Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Thursday, June 13, 2024

No Such Place as Perfect

 I've been missing in action since April ended due to traveling and then guests. I arrived in Kansas City just in time to rush from the airport to the school and see these two on their last day. Kindergarten "graduation"-- missed the "ceremony" but got to surprise the graduate afterward. I don't think he expected to see me. Then we picked up his brother in first grade for a photo opportunity. Nonny who lives in Mexico hasn't been around much, unfortunately.

After two weeks in the States, I returned home to Veracruz and prepared for one of my sons and his family to visit. Here we are visiting Mandinga, a small fishing village north of Veracruz. This is one of the best pictures but unfortunately, my daughter in law isn't in it since she took the picture. Probably why it turned out so well. She's great with a camera.

I love the tropical climate and relaxed lifestyle where I live. It's only a few minutes from the beach and in an area with lots to see and do. Quite a few family members have come and stayed in my large house with me. When I leased it, it was with my family in mind. I'm so happy when they come and sad when they go. Travis's family was here last summer and loved visiting the taco stand across the street from my house.

I've been here nearly five years and even with flying back a couple times a year, I miss so much. I will miss Mexico when I move back to the States, no question about that. The ideal would be for all my family to move to Veracruz so I wouldn't have to leave. But that won't happen because jobs, money, mortgages, kids, schools, college, responsibilities. 

Me, I'm retired and can come and go as I please. I tend to chase the ideal so who knows where I'll land. But I always remind myself there's no such place as perfect. Only those oh so fleeting perfect moments, captured now and then with a camera. 

Friday, May 3, 2024

Reflections Post

This is how I won: I posted daily according to the alphabet, mainly by creating titles for the posts where the first word started with the specified letter of the day. Since there are so many words in the English language, that wasn't too big of a stretch although I admit to the usual "cheating" for X and Z days.

My theme was Stories from A to Z, composed of stories about traveling to South America with my son the summer of 2019. Although they were connected according to our travels, I tried to compose each entry to stand alone. Figuring it wasn't likely too many visitors would come for each day and read each story, I wanted them to enjoy the experience without having to read what came before or after.

I had visits and comments which made me happy, feeling like people connected with my stories. I visited quite a few blogs on the Challenge and commented on many posts during the month. Isn't that the point? There were bloggers who kindly returned the favor and others who did not. I don't understand that, because again, isn't that the point?

Overall it was a positive experience, and I'm very glad I signed up this year. I wasn't sure if I could handle it since I've been away from blogging for so long. I missed the community and social interaction I always enjoyed from this "slow" social media. It suits me and I'm glad I jumped right in with this intense, month-long Challenge. 

Well done to everyone who participated and especially to the organizers and facilitators. I'm amazed that it's still active after all these years. I think my first Challenge was in 2011!

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Zee last story of this Challenge: Stories from A to Z

 Near the central park, I noticed several tour booths that offered horseback excursions. Forrest wasn’t interested and besides, he still had a week of Spanish school left. I found the prices quite cheap for what it would cost in the States for a comparable experience.

 Everywhere I checked, they said, “Hoy?” 

No, hoy no. 


scheduled my ride for manana from one to four, a three-hour ride through the countryside on the outskirts of Arequipa. A driver would pick me up at my hotel at 12:30. 

Not sure how to dress or what to take, I ended up with a water bottle and a light jacket in my backpack. At the office when I signed up, they told me to bring a hat. I decided against my hat, since it didn’t work with my hair in a ponytail, and I was concerned about it flying off during the ride. I wore leggings, my Doc Marten boots, and a long-sleeved t shirt with a flannel over it. This had become my standard comfort outfit for Chile and Peru, ready for either a cool day or a hot one or often both in the same day. 

The car that picked me up drove to a farm outside of town. I thought it was a taxi, but no, the driver was from the farm. His brother would be my guide, he told me. Apparently, it was a family farm and they all lived there. I assumed this ride was paid by my fees, so I had not brought any money for anything, although I felt cheap not tipping the driver. 

The guide when I met him was a friendly, talkative fellow. While getting the horses ready, he asked me about myself and said he had recently returned from living in Germany for several years. 

There were several horses in the corral; healthy, nice-looking, medium-sized horses. I noticed the differences in the saddles. Our Western saddles are large with lots of leather, a substantial saddle horn and plenty of room in the stirrups. These on the other hand were half the size all around. I wondered if I would feel supported by it. 

The guide helped me mount. The stirrups were awful for me, so narrow and small. I couldn’t get my boots in them comfortably and as a result, did not feel like my legs were positioned correctly. I was afraid if I didn’t get my feet and legs situated, I'd fall off this tiny saddle. Finally, I managed to find some level of workability and say, “Okay, I’m ready.” 

The guide looked so relaxed and at ease on his horse, I wondered where I had gone wrong. I hoped with time I could settle into it better. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in that hope. 

