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Ninja Havoc10:45 PM -- Wed April 27, 2005

I'm working really hard on the 1-button ninja game now. It's still not playable, but there's a level editor (and yes, you can make your own badguys!). I've also rendered out all the animations for the ninja himself, which are a surprising number considering the whole thing is controlled with just one button. Let's hope it turns out playable and fun!

Yesterday we had a little jam session trying to come up with a name for the game. What do you think? I was setting some rules:

1. The game name can not be the name of the main character, or any other character (i.e. "Dr. Lunatic"). I'm tired of doing that.
2. It also can't be a description of him ("Tubby Ninja" for example), because then people will just end up calling him that anyway, even though it's not his name.
3. I want the name to somehow reflect the fact that it's a 1-button game, but I don't know if I'll be able to do that.

Some general areas of naming we explored were Wacky Japanese Names like "Super Happy Go Go Ninja Time", Ninja Move Names like "Single Talon Eagle Claw" (note how that cleverly implies the one button play!) or "Lotus ...something", and Kung Fu Movie Names like ... well, I can't think of one now, but a real one is "Iron Monkey". Oh, we also thought about basic video game names like what I titled this journal entry.
I do kinda like Super Happy Go Go Ninja Time, and for that matter, Ninja Havoc isn't too bad. So, do you have any ideas? Don't forget to make it ridiculous! Maybe the right thing will come to mind once it's playable and I'm playing it.
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Contest Ahoy!10:54 PM -- Wed April 20, 2005

While participating in the LD48 contest, I learned of another contest! One of the themes that was in the final running for LD48 was "1 Button Games" (meaning games you control entirely with a single button, no joystick or anything), and I got really excited about that, and came up with a bunch of ideas that would work so well. That theme actually ended up coming in 2nd (3rd?), I believe, which is why we did Light & Darkness. But now it turns out that the guys at Retro Remakes are hosting a 1-button game development contest! How outrageously convenient! You get a wee bit more than 48 hours, as the final date is May 11th, and as a result, I've fleshed out my one favorite idea. I won't be using the whole timeframe (I sure hope), but a few days for sure. I believe that I can make this game good enough to sell alongside my other ones. Wouldn't that be something? A one-button game you'd pay money for? Obviously, that means more development to crank out cool levels and features to expand it beyond a super quickie. But it'll still all be 1 button. I know the idea is awesome enough to do it, it's all down to the execution now. I hope I can pull it off!

A cool thing is that the reason they are running the game is to get some games that can go up on oneswitch.org.uk, which is a site dedicated to "one-switch" games, for people who are disabled and can't operate a full-fledged game. What makes that extra funky is that it means even the game menus have to be operated with a single button. So the menus might be a little awkward. But it should be fun to play!

How can you resist the real ultimate power?!
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New CD Style09:59 PM -- Tue April 19, 2005

As promised a long while back, here's what the new CD cases look like. What do you think?

They're SKINNY! I really like them, though obviously they don't have the artistic value of the DVD cases. But they've got their own charm. And look how nicely my thumbnail is trimmed! I believe the new CD price will be about $5, plus shipping cost (somewhere around $1 in the US, maybe $1.60 for Canada and Mexico, more elsewhere). So it's going up from the former flat $5, by whatever actual shipping costs to your location happen to be.

I still have a hundred or so blank CDs and cases and all. What do you think about limited edition signed copies of the old style? Would anybody care?

PS - we're still on the old style. The new style is slowly dribbling into place.
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Game over06:12 PM -- Sun April 17, 2005

Okay, I'm all done with room to spare. There's now even really crappy background music! But it doesn't matter how much time I had, the music wasn't going to be good. So if you'd like to try out my 48 hour game Habitat For Horror, click right here! It's 2.4mb, and it's not bad I think. I can't quite tell if it's a good game or not, so you tell me. Now it's time to relax and enjoy the half day of weekend I have left. See you tomorrow, peopleses.

Whoa, uh oh, I forgot to put up the source code! I would've been disqualified!
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Pretty much done04:09 AM -- Sun April 17, 2005

Well, now there are 10 levels (some of which made me feel kind of clever, and others of which pummeled me fairly mercilessly... I think this may have actual challenge and gameplay... or maybe it's just pure luck), a level select menu, help screens, winning, losing, sound effects, and who knows what else. It's really finished. So I'm thinking about adding one of several alternative dangers. My wife just came up with a really cool one, though I don't know how on earth to do the artwork for it. Here's one of the exciting new levels in action:
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Gameplay!01:17 AM -- Sun April 17, 2005

You can win! And lose! And there are sounds! And lots of fancy particle effects. Here's the latest:

I gotta work hard, it turns out we have to go do something tomorrow at 1pm, and the contest doesn't end until 7pm, so I think those last 6 hours are completely out for me. But the game is totally there now, just need to make levels, instructions, wouldn't be too bad if I got to put in the aliens I was thinking about doing, and... well, some serious polishing would be nice too. Oh, and the main menu needs real help.
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Run!!!11:24 PM -- Sat April 16, 2005

Whoohoo, now we have evil muppets chasing around, wishing to eat the currently inedible humans, but showing a big "CHOMP!" image every time they move anyway (to test that effect), and there are sparks when you place a new fuse just for fun. Best of all, if you light up a room that a monster is in, he starts to smoke, and RUNS fast out of there. If all exits are blocked, after a couple seconds, he vaporizes in a puff of smoke. Nice! Once I make my little guy edible, the first level is effectively done! Oh, and also there is now a moon that gradually sets in the background to indicate how much time is left on the level.
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Movement!09:24 PM -- Sat April 16, 2005

