Hard Boiled

How did I grow up in a family of cooks and never learn how to properly hard-boil an egg?

This is a recording of a voicemail that I received this morning. She seems to be hocking credit card processing services, but in the middle of her spiel… something comes up, so to speak.

Do you accept?

My last overseas adventure took me to London, England, then south to Cornwall, then finally a short hop across the channel to Amsterdam before returning home. While I did indeed see and experience many lovely and interesting things, one of the most amusing was this sign:

It seems to warn unwary passers by of a mysterious and pointy downward force known as “DEATH”. Now, as far as I’m aware, this DEATH thing can take many different forms, but apparently the most ubiquitous and sinister form in this area of London resembles a reflected “N”. I have no idea why. Of course, this leads me to imagine other similar dangers, although possibly not quite as dire, but nonetheless dangers to be on the lookout for, such as:

Corporate Dangers

Disco Dangers

And, of course, Dangers of the UNKNOWN

Whenever I travel, whether to different states or entirely different countries, one of my favorite things to do is look at road signs. Public service signage in general is sort of fascinating to me, as it’s meant to be universally understandable, a true “lowest common denominator” form of communication. Also, it can often be quite funny.

My favorite road sign that I came across while in Nicaragua was one that was meant to warn the driver of an upcoming speed bump. (Speed bumps are ubiquitous in Nicaragua; I’m guessing that without them, folks would be barreling down city streets as fast as possible, running down pedestrians, bicyclists and ox-carts willy-nilly, Grand Theft Auto style.) This is what the sign looked like:


This sign amuses me to no end, but I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the size ratio of the bump compared to the car, or the angle that the car is put at in order to get over said bump, or even that it has to be illustrated at all, instead of just the word “BUMP” like you’d see in the states. But mostly it makes me think of the potential versions of the sign that didn’t make the cut, or what I like to think of as “How Not to Go Over a Speed Bump”:

DO NOT attempt summersault

DO NOT attempt headstand

DO NOT use as a “Sweet Jump”

NO low-riders (thanks, Sloan!)

The following is a bit of stuff that I started to write about my most recent trip to Nicaragua to see my brother, well over a year ago. After returning from that trip, I ended up getting extremely busy and never made it past my recap of the first day. Oh, well. Enjoy!

