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March 16, 2014

Nadine: Differences between countries

The three main differences in all the places I have been are the toilets, the wealth, and the food. The toilets were different in two main ways, where they are and if you can throw toilet paper in them. How the wealth was different is pretty obvious. The food was mostly different in the diet but it was also different in the taste and texture. Many other things were different, but those are the three main things.

Not many people think of toilets when they think of other countries, but that is one of the biggest things that I think of. Most people think of toilets as something in your wall that you do your business in. Some people think of a toilet as a hole in the ground. Others think of it as having to go outside and pour water in the back of the toilet and then having to find more water to wash your hands with. I have witnessed all of these kinds of toilets and have a feeling that I will witness even more types of toilets.

When someone says the word “Wealth” the first thing most people would think is money. The question is how do you know how much money someone has without asking? In Europe most people have running water and cupboards to put food in. In Central and South America it is sometimes the same and sometimes different. In Central and South America you are either wealthy or poor. The pore people do not have such luxuries. Another way to tell is how large and managed the houses are. These are good ways to tell how wealthy countries really are.

Food is different in every city. Because of that, food is even more different when it comes to different countries and continents. China had the weirdest food in my opinion. The weirdest thing was probably that you got puffer fish before every meal. They even left the teeth in. The other countries had weird food too. In Nicaragua you might only eat dry cereal and a banana for breakfast. In Africa they have surprisingly good Asian food. That has been one of the biggest surprises yet. All of the places I have been so far have had different food and now I will get to try even more.

These are my three main differences in all the places I have been and I can’t wait to witness even more.

March 3, 2014

Hank: Galapagos Islands

The Finch Bay hotel on Isla Santa Cruz is like paradise for the average American tourist which can either be a good thing or a bad thing. In our case it was a very good thing. It had a pool and a nice beach. You can go on excursions every day snorkeling and hiking or you can just choose to relax. We chose to work our selves ragged by riding to other islands each day on a big motor yacht with a bunch of other tourists. Boy it was just exhausting.

The food was delicious. The last night we had fresh tuna that I  caught and for any one who knows tuna they know it tastes the best when it is just barely cooked. They made it perfect!!! I would recommend the Finch bay hotel to any one and every one who comes to the Galápagos Islands. It is a great way to see all the wonderful wild life around here.

We saw a lot of wild life. There were sea lions every where and we saw blue footed boobies. Yes you heard me right. I said blue footed boobies. Their feet were really really blue!!! There were also these cool crabs that were bright orange and yellow and red and they sort of looked like a little bitty sun scuttling around on the rocks. We saw lots of cool looking fish. They were all colors and all sizes and all shapes while snorkeling and some times the sea lions wanted to play but at that point you were supposed to get out of the water because they were really big and supposedly kind of  dangerous to play with but to me they all just looked like really big dogs with fins. We also saw some iguanas that would happily mingle with the birds and not tear them to shreds. Kind of disappointing in that regard but it was still cool I guess.

We saw some turtles that were swimming because turtles swim and tortoises walk on land. The biggest tortoises that we saw were 500 pounds. We even learned some science. It was mostly about Darwin and evolution and all that stuff so that is what I shall tell you about. Evolution on large scale does take hundreds and thousands of years but evolution on a small scale takes just one baby organism. For example if there is a family of tortoises who in habit an island in the Galapagos and all the trees were one yard off the ground and the tortoises could only reach 9/10 0f a yard off the ground then what would happen? If you are thinking that they would be forced to eat second hand grass off of the filthy and un sanitized ground then you are absolutely correct. Now say a tortoise is born with a neck that is 1/10 of a yard longer than its peers and is able to eat more delicious first class tree leaves than its little tortoise buddies. So now you hopefully understand that small scale evolution can happen at any random time as long as babies are still being produced. This process all has one big fancy name and that name is NATURAL SELECTION!!!!!

February 27, 2014

Kurt: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Hank, Nadine and I enjoyed the Galapagos Islands very much. We rate it the #1 location on our trip to date, barely surpassing Greece. We saw many of the animals for which the Galapagos is famous – tortoises, finches and iguanas – and also surfed, fished and saw many fish, starfish, stingrays and a shark while snorkeling.

