Tuesday, December 29, 2009

hiatus

obviously, i'm on one with regards to the blog and probably will be until the initial craziness of our return subsides.

hope everyone enjoyed their holidays and wish you all a happy new year!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

as promised

behold, the wonders of an alien seeking radiotelescope...





who says that $100 million was a waste of money? obviously, that thing is working...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2009...

With a blink of the eye it has arrived, the end of our first year is upon us and we’re left baffled by how these eleven months have escaped us.

From the places we’ve seen, to the things we’ve done, to the people we’ve met it has been a year swollen with memories and experiences.

When we land in Atlanta on Friday we’ll have 60 flights, 40 hotels, 5 continents, 20 countries and over 50 cities under our belt. From North America to Asia to Europe to Africa to South America back to Asia and finally back to North America we’ve cut quite the path this year. It makes me tired just typing it. But, somewhere we found the energy and even wanted more when we were limited by our location.

Now, as the year draws to a close we’re ready for home, for our friends, for our families, for southern food and Christmas. We’ve gotten over the initial disappointment of not traveling the first round and embraced a chance to recharge, regroup and reconnect.

All I can do as I reflect on this year is say my heart is truly full of overwhelming gratitude. Gratitude for this incredible opportunity, for the experiences we’ve had, for the places we’ve seen, for our safe journeys and the safe journeys of our new friends, for our old friends who stayed in touch, for our friends that came to see us, for our families that forgave us our distance, for being missed and having people to miss, for the memories we’ve created, for all the laughter, all the tears, all the joy and the sheer frustration you experience while living abroad…I’m grateful for it all. It seems an impossible feat to sum it all up or resurrect all the hundreds of memories and gather them up in one place.

These are but a few from what has been an unbelievably incredible year…

video

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sunday, Pouring Sunday

Our last weekend in Puerto Rico…I have to say there hasn’t been much I’ve been dying to see or do here. After multiple vacations to this lovely island there just isn’t much left to pique my interest. Also, it’s the last weekend of the travel year so it's going to need to be something pretty spectacular to make me want to get up early on a Saturday.

But, we had planned to see the Camuy Caves and Arecibo Observatory and after wimping out on Saturday we finally made the 90 minute trip on Sunday morning.

We arrived at the Camuy Caves with clouds looming. Everything I had read or heard said “if it rains at all they will close the caves”. Warnings from like every other person on trip advisor “watch the weather!!!”…well not sure who was in charge on Sunday but they had no problem taking us down in the pouring rain.

Had I come prepared with my quick-dry shorts and raincoat I would have been fine. I’ve spent many a weekend getting soaked to the bone and loved every minute of it. I was not prepared.

The caves themselves were pretty impressive. It was a much shorter tour than I had expected but hey we got to wear hardhats so that was cool…





Because Murphy’s Law was apparently ruling that day it had stopped raining for our entire duration underground only to start pouring again as we made our way back up. The Arecibo Observatory was about 20 minutes away and when we arrived my shorts and t-shirt were still soaked…and it was still raining.

We were told it was about 500 steps up to the observatory and that was when I had had my fill. There may have been a minor meltdown half-way up where I seriously toyed with going to back to the car to wait while they did the tour.

The Arecibo is the world’s largest radiotelescope. It was featured in that movie “Contact” and is ran by Cornell University to search for radio signals from distant galaxies in hopes of finding other forms of life. Yep, this $100 million dollar piece of equipment is there to search for aliens.

It was impressive as far as its size and its space-station quality aesthetics. The best part of the place was that we got to take pictures with an alien…that and MJ lent me $2 for an awesome coconut ice cream bar. I’ve still got to get the photos from MJ but will post when I do…of the alien, not the ice cream.

It was wet day with some mediocre sights but, when we got back my pants were fairly dry and we ordered a pitcher of margaritas at lunch. So, all in all still a pretty good Sunday!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

beware of coronas on the beach



So, this is my hand 2 weeks after my phytophoto dermatitis outbreak. It has faded significantly and has gone from looking like age spots to freckles. Not that I don't like freckles, I just don't have any on my arms so it looks ridiculous and very out of whack to have a hand full of them.

