Let’s talk about Monday.

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Hans Baluschek [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And here we are, back again at Monday, the week as new and fresh as the hint of cool underneath the breeze. Mondays can feel like the end of something sometimes, but they aren’t really.

On Monday morning, you haven’t missed a single item on your to-do list. On Monday morning, there’s a bright, full week of planning, of room, of time. On Monday morning, the coffee is particularly punchy.

We, as humans, have the prerogative to forge fresh starts whenever we need or want them. You could pledge to healthy eating and exercise on a Wednesday, if the spirit so moves.

Yet there’s something about a Monday. Mondays are the days of determination; willpower secrets itself away in Mondays. On Mondays, we face the world with shoulders squared and backs as straight as we can muster. We look the week in the eye.

And we say “I can.”

Hey, did you see a real-life scientist scienced Aunty Ida?

Check out  my full-length novels: 

Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only)   

Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) 

 Her Cousin Much Removed

 The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management.

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

Peruse Montraps Publishing.

 

Oh, Monday. And NaNoWriMo. And Other Assorted Bits.

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It’s taking up storage room here, so I figured, hey, why not use it. Last year’s fall colors.

So I thought I had the most genius solution to my storage problem: Instagram. Oh yes, thought I in my too-old-for-the-app naivety, Instagram will solve my problems and give me another social media outlet!

Only.

Well. Turns out the only pictures you can upload on Instagram are from your phone.

There are some work-arounds, but I think I may be heading back to flicker. Or follow my Inner Laziness Guru:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/144440142@N04/30655029766/in/dateposted-public/

And just give WordPress more money. I mean they’re totally counting on it, right?!

Ironically, though, I had to use Flickr to embed that photo, because I couldn’t do it directly from Canva for some reason, which is where I made it. And by “made it” I mean typed those words.

Proof of my Monday: I literally hit “publish” when I meant to save a draft. SAVE A DRAFT.

Arrghh.

Still working on this post, I’ll update it when it’s finished.

And here we go!

ANYWHO, (hmm, was that a little channeling of Aunty Ida?) The balloon drops on NaNoWriMo tomorrow, and I think I’m jumping in. Last year, for the first time since I started doing NaNoWriMo, I didn’t hit 50,000. So I don’t know if I’m starting with a chip on my shoulder or a monkey on my back.

I can’t decide if a monkey on my back might be fun. We could become best friends and solve crimes together!

On a completely unrelated note, I think I know what I’m writing about for NaNoWriMo.

This photo comes from NectarConsulting.Com. I have absolutely no idea why, or if they made it. But I'm pretty sure that's no a monkey, but a baboon.

This photo comes from NectarConsulting.Com. I have absolutely no idea why, or if they made it. But I’m pretty sure that’s no a monkey, but a baboon.

I’m hoping to have the next Galapagos post up, uhh, someday. Meanwhile, if you don’t hear from me, the technology has gotten me. Please send help and chocolate cupcakes. Heavy on the chocolate cupcakes.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!

Ecuador & Galapagos Day 2: Santa Cruz Highlands or Check out Those Giant Tortoises!

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img_5727(Previous Ecuador posts) We squeezed into the back of the white pickup truck, me in the middle, my enormous camera backpack between my knees, my huge purse lodged under, our suitcases in the bed of the truck. Everything we saw was new: The trees that looked like dead sticks; the others that resembled very tall birches, only they weren’t.

The higher we went, the greener it got.

We passed a small town with small stores open to the street, wooden railings, low, single-story buildings. Santiago told us that on the weekends, there’s a market there, and people come up from Puerto Ayora, the big city on Santa Cruz.

The driver pulled over, seemingly to nowhere, but we saw some other tourists emerge from the greenery. An application of sunscreen and a donning of my hat later, and we were taking in our first Galapagos sight (and site): Los Gemelos, The Twin Craters, formed when the tops of the mountains collapsed inward due to erosion.

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And then it was back into the truck to see the giant tortoises. Suddenly they were everywhere, dotting the hillside, stalwart, like living rocks in the road. The very-slow-moving rabbits of the Highland, the giant tortoises were everywhere. They’re also allowed go anywhere they want and eat anything they want, undisturbed, chewing away at crops.

