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|Saturday, May 16th, 2015|
|Thursday, November 9th, 2017|
|Steamy Adventures on the River!
Last Sunday, November 5th, Echuca, Australia - Woke up in a swag on the banks of the Murray River. The Murray River is the border between the states of Victoria and New South Wales for much of its 1,500 mile length. Looking at a map it looks like it empties on the eastern coast but it actually begins in the "Victorian alps" over there near the eastern coast and flows across almost the entirety of the south-eastern bulge of Australia to empty into the Great Australian Bight. In the great age of steamboats it was navigable way past the point where I was encamped, and yet it looked to be no more than maybe 200 feet across here. It flowed slowly, a thick milk chocolatey brown, though I think Billie or Lek had noted reading an account from an early settler of the water having been very clear in days of yore.
After a quick breakfast of oatmeal we packed up camp and headed into town. We headed across the Murray River Bridge to the New South Waleseran (New South Welsh?) sister city of Moama. Moama is contiguous to Echuca but it definitely seems most of what's going on is on the Echuca side. We perused a farmer's market which was afoot there and much to my surprise I found a magic artifact of at least +3 enchantment on a table of knick-knacks -- labelled as a "cannibal fork" (I apologize for picture quality, I think part of it's magic is defying attempts to get a decent picture of it). It looked to be just over a foot long, a glossy ebony colored wood, with a head on the top with African features, a twisty looking shaft, and then it flutes out to four spikes. There's intricate carving where the twist changes into the fluted part, as well as some inlaid mother-of-pearl. And the person only wanted $15 for this artifact of power?? Clearly I had to get it!! It would go great wit the cannibal spoon I already have!
And then we went into a nearby "Op Shop" (Thrift / Antique store) and I was eyeing some clay goblets. There were 6 of them and they were $6 each, so I asked if there'd be a discount for the lot of them and the lady sold me all six for $12!! This was quite the unusual amount of shopping for me! But I'm very pleased, and last night back home here I drank mead from one of the goblets and verily it was good! (And in related news I drank mead out of my new drinking horn the other day, the only horn I have that's actually a drinking horn actually, and it definitely affected the mead taste negatively. ): ): Hopefully I just hadn't cleaned it thoroughly enough and it had chemical residues in it or something (it did taste chemical-ly))
We went to book a ride on a steamship but the only sailing left in the day didn't have enough spots left for us so we booked for the next morning. Walked around downtown Echuca and it was touristy in the best way, if that's not an oxymoron. It was busy with tourists and everything downtown seemed to cater to tourists, but they had not lost site of the old timey quaintness that draws people, nor did they have to fake it, because it was already there. So they kept their stately buildings from a bygone era and didn't besmirch them with neon signs, but just filled them with nice restaurants, pubs, antique stores, candy shops and a camping store or two. By the steamboat dock was a working recreation of a steam powered saw mill which was cool. I wish I had a cool picture of the mill but my phone was dead at the time.
Then we proceeded to an RV campground just outside of town to camp so that people could use the showers. We were able to get a campsite at the other end of the field from nearly everyone else which was nice, but still, the vicinity was just a perfectly flat field which wasn't very scenic, and the wind came in across it pretty wicked cold in the evening. River wasn't in sight from where we were but I think it may have been near the other end of the field where everyone else was.
We went back into town for dinner to a Greek place that Lek remembered from an earlier time she was in Echuca for some work related purpose (she's an irrigation consultant or something along those lines), and it was actually extremely good.
Monday - After a quick breakfast at a restaurant across the street from the steamboat dock we went aboard the Paddle Steamer Pevensey where she was moored up to wooden landing on the steam riverbank. The bank being relatively high, the top of the landing was actually way above us and yet we came aboard the Pevensey on its top deck. As much as I'd like to think my writing skills can entirely paint a picture I'm not sure how to quite give you the idea of the size and shape of the boat but hey here's a good picture of it. One thing that surprised me was just how many boats there were. There were three more similarly sized paddle steamers moored up in front of us, one behind us (and I'm not sure if the Canberra in that picture is yet another or one in the previous picture), and one more a little way up the river. Just about all the boats were authentic 100+ year old boats with some degree of restoration, though only one was noted in the captain's running commentary to have never been on the bottom of the river. The Pevensey itself, which we were on, was built in 1911.
Until eventually replaced by modern trucks, steamboat river trade on the Murray and other major Australian rivers was a major Thing, as they carried timber and wool from the interior to the big port cities on the coast. Apparently there have been two Australian TV miniseries about the steamboat era, All the Rivers Run, and "All the Rivers Run II."
The boat was just over a hundred feet long on deck, with the main deck originally have been entirely space for wool bales, other than the engine, and in the middle a second floor housed the crew cabins and wheelhouse. In the middle under the superstructure was the magnificent steam engine, which I took a video of here and I rather fancy is worth a gander. The original engine! It was hypnotic to watch the thick gleaming pistons chug along. The engineer was happy to answer all our questions expansively. I asked if there were practical differences between stern-wheeler steamboats and side-wheelers such as all of these, and he said why yes, the stern-wheelers of the American West never pulled barges so the stern wheel wasn't a problem --"oh the stern wheel gets in the way of the tow does it?" I eagerly interjected,
"Well, no, it's not that, it's that the load will be pulling right from the back where your propulsion is so you can't turn, and you can't put the towpoint forward for the propulsion or it will keep pulling you around ... with the side-wheelers the tow point is actually the very center of the vessel" and he pointed to the very sturdy supports that converged above the engine and connected to a very sturdy tow point above the deckhouse in the center of the vessel, "so we are very well balanced and can turn just fine with a load." Now that's a thing you know.
We cruised up the river and back for a total of about an hour. The weather was nice, and because the front was entirely open (though covered against rain and sun) even standing next to the engine we got the nice breeze, and I think I did spend a significant portion of the time talking to the engineer and appreciating this beautiful engine.
After we finished our cruise we strolled about downtown just a little bit more and then I bid my friends adieu -- they all had Tuesday off but I did not!
This time I didn't go as far off the fastest route as I had coming up, but I did get on some country roads north of Melbourne (I could have stayed on the relativley freeway-like B75), and found myself going over rolling hills in which several times I wished I could stop and take a picture but there wasn't a turnout in the right place. Sometimes the road went through forests and sometimes it was mainly pastureland (though never without a fair sprinkling of grand old relict trees), and I stumbled upon another piece of Australian history, I found myself on a road called "Burke and Wills Track." The Burke and Wills expedition had been an early (1860-1861) attempt to cross the continent, but Lewis and Clarke they were not and after many many misadventures only one of the 19 men who had set out made it to the other side and returned alive to Melbourne.
Skirted the outskirts of Melbourne and then was on the major M1 freeway from there to home (though it becomes slightly less obnoxiously big after Geelong, changing from the M1 to the A1, and actually has stop lights in Winchelsea). Stopped at my favorite Moriac Pub for dinner as I passed by (Moriac is near work and where I used to live) and half an hour later I was home in the early evening with the sun still shining gloriously!
Altogether, I found Echuca, and especially the steamboats, very enjoyable. Because it's several hours from anywhere else I'm not sure I could recommend it as a destination for someone on a whistle-stop tour of Australia but if you've got time and/or maybe are making a roadtrip down from New South Wales into Victoria the steamboats are pretty cool.
|Wednesday, November 1st, 2017|
|A Week in the Life of a Beekeeper
Tuesday, October 24th - In the morning I had a meeting with a nearby beekeeper, a pastor from Uganda, and a local pastor who is trying to work with the Ugandan. The meeting was about beekeeping, as you might guess. They had gotten in contact with this local beekeeper Stan (like most beekeepers, an older fellow), who had invited me to the meeting since he knew I'd been involved in beekeeping projects in Uganda. I enjoyed the meeting, during which Stan and I gave the other two a lot of advice about beekeeping and resolved to keep in touch. Afterwards Stan and I continued to talk for about another hour -- I had only first met him at the meeting the preceding Friday so it was nice getting to know him. I rather think we got along quite well.
Immediately after arriving home on this nice warm sunny afternoon I decided to walk to the general store to get some fresh sausages for dinner (see also, fridge is broken due to the ongoing electronics curse upon me), but crossing the street I saw my across-the-street neighbor Trevor and decided to ask him if he'd assembled that beehive he had gotten, since I'm getting many swarm calls these days and will bring him one if his hive is ready. He said it wasn't but "hey let's assemble it right now!" and next thing I know we're in his garage trying to figure out how to assemble his "flow hive." This was the first time I've actually had one of the vaunted "flow hives" in front of me and you know what, it's a LOT more complicated to assemble than a normal hive!!
I was feeling a bit like the LAST thing I want to do when I get home from work is assemble a beehive but we were having quality neighborly bonding time I suppose. Trevor is semi retired, he still commutes by the train into Melbourne [?] days a week to his business there. He's a jolly sort of shortish yet rotund man who always seems to have a glowing smile. At some point when he was out of earshot his kindly wife confided in me that "I'm glad you're here he's not actually very good with tools" and I had to laugh and note that I 'm not either!!
But I really can't complain because I did enjoy spending time with them and then they invited me to partake in their delicious dinner, which was surely better than anything I was about to make.
My front walk these days
Wednesday, October 25th - See last entry (fire brigade meeting in the evening).
Thursday, October 26th - As I'm leaving the house to head to work there's a guy standing next to a ride on lawnmower in front of my next door neighbor's house. The neighbor has had people in and out doing various things at every day for awhile, apparently in a hurry to get it all in prime condition to sell in two weeks or something, so I asked the guy if he was a lawnmower man because my lawnmower man stopped calling me after I was gone for so many weeks this winter. Well it turns out it WAS my neighbor ("Stretch") whom I've only met once before and didn't recognize. Awkward. On the plus side he readily agreed to mow my lawn, for free even! Probably because my lawn had become an eyesore ::shameful look::
Thursday at work I was busy placing empty beehives where I wanted them in preparation for the fifty "packages" of bees I'd be getting Sunday! But since I'd be working Sunday I'd be taking Friday off which meant that this, Thursday evening, was actually my "Friday!"
Friday, October 27th - As I was enjoying a nice slow "saturday morning" this Frday, Joe, who runs my favorite cafe in the nearby town of Winchelsea, called me to ask my advise on removing a beehive that was in the old vicar's house by the Anglican church here in Birregurra. The Anglican church looks like a medieval castle tower, and is probably about 200 meters from my house, so I volunteered to come over there and advise him in person. It was a beautiful sunny Spring day and I hadn't much left the house all day (though I'd had the front and back door open and spent some time on the old couch on my pack porch, lest you think I'd completely neglected to partake of fresh air.
It was early evening when Joe came by to begin the bee removal operation. He said "oh, I'm just doing it for fun, you can do it and have the bees if you want," and I had to laugh because I do NOT remove bees from walls for fun on my day off!!
The bees were in the eaves above the second floor, fairly high up. He had a ladder that wasn't tall enough, and a pretty sturdy scaffold thing, so he set up the ladder on the scaffold, which I had to remark I'm pretty sure Workplace Health and Safety would not approve of!! It was fairly sturdy but being up there kind of reminded me of being in the rigging of a tallship. He only had the one beesuit, all my stuff was at work, so I kept my distance and let him do all the hands on stuff, though the bees really never got angry. His wife came by with their young kids in the car, to bring us something or other we needed. We were at it until it was thoroughly dark, around 9pm. Brood comb had been transferred to frames in an empty beehive, which we placed on top of the scaffold (I'd have liked to have it closer to the former location of the colony but this was the best we could do), with the idea that the bees would hopefully come to regard that as their home and regroup there overnight.
Current view out my kitchen window, featuring my pet basil plant Theodora
Saturday, October 28th - Spent the earlier part of the day once again luxuriating in the wonderful weather. Checked on the bees and they appeared to have not moved into the hive. I called Joe and advised him to come back with a box and some wasp spray, brush the bees into a box and thence into the beehive, wasp spray their former location so they can't return to it (bees won't fly into a space that's been poisoned). Was secretly glad it wasn't my responsibilty in this case to keep coming back to sort out these bees.
My friends were having a halloween party in the evening and I had no costume so I made the drive into town (Geelong) to look for costumes. It's usually a forty minute drive but my car was so low on gas I first went the wrong direction about ten minutes to the nearest gas station in the small town of Colac. I absolutely loathe, abhor and hate shopping and after about ten minutes at the first costume place I went I had utterly had my fill and resolved just to be Alex, the protagonist from Clockwork Orange, yet again, since I have all the stuff, save a costume cane which I did purchase.
Returned home and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon. Well tried to work on the onerous reports I now need to write for the projects abroad I did this year. Then half an hour before I needed to depart for the halloween party I went to get dressed and couldn't find the white collared shirt I needed for the costume ANYWHERE. I know I definitely have a white collared shirt but I frantically looekd everywhere and made a thorough mess of my room as I turned everything topsy turvy looking in even the most unlikely places. Quick googling revealed I could still get to the K-Mart in Geelong ten minutes before it closed, with a battle cry of "AUGH I HATE HALLOWEEN!!" I jumped in the car and I was off!
Now, I don't really hate halloween. I do hate shopping though and when I don't have a costume idea I'm really excited about and prepared for I find it quite a chore to come up with something. Halloween seems to be just beginning to become pervasive in Australia, with many Australians grumbling about "this American holiday that's taking over," and I think people expect me to be wildly excited about it just because I'm American. Yeah nah mate. It's alright I guess, and you can bet I loved it when I was a kid and had heaps of candy to look forward to, but these days putting on a costume doesn't really overly excite me.
Halloween party was kind of smallish but all my core group of friends were there which was fun since we haven't all been in one place in a long time. Trent, our awkward friend who as far as any of us knew was still in the UK where he's been since February or so, made a surprise appearance! In a scream mask so we didn't even know who it was at first. He fractured his ankle playing some mysterious game called "Netball" which apparently is neither volleyball nor basketball, so was sent back to recover.
