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Friday, August 11, 2017

Celebration of Frog's Life

Memorial





Despite the lack of news, attributed to the close niche nature of Frog’s circle, the celebration of Frog’s life occurred shortly after his passing.  A small gathering of friends from all over the world and many branches of Linnaeus taxonomic classes met in Cody, WY and re-lived all the Frog’s tales (not tails, he only had one tail and that was when he was a wee tadpole - I assume).

The day was a gorgeous sunny day with passing threats of rain that never came to fruition mirroring the overall sentiment of the day and the celebration.  The ceremony was held under Frog’s favorite lilac bush where in times past he was often found communing with the neighborhood rabbits, birds, deers and whomever else wandered into the yard.  As in Frog’s life, the attendees joked, laughed and dreamed as if Frog was still in their presence.  The celebration started mid-morning with the formal ceremony and remembrance and continued long into the early morning hours.   By the end even Frog’s closest friend learned something new about the larger than life personality.  The only unanswered question left in the morning was, “What did happen to Frog?"

 

 

 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Monday, June 19, 2017

Kidnapped: Part Five

The next couple of days rolled by in leisure, with no obligations. We can do whatever we collectively want to.  So naturally, we go shopping.  

Rob wants to stock up on the basics; socks, underwear, t-shirts etc.  Dax and Rob also buys some clothes for the kids.   One of the kids is maybe 13 years old, skinny as in growth spurt skinny, like he just grew three unexpected inches.  He wasn't tall by any stretch of the imagination, but slim, with hair buzzed almost to the skin, with black eyebrows that contort his face to a look of pure hate.  Every time I look at him he is just staring back at me with those mean eyebrows and eyes that shoot bullets.  Where do these kids come from, whose are they?  Where are their parents?

We go into a Santa Ana commercial district where they are selling practical things like lamps, sofas, kitchen appliances, shirts, shoes, under garments.  And they are inexpensive, not cheap, but inexpensive.  T-shirts are 2 dollars and it looks to be of quality.  I personally didn't am not buy anything due to limited luggage room, Rob however, is buying like he needs to fill an empty suitcase.  

We go to the city square to see the vendors and look at the Cathedral of Santa Ana.  One thing I notice is a complete lack of postcards.  Well, of souvenirs in general; there are none.  No magnets, no stickers, patches, or miniature clay pots or anything that says Santa Ana or El Salvador.  Everything sold is practical; cigarettes, food, keys, car parts.  With absolutely no proof, just a hunch, I feel like this is some sort of statement on the El Salvador tourism rate.  It is clear, that unlike Costa Rica, Guatemala and Belize, tourism is not El Salvador's principle industries.  With that said the cathedral is impressive, the town square is nice surrounded by big stately buildings that even run down they look pretty amazing.  I will totally send a post card from this place if I can find one.

On Sunday, Dax goes to one of his jobs.  While looking for teaching positions in Santa Ana, after years of teaching in Metepán, Dax would take on odds and ends.  This Sunday it is ref'ing basketball at one of the local Santa Ana recreation centers.  Dax is a large man.  Cardiovascular is not in this guys routine.  Rob and I have to stop in and see what this entailed.  

When we arrive, Dax is laying down in the grass under a shade tree.  This aligns perfectly with Rob and I's understanding of what Dax ref'ing a baseball game would look like.  In truth, he is on a break, after just finishings a game and now the other ref is working a game.  Once she is done, he will be up for the next game.  Three games for each ref, six games in all.  Again we didn't see Dax in action, but watching the lady ref, it was akin to what you would see at a high school basketball game, pretty legit.  

One morning the Villa has a guest of honor.  Murian, an Argentinian dancer is stopping through to perform with the local dance troupe on the way to her teaching engagement in Guatemala. We all see her at breakfast.  Once she left Maria starts giving the background on her and Rob is getting more interested by the second.  Rob engages her for a bit and gets the details of the dancing show tonight.  Rob promises to go and we are off the Teatro National de Santa Ana that evening to watch her dance.    

The building is old and nice.  Pretty standard theater with the center stage with red velvet and gold trimmed curtains, ceiling frescos, red chairs with wooden armrests, balcony seating and honored guest stalls to the left and right above the stage.

The show consists of at least a dozen acts by the various groups of dancers with contributions from the guest of honor.  It was everything from grade school youngsters, a special needs performance which looked like it was choreographed by the same guy who did the Dude's landlord's, Marty, performance piece in The Big Lebowski, to teenagers and young adults hip-hopping the wood off the stage floor.  Several of the groups have multiple acts prepared.  It seems interminably long.  

At the intermission it is obvious everyone is thinking about how much longer we are going to stay.  Parts of the group wants to leave now, during intermission.  Rob wanted to stick around until this girl's last performance.  We decide to move closer to the door and stick around for four more acts - the fourth being Murian's last act. I doubt Rob would admit it, but I think he is trying to get to know Murian better.  

We go back to the Villa with dreams of bumping into Murian again floating through Rob's head.  After settling in, we reconvene back at the pool, which is our custom now.  DJ Rob has the music broadcasting through his portable speakers, and Maria comes by.  Rob casually asks when Murian would be back and piecing together the words I think I understand and Rob's crestfallen sigh. The answer is: She is not coming back to the Villa.  She has other accommodations for this evening.  That is the end of the chase for Rob, but he easily dusts it off and is soon singing along with his music. 

