Diving

Being on the  water is a great thing. Gliding over the waves, seeing above clearly and something below, rocking gently with the sea. The sea breeze drifting by.

Tough to beat, until you dive below… but can still breathe.

There is no hurry, move slow to conserve oxygen.

Fish, crabs, lobsters, eels, turtles… sharks.

They are curious about the bubbling object with an obscure tank on its back, but they don’t get too close as the mutual fear guards both diver and animal.

Sleeping reef sharks don’t seem to notice the floating UFOs entering their room, only a few feet away.

Turtles are the most curious, playing in bubbles, staring and then returning to eating.

Everything is always eating. Except for the sharks, luckily.

The coral feeds and houses everything, yet its built by everything living in it.

Breathe in, breathe out slowly, conserve the air.

Look up to a wavy bright world and experience vertigo, focus back on the underwater world.

Float by with the current without gravity, without swimming, only flying.

Relax, drift, be.

Until the air is gone.

Slowly drift to the surface and reenter the now foreign world to breathe without a mask, leaving behind a negative altitude home below.

Should have taken smaller breathes…

 

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The Mexico Mix Up

Pueblo Magico, San Sebastián

I believe I’ve been on the road for about 3 months now, it’s hard to tell really, there aren’t seasons down here, the weather only changes when I change locations.

The nice part, though, is that I haven’t blown my budget and appear to be on track for skipping the cold northern winter.

In fact, I’m doing quite well on a budget. My hair brained scheme to make money online as I travel the world is actually working. Where there is wifi, I can work. And I have been working.

I have been getting new clients and work with writing and editing, but I am also trying to jump start Los Pinche Gringos, trade stocks, study investing and Spanish and travel all over the massive country of Mexico. Somehow I am doing it.

Plus I found a job.

But let’s rewind for a second. My last update involved belching in a woman’s face after eating an entire chicken. I’ve covered a lot of ground since then, and ended up where I least expected a lot sooner than I expected… doubly unexpected!

I had agreed to meet a friend near Cancun, forgot about that, then bought a plane ticket to meet another friend way on the other side of the country. My friend arrived when I was a few cities away and raced to catch up. Jane and her gang have an incredible travel saga involving a 3 day tour with 2 night busses to meet in San Cristobál de las Casas and see some sights along the way so we could have roughly 24 hours together. I showed them around town and bought some strange mystery fruit soaked in sugar water from a street vender. I ate it, and several hours later I was in a tailspin of delusional dehydration as every ounce of water was expelled from my body. I took some pills and tried to sleep to catch my shuttle to the airport at 5:30 the next morning. It was honestly the toughest day of travel I have pulled off yet.

I didn’t have any food or water left in my body and I didn’t want to add any either, I had 2 busses and 2 planes to catch today before getting to a safe hotel (with a close bathroom). When I arrived to meet my friend 8 hours later I was greeted by a hostel hostess who told me I looked very “weak.” Thanks for noticing…

After a day of rest and keeping down some water, I met up with some Durango buddies and they invited me and all my new hostel friends to a Raicilla Festival (thank you Tunes!!).

Unfortunately I was still on antibiotics and under the weather so I couldn’t partake, but I went for social sake. I ended up meeting a few bartender folks and a gang starting a new restaurant in a small pueblo nearby. I assured them I would come and see this “pueblo magico” and then headed for the beach with no intention of returning. I’ve already lived in the mountains…

At the beach I saw one of the bartenders from the fest (yes, she is pretty) and immediately put my horrible Spanish to work. We exchanged contact information and I went on my way north to find the perfect beach town to set up shop.

I didn’t find one.

I accompanied my friend back to PV to see him off and then was left without the faintest clue of what I was doing with my life. I spent Christmas in PV (thanks again to the Tune family) and then realized the whole town was booked up for New Year’s a few days later. I texted my friend to see how she was doing in San Sebastián and she said she was gearing up for a massive opening NYE party at the new restaurant. I jokingly implied that I’m handy behind a bar and could lend some assistance if need be and told her I would come up for a visit in the town since I was getting kicked out of PV.