We stayed in Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz. We took three day trips with other visitors on a motor yacht – one trip to Isla Santa Fe, one to Plaza South and one to Isla Bartolome. On each of the trips we hiked and then we swam and snorkeled. We had good company on the trips. Much of the trips and hikes focused on the animals and how they have evolved, including Darwin’s work in the Galapagos and the current threats to the wildlife. Fortunately, the tortoise population is now increasing due to the work at the Darwin research center.

We went fishing in the Pacific Ocean off Isla Santa Cruz and caught tuna. Hank pulled in the most (and, according to his faulty recollection, also caught the biggest). Our guide Moab found the fish near areas where the sea birds were feeding on baitfish. We trolled near the birds, using lures 6-12” long. Twice when we passed a flock of the feeding birds, we had two strikes and two tuna on at the same time. We also saw two different schools of flying fish churning together across the surface and chasing baitfish; it looked like the ocean was boiling in those places. We filleted a big tuna steak off one of the fish and Moab took it to a restaurant, where they trimmed part of it into sashimi and then grilled the rest of it. Very tasty.

Hank and Nadine surfed at Tortuga Bay. Moab’s nephew, Adid, who fished with us, gave Hank and Nadine surfing lessons. They both managed to stand up and did well. The beach at Tortuga Bay is about 1.5 km long with few visitors. The sand was the finest we have felt on this trip – about the same texture as baby powder.

February 26, 2014

Kurt: Northeast Ecuador Amazon region

Hank, Nadine and I visited the Amazon region of NE Ecuador. To get there we flew from Quito to Coca, Ecuador; then we took a large canoe with motor east down the Rio Napo for 3 hours; then we hiked about a half mile through the forest to a smaller river; then we took a smaller canoe about 20 minutes to the Sani Lodge. This lodge is run by the Sani community that has lived along the river for many years.

We went on several hikes through the rain forest and saw lots of birds, monkeys, small mammals, bugs, centipedes, spiders, frogs and black cayman. Probably the best view was from the canopy tower, which is a large, metal tree house built about a hundred feet up in a giant ceba tree. We tried to catch piranhas but only got catfish. Next time we will have Nadine cut her toe a little bit and then swish it around in the water. Hank and Nadine practiced shooting a blowgun and were quite accurate; the big lime they shot at is dead.

The first couple nights we slept in a tent in the forest. There were surprisingly few mosquitoes and unsurprisingly many ants, bugs, spiders and frogs, some of which are nice and some of which can hurt you. Hank and two other guests got sick one night after dinner and Hank got severe stomach cramps and threw up all over our tent site about midnight. About that time was when I realized that if he was seriously sick we would have to hike about 30 minutes through the forest back to the lodge. It only takes 5-10 minutes to paddle the canoe from the lodge to the tent site, but the Sani folks paddle the canoe back to the lodge each night. Swimming is not advised given the caymans, electric eels and piranhas in the lake by the lodge. Anyway, he survived and went to sleep around 3 a.m. Hank said that barfing in the Amazon rain forest and at the Auschwitz concentration camp solidifies his position near the top of the “13-year old kids who have barfed in the most interesting places” list. The Sani folks planned to send in a shaman to clear the “dirty air” that made him sick.

Other than Hank getting sick, we had a great time in the forest and learned a lot.

February 18, 2014

Hank: NE Ecuador Amazon region

Last weekend we went to the Amazon rain forest in Ecuador. We stayed at Sani lodge, a small lodge built by a jungle community called Sani community. It was payed for by an oil company called Occidental in exchange for exploring for oil on the Sani tribe’s land. The Sani community took a big risk letting the company look for oil on there land because instead of a lodge they could have asked the oil company to pay them a bunch of money and if they did find oil the Sani tribe would have received a part of the money. Instead when the oil company built the lodge and did not end up finding oil the Sani community had a tourist lodge in the Amazon, on a non polluted lake, with caimans and colorful birds all around it. It also gave a great and on going source of income  and jobs for the local people. According to our guide Geranio, The Sani lodge has been open for 18 years.
When you go to the Sani lodge they pick you up at the air port in Coca, Ecuador, a medium sized town which is located on a large river called the Rio Napo which flows in to the Amazon River. The Sani lodge is about three hours down river in a motorized canoe. You pass many very small villages on your way there. There are no roads going into the jungle so pretty much all the communities have motor canoes that they drive to Coca in if they are going to visit a relative or something. Many oil companies drill out in the Amazon so you see these huge trucks and bulldozers being pushed out to oil camps on big barges on the river in the middle of the jungle.
Once you get to Sani lodge you decide if you would like to camp in a tent or stay in a cabana. All of the cabanas were full so we camped and I have to say it was pretty cool till I got sick one night and threw up all over the camp sight. We went on lots of hikes and they have a canopy tower in a huge ceba tree that is thirty meters up. We spit off of it and it took 7.5 seconds to hit the ground. AMAZING!!! But we did see tons of birds while we were up there and a sleeping howler monkey. We also went fishing for piranhas but did not catch any.
February 16, 2014

