Archive for the ‘travel’ Tag

Five Things To Know About House Sitting   3 comments

Much has been written about house stilling as a way to see the world.  There are books, articles and even websites, containing house sitting opportunities around the world.  Generally there is no pay for the house sitter(s) unless there are tasks other than house sitting that come with the assignment.  I once saw an assignment in the south of Portugal. They wanted someone who had service experience to care for their small inn and were willing to pay a small salary.  Most of the time what is required or expected of the house sitter comes in exchange for the ability to stay in a place without paying rent.

I, myself, am currently “house sitting” in the mountains on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

The house is in the mountains, just east of the town of Portalon, which lies between Quepos/Manuel Antonio and Dominical.  All three are fairly well-known for being havens for naturalist tourists,especially those that like to ride the almost constant surf that graces the Pacific shores of Costa Rica.

Nearby, there are beaches, jungles to hike, deep-sea fishing, horses to ride, rivers to raft, tree tops to traverse, wildlife to watch and endless gorgeous sunsets to see.

A paradise to live in, right?Absolutely!

Costa Rica is a hot destination place for people from all over the world.  There were 86 applicants for this house witting assignment.  There would probably have been more if the assignment was not for just over five months, August 1 until January 4. But I imagine that not many people can be gone from their lives for 5 months. Though I imagine more wish they could.  I am blessed to have sufficient income and time.  The work I do, readying my book, High School Is Not Enough, for publication can be done from anyplace.

This is my first house sitting assignment.  So, I was wide-eyed about coming here. Let me offer that the old adage, there is no such thing as a free lunch holds to be true for house sitting. Here are some things I’ve learned.

1)      There is a cost to house sitting.  And I am not just talking about the transportation to get there and back, which also is generally not paid by the people who own the house.  I am in the rain forest of Costa Rica.  The nearest store is almost two kilometers down the hill.  The nearest store with a variety of meats, fish and produce is about 25 kilometers away.  There are no buses that come up here.  I imagine taxis would come but it would be expensive and they would hate it.  You really need a 4X4 to get to the house from the main road.  I decided to bring a car (1999 Toyota RAV 4) from the United States.  The car cost me $5000.  The import tax/duty (Costa Rica is really ridiculous in what you have to pay) was just over $2000.  Shipping was $600.  And assorted registration, title and other fees were $500.  A total of $8100, without factoring in the cost of gasoline here in Costa Rica.  Now my case is a little extreme.  But seeing as though I am going to be here for over five months it was the most cost-effective option for me.  What I am offering is that transportation costs. Whether it is by bus, taxi, rental car or other means the house sitting assignment will be in another country.  Knowing what it will take, and how much it will cost, to get around should be a part of the consideration in where people apply.

2)      Get care and maintenance instructions in writing. The people for whom I am house sitting left me notes about the care and operation of their home.  I am very grateful for this.  Pool maintenance; the best time to wash clothes saving on electricity; what to do if the lights go out; which wildlife are not to be tolerated; when is trash and recycling pick-up; and more, means there is something to do every day to care for their home.  Having what needs to be done explained, explicitly, is a good thing.  I would suggest that everyone get it in writing.  It makes it so much easier.  For them to return and feel like their home has been well maintained starts with how clear they are about taking care of their property.

3)      Get an orientation.  I arrived here, to the house, at 4 p.m. on July 31.  They left on August 1.  In hindsight, I wish we had more time together.  Having an orientation is critical to successfully caring for someone else’s property. We did have time for a walk through, even practiced cleaning the pool.  Knowing where things are is really secondary to knowing what the owner really cares about regarding the care of their home.  And the way to really know that is to hear it and see their eyes when they talk about it.  This past week some “leaf cutter” ants got to the hibiscus hedge.  From our time together, I knew that this hedge was something they wanted to protect.  When I could not find the refill for the ant killing spray,  I called.  We worked it out and I took care of the ants.

