Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Last Supper-Pizza with the 12

13 August 2008

We got up in the morning and headed into Guatemala City. It was a 4+ hour ride, but we made a stop at a “rest area” that we had stopped at ages ago on our way to Coban. It had nice, clean restrooms, which was a bonus because many of our group were having intestinal problems. Tara and David had a meeting with Heifer in GC, so they rode along with us and we dropped them off.

When we got to the Seminary Guest House in GC, we dropped off our stuff and headed into the market. We all had last minute shopping to do and had not had very much time during the trip. We took the city bus and the new rapid transit across the city. It was nice to see things along the way. We went into a restaurant for lunch, just as the afternoon rain was starting, but it wasn’t quite over by the time we were done, so we got wet. We went to the central market and had a little over an hour to get all our last minute things done. I had a fair amount of success, but it felt very rushed.

We headed back to the Guest House via taxi because of injured ankles and one person feeling quite sick. When we got back, we hung out together, checked in for our flights home, slept, played cards, and, eventually, got pizza and ate together. Our group decided to have a mini-debriefing just to check in before we left the country. One person was not from California and we wanted time to talk all together. We shared our favorite parts and it was clear we had connected as a group. Every person on the trip was a wonderful addition.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

God's Waterpark-Day 10

12 August 2008

We went into Semuc Champey today. They kept referring to it as “God’s Waterpark” and that’s exactly what it was. We had to do some hiking in, but there were many good trails and someone had installed boardwalks over some of the trickier spots. More people are finding it an enjoying it, which is good for revenue to keep it up, but it makes you wonder if it will get overrun.

We swam in wonderfully clear pools that run over the rocks. Many were quite deep and some of the people in our group climbed up cliffs and trees to jump in from the top. About 80% of this major river actually runs under the rocks we were playing on, but the 20% that goes over the top makes it calm enough to enjoy the mini waterfalls and the cool, refreshing water.

It’s difficult to describe the beauty of the place. Lisa had talked about “spa” fish that were supposed to be there. Apparently, at some spas, they have you put your feet in water with these fish and they eat off the dead skin. As I was sitting on the edge with my feet in the shallow water, about 25 of these fish came up and began nibbling on my feet (which had a LOT of dead skin from the days of hiking). It was a strange and sort of cool feeling, but after a while, I got a little weirded out by it.

In the early afternoon, we headed back to catch our bus back to Coban. When the bus came, it was very full. We had called for a bus, but this one was packed. We crowded on anyway and took off with 37 people in a 22 passenger bus. One of the problems with this is that we couldn’t make it up some of the hills, so the driver would stop and about 8 people would get out and walk up the hill and then get back in at the top. We started dropping folks off as we went and, eventually, we each actually had a real seat for the last 2 hour home.

At night, we went out to a nice restaurant to enjoy each other’s company and get ready to depart the next day.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Day 9

11 August 2008

We all slept well last night, but not long. As Gwen asid this morning, "It's impossible to sleep in a room with 6 women." We had arranged for a late breakfast (8am), but we could have eaten at the regular time of 7 because we were all awake anyway. We packed up and were ready to roll at 9am when the microbus pulled up. Tara and 2 of their kids came to hang out with us and pulled up in a taxi moments after the bus arrived. We all loaded up and took off when we realized that the owner had told the driver to make it a private bus to Semuc Champey. We all stretched out and got comfortable for the 2 1/2 hour ride.

We drove through a market and I jumped out with Tara to buy some fruit for our lunch. There were some women she ran into that were part of the project they did for Heifer International with rabbits. Tara said that was one of the most successful villages for Heifer in Guatemala. We bought red bananas and green oranges!

We arrived at our hostel by the river at 11:30am and hung out before lunch. After lunch 4 people went to meet up with the hikers and tube down the river. Those of us who were left went for a walk up the river to the waterfall and to see part of Semuc Champey from a distance. Tomorrow we're going to explore the caves there.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Expect the unexpected-Day 8

10 August 2008

We woke up in our beautiful bedroom with 5ft windows facing the cloud forest and the sun rising over the mountain. I dozed off and on as the sun rose higher, but I was completely unmotivated to get up. I could hear the others moving around on the third floor above, but I was not ready to face the day. Around 7:30am, I got up and went upstairs. Several folks were sitting around the open windows with cameras, telescopes, and binoculars watching the hummingbirds and other birds.

A couple of the adults were talking about times their kids or themselves had said certain words. One of the parents said that their child had said something like, "It's OK. I already heard it on the bus." The stories went on and then they realized that Rob and Tara's kids had been listening. The adult said to Peter in a kidding voice, "Don't tell your mom and dad what we've been saying." Without missing a beat he replied, " 'It's OK. I already heard it on the bus.' " It cracked everybody up!!

We had an amazing European style breakfast with homemade plum jam, fresh baked bread, cheese, and homemade oatmeal. We also had fresh juice and tea/coffee. There was the thought that we would also have eggs, but it wasn't necessary after everything else.

After breakfast, the small group that was still hiking on to the next village took off. Rob's son John went along with Ty, Wendy, and Rob. They were going to hike about 5 hours to the Mennonite village in the cloud forest. The rest of us had an hour or so to get ready to go down by truck. We headed down to the waiting area at 10:15 to be ready by 10:30. We waited until 11:00 for the truck and it didn't come. The kids went down to find the truck, but discovered it couldn't make it up because of the heavy rain the night before and the fact that it was empty. We hiked down to the truck (even Lisa on her bad ankle) and once we were loaded in, he drove right up to where we were in order to turn around!! We were about 30-45 minutes from the village of Tucuru when the truck got stuck in the mud. We off loaded people, we push, we hiked up to have lunch and get out of the way, and, in the end, decided to abandon the vehicle and walk when the whole transmission failed and the driver only had neutral left for a gear!! We started walking about 3:30pm. I was really hoping it wouldn't rain and it didn't so I was happy about that. We eventually caught up with our driver who had also walked up the hill in order to find cell reception and call for help. I was in NO way the slowest one today, but I guess if I couldn't at least keep up with someone on crutches, I would really be a sad case. When we got to the intersection of the 2 roads, we waited while Tara and a couple others walked ahead to get reception and confirm we had a ride coming. We just hung out and played cards and waited. Around 5:30, the even SMALLER, 2-wheeled drive truck came to rescue us. We climbed in and sat on our bags for the journey. When we finally got to Tucuru, we stopped again at the owner's mom's store, though now he was also our rescue driver.