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This is what it’s like to get side-eye from a tortoise. The meanie. Obviously.

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We went to a farm where you can get close to them, though you are supposed to stay a bit of a distance away, as they, like all the species of the Galapagos, are protected. Most didn’t seem to mind us at all, aside from one real meanie.

Watching them move was interesting, they put their huge, stubbly legs, each ending in a set of impressive claws, forward and heave themselves, fighting for every inch.

Then we looked at the lava tunnels, hollow tubes running under the island. We had to descend some steep stairs, but luckily, the ones we saw didn’t involve any crawling.img_5870 img_5868

Unfortunately, though, my future storage problem has become my current storage problem, and one I must solve before I can post the rest of the pictures. We had a lovely meal on the farm, though, in a gorgeous outdoor dining room I’ll have to show you another day, made from a local wood which is actually invasive. Because it’s invasive, it’s used as a building material, unlike the native or endemic species (we’ll get to that), which cannot be cut.

And then it was off to our eco-hotel, Isla Azul, a lovely, quiet spot where they welcomed us with fresh juice and slight concern: Apparently Pacific Holidays hadn’t informed them either of our plans for an afternoon tour. Isla Azul is known for the gracious hospitality of its owner, Raquel, who, sadly was on vacation during our stay, though her sons pitched in and did a great job. The younger son even hoisted our heavy bags high a trooped them up the stairs to second floor.

I’d show a picture of the view from there but…as you know. No more space. Oh well.

The path to the rooms was completely open, the view below of a street, and neighborhood, eventually giving way to the Highlands in the distance. The clouds took on a pearly sheen as the day wound down, and I breathed in the crisp air, finches appearing every now and then to peer at me curiously.

Soon there would be blue-footed boobies and frigate birds, but you, like me, will just have to wait for that.

In or near Chicago in October? Come see “Me Inside Me Presents: Witch, Please,” on October 1, 8, 22 and 29 at Donny’s Skybox Theater at 7 pm. Tickets available at SecondCity.com.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!

Ecuador & Galapagos Day 2: Hello Galapagos

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img_5495(Part 1, Part 2) I was going to attempt Flickr, but I’m having trouble with uploading. I’m right at the top of my limit here, so it’s a problem I’m going to have to solve, but we’ll see if that’s today.

Now where were we? Yes, we hadn’t yet heard from Mario, and excitement reigned: We were heading to the Galapagos Islands.

After a lovely breakfast at the Grand Hotel — my plate teeming with fried plantains — we were off to the airport. Mario e-mailed, he’d been released from the hospital late, but had tried to find us to resume the tour. We were probably at dinner at the time, as he’d called the rooms and we weren’t there. He left us chocolate at the desk.

Ecuador grows a lot of cacao, but we’ll get to it.

At breakfast, my20161004_085158_1477410905909 mom met a bright, chatty woman from Atlanta named Debbie, who, with her husband Tom, was on our tour, and, we discovered, would also be staying at the Isla Azul. Together we all trooped out of the van to the airport, where we learned that we needed to get in a line before we got in a line.

Due to careful environmental restrictions, everyone going to the Galapagos must swear to not having anything that could upset the ecosystem. No foods, no animals, no contact with farm animals. We paid our travel fee, and our luggage was separately inspected before we slogged over to the check-in line for the airline, lugging our approved luggage.

We boarded, and about two hours later, we were descending over glossy waters. After a quick announcement, the flight attendants, their faces stern, walked through the cabin fumigating each overhead luggage compartment, filling the plane with a surprisingly pleasant-smelling insecticide.

And then it was off and into the open airfield of Baltra, also known as South Seymour Island. We were in the Galapagos Islands.

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The actual Galapagos Islands.

There was a feeling of isolation, of being at a place near nothing else in the world. We were the only people here, intrepid explorers, buffeted by the strong winds, air so fresh my city lungs could barely manage.

And then, before we even made into the airport building, the next plane was coming in.

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To customs, one line for the Ecuadorian visitors; another for everyone else. I heard a sound above me, and looked up.

My first finch.

