09 January 2017

Christmas in Honduras

I've been back to Honduras four times since I studied there, but I keep wanting to go again. I especially wanted to go again after nearly back-to-back ice/snow storms in Gone West during December.

We had all the usual travel problems. Flight delays meant that J. and I got the last evening shuttle to our hotel from the airport in Houston. But bright and early, there were our parents, eating breakfast in the lobby.

J. sat with his parents in one row on the flight to Roatan, and I with my parents in the row behind them. I made my mom sit by the window so that she could see the Caribbean below us.

"It's so hilly," she said, as we flew over the spine of the island. I had forgotten that, too, but I had not forgotten that the plane flies in over the water along the coast or that the runway starts right at the edge of the water. We flew past all the colorful houses along the bays, lower and lower, until suddenly the wheels were on the ground.

I also neglected to mention that it would be hot. Not as hot as Liberia, but it is the tropics. 

We'd rented a house back in the jungle down some of the steepest roads I've ever driven. (We didn't know that at the time, of course.) 

It rained on Christmas Day, and we exchanged presents in the morning. Not much - we couldn't bring much with us - but everyone got a little something. 

J. and I brought Hydro Flasks for everyone. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out which of the six blue-green-purple colors to give to each person. J. and I each had a favorite, but we decided that we would be happy with any of them. In the end we (okay, J.) just wrapped them all and handed them out at random. 

When we opened them, J. had my favorite color (mint) and I had his (pacific), so we immediately handed them off, without even saying anything. Then our dads switched so that my dad had dark blue and his dad dark green. Our moms got the apple green and the purple. Which is, in fact, just about as close as possible to what we would have given them if we'd had to pick. 

In the afternoon, I read in a hammock for a while, and then we walked down to the beach with snorkel gear. J. and I swam out, looking for the reef.

As it turns out, we picked one of the spots where the coast curves in and the reef out. J. didn't have fins, because I was using his scuba fins, which didn't fit my feet very well. It was a lot of work. By the time we found the reef, we were ready to turn around and head in. 

My parents met us on the beach, and we walked down to West Bay, over a funny little bridge high above a channel. 

"Hey!" I said when we got there. "This is Bite on the Beach! T. and I ate here in 2002 when we were here!" and I made them take a photo of me with the sign. Beyond the restaurant, though, the beach was unrecognizable. What had been a long stretch of empty sand lined with jungle and one long pier back when T. and I were the only ones on the beach was instead a mess of beachside bars, beach chairs, and jet skis. Sigh. 

For dinner, we drove up over the hill and down to West End. The restaurant we wanted to visit was serving a $60 prix fixe holiday meal, so we ended up at an Argentinian restaurant. 

As one does, on Christmas Day in Honduras. 

03 January 2017

below the surface

For a long time, all I could do was work. The job that I had in Universe City and then back in Gone West was all-consuming. I managed sometimes to take a weekend off, but work sucked so much energy out of me that I felt like I had nothing left to give. 

Then I was unemployed, and that takes everything you have to give, too.

But this last year was good. 2016 was so, so good to me. 

I have a job that I love. I hate the commute, but I love the work. 

I have a cute boy to kiss (hi J.!!). I flew to meet up with him one of the times he was in Spain, and we went to Croatia.

I climbed mountains. I camped. I hiked. 

At the end, we went [back] to Honduras, to Roatan. Back for me, the first time for J. and his parents and my parents. 

We ate frijoles and tortillas at least two meals per day. An ATM stole 512 of my dollars (error message with no money three times; turns out it withdrew the money each time but never gave it to me; I have complained to the bank). We drank a lot of drinks full of delicious juice and not much alcohol while sitting beachside. The two little Hyundais we rented struggled with potholes bigger than their tires (we lost one wheel to a pothole; oops). We ate lunch out on a dock over the water. I complained that the most beautiful beach has been taken over by beachside bars and lounge chairs and way too many people.

One day, J. went diving in the morning. In the afternoon, I met with a diving instructor to learn the basics for a discovery dive.

When we first put our heads under water in the shallows, I was worried. It seemed hard to breathe through the regulator, like I had to pull on it too hard to get air. But then we tipped forward horizontal. Everything fell into place. 

The parents piled onto the boat to snorkel, and J. and I and the instructor to dive. Out in the water, I watched the parents start to float off in different directions, and then I held my regulator and mask as the instructor told me to, and I dropped backward off the boat.

