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Full Circle…

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

What began as a dream over many years, as an adventure of a lifetime over two years ago, to where I am today—I’ve come full circle. The view is equally wonderful, my belongings are around me once again…it’s definitely been a “soul’s journey”.

I am finally grounded once again.  It feels wonderful to have familiar surroundings, my own possessions, with familiar faces in my life.  I set out “seeking the sunny side of the road” not sure if I would return here to this island paradise I can call home.  Fortunately it still is my home.  Given the places I saw, the countries and cultures I experienced, along with the journey I encountered after returning back to the islands and on the road—I’ve found home once again.

Some people don’t comprehend the desire to seek out the unknown nor, giving up all that one had accumulated over time, but it was the letting go I needed to do so I could redefine my life.   I sit now in a sweet little apartment that overlooks the harbor of Honolulu with the Waianae Mountain range in the distance.  It’s a far cry from my beautiful home I had created on a hillside that had similar views but I am extremely happy with my new life.

I threw a little housewarming party on Friday night with an intimate gathering of friends that had been there for me during my year in “transition” after returning to Hawaii.  It was called a “Pre-Valentine’s Pupu Party” and it turned out just wonderful.  I am blessed with treasured friendships, a large ohana (family) that lives on island, and a new career path—that feels perfect at this point in my life.  Yes, I am blessed in many ways…

So aloha oe’ my friends near and far!  Come see me here sometime, since I’m not in a rush to pack a bag and fly anywhere, anytime soon…but this too shall pass.

A hui ho! =)

From Down Under to Up & Over the Top!!

Monday, November 1st, 2010

I write this from my hotel room in Sydney with my last 24 hours in the city before returning home to my family in Hawaii.  I just scheduled myself in for “The Bridge Climb” over Sydney Harbor this evening!  I hesitated about doing this last experience mainly due to the cost, but in the end I decided to go for it, since I know I’ll never regret this memory as the way I finished this year of adventure. 

I’ve also planned a really great surprise for my family since I was due back on Nov. 3rd but instead moved the date up to tomorrow evening arriving back in the islands on Oct. 30th.  Reasons for the change in plan were several, one was due to the fact money was running tight (Australia has become a very expensive destination due to their dollar’s strength & the US’s weakened one) but mainly I was just ready to get back to my family.  The surprise will be sprung on Halloween night when my sister in law’s sister, Marcie, throws her annual Halloween bash.  The family will all be together and I’m going to show up with my niece, Noelani, in costume of some sort as a “mystery guest”….should be a lot of fun.  =)

For now though I want to share of my latest experiences and some of my thoughts on what I’ve seen, as well as felt, in the past few weeks since I last wrote.

I arrived in Sydney, Australia on Oct. 11th after having spent three wonderful weeks in Bali, Indonesia.  My last post was very introspective of all the experiences, emotions, and thoughts of all that had transpired along the way, with a sense of wanderlust lingering still.  Bali was the perfect place to reflect on all the wonderful responses I received after that post.  It is a country filled with beauty on so many levels, scenic, cultural, and the individual people there too.   It was what I needed at just the right time.  Thank you each & every one of you that responded, it meant more than you will ever realize…

Ubud's Rice Terraces

Coincidentally my final days in Bali ended with “The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival”—wonderful serendipity!  I met some very interesting people during the festival, from actual authors, to publishers, to people like myself that lucked into having this event to enjoy while visiting Bali.  I made some new friendships and left with some inspiration as well.  

 

Australia was a wonderful welcome into westernized society for me.  I hit the water my first day in Sydney via the ferry that goes across Sydney Harbor to the town of Manly daily.  It’s also a great way to get an excellent harbor cruise for a fraction of what you would pay for a “harbor tour”. It was a beautiful afternoon with some local folks on the ferry offering me to join them for a mini tour of Manly Beach.  What a nice welcome!  The next few days I spent walking around the city, exploring all the great sights it has to offer, from The Rocks area (where the first settlers arrived) to the waterfront along Circular Quay to Bondi Beach.  I just love Sydney!

After a few days in this great city, I caught a train heading south to visit some friends, one in Goulburn the other in Melbourne, a brother & sister who I know from times back in Hawaii and their sister Debbie. So off I went on the Southern Cross train line to visit Andy & Nikki McCay.  I only spent the weekend with Andy & his family Carolyn & Harry but we had a really great visit.  It was surprising how easily we finished off several bottles of wine that first night, but the conversation flowed as easily as the wine did…  We talked about traveling experiences comparing notes.  I more of a flashpacker than a backpacker, at this point in my life but it’s all good, traveling for extended periods opens you to worlds only someone that has also traveled in length can relate to.  It was a great night. 

 We headed out the next day to Canberra, Australia’s capital city to see a few sights and the National Museum of Art.  The museum left me completely moved about what had happened in Australia that I was never aware of, The Stolen Generation.  It’s a sad reality in Australia’s history but so is slavery in many countries too.  The Stolen Generation was the actual removal of Aboriginal children from their families without parental consent.  This was official government policy from 1909 to 1969.  These children were placed in orphanages or institutions to be raised by others in hopes of eventually “breeding the black out of them”.  How awful.  It makes me wonder how that mentality can exist in human nature, but then again so did slavery in the United States for many generations.  The redeeming factor in this sad part of Australia’s history is that their prime minister not that long ago made a public apology to the Aboriginal people.  Proclaiming a “Sorry Day” but that alone cannot remove the deep scars remaining, only time and more change will heal what damage was done.  I again was amazed at what I learned in the span of a few hours in a museum.  I’m glad we made that trip up the road.  Thanks guys.