4)      Get contact numbers. I am sure that every owner will tell a house sitter how to get in touch with them in care of emergency – or hedge eating ants.  What I really like that the owners did for me was to arrange that I meet neighbors, the security guards, and the owners of their development.  Those introductions told everyone that I am supposed to be here.  What they also left me were telephone numbers to the cable company, the utility company, their doctor, emergency medical services, and local police.  I hope that I will never need any of these services, but it is good to know where things are just in case.  Actually, I did make an appointment to meet the doctor.  I was getting over a sinus problem.  I also thought that introducing myself was not a bad idea.  It was not.  He gave me his cell number and made sure that I knew he was available should I need him. I liked that.  I also learned about a reliable car mechanic from one of the neighbors the owner introduced me to.  I hope I don’t need him either.

5)      Get them to show you where things are.  Generally, people want to have a certain lifestyle while they are house sitting.  Whether it is exploring restaurants, nightlife, hiking trails, beaches, museums or other activities most people travel to other countries to experience that part of the world.  I wanted to come to Costa Rica because I have traveled here a lot over the past six years.  Though most of them live in San Jose, about 3 hours away, I have friends here.  What I did not know was this part of Costa Rica.  The owners took me around, showing me other communities, the grocery story, the farmers market, the cable company office, restaurants, beaches, and more.  Having a tour was nice.  Its better when someone who knows shows and gives you the background info.

Again, my assignment is a bit unique.  It allows me to be in a great house in a country I love.  And as I consider living in Costa Rica, this works really well for me.

Aside from all of the positive things about house sitting this is a responsibility.  It is a job, a job that is paid for by barter.  One exchanges their attention and labor for the opportunity to live rent free.  Take it seriously, and enjoy.

PS. This house is FOR SALE…….

Posted September 2, 2012 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Sunday In Qingdao, China   3 comments

Now some people may ask why come to this part of China.  I mean other than being kind of China’s epicenter for most things that have to do with the sea, what would bring me here is the question that many people have asked.  Well, I traveled to Qingdao for two reasons.  The first, as I have admitted many times I am curious.  I am the proverbial curious cat.  I love off the beaten track places.  Once I heard the name of the city, saw the photos and read the description I wanted to go there.   Now the other reason is a little more complicated.

I had met Blessing online; on one of those international dating websites that cater to people who want to date and mate across cultures.  She was pretty, smart, a business woman, the right age and spoke English.  I remember thinking, Blessing – was that an omen or what?  Since our meeting, we trailed each other almost every day for months; emails, photos, disclosures about life and sharing our philosophies about living.  We talked on SKYPE, live chatted on msn and I found myself wanting to know – could one really fall in love with someone you only knew through your computer?  Yikes!!!!

The possibility of meeting Blessing only provided comfort to a decision that had already been made.  I had wanted to go to China for years, but never had the time.  No, never took the time to go.  My sister had gone last year.  Her visit made me want to go more.  After talking to my sister, who went last year, about the visa application process, we both used Travel Document Systems (TDS), which turned out to be an excellent service, I took to leap.  You send your passport, the China visa application form (available on the Chinese Embassy website) and the fee to TDS and they take care of the rest.

I must admit I was surprised when the Chinese embassy not only approved my visa application, but also gave me unlimited visits for a 12 month period.  Usually they only give applicants for tourist visas one or two visits during a 90 or at most 180 day window.  It made me wonder whether about Blessing’s name as someone I was going to visit had anything to do with it.  Her now deceased father had been a party official.  It also made me a little nervous.

But, as the time approached for me to depart for China, our conversations became increasingly distant.  Just the opposite of what I thought, and certainly wanted to happen.  The excitement of meeting for the first time; thoughts of spending time together; and all of the problem solving avoidance that can go with romance across cultures had drifted into a gulf that I felt was growing between us.  Our conversations were consumed by her family problems.  She was turning her business over to the people who worked for her.  Her life was being turned upside down and health problems followed.  All of which became the focal point of our conversations.

As my train arrived in Qingdao, I had no idea of whether I would see Blessing.  I came with hopes – I am optimistic that way.  But I did not let myself count on it.  I am also realistic that way.  I, along with what seemed to be a football stadium full of people escaped the train to climb a long steady incline though the station to the mass of people waiting, vending, and hanging out in the sunlight on the other side of the station’s doors.  I had arrived and nobody knew it.