It took me a while to figure out when this sun/citrus fruit combo actually happened. But, after reading it usually peaks at 72 hours I realized it was the day we went to Old San Juan with E & K. Before spending all day in direct sun I had sweetly squeezed my Wife's limes into her margaritas at lunch. She had asked me because she didn't want to get sunscreen in her cocktails. Sunscreen that she had been smart enough to slather herself in and I had been stupid enough to forget.

I was hoping it would be gone before we got home but at this rate I'm seriously doubting it.

Lesson here is if you're dealing with citrus fruit, especially limes and you're out in the sun make sure you have on sunscreen. That, or make your spouse squeeze their own dang limes.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dominican


In all honesty, we chose to go to the Dominican mainly because the tickets there were much more affordable than any other neighboring island and after the Philippines we just weren’t dying to island hop. We had looked at going to Punta Cana, but our apartment is just steps from the beach so it wasn’t a huge draw. Eventually we settled on going to the capital, Santo Domingo.

I have to say, we could not have been more pleasantly surprised. Granted we did no research and knew nothing about it but I guess we had expected it to be like old San Juan or maybe not even as nice. We had no idea the rich, rich history of Santo Domingo and the myriad of “firsts” we were going to encounter.

Did you know that Christopher’s Columbus’ final resting place is in Santo Domingo? Or that the first street built in the new world was is in Santo Domingo? Or the first Catholic Cathedral? Or the first sundial?

You get the point.

Anyway, we did a half-day tour that turned into an all day tour on Saturday and really enjoyed ourselves. That night we all went to dinner at a restaurant actually set in a natural cave. The atmosphere was wonderful and except for our poor choice of flaming Dominican hunch-punch, I’m glad we went.






Our crazy tour guide, Bill, had told us there would be a merengue festival that evening on our streets but sadly it wasn’t until Sunday night :(

Sunday we had lunch back in the old city and tooled around the few shops that were open before heading back to San Juan.

I have to say it felt pretty great at immigration once we reached the States…last time this year!

This weekend we’ve decided to stay put again. We’ll probably make a day trip out to the Camuy Caves or just relax at the beach by our apartment. We’ve got to start organizing the suitcases and packing because we’re going to be heading home before you know it!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

lost a battle but the fight will continue



"There's never a good time for civil rights. There's never, ever, ever, ever a good time for civil rights. I know. I get that," said Sen. Tom Duane, a Manhattan Democrat who was the chamber's first openly gay member. "But the paradox is, it's always the time to be on the right side of history"

*thanks to dr. pants for the video. and when i say "dr." i mean it in the most literal sense...as for the "pants" part i can't for the life of me remember where that came from*

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Costa Rica


Costa Rica is a beautiful country with tons, seriously tons to do and see. The only bad thing is all these things aren't close to each other. There is a lot of travel time in-between and roads aren’t great so it makes for curvy, bumpy and long drives in squeaky vans.

To do Costa Rica properly you need at least a full 7-10 days if not more. We crammed in as much as we could over the 4 day weekend which maybe wasn’t the smartest thing in the world.

We came in late on Friday night so we stayed in San Jose. As a side note, can I just tell you that the Hampton Inn, yeah, I said it, Hampton Inn was a real treat. I used to stay in them when I traveled for work and I had forgotten how nice it is just to have a basic hotel that’s super clean, a staff that is super friendly and a breakfast with the things I like to eat for breakfast. If you’re traveling domestically and need a good place to rest your head you can’t beat it.

Anyway, Thursday we headed out to Arenal to see the volcano. After about 3 ½ hours of driving we reached the city and were lucky enough to grab a few glimpses of the volcano before the clouds came rolling in. Apparently it hadn’t erupted in 3 weeks but it wouldn’t have matter. That night it poured and poured and we couldn’t see 2 feet in front of us much less the volcano.




The next morning we made our way to Monteverde. First you take a boat ride across Arenal Lake and then another long ride through the winding roads. Our hotel there was nestled in a lush setting and was a welcome sight after fighting the motion sickness.

