Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day #7

 

I haven’t kept up with my Photo of the Day series lately and have had a few medical issues, a first grandson born, with a trip to Japan to see the little guy and I thought it was time to get back in the saddle so to say and start producing again. I love Viking River Cruises and can’t talk enough about this great company. Their service, staff, tour guides, on-board staff and food is without reproach IMHO! So without any further adieu here we go with another Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day.

 

Szechenyi Chain Bridge

 

The Szechenyi Chain Bridge is a suspension bridge that spans the Danube river in Budapest Hungary. It separates the the two cities of Budapest with Buda on the west side and Pest on the east side. It is one of the most photographed bridges to my knowledge in Europe and perhaps the world. It is located on the Buda side near Gresham Palace and on the Pest side near the Castle Hill Funicular that leads to Buda Castle.

 

It is constructed of cast wrought iron and stone. At a length of 1,230 feet, a width of 49 feet it remained in place until World War II. When the Germans retreated they blew it up on January 18, 1945. Only the towers remained. The bridge was rebuilt and reopened in 1949, one hundred years from it’s original opening.

 

The bridge is was designed by William Tierney Clark in 1839. It was a replica of sorts of Tierney’s earlier Marlow Bridge that spanned the River Thames in Marlow England. It was the first permanent bridge in the Hungarian Capital when it opened in 1849, directly following the Hungarian Revolution.

 

A few cool facts in regard to the bridge’s popularity. A Hungarian stunt pilot actually flew upside down under the bridge in 2001. The stunt has become a habit in the Red Bull Air Races of today. It is featured in the following movies, I Spy, Au Pair, Walking with the Enemy, and several other generic Spy movies. Katy Perry uses it in her music video “Firework”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Azalea Trail #1, The Tyler Rose

If you were a young man who grew up in Texas, there was only one thing that was drilled into your head at a very young age. No matter your physical acumen, character or intelligence quotient, it was football that filled your thought. One dreamed of being a hero and scoring the winning touchdown, from an early age. When I was around nine or ten years old I put my first helmet on and just knew I would be the next Frank Gifford or Lenny  Moore, both NFL All-Star running backs. I also had a passion for the University of Texas and all that was associated with that fine residence of higher education, in the great state of Texas. So it should be no surprise that Earl Christian Campbell, “The Tyler Rose” was someone I admired, even though he was five years younger than me.

 

Earl grew up in Tyler Texas and led the John Tyler High School Lions to the State 4A championship in 1973, which at the time was the largest classification in the state. Earl soon signed with the Longhorns and became my favorite player of all time. Earl was a two time All-Star at The University of Texas, won the Heisman Trophy in 1977 and many more awards. Earl then became the first pick of the 1978 draft by the Houston Oilers. Earl was a five time Pro Bowl selection and MVP Three years, Offensive Player of the Year four times and NFL Rushing Champion three times. In 1991 he was elected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame.

 

J.T. Barrett, Earl, Samaje Perine and Trevone Boykin

J.T. Barrett, Earl, Samaje Perine and Trevone Boykin 2014 Nominees

 

The Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, announced in 2012 by the Tyler Chamber and SPORTyler, recognizes the top offensive player in Division 1 football who also exhibits the enduring characteristics that define Earl Campbell: integrity, performance, teamwork, sportsmanship, drive, community and tenacity; specifically tenacity to persist and determination to overcome adversity and injury in pursuit of reaching goals. In addition, the nominee must meet one or more of the following criteria: born in Texas and/or graduated from a Texas High School and/or played at a Texas-based junior college or four year college. The finalists will be selected by broadcasters, commentators, journalists, fans and former winners. The finalists will be brought to Tyler for The Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award Banquet. “All my life, all I wanted to do was be an athlete. I kept God in my life and surrounded myself with good people. I am humbled by this award named in my honor.” Earl Campbell The first year’s winner was Baylor Quarterback, Bryce Petty. In December of 2014 Trevone Boykin Quarterback at TCU, became the second winner.

 

Ron Franklin with Trevone Boykin 2014 Winner

Ron Franklin with Trevone Boykin 2014 Winner

 

Earl has always been a magnificent individual and I have met him several times. Once at Rooster Andrews Sporting Goods in Austin, where he signed three miniature helmets for my three sons. On each helmet he asked me their names, so that they would have a “personalized” helmet. The man has been more than successful in life and still had time to chat with me and talk about our cherished Longhorns. He made me feel like we had known each other for years. I think when they write out the definition of class in the dictionary, it should just say “Earl Campbell”!

 

Christian Campbell (Earl's Oldest son), Trevone Boykin, Earl and Tyler Campbell (Earl's Youngest son)

Christian Campbell (Earl’s Oldest son), Trevone Boykin, Earl and Tyler Campbell (Earl’s Youngest son)

THINOPTICS Product Review and Contest

I am not sure how many of my followers use readers or glasses, but my wife has two or three pair and can never find them. I lay my glasses down all the time and can never remember where I left them. I think it is a common issue, maybe more so among the mature audience.

