Introducing My New Favorite Animal: The Sloth

Check out the beautiful smile on this sloth!

Check out the beautiful smile on this sloth!

When we went to Costa Rica, one of my highlights was discovering…the sloth!  It appears to be so peaceful and cute with its beautiful smile.  Its activities pretty much hold true to its name:  it uses very little energy to hang out in trees and it crawls at a snail’s pace from one place to another.  In fact, during one of our hikes, we discovered a three-toed sloth crossing the road.  I stared at it for 30 minutes – it moved about 12 inches.  Watch out for its claws which can cause some serious damage if you get too close.

I actually begged and pleaded with my husband to get one as a pet but alas, a lazy slow-moving sloth trapped in a NYC apartment wouldn’t have been cool.

Sloths are interesting creatures.  3 Fun Facts:

1.  Most two-toed and three-toed sloths live only in Central and South America and they eat mainly leaves.

2.  Although they’re super slow on land, they’re actually amazing fast swimmers in the water.

3.  Once a week, they climb down from the trees and poo / pee in the same spot and then climb back up again.

Swinging sloth - this guy can stay up in the trees for days.

Swinging sloth – this guy can stay up in the trees for days.

How long does it take for a sloth to cross the road?  Apparently a VERY long time.

I spent 30 minutes staring at this sloth crossing the road.  It moved about 12 inches.

I Bumped into a Donkey Carrying Chickens, Goats and Sheep While Trekking in Nepal

Poor donkey carried a dozen chickens and a box of food up the mountain (Nepal)

Poor donkey carried a dozen chickens and a box of food up the mountain (Nepal)

One of the coolest things about trekking in Nepal is that you never know what to expect when walking up a mountain.  Check out this donkey transporting a dozen chickens in metal crates and a heavy box of food.

And everywhere I went, goats seemed to dominate the roads.

Goats and more goats during my trek to Gorepani (Nepal)

Several times, we had to stop and wait for thirty minutes before all the sheep crossed the river.  (Notice how some of the sheep are separated by the spray-painted pink spot on them)

Get out of the way Sheep!  I'm trying to hike here...

Get out of the way Sheep! I’m trying to hike here…

And let me add that it’s unbelievable how much sherpas can carry up the mountains.  How many chickens and bags are on this guy’s back??

Wow give this guy a chai tea break!

Wow give this guy a chai tea break!

I hope the container was empty!  What a load.

I hope the container was empty! What a load.

And I made it to the top of Gurung Hill at 3150 meters!

DSCF2975

Beautiful views of Tadapani during my trek:

Woo hoo!  Made it to the top.  (Tadapani

Woo hoo! Made it to the top.

 

On a Quest for Tea Cups When I Discovered Olives, Cheese and Nuts

How much Turkish Delight can one get in a scoop?

How much Turkish Delight can one get in a scoop?

On my last day in Istanbul, I turned the corner from the Galanta Bridge and discovered the Egyptian Spice Market.  I needed to find these cool looking tea cups I saw at my hotel.  They had wide grooves for your thumb to balance a hot cup of tea so that the hot liquid wouldn’t slip onto my lap.  The restaurant staff said to go to the Egyptian Spice Market which has been around since 1664 – you can find anything you want.

No kidding – this market was packed with everything under the sun for sale:  nuts, cheese, Turkish coffee, olives, and of course spices.  Every section of the place that took more than an hour to traverse through was a reminder of the unique aspects of Turkish food that made each one of our meals in Turkey so special.

Our first stop was a shop that sold fresh slices of goat cheese cooling in a see-through case.  Phenomenal chunks of cheese decorated our salads every day and I only wish I could’ve brought back buckets of cheese to the U.S.

Goat cheese galore!

Goat cheese galore!

