Canada and the USA,      Mexico,      Belize,      Guatemala,      El Salvador,      Honduras,      Nicaragua,      Costa Rica,      Panama,      USA, again,       Thailand,       Lao,       Vietnam,       Cambodia,       Thailand, again,      

Journal Index

New as of June 3rd, 2005 (Berea, Kentucky)

New as of July 14th, 2005 (Sundance, Wyoming)

New as of August 2, 2005 (Sundance, Wyoming)

New as of August 20, 2005 (Irvine, California)

New as of September 12, 2005 (Irvine, California)

New as of September 30th, 2005 (San Francisco, California)

Just a little bit of differences.

May 26, 2005

On a plane between Panama and Newark

Plane travel is just wrong. In less than twelve hours I will have gone from Panama City to Detroit. It’s something along the lines of 2,336 miles. The other night I was trying to think of the longest trip I have made at one time. It was probably one of my long bus rides back in Canada, but that seams like such a long time ago. The longest trip recently is probably not more than a couple hundred miles at best.

Last night all I could think of was how surreal it will be to go directly from Panama to a Morris Ale. (Not that at Morris Ale isn’t it’s own little world, but it does have some frame of reference in the same world that I have just come from.)

Part of this is also some of the interesting stuff that has been up in Panama City the last couple of days. I don’t know how well has been covered in other countries but Panama City has been having some pretty extensive protests. On Tuesday there were a couple of protests in the neighborhood of the hostel. One of the guys from the hostel ended up walking out of the building at just the wrong time.

The police had just dispersed a protest (by way of letting off a round of machine gun fire into the air) on Avenda 3 about three blocks south of the hostel. A good bunch of the crowd fled through our neighborhood up to Via Espana passing our front door. One of my roomettes had just stepped out and ended up getting a rock thrown at him and he ended up fleeing into a laundry mat in view from the hostels third and eighth floor balconies. The crowd passed quickly enough and he made it back OK but shaken. The protest continued on Via Espana where although we couldn’t see it because of a building but the eighth floor had views of the street on either side. On Wednesday some of the stores along the street put plywood up over their windows. (When I first came to Panama City I noted that there were so many stores that didn’t have the big metal gates over all the windows like the rest of Central America.)

From news reports I heard the along the way another protest had been happening under a construction site and there the workers had thrown glass, bricks, and rebar rods down into the protesters.

Wednesday they had closed the schools (most of the protesters were students) and it was expected that the teachers were to join in. I planned my day accordingly and shortly after lunch when all the stores along the shopping area started closing up I headed to the Plaza de Cinco de Mayo to catch my bus back to the hostel. After spending some time catching up the internet I went back to the hostel just in time to see the live news coverage of the police tear gassing the protest at the Plaza de Cinco de Mayo.

I wasn’t totally surprised. I had planning on doing a bit more these last couple days but I’m not silly and I know where not to be. (Also making sure I have enough money for cab fare home incase stuff starts heating up is a good idea as well.)

Some how holding up in the hostel watching protests and the Midwest Morris Ale is going to be a bit of contrast.

The Morris ale will be a blast. My worry is how out of shape I am. I haven’t been practice like the rest of my side and this will be like the first rehearsal back in February for me. Steven always says that in many ways the first rehearsal of the season is great because you dance solely for the joy of it and to be with your sidemates. A lot of that is doubly true for an ale although it is not just your side but also all the other Morris folk that are there. Now we will have to see if I can keep up with everybody. This ale should be a blast.


I Will get used to typing on an English keyboard again.


Wow this is going to be the first time on US soil since October 31st, 2004. Three days before the presidential election. Wasn’t sure I would be coming back if I could find a way. Then again I’m not sure I will stay either.

Some of the people I met from the US (Andy in Costa Rica who was planting an orchard being one) had left and were looking to get out of the US because it had become too much. I think I understand.

I was chatting with one of my roommates at the hostel last night and he commented on how of his online students (he was teaching some kind of online course while traveling) you could tell the students who were in the US and who weren’t. I don’t think I am looking forward to being back in the US media-scape. Large English language libraries, yes; Large English language book stores, yes; used English language book stores, yes; but the general barrage of English language advertising and news, not really. I’m glad I lived without a TV for the last few years, and when / if I return I think I will keep that trend. Maybe a tuner card for my computer for emergencies, but no buzz box in the living room. (Not to mention then you can arrange the furniture for conversation, not watching.)


Well I’m going almost 500 miles an hour according to the little screen. More distance traveled in the last half hour than I have done in a day for a very long time.

And Culture Shock BeginsElt;/h1>

May 26th, 2005

Newark Airport, USA

OK, I am trying to figure out what is wrong hereE I just went thru the US security checkpoint and something is very wrong here. First off the checkpoint looks and feels so temporary. It’s not that they didn’t have to run a lot of electricity to run those machines and they have put up divider walls but it seams they did not bother to consult an architect or anyone with a design sensibility. They are functional and that’s it. (And this is not in an interesting form follows function kind of way.) Something about folding tables being used as the lead up to machines that don’t look right. You have machines that cost thousands if not millions of dollars but you can’t afford a counter to lead up to it? Also the area has bad light and is just grim. Do they ever clean these places that everybody passes thru, barefoot?

It even reminded me a bit of the boarder crossing getting into Panama. The line extends out into the hallway so people trying to get to other gates have to cut thru. Especially you are standing in the street.

There are also the “rulesEand “rightsEthat are just messed up. There is a sign that says that you do not have to remove your shoes but it is more like a threat. The staff saying, probably quite honestly, “I recommend removing your shoes. Failure to do so will cause you to be set aside.ESounds like the mob giving you a threat.

