Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Back Home Safe

I'm here, and I'm suddenly exhausted. It was a lovely flight home, after a brief fear at the airport that I'd be stuck in London--every flight on the eastern seaboard was cancelled except Boston. Here in lovely, drizzly Seattle, however, people could still come and go with damp ease.

I'm down to needing to do a bullet point entry or two--look for them in the next few days!

This kid never causes any trouble. Oh no. Not him.

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Almost Home

I'm at Heathrow at the moment, taking advantage of the free WiFi in the fancy lounge. Not the extra-exclusive First Class Lounge that Ian spent his time in on his way home, just the run-of-the-mill plebian Club World Lounge. Sigh. I'm surviving.

Anyway, yesterday we had a family lunch at a restaurant called "Smith and Western" in Tunbridge Wells, which is housed in a beautiful old brick railway station. It is over-the-top American, decorated with western saddles and bridles and wagon wheels, and employing lots of down-home folks in cowboy hats. It's probably as successful a venture as many English pubs are in the States. In certain ways, though, it was not successful at all, as in the choice for soup of the day:

Very kid-friendly, though, and a fun outing for our mix of English, Portuguese, English/Portuguese, and American eaters, ranging in age from 3 weeks to about 75 years of age.
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Sunday, February 07, 2010

MUCH Better.

Last week Saturday evening, on Santiago at dinner time, just before the mad dash to the airport to wait in line for three hours, I noticed my throat feeling a bit ungh, as if there were something adhering to it, getting in the way of my swallowing. Back at the hotel, I pulled out my headlamp and looked, and sure enough, a couple of white spots. As there really wasn't any pain, just this sort of annoying feeling of adhesion, I decided it was probably thrush. It did not particularly surprise me that I was developing thrush—I'd been having sugar in my coffee every morning, and eating more sweets than usual, and whatnot. Also, for some reason, we were using our alarm clock all the time—which I never do at home—because we kept having to be up early for ferries or planes, or we didn't want to nap too long and be up all night, or we just wanted to get ourselves into our new time zone. In Lisbon we used an alarm because Ian had to leave for the plane at 5:40am (I walked him down to the taxi and then went back to bed for a couple hours); in Porto I used my alarm almost every morning because I wanted to get up when the household got up, so that I could go into town with them and be a member of the family. At any rate, because of the timings of things, early or late or often both, I really haven't been getting anything even close to the 9-hours-per-night-of-Zs that I've been enjoying at home. Add that to two continents and three countries and so far 8 flights and it's a recipe for, well, at minimum some annoyance in the throat.

I had emailed my friend in Porto suggesting that I'd need to go to a clinic when I arrived, maybe to pick up some Fluconazole for the thrush problem, but by the time I arrived my throat was actually hurting rather badly (i.e. probably not thrush after all, which didn't hurt). It wasn't scratchy at all, so I could get to sleep just fine (when I found a time and place to lie down), and it didn't affect my sense of taste at all, and so, even though it hurt to swallow, and I thought about writing a blog entry saying "My throat's been bothering me lately," it wasn't actually bothering me and I thought I'd just give it a couple days and see what happened.

What happened was that, over the week, the spots and the searing pain on swallowing migrated around until I decided that I probably had strep, and I should probably get it looked at as soon as I could. For me that meant here, on Guernsey, where I was going to have three nights in a hotel all by myself with no responsibilities to anyone else. I arrived, however, at almost 5pm on Friday evening, and the closest clinic had closed for the weekend. The young man at the reception desk pointed me in the direction of Boots the Chemist and I ran down and bought a numbing gargle before they closed for the weekend at 5:30, and then I came back to my spacious and lovely room, unpacked, had a bit of tea and some biscuits, then went down to the pub for a soup and salad for dinner. I thought I would just get a lot of sleep, no alarms, and allow my body to heal itself.

Well. In the event, my body decided it really did want to see a medical professional, and so at 7:30 am I woke, after a fitful night, and threw up. I went back to bed and drifted off to sleep, then woke again at 8 and threw up again. I proceeded to throw up at least every half-hour until I'd reached 5 times; in the meantime, diarrhea had also set in and I was cleansing my digestive tract from both ends. I called down to reception and asked if there was, anywhere on the island, an open urgent care facility, obtained an appointment and a taxi, threw up one more time, and headed out to the doctor, fortunately not needing to stop by the side of the road on the way. I mostly sat in the car as quietly as possible—stasis being my only friend at that time—but I was roused to interest by two girls riding tall, beautiful horses down the narrow, busy, paved street, from somewhere into the stables. There was not a lot of information from my driver.

