Thursday, 7 March 2019

Ien and Linda's excellent Maya adventure, part 5. Just an in between day.

Warning: This travel blog is meant as a record that allows us to share with family and relive the experience as much as possible. It is not a literary endeavor. Innocent bystanders may be bored to tears by the amount of detail.

Facebook post the next day:
Today is much better, phew! A mix of sun and cloud, coolish, windy. What we used to call "dune weather" on our Noordwijk vacations. Not warm enough for laying around on the beach, but nice enough for a walk and a picnic in the dunes.

We went outside the Playacar bubble to Walmart, cowardly by taxi, to see if I could score some warm clothing to replace the lost items. Zero. NADA. Four warm jackets but they were too small. Not even a sweat shirt,  and no sudoku book anywhere either. It was fun to get a glimpse of the real town on the way there. If I were in better shape I could walk out there, but I was not, especially after twisting my foot. 
A gentleman who posed as just another customer gave us helpful hints about where I might get what I was looking for, and then tried to get us to attend a time share meeting. He acted quite offended when we refused and gave us a big spiel about it being his daughter's birthday, and what did we have to lose by spending one afternoon of our vacation and had he not been helpful to us? The whole thing was delivered half tongue in cheek, we both knew it was BS. I finally just laughed and handed him two bucks for the good advice, after which the blessings of many saints were called upon us. 

We also had fun socializing in the lineup by the till, with ordinary people who are not paid to smile. 
If I do nothing else here but practice Spanish I am having a blast! People seem to appreciate my pathetic but sincere efforts. On the way back we stopped by the cupcake cafe for a half decent capuccino. 
I had a brief conversation in sort of Spanish with the barista about the name of the ubiquitous corvids we have around here. She wanted to call it a raven. Not but we agreed it was the same family and I said “son todos ladrones” (they are all thieves) which made her laugh and she agreed. Senior staff is fluently bilingual but almost everyone speaks some English.
Linda managed to communicate that she is a professional pastry chef.
The Cupcake cafe, Chayita Mexican food and the overpriced hotel store are all to one side of the plaza where the concerts happen.
Was this the day we got take out burritos as a snack and were too full to go for dinner? Was this the time I was so desperate for something warm to wrap myself into that I ended up buying a beautiful but overpriced blanket at the hotel store? I think so, but memory is getting fuzzy and what does it matter.
We had to go to bed early, because the next day we had to be at the pick up point for the mini bus at 7.30!
Tomorrow, TULUM. And meanwhile here is some more towel art.

Ien and Linda's excellent Riviera Maya adventure. Part 4. The weather changes and we book a trip.

Warning: This travel blog is meant as a record that allows us to share with family and relive the experience as much as possible. It is not a literary endeavor. Innocent bystanders may be bored to tears by the amount of detail.

Before we go any further, may I gush about the food for a moment? No, Sandos is not paying me and I do not own a time share. 
The buffet is just great. Lots of fresh fruit at all meals. Vegetables galore both as salads and prepared.  Great selection of bread. Made to order omelettes and smoothies. An oriental section, a Mexican section, an Italian section and lots of just good food. It caters to all. From gluten free vegans to bacon obsessed meat eaters, from lovers of tentacled seafood (that's me!) to picky kids who insist on chicken fingers or hot dogs, it is there. We enjoyed it so much we never even tried all the a la carte places.

Anyway....In the course of the first Sunday the weather cooled down, it clouded over and the wind picked up.
We retreated from the beach to the more sheltered pool. Linda got her first Margarita.
We tried out the Italian restaurant. Nice atmosphere, great service including a shawl for people who find the airco too aggressive, food OK but not oh wow, especially the main pasta dishes. 
Later that night the  show was a must. 
It was a tribute to ACDC, whatever that is, and Linda planned to dance! I was happy to retreat to the good wifi again. 
Alas, before long it started to rain and the show was canceled before the band got electrocuted. 