The Galapagos Islands are famous for many animals, but perhaps none so much as Charles Darwin’s finches. Though they weren’t his only subject — or even his most studied subject — they have endured as a symbol of what these islands mean to the study of evolution. In fact, the work continues on the island below, Daphne Major, where Peter and Rosemary Grant have spent 40 years watching finches evolve in real time. Their work is chronicled in the book The Beak of the Finch.

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After the customs officer collected the $100 Galapagos park fee, and a quick trip to the restroom where I had to remind myself you don’t flush the toilet paper in the islands, it was time to collect our bags. The luggage was piled on a short belt, the scariest K-9-sniffing German Shepard I’d ever seen leaping over the cases, taking his job very seriously. When he finished, his handler opened a metal grate in the wall, and the dog hopped through. Two bags sat at the bullet-proof vested officer’s feet.

Hmm.

Another officer asked us what we’d brought, again making sure we weren’t going to interfere with the ecology of the islands, and then I was free to meet our handler from Guiding Galapagos Expeditions, Santiago, who had a sign with our name.

Santiago and I chatted away, and then I realized my dad was standing next to someone else. Who also had a sign with our name.

He was from our other tour company Pacific Holidays. Even though my dad had explained to them, very carefully, with a chart and everything, that we wouldn’t need the transfer from Baltra to our hotel. Apparently no one bothered to tell our transfer.

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Frigate bird in flight. Huge and amazing to watch.

An explosion of Spanish later, Santiago and the other driver had it all worked out, and we were heading for our very first tour: the Island of Santa Cruz and its Highlands. (To be continued. Of course. Tomorrow: Giant Tortoises!)

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A little visitor on the bus to the ferry. It was as though he saying “I know you came to see me. Here I am!”

 

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The Baltra side of the ferry crossing to Santa Cruz.

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These boxes were all packed with chicks chirping away. Why? Literally no idea.

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In or near Chicago in October? Come see “Me Inside Me Presents: Witch, Please,” on October 1, 8, 22 and 29 at Donny’s Skybox Theater at 7 pm. Tickets available at SecondCity.com.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!

You Know That Thing That’s Been Bugging You?

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img_0005You know those little nagging, annoying things in life? Those issues that don’t really matter in the broader realm of life on the planet Earth, but still, they get to you every time you think about them? Get this.

I solved one of those this morning.

We’ll be heading to the Galapagos tomorrow, after I’ve resolved my picture storage issue (so many pictures, so little storage), but today, I want to reflect upon getting that pestering splinter out of your paw. It’s a relief.

Before I tell you about my issue, you have to agree not to judge me. OK, hypothetical reader? Are we on the same web page? No fair keeping your fingers crossed. Are we good? Yes? On we go.

My scanner on my printer mysteriously stopped working. OK, OK, keep it down hypothetical reader, I know. I started out saying it was a minor thing, didn’t I? Yes, minor. I mean the scanner isn’t going to make or break your day, in the scheme of things.

But boy, did it rankle, that every time I tried to use it, the printer said talk to the computer and the computer said, hey, what scanner?

Those electronics can be so cliquish.

This morning, I drew a line in the print queue, and declared “No more!” What’s that, hypothetical reader? No, there was no fist in the air. Why would you think there was a fist in the air? Can we…? Yes? Awesome.

Anyway, I did all the things my depth of knowledge suggested I do. By depth, I generally mean the shallow end. And by shallow end, I mean that glossy layer of water over the steps. I updated drivers.

It didn’t work.

I googled the issue. I tried what they suggested, but it didn’t work. It did, however, lead me down the right path. I had software to download.

I did, and with a grumble as sweet as a choir of super-sweet angels, the scanner worked. It worked!

It’s easy to ignore the thing that bothers you every time you think about it, every time you look at it. You can think away that dull ache of the needle too thin to see but making its presence known.

Or you get hunker down with the tweezers, and get that sucker out.

In or near Chicago in October? Come see “Me Inside Me Presents: Witch, Please,” on October 1, 8, 22 and 29 at Donny’s Skybox Theater at 7 pm. Tickets available at SecondCity.com.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!

Ecuador & Galapagos Day 1: Guayaquil, pt. 2

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img_5433(Part 1.)

Now where were we? Just kidding, I totally remember, we were winding through the streets of Guayaquil, on our way to Las Penas. But let me back up just a tad.

