When you walk on cobblestone for long periods of time, it feels like you are drunk

I spent yesterday cruising the city on foot. It was an absolutely gorgeous day – the temperature was about 65 degrees and it was all sun and blue sky.

I took a nice walk from Roccio Square down to the waterfront to kick off my tour. I love being by the sea (in this case, a river). I then walked down to a train station to try to find the Tuesday flea market. The first 1/2 hour or so of my walk was mostly flat, which was nice. Once I reached the train station, I headed up a steep hill. I did lots of hill work and stairs yesterday. In a sweater. And in flat shoes that rubbed the shit out of my Achilles heels. I am notorious for wearing bad shoes when I am on walking vacations. The next time I plan a sightseeing trip, I’m going to have to walk a lot a week or two before leaving Seattle to test out my shoes. My poor dancing feet are worth it! Today, I am resigned to wear my zapatos de goma and be an OT (obvious tourist).

It was fun to wind my way through the flea market. I love looking at the old family photos and postcards that are for sale. I picked up some tiles, a table runner and a small painting.

After leaving the flea market, I ambled down the cobblestone streets in the direction of Chapito, a little bohemian restaurant with funky music and a gorgeous view of the city. I asked them to open the window near my table and spent about an hour gazing at the river and at Cristo Rei, the Portuguese homage to Corcovado that was built in 1959 to thank god for sparing the country from the horrors of WWII. I had some delicious soup which was crema de mariscos with a few mejillones hidden at the bottom.

I made my descent down to the waterfront to catch a ferry to Cacilhas. Carlos had mentioned a restaurant over there that had a deck and a great view of Lisboa. The ferry ride was only about 10 minutes long and nothing compared to the choppy ride from Fajardo to Culebra (Puerto Rico) where they hand out barf bags to all of the passengers. As I made my way to restaurante Ponto Final, I passed several men fishing off of the piers. I also passed a long row of ‘abandoned’ and/or burnt out buildings that were obviously home to some sort of inhabitants. Many of the building doorways had been closed off by brick and mortar, but I found small knee-height holes in the building walls where someone could crawl in and out. Human beings are driven to survive, so I understand these makeshift abodes. What creeped me out were all of the barking dogs (I did see one pitbull – eek) that I assume are home security.

I spotted Ponto Final from around a bend and was excited to sit in the sun and enjoy a glass of wine. Sadly, when I reached the restaurante, I found that it was closed. I don’t know if it is closed on Tuesdays or if I arrived in between lunch and dinner. [ETA – Carlos called the restaurant and found out that the owner had been in an accident]

I sat on a bench for a while to gather my thoughts and figure out next steps. It was then that I realized that jet lag had set in and that I was crazy exhausted. I hopped on the ferry back to Lisbao and started my ascent up to the B&B. although it was only 6pm, I was hungry (I had been saving room for some seafood at Ponto Final). I stopped off at a cafeteria for a sandwich and a pastry and called it a day. I do love that the Portuguese eat dinner late, as that is more my speed, but I couldn’t muster up the energy to leave the comfort of my room.

Ola Lisboa!

File this one under ‘what in the world am I doing?’

I arrived in Lisboa this morning to a beautiful sunrise and clear blue skies. I am here to attend the Afro Fever dance conference. As some of the dances that I enjoy were born and or grew up in former Portuguese colonies (Angola, Cabo Verde, etc), they are wildly popular here in Lisboa. I wanted to experience mature dancers and world-class teachers (some of whom I’ve met in Seattle), so I planned a trip to visit Portugal.

I have a really bad habit of sleeping very little before I travel, and this trip was no exception. I slept about three hours before heading to the airport and then off-and-on during the journey. I was totally pooped when I arrived.