I threw up once more at the doctor's office (totaling 7), then got a jab of an antiemetic, and prescriptions for a strong sort of Immodium and Cipro for my throat, which I remembered as an afterthought (and which is much better today—I think my self-diagnosis of strep was probably right on). My taxi driver for the trip back to the hotel stopped at a grocery and I bought some mild biscuits, an apple-pear juice suspiciously thick like a nectar (which I don't usually like—too glutinous-feeling—but it was good for my purposes), and some instant soups which I could mix up in my room with my (ubiquitous in the UK) kettle. I spent most of yesterday asleep—dozing and waking to drink something, dozing and waking to drink something—and Ian called in the evening, and I dozed and drank through the night, and actually went to breakfast this morning—tea, canned peaches, a fresh pear, cranberry juice, and a box of dry Cocoa Krispies.

And now I feel pretty (tentatively) good—and I'm going to go out and wander around a bit. I may not get to see much of Guernsey today in my last few hours here, but as a place to be violently ill and quickly recuperate, I can highly recommend it.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


I've often noticed when traveling that there are not many facilities for folks with physical handicaps. Restaurant toilets are often up or down a narrow flight of stairs, and cramped and difficult to maneuver in as well. Sidewalks are cobbled and narrow, streets are steep, there are no curbcuts for wheelchairs. As a result, there aren't many wheelchairs to be seen. My belief is that many people who would have chosen a wheelchair in the US choose a cane or crutches or something like that instead, so that they don't lose their mobility completely, but the fact is, I don't see many canes or crutches either, and so mobility is probably simply lost. There are, in general, more really slow elderly people out walking their errands than in the US, but I don't know what that signifies. Probably that you do what you have to.

At any rate, we were quite surprised to encounter a young man in a wheelchair our first night in Ponta do Sol. There were some kids around him, and he seemed to be a part of the group. Over the days that we were there, we saw at least 3 more wheelchairs with people of various ages in them, including in our inn. The morning before we left town, we told the woman who served our breakfast (I believe the Grand Matriarch, with a couple generations below her also living in the house) that we were wanting to take the ferry the next day. We assumed that it still sailed in the afternoon, and so we were confused when she told us that breakfast would be earlier, at 7:00am instead of the more leisurely 8:00am that we had chosen initially. We couldn't make head nor tails of what came next, and so she told us to wait and went across the hall from the dining room into a bedroom that fronted the street. A minute or two later she called to us and we went across the hall and into the bedroom of an old man who was lying in bed. He apologized in English for lying down and gestured to his wheelchair sitting at the foot of the bed.

This man explained that the ferry was only running once a day at the moment, and only in the morning, and it was the smaller ferry as well, and so we had to leave early to make sure we had tickets. He then told us, in fact, that he would call Vitorino ("You have seen him, I think?"), and ask him to buy tickets for us so we were sure to have a berth, and then he would pick us up in his aluguer as part of his rounds in the morning. We thanked the man profusely and went away. We had seen Vitorino, in fact, because he was the driver who had brought us to Ponta do Sol and recommended the Dedei Inn. We had liked him the moment we saw him from the ferry, and indeed he took good care of us getting us back to the boat.

Eventually Ian came to a realization about life on Santo Antão, though, which made all the sense in the world: If you are in a wheelchair, there is virtually nowhere else on the island that you can live. There are a couple of other towns that are relatively flat, but they're bigger and busier and less friendly and secure. And so it was likely we saw the only wheelchairs ever to have been around.

There was one exception—in the next village over from Fontainhas, there was a man with dreadlocks and an atrophied leg who ran a small bar where you could buy a cold Coke or Fanta or Stela (the Cabo Verdean beer). He made his way around with a cane, serving drinks and collecting stools for us to sit on, and generally happy with his life. He must have ridden a donkey if he ever left home, because I'm pretty sure no motor vehicles could get in there to collect him. The driver we hired for a couple outings later in the week, Danial, did say that you could drive to every village on the island, but I don't believe him. But maybe this village with the incongruous bar (Fontainhas, much larger, didn't have one that we could see) was too small to be considered a village.

