And the street is called Jirón Arica. The address is 131. I’m on the couch. I’m about to drink black tea mixed with a small amount of sugar.
Look at this f#@king vicuña (alpaca???). Look at the way it extracts sumptuous morsels of biomatter from an otherwise barren landscape. Look at Misti in the background, in all of her nearly 6,000 meters of glory. Look at this alpaca’s (vicuña’s????) fur and imagine yourself wearing a shawl made from it. Imagine yourself naked in said shawl. Imagine yourself itching.
Seventeen and a half hours. That’s how long the bus is supposed to take. Of course, I’m hoping the driver has a bit of lead in his soles and we make it there in 17 hours and 20 minutes.
Also on this map you can see: My proposed route for after Arequipa, going up to Puno, by Lake Titicaca, into Bolivia, and then down into Northern Argentina (aka “The Inland Route”). You can also see the ALTERNATE ROUTE, which would take me directly into the heart of darkness, aka Paraguay (aka “The Alternate Route”). You can also see some black lines I drew on Chile, just because it looks kinda cool, and some pink polka dots on Brazil, for the same reason.
So that’s the plan. If the bus has WiFi I will try to post a blog from the bus, since that would be novel. I’m also going to try to read a novel.
Look, I know money is tight, we’re all struggling, and diapers are expensive, but with just $1 a month you can literally make my dream of becoming a full-time blogger/traveler come true. That’s about $0.03 a day. Once the penny gets phased out it will be like $0.00 a day. So think about it:
Is there anything worse than a soft mattress? I mean, sure, I know there are worse things. I know getting bamboo shoots shoved under your fingernails is probably worse, but the more I think about it….is it?
Yesterday I went to La Punta with Clara and Cristina. Clara is my host, and Cristina is one of the other guests here, from Venezuela. And La Punta is a neighborhood, as the name suggests, on a peninsula jutting out into the Pacific Ocean, as if saying to the rest of Lima, “I want to get away from you.” It’s also next to Callao, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Lima, possibly another reason for its fleeing geography.
As we were approaching Clara said, “Watch how the houses change.”
And indeed they did (change).
Once dilapidated houses with exposed bricks became multi-level condos with cream-colored sides, terraces lush with plants, soundproof sliding glass doors. The houses here were from yesteryear and I immediately felt like I was back in the Caribbean, in Cartagena or La Habana, exploring the malecón, looking for Gabriel García Márquez, gazing upon peaceful inner courtyards, denizens sipping lemonade and wondering, “Should I take a dip now? No, maybe later…”
Apparently La Punta is a zoo in the summer. Not an actual zoo, of course, but it FEELS like a zoo because of the quantity of people on the beach, the full buses, the yachts buzzing in and out of the harbor, the vendors hawking wares left, right, and even center. When we got there and began strolling the waterfront, palm trees towering above us, elegant houses to our left, Clara said, “That’s my yacht right there.”
“Oh, cool,” I said. “It’s not as big as my yacht, though.”
Then we talked about how great it would be to have a yacht, to be eating ceviche on its stern, gazing into the blue water.
Then we came to la punta de la punta, or, the end of the point, and I saw waves, their tops clipped by an offshore breeze, an island visible in the distance obscured by a wispy marine layer fog, and I thought, I must go swimming. I must go swimming now. I took a quick detour to change into my swimsuit and then I was plunging into the water, cold at first, gliding underneath the waves, the preoccupations of life on shore receding behind.
After this we walked around the point a bit more, and then made our way back to the other beach, where there were less waves. We walked slowly. We talked. It felt like we’d traveled back in time and that everything was simpler. At the other beach I went swimming again, and Clara dipped her feet, wobbling on the smooth, cobblestone rocks. Cristina also dipped her feet. A group of Americans approached the water and inexplicably did not go in, opting instead to stand on the shore and observe. Meanwhile I tested the upper reaches of my lungs, imagining myself to be like Kevin Costner from Waterworld, gills behind my ears, clad in tattered leather. I imagined myself to be like Kevin Costner from Field of Dreams, traipsing through a corn field, building a baseball field, talking to Terence Mann. I imagined myself to be like Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves, befriending a lone wolf on the frontier, becoming accepted by a group of Indians, marrying a squaw. And then I stopped imagining what it was like to be Kevin Costner and imagined what it would be like to be back on the beach, though this wasn’t something I didn’t have to imagine. I could do it. And that’s what I did. I lay on the beach, roasting in the sun, feeling the hot rocks beneath me, listening to Clara and Cristina talk.
