Cuba–The Land Down Under

Only 90 miles from our shores, Cuba might as well be half a world away.  It is a beautiful island known for its fine cigars, rum, and coffee.  I have sampled two of the three.  I went on a three hour walking tour of Old Havana.  The centuries old Spanish architecture is evident.  Sadly, many of the buildings are run down but the government has recently permitted foreign investment that has refurbished some of the grand old hotels in the area and they are beautifully done.  Many are owned by the government as are many businesses.  With welcoming outdoor cafe areas, I imagine it would be a nice place to spend a few weeks to explore the country side and get to know some of the Cuban people. 

Alas, however, we were not permitted to spend any money at any of those places.  We could only patronize shops owned and operated by local people, not the government.  Prohibited not by the Cuban government but rather by the United States government.  We were told by the tour guide that approximately 57% of Cuba’s annual budget goes directly to the military.  As a result, the USA reasons that spending money at government owned establishments directly funds the Cuban military and therefore the US government bans Americans from spending money that supports the military.  Sadly, we walked by beautiful establishments that would have been wonderful to sit, sip a brew and watch the world go by.

Dancing in the Streets Outside One of Hemingway’s Many Purported Hangouts

The people of Cuba couldn’t be more welcoming.  I marvel at how friendly and happy they seem to be even under the weight of a socialist regime.  As a rare political side note by me, people in the United States would be far less enthralled by socialism if they actually saw the result of such a system in person.  It’s heart-breaking.  The military has such a stranglehold on everything that the people are powerless to force change.  At one time, Cuba supplied 90% of the world’s sugar.  Last year they had to import sugar because of the flight by farmers to the cities looking for jobs.  Few want to farm anymore; the government takes anywhere from 60-75% of the milk, meat, and crops the farmers produce.  There is no incentive to be a producer.   

Because of the flight from the farms to the cities, when the Soviet Union fell and the flow of aid ceased, the people of Cuba starved.  During the 1990s famine spread across the country and epidemics were rampant.  For a people just 90 miles south of the United States, I don’t understand how we could standby and do nothing to help.  Sure some sanctions were lifted and private organizations had permission to send supplies but surely the United States should have been more compassionate and humane during that crisis.  The recent chaos of the socialist government in Venezuela, another Cuban ally, has further exacerbated the situation in Cuba.  

Cuba has a troubled and complicated history that is hard to fathom in just a three hour tour.  But there is little doubt in my mind that the efforts of the United States to put pressure on the Castro regime has done little more than oppress the wonderful people of Cuba.  Food for the average Cuban is rationed; our guide told us he is allowed to purchase 5 eggs per month for each person in his family–he has a wife and two small children–do the math.  He showed us his ration card where his food purchases limited, tallied after each purchase, and must be kept within his allotment.  On the other hand, the military hardly feels the pinch as they take what they need, eat well, and military personnel earn TWICE the wage as private citizens (if private citizens can even find jobs).  In 2017, the National Bureau of Statistics and Information reported the average Cuban earned the equivalent of $29 per month.  One woman said, “If you buy food you can not buy clothes, if you buy clothes you can not eat, we live every day thinking about how to come up with ways survive,”  Many survive either by stealing from the government or by receiving “remittances” from relatives who live abroad (which are taxed by the government !).

All things considered, I was glad I went.  Each trip abroad gives me a better perspective of how fortunate we are in the United States.  Inevitably, I feel for the people of countries like Cuba.  I repeatedly hear people for a number of countries I have visited say, “We love the American people, we just can’t stand your government.”  Sad.

Turning to cigars and rum:  I bought a box of Cohiba Robustos and a bottle of Havana Club rum–both recommended by the tour guide as the best the country has to offer.  In all honesty, a Dominican Dunhill, Davidoff, Macanudo, or Rocky Patel (particularly with Connecticut shade tobacco wrappers) are superior to Cuban Cohibas.  Nicaraguan Flor de Cana 18 year rum is far and away much smoother than Havana Club rum.  

In short, I would love to go back to Cuba and continue conversations with the Cuban people, but don’t need to go for cigars or rum !

