Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.'s Journal|
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|Saturday, May 16th, 2015|
|Wednesday, October 16th, 2019|
Once upon a time there was a solution for everything. Sail blowing out of it bolt-rope in mid gale? No problem. Just enthusiastically signal to your captain that you've got it in hand, pretend not to notice the look of relief on your watch-mates somewhat green faces, and head down the bounding deck. Resist the urge to jump or run, as the deck is unpredictable and may suddenly fall out from under you or bound up to hit you in the face. You will probably have to keep one hand on a rail. You may have to time crossing the main deck to avoid roiling waves pounding across it. Cross to the lattice of thick black lines that rise from the ship's side like a ladder leading to the top of the mast. Make sure you're on the "weather" side of the ship, that is, the side the howling wind is coming in from. Since you'll be climbing up the outboard side of these shrouds, the wind will be pinning you to them from this side, whereas it would be trying to pluck you off from the other. You can easily get on the shrouds with a small hop at the moment the ship is at the top of a roll, then the deck will fall away beneath you and a quick pull brings your now levitating body to the shrouds, assuming you were holding on to them. You were holding on to them right? If not, you could be anywhere by now. The horizontal "rat-lines" are secured to the vertical stays by wrapping of a tarred twine called "seine twine." In fact the verticals themselves are also wrapped in a protective layer of seine twine all the way up. Hopefully this is all very secure, but just in case you'll be holding on to the verticals since they're more dependable than the horizontals. And up you go!
Now the ship is of course bucking and wildly and swaying in a manner that gets increasingly magnified the further you are up the mast. Sometimes you'll be pinned to the rigging, sometimes gravity will be pushing you up itself. You'll have to actually climb upside-down up the futtocks-shrouds to get out on the yard, but that's the fun part. Here in Australia they make you clip a caribiner into a fancy nylon safety line the whole time you're doing this, which takes nearly all the fun out of it. Now you walk out the yard (mistakenly called the yard-arm by many non sailors, but the yard-arm is just the end of it), balancing on just one foot-rope. At those point you are flying wildly in just about every direction, left right, up and down. You just learn not to take the downward pressure of gravity for granted and hang on. It's really quite exhilarating.
But now here is where the sailor's magical fix-all comes in. As a sailor, you will at all times have several lengths of this tarred twine hanging from your belt. Some will be about a fathom long, which is to say as long as your spread arms, and you wear them in small coils. The half-fathom pieces one just hooks to one's belt with a simple cow-hitch, like attaching a luggage tag, and the strands dangle towards your knees. Do not forget about these when you go in the engine room or it might end very badly. But you're not in that black hot stuffy nauseating abyss, you are flying around in extremely fresh air! So in this scenario the sail is threatening to come loose in the blasting gale which will cause it to rip itself to shreds and maybe take things it's attached to with it. The piece of sail which has come loose is flapping so wildly and strongly it's making a sound like distant rumbling thunder and you might lose a finger if you just try to grab it. But it must be gotten under control with alacrity! So you grab one of those "nips" of seine twince and pass it around the blown out sail, tying a contrictor hitch on the back side of the yard so you can tighten it to bring the wild thing under control. But constrictor hitches can slowly slip again so best to follow that up with another nip with a round turn and a half hitch. Later when the weather moderates the sail will have to be taken down, repaired, and reattached... with seine twine "robands."
Meanwhile while you're up there maybe you notice a block (pulley) that's banging around, that's okay, you've got another nip of seine twine on your belt! Once you've secured everything you can plausibly do up there it's sadly time to go back down to deck before the captain accuses of you skylarking.
Back on deck everything from the deck boxes and small cannons to small personal gear in the bunks is lashed down with, you guessed it, seine twine! When we aren't securing things with seine twine, marlinspike sailors are often putting fancy decorative patterns on things with seine twine. In fact one of the primary ways sailors of ye old timey traditionally rigged ships recognize eachother anywhere is they often have a permanent irremovable braid of seine twine around their wrist. I've been randomly recognized for a sailor in airports, on trains, and once very unexpectedly on a bus in the middle of Africa between Kenya and Tanzania by a red cross volunteer who also it turns out has a habit of sailing on tallships.
Last April my current vessel, the honda civic USS Trilobite, was collided with right on the broadside. As a consequence the passenger side door would not close and threatened to randomly swing right out while driving, which would be quite undesirable. I may not sail much these days, but to me, there's still one solution for all such problems: seine twine.
a constrictor hitch pulled as tight as possible and then tightly "served" with covering coils of seine twine
(this was just super temporary for one trip straight to the mechanic I swear)
The seine twine fancywork on the handle of my favorite mug, as well as the turks-head on my arm and the roll of seine twine
(see also, this "french hitch" pattern makes a zigzag pattern on the handle. Golly these pictures make my thumb look huge)
|Tuesday, October 8th, 2019|
Your boss is presently in his office with his feet up on the desk, cup of coffee in one hand, and phone in the other, telling his colleagues how laughably terrible you are. They're, you know, having one of those "who has the worst employee" contests and he's using you to one-up them all. Or is it one-down them. Or maybe it's your very own coworkers he's laughing about you with. Yes, Sally has gone into his office to ask a question but now they're both having a hearty laugh at your expense. Sally with her stupid pants-suit and hair bun and too-thin eyebrows. He is telling her how perfect her work is, and she's laughing that irritating fake sounding laugh of hers, though she means it because she thinks he's right that she's better than you.
You know what you should do? You should eat the chicken salad she has in the office fridge for lunch. No one will know it's you. Just picture her smug face as she stands in front of the open refrigerator with it's vague smell of fish from Steve's god damn fish last week that'll never go away, and she realizes she has no lunch. And that tupperware of chicken salad looks pretty delicious, just think how much you'll enjoy it. Picture yourself like one of those women in a commercial with a shit eating grin because the cereal or yogurt they are eating is just so so so good, yeah that will be you eating Sally's chicken salad.
Fine, fine, keep on working and don't think about that. Eat your boring sandwich.
Your boyfriend lingers by the watercooler in his office. The one in the corner by the obviously fake potted plant. What's it supposed to be, a ficus or something? He lingers there because Peggy, the new secretary, is approaching, She tosses her long curly auburn hair "nonchalantly." He gives her that huge glowing grin of his. The one you like so much. He's making a bad joke, but she's laughing, and now he's casually touched her on the arm. You know what that means. They're lingering by the watercooler bantering flirtaciously. He's making a a double-entendre, testing the waters, and she's slyly sending one right back. You should call him right now. No? He's checking out her rump as she walks back to her cubical. It's looking very fine and round in her pinstripe skirt, accentuated as she walks away in her heels.
You sure you don't want to call him? All day they're exchanging glances. In fact now they've both found reason to be out in the hall together. They're walking towards the stairwell, bantering all casually, though sexual tension crackles in the air. They both know what game they're playing. They go up the dusty seldom-used stairwell. Push out the doors onto the roof of the building.
"Check out the view" he says like a badly delivered line in a play, pointing out over the low parapet wall.
"Oh it's nice" she says dutifully as she goes to the parapet overlooking the parking lot, and turns to face him with a coy flounce. Or maybe it's the other side facing the park. Anyway he comes to her with a grin, and they embrace, kissing passionately. He begins to hike up her skirt and...
Okay you're right it's very unlike him to be so daring and saucy. But he probably did make the double entendre at least.
Oh he's calling, probably to confess his steamy affair! Oh he's saying he misses you, yeah right. Ask him about the water cooler by the ficus. Gah, you never do anything I say, I'm getting in someone else's head.
Sally and Deborah are at this very moment snickering about what a bad boss you are. They met up by the xerox machine, where Deborah commented on that huge workload you dumped on her, and Sally rolled her eyes and made a derisive comment about your leadership abilities, followed by a completely unnecessary dig at your nice red tie and now they're both laughing. Is this tie too long?
Put your feet up on the desk. Yes you deserve to relax a little bit. You've been working hard. Put your feet up, lean back, sip some coffee, and imagine your employees rolling their eyes about you by the xerox machine. You know they do, employees always talk shit on the boss. They're probably commenting on your receding hairline too. Even Steve is probably getting in on it. With his purple tie he's in no position to comment on your tie at least.
You know what you should do? You saw that chicken salad Sally put in the fridge. You should eat her lunch. It looks delicious and you're the last person they'd suspect. In fact they'll probably suspect Steve. Steve with his stupid purple tie. You deserve that sal-- oh you're already getting up to go get it. Yessss.
|Friday, October 4th, 2019|
The Original Series
Hark! Last night I achieved a cultural accomplishment 66 hours in the making! I have watched the entire Star Trek Original Series. As a fan of science fiction I'd felt for awhile like it was something I should do. I fondly remember watching The Next Generation in the 90s. Since that time I haven't been as fond of the later Star Trek frenchises, but the cultural references to the original series always seemed perplexing yet authoritative, like references to Egyptian hieroglyphs only a very erudite egyptologist could understand. I wanted to be in on these arcane secrets, and verily, I have looked upon these ozymandian works ... and may have despaired if I hadn't started to have it on the second screen while doing other things. Anyway, like the tourist's quick perusal of the Sphinx's mysteries whilst eating at the pizza hut across the street, let me give you my general observations:
It begins with a "I'm not used to having a woman on the bridge" comment in the first five minutes by then-captain Pike. Certainly anchors it firmly in the sixties right there from the start! One of my favorite classes in college was actually a Soviet film class, which I liked because all the themes were so clearly a product of their time and place (the hero was always a humble worker and themes focused on the group effort), and altogether the whole Original Series was just as much distinctly of the 60s. Themes almost obsessively hit on the triumph of human emotional intelligence over "cold logic," whereupon it was Spock's role to be the foil. It's a real testament to him as an actor that he became so beloved considering he was essentially the fall guy in many episodes. I was annoyed because often what he was claiming to be "logical" and our "heroes" disagreed with was actually clearly illogical and the "right" decision should have been arrived at by his logic anyway. And in at least one episode he ends up in charge of the Enterprize and does so incredibly badly at it for "lack of emotion" that it was really painful to watch and I felt very bad for him and angry at these idiotic writers.
The theme of over half the first season's episodes seems to be that they've stumbled upon a hyperintelligent race with godlike powers who looks exactly like humans but wants to test our protagonist's heroic benevolence yet again. I felt this same plot conceit was starting to get really old but by the last season they had more interesting plots.
It's really true that Kirk gets with a woman in nearly every single episode. If an attractive new bridge ensign walks in in the first scene you can sit back and say "oh I guess there will be no attractive alien to seduce in this episode, it will be this girl," and sure enough he smiles leeringly at her and makes some comment about never seeing her before and you know it's on. Again, very interesting insight into a culture where apparently it was laudable for the big boss to be flaunting his sexual sovereignty over all in his domain. Watching from the vantage point of this day and age one just keeps thinking of the rampant HR complaints he would be getting.
Kirk spectacularly overacts everything. I know this is kind of a meme but seriously he's a terrible actor. And a sub-theme of the series that seems to grow as the series goes on is that Kirk is a smarter better commander than anyone else can possibly be and even if he's not the one writing the scripts it starts to seem kind of tediously self-congratulatory.
As mentioned, eventually I just had it going on my second screen because the slower pacing of shows back then and plots that I sometimes found annoying made it tedious to try to give it my full attention but I did want to get through all of it.
The Next Generation
Towards the end of my OST watching really I was just chomping at the bit to get into TNG, of which I had fond memories. And as I'd only caught the tale end of it really, the likes of "Tasha Yare" were just an obscure name from history for me, I wanted to know how does it begin?? As such, I've watched the first episode now and intend to continue on through the series.
Observations on the first episode: Wow Picard is really kind of a hardass in the beginning. He comes across as stern and scary, though he can turn a sudden smile which is all the more valuble because he was just scaring the bajeezes out of a subordinate. And unless they do a sudden turnaround in episode 2, so far it doesn't look like he's just putting on a scary act to scare the new crew but actually was more stern and scary in the beginning.
Counselor Troy is like third in command, right after Riker? I don't rememeber the latter episodes all THAT well but I feel like her relative importance must have gone down later, because I remember as more of a background support character and I think Data or someone was the third in command.
Also no one has gratuitously angered the contemporary HR gods or otherwise seduced any green alien women, though Riker and Troy have been eyeballing eachother something fierce. I guess by 1987 they had figured out that workplace romance is supposed to involve thoroughly mutual desires, unrequited angst, and possibly consummating any acts off-screen on your own time. They also imply the two had a history, which also makes workplace angst more understandable.
And here's a totally unrelated picture that didn't fit in the Dominican Republic entry but I liked it and every entry needs a picture so here it is!
And the Travel Writer From Hell
Er, I mean "Do Travel Writer's Go To Hell?. After the Bounty I decided to leave the South Pacific for a bit and wander in the darkness of, say, dark ages Europe with John Gardner's Grendel, which I remember hearing about years ago like it was something special. I found it kinda stupid, full of overwrought attempts to be really deeply philosophical. Usually I choose my books based on recommendations or having seen references to them or heard of them but the next one just popped up on the usually terrible Audible "you might also like" list, a book about an aspiring travel writer's first gig, subtitled "A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism." Being very interested in travel writing it sounded interesting, and having just read the Foraging Afar book that was also kind of about one man's voyage into the world of travel writing, maybe it would fit into my usual pattern of reading books on similar themes for comparison.
It can be hard to judge an audiobook separately from the quality of the narrator, though Grendal had been read by the same narrator I had just been lauding for reading Don Quixote and Typee, and yet even he couldn't make me like Gardner's book. In the case of Do Travel Writer's Go To Hell, the narrator is pretty uninspiring. He reads in kind of a monotone and yet when he comes to what should be a deadpan suddenly he finds the enthusiasm to read it like the "applause" sign has just been turned on, turning what might have been funny into a an eyerolling groaner. He does do varying accents better than _I_ could do a variety of accents, but even there while quoting an Australian it weirdly veered Irish in the middle. So in sum the narrator isn't helping (so if you're using audible and are on the fence about a book narrated by Paul Boehmer run the other way).
The tone of this book is pretty well established by about the third sentence when he says "and I laid more than my share of fetching local women" or some such. Like, well, okay, that's a crass way to put that but okay. The book begins with the authorho living in Manhattan working for a predatory wallstreet firm like a douchey chadling, when while medatating on the office's conference room table he gets an email from Lonely Planet offering him a gig with advance payment to go to northwest Brazil to update the guidebook. He promptly quits his job, breaks up with his girlfriend of years so cavalierly I am convinced he must be a psychopath, and embarks on a two day drug fueled bender in New York City which he describes every minute of. This girlfriend of several years, he talks up the relationship for two or three sentences, followed by "but really the relationship was [here the narrator pauses for dramatic effect right before very enthusiastically and cheerfully saying the word...] GARBAGE!" and other then a sentence or two explaining how the break up happened (over the phone) she is never again mentioned.