Just as we were getting ready to walk out the door to our zip lining trip I went to wash my hands. It was then that I noticed a horrible rash covering them. Needless to say we had to skip the trip so I could take a Benadryl and wait to see if whatever it was spread and I needed to go to the doctor. (Update- been to Dr. and thankfully I don’t have jungle rot or leprosy- just some weird reaction to citrus fruit and the sun- yeah, I don’t know, but he seemed pretty sure and it is starting to fade.)

We got back on track that night with an evening forest tour. It wasn’t as creepy as I had thought it would be although the mating tarantulas did make my skin crawl.



We were up early the next day for our tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest tour. It was really great. We got to see some animals, birds and it was just nice being out in the fresh air.




It is a much cooler climate there so we got to enjoy a reprieve from the San Juan sun and heat. I think my favorite was the hummingbird sanctuary at the end. Hundreds of them feasting on sugar water. It was a lot of fun trying to capture them with the camera. The pics that are there are just a few of hundreds I had to take to get them.




Later that afternoon we went out to a small co-op coffee plantation which was very interesting. I’m not sure who is getting screwed more, the growers who get paid $5 for a box that contains like 10lbs or us, the consumers, who pay $20 for 1lb of organic coffee.




The owner of the plantation was very sweet and hospitable though and I’m glad we took the tour because it means more money for his family.

We enjoyed dinner at our quaint little hotel that night and headed off early the next morning for the ride back to San Jose.

It was another whirlwind weekend with too much to do in too little time. This weekend we’re headed to the Dominican. We’re skipping the beaches and staying in the city to get a little history and maybe a rocking chair…apparently they’re famous for them. What’s a few more kilos in the luggage at this point?

visitors!!


We had a great time having E & K in town with us. Even if they were Typhoid Mary 1 & 2 and brought us the plague and they couldn’t keep their eyes open for one stinking picture ;) Seriously, not one with both of you keeping your eyes open. I know two girls who need to ask Santa for some sunglasses.






We hadn't been to all the historical sites in San Juan in many years so it was nice to see them again on such a beautiful day.

It’s funny how much we just miss having our friends around to just grab a meal with. As much as I am on Facebook, Skype and Gmail Chat trying to stay in everyone's day to day lives, there is nothing like yapping the night away over a pitcher of sangria.

We feel really blessed to have had so many visitors this year. As much as we are disappointed to be in Atlanta next round we really are excited to catch up with everyone. It will be so nice to regroup and reconnect with our loved ones.
I’m just really grateful we have so many people in our lives that make coming home so worth it.

Thanks again E & K for making the trip down. I wish we would have had more time but hey, now we’ll have 12 weeks to make up for it! Love you guys!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

'Tis the Season

Okay, so it isn't quite the season yet but. I wanted to catch you before you started shopping the day after Thanksgiving.

As many of you know Julie and I hold the Genesis Shelter very near and dear to our hearts. We have been throwing our annual Charity Christmas Party for years to help us sponsor large families for the holidays.

Obviously, we can't have you over for cocktails and food this year but we'd still like to ask that you make a donation to the shelter. Every child deserves at least one special Christmas when Santa brings them just what they want. These kids face more challenges in their childhood than many of us will face in a lifetime.

So, let's help bring them a little Christmas joy.

How can you help???

Let me count the ways...

1. You can donate directly to the shelter via their website or donate items in person.

2.You can sponsor a family! This is a great thing for an office or group of friends to do for the holidays instead of Secret Santa or White Elephant parties. Do you really need another set of vanilla scented votives??

3. You can buy a calendar!

What calendar?? Why, the one we've created with photos from our travels this year to help raise money for the shelter of course!




100% of the profits will be donated directly to the Genesis Shelter. So skip the puppy and kitten calendars and BUY THIS CALENDAR!

What better gift to give than one that makes you all warm and fuzzy inside from knowing you helped make a difference for some families who really needed a helping hand?!? Not to mention everyone needs a calendar...everyone.

We also have a small calendar print and all proceeds from its sales will be donated directly to the Embera Puru Educational Fund. This fund was created by the Peace Corp volunteer who is currently living with the tribe we visited in Panama. Public schools only provide free education up to the 9th grade in Panama. After that families must pay for private schooling and this cost, although minimal to us, is usually out of the reach for these Embera families.