There is something intangibles here though that I haven’t figured it out. Boarding crossing in Central America are not something I would consider friendly, but here there is an extra hostility involved. Maybe it is just that I am used to every transaction beginning with some kind of greeting. Good Morning, Good Afternoon, hello, or even it just a brief “BuenosE(literally “GoodE. Even the person I had to bribe to get into Panama gave off less negative vibe than the airport security screeners.

I think we have maybe made their job miserable for them. Everything is standardized to a strict procedure. They are treated like machines and hence pass the mood on to us. And unfortunately for us we are recalcitrant uninformed machines that do everything wrong. I will admit if I was working with a set of equipment that was poorly designed and never worked right or even the same way, I would have a bad attitude as well. (I suspect Sari or one of my co-workers could probably point out an example, maybe the Colortran 5-50 series lighting instrumentsE) But unfortunately they are not work with machines but with people.

Some how I think they approach we have taken to the airport security is wrong. And in that I mean the process and facilities we are using. I won’t say if it is any good at this time; that is a different can of worms. It is based around terrorists, not about workers or travelers. I believe we could still scan and inspect everybody with out making it into a traumatic experience. And I bet we would even do a better job and making it safe to fly. (Or we could just make it so people don’t hate the US more than they want to live.)

Not that it has been all bad. I chatted with one of the Northwest airline agents making sure I was in the right place and the right time. She was nice and gave me recommendations for where to eat, or more importantly what food court restaurant appears to have a bad record for food poisoning. Nice informative and helpful. Just what I need.

The airport has been largely well signed and self-explanatory. The food court easy to navigate. And all the internal transportation clean and free of beggars and as far as I can tell muggers.

Weren’t not in Kansas, I mean Panama, anymoreElt;/h1>

May 26, 2005

Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

Sorry if this is a bit old, but boy this is weird. I am staying in the house of one of the hosts of the Morris ale. It is a lovely wooden framed house, plaster walls, nice woodwork, beautiful gas/wood burning stove in the kitchen. There isn’t any cast concrete above the foundation as far as I can tell (and I wouldn’t be surprised if the foundation is mostly field stone.) The drive over didn’t have any garbage in the ditch, no people selling fresh fruit on the street. No food stands along the highway. It’s justEweird.

On the way to the ale.

May 27, 200

Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

Sorry if it gets boring about how weird this all is but I figure it is better to bore the people reading this who can skim rather than bore the people who I’m talking to who have to sit thru it.

I have been having to keep myself from getting out my camera and taking photos of everything. (Actually I still might do some of that because it might be interesting to see what I think is worth a picture.) Downtown Ann Arbor (we had to pick up the beer for the Ale) has public art, nice looking parking ramps, restored Midwestern historic buildings more or less no smog belching busses.

OK that was weird, I just saw three school busses and not only were they yellow and were actually in the area painted on the side and were even carrying school kids. Who would have thought you could put school kids in one of those busses? I bet there wasn’t a chicken anywhere on board.

I didn’t plan on coming to Kentucky

May 31, 2005

Berea, Kentucky, USA

OK, a few more new weird things.

Flushing toilet paper, parking lots, not using Spanish to order food at a restaurant, lawns, typing on an English layout keyboard, people who know me.

The last one has been the biggest culture shock and one I was not really expecting. Of course I didn’t expect to come back to a Morris ale.

Background on Morris Ales. A Morris ale is a lot of fun, at least if you are a Morris dancer. A Morris ale is a gathering of Morris dancers generally over a weekend. A Morris ale is an excuse to escape from the real world and hang out with dancers. A Morris ale is time you stay up all night dancing dances you don’t know with your best friends you just met. A Morris ale is like a big family reunion assuming you like at lest half of your family. A Morris ale is a wonderful thing to go to. (Steven wrote a nice description of what a Morris Ale is about in his live journal, click here to see it.)

So here I am at a Morris ale being in what I might call a high density social situation. My Morris side who I saw at least once a week is here. Mel who traveled with me for a week or so back in August in New York state is here. Kate and Fred who housed, fed, and took Mel and I camping are here. In fact these are the first people that knew my name since I saw Stan and Sarah back in California in October a bit more than seven months ago. With only four exceptions these are the first people to not require me to introduce myself in nine mounts. It is a big change.

I think I spent all of Friday and most of Saturday with a big sappy grin on my face because it was all so surreal and fun. A bit like waking up and finding that you really can fly like in your dream. By Sunday I was mostly just marveling about flushing toilet paper, but I did warn a couple of the more motherly people that if I rush off to take a walk by myself it is OK, I just need a little time to process by myself.

All in all the Ale was a blast. On Thursday after the flight in the hosting Morris side (team) picked me up and I stayed at the home of one of the organizers of the ale. They have a lovely farm house out in the country that they have done a lot of work on. Beautiful floors, nice woodwork, a really lovely place. I had probably one of the best beds I have had in a long time.

On Friday morning we a breakfast that did not include rice, beans or fired plantains and went to pick up the beer for the ale. (There is a reason it is called an ale.) After learning that a keg is 1/2 a barrel, hence a half keg is a 1/4 barrel we headed off to the camp sight jut north of Lexington, Michigan on the shore of Lake Huron. (Also a Brithish pint is 20 oz and an American pint is only 16 oz.)

The camp was a nice YMCA camp on the shore of Lake Huron with a beach lots of cabins, camping space, and a lodge with room to dance and a separate dinning hall that was good for singing. Pretty much what you need for an ale. I won’t put a blow by blow of the ale here, because it isn’t that interesting. Enough to say lots of dancing, very little sleep (less than five hours most nights), good food and company, and few cares and responsibilities. In true Ramsey’s Braggarts (my Morris side) style, they put me in the Saturday morning show dance. (Show dances are the big chance for a side to show off in front of everybody who came to the ale.) We didn’t bother to practice, they just told me the couple things they had changed about the dance in the last couple mounts and threw me in.