English is spoken by a few people in China, mostly in the cities.  And that includes written English.  I caught a break arriving in Qingdao as the one of the guys who saw the look of “I am really confused” on my face helped me negotiate a taxi to my hotel.  We wrestled to put my oversized bag in this gasoline smelling old three wheel vehicle driven by one of the nicest people who I met on my trip to China.  She spoke no English but went out of her way to make sure that I knew I was in good hands, even if I was sure that her care was very safe.

After three days of no response from Blessing to my emails or calls, I wrote the following email to her.

“It is obvious that I will not see you this trip. I do want to thank you for introducing me to Qingdao.  I have had the most amazing day of my trip to your wonderful country.  I am just very sad that you were not here to share it with me.



I had just walked the boardwalk, as I had done several times before about 5 kilometers, perhaps hoping that this would be the day I would see Blessing there.  Qingdao possesses one of the most social beaches that I have been on in a long time.  Qingdao is a family city.  And though the city itself is about 9 million people, the beach and boardwalk on Sundays is a comfortable place to walk, eat, play, exercise and people watch.   As on this day, like all of the other days I walked the board walk, I was the only person that I saw that looked like me.  Not another man with chocolate-brown skin in sight.  Most ignored this minor oddity.  Many smiled. A few wanted to take pictures with me.  And some stopped to chat.  I had grown comfortable in Qingdao pretty quickly.  And Qingdao had grown comfortable with me.

But this day was different.  Sundays are wedding days in China.  And in Qingdao, for those that have little money to pay for the expensive rituals weddings have become in China, they come to the beach to rent wedding gowns of any and all fashion, tuxes or suites that make the man look like he could afford his new bride and many bring their wedding friends to dress according to the tradition of having many bridesmaids and groomsmen at one’s wedding.  And they bring photographers to capture their special day in poses that ranged from the traditional to romantic to, WHAT are you sure you want to do that.

There must have been thirty or forty couples on the beach that day.  As I strolled I saw women hiking their dresses, revealing the jeans they wore underneath, to get that photo that would be their memory of being together in fun and in love for years to come.  I walked past many couples that day, thinking these are memories in the making.  Their smiles, some exchanging happiness glances with me, were contagious.

My blessing was a different experience that the one I had planned n Qingdao.  Given the opportunity, I would return to Qingdao.  I got a chance to hangout in a few dance clubs, drink coffee at the Starbucks in a downtown plaza, visit a wonderful aquarium full of kids and sea life I had never seen before and eat fresh caught squid grilled on the beach.  And on that beautiful Sunday as I walked alone, I kept catching glimpses of what is possible when one takes a step of faith into possibility.  As you can see from the photos below, it was a day full of romance.  It was a day full of hope.  It was a day full of love.  It was a day full of joy.  It was a day for forgiveness.

The Beauty of Connectedness: A Love/Friendship Letter For The Ages   5 comments

I grew up as the only child in the house, but also was never really alone.  The way it works out is that my sister is 18 years older than me and was starting her own family when I came along.  She used to like to say, our mother had a tumor that just never went away.  LOL… Our brother, now deceased, was 23 years older than me had children before and after I came along.  Our father died when I was a senior in high school.  So, after I left for college, our mother, at age 62, began taking in foster children. Not all at one time, but all together she took in something like nineteen children.  The last two that came into her home stayed until she died; like seventeen years.  They became my sisters also.  Her grandchildren, and even folks in the community, called her “Mom Berta.”  It was natural, I guess.  I think that was her passion, taking care of children and people.  There seemed to be constant streams of her grandchildren, my nieces and nephews, other family members and friends in and out of our small, sometimes very cramped house.

Most would agree, the way in which we are raised conspires to give us our sense of self and our worth.  I think because of my mother, the way I grew up, I am hypersensitive to the connections that extend to people, other living creatures and the earth, regardless of place and time.  I am passionate about, and sometimes a real sucker for, the struggles of others.  And to be honest, I prefer it that way.   The more I travel,  knowing people and their cultures, the more I believe in the connectedness of all life.

