Cool weather in Texas!

LOCATION:  In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER:  Cool and overcast.  High 55

Back to our Sunday morning ritual – George’s grits, eggs, and bacon while watching “CBS Sunday Morning”.  Very comforting.

It was a lazy day.  George got in a game or two of ping pong while I read. 

In the evening, George made a fire to burn up some cardboard and paper.  It felt good! 

While we were on the Rio De Janeiro excursion to Carnaval, the Azamara cruiseline gave us seat cushions to use on the grandstand seats.   They work well on our outdoor bar stools.

DINNER:  With the leftover rotisserie chicken, I made an Indian dish.  I sauteed onions, garlic, ginger, and the chicken, then added a packet of Trader Joe’s Madras Lentils.  I served it over garbanzo beans.  Steamed peas on the side.  Tasty.

BOOK:  “Marrying The Ketchups” by Jennifer Close.  I chose this book as I was intrigued by the title.  (The term has to do with a restaurant practice of combining half-empty ketchup dispensers).  It is about a family whose restaurant is the center of their (dysfuntional) lives.  3 stars out of 5.

New carpet!

LOCATION:  In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER:  Still cool.  Overcast.  High 60

I was happy to do 1.5 hours of line-dancing this morning – just 2 of us, but good exercise and fun.  A lot of people in Retama Village are already starting to leave, to return to their homes Up North.  In my opinion, it is still a little early to do that!  When we go to Minnesota this coming week, it will only be in the 20s and 30s.  Brrrrr!

George played some ping pong and worked out in the gym.  It is one of the things he likes best about being back here.  I continued my work on summer travel reservations.  I read in the afternoon munching on some air-popped popcorn.  I had been hankering for popcorn during our two months away. 

In the late afternoon, we went over to our fellow Airstream friends’ house.  They used to live in Oregon, and shared some excellent Oregon wines with us.  I took appetizers – tator tots with different sauces.  Fun and easy. 

One of the neat things about Retama Village is that we have a vibrant buy/sell Facebook group.  People post items (many really nice) that they are selling.  Our friend Randy posted a beautiful Oriental wool carpet.  So after wine and tator tots,  we looked at it, taking our bar cushion to match colors, and decided to buy it from him.  We think it looks great! 

DINNER:  George grilled some pork chops.  Sides were broccoli with cheese sauce, and a baked sweet potato.  Easy and tasty. 

Gardening on St. Patrick’s Day

LOCATION:  In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER:  Cool!  High 60

A cold front came in and cooled things down very quickly.  The wind was brisk, too.  I took a 5-mile walk and it was fine until the last leg, when I had to face into the strong wind from the NW.  An Alberta Clipper! 

I took advantage of the cool weather and did some gardening.  Our back area is looking good…

I replanted some cacti that survived during our absence….

And, the “agave garden” out front is really looking good.

This area in front is full of flowering lantana.  Last year, we thought it was all dead, but it came back beautifully…

I did some computer work, continuing our summer planning, with our Nova Scotia friends Tony and Jenny.  We are finalizing our Quebec plans for early June.

DINNER:  St. Patrick’s Day celebration!  We went to our friends’ house for corned beef, cabbage and potatoes, and Irish whiskey!  It was great. 

Getting settled back home

LOCATION:  In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER:  Hot.  High 82

First things first!  A haircut!  After two months, I was in dire need of a cut. 

Then, a trip to the grocery store to fill our empty refrigerator and freezer. 

While I was doing all of this, George was working around the house and yard.  It is nice to return to a place where not much needs to be done.  Just some plant trimming and weed pulling outside, and turning on hot water and water.  Done!

It seems a bit strange to be back after having been gone for two months.  This is a summary of our route…

Red – flight down from McAllen, TX to Houston, to Buenos Aires
Green – two cruises.  First was Buenos Aires south to Falkland Islands and Chilean fjords, and back to Buenos Aires.  Second was Buenos Aires north along Brazilian coast to  Rio de Janeiro for Carnaval, then back to Montevideo, Uruguay
Green – 2 weeks in Uruguay, checking it out as a possible retirement place (probably not)
Blue – Montevideo to Cartagena, Colombia
Purple  – Cartagena to Miami, then to Dallas, and finally McAllen/Mission

In the afternoon, I worked on some summer camping arrangements and did laundry. 

