Firewater, witches, black pigs and bota swigging in La Alberca Spain

The pleasures of traveling include exposure to new foods, drinks, and customs. I had some exceptional opportunities in tiny La Alberca, Spain, and jumped at them. For example, one evening, we went to a celebration involving the making of a specialty drink made in Galicia, an autonomous region in the northwest of Spain that maintains its own language and traditions.

In Galicia, locals have been making orujo, an artisanal clear brandy, since the 16th century. They call it aguardiente or firewater (for good reason). It’s made by distilling the remains of pressed grapes, seeds and stems left over from making wine. Using a copper still, they create the alcoholic drink that is 50% or 100 proof and sometimes way higher, especially the ojuro from secret family recipes.

Orujo is similar to grappa in Italy, a drink that curled my hair and toes when I tried it in Venice a couple years ago.

Photo by Julian Trinchet Romero

So I was a bit leery about drinking this local version. Luckily, one does not have to drink ojuro straight. From this clear alcohol, Galicians make a drink called queimada. They mix the alcohol with sugar, lemon, coffee beans, cinnamon stick and perhaps some fruit, and set it afire to burn off a bit of the alcohol. The process I witnessed took about 15 minutes, with continual stirring in a large pot (traditionally the pot is clay or a hollow pumpkin). It is important to lift the flaming liquid with a ladle and let it fall back into the pot at some distance, flaming all the way. This is best seen at night with the lights off.

As if making the queimada wasn’t enough ceremony, the tradition includes reciting an incantation so that the brew bestows special powers on the drinkers to keep away witches who might harm them. In a novel twist on this Galician tradition, we conjured the witches – so much more fun. Note that scholars differ on the origin of the connection of making queimada with the incantation. Some say it goes back to Galician Celtic roots; other far less romantic scholars, claim it originated in the 1950s.

Photo by Julian Trinchet Romero.

This tradition is definitely one I could get behind. Unlike the grappa, this drink was quite tasty, and I love the necessity for night and fire to make it. For a recipe, see this or this.

Of course the La Alberca experience was not all drinking. There was plenty of eating as well, and nothing better than the famous Iberian ham, or jamón ibérico, from the local black pigs. This ham is like no other, and I was determined to buy some. My compatriots said, “Don’t wait; buy it here, because the pigs are raised in this region.” During our group tour of La Alberca, I found a butcher shop. The ceiling was full of legs from the famous black Iberian pig, each with a little plastic cone at the bottom to catch any liquid still discharging from the curing ham.

But I can’t speak Spanish, so I took one of my new friends with me and he kindly translated. One of the legs was set up in the holder made especially for this, a jamonero. Apparently, cutting this ham is an art, where an expert can obtain seven different flavors, just by the cut. The butcher told Jose that it costs 79€/kilo, about $38/lb. I requested a quarter kilo. He nodded, but must finish his current task first. Everything in its own time. On a large butcher block, he chopped through pork ribs with a cleaver, a satisfying rhythmic smack, smack, smack filling the little shop. A local homemaker rushed in, and he paused long enough to hand her a prearranged package full of different cuts of meat wrapped in paper.

Finally he moved to the jamonero, and began the task of cutting the leg. I can have it wrapped in paper if I plan to eat it now. But I requested it to be vacuum packed, so that I can share it with my daughter later in this trip. He handed me a piece for tasting. It’s like no ham I have had.

Photo of black Iberian pig obtained from Wikipedia.

Historians believe that the Phoenicians brought the first pigs to the Iberian Peninsula. Once here, the pigs interbred with wild boars, thus their color. The distinctive taste of the Iberian ham comes from the pig’s diet of acorns. They are rated based on the percentage of their diet that is acorns and whether they are pure-bred black pigs. To obtain a good rating, the pig must eat at least 50% acorns, up to 100%. One sees large grassy pastures of carefully spaced Holm oak trees in the countryside around La Alberca where they eat. It takes about a hectare (2.5 acres) of pasture to raise one pig. Whole legs can cost €200 to €2000 and more.

While the butcher arranged the ham slices on the foiled cardboard, I looked at the other products in his chilled cases. I decided to purchase a hard cheese made from sheep, something I’d not yet tried. Sheep cheese is very common in Spain. Tasting it later, I found it to be pungent and very good, somewhat like the goat cheese I buy at the Hāmākua Harvest Farmers Market back home.

We rejoined our group and walk to one of the ancient tapas bars in town, with its medieval Spanish bar customs. An expert ham slicer carved one of the specialty Iberian hams for us to taste. Done properly, you can see through the slice, as with his. After ample plates made their way around the group, he offered to show us how to cut the ham and I volunteered. The expert guided my cutting hand, but even with his help, I could not see through my slice (oh well, more to eat!).

Then they offered a bota drinking demo with a chance to try it. The bota is a leather bag for wine. I learned about this tradition among peasants and sports fans in the novels I read to prepare for this trip. They pass the bag around, so it’s not polite to put your lips on the neck. The idea is to squirt the wine directly into your mouth. The further away from your mouth you hold the bag, the more expert you look. Of course, the experts don’t wear towels to protect their clothing.

As for other food, if you find yourself in Spain, you must also try paella, the famous rice dish. While paella may seem to be the national dish of Spain, it is actually a regional dish from Valencia. None-the-less, it is on the menu in many places. I had it several times and plan to continue sampling, though the prettiest so far is the dish for two I shared with my daughter in Barcelona.

I can also say I loved every soup I’ve had so far in Spain, about 15 varieties. The one pictured is Spanish onion soup, far heartier and thicker than the brothy French version. Sometimes the chef drizzles olive oil on it – yum. And I haven’t even tried the gazpacho yet!

