Tag Archive | travel

This Is Very Simple. Make Me An Offer.

Lily-Livered Lubbers

It all started in 1995. For the summer (even though it snowed on June 1st), we were lily-livered landlubbers (taking a break as live-a-boards on our sailboat in Florida) in Flagstaff, Arizona. 7600 feet altitude with mountains all around. After living at sea level for so long, I did experience altitude sickness initially.

Hubby and I were painting a house for my brother and sister-n-law when he spied this forlorn orphan great white whale of a car next door. He painted and panted after this car. When our day was done, we went next door. The owner was home.

The Adoption

scan-5-1“Is your 73 Buick for sale?” he asked.

Her immediate reply was, “Make me an offer.”

“Does it run?”

She said, “Make me an offer.”

“Can you tell me something about the car?”

“This is very simple. Make me an offer.”

“Ok, $50.00.”

scan-4-1“Fine, I’ll take it.” Then, she proceeded to tell him a little bit about the car. Her husband was an astronomer. He used to put his large telescope in the back seat of the car to study the stars. Flagstaff has preserved the night for astronomy since 1958 with lighting ordinances. Lowell Observatory is located there on pine-crested Mars Hill. Flagstaff became the world’s first International Dark-Sky City on October 24, 2001. Distant galaxies, constellations, the Milky Way, planets and whatever else shines above will delight your eyes. Now back to the story. Therefore, there was no back seat in the car. The rest of the interior was pretty shabby. The rear fender arches were in the early stages of cancer. But the rest of the body was nice. The paint was old but still on the car. Most promising was the convertible top.

The Makeover

Hubby asked if it had any hub caps. The owner was in the process of moving. She said she would look and then pulled out a loose-leaf notebook, looked up hub caps and stated that they’re in box number thirty-nine. We proceeded to the garage where she gave us the hub caps. The Buick did not run because it needed a distributor. He went to the local car parts store and purchased a brand-new distributor in stock (for a twenty-three-year-old car) for $89.00. More than the car costs. But wait…it gets better.

When we opened the trunk lid, there was a treasure of $11.50 in pennies. Therefore, the car only cost us $38.50! Hubby eagerly got the car running in no time. He then searched the town for similar Buicks and found yet another abandoned orphan Buick. But this one had a nice interior. The two orphans were united into one.

Tangles With The Tank

Then it was time to go back to being sailors. The Buick and our Chevy Beauville average white van (we also met a Vanna White van of Wheel of Fortune fame at a rest stop) were put on the market. Whichever car sold first would determine our fate for the cross-country road trip. The Buick Centurion became our new commander; we were the soldiers.

file-oct-02-10-00-45-amBeing avid windsurfers, we had hauled a mountain of boards, masts, and sails with us which would not fit in the Buick trunk. Mr. Resourceful got creative. He found what I’m sure was the first original pop-up camper trailer. It popped out too. We named it Pop Tart. And piled it high with gear.

At the beginning of August, we headed east with plans to attend hubby’s brother’s wedding in Cincinnati. The car’s air conditioning was cold as ice which made us and our two cats purr with happiness. Then disaster struck. Right at the New Mexico border, the car started overheating when the AC was on. We were doomed. No more AC. And getting hot and crabby. All four of us. Both cats were desperate to escape. We could not roll the windows down. Would you spend up to $2,400 for AC repair on a $38.50 car? And, who knows, would the car even make it? We decided to tough it out much to the chagrin of both cats. And they let us know. One of them tried her best to get adopted at a Shoney’s coffee shop. Thank goodness we found the escapee before she was successful. After that, she resorted to sitting on the dashboard, right in front of the driver, whenever she could. Her anger was apparent.

Danger In The Dark

Puma (17 Years) - Puma ConcolorDown the road, we set up camp in the middle of nowhere.  All was well. It was peaceful with the roar of a river nearby. The cats, afraid to explore, stayed right between us on the blanket with our sleeping bags. In the dark of the night, we hear this blood-curdling scream. A BIG cat scream. Hearts palpitating, adrenaline rushing, feet pounding the earth, we all rushed to the car. All were safe. The small cats liked us again. We did our best to sleep.