I wasn’t sure if it was the saddle or the stirrups causing me problems. I expected it was the stirrups that needed adjusting for my legs. The guide did none of that. He had helped me up and then mounted his own horse while keeping a running monologue about his time in Germany. I’d have appreciated more attention to make sure I fit comfortably in this saddle instead of a travelogue.

We headed out the gates of the farm and faced the next stressful encounter of the day-- crossing a busy street with cars rushing by at sixty miles an hour. On our horses. A horse I did not know and hoped I could control. 

Holy crap. What had I gotten myself into? 

At a break in the traffic, the guide headed across and I quickly urged my horse right after. Thankfully, my horse followed right behind his friend. Then we were on a dusty country road. When a car approached, which it rarely did on this road, we moved to the edge as it passed. 

The guide explained things along the way, such as what crops grew in the fields. He said he had changed our route due to protests. They were over water rights of the farmers versus the corporate mine owners, he explained. That explained the protests and signs I had seen going on around the central park. Peaceful marchers carried banners printed with Farmers yes, Miners no. 

Packs of dogs often came out of nowhere and chased after our horses. The guide yelled at them, Fuera! All dogs understand the word fuera, he said. If you yell “fuera” to any dog, it goes away. I wondered if it would work for American dogs. 

About two hours into our ride, he asked if I was ready to go back. Yes, I replied. I felt quite sore. My legs, still in that awkward position, were the worst. This was the only time in my life where I felt a horseback ride was too long. Normally, it’s the opposite, where they always turn back before you’re ready. 

He seemed confused over direction. A few times he stopped and asked someone along the road about our location. 

We apparently were headed the right way, because eventually he said, “It won’t be long now. Do you want to go fast?” 

Sure, anything to get this over with. Then we galloped for awhile to make better time. 

Another two hours went by. NOTE - we're now on HOUR FOUR of what is supposed to be a three-hour ride, and still out somewhere in the country. 

At long last, we faced the highway again. Good, because that meant we were nearly to the farm. Bad, because it was five pm and traffic was worse. 

We waited and waited, until finally at a slight break he said, “Let’s go!” And galloped across the road. 

I had no choice but to follow, thinking I’m going to die. I’m going to get this horse and myself hit by a car and killed. But I made it, although I think my brain blacked out for a second racing across the street. 

Back at the farm, I could not wait to get off this horse. I had never ridden four straight hours in my life. And this while fitting awkwardly in the stirrups and the saddle. 

The guide helped me off. My legs were wobbly and too weak to hold me up. Besides that, I felt a wave of nausea and dizziness where I nearly passed out. He said it was the altitude and led me over to the hay bales. "Rest here. And don’t worry," he said, "I’ll take care of your horse." 

The horse was the least of my worries. After all this, did he mean to say I was responsible for removing the saddle and patting down the horse and leading it back to the corral? If so then I’m glad I almost fell over, because no way could I have managed that.

I felt suddenly chilled and pulled the jacket out of my backpack. I emptied my water bottle, wishing I had more. I curled up on top of the hay bale and closed my eyes and lost track of time. 

It seemed like the guide was gone with the horses for a very long time. It was getting dark. I longed to return to the hotel and go to bed. I hoped Forrest was there. Getting locked out would not be a happy ending. There was only one set of room keys that we shared, and I had left them for him.

Finally, the guide returned. He asked if I’d like to come inside and stay for dinner and wait until I felt better. 

"No, thank you. I'm ready to get back. I'm fine now." 

His brother was not there and so he was the one who drove me back. He drove slowly and talked about Germany and what he did there until finally we reached the welcome destination of Estancia 107.

I thanked him for everything and wobbled into the hotel and on to our room. Forrest was there looking relaxed, comfortable, and peaceful. The opposite of me. 

“How was it?” he asked. 

“Not that great. Peruvian saddles are a lot smaller than Western ones, and the stirrups are weird. And the guide was strange but oh well, I’m glad I went and I’m glad it’s over.” 

I went to shower and put on pajamas. Blood was on my clothes and running down my thighs. Must be from saddle sores, I thought. I had never before gotten saddle sores.

It felt so good to lay down in our peaceful, familiar room at Estancia 107, with my lanky son stretched out on his bed reading an e-book. 

In a few days, we had to check out and move to another hotel for our final week in Arequipa. After that, we were off to a month in Cusco. Forrest and I had so enjoyed ourselves here, beginning with our first night carrying on for hours about the Sixty Days and the initial lack of WiFi. Was that only three weeks ago?

This hotel with the odd name that looked like a house had truly become home to us. I would miss it.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Your brief tour of our daily life in Arequipa Peru: Stories from A to Z

 After church on Sunday, we walked past a park with an event happening. Since the entrance fee was minimal and we had a whole day to fill, we decided to go in. 

We saw a large pond where a long boat took people around in circles. At the end of the pond, a giant slide was set up for kids to climb and swoop down into the water. 

There were stalls for face painting and selling trinkets. Food sales is what we were after. There must have been a dog contest too, since we saw people dressed up in costumes to match their dogs. 

As Forrest and I sauntered through the park, we bought some cookies, fruit and sandwiches. When we found an empty bench, we ate and watched the crowd. 