Despite his quick smile and gregarious demeanor, Mario wasn’t feeling great. While we oohed and ahhed at the church, he went ahead to the van to take some medication.

He returned, collected his charges, and we made our way to the iconic colorful houses and restaurants that clung cheerfully to the side of the mountain.

A dogged stairway runs upward through it all, up and up an up, turning now and then, each step marked with a little plaque proclaiming your climbing accomplishment. It was there, at the base, after we’d clambered out of the van, that Mario turned to us, his dimples vanished back to whence they came, his eyes glassy, a thin sheen of sweat on his face.

“I’m not feeling well,” he said.

He’d had a health episode a few days earlier, had to see the doctor, and he was concerned it would happen again. It was hot, very hot, and now he was worried he was feeling the same way. He needed to go to the emergency room. The only problem?

Us.

We didn’t know what to make of it, not at that moment. We knew nothing, really, about Mario. In my gut, though, I could tell he was sincere. He wasn’t well.

He suggested seeing us back to the hotel before he headed to the ER, which is probably not the most expedient way to get medical attention. I asked if there was a way we could make sure to get ourselves back to the hotel.

He said he’d take a taxi to the hospital, and leave us with the driver. He was unsure of leaving us on our own — as far as he knew, we spoke no Spanish, and we were in a strange city– but it was a major tourist attraction, dotted with uniformed officers every so often. Off he went, and there we stayed.

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The site of our conversation, at the base of the steps. Well, a few up.

And at that point, for us? There was nowhere to go but up. After all, our time in Guayaquil was limited, and we wanted to make the most of our experience.

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So up we went, the numbers climbing along with us, friendly greetings along the way. About halfway up, we reached a plateau.

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I swear iguanas are the squirrels of Ecuador.

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The tropical sun did what tropical sun does, and the temperature rose. Then the decision: do we head for the top? Initially, both my dad and I said yes. My mom? Nope, she was happy at the plateau. So we popped into one of the little stores, its coolers beckoning in the shaded room, glass display cases between us and the back.

There was no one there. “Hola!” we said, repeatedly. No one arrived. Finally, a woman appeared. And so did my school Spanish.

“Quanto questa?” I asked. “How much?”

“Tres dolares”

Three dollars for three enormous waters. Sounded fair to me. And I’d spoken in Spanish, and she didn’t laugh at me, she didn’t mock me. She smiled at me for the effort.

We went back to my mom to give her a water, and my dad decided he didn’t want to climb. I was on my own.

All the way up, people said hello. An officer directed me when I couldn’t find the next collection of steps. I had a passing conversation — in Spanish! Terrible Spanish, but we understood one another! — with the proprietor of a restaurant, she told me about the great food,but I said, with regret, my parents were below on the steps. This was about two-thirds of the way up.

Up I went, dorky backpack on my back, camera around my neck, my smile as genuine as the ones sent in my direction.

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And then I reached another plateau. I was nearly at the top. And grateful for the water.

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Just a little farther to go. Did I take pictures of the numbers?

Why no. No I did not.

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Up I went, the final haul, and then I was at the top. And my goodness, was it worth it. Guayaquil spread below me, the other hill of painted houses seemed nearly within reach, and the river remained flat and calm for as far as I could see it.

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Finally thought to take a pic of the numbers on the way down. Didn’t climb back up. It was a lot of stairs! 444 total.

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The stairs inside the lighthouse.

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I didn’t climb to the top of the lighthouse, and not just because I’d just topped a ton of stairs. As I started to go up, I realized I’d have to make my way down that steep, tight spiral, with people going up.

No thanks.

I stayed up there until I’d felt I’d soaked it all in, and then it was time to go down. Funny how down always follows up.

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I usually don’t post pictures of people where you can see their faces, but as you can see from their expressions, this is the most uncandid candid shot ever.

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And then it was down to collect my parents, and down further still to meet our driver, still waiting, parked under the cool shade. We returned to the hotel, exhausted and concerned about Mario, and had dinner. I tried the Ecuadorian specialty, Seco de Pollo (a chicken stew) which was amazing. My dad had the same thing, but with goat, and my mom corvina, a firm white fish popular in Ecuador.

We didn’t really mind missing the evening tour, we were all exhausted, and we had a plane to catch in the morning. We were heading to the Galapagos Islands.