Fortunately, the Zuza Bed & Breakfast folks totally took care of me and let me rest in one room while preparing the room that I rented. I have great luck with guesthouses. Carlos helped me to plan an itinerary for this evening and provided a power plug adaptor so that I didn’t have to buy one. They also provide a local mobile phone, so that I can call for help if I have a question or am in trouble (Carlos assured me, “my brother is a police officer, and if you call me, I will be right behind you in a few minutes.”)

I accidentally slept until 6pm (oh boy, jet lag) and then cleaned myself up to go out in to the world. I tried to memorize the map as I hate pulling it out in public – I don’t want to be the world’s easiest mark. The Zuza B&B is up on a hill overlooking Lisboa. It is a beautiful landscape that I can see from the window in my room. I walked down to Roccio Square. A few blocks east, I was able to catch the tram 28. This tram takes a scenic route of Lisboa and is good for looking at architecture as well as people watching. I also found a great lookout point – I didn’t have time to hop off the tram today, but it had a view of some old world buildings lit up by the full moon with a backdrop of the sea. Awesome! I’m going to try to hit this one up tomorrow.

After about 30 minutes riding the tram, I arrived at my destination, Casa do India. This is a cute little restaurant with a good mix of tourists and local. The seating is family style. I sat next to a cute couple (man was Mexican and woman was Spanish) who were having as much trouble with the menu as I was. That was comforting. I knew the basic words but had no idea abut the cooking styles and sauces. I ended up ordering arroz com mariscos and drank a couple of glasses of vinotinto. It was divine! I loved the atmosphere because people were enjoying each other and no one was on a phone.

After dinner, I was off to find some fado music. Carlos had recommended a small tavern near the B&B. He told me, “don’t get there later than 21:00.” I arrived at 21:40 and the place was completely full. Oops! I’ll have to try again on Wednesday.

I made my way back to the B&B along the narrow, cobblestone streets, admiring the tiles that adorn the building facades. This is a charming and romantic place. I’m so glad that I came!

Why, yes, I did!

I don’t often make New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I can only think of two years prior to 2012 that I vowed to accomplish a specific feat. One goal was realized (in 2002, I carried a notebook with me to capture thoughts and improve my writing) while the other was a total flop (I did not dress up for Halloween in 2010).

 In December 2011, I rediscovered my love for dance. I’m talking real dance, not break-it-down-rub-my-bootie reggaeton (which certainly has its place in my life). I started taking salsa classes thinking that I needed to work on my turns and discovered a whole new way to see and communicate. It is truly magical. 

 In light of my re-ignited fervor, I made a New Year’s resolution to dance every single week of 2012. Just between you and me, this goal was somewhat fueled by Juan, who doubted my commitment to salsa and told me that I would quit by the spring. 

I, of course, did not quit. As a matter of fact, although I am recovering from a cold, I got myself together tonight to dance so that I could claim my title as a dancing queen. I only danced two salsas before pooping out, but I made it. If I’m feeling up to it tomorrow, I may just do a kizomba victory lap.

This was a crazy, unique, blessed year for me. I indulged in weekly salsa classes as well as regular private lessons. I was introduced to kizomba. I organized a weekly outing for my friends to dance at Century Ballroom. I literally danced all over the western hemisphere. Samba in Rio de Janeiro. Cuban son in Ciudad Panama. Bachata in Bavaro. I saw some great live shows. Oscar D’leon in Boston. Ruben Blades, Juan Luis Guerra, Eddie Palmieri and Gustavo Dudamel at the Hollywood Bowl. I went to dance workshops and conferences and fell in love with the professionals. Portland. Seattle. San Francisco. I went to a workshop that changed my life – you must experience kaizen by Kwenda Lima if he ever comes to your city.

I danced and danced and danced. I met new people. I made new connections with my old friends. I set my sights on concrete dance goals for the coming year. I got lost in watching dance videos on youtube. I discovered that this new way of living could help me to articulate who I am, what I want and the beauty that I see in the world (I always feel silly when I share this kind of stuff, but I feel like I can see so much more clearly).

