Category Archives: Blogging

Rome: Not for Sissies

At the colosseum

At the colosseum

Rome is flooded stimuli: energy that permeates and disrupts the senses, swarms of tourists clogging crooked streets, illegally parked cars, designer clothes , gorgeous shoes the price of a month’s rent, alleys with hidden treasures, and sadly, ubiquitous cheap Chinese stuff.

I asked Alessandro which side of the street the Italians drive on because it isn’t apparent here in the city. ” It doesn’t matter,” he answered. “Doesn’t matter! Of course it matters. I’m renting a car in Pisa and need to know.”  It’s the same as the US.” he says. Lordy.

The violent past of the colosseum invaded my dreams last night. I was fighting for my life. Hitting some snake like thing with something no bigger than a golf club. Afterwards I felt sorry. It’s not who I am. In the colosseum, only 3 % of the gladiators lived, none of the slaves or criminals or animals. Huge boatloads of reptiles, tigers, lions, bears, etc. were imported  from Africa and Egypt to fight in the ring. An estimated 100,000 animals were killed during the Romans short reign. Some species  became extinct because of the emperor’s thirst for entertainment, of public executions called games.

imageIt’s astounding how brilliant Roman  engineers built aqua ducts, astounding architecture, roads and the government was democratic. And yet, a couple of times a month, screamed for blood to entertain them . Or, maybe they didn’t attend the gory get togethers.

Romulus and Remus raised by a she wolf raised a city from dirt. Beloved Cesar stabbed by Brutus. Myth mixed with fact: legend with history. Barbarians brought down by barbarians. The fallen city plundered and pillaged by everyone, including the hollier than thou popes who used the heathen’s  materials it to build their Rome.

imageAnd then there were the vestual virgins, In charge of keeping the eternal fire lit. If you lost your virginity, you were buried alive; If you let the fire go out, you were beaten by the emperor (I think him). Rome, gorgeous, but not for sissies: not then-not now.




Demonstratng in the Street

Woman and child in demonstrating

Woman and child in demonstrating

My first public demonstration was with Mothers for Peace & and Veterans Against the War during the Viet Nam war. Alice was a baby and rode on my back down Pennsylvania Ave.


We slept in the homes of Unitarian strangers. In San Francisco  I took to the streets again, marching  with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence when Sarcoma Karposi needed to  be recognized as a dreadful, debilitating  medical issue that went way beyond the gay community. And, for several years, I marched (actually tapped, for we were a colorful lot) for animal rights with my friend, Virginia Handley. My last demonstrations were with Annette Kirby and other friends in Tehachapi , CA, against Bush’s insane idea of destroying Iraq for dominion of oil.

Since I decided to get to know our southern neighbors, I have seen demonstrations in several places. It is always the people who have to take to the streets. Wealthy folks have money to fight their battles, we have our voices and our votes if we are lucky.

Yesterday, on my way to the museum, I heard collective voices and musical instruments: drums, flutes, and a couple of guitars. Coming down the street were people representing CERCIA (Centro Rehabilitation Para Ciegos Adultos in Araguipa.) Blind adults, tapping their canes, accompanied by those who took up their the cause, marched beside them, guiding them through the streets. A woman, saw me taking photos and said, pointing to her eyes. Ciego. Que Lastima, as she hurried on. “What a pity.”  Indeed.imageimage

Less than an hour later another, a much larger demonstration filled the main street into the Plaza de Armas. Made up of mostly indigenous, and working class  people  they poured into the intersection. The womaimagen, some carrying babies and toddlers in brightly colored, hand-woven shawls on their backs, and some  with  buckets of food and juice for the marchers bore the heaviest burdens.

Many of the hand-made signs had  ‘agua’ printed on them. Later, at the hostel I found out that there is a severe shortage of water for the poorer folks, those who live away from the city where of course, water is plentiful, because money flows, so does water. At least for a while.

Arequipa is in a deep valley surrounded by desert. It has not rained enough to fill the aquifers, or even close to full. Potable water is scarce. The burden is on the poor. It was the same in Leticiaimage, Colombia where folks demonstrated in the park,  in Brazil, and here. It is or will be, in CA I’m sure. The globe is running out of water, but we are ciego. image

In the US we allow fracking to extract natural gas at the expense of our earth’s water table. “Generally, 2-8 millions of gallons of water may be used to frack a well. Some wells more. A well may be fracked multiple times, with each frack increasing the chances of chemical leakage into the soil and local sources.” (gaslandthe

We are not only ciego, we are stupido.  Maybe folks need to hit the streets, to drown out the sound of the Koch Bros. and oil/gas companies counting their money. To save ourselves.


