Sunday, December 24, 2006

Mas Diving

Another bright and early dive trip today...Friday.  The first dive we saw no extraordinary wildlife, but it was cool to swim around through tunnels of coral.  The second dive we saw a huge lobster, a toad fish, some kind of shark and I think I saw a barracuda.  It's fun but I don't see how people can go on trips where they dive every single day.  It's exhausting and stressful, although that last part is probably due to my still being a beginner.  I'm up to 12 total dives though so I can't beg off with that excuse for too much longer I guess.  I have to admit that snorkeling is much more peaceful to me.  We had some delightful pescado (fish) at a new lunch spot we found today and now I think I'll give up my fight to stay awake.  Tomorrow morning we ferry back to Playa del Carmen, get a car to the airport where we pick up our rental cars (it was cheaper to get two than one large enough for all six of us (Lesley and Kristen are heading back to Portland tomorrow, unfortunately)) and drive to our hotel near Chichen Itza.  Sunday morning we'll head out to the ruins before all the tour buses show up. 

Later...
...this is exactly what we did. It was beautiful, peaceful and empty at 8am when the ruins opened for business

Pyramid in the mist

Hoop in mist

and in the afternoon we got totally different light

Dag & Leslie & Pyramid

Circling birds

Spencer & Gwen


After checking out of the hotel, we found the most fantastic restaurant in the town near the ruins. You have to see these dishes to believe them:

Queso Relleno

Dan's dish



Then that night we drive back to the super swank hotel Dag got us for cheap in Cancun.  It's one of those over-the-top luxury style golf resort type places - it should be a kick.

Later...
...and it was a kick! I'd never want to spend an entire vacation at one of these generic, overpriced resort hotels, but it was a nice way to end up the trip.

Pool


I've heard about all the windstorms and power outages in OR and WA!  I hope all of you are warm and the contents of your refrigerators are cool!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

SUN!

Yesterday after I left the internet cafe I ran into Dan, Jill, Lesley and Kristen who were on their way to the local ruins, San Gervasio.  I jumped on their bandwagon. 

El Arco

More interesting than the ruins themselves were the scads of iguanas running wild among them.  So adept at camoflage, you often do not see them until they start because you've almost stepped on their tail. 

Iguana

And these are BIG creatures - maybe five or six feet long.  Back at home, I made some of my leftovers and a couple of eggs into a giant yummy scramble and then took a quick nap.  Everyone in the house met up later for Tacos down the street.  We have all fallen deeply in love with the family who runs it and I believe we ended up leaving something like a 45% tip after the bill was paid.  I mean, at one point the lady of the house came up and said her husband was going to the store and did we need anything...beer?  ice cream?  So adorable!  After dinner, Lesley, Kristen and I went down the street and bowled three games.  Not a lot of business there and judging by the scores of the local people who were there, bowling is a relatively new sport to Mexico...at least to Cozumel.

Today...Thursday - finally the sun came out and stayed out all day long.  It was positively gorgeous!  We all went out to Dzul-Ha again and spent the morning snorkeling and getting stung by little jellyfish. 

Dag, Jill & Dan preparing to snorkel

Heading in

Dag and Dan found the Queen Mary 2 docked and went out for a photo shoot while the rest of us read or napped. 

QM2

Jill, Dan, Gwen, Spencer, Dag and I had a late lunch at the ever-fabulous El Foco.  After much in-head rehearsal, I said to our waiter Roberto:  "mis felicitaciones al chef" which is like "my compiments to the chef".  Dag joked that I would accidentally say: "can I have the phone number of the chef?" and when Roberto replied "muy guapo", which I believe means "gorgeous", i wondered if he might have been correct!

Roberto and Chihuahua

  Now we are all kind of lazing around as the sun goes down.  All this relaxing is positively exhausting!  Tomorrow Dag and I will go diving again and then Saturday we're off to Cancun and Chichen Itza.  On Tuesday, the vacation seemed to be going so slowly by but now it seems to be flying past at the most alarming rate! 