I'm not going to dissect every part of his book but the first sentence about actually being in Brazil has him waking up next to a naked blonde stewardess there. What I think is noteworthy about this is his editorial decision to start with that rather than leading up to it. Romance and salacious adventures in travel can be good reading, I'll readily recognize that, but starting with the pursuit of her would make more sense to me. To start with her already "conquered" is emblematic of putting braggadocio over narrative. She's not a story element, a goal he as a character pursued, she's a trophy, a tribute to the glory that is the author on the road. Anyway he then gives us a play by play of 48 hours of drug addled binging in Rio (in which, in case there was a chance one didn't fully see him as a megadouche, he sleeps with another girl while this first one is waiting for him back at their room. She then flips out and of course he acts like she's a psycho).
What's most perplexing is the rave reviews this book has gotten from some major publications, with New York Times saying "A comic rogue who seems to have modeled his life and prose on Hunter S.Thompson's… I could not get enough of the most depraved travel book of the year." and things like "The best-written, funniest book of travel literature since Phaic Tan." ... but what's interesting is in contrast the reviews on goodreads.com more frequently roundly deride the book.
And to it's credit it's well written enough that I keep reading to see where this goes. I'm actually only about 40% of the way through it (but on day 3 of his countdown to his deadline 60 days away so I guess his pacing becomes more compacted after the beginning), though after perusing some of the reviews, spoiler alert, he apparently continues to mainly binge drink and womanize. And apparently he created quite a scandal because he freely admits he plagiarized or made things up in his travel guide. Looknig at his list of publications I see he has also written the Lonely Planet guide to Venezuela. Oh great.
But as far as comparative literature goes, Blomstedt in his book did also seem to mention drinking to excess any time his narrative abutted an evening, and being badly hungover any time the morning was mentioned. I had felt Blomstedt shied away a bit too much from mentioning romance we can only deduce was there. Looking back at my own entries I do mention for example meeting and pursuing a beautiful young lady on occasion but generally don't mention waking up beside anyone because that's crass, not actually important to the narrative, and I rather feel disrespectful to the person involved. To trumpet to the world the finer details of one's "conquests" in a published book as Thomas Kohnstamm has done requires a psycopath's disregard for the dignity of all involved.
But at least by comparison to both these two in terms of alcohol consumption and nights spent partying, my own travels are incredibly straightlaced and mundane, full of going to bed early and never, ever, missing breakfast!
|Monday, September 30th, 2019|
|Voyage of the Bounty, and the Trilobite
I'm desperately wading through waist deep freezing water in the claustrophic passagenway. The lights flicker. Waves barrel down the narrow hallway as gravity seems to be reverse itself, alternately gluing me to one wall, then I'm thrown at the other and so is the water, then I try to lunge forward as the hall hangs in zero gravity. The main lights go out leaving only the eerie red emergency lighting as I claw myself towards a companionway leading up to deck. As I emerge to the the screaming wind of deck I look up and see Adam Prokosh up the mast trying to cut away the mainsail, but as I watch he loses his grip and comes tumbling down, seeming to fly through the air in slow motion before hitting the deck, breaking his back.
Friday, September 27th - I wake up. It's just one month shy of seven years since the replica Bounty sank in hurricane Sandy. I was half the world away at the time, in subtropical Australia, but I didn't know which of friends were or were not no the ship. I watched the news all night, waiting for all the crew to be accounted for ... which never happened. 15 of 17 crewmembers were rescued from the sinking ship (Prokosh, the then-boyfriend now-husband of a former crewmate of mine did get off alive despite a broken back).
When I think back to it now, my nerve-wracked all-night vigil is always interspersed with visions of the flooded belowdecks passageway, which was vividly described by survivors in the Coast Guard report, as well as Adam falling. Its been on my mind more lately because I've finally been "reading" about its namesake, the original Bounty. "Reading" with my ears as I drive anyway. I find listening to gripping audiobooks during drives weirdly imprints the key actions on the locations where I heard them. forever after now, the locations on the drive I undertook this weekend will be indelibly associated with locations in the story of the mutiny of the Bounty. Ah yes, Laver's Hill, where they set Bligh adrift in the longboat!
Cook is quoted as saying, "Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go." and this weekend I vowed to follow in his footsteps by ambitiously driving west along the southern coastline of Australia until I reached the border with South Australia, which surely is as far as it's possible for man to go!
We begin this modern voyage of discovery in my little weatherboard house in a small hamlet in the countryside. Birregurra, with a population of just around 800, on days like Friday morning rises like the island of avalon above a sea of fog in surrounding marshy lowlands, surmounted even with the imposing gothic spire of a church. Once I'd shaken off dreams of the Bounty I had my morning coffee in my adorably checkerboard-floored kitchen while thoughtfully looking at the fog out the window. Due to some big sports event it's a public holiday so I don't have to feel like I should be working. I messaged a friend who lives halfway to my destination to inquire if I could crash at his place this night, and if he had a coffee maker (many Australians, more savage than the cannibalistic "savages" described by Captain Cook, will serve you instant coffee with a straight face). He said I could and he did, but I packed my coffee and a french-press into my car with my other necessities because you can't be too careful.
Next I went into my detached garage to get three cases each containing 20 500ml jars of honey and loaded them into my car. While in the garage I called out to Sancho, my resident possum, admonishing him not to have any parties while I was out, though he usually disregards such suggestions.
My faithful vessel for this trip would be the USS Trilobite, a champagne colored honda civic that has severe neurological problems. The passenger side window doesn't work and 90% of the time none of the dashboard gauges work. A month after I had bought ole Trilobite, some uninsured maniacs had broadsided her in a parking lot, which, like the Permian Impact Event, threatened to extinct trilobites. The local mechanic declared her totaled, but through the American mafia I was able to get her repaired to a functional state. The original mechanic alleges there may be unknown damage to the engine due to the whole thing shifting during the impact, so on any long drive like this, in addition to flying blind as far as gauges are concerned, there's always a possibility of a sudden catastrophic failure or something. Good times.
As I headed out of my village through a steady drizzle on the very familiar road west, I began Peter FitzSimmons' telling of the Bounty Mutiny. He begins, actually, aboard the HMS Resolution at Hawaii in 1779. The Resolution has been forced to return to Hawaii shortly after a departure, having broken a foremast. It is evident that they've already overstayed their welcome, and things are tense. A longboat is stolen, several boats are put out to look for it, and Captain Cook goes ashore to bring the paramount chief back to the Resolution. Cook intends to hold him until such time as the longboat is returned. I am intrigued, I know where this is going. I've heard references to the seminal event in the history of Pacific exploration in so many books but never a detailed account of it. I've read some of Peter FitzSimmons other books and have been impressed with his ability to bring thorough research together into a gripping story. One of the longboats commanded by one William Bligh, chief navigational officer aboard the Resolution, fires muskets at a native outrigger they are trying to stop, killing an important chief. This news is conveyed quickly across the island coast as Hawaiians call out the news and runners make for where they have seen a British landing party coming to their paramount chief. Cook is leading a willing Chief Kalaniʻōpuʻu by the hand towards the beach when the news reaches them and the chief refuses to go another step. As Cook tries to convince him to come an ever larger crowd of angry native Hawaiians gathers around them.
Meanwhile, I pass through the nearby town of Colac. Colac is the larger town Birregurra orbits like a habitable moon around a gas giant. Like many Australian towns the shopfronts along mainstreet all have big facades like a historic town of the American West, but there never seem to be any redeeming cultural events in Colac or reasons to go there other than for groceries. One mystery about Colac that has always perplexed me is it's actually on a lakefront but makes no usage of it at all. There's no restaurants, bars, or anything fronting on the lake, it's just, a back street and there's the lake.
On this occasion I only get gas in Colac, filling up because I simply don't know how much gas I currently have. Then I continue. The main highway becomes Colac's main street but in the center of town I turn left to head south to the coast. Soon I'm out of town driving a road that slowly curves through towering messmate stringybark trees, a kind of eucalypt whose bark hangs off it in long fibrous hairy looking ribbons. For a few miles south of Colac the trunks are blackened from a recent fire and I always feel a tinge of guilt when I notice this, because I remember seeing the call out for that fire on the fire brigade pager but I was busy at the time. I glance guiltily at the yellow firefighting gear in my back seat.
Meanwhile Captain Cook has realized the situation is worsening quickly and decided they need to make a calm dignified withdrawal to the boats. It's unclear what exactly happened next but it appears Captain Cook pushed or shoved a prominent noble who was getting in his face, the noble shoved Cook back, and he fell to his knees in the shallow surf, and the noble's attendant than stabbed him through the back with a dagger they had, ironically, gotten in trade from Cook's expedition. A general hand-to-hand melee ensued between Cook's companions and the natives. Most of his companions made it away in the boats but four royal marines were left bobbing in the red surf alongside the famous navigator. In the melee and from musket-fire from other longboats just offshore dozens of natives were also killed.
About half an hour out from Colac I come to the small town of Gellibrand, named after an early explorer who disappeared in the area. I pull up in front of the General Store and go in. This cute little store is noted for the beautiful wisteria that hangs in cascades from its eaves, and delicious homemade meat pies. "Hi, I'm the Great Ocean Road Honey Company, we've supplied you with honey in the past, I was wondering if you'd like more?" I ask the man behind the counter. Yes they would like ten jars. Excellent. I unload half a case.
The sun has briefly come out when I emerge. I continue winding south through the misty forests. As to Captain Cook's fateful voyage, it was of course but a prologue and we leave it now. Though it's noted that he was practically the only officer not to be promoted when the expedition returns to England, leading one to wonder if his irascible personality, while not making it into official record books at the time, had already been noted by his colleagues. The audiobook now moves forward eight years to 1787, and we hear about the beginnings of the voyage, and begin to meet and get to know the crew. Interestingly Bligh has a favorite, one Fletcher Christian, who he himself promotes to acting Lieutenant and second-in-command. The expedition to get breadfruit from Tahiti heads south through the Atlantics and spends two months trying unsuccessfully to round Cape Horn against the prevailing winds. In this Bligh shows himself to be a hard driving stubborn captain, but relents when he sees the crew is at a breaking point and the instead head east, puts in at Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa for repairs, and then continues eastward to Tahiti.
Meanwhile I arrive at my next stop, which looks like a giant corrugated metal shed by itself in the open near where this road T junctions into another east-west road. This is the Otway NouriShed, and despite it's odd outward appearance, it's actually cozy inside, with a fire burning in a cast iron stove surrounded by comfy armchairs as well as tables. The proprietor takes a case of honey jars and then asks me sincerely how things are going. We have a short chat and then I'm on my way, headed West now.
The Bounty expedition continues Eastward across the southern seas to the wild coast of Tasmania for some replenishment and then on to Tahiti. There's a few recorded moments of friction between the querulous captain and his officers, but it doesn't appear beyond what the men can be expected to bear in a Royal Navy known to have some severe hard-horse captains.
I arrive in the tiny cluster of stores and houses known as Laver's Hill. I join the Great Ocean Road here though the ocean is not in sight from Laver's Hill, as the road comes inland here. The several shops here cater exclusively to the many tourists that travel the "GOR." I first pop into Yatzie's the biggest shop there, simply to inquire about an unpaid invoice, but am told the proprietor has been on vacation. Ah okay. I am optimistic for a good resolution to this, they're actually one of my best customers.
Next I go across the highway to a newly opened restaurant, "The Aussie Stop." It has a shop too but is mainly a restaurant. Everyone dining here appears to be Chinese, and as I make my way across the dining area to talk to the owner, a diner assumes as a caucasion I must be staff and asks me for the chili sauce. I politely bring them chili sauce without correcting their misapprehension and then talk to the owner. When I'd come by earlier while it was still winter he hadn't been prepared to take on another product, but now Spring has sprung! And he'll take ten units!
Continuing west, I finally approach the sea in a beautiful place where the tiny cluster of structures that is "Princetown" sits atop a small hill surrounded by marshy wetlands. I reflect that though this is a tiny place really far from the nearest town of any size, I still think I'd like to live there. I'm not a big fan of city life. The structures of Princetown consist entirely of (1) a closed post office; (2) a closed general store; (3) a sleepy roadhouse that has previously declined to buy honey; (4) a backpacker hostel; and (5) a bed and breakfast. I continue on past it on this occasion.
This next section of coast the GOR is just beside the coast on top of the cliffs, though one can't see the coast itself since unlike mnay roads its not actually on the edge of the cliff but a few hundred meters inland. The most popular sights on the Great Ocean Road are in this section, such as the "12 Apostles" are a series of picturesque columns of limestone just off the beach in the crashing surf. The joke is that there's now only "7 and a Half Apostles" because they keep falling down. Another fun fact I like to note is that the columns were originally known as "the sow and piglets" but they changed it to "12 Apostles" to encourage tourism. On this occasion I zipped past all apostles, sows, and piglets in the area since I'd already seen them.
The next place of habitation would mark the furthest westward point I've previously been on the coast, the small town of Port Campbell. This is a town big enough to have a grocery store. Sadly it is also a town with Timboon Honey on shelves retailing for my wholesale price ::shakes fist:: so it marks the extent of my business domain on the coast. Timboon is a town inland of Port Campbell and I've encountered them on my furthest Westward inland extent as well. Port Campbell is noteworthy for having a narrow little bay with a beach on which heavy waves always seem to be breaking. I'm surprised to learn just now its only got a population of 600, I would have thought it's bigger than my home village, but I guess it just seems that way because it's always teaming with tourists. Being the biggest town on the coast for many many miles there are many hotels there and its always teaming with big coach buses and hordes of tourists.
As I prepared to continue on into the unknown, Captain Bligh and the Bounty arrived at Tahiti. Bligh and a few of the men had been there before with Captain Cook so they knew a bit about what to expect. Beautiful island maidens paddled out to their ship immediately and proved extremely willing to climb into the men's hammocks, much to the delight of the occupants. The islanders had revered Captain Cook as a god, and Bligh tried to assure them that Cook was still alive and well, not wanting them to see that their god could be killed by island people not very unlike them. This proved a bit awkward as after Bligh had said Cook was alive and well the islanders explained that another vessel had already passed through and explained to them the story of Cook's death. Next Bligh tried to say he was the son of Cook, which, aside from them thinking it was a bit odd this was never mentioned when last they were both here, the natives actually have a painting of Cook that was left with them and with it as a reference one can readily see that Bligh and Cook look nothing alike. Awkward. Despite these awkward beginnings Bligh ends up getting along seemingly very well with the paramount chiefs.