Bilando, Gatos, y Amor

Lima is huge and complex. The poor are perched precariously in favelas on barren hills, and the wealthy over look the sea and live behind iron gates.




For lunch today I had an Asian salad with grilled chicken breast and a delightful red wine at Tony Roma, on the malecon overlooking the beach where at least 50 surfers vied for the perfect wave. I could have been in Los Angeles. One of the parks along the malecon is Parque del Amor. And it was. Entwined bodies were openly, lovingly,  strewn about the grass, and cuddled together on the wall.

Sculpture of love.

Sculpture of love.



The Flying Dog Hostel is in Miraflores, a neighborly section of the city, the center of which is Kennedy Park. Living in the park are an estimated 250 cats. I’m told they each have adopted parents who feed and care for them, and sometimes take them home for visits. Certainly they seem relaxed with the attention and affection they receive  from  tourists and residents alike.

Dancing in the park

Dancing in the park

On my way to lunch yesterday I saw a large crowd gathered around the sunken stage area, which turned out to be dancers. If I hadn’t been meeting someone, I would certainly have thrown myself into the dancing mass. Form wasn’t an issue, and it seemed that most folks danced with anyone who could move.

Dancing in the park.

Dancing in the park.

I’ve spent most of my time here researching my route to Cuzco, Lake Titticaca, Machu Picchu and then Chile, and purchasing the first of the bus tickets. Getting around has been fairly easy, but the bus rides are looong. Yikes.


A Day in Mancora, Peru

I wish I had been

Took the plunge

Took the plunge

Heading to hang on to put on mask

Heading to hang on to put on mask

Sebastian hanging on to tortuga.  yikes!

Sebastian hanging on to tortuga. yikes!

Ruby putting on snorkle mask

Ruby putting on snorkle mask

big  tortuga

big tortuga

dead manta ray said to taste like chicken!

dead manta ray
said to taste like chicken!

Blue footed booby

Blue footed booby

Pelligan feeding frenzy

Pelligan feeding frenzy

north beach Mancora, Peru

north beach Mancora, Peru

more beach Mancora

more beach Mancora

wearing a video camera yesterday, because it was one of those days I  want to remember.

First there was the swimming with the tortugas. The goodness was two-fold. The first was that I was not alone, which is frequently the case when I’m traveling. I was invited by Sebastian, a delightful young Colombian man who is working and living here at Psygon. When the  entire staff closed up shop and piled into the well-used car: four in the back and two in the front, I wondered, “Would they speak rapid Spanish and exclude me or was I really part of the party?”

As it turned out, language had no bearing on the experience. They were sharing with me. Paloma and I, girls to the core, thought the tortugas were scary and yelled every time one of them came close. After all, there were all those warning signs. When we yelled, the guys laughed. It was so typical and, I might add, had nothing to do with the weaker sex, for certainly we aren’t.

The other thing is that I wasn’t patronized in any way-ever. If I had asked for help  it would have been freely given. But, I didn’t, so it wasn’t.

After we got home I decided to go for a bottle of vino. Surprise. I walked  the 100 feet to the  beach. the wind was blowing sand around. Standing there, shielding their eyes from the stinging sand, were two girls, maybe 9 or 10. They asked me where I was going. I told them to the store for wine. They said they would go with me, that I was fuerte,(strong), and they would be seguro (safe) with me. hahaha.

We walked, talking and laughing. I found out that they live in the barrio close to the hostel. that they are Essie and Mia. They learned  I have daughters and grandkids in the US, that my name is Ruby.  I had no camera with me. I was just going doing a quick  wine run. We saw a huge elephant seal dead on the beach. It was looking straight at us, its tongue hanging out. Really creepy we all agreed.