So, I suggest you buy a few of both and really make yourself feel good this holiday season!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

out of the mouth of babes

first, let me say that this kid is awesome. second, i adore this dad for supporting his son. refreshing thing from an arkansas family.



why is it that people think we get to vote on civil rights? was it a vote in alabama that ended segregation? no, it was the supreme court in brown v. the board of education.

if we had left segregation up to the general public to vote on in the 1960's i could name about 10 states that would still be regulating where people sat on a bus.

it saddens and angers me that something even a 10 year old can see is so difficult for so many of my countrymen to comprehend.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

old school weekend

“Well, um, actually a pretty nice little Saturday, we're going to go to Home Depot. Yeah, buy some wallpaper, maybe get some flooring, stuff like that. Maybe Bed, Bath, & Beyond, I don't know, I don't know if we'll have enough time.”

Okay, so we didn’t actually go to the Home Depot or buy flooring but our Sunday really was reminiscent of our domesticated weekends back home.

We decided to skip Ponce proper on Sunday and headed back to San Juan after breakfast. We fought the masses at the Plaza Las Americas and did a little shopping and then went to the grocery. Exciting?!?

Maybe it doesn’t sound like it to you but when your Sundays are normally filled with going to an airport, getting on a plane, getting off a plane, getting a taxi back to your back to a hotel, checking into the hotel, waiting for your luggage to be brought up, unpacking everything, etc - it is kind of exciting. Okay, maybe not exciting but definitely enjoyable.

We spent the night with wine, pizza and repeats of Law and Order…and it was really great. We’re not ready to settle down quite yet but, it does feel nice to have a little down time and just relax.

Ponce can wait until the last weekend when we take a little road trip to see the Camuy Caves here on the island. At least then I'll have remembered the camera.

This weekend we’re hanging out in San Juan because we’ve got visitors arriving on Sunday afternoon! Looking forward to seeing familiar faces!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

embera

a couple of videos from our time with the embera tribe...the first one is of the women dancing the crane dance and the second is of the tribe dancing and the one we were asked to join...



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Panama


Want to have an experience of a lifetime, see one of the world’s engineering wonders in action, tour a lovely old city, eat delicious food and be surrounded by warm and generous people? Then head to Panama!

We had a truly amazing time there this past weekend. Our day spent in the jungle with a tribe of Embera Indians will go down as one of our favorite memories of the year. Our tour guide was an American woman who had been in Panama working on a movie. Her husband was one of the Embera Indians being used in the film and she quickly fell in love and became a full-fledged member of the tribe.

After an hour car ride outside of the city we got in a canoe for another hour long trip up river to the village. We were welcomed by the majority of thee tribe which totals just at 120 people. We spent the day learning about their culture, crafts, and even got a lesson on medicinal plants from one of the elders of the village. After a traditional lunch of fish and plantains we were treated to music and dancing by the women, men and children of the tribe.

Just as we thought they were finished we were rushed by the children and invited to join. It was definitely one of those moments when I couldn’t help but pause and say to myself “Wow, I’m in Panama dancing in the middle of the jungle with a tribe of Indians- LIFE IS AMAZING!!”

These people, especially the children, showed us just how little is needed to be truly happy. Being welcomed into their village and learning about their way of life was so humbling. I feel honored to have spent time with them and will treasure my memories forever…










The name "Embera" translates literally to "Good Man", I don't think they could have a more fitting name.



The actual canal was really fascinating as well. We were amazed at the cost of crossing the canal which at the lowest is tens of thousands of dollars while the large cruise and cargo ships pay between $100-400,000!!




They had made $4 million just the morning we were there and that afternoon would more than double that when the ships would be coming in from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It really is a marvel of engineering and I’m glad we got to see it in action before the new locks open in 2014. Then they can double their capacity and I’m guessing double their tolls. Looking for a moneymaking idea? Build a canal that connects the Atlantic and Pacific. Wow!

