Between 2003 and 2008 I covered a number of fights in the State of Colorado while I attended law school at the University of Denver. One of Colorado’s most popular boxers during this decade was the gritty Rob Frankel. Frankel started off in rather unspectacular fashion, getting stopped in his pro debut by Hector Munoz before winning a pair of uninspiring decisions over a pair of fighters with records of 0-7 and 0-6 respectively.
I won’t lie…I wasn’t expecting much from him.
Maybe a few more ugly wins before getting blown out against a top level prospect…and then either a slide into opponent status or an end to the boxing career.
But a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity. Frankel learned how to fight, and that coupled with his rock solid chin and his overall toughness led to Frankel becoming one of Colorado boxing’s most unexpected main event fighters. On April 9, 2005 Frankel scored a stunning upset over Martin O’Malley, a moment that gave birth to one of Colorado boxing’s most unexpected stories. Frankel gave as good as he got, and although he never quite pulled off that one big win that would put him into the world rankings, he gave a lot of Colorado boxing fans reason to believe in him nonetheless. He was tough and we just knew that one day he would find that one contender who was looking past him. One day he would march into the top ten and upend the apple cart. Since that inglorious pro debut, Rob Frankel would win a NABA belt in 2008, a WBC regional belt in 2012, he would defeat a former USBA champion named Michael Stewart in 2007 and even scored a win over a guy named Pacquiao (OK, it was Manny’s brother Bobby, but still a nice win).
But back on April 16, 2004 he was just another unknown undercard fighter who I expected would be done with the sport by the end of the year.
Fortunately I was wrong on that assessment.
Rob Frankel’s April 16, 2004 fight with Danny Almanza in Denver, Colorado:
April 15, 2010. Eight years ago today. I was approached by Fightnews about a possible interview with heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. Naturally I was excited about the opportunity to interview Wladimir, but not just because he was the heavyweight champion. I felt like this interview might be the start of a legendary rivalry. Quite frankly, in 2010 the division was stagnant. In April of 2010 Klitschko had just passed something of a milestone: six years since he last tasted defeat on April 10, 2004. In that time he won 12 straight fights but to many American fans the division had grown stale under his dominant reign. But along came a cocky Brit who seemed to push all of Wladimir’s buttons. In 2010 it looked like boxing was about to get a shot of adrenaline and the birth of a new rivalry for the ages: Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye.
Of course history has shown us that the rivalry was anticlimactic…but for a few months in 2010 and 2011…it did look like something special was brewing in the heavyweight division.
Wladimir Klitschko calls out David Haye
For many boxing fans, the heavyweight division has been in a serious slump for several years, despite the fact that the reigning IBF and WBO heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko (54-3, 48 KO’s) is so clearly a class above almost every other contender in the division.Since winning the IBF title back in 2006 from Chris Byrd he has arguably not lost a single round against the eight fighters he’s defended his title against, and even his harshest critics admit that he could easily continue that streak of dominance for several more years.But it’s not so much that fact that he’s dominant that has boxing fans writing off the division.It’s the manner in which he has been winning lately, with some critics considering him to be to “safety first” against clearly overmatched opponents.But if there is one thing that could give the division and the sport a much needed shot of adrenaline, it is a legitimate grudge match between Klitschko and the only fighter in the world who doesn’t share his last name and who is widely perceived as his only serious threat: DavidHaye.And although a unification fight seems like a no-brainer, it is already emerging as quite possibly the most heated heavyweight rivalry since Mike Tyson and Razor Ruddock.
“I want to wipe (Haye) out of the ring,” Klitschko said to Fightnews with noticeable anger and contempt, “I care about the punishment in the fight for DavidHaye. The best scenario is like the (Eddie) Chambers fight.I want to punish him for twelve rounds and then knock him out.But I don’t think I can wait, If I see the opportunity to knock him out at I’m going to do it.”
Klitschko admitted to Fightnews that not only has Haye gotten under his skin, but he has emerged as the most despised fighter he’s ever encountered.
“Whatever you call it, under my skin, it’s enough bullshitting from DavidHaye and his side, and I think now is the time to make it.”Klitschko stated, “I made it clear in the message I posted online, I want DavidHaye’s title, and I want to beat this ‘bitching out’ person in the ring.”
May boxing fans have already seen the now infamous clip of Wladimir Klitschko challenging the WBA champion in harsh and at times profane words; it proved as shocking as it was effective, showing a different side of the German based champion.The Clip was featured on Fightnews and in the two days since it was posted on Youtube it has garnered nearly half a million views.The video itself has created more buzz in the division than any of the title fights this year, but there remains one unanswered question: will Haye accept the challenge?
“I made it as clear as possible, I used social media so it came direct from me and not the promoters,” Klitschko stated, “I just had enough of DavidHaye’s bullshit for a year and a half, and I laid back, but that’s enough now.Actions speak louder than words.Now we’ll see how scared DavidHaye is.”
Klitschko also made it clear that he believed that DavidHaye had ducked him in the past, and has not put it past the WBA champ to come up with an excuse to avoid fighting him.
“No doubt he avoided me, Sorry to call him a liar.But I was relying on his word.Then two weeks before (the scheduled Wladimir Klitschko–Haye fight) he bitched out and claimed he had a back injury, and then asked for two more weeks.And then four more weeks, and then six more weeks.Then he made an excuse for not fighting Vitali, saying the contract was bad.It was the same contract he signed with me!That’s why I just can’t trust this guy.He’s dishonest”.
For many boxing fans it is refreshing to see the heavyweight champion show a meaner, edgier side.But some insiders are wondering if he is falling into Haye’s trap.Most insiders felt that Klitschko was too cautious and defensive in his last several fights, and many are wondering if the raw emotion that Klitschko is displaying could lead him into a fight that would benefit that smaller, but hard hitting, Haye.
I have my strength, forty-eight fighters out of fifty-three that I faced ended up either sitting on the stool or being knocked out.DavidHaye is going to be one of those guys.I will knock him out.I will knock this mo-fo out!”
A tasteless T-shirt that Haye was recently spotted wearing created an uproar with many boxing fans (it featured Haye with the severed heads of both Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko), but it appears that it had the desired effect.
“It’s just not acceptable to represent himself with two (severed) heads and then not to take the fight, but just to promote himself.I think he’s obnoxious and I don’t like how he walks and how he talks”.
Klitschko also considered his plan-B if the Haye fight fails to materialize, a fight with long-time #1 contender Alex Poevtkin.Although Povetkin is not widely recognized by American fight fans, he is widely regarded as the best undefeated heavyweight in the world and long overdue for a title fight.A Haye fight will require another postponement for the #1 contender.When asked why that fight hasn’t occurred yet, Klitschko pointed the finger squarely in Povetkin’s camp.
“If DavidHaye keeps bitching, then I have to fight Povetkin,” Klitschko stated, “But we have another problem in which Povetkin is not ready.His coach is saying he’s not ready.Two years ago we had an opportunity and they say he’s not ready.Now he is still not ready?How much time does he need?”
Although Klitschko has been getting a fair share of criticism in the last few years, there is little question that he has been dominant.And Klitschko feels that much of the criticism is somewhat unwarranted.
“Eddie Chambers and Sultan Ibragimov are similar fighters,” Klitschko pointed out, “after four rounds they gave up with there strategy and were just playing safe.If you try to knock out a fighter who is just playing it safe it is very difficult.If a fighter is just playing safe, then any fight is going to be boring.That’s why I got into the conversation with Emanuel Steward in the last round.Emanuel was in the corner and told me I have to knock him out, I said ‘Emanuel, Relax, I’m trying!’”
But for American boxing fans, it has been increasingly difficult to gauge his performances since his less than stellar decision over Sultan Ibragimov in February 2008 was his last U.S. appearance and his most recent title fight against Eddie Chambers has not broadcast on any major cable network.HBO executive Ross Greenburg even made a comment that American boxing fans were having trouble telling the two Klitschko’s apart, leading to a drop in ratings and interest from fans.
