Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Memories of Merida - Part 3

Tropical green over
ancient carved stones
Remembering times past
Beautiful, Symbolic, Gruesome
necessary to appease the gods
and ensure that prosperity
Flow across the jungle floor and
confront the contemporary arrivals

We had set aside a day to explore the other Mayan sites in the area. The day began with us getting lost. Before the situation turned hopeless, we stopped at a gas station to figure out where we were and how to get where we wanted to go. Using a mixture of English, rudimentary Spanish (on our part) and much finger pointing at the map we carried, a gentleman was able to get us going in the right direction. We were soon to discover that earlier we had passed the turn off we were looking for...twice.
At the first site the most impressive structure was a large, highly carved arch in the middle of the clearing where the Mayan settlement had stood. It is assumed that it was the entry to the compound of a wealthy family. There are a string of these sites in the area located several kilometers apart from each other. They range from small buildings with buttresses shaped like serpent heads buried and being overtaken by the jungle to the remains of a massive palace that it is estimated could hold over 300 people.

The area immediately around the ruins of the palace is manicured grass. In sharp contrast to the tangle of vegetation at the clearings edge. A short walk down one path leads you to a large carving of a fertility god with an impressive phallus, as would befit this type of deity. A second path takes you through dense jungle where the remains of a second smaller palace stand. The ruins of the second palace are barely discernible beneath the vines and trees that have grown up and around them.

As we headed down the path I saw at the clearings edge a peacock and "Thanksgiving" turkey, both indigenous to the area emerge from the thick growth.  Further along on our trek to the second ruin a brilliant blue bird flitted among the leaves beside the path and iguanas sprinted into hiding at our approach.

This part of the Yucatan pennisula is extremely hot and humid making the carrying and drinking of large amounts of water a necessity. Fortunately, bottled water in the city is both easily accessable and inexpensive as we drank our way through gallons over the course of our visit. Public restrooms are a gamble. At one point I returned to the table at the small resturant where we were having breakfast annoucing that I had hit the jackpot! The toilet had both a seat and toilet paper!

The food is excellent, as it almost always is in Mexico. Whether it was at the resturant on the portico of our hotel, affording us a view of the decorated horsedrawn carrages going by or the 2nd floor bar and resturant we found down the street, overlooking a large monument in a traffic circle. We ate at hole in the wall breakfast cafes with stackable plastic tables and chairs and a place set up in someone's living room outside the nature preserve where minced octopus was the special of the day. We were never disapointed.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Memories of Merida - Part 2

Viewed from a causeway
Long graceful necks bent
to the briny water
The food they gather
Bring color to their feathers
forming acres of pink
as far as the eye can see
They take flight
pulling up their legs
and exposing the line of black
under their wings

We took a side trip the day after the tour of the nature preserve the beach town of Progresso. It is a cruise ship stop and if it is your only experience of this part of Mexico, I would not blame you for not returning. The town is, to be charitable, unimpressive. A thin strip of beach fronts a series of shabby shops and take out restaurants that line the narrow streets.

After we had had our fill of the beach and were ready to return to Merida we consulted the map we had with us. We decided on an alternate route back as there ewer icons on the map indicating a ruin and an important cathedral. We found the cathedral first. It was a variation of a sight we would see several times over the next days. A massive 16th century cathedral, again built with stones from the original Mayan structures, dominating a tiny, dusty speck of a town. The early Spanish colonials were apparently intent on saving the souls of the Mayans, even if it killed them....the Mayans that is.

As we continued to the ruins we turned onto a causeway that led across an area of shallow, briny water. The sight before us made us immediately stop the car. On either side of the causeway were pink flamingos feeding. Hundreds if not thousands of them. The water was pink, literally, as far as the eye could see. Calling this sight breathtaking does not do justice to the experience. It is a memory I will always treasure.

After tearing ourselves away from what, I think we both knew would be a once in a lifetime sight, we continued on the ruin. In this case, it was a salt trading center. It was also the first of what would be several similar experiences. It is eerie to be wandering through the remains of a lost civilization by yourself. This ruin,like several others in the area, is not heavily visited. We climbed to the top of a small pyramid and stood by ourselves surveying the land. A family of 4 were climbing another of the structures. There were no other people there. On later occasions we would be the only ones exploring the  archaeological sites.

