THE DOG BLOG
Lovers of Travel
Because of a unique arrangement with the co-publisher of Cairo Cats, I'm able to sell copies via my own website.
As the author,
I thank you so much for ordering from
Dear Appreciators of Animals and/or Travel,
There are women traveling alone. Others traveling with their dogs. There may be people traveling while earning a living. But all of these combined? And in an ex-surveillance van almost thirty years old? Lorraine's journey is a 21st century South American version of John Steinbeck's odyssey, Travels with Charlie.
A monthly blog to be read from Top to Bottom
March 6, 2006
I leave the little forest with the howler monkey's and after two hours of driving, fly down a steep hill. It's probably the fastest I've driven in weeks. I overtake a pickup truck going painfully slowly. Too late, I discover why. There's a huge defect at the bottom of the hill, I hit it very hard, and the van comes to a grinding halt, metal scraping along the road.
The pickup truck I'd overtaken pulls over. We look at the damage. It looks bad. The impact shears a bolt from where the suspension connects with the left front wheel and the suspension has dropped to the ground. The man says he has a mechanic friend that's ten minutes away and he'll be right back. I'm utterly grateful.
I wait. And wait some more for a tow-truck which never arrives. Instead, the man returns in his pick-up truck with the mechanic. I wonder if they plan towing the van with his truck. The van is heavy. But, it's do-able. However, that's not their intention. By the side of the road, the mechanic works by the side of the road for a total of three hours if you include the time it takes to return to town to get a part. At the end of the three hours I'm charged $45. $10 for the part, and $35 for labor. I'm incredulous. And grateful.
The following days are a blur of driving in intense heat. I don't work on my book On a Mission from Dog as I have everyday until now. By 8:30 am, it's blazing hot, and I don't look for places to camp until after 4 when it cools marginally. And then invariably, I can't find anywhere to camp and spend hours searching while the dogs suffer. And I suffer. I pass through Guatemala quickly. Honduras, I'd been warned by other travelers, has an incredibly corrupt police force who stop people frequently for bribes. I'm lucky and almost escape without incident, probably because the police fear the two gargoyle dog-heads leaning from the window. I almost escape...but not quite.
March 9, 2006
It's mid-afternoon and I'm only a few hours from the Honduras/Nicaraguan border. I cross a police check-point. A few hundred meters later, I wonder if I should've gotten gas before finishing the last stretch. I return. And this time when I reach the check-point, I'm pulled over. I hand over my passport and documents. They get passed around. The policeman irritates me. I put on my dumb I-don't-speak-Spanish facade. And I don't. But I do know he wants money. Our dialogue takes place in mime/English/Spanish.
"You only have a three day visa to cross Honduras and it's been three days," he says.
"The three days is up tomorrow," I reply.
He gets frustrated and brings in his superior who looks at my papers and agrees I have one more day. Then he walks around the van until seeing I don't have a front license plate. He pulls out his book mocking he'll have to write me a ticket.
"But I'm going to Nicaragua, I'm just passing through Honduras. And in Nicaragua you don't need a front license plate.
"Ah-ha," he replies triumphantly. "But now, you are in Honduras."
But the smaller man doesn't want me to get a ticket, he wants money.
"Give me dollars! he demands.
"But I'm in Honduras, why would I have dollars here?"
"Then give me our money!"
"I have none left. I'm going to Nicaragua."
The superior leaves. I'm too much work. The small man wants something and keeps saying he needs money for gas. I have an idea. On the back of my van is a diesel container without a cap which I've been meaning to throw away. I untie it and offer it to me as if I'm offering gold. He wants the cap. I have none. Nevertheless, he walks away with my offering pleased. I drive on, very pleased I've beaten the system.
I pass through the border into Nicaragua just as night falls. The border guards and a truck driver caution me to be careful. They think I'm going to be driving all until I reach the nearest city. I let them. But I stop as soon as I find a secluded place next to a river where no one can see me.
