Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sunday, September 29, 2019


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Normally I'd enjoy roaming the airport terminal by myself, checking the shops, finding a spot to settle down and reminisce every stop of the trip, in anticipation of arriving and picking up the car, showing off the photos, and driving home for a shower. This time, heart heavy, trying to enjoy the last of the trip, but simultaneously silently grieving and mourning. Alone in the room facing the tarmac filled with Air France planes. A moment of reflection. A silent prayer. Mommy! Dreading the moment to face the music and the duty, the contaminated car, the now lonely drive home and the lonely night. An empty feeling. The world's gone silent, has lost its colors in the first time and now the remaining light has gone out. Didnt expect this would happen. didnt think it would affect me so tremendously. But now I'm empty. Alone. Hurt and angry. There's no one there. Now I'm free.

Frederica drove us to the Peretola airport. Explore said they didnt arrange airport transfers and I had to ask the local tour guide or the hotel to arrange a taxi. I was pissed at them. Exodus did all my transfers. But Frederica said it was included. She got tickets for the shuttle or taxi or train for the rest and even drove those who planned to return via Pisa all the way to the Pisa airport. That's service you dont see anymore nowadays. I tipped her quite well. She was an excellent guide. Peretola was still quite empty when we got there at this early hour. Hung out with the canadian couple for a bit until they checked in to their flight to spain. Then I headed to the AF priority counter.

Business class proved again to be a good decision. I needed the privacy. finally got to see Dark Phoenix which I've enjoyed. the TV monitor was big enough and it pops out so the angled seat was perfect to view it. I actually like AF biz class better than Singapore airlines. The seat adjustments were electronic and it could be set to any position, totally flat or somewhere in between. since i detest lying down flat on a plane (it made me dizzy), I could adjust the position I liked and still have my feet up. The seat was positioned slightly towards the window, so there's more privacy and one could look out the window. However, there's only 1 small compartment to store personal belongings whereas Singapore had more nooks to stash things. But the service was nowhere near Singapore. There's no attention to details. they didnt call me by name and didnt come around to check on me every now and then, which was fine since I needed the quiet and the privacy. and when asked if I've wanted a meal, they just slapped a white cloth on the table (didnt look clean enough and certainly not pressed). the food of course wasnt asian but the lamb stew I've chosen was very good. the snack before the starter came in little boxes (are you kidding) but they were savory good. But the hot towel and pre flight drinks were offered. This was the trans atlantic flight. for the eu flight from Firenze, biz class was just having the middle seat vacant and a bottle of water (are you kidding) before the meal. Both flights were comfortable.

So which was my favorite cinque terre village? none was my favorite. I couldnt decide even if I like any of them. Perhaps too many tourists or perhaps we didnt have enough time to really explore each one. I even liked bonassola better than the 5 towns. Initially I had wanted to stay in one of the 5 villages. Now that I've seen the crowds, I think having Bonassola as a base was great. At the end of the day, we could return to the quiet and peaceful town to relax away from the tourists. And I've enjoyed the ferries and the azure trail from corneglia to vernazza. porto venere was actually my favorite but it's not part of cinque terre. and I really liked Lucca.

both san gimignano and sienna were great and the tuscany hikes were very good, even with the difficult one to Montepulciano, I've enjoyed all the hikes. the hotels were OK but the rooms were terrible. Always given the worst rooms. There's so much more in Italia that I still would like to do.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Thursday, September 26, 2019

happy together again

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Saturday, September 21, 2019

Saturday, September 21, 2019

love pesto

Posted by Hippobean at 11:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
didnt really have time to explore Bonassola even after being here for 6 days. Today we hiked around town, up to the Monteretto village and I had an ice cream bar. The trail was up and down slippery at times. Nothing too spectacular but got to see the greater Bonassola. Stopped briefly at the pink church about 300m up and then back down to town. Wasnt hungry but had a seafood risotto with the boys.

At 3:30 we marched to Levanto for our pesto demo. A pesto lover but never actually thought of making it fresh myself. We tasted the one done by the blender and one by hand. Hm, couldnt really tell the difference but I think the manual one was fresher. Then the women had their try on the mortar. Basil, pine nuts, parmisan, garlic (lots of it), a pinch of salt and started to pound. Added olive oil. yum good. Then the guys had their go and we girls decided ours was better! Bought some trofie and pesto sauce. didnt know pesto could come in different variety of flavors, olive, artichoke, walnut, cheese. I've tried them all. Liked the olive one the best. then we were offered soft amaretti (yum and not too sweet) and even lemoncino (that's lemoncello in liguria).

Last supper was at Lungomare again, in the garden under lemon trees. Was so absolutely full with bread and pesto, I only ordered the minestrone that came with so much pasta, beans and veggies, it looked more like a stew than soup, and couldnt finish it. Last night in Cinque Terre, last cup of tea before bed. The trains just kept running outside my window.

Bonassola photos:

Friday, September 20, 2019

Friday, September 20, 2019

cinque terre from the ferry

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Trained to Riomaggiore this morning, our final cinque terre village. from the train station was a tunnel walk to town. The town went up the hill and some steps down to the harbor. I knew I didnt want to do the hike to porto venere. It's the longest one, 15km with 385m of ascent. A few of us the wimpy ones, bought a day ferry pass so we could admire cinque terre from the sea to have a different perspective. It was a fantastic decision as the hikers never got time to see porto venere properly. With a few minutes to spare before the ferry arrived, I walked up the hill to the cathedral and took a few pictures of riomaggiore. Unlike corneglia and vernazza, this small town didnt have many meandering alleys to explore. mostly buildings on either side of the main uphill drag. But the small harbor was picturesque. With the ferry speeding away, riomaggiore looked triangular, with houses on either side and the harbor on the base of the triangle. Very beautiful indeed.

The church on the rock headland with the castle on an imposing clifftop caught everyone's eyes on the ferry. magnificent entry into porto venere harbor. Not part of the cinque terre, porto venere was actually more vibrant. Filled with tourists (what else is new) but nevertheless it was extremely exciting to explore it. The sea views from the Gothic Chiesa San Pietro atop the rock and from the castello Doria, were spectacular and the day was warm, not too hot and the sky clear and spectacularly blue. People were sunbathing at the Grotta dell'Arpaia, the Byron's Grotto. The water was turquoise and green and if you look up from the grotto, you could see the castle. One of the most beautiful sights I've seen. We had pizza lunch by the seafront. On the way back, Jim and I disembarked at Manarola, the final village that the trip didnt cover. I had to visit all 5 villages. The dock was small and the path to town was narrow and people were many. We were immediately put off. But we walked into town a little ways, just to sample the feel of the place. From afar, Manarola was perched on a little ways up the hill, not quite as high up as corneglia. I've read about it online. the author mentioned staying in manarola and did his preferred morning hikes into corneglia. however, Vale said that trail was closed. The daily ferry pass did not go all the way to Levanto, so we had to get off at Monterosso (again) and get a new ticket to Bonassola. We had wanted to get off at Levanto and then walk back. so monterosso one more time and it was the last i had to endure the crowd and the heat.

Dinner was again at Antica Guetta. This time on the terrace in front of the sea. I didnt feel too hungry after the satisfying pizza, but ordered a pasta with porcini (my favorite mushroom, very hard to find back home) and it was so good I cleaned up the plate. Like everyone said, gosh I really did like porto venere. My favorite town on the ligurian sea.

Riomaggiore photos:

Manarola photos:

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Thursday, September 19, 2019

pesto of the world

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today is the free day I was looking forward to. But a bit uneasy as I had to navigate the trenitalia system on my own. Almost chicken'd out. The alternative was to do the easy straight train to La Speza or just chill in Bonassola. But bravely stuck to my plan at the end. the 9:50 train to genoa didnt appear. Had to wait a whole hour for the next one. Had to change at sestri levante (what else is new) and had I not asked the counter, I would have never found the train. It wasnt shown on any of the monitors. The counter said 'T1 bin (binari=track) to Savona, behind the toilets'. Savona? huh? The train was just there, behind the tracks, waiting to depart. Even after I got on board and the train ran for a while, I still wasnt sure it was going to genova principe. Had to ask the people onboard. The train made a lot of stops (earlier at breakfast, Vale did mention that) and it took almost 2 hrs to get to genoa. It was 1PM when I finally arrived at genova principe.