We got back on a mini-bus quite easily after that and were back by 8:00pm, so again a 5 hour journey took 10 hour, but this was not really anyone's fault. It worked out OK, though, because Lisa REALLY wanted to hike, and now she got her chance.!!!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A little Heaven on earth-Day 7

9 August 2008

Erik and Jamie stayed at our accommodations in Coban because of illness, but the rest of us took off by 9am. The 4 of us driving up with Rob got a taxi to the bus center because of Lisa’s injured ankle. She got a pair of crutches that will hopefully help take some pressure off. We also got some ice. We actually had missed the transport, but Rob arranged for us to hire one, so we had lots of room. It took about an hour and a half to get to Tucuru where we would meet the 4-wheeled drive truck to take us the 3+ hours up the mountain to the beautiful swiss chalet we would be staying in. The ride up was good. We had room to sit in the back of the truck and it wasn’t very muddy because it hadn’t rained in a couple days. Our driver did not have second gear, however, which made some parts a bit jerky. There were some beautiful views and we were singing a Q’eqchi’ kids song about the things we saw on the road. In some of the small towns, the kids would yell “gringo” (white person) to us. Rob would yell back the Q’eqchi’ word for “Guatemalan.”

When we arrived we were stunned by how beautiful this place is. Check out their website for even more photos. (http://www.chelemha.org) If you click on the tourism link, you see pictures of the lodge. We had hot showers that were better than the best shower in the states. The water was warmed by the fireplace throughout the house. There were 2 amazing balconies and there were literally thousands of hummingbirds. Apparently, there are 20 species of hummingbirds that you can see from the balcony. I saw at least 7. We could face the hill that the rest of our group would hike down. The entire lodge is made from carved wood, including the furniture and everything was lit by candlelight for the evening. Rob and others called it Elron’s house, which I guess is some Lord of the Rings reference:-)

We saw them come down the mountain and went out to meet them. The arrived just as it was getting dark and they were exhausted. It had been about 5 ½ hours and 2 of them over the mountain were incredibly strenuous. The mountain was over 2000 meters. After everyone was showered and rested we sat down to dinner. We had homemade bread and a huge bowl of soup. It was delicious…then we realized that this was just the soup course. We had another plate with potatoes, squash, greens, and something like a cubed Salisbury steak. After that we had a European style apple tart. Everything was local and delicious. The manager is a wonderful chef and he’s Swiss.

After that day and all the unexpected comforts, everyone slept very well.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Rest, Restaurant, and Restoration-Day 6

8 August 2008

We slept in and had a slow start. We were adjusting to the safety. It was a bit overwhelming for me after the anxiety of the day before. Now that everyone was safe, I realized how worried I had been the day before. Hearing some of their stories didn’t help the feeling that they were in danger, but hearing other stories reassured me that they really had been fairly safe.

After breakfast, we walked up to the Dominican Monastery about a ¼ mile up the road. There was an amazing mural with the history of the Maya peoples and Christianity. While in that chapel, we had a devotion led by Jen on giving and receiving. It was a meditation from Henry Nouwen and it was the perfect framework to discuss the events of the day before. While folks were talking about the 6 hour detainment, it was a strange mix for me of being there, but being apart. Both Ty and I are still equally a part of the whole group, but we experienced this mutual event from the outside. It had its own level of fear for me and yet, even though it was a shared experience, we experienced it differently from the rest of the group. The conversation was rich and meaningful and some extra information was brought forward in an attempt to help us understand the context. A night of good rest had helped everyone be ready to focus on what was ahead, with the understanding that this was an event we would be processing together for quite a while.

We went into town for lunch and then had a bit of time to hang out in town or head back to rest. We met up about 5:30 in the afternoon to discuss our next few days and what the options would be. Lisa is now on crutches and her ankle is badly sprained, though not broken. This limits the hiking she will be doing. That means that there are vehicle options for anyone who doesn’t want to hike. The first 2 days of out next trek will be combined into a 5 hour hike. I opt out because I’m tired of fighting being the slow one. I also realize that I can’t keep up the pace we’ve had and have anything left when I return. I opt to take the truck with Lisa, Wendy, Amanda, and Rob up to Chelemha and meet the group there. Tara and the kids will hike with the group.

In the evening we all go to David’s house for a party and a feast. There was delicious food that had taken hours to prepare. We bought a bottle of rum to take to the party that is aged for 23 years. It was quite delicious. There was some dancing and a chance to thank our porters for everything they did, including carrying Lisa out after she hurt her ankle.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I've been voted off the island-Day 5

7 August 2008

Today has been yet another and different adventure in our time in Guatemala. When I got up this morning I felt much better, though still incredibly stiff and sore. My feet were so sore the sheet on top of them made them hurt. We went to breakfast and I ended up eating with Rob and David (We were eating in shifts of 5-6.) and David said, "So are you going to take the plane out?" Rob said we hadn't discussed options yet. I was mostly finished anyway, so I got up to leave. We were set to have a pow-wow meeting about yesterday this morning anyway.

After breakfast our group gathered with Rob (Minus David and the Germans). It was not an easy conversation for me, but it was undeniable that those of us who finished in the dark together had a new bond and that the whole group was solidly together and committed to each other!! What a blessing to be able to wake to a new day and be open enough to share our real feelings. The conversation ended with me making the decision to take a plane out and not hold up the group just for the sake of "making a point" that I could do it. I know the group would have supported either decision and that was a good feeling. I felt like I would have more energy for the next 4 day trek if I took a break.

By 10am, the group was heading off to cross the river behind the finca. David and Rob had arranged a motor boat to help with the crossing. The village on the other side had sent over representatives the morning because they were under the impression that our group might be spies for the company that wants to build a dam and flood this whole valley. The family of the finca has lived here for over 100 years and the Q'eqchi' have been here for over 1500. The government insists that it is an "uninhabited valley" so the dam is planned. The village asked that those from our group sign a statement that they were not spies and that they opposed the dam. Rob told them that we’d be happy to and, if it would help, we would even be willing to sign something that said we were OPPOSED to the dam.

Rob went over with the second group on the boat and said goodbye to everyone and then came back to wait with Ty and I for our plane. The plane still hadn't come by lunch so our host’s wife fixed us lunch. We had that amazing chicken soup, rice, chicken (including the heart and liver--not my choice), and lemonade. We were still waiting for the plane, which normally comes in 30 minutes, when one of our host’s sons came back with the kids from school. He told Rob that the other group was still in the village across the river. When Rob asked him why, he said they had all been detained in one room and the village was waiting for someone to come verify who they were. Rob said he had no idea how they would do that because whomever they would call wouldn't know them. The son also said that the village had called to cancel our plane and that was why we hadn't been picked up. Another son had run up the mountain for the second time to call the plane again, so we waited for him to come back. When he returned, he said the pilot had told him he would come if the weather cleared up in a 1/2 hour. We talked about whether or not Rob should go over to that village but he said he would just be put in the same situation as the others and in Coban he would be able to work on getting them out without running up a mountain every time he needed to make a call.

