Author Archives: expat2012

Enjoy foreign food: be a good American

Enjoy foreign food; be a good American

There is so much good in traveling, that it takes more than one column to name it all, and then that doesn’t reflect individual experiences.
But one item of goodness-in-travel is the food of different cultures.
I cannot wrap my brain around how some American’s – and I have witnessed this first hand – complain about the food when in a foreign country.
Food is part of the culture and I want to experience it to get the whole picture.
You can look at the menu and find something you’ll like to eat if you keep an open mind.
So, when I was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, sitting in the restaurant and hungry, looking at the menu, the first thing I saw was, “beef with ants”.
Not wanting to be an ugly American, and to practice what I preach, I didn’t go, ‘yuk’. Of course I was sitting alone, so there wouldn’t have been anyone to collaborate with me anyway.
Beef, chicken and fish, all without insects, were found on the menu.
I opted for the fish.å
It came on a plate, very large, and complete with the head still on it with an eye, looking up at me, daring me to eat it.
The skin was still stuck to the creature, so the waitress, showed me how to peel it back.
It would have been enough for four people.
Then there was that restaurant in Cuba where a taxi driver took me, and where he got a kickback for taking the American lady there.
When I walked into the restaurant, I was amazed to see exotic animals in cages, squirmy things, feathered critters, some animals with horns, and then I was offered a seat inside.
The menu was handed to me, and there, right on the page, were the animals I just saw.
So, in that restaurant, I opted for soup. It was a weak broth with green beans floating on top.
Cuba was experiencing a lack of food, and it was probably worse in Havana than out in the country. Much of what was available in the restaurants was pasta and cheese.
That seemed a better choice than, say, a lizard.
Foreign food served in another foreign country is another favorite experience. Take for example, the personal pan Italian pizza that had a nearly raw egg dumped on top of it in a fancy Paris restaurant.
When in a small fishing village in Iceland, I found in a small grocery store, to my surprise, Mexican ingredients in cans and boxes. I never did learn if anyone purchased it.
A Mexican, in the German restaurant where I went with friends, wouldn’t have recognized Mexican food. But it was delicious in it’s own right.
This leads me up to the Moroccan dinner I prepared for friends one night this week.
I’m not known for my cooking, so whenever I attempt to cook for someone else, I practice first. It’s always perfect when it’s just for my enjoyment, but the stress of cooking for someone else, leads to disaster.
Once, with this recipe, for company, I burned the rice, and this week, I put in too many yams in a yam, carrot, onion and prune dish, and it was a bit too sweet, but still tasty.
Cous cous was used instead of rice, and it cooks fast so standing next to it on the stove isn’t troublesome.
Moroccan food is spicy in herbs and in combinations of vegetables and fruit. Here is a list of Moroccan spices to get you started.
Ground cumin, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, cayenne, allspice and cloves, salt and pepper.
Leave out the ants, in the Moroccan dish.

Cats in Costa Rica

My cats, Peaches and Buddy faired okay once we got into Costa Rica with some first trials. The first one was the cottage I rented next to other houses that had yapping unfriendly dogs. The cats didn’t want to go outside, and the place was small, so there weren’t many places for a view of the outdoors. And you know how cats love to sit where they can watch the world go by.
The next cottage was a bit better, but the first time the rainstorm fell on the tin roof, the noise scared them so bad, that I could see the fearful questions on their furry faces.
I opened the door to let them see that it was rain and not scary monsters trying to get inside to take them away.
During the nearly two years I lived in Costa Rica, I utilized the loopholes afforded expats by leaving the country every 90 days, and when I did, if it were only for two or three days, I’d leave enough food and water for the fur boys, and when I returned the litter box was full and all the food was gone.
But, when I had a longer stays, such as in Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama or even Holland, I took them to a cat boarding facility.
I actually didn’t see it in person, as the people would come to my cottage and pick them up.
So, after living near the mountains in the coffee plantations, I spent the last six months in Jaco Beach, which was hot and had more lizards and iguanas to entertain all three of us, as the lizards scurried up the walls.
A washroom outside seemed to be a favorite place for the iguanas to sit and watch how I washed clothes out by hand.
Once in the middle of the night both cats put out an unearthly sound that came from down in their throats. I got out of bed to see what was causing the ruckus, and there in the water bowl sat a green frog.
I picked up the bowl and threw the frog outside, and we all went back to sleep.
Later on another night, the same sound woke me up, but that time I didn’t find a frog.
I couldn’t find the source of their displeasure, until the next day, when the caretaker came to tell me that he saw an iguana walk into my cottage. Since my Spanish wasn’t up to par, he had to bend down to the floor and show me how the iguana slithered in on the floor.
That would have been worth selling tickets to watch.

