Friday, March 30, 2007

The Ceiling Saga Continues

It's seven weeks today since my ceiling showed signs of leaking from the apartment upstairs. It's still not finished. After a blow-up situation Wednesday night and a calm reasonable meeting yesterday, it should, with any luck, be finished by this time next week.

Who would've thought that such a small thing could drag on for two months? Not me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Reasons not to have kids

So, many of you know that I have zero interest in having children and that I have for many, many years been jokingly writing a book filled with reasons not to have kids.

Last night I found out another - a friend just had an ultrasound that cost $420!!!

Can you believe this? Over four hundred dollars for one little exam? Man, oh man. All I could picture was a couple of pairs of shoes out the window. A couple of pairs of jeans - gone. A few haircuts - no more. More than a mortgage payment - bye bye!

Boy, you gotta really wanna have kids to go through all that.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Spring is coming

Know how I know this? Because I killed a spider at home the other night. The snow is melting fast. Any day now the air will fill with the smell of dog poop and mushy worms.

Monday, March 26, 2007

How to catch the bus

Look what I just found!

Here are my instructions on how to get from Steph's (at Seven Mile Beach area) into town (Georgetown) using public transportation.

Go to road, across street from Calico Jack's, wait for bus (mini-van type, not big bus)
Will have WB sticker on front with number 1 or 2
Flag him down **
Costs CI$2
Take it all the way into town
Ends at Public Library

From here can walk down street to ocean, Hard Rock Cafe over to left, Rackam's (where we had lunch on Sunday) over to right. On the other side of the Post Office, there is a Chinese Market, also some cool shops in Post Office area.

To return:
From Library or by Rackam's
Flag him down
Tell driver to Marriott Courtyard
Say "1 stop, please" when pass Calico Jack's

** Flagging a bus down consists of leaning against a wall or fence and casually lifting one's arm when one sees a bus approaching. People really do say "1 stop, please" or "1 stop, driver" when they want to get off.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Travel Update #14

An extra post seeing as I have the access today.

Friday, March 2.

Yeah, so things got a little busy. Did have my swim, went home for a nap, got ready, went out. Dinner at Bed was awesome! The band was great. We ate a lot, drank a lot, laughed a lot. Enjoyed myself soooo much. Especially not having to worry about being anywhere (like work) the next morning.

Thursday Steph had off, so we drove all over the island! I just loved it.

We started off by stopping off for some much needed coffee and trash mags, then out to the East End for a look at the blowholes. The blowholes are now mostly filled with debris from Hurrican Ivan so there wasn’t much going on there, but still, the landscape was beautiful. After a brief stop (photo op) we headed to the Botanical Gardens where both of us took piles of pictures. It was so incredible – very peaceful and relaxing. Probably only passed about 6 people during the whole time we were there.

After that headed further up the road to Rum Point for lunch on the beach! Had conch fritters with my feet in the sand. Does it get any better? After lunch we napped in some beach chairs under the trees, a swim and some reading before heading back to Calico Jack’s for a last beachside drink. It was such a relaxing day that I was practically comatose by the time we left Rum Point.

Oh! Have just realised how really small this place is. On Wednesday when I was on the boat with Zac, there was a couple there from Bermuda, from England originally. There were nice enough, we chatted a bit. End of the tour everybody said good bye and that was that. I had previously commented to Steph & Zac that it seemed everywhere we went, they ran into people they knew. Well, today I met people I knew! The couple from Bermuda were also at Rum Point. How funny is that? I was going around taking some pictures and suddenly there they were, on the beach chairs, waving at me. We had a nice little chat and then when I rejoined Steph and told her about I was all astonished that I too could meet people I knew, even if I’d just been here a few days. That was really weird, funny, incredible …

Grand Cayman is one of the flattest places I’ve ever been. Except for the wind, it would be so easy to bike here. Windy at the beach and as most of the roads follow the coastline, it could be difficult – but what a view!

What else? Oh yeah – on the way out to dinner last night we stopped in Hell to mail my postcards. Mom will be so pleased!

Dinner last night was divine! Very nice restaurant (can't remember the name, see how relaxed I am?!). Had cracked conch to start and then a yummy fish (fish, fish and more fish!). Beautiful place, could just about see the ocean except that it was pitch dark out there. It was a dinner out to say goodbye to one of their friends that is returning to the US next week. Oh and the bar had this very cool wall with water and bubbles or something going up it.

More stuff I’ve nearly forgotten – one of Steph’s friends works at the Botanical Gardens and gave Steph a huge basil plant for Zac. We left it in the back of the car while we enjoyed ourselves at lunch and at the beach. Well, the poor plant had practically died by the time we got back to it! Ooops. Hopefully it will recover with some regular watering. Did we ever laugh at that.

So here I am – Friday, last day. Not even 10am yet and I am back at the beach for a little last minute sun, sand and sea. Gotta grab what I can! Got a load of laundry done last night and another is in the dryer now so should be ready to be packed when I go back.

Have loved, loved, loved every minute of my time here. This week of "me time" has been good for my body, mind and soul. Steph and Zac have been awesome and incredibly generous with their time and friendship. I will miss them and must find someway to get them up to Montreal for a visit.

