A Travellerspoint blog

Would You Like A Bathing Suit With That Beach?

sunny 82 °F
View 2011 on TulsaTrot's travel map.


Maha Beach, Sint Maarten

Two more ferries back and fro from St. Martin International Airport, and we had our bags and more importantly, our bathing suits.


One thing really sticks out about Anguilla, it's not built up like St. Martin. There is one two-lane street that crosses the tiny island while bushes and trees hug the edges of the street. Also there are no sidewalks, so walking from one point to another requires that you walk on the street and dodge two types of passing cars, ones speeding by with young drivers, or ones mellowing along with older drivers.


A cupholder for your regular beverage and one for your coconut

Once Nadine and I decided to explore a part of the island that was not attached to the glorious combination of beach and sea, we walked. For snacks, we walked south along the winding road past barking dogs on fat chains to the small convenience store. To the north, was a collection of handicraft stores. When we entered the Devonish Art Gallery, we were gently greeted by one of the nicest people you will ever meet, Carrolle. Over the next 30 minutes, she taught us a little about the island, Carrolle's departure from Seattle and subsequent move to the Caribbean, and of course, how her children are doing. No need to worry, they are fine and not living in New Mexico. After our talk, she kindly drove us back to our hotel.


Unlike the majority of our trips, our goal was simple, sit on a beach and nap, read, or just stare into the distance looking for other islands. We got pretty good at that on Mead's Bay. Every once in awhile, we would swim out to a trampoline, and like Cypress HIll suggested, jump around, and then finally jump back into the water where we would eventually find ourselves back on the beach back at step one, napping, reading, or staring into the distance.



What Anguilla doesn't have as far as infrastructure, they do have in beautiful, secluded beaches. That's why really famous people visit this island. Plus, the laid back folks of Anguilla don't harass people, much less famous people. No one bothered us. Not sure if they didn't bother us since they thought we were famous or our skin was so white that it scared people away. Over along picturesque Maunday Bay beach on the southern tip of the island, we thought we had found the world's top beach with it's soft, powdery white sand and calm, blue water (sound like a travel magazine description?), but the next day, we found that top beach at unassuming Shoal Bay East (insert same adjectives about this beach). Too bad I forgot my bathing suit and just had to watch everyone enjoy the world's best beach. I can't say that my bathing suit and I had the best vacation, we were never together.


East Shoal Bay, worth the visit, even without a bathing suit

Our vacation to Anguilla was bracketed by days in St. Martin. Watching large airplanes land and takeoff just feet away from a public beach was without a doubt the highlight of St. Martin (you probably thought the missing bag was the highlight or having to pay twice for a hotel). What's unique is that the runway leads up to the edge of the water with just enough area for a spit of beach. So when planes takeoff, folks will take "advantage" of this by running up to the chain link fence and endure the pure blast of joy of a mouthful of sand, dirt, trash, fumes and/or jet fuel spewing out of the back of the plane as it thrusts itself forward. When they land, people sit and take photos and videos of planes landing intimately right over head. We chose the alternative viewing point, up on the terrace of a restaurant with a burger, fries, and beer in hand to get more of the panoramic view.


Posted by TulsaTrot 10:14 Archived in Anguilla Tagged beach island anguilla Comments (0)

The Pilot That Overslept

The first day on our first trip to the Caribbean

sunny 83 °F
View 2011 on TulsaTrot's travel map.


It's never a good sign when your first flight to the Caribbean is late because the pilot has overslept.

Well, that is how we started our one-week summer vacation to the Caribbean. What could have kept him from getting to work on time? A really good movie was on the night before on cable? He met one of the flight attendants for drinks? He spent all night working on a really tough Sudoku. Ok, I guess there could be several reasons. I just won't reveal the name of the airline, because maybe it was an honest mistake. Our flight departed late for Chicago, but maybe that was a good thing. That just left us less time waiting for our next delayed flight to Miami.

These delays did give us enough time to watch the filming of an American Airlines commercial (oops, now you know the airline), cancel our room reservation in St. Martin for the night, because there was no way in hell we would make it to St. Martin this evening, and explore the hidden corners of the Chicago O'Hare airport.

We arrived to Miami that sunny afternoon with little hope of catching our final flight to St. Martin, but figured we would give it a try. Upon our exit the monitors revealed that the gate to St. Martin was across the aisle. Surprisingly enough, the flight had not left, it was late as well. Are y'all noticing a trend here? Amazingly, we caught our flight.

Our French flight attendant with an Australian accent working for American Airlines made life a bit better and was the highlight of our day. She spent the entire flight giving us little travel nuggets of knowledge about hidden gems in the Caribbean and some of our common challenges to raising bilingual kids. To make the final flight a bit sweeter, she slipped us two Heinkens to ease the pain of a treacherous day of travel.

We arrived to St. Martin, but our bags extended their stay in Miami for a night. With our room now having been canceled hours earlier, we were up shit creek without a paddle and reservation. With a little finagling, we showed our original receipt from the escargot speed internet at Hotel Beach Plaza and gained entrance to a room after a long day.

The next morning, we enjoyed the beauty of St. Martin over a nice, French breakfast looking over the calm waters, leaving the stress of the previous day behind us. Or so we thought. We had to pay for the hotel room a second time. We were ready to get to Anguilla.


We jumped on the next ferry heading across Canal D'Anguilla to the relaxing island of Anguilla. Once we set foot on Anguilla, life was better. Our very jovial taxi driver, Frank, gave us a quick downlow on the history of Anguilla as our van passed a flat island devoid of over construction. Checking into Anaconda Hotel, we were greeted by two Bostonites that raved about the island of Anguilla.

Alright, things were looking up.

Posted by TulsaTrot 21:03 Archived in Saint Martin Tagged island luggage Comments (1)

Don't Look a Churro Straight in the Eye

sunny 75 °F


I was the first to step off the jet bridge in Chicago, corralling all 24 of my students into an open space to complete an obligatory student check. A elegantly dressed, little ol' white haired women held up a sign for Westside High School and greeted me with a gentle smile. Unbeknownst to me, Trudi was our very own VIP consultant provided by our tour company. Her responsibility was to meet us at our gate, walk our herd through the busy Chicago airport, and drop us off at our connecting flight for NYC. Honestly, do people need chaperones to get them from one gate to another in an airport? Maybe if you are rich and famous.

"I was going to meet David Beckham this afternoon from Europe, but he cancelled at the last minute." And she had the pleasure of 24 adolescents and myself instead.

So yes, her responsibility is to direct famous people, David Beckham, Ben Stiller, Tim McGraw, and the like from one gate in an airport to another gate without getting lost, being spotted by paparazzi, or having to eat ungodly airport food at McDonalds. Our group was going to be spotted alright and I was pretty sure not many would take notice, unless in a moment of spasticity, one of our adolescents tripped and fell into a trashcan. Not likely, but they do like to walk and stare at their cellphones.

And so started our educational adventure to Spain.


The last time I visited the home of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, I was a recent graduate of college backpacking across Europe. I learned then and on this trip that the construction of Sagrada Familia relies solely upon donations, so you can imagine my surprise in seeing the impressive progress that had been made in eleven years. Fours days after our visit, an arsonist set fire to the sacristy in the basilica. I promise that none of my students were responsible.



Our guide mentioned that Gaudi's Parque Güell served as the background for Pepper's favorite show, America's Next Top Model, several years ago. We didn't see any models running around, but we did see that Irish dude playing drums on the underside of plastic buckets in the middle of the park.


North of the hustle and bustle of Barcelona lies a Benedictine abbey up on a mountain named Montserrat. The Monastery of Montserrat houses the Black Virgin and a world renowned boy's choir.






