Together for far too short a time

Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone – Andy Stanley

IMG_5528.JPG

Wednesday evening, the bus delivered us safely home and we climbed the steep road to the Unbound center in the soft darkness. Another full day of visits – to a school, coffee plantation, and native animal rescue center – had left us weary, but content. For me, this was the moment that I had been anticipating for a very long time. Dixie was here somewhere, perhaps getting ready for tonight’s “fancy dress” dinner.

A cluster of people stood waiting, though, and there she was, wrapping her arms around me in a huge hug that might have lasted forever. It had been a long bus ride for Dixie, her mother Dalia, and social promoter Maria. And, it turned out, Dixie was just recovering from a virus and almost hadn’t been able to travel. Dinner was dressy in a casual, summery kind of way, made special by colorful decorations, abundant food, and an escort to our table. We visited and talked, all of us feeling a bit shy, then headed for bed. I was happy that we would have a whole day of activities together tomorrow, too.

I hope you’ll understand when I say that Unbound’s philosophies resonate within the context of much of what they do. For our day of fun, the activities were simple, creative, and brought us together in laughter and sharing. It’s best to tell the story in pictures:

IMG_5614.JPG
One of Dixie’s biggest smiles of the day, with me and her mother Dalia.

 

IMG_5609.JPG
Lifting our voices in a song that transcended the barriers of language…it was Kum Bay Ya!

 

img_5684.jpg
Zumba lessons, and then a piñata, brought a festive end to the day.

 

There was so much that I wanted to know about this goddaughter whose letters take months to travel back and forth. Her small nephew Dilan Jesus came to life in videos on their surprisingly nice phone and I learned he would be joined in a month by another baby nephew. I tried to describe snow and they a village close to Nicaragua where life was so much different. But in our laughter and my terrible Spanish there was community and a yearning to become family. In the end, they missed their bus and I’m not sure why. Thus they stayed another night, a blessing that let Dixie sleep away the time from late that afternoon to early the next morning. She was still ill and even had a fever. In the morning, there was no putting off the goodbyes that came so hard. I will just have to come back!

IMG_5695.JPG

 

 

 

There just aren’t words

And for the rest of our time in Costa Rica, there were no words, at least not on WordPress and my blog. The internet went down and never came back the same. I’m safely in Charlotte now on the way home. The story continues, beginning with the post I was writing as the sun rose on Wednesday morning.

The first hug just might be the best!

To reach the Guanacaste area, we traveled northwest, losing elevation and gaining some impressive heat and humidity. We passed the Pacific port of Cartera and saw the sea. A showy flowering tree in yellow or pinkish-white (Corteza amarilla or blanca) kept company with plantain, mango, pineapple, and teak trees for lumber export.

We were welcomed with such love into three villages. There were heart-wrenching stories and heart-warming fellowship, home visits and Circles of Hope hard at work. And if you gave us music, we had to dance!
  

This photo is for Dad!

  

The Guanacaste tree inspired the name of this, the farthest west of the country’s seven provinces. In the local indigenous language, the word means “ear,” the shape of the tree’s shiny brown seed pods.

A friend for the day, in a village where we drank fresh coconut milk straight from the coconut.

And if you gave us food, boy could we eat. Fried fish, fabulous fruit, local cheese, and below, samples of local treats, the gift of a group of mothers. I tried their rice pudding and papaya salsa on tortillas – both yummy!
  

The Juvenile Leadership Academy brings two young people from each project together to inspire and equip them to teach their peers back home. Within Unbound and also the universities, volunteering is a huge component of their programs. All of our young translators earned nothing for their week of helping us to understand not only the words, but also the culture and realities of life there. Just one of many reasons to rededicate myself to the mission of Unbound. More soon! 

  

Within a Circle of Hope

Yes, Maine, there are still flowers and ferns. Blue skies, intense sun, low humidity, a breeze – I could be writing an alluring travel brochure. That was Sunday’s weather. Today and tomorrow (Monday/Tuesday) will take us on a four-hour bus ride for an overnight stay in the hot and humid Guanacaste area. Today the first of us will meet our sponsored friends.

  

On Sunday,  we explored the history and evolving future of Unbound. It was 1981 when four Catholic siblings and one of their friends had the courage to act on a dream. They were a housewife, a lawyer, a banker, and two long-time missionaries…each with talents to bring.

The Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, as the organization was called then, had their first office in Bob Hentzen’s basement. The five sent their first letter soliciting sponsors to the people on their Christmas card lists. All five are gone now, but we are blessed to have Bob’s wife Cristina (top left below) as part of our group for the whole week.

  
Unbound’s work is personalized to the needs of each country. Here in Costa Rica, the framework for achieving change within communities is found within the Circles of Hope, parent groups who focus on fellowship, building self-esteem and starting local businesses. Mothers organize the letter writing, and even track finances. In a monumental change, parents have been given the authority to spend their benefits themselves, although spending by category is little changed as a result. 