“It’s just about boxing and not about who looks alike or not,” Klitschko fired back, “and Vitali’s fight against Arreola had the highest rating on HBO of the year!It is difficult to comment on such things.”
Almost all boxing fans admit, however, that there is one heavyweight fight that could happen that would prove to be one of the most talked about, and possibly exciting, title fights in the division’s history.But for boxing fans it is no closer to happening.
“There is nothing that can make us fight,” Wladimir said about a possible Klitschko versus Klitschko matchup, “if the world goes down and only our fight can save the world then maybe we will fight each other, than otherwise not.”
The Finger Post is sad to report that former featherweight contender Tomas Villa of Midland, Texas died this Tuesday (April 3, 2018). Villa was reportedly involved in a car accident two miles south of Midland. According to the police report A Dodge Durango driven by Villa hit a Kenworth truck tractor on Highway 349 at 5:44 PM. Villa, who according to the police report was not wearing a seatbelt, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Villa, who originally hailed from Ojinaga, Mexico, was perhaps best remembered for his 2011 fight with Mexican bomber Johnny Gonzalez for the WBC featherweight title. Although Gonzalez stopped Villa in four rounds in what would ultimately become Villa’s final fight as a professional, it was nonetheless a proud moment for the Midland based brawler. Villa’s career spanned just over ten years and in that time Villa emerged as arguably the geatest boxer to ever come out of the Permian Basin. Villa was a two time Texas State featherweight champion before exploding onto the national scene in 2005, when Villa won the NABA super bantamweight title by stopping then undefeated peospect David Martinez in ten rounds. Three months after the win over Martinez Villa added the WBC Continental America’s Super Bantamweight tittle when he stopped another highly touted undefeated contender in Cuauhtemoc Vargas. In 2008 Villa would capture his first world title when he stopped Gilberto Sanchez Leon in four rounds for the IBA featherweight belt. In 2010 Villa would take on Mikey Garcia in a fight for the USBA featherweight belt and although he came up short against Garcia he would bounce back in impressive fashion, upsetting boxing royalty just two months later with a decision victory over Salvador Sanchez. Villa finished his career with a record of 23-8-5, 14 KOs.
Be sure to check out all the latest Finger Post Boxing stories here!
There are tough towns, and there are tough towns. Places that just make you think of gritty, hard, salt of the earth type of people who eat adversity for breakfast.
Philadelphia. Detroit. Barrow, Alaska.
I know, I know. Japan doesn’t feed into the narrative of a hard and resilient place. Sure you can get free katana lessons in Nikko, which is pretty badass, but free katana lessons aside, it tends not to fit that narrative. And Kumamoto, Japan doesn’t exactly sell it self as a city full of some of the toughest SOBs you’ll ever meet. It’s like most Japanese cities. Clean, polite, and hospitable. They even adopted a loveable bear as their mascot, and oddly enough this bear has become something of a national phenomenon. Needless to say, you could almost picture the scowl on Clint Eastwood’s face when you first see Kumamon the Bear.
But underneath it all is a city that has proved itself more then able to step up in the face of adversity. A city of hard ass people who refused to be held down. A city, dare I say, of champions.
I know this may feel forced, but stay with me here…
I was in Japan for the second time in 2017 when I flew out to cover the WBO mini-flyweight world title fight between Tatsuya Fukuhara and Ryuya Yamanaka. I had been in Japan in February, to cover the Fukuhara-Moises Calleros fight, and it was moment that left an indelible mark on me as a boxing journalist. And it was my first introduction to the city of Kumamoto, which was recovering from a devastating 7.3 magnitude earthquake just ten months prior. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived, I’ve been to cities on the mend before and Kumamoto (I assumed) would be similar. But Kumamoto showed me something…something special. The city rallied behind their contender, Tatsuya Fukuhara. He became the face of the city, overcoming adversity. Made homeless by the earthquake, Fukuhara became a symbol of the resiliency of the city and seemed to exemplify it in his career. He did well early in his career, going undefeated in his first seven fights. But as the competition got tougher the losses started peppering his record and in December of 2013 it looked like the Cinderella story was over: he lost a lopsided six round decision to a debuting fighter named Takuma Inoue. I had covered boxing for many years, since 2000, and I could not recall an instance where a fighter clawed his way back from such an inglorious loss. Contenders don’t lose to rookies. Period. There is a reason why Olympians never fight for world titles in their first fight or even take on ranked fighters in their first fight (Vasyl Lomachenko aside). Because it is a recipe for disaster. Fukuhara lost to a kid who never even fought before as a pro. How could any fighter bounce back from something like that?
But I digress, this isn’t a boxing story…it’s about the city of Kumamoto.
Fukuhara would go on to win the world title in February of 2017 in a fight that could have been featured in the movie Rocky. I got my first taste of Japan, and of Kumamoto, that month and with the newly crowned champion making his first defense of his belt I had the opportunity to go back. I was back in Kumamoto to witness the comeback kid, and the comeback city, push the envelope just a little further. I was back to see if the city that lost to a rookie only to win the world title could continue to overcome the odds.
I bumped into referee Eddie Claudio and judge Carlos Ortiz Jr. at the airport waiting for a connecting flight out of Tokyo and we were soon picked up by Loren Goodman, an American poet who relocated to Japan and then Korea and who was working closely with the promoter of the fight: Mr. Kenya Honda of Honda Fitness Boxing Gym. Interestingly enough, my arrival in Kumamoto had me staying in the nearby suburb: Yatsushiro. I would spend a few days in the Select Royal Yatsushiro. I already discovered that I have something of a love-hate relationship with hotels in Japan. I love the service, hospitality, and cleanliness. But I hate the fact that I’m six inches too tall and fifty pounds too heavy for everything in the country. But the Select Royal was very much on the love end of the spectrum. The room, while still small by American standards, was positively spacious by Japanese standards and the continental breakfast was absolutely incredible. Judge Eddie Claudio was a great travel partner as he proved to be very adventurous and he was determined to try a staple breakfast of Japan: Nattō, or fermented soybeans. His adventurism was contagious and after some lighthearted assurances from Loren, I decided to try what I was told was the best way to eat nattō…on rice with a raw egg.
After the raw meat in Ethiopia I think fermented soybeans shouldn’t have had me so skittish, particularly considering I’m half Korean, but to the westerner it takes some getting use to the smell (which I would compare to rotten eggs). But hey, If Eddie Claudio was willing to jump in head first then who was I to back down. Besides, what sort of boxing writer would I be if I didn’t try raw eggs once in my life.
I ended up enjoying the Goodman Special, a name I gave to the breakfast of nattō on rice topped with a raw egg (since I would discover it wasn’t really a common breakfast in Japan after all but rather a personal favorite of Loren) and decided I would stick with it for the duration of my time in Japan, although I couldn’t really say if I liked nattō since the raw egg sort of covered the taste up.
With breakfast behind me and a morning to kill before we went to the weigh-in I decided to explore Yatsushiro and get a quick run in to start off my day. I was not sure where I was going, but I figured a short run of a little under a mile would give me a chance to see a little bit of the city. To my delight, I stumbled on the Yatsushiro Castle Ruins, which was an awesome and unexpected discovery.
The ruins were enough to get me to end my morning run and enjoy the tranquility of the uncrowded site, and I spent about half an hour just wandering around before I made my way back to the hotel.
From there we caught a shuttle and made our way to the Shiroyama Sky Dome in Ashikita-gun, where the fight would take place that weekend. It was a scenic drive of around thirty minutes and I realized that the venue would be an ideal one for boxing. Although somewhat far and out of the way, it was a nice sized auditorium that that would be perfect for capturing the energy of the event. And located on top of a hill overlooking the town it also provided me some stunning views while we waited for the event to kick off.