I observed that even me halloween-enthusiastic friends who had put on this party had no idea what candy corn was. I was like "wait where's the candy corn??" and they were like "the what??"
And then they brought out "jelly shots," which sounded to me like a rather unappetizing cousin to jello shots that involved like strawberry jam or something, but it turns out Australians call jello jelly ::shakes head::, and all candy is "lollies," apparently, even if it in no way resembles a lollypop!
Also despite the reputation of Australians, at this party, like nearly every single other Australian party I've been to, nearly everyone had just a drink or two and was sober enough to drive home in the end. I found found there is _significantly_ less drinking at parties here. From my experience in the States people aren't drinking and driving either but between uber and talking a friend into being a DD usually MOST people contrive a way to drink a fair bit at parties.
Sunday, October 29th - Had to drive 200 kilometers to a town called Pakenham on the far side of Melbourne. In the past I've taken the very across the bottom of the bay even though that costs $65 each way (!!) because I find the part of the drive through the middle of Melbourne really miserable. That's on city streets with traffic and signals and cars parked along the side of the road and pulling out in front of you and bizarre street signs and trams in the middle of the road. Anyway I survived Melbourne alright. As you can kinda see from the grid of roads the urban environment extends really far on the east side of Melbourne but eventually one gets back into countryside and then you're at the town of Pakenham!
I stopped for lunch at a cafe in town, sitting outside because it was another nice day. At the table next to me sat an older couple and their 20s-ish daughter and her boyfriend and the family was talking about halloween, and what it was all about, and I couldn't hear everything but I heard the word "american" numerous times in exasperated tones, and gathered that the parental units had resignedly decided to buy "lollies" just in case kids came by trick or treating.
William the "Bunyip Beekeper" had a facility just on the edge of town. While he was bringing bee packages over to my pickup truck ("ute") I asked him if flow hives (the big thing last year) were maintaining their momentum and he said nah everyone is buying normal hives this year.
Drove the 200km back to the home farm uneventfully. Was able to unload and install about half the packages before storm clouds swept in, with it beginning to rain just as I finished the last hives I was putting in this location. Since the other location is an hour from there I decided to call it a night. Usually the work truck stays on the farm but I didn't want to leave these bees out in the cold overnight. Had a quick dinner at the very good nearby Moriac Pub, which sits alone in the countryside, in a manner that would be picturesque except the freeway runs right in front of it. The freeway here is only four lanes and only at most two or three cars are even in sight on it at any given time, if any at all, but the giant band of asphalt is inevitably a bit of an eyesore for a picturesque location in the middle of the countryside.
I have a garage it turns out the work truck fits in, though I had never bothered to put a vehicle within it before, but it turned out to be a stormy night with heavy rain so I'm very glad I w as able to stow the bees in there.
Monday, October 30th - The day before I had asked Joe, when talking to him about the bees in the vicarage again, if he'd like to come with me as I installed package bees and he said he'd love to! So this morning he came to my place (he also lives in Birregurra), and off we went! "Shaking" package bees can be kind of fun, since you literally shake the bees out of the cage into the beehives. These beehives were on some properties in the thick stringybark forests west of Birregurra so we had a pleasant morning of it. [a set of them pictured here with a scare crow in the background because everything here is storybook quaint ;) ] We talked of many things, including comparing and contrasting the sausages from the butcher's shop beside his cafe to those a local guy sells in the Birregurra general store, which I remark upon because it just felt so quaint and country -- in suburban California you would never know who was making your sausages personally and what they were doing differently.
Returning to Birregurra around lunch tim we swung by the vicarage and upon inspection I discovered the gosh darn bees hadn't moved into the provided hive box because they had more comb under the roof! Since we didn't have the tools and equipment to cut into her tin sheeted roof we resolved to declare that we'd given it our best but could not finish the job. The resident will be having more extensive work done on the house in a few months with professionally assembled scaffolds all around it so we might have at what remains of the bee colony at that time (though, I'll do a lot of things for free for my neighbors, including assist Joe at a bee removal if he takes the lead, but I won't do a major bee removal project from under a roof for free myself!)
Had lunch at home and then returned to the main farm to do other stuff. The weather had been alright in the morning, not really warm and sunny but just a bit cool. Moments after a bid Joe adieu in front of my house though it began hailing and it's been cold and wet every since Meant to knock off early since I worked late Sunday but it wasn't until today (Wesdnesday) that I finally found the time to do so.
Tuesay, October 31st - Did stuff at work. After work I swung by the house of an old woman who lives near the farm because she had called me describing what sounded like bees living in her wall, though she thought it was just a swarm ("but the bees only appear when it's sunny"). Ii was pretty sure it wasn't a swarm and I'm not keen on removals but it wasn't far out of my way so I thought I'd see what was going on over there. It turns out she had had a colony there last year that was exterminated, so this looked more likely to be just bees that wanted to get to the honey that was sealed inside. I was bit annoyed at her insistence that the bees couldn't have had time to make honey inside because, she insisted, she had definitely caught them immediately. Despite this being on the back side of the house and small amounts of bee activity usually go unnoticed for months she was quite adamant ::rolls eyes:: Also despite that I was voluntarily taking time out of my life to tell her what in my professional experience her bee problem was she didn't seem terribly grateful.
From there I proceeded to trivia in Geelong town, mainly because I thought with Trent's return all my friends would be there again -- I had stopped going partly because while many people I know go none of my closest friends have been going regularly ... and the other reason being that all their god damn questions are pop culture questions. Well it turns out Trent didn't go, his mom had forbade him... he's like 26! ::sigh:: And everyone was in costume because it was Halloween ::grumbles, grinch like::
|Friday, October 27th, 2017|
"The following video contains graphic footage of trees being damaged and destroyed, if this makes you uncomfortable please advise your trainer immediately"
The five grizzly old men in big yellow fire fighting pants held up with thick red suspenders hoot their sarcastic terror, while behind the front desk, Ronnie, our local fire captain, attempts to distance himself from the video, saying in his thick scottish accent, "I havena seen this yet"
There follows a twenty minute informational video about "killer trees," that was, in my opinion, a bit amateurishly edited together, and seemingly unironically continued to talk about the extreme danger of "killer trees," calling them repeatedly a "clear and present danger" (which need I remind you is the title of a movie referencing nuclear annihilation!). I was really expecting the warning to be because there would be footage of some unfortunate soul who had a tree fall on them but no, the dire warning at the beginning was literally because seeing burning trees might upset someone. I'm not quite sure someone who is freaked out by seeing burning trees in a video should be on a fire brigade.
Of course falling fire damaged trees an tree limbs really are a danger, and several of the guys had stories about near misses, but it really seemed to me a bit overly dramatic to call them "killer trees" rather than "dangerous trees" or if you love acronyms maybe FDTs for Fire Damageed Trees instead of the "CPD Trees" (the Clear and Present Danger).
Especially references to establishing zone to exclude the killer trees (a radius twice the height of the tree), and that it's everyone's responsibility to constantly be on the look out for killer trees really made it sound to me like these were some kind of wandering tree monsters we have to look out for.
After the video as is typical with government mandated training things, we had to do an insultingly simple multiple choice test.
The occasion was annual "pre-season training" for the local volunteer fire brigade, which I have joined. I'm not yet trained up enough for call-outs but by next month I should be. Other training we did last night included setting the truck up to suck water from a pond, using the hoses whilst the truck is intaking water, and crew protection procedures in case of burn-over -- if the truck is overtaken by the fire, in the cab you pull down these heat shields around the windows and the truck puts a spray all around it. Random fact I learned: you hold a firehose nozzle (a "branch") overhand, that way if it slips from your wet gloved hand it doesn't slam you in the face! (did NOT learn this the hard way fortunately)
Above killer tree warning signs I had photographed earlier in the Kingslake State Forest north of Melbourne.
|Saturday, October 21st, 2017|
|A Very Convoluted Return To Australia
October 5th, Istanbul - My flight out of Istanbul was at 13:50 out of Gurken airport east of Istanbul. I was informed the outside limit of how long it would take to get there was an hour so I planned to catch the bus at 11. Felt like I had plenty of time for a nice easy morning since the airport bus allegedly left from just beside the hotel, but of course inevitable ended up in a panicked hurry at the end. And mystifyingly the guy at the front desk told me directions which in no way conformed to the reality of where to find the bus. It sent me two blocks in the opposite direction, where the bus actually stopped just around the other corner from the hotel. So I end up rushing around the cobbled streets dragging around my gimpy luggage (one of the two wheels is completely destroyed) at the last minute. Fortunately I happened to stumble upon a Turkish girl who was also looking for the bus and together we (she) were able to ask around until we got there. I note you can work up quite a sweat on a nominally cool morning when you are in a panic and stressed and lugging around 23 kilos of luggage.
And then while standing in line at the bus I was informed we wouldn't get to the airport until 12:45 -- the journey would take nearly twice as long as expected and get me there with only FIVE minutes to spare before boarding commenced and check in may be closed (an hour before the flight). That sounded thoroughly dire!!!! I considered grabbing a cab but figured that would cost exponentially more and yet be stuck in the same traffic.
The drive across the Bosporus bridge and out through the city ouskirts as it happens proceeded fairly smoothly though I was very anxious ... and got me to the airport right on time after all around 12!!! Much to my very immense relief.
Now I hate to sound petty, but I found it remarkable that just behind me in the check in line was the most classic "Russian trophy wife" I have ever seen. Her skin was a vaguely orange color, botox-inhanced lips gave her perpetual duck face, she had the very definition of "bolt-on breasts," massive battering rams of things jutting unnaturally from her chest. I think her bum may have been enhanced as well, I vaguely recall it was a bit oddly rounded. Her husband wasn't actually Russian but by all appearances a Turk, but I'm still calling her a "Russian trophy wife," because her look was infinitely more in keeping with the fashion mores I've seen in the Moscow airport than you see among women in Turkey.
Flight back to Paris, once again on the super budget airline Pegasus. A several hour international flight with no seat back entertainment! But I think once again I was glad to have the lights on and finished reading my book. Had a bulkhead seat with the middle seat beside me empty, so that was pretty ideal. An asian woman in the aisle seat was working on her laptop and became annoyed when the person in front of her leaned his seat back, and began banging on it. When that illicited no response she called the flight attendant, who at first was reluctant to do anything, no doubt noting that he had a right to put his seat back, but laptop lady finally prevailed upon the flight attendant to politely ask the guy in the forward seat to move his seat back up, which he did. Personally, as someone who often finds oneself lacking knee room, I am often less than enthused when the person in front of me puts their seat back, but I think one has a right to put their seat back and I would never think of demanding they don't do so. Besides having to sit bolt upright for hours I think is even worse than not having knee room (and again, this coming from someone who is 6'2")
Arriving at Paris Orly in the evening, I had to get to the Charles De Gaulle airport across town, my plan was to get a hotel near the airport there since I had an early morning flight out of CDG. The person at the information kiosk made it sound quite simple to get to CDG. A light rail line runs right from this airport to a station where you get on the RER B and it takes you all the way across town to CDG. So I bought the ticket for [memory fading] and off I went!
What had not been mentioned by anyone is that, defying all logic, the RER B line splits just before the airport and apparently I was on a train that took the wrong fork! I fortunately became suspicious just shortly after this forking and realizing the error darted (darted with my differently-abled luggage bumping after me that is) off the train at the next station. Now it was either a 45 minute workaround on the train or a five minute €3 uber drive. I could see on the map that we weren't that far from CDG but there was no direct root by mass transit. Okay well uber sounded good. So I called an uber.
But he took me to a nearby location which clearly wasn't the hotel! But we confirmed it was where I had booked the uber to. It was the same address ("4 rue de Paris" or something ubiquitous like that) as I needed but in the neighboring suburb. I don't know how that got mixed up because I had had the correct location up in google maps and it had prompted me with uber and I had clicked the uber button from that screen with the correct address. Anyway at this point there was no logical course but to rebook this same uber for the correct location. I haven't examined the receipt but I vaguely imagine it ended up being more like €15. It was about a ten minute drive. The sun was setting at this point and it actually looked very pretty over the city of Paris to the west, with a beautiful orange sky above the cityscape, and semi rural scenes nearer at hand.
Also, I had just booked the hotel after arriving in Paris. I should have learned this lesson by now, but it turns out hotels generally cost about $100 more when booking the day of. I'd just been too busy with other things to have gotten around to it earlier but if I had realized the price difference I certainly would have! The hotel I ended up going with (Comfort Hotel CDG) was advertised for $48 every other day but $148 on this the same day. This made me feel a bit grumpy.
At this point I hadn't eaten all day and was starving. So I asked reception, was informed there was "a sushi place, an italian place, and a french place" all within a five minute walk, and off I went. I of course headed to the French place because, when in France... it was by now dark and a bit chilly out, and the streets seemed to be deserted but it looked kind of like a small town. there were several other airport hotels in the immediate surrounds. The French place looked kind of cute, had the look from the outside of a kind of a traditional fachwerk country house. Inside I found a small dining area, such that one couldn't help but fully hear the conversations of the other tables -- there was a group of americans from Texas who it appeared were on the last day of a two week vacation in France, yet still seemed to barely be able to handle even the most basic French, saying "Well, bonn swarrr. That means goodnight right? Bon swarrr!" in brassy American accent that completely flattened the phrase.
When I ordered (recall, I can speak French just well enough that people can understand my meaning and that they should respond in English, which is ideal really because I'm clearly making an effort and not annoying them by expecting them to speak English), and the other guy at a neighboring table, who was by himself, jumped in to help explain the menu to me. They had a "normal" menu and a sort of set menu, but you could choose one of three appetizers, mains, etc. The small room began to fill up with other people and he asked if he could join me, and I said certainly. His name was Thomas, he was a retired (accountant?) from Germany, kind of shortish, wearing a knit cap, visiting France on a vacation. He seemed to have a great enthusiasm for some cathedrals he had visited in some small towns I sadly don't quite recall (possibly Rennes and another small town near it?). I kept waiting for him to drift into con trails as particularly friendly strangers who join your table usually inevitably do but throughout the conversation he remained thoroughly sane and reasonable. We both ended up having sausages and saurkraut, I don't recall the other options (every time I travel I when I get to blogging about it and hit all these omissions I tell myself I'll take better notes next time!). Once again they didn't sell wine by the glass but by the small carafe.
