Unequivocally Ambiguous

Humorous Stories on Parenting, Culture and Life

Drinking Agua ‘e Panela en el Páramo and Swimming with Seals in Poipu 

by | May 13, 2024 | Parenting | 0 comments

The childish, simple pleasures of wanderlust

Poipu, Kauai. August, 2021. Photo by author.

Okay, put me down now.” Jovie, my oldest daughter, instructed me.

“What?” I responded, shocked she wasn’t more interested.

We were at the Keiki part of Brennecke’s beach in Poipu, and two seals were swimming and playing three feet away from us.

My youngest daughter didn’t even look up when I told her about the seals, Kauai’s Hawaiian Monk Seals. They are one of the only two surviving monk seals in the world, a critically endangered species.

Despite the loud instructions from the lifeguard, there was no giving them space because they were so energetically moving around while we tried to wade away from them.

It didn’t matter.

My daughters couldn’t care less how insanely unusual this experience was.

Away on the shore, two giant turtles rested, and they didn’t care about that either.

They were just thrilled that if they could plant one hand just right in the sand, their entire bodies could float.

It blew my mind. Seals!!! Fucking seals are swimming right there!!!


It shouldn’t have surprised me.

When we got back from Ireland after fourteen days touring the island’s southwest, I asked Jovie what her favorite part of the trip was .”Remember the tree we climbed.” She said, “That was my favorite part.”

“Really? Climbing a tree? Because, you know, we have a tree in our front yard, and not once have I seen you climb it.”

I guess we didn’t need to fly ten hours to another continent to do that.

I look at my kids when we are on vacation, and I think they have no clue how good they have it.

There are pictures of me going to Disney World. In them, I’m either at Disney World’s Main Street or in front of Epcot Park’s iconic Spaceship Earth, (the giant white ball everyone thinks of when thinking of Epcot.)

But I don’t remember those vacations.

The first vacation I remember was visiting my dad’s side of the family for New Year in 1992 in Cúcuta — a Colombian city in the mountains next to Venezuela’s border.

My mom stayed behind, so my dad, my sister, and I crammed into two bus seats because that was all my dad could afford. I was eight, and my sister was six, so we weren’t all that squished but just somewhat squished. The good thing was that the ride was only seventeen hours.

Besides, we had entertainment. A fourteen-inch TV hanging by the driver’s cabin door. The size of the TV wasn’t the problem. The problem was that we couldn’t see any of the bootlegged movies since we were sitting at the back.

We were going from the sea level altitude of Barranquilla to the 1,000-foot elevation of Cúcuta through windy roads in oversized buses going way too fast for the narrow two-lane roads.

On the way to Cucuta, the buses often stop at ‘el paramo’ for a break.

A paramo is only found in the Andes, and Colombia is one of three countries that have them. They are alpine meadows nestled in mountains between the treeline and glaciers.

The area where we stopped set up shacks to serve tourists hot food and drinks.

My dad would get us agua de panela caliente con limón, which is basically dark brown hot water with a lot of unrefined cane sugar from the panela, a packed form of evaporated sugarcane juice. It is meant to keep you warm in the cold of ‘El paramo.’

I don’t remember much about Cucuta or what was unusual about it, but I do cherish the things I do remember: going to the nearby rivers with my cousin, sitting in silence in my grandfather’s cottage while he listened to his jazz vinyl, played solitaire and drank whiskey at ten in the morning.

And the breakfast my grandmother would make me before seven. I would sit on the outdoor table. Then my grandma set a white bowl before me with ‘changua.’ Ahhh, changua!

Nothing looks more like nothing than changua.

If you would see changua, you would confuse it with hot water that wanted to be soup, but trauma stopped it from achieving its full potential. It’s hot liquid in arrested development.

That’s why the locals call it “sopa de pobre” (or poor person’s soup). Okay, nobody calls it that, but you liked it because it was in Spanish. That’s your bias for foreign language. Don’t blame me for that.

In the cold morning of this mountain city, it was a revelation. A mild vegetable broth with a few potatoes, a few pieces of bread, some cilantro, and a fried egg. I have never had anything like it before. It was delicious and restorative if such a word can be used to describe what it was: soup for breakfast. Weird; I know. Who drinks soup for breakfast?

I guess I understand my daughter’s obsession with the simple pleasures of locale.

Traveling provides us with something we rarely find at home. The ability to remove ourselves from our routines, our habits, our worries, and just be present.

So maybe it makes sense that my daughter remembered that tree in Ireland and not that it was in front of the Kilkenny castle. She had her grandfather’s complete and full attention when she was climbing it.

Maybe we are the ones who don’t know how good we have it.

My daughters enjoying the beach feels better to them than gawking at the seals three feet away from us. Isn’t it more beautiful to honor your fascination with something as deceivingly simple as water and not the things others want you to find fascinating?

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