Hoping very much that I will still be tanned when I get back to the office on Tuesday. For once I really can say I’ve got some colour and it looks like it!

Beach this morning is quite short as the tide is still going out, I guess. Waves are a little higher than earlier this week. Time for my last little swim.

8pm – Miami

John picked me up at noon and we headed over to say goodbye to Steph. Had a quick drink at the golf course and then headed to the airport. Check-in was quick, had a light lunch and did a tour of the duty free shops. Flight left a few minutes late but we still arrived pretty much on time. Passport control here (Miami) was super slow – there must have been a lot of arrivals just coming in. Lost nearly 30 min. there. Things got going a little quicker when they asked the Canadians to go through the US line – and I was out of there about 5 minutes after that. Took a bit of searching the find the shuttle bus to the hotel, but got it in time and was checked in just after 6pm. All in all a decent trip.

The room here is nice. I have a king size bed! Went for a swim before dinner! I can see the pool from my room. Dinner was not so nice. Went with the buffet. Don’t know what I was thinking. Ever since the Club Med days I just can’t eat from buffets – I’m scarred for life. Wine at dinner also extremely nasty. Couldn’t even drink one glass.

Cozy in this huge bed now. A/c turned off – sooo cold. I’m tired.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Travel Update #13

Wednesday, Feb. 20.

Lobster fest last night was GREAT!!! We did indeed go to Decker’s for that. Lovely glass of wine at the bar, blood orange mojito at the table, divine olive bread, and then 2 plates of lobster tails! (4 pieces all together), plus an Irish coffee. We were stuffed, stuffed, stuffed! Met Yvonne who may come with us tomorrow to Rum Point. Zac joined us for coffee. Steph and I were both a little tipsy by the end. All in all fab evening out.

Now, there was a tentative plan to go out with John and Gordie (aka G-Love) today, but apparently Gordie didn’t get his act together, so I am back with Zac on the snorkel boat, which is great! This morning has a much bigger group (think there are 7 ships in). Weather isn’t quite so nice right now as the past 2 days (it’s a bit cloudy) but it’s still plenty warm. Instead of starting the trip at Sting Ray City, we’re doing the snorkelling first. Basically, because there are so many people at the ray site. I’m sitting here, at the top part of the boat, looking at 12 (!!!) tour boats, some smaller, some much larger – and the sand bar is packed with people! I can’t get over it. Sure glad I’m not in town today.

Quite funny seeing all these tourists needing to be lead by the hand to do just about everything. I almost feel sorry for them – but not quite.

Cannot believe how time is flying by. Only today and tomorrow left. How can it have gone so fast?

Later ...

Enjoyed another great swim with the sting rays. They really are quite wonderful. Also kissed a couple more, so think I’m up to about 42 yrs worth of good luck ;)

After the trip, Zac and I went to a late lunch at Coconut Joe’s. I’m back at the beach now for a few hours while Zac heads over to set up for tonight’s show. Steph gets off work around 6pm. Once she’s ready to go we’ll head over to Bed (local resto) for dinner and that’s also where the band, the Ratskins (?) play. Looking forward to that. Seems like ages since I’ve seen any kind of live music.

Time for a swim …

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Travel Update #12

Tuesday, Feb. 27

Sometime in the afternoon …

Have had a very busy day. Out of the door by 9am. Zac and Steph dropped me off at a little café so I could jolt myself awake. They both headed off to work. Once I was done with my coffee I caught the local bus/mini van into Georgetown. This cost me CI$2. There was a guy who seemed to be waiting as well, so I checked with him that he was waiting for the bus and watched the way he flagged it down (for future reference). That took me straight into the middle of downtown Georgetown in about 10 minutes.

Think it was about 10am by the time I got in there. Wandered around for over an hour. Seems the bulk of the shops cater solely to the cruise ship crowd and not much else. I did pop into a few of the places to check out the merchandise but figured it would be way out of my price. Have seen a lot of this “black coral” around and while they do make some beautiful jewellery from it, I can’t imagine that it’s eco-friendly to do this. Only thing I did buy was a nice picture book and a few postcards.

Headed back home around noon, got changed into my bathing suit, gathered a few things and headed here (the beach). Have been busy swimming, reading, writing postcards, people watching and napping. Phew – it’s a lot to accomplish all in one day, but I did it.

Rented myself a chair and umbrella down here in front of Calico Jack’s. Glad I did as it is nothing but sun down here, not a cloud in the sky and no trees for shade.

The beach was crowded with the cruise ship crowd, lots of families, kids, etc. But over the last hour the crowd that thinned out a lot. Am at one end of the Calico Jack beach area, pretty much by myself. Does it get any better? This is just what I needed.

Think Steph and I are going for all you can eat lobster tonight (at Decker’s) while Zac has band practice. Good thing I had a light lunch! This is going to be delicious!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Travel Update #11

Monday, Feb. 26

Slept like the dead last night. Woke up after 8am! Got a full 9 hours. We were supposed to go out for breakfast but we all woke up too late. So we picked up a bit of breakfast on the way to the snorkel boat with Zac for 10am.