Turning The Page To Our Next Chapter …

Our Little Cottage at Hotel Gardenia

We’ve spent the past three winters in Florida (north-central) and found the local people and travelers we met along the way to be wonderful, kind, caring folks. We will miss them immensely. However, the itch to travel more was not being scratched in Florida. With a McDonald’s on every corner, we’ve become bored and yearn to go back to traveling internationally where there is a diversity of cultures, language (although I heard some pretty good language in Florida that could make an offshore oil rigger blush) and customs. Thus, we have divested ourselves of our “holdings” in Florida and are now “…on the road again” (many thanks to Willie Nelson).

View From Our Front Door

Currently, we are in Tamarindo, Costa Rica for six days. This trip is exploratory as we are looking for options to spend next winter somewhere in the area. Clear blue skies, 95 degree (F) days, and some of the most spectacular beaches and conservation areas in the world draw us back here in winter.

As always, renting a car in Costa Rica is an exercise in getting your bank account raped but we knew what to expect this time.  Since we’re only here for six days, the car rental was ONLY as much as our lodging !!!  But, for longer stays, and since I’ve driven in Costa Rica before, it is the best way to see the sites.  If you are new to the driving habits of Ticos and staying only for a short time, spend the money for a tour driver.  You’ll be glad you did.

More when it happens….

I ran over my wife … really.

I debated about writing this but decided to post it so I don’t have to tell the story multiple times to each of the people I know…

First, the Good News …

My sister-in-law, Pat, came to visit us from Michigan while we are in Northern Virginia.  We had a series of tourist-type things planned in the Washington DC area including a Segway Tour of the National Mall so Pat could see as much as we could squeeze in during her visit (Smithsonian, Capitol Building, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, White House grounds, etc.).  Sunday was the Segway tour, Monday a trip to Mount Vernon, and Tuesday was a tour of the White House (no Donald in sight) with a few other stops planned over the weekend.

The Segway was a three hour tour (that should have been a tip-off right there–no island in sight though), a little tricky getting balanced on the Segway initially but after a brief demo and some practicing, the tour group of eight was ready to roll.  Heide and I followed in line with me being last of the eight and Heide right in front of me.  Those little suckers can do about 15 miles per hour so they really zip along the sidewalks and we covered a lot of ground.

…And now the BAD news

As we neared the end of the tour, there were some pedestrians on the sidewalk strolling three abreast and Heide swerved to go around them.  Unfortunately, her left wheel drop off the edge of the side walk (about 2-3 inch drop), she lost her balance and fell off the Segway.  I was riding right behind her.  I could not swerve or stop quickly enough to avoid hitting her and ran right over one or both of her legs as she lay there on the ground.

In the end, neither Heide nor I can remember which leg I hit.  It’s quite possible the fall broke her left leg as there is a tire-track bruise on her right leg but we can’t be certain.  “Honest, your Honor,  it was an accident!”

In the end, her left leg is broken just below the knee and two bones in her left ankle are also broken.  The doctor believes the bones are in proper alignment and will likely not require surgery. She is in the hospital and they have her wrapped in a soft, full-leg cast for the time being.

Because we are currently staying in a townhouse with three floors (i.e., STEPS) and the 3.5 bathrooms all showers in tubs rather than shower stalls, it was decided by the doctors and physical therapy folks that it would be safer for her not to go directly home from the hospital.  They swear they aren’t trying to keep her away from me !!!

She is not permitted to put any weight whatsoever on the leg and with the townhouse layout, she will be spending at least the next three weeks in a rehabilitation hospital here in Northern Virginia.  I will transfer her later today to the rehabilitation hospital.

The doctor has prescribed morphone for Heide’s pain and Scotch for my guilt….

Florida: Fine Art and Smoked Mullet

Fine Art and Smoked Mullet

What one has to do with the other was a mystery but you have to admit it’s an interesting combination–fine art and smoked mullet (a fish of some sort that’s been smoked).  As we travel we look for the local restaurants, pubs, and unusual places–we can see a McDonald’s anywhere but a treasure like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  We’ve been staying in Florida this year and have no international trips planned until later this year (late summer/early fall) so we’ve been exploring north central Florida.  The other day we took a drive out to Cedar Key–about 45 minutes from us.  Nice drive for most of the trip then the road turns boring as it flattens and straightens out like a ribbon to the coast.  

