Friday, February 26, 2010

Winter Flying

It was perhaps our last snow of the winter. And only our second all season. It was heavy, wet, thick clumps of delicious flakes. Racing home after a day at the office, I took out to the streets, which transformed into an endless playground for flying on my skis, catching snow-flakes on my tongue and building snow people, forts and throwing a quick dozen snow balls. It was a night to remember, topped off with shoveling the drive and a spa-like winter facial right on our outside grill!! It's amazing how a dump of snow will turn your own familiar neighborhood into a whole new world to explore.

Skiing on the streets outside our house in Burlington. 
A fly by on way to Flynn Avenue. The setting of the sun doesn't effect us, as everything is white, tinged every so often by the yellow hue of street lights.

Watching the snow fall at a cross-roads-fish eye style.

Off-roading. Yes, my skis are under there somewhere.

Taking a breather after a sprint in the deep snow...actually I think I fell!

Dave head first for a winter facial. Exhilerating, painful, fun and slightly insane. Who knew our grill had so many uses?

Click on the photo for a "closer" look.
Thank you to my partner and talented professional photographer David Seaver. Check out his webite: or his blog:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


With a possible noreaster FINALLY hitting the north east rather than the central East, I thought it would be fitting to explore locally. I take you to the lightly traveled gorgeous islands of Lake Champlain and Grand Isle. Even though Lake Champlain hasn't frozen over in over a decade, heading up to the islands a frozen wonderland takes over. Only 30 minutes or so north of Burlington, it's as easy travel adventure.

On the shores of Grand Isle.
Even with a foot of melted shore line, with a hop, skip and a jump, the lake still has two - three feet of frozen water below. A couple of ice-fishing shacks huddle together on the horizon. It is a bright, sunny endless playground.

Shadow playing on the ice.
If you haven't been out to the islands in the winter or early spring, it's time! One minute it feels completely deserted. The next minute it feels as though you have been dropped into Narnia. It's a magical place!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cupboard Adventures

I diverge from foreign countries and cultures to explore locally. Very locally. I take you to the adventures of house-sitting for a friend. This friend I know well. This house I know well. Yet, somehow, when you are staying in a friend's house, everything changes. I realized that although I am fimiliar with the surroundings, I am not intimate with them. And house-sitting suddenly put me in an intimate relationship with cupboards, the freezer, how the shower works, where the laundry detergent is, ...

One of my personal favorite areas to explore is the tea cupboard. For the whole experience. For the flavors, the smells, the design of the box, the choices of mugs, the choices of sweetener and tea pots and milk or soy or cream...oh my! The array of nuaces in a single tea cupboard is endless!

To start, the choices are all new. Although I have had camomile tea, and even have some in my tea cupboard, I have not had this certain brand of "natuarlly infused camomile." Whatever that means! Pumpkin Spice hides at the back, Decaf Vanilla Chai stands proud, ready to be grabbed at the front. Upon nudging the two front boxes to the left (or better yet having them fall out of the cupboard), Blueberry Green Tea, Rooibus, Candycane White Tea, Lady Earl Gray, Celestial Seasonings Fruit Assortment all show their pretty little faces.
Adventures in Tea Cupboard Hunting!
I could dangerously lock myself in a house and drink cups of teas all day long. With each tea bag comes the choice of mugs. Pretty little rabbit mugs, handmade belly mugs, mugs with their own little top to keep them hot and for the brewing process to turn out just right. To my delight, no standard, boring mugs (the ones that every company gets to put their name or some other gimicky logo on) show their face.

My personal favorite tea became Chinese Jasmine Green Tea brought back by my friend's uncle from China. Truly authentic. Even in a little gold tin with red and black designs.

Balls of Chinese Jasmin Green Tea became the tea cupboard winner.
Only a few balls thrown into a mug of hot water transformed into full leaves of deliciousness. Once the leaves opened, they slowly made their way down to the bottom of the teaball necessary, and instead hours of enjoyment pretending to read tea leaves or find cute animals or inappropriate shapes floating in my cup.

Reading tea leaves for the third day in a row.
You mightbe reading this and thinking that I have nothing better to do with my life. Don't worry, although this seems like an obsession, it is just a way for me to take pleasure in the small things in life. You never know wher e you might be able to find a new adventure!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Day Four: Strange

Finished gallivanting about the ruins, we stopped for lunch in the small town of Coba before jumping on the highway for our two hour drive to Akumal. The restaurant itself was inconsequential. It had some common, expected name like "Restaurant at Coba." But to be honest, I don't remember those details. The images that stuck in my memory were the strangeness that accompanied our uncomfortable lunch.