 The Clampetts Have Arrived

The next day, we arrived at a five-star hotel in Cincinnati for the wedding. I remember this like it was yesterday. All of us were exhausted, sweaty, and crabby again in this beat to shit car with a pop-up trailer in tow with all kinds of crap piled on top of it.  One of the cats had her face squished up against the window trying to get out as fast as she could. The concierge came out to greet us. I opened the door a bit, and all this trash fell out. The Beverly Hillbillies Clampetts have arrived! Totally embarrassing. I think the concierge was embarrassed too. He clearly stated that we would not fit in the hotel’s parking garage and directed us to street parking. How could I convince him that we were not white trash? After we had cleaned up for the wedding, I don’t think he recognized us. Thank goodness. And thank goodness for the family: they will love you no matter what you drive. A great time was had by all.

Flotsam And Jetsam

A few days later, we were at the end of our journey. As we pulled into Saint Augustine, Florida, both cats popped straight up. They smelled the salt air and knew they were home. They had this glory hallelujah look on their faces. We did too.

scan-4scan-5-2It was back to working on the boat. We had the steel hull built and then finished it out ourselves while living in the boatyard. We had an off-shore shipping container (looks like the trailer of a semi-truck) that served as our workshop, kitchen, and storage area while under construction. We used to sleep in the average white van until we had a berth ready onboard. There was a communal bathroom/shower for the boatyard. Some of our family and friends were quite shocked as to how we lived. We couldn’t have been happier.

Jabberwocky

Now despite the fact that storage space was severely limited, we still went out most weekends “garage-sailing” for entertainment. One sale after another. The rule was: we could not return home until the convertible was heaped high with stuff. We’d buy anything that maybe, just maybe,  could be useful to a friend or us. Or anyone in the boatyard. Or some guy walking down the street. Or maybe it just struck our fancy, like this industrial blue blob that was regurgitated from a plastic extrusion machine. It captured hubby’s heart. To him, it was artwork. To me, it was toxic waste. It didn’t matter. Sharing our loot was great fun! At least for us. The Buick served us well.

Get Your Beach On

parked cars on the beachscan-3-1The Buick Centurion was also useful as a  playpen for childish adults at the beach. We’d pile all our friends into it with the radio blaring the best of Motown and head for the beach. In Saint Augustine, you could drive on the silky, white sand beaches. The sand was so fine; it squeaked when you walked on it. Boogie boarding in the pounding surf, gobbling french fries and pounding down drinks at the beachside snack shack made for a perfect Slacker Snack Sunday. Never mind that we fried our bodies in the sun until we were candidates for a 911 call. Life was good. Except for the time I got a speeding ticket for going 21 mph on the beach. A sticky choke prevented compliance with the law of 15 mph. Tough enforcement on the playground.

It all came to an end in the Spring of 1996. The boat was finally ready to travel, and so were we. The beloved Buick was put up for adoption and found a very good home. And we sailed away. A happy ending for all!

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Size Matters

Invaders Of The Personal Space

You know what really grinds my beans? Invaders of the personal space. Anywhere. But this time, we are talking airplanes.

Bored and boarded in cattle-car class. $877 to be crammed into a space the size of a dog crate for six and one-half hours. In today’s world, is there much difference between the cargo hold and the passenger area? Your economy seat is sixteen and one-half inch wide with 31″ from the back of your seat to the back of the seat in front of you. Getting something out of your carry-on underneath the seat in front of you is like groping in the dark. Only worse. You are leaning forward maybe thirty degrees with your head turned to one side, plastered up against the seat, hoping you don’t pop a rib and reaching as far as you can for who knows what. Like a mystery grab bag booth at the fair. Who knows what your fishing expedition will turn up. If only you could see. Aggravating. Maddening. Do dogs, hamsters or ferrets feel the same way in their cages? Some of them become neurotic. And some of us do.

Airlines are making record-breaking profits while making us miserable.

Are You A Double Wide?