Hey, I've now created the monsters that will hunt my people - they look suspiciously like muppets. I haven't put any in the game yet, though. But what I have done is gotten the person to move! He now scampers from room to room, as long as they are lit. It looks very odd when he goes vertically, and if I had more than 48 hours, I'd probably have him exit through the back of the room (fade out) and come back in the other room (fade in), but I don't, so he sort of levitates or something. It's supposed to be stairs. But when he goes SIDEWAYS, oh it's a laugh riot! It's not what I intended at all, but I daresay it's just perfect. So, back to work - once I get those muppets in there, there will actually be a sort of a game!
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Interference07:47 PM -- Sat April 16, 2005

Still going, but got sidetracked by business concerns - had to print and mail some CDs! See how getting that off my back will be good? I'll win more contests. Also ordered a pizza I will be picking up very soon.

Progress is that now there is a little guy who is looking very scared (spent way too long creating him), and when you turn the lights out in his room, he's all black except his eyes, because everybody knows that eyes glow white in the darkness. Now I need a zombie/zombie pelican/sewer monster/ghost of some kind to threaten him, but I don't even know what I want to make.
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The Next Morning...05:08 PM -- Sat April 16, 2005

I got up this morning, got my raisin bran, and got to it. It's going great! Now there is a 'working' title screen (click to play, ESC to exit) and 'gameplay' (you can click and drag the fuses around to light the different rooms, level setups are defined in a file, and you can press ESC to go back to the menu)! Here's a screenshot combining those two things (you would not normally see them both together):

That layout is intended to be the first level. Super duper simple, one guy will be in there, all you have to do is get the fuse onto his room so he's in the light, then kick back and wait for the sun to come up in a few seconds.
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First Screen up!04:34 AM -- Sat April 16, 2005

Hey, I drew a bunch of stuff for the game, and implemented enough to make it randomly lay them out and display them. Here is the current state of the game:

(Shrunken down 50%, by the way, it's not really that small or blurry)
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LD48 #6 Begins03:06 AM -- Sat April 16, 2005

Well, the theme for the 48-hour contest was just announced! "Light & Darkness"... The one of the 5 themes that I didn't have an idea for (well, of the 3 not-garbage themes). So I brainstormed by butt completely off, and now I have no butt and an idea which is currently called Spooky Skyscraper, which I have change since that's just a venue change from Spooky Castle.

Here are the idea notes I wrote down for it:

You see the skyscraper with windows, 8x6. You have a fusebox with only 7 fuses. Rooms with the fuses are lit, others are dark. Monsters come up frmo the basement. People are in the rooms and can walk from room to room, but will only move about when it's light. When dark, they stand and shiver. Monsters only move in the dark. If they come across a person, they eat him. If you turn the lights on on a monster, he zips to a neighboring room. If all neighboring rooms are lit, he is fried by the light. More monsters come up all the time, play until you lose too many people. Maybe each level has N monsters and N people, and you have to avoid losing N people. Either kill all the monsters or hold out until morning.

So that's it... I don't know if it'll be remotely decent, but it's at least what I'm starting on. So far I have an entire black screen fully implemented! Darkness: check. More notes as appropriate.
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Back To Life, Back To Reality10:58 PM -- Thu April 14, 2005

Well now that I have no La Paz journals to fall back on, I guess I have to tell you what's going on here at Hamumu or something! First note: I was going to post a picture of the sample CD I got in the new format, but I think the camera got taken to school today, so that'll have to wait until tomorrow.

Anyway, on that note, I think I've got the new shop system set up, which is a good thing, since I have to have it up by tomorrow, when the previous merchant account is gonna pull the rug out from under me. But I don't have the new CDs ready yet, so I'm still making the CDs as before and shipping them myself. So let this be warning for two things:

1 - If you want to order more than one game from us, order them TODAY because tomorrow, the 20% discount on multi-game orders will be gone. I'm sorry about that, I would definitely like to keep it (not because I'm nice or anything - that discount got me lots of multi-item orders! It was a win-win), but it's not available under the new system.

2 - If you want the fancy DVD cases, order within the next week at the latest! I'm still doing those CDs, but I'm working to get the new ones going ASAP, so time is running out. The new ones will not be nearly as good - they're just a CD in a case, no manual or cover. But they're kinda cool in an entirely different way, which is why I wish I could've shared a picture. Still, they're not as nice as what we have now, so grab em quick.

Hey, you know what else? There's a 48-hour game development contest this weekend! Huzzah! Conveniently overlapping it is a board game design mini-contest, but I don't put much effort into those, they're just fun to try to come up with something basic for.

Last note: You know the Merging Traffic world that came out yesterday? That wasn't an official Hamumu event, but I'm planning to start the Monthly Merge in May. Monthly Merge will be a contest that runs every month, except months that contain one of the big worlds (Summer Silliness in June, Halloween Horror in October, and Winter Wackiness in December). The contest will be to design one level fitting the theme. The way the contest is judged will be different every month (feel free to suggest ideas), and may sometimes be for the world-builders to win (best level by popular vote or something), other times for other people to win (kind of like the Merging Traffic contest, or other wacky ideas I have). There will be prizes ranging from totally lame to pretty lame. Each month, the contest will be announced right at the beginning, and scheduled in such a way that the world for it will be released before the beginning of the next month.

