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Friday, November 23, 2007

Cooped Up

We've had a few breaks in the unending cold front that seems to have parked itself over northern Morocco. The town of Chefchaoun dried out briefly, allowing us to hike up to the ruins of a mosque on the mountainside overlooking the town.

When we returned to the town, we allowed ourselves to get lost in the winding, cobblestone streets. We passed an old toothless woman, who put her hand to our hearts, mouth and forehead. She was either giving us some kind of blessing, or the evil eye. Later, a woman explained that she was saying 'God is in your heart, your prayers and your thoughts.'

With that blessing, we decided it was time to travel on to Meknes. Instead of taking a bus, we opted to try out a Grand Taxi. When we got to the grand taxi stand, there were many people gathered around a number of different Mercedes in the lot. Asking around, we found one heading to Ouzanne. Basically, you pay $3 and wait for the vehicle to fill up to capacity--meaning two passengers and the driver in the front seat, and four people in back.

Our driver, Mario Andretti, sped along the narrow highway, swerving into the opposite lane when turning corners. But, we made it safely to Ouzanne. We could either squeeze into another grand taxi to Meknes or bus it the rest of the way.

It appeared as though the bus for Meknes would be leaving shortly, so we took that option. I followed the luggage handler around to the other side of the bus to put the luggage under the bus. He opened the hatch, revealing a few chickens that he grabbed by the legs and pulled out...providing room for the bags.

When we boarded the bus, the floor was covered with sawdust. I was half expecting to see more livestock to be honest. The bus waited an excruciatingly long time before it actually pulled out. Three LONG hours and multiple stops later, we finally emerged from the bus in Meknes, the Versaille of Morocco.

More later!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Moroccan Hammam

Almost every city in the Arabic world has a hamman, or a public bathhouse, where the locals come for their scrubdown. In Chefchaoun, the men have the run of the bathhouse in the morning, and women come in the afternoon and evening.

It was around 6 p.m. when I decided to try out the hammam for myself. After paying 40dirham ($4) for the shower and massage option, I entered into a world unfamiliar to me. After all, I've never had someone wash me from head to foot before--except for when I was a baby. I was told to buy a washing mit

Most of the local women were in the dressing area, having just finished with their baths, so I had no one to observe what to do and how to do it. I hung my clothes and my modesty on the hook in the room; then I was ushered into a steamy tiled room, with hot water spilling from a spigot in the corner.

The only clothed woman in the room was sweeping up trash and hair into a pile in the corner. When she was done, she turned her attention to me. She motioned for me to lie down face up on the tiled bench. She began to massage me with the soap I bought in the lobby--a goopy honey-colored glob. She quickly turned me over to the backside and when she was finished she slapped my thigh. When I sat up, she poured a bucket of water over my head.

I had been warned about what came next. She slipped an exfoliating glove over her hand, and began sloughing off the dead skin from my back. My skin turned instantly a tomato red, as she gave it her all. She continued to my arms, stomach and legs. By the time she was done, I had completely molted.

I emerged from the hamman, fresh, clean and soft, like the butterfly emerging from its cocoon.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Washing Away the Desert Sand

The bus driver awoke me to say we had arrived in Fes. He asked me if I was continuing on to Chefchaouen, but I wasn't.

Then I was.

After reading a description of the small mountain village in the Lonely Planet guide, I convinced Jennifer to skip Fes and go directly there. Afterall, it was a rainy day in Fes and it would be nice to spend sometime in "a charming town" with its signature blue-washed homes with red-tiled roofs.

I was looking forward to taking a hot shower to wash away the sand, but instead I was greeted in Chefchaouen with a torrential downpour that had started 24 hours before. We didn't have a place to stay, so we shared a taxi with a fellow traveler, Troy, to the medina and took shelter in a small restaurant to eat a hot meal and figure out our next step.

He went off seeking a budget option, and when he returned, I set out find a more comfortable accommodation. We had read about a Italian-run place that had fireplaces in each room, but when I finally found it in the wet and windy alleyways on the hillside, they only had bunk beds in very small rooms.

We settled on a family-run pension, which had rooms that surround a covered courtyard. It seems pleasant enough! Now we are waiting for the rain to stop while we check email. It doesn't want to give up. I needed a shower, but I wasn't looking for a downpour!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I've Been Through the Desert on a Camel with No Name

What do you get when you cross three Brits, four Americans, one Arab and a minibus?
A cross between an iPod commercial and the film "Little Miss Sunshine."