I’m not exaggerating. Airline seats are getting smaller while passengers are getting bigger. Examples of seat widths through the years:

  • 1960’s: 17″
  • 1970’s: 18″
  • 1990’s: 18.5″
  • Today: 16.5″

Has your butt lost two inches in width since 1990? I didn’t think so. Mine is not yet the size of a couch but I have put on twenty pounds. If it was more, my butt would become a permanent part of the airline seat. You know…like those cheap, white plastic patio chairs that are all too easy to get stuck in? I call them lard buckets.

And just to educate you more on average seat sizes, here you go:

  • airline business class: 21″
  • movie theater: 25″
  • U.S. train: 20.5″
  • stadium: 19″

Nefarious Neighbors

Let’s talk about the creatures next door. The invaders of the personal space. This passenger with arms like ham hocks who, of course, has to rest the hams on both armrests for the entire trip. I’m in the center seat. On the other side, there is a sleepy, drooly soul (also known as a seat hog sleeper) who keeps trying to rest his head on my shoulder. I’m the center of a sandwich that is going bad. Constant jostling from both sides makes me want to throw the sandwich out.

The Yakety Yaks

Then there’s the yakety-yak tour group. They kept standing up, bellowing at each other across the aisle and three rows back. Just like a herd of cattle being driven across the flat, dusty Great Plains. Constant fidgeting, drinking, not so funny jokes and tedious talkers surrounded me. What’s a ferret to do? They were having a party in the sky. But it needed live music and entertainment. Glad I wasn’t invited but there I was at the party.

The Little Devil

Across the aisle, I watched this angel-faced small child become possessed by the devil. He kicked the seat in front of him non-stop. The look on his face was pure joy. A glaring look from the victim or me did not deter him. This called for creative intervention. Leaning over, I whispered to him that airlines now have an overhead bin just for children like him who are kickers. Or screamers. But don’t worry, they will bring you your pretzels and juice. Or other crappy snackies if you pay for them. The foot froze in mid-air.

Turbulence In The Toilet

I need to use the restroom but don’t want to wake up my resting neighbor. What is the proper exit etiquette I asked myself. Shall I flap the window shade up and down like I’m obsessive-compulsive? Crawl underneath all three seats? Crawl out over the top of them? Straddle my seatmate on the way out and hope I don’t fall on him? Instead, I chose what Amy Vanderbuilt would have considered proper: tapping on the shoulder and apologizing…

After all that just to get here, I then experience the worst. Turbulence in the toilet. Bad enough to be in this claustrophobic stinky space when the skies are calm. Then the flight attendant announces, “the Captain has turned the seat belt sign on. Please return to your seat and fasten your seat belt.” My hands and feet are braced against whatever they can. Departing is not an option until mission accomplished. There are knocks at the door. “Okay, okay, I will leave this can as soon as I can,” I yelled in desperation. By this time, I’m sweating profusely. And then, the skies opened up and a calm rushed in. The seatbelt sign chimed off. Glory be to whoever. I shall be relieved.

Stuck In A Stupor

Thank goodness there’s no internet over the ocean (did I mention the destination: Hawaii?). An incredibly beautiful place that might not be worth the journey. Trying to use an iPad would require elbow room. Not. Have you ever tried typing with your elbows super-glued to your sides?

My options became clear. Sit there in a stupor (people do this), read a book (a small one at that), pay five dollars for a headset to watch a movie that they chose, not you or talk nonstop about nothing to a seatmate. Ladies behind me did just that. For six and one-half hours. How is that possible? They didn’t even know each other!

Blessed By The Rabid

It could have been worse. Belligerent alcoholic. Bad body odor. Screaming infant. Sneezing, coughing sick person who will not cover their mouth. Children playing a loud video game over and over and over. Roaring snoring. Despairing over-sharing. Cell phone use (it’s coming). Soon, we will be using a credit card to pay for oxygen when the emergency masks drop down as we’re instructed to help others with their transaction.

I surrendered to the situation and slept as much as I could. Dreams about alien space invaders took over my life. I mean my brain. I mean my space.

Water And Electricity Don’t Mix, Right?