When the beach ended, I started up the sand into an empty lot to a street I assumed was there somewhere. Mia and Essie stopped me. They pointed to the rocky sea wall in front of the buildings blocking the way to the next small beach. Piled sand bags interspersed with the rocks. The tide was coming in, splashing over them pounding into the buildings. “Prisa! ” (hurry). I leapt like a gazelle over the sand before the next wave arrived, and jumped onto the first batch of  bags. The girls were behind me.  After the sand bags, came the rocas-big slippery ones. Essie took the lead, then Mia. As we laughed and jumped like mountain goats over the rocks, she sometimes reached back to give me a hand. “Come, Mama.” So sweet.

At the end was a small beach. Standing there was a woman in a big flowered hat and equally big sunglasses, who I thought for a minute was their mom, but who turned out to be an Asian tourist. She was surprised to see us emerge from the rocks.

“That was fun,” I laughed. “You’re American,” she assumed. “Yes. These girls are great! They are bonito and muy fuerte.” The girls smiled. “They are Peruvian?” “Yes. They are fabulous.” She was surprised to find a wet  American grandmother climbing over rocks with Peruvian children?

I thanked the girls and went to find the wine store. On the way back to the hostel I stopped and bought a bag of sweet buns. I decided to walk through the barrio, and got lost. After getting directions from some guys hanging out  on a porch, I rounded the corner that they said would lead me to the hostel. There were Essie and Mia! just coming back from their afternoon frolic. They were hungry, coming home to eat. I opened my bag and offered them buns. They each took one, thanked me and went on.

Often in other countries, I am asked for money by children. Not here in Peru. I have been over charged by taxis, but not often. Peruvians, like their ancestors, are a proud people, they don’t beg-at least where I have been so far. The folks I’ve met have been open, honest and giving.

The exchanges I’ve had have been genuine. I’ve had intimate conversations with a few folks now, and have made friends. Each place I go, I find it difficult to leave.





Off the Beaten Path/The Kindness of Strangers

The beaten path is referred to as  the gringo trail,  places that are listed in the guide books. Currently I’m working my way to the western coast of South America, heading across northern Peru. Chachapoyas, the capital of Amazonas named for the warrior people is  nestled in the mountains that are  dotted with their ancient ruins and monuments.  It’s listed, but I couldn’t find anything to tell me how to get here.

In Tatapoto I got up early,  packed, found coffee, and took my stuff to the corner where I could find a tuktuk to carry me to the bus station. As it turns out, no busses come directly here. My Spanish was not fluent enough in listening to understand details, but I was told by two clerks at major bus stations to go to Chiclayo (12 hours) and double back to Chachapoyas (another 9 hours). What??! Besides, the busses leaving wouldn’t depart until that evening.

Only an idiot would go for that. I dragged my muletta across the rocky , dirt parking lot to a hostel I’d spotted from the tuk tuk. It was a hostel/bus stop for Peruvians. A bus that one need only hold out ones hand and it stopped. the clerks told me that I needed to go to Pedro Ruiz and take another bus to Chachapoyas-to hurry the bus was loading, leaving in a few minutes. For 40 soles, about 11 dollars I got a ticket and jumped on board. Pedro Ruiz was not on my map nor listed in the guide book. I had no idea where it was, or how far it was from Chacha, but I was no the bus. I settled into the lumpy seat and relaxed.

Along the way, the bus stopped. The driver called a 15 min break so I got off to pee. As I was exiting the bano, the bus was pulling out. Yelling, I chased it down. I was barely in my seat, and he was in 2nd or 3rd gear. Suddenly he screeched to a stop. The woman and her son who had been sitting across from me climbed on. He was leaving them too. They had been eating when they saw the bus round the corner. We shook our heads, and laughed.

At Pedro  Ruiz, a man pointed me to the garage wherecolectivo busses left for

. I was walking down the street looking for it when another man, asked me where I was going. When I told him, he took my bag, and led me there. At the garage, a woman looked at me and said Chachas? Si. A few minutes later I was on a packed  bus with tourists, Indigenous folks, and locals going to villages in the mountains, heading in to my destination. Piece of cake.




Communication, Ciao

I left Colombia a week ago. Within five weeks my volunteer job had become an environment where I felt undervalued and alone, not because of language, because on daily  treks to town my functional Spanish was understood by locals with whom I shared  cold beers, and by the folks who fed me, and sold me goods. It was also enough to communicate with my students. I left because I was too old to fit in.