After days in small towns, Genoa looked big and modern and busy. I knew I had to follow along the sea to get to where I was planning to visit. and of course I chose the opposite way to go. but finally found the right direction and saw the gallata maritime museum right on the water's edge in porto antico, the palazzo san giorgio with the beautiful frescoes on the exterior walls, and after thinking I was lost, I've asked a policeman where piazza cavour was, turned my head and saw cavour 21. It was close to closing time so there were no lines. It was around 2:30pm when I ordered the trofie al pesto con fagioli e patata and a coke. The pesto was heavenly and I loved the trofie. The waitress came to ask me if i'd wanted anything else since the cucina was closing. When a customer paid and left, the entire staff said 'grazie' much like some of the sushi restaurants at home. Took a picture of my pasta and the osteria sign to send to tomelia. They were the ones who suggested this place. Tummy happy, headed to the San Lorenzo cathedral which was just a short walk away. Found the Palazzo Reale Balbi, small, unimposing, behind and nestled among houses. Not grand at all. nevertheless, it was on my list and I paid to get in. Almost no tourists. The rooms were ornate but not impressively. The garden was small, overlooked the sea but now there were many building in front.

Missed the 4:11 train back (what else is new) and had to wait another hour (what else is new). So instead of riding it direct to Bonassola, which was about 1.5 hrs, I've decided on impulse to switch at sestri levante for a bit of a break for my legs. Not sure if it was a good decision, as, again I had to wait an hour for the next Bonassola train. Got back around 7:10.

Didnt do dinner that night. Satified I've visited the places I've wanted to visit.

Genova photos:

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

finally Corneglia and Vernazza

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This morning with anticipation, we took the train to Corneglia to start our Azure trail to Vernazza. The train sped through Vernazza (didnt stop). Another of Trenitalia strange moods. Even Vale was surprised. We climbed up the 370 steps to Corneglia. I liked Corneglia. Being 100m up the cliff, every house had a view of the sea. perhaps due to the early hour, there werent too many tourists. Was able to meander through the narrow alleys, up and down the cobble stoned paths and steps, a true feel of the Cinque Terre. Bought a powerade for the hike. Energy drink with electrolytes were probably better than mere mineral water for the hike. The hike was easy with just a few ups and downs along the azure sea. Gorgeous hike indeed but the trail was packed. Made a stop for the lemon slush with great views of Corneglia and Manarola in the distance. Snowie requested a photo with Corneglia perched on the hill. Request granted. The last part was a bit harder as they were steep steps down to Vernazza. Snowie insisted on several photos on the trail with the Vernazza town below so I could send to tomelia. Vain stuffy.

Vernazza reputed to be the most beautiful but I didnt find it so. Most likely due to the hordes of tourists, the place was crowded, every restaurant and shop filled with lines and people. Coming down from the trail, we passed through winding alleys and it did again, like in Corneglia, gave me a feel of cinque terre. climbing up more alleys to the castello Doria but disappointed as the view wasnt that great. Waited for about 20 mins to get the fried calamary and french fries for lunch. There was no place to sit in the crowded town but did finally find a bench near the beach. The calamari was good and fresh. but oh the tourists! A few of us continued to walk to monterosso but again I've opted out. We took a boat to monterosso instead. The driver complained about having to paddle out to sea as motors werent allowed to run on the harbor. Vernazza view from the boat leaving the harbor was very picturesque. Vernazza's unique layout on the jut of land, did indeed make the town look beautiful and different from the rest of the 5 villages. The rock strata on the coast was peculiar. Due to water erosion, said Charles. We came upon 2 shallow caves. Not much to see. the boat docked at Monterosso old town. We were supposed to have a walk in the old town but it never happened. I walked up and down a bit and lost interest. We trained back to Bonassola.

I wasnt too hungry so I've ordered the vegetable soup and on impulse the shrimp souffle for dinner. Never big on souffle but wanted to try it with shrimp. It was too salty. The veggie soup was all beans and thick, not to my liking. It was the most expensive meal and I didnt even enjoyed it. Snowie spent the afternoon by the hotel room window counting and checking out the trains passing by.

Corniglia photos:

Vernazza photos:

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

did not find love in portofino

Posted by Hippobean at 11:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Valentina changed the itinerary which confused all of us. Huh? Instead of the coastal hike through three Cinque Terre villages, we're doing Santa Margherita and Portofino today. I sang 'I found my love in portofino' and Vale laughed and sang a few lines.

So an early morning 40 mins train to Santa Margherita. The train ran along the coast, with glorious views of the sea, and in and out of tunnels. On the way I saw sestri levante and Moneglia stops. sestri levante was where I needed to change trains to Genoa. Moneglia was the base of the Exodus Cinque Terre trip.

We had about 30 mins to explore town. Santa Margherita was a resort town, with high end stores, a beautiful church and many seafront hotels in a long and bright seafront promenade. on impulse, I've decided not to do the hike to portofino today. It's a 8km hike with 430m total ascent, over hills and through San Fruttuoso. I had wanted to see San Fruttuoso but I could get there either by hiking from portofino or by train. I didnt quite fancy another long uphill hike, so I opted out. instead I did the flat easy hour walk to portofino along the coast. It was a beautiful walk but it was very hot. The last quarter of the walk, was actually on the hill side along a park, then down into the famous over rated town. The trail ended at the Chiesa di San Martino and then you walk down to the town. The cove and harbor were smaller than I've expected. It wasnt too crowded yet but as the ferries arrived, they dumped more and more tourists.

Mike and Diane, who also opted out of the long hike, were sitting in front of the harbor. We walked around a bit to check out the stores and restaurants. We've decided Portofino was too over rated as we couldnt understand why all the hype. We didnt see any movie stars or famous personnel. Soon Charles arrived by ferry and joined us. I've decided I wont waste time hanging around with nothing to do until 5. So I bought a boat ticket and returned to Santa Margherita on the ferry.
It was a short but extremely refreshing boat ride. Found out I had to change trains in sestri levante, and had to wait for 2 hrs for the train, as the next one to La Speza wont make a stop in bonassola. So there are 2 trains going south to La Speza. One stops only at all the cinque terre villages and another makes all stops along the way. Each train runs hourly. There would be many more times on this trip I had to deal with these Italian trains that are confusing and unreliable. But I already knew that.

Back in Bonassola, I walked around town and found a restaurant with veal as I was dying for red meat. I sat on one of the tables outside in front of the restaurant. of course they didnt have veal. all they had was meat lasagna. The lasagna here was very different. The meat was actually mixed into the pasta, instead of 1 layer of pasta and 1 layer of meat. 'very good pasta' the waiter said. i didnt like it. the waiter came out and said I could stay as long as I'd like but they were closing (it was nearly 3pm), so they'd appreciate it if I could pay now. I did and they locked up the restaurant, leaving me and a couple next to my table. I was curious what language they were speaking in as I couldnt recognize it. So I've asked. They were hungarians and on holiday here. We've started talking about bonassola and the hiking around the area. After lunch I walked down to the beach. The public area was very small with both sides cordoned off for the private hotel and restaurant uses. Black pebbles beach, no sand. quite a big drop into the sea with some people swimming but lots of sunbathers. The water was cool. I've decided I didnt
like the beach here. later on, nn my way down from my room, I met the rest of the group who opted for the hike. Even the younger fitted NZ couple came back exhausted and looking beat. Nikki said I've made the right choice of skipping the hike. the hike nearly killed her. It was most difficult and she was absolutely wasted.

Dinner was the best in the entire trip. Owned by a Napolitano, the Osteria Antica Guetta was seafront. Vale and I shared a big pot of trofie a la napolitana, trofie pasta filled with shrimps, clams and mussels in shells of course and calamari. The sauce was awesome. It was one of the most delicious pasta I've ever had. I fell in love with trofie. Vale held up a shrimp with her fork and asked me "do you like this animal?". I guess she doesnt like shrimps. More for me, I didnt mind. Diane, who is from Napoli, said the Antica Guetta had the best margarite pizza. The owner was very friendly with us. I noticed the young waiter was very good looking, and the owner called him Gigi. Found out he was called Luigi. sigh! We went back to this restaurant one more time later in the trip as everyone loved the food and the owner.

