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Rain, Fertility, Bloodwood

As I write it is three p.m. here in the Amazon jungle. Since it gets dark by six, there are only three hours of light left. Unobtrusive rain is quietly falling. It’s just enough to wet the leaves, encourage the mosquitoes, and take the edge off the heat. I was taking a nap when the trueno (thunder) rumbled as if the sky had an empty stomach and needed lunch.

I crawled out from under my net, made a cup of coffee, and came into the computer room to think and write. I have a new class scheduled for 5:30-7pm. Seventeen people have signed up, but I’ll be surprised if five show, and tomorrow, maybe two, if at all. That’s just the way it is. I suspect, in spite of the increasing tourist trade, that the English language seems trifling, even frivolous here in such a remote place where most people will not travel further than the Spanish speaking world. In any case it’s a lot of time and effort to learn something with dubious value.

This morning I was invited to go to Macedonia, another Tikuna community up the river by one of the park staff. When we got there, several small tourist boats were landing, and the thatched community building was bustling with local merchants, their tables laid out with handcrafts. The carved wood items were gorgeous. Most were made with pajo sangre (blood wood) that has a rich red sheen, but is endangered, so I wouldn’t buy it to encourage the cutting of the trees that I’m told are small and difficult to find.

The trinkets, necklaces, key chains, and earrings were similar to the ones I saw in Brazil and Central America, made with shells, and/or seeds woven into string. I bought a pair of woven fiber earrings at Park Santaner in Leticia last week, but the only ones I brought from home and have worn so far, are silver and amber, and were given to me last year by my friend, Ginger

I digress. After an introduction to today’s festivities, the MC brought into the circle, two small boys dressed in rough, sack material, wearing masks, and endowed with erect wooden penises to signify fertility in the culture. One of them hung on to his as if it was attached, and needed

News From the Amazon-Fashion

My first time in the Amazon rain forest lasted five days. I was advised to take long sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, boots, (for the mud, not snakes), and shower shoes or thongs, and of course, sun screen, hat, and mosquito repellent-pretty standard stuff for a remote area that ostensibly breeds mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds.

My job at the park is to teach the folks in indigenous communities, and those who work for the park to speak functional English so they can communicate with tourists who visit the park, and maybe some other nefarious persons who go there to pillage and plunder the resources. I’m not conquistador Alonso de Ojeda exploring unknown territory looking for gold. Nowadays, people here dress and live like everybody else in most parts of the world. One of the teenage boys from the Mocaqua community, who was roofing, has a handsome Mohawk, and multiple silver earrings. He could live in Chicago. Think of it as the Old West with lots of trees before the railroad, but with solar and gas generators.

Also in my pack were a computer, books, notebooks, binoculars, and iphone, which has lost its usage as a phone (I can’t get the sim card door open) but functions as a camera, small book and calendar. The latter is crucial. Sometimes I not only wake up wondering how I got here, but what day of the week it is.

One of my long sleeve shirts is white gauzy, linen with long tails and lovely small buttons –think Katherine Hepburn on the African Queen. I always feel somewhat elegant wearing it, even with my hair barely combed, no makeup, slathered with sticky poison. My beige bra-tank reveals the shape of my drooping, abundant breasts, but if anyone took notice I’m not aware. The most versatile garment in my pack was, and always seems to be, a sarong. I brought three with me to Columbia.

The second day I was in the park, it was so hot I wore my sarong as a skirt with the tank top. At night it became a curtain for the window where bugs as big as my thumb battered against the screen to get into my private room. Sometimes I draped it across my lower bunk bed to keep the light out. Here in Leticia, they alternate as curtains and clothes daily. The third day I used the kitchen shears to shorten one of the pairs of pants into sort of army-style capris. I slept in the long sleeve light tee, and my underpants-or not.

At night-after six when the mosquitoes came to dine, to go with the layer of 40% deet, I wore my socks and my fashionable new, red and yellow plastic shoes, the linen shirt, and long pants. Reasonable people had sneakers. In spite of screens that had only a few small holes, and a mosquito net on my bed, the mosquitoes found a way to me no matter what I slept in. Naked was cooler. My white skin must have glowed in the dark jungle, a beacon of tasty new blood as succulent as Botero’s reclining fat woman.