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Waterworld

Next thing I recall about Monday evening is my two hour nap after which Lesley, Kristen and I went down the block to the taco place where we discovered the cook is actually the husband of the lady with the baby and he comes home from his day job at 7pm, tosses aside his lanyard, picks up his apron and cooks until 1am.  With a smile on his face.  We have been tipping a lot more heavily when we go there.  That night most of us went to bed early but Dag, Gwen and I stayed up til 1 chatting and listening to music.  It´s cool being with such a large group.  Everyone gets along great and you have the chance to break off into smaller groups depending on who wants to do what and who´s hungry when.  it´s a constant rotating door of social experiences.
 
Yesterday (Tuesday) we all slept in til 9 or so and had breakfast at home.  I made smoothies out of fresh papaya, yogurt and bananas and we tested a variety of sweet breads I´d picked up at the supermarket down the street.  I don´t think I would go back for any of them but they were interesting.  Most were filled with a little bit of fruit.  The texture was a bit gummy for my taste.  Since Kristen and Dag had each overflowed the coffee maker on Monday, we´ve been sticking with the french press. 
After breakfast, Kristen and Lesley rented a scooter and headed out for a tour of the island.  The rest of us took taxis to Dzul-Ha for some snorkeling as there seemed to be a break in the weather.  For a while this was true and we had a lovely time swimmin wit da fishes!  I was lazily floating above a large school of yellow fish, both of us swaying back and forth with the surge.  Even from underwater I could hear the safety talk being given to a very large group of touristas by their snorkelmaster.  As soon as he gave the go-ahead, they all took a flying leap into the water and swam right into me and the school of fish I was bonding with.  Blasted touristas!  It was about time to get out of the water anyway and shortly after I did, it started Pouring Down Rain so the lot of us picked up our towels and went home.  As we were getting ready to go out to lunch, Lesley and Kristen were on their way out on the scooter again.  They came back after about 10 minutes because the scooter had crushed Kristen´s right ankle against the curb after losing control on a wide turn through a puddle.  We were laying on the pressure to go to a doctor but she insisted it was ¨fine¨although she wasn´t interested in trying to move it for us.  We gave her until after we got back from lunch to show some improvement before we called in life flight.  I cannot for the life of me remember where we had lunch.  OH wait!  Yes, it was at El Foco, which was another of Shannon´s recommendations we´d been searching for. 

Sauteed Meet

It was spectacular.  They had a giant whiteboard sporting their menu that they´d prop up on a chair by your table.  We had too much appetizer nachos and couldn´t really do much damage to our tacos but vowed to return later.  We found Kristen vertical and in a much better state.  The swelling seemed to actually have decreased on her foot and we had to attribute it to the fact that Dag seems to have been blessed somehow.  On his neck suddenly appeared a giant red cross and miracles have been around us ever since. 

Miracle

Actually, I´m pretty sure he was stung by something while snorkeling.  But when people see the welt and ask ¨what got YOU?¨ he always replies indignantly: The LORD! (duh implied)
we spent a lot of time that evening gathered around the hammocks and table outside laughing and talking and then headed out in the rain to see if we could get a little Our Lady the Virgin Guadalupe action.  We mistakenly thought that there would be parades and stuff downtown but found out later that it was all at her church that is a cab ride away and, napless, we were all fading.  Back to El Foco for margaritas and more nachos!  That fixed us right up for another hilarious evening of pool lacrosse back at the homestead.

Lacrosse?

 
Today we ventured back to Girasoles for breakfast where we´d first had the Chilaquiles. 

Breakfast

I´m still full.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Eating, sleeping, diving & rainstorms

Hola amigos y familia!
We had an uneventful flight over, which was a nice change from our last trip.  I slept right through both legs.  From the Cancun airport, we took a van to Playa del Carmen to catch the ferry over to Cozumel.  The water looked pretty choppy and the ferry was lurching heavily but we were all too tired or optimistic to realize what lie ahead.  It was rough enough at the dock but once we got going out across the water, the boat was tipping almost to vertical, it seemed and water was gushing in between cracks in the plastic & fabric covered windows. 

