Can I Get a For-Here Cup? Flying too close to the sun at Cafe Lapso in Ciudad Guzman, Mexico.

Ciudad Guzman, located an hour and a half south of Guadalajara in the Mexican state of Jalisco, is supposedly fresa. Fresa is the Mexican word for posh or snobby. It’s usually possible to tell if someone is fresa by the way they talk. This is especially true in Mexico City, where the fresa accent is generally very nasal and makes you want to stick an ice pick in your ears.

One place that’s undoubtedly fresa in Ciudad Guzman is a cafe/bookstore called Lapso. It’s fresaness is reflected in the prices and the fact that 70% of the clientele order frappuccinos. It’s fresaness is reflected in the hipster music coming from the speakers, and the beautiful courtyard in the back, complete with plants, fountain, and a winged statue of Icarus.

There’s something extra special about courtyards in Mexico, because usually they’re somewhat unexpected, and a welcome respite from the chaos of the street. Lapso’s courtyard is one of the most peaceful I’ve ever visited. One could be forgiven for coming here, ordering a cappuccino, and spending six or seven hours listening to the birds and basking in the greenness of the plants.

Getting this for-here cup was a battle.

My only gripe with Cafe Lapso is that it lacks identity. The cafe area inside makes you feel one way, the bookstore another, and the courtyard in the back yet another. For example: When sitting in the courtyard I feel as if all is right in the world, and a little bit like I’ve just entered the Garden of Eden and will soon be ashamed of my nakedness after biting into a pomegranate and talking to a snake. But in the cafe area inside I feel like I’m in a cafe that’s trying to be cool and mostly failing. And in the bookstore area I feel angry, because there aren’t any Roberto Bolaño books.

Upon ordering I asked if I could have my cappuccino in a for-here cup, so as not to waste paper. I was dismayed to learn they didn’t have any, but then the employee informed me I could use one of the employee cups.

“OK,” I said.

“But just so you know,” she said, “If you come in the afternoon my co-workers probably won’t do it. Because if someone overhears you they might want a for-here cup, too.”

“OK,” I said.

While she was making the coffee I looked for the Bolaño books and, upon not seeing any, began muttering mild profanities under my breath. But then the cappuccino was ready and I made my way to the courtyard and all was peaceful. The sun had just retreated behind the building. From my corner I could see the statue of Icarus, standing in the middle of the courtyard and thus fully-exposed to the sun’s rays. The cappuccino started to kick in and my brain started to accelerate. I started having grandiose thoughts, thinking about traveling to exotic locations around the world. Even though my body remained below, mentally I started to leave the courtyard and soar overhead. Suddenly, I was a bird. Anything was possible .The world below was just a distant memory. I flew higher and higher, screaming with delight. But then I noticed something was keeping me from flying higher, and that’s also when I noticed the blazing sun, and felt the wax dripping down my back.

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A Demon in the Forest? El Nevado de Colima Attempt #1

nevado de colima

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.

nevado de colima

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.

arbutus madrone nevado de colima mexico

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.

nevado de colima, plantas, plants

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.

water nevado colima

Ahhhhhh, 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.”

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A demon in the forest.

Preview: Four Days at the Foot of an Active Volcano

Photo Credit: livingandworkinginmexico.wordpress.com

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.

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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.

How to Get From Mexico to Chile for Cheap

near villa rica, chile

What’s the cheapest way to get from Guadalajara, Mexico, to Chile? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately.

A quick search on Google Flights tells I could fly from Guadalajara, Mexico to Valdivia, Chile (because I don’t want to go to Santiago, I want to go south) for a casual $839 dollars. But I don’t have $839. I’m not an oil magnate. I’m not a sheik. And besides, I bet I could do it cheaper….

Dear God.

So I do another search, this time using Google Flight’s wonderful map view, and see I could get from Guadalajara to Lima, Peru, for $154 dollars on April 11th. This is a much better price, since flying from North America to anywhere south of the equator is notoriously expensive. $154 dollars is a steal.

Hooray.

But Lima isn’t exactly Chile. In fact, if you wanted to take a bus from Lima to Chile, you’re looking at about an 18-hour bus ride. I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a bus for 18 hours before. I have. Several times. And let me tell you…..it’s actually kind of fun (see: awful).

And even if you took a bus from Lima to Chile you’d only be in northern Chile, and still another 24-hour, $70 hell ride from Santiago (and another 10-hour bus ride from Valdivia, or, where it starts to get green). Luckily, that’s where Sky Airline comes in.

