Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mayans - the people who discovered chocolate

It is a sad statement about our study of pre-Columbian history that many well educated Americans (okay, me, and I presume many others who fancy ourselves well versed in history) studied the Mayans and then learned about the Aztecs and sort of thought of the Mayans as disappearing into history. Some of that is natural to the study of history - students are often unclear about when the Ancient Greeks became the Greeks who have big fat weddings...

Guatemala´s population is heavily Mayan - percentages widely vary, but most people are either a mix of Mayan and European ancestry or just straight Mayan. There are Mayan language schools here in Antigua and Spanish is the second language in many rural homes. The mais y frijoles diet here dates to Mayan times and the backstrap weaving we´ve purchased so much of is Mayan in origin too.

I have a new appreciation for the most famous contribution of Mesoamerican culture to the world - chocolate. I would hardly call myself a chocoholic, but I enjoy an M&M, the occasional Twix or a hot cocoa now and again. Since I´ve been here, i´ve gained a new appreciation for Guatemalan hot chocolate (Guatemalan has sugar, the Mayans was unsweetened). It makes the expensive hot cocoas I have at home taste like the back of a postage stamp. I´m hoping to bring some home, but am a bit concerned that the supermarkets are closing for New Year´s Eve....

If I find some, i´ll have you over for hot chocolate

El Mercado de Panajachel

We passed up a chance to go to the big Sunday market in Chichicastenango and stayed closer to base to hit the Sunday market in Pana. The Chichi market is one of Guatemala´s biggest tourist attractions, but the idea of a large portion of the day taken up by bus rides was not terribly appealing. Aside from that, we had a connection to the Pana market: through Kiva, we´d lent to a group of weavers who sold in Pana. Although we wouldn´t have necessarily seen them at the market, we spent enough on Mayan textiles to safely say that we helped pay back our own loan.

After another fine evening at La Casa del Mundo, we set off early Monday for a return to Antigua.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Lago de Atitlan

We arrived late on Friday night into Antigua de Guatemala - and the lovely Hotel Aurora. After breakfast, we strolled out to the market before catching a shuttle to Panajachel, the largest town on Lake Atitlan - a large volcanic lake in the Guatemalan Highlands. The ride was the typical "minibus" trip - a large Hyundai or Toyota van with every seat taken, driven faster than my comfort level on winding mountain roads - nearly identical to one we took in Thailand. Only tourists can afford minibus trips, so we shared the ride with a Bavarian, 2 Italians, a gringo of unknown origins (he didn"t go to the lake, so he may be ex-pat) and another American couple.

Aside from the aforementioned gringo, we all got off at the docks to catch a launch to one of the many lakeside towns and resorts. Lisa and I paid for a private boat (suckers) to get to La Casa del Mundo - easily one of the most beautiful places either of us has ever been, The hotel is the only game in town, so everyone has dinner there, ensuring interesting conversation and comparing of notes on travels here and elsewhere. Lisa reserved the hottub after dinner, so we sat underneath the very dark sky and saw more stars than I knew existed. The tub was made on site- a wood burning stove stuck in the middle of a small pool - smells of oak rather than chlorine - i may try to duplicate someday (probably harder than it looks).

An incredible place to spend a weekend

$$##""*¨foreign keyboard

try writing an email without using an apostrophe..... i see it printed on the key but can{t make it work.... i get {{{{ instead......

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Risk Management

So you`ve waited on the painfully slow belt at Baggage Claim and perhaps thought to yourself: "can´t this thing go any faster?"

it can .....

but there is someone in the USA - I blame an actuarial type in Risk Management at the airport - who keeps the speed set low - in order to avoid the 15 suitcase pileups and other mishaps that we saw last night at the `Guate` airport - i´ve never seen lugguage fly off the belt before - saw 3 bags do that last night - also saw 3 pileups caused by tags getting stuck or bags being off kilter before returning to the loading area.

Best baggage claim experience ever.....

getting ahead of myself

So, people often refer to their skill in a particular language with a laughed off  "I know enough to get into trouble" and there is often an implication of drinking or picking up a member of the opposite sex.  I have learned my lesson without getting into any real trouble (thanks to my translating wife)

Waiting in customs line at the Guatemala City airport (BTW a beautiful new place that reminded us of Bangkok´s new airport and MUCH nicer than Miami where we spent 3 hours) there was announcement that I understood enough of to presume this:

"Those who have a TACA Airlines connection to San Salvador should wait in line 1" - we were waiting in line 1 and I was expecting to get inundated with people.....

