Deborah’s 2014 Year In Review

Happy Holidays!

My new Ellis Cycle being built!

My new Ellis Cycle being built!

It’s that time of year again…time to wrap gifts, send wishes of happiness and wellness to friends and family, bake Christmas cookies, stuff stockings, sing carols, and enjoy the festivities of Christmas and the New Year.  It is also time to read a faithful account of Deborah’s 2014 Year in Review.

The Near Drowning
I traveled to Colombia in March where I wandered the artsy streets of Bogota (mannequins with big butts are all the rage), ate roasted ants (no need to repeat the experience), bird-watched in Minca (there are eight pages of yellow birds in the guide book), and explored Cartagena (Romancing the Stone, anyone?).

I also white-water rafted the challenging Rio Suarez and nearly drowned when I was tossed out of the raft on a Class V rapid.  I survived to tell the tale, but not before I was spun upside down and all around, surfaced too briefly to gasp air (twice), and made impact with a big rock.  It took a full week for the bruises to fully develop, but it did not otherwise impede my enjoyment of the trip.  Colombia is a great country!

First loaded touring bike ride!

First loaded touring bike ride!

The Year of the Bicycle
I took the plunge and ordered my first custom bicycle: An Ellis Cycle.  It’s loaded with all of the good stuff and is the best ride I’ve ever had.

Dave and I biked every chance we got this year: TOMRV (Iowa), Bon Ton Roulet (New York), Spring Green, and Door County. We also completed our first loaded touring trip from Milwaukee to Sheboygan and back.  I’m definitely hooked and am already plotting a trip around Lake Michigan.  Dave suspects my enthusiasm for touring would have been quickly dampened if we hadn’t had a glorious tail wind on both days.

Other Noteworthy Mentions
* I threw out my back during the polar vortex in January and couldn’t raise my leg high enough to cross over a snow bank.  There is no denying it now: I am officially middle aged.
* I finally fixed the downstairs faucet.  It just doesn’t look right without the bucket underneath the sink.
* I road-tripped to Minneapolis with my sisters to celebrate my (older) brother’s 50th birthday.  Just another reason why I’m feeling old.
* Despite all of the aging, my family remains in good health.

And so, I come to the end of another Year in Review.  Wishing you good health and great happiness in the upcoming year.

Signing off from 2014,


Artsy Bogota, Colombia

Artsy Bogota, Colombia

Bogota, Colombia

Bogota, Colombia

Barichara, Colombia

Barichara, Colombia

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El Camino Real y Hormigas Culonas


With scarcely enough time to express order a travel guide, dust of my passport, and buy a new pair of hemp pants, I hopped a plane.  Destination: Colombia.
El Camino Real y Hormigas Culonas
I hopped an early bus to Barichara to hike the centuries-old Camino Real to the tiny village of Guane.  My guide book states that the trek takes two hours.  My leisurely pace clocked me in at less than 1 1/2 hours.  I bought a lemon soda and some hormigas culonas and sat down on the curb to wait for the Barichara bus next to three hombres and a toddler attempting to crawl away from her tranquilo father. The petite men wore identical dainty and embroidered slipper-like shoes and baseball hats.  Their faces were dark and wrinkled and their eyes kind.
In rusty Spanish I asked them when the bus to Barichara would arrive.  They said half past nine – sometimes.  It was 9:20 and a bus arrived.  I got up to see if it was my bus and they motioned me back.  I was told that the Barichara bus is always white and red and always late.  They knew the bus schedule cold.
I settled back down to my spot on the curb and turned my attention to my purchase.  Hormigas culonas are fat ants roasted and served up cold in small containers.  It’s a specialty of the Santander department and is believed to have medicinal properties.  They are a “must-try” when in the area.  I carefully picked up an ant and examined it from all sides.  For ants they were remarkably fat and long.  I balanced one on my thumbnail to confirm it was longer than the nail.
I popped an ant into my mouth and gingerly began to chew it.  It tasted unremarkable:  A roasted-burnt taste with a slight crunch upon impact.  Next, I decapitated one to determine if the head tasted different than the body.  I detected no difference.  I washed the ants down with a swig of lemon soda. The locals watched my actions in amusement.
Perhaps the medicinal powers of the ants will lessen the force of my next cold.
Other Critically Important Information
  • Colombia is spelled with an “o”.
  • I have forgotten a healthy amount of Spanish as was amply demonstrated when I failed to recall the words for flight, Wednesday, and tax when I ordered a plane ticket on my first day in Bogota.
  • Colombians take their art seriously.  Museo Botero displays fine works from Monet, Renoir, Pissaro, Degas, and of course, Colombia’s Fernando Botero whose is famous for painting exaggeratedly large people and objects. I have seen many crucifixion paintings in my travels, but this is the first time I’ve seen a chubby Jesus staked to the cross.
  • Mannequins with big butts are all the rage.
  • The everyday Colombian coffee is terrible (they export all the good stuff).  However, I have had several fine-tasting cappuccinos.
  • Roosters have no sense of time.
  • Colombiana is my new favorite soda.
  • The farm cheese is terrible.  I’ve switched to imported cheese.
Signing off from Colombia,
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Deborah’s 2013 Year In Review