 

Cell Phone Case and Universal Pod

Cell Phone Case and Universal Pod

 

 

A little while back I was contacted by a company making a new product that seemed to think they had a resolution to this age old problem and asked me if I would test the product and do a review. Their concept was to attach the readers to the back of a cell phone case, which I thought was a great idea.

 

The name of the company is THINOPTICS and I said yes I would be glad to sample their product. The glasses also come in a Universal Pod Case, which I ordered.

 

Universal Pod Case

Universal Pod Case

 

One takes an eye test on line if you aren’t aware of the strength you need and you can receive a pair that fits your needs. The first thing I noticed was how small the Universal Pod was and how easy it was to carry. I did not order a cell phone case, as my Samsung Galaxy Note is huge and they haven’t developed a case for that phone yet. They have an I-Phone and an normal Android case.

 

 

My Glass Case Against the Universal Pod

My Glass Case Against the Universal Pod

 

You get to choose between clear and black frames. I was astounded that my choice and strength actually gave me better vision than my prescription glasses. The last two times I have visited the Optometrist, he has given me two different prescriptions and neither one was good. Time to switch Doctors I think, especially after getting my new THINOPTICS.

 

Clear and Black Frame Option

Clear and Black Frame Option

 

The company was also nice enough to allow me to offer a contest for my followers and I have two coupons for a free set of readers. I have two questions from the web site for you.

 

1) What are the names of the four people in the various videos, in the testimonials on the web site. First correct answer receives a coupon for one free pair including shipping.

 

2) What are the 5 reasons Thinoptics can be returned (defined on the web site). First correct answer receives a coupon for one free pair including shipping.

 

To qualify, the answers need to be submitted on a comment, at the bottom of the blog post. Only one free pair per family. Best of luck to all of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of The Day #31

Toilet Paper Vendor

Toilet Paper Vendor

 

One of the more strange things you run into on the streets of Cuenca are toilet paper vendors. They have large baskets and simply walk from store to store or even sell to passers by, if they are in need. Most of the public restrooms are not equipped with toilet paper and I would guess people walking buy the rolls for safety!

 

 

The store operators obviously use it in their facilities. It is a very common sight to see these individuals rolling along, selling their paper. The first time I saw this I was taken back, but I guess door to door delivery saves walking and gas!

To “Cuy” or Not to “Cuy”

I have traveled to Ecuador several times before and have always decided not to try the food that is indigenous to the area and a staple item on the Inca’s diet. The last time Kim was with me and out of respect for her feelings I didn’t partake. This trip I couldn’t wait to dive into this delicacy and learn from the Master, Chef Patricio from Restaurante Corvel in a cooking class. I have to admit I was a little tentative and wasn’t sure if the Cuy would taste gamely or not. I was a guest of Mio Tours and looked forward to this opportunity, since way before I left the states. The restaurant has a Approved rating by the Rainforest Alliance for his work in organic foods and growing a myriad of his own products. 

 

Tomato Tree with Fruit in Garden at Restaurante Corvel

Tomato Tree with Fruit in Garden at Restaurante Corvel

 

We arrived in the midst of a overcast sky and were soon not disappointed as it began to drizzle and full on rain later during the cooking class. Chef Patrico the owner and head Chef welcomed us to the restaurant and immediately placed a chef’s hat and apron on yours truly. As I had a minor scratch on my finger I also put on a set of gloves to protect the wound from infection. I may be the most OCD individual you have ever run into when it comes to food, the holding and the preparation of all the digestible ingredients.  I am a fanatic about date coding and look at every item I purchase or handle to insure I am eating appropriate foods.

 

Chef Patricio and the Nomadic Texan in the Beginning

Chef Patricio and the Nomadic Texan in the Beginning with the Avocado Ceviche

 

We immediately went to the area of his restaurant that Chef Patricio teaches his classes. I wanted to be a good student and carefully listened and obeyed his instruction. First up was the avocado ceviche in which we mixed avocados, chili peppers, oil, lime juice and a little onion if I remember correctly. I was enchanted by its flavor and it got my taste buds working.

 

Chopping Potatoes for Cream of Potato Soup

Chopping Potatoes for Cream of Potato Soup

 

We then proceeded to start the potato soup that this restaurant is famous for and as I cut the potatoes Chef Patricio added garlic and onions to a ceramic dish that was heated. This allowed the two items to caramelize and gel prior to adding the liquid similar to Aji in taste. Aji is a form of salsa in Ecuador and is more mild than salsa in the US. I stirred the concoction as Chef added the other items (potatoes I chopped, heavy cream and Italian parsley). I then was transferred to the Cuy as the soup cooked over a low heat.

 

Stirring the Onions and Garlic for the Potato Soup

Stirring the Onions and Garlic for the Potato Soup

 

The assistant chef Rosa placed the Cuy on a stick made for cooking over an open flame and is what they refer to as BBQing the Cuy. One sits and continuously rolls the Cuy to ensure its cooked through and through and the skin does not burn. This is a more tiring process than I thought. Additionally one has to fan the coals that the Cuy is cooking over and I must say I had a difficult time doing both. Rosa stepped in and helped me with the fanning. This process goes on for about an hour or so.

