Death By Almond Flakes An almond croissant from El Pan de la Chola

I will have it in my clutches. Maybe not in the next hour, maybe not in the next two hours, but sometime within the next three hours I’ll have an almond croissant from El Pan de la Chola, Lima’s most pituco cafe, in my grime-covered hands.

Though at first I won’t even hold it in my hands. I’ll just let it sit on the plate — which isn’t even a plate but a rustic wooden baker’s tray since plates would be lame — and observe it much like you might observe a baby bird being born. Hatching. You watch as it first nudges its way through the shell and think, Wow, I’ve never seen a baby bird being born. And then, This is exactly like Jurassic Park, and for a moment you wonder if it is exactly like Jurassic Park and if in the next year this baby bird will grow into a velociraptor and devour you and your family.

But it’s not a velociraptor. It’s a pastry.

GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH.

After observing the almond croissant I’ll take a fork and knife and cut into its succulent skin. I’ll carve off the perfect, chewy chunk and let it linger on my fork before putting it into my mouth. I’ll savor the moment. It will be over all too soon, of course. And while I’m chewing the first bite I’ll be trying to focus on the texture, the taste, the glory, but what I’ll really be doing is thinking about the next bite. Because you see I’m never satisfied. And even though I’m actively chewing a piece of the the best almond croissant in Lima, Peru — the best almond croissant in South America — I’ll be thinking more about the next bite than the bite that’s in my mouth. And this isn’t very Zen. But when you’re eating an almond croissant, it’s hard to be zen.

After the the first bite it will all be over. My heart rate will dip into the 30’s and if this was an Olympic sport I’d be accused of doping. I’ll have the heart rate of a blue whale. My eyelids will flutter closed and I’ll sit writhing on my chair, groaning, as if Lucifer himself had taken up residence in my sternum. One bites, two bites, three bites, four. My hands ferry pastry back and forth between the tray and my mouth. And then, inexplicably, it’s gone. My eyes open wide now, my pupils dilate. Where once was a croissant are now ashes, almond flecks and powdered sugar. The almond croissant will be gone, and I won’t know what to do. Get another one? Weep? I’ll look over at the waitress and flash a look as if to say, “See what I just did to that croissant? Now imagine how good I am at bowling.” And she’ll smile back as if to say, “I bet you pick up spares all the time.” And then I’ll exit the bakery into the chaos of the non-almond flaked world outside.

 

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Camila

I have a new girlfriend. Her name’s Camila. We met in the kitchen last night. She’s approximately 25 centimeters tall. She doesn’t have a body.

Camila likes the following things: Getting her hair cut, getting her hair styled, people playing with her hair, people complimenting her hair, people talking about her hair. She has a lazy eye. She’s not jealous. She rarely talks.

Camila and I don’t talk much. We usually just sit and enjoy each other’s presence. She rarely blinks. Her lips are red. When we kiss she’s always the first to pull away. She has commitment issues. She wants to get married. She says she needs me and then doesn’t talk to me for several days.

Camila is from Northern Peru, where her family still lives. She’s never left the country. As of yesterday she didn’t know Chile was on the Pacific and Argentina on the Atlantic. She has no desire to travel. She doesn’t read. She doesn’t listen to classical music. She thinks chess is for nerds.

Camila likes instant coffee. She likes papayas. She doesn’t have a digestive system. She wants to be a hair stylist one day but lacks hands. She lacks ambition. She lacks a central nervous system. She lacks a sense of humor. I spend the majority of every day trying to get Camila to laugh, and she hasn’t even blinked. She rarely looks me in the eye. She says it makes her uncomfortable.

Camila and I are good for each other. Opposites attract. Camila and I will be together forever, or at least the rest of this week. She lives in the closet in Clara’s room. Her hair gets shorter everyday, unlike ours, which gets longer. Camila has perfect skin. She doesn’t have to shower. She smells like hairstyling products and plastic. Camila is a my girlfriend.

Instatravel

“No addiction is good.” – Jose Mujica

There’s no doubt social media and various websites like Airbnb and Google Flights are changing travel, it’s just not quite clear exactly how. Every time you connect to Instagram you’re bombarded with images of happy people visiting exotic locations around the world, and feel a little bit jealous/bad about yourself. Even Airbnb makes something like staying with a stranger, something that used to rarely happen organically, completely commonplace. This weekend, for example, I’m staying with a couple at the foot of the Colima Volcano in Southern Jalisco, Mexico, and I venture to say this experience would never happen without the aid of the internet. I’ll probably take a few pictures while I’m there. I’ll probably write a few blogs.

The question is: Is this a good thing?

hashtaguear

Airport, CDMX.

Travel these days is becoming more in the hands of the people. Instead of getting in a cab, you get in an Uber, and average Jane/Joe takes you where you want to go. Instead of staying in a hotel, Average Jane/Joe rents out their spare room. I have no doubt this peer to peer system will soon extend to even more areas, though my feeble brain is incapable of forecasting where. Airbnb already has Airbnb “experiences,” where Average Jane/Joe takes you on a tour of their town, or teaches you to dance, or cooks you a fabulous risotto dinner, all for a reasonable fee.

One place I don’t think it will ever extend is to the realm of air travel.

“Hi, my name is Billy, and welcome to Uber JET. I have exactly 12 hours experience in the cockpit. Buckle up.”

