Friday, December 31, 2010

Roads Less Traveled? reports on the 12 Less Visited Countries and Why You Should Go There Now:

  • North Korea
  • Madagascar
  • Bolivia
  • Nicaragua
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Myanmar (Burma)
  • Bhutan
  • Marshall Islands
  • Rwanda
  • Slovakia
  • Lebanon
  • Algeria suggests these are the least visited countries in this article:

  • Bhutan
  • Marshall Islands
  • Afghanistan
  • Greenland
  • Somalia
  • Tuvalu
  • Saba
  • Niue
  • Sao Tome and Principe
  • Kiribati

What about Yemen?

Or Cuba?




These are the countries for which the U.S. Department of State currently has travel warnings:

Travel Warnings are issued when long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable lead the State Department to recommend that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to that country. A Travel Warning is also issued when the U.S. Government's ability to assist American citizens is constrained due to the closure of an embassy or consulate or because of a drawdown of its staff. The countries listed below meet those criteria.

Kenya    12/28/2010
Somalia    12/27/2010
Saudi Arabia   12/23/2010
Cote d'Ivoire   12/19/2010
Haiti    12/09/2010
Mauritania    12/08/2010
Chad    12/08/2010
Central African Republic    12/06/2010
Guinea    12/03/2010
Congo, Democratic Republic of the    11/25/2010
Colombia    11/10/2010
Iraq    11/05/2010
Burundi    11/04/2010
Philippines    11/02/2010
Nigeria    10/19/2010
Yemen   10/15/2010
Lebanon    10/08/2010
Iran    10/08/2010
Sudan    10/01/2010
Eritrea    09/24/2010
Mexico    09/10/2010
Korea, Democratic People's Republic of    08/27/2010
Afghanistan    08/13/2010
Israel, the West Bank and Gaza    08/10/2010
Mali    08/06/2010
Uzbekistan    07/22/2010
Pakistan    07/22/2010
Nepal    06/15/2010
Niger    05/11/2010
Georgia    05/03/2010
Algeria    04/02/2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Portable Speaker Revisited

First, I fell in love with this portable speaker, and bought it.

Then I saw Chantal's portable speaker, fell in love with it, and wanted to buy it.

Being frugal, however, I decided to keep my original speaker. But then my daughter saw my original, loved it, which allowed me to give it to her, freeing up my conscience and space to buy a new speaker. Yay!

I bought this iHome iHM60 Rechargeable Mini Speaker: 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


There are people who are besotted by light. They test flashlights and talk about them, their throw and their emitters and their rings and beam patterns and artifacts ...

Then there's size, battery source, weight, durability ....

Here are some nice articles about choosing a flashlight:

This option combines flashlights with carabiners.

For me, I wanted a flashlight with these qualities:
  • Small size for maximum portability and packability
  • Uses AA battery, as I already have a device that uses AA batteries, so want to simplify battery packing -- plus AA batteries are available just about everywhere (except in Playa del Carmen's Walmart ... )
  • Uses only one AA battery, which impacts on flashlight size and also on need for quantity of replacement batteries
  • Has more than one light setting to maximize functionality
  • Durability
  • Good light

I went with's recommendation:

Photo from
Photo from

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another Way to Go Rootless

Into the Wild With Yoga, a 2008 Wall Street Journal article by Alexandra Alter, tells the story of Jason Magness. An excerpt:

Mr. Magness belongs to a community of itinerant adventure addicts, the latest generation of American drifters who live to scale cliffs, ski or surf. Some adhere to a so-called freegan diet: any food that's free. "People dream of doing what we're doing," says Chuck "Chongo" Tucker, 56, a well-known climber who's lived summers outdoors for nearly four decades in Yosemite Valley. Mr. Magness has rarely paid rent or held a steady job. He says he has gone months without buying food, subsisting on trail mix and energy bars donated by sponsors, or by foraging through supermarket trash bins.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Carabiners are the cooler equivalent to that purse that used to be sold on late-night television, which was to organize a woman's entire life via pockets and zippers and dividers.

In my own experience, I didn't know carabiners were called carabiners. I always referred to them as those "cheap ass souvenir things that are supposed to carry your keys but the damn twisty-turny thing that's supposed to keep your keys inside falls apart so they're worthless."  

I'd seen the word before, but I'd conjured up something more exotic, to go with pitons and belay and ax, and falling to one's death into a bottomless, white abyss. And I wasn't sure how to pronounce it --> kare-a-BY-ner? kare-a-BIN-ner?**

From wikipedia (user zakabog)

Assuming one isn't using it for climbing, a carabiner can connect a water bottle, keys, wallet, coin purse, shoes, bandana, daypack, flashlight, weapon, or infant to one's main bag or clothing.

As with duct tape, I was at first lukewarm about adding carabiners to my list of travel-packing must-haves, but have now seen their merits. I'll get one for my flashlight (a whole 'nother story), coin purse, and just because.

**Pronunciation: Here is how to pronounce carabiner.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Health Insurance Coverage When Outside the US

My understanding is that most U.S. health insurance coverage stops at the borders. Even Medicare.