We decided to just keep waiting for the plane and then head back to Coban. I spent the afternoon in prayer for the group detained. For each one, over and over in Taize fashion, I prayed, "Lord, be with (Name). Keep him/her safe. Guard his/her heart, mind, and spirit. In your Son's name. Amen." For each of the 10 members of our group there was constant rhythm. Every time I would start to talk to Ty he would reply with something like, "Nothing has changed." After 3pm, when I checked back in with Ty he said, "Rob went up the mountain to call the plane." When no plane had come by 5pm, Ty and I discussed the probability that we would be spending the night at the finca. Rob still hadn't returned and we knew our window of opportunity for daylight was quickly disappearing. I had just switched my mindset to the fact that we wouldn't be leaving when we heard a motor and all the children of the finca ran up out to the airstrip in front of us yelling, "Avion." ("Airplane") It was like a scene from Fantasy Island where Tatoo says, "Da plane, Boss. Da plane."

In under 5 minutes, we saw Rob come running down the hill, were told to hurry, grabbed all out gear, ran over to meet Rob at the plane, threw in our gear, and were seated on the floor of a bush plane ready to take off. I was seated on the floor facing backwards between the pilot and the door, which was only secured with a handle with the strength of an outhouse latch. It was designed to keep it closed with no pressure or force. Within 30 seconds of the door closing, we had turned around and were taking off. It was the smoothest takeoff I had ever been in. Once we were up, the pilot indicated that I could turn around on my knees and look out the front.

It was a truly amazing ride on the plane. He flew up over the village where the others were being held and we flew over twice to see if we could see them and took lots of pictures. Then our pilot flew us up through the canyon we had hike down through last night. We also flew over a huge waterfall at the mouth of the river we tubed down. When we went past the waterfall, he felt like we didn't see it well enough so he opened the window on the side and flew around again so we could get the shots. At one point the pilot took his hands off the controls and motioned that I should take a picture of Ty and Rob in the back. I quickly assured him that I would because I felt that holding the control to get us OVER the mountain we were heading towards was mor important than the photo!! The landing in Coban involved landing on a road with bike riders and two young men sitting on the edge of the runway and leaning back when the plane went by.

We pulled up to the hanger and the plane was pushed in. The reason the pilot hadn't stopped the plane on the finca was because he had left the battery with his assistant in Coban. There were two big dogs in the hanger--Coban TSA airport security-- and the hanger was locked while we waited for Tara to pick us up. Ty and I went back to Casa Domasco to get cleaned up and change and then we all went out to dinner together at a Cuban restaurant to wait for news from the others. David had gotten a message to Tara that indicated he thought they’d be out by 6:30, but when we headed home at 9pm, there was still no indication that they had gotten released.

After we were back from dinner, Tara called us at 9:45pm to let us know that they had gotten out and were heading back. We thought it might be by 2am or so. About 5 minutes later, Rob showed up to ask if we wanted to go meet them in the city square because they were almost here. This was much better for me because I'm not a patient wait-er. They arrived at the city square at 10:15pm to much rejoicing!!! After greeting each other with hugs, we began to hear their stories, get them food, get them back to Casa Domasco, get folks cleaned up, and tend to mental/spiritual/physical (sprained ankle) wounds. We all went to bed relieved to be together again and at least physically safe, though emotionally rattled from the day’s events.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

It's a jungle out there-Day 4

6 August 2008

The porters got up early and started inflating the innertubes for our tubing experience and then they took off for the river before us. After breakfast we all met up at the house I had stayed in and we got ready to hike. I, however, would be riding the moola again. This is still not exciting and I’ve decided that I need to just name the mule for myself. David walks with the young man who will be leading the mule again today over to the same rock. The difference today is that the biting ants have decided the rock is theirs and, when I get on the mule, my foot begins burning from the biting. I tell David I am being bitten and he graciously starts smashing the ants on my foot with his thumb. He kills at least 10 and my left foot is burning. I have made sure that I have my “Don’t bite me” mosquito patch on and I’m ready to not be eaten. I have also made a point of greeting the mule before I got on and neither of us seem as annoyed as the day before- he actually made eye contact.

The hills down to the river are significantly steeper than the day before. At the top of a significantly steep downhill, the porter stops and calls out to David and Rob. Rob comes over and the porter says something to him. I figure I need to walk b/c the mule can’t do it with me on his back. However, the porter has told Rob that the mule can do it, but he’s worried I’ll be afraid (I am.). Rob tells me to lean back. He asks if there is anything on the back of the saddle that I can hold on to. I tell him there is a rope and he suggests 1 hand on the saddle horn and 1 hand on the rope. This is actually very helpful. Not only do I feel more stable and balanced, but I can now actually FEEL the mule and that feels more connected. We head down the steep incline. At one point, about 15 minutes later, I am asked to get off. I’m excited that this is the end of the mule, but it’s just to get down a certain area, then I’m back on. At one point we approach a little stream and David asks if I can stay on the mule while he jumps over. I am convinced that is not a good idea. I now have to get off without the aid of a rock. David suggests that I simply put my stomach on the saddle and slide off. This is not nearly as smooth as it sounds. There are parts of me that stick to the saddle more than others, but I do manage to get off, walk across the bridge, and get back on with the help of a small hill. I get off and on a total of 4 times and David comments that I’m “getting better” at it.

When we get to the river, the tubes are not yet inflated and we must wait. We walk down to the river’s edge to wash the extra mud off our shoes and feet. The water feels cool, but as I sit on a log to wash my feet I realize that I will be losing the nail on the second toe on my right foot (it’s completely black from the bruising) and that the little toe on my left foot is wiggling like a child’s loose tooth. That one will go also. It is suggested that we split into 2 groups and 1 group gets a head start so they can start the hike first. Wendy, Jaime, Erik, and I head into the river with David, Uli, and Uli’s son (also David). We float more or less down the river and, after running into a branch that I get stuck behind and getting caught is a small whirlpool, the rest of the morning is uneventful and very pleasant. We see some amazing birds, including a Kingfisher.