Monday morning we woke to continuing rain. At least it was still warm and, as Canadians like to remind each other, we did not have to shovel it. We decided to venture out of the resort bubble, turn right this time  and  find the cluster of shops on Avenida Xaman Ha, the main road that runs past all the Playacar resorts. Linda needed gifts for her tribe. I was hoping to find a book of Sudoku puzzles to replace the lost Kobo as beach entertainment. I also felt quite insecure without any warm clothing after losing my cardigan in the airport. There is such a thing as traveling too light.

The walk from our home base by the beach to the exit took about ten minutes. Some more pictures of the inside of the  resort. The place is huge and in the beginning quite overwhelming.
It is all beautifully landscaped. I get a kick out of seeing our typical houseplants in their natural environment. 
Philodendrons get enormous. 

Bicycles are available.

When it rains in the Yucatan it pours! I guess the drainage infrastructure leaves to be desired.
We squelched our way down the avenue, frequently crossing the street to avoid the worst inundations.  Because it was all new it felt like a major expedition and we felt quite triumphant when we spied the Starbucks. The shops all seem to sell the same stuff aimed at tourists. Big on lively colour, low on utility.  Strictly junk food in the 7-11, no sudoku. No sweater or poncho or any warm cover either, but I did find a beach cover up that was a vast improvement over the oversized dress I had been using.
Apart from the shops there was a kiosk with offers for excursions. We chatted with the main agent and ended up booking a tour to Tulum and Cobal. A whole day, for less than half the price of the offerings at the resort. Yeah! We felt like we accomplished something.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Ien and Linda's excellent Riviera Maya Adventure, part 3. We get settled in and Ien has another mishap.

Warning: This travel blog is meant as a record that allows us to share and relive the experience as much as possible. It is not a literary endeavor. Innocent bystanders may be bored to tears by the amount of detail.

On our first night we tried to find the main dining hall but were stymied by the name of the place: Fiesta Hall. That, combined with the huge colourful images we could see playing on the back wall, made us think this must be where shows took place. We eventually found that the colourful slides just depicted food.
We were  hungry (next time, bring extra food on the flight) and wandered further afield. Soon we stumbled on what turned out to be the Friday special event: an outdoor market and an outdoor buffet with delicious Mexican food.  Lots of fresh vegetables, tacos made to order, pick your meat and condiments. We found a table nearby in the area that served one of the many bars, got drinks and happily settled down. On the way back to our room we even took a quick peak at the beach. It was a great start.

This photo of Sandos Playacar Beach Resort is courtesy of TripAdvisor.

The setup was between our section and the meeting point, just past the long pool. 
Ah, the Meeting Point! It is that pointy pagoda like thing with the thatched roof in the back to the left . Inside the roof looks like this:
We had to go here on our first morning to ward off offers of special memberships and claim some coupons. I got the wifi straightened out so we could let the folks at home know that yes, we had landed. Wifi in the room was iffy, but in this hub it was always decent. At any time there were people lounging around in the cozy swinging seats messing with their devices.
Others were asking questions or solving problems with the wonderful bilingual staff at the Guest Services counter.
We also had to go to another building to talk to the Sun Wings rep. This was partly to register for our return flight, and partly to look into excursions. 
The ones promoted by Sunwings and the resort turned out to be quite pricey and also included much that we were not interested in. 

Cenotes? Linda does not do caves, period. Quite frankly I am not crazy about them either. Ziplines? Shudder. ATV trips? No thanks. I hate noise toys. Chitzen Itzah was three hours by bus each way.

Another offer was for a day trip to Coba. In that place, managed by a Mayan cooperative, people can climb the pyramid and  have a meal cooked just for them by  Mayan people who supposedly still live the traditional lifestyle. Somehow that makes me cringe. The traditional life does not include being a tourist attraction. Pick one! We took some brochures and did not decide on anything yet.

I made a half hearted effort to get my lost jacket back. Sunwing man promised to send out an email to the Lost and Found section in the airport and get back to me. Yeah right. I did not get my hopes up but was pleasantly surprised to hear such a department existed.
 Chores done we headed for lunch at the buffet and then the BEACH! The weather was blue and warm and we fully expected two weeks of that.