Happy Holidays!

Fishing with Dad and Anne in Florida

Fishing with Dad and Anne in Florida

It’s that time of year again…time to wrap gifts, send wishes of happiness and wellness to friends and family, bake Christmas cookies, stuff stockings, sing carols, and enjoy the festivities of Christmas and the New Year.  It is also time to read a faithful account of Deborah’s 2013 Year in Review.

The Biggest Fish
My sister, Anne, and I visited my parents in Florida for a long weekend in March.  My parents maintain a brisk schedule in their retirement: We managed to pack in the symphony, kayaking, beach walks (cold), a political lecture (pitfalls of Iran negotiations), lunch with their Florida cronies, and a charter fishing trip.

Despite my lack of fishing expertise and interest, I managed to out-catch my fisherwoman sister. I slip my fine catch into conversation at every family gathering.  Did I mention I caught the biggest fish?

Stari Most (bridge), Mostar, Bosnia

Vacation, War, and Vivian
The multi-day flight to Myanmar last year nearly destroyed me and I vowed to travel closer to home in 2013.  I narrowed the country options by applying my travel selection criteria: 1) low cost, 2) less than 25 hours of in-route time, and 3) an appropriately obscure location.  My decision to travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo was reinforced when I learned a friend, who is traveling for two years, would be in the region and able to join me.

My friend showed up at the Sarajevo airport in a 1988 Volkswagen van with 71,000 kilometers recorded for the van’s “third life”.  Her name is Vivian.  She sputtered to a start, struggled to get up hills, and leaked oil. I wouldn’t have her any other way.  She was my “wheels” for the duration of my trip. Quirks and all.

Gracanica Monastery, Pristina, Kosovo

Gracanica Monastery, Pristina, Kosovo

The Balkans is a crazy part of the world. In Sarajevo, Bosnia, scars of bullets can be seen in most buildings, several bombed buildings still await the demolition crew, and a prominent boulevard is nicknamed “sniper alley.” In Republika Srpska, “frescoes” of a genocidal general are painted on buildings and flags proclaiming allegiance to Serbia fly high.  In Kosovo, KFOR army vehicles

heavily patrol the north and bridge signs warn of weight limits for tanks. And in Belgrade, Serbia, a building US UN troops bombed during the Kosovo war is a prominent reminder of our role in the war.

Despite the hatred, segregation, patriotism, politics, and warring, there is a charm to The Balkans.  Sarajevo cafes line the quaint old town, Serbian orthodox churches have some of the finest frescoes I have seen in my travels, and the Kosovar are eager to engage Americans in conversation.

Vivian, the Volkswagen Van. Sutjeska NP, Bosnia

Vivian, the Volkswagen Van. Sutjeska NP, Bosnia

Other Noteworthy Mentions

  • My dad underwent heart surgery in June and came through with flying colors.  He is back in the saddle for 25-mile bike rides.
  • The roof guys were over to my house a record three times to repair leaks.
  • I spent a week biking the east shoreline of Lake Michigan.
  • The newest addition to my household is a Carrier furnace.  Please prove your worth with limited repairs and longevity.
  • My Prius averaged 50 mpg this year; Pro-diesel friends assure me I can do better.