So many hours of desert travel saved by a mere $113.

Sky Airline is wonderful, mostly because they refuse to have an “s” in their name. It’s not “Sky Airlines.” It’s unapologetically “airline.”

Anyway, now we’ve made it to Santiago. We’re in Chile!!! But we want to get further south. We want to get where the landscape starts reminding us of Washington State. Where they’re blackberries and sea lions and salmon. Again, Sky Airline is critical:

After one night in SCL, we hop on this beauty of a flight from Santiago to Valdivia. Valdivia is one of the most beautiful cities in Chile. It’s a university town. It’s on a river. There’s a market everyday next to the river and sea lions and fresh cherries and pretty much everything else you could want in life. And from Valdivia it’s a relatively short bus ride to Puerto Montt, the northern tip of Patagonia, and the fairytale that Patagonia promises.

If you’ve ever wondered how I spend my time, this post might give you a good idea. I love solving conundrums like these, and even better, following through and carrying them out. But whether or not this trip will happen remains to be seen. I’ve still got a little soul searching to do here in Guadalajara first.

Drinking Topo Chico in San Francisco de Ixcatan

tacos san francisco ixcatan

The day started with me descending into the belly of the beast, i.e. the dark cavern that is Guadalajara’s SITREN, i.e. Guadalajara’s metro. But don’t call it the metro. People will correct you and call it the train, despite the fact that it runs underground, and is indeed a metro in every way possible apart from the fact that people don’t call it that.

But anyway.

My goal this morning was to go SOMEWHERE. Anywhere. All I wanted to do was get out of GDL, and preferably to a small town. I had a few small towns north of GDL in my cross-hairs, one of them being San Francisco de Ixcatan, which looked to be in the mountains, or some kind of valley, next to a rushing body of water, which I believe laymen call a “Rhivjer.”

My plan of attack was this: Take the metro, I mean train, as far north as I could, and look for a bus. This is why I’m not allowed to travel with people. Most people wouldn’t subscribe to this plan. What if there aren’t buses? What if that part of town is really bad? Why don’t we just go to the main bus station and do this methodically?

Bo……..ring. (boring).

I got off the train and started walking north, hoping buses would be going by right there. But when I looked at Google Maps I realized I’d probably have to connect with the main highway before there’d be buses. So I kept walking. I bought a “chocomil,” or chocolate milk, made fresh right there with cinnamon on top. With this glucose infusion I kept walking, and after a few minutes asked a guy sitting by the side of the road if he knew where the buses to Ixcatan left from. He seemed excited. “Right down there, by the Elektra,” he said, pointing down the hill. And so I kept walking. I walked for probably half a kilometer, and the Elektra, an electronics store, came into view. There was a slough of people in front of it, the chaos of buses stopping, the heat, the cars speeding by. I crossed the road and followed people’s lead, taking a seat on a planter in the shade created by the Elektra.

“Good afternoon,” I said to the people sitting next to me. “My name is Mark Thomas, first of his name, and I was wondering if the buses to San Francisco de Ixcatan pass by here.”

“Where’s that?” the woman said.

“Ahhhh, Ixcatan,” she quickly added. “What did you call it?”

“It’s just that it says ‘San Francisco de Ixcatan’ on the map.”

“Why do you wanna go there?” the guy sitting next to her asked.

“I don’t know. To eat. To get out of the city.”

This seemed like a novel idea to them. I gathered from our short conversation that Ixcatan wasn’t exactly on the top of people’s bucket lists.

road to ixcatan

(For the record: I despise the term bucket list. I’m ashamed of myself for using it. It’s kind of a buzz word these days, people always asking each other, “What’s on the top of your bucket list?” followed by a 15 minute conversation about Thailand.)

The bus was glorious. Oh, how I love locomotion. Moving faster than you could under your own power. Is there anything better? Besides chocolate milk, of course.

Within 15 minutes we were out of Guadalajara and a large valley stretched before us. For some reason I had expected everything to be green and florid, but it was decidedly arid. Dry. Parched. And we weren’t going UP in altitude. We were going down. Down a steep, winding hill, further into the heat. Out of the city, but not out of the heat.