We entered the small stadium next to the arena where the press conference was to be held and were soon greeted by Kumamon, who seemed to me out of place in a boxing press conference. Boxing press conferences tend to be case studies in hypermasculinity, where threats and posturing are the norm. Even the drama free press conference featuring low key fighters with mutual respect seem to have an aura of tension in the air. I always pictured it to be comparable to the banter across the front lines during the First World War. Sometimes there was real venom in the words. Sometimes there wasn’t. Sometimes they joked and sometimes they threatened. But at the end of the day there was that unmistakable tension in the air. The acceptance that in the end their job was to neutralize each other. The acceptance that all the suffering and sacrifice would only bring one man victory. Even the personable former junior welterweight champion Victor Ortiz, who made the light-hearted press conference his forte, couldn’t quite shake the tension.
But I’ll be honest: for a few minutes…that bear pulled it off.
I had already discovered that Japanese boxing is just as prone to factionalism and politics as American boxing (to be honest, maybe more so). And I knew that there was no love loss between the two fighters, even if they were soft spoken and respectful. But at that moment I couldn’t help but wonder if both Fukuhara and Yamanaka had stopped being soldiers trading barbs across the trenches before the final assault.
It was now time to make our way back to the hotel and I had the afternoon off after sending in my report on the press conference. I decided to explore the town of Yatsushiro a little more and I would discover what would quickly emerge as my favorite spot in Japan: Papa Yoko’s.
Don’t bother looking for it on Google. That was the name the American boxing crew affectionately gave to the small restaurant called Ran Kan. Ran Kan was a small family owned restaurant operated by one “Papa Yoko” who was about as welcoming as any restaurant owner I ever encountered. And he looked the part.
He was a smiling bear with a welcoming face and a friendly laugh whose house specialty was a variation of one of my favorite treats: shave ice. But as is often the case in Japan, they took something that was already amazing and cranked it up to eleven. Papa Yoko bought a high priced ice maker and used sweet milk as opposed to water. The end result was a sweet, fluffy snow like ice which he then covered with fresh fruit. The American in me could envision the marketing campaign in my head, hundreds of Papa Yoko’s popping up all over the country selling a superior snow cone and totally Starbucking the competition. Papa Yoko even looked like a marketing dream: one part Chef Boyardee and one part Colonel Sanders sprinkled with a touch of the “Where’s the Beef” lady. Of course I’m sure the marketing team would conclude that the inside of the restaurant wasn’t as inviting as Papa Yoko himself as it looked more like a cluttered living room rather than a restaurant…but in a moment that would run contrary to every episode I ever saw of Bar Rescue, it actually added to the appeal of the place.
We went ahead and ordered one of the shave ice specials and ended up so impressed that before long we ordered two more.
The place was such a hit with us that Papa Yoko even took our picture and put it up on his “Wall of Fame” next to a guy dressed as some sort of clown or something.
The following day was the day of the weigh-in, and again we took the shuttle to the Shiroyama Sky Dome in Ashikita-gun where this time I was able to take a selfie with what I assumed were the Japanese version of Civil War reenactors.
One of my favorite traditions with Japanese boxing was the dinner after the weigh-in. In the United States you are sometimes handed a voucher for a free buffet at the casino. When I covered the Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey fight in Arlington Texas in 2010 the promoter (Bob Arum) had an awesome self service buffet in the press room with Texas brisket. But in Japan it’s something entirely different. In Japan you are treated to a feast unlike anything you could imagine. Fresh seafood (that at times is still moving) and a thankful promoter who makes the rounds pouring drinks for those in attendance. We were heading to have dinner but first we were going to tour the town of Ashikita first. We made a quick stop at the Jissho-ji Temple, a quiet and tranquil stop that we all enjoyed.
We then made a quick stop at the Sashiki Suwa Shrine, arguably the most famous site in the town. More than just a religious site, it also seconds as a place where young sumo wrestlers hone their skills in front of the shrine.
But now it was time for dinner. It was time for the time honored tradition of having the best meal of your life the day before the Japanese boxing show. We made it to the local restaurant where we were served some of the freshest sushi and best shrimp I ever had.
The following day was fight night, which I reported on here. With the fight now behind us we would relocate to Kumamoto where I would have a day to explore the city of champions. I spent my last day in Yatsushiro jogging through the town and stumbled across a few hidden gems including another temple and a face on the side of a building that brought back memories of the front of the truck from the movie Maximum Overdrive.
After jumping on the train to Kumamoto I quickly reached out to a friend I made on my previous visit to the city: Ayaka Ohzeki. I wanted to see Kumamoto from a locals perspective and I wanted to try the one dish that eluded me in my previous visit: basashi. She agreed to meet up that night and we made our way to a local hot spot famous for their raw horse meat. I had already had one bad experience with raw meat while travelling but I was determined not to pass up this opportunity. So I gave it a shot…
In the end I wasn’t exactly blown away. But hey, I can check raw horse meat off my list of weird foods I’ve tried while travelling.
Ayaka and I then toured the nightlife in Kumamoto and I won’t lie: I was surprised at how diverse it was. We stopped at Celts Irish Pub where I met Herve, a Haitian born bartender who had relocated to Kumamoto. It was something I wasn’t expecting to experience in Japan: here we were: and American of Korean descent hanging out with a Japanese of Korean descent at an Irish bar with a Haitian born bartender. It didn’t fit my image of the insular nation of Japan. It felt like something you’d experience in LA.
The next morning I decided to try and tour the city one more time. It was my second visit and the city proved full of surprises. But I had one more stop to make: Kumamoto Castle. I was close to the castle, my hotel was maybe a mile away. And I had several hours before I had to catch the bullet train to the airport. But I wanted to see how the castle repairs were going since the earthquake. And I wanted to experience the hustle and bustle of a weekday morning in Kumamoto. I decided to go for a jog to a favorite stop Loren had showed me: a French bakery in Kumamoto (did I mention how diverse the town was) and soon made my way up to the castle.
I could tell the Castle had come a long way since my last visit and I couldn’t help but feel sad. The fighter I had come to cover, Tatsuya Fukuhara, had lost his title and I realized there was a strong possibility that I would not be able to come out to Kumamoto again. Boxing is a fluid sport. There would be other fights and other cities but I somehow knew that this wasn’t going to be one of them.
But as I wandered to the nearby monument to Tane Tateki I suddenly realized that I was counting out both Fukuhara and Kumamoto. Tatsuya Fukuhara had bounced back from bigger setbacks than this…and Kumamoto had as well. The city was bustling and moving, and perhaps more importantly, it held itself up with an aura that you only find in champions. It didn’t look back. It didn’t dwell. It didn’t ask you to feel sorry. And it didn’t just pick up the pieces and move on. No. That’s not how champions roll. Kumamoto was showing us that it was the kind of place that only got stronger with each setback. The earthquake didn’t slow it down. Rather, it only showed the rest of the world what they already knew: this was an amazing city and no earthquake was about to change that. The setback put a magnifying glass on the city of Kumamoto and the city showed itself to be up to the challenge. It was a city whose resiliency was now forever weaved into the fabric of it’s identity. Kumamoto was a city that wasn’t going to let you forget it anytime soon.
I had to smile as I made my way back to the hotel. I realized as I saw the people of Kumamoto on their way to work that that the city of champions had gotten to me. I would be back.
Because I was a boxing writer…and deep down I knew that there was still a few great fights left in this city.
It was a forceful invitation from my good friend Salven Lagumbay, a noted boxing judge with the World Boxing Organization who was in Japan for a WBO championship fight that I was in town for on August 27, 2017.