Just what I need to do... putting more work on my plate! I'm a self-employed slavedriver. But these contests and things are fun. By the way, I don't promise that this contest will actually continue after the first time, because I am well known to be lazy.
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La Paz: The Great10:42 PM -- Wed April 13, 2005

The Great
Don't read this if you're the type who doesn't want to look at peoples' vacation slides (i.e. normal) - it's not anything interesting
I'm just sharing it because this was my first time ever outside the U.S.! It was all news to me.

It was all great! What a wonderful trip. It felt good to spend hours every day walking, the sun was nice, the area was beautiful, I didn't worry about my business, the food was great, the snacks and desserts were even better, the beach was the nicest I've ever been to (well, Kauai wasn't terrible either...), the people were very nice and forgiving of our difficulties, the hotel was really nice, the people we got to visit with were great, the feeling of getting smarter every day (learning the language!) was very pleasant, it was good to experience something outside my normal life, and lastly and mostly, my traveling partner was wonderful to have around. End of story, back to normal, shortish, possibly interesting, journal updates from here on.

What are your best vacation experiences?
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La Paz: The Differences11:20 PM -- Tue April 12, 2005

The Differences
Don't read this if you're the type who doesn't want to look at peoples' vacation slides (i.e. normal) - it's not anything interesting
I'm just sharing it because this was my first time ever outside the U.S.! It was all news to me.

Mexico is not the same as the US. It's different. Because of this, there are differences. A lot of them can all fit together under my one big umbrella theory that I formulated while wandering lost in Pichilingue:

America is the kiddie pool. In America, there are signs that warn you of every conceivable danger, no matter how ludicrous. Further, there are tons of laws to force you to be safe, like seatbelt and helmet laws, and more subtle things like the requirement of nutrition information labeling, anti-smoking laws, 25 different kinds of insurance, and so on. You can't get hurt in America, there are orange cones everywhere! Everything is redundantly safety guarded over and over, though not so much to keep you safe, as to make it so that you'll lose when you sue them, since you can't say they didn't warn you.

It's different in Mexico. Walk down the street, and somebody will be smashing down the front of a building with a sledgehammer (because they're renovating, not because they're extremely aggressive vandals), with nary an orange cone or hardhat in sight. You just have to have the common sense to give it a wide berth as you go by. Lots of bits of the sidewalk are being worked on, and you just have to watch your step! We tripped in more than a few places. There was even a manhole in one place with a flimsy board over it and a brick holding the board down. There are also gigantic steps up or down out of the blue, like 2 foot curbs for no apparent reason. But there's more to it than watching your step. For example, we ended up getting off at the wrong stop on the bus because the general attitude in Mexico (or at least La Paz, only place I've been!) appears to be that you know what you're doing. If you ask for some kind of help, you can get it, but if you don't ask, they're not going to plaster everything with signs, or even call out the names of the stops the bus goes by. They just assume you are competent.

It's scary to be in that environment - I'm used to being overwhelmed with assistance! But it's also awfully refreshing. I mean, think of the pluses: natural selection is a big one. The cost savings is big too (well, assuming you can't sue for a million dollars if you slip on a wet floor...). And just psychologically, it feels good to be trusted to be able to navigate a street without someone holding your hand. Doesn't feel as good when you're laying at the bottom of a manhole, but I'd like to think their assumption of competence is correct. And we didn't fall in any manholes, so maybe it was. Our bus fiasco was absolutely harmless, it was just painful to the ego and nervous system. A learning experience.

What else is different? I've read a bunch of differences, but I think I should only discuss those that I actually encountered and can vouch for (though, have a grain of salt with them - they could've been unique experiences, or local to the area, or my own total confusion). How about some quick notes:
  • The people there speak Spanish.

  • I never read this in any guidebook, which is odd because it was absolutely pervasive, so take heed if you are ever going to Mexico: you must ask them for your check when you are done eating! For the first few days, we spent a lot of time very frustrated and bored in restaurants, assuming the service was bad, until we realized that they just don't bring the check until you ask! Maybe it's another assumption of competence - they trust you to know when you're ready to leave. Once we figured it out, dining became much more logical. La cuenta, por favor!

  • You non-Californians think you're so clever referring to a rolling stop as a "California roll", but you know what? You should be calling it a Baja California roll, because those guys really know how it's done!

  • I mentioned this in the snacks: lots of Mexican treats come fortified with vitamins. That's a really good concept... if your kids are going to be munching on unnatural preservatives and refined sugar, throw in some unnatural vitamins to counter it!

  • The speed limits (going against my kiddie pool theory) are ridiculously low!

  • There were a ton of half-built buildings in La Paz, making it look run down in a lot of areas (and unlike in the US, there wasn't "the really nice area" in one place and the "really bad area" somewhere else - the 'ruins' were sometimes right between two beautifully maintained buildings!), but that's misleading. The people we visited explained that until very recently, the locals weren't able to get loans (and most make very little money), so these buildings are actually under construction. They'd scrape together a little money to buy the lot and get started, then run out, and go back to work for a year or two to save up some more. Then build a little more with the savings, run out again, and go back to work. It could take years and years for a building to get finished. This whole thing creates a strange dichotomy - besides the stuff under construction, there are finished buildings that are in disrepair or just patched, since that too is expensive. But even though it's damaged, there's always somebody out there sweeping or doing touch-up paint or just generally taking care of it. So the buildings are cared for nicely, there's just no money to fix the real damage, or in other cases to build them in the first place!