Our trip to the Sahara Desert got off to a good start with Rock the Kasbah blaring on the van's speakers. One of our fellow travelers had created the perfect soundtrack for our next few days from the 9000 songs he had stored on his iPod.

After being in the car for two days, we finally turned left off the highway and sped across a sandy plain that soon gave way to the dunes of the Sahara. A few moments later, we were perched atop camels, making our way to our encampment. By the time we reached our tents, darkness had fallen. While our guide, Addi, made dinner, the lot of us bolted up the nearest dune in our bare feet, with only the half moon to light the way. Midway, I collapsed, observing the stars in the night sky.

When we came back down, we spread a large Berber rug in the sand in the middle of our circle of tents and the entertainment portion of the evening began with a meal consisting of chicken and vegetables. We passed the rest of the night beating drums and singing Berber songs along with Addi and the Berber family living at the encampment.

We were worried about how cold it might be in the desert at night, but we were more than comfortable in the warm tents. One member of our group, Ava, decided to sleep under the stars, and we found her the next morning curled up in a fetal position, completely hidden under her blanket.

Around 5:30 a.m., we trekked up a nearby dune, following the fresh tracks of a desert fox. We watched the colors of the sky go from a dark blue to pink, then to yellow as the sun crested over the distant horizon casting a warm glow on the rolling dunes.

We tried to savor the moment, however brief, for soon we were back on our camels for the trek back. Instead of returning to Marrakech with the rest of the group, Jennifer and I opted to stay the day at the auberge on the edge of the Sahara, sitting on the back patio, relaxing, writing in our journals and enjoying the peace and quiet. We had the place completely to ourselves, and the hotel manager gave us a room to use for the day.

That evening we hired a delivery vehicle to take us to the closest town to take the night bus to Fes.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thank God the French Got Here First

There's no better reason to go shopping in the souks of Marrakesh than when you've lost your baggage and you are desperately seeking underwear. No, it wasn't my luggage that was misplaced, but that of my travel companion, Jennifer. So, here we were on our first few hours in Morocco, scouring the market for a fresh change of clothing.

It all started with an hour-long delay at JFK; we knew we'd missed our connecting flight in Casablanca, but with four hours to wait before the next one, we didn't think we'd have trouble with her bag.When it didn't appear on the baggage claim carousel, Jennifer lost her cool with the lack of help from the Royal Air Maroc staff who, after some prodding, told her to call the airport eight hours later.

On top of that, the driver waiting to collect us at the airport and take us to our accommodations, nearly left without us because he had another client to pick up somewhere else. He told me he'd wait one more minute, and finally Jennifer came out of the baggage claim area empty handed. The driver, who must have been 6 feet, 5 inches tall, raced to the car--leaving us huffing and puffing several paces behind him.

Without a word, he raced through the crowded streets, dodging slow cars, pedestrians, cylists and donkeys on the way. He dumped us at a carpark and we had to maneuver our way through the labyrinth of the old medina to our riad, an old home converted into a boutique hotel with a living room and a roof-top terrace.

Surprisingly chipper, Jennifer was ready to do some exploring before we'd have to make contact with the airline about her missing bag. We enjoyed our al fresco lunch, just off the main square, the Djemaa-el-Fna. Even with bellies full with chicken tajine, we contemplated a yummy chocolate desert at a nearby patiserie. I couldn't help thinking that I had the French to thank for that wonderfully delicious import.

"As opposed to if the Japanese would have gotten here first?" Jennifer said. "Otherwise you would be eating green tea mochi."

Perhaps we might have gotten her luggage, too, but we ignored that thought as we wandered the plaza full of snake charmers, tattoo artists, acrobats and touts, getting lost in the jumble as the sun set behind the mosque blaring its evening call to prayer.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Getting Bombed

On July 16, 1945, nuclear chemist John Balagna was perched on a mountain peak near Albuquerque, N.M., to observe the detonation of the first atomic bomb at the Trinity test site nearly 100 miles away.

After more than 40 years working for the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory, he starting experimenting with an entirely different form of chemistry--wine making.

