1 bedroom/1 bath in Stafford, England. My dorm room cost more than that. I said yes and after some international finagling of funds, I had $5000 transferred to me** and that is what I lived on that summer.

It’s not a gothic cathedral without stunning stained glass

That summer, I traveled. To Wales. To Scotland. To Ireland. And around England. I ate and drank in pubs. I learn to play darts. And cricket. And drink whisky. I met up with different people every week.  It was the life I’d always wanted. The day before I was to come back, I was in the pub with the friends I’d made this summer when I saw a guy I’d never seen before. He was scruffy and despite drinking a pint of Guinness, was clearly out of place of the regulars.  I went over, dart in hand, and said “hey, wanna play?”

His name was Nick or Mick. Or maybe it was Mark.  I don’t remember. He was from Australia. Or New Zealand. Those details are fuzzy now.  But he was well-traveled. Meeting up with a cousin before heading back home. Or something like that.  He was tanned in a way you can’t get in England and spoke of places like Chaing Mai, Siam Reep, and Angor Wat. I was mesmerized. And impressed. “Wow, you travel a lot.” He took a long swallow of his Guinness before answering me, foam still on his lips.

“Trying to. The world is an awfully big place and there’s always more to see.”

“That’s true.  Well, do you play or not.” I was trying not be be impressed by the late 20 something sexy stranger.

“Why not?”

“Good. You can be on my team.”

He told me about his running with the bulls in Spain and working on a farm in France. How he worked his way through Thailand and Vietnam. He told me about the spice markets in Istanbul and Marrakesh.  And about eating guinea pigs in Ecuador and piranhas in Brazil. I had never met anybody like him.  I had never met anyone who was doing what I wanted to do. I was spellbound.  Amid pints and double old fashions, he  grabbed me around my waist and pulled me away from everyone, kissed me hard on the mouth. At that moment, my world stopped. Mesmerized by those green eyes and mop of black hair. I had one throw left, and it was almost too perfect that I hit the bullseye to win.

I spent the rest of the night nuzzled in the pub, making out with the cute boy from far away, listening to his enticing travel tales telling myself that one day I’d be the one telling those tales. The details of that night have faded, but the feelings of knowing a life of adventures were waiting for me if only I had the courage to see it through has never left me.

 
*My very first alcoholic drink was at 30,000 feet flying over the Atlantic Ocean.  I have never felt more adult… more cool in my life than when I ordered and subsequently drank that first alcoholic drink

**International banking was a lot more complicated in the 2000’s than it is now.  I had $5000 wired to me and stashed the cash in a secret place in the flat. The secret place is the same secret place I stash cash in my current apartment.

In search of Vlad

The second post in my series of  haunted places…[in case you’ve missed it, I’ve featured cemeteries and other final resting places earlier this month].  This week it’s a story from a little place in Romania…

A story [based in history]

Once upon a time, there lived a prince in a kingdom called Wallachian.  He was no Prince Charming.  His name was Vlad Tepes.  Stories of his cruelty and thirst for blood abound – stories that make even Stalin, Hitler or Ivan the Terrible seem compassionate by comparison…Vlad was a sadistic bastard and gained the name ‘Tepes’ (‘impaler’) honestly.   His favorite form of punishing his enemies included driving a wooden stake carefully through the victim’s anus emerging from the body just below the shoulder in such a way as to not pierce any vital organs. Best to ensure maximum suffering prior to death and his methods ensured at least 48 hours torture before death.

Impalement was Vlad Tepes’ favorite method of torture, but it was by not his only method. The list of tortures employed by our sadistic prince included nails in the heads, cutting off of limbs, blinding, strangulation, burning, cutting off of noses and ears, mutilation of sexual organs (especially for women), scalping, skinning, boiling, exposure to the elements or to wild animals and burning alive.  He was the one everyone warned their daughters about.

Now, to be fair, it is impossible to verify all of these stories.  There was no such thing as facebook and blogs and cameras and such in the 15th century.   Much of the information we have about evil little Vlad comes from pamphlets published in Germany and Russia and the German pamphlets, were probably politically inspired. In fact pamphlets were a form of mass entertainment in society when the printing press was just coming into widespread use. Much like the subject of Some Celebrity’s latest downward spiral into doom, the life and times of the Wallachian tyrant were easily sensationalized and given the numerous reprints.

