The Whole Picture is Nothing But a Compilation of Details.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I don't like e-cards. I really don't. I think they are impersonal beyond belief, but here I am... "Why?" you may ask. Well, there are about ninety-five of you on my Christmas card list and sending an e-card instead of a traditional card this year enables me to donate $146 to a charity of choice (last year I donated to Doctors without Borders). Enough said.



A brief synopsis: 2011 brought many changes to my life, and with them, opportunities to grow (and at times curl up in a ball and cry...).

In January 2011, having just returned from my second Christmas in 18 years with my family in Sweden/France and about to head to South America for two + weeks (great trip!!!), I got laid off in one of the tightest job markets since the great depression. But change is good: I used this as an opportunity to re-educate myself to enter a very different field of work for a second career, one that would be sustainable on a personal level for a longer time than being beaten up by horses: Higher/International Education. I started as a part-time, unpaid summer intern at a language school in Boston in April, got put in charge of the kids' camp in June, obtained my certificate to teach English as a Second Language in October, taught for two months and landed a full-time position last week...  :) .  Eight months from start to finish! Thanks to the many of you who supported me in my quest. Not to mention those of you who planted the seed years ago by shipping me out of Sweden.

I also made it to the west coast for the first time ever, where I celebrated my 40th birthday. Spent a wonderful week in San Fransisco with a great friend, her family and a new friend. When one door closes, try another... :)   I surfed for the first time, kayaked a lot, became a contributing writer to and learned how to restrain lobsters. I started running again.  I made more new friends from around the world. I also want to point out that I had no unforseen injuries this year... just a knee surgery. Is the tide changing? ;) 

Best wishes for a fantastic 2012!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Local Trip to a Place Far Away

Sunday morning. The phone rings. "Hey. Any chance you could pick me up at the airport tomorrow night? I was in an accident and am scheduled for re-constructive surgery on my face in the morning." Whoa!  Whatever was on my list of things to do quickly becomes irrelevant, urgent matters can easily be rescheduled, and my own "problems" seem trivial. "Of course, what else can I do?" I ask. "Nothing. I'm in Arizona."

I pick him up Monday night. Traffic is light and my somewhat random choices of lanes magically take me straight to the correct terminal. I arrive curbside just as he exits the building, for which I'm thankful: there's nothing worse than waiting to be picked up at the airport. Especially when you've been in a pressurized cabin for several hours within 24 hours of surgery. If you have, you know what I mean. If you haven't, I'll advise against it...
We stop off at the local pharmacy and clean them out of their supply of ice packs (all sizes and shapes) and at the local favorite pub for some soft food to go. With three metal plates, a few screws and thirty eight stitches in the face, that's all one can eat... mush.

Fed, medicated and propped up in bed with ice pack in place, he dozes off. He wakes up every hour and a half throughout the night, uncomfortable from the swelling, understandably so. I change the ice pack each time and ask if he's taken his medication, again and again, wondering when he'll clock me one for nagging. But I've made the mistake of falling behind on pain medication and playing catch-up with pain. Pain wins every time...

The next morning, before leaving for my day job, I run to the grocery store to procure enough mush to get the patient through the day. My former "problems" are no more.
I return in the evening with more mush and ice packs. Pad Thai and icecream fall in the catgory of mush so we eat well. The second night shift follows the same pattern as the first. I clock out at 6 am, get changed for my day job and head for the subway.
On a whim, I get off one station before my normal stop. The doors close behind me and I find myself transported into a different world: I feel like Alice in Wonderland...  walking slowly down the street marvelling at the Christmas decorations and the last few leaves rustling in the light rain. Pacificio, the cozy, very European cafe, where I would never dream of bringing my laptop, beckons with soft light, the smell of fresh pastries and steaming coffee. Alas, today there it not enough time. I promise myself to return another day. I stroll on, smiling.
A narrow side street lined with brownstone buildings, all adorned with intricate ironrod work and Christmas decor invites me to turn off the main road. Enchanted, I pause and take a few photos. A small number of sleepy people are slowly getting ready for the new day, which is still stirring in the early daylight. A familiar scent hits my nose and fills me with good memories, triggering a warm smile to spread across my face. Despite being close to rushhour, the people I pass in the street return the smile.
The Boston Common is quiet, except for the ducks; they sound funny. I realize then and there that I am genuinely relaxed and filled with happiness. I feel like I've been far away from home for a week. I have been less than fifteen miles away from home for less than 36 hours. Giving is rewarding.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Local travel

Travel begins the moment you open your eyes and ears. Today's trip took me to the Boston Common where I took a seat on a bench down by the pond.
I caught myself smiling at the ducks. They sound silly.

Eva Mossberg

Monday, October 24, 2011

Public Primping Part 2: Males

The man in front of me moved his hand back and forth to his face in a very odd way. Intrigued by the odd continuous movement I took a closer look. I shouldn't have: he was shamelessly pulling out stubble and in-grown hairs with a pair of tweezers. For ten minutes. Then came the cologne - and plenty of it. Grooming in all honor, but pulling out ingrown hairs in public? What's next? Squeezing pimples? Yuck.

Eva Mossberg

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Good Harbor Beach Oct 2011
You’ve got a 9-5′er.
You’ve got kids.
You’ve got debt.
You’ve got no money, seriously.
You’ve got an expired passport.

What you’ve got are excuses.

A walk beyond your front door is travel.
The only thing you need for a trip is curiosity.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Primping in Public

Sitting next to a woman who has no qualms about doing her entire morning routine on the commuter rail, from spot cleaning her clothes to rubbing lotion on hands, arms and face before then launching into a very detailed make-up application. When finished, she sticks her hand in her enormous (I know why!) handbag and pulls out a homemade egg McMuffin lookalike sandwich wrapped in a piece of paper towel and scoffs it down. Toothbrush next? (Oh god I hope not.) Nope... Check book. Phew. But here comes the mouthwash! Ugh.
Eva Mossberg

Friday, September 16, 2011


When situations don't change you must be the one changing.
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Man - The Greatest Attraction Alive

Towards the end of the day, driving through California country, 
a tasty mouthful of local flavor:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Touring Region de los Lagos, Chile. Part II: Puelche - Hornopirén

We hit the gravel as I turned the last page of our guide book.