The instructor had me hold onto the mooring as we descended. We followed the rope down, blowing out to equalize our ears and masks. At the bottom, among the coral and fish, we swam. I was surprised to find that I wasn't at all bothered by knowing that my only air came from a tank through a tube. Just like rappelling, it was only scary until I did it. 

J. pointed out a huge eel snaking through the coral. A grouper sat under a shelf, underbite silently open. A lion fish waved its feather-like fins out of a crack in the coral. 

Far too soon, we had to ascend. I popped out of the water exhilarated and ready to do it again, despite being exhausted by the novelty. 

Also, I was pretty proud of myself for only using 10% more air than J. did, despite it being my very first dive.


26 November 2016

days

J. and I hosted Thanksgiving at his house. Truthfully, J. did most of the work. And bought most of the food. I ordered the turkey, but J. picked it up and made the sage butter rub and basted the turkey every hour.  

But I made two pies and a sweet potato dish (you're going to want to make this asap: Crispy Sweet Potato Roast. The chili lemon vinaigrette is perfect), and I helped with the general prep. 

And the cleanup. The cleanup has taken days. I guess it didn't help that we decided to make stock out of the turkey carcass. And then we had to figure out how to transfer all the broth to another pan even though we'd left too much of the turkey meat on the bones. We still have to get all the broth into containers. And I'm fairly sure the butter is still sitting on the counter. 

Yesterday we went downtown to watch the tree lighting. A year ago yesterday (or today, or tomorrow, depending on how you count; we decided to count by the day after Thanksgiving), J. and I went on our first date to the tree lighting. We stood in the crowd again. Then we went to wait in line for the same restaurant we waited in line for last year. 

Only this year, we went rock climbing first, and J. isn't a stranger. 

The woman standing behind us in line said uncomplimentary things about the peanut curry, which is what I was planning to order. I ordered it anyway, and it was delicious. "I knew you were going to order it as soon as the guy mentioned green beans," J. said. (The green beans were perfect.)

Today we went for a hike in old growth forest in the rain, deterred at one point because there were many signs forbidding entrance onto private property. I neglected to keep my hood up. Rain dripped down my back, and we turned around when we started hearing closer gunshots; we'd forgotten to wear orange during hunting season. 

On the drive out, when we hit pavement, we heard a strange noise. "I'll check," I said, and jumped out to look. "Drive forward a little."

There was a bolt stuck in the tire, so we pulled off in an opportune place (namely, the middle of a dying timber town) to change it. J. jacked up the car. I wrestled the muddy tire into the trunk. 

We limped back to the suburbs on the donut, with the tire pressure light on all the way. I read the manual. Blah blah blah, driving on the donut may make the tire pressure light come on. It's fine, right?

We left the car at the shop, and I shivered as we walked to a nearby restaurant (the same one where we attended a wedding a few weeks ago). J. kept one of my hands warm, at least. He can't believe how fast I lose body heat. I can't understand how he manages to retain his. It took changing into the dry clothes that I had in my bag in order to warm me up.

When we got back, J.'s car was up on the lift, and two tires were off. 

Turns out the car had picked up two bolts. 

But we made it back in time for J. to catch most of the game. Some sort of sportsing, I don't know. There may be a ball involved. 

11 November 2016

right

I'm going on record here: I am horrified that this country elected Donald Trump. To me, racism and sexism and xenophobia are deal breakers. It's like saying, "My boyfriend is really great, except he hits me." Not hitting you is the bare minimum. Not being overtly racist and sexist and xenophobic is the bare minimum in a president. I am horrified that overt racism and sexism and xenophobia are not deal breakers for 47.5% of this country.

We are all racist and sexist and xenophobic to some degree. We were all raised in a society that told us that black people are a little scary and don't have good intentions, that told us that women are bitchy if they stand up for themselves, that told us that people from somewhere else have weird, unpleasant ways that would bother us if we had to experience them.

But we have to fight that. We have to fight it. If we don't fight it, we are part of the problem. When we vote for someone like Trump, we are saying, "Racism isn't important to me. I don't feel the effects of it in my life, and I don't care that other people do." 

So don't tell me that people who voted for Trump aren't racist. Don't tell me that they aren't sexist. Don't tell me that they aren't xenophobic. They accept these things in other people. They don't speak up against them. They don't, above all, reject them in their leaders. 