Here there were stone cisterns. The briny water in the area was collected in these and when it evaporated in the intense heat of this part of Mexico the Mayans took the salt that was left. There was a small plaza with pyramids and the foundations of a large structure assumed to be the home of a wealthy merchant. It was a wonderful introduction to the ruins we would experience later.

Memories of Merida - Part 1

Several years ago, a friend I have traveled with extensively and I spent a week in the city of Merida, Mexico, the capitol of the Yucatan state.It's colonial history dates to the 16th century, it's Mayan roots go back much further. Within the city center stands one of the oldest cathedrals in the Americas, yet on the cities outskirts sit small mid century homes that resemble scaled down versions of what one would expect to see in Palm Springs. Surrounding it's central square are the cathedral, the 16th century home (now a bank) of the conquistador that defeated the Mayans and colonized the area, The city hall dating  from the 1910's containing murals by a student of Diego Rivera and an arcaded area housing restaurants and shops. Several other old churches can be found in the historical town center, some built with stones from the Mayan structures that originally stood there.

Our hotel was located on a wide boulevard modeled after the Champs Elysee in Paris. The street, once lined with the grand homes of the cities elite is now an odd mixture of modern buildings placed amid the surviving mansions, most of which have been re purposed as banks or other financial institutions.The sign marking the offices of ING holds court on a lawn leading up to the front porch of a Beaux Arts style home. It's leaded glass doors welcome the parade of financial officers that now work in it's ornately detailed interior. The color of many of these buildings is what has given Merida the nickname of The White City.

Outside of the city lie Mayan ruins, some being reclaimed by he jungle, as well as a well regarded nature preserve. It was on a boat trip at the preserve where I saw my first flamingos in the wild. Also egrets, puffins and a tiny bird in a mangrove swamp or an extraordinary orange shade I hope to never forget.

The bird life in this area is some of the most amazing I can ever hope to experience. Vivid emerald green parrots roosted in the trees outside of our hotel window. On our first morning as I opened the curtains they flew by as if welcoming us to the city and served as a preview of what we would see later.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Notes on a Gay Cruise - Reflections on the Flight Home

A patchwork flows below me 
I have seen many times before
Small cities by waterways
varied colored blocks
bisected by lines
Roads leading other places
As I return home 

I have empathy with those who bear a mantle of bitterness and sadness. In my own life I have had periods of despair and disappointment. I have had to learn patience and in my middle age attempted to always view the glass as half full. I have learned to be resourceful. It has not always been easy but over the years I have become, as a friend recently remarked "Like a cat, always landing on your feet". However, like a cat, I have sometimes had to twist and turn to do so.

No regrets. I have said for many years now that, about the life I have lived, the choices I have made and where those choices have led me I have no regrets.

During this cruise I have learned about places I knew little about before and visited one place I have wanted for some time to see. By writing this, I have discovered how much I enjoy this form of expression and am determined to find a time and place for it in my day to day existence. I may revisit the poetry I wrote in my teens to develop and understand my written voice. By developing my voice through the written word I may be able to peel away layers of protection I have created to uncover what lies within. I do not know what I may find but will have no regrets about what I may discover.

Notes on a Gay Cruise - Character sketches

While editing my pictures in the shade one morning a gentleman came up to me introduced himself and we began talking. He had a most interesting backstory. After entering the priesthood at 19 he had left the church and has worked for the last several years at a well known non-profit organization. We spoke at some length on a wide variety of subjects. Religion, life, personal histories and interests. At first glance as I observed him onboard I though he might be standoffish as several others on the cruise were. However, I soon discovered a warm, friendly, somewhat boyish personality crossed with a fierce, almost intimidating intellect. Whenever we saw one another after that he made a point of coming over and speaking with me. I only wish that I had met this unique man earlier in the voyage.

In a shop on the dock in Aruba I noticed a man I had seen on the boat a few times. He had beautiful, well cared for dreadlocks worn in a ponytail that reached the middle of his back. After introducing myself and commenting on them he told me that he had grown them on a bet. A friend had bet him that he would never grow dreads as he had always shaved his head bald. He took on the challenge. Soon afterward the friend was shot and died. For the past seven years he has grown them out in memory of his friend and their friendship. I thought it a lovely and fitting memorial.