 The next day instead of boarding a train, I headed out on a bus unfortunately for Melbourne, due to the fact the night before we had heavy rains which left the railway flooded out in areas.  So off I went further down under to visit Nikki in Melbourne.  The scenery along the way was beautiful, reminding me very much of what you might see in Montana’s “Big Sky” country.  Just rolling hillsides with pastures, dotted with cattle, sheep or grain growing otherwise.  Australia makes me think of the “new west” not the “old west” in many ways. 

When I arrived later in the evening, Nikki swept me off to a friend’s home for a wonderful home cooked meal of lamb roast, roasted veggies, all smothered in gravy.  What a warm welcome!  Nikki was so gracious in letting me stay at her place for nearly a week while I explored Melbourne.  She was busy at work and at night school most evenings.  She is an aspiring writer & actor that will make her mark in the world one day for certain.  We had a couple of fun nights out together, again drinking this wonderful Australian wine way too easily, finishing off my last night with her in Yarraville, where I finally got a chance to experience real “Aussie” culture.  It was a really great final night.  Thank you too, Nikki!

 The next day I hit the highways in a rented car for the Great Ocean Road, which is Australia’s version of Big Sur in some ways.  It’s a beautiful coastal drive along the Southern Ocean with highlights such as Bell’s Beach, that is world famous in the surfing world, the Ottoway Lighthouse which was Australia’s oldest lighthouse constructed around 1848 if memory serves me right, finishing up at the 12 Apostles, which are haystack rock formations out in the ocean.  I also saw koala bears in the wild, which were awake!  =)  These creatures sleep as much as sloths do I think, that along with the cold weather they are exposed to most of the year, it’s no wonder. I saw some each day. I forgot to mention I also saw some kangaroos while at Andy’s place.  He took me by a cemetery spot he knew and sure enough we saw maybe a dozen of them around twilight. I think I’ve experienced some things in my short few weeks in Australia, some people that have lived here for years never see.  I took a few days to drive the Ocean Road which most tours do in a day, I’m glad I went the route that I did.  It was a great road trip.  

The Twelve Apostoles on Great Ocean Road

My final night out was a “blue moon” which is when there is a full moon twice in one month.  It was really special, since I knew my niece Noelani and her brothers were camped out that night too, looking at it with me across the miles—we were sending our love to one another & their dear mother, Vicki, who had passed away tragically two years ago to the date.  That act of sharing the moon with them and the next day waking up to an email of the newest family member, Reagan Morton, joining our ohana (family), left me ready to go back home sooner than later.

When I returned to Sydney the next day, finding I couldn’t get a room reserved anywhere on Saturday night for a reasonable rate, that is when I told myself, “it’s time to head on home…”  So after calling to check on flight change costs versus staying for a few more days it all made sense, that and the realization of how much I wanted to be back to my family—it was an easy decision. 

So I’ll be boarding my flight a few hours from now, going home to the islands, to be surrounded with people I know and love very much.  I’ve said this often while traveling, “I am so blessed to be doing this journey at this point in my life”.  Well I am.  I am equally blessed to have what I do, to return to….

Aloha oe’ and a hui ho!

Soul Journey

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Where to begin?

Perhaps not so much from where I last left off but more about where I am now.  Not in the physical sense but perhaps the emotional one….

It’s been about a month since I last wrote of my time in India.  Since then, I’ve been to Nepal for a week, two weeks in Thailand as a beach bum basically, and now in Bali, Indonesia.  Yet I write of the physical state and not the emotional one…

It’s a bit difficult.  To state the obvious—I am not ready for this journey to end in many ways, but in other ways I must for awhile at least.  My body is physically exhausted, so much so that a few nights ago I had to call a doctor.  Everything was fine afterwards, but it scared me quite a bit.  I awoke in the middle of the night with stomach spasms so severe I wasn’t able to stand up, much less get out of bed.  So now I find myself just kind of “hanging out” more than going, doing, and exploring like I was.  Yet again, I am not ready to call this journey over with either.  And it isn’t at this point.  I’m in the beautiful country of Bali with local people that are just so kind, sweet to talk to, and again so connected by their spirituality that gives them this essence you don’t find readily in daily life in the states.  Not really.  I don’t know what it is I am trying to say.  Perhaps this t-shirt I saw today says it best.  It had symbols on it for all the major world religions, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and it said, “God is so big he can’t wear just one label”….

How true is that?

As I look back on the countries I’ve been in and the kindness of people in spite of their social/economic situation—what sustains them is their faith.  Their beliefs.  Their thoughts.  That is where their happiness lies.  What brings them through realities we cannot imagine in our daily existence…is just that.  It is something I constantly struggle with within myself.  That believing all things are possible with faith, determination, and a dream. 

I have been so truly blessed in this lifetime in so many ways.  To have been able to live this past year doing what I have.  Seeing what I have.  Meeting some of the wonderful people I have.

So do you understand why I don’t want this journey to end yet?  I feel as if the best part has just begun.  I’ve just learned so much but have so much more to learn still…

So let me see what the road ahead still has in store.  I still have another week left in Bali then a few weeks in Australia before returning home to the islands.  It will be wonderful to see my family again.  I’ve missed them immensely, I realize this especially in my travels when I see little ones. 

But this soul still has much to learn on this journey of life and the road seems to be my best teacher of all thus far….

Let’s see where that road leads from here.

