Miami

A quick overnight stop in Miami to go to Wynwood Walls. The plan was a night photo shoot and then a morning one before flying back to Charleston.

My mother worries about our adventurous travels and thinks we’re safer close to home. It pleased me to inform her that upon arrival at our hotel last night there were four cop cars at the entry and five policemen in the lobby.

On the way to the Walls a street was cordoned off with caution tape and multiple police cars. Out the restaurant window a police car slowly cruised by with its lights on.

Welcome to America.

It was raining when we touched down at the Miami Airport but cleared up on the way to the hotel.

As soon as we stepped out of the Uber to take photos the sky opened up and it poured.

We ran to a restaurant for cover and used the opportunity to have cocktails and a birthday dinner hoping it would clear enough to take photos.A short break allowed for a few shots but we knew the next day we’d have a better chance to stroll and capture more.Nope! It poured right up to where there wasn’t enough time to get to the walls and make it to the airport on time.

Such is life.

Next stop, Charleston, where we’ll hit the ground running finishing up our remodel and anxiously awaiting the birth of our twin granddaughters. Only two more weeks to go.

El Salvador

By now you most likely know this but I’ll start with a quick update on the fallout from the presidential election in Bolivia.

Striking and riots continued after our notorious night time escape a few weeks ago.

On Saturday the police stood in unison with the people of Bolivia. After, Morales, the president said he was up for another election. Sunday morning the military stood with the people of Bolivia. By Sunday afternoon the military and police suggested Morales step down and he did – running to Mexico for safety. Now what?Onwards….We flew from Managua, Nicaragua to San Salvador, El Salvador. Unfortunately it’s known as the most dangerous country in Central America due to crime.

I say it’s the most dangerous because there are 6 active volcanoes (17 inactive) and earthquakes are commonplace. Witnessed by us as our hotel swayed in the 5.1 quake on day two, the aftershock that shook the pool deck and the 5.9 quake the next day that lasted longer than the day before. Yieks!!!El Salvador has suffered severely. The civil war was from 1980 to 1992 and it’s only now slowly turning around. A new president was elected in June and citizens seem happy. Gang violence, drug trafficking and crime is the current battle.

Despite the negative, this place has me bewitched. The people couldn’t be nicer and it’s absolutely beautiful. We toured the city center of San Salvador (Sivar) where the El Centro market expands 20 blocks. Everything from undies to Christmas decorations can be found here.The Cathedral – rebuilt for a third time in 2001 – a victim of multiple earthquakes. Hopefully someone got a clue this time around and built it to earthquake standards.The fascinating pressed metal Basilica Sagrado Corazon Church had multi cultural beginnings. Around 1901 some of the 14 rich families that once financially ruled El Salvador decided that since they were doing so much exporting of goods they needed to import items as well. Case in point – “Let’s order us up a church and hospital. We’ll have Belgium manufacture the pressed metal walls. Indonesia can make the wooden supports. Italy can supply the tile floors and let’s get the windows from Spain.” I’m sure it went something like that…..

It was erected first in Belgium (to make sure all the parts fit), dismantled and then put on multiple ships for delivery. The church parts made it to San Salvador but one of the ships carrying parts for the hospital accidentally delivered them to San Salvador, Brazil. Whoops!

Completed in 1913; the metal walls looks like an exquisitely designed stone building and the ceiling looks like the hull of a ship.Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalm 119:105. Welcome the El Rosario Church. Inconspicuous on the outside, this concrete building is filled with God’s light on the inside. Free of structural pillars – this beauty literally shines.Off to the countryside where jungle greenery surrounds hilly roads. We headed to the small colonial town of Panchimalco. A stop in Planes de Rendero for pupusas, gave us expansive views and a glimpse of Lago de Coatepeque.My favorite place was the adorable town of Suchitoto on the Ruta Azul in the state of Cuscatlan.There we stopped at:

Film maker Alejandro Cotto‘s hacienda which he donated to the community after his death.And – Casa 1800 for views of Suchitlán Lake which is currently covered in a bed of lilies (an annual event). The limonadas were delicious.Suchitoto was so captivating. Tranquilo with colorful, terra-cotta roofed homes and cobblestone streets. Lavish, lush, with dense vistas, charm and preserved structures make this a popular destination.One wouldn’t know this peaceful community was a hot spot in the war where the people suffered the worst atrocities.Trans-Americas Journey’s blog discusses Suchitoto and the war – click here to read.