Later in the evening we are back at the Villa unwinding having a beer and some people chilling at the pool others in Rob and Dax's room.  I walk up to their room and they invite me in through the open door.  I walk in and have a seat to see what their room looks like and what they are doing.  The angry kid with the eyebrows is playing a video game while everyone else watches in a daze.  I figure out he is playing Grand Theft Auto (GTA).  

I have never played the game or really seen more than what I have seen in commercials.  GTA tends to be in news for other things so I am aware of the game and have a general idea that they push the envelop of what is appropriate for video games.  I know it is violent.  I watch the kid play.  They all go the same: He leaves a hospital bed, walks out the front of the hospital and starts killing everyone on the screen.  Cops start showing up, he bum rushes them for a bit and gets weapons of choice and then retreats killing the whole time.  As he moves into the level five wanted category, the storm of officials chasing him keep increasing not only in number but in types:  ATF, DHS, Police, National Guard.  Then he eventually dies as does his laughter that had built up as fast as the response team.

I am not convinced he even knows there is a plot and objectives to the game.  Through a translated conversation, Rob confirms the kid knows how to play, but just likes killing.  This kid hates me.  He asks if I want to play, after some cajoling, I take my first swing at GTA.  Not really knowing what I was doing, having learned nothing from the lessons just provided, I start off with a low profile until I get a car.  Then I go for chaos followed by calm followed by chaos.  Somehow out of it all I complete some sort of check point and move onto a new level. 

Flying is somehow involved in the next stage, and I have to navigate toward checkpoints in the air.  I miss the first one immediately.  Killer points and laughs at me yelling something disparaging in Spanish.  I hand the control back to Killer who has lost an ever so slight edge off those menacing eyes.  He takes his turn and he is a boss.  He knows how to play, just doesn't like to; he just likes the killing.  Now we are alternating turns and my second attempt is a huge improvement after watching his go.  As I am playing he is stating how he is going to complete it on his next turn.  Nope, well you are not going to beat it.  Nope. And finally with a mix of you are not going to beat it with I am going to so beat this, he goes back to the starting scene in a hospital.  I have had enough of this evening - Good night. 

Uh-oh, the captors are starting to put the screws to me.  I am looking to move on and need to start looking at buses, planes, hotels etc for my escape - and they know this, I know they do.  I figure the only way to get away from these hombres is to escape to a land of tougher hombres.  I need to figure out how to get to Honduras, but captors threw a wrench into the plans: Day one no internet.

































Thursday, June 1, 2017

Kidnapped: Part Four

The next day is another slow start; too many drinks and too many songs.  I met my captures for breakfast and make a plan.  It is volcano day.  

I've read, one must go with a paid group which includes protective police officers along the route and there is only one group departure per day.  The costs would include a small fee to the group guides, a small fee for the police protection, and a small fee to get into the park/volcano.  All very reasonably priced, I just find it funny how it is all broken down and received.  Dax has to run some children around to their aunts and parents before anything can happen.  Dax is late leaving and immediately puts me on edge for making the tour group.  Rob isn't convinced you can't just go up on your own and is non-plussed about Dax's late leavings.

As Dax's absence grows so does my calm and Rob's too as far as that goes.  Rob starts cursing Dax mentioning how he tried to light a fire under Dax to start moving, but Dax was on his own clock this morning.  Dax finally returns at 10:30.

The volcano is an hour drive away and Dax convinces Rob he should drive as he knows where it is and is sure not to make a wrong turn.  Dax and Rob in the front, Enrico, the boyish looking 21 year old, Dax's young nephew, and myself are in the backseat.  One of many times I am riding in the back seat uncomfortably with at least two others.  Dax, really does seem to be running some sort of child care service out of the Villa.  Dax manages to shave 15 minutes off of the drive time but we are still pulling in 15 minutes after the guided tours is scheduled to leave.  I am loosing hope assuming we didn't make the cut as we pull up the long drive to the starting point.  

A 100 meters from the covered building we see a trail of people walking by.  Dax pulls over, and Rob asks if this is the volcano tour.  The respondent looks confused.  Dax asks if this is the volcano tour, and the respondent immediately confirmed it is indeed the tour.  Rob tells me to get out.  I still have no understanding of what just happened and ask, "Is this safe?"  "Yes." As I open the door no one else makes a move to get out.  "Wait, am I the only one doing this hike?"  Mutterings from everyone in the car "umm yeah buddy", or "I think I am going to miss this one.", or "Have you seen the shape I am in, there is no way I am getting out of this car."  

"So this is safe right?"  I don't see a police escort just a string of about 40 people walking on the side of the road.  
"Yeah yeah this is the scheduled tour group."  
"Ummmm, O.K., how am I suppose to get a hold of you?  You know, find you when the walk is over?"  
Rob to Enrique, "Enrique give him your phone."  The last stragglers of the group are almost to us.  
"Que?"  
"Give him your phone."  

Despite Enrique's confused look he hands me the phone through the open window of the closed car door and tells me it doesn't have a password.   At that moment the last person of the group approaches me as Rob and crew pull away.  The guy tells me he is the trailing guide and if I want to join I need to pay him the requested dollar for him and the lead trail guide's services.  I am now hiking the volcano pulling up the rear on an open road in what is promising to be a sweltering day with a half drank bottle of water.  I made it.

Shortly after joining the back of the group on the main road, the lead guy pulls the snake of people through a sliver of a gap in the trees lining the main road.  It doesn't immediately look like a trail but after a few meters of dodging tree trunks and pushing leaves a well worn path emerges on the jungle floor.  