In the late afternoon we went for a walk of about an hour. Out to the exit of the resort, left on Avenida Xaman Ha where we had been told there was a cluster of shops including a Starbucks. Or was that to the right? We did not find it. 
I knew I was out of shape, but am embarrassed to admit how much. There were no hills, no ice, no scary dogs, but I felt stiff afterwards. 
There is a show every evening at nine. Linda is a dancer and a lover of rock and roll and pop, I not so much but I was willing to try. That night it was a tribute to Michael Jackson.
It took only a minute before I retreated from the noise level. I don't care what the music is, I do not do loud. 
Meanwhile I got to play with the decent wifi in the meeting point, right behind the plaza. We were both perfectly happy with the arrangement. 

The next morning we decided to go for a beach walk  before breakfast. The empty beach to the South of our resort was one of the attractions of the place. 
The beach looks freshly vacuumed  because it was. Every morning around seven we could hear the sound of the machine that cleans off the seaweed. That clean white sandy beach, like so much in these resorts, is a carefully maintained illusion. 

This image, found online, clearly shows a quirk of the beach here. It has funny ridges, sudden drops. See how low the line of seaweed is in relation to the birds? Mishap #2 is about to occur.
Linda took the picture above just before we set out in the opposite direction. Note purse slung over shoulder. I carried it because I wanted to take pictures.

There was no hard sand for easy walking. We were merrily slogging through ankle deep water when I unexpectedly hit one of those drops, lost my footing, and tumbled with my left side into the water. My first thought was for the Precious: the new-to-me iPhone! I immediately lifted the purse out of the water. Linda helped me up and grabbed my sandals before they floated away. We  joked about this being an eldercare moment. There would be more. My foot had been twisted and gave some mild grief.

We wiped the phone on Linda's skirt and it was none the worse for wear. Yeah water resistance! However, later that day I realised the  e-reader had also been in the purse. It was toast. So much for being clever and packing a device instead of a pile of books. Fortunately Linda soon finished one of her books and I managed to download some things to iPad.

From a facebook post on this day:
The plan was for at least two walks a day, one beach and one park, but the stumble put the kibosh on that. Neither of us feels very ambitious. We are mostly happy to just hang out in the resort. Very boring for people who were hoping for pictures of adventure, but WE ARE LOVING EVERY MINUTE..

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Ien and Linda's excellent Riviera Maya adventure, part 2. Arrival

Warning: This travel blog is meant as a record that allows us to share and relive the experience as much as possible. It is not a literary endeavor. Innocent bystanders may be bored to tears by the amount of detail.

As usual Linda was packed and ready days ahead, and she prepared in style, with 20 nails ready for summer.

Going through security is a hassle these days. I knew about the limit on liquids, but not that it extends to gelly things in tubes. Have no fear world! Our intrepid safety inspectors duly protected you from the danger posed by a 144ml tube of Aveena face cleanser. Also, who knew that Dr. Scholl's insoles have metal parts that set off machines? Anyway, we got away. 
There were some interesting views but no way to know where we were. Clouds rolled in for much of the flight and when it cleared we were over the Mississippi. 
A small mishap occurred upon landing. I thought I had solved the dilemma of what to wear when traveling between seasons by working with layers: no bulky winter coat but a polar fleece with a zippered cardigan underneath.  Those items were stowed overhead. Also overhead, a mostly empty day pack. The idea was to stuff the warm clothing into the day pack upon arrival. Ha! We were sitting in the rear of the plane, in window seats. I could not get to my stuff till the other passeners had  gone and besides, Nature called first. Now one's brain tends to be zombified after six hours of just sitting crammed in tight with the other sardines.

