Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Caribbean Blue

Little did I know that the best day in Columbia was yet to come. One of my favorite songs is Enya's "Caribbean Blue" (Great music video to google & watch if you haven't seen it) & my day with Cartegena Diving Planet was beautifully Caribbean Blue. Jennifer was my "guide" & took these great pictures of me snorkeling. I met Diving Planet at 7:40 a.m. & they shuttled me to the marina where a 30-passenger boat was waiting to take me to Isla Grande (near the protected Rosario Islands). Their diving center is co-located with the Cocoliso Resort on Isla Grande (45 km & a 45 minute boat ride from Cartegena). We had 2 snorkel/SCUBA dives -- one at 10:00 a.m. and one at 12:30 p.m. Each snorkel trip lasted 1.5 hours (I can SCUBA dive but prefer snorkeling because of its simplicity/longer time in the water). Imagine perfectly clear water, WARM water, gillions of species. The 10:00 a.m. trip was comprised of Jennifer, me & a couple. The 12:30 p.m. trip was larger & in rougher water... but still beautiful. I even saw a cuttlefish (!), jellyfish, loads of parrot fish (forgive me for eating one with Tara when I was in Loreto), and a lovely black tang with florescent blue spots. After 2 dives, I was treated to a lovely salad (after explaining that I was the only vegan in Columbia) under the palms. I returned to Cartegena around 4:30 p.m. Louise & I spent a lovely last evening eating dinner in the Santa Clara Hotel courtyard (listening to frogs & smelling jasmine), watching tango dancers, jugglers and mimes perform in the streets, and feeling the tropical pulse of Cartegena. I'll return, but next time it will be on a sailboat from Colon, Panama.

Friday, August 22, 2008

More Pictures + Leaf-Cutter Ant Video

From what I could tell, the video didn't upload last night so I tried it again (successfully it seems). There's also a sunrise picture over our beach, a picture of Louise, our cook (from across the street) & Penny at dinner, and me standing with the dolce (sweets) lady. She carried the sweets on her head & sold them on the beach. I never got her name, but she liked me cuz I bought homemade tamarindo from her. I'm off to meet the taxi!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Mysteries of Tayrona National Park - Colombia

The promised Mendihuaca Tour to Tayrona NP never materialized, so Louise & I took matters into our own hands this morning. At 9:00 a.m., we stood in front of the hotel and caught a bus (as if we were locals) to Tayrona (5 KM away). The cost was 2,000 Pesos ($1.25), and we waited less than 5 minutes. The entrance fee was pretty steep, however. Colombians pay $9,000 Pesos to our (foreigners that we are) $25,000 Pesos. Unlike Yosemite, there was no transportation provided to the trailheads, so we walked about an hour to the "9 Stones" trailhead. It was beautiful hiking, even on the main road, because it was shaded with huge rainforest trees and very peaceful. I just wish we had more time here to explore & understand the Tayrona ancient civilization. We saw 3 of the 9 stones (see the pictures above). The Tayronians somehow shaped the stones, mounted them & drilled holes into them. They foretold the future by facing the holes toward certain stars. Lots of mystery going on here. I'll have to return & camp on the beach next time (I can't afford the eco-lodges pictured here). We also saw loads of leaf-cutter ants (see the video). We'll head to Cartegena (the historic section -- where Louise & I will stay for 3 nights) tomorrow & drop Penny at the airport so she can catch her flight to Panama. Wish us luck!!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mendihuaca Caribbean Resort 35 km from Santa Marta