“This has been an entertaining couple of hours,” I said. “I’m glad we came.” 

“Yeah, me too,” Forrest agreed. 

“If it were me alone, I wouldn’t have come in.” 

“Why not?” 

“Crowds of people. I tend to avoid large crowds. It’s automatic. But you’re like how Dad was in his early years. You just take charge and say let’s go here or there or do this thing. At first, I might not want to, but then I go along and end up really enjoying it.” 

“You don’t think you’d do any of this stuff if you were on your own? Like if you decided to move to Arequipa and live here permanently, you wouldn’t go out and do things like this?” 

“Probably not.” 

“That could be a problem, Mom. Once you’re on your own, I’m afraid you will isolate too much and end up getting bored and lonely.” 

“But I like my alone time.” 

“If I lived alone in a foreign country, I would find someplace to volunteer. You could volunteer, Mom.” 

“I’m not the volunteering type. Other than taking a calling at church when they ask me.”

My handsome son

After that first weekend, our days took on a comfortable regularity. I had the room to myself all morning while Forrest went to Spanish school. I wrote and worked until I felt ready to go out. 

We both returned to the room around one and ate lunch together. Most often bread, butter, cheese and fruit, which we kept in a small cabinet, "our kitchen." We’d gather what we wanted and take it to the dining room. 

We might go out for lunch if Forrest didn’t have a meal scheduled with a couch surfing or Spanish school friend. Either way was fine with me. I enjoyed time alone and I enjoyed time with him, adapting as needed to either situation. 

Forrest didn’t seem bored with this simple, easy routine of taking a great deal of time to do very little. I figured he would grow restless with it. But he had pushed himself to finish undergraduate and graduate school in five years without a break, and this was his break. “I’m fine doing nothing,” he said. 

Although like me, he didn’t actually “do nothing.” He went to the Spanish school from 8 to 12:30 and did homework outside of class. He read books on my Kindle. He connected with people and engaged in conversation with native Spanish speakers. 

My language study was watching Netflix telenovelas in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. Socializing was spending time with my son.  I wrote and kept up with my publishing business.

I loved walking everywhere in the historic area near our hotel, appreciating the grand architecture as I observed life happening all around.

Street near the central park

Historic Church built by early Spaniards

Typical architectural detail in Arequipa buildings from Spanish era

There are always pigeons to feed

This man sits in the park with his typewriter and will type up things for a small fee

If Forrest felt hungry in the evenings, we went out for street food or to get popcorn from his favorite popcorn guy. When he liked a vendor, he returned again and again. Whether it was popcorn or jugo or the chorizo burgers, he headed straight to his favorite person. If they weren’t there, he would do without rather than go to someone else at the next corner. 

One lady made chorizo burgers at her stand with sauteed onions and a soft fried egg on top. The first time we tried them, he said it was the best food he had ever eaten in his life. She set up her cart most evenings but not always. He would do without his chorizo burger rather than go to another lady selling the same thing a block away. Once Forrest found his person, he stayed loyal.

The mercado had a full aisle devoted to selling mixed juice drinks, or jugo. Of course, Forrest had his jugo lady. Whenever we went to the mercado, he ordered one from her and sat there drinking it happily in her presence. If she wasn't busy, he would engage her in conversation to practice Spanish. 

Jugo ladies lined up at the mercado

One time, Forrest wanted ceviche. The ceviche stands were closing since it was after three and past time for people at the mercado to eat. He found a lady who still had some left and ordered a plate of it. Ugh, no bite for me. No way would I eat raw fish ceviche four hours after they had opened. 

I could have eaten tamales every day at one mercado stand. I tried each of the varieties, and they were all so good. People waited in line for these tamales. You had to get there early before they sold out. For some reason, Forrest didn’t stay loyal to this tamale place. 

For him, his loyalty was based on a combination of friendliness, willingness to speak Spanish with him, how big were their servings, and price.

Shopping from a friendly street vendor

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Xtra funny or Xtra Confusing: Stories from A to Z

The free breakfast was quite nice. They set the table and put out a basket of rolls on our table for two. On the sideboard was fruit, yogurt, milk and cereal. I noticed a small dish of what looked like bay leaves next to the manzanilla (chamomile) tea. Forrest and I each added a couple of leaves to our teacups. 

Later, we learned they were coca leaves, very common in Peru, used for energy and to help with altitude adjustment. Peruvians will chew on them throughout the day. 

The Internet had come on during the night. Forrest sat on the couch in our room with his iPad, catching up on his couch surfing buddies, I supposed. Or maybe his brothers and random friends. I left him to go explore the neighborhood.


It turned out to be a lovely area. I had chosen the hotel specifically for its location near the historic central park. While out, I noticed a Spanish school just up the street from us. How convenient for Forrest to take classes if he wanted to do that. 

Besides the wonderful park, I saw tiendas, lavanderias, street food, and sidewalk cafes on neighboring streets, with people out everywhere enjoying themselves. I was glad we planned to stay in Arequipa this month before going on to Cusco. Our hotel, however, was available only for the three-week reservation. Our final week, I had booked a different one.