I came across a great quote earlier this week:

We lose ourselves in the things we love. We find ourselves there, too.
~ Kristin Martz, Freelance Photographer

I can’t wait to find out where this dance journey will take me in 2013.

How to hail a taxi pirate

This week I went to the Caribbean in search of some vitamin D. I landed in Punta Cana, Republica Dominicana, where Elaine had scored a time share at the Ocean Beach & Sands Resort for a low, low price.

Kirsten, one of my long-time hermanas, lives in Santo Domingo and was able to sneak away for some R&R with us at the playa.

Ocean Blue is an all-inclusive resort that sits right on the beach at Playa Bavaro. It was a ridiculously beautiful beach with blue, blue water. We sat mostly undisturbed (except for the day we set up camp near the sound system), soaking up the morning rays. The resort has two pools, but I felt that it would be sacrilegious to take a dip in chlorine when God’s pool was just a few feet away.

The resort staff provided us with endless hours of entertainment. I can’t count how many times that they asked me, “how many Dominican boyfriends have you had?” I can imagine that resort work is lucrative in regards to both financial stability as well as physical pleasure. Even if they aren’t getting any, the resort workers can entertain themselves by checking out the topless Europeans.

A couple of the resort workers turned us on to the Shop & Drink, which was a great place to hang out on my last night on the island. After a week of living in a bubble, we skirted off to a liquor store in Bavaro that doubles as a local meet-up and dance joint. We purchased a bottle of Barcelo rum and found seats near the dance floor. We got a taste of salsa, bachata and nine-minute merengue. As I expected, Dominican salsa is a little different than the mambo that I dance at home. Although we were there as ‘guests’ of a Dominican, we stood out like sore thumbs because of our resort wristbands and curly hair (anybody ever heard of a Dominican blowout?). Regardless, it was a very special night for me as 6 December is my one-year anniversary of re-discovering the magic of dance.

We stopped drinking and dancing just short of finishing our bottle of Barcelo. We asked one of the liquor store cashiers to call us a cab and bid our new friends adieu. We were surprised when the waiter escorted us to a black SUV and were even more surprised when we saw our taxista and friend, who were both barely on our side of legal. I was chatting with them, but the conversation was fast and not nearly enough tourist-style Spanish. I’m not going to lie – they were fucking funny. I asked if they were really taxistas, and they explained, “we are casual taxis, some might call us pirates.” Jajaja. We talked some baseball, barely got past the security shack at the resort and exchanged numbers just in case we needed any further assistance on our trip.

I love adventure, especially when it involves friendship, sun and the slight amount of tension created by cross-cultural exchange. I wouldn’t trade in this life for anything!

My bay area getaway

Last weekend, I flew down to Oaktown to attend the 1st Annual Kizomba Zouk Festival. Every time I think of Oaktown, I think of this song…

Awww, an ode to my youth. As a dancer, I especially appreciate the body waves in that video.

The weekend was packed with workshops. I felt like it was a little bit of an appetizer sampler – I got a taste of some new concepts and patterns. The highlights for me were:

  • Eddie Vents and Laury – Eddie says that the music is our master and I totally subscribe to that philosophy. It is difficult to dance when the lead is a slave to patterns rather than an expression of rhythm.
  • Bryon Stroud – damn, do I love Dominican bachata?!? Why, yes, I do! Bryon was a fun instructor who challenged me with footwork but made me walk away with the feeling that I have something new to play with. I just might try to schedule a weeklong bootcamp with this guy in 2013.
  • Sophie de Silva – Rio-style zouk was fun and super sexy. I think Sophie was a little frustrated that there were few zouk dancers attending the festival, but she was a good sport. She also taught Carnaval samba, which was challenging because it is truly an endurance sport. I have to get my lungs and calves in shape this fall so that I can rock this dance!