I ecstatic. I'm in Nicaragua, where I want to be, and I made it through Honduras without paying any bribes. After cooking dinner, I decide to go through all my papers and get everything organized again. In the process I realize a credit card is missing. I look all over for it. It's gone. When tired, I often make bad decisions. After getting money from an ATM machine at the beginning of Honduras, I'd slipped my bank card into my passport and hadn't returned it to it's usual hiding place. The next time I'd brought out my passport was for the policeman. I hadn't got away scott free. In fact, he'd scored. Or perhaps, it had fallen into the dust. Either way, I'd lost.
March 10, 2006
When I reach a town, I call a friend and ask her to find out the bank's telephone number and cancel my card. I later find out nothing has been charged. I'm lucky. And wonder if I'd jumped to conclusions.
Travellers had told me about the beauty of San Juan del Sur and how it resembles Carmel-by-the-Sea. I head there, forgetting that though this was a place I'd spent childhood holidays, it's not a place I'd choose now. It's 2pm by the time I arrive after long stretches of the worst roads I've seen since living in Kenya. Potholes are scattered all over the road and make driving in the heat exhausting and nerve-racking. The dogs hate it. So do I.
I arrive in San Juan del Sur and am instantly disappointed. But I've promised myself I'm going to stay here a few days in a hotel-the first since leaving Houston, Texas 2 1/2 months before. I settle myself into a hotel room which costs $20 a night. Air-con is $10 a night extra and I decide against it. I spend the next few days watching twelve movies on cable tv. I'm a zombie. It's hot. I wish I had air-con. But I do have unlimited internet access. Every-time I sit down at one of their desks, next to me is an American looking to buy land to invest in. Not as a home away from home, or a retirement house.
"Everything in Costa Rica is long gone," one man says. "And most everything is gone here. Marriot just bought up a few hundred mile stretch of beachfront property. I just finished a big deal. Now I'm looking for somewhere else to build."
I tell him I just came from Belize and how wonderful a place it is. And instantly regret it. By contrast, two men in their late fifties ride into my hotel's lobby on huge motorcycles. They've just ridden up from Chile and are on their way home to Idaho. While walking down the street, I see three people sitting on couches on a hotel balcony. They ask me up to see the place. It's glorious. And much cheaper at only $12 a night. One of the men shows me a room he's thinking of moving into. It's wood and the window looks out to green trees. I'm scared if I stayed here, I'd never want to leave. And now I realize I've had enough of travelling for a while. Though I'd planned to spend some time in Nicaragua, all I want is to get to where I'd once visited in Costa Rica, where I have friends. I'm done.
I'm not used to being in a room with square sides and sleep badly. But I make friends with the three travelers in the hotel across the way, Brenda, Ted and Rudy. We eat some dinners together and I swear I haven't laughed so much in ages and had such good conversations. Friends of the hotel owners drop by daily and admire the dogs, especially Bruiser who they appreciate as being manly-something that rarely happened in the US. Life is good. But still, I sleep badly. I'm run-down.
I notice one of my tires has been a victim of the accident I'd had in Guatamala and is largely bald. In my tiredness, I'd checked where the repair had been done everyday, but had never looked at the actual tire. I'm filled with dread about driving back to the nearest town. But it has to be done. And it'll be cheaper here than in Costa Rica. I spend an afternoon watching as three mechanics fuss with the alignment, straighten a rod and rotate the worse tires to the back. While the dogs sleep in the grime, I spend an enjoyable time talking with a man who'd once lived in New Jersey. He returned to Nicaragua after 15 years, worn out from owning a Chinese restaurant which demanded all his time.
I return to San Juan del Sur and over dinner, offer to drive Brenda, Ted and Rudy to Costa Rica.
March 14, 2006
For months I've feared crossing into Costa Rica. I'd heard customs are very strict in regards bringing animals into the country, and I don't have all the paperwork they require. It would mean driving at breakneck speed from the US in order to cross the border within ten days of some of the required US paperwork being filled. More than once, I've woken in the night, looked at the map and wondered if I could find fisherman to smuggle the dogs by boat while I drove. And now I'm here.