My idealistic and unrealistic notion that I’m ageless, that my skills and energy trump the numbers rose to the fore, and were trounced. I was unable to rise above the feeling of being treated like a child, or as Karen, a young woman in the park said, ‘like a mother or grandmother,’ by a young man who was uncomfortable with my presence.

I wasn’t entirely excluded, just not accepted. When invited to go for an ice cream with him and his staff, Daniella and Luisa, I trailed behind, the Hindi grandmother, keeping her respectful distance.  When invited to go out dancing, although I sat beside him, his back  turned from me the entire evening except for the offering of drinks. Dinners were affairs of exclusion.

Day by day, as my  classes diminished, I had little to do. Finally, on my last trip to the Parque  I was ‘taken’ to the boat by Luisa. This meant that she walked ahead of me, carrying one of my grocery bags, while I carried my backpack and the other grocery bag. It’s a good 20 minute walk into town and I had thought we would be catching a mototaxi, but when we continued to walk I asked, her in Spanish, “porque estamos caminado?” (why ae we walking?) She didn’t answer me, or if she did, I didn’t hear her. As I walked, I grew more frustrated. I asked again. Finally, when we were half way there,  she hailed a moto taxi and said, “Here Ruby.” One moto taxi. What? She would follow with my other bag. I would wait for her? It was ridiculous. I realized she was with me because It was assumed that I didn’t know how to buy a ticket or find the boat when in fact, I’ve bought tickets in many languages, and found boats on several continents. I was angry because I felt humiliated, because they viewed me as inept, incapable.  

Unfortunately I gave into my frustration. I refused the ride. I became  uncommunicative, and allowed my anger to rule. Walking in silence I knew my time there was over. My relationship with the small NGO had been brief, I hadn’t been happy, I hadn’t been productive. I had been in exile.  I needed to feel independent again, to laugh, to join my fellow travelers. On my return from the park the following week, I got my exit stamp from Colombia, a cab, money changed, a boat across the river to Santa Rosa, Peru, where I caught the slow boat to Iquitos and met a friend.

This afternoon I fly to Tarapoto. A small city on the edge of the Amazonian basin in Peru. I still have Deet. perhaps, before I head across the Andes to Chachapoyas, Cajamarca, Kuelap and Chiclayo on the west coast I will do a jungle trek.       

Still, my behaviour  in the face of hurt feelings shames me. I thought I had learned to communicate in the face of adversity, instead I reverted to being childish, and reacted as my mother taught me, with a cold silence. It didn’t work then; it doesn’t work now.








The day I got here, Alberto, a man I met in Brasil last summer took me to the Pollo King, a local restaurant in the small town of Cajica, north of Bogota for what he said was traditional Colombian comida. While it was being prepared we drank cold Colombian beers. It was a good start.

In a short time, the waiter presented us with a large platter containing a whole, either boiled or steamed, pale, wan chicken, a color maybe indicating the chicken didn’t feel well before it was killed for we want our dead to appear robust, and a few yokes from undeveloped eggs which I’ve discovered are pretty common, but no head or feet, which I was thankful for.

The chicken was served with plantains and yucca, the latter pretty bland on its own, but this was covered with a sticky, savory sauce that made it delicious as gravy or sweet butter does to mashed potatoes. That night and the following morning at his finca, or farm, in the town of San Francisco, we had a variety of fresh fruit and rolls with delicious Colombian coffee.

The next afternoon I ate spinach empanadas at the restaurant inside a large supermarket. The following day for lunch I ordered a very flavorful bowl of soup. The meat I believed to be chicken turned out to be intestines, chewy and for me, difficult to swallow. Although I’m willing to try many things, and have, including well prepared insects,I cant bring myself to eat innards, coagulated blood floating in soup, the muscle behind the eye of any fish, pig snout, or chicken feet. So I’m a pussy.

At Angela’s lovely home we had a hearty and tasty version of tamales with rice and chicken steamed in banana leaves. The Colombian pizza I had a few nights ago had a layer of fresh tomatoes and capers under the cheese. It took me a minute to identify the capers. And, of course the piranha. Today for almuerzo or lunch, which is a set price for either fish, chicken, or beef, rice, cooked banana, a drink and soup, I ordered another fish. It was crispy and a bit too salty and dry for my taste.

