Lili on the Loose: On Life and Getting Lost 

Souvenir Saturday: Bodhrán

Bodhrán, an Irish Drum

Bodhrán, an Irish Drum with a “tipper” to play it.

I remember in middle school, my dad found his old drum set. I had fun watching him play, and even attempted some beats myself.  So when I saw this drum in Ireland I brought it home so I’d have my own little drum. It is a Bodhrán, a drum that is opened at the back, and is nicknamed the “poor man’s Tamborine”. You can hear how it is traditionally played. I found this drum in the shops near Blarney Castle.

The back of the drum.

The back of the drum.

Souvenir Saturday

Souvenir Saturday is an every-other week series on the items that represent travel memories.

Travel Missteps: Lost in Japan

View of Tokyo from the observation deck.

View of Tokyo from the observation deck.

As I’ve written before, in the summer of 2004 I went to Japan through a Sister Cities student exchange. We first spent a couple of days in Tokyo before heading over to Chino in Nagano prefecture. On our first day in Tokyo we decided to take a tour of various parts of Tokyo. While on the tour we met a young Japanese guy who said he wanted to work on his English with native speakers, so he got a ticket for this tour and said he would be happy to work as our translator for free. He wore a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and told us to call him Mickey.

He was kind enough to translate fortunes for us at the Asakusa temple, he pointed out famous buildings on the river part of the tour, and he showed us important landmarks at a tall observatory. It was a good tour but made even better by Mickey. Sadly we had to say goodbye.

Later we wandered back towards our hotel, stopping in shops along the way. I was enthralled, I had studied Japanese culture and I spoke a little Japanese, and so had dreamed of going to Japan. We stopped in a high end supermarket and I got a lot of Japanese candy, the kind that comes with little toys with it.

At some point we stopped in a store that carried a variety of items, including a stationary section. I got excited because they had these cute “window” highlighters. (Hard to explain, but the highlighter tip is rapped around a clear piece of plastic, so you can easily see what you are highlighting. So it helps so you don’t highlight more than what you wanted.) I had seen them before from exchange students I had hosted, but the ones they had given me before had died. So when I saw these I had to get a bunch as I would be starting college when I returned.

Well, after I finished paying I exited the store and…my group of 9 other high school students and my 2 chaperones…were nowhere to be seen. I must have taken to long, and they must not have realized I was still shopping.

I started to freak out. I was 18 years old, alone in  strange country, and the first time on my own. My mind raced trying to figure out what to do. My old Girl Scout training kicked in. “Hug A Tree” my mind said, while another part yelled “What the hell are you thinking? You are in the heart of Tokyo. There aren’t any trees here!” Then another thought came “When lost it is better to stay where you are, where your group last knew where you were.” I was panicing. I started asking people in Japanese “Have you seen the Americans?” And all I got was blank stares.

And thats when I realized. Yes I was 18, and yes I was alone. But I spoke Japanese, I was in a safe country, and I knew where I was. Sure I was pretty far from the hotel, and sure I’d need to take a subway back. But I was the primary navigator for our group. So while I was lost from the group, I wasn’t actually lost. After that realization I just decided to enjoy it. I continued to shop along the street and slowly making my way back. After about half an hour later I bumped into my group…who had only just realized I was gone and were panicing themselves.

I didn’t know it then, but that was my first taste of “Solo Travel” as well as realizing that I was becoming a self sufficient adult.

Travel Missteps

Travel Missteps is an every-Tother week series on how sometimes part of the journey is making mistakes and getting lost.

Cave Tubing in Belize

Coming from Boulder, CO I’m no stranger to tubing down a river, but Belize offered a new twist on that activity: Cave Tubing! Belize is known for having the largest cave systems in all of Central America, but the most popular cave tubing is found at a small part of the Caves Branch River at Nohoch Che’en Archaeological Reserve near Belmopan. Here you will goes through 5 different caves, weaving between sunlight and darkness for almost 5 miles!

Coming to the end of a cave!

Coming to the end of a cave!

Our plan was to stop for cave tubing while on the drive from San Ignacio to Belize City before catching the last ferry out to Caye Caulker. While we started the day early, it was already hot and humid when we reached the Reserve. After putting on plenty of sunscreen we were outfitted with our inner-tubes, life jackets, and headlamps. (I highly recommend you wear shorts, shirt, and water shoes. Don’t forget a little spritz of bug spray and sunglasses as well. )

One of the entrances, it was so beautiful!

One of the entrances, it was so beautiful!

Then we had the hike to the entrance of the river. While on the way you will criss cross the river once. Here there are patches of shallow and deep, and there even is an area to jump off an overhang into the cool water below. As you walk through the rain forest your guides may point out the flora and fauna around you. I was amazed to see what Pineapple plants look like! And I learned that the outside of the Cashew Nut is toxic. The trail is well maintained and not hard at all, even while carrying your inner-tubes. But soon you’ll see the amazing turquoise colored water, the stunning limestone cave openings, and the forest vines dangling in the water!  (Note that the 5 cave entrance is on private land that only certain guides have access to, other guides will take you to the entrance right before the 3rd cave.)

About to enter another cave!