Vlad– auf Deutch –was portrayed as an inhuman monster who terrorized the land and butchered the innocent with sadistic glee. The Russian version took a somewhat more measured view, however.  Young Vlad was presented as a cruel but just prince whose actions were directed toward the greater good of his people. No matter what language the stories agree remarkably well as to specifics–Vlad the Impaler was a sick bastard.

How Vlad became Dracula:

His princely father, Vlad II, was called Vlad Dracul (from the Latin ‘draco’, meaning ‘dragon’) after the chivalric Order of the Dragon accredited to him by Sigismund of Luxembourg in 1431. The Romanian name Draculea – literally ‘son of Dracul’ – was bestowed on Vlad Tepes by his father, and was used as a term of honor. Another meaning of ‘draco’, however, was ‘devil’ and this was the meaning that Stoker’s novel popularized.

In search of Vlad:

Vlad was born in the Romanian town of Sighisoara.

They seem to be pretty proud of their native son in Sighisoara.

Sighisoara is a UNESCO world heritage site so should Vlad return from the dead today, he’d still be able to find his way around.

Dracula’s Castle [for tourists]–but really Dominic’s house

Bran Castle, situated near Braşov, Romania, is a national monument and landmark. It was built by the Teutonic Knights in (or around) 1212, after they had been relocated from Palestine to the Kingdom of Hungary.  The fortress is situated on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia. In addition to its unique architecture, the castle is famous because of persistent myths that it was once the home to our villain, Vlad the Impaler.  According to most accounts, Vlad  spent two days in the Bran dungeon, as the area was occupied by the Ottoman Empire at the time. Because of the (disputed) connections between Vlad and the fictional character Dracula, the castle is marketed to foreign tourists as Dracula’s Castle.

The castle is open to tourists, who can view the inside by themselves or as part of a guided tour. At the bottom of the hill is a small park to which examples of traditional Romanian peasant structures (cottages, barns, etc.) from across the country have been moved.

The castle passed through royal hands for many generations. For many years at the beginning of the 20th century, it was the principal home of Queen Marie, who, despite her British birth and upbringing, became quite a Romanian patriot. The castle is decorated largely with artifacts from her time, including traditional furniture and tapestries that she collected to highlight Romanian crafts and skills. It was inherited by her daughter Princess Ileana of Romania, and was later seized by the Communist government of Romania in 1948. For many years it was tended to erratically, but after 1980′s restoration and the Romanian Revolution of 1989, it became a tourist destination. The legal heir of the castle is the Princess’s son Dominic von Habsburg and in 2006 the Romanian government returned it to him (Habsburg is currently an architect in New York City and probably never designed something so fancy)

The Real Dracula’s Castle

one final view of the citadel–it was a dark and stormy night day [oh come, oh….you know I couldn’t resist]

The story of how this fortress was constructed also involves a tale of revenge… Early in his reign, Vlad Dracula gave a feast to celebrate Easter. Vlad was well aware that many of these same nobles were part of the conspiracy that had led to his father’s assassination and the blinding and then burying alive of his elder brother, Mircea.  Many had also played a role in the overthrow of numerous Wallachian princes. During the feast Vlad asked his noble guests how many princes had ruled during their lifetimes. All of the nobles present had outlived several princes. None had seen less then seven reigns. Vlad immediately had all the assembled nobles arrested. The older nobles and their families were impaled on the spot.  The younger and healthier nobles and their families were marched north to the ruins of his castle in the mountains above the Arges River. The enslaved nobles and their families were forced to labor for months rebuilding the old castle with materials from a nearby ruin. According to the reports, they labored until the clothes fell off their bodies and then were forced to continue working naked. Yep, ol’ Vlad was a sick bastard.

Lake Vidraru–only 1km away from Vlad’s  fortress… I might have impaled people too for that view… It’s amazing.