Rice, manioc, plantain, and potatoes are the most common starches. Bananas are prepared in ways I never thought of. Yesterday I bought a banana that was split down the center, filled with cheese, and grilled. It cost 2 mil, or about $1.20. I ate a few bites, wasn’t impressed, pulled the cheese out and ate it. I offered the banana to a hungry bitch with swollen nipples that was foraging for food on the street, but she declined my offer.

Here at Entropika we cook our food so since Thomas is Belgian, Luisa Colombian, and me an Irish Mongrel, anything is possible. One of the geogology students at the park that I share the kitchen with ask me last week of I had eaten romalachas. After a couple of rounds of twenty questions, they produced a beet. ” Me gusta romalachas, mucho, I declared enthusiastically. So, inspired by the unrelenting heat, and to the delight of Tomas and Luisa I made cold beet borsht. When I go back to the park next week I’m taking the ingredients, and the students are going to help me make a big pot for everyone. My favorite part of traveling is the sharing of cultures, and what better sharing is there than food which comes from our hearts, our ancestors, our gardens, and gives of ourselves.

There are countless tropical fruits here that I’ve never seen before, much less tasted:Lolo or maybe lulu, Borojo de Monte, Quinilla, Anonilla, Mata Mata, surba, Acapu, Caimitillo…and more. I’ll keep you posted. Bon Appetite.

Don’t Pee In The Water.

The Amacayacu lodge or headquarters sets in the confluence of the rios Mata Mata and Amazon. I was sitting on the front dock of the Amazon when some workers from the Mocaqua community docked their boat. Before going back to his roofing job, one of the young guys, took off his shirt and did a back flip into the Amazon. “Ahh,” I though, “I can swim here.” When I mentioned it to Tomas, he suggested I swim in the Mata Mata, by the boat dock, where the people who work here dock. “It’s also somewhat cleaner than the Amazon,” he added. “Fine by me,” I think, so I packed my bathing suit.

When I got here I asked Alejandro, one of the student geologists interning here if he ever swam there.”Yes. almost every day I swim. It’s beautiful. The water is warm on the top, but down under it is cool and refreshing. But, Rubi, it’s very important you don’t pee in the water.” “Why?” I asked reasonably. “It’s not good for you because of the fishes.” Ummm. I understand my pee might be not good for the fishes, but why not good for me? I pondered this. The following day I was in the kitchen with Pedro, another one of the students. “Pedro, what will happen if I pee in the water?”
“He looked at me with startling blue eyes.”It’s very bad because of the little fishes that can enter your body through the place where you pee.” Yikes.

Again I pondered. The practical side of me thinks this is something a mother would say to her kids to keep them from polluting the river, then I considered the many strange critters that live here: the piranha, fluorescent bugs, plants, and fungi, exotic insects, pink dolphins, even trees that are protected by pointy cudgels that strangle interlopers. This rainforest is a scene painted by the Brothers Grimm. If the wolf can eat the grandmother and dress in her clothes, there’s a pretty good chance a fish can enter the peeing place.

I will probably swim, but not laugh hard while I’m in the process, or sneeze.

Where’s the Carne?

Yesterday I woke up at seven o’clock to make sure everything was ready for my first trip alone to the park. The boat departure was 10 am. This is not a big deal, just the first time I’ve gone alone. At 8:30 Tomas took me, my backpack, and sack of groceries on his motorbike to the dock to buy the boat ticket. A conversation ensued with him and the clerk about the return. Apparently the person who sells the return tickets wasn’t there; then she short-changed him 5000 pesos for the ticket he bought. We left. “I’ll buy the return ticket and email the info to you,” he said.

Next, We went shopping in the market so I could buy fresh fruit. Still, we arrived at the boat(at least we assumed it my boat) an hour early. We hung out for a while by the boat than he decided to leave. I waited, my eye on the seat I wanted. A guy came to stow the passenger’s assorted stuff: backpacks, suitcases, boxes, bags on top of the boat. A few minutes later we boarded. The clerk came to check off names. Mine was called twice. I felt so special.