It was great fun to dance with new leads. I am really working on letting myself follow and I see glimpses of brilliance when the lead and I harmonize our movement. My challenge for kizomba, semba, tarraxinha, zouk and samba is to tune in to the music as much as I can. I am always, always, always listening to salsa and bachata. Oddly enough, dancing opened me up to new styles of salsa that seem to be slightly more rich dance material than Marc Anthony (I still love you, bro!). Listening to music helps me to connect to the instruments and identify breaks. I’ll probably annoy my co-workers, but I am going to be pumping up the jams to acquaint my ears and body with the beats.

My weekend wasn’t all about dance. I actually took time to soak up some vitamin D and walk around Jack London Square. It was a gorgeous weekend and fresh air is just what my body needs.

The side story of the weekend was the Venezuelan election. San Francisco boasts one of a handful of Venezuelan consulates in the US that hosted voting stations for the presidential election. Many of the Venezuelans in the US are presumed to be anti-Chavez, making this an important election as the president serves unlimited 6-year terms. As someone who has visited Venezuela and has experienced just a smidgen of its decline (I was only a tourist, not a resident), I was hopeful for change. I am hopeful for change that will better the safety and security of this nation as well as provide for economic opportunity.

On Saturday night, I stumbled across a strange sight as I walked from the dance studio to the hotel. I was walking with friends and we decided to stop at a deli to grab a sandwich for dinner. As we crossed the street, I spotted a car with a red Che flag on the windshield. Weird. We approached the door of the deli and saw a small room full of people (about 15) wearing red shirts, some with berets. I swear to god that it was a círculo bolivariano meeting on the eve of the election. It was so weird. No one else in my party was up on Venezuelan politics, so they didn’t really understand my shock. We walked away hungry because the deli was closed to the public.

I decided that I would take a ride in to San Francisco on Sunday night to be with the Venezuelan people and celebrate change. I experienced a slight snafu as I got on the wrong train (asked for directions rather than looking at the map) and rode all the way out to Richmond. This might signal defeat for some travelers, but I embraced the fact that I got to see some more colorful characters (as well as a drug deal) on the train from Richmond to San Francisco. The delay did provide time for me to check my phone and see that Chavez won the election by a 10% margin. What the hell?!? I hopped off of the train in the Mission district and strolled in to Pica Pica Maíz Kitchen to find approximately nine sad Venezuelan faces. I felt a twinge of guilt as I enjoyed my arepa filled with pabellón and parchita sangria. I bought a cachapa to go to eat for breakfast on the flight home.

Despite the election results, it was a wonderful weekend for me. I am learning so much about myself through dance and enjoying everything that my body can do. It is pretty amazing!

La vida te da sorpresas, sorpresas te da la vida, ay Dios

I created the moniker Mswandergirl because I wander a lot and love to explore new places.

Last week, I took some time off from work so that I could go to the Hollywood Bowl for a Latin Music festival. Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the LA Philharmonic and my curly-headed Venezuelan brother, organized America & Americans in order to recognize and celebrate American music that was born in Latin America.

Geri, Javi and I made the trek down to LA. We rented a cute little VRBO cottage in Hollywood that was within walking distance (although uphill, so I was sweating somethin’ fierce) of the Hollywood Bowl.

On Tuesday night, we saw Dudamel, the LA Philharmonic and Juan Luis Guerra. It was definitely bucket list material for me. At some point a couple of years ago, I downloaded almost all of Juan Luis Guerra’s CDs on to my computer. He sings beautiful bachatas and lively merengues that are simply feel good tunes. Geri couldn’t get over her adoration for Dudamel that evening – she kept screaming, “I love you,” hoping that he would catch a glimpse of her in box 1688. She is moved by classical music and also taunted by his charisma.