Arequipa's lovely central park

Estancia 107 (the strange name of our hotel) was clean, quiet and ideally located. I checked to see if they had any availability in September, when we came back this way after Cusco. No, they didn’t. "July is our quiet month," the receptionist explained. After that, they are busy with retreats for business meetings. 

View of the courtyard at Estancia 107

By dinnertime, neither Forrest nor I were that hungry. I had eaten breakfast and later bought some street food, and Forrest had gone out to lunch with a couch surfing group.

I said, “Let’s go out for dinner anyway. We can save most of it for tomorrow and won't have to buy food on the Sabbath.” 

We chose one of the little sidewalk cafes on a side street. It had a board out front stating their basic menu and prices-- a small inexpensive place with local food. 

I ordered a fried chicken filet that came with rice, a cucumber salad, and the ever-present soup with potatoes and vegetables. Tomorrow after church, I'd cut the chicken in pieces and mix with the rice and salad like a cold chicken salad. Delicious!

I tasted a few bites of the chicken, which was so good it was hard not to finish. But the soup was amazing too and wouldn’t make me too full. I ate the soup and left the main meal to take home and put in the kitchen fridge at our hotel. 

We sat there for quite a while ignoring our food. Like me, Forrest ate his soup and left the rest, a pork chop he declared was incredible. 

The girl who had brought our meals cleaned up while two little kids, perhaps her siblings or children, played around on the tables, making a great deal of noise as they chattered and clattered near us. 

I complained about it to Forrest, who laughed and said, “Mom, you had ten kids. I can’t believe you’re so sensitive.”

 “Maybe it’s my age, I don’t know, but they’re sure annoying.” I called the girl over to our table, said we were finished and would like to take this with us. “Para llevar, por favor,” I said. 

She hesitated and said, “Recojo?” 

Si, para llevar.” 

Recojo?” she repeated, looking puzzled.

"Una caja para llevar," I said. A box to go. 

She took our plates to the back and was gone quite a long time. Soon she returned to continue her sweeping. At least the annoying little kids had disappeared. It looked like they were preparing to close, although it was barely six. 

“They don’t eat late in Arequipa,” Forrest said. “The main meal, their dinners, are eaten around three because of the altitude.”

 “What’s altitude got to do with it?” 

“Apparently an altitude this high interferes with digestion, and if you go to bed on a full stomach, you don’t sleep well.” Forrest was always picking up interesting information from his couch surfing groups. Like what he had told me about eclipse chasers and eclipse celebrities. 

We kept waiting for the girl to bring us our takeout, seeing how it looked like closing time. “What the heck is going on, Forrest? Why isn’t she bringing our food so we can leave?” 

Forrest wondered if I had expressed myself correctly. “You said para llevar but she said recojo, with a question mark. ‘Recojo?’” 

He looked up recoger. “It means ‘to take care of,’ "to pick up,' or ‘to take.’ She must have thought you wanted her to get rid of the food rather than box it up for us.” 

“Based on that definition, ‘take care of it’ could mean dispose of it or box it up for us.” 

“It could, but I have a feeling it means take it away or throw it away,” said Forrest. 

“Don’t tell me she tossed out our barely eaten dinners!” 

“I think so, Mom. Probably those little kids playing around here earlier are in the kitchen right now enjoying our food.” 

We looked at each other, accepting the truth. “We tried,” Forrest said with a smile. 

Who the heck doesn’t know the meaning of para llevar? I used it all the time in Guatemala and Mexico.  Everyone knows it means take away, as in the CUSTOMER is taking it away not the SERVER.”

 Forrest laughed. It was a big joke to him, like the sixty days had been to me. For days afterward, he’d say “recojo?” and start in laughing while I fumed about not getting our take-out. 

“I could barely hear myself think with those kids yelling and clattering, plus the TV blaring. She probably didn’t hear me.” I was so annoyed. “Let’s get out of here.” 

At least the meal was cheap, coming to only three dollars each. “The soup itself was worth three dollars,” I said as we left. 

So much for our plans to not buy food on Sunday. As Forrest said, “We tried.”

Our $3 bowls of soup

Friday, April 26, 2024

WHY DID I SAY SIXTY DAYS: Stories from A to Z

 Forrest had selected seats near the front for a better view. The bus was okay; nothing as nice as the ones in Chile but they were also less expensive. First off, we opened our phone calendars and counted the days until this tourist visa expired. 

Looking rather loopy on the bus to Arequipa

Sure enough, we had cut ourselves short by two weeks. “WHY did I say sixty days,” Forrest moaned. “That’s only two months!” 

“I wondered about that.” 

“I hope we don’t have any trouble getting back.” 

“Oh, I doubt it. They’ll just charge us for whatever days we go over. That’s what they do in Guatemala and Mexico. It’s really not a big deal.” 

“I could just as easily have said ninety days. Noventa dias. NOVENTA. I know my numbers.” 