Zac got things squared away on the boat and his boss, Mark, showed up with a few guests. Went over to pick up the rest of the cruise ship guests for the two-stop tour. First stop was Stingray City. Not at all what I expected, much, much cooler! As we pulled up in the boat to this sandbar area there were several other boats around. We got out and jumped into the water (little bit cold at first, honestly, what is wrong with me!). We warmed up fast and the stingrays swam around us with the bucket of squid enticing them. It was so cool! We spent about 30-45 min. there. I got to feed, hold (not too successfully), pet and kiss a whole bunch of the stingrays. At the end I did manage to hold a male stingray (much smaller than the female). So friggin’ cool.

From there just a few minutes away to a coral reef for some snorkelling. That was incredible! The water was fantastically blue and beautiful. Steph and I followed Zac over to an area with lots of fish. We even saw 2 moray eels! The first one kept poking his head out and the 2nd one actually came out swimming in the open. Wow. Zac took a couple of pictures of us from underneath and Steph took a couple of him blowing air bubbles. That was freaky.

Back to the yacht club to drop off the passengers and off for another late lunch, this time at Aqua Beach (or something like that). We had a nice time there except for these crazy birds that kept attacking us. One nearly flew into Zac’s hair and another nearly pecked Steph’s head. Crazy.

From there we did a few errands, picked up stuff for a wine/cheese night at home. After dropping that stuff off, we did the short walk to the beach. Zac brought his guitar and played and sang while Steph and I chatted and enjoyed the setting sun. It was perfect.

The sound of the ocean was hypnotic. Got off a couple of really nice shots, I hope.

Now we’re relaxing at home with some wine, hummus, pita, cheese. Going to watch Office Space (movie). This is the life. Note to self – find out how I can do this for a year.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Travel Update #10

Sunday, Feb. 25

4 short hours later I woke up a few minutes before the wake up call. Finished the last little bits of packing and got our stuff down. We left the hotel just after 6am, got checked in and now I’m writing during the flight to Miami. Keith is two rows ahead of me. Think he’s probably going through the accounts making sure we kept on budget.

Some other funny/memorable things to remember from the week:
- Teasing Brad about his girlfriend whom apparently he doesn’t want to go out with anymore.
- Teasing Jessica and Julia about Bradley, which one of them he’s into. I’m convinced it’s Jessica as there seem to be an inordinate number of pictures of her on his camera …
- The expression on Jessica’s face when she found out how old I am after relating Keith’s story of Brad inquiring of Keith for Julia’s age and then my own. Keith told him he wasn’t my father and Brad should ask me himself. Apparently Brad got quite embarrassed at that and went all quiet. Later, when Keith told me this story we laughed when imagining Brad’s reaction if I told him I was old enough to be his mother!
- Spilling Sprite on Julia by accident when we had pizza on the roof at the hotel. Laughing hysterically at this for no particular reason.
- Playing/singing Ring-Around-A-Rosy with some of the kids one evening before leaving. Little Esther loved this and wanted me to play that with her every night.
- The fact that it took Julia and I at least one full day to realise there was a TV in our room.
- When Julia was trying to find the outlet to recharge her camera battery, she accidentally unplugged the lamp, thus leaving us in the dark in our room. She tripped over her luggage attempting to turn the main light back on. Only then did I notice a switch over the night stand and we found out it was another switch for the main light.
- Finding out that I really am as crabby as my mother says I am. Particularly at breakfast when people are all chatty and stuff. Yeesh.

Hopefully things will move quickly in Miami, particularly as I don’t have any bags. Just hope customs isn’t a problem. We land at 11:10 and my flight out to Grand Cayman is at 12:30. Fingers crossed. Looking forward to seeing Steph. Hope she’ll recognize me!

11pm – Phew! What a relief. It all worked out great.

Arrived early in Miami but the gate was still occupied … by the time we did get into our gate, I was 5 minutes behind schedule (my own personal, highly stressed one, that is).

Passport control was fast and painless. Customs was fine except for the part where I apparently misunderstood the guard when he said straight ahead and ended up standing in line with a bunch of drug lords waiting to get their bags searched. Finally, one of these guards came up to me and after asking a couple of questions realised that I was in the wrong line and had just wasted about 20 minutes of my life. From there I pretty much ran up to the proper concourse only to get stuck at security because my sunscreen bottle was too big (by 15ml). I swear – I thought I was going to lose it. It took me 5 minutes for this woman to understand that I was happy to let her go through my items but that she needed to identify for me precisely which items were too big. In the end (and after some explaining about doctor recommended soaps and creams) there was just a half empty bottle of sunscreen that had to go. Thanks for wasting my time, you stupid cow!

Then I had to practically race down the concourse, stopping for a pee break but skipping any last minute purchases for water or lunch. I made the plane. I was probably one of the last people to get on the plane. Talk about a stressful start to my vacation.

Flight left on time and we arrived a few minutes early. Steph was there waiting for me from the top of the lookout area. After some quick questions at customs there, I was out of there we were on our way!

Quick drive home to drop off my bags, change and then off to pick up Zac and head out for a late lunch. Started things off on the right foot with a Cayman Colada (rather like a pina colada, not quite sure what the difference was) and lunch at Rackam’s. From there heading to Calico Jack’s for another drink and stick my feet in the ocean! Hung out there until the sun set. Wow …

Quick drive (literally about 30 seconds) home for a dip in the pool, before a hot (yes, hot water!) and then for a sushi dinner. Very yummy. Home for more chatting and now to bed.