She is a short heavyset woman that speaks in a charming Patois. She is the hostess in the buffet dining room. Loud and jovial, she greets you as you enter. "You come from Puerto Rico! Let me sing you a song about Puerto Rico" at which point she sings a short nonsensical tune. "Have you met my dog?" she queries as a mechanical dog scuttles across the floor. On several occasions she wore a bow in her hair or bright Mardi Gras beads as large and expansive as her personality.

He is  a musical director and became one of my best buddies during the cruise. He is bright, well educated on a wide array of subjects and I will always treasure our talks as he is well versed in the art of conversation, something sometimes rare in these times.

Note on a Gay Cruise - Last Day- Phillipsburg St. Martin

Small, dusty, a historic building dotting the few streets here or there. Small wood framed houses of the classic Caribbean genre. Wood framed, broad porches trimmed with latticework as delicate as the lace on an antique ladies handkerchief, bright colors, windows bearing shutters to keep out the baking sun and provide protection from hurricanes and fierce tropical storms.

Despite the "White Party" of the night before, the largest and final big party of the cruise, I got off the boat early, water taxied to town and returned by lunchtime to relax by the pool on my final afternoon onboard. While in town I happened upon two guys from the boat searching through racks of sarongs and filmy chiffon blouses. They said they were headed to a beach on the island. While I remarked to one about the heat of the day, it was torrid, the other was telling the saleswoman "I'm looking for something to go with this bag" holding up a wildly colored faux designer bag and wallet set "I'm wearing it with my white bikini" he explained "Today I'm being Paris Hilton!" the salesperson gamely showed him one gaudy chiffon blouse after another. I moved on admiring both his enthusiasm and the salesperson calm professionalism.

There were chicken, chickens everywhere. A mother hen paraded her brood of ten across a yard cracked from the heat. Another wandered seemingly aimlessly down the sidewalk. Others could b  e heard but not seen as they voiced their trademark call. A small drab lizard ambled across the sidewalk towards the shade of a raised porch. As it approached another, similar lizard, scurried out from under the porch and hissed, menacingly. A third, extremely fat, appeared seemingly out of nowhere and then the three ran together under the porch to do whatever it is that lizards do. The dynamics of the whole encounter remain a mystery to me.

Upon returning to the boat I located a suitable lounge chair and lazed, letting the warmth of the sun and the occasional cool trade breeze waft over me. I noticed a friend smoking on the upper deck and upon going up to spear with him discovered that bare feet and a hot boat deck do not mix well. I was joined by others discussing our outings that day. The subject of phobias came up One of mine is snakes. One mentioned that during his time as a priest, when he was working with children, one of the challenges he put them through in an obstacle course was to "kiss the snake" where the children had to ...well I'm sure you get it.. I pointed out to him that "kiss the snake" could be a euphemism. He assured me it was not.

At dinner that evening we were seated, quite by chance, with a couple one of which was celebrating his birthday. To commemorate this event the entire table was treated to champagne by the cruise line. This and a final cocktail with my dinner companions in the bar created a satisfying end to the evening and a perfect closing night to the cruise.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Note on a Gay Cruise - I Lost Track of the Days - Aruba

The sea eagle floats
Past the white wisps
set in a blue sky
Rich green mountains
wearing an occasional
crown of palms
Confident of their beauty
yet comfortable with it
Their lack of arrogance
only adding to their

If you have ever sat off the coast of St Lucia you will no doubt understand why I am sitting transfixed as I write this. Lush green hills dotted with houses and buildings drop into the still water. Sea Eagles float in the azure sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. It is difficult to turn my attention to the page as it prevents me from observing, awestruck, this stunning little emerald jewel in it's aqua setting. Small green mountains undulate in rows looking as if they should sink under the weight of their heavy green velvet cloaks. I understand that it was a difficult island to colonize as the invaders were repeatedly repelled by the native people - I, if I had been born native here also would have tried to protect  and keep this inland as my own.

My later bus tour of the island revealed an island of lush tropical beauty held in the grip of some of the most crushing poverty I have ever witnessed, The people you see from the windows of the bus seemed to carry an air of both anger and desperation. However, the guides and shopkeepers, i.e. those people who were employed, were extremely gracious and seemed to hold a true concern for their less fortunate neighbors. My only regret is that my tour did not include the twin peaks that the island is known for. I later learned that they can only be seen from the air or water.