I’ll be going back to the park every other week. Since I am now an expert on jungle fashion, I’ll take all three sarongs, two tanks, loose cotton pants, and a couple of short sleeved tees, plus my closed toed walking shoes. The deet will be upgraded to 99.11%, military grade stuff that tourists, who wrote on the internet say ate through their rubber watch bands. Lordy mercy.







Fernando Botero

imageI can’t remember when I fell in love with Botero, but I know it was because he made me laugh. I loved the vibrant colors and related to the gordo folks, who wore their fat and nakedness with charm and grace. They smoked and danced, went on picnics, and posed.image

Once when my lover, Roberto, and I were in Mexico we found an artist who for 100 bucks painted us life-sized Boteros in oil. Mine is The Dancers. In the museo there are several famous artists represented: Chagal, Ernest, Picass.. but to my mind, none as compelling-so filled with vibrant life as Botero.

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa


Estoy lista. Off the path.

I am ready.  imageMy flight leaves tomorrow morning. I’ve spent the last few weeks gathering the 38 items (not including most clothes) that  I’ll apparently need for my trek to the Amazon and the west coast of South America. If it were just the Amazon, but, include  Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil… mountains, deserts, cities, carry on bag is bursting.  And, I still need to shop for a hammock and mosquito net in Bogota! I’ve been shot for Hep B again, because I forgot to get the third one last time, and Yellow Fever $200+ (I stopped counting)-which gave me two days of it, complete with aching limbs and the desire to sleep. I have malaria tabs that warn me to stay out of the sun?!  Two months cost $36.00. A newer version would have cost  $346.00. The side effects for that price include vivid dreams.  Maybe the indigenous folks I will be teaching will have herbs for vivid dreams-maybe just sleeping in the jungle will induce them. My personal favorite would be peyote. But, that’s Mexico.image

I thought everything was planned and organized, then I left my wallet (a cloth Mexican bag at least a decade old) at Trader Joes last Thurs. I went back to get it, and it hadn’t been turned in. I panicked. I canceled both cards(different banks). Three hours later they called to say my bag  had been there all the time. “It was just put in a different place than usual.” Well, shit. Now I have two different accounts at the same CU, different colors. With some help from Cooper, I also planted many new flowering plants for Anna-that she had picked out and paid for. Two massages have helped my aching back. image But it will be lovely to see them bloom next year. I messaged Alberto, my Colombian friend, whom I met in Salvador, Brazil last year. 

Alberto learning capoeira moves.

Alberto learning capoeira moves.


 He is a retired economist and  has a finca (farm) an hour or so from Bogota. Tuesday morning, early, he says, he is picking me up and we will do much walking, visiting all of the sites in the area. Our communication is in Spanish. Mine is pitiful at best, but better than his non-existent English. Ahhh. Life’s challenges. Wish us luck. Angela, Entropika’s directora, gets into Bogota the 31. I leave for Leticia the 3rd. A week or so later, I go into the Amacayacu National Park where I will stay and teach English and of course, learn Spanish, and many other things I would never have even thought of, if i hadn’t wandered off the path.image

Closed captions. A whole different spin on the news.

GI Joe relaxing a coconut shell.

GI Joe relaxing a coconut shell.

I was at the gym, running  on the treadmill when the battery on my shuffle died. No matter, I turned on the news. I couldn’t hear Obama, but I read what he was saying about Aye Rack. Or tried to.

People were ejaculating  Aye Rack by the thousands. Hovered women and chilled nuns were leaving…

And then a Thai recipe called for fresh penis, coconut milk…


Another woman on the food network says she has to get some meat in her..

I’ve seen a weather man predict 30% rape.

And many , many more. Huffington Post lists some, and followers of the gaffs put them on social media.

Closed captioning not only helps the hard-of-hearing and the deaf, but somehow lightens up the dismal commercials and frightening news. Have a try.