For me, this is not so relevant, because my U.S. health insurance coverage is going to end at midnight, December 31, 2010, anyway. Which is why I've been getting well-person screenings in the last few months in the event work is needed before the midnight hour. Fortunately, all has been clear.

I'll do some checking in the next couple of days into the possibility of affordable health care effective 1/1/11, but I suspect my definition of "affordable" and my country's definition of affordable will not intersect. This will likely mean I'll be going commando for awhile.  Hopefully, I'll get an ESL teaching job that provides health care coverage.

On the other hand, many countries outside the U.S. have decent and very affordable health care (affordable by average-Joe American standards; perhaps exorbitant by average, in-country resident standards), so no insurance may be needed.

Trip insurance for American travelers outside the U.S.:

At, Ricardo wrote How to Choose the Best Travel Insurance - Ricardo's Experience

World Nomads seems to garner most travelers' affections, but it's by no means the only game in town.

Other than various bells and whistles of particular policies, factors that affect the cost of travel insurance appear to be:
  • Traveler's home country
  • Destination country
  • Traveler's age
  • Length of time in the destination country

Friday, December 24, 2010

Luscious Travel Stories has luscious travel stories here.

In addition to the stories, here are articles I found engaging:

Confessions of an Introverted Traveler, by Sophia Dembling. She also created an audio slideshow, The Quiet Traveler.

A whole page of "How to ..".

... and then there was this:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What It's Not About

I feel disappointed when I come across a rootless blogger who can really tell good stories, who has terrific travel tips, but then demeans him/herself by disrespecting those who choose more traditional paths.

Me going rootless is not about:

  • Rebelling against anything - not against certain lifestyles, societies, cultures, or political points of view. 
  • Believing my choice is better than others' ways to live or that my way of life will have more "meaning" than others' ways of life.
  • Being smug. 

    A person who never leaves his hometown (whether that be Manhattan, Kansas or Manhattan, NY) can live just as rich or poor a life as the most well-traveled individual. A person who lives in a lean-to can be just as happy or miserable as a person who lives in a multi-million dollar mansion or a rambler in the burbs.

    A "tourist" can enjoy as rich a cultural experience as a "traveler."

    Life has the meaning we place on it.

    I can justify my choice to go rootless without disrespecting others' choices. I am moving toward a desire; I am not rejecting something.

    Wednesday, December 22, 2010

    Guatemala May Be in My Future

    This apartment rents for $700 per month at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Perfect for a vacation, especially with a roomie or two

    I wonder if there's a language school in the area. Will have to check. 

    As nice as the above is, apparently one can find hotel rooms (private bath + wireless) for less than $200 per month.

    Monday, December 20, 2010

    Homeless by Choice

    Like I said in a previous post - many ways to be rootless: 

    From Glenn Campbell (not that Glen Campbell) --> Homeless by Choice: Extolling the Virtues of Free Sleeping.

    "A blog on personal economy, self-sufficiency, freedom, extreme budget travel, and the rent-free lifestyle."

    Sunday, December 19, 2010

    The Traveling Savage

    Good travel-writing blog by The Traveling Savage.

    "... round the world, one month at a time."

    Among his many Good Reads was 1000 Places to Fight Before You Die, which led me to this:

    I was at chez Catherine and Charisse the other night, which was the eve of Catherine's flight out west for the holidays. I'm not saying there were any parallels between Catherine and the above video .....

    Saturday, December 18, 2010

    Keeping Gear in Perspective

    It's easy to get caught in a loop where you think you have to get the exact right piece of equipment, luggage, shoes, hat, .... and travel towel, for God's sake. One can spend hours (and I have) poring over travel alarm clocks or personal alarm devices or .... travel towels.

    And then I remember those guys from Mexico who did marathon-length runs practically every day on ancient trails in their bare feet. Remember those guys?

    That helps me keep things in perspective.

    Here is a video about the Tarahumara Indians. Warning: Excessive use of words such as "superhuman," "staggering," "amazing," "remarkable," and "extraordinary." Take appropriate precautions.

    Having said that, I went to the Alpine Shop. I may have been there an hour. Looking. Touching. Wanting. I saw a collapsible bucket by Sea to Summit. I craved it. Only $25! It would fit so cutely in my bag. What does it matter if I would never need it? I caressed an Ex-Officio Air Strip Lite shirt. $87! Sun protection and insect repellent all in one! It felt so soft.

    Thank God for the Tarahumara.

    Even so, as I drove away, I thought about that bucket. I could use it for camping instead of my bulky plastic hospital wash basin that I got for free! 

    Tarahumara. Tarahumara. Tarahumara.

    Friday, December 17, 2010

    Keeping Earbuds Untangled

    I used to spend way too much time untangling my earbuds. A real frustration.

    My work-around until today has been a wooden paint-stirrer (I wrap the earbuds around the stick), which is OK, but it takes up room, and is impractical if I don't have my backpack with me. I decided there must be some piece of equipment for this. Here's what I found:

    A Better Way to wrap headphones from brian on Vimeo.

    This lifehacker description does a good job of describing a similar technique, known as the "devil's horn" technique, but I like the video's music and drama.