And so, I come to the end of another Year in Review.  Wishing you good health and great happiness in the upcoming year.

Signing off from 2013,


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The Mitrovica Mechanic


The Detour
After leaving Srebrenica, Bosnia, we crossed the border into Serbia, stopping at churches and monasteries on the way to Novi Pazar, a town with a strong Ottoman influence. My stay there was most memorable, not for the Turkish architecture, but because of the shear ugliness of the hotel in which I stayed: A Soviet-era monstrosity with a decor to match. Photos to follow.
Novi Pazar’s proximity to Kosovo proved to be too great of a temptation for me and I took a tiny detour across the border.  The border was flanked with Serbian, Kosovar, and UN border patrols.  As we drove through northern Kosovo, we further encountered KFOR and KSF army posts and military vehicles.  The peacekeepers.  Although the military was well represented in northern Kosovo, they seemed relaxed at their posts – even smiling at us as we passed. Serbian flags were defiantly hung along the road and billboards proudly proclaimed: “You are in Serbia.”  Alternatively, Cyrillic signs were defaced and replaced with Albania words, and the farther south we went, the more we noticed the Kosovo national flag and pro-Kosovo graffiti.
And so my travels in Kosovo began.
The Mitrovica Mechanic
We stopped for a quick lunch of kebabs in the northern town of Mitrovica, Kosovo.  Mitrovica was a trouble spot during the 1999 war, and sadly, the tension between Serbians and Albanians remains.  Prior to the war, Serbians and Albanians populations lived together as one community.  During the war, the Serbians were forced to leave their homes and move to the north side of the Ibar river and the reverse for the Albanians.  The Ibar river continues to represent the loyalty divide between Serbia and Kosovo.
We approached Mitrovica from the south side of the Ibar river and entered a kebab restaurant.  It can be tricky knowing whether to use Albanian or Serbian greetings in Kosovo and I misstepped and greeted the waiter in Serbian (wrong side of the river).  As we were finishing our lunch, a local man approached our table and asked if the Volkswagen was our van.   He further explained, “I mechanic.  Volkswagen vans.”  Without further discussion, Les led him outside to show off his van.  As I previously mentioned, Vivian has a quirky personality and one of her personality flaws is that her doors don’t shut well.  In truth, the side sliding door was beginning to annoy me. It tended to pop open on speed bumps, steep inclines, or just because it felt like it.  Les rigged a bungee cord to keep the kitchen sink from falling out, but we would still have to keep an eye on it and occasionally stop to close it.  As Les disentangled the bungee cord on the sliding door, the mechanic tested the non-functioning door bell.  He then motioned to the sliding door and said “I can fix.  Ten minutes.”  
Before we knew it, the mechanic was in the driver’s seat with Les and me wedged in beside him.  He started Vivian and shifted her gears. His expression became pained, “Okay, I fix.”  We arrived at the shop and four other mechanics came out to greet us.  The head mechanic started working on the sliding door and Les doled out beers from the fridge. I took photos and passersby stopped to watch the commotion.  Albanian ten minutes is really thirty and we were on our way with a fixed sliding door (it’s still habit to check it on bumps), a smooth gear shift, and new Kosovar friends.
Other Critically Important Information
*At the Sopocani Monastery in Serbia, the monk served us honey brandy and one shot nearly set me drunk.
*If you are in northern Kosovo, cautiously use Serbian greetings and dinar currency Everywhere else, use Albanian greetings and Euros.
*The town of Pej named a major street after Bill Clinton.  However, Tony Blair scored an entire square.
*While I have traditionally viewed international travel as my primary weight loss plan, I fear it will fail me this time:  I am happily eating my way through the Balkans: Kebabs, bureks, suxhuks (spicy sausage), and my new favorite snack food – smokis.
*So far every attempt I have made to glean information from the local tourist center has been met with a locked door during its available hours.  I have little hope that my luck will change in my remaining days of vacation.
*In Kosovo, special road signs indicate the acceptable weight for tanks crossing bridges.
*When Les checked in on Facebook, it listed his location as Pej, Serbia, instead of Kosovo.
*If you ask for a glass of water while dining at a restaurant bordering Shadervan Square (Fountain Square) in Prizren, the waiter will walk to the center of the square and fill your glass from the ornate fountain.
*According to my guide book, Serbians consider you eccentric if you don’t smoke.
Signing off from Kosovo (and Serbia),
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The Republika Srpska

Since I last wrote you, I’ve traveled from Sarajevo to Lukomir (medieval village that we managed to find using instructions written on a post-it-sized piece of paper), Mostar (famous bridge), Sutjeska National Park (we got lost hiking and it was wickedly cold), Visegrad (another famous bridge), and Srebrenica (horrible genocide site).