Eventually, unfortunately, it was time to leave. We walked by the yellow house I’d decided was my favorite on the way in, and Clara took a picture. “I wish I could freeze this moment,” I said, and I did, I wished I could freeze that moment. It felt like one of those summer afternoons when you’re 12 years old and the sun is warm and you don’t realize you won’t live forever. I didn’t realize it was still possible to have moments like these in your thirties, and now that I know it’s possible I want to have more. Yesterday, at La Punta, with Clara and Cristina, was a good start.
“Mi madre hablaba como la aurora y como los dirigibles que van a caer.” – Vicente Huidobro
I’m exploring options for the next few week/months/years/decades/millennia of my life after flying to Lima next Tuesday. At first I thought I’d stay in Lima a week and then make my way into the mountains.
But now I realize I have…
Option 1: Play it safe
Stay in Lima a week or two, go to small town outside Lima, go to Huancayo, a city six hours east of Lima located at 3,400 meters above sea level in the mountains, stay a couple weeks in Huancayo since weather wouldn’t be hot and it has cheap Airbnb’s.
Make way into the jungle…
Option 2: José Mujica
Stay a week in Lima, make way to Cusco, make way to Puerto Maldonado, cross into Brazil, go to Rio Branco, see a bit of both Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon, make way into Paraguay, then Uruguay, drink mate with José Mujica, then make way down to Buenos Aires, down to Chiloé, then Ushuaia.
Fly to Svalbard.
Option 3: Paraguay
Make way to Bolivia, spend a couple weeks in Bolivia, make way to Paraguay.
Option 4: English, mate, Svalbard
Fly to Santiago, fly to Valdivia, make way to Chiloé, stay with Marcela and Pablo on their farm for a couple months, teaching English, writing, and drinking mate. Then make way to Ushuaia. Fly to Svalbard.
Option 5: The southernmost “community” in the world
There are times in your life when you look at a volcano and think: I must try to climb that. You’re not sure where this impulse comes from. Possibly from somewhere deep inside you, possibly next to your pancreas. You look down at your shoes and see they’re woefully inadequate for mountaineering and think, To hell with it. I’m going to try anyway.
Kilometer two. Paying respects.
I left El Fresnito at around 9am, armed only with my skate shoes and a half-full bottle of water. Almost immediately I ran into another group of hikers, two girls and one guy from Guadalajara. I asked them how many kilos they were carrying.
Fifteen, one the girls said.
Fifteen? Are you carrying cinder blocks? A hardcover copy of 2666 (In which case: Can we get married?)? I couldn’t understand how they could have so much weight. It sometimes seems like in Latin America the appearance of doing something properly is more important than anything else. You DO NOT go cycling without cycling shorts and a cycling jersey. You DO NOT go running without stretchy pants and running shoes. And you DO NOT go hiking without a huge, overly-loaded backpack.
The beautiful madrone.
An hour in I was treated to a welcome sight. The Pacific Madrone, or Arbutus menziesii (to those of us who speak more cultivated tongues), is extremely common in the Pacific Northwest, but only found at higher elevations in Mexico. I like seeing them because they make me feel at home. They’re easy to spot because of their distinctive peeling bark that reveals a smooth, usually green or orange surface underneath.
It soon became apparent that the trail was not the best way to go, so I abandoned it for the longer, but much more manageable, dirt road. Things were instantly better. Instead of a struggle, it was a walk in the park. I was happy. I began to sing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
The air began to get cooler and after about two and a half hours of walking I got to a campground called El Alcazar. It was deserted. There were bathrooms and outside them a sink, and I wondered if the sink water was drinkable. After some debate, I decided to fill up my water bottle half full, and on the way down if I saw the people from Guadalajara ask them if they knew if it was safe to drink.
Difficult to see, but chandeliers of succulent cacti hanging from these massive trees.
Luckily, I ran into them almost immediately. They were struggling up the steep trail I’d fallen on just a few moments earlier trying to see if one of the water tanks I’d been told had water had some kind of spigot where I could fill up my water bottle.