The bustling metropolis of Cedar Key (population 706) is primarily a tourist area.  Lots of little craft and antique shops along with the predictable array of shell shops and other chotzkies.  If you like to browse, there’s plenty of options down the main street.  But what caught our interest the most was a sign that said “Fine Art and Smoked Mullet.”  If nothing else, it causes you to ponder what one has to do with the other.  Curiosity got the best of us so we followed the arrow …

Once off the main street, there were no other signs as we wended our way through the side streets of suburban Cedar Key.  As we came across the above on a back street we knew we had found the world headquarters of “Fine Art and Smoked Mullet.”  Although unoccupied and clearly no business within, the fine art was evident on the roof and sides.  The “mullet” in the middle has a body made of a 1/2 bushel basket and other assorted odd parts.  The bathing beauty is…well, a sight to behold.  Someone was clearly high on something when this creation was made.  Better yet, the town apparently hasn’t bothered to remove the sign in years.  I doubt it will ever be on the National Register of Historic Places, but who knows?  Only in Florida !

It will be hard to top this in our travels, but we’ll keep looking.  I think a poster-sized reprint of this photo would look good on our living wall but Heide, thankfully, has more taste !   

For those of you who want the true experience, a few close-ups for detail…

Beach Babe–Fine Art
Rooster Critter w/Shovel for Snow–Fine Art
Mullet–Not sure this is smoked but the guy who put it up certainly had to be.


Auto Train Heaven … Could I possibly have been wrong ?

Previously, after our December 2016 Auto Train trip in Business Class, I described riding the Auto Train as Dante’s 10th Circle of Hell.  On December 27 this year,  we decided to give it another try with a few very important tweaks.  I have to admit this experience was significantly better than our previous two fiascoes and has changed my mind about the Auto Train.  My apologies to Amtrak !

Over the years, we have booked a (1) Superliner Bedroom (with private bath), (2) Business Class seats, and  (3) Superliner Roomette (no private bath).  The Superliner Bedroom and the Superliner Roomette provide complete privacy with a lockable door.  All classes receive dinner in the dining car at your appointed time–there’s usually about 3-4 different time slots you can sign up for–we always take the earliest as they often run late on subsequent dinner times.  A little explanation of our experience with each is warranted to understand my change in view.  Some “tips” will be found at the end of this post.

First, the Superliner Bedroom with private bath seemed like a great idea.  No mingling, and with your own private bath, no waiting in line for your bladder to burst.  Simply close the door and it is completely private.  The seats inside the Superliner Bedroom fold down into a one lower single bunk with a pull-down upper bunk overhead.  Cozy.  Private.  But in fact, we slept not a wink.  The rhythmic clickety-clack you see in the movies is a myth on the Auto Train in a Superliner Bedroom.  The train is pulling a maximum capacity of 320 automobiles in car carrier freight cars and is more than 3/4 of a mile long.  There is a constant tug and pull as all those passenger and freight cars rock and roll.  The Superliner Bedroom is pretty much like a James Bond martini–shaken, not stirred.  For the quality of the ride it is clearly not worth the price, aggravation, and discomfort.  To make matters worse, because there are 320 automobiles on the train being offloaded one at a time, we waited almost three hours in the station for our car to finally make an appearance.  It was a simply awful experience and I swore we would never subject ourselves to it again.

However, after experiencing the horror of driving to Florida via I-95 right after Christmas (bumper-to-bumper in both lanes, 85 mph or the car behind you practically crawled up your tailpipe, and incessant delays from the predictably high number of fender benders, and heaven help you if there is any kind of bad weather), the Auto Train was starting to look better.  Our second attempt several years later was in Business Class.  In theory, there is more legroom than on an airplane (there is), and possibly in Coach.  Our intent was to simply recline the seat back, curl up, and sleep all the way to Florida.  You can read the details of that road to hell on one of my previous posts.  Unfortunately, in Business Class you hear everyone snoring along with other even less desirable biological noises, being constantly bumped by people trying to walk around in a moving train as they head to the bathroom or just go for a stroll to talk to other people while you’re trying to sleep.  Throw into the mix seats that had at most 1/2″ thick padding and, by the time we arrived in Florida, I was so numb it felt like my ass had fallen off — I could feel nothing below the waist!.  We swore we’d never do it again (famous last words).