After I arrived she informed me that she got me the job for the NYE event, and that really, it would go much better with 2 bartenders. Stymied that my sarcasm led to a job, I dusted off my shakers and bar kit (yes I have carried it all these kilometers) and went to work. My first shift in a few months went well, especially for making her 7 ingredient cocktails after never seeing the recipes before… I still need to have a word with her about making more simple cocktails…

After the event, the whole staff was asking how long I was going to stay. Again, stymied, I said I thought I was only working a gig.

So ya… I guess I have a real job now.

But it’s actually turning out to be the exact situation I had been looking for. I have time to do my online work during the day and work the bar on the weekend and evenings. I also get free Spanish lessons at work and am the only gringo living in town. Qué chido.

 

The travel tip here is don’t stall people. Whatever you wanna do, just go do it. You will never be able to predict the turns your trip (or life) will take, so just be open and run with it.

 

Lost in Translation

1 chicken, un pollo

My Spanish is improving, but it still isn’t quite the best. Sometimes I get hung up by a word or confused by some tricky conjugations, but generally I understand; at least, I think I understand.

 

Perhaps sometimes people are just kind and humor me, only nodding and smiling instead of expressing their confusion and correcting me.

 

Some days are better than others as well, I definitely have bad Spanish days. Working online in English all morning leads to some serious confusion when I reenter my life in Mexico and need to shift back to Spanish. Spanglish — it’s mi vida.

 

People are extremely patient and friendly with my broken Spanish. I learn new words every day by talking with random folks who are curious about the silly gringo who wandered his way out of the main tourist blocks.

 

In fact, wandering is my main MO on this most recent leaving of America. I keep telling myself I am going to do some research and draw up a game plan… but I usually just end up picking a city that looks fairly close and buying a bus ticket. Sometimes I think that out a day or two in advance… sometimes I make a split-second decision in the line while waiting to buy a ticket.

 

In fact, my trip took me to Belize only a couple weeks after landing in Mexico City because of an off-hand promise I made to one of my good friends before leaving Durango. Oh, you’ll be in Belize?? Sure, I’ll come down… it’s right by Mexico.

 

That is true. It is by Mexico, in fact it boarders Mexico. What I failed to realize, however, is that Mexico is BIG. Very big. Even after and 8-hour trip to Oaxaca from Mexico City, it was another 8 hours from there to Puerto Escondido. But Puerto Escondido isn’t anywhere near Belize either. Oh no, it’s another 25 hours away actually. So, I took a 9-hour overnight bus to Tuxla, had a little breakfast break then got on a 16-hour bus ride to Chetumal… that was a day bus that turned into a night bus… that turned into another day bus. It was 3-in-1! An endless purgatory that left me with nothing but the comfort of Lana singing me to sleep as I drank a couple shooters of whiskey I had fortuitously come across the week before (thanks Tom).

 

Then I had to catch a boat… but I made it! Lesson learned: just fly dummy! … or maybe look at a map before making promises…

 

As some sort of breakthrough, though, I did buy a plane ticket for the next leg of my journey — I guess hell froze over and I’m starting to plan.

 

Anyways, back to wandering… I have spent the last couple of nights in a hotel in Palenque that costs $6.50 a night. I have taken a weekend of sorts, where I have done nothing. It’s been great, I highly recommend weekends to each and every one of you.

 

After a nap that could have been classified as a sleep, I got to wandering around my temporary town of residence and found a little chicken grill place. Plastic chairs, plastic table, plastic table cloths, horrible fluorescent lighting and the irresistible smell of well-spiced smoky chicken for cheap — my kinda place.

 

They had 4 options: ¼ chicken, ½ chicken, 1 chicken or 2.

 

In my impeccable Spanish I uttered something that probably sounded like “UN cuuuuuuuuaaaar – uuuuN – SOLO – UN.” Bad Spanish day. I actually forgot all my words at that moment.

 

“Un?” She answered.

 

“Si, un, gracias!” I said as I sheepishly looked away in utter embarrassment about forgetting a line that a 3-year-old could say.

 

Of course, by un, I was referring to un cuarto, or one quarter, but I didn’t mention that important word for quarter and instead ended up with “un” pollo… the whole bird.