After Thomas and I both paid and left Thomas started ranting a bit about Paris rudeness. Admittedly the waitstaff had sometimes been hard to get the attention of, and when we paid our bill the guy was busy talking to two other people and barely gave us any attention. I suppose it wasn't quite the politest but I don't think I'd have registered it as rude if it wasn't pointed out to me. Maybe I just haven't been noticing "Paris rudeness" occurring around me??
October 6th, Paris - Easy hotel shuttle to the airport. One more thing I want to remark about about Paris airports. Airports throughout the world these days have some level of security, ranging from the barely visible really in Australia to soldiers in balaclavas in Kyrgyzstan, and in many African countries its soldiers in fatigues with AK-47s, kinda hanging around. In the US there were uniformed soldiers with m-16s after 9/11 but that has faded away. They would stand in the middle of the hallway like a rock that the river flow of passengers would swirl past. But nowhere have I seen them as seemingly alert as in the Paris airports. The soldiers, in green camo with berets slouched across their heads, patrol in groups of four exactly the way you see in Vietnam movies, spaced apart, fingers on the trigger, constantly scanning the crowd, each step like a prowling cat. They appear to be behaving as if they are in actual fact in the middle of a combat zone.
Flight to Abu Dhabi. Only memorable thing about this flight was that I had the front row of my cabin area, so our television screens were on the bulkhead in front of us. One usually can't help seeing one's neighbor's screen and I've seen many movies I wouldn't choose to watch myself that way (ie Bay Watch and Fastest and Furiousest or whatever that latest is called), but in this case it was really too easy not to. My neighbor was watching this new Spider Man movie, again a movie that I wouldn't choose to watch because I don't like comic book movies, but there were a number of scenes that caught my attention for extended periods of time. At first the guy would look over at me kind of accusingly and I would look away and go back to my book. But then I thought, what the fuck what is wrong with watching your screen which is also right in front of me, so the next time I found myself watching and he gave me a sideways look I didn't look away. He looked at me very pointedly immediately followed by slowly reaching forward and pushing the pause button on his controller, and then made like he was trying to sleep. I had to laugh to myself about this pettiness! Oooh I'm stealing your movie enjoyment am I? Ahaha the memory still warms my black little heart.
In Abu Dhabi switched to Sr Lankan airlines for the flight to Colombo. Meals on Sr Lankan were good (for airplane food!) and spicy. I love spicy. Flight attendants wore sort of saris. I was relieved to see a new selection of movies since I've seen everything on Etihad I'm interested in. I think I watched a movie but I can't for the life of me recall anything about doing so. Also wrote one of the previous entries on my phone.
October 7th, Colombo, Sri Lanka - I was a bit surprised, speaking of airport security, that in Colombo, where, by the way, suicide bombing was first invented, there seemed to be nearly no airport security. As far as I could tell you would walk in right off the street up to the gates. Many people in beautiful saris. There was a "buddhist information center" kiosk with nothing at all on it and I was tempted to take a picture and post it with some zen sounding caption like "but is it really empty?" or "the information is within YOU" or something. But didn't want to annoy anyone by seeming disrespectful by taking a picture of said obviously empty kiosk. (In fact I'm quite interested in zen buddhism and I think the empty kiosk really does fit in to some kind of koan). Arriving in this airport around 5am and flew out about two hours later.
Kuala Lumpor, Malaysia< - Glad I had an eight hour layover here because it took at least three to get from the one terminal to the other!!! This last leg was on super budget airline "Air asia X" (and here I thought Pegasus was budget!). The baggage allowance was a mere 17 kilos for which privelege I paid an absolutely ridiculous like €150. Since my luggage was 23kg I had to somehow get 6 kg into my backpack, which was already not-empty. By some miracle I did, though in the hurried changeover a bottle of honey ended up in my backpack and was therefore confiscated as a "liquid or gel" at security.
Inside the secure area I went to a noodle shop I remembered being delicious last year, and, well, it was fairly alright, but not nearly as delicious as I remembered.
The Air Asia X flight left more than two hours after its scheduled departure. It was supposed to leave at 10pm and left closer to 12:30. No one seemed surprised, everyone in the passenger area seemed to know what they were getting into and cracked a lot of jokes about it. As I noted before, nothing brings people together like things going wrong. When we finally boarded I found there were once again no television screens and I'm not sure the seats went back either, this was as budget as it comes. And despite being a I don't know ten or twelve hour flight there were no meals unless you wanted to pay way too much for an airplane meal. During this miserable flight, after having already been in air transit for two days, I really began to reflect that I must have been out of my mind when I booked this. In past self's defense, I had booked it while on the road, in the sweltering hotel in Somoto in Nicaragua. And google.travel had pulled a prank on me, after I found the best deal it said "but you have to book each leg seperately" and then AFTER I had booked the first leg and went to book the second one, on the actual airline page (and any other booking service) that leg turned out to not be available, so now I had a leg that didn't connect to anythingg that I had to connect and... so yeah, I had glued a bunch of things together which in the end was an arduous odyssey on budget carriers ):
Sunday, October 8th, Melbourne - And then my friend Ben picked me up as usual in Melbourne where the weather was lovely and sunny and warm and on my way home the flowers were out everywhere and the air smelled like spring! The "traveling season" is thus over until next March and instead I'll be enjoying the warmer weather here in Australia and working on this season's crop of honey and expanding the operation! (:
|Wednesday, October 18th, 2017|
|A Star Trek Discovery
Now, I don't really watch TV (I don't actually own a TV), and I rarely seem to be watching whatever everyone else is watching (though after GoT had been going four or five years I finally caught up whilst in a cave in central Turkey and have been a huge fan ever since), but I do sometimes watch things on Netflix.
Back in high school when Star Trek Next Generation was still airing I was rather fond of it. I watched a bit of Deep Space Nine but it failed to really catch my interest and they seemed to be just godmoding around once they got their super stealth space fighter jet the Defiant going on (though admittedly I was already barely following things by then), and Voyager really I think I just didn't find any of the characters likable, and many of them downright annoying. And then that series Enterprise, I've never seen at all but from the trailers and things it just didn't appeal to me, though I don't remember well enough to say what put me off. And the movies! the more recent movies have all felt like they were trying to be a stupid action movie too hard instead of whatever it is exactly that makes Star Trek Star Trek, and having to compress their storylines into a movie -- people are zipping all over hte galaxy and having interstellar action sequences which make it feel like the whole galaxy is one very small place.
But the Discovery trailers somehow caught my interest and enticed me to watch it, and now, lo, verily, I am caught up on a series in its first season, I can for once participate in the true heart and soul of livejournal, fandomry!
I have found the series to be a really good mix of action and adventure without feeling forced like the recent movies. There's plenty of action happening but it's still very Star Trek.
One major thing I really look for in series or movies is complex characters. Star Trek has had a tendency to have everyone in Starfleet be just such a nice chap / woman, unless they're a purpose written bad apple who will die in the episode. So far in Discovery there appear to be several crew members you're really not sure you like, and I watch subsequent episodes just HOPING they don't become likable, because I'm black hearted like that. Without giving any spoilers away, the (current?) captain of the Discovery in particular definitely seems like someone not entirely admirable, and I love that. He seems to have done some extremely questionable things in the past. I hope he does more!
The one big problem seems to be that, from my just-now-googling, it appears to take place ten years before the original series, but general look and unfiforms specifically are definitely not the same as in the Original series, and the level of technology seems to be more advanced. In particular their key piece of experimental technology seems like it breaks "the universe" by being more advanced than anything subsequently seen.... but it also seems like it might be unethical so maybe it ends up getting buried....
Also is it just me or is Klingon style in this century totally baroque?
And was there a starfleet bridge officer in the first two episodes with a big blocky robot head? You only catch glimpses of them and I'm almost tempted to go back and rewatch because the question is bothering me.
And speaking of doodling, just because I believe every entry should have an image component, here's a piece of a little adventure I doodled up that I call "spacecat."
Meanwhile in real life
Went over to the fire station for some more training for joining the volunteer fire brigade, but it was interrupted when they actually got a call out and had to scramble. "In the olden days we coulda taken you with us but these days you can't come along until you're certified"
Walking back home across an empty paddock in the middle of "town" and looking up to see the millions of starts and the milky way I thought to myself "man, I love this town."
In other news my fridge now appears to be broken. I think someone has put a hex on my electronic devices :'(
|Sunday, October 15th, 2017|
October 4th, Istanbul - This day began with a bit of a panic. Five hundred people were milling around in front of the conference building, there were a rumoured 14 busses coming along to pick us up for the technical tours, miraculously people formed into a giant single file line without even being told, and got their tickets out and... wait, what tickets?? I had paid online for the technical excursion when I paid my conference registration, but never got a physical ticket. I tried to go in to the conference building since I knew the secretariat had an office on the subterranean floor the conference took place at, but security wasn't letting anyone in, there were a few other people with the same problem trying to talk to someone but the only people in the lobby were security personnel who knew nothing. There were no conference staff anywhere in sight! I joined my Australian friends in line, anxiously hoping the staff would be checking names on a list or something.
The primary reason I had signed up wasn't so much I felt the urgent need to see yet more bees so much as I recalled from the conference in Tanzania that it was on the technical tours that I actually met most of the people I met, since there's not nearly as much opportunity to meet people during presentations or passing in the halls as there is on the busses and such. Sure enough, whilst I was in line I met a nice young man from Tanzania who wants to go into business with stingless bees!
Well there wasn't a list... but the person a few people ahead of me showed them the invoice in her email on her phone and they let her on. Quickly I started scrambling to get my email open but then we were at the door, my Australian friends were boarding and I was still dredging through my emails. Then they were saying "we can get one more person on this bus" and I got the requisite email open and triumphantly showed it to the guy manning the door, who looked at it so briefly I figured I coulda probably shown him anything, but he handed me a ticket and waved me aboard.
At this point of course there was only one seat left and it was beside a bearded Argentinian who quite rudely I felt kept leaving his bag on my seat taking up my space.
We drove an hour, across the Bosporus bridge to the Asian side and north-east up to the Black Sea coast. I was surprised by how quickly we left the city and found ourselves going up and down bushy rugged hills. We arrived at a cute little village in a narrow valley, the buses had a hard time navigating the narrow roads. We all trooped down a cobbled street, beekeepers excitedly pointed out a hive on a balcony like they'd never seen one before, and we arrived at a construction site where we sat in plastic chairs and watched a promotional video for the beekeeping informational center which was being built there. Then we all trooped right back up the hill back to the buses.
Then we drove just a little bit to the town of Sile itself (pronounced "Silly"), where we were let out by the traditional outdoor market, and given our lunch. The market seemed to possibly have been set up just for us, it wasn't the busy local market I've often seen, with closely packed tables heaped with vegetables and crowds of locals buying their daily food, but rather was a quiet affair with booths set around the outside of a square -- we appeared to be the only customers. We were encouraged several times by official announcements that we should buy the famous local cotton cloth. It was also announced that after this we'd go down to the beach and we could have coffee there. At this point many people started approaching eachother to ask if they were on the right tour, and were we going to see any bees?? Some Romanians approached me to ask these questions and pointed out as well that only half the busses were here and half their friends were missing. "What's going on??" they urgently wanted to know. I was similarly approached by some Czechs. Nothing brings strangers together like confusion and fear that something's gone wrong. I asked if the Czech Republic had ever hosted Apimondia and they said "yes, in 1966, before the Soviet tanks came in 68," "well you're overdue then!" I said cheerfully, and when he gave me kind of a weird look I added "for another Apimondia, not more soviet tanks!!"
The Tanzanian lad was marveling at the size of some chili peppers being sold in the market. He told me they don't have such big peppers in Tanzania, I said he should get some seeds and plant them, and his eyes lit up like this was a genius idea and he immediately bought some chilis to get the seeds out of. And here's some weird fruit that were next to the chilis.
We then reboarded the bus to travel just a few minutes down the main road through town to the waterfront. There we found ourselves separated from the lapping waves of the Black Sea by merely some rocks and a low concrete wall. People immediately began scrambling down to the water, which was blue, clear, and inviting. One unabashable old fellow immediately stripped to his skivvies and dove in, proceeding to swim to an island about 200 meters out. On another nearby island stood a square castle towerA, which I thought was a delightfully dramatic place for a castle, since the island walls were very steep. It looks like it could have been connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway, I think I saw what could have ebeen the remains of stone pilings. At the time I had no particular information about it, but now that I can look it up on wikipedia (recall, wikipedia is blocked in Turkey), it's apparently a 14th century Genoese castle and apparently there's a controversy! I thought it looked a bit crisp, it was recently renovated, but there seems to be a weird amount of outcry that they went too far and it "looks like Spongebob now." An inquiry was even openedA. I don't really see it other than yes both the tower and spongebob are rectangles. My only concern would be if they really departed from the original design and it does look like there were big arch-windows that are no longer there. At least they got rid of that ugly sign that had been in front of it.
Then I had some turkish coffee (confession time, this was the turkish coffee I posted a picture of earlier), and was joined by a Swedish beekeeper, who broke Swedish stereotypes by being a bit overweight. A bit balding, he looked like someone you'd expect to find hating their life in a cubical in some midwestern US city.
We reboarded the busses, traveled for about twenty minutes and spent another twenty minutes as the bus repassed the same area repeatedly trying to find the turnoff it was looking for. Finally we arrived at a cleared area among the hills where beehives could clearly be seen in many places. Finally!! Everyone eagerly disembarked the busses. Also sometime around now we learned that the total group of 500 had been divided in two so the other half had done the bees first and the things we did second.