Don't get me wrong here, but I love traveling. I jump on a plane any chance I get. Even if I am traveling with two soccer teams worth of people, I love to share the joys of travel and newness and learn and laugh. But I also enjoy moments that take me back to when I backpacked with friends through Europe or around the world with Nadine. With a couple of hours to spare, Casey, another chaperone, and I left the rambling masses of Las Ramblas, and made our way to the one place you find in any decent tourist spot, an Irish pub. There inside sat one Englishman, Michael, with his German girlfriend Casey, on a short weekend trip to Barcelona. (I swear that the English have more disposable income for drink than anyone else in the world.) So like any good midafternoon spent in an Irish pub in Spain, we sat and chatted and watched English soccer/football with an annoying American, bringing all of us good Americans, not either one of us, yelling and screaming in an empty bar about random shit.

Switching gears and geography, in Valencia, our students stayed with host students and attended classes at our sister school Sagrado Corazon during holy week. Sagrado Corazon and my host, Juanjo, put together a series of sports tournaments one day for their Día Deportivo. This is where every student selects a sport, basketball, soccer, or a rather odd version of baseball, and pays one euro. That one euro is collected with all the other euros, and is sent to a school in Nigeria for school supplies or to help build an addition to the school in Africa. Talk about a noble gesture.

Architecturally speaking, one of the more unique structures in Spain is Valencia's Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. It is often referred to as the "Eye", and serves as part museum and cultural complex. It served as a photo op and the chance to boogie with some older Italian women.






Towards the end of our stay in Valencia, we made our way to Malvarrosa Beach past the throngs of flag waving Barça and Real Madrid fans in town for the Champions League match. Once on the beach, Nivea sunscreen folks walked up and down the beach searching for people to rub their hands all over. Being the good sport I am, I offered my white, pasty body to science and challenged the quality of their sun reflecting cream. It smelled good and kept my chest a bright white. So it worked.


I am goal oriented. My only two real goals, outside of the kids having a great trip, were seeing the "Eye" in Valencia, and eating some churros and chocolate. The day before leaving Madrid back to the States, I split from our "I really don't like to be on time" guide, and conducted a frantic search for a restaurant specializing in churros. Just imagine a reformed, wide-eyed New Mexican looking for green chile and not having any luck. That was me and my pastries. As this photo indicates, I found them, and they were delicious.


Here are some remaining photos from my time in Spain. Enjoy.

Next up for Nadine and I is a trip to the Caribbean.
















Posted by TulsaTrot 21:02 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona madrid valencia montserrat educational_trips educational_tours Comments (0)

Move Over Wiener, Here Comes the Beef

rain 62 °F
View Argentina Summer 2008 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

Classes completed and a quick weekend getaway to Cordoba, we were left with a few days before we made the dreaded long haul flight back to the States. What to do? What to do? As the starting topic of every previous entry, we went with our stomach and to a nice dinner at Puerto Madero.

The day leading to our final night had been dreary, cold, wet, and blah, but the moment we entered the expensive restaurant of Cabaña Las Lilas, it all melted away. As we sat there at our table, we had that odd feeling that there were absolutely too many tourists, and that the wait staff was constantly occupied with removing every dish from your table that even thought about being dirty. It was quite possibly the swankiest restaurant we had ever set foot in. Minutes later of aimlessly searching through the wine list, which was literally 100 pages long, we decided on a nice, and the cheapest, Cabernet Sauvignon available. The wine actually turned out to be very good wine with bold flavor and with a notable hint of vanilla and chocolate undertones (that is what the wine list said).

As the last night in Argentina, we both agreed that the only item we could order from the menu without being extradited would be some variation of steak. So steak it was. No Panchos (hot dogs), just pure Argentine beef. What landed on our table was unconditionally the best steak that either one of us has ever tried. Succulent, tender, flavorful. Any adjective you could possibly think to describe steak or a Texan, it would also describe our dinner. We did with this steak what we should all be doing everyday in life, enjoy every drop of it.

So this trip has ended, like many others before, but this one separated itself in a few major ways. Primarily, it was our first international trip with a 11 month old daughter. And most likely, it's the first and last we will do with a child that is under 3 years of age, which is the new cutoff age for international travel.

We found that traveling with an infant proved to be a constant challenge of balancing the desire to visit sites and finding that perfect moment when diapers were clean, a little belly was full, and eyes that weren't too tired. Thus, the amount of sightseeing on our part was very limited.

In addition to the excellent food that I apparently didn't notice my two previous visits to Argentina, we were super impressed with Argentine's cariño for babies and children. It wasn't only the females, but also the males that were crazy for babies. We'd enter the subway, people felt honored to give up their seat to us since we had a baby. They didn't hesitate to do the same for elderly people. Who knows, they might even given up their seat for a New Mexican, because they would have felt sorry that he didn't receive a proper education. Within seconds of stepping on a bus, a group of teenagers let go of their cool image, and played peek-a-boo with our daughter. Argentines taught us a great lesson in their treatment of the little and frail ones, and reminded me of a quote from a former Argentine president that I had heard, "the only privileged people in Argentina are the children."

Our return flight to the USA was a breeze compared to our initial flight into Argentina, Sophie slept 4 out of the 8 hour flight. We still returned home tired, but not completely exhausted. We now sit with a week to rest before returning to our jobs in education.

Hope all are well and we'll see where the next adventure takes us.

John, Nadine, and Sophie

Posted by TulsaTrot 07:16 Archived in Argentina Tagged argentina buenos_aires family_travel study_abroad Comments (0)

It's Tangolicious with a Yogurt Surprise

sunny 68 °F
View Argentina Summer 2008 on TulsaTrot's travel map.


Inside the Museo de la Ciudad


One man presided over the ritual. He filled the hot brown gourds and the green liquid frothed to the neck. The men fondled the gourds and sucked at the bitter drink, talking about mate the way other men talked about women.
- Bruce Chatwin 'In Patagonia'

There is always meaning lost in translation, or shall we say, a lack of looking at the minor details on packaging at times. This time it happened to be on my part.

Every morning I would attempt to enrich my diet and breakfast experience with some tasty 'frutilla' yogurt inside that purple packaging. This had been my regular morning routine for 4 weeks. Then surprisingly one day, Jimena asked me how I was feeling. Was the food bothering my stomach? Was my body not used to the Argentine food? Quite the opposite. I loved the food and I felt fine, like a regular guy. She then asked me why I eat that Activia yogurt (if you click on this link, I suggest that you watch a few commercials to fully understand how great I felt in Argentina). I told her that I liked strawberry yogurt. Softly, she said that Activia yogurt is for people with irregular bowel movements to help them become more "regular." You can imagine my relief and surprise to have been eating a yogurt that's been helping "regulate my digestive system by helping reduce long intestinal transit time." Maybe that is the reason I have felt like a 'regular' guy here in Argentina.

Cultural misunderstandings happen all the time. I've committed quite a few in my travel life, but I'm not the only one. Companies also are responsible for a few. Mitsubishi came out with a line of vehicles called the Pajero, the Pajero Mini (obviously named after a New Mexican), the Pajero Junior, and the Pajero mini SUV. This is where you have to increase your Spanish vocabulary. If you can not find out why this is so funny, please feel free to email me at jwhit003@gmail.com.



Tango. The vertical dance of the horizontal desire. Your mind thinks of a guy in a black zoot suit dancing with a girl who's red dress has a slit up to the hip as they glide across the dance floor. We decided to see this dance that originated from Argentina at the famous Café Tortoni.

Upon our arrival to Café Tortoni, the bouncer of the café (yes, a bouncer for a café), told us to go down the stairs and follow the winding staircase to the dark room at the bottom. In the staircase we found a room split in half with pillars and 2 dozen tables facing a single stage. The waiter led us to our table that we would share with two other people.

After ordering our dinner and wine, the Tango show began. Three guys walked in with their slicked back hair and watched as three girls sitting at tables on stage waited for a slight nod, the invitation to dance. But like any good show, to increase the crowd's anticipation, they played out a few hypothetical Tango situations before the actual dancing. Thus, Guy A flirted with Guy B's girl. The fake fight between A and B while Guy C walks up and dances with Girl A. Guy A and B are now surprised about the turn of events. Somewhere in between all that, they all start dancing and sliding across the stage.