"I grew up making wine with my grandfather," Balagna says. So when he retired from the laboratory, he started the Balagna Winery at his home in White Rock, N.M., on property that he bought from the Atomic Energy Commission for $25 an acre in the mid-1980s.

If you blink, you might miss the tiny sign that says "winery," at the end of a long driveway that leads back to the edge of the mesa, where Balagna and his wife, Jean, live.

On the day I visit, John is in the garage constructing a table for his daughter, who saw one in the JCPenney catalog and wanted an exact duplicate. Meanwhile, Jean, also a retiree from Los Alamos National Laboratory, is carefully shaping a piece of white marble in the front yard. She doesn't sell her work; once she sold a piece to someone ("my favorite," she says) and now wants to buy it back.

Balagna leads me to the tasting room in a casita he built alongside their home. The various wines are lined up ready to dispense upon request. I can't resist trying "La Bomba Grande" ("The Big Bomb"), which was created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1993. Balagna explains the formulation is a a blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel grapes.

With wine in hand, I step outside onto the back porch and am treated to spectacular desert vistas. Below me, the muddy Rio Grande snakes through the desert for miles in each direction. The setting feels just as remote as the location chosen for the atomic blast.

And you can get just as bombed, too.

Denver to Santa Fe

The first leg of my Family Tour 2007 got off to an exciting start with a visit to SkyVenture Colorado. Located in a Denver suburb, SkyVenture is an indoor skydiving experience in which you fly through the air in a vertical wind tunnel that pumps out 120 mph winds. Check out my minute-long flight here:

Thursday, September 06, 2007

New Post

I just wanted to check in to let you know that I will be starting a new job on Oct. 1. I will be working for Lake Erie Living magazine—a regional consumer lifestyle and travel publication that has published three issues now.

Also, stay tuned for upcoming blog posts later this month, when I visit the Central and Southwestern United States on my whirlwind Family Tour 2007, which will take place between jobs.

And later this year, I'll be going to Morocco: Nov. 15-27, 2007.

As always, these posts will be delivered direct to your inbox via your Yahoo Groups subscription. But for complete blog posts with photos, be sure to visit the blog directly at

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Blatant Self Promotion

A photo of mine from Tibet (pictured at right) has been named one of 50 finalists in a photography contest jointly sponsored by National Geographic Traveler magazine and InterContinental Hotels & Resorts.

While I'm skeptical I'll win the grand prize trip to Australia, I'm just happy that my image was selected out of a pool of a gazillion great photos, which you can see on the contest's website.

The grand prize winner will spend 16 days on a National Geographic Expedition around Australia. The second place prize is a Sony SLR digital camera and a two night stay at any InterContinental Hotels & Resorts. The third prize winner will receive a National Geographic Deluxe Atlas and a two night stay at any InterContinental Hotels & Resorts.

The winners will be announced at the end of the month.

For those of you receiving this e-mail via Yahoo Groups may not be able to see the photo. Please visit the blog at

Sunday, June 24, 2007

In a Regatta Da Vida

I may not be traveling in some far-off destination, but I'm seeing Cleveland in a whole new way this summer as part of a rowing crew. I now have a unique way to explore every bend of the crooked river that winds its way through the city. Along the banks of the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland are small parks, sculptures, tug boats, water birds and rock climbers, in addition to the less pleasant rotting machinery, "exotic" smells and dead, bloated rats floating downstream.
Every Wednesday evening at 5 p.m.—rain or shine—our team is preparing to get on the water, extracting oars and the 60-foot-long shell from the boathouse at the Western Reserve Rowing Association.

Most of us are novice rowers, meaning we had no experience with the sport before the Summer Rowing League started back in May. So, during practice, we've been going through basic drills, focusing on form and timing. We are also learning the catchphrases used in rowing—some times first hand; in the last few weeks, for example, I've "caught a crab" and I've used a "cox box." For the definitions, please refer to the Wikipedia page on rowing.

All of this has been preparing us for competition. During the 15-week league, we have three regattas, in which we race against other teams in the program. Our first was yesterday (Saturday, June 23). We really had no idea what to expect. When we arrived at the boathouse, the festive music was pumping, the league organizers were making announcements over the loudspeaker and rowers were picnicking on the banks of the river waiting for their team to be called.