While cleaning out a drawer, I found this old picture. It was taken when Alexis had her high school senior pictures done. Between professional shots, the photographer asked to take one of the two of us. I hadn’t prepared for it, so didn’t have any makeup on, and hadn’t done anything with my hair. I was just wearing old Saturday clothes. But….I think it turned out well!

DINNER:  Salad and some cherry tomatoes from our bush that survived!  Rotisserie chicken and a medley of sauteed broccoli, onions, and mushrooms. 

Back home!

LOCATION:  Mission, Texas
WEATHER:  Unusually cool – 74.  Light rain

Check-in and security went easily at Miami Airport.  It irks me that every airport’s security is different – shoes on or off?  liquids out or in?  computer/tablet/phone out or in?  Etc.  Etc.  It would be easier if they were all the same, or would at least post signs while you are in line so that you know what, if anything, to get out of your bags. 

Whine, whine, whine

Yesterday, I posted the Juan Valdez Coffee Shop chain that is popular in Colombia.  Wow – there is one in the Miami airport, too!

The  3-hour flight from Miami to Dallas was uneventful.  We flew over the Mighty Mississippi.

  We had a one-hour layover in Dallas which was just enough to get from one end of the airport to the other, via the tram.  Just as we arrived at our gate, they started boarding.

Our friends picked us up the McAllen Airport – so convenient  – only about 10 miles from our house.  The airport was packed – Spring Breakers, I think.

Everything in the house was fine.  The flowers and bushes look pretty good too, except for some annuals that were in pots.  All died. 

With a barren refrigerator, we took up our friends’ invitation to join them for dinner.  So kind!

DINNER:  Cauliflower crust pizza and salad. 

Flying from Cartagena to Miami

LOCATION:  In airports

We arrived 3 hours early (thanks to my nervousness) to the Cartagena Airport only to find out later that our flight was delayed for 3 hours.  So, a LONG wait in the awful airport.  It is the kind where they have continuous very loud announcements overhead that you cannot understand – either in Spanish or English.  Very annoying.

It is a terrible airport, without any restaurants or any other redeeming feature.  It is located near downtown Cartagena and was built before tourism here became popular.  So, it is small and outdated.  We heard that they are building a new one out of town.

While waiting, we met a lady whose  husband got sick on a cruise ship while they were in Cartegena.  They had to disembark and he spent 4 days in the hospital.  Now they are trying to get home  to New York.  I need to start whining about waiting….

Do you remember those coffee commercials featuring Juan Valdez starting in the late 1950s?  He was a fictional character promoting Colombia coffee.  Since then, a coffee shop chain has popped up with his name.  They are all over the city of  Cartagena.  (instead of Starbucks, thank goodness!)

We arrived in Miami about 8:30 PM and went to our airport hotel.  We got a burger from the hotel restaurant and called it an early night.

BOOK:. “The Ways we Hide” by Kristina McMorris.  Another one of her historical fiction books, this one taking place in WWII.  4 stars out of 5

Cooking School!

LOCATION:  Cartagena, Colombia
WEATHER:  Hot.  High 88

Most of our restaurant meals have been in medium-to-high end restaurants.  Today, we checked out the “dive” near our apartment.  It is always packed with locals and has music blaring out onto the street. 

Surprisingly, they sell bottles of craft beer, which we sipped on while we waited for a table. They were $2.50 each.  George had grilled pork which came with fries and a salad for $5.  I nibbled off his plate. It was very good, and lots of food.

Then, it was time for cooking school!  This was a tour offered through AirB&B in a small restaurant near us.  It was just delightful.  An Indian family joined us.  It was led by the chef and a teacher who could speak some English.  The idea was to make, then eat, a typical Colombian meal.