 

 

guatemalan bus

 

UnknownGuatemalan child 2

It was a bluebird, but it wasn’t. Yellow, red, green and turquoise. Downright gaudy? Or admirably colorful? A bird? No. A thirty-year-old Bluebird bus discarded by the U.S., with a heap of baskets and people riding on top. We were on our way to Antigua, Guatemala.

Our fourteen dollar room WAS a fourteen dollar room. No windows, no pillowcases, not enough blankets. Not pretty. But it came highly recommended.

And what was that inside the shower? A 110-volt knife switch: an electrical switch in which a flat metal blade, hinged at one end, is pushed between fixed contacts. There was also a white bucket that hung upside down with electrical wires sprouting out of it. All of this hung from a metal water pipe.

I was about to take my first electric shower. Electricity and water don’t go together, right? How does one do this? Should I call the front desk? There is no front desk.

Instead, I threw the Frankenstein lab knife switch on. With great hesitation, I stood outside the shower and cautiously reached in to turn the water on. As a dribble, it was warm. But turn the pressure up, it turns cold. What a choice! To further adjust the pressure, one must step outside the shower. Remember that,

If you plan to travel anywhere in Central America (on the cheap), get used to this. It’s standard setup and standard procedure. Just don’t touch anything metal!

Your life could depend on it.

Guatemalan child 3IMGP0902Guatemalan child

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Magical Place

The Lonely Planet travel guide said Real de Catorce is magical. It is. The magic starts with the approach. Fourteen miles of cobblestone road winding its way up a very steep hillside with vistas to the plains below. The views provoke extreme reverence. It gets even better. The next adventure is the one and one-half mile Ogarrio Tunnel. A single lane road through former mine shafts. Traffic control is two locals, each managing a telephone at each end.

And then…there it is! A 1750’s colonial town with steep, narrow cobblestone streets nestled in a valley at 8,300 feet. Undisturbed–for ninety years. Ever so quiet. A place to contemplate. Evaluate. Walk. And walk some more. To soak in life in a very personal way. Absolute tranquility.

Scan 3The turn of the century street lights cast a surreal glow on the surrounding mountainsides. The sound of horses clopping along and donkeys braying all over town make you pay attention. And then there is the bar keeper unloading cases of brew from pack mules. A child makes his way through town on horseback with six untethered horses trotting along with him. Roosters are crowing at all the wrong hours. Rooftop dogs are barking.

Scan 2Real de Catorce translates to royal of fourteen referring to Spanish soldiers killed by Indians in 1700. You will find this town 18 miles west of Matehuala, which is 125 miles due south of Monterrey in northeast Mexico. Until the early 1900’s, this was a wealthy, silver mining city of 40,000 people. At their peak in the late 1800’s, the mines were producing three million dollars worth of silver every year. Within three decades, it virtually became a ghost town. Were the townspeople chased off by the Mexican Revolution bandidos? Or by the slump in silver prices after 1900? A topic still up for debate. Until the late 1990’s, the stone buildings were boarded up in various states of ruin with a few hundred inhabitants eking out a living.

Today’s visitors include pilgrims. Some come to pay homage to the figure of St. Francis Assisi in the local parish church. Others are Huichol Indians (most noted for their three-dimensional beadwork) who reside 250 miles away. They believe that their peyote (a hallucinogenic cactus) and maize gods live in the surrounding hills. In May and June, they make a pilgrimage here to practice their cultural and religious rituals.

Scan 1There is a string of horses on one side of the street and European high-performance motorcycles lined up in a row on the other side. The trendy descend. Artists, wealthy gringos, wealthy Mexicans, retreat seekers of the new age and classic hippie tendencies along with European expatriates. A Swiss expat said he could live here for a year on what it would cost him for a month at home.

Hollywood also made its impact. It installed the town’s first and only cellular tower for the filming of the movie, The Mexican, in the Spring of 2000. Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts were temporary residents.

Real de Catorce is not just a side day trip. You need time to absorb the magic. To muse on the past, what is going on now or what may happen tomorrow…in an imaginative, dreamy, pristine setting. Enjoy!