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I´m not prone to motion sickness and have never been seasick before, but this ferry ride was an ultimate excercise in concentration.  Mind over the matter in my stomach is what I´m talking about here.  I ended up putting my head down on the bench in front of us and that fixed me right up, but several other passengers were not as lucky.  so then it was also an excercise in not thinking about that scene from Stand by Me with the pie eating contest and what transpired after. 



Our companion Jill turned positively green but she also made it out with her lunch in tact.  Hooray for us!
We arrived at our house around 7pm and were met by the guest services guy, Pancho, who showed us around.  It´s a two story house with two bedrooms per floor.  Each could be rented separately but we have filled the whole house, which is nice because the pool and courtyard are shared, and you know...strangers...ewww!  Each bedroom has its own bathroom and each floor has a fully equipped kitchen.  The accomodations could not be better.  We got a little settled then headed out for some dinner.  Let me just say that I LOVE Mexican food!  We got some good restaurant recommendations from a friend who comes here often and they´ve been right on every time.  The first night Dag and I both had Mole Chicken.  Every restaurant has home made chips and fabulous salsas on the table.  The starter was a thin noodle soup in what seemed like a spicy beef broth - yum!  Dag made sure that I got my ice cream quota filled for the day with dessert.
Six of us stayed up talking - alternating between chairs and one of the four hammocks hanging in a circle around the table. 

hammock

Luckily that table and the hammocks are covered by a roof because it has been raining pretty steadily since we got here.  We´re all taking it in stride because after all, it is still a very pleasant 80 degrees out there!
Yesterday we found a breakfast place for me to have my favorite - Chilaquiles Verde! 

Breakfast

Then it was just hanging out, reading, napping, more hanging out, dinner at the taco place around the corner which is the concrete patio of someone´s house.  They got ahold of an old hot dog cart (it actually still says HOT DOG on the side) and the man of the house uses the grill to cook up carnitas and chorizo and mini quesedillas while the grandma wipes the rain off the chairs or carries the baby around.  I think we´ll be going there a lot.  Our house is in a residential area away from the main tourist action, which is nice, but it´s also a multi-block walk to any restaurants and the taco place is exactly one half block from our front door.  Nice.
Today Dag and I got up at the crackalacka and went out diving. 

Surface Interval

We had a small boat this time, which was much nicer than the 15-20 person boat we took in Thailand.  Diving is kind of overwhelming anyway and then when you´re also fighting crowds to get suited and unsuited it gets a little over the top.  We were two of six total divers today and it was perfect.  The first dive was nice - we didn´t see too much in the way of wildlife but it allowed me to get my bearings.  I had enough weight this time and was all over my bouyancy control.  Visibility was incredible and the boat followed us as we drifted along with the current - much more passive and enjoyable than our last dives in Thailand.  On the second dive, we saw a giant yellow eel under a rock formation.  We didn´t see its body but judging from the size of its enormous gaping head, it had to be just freaking huge!  Next we saw a nurse shark swim by us against the current as we were swept along by it.  Then we saw TWO turtles in a row, which are my absolute favorite thing to see!  Huge parrotfish and other gorgeous fish I can´t name were everywhere.  It was just an amazing 40 minutes of my life.
We went back and collected a couple of friends who were also ready for food and went back to the place we first had dinner.  We had a lovely serenade, some fantastic food (this time they had the yucatan pollo in negro sauce that I had wanted to try the night before.  Very charred tasting (in a good way!) and now I´m headed back to read a couple sentences before I crash asleep.
We may be going to see the ruins at Toulom tomorrow and/or do some snorkeling. 
Then at least one more day of diving, maybe more.  It doesn´t rain beneath the surface of the ocean, after all.
It feels like this internet cafe is on a boat.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

blackberry blog

Made it safely! It's wonderful here! More soon.