“Yeah, because tourist visas in Peru can go as long as one hundred eighty days. Six months, like Mexico. I don’t know why the guy had to put down the exact number of days stated. Why not just put one hundred eighty? That’s what they do in Mexico, and in Guatemala they automatically write it for ninety days.” 

I thumbed through my passport to find a record of those times his dad and I had crossed back and forth between Mexico and Guatemala. “I can’t tell from all the ink in this passport.” I gave up the search. “Anyway, we will be fine." 

“Sixty days!” he muttered before finally settling down to enjoy the bus ride and watch the great expanse of desert and dunes fly by. When we finally got past desert scenery and into the mountainous terrain of Peru, it was such a welcome change.

Passengers got off and on at stops along the road or at depots in towns. Once closer to Arequipa, the bus was crowded with passengers. Traffic had increased considerably, slowing us down until we were at a standstill in certain sections along the mountain road. 

Approaching the city, it was stop and go, stop and go, crawling along with lines and lines of vehicles on the narrow street coming through the hill into the city. I wondered if perhaps an accident up ahead blocked the way. 

Later, we learned that Friday is the worst day to travel from Arica to Arequipa. Since prices are so much cheaper in Peru, every Friday Chileans cross the border and drive to Arequipa for weekend shopping, dinner and entertainment. 

Other towns along the way, such as Tacna and Moquegua, are closer to the border but not as large and diverse as Arequipa. This was no accident or anything unusual, simply a typical Friday where a six-hour trip turns into eight hours. 

Forrest bought a snack from one of the vendors who came through the aisle during one of the depot stops. It was a quarter ear of corn on the cob with a piece of salty, white cheese lying on the top. I didn’t want anything, since the solid breakfast had kept me satisfied for hours. By seven, however, I was hungry. 

We finally arrived at the bus depot at nine-thirty. Seven had been my stated arrival time on our hotel booking. The bus pulled into the back area of the depot as they do. With relief, we disembarked then waited while our luggage was unloaded. At last, we passed through to the front of the depot where taxis generally wait. 

Sure enough, we easily got a cab, and I gave him the address. He wasn’t familiar with this hotel, named Estancia 107. He thought it was foolish to stay three weeks in a hotel we didn't know, and after my Iquique experience, I concurred.

 "It might not be a good place," he said. “You should stay only one or two nights, and if you don’t like it find another hotel.” Once in the neighborhood, it still took him awhile to find it, since it was located on an alleyway running between two regular streets. 

When he finally found the address and pulled up to Estancia 107, I thought it looked too much like a house. Could this possibly be right? But the girl at the front desk rushed right to the door, ushered us in, and seemed relieved to see us. The cab driver brought in my luggage—Forrest always took care of his own—and we were set. 

The girl took us to our room, a big room with two double beds and a sofa, along with two large cabinets for clothes and storage. The bathroom was separate, down the hall a short way, but she assured us it was private, only for this room.

Breakfast is free your first day, she explained, so in the morning be sure to get breakfast from 7 to 9. Other days, she said, it is seven soles per person. 

The dining area was roomy and centrally located. We had walked through it to get to our room. I planned most definitely to get up early for breakfast, as I hadn't eaten anything since Arica. That felt like a lifetime ago. 

After showing us the room and bathroom, telling us about breakfast, and giving us room keys and WiFi password, she wished us a good night and left us to fret over our sixty days.

Forrest zipped up in his sleeping bag like a mummy. This was how he slept in the Iquique hotel. In Estancia 107, he used the sheets as it was a clean hotel where they changed bedding daily. 

“I was such an idiot to say sixty days,” Forrest once again lamented. We were in our beds and trying to connect to the Internet, which wasn’t happening. “This better not be another Coquimbo situation with no WiFi in the building!” he yelled in frustration.

“Yeah, because look at this nice couch where I can sit and work, and we are here for three weeks.” 

Just mentioning time got Forrest going again. “I can’t believe I said sixty days!”

I started laughing and couldn’t stop. All I had to do was say “sixty days” and he responded with groans and carrying on about how dumb he was. And that would get me laughing even harder. 

It was like a game the older kids used to play with toddler Sean. Someone would say “fish bucket” and someone else would say “hahaha,” until they programmed this two-year-old to say hahaha whenever anyone said fish bucket. Everyone laughed which further cemented the programming; through the years, Sean at any age said hahaha in response to “fish bucket.”  Then a similar game between Forrest and me when he was a kid, where one of us would say “lamp” and the other “haircut” over and over, while I laughed hilariously, driving everyone else crazy because it made no sense whatsoever. 

We couldn’t seem to settle down between continuing to try the Internet to no avail and playing the sixty days game. His agony and carrying on about it, “what a bother, I can’t believe I did that!” was so unlike normally stoic adult Forrest that I had a hard time letting it go. 

Finally, giving up on the Internet, our conversation died down as we tried to fall asleep. But I couldn’t help piping up with “Sixty days” now and then to get him going again. 