And the olives!  My husband and I gorged on them throughout our trip down the west coast of Turkey.  They melted in our mouth.  Every region had their own special olives and the owners proudly displayed them in jars with their signature labels on the front.  Prior to coming to Turkey, I always thought there were two kinds of olives: green or brown. I discovered so many different types of olives, each distinguishable by taste and texture.  Now at this market, the colorful olives, glistening in olive oil, sat in buckets as the vendor stood over them bellowing out prices.

DSCN3434 When we turned the corner, I smelled morning coffee.  Several stalls in a row sold fresh ground coffee and my husband fought to get in line for a bag. Then another row of stalls that sold nuts and more nuts.

And what about the tea cups?  The outer perimeter of stalls featured cups, saucers, tea pots and anything handy in the kitchen.  “No, I don’t want to buy 100 of them,” I said as clerks pushed for me to purchase in bulk.  I flashed a picture of my unique tea cups, but no one seemed to know.

Too many nuts to choose from

Too many nuts to choose from

I almost gave up when I spotted the special thumb-grooved tea cups on a bottom shelf and while I was at it, I bought a beautiful tea pot to go with it.  Arms loaded with our bounty from the market, we were now ready to go to the airport for the long trip home.  I was sad to say good bye to my market that was a refreshing reminder of every special food I ate throughout my trip.

Finally, I found my prized tea cup!

Finally, I found my prized tea cup!

 

Cezare – an Old Friend & His Message of Hope

Eduardo, Maria and Cezare

Eduardo, Maria and Cezare

As soon as we walked in the door, Cezare shouted enthusiastically:  “Please, sit down!”  “You must stay for a long time!” and “Please, you will have lunch with us!”  Then came the food:  BBQ pork ribs, cheese, salad, bread and saucisson.

“Oh my god, we just ate at IHOP.  I can’t eat any of this,” said my stepdaughter Prescilla through clenched teeth.

“Ssshh,” I said.  “Let’s be nice to Daddy’s friend.  They haven’t seen each other in years.”

Earlier that day, we were driving through Matawan, NJ where my husband Eduardo had lived for 12 years during his previous marriage.  So many memories, I thought as he pointed out his old hang-out spots.  Then we drove past a house with its neatly manicured lawns and colorful flowers that decorated the front.

“He’s alive!” he said.  “Let’s go in and visit.”

Cezare was Eduardo’s neighbor and their back lawns used to be connected.  At 85 years old, Cezare was still strong as an ox and cared for his garden long after retiring as a landscaper. For more than a decade, their friendship strengthened.  After spending hours doing yard work, the men would relax and chat over homemade wine and eat his famous grilled Sicilian ribs.

Then over time, as his marriage started to disintegrate, Eduardo spent less time taking care of his backyard.  Cezare saw less of his friend, and then the visits stopped altogether when Eduardo moved away to NYC.  That was eight years ago.

A delicious Italian lunch for us (that was our second lunch that day!)

A delicious Italian lunch for us (that was our second lunch that day!)

Cezare couldn’t stop beaming the moment we walked in.  First the look of surprise at seeing his old friend after all these years.  Then a flurry of English, Spanish and Italian words as they caught up on each other’s lives.  They understood each other and that’s what mattered.  Eduardo looked so happy to be reunited with his old friend.

When Cezare first greeted me, he pulled me close and kissed me on the cheek.  Then he shook my hand so firmly that I thought it was going to fall off.  He looked great for his age and I could tell from his tanned face and weathered skin that he still spent most of his waking hours outside taking care of his beautiful garden.

His wife Maria was lovely too – she was a plump Italian mom who couldn’t stop serving us food.  “You married good man,” she told me with her thumbs up.

During our meal, in broken English, Cezare shared about his grandson getting married and how it was harder for him to get around and take care of his garden now that he was older.  “Your baby?” he asked, probably referring to how Eduardo had a little baby at the time.  He laughed and pointed at Prescilla, “She’s not a baby anymore.  She’s 14!”

