Wednesday, September 23, 2009

El Salvador countdown: 0 days

It's here!! I can't believe we leave tonight; there is still SO MUCH to be done, which is why I've taken the day off work and will most likely be running around like a mad-woman on a serious mission, so watch out!

In the last couple of day, we found out 2 fantastic pieces of info regarding our trip:

While it's true we are going during "wet" season, per Dave, it's only been raining at night and even then, just for an hour or so; the days have been clear, sunny and hot and that's what we have to look forward to! Now, that's what I call a tropical vacation.

Apparently, El Sal isn't the only country Dave had plans to take us. In an email 2 days ago, he informed us we will also be traveling to Guatemala and Antigua. ANTIGUA. I've been up since 5am, my excitement now in full and unabashed swing, and have spent most of that time researching Antigua online. All I can say is WOW. Now I'm giddy-excited!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

El Salvador countdown: 4 days

Talk about a BIG sense of relief! When we drove to Seattle last Monday morning, passport renewal appointment set at the closest Passport Agency, we were under the impression that our passports would be processed on the spot and we would walk out with them in hand. Well, that may have been the way the process worked when it was newly implemented, but we were very quickly informed that no, it would take a few days for processing, and then they would be mailed to us. Well, GOOD THING we went on Monday and not the end of this week; we truly would have been out of luck, and I don't even want to contemplate that scenario! In order for use to receive them in time, we were told our only choice was to overnight them via FedEx, so of course, we chose that option. But talk about inefficiencies...the 2 small passports couldn't be mailed in the same FedEx envelope; no, we had to pay for 2 separate FedEx Express deliveries. Not cheap. There is definitely something to be said for not waiting until the last minute to do this sort of thing; the elevated cost of doing "business" last minute, and let's not forget the hidden cost of unnecessary STRESS. Not worth it. Oh, and how can it be 10 years since my original passport was issued?!

It would appear we are completely set for this trip now, legally, anyway. No, the packing hasn't begun yet, just a small (ok, big) thought given to how in the world one packs for a forecast that calls for temps in the high 80's and scattered thunderstorms EVERY DAY. All I can hope is it's a tropical-like forecast where it rains for a few minutes and then the sun comes out and stays for the remainder of the day. :)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

El Salvador countdown: 7 days

I'm learning all sorts of fun facts about El Salvador; here are a few of those nuggets...

  • El Salvador is a country in Central America, and geographically, it's considered part of Continental North America. That means I'm technically not leaving the continent for this trip!
  • The capital is San Salvador. That's where we'll be staying.

  • El Sal is located on the Pacific Ocean and is gaining a reputation for having some of the best surfing in the world.

  • El Sal is the smallest country in Central America (area equal to that of Massachusetts,) but it's the most densely populated with more than 6.5M inhabitants.

  • The country is divided into 14 sections called "Departments."

  • El Sal has 25 volcanoes, 14 lakes and 4 large cities. CAN'T WAIT to visit some volcanoes!

  • Their climate consists of 2 seasons: DRY (Nov - April) & WET (May - Oct)...lucky us, we'll be there during the WET season

  • El Sal's official currency is the US Dollar (since 2001), but it's highly recommended to only bring $20 bills and smaller

  • Coffee is El Sal's most important cash crop; about 1/2 of El Sal's income is derived from coffee exports. Can't wait to have me some coffee and tour a coffee plantation!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

El Salvador countdown: 8 days

Now that the El Salvador trip is a mere 8 days away, the excitement is building at a furious pace! Not that I wasn't excited before, but the madness of the summer months pushed thoughts of El Salvador to the back recesses of my mind, and I am just now starting to do what I would normally have started doing months ago...researching/reading/educating myself on the travel destination.

Lonely Planet seems to have the best laid out website and information, and I thought it would be fun to share some info I came across that gives fascinating insight into their culture:

El Salvador do's and don'ts
shake hands and say mucho gusto (nice to meet you) the first time you meet someone

preface your conversation - even simple requests - with buenos días (good morning) or buenas tardes (good afternoon/evening). It is also courteous to say hello to the person sitting next to you on the bus and to make a general greeting when entering a public place like a restaurant.

use the formal usted (you) to address locals until they go to the informal address first. In El Salvador, that’s the vos form - the same tense used in Argentina instead of tú. Take the time to learn it before you go. And needless to say, have at least some basic Spanish under your belt.

bring mementos and souvenirs from home to give as gifts to special folks who have helped you or invited you to their home

pay attention to your appearance. Salvadorans are very conscious of appearance, grooming and dress. Looking scruffy and unwashed is considered an affront.

go into shops shirtless or in a bikini. Though the beach may be nearby, wandering around in such skimpy attire is inappropriate. In general, steer toward conservative attire, especially when visiting churches, where you should avoid wearing tank tops, shorts, or hats. No Salvadoran wears shorts outside of the beach and coastal towns.

refer to indigenous people as indios, which is considered an offensive term. The word indígena for indigenous men and women is widely used.

expect everything to rush at New York City pace

take photographs of religious ceremonies or people without asking

be insulted if people comment frankly on your physical appearance or give you a related nickname (e.g., El Gordito/Fatty). This is done affectionately and isn’t meant to be hurtful.