West of Port Campbell I continue down the road just a bit until I come to signs for "The Arch" and pull off to the parking area to go have a look at a notable stone arch the sea has formed attached to the cliffs. I take some photos and hurry on my way. Only minutes further down the road I see signs for "London Bridge" and pull in to walk to the viewing platform to see what formerly was a sort of long peninsula of land with several giant arches underneath it ... except one of the spans has collapsed leaving only the outer portion disconnected from the land.
I get back in my car and continue another few minutes until I see signs for "the Grotto." I haven't actually heard of this one but pull off to admire this grotto.
Continuing up the coast I stop at the Bay of Martyrs and then the Bay of Islands. By now the sun is nearing sunset but cloud cover prevents a beautiful sunset and instead there's just cloud-glare that ruins photos.
Arriving in Warnambool just before dark, it seems like a nice town. Someone had once told me "oh it's nothing special, it's like Colac," which seems like a gross libel to me. I didn't get to explore the town much but downtown consisted of several blocks of nice looking restaurants. It's three times as big as Colac at 33,000. I picked up pizza for both me and my friend Jib from a place he recommended and headed over to his place. We ate pizza and watched Disenchantment, the new Simpsonsesque Netflix series. I really quite like it.
Saturday, September 28th - My friend Trent is studying for some certificate in tourism and had had to plan a tourist itinerary out this way so I had asked him what's West of Warnambool. "Cows and paddocks" he replied. Well Okay. I asked Jib. He hadn't been out that way much at all either but he recommended some blowholes, a seal colony and a petrified forest all by the town of Portland. I had previously identified a national park right by the border that I wanted to check out and in particular there was a cave there. In the mean time, nearest at hand I saw what looked like a nature reserve in volcanic crater that looked interesting.
Arriving at Tower Hill nature reserve, from the highway overlook one is looking down at what looks like a series of small forested hills surrounded by a lake and then crater walls. One drives down into the crater and then across the lake as if one is crossing a moat, then the one lane road winds among the hills with a number of little parking spots at trailheads until one gets to the visitor center area in the middle with ample parking in what feels like a forest glen. Despite there being lots of families (the tourists here were for once almost all Australian) it was really pretty. Ostrich sized emus wandered unworried among the families. Then I saw one with a dozen adorable chicks following it, chicks bigger than normal chickens!! Nearby people were snapping photos of a koala in a tree. I had a lot of ground I planned to cover this day but I decided to go on one hiking loop, the "lava tongue boardwalk" sounded like the ticket, and it was very lovely.
Later I asked Trent about this place and he said his teacher hates it and thinks its really boring and tells them not to include it on itineraries. Wow uh okay tourism teacher. Iii think it was the coolest place on the whole coast but, sure, keep directing people to go to "Cheese World" just outside of Warnambool, which apparently does make the cut.
From here it was up the coast a bit before my next stop. Through the little town of Port Fairy, which seemed like a cute little fishing town of old Victorian houses just by a coast. Onward the countryside was mostly... cows and paddocks. Meanwhile in the audiobook the crew of the Bounty had spent a few months at Tihiti growing breadfruit saplings while crewmembers developed deepening romantic attachments with local women. Despite having heard of this famous story throughout my life, I didn't know exactly how the mutiny would actually come about. Would the men just flat out refuse to leave Tahiti? No, it turns out with heavy hearts they obeyed orders to weigh anchor and turn homeward. But as they head homeward Bligh is more disagreeable than ever before. He finds fault with everyone, needles his officers intentionally to annoy them, rubs salt in any wound he can find as deeply as possible, and I find myself wondering if something unrecorded had taken place between he and his former favorite Fletcher because now he makes Fletcher's life a constant hell, berating and publicly criticizing him literally constantly.
I was surprised that the actual immediate cause of the mutiny was something a bit silly: Bligh accused someone of stealing some coconuts from a large pile he had, which seems especially silly since literally everyone had their own stock of coconuts. He calls the whole crew on deck to harangue them all and make all their lives a living hell until someone confesses. Fletcher than claims to have stolen one coconut just to spare the crew, and then Bligh of course explodes more directly at him, accusing him of taking half the coconuts, which is on its face preposterous, and calls him a scoundrel which apparently was a lot more insulting back then. I'm mildly curious why Fletcher couldn't then challenge him to a duel, which it is my understanding was done at the time when one's honor was challenged in precisely such a way, and because Bligh's official rank is actually only Lieutenant, same as Fletcher's it would seem Bligh couldn't claim to be too exalted to accept. Anyway what this does result in his Fletcher being set on leaving the ship that night with a raft he makes that night with the assistance of two other crewmembers but then crewmembers talk him into leading a mutiny instead...
Just past the twon of Portland, which I never actually saw, I found a sign for a walk to the "enchanted forest" by the coast, which I thought was the petrified forest that had been recommended to me. It turned out not to be, but I enjoyed the walk along the lush vegetation right on the coast, with bent and curvy trees draped in vines.
Starting to feel a bit panicked for time already, since I had to be back at Jib's at 19:00 to meet our other friends, I hurried from here to the Seal colony just on the other side of the point. Two hour hike from the trailhead to the rookery? No time for pinnipeds today!
Next up was the blowhole just down the road. Waves crashed against the rock in a manner that blasted great gouts of water skyward, but I'm not sure I'd have called it worthwhile to drive all the way out here just for this. Next up, petrified forest, which it turns out is just a short walk from the same car park. This was actually really interesting, stone columns had been formed not from petrified forests as had been initially assumed upon the discovery of the upright stone tubes, but through a some mineralization process "solution pipes" had been formed in the limestone. The setting was very picturesque, with all these tubes glowing in the late afternoon sun, high above the crashing waves and expansive ocean, and with many gargantuan windmills slowly turning behind them.
From here I had to really beat feet to make it to the South Australia border in time to turn around and get back to Warnambool on time. Beyond Portland the drive was mostly through thick pine plantations. With few stops to look at things it was me and the audiobook for awhile. The mutineers captured the arms chest and everyone they expected to be unwaveringly loyal was caught asleep. Bligh and his loyalists were put on the launch, though I was amused that neither Bligh nor Fletcher wanted the master (chief navigation officer), both arguing the other should take him. Over half the crew wanted to go with Captain Bligh since even if they had no love for him, to side with the mutineers would mean being an outlaw for the rest of your days. Since the launch couldn't hold all the loyalists some had to remain with the mutineers. The two vessels then parted ways.
I had really hoped to at least drive into Glenelg national park on the border, since after accomplishing my goal of reaching the border I might never be out here gain, but sadly I rolled into the tiny border town of Nelson with only moments to spare. Crossed the bridge of the Glenelg River and a few miles down the road was the "Welcome to South Australia" sign! Pulled over just before the sign to take pictures, and then tured around to head back! It wasn't until a few miles later that I realized I should have stepped past the sign to say I set foot in South Australia but I never did!
From here it was an uninterrupted drive all the way back to Warnambool. Good thing I had a gripping story going on. You'd think Bligh would have learned his lesson and been grateful and kinder to the loyalists in the boat with him but he's just as petty and unbearable to them, nearly having two more mutinies among the loyalists. By and by they make it to the Dutch port of Batavia, and then he gets passage for himself on to England leaving his loyalist crew to follow months later when they can finally finagle it. This gives Bligh no differing views to compete with when he arrives triumphant in England, and his bedraggled and disgruntled loyalists arrive to find him a national hero.
Meanwhile the mutineers return to Tahiti, but because they know it's the first place the royal navy will come looking for them, they pick up their island wives and lovers and continue on to another island. There they arrive to find a less than friendly welcome from the natives who already live there...
Ii was pretty sure I had enough gas but the gas gauge hadn't functioned in a long time so I became increasingly nervous and eventually got gas as I passed back through Port Fairy. Arrived at Jib's place right on time at 18:54. About five other friends had come over from Geelong since Jib had invited us all over to play D&D at his place for once and we're all nerds like that. I had created an elven character named Verizon Qualcomm Vodaphone for the occasion. Because I'm not a night-owl, despite drinking a lot of our invented drink of "V2 rockets" (a "jagerbomb" with "v energy drink" instead of red bull), I slunk off to sleep the very moment the game was concluded at around 1:30. Awoke at 9:00 in the tomb-like darkness the house had been enshrouded in through all the window curtains being tightly drawn, and people snoring loudly on all the couches. Sat outside reading until others woke up. Then everyone watched youtube videos on the tv until I left at noon. I tried to be sociable but I really can't get into inane videos.
Sunday, Today, September 29th - Headed first to a nearby waterfall Jib had recommended, Hopkins Falls. It was broad (I think the sign said widest in Australia?) though not tall. Water was very brown and kicked off a great deal of foam. Whereas often waterfalls are found in mountainous areas this was actually in the middle of farmland. It began to rain as I was there, so I quickly continued on my way.
As I drove through the inland farmland the story continued to unfold, how the mutineers after attempting to settle on this other island eventually are forced to leave and return to Tahiti due to the hostility of their new neighbors. Arriving in Tahiti, many of the mutineers want to just stay there, despite that it's the obvious first place the royal navy will come looking for them. Though if Bligh and the loyalists had failed to make it back its conceivable the whole ship would be presumed lost and no one would come hunting for them. They agree to split ways, most of them desiring to stay here, while Fletcher Christian and eight other mutineers head off in search of some truly deserted unknown island. The latter is also accompanied by their island wives and a few local men. Meanwhile the Admiralty in England has wasted no time to dispatch a fast frigate, the HMS Pandora to hunt down and bring to justice the mutineers. Captain Bligh is also later dispatched on a second breadfruit expedition with a bigger ship than the first time and this time with ample marines to keep order.
I arrived in the town of Camperdown, the furthest West I'd been on the inland route before. I attempted to pop in to another shop with an unpaid invoice to resolve but they weren't open, and the other shop I popped into to ask if they needed more inventory didn't, so I was on my way again! The route from here on out was a bit boring to me, but it's a bit of an unusual landscape worth describing, the area is known as the "volcanic rises" and a lot of it isnt' arable farmland because there's just too many volcanic rocks, so it's a rather rugged landscape dotted with ancient looking dilapidated little houses, and miles and miles or low walls built from piling up volcanic rocks.
As I continued this way and eventually through Colac, the story continued. Fletcher Christian and his small band made it to the little known deserted island of Pitcairn and settled there. On Tahiti one of the mutineers starts itching to have a means of leaving and begins building a schooner. Despite having no modern tools nor any of them being an actual boat builder several of them work on this boat and over the months it comes together until they're finally able to launch it, and it floats! They decide to name it, after Cook's ship some of them had sailed in, the Resolution.
In one of those stunning coincidences of history, barely had they launched the Resolution and sailed around to the other side of the island when the HMS Pandora arrived to exact justice on the mutineers. The loyalists who had been left with the mutineers eagerly paddle their canoes out to the Pandora and are surprised to be immediately clapped in chains. Two of the Pandora's launches sail around the island to where they're told the Resolution is. Expecting to easily catch this homemade craft, they're quite flummoxed when it leads them on a long pursuit in which it eventually disappears over the horizon.
And then, I arrived home! How will it end? Well there's parts I know and parts I don't know, but there's still several hours left of the book so I think I need to go on another driveabout!
|Tuesday, September 24th, 2019|
|A Rather Engaging Vacation: Dominican Republic 2019
This entry will actually assume you've already read the earlier one about this trip and try not to reduplicate things, so if there's seeming gaps its because its in the earlier entry.
September 2nd - Having finally arrived in the Dominican Republic the day before, we spent the morning taking it easy around the hotel. We booked our hotel and my return flight to the US. Since Cristina had to return for Venezuela on the 6th and my existing departure from Cancun was on the 7th, I thought for a _moment_ of flying to Cancun on the 6th and taking my original flight back ... but decided I didn't particularly want to see that place ever again. I've never booked flights on my phone before, I remember I saw my friend Doug so once and I couldn't believe one would leave such a potentially expensive transaction to the utter tediousness of twiddling about on a mobile site -- I make enough mistakes doing it from a computer. But here I was just me and my phone. In the past I've asked travel agents to find me a flight somewhere and then independently looked for a flight and almost invariably I've been able to beat the price and/or convenience of the flight the travel agent found, so I don't have much faith in them ... except Cristina's travel agent friend is the only one who has been able to find deals better than anything I could find (though Cristina's mom and others have called into question how she could have failed to know and warn us that Venezuelans were being refused entry to Mexico), so I put my faith in her to get me a flight back to the States. Which she did, for $485.38 something which I felt was pretty good for a 3,194 mile international flight less than a week out, and it's on me that it didn't click that the airline was Spirit, which is famously unpleasant. So we got that bought and paid for. Killed some time until the 2pm bus across the island to the Samaná Peninsula.
We had the hotel conjure up a taxi for us. Juan seemed to be a nice guy. He was going to take us to the bus station for something reasonable ($25?) but then he offered to take use all the way to our hotel for $150 (a three hour or so trip). I knew the bus was only going to be $16 between us for the same trip but... well a road trip through the middle of the DR sounded fun. While a bus may be technically a road trip, it isn't the same blasting through ten feet high as at eye level. Anyway, we got our adventure.
Hopefully this works as an animated gif
Apparently not, (the original I was trying to post)
Juan got off the big new main highway, apparently to avoid the "expensive tolls" of a few dollars, and soon we were driving at a third of our former speed dodging around potholes on a decrepit road, among houses of cinderblock and corrugated metal. Soon we passed through a checkpoint manned by armed soldiers, and it was evident the soldier thought taking this route to avoid tolls seemed pretty ill advised. The military checkpoint was outside the town of Sabana Grande de Boyá, and we were all a bit nervous about this rural town that apparently needed to be surrounded by the military (there was a checkpoint on the far side too). Cristina's mother had been carjacked in Venezuela so Cristina was acutely aware of this danger in unstable areas, and she's pretty sure our driver, though a big guy and though he had tried to sound confident was pretty nervous too.
I have a deep distrust of taxi drivers, which, though I feel Cancun vindicates it, it can seem kind of paranoid when your driver is actually good and honest. Juan seemed very nice but I still checked the google maps every now and then, and in this case the further we got off what appeared to me the route we should be on the more concerned I got. After we passed the last road to make it to Samana without a major detour I pointed this out to Cristina, who asked Juan and he seemed to express that he knew where he was going .... though he later admitted he was lost as we approached the town of Cotui, and Cristina and I were happy to thereafter take a more active role in navigation.
It was indeed interesting to see so much of the rural parts of the country though. Previous travels just along the coast last year only exposed me to parts of the country that looked pretty developed, but the interior looked very equivalent to Africa. Indeed, since the population appeared mostly black it was interesting to try to pinpoint in exactly what subtle ways it didn't resemble Africa. All I could put my finger on was that everywhere I've been in Africa the men wear their hair extremely short but there was a lot more hair to be seen here. Large parts of the countryside seemed to be thick jungle, and there were some surprisingly rugged little mountains in the middle of the country.