 

Too ashamed to admit my mistake, I ate the whole thing… plus beans and rice. In retrospect, the lady taking my order did seem surprised at my request for un, but was probably just being kind and didn’t want to question my order.

 

Too add a cherry on top, as I was rounding the corner on my way home from the restaurant, I let out a tremendous belch, the kind that only one who has eaten a full chicken can produce, directly into the face of a scantily clad lady who was rounding that same corner, at that same unfortunate moment. Amazingly, she looked me in the eyes longingly and called me “flaco.”

 

And that ladies and gentlemen is truly lost in translation to me. Flaco means skinny and I had just released a belch that sounded like a drunken Loch Ness Monster directly at her! As I was mortified at my rude behavior, having a bad Spanish day and genuinely confused by her response, I turned slowly without saying a word and wandered home.

 

 

The Life Not Taken (Often)

Firmly down a path already decided,
And back from abroad before I had thought,
Yet returning to Durango offering help undivided,
A new house for my parents shall be provided,
Then off to Mexico with no worry or fraught.

But for now it will be work morning, noon, and night,
In things such as stocks, writing, construction, a bar,
Four jobs in a day may not seem to be quite right,
And if you do less than that this isn’t a slight,
I am just dreaming of a land that is seemingly quite far.

Leaving a life in Colombia that was ever so clever,
Never imagining an extended stay in my home state,
I’ve gotten started in a new construction endeavor,
And found some opportunities I thought I’d never,
Maybe there is something to this thing called fate.

While having forsaken the corporate rat race,
And not looking to enter it in any way, shape or form,
The hopeless vagabond I am enjoys the chase,
Getting through each day with a smile on my face,
Because hard work pays off on the opposite end of the storm.

 

The Purgatory that is Las Vegas Airport

Skyline of Las Vegas from the airport.

After a rare stationary period of several months, I was excited to get out of town again. My cousin was getting married and I was very excited to see some friends and family that I hadn’t seen in years. In typical cheap and adventurous fashion, I was going to ride my motorcycle to the west coast for the whole ordeal. Out of curiosity though, I checked my flight deal apps and was surprised to find that I could actually fly into the obscure airport of Pasco, WA and out of Seattle for cheaper than excellent motorcycle MPG gasoline (+hotels).

Needless to say my budget travel compass pointed me toward flying and I purchased the tickets. To make sure I still squeezed in an MC trip, I took the scenic route north out of Durango through Ouray, Paonia and Glenwood Springs to Denver for my flight. Most marvelous and highly recommended — it was also smooth sailing for leg 1 of the trip, a great start.

The next day proved a long one.

I had not been sleeping well due to a busy schedule. Whenever I am working a lot, my work seems to mesh into my subconscious and it continues in my dreams. When this happens I have the infamous server/bartender nightmare:

The door keeps opening, more and more people pile in, everyone is raising a finger for service (btw stop doing that people!), take orders, make drinks, drop off drinks, cash out guest, door opens, greet, make drink, cash, more fingers raised, more drinks, ENDLESS.

All. Night. Long.

I wake up feeling like I’ve just finished a shift. But on top of this I have also been finding more freelance writing gigs. One project in particular was a new style of writing that I had never tried before: Garbage filler blog articles.

We all know what these are, most of you probably read 15 of them a day. They are absolutely pointless and only exist to make websites seem like they have more depth and attract random customers through tricky SEO maneuvering. As most of my writing gigs, I never intended to do them, but I also never say no. I typically try and write copy for websites, you know, the boring stuff, but I church it up pretty well — fancy non-pushy sales writing. They liked the one page I wrote for them, so they asked if I would write some blog articles for them. I agreed (as always) and they suddenly turned it into a 6 article contract.

No problem, I do this all the time. I get in over my head in something I have no idea how to do and then I figure it out, usually under tidy time constraints. But these articles proved to be my Achilles Heel. Let me explain: I was writing articles about cookware. How to hang them, recipes, fun ideas for 4th of July dinner parties, how to grill pizza… Ok that last one sounds like something I could pull off…  but, no, zero interest in all of the other topics.