At the Water Temple

Across the Sands of Time–Morocco, Egypt & Israel

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

It’s a bit hard to write this latest post for various reasons.  I guess first off since it’s been about a month and a half since my last one, when I was in Morocco.  But the other big reason is because so much has happened since I last wrote, it’s hard to know where to pick up and what to share of all that has transpired since my last writing.  So I will do what seems the easiest and that is to pick up where I left off, in Tangier, Morocco and having found my grandfather’s grave.

I spent only four days in Tangier.  I traveled there alone, not certain of what would come of it.  Let me begin by saying this, I am so grateful that my grandparents had the foresight to leave Tangier when they did, in 1914 when the Panama Canal was completed, to live in Panama…

I would not leave my hotel at night while in Tangier.  The looks I would get in the daytime from the people on the street were enough.  I was always dressed very modestly.  Maybe this image might help to sum it up for you folks, in the afternoon, when everyone would be out for their afternoon tea, as you walk down the main street, at every sidewalk cafe all that would be sitting at the outside tables would be men.  Period.  On my third day I finally decided to heck with it, I went to the famous, “Cafe de Paris”, sat down inside and had my first mint tea….with all the men in the room, and only one couple in the entire place.  Does this begin to explain what the time in Tangier was like? =) 

I had some fun too, as in my first camel ride.  Another followed in Egypt at the Pyramids…

Let me just say again…four days alone in Morocco was enough….

The positive side was finding my grandfather’s and great grandfather’s graves.  I believe I am the first person in our families to have been to their graves since the day they were buried.  What I wasn’t prepared for were the emotions that overcame me when I finally stood before my grandfather’s grave.

At this point, I wish to record some of the thoughts I wrote down in my journal.  Because to be honest, it best says what I feel I want to say at this point, instead of trying to describe all the experiences in each country I was just in.  Each country was unique, different, each very special.

I think my last journal entry says it best and hopefully can bring you all up to speed with where I am at, at this point in my travels–so here are some very honest, unedited, insights.

June 24th/Old Jaffa Hostel

I’ve been trying to gain an understanding of the history of everything I’ve experienced.

Assimilating it, trying to put it in perspective, with my own family’s and ancestors history. Looking at it all with eyes wide open, trying to understand the people and their cultures, and how it all translates into their daily lives.  It’s such an amazing experience for me on so many levels.  As I was sharing with a girl, I met at the hostel last night…. 

You see it on the news, or read about it in a magazine article, but you really don’t get it until you see it and live it a little.  In reality you are only scratching the surface….it’s so complex, the layers of history, wars, corruption, and struggles these people have been subjected to–I can only barely begin to understand what their lives are like.

The beautiful part of this history lesson I am living though is this.  I have been able to connect family to each other.  I have been able to connect for myself, a sense of understanding at last of the fabric of life, generations laid out before the following generations.  To enable future generations to have better lives.  To those of us who chose to take from what was laid out before them.  The paths were not easy for any generation to continue down.  But what I have learned is this–

My grandparents

My great grandparents

My ancestors back to before the Spanish Inquisition

They each had a choice to make, a path to choose.  Including my mother who chose the most difficult one; for love.

The path was not an easy one for any of them.  They experienced isolation, loneliness, Probably at times extreme doubt, if their decision was the right one.  But now today, I look around, very grateful.

For their strength

Their passion

Their commitment to their hearts and their beliefs.  Thank you.

Shalom

Jaffa, Israel at Night

Spanish Steps

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010
I write this latest blog from the town of Tangier, Morocco, where my grandparents once lived till they settled in Panama at the turn of the century, somewhere around 1914 when the Panama Canal was completed.

I have been for the past few weeks retracing the steps of my ancestors.  First in Spain, in the town of Coria, where they once lived before the Spanish Inquisition, now here in Tangier, Morocco.  It’s really a wonderful rich heritage we have in our family, ours was Jewish in nature so it has some amazing biblical history behind it as well.  I wish I was better versed in the bible than I am and of world history too.  I can say this though, this journey has given me an amazing education so far!

I’d like to share from where I  was last in the town of Coria, Spain.  A town that’s city walls date back to pre-Roman times,  Yes, you can see it in the blocks that formed the first gates to the city here in “Puerta del Sol” (Door of the Sun) the way I first entered this old town, of my ancestors.

Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol

 

The town of Coria is still very much a town.  It’s main feature is the amazing cathedral that sits on this hillside overlooking the surrounding, Alagon River valley.  The old Roman bridge still is intact that leads from the walled city across the Rio Alagon heading to points south.  The direction my ancestors would have gone, back to here, Morocco, since they did not convert when the period of the inquisition began, towards the end of the 1200′s.  The reigning, King Ferdinand III, set forth a legislation in 1227 that regulated the life of the Jews.  Prior to this though, the Jewish people lived in this area from around the 700 A.D.  when the Moors first conquered southern Spain.  Again, if you could see the beautiful countryside that still exists today, you would know what touched me so much about the area.

 I have to share that my timing was really wonderful as well, since fields were in bloom everywhere I turned.  Poppys, daisies, lavender colored flowers, roses galore and these roses still have the sweet smell of a rose… 

The ancient Roman aqueducts still exist as well, they were used to irrigate the fields and I think still do to some extent today in certain areas.  And then there were the sheep in the fields still living life as it had been most likely a thousand years ago.