But alas, there was yet one more Pit of Misery (Dilly, Dilly !) we hadn’t tried — the Superliner Roomette.  Picture a phone booth with bunk beds.  Before bedtime, you had two very comfortable recliners facing each other across a window.  After diner at bedtime, the steward folded the seats into one long lower bunk (putting a thin mattress over it to cover the small spaces between seat cushions–quite comfortable actually) and there was a pull-down upper bunk made up the same way.  In fact, Heide and I both slept like babies.  We didn’t feel the terrible shaking we had experienced years before in the more expensive Superliner Bedroom with bath.  It was an amazingly comfortable, pleasant trip (of course, it helped my mental state that the train was actually on time on this trip and the wine at dinner probably helped).

We didn’t miss the private bath because, in truth, who wants to shower in the morning using the tanked water on a train?  More importantly though, I have a theory (you knew I would) about the real difference between the rides.

First, let’s get Business Class and Coach Class off the table.  There is simply no way to get comfortable on those seats given the length of time the trip takes.  Add in the jostling by other people, the auditory bombardment and biologic olfactory apocalypse and it’s quite easy to eliminate that mode of travel.  It was over 18 hours of the most uncomfortable hell imaginable.  No Coach.  No Business Class.

But why, you ask, did we have such different experiences between the trips via the Superliner Bedroom w/bath (hell) and the Superliner Roomette (heaven), aka phone booth with no bath?  Here’s my theory:  the bunks in the Superliner Bedroom are laid out perpendicular to the tracks to make room for the private bathroom.  The bunks in the phone booth sized Roomette are laid out parallel to the tracks.  Now, picture your train under the tree at Christmas.  As the train moves, the couplings between the cars have a little “give” (i.e., they are not a tight, rigid fit).  Consequently, as the train encounters the inconsistencies of the terrain and rails, the train tugs and pulls along its entire 3/4+ mile-long length and results in a lot of movement–both rolling side-to-side and tugging back and forth.  The Superliner Bedroom bunks that are perpendicular to the tracks cause the tug/pull of the train to ROLL your body back and forth all night long–the rolling causes your head to be high one moment and low the next.  It leaves you with the constant feeling that you are going to roll out of bed and thus no sleep.

On the other hand, the Superliner Roomette bunks are parallel to the track and, thus, in line with the tug/pull of the train motion. You are simply being jostled gently from head to toe (rather than rolled side-to-side) and feel perfectly secure in the bunk.  The side to side motion was like being rocked in a cradle.  Frankly, it reminds me of sleeping on our boat at anchor.  We slept like babies.  Wine helps.

One last tip:  Book really early (we book a year in advance) and cough up the $60 for Priority Offloading.  In doing so, yours will be among the first 30 cars off the train at your destination.  Be willing to adjust your travel dates by a few days, if necessary, to get the Priority Offloading — it’s worth it.  When we arrived on the morning of December 28, we had our car and were on our way about 15 minutes after they started unloading vehicles.  I have no doubt that many of our fellow passengers were waiting 2-3 hours to get their cars.

Your mileage may vary.

A Shift From Vagabonds to “Quasi-Vagabonds” ?

If you’ve followed my blog for very long, you know that two and a half years ago we decided to sell our house and “ride the rails” as vagabonds for a while.  We spent the summers on our boat (Emeritus) on Chesapeake Bay, as we have for many years, but also started traveling much of the rest of the year.  We embarked on that adventure knowing that one day we would either (a) have a health issue that limited our lifestyle, or (b) simply decide to become “dirt-dwellers” again and settle into another house somewhere warm.  Well, the time has come.  I’m happy to report, though, that it’s “b” and not “a” that is sparking the end of an era.  Just like Bilbo Baggins returning to The Shire (sans pot-of-gold), we want to feel more settled.  While we will be dirt-dwellers once again, we have no intention of giving up our international travel.  Travel is food for the soul and has broadened our outlook and understanding of foreign cultures.  We have had some remarkable trips, met genuinely wonderful people, and experienced cultures that showcased incredible wealth along side heart-breaking poverty.  Our lives have been touched in ways that spending all our time in the USA could never accomplish and we yearn for more.