The group walks for about 15 minutes.  I am focusing on not being the last guy in the group.  I prefer to be somewhere in the middle, with some people being within line of sight either in front of behind me.  The police escort is there because some locals have taking to robbing the tourist or worse yet kidnapping.  I already have my preferred set of kidnappers, I don't want to meet a new set or imagine what a turf war between two sets of kidnappers would look like.  

About half of the group is a sub-group that obviously came together as indicated by their matching shirts.  I, determined to move forward, quickly pass the more out of shape of the group.  I am not in peak physical condition and well overweight, but I can see I am not the worst in the group so there are some easy wins.  I catch up to the lead group in a clearing as they are taking a break for the rest to catch up.  I welcome the break even though we are only fifteen minutes in.  My break was shorter than the lead's but I take off when they do and the stragglers are just filtering up.  In the next 15 minutes I am behind a group of five going just a bit slower than my taste and I decide to push on by them.  Proud of my continued progress up the chain of tourist I find I am in the middle with no one in line of site in front of me or behind me.  I pick up my pace to get the next lead in sight and low and behold the five people I passed minutes ago are climbing up an alternative path right in front of me.  Some how my efforts to speed past them just disappeared about the time we come to a clearing with some buildings.  This is the official park entrance, I pay my six dollar fee to enter and protection for the rest of the day.

At the park entrance there is a tall and slim gentleman in a dark and very neatly pressed uniformed leaning against a big rock.   He is just staring into the sun through what look like completely black sunglasses.  His hair is well groomed as if he placed each piece in their perfect respective places first thing this morning.  There is no emotion or motion in the man's face or entire body as far as that goes.  This looks like a man of very little words and he only uses actions to speak his mind.  As the group finishes paying their tolls and moving on up the mountain the police escort remains motionless watching the processional move past him.

As with the first 30 minutes of hiking, the path is well defined and bordered on both sides by thick foliage that raises to a thick jungle canopy.  If there is a breeze it is broken down by the jungle which is providing much appreciated shade.  I have to conserve my water, I only have half a bottle and it is blazing hot and humid.  I am sweating profusely out of every pore.  My hat has absorbed as much as it can and now sweat is stinging my eyes as I relentlessly push up the trail.  

The trail continues to wind around the mountain in a long lazy set of switchbacks of varying grades.  Slowly the thick canopy gives way to shorter but still very large succulent plants like the century agave.  As the canopy disappears the views below open up.  Across a ravine and a small valley a neighboring cloud covered volcano can be seen.  The sun punishes everything below it as we march on.  The trail is getting steeper and the switchbacks more frequent.  After thirty minutes I am no where near the beginning of the group nor the back.  I come to a steep switchback only to find the uniformed officer standing in front of me who is looking right past me across the valley.  Not a drop of sweat on him.  He either doesn't perspire or he has been there a long time.  How did he even get in front of me?  He did not pass me.  I take a minute to enjoy the view and ponder robocops skills and endurance.  He most do this every single day.

I can see a group of people a switchback above me and another on a switchback below me.  In an attempt to maintain my middle position I move on past the calm cool collected police man.  He stands unflinching.    

At this point the tree cover is gone and I unlace the long sleeve dark green shirt from around my waist and put it on.  It is sweltering hot, but the last thing I need is a second degree burn.  Within minutes the shirt is soaked through and through with sweat. Everything I have on is now drenched with a little bit of liquid me.

During the next thirty minutes, I drink my remaining water and continue to pack an empty bottle up the hill.  All the vegetation is now gone and the path is nothing but loose volcanic gravel.  The only person who passes me is half mountain goat, half man.  He bounds past me faster than I would approach a 5k race.  On his back is a giant box which he pays no attention to as it shakes and rattles behind him.  I have no idea what the box was about, and I cannot make out any distinguishing markings with my sweat blinded eyes due to the pace at which he passes and grows small.

My solitary place in the procession starts me to think, what happens if you don't move fast enough?  What happens if the guides are at the top for as long as they stay and I am not at the top.  They turn back and start heading down?  Will they stop me from getting to the top and insist I turn around?  My legs are sore and starting to give way as the dirt is completely gone and rocks have turned into nothing but volcanic rocks, gravel and sand.  The trail is more treacherous now than ever with footing giving way to little avalanches of pebbles and rocks.  The trail is now marked by yellow blazes and peoples carved initials in the few remaining plants.  At every turn I am convinced I must be almost to the top.  I even convince myself I can smell the sulfur.  The hike has surpassed all my preconceived notions based on internet reviews of the hike.  People were talking about carrying their toddlers up this trail.  I am glad my captors opted out as I don't think any of them would have made it.  I reassure myself, I am going to get to the top and going to be their before the pack starts their decent.

I make one last switchback, robocop is waiting, cool and motionless as ever.  Past robocop there is a straight slow rising path of plantless volcano debris up to the rim of the crater.  I can finally see the top after imagining it after every turn for the last 30 minutes.  I can see it.  I can see the stream of people slowly collecting on the caldera.  Oh man I am thirsty. 

Mountain Goat Gruff that passed me earlier is standing at the top to meet everyone.  Beside him is a large red box full of ice cream.  Frozen rock hard ice cream.  The motionless tele transporting police escort is mildly disturbing with his coolness and straight line trickery, but this mountain goat is impressive.  He probably starts the ascent an hour after everyone leaves and arrives to the top 15 minutes before the lead guide and has enough ice cream for everyone and dry ice to keep it ice cold.  As I enjoyed my coconut ice cream I wonder if he makes this run every day. Takes two hours from his regular job holding a gun and opening 7/11 doors to bound up the mountain in 30 minutes, ring a bell and sale ice cream for an hour and bound back down the volcano in 30 minutes.  