I had told Salven that I was coming to the Philippines the following month but I hadn’t yet figured out what my itinerary would look like. My flight landed in Manila at 9:35 PM on September 21st and I would be flying back on the morning of September 25th. I didn’t have much time, and I assumed I would spend my three days in the Philippines hanging around Manila. I considered a trek up to Buscalan to try and get a tattoo from the 97-year old mambabatok, or traditional tattoo artist, Apo Whang Od. But even that trip looked ambitious for the short period of time I had. The trip to Buscalan involved a very close connection from the airport to the bus station and everything I read about Manila traffic indicated that was a dangerous game. There were a few boxing shows in Manila, so I assumed I would just check “see a boxing event in the Philippines” off my bucket list and finally try some food from Jollibee, another thing I’d be able to check off my bucket list.
But while covering a boxing show in Kumamoto Japan I happened to mention my plans to Salven and the rest, as they say, was history.
“Come to Cebu,” he insisted, “I want to show you my town!”
I hadn’t really considered Cebu previously, but I already knew Salven would be an amazing host and I also knew there would be no shortage of things to do in Cebu for three days, so I readily agreed.
My flight from Albuquerque to Manila via Tokyo Narita was enjoyable, my first on JAL. The food and service was extraordinary and although I tend to avoid hating on United Airlines I nonetheless had to conclude that Japan Airlines did put United and American Airlines to shame. The fact that they had complimentary toothbrushes and small tubes of toothpaste in the restrooms was enough to sell me on JAL, and that was before I even had the dinner (which was exceptional).
Arriving in Manila at 9:35 PM I didn’t want to stray too far from the airport. Again, I had been warned about the traffic and I already discovered that Manila’s reputation as one of the world’s worst airports wasn’t entirely unwarranted. I elected to go with the Fil Star Airport Guesthouse, located just a few blocks from the airport in an apartment complex.
The room was spartan, but at $26 a night I wasn’t expecting anything exceedingly fancy. But I appreciated the free airport pickup and drop off and the free home cooked breakfast that was included in the price of my room.
Over all the Fil Star was a great little place for what I was looking for.
The following morning I made my way back to the airport, this time the domestic terminal, for my Philippine Airlines flight to Cebu. I grabbed a small snack at the airport of Mango Cake, which was a little dry and overall not particularly enjoyable.
Arriving in Cebu I was met at the airport by Salven and he quickly took me to lunch at Rico’s Lechon, where I would get my first opportunity to try a famed Cebu delicacy: lechon, or roasted pork.
I had no idea what I was in for, but I knew the second I walked in that I would be in for a treat. I’ve had roasted pork…but this was an amazing experience. The Filipinos are noted as the country with the best lechon in the world, and Cebu is noted as the city with the best lechon in the Philippines. Rico’s, as I was told, was one of the two best lechon restaurants in Cebu.
It lived up to it’s reputation, I was completely blown away by how good my meal was. But Salven promised me this was just the start of what would be an amazing three days of Filipino food.
After getting our lechon and our side of pusit na pinaputok (grilled squid) we were off to our first stop of my short trip to Cebu: the shrine of Lapu-Lapu on Mactan Island.
Widely regarded as a national hero, Lapu-Lapu resisted Spanish intervention when, on April 27, 1521, he and his soldiers defeated Ferdinand Magellan in the Battle of Matcan. Magellen was killed in the battle and the Spanish were held at bay for another 40 years.
Unfortunately it was at this time that I realized that something was wrong with my iPhone camera as most of my pictures were somewhat blurry. Nonetheless the statue of Lapu-Lapu was a enjoyable way to kick off my visit to Cebu.
From there we made our way to my hotel: the Cebu Grand Hotel. Salven suggested we go whale shark watching, one of the biggest tourist attractions in Cebu. But that would be several hours away and when all was said and done, I had only one full day in Cebu. I always wanted to go swimming with whale sharks, or even to just see one. But like my visit with Apo-Whang Od, this seemed a little too ambitious for the time I had in Cebu. Instead we decided on a plan to see some of the sites in Cebu, starting with a Philippine legend: Jolibee.
I never ate at Jolibee before, but I was told that this was the most famous fast food restaurant in the country. Even more significant to me was the David vs. Goliath story that was Jolibee’s battle against the multinational giant McDonald’s. Across the world local restaurants found themselves unable to compete with the American behemoth…except in the Philippines, where the once tiny chain held out against McDonald’s and continues to dominate the Philippine market. Like Lapu-Lapu before them, Jolibee was able to fight back against all odds and reject foreign domination of the Philippines…or at least their fast food market.
I ordered the standard breakfast, fried chicken, a friend egg, and rice….and I was blown away.
It was terrible.
Seriously. I know the Egg McMuffin ain’t exactly fine dining, but how could a dry chicken leg be the great wall of cuisine that was kicking the Americans rear end with every breakfast served in the Philippines? I almost envisioned a corporate board meeting where a group of American food experts all sat around a table tasting the Jolibee fried chicken leg and being totally perplexed as to why they couldn’t seem to create a dish that would convince Filipinos to reject the local brand and get a Big Mac instead.
After my rather unspectacular breakfast at Jolibee we made our way to our next stop: Magellan’s Cross. Magellan’s Cross is allegedly the same cross that Magellan ordered planted by Spaniard and Portuguese explorers on March 15, 1521. Although there is a belief that it might be a replica planted by the Spanish after they subdued the Philippines and the country embraced Christianity, there is no question that it has been there a long time and that it remains one of Cebu’s most notable tourist attractions.
Near Magellan’s Cross was the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, another famous stop in Cebu, where I spent several minutes touring the basilica.
We then made our way to Island Souvenirs located just around the corner from the Basilica and then headed back to the car where we made our way to the idyllic Cebu Taoist Temple located in the Beverly Hills Subdivision of Cebu. It was a unexpected stop but one I was grateful that we made. The temple was beautiful and a nice change of pace from the bustle of downtown Cebu.
After we left the Taoist Temple we made our way to another unexpected stop: The Temple of Leah. The Temple of Leah is hard to summarize. It is described as a monument built by noted Cebu businessman Teodorico Adarna, father of actress Ellen Adarna and owner of Queensland motels. He built the temple in honor of his wife. Perhaps it is best summed up on the message from Mr. Adarna on the Temple of Leah Facebook page:
“I constructed this temple in the year 2012 A.D. as a symbol of my undying love for and ceaseless devotion to Leah Villa Albino-Adarna, my wife of 53 years. I adopted and architectural and structural design that can withstand time and still be appreciated for a millennium so this Temple will become a landmark of Cebu where future generations of the Adarna clan coming from her can come and trace the roots and heritage. All her lifetime collections are showcased in the 24 chambers of this Temple principally for the members of our family who cherish her memory.
May this Temple serve as a symbol of a great love of a husband to his very loving wife.”
The views from the Temple of Leah were stunning, and I could see why this relatively recent structure has quickly emerged as one of Cebu’s most popular destinations. The funny thing is since visiting the Temple of Leah I’ve noticed that a lot of photos of people from Cebu on Facebook are in front of the Temple of Leah. I can’t help but wonder if fifty years from now the Temple of Leah could be one of the most iconic and photographed places in the Philippines. If 50 years from now it just becomes one of those instantly recognizable places to everyone…and one everyone in the world associates with Cebu.
From here we made our way to our next stop: the farm of former defense attorney Noel D. Archival. Archival, a noted defense attorney in Cebu, was murdered in 2014 and his killers remain at large. His son runs the family farm where fighting chickens are bred and sell for a hefty price. I had never seen a chicken fight or even fighting chickens for that matter as cock fighting is illegal in New Mexico. But in Cebu is was a national pastime and the Archival farm was arguably where the most successful fighting cocks came from.
We closed out our time at the Archival Farm by planting a tree named after me (someday I will have to take my kids there to check out the David Finger Memorial Cocoa Tree) and we closed out the night with dinner at a Japanese Restaurant.