  • They get their arcade games from Japan! They were all Japanese versions, and some cool stuff you don't see a lot of in the states, like drumming games.

  • Tips aren't very much expected (cabs don't expect them at all, and you should've seen the face of the guy we gave one too!), so I hope our tipping was appreciated!
I can't really think of anything else that stood out much. The main thing is that people are people, everywhere you go. The culture's different, but since everybody is so different anyway, even within one culture, personality differences seem to be a bigger differentiator than any culture could ever be. And in general, most people are just nice (well, to strangers). I have just as much trouble figuring out Mexicans as I do Americans. You are all weirdos.
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La Paz: The Weather04:28 AM -- Tue April 12, 2005

The Weather
Don't read this if you're the type who doesn't want to look at peoples' vacation slides (i.e. normal) - it's not anything interesting
I'm just sharing it because this was my first time ever outside the U.S.! It was all news to me.

Okay, this one is just filler. And several days late. It's always 80-85 in La Paz. Always. No really, the people we met who live there, they had taken measurements for the past few years, and they printed out a chart for us! In the summer, every day is almost exactly 100 (that's the good California kind of 100, not the gross back east kind), every night is almost exactly 60. In the winter, it's always ... oh, I forgot this one and don't know where the paper went. I think 75-80, and 50-55 at night. The spring, in which we encountered it, was 80-85 with maybe 60 at night.

So yeah, it's just perfect. They get something like 2-3 inches of rain a year. The whole time we were there, the sky was completely solid blue, all up until the last day of our trip. That night, it got nifty clouds to give us a final extra special sunset:

Previously we had to suffer through junk like this:

So it was a rough trip.
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La Paz: The Adventures01:37 AM -- Sat April 9, 2005

The Adventures
Don't read this if you're the type who doesn't want to look at peoples' vacation slides (i.e. normal) - it's not anything interesting
I'm just sharing it because this was my first time ever outside the U.S.! It was all news to me.

We are not very exciting people, so here are the adventures we undertook in La Paz:

  • Walking The Malecon - The Malecon is the boardwalk. We walked probably 5 miles a day back and forth on that thing. It was very nice! Most of the restaurants we visited were along here.

  • Snorkeling - Nope, not really! We tried, but there was a minimum of 4 people, and nobody else showed up, so they would've taken us out... if we paid double price.

  • Bus Ride - It's an adventure when they don't call out the stops and just assume you know which one is which! We got off at the wrong stop and ended up wandering lost a while, but it all worked out.

  • Dining - We dined to our stomachs' content.

  • Shopping - We shopped at turista shops, and also went to the mall to shop at Soriana's, which is pretty much a Super Walmart. We bought a book of 365 kid's stories (very short ones, obviously), to practice spanish at something more on our level. Sol has read 2 whole stories!

  • El Museo Antropologico - Made that spelling up. There's an anthropological museum in La Paz (with a lack of signage outside, I might add), which we visited. Saw some funky aztec relics and stuff. Including human bones that had been painted red and smooshed together into a small pile. I suppose that's a little creepy. Went along well with all the sacrificial daggers and whatnot.

  • Visiting Folks - Before we went, we found out that the aunt & uncle of the husband of a coworker of Sol's (got it?) live in La Paz. So we got to go visit them. They made us a great lunch and showed us around their palatial estate, which was downright awesome. Because La Paz has perfect weather 374 days a year, they actually built their house as 3 separate tiny buildings (a guest room, a kitchen+living room, and a bedroom+office+bathroom), with breezeways connecting them all and a pool in the middle. It's really something, considering the actual interior floor space is smaller than our tiny crackerbox of a house.

  • Renting A Car - We didn't rent a car for our trip, and that worked out great, since everything is walkable and you can bus it to the beaches, but to get out to the house we visited, we needed one. So for that one day, we rented a car. Due to the specific vagaries of my educational history (I can't drive a stick), Sol had to do the driving. It was kind of stressful, driving in a foreign country, in an unknown car, using a measuring system you're not familiar with (kilometros everywhere!). People are rather lax about driving regulations in La Paz, but luckily there's not a lot of traffic, so it's not that bad. Some blind intersections were an adventure though. All in all, we made it out unscathed!

  • Beach Bummin' - We sat upon two different beaches absorbing photons and using their energy to generate vitamin D. The water there is amazing... crystal clear, and such a shallow progression that you can go out 50 yards before it's up to your neck.
That's it, the sum total of our adventures. No kayaking, though our hotel offered them free. No snorkeling, though we made a token effort. No visit to the aquarium or serpentarium (they have one! We kept saying "serpen'arium", which is a joke nobody will get), though we tried to go to the aquarium the day we rented the car (it was closed - I think it's actually not finished yet), and the serpentarium as well, but weren't able to find the right road. No kitesurfing, though that was offered. No waverunning, though that too was available. We just like to take it easy. We're boring.
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La Paz: The Snacks04:10 PM -- Fri April 8, 2005

The Snacks
Don't read this if you're the type who doesn't want to look at peoples' vacation slides (i.e. normal) - it's not anything interesting
I'm just sharing it because this was my first time ever outside the U.S.! It was all news to me.