    I've tried the devil's horn wrap several times and it seems to work well. Will see how it holds up after it's been in a pocket for awhile and pushed around as I hunt for things in my purse or backpack.  

    Or there's the budcozy.


    More ideas here.

    Some people wrap theirs around their mp3 player, and that probably works great, but I mostly listen to my mp3 player through my radio via an adapter in the lighter socket.

    Thursday, December 16, 2010

    Duct Tape

    Duct tape. Every travel expert has duct tape on his/her packing list. I tossed a roll of duct tape into my suitcase, then took it out again, thinking, "I have never, ever needed duct tape on a trip before, so why am I going to sacrifice valuable luggage real estate to this stuff"?

    Even after I read about saving space by winding duct tape around a pencil or an expired credit card, I thought, nope, not gonna do it.

    I mentioned this to friend Catherine, who said, "Well, one time I was in the airport and my suitcase zipper broke and all my stuff was tumbling out. A guy came by and asked if he could help. When he saw the situation, he reached into his luggage, pulled out some duct tape, and patched my suitcase together."

    Well, there you go. My only decision now is: Will I use a pencil or an expired credit card to wrap my duct tape?

    More on the blessings of travel duct tape here:

    From, Travel Gear: 10 Reasons to Pack Duct Tape When You Travel

    From, Why Travelers Should Never Leave Home Without Duct Tape

    From Graham's Travel Blog, here's a how-to video for wrapping duct tape into a space-friendly size:

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    Many Ways To Be Rootless

    Friend Donna's son and his girlfriend - Brian and Maria - have also gone rootless!

    They've been doing it for several months - left their jobs, sold their stuff, and renovated a used camper. Then they and their two dogs went west.

    Here's their ongoing, rootless story, on Trippin with Stanley. The link takes you to their oldest page. To continue, scroll down to the bottom and hit "next" for more recent posts.

    ... and it all started with a tragic basketball game on 19 March 2010 ....

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    The secret plan

    Before I embark on my new profession as an English-language teacher - somewhere - I'll be taking a two-month adventure.

    Today, I finalized the primary travel arrangements for my adventure.

    Departure is Thursday, January 20.
    Return is Wednesday, March 23.

    Monday, December 13, 2010

    Frozen pipes and regret

    I am staying at friend Kate's house for a couple of days. This evening, she asked, "Do you have any regrets about selling your house"? I responded, "Not a one."

    One hour later, as Kate is swiftly turning off the water main inside her house, because her pipes had frozen, and burst, and there is water spewing out over the washer and dryer in her garage, she says, "Yeah, I guess not."

    Sunday, December 12, 2010

    The Phone Issue

    My cell plan is with Straight Talk. For $45 per month, I get unlimited minutes, unlimited text, and I-forget-how-much-web-access. The phone cost me 30 bucks. No contracts. No tax and fee bloat. My account is auto-refilled via my credit card.

    But the phone and plan are useless outside the U.S.

    So with the anticipation that I will move outside the U.S. within six months, and hoping to travel frequently, I am in a quandary about the phone issue.

    Based on research, I think maybe my best move is to buy an unlocked iphone, then buy local sims cards wherever I go. On the other hand, maybe I can do with a cheap, international dumbphone and buy in-country sims cards. Or buy both the cheap phone + sims cards in-country.

    Or forego a phone altogether?

    Truthfully, I'm not entirely sure what I want a phone for, and the answer to that question will guide me to the solution. To maintain contact with friends and fam, my laptop or internet cafes will be fine.

    While I ponder that, here is a NYT article on the subject.

    And 6 Fewer Excuses For Phoning Home: How to Make Cheap International Calls, by Anne Merritt at Matador Abroad

    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    Travel towels (aka camp towels)

    There's a lot of talk out there about travel towels, but I'm not finding any objective tests to assess:

    • Absorbency
    • Drying time under different conditions (temperature, humidity, and hanging method)
    • Odors after x number of uses
    • Packing space

    So one must rely on personal-preference reviews that talk about undefined quantifiers such as "fast" drying and "really" or "very" or "super" absorbent, and packs "small," etc.

    The big four seem to be:

    And what size should one get? The smallest necessary to dry you off? Or large enough to dry hand-laundered items (by using towel to wring them out)? Or large enough to use as a cover-up?

    After almost popping for $30 or so for this or that towel, I got hold of myself and thought, really, how many places am I going to be where there is no bath towel (threadbare or stingy in size though it may be)? I won't be backpacking.

    My experience tells me I'm much more likely to be without a washcloth or hand towel.

    So here's what I did - I bought an Ozark Trail camp towel at Walmart for $4.00. It's 30" x 12". If I like it after testing it for a few days, I'll buy a 2nd one. That way, I can cut one up for wash cloths or hand towels if I want. If I don't like it, then I'm only out 4 bucks.

    Later the same day .... 

    Per instructions, I completely soaked towel with water, then squeezed out as much water as I could. Hung on hook to dry in bathroom. In six hours, the towel was completely dry. (Was dry in some areas of cloth in a couple of hours.) 