For the past five years, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama and Colombia have been where my interests lay.  Now as I turn my attention to my next travel adventure, China and the Philippines, I again turn to the internet learning what I am getting into before I go; making contacts that may lead to friendships; and yes, even exploring the possibilities of lasting relationships.  Yes, one has to be careful.  There are lots of people out there who use the internet to abuse and use one another.  However the internet also provides the opportunity for people of like minds to join together to make the world a better place; to share ideals, causes and to realize aspirations; and those that wish to know each other in honest and caring ways with the ability to do so.  I guess like most tools, the internet is as powerful, as good or evil, as the soul that uses it.

I recently received a letter from someone I met by way of the internet.  In the spirit of how it came to me, I offer it to you.  Please feel free to share this letter in ways that you feel inspires the spirit of our connectedness.  Let it come from your heart though.  I think insincerity would undermine the karma.  Friendship and love are essential to my soul.  To all my friends/family thank you for being in my life, and supporting me in my efforts to, like my mother, have a positive influence in the lives of others.

Dear Wayne

I’ve been thinking: if love can move mountains, true friendship – which is the widest expression of love – should be able move a group of mountains, should in fact be able to move the world! If everyone was as lucky as I am, and had a friend or knew someone like you, the world would be a much better and friendlier place.

Being able to count on your friendship makes me a more open, more sensitive person, more confident in the future of this small planet of ours. Maybe I’m dreaming, but that’s all it would take: that every human being was as lucky as I am and had a friend like you!

And you, on the other hand, would have another friend, an even more special friend; and it would all turn into an endless chain of people in search of harmony, and this feeling would be passed on to the wisest of scientists, the wealthiest of businessmen and the most cold hearted of world leaders!

Being friends with someone is not a hard thing to do, especially when that friend is someone like you; it allows the people who are closest to practice their best qualities, such as tolerance, generosity and justice, which should be the basis of every relationship.

Looking forward to meet you one day.  Thanks for coming in my life….Take care

Inspirational isn’t it?  God Bless Love and Friendship

Posted March 10, 2012 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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A Visit To DiverCity is Well Worth The Time   Leave a comment

There are amusement parks, theme parks and park parks but I do not think I have ever been in a place where the theme of the park is “what do you want to be when you grow-up?”

No kidding. DiverCity, located on the fourth floor of the Centro Comercial Buenavista 2 (Buena Vista Mall), Cr53 # 98-99 in Barranquilla, Colombia, is a place where children, mostly age 6 to 14 go to have fun by learning about future jobs and careers. Sound boring? Maybe to those of us that think education is to be tolerated and career development does not begin until high school or after. For children and parents in Colombia DiverCity is fun.

What struck me first as we, I went with a friend and her daughter, entered DiverCity was the sign that asked what careers the children were considering. On the list was a nice mix of what I would call working class jobs and professional careers. From driver to nurse to accountant, it seemed that whoever created the list made a conscious decision to be inclusive. Being a guy who wants everyone to have opportunities, I really appreciated this part.

Inside DiverCity is a little city, maybe the size of football field (North American). There are banks, a television studio, a wharf, beauty shop, driving area, ATMs, university, bakery, restaurants, a farm, and much, much more. Each is sponsored, perhaps better said branded, by one of Colombia’s or Barranquilla’s well known businesses or organizations. The plane where children become pilots and flight attendants is Avianca Airline’s. El Herado is the newspaper for DiverCity. AMI, Barranquilla’s service for immediate medical assistance, has an ambulance. The Universidad Autonoma del Caribe gives a diploma to children, and dresses them in graduation robes for a photo, that complete a computer based program. One could say that each company is placing its brand in the minds of the children that come to DiverCity. And from the YouTube video here there is no attempt to deny that DiverCity is good marketing. That fact notwithstanding, children enter each place having the opportunity to learn about, by doing, future jobs or careers.

It is also a place where children learn about life and living. The television studio works, with children reading news copy, against sports, weather and other backdrops. In the beauty shop, children learn about make-up and get made-up. There is a place for children to get their cedula, the identification card that all Colombian citizens must have. There are places for children to earn DiverCity money, like doing work on the DiverCity farm. They can then withdraw their money from ATMs using the money to buy things at DiverCity’s stores. They learn to manage money, get a driver’s license and use services.