The rim of the crater is unprotected and the unfettered gusts of wind are rejuvenating.  Lack of water, replaced by coconut ice cream and a breeze, I take off my long sleeve shirt, perch on the edge of the crater looking down at the steam rising in the 40 degree plus temperatures off the azure well of water and gases hundreds of meters straight down.  Regaining the structure of my legs I wonder around the crater rim to take in the view of the lake and cities below and the other verdant hills, mountains, and volcanoes.  There were clouds, but I read; "If there are clouds, wait and they will blow away in a few minutes."  True to form, after about ten minutes the clouds moved on and the views open up.  In another ten minutes new clouds fill the vacancy.

Thirty minutes have passed, my ice cream is just gone, and my water is long gone, my dark green long sleeve shirt is dry and now white from salt deposits, and energy is slowly leaking back into my body, unfortunately a bit slower than stiffness and aches.  To avoid seizing up, I affirm that it is 'all down hill from here' and fall into the line of ants starting to work their way back to the bottom of the ant hill.  As with the trip up, I queued myself in such a way that I wasn't too close to people in front of me or behind me.  Close enough to keep a line of site on them but not so close to risk a labored conversation with strangers I will never see again.  Early on I know this is the right decision.   

Even though it is all downhill, staying upright takes considerable attention. The trek down is harder in many ways.  Sure my quads are not burning and I have not lost my breath, but shimming down the loose volcanic gravel around sharp switchbacks on rubber legs is a balancing act.  As I search for the blazes along the trail I am wondering are those pre-planned blazes or little memorials to those that didn't make the journey.  The names etched into the succulents are organic tombstones that grow with time reminding present hikers of past mishaps.  I am sure that is what they are and happen to provide a fairly clear path up and down the mountain.  I see one person slip, land on their bum, slide a bit and bounce back up barely breaking the groups fast downward pace.  Man my knees are killing me with each downward tromp taking me back into the canopy.  

Just as I am back under the sun protective leaves towering over the path I hear light footsteps closing in fast.  I take the opportunity to rest and move to the side just in time for Mountain Goat Gruff to bound down past me and disappear into the jungle.  I am not sure he can walk, I have only seen him in two gears: standing and running.

I am back at the clearing that is also the park entrance.  They are selling bottled water now, I greedily buy three and slam two down.  I am too far behind the lead group, they have left into the jungle already, so I am waiting for the trailing group.  I pull out Enrico's phone to make contact with my captors and let them know I am almost out of the jungle.  Well this is a bit surprising and frustrating.  I have no idea how to work this phone.  I mash buttons looking for familiar screens.  I see the call screen but have no idea what number to dial.  Getting to the contacts proved impossible.  Same story with the text screen.  Only if it was in English.  Again my Spanish is not coming along as well as I previously assumed.  In the end, it doesn't really matter I don't have coverage.  Time to leave, I will just march back with the group and hope they are where they dropped me off.  

Nope, O.K. I will just keep marching with the group.  As I near the starting point I see the black, super dark tinted window car idling in the heat as the air conditioner hums relentlessly.  I squeeze into the back seat with the other two using my natural self defense, sweating profusely, to keep the would be space invader at bay while we pull down the hill.

The rental car is acting a bit funny. It becomes clear no one in the car is mechanically inclined but deduce that the car must be over heating.  We pull off next to a road side covering that functions as a restaurant.  The open kitchen is across the road and one guy crosses over to take our orders.  Dax ordered for everyone, so form of meat, I am guessing pork but would never say it out loud with Rob in ear shot.  

He has an aversion to all pork products.  Not out of religion, just happened to been shown how bad pork is for the human body even down to a physiological level.  "That meat gets in your DNA man, google it, you will never eat pork again."  I haven't, I am afraid I would miss bacon.  

Under the covering was an out-of-place modern internet connected juke box.  Not only did it play music, and music videos, one could order up short porn movies while you ate.  I am taking great pleasure eating my meal, drinking my beer, enjoying the view of the massive lake, and watching the 21, maybe 16, year old crane his neck throughout the whole meal to drink in the censured pornography advertisements.  

We fed ourselves, and poured water down the cars gullet and are on the road again.  Rob needs to go to Metapán, an hour north of the Villa, to drop off Enrico.  Apparently his girlfriend is upset that he hasn't been home for the last two nights.  The ride seemed impossibly long in my lethargic state.  My sweaty natural self-defense has gone away so now to avoid being arm in arm, leg to leg with some little kid I had to make myself as small as possible grasping constantly on the ape hanger attached to the door.  

Once we got to Metapán, Rob had another errand to run.  We met up with John, Rob's book aficionado friend from his previous month long visit to get some books.  John left for a few minutes and returned with a lot of books oddly wrapped in a big black trash bag.  After a few pleasantries we barged into Enrico's apartment where his girlfriend was not particularly happy to see us, especially Enrico, which I find odd since she is mad because he wasn't around.  Now that he is around, shouldn't she be happy?  Enrico doesn't need to be there for her to be mad.  Man logic, I am sure of it.