The Republika Srpska
Ethnic/Religious tensions run deep in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and is aided by the existing system of geographic/political segregation: The Federation (Croats/Bosniaks) and the Republika Srpska (Serbs).  The ethnic/religious loyalties are particularly apparent in the Republika Srpska.  Here are a few examples:

*Signage is mainly in Cyrillic instead of both Cyrillic and Latin.
*Serbian flags are visible on homes everywhere.
*There are “frescoes” of Tito and a genocidal Serbian general on buildings.
*We were the target of two extortion attempts by the Srpska police for non-existent traffic violations. No money passed hands.
Other Critically Important Information
*A bottle of decent table wine costs 2USD and cappuccinos can be purchased for 1.5USD in Herzegovina region.
*It is hard to explain how we routinely manage to take the wrong turn and wind up in places like a lumberyard instead of a main thoroughfare.
*There are not nearly enough vowels in Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian language(s).
*If a Serbian decides to block the road to have a conversation with a bystander, cars behind them simply have to wait until the conversation finishes.  This is the only time Balkan drivers display patience.
Signing off from Bosnia and Herzegovina,
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Her Name Is Vivian

The City of Graveyards

Sarajevo is a city of graveyards.  Perhaps the tradition of haphazardly wedging graves into small green spaces between cafes and shops began long ago, but I suspect the tendency grew out of necessity during the Bosnian War (1992 – 95) when people killed during the day were buried at night on accessible land within the confined city area.

Sarajevo sits in a valley surrounded by hills and mountains.  As I walked the streets of this damaged, yet quaint town, it was easy to envision Serbian troops positioned on mountain ridges, pelting bombs and bullets on the trapped people of Sarajevo.

The war is evident in other ways as well. The scars of bullets can be seen in most buildings, several bombed buildings still await the demolition crew, and a prominent boulevard is nicknamed “sniper alley.”   The siege lasted for 1400 days and killed 11,000 people.

While the two days I spent in Sarajevo were a somber reminder of Bosnia’s recent history, it would be unfair to portray Sarajevo as a crushed city.  Indeed, it has old European charm mixed with the beauty of the east and a proud history.  Cafes, bars, and shops line narrow, cobble-stone streets and the town has a hip, energetic vibe.  The town is prospering.
Her name is Vivian
I’ve stepped up my travel game and am currently traveling with a friend in a 1988 Volkswagen van with 71,000 kilometers recorded for the van’s “third life.”  Her name is Vivian.
Vivian is painted a humble blue color, but should have a multicolored, tie-dyed facade based on her 25-year, multiple owner history on the road.  She’s equipped with a (reasonably) functioning kitchen and sleeping quarters and definitely makes best use of the space available.
Vivian starts with a sputter, but runs smooth once she’s warmed up.  She has a little difficulty on the uphills, but her quirky personality makes up for it.   Each door has a special approach to closing and latching, but I’m getting the hang of it.  She was built pre-automation-anything, but then so was I.  She’s got spunk.
Not only does Vivian have personality, but so do Volkswagen owners.  As the newest member to the community – Honk if you pass me!
Other Critically Important Information
*The Qwerty keyboard is a Qwertz keyboard among other keyboard changes.
*Smoking is alive and well in Bosnia.
*Balkan drivers are uncommonly impatient.
*Geography Lesson:  Bosnia and Herzegovina is one country, not two.  Its proper name is “Bosnia and Herzegovina” or “BiH” for short.  It first fell under common political rule in the 14th century.
Signing off from Bosnia and Herzegovina,

P.S. I am not too old to do shots of Rakija.

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2012 Year In Review

Happy Holidays!