Ah, this is the whole point of this entire journaling thing! You see, I have a thing for snacks/candy of other countries. So I made a point to keep buying little snacks all over the place and try them, so I could journal their worth. I believe every country has great surprises to offer us in terms of snack ideas, and so far my belief has been thoroughly validated.

One note though: a very large amount of the candy in Mexico has chili powder all over it. I regret to say I never tried any such candy. My stomach cannot handle really spicy stuff, and I was afeared. But even if you don't live in Mexico, you can find that stuff in almost any US supermarket (well, at least here in California), so give it a try! Here we go:
  • Dalmate - One popular trend in Mexican snacks is to fortify them with vitamins and minerals. Probably a good plan - if your kids are going to be eating candy anyway, make them get something out of it. This particular fortified bar is like a twinkie, but with white frosting completely covering it, and chocolate spots scattered all over. Dalmate is spanish for dalmation! Inside though, the cake is chocolate, and the goo is yet more chocolate. I enjoyed it quite a bit, though it's rather rich.

  • Cuernitos Rellenos De Vainilla - I'm just calling them that because I don't remember the name. They're little tiny croissants that are injected with pudding-like goo. I got vanilla, but chocolate was also available. These things amaze me. When I say croissants, I really mean it - flaky and all! Can you imagine little tiny real croissants in like a doritos bag? They were very good too.

  • Krankys - Chocolate-covered corn flakes. I got them in the grocery store in one of those bulk candy fill-your-own places. Got a few good things there! I would really love Krankys if it weren't the kind of low-quality chocolate that his a hint of raisin flavor to it. I bet you have no idea what I mean by that, but it's just something I notice in low-quality chocolate. I'm a connoiseur. Even so, they were quite good. Maybe I'll make my own someday with good chocolate.

  • Barquillas Con Chocolate - I think that was the name. Barquillas means "logs" in spanish, and they were just that. A cookie the same size and shape as a cinnamon stick (but made of something akin to those wafer cookies), covered in a thick layer of chocolate embedded with chocolate sprinkles. These were among my absolute favorites! I also got these in the bulk candy aisle.

  • fjhflkhdf Mandarin? - These hardly count, and I obviously don't recall the name, but they're little tiny orbs of candy, mandarin orange flavor. They're a lot like orange-flavored Cherry Clan (if you don't know what that is, it's kind of like cherry flavored Lemonheads... in fact, they now call them Cherryheads... and if you don't know what Lemonheads are, you need candy help!). They're pretty good, but do not excite and amaze.

  • Manzanita Sol - This is actually a soft drink. I like to try all methods of snacking. It's apple flavored, not carbonated, but yet it has sort of a fizzy taste anyway. It's rather good.

  • Horchata - This is a Mexican classic. You can get it a lot of places in the US (like Mexican restaurants for example). It's a drink made with milk and rice flour, with some cinnamon going on. It's really good. It's rather light and watery, rather than heavy and thick like you'd expect something milk oriented to be.

  • Fresas Con Crema - A Sol favorite. You get it in an ice cream shop. It's just a cup filled with cut strawberries, then cream is poured over them (not whipped cream, but whipping cream - liquidy!), and they squeeze a little sweetened condensed milk on top. It's very very good. You can make your own even! We did when we got home, but someone decided to get half & half to cut the calorie content, because someone doesn't appreciate the fine art of snacking. Never go diet!

  • Churros - Everybody knows churros. Boy, I love churros. I have yet to pass a churro stand without obtaining some, except for that whole Churro Lady fiasco (and I still put up with her antics twice for that crispy, chewy, cinnamon goodness). And in Mexico, it will shock you to learn, they're actually less than 1/10 the price they are at Disneyland! Can you imagine? Could Disneyland be overcharging for something?! Oh, incidentally, the first churros I got from the churro lady were Churros Rellenos, which were relleno (filled) with some kind of caramel goop. It was good, but not as good as sencillo (simple).

  • Emperador - Exactly like oreos, only square. I wouldn't have bought them, since they are obviously oreos, but at the snack stand I went to there was a big box of different "paketines" (little boxes of cookies), each a different color, but with their labels obscured. So I had to ask the guy what each one was in turn. When the first one turned out to be white chocolate (blech) with nuts, I had no problem sending it back to try the next, but when the second was oreos, I didn't have the chutzpah to ask him to take that back and try another. I don't mind, I like oreos, it's just not an amazing Mexican adventure. Also, at the La Paz airport right before we left, I grabbed another box of these, in vanilla flavor. For you see, all Gamesa snack products (Dalmate and Emperador, in my case) offer little holographic alien cards inside. Collect all 30! I collected 3.

  • Patas De Pollo - That means "chicken feet", and that's what they are. No, don't freak out, they're gummies. They're good, they have a lot of flavor. I have no idea why they decided to make them chicken foot shaped.

  • Pepitoria De Cacahaute - You can get these in health food stores in the US. It's a little bar made entirely of nuts (peanuts here, cacahuate), all glued together with honey and such. It's pretty good, if a bit intense.