We participated in two heats, and we smoked our competition. Our first race was completed in two minutes and 54 seconds. In the following race, we cut our previous time by two seconds. Both times, our competitors were at least four length behind us as we crossed the finish line. It felt really good to win, of course, but we still have a long way to go. Experienced rowing teams were finishing their races about 15 seconds faster.

FRONT ROW: Erin, Nancy, Lea and me; BACK ROW: Bruce (who filled in as our coxwain), Gloria, Wendy, Martha and Denny; NOT PICTURED: Sara, Heidi, Joanne, Stephanie

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Dancing Around the World

I just happened across this video from a guy named Matt, who created a Web site called "Where the Hell is Matt?" for his family to chart his travels around the world. As you might expect after viewing the video below, he picked up quite a following—so, a candy manufacturer sponsored his next trip around the world.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Boats, buses and a bucolic bed & breakfast

Wednesday, we transitioned from an island resort to a rural hacienda near the border with Guatemala. We opted to take a ferry to the coastal town of La Ceiba, then take the bus from La Ceiba to Copan Ruinas.

The ferry ride was easy (Serge gave us a good tip beforehand: buy the first-class ticket on the ferry, as your luggage comes off first). The bus company was organized, even if a bit slow in processing tickets. Security was tight, and a photo was taken of each passenger as they boarded the vehicle. I wondered if the measure was for our security or just to help identify bodies if the bus is hijacked by rebels. In all seriousness, Honduras is generally safe for travelers.

We arrived at La Hacienda San Lucas just as the sun was about to disappear over the mountains beyond the valley. It was a truly magical time. The ranch hands were just beginning to light the thousands of candles and oil lamps that bask the 100-year-old property in a golden glow.

The main house of the structure houses two kitchens (one is the original, which contains a traditional oven), a sitting area and the reception desk. A door leads out to the restaurant on the front patio.

Up a step hill are the two guest houses with four bedrooms each. The beds are covered with colorful Guatemalan bedspreads, and pillows made of woven mat material (the matting was used by Mayan royalty, and is a symbol of political power). The candles were already lit for us and black soot covered the white stuccoed walls above them.

Just outside the room hang two hammocks where we've spent several hours each day napping, reading or hanging out with the resident dogs, Luco, K'inich and Popi. Photo albums in the main house show them all as puppies, when the hacienda's owner, Flavia, moved to Honduras and began to restore the property, which had belonged to her grandfather.

Flavia, originally from this region, moved to Kentucky in her teens to attend a private high school. She went on to college, married, had kids, started a catering business, and eventually divorced--all in the United States. Her grown children thought she was crazy when she said she was going to return to her homeland and live at the hacienda. They said it was "her menopause project."

She couldn't be happier, she tells me on Thursday. However, she says she's a little crazed at the moment getting ready for a large dinner party that evening. Earlier in the week, the hacienda received a reservation for a party of 60 from the Ministry of Honduran Tourism. She appears to be keeping her cool, though, as she sits in the entry way smoking a cigarette. Around her, though, is a flurry of activity among her employees. One is replacing the flower arrangements with fresh stems of tropical flowers, an older woman is grinding corn to make tortillas, 12-year-old Octulio is raking the flowerbeds.

As sun was setting, the mariachi band arrived to set up and began playing some traditional tunes. That's when we and the rest of the guests left to go into town for dinner.

West End Girls and Boys

We had some time to kill before leaving Roatan for mainland Honduras, so we left the cushy confines of the resort and wandered out to the street to catch a taxi to West End, where the budget-minded travelers tend to congregate. The taxis work two ways: you can take a regular taxi for $5, or you can take a colectivo taxi for $1.50. The latter is where the taxi will stop and pick up other passengers until its full.

The taxi we hailed already had a passenger, so we hopped in the back seat. The guy in front, Tony (from Seattle), had just arrived on Roatan from Guatemala. He had no idea where he was going to stay, but he did know he wanted some kind of dive package.

We invited him to lunch, so that he could peruse our Lonely Planet guidebook.

We had planned to eat at a place called "Galley," but when we got there, we found that it had changed hands and opened as the "Pasta Factory at the Galley." The Italian woman running it said she kept the name Galley to capitalize on the previous tenants entry in the Lonely Planet guidebook. Obviously, she´s getting traffic, because here we are.

