I Can See Russia From My Veranda!

I am not really a cruise vacation sort of person. I prefer to spend enough time in foreign ports to get a feel for places, to experience life there even if I’m not actually living the way the locals live. But the cruise I’m on right now is really, really good and I can finally appreciate why some people make cruising their first choice for travel. Of course, it depends on the ship. Continue reading “I Can See Russia From My Veranda!”

Buddha Day

As we headed out of our hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, young hotel staffers near the door greeted us with wide smiles and folded palms. I’m sure it was required of them, but over time we found that their warmth and friendliness were very genuine. Buddhism’s call for kindness to others is part of Cambodia’s culture and there was a gentleness to many of the people we met during our time in Cambodia.

Outside, several tuk-tuks offered us rides. We declined, preferring to walk the short distance to the tourist market area, where there were hundreds of shops all selling basically the same stuff: cheap jewelry, clothing, and leather goods. High-quality, gray-market Nike and Under Armor shirts can be had for $5 if you’re willing to negotiate. Continue reading “Buddha Day”

Moroccan and a Half

I was thrilled and honored last year when an abridged version of “Moroccan and a Half” was published on Hidden Compass, an online travel magazine. There, I got to share space with some amazing and even famous writers and photographers. This past March 1, I was equally honored when the original unedited version won a Solas Award in the Destination Story category from Travelers Tales. Here is that story.

Moroccan And A Half
To understand a people, you must live among them for 40 days. -Arabic proverb

 The taxi driver glared at me when I demanded that he use le compteur. “What do you think that is?” he snapped in French, pointing at the already-running meter under his dash. Looking both pained and angry, he glanced into the rear-view mirror at another passenger already in the back, then turned again to face me.

Switching to English, I apologized as I got into the front seat of his bright-red petit taxi, explaining that every other driver in Marrakesh had insisted on an inflated, fixed price for tourists like me. “Are you a tourist?” he asked, his voice still raised, chiding me. “Aren’t you living here?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer. Continue reading “Moroccan and a Half”

On the Road Again!

Strange! I meant to post this short piece back in early January and somehow it fell through the cracks, sitting here on WordPress as a lonely, forgotten draft.

It’s great to be traveling after a long hiatus! And adding to my blog.

We are in Mexico for ten days. Next month we’ll be going to Cambodia and Vietnam, and we are planning on at least two more international trips this year, dates and destinations TBD.

This week we’re in Yelapa, where I’ll be in a writing workshop and Yvonne will be hanging on the beach or volunteering at a local library for kids (we will do things together in the afternoons). After that we’ll spend three nights in Puerto Vallarta, then home again.

We arrived in Yelapa this morning by water taxi. On the way here, the chunky, six-year-old English boy sitting in front of me got sick and threw up all over. The driver stopped the boat and handed his mother a mop, which she used to clean up the mess on the floor and on the bench. The boy stood up and somehow he’d even gotten it all over the back of his shirt. Fortunately there was no wind or she would have been mopping it off of my face. I thought it was funny, but we wondered how long it would be before the stranger sitting next to him would agree.

We’re staying in a beautiful apartment right on the beach. This is the view from our room:

We walked up and down the hilly paths this afternoon. What’s nice about Yelapa is that there’s a real village with friendly people who offer a pleasant ¡buenos tardes! and a smile. Even the dog and cat that passed us in the opposite direction were mellow, unconcerned with us or each other. The only upset I saw was a squawking rooster running down the road with wings outstretched, followed by a man carrying a frying pan.

Where we are staying, which is on the other end of the beach from the all of the day-tripper thatched-roof bars and beach umbrellas, no one is aggressively pushing their wares. We do want to keep an eye out for the Pie Lady though.

Well, off to dinner and margaritas!

On The Back Of A Bike

When we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), we were given this advice on crossing the street in a Vietnamese city: “Hold up your hand as you step into the street to let the cars and bikes know you’re crossing. If that doesn’t work, close your eyes and just keep walking.” Continue reading “On The Back Of A Bike”

The Other Side Of Hoi An

The two fighters had just finished a round in the ring. Their handlers wiped them down, squirted cold water down their throats from squeeze bottles, and massaged their backs and necks. Both contestants had a look in their eyes—they were strong, fearless, undeterred by any injuries inflicted during the fight. Continue reading “The Other Side Of Hoi An”

Waiting For The Sun

The alarm clock jostled Yvonne and me out of bed at 3:50 AM but I was already awake, not yet adjusted to the nine-hour time difference between San Francisco, California and Siem Reap, Cambodia. We wolfed down bananas and yogurt and headed out the door to meet our guide in a waiting tuk-tuk. By 5:15 we were walking in the dark past shuttered food stalls, up ancient stairs and across a field, finally planting ourselves at the edge of a 200-meter-wide moat. A half hour later, hundreds of people had joined us and the hundred earliest risers who were already there when we arrived. I set up my tripod and waited, struggling to get my camera leveled by flashlight. Newcomers jockeyed for position and we guarded our territory as the light grew slowly, slowly. Less than an hour to sunrise. Continue reading “Waiting For The Sun”

Visiting El Chapo

Heading up to El Chapo’s place. Look at those naive smiles.

Seven of us followed Pico up the rock-strewn path for about half a mile until we got to where his pickup truck was parked. We were going to see a moonshine operation near Chacala, in the mountains above Yelapa, Mexico. My head was filled with wild fantasies. I imagined a well-dressed El Chapo-like mobster and armed guards eying us as we entered his jungle stronghold, searching us for weapons or badges with their automatic rifles pointed at our chests. The only reason we were even getting in was because Pico, our driver, knew the moonshiner and had gotten permission to bring us up. Continue reading “Visiting El Chapo”

Volunteering in Yelapa, Mexico

Students from the 6th grade class at Escuela Primaria Juan de la Barrera waited eagerly for me to begin reading them a story. Aline Shapiro, an American librarian whose dream had been to build a children’s library at the school, introduced me as a guest reader from California and handed me a book entitled Coyote: Un cuento folclòrico del sudoeste de Estados Unidos. I was a little nervous as it was my first time reading a book aloud in Spanish. In the middle of the story, after stumbling over just a few words, I asked the children “Me comprenden? Do you understand me? I was happy to hear them answer “Si.” Continue reading “Volunteering in Yelapa, Mexico”

My Life As A Caveman

José had dug out most of the cave himself.  Carved into the mountain like a big doughnut, the front door led into a bright, beautiful family room and kitchen. A short tunnel of white plaster led out of the kitchen through two bedrooms, a huge walk-through closet, a bathroom, even a laundry area, all with electricity and running water, and back around again into the family room. It was nothing like what I imagined when I heard the word “cave.” If the door had been round, I could have mistaken it for the entrance to Bilbo’s hobbit hole. Continue reading “My Life As A Caveman”