My fear is somewhat assuaged by my three new friends who assure me it'll go smoothly. When we reach Costa Rican immigration, some of the offices are closed for lunch. We decide to do the same. Then we hear the office which will take care of the van is now open. Rudy comes with me. Though I've become adept at knowing all the right answers for a procedure which is almost identical in every country, his presence is comforting. And, he speaks Spanish. The official is busy, but amazed when he discovers I've driven solo from Texas. At this point when talking to non-officials, I usually say, "No, not solo, I have my two dogs with me." This time, I say nothing.
He wants to look at the van's engine and see the VIN number. No one's ever wanted this before. To pop the hood, I need a screwdriver. I go around to the side of the van and open the sliding door while Rudy and the man wait near the engine. Completely innocently, I let the dogs out. Relieved to be outside, even though it's not blistering hot today, suddenly Dog and Bruiser are just two semi-feral dogs without collars hanging out at the border hoping for scraps. The man doesn't even connect these canines with the van. We can't find the VIN number on the engine and the man has no wish to see the inside of the vehicle. We're through. Simple as that. All that worrying for naught.
We arrive in Garza just after sunset to find a full moon rising and turning the ocean undulating motions of metallic-like forms. Sometimes when away from a place, (and I havenŐt been here in 4 1/2 years) I build the place up so much that upon returning, I'm disappointed. This isnŐt the case. I'm exuberant. Rudy and I go swimming at my insistence and we walk a long stretch of beach with the dogs. I do cartwheels in the sand. I feel like I've come home.
Ted, Brenda and Rudy decide to share a hotel room and I hope to find a place to camp. I have in mind a little beach I saw when I was last here, instead, I drive through an entrance to what looks like the beginnings of a gated community. Workers at the entrance watch me pass quizzically. The drive twists, turns and there's some steep narrow climbs. I get stuck. I don't have enough traction to climb further up a hill, and the weird angle makes it nearly impossible to reverse. I edge back and forth for about 15 minutes, nervous about a drop on one side. I finally reach a point where I'm level and we get out for a short walk. Suddenly, the dogs dash into the dark tropical bush and within moments, rush back with a yelp. Next to Bruiser's eye is a slash made by claws. I wonder if it was a raccoon-type animal. It's very close to the eye. Welcome to the jungle...
March 15, 2006
The next morning I go to see my friends at the hotel. They're out, and I ask the hotel owner if she knows of any places for rent.
"I have a place on the beach that's available."
"I only have a small budget," I admit, knowing prices can reach into thousands of dollars in this area.
"I'm sure we can work something out."
We agree to go and see the place together. It's just been built, a two-bedroom wooden structure with a large verandah, and sunken living room shrouded by jungle but still with plenty of sunshine. It's three houses away from the ocean. I know I can't afford it. But it's perfect. I want it.
"I'll be perfectly honest," I say. "$200 is the maximum I can afford a month."
"How about if you give me $150. Then you'll have $50 extra to spend on other things."
Edith and I shake hands while walking along the beach, which is the driveway to my new house.
March 16, 2006
Brenda and Ted return to Canada, but Rudy stays and helps me get settled in. He speaks fluent Spanish, so his help is much needed. The water from the well isn't working correctly, a propane tank needs to be purchased and all my belongings from inside my van need to be transferred over a precarious verandah. His help is much appreciated. But perhaps more importantly, I'm worn out from the journey, and I could easily feel isolated and ill-at-ease in a strange land, with people whose language I don't know. He talks easily with my new neighbors and bridges the gap.
March 17, 2006
There's a bat living in the house. It alternates between sleeping high up near the ceiling either in my bedroom, or the living room. Its presence makes me happy.
March 18, 2006
I pick up a washcloth I left in my bedroom the night before, run it under water to wipe layers of dust off my laptop. There's a scorpion on the cloth. Rudy takes a picture of it and I shake it off into the garden below. The scorpion is also welcome. Last time I was here, I was bitten, and though not as bad as a bee sting, I'll need to be more careful.