In a it's-a-small-world way, Serge, our refresher course instructor, rolled up on his motorbike and ambled onto the porch of the restaurant. "This is my wife's place," he said. "We invested everything we had in opening it."

Serge gave Tony some advice on cheaper places with dive packages, and then showed me his "baby"--a tiny Rottweiler, only weeks old.

After lunch, we parted ways with Tony as he wandered off looking for lodging. We were just looking to look.

West End is a laid back Key West-like town with a dusty unpaved road with nautical rope stretch across it to serve as speed bumps. During the day, it is rather quiet since most everyone is out on (or under) the water. At night, the party gets underway and goes all night.

In front of one West End bar called the Buccaneer hung an Ohio State flag. I couldn't resist finding out who and why. I walked into the empty bar and up to the first person I saw in the empty establishment. Pam Wilbur told me that her husband, John, and her son, Dave, moved permanently to Roatan from Columbus in 2003. The bought 10 acres on which they are developing condominiums and a hotel that will be finished in the next six months. John Wilbur had been a developer in the States, and Pam had been a caterer, which made opening a bar pretty simple.

The only problem, she said, was finding good employees. She was willing to give me a job on the spot. "And, it's easy to get a work permit here. We thought about movng to Belize, but the work permit was taking too long. My son got one here right away."

Dave ushered us into his four-wheel drive and took us up the hill to see the units that were under construction, as well as the hotel, then drove us back to the main road and we headed back to the resort.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Field Trip

When I was in high school, the kinds of field trips we took were to the art museum or the zoo. And as you might imagine, the highlight was eating lunch at McDonalds.

For 18 students from Worthington Christian High School in Columbus, Ohio, the highlight of their field trip to the Roatan Institute of Marine Sciences, located at Anthony's Key Resort, has been to interact with the dolphins.

Yeah, you heard me. These kids get a week off of school to travel a million miles away, and study marine biology in a warm, tropical environment. Oh, but they are taking classes while they are here. And there will be a test, says Debbie Walton, their science teacher and chaperone.

All of them spent weeks leading up to their visit studying reef biology, socking their money away and getting scuba certified. That way they were ready to jump in on arrival.

Well, I got my dream-come-true field trip today, too, when I got to snorkel with the 8 dolphins at the institute. For an hour-and-a-half, I swam alongside these creatures in the lagoon at the resort, watching their natural behavior...nothing like the fins and flipper-type show I've seen in the past.

They are a little hesitant to approach at first, so we're given an introduction by a trainer who talks about their physiology, life span, behavior and anything else we could think about asking. Cebena was the dolphin that we were formally introduced to. She is 21 years old, and her child is a year-and-a-half old. After the demonstration, we did the cheesy, touristy pictures--the dolphin kissing my check, etc.

But after all of that, we attached fins, put on the mask and snorkel, and went deeper into the water. Cebena and her child found me first and slipped past in such close proximity that I was bobbing in their wake. Another pair of dolphins were demonstrating sex education. The others were goofing around, nipping at each other and teasing snorkelers. All the while, you could here them communicating to each other through their blowholes.

They truly are amazing to watch, especially beneath the surface of the water. I never need to see the silly tricks dolphins are trained to do again. And then, Cebena waves her flipper at me to say goodbye.

Ups and Downs, and a Few Bends

My day started with a trip to the medical clinic located at Anthony's Key Resort (AKR), which not only services guests, but also members of the community. Because the public health system is limited in what it can provide--plus, the hospital is subject to frequent power outages--AKR's owner, Julio Gallindo Sr., founded the clinic at the resort. Unlike the hospital in Roatan, the power is on 24/7 at AKR, which is like its own town, complete with its own water treatment facility and power plant.

Dependability is the key, especially when you're suffering from the bends and require treatment in the property's hyperbaric chamber.

Luckily, I didn't require that kind of treatment.

Instead, I was being treated for a inflamed eustachian tube. On a severity scale of 1 to 5 (with the latter indicating a perforation), I am somewhere between a 4 and 5, the doctor tells me. He gives me an anti-inflammatory and a decongestant. And now for the bad news, he says: "No diving for the rest of your stay." That means no night dive tonight.

I suppose it could have been a lot worse. After all, the hyperbaric chamber was actually in use by some unlucky fellow as I sat in the waiting room. The chamber itself is the centerpiece of the room. The man inside is displayed on a monitor that sits on top of the apparatus. The technician administering the oxygen to the patient explained that the chamber is used nearly 120 times a year, but seldom is it needed by recreational divers (which account for maybe 20 a year).