I tried one, a ramen recipe article. So ya, for those of you who read 15 garbage articles a day, here is how they are constructed. I have never made ramen; I have barely ever eaten ramen. I researched ramen and wrote up a brief history on ramen, I used the word ramen 17 times in the article to get it to a proper 5% word ratio (it’s an SEO thing), I added several other catchphrases in proper ratios and then I looked up 3 ramen recipes and picked what I liked from each one and made my own. I had never tried it, and I never will. In fact I may abstain from ramen for good because of this project. And that my friends, is how these filler articles are made. Sure it reads well, it is entertaining, but God knows if that recipe is any good. Many of these filler articles you read are written in the same ad hoc manner. After discovering how these articles were made, I swore never to read another one again… but I still had to write 5 more.

I procrastinated.

It started eating away at me. I won’t even read one of those articles again, how could I write one?

It’s adding to your portfolio. You can make money on the road writing these articles. You used to read these all the time, what’s so bad about them?

These were my justifications for writing the articles, but they didn’t motivate me.

So I procrastinated again.

All of the procrastination turned into stress. The stress melded into my subconscious, and I started having nightmares about this little writing contract. On top of my server nightmares, I was now having amateur writing nightmares… So during the day I’d work on writing gigs, avoiding the one stressing me out, at night I would work at the restaurant and then when I finally went to bed I’d have endless nightmares of doing the same things… needless to say I needed the vacation.

The motorcycle  trip proved cathartic in many ways, but I still had the writing nightmares that night and I woke up at 5 AM to take my mother to the airport for her flight… I should have just got on that plane, but we’ll get to that later.  I go back home and finally have 2 hours of good, deep sleep. Mmmmmm. Then it’s my turn for the airport. First flight: Spirit Airlines. I have heard many horror stories about this airline, but they got me to Vegas without any trouble. On the flight I imagined how I would knock out 2 of these evil articles I had been dreading on my 5 hour layover.

Once in the airport I found a nice area, a seat on one of those crappy benches with horrible handrails every foot and a half… and got to work. But I couldn’t. I stressed about how if I didn’t do them now, I’d be working every spare minute while on “vacation”. I tried researching terms, figuring out all of the pots and pans you need for a proper kitchen (it was tempting just to say 1, that’s all I need…), where to hang them… blah blah blah. I paused. I thought. I hated it. But I had to do it!

No, wait, I didn’t.

It hit me. I had become morally opposed to these articles and I wasn’t going to write them. There is enough garbage on the internet and I wasn’t about to add to it.

But this wasn’t an easy choice. I was terrified about getting a bad review on my freelance site and ruining my future job options on it. I also knew I could complete the project if I put my nose down and got to work. I was in limbo. The limbo lasted for 2 hours. I didn’t spend a single minute on those articles, I only debated the different feelings I was having on this minuscule project that was causing me to have a nervous breakdown.

Finally I decided enough was enough, I wanted to sleep, I wanted to enjoy my vacation, I didn’t want to add any more garbage content to the internet and I sure as hell didn’t want to ever write anything similar to this again. So what if I received a bad review, filler articles aren’t my thing…

In retrospect, this breakdown was absolutely absurd. It was a tiny project outside of my fledgling writer wheelhouse. I learned a lot from it and a bad review wouldn’t ruin my writing career. I let my mind run amok and made a way bigger deal out of the situation than it should have been.

I messaged the client and informed them that I wouldn’t be able to complete the articles in a timely fashion and that they may want to find someone else. They were disappointed but they let me off easy. I gave them the ramen article for free… if any of you try that recipe let me know how it turned out…

The moral/professional Purgatory I had just navigated through that was the Las Vegas Airport, now turned into a true Purgatory that I couldn’t escape. Not only was I feeling guilty about my recent failure, but I had what turned out to be an additional 7 hours added on to my already 5 hour layover to stew on it.

A brief summary of the delays experienced:

Gate change – load 15 minutes late

“An easily fixable problem” that we could all remain on the plane for – 2 hours on plane on runway

Unload and wait for additional information – 1 hour

Wait for replacement plane (apparently they have extras since this happens all the time) – 1 hour

Plane is 120 degrees F as it was in storage, wait to cool – 1 hour

Another mechanical issue – 1 hour

Board plane to find yet another mechanical issue, something about a hose on an emergency mask –  another hour on plane on runway

Finally 12 hours later, we left Purgatory, all we could do was pray the backup plane didn’t fall apart in the air.