 

Thank you Rosa for Your Help

Thank you Rosa for Your Help

 

 

The Cuy Right Before Removing It From the Fire

The Cuy Right Before Removing It From the Fire

 

 

By the time we rotated the Cuy on the stick to cook it evenly my arms were worn out! After the soup had stewed long enough and the Cuy was done Chef Patricio loaded it all on a platter. This included the Cuy, an avocado, potatoes that had boiled by themselves and a little spice added over the fire and a dish he made while the Cuy was cooking that you find at many Ecuadorian restaurants called “Mote Pillo”. Mote Pillo consists of hominy. scrambled eggs and parsley all stirred together. it is quite tasty and I recommend it.

 

A Meal Made for an Incan King

A Meal Made for an Incan King

 

We sat down to eat. Our first course was the magnificent potato soup that Chef Patricio made and it is a meal in itself. Chef added Queso Fresca and Avocado to the soup as it was served and I couldn’t finish it. It was fantastic, but heavy. I was very full and hoped that I had room for the Cuy. My first bite was from a leg and I immediately lost any reservation I had. It was very tasty and as cliche as it sounds, it tasted like dark chicken meat (thighs and legs). I ate my half and our guide Efrain ate the rest including a portion of the cabeza. I inhaled the meat and a few inner organs that some might not eat, but I find rather good like the heart and liver.

 

Chef Patricio Drowns the Langostinos with Scotch and Sets Them on Fire

Chef Patricio Drowns the Langostinos with Scotch and Sets Them on Fire

 

Chef Patricio then brought out his famous Langostinos and I had no room left. I did manage to eat one and they are still as delicious as the last time I ate them at Restaurante Corvel. I had to stand up and stretch and let out my belt. It has been a long time since I ate such a rich meal and so many items. I was so full I almost couldn’t breathe! The cooking classes are a new offering from Chef Patricio and well within expected parameters, when you understand the meal is included. I hope that all my friends in Cuenca start attending these classes and sampling the 5 star food at this place. I compare the quality to any fine dining establishment in the states and wish Chef Patricio well. I will be back!

 

Finished Product--Langostinos--About 4oz Each!

Finished Product–Langostinos–About 4oz Each!

 

Photo of the Day #13

My Favorite Soft Drink In Ecuador "Inca Kola"

My Favorite Soft Drink In Ecuador “Inca Kola”

 

 

The first time I saw this I was petrified it was filled with illegal substances and would not set well with my mature body. I rarely drink soft drinks at home, but have to indulge when I see a bottle of this South American drink. Funny its produced and distributed by Coca-Cola, who as we all know had Cocaine in its first products, as an elixir that would cure all issues.

 

One can only find this in South America I am told. It does refresh my system and is fully carbonated. I drink it mostly after large meals in Ecuador. It has a unique flavor and sets well with my digestive track. Give it try if you are exposed to it. You just might like it!

The Hat

Before I came to Toronto for the TBEX conference, I wrote on my social media platforms that everyone should look for me with my hat, my white beard and my Hawaiian shirts. I figured that there would not be too many old geezers that had this “look”. Little did I know that my Panama hat would become an institution in my life. This was my first experience mingling with the elite of the Travel Blogger world and I wanted to try and meet as many of my new “online friends” as possible. I encouraged all to introduce themselves, as I wanted photo ops and truly like meeting new people face to face.

 

Nomadic Texan & Miret Padovani (http://flaneriefeminine.com/) from Zurich. A Lady Blogger with Fabulous Talents

Nomadic Texan & Miret Padovani (FlanerieFeminine.com) from Zurich. A Lady Blogger with Fabulous Talents

 

 

I really had no idea what to expect at TBEX or what the experience would teach me. I did know that I wanted to gain as much knowledge about traffic, SEO and building my brand as possible. Looking through the options on the first day I selected all the business topics from the various categories (HHMM maybe my background had something to do with this-Ha!). Of course I waited too long to get to the opening session and was frantically trying to locate the room, when I discovered and icon in the business, Johnny Jet was also a little lost. We teamed our brilliant minds together and eventually found our destination (after I mislead him–not a good start to my first meet up with Mr. Jet)!

 

Trey Ratcliff Was Phenomenal

Trey Ratcliff Was Phenomenal

 

The opening keynote by Trey Ratcliff blew me away. This young man of StuckInCustoms is a phenomenal photographer and has vision issues in one eye. When you look at his photography you will be amazed. He was wearing his new Google glasses and told us all the finer qualities and attribute of the glasses. I was in awe! As I was  leaving the opening session a young man approached me and said “Hi Mike”. I was a little lost, thinking about my first breakout and did not recognize him at first. Turned out to be Will Castillo a friend and blogger I am trying to help out. You can follow him at IWillTravel and he is a very interesting young man, who loves South America almost as much as I do! Between the opening session and my first breakout no less than five bloggers came up and said hello. One even had me wait to meet her Mother! All because they saw “The Hat” from across the room.