Over the next hour and a half, they danced the tango, the band played, guys played an ancient weapon, a rope with rocks attached at their ends, as musical instruments, and the MC sang. After we left Café Tortoni strolling among the lights of Avenida 9 de Julio, Nadine felt that this was by far the best experience of the trip. Even better than the yogurt!


While traveling through South Africa during our Around the World trip, we met this Argentine while he made his first trip abroad. During a bus ride, we chatted it up in Spanish so Nadine and Melissa wouldn't be able to understand us, and he offered to meet up with us if we ever made it back to Argentina in the future. Well we did make it back to Argentina, and we both kept our word from South Africa by making the weekend trip to the city of Córdoba. A rare thing happened, when Carlos met us early in the morning at the bus station, two travellers from different parts of the world actually met up again.


Our international hiking group

Over the next 36 hours, he showed us the historic center of town, La Manzana Jesuítica, and for the first time, a glimpse of life outside of the city. Carlos rounded up a few of his friends and all 7 of us set out for the town of Rio Cebollas. Over the morning and afternoon, we enjoyed the silence and absence of tall buildings, filled only by the bad jokes shared between friends as we hiked through the hills.


Our time left in Argentina is limited to a couple of days enjoying a little more asado, empanadas, and helado.

Enjoying some of life's simple pleasures

Posted by TulsaTrot 07:13 Archived in Argentina Tagged argentina buenos_aires family_travel study_abroad Comments (0)

If You Think That Is Big . . .

sunny 70 °F
View Argentina Summer 2008 on TulsaTrot's travel map.


A classmate asked me if I had tried any Argentina helado. Empanadas, absolutely. Pizza, no doubt. But Argentine ice cream, not yet. I hadn't actually seen any ice cream stores. Then the girls in my class deemed it their responsibility, no, their duty as a classmate to introduce to me Argentine helado. Once I had that first taste of Freddo's dulce de leche ice cream, it was over. Since that point we've consistently visited our local ice cream store every couple of days. Now that we know what we are looking for, there happens to be two ice cream shops within a block of our apartment.


Nadine reading the Omaha World Herald on Avenida 9 de Julio

As we pass through life, it's easy to notice the bad events (high gas prices) and habits of people and places (the entire state of New Mexico). But I have to say that in our time here in Argentina, it's been quite easy to observe lots of good qualities about the country, especially the general friendliness of people here in Buenos Aires, a very large city. In addition, upon entering the metro when it was crowded, partly crowded, or even sparsely crowded, someone has always eagerly offered up their seat so that either Nadine or myself can sit down with Sophie. At this point, one of us sits down with her, and Sophie earns her seat privileges by smiling, waving, and cooing at everyone around her.


Traveling wears Sophie out

With a window of free time on the weekend in which Sophie was fed, not tired, not carrying a load in her pants, we searched for the widest road in the world, Avenida 9 de Julio and the Recoleta. Fortunately we found Avenida 9 de Julio with ease, as it is a block wide. We didn't have much trouble finding the neighborhood of Recoleta either with its famous cemetery. As it was a warm sunny day, everyone was outside selling trinkets, souvenirs, and soaking up the sun in front of the famous Recoleta cemetery.


Views of the Recoleta

After several hours of strolling among Avenida 9 de Julio and Recoleta, Sophie deciced to drop her pacifier on the ground out in front of the Recoleta Cemetery. As I was carrying Sophie in the backpack, Nadine promptly grabbed the pacifier, went to rinse it off over by the grass. During that time, I began to chat with this Argentine lady about our baby backpack. Without thinking, Nadine walked up and rapidly tried to put the pacifier back in a mouth. The mouth just happened not to be Sophie's, but mine. You can imagine her surprise as this foreigner's wife tried to put a pacifier in her husband's mouth. We all had a good laugh with that one, except the little lady riding on my back wondering why her dad had the pacifier and not her.


A favorite to do well in the upcoming Olympics is the Argentina basketball team who won the Gold medal in the previous Olympics. In preparation they have been playing games against other countries (Mexico, Poland, Uruguay) in various parts of Argentina. Saturday night, they played a game against Mexico that I made a point to attend. The atmosphere was truly Latin American. They had 60's American music blaring between current Argentine hits while a DJ was yelling into a microphone between every pause in the game. In the end, Argentina, with a few of their NBA players, easily beat México.

Posted by TulsaTrot 07:10 Archived in Argentina Tagged argentina buenos_aires family_travel study_abroad Comments (0)

I'll Look Down the Eye of a Tiger, for One Moneda

overcast 60 °F
View Argentina Summer 2008 on TulsaTrot's travel map.


Empanadas, Yes we will talk about food again

Two weeks of constant supervision and care of little Sophie and her emerging personality left us needing some time off. So, Thursday night was as good of night to go out for a few hours to enjoy another side of traditional Argentine gastronomy, parilla and asado. Basically, parilla is a piece of meat that has been grilled over an open fire to just the right flavor. Our juicy parilla and asado full of flavor didn't leave us disillusioned.

Just as I had started classes at the university, Nadine started hers as well. Unfortunately for her, that class wasn't a block and a half away from our apartment; it's located all the way downtown. To make it more challenging, her school prefers to be hidden, so that they don't have too many people attending their classes. So that little sign hanging outside their office directing prospective students to their Spanish school was missing. Her first class was scheduled to start at 2:00, but the fact that it took her an hour and a half to find the entrance, caused her class to be pushed back a few minutes until 3:30. Since that day, her only two obstacles have been using public transport to arrive on time and successfully conjugating her verbs.


Signs of protest in front of Congress

While Nadine navigated the Buenos Aires metro, my class took to the streets surrounding Congress to interview farmers, Socialist representatives, and supporters of the government. Let me give you a little background to what is currently happening in Buenos Aires. At I write, Argentine farmers are participating in a national paro while 'diptados' fight about a tax in Congress as different factions fill the streets around the Congress building. They are discussing the large tax increase that was unexpectedly levied by the government against farmers' exports of soy, meat, corn, and wheat. This began a little over a 100 days ago.


The Argentine is on the left, the gringo on the right

My presence in front of Congress leading up to the showdown was not to:

A) be the unforeseen mediator of peace between farmers and government officials, but you could imagine the conversation in my imperfect Spanish.

Me: What would you like me tell her, I mean him, no I mean the government official Mr. Farmer?

Farmer: First, a sudden increase in the export tax of agricultural products is unacceptable and will we continue striking until every cows' udder are painfully full with milk.

Me: First, Cristina, Mr. Farmer here wants you to put in the trash, (as I flip through my dictionary for the word taxes, but accidentally find another word) all tax evaders from foreign lands. Then, the farmers might find this acceptable to painfully kick all cows in the udder.

Cristina (Argentine President): That is the worst and most illiterate demand I have ever heard. These farmers are idiots.

Me: She says y'all are dumb and farm like idiots.

Posted by TulsaTrot 07:06 Archived in Argentina Tagged family_travel study_abroad Comments (0)

Argentina, You Might Think About Crying For Us

semi-overcast 60 °F
View Argentina Summer 2008 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million. - Walt Streightiff

After much planning and anticipation, the day to begin our 5 week study abroad trip to Argentina arrived.

The idea of this trip left us a little anxious with nervous energy. It wasn't the fact that we were traveling internationally to a Latin America country or spending such an extended amount of time in one place, but the fact that we were going to be traveling internationally with a 10 month baby for the first time. Our first obstacle was an 11 hour flight from Chicago down to Buenos Aires.


