Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

Intelligence is like a four-wheel drive. It allows you to get stuck in more remote places.

So I've been playing on Duolingo lately and am quite enjoying it.  Some of the completely random sentences amuse me to no end although the vast majority are ones I'd never actually use in real life.   I understand we're working with a completely limited vocabulary, but really -- the odds that I ever need to say "my black cat sleeps on the large monkey" are pretty slim ;)  I kinda roll my eyes and go along with it.

But sometimes, sometimes they get it just right:

Yup, I'm really missing riding these days.  Duolingo and various other random new hobbies mostly just to combat that -- well that, and to increase fitness since the barn has previously *been* my form of fitness.

Ah well -- first world problems right?   ;)

As for Duolingo, there are several things I like about it.   I'm doing a language I've no experience with and it's very intuitive when starting from zero.  Lots of quick wins, and well paced learning.  I love that for the "type what they speak" exercise, it plays at a normal speaking rate, but also has an option of slowing it down to individual words.  Think. Of. Speech. Like. This.   When I understand it on fast, I'm all kinds of proud of myself.  But on slow sometimes I can get it even when I don't really know what's being said -- so that's fun :)

The written exercises -- word matching and text translation are quite good.  When you're wrong, the feedback is useful.  

The speech exercise amuses me -- I have no idea how that engine works and I kinda question it.  For those who haven't played this game, it says a phrase and you repeat the phrase into the microphone.  It then determines whether or not you're close.  But there've been times I didn't even have a clue what they were saying and it was right, and other times I was reasonably confident and it politely suggested I should try it again ;)   I don't do this one nearly as often as I'm usually on the train when I'm playing this game and so I don't want to be talking at my phone.

One thing I'd like to see would be an improved review engine.  It's good at inserting things into short term memory, but the reviewing methodology seems far less developed.  Mosa Linga, which I've also played with, was far better at that.   Sadly though it failed in comparison with everything else.  If Duolingo could just pick up that piece...   It does allow for review though, so there are options -- I just don't know that it's as effective as it could be.    

Anyways -- if you're on, feel free to add me: lhfall -- always looking for motivation :)

Summer in February

Have really been enjoying Facebook "Memories" the last couple weeks -- all about the wedding :)
Annual beach art -- some traditions are worth flying all over the world for.
This year for our anniversary we went to Puerta Plata, Dominican Republic. It was certainly not Costa Rica, but it was warm and sunny. And I came back reasonably refreshed.

Got there reasonably close to on time, it was warm and sunny and Chris got to have a bus beer. All good. The bus itself was of the older variety, but it did get us back to the, thankfully close, hotel. Our guide really didn't say anything on the drive, which C was happy for but I actually missed a little. I like hearing a bit about the places we visit.

Hotel check-in was no problem and our room was lovely. We had a suite, so it was a good size, and it was on the top floor with huge angled ceilings. The balcony was okay -- no view to speak of and uncomfortable chairs, but it was there. Went down to the pool, it was quite small and there weren't very many chairs around it, so we continued our trek to the beach. There we found chairs and made ourselves comfy. We eventually went for a long walk down the beach -- you could go for ages. And way down one direction found a water sport shop that did all kinds of fun activities. The water was warm and just enough waves to have fun in.

Mmmmm sunshine
Overall, not a bad way to spend the day, so we repeated it the next day. An early start, but still all the pool chairs were taken, so we hung out at the beach for the day. This would've been all lovely if not for the semi pushy vendors. They got annoying quickly :( The strawberry slushy wasn't strawberry, but the pina coladas were all the yummy -- so I survived ;) I think Chris had a similar experience forgoing his favourite for the week and substituting others as well.

Pretty sweet place for lunch
Tuesday was our anniversary. Neither of us had slept the night before (the room was right over the laundry and it was *loud*. There were also staff deliveries complete with truck backing up beeps at 6:30 every morning). So since we were up early, we went down and snagged one of the beds by the pool.

All the kinds of civilized
Then went down to the beach and took some lovely sunrise photos before breakfast. That afternoon we went back to the water-sport booth we'd found and went parasailing. It was too windy to go up together so we took turns. So nice. Somehow not at all what I was expecting, but still super enjoyable. Just warm and quiet and stunning views. Amazing.