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   



The 405 freeway to China

I’ve always dreaded the 405 freeway that runs north and south from the valley to San Diego. Well, almost. But, for the past 17 months I have been using it to commute to EF International school in Redondo Beach, where I teach ESL or EFL (your choice). Day after day after day.

This particular life saga began two years ago. Stranded in Nyrita airport in Tokyo for 5 days, I met a guy who had just finished teaching English in Korea. Our discussions led me to the conclusion that reinventing myself as an English teacher could pay for my traveling lust. One is never too old for either.

After an exhausting 120 hours of intensive study the following January: think grammar learned in 3rd grade, resurrected from long, unused folds in your brain- and then some, I got my teaching certificate in Costa Rica. Only the salsa dancing and new friendships kept me sane.

A few weeks later, I came to Los Angeles with the intention of spending just a couple of months because my granddaughter, for reasons best left out, was living here with her best friend. Ahh. I just wanted to be close-to lend support for her if needed. I didn’t want to interfere with her life, but to be a small part of it. With that in mind, I took a job teaching ESL at EF. I intended it to be a temporary one, just for the summer. Ha. Cooper’s living arrangement ended abruptly. Mine too. Suddenly, I rented an apartment and we were living together.

16 months later, our relationship is tattered and torn like an old wedding dress from a bad marriage. I remember the feeling of being lonely in my own house, awake at night, worrying if someone I love is safe. It is not a good one. Our wildly fluctuating emotions have left a wake of sadness, resentment, and anger. I am exhausted.

Cooper will leave in two weeks with her mother, my daughter, Alice, to live in Oklahoma. I hope it will be a healing/growing time for her, because she is a precious, but wounded, adult-child making childish, potentially harmful decisions. I will love her from a distance.

I am heading to Chongqing, China where I’ll be teaching at Chongqing Normal University. With 55,000 students, it is one of the largest universities in China and boasts of having top-notch medical and art schools. Situated on a peninsula where the Yangzi and Jialing Rivers meet, Chongqing is said to be frequently shrouded in daytime haze and fog. The Lonely Planet reports that it is a city that comes alive at night, neon lights giving it a showgirl sparkle. I love sparkle.

The weather in Chonqing is generally hot. The cuisine is hot. The local food: hotpots. I can only guess about that. Eat hot to stave off the heat? Fine by me. Plus, as suggested by a teacher who is leaving, I will buy a bicycle. Goodbye street cleaning tickets, traffic jams & high gas prices. Hello lowered cholesterol & blood pressure. He also reports that my apartment is a comfy two bedroom with washer, dryer, and television. Chinese television! I’m told my students are delightful; that they are eager to learn. Imagine that.

Next July I plan to head north through China to Mongolia for their main festival. I have wanted to ride a Mongolian pony across the steppes since I was 12. The time has come.
After that, who knows? Maybe another gig in China; maybe another country? I have wanted to work at the Limbe Primate Sanctuary in Cameroon. Maybe the primates would enjoy learning ESL or they will teach me their language?

Life is full of possibilities. One thing for sure though, no matter how well organized you are, plans change. The road you take for granted can be heading someplace completely different than you think. So, Carpe Diem or as Poppy New says, ” Only wrestle one aligator at a time.”


Surviving TEFL

School is over. We have our certificates as ESL teachers thus presumably, the tools to go anywhere in the world to teach our language. The common bond shared by most of the fourteen students is that we are travelers and we want the means to pay for our passion. Guided by a staff of patient, extremely dedicated teachers-one of whom taught us Hawaiian, including to dance the hula- we have accomplished our goal.

We were an eclectic group: young and starting out, old and retired: surfers, lawyers, actresses, hair stylists, tour directors and horse trainers, just to give you an idea of our diversity. We worked together and separately to learn the structure & format used by TEFL teachers in classrooms all over the world.

Who knows why we were lured to Costa Rica? Perhaps it was the tropical weather and the beach, or maybe the possibility of romance with a handsome Tica, of which there are many. And they can dance! Skillfully and passionately they dance the salsa and meringue- dipping, twirling, sweat dripping, two bodies as one as long as the song lasts.