 

A Slide from Ted Murphy's Presentation

A Slide Stating the Blogger’s Value to Direct Marketing Organizations

 

I headed out of the session to my first breakout “Brands, Blogger & Dollars” given by Ted Murphy. I wrote two pages of notes (I am still trying to decipher a few words–my writing is atrocious) and discovered I should have brought a tablet or I-Phone and recorded the breakouts. I couldn’t write as fast as they talked! In essence Ted’s most important factors in dealing with brands or sponsors are the following; 1) Quality of Content, 2) Relevance to Industry, 3) Personality, 4) Engagement and 5) Traffic. Ted also focused extremely deeply on the FTC guidelines and what is acceptable and what isn’t. He stated we all need to read the guidelines for sponsorship. Who knew? I was extremely excited at the information learned and stepped out to head toward my second breakout. This time it was six or seven bloggers that came up and introduced themselves and I got a few photo ops. They saw “The Hat” from across the room again. See the pattern starting to develop?

 

William Bakker from Think! Social Media-Brilliant Man

William Bakker from Think! Social Media-Brilliant Man

 

My second breakout was with William Bakker of “Think! Social Media” and his topic was Lesson Learned: “Working with Bloggers & Destinations”. This young man energized everyone in the room, even though his dutch accent was pervasive, we could interpret his talk. He gave a myriad of facts and again I couldn’t keep up and write fast enough. Did you know the #1 social media platform for determining travel is Facebook. People trust their friends feedback more than any other source.

 

William Tells Us What They Look For in Blogger Trips

DMO Take-Aways For Blogger Trips

 

William stated that bloggers are “Content Creators” or Story Tellers and we must be authentic, and honest, if we desire credibility in the profession. He gave us Think’s blogger requirements on their selection process for press trips: 1) The blogger has to value the destination of Think’s trip, 2) What is your reach-Size of Audience, 3) What are your audience demographics, 4) What is your influence in a niche (Twitter & Facebook Activity), 5) Do you have a connection to other Influencers 6) What is your Quality & Style, 7) What is your speed of communication, 8) What is your level of technology & tools use, 9) Do you have a Personality.  I could have listened to him all day, but had to grab a bite to eat.

 

Will Castillo of IWill_Travel (Your Eyes are Supposed to be Open Will)!

Will Castillo, of “I Will Travel” (Your Eyes are Supposed to be Open Will)!

 

Will had offered to buy my lunch and I am not one to turn food down! I told him at lunch that he needed to find an item like “The Hat” and establish his brand. We talked about various travel topics and it was time to get back.  After lunch I had pre-selected my friend Stephen Oddo of Walks of Italy breakout and thought I would give him a hard time. His title was “Where’s my ROI? Campaign & Strategies in Digital Marketing”. Stephen stated “Marketing is the practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from another product”. Prior to the start of the third breakout, one of my closet online friends Jill of Road Warrior, came running up to where I sat and gave me a hug. She saw “The Hat” from the back of the room. So my design or symbol became “The Hat” without any conscience effort on my part. It just transpired!

 

Stephen Oddo from Walks of Italy

Stephen Oddo from Walks of Italy

 

 

Stephen stated you do this with 1) Personality, 2) Set standards and follow them, 3) Be Consistent, 4) Develop a Positive Reputation. He also said that blogs are the third most influential digital resource for purchasing travel. He stated 50% of travelers changed their minds based on what they read on trusted blogs. Wow! Had no idea “The Hat” had this much responsibility!

 

Janice Waugh, publisher of Solo Traveler (http://solotravelerblog.com), the blog for those who travel alone and author of The Solo Traveler's Handbook (http://thetravelershandbooks.com) navigating Speed Dating

Janice Waugh, publisher of Solo Traveler (http://solotravelerblog.com), the blog for those who travel alone and author of The Solo Traveler’s Handbook (http://thetravelershandbooks.com), navigating Speed Dating

 

Time was flying by and my first experience in Speed Dating was staring me in the face. Was I ready. Had I gathered the correct statistics. How hard could it really be? I soon discovered. We had 10 minutes for each date and it became a whirlwind of activity and discussion and just as you got to know the vendor it was time to change and move on. This was one of the two hardest hours I have ever worked in my life. Not physically, but trying to give my presentation and communicate my niche and brand was extremely difficult in under 10 minutes. I was worn out and the night hadn’t even begun, for “The Hat”!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homes of Hope…Epilogue

In my life I have accomplished my fair share of success and have always tried to display compassion for my fellow human beings. Some say I am naive and living in a dream world, but it is my dream world and you are free to leave, when you feel compelled. My life has been a dramatic roll-a-coaster and I have had my peaks and valleys for sure. Getting on the plane to go with Sean and Chris I had no idea what I was getting into or how the trip would effect me. I just knew I was headed for some valuable time with my sons and that can never be a bad thing in my book. It is so rare these days, now that they are grown men, to find time and successive days to spend together. I jumped at the opportunity when Sean inquired if I wanted to go to Rosarito Beach and help build a house.