What don’t you take the road? I asked.
Because this is more direct, one of the girls said.
How about we get married right now? Is that direct enough?
But of course I didn’t say this. I said, The trail is hell. The road is so much nicer.
I also asked if they knew if the water from the sink was potable, and they said they didn’t think so.
You can just drink from those tanks, the guy said, pointing up the trail.
You just pull back the lid? I asked.
Yes, he said.
This was welcome news, since I hadn’t had a drink in quite some time. The guy and I peeled the lid back to reveal a rushing brook of pure, cold spring water.
What a difference a small thing like access to fresh, cold water can make. Even though I hadn’t made it very far up the mountain, I was completely content with turning around and going back down. They continued to struggle up the trail with awful, sliding loose dirt, and I bounded off down the dirt road, happy as a lynx.
The trip back down was long and uneventful. I’d made it to about 2,700 meters from a starting elevation of about 1,700 meters. The summit, for reference, is just over 4,200 meters.
When I got back to the Airbnb where I’m staying, owned by a couple named Augustin and Lupita Ibarra, who’ve hosted travelers and mountaineers since the 90’s, Augustin offered me some beer. It was perfect. I decided to put my water consumption on hold, and instead take in the cold, refreshing suds.
And that was my first attempt at summiting the Nevado de Colima. With skate shoes, I don’t know if I’ll make it to the top. I might try to get a ride up further tomorrow and get closer to the summit. And find the group of girls (and one guy) I’d shared some nice conversation with.
Or maybe I’ll just stay below, drinking beer with Augustin. Both options sound pretty nice.
A special thanks to SCL for supporting this “blugh.”
Today and tomorrow are the last days to make contributions to support this blog that will be counted for April. Donate as little as a dollar a month and help me realize my dream of traveling and blogging full time:
Tomorrow I’m leaving the sweltering heat and (relative) congestion of Guadalajara to spend four nights at the foot of the Colima Volcano, just outside Ciudad Guzman in southern Jalisco. I’m staying in a town called El Fresnito, though on Google Maps it’s referred to as La Mesa. It’s right at the base of the 12,500 foot volcano, which last erupted in January of 2017 (and is apparently the most active in Mexico, at least according to this blog).
I know nothing about Ciudad Guzman. Or actually, I KNEW nothing about Ciudad Guzman, until I stumbled upon this wonderful post from a blog called Living and Working in Mexico (I’m still trying to figure out what the blog is about). Now I know that Ciudad Guzman has about 100,000 people, that it’s located at 1,800 meters above sea level, that’s it’s “chill,” and that, at least according to the author of this blog, it’s an ideal place to live in Mexico.
One hundred thousand people is just about the perfect size, as the author notes. The problem with this, as the author also notes, is that the smaller the cities in Mexico get, the more conservative and Catholic they become. This is not a strange phenomenon. This also happens in The States, albeit usually with other religions. One dilemma you have as a human living on this earth is: Do I live in a progressive, liberal city that has 500 million people where I can never feel at peace? Or do I live in the country, where people shoot guns at animals and make racist jokes, but life is more relaxed? The answer might (might) be: Move to New Zealand.
Either way, as I mentioned before, I’m not staying in Ciudad Guzman; I’m staying a small town just outside of it, at a house owned by a middle-aged Mexican couple that has a garden and a communal fire pit and a weak wifi signal. I’m excited about the weak wifi. The only thing worse than “getting away” on vacation is not actually getting away because you spend half your day looking at a cell phone or computer screen. But this won’t be possible in El Fresnito.
Above: The listing of the place where I’m staying (this photo was basically the reason I booked it).
It’s almost impossible to find information about El Fresnito on the internet, other than where it is (12km southwest of Ciudad Guzman and about a two hour drive south of Guadalajara). There is one website that has some ultra-specific (presumably census, though I don’t know from when) info about this town. Apparently it has exactly 425 men and 426 women. The population is %0.00 percent indigenous. And 3.64% of the population has internet access (this info is surely outdated). The only other information has to be imagined, and when it comes to traveling, this is much more fun anyway. I imagine the sounds of roosters crowing in the morning, the smell of a wood fire, and the volcano lurking the background. I imagine getting up early, excited to drink mate, and taking long walks into the pine forests flanking the mountain. I imagine eating quesadillas in the afternoon, and at least one excursion into Ciudad Guzman to see what the city for myself.