Below…four mothers brought their coffee-roasting business to us for the day, showing us the process from beans toasting in an iron pot over a fire to the finished packaged product. They buy high-altitude coffee beans and go from there, producing as many as 100 small bags in a day. At the end, we tried the freshly brewed café with tamal asado, a local dense, moist bread reminiscent of flan or corn pudding.

    

 
The evening brought a travel serendipity that all began when my hand shot up of its own accord, volunteering to be a reader at mass. Never mind that I am not Catholic and even all my new Catholic friends weren’t sure what worship here would be like.

Hours later I was processing in through the arch below, with incense and altar boys, berobed priests and a friendly woman who I was to follow in reading a responsive psalm. It was strange and wonderful and, if I survived without messing up, it was going to be a fabulous memory. Soon, I was standing inches from the priest as clouds of incense engulfed us and I peered over his shoulder at a beautifully decorated Bible.

The best part, though, was to kneel and say a prayer for Dixie. 

  

Bienvenido… with Unbound in San José de la Montaña, Costa Rica


Another adventure awaits. Yesterday I flew in over Cuba to the capital of Costa Rica, San José.  Staff and fellow travelers from our Unbound group were waiting with warm smiles and a bright and familiar sign as I came out of customs. My $100 became almost 50,000 colorful colones.

Unbound, the wonderful organization through which I sponsor Fredy and Dixie, offers awareness trips in the 19 countries where they work. This will be my first one. Waiting in my comfortable single room with bath was this welcome letter from Dixie. Our hearts are so full as we anticipate meeting each other. That will happen Wednesday!

The Unbound center where we are staying looks down over the city from an elevation of over 5,300 feet. This morning, we sit visiting at the start of a glorious sunny day, cool from the elevation, drinking rich local coffee as a blend of Spanish and English surrounds us.

I’ve learned a new expression. If you ask me how I’m doing, I’ll say, “Pura vida,” life is good.

Summing it up – 35 days aboard the Rotterdam

Well, it wasn’t the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, that’s for sure.  I think you’d agree , though, that I am a look-on-the-bright-side kind of person and the cruising life has more than its share of bright sides.

Here are my top ten…

10. The carpet in the elevators changes daily and tells you what day of the week it is. (Not that it matters, because there is NO WORK)

9. The amazing, caring, friendly crew

img_4915cropped
The Filipino and Indonesian crew members each held a daytime show featuring their country’s music, dance and traditional dress. Rehearsals were done on their own time, often late at night after working a full and tiring day. Our wine steward turned out to be an accomplished singer and our assistant dining room steward played a mean bass guitar.

8. Swimming when the pool has ocean waves surging from one end to the other in rough seas

7. Rediscovering reading as a means of gleaning information

6. For example, learning about fulmars, which accompanied us for days at sea. I had identified them from my birds of Europe book, but found a great book on the Arctic in the ship’s library. Breeding season finds fulmars in isolated cliff colonies, where the female lays a single egg on the bare cliff, then incubates it for a long 2 months. Potential predators are attacked by vomiting a noxious stomach oil on them, which impedes flying and ruins the insulating properties of the feathers.

5. The art on the ship

p1000815
On the Rotterdam, works of art await discovery all around the ship.

 

4. Crossing the Arctic Circle

img_4839
My official certificate brings back fond memories of the evening we spent watching the GPS as we approached the Arctic Circle, that imaginary line of latitude above which there is at least one day each of total darkness and total light every year.

 

3. Passing the final resting place of the HMS Hood, sunk May 24, 1941 in the Battle of the Denmark Strait. The captain sounded a somber, respectful signal as we gazed out over the ocean, empty except for the memories.

 

Declared a war grave by the British government, the HMS Hood lies 9,200 feet below. Only 3 sailors survived the sinking.

 

2. The large, colorful atlas takes on new meaning when you are on its pages.

1. Walking the promenade deck to work off all those Belgian waffles

So, farewell Vikings, at least until we can return to Newfoundland to visit the settlement that was located there, not so far after all from Maine!

A gift on the homeward way – Prince Christian Sound reprised, Nanortalik, Greenland, then home along the Canadian coast (Aug. 17 and beyond)

Note of apology: More than a month of life has happened since my last post. It took an email from a friend that I didn’t know I had, waiting in my inbox yesterday, to nudge me back to Laurie’s Adventures. And just in the nick of time, as we have a small adventure planned this weekend. All that is written below was composed on the ship, just never posted. I promise one more post tomorrow to finish up, then I’m off Saturday morning to explore and camp on a new Maine lake with two of my favorite people, Megan and Jacob.