Women have been greatly persecuted here and solidarity stamps supporting women’s rights are found on walls outside of homes saying women will no longer be victimized.Next time we’re staying here, overnight, to linger.

Oh yeah and cruise the Ruta de Las Flores.It’s Christmas in El Salvador.

We normally don’t do this but with all the negative press about El Salvador we hired EC Tours to drive us around and teach us about their country. They’re the best and we highly recommended them.

Some fun little tidbits:

We’re used to being called gringos in Mexico but in El Salvador’s we are Chelitos. White skinned.

A cora is a quarter. When El Salvador adopted the US dollar as their currency the locals had a hard time saying quarter so they said cora.

Chivo means goat. However they say – Que chivo for how cool.

We saw a Ferris Wheel in the distance and when we pointed to it and said “Hey, there’s a Ferris Wheel.” Our guide Estefany said “That’s a Chicago.” So for those of you who don’t know the Ferris Wheel was built for the World’s Fair in Chicago.

Life is good!!!

Nicaragua

UGH. I’m the tight wad in the family.

Bill confessed that he splurged and bought business class tickets from Panama City to Georgetown, Guyana. With all the fiasco about us not having yellow fever vaccinations we had to come up with plan B.

Of course, we didn’t buy flight insurance (not sure it would have applied) and immigration issues are of no concern for Copa Airlines. “You can pay $150.00 per person to change your flights. If you want to use the credit from your cancelled flight you must book business class out of Panama City.”So here I sit again typing this blog from the most expensive seat on a one hour 35 minute flight. At least we were served tapas and we’re drinking copas de vino tinto – that’s a bonus. One doesn’t get to use any remaining balance of the un-used plane fare. Bill chalked it up to another adventure while I fought back tears from losing the value of our tickets. Such is life.

We’re on our way to Managua, Nicaragua.

More later……

So we get off the plane and two people in lab coats are checking the immigration papers that we filled out on the airplane. They looked at each person’s form in front of us and waved them through.

But not us. Oh no. “Where’s your vaccination paperwork” questions the man with the lab coat. Say what? “No tenemos.” I exclaimed. We don’t have them.

He promptly calls over another more official lab coat person who pulls us out of line to interviews us. She wanted to know how our ages, how many days we were in Panama and did we really visit Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru.

Visions of the Managua Immigration Hotel were floating in my head.

We answered her questions and after a few hems and haws she waved us on through with a bienvenidos – welcome.

Phew! Close call. Now that has me wondering if we could have pulled that off on the Guyana trip.Not too many tourists stay in the capital of Managua. It’s a jumping off place for other locations in the country. The only building of any historical significance is the cathedral that was devastated in the 1972 earthquake and never rebuilt. Supposedly the whole center of Managua was destroyed in the earthquake and the following years of civil unrest kept it from flourishing.

There’s a fantastic malecón. The long walkway boarders Lake Managua with a huge park, restaurants, amusement activities and rest areas.Since we arrived late we decided to stay here to check it out and then move onwards.Granada. A popular tourist destination resting at the foot of the active Mombacho volcano on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. A charming old town with colorful buildings and cobblestone streets. The hawkers in the main square were exhausting. Lucky for us it was the first time we had to deal with it on this trip and when we left the main tourist area to explore we were left alone.It’s remarkable how many countries look the same. Discovered by the same people, ruled by the same people, built by the same people. Bill reminds me that countries are just lines on a map.

Off to El Salvador. Let’s see if it’s different…Crazy creepy birds at sunset. The volcano cleared for just a moment.

Panama City, Panama

Believe it or not immigration in Panama did not ask about our flight out of Panama. Go figure.

The airline clerks in Lima were more about Panamanian Immigration than the Panamanians were.

It’s all smoke and mirrors!

The good thing about the whole ordeal was that we didn’t have to spend the night in the Panama Immigration Hotel.