Ruta 7, also known as the Carretera Austral is wedged tightly between the vertical hillsides of the Andes mountain range on one side and steep, loose gravel plummeting into the ocean on the other, along some 770 miles of breathtaking, jagged coastline along the southern regions of Chile. This road, as long as the distance between San Francisco and Seattle, not only provided access, but also brought tourism, education, medical and dental care to the 100,000 or so residents landlocked prior to its completion in 1999. As a point of reference, approximately 800,000 people live in San Francisco.
You would think we'd be at sea for days...
With no destination in mind, other than southbound, and with only one road to follow, navigation was easy, bar the very distractive beauty which made us swerve countless times and stop a few times to take in the smell of the ocean, the tranquility and the striking scenery. Gravel and rocks the size of small meteors were hitting the car, the sun beamed down on us and the shimmering bay as we drove until we could go no further – the road literally and physically ends with a ferry terminal in La Arena.

The ferry from La Arena to Puelche is the shortest and northernmost of three ferries in this region that bring cargo and passengers further along where nature governs and no road can be built. The other two run from Hornopirén to Ayacara, and from Ayacara to Nueva Chaitén. From Nueva Chaitén, the Carretera Austral carries you to its end at Villa O’Higgins.
At a geographical point of no return we consulted our map and a bus driver to assure there was an ATM and a gas station on the other side before we spent our last pesos on the ferry ride. A place to spend the night was rated less important, as was eating, since like ferrets we has stocked up on snacks and water. The minute we boarded, a sense of eerie beauty descended on us; the ferry moved through a foggy, grey landscape at a gentle speed, with a red tailed hawk aboard for a free ride and penguins diving for fish alongside: Dreamlike.

From Puelche there are two ways to get to Hornopirén, where the ATM is located: the coastal route or Ruta 7. Daylight was fading, so we chose the shorter, interior and direct north-south ruta 7 to secure pesos and a roof over our heads before the night enveloped us in her darkness. We were told that once we hit the south shore, we just needed to turn our noses to the east, and Hornopirén would be at the end.

Overly brightly lit, like any ATM, this modern convenience was easy to find and operate. Cash in hand, we set off to find a roof over our heads which proved more difficult (remember, it was high season) and interesting. Finally, a simple inquiry in a supermercado (think bread, canned goods and some local vegetables) turned into a long discussion about heritage as the European roots go deep in this part of the world…  It also helped us secure a room at Hotel Hornopirén, which is clean, quiet and well run. No frills or disappointments.

And as we came to find out the next day… an awe inspiring view of the inlet.

See for yourself: Early Morning Walk In Hornopiren, Chile


Friday, August 5, 2011

Testing the Waters

Asking me if I want to go sailing is like asking a puppy if they want to go for a waaaalkiiee, and it is only through extreme self control, and fear of being locked up in a padded room that I keep myself from running in circles hollering "When? When? When?".
The morning was sunny, hot and humid, with not a puff of air. We were intent on sailing, and knowing that the sea breeze would kick in at 12:30 pm as it does almost daily, a result of warmer inland air rising as hot air does, sucking in the cooler ocean air as replacement, creating an on-shore breeze for the afternoon, we began what would turn into a cartoon-like adventure on, in and out of the water and on, in and out of the boat: a quick little 13' Sunfish. The Sunfish is known for being incredibly responsive to the elements. If you don't sail, think race car, not truck...

We gathered the colorful Bermuda-like rigging, centerboard and tiller and hooked the boat up to the golf cart used to get around the farm. The boat "trailer" was the kind you typically seen pulled by hand: two wheels with tires (in our case, broken) on a frame that fits into the centerboard slit. Down the bumpy, dirt road we went...  chased and tagged by our tow.

A short ride later we arrived at the water's edge where we were instantly attacked by incredibly fierce, flying cannibals equipped with shark teeth. Since we were carrying the boat down a rocky, slippery path, they had a clear competitive advantage, that is, until we pulled out the D.E.E.T. bug spray... Death BY green-heads or death TO green-heads?

We had agreed to also use this morning to train for an upcoming ocean swim race, so as soon as we had the boat and all rigging by the edge of the water, we hopped into the beckoning bay where we swam, laughed and frolicked like little kids. We hooked onto a "no wake" buoy and talked about nothing for awhile but soon realized our boat was floating down the river two hundred yards away...  And we even KNEW the tide was still coming in...  Fighting fits of laughter, I put my swim-skills to use and caught up with the bobbing boat. Boat in tow, I swam back to - oops, there's the centerboard, and... a shoe (mine), and ugh the tiller too - shore, where the rest of our belongings were gathered and hung up to dry.

Round two with the green-heads.

Sails hoisted, we pushed off into the vacuum of dead air. And drifted. Eventually, we found a pocket of airwhere the wind filled our sail - we even created a small wake. Before long, a shrill whistle interrupted the silence, followed by someone hollering "Are you racing?" Seeing the irony in the situation we could only reply, smiling, "Does it look like it?" A nice reach took us to the other side of the bay - the one closer to the ocean and since we were now desperate for a steady breeze, we decided to go around the point and test the boat in the Atlantic Ocean.

Hogging the tiller and sail (you almost have to do both in a Sunfish because of how she sails), I gained more confidence and ability with every tack, and we had a lot of fun whipping up and down in front of the beach, dodging power boats and jet-skis. The change came about as we started to head back in through the mouth of the basin, with shifty winds, and an outgoing tide, which means less water and more sand bars to contend with. Approximately eight feet of water travels through this narrow opening over six hours, so the current gets strong...

Having tacked four times, ending each port tack by a moored blue hulled power boat despite pointing as high as we could, we reluctantly threw in the towel, beached the boat and began a determined trek back to base, fighting the strong current in waist-high water, a workout worthy Rambo VII. Where there was a good line for us to sail (and more importantly, water), we would perform a flying start, with me sliding onto the deck as soon as the sail filled with wind, laying on my stomach with the tiller in my hand, ready and able to jump into the water and onto the boat as needed. Talk about the feeling of being one with your boat...

Two hundred yards from our desired destination, at this time primarily towing the boat, half swimming, half pulsing through the water, we got hung up on the aforementioned "no wake" buoy. So close, yet so far away. We felt like a tourist attraction with all of the Sunday traffic going by on their way home...