What can I's been interesting so far! From Cartegena, we arranged for a mini-van ride through our hotel to Barrinquilla. Once we got to Barrinquilla, we negotiated (luckily Louise speaks Spanish pretty well) for a taxi ride to the Mendihuaca Caribbean Resort (pronounced "Mendihuwaca"). Of course the taxi driver had never been to our particular resort, but he found it (after just 1 cell call back to his company). He even took us by a shopping mall where we could change dollars into Colombian Pesos (around 1650 pesos/dollar). It took 15 minutes to change the money because Louise (our money changer) had to be finderprinted, etc. We got to the resort around 4:00 (after 6 hours of travel). The staff checked us in to a pretty low-rent room that was dark, smelled of mildew, had 2 bedrooms with 2 twin beds & 1 bath(after being promised a 3 bedroom/2 bath room by the timeshare company that arranged the trade for me). After complaining about the poor room (again thanks to Louise), they moved us into a 2 bedroom/2 bath room on the second floor & promised they would move us into a 3 bedroom/2 bath accommodation by Monday (that's today & they the unit is closer to the beach). In case you are wondering about these pictures, one is of the resort, one is an olive ridley turtle (a grown-up version of the ones released at the Las Olas beach) that we found at the aquerio, and the 3rd is Playa Blanca beach (& yes, it's as crowded as it looks). We took a tour offered by the resort thinking we'd be going to a pretty nice beach. On the way, we stopped off at the aquarium where we saw a dolphin and seal show (again with lots of people), I'm finally starting to understand that Columbia is very crowded compared to Panama. It's so nice here, we probably won't go on many more "tours". Tayrona National Park is on the agenda for Wednesday. Too bad we won't be able to see the Lost City within Tayrona, but that requires a 7 day hike, complete with guides. Well, it's almost dinner time. I've been getting by with green & fruit salads at the salad bar & supplementing with cooked potatoes. Most people here can't understand how I can even be alive eating just veggies. In fact, most of the restaurant staff don't even charge me cuz I eat so little. Last night the woman who owns the restaurant across the street, opened her long-closed restaurant just for the 3 of us (after giving her 20,000 pesos so she could buy food). She fixed me a lovely (& delicious) bowl of mangos, fried plantains, rice & an iceburg lettuce salad with tomatoes. She too wondered how I could be alive & healthy. "Why are you a vegetarian?", Louise interpreted. I responded with "Pura Vida". We are having dinner there again tomorrow night (there's something cool about having a restaurant opened just for you), & this time I'll tell her I'm 85 years old!
Signing off from the Mendihuaca!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

First Day in Cartegena

Wow! This is quite the place. Cartegena is only a 1 hour flight from Panama City, but it is very different... much more European than Panama. I travelled down here with Louise & Penny (two of my Boquete Chica friends). Apparently it gets more European the further south you go (according to Louise). So I am officially in South America. That means I've been in Russia, China, Mexico, Canada, Switzerland, The Netherlands, France, Germany, Costa Rica, Panama & Colombia. Maybe by the time I hit 100 (& I fully expect to now that I'm on Juice Plus), I will have been around the world & seen most countries. Panama sure is a good place to be based. Here are some pictures of the Boca Grande (Spanish translation = Big Mouth) section of Cartegena. When we return from 7 nights at the Mendihuaca Caribbean Resort (35 km from Santa Marta), we'll spend 3 nights in the old part of Cartegena, a World Heritage Site that is truely remarkable. Luckily, it's much more expensive to live here than Panama, so all temptation to move here has been removed. I'll try to keep up on my travels as long as I have an Internet connection.

Signing out from Cartegena!


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tagua Art & Wayne's Word

My great addiction for collecting seeds continues to blossom. The latest seed to catch my fancy is Tagua (from the Tagua Palm Tree). Tagua is also called vegetable ivory (vegans like me can relate) because it is so easy to carve it. The pictures here show tagua before it's carved & after it's carved into an egret. Plus you can see that my love of necklaces continues with this orchid tagua nut piece. According to Wikipedia: The tagua nut is an extremely hard nut that comes from the ivory-nut palm. Its endosperm can be carved and polished like ivory, making it a botanical alternative to elephant ivory and giving rise to the name "vegetable ivory." Before carving, the nut is covered with a brown, flaky skin and shaped like a small avocado. Tagua nuts can be found in the rainforest, typically on the ground, where their outer skin is eaten by the various animals populating the region. Another favorite collectable of mine are sea beans (see earlier blog). Most sea beans are in the species called "Mucuna". According to Wayne's Word: Most species of Mucuna are climbing woody vines called lianas that twine through the rain forest trees like "botanical boa constrictors." Their bat-pollinated flowers and pods are produced on long, rope-like stems that hang from the forest canopy. The seed pods are covered with microscopic velvety hairs (called trichomes) that can be extremely painful if they get into your eyes. In the Caribbean region and Central America, the hairs were stirred into honey or syrup as a remedy to dispel intestinal parasites. The dense covering of irritating hairs may help to discourage seed predators, particularly when the seeds are soft and vulnerable. At maturity, each pod produces several hard, marble-like seeds. The seed is called "ojo de buey" because of its striking resemblance to the eye of a bull. The seeds are also known as "sea beans," because they are commonly carried by rivers into the ocean.