To start, the young guy serving us was obviously infatuated with me to a degree that made all of us uncomfortable. Not to mention that He was a teen and I was 29. I could have been his mother if we really wanted to stretch it. He asked me if I knew the Maya language. I said no. He then started to speak to me and say things to us in Maya - laughing a sadistic, creepy, pleasurable laugh. We had no idea what he was saying, but we could all imagine. Eating my dry burrito and warm Sol beer, we all quickened our eating pace, with a knowing glance that screamed, "Let's get out of here as fast as possible."

As we were finishing our meal and waiting for the check, a little Maya girl walked up with long, thick black hair down to the middle of her butt. Yes, it was THE little Maya girl that I had been dreaming about. This didn't hit me until she turned around and her old face caught my shocked stair. Fear, bewilderment, and sweat took over my body.

As she approached, the little Maya girl and the teen boy serving us exchanged words in Maya without a trace of friendliness. She then approached our table with intent and purpose. Mind you, we were the only people eating there. Did I mention Coba is small and rather isolated to the tourist herds? The little Maya girl walked around our table once, looking at us each in the face. I assumed she was going to attempt to sell us something...a belt, purse, crocodile skin wallet, hammock. But she kept walking slowly, meaningfully, and all the while speaking Maya. Not to the teen boy, not to anyone else around. It was as if she chanted the words. After circling our table three times, the infatuated teen boy shot her a couple of words and she broke her circling and headed to the souvenir shop next door. Before walking in the door to the back of the store she slowly turned and shot me a deep, dark look. Then, she was gone.
Goodbye Coba!
To this day, I still don't understand what exactly happened at Coba. I know that I dreamed things before seeing them, I know that my sleeping life and awake life were filled with fear, exhaustion and mystery, and I know that to this day, I still find stray black hairs among my blond head.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day Four: More Strangeness Than Truth

The strange noises haunting me in the middle of the night no longer burdened my tired eyes. But that morning before heading out for the day, I did the usual bathroom, fill water, pack bag routine. In the midst of prepping, I noticed a black hair in the front of my head. I'm not talking dark brown. Now, you have to understand that I am blond. And when you are blond and in the sun with your hair pulled back, the front hair turns an almost white blond from being bleached by the sun. Smack in midst of the blond hair a thick, black hair hung taunting in my head. Instantly, I yanked  it and wrapped it around my finger to show proof to my parents.
Running out to the dock where my mother was waiting, I cluntched my hand in a fist of fear and disbelief to give proof that I wasn't crazy. I didn't imagine it. Was the little Maya girl taking over my body? Showing my mother the hair, she brushed my comment off, saying that I have lots of different colors of hair on my head and she's certain it was just a dark blond or brown. I pulled my black bag up and compared. I pulled the black trim on my shirt up and compared. I pulled my mom's fleece shirt over and campared. The hair was definiately black.

A baby crocodile waiting for morning morsels by the dock outside Villas Archeologica.

Stampeeding the ruins one last time, we took photos, film, sweat, laughed, and even got a ride on a bike taxi. The day was going smoothly, and I have to admit that I was relieved to be leaving Coba and heading to the coast for a couple of days playing in the Ocean.

Everything was going smoothly until ...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Day Four: Strangeness and Truth

I woke up exhausted, terrified, confused, and honestly thinking that I might be cursed. Sitting at the breakfast table with the sun on my face and the turqoise pool surrounding us my mom looked at me and said, "Honey, you look aweful. Did you sleep alright."

Our eating area at Villas Archeologica in Coba. We always chose the corner table, if possible.

That's when I let it all out. I told her about the dreams. I reminded her that I dreamt about getting pushed down Nohach Mul pyramid. The blood. Hearing the noises in the room coming from the door. That once I heard the muffled scratches, I was up for the rest of the night.

When I told her about the noises, she started laughing. If she hadn't immediately started explaining the laughter, I might have cried. Luckily, the situation made my tired eyes fill with tears of laughter instead.

"Oh dear. I bet you heard me in the middle of the night. John was snoring so loud, even with my hood up and hands over my ears I couldn't sleep. I was so desperate and dilerious that I crawled into the closets to try to muffle his tremendous snoring. I moved a blanket and pillow in and tried to close the doors from the inside. I know it sounds crazy. I was crazy. It happend three nights in a row. I'm so tired I can't think straight."