Fields in bloom (2)

Rio Alagon (2)Goats in field

Sadly the existence of my ancestors was not meant to remain the same.  They had to leave this beautiful area or risk being imprisoned for their religious beliefs.  I met with Juan Pedro Moreno who coincidentally is the Director of the Royal Prison, he’s also the leading town historian.  He shared some wonderful insights into my research and also downloaded the family history I’d brought along that day.  He informed me that the history of Coria and it’s rich heritage was being digitized, and should be live sometime around the end of this year.  Pretty amazing stuff.  He showed me original documents of  the 1200′s when the rulings came, we spent about an hour together talking, then exchanged email addresses and I left feeling pretty pleased with my findings.

Coria, Spain

Coria, Spain

I left Coria to explore another town nearby in this region known as “Extremadura”, which literally translates to meaning “Hard Extremes”, which in my opinion is a really well kept secret in Spain.  The accommodations were really affordable, the food was incredible, the people were extremely kind, gracious and the wine was a nice surprise too! =) 
Trujillo is where I stopped next to explore, the home city of famous Spanish explorer, Francisco Pizzaro.  I must admit a bit of disinterest in learning of his famous conquests of the Americas, first Central America along with Balboa and then South America and the Incas, but if it were not for his conquests and explorations we might not be who we are today…
The Spanish were conquerors indeed.  When they won over a region they would build their cathedrals on top of existing temples or religious sites as way of “staking” their territory, as with the Incas, the Arab’s mosques,  and so forth.  So the picture above shows a beautiful cathedral that the Spanish built on top of the existing mosque! 
But I now sit here in Morocco a country my ancestors lived in as long as they had in Spain.  When I share that I am here doing family history research, people say some very kind things indeed.  I actually was not planning on coming down to Morocco, since I’d been here before and had found some great information, but never my grandfather’s grave site.  I changed my mind about coming to Morocco after seeing this double rainbow the other day while I was in Trujillo.  It literally was finishing  on the Camino Real, in the direction my ancestors would have gone back here to Morocco.  I saw it as a good omen to return to Tangier. 
I am glad I made the trip back down here.  This time I did find my grandfather’s gravesite.
 
I also found the old synagogue in the medina with the help of a guide named, Saide.  In the synagogue the pews had inscriptions of the member’s names where they would sit at service.  I found my great grandfather’s seat as well… 
Following Rainbows

Following Rainbows

Stateside–So many Sunny Spots in the road….

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

I don’t know where to begin–other than chronologically.

I arrived in the US of A on April 1st at 11:59 pm into Nashville, TN.  I stayed at the home of another traveler, a dear sweet individual, Ruthie Lyman, whom I’d only met briefly in Hawaii, when she was winding down from her two year’s of traveling.  It was wonderful to stay at Ruth’s as my first “re-entry” back into America, since the adjustment back into daily reality of the USA, can be shocking on lots of levels. 

 

But Nashville from Salvador, Brazil?!! =)

Ruthie Lyman

Ruthie Lyman

 

My time in “Nashvegas” as Ruthie calls it was tons of fun, we sailed, I got to get some health checkups taken care of, I met her dear step-mom who has won her battle with breast cancer, and made some wonderful new aquaintances. 

 

Interesting enough, the weekend I arrived my dear niece, Anjeanette, was in from Ohio with her husband, Kevin for a weekend getaway from the kids.  We had a blast going “honky tonking” with Ruthie as our tour guide that Saturday night.  But to beat it all the first place we sat down at had “Brazilian Billy” playing country and western.  How’s that for some good serendipity?!

A week flew by and it was time to go on down the road to my family in Ohio…

I rented a car and did the drive up on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  It felt great to be on the road driving through such lovely countryside.  It was springtime in full bloom!  Gorgeous.  The drive took me through Kentucky where I noticed National Parks signs for Abe Lincoln’s birthplace and decided to make a little detour on my way up.  I was really glad I made that stop, it was fantastic to see and also relate it back to the place I’d just left behind, Salvador, Brazil where 15 million slaves had come through it’s port over the years…. 

Great serendipity.

I arrived in my dear sister’s home in Dayton, Ohio late that evening.  It was great to see her again even though it had only been 2 years since my last visit.  We spent good time together, going out to eat dinners, catching up on everything and just being at her home.  Luisa is struggling with some health issues, but I have faith she is going to get better, since she’s definitely eating healthier these days (I was a bit of a bad influence though). =) 

She was definitely my second sunny spot on the road…

Mi Hermana (my sis)

Mi Hermana (my sis)

But time was starting to slip by, I had tons to do before heading on the road again, for the second leg of my journey.  Plus I needed to meet the newest addition to the Rettig family, my niece, Eliana.
 