After some debate, Enrico decided to come with us to the Metapán town square.  This is the second city in as many weeks that I saw the town square Christmas lighting event.  It is hard to remember it is Christmas time, when everything around screams endless summer. Unlike Antigua, this lighting was very colorful which makes sense given every building in the town square is white (hence the moniker "the white city"):  White lights against white buildings would probably be less interesting.  While eating looking over the city, Maria texts Rob asking if I was alive.  Despite reassurances that their hostage was healthy, while stiff and tired, Maria didn't believe Rob.  She demanded a proof of life picture - I am not even making this up.  

Wrapping up the evening in Metapán, Enrico decides to stay the night at his apartment and we pick up some other adolescent that needs a ride back to Santa Ana.  I really don't understand why there are so many children flying around this group.  At all times the number of children rival the total adults. 

After another hour of making myself as small as possible in the center seat between two kids, I am ready for sleep…, after a couple of beers and cigarettes to wind down of course.

Now I have ascended the volcano and looked down into the blue-green waters the the crater,  I am ready to move on and start thinking through my options out loud.  Rob did not like my plans.  I should stay around longer he urges and Dax seconds.  

"Where do you have to be?" he asks, to which I don't have a real answer other than 
"No where."  
"Then it is settled you are staying for the month." 
"No, I do want to see other things before going back to the States.  I want to make it to Costa Rica."  
"We can go to the beach tomorrow.  Pick up Anthony and go to the beach."
With promises of beach time, I review the calendar and decide I can stay for another day or two.  "Enrico, is my room free for two more nights?"
Again Enrico screws his eyes upwards for a second or two, and confirms "Yeah, sure."

It is settled I can be bought out with the promise of a beach. I am here for a couple of more nights.










Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Kidnapped: Part Three

We have nothing planned today other than Anthony has to work and we have to drop him off.  None of us are doing well.  I am not sure how Anthony is going to make it through his day of responsibilities.  Our heads require sunglasses and the uber-tint on Rob's rental is more than welcome.  We load up into the car, Dax takes the passenger seat as the local navigator and size considerations matching comfort, and Anthony and I are in the back.  We drive down the steep and one 180 degree turn driveway out to the main road.  We are angled at about 30 degrees obscuring any sort of line of sight for the driver.  Dax, repeating "no", "no", "no", until the coast is clear and "go" when it is clear. We are off.  

As we drive I am amazed Rob can function at all.  Then watching the roads and the other drivers I am more amazed that he is willing to drive here under any circumstances.  The rules of the road are understood differently here.  We make our way into Santa Ana with Dax pointing and leading our way from the passenger seat.  We pull into a roundabout at which point Dax directs us to stop on the side.  We are in the middle of the roundabout when Anthony jumps out and bids his farewells.  I am not sure I am processing any of this correctly.  

As we drive Rob and Dax are talking about the safety of the area and dropping one liners that instill a background fear in Rob and I.  We see a pick-up truck with a simple one bar steel cage stilted above the bed holding in five or six machine gun toting, green clad, black ski mask wearing standing passengers.  The masks draw my eyes to theirs as they round the about.  The car is silent.  For some reason that either doesn't need any explanation or there isn't one to be had.

We stop at a petrol station to pick up tonights rations of cigarettes, water, and beer.  The door to the convenience store is opened by the free hand of a uniformed shotgun toting door attendant.  There are guns everywhere here.  I mean everywhere.  There are several different uniforms accompanying the guns and as many different types firearms brandying about.  Apparently security is a top concern here in El Salvador. Whose or what's security is unknown but it is a top concern.  I don't know what the U.S. State Department is going on about.  How can anything possibly go wrong in this country with the sheer volume of firearms.  No one would dare do anything illegal here because everyone has a gun.  At least that is my understanding of the Second Amendment rights advocates if taken to the logical conclusion:  Give everyone a gun and nothing can wrong.

We move along up the road to some ruins near Santa Ana and park.  Again, Rob with his awareness heightening comments prods us to either gather everything up or hide them somewhere within the car.   Dax the local, doesn't say anything to soften the ominous statements and compiles or agrees with every statement.

We get out and head into the ruins of El Tazumal in Chalchuapa.  Smaller than anything I have seen yet but still just another testament to how large and pervasive early American civilizations were. This one is completely open to climb and we do as much as the mid-day's heat and the late night hang over will permit.  We pose for a few pictures meander through the small attached museum.  Look at the cemetery next to the ruins.  

Rob asks the local sitting at the gate who was buried there.  The response is "Warriors".  Rob asks if the winner of the games or the losers of the game were killed and buried here.  The answer is "Both".  Sometimes I feel people just make things up when they don't know the answer.

We move back into town and decide to hit up the mall.  Dax has to deal with some mobile plan issues, Rob is looking for some cheap clothes and I am tagging along.  Again, guys with guns, on bikes, on foot and in cars.  The trip is short, we eat in the food court, some uninspired fried chicken, and we are back to the Villa for some rest that will hopefully clear the remaining clouds from last night.

The rest is welcome, and the blazing mid-day heat is giving way to an evening cooling trend.  Tonight is Maria's youngest son's ninth birthday.  As such there is a fiesta at the pool next to our accustomed tables.  There are children and parents everywhere.  Along with the children at the party there are a couple sitting with us.  Some of Dax's nephews and a friend, Enrico, who is ostensibly 21, but I cannot see him being a day over 16.  Kids everywhere. Cesar offers up free pizza to the table, Rob has his own stereo piping in music from the inter webs and like last night everyone is playing DJ.  