Other than our brief trip to Iceland in early November (see the series of posts for November 2016), this year’s travels have been limited to the USA as we spent some quiet time in Florida over the winter.  Hunkering down in a small rural community hasn’t given me much to write about.  We usually prefer heading farther south to the warmer climate of Central America where the people and culture provide fodder for plenty of interesting tales.  But with the purchase of a new camper this year (our first), we thought we’d put it to use and give it a try in Florida for the winter months.  It was a good decision for this year but not as interesting as international travel.  We’ll be off to Costa Rica for two months next winter and, tentatively, plan to head to Munich, Germany just before Christmas this year to see the Kris Kindl Markt that Heide’s mother so fondly recalled as a child growing up in Munich before and during World War II.  A return to Iceland is also in the cards as we have yet to spot the elves that Icelanders claim live there and I plan to tap my own Guiness at the brewery in Dublin before the year is out.  Since we won’t be on the Bay next summer, exploring the great cities of Europe will be our goal.

Heide and I have both felt the tug of our nesting instinct (no, there are no little Melnicks on the way) and the desire to put down some roots.  We have decided to modify, not eliminate, our vagabonding.  While we have thoroughly enjoyed the past 2 1/2 years of being footloose and fancy free, not having a permanent home has started to wear on us both.  Try as I might, a piano just doesn’t fit into a boat or backpack and I miss playing it once in a while.  More importantly, we miss family by being away for such long stretches of time and especially our 9-year old grandson who is growing all too fast.  We only get one chance to be part of his life while he’s young and we hope to seize the day (carpe diem) while he’s still at an age that hanging out with the grandparents is still cool.  

So we’ve decided to again become dirt-dwellers and have found a home in Northern Virginia that puts us within short walking distance of our son, daughter-in-law, and grandson (Mark, Eileen, and Thomas).  We are also within walking distance of the elementary school Thomas attends.  So options abound to be more apart of the family life we have been missing.  The community pool, clubhouse, fitness center, etc. are but a block away.  We still plan to travel to warmer climates (Florida or Central America) in the winter months, but most of the year we’ll be somewhat more settled.  The travel itch still needs to be scratched.

After more than 40 years of boating, 30+ years on Chespeake Bay, 18 years at the same marina, and with mixed feelings, we are putting our boat (Emeritus) up for sale.  We will miss the many friends we’ve made in the boating world but are confident that close friendships will endure.  Spending the warmer months (spring, summer, fall) right up the street from the kiddies is a priority sprinkled with a little summer travel to boot.  Dulles International Airport is only a 10 minute drive from us and is now our gateway to the world.  

Auto Train to Florida: A new circle of hell

In past posts I’ve had the pleasure of describing our travels from the point of view of already “being there”–elves, geothermal springs, geysers, gazing into the maw of an active volcano, zip-lining through the rain forest, the breathtaking antiquities of Turkey. Only once before have I discussed the “getting there” (Costa Rica return flight debacle).  Fasten your seat belts, tray tables up, and your seat in the upright position.

Dante, in the Divine Comedy, eloquently describes nine circles of hell, each with increasing levels of torment. To adequately describe the Auto Train running back and forth between Lorton, Virginia and Sanford, Florida, Dante would need a 10th circle of hell–the ultimate hell.  I must point out that (a) I don’t like crowds, (b) I hate being herded like cattle, and (c) I’ve always been fanatical about being on time–I never wanted to waste other people’s time by my being late for a meeting or appointment.  You can put a check mark in front of a, b, and c above regarding the Auto Train as you read the following.


When we arrived at the station at 11:30 AM for a 4:00 PM departure from Lorton, Virginia to Sanford, Florida, we were told the inbound train would be three hours late arriving from Florida.  The outgoing train on which we were traveling would be full with 660 people aboard but that number exceeded the capacity of the station in Lorton.  Thus you could barely move without bumping into someone or tripping over their bags and people, inconsiderately, didn’t care if their bags were in the middle of the aisle.  Advantage (a) Crowds: AMTRAK.