It was great to spend some time with Anjeanette and Kevin and their beautiful, beautiful family (yes I am a bit biased as well).  AJ & Kevin are doing an awesome job raising 3 fantastic little people, Carsten, Arabella, and Eliana, ages 5, 3, and 1 and a half. 
I arrived at their place on my birthday the 16th of April.  AJ, Sis and I all went out to dinner for a “girls night out” when we returned to their home Kevin and I went back out for drinks at a local tavern.  It was great!  We had some great conversation and stayed till we were good and ready to go…  All in all a wonderful birthday shared with family.
Rettig Family
The next day we all went to King’s Island together.  It was so much fun watching the kids on all the little rides.  I took a ton of pictures that I will cherish forever.  Then to top it all off, Anjeanette said she’d stay with all three kids while Kevin and I went on the Double Dragon rollercoaster!  Turns out AJ’s never been on it yet–if I’d known that ahead of time I would have insisted on her going.
My weekend with them flew by…
Again such sunny spots in the road of life.
I had so much prepping to do at their place for my next leg of my journey, that I sadly felt I didn’t get to spend much quality time with everyone.  But time was moving forward on my departure and other destinations before leaving the country again, that it was like cramming for midterm exams. I had to get my hotel reservations lined up, eurail pass research done, destination research, on and on…
Everyone was great about it though, even though I was beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed by it all, but when my two weeks in Ohio were coming to a close I had gotten everything somewhat addressed, so I could finally take a deep breath and enjoy what little time I had remaining with them.  Luisa and I indulged on Earth Day getting massages at a wonderful retreat-like place called Harmony Farm.
So with lots of love in our hearts, some precious moments shared, I flew out of Dayton for Washington, DC.  I had never been to our nation’s capitol and oh my goodness am I ever glad I made that trip!! =)
During my two weeks of cramming in Ohio I didn’t take much time to research my accomodations in DC, such as what part of town it was in, etc.  I’d found a decent deal at what looked to be a b&b more than a hostel–was that ever misleading.  Fortunately though I’d also contacted a dear, sweet couple I spent 24 hours with in Valparaiso, Chile on New Year’s day.  We were all staying at the same b&b in Valparaiso, called La Casa Azul, where I met Melanie and Shiloh. 
Shiloh had proposed to Melanie on New Year’s Eve in Santiago, Chile.  When I met them I instinctivly sensed something was “up” and just came right out and asked Shiloh,  “Did you just get married?” he replied, “No, I asked Melanie to marry me last night!”  he blushed big time! =)
Sunny spots all around me again…
What was supposed to be just one night’s stay at their place turned into my entire 5 days in Washington, DC.Menyu nite Melanie & Shiloh certainly know the meaning of hospitality and graciousness.  We had a couple of fun nights out for dinner and this photo is at one of them, called MeNyu.  Great food, even better conversations and just a nice time all in all.  My last night in DC we ate at a Latin cuisine place I had discovered, along with their friend Bob, called Sabores, which served feijoda a very typical Brazilian dish, that has it’s roots in the African slave traditions in Brazil.  For my Louisiana friends it’s an even better, meatier version of red beans and rice.  Yumm!!  We had caipirinas in honor of my last six months in  South America, the owner gave us a wondeful bottle of Cava sparkling wine from Spain and we didn’t want the night to end.  Great time & memories.
I need to say  something though about my impressions experiencing our nation’s capitol for the first time in my life.  What an AMAZING city DC is in every possible way.  The design of the city, all the fantastic monuments in rememberance of our countries heros, our soldiers in wars long ago and not so long ago.  I was so taken by it I had to call a friend and thank him for what he does for our country.  And yes, Freedom is not Free.
We live in the first country on the planet to ever be a decomocracy in the New World.  The statistics I read said by the turn of the 20th century there were a dozen, now there are over a hundred.  We are blessed to be American.
 
I left DC the next morning for my final stop on my stateside whirl, for the wedding of my cousin, Jason Jacobo to Laura Boyd.
The sunny spots turned into an all out GLOW by the end of the weekend!! =)
I met some relatives for the first time in my life.  I saw some of my favorite relatives again, I discovered a whole new wonderful family in Laura’s as well.  What a fantastic weekend it was.  I really should devote a whole new blog just to the wedding in all fairness, but I have so  much to catch up on still for Pollyroger that I feel a bit overwhelmed again.  So instead I will close with this picture of the sunniest spot of all–two people who have come together and made wonderful worlds collide, Mr. & Mrs. Jacobo. 
Jason & Laura

Jason & Laura

 

Brazilian Interlude

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Again my friends, I am writing after the experiences instead of in the moment.  But the time I spent in Brazil was simply fantastic on so many levels that I cannot let the feelings and impressions this country left on me slip by another day.  And so I will bring you up to speed as I sit in my dear sister’s home in Dayton, Ohio.

Brazil–what an amazing country, people, culture, music, food, time on the water, in the water–now you know why I must share it with you.  Where to begin?  I guess I will try to start where I left off in Florianopolis or really the island of Santa Catarina in a little town called “Lagoa” for short.  Five days turned into ten days, ten days turned into two weeks.  I didn’t want to leave this sweet little surfer town that reminded me so much of my Hawaiian hometown, Haleiwa in so many ways.  A typical mellow “surfer vibe”, equally beautiful ocean to play in, and gorgeous beaches to lounge on.  Also a very safe town by Brazilian standards and I knew that Rio de Janerio awaited with it’s masses of population, something around 15 million, it’s crime and it’s allure. 

I finally got on the bus for the 20 hour ride north to Rio after my two weeks of beach nirvana….

Rio "The Marvelous City"

Rio "The Marvelous City"

 

Rio de Janerio is a city worthy of, every bit of it’s amazing reputation.  I stayed on Copacabana, which is supposedly worse for tourist-related crime, but it’s also the least expensive compared to Ipanema.  My first 24 hours were quite funny now in hindsight, but my entry into the city wasn’t a warm welcome by any means. 

 

 For the first time I hadn’t done my “homework” as to knowing what type of cabs to trust, but it worked out.  Unfortunately when I arrived at the hotel, the front desk was swamped and subsequently very rude as well. They basically told me to walk the streets for 3 or 4 hours till a room was ready, it was cloudy, overcast and I was not a happy camper by this point.  But when I got to the boardwalk of Copacabana, in the rain and mist, looked at the view and said to myself, “I’m standing on a beach people dream about seeing–amazing!” 