Santa Margherita photos:

Portofino photos:

Monday, September 16, 2019

Monday, September 16, 2019

first hike and did not like monterosso

Posted by Hippobean at 11:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Italian breakfast was of course continental. Which means lousy. Cold slices of bread, cold cuts and cheese, cereals, scrambled eggs. Nutella (really?), jams and boxes of juices. Coffee machine with expresso, cappuccino, americano, hot latte and hot water as choices. like I've said, lousy. But it's european.

The first hike was from Levanto to Monterosso, the Azure SVA10 route. Quite looking forward to it and I felt good and healthy this morning. We started off walking from our hotel Pensione Moderna in Bonassola, our base, to Levanto, which was the next town in the south. This walk was coastal with gorgeous view of the turquoise sea, clear blue sky and balmy weather. A series of lighted and surprisingly airy pedestrian and bikes only tunnels, cut through the hills, led into Levanto. Levanto a big town with a nice long seafront promenade. Already people were sunbathing. Not many tourists. We gathered picnic lunch material at a grocery. They didnt speak english and I've wanted prosciutto and the attendant pointed at different types of ham on the counter. I guess prosciutto simply meant ham, not exactly the long thin slices I was thinking of. I've pointed at a hard cheese but the attendant said it couldnt be cut and had to be bought in whole. so I've settled for a soft one and she cut 2 slices. Got a small french bread and a box of orange juice. Had wanted an apple but the weight scale was broken and didnt want to waste time waiting for it to be fixed. Outside, there was a red fiat and someone was tying a wide white bow on the hood. A perhaps late 20, early 30's man was standing in front of it. Through the Italian conversation among the people around the fiat, the man was the groom.

Levanto was a new town, no winding labyrinth narrow cobble stoned streets. Aside from the long refreshing seafront promenade and beach, not much was worth seeing in town. We started to ascend about 70 steps up to reach the castello. Not too impressive. From there, it was all gentle uphill along the coast. The views of the town below and the sea were spectacular. The mediterranean style houses along the path all had terraces with fantastic views of course. I wondered who lived in those houses and if they're happy. someone mentioned how they get their groceries up there. There's a road of course. but I dont think they had their groceries delivered.

The path quickly left the coast and it's now pine forest. Very steep with slippery rock 300m trail up to the ruins of St Antonio, the monastery of Augustinian monks, where we stopped for our picnic lunch. Up here on punta mesco, we could see Monterosso, the first of the 5 villages of Cinque Terre, below us and then further south, Vernazza and Corniglia on the hill.

Punta mesco was the best spot to view the 3 villages all in 1 sight. Nice way to start the trip. Many french hikers and they brought a bottle of red wine for lunch.
The final stretch was a 380m descent to Monterosso, all rocky giant steps. On the way down, we encountered hikers going uphill from town to St Antonio.

The hike took almost 7 hours, with a half hour in Levanto, half hour for lunch and a few stops along the way to catch our breath. While others declared it was a difficult hike, I was surprised it didnt feel that difficult for me. In fact, I've quite enjoyed it. It's only 9 km but it felt very long and I was tired at the end, but the climbs didnt feel so hard exactly. Normally I'd be bitching and swearing about the climbs and expected to be breathless with frequent rest stops, but I did surprisingly well.

The trail ended in the new town in Monterosso and the first order was gelato. The train station poured out a multitude of tourists and they filled the entire promenade. It put me off instantly so I just sat in front of the station, under a brutal sun. No shades anywhere except in the cafes. We took the train back to Bonassola, which was only 2 stops away.

Dinner was at Lungo Mare. The menu had gnocchi with lobster and pasta with lobster. I had want that but you need to order for 2 people and I had no one to share it with. So I settled for the seafood ravioli which came in stuffed with seafood and a few langostini. The sauce was heavenly.

Levanto photos:

Monterosso photos:

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sunday, September 15, 2019

start of cinque terre

Posted by Hippobean at 11:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Arrived at Pisa Galileo Galilei airport on time and luggage came out almost immediately. No customs as eu to eu Ams to Pisa. Scouted out the left luggage area and found where to catch the PisaMover. It was a warm afternoon, 2 hours to kill, and I settled down on he bench in the courtyard and waited for Explore arrival for the members collection.

The drive to Bonassola was along the Ligurian sea with a spectacular sunset on the left. The 2 lanes highway, the traffic signs, all so european, so familiar. We passed by the Carrara hills where the famous marble was from. We left the highway and the road started to wind down the hill in switchbacks. The sea town below was illuminated by the lights in the houses, the hill a giant dark spot. "It looks very beautiful in the day. Of course now, it's night and cant see nothing' said our driver. But for me, the town was already beautiful in the dark. The Pensione Moderna was just as it's shown in the online pictures. My room was on the top floor and the stairs were many and I had to lift my luggage all the way up. Of course, there wasnt an elevator. To my satisfaction, the room was big enough, with a double bed and it faced the front of the hotel. There's even a window in the bathroom. Both the bedroom and bathroom windows had the european green shutter and they were popped out. I could see the train tracks on the left side. A train passed in rapid speed. The noise was tolerable. The room didnt shake. Walked down to have a late dinner. Seafood pasta. Mussels, clams, calamari with pasta in tomato sauce. The pasta was of course al dente. It wasnt bad for hotel food.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Saturday, August 24, 2019

hike to Loma Prieta EpiCenter

Posted by Hippobean at 9:00 PM 0 comments Links to this post
A gentle walk in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park to the Loma Prieta Epicenter turned into a scrambling over the Aptos creek. We started on the Aptos Fire road, what used to be the lumber railroad but no signs of any rail tracks remains, crossed the steel bridge, past the logger's cabin (nothing left but the foundation), descended onto the creek, and rapidly lost the Aptos Creek trail. Ended up crisscrossing the Aptos creek (and Hippo got baptized twice) until M hiked up the steep left bank filled with poison oak and found signs of a trail. Reached the EpiCenter with a plac designating the earthquake date and time, latlong, and magnitude. After a brief nuts, japanese sweet potato and almond chockies, we headed back, this time firmly on the trail. Still had to cross the creek twice. Except for getting wet and the poison oak, not bad of a hike.

nomad At Loma Prieta EpiCenter

nomad Scrambling over the Aptos creek

nomad Hiking along the Aptos creek

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Sunday, July 07, 2019

paly 2019

Posted by Hippobean at 11:49 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Ramen noodles at Jinya first before the clay and glass fair. on impulse, popped in to nordstrom rack and got a pair of Sanuk flipflops for $7. A found a size 4 blue ballerina. Very cute. Happy with our purchases. This year's Paly fair was bigger, more booths and in perfect weather. Bought 2 bowls, one from Mari and another at MM. Dinner at Coconuts in downtown Paly. Lousy service and not so good jamaican jerk. My curry goat was OK, not as flavorful as backayard. Spent too much!

Some of this year's exhibits:


Sunday, May 05, 2019

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Ceramics 2019

Posted by Hippobean at 9:29 PM 0 comments Links to this post
This year was uncommonly special. We've visited galleries outside of Davis where M's pieces were been exhibited, the Epperson Gallery of Ceramic Art in Crockett and the Blue Line Arts in Roseville. I've never been to either of the cities. The Epperson Gallery was located in an old house on top of a hill with views of the bay and the Carquinez bridges. The day was fine and with the windows open, the gallery was airy, had good lighting and was very pleasant. Interesting pieces, quite different from what we typically saw at Davis. M's Homage to Pima I was being shown here. Lunch was at the Dead Fish, just up from the Carquinez bridge, with expansive views of the Carquinez straits. The menu included Recently Demised Fish of the Day, Wicked Super Slide Wiches, Unsurpastas, Dead or Alive Surf for your Turf, and Other Dead Things. I chose the garlic noodles with shrimp unsurpasta. It was delicious although a bit on the oily side. The bread came lightly toasted, exactly to my liking. Although the prices were a bit on the high side, the views made up for them. We sat on the patio with heaters on and a light breeze which blew every now and then, the bay and the 2 Carquinez bridges in front of us. Beyond we could also see the Benicia bridge. It was a good lunch. Next we drove past Davis and Sacramento to get to Roseville. Up here was a lot hotter and we had freeze brew coffee at a local cafe before heading to the gallery. The blue Line Arts gallery was a bit bigger than the Epperson and with better pieces. M's Tear Drop with Waves was being exhibited here.