    Next evening ... 
    Used the towel to dry off from shower. Hung on hook to dry. Was completely dry the next morning, approximately 10 hours later.

     4 January 2011 update: 

    The other day I did buy a second camp towel. Identical to first. Then I cut the original into 3 blocks - two small for washcloths and 1 larger for a hand towel. The new towel will be for wringing water from hand-washed clothes or for a bath towel.

    Wednesday, December 8, 2010

    Rootless rehearsal: Luggage

    For my month in Playa,
    I took this wheeled carry-on

    I didn't have to pack a lot of clothes because:
    • Warm climate, so no need for heavy clothing
    • Constant climate, so no need for multiple-weather clothing
    • Convenient and inexpensive laundering service, so could take few clothes and have them washed frequently

    and this backpack.
    The backpack carried my laptop, some books, my purse, camera, and various cords and chargers for electronics.

    They were perfect for my needs.  

    Within six weeks, I will leave for a two-month trip. I'll take the same backpack and carry-on.

    Or if I leave my laptop at home, I will take this shoulder bag instead of the backpack. It's about 15"x12"x7". The shoulder strap is very long, but adjustable. The strap is also very wide, thick, and sturdy: A handle-slasher would have to invest some time to cut through it. You can see an ample zipped pocket on the side. A zipper opens the top. Inside, there is one zippered pocket. The bag is roomy enough for all the things one needs during a typical day. There's even room for a change of clothes. Over the shoulder bandolier-style, it gives me complete control of it and its contents. The best thing is how accessible the contents are to me.

    I bought the bag years ago at a thrift store, and have used it many times for travel or going to outdoor festivals and concerts.

    The decision driver is not so much the contents of the luggage, but what bags do I feel I can manage on my own?

    After all, when you're on your own, you're on your own. Going to the bathroom, waiting in line, getting something to eat, embarking and disembarking transportation. I can manage a backpack (or shoulder bag) and a wheeled carry-on.

    Note about a wheeled carry-on versus backpack luggage:

    As recently as a year ago, I was definitely in the backpack-duffle camp in regard to using same for my primary piece of luggage. It was portable, and I could (obviously) carry it on my back, leaving my hands free. Here's that bag, which has a lot of great features:

    But after several trips recently via train and plane, the reality was that the backpack-duffle proved bulky, awkward, and tiring. Every time I lugged it off and on, it required twisting my back. When I had it on, I had to be conscious while embarking or otherwise moving about in a small space, of that large growth on my back. I envied my co-travelers who moved briskly through airports or down the street with their obedient wheeled carry-ons behind them while I lumbered a little more slowly with the weight of my pack on my back.

    And if one stays in the same lodging for any length of time, there is no benefit of one luggage style over another when all it's doing is sitting in a bedroom.

    Having said all of the above, this duffle is, hands down, what I'd take on a road trip. 

    Traveling light

    Check out for a wealth of info about traveling light.

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    Rootless rehearsal: Money and banking

    My stay in Mexico turned out to be a good rehearsal for future rootless forays outside the US.

    On Plans A, B, and C

    I took some cash with me to Mexico, along with a debit card and a credit card. 

    The first thing I learned was: The Mexican banks were not exchanging cash dollars into pesos. Euros yes; dollars no. This apparently went into effect in September, in an attempt to manage the flow of narco money. Result: I did change some cash at a casa de cambio, but at a lower exchange rate than I would have gotten at a bank.

    Fortunately, I'd already arranged with my financial institution to open one of my debit cards and my credit card to international use, so it wasn't a big deal. For the remainder of my stay, I used my debit card to withdraw pesos at a bank ATM. The credit card was a back-up for the debit card. 

    For future: Always have a Plan B and C for accessing money. In this case, I had both a debit and a credit card in addition to the cash. In the reverse, though, it would mean if I planned to depend primarily on cards, then I'd still better also bring some cash (and even some old-school travelers checks, depending on the country).

    Withdrawing $$ from checking or savings accounts via debit card

    The debit card I used was for my primary account. If someone had compromised access to the account, and then to its related accounts (such as a related savings account), I'd have been screwed in a major, major way. Even if my financial institution caught on to such a breach early, it would be a bummer, because the first thing the financial institution would do is disable my debit card, making it more difficult to access my money.

    For future: This week, I opened a new checking account with a new number and with a segregated access portal. I opted out of the overdraft service, so if the account should be compromised, the $ will dry up when the funds in that account are depleted. It will be for travel only. I will only deposit enough in that account to cover what I think I'll need plus a cushion for modest emergencies. My goal is that any damage will be self-contained.

    Here's what others have to say about money and banking while on the road:

    What's Your Travel Back-Up Plan? at
    Get Online as Safely as Possible While Traveling at glyphobet.

    How to Bank Securely While Traveling at, the one-stop indie travel guide.

    Banking While Traveling at How to Travel the

    .... and then there's the suggestion I read to open a skype account, load it up with calling credit before leaving the country, and bank by phone. This seems to make the most sense to me right now.

    Monday, December 6, 2010

    Portable tai chi

    It took me a year to learn the movements in tai chi's short form, also known as the 24 form.