As much as the side is called the Braggarts, these people really are not. Back on my first dance out on May Day morning three years ago they proved it as well. In the morning when all the Morris sides gathered to dance up the sun there are also show dances to show off your side. While it is often normal to cherry pick you best dancers to do a really flashy dance, they chose the six newest members to do the first show dance to show off their new people. Some sides don’t even have the new people dance out in public in full outfit until they have been with the side for a year or more. They may be Braggarts, but they are some of the most caring people I know.

As I said the ale was great. Nice pacing to the tours, good food that did not require long buffet lines.

On Monday morning I still didn’t have a plan as to where I was going to go next. I had breakfast and had my world map out pondering on where to go, although I was planning on heading towards Minnesota to see One Voice, my chorus, perform.

I had been hoping that John, one of the Braggarts, would have driven up by himself and had an extra seat as he and I could have gone back with him. What I know of John we would have taken several days as we found interesting things to do along the way and stopping to see the flowers and the trees as we wanted to. But he drove up with others who had a schedule.

I probably could have caught a ride back with one of the Minnesota Morris people but I ended up getting an offer from both the husband and wife (separately) to ride with them back to Kentucky. So here I am. It actually wasn’t all that bad as it was a seven hour drive with breaks every two hours or so. I sleep a good portion of the trip as from Wednesday thru Monday I had only 22 for the normal 45 hours of sleep.

They have offered me one of their spare beds for as long as I want to stay and keep coming up with plans for things I would enjoy next week and the week after. (They are disappointed that I want to be back in Minneapolis by June 16th and 17th.)

Tonight after dinner they had a couple friends over and we worked on a Morris-like dance that uses a loop of rope and makes a cat’s cradle figure. They are in interesting set of people.

This seams to be the period of people offering me places to stay. First the Ale hosts, then Shirley and Howard, what next?

"Goodbye Mr. Tall Man" and other stories.

June 9th, 2005

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Being back in the US has not ceased to be weird. Being back "home" in Minneapolis has just been an extension of the first stage of culture shock. Part of it is since I am only planning on passing through, I don't really fit in. I have too much time off, too much freedom to really make sense in this world. I used to have periods of unemployment when I was working as a freelance theatre technician, but this is different.

The difference may be because I'm just passing through and don't want to get into any thing long term. I am just sofa surfing with friends so I don't really have a place to call home. Either way it is still weird.

I do love being back into town. It is as much the smells that I am enjoying. I knew that back in University in Morris (the town, not to be confused with the dance) that the campus community was very smell oriented. We could and would discuss how different buildings and places would smell and if you asked someone coming in from outside, "What's it like out there?" you would get a report on the smell along with if it was raining or not. I never though of Minneapolis this way but it is certainly true for me.

The smells of Theatre in the Round or back at my old job in Ted Mann Concert Hall were especially memorable. Even stepping off the bus in downtown Minneapolis; it just smelled right.

Backing up a little to the trip from KentuckyE

I spent a day in Chicago and I liked it. I am a little surprised as all I have known of Chicago was the view from the airplane when I had to changed plans at O'Hare. My impression was mostly of endless suburbs with few trees. Even with all its suburbs Minneapolis looks more livable from the air because of the trees.

I was pleasantly surprised to find how nice downtown and the couple neighborhoods I visited were. I liked it for the same reasons I like much of Minneapolis. Old buildings, nice trees, locally owned and focus corner shops with and active arts scene. I could see living there.

I was anxious to get to Minneapolis so I only had one day so I didn't see much. I went downtown in the morning and ended up spending four hours in their Public Library. It's a nice facility. It was a bit odd though as for some reason that I can't quite put my finger on it felt like they had just moved in. In fact they have been in the building since 1991. It was too clean. I think some of the signage looked like it was waiting to be fixed. One room looked like they had just gotten the furniture and it hadn't been put in place yet. Maybe they just did some refurbishing of the building but it certainly did not seem fourteen years old.

For dinner I went off to a neighborhood off the Western stop on the EL. It has been listed as a nice place in the news and arts weekly so I figure it would be a good bet. I passed by their May Fest, which was for some reason being held in June. Mostly a bunch of drunken people with big mugs of beer and a band a bit later. I filled it as an 'Octoberfest' and moved on.

Further along I enjoyed the neighborhood atmosphere in a park, a nice looking branch library and local stores. I had dinner at a Mexican restaurant. They had the TV tuned to a Mexican station, the other customers were speaking Spanish and they even had horchata on the menu. It was just like being back on the road, except that I would speak Spanish to them and they would reply in English. Oh well. I even had to horchata for old time sake event though I remember on the first sip that I don't really like it. Unfortunately they didn't have any Chan on the beverage menu.

It's too bad it was a Sunday as most of the shops were closed, but it was nice to see the neighborhood in a relaxed state. I wonder what it would have been like had I gone to university in Chicago. Who would I have turned out to be?

I finished my return trip to Minneapolis on Greyhound which reminded me why I love Guatemalan busses so much. To get from Lexington Kentucky to Minneapolis on Greyhound it cost over US$120. For my entire two month stay in Guatemala I doubt I spent that much in total. Now sure I had a seat, the bus was reasonably air-conditioned, there was a bathroom had I been that desperate, and there was a mark lack of chickens or other live stock on board, but for US$120 I could live for a mouth in Nicaragua! Not to mention I sort of like the X-school bus with wacky colors and the helpful cobradors who threw your bag on top. Sure you had to occasionally help the bent old woman get her basket of chickens off the top, but you met people. And it only cost about two bucks to get where you were going; now that's a deal.