Nadine: La Mariposa Spanish School, Nicaragua

I have been looking forward to this part of the trip for months. I might have been sad when I had to leave my mom, but when I got here I knew that it was all worth it. There are beautiful plants and flowers and everybody is so energetic. There is not just plant life, but there is also a lot of animals. All of these wonderful things are at the Mariposa Spanish School in Nicaragua.

There is one sound that you really have to get used to while you are here. You have to get used to the sound that wakes you up every morning. You have to get used to the sound of the green parrots. In fact they do not only wake you up, but they squawk all day. There are other animals here too. There are lots of other birds, one black bunny, and four really cute monkeys. The bunny lives in a cage in front of the hotel. There are a lot of cages at the school. Personally, I think that the bird cage that is beside the monkey cage is the biggest. The majority of the cages here hold birds because the majority of the animals are birds. The biggest cage holds the toucans and ducks. My favorite bird is probably the whistling duck, but the toucan is also really cute. The birds are all really nice, and are a large part of the beauty of la Mariposa.

I think that my favorite animals here are the monkeys, actually I think that my favorite animals anywhere are monkeys. You can feed the monkeys bananas and other fruits, one of their favorite things is coffee beans witch is a little weird because I would never think that a monkey would like coffee beans. In Spanish monkey is mono, in fact one of the monkeys names is mono. All of the monkeys have names. The monkey’s names are Mono, Legwan, Shima, and Cutie. Mono and Cutie are the nicest, while Legwan is a bit mean, and Shima is very shy. They are usually very nice and fun to play with at la Mariposa Spanish School.

We do not get to hang out with the animals all day, though I wish we did, we have classes from 8:00-12:00. We only have classes on the week days so we get to hang out with the animals all day on the weekends. After breakfast they ring a bell that signifies that it is time for class. I have two classes and I have different teachers for each class. My first teacher changes every week, but the second one is always the same. My first teacher and I will translate read and write Spanish in till ten o’clock. We have a small break at ten and then the bell rings again which signifies that it is time for my second class. My teacher for the second class is named Mosese. We will study in a really nice out door classroom in till noon. At noon we have lunch and then we have home schooling in till three o’clock. Next we have the rest of the day free. All of this cool stuff is at the Mariposa Spanish School.

This is why everybody would love la Mariposa Spanish School. They would love it for the people, the animals, the plants, and the education.

February 8, 2014

Hank: Nicaragua at La Mariposa Spanish School

There are monkeys here!!! They are black with white faces and have long tails just like most monkeys. They live right here at La Mariposa. That means the butterfly in Spanish. Every thing here is green and colorful. Actually now that I look around it is mostly just green and brown. But it is really nice here. Pretty much the opposite of most days in Texas. If you are reading this than you probably live in Texas and it is probably brown and hot and dry there. Here it is wet. Also there is this weird stuff that the natives call rain. I think it is pretty cool that this stuff just falls from the sky. OH YEA I almost forgot. You can drink the odd fluid and it tastes like water!!!  The place we are staying at is called La Escuela de la Mariposa. They have chickens and turkeys and really colorful birds. Every morning we get up for breakfast at 7:15 then at 8:00 we go to our grammar class which goes till 10:00. We have a 20 minute break then we go to our conversation class from 10:20 to 12:00. In all it is four hours of Spanish a day. The food is also really good here. It is mostly rice and beans but occasionally they will have some sort of meat. Those are the really special days.