This year we stayed at a new hotel, La Quinta, a bit further away from Davis downtown. We've booked rather late so the Hallmark Inn was full which turned out better since there were renovations there. Like usual, we hit all the major galleries and some of the college exhibits. D arrived around 7 and joined us for a bit of galleries exploring. Our favorite dumpling place was closed so we went to the small noodle joint just behind it for dinner instead. What was thought as an early night, I've started flipping channels and hit GOT in spanish. Intrigued, I've pressed the guide and found it in english. What luck, saw the battle of winterfell and from all places, at a hotel in Davis! the episode ending was good. Just when you've thought all hope was lost, Arya to the rescue and who would know it was Bran who caused the white king's demise?

Breakfast at la quinta was more extensive than expected. Make your own waffle, eggs and sausage links. Surely better than the Hallmark Inn. M sneaked us in to the John Natsoulas ceramic lectures in the theater across the street from the Hallmark Inn. Stephen Braun's talk I didnt like. Self serving monologues that tried to be funny but were not. Just another arrogant, unkempt, foul mouth artist. He made his pieces sound like they served some higher purpose, but a human statue weighted down with objects was far from actually being constructive to society. Instead of glorifying your artwork, you should first clean up your mouth. I felt asleep on and off during his talk.

I was truly impressed by Kim Dickey, Professor of Ceramics at the University of Colorado, in Boulder, Colorado, when she mentioned the 'voices'. These are the 'voices' all true artists have and they nag you until we bring those voices alive by creating whatever they are, sculptures, characters in a story, sketches. She blew me away when she said she was asked to do some pieces for Portugal, and so she visited the Portuguese cathedrals and studied every maritime knot, and created a link of all the different knots around the walls of the exhibit. She has and understood the artist voices and when asked to do Portugal, she found the soul of the country. She's a true artist.

M's Triskelion 1 was being exhibit at the Artery. I've quite liked Clayton's Quetzalcoatl. Probably the only piece from him that I actually liked. He lost quite a bit of weight and was looking better.

T and D told us about the beershakes at Burgers and Brew and we must try it. The shake was a combo of vanilla and chocolate ice cream with a bit of guiness. heavenly good. I split a chorizo burger with M and I was filled up. another very good lunch.

One more treat this year was to enjoy the most beautiful pieces in this year's exhibit at the Davis Center of Arts. We've never came here before, probably due to its location being away from the center of happenings. But glad we did this time, as although very small, the gallery had the most beautifully created pieces, in my opinion. the building was next to a very green park and the day was fine, not as hot as the previous day, and it was a nice way to round up the visit.

after more galleries, we went back to chill at the hotel pool. Had drinks at the D street steakhouse. For dinner we picked the Yunchan Yakitori for its tapas. duck liver, pork belly, agadeshi tofu, chicken katsu, garlic brussel sprouts, tempura calamari, all heavenly delicious. M was curious about the restaurant, so we've asked to talk to the owner (in japanese). Back at the hotel, I've watched the battle of winterfell again and had a good night sleep. Even gianSnowie enjoyed this trip as he finally got his safecar trip and got to sit in front of the hotel room window to watch the hotel pool, watched GOT with me and slept on the big bed.

G and P joined us the next morning when we were attending the outdoor demo on how to make raku ceramics. that arrogant of an artist was showing us how to create masks, first in clay and then put them in the kiln in low fire. I had wanted to see what the clay looked like after being baked but didnt quite catch it as we took G&P to see the galleries. Had sandwiches at the delta of venus, another local joint, before departing.

This was the most enjoyable annual ceramics weekend so far. Lots of professional pieces, good meals, great company and good weather. It made up for missing it last year.

This year's ceramic exhibits:


Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sunday, April 21, 2019

tulum nuevamente

Posted by Hippobean at 11:29 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Well, not really. The first time only been to the Tulum ruins but didnt do town.

Morning drive to the Cancun airport and thus the Mayaland tour has ended. We didnt know where to meet our Tulum transfer and had Luis not been with us, we'd had never found the place to meet our transfer. He let us borrow his phone to call Happy Transfer to tell them we're at the airport waiting for the pickup . A little over an hour drive on the long, flat, uneventful road brought us to the Blue Sky hotel. Now I'm back at Quintana Roo once more. The Blue Sky was exactly as shown in the online pictures. Very lovely quaint hotel, cozy open air restaurant, tiny beach. A&T had a sea front room on the second floor. Mine was partially obstructed by the adjacent building and tree in front of my room. But the room was very lovely and in modern decor. The bathroom had double vanities, double shower heads in a spacious stall and a toilet room with window. The hotel provided free all you want drinks in the mini fridge, soda, beer, coconut water and a coffee machine with coffee pods. A hammock in the balcony. I was quite happy. T went to swim and kayak in the cenote across from the hotel lane and A and I had a chicken sandwich in a toasted baguette. Very yummy. There was not enough time to taxi to the Maya ruins and we've decided to skip it. Not entirely sure if T was OK with it but both A and I had been to the ruins before. We just wanted to chill at the hotel and enjoy its amenities. So no Tulum ruins with the turquoise Caribbean beach for T. Although no big temples, I remember the Tulum Maya ruins, situated on a hill above a very blue sky and very white sandy beach, to be very nice and intimate. I've enjoyed them. But after seeing all the major maya ruins, I didnt think T would have missed much. He went snorkeling on the beach instead. All kayak and snorkels were complements provided by the hotel. so now T had swum in both sides of the Gulf and in a cenote. He got what he came to do. Very relaxing day to end our trip. We had wanted to dine at the Nomade restaurant but it was fully booked till July. The hotel had suggested another expensive hotel restaurant but the taxi would cost over $100 one way. So we've decided to just eat around the hotel and checked out the other hotels nearby. We've finally decided to just dine at our hotel restaurant since the menu had what we wanted. A had an avocado shrimp pizza, T had veggie pappardelle and I had a whole octopus with garlic. It was tasty albeit a bit too oily. In the evening we caught the moon, round and golden and bright above the ocean. This night I slept very well.

The following morning I went down for breakfast a little before 7. both the reception and the restaurant were empty. found out they didnt start breakfast until 7:30 (unlike what the receptionist told us the day before). Happy transfer was there on time but waited for us to finish our meal. A couple of hours to waste at the Cancun airport, i blew my last pesos on a coffee packet that had a maya figure on it. American airlines back to Dallas. I spent the time onboard playing millionaire and battleship on the monitor. At Dallas FortWorth, we ate at the airport Maggiano's. The airport priced food was just so so, not to the true Maggiano's quality.

It was very enjoyable to travel and visit Mayaland with A&T. It was indeed one of the best trips I've had. As usual, no matter how great the sites were, it was the people in the group that make the trip memorable. We'd enjoyed very nice hotels, colonial style haciendas and jungle lodges (although not always given the best rooms) specially the river facing cabin in Rio Dulce, and some very nice meals, and of course, very nice trip mates. SmallLeo went out of control, taking photos with every major monument, every major pyramid and temple. Very spoiled Stuffy. 25 years ago I've started the Mayaland in the Yucatán and Quintana Roo and made a point to cover the rest of the mayaland at a later time. With this trip, I've made good to my own promise.

Blue Sky Hotel photos:

Friday, April 19, 2019

Friday, April 19, 2019

Chichén Itzá mas una vez

Posted by Hippobean at 11:18 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Chicken Pizza (Chichén Itzá) was the white one. I remember El Castillo big and tall and white. I remember scaling it all the way to the very top. This time it was roped off. The day was cloudy and the monuments reflected the mood. I remember El Caracol which we could see from the Mayaland hotel. The second most iconic monument after El Castillo. The temple of the Guerreros was also cordoned off, so no one could see the Chacmool, the reclining figure with its head facing 90 degrees, up close anymore. The Grand Ball Court, biggest in Mayaland, was littered with tourists. It rained last time I was here and it rained again on my way back from the secret cenote. A pool of very dirty water. Souvenir stands all over the place. The crowds simply put me off.