Rob and Dax intermittently sing along with the song, and I don't mean mumble through until the chorus, I mean sing with all force every single word.  It comes out Rob has a band back in Ottawa and loves to sing.  It occurs to me they are just waiting for the kids to clear out before heading to the function room where a full on Karaoke get up is set up.  

As suspected, after we have many drinks the children pass on their well wishes and are escorted home by their parents.  The function room now only has a handful of people including Maria and the DJ.  Rob waists no time as soon as the DJ finishes holding over until there is another volunteer, Rob is up there.  It takes him just a few seconds to decide on a song and he nails it.  Rob is an entertainer and loves being on stage and has a great voice.  Not to be outdone, Dax is next on deck and like Rob, nails it.  Nothing held back.  The two go back and forth for a half a dozen songs, occasionally trying to prod me onto the stage.  I am having nothing of it.  I assume this is the typical Karaoke scenario where there is a finite list of songs in a three ring binder that one picks from.  I never find anything I am inspired to sing, and so far everything has been in Spanish.  I don't see how this could possibly happen.  I have mustered the courage to karaoke only one other time in my life.  I do not have the inherent showmanship that Rob and Dax are displaying nor the ear or voice.

The night goes on, the drinks flow, and eventually Dax has to get his nephews to sleep and Rob calls it a night.  I stay to finish my beer and Maria is now front and center.  She sings a song, an American song that I recognize and haven't heard forever: "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M..  Something comes over me.  There is an outside chance I may find something to sing.  I go up and sit next to Maria as she is finishing her song and I realize that all this is being driven by YouTube.  Just about every song on earth can be found on YouTube with words overlaid complete with bouncy ball and no one singing.  When did this happen?  This seems like a game changer in the world of karaoke.

Next thing I know I am singing "Sax and Violins" by the Talking Heads, "Vincent of Jersey" by Big Head Todd and the Monsters, "Soul to Squeeze" by Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Maria even forced me into the singing a six minute duet - "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen.  This is the most I have ever sung into a microphone ever in my entire life and other humans were actually in the room to witness it - all three of them - all three complete strangers.  Even more surprising they didn't leave immediately or at all for that matter.   


What has happened?  What are these vicious captures doing to me?  What kind of mind games and torture am I being put through.  This is only the second night, how much more of this can I take before I am no longer myself?  How long before I am completely transformed by the El Salvadorian Syndrome.






Friday, May 19, 2017

Frog: ???? - 16 -May-2017


It is with great sorrow we announce Frog passed away while traveling in New York in the early morning hours of 16-May-2017. 


Frog's actual date of manufacturing is unknown, but he entered our lives in 2007 by jumping out of our friend's purse onto our dashboard.  Ever since Frog has been our faithful and eager traveling companion.  A passionate traveler, Frog visited at least 30 countries and all 50 US states.  While he may be one of millions, he was always one of a kind to us.  Frog was great listener and also always welcomed conversation. He was never afraid to meet new people despite his crippling shyness which prevented him from talking to too many people.  Frog loved any sort of pool of water, regardless of how big, small, dirty, fresh or salty.  Frog always enjoyed life, occasionally dipping in a Monaco or glass of Champaign, he even found his way into a few pub 'lock-ins'.  Frog had a wonderful sense of humor and was always playing practice jokes on his friends, and by far his favorite game was "Find Frog".

Frog loved traveling, the thrill of flying, the chaos of buses, but by far his favorite place was on the dashboard of any car, looking straight forward as the world came flying straight at him.  

All the joy, calmness and peace conveyed through his unwavering honest smile will always be missed and forever remembered.  

Rest in peace, my dear friend.


A private ceremony will be held in Wyoming.  Please do not send flowers or gifts.  I you would like to help celebrate Frog's life please post stories and pictures to:  https://www.facebook.com/froglortz/

Find Frog: Final Edition
































Saturday, May 13, 2017

This is Frog,

playing a toad on the internet in Melbourne Royal Botanical Garden.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Kidnapped: Part Two

After a brief pause, we pull to the right up a steep drive, that I couldn't see, and then make a switchback turn again to the right and out of no where we are parked in front of Villa Napoli: my lodgings.

I feel safety.  A sigh of relief as I pay the taxi the agreed upon price.  I walk past a table of three people sitting at a table next to the pool.  They were loud and jovial listening to their music pumped through a portable speaker. In the lobby I am met by Maria.  She is anticipating my arrival and made short work of the logistics and quickly moved onto the hospitality. 

"Are you hungry?"
"Yes."  It is approaching 10 pm and I have not ate since noon, and I have been burning nervous calories which I feel is more exhausting than physically expending calories.
"We are ordering pizza in a bit if you would like that or you can have a tuna sandwich."
"Tuna sandwich please."  The pizza offer sounds like a communal endeavor and I would rather collect my thoughts in peace and try to get to sleep soon.
"O.K. Cesar will show you your room.  Get settled in and come back up here for dinner."

Cesar is a slim young man with a dark complexion and an easy smile that is welcoming.  He silently picks up my bags with a timid smile and leads me out of the lobby.

My room is down two outdoor flights of stairs. To the right of the first flight is the sitting area where the other three are sitting and conversing beside the pool. To the left is a large flat top that doubles as bridge and roof between the main house and a second building where Maria and her friends are enjoying their evening.  Then past the drive and another room is the second flight of stairs that opens up to a nice large covered veranda.  Cesar leads the way through one set of doors that opens up to a large sitting room with a fireplace and on into another door labeled Firenze that is my room.  The room is very large with a large king size bed, large dark wood wardrobes and desk, colorful paintings, venetian masquerade masks and a large wooden cable spool that looked a bit out of place, yet somehow fit.  Cesar with few words explains the amenities and excuses himself.  I collapse on the bed and sigh again, but for real this time, a big sigh of relief.  At least I have this enclave of Italy nestled away in El Salvador to collect myself.  The lodgings are some of the best and most economical that I have had in a long time.  Things change at borders.  Imaginary lines separating people and governments can have profound affects.