What should have been a 2.5 hour drive ended up taking 5 hours. Despite this, we actually liked our driver Juan, I think getting lost was an "honest mistake" he genuinely regretted. We ended up using him again for all our driving when we returned to the capital and I'd probably use him next time I'm there as well. He seemed to so sincerely care about our wellbeing that I correctly guessed that he has children of similar age to us.
I had hoped to get to the hotel before sunset but our detour prevented that. I was a bit impatient to get this proposing thing underway. Once we checked into our adorable little villa, I got the ring box from the backpack and into my pocket in preparation, but it was big and bulky and as we ended up laying together in the hammock I was afraid she'd notice it and so I put it back in the backpack when she went to the bathroom. Merely proposing in the room simply wouldn't do. Presently I suggested we go look at the beach, and she was amenable to this. But now I needed to get the ring again! How?? Fortunately she said she needed to dash up to the bedroom for something. Perfect!
We made our way through the hotel grounds and out onto the beach. The beach stretched off into the darkness to the left and right with no lights or human habitation as far as the eye could see, and overhead an infinite number of stars twinkled. Heavy waves crashed on the beach. Es profundo said Cristina, which I took to mean the waves were strong, but it can also mean profound in the same sense as in English.
I held her in my arms, gazing fondly at her and trying to think of how exactly to best start this.
"What? What is it?" she asked. And here I thought I was being sly and casual. Well there was nothing for it but to get on one knee...
...and then I fished around in my pocket trying to get the ring box out. It took awkwardly long. Finally I got the ring box out and presented it, saying "I have one more thing for you"
"ohhh, es lindooo" she was saying, admiring it, and I realized I hadn't actually asked the important question.
"oh, also. Will you marry me?" I asked.
"Siiiii!" she exclaimed, followed by "will you really marry with me??"
"Sii" said I, rising from my knee to put my arms around her
"You will marry with me???" she asked again
We then took the video I posted announcing the engagement.
September 3rd - As I mentioned in the earlier entry we just bummed around the hotel but it really was tropical paradise, with us practically having the hotel grounds to ourselves, the entire beach maybe having half a dozen people visible on it, total, and they miles down the way. That being said some Europeans showed up via the access road to the beach that was just beside the hotel, and brazenly put their stuff on the lounge chair our stuff was on. Being as the engagement ring was in Cristina's bag and my paranoia was still in full effect, I'd been keeping an eye on the stuff from where we frolicked in the surf, which seemed adeuqate with no one for miles, but was certainly not adequate with gosh darn Germans or Ukrainians rummaging in bags on the very same chair! So I went up to move our stuff, expecting they'd at least be apologetic but they just kind of looked at me like _I_ was intruding as I extricated our stuff from under their stuff and moved it to the base of a palm tree a bit away.
Cristina and I discovered we'd left my external phone battery (without which my phone lasts like an hour) in the taxi, and her shoes in the hotel in Santo Domingo. This was regrettable as shoes were recommended for the horseback riding excursion, but she made due with her flip flips. Some time after that the strap on her flip flops broke though, which left her in dire footware straights.
That evening, having spent the day lounging by the beach and pool and generally frolicking in the sun, and having leftovers from the delicious carne asada lunch ("churrasco" actually, which may or may not be the same thing?), as well as from the very good chicken the night before, decided to just eat our leftovers in our little kitchen. But that evening we discovered the gas to the oven apparently wasn't on! And it was too late to rouse anyone! Cristina then exhibited a mcguyver-like cleverness and put the meat in the bottom of coffee maker's glass carafe and turned it on. It was a bit slow, but it worked!
September 4th - At a comfortable time in the morning (9am?) as we finished another delicious breakfast, the man from the horse riding excursion came to pick us up. He was a balding fellow originally from the Asturias region of Spain who combined a sort of dorky lankiness with a machismo swagger, and was accompanied by his Dominican wife, dark-skinned, fro haired and giving him a wifely sass on occasion. We stopped at an ATM in the nearby town of Terranas and then continued about a half hour further along the coast to the small town of Barrio Las Flores. This drive was a pleasant one along the winding coastal road. The light traffic was mostly motorcycles and motorscooters, the houses were small but cute, gaily painted and overhung with lush vegetation. One town we passed had a beautiful public pool in the town square, the pool was built to look more like a pond than a rectangular swimming pool and was full of kids splashing about. At some points we were driving just beside the sandy beach, at another point we drove besidea disused a kilometer-long runway with weeds growing on it.
We checked into the tour agency's office and then were dispatched off in the care of an elderly man of indiginous features who didn't speak a word of English but seemed kind (and of course Cristina could correspond fluently with anyone who didn't speak English). We walked down the block to where a nine year old or so was holding the tethers of two horses. We mounted them and were off with the man accompanying on foot, just behind us, encouraging the reluctant horses with a constant "hurruh! hurrah!" and swishing of a slender stick, which together barely motivated the unenthusiastic beasts.
As I've remarked before when horses come up, I quite rather like horseback riding but as a non-horse owner one is pretty much limited to sad little trail rides where the horse just proceeds down a course known so well to it it could go with its eyes closed. This was a classic example of that and no amount of applying my heels would make the horse go an iota faster, nor would pulling back the reins slow it, nor pulling to the left or right would make it consider for a moment altering its route. I thought back fondly to Kyrgyzstan and Nicaragua where I'd had the opportunity to ride horses that moved like an extension of my body.
Notwithstanding the stubborness of the horses, it was a beautiful trek down into the wild forest of some kind of national park. We descended down to where a cool clear river flowed in lazy slow curves through its own gorge in the forest, and proceeded along the stony river for a bit before climbing out and up a steep path among the trees, occasionally having to make way for people coming down with horses laden with baskets full of coconuts.
Finally we came to an overlook with some rough corrals for horses and a simple open sided cafe overlooking the waterfall. We stopped here a few minutes for our guide to rest, and changed into our swimming gear. Then down the path on foot!
Below the main waterfall there was a smaller waterfall falling into a quiet pool in a much more serene setting than the main waterfall (which had a fair number of tourists at it). We swam in this tranquil pool a bit after the main one and an old man who was sitting beside it talked to Cristina in Spanish. She commented after that the old man by the pool seemed like the kind of wise old man who, if this were a movie, would have imparted some sage wisdom. Instead he encouraged her to sail illegally to Puerto Rico and thus in American territory onward to the continental US. She shook her head at this silly notion.
The main waterfall was crowded with pasty European tourists in speedos. Like the ones at the beach, some decided to place their stuff, of all places, right on our flip-flops. Like literally on them. I guess so they wouldn't get damp on the ground, but who does this??
The pool was chilly but refreshing and we spent about an hour swimming around in it. There was a neat little cave grotto in the back. Two local lads were wowing tourists by jumping from astounding heights into the pool. Another young man had a beautiful parrot he was letting people take pictures with. The only payment for this was a voluntary tip which he wasn't even terribly insisted upon. We gave him a few dollars.
Finally, having thoroughly refreshed ourselves in the waterfall's pool for an hour or so, we removed our flip-flops from under the european's stuff and headed back down to the smaller fall, where we swam a bit more and received sage wisdom, then up the path to the cafe overlook. There we changed and rested a few minutes. I was laughing at a sign in which rum and coke was "Cuba Libre" in Spanish, English, & French, but in Russian it's "rum and cola" presumably because politically speaking the Russian sphere is unamused by the idea of a free Cuba. Then I noticed pina coladas on the menu, yes please! It ended up coming in a freshly hollowed out pineapple, and given they harvest coconuts hereabouts, if its possible to make coconut cream on the spot (is it?) that was probably fresh too. I'm not sure I like pina coladas as much as I like the idea of them, which is to say, I do like pina coladas, but I always feel like having one signifies I am officially on vacation and living the high life!
I know the boots and shorts look is weird but I wasn't about to wear long pants and flipflops were inadvisable for horseback riding so this is what you get
Back down the trail, across the river, into Barrio Las Flores. a delicious meal there, and then back along the winding coastal road to our hotel. At this point it felt like we'd done a whole day's worth of stuff already, but it was only early afternoon! We proceeded to go swimming in the ocean and walking along the beach. At sunset we walked first to the point of land to our west and then the one to our right. In our perambulations over more than a mile of beach we passed a mere handful of people, and at one point just at sunset a local man came trotting along the beach on his horse at a quick canter.
That evening we had a delicious dinner of prawns at the hotel restaurant. We had been told we needed to tell them if we were going to have dinner there, which we had. This afternoon we asked what time dinner was on and they told us whenever we liked and didn't press us to answer just then. It was somewhat of a marvel to me in the early evening to see three or four of the kitchen staff idling away at the kitchen-restaurant counter just awaiting our pleasure. In some hotels the staff might have seemed sullen about this and it could have been guilt-inducing, but all the staff at this hotel seemed so genuinely happy in their jobs and dedicated to making it the best possible experience for guests that it just felt fun. It felt so "5 star" and yet unbelievably the hotel is listed as 3 star. After watching the sunset from out amongst the waves and the warm sea, we got cleaned up and changed and came back out for dinner.
September 5th - We had hoped to go diving this day but Gail the receptionist couldn't get ahold of the one diving company, and this other she had gotten ahold of that sounded even better ($70 for all day, diving (snorkeling, "with tubas") at three different locations, lunch on an island, possibly alcoholic beverages included) was a go at first but the other original clients pulled out and it was no longer worth going out for them. So instead we lounged around the beach and pool until it was time to catch the afternoon bus around 2:00.
The bus from Las Terranas to Santo Domingo was a comfortable coach that got there smoothly in 2.5 hours along the new highway, though it did go through a heck of a lot of toll booths (though also I confirmed we wouldn't have seen much of the authentic Dominican Republic living conditions from the bus). Got to the bus shed in Santo Domingo during a pouring rain, and Juan, whom we'd messaged to advise of our arrival came to pick us up. We were soon reunited with the missing battery, and a visit to the previous hotel got us back her shoes!
I've already described our hotel on the return to Santo Domingo with it's rooftop jacuzzi, but I'll add that part of the problem with this hotel was the attitude of the staff. While at Casa Coson the staff all seemed to glow with a personal desire to make your stay as good as possible, the staff at this hotel smiled and did what was helpful when cornered, but seemed to scurry out of sight whenever possible like rats. I'm not talking about in the vicinity of the jacuzzi where maybe they want to respect your desire to not have them at your elbow but in reception and the dining/bar area. When cornered they'd accomplish your request as quickly as possible and without asking if they could help you further would disappear. This might not have struck me as remarkable if it wasn't such a striking contrast from the previous hotel.
We went on a bit of an evening walkabout since the hotel was right in the Zona Colonia, the old town (the oldest continuously habitated town in the Americas in fact), and stumbled upon a lovely pedestrian boulevard with lights gaily strung over it, buskers and people selling art and souvenirs, though I had never seen this place advertised to tourists nor did anyone on the street actually appear to be tourists (at least in the sense of the resorts being full of pasty while European/Caucasians). Finally we encountered the tourists all concentrated at one end of the street where some really overpriced looking restaurants were located and shady looking characters lurked in the shadows prompting Cirstina to warn me not to take my phone out and be wary of being pickpocketed.
September 6th - Our flights weren't until the afternoon so we had a spot of time in the morning. Remember Rafael from Partners for the Americas? Referenced here as the source for our initial hotel recommendation as well as the recommendation to go to the Samaná Peninsula. I had worked for Partners for the Americas in Nicaragua, and a few years ago was offered a project here in the DR I was too busy for so I kicked it over to my friend Mark, so when I knew I was coming to DR the first time (last year), I asked Mark if he had any good contacts. Upon being contacted Rafael had declared that if I was a friend of Mark's I was therefore a friend of his, and had been extremely helpful on a number of occasions. So since we had some time this morning he invited us to come to the Partners office in Santo Domingo. I was excited to finally meet him as well as the other Partners DR staff for various ulterior motives: (1) they hadn't chosen me for a project earlier this year, meeting me might make them more likely to choose me in the future; (2) they might be a bit leery of me saying my fiancee will be tagging along with me on a project unless of course they've already met her delightful self! (3) maybe I could interview them about the several bee related projects they've done this past year and write about it for the American Bee Journal as others have done! (though let me emphasize I had been trying to work meeting Rafael in anyway without these ulterior motives because he'd been such a good friend to us)
The staff (Director, two field representatives and another administrative staffmember whose title I forget) were all very nice. Rafael was taller than I'd pictured, tall and energetic with a virile dark beard. Had a good talk with the director; I asked all the questions I could think of about the projects they've done this year but I fear I'm not very good at this and could hardly write a paragraph about them. The director seemed to have a good chat with Cristina as well (in Spanish), and enlightened us that the DR and Venezuela have very good relations and treaties in place to ensure free movement of their people between them, which explains why we've found it so easy for her compared to most other places. I also learned "Partners for the Americas" no longer works in Nicaragua but DOES now operate in Colombia and... Bhutan ("Bhutan??" "Yes Bhutan" "Like B H U T A N" "yes" "but that's not in the Americas??" "haha yeah well..."). ::shrug:: I do hope I can come back to DR for an official project though. Or Colombia.
Juan was very patient with us, waiting for an hour while we visited the office, then taking us to the mall and going in with us in a search for a bank that could give us USD. Venezuelans it turns out have to show a certain amount of USD to be able to travel, and apparently friends and family loan it to eachother for this purpose so there's this amount of USD that they just keep for this purpose, loaning it to eachother but not spending it. In a kind of sadly ironic twist of fate I had had to borrow $20 from her when caught without enough money for an earlier transaction, and wanted to replenish her.
And then we were off to the airport. Once again our flights were close enough together in time that we were able to go through security together, linger by her gate until the last possible minute for sad goodbyes, and then as the doors closed on her, the literal last person through, waving as they closed, I had to hurry to my own gate. Thereupon I discovered that Spirit Airways feels almost like they're TRING to be punitive: seats don't recline, half-sized metal tray tables that look like they belong in a prison, the stewardesses loudly threatened at least two passengers with removal (one because he had apparently consumed some alcohol and was seated in an exit row, he allowed them to reseat him without causing trouble and didn't seem visibly impaired or uncooperative; the other because her baby wouldn't stop crying), and the flight attendants subjected us to several live-action infomercials. Ugh. By and by via Fort Lauderdale I arrived in LAX around midnight, took the "supershuttle" back home (took about two hours with other passengers dropoffs), wherein I had a nice chat with the friendly Mexican driver about immigration. About 48 hours later I was on a plane back to Australia.
|Saturday, September 21st, 2019|
My (Literary) Voyage to Typee
I first recall becoming aware that Herman Melville apparently wrote a good book about a south Pacific island when my ship the brig Pilgrim moored up beside the San Diego maritime museum, which at the time contained an art exhibit on the South Pacific. It quoted Typee extensively, conjuring great descriptive images of both landscape and anthropological observations, and given the credence given them by the museum, apparently exhibited a high degree of accuracy.