Anyway this area turned out ot be really cool! All the honeybees you see are generally all the same species, Apis mellifera (there's about seven other species of Apis but they're only found in southeasern Asia), but there's some 250 different subspecies and a handful of these are used by beekeepers. In this yard each set of hives was a different subspecies, and were on hand with smokers lit to open up hives and show us the bees! ... really there wasn't too much difference to see even for the discerning eye, the differences would be found in honey production and seasonal behaviors that you wouldn't see in a minute of looking in the hive, but at least we could determine which ones were the most stingy!!
There was also a bee truck -- a big-rig with a trailer that was filled with beehives with their entrances to the outside, and a walkway down the middle. Each hive had it's own thermostat and temperature control. Afterwords talking with my Australian friend we agreed it was cool but probably totally overengineered ... probably had just been made to impress us.
I met a couple from Nigeria and greatly amused them by breaking out my one phrase of Nigerian pidgen English ("hw u day?" (how are you), "I dey kampe (com-pey)" ("I am well and strong")).
As we reboarded the busses here I noticed the Tanzanian lad was carrying a lavender plant he had purchased "we don't have these in Tanzania!" he told me cheerfully. He's gonna have quite the interesting luggage.
From here we proceeded about an hour back into the Eastern suburbs of Istanbul where we arrived at a honey processing facility. Specifically, it was the "R&D" facility for Turkey's biggest honey packing company, which, incidentally, is one of the biggest in the world (Turkey itself is the third largest exporter of honey in the world and considering the population is a lot less than numbers 1 & 2 (US and China), clearly honey production is big business in Turkey.
As you can see in the above picture not only did they have an impressive laboratory, but basically the floor above the laboratory was a dedicated viewing platform of the lab floor! I felt like I was in some Bond villian's evil laboratory lair!! At first this seemed to me to be a baffling use of space but talking about it with my friends we came to the conclusion that actually the entire R & D facility is a giant marketing thing. When you're in the business of making contracts for thousands of tons of honey worth millions of dollars a year, when you have potential visiting clients you want to absolutely wow their brains out. When they're standing on your Bond-villian red carpeted viewing platform gazing down at the impressive lab equipment in the shining white laboratory floors, and the dozens of industriously busy and strangely uniformly kind of attractive mid-20s aged female lab workers, you feel like you are IN on the evil plan and it is a solid investment for world domination!!
From there it seemed to be at least an hour through traffic back to the conference center. Arriving there, had dinner with the unofficial Team Australia one last time. The overly-lengthy journey home, which I came to think I must not have been in my right senses when Ii booked, will be detailed in a subsequent entry!
|Thursday, October 12th, 2017|
|Rediscovering the Pen
I've been known to draw, upon occasion in the past, though I haven't really in years now.
It is swarming season here, and there already is a flyer on the general store bulletin board that says "CALL [MURRAY] FOR BEE SWARM CATCHING" in big block letters in sharpie. Well I'm sure I can do better than that. So I sat down with the pencils and paper I had at hand, quickly discovering I didn't appear to even have an eraser. So then I went to the store for an eraser and came back with a ruler and several different finenesses of pen as well. But you can only erase and redraw bits so many times, so I thought I'd scan my drawing and edit it on the computer, that turned out pretty tedious between the scanning app on my phone and the freeware photo editing program (paint.net) I've been using... so I ended up getting an actual scanner/printer for around 50 roo bucks (around 30 US!), the biggest investment of which was probably actually the 80 minutes driving to town and back.
Now for my vision I needed the perfect bee, and I happened to recall the perfect bee occurred in this old diagram of mine of a bee vacuum:
That bee at the end of the hose with the exclamation point over her head? Yep that's the perfect bee! Problem is, it's probably like half a centimeter in length. So I enlarged it, printed it out, traced over it, and inked it, to create the New, Improved, More Perfect Bee:
Although, a bit ironically, I don't think it looks so great in small any more. I cut pasted it all over the swarm in the final one below, and the two flying into the beehive are it's sisters (retraced), but anyway, below is version 1 of my vision for a swarm catching flyer:
I think the quadrant around the guy still has too much empty space / the spacing / context of it isn't quiet right just yet, but I'm not sure how to fix it?
And the spacing of the words and bee on the bottom also looks off. If I moved the bee to the right it would look better but then the bee wouldn't be centered. Not sure what to do about it. And I know it would make more sense to have "Call Kris" precede the phone number, but this way the number is under the guy calling and the name is under me.
Any suggestions greatly appreciated!!
|Tuesday, October 10th, 2017|
|More Technical Failures
My phone died today. That's my phone, laptop, and external hard drive all in a month (and though it's not in the electronics category I also had to replace the tires on my car). Getting tired of this.
I had my phone in my hand as I was going through my front door and while jiggling the key I dropped it. It's in a protective case so dropping from doorknob height onto the wooden deck wouldn't seem like it should be lethal. It didn't crack, but the screen stopped working. I still get notifications but the screen remains black and can't be swiped or typed upon.
It's funny how much one relies on one's phone. I had an hour of driving to do later and usually I listen to an audiobook on audible but I couldn't do that, and the car radio doesn't work so I just had to drive in silence and dwell on my frustration. And my phone is my time piece so I didn't know what time it was for the rest of the day. Or how would I wake up tomorrow morning?
Not to mention I can hear people messaging me but I can't respond or tell them why I can't respond!!
The same friends who helped me with my laptop volunteered to come over, even after I said I was in too bad of a mood to drive into town for the usual Tuesday trivia (and even though I live a forty minute drive out into the country from town!!). I don't know how I got so lucky to have such nice friends. So Ben and Mick came over this evening and looked at my phone, determined I probably just need to have the screen replaced and it shouldn't cost me an arm and a leg, and Ben even had an old Galaxy 4 (I think mine is a Galaxy 5) that seems alright except it's got no battery life, that he let me borrow till I get it sorted. Seriously how'd I get so lucky.
Tomorrow I'm going right into town to try to get this handled. But I still feel very frustrated with everything breaking. As I said all my electronics are of the age where they need to be replaced... which I "can't" afford to do except I'm having to. And now it'll be the same age again, can't it stagger itself?
|Friday, September 29th, 2017|
Monday, September 25th, Paris, France - I'm staying in the neighborhood of Argenteuil since my one friend in Paris lives here. While it's currently just an urban suburb of Paris, the name comes from the latin for silver + a celtic word for glade, so I like to picture it having once been beautiful forest glades beside the silvery shimmering surface of the Seine. In ye days of yore it must have been quite far from the ancient city of Paris, as it takes an hour by metro to get to the city center, crossing the Seine twice as it makes its big curves.
Arrived Monday morning at the Charles de Gaulle airport at the other side of town, took maybe two hours to get to Argenteuil after some mild but not insurmountable confusion trying to figure out the public transit.
Now, I don't know if I'm just particularly inept at booking things or this happens to everyone, but when booking things online I find often when I change one detail another changes without me noticing, or I click submit, page reloads notifying me there's a missing bit of information I have to fill out, which I do, but don't realize that when it reloaded the page, it reset the month. Twice I've had flights in or out of NY that I had very consciously tried to get out of JFK but it had switched to La Guardia on me (much harder to get to by public transit); once I booked a flight up to see a friend in Washington only to arrive at the airport to find out I had booked it for the wrong month (couldn't reschedule or even get a refund!!). So now when booking flights not only do I very very carefully scrutinize all the details before clicking submit, I always send the details to a friend to have a second pair of eyes confirm I'm not glossing over something myself.
All this is to say that after lugging my gimpy luggage (one wheel is broken) all across town I finally get to my hotel to find... I had booked it for these dates in October rather than September. The hotel did not currently have any rooms other than for nearly twice as much at €140/night. And to my utter horror my hotels.com confirmation email had the words "Cancellation policy: non-refundable" on it. After all the traveling I've been doing, with reimbursements yet to come in, I'm not feeling exactly flush with cash and losing around $300 over such a stupid little mistake would make me want to hyperventilate a bit, but fortunately the hotel staff was very nice, I talked to the hotels.com people on the phone, they talked to the hotels.com people on the phone, and we got the whole amount refunded.
But now I had to find a new hotel. After some googling and asking around I ended up at a nearby "Ibis Budget" hotel (€65/night) with a 2.7 stars review average and the gist of the reviews being basically "surely you can cough up a little more money and go somewhere else." The floors were stained and the tiny room reminded me of a hospital room (light lime green walls, does anyone, even those dying in hospital rooms, really want that?) but it wasn't THAT bad really.
The next morning (Tuesday) my friend Chantal met up with me. She being a native French speaker and actual former professional hotel booker (that's what she did in the airport in Cote D'Ivoire when/where I met her, while I was stuck in the Cote D'Ivoirian airport for three days of airport hell) we were now able to call hotels for more efficient investigation.
As it turns out, the "hotel" just beside the cute little restaurant I had discovered turned out to have a decent room for €40 a night. It's maybe not quite 5 stars but it's bigger, better, and cheaper than the Ibis Budget had been. I say "hotel" in quotations because it appears to just be a number of rooms upstairs in this building, which seems to be a standard thing, with locals during our hotel search referring to any hotel that was a dedicated hotel building as a "hôtel moderne" vs the many little "traditionnel" hotels.
Now, I went to Versailles and the Louvre and I'll get to that in a minute, but I think the cute little restaurant beside my hotel was my favorite thing in France. It was just a cute little place with one three course set menu every day -- for €13, an appetizer, main, dessert, and a _carafe_ of wine! I remember last time I was in France I encountered the single set menu thing as well, I think its cute. The place seemed to be mostly frequented by locals, and it sometimes took two of the employees working together, combining their meager English and my meager French, to get my order across but they seemed not the least bit bothered by this. After eating the first day I discovered they don't accept cards and I didn't have any Euro cash yet ... but the (manager?), Hamid, said "you'll be here a few more days? pay tomorrow, not a problem!"
On my last evening I came in around 8:30 in the evening, I asked Hamid, who appeared to be off duty but hanging out there, if they served dinner, he communicated that they did not but after I asked if anywhere else nearby might be serving dinner he thought about it, seemed to conclude there wasn't, and was asked me if I'd like some beouf et pomme frites, and then he scampered off to fire up the kitchen and ended up bringing me the whole three course meal, wine carafe and all, for the same €13!
In Australia for that price (19.58 Roo Bucks equivalent) you could get maybe the wine carafe.
And in general, this little restaurant being just beside my hotel and the staff all being super friendly it was just a joy every time to pop in and see them.
Tuesday, September 26th - After getting my hotel sorted out Chantal and I proceeded to Versailles (about an hour away, it seems like through something like relativistic physics everything is an hour from everything else via the metro system). There was a huge line to get in. Once inside it was pretty cool though. There's plenty of writing about Versailles around so I'm not going to spend time on a detailed description of it here. Sadly after having spent the morning chasing after a hotel we were getting too tired and hungry to really explore the extremely extensive palace gardens, I suppose I'll have to go back.
Wednesday, September 27th - Went to the Louvre (by myself, Chantal unfortunately had her first day of classes for the semester in a local uni). About an hour on metro. Fairly long line at the main glass pyramid entrance (though it was just after opening at 9am on a random dreary weekday in September so it wasn't as long as it could be I think), but I didn't even bother with that as I'd gotten a pro-tip from the internets that there was a secret underground entrance with no line. Verily, I found said entrance and there was no line (pro tip, when visiting the louvre, find the secret underground entrance ;) ).
Previously I didn't actually know what the Louvre was other than a big museum, presumably underground. It turns out it's in another former palace, mostly aboveground, and parts of the original medieval fortress can be seen belowground, who knew!
They always say it takes days to see the Louvre, and, keeping this in mind, I maintained a pretty fast clip throughout and avoided me usual reading of most every description (avoiding the temptation was aided by the fact that many of them were only in French). I'm not sure but I think I managed to see all the major areas, though in the end I found myself in a hall of rugs and feeling delirious and hungry I may not have seen all the rugs.
Part of the problem though is that it's not really a museum that has a single logical path through it but you have to kind of backtrack and and circle back through areas to get to places you may have passed the first time through.
Saw the Mona Lisa, sort of ... this was as close as I got. Saw the Venus de Milo behind a forest of selfie sticks, and a lot of less famous stuff, like this cool grave-related thing (sits on top of a grave or sarcophagus?). A hall of statues, three muses, a centaur and stuff.
After becoming deliriously hungry I finally stumbled out to go find food (there's cafes inside but they all looked extremely unsatisfying and overpriced). At this point I was feeling too hungry to even make a decision about food but I wanted to eat at one of the cute sidewalk cafes Paris is known for. Ordered a "confit de canard" or some such, precisely because it seemed very French. Thats duck confit but I don't know what confit is still. It was alright but not really amazing.
Then I just wandered down to the cathedral of Notre Dame on its wee little island in the Seine. I found the scenery and architecture very beautiful in this area, and there were some quieter cuter sidewalk cafes here I rather wished I'd held out for instead of stumbling into the first one I came to outside of the Louvre, but as mentioned, was deliriously hungry at that point. Reflected that though I wasn't quite sure I wanted to like Paris since it seems a bit over-romanticized in the world's collective imagination, this area is indeed quite charming and beautiful. And on the subject of collective impressions, I've seen no evidence of the "french people are rude" stereotype, as mentioned the people at the restaurant by my hotel were super nice, as was the woman at the booked out hotel, and during my previous visit while in rural france the hotel manager drove me to the train station since no taxis were to be found, altogether my experience has been of exceptional nice-ness in France.
Obligatory picture of Notre Dame Cathedral
Thursday, September 28th - Departed via the Orly airport south of the city. I still haven't seen the Eiffel Tower up close (did see it at a distance, it sure looms over the city!), also I really wanted to see the catacombs. Next time!
Am now in Turkey for the beekeeping conference. More on that of course in another entry!
|Flight to France
Hello from Paris, France.