Comfort settling in, the hunger creeps toward the front of my thoughts.  I wander back up to the sitting area and Cesar greets me and offers me a seat at the empty table next to the pool.  As I sit he lays out the cutlery and napkin quickly followed by a toasted tuna sandwich and offers a beer, which I gladly accept.  Tuna fish sandwiches are always a gamble in my book with the type of odds that create large Vegas style casinos.  However, the house lost on this one.  The sandwich was warm and buttery and the tuna was laced with spices and vegetables to create an perfect flavor with only subtle hint of fish that so often overwhelms a tuna sandwich.  The beer is cold and goes down easily.  

After the sandwich and beer, Maria comes back out and asks if I would like a pupusa.  I have no idea what it is, but I agree.  She asks if pork is O.K., and of course it is.  Minutes later I am presented with a cheese covered pork filled thick corn tortilla type bread.  It is delicious: no hesitation or qualifications.  By far the most delicious thing I have ate since Mexico that is only made better by another beer.

After eating enjoying the end of my second beer I am pulled out of my internal monolog by one of the three gentlemen sitting next to me:

"Hey buddy, if music is too loud let us know."  I am a bit startled, this is the first English they have spoken all night.
"No no, it is fine, I am enjoying it." 
"Cool, how is your evening going?" and before I could respond, "You are more than welcome to join us.  Here have a beer."

Pondering my early night in, I accept and join them.  A quick round of introductions and I find, the English speaker, Roberto, or Rob, is originally from Dominican Republic, but currently lives in Ottawa. He is jovial and has that well kept suave look about him.  Dressed in a simple black t-shirt, hair neatly kept short, thick dark eyebrows framing his brown eyes and the type of guy that would never leave his habitations without a dash of aftershave or cologne.  He is cool.  

Rob met one of the other guys, Dax, in the Dominican Republic and are life long friends. Dax is in many ways the opposite of Rob.  He is a heavy man and is more comfortable in loose and baggy clothes.  He leans forward for comfort and engagement.  But his weight isn't the first thing you notice.  Dax has a smile on his face from ear to ear and easily laughs and is the first to crack a joke. His joviality twinkles from his inner being through his eyes casting a glow on everything he sees.  Finally there is Anthony who works in the El Salvadorian government.  He is friends with Dax and knows Rob from his previous trip to El Salvador.  Anthony is the pendulum that swings from high energy and outgoing to distressingly somber, serious all the way down to tears in a side conversation.  The transitions between states are instant.  He only has the 'intense' setting.  

Rob is down for a month visiting Dax.  This is Rob's second month long visit to El Salvador.   

After introductions the conversation flowed among the three and limped along with me. Rob was the bi-lingual bridge between me and the others.  Anthony's English is about as good as my Spanish which isn't saying much.  Dax's English is better, but has the quality of someone who studied English for a long time, but never consistently used it and hasn't used it at all recently.  The words eventually bubble up to match his thoughts.  We talk about travels, of course politics and Trump specifically; yeah who would guess right?  Rob would occasionally leave to get more cigarettes, beer or whatever leaving me with the other two to figure out communications.  The cadence of the conversation was driven by who was at the table and the topic.  At times the three would spin off and just talk as if I wasn't there and I attempted to glean as much as I could, other times it was a full on UN translation session performed by Rob.  Music was constantly changing everyone taking turns picking something.  Cesar was stopping in and stepping away as Maria called him away.  The night rambled on for hours measured by wine, cigarettes and beers.  So much for an early evening.  

We are wrapping up the evening and Rob asks: "So how long are you staying?"
"Just tonight and tomorrow night."
"Why so short?"
"Well my plan is to hike the volcano tomorrow and move on."
"Why?"
"It is a big world and I want to see it."
"So you don't have to leave?"
"No, but my plan was to go to this volcano tomorrow and move on down the road.  Hey why don't you come with me to the volcano?"
"Where is it?"
"I am not exactly sure, but I think it is close.  I see they have a bus that we can take."
"Oh, I have a car. I rented one for the entire month." Rob then stops and goes full on Spanish with his friends. After a lengthy back and forth and somewhat heated conversation he comes back with, "We can't do it tomorrow.  Stay an extra day and we can do it Friday.  I'll drive."
"Hmmm, O.K., Cesar, do you think I can stay an extra night?"
Cesar responds by screwing his eyes up into his head as if to consult the Villa's diary or possibly his Spanish-to-English dictionary and responds by giving a mostly sure answer of "Yeah, can be possible."

Through the alcohol haze, the cigarette smoke clears and it is settled; this evening is over, we are hanging out for a couple of days. I have been kidnapped - held against my will by new bonds of friendship.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Find Frog in the center of Australia

Frog chilling in Erldunda, Australia which is considered the center, or close enough.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Kidnapped: Part One

To protect all those involved the names in the following story are fictional and some or all of the events conveyed may or may not be complete fiction.  