Something You Can Do With 60 Hours of Transit Time


Okay, well, I did start this before I left home, because it was my first Fair Isle project and I wanted to make sure I would do it right, and I only knitted on the original BA flight and then here at my friends' place in Porto, but still. It was definitely a good distraction.
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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Entertaining, At Least

When Ian and I were researching travel options for getting to Cabo Verde, there was never really any question that we were going to go the partial Great Circle route, starting in Seattle at 47˚ N, going over the pole through London (51˚30') and Lisbon (38˚44', 8 hours time difference) and slightly back to Praia (15˚, 7 hours time difference). First of all, we had enough airline miles on British Airways to get to Lisbon, and TAP (Air Portugal), a known quantity that we've flown before, has two daily flights to Cabo Verde (the one we took and the other to Sal, an island in the northern, Windward Islands, where Santo Antão is. I know, I know—why fly to Praia, in the Leeward Islands, instead of Sal, theoretically closer? Well, because Praia is the capital and it seemed like it would be a better place to visit, and for internal flights it didn't matter in the least. Resuming . . .).

There is another potential option—TACV, Cabo Verde Airlines, flies once a week direct from Boston to Praia. The TACV website offers the initial appearance of excellent functionality . . . but the moment you ask it a question other than "please translate this into English", it fails to offer any more useful information. We were more surprised that there was a website at all, actually, and we initially thought that TACV must be quite up to date, not at all like my experience in domestic flight in Kenya (which, of course, was 14 years ago so who knows . . .). But then, the website's dodginess just beneath the surface, and our complete inability to gather any more information about the flight, encouraged us to just make our reservations on BA and TAP and call it good. I did eventually decide to buy tickets on TACV from Praia to Mindelo and back, before leaving the US, so that we knew we could catch the ferry to Santo Antão. After some searching, I found a direct telephone line to the Boston office (thank you, google) and left a message for an agent, and after a couple of jarring, 6:00am return calls from them (time zone difference), I had to pay for the tickets by depositing a money order from my bank account into the TACV Boston bank account at a different bank, then fax them a copy of my deposit slip. This, too, seemed a bit dodgy, but as I have traveled in Africa before and I know that things are somewhat less, shall we say, regularized there, I wasn't too worried, and indeed our TACV flights were just fine.

A couple months before we left, Ian happened to read an article written by someone who had recently taken the TACV flight from Logan Airport, and he described a perfect mayhem of travelers and belongings. First of all, there are about 2.5 million Cabo Verdeans living outside Cabo Verde (to about 500,000 living in the country), and many of them live in Boston and thereabouts. There are lots of consumer goods that are easy to get in the US, too, and difficult or expensive to import into CV, and so all the Cabo Verdeans going home for a visit had masses of baggage to take with them. Even today, with new security measures and baggage limitations, people were bringing way more to the airport than they were allowed to check. On a completely full flight, everyone who tried to check in was told that their baggage was too heavy. There were people opening up all their suitcases at the ticket counter, rearranging, moving heavy items into their carry-ons, even asking other travelers to check bags for them (not, obviously, allowed). Not surprisingly, the author said that the process took hours, and the plane left very delayed.

Our flights out on BA and TAP were quite good. BA is flying a 777 from Seattle to London now, and even though it was a mostly full flight, Ian and I had cleverly checked in for an aisle seat and a window seat in coach, and no solo travelers wanted to join us in the middle. Also, the seat pitch was about 3 inches greater than our American Airlines flight to Santiago in November, for virtually the same amount of time, so I was able to really stretch out. Also, we all got socks, and a toothbrush, and an eyemask. My Jack and Sprite was free, as was my wine with my beef dinner. I didn't sleep really at all, because I'd gotten in the mode of a 1:00am bedtime at home, and that hit only an hour before we landed at Heathrow, when they were serving us breakfast.

We had about 4 hours in the airport and didn't have to collect our baggage or deal with customs, so we had plenty of time for a sandwich (Crayfish, Lemon and Rocket for Ian; Coronation Chicken for me), and plenty of time to get online and transfer money to our checking account, which I had somehow forgotten to do before leaving home. We then had a lovely, 2 ½ hour flight to Lisbon where the plane was small enough that we were the only two on our side. In Lisbon we had to go through customs (more stamps in the passport!) and collect our bags since we were changing airlines; I also dropped off a suitcase of winter clothes for this current part of my trip, and my computer, at Left Luggage. At this point—well after 1:00am Seattle time—I was mostly able to sleep the moment I stopped moving; also, our 4-hour flight to Praia was practically empty, and everything worked remarkably smoothly.

And so, when we were making plans to return to the airport in Praia for our return to Lisbon, we were surprised that the taxi driver suggested we arrive at 11:15pm for our 1:50am flight. It was a small airport, a European airline, no one had been interested in coming to Cabo Verde; was it really necessary to allow almost three hours?