Lunch was at a restaurant not far from the Maya site. The menu had poc chuc which Luis said it meant pork chop but it also came with beef and chicken. I've ordered the pork to be authentic and it was very good. Another good and satisfying meal. After lunch we arrived at the Mayaland hotel. We were put on a 3 rooms bungalow, the furthest from the reception and restaurant building. I had no recollection of the Mayaland hotel at all except of the view of the El Caracol from the entrance. I was given the last room in the bungalow, a very large room with a curved window, wooden round table with side carvings and chairs. The room provided coffee machine with coffee packets and tea, cups and saucers. The bathroom had a jacuzzi tub. Was quite happy. The hotel style rooms were in the main building above the reception. Some had direct views of El Caracol and some had views of the top of El Castillo. The hotel also had a small planetarium in a round building with a very colorful Chaac figure. T went for a swim in the main pool (the hotel had 3) while the rest of us explored the hotel and just chilled.

Last supper was at the hotel restaurant with Mexican live music, played and sang by 3 guitarists. Food was over priced and not good at all. After dinner, Luis and T competed their cell phone star apps and we strained our necks to look at the clear starry sky.

Later that night I tried the jacuzzi tub. Bad idea. After filling the tub with water I've turned on the jets. They spew water all over and completely flooded the bathroom. Spent a good amount of time drying the bathroom and used up both beach towels.

The night was cool and windy and i had to double the bed cover (no blankets were provided). The room was extra nice but it was the last night on the trip and as usual, I've tried to prolong it and did not sleep well.

Chichén Itzá photos:

Mayaland Hotel and Bungalows photos:

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Mérida segunda vez

Posted by Hippobean at 11:17 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Not felt like it but went with group to check out the market nonetheless. After getting lost a bit, we found it and got ripped off buying a traditional blouse for Mom. Afterwards we found a local restaurant on a side street and ordered lime soup and chicken tamales. The soup was thick and extremely salty. We sent it back. The waiter wasnt too happy. The tamale was edible. Didnt really tried any tacos on this trip. Havent seen any burritos in any restaurant menus (peasant food?). and this was the first time we saw tamales on the menu. should be smarter to stay away from any peasant mexican dish. Wanted to walk the paseo Montejo to see the mansions but the afternoon was much too hot. So for the rest of the day, we simply chilled by the pool. Had group dinner at El Pancho's, sitting in an outdoor patio. Food was so so and it was very humid and hot with lots of mozzies. Mérida, didnt much like it the first time and didnt much like it a second time either.

Mérida photos:

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Uxmal otra vez

Posted by Hippobean at 11:16 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Uxmal (you smell) was always the dark one. Chichén Itzá had white monuments. That was how I remember them. But Uxmal this time looked very clean as if they've restored the monuments. The first sight you saw upon entering the site was the back of el Adivino Pyramid with a mighty steep staircase. Legend has it that a dwarf, son of a witch, was challenged by the ruler to build the tallest monument overnight. The dwarf ran back to this mother for help and the next morning the people found him sleeping on top of the 35m height pyramid. Nice story. This step pyramid is unique because the sides are round. For me this is the most impressive mayan pyramid. 25 years ago I climbed to the top of this pyramid. As we rounded the pyramid to the front, another 60 degree staircase with images of chaac on both sides and at the top of the temple entrance. there were structures with corbel arches in front of the pyramid and further away the Nunnery Quadrangle with intricate pattern carvings and a serpent covering the entire building. Further up was the governor's palace with a jaguar altar in front. SmallLeo took many photos with his cousin jaguar. Last time I was able to climb el Adivino but this time it was blocked off. But the grand pyramid behind the governor's palace was climbable and so I did.

After Uxmal, Luis took us to have lunch at a restaurant that cooked the meat in a pit. Like in a hawaiian luau and camping in wadi rum. I had mixed meat, chicken and pork. The meat was tender as all meat cooked in the earth were. We also had the lime soup for the first time which was most tasteful. It was a very good meal. After that, a señor with a big sombrero came offering tequila pops and playing cucaracha.

After lunch we reached Mérida. Forrest kept saying Mérida was a big city. I dont really remember Mérida being a big city. In fact, last i was there, our local guide gave us some free time to explore on our own, and we decided not to stay as there wasnt much to see. Well not interesting to us anyway.

The Casa del Balam hotel was another colonial style hotel, perfectly located a few blocks from the main plaza which i remember quite well with cloister like arches in the buildings surrounding the square. The hotel courtyard had spanish tiles, terracota, carved stone arches and walled gardens. We were all put on the 5th floor with quite big rooms, colonial antiques, wrought iron accessories and marble floors, and overlooking the universidad and the theater. Towards the evening, we went to see the video mapping on the Francisco Montejo house which is now a bank. The video mapping was quite nice, mildly entertaining. Afterwards we dined at the cafe la Habanna which had very interesting regional menu with longanizas, panuchos and chochenitas. I've tried one not really knowing what they were. it was just so so. None of us bought any coffee there even though it was reputed to be very good. Tomorrow a free day in Mérida. Shopping and sight seeing. A slow day and looking forward to not do much and just chill.

Uxmal = The present name seems to derive from Oxmal, meaning "three times built". This seems to refer to the site's antiquity and the times it had to rebuild. The etymology is disputed; another possibility is Uchmal which means "what is to come, the future." By tradition, this was supposed to be an "invisible city," built in one night by the magic of the dwarf king. -wikipedia

Uxmal photos:

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Campeche by the gulf

Posted by Hippobean at 11:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Morning drive from Chiapas through Tabasco into the Campeche district. Stopped at the Tucan Siho Playa hotel for a delicious seafood lunch with sweeping views of the Gulf of Mexico. T went for a swim in the gulf. Although the beach was small, blue blue sea and white sand. Modern hotel with colonial decor and Maya touches. Nicely appointed rooms with Maya designs. Chilled by the beach and awesome lunch. Very pleasant afternoon.

Entered the fortified port city of San Francisco de Campeche old town through the Puerto de La Terra, the earth gate. The historic Campeche looked like a miniature Antigua but by the sea. Narrow cobblestone streets, colorful houses along. A few churches. We've walked around a bit, small town, not much to see or do. Late afternoon but streets were already blocked for restaurant and bar open air sitting. Our hotel the Castelmar dates back to 1800 and initially an army barracks, with rooms decorated in colonial style with high ceilings with wood beams and cedar furniture. However, colonial style means windows open to a courtyard and therefore the rooms are dark. No net on the windows so couldnt open them because Campeche is malaria zone. But my room was good size and comfortable enough with AC. A and I tried out the bazar artesanal handicraft shop inside the ex-templo de san jose, an old inactive church with a lighthouse. Bought a shot glass with Pakal mask for D. Before dinner we went through the Puerta del mar, the sea gate to the Malecón, the waterfront promenade to observe the sunset on the gulf. Quite spectacular as there was nothing blocking the sun dipping into the horizon on the Gulf. A modern monument depicting an angel (??) with wings expanding on 2 sides of the square pillar and illuminated in purple after sun down. All locals and tourists were out in the evening. Mexico cities have these colorful sculptures in different colored letter blocks with maya figures sketched on the letters denoting the city name in each city. We first saw it in El Petén. Not being really hungry but decided to try out one of the upstairs cafe on the plaza Principal. Bad idea since the trees covered the palacio centro cultural where the video mapping was being shown. The pastas we've ordered were too cheesy, salty and not much else in terms of flavor. Mucked around a bit in the plaza Principal with the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción all lite up. Slow walk back to the hotel for an early evening. Shame not enough time to really experience this nice colonial seaport town.

Campeche photos:

Monday, April 15, 2019

Monday, April 15, 2019

Palenque my favorite

Posted by Hippobean at 11:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Expected grandeur and Palenque delivered. A big monument the Temple XIII, the temple of Inscriptions where Pakal, my favorite Maya dude, was buried deep inside, and Tumba de la Reina Roja, the tomb of the Red Queen, first sight you beheld once you rounded the turn upon entering the Maya city. Impressive! The queen tomb was covered in red. Bas-reliefs on the roof comb of the Temple of Inscriptions. From a bit afar, one could see the Temple of the Cross, high above. The Palace compound, with the aqueduct running beside it, had intricate structures, a 4-level observation tower, Corbel arch corridors and the Patio de Los Cautivos, an inner courtyard showing relief panels of the captives, and a grand staircase descending to the ball court and to the breathtaking Temple of the Count, Templo del Conde, on the left. Most impressive! We climbed the temple of the Sun, then the Temple of the Cross, which had spectacular views of the entire Palenque site, and the temple of the Foliated Cross, which had carved wall panels and hieroglyphs.