Linda, a friend I knew in Cairo and who I visited here 4 1/2 years ago invites me to a party given by friends, all of them horse people. There's a choice-we can drive, or walk along the beach. I'm not sure if I'll be able to find my way driving in the dark, so Rudy and I walk. What I find fascinating and refreshing at the party is when a small group gather on the balcony and all of them, from Switzerland, America and Costa Rica, choose Spanish as the language in which to converse. It also makes me realize how crucial it'll be for me to learn. I dread learning a new language.
March 19, 2006
Rudy leaves in the morning to explore other areas of Costa Rica, but as he gets ready, howler monkey's come into the garden. Later in the morning, I find a brown moth eight inches in width on the wall. I wonder if it was this, and not the bat I saw less than a foot above Dog in the early morning. I love more than anything that there are no strict boundaries between the outside world, and the inside. I find myself saying several times a day, "I LIVE here!"
March 20, 2006
After doing some writing in the morning, I take a nap. I very rarely take naps. And if I do they're in the afternoon. I take one then too. In between, I swim. Because I can.
Construction continues all day long on the house next door. Normally the sound of banging nails would drive me crazy. I hardly notice. In the morning, music plays from a radio. Again, normally it would drive me crazy. In the afternoon, I catch myself humming the same tune.
Parrots and other birds hover around the birdbath I've put out, a clay dish from Wal-Mart that I used in the van to contain some condiments. The birds are thirsty. It's the dry season, and very hot. Dust coats everything. The rains won't begin for another month. This is the worst time of year to arrive. And the best time...I am happy, no matter what the weather.
I find another scorpion, this time a baby and it's actually underneath the house in a woodpile I'm looking through. I'm a bit leery having my mattress on the floor. I know at some point, I'll get into bed and find something else already there... While traveling, I discovered that having a fitted sheet on top, meant it was easy to make the bed. I'll keep this technique here, hoping the elastic will make my bed more secure.
At sunset, I stand with some of my neighbors, watching eight children frolicking in the waves. I'm very shy without knowing the language, but it seems ok at this point in time, and my smiles are easily returned.
March 21, 2006
The first day of Spring. I'm in bed for twelve hours, catching up on two weeks of little sleep. I spend the day doing a little writing, and decorating with what little I brought in the van, and a huge piece of driftwood I find on the beach which becomes a fruit bowl. I find a collage I made in Kenya. Two of the pictures include bats. I now have a resident bat. There's a few pictures of the ocean. I'm now there. And a house in another picture bears an uncanny resemblance to the one I'm now in. The lines between fantasy and reality have blurred.
March 23, 2006
I haul up a huge piece of driftwood from the beach. I pass a young man I see often and smiling, Say, "For the kitchen." Or, that's what I think I said until later I discover I've said, "For the dirty." Sigh. I have to learn Spanish. What I do understand is everyone calling Bruiser 'gordo' or fat. He does weight more than he should. But I don't understand why in Nicaragua people thought him a stud, and here he's considered fat.
March 24, 2006
I find a scorpion in the bedroom. It's huge and I'm completely intimidated by it. Nervously, I try brushing it into a container, and in my nervousness fail twice, while it scurries petrified trying to find something to hide beneath, it's tail poised and ready to strike. I finally get it, throw it over the verandah and watch as it sits stunned. I fear I've wounded one of its pinchers.
March 26, 2006
I visit with Linda from Cairo who's lived here six years. She shows me the improvements on the property she's made. She's done an amazing job despite adverse circumstances. We reminisce and catch up for hours over many beers.
March 27, 2006
In the morning, the fisherman laugh and invite me to go out with them. I'd love to, but being stuck in a small boat for hours with knowing only a few words of Spanish is daunting. I decline. Or rather, I think what I'm saying is, "Maybe..." Instead I say, "But." No wonder they look at me strangely sometimes. Though they always smile and seem accepting. But I have to learn Spanish...