Yes. It was. It turns out that Cabo Verdeans flying always want to take more luggage than they are allowed, whether or not they are flying to or from their country. And there were a lot of them flying; our plane was completely full, every last seat taken. Each person was allowed 35 kilos of checked luggage—total, not per bag, but still, that's a lot of allowance. When we arrived to check in, whole families were already unpacking and repacking their belongings up near the ticket agent—clearly sent away to reorganize. The lines crawled forward, one party per ten minutes or more. What on earth were they taking? we wondered. And wondered more, for over an hour. Each suitcase or bag had been tied up with twine, too, and so every time something had to be adjusted, twine had to be untied and tied again. We inched forward, and wondered. Finally, after an eternity of waiting in line (and there had only been about 6 groups in front of us when we arrived), we were next. The man in front of us had two bags to check. The first one was under the limit and went through. The second, smaller bag, pushed him over the checked luggage limit, however, and he was told to remove something and put it in his hand luggage. We leaned in, eager to see what he had that was so heavy.

Beans. He had a plastic gallon-sized baggie of large, shelled, fresh beans, sort of like fava beans. Taking them out did the trick.

On the plane, completely opposite from what one usually is urged to do, people were told to put everything in the overhead bins, and nothing under the seat in front of them. I managed to not hear this and shoved my bag under the seat where I usually put it, and no one made me move it. The overhead bins were cram packed, though, so I really don't think it would've fit anyway. Ian and I decided they probably made this rule because of the crazy number of little, heavy bags being dragged aboard—there was way too much chance that one would be forgotten on board, or stumbled over in an emergency, if they weren't obviously all out of the way. Because the bags were numerous and tiny, though, they all fit in the compartments like an intricate 3-D jigsaw puzzle. The boarding process was quite the show. Alas, we were seated with one other man in the row in front of the exit row, so even though it was 3:30am when we took off and we were dizzy with exhaustion, we couldn't recline our seats at all. I would nod off until my neck started to ache—maybe 5 or 10 minutes—then jerk awake, then nod off and then jerk awake.

All's well that ends well, however, and in Lisbon my left luggage was complete and intact, there is a new service for prepaying for taxis so you don't have to worry about being stiffed, and our hotel's 8:00am early check-in allowed us to collapse into a profound and heavenly sleep by 9:00am.

Monday, February 01, 2010


I've posted a bunch of pictures from the Cabo Verde and Lisbon parts of our trip (the only parts Ian was with me on) here: Yes, I agree, 351 pictures are too many, but they've gone through their first culling and are significantly down from the 809 that Ian left me with. I've spent a couple hours today starting on the captions, but I know you loyal readers are itching for some stories, so I decided to share things now, finished or not. I will continue over the next day or so identifying what you're seeing, and will probably reduce the numbers of photos as well.

I tried to write a normal blog entry this morning, but I've had a difficult time figuring out how to get started. The thing is, I had a fantastic trip, and a lot of it was due, I think, to the fact that I was living primarily experientially and moment-to-moment, instead of primarily mentally and analytically. We effortlessly did the thing that was in front of us, without worrying about anything, really. And so everything worked out—we saw what we wanted to see, we slept when we could, we asked advice when we needed to, we ate at restaurants we liked, happened upon live music in two places. We sent postcards, we shopped for food, we spoke to people in English and Portuguese and even a smattering of French. We took ferries and ate the Cabo Verdean national dish, cachupa, a savory mix of hominy and beans. We hired a guide for a day, we visited markets, we used an internet café, and missed out on espressos because the power went out in town right after the beans were ground. People bought tickets for us when they were worried we'd miss the boat, they suggested lodging, and gave us fresh bread, with crisp crust and moist, hot interior, so recently out of the oven it almost burned my hands.

We hiked and hiked and hiked and hiked, up steep inclines and down even steeper ones, and for six miles along a riverside. We blistered our toes and exhausted our calves so that they ached—sharply—for several days after. We entertainingly met people—both other travelers, and locals—over and over again, on the ferry and in the aluguer, and then again in town, walking from a bar to the hotel. Climbing down a mountainside and at the next table in the Senegalese restaurant. On our plane, then in our hotel, or simply walking around.

People were happy. They drove carefully. They had reasonable, set prices for things and did not try to gouge foreigners. They worked hard, and worked out—we saw joggers everywhere we went, jogging on the roads we considered to be difficult hikes. The kids went to school, and practiced their language skills on us, not their begging skills. Cabo Verde is a country of extreme geography, and perhaps people don't have the energy left over to stress out about things the way we do. It was the perfect vacation, except for the shortness. We are definitely going back someday.

I will write stories. I have sweet ones and silly ones and strange ones to tell. But I'm finding it difficult to put into words the wonder of what we experienced.