I stayed in Manuel Antonio for 5 days before school started. The small park and the surrounding tropical rain forest is alive with critters large and small; amazing leaf green frogs with fire engine red eyes, monkeys: spider, squirrel, and the boisterous howlers run free-as they should. Sloths hang from electrical wires under the moon light and sleep in the crooks of trees during the days while families of raccoons roam the beach raiding picnic baskets.

Each day about 3 p.m. a community of squirrel monkeys clamored across the tin roof of my room. They stayed long enough to peer into the pipes, wrestle each other over the humps, swing from the trees onto the tin, frolic and check us out- improvisational comedians working their laughing audience.
At the beach in MA, a rogue wave unexpectedly washed over me, ruining my camera and translator so the photos here were taken by my friend and fellow student, Tomi.

The school was an imposing white washed concrete building with narrow outside spiral staircases situated on a dirt road in the country, a comfortable walk or taxi ride for 1 mil colones, (about 2 dollars) from town. It was definitely not handicap accessible-but then again none of Quepos is.

My room was large, light, and thank god the bed was comfortable because I fell into it late each night, exhausted from the rigorous pace of the curriculum.

Although I did meet a handsome tica, the object of my affection was Owen, a kitten who ambushed me in route to the kitchen the first morning I was there. Owen, tawny yellow with darker yellow stripes and matching amber eyes, was 6 months old and looking for love. When I bought him food the deal was sealed; we were an item. Although he didn’t understand the wisdom of it, I did him a favor and had him neutered before I left. The last I heard, Owen was going home with professora Heidi.

Now, we’ve scattered. I’m en route to Panama to see the canal, snorkel, and hang out in a hammock under palm trees before I head back to the states. After that I’ll find a job hopefully in Peru. But, where ever I go next, estoy lista. I’m ready. More hills, more exploring. Pura vida.

El Dia de Los Muertes

As I wind up El Dia de Los Muertes holiday in Oaxaca I think that I don’t spend nearly as much time with my departed loved ones as I should. Of course they are in Pennsylvania and I am wandering around, a homeless soul content for the time being to drift.

But, next time I do visit I’ll bring my Kirk a hamburger with ketchup and pickles, my mom a shrimp cocktail, a Manhattan or margarita- even a good cuppa joe with lots of cream and sugar. Johnny, my brother who was killed way too young by a drunk, would like a hamburger also and a coke. Grampa gets a big piece of chocolate cake in a bowl with milk poured over it. I’ll sing You Are My Sunshine to my baby, Robin, just as I would have done if I had been allowed to hold him before he flew away. I’m looking forward to a conversion with Grandma Emma who died before I was born but whose untimely death at age 53 came alive for me in mom’s diary. The folks in Foxburg may think I’m worshiping the devil when they see the smoke from the incense needed to beckon the spirits, but then again, they may want to join our party. Oh yes, Sophie who rests in my friend David’s garden in Tehachapi will have a fresh bone. I won’t do as much dancing as I did here at XOXO, the village I partied with last night under a full moon. Maybe a little-but not enough to draw attention.

Night before last, here in the Oaxaca cemetery I spoke with a woman sitting quietly beside the grave of her child who she told me had been only three months old when she died. The grave was adorned with flowers and glowed lovingly warm in candlelight. I was grateful I was able to speak enough Spanish to share my understanding of her grief-her dolor.
You see, mothers who have lost children, regardless of age, are never quite whole again, never without pain that hovers, spread thin like an extra layer of skin just beneath the surface of our being, threatening to derail us at any given moment.

So, here in Mexico the dead are honored for a full weekend. Whole families including babies in arms and grandmas’ in wheelchairs wrapped in rebozos, come together to decorate and remember their relatives. Many hold a vigil the entire night because there is much to catch up on. It is quality time.

A poster I saw announced a performance with the words: Viva la Muerte
Maybe it means live the dead or life to the dead, I’m not exactly sure but I know it isn’t a contradiction, it’s a commitment. One worth keeping.