But I had already read Moby Dick, and like nearly everyone who has read this ponderous book, I had found while it provided an unparalleled view into 19th century whaling life it was also a leviathan of a book that could have seriously benefitted from a proactive editor with e flensing hook to render away excess verbosity. Melville certainly accomplished making reading a book about a two year whaling voyage feel like a two year whaling voyage. Sure maybe Typee is good but who has time for a second Moby Dick?
Much more recently it was brought back to mind as I read Paul Theroux's Paddling the Happy Isles of Oceania on kindle during my vacation. When he was in the Marquesas, where Typeee is to be found, he referenced it extensively and positively.
As an aside, in reading this Theroux book I almost fell out of my chair to read references to his beehives. My favorite author has apparently taken up beekeeping in his retirement! It's quite entirely possible, if he, like many American beekeepers, receives the American Bee Journal, he may have read ME.
Since I enjoy to travel thematically through my reading, I next took up The Cruise of the Snark, in which Jack London cruises the South Pacific in a ketch he had had built, named the Snark, and writes snarkily about it. As an inveterate traveler and former crewmember of a large ketch, I enjoyed this book too, though the specific audiobook version I was listening to had apparently thought it would be a delightful lark to overlay sound effects over the first few minutes of every chapter making it almost impossible to make out the narration, and as well employed a narrator who read the book in a breathless ranting manner that made it a struggle to appreciate the book until I got used to it. Celebtrated author Jack London also seemed to regard Melville's Typee in the very highest of esteem. And so I finally decided to turn to Typee next.
I highly recommend sitting on a tropical beach whilst reading about tropical beaches
Typee is Melville's semi-autobiographical account of, having skipped ship from a whaler, finds himself captured by and living among the reputed cannibals of the valley of Typee in the Marquesas. This tribe is so feared that they have little contact with the outside world, in his characteristically enlightened style centuries ahead of his time, finds them to be, and accurately describes them as, actually a very human society with a great deal to appreciate about them. This was Melville's first book, one can imagine him, a mere sailor, setting down the story simply because it's too good not to tell, and then having discovered a gift for writing going on to continue his writing career. Also throughout the book I kept finding myself rooting for him NOT to leave the island, but then thinking but wait if he did there'd probably have been neither this book nor any of his future writing.
The book combines his astute anthropological observations, vivid descriptions, insightful wit, as well as skillfully balanced suspense (one is left wondering throughout if the locals are in fact just waiting for the best time to eat him, and how and why does he escape??). Altogether I found it be an excellent book, a classic I think should get more recognition than it does -- I liked it much better than the more famous Moby Dick.
Another thing that I greatly enjoyed is that the audiobook version I listened to employed a narrator (George Guidall) whose elocution perfectly conveys the story in a serious manner while rendering witty asides as hilarious deadpans without at all seeming to try. It actually sounded a bit familiar ... and then I realized, this was the same narrator whose version of Don Quixote I had "read!" Once I realized that, it was hard not to picture Melville and his companion as constantly about to do something hilariously ridiculous. And in fact, shortly after I came to this realization I came to this passage:
I suppose the old gentleman was in his dotage, for he manifested in various ways the characteristics which mark this particular stage of life.
I remember in particular his having a choice pair of ear-ornaments, fabricated from the teeth of some sea-monster. These he would alternately wear and take off at least fifty times in the course of the day, going and coming from his little hut on each occasion with all the tranquillity imaginable. Sometimes slipping them through the slits in his ears, he would seize his spear—which in length and slightness resembled a fishing-pole—and go stalking beneath the shadows of the neighbouring groves, as if about to give a hostile meeting to some cannibal knight. But he would soon return again, and hiding his weapon under the projecting eaves of the house, and rolling his clumsy trinkets carefully in a piece of tappa, would resume his more pacific operations as quietly as if he had never interrupted them.
But despite his eccentricities, Marheyo was a most paternal and warm-hearted old fellow...
Cannibal knight! Don Quixote indeed! This eccentric patriarch makes periodic appearances throughout, casually smoking at the top of a palm tree and exhibiting other silly or inexplicable behaviors, but always described sympathetically as Melville clearly felt a great fondness for the old man. Altogether the cast of characters is so thoroughly human you know they can't but be real people Melville knew and loved (and yet how could he leave the beautious island damsel Fayaway?), and this book, far from the crude imaginings of "island cannibals," one encounters in most mediums, is a masterful and accurate work the author poured his heart and soul into.
And so, in conclusion, I heartily recommend you read Typee.
And now, continuing on the theme, I'm on to Peter FitzSimmons' version of Mutiny on the Bounty.
|Monday, September 16th, 2019|
|In Pursuit of Love
Cristina and I had planned a dream vacation to Cancun. But our dreams of Mayan pyramids turned out to be pyramids of sand. They would be obliterated by a wave of circumstance, sweeping Cristina away from me like a piece of driftwood in the tide, requiring me to go madly dashing across the Caribbean after her. Here's the story:
Weeks earlier, we had spent hours choosing the perfect hotels and plans. Me at my computer with a view out my window to the crisp winter Saturday morning of the southern edge of Australia, her simultaneously in the humid summer warmth of a tenth floor apartment in the capital of Venezuela on a Friday night. We talked eagerly of scuba diving with whalesharks and turtles, of Mexican food and tequila, of the ancient pyramids at Chichen Itza and Tulum -- we even found a beautiful hotel on the beach within the national park containing the Tulum pyramids. There was one detail she didn't know though. One that caused me a great deal of anxiety I couldn't share with her. I would have a very shiny diamond ring worth several times more than I'd ever carried on my person before. What if I fell asleep in Guadalajara airport and someone rifled my bag? What if someone in airport security saw it in the x-ray and had their way with my bag while I was still stuck on the far side of security? Should I risk having it on me, and being pickpocketed, or have it in my bag and risk the bag being snatched? I was very very anxious about these possibilities.
A week earlier, on her birthday, I had posted to facebook: "Happy birthday to my darling, my princess, my moon and stars, my pineapple, Cristina Santiago Febres. No distance is too great, no government so strong, that it can compete with our love and keep us apart <3 <3 <3"
Little did I know I was apparently tempting fate to put that to the test.
And to quote myself the afternoon before the flight began: This afternoon I fly to Guadalajara, Mexico, where I arrive at 11:46pm, only to depart there at 6am for Cancun. Which might sound like a miserable layover, but any other combination of flights would have had me arrive in Cancun after Cristina and I'd rather spend six hours in airport hell than lose a minute with her
August 30th, 18:31 - The trip began well enough. I was flying Volaris, some kind of Mexican budget airline with a logo like a heavily pixilated diamond, which immediately conveys this sense that somehow they didn't have the budget it make their logo any less pixilated. But it didn't feel punitively budget like Spirit, dangerously underfunded like Air Asia X, or Ebenezer Scroogingly parsimonious like every US mainstream carrier, just kind of a cheery "we're doing the best with what we've got!" kind of vibe. I didn't feel uncomfortable and all the passengers seemed unusually cheerful, I've never seen so many passengers happily chatting with eachother.
The check-in guys at LAX were casual and chummy, giving me the number of a taxi driver one of them had liked in Cancun during his own visit there a week earlier. I was informed that upon arriving in Guadalajara, I'd have to collect my luggage and exit the controlled area before checking in for the next leg, which prospect left me concerned they wouldn't let me in, and I'd be stuck outside the terminal overnight, clutching my bag terrified to fall asleep for a moment.
As I walked up to the Volaris check-in desks they appeared deserted with no one near them, but then a staffmember who had been headed toward the exit saw me, came over, and checked my bag for me. How nice! I asked if I could check in yet and she sadly shook her head saying in broken English,
"No, they probably won't allow it until 3"
"Hmmm, well I'll try anyway" I said
And she smiled, shrugged and said "maybe."
I walked over to where the doors to the gates were, they were all closed, with half a dozen uniformed security standing about in front, it really didn't look promising. I approached the nearest one with my boarding pass out, a hopeful smile, and some gestures conveying I hoped to go through. The guards quickly opened the door and waved me through. The guards at the x-ray machine were similarly obliging as I went through it by myself and I emerged into the vast almost entirely empty terminal feeling amazed by how friendly everyone in Mexico seemed to be.
Unfortunately they had the air conditioning blasting so I spent the night being very uncomfortably cold, far too cold to even contemplate getting some sleep. Around 4am I thought I should get some food and went looking around: Chili's, Carl's Jr, Denny's, Johnny Rockets, Burger King, Starbucks, California Pizza Kitchen, Subway, another Chili's... I finally settled on a pizza place and only after I ordered did I see an actual Mexican cuisine place, and it even had my favorite, chilaquiles, on the menu! Oh well, I'd have plenty of time for more Mexican food... or so I thought.
August 31st, 08:34 - Arrived in Cancun. Cristina's flight was due in at 12:44, so I lingered in the baggage claim until noon so I would still be in a secured area, not out there where someone could snaffle my priceless cargo. While I was waiting I was informed payment had come for my latest article and it was actually a surprisingly decent amount. I was about to see my wonderful girlfriend, AND I was getting decent pay for writing, life was going suspiciously well. After I stepped out I was having trouble finding international arrivals so I had to ask a guy hawking taxis, who amiably proceeded to guide me the 100 or so yards to the correct place. I was bracing myself for him to want a tip for this (as happens in places like Egypt in such circumstances) but once he had determined I was in the right place he bid me goodbye and went back to where he had been, leaving me once again feeling like everyone here was so nice.
Cristina inbound to Cancun
13:31 - she texts me she has arrived.
13:41 - I text her laughingly about these taxi hawkers out here who tried to tell me the bus I know to be $10 is $40 in order to sell me on their $45 shuttle. They had also tried to sell me on a $189 taxi.
14:05 - the nearby taxi hawkers are asking me where my girlfriend is, since I've been waiting two hours now. One of them, a guy in a red shirt, mentions calling immigration but I say it's okay. Maybe she's just getting cleaned up in the restroom before seeing me or something. You know, girls.
14:07 - she texts she is still in immigration, they have taken her passport, they don't believe we're in a relationship. I'm extremely alarmed but still optimistic that it's just a momentary hold-up that will be cleared up. I had been trying not to talk too much to these hawkers since they had tried to misrepresent the bus cost, but now, since the one had mentioned calling immigration, I start trying to explain to them that she's stuck in immigration. One of the hawkers, an androgenous fellow in a tan shirt, shows me the courtesy phone on the wall where we are (just outside where international arrivals leave the secured area.). and calls immigration for me. He tells me they said to wait half an hour and call back, "and they will do interview."
14:30 - We call back but there's no answer, we proceed to call back every five minutes for the next three hours, alternating me and that same guy, but immigration never again answers.
The taxi hawkers also start calling out "Cristina! Cristina!" every time they see a young lady approaching the exit that could plausibly be her, which is cute.
16:06 - I get the next text from Cristina, after not hearing from her for two hours: "Buscame en migracion" - "come to me in immigration," but of course I can't get in. A simple little plea I heartbreakingly can't fulfill.
16:30 - No me dejaron entrar.
Vuelve a los Estados Unidos no te quedes en Cancun.
Me hacen regresar a Caracas
(They did not let me in
(Come back to the United States, do not stay in Cancun)
They make me return to Caracas)
This is devastating news, the whole vacation has just been annihilated. $1000 in hotel bookings, $1500 in flights, and more importantly the only chance this year Cristina and I have to see eachother. It's been 12 hours since I've eaten, 33 hours since I've gotten any decent sleep, and 381 days since I've seen Cristina.
I'd find out later the immigration officer told her he didn't believe we were in a relationship, and told Cristina that I "might kill her," so they were deporting her for her own safety. Additionally he told her, in a very haughty and conceited manner, that it isn't Mexican culture to meet people online the way we had.
Meanwhile, if I could just get them to allow me to come in for an interview or to exchange documents with Cristina (she was bringing certified copies of identity documents so we could lodge a “registered domestic relationship” in Australia), my plan was to whip out the ring and go on a knee right there in the immigration office. Let them dispute the relationship then!
As soon as I show the text to the taxi hawkers they spring into action. The original guy in the red shirt reappears like a genie saying he knows someone in immigration, and calls him, hands his cell phone to me. I talk to Ernesto, an immigration supervisor who is not on duty but will be tomorrow morning at 9:00. He says at that time they can do the interviews again and I can come in to be interviewed as well and meet with her "and we can get it sorted out." After I get off the phone, red shirt guy asks "how much did he want?" while rubbing his thumb across his forefingers in the international sign for illicit money.
"he didn't mention" I say
"oh," he says looking like he realizes he said too much. Not a second later he and the other guy are asking me what I'm going to do, where I'm going to go.
"My original hotel I guess" I say. Immediately they pressure me to take the $189 taxi. I absolutely refuse this but am amenable to their $45 shuttle because it seems less stressful and quicker than waiting for a bus and at this point I don't want any more stress in my life at all. Literally without giving me a second to think between one thing and another red shirt guy starts badgering me to get some pesos "because it will be a better deal." I let him lead me to the ATM inside and ask him how much he thinks I'll need, thinking he might know the scale of the necessary bribe. He's pressuring me to get a lot out "because you'll have to buy your girlfriend her flight back to Caracas" which sounds alarmingly unfair to me, and in the end I only get just a little more than should cover a shuttle to the hotel and back, 2000 pesos ($102)
Emerging, they try to bundle me into the shuttle bus as quick as they can (“hurry! Hurry! We have other passengers we need to pick up!”)
“how much will it be?” I keep asking, but
“We'll figure it out in the bus we have to go!” they say. Finally I stop at the door and insist they tell me before I get in. In Egypt I learned how getting into a cab is tantamount to consenting to whatever preposterous rate they will later announce, and even if it's moments later you are now moving and will be at a severe disadvantage to disentangle yourself from the “agreement.”
“In pesos it will be...” the tan shirt clad hawker twiddles a calculator seriously and says to me in a straight face “4000 pesos.”
Misconversion of currency is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and I had strongly suspected their motivation for pushing me to pay in pesos was to accomplish exactly this. Being so exhausted, if I had been a dorky tourist on my first time abroad maybe I'd have fallen for this, but I'll never be so fatigued to take a shady taxi hawker's word for a conversion, and I had already calculated $45 to pesos, and the answer was 900. So I exclaimed “WHAT! ABSOLUTELY NOT! It's 900! I'm going with someone else!” and made to turn away. Tan shirt looked alarmed and quickly chattered into his walkie talkie before explaining
“oh I miscalculated! yes it's 900!” I handed over the pesos and received from him a receipt before getting in. Really I should have turned my back on these shady poltroons but did I mention I was very fatigued, and kept thinking “this is surely the last trick they'll play.”
