The Americas

My Travel Photo Won a Bronze Award!

I was proud to win the Bronze award in a contest sponsored by Bay Area Travel Writers: the Lee Foster Travel Photography Award. It was no small feat since there were well over 100 entries. The 5 judges were all professional travel photographers, including 3 with long, successful track records at National Geographic. Here’s the photo, which I shot at Arches National Park in Utah.

Arches National Park, Utah

A Tourist In My Own Back Yard

This essay also appears in my local weekly newspaper, Lamorinda Weekly.

In the beginning: dark, damp soil. A small, black plastic pot of hope. Nothing seems to be growing but my own impatience.

A few evenings later, the dirt has begun to mound and rise, swelled by a pushing from below. In the morning a white nub has appeared below the broken surface of the soil. By evening the protuberance has thickened, a loop of pale white rope tinged with green. The next morning a head is crowning, something large and thick and green dragged up out of the dirt. By the end of that same day, the head has revealed itself, the stalk straightening and hoisting up the bean from which this miracle was born. …

The Scooter of Doom

A village in Ooh-Tah
Where the roofs are thatched with gold
If I could let myself believe
I know just where I’d be
Right on the next bus to paradise
Sal Tlay Ka Siti
— The Book of Mormon (the musical)

This morning, when I told Yvonne that I was going to put my hearing aids in, she said, “Huh?” and guffawed loudly when I repeated myself. She has pulled that little gag on me countless times, and I’ve fallen for it every single time. …

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. …

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!

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.

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.”

Barhopping In The Grenadines

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn St. Vincent and the Grenadines, nearly every beach has a broken-down little shack on it selling cheap rum, beer, and cocktails. A single sparsely-covered shelf on the back wall displays a few bottles. There’s usually one customer, a friend of the proprietor, perched on a barstool planted in the sand. They talk for a couple of hours in Creole until lunch, when the palm trees behind the shack no longer provide shade. The owner ducks under his counter, closes up the plywood shutter doors, and the two of them take off. A couple of hours later, the bar reopens and another friend visits until it shuts down for the night, just when a tourist like me might be looking for a drink.

The Most Terrifying Potato In The World

The most fear-inducing potato in the world, or at least in the Andes, is called cj’achun wakachi in Qetchua, which literally means “the daughter-in-law cries.” Traditionally if a boy wants to marry a girl, his mother will hand his intended one of these demonic, knobby potatoes as a test of her skill in the kitchen. She must peel the entire potato in a single, unbroken pass, or she will not be permitted to marry him. This is still done in some homes, and girls practice peeling for months. And you thought your mother-in-law was mean. …

Tales From An Andean Taxi Driver

The best storytellers weave just enough truth into their tales that it’s impossible to figure out where the truth ends and the fiction starts. Usually this is deliberate because it makes for a better story. But sometimes, you wonder if they even know where the line is. …

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