So here’s to new traditions, new foods and new drinks. Oh, I almost forgot: try the empanadas, and the tapas, and the churros with chocolate dipping sauce, and the sangria . . . Salud!


I thank Julian Trinchet Romero, for his permission to publish his photos.

For information on how to visit this region of Spain with free lodging and meals, see Free room and board in Spain for a week with Diverbo.

For more insights on La Alberca, see In love with rural Spain – the village of La Alberca.

For the rest of my adventure in Spain, see:

Vibrant. whimsical, sensory-rich Barcelona

Semana Santa processions in Marbella

A day-trip to Tangiers Morocco

Tavern-hopping for tapas in Madrid


If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in eating, enjoying other cultures, Honoring tradition, learnng new things, living full out, Small town life, Travel, travel as a transformation tool | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

In love with rural Spain – the village of La Alberca

Imagine yourself on cobblestone streets surrounded by three story buildings constructed in the 14th through 16th centuries. An older man rides past on a donkey. Two abuellas carefully pick their way along the cobbles heading to market, chatting softly in Spanish. Shopkeepers begin to open their tiny shops, moving merchandise outside the old heavy doors, and carefully arrange their wares.

There’s no sign of a fast-food restaurant or supermarket, much less a big box store. Nor will there ever be such a thing here, because it has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1940, Spain’s first. Every change to the buildings, every repair, must maintain the town’s historical look. It’s evident in the care a man takes to remove paint from a second-floor door along the main plaza.

This is La Alberca, a small village (population 1105) in western Spain. It sits 45 miles east of Portugal and 170 miles west of Madrid on the northern slopes of La Sierra de Francia.

The Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage that culminates in Santiago de Compostela, runs through the village along the southern route. At one time pilgrims got their passport stamped in a tiny hermitage on the edge of town. These days the pilgrims come to the central plaza (Plaza Mayor) and stop at the tavern, the El Porrón, for the stamp. It’s next to the village jail. You can see the symbol of the pilgrimage at the bottom of the column, a shell.

At this hour (10:30ish) the main plaza is near empty except for delivery trucks, the only vehicles plus police and resident’s cars (though we didn’t see any) allowed on these streets. A couple of vendors set up tables to sell almonds, honey, and other local products. They offer samples and I try and buy crunchy sweet-coated almonds.

We are visiting in late March and spring has not yet arrived except for the presence of a few spring wildflowers. In summer, every balcony on the plaza will hold multiple planters filled with colorful flowers and the arcades below will provide shade from the sun; I can imagine it will be glorious.

Our guide, Sam, points out that the buildings have a French look: half-timber houses with rocks filling in between the timbers. The more refined have a plaster coating. It is definitely not the sturdy stone buildings of the rest of Spain. This came about because in the eleventh century, Spanish King Alfonso IX married off a relative, Doña Urraca, daughter of King Alfonso VI, to a French nobleman, D. Raimundo of Burgundy. The king then gave them the Salamanca region. In 1087, the Frenchman invited workers from his country to settle here to help repopulate the lands. This is the origin of the building style and the name of the nearby mountains, the Pena de Francia.

As it turns out, this French design helped the village survive a large earthquake in 1755. They quickly repaired the small amount of damage imposed by the earthquake (see the “staples” in the church), then helped the people in the region’s main city, Salamanca which was badly damaged. As a thank you to the people of La Alberca for their generosity, the city of Salamanca gave statues of crosses to the village, thirteen of which still remain in the village.

The large church in town, the Seniora de la Asuncion (Assumption), was built in stages: the tower was funded by the Duke of Alba, the royal family in these parts, and built in the 1500’s; the main church was completed in 1733.

The interior is large and dimly lit with a muffled feeling as if a thick blanket filled the space. The only sound is the quiet chanting of two women as they make their way around the Stations of the Cross – we are here in the season of Lent.

In centuries past, wealthy parishioners could afford to contribute money to the church, and in return, received burial spaces in the floor close to the altar. Those who contributed less found themselves at the back of the church. Peasants’ bodies were placed inside a walled enclosure outside. These souls were presumed to spend more time in Purgatory, since they could not afford to buy Indulgences. Local women took turns walking to each corner of the village at sunset, ringing a bell along the way for these lost souls, hoping to reduce their time suffering. A local legend tells of a stormy night when the bell-ringer skipped her duty. The villagers heard the bells ring anyway. Th bell-ringing tradition continues today.

Across the street from the church is the symbol of the Spanish Inquisition. Their investigations focused on the Jews and Muslims in the community. The symbol means, either you take up the cross with us and we will offer you the olive branch, or if you do not, you will die by the sword. To prove that they had abandoned their old religions which forbad the eating of pork, Jews and Muslims gave the villagers pigs.

The village continues the tradition to this day. Each year on July 13th, they release a pig into the village, after it is blessed. The pig is welcome to wander the streets like the village dog, fed wherever he happens to be. In the old days, the pig was also welcome to bed for the night in the stables, which originally occupied the ground floor of these two and three story buildings, as is clear from the large heavy doors. Presumably, now that the ground floor is filled with shops, the pig sleeps outside.

On January 17th, the feast of San Antonio, the village auctions off the pig for charity. It is likely that the winner or someone he knows will be able to slaughter this pig because these people are still very close to the land. All around, very close to the village you can find small farms with moss covered rock walls and sheep, black pigs and donkeys.

To commemorate this long tradition, a statue of a pig stands outside the church. There is a belief that if you and your loved one touch the testicles of this statue together and pledge your love, the woman will become pregnant. So watch what you touch in La Alberca.


At this point we had some free time before eating. I wandered back to a shop that specialized in beans, spices and wine. The shop was closed when I first saw it, but the artful doorway intrigued me.