On September 23 I checked out of my hotel and then we made our way to our final stop in Cebu: the Ala Boxing Gym. I was excited about the visit. In boxing there are a handful of legendary gyms…gyms that have emerged as cultural icons. Gyms that are globally recognized brands Kronk was arguably the most famous in the United States but in the Philippines it was the legendary Ala Boxing Gym in Cebu that emerged as the national icon, no small feat considering Manny Pacquiao has his own gym in Manila. I was about to visit one of the most famous boxing gyms in the world and see coach Edito “Ala” Villamor in action.
It’s not a typical tourist stop, but I was glad to have visited it. I never saw a boxing gym with a monkey hanging around before, and although he wasn’t particularly photogenic, I decided not to push the issue as I was warned that he had a bad habit of grabbing camera and throwing them in the alligator pit (oh yeah, the is an alligator at the Ala Gym as well).
It was a light day at the gym, no heavy sparring although I did get to see some of the brightest stars in Philippine boxing working out, including mini-flyweight contender Melvin Jerusalem.
We left the Ala Boxing Gym but there was one most stop before my flight to Manila: the House of Lechon.
I had tried one of the best lechon restaurants in Cebu…now Salven was going to take me to the best. I was not disappointed. House of Lechon lived up to the lofty praise Salven bestowed upon it and I was blown away by how good it was. If you are in Cebu and only have time to get lechon at one place, I would have to say House of Lechon should be on your list…dare I say I think House of Lechon should be on everyone’s bucket list. It is an absolutly amazing experience and one of the best meals I had…ever. Quite frankly everyone should try and have lechon, real Cebu lechon, once in their lives and House of Lechon should be the place you have it.
Salven also allowed me the opportunity to have a selfie with another Philippine icon: the jeepney. The jeepey is one of the most recognizable forms of public transportation: small, crowded, and oh so colorful. But as I would discover, there is some push back against the jeepney and there may come the day when the jeepney is no longer a common sight on the road in the Philippines. I wanted to get a picture with one..just in case. Right now the jeepney still rules the roads in Cebu…but I wasn’t taking any chances There was once a time getting a selfie inside a Blockbuster would have been a piece of cake. But I never got around to it and now I have to fly to Alaska to get one.
I found the most jeepny looking jeepny and quickly had a photo taken with it before we were on the way to the airport. In the end, Cebu deserves more than three days…but Salven made sure my three days were well spent and highly productive. There is no question that I’ll be back in Cebu sometime soon. I have a whale shark to swim with…and another plate of lechon calling my name.
My trusty Let’s Go Central America guide had warned me about Belize City. Well, maybe warn is a strong way of putting it.
It advised me that if I was in Belize there were better ways to spend my time then spending it in Belize City, the former capital of the youngest Central American nation. I decided to follow the advice and planned to spend as little time in the city as needed, getting on the first boat to Caye Caulker, which I was told was one of the nicer islands off the coast of Belize.
Nonetheless I was intrigued about seeing the Swing Bridge in Belize City. It was one of the tourist destinations listed in my guidebook and I was curious to see one of the last manually operated swing bridges in the world (as well as the oldest one in Central America). This despite the fact that, up until then, I really didn’t know what a swing bridge was. Keep in mind, Wikipedia really wasn’t a thing back in 2003.
Fortunately the dock where I got on my boat to Caye Caulker was near the Swing Bridge and I got a chance to see it, although I never actually got the chance to see it swing.
Arriving in Caye Caulker I was immediately glad that I chose this as my major destination in Belize. Unlike Belize City, which I could tell was hectic and crowded, Caye Caulker was quiet, tranquil, and very Caribbean in it’s feel.
Ispent the first day walking the streets of the small town before stopping at the L&I Café and Bar for a quick midnight snack. The following day I decided to get in a dive. It had been close to fifteen years since my last dive so I didn’t think the Blue Hole would be wise, that was not the sort of dive you jump into (no pun intended). Instead I signed up for a shallower dive with Frenchie’s Diving, and did get a chance to see a what appeared to be a Sandbar Shark, which made my dive a rousing success in my book.
When it comes to scuba diving I’m easy to please. If I see a shark I’m usually happy.
The following day I made my way back to Belize City en route to San Ignacio near the border with Guatemala. My main goal was to get to El Salvador for a chance to go surfing in La Libertad and I had a lot of stops I wanted to make on the way. But I also was excited about the opportunity to see one of the world’s smallest capitals: Belmopan. I’m glad I had the chance to stop there because the Belmopan I spend an hour in is long gone. Back in 2003 it was a small village of 5,088 (according to the 2000 census). It seemed like people just weren’t interested in moving to the new capital, which was founded in 1970 as a planned community after Hurricane Hattie all but destroyed Belize City in 1961. In 1980 the population was a mere 2,935 and eleven year later the population had only inched up to 3,558. But after the US embassy relocate to Belmopan in 2006 there seems to be rapid growth in the city and the current estimate is that the population is now somewhere around 21,814. Maybe Belmopan now resembles the hectic and chaotic Belize City that I spent just a few hours in before making my way to Caye Caulker and then onto a bus to San Ignacio. But in 2003 it was a quiet and peaceful stop…at least around the Novelo’s Bus Terminal.
Arriving in San Ignacio I wasn’t sure how I would spend my final days in Belize before making my way to Guatemala. I enjoyed seeing one of only three traffic lights (at least it was one of three in 2003) when I crossed over the Hankesworth Bridge in San Ignacio. The Hankesworth Bridge was a one lane suspension bridge built in 1949 and it was interesting…but let’s be honest, if all I could say about Belize was I saw a couple of cool bridges it wouldn’t be much of a post here.
After spending a night in San Ignacio I decided to sign up for the Barton Creek Canoe tour on August 2nd. Our colorful guide, Clifford, took us inside the Barton Creek Cave by way of canoe and although my photos weren’t the best, it was definitely a great way to spend the day in San Ignacio.
My next stop would be my first Mayan Ruin, Cahal Pech, before I closed the night off by going to the Miss Estereo Amor Pageant 2003. I was told that this was the biggest event in town and many of the locals were positively excited about the local beauty pageant…which was almost entirely in Spanish.
The following morning I closed out my day in Belize by having mangos on the side of the Macal River. But there was one thing I hadn’t tried in Belize, and I was determined not to leave before I had the chance to try fried breadfruit.
My flight back to Denver was out of Belize City so I planned one day in Placencia, Belize after returning by bus from El Salvador. I was young enough that another bus ride from Belize City to Placencia didn’t seem so bad. And it gave me one more day on the beach before I was to start my law school career. I enjoyed my downtime and soon found a small, out of the way restaurant that could prepare a plate of fried breadfruit. It wasn’t on the menu but the cook seemed genuinely impressed that I was ordering it and I quickly found out why it was so popular in Caribbean countries: it was amazing.
Sometimes I wonder how much Belize has changed since 2003. Undoubtedly Belmopan won’t look like the dusty town I passed through and who knows, maybe Belize City is a little more tourist friendly than it was back in 2003. But something tells me even if the country doesn’t quite look like the same place I saw in 2003 that it still has a certain charm to it that would ensure I fall in love with the place all over again. The perfect balance of Latin and Caribbean cultures topped off with a Belikin Beer and some fried breadfruit.
Guatemala isn’t a shock to the system…at least not when you are coming in from Belize. Crossing into Melchor De Mencos you don’t feel a sudden change from an English speaking nation with a decidedly Caribbean flair to a unmistakably Latin American nation. No, Belize sort of eases you into Latin America one kilometer at a time.
After several days in San Ignacio, Belize I had already felt like I was very much in Latin America. Melchor De Mencos was just where I had to stop and get my passport stamped on my way to one of the greatest archeological sites in North America: Tikal.
I only spend a few minutes in Melchor De Mencos before I was back on a bus heading to my first stop in Guatamala: the town of Flores. Flores definitely had a disintive feel to it: mellow and relaxed but also just touristy enough to make it an easy stop. I spent the night sat a small hote on Lago De Perez Itza in the nearby town of El Remate and the following morning it was off to the nearby ruins of Tikal.