January 17, 2014

On the road again

Hank, Nadine and I left Austin on January 14, 2014. We plan to travel through June, with the exception of a stop in Austin in early March for Sarah’s Travis County Democratic primary election. Sarah will join us for part of the trip beginning in mid-March.

Hank, Nadine and I are at the Mariposa Spanish School in La Concepcion, Masaya, Nicaragua for around four weeks, . We are staying at the hotel at the school for the first two weeks and then will stay with a family nearby for the next two weeks. The hotel is on the outskirts of the forest with flowers, vines, and trees all over, dogs, chickens and two turkeys wandering around, birds flying, and a bunch of rescued white-faced capuchin monkeys in a big cage. The food is almost all vegetarian and tasty. There are two other families here with 9-year old girls and little brothers — one family from northern California and the other from the Isle of Man. Other travelers are from US, Germany, England, Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand, Holland and Belgium. There is a water shortage here. This school and hotel take many steps to conserve water, but I will save that topic for one of Hank’s papers in his home school Writing class.

The Spanish classes here are one-on-one given in various cabanas in the forest or on verandas around the school. This is a picture of Nadine’s lesson this morning.

Last night we went on a full moon hike through the forest and up the mountain overlooking Granada and Lake Managua behind it. Tomorrow we spend the day hiking at the Mambacho volcano and forest. We all like this place very much.


September 25, 2013

Change of plans

We completed our summer travel and returned to Austin on Labor Day weekend 2013. Hank, Nadine and I had planned to leave again in late September and travel in South and Central America until Christmas. Unfortunately, Sarah must stay and work in Austin during that time in her campaign for County Judge, After further thought Hank, Nadine and I have decided to skip the next four months of our trip and we will stay in Austin with Sarah and support her in her campaign for County Judge. Hank, Nadine and I will leave Austin in early 2014 and travel through June 2014. We hope to travel in Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific, Hawaii and Alaska during those six months. Hank and Nadine are now back in school at O’Henry Middle School and Mathews Elementary. If you are in Austin between September 2013 and mid-January 2014, stop by and visit.

September 2, 2013

Driving in Greece

Driving in Greece is an adventure.  According to the Lonely Planet book, Greece has the highest traffic fatality rate in the EU. The intricate, beautiful and sorrowful miniature churches that dot the roadside where people have died attest to the truth of that statistic. But that did not deter us from striking out in our rented Super Racing Hyundai to less-travelled beauty spots of Greece (many when we got lost).

The Hyundai dutifully hauled us over narrow mountain passes, across sand and dirt roads, and down/through/over innumerable and expensive tolled roads, tunnels and bridges. The kids complained of the heat, pleaded car-sickness on the twisty roads (an excuse to get another Coke, I think), and expressed justified terror on mountain passes with no guardrails to guard against sheer drops of hundreds of feet. Not to disparage the Hyundai, but a small 4-wheel drive vehicle with a sturdy passenger compartment and cold AC would have been better.

I’m happy to say that I have proven myself a superior navigatrix. I came, I saw, I conquered vague directions, maps without highway names and highway signs that perplexed, amused or scared us silly. As Kurt said, if they would quit writing everything in Greek and write it in English things would be a lot easier. Kurt and the kids came to see me as the Delphic Oracle of the Road.

Maps of Greece are helpful only to a point. They are not detailed and even major highways rarely have a universally agreed upon name or number. Most people don’t rely on street names or highway numbers at all, instead describing streets by where they go – “the road to Thesoloniki” or “the road over the mountain.” This is fine unless you don’t know where you are in relation to Thesoloniki or what is on the other side of that mountain. Language barriers added to the confusion with written instructions like, “at the right fork to Greek, go left.” We started giving each other joke directions of “Turn left at the olive tree,” or, “At the next goat, go right.”

The sign–making department at the Greco DOT is prolific. Traffic signs are everywhere – signs that contradicted each other, signs that were redundant, signs that were out of date, signs every tenth of a kilometer telling you that you’d traveled a tenth of a kilometer, and signs warning of multiple life-threatening dangers just around the next corner. More is not necessarily better. Interestingly, while there was too many traffic signs, there were blessedly few billboards.

The silver lining in driving around in ignorance, confusion, and sometimes bare-nuckled fear is that sometimes we found ourselves lost in really cool places we would not have otherwise seen.