    I finally got it, and then allowed myself, over time, to lose it.

    So during my last week in Playa, I vowed to re-learn the form. One reason is because I'd had the goal for so long to learn it, finally achieved the goal, only to allow the skill to fall away. It is worth re-achieving that goal.

    Another reason to take up tai chi again is that it is so portable. No matter where I am in the world, I can practice it.

    I've found a class that runs three days a week. It's about an hour's commute each way, but it's worth the investment in time and gas. First class -- this Wednesday!

    Sunday, December 5, 2010

    Security of web-based data storage

    A while back, I said I looked for but didn't find any best practice standards for web-based data storage. Today, I found something. Whether it's any good or not, I don't know yet, but there is the Cloud Security Alliance.

    "The Cloud Security Alliance is a non-profit organization formed to promote the use of best practices for providing security assurance within Cloud Computing ... "

    Regardless how effective this organization - and technical failsafes - may be, the one constant is that all systems will fail at one time or another. Anything that involves "unstable" variables, such as human beings, will have intrinsic flaws. 

    One takes the prudent measures one can and strives to fail smartly.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010

    Did I live in Playa?

    What's the difference between living somewhere and visiting somewhere?

    I don't think I'd ever considered the question until the other day, when Paige mentioned to Maria and me that she'd lived in Brazil. For whatever reason, this perked up my ears and I asked how long she'd lived there. She said five months. And I wondered aloud, "How do you decide if you've lived some place"?

    Maria and Paige seemed to agree that it is the individual who decides if s/he has "lived" somewhere, although having actually rented a place (versus staying in a hotel) and making that your base also seem to be factors.There may also be a presumed minimum duration of stay. Paige suggested that she is living in Playa. After all, she is staying in one place (as in, she has a base) and renting a condo. The fact that it is only for a month is not the determining factor.

    On the surface, this may seem like a pretty esoteric question. 

    But it's not. It has practical application. For example, don't most of us think and act differently when we live somewhere versus when we visit somewhere? This colors what we see, how we connect with others, what we do every day, how we think about where we are.   

    A Thorn Tree thread took up this question recently.

    With me being rootless, do I want to think as a resident or as a visitor when I go somewhere new?

    Friday, December 3, 2010

    Celebration party

    The last day!

    Estelle, Paige, and Chantal hosted a party at their condo. They rented a condo in a great area on Calle 26 and Avenida 10, in a building called Las Palmas. A beautiful, vibrant little neighborhood. Their place is on the ground floor with a spacious patio in front and a rooftoop pool and entertainment area that all building inhabitants share. What a great view! Not of the water, but of the city rooftops. Loved it.

    Much alcohol and good food.

    Chantal sang and played her guitar, as did Maria's boyfriend, Tomas. Then, most everyone sang along with them.

    I think the photos (courtesy of Estelle) speak for the warmth and fun at the party:

    Jean, Nathan, Neil, Brittany & Sarah, Paula, Estelle, Rosie

    Jean, Jordan, and Maria


    Brittany and Sarah

    Paige and two friends

    Jean, Tim, Paula, Rosie

    Tomas, Chantal, and Estelle


    Thursday, December 2, 2010

    Very portable speaker

    Chantal brought this Cygnett speaker in for her final lesson. It's a tiny little speaker that can be hooked into an mp3 player or laptop. Rechargeable battery; can recharge on a laptop.

    To enhance the bass, the speaker twists and pulls out a bit like an accordian. About $30.

    For portability (i.e. size), I prefer this to the speaker I bought a couple of weeks ago. I also like that its plug-in appendages remain attached to the speaker and are retractable. The sound is fine.

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

    The next thing

    With my time in Playa almost over, this is the first week there's been space in my brain to think about what I'll be doing between my return and my next adventure in rootlessness.

    Here's a list:
    • Distribute the rest of my stuff (waiting in that small guest closet at "base")
    • Pull the usual end-of-the-year tax-related documents together
    • Revisit my security and access processes for data - to make things easier and yet more effective
    • Re-learn the series of movements in tai chi's "Beijing 24",which took me a whole year to learn, and which I allowed myself to lose through neglect
    • Finalize my plans for January and February

    Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    The hard work is over!

    .... this morning I presented my last lesson for the course.

    Although I may have some rewriting to do on my last assignment (which I turned in yesterday), all I have to do between now and Friday is show up and be alert. Or look alert. Either one.

    In celebration, below is the mass Thriller dance performed in Mexico City on 29 August 2009 for a Guinness World Record:

    Monday, November 29, 2010

    Playa del Carmen, Mexico: Inside my place

    Here is the interior of my home-for-a-month:

    My temporary home, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. November 2010.

    My temporary home, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. November 2010.

    My temporary home, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. November 2010.

    My temporary home, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. November 2010.

    My temporary home, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. November 2010.

    Sunday, November 28, 2010

    Homework, massage, and all that jazz

    Finally finished an interminable written assignment. Good news! It's the last one!

    Before she left, Pam gave me a gift certificate for two massages at Veronica's Massage. I rewarded myself with one of the massages this evening. Holy moly. One of the best massages I've ever received. Thank you, Pam!