We didn’t find the intruder that time, but the next day, I heard a racket by the cupboard drawers near the kitchen.
I called out to the caretaker and asked him to take the iguana out. He moved the shelving and pulled the iguana out by its tail. The tail stayed there, maybe forever, for all I know. But the iguana landed out on the grass. They do grow new tails, I was told.
So all was good until it was time to go back to the U.S., and I proceeded to do the homework on traveling with pets.
The plan would be to fly from Costa Rica to Florida and switch planes to Houston to visit with a friend, then to California. However, while the arrangements were made and I had the tickets, the plan to visit a friend, in Houston fell apart. I’d continue on with the original plan, anyway.
The veterinarian was contacted, and I tried to get an appointment at the appropriate time before departure, but it was difficult as he was too busy. I called everyday for a few days, and knew I was being bothersome, but rules are rules.
Finally, I walked to the office of the veterinarian and was told he went to my place, so I walked as fast as I could, and found him leaning against his truck waiting for me.
He told me in Spanish that if it had been really important, he would have been there in a flash, but knowing what it was for, he had plenty of time.
So, remember the details? Check with the airlines, the security at the airport where you’ll land, and the customs for that country for all the rules concerning traveling with animals.
This time, for the particular airline I’d fly on, required only one cage for both cats. That would be good, for they would find it comforting to be together in the carriage hold.
I gave the previous used two containers I had to the veterinarian to appease his displeasure at my pestering him.
The cats paper work was finished and put in a package along with my tickets and passport. What could go wrong?
Well, let me tell you right now, anything can go wrong, and it more than likely will, no matter how prepared you are.
I got aboard okay, the cats were taken and put on board, I thought. But just to make sure, the cabin crew said he would check and come back to assure me.
And he did, but not until we were airborn. They were on board.
But, when we landed in Florida, walking through customs, the cats were delivered to me and I picked up my luggage to catch the plane to Houston.
But, here’s the twist: the airlines I should catch, was cancelled, so my choice was limited. The airline to transfer to was on the other side of the airport.
I had no way to get there, and no U.S. dollars to pay a taxi. There were no shuttles.
But, as always in my traveling, angels appear from nowhere it seems. A man in a van that makes deliveries said he would take me to the other side. I told him I had no dollars, but he just said to get in, luggage and cats.
Now, I was at the substitute airlines, a nice gentleman was sorry to have to tell me that his airline requires separate cages for animals.
“But, the airlines I just flew here on was agreeable for one cage. I don’t have another one. What am I suppose to do? This isn’t my fault.”
Peaches and Buddy were screaming their heads off.
“Well, I do have a cage here that someone left, and I’ll just give it to you.” Didn’t I say angels are everywhere?
That made everything work all the way to Houston, where I stayed a few days in a motel and then flew to San Francisco, and all three of us stayed with my son and his family, until…well, that’s another story.

Cats and humans

Cats and two humans traumatized at the airport

Cats: everyone loves them, and everyone must know they do not travel well.
But, knowing that didn’t deter me from taking Peaches and Buddy to Costa Rica where I lived for two years.
They had traveled before on a longer flight to Holland when I lived in The Hague.
I did my homework: the veterinarians required check-up on the cats a day before leaving. The shots were up to date and all paper work in my hand with my passport and airline ticket.
I was up on the airline rules as well as the customs requirements in Costa Rica, and was as ready as could be. What could go wrong?
I was all set. Both cats in separate carriers this time, as allowed when flying in the cabin, and placed under our seats.
My son, Ron was with me to help me get the cats to Costa Rica. We got our luggage weighed in and picked up our boarding passes. We were ready to walk through security.
An agent stopped both of us while our carry on luggage rolling down ahead of us.
“You must take the cats out of the carrier and put them here.” She pointed to the floor.
I started to put the cats on the floor.
“No the carrier. Take the cats out.”
“What? Take the cats out of their carriers?”
I had a death grip on Peaches, and Ron has a death grip on Buddy.
I knew if either one got loose they would be lost forever in the airport.
Then the agent asked the impossible. Hold your arm out so I can pat you down. I gripped Peaches in one arm, while the other arm was held out; then transferred the procedure, moving Peaches slowly and carefully to the other arm, extending the other arm. She patted me down on both sides.
I tried to see if Ron was okay with what he was asked to do, but felt Buddy was in capable hands, but in this case, arms, and all we needed to do was to get the cats into their carriers and get on the plane.
“You must take off your shoes.”
“How am I to take off my shoes while holding on to a cat?” I sassed back.
“You have to do as you’re told.” So I sat down, and with one toe, got one shoe off. Then repeated the process with the other shoe. Both shoes were off, and then she stretched my enthusiasm for traveling all together when she asked me to raise my feet so she could look under my shoes.
“Are you kidding me?”
“You must do as your told.”
Try to do that; just try it. You have a cat in your arms wanting to dash away, and now you have to raise your legs high enough so the agent can look under your feet.
Then we were asked to put the cages on the belt so they could be searched. Really? Yes, really.
Traumatized cats and two humans, as well, finally boarded the plane. We put the cats under the seat in front of us. They screamed at takeoff until we reached a high altitude.
“Do you have a cat back there?” A man in front of my chair turned and asked.
“Well my wife is allergic to cats.”
I didn’t have the courage to tell him there were two cats, not one.
His wife told him it was all right and to leave me alone.
So we landed in Costa Rica and breezed through customs with luggage, paper work, passports and cats, with no problem.
There are other stories to tell about living with the cats while in Costa Rica and the return to the U.S., but those stories will follow later.