A week ago I'd hung a clothesline up, partly to dry my wet swimsuit and towel, but also for a bit of privacy, though hibiscus plants form a boundary between the two houses. But I feel the towels form too much of a fence and I want to see what they're doing just as much as they probably want to see what I'm up to. Fair is fair. I take the clothesline down.
At 4pm after a good day of writing, Dog, Bruiser and I head to Garza. We walk along the beach and then take a dirt track which cuts across the point through ranch-land. The headland which Linda told me is for sale for 17 million dollars. Some things should not be for sale. Instead, I believe this should be protected land, with access for all. At a hotel which appears to be closed, water is pouring from the tower where a water tank is overfilling. I find a container, fill it and let the dogs drink.
As we reach Garza beach, I see a movement in the shrub. It looks like a small deer, but no, it's a feral dog. Tall and elegant with elongated ears it's the most spectacular dog I've seen in my life. It follows us at a safe distance and then slinks down to the ocean and lays in it, before following us a little further, then disappearing.
I stop at the first little bar on the beach I come to. 4 1/2 years when I was here, twice I visited a two story structure make of logs, with a rocking chair on the second level which looked out to the fishing boats in the small bay. It was a delightful place, but it's since been torn down because it was too close to the water. I wish it was still here.
We don't arrive back home till dark, exhausted, but completely satisfied. We eat, and I get into bed. Looking up at the ledge by my side, I see another scorpion. This is the forth one inside the house. I'm getting accustomed to being here obviously, because my first reaction instead of fear is, 'Maybe I'll just leave him there. It probably won't come down to the bed in the night...' But I get up, whoosh it into a container and dump it outside.
March 28, 2006
Incredible winds in the night and in the morning my floor is littered with leaves. But I've slept well and woken when most others in this mini-village wake. By 5:30 am, all the kids are dressed in their blue and white uniforms and walking to school via the beach and then to the bus which picks them up.
We walk and people say, "Ola," sleepily. As sun glances over the hills and through cloud-cover, men have put long wooden beams over their shoulders and underneath portions of the boats and are hoisting the boats down to the low-tide. The boats are heavy and the men are in teams of two, their arms around each other for support. They laugh and joke with each other. I'm envious. They have incredible camaraderie and a beautiful life. I have a beautiful life here while it lasts. But I'll always be a visitor.
After a few hours of writing, I sit and stare at the jungle from the verandah, not quite believing life can be this good. After a mid-day swim, the water stops. This is not the first time. I climb up to the wooden beams to where the tank sits inside the house, a slightly perilous journey. The air is HOT. I discover there's no water in the tank. This time, it seems the pump is not working. Because I have no phone, I drive to tell my landlady. By the time I return, it is high tide. My driveway (the beach) is the narrowest I've seen it and the ropes mooring their boats block my passage. Fortunately, one fisherman is still unloading his boats. He loosens some of the lines and I'm able to pass. Still, waves crash at the side of the van.
Oscar, my landlady's husband turns up later in the day with two other workers. Two speak excellent English and I quiz them on tool terms like screwdriver which aren't in my small dictionary. We discover the problem is not the pump. My well is only 1/2 a meter full and I need 1 1/2 meters for the pump to draw it up to the tank. The workers and I hope by morning, or the next there'll be more water from the ground. Oscar raises his hands to the heavens and says, "Praise be to God, there will be water."
"Gracias-adios, there will be water," I reply, repeating an expression taught to me by Linda, which in Arabic translates to a cross between Ilhumdulilah and Insha'allah. Praise be to God and God-willing.
"Huh," Oscar says looking at me differently. "She knows Gracias-adios!"
Whenever I know workers are going to be by, I groan. But it always ends up being a fun experience here.
March 29, 2006
But the next morning, there is no difference in the water level. It's summer, and the rains are still a month away. I've got two 5 gallon containers which I can fill and a sun shower. And of course, there's the ocean which I go in everyday. Edith, my landlady is adamant we must dig deeper. The well's only 6 meters. I'm fine with whatever decision is made.