What was said:

"Those who flew in on TACA from San Salvador and other connections will find their baggage on Belt 1"

Lisa pointed out that I missed the key word "equipaje" - no real trouble would have ensued had I been left on my own, but I do understand the expression a bit more personally.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Omens from the animal kingdom

As I drove into our complex with the pre game supplies yesterday, the little alligator who had taken up residence in the pond outside was sunning itself out on the bank.

After I got home and was enjoying my first beer (oddly, given the Gators opponent, from Kona Brewery) Oscar (our dog) came downstairs with the rarest of toys in his collection - the stuffed gator

Florida 56 Hawaii 10

I hope this bodes well for the whole season

Monday, August 18, 2008

My 15 Minutes

Check out this article from the Herald Tribune's back to school issue. (Hopefully the link holds up)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

I know a guy who was physically adjacent to a guy who may become President....

Those of you in the Bay Area may have caught word of Candidate Obama's visit to St Pete last week. If you tuned out before the Q&A portion of the speech, you'd have missed the frequent Charlie Kennedy sitings.

So here's a snapshot for posterity.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Photos are up

At long last, here are the 202 photos and videos we took in Iceland. I added captions to make them at least slightly explanatory.

Click Here

Yes, it is beautiful and you should visit (its not too cold)

Whale Watch Video

So, we are back at home now. I managed to clip our few minutes of whale watching video to just the "money shots". The sound isn't great, but you can hear the the blow and a bit of the guide's commentary.

The body of water is the Skjálfandi, we at the north western end (you can see the Kinnarfjöll mountains in the background) at the opening to the Arctic Ocean.

The real thing is MUCH more impressive than the video.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Icelandic Cuisine

After a week back in the US, I think Lisa and I are just beginning to settle back to eating "American food" - we've had a great meals in Boston, Vermont, Montreal, and now in Bar Harbor but nothing compares to Iceland.  The food we ate in Iceland was FANTASTIC! 

Start with amazing fish (haddock and cod), grass fed lamb and if you feel like it, order beef, because that's great too. (And from what I gather, all the livestock is organic - enough to make me buy organic meats).  Beyond the great ingredients, the food was amazingly well prepared.  In small, unassuming little places, we had amazing food. In Reykjavik, here is our favorite, if you make it to Akureyri, try this one.  I don't think it is exaggerating too much to say that going to Iceland for the food is NOT a crazy plan.

A few things on most menus that we passed up were whale and puffin.  I love to try a new meat and perhaps gain insight into another culture (water buffalo in Laos) but these two just couldn't excite me.  Sorry if it disappoints , but it wasn't because I was opposed to eating smart whales or cute puffins - I tried to work up moral outrage and failed.  It came back to the descriptions of the flavor - one description of whale meat as "like a steak" and another as "like liver" - what? Steak and liver taste nothing alike and I wasn't going to risk having a huge piece of internationally controversial liver in front of me. Puffin was described as "kinda gamey" and "really gamey" - not enough to convince me to give up "butter fried haddock" which I presume is what they eat in Valhalla (how's that for Norse flavor).

If we had made this trip 100, or even 60, years ago, we'd have eaten far more of the traditional Icelandic cuisine.  For much of its history, Iceland was a poor nation, where nothing edible was wasted. Now, with a healthy economy, some traditional cuisine is still ubiquitous - Skyr and geysir bread (its name comes because it is cooked by steam in under ground ovens), but some less desirable options have been left behind except on a few holidays in the winter.

The photo i've attached is from a billboard advertising a cafeteria that serves traditional Icelandic plates (allegedly).  The sheep head is not a reference to eating lamb, it is a reference to eating sviðpreserved sheeps heads. Preserved in a gelatin of their own making, they can be "enjoyed" hot or cold.  I never saw these tasty treats - and I went inside, read the dish of the day and spotted everything else offered - apparently these little treats are so unappetizing they can't put them out on display. 

I also didn't see a whole lot of Hakarl - actually, I didn't see it anywhere - and I looked.  This is the food mentioned in every guide book as a sort of open "double dog dare" to tourists.  If you haven't clicked the link, it is usually described as "putrified shark".  A shark too poisonous to eat fresh is buried in the ground for months until it is edible.  The final product is said to have a strong ammonia smell and makes first timers dry heave.  I survived durian, I think I would have tried it (easy to say now).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Long Delay...