Awake Before Dawn

Boy I hate it when I wake up and it’s still dark out.

Here in my gully grotto it’s just me and the burro on the hill. Heeehaaaa Heeehaaaa. Hawwww. In the daytime he sounds like he’s laughing but the dark puts a sadder spin on his plaintive rebuznos.Well, maybe we’re not the only ones awake. Our opossum is probably cruising the hillside, pushing his Pinocchio nose into crevices & sliding through the bars of bodegas to see if some unsuspecting human forgot to lock down the pet food.

A few days ago, in broad daylight, a gray squirrel chased me off my hammock. Scared the hell out of me. I was laying there reading. Suddenly it flew across me-not 10 feet above my head, from tree trunk to tree trunk. There it hung or what ever it is they do with their sharp little toenails, upside down, yelling at me. Now I have mastered some Spanish derogatory phrases but not a single syllable of squirrel. I could tell by his body language and sheer decibel level though, that he was agitated about something and didn’t intend to back down. Sophie, lying in her crumbly cement/dirt hole and I looked at each other and agreed it was time to go inside for a snack.

Then last week, heading inside through the back door I was surprised by a long slender Vine snake. It was lovely- sort of a burnished gold and slate green combo. They can make themselves stick straight up like a, well, stick.

Laurel and I took some road trips north and south along the coast exploring villages and new developments this winter. There are so many of the latter. Pretty, yes, but I prefer the coastline before it got privatized for the privileged few. One place, El Tecuan, was a ghost town of lovely homes over looking a wide expanse of pristine beach all empty. It was creepy. I could hear the approaching bulldozers and concrete mixers; if not this year soon. Soon.Then, we were driving on 200 South when we encountered a white pick-up with a man standing beside it. He didn’t attempt to stop us, but I slowed down. When I did a blue van behind us ignored the fact that we were almost stopped and sped around. At the exact time, a stampeding herd of steers burst over the embankment onto the road. The van spooked them causing them to change course and head straight for us. I was going to back up but there wasn’t even time for that. It was a treat to see the caballeros and their amazing dogs working up close. They definitely saved the day!

My Anna visited me for her birthday in February. It was way too brief but so sweet. I took her to Yelapa where I am moving next year. It’s a several hundred year old village on the south/west end of the bahia. The only reasonable way to get there is by panga; the alternative being a mostly impassible road through the jungle or on horse back. I’ll move into Casita Jardin on my friend April’s compound, Passion Flower Gardens. Yelapa has a web site because there are many gringos there with palapas for rent or retreat. The draw for me is that it is small, has the river, the ocean, and horses and although now there are ATVs and electricity (fast few years), there is still no room for cars. Margaret will stay parked in Boca ready for frequent road adventures and shopping. Sophie, who as I write, has the runs because she drank too much aqua del rio, (poor Perrita) will appreciate the other folks and few dogs that already live there.This week is the beginning of Semana Santa, Easter Week, here in Mexico. The busiest two weeks of the year. Folks come from all over Mexico to the beaches to party. Small bands, vendors, tents, and pickups full of extended families suddenly abound. Some of them wash in the river and change in the reeds along its edges. It is a reminder for me that little money is needed to enjoy life.

I am going to Zacatecas in a couple of weeks to see/hear Placido Domingo. I’m excited. I’ll stay at Casa Santa Lucia, a refurbished 19th century hotel next to what is said to be one of the oldest and most beautiful cathedrals in Mexico. It’s also one of the oldest and I think the most lucrative silver mining cities and a major site of the revolution. Gary Jennings, writes in his Aztec books about how the enslaved Indians actually lived in the mines. The women gave birth there and then the children, if they lived, became slaves, too. Most didn’t live long. The woman, because they were small and more nimble, carried the silver up the ladders on their backs. Isn’t it true that most man made beauty is so because of somebody’s sorrow.

On that note, I wish you all a wonderful Easter. May the bunny bring you good health, love and joy and the world, peace. -ruby
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by Ruby