I bet one of these guys would be willing to walk your dog

What put us more on edge was the fact that Sophie had been sick the days leading up to our departure with a slight fever and an itchy rash. As fate would have it on the day of our departure, she still had the rash. A nurse pracitioner suggested, mind you, 35 minutes before we had to be at the airport, that we might want to buy some Benadryl. We promptly gave her a single dose at the grocery store. Come to find out later, Benadryl causes the majority of babies to sleep like a baby. Another very small percentage suffer another side effect, it causes them to be wired and unable to sleep at all. In our case, we happened to fall in that very small percentage.

Prior to June 17th, our worst travel experience had been an overnight bus ride in Perú from the coastal town of Chimbote to the depths of the Andes in Huaráz. For comparison's sake, during that trip, we were trapped in a crowded bus battling Peruvian's cultural fear that the sensation of a single draft of cold wind would cause them to catch a major cold and die on the spot. Any drink with ice cubes causes this as well. The ensuing bus ride was a odorous mix of sweat and heat trapped within a metal inferno, and the exasperation of wanting to open a single little window just a millimeter to relieve the all night sauna session. Our flight from Chicago to Buenos Aires beat this.

Fortunately our flight was sparingly occupied. As soon as our flight took off, the true fun began. As little Sophie was wired up with a dose of Benadryl, she promptly began her crying in our ascent. As they night progressed, her tired eyes never relented to give into dreaming about sheep or bottles of milk or prunes. Her cry changed to steady crying interspersed with high pitched screaming. We did everything we could imagine to help relieve her pain. Halfway through our trip, I asked the stewardess how long we had left, thinking that we had less than two hours left, "we have about 6 hours left." NO!!! The pilot even felt obliged to help out by letting her fly the plane over Cuba. Unfortunately, all attempts to sooth were worthless other than for a couple of minutes of repose. For 9 of the 11 hours of the flight, Sophie was awake and crying and screaming. When we touched down in Buenos Aires, all three of us were beyond exhausted.

This entire story isn't uncomfortable. We soon found one form of relief from the fatigue through one Argentine's national dishes and a surrogate national dish directly across the street from our hostel, empanadas and pizza. During our recouping period, instead of actually making lunch or dinner, I would simply throw on some shoes and socks, and dart across the street and purchase several slices of baked dough with a slathering of cheese, ham, chicken, and plenty of cheese. Each piece of bread in the shape of half moons or triangles provided instant relief. The Argentines know how to put together some tasty food.

My Spanish studies at the Universidad de Belgrano and Nadine's desire to learn Spanish were both of our raisons d'être in Buenos Aires. But even before classes started, we had to find two things of great importance, a niñera (babysitter) and a place to live. Even though our Extremo Sur Hostel was nice, we'd probably want a little own space for our offspring to wobble around for 5 weeks.


Fortunately we did have a leg up on our search for a niñera before our arrival. Jimena was her name. All we had to do was make sure that Jimena didn't have any intentions of shaving Sophie's head while we were away. Jimena turned out to be very child friendly and energetic without a humpback that might scare Sophie. Our next goal, find a suitable apartment.

Trying to find an apartment in a big city like Buenos Aires at a fair price is trying to find a New Mexican who hasn't fallen drunk into an arroyo at one time or another. Needless to say, you have to look far and wide. Nadine and I visited a half dozen places. Either it would be the perfect spot, perfect apartment, perfect neighborhood, or the perfect price, but none of those perfects all ran together with one apartment. As one wise Simpsons episode once stated, it's all about location, location, location. Eventually we chose an apartment that is literally a block and a half from the university.

Between downing empanadas, Quilmes, making sure our niñera was of an acceptable mental state, and finding an apartment, we actually did experience a little bit of Buenos Aires flavor, by accident. As we were walking the streets of the neighborhood of San Telmo Sunday late morning, we walked directly into the massive Feria de San Telmo full of Tango dancing, antiques, black and white photos, and yes, your choice of jamon and queso, chicken, or meat empanadas. This feria was a nice surprise to stroll through stalls and stalls of old crap until our middle of the night alarm clock decided to go off. She was ready for a diaper change and a fresh bottle of milk.


A stressful international flight, days of apartment hunting, tons of empanadas, and a surprise antiques fair behind us, the only thing left was to safely complete my first day of class. I finally had a chance to sit down in peace and quiet and think. I only had to take my placement exam. Believing that I had appropriately demonstrated my competency in the Spanish language, I steadily stood up, began gradually walking down a slight slope of steps towards the front of the classroom reviewing in the quiet of the classroom when, BAM, my head ran smack into an overhanging bookcase. As I scratched the knot on the side of my head, I thought to myself, "Yep, I am ready for 5 weeks in Argentina."

This apartment only costs a dozen empanadas a day

"Two of the greatest gifts we can give our children are roots and wings." - Hodding Carter

Posted by TulsaTrot 07:03 Archived in Argentina Tagged airplane family_travel study_abroad Comments (0)

¡Uh-Oh! Dulce de Leche Happens

overcast 54 °F
View Argentina Summer 2008 on TulsaTrot's travel map.


Nadine walked into the bedroom with Sophie in her arms and sat on the bed, and greeted me in Spanish, "¡Feliz Cumpleaños!" With a look of concern on her face, Sophie first glanced at Nadine, and then at me, and calmly uttered, "Uh-Oh!" The wisdom of children.

In celebration of my 31st, my heart was set on dinner at a sushi restaurant. In Argentina, Saturday night also happens to be a fashionable night to go out for dinner, or for that fact, anywhere else in the world. It's also common to eat dinner around 10 o'clock at night.

As we nonchalantly walked up the stairs to this hidden sushi restaurant, I mentioned in jest to Nadine that I hoped we didn't need reservations to eat there. As any reader can see coming, we walked into the nearly vacant room, the host asked in a heavy accent if we had reservations. Doh! With a look of horror, I responded that we didn't, but I did state that it was my birthday. She very politely responded that the place was fully reserved for the night, birthday or no birthday. Dang my inability to plan ahead. I asked again, this time with a slight wink and flash of a 5 peso bill, if there was any possible way we could eat. She glanced us, stepped back, poked her head around the corner, and cooly asked the owner if it was possible to let these "two-no-reservation-making-gringos" indulge in a little raw fish. Our ultimatum arrived. If we were able to finish our dinner by 10, we could stay. At this time, it was only 8:30. We could absolutely finish by that time. That's more than enough time for me to consume my weight in rice, seaweed, and salmon.

The sushi was sumptuous.


Depending on where you are from, this statement is either very strong, or somewhat strong. Either way, don't fart around with people's food. Great sign to intro the next paragraph

Continuing with the theme of food in Argentina, Nadine and I have obviously found empanadas, pizza, and asado to be quite tasty. We've also found that in between every parilla or empanada outfit, there is a panadería offering a varied assortment of pastries, cookies, sweets, and breads. And it equally seems that every single panadería has been above average. I mean 'above average' when I reference U.S. standards for breads, possibly just average for Argentine standards, and probably subpar for the French. In my eyes, it's all good. Yet, there has been one common ingredient between all that flaky goodness, gooey brown sweetness ofdulce de leche. Good ol' sweet dulce de leche.


Sophie here in La Boca with her hand in her "boca"

Italian immigrants arrived to Buenos Aires and the work they often found was repairing and painting boats. It wasn't a lucrative living. Thus, when it came time to paint the house or feed the 11 bambinos, food took priority, and there wasn't money left for paint. To compensate for the crappy looking exteriors of their homes, and at no cost to the homeowner, they would take the extra paint left from a hard day's work, carry it home, and paint their house with it. If you have been to Italy, you realize that no Italian is going to settle for bland when you can have spectacular. So there on the Buenos Aires' docks, Totto's boat was going to outdo Giovanni's yellow boat, his would be neon pink. As one can imagine, every house, in the neighborhood known as La Boca, is a smorgasbord of colors, making it one of the most colorful (pun is intended) parts of Bs.As.