Imagine a place where a business can survive selling such a limited type of product; but oh, the variety and the way they were displayed – a visual feast! I had never seen so many different legumes, more than I could identify. Of course, it doesn’t help that I can’t read Spanish. The shop-keeper methodically packaged spices in small bags as I poked around the shop. I bought a bag of bay (laurel) leaves as a memento.

We regrouped at the Plaza Mayor, and walked over to one of the ancient tapas bars in town, with its medieval Spanish bar customs. The bar was dimly lit, with uneven flooring and the occasional step. Dusty wine bottles filled racks, bullfighting posters hung on the walls, cobwebs hung from ancient rafters. Here we enjoyed cheese, several kinds of ham, and of course, red wine. An expert ham slicer carved one of the specialty jamon for us to taste.

Afterwards, we went to one of the town restaurants for the main meal. By the time we left to head back to the resort, the shops were closed for siesta. Timing is everything when visiting rural Spain.

This medieval town touched my soul like no big city can. The age of the village, and the depth of its roots may best be illuminated by the fact that the Duchess of Alba, from the ancient royal family of this area, is the only person with so many titles that the Queen of England must curtsy to her. That’s a long history.


Thank you to Sam for the great tour. Thanks also to Denise Kass (Denisevlogs) for the photo of the main square.

Plaza Mayor in La Alberca. Photo by Denise Kass

For information on how to visit this region of Spain with free lodging and meals, see Free room and board in Spain for a week with Diverbo.

To learn more about the traditions we experienced and the food/drink, see Firewater, witches, black pigs and bota swigging in La Alberca Spain.

For the rest of my adventure in Spain, see:

Vibrant. whimsical, sensory-rich Barcelona

Semana Santa processions in Marbella

A day-trip to Tangiers Morocco

Tavern-hopping for tapas in Madrid


If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in enjoying other cultures, learnng new things, Small town life, travel as a transformation tool | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Free room and board for a week in Spain with Diverbo

How does a week in Spain, all expenses paid, sound to you? How about eating fantastic Spanish food, learning about (and trying) local customs, and understanding Spanish culture through conversations with Spaniards? At first I thought it was too good to be true. But it’s real, and I lived it.

As I planned my spring journey through Spain, I remembered a trip an acquaintance took with free lodging and meals for a week. All she had to do was get to Madrid and be willing to talk. Heck, I can do that! So I looked it up.

This offer is Pueblo Ingles, a program for Spaniards wanting to polish their English through full immersion and interactive classes, with 100+ hours of conversation during a week. The company, Diverbo, invites English-speakers from all over the world to interact with their students. And they had a program that fit my schedule at the end of March, in the tiny village of La Alberca in the province of Salamanca, 170 miles west of Madrid. (They also have other locations.)

Seventeen of us volunteers (they call us Anglos) represented England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Florida, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania, California, Rhode Island, and Hawaiʻi (with a Wisconsin accent). We have sixteen students from Spain and one from Venezuela. The day before the bus trip to La Alberca, our Program Leaders, Sam and Sabela, hosted the Anglos in Madrid with a traditional paella meal, followed by flamenco entertainment.

Then they answered our questions: it will be cold in the mountains where we’ll be staying at this time of year; the bus trip there will be about four hours; and our daily schedule has us eating breakfast at 9 am, lunch at 2 pm, and dinner at 9 pm. This traditional Spanish dining schedule was a challenge for me. I was ready to eat someone’s arm by 2 pm, and nod off in my dinner soup. On the good side, I could sleep in.

We’re staying in a resort, housed in villas. Each Anglo shares one with a student, them in the upstairs bedroom, us on the main level bedroom, with separate locks.

The atmosphere was casual; for the breakfast buffet, Sam told us not to queue up because we’d be here all day just waiting to eat. “Think of this more like a Spanish market than a British bank. Just elbow your way into the section of the buffet you want.” But the curriculum was rigorous.

The students are mostly younger professionals who need to converse in English on occasion with overseas bosses and English-speaking suppliers: marketing people from multinational companies; IT technical folk, designers and engineers, accountants, business strategists, and people in distribution, sales and retail. They come from a broad range of companies: a national sports team, insurance, local governments, pharmaceuticals, beer, toys and more.

Because the program was full immersion, each student was sure to get practice speaking English in the situations most important to them. One was an MD who presents technical papers in English at professional meetings, but needs to improve his fluency in casual conversation, such as during lunch. Others have regular teleconferences with English speakers which are hard for them to understand. So volunteers with experience rehearsed with them using actual equipment.

The volunteers skewed a bit older than the students. Several are perpetually on the move. Dave and Merete from Manchester, England, sold their business, rented their house out for three years, and are now traveling to far-flung locations and staying for a month at a time in Cyprus, Denmark, Myanmar, Cuba, Spain, China and the Czech Republic. I asked them how they prepared for such a life. Dave told me they contacted every agency with whom they correspond and requested electronic communication for everything including insurance, taxes, and bank statements. For the rest, they contracted with their tax preparer to receive and open all of their mail, dispose of the trash, scan the remainder and send it on to them.

A couple of the volunteers settled in Spain for retirement, like Brian and Colin. Brian has been in southern Spain for 12 years, living quite well on his pension from the British Navy because the cost of living is low compared to England. Colin, a retired officer in the British Army did likewise. He’s a cheeky Welshman, who settled in Galatia, one of the three areas of Spain that speaks a completely different language than Spanish. Both participate in multiple Diverbo programs every year, thoroughly enjoying the transformation of the students as they gain confidence over the seven days of the curriculum.

Part of a morning’s schedule.

