When it Rains it Pours

5:15AM is a bullshit time to wake up on a vacation day. And to top it off it’s raining. No. Not raining. Pouring.

Being from Portland, I am pretty sanctimonious when it comes to handling some precipitation. So, when eventually it was daylight and I looked outside and saw people carrying umbrellas I at first guffawed and smirked, at the same time – such is my self-satisfaction. But then I went down to the convenience store in our building to grab my morning cold brew, looked outside and saw that there was real rain. Not the Portland constant drizzle I am used to, but real – like taking a shower without a water conservation regulator – rain.

I scurried back upstairs and started whining. I had definitely woken up on the wrong side of the bed and the rain was only trumping my mood.

Andrew, in his delightfully supportive way, put on his best game face and prepared us for an outing despite the rain. We would take the Metro to Namsan and  then ride the aerial car to Seoul Tower on Namsan mountain followed by sitting in a cafe and blogging. I was excited. Even though I live in a city with an aerial car, I have yet to ever ride in one. We packed our computers, we grabbed jackets, we toted umbrellas provided by our AirBnB hosts and went to brave the great outdoors.

We made it one block.

Then we turned tail and headed to the chocolate cafe across the street from our apartment and buried ourselves in our pouting and computers (I did most of the pouting).

After some success with blogging and hot chocolate we braved the weather to return to our room. Because we were leaving the next day to Busan we took advantage of the extra time we had due to the weather ruining everything (this is just a taste of my attitude) and did some laundry in the super high-tech combo washer-dryer in the apartment.

The cycle after spin is dry! When the wash was done the dryer, well, didn’t. Our clothes were still wet. So we ran a cycle with just the dryer. An hour and a half later our clothes were mostly damp.

We gave up and hung our clothes on the drying rack we’d found – because room temperature air was going to do a faster job at drying our clothes. In fact, every once in a while we’d pass by the drying rack and just blow on our clothes and that was more efficient than the actual “dryer.”

I lay down for a half an hour because whining is exhausting and woke up almost two hours later to no rain and slight wind.

At this point my mood was taking up most of the space in our apartment and both of us were a bit antsy, we again prepared ourselves for some outdoor time. This time no umbrellas and no computers but also no rain. We got to Namsan and started the uphill climb to the aerial car.

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At the metro exit at Namsan there was a tribute to Zaemiro Seoul Comics – which Andrew, obviously, takes very seriously!

The walk to the aerial car itself was about 600 meters uphill. Once there the sign on the door informed us that because of high winds the car was not running. Neither of us was surprised by this turn of events and it only took us about one minute of hemming (we didn’t even get to hawing) before tackling this defeat with good-natured gusto. We were going to climb this mountain – metaphorically and literally.

Not unlike Hawaii, we started up a 1200m stair climb in the not-best-weather-or-mood.

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1200m looks farther than it really is.

We walked up the first 300m or so and came upon this:

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That man is not dead, he is just resting between sets. I waited to make sure before moving on. I’m not a monster – even when in a shitty mood.

If it hadn’t been sopping wet we’d probably have had a go at it.

We turned the corner to go the rest of the way and came upon this:

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Now, I am not one to want to cause a stir, much less an international incident. But on this day, I wasn’t going to let a little bit of caution tape stop me. I looked up in Google Translator how to say, “I thought the tape was for decoration” in Korean, and we headed up.

When I was in my teens I used to sprain my ankle all the time. I remember once in New York City, on my 13th birthday, I stepped off a sidewalk and just came crashing down on the side of my foot. I was in crutches for about 2 weeks. Shortly thereafter, I met a distant-ish cousin who was finishing college for Physical Therapy and who off-handedly diagnosed me (it’s a family characteristic) with misproprioception, which loosely translates to the inability for my brain to quickly and easily judge variances in height without special attention – aka bad coordination, ergo sum “klutz in my pants.”

I was very cautious going up these steps. Not a single one was a uniform height with another step and there were varying steepnesses (it’s a word now). I was so cautious, looking at every step as I took it that I almost ran into a tree growing out of the middle of the stairs.

Twice.

Who plants trees in the middle of stairs?

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One of the two trees I almost impaled myself on.

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Part of the 1200m climb. These steps are all a different steepitude.

We made it to the top unscathed. The view was lovely. The top was a tourist trap. Apparently people go to the top of this tower and place love-locks all around the platforms. The love-locks are like bike locks, only they symbolize a love that is unbreakable (except with bolt cutters, or a hairpin, or just plain old-fashioned time and growing apart. Or they get rusty and everyone is like, “ew, that’s gross, you should probably get rid of that,” but the people who put it there are just stubborn a-holes and say things like “forever means something.”). We wandered for about 3 minutes and headed back down.

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Seoul Tower

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Andrew dropping my phone while trying to take a picture of us.

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Picture success! See how big Seoul is. This doesn’t even really capture it. It’s quite overwhelming.

We stopped for a quick bite, then headed to the cafe. Basically, across the street from the metro exit we came from was Myeong-dong – a busy shopping area. And I knew exactly which cafe I wanted to visit. I followed my Google maps to where Lily cafe used to be before it closed and was sorely disappointed again.