To make matters worse, the whole airport wing we were in shut down at 8 PM and I was too afraid to miss an announcement about when our new plane would be leaving to go and find a restaurant that was still open. Any one flying through Vegas (especially on Allegiant Air) beware of the Purgatory that is Las Vegas Airport.

 

 

 

The Life of Jim: Part II

Going from a wandering vagabond to a short-term resident in Guatemala was a nice change for Jim. Having a chance to study Spanish, live in a home, eat 3 meals a day, consistent roommates and somewhat of a routine was a refreshing vibrant endeavor for someone who had lacked any sense of structure the previous couple of months. Weekends were still filled with adventure including beach time, volcano hikes or random to-dos in Antigua.

The routine:

  • Attempt waking at 7—failing and barely sneaking out of bed in time for a quick breakfast of bread and coffee
  • Walking across town to a lovely garden for 4 hours of Spanish lessons (including a snack break) with 1 or several roommates and waving at the same girls each day on their walking commute to work
  • Choosing a different block to walk back home on to fully navigate the colonial town
  • Eating a massive lunch—the largest meal of the day—followed by a 2-hour nap of body numbing, entirely comatose sleep (deeper of which has not been had since)
  • Studying Spanish for a few more hours
  • Running Cerro de La Cruz
  • Eating another prepared meal
  • Chatting with the host family and the rotating cadre of roommates
  • Occasionally going out to meet the poor vagabonds who were as terrified and homeless as Jim when he first made it to Antigua

This routine indeed lured Jim into staying put for nearly 2 months. Meeting all of the random people coming through was enough to stimulate the curiosity, Spanish was challenging and learning Guatemalan culture from his host family and Spanish teacher was fascinating, and endless! Life was pretty good, and it’s hard to say why Jim left. Perhaps it was the water, perhaps the hopeless wanderer could be quelled no more, perhaps it was a call for tacos north in Mexico. Whatever it was he headed north through the winding hills to Lago Atitlan.

And oh, how the roads were windy, but the old American school busses which were decked out with new paint, chrome, Jesus and trucker girl decor, flew around the corners with amazing speed and agility that one really wouldn’t assume to be allowed by physics.  Somehow, though, everyone survived and the busses didn’t go careening off the tall cliffs on the many different mountain passes. Jim often kept a bottle of Fernet Branca in his bag for medicinal purposes, like settling the stomach and stress relief from the constant near-death-experience feeling.

Occasionally a kid would come through the crowded bus offering snacks of every sort.

“Do you think I can handle food on this roller coaster?!” Jim tried to explain in Spanish, unsuccessfully.

“QUE?! Quieres algo de comer?” Said the kid.

“ROLLER COASTER! NO!” Jim yells whipping his hands around to try and explain.

“Coca-Cola?”

“No, voy a vomitar, necesito una bolsa! Tengo dinero!” Jim pulls out a dollar to pay for a bag and quickly puts it to use.

The kid, happy with a quick profit in selling a bag he thought worthless, quickly scurries off the bus and away from the green gringo. Finally the bus arrived in Panajachel and Jim swiftly made his way to a boat knowing that he would be approached by Pana’s finest young entrepreneurs and he didn’t have space for any more trinkets. Safely aboard the boat, he enjoyed a short jump over to Santa Cruz were he stayed at a small hostel that also prepared meals.

He barely left a one mile radius for several days, time seemed not to move at all in Santa Cruz, nothing to do, nowhere to be. It was perfect. Days spent thinking, reading and eating. In fact Jim fancied himself a philosopher after a week there and had solved a number of world’s biggest problems. He was going to go share his new found wisdom with the world but decided to visit a few other towns around the lake first.