And it is a well-planned curriculum. Rule #1 is “English Only,” even in private. Using the setting of a remote resort, the students can be isolated enough to create an environment where they only hear English. The day is segmented into 50 minutes sessions from 10 am until 9 pm, with 10 minute breaks between, plus lunch and a siesta. (Thank God for nap time!)

Each day we covered English phrasal verbs (I had never even heard of that concept – it is so ingrained into English) and idioms. We Anglos were often asking other Anglos what the idioms meant before the one-on-ones with our students, and we had many discussions on their origin – true fun for a word geek like me.

Besides one-on-one chats with a student and a volunteer, we participated in teleconference practice, group discussions where teams of two Anglos and two Spaniards complete a task (have you ever try to stuff a raw egg into a balloon?) or solve the problems of the world, and “theatre” entertainment (voluntary) where program participants put on skits for the rest of the group.

Students were required to make a five-to-seven minute presentation, which was the culmination of their week. Anglos could also volunteer to present. I spoke on how “Iberia shaped Hawaiʻi.” I hadn’t thought about it much until then.

Everyone eats together, two Anglos and two Spaniards to a table. This social interaction allowed them to practice a more casual form of English, often on a topic where they were experts: Spanish food! The food was fantastic: I ate so much of it that I am sure I put on weight.

Lunch and dinner consist of three courses: soup or salad, main course, and dessert, with unlimited wine (red and white) and water. The main course is rarely accompanied by vegetables, only a carb such as potatoes or rice and meat (very often pork).  And while my normal breakfast is a banana with peanut butter, here, I ate ham (so many choices), two eggs, cheese, yogurt, pastry, a half pear and juice. I also learned to drink my coffee Spanish style, with half the cup being warm milk instead of a bit of cream.

After dinner (10 pm), Sam and Sabela offered optional activities such as group word games, singing competitions by country (despite an awesome performance, the Americans came in last!), group quizzes and a party with dancing music. To my surprise, almost all of the Spaniards and volunteers were willing to dance. The day is very long but rewarding, and despite my normal bedtime of 9:30 pm, I stayed until after midnight some evenings. I’m jet-lagged anyway by a full 12 hours, so what the heck – I might as well have fun.

While the stated purpose of this program is for students to improve their English fluency, it becomes so much more after sharing these experiences. One-on-one chats lead to sharing our lives with each other, first small bits, then stories with deeper significance. The Anglos not only correct the students’ English and help them with finding the right word to express themselves, but we begin to understand and appreciate their lives and culture. Likewise, they learn about life all over the English-speaking world. By the end of the week, the students’ English had improved so much that we could even share jokes. We all came away (a phrasal verb) with new friends.

If you think the howling Big Bad Wolf looks good, you should see the Three Little Pigs.

If you’ve ever thought about traveling to Spain (or Germany – Diverbo has a similar program there), and want to meet locals beyond waiters and shop-keepers to have real conversations, sign up for Pueblo Ingles. You won’t be disappointed. They even have a program for teens. Or if you want to improve your Spanish, try their Pueblo Español Program.


Vero, my villa partner, and me.

See also my essay, In love with rural Spain – the village of La Alberca.


To learn more about the traditions we experienced and the food/drink, see Firewater, witches, black pigs and bota swigging in La Alberca Spain.

For the rest of my adventure in Spain, see:

Vibrant. whimsical, sensory-rich Barcelona

Semana Santa processions in Marbella

A day-trip to Tangiers Morocco

Tavern-hopping for tapas in Madrid

Swords, El Greco and gold in Toledo, Spain


If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.


Posted in enjoying other cultures, learnng new things, living full out, Making community, Personal growth, travel as a transformation tool, Travel make me learn | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

Seeing my Hawaiʻi through her eyes

I sometimes take living in Paradise for granted, and it takes a guest to help me appreciate it. I recently hosted a fellow beachcombing friend, visiting Hawaiʻi for the first time. She was happy to experience the authentic Big Island through normal activities that make living here such a pleasure. And in doing so, Debbie helped me see and appreciate my Hawai‘i with fresh eyes – through her eyes.

On arrival, she wanted to treat for supper. But instead of a restaurant that evening, we stopped for salads and pineapple, and took them to Anaeho‘omalu Bay. Skirting around the closed park gate, we slipped to the beach. In the dark everything looked different, and we wound up picnicking on the wall near the Royal Fish Ponds. We indulged in our simple fare, squished our toes in the cool sand, and listened to the ocean waves just over the sand dune.

Once satiated, and now with eyes accustomed to the half-moon light, we found the beach chairs. For the next half hour, we lounged, viewed the moon and Venus, listened to the waves at our feet, chatted, and sometimes meditated. She was so delighted that it’s inspired me to greet every visitor with a toes-in-the-sand first stop.

DEBBIE’S VOICE: I have been in love with Hawaiʻi since 7th grade, when a cute boy joined our California class from Hawaiʻi. I immediately learned as many Hawaiian words as I could; posters went up in my room and I began my fascination with vintage Hawaiiana. Diane’s introduction to the Big Island turned my obsession from longing into reality. I was well rewarded for my patience.

As my time there progressed, I began to see it more as something to feel instead of something to get. That night, lying on lounge chairs under the moon, watching swaying palm trees and hearing island music float by on the breeze was magical – a great opportunity to practice letting things happen instead of seeking them out.

The next morning, Debbie requested a trip to Hawi’s Farmer’s Market where her daughter is a vendor. Abilene’s been here for eight months, first as a woofer and now as a care-taker for a small farm. She bakes banana bread, makes chocolate and offers a wicked-good lilikoi-limeade drink with chia seeds. Debbie hadn’t seen her for seven months, so this was a very happy reunion. I slipped away to give them some private time. But after the market, we joined Abilene at her farm, where she eats and cooks in a roofed but open-air kitchen and sleeps in a tricked-out school bus.