By the end of the day, checked into my room , coming back from the city tourism office for some information, I decide to walk back up Copacabana’s boardwalk.  It’s nearing sunset and you really shouldn’t be walking around Copacabana after dark, especially alone.  As I start strolling up the street I notice an outdoor-type of bar with lots of people and some live music, so I decide it’s a good time to stop for a beer.  As I sit down at the bar, take a look around at the crowd and the women are dressed–well, pretty hot.  I’m thinking to myself, “I know Brazilian women are pretty uninhibited but these women just don’t seem right.”

I decide to chat with the two guys sitting next to me at the bar, they are English and we get to talking a little bit.  Well after sharing my observations with them about the crowd at the bar and the women, they inform me the place is a well known spot where all the prostitutes meet up with their “dates” after a hard day of work!

I just start laughing to myself about my first day in Rio…. =) 

I spent an entire week in Rio and it flew by.  I toured favelas, sad but an enlightening experience really.  Favelas by the way are the slums of the city.  Unfortunately Brazil’s government does not provide much in the way of social services to their less fortunate people.  Brazilians are a very happy people regardless.  They are also very connected to family ties, as is the case in most South American cultures, so they stay living in the favelas due to a sense of community that has been created over time.  There are a variety of businesses in the favelas, retail shops, grocery shops, and there is also drug dealing, the “biggest business” of all.  Interesting enough in Rio the drug dealers only deal in marijuana and cocaine.  They don’t deal in the seriously addictive drugs like heroine and meth.  I was told the reason why is they want their customers to be able to continue using over a long period of time without the other problems that come with major addiction.

Rio’s scenery is the most breathtaking scenery I’ve come across next to Hawaii’s.  There is something special when you have dramatic mountains next to beautiful blue ocean waters, just like Hawaii does.  It creates a special kind of energy.  People from these places know what I am talking about when I describe the feeling it gives you.

Yet more beauty awaited at my next destination, Paraty.  So, onward I went again.

A colonial harbor town with some sixty islands off it’s coast.  And another 365 islands up the coast to Rio.  An island a day.  Yes, I played on the water in Paraty plenty.  First day was via sailboat, next day in waterfalls in the mountain streams running down to this beautiful little town, next day via schooners to other islands and finally in one of their traditional-type motor boats you can hire to take you to where you want.  I joined a couple to share the cost and we had fantastic final day hopping islands, watching all kinds of folks in various forms of water transport and water toys. The couple and I just spent time talking, jumping off our boat into the beautiful waters, sipping beers and soaking up sun.  They spoke to me in Brazilian Portuguese me to them in Spanish and we understood each other just fine. 

A traditional Brazilian vessel

A traditional Brazilian vessel

 

 

Paraty will always hold a special place in my heart.  And something tells me I will return there one day to see how many of those 365 islands I can set foot on.  There definitely are plenty of vessel forms to choose from…

 

 

Unfortunately time was starting to run down on my time left in S. America and I had booked a flight out of Salvador de Bahia, which was either a 28 hour bus ride north or a 2 hour flight.  The cost of the flight and the bus were close to the same price so I decided to fly up north.  Talk about a difference between the two Brazilian states.  But a wonderful difference in every way as well.

Salvador, the first major port of the slave routes from Africa.  Approximately 5 million slaves came through this port during that era.  It’s hard to imagine that many slaves, but what it resulted in was a fantastic culture that is still very alive in it’s African heritage and traditions, as well as it’s religous beliefs, music and some fantastic food.  I only had 4 days here to try and glimpse a taste of it and again Brazil did not disappoint me at all.

Brazilian Eyes

Brazilian Eyes

 

I arrived very late on a Monday night and awoke the next day to beautiful blue skies and the “big” day of the week when they have their weekly free concert on Tuesday night.  My timing was great!  I had a room that overlooked the concert spot (travel karma)!  Did the crowd know how to dance to the music or what?! =)  Salvador is much closer to the equator therefore it’s a lot hotter there than where I was down south.  But these folks just moved and moved.  It was so much fun.  Amazingly the next day  everything was completely cleaned up, no rubbish lying around at all and believe me those streets were littered with beer cans everywhere.  Sadly again, I think the situation is that the folks that have so little find it worthwhile to pick up the cans & garbage as a way of getting money.  I guess the government is giving them enough in recycling money to deem it worthwhile.

I stayed in the old historical part of Salvador called “The Pelorino” which means “The Whipping Post”.  This area is again and old colonial part of the city where the slaves were brought to be traded from the ships arriving from Africa.  Another fact I found fascinating is the lighthouse here in Salvador was the first lighthouse in South America.  It’s been in existance since the 1500′s.  Really fascinating nautical museum there as well.

I also witnessed a candomble ceremony, which is a religious ceremony steeped in African tradition and prayer to their gods or “orishas” as they are known.  Pretty interesting stuff, and then on my last day I went to a local market where there was everything from voodoo dolls, fresh produce, and live lambs and chickens in wheelbarrows for the upcoming Easter weekend.  Yes, live for the time being.

I guess what I want to end this very long post/blog with is the feeling I left Brazil with.  A sense of appreciation for the fact the people there are not racist, nor have they lost their essence.  Their culture is a beautiful mix of the African slaves brought there, the settlers that came via Portugal, Italy, Spain, or the native indians that were there to begin with and have made these beautiful people.  Yes, they have their share of problems like every country on the planet, some worse some not.  But the people there are so happy.  They also see so much physical beauty in scenery and in their people–that what they look at when they meet you, is the person. 

And I left Brazil in love.

With me. 

Isso, Brazil…(that’s right).

A New Year & A New Country!