Instead, commercial fisherman--like this man--risk their lives every day in order to make a living doing nearly 15 deep dives a day to retrieve lobster from the sea floor. Many don't have any problems for years, but eventually, their practices get the better of them, and they require treatment for decompression sickness. And for some of these guys, going to the hyperbaric chamber is like going to the bar after a hard days work.

For the next 12 days, this man will have to suck pure oxygen for a couple hours a day before he will be allowed back in the water.

I, on the other hand, will still have the opportunity to snorkel with the dolphins.

Monday, April 16, 2007

On the Boat Again...

"A bad day diving is better than a good day at work."

Various stickers are plastered at the AKR dock where a boat shuttles resort guests between their island cabanas and the main resort. But this sticker stands out among them, especially today. Based on the previous day's experience, Chris couldn't disagree more.

However, he's ready to give diving another try--albeit hesitantly.

Peace has returned to Roatan after a night of heavy storms, which is unseasonable for the month of April. Waves battered the deck of our cabana all night, and the colorful hammocks bashed against the railings. Even though the sea was still churning by morning, the sun appeared over the mountain, and it looked like it would be a good day for scuba diving, which was rescheduled for the south side of the island where the waters are calmer.

"Don't worry, Chris," says Frank, the divemaster. "It'll be no problem today."

Frank kept his word.

Throughout the day, we were treated to a healthy barrier reef (the second largest in the world after the Great Barrier Reef) chocked full of pillar, tube and barrel sponges "you can fit a cow in," magestic eagle rays, lobsters, green moray eels, barracuda, parrotfish, gigantic grouper and variety of tropical fish that I can't identify--despite having gone last night to the "School of Fish," an informative fish identification class that is presented once a week by Sergio Luperto, the newest divemaster at AKR.

Part of what makes fish identification so difficult is that the fish change dramatically over the course of their lives. Take for example, the Damselfish. As a juvenile, it looks like a disco ball with it's shiny white dots on it's midnight blue scales. But as it ages, its color changes, it develop stripes, and only the tell-tale disco dots on its dorsal fin give it away.

The highlight was seeing the spotted eagle ray with its six-foot wingspan. It caught one glimpse of us and turned around and shot off deeper into the abyss, and we headed in the opposite direction--back to the surface--with a renewed fondness for underwater exploration.

Now we truly can say that we'd rather be diving than spending our afternoon at a office desk.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Dive In

Roatan is a mecca for scuba divers from around the world, and Anthony's Key Resort (AKR) is a mecca for divemasters looking for a job on the island. Serge, a divemaster, has spent two years living in Roatan, working at various dive shops, but when he had the opportunity to work full time at AKR just two weeks ago, he jumped at the chance. "This is where everyone wants to be," he says. "It's the best outfit in Roatan and in the Caribbean, in my opinion."

Serge is helping me and my husband get reacquainted with diving. It's been just over two years since we dove in Cozumel and we're feeling a little rusty. A refresher course costs $85, but it's worth it from a safety standpoint. After walking us through the steps of assembling the equipment, we dove into the shallows and went through a series of drills--regulator recovery; underwater mask clearing, buoyancy control; and air sharing with a buddy with a low air supply. With a submerged high-five, we passed with flying colors. By 10:30 we were on our assigned dive boat, Trevor, ready to take the plunge.

But that's where the fun ends. Looking out into the Caribbean Sea, boats are being tossed two and fro. It looks like a storm is brewing. I have flashbacks to a boat ride in Peru that I experienced through a Dramamine-induced haze. The boat lilts left and right, and I keep my eyes focused on the now-distant shoreline. "Just get me in the water," I say to the Scuba gods as I gag slightly. "And I'll be fine."

I jumped in and felt instantly better, but my husband wasn't as lucky. He made it under the water, but his breakfast rose to the surface. The boat's dive master, Frank, pulled him to the rocking boat(where he spent the next 50 minutes, while the rest of us were plowing calmer waters at 80-foot depths), while I bobbed at the surface wondering what was going on. Frank motioned at me to descend.

