Sunday, May 22, 2016

Bugged by the Past....

I am so excited about my upcoming trip to the Mayan archaeological sites of Belize that I'm telling everyone.  Seriously.  Everyone.

The correlations I have forced between what is going on in the real world and my self-absorbed focus on my upcoming trip have been embarrassing.  The woman on line in front of me at the supermarket: "I see you're digging in your purse for change.  That reminds me, I'm going on an archaeological dig soon."  My dental hygienist:  "Y'know, the way you're gently picking at the plaque on my teeth reminds me of the delicate process of uncovering archaeological artifacts, and I just happen to be going on a dig soon..."

This is big for me.  I have dreamed of doing field work for decades, even before Indiana Jones romanticized a process that often includes dirty, back-breaking work in all kinds of climate conditions and, in tropical environments such as Belize, the possibility of venomous snakes, flies that leave their eggs to hatch in your arm, and tarantulas.

Bugs of all kinds are one of the "occupational hazards" of working in Belize.  Cockroaches that fly and are the size of (I'm quoting a friend's description here) "small bats".  Mosquitoes and bed bugs and ticks.  Oh my!

Then there is the deadly bite of the chinch bug.  Yes, Indy never mentioned these little guys.  Chinch bug is the local name for an insect called triatominae.  An online search for information through the World Health Organization informs me that they are called "kissing bugs" because they like to crawl on a sleeping person's mouth.  Awful as the idea of a bug crawling on your mouth during the night may be, the idea of this same bug POOPING near your mouth when it bites you (which is what the chinch bug does) is worse.  Okay, sorry, not done yet.  When you instinctively rub the bite, you can rub the feces INTO the bite, your mouth, eyes, nose, or a skin break.  Still not grossed out?  Okay.  How about if that feces contains parasites that can live in your body undetected for up to twenty years? Parasites that can KILL YOU?

Oh goody.  Always wanted to be on television.  Just didn't think it would be an episode of "Monsters Inside Me".

Indiana Jones never mentioned this.
But even though the image of archaeologists as romantic adventurers has proliferated popular culture, I've always known what I'd really be up against.

And I always wanted to go anyway.

Having seen sites like La Venta, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Palenque, Tikal, Teotihuacan, Altun Ha, Lamanai, and more, I am itching more than ever to be one of those people who uncovers and documents these amazing sites.

Uxmal, Mexico, 2007
Do bugs bug me?  To some extent, of course. And so they should as some are known disease vectors, venomous, and so on.  But facing new, foreign critters does not deter me, much as the idea of roaches with wings makes the flying monkeys of Oz seem like cute pets to me.

When I travel I'm not looking for a "just like home but no dishes" experience. I try to embrace the local way of life, the bad with the good. I realize that I am mainly an observer but I try to to learn about local food, religion, recreation, and so on.  Archaeology is a way to travel to the PAST to find out these very things.  I view participation in uncovering that past as a privilege, an honor.  It's also very exciting.  A treasure hunt? Yes, sometimes.  But if the treasure is knowledge and history, then  always.

I'll bring a lot of bug spray.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Why I Can't Watch Outlander

Does time travel qualify as an appropriate subject for a travel blog?  I think so.  Especially when the time traveler in question - Claire Beauchamp, the heroine of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series - is the "traveler" in question.

Aha!  You noted the quotation marks around "traveler" there.  So let me begin by clarifying the basis of my gripes here.  This isn't an anti-feminist rant against a strong woman who speaks her mind.  This is a rant against a woman who, in my opinion, is acting like a tourist in the worst sense of the word.

Not to put too fine a point on it but there's a difference between a traveler and a tourist.  A tourist comes to observe a culture, a traveler endeavors to participate in it. At best, a tourist views the sights  and leaves money to help the economy without leaving footprints.  At worst, a tourist endeavors to change the culture of the place they are visiting to fit their own homeland.  That's my take on it and that's the perspective from which I write and travel.  When I visit a foreign country I try to learn something about their customs and language.  I'm not fooling  myself here; there is no way on God's green earth I will ever escape faux pas or pass for a native, but I give myself a teeny tiny half pat on the back for not expecting everyone to speak English and serve hamburgers, for at least trying to fit in to the customs of the place I visit.