It’s like Tuesday was just out to get me.

Yet, Andrew and I are resilient. After a quick search of all the interwebs I found a similar cafe only three blocks away, and not (hopefully) closed. We walked swiftly towards it – like in Amazing Race when a couple is in the lead but don’t want to be too brassy about it so they do a little butt clenched walk-jog dodging around busy crowds; that was us.

We climbed the two flights of stairs, changed from our shoes to slippers, entered and were immediately instructed to wash our hands – which we did. Then we ordered our drinks and were let loose amongst the felines. We were at Cat Cafe about to cheat on our kitties – what happens in Myeong-dong stays in Myeong-dong.

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Look at all the kitties!!!

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Neither of us could stop smiling the entire time we were here.

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I may have forced this cat onto my lap, but then he slept there – so, he wanted it.

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Andrew playing WWF while petting a kitty who doesn’t like people but came up to sleep near him.

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Okay, I’m going to be honest here. These cats have always freaked me out a bit. But now that I have had the opportunity to pet one (it’s kind of like petting a leather jacket), I am all in. This guy was a bit of a chunky monkey – but so adorable.

We probably spent about 2 to 2 and a half hours sitting and playing Words With Friends and getting up and petting cats and sitting some more.

The world wide web says these cafes were set up for Koreans because not many of them have the means or space to take care of pets, but it seemed mostly tourists were coming and going. Our time here was only spoiled for about 20 minutes when a family with 5 children and one on the way came in to apparently show themselves what level of asshole they are willing to allow their kids to get to before providing any discipline.

Otherwise, in the words of my friend Aubry, to whom I have already sent these pictures, “Are you texting me from Heaven?”

Yes.

Also, fuck you Tuesday. I win!

A Tale of Two Cities

Friday I got up at 8:15 to the sound of a purring in my ear.

The AirBnB I was staying at was a one bedroom apartment a few clicks (I’m so Canadian) out of downtown Vancouver. My host (B.E.) was staying in her bedroom and I had a “private” room – better defined as a fold-out in the living room. The privacy was provided by curtains she had hung between the kitchen and couch. She was a pleasant young girl if not a little bit chatty and her cat Maci was even chattier (but more snuggly).

I showered and dressed and looked out at the rainy day.

What I felt like doing was going to my couch at home and knitting in front of a black and white Audrey Hepburn movie while sipping on some whiskey-fied tea. But, damn it, I was on vacation. It was time to go tourist.

The light-rail was two blocks away and upon getting there I started to second guess the internal scoffing I did when B.E. showed me where the umbrella was. Three blocks of walking downtown looking for a breakfast place and I looked like I had just gotten done with an all day all access Splash Mountain visit. I found some warmth and sustenance and determined my day.

I still really wanted to knit. And drink. And watch a movie.

Instead, I got back on the tram and went to the waterfront. Once there I wandered around the gaslight area for a little while and stumbled upon a knit shop. Within a few minutes I found a project and made my purchases, I walked back out with a plan. I was going to go back to the apartment and knit and watch a movie on Netflix because really it was what I had wanted to do and apparently God wanted the same for me which is why that knit shop was right there where I was.

I got back to the apartment and did not run into any of the neighbors who I had been told were nice, but I was to say I was a friend visiting from out of town if they asked any questions. I dried off and got cozy with my knitting, the Lance Armstrong documentary, and Maci snuggled and purring on my lap.

About an hour in, I heard the door open and looked up to find a 20-something looking at me and chatting away in what I can easily pick out as an Israeli accent. It turns out that she was a friend of D.E. and was crashing at her apartment because she had just rented out her own apartment on AirBnB last minute and D.E. said it was cool. She was on a juice cleanse and was starving because the thought of drinking the juice she had made for herself was making her sick, but really, she needed to lose weight because her boyfriend was losing interest in her and also she owned a vegan juice bar so if she was going to recommend these things to her clients she should really try them herself. But, oops, she’d be right back because if there was one thing for certain the cleanse part of the cleanse is accurate.

While she was in the bathroom I quickly changed clothes and sped out of the apartment to some Malaysian food.

I sat at the restaurant knitting and listening to the conversations around me. All the while, I was trying to figure out what to do. Vancouver was pretty, but it was just like Portland – except I didn’t know where to go to have fun and the only people I knew were the magpies in the ever-shinking one bedroom I was staying in. I got back to the apartment, asked my host to show me how to work the TV and started chatting on the computer with various friends online.

One of my friends invited me to brunch the next morning. At that point, I had already considered going home the next day. Well, what the hell, it was 9:30PM and I was awake enough to drive. I packed myself up, said goodbye to my host, and hit the road.

The border crossing had a pretty decent line at it and I was already going through the many scenarios of questioning I would face. “Says here you were going to be in Canada until Sunday. Back so soon? Please follow the agent with the latex gloves into that room Miss.” But, once I got to the booth the guy took my card and asked where I was from. “Vancouver, Washington.” “Ahhh,” he nodded, “the real Vancouver.” handed me my ID and sent me on my way.