Friday, January 1st, 2010

I write this latest post from the town of Valparaiso, Chile.  On a hillside overlooking it’s harbor and coastline.  What a memorable New Year’s Eve celebration I had last night, but first I feel I owe this post/blog a little bit of catching up.

To say my time in Buenos Aires flew by would be an understatement. Even though that was the case it truly is a city worthy of it’s reputation. I had the opportunity to finally get to the countryside one weekend to a town called Tigre, which is along a river that reminded me somewhat of the bayou country of Louisiana. There are these beautiful teak “shuttle boats” that take locals and us turistas to islands or their homes along the waterway. Pollyroger finally came out to play some! =)  Take a look at the latest album I’ve created to get a glimpse of it from the favorite’s link.

Punta Pals

Then the following weekend was my “Graduation Trip” weekend with a sweet new friend made in TEFL classes, Katharina. We headed off to Uruguay for the weekend to Punta Del Este, via the ferry from Buenos Aires. And yes, again–Pollyroger came out to play! So the line might be becoming a bit blurred between Polly and my Soljourneys, but Kathi is definitely a “sunny spot in the road”. I am sure we will meet again and travel to some other water-type destination, since she surfs and sails too. Truly a beautiful person inside and out…and definitely a Polly Pal as well.

We returned from our trip a couple of days before Christmas.  I spent Christmas Eve day indulging myself at a spa and was it ever wonderful!  That evening I spent at my apartment, making myself a nice dinner and getting my bags packed for my flight to Mendoza on Christmas day.  I arrived in Mendoza to a somewhat sleeping city, since Argentinians take their Christmas holiday seriously beginning on midnight the 24th.  They celebrate with fireworks and opening Christmas gifts and continue on to dawn depending on some variables… =)

My Christmas festivities continued as well on the 26th, with my first wine tasting tour that totally put anything similar I’ve done in various locals from Napa to New Zealand to SHAME!  My goodness…the bodegas were incredible.  I did another tour a couple of days later via bicycle in Maipu Valley and teamed up with a really sweet Brazilian couple who turned out to be on their honeymoon, Walter and Luci.  We had the most amazing time riding through the vineyards, down sycamore and poplar lined roads withthe Andes as our backdrop.  We shared emails at day’s end with an invitation to visit them in Brazil when I make my way there.

Mendoza Wine Country

Mendoza Wine Country

 But that wasn’t all that Mendoza had to offer.  I also rented a bike another day and explored another of Carlos Thayes city parks.  What an amazing landscape architect that man was…  But even better was the final adventure I gave myself in Mendoza and that was going to Aconcagua National Park my final day there.  The mountain peak the park is named after is the highest elevation in the Americas, next to the Himalayas.  It was slightly covered with a little cloud cover the day I went, but the following day when I took the bus from Mendoza to Chile, we went over the same pass just not into the park and–yes, Aconcagua was clear as a bell! =)  It was a fantastic bus trip till we got to the border.  What should have been a two hour border crossing was a FIVE hour one.  Note to Lonely Planet and anyone else that plans on traveling to Chile during the holiday season…do it at night and not before a holiday.

So that brings me to Valparaiso where I now am after arriving on the 30th.  Last night was spent with a lovely Chilean family that have one of the first approved B&B’s in Valparaiso known as “Coasta Azul”, with father Carlos, wife Laura, sons Carlito, Rodrigo and daughter Valentina.  They made me feel quite at home immediately.  Their view is unbelievable from the hillside that takes in all of the coastline down to Vina del Mar.  And with that I will close with this video clip of the amazing fireworks display I had in their sweet home last night with other guests from Santiago and towns nearby. 

We celebrated together and rang in the New Year as new found friends with hugs and toasts of felicidades y prospero ano nuevo…  Many of you were with me in spirit as well.  Even though we may be miles away, my thoughts and wishes of wonderful blessings go out to each and every one of you.  May 2010 bring all our dreams to fruition.  HAPPY NEW YEAR!

(click video link below)

Panama Update

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

I sit in my newly rented apartment in Buenos Aires as I write this post.  It’s perfect in almost every way and it has touches that are so like my home I had back in the islands with glass block accents, color schemes and attention to detail.  I like this living simply “Argentinian Style”! =)

But this post isn’t about Buenos Aires yet, but about my time spent in Panama with family and friends made along the way…

Aerial view-Panama City from Casco Viejo to the Bridge of the Americas

Aerial view-Panama City from Casco Viejo to the Bridge of the Americas

My time spent in Panama was the perfect way to introduce myself back into Latin cultures by sharing it with such wonderful family.  I spent time in the city of Panama the first few days, seeing relatives and taking in the city some and it’s changing dynamics.  It is a city that is being reinvented in many ways and it will be interesting to see how it evolves as it develops.  There are massive construction projects being done all in and around the city.  Many people from Canada and the US are finding it as a destination for early retirement or for health reasons.  I’m not sure that it can quite live up to it’s goals yet, with a severe crime factor, along with that a big part of it’s people still struggle to make a living.  But as in every place on the planet there are people that are thriving in many ways.  If people have made an education a priority and are willing to do the hours and the work it demands to be successful–many people are doing that quite well in Panama. 
      I am proud to say that my family is doing so in many ways and in many different types of enterprises.  From being graphic artists, to owners of various types of businesses, to technology industry sales.  The opportunities are there for the asking….
      After several days in the city I took a bus north to the city of David where a part of my family still lives.  I reconnected with them over a few days there and was able to spend a day in the town of Volcan, visiting my cousin Flor’s daughter, Cynthia.  They are farmers living a very wonderful existence off their family farm, growing a variety of products for market.  The next day was a birthday celebration with my cousin, Emilia’s family for her daughter in-law.  Another memorable evening spent.
     The following day I headed out in my cousin Flor’s old Buick, to Boquete.  I loved it–I was totally incognito until I would get out of the car and start talking! =)  My time in Boquete flew by,  I was there 4 nights and 3 days and managed to visit an animal resuce center, also a natural hot springs near the town of Caldera with my guide Ana Gonzalez….truly a “sunny spot in the road”. Finally my last excursion was a morning horseback ride along the Rio Caldera and around one mountainside that looks out on Boquete.
Boquete, Chiriqui-Panama