Is that story actually true? Not sure, since I was told 3 different stories by locals about the origins of the various colored houses, before I decided I liked a photographer's story the best.


A neighborhood even more colorful than Nadine's shirt

Travel for Nadine and I has now changed, reached a new stage. We can't just decide to go somewhere anymore without considering whether or not little Sophie has been fed, is fully rested, and free of the contents of a dirty diaper. So initially we assumed we would go over to Colonia, Uruguay with the energizer bunny in tow. Yet after a few weeks of answering to her every whim, picking up the pacifier for the fifth consecutive time, contorting our faces to prevent her crying in a public place, we were ready for a break. We left Sophie in the expert hands of her more than capable niñera Jimena, and crossed the River Platte delta.


Historic Colonia

In the early morning, with high anticipations we jumped on a high speed boat. Soon as we sat down and Nadine positioned her head into that contorted state that allows her to sleep on any form of public transportation and prevent embarrassing drooling, we were navigating the historic streets of this World Heritage Site.

To pay for breakfast, we sat calculating the best exchange rate between Argentine pesos to U.S dollars, U.S. dollars to Uruguayan pesos, Uruguayan pesos to Malaysian ringgits to Indian rupees to New Mexican green chilis (the weakest of all mentioned currencies) and finally back to Uruguayan pesos. Finally we strolled the city. The sites and our high anticipations were slightly dashed by the rain and cold wind blowing up my shorts. Fortunately a quality lunch and heater prevented the weather from making a completely crappy day.


Most photographed corner of Colonia

We have another 2 weeks before we must make our return to teaching knuckleheads, so we still have time to experience more of Argentina.

A little grandparent fix


Challenge of the Week - Insert best comment to accompany this photo Nadine insisted we add to this blog entry

Posted by TulsaTrot 06:45 Archived in Uruguay Tagged family_travel study_abroad Comments (0)

The 1968 Winter Olympics

Killer Ski Boots

rain 58 °F
View Spring Breaking It in France 2008 on TulsaTrot's travel map.


We left the Cote d'Azur minus three people from our original group. Yet, we still remained a small village roaming the streets of France.

As our time in Nice came to an end, the next morning, we jumped on a bus that lead us away from the beaches and sea, and towards the Alps and the home of the 68' Winter Olympics, Grenoble.


Even before our arrival, we made a slight detour to the town of Hauterives and the "Palais du Facteur Cheval." As the story goes, this French postman, Ferdinand Cheval, was walking along the streets of Hauterives one day when he noticed a few smooth pebbles along the road. He decided to pick them up and they gave him a great idea. From that day foward for 34 years, as he would collect pebbles, he would then place and plaster these pebbles in unique designs in what would become his 'ideal palace.' His ideal palace, I must admit, was pretty darn odd, but admirable in his desire to construct his own little palace. At least he didn't have to pay much for materials. We were allotted an hour to roam the palace, but a solid 19 minutes would have been more appropriate.


For our first night in Grenoble, our plan for dinner was to enjoy a typical dish of Grenoble, white wine fondue. From our hotel, the amoeba we called our group began a trek of a dozen blocks through town past store fronts with the gaze of other French teenagers and adults upon us and trains passing us by. As all 41 of us snaked around Grenoble, we finally arrived to the restaurant.


Grenoble as a little wind and rain roll in

Now we should clarify that the actual act of going from Point A to Point B while passing Points C, D, E, F, G, and H that undoubtedly distracts teenagers in a new country who are there for the first time always requires that a certain protocol be followed. As we headed anywhere, our guide and one French teacher would lead the group. A few chaperones would sit in the middle keeping students on task of walking as they talked with their friends. I myself was always the last person in line yelling, "Barbara! Stop! You might want to look to your right as there is a train coming directly at you." "Yes, some people do actually use public transport." So when a student would be staring at the sky, a building, a really unique looking French pigeon, or basically being oblivious to their surroundings, I would gently, but firmly grab their left ear and pull them back to the correct route.


That night of white wine fondue provided a delicious pot of cheese rich with white wine which might have been the reason that the volume in the restaurant steadily reached a crescendo. We followed our night of cheese with a trip up the "Télépherique au Fort de la Bastille" to walk off all of our curds with stunning views of Grenoble sitting below us. La Bastille was the sight of a fortress built in the 19th century to protect the city as well as a commemoration to the 1968 Winter Olympics. The most astounding aspect of the entire area wasn't the impressive caves built into the mountain or the fact that not a single New Mexican participated in the Games, but the stylish ski outfits that everyone wore to the Games themselves.

Final Stop of Spring Break 2008: Paris

Posted by TulsaTrot 20:56 Archived in France Tagged educational Comments (0)

Seriously, You're Too Loud in Frigid Paris

overcast 54 °F
View Spring Breaking It in France 2008 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

Everyone enjoys the Mona Lisa, but opposite it is an even more impressive painting

Our final stage of spring break in France culminated in Paris. In order to keep track of all students as we arrived to a new restaurant, monument, or hotel, each chaperone would round up their students and do a count. I decided to take it a step further and create an unique team cheer. Our particular team cheer involved yelling a popular high school French word combined with a silly expression from a French movie, thus the amazing "Hypercool, je t'ai cassé!" It may not seem that exciting until you hear it in person and watch the reaction of the French with looks of bewilderment.


Tom Hanks jumped from this window as a professor not long ago

No visit to Paris is complete without heading up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Due to time constraints and a scheduled time on a bateau mouche fast approaching, we were faced with a dilemma. As we had reached the first platform and students were at the point to board the escalator for the very top of the tower. With time having already been lost, students had to decide between going to the very top of the Eiffel Tower with me or go back down to ride the bateau mouche up and down the Seine. To my surprise, two-thirds of the students opted to skip the view of Paris at night making everyone behind them line very happy. With those few that remained, we successfully reached the top, but within a mere 15 minutes on top of the site that studied extensively, the entire group was ready to return to the hotel. So down the legs of the tower we ran. I also forced the students to direct us home on the subway. Fortunately, we didn't end up at the Moulin Rouge.


After visiting the wind tunnel known as La Défense a day later, our group did arrive on time for the Musée d'Orsay. Yet true to French daily life, Musée d'Orsay was functioning with half of their staff as they were on strike demanding more time for cheese and wine during their lunch break or the right to bring their chiens to work.


Chateau de Chambourg

The one place that I had never visited during previous visits to Paris, but wanted to stick my head in was a place that contained more dead than living, The Catacombs. Basically, to help prevent further transmission of sickness during the Plague, the French buried their dead hundreds of feet below ground. So myself and 4 other students walked through the long underground tunnels of the Catacombs, but after long walks with our tilted to the side to avoid scraping them, we had yet to see any dead people. So the two male students and I decided to end the monotony. If it had been a New Mexican teacher and students, who knows how they would end the monotony, just ask your local St. Pius student. But the students and I let the two girls continue walking, while we quietly fell way behind, and hid behind a dark corner. Eventually they realized they were alone, so they turned around to come back. And just as they turned the corner, we had the opportunity, really the responsibility, we jumped out and scared them nice and good. They were scared, but not to death, and yelled really loud, but not enough to wake the dead. Soon enough after this, we saw the dead and scores of their femurs and skulls.

On a more serious note, our guide the entire trip was a very knowledgeable, outgoing, and patient young French guide. That is until you put her in a French restaurant with 40 high school students and the crescendo of their dinner voices transforming into "we're-out-of-the-country-without-our-parents" voices. For some reason, Léo couldn't comprehend why they would talk so loud in a restaurant with other people trying to enjoy a peaceful meal of frog legs, American high school-less dinner. I obviously agreed with her that their voices should be at a more respectable volume, but I enjoyed even more her getting all worked up with the entire situation. She would start by peacefully eating at the table with everyone enjoying conversation. Slowly as volume became louder, the agitated look on her face was followed with the swing of her head from side to side glaring at the other tables, until her face finally turned an apple red. At this point her head exploded. Ok, not quite, but it would be exciting. She would stand up and yell, oddly enough adding to the noise level in the restaurant that she was trying to lessen, demanding that everyone be quiet. With looks of horror, they shut up . . . for 2 minutes.