Finally three girls in a power boat asked if we needed help. Hooked together we began our journey toward rest, food and cold beer. Putt, putt, sputter, sputter, putt, silence, the unmistakable sound of no gas. What was once two girls and one boat in need had multiplied to five girls and two boats, drifting across the channel towards an unavoidable collision with a sand bar. Captain Power Boat tried the can once more and shook enough drops into the engine to get her started and once again, we were on our way back to base. About to detach, a giant, two-story power yacht went by and with its wake, landed us both on the sand bar. Plop. At least we were back where we needed to be.

We pushed the power boat and sent her on her way downriver, and dragged the Sunfish the last twenty, very muddy yards back to base, where we took on the green-heads in round three. Our feet got sucked deep into the mud as we carried the boat up above the high-water mark. On the last trip down through the mud flats to collect the sails my feet totally slid out from under me, like Bambi. SPLAT! And there I sat, laughing. I had been foolish to think the adventure was over...

Later, I was told that today's was the best journey she'd ever experienced.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Touring Region de los Lagos, Chile. Part 1: Valdivia - Puerto Montt

We had arrranged for the rental of a 4x4 pick-up truck ahead of time, which I recommend you do, especially during high season, or you are likely to be without or far worse - in a small car on the Carretera Austral. It is on the pricey side, but it is worth every penny. The sense of liberty that came with our own set of wheels after being governed by set bus routes and times was exhilarating. Music blasting, all windows wide open, hair flying in the warm summer breeze, we headed out of Valdivia, toward the great, wide open, the unknown.

Before long we... oops... dead-ended in the parking lot of a supermarket. You know well what often happens when a male driver and a female navigator get lost. I know you have all been there, before the days you could blame the GPS. Solving this navigational task could potentially break or make the rest of the week which was to be spent behind the wheel, exploring Region de los Lagos and beyond. A close look at the map revealed we were only two blocks from the right track, and we were soon on our way again.

We drove until the sun began putting his pajamas on, casting long shadows across the well paved road. The exit sign said "Rio Bueno" and it was not in the guide book, so that's where we headed to get into port before dark. As we circled the town looking for a place to stay we learned that the the brothel was still very much open for business, the train station was not, and the supermercado, contrary to many others earned the "super" part of its name as it was stocked with delicacies. We picked up empanadas, pan amasado, cheese, avocado and wine, completely unsuspecting that this would become our diet for the next week. Just before the day turned as black as a coal mine shaft, we found Cabanas y Moteles Techos Verdes, a relatively large number of wooden cabins built on a small, but well thought-out plot of La Señora Margarita's backyard, just a few blocks from the main street. This is clearly her kingdom, and she keeps it clean, comfortable, and provides a welcoming atmosphere. With the car in the attached garage we entered our room: dressed in a pastel salmon-pink with pink hues it looked like something out of the Pocono resorts, a tacky destination resort in Pennsylvania. I looked around for the complimentary bottle of cheap champagne and the heart-shaped black jacuzzi, but luckily they were nowhere to be found. Instead, we proposed a toast with a glass of red wine to having stopped moving after fifteen hours of non-stop travel. Nourishment, hot showers and extremely nice, fluffy towels worthy of a first class hotel topped up our supply of energy and happiness. 

Despite what sounded like a dancing sea lion on our roof we awoke well rested and ready to continue our adventures. Chile, contrary to Argentina, is not a coffee-drinking nation, and driven mainly by an immediate need for caffeine we stopped in Puerto Varas, a Germanic town of thirty-three thousand people on the shores of Lago Llanquhue. A growing tourist destination with a cute city center and a well manicured lake-side promenade, it has several options for fantastic espresso, including a mobile espresso kiosk ( and Cafe La Barista where you can enjoy delicious sandwiches, smoothies and more. It is also one of the few places in the region where you can obtain a fishing license, an absolute must if you intend to fish in Chile, which is an absolute must for any fly fisher heading to Patagonia. Fueled by caffeine we found the fishing store called "Queen Fish" but couldn't understand why the shop was closed when the hours of operation indicated it should be open. It was Sunday.

Overlooking the white-capped, sun-kissed lake and the snow-covered Volcan Osorno we enjoyed a tailgate picnic in the bed of our fire-red 4x4 truck, talking about where to go next. The world was our oyster: La Carretera Austral. The last frontier. 1240 kilometers of packed gravel penetrating the most hostile and beautiful environments? Or the city of Puerto Montt to purchase bus tickets for our last leg to Santiago? We decided with some hesitation to roll the dice and obtain tickets at a later time and immediately head south along the Carretera Austral, knowing full well that the likelihood of finding a place to buy tickets would diminish exponentially the further south we went.

However, the road continued to rise up to meet us as per the Irish blessing and directed us past the bus station. Unable to deny that another power insisted we have tickets for the journey to Santiago, I was dropped off and already back at the side of the road, tickets in hand by the time my partner in crime had turned around to face the correct way. Ruta 7 took us along the shoreline, initially bordered by casinos and a huge shopping center, later by soccer fields, grazing horses and bobbing fishing boats. As I turned the last page in the guide book, the pavement ended. We were on the gravel that makes the Carretera Austral so notorious. Giddy, we continued south. Destination unknown.

Ruta 7 toward Piedra Azul

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Green Business Best Practices Workshop: Go Greener in Salem!

As most people were probably at home drinking coffee and reading the paper this morning, twenty-five like-minded participants and I attended the "Green Business Best Practices Workshop", an interactive workshop organized by City of Salem, Salem Chamber of Commerce, Salem Recycles and the North Shore Transportation Management Association.  

Industry leaders, including a bicycle commuter of nineteen years (!) shared resources, tips and tools on how we can save money by greening our businesses and homes, from conserving water by changing spray nozzles on our garden hoses to recycling construction waste and qualify for tax credit programs. Most of us knew of course that the city has a curbside recycling program, but did you know that if you use a private trash service, you can still use the city's recycling program? Did you know that North Shore Recycled Fiber, located right here in Salem, is open to the public and will shred sensitive documents for you and recycle your boat's shrink wrap? Were you aware of what happens if you put plastic bags in your recycling bin? I thought not: during processing your bag wraps around inside the machine and forces the entire system to be shut down for an hour so the bags can be cut off! A dripping faucet? At a rate of one drop every ten seconds, you are wasting almost 26 gallons per month!

Luckily, help is only one click away!
This site, developed by City of Salem gives you immediate access to over fifty websites, from recycling programs and construction waste management to buying guides and alternative commuting ideas and resources.

Remember what matters is not that you can do it all, but that you do all you can.

My new shower head.