Monday, September 14, 2009

It's official...this girl is 30!

Being wished a happy 30th birthday seems surreal in so many ways; i want to tell the well-wishers, 'you've made a mistake, i'm not 30. really. you've got the wrong person.' i'm not sure i'm quite ready to enter into another decade just yet. i'm not sure all the business in my 20's has been completely taken care of. i need to go back to 25, at least, and then SLOWLY work my way to 30, savoring each precious minute, hour, knowing how quickly they pass on by without looking back or hesitating even once. and i don't feel 30. not sure what 30's supposed to feel like, but i KNOW i don't feel it. and yet, it's here. a new chapter and i'm (sorta, kinda) ready to welcome it...or i will be; just give me some time to let it sink in, really sink in. maybe about 5 years worth of time. in the meantime, here i go, 20-something at heart, 30 on paper. but i have to believe, must believe, the 30's are going to be fabulous!

Technology woes x 3

So they say bad news comes in threes and that principle certainly seems to apply to technology and electronics as I've unfortunately discovered. Over the past week my cell phone, digital camera and laptop have all had varying stages of meltdowns or drama ensue and I'm not confident any of them will recover to any reasonable degree, thus resulting in this rant...and soon will result in my hard earned money being spent to replace said items.

AT&T was "kind" enough to send me a "ServiceGram" in the mail, informing me that as of Sept 15th (that's tomorrow!), they "will be performing a network update that will significantly impact the call performance of my Palm Treo 680 and in order to continue receiving the best possible wireless experience with AT&T, I will need to upgrade to a new phone." Well, my phone is working just fine thank you very much, and I DON'T WANT to upgrade to a new phone! It seems like now would be the perfect time to finally give in to the sales pitches offered by everyone I know who owns an iPhone and wants me to experience how wonderful this magical gadget is, but honestly, I have no desire to own an iPhone. Maybe it's my indifference when it comes to new technology or maybe I'm being stubborn on principle, but all I really need in a phone is calling and texting capabilities, not all the bells and whistles the iPhone offers. My plan is simple: wait until tomorrow, and if my phone truly croaks, figure out an alternative to the iPhone as a replacement. Let me know if you have a cell phone that you would like to sing the praises of, and please, if it's an iPhone, nothing personal, but I've already heard enough! :)

Palm Treo 680
Release Date: November 2006
Useful Life: Not even THREE years!!

Last weekend, we took puparoo to Cannon Beach, a risky endeavor, we knew, since the forecast called for stormy weather. As it turned out, we had decent beach weather (aka: no rain); however, it was extremely windy. Typically, wind doesn't bother me, especially at the beach and this day would have followed suit, except that the wind, and ultimately, flying sand, caused the demise of my beloved Canon PowerShot SD1000 digital camera. This camera was a Christmas gift from the hubby in 2007, and for the almost 2 years that I've owned it, it has been one of my most prized possessions. Maybe that's silly to say about a camera, but for me, it's been small enough to carry around daily and I've taken full advantage of having a way to document special moments readily available. Honestly, for being a point-and-shoot digital camera, it doesn't get better than this! Unfortunately, since last Sunday, the camera makes a grinding noise each time I turn it on, the lens has what is most likely a salty film coating it, and it refuses to focus properly. I know I'm at fault, and so I'm partially angry at myself because I should have known better than to expose the camera and lens to flying sand granules. But I'm also frustrated with the camera shop that wants to charge me $90 to clean/fix my camera professionally...oh, and it will take them 2 weeks! Really?! Two weeks to charge me 1/2 the price of what the same camera would cost me new?! And lastly I'm upset with Canon; why make a product that is so fragile as to have a complete meltdown just because it inhaled some sand? And so I have another decision to make: give up on the camera I've owned for less than 2 years and have sentimental attachment to, or pay the outrageous fix it cost?
Canon PowerShot SD1000 Digital ELPH
Release Date: March 2007
Useful Life: 20 months