Sorry for the long absence, but who'd have thought that my first week back in the USA would find me further from a computer.... coming soon, at long last is the final Iceland post.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

National Security

The President of Iceland juast rode by- no motorcade, no fuss, just a nice Lexus with a presidential flag


The Icelanders' philosophy of "work hard, play hard" is most famously manifested in their hard drinking on weekend nights. This comes in spite of some very strict laws regulating the purchase of alcohol. Anything stiffer than 2.25% beer (half strength for those of you who were wondering) has to be purchased from Vin Bud - the government liquor store.

Today is Iceland's national holiday, celebrating indepndence from the Danes in 1944. In preparation to celebrate, Lisa and I felt we should stock up on patriotic items like Viking beer and Brennavin (when in Reykjavik..). Vin Bud keeps sparse hours (11:00- 6:00) so we snuck in at 5:50 and picked up some beer. The store was packed and the line was deep but fast moving. On our way out Lisa saw a store employee bar the turnstile for some poor schmuck who will be celebrating independence with lattol.

The difficulty and expense (nearly $20 for our 6 pack of tall boys), not to mention the significant pre-planning, the Icelanders put up with in order to party like the rock stars they are makes their dedication to their craft an inspiration to partiers everywhere.

Monday, June 16, 2008

'Car Days' in Akureyri

After our sojourn to the small towns of Husavik (population 2500) and Reykjahlið (pop 210), we returned to 'the capital of Iceland's North' - Akureyri on Saturday afternoon.

We got into town and began a trek to the great guesthouse we'd stayed at before. There was a much livelier vibe in the street than Wednesday had held. Soon a pickup outfitted with speakers blaring radio ad babble moved slowly through the streets, moving by us on cross streets. When they passed on our street, we could see that they were promoting N3 - a local DJ act playing as part of the Festival and giving out bottles of a soft drink called "Ri Mix" - punny name. Free is rare in Iceland, so we both took a bottle and the truck moved on in the same direction we were headed.

In the main road adjacent to the river there were the loud noises of revving engines and crowds of young revelers. Through the fencing we saw pairs of cars drag racing. We later found that this was Akureyri´s 'Car Days´. The racers were a variety of 'tricked out' street cars of all makes and models - some were more obvious money pits than others. As we passed the road and stood on the bridge that overlooked the line of pending dragsters, we saw a rag tag collection of amateurs - including a number of the style of mid size
luxury SUVs popular in the US! Alright, I can envision a few of my students borrowing Mom's car and drag racing down the Palma Sola Causeway, but standing outside one of these cars was a middle aged man in too tight jeans and a leather racing jacket, strapping on a helmet.

A quick glance through the line of a dozen pending dragsters, I could see that everyone had a helmet on - glad to know that safety comes first.


There are a lot of SUVs here in Iceland - with good reason and real 'utility' (most have caked-on mud). These two fall into the broad category called "Super Jeep" - built for off road trips that may require fording a river

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Saturday night in Akureyri

We were excited to see part of the 4 day Akureyri International Music Festival (sorry to say, no Sigur Ros or Björk on the bill) and enjoy a peak at the weekend runtur (Iceland´s world famous pub crawl), even the calmer Saturday version (Friday night brings out the Vikings).

We checked out Australia´s own Hoodangers - told you it was an international festival - a rockabilly jazz group that had a poster up in every town we´ve visited. They were fun and it was an interesting scene - not our usual and it struck us that the band was used to a lively crowd.

On our way home from the show, just before midnight, we passed plenty of high schoolers hanging out, one pair of middle schoolers (hey, its still light out...), about 4 roaring house parties, one group of women headed out (things start late), and 2 people so drunk they may not
have known where they were (Iceland!)

While waiting for the bus at 8:30 the next morning, we saw one walker of shame in only a few minutes - and this was only the Saturday runtur!

Sheep Crossing

Our bus had to stop for a herd of sheep to clear the road. I may be bias towards the far cuter and less threatening sheep, but this was somehow more charming than the water buffalos in the road in Laos.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


I just posted 2 photos (low quality) to the Flickr link you see on the rightside of the page. Hopefully more to come -depends on the rules of the local Internet access - the guesthouses don't seem to like grubby hippies usingup bandwidth with photo blogging.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The big hike

The wonderfully nice woman at the Husavik Info Center explained how we could take the van to Kross, walk to Godafoss, then take another van to Reykjavlid. She said that there would be 10-15 minutes - which we understood to mean a 15 minute walk and 55 minutes to see Godafoss, maybe get a coffee, etc. When the van driver dropped us at Kross, he pointed us in the direction of the distant mist (Godafoss is the waterfall of the gods) and said (with a grin) that it was 5 km to Godafoss - we had our full packs and hadn't had our coffee!