They bustle me into their taxi shuttle all in a hurry, a few minutes go by, and then Red shirt comes back, saying “we don't have any other passengers, so for only 500 more pesos we'll take you right to your hotel. I quickly calculated that to $25. I already knew it was a $10 taxi drive from the Tulum city center to my hotel. To have one complete trip sounded very nice at this point though, since I just wanted to get to the hotel and be done with it, so I agreed and paid this.
Finally we pulled away, away from the rapacious scamming jackals, next stop my hotel!
A few miles down the road we pulled into a gas station. “We will switch to smaller car” the driver explained. Okay. Fine, that seems reasonable. After a few minutes a sedan parked next to us and we moved my luggage to this car, bid goodbye to the first taxi driver and departed in the sedan being driven by a smallish man in what looked like a white chef's jacket.
A few minutes later, “where are we going?” he asks me in broken English. So I pull up the hotel address on my phone and show it to him.
"That's in Tulum!!” he exclaims, seemingly surprised despite that we're headed that direction already, “it's far!”
“Si.” I say firmly, wary of this turning into more shenanigans.
“It will cost much. 900 pesos” he explains.
“I already paid!” I exclaim in exasperation. “Look, here's my receipt!”
He pulls over to the side of the road. It is dark now and the highway is bounded on either side by walls of jungle.
”This receipt has no details on it” he points out. “this is worthless.” Sure enough, while it looks official and has the details for the airport itself it does not designate a specific person or company responsible.
”Call them” I say. But he claims he doesn't have their numbers. Ultimately after some more wrangling I had no choice but to pay 900 more pesos. Or else, be abandoned on a dark highway in Mexico surrounded by jungle with the most valuable object I've ever possessed in my backpack. So altogether I ended up paying $45+$25+$45, ie $115. I console myself that this is actually not far off from what I'm told the fair taxi rate for that trip is ($100) so despite shamelessly abasing themselves, their filthy souls didn't retail for much. Really it isn't even so much about the money so much as being already so fatigued physically and emotionally, to have to continually remain highly on my guard against these reprobate tactics was really really unpleasant, felt like being kicked while I was down.
Even once we had sorted out payments the driver couldn't seem to figure out the extremely simple directions for the hotel. It came up fine by me by typing it into google maps but he couldn't find it on his own phone. So I showed him the map on my phone, it was incredibly simple, turn left on the first left in Tulum, follow it to the end, turn left, continue to the hotel, but he looked at it uncomprehendingly. HOW HARD CAN THIS BE? Finally I changed my map from “north always up” to that cartoonish front-forward view and he was able to comprehend it. We turned off the main highway in Tulum, proceeded down a smaller road for about ten minutes, turned left onto a road like tunnel in the jungle, and slowly looking at hotel signs until we got to our hotel. Even though the driver had been nice other than insisting I needed to pay him, I wasn't about to take his number down for further use.
I flopped down in a chair at the Hotel Diamente K reception desk (an open air office sheltered under a palm leaf cabana roof but with no walls.), and the receptionist, a friendly looking guy around my age, smilingly said “so, tell me what happened.” It was nice to finally unburden myself to someone not trying to scam me.
The receptionist gave me a brief tour of the labyrinthine hotel grounds, snaking between the irregularly shaped cottages, huts, and casitas of the grounds, on paths of sand, to show me the lovely little room we had booked. It all looked so lovely.
I locked the ring in the safe, and then went to find my way to the restaurant, as I hadn't eaten in 18 hours. I became lost, every direction I tried to go on the hotel grounds seemingly coming to the little beach, waves crashing in from the dark open sea. Finally I came to the restaurant and ordered some shrimp tacos (only Mexican food I succeeded in having in Mexico). The restaurant was very cute, spacious and rustic, with beams of bare wood, the underthatch of the palm roof visible as a ceiling, the sides open to the sound of the crashing waves. It was so, muy romantico .. my eyes began to well up thinking of Cristina in some cell in the airport.
Just then I received a series of texts with the distinctive jingle I had assigned to Cristina:
20:15 - Ahora estoy en el avion vuelvo a panama
Ven a panama [come to Panama]
Ya estoy en panama
Mi amor I am in panana
I am in panama.
Presumably until this moment she also hadn't heard anything from me since she had told me she was being deported, and as far as she'd known up till now I may have returned to the states. We were able to talk only until she lost the half hour of free wifi there. I was able to ascertain that she was in Panama but couldn't leave the airport.
I immediately booked the next available flight to Panama City (departing 7:50am), despite not knowing if she'd still be there, or if I'd be able to see her (arriving with Panama as a final destination I might not be able to get into the airside of the terminal where she was, or she might be in some sort of custody even if I did). It would be a leap in the dark. I found the friendly receptionist again (after more wandering through hotel grounds that seemed to defy cartographical physics), and he arranged for a cousin of his who is a taxi driver to drive me to the airport at 4am for $120 ($100 +$20 for being the middle of the night) (the cousin of the hotel receptionist is a usual source for dependable taxi drivers anywhere). I then went to sleep, sadly alone in the muy romantico little room.
September 1st, 03:30 - The stress of the situation allowed me to jump to wakefulness as soon as my alarm went off. Promptly got the ring out of the safe where I'd had a deep paranoia of somehow forgetting it. With all the lights out, the hotel was even more of a labyrinth, fortunately after my course had as usual led to to the crashing waves, a night watchman with a flashlight guided me to reception where my taxi was waiting. I left the hotel without ever having seen it by the light of day. This driver was nice and honest and I hope I haven't misplaced his card in case god forbid I'm ever back in this godforsaken place.
04:06 - Cristina texts me that she has just landed in Caracas, Venezuela. Immigration there assures her that "this is normal,” regarding getting sent back. She had until now thought I'd maybe stay in Cancun or return to the states, and was overjoyed, she tells me, when I now told her to find the next available flight to anywhere she thought she could get into.
05:15 -While I was in line to check in to my flight in Cancun she told me she had found round trip tickets to the Dominican Republic for $460, leaving at 11 this same morning. I told her to book it! Now we just had to figure out how to pay for it from my card.
Half an hour later I got to the front of the line to check in to my Panama bound flight, and then asked the check in guy if I could book the next available onward flight from Panama City to Dominican Republic. He seemed to find this slightly odd but nevertheless clicked away on his computer and reported it would be 16,735 pesos... which sounded like a very large amount. Quick math said it was $862, which makes it almost as much as my Melbourne-LAX round trip for a one way. Also we had not as yet managed to pay for Cristina's ticket to DR, which if we couldn't manage, this ticket would be useless. Nevertheless, I said yes, book it. Another leap in the dark. This leap left me hurtling through the darkness with nothing under my feet for fully 2.5 hours until finally at 7:25 we succeeded in getting her flight paid for as well, we were both booked for the DR!
10:15 I arrive in Panama City as she is checking into her flight out of Caracas. She took off around 10:50. I am left hoping she will make it into the DR. I didn't book a return flight precisely because I wouldn't know if I'd be immediately bouncing out of there in pursuit of her or staying. Dramatically, she lands in DR just moments (12:51) before I take off (12:53), before she gets through immigration, so I know she landed but don't find out if she made it through immigration before I take off.
12:53 I depart for DR to arrive 16:17. I land there after an uneventful flight and anxiously turn on my phone … to find out she successfully got through and is waiting for me outside arrivals!
In stark contrast to our hours-in-the-planning original vacation, we were now in the Dominican Republic's Airport of the Americas with our arms around eachother and no further plans at all beyond that. What now?
I knew someone (Rafael) from the Partners for the Americas aid organization in Dominican Republic, I asked him if he had a hotel recommendation and he provided one. We called, they had vacancies. A guy by the airport door said “taxi?” and we asked him how much. $35, which sounded good from what I remembered from last time we were here (googling just now, “taxis from the airport to any hotel in Santo Domingo should be between $40-$45”), so we went with him, and verily there were no shenanigans. God bless places that aren't Cancun!
September 2nd - The next day I was googling hotels in Punta Cana, the other major tourist destination in Dominican Republic. Google inevitably brings up the tripadvisor and booking.com hotel lists and going down the first two pages of both those lists I was finding nothing but blandly similar looking luxury resorts. I messaged Rafael if he had any recommendations elsewhere on the island and he recommended Las Terrenas (“Cristina, he recommends the tyrannosaurus”). I googled this, and at the top of the page a beautiful resort appeared, Casa Coson, with pictures of a colonial style building and some hut shaped smaller buildings, palm trees, pools. It looked wonderful. I showed it to Cristina (“siii”), and we booked it!
We arrived at Casa Coson after dark, around 8pm, they do not have 24 hour reception, but the security guard ("Marte") was very friendly and showed us to our “villa,” which it turns out was shaped like a beautiful giant two story hut (I have an inordinate love for huts), with the bedroom as kind of a second floor loft, and nice living-room area in the front, and also a kitchen and very nice bathroom. I literally broke into a sweat and started pulling up the reservation on my phone afraid I'd accidentally booked some $300 a night place, but no, this was indeed what we had booked for $85 a night!
The receptionist, Gail ("Ga-eel"), appeared and greeted us, and the security guard volunteered to drive to the nearby town to bring us food (fried chicken and beer). He returned, counting back our change seemingly very anxious for us to know it was all accounted for, and the chicken he brought was actually really good.
That evening, on the soft sand of the beach in front of the hotel, under the countless stars of a sky without light pollution, beside the infinite ocean, as the waves crashed a melodious rhythm, I went on one knee and asked Cristina if she would marry me (“Siiiiii!”).
September 3rd -By the morning's light we marveled at the beautiful grounds of the hotel. We couldn't believe how nice it was! We sat in the breakfast patio and enjoyed a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit and made-to-order omelette, then we had a powwow with Gail the receptionist about activities. We could ride horses to a waterfall and go on a snorkeling excursion to some nearby islands (in the end we were unable to coordinate with either of two local diving companies in the short time we had). For both we should start earlier in the morning so for this day we would just be bumming around the hotel grounds … which was in no way suffering!
We swam in the ocean, walked on the beach, swam in the pool, lounged by the pool, and had a delicious lunch (churrasco – grilled beef) and margaritas – the owners (a matriarch-like old woman and her husband) appeared to be celebrating a birthday in the restaurant at the time and poured champagne for all present, how festive! As there were only one or two other couples in the hotel it really felt like we had the place to ourselves and were being personally waited on by some eight staff.
The next day we enjoyed the lovely horseback trek to a beautiful waterfall. Swam around in the pool below it for an hour. Had pina coladas in actual pineapples from a remote little cafe overlooking it. Swam in the ocean in the later afternoon, and had an amazing shrimp dinner at the hotel that night. The quality of all these meals to say nothing of the general quality of the hotel has left me feeling like it should probably classified as five star!
September 5th - Sadly all too quickly we had to head back to the capital, since the shenanigans with Mexico had eaten up a day and a half from the front end of our already-short vacation (originally 7 days), and because Cristina hadn't been able to find a flight back on the 7th as originally planned for, we lost a day on the back end as well, ending on the 6th.
We needed another hotel in the capital, Santo Domingo, for this last night, and the one we'd stayed in on arrival, while acceptable for business purposes, was a bit dull to be entirely pleasing to us for our purposes. I hate looking up hotels on my phone though -- if I'm planning a serious vacation I like to do it on my computer with 40 tabs open. However I remembered after last year I had written a travel piece for the LA Times (promptly rejected by them), and the format had called for hotel recommendations! I asked my mom to send it back to me since I'd sent it to her for her usual merciless red-pen treatment. Sure enough I had recommended two hotels in the Zona Colonia. Not knowing anything else about them, knowing that I had recommended them was enough for me! One didn't have any vacancies but the other did, so I booked for us at the Hotel Luca.
This hotel had an extremely chic and trendy looking lobby and atrium, a rather disappointing breakfast (omelets cost extra?!), unimpressive room (possibly just overshadowed completely by the super nice atrium building your hopes up before you arrive in a very mundane little room), but it totally redeemed itself with a rooftop jacuzzi! The receptionist emphasized so strongly that we could book it for privacy ("you and your wife will want privacy of course ::creepy knowing smile::") that, though we did book it, we were possessed of a fear that other people had been making the sexo in it. But we were also allowed to order drinks and food up to it so we ended our vacation in a rooftop jacuzzi with a view to the illuminated oldest cathedral in the Americas not far off, eating pizza and drinking mojitos!
Later when Cristina was sending some pictures to her friends I heard her mumble to herself “best vacation ever!” and I smiled remembering what a disaster it had begun as.
Next entry focuses more on the details of our time in the Dominican Republic, as this is kind of a fast forward version just to counterbalance how bad the vacation began. Tune in to next entry to find out how we got lost in the middle of the island, more details about the proposal, and more!
|Monday, September 9th, 2019|
|Not Vacationing in Mexico, the Executive Summary
Have I got a story for you.
Cristina and I spent weeks planning our vacation in Cancun, probably just over $1000 in hotels and $1500 in flights and more importantly it was going to be the only time this year we could spend together. Also I had an engagement ring and accompanying important question to deliver. I booked my flight to arrive in Cancun with a painful 7 hour overnight (midnight to 7am!) layover in Guadalajara specifically to not arrive after her and thus not miss a minute with her. and...
Mexican immigration denied her entry and deported her immediately back to Venezuela.
Mexico does not require visas for Venezuelans but of course that doesn't stop them from denying entry to them. The reason they gave her was that they didn't believe we were really in a relationship ("and he could kill you, so we are deporting you for your own safety"), though it seems disingenuous to me they'd make that decision without also interviewing me, who was calling them every five minutes from an airport courtesy phone but they wouldn't talk to me. Really I think it was because the US Government had put pressure on the Mexican government to "reject more people entering from countries further south," and they didn't care about the reality of the situation, just that they could add her to their scorecard of rejections. The only other Venezuelan on the flight was also denied entry.
Anyway, I'll post the full story and what happened subsequently when I get a chance. In the mean time today is my last day in the United States before flying back to Australia.
In other news, therealljidol has returned to livejournal for another season!! I'll be participating and I recommend you do too! It's always a fun way to work on your writing and meet many other active members of the dwindling livejournal population (:
|Sunday, August 18th, 2019|
|Black Sails, Archer, and the Shadow of GOT
I started watching the series Black Sails a few weeks ago on someone's recommendation here. I had watched an episode years ago but that particular episode involved no sailing or piracy and I'd written it off as a lame land based drama. Watching from the beginning I found there actually is a satisfying amount of sailing and piracy. I got through about half of Season 2 before I found I was usually more in the mood to re-watch Archer than the next episode of Black Sails.
