Category Archives: communication

Pesky verb quiz.

O.K. Let’s go swimming.

“‘ There’s a little creek nearby to swim in. I swam in it yesterday. In fact,  I’ve swum/swam in it many times during the past month. ”

Swam /swum, What’s the past participle of the verb, to swim? What does the ve stand for?


If you answered swum and have to the questions above, you are right. Swim, swam, swum. And the ve is short for have, and is the helping verb. It makes the sentence present perfect because it denotes a repetition before the present time. Confusing? Not if you practice. Just by conversing, listening, and (of course reading too) you will know many pesky verbs that even vex some English speakers.

Sign up now. Speak English like a  well educated native.







Fun, Fair, Bargaining Anywhere

imageAmerican tourists spent upwards of 500 billion, yes, billion dollars last year. Much of that was spent shopping, and it wasn’t all fridge magnets. If it’s for sale, we’ll buy it. Illegal items aside, the most popular stuff we buy are hand sewn linens, expensive and costume jewelry, rugs, textiles, art, clothes, tee shirts, shoes, hats, booze, food, spices, coffee, bones, and adorable kitsch, think airplanes made from shells. We buy for ourselves, and we buy for others. God forbid we should come home from a trip without gifts for our relatives and friends.

Let’s face it. After viewing historical sites and churches for a few hours it’s time to shop. In fact, tourists spend up to a whopping 40% of their travel hours buying stuff. We want reminders of places we visited, of the people with whom we connected.

And, we want a bargain-a good deal. But, keep in mind, bargaining is an interchange between a buyer and a seller. It is not a competition. It’s not about winning and losing. A successful sale is when both partiimagees are satisfied with the outcome. Nobody wants to feel they’ve been taken. Good, fair bargaining also fosters peace among people of other cultures. And, it can be lots of fun.

No matter where you are haggling in the world, a few basic rules apply. First, I suggest you visit the fixed price stores to see what items you’re interested in are priced at with a retail markup. Figure you can get 20 to 30 % less than that, sometimes more, in a public market or from the person who made it. Maybe up to 50% some places depending on the mark-up. A good place to begin the excha

Venice Beach, CA Boardwalk

Venice Beach, CA Boardwalk

imagenge is for 30% less than the asking price. In many countries the first sale of the day is said to be good luck, which very well might mean a bigger discount for you.

Before you start, know what you are willing to pay for something, act indifferent. No matter how much you want something, put on your poker face. A good leading question is,” Is this your best price?” If they say yes, be shocked. “Really? That ‘s very expensive. No discount at all?” You are incredulous. It’s unheard of, no discounts. If they say, “No, no discounts,” walk away. They may call you back. If they do, they might say, “How much do you want to pay?” Give them a price lower than you are willing to pay. Now they might act shocked. Or, maybe they will name a price somewhere between the two prices. Or they could get into the game. ” Now you are trying to rob me!”

Look at the piece again. Ask questions about the piece. Who made it” What material? How old? Where was it made? Ask what ever questions are appropriate for the article you are interested in. What ever you do, don’t let them get you off track. Moroccan rug dealers are notorious for that. If you don’t stay focused they will have you shipping rugs home, so you can go into the rug auction business where, they’ve convinced you, you will make a killing.

Keep a fair perspective. Shopping in rural areas of economically struggling countries is different than buying from professional vendors who have market stalls in heavily trafficked urban areas. Women who sell hand woven blankets or linens, or men who craft beautiful wood carvings have put pride, effort and time into their work. Acknowledge that you appreciate their talent, the workmanship, and pay her/him a fair price. That is not to say you don’t bargain, but perhaps less rigorously, with circumstances in mind.

I’ve had bargaining interchanges that evoked emotion, and connections with women of different cultures that I didn’t see coming. In retrospect these moments were the special ones that defined my trips.

In Cusco, Peru a few months ago, I decided not to climb the steep steps with an afternoon walking tour. I had done enough climbing for the day. I decided to wait at the bottom, mistakenly thinking they would descend the same steps. While I was sitting there, a Peruvian woman with a bag of hand knitted hats, socks, and mittens sat beside me. With a big smile she began to pull out the garments. ” I told her they were lovely, pero, no tengo nada dinero.” She smiled. Everyone says they don’t have any money. Really, I said, ” Estoy esperando a mis amigos que subieron la colina.” (I’m just waiting for my friends who climbed the hill.”) “No tengo dinero.” Really.