This was my first time at the Hawi Market. They have a perfect location, under the giant banyan trees in town. As with our Honoka‘a Farmer’s Market, people congregated at picnic tables, eating and visiting with friends.


I found a long-time friend who also happens to be my custom-computer guy (Falcon Computers), and it reminded me that we live in a small world on the Big Island. After a hearty hug, Shaun informed me that my new lighter-weight computer was in and would be ready for pick up later in the week. This computer will make my backpack about three pounds lighter in my upcoming travels. What I really love about working with Shaun is that he knows me so well that he was able to recommend some specific upgrades and downgrades to match my usage. THAT is what living in a community means.

Shaun’s son wandered over with a basket full of colored soaps. The 10-year-old makes them and sells them at the market – such a wonderful way to build life skills. Of course I made a purchase – a green heart-chakra soap.

Any of these Hawi moments would have been worthy of its own blog essay. When you are fully present to each moment, you can have a very rich life indeed.

On our way back to Honokaʻa, I spontaneously turned to the beach at Kawaihae. We wandered the beach, picking up a few treasures before heading home.

DEBBIE’S VOICE: The tumbled pieces of orange and white coral on this beach fascinated me with their resemblance to other living things. It reminded me of the Japanese art of Suiseki, which includes the appreciation of nature through stones. Though I only took a few home with me, I left with a smile on my face.

On Sunday, Debbie wanted to go to the Honokaʻa Farmer’s Market. Good thing, as I had coconuts to sell. I took them to the Hāmākua Agricultural Cooperative’s booth. The Cooperative takes a 30% commission, well worth the price of managing all the sales.


While there, I met Roy dropping off his many cartons of fresh eggs and cooking bananas. He gave me a bunch that was just turning. Can’t wait to sauté them in some butter and brown sugar, or grill them in their jackets.

DEBBIE’S VOICE: I will never forget my time at the Honokaʻa Farmer’s Market. I watched as commerce and conversation mingled with the beautiful voice of a young singer wafting through the market. Roy chopped open a coconut and offered it to me. After I drank it down he said to me, “you know what happens when you drink that stuff? You get young!”

After a tour of the market to buy cucumbers, lettuce, and Roy’s eggs, we drove to the Waipiʻo Valley Overlook – such a meditative spot. We decided to take the scenic route through Kukuihaele, a small village, many of whose families once lived in the valley.

To our surprise, we came across two large turkeys displaying for a hen. They took no mind of us at all. In fact, I actually had to gently push them a bit with my car to get past them.

DEBBIE’S VOICE: Choosing the slow way to the lookout was SO worth it. I loved seeing the quaint row of plantation houses lined up along the road. The Japanese fan-dancer impersonators gave us quite a show trying to woo their intended mate. Then a few moments later, we witnessed one of the fattest rainbows I have ever seen. 

There’s always something new to observe at Waipiʻo.  This time I noticed how strange the waves looked when they crested: they appeared to be going both toward the shore and away from it.

DEBBIE’S VOICE: For me, seeing the Waipi’o Valley was a mix of emotions. Witnessing its beauty bathed my heart, while the specter of a tsunami to the people living in the valley made me sad for the victims of the past and fearful for the current and future residents. I admire them for their strength to accept the beauty and peace of now. 

Much of the rest of the day, Debbie helped me with this year’s crop of macadamia nuts. I had been cracking my nuts for about a week and had enough shelled to make it worthwhile for Debbie to separate them into different sizes for roasting.

We also snacked on the fruits and veggies from Abilene: lilikoi, yacon and tangerines. She had also dug up some turmeric for her mom. Abilene said it was healthy for you, but Debbie wanted to taste it straight-up before mixing it into her smoothies. So we decided to “be brave” and taste it raw. Mistake. The taste (and the yellow color) stayed on our tongues for quite a while.

DEBBIE’S VOICE: I cannot help but laugh out loud every time I remember this experience. I count it as a badge of honor that we were brave enough to do this. Whenever I hesitate to take the opportunity to do something new, I will remember that, as bad as this picture makes it seem, I survived and am better for it!

On Monday, Debbie joined me at yoga at 8:30. Guests or no guests, I don’t miss Anita’s yoga class unless I am gone. Later we strolled through Honokaʻa to visit all the thrift and vintage stores. We both bought treasures at the Green Chair and Chi Chi LaFong’s. At Molly’s Green Chair, I scored a cute painted table/stool for my front lanai that I now use while donning my sneakers. My cat scored even more. She loves that little stool.

DEBBIE’S VOICE: DEBBIE’S VOICE: I so enjoyed Anita’s class. Her calm demeanor and clear instructions made me feel comfortably guided with each pose. And her lychees and pineapple were such a nice treat at the end! Thrift store treasure hunting is one of my favorite things to do in the whole world, especially in a place I’ve never been. For me, it’s about the history and stories of the items for sale. Where have they been? What do they carry with them?

Debbie’s visit even inspired me to stop at locations I’ve always wanted to explore, like the abandoned green storefront and the shallow lava tube on the way to Waipiʻo. We also stopped at the Lower Hāmākua Ditch, with its story of the immigrants who built it for the sugar mills.

DEBBIE’S VOICE: I loved hearing stories about the Hawaiian past. The green building enchanted me with my own made-up stories of what could have happened there over the years. The lava tube was so dark and mysterious! I marveled at how it came to be made. And the Lower Hāmākua Ditch showed me what people can do when they put their minds to it. All were examples of the spellbinding qualities of places. 