I will be attending the world beekeeping conference in Istanbul and due to the vagaries of airline
pricing I am taking a very convoluted route there and back. So now I'm in France.
Departed Melbourne Sunday after I believe not quite even two weeks back. The equinox and therefore beginning of Spring (by my reckoning anyway -- Australians are barbaric heathens who just consider the season to change on the first of every third month), which, normally I don't travel much during Spring and Summer because the beekeeping season is on, but hey this conference is Kinda A Big Deal.
And now another episode of...
In Flight Movie Reviews!
I've watched just about everything worth watching and Etihad has an unusually bad selection (and a huge amount of auto playing advertisements! I remarked on this last time but it bears commenting again, I thought you were supposed to be classy Etihad!) so this is really down to scraping the bottom of the barrel for crumbs.
X-Files Season 10 - I've had to turn to the "TV Shows" section of the in flight entertainment I've gotten that desperate. Anyway this is the new season of X Files after something like a ten year hiatus! Ah the memories of watching that intro (they didn't change it!) back in high school! Of the three episodes I thought the first one seemed a bit more there's-very-definitely-a-alien-related-government-conspiracy than I think I remember there being but then again I'm not sure how accurate my memory is. Episode 2 was good and a bit in a different direction, glad they're starting out running through the paces. And Episode 3 was really quite funny and I really liked it. Not to give away any spoilers but it was in the strange small town happenings / cryptids / monsters category.
Arthur: Legend of the Sword: I really didn't even want to watch this the trailers had looked ridiculous but eventually during the 14th hour of the flight or so I gave in because I do really like Arthurian stuff and thought I'd at least have a look at it, and.... it's utterly ridiculous!!! Like. WTF. It seems to take place in a not-England fantasy land except London is there. There are giant (giant!!) elephants with castles on their backs, the bad guys have an army of pleather-clad ninjas, for some reason all references to druids have been replaced with "mages" lest any semblance of the actual historic context seep through and just... really ridiculous. I don't have enough internet access just now nor quite the interest to look at its critical reviews but I hope it got the shellacking it deserved. I only got about halfway through before in-flight entertainment shut off (again, WTF Etihad, the entertainment system doesn't work until you're at cruising altitude and shuts down again as descent begins, leaving us sans entertainment for a good forty minutes at the beginning and end for no clear reason), and I do not feel any need to watch the rest of this film whose underlying idea seems to simply be "so we take a few key words from the story of king arthur and just cobble together from there a super CGI heavy fantasy drama from the cheapest script writer we can find."
Will post about Paris itself in another entry.
|Sunday, September 17th, 2017|
|Technical Difficulties: Answers Found
Yesterday my friend Mick (kind of diminuitive and prematurely bald, a machine programmer for a laser etching place) came over with friends Ben (funemployed, biggish with a grin like a jack o lantern), and Frankie (I.T. guy for a local ice cream factory (!!)) to help me figure out my electronics. Frankie suspected he knew what was wrong before arriving, which I think turned out to be right, and chided me in a friendly manner for several classic calling-IT-support cliches such as telling him what I thought was wrong ("just tell me the symptoms!").
The external hard drive is completely borked. Toasted. Croaked. It needs to be reformatted which would lose all its contents. Because my laptop had been really running out of space pretty much all my pictures were stored there and some of my documents ... I still have to survey the damage and figure out how many important documents were still on the old laptop instead of the drive. I'm not tooooo heartbroken about the pictures, not as much as when my phone was stolen in Kenya with 40 days worth of photos, since on that occasion I had not yet done anything with those pictures but I've probably posted all the good ones from the batch on the hard drive. But still, I'm going to poke around for data recovery and if it can be done in the low hundreds of dollars might go for it. Everything is wicked expensive in Australia so it might be worth doing back in the states, or as I realized in Kyrgyzstan this last trip, there's actually computer stores and things there with prices a fraction of what they are here so that maybe even I'll be able to find someone who can do data recovery on the cheap there and take hte hard drive next time I go over?
The camera it turned out just needed to be charged more. It had enough charge to take pictures and conduct all other functions so it hadn't occurred to me it might need to be even MORE fully charged. So that was an easy fix.
So above and below are pictures from the DSLR! Another increasing problem is that my eyesight seems to be worsening fast and a lot of pictures weren't perfectly in focus I think because I can no longer actually see well enough to quite make it out through the little viewfinder if its perfectly in focus ): ): ):
Interestingly when you see the two pictures side by side such as on flickr it looks like it could be one continuous picture.
Anyway, I'm still in the disbelief / denial stage about the hard drive, having trouble / mentally refusing to fully grasp the loss of all my stuff.
***UPDATE: Going through pictures I just realized for some reason my phone HADN'T auto backed up my pictures from August 16th and 17th to google photos, and at the end of the Kyrgyzstan project I had moved all the pictures from my phone into "safe keeping" on the external hard drive ...... so all those pictures are now presumed lost / held hostage by the hard drive!! Ii was in Kyrgyzstan at the time and notably that was the day I got to have my picture taken holding gosh darn eagles. Fortunately I have the pictures from the DSLR (eagles!), and the the small instagram versions of the pictures I posted from my phone to IG. :-/
Current Mood: distressed
|Saturday, September 16th, 2017|
Arriving home to my cute little house in my cute little village on the edge of the temperate rainforest in southern Australia, I naturally was eager to get the pictures off my DSLR as well as try to trouble-shoot the external hard drive. Recall that (A) I bought a new laptop right before the trip since the old one had finally become too tedious to feasibly use with several keys no longer working; and (B) that the external hard drive worked until literally the moment I was setting up for a presentation to a room full of people, and all my presentation materials were on the hard drive! Since the whole reason I lug a laptop around the world is to give presentations, this is the very definition of "you had ONE job!!"
I'm not actually that technically adept. Trouble shooting the hard drive consisted of confirming that nope, it still doesn't work. Plugging it in makes a connect noise on the computer, and the light lights up on the hard drive, but it doesn't show up as a network locaiton. I tried all three USB ports with the same response. That was the extend of trouble shooting ideas I could come up with.
Okay time to try the DSLR. I had neglected to bring the proper cord with me, the camera end connection being the wider trapezoid. The proper trapezoid-to-USB cord rigged up and... nothing.
Okay two memory-through-USB devices aren't working. Try my phone to see if that works. Phone seems to work (though yesterday it was behaving a little odd itself, very slow to read the files). Still though, two devices not working and the third not quite 100%, seems to be a computer issue.
So I dust off and turn on the old laptop, (which I've decided to rename from "Sparky III" to "Rocinante.") and... neither device works there either!! Though also that laptop had lost the ability to transfer pictures from the phone a few months ago (can read them fine but the file transfer of even just one image will often never finish).
Electronics naming aside: I kind of feel like naming the new laptop after one of the "horses of loa" in William Gibson's Neuromancer series but can't remember their names and can't actually seem to google them up... which is kind of ironic. Anyone remember their names?
Bottom line... it's kind of hard to trouble-shoot and isolate the problem when every electrnoic device I have is ancient and unreliable!!! My phone itself has a number of quirks (its from 2013 I think), old laptop is from 2010, DSLR I bought off my cousin in 2012 and it was old then, external hard drive is from 2013 and never had a problem before this. Problem could be in any one of the cords as well, I don't know how old they are, but have used a different cord for each of these devices, but don't have spare cords to try.
My computer savvy friend Mick might come over this evening with some new fully functional equipment which will aid in trouble-shooting.
Since this laptop is brand new and all my documents and everything is on the hard drive I'm currently unable to access any of my stuff.
Anyway in the mean time if anyone has any ideas I'm all ears.
|Wednesday, September 13th, 2017|
|Nicaragua, Going Out in Smoke
Wednesday, September 6th - around 10am the same driver who had brought me up from Managua to Somoto arrived in his red corolla to take me back down. He's a nice professional fatherly sort of figure named Luis. Doesn't speak terribly much English so we don't talk alot but he's very nice.
Coming up, as we drove through the town of Esteli he had pointed out the cigar factories, apparently the major local industry. And he claimed they were as good as Cuban cigars and a lot of Cubans had fled the revolution there and brought their cigar making to Nicaragua. Since I wanted to get gifts for my friend Ben (for driving me the two hours to and from the airport), and Mick for his tech support, and they both smoke, I figured some high quality cigars would be just the thing! So I asked Luis if we could stop by a cigar factory.
"You want tour of cigar factory?" He asked. Why, yes, sure, why not! Luis immediately set about calling a guy who arranged tours.
Arrived in Esteli just before noon, and since the cigar factories are apparently all on lunch break till one he showed me around downtown a bit. Saw one building with a mural of rebels fighting during the civil war with raged 1978-1990 in Nicaragua painted the side of a building that was pockmarked with bullet-holes from that same fighting. While we were in the central cathedral the howling wail of an air raid siren began just outside, which I found quite startling. The news these days has been saturated with North Korean nuclear ambitions but I immediately dismissed my immediate area as at all a plausible target for North Korean nukes, but maybe they were volcano alert sirens??
The tour guide seemed unperturbed as he continued to walk up the aisle toward the altars and many surrounding statues. "Uh, what was that?" I asked as soon as the siren had stopped.
"Oh, that" he chuckled, "they do that at noon every day day so everyone knows to go to lunch. Noon at 6am"
"They blow that thing at 6am???" I asked in shock, "it's so loud!!"
"Yes, so everyone knows to get up for work"
Then the church bells began to toll. "They also do that" he said nodding upward
"It's much nicer I think" I said.
Presently it was time to visit the cigar factory. We drove past a few of them before coming to the one we were to tour. I had kind of pictured there'd be cigar making machines in it, but instead there was a big room full of people sitting at desks making cigars. One thing that particularly impressed me was that the tour guide nodded to a guy who looked indistinguishable from everyone else, sitting at a desk busily folding leaves together, with a lit cigar in his mouth, and said, "that's the boss."
The tobacco starts by aging for (six months?) in a room adjoining the assembly area. They say it ferments but I'm not sure if this is in the same sense as beer/yeast fermentation? Either way apparently they heaps of tobacco get extremely hot and have to be overturned every now and then to prevent the stuff in the middle from getting burnt.
People at the first few tables were sorting leaves according to how dry/dark they were, then at another set of tables they were actually rolling up the cigars. I'm told one person can make 350 cigars in a day, and gets 1 cordoba per cigar (30 cordobas = $1, so they're making around $11 a day), but between the drying and aging and all each cigar is about a year in production. After watching the cigar maker make a few I was given a chance to try my hand at making one ....... I'm not about to make it rich as a cigar maker.
From there they go to a shaper who smooths them out into the perfect shape and then to people who put the little label rings on them.
Now of course after all this I was offered to try a cigar. And now, I'm quite proud to have never smoked a cigarette or... anything else except the nargile hookah things in the Middle East, but I figured since one isn't supposed to actually inhale cigar smoke it's not the same as smoking a cigarette so I thought I'd give it a go. I was also not terribly good at this, though someone took a picture of me and I like to think it at least looks relatively suave. The owner took a break from his work to come over and give me some cigar smoking pointers, as did the one security guard, whilst casually wearing his shotgun slung around his neck, and I have to give everyone in the room credit for not falling over laughing at my difficulties in sucking in enough air to keep it puffing without coughing on it myself. I'm sure they had a good laugh once I left.
Continued on to Managua, with a stop at a grocery store to buy some of the Nicaraguan Flor de Cana rum. Got to the hotel around 6pm, which was after the hotel store had closed which made me very sad because I had rather fallen in love with a small painting of a toucan there that I had intended to buy, and since my flight was early the next morning before the store opened, I'd have no chance.
That evening in the hotel bar there were a bunch of disgustingly wholesome looking young men, they type who look like they're all named Chad and play guitar at their church youth group, and they were enthusiastically comparing eachother's churches and discussing the pros and cons of churches charging for parking. I'm assuming they weren't drinking alcohol.
At the airport the next morning another group of young men in suits with name tags approached the gate area and I at first assumed they were the flight crew but nope more religious missionaries. The power in the terminal went out for a good ten minutes. Beyond my airplane through the windows a large plume of white smoke rose from a volcano. While I waited I read the latest hurricane news, hurricane Irma had broken all sorts of records for size and scale and just mauled Puerto Rico.
During my flight to Atlanta they served us a pitiful "ham sandwich" (just some ham in a beat-up looking roll), and my stomach, having survived the local water in Kyrgyzstan and Nicaragua all this time, had a bit of trouble with this questionable parthian shot of a sandwich -- such as that when I arrived in Atlanta with two hours during which I could have eaten at the Five Guys there I couldn't muster any appetite.
Continued on to San Francisco and... that's another entry!
[in other news, posting this from back home in Australia! Where I finally arrived today!]
|Wednesday, September 6th, 2017|
|Field Report: Out and About in Cusmapa
Sunday, September 3rd - In the early afternoon Alex the Spaniard went to go play futball with a local team and the girls invited me to go visit a friend of theirs with them, which sounded dandy to me. After just two blocks we reached the end of town and proceeded on a cow path a very short distance onto a forested hillside, some of the foliage underneath smelled of mints, and it was a nice sunny day.
Their friends turned out to be a young couple, Emma and Norbit (?) with three young children including a precocious little toddler girl who delighted and amused one and all. Apparently Emma works with the girls at Fabretto. Emma and Norbit were very nice and even though the only person present who could translate for me was the French girl, Emma and Norbit occasionally directed questions my way and seemed very friendly and hospitable. They gave us tamales. We all sat in a sort of semi enclosed space beside their house, walled on three sides with the fourth open to the clearing in front of their house. The other sides of the clearing consisted of tall flowering plants, it was quite beautiful in the warm afternoon sun. Chickens pecked about the ground, a small dog (Lucy?) snoozed nearby, and a small kitten meowed quite piteously if anyone was eating anything and not sharing it with her.
