Mission & City of San Luis Obispo

There are times when a trip around the block seems like such an effort and diversion. And there are times when a four-hour roundtrip car ride can seem so relaxing. With relatives visiting from out of town, it was time to drive them back to LA. We decided to meet in San Luis Obispo and share the driving.

As a straight shot down Highway 101, San Luis Obispo (or SLO as more people call it) doesn't feel that far away. It has a real college town feel, with Cal Poly suppying the students and brain trust. Yet it has done a wonderful job of perserving its small town feel and historical roots. As you'll see from this video, the Mission is in the heart of downtown and offers a quiet respite from the bawdy college party scene.


Carmel River State Beach

This video captures that location where my fiancée and I will be married in July. It overlooks Point Lobos State Reserve, where we had our first kiss. Yes, a very romantic spot. The second half of the video contains a special 360º view of the beach, mountains, and lagoon where the Carmel River empties into the Pacific Ocean. It was here that the 1769 Portolo Crespi Expedition erected a cross to signal their supply ship that they'd gone back to San Diego. In those pioneering, something like a cross would be the only sign that Europeans would recognize as a message.

Asilomar State Beach

Sometimes you need to be safe in the harbor, other times you need to go to the rocky shore. The vital, edgy, and cantankerous shores of Asilomar Beach remind me that at times there's very little cushion for some of life's challenges. But in the midst of challenge lies opportunity. The tide pools swell with foam and waves at high tide and starve from moisture at low. The creatures that live there must have a strategy to take life's ups and downs in stride. If I'm going to get through the dry and turbulent times, I'll need to do the same.


Manzanita County Park

Its seems I've found a new way to pump life into my personal travel blog: taking short videos of my weekend hikes around Monterey. I guess it takes innovation and fresh ideas to keep a blog going, and I've found something that I can enjoy once more.

The Winter rain has come to California and I am grateful for it. Yet, after a full week of rainy days, it sure makes to grateful to see the sun again! This video is when I was home all weekend by myself. The Saturday before it was beautiful but I was wiped out from school and didn't take advantage of the day. Sunday was supposed to be the beginning of seven days of rain. I took a chance and got out for this hike. To my advantage, the rain didn't start to be steady until that evening. The result was an overcast, yet far-visibility day with pungent aromas of detritus and vegetation that fill the senses to reassure that nature is truly a revitilizing force.


Winter Vacation in Yosemite

For New Year's celebrations, I went up to Yosemite National Park with my fiancee and her friends. We hiked all around the Valley, in Hetch Hetchy, and up at Badger Pass. I was a bit camera shy in 2009, but the first 3 days of 2010 I shot these videos of the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequioas and Hetch Hetchy:

Winter Vacation in LA

My first trip of winter break was South to LA for Christmas. My brother and I took the new Metro Gold Line into East LA to sample some of the authentic Mexican cuisine. The following video is the result of our efforts:


The Hobart Shakespeareans: Merchant of Venice

I had the privilege of attending the last performance of The Hobart Shakespeareans' The Merchant of Venice at Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles on Saturday June 13. To appreciate just how much of a treat it was, let me describe the transformation of one classroom into a working theatre.

Rafe's classroom is relatively small: there's no windows to the outside, no vaulted ceilings, and cabinets and tables take up other wall space to give a very "cozy" feeling. There is a bleacher unit brought in to seat maybe 30 people on 4 levels. I sat in a row of chairs on the floor and other people were standing. The front of class has a 3-rise platform like an olympic medal ceremony, with musical instruments on the sides. Professional stage lighting stands in the back and sides of the class. One of them features looping video of backgrounds such as water through windows or a cross and Star of David to enhance the mood of the scene. Rafe and a past student operate the control board with a crazy array of switches and knobs.

The Play

Rafe opens the play with an explanation of the thousands of man-hours that have gone into making the production. He prepares the audience for some of the mature content of the songs by giving a context to the overall message of the play - racism, hate, and prejudice are not new. Then its the students' turn to give context through a musical message. They're performing on vocals, guitar, drums, and keyboard.

A classical guitar prelude is first. Most of the students had never played guitar before this year. This is the result:

Due to privacy concerns, I've taken down my videos from the performance. You can still watch videos of the Merchant of Venice from the official videographer above. My annotations to the videos I took are below.

Next, the students infuse a modern sound to give the play context in current events.

Another segment of the song:

Act 1, Scene 1 opens with Antonio and one of the theme songs for the play, Neil Young's "Heart of Gold". Shylock, the Jewish money lender, desires a pound of flesh as collateral for the bond he issues to his enemy, Antonio, if he cannot repay it.

As the plot progresses, Antonio gets news that his ships have been lost at sea. He cannot repay the bond and begs Shylock not to take the pound of flesh that he is due. Shylock and his daughter Jessica discuss the persecutions they have born as Jews in a Christian world and the repercussions of not taking what they are legally due.

There are various subplots of romance and deception, but unfortunately those where summarily deleted from my flip video camera as I tried to upload them from my vacation in Guatemala! Arrgh.