We each were assigned a station with a small cutting board, plantain, coconut chunk, and herbs.

First we started the coconut rice, starting with raw coconut.  It takes a long time, first becoming sort of caramelized before adding more coconut milk and rice.  I volunteered to squeeze the milk out of the coconut mixture.

Here it is after cooking awhile.  It takes on a brown color and a light caramel taste.

While it was cooking, we started the postones – plantain fritters.  We peeled the plantains, then  fried them.

After they were soft, we  squished them into patties and set aside.

Next up was the red snapper. 

We each were given a whole fish which we “massaged” with salt, pepper, oregano, lime juice, and lots of garlic.  Then we covered them with slivers of bell peppers and onions.  We drizzled on olive oil and white wine, then wrapped them in aluminum foil.  Off to the oven for baking.

We made a drink with panela (hardened sugar cane), water, and lime juice. 

Our last task was to make empanadas.  The technique is similar to making tortillas.  We filled some with a meat mixture, and some with cheese.

We placed the empanadas in hot oil.  We dipped the plantains in a garlic/salt water broth, and re-fried them. 

Now, two hours after we started the class, we were ready to plate the meal.  I made my rice “mountain”

Then, we added the plantains, empanadas, and fish to the plates

Wow!  Quite a feast!  We took it to the restaurant’s dining room, and enjoyed a very nice meal.  Based on the price and description of the tour, this was a big surprise.  I thought it would be just small portions, but it was a lot of food!  Later, I talked with the teacher who told me that they have only been doing this about 3 weeks, but it has been a big success.  I wish them the best of luck. 

A side-trip to Africa?

LOCATION:  Cartagena, Colombia
WEATHER:  Hot.  High 90

Today was a great day.  I had signed us up for a tour of Palenque, a UNESCO-designated African village outside Cartagena.  (Note to travellers…..I have had great luck with Viator Tour Company – always good value, service, and experience.)

The guide met us at our apartment and a van soon picked us up, bright and early at 7:45 for an all-day trip.  The guide is actually from Palenque but lives in Cartagena.  We picked up two other passengers, and headed out, about an 1.5 hour drive.  After we left the city, the scenery was not too interesting.  Just a few houses….

And these interesting highway warnings – to watch for cattle, snakes, iguanas, and ….. anteaters.

Our first stop was the Welcome sign.  They speak a unique language in Palenque – a combo of Spanish, Portuguese, and 2 African languages.  In their language, this village of 4000 people is spelled Palenge.

The residents are fiercely proud of their village, its culture, and their Black heritage/skin.  Education is key here.  Our guide said that 80% of the population goes on to college.  They teach Spanish, Palenque, and English in school.  There are several murals around the village written in their language.  We learned some of the key words.

This mural is a picture of the town’s shaman.  They are worried because she is getting old and there is no one to take her place.

There aren’t too many vehicles, mostly horses.

Music is key to the village.  You can hear drums all through the streets.  The drums were originally used to communicate danger.  Villagers would climb a hill around the town, and signal on the drums if invading Spaniards were coming.  Now, the drums are used for singing and dancing. Our first stop was at our guide’s brother’s house (the high school principal) where they performed for us.

Our guide’s little niece was very interested in my hat and sat right next to me.  Really cute children.

They served us a drink made with passion fruit juice and their village’s moonshine.  It was served in a carved out plant.  Really tasty!

Our next stop was at a villager’s house where he demonstrated African instruments.  He and his fellow musicians have travelled the world performing their indigenous music.

At every stop, the people were so gracious and thanked us for coming.  They are fiercely proud of their village.  Our guide told us that he is actually a lawyer in Cartagena, but does these tours so that people can learn and appreciate his culture.  It was pretty neat that we four tourists were the only ones in town.  Here is Erik, our guide, standing by the Palenque flag…

Another stop was at the village healer’s house. 

He showed us all kinds of different plants and fruits used to fight and prevent diseases.  It must work – they didn’t have any Covid cases during the pandemic.  Here is the healer putting some protective oils on my arm.