Thoughts of home loom larger every day and my energy for new places and experiences, for photography and blogging, is waning. This philosophical, attitudinal segue into returning home is a natural defense mechanism, I believe. The mundane details of life await…a car recall, a haircut, and the scurry of the first days of school.

The stunningly beautiful and intriguingly historical slice of the world that we have tasted over the last five weeks has saturated me with travel, for now, and brought home to me the simple joys of living in Maine. As the dreamy days of summer there race by without me, I am ready to return and snatch a bit of swimming and another lobster.

The exquisite view of Prince Christian Sound (on another blue and gold day, but with some fog) from our favorite lunch spot by the pool.

Prince Christian Sound stretches for 36 stunning miles. Except for a tiny weather station at its mouth and a small village of 130 people, near the center, it is a place of isolation. This time through, I saw the town and wondered which of the colorful cluster of buildings were the school, the church, and the general store. It was warmer this passage and I sat on a deck chair, soaking up the sun, and scanning the shore for wildlife or potential camp sites.

Our glimpse of Aappilattoq was poignant, knowing that for most of the year this place is inaccessible except by helicopter. Can you spot the huddled buildings?

 

Nanortalik from atop a huge glacial erratic at the outdoor folk museum.

 

This photo, the last that I took in Nanortalik, was one of my entries in the ship’s photography contest. I didn’t win, but had fun comparing notes with other photographers.

Yesterday, in St. John’s, Newfoundland, I took very few photos and we have just one more port (Halifax, Nova Scotia) tomorrow. My mother has been battling an upper respiratory infection and we have been slowing down our activities. Already plotting a return trip to the farthest tip of Newfoundland, I felt no urgency to visit each and every landmark.

The cliffside trail to the tower where Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901 will be here when we return. So, too, with the churches and colorful houses along Jelly Bean Row that we missed yesterday. Instead, we concentrated on The Rooms, St. John’s new (2005) museum complex perched high above the city. The World War I exhibit, in particular, pulled me in, with its personalized memorial to the incredible bravery and tragic experiences of the Newfoundland soldiers, particularly in the battle of the Somme. Go there if you can. The mechanisms of the museum exhibits are superb and the content germane and moving. We finished our day by trying cod tongues, which were infinitely superior as a novelty than they were in taste and texture. They were my culinary adventure for this cruise.

For those of you who have liked or commented or simply followed my journey, know that those touches of interest kept me writing, persevering through the trials of internet access. To those of you who will soon welcome us home or stop in for a visit, we eagerly anticipate seeing familiar faces and listening to the stories of your summers. For those further afield, in Mongolia or flip-flopping around on the AT or sunning in Croatia, may you travel safely and well until we are together once again. (Of course, all those folks are now safely home and have been in touch. What a summer we all had!)

You’re closer to heaven on the mountain – Isafjordur, Iceland (Aug. 15)

 

One tiny house gives perspective to the view
 
No history, no churches…just the story of a day of climbing, swimming, writing, and having tea in a bakery. Thanks to a young couple I met right off the ship, I set my sights on a scramble up and up above the small town. 
 
A tiny rock garden on the mountainside
 
 
Many thousands of blueberries, twice as big as ours, were sprinkled liberally on the steep slope.
 

Beauty at your feet…just look carefully, for these are tiny, tiny flowers.

 

There’s the Rotterdam, waiting patiently, as long as I’m “home” by 4:30!
 

After the climb, I swam in the town’s public pool, this one smaller and indoors, since there is no geothermal heat in this NW corner of the country. Those of you reading along since early on will be delighted to know that I now have a group of daily swimming friends, including “snorkel man,” who has visited all the public pools along the way. Well, it has been a delight to have tea, sweets, and INTERNET. Talk more soon!

At home with Nonni – Akureyri, Iceland (Aug. 14)

For a magical hour last evening, whales were everywhere as we approached the end of the fjord. Days ago, the captain had said something that resonated with me. Don’t spend all your time looking at these wonders from behind your camera. So there are no whale photos, but some incredible memories. Whales breaching, one for 4 or 5 times in a row in the same spot. Another rolling on his back and waving hello with just his flippers showing. More showing a long length of shiny black back, before diving to reveal an iconic whale tail. A great ending to the day Mom and I spent together in Akureyri!

  

Long ago, a small boy named Jon Svensson, called “Nonni” for short, was growing up here in the north of Iceland in a traditional wooden house with impossibly small and crooked doorways. Yesterday, ducking through those doorways after climbing the steep attic stairs, I could just picture Nonni’s life,  filled with the adventures he would later share as a beloved children’s author.  Like Laura Ingalls Wilder, a nation loves his stories of growing up in a simpler time.

 

Out of curiosity, I had bought one of Nonni’s books on eBay months ago. It was the true story of the day he and his brother were rescued by a French Navy ship, after drifting out to sea in the fog and having a close encounter with whales. Before their rescue, the boys made a vow to God to become Jesuit priests, like St. Francis in one of their storybooks. It was a vow that Jon later fulfilled, even though his family was Lutheran!
  