We were passed by 6-8 large tour busses - folks who fly in from Reykjavik for various day tours and plenty of locals - I suppose we could have hitched a ride (the woman at the tourist office had suggested that as a totally reasonable option) but we trekked on our own. With time winding down and the van pickup in view, we ditched our heavy packs at the side of the road (theft is not much of a concern here), turned down the path to Godafoss to see the falls (totally worth the jog) and sprinted back to our bags in time to make our ride.

The extended exercise on a cool, overcast day produced the unfamiliar oddity (for us anyhow) of being hot and cold at the same time. Some of the tourist stuff calls Iceland the"land of fire and ice" but I don't think that is what they mean...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Whale Watching

So whale watching is a big thing here. Whales are big, people like whales, Iceland has a lot of boats....the whole thing just sort of fits. We went out of Husavik... stopover tourists go from Reykjavik, but I think the success rate is better further north.+

Husavik has a whale museum, which we visited as a primer. All you wanted to know about whales, whaling in Iceland (more interesting than the biology stuff, in my opinion) and a ´whale walk´with a half dozen skeletons of whales. The folks at the museum are clearly ´save the whales´ types, which I feel safe in presuming the restaurants offering whale meat are not.

We got on the boat and drove out for 45 minutes (i suppose ´sail´ is the proper verb). We took a Dramamine before the trip and it was a good thing - when I saw the older French lady spewing over the side of the gunnals, I almost lost it myself - she hurled again right when we saw the whales (chumming the water...?). I focused on the horizon and thought about ice a lot - kept my composure.

After awhile, we spotted another boat and 2 humpbacks. We watched them for what seemed like a long time - pretty active creatures - and then rode home. I have what I think will be good video footage of a whale surfacing...

We then headed home, enjoying a bit of hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls. I suppose it may have been the late timing (around 6:45-7:30 for the ride home) or the pðst-whale adrenaline let-down, but this is when the cold air hit...read the other post for details.... I just want to emphasize: Arctic Ocean

Almost Arctic

We took a bus ride to the far northern town of Husavik - this is the furthest north we will get on this trip. Right away we could feel a stark temperature difference from more southern portions of Iceland. We added a layer of clothing and the sun came out and it was a beautiful day.

At 17:00, we boarded our whalewatching tour with Northern Sailing, having chosen them over seemingly in descernible competition - same price, same time departure, same snack of hot chocolate and cinnamon roll. We saw whales (see another posting) but at this moment I'd like to talk temperature.

It was cold. Very cold. The wind was coming off the Arctic Ocean! Not in the figurative way that the weatherman talks about "Arctic winds" - we could actually SEE the Arctic Ocean!! While pondering that for a moment, I realized that there was no land between us and the North Pole - struck me as an odd thought - I briefly thought of asking whether the company had an "iceberg tour" aside from the whale tours and puffin tours...did not inquire.

I was wearing the warmest set of clothing this Florida boy owns - a short sleeved undershirt, a long sleeve shirt, a sweater, a lined light jacket - topped with a ski hat and gloves, long but light pants, shoes and socks. (don't laugh you Northerners - jealousy is unbecoming) I have no concerns that these clothes will get me comfortably through the rest of the week in Iceland where it stays in the 50s most of the time, but it was a bit light for the Arctic. Lisa borrowed a suit from the company but was still cold.

Off to a well earned and geothermally heated shower...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Iceland - first impressions

No Surprises - stark landscapes on the Rejkjanes peninsula - no trees, lichen covered rocks with distant area vents and even a volcano (i recognized it from the 6th grade class project)

Here in Akureyri, we can see snow capped mountains, glacial river, and bright green grass.

Weather is great. It was overcast when we arrived but the sun is out now and the temperature is making me wonder if I overpacked....


What would it be like if everyone liked the clean modern lines of
Scandinavian furniture? It might look like the Lieffur Eriksson
terminal at Keflavik International Airport.

A lot of folks visit Iceland as part of a stopover in Atlantic
crossing. Brilliant marketing by Icelandair doesn't charge a fee for
stopover and emphasizes the short flights - 2 flights around 4 hours
instead of one 7 hour flight.