Notes on a Gay Cruise - Day 3 - Aruba

The day did not start well. I find it ironic that on this cruise you can find food at 4:30 a.m. but not at 7:00 am. I also needed to visit a cash machine to replenish my dwindling reserves. To add to my mornings frustration, neither of the machines on board were working. By eating quickly, I managed to get ashore in time for my excursion and found a working cash machine on shore to boot! The day began to look up. We boarded our bus with what we discovered was a charming and quite knowledgeable guide and began our trek around the island.

Take a coral bed - add a volcano spewing lava rocks over that coral bed. Add a millenia of sand captured by the coral and volcanic  rock and you have Aruba. Small, 6 miles by 18 miles and arid, 22" of rain annually. Our guide gave us so much information on the island that I had difficulty processing it all even as I decompressed on the beach near the end of the tour.I tipped him a well deserved $5 but was dismayed to spot all the singles in the tip box. My hope is that some people gave him more than one.

We were taken to a natural bridge carved by the sea from stone, a botanical garden with a lookout boulder where I knocked my head silly while ducking under a rocky entrance and a early 20th century lighthouse where a squadron of Dutch marines were doing maneuvers was a special treat. Small dung colored lizards mixed with larger ones of a brilliant blue hue. Spotted an Iguana the color of kiwi fruit, if kiwi fruit was lit from within by neon. Huge boulders dotted the landscape. Other areas were littered with the rocks left over from the volcano eruption that had created the island. Tree sized Christmas cactus, saguaros and another  type of tall narrow cactus with a precious bit of fruit on the top would create an austere landscape during the dry season that we were told resembles Arizona, a place I have visited several times ,whose natural state possesses a beauty that I admire. We were then taken to a white  beach whose coral sand was cool to the touch matching the pale blue water which, while refreshing, was cooler than I had anticipated. My dinner plans were based on a serendipitous meeting by the pool with one of my new friends - which led to us going to the next theme party together that night. An Island theme. Substitute feathers and mask for sarongs and it will give you the idea.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Notes on a Gay Cruise - Day 2 - Willemstad, Curacao

Tropical Multi Hues
Spilling down narrow streets
Twisting for 300 years
Religious figures move
Under the chimes hung on a wall
Right to Left
every hour
on the hour
& the chimes ring
While Tommy Hilfiger
& Calvin Klein Jeans
Hold Court

Perhaps I am too harsh - Willemstad IS historic and although the surface is scrubbed, as many historic districts are, as you scratch the surface, there is a certain grit that makes one feel that the island is lived in and used by people. Unlike the sterility of places like Old San Juan or Brugge. The architecture did not disappoint - as witnessed by the volume of pictures I snapped. After going ashore with a group that turned out to be way too large and difficult to keep together, I broke off and wandered on my own. I strolled the floating market where the colors of the stalls and produce matched the brilliant hues of the buildings. After running into the friends I originally came with on the street I realized our time together on this trip had been infrequent and much interrupted. We made a point of having dinner together that evening. Upon returning to the ship we three met, split and met again - bouncing between the pool areas like a giant game of pinball.

At dinner we were seated, quite by chance, with the rep from our travel agency. After dinner, which in the dining room was always remarkable, we moseyed about till it was time for the fireworks the island treated us to as we sailed off. And, as I had not slept well (perhaps not at all, it is for me sometimes difficult to tell) I retired and, well, promptly passed out.

While waiting for the fireworks we met a gentleman that had been on the ill fated cruise of a few weeks before. From his description, I was happy to be on a cruise of this size and relative lack of drama.

Notes on a Gay Cruise - Day 1 - At Sea

After 36 hours of occasionally rocky seas, giving me a new understanding of the term "tempest tossed" I sit in a ships solarium overlooking the gabled, tropical hued buildings of Williamstad on the island of Curacao. Don't get me wrong - the seas, although rough were of a brilliant, sapphire blue color I have never before witnessed. But now we are docked and still as fluffy clouds drift over the green tropical foliage and, unfortunately, refinery smokestacks. However, as I mentioned to newly acquired friends, they are what pays for the beautiful hues of the historic district. Today we will wander the streets and I will be able to cross one more place off of my "Places to see Before I Kick List".

