100 Miles for Ana

Hello ToothontheLoose readers!

It’s been a while.

Since my last post (written- yikes- over four years ago), I have told myself over and over again that I was going to start the blog back up. I have mentioned this to family, friends, coworkers, and even complete strangers so many times that I can almost foresee the inevitable eye roll. “I’m going to write about our trip to Africa.” “I’m going to post a day-to-day blog of my epic train trip!” “I’m taking all these awesome photos of this bike path for my website.” But nothing happened. I also realized that the design of this site is not the most user-friendly. In January 2014, I had started from scratch with zero website experience and limited time, and I needed something basic enough to post and edit on an iPad Mini from the middle of Central America (or wherever I happened to be at the time). More recently, I had the idea to completely revamp the site to make it more searchable and readable… overlooking that I don’t quite know how to do that yet and have forgotten almost everything I have learned about blogging! So, once again making perfect the enemy of good, I did nothing.

My mother was always doing something. Whether it was reading or translating poems and song lyrics from Slovenian to English or creating gift baskets for fundraisers or planning an overseas trip, she was a flurry of activity. (She also took hearty naps in between). She thrived on projects, often completing them at the last minute (which she probably wouldn’t have had any other way). I can still remember our old house in Euclid: as a child, I would lie in bed at night seeing a sliver of light on my wall coming from Mom’s sewing room down the hall and hearing the hum of her sewing machine into the late hours.

For those of you who might not have known, my mother died in February of pancreatic cancer. She had only been diagnosed last August but had decided against chemotherapy due to the cancer’s late stage. Despite her diagnosis, she still managed to squeeze in every last bit of joyful activity that she could.

On the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad for a western-themed murder mystery night ride.
At our church’s 125th anniversary celebration. Mom and I had sung in the choir.
Visiting A Christmas Story house, a must-see for any Clevelander.

I miss my mother every day. After her passing, though, I felt a surge of inspiration. Ann Zakelj was not one to sit around. She would be up and running. (Or walking briskly, rather. I can just picture her grimace if I were to suggest that she go for a run). In her memory, I made a list of three goals for this year:

  1. To resume my blog. Mom was my initial subscriber and biggest supporter. She commented on almost every post and shared my stories and photos on her Facebook page. Sometimes I go back and read what she wrote to me, and it’s like being able to talk to her again.
  2. To complete a century ride (100 miles) by bike. I’ve been wanting to do this for several years but have had trouble committing to it.
  3. To raise money for the Hospice of the Western Reserve, who gave the utmost care and support while Mom was living her last days at home.

And here we are! Next Saturday, I will be biking 100 miles solo (though several friends and family members might join me for the later segments) from Sandusky to Fairport Harbor, Ohio as a fundraiser for Hospice in my mother’s memory. I am trained and ready. I also started a GoFundMe page last week, and it is smoking! I am flabbergasted at the generosity of so many people, and I still have a week to go. If you are interested in checking out the page, you can do so at GoFundMe: 100 Miles for Ana.

Please feel free to share this blog post and/or this GoFundMe link!


Pray for good weather, safe roads, and sufficiently padded bike shorts! I hope to post my results and photos here when the ride is over.

It’s good to be back. This one’s for you, Mom :).

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A Visit to San Marcos Abajo School

My favorite part of every Honduras trip with CapeCARES is our school visit.  We try to rotate schools every year so we are reaching a different group of students.  Last March, our team traveled to the Isletas School, but this year we stayed a little closer, heading off right after breakfast mid-week to visit the San Marcos Abajo (lower) School since we were staying in the upper (Arriba) region of the village.

Most of us decided to go on foot, running into some students who were also on the way to school.

Walking along the road also gave us a chance to get a closer look at some of the sights we might miss from a speeding truck:

A cashew plant growing over the road

I wonder if this was one of the little piggies I saw on our hike earlier in the week. He seems to know his way around!


A local man from San Marcos posed with his beautifully groomed horse.

