Don’t try this at home, kids.

Sun, alcohol, and stupidity – I believe I alluded to that in my last blog post so many months ago. I’ve got no excuses for being so incredibly absent from my blog, other than sheer laziness, and certainly no excuses for that alcohol.

It was a beautiful, but hot September in Madagascar. The day before, we had flown south from Antananarivo (Tana), the capital city, to a private, tiny dirt airstrip, in two tiny planes. That’s an experience requiring a lot of weighing – of everything and everyone. No, really, they weighed each person and divided us up between the two aircraft, with assigned seating so that everything was properly balanced. We were picked up by our mini-bus driver who’d left Tana two whole days before us in order to get there on time.

RingtailsOur first full day excursion into Isalo National Park was a hike into Namaza Canyon, the first half of which didn’t have much shade until we reached a picnic area. Here, we had our one chance to see some Ringtails, the most famous lemur species. About half of us hiked the rest of the way into the canyon, our efforts rewarded with a beautiful little oasis.

oasis

While I definitely appreciated the shaded, cool atmosphere of our destination, I didn’t feel like I had gotten dehydrated on the way in. Or on our return trek. I drank plenty of water and never felt over-heated until near the very end, when my heart started beating really fast and I had the sudden urge to get back to the air-conditioned minibus. I pushed my way past a couple other people, probably a bit rudely, and hoofed it outta there.

Back in our beautiful stone chalet at the Relais de la Reine Hotel (one of two hotels who owns that dirt airstrip), my plan for a cool shower was aborted when I realized our laundry had not yet been returned. No clean clothes = no shower (why bother if I had nothing else to wear?) So, what did I do instead? Yep, you guessed it, I headed to the main building and the bar, and helped myself to a pint of Three Horses Beer, a local lager that is the country’s top-seller. I still didn’t feel dehydrated, but adding the alcohol, not to mention starting on a second pint, really wasn’t a good idea.

Abandoning the second beer at the dinner table, where I lasted for about five minutes before having to excuse myself, and ran to the little restroom just off the lobby to, you know, upchuck all that alcohol. (Apologies to the next woman who may have tried to use that facility.)

As I made my way back to the chalet, I paid little attention to the odd beauty of the orange glow dominating the darkened horizon, only momentarily wishing I had the energy to get my camera to capture the stunning landscape. Yes, the hotel was surrounded on three sides by grass fires that night. There were different opinions on the cause of the fires: either local farmers clearing land, local villagers unhappy with their percentage of the national park’s profits, or maybe cattle rustlers.

A couple of others in my tour group later shared some photos with me. I’ll try to arrange them here to give you a sense of what it was like. The thing that sticks in my mind the most is the number of hotel guests who were lounging outside, watching the fires, all seemingly unconcerned. It was odd to me because I remember the panic of wildfires here in Northern California (1991 Oakland Hills Fire, anybody??) It was surreal. I later learned there were a few worried people, primarily the owner of a private plane that was sitting at the airstrip. Most of the hotel staff was, in fact, out there keeping the flames away from the plane.

The rest of my night was not so entertaining. I got little sleep, running back and forth to the restroom. (I’ll spare you the details.) There were times where I felt so completely drained I didn’t think I had the strength to walk the few feet back to my bed, convinced I was going to drop to the floor at any second. My poor friend, and roomie, Bobbie, kept checking on me (as did our tour leader, Andre, who had what turned out to be the best remedy: charcoal tablets.)

I was completely useless the next day, staying sequestered in the chalet, while the others went on another hike (I missed the swimming hole!). Many thanks to the hotel staff who checked on me during the day and brought me soup and juice. They were all very kind. While I did recover enough to enjoy the second week of the trip, my appetite dropped drastically and I didn’t dare drink another beer until our very last night. I lost about five pounds. (I do NOT recommend this as a weight-loss strategy.)