Group photo – the healer and the 2 other women on our tour.  One lady is from New York, but was born and lived in Uganda.  She said this really reminded her of her homeland.

A fun stop – at the village boxing center.  This is a big deal for them.  They have produced 4 world-famous boxers over the years.  The first one won a world championship, and with his prize earnings, he used the money to provide electricity and water to the town. (1975).  The boxing instructor gave us a few lessons….

We stopped at the village museum which was one of the original homes.

  This is the indoor kitchen….

and outdoor kitchen (for larger meals)

At the village square, we saw this monument honoring the founder of the village.  Palenque is America’s first freed African settlement. 

Palenque is quite isolated.  There is no crime here, and no police.  The town has a council that deals with any issues.  While it seems poor here, the people seem to have everything they need.  Most of the homes are small cement-block structures with no glass window panes.  No A/C….and it is very hot here, hotter than in Cartagena.

Finally, our last stop was lunch.  The cook cooked everything the traditional way, over an open fire.

The lunch was beautifully presented.  I had chicken; George had a whole grilled fish.

This was our last view as we left Palenque – a guy napping on the cool tiles in front of his house, along with a stray dog. We felt like joining them!

Back to Cartagena to prepare for a fun evening.  Roof-top bars are very popular here.  Some are for small dinners and drinks; others don’t open until about 9:00 and are for dancing.  We went to the one next to our apartment for happy hour.    We can see this building from our apartment.  Here is that same building close-up.  It is now part of the university.

This band was playing some nice music, standing on a ledge with a big drop-off behind them!

On to dinner.  We selected a restaurant very near our apartment (as we were too weary to walk around and get lost again).  It is part of a very high-end hotel.  Tables were all booked, but we were able to eat in the bar area.

While our food was being prepared, I scouted out the hotel.  It is very impressive….

DINNER:  I had ceviche (again), and George had something called Mediterranean toast.  Each of the ceviches I have had is different.  This one was served on a bed of avocado slivers.  Really good!

Following in Anthony Bourdain’s footsteps

LOCATION:  Cartagena, Colombia
WEATHER:  Hot.  High 85

Our Hop On/Hop Off ticket was good for a second day, so we took it to the new side of Cartagena.  At each stop, hawkers shout up to us, hoping we will buy water, beer, or something from them.

Lots of people got off at this stop – a big fortress built in the 1500s.

On to what is called “Little Miami”.  It is the swanky part of town – lots of high rises – condos,  upscale hotels, and even a McDonalds!

If you stayed here during your visit to Cartagena, you would have a very different experience as compared to staying in the old, walled city. 

We walked along the boardwalk, constantly bombarded by hawkers sellling everything you can imagine – sunglasses, hats, jewelery, and massages.  They never give up.

We stopped at a beach cafe for lunch.

We ordered lunch – a grilled whole fish to share.  Then we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  We had drinks, watched some drama around us, and waited. We said “No, gracias” about a million times to hawkers coming by.   Finally after about 1.5 hours, our fish appeared. 

I like Cartagena, but I always get the feeling that we are getting ripped off.  My calculation of what the lunch bill should have been was about 1/4 of what it ended up.  It was not worth arguing about.  Just frustrating. 

We hopped back on the Hop On/Hop Off bus (after waiting another hour), and rode it back to the Old City.

On our way back to our apartment, we walked by  Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s house, the famous Colombian author of books such as “100 Years of Solitude”. 

The drawing on the wall of his house translates to “The saddest thing in life is to have an empty  bed”.

We saw this restaurant sign, which Alexis would have liked.  It says – We don’t have wifi….just TALK to each other!

After an afternoon rest, we headed out for dinner.  Being Saturday night, the place was hopping.  Street vendor were cooking interesting things, like these arepas.

We passed by a church where they were preparing for a wedding – with beautiful white flowers everywhere.