Tuesday night was great, but it could only be topped by the main event (for me) on Wednesday. Eddie Palmieri and his orchestra opened the show. I had seen them a couple of years ago at Jazz Alley and it was one of those ‘more fun than usual’ nights for me. Karen and I sat in the front row making goo-goo eyes at the band during the first set. I love the sound of Latin jazz and did not want to leave when the set was over. We decided to stay for a second round. The band manager apparently recognized our enthusiasm and comped us for both shows. I love it when that happens! At the Hollywood Bowl, I wasn’t quite close enough for eye contact, but I loved to see them again just the same. They had a kick-ass Puerto Rican vocalist that was really fun to watch.

After the break, I realized one of my lifelong (at least since I was 22ish) dreams. I finally got to see Ruben Blades live. I am in love with this man. He is the epitome of a renaissance man – poet, singer, actor, Harvard law graduate, presidential candidate in Panama, etc. – and the most mature man that I would be willing to marry. Jajaja. When I was in Panama in May, I tried to find my way to his home, but all I that could gather were rumors rather than directions. He was elegant and his voice was rich. He let us know that he likes to banter, but time was short so he wanted to play a full set with no talking. He left me wanting for more.

The weather was beautiful, the music was grand and the time spent together was priceless. I can’t wait to see who is in the lineup next year!

Whistler weekend

A gaggle of us girls headed up to Whistler this weekend to celebrate Kendra’s upcoming nuptials. We left town on Friday night, with a stop in Bellingham to dine at Casa que Pasa. We ate in the bar where they had a cool dragon painted on the ceiling and a gruesome art installation with a lot of blood and smiley faced stick figures that were ‘getting fucked’ by something.

After a long drive, we arrived to our beautiful townhome. We were within walking distance of Whistler Village, and headed out to the Longhorn for a beer before retiring for the night.

Saturday, was quite an experience. After scheduling debacle with Eco Tours Whistler, I hopped in a kayak with the intention of conquering the Golden River. Although I enjoy being out on the water, I did not have experience kayaking on a river in a boat that does not have foot pedals to steer the vessel. I knew that I lacked control but tried to stay calm and just go with the flow. Once we hit the (small) rapids on the river, I drifted to the bank and ended up going face-first into bushes and bramble. I did ok on the first few hits, but the last one took my hat. I reacted and tipped the kayak. The water was cold. The guide kept telling me to get out the water as if I could scale a river bank using tiny little tree branches to support my upward descent through the mud. I did finally make it up on the bank and was scratched up plenty by the brush while the mosquitos feasted on my fresh blood. We had a hell of a time getting all of the water out of the boat and the guide knocked my sunglasses off of my face while wrestling with the kayak. Once I was back in the boat, I was in survival mode. I lacked control and eye protection and envisioned a small tree branch poking in to my eyeballs. JJ managed to tip her boat near a clearing and I opted to get out of the water and go back to the condo. I consoled myself with several barrilitos and a friendly game of poker with Eleni and Sara.

I am able to accept the facts – I am a dancer, not a river kayaker.

After waiting about 1/2 hour to get in to Buffalo Bills, we danced and danced and danced until 2am. There were plenty of bachelor and bachelorette parties abound. Some of the bachelor men sported extravagant jester costumes (as is a ritual for Canadian stag parties) and one was wearing a very pretty white eyelit dress. I heard Enrique Iglesias’ ‘I like it’ and totally fell in love with that jam. After dancing, we stopped off for hot dogs and putin (fries in gravy with cheese curds – not up my alley).

Sunday was time to say ahhh. We went to the Scandinave Spa. You must go here if you ever trek to Whistler. I think we were there for about five hours. Some of the ladies scheduled massages. I just worked my way through the rotation of hot (steam room, sauna, hot tub), cold (quick blast in cold pool or cold shower) and relaxation (hammock!) for the entire time. It was luxurious, quiet (my friends were shushed) and offered great views. What a way for us to pamper ourselves!

Dinner at 21 Steps was a great way to cap off a fun weekend.

I headed out early this morning and am proud to say that I made it home all by myself (sans navigator). 😉