In the end, I learned a lot of interesting history–some of it quite disturbing–but I didn’t find any vampires, evil villains, or rich princes [Dominic must not have been home], but I did find Vampire Wine–[oh yeah, I bought some]

The Costa Rican Affair

The first time I saw you I was intrigued. There was something there that was definitely missing from the long term relationship I was in. We met at the most common of places:  my work, not a crowded bar, at a grocery store, and certainly not anywhere romantic, like a white, sandy beach.  You were tall(ish), with black wavy hair, green eyes, and an olive completion.  I speak first–the most banal–of opening lines, ‘Can I help you?’ and on the surface, his reply was just as common– ‘oh, yes ma’am you can’. But it was the way he said it, the glint in his eye, the accented English, that flirty smile.  I knew I was in over my head.

Weeks later, after heavy flirting, I finally agreed to go out with him.  The LTR was still hanging on by a thread, and you knew this and liked to tease me about this.  ‘What would your boyfriend do if he knew you were out to dinner with me?’ you asked.  ‘He’s not my boyfriend.’ I’d reply. “So it’s OK if I kiss you?” as you lean over to do just that. ‘Oh that’s definitely OK’ I replied as I kissed you back.  In that moment fall in lust. It’s everything I’d  hoped it might be and more, and it was so incredibly different than before.

Two days later, I finally end the LTR, and that weekend we were back together for another hot sultry summer night. We drove down to the river, and open the moon roof of the car. I crawl on top of you and we kiss, and occasionally, I stick my head out of the moon roof for a literal breath of fresh air.

“Come home with me” you implore.  “I can’t do that.  I have work in the morning” I try to explain, but you interrupt.  “No, no, my darling Micaela. Come home with me to Cartago.”  “To Costa Rica?” I ask. “Yes, mi amor. To Costa Rica.  You will love it there.”

Suddenly I can’t breath. It’s as if all the air is sucked out of me. Despite the 80 degree temperature and near 100% humidity, I am shivering.  Even the heady combination of tequila, salt, and sweat can’t shake this chill. Although the full moon is nearly as bright as the sun, everything in my world has gone dark.  All I can hear is the sound of my own heartbeat echoing in my ears.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. You were a breath of fresh air. You came around just in time to save me from a catastrophe. You were supposed to be a short term fling. A summer romance. And now.  Now you are asking me to go to Costa Rica with you.

In that moment, I hate you.  You know my weakness for far-flung places. Places I’ve never been.  You know how I hate monotony and routine. You know that I’ll say yes to Costa Rica even if I’m not exactly saying yes to you.  You are a beautiful man. So sexy. So sensual. So what I needed in the moment we met.  But I cannot go to Costa Rica with you.  I. Can. Not. Leave. The. Country. Again.

    ***                                                        ***                                                    ***

Three weeks later I have quit my job and I arrive in Cartago.  I call you, and you seemed surprised to hear from me.  A little distracted, perhaps, but you agree to come pick me up. I see it in your face:  despite your words, you are not happy to see me.  “What’s wrong?” I ask, as I reach over to kiss you.  You turn your head and my kiss lands on your cheek. “I did not expect that you would come. Micaela, you said you could not come.  You have work. You said you had no vacation available. I have many things going on. I have work…”

“But I did. I came to see you. I want to meet your family and  I want to see where this goes.”

“But Micaela, where will you stay?”

“With you, of course”, but I knew as soon as the words we coming out of my mouth that it was not to be.

“Let me make a some calls. You stay here. Micaela, mi amor.”  The way the said my name was almost a threat.

A relationship ending just as it’s beginning is never quite what one imagines it will be. One imagines it will be painful, and it is, but it isn’t painful all at once. There is the surface cracking… where all the hopes and dreams one may have had disappear shattering the illusion of perfection, and then there’s the deeper cracks.  The things that pop up after the initial injury. The ones no one else can see, like the fracture of a bone.  It hurts much worse than imaginable.

The next two days are torturous as we spend time together, each knowing that this–all of this– was a mistake. You show me the volcanoes, and around San Jose.

The volcanoes are beautiful, just like the beginning of the relationship, but there’s hardness here too.  A stumble, a fall; it could be the end. And I’m acutely aware that I am in a remote place with a man that seemingly has much to hide. I don’t want to be here anymore.  Not with him. I don’t want to look into the green-eyed abyss any more. I used to think that I could stare into those eyes for an eternity. Now those green eyes stare back at me with an emotion I can’t quite place.  Not hatred. But certainly not the lust from the summer.