The stinky long bus ride

It was a day of sharing space with strangers

After five hours on the “garlic” bus and other annoyances, I arrived at Vitoria in the Basque area of Spain. The man sitting next to me must have devoured an entire field of garlic bulbs, as he reeked. I offered him a mint and he said, very politely, “No, gracias.

Then, there was the greasy-headed man who sat in front of me. He had little spiked hairs all over his head, which made me think of a hedgehog.
 Stinky got off the bus after about two hours, and then a big bear sat next to me. He was fat and wore brown and had been drinking. He also reeked. Then, in about two minutes, the big brown bear fell asleep and leaned on me.

When I pushed him away, he snorted, and that made the hedgehog in front of me laugh. The little spikes jumped up and down on his head.

This was just one interaction I experienced in my one-year journey around the world. If you’re lucky, you will see the humor in every situation, and that includes day-to-day life in and around your hometown.

Visiting a fishing village in the Arctic Circle

Visiting a fishing village in the Arctic Circle

I stayed at Thorshovn, a fishing village of 500 people, in the Arctic Circle, and played reporter. I interviewed the mayor, police chief, fishermen, fishing inspectors, roads administrator, neighbors, post office employees, pharmacy manager, manager of the swimming pool and sports hall, the new headmistress, two restaurant owners, a retired commercial pilot, a movie actress and director, and many other good people in the town.

Even I got interviewed for National Icelandic Television when I was spotted walking in the town. People began to notice the white-haired stranger, the lady who walks in town taking photos and asking questions.

I sat knee-to-knee with the townsfolk’s derriere’s in the local hot pot, and was invited to join the town for lunch. I was fortunate to meet a former airline pilot, and, visited him on another day at his ranch. His daughter, son-in-law, and two grand children were visiting, as well. The daughter was introduced as Margaret Vihjalmsdottir, who was in the movie, “Falcons” with Keith Carradine.

The biggest moment of the day, aside from meeting the nice folks in town, is the chance meeting with a group of folks riding Icelandic horses. One guy stopped and asked me if I want a photo. He got his horse and another one turned around for the photo, and spent some time chatting with me.

One way to travel on a dime is evident from the deal I made with Siggi, the hotel owner. I paid part of the rent and helped out a bit for the rest of what it would have cost to stay for five weeks. One of those jobs was to force a birth control pill down the throat of the cat, Smokey, once a week.

“If you forget the pill, I may end up sending you a box of kittens,” warned Siggi.

One day, Siggi told me that I have screw loose, and I accepted that kidding, but this time it really was a screw loose on the French coffee glass coffee maker. Fixing that coffeemaker may be tiny and insignificant, but my future in the house with coffee, depended on that little screw that came loose, and then I had lost it.

I tramped through the snow down to the grocery store and showed the manager what was needed. The manager found the words to tell me where a car repair shop was located, and where I could possibly get some help.

The coffee apparatus worked and life was good again!

One afternoon, I “hot-potted” it and met a man with his two-year-old, adorable son, adorable until he became jealous of the conversation between his dad and myself. He started to throw swim fins and other water toys at my head. His dad tried to divert him, as you would get a dog to go fetch. He would throw something far away, and the little guy would go to get it and he’d throw it back at me. He is finally was subdued a bit when another fisherman got into the hot pot to play with the little tyke.