But then again, what do I know? Maybe one day buying a plane won’t be that much more expensive than buying a car, more people will have their pilot’s license, and this will actually be an option.

With things like Facebook and Instagram, vicarious travel has also become much more accessible, if not unavoidable. Every time you open Instagram you’re transported, sometimes against your will, to places like Thailand, or Paris, or Thailand, and come to think of it, usually Thailand. Telling the world about your trip has become much easier, to the point where everyone is telling everyone else about their trips, all of the time. You go to Paris, take 50 pictures, and all of them go on Facebook and Instagram. You friend does the same thing, but with Rome, and her friend the same thing with Malta, and her friend the same thing with Madrid, and her friend the same thing, again with Paris. It’s a never-ending web of travel images, and suddenly, even though you’ve never been to the Great Wall, you’ve seen 6,000 pictures of it, and it no longer feels as exotic. Maybe it makes you want to travel less. Maybe it makes you go insane. I don’t know how this is affecting us.

mark wetzler ordinary nomad northern chile hitchhiking

Let me take a selfie. Somewhere in Northern Chile.

In the end, the most special travel experiences are still the ones that arise organically. You meet someone in a cafe and they tell you about some dilapidated castle five miles out of town you simply must see (followed by an exchange of telephone numbers and medium-term romance), or you meet someone at a bar and they invite you to a party the next day. The reason these organic experiences are more special is because they’re not based on some kind of algorithm or criteria. There are more mystical forces at work, like attraction, mood, and even luck, like the possibility of overhearing a conversation in a cafe. Just as apps like Tinder and Bumble have cheapened dating, the overuse of websites like Airbnb, as well as posting all your experiences on Instagram, cheapens travel. The mystique of travel remains, but I dare say not nearly as much so for the traveler who travels to then post pictures on Instagram. Not that this is a new phenomenon. People have always traveled to brag about their travels, even when it was just inviting the neighbors over for a slide show. But showing a slide to your neighbors isn’t quite the same as posting a picture on the internet for everyone to see.

menos face mas book

Menos Feis, mas Book. Santiago de Chile.

In the end, travel can’t change for you if you don’t let it. Instagram and Facebook can enhance your travel experience when used in moderation (maybe), or cheapen or even ruin it if used ad nauseam. Just try one thing: When you wake up, don’t let checking Facebook or Instagram or Twitter be the first thing you do. Get out of bed, stretch, and say the word “hashtag” a few times out loud. Then, for everything you say that morning, precede it with, “Hashtag.”

“Hashtag, how are you doing this morning?”

“Hashtag, fine.”

“Hashtag, you getting ready for work?”

“Hashtag, you had breakfast yet?”

etc.

You’ll social media blues will be cured in no time, and you’ll be back on the path to reality.

Plastic Bag Nation

Plastic Bag Nation

I like to make observations when I go to countries. I like to think I’m an observant guy. Of course, it’s also hard not to make observations. Even if you were walking around with your eyes closed it’d be difficult to not make observations.

One thing I’ve noticed about Mexico is how prominent plastic bags are. This is plastic bag country. Plastilandia. Plastic Bag Nation. It’s not uncommon to see someone at a corner shop buying the following items: eggs, fruit, meat, and maybe something else like Coca Cola. The eggs are put in their own plastic bag, the fruit in its own bag, and all of this is put inside one bigger plastic bag. This is Plastic Bag Nation.

When you go to a grocery store you have to fight with the bagger to not get a plastic bag. “I don’t need a bag,” you say. They start to put your stuff in a plastic bag anyway. “Sorry, I won’t be needing a bag,” you say again. They look at you like you might’ve recently hit your head or don’t understand the concept of plastic bags. And then you walk down the street carrying your avocado and your onion in your hand.

The worst place I’ve been to in terms of plastic bags is Nicaragua. Here, not only does everything come in plastic bags, but often times once these plastic bags are used they’re immediately thrown in the street. There’s a reason for this. Back in the proverbial day, things were wrapped in plantain leaves in Nicaragua when they were sold. When you consumed whatever was inside, you simple threw the leaf in the street. No harm, minimal foul. But nowadays little comes wrapped in plantain leaves, everything comes in plastic, but this custom of throwing the wrapper on the ground has lingered. And so, if you’re on a bus in Nicaragua, it’s not uncommon to see someone eating a dish of chicken and rice out of a styrofoam container, and then to instantly throw that container out the window. Without batting an eye. Without squinting an eye. And sure, you could inwardly berate someone for doing this, or even outwardly berate them, but it’s not done with malice, in fact, it’s done with no thought at all.

Of course, the plastic bag culture is changing in many countries. It’s disappearing. In a place like Whole Foods in The States they might take you in a back room and beat you with a paddle if you were to get too many plastic bags. A lot of countries charge for plastic bags now. And more and more people bring their own bags to the grocery store, which is a good thing. In Germany people have cotton bags made from organic cotton, and these bags are expertly crafted to last several lifetimes. I know, because I’ve been using one to carry around my laptop and my personal effects for the last two months whenever I go out on the town. Hats off to German engineering.

It might change one day in Mexico. If it were to change overnight, I fear there might be a revolt. People might start stealing plastic bags. They might start making their own plastic bags. They might start wearing plastic bags. Until that revolution happens the plastic bag culture will continue. The eggs will have their home. The meat, too. At home in a never-ending sea of plastic.