And lastly, but certainly not the least, is the loss of wireless capability on my HP laptop. This means that my laptop no longer detects a wireless signal, so in order for me to connect to the Internet, I must be physically connected to the modem...which is not in a convenient location in the house, like by a table for instance. Well, it didn't take much online research to discover that this is a prevalent problem with MANY HP laptops, so much so that HP issued a "Limited Warranty Service Enhancement" providing free repairs. Great news, right? Wrong. Unfortunately for me, my laptop was one of the better ones and didn't break down until much later than other laptops. Therefore, I am no longer eligible for the free repair that I would have been entitled to if my laptop wasn't such an over-achiever. The customer service rep I spoke with a few days ago informed me that the "Limited Warranty Service Enhancement" expired in Dec 08, so, sorry poor, stupid consumer, you're out of luck! Basically, because my computer didn't tweak out BEFORE December 08, they can't help me! Oh wait, I lie. They CAN help me; they will be more than happy to repair my laptop for the bargain price of $300. Lucky me. I'm sorry, but that's messed up and extremely horrible customer service! I'm starting to fume all over again as I write this...
So Dilemma #3: do I simply try to pretend that it's not a horrible inconvenience to have to set up shop in between the 2 couches in the family room where the modem is located and stick with the laptop until something even more serious transpires with it, or do i give up on it and add "new laptop" to the growing list of electronic devices that need replacing?
HP Pavilion DV6000
Release Date: 2005
Useful Life: less than 4 years
I understand technology is moving ahead at the speed of light, and I should be moving along with it by by upgrading my electronics every time a new version is debuted...but I refuse to do that, and I shouldn't be forced into it by being sold products that have a useful life of a mere few years by companies that refuse to stand by their products (AT&T and HP, I'm talking to you!)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

To Camp or Not to Camp...

So for weeks now, our Labor Day plan was to go camping at Bench Lake (one of the lakes at the base of Mt. Adams in Washington) with Reid’s fam and possibly other couples/friends. I have no recollection of what we’ve done for Labor Day the last few years, so must have been extremely uneventful (aka: boring.) Well, hubby and I were discussing the trip again last night and both started re-thinking our plan to go…and because I’m a list person and am actually truly interested in weighing the pros/cons, here goes:

Pros (reasons to go)

  • I NEED TO GET AWAY! Away from everything that reminds me of the insanity of the last few weeks and especially this one. A change of scenery and 3 days out in the middle of nowhere could do wonders to restore my soul and melt away the stress.
  • Sitting in a chair inches away from the lake, reading my favorite novel of the moment…Mmmmm…few things sound more desirable than that right now. :)
  • Being free of TV, laptops, cell phones, etc. would undoubtedly sloooooowwww time down
  • Pup-a-roo would have a blast
  • Camp food; everything tastes so much better in the woods!
  • SMORES (with good quality chocolate; none of that Hershey’s stuff)
  • Not being on a schedule
  • Not having a mile-long to-do list to consult
  • Proving that we’re not boring people; we still have a sense of adventure, darn it!
  • Proving that we’re not old fogies whose idea of relaxing is bumming around the house. Not that we have anything to prove to anyone…but with my 30th b-day a mere 11 days away, I’m feeling the need to prove all sorts of things to myself.
  • Campfires
  • Getting back to what life is really about and maybe, just maybe, feeling normal again, even if just for 3 days

Cons (reasons to stay in town)

  • The last few work weeks have been the definition of insanity and I’m running on VERY low reserves right now; the idea of vegging out at home in front of the TV or with a good book for the entire weekend is extremely irresistible
  • I won’t be able to leave work early on Friday; potentially, I could be working late, which means at the earliest we would leave for the lake is Saturday morning, thus cutting our lake time short
  • The lake is a good 2 – 2.5 hour drive from home. Oh, and the last 30 miles of the drive are on a gravel road; that won’t work too well with my motion-sickness
  • This is going to be real camping, aka, we will be “roughing it,” which defines as “without refinements, luxuries, or ordinary comforts or conveniences.” Yep, that sounds about right…
  • No packing required
  • No un-packing required
  • Rain. If it rains even a little bit, camping will be miserable and quite the opposite of an enjoyable experience. Problem is, I can’t seem to find a forecast for Bench Lake anywhere…it’s almost as if the lake doesn’t really exist. That certainly speaks to how remote it is…and the weather is a HUGE factor in our decision.
  • I could go get a massage instead! :) :)

Well, if this list resulted in anything, it was in making the decision even more difficult! There are more reasons to go AND to stay than I originally considered. HELP!

And, oh yea, here's a pic of the lake...add that to the "Pro" list!