Lunch at a pub, drinks on the beach, swim in the pool, sushi, catching up with a good friend. This vacation is off to a good start. Feeling tired, happy and suddenly relaxed. Something I haven’t felt in a long time.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Travel Update #9

Saturday, Feb. 24

Pencas, 211-3671,

Our last day in Panama. We were able to sleep in this morning but all I could manage was until 7am. Shower, breakfast and then Julia and I took a walk to the pedestrian shopping area. The walk along Avenida Central was pretty interesting. We saw some great stuff – women getting manis and pedis on the sidewalk, fruit, veg, herbs, flowers for sale. 3 pineapples for $1!!! After looking around a whole bunch of shops for skirts (apparently jeans are in this season) I finally found a cute little top for $5.

Keith met us there and we sauntered over to the Indian market where Julia picked up a couple of fun souvenirs for some friends. We also stopped at a stall to have a slice of fresh pineapple. Delicious! On the way back to the hotel Keith dropped us at a grocery store where I was able to buy some coffee and Julia was not able to buy her cookies, ha.

Met with the rest of the group at 12:30 to spend the rest of our last day with them. First we visited the Kuna craft market, where plenty more shopping was done by the group. I did buy myself a two more molas and am happy with them. Think I’ll make a nice triptych with the one I have at home.

From there we went to the Miraflores Locks. I love that place. The museum part is really cool, the movie interesting (short and sweet) and then my favourite – watching the ships pass through. I could sit and watch them all day. It was really hot and sunny. I put sunscreen on this morning but didn’t reapply before heading out this afternoon. Should’ve. Got a bit of burn. Oops.

After that we drove another 15 min. past Paraiso to the Gamboa Rainforest. We stopped at a resort hotel up there. Unfortunately there were no more tours for the day. But we spent about 30 minutes or so just chilling on the terrace and enjoying the view.

Catherine and Jessica went down to the pool (apparently forgetting that we were not paying guests) to dip their feet in the pool. When Duncan and Dave went down to bring them back up I knew something was up. One or both of them would surely end up in the pool. And I was right! Duncan threw Catherine in, fully clothed. It was funny. When they came back up, she had the nerve to complain and act surprised! I mean, hello, pool, hot sun, no bathing suit, obviously somebody was gonna end up wet.

After that we had to head back to the hotel for a quick change before going back to Pencas for our last dinner. I like that place.

Anyway, after dinner we did a few last minute errands – grocery store for Jules & Bob (Maria cookies), then to Wendy’s for Bradley, dropped Bob, Catherine and Paul at the Hard Rock Café (t-shirt shopping) while the rest of us headed for Baskin Robbins and yet MORE ice cream. Don’t think I’ve eaten so much ice cream in one week in all my life!

Finally back to the hotel. And … a last swim (thanks to Keith!). Julia and I had a laugh when on our way up the stairs, David tried to stop us by asking if our room had been done that day. We barely slowed down to say yes and he told us that his hadn’t. By this time I was halfway up the next flight of stairs and called down to him “Oh well” and kept going! Julia found this completely hysterical and couldn’t run for laughing so hard. At the top the guy who was about to close the pool let us in and we had a lovely 10 min. swim.

After that we dried off and started packing. Keith dropped by while we were doing that. The three of us chatted for a while. I finally managed to get all my packing done into the one carry-on bag. Sweet! After Keith left Julia and I chatted, I finally remembered to take a picture of us in our room and then we turned off the light around 1am. Did remember to get a wake up call for 5am. Ugh.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Travel Update #8

Friday, Feb. 23

After a long, hard day, I was lucky enough to end it in the pool, by myself, under the stars. Now that was a treat.

This morning started off early. Can’t believe it’s been a week since we left our various cities to meet here. It’s flown by. Anyway, we were all at work just after 7am and many of the team worked non-stop until 6pm. I finished up in the house and all the rooms turned out very well, if I do say so myself. Julia and I sorted through Shirla’s room and tried to put thing back into place, as much as possible. Same for the kitchen and bathroom. I did a good cleaning of the place again and by the end it really did look like a nice little home. Certainly a big difference from our first day.

While we were waiting for the VBS-ers to get back, I had a chance to talk with Stan and Bob. Stan was busy cleaning the public bathroom floor (the one Bonnie and Catherine painted). We teased him a little about that. But really, what a nice guy. And Bob too. The little chat we had was the most I heard him speak all week. My first impressions of them haven't changed. They are both nice, hard working, genuine and honest people.

When Julia came back from VBS, Bob took her, Catherine, Bonnie and me up to the roof for a look at the work the guys did. So impressive. There was also a great view and we shot a few fun pictures from there.

For dinner tonight Shirla and some of the local ladies made us a wonderful goodbye dinner. Arroz con pollo y ensalada de papas (Rice with chicken and potato salad). Not exactly a light meal, especially when followed by a (belated) birthday cake and ice cream, but tasty! Shirla also made another batch of the lime and sugar cane juice. Think I’m addicted to that now.