  • Dulce De Cacahuate - I'm gonna have to call not-so-good on this one. It's a little coin of stuff in plastic. The coin is made of ground up peanuts, and apparently 3 truckloads of sugar. It crumbles into dust when you try to eat it (partly because it rumbled around in a suitcase for a few days before consumption), and I swear it just tastes like you're eating frosting.

  • Paleta De Pin~a - I can't figure out how to put a tilde on the N, sorry. Paleta means popsicle. Pin~a means pineapple. But the popsicles in La Paz aren't your ordinary ones. They're filled with tons of fruit chunks. The pineapple one we had was basically just chunks of pineapple frozen together with some sugar water! It's extremely good.

  • Agua De Limon - One of the types of things you can order at an ice cream shop is called an Agua Fresca, but it's not just a fresh water. It's a watery drink, something like lemonade for example. Horchata is an agua fresca, and agua de limon is a lime one (limeade pretty much). It's pretty good. I kept trying to get an agua de pin~a (I'm all about the pin~a), but every store was always out of it.

  • Licuado - We had licuado de fresa (strawberry). They say licuados are milkshakes, but they're a little different. They're not very cold, because they make it right in front of you, and the ingredients are: fresh strawberries, cream (from the fridge, the only cool part of it), and a touch of honey. There may have been something else in there I didn't notice, but there was no ice or ice cream, so it was just slightly cool rather than brain-freeze. It's very good.

  • Sponch! - An interesting concept. Imagine smores made with peeps instead of marshmallows (both pink and white peeps for variety), and coconut bits instead of chocolate. Oh, and throw in some strawberry goo between the peeps, since coconut isn't much of a chocolate substitute. Actually it was not as gross as I expected. But it wasn't good, and it's just not right to eat peeps. Ever.

  • Pin~ada - Sol ordered this several times. It's basically a virgin pin~a colada. It's quite good.
And there you have it. Snacking our way through Mexico, one city at a time. Stay tuned later today, since this was late, for the next exciting episode.
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La Paz: The Dining04:52 AM -- Thu April 7, 2005

The Dining
Don't read this if you're the type who doesn't want to look at peoples' vacation slides (i.e. normal) - it's not anything interesting
I'm just sharing it because this was my first time ever outside the U.S.! It was all news to me.

So, the most important thing I do on vacation, and the one I spend the most time thinking about and doing, is eating! Mmm, food!! So here's my restaurant review of La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico (please pretend you see accent marks on the letters that should have them - inserting them would be a serious pain):
  • Isadora's - The only place we ate at more than once, outside of our hotel. This is a slightly hidden little place, a half-block in from the boardwalk. We mostly went to places on the boardwalk. We ate breakfast here twice, ordering the exact same thing (omelet for me, quesadillas for the lady), and it was just really nice. Nobody there spoke any english, and they were really patient and friendly, and tried to help us, but I don't think they were real familiar with dealing with english speakers - they just ripped along with rapid-fire spanish, and big words, and I tried to keep up! On our second visit, she actually gave us a Cliente Frecuente card for 10% off our next visit. We wanted to come back for it, but it was closed the one chance we had after that. It was too bad, we wanted to try their dinners. Felt welcome there! And it was real cheap too.

  • Hotel Mediterrane Cafe - This was the little cafe in our hotel (Check it out). We had breakfast there twice, and it was good. Our hotel was the least Mexican place in the whole city - for breakfast I had a croissant with scrambled eggs in it! It's run by a Swiss guy and a Mexican, so logically, it's a Greek-themed hotel. Nothing fabulous, just a little, kinda overpriced cafe (just what you expect at a hotel!). But I have to say I really enjoyed what I got when I ordered "Cereal". It was in fact a bowl of some good cereal (Total maybe? Something like that, I liked it), but covered with a huge heap of various fruits, and the milk was on the side along with a little bowl of plain yogurt. So I was dipping spoonfuls of fruit+cereal into yogurt before I actually got down to normal cereal. Yum!

  • La Pazta - This is the restaurant attached to our hotel. It also is the least Mexican restaurant we visited. It's good. And very very expensive. We also ate here twice (oh yeah, and then came back even once more for a snack, just so Sol could get the Pomodoro salad again, which she was absolutely crazy for). It's pretty much a pasta place, with a variety of weirdly international stuff going on. Very nice place, but expensive.

  • La Fabula - A pizza place! We got two personal pizzas, happened to show up on 2 for 1 day, which was nice. The waitress here was really nice, one of the few who really joked around with us a little (but spoke no english). It was okay. Definitely better than the pizza I got in the LAX airport before our trip! We also got fries (wanted nachos, but they were out), and the ketchup they gave us was funky... it was much sweeter and paler than normal ketchup. I'd say it was actually more like sweet & sour sauce.

  • La Concha - A restaurant on Tecolote beach. Nothing special. Actually, we later ate at another restaurant on Tecolote as well, which was also nothing special (except for creepily awesome service at the latter place, which I cannot recall the name of). Neither was bad though.

  • La Terraza - We breakfasted here, and it was good... I got to have pancakes, and Sol had an "omelet azteca", which was an omelet with chilaquiles in it (kinda like tortilla chips, with some tomato salsa goo). But it was definitely for the turistas - it was in another hotel, and everybody spoke too darn much english.