Staying up


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Originally uploaded by lesliegardner.
Here we are having coffee and breakfast after the adidas Holiday party and prior to catching our 6:30am flight to Cancun via Dallas Ft. Worth.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Scuba Diving and chilling in Ao Nang

Our first afternoon in Ao Nang we had sushi and phad thai noodles for lunch, which turned out to be quite expensive - close to what one might pay at home.  While we were in the restaurant, it started to dump rain so we lingered over a couple of Singhas.  During a lull in the rain, we hopped across the street to Coral Diving, the outfit we booked our Superday with (three dives) for the next day.  After getting fitted for gear, (I am such a goober I put my wetsuit on backwards at first), we went back to the hotel and just vegged out for a while.  I think we were both feeling pretty overstimulated from the hustle of the last few days.  By evening, we had our mojo back and were laughing and joking like our old selves.  Dinner with the group at an Italian restaurant.  We ordered Thai curries (I had sour red curry with shrimp and what appeared to be little squares of basil frittata and Dag had a green chicken curry with coconut milk).  The strange thing about eating out here is that there seems to be no system for getting a group's dishes out at approximately the same time.  By the time most of our group had their pasta and marinara finished, we were still waiting for our curries.  It has no bearing who ordered first - actually, the non-Thai food seems to usually come out first which meant Dag and I were often left waiting for our food while the others at our table who had ordered burgers or hummus were getting ready to pay their bills.  We skipped the bar they went to afterwards so we could get a good night's sleep before our day of diving.
We were last to be picked up at 7:45am and rode in the back of the pickup truck with the pineapples and watermelon to the beach.  From there, longtail boats took us out to the dive boat.  Dag knows how many meters long it was but I don't and he's taking a nap so you'll just have to put up with my desriptive words - it was big!  We all sat around a table on the upper deck eating monkey food, watermelon and pineapple and these little cookies that had a sort of jelly inside.  I think those were probably British in nature though - the only Thais involved in this operation seemed to be the crew of the boat.  I bit my lip for the hour and a half it took us to get to the first dive site.  I was nervous but confident at the same time, if that makes any sense.  I knew it would be OK but had the big butterflies all the same.  I made sure to tell our leader that it was my first time since certification so he would understand if I flailed and maybe keep an extra eye on me.  I couldn't quite catch his name even though I heard it several times.  He had fled the intensity of Italy for the laid-back pace of a country where it's too hot to really move.  Now he works 12 hour days and in high season he does this seven days a week - but by comparison, this is more relaxing. 

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Anyway, back to the first dive: King Cruiser, a wreck.  We were not allowed to go to the bottom since I don't have an advanced certification but the top of the wreck was at 30 meters and I'm OK for that with my open water certification.  We jumped into the water and waited for the group to be ready.  It was so rough on the surface we were thrown from side to side and every few seconds a giant wave would smash over your head.  I just put my regulator in right then.  Finally, we could begin our descent.  The current was a little strong so we used a descent line to get down.  This was nice because I could really take my time and concentrate on clearing my ears, which for the first time, I didn't really have a problem with.  I spent the first half of the 30 min we were down there concentrating on myself, my breathing, my ears, my gear, Dag's whearabouts and the leader's wherabouts and totally forgot to look around at the fish or the wreck. 

Where's Dag?

During the second half, I allowed myself to check things out a bit.  I didn't have enough weight as it turns out and was constantly trying to swim down to where the rest of the group was.  The guide came and gave me another weight and that helped a lot.  Reality turned out to be much different than the diving nightmares I have where I'm in an uncontrolled descent to the bottom of the ocean.  We saw a lot of jellyfish, angel fish, parrot fish, apparently a moray eel that I missed

Eel

and just schools and schools of differently colored small fish. 

Pretty yellow fish

There were hundreds of sea urchins and also some rock fish (stone fish?) that camoflage themselves on any surface they land upon and are highly poisonous.  I don't think it'd kill you but you'd be very unhappy for many days to come.  So if you don't touch anything, you're basically good.  Even though Dag says he sucks air like nobody's business and because I'm a newbie, I do the same, we were out-sucked by the other girl in our group and we had to start our ascent after about 25 minutes.  Most people slept during our hour long surface interval but I was way too hyped and just stared out at the scenery anticipating the next dive. 

Everyone sleeps between dives

The second was my best.  Despite an even choppier surface and strong currents below, I was able to control my bouyancy and movements quite well.  We ended up seeing two leopard sharks on that dive - very exciting!  They weren't doing much - just sitting on the bottom being munched on by cleaner fish. 