Relief eased into my body, which made me even more tired. Thank God there wasn't a little Maya girl trying to get in to get me in the middle of the night. I wouldn't have been able to handle that. The thankfulness I felt toward my mother was unexplainable. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Blood Forest

Dream #3

I was in the forest of Mexico as part of a research team. Each night for the last two weeks one of us has disappeared, only to be found mangled and bloodied in the light of the following day. Each night it was the same, no trace, no sign, no struggle. Just an empty bed found in the dawn. Who would it be tonight? What could we possibly try this time to make the pattern stop. Some of us have seen her. She was a gray shadow, an afterthought of life, a lingering of death. She showed herself to me-only three feet tall, half here, half not. You can put your hand through her, yet she the power to lure us out one by one, using the jungle as her weapon to kill. Always bloody.

There were only five of us left. Night descended, fear and sadness hanging in the thick, moist air of the green jungle. Somehow, sleep wins the battle and silence falls on our camp. We each share a thatched roof hut, traditional of the Maya in the area.

When the first light of morning peeked under the door and through the cracks of each small building we called home, I was amazed, thankful and sick knowing that I was still alive. Wondering if we would have to find, yet another, mangled body.

I heard someone say, "Narid is missing." My body quickly moved me over to his hut, investigating the scene with a mix of horror while pleading for a clue to show that he just went for a morning walk. Or was using the bathroom. Or, or, or...

Narid was a graduate student from India who was meticulous about everything, including his phenomenal ability to stick to the scientific method and never taint any test subjects or environments. Some saw it as annoying, but if you wanted some proof of how an experiment really went or observations of what really happened, Narid was the first person everyone on the team went to first.

Just like his science, his shoes were placed side by side next to the bed, covers turned down, sheets looking as though he had just put an iron to them. Everything we exactly how had left it...whenever he had left. If he left. But why wasn't he wearing his shoes? Maybe he had his mud boot on? I glanced to the right of the thin wooden door to see his black mud boots resting on the cleanest towel I had seen for months. Mud the color of black coffee still wet from the day before.

"He's down here!"

The shout came from the small river shooting off of the mini waterfall in the ravine 15 meters down. A familiar feeling of hysteria clamped all my muscles into a ball as nausea crept up my throat. My body propelled me the fifty feet to the edge of the ravine. As I looked down I saw him. Or what I assumed to be him, his face gone, only bright raw flesh in it's place. His arm was gone, which was found down stream 100 meters. One leg had been ripped off from the knee down. Gone. Jaguar claw marks created criss-cross patterns where part of his ear still remained and down the remaining exposed leg, shoe-less. Blood was splattered on the leaves and pooled in between various rocks. This was not a rain forest, this was a blood forest.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Flying Umbrella

Dream #2:

The little Maya girl with long, thick, black hair and the face of a middle aged woman knocked on my door. As I opened the solid, wooden door, the little Maya girl threw a red umbrella with a sharpened point through the crack in the door. It whizzed past my face, brushing my cheek and stuck into the chest of a man standing behind me.

"That was for you," she sneered as a smile crossed her face and insanity danced in her black eyes.

Before I knew it, the little girls fists and legs were kicking at me through the eight inch opening of the door. We struggled as I tried to slam the dense, coffee-colored panel in her face, but the strength of her little arms and little legs was unbelievable. Throught the entire struggle, her eyes remained umoving, focused on the umbrella sticking up out of the dead man laying on the floor. Blood began to pool underneath the man, soaking his white t-shirt to a wet crimson.

Distraction crossed my face and the little Maya girl reached up and took a chunk of my blond hair in her hand and yanked down. Pain shot out of my scalp and with a jolt, I woke up, my head aching.

Again, I heard a tapping coming from the door of the bedroom and a shuffling sound as if there was a little girl or animal or ghost in the closet near the door. And again, I curled up, remained totally still and tense, watching the darkness turn to light under my covers. I felt like I was seven years old again.

Sunrise Over Lake In Front Of Villas Archeologica, Coba

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Nightmares Come True

We headed to the pyramid of Nohoch Mul at Coba immediately after breakfast. Even though it was 8:30am, it was hot, dry and still. Earlier on the trip we met a man that had fallen down the 140 foot ruin, leaving him with a trip to the hospital and broken bones. My mother was weary before we even started climbing. 

I breezed to the top as my mother inched her way up one stone at a time. With a short pause at the top, I began my decent. A quarter of the way down, I sat with my mom, who was having a momentary panic attack. Really. Not being melodramatic here. I held her hand and had to coax her to give me her heavy black, backpack containing her camera equipment. I stood up and as I was about to take a step my mom took my ankle in her hand and said "be careful, honey." 