I have collected so many sea beans, they threaten to take over my condo. I have purchased several large glass containers where I display them. I've been keeping pretty busy with barely any time to keep up with this blog. Today I spent 4 hours in David (not my first choice) getting my multi-entry passport stamp, provisional visa & Panama driver's license up-to-date for my travel to Columbia on 8/14 (one can't get in our out of the country w/o the passport stamp). Tomorrow I'll go back in to register my new 4WD Nissan Frontier.
Some of my other activities include: joining the Boquete Rotary Club (meets every Thursday at 9:00 a.m.), volunteering at Paradise Gardens animal rescue center (Thursday after Rotary), kayaking the lagoon in my newly purchased kayaks (I especially like the Perception Sundance), daily bird walks in the mangrove and twice-daily beach walks in search of seeds. I'm looking forward to the Columbia trip so I can "relax"! I'll keep up on the blog while I'm in Columbia because I'll have the computer with me (& there is hopefully a high-speed Internet connection as advertised at the resort). Today I signed up for a Panamanian post office box. In case you want to send me a letter or Christmas Card... or even birthday card (instead of email), here it is:

Elaine Mayer
P.O. Box 0426-1419
David, Chiriqui
Republic of Panama

If you want to Skype or call me, the number is 011-507-772-8028. If you buy Skype Credit & click that you are calling Panama, the only number you type in is 772-8028.
Till I Blog from Columbia...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Kayaking in Mangrove Land

Boy, what a GREAT day in Paradise (August 1, 2008)!! Ken & Sharon (she's my neighbor who does the fabulous stain glass work pictured in a previous blog) took me kayaking in the mangrove system that starts behind my condo. They borrowed a kayak from another neighbor (Frank) so the 3 of us could all go on the trip. We put-in around 8:15 a.m. (roughly 2 hours before low tide) and had a pretty good current for the first hour. Once the waterway became wide, we slowed down & had to paddle in earnest. It was so peaceful & beautiful. Luckily there was a cloud cover, so we didn't get too hot. We turned around about 10:30 and made it back to Ken's truck at 12:30. I probably could have found my way back by myself, but it would have been iffy. It's very easy to choose a dead-end channel & end up miles from where you want to be. As we were paddling back along the mangroves, Ken decided to imitate a male howler monkey. Within seconds of his call, we were answered by some very agitated male howler monkeys that were saying "Leave our women alone!" They were right next to us, and we could see them once they gave their locaton away. They kept howeling until we had paddled around the corner & out of sight. While we were paddling, Ken said he noticed some used kayaks (that looked good to him) for sale on the Boquete Shopping website. I got home & immediately found the kayaks & called Jerry (who had them for sale). Yes, they were still available - an Old Towne Loon & a Perception Sundance (plus paddles & life vests). Jerry & his wife are downsizing so they can go travelling for the next few years. So, I'm the proud owner of 2 kayaks. Now I can take you kayaking when you visit me in Panama. I'm also the proud owner of a 2003 Nissan Frontier 4WD Diesel King Cab pick-up truck. I've been wanting a 4WD (so I can explore birding roads & drive on the beach at low tide). The best way to haul kayaks (especially short ones like mine) is in the back of a pick-up. Jim Kennedy (who sold me the Kia on Craig's List when I arrived here in April) purchased the Nissan thinking he wanted to build his own house & haul building materials. That was too difficult, so he bought a house & now wants an SUV. So I've gone from a Prius to a 4WD diesel truck in one year. Of course, I've also moved from AK to Panama in less than a year.