In the afternoon I make a trip to Samara, to get money from the bank and hopefully to find my friend Rudy who helped me move in. But I don't really want to go. I want to nest in my little house. But I'd already emailed him to say I was coming. I go.
Funds are not ready for me to withdraw, but by meandering down the beach I see Rudy sitting at a table with a few of his new travel friends. It's good to see him. I'm humbled that in order to get home, I need to borrow money for gas. He doesn't care. We swim in the ocean while Dog and Bruiser wait patiently on the shore. It's a good day out for them as a change of pace. And the temperature has dropped as cloud covers the sky. At one point a pack of three Ridge-back mixes pick a fight with mine, but it gets worked out. Because no one is on a lead.
Rudy shows me the tourist town he loves so much. I'm overwhelmed by just how many tourists there are, though it has a reputation of being one of the more laid-back villages. We wander down the beach which though only 15 miles south of mine, feels so different. I wonder how I'd feel about Samara if I hadn't stopped traveling and had already found 'my perfect spot.' I know I'd still gravitate away from the tourists towards the local end of the beach. And there, he shows me an incredible fig tree, which if you include all it's roots which hang down from the branches, is the width of a few buses. The sun sets behind a headland but pink clouds play in the sky. But I'm in nesting mode and having travelled thousands of miles to get here, have little wish to travel more. I want to go home. And love that I can call my little beach home.
On the drive home, I torture myself that I'm not much fun. I've declined dinner and further socializing-something I'd longed to do a few days before. I arrive home and am exuberant to be in my little house, next to my wonderful beach. I relearn an important lesson. In doing things, it's so important to do things when you want to do things. Not when you feel you should. A few days before when I'd wanted to socialize, is when I should've. Not today.
March 30, 2006
I wake up delighted to be here. On our morning walk, I see the tide has come up so high, that two stretches of soft sand I'm always nervous about driving through for fear of being stuck, have now been turned compact and solid from the waves. At mid-day I have to go into town to do email, drop off some letters some tourists have said they'd mail for me, shop and pick up 12 gallons of water. I think I have my return journey timed perfectly with the tide, but when I arrive at the beginning of the beach, there's no way I can risk driving on it. I grab my laptop and walk the 300 meters home to find the front door which I thought I'd closed properly has swung open. Dog is inside, waiting patiently, but Bruiser must've left hours before and has been waiting on the back verandah. Both are ecstatic to see me. Bruiser laps up tons of water, dehydrated, not having figured out he could've gone in the door he'd come out of, one I never use.
We head to the beach and to the van to await the recess of the waves while rain begins to fall. An hour later, new friends Terry and Mattias join me with their dogs. We're all in a celebratory mood. After a month of endless trips to the phone exchange, they finally have a phone. After months of planning, I finally have my copies of Cairo Cats and they've begun to sell. Lighting crackles over the hills and ocean, a promise of wonderful weather to come. But it'll take more than a few drops to put water in my well.
March 31, 2006
One of the young men next door who works with the fishing family has a condition which makes him have involuntary and spontaneous outbursts. These sounds often resemble the cries of parrots. In the states, people with affliction generally can't hold down jobs as their noises are considered disruptive. This young man appears to be an important contributing member of the neighborhood.
I try for hours to get money from the bank, but the line is long and my number in the queue is 34. I leave when it gets to 16 and the bank is due to close in 15 minutes. After doing internet and borrowing money from new friends, I return home. Or rather, I park my van by the side of the road and walk home. In two hours I leave with the tide still high to go to Tomacito's, a bar/restaurant in the nearby town of Garza. They're having a fish tournament tomorrow and there's a shindig with barbecue ribs. Again, I'm not in the mood but feel I need to get out and socialize with others who live here. Some of the gringo's have already heard of me and others are welcoming. But it's mostly gringo's, the DJ has the bass turned up too loud. I don't feel I fit in. After two beers and a meal I leave. Again, I'm exuberant to return home to my little house by the ocean and my dogs.