Notre Dame

By the time my feet and backpack reached home after 9 days with high school students in France, it couldn't have come any sooner. Yet, spring break is supposed to be a time to relax and recharging of your batteries. Conversely, I came back feeling more tired that before I left.

Next scheduled stop, study abroad in Argentina with Nadine and Sophie for 5 weeks during the months of June and July.


Posted by TulsaTrot 20:49 Archived in France Tagged educational Comments (0)

Breaking Down France

sunny 62 °F
View Argentina Summer 2008 & Spring Breaking It in France 2008 & Summer and Fall 2010 & 2009 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

The week leading up to my first trip since returning from our around the world trip, I started getting that anxious anticipation of packing my green backpack and setting out on another adventure. This time though, it was an adventure with 44 other teachers, students, and parents. You could consider it more of an educational village taking over the narrow streets of France.


Bienvenue en France

Before we even set out on our trip, our first of many hurdles presented itself, our flight between Omaha and Dallas was one of many flights that had been cancelled on American Airlines. So with some quick thinking, we rented a bus and headed directly to Chicago. Without losing stride, but losing several hours of sleep in the process, we left Omaha at 5 a.m. Realizing how precious sleep would be, I tried my best to sleep, but my inability to sleep on any moving public transportation and the combination of incessant anxious chatter of students and other teachers, quality sleep was hard to come by.

Our flight from Chicago lead us to London Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest hubs in the world. I imagined Heathrow would be a spacious and expansive airport. I found it to be an airport of constant corridors going around in circles with hidden turns to get you to scratch your head, look over your shoulder, look at your boarding pass for the fifth time, and continue walking tentatively as if you were walking towards someone who is going to surprise you. I know know what a mice feel like in a maze. Needless to say, we ended up going through the same secruity line twice to the bewilderment of the security personnel and the students. We the chaperones found it to be pretty amusing, but the students not so much.


By the time we arrived in Nice, we had taken 4 flights and had been travelling for over 24 hours with a total of 43 people. To add to our rocky start, one student's bag was sent to Dallas, a destination that we hadn't visited, but the bag had still mysteriously found its way there. It eventually would arrive 5 days later in Paris. Another student was sick and vomiting, and this all happened in the first day and a half of our trip. What more could happen? Well, it did.


Who knew that New Mexican would find his way over to France wearing the same goofy ol' clothes?

Beginning our second day in France, we busted out of the confines of Nice to the ancient walled village of St. Paul de Vence. As we walked through the city to the southern edge where people are able to walk along the fortified wall. We reached a narrow section of wall that crossed over the entrance to the city, but that was closed off by a gate. Despite the the iron fence, three students had the bright idea of jumping over this fenced off area to walk along the ledge of the wall with a 20 to 25 foot drop to the cobbled stone road below. The first student landed safely, but the second didn't. With the student's feet crossed when he landed, he slipped, and started sliding over the edge. Luckily, the student turned their torso and grasped the ledge, and then fell. All of us rushed to the scene as I arrived first, we called for an ambulance, and I immediately ran to find the student's parents. WIthin two minutes, an ambulance was on the scene. Fortunately for everyone involved, the student's parents were both on the trip, and France is a country known for having excellent medical care. In the end of the day, the student was very lucky, even considering a shattered ankle and broken lower vertebrae, because it could have easily been much worse.


View from St. Paul de Vence

The mood of the trip immediately turned somber. We went on to Cannes despite the circumstances. The Cannes Film Festival starts in May. Activity around the Promenade Anglaise was pretty busy. After the days events I grabbed my prerequisite Magnum ice cream bar, and began walking some of the back streets of Nice all while looking for an ever evasive toilet. So as I was walking, an older French woman was sticking her head out of a her hotel. I quickly asked her if she knew where I could find a quick place to empty my bladder. She gladly let me use her bathroom. Relieved, I started walking to the front door when a medical student from Washington D.C. entered the hotel. She was looking for an apartment for the upcoming festival for her friend. The only problem, the medical student didn't speak French, and the French lady didn't speak English. I jumped in and served as urine-free translator. As a result, I earned my bathroom privileges by translating for them.

Next stop: the 68' Winter Olympics

Posted by TulsaTrot 20:46 Archived in France Tagged france educational school_trip Comments (0)

What would you do with an extra 9 seconds?

sunny 88 °F
View Summer and Fall 2010 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

Nine seconds.

That is the difference between receiving or buying a funny novelty shirt from The Onion.

Last summer I started taking triathlons a bit more seriously. I bought a new triathlon bike, some really tight bicycle shorts, some fancy black and white bicycle shoes, and I ran, swam, and rode a bike often.

Matthew Pepper, a New Mexican native, the reason for every single New Mexico joke in every blog entry I have written, agreed to another bet.

And ever since we have known each other from the University of Tulsa, we always bet. Be it the number the phone numbers we could get from girls while traveling Europe, who could use the least amount of tp over a semester in college, or who can fill their passport with the most stamps, our bets are always immature, silly, and fun.

Before my visit to Colorado, we came up with another.

To get in the proper frame of mind, get my body ready for the impending triathlon, and remove any focus Pepper might have had on the upcoming Loveland Sprint Triathlon, Pepper and I visited Oscar Blues and sampled all of the beers available, consumed lots of fried food, and then proceeded to taste more beer in Fort Collins at the New Belgium and Odell Breweries.

With the swim and bike completed, I felt confident during the run that the distance between Pepper and myself was monumental. But soon after the halfway point, Pepper passed me going the opposite direction not far behind. Damn! He was alot closer than I thought.

Following the race, I was rather impressed with his first race. All prior comments about swimming only occasionally were a farce.

Trepidly waiting for the results, I heard Pepper's "Damn!!! If I hadn't put on makeup during that first transition. Or pulled my pink socks only halfway up my shins."

I had won the bet.

Pepper had an eight minute advantage. I had an eight minute handicap.

Pepper also has many handicaps. They are just not appropriate to talk about on a travel blog.

The printed results read : Pepper, Matthew - 1:20:13, White, John - 1:12:04

9 seconds.

Damn those pink socks.



Yes. Yes, I did beat Dr. Pepper by 9 seconds.

Posted by TulsaTrot 21:00 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Amorous Canines Among Passing Pachyderms

sunny 80 °F
View Around the World 06-07 on TulsaTrot's travel map.


Our carriage ground to a rolling stop at the sun-drenched train station. Grabbing our large backpacks from the overhead storage, we spilled out the side of our aging train that originated from Bangkok. As a pack of dogs passed by our feet, we stepped into a wave of warm air mixed with animal scents. Facing us stood five towering elephants, ears flapping and cooling their rough gray exterior on the edge of a dusty turnaround usually reserved for automated transport. This served as the departure and arrival point for those willing to lumber high atop ten-foot tall elephant taxis around town. This was the one week a year in Surin that these graceful Thai mammoths gathered for the annual elephant festival. Elephants have always been mythical creatures of mammoth proportions that graced my television but never my reality. Many years later past my youth, I was visiting hundreds of them in their own green Asian backyard. My wife and I were here to saturate our memories with everything related to elephants.

In the midst of our nine-month adventure circumnavigating the globe, Nadine and I found ourselves in the inexpensive and distant region of Southeast Asia following a fixture of Thai culture: the elephant. Upon our arrival, we purchased tickets to the Surin Elephant Round-Up. Here within the realms of an open soccer field, with humans and dogs gawking from the sidelines, these iconic Asian elephants strode across sunburnt, khaki colored grass extolling their unknown talents to onlookers. Part theatrical and part athletic, hundreds of baby, adolescent, and adult elephants showcased their abilities to hula hoop, paint abstract paintings of themselves with broom sized paintbrushes and vivid colors, reenact ancient battles to thunderous music, and separate the Thai Baht from my money belt by rapturously eating all the sugarcane I bought. At the end of the searing, sweat-inducing, scorching day, these elephants surpassed all of my National Geographic expectations.