As I said in my previous post, it’s possible this incident had something to do with my later illness, but who knows? It could’ve compromised my immune system, I suppose. Maybe breathing in smoke from the wildfires had something to do with setting off my asthma, but I’m thinking that would’ve had a more immediate effect rather than a delayed one. I’m just happy that it’s over with.

So now that it’s summer again, remember kids, don’t try this at home. Or on vacation.

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More Random things from Oakland 

“Life finds a way,” Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park. 


Looks a lot like a big weed growing out of a crack in the sidewalk that needs to be cut back, doesn’t it? At first glance, yes, but look closely. Those little round things are tomatoes. The first time I saw it, it was a lot smaller and I thought someone had dropped a tomato plant after visiting the community garden down the street. But, no, it is actually growing out of cracks between the sidewalk and the little parking lot belonging to the Buddhist temple. 

I have a feeling that someone is tending this hardy stray. After all we’re in a severe drought and the plant is still green, its fruit starting to ripen. Maybe a temple-goer or one of the gardeners. To whoever is taking care of it, thank you. And to us, a lesson: from whatever unlikely place you find yourself rooted, grow…blossom. Never mind the surroundings. Don’t listen to anyone who says you shouldn’t be there. Just grow. And create whatever you were born to. 

Slow Times in the Checkout Line

Ever run to the pharmacy on your way to work, hoping for a quick in and out? You really need those meds, but you also don’t want to be late for work?  Right??

I usually have pretty good luck when I get there first thing in the morning, and there were only two people in line ahead of me yesterday. At first glance, that seems pretty good…except that out of a row of cash registers, there were only two employees working…at one register…because one was a trainee….and was she ever s l o w.

As I’m standing there, a few more people line up behind me, and we all wait. I start to wonder if I can get back to my car before that thirty minute window expires and the parking garage rate jumps from “free” to “one of your kidneys.”

I could hear some restless grumbles from the people behind (and the two people in front of me…still!), and I think maybe I should speak up, but knew it would come out too snarky.

And then we were all rescued by the older woman two people behind me. Shaking her silver and gray hair, she booms out, “Excuse me, can we get another register opened? The training is too slow! I’m growing older by the minute!” A pause. “There’s things I want to do before I die!”

Amid mumbles of gratitude from the rest of us, another employee showed up! So thank you, dear older woman, I hope you get to finish that list! And I hope it’s a long one too.

Oh, and thank you for making sure I got out of the parking garage with both my kidneys.

The Telephone Pole Gnomes of Oakland

Gnome2

When you walk the streets of Oakland, there are eyes upon you. No, not pick-pockets or pick-up artists. Well, maybe some of those. These eyes, tiny little black eyes, belong to gnomes: the Telephone Pole Gnomes of Oakland.

They first began sprouting in 2012 in the Lake Merritt neighborhood. Found always at the base of telephone poles, nearly all of them face the sidewalk, rather than the street, casting a friendly gaze upon passersby.

No one knows who created them. Or why. It is believed they are a way to add beauty to the city, or maybe just a sense of whimsy. The artist has successfully remained anonymous while growing his (her?) flock and even while fighting to preserve the beloved gnomes from the predation of PG&E.

Gnome1I’ve lived and shopped in this area since before the gnomes’ first appearances, but I must admit I never noticed them until the PG&E controversy arose. Claiming that the little 4-5 inch high wooden portraits – which are fastened to the poles with sturdy screws – were somehow damaging the poles – PG&E was threatening to remove them in early 2013.

Not realizing how much Oaklanders love their gnomes, PG&E was inundated with enough protests that the gnomes were granted a reprieve. Now, there are reportedly more than 2000 gnomes spread throughout the city.

Gnome3 Gnome4

Take a walk, a slow walk, around the city – feel free to pause at one of our ever-growing number of hip bars and restaurants – and, when you pass a telephone pole, be sure to look down. You just might see someone looking back.

For more gnome photos, and some gnome humor, be sure to visit The Fairy Room.

 

 

 

 

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