Wednesday we were going snorkeling for the morning. Pickup was at 8:30 -- island time. So shortly before 9, the bus showed up. I use the word "bus" loosely. It was a truck cab, with a trailer of sorts behind it. One bench along either side, so we were sitting sideways. The sides were open -- no windows, all kinds of wind. And a degree of pollution VW would be impressed by.

Chris diving for a photo
The biggest thing on the drive was the amount of garbage. Everywhere. It was fairly appalling. And once we were in town, the children begging any time the vehicle slowed down near a street corner. We got to a dive resort and went to get ready. They were reasonably organized getting us ready and then the first challenge... The stronger of our group pushed the transport boat out over the waves -- we then got to swim out to it, and it then took us to the larger boat. The ride out was really nice. The first area, seemed unlikely for snorkeling and very wavy, but there were several other large boats there. Into the water we went, and while it was very crowded, there were tons of fish to be seen at three different spots. I was actually quite enjoying it, except that I started feeling sea sick. Booo. Have never had that happen actually *in* the water before -- but maybe because unlike diving, snorkeling you bob along with the waves. Anyways -- back on the boat and the trip to the next snorkel site was pretty miserable, but the water there was much calmer and shortly after jumping back in my stomach settled and I was able to enjoy the swim. This site was more coral reef, but still with lots of fish, and the guide picked up a sea urchin and let us hold it, which was very cool. It kinda velcroed itself to you.
There were tons of fish
After that a boat ride back and switch into the little boat taxi to go to the beach. Again we had to jump out of the boat and swim in. This was a fail -- shortly after I could stand I got entirely flattened by a wave. Sommersaulted and bounced my head off the sand. Totally amusing to watch I'm sure but ow. So ow. And sand everywhere. All the unpleasant. Ugh. Then it was a LONG wait -- which would've been annoying, but I was actually grateful to give my stomach time to settle before getting back in the transportation vehicle... Got home a mere two hours after they said we would -- fortunately at this resort food could be found pretty much all the time, so we enjoyed life and then relaxed on the bath for the rest of the day. All kinds of civilized.

Cold water massage
Thursday we'd arranged another outing -- waterfalls this time. Our vehicle reasonably on time this time, and the benches faced forward instead of sideways, but otherwise it was the same quality transportation -- and a much longer drive. Nice though, if you can overlook the garbage, the scenery was very pretty.

Some great views
This adventure was waterfalls -- and it had serious potential. Climb up the mountain, then follow the waterfalls down. As close to canyoning as anything I've seen since Australia. So. Much. Fun. The hike up was okay, scenic enough, and we put ourselves right at the front so as to not get stuck behind those who were either loud and obnoxious or painfully slow. Coming back down was all kinds of fun. Following the river, sliding and jumping down the falls (admittedly not the impressiveness I usually think of when I think waterfalls -- most were only a couple feet tall). Some swimming, one decent jump. All good. I do wish they ran a trip for those who were fit and another for those who prefer a slower pace, mostly cause the few of us who were fast, were freezing waiting endlessly for others to catch up. We met another couple on this trip who were really interesting, so that was cool. Eventually we finished the water and hiked out, and if the tour had ended and we went home then I probably would've been very happy. Instead we had lunch (meh) and then back on the bus. It was raining now, and given the complete lack of windows, this was a poor situation. I was freezing. We also had to do the obligatory stop at the tourist location. This also could have had potential to be interesting, with locals carving petrified wood. However, I really wasn't sure which was more disturbing: the 5 and 6 year old children learning the family trade, or the older children begging by the buses. Once we were back on the bus we were told not to give them anything because there's a serious truancy program with children skipping school to beg. Anyways -- eventually we were back on the bus, freezing and wet, but made it home in time for a warm shower before dinner.

Not nearly as high as the jump we did in Costa Rica, but a lot more natural
Dinner, which was tasty enough, was a fail as several hours later Chris was violently ill. No fun at all, and so obviously we didn't do much the next day. We had talked about kite boarding, but ended up just hanging out on the beach. Saturday was more of the same, and both Chris and I were disappointed to discover our flight was going to be 8h late. It's the only vacation I ever wanted to leave early but no. The next day was raining so we spent it mostly taking cover or hanging out in the lobby. Instead of getting home for Valentine's dinner, we got home about 3:30 the next morning. There were also several issues dealing with Sunwing that left us less than thrilled. Ah well -- better first world problems than third.