PC086316_edited-1It’s that time of year again…time to wrap gifts, send wishes of happiness and wellness to friends and family, bake Christmas cookies, stuff stockings, sing carols, and enjoy the festivities of Christmas and the New Year.  It is also time to read a faithful account of Deborah’s 2012 Year in Review.

Cutting Edge Luddite
My sister finally took me to task for not keeping pace with technology. The Transformation of Deborah began when my desktop PC (yes, they still exist) began making it’s-only-a-matter-of-time noises.  I proactively reached out to the family tech support (aka, my sister Anne) to assist with a laptop purchase.  Seeing a long-awaited opening, she eagerly stepped in to advise me on everything from laptops to TVs.   Looking back, it is clear she tackled the project with salesmanship proficiency.  During the consultation process, she routinely said things like: “You live in the Dark Ages,” “Do you live in a bubble?” and my favorite: “Are we related?”  I found myself utterly exposed to a relentless barrage of Anne’s must-have list of gadgets, and by the end of the year, I had purchased a new laptop, printer, TV, iPod (because everyone needs at least one Apple product, right?), and mobile phone.  I even purchased a new car to replace my beloved 1998 Honda Civic (242,000 miles), and am already very fond of my Prius’ fuel efficiency and working heater.

 Anne has a decidedly smug bounce to her step these days.

 Athletic Triumphs
This year I tackled my first half marathon.  It began inopportunely:  I was in queue for the port o’ potty when the shot rang out to begin the race.  The other runners were distant dots on the horizon when I finally crossed the start line.  At the end, I staggered across the finish line and collapsed in an exhausted heap next to the water stand.  I swore I’d never run another race:  My knee hurt, my side ached, and my face was caked with salt.  I was a victim to yet another one of my annual athletic whims.

Nary a fortnight had passed when a seed was planted to run a trail race.  I volunteered at the Ice Age Trail Ultra marathon and was impressed (and a little resentful) by the woman who was belting out a song as she effortlessly ran past my stand at Mile Marker 11.  Hmm.  What would it take to reach this stage of runner Nirvana?

This year I also broke a personal record by biking more than 2,000 miles.  I was aided by the successful completion of two week-long bike rides, GRABWAAR and RAGBRAI.  Biking across the country is definitely in my future.  Who’s in?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Friendly, Enduring People
With U.S. economic sanctions lessened and Aung San Suu Kyi’s tourist ban lifted, I decided it was time to fulfill my interest in visiting Myanmar – a country with diverse cultures, deep history, amazing sites and scenery, and harsh political climate.

Traveling in Myanmar is like being in a 1960s time-warp.  Myanmar has been under a military dictatorship since 1962 and it is apparent in an absolute inability to manage its country affairs and keep pace with the rest of Southeast Asia.  Urban Myanmar drive fifty year old cars (if they’re wealthy enough to own a car at all), and in the rural communities, oxcarts and bicycles are common.   Technology advancements that we take for granted, such as credit cards, online purchasing, and mobile phones, are unknown or used only by the very wealthy.  Infrastructure projects have been mainly halted (except when the Chinese have stepped in to access natural resources).  The average Myanmar subsists on less than $200 per year.

Men and woman wear longyis (sheets wrapped like skirts) and women ride side-saddle on motorbikes and adeptly carry baskets on their heads.  Fisherman in Inle lake paddle with their legs in an unusual standing pose and tribal people wear attire based on their tribe.  They are overworked and underappreciated and amazingly resilient – withstanding poverty, human rights violations, genocide, and freedom of speech infringements.PC116584_edited-2

Despite the harshness of life in Myanmar, the people are uncommonly open and kind.  The crime rate is extremely low (although bribes to public workers are not) and there is an “unlocked door” feel to the entire country.  Ninety percent of the population is Buddhist and their devoutness is apparent in the number of temples, shrines, monks, and nuns.  Foreigners are still an uncommon sight and I was often met with curiosity and shy smiles.

Myanmar is an amazing country on the brink of change.  Change is exciting, but also brings with it the vices of modern economies and neutralizing of culture uniqueness.   Myanmar, take care how you emerge.

In conclusion, it was a great trip with many rewarding experiences.

And so, I come to the end of another Year in Review.  Wishing you great happiness in the upcoming year.

Signing off from 2012,



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