Presently I was asked if I'd like to go horseback riding, which of course I would. Arrangements were made and some twenty minutes or so later Norbit led the three of us down the path leading from the front of the house down across a small stream and up again to a dirt road, where three saddled horses were waiting for us. We saddled up and set off trotting only loosely guided by the horse's minder on foot. Now, as someone who does not own a horse, the opportunities to ride a horse are usually severely limited to mere "trail rides" where the horse proceeds along a course so familiar to it it may as well be asleep; and most of my interaction with horses these days is limited to them trying to bolt out of farm gates I'm trying to drive into to go see some beehives. So I greatly enjoyed this rare oppotunity to take a horse on a free ranging meandering course. I found my horse to be extremely responsive, unlike some previous horses I've been on, and was pleased to find I had no trouble at all turning it this way or that, stopping, starting or speeding it up. Somewhat restored my faith in horses which of late has been badly shaken by the horses that when not trying to bolt out the farm gate are trying to bite me. i couldn't recall my horse's name but one of the others was apparently something like "Cinqua Carmella" which everyone who heard it thought was quite a hilarious name, if someone who speaks spanish could explain the joke to me I'd be interested.
We ranged along "roads" behind the village which can only be traversed by foot, horse, or maybe some sort of tracked vehicle. I continue to marvel at the cute adobe houses with pink tiles that just look so much like the stereotypical latin american rural adobe that it almost feels like it shouldn't actually BE that way.
After we'd gone a little ways up and down some hills (up and down the tops of the hills anyway, the bottoms were WAY down) our guide instructed us we should turn around and I was told "it's just two more hours down this road to Honduras"
"By car?" I naively asked
The French girl laughed and said "no, by horse. There are no cars here."
On the return we left the guide (on foot, recall) behind, and got somewhat lost upon reaching town, trying to find where to return the horses to, which was actually kind of fun because it gave ample opportunity to confirm that the horse wasn't merely following the road but that I could take it down this road or that, or turn it around, and just generally wander around the quiet cobbled streets on the horse.
When I was considering moving to Ethiopia and maybe doing some work at the university in Bahir Dar I had asked an Ethiopian friend if it would be weird if I just used a horse to get about and she kind of laughed and said maybe a little but they'd forgive me for being a ferengi. I've always quite liked the idea of getting around on a horse. In Cusmapa there were definitely more people getting around on horse than by car, the wide open cobbled streets are mostly traversed by pedestrians but you can't go ten minutes without someone clip-clopping by on a horse, maybe with a hoe over their shoulder or a bag of groceries. I actually saw a small boy on a horse with a brightly colored backpack on his back, apparently headed to school!
Arriving at our destination, Emma's parents house sits on the ridge at the very top of town commanding a magnificent view. Her father confided in me (through translation of course) that he had bought it (14?) years ago for $300.
Leaving the horses there we walked back to Emma and Norbit's place to wyle away the afternoon. At one point there was a brief thunderstorm and rainshower but it quickly passed (the weather report for Cusmapa lists every single day in range as thunder showers). It was dark by the time we made our way back to our own house, the moon being fairly full lately it was bright out and the streets shone white in the night. I noted there didn't seem to be any street lights.
Monday, September 4th - Marcus fetched me and we switched out his toyota hilux for a land-cruiser because we were to do some very serious driving. It took about 40 minutes of driving down VERY steep roads, and occasionally up them. At first the road was "paved" with nothing more than two concrete lines for the wheels, which I've seen in someone's driveway before but never for much of a length, and then even that ended. At the end when I saw how completely bald the tires were I was even more amazed. We arrived under a canopy of tropical trees, surrounded by a lot of banana or banana-like trees, just three adobes near the road. The end of the road. Some young men were there to greet us and Marcus looked up at me with shock after briefly conversing with one of them:
"This guy says he knows you!!"
I was amused by how unlikely that seemed to him, but at the beekeeping workshop at the national university on my first day in Nicaragua I had been informed there were two young men from Fabretto, and lo, verily, this was one of them.
We looked at the beehives, they were pretty good, they'd had 27, but ten appear to have absconded due to lack of forage in the area. Biggest issue was that they said they had a lot of problems with small hive beetles and on examination most of their comb was very old and dark -- hive beetles aren't really an issue if you switch out your dark comb regularly (they don't like the honey or pure wax but rather proteinacious materials such as pollen and the build up of stuff that's in dark comb). That's your beekeeping wisdom of the day. Of course I instructed them how to do this. Also "El Gato" kept coming up as a sort of paradigm of good management (and he's only 18!). I kept picking up "el gato" in conversation and asked Marcus why they called him El Gato. Marcus told me its because he has blue eyes ... seeing him later I determined they're actually kind of a yellowish green, which is striking and cat-like enough.
Fast forward through returning back to Cusmapa, walked about town a bit and read a lot, and then the three volunteers returend home from volunwork in the early evening, and barely had they popped in than Shannon (the French girl, pixie-cut hair) told me they were going to Emma's sister's birthday and would I like to come along. Which as you may have gathered it's always my policy to say yes to this kind of thing.
First, in the early evening and comfortable refreshing air, as drums beat methodically from somewhere nearby, we walked a few blocks to someone's house whom they had apparently commissioned to bake cakes for them. It was a grandmotherly lady, I suppose maybe she's a baker, but it appeared merely to be her house? It being a tiny town, of course on every block the three volunteers greeted someone familiar to them cheerfully and often with laughter. I can see how living in this cute little town could really be delightful.
Returning to Emma's parents house at the top of the hill, we spent the evening sitting around in their livingroom, which though it had a bare concrete floor and walls and the ceiling was merely the underside of the corrugated metal roof, it was filled with warmth and seemed in no way lacking as a home. A small chicken spent most of the evening under my chair. Emma's father was a jovial friendly fellow, Emma's sister and her pretty teenage friends were rather shy and Alex, the Spaniard, often made them blush with his boisterous joking antics. A small child apparently thought I was Alex's father, which, I suppose we're both lean, pale, and bearded, and I suppose I do have rather a fair bit of grey in my beard whereas he does not have any, but it made me feel rather old. (he's 27, I'm 35).
When I felt the need for fresh air I'd step out front, where the two volunteer girls were hanging out because they were smoking (because they're European, after all), and noted the constant flash of lightning in the distance.
Tuesday, September 5th - I was awakened in the early hours of the morning by a loud bang, like a cannon shot, nearby. This was NOT another mango dropping on the roof.
A second bang came from much further off. The dogs began barking, the roosters crowing, and somewhere either a car alarm or police siren started to sound.
Then tehre was another nearby bang. Another further bang. Was this... a shootout??
A further bang (sounded like it was coming from a few blocks down the street) ... a nearby bang which sounded like it was just beside the house. Well, maybe this town isn't so innocent after all I thought to myself lying in bed listening for any other telltale signs. After ten to fifteen minutes the explosions stopped, and I fell asleep again.
In the morning my housemates didn't know what it had been about. Alex had apparently been inspired to evacuate from his bed near the streetside wall to a couch in the living-room (I wasn't in a street-side room, and did reflect that bullets probably wouldn't travel through multiple adobe walls). Alex questioned some people that walked past our front door and all he could gather was that people said it was a celebration, something to do with the church. I don't know. Didn't sound very festive to me. When Marcus came to pick me up I asked him and he claimed to have heard no sounds at all, which I find rather disingenuous. But I do still want to believe in the fundamental innocence of the little town of Cusmapa. In favor of the celebration theory though I later heard similar loud bangs during the middle of the day in Somoto from just beside my hotel and it didn't seem to be a gun battle in that case so there's that.
Marcus fetched me and we drove back to Somoto. Met up with El Gato and inspected some more beehives that Fabretto is thinking about buying from another company. Tried not to look too weird as I tried to ascertain his eye color. FINALLY got a bee sting, was beginning to be concerned I'd not get a single bee sting here but one got me in the sock since my current interim pair of boots aren't as high ankled as my normal boots. Altogether I'm surprised I was prepared for wild wild africanized bees here but the bees do not seem as bad as the africanized bees I was accustomed to in California. Could it be that the bees I grew up with are actually some of the meanest in the world?
And now I'm in the hotel El Rosario again. Tomorrow I head back to Managua and the next day I leave Nicaragua, will be in the states a few days for my brother's wedding and then on to Australia. I don't generally get "homesick" but working all these other bees I've begun to quite rather miss MY bees, plus of course, Cato, King of Cats. But less I start to miss it too much I check the weather back home and its all highs in the fifties and raining.
|Monday, September 4th, 2017|
|Field Report Cusmapa
August 28th - September 1st, Somoto, Nicaraugua - The Hotel El Rosario feels like a sort of cross between a hotel and a bed and breakfast. The rooms are all in an L shaped row around a small courtyard in which they park cars at night, they are sparce and business-like. At the front the building is two stories tall with the office and possibly store rooms on the bottom floor and I think some rooms on the top, and in the fourth side the dining area and kitchen are kind of enveloped by a beautiful lush garden, and it is over here it seems more like a bed and breakfast. The staff seems to be all one family, the grandmother presides over the kitchen I think, assisted by her granddaughter and another woman or two who look like they are probably relations. The Middle aged maternal character seems to run the hotel. There is also a man of the younger generation, maybe around thirty, who is the only one who speaks English, and in fact the first time I met him I had to inquire,
"Excuse me but you speak English with almost a perfect American accent, if you don't mind my asking did you spend some time in America?"
"Oh yes," he laughed, "I lived in New Jersey ["New Joysey"] until six months ago." He wears a a thick silver chain around his neck which plays into my New Joysey stereotypes, but heas actually very friendly and nice. He commented that my hat looked jewish. I guess it's official. (I also find it a bit funny, that my mom just the other day completed the process to formally convert to judiaism, and this seems to coincide exactly with everyone mistaking me for a Jew, like there was an immediate cross-generational fundamental effect)
Another funny noteworthy thing about the town is every evening there's constant drumming. The first evening I thought maybe there was a parade or event and followed the noise to what appeared to be the local high school a few hundred yards away where it looked like a drum-line was practicing, but the enthusiasm seems to go beyond simply a nightly drum-line practice. The next evening I was walking downtown and a smaller different group of very young kids seemed to also be having a drum-line practice in the central square. I've seen kids walking with drums out in the countryside. They seem to absolutely LOVE their drumming. It's funny because I've read accounts of traveling in rural Africa that described hearing nightly African drumming from the villages, but I've never heard it there. In general I've been having odd little bits of this-isn't-Africa culture shock since most of my projects have been in Africa and when there's no people in sight the scenery could totally be Africa, and I forget where I am until someone comes around a corner and they're not an African in colorful fabrics.
Saturday, September 2nd- Saturday morning I checked out of the hotel and Marcus picked me up in his blue toyoto pickup for the drive to the mountain town of San Jose de Cusmapa. His father was in the back. First we swung by his house on the outskirts of town and picked up his 12 year old daughter, who also hopped in the back, and as we were just leaving town he received a call and returned to town to pick up a friend who also wanted a ride to Cusmapa, commenting "it's a small town, everyone knows what's happening, and they hear I'm going to Cusmapa they want a ride because it's a very long slow journey by bus, taking three hours with many stops."
The ride to Cusmapa took about an hour along a narrow winding road through the mountains. The road wasn't cobbled, per se, as that implies a bumpy road, but I suppose made out of paving stones? Flat concrete hexagons anyway. Much prettier than asphalt. The countryside was verdant and green, full of dramatic valleys and steep little mountains and pink tiled roofs among the trees. Marcus's old truck seemed to have a good sound system and his preference seemed to run to 70s rock ballads with the bass turned up beyond all ordinary preportion. We passed over one particularly high mountain pass where Marcus informed me "you can see the Pacific from here... or you could if there weren't all those clouds," and I noticed that almost immediately there began to be pine trees on the mountains, and wondered if they particularly liked salty air.
Cusmapa is a tiny town draped over a mountaintop, with cute narrow roads also made of the hexagonal paving stones. Marcus delivered me to a guest house run by his organization, and sitting at the table just inside were two Spaniards (one male, one female) and a Frenchwoman, volunteers. They looked in their mid to late twenties, the Spanish girl (from Barcelona) was reading, the French girl (from near Bordeaux) was on her laptop working on her thesis, and the Spanish guy (from Mallorca) was strumming a small guitar in classic bohemian volunteer fashion. They were very friendly and Spanish guy (Alex, short dark beard (no hot water to shave anyway), lean, very friendly) showed me around the house, which is quite large, with several rooms having half a dozen beds in them each. They must bring quite a few volunteers through here some times! There was one small room with only one bed in it and what really appealed to me was a window that lit it well (some of the others seemed fairly not well served by windows) that I'm surprised no one else had occupied and claimed it. I'm told they call the house "the Mango House," from the large overhanging mango trees, and indeed every now and then through the night a mango would fall on the corrugated metal roof like a random hammer blow (fortunately my superpower is not losing sleep over random things that wake me up briefly in the night)
After some initial conversation I settled down to read my book in the front room where the others were continuing to do what they'd been doing. In the early evening I set out to walk about town and struck off toward where a viewpoint ("Mirador") had been described to me, walking up the narrow streets. There's many pedestrians walking about in this tiny town and the occasional person on horseback comes trotting by with that delightful sound of hooves on stone. In the background there was the sound of ... drumming. Even in town you feel you are in a forest, the houses not being thickley set and big banana leaves overhanging them. Passed a building with a sign declaring it to be a "Ferreteria," which I had seen before and glimpsing the contents it seems to mean hardware store, but the name makes me whimsically think of a place that sells ferrets.
I was almost to the Mirador (and the drumming, getting louder, seemed to be emanating from there) when a pickup pulled up beside me and the guy inside said something to me in Spanish. At first I thought it was someone offering me a ride and tried to motion to them I was fine but then I recognized that it was Marcus' dad in Marcus' truck, so I figured maybe Marcus had sent him to fetch me for something and got in. He drove me a few blocks down to the lower end of town to their house. When I got out Marcus was there but he was just like "oh hi. I'm about to take a shower." So I was like "oh, okay, I'm going to the mirador." ...apparently his father picked me up just because he saw me? I felt a bit like when you see a beetle walking and pick him up and put him somewhere else, and he must be like "uh wtf okay great."