Even before getting to Ixcatan I was thrilled by the trip. Thirteen pesos and I had gotten a world away from GDL. Why have I not been doing this every weekend? Or every day, for that matter? Why don’t I live in San Francisco de Ixcatan, keep goats, and tend to them? This last question would plague me for most of the day.

plaza ixcatan iglesia church

Upon arriving to the town, which was quiet, a few old men sitting in the main plaza under the shade of a jacaranda tree (I have no idea what kind of tree it was), I sought out tacos. I was rewarded with a stand next to the church that sold tacos dorados for 10 pesos each, of which I had two. After this I drank a Topo Chico, Mexico’s premier mineral water, and headed for the hills. I took a cobblestone road that seemed to lead out of the town, and indeed in less than 10 minutes I WAS out of town, listening to the sounds of the insects, the birds, the sounds of the country on a hot day in old Mexico.

After my foray into nature I walked back into town where I spotted a horse standing on the sidewalk waiting for its owner. I sat next to the horse, and next to a dog that was taking refuge from the sun in a tree planter. There I sat for some time, observing the town. There was a group of people to my left listening to music and drinking beer. A man road by on his horse followed by his son, who was riding a pony, and then they talked to the people and went by me again. The dog, when I sat next to it, stirred for a second, looked at me, and went back to sleep. The horse seemed annoyed at having to wear a bit, but content to be in the shade.

And then I went back to the main plaza, where I continued to sit. When I heard the sound of the bus, I ran to get on it. It didn’t leave for a few minutes, however, so I walked over to a guy selling fruit and got a bag of mango and watermelon covered in chile and lemon for 15 pesos. And then it was time to get on the bus, and time to leave San Francisco de Ixcatan.

horse ixcatan

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Legs Pointed Skyward

Today I taught my English class in the upscale neighborhood of Providencia, three hours of intense one on one English instruction, nurturing the finest minds from Guadalajara, and then afterward went to the park. I went to the park to work out. Lately I’ve been going three times a week and doing bench, sit-ups, pull-ups, and usually one wildcard exercise like wrist curls.  My workouts last approximately five minutes. Today was special though, because there was a guy there working out, and upon arriving I said to him, “Hey, do you know how to do these exercises? I don’t know if I’m doing them properly.”

“More or less,” he said.

It turned out he was basically a personal trainer. Or at least he became my personal trainer for the next 30 minutes. His name was Frank, and when he said his name with a distinct American/Non-Mexican accent, I asked him if he spoke English.

“More or less,” he said.

He taught me how to do various exercises, like deadlifts, with perfect form, and stressed that good form was much more important than how many reps you could do and with how much weight.

“I’m a perfectionist, Frank,” I said, “So I understand the desire for good form. Why do you think I asked you if you knew how to do these?”

Frank helped me add several new exercises to my repertoire, like hanging from a beam. I’ve never been one to just hang from a beam — I usually can’t resist the urge to try to pull myself upward — but it turns out it’s fairly agreeable. It stretches you out. It felt good on my wrist. And Frank claimed it was a good way to build grip strength and strength in general.

On the way to my English class I made another wonderful discovery: An upscale grocery store. I went in hoping they’d have mate, and they did have mate, two wonderful Argentinian brands — Cruz de Malta and Rosamonte — that are guaranteed to send my brain into the stratosphere over the next few weeks — but they also had something even better (roughly the same): Vichy Catalan. If you don’t know what Vichy Catalan is, I feel sorry for you, but I don’t blame you. Vichy Catalan is sparkling water. It comes from Catalunya. It tastes roughly like sulfur, and I’m obsessed with it. The only problem is in Spain it costs about a euro a liter and here it costs $3.50 cents for a half liter. Still, I bought one. I brought it to my English class and said to my student, “Prepare for massive life changes.” My student hated it, which I was hoping for, since it meant more for me. And so now, for as long as I stay in Guadalajara, I’ll reward myself on any occasion possible with the finest mineral Spain has to offer, since now I know exactly where to get it.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Guadalajara. How long I’m staying here. This morning I woke up in foul spirits and upon exiting my room immediately stepped on a paralyzed cockroach and the resulting sound sounded like a bubble on a sheet of bubble wrap popping. Why do I say “paralyzed?” Because when cockroaches come into contact with fumigation chemicals they become paralyzed, lying on their back, feet pointing to the sky, waiting to be disposed of. I’d seen them like this before and always thought they were dead. But today the owner of my house set me straight. When this happened I thought, “OK, no more. I’m getting the hell out of Guadalajara.” But then on the way to class I had a sort of epiphany. I could’ve left today, I could’ve just said to hell with everything, and been instantly “free,” but I would’ve felt bad and probably questioned the decision. Or I could do something I’m not used to. I could give the decision some more time, and not rush it. So that’s what I’ve decided to do. I’m pretty sure I’m going to leave GDL soon (which will be great for this blog), but I’m going to take Semana Santa (Easter), and getting out of the city for a few days, to think about it. If I come back and still want to leave, then peace out, GDL.