What remains are scenes from the trial where Shylock is legally given his pound of flesh, but only if he does it in a way that exacts not a drop of blood: impossible, this releasing Antonio from certain death. Message: the legal system may protect individual from discrimination, but it cannot change hearts or grant revenge at the expense of another's life.

Well, that's all I've got to annotate my descriptions. I'm especially bummed that my videos of Paul Simon's "Obvious Child", complete with brazilian drum corps, and the B52's Beach Party dance scene didn't survive. You can at least imagine the juxtaposition of 400 year old Shakespeare with modern pop culture to make the play come alive.

Bravo Hobart Shakespeareans and I hope that I can make it to "A Comedy of Errors" in 2010!


You betta Belize it!

Internet access has been few and far between and unreliable at times, thus the long period of time between posts.

Since my last post, I've had 2 weeks of homestay-immersion-one-on-one language study in San Andres, Guatemala; a visit to the Mayan ruins of Tikal; and a week on the pleasant beaches of Placencia, Belize. Now Gilda and I are on our way to Guatemala City to complete the circle of our little trek through this part of Central America. We had originally planned to visit Copan, Honduras, but with the recent coup there and difficult logistics, we decided to scrap it and extend our stay on the beach. Not bad, eh?

My language study at Eco-Escuela de Espanol was very beneficial. Although my curriculum was rather grammar-based (today we learn about present perfect tense, tomorrow the conditional), I didn't mind it too much because I was a language teacher myself and understand that structure. I had a good teacher with a sense of humor and flexible teaching style so things didn't get boring staying in one place or on one topic too long. The first week saw only one other student at the school, but the second week had 6 students there so we were able to do some activities and excursions together. We learned how to make tostadas with guacamole and limeade. We visited the school's forest preserve and learned about the native and agricultural plants and trees of the area. We visited the Mayan ruins of Yaxha, which impressed me a lot. Pictures will follow when I have the chance to upload them.

My girlfriend Gilda arrived at the end of my two weeks and we rendevouzed in Flores. We took off to see Tikal for two days. There are literally thousands of structures and hectares of property to explore, so even with two days we didn't see everything there was to see. But with a detailed book the first day and a great guide Cesear the second day. Highlights included understanding the dual Mayan calendars and number system (base 20, not 10); seeing the vantage point of Star Wars Episode IV shot from the top of Temple 4 in Tikal; and seeing howler monkeys swing from branch to branch.

We stayed an evening in Western Belize and could immediately feel the difference in attitude of this only-English-speaking-country in Central America. Trek Stop was a pleasant place to stay as we rested from the bumpy, dusty ride across the border.

Belize public transport consists of re-purposed American school busses, so we spent a good 6 hours on them getting to Placencia. Although cheap, these busses don't protect one from the sketchy travel arrangements of others. In Belmopan, Gilda and I squeezed our way into the back of a crowded bus, only to find the sole available seat was next to a dog in a box with motion sickness. Then it started to rain. The stuffy sweaty bus, combined with the wretched smell of dog barf, didn't not make for a sweet entry to Barefoot Perfect Placencia. Oh well.

We were finally out of the jungle when we arrived in Placencia. The cool breeze from the Sea and the fresh air finally told us that we'd reached our vacation relaxation spot. Our cottage was right on the beach, with a veranda full of easy chairs and hammocks to relax in. Although Gilda insisted that I just do nothing for the 6 days we'd be here, she had other plans.

We went snorkeling at Bugle Caye with its solar-powered lighthouse. Gilda snorkeled while I SCUBA dove at Laughing Bird Caye. We both toured Monkey River and learned the hard way that 30% DEET bug spray is useless in the midst of swarming mosquitos. Our guide could only laugh that we'd left the veritable "Jungle Juice 100% DEET" back at our cottage.

We ate at a lovely Austrian restaurant, Danube, and experienced schnitzel for the first time. Gilda fell in love with the Coco Colada smoothies at The Shak. I savored the familiar flavors of chicken, rice and beans.

Now we're on the move once again. Tomorrow we catch the 9am ferry to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala and then a bus to Guatemala City. We'll stay with Gilda's uncle Jorge and visit Antigua, like every tourist should I suppose. Friday we catch an evening flight to LA and get back to our lives.

Its been a great month of adventures and learning. Vinettes and episodes with video and pictures to follow!


Back in the Tropics

I wasted no time after school ended for the year. If I was to have a month of travel before my mid-summer training, I had to catch a plane to Guatemala Saturday night when school ended on Friday. Gilda and I drove down to LA, where I would get a cheaper flight. I saw my brother for a few hours before his own trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I went to a performance of The Merchant of Venice by the Hobart Shakespeareans. That event deserves a post of its own when I can post the video I took from it.

I took a red-eye flight to Guatemala City. Gilda's uncle Jorge picked me up from the airport, took me to breakfast, and saw me on the bus to Flores. After a hot and sweaty 8-hour drive, I arrived in the lakeside town just as night and rain were falling. I plopped down on my bed in Hotel Casablanca, took a shower for the first time in 2 days, and faded off to sleep.

Today I'm taking a boat across the lake to San Andres where I'll be starting my spanish classes. More later when I can get back into town for Internet access!

Countries I have visited

Where I've been in the USA