Palenque is huge and only a quarter of it is open to public. But the quarter of it is manificent enough. SmallLeo couldnt stop wanting to take photos with the monuments. And quite a few he had. Looked everywhere for a fridge magnet with Pakal's face but couldnt find one I like. Also looked for a tshirt with his face but only found some that had either the round calendar with his face in the middle or too much text, so in the end I ended up with no Pakal fridge magnet and no Pakal tshirt. Sigh.

Gosh, I really liked Palenque, my favorite of the Maya sites. And I was a bit infatuated with Pakal the Great, 8 Ahau and Sun Shield. His tomb replica is in Mexico city museum so i doubt I'd ever see it. Alberto Ruz Lhuillier, the Mexican archaeologist who discovered Pakal's tomb was buried right in front of the Pakal's temple.

Finally had our picnic lunch with bread, crackers and tuna at A&T's porch. The light but satisfying lunch in the afternoon jungle atmosphere with birds on the trees and cuanti mundis roaming around, was relaxing and really quite nice. For the rest of the day, we've explored the hotel site, dined at the restaurant and just chilled out. Very pleasant and enjoyable day.

Palenque - Its ancient name was Lakamha (“Big Water”) and its modern name comes from the nearby Spanish colonial settlement of Santo Domingo de Palenque

Palenque photos:

Hotel Chan-Kah photos:

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Sunday, April 14, 2019

maya colored murals - Bonampak

Posted by Hippobean at 11:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Every time Marco Aurelio, our driver, tried to drive around it, the pavo ocelado ran into the car. Luis started to make turkey cries which only made it angry. In its fury, finally the ocellated turkey gave up and let us leave. But not until after all of us had our photos of this colorful peacock like bird.

Today we left Guatemala at Bethel and crossed the Usumacinta river by boat into Mexico at Frontera Corozal. Since we're leaving extra early, the hotel packed us box breakfast. I was standing at the entrance to the Tikal Inn when a woman came to ask if we were going to Flores. It turned out she and her boyfriend booked a car from the jungle lodge to take them to Flores but the the car dumped them at the Tikal Inn and therefore stranded in our hotel. Luis graciously offered to take them into our van and cross to Mexico with us. The boat ride on the Usumacinta was only about 20 minutes, driven by 2 little kids. Sand banks on both sides, not much to see but the wind was cool. At the Mexican custom, we all had to fill out new forms and they even made Luis, who was Mexican, fill out a form too. Then somehow we didnt had to pay the 550 pesos to get in. First we were told we had to, then they told us to pay at another building, then we didnt have to pay. Welcome to Mexican confusion.

Ah Bonampak, the Maya site with the painted murals. Never knew Mayan had colored murals and never heard of Bonampak until I saw this trip. The murals were inside 3 separate chambers on top of the temple. The paintings were frescoes, with bright turquoise, rust and yellows. Mural 1 depicted Chan Muwaan II and his wife Lady Rabbit’s presentation of the Devine Ruler’s Heir to the royal court and visiting dignitaries. Mural 2 displayed brutal warfare and conquering. Mural 3 showed battle victory celebration with ruler's family puncturing their tongues for bloodletting. very colorful, however, one needed to dash in and out because only 4 people were allowed in at a time and there were lines of people waiting, so really not enough time to appreciate the artwork. 3 stelae but the most interesting one was stela 2 where the ruler Chan Muwaan II was engaged in a bloodletting ceremony with his mother or his wife. The site was small and the main temple although big enough to contain the temple of the murals and smaller structures, not very tall nor impressive.

After this we reached Palenque, a small town and our hotel Chan-Kah just a short distance from the Maya site. This was the best hotel in the entire trip. Located inside the jungle, it boasted of 2 swimming pools, a grand restaurant, with cabins that seemed to go on forever, and a stream cutting through the complex. The rooms were single buildings 'casitas', beautiful with matching curtains, bed covers and toss pillows in Maya designs. The rooms were not big but each had a porch with comfy chairs and a small table. Agoutis and birds everywhere. Very loud Howler monkey cries. Since no one wanted to bother to call a taxi into town, we dined at the hotel restaurant. The food was OK, prices not too bad but service the pits. But evenings were great since one could sit in the porch, hear the jungle noise and drink teas.

Bonampak = 'painted walls' in modern Mayan. Known anciently as Ak'e or, in its immediate area as Usiij Witz, 'Vulture Hill'

Bonampak photos:

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Tikal in the morning and at night

Posted by Hippobean at 11:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Good idea to start Tikal very early in the morning. Air was cool, very few tourists. Animals and birds were out. Our local guide Samuel led us into the park and pointed out mut muts, woodpeckers and howler monkeys on trees, a giant saba tree and cuati mundis. They're everywhere and one could hear the howler monkeys (very loud) and woody woodpecker destroying the tree trunks. Temple Q, the first we encountered, was climbable, so we did. Then the infamous Jaguar temple, Temple 1 facing Temple 2 on the main plaza. A wonder to admire. Not allowed to climb Temple I but there's a steep wooden staircase behind temple 2, so at least we could climb to the top to take in the entire complex. There's also a wooden staircase leading to the top of the grandest temple, the Great Pyramid, the Mundo Perdido. Asked why it was called that and the answer was the archaeologists found sexual connotations in the carvings which could reveal the builders were high on psychedelics or the archaeologists themselves high on mushrooms. The view from its top was spectacular as one could see the top of all the temples above the foliage. Last we climbed the switchback wooden stairs to get up to the top of Temple IV, the tallest. Ran back to the hotel for a late breakfast just before they stopped serving it. souvenir shopping was grand at Tikal. An entire area reserved for shops just outside of the entrance to the site. We shopped big time.

Legs tired, we retired back to the hotel for another sit by the pool. Around 5, we started the sunset tour. I thought the sunset tour was to just find a spot in Tikal and admire the sunset perhaps from atop a pyramid. But it turned out to be much more. It was quite a long walking tour. First we went to the south side of the site. The temples were different in style, such as Temple 6, the temple of Inscriptions, which had big chaac eyes. Then we came upon the ruins of the Palacio de las Acanaladuras, with white washed slaps for walls. Temple V, the mortuary pyramid which had a round top, was brilliant with the sun setting behind it. Back at the main plaza, we witnessed the jaguar shadow creeping across Temple I. SmallLeo took many photos with his cousin jaguar shadow. We climbed temple IV again and watched the sunset from up there. Very tired, and in the dark, we went hunting for bats in a cave. Spotted a tarantula and a tiny scorpion on our way back to the hotel.

Since our hotel restaurant was so pricey and food so bad, I've suggested to dine at the next door Jungle Lodge. The lodge looked very grand and modern and the restaurant menu extensive and not expensive. I had garlic shrimps and it was delicious. Tummy happy but legs tired, we walked the short distance back to the Tikal Inn and just in time to grab a shower before the lights went out again. That evening, our last in Tikal, I had my usual tea sitting in front of my thatch roof hut with SmallLeo, in complete darkness. I didnt even turn on my USB light. The night was pitch black. What a day it was.

Tikal photos:

Friday, April 12, 2019

Friday, April 12, 2019

Night without light

Posted by Hippobean at 8:10 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Morning boat ride on the Rio Dulce. Calm waters, beautiful clear blue sky. Up on the lago Dulce, mangroves, tea plants, birds flying freely and sunbathing on tree branches. Giant red water lilies floating on the lake. Nice resort hotels and homes. Down by the strait, fort San Filipe, small but impressively still guarding the narrow passage. A very nice float on Rio Dulce.

On our way to Tikal, we've stopped at a supermarket in El Petén to use the ATM and to purchase some picnic material to eat in the van rather than spending time in a sit down lunch since we have to cross the border to Mexico and a long drive to Palenque the day after tomorrow. Lunch today was in El Petén, on lago Petén Itzá with views of the Island of Flores. I had Argentine chorizo and horchata that had peanut powder on top. The chorizo was very good but hated the horchata. Not like the ones we have at home and that peanut powder just itched my throw.