 

Welcome to My World

Welcome to My World

 

I was not prepared though for the experience and how it would change my life, my outlook on volunteering and the maturity displayed, by my two youngest sons. I have been to Ensenada and Rosarito Beach before, but it was a while back. I was not ready for the mecca of condos and house that had sprung up, not to mention new businesses. It was kind of a cultural overload at first. The massive construction initiatives and a great deal unfinished were everywhere.

 

Chris and Sean

Chris and Sean

 

I have traveled abroad and visited many countries that have issues with housing their population. The worst being the cardboard shanties outside of Kowloon, where immigrants from then Red China, swam the channel and landed on the free shore. It made me sick to my stomach. I was ill equipped for the living conditions we found in Tijuana and had to look away, when I realized in this day and age human beings still lived in squalor just to survive. A very esoteric feeling came over me at our arrival the first day and I was determined to do what I could physically to help this family.

 

Lifting a side wall

Lifting a side wall

 

I have not worked consistently that hard in a very long time and at the end of the first day I fell, literally into the bed. When the alarm went off the second morning I feared I wouldn’t be able to pitch in and complete the house, as my entire body ached and longed for rest. After breakfast and the inspirational talks given at YWAM/Homes of Hope it became much easier and I knew, no matter how I felt, I had to help finish the house. The ceremony after completion and the lunch was tough to go through and it was an emotional and heart wrenching moment.  When I told Reina I was glad she did not have to worry about getting wet any longer from her roof leaking we both started sobbing out of control.

 

The Team at the End of Day One

The Team at the End of Day One

 

We had time to shower and take a look at the beach and grounds, after we finished the house. I took a few photos of the beach and hotel since I wouldn’t have time to actually use the facilities. We then drove to the camp. Dinner was an excellent buffet again and we ate and sat waiting for the next item on the agenda. Dennis called each team up to the front and had each member state to the complete group how we felt about what had transpired over the past two days. Listening to others and especially my two sons, was an awe inspiring epiphany in my life. I could not contain my emotions and balled like a baby trying to get my words out to the group. I had no idea on Friday when we left Austin that this project sponsored by Defender Direct, my son Sean’s employer, would effect me this deeply. I was not composed at all. I grabbed a napkin and wiped away the tears and tried not to embarrass my sons, but this weekend and the project was a life changing phenomenon for me.

 

On the Pier Looking Back at the Hotel

On the Pier Looking Back at the Hotel

 

Horses on the Beach

Horses on the Beach

 

The next morning we grabbed our luggage and took the bus back across the border to San Diego and our flight home. We had about three hours to wait uin the airport and grab lunch, but mostly we just sank in our chairs and tried to rest and in the boys case, lay on the floor and nap. I thought and thought about the circumstances that brought me to this point in my life and felt I had done something good for a change and it wasn’t just write about places and destinations. I had perspired and worn myself out constructing a shelter, that this family would treasure for a long time to come and I met a team of people that wouldn’t let the hard labor, the sun or the lack of energy stop them from helping this family. I will do this again!

 

Three Tuckered Out Young Men... Brad with Chris and Sean laying on the Floor at the Airport

Three Tuckered Out Young Men… Brad with Chris and Sean laying on the Floor at the Airport

 

JOHN LENNON
“Imagine”
A Partial Quote of the Lyrics

 

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Homes of Hope…Day Three

The alarm went off at 6:00 AM again and this time I struggled to get out of bed. My bones were weary from the prior day’s efforts and I had to quickly down a couple of cups of coffee, in order to get this old man going. We all lined up outside and prepared to go to the camp again for breakfast. Chris came up without Brad and it appears Montezuma had rared his ugly head at Brad. Brad was unable to make day number two and had to be left alone to fend off the evil spirits, in his hotel room. The buffet was set up when we arrived at YWAM/Homes of Hope and this time sausage was added to the menu, after only bacon the first day. I was never so glad to see it. I needed the protein for the day ahead.

 

Sean and Chris at breakfast! HHmmm!

Sean and Chris at breakfast! HHmmm!

 

After breakfast and our morning round of updates and instructions, we jumped back on our bus and rode to the house site. We circled up and listened, as Colby gave us the details of the second day and assigned tasks. He stated that after an hour, volunteers would accompany the family to Wal-Mart and purchase items they needed and could use in their new house. Sean raised his hand and went to Wal-Mart about an hour after we started work. Chris climbed back on the roof with Brody and had to finish the plywood. Throughout the morning they continued with adding the felt and then finally the shingles to complete the roof.

 

Dora the daughter on their way to Wal-Mart

Dora the daughter on their way to Wal-Mart ,That is paint in her hair

 

I was given the detail or trim work and it is an very precise process with the 1×2 lath wood. Not to mention you have to balance on a ladder, to do the top of the wall trim (after falling the day before I was nervous). This trim was substituted for our normal tape and floating and the seams were all covered with wood. The remaining exposed sheetrock was painted! We kept getting in each other’s way and I truly think I got about half the paint wound up on my hands, arms and face as I touched and grabbed for balance. It was a little frustrating, but had to be done this way, to complete the house inside within the time allotted. Sean took the camera to Wal-Mart with him, so I have very limited photos of the second day of work.