When we get to the end of the tubing, David points out where we are going and mentions it’s a 4-6 hour hike. Rob has been saying 1 ½ hours. At this point, I need to concentrate on David’s estimate so I have a realistic expectation. Besides, if it’s shorter, I’ll be thrilled. We are trying to figure out if we go on, leave a note for Rob, wait for the porters, etc. when the other group comes up about 15-20 minutes later. We all start moving and doing stuff quickly as David and Rob make the decisions that greatly impact the rest of our day. We decide to float down the Rio Negro to the other side and then start hiking. The Rio Negro is a MUCH faster river and I have the strong feeling that I will be swept downstream into the canyon that everyone says is too dangerous for us to tube. On our second crossing, I am out too far and feel like I’ll be carried away. David tells me to “Keep swimming, Kimberly. Come over to this side.” “I can’t,” I yell back. “Yes, you can, Kimberly. Keep paddling.” His calm voice is comical to everyone else who hears it in contrast to my panicked one.

When we get out on the other side, I am motivated to not be the last one. We still have none of our trekking gear and are all wearing tubing clothes and life jackets. As we hike up, Rob decides to wait for the porters, who will deflate out tubes and then catch up to us. Ty stays with him. We begin hiking along the edge of a steep bank that drops between 10 and 50 feet to the raging river below. After about 20 minutes, David comes up by Wendy and tells her to take a “fast” group about 2 miles up to the airstrip on the finca we will stay on. A finca is a large family plot of land that is something between a plantation/farm/homestead. He directs the other Germans to go with her, giving directions to Uli in German, and asks who wants to go in the fast group. He tells Wendy to tell them we are coming and how many of us there are. That way they can prepare food, etc. Most of the group goes ahead, but Gwen, Amanda, Justin, and Michael stay with me. I can’t really express how thrilled I am that I’m not left alone. I mentally commit myself to keeping as fast a pace as I can so they won’t regret staying with me.

We start off again. I know we will be chasing light at the end because we haven’t started hiking until 3:20 and it is 4-6 hours. At 6:30 the sun will set and it will be dark by 7pm. The life jacket is immediately too warm for me and I feel like I’m going to burn up. Justin offers to carry it for me. I’m also dying with my swim top under my shirt, so I take it off and stuff it in my pocket after another ½ hour or so. It is not as muddy as the day before, but the path is only about 8-12inches wide. There are many places where you can’t put both feet next to each other. The right edge is very soft and falls down to the river (if you live from falling through all the trees and undergrowth on the way down). After a while I stumble and I catch myself with my right hand on a large rock. I have gashed my palm, but we have nothing with us so David just tells me to suck on it a while. It will continue bleeding and pulsing for a couple more hours. At another point, my right leg slips off the cliff and is dangling into a bush filled with something biting (I’m guessing ants.). I’m sitting on my left leg, which has buckled under me. I have no foot hold to push myself up and I’m holding David’s right hand with my left. He asks if I can stand up, but there is really no way that is going to happen. Eventually, I can get the walking stick into some firm enough ground about 2 feet below the path. It is enough that I can stand against it with my right foot and get my left foot out from under me. Then we are off again. Between 5-6pm, the porters, Rob, and Ty catch up to us. We let the porters past, Rob passes us, and Ty stays with us. Ty staying is a good thing. After 6:30, we have very little drinking water and only 1 light between the 7 of us. David stops every once in a while to take pictures, show us the moon, or decide which way we should go. We learn that he’s never taken this path (that’s not comforting). We’re hoping someone decides to send folks back with lights and water. Once it is totally dark, Ty hands up a head lamp. I put it on and am second behind David. I need to keep looking back to give light to the others behind me, but I need to keep my gaze down so I don’t blind them with the LED light. Every time I glance back, I can see the reflectors on the life vests and a reflector on the top of Ty’s backpack. I can quickly count to 5 to make sure everyone is still there. Around 7:30, some of the guys from the finca come out to meet us with 2 flashlights. They don’t have extra, just their own, but it is a little bit of help.

By 8pm, everyone is mentally and emotionally fried from the hike. I’m starting to get sarcastic, but I know that the only other option when I’m pushed that far is to break down and cry. I’m not ready to do that. At this point, the man who has been in front of us starts to take off. Everyone except me goes with him. I just simply have nothing left. I’m still too warm, I’m shaking because I’ve pushed too hard, and I’m feeling dizzy. I have not let go of David’s hand for the past 45 minutes or so and will not until we actually get to the finca. One of the men from the finca stays with us. It turns out he is the son of our host. David chats with him while I struggle along behind him up and down the rocky, muddy, cliffs. I can see the lights of the other group up ahead so I know we aren’t that far behind. The scene has started to change. We are walking through some of the corn fields planted on the steep slopes. We cross a few more streams, but they’re not clean enough for me to consider drinking out of them, even though I’m extremely thirsty by now. We walk through a cacao field and then across a final, small river. The option is to cross over a log or just walk through the stream. We decide to walk through and the cool water feels very refreshing on my legs and feet. The stream is very clear and I drink some water knowing the risks. As we climb out of the other side, we approach the grassy airstrip of the finca. We see someone running toward us and it’s Rob with water and a light. He is surprised to see us because the other group has told him we’re still 45 minutes behind them. We actually made better time when I didn’t have to keep turning around to give the others light. We were only about 15 minutes behind them.

As we walk in, Rob points to 2 buildings. One where all our gear is and the other where there is food. I’m not at all sure I can eat, but I’m also not sure I can face the group. I’m also so wiped out that making any sort of decision feels unbearable. Very quickly, Lisa comes running up to me and gives me a hug. She tells me that she’s been praying for my safety and that they were really sorry they left. I can finally admit to her how scared I was and that I’m glad someone actually missed me. As I start to break down, Lisa brings me over to the water basin and offers to wash my feet. When I sit in the chair, I begin to cry from exhaustion, fear, relief, etc. As I’m being cared for by Lisa, Amy, Wendy, Jen, I feel very loved by this group. I get some water with electrolytes and we share stories about our day. I find out that the group that went ahead of me had a scary experience of Michael falling off a cliff and 3 people needing to pull him up. The initial group that arrived was not greeted too warmly and were actually told that our hosts had been trying to cancel because the trail to get supplies was not in good repair. After I’m cleaned up, I try to eat, but I can’t get anything down. We go out to the small building we’re all sleeping in, change clothes, and lay down to sleep. I’m glad I’m back with people who care about me, though I must say that David was amazing as he walked me through the last 2 hours of our journey.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

My not-so-triumphal Entry

5 August 2008

Last night we went to a program at the Belzaleel Mennonite school. 3 boys played a marimba together for several songs. They also played so the boys could sing. The girls didn't come to the assembly, but we did have fun with the boys. I introduced our group and told them that I teach middle school in the states. There are actually 4 teachers in our group. We also saw the classrooms (they had a whiteboard, but no markers) and the vocational training area.