Dates to remember:
  • Saturday April 24: Household Hazardous Waste Day in Beverly, open to Salem residents. 8 a.m. to noon, at Beverly High School, rain or shine.There is a $20 co-pay to help the city offset the cost of putting on the event. Proof of residency is required. No commercial waste will be accepted.
  • Saturday May 7: Clean Salem, Green Salem. 8:30 am start.  Salem Common.
  • Saturday May 21: 4th Annual Living Green and Renewable Energy Fair. 10 am - 3 pm. Old Town Hall, Salem. Green industry professionals and consumers from the Greater Boston & North Shore regions will discuss products, services and information that encourage healthier, more sustainable consumption and lifestyles for businesses and families.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Coming Home

Exploration has driven mankind since the beginning of times, and leaving Sweden on a 44' Najad at age 19 was exciting, absolutely exhilarating. I had just graduated high school and was about to leave for one year and sail from Stockholm, Sweden to the Caribbean and back. Our plotted course would take us across the dreaded English Channel, the world’s busiest waterway where no rules of the road apply, to the United Kingdom; continue to Bretagne in northern France to provision the boat with gourmet French food and wine (any sailor knows food is important onboard); across the Bay of Biscay, notorious among sailors for its awful seas as the Atlantic swell hits more shallow water, and winds which will blow you off course and wash you up on the shores of France if you don’t pay attention. After landfall in La Coruña, northern Spain, our course was due south, following the coast of Portugal, pausing in fishing villages along the way; rounding the corner of the Iberian peninsula at Cabo de São Vicente where we would change our heading from 180 to 90 degrees. Our new course would take us past the Algarve and Spain, through the boiling waters of Gibraltar sound to our second visit to the United Kingdom this side of the Atlantic Ocean: Gibraltar.

Sister boat S/S Gugner, anchored at Isla Bonita

Leaving Gibraltar to our stern, we would continue 540 miles on a southwesterly course straight into the Atlantic Ocean to the amazing Madeira islands. This Portuguese island group boasts an incredible variety of flowers, lush vegetation clinging to vertical walls of lava based rock, twisting roads and waterfalls slicing through the mountains in the few places they could be penetrated. From the main island of Madeira, we would sail to our last stop on this side of the "puddle"; the Canary Islands before steering the boat into the sunset for a long time, crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

The Caribbean was going to be explored and enjoyed until the trade winds decided we had to start the return trip and close the circle that began in the English Channel.

Our initial crew of five waved Stockholm goodbye on a sunny summer day with perfect winds, hoping this was a good omen. Sailors are superstitious. For the most part, the journey went as planned, including the usual leaky head, torn sails, hunt for spare parts, and batteries overheating on a far too regular basis.

The archipelago off the coast of Sweden consists of 24,000 islands, islets and skerries and is considered one the best sailing destinations in the world because of its sheltered brackish water, endless summer days and next to no tides. Telling other boat crews about our journey ahead felt surreal. Were we really finally on our way? Their three-week long vacations seemed bleak in comparison. Treated like royalty wherever we went, we followed the east coast of Sweden, and stopped at every happening harbor known to man, which for Swedish sailors enjoying the summer include most. We had a duty to uphold the Captain's tradition of a celebratory toast each time we were tied up safely in port. We took it very seriously and saluted with gusto each and every time the boat was declared docked by the Captain. Even after re-setting a dragging anchor.

The Kiel Canal, also known as the Nord-Ostsee Canal, is the wet highway between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. It cuts straight through northern Germany and offers recreational sailors and the shipping industry an irresistible alternative to contending with the North Sea between Denmark and Norway. We enjoyed sixty-one relaxing miles on flat water with no navigational hazards before being discharged like waste water at the mouth of the Elbe river. The feared North Sea treated us well, as did the English Channel.

Twelve hours into our rainy and windy crossing of the Bay of Biscay we added a crew member: an exhausted pigeon dropped out of the grey sky and made our cockpit his home. In between showers he would sit on the raised seat behind the wheel, and when it rained heavily, which was most of the time, he took shelter under the sprayhood. He made a mess of both. Well-fed and rested, he disembarked just before we reached the Iberian peninsula.

The west coast of Portugal, anticipated to offer smooth sailing, instead presented us with most unpleasant surprises: shortly after entering Portuguese waters we were bullied into playing an exciting chess game of collision course and last-minute tacks initiated by the incredibly aggressive fishing fleet. We played defensively which made for an interesting life onboard but served us well. Despite the serious fishing industry, there is a notable lack of vessel supply stores in the ports along the west coast of Portugal. As we rounded the southwest corner of Portugal, the threat of being rammed was replaced with the threat of being struck from above as we encountered the heaviest thunder and lightning storms any of us had ever seen. The debate onboard pertained to electronics: should we keep the radar on so we could see what storm systems to avoid, or disconnect it all to avoid a total blowout if we were hit? We alternated. And made it safely to port.

The Atlantic Ocean was a wonderful experience under double head sails and large rolling waves. After twenty-one days of a steady, rolling existence we sailed into Castries Harbor in St. Lucia where we were greeted with a basket of fresh fruit and a bottle of rum. In accordance with the Captain's traditions, once securely tied to the dock, we enjoyed a celebratory toast, size large. It was five in the morning. When we went ashore the next day it seemed at first that the island was moving under my feet, but it was just my sea legs that had a hard time adjusting to solid ground. Strange to feel off-kilter on shore.

When we reached Barbados, the ocean now pumping through my veins, I yearned to continue west and circumnavigate the globe. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said: "Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds." I negotiated with the Captain and disembarked in pursuit of a vessel continuing on the other side, across the Pacific. Finding work on a reputable boat was harder than it seemed at first, and what followed instead was four months of beach life in Barbados, a year and a half working at a restaurant in Portugal, and a short visit to Sweden. One door closes, another one opens.

Life didn't change: In 1993, a friend in New York invited me to visit before attending university in London. Well, instead of London I went to university in Florida, then Connecticut. A job opportunity took me to a yacht club north of Boston which was fantastic and fun, but unfortunately kept me from being on the water for years. I was always working.

But life is generous with her wild cards.

Some cards are harder than others to play right, but since you can only use the cards you were dealt, you must do the best you can with what you have. Over the years, my cards taught me that it is not a game you win; it is a game that makes you stronger. La vida tiene muchas vueltas. Roll with it. Learn to identify, enjoy and be thankful for whatever comes your way.