I got back to my house at 2:40 in the morning and slept like a log.

The rest of the weekend has been great. I got some knitting done, some brunching in, some friend time and 9 holes of golf this morning. It was the perfect vacation in Vancouver.

And now, I will knit, and drink, and watch an old black and white Hepburn.

Just Another Day for You and Me In Paradise

Apparently, there are 4 months that the Yucatán Peninsula gets no rain (learned from an underground cave tour guide).

November is decidedly not one of those months (learned from the torrential downpour outside my window).

Our second day in Playa del Carmen started with a run. When we woke up at 8AM it felt to me like it was maybe 10 or 11 in the morning because we had slept so much, having been exhausted from the flight in. We made a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs and took off to Avenida 5, which is the touristy strip where vendors hustle. Every storefront has a guy in front of it beckoning and trying to pull tourists in. This ranges from the MAC makeup store to the restaurants, but is the most aggressive at the kiosks where they sell tours. These are strategically placed about 10 feet from each other for the approximate 1.5 mile strip. When we had walked it the night before one of the vendors had called Andrew the Professor – I assumed that made me Mary Ann.

Luckily, at the time we were running things were only beginning to open up, and we started running in the opposite direction from the tourist trap. We got about a mile into our run and stopped for a minute so that Andrew could stretch and wake up his calves because he rarely runs distance anymore. That’s about when it started drizzling. We made it back to the condo after about 2.5 miles – just as the vendors were warming up their voices. I only heard one or two of them even attempt to snare us into conversation.

As we were cooling down from our run, Andrew checked his email and found one from the tour company where we reserved our snorkeling trip. Apparently, the forecast did not bode well for swimming with the fishes, so we rescheduled for Monday. Then I put Andrew in charge of entertainment while I went and showered.

I am not sure if he used the internet or went back to Avenida 5, but he found Río Secreto. We grabbed some lunch, our swimsuits, a bag of snacks and bottled water and headed out.

It was still drizzling, but it is warm here in the Yucután so it’s a pleasant drizzle.

The first part of the tour is a 7km drive on unpaved roads from the offices to the jungle. This is what our driver called a Mayan Massage. It was rather bumpy and took a lot longer than 7km usually takes. Partially this was because of the driver having to take his time around deep gouges in the road and partially because the driver kept stopping to jump out of the car and show us humongous grasshoppers getting it on. Also, I saw a baby fox – I squeed.

We got to the preserve and Nunes, our tour guide, started corralling and herding us through the changing rooms, the cold shower, the wet suit and helmets. Right before we started on the trail, we met up with the official photographer of our tour. He snapped a picture of the group, and away we went. At the cave entrance there was a Mayan who did a blessing to cleanse our spirit prior to our journey. He threw some powder into a cup and it became very smokey. Then he waved the smoke in the faces of our group and started a prayer which sounded vaguely like Hebrew to me (though in truth, I have forgotten so much Hebrew, that Hebrew sounds vaguely like Hebrew to me). I looked over at Andrew whose face distinctly read that he would prefer the non-smoking purification section.

10 more steps and we were in underground caves with stalagmites, stalactites, and coldish water. The tour was about an hour and a half in total and was awesome. We saw albino catfish. At one point we all turned off our headlamps and just sat in the water in the dark and listened to the calcified water dripping from the stalactites. It was really lovely. Just as I was getting chilled from the water and tired from the walking, we left the cave. One of the Canadians on our tour (there were four Canadians, two Cypriots, and Andrew and me) asked if there were longer tours. Nunes said there was but they rarely get a request for them and they cost a lot more. Aside from the fact that the 1.5 hour tour was just the right length for me, I would never go on the longer one. If I learned anything from being a couch-potato-latch-key-kid it was that you don’t go on a 3-hour tour – especially if you are with The Professor.

We got back to the changing area and they gave us a toast with cheap tasting ouzo-honey blended alcohol. Then they tried to sell us our pictures. The pictures were awful, they were all from horrible angles and while I like a good candid shot here and there, these were all taken during awkward body moments in the tour. There were also a few posed shots, one of which has Andrew’s hand on my life-vest adorned belly, clearly indicating we are expecting – this is a bad memento when the only thing we are actually expecting is to eat our weight in tacos during this trip. Then came the pitch – it could all be ours with some hats and t-shirts for the low price of $140 USD. I would have needed a lot more alcohol for them to close that deal.

We politely declined, got up, and headed to the lunch buffet. After lunch we swung on a hammock and waited for the vans to take us back. The trip back to the offices contained markedly less mating-grasshopper stops.

Back in town we relaxed for a bit and Andrew retrieved a voicemail from the snorkeling place saying that Monday is also not looking very welcoming. We tentatively rescheduled for Tuesday and planned a trip to Cobá to go see some Mayan ruins.

Then the rain got serious. It has been down-pouring non-stop for about 10 hours now. As an Oregonian, I am not going to let it stop me; however, I am antsy to get to Cobá because I am afraid if we wait much longer we’ll have to schedule a snorkeling tour to see it.