As it’s hurricane season, I’ve been thinking back to my time in hurricane countries. When I was in Port of Spain, I enjoyed mornings watching the ships. One day I watched this and I wondered, how do you parallel park a ship?
Well, you don’t. You push it in with the help of “tug” boats.
It’s not Punta Cana. I hear that Punta Cana is popular. Instead, the beaches at Las Terrenas are not as populated. Hardly anyone to be seen. Which is slightly surprising considering all the villas and hotels on the beach.
I was lucky to get driven there so I don’t know how to get there. But, I do know that we paid many tolls of hefty amounts (as in 8 bucks, 8 there, etc.) in Dominican cash. The drive took about three hours and went through an area of natural beauty.
Along the way, we stopped for some famous barbecue, at a gas station. It’s the Gran Parador Bellamar, Autopista Nordeste, Carretera Samana KM 1, Santo Domingo. After the first toll. It’s a good pitstop with toilet, cash machine, kiosk, etc.
We rented a luxury villa. I think there were enough beds for 10 or more people, and it was a good party house. But, also great for relaxing. Our villa cost $500 per night but I’m sure there are much cheaper options.
So pack up the cooler with drinks and food! You can probably find a colmado that will deliver!
On the way back, we stopped for some chicharron. Chicharron is pork rind but with meat attached. It’s not like pork rinds in the U.S. This is like greasy barbecue.
I can’t tell you the location because it simply appeared, like magic.
Actually, it was whale watching. Except that we didn’t see any whales. We saw three orcas, or killer whales. Orcas are the largest member of the porpoise family. But, it was a nice boat ride and Steveston is cute (where they filmed Once Upon a Time).
At 140 Canadian dollars for the five hour boat trip, you can decide if it’s worth it. I enjoyed the rough waves and the bouncy roller coaster ride. We took our own snacks and drinks which helped the time go by. Plus, the waters around Vancouver are beautiful. The photos of the orcas were not very impressive as taken on my iphone. On the other hand, we got closer to some of the other wildlife which was easier to photograph. And a lot smellier.
Strangely, the night before, our waiter told us not to go whale watching as she had barely escaped going on one of the boats that tipped over and sank. Why would one share that story?
I’ll admit that I’m nuts for coconut water. When I see fresh coconut water being offered, I immediately develop a thirst. I’ve had them in Aruba, India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Denmark, Singapore, El Salvador (where the photo is from), Virginia, and many other places.
In some cultures, the coconut is revered. In Sanskrit, the coconut is called the “kalpa vriksha” or “the tree that supplies all that is needed to live.” In WWII, coconut water (the clear liquid inside the coconut), was used as emergency blood plasma. Amazing!
There is sometimes some confusion with coconut water and coconut milk. The water is the clear stuff inside (which takes a coconut nine months to produce and nine seconds to drink) and coconut milk is made from water mixed with grated coconut meat. Hence the white color.
I think the best tasting ones I’ve had have been in Thailand at the airport. But maybe, it’s that when exhausted, getting rejuvenated with a fridge-cold coconut does the trick. Coconuts are restorative and have useful electrolytes which you need when exhausted or rundown. Like when jet-lagged. After all, castaways have survived on coconuts alone. Sometimes, a long flight can make you feel like you are adrift in an endless ocean of security checks and body odor.
Even in the U.S., I sometimes find myself bewildered. I was watching the news in Florida when I heard the weather forecasters talk about the king tide approaching. All of a sudden, I wondered if I spoke English. Then I went to google.
A king tide is an extra high tide, or a perigean tide… guess I’ll go back to google…
Imagine that is an inky morning, just before dawn, six hundred years ago. A warming amber light spreads first on the crest of the crater, and then rays of light rush, like happy children, down the banks of the emerald green slope, to skim like eagles across the opal water. Your eyes are fixed on the center of the lagoon. On a youth covered in gold dust. From the shore, he is small, like a pebble. As dawn breaks, he appears, his body, nude but for gold dust, shimmering like flecks of sunrise on a lake. When his raft reaches the center of the sacred lagoon, the youth offers gold artifacts into the water. He then performs ablutions in the lake, the gold dust disseminating like a million stars on the milky way. Once again, he, the golden seed, has impregnated the female lagoon. The cycle of life ensured once again.
That is the tale you will hear, sort of, from the guide as he tells you about the Muisca people who lived in the area outside Bogota before it became Bogota.The guide will tell you about the local people and the pitiful grams of gold that the Spaniards and others dredged out of Gautavita Lagoon, centuries ago, and then again, a century ago. Until, finally the Colombian government put a stop to it. It took longer for the government to make this area a protected area, but it is now. About a decade ago, the organization that runs the tours, was set up and now, it runs like Disney for adults.
The Details: I recommend making a day of it via the town of Guatavita and the reservoir, not to be confused with the lagoon. Try to go in an SUV as the last stretch of road is a dirt road pitted with potholes (perhaps also take motion sickness pills if you don’t take well to being jerked about in a car. Or swaying and sashaying up the “dangerous curves” of lovely Colombia). From Bogota, set out to the east along the toll road (it costs around 3,000 pesos or $2). It’s a pleasant drive that starts with a good view of the mega-city. Then it goes through some industrial looking towns before a turn off at a mango stand. Once you get to the town of Guatavita, stop at a bakery and pick up some guava bread or some other snack.