  • Cafe El Callejon - Basically a sports bar, with a large open-air component. We liked it a lot, and both tried things we had never heard of (the waiter was really cool and explained what huaraches are without a word of english). I had enfrijoladas, which it turns out are enchiladas, but where the 'chila' part of enchilada means some sort of chili-based sauce, the 'frijola' part of enfrijolada means beans. So instead of red sauce, it was covered with beans. Really good, though I think I'd rather just have enchiladas. Sol got huaraches, which is sort of like a really thick corn tortilla, with stuff heaped on top. Stuff in this case included her (and my) first ever taste of nopalitos - cactus bits. She liked them! A good place.

  • Mall Food Court - Hey, when in la Paz, you do as the locals do... hang out at the mall! No, we only went to the mall once and got some great stuff to eat in our room (including donuts! Yay!). But we did get to experience what the food court is like in another country. Pretty similar, just more mexican food. I had the world's tiniest gordita (more like a delgadita!), but to be fair it was only 7 pesos, so it was kind of a matter of me not being well informed. You're supposed to order multiples, I think, kind of like White Castle. Sol had a tostada. It was fun. I really enjoyed the grocery shopping part the most. There was also an arcade which we sadly didn't play at. Consisted mostly of Japanese versions of games.

  • El Dragon De Oro - You can't go to Mexico without trying the chinese food, right? Actually, it was surprisingly good. We just had chow mein to share.

  • La Divina Uva - This was the outrageously expensive super hot super tourist night spot (greek restaurant actually) that some guy accosted us to go visit while he was standing in front of a completely different restaurant. He gave us a paper that would've gotten us a free margarita. But we ended up actually going for breakfast for no particular reason and discovered that it's rather reasonably priced at breakfast time. I got french toast! YUM! It was actually really nifty and unique french toast, very artistic. This was the site of our only vegetarian accident - even though we had previously looked up molletes to discover they had no meat, at La Divina Uva, they are covered with hot dog bits. Seriously, hot dog bits. Upscale indeed. So she had to peel those off, but she got to try another thing she'd never tried, molletes. They are a bolillo roll cut open, with frijoles and cheese on it. Pretty basic concept (apparently so basic that they felt the need to throw hot dogs on). In addition to this stuff, we shared a big old plate of assorted fruits, which was just awesome. There was lots of fruit involved in a lot of meals, and it was always good. One more fun note on this restaurant - when they ask you if you want to sit inside or out, don't make the mistake we did. A restaurant that's built right on a low pier down by the water... you want to sit inside. The view isn't as spectacular, but your table won't be utterly covered with tiny ocean-flies. Oh, it was so disgusting. I did love the food, though!

  • El Oasis - On our last night, we ate here, after having ignored the calls of the guys trying to pull us into it as we walked by every single night previously (in fact, the Divina Uva guy was standing in front of this very place). What did get us in? Live music. It drew Sol like a magnet. Let that be a lesson to aspiring restaurateurs - live music brings the people in. It was a great finish to our trip. We had the music going, a really friendly waiter who I discussed yesterday, a really good meal, and I got to enjoy that whole Tacos De Queso fun and feel like I was really communicating.
The dining irony of our trip? El Quinto Sol, the only vegetarian restaurant in the whole city, the only restaurant I was sure we had to go to since before we even got there, was the one that we never found a chance to get to. We kept trying though! We were going for sure on our last night, only to discover it's not open Sunday nights. Guess we have to go back to La Paz. Besides, we still have our Cliente Frecuente card from Isadora's!
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La Paz: The Bad03:45 AM -- Wed April 6, 2005

(Got lots done today, but didn't finish readying the add-ons, keep waiting! I think I have 5, maybe 6)

The Bad
Don't read this if you're the type who doesn't want to look at peoples' vacation slides (i.e. normal) - it's not anything interesting
I'm just sharing it because this was my first time ever outside the U.S.! It was all news to me.

Here's all the bad stuff that happened on my trip to La Paz. The obvious one when you go to Mexico is... well, you know. Don't drink the water! Well, I only had a very brief issue of that sort on one day, and all I have to say about it is that if that's Montezuma's Revenge, Montezuma is a wuss. Didn't even dent our plans, and there was none of that "rushing off to the bathroom" business at all. Speaking of not drinking the water, that's a generally bad thing - brushing your teeth with bottled water, worrying about what's ending up in your mouth when you shower (what, you don't just stand under the faucet with your mouth open?) or wash your face... just kind of annoying to have such a basic routine part of your life requiring special steps.

I don't know if this qualifies as bad, but there was a language barrier for sure! La Paz is a tourist town, but most of the tourists are Mexican. So we actually didn't encounter a lot of English speakers. Our hotel people were hardcore about English - we even ordered our breakfast there entirely in Spanish, but they just kept replying in English. Gave us both practice, I suppose. And we met a snorkel guide who spoke perfect English (and claimed to speak Italian too). Outside of that, maybe one waiter we had spoke a lot of English. Everybody else was either speaking Spanish only, or at least worse at English than I am at Spanish, which is saying a lot (not that they should speak English, I'm just explaining how it was!). Anyway, I don't call that bad. First of all, our whole goal was to speak Spanish as much as possible. Secondly, we learned so much. There's no question that by the end of the trip, I was significantly more capable (in more ways than just language) than I was when we started. So the language barrier was both expected and appreciated, but it was indeed a challenge to be overcome.

Legitimately bad: My theory on this will be covered in detail another day, but in short, the first time we tried riding the bus to the beach, we got off at the wrong stop and ended up having to walk around a semi-industrial area (with semis, no less!), lost, for quite a while. That was really unpleasant, and truly the low point of the whole trip. Very dumb of us to have turned down the taxis that drove by us asking if we wanted a ride! It turned out to only be an emotional low point though. Once we finished panicking, we just walked the quarter mile to the beach that we could clearly see from where we were (a little scary since it was along a shoulder-less cliffside road...), and hung out for a little while! There was another disappointment there, in that the only restaurant on that beach was not open yet, and we had skipped breakfast. We had to eat our snack-pack cheese & crackers to survive the horror. Then we walked back to where the bus had dropped us, grabbed a cab, and rode to the way way nicer beach (Tecolote, highly recommended), for a very much improved ending, along with real lunch.

So, what else was bad... I got some mosquito bites. It's very easy for me to count how many I got, since on me, a mosquito bite swells into a huge red welt. I got 4. Being a mosquito magnet, I'm rather impressed with that result, considering the super tropical place we were. I also got a mysterious rash type thing on the backs of my hands that disturbed me. Happened real early in the trip, and kind of gradually went away from there. It may have been some kind of sun reaction (but just on my hands?), because as Sol was fond of saying "the sun is hotter down here", and boy nelly, was it. Just little red dots. Gone now, so I guess everything is good! Oh hey, and on the sun/medical angle, Sol got seriously sunburned feet, but we are otherwise just browner than usual (usual for me=as brown as a snowflake that's been washed with bleach).

Also bad, but not so much for us specifically: we saw a guy running down the street with a purse clutched under his arm. I don't think he was just a slightly effeminate jogger.

Along the same criminal lines, we did in fact get "ripped off" at one place! Well, I mean besides the exorbitant prices which we paid at a lot of places (I told you, it's a tourist town!). We went to pay for some t-shirts we bought (we're tourists, get over it), and the cashier swapped some money around between his wallet and the register before giving us change. I thought that was weird, but he gave us the amount of money we were owed, so no big deal. We got to the next shop and tried to buy something to discover that he had given us a slightly ripped 200 peso bill - it was intact, but one corner was ripped off. Doesn't seem like a big deal, but apparently, shops don't take ripped money as the lady there emphatically explained over and over. She said all we had to do was take it to the bank to trade in for a clean bill. So in the end, this guy stole from us... but all he stole was convenience. He didn't want to have to go change it himself (heaven knows a shopkeeper never has cause to go the bank, right?), or maybe he just wanted some payback against the loud obnoxious tourist types that always bug him. Well, he messed with the wrong people this time, buddy!! No seriously, he did, because we're really quiet, friendly, and make every effort to be helpful and kind and speak the language. We don't even drink. These are not the Ugly Americans you're looking for. Of course, on the other hand, we pawned it off by using it to pay the bill at a restaurant later, so looks like we're just as rude as he is. Maybe we deserved the abuse after all?

Oh, man, how could I forget? The real bad was driving in LA traffic to get to and from the airport! That was the worst part by far.

Oh, and the Churro Lady. I really didn't like her one bit. Okay, she never did anything bad to me... and she was efficient and helpful... but does she have to be so surly?? I actually skipped getting a churro once to avoid dealing with her! Let me repeat that slowly: *I* skipped a CHURRO opportunity! A cheap one, no less.

Okay, one more obvious bad thing - we're vegetarians. It was really tricky finding stuff we could eat. There was something for us at every restaurant, but you can only eat so many quesadillas before you go on a cheesy tortilla tossing rampage and get deported. I only tried one time to get something custom ordered ("Tacos con pollo... pero sin pollo por favor?"), and while it was an amusing challenge that resulted in a lot of laughter on both sides, it worked out really well, for probably the best dish I had on the trip. The notion of tacos without any meat in them completely threw the guy for a loop. He ended up deciding I needed Tacos Con Queso. Which technically is a quesadilla, sadly enough. But there was so much side stuff to put with it - rice, beans, salsa, cream, lettuce, and maybe more - that I was able to make my own burritoey things that were great. I think I should've tried custom orders more, because it both got me real food, and broke a lot of ice with the waiter for one of the most fun dining experiences of the trip. I don't actually know the cultural rules on that stuff in Mexico - was I being obnoxious with my special order, or does everybody tweak everything to be just what they want? Given the attentiveness of wait staff everywhere we went, I wager the latter is closer to true. Our waiter certainly had fun with it.

Okay, I guess that's just about enough words for tonight! Gee whiz. You'd think the trip was a nightmare. Well hold on for future installments... because I haven't yet decided whether this trip was the best I've ever been on or not (it has to compete with the Kauai honeymoon...)!
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I have returned03:47 PM -- Tue April 5, 2005

Back. I will deploy coverage of my Mexican adventure over a series of in-depth, probing articles over the course of the next week. Please enjoy them with all of your heart. But first, I have some CDs to ship! And a tax appointment to make, and bills to pay, and laundry to do, and even add-on worlds to upload. I tell you, I can't leave this place alone for a second!

Also, just for my own edification, the proposed topics of adventure discourse shall be: The Bad, The Dining, The Snacks, The Adventures, The Weather, The Differences, and to round it all out and counterbalance the first topic, The Great (no time for the good, there's too much great to cover!). Topics are subject to change without notice.
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