She smiled. OK. I had a little. Very little. But, only what I was going to give the tour guide as a tip. Maybe a few pesos more. I liked the hat, socks, and mittens. They were all nice, but I only had 15 pesos. Not nearly enough. That’s less than five dollars. She smiled. “Veinte.” As I was saying I didn’t have twenty pesos in my purse, another vendor, her friend, showed up. She pointed out the workmanship, how lovely they were, how much work it takes to make them. By now I was feeling badly. I know how much work it takes to knit. I understand they are worth more… on and on. Finally, because I truly didn’t have more than 15 pesos, she put the mittens, socks, and hat in a small bag and handed them to me. I felt almost ashamed.

By now, it was apparent that my tour group had probably used different steps to descend the hill. I decided to see if I could find them. A few blocks down the hill, I stopped to have a drink of water. Reaching for the bottle in my purse, I saw that the plastic bag of knitted things had fallen out. My heart lurched. I ran back up the hill, to the bottom of the steps where I had stopped to put my wallet back into my purse, thinking that would be where the bag had fallen out. Nothing. I looked up at the woman. There she was sitting in the same place on the steps, a big smile on her face, holding up my bag. I felt like an idiot. I raced up the steps, gave her a big hug, thanked her profusely, and ran back down the steps.

Bargaining makes us feel as though we actually have some control of the price we pay. Negotiating is much more interesting and fulfilling than simply paying a marked price.

In the US, bargaining is rare unless you are at a garage sale or a weekend flea market. And occasionally, a small shop owner will drop prices on items that have been around a while, but it’s not common practice. It never hurts to ask.

So have fun, and remember bargaining is not about taking advantage of folks who need the money more than you need the object. Because you probably don’t.

Puno: The Living and the Dead

Founded in 1668  near a now defunct silver mine, and on the shore of Lake Titicaca, Puno sits at 12,500 feet. My faulty heart beat hard in my chest climbing up the hills to see the Chullpa Tombs of Sillustani-hell, it protested going up the stairs of the hostel.

The chullpas, huge stone towers cut into square, cylinder, and rectangular shapes that all fit snugly together, is where the Colla tribe buried their dead over 500 years ago.They have been plundered by grave robbers, tumbled by earthquakes, and defaced by tourists. However, they continue to stand as testament to their respect of the dead.  I get it. I take great pride in my family cemetery plot where the remains of  my beloved family lies in Foxburg, PA. although in comparison, our tomb stones are a bit understated.

Would you be interested in setting up house on a foundation of tortora reeds that rot continually, forcing you to move every 25 years or so? I didn’t think so. The small island, part of the Uros Floating Islands that  we visited was one of about 48 on Lake Titicaca. Three or four families, a  total of 26 people live there. I bought a hand-embroidered pillow case of Pachamama (mother earth), made by Maria, the matriarch of the clan. When I was paying her, the coin fell into the reeds causing us to dig among them to find it. Walking on the reeds, ones feet sink in am inch or two. I watched a toddler lurch and stumble, but he got to his destination without help.

The island was very small, less than a whole block in the US; the houses not much more than thatched roof huts. The tribe used to use reed boats exclusively , but out back, behind the houses were several motor boats that the kids were playing on when I was there. A puppy, that dared to poop in front of us tourists was isolated in one of them, looking longingly at the kids. Apparently most of the families only go the islands to meet the tourists, and live on solid land these days. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating history and gives one a clue to ‘back in the day.”

Taquile Island is a non-floating island, with an intricate pattern of terraced farming, fenced off by large rocks dug up on the land. It reminded me of Ireland and England.

The Aymara and Uros tribes have intermarried, causing the Uros language to fade out. We were given a demo of the hats the men wear. Similar to Christmas stockings complete with tassels, depending on if he is married or single, or needs a visor for the sun, it’s turned around on his head. Boy, it takes out the guessing for the girls, who wear long scarves around their hair but don’t cover their faces. They wear tons of petticoats under their skirts and intricately, handknit sweaters.

The guide books say Puno pales in comparison to the colonial beauty of Ariquipa and Cusco. Maybe so, but it beats them hands down for sheer friendliness. Saturday, I happened upon a festival in the plaza. It was not for tourists. The colors of the costumes dazzled under the bright blue sky and hot sun. Walking around taking photos, I was asked to danced, given a cup of beer, and asked questions about my country. Even the women who are usually shy and don’t want their photos taken, allowed me to take a few.

Hilda, the woman who owns Inka’s Rest Hostel could not have been friendlier or more accommodating. Within a day I felt a kinship with her. She suggested I move there, and teach English to her, he

Uros canoes

Uros canoes

image image image image image

Taquile Island

Taquile Island

Huts: Uros Island

Huts: Uros Island

male heron

male heron

Uros Island

Uros Island

image imager 4 year old daughter, and the staff. It’s tempting. Having ceviche in a tiny restaurant, the owner came out to sit with me, to share lives.  That to me, is the point of travel.


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.


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.