Back in Minneapolis has been fun, if weird. I have been surprising people by just showing up. At my chorus's rehearsal I walked in and immediately helped set up the risers. The normal response when people saw me was, "Hi Andy," a slight pause while their brain realized I wasn't supposed to be there then, "Hi! What are you doing here?" and a big hug. I will be sticking around to help out with the concert, as it will as being held at a theater I used to be staff at. (As well as the fact I know how to get eighty singers on and off stage as a group.)

One frustrating bit of business to come home to discovering that my Post Office Box was closed three mouths ago and all my mail has been being retuned to sender. I am a bit surprised my credit cards still work. (Glad they did considering that is how I bought my airline ticket back the US.) Having discovered that my PO box has been closed and re- rented I need to rent another. Unfortunately you can't rent a PO box unless you have a US address. (If I had a US address why would I need to rent a PO box?!??) So I am off to establish an address at Theatre in the Round and hopefully when I swing by there tomorrow they will have the letter addressed to me and canceled so I can open a new PO Box and do an address change on everything. I still need to pick up my old mail from Becca and sort through it. Welcome Back!

For a bit of fun today I pulled out my spring-loaded stilts and took a walk down to my favorite caf鬠Anodyne. It's fun taking walks on stilts, especially my fancy high tech stilts, because everybody smiles and waves at you. Except for those few who see you as doing something too weird and pretend you are invisible. Being the first time on stilts in eleven months I was a good customer and took them off before going into the caf鮠 (In the past I have worn them into restaurants and gotten my meal for free.) I figured this was not the time to work on my confined spaces and self-closing doors. After my favorite lunch of an Italian Soda and a curried chicken sandwich I headed out and put the stilts back on and headed home. I stopped and talked with some people a half block away. While I was chatting, a guy I had seen at the caf頲an up and introduced himself as a stilter and asked me about the stilts. I had seen him there and he had watched me put them on so he must have been thinking about talked to me and finally gave in. Fun. The only sour note on this walk was I, for the first time, had someone push me over. A kid ran up from behind me and pushed me down. It was a good fall so I wasn't hurt and I quick used a fence to get back up and started to chase him. (At first he stood a bit and gloated thinking I would be slower to react.) As I neither had an idea what I would do if I caught up with him and had only been on the stilts for about fifteen minuets for the first time in eleven mouths, I let him go. Every other interaction with people on the walk was smiling and waving or people saying how cool they were, just unfortunate to find one kid that thought it would be fun to push me over and then did.

"May you Always be surrounded by Good Friends & Great BBQ"

June 20, 2005

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Ahh what a week! Amazing how involved I can get in things when I don't live here, more or less.

Actually technically I do live here again, as I do have a Post Office Box again despite drifting into shades of Catch-22 here or Terri Gilliam's Brazil.

To make a long whinny story short I spent a good deal of last week sending letters and bills to myself in order to establish an address. I now have an address so I am a real person and can do things like sign a petition again. I don't know if I have enough documentation to be allowed to vote, but I'm a bit closer. I pity the homeless people who don't have the resources I have behind me.

I have also made it through my chorus's concert with little mishap. Of course no show goes perfectly smoothly (where would all the good stories come from if they did?) Actually the hard part was getting the show up and going. Part of the problem is always time.

It's hard to have 80 people sitting around waiting for something to be done or a decision to be made. I figure that the chorus's time is worth fifteen dollars a minute. This doesn't include the director's time, the space rental or the tech staff. Fifteen bucks is just for the attention of the chorus. Just a little pressure.

It was also harder as this was practically the first time the chorus had performed at the History Theater. (They did a show at History years ago, but few singers go back that far, let alone remember details about building.) The other challenge is back at our normal performance venue they have known us for years and just anticipate our needs even when we forget to tell them things. Of course the History Theater staff can't do this. They did an amazing job with all of the things we needed. Even keeping a smile going most of the time.

Those were the hard parts that were frustrating. Time, money and planning. A normal trio for me. But the truly hardest part was that I wasn't really part of the chorus and getting to sing in the concert. At one point I had joined the chorus and Jane, the music director, were doing a focus exercise before the concert. They were reviewing what the chorus had achieved and done over the past year. I had to leave. I have been keeping up with the going's ons and been envious, but here and now I would have just broken down in tears so I wandered off and checked how things were going elsewhere.

The next Monday I had my first scheduling conflict. (How can I get so busy so fast?) I was both invited to the chorus's volunteer thank you dinner or dance out with my Morris side. In the end I decided to go to the dance out as I has just spent most of the week with the chorus. It was well that I choose as I did as we were a bit tight on dancers and my presence kept everybody from having to dance every dance.

The dance out was a traditional one for the Braggarts. The Minnesota Freedom Band (the GLBT marching band) does an out door concert the Lake Harriett Band Shell and we dance along side for the audience before the band gets going. Normally we would follow this with a dance out and ride on the Trolley car line that is run as a bit of the Twin Cities transportation history. Unfortunately for us the trolley line was getting new track laid and was closed, so we moved directly one to the final stop a bar-b-que restaurant just a few blocks away.

It is not that we dance at the bar-b-que place as much as enjoy the expression of the staff's face when ten people almost entirely dressed in white come in and order food so messy and staining that each table comes equipped with it's own roll of paper towels. Now in reality we are well practiced at not dribbling food down our fronts and a few people do change cloths just to be sure so stains are not really an issue.