Shirla and the ladies made a lovely (and long) presentation to thank us for all our work on the church and her quarters, as well as the efforts made with the kids. It was quite amazing. They also presented each of us with a Panama beaded bracelet and a Kuna style glasses case. Catherine also bought us these bright yellow t-shirts (hideous) with a huge Salvation Army crest on them. This is even after she asked me if I wanted one and I am positive I was clear in my “no”. It even has my name on it! Honestly, why would you do that?!

Anyway, we finally did manage to pack up, get everyone in the van (after about a million of the kids jumped in and out for half an hour telling us they were coming back to Canada with us) and headed back to the city by about 8pm.

Looks like Julia and I will do a shopping tomorrow morning, with or without the group, we’re not quite sure, but we’ll surely end up on our own, that I know! It will be nice to walk along the main drag and also the pedestrian shopping area. Must remember to pick up some of that Duran coffee again.

I’m such an idiot sometimes, it’s amazing I get around as well as I do. Tonight when we got back to the hotel I ran up to the room to change and figured Jules would be up in a minute or two. But by the time I was ready to head up to the pool, she still wasn’t back yet, so I thought I’d call Keith’s room to see if she was there. No answer. On my way up to the pool I stopped by the room and knocked. No answer. Oh well, I went up and had my swim (all by myself!) and on the way down again tried at the door – still no answer. As I came down the stairs I saw that Catherine and Jessica’s door was open and also that Dave was sitting in the hallway. Asked them if they’d seen Julia and/or knew which room Keith was in. Nobody knew anything. In fact, Dave thought Keith was on the 4th floor, but I was pretty sure he was on the 5th. Anyway, no luck with that motley crew so I tried to call again from my room. Still no answer. Had my shower, got into my pj’s and started writing. As I’m doing this Julia finally appears. She tells me she’s been with her Dad. All cool, no sweat. Until I mention that I tried to call them and knock on the door and all that jazz. Only to discover that I’d been calling and knocking at the wrong room! Oh man, thank god nobody answered the phone or the door at that room! Julia and I had a good laugh at that. Heh. Another classic Stef moment.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Travel Update #7

Thursday, Feb. 22

Hate to go on and on about this, but more hot, sweaty, dirty work. This morning was fairly unproductive by my standards. Julia and I only cleaned 1 bathroom and Shirla’s office and finished the ceiling tiles in the bathroom. I got a couple of loads of laundry out on the line, most of which dried in about an hour. (Ha - Julia did Bob's laundry yesterday! Poor man was running out of t-shirts.)

After lunch (more tuna, thank god I love tuna! good thing Bonnie has taken over doing lunches for this group as I am far too filthy to go anywhere near a food prep area), I got the floors cleaned in the house and finished putting down the floor tiles. Keith has just about finished cutting the smaller pieces. I have vowed not to do any cutting with stuff like exacto knives (the scar on my finger reminds me why). Felt a little more productive after getting that done. Took more pictures of the work in progress.

The roof is about half painted now and all the electric work seems to be done. I’m still curious as to how they plan on finishing the bedroom window with the a/c …

We had a fairly early evening, all of us in the van by 5:30, back to the hotel just before 6 and then off to Mi Ranchito for dinner with Major and Mrs Mendez. Yummy! And I was able to present Major Mendez with another computer (2 others gave to Shirla, plus the other 3 that went to Africa in January). He seemed very appreciative and happy. (Must remember to take a picture of Shirla’s office with the computers up and running.) Keith told me on the way home that Mrs. Mendez looked at her husband after I gave him the computer and told him “that’s for me!” Apparently she hasn’t had her own computer at the office! She just shares with the other people working there!

Tomorrow we’ve got a long day because the Team has decided that it will be our last work day. I’m not quite sure how (so many small things to do) nor do I think it’s fair for Shirla (she's expecting us til Sat). With all that is left in front of us I don’t know how it will get done.

5:45am wake up tomorrow. Time for me to get to sleep.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Travel Update #6

Wednesday, Feb 21

Back to Paraiso. Really starting to feel like home there.

By the way, must mention that breakfast at the hotel is really quite substantial and good. There is fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, toast, eggs (of one type or another), plus some kind of meat, potatoes, cheese, plus coffee and juice. Can’t believe we’re really paying $40 for the room, including breakfast. What a deal. And no bug bites!

At work things are moving along nicely. The rooms that Julia, Keith and myself have been working on are looking good. By the end of today the bedroom was just about finished. A few more tiles on the floor and 1 ceiling tile are all that’s missing. The light is up too. Tomorrow there will be some touch ups to do in there.

Next, the kitchen – 2nd coat of paint is done, ceiling is done, light is up. Tomorrow we’ll clean the floor and lay the tiles.

Bathroom – will have to see with Keith what needs to be done there. For sure more paint in a few areas, plus clean the floor and lay tiles. Probably light is still to go up in there too.

Our roofers opened up the part of the slanted side roof over the office and public bathrooms and fixed it up. This provides more light in the church. Looks great.