It’s so easy to appreciate my little world when I have guests, and I thank Debbie for taking me on this rich and restful stay-cation.

DEBBIE’S VOICE: I am so grateful to Diane for the helpful guidance, the wonderful conversations, the hospitality and her loving kindness by being my host and my friend. Till next time!


Cooking bananas grilled in their jackets (with marinated chicken)

My other essays on Hāmākua Harvest:

Hāmākua Harvest – One Man’s Vision

Hāmākua Harvest – these are my farmers

Call me Farmer Di


On Waipiʻo:

Waipi‘o – valley of the kings


On Macadamia nut harvesting and roasting

Macadamia Academia

Macadamia Nuts: Watch them like a hawk

If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.


Posted in friends, Honoka'a, Kawaihae, Macadamia Nuts, Small town life, thifting - thrift stores, Things to do on the Big Island, yoga | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

West Coast Swing: taking my own advice

img_1640Last night I found myself in the arms of a stranger, 40 years my junior. It can happen to anyone. You just have to put yourself out there . . .

I’m visiting my daughter who’s a senior in college this year. In her years at school, she’s been enjoying dance classes for her physical education credits: ballroom, country, and her favorite, West Coast Swing. I’ve been living vicariously through her dance stories, remembering back to when my husband, then fiancé, and I took a ballroom dancing class. Our most memorable moment was attending a tea dance, roaring across the floor doing the tango, learned only the day before. We found ourselves in the corner trapped among the potted plants, unable to turn around. Chagrined, we backed out and plunged back into the fray, only to find ourselves in the potted plants on the other side. That was 29 years ago and we haven’t been out dancing since. Courtship was very different from married life.

daughters-blue-hair-flyingBut last night . . .

My daughter and her roommate, Maia, planned to go to a weekly college dance that featured ballroom dancing at 9 pm and West Coast Swing at 10. I remember those days of leaving the house late to start my evening. Now I’m in pajamas by 9. But I was persuaded to join them, even though I knew I would not be dancing. Besides, I wanted to see my daughter dance, her long thick blue ponytail swinging wildly.


As we walked to the building on the Quad, Maia pointed out the dance room windows. “My partner nearly flung me out those open windows last week. Luckily the teacher wasn’t looking.” Wow – must be some vigorous dancing! We arrived just as the ballroom segment was ending, and a young man immediately grabbed my daughter and swept her out onto the floor.

daughter-with-partnersI was fascinated by the moves for West Coast Swing, having never mastered Swing which is supposed to be simpler. The count always unnerved me: six-count dance moves to a four-count beat. Apparently West Coast is the same, except for one move called the Whip that is an eight-count – way over my head (or feet).

img_1587So I happily watched. Some people were exceptionally good, especially a male couple that Maia told me was on the University Dance Team. I noticed that many of the better male dancers had their own technique, and my daughter had clearly danced with each of them often enough to be able to match their moves. One guy especially intrigued me, dancing flamboyantly with a style all his own, a joy to watch. Maia told me that he was so gracious, always making any mistakes that the gal made look like his own.

On the next dance, my daughter disappeared across the room to find one of her fun partners. At that moment, Mr. Own-Style materialized in front of me, offering his hand: “Will you dance?”

img_1605Flustered, I stammered, “Oh no, I don’t dance. I don’t know how to West Coast Swing. I’m just here to watch my daughter.” Maia laughed and urged me to go. My inner voice scolded, “You’re supposed to be living life full out!” So as I continued protesting, I was also taking off my jacket, and getting up from the bench.

He took my hand, led me out to the floor, and settled us for a moment. I was nervous, and explained again that I knew nothing about West Coast Swing. He smiled and said, “Just follow your thumbs,” whatever that meant. Then he launched us, starting with movements slightly reminiscent of the Monkey and Pony, only holding one hand. He had guessed my era perfectly. Then he led me through sort of a Foxtrot, and then a mild version of West Coast Swing, with lots of twirling.

twirlingOMG I was having fun! But also getting dizzy. “Don’t get me too dizzy. My bifocals make me wobbly enough.”

“Okay, then I’ll twirl.” And he did, multiple times under my arm. The song finally ended and he escorted me back to my seat. With a broad smile he said, “Thank you, and welcome to the dance floor.” Then he was off to dance again.

My daughter returned laughing. “I was looking to see if you were watching me, but you were GONE! Then I spotted you on the floor. Face-palm! LOL! I actually stopped dancing. My partner asked what was wrong. ‘My Mother!’ He laughed, ‘Of all the guys, she’s dancing with him!’ What my partner doesn’t get is that you are as ‘out there’ as he is, just in different arenas. Too bad you didn’t get pictures. This would make a great blog!”

a-man-with-his-own-styleI wanted to know what she meant by ‘out-there.’

“He’s definitely very confident. You can pick him out in any dance crowd.”


img_1621I was a little sheepish, but also proud . . . and out of breath, heart pounding hard. West Coast Swing is definitely a vigorous dance for a beginner. A couple times I thought I was going to fly right out of his grip and I understood Maia’s concern img_1583about dropping out the window.

I had asked the girls earlier how they could possibly dance in boots, but I had just done that: the person who goes barefoot or wears sandals all year.


After recuperating and before our second dance (YES!), I asked Mr. Own-Style if my daughter could take pictures. I asked about a possible blog essay and he shrugged. “Why not? At this point, I’m anonymous.” And again he launched me. This time he taught me a new move, a back turn, or something like that. I was gaining confidence and having a ball! I was the oldest person at the dance by at least 35 years, feeling 20 again. The song ended way too soon.

img_1701With me feeling a bit like Cinderella, the girls and I left at 11 pm. My Fitbit buzzed, informing me I had walked 10,000 steps. That’s good. But even better was taking my own advice: get out of your comfort zone and live life full out. You won’t regret it. And you might even make some memories.


img_1645The author wishes to thank Mr. Own-Style for his kindness and graciousness.