On the way again

(July 4, 2005)

(Rapid City, South Dakota, USA)

The rest of my stay in Minneapolis was a bit calmer but still busy. I danced out a couple more times with the Braggarts and even made it to an Uptown-on-Calhoon practice after several failed attempts. They are my other Morris side and I am still learning the styles they dance. They are a really fun group of people and although I think I have made it to as many of their social events as I have practices, I hope to get good enough to actually dance out with them.

The other big event in the last week or so was going to the Minneapolis Pride festival. The Twin Cities has the third largest Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans festival and parade in the U.S. I had a fun time going down to the park and catching up with people and hanging out in the park. I brought my stilts in as well and had a good time wearing them around. This was also the first time I have actually seen the Pride Parade. Up until now I have always been in the parade so this year I enjoyed watching it for the first time. (Parade hint: If you have stilts you never have to worry about people being too tall in front of you. Although you can't pick up candy that has landed on the ground.)

One thing that came up for me this year at Pride is my reaction to some of the homophobia I encountered in this last part of my trip. Not I am not a very 'out' person, because I have no reason to be. I don't have a boy friend to talk about. I haven't been dating as I have been on the road and long distance relationships are hard. I sing in a Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans, and Allies chorus and work in the performing arts so it is rare for people to simply assume I am straight back home in the Twin Cities. Not so much true on the road.

On this trip I have been reminded by some people's comments how important things like the Pride festival are. On thing I ran into was someone who said that gay people weren't welcome to a certain event. But when he got asked in specifics about certain people he said sure, they can come, just not gay people in general. This whole conversation bugged me and then I realized what it was that the person was saying. That gay people weren't really people until he had given them his own personal stamp of approval. Essentially that gay people are bad until he knows them. Of course if you avoid gay people you will never get to know them either. But it does turn the person into the judge of all soles.

I sometimes miss my little bubble of liberalism back in Minneapolis. Of course I am on my way to Wyoming, not a state know for it's liberalism.

B.I.C. and other catch up.

July 12, 2005

Sundance, Wyoming, USA

B.I.C. = Butt In Chair. In other words, journals don't write themselves, if you want to get it written put your butt in a chair and write. Thank you Jane Yolan.

Right now I am in the desert, state of Wyoming about as far away from any place as you can get. The Geographical center of North America is just across the border in my home state of South Dakota. (Sorry Canada but I am putting you in with the U.S. because compared to Nicaragua the differences are small. I don't currently even need a passport to visit you.)

So what am I doing in this land of people who actually voted for Bush? I am visiting my parents; who did not. This is not to say that this area is not interesting in it's own right. Sundance is where the Sundance Kid got his name, and a trial. You can go see the furniture that was in use in the courthouse during his trial at the little, free, county museum in town. We aren’t far from the Devil's Tower of Close Encounters of the Third Kind fame. (Who were the second kind?) Which I have visited before but still is an amazing place.

The Black Hills of South Dakota are nearby providing endless tourist opportunities. From the old west of Deadwood where Wild Bill Hickock was shot and people like Poker Alice really did walk the streets to Hot Springs, the Bad Lands, and the world's largest piece of graffiti, Mount Rushmore.

The area also holds a lot of childhood memories because growing up my Mother's family had a cabin in Spearfish canyon and we would vacation in the summers there. So some of the time is just wandering down memory lane. Today we even stuck our heads in the famous Ranch A that my mother spent 4th of July weekends at as a child, my friend Becca stayed at during a geology trip and keeps popping up in my life when I least expect it.

The stay here had been good. It's good to see my parents again and see some of the old places. In some ways it is a bit of a nice break coming down from all the hubbub of my stay in Minneapolis. I really need to figure out where I am going next. I am liking the idea of a little time visiting a couple of the great western tourist attractions. I should be looking into how doable seeing Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon without a car is. Actually the lack of a car is one of the reason I have probably been putting off some of the research. The U.S. is so based around personal automobile travel it is hard to travel without one. I miss the Guatemalan chicken busses. Oh how I miss Central American busses. They let you off anywhere, they pick you up anywhere, and they are frequent and cheep. What more can you ask for? (Or maybe is that too much to ask for?)

Oh Goodie, more Grave Yards...

July 28, 2005

Sundance, Wyoming, USA

Yes, when I finally get my camera uploaded there will be more graveyard photos. These are a bit different as I knew or are related to most of them. (There are also a couple really tacky graves that I had to get pictures of.) Of course it's been two mouths since I have uploaded the camera as there are still pictures from Panama on it.

The people I am related to are / were my maternal grandparents and great-grandparents. It's actually a bit odd as it was the first time I think any of us had been out to my Great- grandfather's grave and someone from some other branch of the family tree has put flowers out there. There is something sort of odd to visit the graves and find that someone has put flowers there and you don't know who. It makes you wonder a bit about which relatives make it a point to come out and do this. (My grandfather had nine siblings so there are lots of relatives out here so it's really not too surprising but...)

This is in contrast with my and my parent's thoughts as to what should be done with a dead body. My dad has expressed interest in being composted and used as garden fertilizer and my mom has suggested that if we don't have any peculiar plans just put here out in the middle of the street. She figures that sooner or later some one will declare her dead body a public health hazard and come by and dispose of it, free of charge. (We can be a cheap, and not very sentimental family at times.) I have recently come up with the idea that it would be fun to be cremated and then have a list of places I would like my ashes spread and just have everybody at teh memorial take a scoop and sign up on the list. Like what groups do when they distribute posters. Sort of a distributive burial.

For all the time we spent at graveyards we hadn't planned on it at all. But once we were out in the country and near one we figured we might as well see both sides of the family. The graveyards are out on the edge of these almost ghost towns with the big sweeping, empty expanses of the short grasslands of Wyoming stretching to the horizon. Dry land, shale or rust red soil, with barely a mark of habitation, it is a very dramatic land. The guide books said about Wyoming that the biggest thing to see was that there was so little to see. You could easily see going out into the dry land and never being seen again.