My family is in Sweden; my closest friends live in Canada, California, Connecticut, Argentina, and France. I can relocate at a moment's notice, anywhere in the world. But unless I am presented with an interesting wild card, I won't. I have tied up safely in port and may stay awhile and enjoy the ocean for her good company, as a swimmer, diver, kayak guide, sailor, and power boater, depending on the occasion.

I'm an avid traveler with a home.

At last.

A celebratory toast is in order. Cheers, Cap'!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Barely Across the Andes

"BEEP. BEEP. BEEP" it shrieked. We had barely put our heads down on the cool, cushy, comfortable pillows when the nocturnal bird, with the cry of an alarm clock, woke us up. This continued with regular intervals throughout the night and we became worried we would be immune to the sound of the alarm when it rang at 5:15 am to get us on the bus by 6:00 am sharp. Hence, we laid awake for most of the night. Ticktock. Ticktock. BEEP BEEP. BEEP. Ticktock. Ticktock. BEEP BEEP. BEEP. Ticktock. Ticktock. BEEP BEEP. BEEP.

Soon, the night turned to morning and naturally, the chorus grew louder. When the clock struck five we gave up on sleep and rose to meet our Swiss inn-keeper for our arranged ride to the bus station downtown, fifteen minutes away. We were convinced, given his heritage, that he'd already be up and waiting for us with the engine running. He was nowhere to be seen. Watching each passing minute with growing concern, we were certain the bus, in typical Argentine fashion, would not leave even thirty seconds late. Twenty minutes before six, we knocked on all possible doors, waking up everyone at the bed and breakfast including thankfully, the large rottweiler, our wildly barking saviour. Shirttails hanging out and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, our inn-keeper appeared at last. Without further ado, we departed for the bus station: a cloud of dust attempting to travel back in time down a bumpy dirt road.

The time was 6:03 am when we arrived and for some inexplicable reason the bus had not yet departed. Panting, with our hearts in our throats, we sank into our seats on the bus to Valdivia, Chile, some seven hours away.

Customs and immigration were cleared at Paso Mamuil Malal; a fairly lengthy process for a bus since all luggage has to be taken off the vehicle, checked into Chile and loaded again. With passports stamped and officially in the country with the longest coastline in South America, we traveled on paved roads coiling through a breathtaking landscape of stark contrasts: deep gorges, icy blue rivers, tall mountains, lush forest and as we descended, hectares of rich farmland sitting in the shadow of the majestic Volcano Lanín (12,389').

We arrived in Valdivia with no plans or itinerary other than a rented car and a flight out of Santiago: the backbone of our travel in Chile, the Navimag ferry had been taken out of service a few days earlier, thwarting our plan of observing exotic marine life whilst drifting south on a ferry through the dazzling fjords of Chile.

Instead, our journey was planned en route and included a few close calls but always somehow unfolding without a hitch. It took us to where our guide book ended and very few people ventured: the coast between Hornopirén and Ralún.

Monday, March 14, 2011

42 Hours in San Martin de los Andes

Rolling through the Pampas of Argentina
 The bus left Buenos Aires at 1600 hours sharp and moved us in comfort through the brown- and yellow hued, arid steppe covered with hardy vegetation like mata negra; jarilla, used locally to combat rheumatism; thyme; creeping crowfoot; thorny calafate, and tufts of coirón grass. (The people of Patagonia say that if you consume the blue berries of the Calafate you will never leave, or if you do, you always come Home. I clearly ate some back in 2006 when I first came here...) Rio Colorado, Rio Limay, and Rio Negro run like ribbons of blue through the over-grazed Pampas, but do not come close to providing enough water to sustain more vegetation. Somehow the cattle, horses, sheep, and burros feeding off this land are fat anyway. As we drew near our destination, a pair of condors appeared overhead, soaring across the clear blue sky, and the snow capped Lanin Volcano rose on our horizon, guiding us, as it did when I crossed the Andes on horseback in 2006 ( Twenty hours later, we arrived the sparkling lakeside town of San Martin de los Andes, 650 miles southwest of Buenos Aires.

Unbeknownst to us, there were plans made for our 42-hour visit. My friend Yvonne swept us off to lunch with the Department of Tourism of San Martin de los Andes and El Gordo, business owner of el Bodegón, both curious about my work as travel ambassador with Much Better Travel, Inc, and The International Ecotourism Society (TIES). From there, we drove up to Yvonne's business partner Raol's camp at Lago Lolog for a late afternoon ride on their newly acquired horses. Muscular, healthy, strong and surefooted, they carried us up the mountainside to pause on a rocky clearing, overlooking Lago Lolog. Upon our return, Carmelo, the 68-year old caretaker greeted us with a warm smile, his face carved by years of wind and weather, his expression leaving no doubt of his delight in the moment. He gently unbridled the horses, hosed them off and set them free to graze on the thousands of available hectares. His loving gaze followed them as they trotted off down the dusty path. A smile across his face. His dog at his side.

Raol had started to prepare for dinner by heating up the oven, a process of first lighting a fire inside the beehive, and when it's hot enough, cleaning out the charred materials to make room for the food. This home-made construction of bricks and mortar supported on five wooden posts was hot and ready when we arrived, having first washed the dust off our hands in the cold stream that runs through the property. As we waited for the fresh, free-range, lemon basted chicken to cook, we munched on slices of chorizo and sipped cold, local cerveza Quilmes, delicious after a dusty ride. The temperature dropped quickly after sunset, and longing for a real bed after the long bus ride, we were soon enveloped by clean sheets, falling asleep as the cool breeze rustled the curtain, whispering "good night".

The morning brought sunshine and a couple visiting for a half day of horseback riding: dressed to the nines, complete with cameras, sunglasses and backpacks. Dissuaded to bring the backpack, we mounted and waved goodbye to Carmelo. (For those of you who don't know, during a ride a backpack hits you square in the back with every step of the horse, and catches branches overhead. The story typically ends with the rider on the ground, the backpack in the tree, and the horse nowhere to be found.) Yvonne guided us through lush lenga- and enchanted pine tree forests; growths of Chusquea macrostachya, also knows as Chilean Mountain Bamboo; yellow seas of blossoming Alstroemerias, pausing for breathtaking views of the Andes and Lago Lolog. The couple, hesitant to begin, were beaming. The Andes are magical, no doubt.   