Anyway, that’s a little preview about my upcoming trip to Ciudad Guzman, El Fresnito, and the Colima Volcano. Right now I’m imagining what my time in these places is going to be like, getting excited about it, and tomorrow, after finishing my Spanish classes at 12pm, I’ll find out for real.
March is almost over, which means it’s your last chance to sponsor and have your donation counted for April. Donate as little as a dollar a month and help me to realize my dream of traveling and blogging full time:
Friends, I’m no longer in danger of starvation. I have many of you to thank for that, your generous donations, your love and support. In fact the way things are going I’m actually making money (almost) every day, and by mid March should have enough to have my very own apartment that I can hopefully Airbnb mercilessly until I get evicted.
Mexico is a land of possibilities.
I’m at Starbucks again this morning, which should come as no surprise because I go to Starbucks every morning. This routine makes me happy. When I walked in just now I started smiling, and I wasn’t sure why. I think it was just because I was in a place I felt comfortable. The people around me felt like my family, even though I know none of them. The only bummer is they didn’t have apples this morning, which means I’m involuntarily fasting.
Whenever I meet someone new here they I ask me why I came to Guadalajara. At first my stock answer was, “I wanted to be in a place like Mexico City that wasn’t Mexico City, Seattle was too expensive, and I wanted to improve my Spanish.” My Spanish isn’t bad, in fact I probably speak more grammatically than many Mexicans, just like many Swedes probably speak English more grammatically than you, but I want to take the oral legal interpreter test in Seattle next October, which means I want my Spanish to be perfect. This month has already helped (as of today I’ve been in GDL exactly one month). Yesterday a woman at the consulate asked me if I was Mexican and when I said “No, 100% gringo,” she said, “Really? No…..”. It was flattering beyond belief. She also gave me cake. She might currently be my favorite person in the world.
The other two reasons are also true: Seattle is expensive as hell, and I felt I needed to try a different place other than Mexico City since I’ve been many times.
And though I wasn’t elated about Guadalajara, I like it more everyday. Here are 10 reasons why:
1) El Terrible Juan Cafe
This is my favorite cafe in Guadalajara. I like it because you’re surrounded by plants, it’s in a wonderful, quiet, shaded neighborhood. The staff is nice (except one girl who I think might despise me), and the product is great. They have a pulled pork sandwich smothered in some kind of aioli that I could probably eat everyday and not get tired of. The only gripe I have about the place is the WiFi is sub-standard. But who goes to a cafe to be on their devices anyway, nowadays, except everyone.
2) Abarrotes la Abue’
If I keep going to this place everyday the lady who works there might accidentally end up adopting me. I still use the formal “usted” with her and probably always will, but we’re almost on a first-name basis. The thing I get here is the chilaquiles sandwich, soggy tortilla chips in sauce with melted cheese between two pieces of rustic baguette. It costs $1.50. In El Terrible Juan I could eat their pork sandwich everyday if I had the money; at Abarrotes la Abue’ I actually eat their pork sandwich everyday.
Abarrotes La Abue.
3) Parque Rojo
My favorite thing about this park is the kids who stand around free-style rapping. It’s hilarious. All they do is insult each other and wave their hands in the air and bob back and forth. Plus the other day I saw a guy there with a chinchilla.
4) El expiatorio
Apparently the ultimate example of neo-gothic architecture in the world, though I’m sure this is false. This is like when Mexicans say Mexico City is “the biggest city in the world,” an asseveration that is patently false. Mexico City is big, but not that big. Tokyo is bigger. Sao Paulo is bigger. Hell, if you’re talking metropolitan area, Chongqing is bigger.
El expiatorio is a cathedral, in case I haven’t made that clear. Masses are held all the time. The doors are always open. And right next to the cathedral lies number five…
5) Tamales at El Expiatorio
Seventeen pesos buys you a one-way ticket to flavor country. Destination: delicious tamales served out of big silver pots by smiling women. They have red, green, spinach, mushrooms, and corn. I personally like the corn tamales because they’re sweet. But since I’m a crazy, demented health nut (and also just demented), I often get the acelga tamales, which are like spinach.