Boquete, Chiriqui-Panama

      Boquete is suffering from growing pains as well with many “estranjeros” (foreigners) moving to this lovely mountain town.  But the town still holds it’s charm and beauty.  Driving around the mountainside in El Buick I was able to take in some gorgeous scenery.  It reminded me a bit of the Big Island with it’s coffee farming industry and landscape, but it definitely was not Hawaii.  So many species of birds everywhere you turn…and flowers–the town truly lives up to it’s name “bouquet”. 
      Three days flew by and I needed to get back to David to catch my bus back to Panama City.  This time around though I was lucky enough to get the last seat on the bus, but next to the toilet and a Dominican woman who wouldn’t quit talking loudly on her cell phone or to me even when I had my earphones on for my iPod! =)  That was a longer six hour ride than the one up for sure…    But all part of the journey–right?!
       My last night I spent with my wonderful hanai family The Echevers.  We had a wonderful lunch the next day and I left almost in tears, not knowing if I would return to Panama again for certain and if this may be the last time I saw them for many years…  And with that said, my time in Panama was about family more than anything.
      I think the one thing to know and understand is the beauty of family and what raising one another closely nearby does for the bond it makes over a lifetime.  Just like my family in Hawaii, same as my family in Panama, children that grow up together become a part of each other’s lives in a way that cannot be replaced in any shape or form.  It’s beautiful to witness in my cousin’s children and their children’s children.  Same as it is with my beautiful ohana back in the islands.  Children raised together as a family form a bond over a lifetime that is unique, special, and immeasurable.  I am privileged to have been a part of that in Hawaii and to have seen it again through Panamanian eyes.  
     More to follow…
Coriat-Mendez Familia in Volcan

Coriat-Mendez Familia in Volcan

Mi Familia en Hawaii

Mi Familia en Hawaii

Familia Echevers
Familia Echevers

Panama City is Pura Vida!

Saturday, November 7th, 2009
Hola amigos!  I’ve just spent the past few days getting into the feeling of life among my other family here in Latin America.  It’s such a wonderful feeling knowing I have a real connection here to ground me as I explore this wonderful part of the planet.  I must add though the family I’ve spent the most time with while here is not one of blood but of relationship my mother began several decades back.  In Hawaii there is a term for it known as your “hanai” family.  It means a family that has basically adopted you by no other means than of mutual love and respect for one another.  My mother did very well in finding the wonderful family she did in the Familia Echevers.  They were gracious then as they are gracious now.  I am so glad we have managed to stay in touch all these years since mother has left our lives.

My first day in the city my Tio Tato, Tia Mercedes and my niece, Didi picked me up at my hotel for a wonderful lunch of real authentic Panamenian food at a little restaurant known as “Trapiche”.  Talk about some wonderful Panamenian soul food!  I was in food nirvana.  So much so, I had to take some back to my hotel room to go, which went down really well the next day for lunch. =)

Familia Echevers in "Trapiche"

Familia Echevers in "Trapiche"

 The following day I spent with Didi helping her move into her new office in the area of the city known as Casco Viejo, which I believe translates into the old quarter or old fort.  It’s a really great part of the city with some wonderful heritage.  It is the site of the first French settlements and fort. The area is so reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans.  It’s being rebuilt and will most likely be many years in the process, but it’s a part of the city that has many fond memories for locals here for a variety of reasons.  Didi hopes to launch art openings to help her fellow artist friends in the future, while focusing on her graphic design business.  She has a wonderful direction she wants to take her business in, which is towards more socially responsible advertising.  The commercial work is out there for her but I think with her wonderful disposition and imagination, she will be very successful in her pursuits.

I also had the great privilidge of meeting up with my fantastic cousin, Jake.  He lives in Orlando, FL but had a business trip that brought him to the city while I was here too.  We spent a fun afternoon together with him showing me where else–Casco Viejo! He showed me where he attended school at La Salle, as did my uncle before him.  We also hit a couple of art shops and got a bite to eat before saying goodbye.  His sister, my cousin Marcella also met me yesterday for a really nice afternoon visit.   What great family they are!

Panameno en Panama

Panameno en Panama

 Today I adventure into the interior as they call it here or the “country” as we would call it in Hawaii.  I’m taking a bus ride along the InterAmerican Highway, about 6 hours due north, to the town of David, where I have some other wonderful cousins waiting for me.  I’ll be there for a few days and then up to Boquete, which translates into bouquet in English.  A town known for all it’s beautiful flora and mountain streams on the hillside of the volcano known as “Volcan Baru”.  It will be my first time visiting this little town and my wonderful cousin, Flor, which means flowers…=) is being very generous in letting me stay in her cabin there for a week or so. 

 

And so my adventure begins to unfold.  My introduction to the country could not have been better.  My family of blood and my family of love and respect, each here to share with me a part of their lives, their homes, their aloha.  More to follow–hasta luego mis amigos!!