He did give me directions for another mirador on this end of town so I walked down that way until I came to where I'm pretty sure there would have been a great view if the valley below wasn't filled with cloud, and started heading back. With a crack of thunder it began to pour down on me, and while around me locals ran for cover I just took my hat off and held it over my camera, soon I was soaked but my clothes are all made of that stuff from REI that dries out ultra fast so I wasn't concerned about getting wet (and indeed I was mostly dry by the time I got back to the house). I did stop under a thick overhang of banana leaves during the heaviest part of the downpour, but it only lasted a few minutes.
At the mirador at the top of the hill, which I had originally been headed to (and arriving there confirmed I'd been picked up 50 yards from it to be deposited a few hundred yards down the hill), I found a wet basketball court, gaudily colored playground equipment (see my instagram), some people still hanging out under the eaves of the bathroom and a small hall (though it was no longer raining), and what looked like a glorious view of cloud filled expanses. The sun appeared to be just setting, as far as I could discern from a golden glow in one part of the clouds. Despite the clouds obscuring the view it was still a beautiful view. Also, like all parks apparently in Nicaragua, this park had wifi (Alex mentioned it kind of eyerollingly as a colossol waste of money, and indeed I doubt wifi is the very highest thing on the pyramid of needs that the money could have been used for. Kind of like that "Akron Light Up Africa" charity that's been wasting millions putting lamp posts throughout West Africa (and what gets my goat is there was a meme going around about how "if Akron could light up X cities in Africa in X amount of time what have the other charities been doing all this time??" and when I see it I comment "actual useful things"). So while enjoying the view I took the opportunity to post some pictures to Instagram as well as directly to my parents and other interested parties.
Arriving back at the guesthouse i found it dark and deserted. The three volunteers had invited me to play pool with them in the evening and I feared I had missed them. I found a lightswitch and read for an hour or two (found a book of Hemingway's collected short stories, I really love Hemingway!), and then walked to the bar that had been mentioned just down the block to see if they were there. They were not but there were at least half a dozen people at three different tables who seemed to be having quite a good time, one of the tables even seemed to have two cute girls hanging out by themselves (another difference from West Africa, where you never see women in the bars), but after quickly scanning the room and not seeing my friends I left and returned to the guesthouse.
The three eventually returned, I never did catch where they'd been, but then we all set off to play pool at another bar two blocks down! This turned out to be a plane adobe-brick building like all the others, without even a sign over the door, but inside was a big room with two functional pool tables and two that appeared to be in disrepair and were now being used to sit upon and set drinks on, and as well some of the pool-cue racks on the walls seemed partially destroyed, giving the whole place this weird sort of post-apocalyptic-pool-hall feel. Some local guys were playing on the one functional table and the other was open for our use. We were joined by some locals they seemed to know. The game of choice here wasn't the pool I'm accustomed to (not that I play that much at all), but a game called "21" where you try to get the balls in the holes in the order of the ball number, and have to hit the next-numbered ball first. Since instead of having all of stripes or solids to choose from as pool is generally played in Southern California, one only has one ball one is aiming for so a lot more skill is required to get at it around any intervening balls.
After a bit of this and of course some beers (local beer "Tona"), we went to the house of some friends (/coworkers with the organization?) of theirs for dinner and more beers and the local rum (Flor de Cana) and had an enjoyable sociable evening that went on into the early hours of the morning (well like 1, but I've been going to bed early so it felt pretty late). Alex apologized to me several times since everyone was speaking Spanish and it must be weird not to understand but the truth is that I'm very accustomed to being surrounded by people speaking languages I don't understand, but usually my projects are more of a solitary affair and I was greatly enjoying the opportunity to actually hang out with people in such a casual social and festive setting.
|Saturday, September 2nd, 2017|
|Field Report: Not Giving A Powerpoint in Somoto
Wednesday, August 31st - "They call him Elgato"
"Yes El Gato"
"Yes the cat" says Marcus, chuckling.
"El Gato" is a young man, who I suppose did have watchful intense sort of eyes. Also he seemed to have a passion for beekeeping, and needless to say, we got along great. I've often remarked before on these projects, there'll be those people whom you don't share a language in common with, but you just look at eachother and you know you get eachother.
The beehives were had visited the day before were jointly owned by several people, badly made, and clearly hadn't been inspected in far too long. El Gato runs more hives by himself (I think like fifteen) and they are all perfectly maintained, I think he says he inspects them all every eight days, which if anything might be excessive, but I admire his enthusiasm, which he clearly has. After we looked at his honeybee hives he showed us two hives he has of local stingless bees of the Melipona genus (see pictures on my instagram) which I find very interesting. Its interesting how their honey, which presumably comes from the same nectars as honeybee honey, tastes so different, definitely an indication of how bees are not merely dehydrating nectar but doing SOMETHING to it.
Thursday, September 1st - I first mistook them for swallows flitting low above the milky azure water, wingtip to wingtip like stunt pilots at an airshow, but then after they attached themself to the canyon wall I realized they were bats. I was floating down the famous Somoto Canyon in a place where I couldn't touch the bottom and the grey stone walls rose above me maybe 200 feet. The warm sun was able to filter all the way down through the narrow canyon and the water was a bit chilly but not uncomfortably so.
The day before while trying to decide whether it was best to schedule a canyon visit before or after our days beekeeping visits Marcus had called the community we were going to visit and was surprised to learn they had no beehives at all, so he declared we'd just see them at the training workshop we'd put on on Friday, leaving me completely free Thursday to go on the longest version of the famous canyon tour.
We (guide and I, I forget his name but he was a nice young fellow) began mostly walking along the river but soon were up to our waists and deeper. Wearing lifejackets, it was fun to just let the current push oneself along. In addition to the bats I saw two feral beehives hanging in nooks well up the cliff-face, a large solid sided wasp nest in an overhanging tree ("we call that a 'pig's head' because it looks like one," and it does), and two more German girls jumping from a 60 feet ledge on the cliff. At one point where another river came in my guide pointed to a yellow marker just a few hundred meters away and said "see that, that's Honduras" I was sorely tempted to go visit Honduras (I've been as close to Poland too) but it was just far enough away to be inconvenient.
A fair bit of the middle was mostly walking again and more open, and then the last bit, after another place where you had to jump from a ledge to continue, was a long deep channel that people on "the short tour" reach from the downstream end, and I'm told the lazy sometimes just have their guide pull them along on an innertube. The very last 600 meters one travels in a rowboat rowed by a boatman waiting for said purpose, then we walked along a delightful path for two kilometers along the riverbank, at one point a local man riding a horse at a quick trot passed us on some business. Had lunch at a little restaurant (just a motherly figure and her beautiful daughter and one table in the shade beside their pretty house) near the trailhead, which was absolutely delicious, and took the local bus back to town.
Friday, September 2nd - "We.. don't have any students actually" says Marcus, chuckling perhaps a bit anxiously, at the appointed time of 1:30 when we were supposed to have that training. I am actually zero percent surprised.
That morning he had told me there was a bit of a fair ("I think that's the word for it?") at the headquarters of the local host organization, and that I didn't need to come until we'd do the workshop at 1:00. Going sounded more interesting than sitting around at the hotel all day so I went, and I'm glad I did!
There was first a bit of a talent show thing with students performing some traditional dances, which I thought was interesting to compare them to the traditional dances performed by the similarly aged Dungan dancers in Kyrgyzstan last week. But then even more exciting, they had a sort of food contest where the competing teams apparently made local dishes completely from scratch, I'm talking they milled the corn themselves. By strategically following close behind the judges I was able to be offered a sample of many different interesting local dishes. Many were similar yet different to familiar Mexican dishes, for example they had two tamale-like things, with names that sounded almost but not quite like tamales, that tastes almost but not quite like tamales. Also tacos here are always rolled into a tube and cooked such that the tortilla is crunchy.
When it finally came time for the beekeeping workshop, Marcus explained that the students had supposed to stay after the fair but in fact had all gone home ... BUT I could train the organization's teachers, of whom there were I wildly guestimate around 20 in attendance, so that was an alright turnout after all.
And then Murphy's Law of Electronics struck. Really this should be it's own law. And I'm surprised by how often this happens, my electronic devices will behave for months at a time in normal life without a hiccup and then when I'm out in the field and need them to work almost immediately things start going sideways. Last year my phone suddenly lost its ability to save pictures (similar to what it did actually when I was on vacation earlier this month), and the year before that my laptop actually locked myself out of my own username on the computer, where all my stuff of course was.
In this case, all my presentation materials are on an external hard-drive. There has never ever been a problem accessing the external hard drive, and I was using it just that morning before leaving the hotel to make sure I had what I wanted at hand. But then a few hours later I get my laptop out again this time in front of twenty people expecting a presentation from me and... it doesn't work. It will NOT read the external hard drive. It makes a connection noise and the connection light comes on on the drive but it will NOT find the drive in file explorer. I tried different USB ports. I tried resetting the computer. Nothing would work. W T F. Seriously it's eerily like the very act of having a whole room full of people counting on me being able to make it work made it not work!!!
So I made a presentation without the benefit of any visual aids, which seemed to go over just fine but I feel like it must be pretty boring just listening to me ramble with no visuals.
|Monday, August 28th, 2017|
|Field Report: Arriving in Nicaragua!
Wednesday, August 23rd, Melbourne, Australia - "Where are you from?" I ask the taxi driver in Melbourne, since he's mentioned his wife immigrating
"Africa" he says as if that should be a satisfactory answer
"Where in Africa?" I ask
"East Africa" he says as if he doesn't know why I'm bothering to inquire further
"Where in East Africa?"
"Ethiopia" he says like it's an "I told you so" that it wouldn't mean anything to me
"Where in Ethiopia?"
"Addis Ababa" he says as if this is starting to get a little weird.
"How do you like the new light rail in Addis?"
"Oh. oh. .. Uh ... They should have repaired the roads first" I relish the look of shock in his eyes that I'm current on Addis happenings. Anyway it turns out he thinks the rail system is poorly planned. He thinks they should have improved the roads first. I think getting people off the roads and onto mass transit should be a priority in every big city.
During my 14 hour overnight layover in Melbourne I crashed at the place of an American couple I know from the Americans in Melbourne facebook group.
Thursday, August 24th - Departed Melbourne for a (two?) hour flight to Sydney at 8am. Short layover there and then 15 hour flight to LAX. Flight very empty, had a whole row to myself (cue angels singing). Even though it was an entirely daytime flight they had everyone close all the windows and tured the lights way down to simulated night mode. I understand flights are more bearable if you're asleep and we bother flight attendants less when we're asleep but I hate it when they do that.
Watched several not-very-memorable movies and The Accountant which I rather liked, it's like Rainman if Rainman happened to pick up being a badass cold blooded killer as a random hobby. Watched Episode 5 of the current season of Game of Thrones on my laptop and would have watched Episode 6 but apparently the version I downloaded turned out to be unreadable.
Flight arrived late into LAX so I had only an hour to catch the continuing flight, and of course had to go through passport control, collect my luggage, go through customs, drop it at the transit luggage window, find ourselves popping out on the curb outside the terminal, go back through security again, and get to the gate. Those of us with flights in the next hour were given priority passes through passport control and customs but no help getting through security. My backpack got flagged for additional screening and as it sat getting ignored on the side table with fifteen minutes till my flight was supposed to LEAVE I implored a TSA agent if they could at all prioritize clearing my bag and they semed to relish giving me a very abrupt and cavalier "NOPE!!" I swear the US TSA is the worst and rudest in the world.
Literally ran from there to my gate and found the aircraft had had a delayed arrival coming in from Sydney so it was still boarding .... it was my same plane!!!
Also I was a bit confused to find the gate alternating listed destinations between "Managua" and "Atlanta." My ticket and itinerary hadn't listed Atlanta as a stop so this was the first I was aware I'd be going there.
Also it was during this flight that I discovered the fatigue of this arduous journey had rendered me no longer able to read even with my reading glasses for more than five minutes at a time before my eyes hurt too much. Hopefully it was just the extraordinary fatigue but I also fear my eyesight it going fast. ):
I don't know, some number of hours flight to Atlanta, also had empty seat beside me. It was only like a three hour flight but the guy with the window seat (I was the aisle) got up to use the bathroom like four times. Jesus people don't drink so much coffee, or whatever you're doing.
Did have to change planes in Atlanta. Just enough time in Atlanta to get to the gate. I think there were only two of us from the LAX-ATL leg continuing on to ATL-Managua, if its not the same plane, not really the same passengers, I'm not sure why it even is "the same flight."
This time didn't have an empty seat next to me, and having been traveling for over 65 hours, no longer able to read, no movie screens in this plane ... it was several hours of relative hell..
Managua, Nicaragua - first impression on stepping out of the aircraft door and being hit with the warm humid nighttime air (it was around 8pm) was that it smelled like a hedge. And then inside the terminal it somehow smelled like a winery. And out in front of the terminal it smelled like steaming spinach. Shuttle from the hotel picked me up for a humerously short trip to the hotel literally across the street.
This area of town doesn't seem to have anything else in walking distance so anything I can't get at the hotel I trot across the street to the shops in the airport terminal.
Friday, August 25th - I had been recruited a few years ago for a project in Nicaragua I didn't end up doing, but I emailed the guy that runs that little organization before arriving and especially when I learned I'd have Friday free made plans to meet up with him. He happened to be going to the National Agricultural College just outside town for a beekeeping presentation being put on by a Dr Van Veen out of Costa Rica, so he picked me up in a pick up truck driven by a friend of his. He and I sat in the back -- Which I'd never actually done before since that's generally illegal in Western countries but it was really nice! Who needs a convertible when you can ride in the back of a pickup!