We had dinner at the church tonight. I prepared an easy spaghetti dinner for about 8 adults (roofers had already left) and 4 kids (Shirla’s grandchildren). Amazingly I made exactly enough pasta! A little too much sauce (could’ve just used 2 bottles) but oh well. Did well on the bread, mushrooms and carrots. Still some soft drinks left and bread. Not too bad for a meal on the fly.

Tonight when we got home, after a quick clean up, Keith took David, Julia, Stan, Bonnie and me for a drive out to see the Presidential Palace. We also found this little Lover’s Lane type park (actually called Plaza de Francia, memorial to the French who died on the first attempt to build the Canal) and walked there for a bit, interrupting plenty of amorous looking couples. (Bonnie and Stan never did disappear on us, so maybe it wasn’t.) Then we drove over the Bridge of the Americas and found ourselves back in North America, ha ha. On the way home Keith stopped so I could buy some deodorant. We stopped in the Casco Viejo, quite a rough and poor area, especially at night. That was a fun little experience. Some lady apparently didn’t get the correct change while we were there and came barging back in, pushing, shoving and shouting to let us all know.

It was a nice way to spend the evening, little walk, little drive, and some laughs too. A good end to the day.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Travel Ban Lifted

On March 12 I read the following article in The Gazette.

Tripoli - Libya yesterday backtracked on a decision to ban women under 40 years old from leaving the country unless accompanied by a close male relative. A statement said the foreign ministry "strongly denies reports it issued a ban on Libyan women under the age of 40 from travelling without "Mahram" - someone such as a father, brother or uncle. The official Al-Jamahiriya newspaper reported the ban on Wednesday, denouncing it as a "flagrant violation of women's rights to freedom on movement."

I have a hard time believing the government would even suggest such a ban in this day and age. What kind of stupid asses would even dare put that out there as media fodder? Are these cavemen that are running the country? Makes me want to spit on the idiot who dreamed up this fool idea.

Travel Update #5

Tuesday, Feb. 20

National Holiday – Mardi Gras

Another long, hot, sweaty and busy work day. Julia and I helped Keith put up the remaining ceiling tracks in the bedroom and bathroom this morning and then also got the bedroom painted (lilac, Shirla’s choice) and I managed to about half of the kitchen painted (white). Also managed to get paint in more places than I can count. How do I do that?

The guys worked hard on the roof again and were in need of a 3pm quitting time (they started at 6:30am). They’ve been working hard and fast and it shows. Think Keith took them back to the hotel for a swim and dinner on their own.

Sounds like there were a few less kids (due to Mardi Gras? It really is a Nat. Hol. All shops are closed, businesses, etc.) at VBS today but that it was more organized.

We took Shirla out to Mi Ranchito for dinner tonight. Bit of a mix up in our reservation and so we ended up at Pencas, just down the road, same owner, basically same menu. I enjoyed the "ceviche de camarones y fillete de corvino a la plancha con vegetal del dia" (aka shrimp ceviche and grilled corvino (local fish) with salad). It was simple, but nice.

Back to the city, dropped Shirla at her daughter’s in town and then home to the hotel. Shirla's daughter is a translator. She's well educated, married, couple of kids. She works, her husband works. I really thought they would live better than what we saw tonight. Even the worst areas of Montreal are nothing compared to where these people live. Shocking. My own little home is a palace in comparison.

Must remember to mention that for break this morning we had ice cream bars! Yikes, ice cream, twice in 2 days! Better watch out for next week and the bikini! But maybe all the physical labour will work off all the extra calories ... ?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Travel Update #4

Monday, Feb. 19

Forgot to write about this yesterday - while Julia and I were swimming on Sunday morning, Keith reminded Jules of the days when she and Kathryn used to imitate my mom! I was very intrigued by this and Julia had to compose herself before even doing this! (getting better all the time!) So, she dunks under water, comes up with all her hair in front of her face and then kind of swoops it back into a sleek high chignon - and THEN walks about (still in the pool) very elegantly. Well, I nearly fell into the pool from laughing so hard. Wish I'd had my camera with me. Apparently Kathryn and Julia, when they were kids, never saw my mom without her hair pulled into a bun, and always thought her really elegant because of it. And for whatever reason, when they stayed in hotels with pools, came up with this imitation of Gigi. Man, I'm giggling again just thinking about it. V. funny.

Anyway ... early wake up this morning – 6:45. On our way by 7:30 and on the job by 8am.

We all had another very productive day. Julia, Jessica and I got all the base coat of paint on in the three rooms. Already they look brighter, cleaner, newer. A huge improvement.

The guys removed and replaced another huge chunk of the church roof. It’s quite amazing how quickly and efficiently it’s all going. Thanks in great part to Keith’s planning, I’m sure.

Keith and I had a little slow down in our attempts to put up the rails for the ceiling tiles. He ended up going back to the hardware store (apparently 4 times in all today!) and eventually we did manage to get the tiles in the hallway up! And by the end of the day got the rails up in the bedroom as well (nearly in the dark, except for Stan’s cool extension cord with attached lamp). I also measured each wall in the rooms with Stan as my helper. He’s so funny. What a nice, regular guy. His wife, Bonnie, is due in tonight so I’ll meet her tomorrow.