    En route to my appointment, I walked under the trees filled with bats. They swooped over and around me as they passed from one tree to another. Just so's you know, Playa bats are bigger than Missouri bats.

    During the massage, I had the thought: Along with the misery and mayhem we humans can render unto each other, there also exists the gift of one human giving another a massage, that therapeutic power of touch. Later, I had the thought: Yieeee! Hey, that hurts!

    After the massage, I walked over to the beach to the last night of the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival. Somehow I ended up right in front of the stage. Not sure how that happened, but cool.

    The audience loved Eugenia Leon, singing along to many of her songs. It was fun to be part of that intimacy between audience and performer.

    Saturday, November 27, 2010

    No need for holiday glamour

    From New York Times today:

    A party planner offered ideas for bringing glamour to your home this holiday season.

    For the briefest of moments, I felt a guilty weight touch my shoulders. Oh. I should be bringing something, if not glamour, to my home for this holiday season.

    But then I remembered! I don't have a home! I don't have to bring anything to it for the holiday season!

    Whoosh - what a relief. I can simply take pleasure in what other people bring to their homes.

    Matt and Carol se fueron

    Matt and Carol just left for the airport after a lazy Saturday morning drinking coffee, eating breakfast, watching the CBS news on TV, chatting, showering, etc.

    Last night we had dinner at La Cueva del Chango. We sat in the corner of the garden, felt a cooling breeze, and looked up every once in awhile at the sparkle of a star. I had fresh guava juice that I mixed with mineral water. Carol tasted it; said it tasted like grass. Yes, it did, and it was nice. She had a delicious margarita. I had a terrific tuna in a sesame crisp; Matt had an even better dish with grouper. Carol's chicken was [shrug] fine.

    After dinner, we walked down to the beach. On the way, we passed a cave -- actually the cave after which the restaurant is named. There was also a gigantic, man-eater of a plant, like a nuclear hosta, complete with one big flower, as yet unopened.

    We walked by a restaurant where a very good singer serenaded the customers with a beautiful ballad. The restaurant was at the end of a hotel that, on first impression, elicited "wows" from all of us. The columns are, like the plant below, of massive proportions. The entrance doors are so huge as to have been designed for a community of giants from the time of fairy tales.   

    A little closer to the beach is a resort with architecture that reverts to human proportions. Room 3, with its tropical green walls, drew my attention.  

    After taking in the stars beachside, we returned home and finished off the evening with a coffee and kahlua.

    Friday, November 26, 2010

    On being a book slut

    Before my reformation, I was a book slut, reading whatever happened to come my way.This resulted in many sordid encounters with literary trash.

    One day, more than a year ago, I decided to be more intentional about my reading, so I spidered through the various "best books" recommendations put forth by NPR, the New York Times, and the Christian Science Monitor. Then I matched those that interested me with our local library's inventory (sometimes requesting that the library purchase a book that sounded particularly good).

    It was very satisfying.

    Now that I'm rootless, I am back to my undiscriminating, promiscuous ways, reliant on the books in the condo "library." Which means I've wasted an absurd amount of time trying to establish a relationship with this dreck:

    • The Last Victim. How I managed to get past 100 before I finally tossed it in disgust, I don't know. Maybe I do know - it was a case of the devil you know versus the devil (the next bad book) you don't. 
    • Fortunately, I didn't give the equally bad (but in an entirely different way) Suite 606 more than about 20 pages before it got re-shelved. 

    Thursday, November 25, 2010

    Thanksgiving in Playa

    It wasn't Thanksgiving in Playa, so I had class as usual today. Matt and Carol explored towns Valladolid and Chemax, and one of Matt's favorite cenotes from his numerous trips to the area in the past, Cenote Calavera (skull).

    Over my lunch break, I connected via Skype with the Thanksgiving gathering at Brother4's house, talking with my daughter and her family, my sister, brothers, and various young'ns. The family was still at Brother4's house when Matt and Carol returned from their adventures, and daughter skyped us so they, too, could connect with home base.

    Matt and I later walked up 5th Avenue to Ah Cacao for a leisurely, people-watching coffee, then continued on to Calle 28 and then to the beach to join the International Jazz Festival. Mike Stern and Dave Weckl were playing. A jazzy rock sound. Loved it!

    Below is a mellower tune:

    So --> terrific music, a gorgeous orange moon that hung from a cloud, a starry sky, fresh breezes, warm sand, and an appreciative crowd.

    A good way to spend a Thanksgiving.

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    Unloading more stuff

    Getting rid of stuff still gives me pleasure.

    I felt good today because I was able to release a little clear-plastic case one uses to hold the travel-size boxes of Q-tips. I offered it to Matt and Carol; neither wanted it, so it is now in the blue trash barrel out front. I have another one, which still holds some Q-tips; this will be released, too, when I've emptied it. I'll probably forbear a post on it, however. 

    An old travel tip is to pack and wear old clothes that are on their last threads, then toss them instead of laundering them. I'd brought a pretty, white cotton nightgown that is perfect for a tropical place. But it was barely holding together, so it, too, has now gone the way of the blue barrel.