But who knows. Maybe I’ll want to stay here and work out with Frank. And drink mate. And on very, very special occasions, buy a cool, refreshing, slightly sulfuric bottle of Vichy Catalan.

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Presidente Mujica

“Either you’re happy with very little, without all that extra baggage, because happiness is inside you, or you don’t get anywhere.” – Jose Mujica

I have a new idol. A new hero. And his name is Jose “Pepe” Mujica, the former president of Uruguay. How did it take me so long to listen to this guy, to learn what he was all about?

If you’re not familiar with Jose Mujica, the first thing you could do is watch this video:

And then after that you could watch this video:

And then, if you speak Spanish, you could watch the best video of them all:

And then finally, if you really want to know more, you could watch this video:

When Presidente Mujica was in office, he donated 90% of his salary to charity. Instead of having a presidential plane, he spent that money on having a rescue helicopter located in the middle of Uruguay that could respond at a moment’s notice to people in dire need. And then you look at (if you’re American)…our president. And you want to cry. You see the things that he thinks are important, like fighting with people on Twitter…and you want to cry. You hear that he doesn’t read books, or read at all for that matter….and you want to cry. And you think about all the people that voted for him, all the people that thought, I have options, BUT THIS IS THE PERSON I THINK SHOULD BE THE LEADER OF MY NATION…and you don’t want to cry. You want to weep.

I don’t usually talk about politics because when it comes to politics I’m very ignorant. But I will say this: The earth would be paradise if people just did the following: take only what they need, and nothing more. This was and is the message of president Jose Mujica. I am as guilty of this as anyone, of consuming more than I need. But another message from president Mujica is that the most important thing (the only important thing) is not to give up. If you want something to change it doesn’t matter no matter how many times you try and fail, only that after the 1,145th (or 2,900th, or 8.623rd) failure, you get up again for another try.

On that note I’m going to go out and get a coffee, i.e. participate in more consumption, and probably berate myself because of it. But I’m not going to give up.

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.

 

The Desert of Nostalgia

hitchhiking northern chile desert

I feel strange this morning. A bit disconnected. But not that disconnected. I think, to be honest, I’m a bit bummed I’m not working this morning. I have the entire morning at my disposal. A vast chasm of space.

Last night I continued my current theme of not drinking alcohol during the week. I went to the grocery store where I bought an empanada, some cooking oil, and an avocado. The goal was to make burritos a lo gringo, but I forgot to buy tortillas. So I ended up having rice with onion and avocado smothered in Valentina sauce, accompanied by a Dr. Pepper, and watched the first episode of Black Mirror. I found it quite disturbing. It actually almost ruined my night. I’m sensitive.

I’d be a bit surprised if I’m still in Guadalajara in a month. And it’s not that I’m desperate to leave, I just think there’s a good chance I will. Every time I think about the world and it’s vastness, all the places I could see, all the places I don’t even know exist, it seems a shame to stay in one place. I wonder what’s happening in a cafe right now in Vladivostok. I wonder how it smells to wake up in London. I wonder what it would feel like to be drinking mate in the southern Chilean town of Coyhaique. To wake up, have an espresso, and take off down a dirt road in Sardinia.

A year and a half ago I left the apartment where I was staying in Seattle, took the ferry to my parents’ house, and then set off for the Olympic Peninsula. The goal was to surf a well-known river mouth that night before sunset. When I got there, there were no waves. Or there were BARELY waves. But I got in the water anyway. I was so happy. Overjoyed, actually. I got in the water and it was already almost an inky black and I sat in the stillness by myself, looking out at the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the pine-tree covered hills of Vancouver Island in the distance. Finally, a tiny wave came, just big enough to ride, and I stood up, pumped once to the right, , rode it for a second, jumped off, yelped, and stood there on the rocks, feeling the water around me. And then, looking back at the sky that was changing from dark blue to black, I walked back to my 1995 Honda Civic and started my journey. That night, I slept in a Walmart parking lot in Tumwater, WA. The next night I slept in Oregon, and within two weeks I was crossing the border into Mexico, and driving south, south, to Guatemala, Honduras, Central American and beyond. And so when I say I think about what it would be like to be drinking mate right now in the southern Chilean town of Coyhaique it’s because on that trip I remember leaving Coyhaique, having just bought a pack of Lucky Strikes, right around sunset, and on the way out passing the huge statue they have in the roundabout that’s a hand holding a mate gourd and a sign that says something like, The Mate Capital of Chile.