I hope, I really do, that our institutions and law are strong enough to prevent Trump from becoming Hitler. I hope that social pressure is enough to keep Trump from becoming Hitler. But there is a very real chance that this is Germany in 1934, and we just elected Hitler. 

I grew up in the Midwest. I understand why people vote Republican. I will never understand why anyone voted for Trump, especially not anyone who claims to be a Christian.

Because I will tell you this: Jesus would have utterly rejected a man who stereotypes black people and calls them "the blacks" to other them. Jesus would have utterly rejected a man who treats women like objects and grabs them without their consent. Jesus would have utterly rejected a man who threatens to make Muslims carry ID cards (sound familiar? see Germany in the 1930s, Rwanda in the 1990s, just prior to the start of genocide in both countries). 

If you voted for Trump and are reading this saying, "But, the Supreme Court! He didn't mean those things!" let me tell you this: the man would say anything to get elected. He would tell you anything about the Supreme Court and Obamacare and immigration and how he's going to bring jobs back. But you have literally no idea what he will actually do. He changed his story every time he blinked. He denied statements that he made days earlier, that were on tape. He will do what is best for himself, not for you. He cares about no one but himself. 

And more: he pandered to the racism and sexism and xenophobia in some (hopefully small) segments of our country. He gambled on the fact that most people wouldn't stand up against that. And he won. Most people didn't stand up against that. They accepted it. If this is 1934 Germany, 47.5% of the country voted for Hitler. If this is 1964 Alabama, 47.5% of the country voted for the white supremacist governor. Trump lost the popular vote, but he won enough people in my home state and others like it that he won the electoral college. 

I don't know what my Oma would do if she were here, but I know this: she stood up against Hitler when the Netherlands was occupied by the Nazis. I can't imagine what she would have thought when her party elected a man who read Hitler's speeches for inspiration. She couldn't even stand the sound of German being spoken. I am so glad that she never knew that some of her children and grandchildren voted for a man who used Hitler's strategies to get elected, who talks about minorities  as if they are the source of white people's problems just like Hitler did, and who, I fear, may turn out to treat minorities the same way Hitler did. 

I worry now, speaking out about these things. I worry that I will have to stand in the gap and risk death to stand up to Trump. But I'm doing it, because it is the right thing to do, and because my Oma did no less. 

06 November 2016

indoor

I've taken up indoor rock climbing. J. and I took it up together, actually, but then he flew off to Spain, leaving me to find other climbing partners, and I have done so. I am shameless about hitting people up to go climbing. I will climb with anyone who won't let the rope go too slack.

I might have overdone it a little two weeks ago, climbing five out of seven days. Last week I kept it to three, thanks to busy evenings and my elbow hating me when I climb too much, but this week I'll probably be back up to four or five. I love it. I love it like I love martial arts (or would, if I could find a good dojo in this city). 

(If you don't know the numbering, anything in the 5 range means that you probably need a rope. (More details in the "Free Climbing" section here.) The gym routes start at 5.6 and go through 5.13. I started with 5.6s and 5.7s, which are like ladders, and 5.8s were my hard climbs. After six weeks, I climb mostly 5.9s and some 5.10As. My project climbs are 5.10Bs and 5.10Cs.)

My evening emails to J. for the last two weeks or so, as I've been moving up, have read like this: "So then I climbed that purple 5.10A - you know, the one in the room straight ahead right as you enter, over from the orange route that has the overhang? - and it was hard and I had to rest on the rope a couple of times when my hands got tired, but I did it!!" I'm sure he is enthralled. He's threatening to find me a support group.

Yesterday I climbed tried to climb a couple of routes that were way above my abilities, and somehow the whole afternoon passed while I fought the wall. I only figured out how much time had passed because I was so hungry that I got dizzy. It's hard to climb when you are dizzy.

Today I struggled on a route that I did successfully last week (they put in a big handhold for another route in exactly the wrong place to stop me from balancing where there are no handholds), and then when that didn't work, I climbed a 5.11A. Okay, with a little help from the rope, and I used the crack in the wall (I'm never sure whether you are allowed to use the crack or not). And it was my favorite kind of climb, with big bulby handholds far apart (tall people unite). I hate little handholds. They make my fingers cramp up.

"How far do you fall when you fall?" my mom asked. Since I am a 'fraidy cat about falling, I hardly fall any distance at all. Yesterday I was climbing with someone new, who didn't pull the rope tight when I said, "take," and so I just let go of the wall to rest my hands and fell about two feet. Which is fine, except that I was struggling with that route, and losing those two feet of climbing when you are dizzy and hungry and just want to go home is rough. The good news is that I've gotten way more comfortable with falling over the last week or two. Before that, I just clung to the wall like a burr rather than risk falling when I probably could have made the next move.