    Also leaving behind two Heinlein books:
    • Podkayne of Mars
    • Revolt in 2100

    Really, Pam left behind Podkayne of Mars - I'm so happy she enjoyed it. Written in 1962, it has a girl as its central figure - a very strong girl, in fact - which was unusual back then.

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010


    Today was a tough day school-wise. Glad it's over. Glad it wasn't as disastrous as it felt at the time. So moving on from there ...

    Chantal, one of my colleagues, introduced us to the Dutch word gezellig. It's pronounced like this, though I like Chantal's pronunciation better. 

    There's no translation to English. As I understand it, gezellig perhaps captures a period of time, maybe a few moments or an hour or hours or a day or days, where you're in a house or maybe another place, and its ambiance is just right. And you're with friends or family, maybe some wine or coffee, and you just feel good together in that space and time.

    Here is a group of people feeling the gezellig:

    Makes me feel gezellig every time I look at it. I like the woman kicking up her heels.

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    System failure

    Ah, the cascade effect.

    This morning I had a lesson to teach. I don't have a printer at the condo, so I must print documents at the school. We are not supposed to connect our laptops to the school printer. So I email my documents to a web-based email account, access that at the school on a school PC, then print the documents.

    So this morning I arrived at school, accessed my email account, retrieved my two-part lesson plan, and discovered that where I thought I'd attached Lesson Plan A and Lesson Plan B, I'd attached duplicate copies of Lesson Plan A.

    Uh and oh.

    No problem. I'll just pull out my laptop, send it to myself again, and I'll be good. No. I didn't think I'd need my laptop, so I'd left it at the condo.

    No problem. I'll just go online with the school PC and access my web-based backup files (which I hated to do since I really don't trust the school PCs' security). So I pull up the website, enter my login and then my password, only to find I'd entered the wrong password. Hmmm, don't want to re-enter the wrong password, because I don't want to be locked out of that account altogether (like I'd been locked out of a gmail account the week before - more on that later).
    No problem. I'll just go to another account and retrieve that ol' password (which I hated to do because I don't trust the school PCs' security). Oh damn it. My password for that other account is such that it includes some keys that are very different from those in the U.S., and I could not figure out how the heck to get to certain symbols, which was the cause of my lockout last week with an entirely different web-based account.

    Result: I walk back to the condo, fire up my laptop, send myself Lesson Plan B, pack the laptop in my bag, and trudge back to school. All making for a very poor start to my day.

    Important lessons learned:

    • ALWAYS have at least one accessible Plan B in my pocket (i.e. I should have taken my laptop with me), even when it's kind of a pain in the ass; and
    • Select passwords that are strong, but which don't undermine you when you encounter foreign keyboards.

    You might ask - hey, why don't you just take your flash drive with you and insert that into the school PC? That would be much more portable, to be sure. The problem is I don't trust the PCs and I ain't gonna do it if I don't have to. In another scenario, I may have to do that with a strange PC, but I don't have to do that now. 

    A note on the email account I got locked out of last week. Super annoying and still unresolved. Thank God it wasn't a critical email account for me. In response, I set up a brand-new email account with three features: 1) It has a good password that's easy for me to remember, 2) which doesn't use symbols that require advanced study of the foreign keyboard, and 3) which has as its sole purpose homework stuff. It's what I call my "stupid" account. If it were to get compromised, there's nothing lost. I wish I would have thought of doing this earlier.

    Carol and Matt arrive

    Matt and Carol arrived last night about 9:30. They rented a car at the airport and rolled in without drama. I had waited at the corner so I could direct them to the right place. This worked out well.

    Matt had also arranged to have Mexican phone access on his iphone, so we communicated via the cell I have here or via skype on my laptop. Worked beautifully.

    Matt related that he lost Carol in the Mexico City Airport when she was whisked away in a wheelchair. Some anxiety ensued.

    Both were exhausted upon arrival; it'd been a very long travel day. 

    Carol is intent on going to Walmart this morning to get provisions for shrimp dip and a coconut cream pie. She and Matt will cruise around Playa today in the rental car to get the big-picture view of town.

    Sunday, November 21, 2010

    Street scenes

    Looking down Calle 10 bis to Avenida 10

    Fallen flowers on Calle 14 bis

    Purifying water

    I wanted to boil some vegetables and I wanted to use the water from the tap to do it.

    How long did I need to boil the water for the water to be purified for cooking the vegs?

    I was thinking 10 minutes, but here is what I found on the web. HEY! Before you click that link, what is your guess?

    Playans, Playan traffic, and the street grid

    I have yet to meet a native Playan, though I'm sure they do exist.

    The other day I dropped off laundry at the launderia around the corner. When I picked it up later that day, the three staff and I chatted. Two of the three have lived in Playa for about a month; the third has been here for about three months.

    Usually I hear a range between one and six years. People I've talked to came from:
    • Mexico City
    • Chiapas
    • Queretaro
    • Guadalajara
    • Sinoloa
    • Brazil
    According to one source I read, Playa del Carmen is one of the fastest-growing (or was til recently) places in the world. For a time, about 100 families moved to Playa every month. This is a drop in the bucket for a city that is already large, but for a town the size of Playa, that is huge.  