So in the end we got sun and relaxation and our anniversary was lovely. All good. Would we go back? Not likely. We've heard Punta Cana is better, so we might consider that some day, but honestly I'd much rather go back to Cuba then Peurta Plata.

Ah well -- I still have a tan and I'm hanging on to it!

Friday Flash #64: The Road Less Travelled

She stood only a few kilometers from the base of the mountain, its peak shrouded in an unnatural mist. It was a mountain she'd never had any interest in seeing from a distance, much less climbing, but now she had no choice. She looked around her, taking in the stunning views and the happily oblivious families playing on the beach. They had no idea of the power that lurked nearby; hopefully they never would.

She took a deep breath and left the beach, finding herself quickly in deep vegetation. She knew of people who could trek through deep forest without ever making a sound. Sadly, she was not one of them. And realistically she figured her presence would be known long before sound would have given her away. She rolled her eyes as another branch snapped and an angry bird cawed loudly.

Humans had so few natural predators, yet somehow still the thought of approaching one in its den triggered long dormant instincts; her legs felt like she was wearing lead shoes, and she could hear her own heartbeat. But she had no choice. It was her fault Callie had been taken. Taken. Not killed. Nobody believed her when she told them that, claiming stress and grief were manipulating her memories. But she knew what she had seen; the dragon had been too gentle, too determined. It hadn't killed her sister; it had kidnapped her.

She muttered under her breath as she ducked under a branch only to walk straight into a cob web. There was no trail; of course there was no trail -- most people had no idea what lived up there and those who did, actively avoided visiting. But somehow it wasn't horribly overgrown either -- as she walked, her feet seemed to find their own path.

All too quickly she reached the low mist. The air hung heavy and her clothes began to sag as they drank the moisture from the air. She paused to catch her breath and became aware of the utter silence surrounding her. The birds, monkeys, and various other woodland critters who had been narrating her hike, were now noticeably missing, as though they too knew better than to risk venturing into the mist.

Welcome Christina, she froze and her eyes widened at the words she felt rather than heard. We have been waiting for you.

She snorted and determinedly continued her hike. After all, realistically if they, whoever they were, wanted her dead, she would be. Only a few moments later, the mist cleared, her limp hair and damp clothing all that reminded her of the humidity that had been.

Christina didn’t know what she’d expected to find. If she’d put any consideration into it, it would have been an arid cavern of some sort – maybe something similar to a volcano. But that was not what she found.

She knew she was staring and her teeth clicked as she consciously closed her mouth. What she saw defied all understanding she possessed. If front of her floated a stunning castle, whose edges shimmered like a mirage. To either side was what looked like giant garages, unfathomably large, and lit by crystals. The whole place oozed wealth and grandeur, but somehow also had a welcoming homey feel.

“Stein!” Christina’s eyes focused on the door as her little sister came tearing out toward her.

“Callie!” She swooped her sister up in a bear hug, “Are you okay?” But she could tell by the grin on her face and the strength in her hug that her sister was fine. “What happened? Actually no, never mind, you can tell me when we get home.”

Callie unwrapped herself and grabbed Christina’s hand, pulling toward the castle. “We can’t go yet. You have to meet Jory! And school is so much more fun here than at home.”

Christina, she held her breath as the powerful feeling overtook her again, Callie will complete her studies here. At which point she may return to your home if she desires. You too have sufficient power to stay and learn – although you are old to be so untrained. Alternately, you may leave unharmed. But know that once you cross the mist, you will have no memory of this place. Choose wisely.

Callie tugged on her hand, imploring her to come, but Christina paused, her mind spinning. She thought of her parents, and the grief they would feel at the apparent loss of another daughter; she thought of the life she would lead if she never knew what had happened to Callie; and then she looked at her sister’s excited face and knew there was no choice. Hoping it wasn’t all an elaborate ruse, she gave one last look through the mist before allowing her little sister to pull her toward the castle and her destiny.