Today we had to be up extremely early--ready to roll at 6:15!! Rob got out of a small vehicle that we joked might be the one, but it turned out the ACTUAL one wasn't that much bigger. Ty said, "So now we get to put a ton and a half of people and gear in a 1/2 ton truck." We tied most of our bags on the outside of the frame (just some extra protection from rolling:-) and then Rob asked Wendy and I if we wanted to sit in front with our driver-Eduardo. We actually drove past his house about 30 minutes down the bumpy and steep terrain. The ride felt a lot like the Indiana Jones Ride at Disneyland.

We got to the end of the road about 100 yards before we were planning on because of road construction. We all piled out and got out our gear. We put on insect repellant and sunscreen--is there a "correct" order for them?--and got ready to hike. I had my hiking pole and we took off. We were told we would hike for about 3 hours, stop for lunch, and then have about 3 more hours to the village. We crossed a little bridge and were hiking in mud within minutes. The problem with mud is NOT that it's wet, slimy, cold, grabs your shoes, or adds the equivalent of 5 pounds to each foot. (Though I must say that each of these had their own challenges!) The problem with mud is that I have NO BALANCE! I am as graceful as a horse on rollerskates after a couple beers. I also hate to fall which means that I slow down so I don't fall, which means I go slower, which means I sink more in the mud, which means my shoes are slipperier, which means I slip more, which means I slow down, which means... Well, you get the point. Within 2 hours I'm significantly behind the others and Ty and Wendy are hanging back with me. The porters have cut us walking sticks so now I have 2, but it's not really helping.

David has dropped back to help me and at one point when I'm hiking by Lisa, my foot goes into about 8 inches of mud and gets stuck. I can eventually get my foot out, but not my shoe. David is a SAINT and reaches down into the mud and pulls out my shoe. He goes up to a spring coming out of the mountain and rinses off my shoe and then helps me get going again. By 2pm, I'm exhausted and frustrated beyond my wildest dreams. Ty gives me some electrolytes for my water bottle. By 3:15 we finally stop for lunch. I'm so exhausted, I can't make any decisions about where to sit. It's suggested that I sit on a root/branch. I get over there, sit down, and immediately fall over the back into a mud puddle. I catch myself enough to just have a hand, a buttcheeck, and the bottom of my pack in the mud. Justin is gracious enough to haul me up and I decide the ground is safer because I can't fall off the ground. Someone lays down a poncho for me to sit on. I have another bottle of electrolytes and an apple. I take 2 bites of the tayuyu (tortilla stuffed with beans) and know that if I swallow, I'll throw up!! There is a discussion that ensues in which it is decided that the extra porter that we picked up from the road crew will run ahead to the village he is from and ask his wife to fix dinner for everyone. In addition, he will get the local mule to come pick me up so the group doesn't have to wait.

I feel slightly physically refreshed after lunch, but emotionally I feel defeated. I personally HATE both horses and people making decisions for me!!! I use my anger to hike as fast as I can. I figure the faster I go, the less time I'll have to be on the mule. In addition, I am dying from embarrassment with the idea that I'm going to need to be carried into the village. We start walking and it starts raining for the 3rd or 4th time that day. We cross a bridge and are officially in "mosquito country" and a cow pasture. We are actually moving along fairly well and I'm excited that either they can't find the mule (It might be working in the field.) or we'll get there before the mule leaves.

It's about 5pm when the mule arrives. The mule has a hard wood saddle that is covered with a red piece of plastic with the word “Colgate” written in white. I’m too upset that it is actually here to be fully amused by this. The saddle is not strapped under the belly of the blessed beast, but rather tied with a rope around its tail. The chance of me staying on this animal is slim to none. They won’t let me put my foot in the stirrup to pull my up (not that it would have worked anyway), but rather find a big rock to put the mule next to so I can stand on it, swing my leg over, and then put my feet in the stirrups. David (this is pronounced “Dah-veed”) helps me up and takes away my walking sticks so they won’t scare the mule. Once I am awkwardly placed on top, I am told to just “hang on.” I’m also instructed that, when the horse goes uphill, I should lean forward and, when the horse goes downhill, I should lean back as far as I can without letting go. We take off and I’m scared out of my mind. I ask David if the “moola” has a name and am told that they just call it “moola.” Great. I was hoping for some connection, but I get none. The moola doesn’t seem any happier that I’m on him than I am, but I’m trying not to project. One of the things I realize pretty quickly is that I have recently walked through a stream and washed off the insect repellent on my legs. In addition, the mosquitoes and fleas that are biting the mule are not able to distinguish between my legs and the mule. I can look down at any given moment and see between 3 and 5 mosquitoes on each leg. There is no way to brush them off without falling off, so I watch myself get eaten alive for the next hour. I am covered with about 100 mosquito and flea bites on each leg by the end.

I am thoroughly embarrassed about riding this mule and am working hard on the idea that, if Jesus rode an ass into Jerusalem for his “triumphal” entry, this should also be good enough for me. I can hear Rob telling the guide in Q’eqchi’, “Go into the next town and find a mule that no one has ridden. Throw your red plastic nylon over it for the entry into the city.” OK, I know he didn’t say that, but my mind was wandering around to try to escape the fear and embarrassment. As we come over the final hill and can look down into the village, I can already see the kids gathering to check out this crazy procession. As we get closer, more and more folks come out and I can count over 30 by the time we make our final approach. Jen and Gwen went ahead with the guides and they come out now to meet us. I am walked across to a field that has another big rock to dismount and by this time my legs are so stiff I can hardly get them under me or over the saddle. I limp over to where the group has gathered to get out directions for the night.

The 6 women end up staying at the house we eat dinner at. We change into dry/sleep clothes and eat the beans and tortillas for supper. The 1 room house gets slightly rearranged so Gwen can sleep on the table. I’m on the tops of the benches, which have now be lain on the floor, and the other 4 women are on the floor on top of our rain jackets. The family sleeps in the beds on the other side of the room. I am wakened by the rooster a 1am and I find myself wondering if he’s decided it’s time for the sun to be up or if he’s just an optimist. The chicken and chicks are in the corner of the house and I’m hoping they decide to stay there. The corn is being ground at 4am, which I initially find annoying until I wake up enough to realize that the woman of the house is doing it for us. Then I am grateful.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Guatemala Day 2

4 August 2008

We started the day with our third meal of black beans and eggs. Yesterday for breakfast, last night for dinner, and today again. The difference was the eggs-scrambled, with potato, and boiled with a sauce. After breakfast, we had devotions together. Justin lead us in a devotion on one of the names for God.