When the clothes did not fit fully into the pack the smart thing would have been to just put the jacket on. Instead I stuffed it all in as well as I could, hoisted the half zippered pack and ran, or rather hobbled, after Linda through long empty corridors till we came to the arrival hall. Chaos! We found our suitcases, and that is when Linda noticed my back pack, gaping open and empty. We were terrified of missing our transport to the resort, so I did not dare to run back.  It would have been nice to have a Sunwing person in the arrival hall guiding us through that part. We had to go through a bunch of immigration lines first, and then somehow found our driver outside. Goodbye favourite jacket, goodbye any item to keep me warm on chilly nights. 
But never mind, we were IN MEXICO! Yeah! 
Selfie in the bus.
The highway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen is boring. Dare I say it? All highways in the Yucatan peninsula may be boring. The landscape is totally flat. Anything interesting requires going off the main road. 
It was almost dark by the time we got to our resort. Our first stop was the beautiful entry hall where were fitted with the magical armbands that would unlock the kingdom of Sandos.
The plastic bands are so light that you don't notice them at all. I loved never having to worry about having the key when we left the room. 
We started telling the porter that we would meet him at the room,  a ten minute walk. After a day of sitting queremos caminar! We soon lost our way in the dark and were glad to hop onto the golf cart a bit later. 
Almost there. #1427 was The room. OMG. Joy! Joy!
Honestly, if they had given us a map of the entire place and told us to pick a room we would have picked one close to what we were given.
Some reports on Trip Advisor mentioned that the rooms in the section closest to the beach were dingy and in need of repair. That repair must have happened, because everything was gleaming and new and worked. 

The beds were firm and super comfortable.

The cooler was kept stocked with beer and soft drinks. The safe was easy to operate and worked.  I could have left my small umbrella at home.
Look at that welcome package! Tequila, champagne, fruit, and two chocolate covered strawberries. The water cooler to the right was also kept full.
We even got robes! That really made us feel upscale.
The bench inside the shower was a nice touch. 
Whoever was complaining about dingy bathrooms must have had an unrenovated room. 
The room was kept spotlessly clean all the time, courtesy of our lovely Rebecca, towel artist extraordinaire.

I could almost have been happy to just sit on our cute balcony for two weeks, feeling the delicious air and watching the lively scene below.

This was the picture postcard view that greeted us the next morning. 
We could even see the beach and ocean from the balcony. It doesn't get much better.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Ien and Linda's Excellent Maya Riviera Adventure-part 1 The Plan

It all started on Facebook. 

Some time in late November Melanie in Ontario posted a tip for people who had time freedom and bit of extra cash: Cruises were on special. For less than a thousand bucks one could spend ten days in total luxury going from San  Francisco to Mexico and back. 

I am blessed with time freedom these days, and there was even some extra cash, thanks to some trees that had needed cutting down. Yeah, so much for green cred.
I am not into cruises but this post got me looking at other options.We have always preferred to be travelers rather than tourists. I have also resisted going into a third world country. I imagined it as feeling constantly guilty while also worrying about being ripped off. 

Well, guess what.  After a few challenging years and a lousy summer  I was feeling tired, old, and in need of an infusion of blue warmth. The idea of just plonking my fat body down on a beach and being looked after at an all inclusive resort was suddenly quite appealing.

I will spare the reader the boring details of decision making. Agony! Days were spent going back and forth between Sunwing and Trip Advisor. As usual some of the process was being shared on Facebook. Life opens up when you
live out loud. 

First an old acquaintance who is becoming more of a friend thanks to Facebook came into the picture. 
We were talking about going together. We may still partner some other time. But then came this surprise message, from the daughter of my dear old friend Linda. 
A picture of the lovely Larissa when she was visiting here in October.

"Good evening Ien, I noticed you are looking at going on a relaxing sunshine vavation. Great on you! You definitely deserve that dose of vitamin D. Are you looking for a traveling partner? I was thinking Mom...I would happily pay for her to tag along on a relaxing holiday with you."

Talk about an offer we could not refuse! Linda is the one person in the world I can imagine sharing a home with. 
We go back 43 years. Sometimes we don't communicate for months, but the connection is bone deep and always there.
She is the friend featured in the post "Linda does the laundry." 

She is the amazing woman about who I wrote: "Linda is 13 years my junior but has been my guru in matters of  homesteading and food preservation. This woman is a master gardener, cook and canner and has passed the gift on to all her children. She is a fantastic mother, competent at everything she does, an incredibly generous, energetic survivor and one of the people I love and admire most on this planet."