About to enter another cave!

It is advisable that as your group gets in that you hold onto each other so people don’t float away too soon. I found in some areas the river flows a bit quickly almost rapid like, while other times you might find yourself in a slow eddy. Once everyone is ready, you’ll enter the first cave. Your guide will point out the various geological features (I was stunned to see a thousand of years old petrified tree at one point), animals like bats, and Mayan archaeological features.

The contrast between light and dark.

The contrast between light and dark.

Some caves are on the shorter end and you’ll see the literal light at the end of the tunnel, while others are huge caverns that seem to go on forever. At one point our guide had us turn off our headlamps to simulate the Mayan underworld of Xibalba. As we floated along we started to hear the rumble of a nearby waterfall. Suddenly the guide shouted for us to brace and hold on tight as we were going over the edge!! People started to panic a bit, he said to keep the light off not to scare people…that we’d be fine. Louder and Louder the sound grew….until we were lightly sprayed with water. We laughed as we turned back on our headlamps and saw the “steep waterfall” was simply water lightly cascading down part of the wall, no danger whatsoever!

The "scary" waterfall. It was quite loud!

The “scary” waterfall. It was quite loud! (Also pictured the guide who is laughing his head off.)

In fact, the only parts where I had trouble was a spot out in the open between the caves. I went in the dry season, and in some areas…the rocks hurt your bottom. Not the bad hurt, but like you were riding in a car with no suspension, so you could feel every bump. I got stuck and had to kick myself back into slightly deeper water. After you exit the last cave you continue to float back down to the start of the hiking path.  It was an amazing experience especially on a hot day!

Floating down the river!

Floating down the river!

Learn about geological features of the caves.

Every other week Travel Thursday brings you travel tips and information on the amazing sights and activities the world has to offer.

Review: The Power of Poison at Denver Museum of Nature & Science

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Last month The Power of Poison opened up at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. While I didn’t like the recent Mythical Creatures (ongoing until September 7th), I absolutely loved the Power of Poison! I found the way the exhibit is laid out beautifully with clearly planned themes, each with a different but congruent feel.

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Colombia’s Chocó forest model.

I recommend to come in the early hours of the exhibit so you can have it mostly to yourself. There are many smaller artifacts that require attention to read the place cards. I also would suggest this only for older children. It is quite dark, and some areas a bit sinister. I heard from one friend that their child had bad dreams due to some of the information in the exhibit.

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It was quite peaceful here with so few people around in the morning!

You start your journey walking through a re-creation of Colombia’s remote Chocó forest. Here you will see magnified models of various poisonous plants, bugs, and animals. There also is a area where you can see real golden poison dart frogs! Fun fact: Frogs in captivity aren’t poisonous. This is because they get their food by ingesting poisonous insects who have in turned eaten poisonous plants. Because the frogs aren’t fed poisoned insects then they cannot be poisonous!

Golden Poison Dart Frog

Golden Poison Dart Frog

You’ll learn about how natives used the poison for hunting as well as some plants that are poisonous until you prepare them properly and then can be eaten. I enjoyed how the information was presented in easy to follow placards and “magnified” models.

Magnified Snake

Magnified Snake

After traversing the wild forest you come to a new area about Poisons of Myths and Legends. On one side of the wall, you will read some stories from other cultures on where or why poison was introduced to the earth, and what possible fact these Myths have. I particularly loved the part about how it *might* be possible that ancients used clay jars full of vicious scorpions thrown over the siege walls to overwhelm the inhabitants.

Poison Myths & Legends section

Poison Myths & Legends section

On the other side is a masterful piece of technology where a story is projected onto three real pots. The design of the projection makes it look like the greek pottery has come to life and the characters move in and out of the various pots to tell two stores. One is of hercules and the hydra’s poison, the other of Jason & Medea. I enjoyed this from the technical standpoint of how well it was pulled off, while I watched children focus and pay attention to the stories due to their compelling movement.

The magical storytelling pots.

The magical storytelling pots.

This next area is pretty dark, and is of Poison in Literature. This highlights some recent or famous series that include poisoning & potions from Sherlock Homes to Harry Potter. But beware of spoilers! Some plot points of these books are given away in the discussions. I was sadly mesmerized on the Agatha Christy section…before I realized I was reading what poisons were used in which books! Probably the only true negative of this exhibit.

Poison in Literature

Poison in Literature

You’ll also have a chance to see an old book of herb knowledge. I found the design elements of this exhibit spot on with huge blown up drawings of plants and animals.

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And then you’ll see a huge book that you can handle. This was the most impressive piece of technology I’ve seen, and I wish I could get something like that setup for my next halloween party! Essentially this massive “Magical Book” follows your hand movements, and you can press on designated parts of the book to cause animations to occur (like the poisonous plant flowering) or learn more about the history & use of that poison via an animated storytelling. I sat here for half an hour, pressing the page, watching the animation, and marveling on how it worked. I then noticed that there were other pages. I wondered what would happen if I flipped the page…and it truly was magic. The projector knew you were on a different page and it started magically writing in the next page’s information and drawings. It felt right out of Harry Potter, and I didn’t care that I was a full grown adult monopolizing the “Magic Book”. There are about 3-4 sets of pages, make sure to play with them all!