As usual, there was pandemonium when we arrived at the school.  Don’t you remember the excitement of getting a visitor when you were in grade school?  The teachers assembled the students into lines (except for the older boys, who coolly decided to hang out in the back), welcomed us, and then organized a little performance for us:

I liked to dance along to the music, which made a lot of the kids giggle.  (I know they’re laughing at me.  It’s ok.  I have no shame). I also recognized a young boy whose tooth I had extracted the day before. When I asked in Spanish how he was feeling today, he gave me a shy smile and wave and answered that everything was good.

Next, it was time to provide quick lessons in oral hygiene.  I willingly handed over this job, which I have done for the past two years, to Josh, who gave excellent brushing instructions in his neon pink Kevin Bacon shirt :).  As he spoke, we distributed toothbrushes to each of the students.  Then Okie talked for a bit about handwashing, hydration, and nutrition.

Josh giving brushing lessons while Gabriel translates


Everyone have a toothbrush?


Okie speaking to the kids while Monica translates

Once our home care instructions were done, we split up into teams to apply fluoride varnish to the kids’ teeth.  This went quickly because we had so many volunteers from our group helping out.


Once the varnish applications were complete, we  said our goodbyes and continued down the road.  Team leader Randy thought it was important for all the team members to visit part of the local village to see how our patients live.  While we were visiting, the medical team made a few house calls to homes with elderly residents who couldn’t make it up the road to our temporary clinic.   One man who lived in a very basic lean-to comprised of narrow logs was in extremely dire condition:  the physicians determined that he was suffering from congestive heart failure and there was nothing that could be done to save him.  He died the next day.   


With our house calls complete, it was time to get back to clinic and start seeing patients again.  We crammed as many of us as possible into the bed of the truck to speed up the return trip to San Marcos Arriba.     

Something tells me that if this guy says you should brush, you listen to him!

On our way back up the road, we passed again by the school, and I saw something that made me cry out in excitement:  the little kids were brushing their teeth! Yay!!!

And so ended another San Marcos school visit. I hope that the children will take some of our messages to heart and that we can make a positive impact on their health and quality of life.

For more information on our CapeCARES group, please visit www.capecares.com.

Categories: CapeCARES, dental, honduras, san marcos, Uncategorized, volunteer | 2 Comments

Happy 100!

Hi everyone!

As I published my latest blog post, a little notification from WordPress popped up, informing me that this was my 100th post!  Wow:  that’s a lot of blogging!  Thank you to everyone who continues to read and comment on this site.  It has been such a pleasure to share my travel stories with you.  There is much more to come :).

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On the road again

Happy belated New Year, everyone!  The past month in Cleveland has been a restful one (perhaps more restful than I anticipated due to delays in getting my Ohio driver’s license!)  But at least I have had plenty of time to open my ten month’s worth of accumulated mail, find most of the important stuff (like winter clothes) that I had packed away and stored in my parents’ house after relocating, and resume my Spanish studies.

However, I can’t pass up an opportunity to squeeze in some more travel.  I’m using an upcoming dental conference in Boston as a chance to take some continuing education courses while catching up with friends the rest of the week.

And then I’m traveling coast-to-coast by train. 🙂

Starting in Boston, I’ll take Amtrak overnight to Chicago, where I’ll be visiting some friends and family.  From there, another overnight trip on the train will bring me to Denver to hang out with Megan, who studied Spanish with me in Guatemala.  A final overnight -the longest leg- will end just outside of San Francisco.  After a couple of days with friends there, I’ll take a relative shortcut and fly back to Cleveland.  Really making the most of my multiple frequent flyer accounts here!

I’m looking forward to settling back down and hopefully getting a job in Cleveland or Columbus.  But in the meantime, it will be fun to be able to say that I went around the world and coast-to-coast in the span of one year.

Updates to follow!  (And at some point, yes, I promise, I will get back to writing about Albania).

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Still alive in Laos

Hello everyone,

Just a friendly update from your favorite technologically-impaired travel blogger, whose recent online silence has sparked several concerned emails regarding her whereabouts and cardiac status.