 

Sean helping Dora decide

Sean helping Dora decide

 

Sean took the job of babysitting Dora the family’s daughter and told me later that Alberto and Reina had never shopped at Wal-Mart. Both became very emotional as they went for their first visit. They weren’t really sure what was what and had to be coached and directed to items that would be of benefit. Sean personally bought a bicycle for Dora and when I discovered this it stirred my feelings. After all Sean thought, why shouldn’t she have a bike? Sean said he was very touched during the entire shopping experience and was only sidetracked by trying to keep up with Dora.

 

Sean and Chris putting the bike together

Sean and Chris putting the bike together

 

They got back earlier than we thought and rode around a few minutes to let us finish the house. When they arrived, we emptied the supplies, groceries and few toys inside the house. While they were gone shopping, we setup a new bed set, a propane oven and a dining table and chairs for their use purchased by Homes of Hope from Ikea. We then set up lunch, which Reina made partially. In addition to the pre-made sandwiches we had her tamales, frijoles and salsa. I couldn’t eat enough of her fabulous tamales. We ate outside their new house and discussed our efforts.

 

The family ate first

The family ate first, The Tamales were in the big pot…Yum!

 

After lunch we circled and each said a word or gave a thought to the family and had our wishes translated by Felipe. I have never been prouder of Chris and Sean in my life. They both stated very impassioned, prophetic phrases and when it came my time I stated I was glad that Reina’s wish of not being wet any longer was coming to fruition. Reina started crying and I couldn’t control my emotions and burst out crying also. It finally came time for Alberto to speak and he teared up and thanked us profusely for building their new house and providing shelter for his family. We gave them the keys and let them go in for a few minutes and then knocked so as to be their first guests. It was a phenomenal ceremony and allowed everyone to express themselves.

 

Alberto and Reina brought to tears during the ceremony

Alberto and Reina brought to tears during the ceremony

 

We presented them with a photo of our group. The words on the photo expressed the house was given with love in hearts and a desire they would cherish their new home.  We left and waved our goodbyes and headed for the hotel, with time left to shower and explore before the final nights activities. I was ready and was literally all worn out. I had no energy left, as we boarded the bus I looked back and knew that in my 63 years I had never done such great volunteer work.

 

The first thing they hung on their walls

The first thing they hung on their walls

Hell Yes I’m From Texas

Yes, I am a Native Texan through and through. Although I may not be as boisterous, as some Texans you have met, I am deep down very proud of my heritage and the state I was born in.Screw You We’re From Texas” by Ray Wylie Hubbard, applies to a great deal of our populace, but we all aren’t crass individuals.

Some people think we are the most obnoxious characters on the planet. Others think we are just downright “friendly”. We will, in most cases wave and say “Howdy”, if we pass you on the street and offer up a handshake. Just the way we were raised.

We are an uncommon crowd, with more pride in our state’s formation than most. “Remember the Alamo” is a phrase that everyone around the world knows freely and associates with the creation of Texas. Generally, we tend to let everyone know our history and the fact that we are Texans. We are a proud bunch.

 

Recently I had the pleasure of showing our CouchSurfer from Australia our state Capitol building in Austin. He is an architect and quickly fell in love with the historic structure and all its glamour. It had been ages since I roamed this wonderful building’s halls and thought it would be nice to re-visit the Capitol.

As we entered the grounds Allan Flynn (The Australian CouchSurfer) was awestruck and started taking photos rather quickly. I think he was attracted to the beauty and we stopped read most of the historical plaques from statues and objects on the grounds.

I learned a few tidbits, that I previously was unaware of. Like the cannons outside the front doors, were actually used in the Texas Revolution and the Civil War. I also discovered the Artesian well constructed in 1889 is still functional. Who knew?
We tagged along on the tour, which I highly recommend and visited highlights, like the Rotunda, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Allan noticed things that I wouldn’t see in a hundred years, from his architecture training.
His observation about the marble floors and the first step on all the staircases blew me away. The first step is shorter than all the rest, as the current floors were applied over the old floors and made the gap to the first step shorter. The floors were installed in the 1930’s and the Capitol was built in the 1880’s.
I personally was drawn to all the ornate brass placements on the doors, the hinges, the elevators and the door handles. It was awesome for a native Texan and I did not remember these from my last visit. I must have taken right at 100 photos and you can see them all at this link
We walked extensively around every floor, trying not to miss anything, That would be impossible though. The Capitol is such a large conglomeration of hallways, rooms and extensions, you might have to spend an entire week in the structure, to see it all.
We finished the tour and exited the building. A surprise awaited as Lady Liberty approached us and asked if we desired a photo. Of course I took her up on it! I even got to hold the torch!
I never cease to be amazed of what Austin has to offer and how our state’s history is depicted in monuments, government buildings and the various museums around town. “Hell yes I’m from Texas” and darn proud of it, if I say so myself! Safe Travels!