We laughed about the sixty days. We laughed about the Internet. And finally, looking forward to breakfast in the morning, we fell asleep around midnight.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Very nice encounter with Peruvian Dad: Stories from A to Z

 The free breakfast at the Arica hotel was the best one yet. They had scrambled eggs, delicious bread with real butter, orange juice, bananas, yogurt and a variety of cold cereals. We ate our fill with plenty of time to enjoy breakfast, shower, pack up our stuff and then catch a cab to the bus depot for the border crossing. 

We weren’t sure how it worked, except that I knew Arica was on the Chile side and Tacna on the Peru side. Turned out there was no need for concern since a complete, orderly system was already in place. 

We only needed our passports ready and to say we wanted La Frontera, and workers moved us from place to place with the right paperwork in hand. They guided us to a taxi with several other people also going to immigration. 

It was a ten-minute drive to the immigration station out in the middle of desert nowhere, between the towns of Arica and Tacna. 

Our cab driver parked and led us to the building where people were lined up two or three deep. Our fellow passengers went one direction, while the driver told Forrest and me to wait. We watched as he walked toward the mass of people lined up. 

Forrest said, “Is he actually going to wait in the line for us?” The other passengers had taken their bags and gotten in one of the lines. 

Feeling confused, we moved up closer to the lines without getting in one or the other. The driver had disappeared inside the building, and we felt deserted and confused. After about twenty minutes of this, I saw the driver again. “I’m going to check in with him,” I said to Forrest. 

The driver confirmed that yes, we needed to wait there. 

Finally, our man appeared again and gestured to come and follow him. He led us past the lines into the building to a short wait inside for “internacional.” That was us. We had to put our luggage through customs where they confiscated the oranges Forrest had brought to eat on the bus to Arequipa. 

Like most men when they make a mistake, he felt embarrassed. “Oh, man, I should’ve known I couldn’t bring fruit through customs!” 

The clerk who checked our passports asked how long were we staying in Peru. Forrest spoke up with his new Spanish skills and said sixty days. The clerk marked us both down for exactly sixty days. 

This was Forrest's second mistake, although we didn’t realize it until later. Today was July 9, and our flight from Santiago was not until the end of September, several weeks longer than sixty days. 

After customs, we were directed back outside the building, where we saw our driver over by the taxi. The others were also gathering at the cab. Forrest and I made our way back with great relief having completed this stage of the process.

 After reloading everyone’s luggage and seeing us all back in the cab, the driver took us through a gate, where he showed the appropriate paperwork along with all the passports. Then he drove us on to Tacna, another twenty minutes away. 

Finally, we were in Peru! I had gone to Chile and stayed in a bunch of places and now I was in Peru! 

Tacna seemed like a large town, or medium-sized city, as we drove through it toward the bus depot. Along the way, the cab driver dropped passengers wherever they asked. 

As we gathered our luggage and paid our driver, an older man came right up, grabbed our things and beckoned for us to follow. This man was about the size and age of Bruce, even looking rather like him only without the gray hair. He had a slight difficulty in walking similar to Bruce. His knees or his back probably hurt him. 

Forrest and I looked at each other and grinned. “It’s Dad meeting us in Peru!” said Forrest. 

The man led us to a window, asked us where we were going then told the clerk “Arequipa” before we could catch a breath. "Espere," I said. I need an ATM before buying the ticket.

He took me over to the ATM while Forrest arranged for the tickets, then I came back and paid cash for them. The bus was leaving soon, so Peruvian Dad guided us toward the waiting area, but first he pointed to the restrooms. How did he know that was just what I needed? He and Forrest waited with our luggage until I returned. 

Now that we were set up, Peruvian Dad asked for money. Forrest gave him the amount he asked for plus a tip. He had taken excellent care of us, and this was money well spent and freely given.

Good ol’ Peruvian Dad. We thanked him and said goodbye as he limped off quickly to go help someone else.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Untitled story about Forrest's side trip to the Atacama Desert: Stories from A to Z

Forrest had arrived in the Atacama on a Friday, dropped off in the center of the little town, San Pedro de Atacama. He saw people playing soccer in a football field and watched them for awhile before going on to the hostel. 

He knocked on the door, but nobody answered for at least fifteen minutes. “Finally, a Brazilian dude who ran the place answered it," he said. 

The hostel had two rooms, each with six beds. There were two bathrooms, which along with the rooms were split between male and female residents. In the main gathering room, they had a blackboard with Chilean slang written on it. Forrest took a picture of the board with the words and their translations.

"I met a guy from the Netherlands at the hostel," he said. "We explored together a little, hung out for a day or so. There were two girls, one from England and one from Ireland, traveling together, and we talked to them quite a bit. I went to a bakery with the girls, and we got some good chocolate cake."

I liked hearing about Forrest's trip as we traveled together to Arica, the border town on the Chile side. Our bus ride seemed short. It really had made no sense for me to stop in Iquique. I should have gone on to Arica and waited for Forrest there, saving him that extra trip back to Iquique. 