  Anthony Bourdain loved Colombia and came here several times.  We went to the restaurant that he liked and featured in one of his episodes.  It is called La Cevicheria (The Ceviche Place).  He described it as a hole-in-the-wall.  Well, it has been “discovered” and now is quite popular with tourists.  However, the service and food were excellent.  I had a delicious ceviche with squid, octopus, and fish. 

George had an open-faced sandwich made with squid, octopus, and fish cooked in a tomato sauce and poured over a sliced French baguette. 

With that delicious food and two craft beers, our bill was less than our lunch beach bill.  I KNOW we got ripped off!

Here is a photo of Anthony and the owner of this restaurant.

On our way home, we passed lots of street dancers, performing for the tourists.

After dinner, we watched Anthony’s “No Reservations” episode 12 in which he visits Cartagena, and eats at La Cevicheria.  He ends up befriending the owner who takes him to markets and explains the Colombia food culture.  Interesting! 

BOOK:   “Listen to Me” by Tess Gerritsen.  Part of the series about a medical examiner and female detective.  Always good.  4 stars out of 5

Exploring Cartagena

LOCATION:  Cartagena, Colombia
WEATHER:  Hot.  High 90

We are staying in a cute little AirB&B apartment.  Alexis was the person who turned us onto AirB&Bs; she rarely would stay in hotels.  We are in a building from the 1950s that used to be a famous hotel.  There is a sign on the front that says the Colombian President attended an event here when it was first built.  It has now been turned into apartments. 

The elevator is really old with this old-fashioned sign.

When you look up through the stairwell, it seems like infinity…

The best thing about the apartment is the view from our bedroom of the old, walled city in front, the high-rises in the back, and the Caribbean in the far back.

It has a little kitchen where we have our breakfasts…

And the living room has this beautiful picture that I would love in our house – with my orange decor!

We were off today to do a Hop On/Hop Off bus tour.  We do this in almost every city we visit, as a good way to get an overview. 

While we were waiting for the bus, George wandered off.  He does this quite often, and it scares me to death.  Today, I thought the worst – that he had been kidnapped.  He finally came back, telling me that he had just been taking photos of the bay.  And, he pointed out, that we were in the middle of some military installation and there were police all around us.  I was still mad! 

There are 3 cruise ships in town today, and the bus was packed with gringos.  Another tour bus disgourged passengers in front of us.  They had to climb through the windows and doors!

From the bus, the life on the street was interesting.  Street vendors sell everything!

We saw miles and miles of the wall that surrounds the Walled City (where we are staying).  About 500 years ago, the settlers used African slaves to build the wall to protect against invaders and pirates.

After the tour, we stopped in a little cafe and had arepas, a kind of thick corn tortilla filled with goodies.  I had the vegetarian – filled with plantains, avocado, tomato slices, and feta-like cheese.  George had a roasted pork one.  Arepas are considered the most typical food in Colombia.

We walked around the old Walled City, getting lost again in the maze of streets.  Lots of interesting sites..

Alexis and I shared a love of Spanish.  On our travels, I would always send her photos of funny signs in Spanish.  She would have liked this one….”Please don’t pee here”.    🙂

My friend Mandy told me that Cartagena reminds her of the 1984 movie “Romancing the Stone” starring Michael Douglas which was filmed here.  I learned on our tour today that Colombia is the world’s biggest producer of emeralds.  Interesting… As we were wandering around, I saw this jewelry store…

We finally found our apartment building again, and rested a bit in the heat of the day. Later, we walked down to the wall and joined a lot of locals to watch the sun set over the Caribbean…

Then, off to dinner.  We had spotted this interesting looking restaurant in the Walled City earlier today.  It is quite small – only about 10 tables.  It has a cool Caribbean-like decor…

I wasn’t very hungry so just had a salad.  Besides lettuce, it came with slivered carrots and avocado slices  ($1). 

George had the Sarcucho, another popular, typical Colombian dish.  It is a fish stew with very light coconut milk as the broth, with chunks of red snapper, yucca, and plantains, served with rice and avocado.

A good, and exhausting day!