After a five weeks in Thorshovn, I had a last walk to The Shop, the owner gave me a hug and said it was a pleasure having me in town and in her store.

I made long-term friendships in this little village.


Travel hints from lessons learned

Lessons learned about airline travel and luggageHere is a travel hint that came from my experience traveling in four continents, many countries, cities, towns, and islands, not to mention, in planes, buses, trains, trolleys, tuk-tuks, taxi’s, ferries, and on camels and horse and buggies.

Let’s take airline travel, because this might be the hardest to adhere to.

Before planning a trip, consult with the airline company and the country, that will not only be your destination, but for the landings in route, because you’ll need to know the carry-on-luggage and the booked-on luggage rules for the items you want to travel with. This not only applies to containers of liquid, food, medicines, but to nearly all forms of technology.

The rules change often depending on what is going on in the world at this moment in time.

I can give you one example that nearly caused me to miss a plane.

I was late in arrival to the airport in Croatia, because I miss-read the ticket departure time.

When I got to the ticket counter, the boarding lady, I nicknamed Cruella Deville, growled, “You are late. You are going to miss the plane. Put your luggage up here”, she directed.

“You have a battery inside the bag. You must remove it,” Cruella frowned. This was the first time in six months of flying on many airplanes that I faced this particular problem.

So, I tore into the bag, underwear going this way, tops that way, pants over there, and my Kindle fell out, but no clock – that was the culprit, I thought. Or was it the Kindle?

I was frantic.

Out came winter gloves, the Icelandic sweater, wool socks, rocks, seashells, pajamas, and a hot pink towel.

“Oh, come on,” I sighed to myself. I left the Kindle out, thinking that may have been the problem, but couldn’t find the clock.

“Let them look at it again.” She pointed to the men who would give it a second look.

“No, there’s no time, “she quickly changed her mind. “Just close it up, and let’s go.”

I tried shoving my life back into the bag, and now the bag seemed too small to accommodate all the stuff I had just thrown out.

“Can you help me close this up, please?” I pleaded with one of the agents.

He did help me zip it up, and then I was on my way with Cruella’s stiletto heels clipping on the tile, with me in tow.

“Do you have your boarding pass and passport?” She turned with that look again.
“Yes,” trying not to let her bullishness win.

I handed the customs agent my passport, and she and Cruella exchanged words, leaving me out.

“Oh, no, my camera.” Suddenly it was not hanging over my neck.

Well, I’m not going to tell you what she said then. But, the camera was located and I was the last person to board the plane and got the worst seat: the last one in the back.

Lesson: read the boarding time correctly so you’re on time. Find out exactly what you can have in the luggage on board and the carry-on-luggage, as well, for each airline in every country.

This is just one of the many lessons learned while traipsing all over the world.





Senior traveling on the cheap

I’m going into the 80th year of my life on earth, and enjoy the benefits of old age. I have noticed many seniors like myself, who are kept busy with hobbies, and going places.

On the other hand, I see folks who assume that once they reach a certain age they need to put theirselves “into” what is expected of those who have been blessed to live a long life.

I tend to break out of that closed up thinking, and did so, first, when I quit my news reporting job at age 74 and left the U.S., for some places I only thought about going while I was already ‘on the road’.

If you find yourself wanting to get off the couch and get out there, it can be done.

There are many opportunities for senior tours, or you can do what I did, and “just wing it”.

I did not own a house, and left an apartment so I could use the funds I would have to pay rent or a mortgage, to be used on the one-year journey. All I had was social security, a bit of savings, a gift from a friend, and had the first three places lined up before I left. The rest was planned by using my computer and available wifi coffee shops to book the next place. I found the cheapest way to get wherever I wanted to explore, and stayed mostly in hostels. Of course, I was more often that not, they oldest person in those hostels, but it was mostly an enjoyable time.

You can go back through this blog and view some of my adventures.


Travel Hints

Here are some travel hints to help you get where you want to go with careful attention to your budget.
1. Register for Couch Surfing at
2. Check out hostels for stays such as
3. Travel as light as possible. You can always purchase needed items wherever you are and that’s part of the fun of traveling.
4. Do online research for the best deals in travel and hotels before you leave and while on the road. Good deals pop up all the time.
5. Learn to say please and thank you in every language of the place you visit. You will be treated better.

HOping this works

Hoping this works

Working on getting this up and running

Had a lot of help. Let’s see if this works.