By this time the research had been narrowed down to the Riviera Maya rather than Cuba, and to the resorts South of Playa del Carmen, because the best beaches were there. 

Two years ago Linda's son had his wedding in that region, in the resort Sandos Caracol. They had had a great time.There  was also a  Sandos beach resort, just South of town. I liked the picture right away. I did some more agonising but finally decided to jump. It turned out to be a good decision.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

The dead in my head

A funny thing happens to our relationship with people who have left this dimension: like Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, they become unstuck in time. At least, that is how I experience it.

I noticed it first with my father. I have led a lucky life in many ways, and had good parents. 
I got to keep them for a long time too. Dad died in 2000, age 84.  He was in full possession of his mind till the very end,  but in his last few years his personality had suffered a bit. The ability to always see the other side of an issue, so typical of his charming Libra nature, was turning into a peevish contrariness. He was no longer quite the tolerant intellectual who instilled a deep respect for universal human rights in his children. 

Once he was gone my memory mind reconstituted him in the fullness of his life, not as the diminished version of his final years. It did the same with Mom, who was predeceased by much of her mind by the time she left here 9 years later, aged 93. 

And now, almost 6 months ago already, my husband of 53 years has joined them. The same process happened here. Mostly gone is the suffering and senile patient of the last years. I remember that time, of course. But when an association pops up that would have had us smile together about a shared memory, the version of Chris who shows up is the one that was present when that memory was made. 

My dead are much with me as I go through the days. Not in a grief stricken or morbid way, just as company in my head, popping up as things remind me of them. They are getting more numerous. A special friend who we knew from way back in the Netherlands and who moved to Calgary 4 weeks after we did died a few months ago. 

And so it goes. Sooner or later the presence of the dead will outnumber the living. I imagine that by that time it will seem the most natural thing to let go of this world and go wherever it is that the dead in our head have gone. 


The dead in my head are a treasure of memory that enriches the  present. I am in no hurry to join them. I feel fine, live surrounded by natural beauty and a good community, and am enjoying every blessed day I am granted.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Till death do us part

It has been more than two months already. I hade been planning a blog ruminating on the nature of marriage and so on, but never got around to it. Meanwhile here is the 
obituary I wrote for the local papers. There was no funeral service. A trip to the offspring on the coast is in the offing, we will scatter his ashes in the ocean. He would have liked that. 

The person my husband had been disappeared slowly, Cheshire Cat style. He was never the same after the car accident in July 2012, even though he walked away with just a wee cut in his elbow. In retrospect this was the first sign of the illness that would eventually claim him. 

I am doing just fine, enjoying the freedom and my own company. Tons to do, I will never be bored!

The photo is from the late nineties, on a ferry in the Salish Sea, near Cortez island. 

Christiaan Godfried van Houten finally left his tortured body on June 1 2018 in Minto House, Nakusp, after years of struggling with a progressive neurological disease. He died as he had lived: quietly, on his own terms, with no sappy handholding.

Chris was born on June 23 1936 in Pankalan Berandan on the island of Sumatra, now Indonesia, then the Dutch East Indies. His parents were Louis van Houten and Johanna Jacoba van Houten-van der Lee. The families of both parents had ties to the colony that went back generations. 

In WWII he spent three years in a prison camp during the Japanese occupation of the islands. Chris rarely talked about that time. If he did it was mostly to reminisce about tending cooking fires, growing tomatoes, and eating brown beans one by one as a special treat. Only recently have we realised how much of his life was influenced by the scars left by that traumatic experience. 

In 1951 the family moved to the Netherlands for good. Chris never felt quite at home there, or anywhere else. All his life he had a deep need for freedom. He was happiest traveling. This partly explains his choice of profession, an exotic choice in a country without rocks. His fellow geology students would jokingly call themselves "professional campers". 

Chris married Ieneke van der Hout while both were at University in 1965. In 1969 the couple made  the move to Canada, a country where geology is a mainstream profession. A job in Grand Forks brought them to the Kootenays. The couple fell in love with the region. There was another geology stint in Duncan, B.C., but eventually location determined work, instead of the other way around. In spite of having no training as a carpenter Chris built a sturdy cabin, complete with electrical wiring that passed inspection.