Finally, we were underway. But, instead of heading in the direction of the park, we went across the river and docked by three small navy boats. I’m thinking, “He’s delivering mail.” The driver got out, conversed, took something out of his pocket handed it over, and then we turned around. “Ah. Now we’re underway,” I think. Alas, to my surprise he headed into the small tributary and back to the dock! “Que pasa!” I say out loud to myself, and apparently to the woman sitting next to me. “Carne,” She says with a smile. “Carne?” “Si, carne.” We regrese para carne?” I ask. “ Si.” She smiled again. When the boat was secured a couple of guys carried a huge, obviously heavy, cooler container to the boat. Carne. They hefted it onto the roof. The boat backed up. Finally. We were off.

The ride was smooth, cool and picturesque. I took pictures of houses and boats along the way. At one of the thatched hotels on the riverbank, a gringo family of three got out. The carne went with them.

We were almost to the park when suddenly the boat lurched, and stopped. The driver muttered. (I was sitting behind him, a mutter is the same in any language) He tried the motor several times. Nada. He ran to the back to the boat, and pulled on things. Came back. Nada. Finally, he returned to the motor, took its top off, and found the problem. Something had apparently gotten wound around something. Whatever it was, he came back and said, “Ahora”. Now. Sure enough we were on our way again.

One of the qualities I hope to acquire here is the indomitable patience the people have. I’ve noticed it all over Latin America. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe it’s having been conquered by another country. Maybe it’s the Catholic dogma that one’s reward will be in heaven, so there’s no hurry to get there. What ever it is, in my opinion it’s healthier than expecting things to happen immediately. Life isn’t perfect, but most folks don’t anticipate instant gratification, exhibit road rage, stress and other byproducts of impatience and expectation.

The Amazon: Doing Good

allegheny areal high wide shot

Allegheny River

I’m a river rat.  I grew up on the Allegheny River. I swam in it, fished with my grampa in it, and canoed on it. Most of all I watched it flow by our house. Sometimes it passed by gracefully, like a gauzy ball gown during a waltz;  occasionally it unleashed its fearsome might,  roaring past as if it were angry, in a terrible hurry.

 I loved that river. My  heart and soul was nourished by  its energy. My Mom taught me to be respectful,  “The river is beautiful, powerful, and dangerous,  but  without its  water nothing would  exist.” 


Houses in Leticia

Along both banks of the river were the  Allegheny Mountains. In spite of the scary Brothers Grimm stories,  my friends and I played in the forest. We built shacks and tree-houses, (ok all shacks), ate fresh raspberries, blueberries, and elderberries, and explored caves Indians might have  slept in.

 I loved those woods, too.  As a little kid, I knew, somehow, even though the critters that shared the forest with us kept themselves pretty much hidden, that they,  the deer, raccoons, wolves, bears, beavers, rabbits, and even the snakes…, were our neighbors-that we shared the resources. “Pay attention, you aren’t the only animal in the forest,” my mom would laugh.” cayman-tropical-rain-forest-amazon-alligator-gator-14159010

In August I will be going to live  for awhile in Leticia, Columbia, on the Amazon River. 250px-Colombia_-_Amazonas_-_Leticia.svgThe  Amazon River is the largest drainage system in the world! Its length is the equilivent of the distance from New York to Rome! The Amazon River basin is home to the largest rainforest on Earth! ON EARTH!

Amazon River & Basin

Amazon River & Basin

It’s size is roughly as big as the whole USA. Scientists say the rain forest is  ‘THE LUNGS OF OUR PLANET-without the rain forest,  the earth will die (or is dying) a slow death. We will die with it. The magnificent rain forest houses over half of the world’s species. Many folks aren’t being respectful, they apparently don’t understand that we all breathe the same air, with the same lungs.leticia boats on river

In Leticia, I’m going to be a small part of  Fundacion Entropika, a non-profit organization comprised of dedicated conservationists, that under the direction of Dr. Angela Maldonaldo, is fighting the good fight, for our planet, and those of us (all of us) who live here. 306px-Leticia, ” works to contribute to the long-term conservation of tropical biodiversity by facilitating local community-led projects, establishing educational programs and research,  while working closely with the local indigenous prople.” And, much more.

Dr. Maldonado is a force. I met her last month at an IPPL conference, and immediately knew I wanted to work with this group of people who are dedicated to keeping the lungs of our earth clear, and  the habitat for the people, and other species of  animals, who call the Amazon home, safe. 

Listen to my mother. We need to be respectful. Without a healthy planet, without clean water, and forest’s oxygen, we are gonners.    amazon fishing