6) El Bosque de la Primavera
A good place to spend an afternoon contemplating something you rarely experience in Guadalajara: silence. This is of course because the Bosque de la primavera is not in Guadalajara, it’s just west. If you go, consider doing a temazcal with Fernando and Miriam at Casa Quetzalcoatl. When I did it I could smell my hair burning and my hands went numb, but it was, like, kind of cool, too.
Sandwiches for $1.50. Rent for $200 a month. Even the tea I’m drinking right now at “Estarbucks” barely costs more than a dollar. The Mexican pesos is weak right now, like a middle school kid pre-growth spurt held in a head-lock. Not great for Mexico, good for tourists.
8) Lack of Gringos
That said, there aren’t that many international tourists. The expats have already decided where it’s “acceptable” to live in Mexico: San Miguel de Allende, Lake Chapala, parts of Baja, Cuernavaca. Which means those places have been ruined, and every other place is still awesome. Like Guadalajara. (Oh, I forgot: This one was supposed to blow your mind. That title was actually just an imitation of all the awful headlines seen on the internet today).
9) Tortas ahogadas
Imagine a wet burrito, but instead of a wet burrito a wet sandwich. Here’s what they do: They take a torta (basically a sandwich on french bread filled with carnitas), and douse it in a mild red sauce. I mean douse. Drench might actually be a better word. Or drown, since ahogada means “drowned.” The end result? It basically because like eating stew — a delicious, sandwich stew.
10) Calle Libertad
My favorite place to walk at night. Leafy, airy, cool. Not too much traffic. Great cafes and restaurants like La Teteria and La Cafeteria. And it’s also the street leading home, which is why I’ve chosen it to end this blog entry. Hopefully the post hasn’t been too good, because then you might come, and I might have to take number 8 off the list.
Wednesdays are my big days in Guadalajara. I give two Spanish classes in the morning to a man who works at the US Consulate and his wife, then go to the US Consulate to give two classes there (which I’ll be doing today for the first time and am excited about mostly because I like being a part of things that feel “official”), and then give an English class from 7-9pm (though that might only be this week). So since Wednesdays are my big day I’ve decided to recycle some material from whereswetzler.com and possibly other blogs like markdoesthecamino.blogspot.com, since there’s plenty material to choose from.
Today’s post is from a trip I took two years ago to La Rinconada, Peru, the highest permanent settlement on earth at around 16,800 feet. Stop a moment to imagine that. Imagine a city built 2,000 feet higher than the top of Mount Rainier. Imagine the weather, the temperature, the way the air would feel when you breathed it, the way the sun would feel on your skin. La Rinconada was a unique place, but not necessarily in a good way. Hopefully these pictures give at least a little insight as to why.
This was the view from my hotel room. It cost 30 soles a night (about 9 bucks USD). There was only a urinal. If you wanted to go number two you had to go down to the street and use the public bathrooms.
Every street in La Rinconada has at least a small stream of raw sewage running through it. Dogs drinks from this water. The smell is overpowering. It gets on your shoes and follows you everywhere you go.
A lonely miner eats lunch.
Food at the top of the world. This is chicharron with salad and potatoes. It was good, but silverware would’ve been nice. The miner pictured above was eating with his hands, so I did, too.
La Rinconada is surrounded on all sides by trash.
This is another town below La Rinconada. It looks like Mordor. Notice the soccer field on the left, though, the tiny patch of green amidst a sea of gray trash and zinc roofs. La Rinconada has several soccer fields.
Two miners make their way towards the center of town. When I started to go down this path a woman said, “Don’t go down there, it’s dangerous.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because it’s dangerous.”
“Why is it dangerous?”
“Because anything could happen…”
La Bella Durmiente, or, Sleeping Beauty. She presides over all of La Rinconada. Coming into town you see a glacier, and below that a grey smudge. The grey smudge is the town. You think to yourself, “No one should be living here.”
I wanted to get a photo of the town with the mountain in the background, but when I tried to walk out was blocked by sewage. I only stayed one night in La Rinconada, and the next day was happy to leave.
I have approximately $250.00 to my name. This is distressing. Distressing if it wasn’t also completely liberating. This is exactly the situation I want to be in, because this is when the magic happens. What magic, you ask. And that’s a wonderful question. And the answer is: I can’t tell you. Because you’re not ready for it. It’s too shocking. And also because I can’t think of anything.