Yes, I am alive, and currently in Vang Vieng, Laos.  Since leaving Chiang Mai, Thailand last Monday, I have officially entered The Rest of Southeast Asia, otherwise known as Slow Wifi Land.  Any attempts that I have made in the last week and a half to update my blog and upload photos have been met with imaginary derisive laughter from my iPad.  “Silly rabbit!  Pics are for kids!”  Not that I am complaining.  It just means that I am now about two months behind in my travel updates.  I have this funny feeling that many of my future posts will be completed in snowy post-Christmas Cleveland.

In the past three weeks, I have:

– bathed and fed a family of elephants

– gone whitewater rafting in northern Thailand

– taken a two-day slow boat along the Mekong River from Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos (*** TOP 5 EXPERIENCE OF 2014 ***)

– swam in waterfalls

– watched the daily early-morning procession of Buddhist monks who walk to collect their breakfast, donated by locals

– tubed along the Song river in Vang Vieng while simultaneously avoiding the persistent offers of free shots of Lao whisky from a dude wearing a My LIttle Pony tank top

– purchased and wore not one, but two pairs of baggy elephant-print pants.  Hey, when in Rome, right?  I may look like a hippie farang, but man, are these pants comfortable!


Upcoming plans are to head to Vientiane, the capital, this weekend, get my Myanmar visa, then take an overnight train to Bangkok next week.  From there, I will fly to Mandalay in Myanmar and spend the next 2-3 weeks exploring one of the least explored countries in Southeast Asia.  Can’t wait!

Photos and posts… well, they will happen when they happen.  Off to eat some pumpkin soup to remind myself in this humid, tropical weather that yes, it is October!

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Fall update


Contrary to what my lack of recent posts might suggest, I am not being held captive somewhere on the Dalmatian coastline.  The month of August was spent traveling through the Balkans, of which I set foot in every country except for Serbia, which was a bit too far north to work into my travel schedule.

On September 1, I began the Asia leg of my journey.  While China was a fascinating place to visit, the extremely hectic schedule of our tour and the unreliability of the internet there (I never realized just how much I use Google!) were not conducive to writing blog posts.  While in Shanghai and then Shenzhen, it was much more fun to hang out with old friends again than to update my website.  I battled a nasty cold for my first few days in Kowloon (Hong Kong) , then decided over the following days that Hong Kong has made the list of my Favorite. Cities. EVER.  Who wants to work on a website when you’re exploring the coolest place on Earth?

I’m currently in Macau for the weekend and will be heading to Thailand on Monday.  After almost two months of moving at what now feels like warp speed, I have no set plans.  The slower tempo will be good for settling back into somewhat of a normal routine, outlining an itinerary for the rest of the trip, and doing some major updating on the website.  In addition to writing about all of these lovely places and people I’ve just mentioned, I’d like to do some cleanup of the site to make it more organized.  I can’t believe that I have written over 75 posts so far!

OK, back to fantasizing about being in a 007 movie.  Macau was featured in the last James Bond flick, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t listen to Adele’s “Skyfall” on repeat for about 2/3 of the ferry ride here.

I never said I wasn’t a nerd ;).Macau casino

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I was disappointed to miss Trogir the last time I visited Croatia. Less than an hour by car from its much bigger neighbor Split, this tiny stari grad-on-an-island can often get bypassed. I was looking forward to my visit and had booked what looked like a great deal on TripAdvisor: a room with a private bath and kitchenette just over the bridge from the old town on the mainland. Three nights for a good price. Perfect.

[Side note: every time I entered “Trog-” in an online search, I would automatically want to complete the word with “-dor.” And then I would get the Trogdor song stuck in my head for the next hour. Which doesn’t even make sense: Trogir is a town in Croatia, while Trogdor is… the Burninator. No embedded YouTube link available at this time: you’ll have to look it up if it sounds intriguing to you. Thanks, Chinese internet censors!].

I could write a very long-winded and detailed rant about the accommodation disaster that followed, but I will try to sum up briefly. The apartment was NOT in the location shown on the map in the TripAdisor ad, but instead in a different town on a hill that cost $18 in a cab to reach from the old town. ($36 round trip just to see the actual town you came to visit is not a deal!) When I arrived and remarked to the owner that although the place was beautiful, it was not in the advertised location, she became incredibly defensive, nasty, and unwilling to have any type of discussion about it with me, concluding with the sentence, “If you don’t like it, fine. I will call the taxi back, and you can go find someplace else to stay.” So I did. I refuse to deal with someone who is so unprofessional. Minutes later, I was walking with my backpack back down a winding hill to the shore and finally found a water taxi that could take me more cheaply to the old town. Within 24 hours, I found that my full payment had gone through as scheduled, and I am still embroiled in a back-and-forth with TripAdvisor that I have a strong suspicion is going to get me absolutely nowhere. Updates to follow.