Now, as for Claire.  For God's sake, woman!  Learn some freakin' Gaelic!  I could be wrong but I don't think she uttered one word by the end of season one. (I skimmed the book as well and saw no attempt to speak the native tongue.  I admit I could have missed it; if so, I applaud her progress, however minimal.)  She's been in 18th century Scotland for months.  Her very safety could depend on understanding what is said in front of her in a foreign tongue.  She is an educated woman and speaks French so she certainly has the capacity.  Why not learn?  Even at the onset when she doesn't exactly plan on staying, it might be a nice gesture to say "Thank you" in the language of the locals who rescued you from a vicious rapist.

And speaking of rescues....this is where I want to smack her.  I understand and agree with her modern viewpoint  about a woman's right to speak her mind and maintain her independence.  But listening to a man who knows the woods and the dangers therein doesn't make you weak, it makes you sensible. Shouldn't you consider his advice about not wandering off alone?  Especially after you were nearly raped in those very same woods?  Not Claire.  I face-palmed as I watched her blithely traipsing up the hill for an instant replay of her first horrendous encounter with heinous Black Jack Randall.  In my estimation, exposing yourself to needless danger in this manner isn't independent, it's stupid.  And certainly inconsiderate of those who care enough to come to your aide.

And don't even get me started about Geillis Duncan.  After Jamie warns her, Claire runs off to see Geillis with no question about the slightly cryptic message that beckons.  The instant Geillis says that she never sent a message I'd be out of there!  That's my definition of smart and independent.  But not Claire's.  She hangs around arguing just long enough to become complicit in accusations of witchcraft.  And so a gracious Scot lawyer friend and her handsome husband are put upon to pull her ass out of the fire once more.

Of course, if Claire was completely behaved with respect to the times and customs, we wouldn't have a story.  I'm taking an historical fantasy too seriously.  I get that readers enjoy her feistiness.  I get that viewers admire her dedication to healing in the face of medical ignorance and her courage when she reciprocates rescue attempts.  But it disturbs me to watch people being put out and endangered for the actions of a person who can't accept the ways of the place they have traveled to.  At least enough to protect themselves and those they profess to love.  When one has come close to being violently raped twice, when one's sweet, adorable husband is raped, tortured, and branded, wouldn't that cause that person to hold back and take some advice from others of the culture/time/area they now inhabit?
Because it was a free Starz preview, I watched the first episode of season two to see if Claire had changed at all. To see if she'd learned enough of a lesson to grasp the opportunity to sail to Boston and live in relative peace with hunky Jamie. (Yeah, I knew better.)  To see if there was any character development with regards to some small show of reticence to get in trouble, some retrospection, some thought to possible overreaching consequences.  (Of course not. Improperly handled, that might shoot some of the external conflict of the story in the foot.)

As I expected, almost as soon as she's off the boat she's trying to alter history (spoiler alert from 2016 history books - she doesn't) and goes running after a smallpox victim.  Even though she is now pregnant.  Even though Jamie is telling her to leave it be.  She's already told him she can't get smallpox so it's not her health he's worried about.  At least stop to ASK him what's up. Show even a second of inner conflict after all you've been through.  Ya' think?  Nope.  The result - perhaps some lives saved (I say perhaps because the ship mates of the dying man are already wandering around, possibly infecting everyone anyway), definitely a brand new, high-powered enemy in the ship's captain, Le Comte St. Germain.  Makes for sequels but doesn't make sense from the standpoint of self-preservation.  Basic instincts be damned.

I don't see Claire as a strong woman so much as I see her as a poor traveler.  Please return to 1945, Claire, and stop putting yourself, your child, and those you profess to love in terrible danger.  I will not be watching season two or reading any sequels.  It's a double whammy when a traveler makes no concessions to custom or  time.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Indiana Mom...

Every year since my son was small I set up a Christmas village.  It was my answer to the doll house I never had as a child - playing with little figures, setting up scenes.  My approach was an attempt to create a microcosm of our neighborhood and I would look for houses and figures that resembled people and places in our community.

It took several years to find little figures that my son and I felt were appropriate representations of ourselves to place in front of the little LeMax house that looked like our ranch: a wizard for him and a khaki wearing, whip bearing adventuress that my son dubbed "Indiana Mom".  I painted a white streak in front of her hair and felt extremely satisfied when I placed her in the batting.

I don't know what drives me.  I think I've told you, dear readers, that my mother once informed me that the gypsies left me.  I found that to be a perfectly reasonable and plausible explanation for why I was always on the move.  Gypsies also call themselves travelers and, even when I was very young and there was only one travel show on the black and white TV I watched at my grandmother's (anyone recall Gunther Leiss?), I was glued to it and vowed that someday I'd go to all those places.