After much eating (after all, it was our second lunch!), and  as we were getting ready to leave, Cezare looked pensive.  He quietly asked what had happened.  Eduardo said that back then he had to leave, that his marriage had ended and he needed to move on.  I sensed the feeling of loneliness that Cezare must’ve felt years ago when his friend had left without saying goodbye.  And that for many years, he probably wondered if Eduardo was happy and If he’d ever see his dear friend again.  He was like a son to him.

Then Cezare patted Eduardo on the back and said, “Ah you happy.  You have new family.  Good!”  Then he boomed out an Italian phrase with the words “prima vida” over and over again as we headed to the car.

Later I asked Eduardo what Cezare had said before we left.  He grinned and said, “After a difficult period, sometimes you reach the prime of your life.”

Yes, I think that’s true.

 

 

The Same Sky Cafe: A Successful Evening of Travel Story-Telling

IMG_3487What do a wandering yak, a marooned couple with a jetski and a sad Laotian woman reminiscing about the war all have in common?  They are stories from The Same Sky Cafe: Travel Readings from Debbie & Friends.  And what a turnout!  62+ people showed up to celebrate our evening of storytelling on June 17th in NYC at the K-Lounge, a comfy lounge with delicious Indian food.  I shared readings from my published travel memoir The Same Sky including a harrowing yet intriguing story about how I got arrested in Tibet.  There were fab readings from CeCe Yuan about a Paris mishap and  Mackenzie Miller who read a delightful piece about self-reflection and traveling.

Then Sandra Pike took us on a photo journey to Cambodia and Burma, peppered with heartwarming stories along the way.  The Mom Wong Monologue was also a hit as I highlighted the comical yet realistic cultural divide for an immigrant mom raising her children in Canada so many years ago.

Crowded room!  Great turnout of 62+ people.

Crowded room! Great turnout of 62+ people.

And the panel moderated by Alex Damian, fellow Canadian, was very interesting as we heard about Kathryn Cooper’s intrepid journeys to far-flung locales while Kristin Fields’ hilarious yet heroic navy rescue during a not-so-great cave trip drew giggles from the audience. (“What do you mean your rescuers wanted to be paid by credit card??”)  I also described a silly story about how I was stuck in a tiny town in Burma and the whole village turned up for a pig roast in honor of our visit.

My highlight?  That it was an evening that touched us differently.  One woman shared how she felt inspired to travel to a remote off-the-beaten-track country soon.  Another person wrote that my reading about a Laotian woman who revealed her suffering during the Vietnam War reminded her of the bravery of those in war-torn countries “who remain compassionate, generous and determined.  I think we need to be reminded of the ability to overcome adversity and bitterness and still interact with fellow occupants of this planet.”  Great email!

Finally, a really touching moment:  I met a Canadian guy at the end of the evening as we were all shuffling out of the K-Lounge.  He asked to buy my book The Same Sky for his sister who is facing a similar situation of a breakup and the quest to find oneself, the main theme of my book.   Later, he sent me an email: “I walked away from that evening with a real sense of connection with you and your fellow panelists…and the mindset behind the decision-making to set out on a journey, to move forward and the many discoveries found along the way.”

Wonderfully written!  The whole purpose of the evening was to bring artists and travelers together to share the beauty of traveling and self-discovery so that we can open our hearts to other cultures.  I’m pleased that we accomplished our main goal for many who attended the evening.  More travel storytelling events to come!

I also sold some The Same Sky books that evening to interested travelers!

I also sold some The Same Sky books that evening to interested travelers!

 

Photographs by Kathryn Cooper and Sandra Pike on our promotion table

Photographs by Kathryn Cooper and Sandra Pike on our promotion table

Our presenters (from left to right):  Sandra Pike, Alex Damian, Kathryn Cooper, Kristin Fields and Debbie Wong

Our presenters (from left to right): Sandra Pike, Alex Damian, Kathryn Cooper, Kristin Fields and Debbie Wong