The Grand Dame of Congress Avenue

We recently had a CouchSurfer from Australian and what would a good tour of Austin be, without showing our guest the most beloved institution in downtown Austin. As an architect, he was drawn to the enchanting offerings and antique accoutrements of this grand building.

I personally, absolutely love historical architecture and am drawn to structures I deem worthy of my humble attention. One such building “The Driskill Hotel”, exists in my home town of Austin Texas. Its been around for approximately 125 years and was constructed in 1886 by a cattle baron named Jesse Driskill. Its western motif is attractive and appeals to everyone’s virtual Cowboy side!

It is a member of the Historic Hotels of America and has a very illustrious past. President Lyndon Baines Johnson used it at every level of his ascension from Senator, to Vice President to the Presidency in 1964, for political gatherings. The iconic hotel has catered to many politicians, businessmen and the occassional movie star over the years.
The Driskil Grill, its award winning restaurant, has been recognized by Zagat in the Top 25 Hotel Restaurants and the Grill has received many associated honors through the years. Its current menu really isn’t that expensive and I know for sure I would have the Duck Confit or the 16oz Ribeye, if I was dining at the Grill.
The hotel is outfitted with many retro and western themed furnishings and one can’t help but take a vast amount of photos, no matter how gauche this may appear. I certainly recorded my visit with an array of appealing items and am pleased to share them. If you find yourself in Austin, you cannot afford to bypass a visit to this established hotel and view the assorted relics. I promise you will not be disappointed!
Safe Travels and Saludos!

One Door Opens Another

I am entirely sure what attracts me to historical architecture and aged facilities. Maybe my own rapidly aging element is effecting my current construction cravings. As everyone knows, I am truly enamored by the city of Cuenca in Ecuador and visit as often as possible. Every visit one of my primary agendas is the photographing of the old doors, which still survive in El Centro, or the old part of the city.
On our last trip in March I took so many photos of old wooden doors that my wife Kim started locating prospective shots and identifying candidates, before I could see them. I always gravitate to these doors and I am not sure what the fascination is, but I can’t stop. I take hundreds of door shots each time I go somewhere with history, especially Cuenca with its 500 plus years of existence.
The beauty and craftsmanship that went into these doors originally, with limited tools slays me and I can’t wrap my hands around how much time it took, to create these masterpieces. I drool over these pieces of art. I am sure many will debate me on calling them art, but in my eyes this is what the doors are.
At this point I have a trip scheduled for the month of August and I couldn’t be more delighted. I am sure once again I will walk the streets of El Centro, find doors not yet photographed and add to my collection. Kim says I am approaching enough photos to publish a book. HMM? Hadn’t thought of that, but it might not be a bad idea. Safe Travels and Saludos mi amigos!
*Mio Tours is a sponsor of Nomadic Texan and compensates me for this ad. Don’t forget to mention “Nomadic Texan” and receive a 10% discount from all their tours in Ecuador.

Making My Own Birthday Dinner

If you will recall I was scheduled to attend a Longhorn baseball game at the Disch on my birthday with my middle son. He fell sick with what I would guess was food poisoning from our dinner out the night before. A bad case of Lobster being mishandled. At least that is our guess.

I know how to cook fairly well and decided that I wouldn’t let the “Curve Ball” get me down and would make the most out of my day by cooking one of my favorites and my family’s favorites. Chicken Enchilada’s were on the menu and I was drooling with anticipation.
I evaluated my needs and jumped into my car and visited the local HEB. The one in Cedar Park that isn’t going to charge for bags. The city of Austin passed a new law and no business can give out plastic bags anymore without charging the customer. Environmentally I understand it, but what if I forget as I tend to do more lately and don’t bring my own bags in for bagging. $$$$
I digress. I purchased the necessary ingredients missing and went home and started cooking, chopping and prepping. I love this part. I was drooling by now. The enchiladas only take about 45 minutes of baking at 350 and I had heated the oven prior to loading the two huge 9 X 12 glass baking dishes in the oven. The two dishes make about 30 total.
Why was I cooking so much when it was just going to be three for dinner? Oh yeah. I can freeze the leftovers and eat them down the road. Along with the enchiladas I decided a good pot of beans would go well and sliced fresh peaches.
I must have checked them 10 times and was about to go crazy. Finally they were ready and I pulled them out of the oven. My they looked decent that evening!
I couldn’t wait to sit down and start eating. After all I was foregoing dessert in order to puerco (pig in Spanish) out on Chicken Enchiladas. I couldn’t wait to dive in and almost finished by the time Kim and her sister sat down to dinner.
I had to go back for seconds knowing there was ample food! After inhaling my first two I added a third and devoured it before they could handle their first ones. Kim kept saying how bad she felt that I had to cook my own birthday dinner. What she doesn’t realize is that I love to cook and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my birthday! Then it was siesta time! Adios!

How Much Does Your Underwear really Weigh???