A street flows in the middle of the city in a grand circle where the ambulance, a fire truck and a train circle the interior. I learned the hard way that traffic lights and crosswalks are to be obeyed, drawing stares from parents and children as I walked across the street without waiting for the light to change. Adults are not allowed to stand in line. I watched the line entering the talent show – think of the X Factor. The children managed themselves very well being conscious of who was in what place. Only once did an adult have to intervene. And that was only because another adult was trying to get his whole family of children in ahead of another child. As the wait to get into most of the places can be close to a half hour, of course children can get fidgety but I didn’t see any type of disturbance or bad behavior.

DiverCity is a place that children are eager to enter. The place does not open until 4:00 p.m. and they start lining up to get in an hour before. Because of a national skating competition that was happening in Barranquilla, on the day I went there were children there from as far away as Bogota. It seems to be fun with a great purpose. Children have fun exploring careers and jobs. They learn to be responsible citizens.

It probably has struck you that DiverCity sounds close to diversity. That theme, diversity, runs deep through the experiences this park gives children. This is a place where the playing field is leveled. Children simply stand in line to live out their dreams. At DiverCity all children of age are encouraged to dream, and do what they can to make their dreams come true. What a great lesson.

Posted December 12, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Coming Back To America (the United States of America)   1 comment

I returned to the United States last Thursday, October, 20th.  I needed to be in Washington, D.C. so my two and a half weeks in the States started there. My great friend, Paula, asked me, how it felt to be back? I really did not have an answer. It was something I had never considered. I wondered how expats feel when they go back to the country of their birth. My response was inane. Maybe I said something like it is great to see friends again, which is absolutely true. I enjoy my friends. No, more! My friends are essential to my life. I had breakfast with Cora and Bill; dinner and almost dancing with Nasly; lunch with Gene; dinner at Karen’s; and breakfast with Beatrice and Maria. I missed Brian, Karenthia and Cynthia, Ufff!!! There is never enough time.

But what I did was avoid the crux of the question. It begged for introspection. Damn! Just like Paula to make me think – and feel! The true answer is I remain very much at odds with how I feel here. And I think that is in large part the fault of the United States. In this pre-election season the rhetoric of “smaller government” and “our government’s infringement on individual liberty” is being amplified. Playing to a very real base in this country, for me, such rhetoric serves as a continual rallying cry for “States Rights.” Intricately tied to racial categorization, which we still put above a collective national consciousness, such ideological anchors consistently undermine our ability to foster an emotional connection between our country and ALL of its citizens.

Dating back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the concept of “States Rights” serves as a racist manifesto, guaranteeing that: if a state wants to enslave its people (historically); if a state wants to give its police the authority to stop any that looks like they are in this country illegally; if a state wants to under-educate its poor African American, Spanish speaking or Native American children – they can. The philosophy means that the parts, the States, are greater than the sum of the whole, the United States of America. A philosophy that has retarded our nation’s growth! I remember when President Obama proclaimed being a citizen of the world. The outcry from representatives of the majority culture was both archaic and retarded. And that is what “States Rights” has done. It has steeped within our nation a stew of racial and political discourse that undermines the deep emotional connection I wish I felt.

My friend Cheri, came down from Pittsburgh to hang out with me for the day. We have been friends almost all of my adult life. We like to find interesting places to visit and new things to do. My life is full of great memories of places we have seen and things we have done. This time we visited the National Memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Our first time there! Tears came to my eyes. Not from pride, which I did feel, but more because of the pain that continues to ooze from my soul because in my lifetime we, the United States, needed such a drum major for social justice. As I listened to the national park service officer – a 20’s year old tall lanky white guy in uniform and shades – talk about Dr. King, I was struck by how alive he made Dr. King. He would say, Dr. King is in the Birmingham jail having been imprisoned for leading the civil rights march on Birmingham when he writes “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” We do not relate to that concept in the United States. We continue to believe that we can live separate from the world; each state separate from each other; and each individual separate from one another.  In this the 21st century, this sense of rugged individualism is juvenile, at best.  At worst, it sets us apart, above for many, preventing us from solving some of our most pressing and fundamental problems.