As a former tallship sailor, they had to measure up to a very high level of sailing accuracy for me and ... I'm pretty satisfied with it. Sailing was pretty accurately depicted, and the sail commands made sense, to a point. Clearly they had a sailing expert on hand as a consultant and they must have asked him "what can they yell now that would make sense?" and he gave them things but it was a bit unrealistic that they were always busy doing complex bits of re-rigging, when in fact a lot of the time once the sails are set they'd either be mostly idle or doing not so picturesque things like sanding / painting / stitching sails, etc.
I was kind of annoyed that all the pirate captains other than the main characters are portrayed as goofy dandyish fops who if someone takes over their business meeting by talking out of turn look helpless. I don't really picture that kind of guy as a pirate captain and it seems very weird to me that they're portraying them as such. Also the whole storyline about the good guys being pirates because they just want what's best for the good people of Nassau really makes me roll my eyes.
I feel like what really made me start to lose interest was when more than once it seemed like a major character was about to die, he was ruined and had been beaten to a pulp by minor characters, was lying on the ground as they pointed a gun at them, and I thought to myself "pfft, you're not Game of Thrones, he's not going to die" and sure enough, he miraculously kills all his attackers and gets away. I feel like that was the magic of Game of Thrones, it wasn't a particularly amazing story, the sex and nudity (after all Black Sails has that too), it was that they broke that sense of main characters being utterly invincible.
Relatively recently the released a new season of Archer that takes place in space. After the last season, which took place on a Pacific island in the 30s, I wasn't sure I'd watch another season, but since I like most of the space series they were going to be parodying I decided to watch it. It was fairly alright, though I feel like each of the main characters has driven such a groove into their established behavior that they weren't very funny any more. After I finished the season I decided to watch the very first episode of Archer again to compare how it used to be.
Normally I'm not a fan of re-watching anything. I watched the first and then the second episode of the first season of Archer and I was laughing out loud numerous times (which the recent seasons certainly haven't come close to causing). The characters are more nuanced in the first episode than they are in Season 9, which is probably the opposite of how it should be. In the beginning Archer himself is a _funny_ self centered asshole, in season nine he's just an asshole. Cheryl is a believable sort of crazy, not batshit bunkers as she's been for the past few seasons. Same thing with every other character, they began as believable and funny, they ended up such extreme versions of themselves its not funny any more. And also there were just, OTHER characters -- in Season Nine there is not a single reoccurring character beyond the core group of main characters, and the same has been true for the last few seasons.
So it's become like a sitcom, we have these five actors and they're going to keep having "humorous" situations forever. Tying this into Black Sails above, that seems to be the problem with most shows, and I suppose practically speaking it relates to having actors on contracts and you either have them or you don't, but clearly GOT broke out of that mold, and clearly it worked for them. Instead of worshipping GRR Martin or paying the directors of GOT gazillions for new series (directors who, popular opinion seems to be in concensus that the last two seasons didn't live up to the standards of the series, and this period in the series also incidentally was a time when very few main characters died until the very last episode or two), perhaps other series should take note that making main characters actually vulnerable to dying might actually bring some tension into situations where they seem in danger...
|Sunday, August 4th, 2019|
|"Social Media Campaigns"
So "everyone knows" in marketing these days you need to have "a social media presence." However, even so-called "experts" don't seem to explain to me the finer details of exactly how and why. I strongly suspect things like twitter and instagram may be a waste of time for a lot of businesses, but then again I have never ever ever understood twitter, to me it seems like it should have been born dead and/or died a thousand deaths by now, so maybe I'm just too much of an old curmudgeon for our brave new world.
As you would struggle not to know if this is other than the first entry of mine you're reading, I am in the beekeeping/honey business. It's an interesting business on the marketing front because a lot of the old established players have not yet entered the internet age. Most big career beekeepers if they have a webpage at all it's pretty basic and just exists because they heard they should. Even the retail brands of honey that make it to grocery store shelves don't really have to advertise. If you're a major player selling honey you're probably doing it purely on name recognition you've built up over the past few decades. Places that really SHOULD have websites such as beekeeping supply stores sometimes don't -- the LA Honey Company, for example, is a second generation honey broker and beekeeping supply store but google only brings up the auto-generated "yellow pages" entry. They are skating by purely on existing beekeepers who have always used them and probably missing out on a colossal amount of hobbyist business in the LA area.
On the other end of the spectrum there's a lot of small scale and hobbyist beekeepers who probably are more comfortable making a webpage than doing some beekeeping activities, and the internet is full of their slick webpages. Often with a "donate now to save the bees!" button which really makes me roll my eyes because anyone who does so is just donating money to someone's for-profit business and making zero impact on ecology. Another interesting mistake I see people make is they make their webpage look so professional that it no longer has that "local" charm and I suspect isn't as appealing as a slightly amateurish page. Slick stock images stick out like a sore thumb and even if you're a real beekeeper, when every picture on your webpage is just perrrrrfect it's hard to take you seriously.
Anyway, so I have a website now. I could wish it were a little more slick actually but hey I'm not a web designer, a web designer isn't in the budget, so we're limited to what I can do with the tools Wix provides me. (Actually I have two, I like my Bee Aid International webpage, also made with Wix. Though I feel maybe I should put at least one picture on the landing page). The business also has a facebook page, though I've posted almost nothing to it because I'm really not sure the connection between doing so and $$$.
I feel like honey sales will always be driven by people seeing it in a shop and deciding to buy it then and there with little effect from social media influence, but I want to push "beekeeping services" as well as beekeeping equipment sales, which will probably be more originating online.
Though before we get away from honey sales and into website-driven-sales, it occurs to me there's a bit of it that can go backwards, I'm thinking if I make the website more prominent on the label they might go to the webpage when the run out or otherwise happen to be home looking at the jar. They can then become an "engaged" customer/fan whatever marketing terms they're using these days.
Various Forms of "Social Media" Marketing
SEO - "Search Engine Optimization." The company I used to work for in California dumped literally thousands and thousands of dollars into "SEO specialists," which was important because bee removal was the money maker and people by and large go to the top google search result on that. But I think we all felt these "SEO specialists" were a bunch of overpriced money spnoges, and the main "secret" seemed to be inserting key words into text throughout your webpage until it looked like it had been assembled by a spammy computer even though it hadn't. Despite that I feel like this SEO business was a waste of money unless you absolutely depend on being the top google search in a competitive market, it's certainly true that if no one ever finds your webpage it's pretty pointless.
Blogging - Hi. I'm a "blogger," you're a blogger, we're here in the blogosphere. And yet. I feel like blogs are a very pointless aspect of a business webpage. I don't know how many blogs I've seen on business webpages that are so feckless I feel embarrassed for them. As far as I can tell the intention with business blogs is not actually to expect anyone will ever read them but to power the unholy magicks of SEO by churning out absolute crap entries which once again are stuffed so full of keywords they're barely grammatically coherent and will convince anyone who does read them that you are just a machine.
Facebook likes to always remind me it's getting clicks and views and people even clicking on "shop now" and such, but the question is, would being overactive on facebook drive sales in any meaningful way? I think a facebook ad campaign could cause new people to become aware of the brand in a useful way but other than that is there a plausible reason spend extra time with facebook? Also of note, I've notied a number of beekeepers who an't be bothered to create a real webpage solely using facebook as their webpage. It is true that I've heard you should absolutely minimize the number of clicks a user has to go through and if they can get to your services without ever leaving facebook they'll probably be happier (but as far as I can tell if you have a "buy now" function on a page it can only work be sending the user to an external webpage??)
A beekeeper here who went huge and then went bust used facebook very effectively, he actually created the "Beekeeping Victoria" facebook group (which has outlived him and continues to be vibrantly active as the corpse of his business decomposes) solely as his own marketing fiefdom (he sold lots of bees and equipment and services to people just getting into beekeeping), but of course he crashed and burned (declared bankruptcy, left a lot of bitter people who had paid for things that weren't delivered because of that) so he may not be the one whose example one should follow too closely.
Instagram this is the one I feel like everyone really considers to be "hot" right now. You simply "must" have a company instagram page. But even if I were to be aggressively tagging and acting like an "influencer" tart, how is this going to translate to sales? I realize any degree of getting the name out there increases "brand awareness," but does instagram create that to the degree that everyone acts like it does or would my time be better spent graffiti-ing bathroom stalls? I am also up against the technical problem of that I don't know if my extremely feeble phone could wrap it's brain around having two insta accounts on itself, and it would be a crime to deprive the world of the one that features mainly pictures of Cato. ;-3
Twitter I really really really don't understand twitter. Do people who aren't celebrities hang out on twitter? If you're not a celebrity does anyone ever see your twizzles? Why is twitter not dead yet?
I can envision a future in which people in the area so familiar with "the Great Ocean Road Honey Company" that it is their go-to for beekeeping supplies and services, but I'm just not sure I undestand social media enough really to see a clear path between a "social media strategy" and these outcomes. I distrust all the marketing "experts" who think you should have a blog without really being able to explain why and similarly encourage the use of each and every one of the above mentioned social media forms just "because." I don't want to hear "you should have instagram because social media!" I want to hear a specific coherent proposed effect.
Gratuitous picture of Cristina
Update on Cristina and I's planned vacation: after both nearly going out of our minds trying to sift through the many many many hotel options in the Cancun area we settled on this one I think is the clear winner and we're very excited about it. We booked half our time there and actually plan to spend the other half in another hotel in Cancun itself (the one we booked is actually in nearby Tullum) but we were burned out on hotels by the time we got as far as settling on this one. Having done all this work sifting through them I thought I'd share my findings on the remote chance anyone else is going to Cancun soon: this one also seemed very nice (and incredibly cheap!) though the rooms looked pretty bare bones, and if you wanted a hostel experience this hostel actually looks really nice. Am super excited! I go back to California on the 20th, and to Cancun on the 31st -- less than a month!! Meanwhile over here it's been too cold to go out unless absolutely necessary for as long as I can remember ): ): ):
|Sunday, July 28th, 2019|
One thing I've enjoyed about this job is for the first time I'm doing so much more than merely beekeeping, especially marketing-wise from designing logos and getting the labels made to making the sales pitches in person at shops. The latter I never thought I'd enjoy --being a salesman-- but honey basically sells itself and people are usually super friendly. I've actually come to enjoy driving around the countryside, pulling over when I pass a general store I didn't even know was there, walking in with a jar of honey and making a sale. It's fun to explore the countryside, and often the people in these little country shops are a pleasure to talk to.
An atypical encounter though: last week I realized there was a general store at a crossroads not terribly far from here. It seemed kind of unlikely because it's not THAT far from the bigger town of Colac and there's doesn't seem to be enough habitations out there to support a dedicated general store, but I decided to swing by on my way in that direction. Sure enough there's a general store. I go in and eerily all the shelves are about 60% empty. When the proprietor asked me if she could help me I said
"It appears you have no honey!"
"Oh.. umm.. we have this" she indicates a brand x bottle of "golden syrup," which apparently is the lighter fraction of liquid byproduct of sugarcane processing (as opposed to the heavier molasses). Australians seems to like it but to me its just sugar syrup.
"Oh actually I'm here to sell you honey!" I say putting the sample jar on the counter.
"If you want honey probably you could get some in Colac I guess" she is continuing
"No, I mean I sell honey, I am here to sell you honey. This is a sample of it here."
It seems to take her weirdly long to comprehend this. Finally she says "ohhh I would like to but.. you know, there's so many loopholes to jump through with health and food safety" (keep in mind my jar does NOT, imho, look like some fly-by-night garage product)
"Oh I'm all certified by the shire health inspectors and all that." I say
"Do you have the paperwork with you?" she asks
"Um.. no?" I'm getting a bit confused, literally no one has ever asked for this before. At this point I'm already backing towards the door when she comes up with a completely different excuse:
"I don't think any of my customers would buy honey anyway. You might have better luck with, I don't know, I think there's a fancy deli in Colac" she's saying as if I'm trying to sling the most hipstery thing her good no-nonsense clientele would never deign to purchase.
I find country folks are _more_ likely to buy local direct-from-a-beekeeper honey than city-slickers. My theory is this woman has inhereted the store from a more competent relative and literally does not know how to make arrangements with new distributors and/or run a business.
In totally unrelated news Cristina finally can get away from work for a week so we're meeting in Cancun the first week of September. If anyone happens to have any inside tips on hotels they particularly recommend or other Cancun secrets please let me know!
|Saturday, July 20th, 2019|
|The First African American
Just about exactly a year ago (2018/07/16), in the above cute and cozy little library room of an airbnb in a small town in northern California, I came across the following book:
Which at the time I only saw the day we were leaving the airbnb but more recently I remembered it just as I was finishing the recent book about Mungo Park's travels in West Africa in the 1790s. I found Crossing the continent on audible and started it just after the Mungo Park book.
The book is about one Estaban de Azemmour, sold as a slave in the Moroccan town of Azemmour to Spaniards, he is taken on one of the first expeditions to explore Florida and the gulf coast of the future United States. Of 300 that begin the expedition a mere four survive (Estaban, his legal owner, and two other Spaniards), wandering eight years later in northern Mexico where they finally encounter a Spanish slaving expedition.
One source for information about this journey is a book pubished shortly after by one of the Spaniards, Cabeza de Vaca (which amusingly means "cow's head"), but this is filled with wild exaggerations that cannot be true and clearly de Vaca gives himself credit for nearly every accomplishment. The author tempers this account with the official government reports taken at the time the survivors were debriefed, as well as other surviving letters and accounts. The other significant source is the other Spaniard, Dorantes de Carranza, who also takes upon HIMself credit for every accomplishment. The author argues, convincingly in my opinion, that being as in nearly all these disputed cases of credit the one common denominator is that Estaban is clearly present and involved and uncredited with anything, Estaban was the real hero of the expedition but the Spaniards felt free to take credit for anything he did. Of particular note, towards the latter part of their journey Estaban always went ahead of the others to scout the way and arrange things amicably with the Indians they were going to meet, which he always seemed to accomplish superbly, so it seems to me he must have been very good at this exploring and diplomacy.
Also of note, at one point when they seem to be most of the way back they suddenly begin going the wrong direction (following the Rio Grande inland instead of continuing south along the coast). This seems baffling from the assumption they just want to get home, no one could be so bad a navigator as to mistake heading inland to the north-west as better than going down the coast to the settlement you hope to find on the coast ... but the author surmises that Estaban didn't actually WANT to return to being just another slave among the Spanish as opposed to the very free and valued life he was living, and the others lacked the ability to compel him to continue in a direction other than his choosing at this point. And what's more they had to go with him -- he had become the dominant decision maker.