Scorecard:  AMTRAK 1,  Melnick 0.


When the incoming train finally arrived, we had to wait while they got things turned around.  A boarding that was to have occurred at 2:00 PM never started until 3:30 PM at which time AMTRAK announced,  ” … Please stay out of the entrance way so that people can board when their train car is called.”  Simple instructions any fourth grader could follow.  However, more than half of the 660 people immediately sprang out of their seats and crowded in front of the boarding doors resulting in no one being able to get through. Once boarding started, we were all placed in our respective cattle chute categories and herded aboard in long lines fighting our way through the throngs who inappropriately crowded the doorway.  People were bumping and pushing, jockeying for position to get on board, as if the train was going to leave without them and being in front of someone rather than behind them made one iota of difference.  As an aside, it amazed me how much luggage people brought on board with them.  Many looked like they needed sherpas from Nepal to carry the load and jam all that crap under their seats and in the overhead racks …. only to have to repeat the process to put that shit back in their car upon arrival in Florida.  Why not simply leave all but essentials in their car ?  It’s an Auto Train for Pete’s sake.  We weren’t going cross country …  Advantage (b) Herding: AMTRAK.

Scorecard:  AMTRAK 2,  Melnick 0

On Time

The Auto Train experience is in a class by itself.  Mussolini himself must be in charge of the time schedules.  Although he famously “made the trains run on time” in Italy when he came to power, the Italian trains were not on time and were believed to be so only because of the propaganda campaign by the Fascists to make the people think the government was actually helping them.  Although the official Amtrak schedule shows the Auto Train to leave at 4:00 PM and arrive at 8:58 AM the next morning at your destination (either Sanford, FL or Lorton, VA), I have little doubt that Pinocchio, with an excessively long nose, was somehow involved in laughingly developing the current schedule.  We boarded late in Virginia and then arrived late in Florida by two and a half hours.  Add to that the interminable wait for you car to be unloaded (they are unloaded randomly) and from the time we arrived in Lorton, Virginia until we drove off in Sandford, Florida, a full 24 hours had passed.  The schedule should actually say, “Departure:  Sometime from 4:00 PM to whenever; Arrival:  Significantly after 8:58 AM.”    Advantage (c) being on time:  AMTRAK

Scorecard:  AMTRAK 3,  Melnick 0

It’s a shutout.  In truth, I would rather have a strip search by TSA in the middle of an airport than ride the Auto Train again.  Although we had reasonably roomy Business Class seats that reclined with a footrest, I have never been able to sleep sitting up.  Being awake for 24 hours with a two hour drive that lay ahead of us to our destination was just too much.  We found the closest Hampton Inn that was near an Olive Garden, got sloshed on wine and gin, and promptly fell asleep at 2:00 in the afternoon.

FOOTNOTE:  We tried the sleeper cabin with private bath several years ago.  Didn’t like that any better.

All that being said, it may still be preferable to the crazy traffic traveling at warp speed, bumper-to-bumper, on I-95 south right after Christmas.  I am seriously looking for Scotty to beam us up when we return to the Chesapeake this summer.



Nicaragua Has But One Dog…

2016-02-15 (2)Although Nicaragua shares many of the same features and attractions as other Central American countries — tropical forests, volcanoes, beautiful beaches — it has a singular aspect the other countries do not. While Nicaragua has loads of monkeys, parrots, iguanas, crocodiles, horses, cattle, and goats, it has but one dog.  .

P1010895Everywhere I traveled regardless of location (Managua, San Juan del Sur, Granada, etc.), this same dog seemed to be following me.  It appeared over and over again — a fawn-colored, medium-sized stray mongrel with knowing eyes and a knack for survival. I began to wonder why this dog was apparently following me all over Nicaragua. Was I being stalked by The Hound of the Ortegavilles? He could get around Nicaragua better than I could with a car !!!  Each time I spotted him, he had the same coloring, same floppy ears, same size, and was of no discernible known breed.  At first, as I walked the various neighborhoods of Managua on my morning jaunts, it was a little spooky.  I was certain he was “on the scent.”