Prior to hitting Tikal I had been to the Pyramids of Giza and after Tikal I visited Machu Picchu, but with that being said there is a special place in my heart for Tikal. After paying my entrance fee upon my arrival at the park my friends Petra and Sylvia hired a Spanish speaking guide. Although my Spanish was terrible at the time I was fortunate in that Petra was able to translate for me.
Right off the bat I was taken aback by the “parasite tree” which we saw on the path to the ruins. It seemed like something from a sci-if movie and it gave Tikal an otherworldly feel.
The fascinating thing about Tikal is you can completely understand how Cortes could have passed within a few miles of it anencephaly not even know it wasn’t there. As big as the complex is, it often is engulfed in the surrounding jungle. You first see a smaller pyramid before Tikal really comes out of hiding as you walk down the path. My first stop was the Munro Perdido temple (Lost World) and afternoon climbing to the top I was amazed at how hidden the complex was. I could see the top of a few temples but otherwise all of Tikal was hidden in the jungle…and this was from smack dab in the middle of it!
From here I headed to the Temple of the Inscriptions and made my way to the top of that temple next. Although higher the view, although amazing, still masked the true treasures hidden just a few feet away.
I quickly made my way back to the Plaza De La Gran Piramide o Mundo Perdido before we made it the the most impressive part of the complex: the Gran Plaza where we first saw Temple I.
The Gran Plaza itself was an amazing thing to see, but the Temple I was truly one of those breathtaking experiences that is hard to describe.
We made our way back into town where I had the opportunity to take a dip in Lago de Peten Itza just outside our hotel at La Casa De Don David before we headed off to our next stop, Coban, Guatemala. From there it was a tour of a Guatemalan coffee plantation at Finca Santa Margarita in the city of Coban.
We closed out our trip to Guatamala with a stop in the colonial city of Antigua before I went off to El Salvador. It was an amazing stop but one I wished I had more time to enjoy. I wasn’t told there was some amazing hiking trails around the town. Nonetheless it has been neary 15 years since I went to Guatemala. Maybe this is as good a time a short any to revisit the country to give Antigua the attention it deserves.
Well, 2017 is coming to a close and this seems a good opportunity to look at the coming year in boxing. In particular, who might explode on the scene in 2018. Well, there are no shortage of talented young fighters set to emerge as world class contenders. But stepping up is one thing…winning a world championship is another. That takes more than just talent and skill…it takes connections, a world ranking and being at the right place at the right time. So with that being said here is my list of five fighters who I think meet all the requirements of becoming world champions in 2018.
1. Issac Dogboe (17-0, 11 KOs)
OK, most of you know I covered Dogboe’s fight against Javier Chacon in Accra back in July. The super bantamweight impressed me against the seasoned Chacon, who went into the fight on the heels of a five fight win streak and was undefeated since a loss in a fight for the WBA bantamweight belt in 2014. And after covering Dogboe’s last two fights and watching a half dozen more online what was most impressive is that the undefeated Ghanaian is improving with each fight. Now Dogboe is slated to fight for the vacant WBO interim junior featherweight belt against Cesar Juarez next weekend. So it goes without saying that I think he beats Juarez. But I don’t think it will end there in 2018.
So am I picking him to follow up his win over Juarez with a win over undefeated WBO champion Jessie Magdaleno? Not exactly.
In all honesty I don’t think he will be fighting Magdaleno at all in 2018. It seems clear to most insiders that Magdaleno is having trouble making weight and my prediction is that Magdaleno will vacate his world title and move up to featherweight. That means the interim champion becomes the WBO world champion. And I think that man will be Isaac Dogboe.
2. Kanat Islam (25-0, 20 KOs)
It’s pretty clear to me that the former 2008 Olympic bronze medalist is making up for a lot of wasted time and I think 2018 is going to be his year. After competing in the Olympics in 2004 and 2008 his professional career was delayed until September of 2012 but initially it looked like he would make up for lost time when he won his first regional belt just three months later against the 49-fight veteran Humberto Toledo. He crushed Toledo in the opening round (capturing the WBA Fedacaribe title) and if you asked me then I would have said he should punch his way into a world title fight no later than 2015. Well, as is often the case in boxing his career never really took off and for awhile he looked to be the latest in the long line of talented Eastern European and Central Asian fighters who simply couldn’t register on the radar of boxing fans or the sanctioning organizations. But in the last two years Nelson Lopez and NelSons Promotions have done a masterful job of positioning Islam into the #1 ranking in the WBA and #2 with the WBO. Last month the WBA ordered Islam to take on #2 ranked John Vera Jr. In an eliminator and although I feel Vera is very much a live underdog right now I would have to give the edge to Islam. But as of yet the fight has not been announced. Now if that fight doesn’t materialize (just to stress, I have not heard anything to indicate it won’t go forward other than it has passed the WBA’s 30-day deadline, and with that being said I expect it to go to purse bids) there is an interesting second option: Dubai.
You can stop searching Boxrec, I’m not talking about a fighter. I mean the city. Now Dubai has sadly earned something of a reputation in boxing as it always seems like there is a promoter or manager who was contacted by a “sheik” looking to pump a few million dollars of oil money into hosting a professional boxing event…only for the whole thing to end up being a pipe dream at best and a Nigerian email scam at worse. Most recently the Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn fight was nearly derailed when Manny was made an outrageously lucrative offer to defend his title in the UAE. Well, that turned out to be wishful thinking as there was no money behind the offer and Pacquiao decidedly to accept Horn’s offer to fight him in Australia.
But I think the time may be right for Dubai to finally put the peices together for a world title fight and there are three fighters who I think would be a huge draw in Dubai: Manny Pacquiao (still to expensive), Amir Khan (still hasn’t fought since he was knocked out by Canelo Alvarez in 2016) and the new WBO 154-pound champion: Sadam Ali.
Ali’s win over Miguel Cotto for the belt propelled him to the top of the world but I can’t help but think that had more to do with Cotto finally showing his age than Ali being a pound for pound contender. And from what I saw in Islam’s fight with Brandon Cook I think he beats Ali. If Ali does end up being the fighter who ends the Dubai boxing drought then I would expect Islam to be the most likely opponent for the Brooklyn native. Even if that doesn’t happen then it means he fights John Vera and then undefeated WBA champion Brian Castaño after that. Again, I see Islam winning both of those fights if he goes that route instead. Make no mistake, it’s been a long wait for Kanat Islam, but he is very much poised to finish the year with a world title.
3. Jose Carlos Ramirez (21-0, 16 KOs)
Ramirez is quickly emerging as one of the hottest young prospects in the sport and he is currently scheduled to fight fellow prospect Amir Imam on March 17, 2018 in a fight for the vacant WBC super lightweight title. Imam is an attractive prospect but Ramirez simply looks like a superstar ready to explode onto the scene. In my opinion Ramirez wins this fight…and wins the WBC belt.
4. Moises Calleros (28-7-1, 16 KOs)
Now it would be easy to look at Calleros’s less than flashy record and close the book on him, but sometimes it’s about being at the right place at the right time. Calleros engaged in one of the best 105-pound fights in recent memory when he took on Tatsuya Fukuhara for the vacant WBO interim belt. Since then Fukuhara dropped a decision to the slick boxing Ryo Yamanaka while “Taz” clawed his way into a #4 ranking, winning three fights against limited opposition. But Calleros reminds me of a fellow Mexican who also racked up more than a few losses early on only to position himself into another title fight: Miguel Roman. Like Mickey Roman, Calleros combines relentless pressure with explosive punching power and like Roman “Taz” has shown a knack for never letting a loss hold him back. The interesting thing is if I were Yamanaka would avoid Calleros like the plague (Yamanaka has shown a suspect chin in the past) and fight the undefeated #1 contender Robert Paradero instead. Paradero cleary is a talented fighter but he is still somewhat green and he throws wide, looping punches that he tends to load up on. He’s only going to get better so the smart move would be to catch him early, before he refines his game. But reports from Mexico indicate that the champion is electing to go with Calleros, which I think is a mistake for the slick boxing champion.