A page of the magical book as it tells a story.

A page of the magical book as it tells a story.

After the magic book you move into the area of famous stories involving poison. In one area you’ll see the Witches from Macbeth stirring their cauldron and can learn some of the myths about witches. What also is interesting is what types of poisons (or drugs) that people might have taken to think they were “flying” on a broom!

Double, double, toil and trouble;  Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Next you will see the topsy turvy world of Alice’s Mad Hatter, and learn of the real “Mat Hatter” disease due to mercury poisoning.

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

And then you will see Snow White, sleeping after the effects of the poison apple. Here you will learn that a combination of poison can create this effect, but it is a gentle balance least you kill your target with incorrect doses.

Sleeping Beauty...wait no...thats Snow White.

Sleeping Beauty…wait no…thats Snow White.

After that you may be lucky to catch a live “Who Dun it?” show and learn about how the age to detect poisons started out. This was a great short show, with audience (aka children) participation. I must say kids act right on queue with the “Ewe…this really isn’t vomit is it?” comments as they performed a “real” experiment to see what poisoned the unfortunate soul.

Out detective!

Out detective!

After that you will come across two sets of 4-5 ipad stations to learn about accidental poisoning and how the environment around us can contribute. Using the ipads you’ll play a mini-game to explore and guess what poisoned the sea captain, and in the other game the family dog.

Afterwards you’ll learn how some poisons have actually been put to good use for medications, and where those medications come from!

A massive tree, who's poison can be used for medical purposes.

A massive Yew tree, who’s poison can be used for medical purposes as a cancer treatment.

The exhibit runs from July 10th, 2015 to January 10th, 2016 at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, 2001 Colorado Blvd, Denver 80205. The exhibit is included in the museum ticket price or member admission.

Museum Monday is an every other week series about museum news, objects, and reviews.

Souvenir Saturday: In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…

Romeo and Juliet is one of the best known plays by Williams Shakespeare and takes place in Verona, Italy. In Verona you can visit “Juliet’s Balcony” which is in a courtyard and use to have a statue of Juliet. It is said that those who touch her right breast you’ll be lucky in love. So many people touched her breast that it destroyed the statue and was recently removed. People also leave pleas on notes or graffiti on the way into the courtyard also looking for Juliet’s help. I found it a bit ironic due to how the story ends.

Nevertheless, I did get my own Romeo and Juliet statue.

randj

See more about Juliet’s Balcony in Verona.

Souvenir Saturday

Souvenir Saturday is an every-other week series on the items that represent travel memories.

Travel Missteps: Negotiating a Discount

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a gauntlet of gaudy souvenir hawkers and littered with people taking that same vacation snapshot. Neither of which is necessarily a bad thing. As long as you are aware of that going in, you’ll be fine. So after enjoying the lesser known Pisa Church and Baptistry my sister and I made our way out of the area when one of the many souvenir sellers called out to us, and his wares caught our eye.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

He had fashion watches, jewelry, and knock off purses. Fairly standard stuff, but we hadn’t had time to shop so far in this trip since it had been right after Christmas. But neither of us had much in the way of cash, so I decided to try to barter. He wasn’t having any of that…at first. But as my little sister looked through his stall, he started to chat her up. Asking her where she was from, what her hobbies were, and just gushing about America in general. My sister was a young high schooler, and was obviously weirded out. So she was evasive and eventually walked away.

But the guy wasn’t going to give up. He told me he desperately wanted an “American Girlfriend” as he wanted to live in America, and that my sister was beautiful.  He then offered to give me the “family discount” if I gave him my sister’s phone number and email address.

I looked back at my sister, and I turned to him and nodded. I got my discount…he got a fake email and phone number. Fair trade I think.

Travel Missteps

Travel Missteps is an every-other week series on how sometimes part of the journey is making mistakes and getting lost.

Follow Your Feet at Lan Su Garden Portland, OR

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Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden is a beautiful place to check out on your visit to the city. Beyond the beautiful pagodas and variety of plants I was also amazed by the intricate stone pathways.

stones2They said that these stones were hand selected for placement, and were designed to be able to walk barefoot in meditation.

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The juxtaposition of the smooth river rocks and flat stones would give you a different feeling as you walk.

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Each area of the garden has its own stone designs.

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And will have a different feeling depending on the time of year, lighting, and how the leaves and flowers arrange themselves on the stones.

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If you go:
Tickets are 9.50 for Adults
Hours are 10-5 (6 in the summer)
Learn more at: http://www.lansugarden.org/

Every other week Travel Thursday brings you travel tips and information on the amazing sights and activities the world has to offer.

Museum Monday: Cartier Pearl Necklace

The Denver Art Museum had an exhibit called Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century which I was lucky enough to see in its last few days.

I was mesmerized by some of the older designs, including this 1911 necklace that features platinum, diamonds, and pearls. Its hard to see but the connectors of the chain are a swirl around a 4 diamond floral pattern. Before cultured pearls, pearls were worth more than diamonds.

1911

1911 Cartier

Museum Monday is an every other week series about museum news, objects, and reviews.