Our next stop was the Corcoran Art Gallery. The lobby was full of life. Corcoran students were exhibiting, and selling, their work. They were chatting, eagerly greeting all of us who stopped at their tables, telling us stories of how they got there and asking who we were. I love D.C. it is so full of life, culture, art and food; all of the things that make Saturdays with friends unforgettable. We walk up the steps and were hit by an exhibit in the rotunda entitled, Duck, Duck, Noose by Gary Simmons. Nine white hoods, resembling those worn by the Ku Klux Klan, were sitting on stools in a circle about 15 feet across from each other. The center piece for this art installation was a rope hanging from the ceiling like a noose hanging from a very large tree. It was a vivid and emotional reminder of why there was a need for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was a depressing memory of all those that died in the struggle for social justice. I was hurt. More so, I was angry. Because I cried! Again!

The question of how do I feel being back in the United States is intricately bound by how do I feel being re-immersed in a culture that is racist and has treated me and others with injustice because of our race or ethnicity. I feel the struggle. I feel the pain. I feel my friends who have made it. I feel my friends who have not. I feel the judgments. I feel the fights. I feel the losses. I feel the triumphs. I feel my soul not being in peace but on guard. Being back in the United States means putting me back in touch with that which both ties me to and separates me from this culture – the complicated and painful issue of race. My times with my friends are glorious. I so, much want them to visit me. I want to share the relief that I have found and the peace that I enjoy. For all of its problems, with regards to race and indigenous people, Colombians are Colombians. Costa Ricans are Costa Ricans. Panamanians are Panamanian. Nicaraguans are Nicaraguan. First and foremost! I am in awe of their relationship to their country. I am saddened that the same was not born and nourished in me. In the United States of America, I am African American.

Posted October 26, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Almost Heaven: Manizales, Colombia   6 comments

Once I had an interview where the chancellor of a college asked me, if I could be anywhere in the world where would I be. I remember thinking what a stupid question. But since I was looking for a job, I submitted to the idiocy of the question. I replied, Manizales, Colombia.

Manizales has always been a place where I feel at peace. I like to call it “cloud city.” The views are always stunning. The mountains that surround the city, the people and the culture are all slices of heaven, as far as I am concerned. The city lies on one of the ridges of the Andean Cordillera mountain range. Manizales is the capital of Caldas, one of the smaller departments in Colombia. The city sits more than 7,000 feet above sea level, in the Cafetero, the coffee growers region, near the Nevado del Ruiz volcano. Getting there can be a little of an adventure. Though there are daily flights from both Bogota and Medellin, the weather can play havoc with the small airport there. When that happens, the airlines take you to nearby Pereria. From there they will bus you to Manizales. One can also get there by bus or car from both Medellin and Bogota. The winding curves on the drive into the city provide vistas that can take one’s breadth away. Whatever the journey, for me, it is well worth it.

Having just returned from there, it is tough to say what I like most about Manizales. It is not a big city, with just a little more than half a million people in the region. The city never gets too hot or too cold. The winter rains only serve to keep the land green and the air clean. I consider the people who live there some of the most beautiful in Colombia. There is healthiness about them. Their Spanish descendancy is evident. With neighboring pueblitos and more than ten universities, indigenous and other ethnic groups are also woven throughout the mostly homogeneous human tapestry. The people there seem to have a real value for themselves and their surroundings.

Manizales is a town that values health, wellness and relationships. It is tough to know why there are gyms in the city. Walking the streets, the faldas, inclines, gives one plenty of opportunity to get some exercise. Perhaps that is why I love Sundays in Manizales. They close the main street for about five kilometers, from the outskirts into downtown. Friends, families, couples and singles were all a part of the landscape with city buildings joining the mountains as a backdrop. People walk, bike ride, skateboard, run and play in the streets. This past Sunday there was a bike race. It is a great day for strolling, laughing, talking and just hanging out. Health care professionals were taking blood pressures and doing health care screening. Restaurants line the streets and there are food vendors selling watermelon, mango, pineapples and other fresh fruits and vegetables. Farm land is rich in this part of Colombia. I tried chontaduro for the first time. The flavor is sort of a cross between a bland pumpkin and yucca. I tried it with honey and with salt and thought not ever again. Then I read, chontaduros are almost as high in protein as an egg. That’s good, right? They also contain beta-carotene, phosphorus, Vitamin A, some B and C, calcium and iron. That’s great, right? They are also an aphrodisiac. I may have to give them one more chance.

