“If you’re a vegetarian how do you get enough vitamin B?” Harold asked.
Charles chimed in on my behalf: “Quinoa. It’s an ancient grain that was originally cultivated in Peru and it has one of the highest concentrations of vitamin B of any food, plus it’s high in protein.” I checked his information; as usual he was spot on. I’ve never met another individual who knows so many facts about so many things.
For the next three hours in REV Coffee, our little group expounded on matters small and large. A discussion about the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest in Brazil, which is irrevocably changing the lives of natives who rely on the jungle for their existence, led to speculation about whether the fabled “Lost City of El Dorado,” said to be filled with riches beyond imagining, ever really existed in the Amazon. When Ray wandered in and announced he was thinking of buying a DSLR Canon Camera, conversation turned to the relationship between aperture, speed, and ISO. And when fellow writer, Roger, asked me what reference materials I use when writing, I pointed him to Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style.”
Over the years, I’ve been a regular at any number of coffee shops but none compare to REV Coffee in Smyrna, Georgia. When owner Nick Bimmerle bought the coffee shop in 2008 it had good bones. The cavernous space in which it is located, an old auto repair shop with a soaring ceiling, roll-up garage doors, and exposed air conditioning ducts, was furnished with overstuffed couches, armchairs, and a scattering of cafe tables. Area rugs dotted the concrete floor and the walls displayed original creations from local artists. But it was Nick’s special touch that turned REV from just another coffee shop into the “Cheers” of the greater Atlanta area.
In addition to Wednesday night open mic and Friday night live music programs, Bimmerle encourages groups of all kinds to meet at REV. “I’ve never been close-minded when people asked me if it would be cool if we did this or that, whether it’s knitters or chess players, because that’s what this place is all about, the community and giving people a place to come.” One of his great successes has involved teaming up with Cumberland Community Church. “A lot of the congregation frequent REV. They’re just great people, so whenever they need something we’re happy to help out and vice versa.” The church lends chairs to REV for their bi-monthly ‘Bleep-Free,’ family-friendly comedy night, which features amateur Atlanta-area comedians, some of whom, insists Bimmerle, are very funny. At the end of the evening the audience votes for their favorite and the winner goes home with $100 cash. “It really fills the place up,” he adds.
Eliciting this kind of devotion in customers can also have drawbacks. Whenever I’m in town, I spend hours at REV, writing. Because I’m taking up a seat, a parking space, and surfing the web on their free wifi connection, I buy things throughout the day: a grilled cheese sandwich here, an Americano there; but I was curious how he felt about customers who are not as considerate. “It kind of comes with the territory,” he says. “There are some who I wish would buy more, but if you buy something, then it’s OK.” The only thing that irritates him is when people sit down, hook up to the wifi, and don’t buy a thing. “That happens?” I asked incredulously. Read More
I am sitting in a Panera Restaurant in Atlanta, chowing down a Caersar’s Salad and bowl of creamy tomato soup, trying to figure out why I am so depressed. In late December I flew home from Peru to visit my family over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays but this time around circumstances beyond my control kept me Stateside for three months, almost twice as long as normal.
Being in the U.S. for an extended period is difficult for me. I miss the stimulation of nomadic travel, the fascinating introduction and immersion into different cultures. More so, I miss the inexplicable happiness of people who have so much less than we do, but seem so much happier. The stress and heaviness I feel in the U.S. creeps insidiously into my being until I am nearly paralyzed by it. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve grown especially antsy. I squirm as I write, as if trying to break invisible shackles that bind me to my chair. I know I should walk or do Yoga, but each day I become a bit more apathetic.
That lethargy filtered into my travel planning as well. I put off buying a plane ticket, using one excuse after another to justify the delay. Not that there weren’t good reasons. After six years of trying to sell a small apartment house in Key West, Florida I finally admitted that I couldn’t hold onto it. Late last year I contacted the bank and told them I could no longer pay the mortgage. They told me to list the property at market price and three days later we had an offer. It closed in mid-February and, though it sold for about $400,000 less than I paid for it, I felt like an enormous weight had been removed from my shoulders. Finally, I would be able to travel without the worries that come with managing tenant and maintenance issues from halfway around the world.
A week after the house was sold my bank was sold. The new bank issued all new account numbers, debit cards, credit cards, and required all new paperwork to link my online Hole In The Donut corporate account with my personal account. Until that process was complete I was trapped in the States, as debit cards and online banking are crucial for my travels. The banking issues were resolved in mid-March and soon afterward, I finished my taxes and sent them off to the accountant, fully six months earlier than I normally get around to them. I’d even caught up on the backlog of articles waiting to be written for this blog. For the first time in my life, every single item on my “To Do” list had been scratched off. With nothing more to hold me back, I picked up the phone and booked a ticket to Asia.
I should be joyful. But I’m not. Something is terribly wrong.