Back in the old town, I was furious but very nervous. I had just walked out of my place to stay for the night, and this was high season. I worried that there might not be any rooms left. I walked into a travel agency to ask to use their wifi; when I explained my situation, the staff there bent over backwards to help me. Between their contacts and my search on booking.com, I was able to find something in the middle of the old town for three nights. And it couldn’t have been a nicer place. The owner took me in, sat me down at her kitchen table, and fed me watermelon and sandwiches as she listened to the day’s events in disbelief. Then she showed me to my room:


Every cloud has a silver lining: my new room was perfect!

Once settled in, I was finally able to enjoy my stay in the town. I spent the mornings getting groceries at the market and writing on my iPad over coffee at the bar around the corner (which liked to play techno music at all hours, but who’s complaining?) In the afternoons, I would slather on the sunscreen and head over to the pebbled beach of Okrug Gornji, skipping the lounge chair fee in favor of spreading out my towel for free directly on the stones in a less crowded area. The only rain that I felt for the entire month of August in the Balkans fell in sporadic droplets from a sunny sky my second afternoon in Okrug Gornji; it was followed by a rainbow that made for some amazing photos.



Back in town, I climbed the rickety steps of the belltower of the cathedral of Sv. Lovro – not for the faint of heart, folks!- to get a fantastic panoramic view of the town and the surrounding coastline.





In the evenings, I would wander around the Old Town, checking out the ridiculously posh yachts that had docked along the banks for the night. There were street musicians (including a house band that played an almost unrecognizable cover of “Me and Bobby McGee in a thick Croatian accent. Janis Joplin was turning in her grave that night), street performers (a puppeteer whose puppet reminded me of Franklin from Arrested Development) and vendors selling everything from necklaces to roasted corn. The smell of the corn was so enticing that it actually persuaded me to ditch my restaurant plans and just continue wandering, corn dinner in hand, for the rest of the night.


IMG_4035.JPG A mini donut’s what? Call the grammar police!


Lodging fiasco aside, Trogir was a beautiful, albeit crowded, place to visit. When I calculated how long it would take to get to my next stop, Kotor in Montenegro, by bus, my total time did not sound like it would make for a very fun day. Why not break up the trip by making another stop on the way? Time to head to Dubrovnik.

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Into Dalmatia

On Friday morning, my mother and Majda dropped me off at the bus station. My plan was to spend the month of August inching my way down the Balkan Peninsula, heading back north and ending up in Bulgaria by the end of the month. My reasoning? Not only have I not visited most of these countries, but I needed to get out of the Schengen area. As a US citizen, I am only eligible to spend 90 out of every 180 days within the countries of the Schengen zone without getting a visa. I had entered France on May 9, which meant that I needed to be outta there by August 9. (Not sure what the consequences are for overstaying your welcome, but I wasn’t about to find out for myself!) While Slovenia is a Schengen country, Croatia is not, so I decided to head there first, making up an itinerary as I went along.

I had not originally planned to spend much time at all in Croatia, since I have visited several times before and really wanted to focus this month on seeing new places. (Also, Croatia seems to be The Place To Go now. Not to sound all “been there, done that,” but since my family is Slovenian, Croatia had often been a natural extension of many trips we took back there. I was first in Croatia in 1994. A typical reaction to mention of any Croatian travel plans back then went something like, “Oh! Wow. Where is that? Wasn’t that in the news lately?” Now when you mention a trip to southeastern Europe, you hear, “Make sure you go to Dubrovnik! Have you heard of Dubrovnik?” So I just think the whole thing is really funny). My plans to bypass Croatia pretty much went up in smoke, however, when I perused a map: it is a really broadcountry. Unless I wanted to fly -which I didn’t- Croatia would be a necessary stop on my way southeast. This Zakelj had to decide between going via Zagreb or Zadar. (So many Z’s! I feel so at home!) I opted then to stick to cities along the coast that I have never seen before. Zadar would be my first stop.