As of this moment, I have logged somewhere in the neighborhood of what I consider to be a paltry 27 countries.  And my thirst for the world is not yet slaked.  Furthermore, unlike some of my friends who are "one and done" with countries they visit as they attempt to increase their lists, I can't help but fall in love with places and will visit them multiple times.  Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Honduras, ...I've lost count of how many times I've been to these places.  To me, it's like visiting old friends or lovers.  It's comfortable, I recognize the "face" of the place, relive old memories and make new ones.

All of this is to reveal a return to another old friend - Belize - and an adventure that feels so exciting, speaks so clearly to who I am, who I love to be, that I have literally been running around jumping for joy over it.

Photo taken from '07 trip to Altun Ha and Lamanai in Belize.

Just yesterday I was accepted to work on the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance project.  My graduate work was in art/art history/archaeology and going on a dig was always a dream for me.  But I was a single mom when I was in grad school and an experience like this was neither financially nor logistically possible. 

Now, lest someone get the idea that I have no idea what I'm in for, let me state that I know that fieldwork in the jungle is hot, dirty, sweaty, and nothing like the fast-paced movie depiction of everyone's favorite archaeology professor, Indiana Jones.  But, as I prepare for this trip, I do feel like that little Christmas village figure representative of myself - dressed in BDU cargo pants and ready for adventure.

However, since this trip also provides educational credit through Northern Arizona University and I will likely be working alongside high school and college students...I promise to leave the whip home!

Monday, January 11, 2016

How I Inadvertently Became a "New York TImes Food Critic"

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a big joker.  I will often say wild things with a straight face to get a laugh.  (Ha ha, you're a pisser, no harm done.)  The problem is that when I travel I sometimes forget that the person I'm joking with doesn't know me. The results can run the gamut from shocking to ridiculous, leaving me to explain myself.  (Ha ha, you're an idiot, no harm done.)

In my most recent case of miscommunication, however, I found myself trapped in the web of my own silliness.  Uh, oh. What do I say to this?

Indochine restaurant in Wilmington had been recommended to me by my real estate agent.  Judging from the full parking lot and waiting line when I arrived, I knew she had steered me right.  Solo, book in hand (there's a tip for you - you'll never feel uncomfortable about dining alone if you have a good book for a companion), the hostess offered me the choice of sitting at the bar or waiting twenty minutes.  I opted for the bar.

The place is decorated with objets d'art from all over Asia and local paintings with Asian themes.  Anywhere you look your eyes will land on something colorful and interesting. All of it is for sale if you inquire.  Because of the crowd I wasn't able to get good shots of the interior but here is a photo of the LADIES' ROOM.

The bartender introduced herself as Lolo.  A very pleasant woman, she was doling out drinks and conversation with equal energy.  When I told her that the place had been highly recommended she said that she was the manager and proudly proclaimed the food to be absolutely fantastic. I replied: "Really?  Well I'll let you know what I think because I'm a New York Times food critic and I know food."  Ha ha!  Ummm.  Ha ha.

Uh oh.  

I immediately got the impression she had taken me completely seriously.  I was about to explain that I was joking when a waiter arrived with a drink order and distracted her.  Worse.  She introduced me to him as "a special person here" and suggested he discuss their many and varied curries with me.

Now I'm in it.  It was deer-in-the-headlights time.  The mouth opened but it didn't know what to say so I listened to the waiter and accepted his recommendation of the Penang curry.  Then I ordered a drink to loosen up my inhibitions about carrying on a charade with these good people.

One Night in Bangkok - a mix of Tequila, raspberry Schnapps and pineapple - was strong and delicious.  I'm a lightweight with booze and sipped it with a lot of reserve while I waited lest it turn into One Night in the Gutter.

In spite of the full-to-capacity house, my curry arrived without an overlong wait that was made to seem even shorter by Lolo's conversation, my yummy drink, and a side of crunchy Thai cabbage salad I was given to munch on.  

The curry came garnished with a sprig of parsley and a conical carrot curl, chicken and vegetables swimming in a fragrant yellow sauce served in a bowl so large it looked as if it might have fed three people.  I couldn't wait to dig in.

Oh wow.  Was my little lying mouth ever happy.  It was creamy with coconut milk, perfectly hot (mouth warming without burning the taste out - exactly the way I like it), fragrant, and tasty with a melange of spices.  Instead of the ubiquitous vegetables I've experienced in Thai curries all over the world (not exaggerating  - from the US to London to France to Singapore and beyond), this curry contained green beans and sweet potato that added delightfully smooth and crunchy textures to the dish.  If I had actually been a food critic I would have given it five stars.  Seriously, I wanted to lick the plate after I had stuffed myself with two portions that left me with enough leftovers for two more.

