Archive for October, 2010

Something Cool

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

I ran across this at the UK Daily Mail (one of my guilty pleasures).  The other photos on that site are pretty spectacular as well (and this one’s resolution is probably better there, too).

Award Winning Photo of Leaf Cutter Ants

On our first trip to Costa Rica, on the day we discovered the Iguana Azul, we walked over a column of Leaf Cutter ants…who were merrily chopping down a hedge.  Iguana Man informed me that they can denude large foliage within hours.  Like all ants, the workers WORK!  They were fascinating to watch, in a continuous parade with seeming umbrellas perched on their backs as they marched along.  This photo was taken in Costa Rica, I’m not quite sure where.  It makes me homesick, alas.

~ Blonde Gator

Hotels and the “AutoHotel”

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Well, I’ve been goofing off long enough, and it’s time to get back to the blog.  I unfortunately didn’t keep up with our adventures while on the road, but I still have plenty of great stories to share.

One of the questions we were asked early on in the trip is “how are you planning for lodging?”  To tell the truth, we didn’t.  We more or less picked our “get to” destination each morning, and then let the chips fall where they may.  We also tried to pick an end point each day that ensured we didn’t have to drive after dark…in the States we made it from Ft. Lauderdale to Pensacola (about 650 miles) in one day.  In Central America, depending upon the country and roads, we typically shot for 200 – 350 miles a day.   In Mexico, there are autopistas where you can average 75 mph, and in Guatemala & Honduras, sometimes 25 mph is a good clip.  It all depends.

Our lodgings ran the gamut from really cheap (but clean) for $12 (including parking), to high end and fabulous (where they washed the car in the morning) for about $70.  Everywhere we stayed we either had on-site secure parking, or secure (paid) parking within a few blocks.   The thing you need to know about hotels in Central America is that they are not like hotels here.  They are not big stand-alone buildings (although they do have some American-style places like that).  They are usually in a city (and the road signs and hotel signs are practically non-existant)…mixed in with residential and commercial areas. 

We tried very hard to drive only until 3:30 or so each day so as not to over drive the daylight.  We (mostly me….for insisting we go just “a little bit farther”) missed the stop-early-enough-to-find-a-nice-place-to-stay mark a couple of times.  Fortunately, there were no disastrous consequences, but alot of annoyance.  The other thing we found was that the locals are not adept at giving concise directions, which also caused a couple of after-dark lashing about moments.  It’s kind of a hunt and peck to find the one and only hotel in town, and the darkness (and in one instance fog) doesn’t help one iota.  In the larger towns we usually had a choice of accomodations, but often times the one we’d prefer was full.   If I had one thing to do over, it would be to build in a 45 minute buffer to the “must stop now” time each day, and never break that rule. 

It is quite usual in Central America to ask to see the accomodations before deciding to stay for the night, so we’d often check a couple of different places before deciding where to hang it up for the night.  I don’t recall ever seeing dirty accomodations, but sometimes we’d pass, mainly due to stairs, no air conditioning, a “marital bed” (full size), or inadequate parking.  The other unusual thing about hotels is that they often have family rooms, a big bed, multiple twins, and hammocks for the kidlets. 

And now, to the point of this story.  In Central America, they have this quaint custom called the “autohotel”….which I suppose we nortamericanos would call a hot sheet joint.  When you’re on the road, there is plenty of colorful advertising for the upcoming autohotels….usually neon colors and lots of hearts involved.   We met some kids on our way down who had stayed in an autohotel on their way back to the States, with two babies in tow.  The husband wasn’t quite aware of what the concept was all about, but thought it was pretty cool he didn’t have to pay for a whole night!!

On our first trip to Costa Rica, it was explained to us that the autohotel is a perfectly acceptable form of entertainment….for married couples to get away from their big families for a few hours of privacy, or, more covertly, for dating couples (all of the old catholic mores apply, although the younger generation has thrown the “proper appearances” thing to the wind, apparently).  

Well, on our travels, we checked out a couple of these autohotels when we were running out of lodging options, but managed to find superior accomodations until our next to last night out of the U.S.  After a long drive from the interior, we made it through Tampico (me again saying “just a bit further”, knowing that the big, American style hotels on the main drag were going to be expensive) to the north side of town, where I figured there would be plenty of small, family style places that would have been just fine for an overnight stop.  Wrong I was! 

The poor Iguana Man was on his last nerve after driving all day, so we stopped at an autohotel.  The set-up is thus (for almost all of them we passed on our trip):  a walled compound (sometimes with a manned gate)….you drive in, and there are two story “rooms”…the bottom is a garage door, so you pull into an open unit, the man gets out and closes the garage door.   This allows for anonymity.  You go upstairs to the room (and take your bags if you are staying overnight, LOL).  There’s a little pass-through in the door, and after a bit, a person knocks on your door, asks how long you’d like the room, and you pay. 

The autohotel room we had was very nice, rather sexy in its furnishings, and, unfortunately it also came with X-rated television, when all I really wanted was mindless dumb nothing programming.  It also had a little mini-bar.  Oh yes, and it was short on plugs and without internet for the computers…but hey, I don’t think our stay was what they had in mind!  However, it was perfectly adequate for an overnight stop when all you want is a comfortable bed and a good supply of hot water.

The hotels on our trip were really rather a fun part of the adventure.  For the most part, the desk staff personnel all spoke English, and were intrigued at the crazy gringos driving through their countries.  To a person, they were all overwhelmingly happy to accomodate us (unlike some of the surly desk clerks here in the U.S.).  I could tell you about individual hotels, and the people we met, and perhaps I shall do that yet.  We met some incredibly lovely people that way on our travels, from the desk clerk who made sure the cook came in early for our breakfast, to the floor polisher who happily recited the local historical and tourist sites until we had to politely break free.   I really miss that part of being on the road.

~ Blonde Gator

Note to readers:  I should have known better than to use the word “sexy”…you should see some of the idiot comments I’m getting here.  But lucky for you, I have full moderation on, and they will never see the comment section.  Also, my pal Gio showed me how to filter for certain words, so those ugly e-mails never even hit my moderate queue. 

Anyway, I thought it was a funny story and an interesting Latin American cultural detail, so I’m leaving my post exactly as is.

The Empress Has An Anniversary

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Tomorrow, ten years to the day after Friday, October 13, 2000….I went to the PetSmart to buy some dog food for Wiley (the greyhound, big old marble-eyed dog I miss, so much). 

So….I thought I’d just amuse myself by looking in the Humane Society room, at the cage full of kittens…climbing up and down, acting like kittens.  Don’t get me wrong, I love kittens, but I will never have another one.  They bite with little razor teeth, and have little razor claws, climb up the curtains, etc.  But they are awfully cute.

Soooo….as I was checking out the amusing kittens….I walked around the room and what to my wondering eyes should appear?  A beautiful watermelon tabby cat.  Who’d been in the hoosegow for almost six months.  I asked the attendant if I could open the cage….and said cat (an obviously young, but adult cat) jumped into my arms and purred. 

Well…..the adoption fee was $75….so after a quick run across the street to the ATM….I now had another member of my little animal family.

And that was ten years ago.

Six cats have owned me….this one is the absolute best.  She comes when I call her (mostly), always waited for me to come home from work, babysits Blonde Mom, just makes me happy, and is generally more like a dog than a cat.  Last and best, she knows better than to disturb me when I sleep.

Happy Anniversary, Payton.

Payton ~ the Empress....knows clean when she sits on it

~ Blonde Gator