Mom and I were on an official (incredibly expensive) Holland America bus tour, a first for me. Our other stop was Laufas, an ancient manor farm with traditional turf-clad timber buildings and a church.

  
   

The farm property contained an eider duck nesting area that provided a large income from the sale of the eider down. In 1880, unbelievably, down was gathered from 5,520 abandoned eider nests.

The smooth waters of the fjord are like a mirror, with water so pure that most people safely drink it unfiltered. On the hillsides, sheep roam wild all summer, ranging from high mountain fields to the shore, where they also eat seaweed. The most interesting fact we learned was how Icelandic people are named: a first name and then a last name indicating whose son or daughter they are. I would be Laurie Georgedaughter (in Icelandic) and my brother would be Gregory Georgeson! This amazingly still happens today. I took the photo below in a cemetery today.

 

A wife does not take her husband’s last name and a family could all have different last names.
 
 

It doesn’t rain in the pubs – Belfast, Northern Ireland (Aug. 11)

The 46-foot high elliptical dome was added to the Palm House in 1852.
The spirits of strolling Victorian ladies lingered along the curving paths.

The Palm House, in the city’s Botanic Gardens, is classic Victorian and one of the oldest curvilinear iron and glass structures surviving. Visiting was a step back in time to the 1840’s budding passion for horticulture and glasshouses. Longing for some quiet time, I wandered through the rose and English country gardens to the eclectic and inexpensive Ulster Museum, right next door. I am still endeavoring to understand the many layers of Irish history and culture, from the Stone Age through “The Troubles,” Celts and kings, Romans and Vikings, tremendous sacrifices of life during World War I and now a city trying to heal itself.
 

The delicate white Belleek china display was as gorgeous as any painting.
 

The antlers of the giant deer, extinct now in Ireland for 10,000 years, could reach 3.6 meters, making it the largest deer that ever lived. The museum’s antlers were smaller, but still impressive. Nearby was a pickled coelacanth, the thought-to-be-extinct fish whose rediscovery in 1938 by fishermen in South Africa was the subject of one of my childhood books. The crown jewel of this museum is its collection of artifacts from the 1588 wreck of the Girona, a ship of the Spanish armada. The gold first catches your eye, but it is the mute, everyday items that speak most eloquently of the almost 1,300 lives that were lost that day.

Peace murals tell a bittersweet story of violence and hope.

The young woman who narrated our city bus tour dreams of the day when the peace walls separating sections of Belfast can be taken down. Peace here has been a long time coming and in places seems more a hope than a reality. Everywhere there are symbols of that dream – a statue of two people reaching out to hold hands across a tiny brook. A hospital surrounded by a twisting metal fence made to look like DNA, a reminder that inside we have so much in common. Yet, we also saw a road that is closed and gated each night from 6 to 6 for safety reasons, in this city where 90% of schoolchildren still attend segregated schools. More than ever, I am grateful to have been a small part of the Friends Forever program back in Maine, where our local Rotary brought Catholic and Protestant teens to Maine from Belfast and nearby Carrickfergus, to begin the building of relationships in a new generation.

“It doesn’t rain in the pubs,” an older gentleman told me, after asking me why all of Belfast’s rainy weather was a blessing.
The alleys and nooks of the Cathedral Quarter are filled wiith street art just waiting to be discovered (and many of the city’s oldest and finest pubs as well).

A grand lordly life -Castletown, Isle of Man, U.K. (Aug. 10)

The Isle of Man is a green, hilly island that was part of Norway until the 1200’s. A stronghold for the Vikings, it was actually the last Viking king Magnus who began the construction of Castle Rushen, the focus of our day’s travel. The Vikings also introduced the island’s four-horned sheep, which strangely have two curly and two straight horns. Mom is bringing home some of the dark brown yarn made from their wool to knit a hat. We seem to have discovered more typical weather, but were cozily inside a first-class railcar on our way back for the worst of the rain. Here is our day in photos:

The steam railway carried us from Douglas to Castletown, by the sea, through rustic stone tunnels and alongside fields of grazing sheep, to an authentic medieval castle.

 

On the crowded way out, I shared a car with a group from Cornwall, who taught me how to greet the faeries who live beneath the bridges.

 

The castle gardens fill what was once the keep.

 

The portcullis would trap enemies at the castle entrance, allowing guards above to hurl stones or arrows down through three “murder holes.” Most of the castle is original.

 

 

Looking down from the top of Castle Rushen at a few of my Cornwall friends.

O’Kelly’s ale battered fish, mushy peas, and hand cut chips were the fare at The George Hotel, where we lunched after we found “there was no food on today” at the local pub.