By the afternoon we've arrived at our hotel the Tikal Inn, just a short walk to the ruins. Lovely quaint Inn with a nice swimming pool and bungalows. The generator was only on for a few hours of the day since we're now inside the park and I came prepared with a USB charged light. T went for a swim. When Luis jumped in, an agouti jumped in after him. The hotel attendant tried several times unsuccessfully to scoop the creature out. Finally the animal jumped out of the pool on his own. That was the highlight of the afternoon. We just chilled at the hotel since there wasnt anything else to do. Grabbed a shower before dinner before the lights went out. We had drinks by the pool in the dark before dinner. Dinner at the restaurant was over priced and not good at all.

The evening tea at my bungalow porch was in complete darkness. But it was also in complete quiet, no jungle noise whatsoever. it was hot and stuffy inside the mozzie net and i did not get much sleep that night and anxious to see Tikal the first time.

Tikal Inn photos:

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Thursday, April 11, 2019

got lucky at rio dulce

Posted by Hippobean at 11:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Today drove back across the border to Quatemala. First stop was Quiriguá, a Maya site i've never heard of till now. On the way, we've entered Chiquita Banana land. Mucho banana trees. Quiriguá was small with no notable temples, but it's stela and zoomorph central. Zoomorfo, never heard of these until now. They were altars in animal forms. Very artistic stone monuments. The tallest one Estela E, 12m monolith, featured Cauac Sky (K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat) holding the Manikin Sceptre in his right hand to show his divine rulership. Estela I, Jade Sky was depicted sitting on a raised throne surrounded by the Sky Band. Estela J glyphs told us Cauac Sky beheaded 18-Rabbit, ruler of Copán who originally made Cauac Sky the ruler of Quirguá, to gain Quiriguá independence. Although Quiriguá boasts of the tallest stela in Maya land and many more than in Copán, I liked the stelae in Copán better. Beyond the stela plaza, there's the central plaza and acropolis, not very interesting. In a souvenir shop, T saw a circular carving depicting a Spaniard (Cortez?) fighting an Aztec, with a Serpent between them. Very significant piece of Art.

By the afternoon, we've reached Rio Dulce. Had fish lunch under the Puente Rio Dulce. Nice breezy restaurant, very pleasant next to the river. After lunch we've boarded a boat to cross the river to our hotel, the Catamaran. Really enjoyed this short refreshing boat ride. The Catamaran was owned by an american. TripAdvisor reviews complained of the owner not trusting the employees and guests must pay him first and given a token to get the drinks at the bar. Bad reviews about him sitting at the bar watching TV, switching channels to suit him, being rude to guests and everything run army style. All the cabins were named in military names for A-Z. alpha, bravo, charlie, delta, oscar, whisky, zulu. When asked to turned down the TV so the guests could talk and relax at the bar, he told the guests to go someplace else. So i've dubbed him Basil Fawlty. When I asked Luis about him, Luis laughed out loud and said he would probably be at the bar watching TV. So the TripAdvisor reviews were true. Dinner had to be pre-ordered and was over priced and not good. After dinner, i wanted to go to the bar and see if the infamous owner was there. To my great disappointment, he didnt show up. However, both T&A and I got lucky as we got the Golfo and Hotel cabins, right on the river. Big cabin with 1 double and 2 single beds. Basic but with AC and the balcony facing the river. Was so sure with these tours, we wont be getting a river facing cabin, but was utterly pleasantly surprised. Spent some time reading my book sitting in the balcony with SmallLeo and drinking my tea there after dinner. The river view with the Rio Dulce bridge and the other riverbank was calming in the early evening. This trip wont be any good if i didnt get a room with a balcony right on the river. So I lucked out and was more than happy. Now only if I got to see the owner's face as well.

Quiriguá photos:

Rio Dulce photos:

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

copán the most beautiful

Posted by Hippobean at 11:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
'if you dont remember anything, you will always remember 18 Rabbit' Gladis, our Copán Ruinas park guide told us before we started out for the site. As we walked, crunching the gravel on the path to the ruins, Gladis started 'Copán is not very big but it's the most beautiful. The others have big monuments. Copán has beauty'. Before the stone staircase leading up to the acropolis, Gladis spotted some mut muts on the trees. Soon we spotted a few more and everyone started to photograph them. Up the staircase, Temple 16 was the first sight we beheld. Not quite imposing as the top was long gone. Only the lower parts of the step pyramid and the steep grand staircase remained. 'Inside this pyramid, archaeologists discovered a sacrificial temple, totally intact' Gladis continued. 'The archaeologists named it Rosalila as it's completely covered in red. Only the archaeologists can go inside. But you can see it by paying $8 but I dont recommend it because you see through a small window with glass and it's very dark inside.'. Both the Estela P and the altar Q that stood in front of Temple 16 were replicas. The real ones were in the site museum, which meant I had to visit it. Estela P was completely carved on all 4 sides, like nothing I've ever seen. It depicted Butz Chan, the 11th Ruler of Copán. Altar Q showed all 16 rulers, 4 on each side of the square altar. The front panel showed the first ruler Yax Kuk Mo passing the Royal Sceptre to the 16th ruler Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat, Yax Pac, who wasnt from the royal blood line, so this symbolized his legitimate claim to power. On the left of Temple 16, it's the sacrificial Temple 11 where the rulers communed with the heavens and the underworld. 2 howler monkeys flanked the stairs. Luis, our tour leader, posed for a photo. 2 serpents heads with tongues sticking out, stood on each end of the temple.

Leaving the Acropolis area, on the right of temple 16, it's the royal residences next to the Copán river, which corroded much of the site and was diverted away from the temples. Then up the stairs on the left, a tomb, believed to be of ruler Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat (Yax Pac). 2 more temples on each side of the east court, structure 18, the temple of rebirth, which sat on top of Yax Pac's tomb, and on the other side of the court, temple 22, where the rulers performed their sacrifices for the people by cutting their penises (ouch). Temple 22 entrance had very detailed carvings of human skulls and images of Chaac, the rain god, at the corner of the walls. This temple looked very scary to me so I only took a photo of Chaac carved where 2 walls met.

Down from Temple 22, we got a view of the main plaza where the hieroglyphic staircase of Temple 26 stood. Next to it, the ball court, and beyond, the plaza of the stelae. All Maya temples have grand staircases but none was carved. It had 2500 individual glyphs and its sides flanked by serpentine birds and snakes. 2 smoke jaguar statues sat on the staircase. In front of the stairway, Estela M, portrayed K’ak’ Yipyaj Chan K’awiil, Smoke Shell. The ball court was only second to the big one in Chichén Itzá. Instead of rings, the ball must hit the macaw heads.

Then it was stela after stela, each different and carved on all sides. Some still showed the red color that was originally painted on the rock. A marvel to lay eyes on. The day was hot and humid, the sun was partially hidden behind clouds and the macaws were flying between and landing on trees for us to admire. A true jungle alive. The monuments werent tall or spectacular but the intricate stelae indeed made Copán a most beautiful Maya site. Since I'd really like to see the full size Rosalila, I paid the small local museum a visit. They made you walk through a tunnel which was the entrance to the museum and behold the bright red temple at the end of the tunnel. Reminded me of el Ciq in Petra. The Rosalila temple wasnt very big but completely carved on all sides and there were 2 entrances to it. One could get a better view of its entirely on the open 2nd floor of the museum. The museum although small, contained many interesting artifacts from the Maya site that one couldnt see at the site, such as, panels and building walls from the cemetery, and the original altar Q and Estela P. I've quite enjoyed this museum.

Afterwards, we had refreshments at the park small cafe and shared our emotions about everything we saw. Then we drove back to our hotel which was just 5 minutes away. So it was town painting time. the Copán Ruinas town was a mellow village located on a hill and the cobblestone lanes were narrow, long and steep. Very picturesque, with colorful houses, restaurants, hotels and shops lining the streets. The small town square had a church, a monument dedicated to the local archaeologists who excavated the Maya site and a replica of Stela A. We had a delicious sandwich lunch at the San Rafael coffee and restaurant and i bought some Honduran coffee which although not very strong, was very flavorful, to take home. I quite liked this town. Dinner was at the Twisted Tanya, owned by an American from the Caribbeans. The menu and specials of the day looked very good but the food was just so so and a bit on the expensive side. While dining, a truck drove slowly by, blasting diesel and insecticides. Their way to curb the mozzies. We had to cover our food and drinks and hold our breaths. sigh.