Zebra Shark

They were about 5 or 6 feet long probably.  Later, our leader told us that when they are juvenile, they have stripes instead and are called zebra sharks.  (Later: I guess I got that wrong - these ARE zebra sharks but when they're young they actually look like zebras (stripe-wise) then as adults they turn into leopard spots but are still called Zebra Sharks)
Coming out of the water after that dive, my weight belt slipped off into the water - never to be seen again.  I guess that happens a lot since they just shrugged and made me a new one for the next dive.  During the second surface interval, they opened up a big plastic tub of rice and another of chicken curry - I was so famished after the dive it was probably the best plate of chicken curry I've ever had!  The third dive was not super great for me.  They diverted us to an area that was current-free with a calm surface, and for that I was very glad.  But I was tired and my brain had melted and I was not getting all the air out of my vest and kept thinking I'd lost my weight belt again so spent a lot of time struggling to swim down when I didn't really need to be.  Once that got straightened out, it was much better but by then I was just kind of over it.  We saw two smallish stingrays and I was like - yeah, yeah. 

Stingray

I knew it was the coolest but just wanted to get back to the surface.  Also, visibility was pretty poor so I spent a lot more time just looking behind me for Dag and in front of me for the leader and repeat.  For my first time, two dives might have been enough but I'm still glad for the experience I now have!  The hard stuff is what makes you stronger and better for the next time!  Cozumel should be a breeze!  After we got back, we had one last dinner with the group, who all went to Thai boxing after.  We went to an Irish pub down the street to see the video that was taken of our dive day.  It was SO great and we were even in there a few times (luckily you can't tell how much I'm flailing) so we bought the DVD.  I can't wait to get home and watch it!
Today we kept talking about all these things we could do but the plans kept getting smaller and smaller and went all the way from a half-day snorkeling trip down to a nap for Dag and the Internet for me.  It's hard not to squeeze the last bit of possible activity out of our last full day of vacation, but a day of rest is all we need.  It's scalding hot today, which makes motivation even more difficult, although I guess we should at least see the beach once. 

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I've got to get a massage too.  Tomorrow morning we fly back to Bangkok and have an afternoon and evening to spend there before catching our flight to the ever-lovely Narita airport and hopefully to Portland on the same day!  It's been an awesome trip and I'm anxious to get back and start going through all the photos.  Thanks again to everyone who's been following along - I hope you've enjoyed reading as much as I've enjoyed sharing our trip!  Now...I need some ice cream!


Ice Cream!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Catchup!

Sorry for the silence over the last couple of days.  We have been in Khao Sok National Park for the past three days staying in river huts for two nights and then a treehouse last night so obviously no internet available there!  It was absolutely dreamy, sticky, dirty, buggy, relaxing and wonderful!  When I last blogged, we were just leaving Bangkok and even though I'd read the itinerary, I didn't really know what we were getting into next.  We took the overnight train south to Surat Thani.  This time, we were determined to be social and headed straight for the Disco car before we could get too settled to move any further.  The disco car is so named due to the two strings of christmas lights, one working, one not, attached to the ceiling and the loud music piped over the speakers. 

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No aircon in that car so the windows were open wide which made for some fantastic viewing of passing towns and scenery.  At one point we looked out and saw fireworks going off in the distance.  Even though it was already dark it was hot...and muggy as it can be without being actually underwater.  We drank our cool Singhas and yelled across the table at two people who had joined the trip in Bangkok the night before - a mother and daughter from Denmark. An hour or so later, the rest of our group showed up and the music mercifully switched from what the daughter of the pair informed us was current top 40 to good old school disco (ring my bell, anyone?).  Before I went to sleep, I watched a bug crawl across the wall next to me and disappear down the crack between the wall and matress.  What are you gonna do? 
Next morning we stopped in Surat Thani for a perfectly awful plate of eggs and soggy white not-toast. 

Breakfast

No more eggs in Thailand!  It only makes sense.  You don't eat seafood in Nebraska and you don't eat eggs and toast in Asia!  From there we rode a truck out to the dock and took a longtail boat out into the park. 