We met with Rob to discuss our next few days. We will be driven out tomorrow at 6:15am and then get on the trail. Our goal is to reach out hosts before it starts to rain in the afternoon. Rob's biggest suggestion was for the ''single'' women--"Don't fall in love with Cesar!" Cesar is going with us on tomorrow on our trek and, according to Rob, he's a real hunk and we'll be more prone to fall in love on the mountain at the high altitude.

We took off from our home away from home this morning and crossed the street to catch a bus. Rob actually flagged down a driver he knows and we went to Chamelco where there is a Mennonite Middle school. It is for the Q'eqchi peoples. A few years ago, there were only 9 girls and 50 boys. Now MCC has invested and invited many more and there are now 51 girls and 49 boys. They has been a new girls dorm and they have an amazing garden that has provided scholarship work for the student and has provided a market value of 170,000 Quetzal (local money). The purchase price for this would have been 5-6 times more. MCC wants the school to be close to self-sufficient. Tonight we are going back to see a presentation by the kids.


We took the bus back to Coban and stopped at the first church built in the Alta Verapaz. It was built in the 1500s and was built on a Mayan worship. In Coban, there was a big festival going on. We went to the town square and Rob explained that the 4 "powers" of the city--church, city, police/army, and financial/economic. He talked to us about the history of Guatemala which involves alignments and fallings out between these powers. We watched a dance of folks dressed in the deer, monkey, bird outfits. Apparently, Walt Disney really like they Mayan monkey mask and it is what he based the world-famous Mickey on. It was similar ro the old black & white Disney comics.


We went to a restaurant that is normally closed on Mondays, but was opened because of the festival. We had mushroom soup, horchata, rice, salad, and something like salsbury steak. For dessert we had a carmel crepe.

After lunch we went to a cafe/restaurant and heard Mayan stories from Juan Sup, the pastor of Iglesia Shalom in Chemalco and the vice pesident of the Mennonite church in Guatemala. According to legend, the Tul Taka (God of heaven above and earth below) gave corn in the mountain and it was found between the earth by the leaf-cutter ant. The ant planted the seed and when it grew up, a fox ate the cob and then pooped the corn out lower on the mountain and that was where the Mayan folks got corn. There were also tales about the lands of the Alta Verapaz (where we are). He was an amazing story teller. The Mayans consider themselves red and that red is beauty.

With both the stories and the afternoon rain over, we are heading out for the late afternoon to pack and get ready for our trek and the progam tonight.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Guatemala Day 1

3 August 2008


We walked out of the newly renovated Guatemala City airport at 5:50a.m. this morning with little sleep and much excitement. Our bags were quickly loaded on the top of our ''cozy'' EC passenger van/bus. We drove over to the Mennonite Seminary & Guest House in the city. The seminary actually raises 65 percent of its budget with the guest house portion of its ministry.


G.C. is organized in zones, with zone 1 in the middle and the others in a circle around it. The airport is in Zone 13 and the seminary is in Zone 11. We had about an hour to hang out in the lounge, drink coffee (for those who have decided that is a good idea:-), and go to the roof to look at the 3 visible volcanoes-2 of which are active.



At 7:30, we had breakfast of eggs, beans, plantains, bread, and watermelon. After breakfast we heard from Jonathon Guzman, who is the head of Heifer International in Guatemala. HI was one of the first NGOs on Guatemala in the 1970s. They have been delivering animals continuously to communities since then, even during the civil war. They are now working with the indiginous peoples to rescue some of their knowledge about herbs, seeds, etc.



We also heard a presentation (that went on for MUCH too long for sleep deprived PMCers!!!!!) from Eduardo Cofina, who is the head of Development in the northern part of Guatemala. He is one of the 2 percent of the families that owns 85 percent of the wealth in the country. He gave us a lecture on ecology and some of his ideas for development. He has actually advised the last 4 presidents, which is amazing because most advisors don't even make through one adminstration. Eduardo's family owns Toyota in Guatemala.



We left later than we were planning because Eduardo went longer than any of us hoped or dreamed. We drove over to Zone 6 to see the large relief map of the country and walked around through Mexico, Belize, and Hondurus on our walk around the map. We saw the mountains that we will be trekking. Rob Cahill insists that the mountains aren't REALLY as high as they look, but not all the information we've received has been completely thorough, so I'll reserve judgement on the high issue until we've actually crossed them:-)



Around 11:00am, we finally left GC and headed to Coban. We drove through beautiful landscape and saw the hanging nests of the Guatemalan Orioles. We crossed what Rob referred to as the ''desert'' but we were skeptical because of the luscious greenery. He proved it by explaining that this IS the rainy season and showing us the beautiful flowering cacti.



We crossed from the volcanic tetonic plate of North America into the limestone plate of the Carribean. Near Coban we stopped at a Mayan place of worship. We hiked up from a starting point of 5440 ft above sea level and I quickly realized that I had been sitting all day...boy, were my calves tight! When we got to the top we were at the top of a large cave-like fissure that was so deep, dark, and smoke-filled that you couldn't see the bottom. We started the descent and it was incredibly stwwp and narrow. It was damp, like a cave, and all the rocks were covered with soot from all the candles that had been burnt for worship or prayer. It was an awe-inspiring place and we all commented how completely inadequate our words or even pictures would be to describe its grandeur.



We had our first rain shower pulling out past the water buffalo (I totally had the Veggie Tales song in my head), The driver was very nice and very careful--which meant to Rob ''slow''--and he played the radio in the van the whole way. My favorite radio moments were when the song from Fivel's American Tale ''Somewhere Out There'' came on and then, a while later, an instrumental version of ''The Little Drummer Boy'' came on.



We were all happy to be in our guest house in Coban, take showers, and turn in early..

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

End of Michigan Trip

July 18-20

We left Toronto early in the morning in order to get back in time for the insurance adjuster to inspect Mom's roof.  On the way out of Toronto we almost had goose liver pate.  A Canada Goose stepped off the left shoulder and began walking through traffic...right in front of my car.  I couldn't swerve much because there was a tanker truck on my right.  That goose kept right on walking towards the car in some sort of  suicide mission.  I managed to get past it, but in my rearview mirror I saw it keep going across traffic.  I never saw it fly away, but I also never heard a crash either.

We got home about 2pm.  We had Chicken Coop Chicken for lunch which was nostalgic and met the adjuster.  On Saturday, Mom had a wedding to go to, but I got the chance to meet up with Chris Timmer (a family friend) and Saje (a high school friend).  It was a relaxing day.