When Frank returned, I buddied up with him and drifted along a rainbow-hued coral reef on my right side. With a divemaster as a buddy, I got the best seat in the house. He knew where to look for creatures from the depths, spotting gigantic crabs tucked into crevices. But it was I who noticed the sea turtle swimming on the sandy bottom.

Returning to the surface was like the shock a child must feel when it emerges from the womb during birth. I sputtered as the deep, blue calm gave way to overwhelming surges of water. The boat made an unsuccessful bid to retrieve us and looped around again. Some of the waves obsured my view of the vessel, which made things disorienting. I imagined what it must be like for rescue divers with the Coast Guard, braving the high seas (Yes, Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher flashed through my mind momentarily).

Once on board, the waves of nausea made me stomach turn, and soon I was bent over the side of the boat next to my beloved spouse, who was oblivious to my predicament. I can't say that this was the way we envisioned spending our vacation.

Once we were on land again, we all compared experiences, as though we were exchanging war stories.

"That was pretty rough. It was rougher than anything I encountered in the ocean," said Charlie McCoy, a kidney specialist from Rhode Island, who experienced rougher ocean waters during a boat race last year from Rhode Island to Bermuda. His family are diving together in Roatan, and this dive was one of the first for his 14-year-old daughter, Bridget. "I was worried about her. Her gear was just as heavy as she is."

Bridget did great, though. That is, until her mother puked in her lap. "I'm taking a shower first," Bridget exclaimed.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

E-mail Changes

I want to apologize for my rusty blogging skills. I haven't been on the blog since last August, and in that time my e-mail address changed. However, I didn't change it in the Yahoo Group settings until after I posted yesterday and realized my error. So, if you responded to the e-mail you received from, you may have received a notice that the e-mail could not be delivered. The glitch has been fixed and my new e-mail address should be listed properly now. It should be the "" account.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

V!VA List Latin America Released

I've written my first book. Well, that's not exactly true.

A travel essay I wrote about the Lord of Sipan was accepted for publication in a compilation of travel stories.

V!VA List, Latin America
is the first-ever armchair travel book created by an online community of travelers, writers and photographers. Packed with colorful essays and striking photographs, the 350-page book is designed to inspire readers to journey south (or north, east, or west!) and experience exotic Latin American culture and its extraordinary places.

If you're interested in more information, visit the V!VA List Web site or just click on the Amazon link at the right-hand side of the page and help me earn a little spending money for my next trip.

In other news
Speaking of trips, the next journey will begin on Saturday, Apr. 14, with an insanely early flight to the island of Roatán. I plan to post on our adventures, so stay tuned. Those of you who are signed up to receive e-mail alerts when I post to the blog (such as this one), please do not respond directly to the automated e-mail itself as it will be sent to everyone on the list. AND, if you would like to be removed the list, please let me know!

Friday, March 16, 2007

First Stop, Cleveland

When Brook Silva-Braga announced he was quitting his job to spend a year traveling around the world, his coworkers said it was a great idea; however, his boss confided that some of them were whispering, “There’s the idiot . . . the one who’s giving it up.”

But like many of those who have caught the travel bug, he was determined to make it happen by conceiving what would become “A Map for Saturday,” a documentary film about the experience of long-term solo travel.

“The idea for the film was really an excuse to take the trip without feeling like I’d thrown away a career I’d been working towards since high school,” says Silva-Braga. “I had no idea if the film would ever be seen, but I felt that if I worked hard on it, good things would happen.”

After leaving his camera bag on a bus seven months into the journey, he wasn’t so sure anymore.

“I took a bus from Dublin to Belfast one afternoon. I was always taking a bus,” he says. “I walked from the bus station to a hostel . . . and put my bag down at the reception desk. But my small bag was missing—the bag with my camera in it. So I went running back to the bus station. After about ten minutes a guy came walking from the garage with my camera bag in his hand, and I was very, very relieved.”

Despite a few setbacks, “A Map for Saturday” made its world premiere at the Cleveland International Film Festival last night, and had audiences reminiscing about their own travel experiences.

“The film inevitably reminds people of the good times they’ve had on the road themselves,” Silva-Braga says. “And I hope it inspires some of them to take the leap and do a long trip.”

Editor's note: Brook Silva-Braga's new film "One Day in Africa" is premiering at the Cleveland International Film Festival on Thursday, March 26, 2008.