Our guide on Saturday was telling us how Panama is trying to lure seniors from North America to retire there with tax and medical incentives. My advice is to encourage your grandparents and parents to make the move- you’re going to love visiting them!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

round one...

i'm not even sure i should be posting this.

i'm afraid too many people will be wishing for something we're not wishing for and i don't want a bunch of wishes counteracting ours.

so, before you start the praying, hoping and wishing remember we're going to be home for five whole weeks before round one AND we didn't sign up for this adventure to spend it at a hotel in buckhead AND the less we get to see now will mean the longer we'll want to stay in the program AND if you love us you'll set us free or something like that.

possible locations for round 1 are...

china
dubai
uruguay
usa-specifically atlanta, georgia

obviously we're hoping for china since we didn't get to go there this round. but, if we are headed home (or technically staying home) we'll be happy for all the extra time we get to spend with loved ones and for the opportunity to travel within the us.

i'm not sure when we'll get the actual schedule but, for now, let the battle of the wishes begin!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

oh happy day!

we were so sad to miss all the festivities back home this weekend but, we decided that the apartment debacle and the jet lag were too much to handle a trip to atlanta or anywhere else for that matter.

for anyone not on facebook or who didn't actually hear me crying all the way from san juan...the apartment debacle details are...

after 30 hours of travel we arrived at our "air conditioned" apartment at 11pm to find the only air conditioning was located in the bedrooms. this meant that 70% of the apartment was about 132 degrees with 150% humidity. we're not from the tropics and since i don't really love sweating every time i go to the bathroom this was NOT going to work. so, after raising holy heck and conjuring up all my best fake attorney skills, for oh, about 9 hours, i got us out of the lease and all of our money back minus what we owed for the time we were actually there.

as i've stated before, i really needed a break from the hotel life. just some normalcy to round out our year of anything but. of course once this hope was dashed and i had, yet again, unpacked all of our belongings at the hotel i was over it. who needs their own space? who wants to actually prepare their own food or watch tv or read a book outside of a bed?? 300 sqft is PLENTY of room for two people to co-exist peacefully!!

the Wife wasn't quite ready to give up so for kicks and giggles we decided to check with another property manager i had spoken to earlier about apartments. we had actually debated between one of hers and the one we leased. who said to trust your first instincts?

the apartment we had liked was no longer available but, she did have two to show us and we went to check them out friday night.

short story even shorter...we liked one of them very much, we went back on sunday to check out the neighborhood and after jumping through the hoops again with leases and management approvals...we're moving into our new apartment tomorrow morning!!

this apartment not only has air conditioning in every room (so 1st world!) but, it's also just nicer in general and best of all is a mere block from an awesome stretch of beach.

after a week at our hotel i can't tell you how lucky we feel. note to all: do not ever stay at the conrad hotel in san juan.

needless to say i'm thrilled at the prospect of being normal(ish) again and of course COOKING! i'm even excited about washing our clothes. fabric softener here we come!!

thanks to everyone who sent up prayers and positive thoughts our way. we're so looking forward to settling in and not packing again until it is time to head home!

post script:
on a related note since i haven't spent my year curled up with cookbooks and copies of southern living if you have any great summer recipes you discovered this year please send them my way! i know you're all in chili and pumpkin latte mode but it's in the mid 90's so, i'm looking for light and delicious dishes.

Monday, November 2, 2009

R.I.P.


It seems I didn't forget to charge the battery for our point-and-shoot...it seems it has officially died. Just 4 years old but, alas, that is ancient in the technology world. He had a good life and captured a lot of images. He'll be sadly missed.

In lieu of flowers please send new camera recommendations.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

busy day...

Happy Pride!!!!

Happy Halloween!!

Goooooo Dawgs!!!!

we wish we were there to celebrate and enjoy the festivities with all of you...miss you guys!

Friday, October 30, 2009

top 5's

things i am loving about puerto rico...

1. no math- no metric system, no celsius and no foreign currency!!!!
2. brands/products i recognize- jiff peanut butter, baked lays, activia yogurt!
3. tv- abc, nbc, cbs and all in time for november sweeps!!
4. same time zone- i can finally talk to my friends in the same day!
5. no math- see #1.

things i am not loving about puerto rico...