IMG_20160210_123905Of course, it turns out that there are many, far too many, stray dogs in Nicaragua and they reproduce like rabbits.  The photos included here are a sample of different dogs but they all look alike. Their similarities in appearance suggest they are really “friendly” toward their first cousins, perhaps even brothers and sisters.  Most of them appear adequately nourished, but a few were in heart-wrenchingly bad shape. All of them had excellent manners and minded their own business, although they were grateful for the occasional bit of food and pat on the head.  We saw virtually no pure breeds anywhere (sadly, no beagles).

In Costa Rica, where stray dogs look much like Nicaraguan dogs, a shelter has been established that takes in strays in need of help. Territorio de Zaguates (CLICK ON THE LINK…NICE VIDEO: Land of  the Strays), home to some 900 (+/-) strays that roam freely over the expansive refuge.  Visitors are welcome to stop by any time to play with the dogs.  And, if you are lucky enough to be chosen by one of the dogs, you will be allowed to adopt it (not the other way around!).

Nicaragua’s domestic animals, as well as many of its people, struggle to subsist as best they can on the limited resources available to them. It would be wonderful to hear that an attempt has been started, as it has in Costa Rica, to provide some aid for Nicaragua’s many domesticated animals in need of adequate food and kinder treatment — dogs and horses, in particular.

For all its natural beauty, Nicaragua is a country whose poverty can break your heart.

Iceland: Strokkur Geysir (yes, that’s the way they spell it)–VIDEO

strokkurIt isn’t Old Faithful but the Strokkur Geysir in southwest Iceland was worth the drive.  It’s eruptions are not as high as Old Faithful but, like clockwork, it erupts every 6-10 minutes (usually 15-20 meters/50-65 feet in height) .  Located a little more than 60 miles from Rekjavik, it was a pleasant drive through the countryside.  There is no admission charge; you can walk right up to it.  There are, of course, the usual tourist souvenir shops near the site.  On the walk up to Strokkur is a small pool that is bubbling like boiling water named Litli Geysir–more a bubbling pool than an actual geysir but pretty cool nonetheless.

Videos of both are below.  Enjoy the eruption…

Litli Geysir (just 13 seconds)


Strokkur Geysir…(Click the lower right corner to make it full-screen–55 seconds–watch the water begin to pulsate in the hole as the eruption nears)

Iceland: Geothermal Pools

rural-hot-springs-icelandBecause Iceland is, in fact, a volcanic island that has risen from the seabed, the water deep underground is hot from the energy of the Earth.  Icelanders use that water to heat their homes and generate electricity, but a side benefit is that thermal swimming pools are just about everywhere.  There were three in downtown Rekjavik, many that can be found out in the countryside along the roads (careful, they can be really hot) where you can jump in for a dip even though the ambient air temperature might be in the 30s (Fahrenheit).  Of course, there is also the well advertised and touristy Blue Lagoon that for an astronomical fee (about €40 or the equivalent of about $43 USD per person), they will bus you there and allow you to experience the heat of the Earth all while lightening your wallet.  The water comes from about 6500 feet underground and, of course, is loaded with minerals.

Laugardalslaug Thermal Pool
Laugardalslaug Thermal Pool

We chose to walk a few blocks from our hotel to the public Laugardalslaug Thermal Pool and for only about $9 USD soak up the geothermal heat.  It was marvelous.  The outdoor temperature was almost 40 degrees Fahrenheit (a little more than 4 degrees Celsius) but once you were in the water, it was wonderful.  The sign posted by the pool indicated the water temperature was 38 degrees Celsius, about 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

While we soaked in one of the smaller sections of the pool complex, we met two young ladies from Germany who were visiting Iceland, amazingly a young man from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania where we lived for 30+ years, and a gentleman from Italy who has lived in Iceland for about 15 years. He told use what we suspected all along when he said, “The Northern Lights tour packages are a marketing ploy to get people to Iceland.  Good luck seeing them!”

We were undaunted in our attempts to see the Northern Lights but, as you read earlier, unsuccessful.  As unnatural as it seems to swim outside in the Icelandic cold, it felt wonderful.  Chatting with folks in the pool from around only added to the enjoyment.

Winter swim anyone ?