Julia, Jessica, Catherine, Dave and Ken (wrong name - he's called Duncan) started with their Vacation Bible School (“VBS”). This first day went well with about 35 local kids attending. Sounds like they had fun. Hope they take lots of pix.

During that time I chilled in the storage shed (looks like a curling rink from the outside) with the guys – Stan, Paul, Bob and Brad (the roofers). Stan and Bob seem like very good people. Quiet, unpretentious, normal. Brad is still young (18, I think) and acts it but seems to be working very hard and full of energy. Paul is a bit harder to get a handle on. David, our electrician, kept working all day. Not too sure if it’s going well for him or not.

Dinner tonight was cooked entirely by Major Shirla. Wow – a great fresh green salad (could’ve eaten just that myself), a nice rice dish with pigeon peas and pig tail cooked in coconut milk, as well as some chicken with apparently a delicious gravy. Shirla also made this fantastic juice. Kind of pulpy, which I don’t usually like, but this was yummy, sweet and super refreshing! Maybe because I was so sweaty, dirty and thirsty.

We left there by 8:30 and on the way back to the hotel stopped for ICE CREAM! Mmm … I had two (oh man!) scoops. One Swiss Miss Mix (had to) and the other peanut butter chocolate. To die for. Wait until I tell Cecilia I had ice cream in the middle of winter. (OK, so it was about 30C out so I think that makes it OK.) I didn’t even get cold!

Had a most refreshing and much needed shower tonight. Feels perfectly lovely to sit in bed all fresh and smelling pretty. Tired out. Time for bed.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Travel Update #3

Sunday, Feb. 18

Agenda: church, Paraiso, Colon, Sabanitas

Started the day with a rooftop swim at 8am. What a fantastic view! A perfect way to start the day. Managed to get some semblance of warm water in the shower. Buffet breakfast and all on the road by 10am.

Church started spot on 11am. It was nice, temperature wise, not too hot or humid, good breeze blowing through. But I still got sleepy during the service. Funny congregation though. There were something like 20 kids and about 6 adults. Odd. There was even a real Kuna Indian, in her full native wear, nose ring, wrist and ankle beads, mola, etc. How surreal to see her singing the Salvation Army songs.

Julia & I took care of lunch again. A few more than expected but we managed well enough even if a some of us ate a little lighter (not that it would do us any harm).

Left Paraiso by 1:30pm (drove over the Centennial Bridge, crossing from South to North America) and arrived at Sabanitas just as the girls were finishing lunch. On the drive to Sabanitas, I was excited and anxious to get there. I think I spent half the drive sitting on the edge of my seat.

We arrived at the home and I think I was out of the van before Keith had turned the motor off. Marlene was there in the kitchen and recognized me at once. She threw her arms around me with a great big smile and laughed. She showed me briefly the new kitchen and laundry room before taking me into the dining area to see the girls. There they all were finishing their lunch. They said hello and seem quite shy and giggly. When I asked if they remembered me, Hiam (I think) said immediately, “Doctora”! I laughed, they laughed and we were off to a good start. Several of the girls are new and naturally shy with a strange group of “gringos” around.

From there Marlene gave Catherine, Jessica, Julia and me a tour of the place. Catherine seemed very interested in how Marlene manages the home, the girls and all of it by herself. I think we all wondered the same thing. Marlene just kind of laughs it off and shrugs saying that she gets some help from the home league women and the older girls help too. Her energy and enthusiasm is addicting.

Outside the rest of the group was touring the small house where our group stayed two years ago and then outside to interact with the kids. Swinging, kicking the soccer ball, playing on the see-saw. Pretty soon all you could hear was laughter and all you could see were smiles on everyone’s faces. I think everyone in our group enjoyed seeing the home after hearing so much talk about it.

After about an hour of playing, we got all the kids together for the gifts. Each of the girls got a nice bag or box filled with goodies. The two newest girls didn’t quite know what to make of it all, but never said a word when we didn’t call their names. We had extras for that very reason so it all worked out beautifully. (Two newest are Monica, younger and Diana, older.)

Spent another hour or so with the girls going through their gifts, playing with stickers, hair accessories, eating candy and gum, etc. Yanis and Yamilka told me they’d dyed their hair a couple of times and were thrilled with my shock (ok, a little bit of pretend shock). They said they loved the colour of my hair and were very pleased when I told them that I loved their own colouring. Jaludi (Khaled) was there and looked exactly the same. Adrian showed up too and apparently told Marlene, his grandmother, that he was so happy! Man, I could’ve stayed there all day. Never mind one day, I could’ve stayed all week.

So after a couple of hours spent with the kids we had to leave. It was heartbreaking. I suddenly realized that this was all the time I was going to spend with them. Considering last time was everyday for 2 weeks, these 2 hours or so were a terrible tease for me. I tried very hard to hold back and keep my emotions under control as we left, but as we turned the van out of the driveway onto the autoroute, I couldn’t hold back any longer. It was horrifyingly embarrassing to sob like that in front of 10 strangers. Luckily, Julia was sitting beside me and put her arm around me. Really, that was all I needed. Phew – what would we do without old friends?

Anyway, as always, my high emotion was over quickly but I admit I did feel to be on the verge of tears for a good part of the rest of the day.