“What do you want to do John?”

We had had a pretty busy day, so I walked two doors down to the local 7-11 and purchased three huge, cold, glistening bottles of Chang beer. I joined Nadine on a white bench leaning up against our temporary residence to begin the public intoxication process, people watch, and admire the constant myriad of elephants transporting clientele underneath the glow of dim yellow street lights.

Some of our favorite moments together during our world travels were the times we shared at the end of a long day, enjoying an uneventful, calm evening. Shower. Sit down. Maybe eat some dinner. Definitely drink a local beer or two and just talk. That day, our conversation revolved around anything we’d seen elephant and comparing it to the amazing wildlife we had seen so far; we’d seen single-clawed crabs in the Cook Islands, orangutans in Indonesia, and kangaroos in Australia, but their feats never left us laughing for a solid thirty minutes.


Minutes into our loving chatter in the humid air, I spied something interesting across the roundabout among the elephant traffic, two rail-thin tan dogs copulating for the world to see.

“Nadine, that one dog is having a hard time jumping over the other one, don’t ya think?”

There underneath the canopy of tromping elephants, two dogs found the heat of the moment uncontrollable, and resisted a more secluded, romantic hideout. During this courtship, the momentum of their love pushed them directly in the path of oncoming elephants in the roundabout. The pachyderms nonchalantly sidestepped this amorous canine couple. Upon the end of their romantic encounter, as is common with canines, they were unable to part ways like a New Mexican can’t part with the remaining green chili left on their dinner table. For the next twenty minutes, two dirty dogs tugged, pulled, and yanked trying to remove themselves from a sticky situation while avoiding thunderous steps, barely. Perhaps a well-placed step would have expedited their separation.

And there, sitting under the night sky, with five-ton elephants passing by, two dogs successfully diverted our attention, and punctuated another day in our travels, speckled with laughter at the unique and bizarre.


Posted by TulsaTrot 14:03 Archived in Thailand Tagged elephants dogs surin_elephant_festival Comments (1)

Restraining Orders and Secluded Canyons

A return trip to Peru

sunny 64 °F
View Central and South America Summer 2002 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

Well-worn shoes. Hair in disarray from an early morning international flight. 23 days of travel smell permeating our gear, we strolled up to the clean, orderly American immigration counter in the Miami International Airport and realized that the craziness of our dusty Latin American summer adventure was coming to a smooth end with a warm welcome from our American government.

“Welcome to the United States of America,” the immigration officer dryly greeted us at her four-foot-high, clean, black desk, strewn with the most advanced technology immediately analyzing personal backgrounds and preventing suspicious characters from entering our country.

“Why thank you, how are you doing ma’am? I am sure you have seen quite a few knuckleheads pass by your desk today,” I said and then peacefully slid our tattered blue passports over the glossy surface. Our official entry into the United States turned from eight seconds into fifteen, then thirty; typing ensued on her omniscient computer; several more glances between passport pages and computer screens; our immigration officer leaned back in the authority of her swivel chair and asked with a newfound cheerfulness, “Mr. White, did you have good time on your trip?”

“Sure did, it was great to return and see a bunch of friends back in Peru that I haven’t seen in three years.”

Leaning forward now with a smug smile, she baffled me with her initial question. “Mr. White, do you currently have a warrant out for your arrest?”

“Has your wife recently put a restraining order on you?”

I turned my head and asked Nadine, “Well, did you?”

“Well sir, where have you been the past 22 days?”

“From San Anton, we flew here to Miami, through El Salvador and Costa Rica on our way to Peru, where I revisited the country I lived in for a year and a half. Finally, we returned the same way, spending a night in El Salvador.”

“Well, I am going to need you to follow me into an adjacent office to answer a few more questions.”

No cavity checks, just more probing questions asking about my individual whereabouts over the last month, and just like every trip has transformed me. I lived in Peru the latter part of 2001 and all of 2002 as a volunteer with the Congregation of Irish Christian Brothers in the northern coastal city of Chimbote better known for fish mill. I taught English and coached basketball at Mundo Mejor High School where wafts of action verbs and putrid burnt fish often filled our classrooms. This was my return trip to Peru to appreciate the life I had known for sixteen months. I went to reconnect with the land and friends, and explore areas of this great country that I had yet to meet, but I guess government authorities don’t take too kindly to random roaming around Latin America, especially when your name is John White, and there’s a warrant out for a certain John White’s arrest. Fortunately, I am a different John White.


Safely past immigration

Every morning, I closed the heavy wooden door of our three-story house that I shared with seven others and strolled down the street to wait for a tiny yellow car. Sometimes I waited five minutes and sometimes a few seconds, but it carried me to my teaching post at Mundo Mejor High School.

A colectivo, a common form of Peruvian transport, hauled us across the desert. Old Dodge Chargers serving as colectivos basically act like a shared taxi. Colectivos don’t leave until all five leather seats are occupied, comprising two passengers up front (less desirable with less space) and three in the back (more desirable). Our driver secured three more passengers after 45 minutes, and put us on the road to Ica.
While Nadine nuzzled on my left shoulder, and a random Peruvian nestled on my right; I peacefully observed the passing parched Peruvian desert. On another arid hill, our driver leaned over, pulled the key out of the ignition, while diverting his eyes from the busy winding Panamericana Highway. He stared momentarily at his silver key, and proceeded to excavate. He placed his key deep into throes of his right ear, searching for any buried hidden treasures. I watched in amazement and promptly nudged Nadine out of her heat-induced afternoon slumber. Concluding his explorations, he inspected his key again for any prized discoveries. With vigor that would make any archaeologist at a dig site proud, he passed the key to his left hand and repeated. I leaned and whispered in Nadine’s keyless ear, “I bet you have never seen that back in the States.”

Looming high above my Peruvian home of Chimbote is Cerro de la Paz. This hill guards the town like a big brother, and stares down at the two amber bays that welcome back fisherman with their haul. Anytime I wanted a panoramic perspective of my Peruvian hometown and ponder the route my life was following while I lived there, I would hail a cab to amble up the dusty road and drop me at the foot of the church balancing on the peak.

Unique treasures of natural beauty present themselves unexpectedly. The Oasis of Huachachina pinched between mountains of sand on one side and the Andes on another, provided us countless photo-ops sliding down eight story tall dunes. Our all-terrain vehicle climbed up and screamed down arid tracks as if we were on a roller coaster. This adventure filled our most remote crevices with memories.
Further along the Gringo Trail at the Nazca lines, we splurged on a flight spying down on geoglyphs created by the ancient Nazca people. These lines formed the shapes of monkeys, fish, spiders, and hummingbirds, and served as a prayer to the Gods to insure fruitful harvests.


On the edge of the Peruvian coast with Nadine and Profe Nate

I trekked monthly to the Cruz del Sur bus terminal in Chimbote to catch a ride to Lima for some reason. I met head south to welcome visitors, attend retreats, or enjoy the modern conveniences of the capital. Bus rides did provide valuable practice of number and letters in Spanish during intense games of BINGO.