The idea for the trip started out simple enough. The idea was for Mom, myself and Douglas to come to Nicaragua to visit Ezra for Christmas. It was borne the last time Ez was in town, back in May. He had flown back to Portland in order to attend a friend’s wedding, and also to visit other friends whom he hadn’t seen since moving down south. Rather foolishly, he’d only planned for a week-long stay, ending up completely exhausted from social activities by the time he and I boarded the plane bound for Phoenix AZ, then San Jose, Costa Rica. He was returning home, I was accompanying him there for my own 2 week visit. I had more or less forgotten about the Christmas idea, until one or two months later when Mom and Doug called me on the phone to discuss plans and nail down the dates around Christmas-time that we would be traveling. They were very excited. Having just returned from my second trip to Nicaragua, this one much rainier, mildewy-er, muggier, buggier and all-around damper than my first trip, I was a bit less than enthusiastic about it. I’d had my fill of the tropics for awhile. However, I figured that 6 months was probably enough time to rekindle my desire for another visit.

~~~~~

The Portland weather picked a great time to go from crappy to utter shit. It was Sunday, the 18th of December, and the freezing-rain storm that was supposed to hit around 8pm decided that it was not rude enough to simply be an unwanted guest, it also had to arrive 5 hours early. We needed to be at the airport around 4:30 the next morning, and the weather had us wondering if we should be leaving much, much earlier. Like, say, 9pm the night before. Fortunately by the time 4am rolled around, the freezing rain had started to melt, and the roads weren’t too horrible. We learned later that shortly after we got in the air, everything had started to freeze again. So I guess we escaped just in time.

Mom was terribly excited to be on the plane. In fact, she was terribly excited and intrigued by almost every facet of our travel experience, mainly due to the fact that she hadn’t ever been on an international flight, and the last time she actually left the country was in 1968, when she drove to Mexico with her parents. I have to say though, I think she got over Houston pretty quickly. On our way between connecting flights, we passed the statue of George Bush Senior, the airport’s namesake. He is portrayed at a much younger and jauntier age, in an action pose that has him walking into a light breeze, presumably on his way from one very important place to another. His business jacket is gayily slung over his right shoulder, his tie dramatically flapping in the wind. His shirt sleaves are rolled up. You can tell this man is about to get right down to the important work of running whatever very important thing it is that he is running. And yet he looks like something out of a Sears ad. The sculptor had captured the over-used but still somehow effective budget clothing store model pose, perfectly. I was in awe. Of course I had to get a picture. I refrained, however, from having my mother get in on the fun by prostrating at the sculpture’s feet. It was somewhere between this shrine and Terminal E, where we were to catch our connecting flight into Liberia, that I suspected mom had seen just about as much of Houston airport as she cared to. And we still had 3 and a half hours of layover ahead of us. It was time to get some lunch. Fortunately, I knew this time to stay away from the Sky Box sports bar, where even though you can get a shot for only a dollar extra when you order a beer, it’s not worth the trauma of having your hamburger taste exactly like a hot dog.

Traveling by plane between two very different climates can be tricky. You find yourself trudging into the airport lobby from the cold icy weather, wearing your heavy parka with multiple layers underneath, thinking how lovely it will be to arrive 8 hours later to a warm, tropical climate. What you don’t necessarily think about is the fact that by the time you get there, you will have removed so many layers of clothing in your personal quest for temperature regulation, that your carry-on bag will resemble one of those enormous piles of discarded clothes you see in the dressing rooms at Meier & Frank during one of their 20-times-yearly special anniversary sales. So it was that we exited the plane in Liberia with our respective huge bundles of winter clothing in tow, waddling down the outdoor gangway into the large open-air shed that housed immigration, baggage claim and customs. Mom immediately whipped out her camera and started snapping photos while we were standing in line for immigration. This made me a bit nervous. Even though sub-5-foot-tall, 60-ish white women aren’t typically profiled for terrorism, you never know the ideas people might get, especially in our current political climate. I let her take a few pictures before sharing my concerns. She agreed and put her camera away for a few minutes. My anxiety was obviously misplaced, as we made it through immigration, recieving nothing more than a cursory glance at our forms, and proceeded to the baggage claim area, all of about 20 feet away, to collect our checked items.

We located our two suitcases fairly easily after a quick scan of the tiny baggage claim area. The empty dog crate we’d brought for Ezra, though, was conspicuously missing. After waiting around for a bit, I decided that it wasn’t about to magically appear and went over to the baggage counter to see what could be done about it. The conversation with the guy at the baggage counter went something like this:

Me: Hello! Er… hola!
Guy at baggage counter: Good evening, sir. May I help you?
Me: Oh, yes, um… it seems that some of my baggage went missing.
Guy at baggage counter: Ok, first please identify your item from this luggage sheet.
Me: Well, uh… (looking at catalog-style sheet showing various sorts of luggage) that might be kinda hard because you see, it’s not a bag—oh, wait, you do have dog crates on here. It’s this one here (pointing at photo of dog crate. Apparently this sort of thing happens all the time).
Guy: Ok, now please fill out this form with your name, phone number and address.
Me: Do you want me to put our address at the hotel tonight, or my brother’s address in Nicaragua where we’ll be staying?
Guy: So you aren’t staying in Costa Rica?
Me: No, we’re staying with my brother who lives in San Juan Del Sur, in Nicaragua. Do you want me to put his phone number and address there?
Guy: Yeah, I guess so. But I’m not sure what we can do about it. If your luggage shows up, we can bring it to the border, but we can’t bring it any further.
Me: Well, can you call my brother if it shows up?
Guy: Yes, but it would be better if he called the office from time to time to check to see if it came in.
Me: Of course it would. Well, thanks for your help.
Guy: You’re welcome. Good luck.

He was a nice guy, but ultimately not very helpful. The crate never showed up. The other amusing part of this exchange was that I had to keep running back and forth from the baggage desk inside to where Ezra and mom were waiting outside to get the address and phone number information and such. Of course, this sort of thing would never happen in the States without a full body cavity search upon every re-entrance into the facility. But that’s Liberia for you. Pretty laid back.

Finally, the three of us were all together outside the airport and ready to move on to our quarters for the evening. After a few mandatory “reunited family” style group photographs, we piled into Ezra’s truck and headed for town.

Downtown Liberia, teeming metropolis that it’s not, consists of roughly a 10 x 10 block area of small businesses—clothing shops, restaurants, bakeries and small groceries-interspersed with a few larger chains such as Gallo Mas Gallo, which translates literally into “Rooster More Rooster”, or “The Most Rooster Rooster”. I’m not sure why this is a good name for what is essentially a miniature Sears, but when you think about it, it’s not like we don’t have our share of oddly named businesses in the states. Safeway comes to mind, and to me, has always begged the question, If this is the Safeway, what exactly is the not-so-Safeway? Would the produce there be more expensive and of poorer quality? Would the floors be dangerously waxed and have no warning signs, and the meat case temperature just slightly above FDA regulations?

We drove into town and quickly found our rooms at the hotel Ez had booked for us. It was a charming little place, having the standard colonial configuration of a plain entrance into a building with no obvious signage, leading down a dim hallway and opening up into a small open-air courtyard with rooms surrounding it. I was a little concerned about mom’s room, as the quality of it was more than a few notches below what you might charitably call “rustic”, but she was just thrilled by all of it and couldn’t really be bothered to care as long as her two boys were nearby. So, after a few minutes spent getting situated, we set off again in search of dinner-type food and drinks.

After walking a few blocks in the balmy evening air, with a zig here and a zag there, we settled on a corner restaurant, located on the second level above some retail shops that Ez and I had visited on my first trip down south. The restaurant had a nice balcony where we could sit outside and watch the goings-ons down on the street, of which there were actually very few. It seems that middle of the week Liberia night-life is essentially non-existent. Mom was still thrilled with everything, of course. We started out with some tasty ceviche and moved on to platos con queso fritos, small cakes of mashed and then fried plantains, served with little chunks of fried cheese on top. Accompanied with ketchup. It seems that everything in Central America is accompanied with ketchup. Entrees consisted of typical local fare–steak, chicken, or pork, covered with some sort of hot or not-so-hot sauce, with rice and beans and shredded cabbage on the side. Or, a whole fried fish, served with the creepy glazed eyeballs staring you in the face. Ezra had that. He likes the creepy foods. After dinner and some drinks (mom fell in love with the Micheladas), we shuffled back to our rooms, exhausted after a long and eventful day.