Friday, March 11, 2011

Rubbish in Buenos Aires: One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure.

Photo by Chet Scorpio

Strolling back to our bed and breakfast through dark streets of Buenos Aires, the lid of the dumpster suddenly moves. Food scraps, cardboard, and plastic soar through the air and land with a thud at the paws of an eagerly waiting, well-nourished, black "designer dog" a.k.a. mutt. The head of a young man appears over the edge of the six-yard metal dumpster, then disappears again, back into the debris. More garbage is catapulted into the street, and soon the young man surfaces and leaps out in one fluid movement. He places his collected treasures in a wooden cart, styled like an old oxcart, which he pulls behind him to the next dumpster where the process is repeated. Left behind is nothing short of a disaster.

The next morning, the streets are spotless. I am baffled.

Our hostess, Brenda, explains: There is no separation of garbage at the source in her barrio, or neighborhood. The producer, be it a household or a sizable restaurant, places any and all refuse, including but far from limited to: cardboard, food remnants, bathroom trash, glass containers, and plastic bottles in bags, or not, and then in six-yard containers in the street.

The container lids are weighted down and open with a hinged steel bar running along the base of the container, preventing birds and animals from foraging through the contents. This privilege is reserved for the "cartoneros". Nick-named after the Spanish word for cardboard: cartón, this informal group of young, uneducated, and poor people is the self-appointed backbone of the city's recycling program.

No joke. The website  reports that the government, having tried and failed twice to implement a working program for trash separation and recycling, decided to essentially adopt the informal system already in place: los cartoneros had learned the ins and outs of recycling during the Argentine economic crisis in 2001, and were already keeping tons of recyclable and reusable material out of landfills whilst making a living, their activity legalized in 2002. Robert Felicetti, former city environment minister, is quoted in the December 2006 issue of The Argentina Independent, a publication aiming to increase awareness of the cultural, political and environmental sides of Argentine life, whilst promoting tourism:  “We want to develop a productive way of working for these people – many of whom are women and young people who have never had a formal job in their lives. They are doing a great service to the city – we have no recycling policies and environmentally that is disastrous. We need cartoneros, on the most basic level.”

An estimated seven thousand cartoneros decend on the city each evening, bar Saturdays due to the city's schedule for trash collection.  They travel from surrounding barrios with their homemade carts, sometimes drawn by a horse, but more typically the cart is a refurnished dolly with a woven plastic bag, or a shopping cart; if there is a horse in front of the cart, it is equipped with steel shoes to protect the hoofs from the hard surface. The cartoneros are crafty and industrious, hustling through the night, often working in groups. Their collected recyclables are sold to stockpilers: other goods are reused, repaired, or sold within the community. 

Working together, cartoneros formed cooperatives to act as liaisons with the neighborhoods and government agencies, assist with childcare, and negotiate better prices for the recycled goods. The first cooperative, El Ceibo was formed in 1989 by nine women who went door to door, educating clients in the benefits of recycling efforts, asking them to do their share by sorting the trash at the source. Today there are approximately ten cooperatives in and around Buenos Aires. Jill Greenberg reports in her 2010 article "Recycling Paper, Plastics, and People" that El Ciebo joined forced with Greenpeace Argentina in 2004.

"Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success. "
~ Henry Ford

The Zero Waste law, adopted by Argentina in 2005, stipulates that all recyclable and compostable material is to be kept out of landfills by 2020. A lofty goal according to some, but as already demonstrated by the cartoneros: teamwork divides the work and multiplies success.

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dinner, Tango, and Cigars In the Other City That Never Sleeps.

Courtesy of
Barely off the ferry from Uruguay, dodging a few "free-lance" taxis, we were suddenly absorbed by the disembarking mob, with which we merged. As the crowd disappeared into Buenos Aires like a cloud dispersed by wind, we found ourselves next to the taxi line outside the terminal - just where we wanted to be! Placed third in line, we were assigned the third car that pulled in. There was no room for error or forging ahead as the man in charge was the definition of "effective and orderly" personified. As we slid into the backseat, I already had my hackles up and my arguments and questions formulated in Spanish to avoid being ripped off by the driver like we had in Montevideo. Burn me once, shame on you; burn me twice, shame on me. Moments later we arrived safely and without disagreements at Los Patios de Montserrat, a bed and breakfast centrally located in the textile district, ten blocks from the obelisk at Plaza de la Republica, where the Argentine flag was hoisted for the first time in Buenos Aires, on August 23, 1812.

In typical fashion, adding an element of surprise wherever we went, our accommodations in Buenos Aires were booked "sight unseen". The marble entryway looked like a fancy apartment building so we hesitated briefly before ringing the buzzer labeled "reception", afraid it was someone's private home. I had barely removed my finger when the smiling inn keeper appeared in the doorway welcoming us to Los Patios de Montserrat. Graham, originally from New York, and his Argentine artist wife Brenda have owned and operated the stately 19th century home as a bed and breakfast since they purchased the building in 2009.

The Ballroom at Los Patios de Montserrat
We took the elevator up two floors, and were enveloped by a beautiful natural light, which entered the space through skylights and an open courtyard. A nice, refreshing breeze came from the ballroom, where the original solid wood, floor-to-ceiling double doors were wide open, letting the warm, dry summer air of Buenos Aires seep in. Eight sets of simple wooden chairs and tables dressed in blue cloths hugged the wall by the open double-doors, the openings secured by rod-iron banisters. A small metal statue of a peeing dog kept a door from slamming shut. I was completely consumed, wishing the floor and walls could tell me all the stories and secrets they held.

Brought back to reality, we were shown to room number fourteen, which was furnished with a beautiful, simple bed flanked by wooden bedside tables. There was an antique dresser for our clothes, and the light fixtures all had energy efficient light bulbs (provided through an exchange program sponsored by the manufacturer). The toilet, separated from the rest of the room by a door, shared ceiling space with the adjacent, shared bath for "damas", an ingenious way to use space and add a private bathroom, which posed no problem to us at all as the "damas" had very little, if any traffic during our stay. The toilet door was framed by bricks; otherwise our room was made of stucco and ceramic tile. The shower head was modern and the water pressure fantastic - wonderful after the experience in Montevideo where a moderate rain shower would have been more effective than was the shower at the hostel.