The first day was the hop on hop off bus and Yup…. it was a national holiday – diá de bandera (flag day) and half of the bus stops were closed. One being access to the historic district – Casco Viejo and all the museums. Flag day in Panama is a big deal. We caught a glimpse from the bus and hundreds of thousands of people were out packed in like sardines celebrating. It was great fun to see.Lucky for us we got to watch a huge ship go through the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal. I was able to experience locks growing up on Saranac Lake in New York. It’s a tedious and meticulously planned operation. Train-like engines guide the ships through the canal keeping the boat in the middle. It was a bit like watching water boil but thrilling none the less.A malecón (seaside walkway) called Cinta Costera Park links the wildly growing modern urban center to Casco Viejo – Panama City’s spectacular old town and UNESCO World Heritage site.We baked ourselves in the sun walking from our hotel to the historic center on the Cinta Costera but enjoyed the seaside breeze in the evening on the way back. Skaters, walkers, joggers, dancers, vendors, kids and their parents, novias and amigos relished in the cooler night temperature.Casco Viejo is a mixture of crumbling abandoned buildings and new or newly refurbished ones – stately, ornate and adorned with Spanish inspired balconies. Fantastic restaurants, super cool hotels and fun bars.Oh yeah – the moon righted its self. Explain that to me please!We happened upon a runner, Jan-Casper Look, who just completed running from Vancouver, Canada to Panama City. Phase one of his journey. It took him a year. He runs pulling a cart behind himself averaging 30 miles per day. You can follow him on Instagram @jclloo21 where there’s also a link to his blog. And we thought walking a few Caminos was a big deal.

Strange and crazy. This Camino Pilgrimage symbol was on a building in Casco Viejo!

A conundrum of sorts…

Leaving Lima

It’s common to be asked by the airlines to show your flight itinerary out of the country you will be entering.

At the Copa counter in Lima we were asked just that. “Where are you going after Panama City, Panama?” To which I promptly whipped open my Expedia app and showed the gal we would be heading to Georgetown, Guyana. “Por favor. May I please see proof that you had yellow fever shots? It is necesario to travel to Guyana.”

“No podemos!” declared a stunned Paige.

Ok, ok…… so we were supposed to get yellow fever shots but the thing is there were none in Charleston. They had been out for over a year.

Bill thought we needed the shots and when he couldn’t find them he went back on the internet and searched until he found an article that said we didn’t need them. The power of the internet right. You can find any answer you want!

Well, you don’t need them if you’re flying from the USA. Not the case if you’re coming from South America!

You see Bill’s original plan was to fly to Guyana first from the USA but oh no Paige needed her Panama hat first….

So…. we have two non-refundable airplanes flights. One to Guyana and one leaving Suriname and we’re not allowed in either country.

Get shots in Panama you say? The vaccine takes 10 days to be effective and we leave on the 14th. You do the math.

So plan B is in the works. Columbia? Nicaragua? El Salvador? Suggestions?

Once again I contacted my mother to asked her to call Suriname Airlines (our flight home) and beg for a refund.

So much for having to show where you are going next. We’re currently flying to Panama with unusable tickets out of the country. Perhaps we’ll be staying at the Panama City Immigration Hotel.

Hello Panama

The Peruvian Amazon

I sit on the top deck of our river boat typing and glimpse the pink dolphins frocking in the muddy water as white birds dance in the sky. Rising and falling to the sounds of nature. It’s a sight to behold.A two hour flight from the coastal region of Lima had us flying over the Andes mountains and landing in the jungle, Iquitos.Iquitos is the largest city in the world not accessible by road.

Our boat awaited one and a half hours away. The bus ride ended in Nauta where we boarded the Amazon’s only wooden river boat, the Amatista, for a seven day cruise.Before the road was paved in 2005 the journey from Iquitos to Nauta took 12 hours.15 Germans, 4 Canadians and 5 Americans filled 13 of the 15 cabins.

The Amazon’s wet season officially begins in November.

Clear skies on the first evening showed stars so abundant they seemed to be growing out of the tree tops. The Milky Way floated above our heads and the moon looked like it slipped – a U shaped sliver instead of a C shape.The abundance of flora and fauna was staggering.