After Sabanitas we headed up to Colon for a drive by and walk at the park. We drove up the main drag in Colon, showed everybody the atrocious living conditions. Some of the buildings have had a new paint job and look quite nice. Others look worse than ever.

The city was gearing up for another night of Carnaval festivities. A number of groups dressed in matching t-shirts were getting ready for a concert or parade, it looked like.

Up by the park the road was closed off and there were these guys dressed up as some kind of devils, running around trying to whip people! Really whip them! And occasionally the managed to. Some of the smaller kids were really terrified by all this. I did ask a policeman what was meant by it all but all he could tell me was that “it’s normal, it’s tradition”. Some help. Must remember to look that up for more info when I get home.

After hanging out there for a bit and getting our pictures taken at the Caribbean entrance to the Canal, we piled back into the van and returned to Panama City. Had a swim before a pizza dinner on the deck with the group. That was great. Got a bit silly (must’ve been the sugar) and laughed a bunch.

Julia downloaded her pictures to Keith’s computer and also looked at Keith’s pix. I shot a few cool long exposures of the city and of Julia at the pool.

Not a bad way to end a random Sunday in the middle of February, swimming under the stars … (started and ended the day in the pool)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

More pictures! and another update

In case you haven't already noticed, my Grand Cayman pictures are up!

And here's the next travel log entry:

Saturday, Feb. 17

Up early (7am) this morning and enjoyed a nice buffet breakfast at the hotel.

First stop for the day was Paraiso where we decided to work a partial day instead of going to Sabanitas. Little disappointed not to see the girls but it worked out better this way for everyone.

Worked from about 10:30am to 5pm. Got a lot done in a relatively short work day. The guys (have got to try harder to remember their names, so far only can remember Stan) managed to remove and replace about 1/3 of the roof! In Major Shirla’s quarters we (Julia, Catherine, Jessica, me) emptied her bedroom, kitchen and bathroom and also tore down the ceilings in the three rooms and cleaned the walls, top to bottom. We got covered in bat "guano" (now known as ceiling glitter). Phew! But now all ready to start with the painting on Monday (we were pretty much told that it would be frowned upon if we did any kind of work on Sunday).

Julia and I made lunch for the crowd. Ham and cheese, tuna, chips, apples, bananas, cookies. Made sure that all drank lots of water.

After dinner at TGIFriday’s we dropped a few of the crew back to the hotel and headed off to the area for the Carnaval parade (got a little bit lost, but a few quick questions at a gas station set us right again). Parked the van and then followed the crowd and the noise only to find a 1-hour wait just to go through security. We did wait for about 20 minutes but then after taking another vote some of the group decided to stay and others to leave, myself included. So a bunch of them stayed and the rest of us went back to the hotel. Julia, Keith and I were all set to hit the pool only to discover that it closed at 10pm (10:30 when we got there). Oh well. Julia and I hung in her Dad’s room for a chat and got to send off a few quick emails.

In bed now can hear the sounds of Carnaval! Drums, steel drums, even fireworks (possibly over the bay area?). The beat of the drums makes me want to dance - it’s awesome. Would’ve liked to stay out all night at Carnaval but with church ahead of me and what I’m sure will be an emotional afternoon with the girls in Sabanitas, I think it’s better for me to rest up.

8am wake up call tomorrow. Julia and I are going swimming before breakfast!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Travel Update #1

Over the next week or so I'll be providing lots of interesting (or not) details about my working vacation in Panama and about my relaxation vacation in Grand Cayman. Here's the first entry.

Friday, Feb. 16

Was up bright and early this morning despite not really needing to be. Honestly, I could’ve gone to the gym and been back with time to spare, but I suppose it was better that I didn’t and just concentrated on the last minute packing.

Stupid Videotron was acting up again and I couldn't send Why a last minute email.

Dad drove me to the airport. There was a little problem using the machines for check-in but that got sorted (machine wouldn't print my boarding pass). Then I got caught with excess baggage (1 bag weighed 55lbs and the other 59 lbs) so had to pay $60. Oh well, small price to pay to make sure that the girls get all their gifts.

Flight to Miami was on time. Only complaint being Albert & Annabelle, two small children in the row in front of me. These brats had two volumes: shouting and screaming. With the added bonus volumes of whining and crying just about every time I closed my eyes.

Transferring in Miami went fine. It was cold there, only 15C! I was quite shocked and still bundled in about 4 layers of clothing.

Arrived in Panama on time. Keith was just walking in the arrivals door as I walked out with both my bags. Perfect timing. The rest of the group showed up from Toronto about an hour or so later. All their luggage came through as well. Met the rest of the team. Dave Pearo gave me a big hug and said “here’s a hug from your Dad”. I’m pretty sure I saw and spoke to my father more recently than Dave did .. whatever.

On to our home for the next week, the Hotel Costa Inn, and to bed around 1am. Hotel is pretty basic but clean and neat (phew). Sharing a room with Julia, so we should have some laughs. It was a long day. Feeling tired and excited to start our work in Paraiso and of course, to see las ninas at Hogar Dr. Eno.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

I'm home

All the pictures, details and stories coming soon. I promise!
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Panama 2007 is ready for your viewing pleasure.