Rested, clean, and dressed in our best, we set out for dinner, tango, and cigars, an evening talked about excitedly since the day our flights were booked. For me, it felt fantastic to shed winter clothes and put on a sleeveless dress, which I paired with my finest flip-flops (remember, we were backpacking after all). One of my favorite things about Buenos Aires and South America in general is the lack of air conditioning: you never have to worry about freezing to death inside a restaurant when it's eighty degrees outside; a threat particularly prevalent in the state of Florida. We found a little restaurant around the corner which met our simple criteria: they had a wood burning oven. At "Parilla la Posada" we had a lovely dinner served by an enthusiastic and sincere waiter. I spoke Spanish; he spoke English. Eager to be on time for the tango show, we departed in a hurry and hoofed it across town to Piazzolla Tango. The show was delayed so our arriving ten minutes after said show time didn't matter. In fact, the guests who were there for dinner as well were just served their main course as we sat down in the opulent hall, reminiscent of the grand old theatres of Europe.

The exact origins of tango - both the word and the dance are lost in myth and unrecorded history. It is generally agreed upon that this dramatic and sensual dance was brought to Uruguay and Argentina in the late 1800's by poor European immigrants, and that the music reflects their sense of loss and longing for the people and places left behind. The more affluent classes encountered the dance in brothels and dance halls; the only place they interacted with the poor, working class. Inscribed onto the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List, the popularity of tango has fluctuated with historical economic conditions, but has been widely celebrated since the mid-1980's.

After a wonderful performance, we paused for coffee and dessert at a local bar/cafe, amazed at the number of people partying on a Tuesday night. Bars were full and happening at 1:30 am. When do these people work? we wondered. The next morning we noticed that the clock over the reception desk was one hour behind ours and we quickly realized why we were alone in the restaurant, early for the tango show, and had plenty of company at the bar so "late"...

We had both been to Buenos Aires before and felt no urge to see all the historical sites again. We wanted to take in the city on the street level, so we walked. For hours. Dodging summer rain showers, children blowing soap bubbles, and aggressive sales men offering leather goods, currency exchange, and the best parillo in town. In the afternoon we headed over to the bus terminal for the next southbound leg of our journey.

The Original Terminal
El Retiro consists of two parts: the old one and the new one. It's in the old part they have the good food (and all the thieves and undercover police), so that's of course where we provisioned for the twenty-hour bus ride to San Martin de los Andes. We are obviously both of the type more concerned with real threats like immediate availability of food to stave off a direct nose-dive to the horrible (for everyone) blood sugar-bottom, than with crime, which has a greater component of shit luck and can therefore only be averted to a point determined by your street smarts. The new part of the terminal is host to sterile and scary food like rubbery hot dogs and bright yellow popcorn, hair salons, and in excess of thirty bus companies competing for, and managing thousands of passengers daily on their way to and from far-flung destinations. The activity on the ground is a continuous, cyclical blur of buses pulling in exactly fifteen minutes before departure; platforms being announced over crackly loudspeakers; tickets collected by courteous drivers in pressed uniforms; luggage carefully matched with tickets and placed in the belly of the bus; passengers taking their assigned seats; and drivers cautiously maneuvering their bus away from the platform, right on their scheduled time of departure. The efficiency and level of professionalism is unimaginable.

We were southbound again, cruising down paved roads in wide, comfortable seats that folded down 180 degrees, with on-board service that put any airline to shame.

Friday, March 4, 2011

24 hours in Montevideo, Uruguay

Bellies bursting with our splendid Mexican breakfast (see "Ethnic Culinary Adventure"), we boarded our overnight flight to Miami. No doubt, these 1,256 miles would have been more comfortable atop a gimpy packhorse. Throughout my years travelling I have found that the simpler the mode of transport, the richer the experience. At least the flight crew had the sense to not wake us up for the moments we were asleep, which were not many. The flight Miami - Buenos Aires offered even less comfort. Sleeping on a plane, or any other place for that matter, has never been challenging for me, but this time none of my carefully developed folding techniques worked: I folded my body in threes; at the knees, waist, and neck, trying to avoid spilling over into the next seat; I folded over once, simply putting my head down on my folded, stacked arms on the the folding tray; I folded just my neck, guaranteed to wake up with that ninety degree angle, characteristic of flying. I remained sleepless. Sleeping on a beach in Montevideo became more appealing with each and every attempt to get comfortable. 
Why Montevideo? you may ask. I will counter question: Why not? Plus it gave us the opportunity to cross Rio de la Plata by ferry, which seemed like a reason as good as any, including evading an entry fee of $150 payable to the Argentine government, one of many money-saving measures we took over the next two weeks. Soon we would refer to how much money we earned in a day.

We crashed on the beach (sans airplane.), in lee of the jetty holding up "la rambla", the paved promenade littered with pink condoms and dog shit that stretches 13.6 miles along the shores of Uruguay's capital.  
Windburned and chilly after our nap, we strolled along the beach, sand brutally and painfully exfoliating the skin of our pasty white bodies, past empty restaurants and a parked taxi where the driver, not his female passenger, was the paying customer. From the lack of sleep we were in that foggy state of no-time, no place, feeling like we had travelled not by airplane but by time machine since we stood packed on his doorstep in a coastal suburb north of Boston less than 24 hours ago. We had no idea of the name of the hostel, much less the address.

Crossing over the street landed us in the shopping district where a very pleasant owner/cook/server provided us with much needed Patricia, the local beer, and tortillas. Feeling better, we found our way back to the hostel thanks only to me absentmindedly having grabbed a flier with the address on it as we left for the beach, dazed, hours before.

Staying at a hostel was on the to-do list and Hostel Punto Berry ( was the subject of our experiment. For the "grand" sum of $48, we had a private bedroom two blocks from Playa de Pocitos, a shared, clean bathroom, free WiFi and Internet access, breakfast, and friendly, very helpful staff. Absent was only pillow cases, easily rectified by sliding t-shirts over the pillows. Our experiment was hence recorded as successful.

Adding a nap to your day is like adding another day, which is why at 8 pm we went out in pursuit of coffee and dessert. Suddenly, somehow, we found ourselves in the midst of the music, food, throngs of people, and general chaos of an amusement park. "Toto, I've a feeling we are no longer in Kansas."