My bus from Ljubljana to Zadar went without any problems. Once over the border, we stopped at a rest area. Upon leaving the bus and walking toward the building, I noticed a mother pulling her young son’s shorts down and allowing him to urinate on the treelawn. Um, ma’am, there is a toilet facility 100 feet behind you. Am I missing something? I bought some peaches from an older woman with a fruit stand, ate my lunch, and reboarded the bus. Soon, we were passing fantastic peaks like this:


We arrived in Zadar, and I was picked up at the bus station by the owner of my rental apartment. She was incredibly sweet and offered me a glass of juice when we reached the place. Since there would be no other tenants that weekend, she allowed me to pick which bedroom I wanted. It was great: I had an entire place to myself! I took a short walk and bought some groceries. One thing I was looking forward to was cooking a bit for myself. Sometimes when I travel alone, I just crave a bowl of cereal for breakfast. That first evening, I was so tired that I ended up staying in: it was fun just to cook dinner and watch music videos in the apartment.


The next two days, I got to explore the town a bit (which included getting lost on my run while trying to find the bus station). Zadar does not have quite the same level of tourism as say, Split, so it was pleasantly busy without being too crowded with people. The Old Town’s major attractions -other than the city walls and the old town itself – are the Sea Organ and the Sun Salutation. The Sea Organ is built beneath the steps of the waterside promenade: as the waves wash under the steps, the movement of the water plays the organ and creates a calm, whistling melody. (No video right now as I am still having WordPress video issues. I apologize!) The accompanying Sun Salutation is a large circular set of photovoltaic cells embedded in the cement of the promenade. Using the solar energy harvested during the day, the cells turn on series of colored LED lights whose patterns are determined again by the underlying waves. The combination of the two makes for fun people-watching during the evenings.



Hrvatski Subota Night Fever

I really enjoyed Zadar. In addition to the sights of the laid-back Stari Grad (Old Town), they also had several free performances while I was there. I was on a walk in the evening when I heard folk music playing. I made my way through the crowd to see folk dancers and a Dalmatian band on a large outdoor stage. Back in the day, I used to do Slovenian folk dancing in Cleveland, so watching this made me really happy (and a tad wistful that I no longer dance!)



View from the apartment




I had a good experience booking my apartment in Zadar. Little did I know what a fiasco would occur when I arrived at my next destination, Trogir.

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This is the name of the bike-share system in Ljubljana. The name is clever because it’s a blurring of the English word “bicycle” and the first two letters in Ljubljana.

I also like it because it kinda looks like the letters of my name squished together :).


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My mother and I went with her cousin Anka and her two sons, Miha and Grega (whose name my iPad just tried to autocorrect into Gregarious. Funny!) on an izlet, or day trip, to Piran, a beautiful town on Slovenia’s relatively tiny stretch of coastline on the Adriatic. The weather was a vast departure from the dreary rain that Ljubljana had gotten for the previous several weeks, and we were rewarded (or not) to a hot, sunny day.

We started with a visit to Piranske soline, or Piran salt flats. Do you use sea salt in your cooking? This is the type of place where it is harvested.




After catching a shuttle into town, we took a break to get some lunch at a restaurant along the water.



The water was so gorgeous that I was seriously tempted to run into a shop and buy a swimsuit so I could jump in. With the cold weather that we had been getting in the capital, I hadn’t even considered the possibility of going swimming that day!




We explored the streets of the town and climbed up the hill for a panoramic view. Mom and Grega climbed up the bell tower of the church there while I, um, took a nap in the shade below :).




We did some shopping and recovered from the steep walk down with a mandatory coffee break in the square.

IMG_3870.JPGGrega, lookin’ sporty in a salt harvesting hat



After an additional stop for dessert in Portorož, a nearby coastal town (did I mention that we tend to eat a lot when we go on an izlet?) we headed back to Ljubljana.

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