Although I am living the life I always dreamed of, I can’t help feeling that something is lacking. For a long time I felt guilty that I wasn’t volunteering as I traveled the globe. I investigated dozens of organizations, but with no teaching or construction skills, I had little to offer. Even worse, my investigations often turned up abuse and corruption in many volunteer and charity organizations. Instead, I decided the best way I could help was Read More
As a vegetarian, the traditional foods in Ecuador and Peru presented a challenge, as they focus heavily on meat. The national dish of Peru is “cuy chactado,” or fried guinea pig. Most Peruanos and Ecuadorianos who live in the highlands raise guinea pigs in pens beneath their homes in order to have a ready supply of this delicacy, which is served for special occasions and on holidays. In one such home I picked up one of the fuzzy little creatures, which promptly crawled onto my shoulder and nuzzled my ear. After that, even if I hadn’t been a vegetarian, the idea of eating guinea pig would have been appalling, however I’m sure Hindus feel the same way about Americans who eat beef, so I make no judgments.
Fortunately, I discovered plenty of vegetarian choices, as well as seafood options, which I will eat if absolutely necessary: Read More
I’d been riding the bright red double-decker tour bus for less than ten minutes when I realized there was something very special about Lima. At every stoplight, people standing on street corners smiled up and waved effusively; it was obvious that Limeños wanted tourists to feel welcome. At this point, Lima was just an overnight stop, a halfway point on my way to Cusco and Machu Picchu, but I planned to return. Two months earlier, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, I’d shared a hostel dorm room with Karina Gonzalez, a Peruvian schoolteacher on holiday. When her vacation was over, Karina drew me a map of Peru and highlighted the best places to see in her country. “And you must let me know when you are coming to Lima so I can give you a personal tour,” she added. It was an opportunity I wasn’t about to pass up; there’s nothing better than being introduced to a city by an in-the-know local.
Two weeks later I rolled back into town and called my new friend. The next morning we hopped on an express bus, bound for the historic center of Lima. We stopped briefly at Plaza de San Martin to check out the city’s fabulous new Gem and Mineral Museum before shouldering our way into Jardin de la Union pedestrian mall, where we rode a tidal wave of shoppers into Plaza de Armas. Ivory and daffodil yellow colonial buildings ring this expansive square, which is the focal point of Lima’s historico centro. The stately Government Palace covers one full block, while Lima’s stunning cathedral occupies another. Tucked between these two monolithic structures is the Archbishop’s Palace, with its twin ornate wooden balconies. The design of these balconies, which allowed Spanish ladies to watch the streets below without being seen, is said to have been brought over by conquering Spaniards, who were in turn influenced by architectural styles introduced by invading Moors.
We had made a complete circuit of the plaza and were about to move on when I heard music playing nearby. Down a narrow side street, a brass band blared in front of Rosario Basilica and Santo Domingo Convent as members of the congregation hefted a palanquin containing a flower-bedecked statue of the Virgen de la Puerta (Virgin of the Door). The bearers inched down the street, rocking side-to-side as they bore the sacred icon of their church on their shoulders. Three nuns in pale blue habits with white lace mantillas cascading from their grey heads walked backwards in front of the bier, waving smoking censers. Behind them, a cadre of worshipers danced backward to the beat of drums, their burlap sackcloth and black-painted faces representing slaves that the Virgen de la Puerta is said to have freed. We soon departed, but hours later, long after the sun had set, we ran into the same procession, still carrying the virgin through the streets of old Lima in a remarkable display of faith and endurance.
Our good fortune continued for the rest of the evening. At Parque de la Muralla, just a block from Plaza de Armas, we happened upon a performance of traditional dances from the coast of Peru; a short while later we arrived at Lima’s Water Park, which the Read More
As my open-air double-decker tour bus turned the corner our guide pointed out Circuito Mágico del Agua, the Magic Water Circuit in Lima’s Parque de la Reserva. Named the largest fountain complex in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records, the water park features 13 fountains, including one that shoots more than 260 feet into the air. I’d only caught a glimpse of the park’s water features, but I’d seen enough to know I wanted a closer look.
From the Magic Fountain, we made our way past the Fountain of Life and the Fountain of Traditions, pausing to admire the unique design of each before ducking through the long Tunnel of Surprises, made up of cardinal red water arches. On the other side we paused for nearly half an hour at the Labyrinth of Daydreams, a circular fountain with alternating wet and dry concentric circles. The challenge was to make it to the center without getting wet, but since there was no way to know when the Read More
I tried to like Arequipa. Really, I did. But try as I might, I just couldn’t get past the feeling of boredom in Peru‘s second largest city, despite the fact that the historic city center, known as the “White City” due to the many buildings constructed from a white volcanic rock known as sillar, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of the few highlights was the Santa Catalina Monastery. Built in the mid-1500’s, the monastery covered nearly five acres and functioned like a city within a city. Wealthy families often sent one of their daughters to be initiates, paying large sums to support them. As a result, many nuns lived in conditions that were far better than the commoners of the day. Today the convent is still occupied by nuns wearing pale blue and green habits who go about their daily business behind the cloistered walls. Walking through the site with a guide I was amazed by its immense size, the brilliant cobalt blue and rich salmon walls, and most of all by the serenity that pervades the complex.
Aside from the convent, my visit was somewhat lackluster. Smoggy gray skies obscured views of volcanoes Misti, Pichu Pichu, and Chachani at both the Mirador de Carmen Alto and Mirador de Yanahuara. At the latter I stopped to try queso helado, cheese ice cream, named not because it is made with cheese but because the block into which it is formed resembles a giant round of cheese. To me it tasted overly sweet and terribly grainy. Read More