    From 1990 to 1997, Playa's population grew from 2,000 to 20,000!

    Newcomers like the lack of congestion and other problems that come with large populations.

    But speaking of congestion -- Although 5th Avenue is a pedestrian street, cars reign supreme on parallel streets 10th and 15th. Fortunately, these are both one-way streets so you only have to look in one direction before risking your life to cross the road. Occasionally, a driver will slow down for you to cross.

    10th Avenue has a cycle path (or, as I misheard my British tutor say: There is a psychopath on 10th Avenue) that pedestrians and cyclists share, sometimes with disconcerting results. 

    In theory, Playa's street grid is logical and easy to follow. But this only holds true after you also learn that avenidas ("avenues") run parallel to the beach and calles ("roads") run perpendicular to the beach. Plus, you must learn about the "half streets" designated with bis, as in Calle 10 bis.

    Furthermore, the avenidas (which run parallel to the beach, remember) go by 5s, so there's Avenida 5, then Avenida 10, then Avenida 15, etc.

    Calles, on the other hand (which run perpendicular to the beach) go by 2s, so there's Calle 2, Calle 4, Calle 6, etc. Oh, except for the calles bis. These are tucked in between the Calles 2, 4, 6, 8, etc.They are not alleys so much as they are streets that don't go the length of the city as the "full" calles do ... OK, never mind.

    So until you know the concept about the calles versus the avenidas and about the bis streets, the idea that you seek Calle 10 bis, which is between 10th and 15th Avenues, is a straight road to getting-lost hell.

    Now I can go directly to the intersection of Calle 10 bis and Avenida 10 and know that I have not, in fact, slipped into a weird parallel universe.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    Outside the classroom 2

    In the International House courtyard, the palm and coconut trees:

    Are coconut trees a kind of palm? Yes, I guess so.

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Plaza Ayuntamiento

    Drummers drumming, welder welding, and Christmas-tree-installer installing in the Plaza Ayuntamiento today.

    Repairing a palapa roof

    On the way home for lunch, I saw these men repairing a palapa roof on Calle 10bis in Playa del Carmen.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Portable speakers for MP3 player

    The other day, some of us observed an experienced teacher, Dena, as she taught an intermediate-level English class.  Dena played music at several points, and I could hardly wait til the end of the class to find out where she'd bought the MP3 player speaker system she used.

    Here it is:

    An HDMX portable speaker case. It's a great little cool thing ... runs on two AA batteries, comes with the jack for the MP3 player, and you can even carry your player around in the zippered speaker case.

    I don't know where I'll be teaching, thus I don't know what sort of technical apparatus will be available, so this is perfect for me - it's small in size and weight. Oh, did I forget to say I went out to the Playa Walmart this afternoon and bought one for myself?

    Oddly, the Walmart had no AA batteries, so I picked some up at OXO.


    Paige, another fellow student, is from Darwin, Australia.

    She doesn't have a travel blog, but she does have a story, which she told while the group of us students watched a downpour from the balcony outside our classroom.

    Paige's story is one of drama. Of beauty. Of epic sound. Of unavoidable tragedy.

    Hers is the story of Darwin frogs.

    frog from at home
    Photo by Dragonoletra

    *The above is not a photo of Paige. 

    When it rains in Darwin, the frogs come out en masse. Their chorus is so loud it is impossible to talk on the phone. You find them everywhere. Even the toilet.

    Paige reports great debates as to whether or not to flush the frogs or to retrieve them for release outside. It doesn't really matter, she says, because regardless of your choice, the next time you visit the toilet, you'll see a frog's smiling face.

    And this report from Australia's Froggy News:

    It seems that cane toads are quite the trouble makers. Australia has long been battling with issues of toad invasion. Their introduction to these territories lead to a population explosion which has begun to threaten a lot of the local native wildlife and has been deemed one of the nation's "biggest mistakes". It's become a huge issue, with Vietnam Vets now enlisting in the war against the toads.. There are now reports that crocodile populations will go up as the cane toads provide them with plenty of prey. And even weirder, it seems that cane toads are still dangerous even after they are dead. Evidently, a fertilizer made from pulverised cane toads is now under recall because the stuff starts to explode when it ferments. And now all the neighboring areas that still aren't overrun by the croaking intruders have even added toad sniffing dogs to their border patrols. And they're not joking around either - folks caught importing cane toads into presently unravaged areas such as Victoria face enormous fines for the offense.
    10:52 PM - Report Froggy News

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Jackie and Pam se fueron

    As of today, both Jackie and Pam are gone. Jackie left Monday super-early in the morning; Pam left this afternoon.

    Next up: Matt and Carol.

    Pam and Jackie replenished my supply of guavas before they left. The guavas' fragrance wafts over me as I work at my laptop. It is the stuff of cliches - "heady" and "intoxicating." I don't know of any other fruit that has the same effect. Maybe a freshly-cut lime. But where a lime's scent is sharp and energizing, the guava's is a silky perfume that makes you inhale slowly and deeply. Why don't we have guava-based perfume?