The city doesn't seem to have any highrises that I've seen but kind of seems a vast sort of not quite suburban but, light-urbam? small urban? is there a word for this? Small cinderblock houses that barely have enough open space around them to call it a yard, but with trees and bougainvilleaa climbing the surrounding walls. We went down a bunch of residential roads rather than the bigger seemingly arterial road, I don't know if htat was to avoid traffic or what. There were a lot of little sort of bicycle-powered taxi vehicles where the driver sat behind a seat with room for two. The kind of thing you sometimes see on tourist boardwalks but this seemed to be a major source of local transport.
Agricultural campus out outside of town to the north. Some thirty or so students in attendance in a building with lots of ceiling fans, while outside other students herded cattle past. It was pretty hot except directly under the fans. Presentation was in spanish so I could only barely get the gist of it by typing the words on the powerpoint slides into google translate. Seemed interesting, especially since he had a whole segment on the native stingless bees which I'd have loved to be able to understand.
On our way back into town on the main highway traffic came to a complete and utter standstill. We were given Dr Van Veen and a colleague of his a ride to the airport so we were about anxious about this traffic. I'm told there was another highway they knew was also at a standstill and the only other way around would be an 80 mile detour. I don't know what's normal around here but I noticed a dark black plume of smoke had emerged from a nearby volcano, and it seemed ominous and possibly related but no one mentioned it so maybe not. After about an hour people had all gotten out of their cars and were talking to eachother and our driver got the down low of a secret route through back streets and we drove on the wrong side of the highway a few hundred yards (not a problem, no cars were coming from that way and plenty of others were doing the same as us) and drove into a narrow alley where we just barely barely fit after folding our mirrors in. Other cars had gone ahead of us and it seemed even more were coming behind, apparently word had just gotten out. There followed another interesting hour of proceeding down labyrinthine narrow back streets, sometimes having to back out of an impassible route. It was certainly interesting. Finally we got out on wide open back roads back out in countryside, where there were eerily few cars on the road, and always that thick black ominous plume of smoke ahead.
But finally we came back into the city and actually got to the airport in time for the flight!!
That evening I finally downloaded the most recent (Episode 6) episode of Game of Thrones and, not to spoilerize it, but I felt like it was markedly more badly written than previous episodes/seasons, in my opinion. Like nothing surprising happened, and that cliche thing where you think a main character has definitely died but it turns out they didn't happened several times (also happened in Episode 5 a lot). Later I came across an Onion article saying they basically no longer are following any script at all so I guess I wasn't the only one.
After this my laptop battery was pretty much used up and I once again am unable to charge it since I still don't have a universal plug converter for the Aus plug on my laptop and now it needs to plug into US shaped sockets here!
Saturday, August 27th - The plan was that I'd meet with the country director on this morning and find out what the plan was. When he arrived I was surprised to find him to be a young fellow looking to be in his mid 20s -- usually the country directors are older and I imagine the job description calls for a masters degree and ten years of management or something like that, so I assumed he must be a real whiz-kid. As it turns out, I have no reason to doubt his competence but I guess it's just that they don't actually have an actual country director at the moment at he's the senior staffmember (of two, where there should be four) and therefore acting country director. Found out I'm not going to the Field till Monday. On past projects I might be upset to be cooling my heels for three full days before going out but I felt and feel like I needed the time to recover from that ordeal of a trip here.
Apparently I'll be going north and it sounds like a nice area. I'm looking forward to it!
I was also introduced to two volunteers who he had jut brought back from the field. An older woman (fifties ish?) and a younger woman who had actually just a few months previously finished her Peace Corps posting here in Nicaragua. They were working together on some marketing related coconut oil project.
Spent most of the rest of the day with the women, in particular the former Peace Corps Volunteer (Eliana) was a wealth of knowledge about Nicaragua.
Also of note, in the afternoon while I was swimming at the hotel swimming pool I made my 101st rescue. Having been a lifeguard through high school, I am forever imbued with an urge to yell at kids for running on the deck by the pool or diving in in the shallow end, and catching the merest hint of the distinctive jerky wallowed flail of a distressed swimmer out of the corner of my eye grabs my full attention and sets me to red alert. A "distressed swimmer" (ie someone who is attempting to drown), isn't like they are in TV with big splashes and calls for help, and as is too often the case even though she was in many people's field of view no one else seemed to take notice. I was swimming laps at the time and got to her just as her head disappeared below water, pulled her up, put her arms on the pool edge which was actually just right there, she slipped off again, put her back and held her there ... and several minutes later her family actually noticed and hurried over, got her out. Another misconception perpetuated from Baywatch: people NEVER shower you with gratitude for rescuing them. I think something that sounded vaguely grateful, in Spanish of course, but it might have just been "I just need a minute" or something.
Last night at 11pm, an hour after I'd gone to bed, there was a pounding on my door like a god damn stormtrooper was there. As I pulled on some pants and opened the door I found someone from the hotel bar trying to explain to me I had to pay for the margarita I had had that afternoon that I thought I'd put on the room tab. I don't know why they couldn't have made it more clear at the time that I needed to pay it off that afternoon, or couldn't sort it out when I checked out like normal hotels, nor do I understand why this hotel seems to have nearly no english speaking staff despite being the premier tourist hotel in the capital. I found this nocturnal payment demand quite irksome. I'd complain to the front desk but... even the front desk guy doesn't speak English quite fluently enough that I'm confident I could make my complaint clear to him.
Sunday, August 28th - The two other volunteers left this morning and it turns out the older one was borrowing a laptop from the Organization, so now I'm borrowing the powercord from that laptop. Just taking it easy today, but starting to get my fill of "taking it easy" and really looking forward to shipping out for the field tomorrow!!
PS: I almost forgot, but for posterity, I find it's often interesting to recall what world events are going on at the time, because at the time it feels contemporaneous events are indelibly linked but of course they are not. So for the record, lots more people fled Trump's White House in the last week due to his bizarre support for white supremists, and just the other day he apparently pardoned the controvercial Arizona ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio and even a lot of Republicans seem pretty upset that he skipped the usual review process, that this seems to condone racial discrimination, and that Arpaio being a friend of his this seems pretty shameless abuse of power. Every week there seems to be more opinion articles claiming "this is finally impeachmentworthy."
|Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017|
|Suddenly in Police Custody
I was walking to passport control when it happened. Was looking at my phone looking up the details of my next flight so I don't know if he'd been standing there scanning the crowd or watched me long, but I was first aware of a young man quickly stepping into my path and then a badge being shoved into my view with the word "POLIS" emblazoned on it. It took a second to register, especially since looking up he looked nothing like a police officer: probably just shy of 30 in a tight fitting plain white t-shirt and jeans.
"Come with me" he commanded preemptorily with a thick Turkish accent.
"Oh, uh, okay." says I after a second.
I was already a bit annoyed, in Bishkek they couldn't book me all the way through to Melbourne (though they'd done the reverse on the way in?), so in Istanbul I'd have to go through passport control (really slow in IST, can take an hour), for which if I didn't have one already I'd have had to get a visa ($20 and a short line), get my luggage, and re check in. Layover here was 6 hours and I was a bit excited because The Organization had said I could expense booking into one of the airport lounges, which I've always been too cheap to do on my own dime, BUT having to re check in required waiting in the dingy uncomfortable part of the airport outside of check in until they opened check in three hours before the flight. Ie I was doomed to a0relatively uncomfortable situation without getting to redeem the promised luxuries of the lounge.
So I was feeling annoyed already when I was plucked up by the police. Now I've been "randomly selected" for "additional screening" plenty of times in the past and it's always been pretty obvious what was happening, as a uniformed officer explained what was happening and took me to a table or nook just at hand. As this officer led me down a hall past other security checkpoints it seemed a bit more serious than that.
The current Turkish government is one that arrests people for their political opinions and I've posted critically of them on social media before, even at the time thinking "I hope this doesn't come back to bite me." And I've been in and out of Turkey enough that it's not implausible they've taken notice of me.
Add on top of that I'd just been watching the Tom Hanks movie Bridge of Spies which is all about spies and suspected spies getting nabbed, and my Turkish friend Asli's dad's jokes that he suspected I was a spy suddenly was a bit of a forboding memory.
The officer led me to a small room with chairs and a desk, where we were shortly joined by another similarly dressed young man.
They went through my bag, even leading through my books, went through the pictures on my camera -- I had taken a picture just the other day of a soviet style armored personnel carrier that was half hidden in the yard across from my hotel window but other than that they'd just ad seeing donkeys and yurts. And of course asked me all the expected questions about where I'm going, where I came from, what I do.
And have I been to Turkey before? ("Yes many times"), do you know anyone in Turkey? ("Yes," for it would be hard to answer many questions about my travels in Turkey without admitting to this), "show us their contact info on your phone," I really didn't like the direction this was going but what choice did I have. "Random screening" or not it could result in trouble for my friends in a country like this. But what choice did I have? So I brought up Asli in my contact list and showed him. In the picture that displays with her contact info she's looking beautiful and official in her snow white maritime academy uniform, with gold epaulets and an officers visor-cap, but it occurred to me that they might become even more unpleasantly interested if they thought I was in contact with a member of the Turkish navy. The policeman took out his own phone and snapped a photo of the contact info page, making me cringe inside.
He handed my phone back but a few minutes later the second man asked for my phone and went through it for awhile
While they weren't terribly polite or apologetic, at least they weren't particularly rude. It was all rather business-like. They didn't smile or joke or seen pleased or particularly displeased with anything throughout. After about twenty minutes they said I could go, and on the plus side said I could go through the diplomatic passport control line and handed me a little ticket to show there. So being as this took twenty minutes and in not exaggerating that the massive passport control line can take an hour, it at least saved me time.
I talked to Asli on whatsapp while waiting to check in to give her a heads up and she didn't seem terribly concerned. She's rather apolitical anyway, if anything being a bit supportive of the government, which sometimes frustrates me a bit but at least it's a safe position for her.
Also while I waited in the check-in area this guy who barely barely spoke English was trying to ask me questions about Israel, as far as I could tell, even though from what I could gather he didn't seem to be flying there. A short time later, past the check in as I was on my way to at least LOOK at the lounges (by the time I got in I had just enough time to grab a bite in the food court before boarding), a random girl passing me in the crowd gave me a friendly smile and enthusiastic shalom and that's when I realized I was wearing my black brimmed hat, a white collared shirt, black pants ... I've accidentally dressed like a hasidic jew!!!
Was I questioned because they thought I was Jewish? And I felt particularly self conscious about this look when I was in Abu Dhabi, considered carrying the hat, but then decided I'd stand with the Jewish people and take what anti-semitism came my way. As it happens I noticed if anything more random smiles than usual. I did take the hat off as I approached the security check-point just in case, I didn't feel like being randomly selected again.
And now I'm most of the way from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne, over the western edge of Australia with three hours to go. Flight is very empty and I have a whole row to myself!!
|Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017|
|Field Report Bishkek
Writing this now while in the air over Turkey bound for Abu Dhabi. My time in Istanbul definitely warrants it's own entry (taken into custody my plainclothes cops!) which means I've gotta knock out what comes first first.
DAY 7 (Saturday)
Was in the midst of the drive back to the capital when last I wrote. The journey was uneventful but I think I forgot to mention the peculiarity of that both on the way back and the drive out the first time there were cops with radar guns every few kilometers. It seemed to be a permanent0thing, our driver appeared to have a radar gun detector that kept going off to warm of them ahead. Reminded me of the alarm buzzer in top gun like movies that goes off when someone's getting a missile lock on you.
Arriving at the hotel around three I made a serious effort to try to get my computer0to charge (I think I mentioned, my new laptop has an Australian plug and all my plug-shape-converters are for US to something else). Strangely I could get power when I plugged my phone via US plug to my US-to-Aus converter to my US-to-Kyrgyz converter to the wall, those proving that an Aus plug could get power through that converter but my computer just wasn't having it.
Talking to my tech-savvy friend Mick in Australia he graciously volunteered while I'm in Australia for my brief layover to go to my house (40 min away from Melbourne) after getting off work at 11pm, to get my other plug (getting in my house by way of keys I left in a beehive ;-D yes fully occupied by bees) and then bring it to me two hours away in Melbourne (I'm not going home during my 14 hours in Melbourne between projects). We eventually decided to see if I could solve it by simply buying locally the length of cord from walk plug to the three pins that attach to the power-brick.
That evening I met up with my friend Valerie ("Lerchik"). We'd "met" on tinder when I was last here over a year ago, though too late to meet up, and become friends0in the intervening year. Who says Tinder is "just for hookups?"
Ironically it was looking like I might miss her again by the coincidence that she was possibly traveling to Issyk-Kul for a work meeting the very day I was coming back from that same place! Fortunately she ended up going the following day.
Taxi fare downtown was about a dollar each way and the drivers seemed to have no interest in trying to overcharge or scam me (having visited Egypt I'm now forever wary). Dinner was lovely (Italian place) and I'm sure Lerchik and I are even better friends now that we've confirmed eachother's corporeal existence. Evening was quite pleasantly warm for walking outside,, which coming from Melbourne daily highs in the mid 50s (/ less than 10c) I relished.
DAY 8, Sunday
Debriefed with the headquarters staff and found out they want me to come back for additional projects in both May AND August 2018. Funny how often I start a project feeling like it's a wild presumption that I'm even qualified for this and I'm the end find they all want me to come back even more.
While in HQ I tried borrowing the piece of questionable cable from another laptop and confirmed mine charged fine with a different cable. So went into town with my translator (Hamida) to get a cable and some souvenirs. Somehow this took nearly all day but it was fun. It was a warm sunny summer day, we took the local minibus "taxis" that I find can be found in most developing cities without public light rail networks. They always lack posted routes so it takes a local to get around. Bishkek is a nice town to explore on foot though with lots of people out on this nice Sunday afternoon and tree lined streets downtown.
The cable in question was acquired for two bucks and my computer henceforth was a productive member of society.
Went to bed early, had to get up at four to begin the 73 (SEVENTY THREE!!) hour odyssey to Nicaragua. And that's a good place to start next entry ;-)