As for Mario, well, you’ll find out later how he was doing, as did we.

In or near Chicago in October? Come see “Me Inside Me Presents: Witch, Please,” on October 1, 8, 22 and 29 at Donny’s Skybox Theater at 7 pm. Tickets available at SecondCity.com.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!

Ecuador & Galapagos Day 1: Guayaquil, pt. 1

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One of the iguanas at the Iguana Park in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

After a night in a Fort Lauderdale airport hotel — where I’m pretty sure I saw a “working woman” on her way in, and ate a restaurant attached to a Bass Pro Shop, whoo-hoo! Florida — we boarded a plane to Guayaquil, Ecuador. We flew TAME, an Ecuadorian airline, and already found ourselves in the language minority.

Exciting.

We landed four hours later, over wide farmland, coming in close above winding beige rivers, large houses and their turquoise swimming pools glinting back up at us. With the gentlest of touches, the pilot landed the plane.

We were in Ecuador. Atwitter with nerves and anticipation, I grabbed my ginormous camera backpack from the overhead bin (that thing paid for itself many times over), the other passengers politely giving me berth. As a complete toady to habit, I was already far out of my element. I wasn’t yet sure how it felt.

We breezed through the airport, with everyone switching to English to accommodate as as easily as they smiled, and were met with our transport from the tour company, Pacific Tours. He was a young, tall, floppy kid who brought us outside to feed the koi in the beautifully-landscaped airport grounds as we waited for our van. For $0.10, you can get a handful of pellets, and I aimed for the small fish on the fringes, cheering when the one I threw it to actually devoured it.

The fish. Took this with my cell phone. That's right. In essence I had 3 cameras on me.

The fish. Took this with my cell phone. That’s right. In essence I had 3 cameras on me.

Ecuador is on the U.S. dollar, which made the trip incredibly simple. No conversion math, things just cost what they cost. And then we were off to our hotel, the bus lurching through tight traffic on what felt like a main thoroughfare. With the trill of trumpets, we arrived at our temporary headquaters, The Grand Hotel Guayaquil, a police officer (I think) guarding us from the streaming traffic as we exited the van.

We were greeted by bellmen in uniform, by softly smiling receptionists with perfect English, and by a beautiful tropical scent that filled the gleaming lobby. Our bags were no longer ours to handle, our rooms dispatched with cheerful efficiency, and when I reached mine, I discovered they’d given me a lovely view of the street. I was officially Somewhere Else.

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We didn’t have long before we were to meet our guide, Mario Fuentes of “My Trip to Ecuador,” for our afternoon and evening tour of Guayaquil. We’d found Mario through a site called “Tours by Locals,” and he came highly recommended. He was very responsive during the planning stages, is fluent in English, Spanish and Portuguese, and we were looking forward to learning about his city from him.

Guayaquil is the city with the largest population in Ecuador, and an easy launch point for a trip to the Galapagos. I think we’d thought we’d breeze through, with the Galapagos Islands our main event.

But it was far lovelier than we expected. Mario arrived, punctual and grinning, revealing dimples in each of his cheeks. And we were off. We walked around the corner to the obligatory church, a huge one with gorgeous stained windows that suffered very little damage in the April earthquake. Like Chicago, Guayaquil also had a major fire, so the church was rebuilt in the early 20th century.

Can I tell you the name of the church? I cannot. Churches are not my thing. But, here, have some pictures anyway.

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And on the outside:img_5151

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Yikes, am I right?!

Then it was off to El Parque de Las Iguanas, or, literally, the Iguana Park. Iguanas were everywhere, along with turtles and pigeons. And very excited children. A woman sold ice cream carved off of a block, and a man tried to sell us selfie sticks on our way in and our way out.

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This kid manhandled this huge iguana, and the iguana did. Not. Care.

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Is that a bird? A Plane? Nope. IGUANAS.

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And then we were off to Las Penas. And that’s where our tour took an unexpected turn.

(To be continued…)

In or near Chicago in October? Come see “Me Inside Me Presents: Witch, Please,” on October 1, 8, 22 and 29 at Donny’s Skybox Theater at 7 pm. Tickets available at SecondCity.com.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!