After coming back from the volcanoes, I say “I don’t want to be here anymore. Not with you.” Even though my heart is breaking, I refuse to cry. His jaw tenses, and he put his hand on top of mine.

“Micaela.”  Just the sound of my name in his accented voice almost causes the dam to break.  “Micaela. I did not want to hurt you.”

I pull away from his hands, look into those green eyes, now heavy with regret, turn around and walk into the city.  I do not look back.

I imagine, as I am walking away, that you feel sadness.  Sadness of what was never meant to be.  Sadness for taking a chance. Sadness for keeping secrets.  Whatever those might have been.

***                                                               ***                                                       ***

I had to the bus station seeking to the first bus to the coast.  Caribbean? Pacific?  It doesn’t matter.  I just want–no need– to be surrounded by salt water. I get seated on the bus, my backpack on my lap, and the tears start to fall. Slowly at first, almost as if they are waiting their turn, and then, much more rapidly.

I opt for the Caribbean side of Costa Rica’s and end up in the sleepy town of Puerto Viejo Limon. It is a hippy, dippy kinda of place where some people come to visit and never leave. It had a small guest house, a bar, beaches as far as the eye can see, and some very interesting neighbors.

The first two days I ate nothing but fresh fish, rice, and a variety of fresh fruit, and drank nothing but passion fruit and vodka. I tried not to think of him. You try not to remember the way his  green eyes sparkled in the morning sun. I tried not to remember how those green eyes faded to black when you saw my at the San Jose airport. I tried not to remember how incredibly sexy you were, shirtless your brown sweaty skin glistening in the moonlight, down by the river on those hot summer nights. I tried not to remember that I was also shirtless. I tried not to remember how you took ice cubes and melted them on my skin. I tried not to remember how the coldness of the ice melting and the heat of your breath drove  me mad with desire. I tried not to remember how time stopped when our lips met.

But remember I did. All these moments and so many more. No amount of passion fruit and vodka could make me forget. But I wanted to forget.  I wanted to forget so badly, and so I looked at the bartender and said ‘Uno mas, por favor.’

***                                                            ***                                                        ***

Somewhere around day 5 I notice you staring at me. You are definitely not Costa Rican or even Caribbean.  I look at you and you stare back, our eyes locking.

“I’ve been watching you” you tell me.  Your English is good. Definitely not North American, but it doesn’t sound quite British either.  I tend to notice things like that.

“Oh? Seen anything interesting?” I reply.

“You’ve been drinking entirely too much vodka.”

“Obviously you haven’t been watching me too closely or you’d know I haven’t been drinking enough vodka because I still remember.

“What do you remember?” you ask.

“Everything.  Everything I want to forget.”

“Walk with me” you implore.

“I can’t go with you. I know nothing about you. You could be a serial killer for all I know,” I reply.

“I’m not” you say.  I notice that I’ve hurt you. The expression on your face is that of a small child who has just has his favorite toy taken away.  “Walk with me.”

I get up… Slowly, partly due to the vodka, and partly because I’m just now noticing how attractive you are.

“But I still don’t know anything about you…” I say as we begin our walk along the white sandy beach. “Why are you in Costa Rica?”  I ask, then ponder as to why  that’s my first question as opposed to something more useful like ‘what is your name?’

To be honest, I don’t even remember your reply… something about Costa Rica and biodiversity and research. I realize I am drunk, and wonder how long the copious quantity of vodka I’ve consumed will stay down. I also wonder if you will kiss me. And if drunk vomiting is the worst turn-off imaginable.

“I need to sit down”  I say, probably slurring my works.  I notice you steering me towards another beach-side bar.  There seems to be one about every  500 meters or so. “No… no more vodka” I muster.  I noticed you talking to the bartender and you come back with water. Nice cold water. 

“Why are you drinking yourself into oblivion?

“Because I’m trying to forget”

“Forget what?” you ask.

“The reason I’m in Costa Rica. Everything about Costa Rica. Just everything.”  I look at him with sadness. There are no more tears. The sea has swallowed them whole, but there is still sadness inside. 