Because unlike Paradero, who throws wide looping punches, Calleros tends to throw short, compact bombs.
And he throws a whole lot of them.
If Yamanaka does go with Calleros for his first title defense I think the Mexican leaves Japan with the belt.
5. Aston Palicte (24-2, 20 KOs)
This one is honestly a tougher pick for me and it’s tough for one reason: because I really don’t know how good WBO #1 ranked junior bantamweight Rex Tso is. Tso is undefeated (22-0, 13 KOs) and won the WBO International junior bantamweight title back in October against a tough 36-year old Japanese boxer named Kohei Kono. Kono had a solid career but it’s hard to gauge what he had left when he fought Tso (he lost two of his previous three going into the Tso fight).
But back to my pick, Aston Palicte. None of this about Tso and Palicte would normally matter when looking for a future world champion except for one detail: Palicte is ranked #2 by the WBO and the champion, Naoya Inoue, will almost certainly move up to 118-pounds. Which means in a few months the WBO will order a fight between the next two availble contenders for the vacant world title. And right now that is Tso and the Filipino puncher Palicte.
And right now my gut tells me Palicte wins that fight. He clearly has improved tremendously since his last loss to Junior Granados in March of 2016 and he seems to be in the zone ever since he scored the upset over undefeated Oscar Cantu for the NABF belt in December of 2016. Tso may be the real deal, but he hasn’t fought a fighter like Palicte yet and I think the Filipino will be the man holding the WBO belt over his head in 2018.
Ethiopia is an interesting place. It is a place of antiquity and prehistory. It is a nation that claims to possess the Arc of the Covenant as well as the world’s most famous 3.2 million year old fossil: Lucy.
But oddly enough that’s not what jumps out at you when you take a day tour of Addis Ababa. For a nation that can make a serious claim to the Ark of the Covenant, it’s not the ancient history that they proudly put on display. Instead a tour of Addis Ababa becomes a lesson in Ethiopia’s recent history starting with the Italian Invasion in 1935.
Ethiopia, like pretty much every African country, suffered under colonialism. Although Ethiopia was able to avoid the fate of pretty much every other African nation (except Liberia) during the 19th century, a brief occupation by the Italians from 1935-1940 clearly shaped the nation in a way that will nonetheless be felt for many centuries. And what is perhaps most significant is how their eventual expulsion of the Italian occupiers also shaped a nation image (and dare I say a national pride) that you don’t often find in former colonial nations. They may have suffered under Italian rule (they did) but against all odds the plucky Africans did the impossible: the drove the European interlopers out of their nation. For a country that can trace their history to 1137 it says a lot about how much that meant to them. How much that one victory meant to them as a nation.
After leaving the Red Terror Museum Zola, who I hired to drive me around the city for the day, prepared to take me to our second stop of the day: the Holy Trinity Cathedral. The Holy Trinity Cathedral is widely regarded as the second holiest site in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. It’s an interesting distinction since it was built in the 20th century to commemorate Ethiopia’s liberation from Italian occupation. Yes, in a country that (maybe) has a church with the Arc of the Covenant housed in it, in a country that can trace it’s Christian heritage to the first century…it is a cathedral that was built to commemorate the defeat of the Italians during World War II that is the second holiest site in the nation.
Did I mention how much that victory meant to the Ethiopians?
Arriving at the cathedral I forked over a somewhat steep 200 Birr (about $7.30) for admission, but once I stepped in I was glad I did. A guide began to take me on a tour of the interior of the cathedral, which was unlike any cathedral I had ever been in. For one thing, it was in many ways a shrine to the former Emperor Haile Selassie. That was understandable since this was where the last Emperor of Ethiopia was buried. But I still had never seen a church mural featuring a speech to the United Nations before.
After a quick tour of the cathedral, which included a photo op with the priest on duty, we made our way outside.
It was there where hundreds of martyrs from the war with the Italians were buried as well as the grave of the former President Meles Zenawi.
It was at this time that the guide informed me that he was working freelance and was not part of my 200 Birr admission and that he charged 300 Birr for the tour. I informed him that since he didn’t tell me he was charging me before hand I had no intention of paying him 300 Birr. I always hate turning into a jerk over this, but I realize a lot of tourist get hustled by guys like this and always take the path of least resistance. I figured I needed to stand my ground and make sure this guy knew I was onto his gig before I gave him the 100 Birr I was going to give him anyways as a tip. He started combative but quickly switched gears to the pleading, which convinced me to give him an extra 50 Birr as part of his tip. It was an expensive tour by Ethiopian standards, but at the end of the day it was around $5, and in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have made such an issue over what amounted to $3.
I was ready for the next stop but no trip to a country is complete without trying the food and it was lunch time. I asked Zola if he had a recommendation for a restaurant popular with the locals. The fact of the matter was that I didn’t want to eat at a tourist restaurant because, to the best of my knowledge, I hated Ethiopian food.
I know, I know…but here me out. I only ate at Ethiopian restaurants twice in my life. The first time was in college when I was a student at the University of Windsor in Ontario. I was eager to try something different but after my meal I was convinced that this was the worst food ever. Ten years after that I gave Ethiopian food a second chance when I lived in Denver and again, wasn’t feeling it. So I closed the book on Ethiopian food and just assumed it wasn’t my thing.
But then I remembered how I gave hummus a fair shake even though I hated it the first time I tried it and how that really worked out for me in the long run. If there was a restaurant that could change my view of Ethiopian food I was fairly confident that Zola could show me where it was. We were going to get real Ethiopian food, not the stuff they made for the tourist but the stuff the locals ate.
I was stoked.
Then I saw the butcher selling raw meat outside the restaurant.
“What is that?” I asked Zola.
“Tere siga. It’s good.”
He advised me that Ethiopians ate raw beef. It was considered something of a delicacy.
I realize that eating raw beef is generally frowned upon, and considering that I was going to this place to give Ethiopian food a “fair shake”, I realized I wasn’t really setting them up for success. But this looked like a culinary adventure that I had to try.
So I did. I ate raw beef from a street butcher in Africa.
And it was awesome.
I can’t recommend it to everyone, and I was sick the next day when I arrived in Rwanda. But like my favorite cat meme, I regret nothing.
It was delicious and took me outside my comfort zone. Although I will stress, it’s a lot better with the pepper and bread.
We then went inside and I deferred to Zola on what to order. He proved to be a ideal guide for a crash course on Ethiopian food. The first dish was Tibs, or Ethiopian roasted meat.
And any reservations I had about Ethiopian food went out the door once I tried it. As an American I realize we have a somewhat mixed reputation when it comes to food but I like to think we got the roasted meat thing down pat. And this was amazing. It was served on a small charcoal filled bowl that looked almost like a hookah but the flavor was simply out of this world.
The next dish was another popular local dish, and I realized this would be the true test. I wasn’t sure, but this looked like the same dish I ate in Canada. It even sounded like the same thing I ordered all those years ago in Windsor: chick pea stew, aka Shiro Wot.
I was already pretty stuffed from all the raw and roasted meat, but once I tasted the Shiro I realized that my grudge against Ethiopian food was entirely unwarranted. Shiro was, like everything else I tried that afternoon, simply amazing. I topped the meal off with a macchiato since some random guy at the airport told me the coffee in Ehtiopia was to die for (it was pretty damn good) and then we made our way to our next stop.
Now this is a good time to mention that any tour of Addis Ababa becomes a lesson on Ethiopia’s recent history and the history of one of the twentieth centuries most controversial and complex world leaders: Emperor Haile Selassie. Selassie was the last emperor of 704-year old Solomonic Dynasty, a House that traced it’s lineage to King Solomon of Israel and the Queen of Sheba. He was revered and respected by many in the West, and became a messiah to Rastafarians in Jamaica. But domestically his reputation was considerably more checkered. After being driven from power by Benito Mussolini’s Italy in 1936 he returned a liberating hero in 1941. But his subsequent reign was dogged by a general lack of freedom and by accusations of widespread corruption.