By now I hoped that my unintentional prevarication had been forgotten, but that seemed to be unlikely when I was offered a free sample of their smooth, creamy, house-made coconut ice cream and a free side of rice for my doggie bag.

When they brought the owner over to introduce me I was absolutely certain that I was still in up to my neck. I gave my effusive albeit non-professional praise of the food to Solange, a Vietnamese woman whose biographical blurb on the menu is so heart-warming you want to hug her after you read it.  You could tell she was very proud of her business.  And she was sweet and sincere - unlike stupid writers who like to joke around and tell people they are food critics.

I'm going to hell.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Is This Traveling?

Is it still traveling if you are away from home searching for a home?  I'm currently staying in Wilmington, NC (aka "The Hollywood of the East" - since I have some experience character acting, that nickname was partially responsible for my choice).  Of course, I'm checking out the sights, but what I'm really looking for reads like a list for

Um....not this one.
Let me preface this by saying I'm being run out of my own state.  Not by the people, no.  I get along fine with most of my neighbors (with the exception of one household, the owner of which I have nicknamed "Breaking Bad"). It's the taxes (my sister is paying around $12K for a home that would go for around $250K or less here in NC), the insurance costs (house/car/medical = all high), the cold, the back-breaking snow shoveling, the twenty-one bags of leaves that constituted ONE bout with autumn last year, and finally - my bad here - the twenty-seven raised beds and six level waterfall I personally built with my bare hands on a steep, rocky hill over the space of ten+ years that I love but no longer want to spend time keeping in Better Homes and Gardens condition.

Just about HALF of my massive garden.  (All rocks dug and placed by yours truly.)
So the epic journey begins.  Again.  I've been considering a move for years. California.  Costa Rica.  Oregon.  Love them all but the distance from family gives me pause. "Do I belong here?" is the question that has been at the back of my mind in many of my travels.  I tick off the laundry list of things that make me comfortable and happy.  But, once again, the thought is at the forefront and the list is on paper and includes "fenced in yard".

So, is it traveling when you're looking for that place you will eventually call home?

Thursday, January 7, 2016


I believe there comes a time in everyone's life where they are faced with a question:  Do I continue to do the fun things that everyone around me is saying I'm too old for or do I ignore the naysayers and continue enjoying myself?

This could apply to anything from hairstyle (too long, purple, whatever) to a particular activity (comic books, video games, Star Trek conventions, etc.) or sport you like to participate in (Mom!  Grandpa took my skateboard again!)

This past weekend I attended Mermania 2016, a mermaid convention in Greensboro, North Carolina.  A what?  Yes, a mermaid convention in which I dressed as a mermaid, swam with mermaids (both professional and non), talked/sang/played/danced and hugged with mermaids.

The pool was too cold for me to swim much (I have cold-induced urticaria - a literal allergy to cooler temperatures) but I was surrounded by so much warmth it didn't matter.   It was one of the best weekends I've had in a very long time.

Wait.  How old are you?, you might ask.  This blog is admittedly written by a senior.  Yeah.  I guess.  But it hurts to admit to the chronology when my soul has somehow - through child-raising, hardships, bouts of depression, responsible home ownership, a stable career and a credit score over 800 - retained so much of the child within.

Perhaps this is what has kept me going all these years.  I don't have much truck with Muggles. My home was always open to D&D games. I read and write fantasy novels.  I enjoy sci-fi, fairies, the Renn Faire, and dressing up for LOTR and Star Wars movies.  I own Star Trek and Tinkerbell pajamas.  I've attended Who Con, sci-fi cons, Comicon, and Harry Potter weekends.  But by far my favorite was/is Mermania.

I wasn't the only young soul in attendance.  Merfolk come in all ages, sizes, shapes, colors, genders, and sexual preferences.  None of it matters.  We are all together, tailed and glittering.

The fact is, I believe that none of this matters IN LIFE.  But when we walk the streets in our various and sundry "real faces" it's less easy to recognize that we are all one.  We focus on our differences "out there".

If only we could look at the world as one big "Human Con" we might enjoy more of the love, respect, and camaraderie that I enjoyed this weekend in pink wig, seashells, glitter, and tail.  Proud to be a "Mermom".