Manizales has a very rich social life, perhaps because of the many universities. I tend to stay in, or near, Cable Plaza. It is a vibrant area full of restaurants, cafes, shopping and night life. For me it is great that Estelar Hotels recently opened a hotel in the area. One of their smaller hotels, 46 rooms, they are always reasonably priced, offering a full breakfast and an evening sandwich and salad bar. This area also has a very active live music scene, including places to hear jazz, theater and art. And you do not have to wait until the weekends to find a place open. I love to sit outside at the Café Juan Valdez, Cable Plaza, listening to students, faculty and others chat away. I have met many smiles, kind faces and had conversations with people there. Perhaps that typifies Manizales also. It is a warm and friendly place; a peaceful place for me to be, and write. Since my last visit there, in 2009, they have opened a new tram system, a new four story mall, several new apartment and office buildings, and many new restaurants.   About five minutes by cab from Cable Plaza I found, on one of the side streets, a place called Patacones and Pescado, which has the largest patacones, fried platano, which I have seen. Thin and crispy, like a giant tortilla, it was tasty in either of the two dipping sauces we were given. The fish was great, the portions large and the bill only came to about $16 for two of us, including drinks. It is easy to see why the place was popular.

Manizales, and the surrounding area, is a place where people go for healing, or just opportunities to leave the day’s stress and the world’s problems behind. The city is unbelievably clean and is surrounded by parks, nature preserves and, of course, mountains. The Barrio de Chipre, maybe a thirty minute walk from downtown Manizales, offers a mountain top view of the city and the surrounding area. The park is home to the Founders Statue and a really extreme super swing. Though not exact it is about sixty foot high by my estimate. Either way it is high. Chipre is the place where people go, especially on the weekends, to enjoy life, music and each other’s company. Manizales is also close to many thermal baths, including the Hot Springs at Thermals el Otono, Santa Rosa de Cabal, the Ruiz Hot Springs and the Otun Hot Springs. Great places to soak your cares, aches and pains away. Also close to Manizales is the Los Yarumos Ecological Park, great for hiking, cycling, climbing and watching wildlife.

One day, some friends and I were driving to Risaralda, about three hours from Manizales. We came around a bend on this mountainous two lane road. All of a sudden the view was so dramatic, I remember saying “God has made this place.” I was very happy to have not been driving that morning. We would have certainly ended up over the side of that mountain. I think though that trip sums up my feeling for Manizales. It is a place where I feel reminded that there is a God. In all of its simplicity and splendor this little town in the mountains touches my soul. No matter where my journey takes me, Manizales will always be the place where I find peace and harmony with all that God has created.

Posted October 14, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Six Tips for Successfully Using International Online Dating Sites: Part 2   Leave a comment

I have been asked, what are some of the online international sites that I have found to be the best? I did not want anyone to think that I was on the take.  But my marketing guru said it was Ok.  I am a fan of the Latin American and Colombia Cupid sites.  They provide access to photos and their members profiles prior to a person paying a dime.  Therefore you get a sense of what you are paying for before paying.  With their format you can express interest in people, getting a sense of whether they are interested in you.  With a paid membership you can send email messages to people you are interested in to their site mail boxes.  There is no per message fee.  They also offer real time chat through their instant message feature.  Their search engines allow a person to narrow the people in whom you have interest.  Owned by the Cupid Media Group (Australia) these two sites are among over thirty in the company’s portfolio.  Their sites provide people who desire relationships based on ethnicity, religion, physical appearance, special interests or sexual
preferences with the opportunity to meet the people they desire.  Their press says they have over 20 million people throughout the world that use their websites.  True or not, I found lots of women on these sites from which to choose.  I also like the fact they respond to complaints and do not hesitate to pull profiles that do not meet their rules.  But even the best of sites can’t police everything that occurs, especially after the people have agreed to meet off-line or in other on-line venues.   Whatever happens, happens!  So, be careful – always. 