At the random beach-side bar, where the not quite English, yet definitely not North American cute ecological researcher gave me water, I notice a dart board. Suddenly I’m feeling better. “Wanna play?”  I ask.  He’s not so sure about letting a drunk person throw sharp, pointy objects.  “Where are you from, anyway? I ask.

“Wales” he replies “It’s near…”. I cut him off and asked “beth yw dy enw?” His jaw dropped to the floor and said ‘You speak Welsh?  Where are YOU from?  I just smiled and said ‘I asked you a question?

“My name is Matthew. I grew up in Ceredigion.”  “I’ve been there” I reply. You look at me, curious.  Curious as to whether I am telling the truth or just trying to impress you. “It’s near Pembrokeshire” I reply.  I can tell you are impressed.  In that moment, I forget about Costa Rica, the reason I came, and everything that has happened in the last 10 days. I look into your eyes, green with a hint of gray, and kiss you. And finally, I forget.

***                                                            ***                                                     ***

Two years later on a cold dreary November day, I hear the version of my name that only you used… Micaela.

I turn around and look for you. Two years have aged you a lot. I stare into the familiar green eyes and feel nothing. I always wondered what it would be like if I saw you again, and now I know.  There’s no bitterness. No hatred. No feelings of lust.  Just you, smiling, searching for something in my expression.  He says hello, and I reply in kind.  How about a drink, he asks. No thank you, I say for the first time.  It was good seeing you. And it was. 

I will forever be grateful that he came into my life when he did. Sometimes, even now after all these years, I  wonder what he’s doing, and where he is.  In my mind, the entire country of Costa Rica will forever be linked to heartbreak, a green-eyed lover, vodka, and the one who made everything OK.

Conversations from a bar

Every empty bottle is filled with stories.

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

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 [Funny story:  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 one 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… this may or not have occurred at the bar).  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 curvaceousness 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.

 

When in Cork…

Encounters with Blarney

I am not above being a cheesy tourist.

And one of the more cheesy, more touristy things I have ever done occurred a few years ago when I spent a few weeks tooling around Ireland.  After taking the ferry over from Anglesey, Wales to Dublin and tooling around Dublin for a few days, I headed south out of the city towards Cork.  I’m not a bad driver, but I don’t do so well with the manual transmission or driving on the opposite side of the road than what I’m used to.  Let’s just say it was baptism by fire, and I probably shaved a few years off my life and perhaps some of the other drivers on the Dublin-Cork highway.

I am a small town kinda girl, and while Cork is a pretty big city, but it’s fairly navigable.  Cork has a fair amount of charm, but it main draw in the Blarney Stone and to a lesser extent–Blarney Castle.

So the question of the day is did I kiss the stone? Did I really put my lips on that wet slab of germ-infested rock where thousands…maybe millions of people have done the same thing before me? Did I actually DANGLE my body off the side of the castle and risk my life?!  People have actually DIED doing this.

Yes. Yes I did.

I mean, how can you not? It’s there; I’m there. A lot of other people were doing it, and while it may be cheesy and touristy… occasionally I’m cheesy and occasionally touristy.

The Blarney Stone is a block of Carboniferous limestone built into the battlements of Blarney Castle, Blarney, about 8 kilometres from Cork, Ireland. [Thank you Wikipedia] According to legend, kissing the stone endows the kisser with the gift of the gab (great eloquence or skill at flattery). The stone was set into a tower of the castle in 1446. The word blarney has come to mean “clever, flattering, or coaxing talk”. John O’Connor Power’s definition is succinct: ‘Blarney is something more than mere flattery. It is flattery sweetened by humour and flavoured by wit.

The Blarney Stone gets all the press, but the castle itself is actually rather interesting and the surrounding castle grounds are gorgeous. The tiny, winding staircases are not for the claustrophobic, but the sweeping views of lush green country and manicured gardens are worth the trip to the top.

Kissing the stone is not for the faint of heart -– you have to dangle yourself over the gaping hole in the castle floor, death-grip the handrails and the man assisting unceremoniously grabs two fist-fulls of your clothes and shoves you close enough to kiss the stone. A second later you’re hauled upright and sent on your way.

Tell me, would YOU have kissed the stone? Or do you now think my lips are now tainted for a lifetime. Leave a comment and let me know.