Happy with his revolutionary thoughts, he figured he could bounce them off all of the hippies gathered at their Mecca in San Marcos and see what they thought. There was a strange haze in San Marcos, it always lingered in the air and Jim somehow forgot about his big ideas after stepping into it. The next few days were a blur of jam bands, burritos, strange conversations and an interesting Cocoa ceremony put on by a legitimate wizard who took style tips directly from Gandalf (the Grey, not the White). Jim snapped out of the haze only by the grace of serendipity and deciding to jump off a bridge into the cool and mind clearing (but probably toxic) waters of the lake. After coming up for air, Jim ran back to grab his things and jumped on the next boat to San Pedro, the spell had been broken.

Once in San Pedro, Jim grappled with the few big ideas he had left after the hippy brainwashing and was devising ways to enact them. However, the lake water that saved him now plagued him. After making many new friends the day of his arrival, Jim disappeared from the small town life he was ready to get caught up in. Was it a week? Several days? Only a day? It felt like a month. Jim was knocked out. With barely enough energy to leave his bed, he drifted in and out of sleep despite throbbing headaches, muscle cramps and convulsions, and gut pain that very well could have been a knife. Jim was hallucinating so how would he know? Eventually after several days of being bed ridden, he had the strength to drag himself from bed and reach the local farmacia.

“I’m dying,” said Jim, forgetting he was in Latin America and needed to use Spanish.

“Muriendo? Tengo algo para usted.” Answered the clerk/pharmacist/establishment owner who was also watching her kids. She must have known the look of dying gringos though, because Jim didn’t have to say any more.

The prescription was like drinking lava, not initially, but a half hour later. Whatever it was, it burned Jim’s insides, killing every living thing within his digestive tract, which turned out to be massive parasites that had been eating all of Jim’s food before he could digest it. The next day Jim finally was able to walk at a normal pace and find his way to a restaurant. The feeling of turning food into energy had long been forgotten, and it was euphoric at this moment.

Among other things forgotten were the world’s problems Jim had solved only weeks, or days or months, whatever it was, time doesn’t exist in Lago Atitlan, earlier. While his luck had held in the fact that he survived the lake, the ideas he had were casualties lost forever. If only he would have written them down…

Crispetas

As I am feeling rather nostalgic about Colombia tonight, I would love to tell you about my dearly beloved crispetas. Often a dinner, always a snack, and absolutely always on-hand, popcorn was a staple of my diet while living in Pasto. You may be interested to know that it is actually not just a bachelor dietary delight either, it accompanies dinner plates on the regular. In fact, the fancy Cuy dinner platter always includes a little popcorn.

The microwavable garbage served up here is a sorry excuse for popcorn. It only tastes good because of your weekly dose of sodium in 3 bites. Fresh stove-top-pop is the key! and for any of you misers out there, it is also much cheaper — like 25-cents a pot. A little oil, some salt and the corn. Butter would be a nice addition but we often had trouble tracking it down, in fact we had a lot of trouble tracking things down in Pasto… Hint: Don’t try and go shopping on Sunday, everything is closed.

Being cheap and delicious, a pot of crispetas was always on stove top for 2 young English teachers (not ones that you know and certainly not the author and roommate) to fend off hunger with. As the largest meal of the day was typically lunch, a big dinner often wasn’t needed and so popcorn and candy sufficed. In fact when in rather tight budgetary constraints, popcorn served as sustenance. Popcorn and coffee would keep them fueled until the lifeline meals from their schools could give them some actually nourishment. If these hard times fell on a weekend, they adopted the Reptilian Tactic of moving less to save calories, while sometimes slithering to the kitchen for crispetas and enjoying the only entertainment they could afford: talking while eating crispetas. Only the week before these now-broke teachers were living large on spring break, traveling Colombia. The last week before the monthly payday however, found them pooling change to manage bus fair and actually get to their jobs.

IMG_4100
Reptilian Tactics without furniture

These “hard times” were eye-opening in themselves. Instead of always needing to spend money to have fun, crispetas brought the realization that you don’t actually need to spend money to have fun. In fact, after getting over the fear of inviting people over without having anything to offer, and everyone having a great time, you realize it is all about people and the interactions you share with them. Whether you’re absolutely broke or have millions in the bank, your setting may change, but really everyone is looking for the same thing: having great experiences with fun people. It seems this is what we all really remember.

Of course, having crispetas is still important. Being a borderline sociopath with one strand of empathy for introverts, I will say that crispetas are also necessary.