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After an hour of gorgeous limestone scenery, we rounded a corner and there were about 25 small floating bamboo huts. 

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We disembarked on a giant floating log and stepped across to the open air dining area where we would spend most of our time here over the next couple of days.  After lunch of fried rice we were shown to our huts which consisted of one room large enough to hold a mattress on the floor and a front and back porch large enough to hold two plastic chairs. 

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So essentially you could (and most of us did), walk out the front door of your hut and jump right into the lake for a swim. 

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And since the common showers turned out to be submerged under the unusually high water, the lake also turned out to be the bath (and laundry if you didn't mind swimming in your clothes).  After dark, one of the toilets up the hill was home to three small frogs.  Jessica, I wish you could have seen them!  So cute!  Flushing was accomplished by dumping a bucket full of water into the bowl.  Before dinner a group of us (those of us who had not been there for the orignal trek) went out on a longtail boat with three guides thinking we were going to take a short hike to a waterfall.  Actually, we took a boat ride there and a short hike UP the waterfall! 

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It was cool and a nice feeling of accomplishment.  Dag saw a big brown monkey in a tree on the way down!  We stopped briefly at the house of a fishing family on the way back to the huts.  We also swung by a large tree and as soon as we approached, all the monkeys which had been lounging up there began jumping down from branch to branch - it was so cool!  They seemed small and grey although we were kind of far away.  They would just fly through the air and grab onto the next branch they could.  Dinner was eggplant chicken curry, sweet and sour something, cabbage and french fried sweet potatoes.  Dessert was yellow watermelon.  I went to bed early that night and at 7am a few of us were able to get out of bed in enough time to take a quick kayak tour around the island with another visit to the monkey tree!  Dag went on the big hike with most of the rest of the group but I stayed behind and read my book on the front porch and listened to the monkeys hooting and hollering up in the trees. 

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When they came back from what sounds like a great hike, I was jealous to learn that Dag has gotten a leech on his foot!  I've been dying to see one even if it means getting one on me but so far no luck!  And now that we're at the beach I think my chances for now are down to nil.  Ah well.  That night while the other people began to speak of being bored, Dag and I sat on the deck of the common area in inner tubes watching the stars and the faraway lightening, occasionally pushing the tied-down longtail away when it drifted into our line of sight. 

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We were wishing for rain to come and hopefully cool things off but no dice that night and boy was it hot.  The next morning for breakfast - eggs and soggy white non-toast.  BAH!  After that we transfered to the treehouses via longtail boats and a blessedly airconditioned van.  The treehouse complex is home to a couple of dogs, about 1000 cats, a lipstick wearing monkey and an enormous toad. 

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The treehouses were mostly a couple of ladder lengths up and about the same size as the raft house if you took the front and back porches and stuck them inside. 

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They had toilets and icy cold showers, which we thought would be a relief but turned out to be gasp-worthy shocking!  At least we had soap!  After our lunch of fried rice, most of the group went out to the river and shot the rapids on inner tubes - that was incredible fun!  Three of us, including Dag, got our toes bit by some kind of hungry fish!  I don't think his fish actually broke the skin, luckily.  The guy who got bit the worst was still bleeding when we got back to the van!  Next stop, waterfall.  Next stop, viewpoint.  Next stop a temple in a cave maintained by a monk from Boulder, Colorado and containing a ten year old monk corpse in a clear lidded coffin. 

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Outside the cave the place was crawling with monkeys who knew that a tourist van meant bananas for them so they all came running!  It was so cool to watch them take the banana right out of your hands and sit and peel it and eat it not 10 feet from you. 

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So humanlike but cute and fuzzy all at the same time!  Dinner was pumpkin curry, cucumber stir fried w/beef, some other leafy green with beef or pork, onion rings and monkey food.  After dinner it was ping-pong (regular kind), cards, Jenga and reading (I'm almost done with Wolves of the Calla!).  The night was mercifully cool.  Now I'm getting the "lunchtime" eye from Dag, who is also busy inquiring after our Diving trip tomorrow.  More later!!