Without a second thought, I jaunted down the old, uneven pyramid and once on the ground, became a cheerleader for my mother, who was scooting stone by stone on her butt. I had never seen her so nervous. So freaked out. So shaky. When she finally got to the bottom, had a few moments to catch her breath and down some water, she looked at me straight in the eyes and whispered, "Miriam, I had to hold myself back from holding onto your ankle up there. There was some strange urge to make you tumble down that pyramid." 

What the F-bomb! Wow! Ok! We sat in the shade as I told her my dream from the night before of the little Maya girl with an middle-aged woman's face and how she had pushed me down this pyramid. How I hadn't slept. How I felt delirious. And how, even though I had never seen the pyramid before, it was exactly what was in my dream. Something strange was happening. 

The rest of the day was taken in stride. We meandered on the white, stone sacbe's from one ancient building to another. From one deteriorating ball court to another. We both felt as though we had already survived the toughest part of the day and the rest was just details. Details of nightmares and dreamscapes in a foreign land with another mysterious night quickly approaching. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pushed Down a Maya Pyramid

It was as if I was a ghost, or perhaps being followed by one. We were staying in the Hotel Archeologica de Coba. There are a handful sprinkled around the Yucatan that used to be Club Meds. They all look the same: pained yellow with a courtyard restaurant and pool. Tropical flowers of yellow, pink and purple adorn the paths, table tops and surround the pool. Gorgeous Mexican tiles accent the bathrooms, the perimeter of the pool and fountains at the entrance of the hotel. It is a place designed for relaxation, vacation and enjoyment.

First though, you need to know that this was the first travel that I have done with my parents since being an adult. In hindsight, I laugh out loud almost daily at the insanity of that trip. I hope you can do the same.

Dream #1 occurred the night we arrived in Coba. We pulled into the gravel driveway as the birds were singing their final lullabies. After a peaceful, pool-side dinner of sopa de limon and fresh bread, I chatted with some travelers before turning in for the night.

My bed was against the window, which I would have loved to open to sip on the cool breeze coming in off the lake, but my step-father liked it cold. Very cold. So the A.C., which shook above my head, left me huddled in thin blankets, a fleece and wool socks.

The next thing I knew, a little Maya girl with long, thick black hair looked into my eyes. My breath left my chest out of shock at the intense shadows lurking in her gaze. As I looked around, I saw that I was at the top of an ancient Maya ruin. But it was not any ruin I had visited before. The stones were uneven and it was taller than the pyramid of Chichen Itza or Edzna. When I again met her lifeless eyes, a small smile crossed her middle-aged face and she quickly lifted her arms and pushed my shoulders back with a short shove. I saw myself tumble down the pyramid, one stone at a time, with the depth of the blue skies filling my lungs. When I hit the ground with a pain the size of the ocean, everything went black.

As everything went black in my dream, I woke up with a jolt. In a fetus position with the hood of my fleece pulled tight around my ears, I thought I heard a tapping noise coming from the direction of the door. I was sure it was the little Maya girl with long black hair and a middle aged face. My body completely still, I could only hear my heart beat and the muffle of the A.C. I remained in this position for the rest of the night.

When the first light of dawn finally crept in through the thin curtains, I tip-toed out of the room and headed to the dock to listen to the birds sing and watch the sunrise over the misty lake. My lack of sleep was apparent with a silent breakfast and three cups of instant coffee (which I refuse to drink not on principle, but because I think it is gross!) I spent the remainder of the morning staring at the ripples in the turquoise pool and my flaking toenail polish.  

Monday, February 8, 2010

Coba Dreams, Yucatan

We are momentarily going to jump to another continent to check out Coba, Mexico. I'll be returning to my adventures in Cambodia and Thailand, but my photos are being problematic at the moment!

Coba is a mysterious place with crocodiles, some of the only surface water on the entire Yucatan Peninsula, and bird watching that draws people from around the world. Oh yes, there is also a ruin that is spread out with one of the tallest temples around.

Sunrise over one of the lakes in Coba. A quiet morning is impossible, as birds singing create a loud but soothing music

Nohoch Mul, is the largest pyramid at Coba, and one of the largest on the peninsula (many say it is the largest). It is 140 feet high and has a breath-taking panoramic view at the top.

With all the 2012 craze, Coba is also famous for the stelae that refers to a date billions of years into the future. The alter stone in front of the stelae illustrates the significance of the stone.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to even see the glyphs, let alone trust that they were interpreted correctly, as "unlocking" the key to reading Maya glyphs is still not completely understood.