Along the way, one of the towns is Guasca (like the herb they put in ajiaco), also known as the town of the Muisca people. It is a village and has a pleasant feel to it. I enjoy seeing all the old men in hats and ponchos.
Then head off to the sacred lagoon. The last seven kilometers (about 5 miles) is dirt road. There are many great photo opportunities along the way like picturesque fincas (country houses), cows being milked by hand, and great swathes of countryside that looks like New Zealand.
Once you get to the entrance of Guatavita Lagoon, take a tour to the actual lagoon (you may not walk their by yourself). The tours start every half hour and are guided. The cost is around 17,000 pesos ($7), but I can’t remember the exact amount. There are gift shops and bathrooms. The tour actually takes about two and half hours and is one way, up a lot of muddy steps. The end of the tour is at a local corn and drinks stand. To return to your car, there is a bus service that costs 1,500 pesos ($.75), or you can have your driver bring the car to the end point.
I won’t spoil the tour for you by explaining it. That said, without the legend, it does just look like a small pond (hence why most Bogotanos seem more into visiting the “lago” which is really the reservoir). It’s basically a 45 minute walk interspersed with 90 minutes of educational talk (about the planet, about nature, and preserving the native plants, oh, and about the legend), and about 40 minutes of selfie-stick photo ops. The nice part is that once you get to the top, the guide leaves you to take lots of photos and walk downhill by yourself. In terms of difficulty, I’d guess that this is about 900 steps at 9,000 feet elevation. But, mostly, the steps are done in small segments. Just enough to make you regret the guava bread or empanada that you ate for breakfast.
I would have liked a laser and smoke show with an ethereal gilded (hence “el dorado”) youth appearing out of the water. Apparently, there is one somewhere nearby.
After a refreshing three hour walk, it’s nice to settle in back at Guatavita town and enjoy a lunch. Guatavita town was re-located 40 years ago when the Bogota reservoir (“reprisa” in Spanish) flooded the old town. The town has a museum, tourist shops, lots of bathrooms, and restaurants. It is also possible to rent a horse to ride down to the reservoir. Or you can walk, drive down, or take the mini-train. At the reservoir’s edge, people like to picnic and enjoy the view. Up until two years ago, it was possible to rent a launch and visit some of the islands and ruins. I noticed lots of yachts and yacht clubs but for the common folk, well, I don’t know if they are allowed out on the water anymore. The reservoir is very large (the hydroelectric dam provides the power for 8.5 million Bogotanos) and beautiful.
But, it’s not a sacred lagoon (or maybe it is since it creates the power which fuels Bogota) where legends start and greedy conquistadors project their dreams of wealth. Gold was the oil of their time. Perhaps the guide was right that conserving the planet is the new quest. Perhaps, the quest for potable water is the new el dorado.
While a smile will get you far, as a foreigner in Bangladesh, learning a few phrases of Bangla is a good idea. I am not a linguist so I’ve made up my own system of phonetics. These are some of the phrases I have learned:
PAH-nee — water — This is the Bangla word I used most in this hot, hot, hot land.
DON-ah-bawd — thank you (foreigners like to use this but I’m told it’s not really part of the culture. I’ve seen nods of the head or a closed fist to the chest used as “thank you” and that works too).
Sah-ley-al-eh-kyum — greetings (it’s from Arabic and is how you greet people or announce your presence) — I often just say “good evening/good day/hello” and that seems to work.
DECK-A-hawb-aa — see you later.
AH-che — gotcha or yes, I’m listening to you and I understand that you are speaking. I like “gotcha” because it rhymes with the Bangla word.
EK-tah — one of (EK is one).
SHESH — done as in “enough” and “it’s over.”
LAWG-bey-nah — No need or I do not need it (useful when rickshaws try to run you over in their eagerness for your custom). This is the phrase I have found most useful.
In the long hot rasping breath before the monsoon, my mind turns once more to images of Bangladesh. Decades ago, the only impression I had of Bangladesh was monsoon rain and flooding. Now, I have met the man who took the rickshaw photo of my imaginings.
Obviously, to my vivacious and educated Bangladeshi friends, this image is so passe. “Why must you foreigners have only such images in your heads?” To which I reply, “This is not a bad image.” I see the rickshaw puller in the monsoon flood and find it an image of tenacity and perseverance. Not a bad thing to be known for, wherever you are.
As an alluvial delta, Bangladesh has few rocks. In Jaflong, in the northeast corner of Bangladesh, they fish for rocks. The rocks are fished from the river, broken, loaded onto trucks and taken off to be turned into cement. Jaflong sits on the invisible border with India and was once considered a beautiful place. Even now, amidst the horrors of backbreaking labor and touristy traps, you can still see the faded glory in the bridge and the hills.
It’s hard to see the beauty through the lifeless eyes and the maelstrom of medieval tableaux.