Still, I was glad I got to experience both Antofagasta and Iquique, to see the contrast between them and to feel like I knew the country a little better. That was the whole point of traveling after all. 

Forrest and I arrived in Arica before dark, which was nice having some daylight to walk around the area. We dropped off our stuff in the room and then went out to find a place to eat. 

I suggested we sit down for a hot meal rather than just get snacks or a sandwich, or an empanada-- way more common in Chile than a sandwich. 

We saw a small cafĂ© around the corner from our hotel. I ordered seafood soup, which was incredible. But the best part of dinner was sitting down with my son to enjoy a meal together. I had missed him. 

He talked more about his time in the Atacama Desert. He had gone biking, gone to church in the little branch on Sunday, then hung out with some members on Monday. 

"I enjoyed the time with them more than anything. They were an older couple who lived outside of town, but they drove in to pick me up and then back to their house for the afternoon. We ate bread with jam and butter. They told me about their daughter who they said was abogado. I thought they said avocado but how could she be an avocado? After we got it straight, we all had a good laugh."

Despite the enjoyable side trip to Atacama, Forrest was more than ready to cross the border to Peru in the morning. 

“I’m done with Chile,” he said. "Me too," I agreed. 

Cachai -- You know?

Bacan -- Cool

Weon-- Dude, Mate

Wea-- Stuff

Cuatico-- Amazing

Chela-- Beer


Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Tuesday through Thursday in Iquique: Stories from A to Z

 The next morning, Tuesday, I followed the same routine, finding it easy now to walk directly to the sandy beach and boardwalk. The sky was overcast, not sunny and blue as in Coquimbo, making it too chilly to sit for long. The waves were good for surfing, and I saw young men and boys out there with their surfboards. I spent a couple hours sightseeing around the park and beach area then returned to the hotel to work through the afternoon.

When I got hungry, I ate bananas, peanut butter and mixed nuts which makes a filling meal. In the evening, I watched Netflix until I was tired enough to sleep. 

Wednesday Forrest texted me that he wouldn’t arrive until that night, so could I go buy our bus tickets for Thursday morning to Arica. We would spend the night in Arica and on Friday, cross the border to Peru. 

Before heading to the beach that day, I walked to the bus depot and bought our tickets. That done, and with the prospect of Forrest arriving tonight, I decided to celebrate somehow.

 As I walked the now familiar route to the beach area, I wondered about stopping at one of the many restaurants along the promenade. They all seemed too social with crowds of people gathering to enjoy dining with friends. That would make me feel lonely and sad, sitting alone and friendless. I looked for something smaller and less social. 

Fast pass on the Hell Cafe

I ended up going into an ice cream shop across from the ocean, where I could sit at a table by the window and watch the surfers. It was delicious ice cream and so inexpensive compared to what this quality would have cost in the US. 

Today marked our second full week in Chile, having flown into Santiago two weeks ago. It felt like much longer since we had seen so much of the country. My stay in Iquique felt the longest of all. 

The ice cream did not satisfy as a mid-day meal, and I didn’t want more bananas and peanut butter. I noticed a place near the boardwalk that had tables outside and not many customers. I sat at a table and ordered a mixto fajita and a cheese empanada. Turns out in Chile mixto means hot dogs apparently. My “fajita” was cut up hot dogs in a slightly grilled tortilla. It was barely edible and the empanada not much better. No wonder there were no customers. 

I had crossed a barrier and gone out to eat by myself. I didn’t enjoy anything about it.

Forrest arrived that night around nine, came into the room and said, “This hotel stinks! How did you stand it for so long?” 

“It’s not just the hotel. The whole town smells like this. I have no idea why."

“It smells like a cheap, dirty apartment.” 

“I know.  It’s not an ocean or fishing smell, and it’s the whole town! At least this section of it. Sleep in your bag, Forrest, not on the sheets. The guy said they were clean but I don’t believe him. And there's been no housekeeping in my room despite being out hours every day. I never let the bedding touch my body. I even pull my hood up so I’m not touching the pillow.” 

“Why didn’t you change hotels like you thought of doing?” 

“Oh, I don’t know. I had already paid and didn’t want to bother.”

 Forrest laid his sleeping bag on top of his bed and crawled inside. “How’s the WiFi?” 

“Not bad.” I gave him the three passwords for the three different floors. “Sign into all of them. If one doesn’t work, another one usually will.” 

I went right to sleep, feeling happy to have my son again and knowing tomorrow we were leaving Iquique. 

In the morning, Forrest left to wander around town. I had my usual morning routine of writing to get my head on straight for the day. I took a long shower since this was one of the best ones we had so far, with water hot enough even for me. I packed my things and worked on my computer until it was time to go. 

Forrest came back and said, “The bus depot is close enough we can walk.” 

I wasn’t interested. “I’ve walked enough in this town. Let’s just get an Uber. It won’t cost much since it’s only a few blocks.” I couldn’t wait to get on the bus and drive away from Iquique.

 “It could just be this neighborhood,” Forrest said. “I’ve been propositioned twice already. Once last night and this morning in broad daylight.” 