The other thing that made visiting my great-grandparents graves a bit different was that today is my birthday. If I had been employed I would have taken the day off as I have learned it is best to not work on one's birthday, but as is I enjoyed just driving around.

Tacky town

August 5, 2005

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Las Vegas is tacky. So tacky I think that it defines tacky. If Las Vegas we rebuilt tomorrow in the latest fashions we would simply redefine tacky to match what ever Las Vegas turned out to be. Even the airport, especially around the baggage claim area, is tacky.

Today, after almost two days wandering around “The StripEI headed out to see what the rest of Las Vegas is like. The downtown bus terminal is tacky. It has mirrored bits, wood paneling for no good reason, and to top it all off, slot machines. Actually I shouldn’t say all of Las Vegas is tacky, there are also trashy bits as well. Mostly filling up the space between the tacky bits.

There are also parking lots. I guess you can’t really classify them as tacky or trashy as long as they are kept clean, but they are still ugly. I went to the Las Vegas Blvd branch of the library. It really wasn’t as tacky as it was dated. Not too bad, but not great. Actually it would be great, except I expect a bit more from a city this big and this glitzy. Also at the end of all the shelves were signs saying telling you that sitting in the isles was not allowed. Where are you supposed to read if you can’t grab a book of the shelves and then sit right back down on the floor?

I had heard from a guy who I met while crossing the six lanes of uncontrolled traffic to get to the library, that the Sahara branch had a new building and a better collection. I decided that since I didn’t have plans for the day and certainly didn’t want to end up on the Strip again that visiting the Sahara library branch. After lunch I took the 96 block trip out to continue the library tour.

This library isn’t tacky. Although it does contain a very tacky fake wood pay phone. I think a good reason for this library’s building lack of tackiness is also shared with the Las Vegas Art Gallery. (Which I don’t think had finished moving in yet.) It was nice and airy with pleasant furnishings. The collection seamed a bit small, but I think that was due to them not using a central-branch library system, but one where there are several major branches so the collection is spread out. (I often don’t get to the branches and am spoiled by big main libraries.) But the staff was friendly and welcoming. The downtown branch had more the feeling that some of the staff were at war with the patrons. Then again this really was out in the suburbs so that may say a lot. (To get there you went past about 90 blocks of identically colored strip malls covered in Effas. Tacky.)

The last couple days were spent exploring the Strip. I have pretty much gotten to know my way around it and on my first night out walked all the way from my hostel to the far end of the strip; practically back to the airport. Big and tacky. I have been in most of the major casinos just to see what they are like. Last night I was trying to figure out why I was doing this, but failed to come up with a good answer. I did get to see the MGM lions fed and I am really enjoying the animated fountain in front of the Bellagio. Although the Mirage’s ‘volcanoEisn’t as good as the real thing. I’ve almost got how Rullet works down. I’m still looking for someone to show me how craps works. Why does it take three to four people to deal the table?

The first night out I couldn’t wrap my head why anyone would enjoy this kind of entertainment until I stopped by a piano bar.

There were a couple piano shaped boxes with electronic keyboards set in and some singers who seamed to know every pop song by heart. They were great at involving the audience and having them sing along. At first it all seamed just tacky, but then I decided that this was a modern equivalent of my idea of the perfect pub. It’s a bunch of strangers enjoying each other’s company and singing the popular music of the day. (OK maybe they were a bit more heavy on the 70’s and 80’s, butE Somehow looking at it that way made it more than just a bunch of drunk people acting foolishly but more a sense of community developing, if only for a short time.

After that I could get a bit better idea of what some of it was all about. I still don’t really get gambling, but I think part of that is I jut don’t really want anything right now so why would I want to risk anything on the chance I might get more? (Also that fact that I didn’t fail my statistics work in high school probably didn’t hurt either.)

Over the course of the six days I was in town I spent about $200 for room and board, and about $200 on tickets to see shows. About the right proportion for me. I saw Cirque du Solie’s “OEand “KaE I liked “OEbetter. “KaEwas lacking some of the circus elements I like of Cirque shows and “OEwas just really fun. “KaEwas more concerned with telling a story of sorts and somehow was too concrete. That I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hopped, is probably more due to the fact it didn’t meet my expectations then any lack of the show. It was a very technology driven show. The stage didn’t have any permanent floor and one of the main playing spaces was a platform that could spin, tilt, raise and lower anyway you could imagine and then maybe some. Even the surface of it was a big video screen so it was forever changing looks.

“OEon the other hand is all about water. The building was built for the show. From the preshow clowns, to the final curtain going “downEit was amazing. It had lots of little jokes going on in the corners. I was one of the first people to my seat and enjoyed my time looking around. The usher in my area was Billie from Wyoming and she has been there since the show opened seven years ago. We chatted a bit and she pointed out things for me to look at in the lobby. It was also neat to hear that when Cirque du Solie has a company party for the cast and crew, the front of house staff goes along as well. Billie has gotten to know the cast over the years. It’s nice to see everybody being treated the same.

One odd little bit that I really liked was the washerwoman. She had come on in a different scene and was picking up left over costume bits and putting them in her basket. She then stood off to the side and just sorted and arranged the clothes, as the floor she stood on slowly sunk under water taking here with it. I don’t think anything stayed dry in this show so it made perfectly good sense that even the washerwoman would exit the stage with the help of one of the scuba diving stagehands.

Back on a train

August 16, 2005

On the train to Irvine CA, USA

AhEBack on a civilized form of transportation. Trains. (Just think of this as a little stab at Greyhound.) It is nice to be in a part of the US where trains are a viable way of travel. The stations are nice pleasant places to be, and even the staff appears to have a scene of fun and adventure with travel.