The sun set several hours ago here in the Bosque de la Primavera, on the outskirts of Guadalajajajalajajra, Mexico. I’m staying at a place that has a Temazcal, which is essentially a brick hut you sit in to become too hot, sweat too much, and commune with the spirits. Wise people from around the world have always known that sweating is the path to salvation. Sweating = work. Sweating = exercise. Sweating = a cheap Air Bnb an hour away from Guadalajara where I’ll stay a week before going back to Guadalajara to start my empire. Again, you’re probably wondering what this empire is. And this time I can tell you: It involves teaching. It involves Air Bnb. It involves the US Consulate. It involves red wine. It involves getting paid $2.50 an hour to teach a conversation class. It involves vegetarian burritos. It involves a guy with mayonnaise on the corner of his mouth. It involves a friend of mine who I think lives in Korea now. And it involves sweat lodges. And possibly peyote.
Anyway, I just wanted to say hi and get in contact with you guys. I’m sorry about the name of this blog. It’s so cheesy. So hipster. So everything I hate about travel blogs.
Bogota and Mexico City are two of the biggest, most important cites in Latin America. Bogota has 10 million inhabitants (depending on which source you consult), and Mexico City 20 million (depending on which source you consult). When you factor in food, people and quality of life, the two cities are fairly evenly matched (of course, one city might be better in one category and worse in another). But as we will see, there is an X-factor that tips the scales.
In terms of cuisine, Mexico City wins. Not to say that the food in Bogota is bad; the lunches are delicious, but the dinners are lacking. For whatever reason, the cheap delicious meals available at midday disappear once the sun sets.
In Mexico City, the food is delicious 24 hours a day. This is due to to the Mexican mastery of one particular crop: corn. Mexicans are wizards with corn, from tortilla soup to tacos to chilaquiles to tamales. And that’s not even touching on foods like mole, the mysterious (usually) chocolate-y dish of Oaxaca.
In contrast, Bogotanos have the arepa, a thick tortilla that, on the inside, tastes like cardboard. Arepa con huevo is delicious, but that’s about it.
When it comes to ethnic food, both cities are garbage.
Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico DF.
The people are wonderful in both of these great metropoles. They’re hardworking, they’re professional, they dress well. If you ask for guidance in the street you’ll get it. It’s easy to make friends. It’s easy to find shows and events and parties and things to do.
Bogota girls are prettier.
The overall quality of life is similar in both cities. Both cities treat pedestrians like dog shit. Both cities have tons of traffic. Both cities have smog. Both cities have luxurious neighborhoods, and both have sketchy neighborhoods. In both cities, unsweetened yogurt is hard to find.
Transportation is better in Mexico City, simply because of the metro. Bogota has the MetroBus, which is fine if you don’t mind getting cozy with 60,000 sweaty people in a space the size of a broom closet.
Lastly, there’s the question of beauty. Which city is more beautiful? When it comes to architecture, Mexico City takes the cake with its zocalo and Palacio de Bellas Artes and cobblestoned streets of Coyoacan and San Angel. But when it comes to green spaces and an overall mood, the nod goes to Bogota. Bogota has better air. On its eastern edge, Bogota is corralled by a mountain ridge that provides a fetching forested backdrop . In one part of Bogota you can be more or less in the heart of the city, but on a leafy trail at the base of the hills, listening to the murmur of a stream. Granted, wander too far from the stream and you’re likely to get robbed at knife point, but the murmur is still there.
If it only came to the categories previously listed — food, people, quality of life, and beauty — the match between Bogota and Mexico City would be a tie. But there is an X-factor, and that X-factor is the proximity to the US. In Mexico City, the US feels like it’s lurking in the backyard (because it is); in Bogota the US feels far away. Bogota is on a completely different continent — being there feels like you’ve actually gotten away from the long arm of Uncle Sam (to an extent). Like you’re exploring distant lands and have all of South America at your feet. In contrast, Mexico City is basically a dingier, more fun version of LA, but without the ocean.
In the end, because of this X-factor, the nod goes to Colombian capital. Mexico City comes in a close second, but Bogota is the best city in Latin America.