Eventually they do run into a Spanish slaving expedition, possibly a bit by accident. A few years later Estaban is sent off as guide on a second expedition. He soon begins scouting ahead and relaying messages back with indian messengers, which seems like it could be all part of the expedition leader's plan, but soon he never is actually catching up with Estaban but Estaban is continuing to lead him along with tales of being "almost there" to the reputed cities of gold. The author suspects this is leading of the expedition on was to make the expedition thoroughly lost and far from home before he himself went missing. Eventually they do reach the pueblo they were trying to get to, which turned out not to be made of gold but... they are told the inhabitants have killed Estaban and many of his possessions are in evidence. It seems a sad end to this tale.
BUT, the author points out that almost none of the witnesses at the time would actually put to paper that he was known to be dead, just that they were told he had been killed. And the author strongly implies, and I tihnk it's plausible and would like to think it's true, that he knew spreading the story that he'd been killed would be the best way to never be pursued. And then, I like to think he lived happily ever after somewhere free among the native americans.
The author's writing is clear and readible but I did find he had a tendency to go off on tangents taking place thirty years earlier or later following some character that was just mentioned, which could be disconcerting and sometimes gives it a rambling feel. I could wish it had been arranged better in that aspect. In particular, he begins with the expedition's final encounter with the slaving expedition and return to "civilization," but this isn't a normal in media res beginning in the heart of the action, it's beginning with the denoument and continues for a number of chapters before actually getting into the fateful expedition.
On numerous occasionas the author puts forward arguments disputing the conventional belief about a thing, and I find his arguments are often persuasive. He seems preoccupied in the beginning though with arguing Estaban is not a native of the village he was bought by Spaniards in but actualy a sub-saharan African. I find this unconvincing, and it seems to hinge on that when the Spanish wrote "black arab" they could have meant arabized black. Personally I'm not terribly sure why it matters so much.
I think this could make a really good movie. The first African-American trying to survive in the Americas, having experiences with the native americans that are sometimes positive and sometimes negative, but they come off as the complex non-cliche humans that they are. Spaniards that... probably almost entirely come across as bad guys and braggarts. Unite the American theatre audience in backing the "American" protagonist and native people's against the exploitive Spaniards. It could be fun to begin the movie in flashback form with Cabezo de Vaca telling someone about some dramatic aspect of the adventure with flashback to him being heroic, then the scene suddenly changes to Dorantes telling the same story and a flashback of him being the hero in the same scene and then it fades into what _really_ happened.
|Thursday, July 11th, 2019|
|Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa
I found another really interesting historic travelogue
. In 1795 Scotsman Mungo Park (is Mungo a Scottish name??) traveled for 18 months in West Africa through what is now Gambia, Senegal and Mali (right around Guinea where I've spent time), he wrote about it, not in overwrought flowing descriptions but with a keenly observant eye. Where every other European writing about Africa prior to ... 1950 ...seems to describe it as an anarchic dystopia full of nothing but savages -- but from the start Mungo Park describes the local people in very human terms completely free of cliches and assumptions. He portrays an Africa full of villages knit together by established political systems and people as individuals with their own aspirations and lives to live, taking time to describe the various tribes, cultural groups and customs. Mungo Park is robbed repeatedly until he is left literally penniness but even then he points out that if some foreigner were to attempt to traverse the English countryside bedecked with rare items of priceless value to locals, they would undoubtedly be robbed blind too. And henceforth he continues his journey begging from village to village, noting that often the most charitable people he encountered were the poor or slaves themselves. It's amazing to me that he kept on persevering on his quest to find the source of the river Niger rather than turn back even after all the setbacks he had encountered, though he apparently died on a second expedition.
He also recorded some funny local beliefs about Europeans I'd never heard before but make sense that they'd think them -- namely that Europeans ATE the countless slaves they continuously shipped off in boats never to be seen again, which would certainly instill terror in those bound for the coast; and they were convinced the Europeans used ivory for some mysterious purpose no European would divulge to them, since it made sense to them that they'd put such a high price on something used to knife handles and piano keys when wood would work just as well.
|Thursday, June 20th, 2019|
|Solo: A Star Wars Story -- Review
So last night I finally saw the Han Solo movie, on netflix. Altogether I found it really disappointing. The following review will contain lots of spoilers.
( Spoiler alert!Collapse )
Bonus: Rogue 1!
In looking the other things in my Star Wars tag I was shocked just now to realize apparently I never wrote a review of Rogue One?? From this distant vantage point it's hard for me to remember much of value of specifics so much as to say I recall I really liked it, I think to me it captured the feel of the original trilogy the best of all the movies that have come out since. It was just kind of bittersweet watching it knowing that all the characters had to die to explain why they don't show up in any subsequent movie. Though I think knowing they were going to die the writers didn't write them with the kind of wankery assumption that we'll love them as new upcoming trilogy stars as they did with all those irritating characters around Rey in the new movies. I really liked the Rogue One sarcastic robot in particular. (sarcastic robot in Han Solo seemed kind of a sad immitation of him, and why does a robot have to so clearly correspond to a human ethnic cliche??)
|Tuesday, May 14th, 2019|
|Betrayed on Treasure Island
So I recently downloaded this version of Treasure Island on Audible, because, as I mentioned, I having stumbled across some of Robert Louis Stevenson's other writing I thought I should revisit his most classic. From the getgo something seemed a bit off. After awhile I put my finger on the most noticable thing -- there were no "he said" "he growled" "he muttered" prefixes before speech, though this recording used multiple voice actors to make it clear who was speaking clearly the original written form must have noted in text who was speaking. So maybe they just deleted the speech directions as redundant with voice actors, which annoyed me but, okay. But as time went on it still just, seemed a bit off. The writing seemed really uninspired. Keep in mind though I was entirely listening to it as I drove so when most annoyed and suspicious I couldn't investigate. When I tried after arriving at a destination I couldn't pull up the full information on it on my phone. Finally I remembered while at home and googled up the exact version I was listening and sure enough, not prominently displayed but hidden at the end of the summary it does say "Audible Originals UK are excited to announce this reimagination of Stevenson's coming-of-age story that will captivate all of the family." Re-imagining! Y'arrrgh!
So I pulled up another version and made sure it was true to the original and listened to the remainder of the story in that version. What a difference! The re-imagined version kept some of the original speech, but also deleted or simplified a lot, and added a lot more so it could turn more narration into speech as befits a radio-drama which it was more like. It did keep narration but only that which couldn't possibly be turned into dialogue, and generally across the board it simplified the reading level to a much simpler form. Don't get me wrong, as a beloved story of children, I don't fault their decisions to simplify it for a presumed younger audience and adapt it more to radio-play style, I'm just a bit salty that they hadn't made that more clear. As far as reading it as a fan of good literature they had cooked nearly everything good out of their version. It was kind of an interesting exercise though seeing the difference between the writing of a epicly good writer compared to boiled down uninspired writing of the exact same thing.
|Wednesday, May 8th, 2019|
Also I recently read Oscar Wilde's The Portrait of Dorian Grey. It didn't really have a plot hook until at least a third of the way through, nor had it by then, or indeed ever, made me care about any of the characters... if I didn't know something was going to happen with the portrait and that it's a classic I think I would have been like wtf this is going nowhere. Mostly it seemed to be the main characters languidly quipping witticisms primarily consisting of "unexpected" pairings such as "in A [foreign country for example] they do B (negative behavior) but in C [more familiar subject, such as Britain] they do D [ironically stated worse behavior]" in such a manner that I can almost hear a laugh track. Also weirdly no female was any more than literary furniture. I thought this guy Oscar Wilde was supposed to be great, I was thoroughly disappointed.
|Tuesday, May 7th, 2019|
|A Novel Approach to the Mueller Report
I had a book idea today. Not something epicly original but ...
I've been listening to the Mueller Report on audible. I thought it would be 19 hours of mind numbing legal tedium but I actually have found it quite interesting and easy to follow and I feel "informed as fuck" and better for it all. And yet, I still feel like a lot of people will still find it too dry and legal to get through it, because I know the reading capacity of your average person. BUT, what if one were to "translate" a vulgate version of it, so to speak. A novelization of the Mueller Report. The report is, after all, mostly reporting on events as they occurred -- what if one were to re-recount them in a more fluid readable manner, maybe inserting you know how the weather was that day or other mundane details to make it flow better as a story, and deleting tediously long recountings of the supporting evidence of a fact (leaving a footnote with the page in the Mueller report if someone really wants to know the support for an assertion). Similarly with the purely legal arguments it ends with, write summaries in plain speech while not inserting any personal opinion or trying to make any arguments that aren't in the report. Basically it would be the report, just written to be more readable to the non-legal audience. What do you think?
|Friday, April 19th, 2019|
|The Permian Impact Event
Someone in the Americans in Melbourne FB group asked if anyone wanted to go camping this weekend. I put my hand up, so did a few others, we formed a group. We began to plan. After a few days I realized it was me and three young women, so I made sure Cristina was okay with that. She dutifully sent me a few fire emojis to indicate she was a fiery latina and gave the go ahead. Our camping plan was to head to the Grampians mountains about three (?) hours west of Melbourne, so the girls would take the train west to the town of Ballarat, which I'd drive to (it's 54 km north of me). I'd pick them up. We'd go to the mountains. Recall (or did I mention?) I have a new (to me) car as of about five weeks ago, a champagne colored honda civic I've named the USS Trilobite.
This morning I left home just after 10am. It was a beautiful morning. I began listening to Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde on audible. Arrived at the train station in Ballarat just about a minute before the girl's train. I arrived at the platform just as they were making their way to the exit and they recognized me. Immediately they commented on my Australian accent. We hadn't known much of anything about eachother, which was a part of the trip I was rather excited about, I like trips with unknown people, it's a grab bag of experience. I had been dreading of course that they'd be overly prissy and difficult but they seemed quite nice. All were professionals in their mid twenties. One appeared to have a Filipino ethnic background but the other two were ambiguously American. One was from California the other two were from not-California (which is how Californians such as myself classify Americans ;) ).
We decided to get lunch before leaving Ballarat since it was lunch time and there'd be fewer choices anywhere further from civilization. We drove up and down a few blockfaces looking for a specific nice looking beer-pub I'd visited once before. The streets in Ballarat are wide and lined with grand edifices reminiscent of the 19th century. After failing to find the place I was looking for I decided to park in one of the many parking spots at a 45 degree angle to the street. CRASH!! The car was slammed violently and suddenly there was a red car just beside us and the woman in the driver's seat already yelling imprecations at me. It took me a moment to even understand what had just happened. My passengers all seemed fine. I got out and surveyed the scene: a red car had somehow come between me and the curb I was about to park against. There was no conceivable reason for a car to be there. During a break in the woman's exclamations about how I needed to look where I was going I calmly told her that I was turning into a parking spot adjoining the lane I was driving in and there's no reason she should have been there. She started telling me it was a two lane road and she had been on the inside lane. I looked at the road, it was wide but I would never consider treating it as two traffic lanes, and even if there had beeen, I would have been driving in the "left hand" one adjacent to the parking spot. Anyway, I only explained myself once, as she kept on arguing (for some reason she thought it was important to mention there were no skid marks repeatedly) I said well we'll get the police to come here and sort it out there's no need to get our blood pressure up. Her male vehicle occupant seemed to agree and got her to stop loudly trying to argue with me.
The cars haven't been moved. Note its in the parking area. Essentially she was trying to drive through parking spaces as if they were a traffic lane and thereby t-boned a parking car.
Because we were in the city center the police arrived within minutes. One asked me for my statement and I said "honestly I didn't see where she came from because I was just turning directly from the lane here into the parking spot here." He nodded, made some affirmative noises, walked around the vehicles, and joined the other officer where the woman was giving her explanation to him full of wild hand gestures. I was soon gratified to hear the officers, having to raise there voices to communicate with her, saying things like "no that's not how it works!"
Apparently they didn't have IDs or wallets on them. "we aren't required to have them on us!" the woman rebelliously told the officers. I felt like the way all three vehicle occupants insisted none of them had their wallets on them seemed implausible and badly acted. The officers then asked for a name to run through the system. The first name she gave them didn't work, which irritated the officers somewhat, I believe I heard "we could just arrest you" but she made some corrections and gave them a name that worked and they seemed satisfied.
Talking to the officers again myself, they mentioned that the other party was definitely at fault and they were writing them an "unlawful driving maneuver" citation or something, and that the insurance company would be able to get that to prove fault. Then they told us to exchange information and departed.
I'm not sure I have a lot of faith in the accuracy of the contact information the people gave me, or that they gave a correct name to the police, though I have the car's plate number. But the larger problem is that they loudly mentioned a number of times that they don't have insurance. I don't have insurance either, it's not required here. So I think getting money out of them would require actually suing them, and they seem like they'll be every bit as slippery and obstinate as they possibly can. Once we pulled the cars apart it was apparent there's a huge dent in my passenger side as if it was hit with a wrecking ball. Did I mention I've only had this car five weeks?
After this we parked the car in the spot I'd been trying to get into and went for lunch. I wanted to sit down and sort all this out in my head. We found the beer pub but it was closed for Good Friday so we instead proceeded to the Ethiopian restaurant I know of in Ballarat. That was really nice actually, because the owner is so warm and friendly and I've talked to him many times so he recognizes me immediately. To be in a familiar place with a warm sympathetic proprietor was really nice. Ethiopian soul food.
Talked to my parents and my authority on all things related to vehicles in Australia, my friend Billie. We still didn't know if my car would be able to drive. If it could I'd hobble home with it, if it didn't, probably I'd see if it wasn't exhorbitantly expensive to tow it home (54km recall). Either way the girls would be taking the train back to Melbourne. They were still enthusiastic about camping on this four day weekend though and we discussed getting a rental car and trying again tomorrow.
Got back in the car and..... it seemed to drive fine! Took the girls to the train station. Recall, the took the train (appx 1 hour 45 min from Melbourne), five-ten minutes later we were crashed into, had lunch, and now they were headed back whence they came.
Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde was just the right length that I finished it just a few minutes after getting home. I'm thinking of either doing to Portrait of Dorian Gray next, since it's kind of a similar theme I think, or Robert Louis Stevenson's most famous, Treasure Island. My dad read it to my brothers when we were wee bairns as a bed time story, and major plot points are saturated into our culture but I think it may be worth revisiting, especially now that I can appreciate what a truly good author he is.
The girls have sorted out a rental car. I'll take the train into Melbourne in the morning to catch up with them there. As to the car, on Tuesday (Monday is "Easter Monday" here) I'll take it to the mechanic across the street to assess the damage and also call free legal aid to see about my options.
Anyway, that was my day.
|Saturday, April 13th, 2019|
|LJ Idol Write Off
I appear to be sick, a fortunately rare occurrence but here it is. So I don't feel like writing much at length, buy my mom is in a write off for 6th place / top five in Livejournal Idol and at the present moment she's fair number of votes behind. I strongly encourage you to go vote for her
, and then read her continuing sci fi saga about a colony on Mars.Please vote for Furzicle here