The language barrier, created by lack of confidence, came down rapidly, like a concrete wall blown up with mighty explosives. The first set of directions I obtained was easy: "Follow la Rambla straight for four kilometers". "And, she shorter way?" I asked, now on a mission to get us back to the hostel as the darkness quickly swallowed the city. As a rule, I avoid strolling through unknown cities at night. After two and a half hours, ice cream, cookies and several conversations with shopkeepers and doormen, we stood at the door step of Hostel Punto Berry. It felt like we had completed an orienteering course. Nothing could keep us from sleeping that night: not the incessantly barking dogs below our window, the slamming doors, nor the beer-drinking, laughing backpackers. We were the first guests to tuck in, and the last ones to rise the next morning - a brilliant right, but one you can only exercise as you get older. Think about it.

With some effort and help from the hostel staff we secured tickets for the next leg of our travel: Three hours by bus upriver to Colonia del Sacramento, a former Portuguese settlement and UNESCO site, and onwards to Buenos Aires via ferry across Rio de la Plata. From terminal Tres Cruces, Montevideo, BuqueBus drove us in comfort through rich farmlands receiving a much needed dose of rain feeding the well-designed but dry irrigation system. We were deposited at the state-of-the-art ferry terminal where bags were taken straight from the bus to the ferry, and the distance between the Uruguay and Argentine was the width of the immigration counter. The whole process was seamless. 

M/S Buque Patricia Olivia II, a three hundred passenger, high-speed catamaran powered by marine gas turbines safely brought us to the western shore of the river, angry and the color of weak coffee from sediments stirred up by the strong winds, at an average speed of 23.6 knots. Eighties' music and the Beatles streamed on the TV screens for the fifty minutes it took to get to Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina and the tango, as they would for the entirety of our journey through Argentina and Chile.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mission Impossible?

"Pack plenty of Tigerbalm, and be prepared to fight an irresistible urge of wanting to strangle each other!" he said: My well-travelled Chilean business partner was not impressed with our itinerary as proposed.

The highlight and backbone of our travel plans was a twenty-hour, south-bound ferry ride on a 114 meter long steel ship through fjords and glaciers from Puerto Montt to Puerto Chacabuco, Chile. In Puerto Chacabuco, a small, isolated settlement without a defined town center, we had planned to pick up a 4x4 rental car and drive south, 954 miles to Punta Arenas, drop off the car and fly to Santiago. You can drive 2,800 miles across America from Washington, DC to San Francisco, CA in approximately forty-one hours, so to take nine days to drive less than half of that distance seemed reasonable. Until you take into account the Carretera Austral, which south of Puerto Montt winds along the coast like a serpent made from gravel continually shifting under your tires, demanding your undivided attention. And not only do you have to navigate the road; you also have to be on the lookout for the other travellers on this pot-holed one lane: Other cars; bicyclists; horses; sheep; children; cows; and eighteen-wheelers - more often than not encountered in the middle of the road. Exceeding forty miles per hour is suicidal for the most part. Add to that a $750 one-way drop-off fee for the rental car and we were back at the drawing board.
Our revised, equally shared and separately arranged itinerary, the other person not knowing the details of the other person's preparations, looked as follows when we departed Boston. On paper.
  • Day 1: Arrival in Montevideo. Prospect of cold drinks on hot beach.
  • Day 2: Bus and ferry to Buenos Aires for dinner, tango and cigars. (Despite three earlier visits, this was still on my list of things to do.)
  • Day 3: Overnight bus (20 hrs) to San Martin de los Andes, a Swiss alpine town located in Argentina, to enjoy two days of friendship, generous hospitality and business meetings. 
  • Day 6: Bus departure at six am for eight hours across the Andes to Valdivia, Chile to pick up a rental car. Drive 115 miles to Puerto Montt. PM departure on 20-hour ferry through the fjords and archipelago of central Chile, known for its marine life and stark beauty. Late arrival in Puerto Chacabuco.
  • Day 7 - 13: Rent a 4x4 vehicle and explore the Carretera Austral for seven days, heading north, 320 miles up the coast and back to Puerto Montt.
  • Day 13: Overnight bus from Puerto Montt to Santiago.
  • Day 14 - 15: Business Meetings in Santiago. Fly home at night.  
We had made some arrangements: lodging in Montevideo, Buenos Aires, and San Martin de los Andes, booked the bus from Buenos Aires to San Martin de los Andes, the ferry, and a rental car. Everything else was "TBD", To Be Determined, and we looked forward to the element of surprise.

Little did we know just how many surprises the next two weeks had in store for us...  

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ethnic Culinary Encounter. Prior to Passport Control and Security Check.

19th Century Map of Boston 1838
(Bradford, T. G., Norman B. Leventhal
Map Center at the Boston Public Library,
Eager to skip the cold, wintery New England weather and begin our journey, we climbed into the car with our backpacks six hours before our flight was scheduled to depart. We could have stayed in the driveway enjoying the feeling of adventure stirring in our stomachs, but instead we fixed the headlights on our first destination: East Boston, known for over two centuries as Noodle Island after a Mr. Noddle who apparently settled here in 1629.

In 1922, East Boston had such a large number of immigrants that quotas were put in place. Italians lived in the area bounded by Maverick Square and Maverick Street, the docks to Central Square, Boarder Street, Porter Street to Boston & Maine tracks; Italians intermingled with Jews and Portuguese between havre, Chelsea, Porter and Paris Streets; Irish, British, Americans, and Jewish in area bounded by Porter Street to railroad to Prescott Street to Day Square to Chelsea Creek; Irish and second-generation Italians settled in the more affluent area east of Prescott Street. In the 70's, immigrants from Dominican Republic, Columbia and Central America added to the diversity and were followed in the 80's and 90's by Vietnamese, Blacks, and Asians (
Today this neighborhood, by some thought of as less affluent, is rich, yes, rich, with unpretentious restaurants and the availability of good, ethnic food is endless, be it Vietnamese, Mexican, or Cuban. The food is what matters as the atmosphere differs little from one place to another: cafeteria style metal chairs padded with red patent leather, paper cloths (which raises a question: Can you refer to "paper" as "cloth"?) protected by a sheet of clear glass, illuminated by bright, white, unforgiving fluorescent light. The obligatory TV's show soccer, or in lieu thereof, soap operas from the 70's. This is exactly what we came for: Scrambled eggs with sausage, alongside pupusas, refried beans, queso fresco, plantains, avocado and "crema" - that delicious and light non-cream, non crème fraîche, non sourcream cream often encountered in the vicinity of beans and rice. (I'll save you the image of brown refried beans.) The Irish ought to rethink their claim to fame.