 

Today Kim and I were talking about getting our luggage out of the rafters in the garage and starting the process of loading our suitcases. The conversation turned to underwear and Kim’s needs.


Kim: Can we wash clothes while we are in Cuenca?
Me: There are no facilities in the hotel, but I am sure we can find an inexpensive laundry near by. Why do you ask?
Kim: I don’t think I have enough underwear.
Mike: So…Why don’t you go buy some? They can’t weigh that much. Besides… you can take out one pair of the many shoes you are taking and replace the weight of 12 pair of underwear!
Kim: How many days are we going to be there?
Mike: We will be gone for twelve days.
 
I surfed the Internet and worked my Facebook and Twitter pages and responded to a few “Comments” from blog readers and thought the dilemma was resolved.
 

 
Kim: Do these pants look okay?
Mike: You know I am not going to answer that, as I will not win with either response.
Kim: But…They are kind of beach pants and we are not going to the beach.
Mike: Just pretend!
 
I worked the Internet thing a little more and saw that Kim was getting her clothes laid out on the bed and ready to pack.
 
Mike: Why are you taking four scarves?
Kim: I have to match scarves with blouses!
Mike: So…Do we need to go shopping for your underwear?
Kim: Oh no…I have enough underwear.
Mike: I thought you needed more.
Kim: No I have plenty.
Mike Then why did you say you needed more?
Kim: I was only talking about my favorites!!!
 
Mike (to himself) I will never understand!

Sometime Life Throws You Curve Balls

I have loved baseball, since my father introduced me to the game at the age of seven years old. I think it is one of the most misunderstood, complex institutions in the universe and one can only covet its capacity for strategy. Every pitch, every ball hit has a multitude of mental transactions, that transpire prior to the toss.

Most individuals think it is a boring and slow moving sport, without merit or gaudy celebrations capitalizing on instant gratification. Most people do not realize the depth of intellect that is necessary to navigate through the innings and a coach is charged with making all the dominant decisions. One has to be fleet of mind to succeed in this position.
All through my business life I used analogies to the game and my friends, family and cohorts have always know my appreciation for the game. Today is my birthday and my middle son Sean had gone to extensive lengths to obtain tickets to the Texas Longhorn Baseball game, to treat his old man to a game at the Disch. I was very excited and even thought of writing a blog, taking photos to post and generally sharing my love for the game with him on this day. I might have even had a hot dog!
Then the cosmos spoke and Sean fell ill with a bad case of stomach flu at the last moment. I knew he was disappointed and he felt bad when we talked. What he doesn’t comprehend is that his actions ahead of time are more discernible and speak volumes. Thank you for the thought Sean. Get well and remember, there will always be another game, another day. Love you son and thanks for dinner last night!

The Road to Cuenca

Getting ready for this experience a second time in nine days!!!

It took over an hour of riding in and out of heavy traffic before we obtained our shuttle and started on the way up the mountain to Cuenca. I had worries, but not serious thoughts, about the prospect of Altitude Sickness. As we left the outskirts of Guayaquil and rid ourselves of the ultra poor and fanatically dirty “Industrial Area”, we began entering the tropical and green segment of Ecuador, that is responsible for a majority of the fruits and vegetables.

It was breathtaking and I was awestruck at the size of the banana, papaya, guayabana, cacao, lime, orange and mango trees and bushes. It was literally intoxicating and stimulating at the same time. Our driver was only interested in getting us to the destination so he could turn around and come back. So….photograph opportunities were few and far between and some were so fleeting, to be of no use.

It is difficult at best to attempt any description of the scenery, plants, waterfalls and rivers that border the brand new highway (It took 10,000 men over ten years to lay the rebar and smooth the concrete for this 90 mile stretch). It really is a feat considering the modest equipment and the frontier workforce. The canyons and wonderful nature portraits could not be duplicated, with a simple photograph and it was of no use to attempt to make such an effort.

I have a very weak bladder, my wife will tell you and at about 12,000 feet I suddenly had to go and it seemed that time was of the essence.When the driver stopped the van and I unloaded, the entire world spun on its axis. I was mortified and stumbled to my knees. A combination of the altitude and uneven ground left me with no choice but to fall to the ground. I was worried I couldn’t rise and thanks to Omar I managed to ascend and get my business done, leaning against a tree. I got back in the van quickly and told them I couldn’t possibly go through that again. Yet 15 minutes later it hit once more and I basically replicated the afore mentioned incident. I am not sure why, but the coffee really hit me bad that day.

Finally we got off the top of the mountain and started our descent (Thank you Lord!). We passed a great deal of lakes (I think there are 253 in that area of the mountains–they were gorgeous). The beauty escalated as we drew near Cuenca, and the indigenous population became more and more pronounced. As we entered the center of town the streets narrowed and the architecture grew more aged and beautiful. I was in a very great place and ready for the adventure. Thank God my altitude sickness was more restrained at 8500 feet than at 12,000 feet. We were at our destination.

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Amateur Traveler Episode 471 - Travel to Austin, Texas



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