AnywayE I have been in Los Angeles for the last six or so days and am happy to be moving on. I am on my way down to see San, Sarah, and Ada who are my old housemates from Minneapolis. I am looking forward to seeing them again.

Los Angeles and I got along better this time. It still probably isn’t on my top ten places to live, but it is off my avoid-at-all-costs list. I did have a better hostel this time. No bed bugs, but from talking with people I think that the Gershwin Hotel may be a rather infamous address. Someone listed off movie stars that got caught in infidelity there or had bought drugs. Apparently the lobby is a stop in some guidebooks. Oh well it doesn’t have bed bugs like the one in Venice Beach so things are looking up.

I visited the Morris sides I met last time, more or less. One of the sides Sunset Morris Men had disbanded and reformed with the members of Pennyroyal, a woman’s side, to create a new mixed side called Phoenixrising. Also this time Wildwood Morris had practice and although I was late, I got to see and dance with them. (Last time practice had been canceled due to possible rain.) I still think looking up Morris sides is a wonderful thing to do while traveling, at least if you are a Morris dancer.

I made it out to do a few more of the touristy things this time. As I was staying in Hollywood I took a long walk and saw the Walk of Fame, and Mann’s Chinese Theater. The latter is the place with all the footprints of stars in the concrete out front and also at one time owned by the same man for whom Ted Mann Concert Hall, my job of the last five years, was named after. (Largest donor.) As for the last five years I have often been called Ted or Mr. Mann or that we were simply referred to as the Mann Theatre, I figured I should see his crown jewel. I did not, mind you, spend the fifteen bucks to take the tour. Maybe next time.

I also got out to the La Brea Tar Pits. (‘BreaEmeaning ‘TarEin Spanish makes the name a bit redundant, butE I should have known not to visit on a weekend because there were lots of people, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. When I first walked into the park I had disparaging thoughts about all the automobile pollution I was smelling, then of course realized I was just standing down wind of a tar pond. OK, so here it’s normal here to have crude oil seeping up through the ground. It’s not just a toxic waste dump. Actually it looks a little odd to be walking around in what appears to be a normal urban park to see little pools of crude oil bubbling up thru the lawn, generally with yellow “Wet FloorEsigns keeping you from stepping in it. In the pond it was bubbling up natural gas from time to time. Smelled a bit like living next to a refinery. I did stick my hand in one of the oil upwelling and felt the goo. I suspect many a five year old was envious. Of course unlike a five year old, I was able to keep from getting it all over myself and ruining my clothes. But I now have a little glob of tar from La Brea as a souvenir. From in the museum they had video clips from some of the excavation work and it appeared to be impressively messy. Digging thru warm tar and scooping oil out of your dig sight. People digging bones at other sights have it easy working thru dirt and rock. Here the sight is almost trying to trap the workers and add them to its bone collection.

As messy as it all looked they were better off than some of the early workers who cleaned the bones in vats of boiling kerosene. Somehow that sounds like a bad idea.

I also caught up with Benito from the Spanish school in Guatemala. We drove around and had dinner together. A good deal of the driving around was as much due to the fact that neither of us knew where we were going. The joys of new towns.

Actually LA has been a bit odd as I remember it from being thru town ten months ago. After almost a year of only new places things look familiar. Even in LA. I already know my way around their library. What more can you ask for?

After Bento dropped me off I ended up hanging out with one of my roommates at the hostel and some of the permanent residents. An interesting group of people. As my roommate said it was just like a play. I had to agree you could have simply transcribed the conversation and put up a show. I guess this could count as meeting locals.

Running in circles

August 31, 2005

Irvine, California, USA

Yes, I am still in the US. I am still even in Southern California, which I am not even very fond of. I am stuck in a loop. I’m not quite sure where my next step should be. Probably half my problem is the word ‘shouldEin that last sentence.

On my trip back to the US I lost my momentum. I dangerously started thinking about things and rather than doing and tied to start planning. Even worse, it is planning without a dead line.

Thinking can sometimes be a dangerous thing. (As also can not thinking, there is a time and place for everythingE When I have stopped to think about my next step suddenly all the possible options open up before me and I am limited to having to pick just one. Thailand? Hong Kong? Australia? India? The England? Ireland? France? New York? So many options, and no way to research the options in any meaningful way. AhhhE

As I wrote one of my former coworkers I am getting to the “Move forward at all costsE point. It was where she would tell me to just go do it and quit planning it. It feels a bit like someone asking which foot do you lead off with when you walk.

Maybe what the problem is that I am falling into the perfect trip trap. Back in Central America I was mostly looking for a good trip, not necessarily the best trip possible. I had seen lots of travelers, especially those who only had a short time, frantically trying to have the best possible trip not willing to do anything that might be second best. I meanwhile was enjoying myself trying to have a good trip and being much more relaxed. I wonder if being near the end of the trip makes it feel more desperate. Knowing it can’t go on forever.

Move at all costs!

September 11, 2005

Irvine, California, USA

Well I am still her but not for long. I figure as long as it is easy here I won’t move on so I hope to leave on Monday. (I meant to go last Monday but they gave a convincing argument to stay one more week and go to LegoLand with them.) Well we have gone to LegoLand and it is time for me to move on. I am still not exactly sure where I am heading, but it is time to Go. Today is a little clean up and doing a bit of laundry.

LegoLand was fun. Surprisingly little to do with Legos. The rides and rollercoasters were more or less what you would expect at any amusement park. There are a lot of Lego’s models around and I guess that makes it more Lego oriented. There was one part of the park where you actually played with Legos but it wasn’t a large part and not very popular. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, but for me that was one of the best parts. (Beyond ridding all of the rollercoasters, of course.)