Our road trip totals (according to the GPS) are as follows:
1794.5 miles driven
199 hours and 24 minutes total trip time
35 hours and 56 minutes total drive time
50 mph average driving speed

On Sunday, I left to return home to California and get ready for the next trip.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Toronto Tour


July 17, 2008

We started the day with a lovely breakfast out on the back deck and Jeff & Doreen's house and then we took off for a driving tour of downtown Toronto. Doreen was better than Grayline and we still got the little bits of trivia like the fact that her office at the Toronto Star is at 1 Yonge Street and that that street is the longest in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. We saw the University of Toronto and Trinity College.

After the driving tour, we headed to St. Lawrence market and did some touristy shopping. There was a tissue box holder there that hangs on the wall and looks like an island mask. The tissues come out of the statue's nose!! I laughed a lot and decided it would be PERFECT for my middle school classroom.

In the afternoon we went to visit my mom's cousin Henny and her husband John in Toronto. We had a nice afternoon hanging out in and near the pool and chatting. It was a great afternoon. Tomorrow we head back to Kalamazoo.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ithaca and Niagara

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Yesterday was a wonderfully restful day in Ithaca with Molly. After a late night talking, we slept in and then Molly and I headed out to pick up Mom at her hotel. We came back to Molly's for a nice lunch and then headed out for some shopping. My mom wanted to go to an antique mall, so found one and spent about an hour wandering through a large 2-story antique store.

I have a store that I like and we don't have near my house, but there is one in Ithaca. I had bought a skirt there last summer when I was visiting Molly and, after wearing it only a few times, the seams fell apart because of the fabric. I was going to see if I could get my mom to fix it, but she suggested that I just bring it back to the store. We went to the store and I explained the story to them and they gave me a store credit for it. This wasn't a problem because there were a few things I wanted to get there anyway. I tried on a bunch of stuff and got feedback on color coordination from Molly and my mom. I ended up with a couple really nice outfits for the fall. As we were walking out of the mall, my mom and I had our pictures taken in one of those mall photo booths.

In the evening, we went to The Boat Yard Grill. It was on the water of the inlet to one of the "finger lakes" in New York. Our table was by the window and we could see boats heading in and out of the marina. After dinner we walked along the path by the lake. We brought Mom back to her hotel by around 8:30 pm and then Molly and I went home and watched Juno. I hadn't seen it and I was pleasantly surprised. Sometimes when you hear so much about a movie, it becomes a disappointment just because it doesn't live up to everyone raving about it. Molly and I were up late deep in conversation, which made this morning come really early!!!

I picked Mom up at 8am and we started the 5 hour drive to Toronto. The GPS initially encouraged us to go around the north of Lake Ontario, which we vetoed after looking at a map. It may have been "faster," but we wanted to see the Niagara Falls. The funny thing was that, after we stopped for gas and turned the car back on, Thea GPS re-routed and sent us the way we WANTED to go. Apparently, she was "listening"--isn't technology creepy!!!

We parked on the Canadian side of the falls and walked back toward the falls. We walked by a really nice botanical garden and wandered by the fountains. We then headed over to the falls. I'm always amazed by how much water there is going over the falls. We did watch a couple of the boats approach the bottom of the falls.

We are now enjoying Jeff and Doreen's hospitality in Toronto, Canada:-)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Toilets and Turtles

July 14, 2008
We took off early from the Dagen house after a warm send off and a great breakfast...how much better than homemade jam is there? We were on the road by 7:30am, so it was a our first really early start. Part way there we stopped off at a rest area to stretch our legs. They had handicapped picnic tables that we used. There wasn't really a line for them and I didn't want to hike up through the wet grass to the other ones.

After mom came back from the restroom, she told me that she had a new pet peeve--low toilets! She can't figure out if the toilets are getting LOWER or if she's just getting older. She
has concluded (and I agree) that she is probably not getting
TALLER, so there must be another explanation. I went in and used the restroom and did agree that they were low, but I've been feeling that for some time also.

We arrived in Ithaca at about 12:30, so it was exactly 5 hours. We used the map to override Thea's directions ("Thea" is the GPS) and go more directly, but on less travelled roads. There was some great scenery. We ate lunch with Molly and then headed out to Lower Buttermilk Falls. There was a hike of many steep stairs on the far end of the falls. We went up about 50 steps together and then Mom and Molly stopped while I hiked up 150 more. Apparently, I could have kept going for about a mile, but I turned around because they were waiting.

For dinner, we went to the famous Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca. I had a lentil dish with Mango Chutney and the others had stuffed portobello mushrooms. We walked around the
Ithaca Commons and a group was starting to warm-up for an outdoor contradance. It was nice to hear "Nancy music" with Molly. There was also a store with t-shirts. Many of them were plays on the city phrase, "Ithaca is Gorges." There were 2 shirts that were next to each other and I missed the pun, but my mom got it. Here's the visual:

After our walk, we indulged one more time and went to Purity Ice Cream. We each ordered a sundae: Mom-Chocolate Chip Cookie, Molly-Carmel Overload, and Kimberly-Turtle. We were waiting for our sundaes and they came out 1 at a time, even though we ordered together. When we were just waiting for mine, Mom said, "We're just waiting for the Turtle. I guess it's slow!" We all had a good laugh!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Church and Chocolate

July 13, 2008

I was awakened this morning to a cool breeze and the sound of horse hooves clip-clopping on the pavement outside my window. What a lovely way to wake up!! My mom and I went with the Dagens to Neffsville Mennonite Church. At one point during the sermon my mother leaned over and asked me if the Mennonites believe in predestination, based on something the pastor said. The short answer during the sermon was “no.” A longer explanation followed in the car this afternoon.

After church, the two of us took off to the mall and then to an outlet mall. We found some fun things (like shorts and a hat for my Guatemala trip) and then found Amish Stuff…that was really the name of the store. I had been wanting to see Hershey, PA, so we decided to drive the 20 or so miles and look around. During the trip, 2 fun things happened. First, we drove through an AMAZING thunderstorm. It absolutely poured and the lightning was spectacular. Second, we were listening to some songs on a Christian radio station. (Not the “fun” part yet…) The announcer came on between and said coming up was the Clydesdale…Choir. Both my mom and I thought of Clydesdale HORSES! I was picturing horses singing and she was just picturing the horses.