However, before our shore excursion. I shall bring this up to date so far. Met two other cruise passengers at the hotel bar. Being "antsy" the three of us cabbed it to the ship leaving my two other friends to follow us later. My accommodations are spacious, well appointed and I am pleased and quite comfortable, in spite of being bounced about a little due to being directly over the bow of the ship as it chugged through the water on the way to our first port of call. Since boarding, my time has been spent drinking and dining (and dining and dining, the food kicks serious ass) and dancing more in the past 24 hours than the last couple of years combined. Many of the "boys" on the ship, although aloof (read rude) at first, seem to be loosening up a bit now. Or perhaps I have sifted down to the good ones leaving the "Glamour Queens" to their cliques and mirrors. Perhaps the costumes of yesterday's parties have brought a more relaxed tone to these proceedings.

Imagine, if you will, a "Dog Tag" party in the afternoon with the participants attire ranging from camouflage underwear to Boy Scout Master uniforms dancing around the pool (to music that I found better than  expected ). Myself, with my 2 new found friends in the middle of the maelstrom, a massive smile plastered across my face. This is followed in the evening with these same men decked out in sequins, feathers, masks and, in some cases, next to nothing, enjoying another (in what will become a series in coming days) dance party. The boat rolls underneath us as strong waves move it to and fro. I am tranquil, relaxed and will return to my day to day existence with renewed energy and fresh memories to add to the many I have been fortunate enough to store over the years.

An Explanation

This past Christmas a friend gave me a "blank book" as a gift. When packing for the cruise I mentioned earlier, I, not really thinking about it or knowing why, picked it up and tossed it in my suitcase. Keeping a travel journal is not a disipline that I have ever practiced in the past. I don't know if the quiet time alone gave me space for reflection; although I was on the boat with two good friends I had a private cabin due to a snafu in our reservations; or the sight of the book began to make me feel guilty, but I began to write. Those notes from the cruise were my inspiration for creating Lucky Traveler 57. These entries, and entries from future trips, will be based on my journal notes during my travels. Past trips will, obviously, be written about from memory.


If this were a want ad it might read"53 year old gay white male seeks means of self expression". I have recently discovered a desire to set down, in writing, my observations, thoughts, both random and linear and opinions, again, both random and linear. I should begin explaining the process by which this will be composed. As I am in my 50's my brain is hardwired to express itself via the WRITTEN word. What this means is that, for the most part, what you read here will be first written, edited, revised, reedited and rereviewed by hand before being transfered to this medium. While this process may seem cumbersome and repetative it allows me the time and distance to both decide what I feel is appropriate subject matter for me to comment on and that those comments are expressed in a matter I find satisfactory.

The name refers to the extreme good fortune that I have had in seeing many corners of the western world. Often, most often, I do not travel in a manner that most people would consider "in style". I travel in my own personal style. I seek, when possible, unique and historic accomadations. I have slept in an Amsterdam canal house, a 700 year old home two courtyards removed from the street in Venice and an old princes home in Paris. There was also the 1910's townhouse in Mexico City, a historic cabin in Zion National Park and the slightly tumbledown courtyard house just outside the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Before you think me hopelessly bohemian bordering on pretentious, I should state that I have also stayed at the Grand Hyatt in NYC (business, my employer paid for that one) The Luxor in Las Vegas and I recently returned from a Carribean Cruise aboard an extremely well appointed Royal Carribean ship (more on that later). These last three, however are the exception, not the rule. There have also been, during road trips, the ubiquious motels which are competely colorless and dull, but cheap, clean and most importantly, there when they are needed.

During my Junior High and High school years my parents were both teachers. My mother a professor at a community college and my father a substitute in the public school system. This left the entire family with full summers off. During one of these summers we drove from California, where we lived at the time outside of San Francisco, to the east coast, up into Canada and back through the Dakotas and the plains.

In 1973, we took a charter flight to Brussels and spent the summer motoring through Europe. We had no itinerary on these trips, stopping when and where we wished. Growing up, we never stayed in hotels but camped which is part of what made this travel affordable, not to mention, in the case of the European trip, occasionally adventuresome.

Outside of experiencing new places, another of my great passions is theatre. I find my soul to be enriched and restored by plays, musicals and dance and musical concerts. I have sat in the 2nd balcony and in the front row, in ornate theatres and black box perfomance spaces, in nightclubs and by bandshells on lawns both in daylight and under the night sky. I have had good and bad experiences and often true moments of magic. Those moments are what I seek while experiencing a performance and what I treasure when I find them.

I have great curiosity. I look, listen and evaluate and constantly strive to learn. One of my hopes is that by writing I will learn. What or whether I will learn I do not know. Time will reveal the answers to that question.