Know what you don’t want

Online dating sites, or should I say the internet, somehow gives people permission to do, and say, things they perhaps would not do with people they hardly know, face to face.  Pretty faces, promises, online sex shows and people soliciting money, drugs and more all are at the end of a click.  And in spite of disclaimers and warnings, like “DO NOT SEND MONEY” people do.  They hear, I really want to take English to better my life. Or my mother/daughter/son needs to go to the doctor and in a flash, money is on its way.  They are some willing to trade their beauty and youth for a better life.  And it works, at least for some.  An amiga in Cali told me of her friend in Cartagena that was very clear about her desire for someone to support her, if they wanted to be with her.  She ultimately found someone to do so and now is married to him, living in the USA with their two children.  Clearly, if the story is true, this guy knew what he wanted and was willing to do what he had to get her.  Perhaps that is the lesson for the serious seeker.   I have had 28 year olds tell me how interested they are in getting to know me.  Please, I’m 61.  Even if she was looking for a serious relationship, I cannot even begin to imagine being with someone 33 years my
junior.  A 28 year old “hottie” may be great for the ego but I am neither secure enough to always wonder what she is doing with me.  Nor do I have enough money to hold her interest, if that is where her head is at.  My advice for the person looking for a serious relationship is know what you want, take your time and be willing to do what it takes to get it.

You have to go there

Getting to know people online is like learning how to bake a cake by reading a recipe.  You have to get the experience.  That is why focusing on a specific part of the world makes sense.  If you are looking for a serious relationship then look in a place that you know you will visit within the year or in a place where you know people from there will come to visit you.  Why get to know a person in Indonesia if you are in Columbus, Ohio if you don’t have enough money to travel there or bring them to you.  When you do visit, plan to be there for at least a week, if not two.  But a month would be better.  Take time to get to know more than one person.  Have a list of questions that you are going to ask everyone.  If you have been talking to someone for a while, they probably will not want you to meet other people.  Don’t give in.  Even if you think you have found that special one, remember you met them online.  You do not really know them.  If your relationship is the “one” it will withstand your making sure by meeting other people.  And even if you think you know them, always meet in public places.  If there is an offer to come to the airport know that agreeing may be taken as a signal that this is your girl(boy)friend, particularly if they bring their family with them.  If you let this happen, pay their taxi or bus fare.  Never accept a car ride from someone you do not know.  This includes the person that you have been talking with for months.  Get a cab. If you are a man, always be prepared to pay.  But never let them bring people to a first meeting that you do not know are going to be there.  This is a known scam in some countries.  Your date will show up with their family, cousin or whoever and you get stuck with the bill, after they have ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, never to see them again.  Simply say “I am uncomfortable with this situation, I need to leave.”  And do it.

Even your first trip will not be sufficient to know if you have found the one.  Resist the temptation to make a heart or lust decision on your first trip.  Most people I know that have developed serious lifelong commitments have visited their girl(boy)friend many times before deciding they were the one.  Take your time, narrow your list, and return as many times as it takes to find the person you want.  An investment of time, and money, upfront may save thousands and heartache later.

Look for friends, if something else happens so be it

It is said that all great relationships begin with friendship.  If you are serious about finding a boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse, then resist the temptation to fall in love with the first pretty face that wants you.  It may even be easy to have someone in your bed on the first date.  Rules, norms and values that govern what having sex means vary from culture to culture.  So it is really important that if this is a sexcapade for you be honest, with yourself and them.  It may also just be an adventure for them.  So, you may find yourself thinking that this is love when it is just a way for them to get into your pants or pocket.  Do not think that you are the badest cat on the block.  Everyone can be had.  If your travel must end with you having sex with somebody, perhaps it is just adventure you seek.  If that is the case, again be honest.  You will find enough people willing to play and not hurt those that are serious.  So, again, be clear.  If you are seeking a long term relationships, and your values call into question the person that gives it up on the first or second date, then move on.  There are other choices.  And it may be best to cut your losses early than to find yourself in a relationship that began with something other than friendship.

Yes, there are horror stories, where people have been taken for their hearts, their money, their bodies and worse.  There are also success stories.  People have met online, moved from one country to another and are living happily ever after.  It can work.  It worked for me.  Bueno suerte y que Dios acompane ti en tu camino siempre!

Posted September 8, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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