Convenient and efficient overnight bus travel in Peru furnishes colorful characters. Nocturnal busses offer comfortable seats that stretch out, and one doesn’t loose a day of sight seeing. With these time-saving and memory-making benefits in mind, we took an overnight bus to Arequipa.
We found our seats in the back, behind a chatty mother and daughter, and next to a courteous, old Peruvian man clasping his bottle of chicha morada, the exquisite Peruvian drink made from boiled purple corn. In all my experiences with Peruvians, they are friendly and curious to uncover a tourist’s story. The mother and daughter slyly glanced back and asked in broken English, “Where have you go in Peru?” I responded, “Pues, ya fuimos a Chimbote y Lima, y vamos a pasar tres semanas acá en Perú.” There was surprise and relief in their tan, oval faces learning of our three weeks in her native country, and we speak Spanish. They fortuitously suggested places to visit. Just as curious, the older gentleman leaned over to inquire if I had ever tried this precious chicha morada. “Por supuesto, you can’t live in Peru and not drink chicha morada or Inca Cola, and not eat choclo or ceviche.” I omitted the fact that I don’t like chicha morada, but very much like the national bubblegum flavored soda, their white corn, and the staple of seafood dishes, raw fish sautéed in lemon juice. He handed me his tattered thermos cup filled to the brim. Understanding the importance of accepting invitations of food or drink with the culture, I drank a big gulp disguising my distaste for that old purple corn with a broad smile and a quick “gracias,” then swiftly handed it to Nadine. In Peruvian culture, you can’t accept an offering and not finish it. Actually, it’s rude not to accept anything extended in friendship. Between mouthfuls of purple juice, we cordially exchanged insight about the government and the horrible state of the national Peruvian soccer team. When the movie credits for the first of three French Jean-Claude Van Damme movies dubbed in Spanish began to roll, and my chicha morada consumed, I seized the opportunity to excuse myself from the conversation, lean back in my chair and sleep, before a flying Frenchman thwarted any hopes of shuteye.

“¡Maestro, estamos aquí en Arequipa ya, tienen que bajar el bus rápido!” Perhaps it was an impending explosion, or the health benefits of a cold Arequipa morning, I felt that elderly man’s encouragement and hand that we should get off the bus as soon as possible. The internal florescent lights burst on, dictating we disembark and grab our packs from the under the bus. We shuffled off into the brisk, early morning air. We had no desire to explore Arequipa in the dark, rather find our hostel and catch a few more winks of sleep. Gathering our gear and small backpack storing our camera, journals, and books, we hailed the nearest taxi. A few minutes in transit, I checked the contents of my daypack. “Ah shit, that elderly man stole our camera with our photos of the Nazca lines! And he shared chicha morada with us, that old fart. No wonder he wanted us to get off the bus so quickly. Driver, ¡dale vuelta a la estación del bus!” Our driver returned to the bus station, but upon our return, the bus, camera, and trusted friend with chicha morada had already left for Puno.



El Misti looming high above in Arequipa

Midway through our experience, we had a volunteer retreat with the Lima volunteers, our friends Nate and Joe. That June weekend, we shared our exploits from our respective schools, a few bottles of Pilsen, and latest news from our respective houses.

Peru is a large country. It was not uncommon that people would ask me if I knew another gringo, who happens to be a friend of their cousin’s second removed aunt living in Lima. There was an unfounded assumption that all white people knew each other no matter what corner of the country they were located. I would always kindly inform them that I regrettably didn’t know the other white person 280 miles away.

We arrived to the remote town tittering on the edge of the world’s deepest canyon, Colca Canyon. By chance, we came during Cabanaconde’s annual pilgrimage and celebration, Fiesta de la Virgen de Carmen. In the heart of the main plaza, adults sold colossal amounts of popcorn and led children around town on the weathered backs of cows; believers solemnly followed the statue of the Virgin; kids threw firecrackers at gringos. With lit explosives being thrown in our direction, we encouraged them to play a safer game: tag. Soon, Nadine and I chased little Peruvian kids around the Plaza Mayor. Ultimately, when their thoughts returned to munitions, we bribed their focus with popcorn.


Señor, ¿conoces a mi profe Nate

“Señor, ¿conoces a mi profe Nate?”

“Nate? Well, I know a few Nates. Where does he live? Here in Cabanaconde?”

“No, in Lima,” she responded between mouthfuls of popcorn.

“Well, Lima is a big place. What barrio do you live in?”

“En Canto Grande.”

“What? Are you serious? Ok, what does this Nate look like?” realizing that this sounded awful familiar to the same Nate that I knew.

“Really tall, funny, long hair, likes to play soccer, lives right next to the school with the Christian Brothers.”

Upon further inquiries, deep in the middle of backwoods Peru, one random gringo knew another gringo 750 miles from her home in Lima.


A day of hiking requires some cooling off down below

It was the first time I had ever heard of this while living in Peru. As a Chimbote resident, paros soon served as my Peruvian snow days.

“There is a paro today, so school has been cancelled.”

“A what?”

“A paro. People are striking and there is no transport to school.”

From Puno, our camera’s new hometown, we journeyed to Copacabana, Bolivia on the shore of the highest navigable lake in the world, El Lago Titicaca. Before crossing the Andean border, our Peruvian driver quipped, “you must know that there are two sides to el Lago Titicaca. The Peruvian side that has all the Titis, and Bolivian side that has all the Caca.”

Comic relief stopped with immigration; we were greeted with a familiar South American tradition, the paro. A paro is a strike against the government, and these protests stop all public transport. Strikers place boulders and burning tires in the streets to halt the daily commute. Attempts to circumnavigate them inspire insults and thrown rocks.

This particular Bolivian paro forced us to walk five miles to Copacabana, the jumping off point for our visit, inhabited floating islands. Our Bolivian boat captain demonstrated a common sense of humor at the outset of our cruise with a familiar joke, this time shit was Peruvian.

The Uru people of El Lago Titicaca live on primitive floating islands constructed of reeds woven together. They are constantly maintained as reeds fall to the lake bottom through decomposition. One-bedroom homes are also woven from reeds. Yet, in a place that appears devoid of technology, televisions powered by solar panels located on top of thatch roofs air European soccer games.


Those are some poor quality shots of an amazing place. Damn camera thief!

Departing the contrast of ancient and modern technology, we chose to fly back to Lima with a flight back to the U.S. looming a day away. The nearest airport was located an hour away in Juliaca. Another disgruntled faction announced a paro in Puno in the day of our flight. This was a problem. All Puno roads were blocked. A driver was found willing to brave rocks, dodge boulders, and follow roads less traveled. In a minivan full of anxious tourists, including two American girls whose flight home left that night, our driver began his drive in the wrong direction. We raced down dusty side roads, hid behind buildings while our driver inspected blocked outlets, but finally an escape route that climbed the hills overlooking the town. Our birds eye view revealed few options. The desired passage was littered with dozens of white boulders. Our frustrated driver mumbled something into his cell phone while our viewpoint revealed a sliver of the Panamericana Highway and access to our plane.

Unexpectedly, he yelled for the testosterone to jump out and push the boulders to the side of the road. The next ten minutes, grunts and groans accompanied boulders shoved to the shoulder. We piled back inside, and our driver just as quickly raced courageously down the opposite side of the hill. Our minivan full of anxious and restless travelers pulled up to an unexpectedly empty airport, leaving everyone perplexed. A spattering of employees and even fewer passengers occupied the airport interior. Our scheduled flight should have left 15 minutes earlier. But as many things function in Latin America, a scheduled time serves as a suggestion. The flight was postponed until everyone arrived. Laughing at the turn of events, soon a trickle of passengers turned into a flood that filtered to the departure gate. Two hours later past our scheduled departure, Lan Peru started boarding passengers.


Focusing on our looming paro break

Sheltered inside the Lima International Airport from the challenges of Peruvian life, I stood staring at the rotating list of departing flights. For the second time in my life, I was minutes away from leaving behind a country close to my heart to return to the predictable and orderly life summoning me in Miami, never knowing when I might return again. How was I to know that my return would be tantamount with trouble?

Posted by TulsaTrot 20:01 Archived in Peru Tagged peru south_america colca_canyon lago_titicaca Comments (0)

(Entries 61 - 75 of 135) « Page 1 2 3 4 [5] 6 7 8 9 »