For other dance essays, see Come dance a meditation – ecstatic dance.


If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in college, daughters, getting out of my comfort zone, learnng new things, links to my past, living full out | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

The saga of the cesspool

I’ve always lived in places with municipal sewer systems. Here on the Big Island, I have a cesspool. Hawaiʻi, one of the smallest states, has more cesspools than any other. A cesspool is a mysterious thing, dark, unknown, creepy, and until now, I had no reason to unearth the mystery.

Was the cesspool here?

Was the cesspool here?

But I decided to extend the driveway on the side of my house. For this, I had to know my cesspool’s location, because the weight of a car could crack the cement cover. But where exactly was the cesspool? Digging through an old file, I found evidence of its general vicinity off the back lanai. It might or might not be in the way of the extended driveway.

Or here?

Or here? Either way, finding it meant much plant removal.

I called in Paul at Bob’s Sweetwater Pumping Service. Like a doctor conducting a colonoscopy, he worked a small camera through our sewer pipes to locate the hole. It revealed many roots and a high “water” level, not surprising since we had just suffered six weeks of daily rain. “Might need to be sucked out. Find the hatch and we’ll take a good look.” Cesspools theoretically never need to be sucked, but there are exceptions. Crap.

img_1520Knowing the camera position didn’t tell me how far the cover extended, which was my real goal. So I set my yard guy and friend to the task. My husband calls Steve a “Force of Nature.” This 50 year-old has superhuman strength and endurance, running circles around even fit 25 year-olds. I showed him Paul’s brightly painted line on the grass that indicated where the camera had been. “The house’s main sewage pipe into the cesspool ends here. Dig down until you find cement. Then make a trench until the cement ends on both sides.”

img_1521Steve found it, about a foot down, and dug up the dirt a foot wide and about six feet across. He also removed the vegetation a good seven feet across, all the way to the fence line. I was alarmed at the carnage, but that was only the beginning. The foot wide path did not reveal the hatch.

About this time my husband decided to jump into the trenches (so to speak) with Steve. He’s a hydro-engineering contractor with a mainland utility company: a dam engineer, or a damn engineer, depending on my mood. I could see that for this project, it would be the latter.

img_1080With my husband’s “guidance” Steve dug up most of the cesspool perimeter. It showed the cover’s edge was a good two feet from the proposed driveway – Yeah! We also found the hatch and called Paul back. After his investigation, Paul declared the cesspool to be fine, but recommended we remove the large heliconia clump nearby (travelers palm or Ravenala madagascariensis) to kill the roots in the cesspool. Within a week, Steve and company had that part done.

All that was left was to update the house plan document to show the cesspool’s location, which my husband said he would do. He also pointed out that if we turned the cesspool img_1538into a patio, it would always be available, just in case we had to access it again. He was serious. I made it very clear that we’d be covering it again.

Steve was anxious to get it done.

“What’s so hard about drawing a circle on a piece of paper?” he asked.

“Just wait. You’ll see.”



This was my husband’s opportunity to use engineering toys and even buy new ones! On the weekend, I found a series of 21 fluorescent markings around the cesspool cover and 21 corresponding iron rods. (“Don’t take a picture of the uncapped rods. It’s probably an OSHA violation.”) Having spent seven years working on nuclear power plants, he was now in full triple-redundancy nuclear mode. God help me.

survey-measures-must-be-aligned-orthogonallyThe following weekend, he recruited me to help take survey measurements from each of the 21 rods to three different reference points in the yard. My job was to ensure that the reference pole was absolutely straight (I had to call out “the level bubbles are aligned” before each reading) and write down the measurements he called out. Then he brought out his good Brunton compass, and took additional multiple readings. Unfortunately it began to rain, so we had to stop before getting to the other two reference points.



Same deal the third weekend, taking measurements from the second reference point. Bored and cranky, I baited him. “Aren’t you incorporating error into your measurements by having the surveyor’s rope twisted?” I should have kept my mouth shut. Luckily it started to rain again before he could re-set the equipment without the twists. Steve stopped asking when he could fill in the hole.

img_1338On the fourth weekend and the third set of measurements with the third reference, I began to rejoice. So far we had taken about 120 measurements in seven hours, just to locate my cesspool cover, precisely and accurately. But who cares? Just draw the damn circle! Meanwhile, my new driveway was already cleared, grubbed and ready for gravel!


My husband informed me that we weren’t done. Today, we would also remove the hatch and take measurements inside. “This is like an archeological dig. You get all the data you can, because you might not be able to come back.” Not that I plan to come back.

img_1440He mentioned that I would need to take pictures from inside the cesspool. “No way! I’m not sticking my camera in there!”

“Okay, okay. Keep your pantaloons on. But bring your tape measure. On second thought, I’ll use mine. Might get shit on it.” Of course, he meant that literally.


He lay down on the cesspool cover. “Take my visor. I don’t want it to fall in.” Then, using a new toy, a Bosch GLM 35 Laser Measure, he stuck his arm up to his armpit into the hole, and called out a series of numbers. I was busy writing when I heard him cry out and swear. “Sorry. Nearly lost my glasses. Caught them with my other hand.” Ick! Later we measured the distance from his hand to his armpit (22 inches) so he can adjust the measurements. I don’t make this stuff up.

img_1452Are we done yet? No. He saw something odd down there. (I never did get confirmation that turds float in cesspools.) So he fetched his 1500 watt halogen construction light, tied it to a tether and stuck it down the hole. “Write this down. At the west point, there is a vertically standing pipe, about 3 inch diameter. The open end is about two feet from the top of the cesspool and clogged with dirt.” He was clearly more intrigued with this new mystery than I was.

img_1484Finally he replaced the hatch, but expressed great concern that now there were some gaps around the edges. Sensing another engineering project, I told him to use Great-Stuff to fill the gaps. “Let the record show that it was YOUR idea,” he said. “This will make it very difficult for the next person to get this hatch out.” I pray that it is not me.