“You’re not the only one! Some aging prostitute approached me the other evening around six on my way back to the hotel. You can see why I want out and to just get an Uber.” 

“Fair enough.” He picked up his cell phone and put in the order. 

Once on the bus and out of town, I felt such a sense of relief. “That city bothered me, Forrest. It didn’t have a good feeling about it. I’m glad to leave.” 

“In retrospect, you should have just gone to Arica the next day when you realized how sketchy the place was. We could have met there. It really didn’t make sense for me to backtrack and meet you in Iquique.” 

“I wish we’d have thought of that, except I already paid in cash and I don't think he would have refunded me anything."

"Yeah, there's that."

"Forrest, you want to hear something weird? Up and down the promenade near the beach area, I kept seeing middle-aged men with adolescent boys that didn’t look like father-son relationships. One or two I wouldn’t have remarked on, thinking oh it’s his dad who he never sees who came to town to take him out shopping, buying him these new shoes he's so excited about or taking him out to lunch. At first, that’s what I thought. But I saw this whenever I went out. There couldn’t be that many rich, divorced dads coming to town to spend time with the fourteen-year-old son he never sees and buying him stuff.” 

Promenade and park, Iquique

“That is weird,” Forrest agreed. 

“I wonder if Iquique is a center for sex trafficking, or at least that part of it. Anyway, I don’t want to think anymore about it. Tell me about your time in the Atacama Desert.” 

“I was able to get into a nice hostel full of Europeans. How the heck do they know so many languages? Most of them are fluent in four or five. Their native language, English of course, then usually Spanish, French and or Italian. It’s sickening. They’re required to take English classes in school from like first grade up, then they learn these other languages as they go.”  

“I would love to be multi-lingual like that. I took so much French in college and really took to it, but what good does it do if you’re not traveling to the country? I’ve forgotten most of it. I can barely even speak Spanish anymore. Since Dad died, it's like my brain stopped working.” 

“You could travel all over the world, Mom, and learn other languages. It would come back to you.” 

“I’d like to! I want to go to Egypt while my editor still lives there. Want to go to Egypt with me, Forrest?” 

“That would be cool, but once I graduate, I have to get an internship then find a job. This trip is my time off from being responsible.”

Monday, April 22, 2024

Smelling funky here: Stories from A to Z

 I didn’t shower first thing, because I wasn’t ready to make myself that much at home in this room. I pulled on my Doc Martens and went outside to see how the neighborhood looked in daylight. 

It wasn’t too bad, a typical neighborhood of a Latin city, similar to Antofagasta. I walked a few blocks, looking for a tienda to buy my morning diet Coke. 

Returning to the room, I drank my soda, wrote in my journal, checked work email and then felt comfortable enough to shower and change into clean clothes. The shower turned out to be a pleasant surprise, with good pressure and plenty of hot water. Feeling better, I decided to go exploring and find the beach. 

I headed west, weaving through city blocks, keeping my turns to a minimum as to not get lost on the way back. I finally reached a section of ocean lined with piles of boulders and pelicans, my favorite birds. They exude peace and contentment, how they float along whether in the air or on the water. They know how to get the job done without overly exerting themselves. I took pictures of them landing gracefully on the boulders. 

In the distance, I saw a length of sandy beach and headed in that direction. As I crossed a parking lot behind an apartment complex, I observed an older man going from car to car placing small fliers under car windshields. We greeted one another and he handed me a flier, explaining that he was a chef and would deliver ready-made meals to my home. 

“Oh, thanks but I’m in a hotel and only staying a few days.” 

He switched to English and asked me where I was from and told me where he had lived in the US when he worked as a cook. “Where are you going?” he asked, looking around at the parking lot as though this was an odd place for a tourist staying in a hotel to be.

 “To the beach,” I replied, gesturing in the general direction. “I wasn’t sure how to get there from my hotel.”

After chatting awhile, he offered to take me in his car as I was way off track. Since I felt no warning signals from him, I agreed. His car was right there in the parking lot. I'm not sure why I did this, since getting into a car with a stranger is way beyond my comfort zone.

As he drove, he talked to me in English and pointed out several landmarks for me to use next time I wanted to walk to the beach. When we got close to where I could see the boardwalk, a park, and the sandy beach, I said this was fine, he could let me off here. He pulled over to the side and waved at a passerby who he seemed to know. 

“My number is on the flier if you need anything or want a meal brought to your hotel. All fresh ingredients and ready to enjoy.” I thanked him and let myself out, then walked for awhile on the boardwalk.

Iquique Beach Park

When I was ready to return to the hotel, I followed the landmarks he had pointed out and found my way back without having to go behind apartment buildings and across parking lots.

On the way, I bought several bananas to eat with peanut butter for my main meal along with my store of mixed nuts. I didn’t want to buy food in this town, despite passing several restaurants, because it smelled and felt dirty. It wasn’t just the hotel. The whole place had this strange, unpleasant smell.

But the chef had been nice enough. Friendly, helpful and not at all creepy.