It has been pleasant here, but it is well beyond the time I should be moving on.

I like San Francisco

September 29, 2005

San Francisco, California, USA

OK, so I am getting back to this. I have even been doing stuff, but I just haven’t been writing.

After leaving Irvine I flipped a coin and headed south to San Diego. The first time I was thru town I was focused on getting to Mexico. I stopped just long enough to walk around town, see the library, and visit the Morris side. This time I took a little more time.

I did visit the Morris side again, twice actually, the library is still there, but this time I saw Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, and their Maritime Museum. I made it out to a couple of the beaches.

I figured out a nice little pattern. The Moreton Bay Fig Morris side rehearses in Balboa Park on Tuesdays which also happens to be the free day at the Balboa Park museum. Get up on Tuesday mornings, spend the day visiting museums and then top the day off with Morris practice and the post practice pub stop. (Visiting normal morris practices means I know about half of the west coasts morris side’s ‘localE)

The one problem is that there really aren't any places in the park for dinner. The one place I could afford was the pre-show dinning at the Old Globe Theater. Actually not bad for pre-show food, a little overpriced, but not bad. The funny thing was the staff wishing me to “enjoy the showEafter my order. Oh well. If nothing else hanging around in the theater's court yard lobby with theatre patrons felt homey.

I also stayed around for the Chanty festival at the Maritime Museum. I think I was a bit spoiled by the one I went to in San Francisco last year with lots of stages and a sing in the evening. I had fun, but it would have been fun to have a sing. I did get to go thru another submarine, this time Russian. (The last one was in San Francisco last year.)

In some ways it was just as well they didn’t have any kind of sing because although the busses do go almost every where in San Diego they quit running about 10:00pm and it took an hour to get to the hostel.

San Diego was nice. And I enjoyed getting to know the Morris folk better.

After a week and a day I headed north via commuter rail and at the train transfer spent the night. At that point I figured I just wanted a cheap hotel room and veg with with a cable TV. I picked too cheap of a hotel and after one night I was looking forward to getting back to a nice clean hostel.

Back in L.A. I tried a new hostel. (Not a bad idea as the first hostel I stayed in had bedbugs, the second was know for drug dealers an movie stars getting caught with their pants down.) This one was a Hosteling International that is in the process of finishing up some major renovations. I liked it. Clean, well organized, very few of the rooms had ‘in suiteEbathrooms (mine unfortunately did) and the common spaces actually encouraged socialization. The only problem was that my roommates were awful. I think I have only had one worse.

One night three guys came back at 12:30pm, hadn’t made their beds, chatted the entire time they were getting ready for bed, had an argument over who was more important and got to use the cell phone charger that night and then dug around for an outlet. Just when everything was calm down and they were in bed one of the guys thought it would be a good idea to have a long phone call. Dudes! If you want to act like you aren't sharing the room, get a private room! There is being clueless and there is just being rude. I was impressed. They were Americans, can’t wait until the only Americans I have to share dorm rooms with are travelers in foreign countries.

The hostel was actually in Santa Monica, which I like better than L.A. I spent a little time on the beach, got new glasses made. I did pull of meeting up with either of the local Morris sides, but you can’t always have everything work out. After three nights I took an overnight Greyhound bus here to San Francisco. If it says anything about how much my roommates were keeping me up, I thought that the sleep on the bus was nice and refreshing.

At the L.A. bus station I ran into a girl traveling Australian who was having a really bad time. I didn’t hear the story but when I asked how long she had been traveling she said “for three days, and they were the worst three days of my life. All I want is out of here.E I don’t know what those three days were like but I hope things look up for her, fast. (I’ll admit it is unfortunate that so many people come straight into L.A. I don’t like it here and I am used to a lot of the problems, like the pan handling.)

Being back in San Francisco is great. I should have come here straight from Irvine. I don’t know why, but I just like San Fran. I found a new hostel (my previous one no longer allows US citizens without a student ID, regardless of travel plans.) I like it even better so I am not complaining about the change. All the staff lives at the hostel and shares the same kitchen and common rooms so everyone really comes together. They even have rather stunning, very solid, bunk beds. They are made of steel and almost seam to float because of hwo they are bolted into the walls. Very nice minimal look. (The staff, except the manager, sleep in the dorm rooms as well so they all get being in a hostel.)

My first night here I visited Berkley Morris and went to their sing afterwards. Back into the land of instant family. One of the dancers is getting married soon and is planning to have English country dancing at the reception so she was encouraging people to come to a dance the next night and learn. I, although I don’t expect I am invited to the wedding, liked the idea and spent the next night working on my English country dance skills. (This is my third time, the first two being back down in Kentucky.) I am getting better, not good by any means, but I’m not a rank beginner anymore. One of the people I met was from Minnesota and had danced with Moonwood Morris and Uptown-on-Calhoon. What a lovely folded world.

Tonight is a nice calm night to put in some hostel time. I played a couple games of chess, caught up a bit on my writing, and just hung out at the hostel. Fun.

Days have been wandering around and getting stuff down. I got my Yellow fever vacation today. Yesterday I built a pinhole camera and tried taking my first picture with it using a cyanotype process (blueprint) process. To process an exposed photo only requires running water and can it can we done in dim light rather than a dark room. Unfortunately it also means it’s not the sensitive so has long exposure times. The first try was a one hour exposure, but not enough. Today I left it in a window for a six hour exposure, but of the north face of a building and still didn’t get anything. I think tomorrow I will adjust the pinhole size and see if I can find a North facing window and do an all day exposure. The craft projects I get myself into.

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