1. no apartment after all :(
2. not a ton of affordable weekend travel :|
3. my old favorite gay beach bar no longer has fun sunday tea parties :{
4. our hotel is going to make us pack up and check out every single weekend :[
5. no apartment after all :(

bangkok


Due to the extreme jet lag, which seems to be more powerful than any venti iced latte the sweet little barista here can concoct, this is not going to be a very detailed account of our weekend in Thailand. But, hey, aren’t you tired of the details? It seems we get fewer and fewer readers these days and as I read back through I can understand why…how many weekend itineraries can you stand before enough is just enough??

So, for your sake and mine…

Despite the smothering heat and humidity that seemed to truly suck the life out of you within minutes of stepping outside, we really had a great weekend in Bangkok. We did a full day tour of the Grand Palace, a few city sites and some temples. In short, cause that is how we’re going to do things for a while, the Grand Palace was mind-boggling. So beautiful and ornate that we really walked around with our mouths gaping open for the majority of our time there. The temples were serene and exquisite and the city bustling and diverse. Our guide, Molly, was delightful and it really was an awesome day…






A few other CAD folks were in town that weekend and we hung out with them in the evenings grabbing drinks, dinners and more drinks. Our trip into the Pad Pong area on Saturday night was an in-your-face look at the sleazy side of the city. When I say “sleazy” I mean that in the most grotesque way you can imagine…actually I don’t think you could even imagine some of the stuff and if you can then maybe we shouldn’t be friends. Seriously, that would be a deal breaker if ever there was one.

Even though we never stepped inside the bars it was impossible for me not to be revolted and saddened all at the same time. The “people watching” was at its best though and after the lonesome and random teacup poodle determinedly walked past in a striped tank top, I couldn’t help but be amused.

We spent Sunday at the Chatuchak weekend market. Shopping in Bangkok is unbelievable but it seems that my shopping bug dies when said shopping is on the surface of the sun. We picked up a few small things but on our next trip there I’m getting one of those personal cooler collar thingies or maybe a jacket made of ice so I can really take advantage.

I completely forgot to charge the point and shoot’s battery so for now there are only pics from our day tour…more to come once I wrangle them from the others.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

that time again

normally when we come to the end of the audit i'm amazed at how quickly time has flown by. is it really time to pack up and build a new nest somewhere else?? this time however, i'm in awe of how long it took to get here.

our time in cebu was cut short by a week of vacation but, it still seemed the only time that didn't drag by was when pablo came to visit. i guess that's why islanders have such a slow way of life. their whole world is in a time warp.

don't get me wrong, cebu and our hotel setting was really very lovely. the people could not have been more kind or cheerful and the beach and grounds were beautiful to say the least. i think some people are made for the beach life, the wife included. but, unfortunately, i'm not one of them. i love a good beach vacation but week after week of your daily options consisting of 1. lay out at the beach or 2. lay by pool gets very old, very quickly.

i had originally thought how lucky we were to be in cebu as opposed to manila. i think this was because manila is consistently at the top of "most dreaded locations" list with other people in the department.

now that we're in manila i regret so much that we were shipped off to cebu. of course, right off the bat the apartment compared to the tiny hotel room in cebu gives manila a huge leg up. but, the location in manila is also so much better than i had expected. granted it is one mega mall after the next but at least you can get out and walk around...go to a movie, browse a bookstore, go out to bars, grab a cup of coffee, eat somewhere other than krua thai*, etc.

fingers crossed that when we undoubtedly return next year the wife gets assigned to the manila team.

we're headed to bangkok this weekend before our long journey to puerto rico. funny to think in a short few days we'll be back in the western world, albeit the latin portion. we're looking forward to unpacking every single thing out of our suitcases in our apartment, all the visitors that are coming (yay!), and most of all having a little bit of space and normalcy before heading home for the holidays.

*for the record krua thai was awesome. it was delicious thai food and cheap as dirt but, wow, 2 to 3 times a week for 6 weeks can really make a girl cringe at the thought of green curry.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

missing you already :(

the only way our life could be any better is if best friends were covered under the travel policies.




thank you so much for coming to visit pablo! we truly LOVED having you and are looking forward to more adventures next year. love you!!