When we got to Hershey we drove through the campus of the Milton Hershey School. A former co-worker of mine is a house parent there. Her family is on vacation, but I wanted to check out the school. We then drove over to Hershey’s Chocolate Town and had a light dinner. It was crazy busy because of the rain driving everyone indoors, but it was interesting. I did have Hershey Chocolate Milk and Chocolate Barbeque Sauce (not together.). The sauce didn’t taste much different from other BBQ sauce. In the gift shop there was a little boy with his parents. He was about 3 years old. They showed him some stickers that had his name on them and he exclaimed, “They knowed me, Mom!” I just looked at the mom and smiled. (Of course, they got him the stickers!)

Tomorrow we head up to Ithaca to see Molly.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Lancaster County-One of the 10,000 villages?

July 12, 2008

Well, after a very late night it was also a late start. We were only about 1 ½ hours from Craig’s parent’s house, though. We stopped for lunch at a Sonic Burgers. Apparently, it has newly opened in the area. My mom really liked the skating car hops and took some pictures. We arrived at the Dagen’s around 2pm and I was greeted by Craig’s dad, Nelson, with a big hug and a punch to my arm. His first words were something like, “I’m just following directions.” My response was, “You talked to Craig, huh?” He said they had just gotten off the phone earlier today. This is often how Craig greets me. The only thing missing was a head-butt. We got some of the luggage in, had a drink, and then we took off to go see the Ten Thousand Villages store. It was beautifully painted outside and HUGE! (I guess it’s one of the first ones.) It had a café and one whole room with handmade rugs from Pakistan. There was one that really intrigued me with a map of Pakistan and Afghanistan on it and then a border of all sorts of flags from different countries. None of these rugs were in my budget (I saw one for $7300), but it was nice to admire them.

My mom and I stopped a couple other places and then headed back to the Dagens’. Barb made a wonderful lentil and barley dish and we had AMAZING fresh corn (some of the first of the season.) It was SO sweet that the four of us finished 10 ears!! After dinner, we went outside and Barb gave us a tour of her herb garden and flowers. Neither my mom nor I can grow or know anything about plants, so it was interesting. Lots of wonderful sights and smells. We all sat out on the porch and watched lightning bugs and some distant personal fireworks as the local church bells rang out an evening tune. There is an Amish neighbor with horses and near sunset there was a colt that came out with its mom behind the white rail fence. We could still see it over the 5-6 foot corn, but the Dagens said it would not be seen when the corn got taller. It was the epitome of a bucolic moment. Definitely worth a contented sign.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friend-ly connections

July 11, 2008

There’s some “guest blogging” that will happen because of stories that happen to my mom when I’m not around. There are 2 such stories today. I’ll paraphrase the stories b/c she isn’t a typist.

1st Mom story (in her voice, sort of): “I went to the lobby to get some breakfast. When I got to the toaster, this woman told me that she had her toast in one side because there was a piece of bread in the bottom of the other side. I tried to get it out, but it wouldn’t come, so I just put my bread on top. I pulled my bread out when it was done enough for me. I went to sit down and the lady in the lobby said, “The toaster’s smoking.” I said, “You’re toaster’s on fire.” The young kid in the lobby said, “Oh, someone open the door so I can throw it out.” I opened the door for the kid and he went and dumped the toasted upside down and shook the burning toast out. When I came back in, the smoke alarm was going off and the hallway door had closed as a safety thing. I thought, “I’m not going to stay here in the lobby, I’ll go back to the room.” I had to put my glass of milk in my mouth so I could get that heavy door open, but I got it and got back to the room.”

Back to Kimberly: We took off around 9am and headed the rest of the way into Philadelphia. I had reserved a hotel room on-line so we knew where we were heading. We stopped for lunch at Ruby Tuesdays b/c I was hoping that they would have good iced tea (I was disappointed:-( ), but they did have a good salad bar with non-iceberg lettuce and spinach (healthy, healthy:-)

We got into our room and ready to head into town around 3pm. We asked how to get there and it was suggested that we take the train into town. The shuttle from the hotel to the airport dropped us off at the train and I asked him if looping back through that station was part of his regular route. He said no, but gave us the number for the hotel to call and request that he come. We got on the train right away. I bought a roundtrip ticket for Mom and a one-way for myself b/c I was meeting up with a high school friend who lives in the city. We went into the Market East station and got off underground in a mall. We got up and out and walked over to the Liberty Bell. Sometimes I wonder why I think I’m smarter than the signs in a city I don’t know. I knew it was 1 block over from the street we were on, but when you turn your map 90 degrees to the left instead of 90 degrees to the right, you turn the wrong way!! We went one block over (the wrong way) and walked near Chinatown, but after a couple blocks, headed back to the main street. I guess my mental GPS is not as refined as it used to be!!

We walked by the outside of the Liberty Bell. You can see it through the glass and that was good enough for me. I couldn’t see the side with the crack, but I’ve seen that in pictures my whole life. I had actually never seen the side WITHOUT the crack!! It was around 4pm and I was meeting up with Julie Vandermay, a good friend from high school, at 5pm. My mom and I walked around and then found a little Italian restaurant for a snack and to wait for Julie. She met up with us around 5 and then we walked my mom back to the mall/train station and then headed over to her house.

I had a wonderful time with Julie. We walked over to her and Tara’s home. It’s a beautiful 4-story, narrow home. There is a kitchen/dining room down one level from the street, up one level is a living room and outdoor patio, up another level is master bedroom and bath, and, on the top floor, are home offices. It is warm, cozy, and beautiful. I also met Lucy the poodle. She’s wonderfully sweet and my favorite trick was the fact that she rolls over to have her paws wiped off when she comes in from walking:-)

After a nice chat in the patio, we went to a fun Italian restaurant on the street by the Italian market. It’s a local place and there was even a picture of Rocky on the wall. Great food and more great conversation. For dessert, we went to a chocolate bar called the Naked Chocolate Café. Drinking chocolate, sipping chocolate, chocolates that would put See’s Candy to shame! Fortunately, one of the things you can order is a glass of cold milk to wash it down. We walked back to Julie’s house and chatted alone and with friends that came over until around 2:30am!! Julie brought me back to the hotel and we were both really glad we had reconnected.

Mom Story #2: When she got back to the station near the hotel she called the hotel for a pick up. After 2 more trains had come and gone, she called a second time. They again said they’d send someone. When no one came again, she called me. We were both having flashbacks of my Paris train experience, however, I knew we could just drive over and take her to the hotel and there were no language difficulties. I called the hotel and told them that my mom was there all by herself and that I needed someone to pick her up IMMEDIATELY. Mom called me a few minutes later and told me she was in the shuttle and on her way to the hotel. She told me later that the driver felt so bad that he gave her a free appetizer in the restaurant. She decided to get dessert instead, but was happy with that.