As he cleaned up his tools, he reflected that “we have learned some things. It appears to be a hole dug straight into the dirt…”

Our kitties enjoy playing with the survey equipment

Our kitties enjoy playing with the survey equipment

“That’s what a cesspool is!”

Ignoring my interruption, he continued, “…and my measurements show that it’s about six feet in diameter.”

“That’s what Paul told us four weeks ago.”

“Yes, but we have confirmed it.”

Sigh. “Can I tell Steve that he can fill in the dirt now?”

“No. Not until I crunch the data, in case we have to repeat something. Then we’ll put heavy-duty plastic on the cover and THEN Steve can fill in the dirt.”

I wonder how long that will take.


img_1439If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in Adjusting to Hawaii, home, Honoka'a, husband, learnng new things, working in my yard | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Come dance a meditation – Ecstatic Dance in Honoka‘a, HI

ecstatic-dance-posterLet’s dance! Ecstatic Dance. It’s “a moving meditation that develops a direct body-spirit connection,” and is not as odd as it sounds, though it does have guidelines. Guidelines for dancing? Yup. Check out the  website.

The first time I heard about Ecstatic Dance was two years ago. Suelang and Eden, who operate the vegan café in town, started offering this opportunity on the third Sunday of the month. Where? The Honokaa People’s Theatre, of course!

img_1203Unfortunately, the time overlaps with my Mindfulness Meditation group. We do occasionally take fieldtrips, so I raised the possibility of attending Ecstatic Dance, right down the street. We’d have time to do our 25 minutes of seated meditation and the 15 minutes of walking meditation. All we’d have to do is exchange our hour-plus discussion with a mindful dancing meditation. They weren’t buying it. I don’t blame them – this was a bit outside of my comfort zone too.

description-of-ecstatic-danceSo I put off going, even though I know the lovely couple who sponsor it. They are the exact opposite of judgmental and they assured me that the whole point of Ecstatic Dance is non-judgment and getting into yourself, not paying attention to other dancer/meditators. That is probably the underpinning of Guideline #2: No talking on the dance floor. It’s a place to meditate, not socialize.

Then the holidays at the end of 2016 cracked open an opportunity. Ecstatic Dance moved to a Monday in December due to a conflict with a special event. Now I had no excuse not to attend.

Eden is the usual DJ at Ecstatic Dance.

Eden is the usual DJ at Ecstatic Dance.

When I entered, the dance was already underway. The lights were low, with only stage lights changing from red to blue to purple, and a side door opened to cool the space letting in a bit of brightness. Eden is the usual DJ, and he plays world music. As I removed my shoes and found my way to a spot on the dance floor, participants accommodated my presence and gave me space. I tried to avert my eyes from the other dancers, respectfully providing them their bubble of privacy. (Guideline #3: Respect yourself and one another.)

What I vividly remember most from that first time was the feeling of exhilaration that flooded through me. I was DANCING again!  With the exception of a nephew’s wedding and a couple of work Holiday Balls, the last time I had gone dancing was on an early date with my husband – in 1988. That’s 29 years ago!

im-dancing-againHere I was, dancing as Spirit moved me, wilder (perhaps “non- standard” would be a better descriptor) than ever before in public, eyes closed, attuned to the music, literally feeling the beat in my chest. Elated, joyful, excited, just me and the beat. I played with moving closer to and farther from the giant speakers. When standing in front of them, I felt the floor shake – another dimension to the experience. I was totally hooked.

We are lucky to have Suelang; she and Eden do so much for the community.

We are lucky to have Suelang; she and Eden do so much for the community.

The music has a structure over the two hours of the event. The DJ designs it to beat faster and louder with time, hitting a peak, and then slowing back down. It’s sort of like an aerobic workout session, but for another purpose, that of connecting with yourself in this physical meditation.

sometimes-people-dance-together-in-ecstatic-danceWhile this is not a social dance, friends acknowledged me with a smile and a nod when our eyes met, and a few people danced together and then separated again. It was so liberating to know that I could do any moves that inspired me. That’s Guideline #1: Move however you wish.

This month, with Ecstatic Dance moving back to its normal Sunday schedule, I decided I must go anyway. So I went to Mindfulness Meditation, stayed for the seated and walking meditation, and then explained that I was headed to the People’s Theatre to dance mindfully. They asked questions, curious about my experience. I told them that people our age were very well represented. Perhaps they are opening to the idea. Maybe one day I can get them to come as a fieldtrip.

Even the family boys participate in the Ecstatic Dance Events, staffing the admissions table.

Even the family boys participate in the Ecstatic Dance Events, staffing the admissions table.

If you’re here the third Sunday of the month, 4:30 – 6:30 pm, come dance. It will be the best $7 you’ve spent in a long time. And you can feel good about it because they donate their portion to some worthy community group every month!


(Note, all photos are from the January event. I was given permission to take photos of specific people.)

BTW, Suelang and Eden put out a newsletter covering all the events they sponsor every month. Sign up to get it at :



If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.


Posted in Being present, getting out of my comfort zone, Honoka'a, Honoka'a People's Theatre, learnng new things, Meditation, music in Hawaii, Personal growth, Small town life, Things to do on the Big Island | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments