Donkey Crossing

Welcome to Donkey Crossing! Donkey Crossing is an on-line account of one Limey and one Yank living one Dream. From September 2006 until the end of 2007, we plan to visit friends and family on five continents and immerse ourselves into various cultures, natural phenomena and ways of life. We hope you enjoy our tales and visit often! Cheers, Jason and Rachel Napoli

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Front row: Jason and Rachel

Back row: Neal, Jen, Jack, Denise, Marty, MJ, Teena, Jerry, Karen, Wayne, Claudia and Kent

My family has been celebrating Thanksgiving on Barefoot Beach for the past ten years. It all started with Mom, Dad, MJ and I for the first five years. In 2000 we added Rachel, then in 2001 we added the Cassells Family. It has always been a very memorable day and none of us would want to celebrate the holiday any other way. A few years ago we added two good friends, Jack and Denise Carlson, followed by two old friends of our family, Jerry and Karen Przybylski, who joined us for the first time this year. The group continues to grow and the fun never ceases.

With champagne, cheese and snacks on the beach, followed by a traditional turkey feast (with the obligatory pasta course before the bird), how can we go wrong? As usual, Rachel made the garlic mashed potatoes, Marty and Teena were up at 7:30 AM preparing the stuffing, the Cassells brought the "J" bubbly and brew, while Jack and Denise handled the wine and Jerry and Karen coordinated the pies...we were well stocked. One of the biggest treats of this holiday is that I get to celebrate it with one of my oldest friends, Neal. We've been friends for 26 years and have countless memories together. We're very lucky our families help us add more and more every year. Neal and his girlfriend Jen are pictured above with Rachel. They are the lovely souls who gave us the loaded iPod for our travels and have shown unconditional support for the decisions we've made.

From the beach to the penthouse, the party never seemed stop as MJ, Neal and Claudia cut a rug in the kitchen while Marty sliced the bird and Teen prepared the rest of the massive spread. The photo below is everyone around the dining room table...we made full use of our self-timer throughout the day.

The celebration ended with enough pie, Redi-Whip and Lemoncello for all, and we all bid farewell and thanks to another glorious Turkey Day.



Although the focus was on the final Thursday of November, we've had plenty more wonderful memories from our time in Florida. Above is a snapshot that Rachel objected to publishing, however I insisted in showing the world that she is a golfer. Look at that follow through...and those sandals (always a fashion statement)!

A very special treat we had this year was to join my parents friends, Les and Sunny Kocour, for a day at sea on their beautiful boat. We went across the Gulf of Mexico from Fort Meyers Beach to the Sanibel Island Causeway, and then looped around through the back bays to return to their marina. It was a fantastic day and we thank them immensely for their hospitality. Teena, however, won the Courage Award for braving the high sea with a great fear of boats, waves and water.

Above: Les and Sunny enjoying their sea cruiser

Below: Rachel and I kick back through the back bays of Estero Island


Although our visit to Florida was highlighted by walks on the beach, hours by the pool, visiting with friends and adventures at sea, nothing was more important than the time spent with our family. We always have a wonderful time together and Florida tends to make all of the love even stronger. We feel very lucky to have such loving and supportive familes on both sides of the Atlantic.

Above: MJ and I give a "cheers" to the holidays

Below: The Napoli clan poses during a fine night out on the town



This blog entry was bought to you by:

Randy's Fish Market Restaurant

Home of the best Key Lime Pie in Southwest Florida!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A FEW MORE MEMORABLE PHOTOS FROM COLOMBIA After reviewing our latest blog entry we decided more photos needed to be shared from our Colombian experience, particularly of Cartagena. The photo above is from the first plaza you encounter whilst entering El Centro. It's often filled with busking musicians, con-artist money changers and struggling salesmen selling pirated Colombian football jerseys. We succeeded in purchasing a Cerveza Aguila t-shirt and dining on a veggie lunch at the Hare Krishna restaurant located on the second floor of an "American Fried Chicken" restaurant (ironic?) on our first afternoon. This plaza is a lovely introduction to the bustle and beauty of Cartagena.
The photo below is an action shot of Rachel and Adam catching a groove on our chiva. I believe our bottle of rum was getting down to just a few drops and our maracas were on auto-pilot.

Here are a couple dudes we encountered on the beach back in Taganga. Yeah mon!
The following two photos are from the day trip we took on our last day in Colombia. The first one is from the local fish market, while the second one shows that we truly did visit the bubbling Totumo mud volcano. It was by far one of the most bizarre experiences of my life and certainly needs to be added to everyone's "list".
I like to call the next photo:
Two Bellies and A Babe

Here's a photo of Adam and I standing guard on the walled perimeter of Cartagena. In the past, the city had been attacked by Spanish, British and French warships. I think this defense mechanism will deter all future attacks.

And now we leave you with three final photos which grasp the true beauty of what may be one of our world's most beautiful cities.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

IT'S NOT YOUR GUERILLA'S COLOMBIA Well, the South American leg of our journey is over, and it ended with many highlights. We spent the final week of our visit to Colombia in the colonial gem of Cartagena. With miles of colorful, colonial architecture lining the hot and sexy blocks of the city, we explored day and night throughout the magical, walled city. The photo above was taken through the side entrance of the Santo Domingo church. The city's oldest church has a floor made out of gravestones and a crooked bell tower...the immense vaulted ceiling also provides a great escape from the intense Caribbean heat. The photo below is of the pool at Casa Relax, the lovely inn we stayed at during our time in Cartagena. The name of the hotel certainly told the truth, and the Corsican owner took good care of us with great local knowledge and a wonderful day trip to the Totumo mud volcano, the unforgettable city market and a couple of local fishing villages.
One very special treat we had while in Cartagena was a visit from our friend, Adam Farber. Adam has always had a strong travel itch, and when he realized the likelihood for him to travel to Colombia in the future was quite slim, he took advantage of Rachel and I being there and booked a last minute trip. Below is a photo of the three of us posing in front of our chiva...a common party vehicle found in Ecuador and Colombia. It's essentially an open-air party on wheels with a live vallenato band, plenty of dancing and copious amounts of rum. We had an excellent time with Adam and the rest of our chiva-mates during the famous Colombian tradition.
Another major highlight of our visit to Cartagena were the numerous juice stalls scattered throughout the city. We found a reliable juguero on our first morning and he kept us well-nourished and entertained during our stay with delicious concoctions made from local goodies such as pineapple, banana, curaba, lulo, mango, zapote, melon and mora, among others.
On our last day in Colombia we took a day trip with Michele, the owner of Casa Relax. Although the primary destination was the infamous Totumo Mud Volcano, a couple detours down dirt roads leading to the Caribbean Sea took us through memorable fishing villages, as seen below.
The first association many friends and family make when we tell them about Cartagena is with the movie, Romancing The Stone. The photo below is my best imitation of the famous "Joan Wilder...THE Joan Wilder? I read all your books...please come in to my home." scene.
Although the majority of our time in Cartagena was spent exploring the colonial center and the surrounding walls and forts, no visit is complete without a day at the beach in Bocagrande...the posh, modern tourist strip of all-inclusive resorts and nightclubs. Below are a few photos from the final bits of sunshine we had on the beach. We all decided to get backrubs and get the knots out before tackling a full day of travel the following day. You can see Adam really enjoying his rub in the photo below, while I pose with my backrubber, Claudia, in the following shot. You can note we refer to the experience as a backrub and not a massage, as there seemed to be absolutely no therapeutic benefit in the experience at all...just a creamy and oily backside.

Rachel and I pose a final time on the glorious Colombian coast.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Beach Blogging

Originally our next destination after Bogota was to be Cartagena, the historic and beautiful coastal city. However, upon discovering that our arrival coincided with two major local events - the Miss Colombia pageant and a public holiday recognizing the independence of Cartagena - we switched to Plan B: heading east towards Tayrona National Park. As it turned out, we enjoyed a flavor of the festivities during the taxi ride from Cartagena airport to the bus terminal. We drove through vibrant neighborhoods of tin roofed homes with locals seated in plastic chairs in front, some socializing, enjoying cool drinks, braiding hair, and all smiling and laughing.

The streets were alive with activity; it was clearly party time. Youngsters approached our cab at every turn. Some had painted their skin black, others were in costume. Cross-dressing seemed to be a favorite, perhaps in honor of the beauty pageant? The revellers banged on our roof, threw water at the car and watched us watching them. The vibe reminded me of New Orleans during Jazz Fest: hot, colorful and fun.

A four hour bus ride took us to Taganga, just east of Santa Marta, and the gateway to Tayrona National Park. Taganga is a basic fishing village which has found itself catering to tourists who come for beach, sun and fried fish. On this holiday weekend there were, of course, a throng of Colombian tourists in Taganga.

Wilson, Taganga´s only barber, gives Jason a buzz cut .

Playa Grande, the principal beach, is set in a pretty bay at the foot of healthy-looking green hills. We soaked in the scene from a pair of chairs offered by a friendly local, in the hope that we would eat lunch at his wife´s makeshift fish restaurant later. As we sunbathed, vendors selling anything and everything we could have possibly needed came by. We were offered jewelry, shrimp ceviche, inflatable rafts and toys, snorkeling gear, fried corn with cheese, ice cream, beach dresses, fluorescent fishnet trousers, coconut sweets, fruit juice, sunglasses, gum, banana boat rides and even an all-over body rub with tan-enhancing coconut oil. The crowd of beachgoers was a mixed one: young, old, dark, light, skinny, plump, real breasts and fake breasts (Colombia is internationally renowned for it's plastic surgery). The only type absent were foreigners: we were possibly the only ones there.

On our third day, we escaped the pleasure seeking masses in favor of a fishing trip with Captain Caracol (literally Captain Sea Snail) and his first mate, Jose. We caught two a piece within our first hour at sea, but the beginners luck didn´t last and our next few hours proved fishless.

Captain Caracol (left) and first mate Jose: expert fishermen and our guides for the day.

We dropped anchor in a quiet bay, and Jason and I snorkeled while Jose cooked up the catch in a delicious fish stew. Hmmmm - tasty!
The tranquility of our excursion evaporated, replaced by the noise of holidaymaker fun as we headed back to Taganga bay. Music blasted from gigantic speakers as beer was chugged and fish fried in the kiosks. Children laughed and played on swings and on the boardwalk, boat engines hummed and horns honked. Like an orchestra warming up, Taganga´s loud and disparate noises blended together into a natural soundtrack. A holiday weekend at Taganga is truly a happening.

The next morning we headed further east into Tayrona National Park. The accommodations in the park ranged from hammocks covered with a piece of plastic sheeting, to fancy stilted "Ecohabs" with luxury amenities, but there were no options in between. Needless to say, we´re enjoying our Ecohab and it´s remote beach location to the full.Carñaveral beach, where we´re sunbathing as I write, is the perfect antidote to the urban chaos of Bogota and the coastal chaos of Taganga.

Time for another cold Aguila beer, I think. Cheers!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

GREETINGS FROM SUNNY COLOMBIA!!! Hola amigos! Here we are in the country that is Ecuador´s northern neighbor...
It´s the home of the legendary Juan Valdez Coffee, Pablo Escobar and our mate Dom (you´ll be meeting him shortly). We´re currently on the Caribbean coast taking in some sun and enjoying the absence from the chaos of Bogota. Reflecting upon our visit, we came up with...
(in no particular order)

Above is the view from Dom´s flat. He lives in the beautiful historic district of Bogota called La Candelaria. It´s the colonial center of the city where Simon Bolivar fought for independence years ago and where the Bohemian student scene congregates today. We spent hours strolling the streets and enjoying the corner cafes in this eclectic neighborhood.


We had some fantastic cultural experiences in Bogota, most notably the Gold Museum and the Botero Museum. The Gold Museum is the most famous museum in the country which consists primarily of pre-Colombian artifacts. It was recommended by Rachel´s parents as a "must-see" from when they backpacked South America 35 years ago. We found it quite interesting and would certainly agree it´s a sight to see. The Botero Museum highlights the art of Colombia´s most famous living artist El Maestro Botero. His rolypoly sculptures, figures and still-life paintings, along with his collection from the European greats, make a most memorable art museum.


As with everywhere we will visit on our journey, the opportunity to visit friends will always be a highlight. Whilst in Bogota we were able to visit our old friend Dom, whom we hadn´t seen for seven years. We used to work with Dom in Ecuador and he´s been living in South America ever since. We spent quite a lot of time with Dom during our visit, culminating in a great night out with him and Lili, who are pictured below.

Another highlight we had in Bogota was reuniting with one of my old students, Pilar. Pilar (below) was one of the first students I taught at Intrax and we shared the corridors there for over three years. She´s currently working as a coordinator with a music charity for disadvantaged children. We had a great afternoon with her in La Candelaria, as we met at the Juan Valdez Cafe and then toured around the Presidential Palace compound. Thank you to both Dom and Pilar for their generous hospitality.


Rachel hasn´t had a cup of tea since we´ve been here and is still buzzing from this morning´s coffee as I write.


Don´t panic...I´m fine. After arriving from Ecuador feeling completely out of sorts, and not improving after the first three days in Colombia, I decided it was necessary to visit a physician. After a few hours at La Clinica del Country, an IV drip bag and some drugs I was on my way to normalcy. The admissions process was speedy, the service and treatment were excellent and the price was right. Only $65.00 for an emergency room visit in a top hospital, compared to the thousands it would´ve cost in the States. Cheers to Dr. Castro!


Bogota has traffic management figured out. With seven million people in the city, the traffic flows smoothly in the right direction, at the right time. Changing the direction of traffic on major thoroughfares to double the amount of lanes during rush hour simply makes does the helmet and vest law for motorcycle riders. You can also still see horses and buggies on the city streets alongside speeding buses and Mercedes. Bogotanos know how to share the road.


Above is an example of some colonial architecture in Bogota. What you can´t see are the attractive courtyards hiding behind these colorful facades. One never knows what lies behind a plain, old exterior.
There are simply very few of us here and we like it!
Colombians are simply the friendliest and proudest indivduals you´ll ever meet...and they´re always up for a good time.
Although our time in Colombia is limited, we look forward to exploring the rest of the Caribbean coast.
Did we mention we weren´t crazy about the food in Bogota? And actually, after the best meal of our stay in the city (Spanish tapas), Dom still hadn´t had enough to eat.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Adios Ecuador!
Feelings were mixed as our Avianca flight prepared for departure from Quito airport. We were looking forward to a reunion with our friend Dom (last seen in 1999, now living in Bogota) and excited that the next leg of our journey would be Colombia - an unfamiliar and allegedly "loco" country. But our enthusiasm was punctuated by melancholy thoughts of the goodbyes we said to friends in Ecuador and the realization that our six week long return to the country where Jason and I first met was already over.
Sitting on the tarmac, I reflected on some of the highlights of our visit. Ecuador´s natural beauty made a particularly powerful impression. We never seemed far from dramatic landscapes and astounding views. Even in Quito, volcano Pichincha was a majestic presence, watching over us day and night. From the hammocks at La Luna we spent hours mountain-gazing at Cotacachi to the left, Imbabura to the right and soaking in the lush valley ahead of us, leading to Otavalo. Of Ecuador´s "Big Ten" snowcapped peaks, we were fortunate to catch cloud-free views of Antisana, Cayambe, Cotopaxi and the Illinizas. Whilst the views from the two peaks we summitted, Fuya Fuya and Imbabura, were not quite as crisp and clear, both climbs were unforgettably special.
We marveled at the deep, potion-green water of Laguna Quilotoa and were mesmerized by peaceful Laguna Cuicocha with its two protruding islands, pictured to the left. We explored vegetation from high paramo to cloud forest on foot, on horseback and even tubing down a river. We watched the land change from thirsty yellow to healthy, happy green as the wet season began, and we enjoyed the company of hummingbirds and condors who seemed to follow us on our travels.

Ecuador´s natural beauty is equaled in splendor by its culture. It was a pleasure to be around Otavaleños with their Andean music and gorgeous, proud style of dress. Without exception, we found Ecuadorians to be peaceful, easygoing friendly people, even in the capital city. Ecuador will elect a new President this month. Hopefully their new leader will honor and serve Ecuador in a way that befits the nation´s wonderful, strong culture and people.
The list of fantastic experiences we packed in to our time in Ecuador is a long one, ranging from the simple to the exquisite: Andean mud wraps, fast and reckless bus rides, natural thermal springs, tasty $1.50 lunches and mountain climbs, not to mention dancing in salsa clubs with friends, then in a Quilotoa village with costume-clad children.
And last, but not least there are the friends. We met some great people from all over the world - Ecuadorian, Dutch, Canadian and even one from Dewsbury! Spending time with our old friends Kevin, Tamara, Sandra, Gill, Clare, Jeff, Marta and Marcella was perhaps the biggest highlight of all. In six weeks, we made up for seven years of being apart, and we are extremely grateful for the hospitality offered to us by these special people.

From left to right: Kevin, Tamara, Rach, Chris Briggs of Dewsbury (bizarre but true), and Jase.

So, the donkey has officially crossed the magical land of Ecuador, and is now working it´s way through Colombia. Located in the middle of the earth, Ecuador has a permanent place at the center of our hearts. We did not say "adios" to Ecuador forever. We´ll be back one day, and will bring the donkey with us....


Stay tuned for donkey crossing tales from Colombia.