I'll take you to where we stayed in Coba tomorrow, along with three Maya nightmares in a row, followed by a black hair found in a head full of blond hair, and a panic attack 140 feet off the ground.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Pepper Party

Who knew that pepper grows on tall vines...kind of like grapes. Kind of. We found this pepper farm half way between Kampot and Kep. It was technically the "famous Kampot pepper farm," which meant that
these farmers where smart enough to put a sign up and get folks like us to buy pepper from them, rather
than someone else.

And, it was pretty cool. This couple farmed pepper, jack fruit, mangoes, papayas, cashews, chickens, pigs, and alcohol. Yes, they had a home-made distiller next to the pig pen making almost 100 proof rice whiskey. Woo Hoo. I wasn't brave enough to try it, but it just about knocked my companion's socks off! 

But, back to pepper...Kampot Pepper to be exact. There are four types of pepper: green, red, white and black. 
Green: right off the plant. Usually cooked on the stems, like in the farmers hand. 

Red: the most "prized" pepper, as it stays on the plant longer to fully ripen, then is hand sorted out of piles of green ones. 

Black: green pepper dried. This farm dried it right in the sun. 

White: black pepper that has been husked. This can be done when it is green, or after it is dried.

Each kind of pepper has a slightly different taste. It is all delicious. Like I mentioned before, I never liked pepper before having Kampot pepper. 

If you ever get a chance to feast on Kampot Pepper, DO IT!!!!

Check out The Hungry Cyclist as he shows viewers a typical Cambodian dish of Kampot pepper with Kep crab.  Simply irresistible!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Swaying in Hammocks as Dinner Crawls from the Ocean

These are not the infected full-moon beaches of Thailand's Islands. Kep is slow, peaceful and quiet. It's off the beaten path with few tourists and a hot spot for vacationing locals on the weekends. You can sway in a hammock, eat fresh crab caught and cooked minutes before, or hike in the lush hills overlooking the ocean.

A statue of a woman along the Kep beach had her breasts covered during a festival while we were in town. The entire rest of the year she is bare to the world. Hmmm....interesting!

Oh so delicious! Dipped in fresh lemon and world famous Kampot pepper (that grows in the hills around the corner from Kep).

After a long days work, crabbing boats sway ancored by lines to the beach at dusk.

Let's get back to Kampot pepper. It's like nothing I've ever tasted before. Until I had Kampot pepper, I despised pepper. Now, I can't get enough. Check out tomorrow's blog for a close look at Kampot pepper.  

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Veranda, Kep

The Veranda = a little piece of peace.
A constant ocean breeze billowed in through the windows providing the best nights sleep in ages. No need for the mosquito nets on the beds, I think it was just for the gassamer effect. A large deck with a hammock, padded bench (which I happened to doze off on) and a perfect view of the ocean waited just outside the door.

Breakfast was included in our $38/night at the nature resort. It was the best coffee we had sipped in months, along with fresh bread and pastries made right on site and fresh fruit picked locally. The restuarant looks out over the ocean with free wifi and home-made gelato waiting for your tastebuds to surrender. Delicious! Double Delicious!! I can't wait to go back!

Bathrooms! There is something to say about not only a spotlessly clean bathroom, but a modern design with natural stone artistry. It doubled as a steam room and tripled as a cooling room (the stones stayed cool most of the day, thrilling our toes and soles of our feet). 

More about the sleepy, crab-nipping little town of Kep tomorrow. 

Monday, February 1, 2010

Kep, Cambodia

Before I went, I was unclear as well. Where, exactly is Cambodia? Yes, we've all heard and know about Thailand, but what about Cambodia?
Southeast Asia region map, with both mainland and maritime Southeast Asia shown.
Southeast Asia-it's between Thailand and Vietnam. It's light pink on the map above. The food is similar to Thai, but less spicy. The country is beautiful, but unfortunately, it is still plagued with the aftermath of the Vietnam war and the regrowth/rebirth/rebuilding after the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge, which tortured and murdered 2/3 of the entire Cambodian population got defeated only 31 years ago. It is fighting to survive. And it is learning again, to live.

On the southern border of Cambodia, only 30 minutes or so from the Vietnamese border, (along the Gulf of Thailand), slumbers a small gem: Kep. Before the Khmer Rouge, Kep was part of the huate cuture of France. People had second beach homes in Kep. Europeans took "holiday" in Kep. You can still wader around the hillsides and stumble upon remains from magnificent homes depicting French architecture.

Now, locals come to vacation, to swing in hammocks with the ocean lapping against the rocks, to eat the freshest crab around. Hands down, the best place to stay is the Veranda Natural Resort. If you are looking for a small, relaxed town, Kep is the place to be. Check out photos of Kep and the Veranda on tomorrow's post!