Chris loved to drive and was a master at keeping old vehicles alive by careful management, such as double clutching and slowing down well ahead of a potential stop in order to spare the brakes. He was always ready to transport family and friends, regardless of distance or hour. 
In 1999 an epic trip was made to Waterloo, Ontario, to pick up daughter Nienke complete with partner, baby and two cats. Chris was also the go to driver who drove co-grandfather Ernie Blakemore to his many medical emergencies, often in the middle of the night. 
Chris was always interested in the goings on of the world and had a great sense of humor. 

He will be missed by Ien, his wife of 53 years, daughter Nienke (Demetreus Blakemore) and son Alex, grandson Keevan Blakemore, co-grandmother Pat Blakemore, nephew Tim Peper and family in Bears Paw, AB and sister Liesbeth in the Netherlands.

A special thanks to the wonderful staff at Minto House who made his last months as bearable as possible.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Testing, testing...

My blog writing has fallen by the wayside the last few years. The world  has seen plenty of  craziness to rant on about and I have read interesting books to review. Gardens have been planted and photographed. Life has unfolded.

Lack of material or desire is not the issue. I enjoy writing and I like having the record of past deeds and thoughts. Not quite a diary, but sort of. The real reasons I have not kept up are several. There is my style of blogging. My friend Melanie, one of those people who has a clear head and Gets Things Done, tosses off a post in one fell swoop and goes on with the day. She may correct a typo but that’s it.

Mine are done in drips and drabbles. A post on a topic may take weeks or months. Sometimes I feel like holding forth on a topic, note down a few paragraphs, and then run out of steam. The post may languish in draft for months or even years till the mood strikes again, or the topic is once again in the news. I need to be able to edit. 

Then there is Facebook, that evil black hole. I spend way too much time there, driven by my serious case of Compulsive Comment Disorder. On the plus side genuine friendships have been made or deepened there. 

Last but not least, ever since the arrival of the iPad most of my internet time takes place hanging out in a comfortable chair with a tablet instead of at a desk. Blogger is not  that Apple friendly. There is an app but it has limits. So here is a trial post to see if this works: Compose post on iPad Pages first, then copy to blogger. 

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Ien is not Einstein

I promised a new blog reader that I would explain my weird name, so here goes. 

In daily life I go by Ien, not Ieneke. 

It is pronounced to rime with Green and spelled Eye Ee En. A clever friend once remarked that she remembered the spelling by saying to herself that Ien is not Einstein. I have used that line a lot. Thanks Carol! Of course it only works if people can spell Einstein. 

My birth certificate from long ago and far away announces the arrival of Ieneke.  The name is usually spelled Ineke. My mother insisted on the extra e, otherwise "it looks so bare".  The suffix -eke-, both e's unaccented, is a dimunitive. Names with that ending were popular back then. A cousin and my best friend were Anneke. 
Usually an 'eke' baby would have a more formal official name, like Anna for Anneke. Not me. No middle name either. The name has no meaning. It is dimunitive for Ina, which itself is just the ending of other names.

Three years later my brother Jaap received both his paternal grandfather's names. Jacobus Johan. When the twins arrived five years after him, unexpected by not less loved for that, the parents took the opportunity to honour all remaining grandparents and themselves. The youngest brother and sister each got three names. 

I suspect a touch of the Aspie spectrum in my makeup.  Aspies do much better as grownups than as children.  At school, where I was an awkward, unpopular child I was Ieneke. At home, where I was safe and loved and at ease I was Ien. Eventually I ditched the 'eke' part. I do NOT like to be called by it. So why is it back on Facebook and other internet places? 

Blame English and the quirk of fonts. A capital i often looks like L. I got tired of being mistaken for a man named Len or a weird spelling of Ian. Somehow no one ever thinks Ieneke is a guy. Not that I have anything against men, but I am not one.
Having your name misspelled or mispronounced is a hazard of of being an immigrant. No problem, it is a price I am happy to pay. 

But, you asked me to explain my weird name, so now I did.