Climbing is so much fun.







02 October 2016

sharp

At one point last week, I had five bandaids on my body. 

Two of them were from the dermatologist's office. She scraped off a mole - benign - and cut out a dermatofibroma - also benign. One of those (the dermatofibroma) did (does) have five stitches, though. It was 6 mm, she said, which alarmed me just a tad when I went home and consulted Dr. Google, because Dr. Google said that the average melanoma is diagnosed when it is 6 mm. 

I read that, and then I forgot about the whole thing, other than the itching - oh, the itching - until a week had gone by and I didn't get a call about the results. Apparently benign results that don't require followup aren't at the top of their list of priorities. 

For the other three bandaids, though, I have no excuse. 

My coworker brought in a block of cheese that she wasn't eating. Because she wasn't eating it, it had gotten hard on one side, and I needed to cut off the hard part to get to the good stuff.

As I put the very sharp, serrated knife against the cheese, I thought to myself, "Cutting upward like this is not a good idea," and then I continued to think (or not think, as the case may be), "Nah, it will be fine."

It was not fine. I had six long, bleeding scratches from the serrations, one bleeding round spot without skin, and I cut a chunk out of my knuckle. I thought the knuckle might need stitches, but there wasn't enough skin to stitch it together (it was a triangular hole), so I pressed on it for a while and then sealed it off with a bandaid. And then put two more on the rest of the open wounds. 

Someday, I will learn to handle sharp objects with the respect they need. 

27 September 2016

spider

Over Labor Day, J. and I drove down to that One Big State that takes up most of the west coast. We met some friends of his, who drove up from the south to meet us at a great location for climbing.

So, about climbing. I like climbing. If you give me a rock wall with reasonably large variations in it, I will scramble right up it.

Real rock climbing, though, involves walls that do not appear to have anything to hold onto.

I failed. Twice. I kinda choked, because the wall was harder than anything I've ever tried.

It was frustrating for someone who is mostly fearless about heights except for a tiny itty bitty little (small) fear of falling. Also a twinge of perfectionism. 

So I signed myself up for women's climbing clinic out on a big rock formation in the middle of State of Happiness on one of the weekends that J. was in Spain. 

I drove myself out there in my new car, the back full of tent and bedding (the comfy version of camping: foam pad and real sheets). I found a campsite in campground with a creepy name in a national wild land with another creepy name. Turns out the camp manager was also one of those older guys who calls every woman sweetie or honey or darling. So, maybe creepy? It's hard to tell with old men. I reserved judgment.

I went into Central Ski Town for dinner, which was more like 4 pm because I hadn't managed to eat lunch and was dizzy with hunger, and then bought a bunch of (somewhat necessary) stuff at Re!, and then settled into my tent by about 9 pm. 

I laid there in the dark, realizing that I'd never gone camping alone before, not real camping, not with only a tent between nature (cougars! rattlesnakes!) and me. Always before there have been other people around. People I knew, not just the strangers in campsites 50 feet away. I wasn't sure if I would sleep, but I did.

In the morning, we gathered at the climbing supply store, a group of women between 23 and 50. We'd all climbed before, some only inside, and we all wanted to learn.

We did. We learned to build an anchor up at the top of a pitch and to clean the anchor to rappel back down after everyone is done climbing. We climbed.

And then we hit a pitch that I couldn't climb. My confidence was up, because I'd been climbing, but this one didn't seem to have handholds. At all. 

The usual thing that people do when this happens, when they are standing below you, is to yell things like, "Try to the right of your left knee. Can you get a foothold there?" 

These women, though, they knew. They knew that it wasn't just about telling me where to reach. It was about giving me the knowledge that I didn't have to find a perfect handhold to try another step. "You won't find handholds here," one of them said. "Your hands are just for balance. Your feet move you up."

And so I put my hands flat against the wall and did exactly as the climbers say: I trusted my feet. I stood up on the tiniest little bit of incline, on my rubber shoes, and it worked. I climbed the wall like a spider, and at the top I got to undo the entire anchor and re-loop the rope through and do my favorite thing about climbing: I rappelled down the side of the rock, reminding myself to look around at this beautiful place and enjoy every moment.