Our next stop was the National Museum and again I was greeted with what appeared to be a statute of Haile Selassie as a substitute teacher in front of a group of young students.
I could tell that there was a legitimate nostalgia towards Selassie by many Ethiopians, including my driver Zola. There is recognition that although he was hardly perfect, he still represented a proud time in their history. They recognize that the world looked upon Ethiopia with deference and respect when Selassie was Emperor.
The National Museum was a nice change of pace, with a $0.42 admission fee and a souvenir shop that had posters and t-shirts for dirt cheap. I also enjoyed the display on the art from Ethiopia as well as the basement display on the history of Lucy and prehistoric man in Ethiopia.
From there we made our way to another museum, the Ethiopian Ethnological Museum located in the former residence of Haile Selassie and inside the grounds of the University of Addis Ababa. Now although I was becoming somewhat overloaded on museums, I found this to be a great stop with a fun balance of history, culture, and just overall cool stuff. After paying the 100 Birr admission I couldn’t help but notice that this was very much a University. Passing through the main hallway I read about the history of the building during the 20th century before I made my way upstairs to check out the display on Ethiopia’s ethnic groups and religions as well as a stuffed lion.
From there I went to the part of the museum that was the former residence of the Emperor, which had numerous displays of uniforms and gifts given to Haile Selassie over the years like a vase from Greece, a musical instrument from Burma, and a miniature tank from the Soviet Union, which in hindsight was somewhat prophetic.
After touring the Emperor’s bedroom I was able to check out his bathroom, which thanks to the movie Coming to America is impossible to do without picturing a unsmiling Paul Bates in a suit.
Outside the museum was one of the most unique displays in Addis Ababa, the Italian made stairway to nowhere.
Zola took me to a few other stops including a drive through the marketplace and a quick stop at the Lion of Judah statue.
But I only had one day and it was time to make my way back to the airport and on to my next stop: Rwanda.
Still, I had one last stop I had to make. The random guy in the airport who swore that Ethiopian coffee was the best coffee in the world. I had to find out if he was telling me the truth. So Zola took me to a coffee shop near the airport where I got the full Ethiopian coffee shop experience, with straw on the ground and the smell of roasted beans that would put any Starbucks to shame.
It’s a funny thing about getting travel tips from random people in the airport.
Fourteen years is a long time. It was in August of 2003 that I decided to make my way to Central America from Denver, Colorado with the goal of surfing in La Libertad. I didn’t know much about the city, but a passing reference in my tattered copy of Let’s Go had me convinced that I had to get there. It was, as I was told, one of the best “hidden” surf spots on the planet. It seemed the perfect place to hit on my last week of freedom before I started law school.
There was only one problem: I really can’t surf.
The thing is, as a child I took up surfing right before my family moved from Hawaii to Michigan, and I hadn’t really considered the fact that surfing wasn’t really like riding a bike. You couldn’t just pick it up where you left off. No, surfing was like fighting Mr. Sandman in Punch Out. No matter how good you were as a kid, it’s not something you can just pick up after fifteen years away from the ocean/NES.
So in the summer of 2003, with just weeks before I was to start law school, I decided to make my way to El Salvador and try and shake off some ring rust. There were numerous problems with this plan, the most notable was that even as a kid I wasn’t exactly what you’d call a “surfer.” I was just a kid who started learning the ropes…and then quit. Basically I was still fighting Glass Joe on the surfboard before I left for Michigan.
But even with that being said I figured a week of sitting on the beach in La Libertad would at least get me somewhere around King Hippo. Besides, I had recently become fascinated by El Salvador thanks in large part due to the Oliver Stone movie Salvador. Salvador remains, in my opinion, one of the most underrated films of all time and in 2003 it was a film I had seen at least two dozen times. I wanted to visit the country that had just emerged from the Civil War only eleven years prior. I had an agenda of spending a day in San Salvador, spending several days in La Libertad, and making my way up to Perquin to go to the Museum of the Revolution in the former FMLN stronghold in Northeast El Salvador.
But I also wanted to recreate one of my favorite travelling experiences of my life: backpacking through Europe as a college student. So with less than two weeks in Central America I elected to fly into Belize, take a bus to Tikal Guatemala, another bus to El Salvador, and then make my way to Honduras and then back to Belize.
Needless to say it was way to ambitious to accomplish. But it was an amazing experience nonetheless. After a fun couple of days in Belize and then an amazing adventure in Guatemala I was set to hit the road to El Salvador. I purchased a bus ticket in Guatemala City to El Salvador with Confort Lines for under $20 and was on my way.
But this was 2003 and my outdated Let’s Go guide wasn’t up to date on the fact that El Salvador had adopted the U.S. Dollar as it’s currency. As we made our way to the border I remember frantically trying to find someone to change my dollars into Salvadoran money, much to the confusion of everyone on the border (this is a good place to mention that in 2003 my Spanish was non-existent). But I soon discovered that the Salvadoran reputation for hospitality was entirely deserved. After some issue with paying an entrance fee in El Salvador (I don’t remember the particulars, just I was required to pay something in U.S. Dollars and I couldn’t find my American money, only the money I had already changed in Guatemala) a woman on the bus offered to cover my fee. I recall it being around $5…not exactly pocket change in El Salvador. By the time we got back on the bus I had found my secret hiding compartment in my backpack where I stuffed my American dollars and tried to pay her back. She refused to take payment.
I also had a chance to speak to a student who sat next to me on the bus and this guy seemed legitimately stoked that I picked El Salvador as a tourist destination.
By the time I reached San Salvador I was ready to check into my hostel: Ximena’s Guest House. I was able to book a dorm room for $4 and found myself bunked up with a group of hippies in what appeared to be a room built out of corrugated metal sheets on top of the roof. Still, in 2003 I still lived for the hostel experience and this place seriously out-hosteled just about every hostel I ever stayed at. After heading to a local bar with some Peace Corps volunteers I was ready to call it a night and make my way to La Libertad in the morning.
The bus ticket to La Libertad ran me $0.46 and by the time I made it to La Libertad I was finally starting to hit my limit. I decided to spend the first day just wandering around the town and maybe doing a little swimming. I quickly learned an important lesson about not swimming in the ocean if nobody else is…it usually means they know something you should. Although I nearly drown when the riptide started to pull me out to the middle of the Pacific I nonetheless was determined to rent myself a surfboard and live my own Endless Summer adventure the following day. I found a guy who ran a small surf shop and rented a board from him and asked him to give me a refresher course on surfing. I don’t remember his lesson after 14-years but I do remember at one point he did advise me to paddle and then stand up.
That seemed like a good plan of attack.
Needless to say, my lack of surfing skills ensured that I didn’t have the most productive day on the surf board…but right when I was ready to give up it happened. One wave…just one. It wasn’t the biggest wave of all time, but it was mine. I caught it and rode it for a good fifteen seconds. I finally caught my wave in El Salvador and for about fifteen seconds I was on top of the world. Fifteen seconds to turn my trip to Central America into a complete success. Fifteen seconds and one (very small) wave that made El Salvador the perfect adventure to start my law school career.
I don’t think I can ever really duplicate my trip to El Salvador, but I really want to go back in 2018. The World Boxing Organization will host it’s Convention in Costa Rica and I have a friend from San Salvador who will be there in San Jose and I’d like to see about paying him a visit after the Convention to check out El Salvador in depth. I’d really like to go back and see the country once more…and to see how it has changed since 2003. I’d love the chance to see Pequin and to spend more than a day in San Salvador. I’d love the chance to see more of the country…
But if I only ended up on the beach in La Libertad I don’t think I would complain about that either.