The Customs official's first question to everyone was "where are you
going?". He showed no glint of cheer when we said we'd be staying in
Iceland. He did ask if it was our first trip and was definitely happy
about our response. When he was looking for a place to stamp he noted
our Cambodia visas and pointed out "This is not Cambodia" with a laugh
and "enjoy your stay"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

On the way (almost)

We made to Logan in no time - thanks to the Kelleys. The check-in and security took no time. Now we are waiting to board and playing a new game: "Icelandic or not Icelandic". It is self explanatory to those who have played "Dressed or Not Dressed" at Halloween, but borders a bit closer to politically uncomforttable racial profiling.

Pre boarding just started
Gott kvold

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

At Long Last

Since we are headed out on our summer trip and thought that we might need to show some pictures of our wedding to Icelanders - and because I finally fixed my PC - I finally posted some wedding pictures to the web.

Point here: http://picasaweb.google.com/MurrayFactor


Travel blog next week......

Monday, March 24, 2008

Countin' Down

So, there hasn't been a new entry for quite some time and I'm much
too swamped with the end of the grading period, and the last 5 days
before the wedding....

Suffice to say, I'm excited!!!!

See you all soon

Bachelor Par-tay

You guys are the best group of friends one could ask for

Thanks Boe for being the ringleader and thanks everyone else for
making it a great and mostly memorable night (i'm sure you all
remember it better than I)

For those who missed it, I can't really say that "What happens at the
'Roo, stays at the 'Roo" since we all know that is false and it would
only cover the first third of the day anyhow....

How about "alls well that ends at the Waffle House..."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Some Assembly Required

So the invitations went out, as some of you have already found out.  Lisa and I spent 3 nights engaged in just the post-addressing phase, so it was certainly a laborious task that has prompted some reflection.

Since we chose an invitation with an odd sized envelope, we found out that we'd have to pay a "little extra" for postage.  Our trusted public servants at our local Postal Service told us that we'd need 97 cents in postage and so Lisa spent a lot of money on stamps.  When she was at the Post Office to drop off our completed work, another employee said that we'd only needed 75 cents.  I've never been one to knock the US Postal Service, but honestly, your rates so difficult to understand that your own employees don't know what postage we need ??  

I will add a complement to the Postal Service marketing genius who created the self-adhesive stamp - a clear improvement to the old glue backed ones.  Another innovation that surely came about after May 16, 1996 (original air date of Seinfeld's 
"The Invitations" episode) but was new to me was the envelope "licker" that we purchased from Staples.  No concern of glue toxicity for us.

Finally, for the adult years that i've received my own wedding invitations, I have come to loathe the inner envelope.  Mostly on environmental grounds - trees are dying for these useless envelopes - but also on the understanding that people probably have to spend money on them. I am moderately curious as to how this tradition started - probably some sort of one-upmanship in a small town or 2 weddings competing for guests.  I decided at some point (I think it was my sister's invitation back in 2005 - no offense Anne) that I would be the person to change that wasteful tradition.  I was not.  I blame  a system stacked against me - the inner envelopes were just included in our invites, so we already had them and they frankly have practical use with their lack of glued flap - plus, I didn't want any of you to think we were being chinsey (wedding frenzy got to me)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Time melts away

So it was another very busy, but of course productive wedding weekend.

Saturday began with Mom, Lisa and I hitting the road to Fort Myers and help from Lynne. The primary goal of the day was a rehearsal dinner location. We scouted several places and ended up with one that should accommodate. Along the way we met with our photographer for the first time and went to see the reception site all done up for another wedding. Mom got her first look at the site all together. After all that was through we did some hotel wheeling and dealing (more info soon).

Today, Lisa and Mom addressed all the invitations while I wrangled with address lists and web sites.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Wedding Frenzy !!!

Wow. Busy Day.

Took care of hair and makeup (for Lisa, not me), our cake (I love cake) and met with Father Bob. I learned that you have to bring your own cake cutting device to a wedding - since obviously they don't have that kind of thing in a banquet hall.

Lisa and I walked through 10 hotel rooms today but since every hotel sales person in town takes weekends off, we couldn't arrange a deal yet (we have choice 1, 2 and 3)

I think we're taking tomorrow off

Friday, January 04, 2008

Wedding weekend #3

Lisa and I are kicking off our third weekend of serious wedding planning and have returned to Fort Myers.

Tonight was the tasting at the country club hosting our reception. We loved it! The traditional entrees were well done and there is a subtle creativity to the side dishes. I know that most wedding meals tend to blur together, and I'm sure this will not be an enormous exception for most folks, but I'm sure you'll enjoy it in the moment.

Early rising tomorrow for a slew of appointments and tasks.