It's been a long time since I'd wanted to finish the Ruta Maya and finally visiting Copán, I was quite happy and really enjoyed this Maya site. Cant wait to see Palenque.

Copán photos:

Copán Museum:

Copán Town:

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

tropical torrential rain in the afternoon

Posted by Hippobean at 11:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Volcán de Agua finally showed itself in full glory this morning. Its top was covered in clouds in these past days. What a photo opt! Today a long drive to cross the border to Honduras to get to Copán, our first Maya site. We had to stop and waited for about half an hour on a road that only let cars passed in 1 direction at a time. Soon after, the van's AC unit stopped blowing cold air and we had to radio to get another van. So we stopped at a hotel for early lunch and waited there for another van to arrive. It took 5 hours! During the wait, we explored the hotel which contained slides into a swimming pool and kids playground. Later in the afternoon we heard thunder and saw lightning and then the tropical rain started to pour straight done. T and I went outside to experience it. It was refreshing and smelled of the tropics. 'lluvia!' I exclaimed with my arms wide open in the parking lot in front of the hotel, "si, porque mucho calor", said a hotel attendant. I really missed rain like this since we dont have them in CA. Such a memorable moment! I just stood there in the hotel entrance to watch and to feel the rain. So loved that moment.

Got to the border after dark and to expedite, Luis paid both our entrance and exit fees and to save time, we didnt wait to get our passport stamped. So no Honduras stamp. A few km later we arrived at don Udo's hotel on top of a very steep cobblestone street. Another colonial style hotel, with rooms on 2 floors surrounding a central courtyard. The room was basic but comfortable and with AC. We walked a few blocks to Carnitas Nia Lola restaurant that had excellent grilled meat on skewers for dinner. Very good meal. The waitresses delivered the dishes carrying them on their heads. Copán Ruinas park was just a few minutes from the Ruinas town and I couldnt wait to wake up the next morning to see this maya site for the first time.

Lluvia !

Monday, April 08, 2019

Monday, April 08, 2019

no more chicken pate in Antigua

Posted by Hippobean at 11:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Or was it the ice in my lemon ice tea? Morning guided tour of Antigua. Quatemala means place of many trees. Their currency the Quetzal was named after the country's bird. Antigua was an old capital but was moved away after the floods when Volcán de Agua erupted. Old antigua was the original capital. Present Antigua was the new city. It's stunningly set between 3 volcanoes, Agua, Fuego and Acatenango. A city with many churches (abc tours, another bloody church). But what blew me away were the colorful buildings lining the cobblestone lanes. So picturesque. A woman washing clothes at the open lavandaria, the old fashion way. Bernal Diaz house on the street named after him. At the jade shop, I've learned of white and purple jadeites, jade stones. Never knew jade can be other than green. Wondering around after lunch, we came upon the Collegio de la Compania de Jesus where Bernal Diaz lived and wrote. Inside totally renovated and very pretty with cloisters. The façade still remained and we thought it was a church.

We had lunch at the cafe Condesa right on the central square. It's owned by a friend of A. We had chicken pate and I had ice tea that came with ice. The pate came in a big portion and with bread and tortillas and was excellent. Later that evening I felt sick with tummy aches so I skipped dinner. Another night without dinner in Antigua. But was able to catch up on 'Verses for the Dead', the most recent Pendergast book.

Antigua photos:

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Sunday, April 07, 2019

disappointed at lake atitlán

Posted by Hippobean at 11:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
"How did you get the name Byron?" We asked Byron, our local guide. he said his father liked to read and learned English on his own. Since back then there were only English literature to read, he named his children after his favorite characters. "So what are your sisters names?" "My father named them after his girlfriends" Byron replied.

Drive to the lake took a long time. There was an accident on the road, so we had to take an alternative which proved to be more scenic. Halfway we stopped at a nice cafe supposedly with very good coco but the hot chocolate was just sweet and not chocolate-ly. But the cafe was nice with an open lighted fire pit in a very pleasant partially sunny day.

Was really looking forward to the boat ride on Lake Atitlán, a former volcanic crater from an eruption 80K years ago. What i thought was a leisure float on the lake with fantastic volcano views, turned out to be a straight shot from 1 shore to the next. The day was now cloudy and foggy with no views of the volcanoes. Volcán San Pedro barely showed with its top covered in fog. The town of santiago wasnt too interesting. Just up from the dock, souvenir shops. Tuk tuk to the shaman maximono was much just a tourist trap. Didnt even go in. The town cathedral was a bit more interesting. Since it's holy week, purple curtains were hung on the church ceiling and all the holy statues were on display. Walking down the town lanes lined with souvenir shops, we stopped at El Pescador a seafood restaurant for lunch. Their black bass wasnt bad. Then another fast straight shot back to the other shore, Panajachel. Another super long drive back to Antigua. Again, halfway we made a stop to sample the other coffee shop owned by the same owner of the first one and with the same name. The building and decor very similar to the first one. This one was famous for its pies and we sampled some. Women were baking tortillas with blue corn. Then traffic again specially when we got into Antigua due to the holy procession. Waiting in traffic, this gave us time to learn more about the Mayans. Maya mean people of the maize. They believed they were created from the corn. Then the conversation switched to the Spanish conquest of mesoamerica. "Why did Montezuma let the Spaniards in?" "He believed in the prophesies and thought Cortez was Quetzalcoatl who came to proclaim Montezuma the living god."

"I'm wowed by all the cities and monuments the Mayans built. But what got me was why the sacrifices" asked T. "We need to understand, responded Luis, there were 3 types of sacrifices. One performed by the ruler on himself for the people. One done by volunteers. And then one to kill the conquered. Nowadays we think human sacrifices are terrible things. But to understand the Mayans, we need to understand how they think in their times."

It was dark by the time we made it back to our hotel. We caught a few peeks of the procession. Not interesting to me since I've grown up with holy processions. The only interesting part, as a kid going to the processions, was dinner after the procession because we always dined out. However we skipped dinner this evening.

Lake Atitlán photos:

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Saturday, April 06, 2019

antigua blew me away

Posted by Hippobean at 11:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Very excited to finally start the Kingdom of the Maya trip. The usual 1 hour ride from Quatemala City airport to Antigua took almost 2 hours due to most horribly heavy traffic. I've never seen traffic this bad. Not even in Southeast Asia. But along the way we got some views of Quatemala. After the monotonous city views, up and down a hill, suddenly we came upon narrow cobblestone streets with brightly colored houses flanking both sides. It was like we just walked into the old colonial era. Very picturesque. Reminiscence of my childhood. Our hotel the Posada Don Rodrigo was an old refurbished colonial house. One of the first five houses in the ciudad de La Antigua Guatemala, the building was known as La Casa de los Leones due to the double lions flanking the building entrance. It was once owned by a Spanish government representative Don Sancho Alvarez de las Asturias Y Nava. Now a hotel with traditional colonial style and character. The rooms had heavy double wooden doors but small windows that looked out to the courtyards, so very dark rooms. Mine had a tiny window, 2 tiny bathrooms, 1 with a sink and shower and another with a sink and toilet. Not practical. But the furniture, bed, desk and armoire went well with the colonial style. Rooms surrounded the 3 separate courtyards. The open area of the restaurant had an altar of Virgin Mary, so maybe once upon a time, it was the family's chapel. Just outside the hotel, on the left we could see the Volcán de Agua and on the other end of the street, the Arco de Santa Catalina, where A stayed 40 years ago in the convent cloisters. Behind it, the Iglesia de la Merced, painted yellow with white accents. In the afternoon, instead of going out to explore town, we just chilled in the courtyard chairs. Possibly one of the best meals in this trip was at the Posada restaurant. We've ordered 2 chicken stews, one Antigua style with red sauce and the Quatemalan in green sauce. The Antigua red won. Absolutely flavorful. However, it came with dark meat and bony so not much to eat. The night was chilly and even under 2 woolen blankets, I felt cold.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Saturday, February 16, 2019

adorable lion, rising phoenix lion dance

Posted by Hippobean at 9:54 PM 0 comments Links to this post
San Jose Museum of Art Community Day: Lunar New year - interesting exhibits, entertaining lion dance (very cute lions, eyebrows blinking, tails wagging).

See pictures:


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