Here’s a partial list of what we’ve seen: pink dolphins, manatees, a kinkajou, a coatimundi, butterflies, an ajouti, pigmy marmoset, bats, a black caiman, monkeys, frogs of all colors, a red tail boa, an anaconda, 3 sloths, birds too numerous to count, piglets (special Amazonian variety – HA), a tarantula, gray dolphins, turtles, household pets, ducks, chickens, roosters, piranhas and gazillions of unwanted bugs/mosquitos.Every day we took two skiff boat trips – one before lunch and the other later in the day. The naturalists pointed out wildlife while cruising through either muddy brown waters or sleek black water tributaries. Jungle walks gave us the opportunity to get up close and personal with nature and it’s critters.We visted the small community of Pampacaño – 192 people strong and not in possession of clean water.

A pipe pulls their drinking water from the dirty Amazon. To make it safe as possible to drink the captured water stands for several days so that the contaminates can settle and then they use the water from the top. Oil and lead are amongst the carcinogens.

That day lunch was served from the floor in Maria’s home – we ate with our fingers. One of the items on the menu was paca – a huge two foot rat that lives in the jungle. There too we saw the 15 foot anaconda that crept into their village five days prior.Amazonians are so used to the rain that they go about their daily routines immune to the drops continuing on as if the sun was shining.

Chicken and catfish are the main sources of meat in the Amazon. Fish and chicken farms are abundant. In the villages people also fish out of their lagoons instead of the unhealthy river.However, we did go piranha fishing in the black water and dined on them for dinner. Fishing for those infamous people-eating machines (lore) with tiny vicious teeth is quite basic. Take a four foot stick with fishing line tied to one end, a hook on the other and a little bit of beef for bait. You splash the water with the end of the pole and wait to set the hook. Bill successfully caught one flinging it with excitement right on the bag in front of me! They were served deep fried – had a tiny amount of meat, lots of bones and tasted like the grease they were cooked in.We visited a shaman/midwife. This calm woman all of five feet tall with hair past her bottom and bare footed, studied deep in the jungle for eight years to learn how to use plants to heal. Part of her spiritual therapy is using the hallucinogenic ayahuasca plant. Nine villages are dependent on her to cure aliments and deliver babies.Our crew was the best. The two naturalists were informative and have worked on the boat since it’s inception 23 years ago. The chef could make pollo and pescado in so many different ways you barely knew you were eating it twice a day.It only rained for a short period of time on a couple of days.

Soon it will be raining everyday and the Amazon will swallow the shores – rising as much as forty feet by the end of the rainy season. Homes on stilts will become islands and life goes on.Look at the waterline on the trees!

More iPhone shots:

Lima, Peru

We safely found our way to Lima.

Morales, the incumbent, won the Bolivian presidential election by the needed 10% margin. From what we learned that was a given.

A week or so after the decision the strike in Bolivia is still alive and well.

Our first stop in Lima was to our favorite cevicheria restaurant called La Mar.Our good friend turned us on to the La Mar restaurant in San Francisco. Over the years we’ve frequented this place many times. They’re famous for savory ceviche dishes and Piso cocktails.

It has a fun backstory – the Peruvian owner told his father he was going to law school in Spain while actually attending culinary school. Eventually opening his super successful first restaurant in Lima. Rumor is, the dad got over the betrayal.

Considering it’s popularity, taking no reservations and only opened from noon to 5:30, five years ago, con suerte, we were able to get a table in Lima.We were lucky again this time. There were two seats at the bar. With stuffed bellies and two Pisco Sours we staggered back to our hotel and slept after having been awake for 25 hours.

Peru has three regions. The coast, the mountains and the jungle.

Lima is on the coast.We stayed in Miraflores a few blocks from the Pacific. Foggy until noon, clear for a couple hours and then foggy again.

Bustling everywhere – from Miraflores to the historic downtown region.

Precipitation in this capital city is one of the lowest in the world – following Cairo, Egypt and the middle of the Sahara. The buildings suffer from the effects of exhaust and no rain.The historic district has grand buildings and big parks.

The catacomb tour of the Monastery of San Francisco (UNESO World Heritage site) was interesting. Archeologists have uncovered the bones of 25,000 people and discovered tunnels that connected the Cathedral to the Tribunal of the Holy Inquisition.The best part was the library containing 25,000 books dating back to the 14th century.

We had our ears lowered at a barbershop run by a young guy who lived in California for 25 years and came back to Lima to go to art school and live a more laid back life. He and his partner hired barbers who fled Venezuela.

Off to Iquitos to see the Amazon…