So I see Nicole off at the airport and I make it to the bus stop in Guatemala City.  A flood of emotions is coming over me, the strongest being fear and with it comes a realization; I am codependent.  For me, this is a shocking realization as I have always considered myself fiercely independent.  This is the first time in a long time that I have traveled alone in frightening lands.

The U.S. State Department travel advisory for El Salvador published 15-January-2015, starts out with: "The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens that crime and violence levels in El Salvador remain critically high, and U.S. citizens traveling to El Salvador should remain alert to their surroundings."  Then it continued with some softer words, "Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit El Salvador each year for study, tourism, cruise ship visits, business and volunteer work.  There is no information to suggest that U.S. citizens are specifically targeted by criminals; however, crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country."  The travel warning then goes into some current and historical crime stats, typical crimes; kidnappings, hostage situations with lack luster conviction rates and then goes into detail regarding places and situations to avoid, and specific examples of gang related actions.  It is a bleak outlook softened by the one statement about tens of thousands safely visiting.   

I am legitimately on edge and going it alone makes me realize how much comfort I had with Nicole by my side and how much of that 'warm blanket' feeling I take for granted.  I realize how much I rely on her judgement to balance my own.  

I resolve that this is an opportunity for growth and have plans to spent two nights in Santa Ana just outside of San Salvador.  Get there tonight, climb a volcano the next day, then move on.

After a nice tipico lunch at the Tica Bus stop everyone is boarding and I am in the back seat.  It smells a bit blue (if you have ever ridden a Greyhound bus you know what blue smells like), other than that this is the type of scenic cruiser I am hoping for.  I settle in for the four hour ride. Well I think it is only going to take four hours, five at most, and it ends up being six hours, one of which was at the border crossing.  

We hit the border crossing at night and everyone is shuffled off the bus into the dark dirty street.  Like Guatemala, numerous people are holding large wads of colorful cash offering poor exchanges, just sitting around, or tending to smoldering coals releasing smoke into the stagnate night air as they offer up meals for money to the transitory.  Dogs shifting freely back and forth across the border between numerous machine gun armed guards.

I fall into line behind the rest of my fellow bus-itizens, and I am in the back of the line waiting my turn while trying to inconspicuously ignore the raggedly dressed man screaming from the El Salvadorian side of the border barn like structure. Once processing through one queue is complete we turn around and fall into the next queue directly behind the first.  

The bus driver is on the other side waving those who have successfully cleared the queues back onto the bus.  I really hope he recognizes me.  I am no longer at the back of the line due to others flowing across the border, and I really hope he knows where his lines stops and the other starts.  A couple, two people in front of me, is having some issue beyond a language barrier.  The bus driver swoops in to intervene and the couple is escorted off with the bus driver out the long way of the barn.  Oh, I hope he comes back.  Next is a family of four and they are paying up their dues only to find they are two dollars short (yeah I know, odd right, dollars? - El Salvador's official currency is the US Dollar, I am sure glad I still have some of Norma Roses proceeds in my pocket).  After a minute of back and forth between the family patriarch and the border officer it is clear the rules are inexorable or at least the guard is intransigent.  I reach into my pocket and pass along the missing dollars.  The father thanks me and moves down the long end of the barn with his family.  

Oh man, do I have enough now?  The sun-parched man continues to rage and is slowly but consciously stumbling toward me as I work out my entry into El Salvador.  The bus driver is no where to be seen.  The armed guards remain staring out into the distance right through the walls of the barn.  Is this how it ends?  I dig through my backpack and find the requisite dollars to get my stamp.  Rather than confronting the approaching screaming man to the right of me I turn back into the line and walk around to the other side to make a quick exit down the length of the concrete barn in full view of the machine guns and guards.  Luckily the bus is obviously situated just outside and the driver is opening the bus door as I exit the border control barn.  This isn't how it ends, but my nerves are on end and 'lucky' for me I still have at least an hour before Santa Ana.

I am dropped of somewhere on the edge of Santa Ana, conveniently right in front of a giant hole in the sidewalk. As I am about to step into the earth's crevice to grab my suitcase, I hear the bus driver scream and warn me.  I catch myself just in time to jump into traffic prompting the bus driver to scream again.  What the hell is wrong with me?  I collect my bag and start looking for a taxi.

I have a hotel lined up but never thought of lining up transportation from the bus stop to the hotel.  In retrospect I am sure it was possible, but I never thought through the steps and executed.  I see a rotund man wearing a collared polo with the iconic polo man covering his left chest leaning up against a nice Lexus lazily saying "Taxi".  I approach him and show him the hotel name and address, he nods in acknowledgement and we agree upon a fare.  Then we walk about 30 meters away from the Lexus into some run down, every window tinted, red beater of a car.  Eh what's in a car anyway?  Who needs a Lexus? Well except a cabbie trying to solicit riders at a late night bus stop.  

I get into the back of the red car and the tint on the windows is clearly not intended for night.  It is impossible to see anything out of any window, except the windshield.  We burn out of the parking space kicking up rocks and dust to hit the road at a reasonable speed and start our 20 minute drive.  Twenty minutes go by and the city has come and gone.  The darkness is overwhelming between the sheer lack of light and the heavy window tint.  My nerves are getting the best of me.  What sort of discretion did I use before getting into this stranger's car?  None.  


We pull off to the side of the road.  To the right I make out a steep hill.  To the left I can barely make out a small rubbish pile on fire at what looks like the entrance to a corrugated steel shanty town.  I see nothing that resembles a "Villa". So this is how it ends?  Am I going to get shot and that is it?  Am I getting kidnapped?