When I say I think I might be leaving Guadalajara soon it’s because of memories like these.

But enough nostalgia. There’s no need to be nostalgic. You can’t get the experiences back, though I’ve certainly tried to do so. And most of the time when you’re living an amazing experience you don’t even realize it in the moment. In fact, the best experiences are by definition the ones you don’t realize are amazing in the moment. In fact, they could kind of even suck in the moment. This has happened to me plenty of times. This might even be happening now, with Guadalajara. It’s never possible to know. And plus, our brains have a way of shielding us from painful memories, like going over an area of lump sand with a rake and smoothing it and smoothing it until it’s beautiful and you could never tell a storm took place. Our brains are like a forest that replants itself in the wake of a forest fire. After an unpleasant event everything is black and charred, but with the first rains the seedlings sprout, and then the trees start to grow, and in few years you have a juvenile forest, and with enough time you can’t even tell a forest fire took place. The very fact that the past is deceptive, that are brains are tricksters, is a good reason not to dwell on it. But sometimes it’s nice to dwell, at least a little. To look at pictures and remember a particularly special surf session, or a statue of a hand holding a gourd of mate.

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The Jalalabad of Central Ohio

ordinary nomad

I’m kind of digging the more journal-themed posts lately. They’re certainly easier to write because I just talk about myself. What I’m thinking.  What I want to do. Where I see my life going.

I’ve been thinking for awhile now how I can get the hell out of Guadalajara. And not necessarily to leave for good, but at least to travel more, at least to take a vacation. I would love to go to Seattle, for example, at the end of April or early May, and combine that with my cousin’s wedding in Chicago on April 28th. But the problem becomes financing that trip. Luckily, I have a bit of a plan. I often participate in research studies in Seattle. You go to the hospital, you surrender your body to science and in turn they give you large sums of money. I did one last time I was living in Seattle where they took out my red blood cells, infused them with a radioactive marker, and then put them back in my body to see how long they’d live. I love stuff like this. This hustle. I’d so much rather make $800 talking to the wonderful pathologist and exposing myself to the kind of danger that’s equivalent to six chest x-rays than expose myself to the danger of having a stagnant life. And so apparently there might be a one-day study at the end of April or the beginning of May which would essentially pay for my flight to Seattle and onward to Chicago. I don’t know how I’d then get back to GDL, or wherever I went, but there’s always hitchhiking.

So that’s been on my mind.

Another thing that’s been on my mind is not leaving this area, not leaving Mexico, but moving to a smaller town. It’s been disgustingly apparent for awhile now that I’m not a city person, that I’m country folk, and yet for some reason I continue to live in cities. But I can’t really think of a better place to live than a small Mexican mountain town (except actually about 100 other places), and I think I’ve found that town. It’s called Concepcion de Buenos Aires. It’s about two hours southeast of GDL, and it’s apparently called “The Switzerland of Jalisco.” People love to call places “The Switzerland of (Insert place).” Apparently Kyrgyzstan, for example, is “The Switzerland of Central Asia.” But what about comparisons between places with not so obvious similarities? For example, what’s the Fort Lauderdale of Eastern Washington? What’s the Des Moines, Iowa, of Northern Manitoba? What’s the Tokyo of Beijing? The Jalalabad of Central Ohio?

I found out about Concepcion de Buenos Aires because of a wonderful blog called Fulanito Viajero that’s inspired me to add a “Blogs I like” section to Ordinary Nomad at some point. In the blog post he talks about 11 impressive municipalities that most people from Jalisco don’t even know about.  There’s one called Bolaños, nestled in a canyon in the middle of nowhere north of GDL that looks not only enchanting but almost shares the same name as one of my favorite authors. And about Concepcion de Buenos Aires it says it’s a place “surrounded by forests and mountains where the faint scent of pine drifts throughout.” In other words, perfect. In other words, ciao Guadalajara.

But I can’t leave Guadalajara right now, because I’ve committed to some classes. That might be the only thing that’s keeping me here, and I’m GLAD it’s keeping here, because before I head off into the unknown again I should be more prepared. In the past I’ve always just left. But maybe I’ll do it right this time. Maybe I’ll really go for it. Maybe…

I just a lonche de pierna the size of a brontosaurus thigh and I feel sleep’s warm tentacles wanting to claim me. But I can’t be claimed. I have to teach a class in a half hour to a Colombian woman who lives in Spain. Have to keep saving. Keep plotting. Keep planning the next adventure.

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Sunday Night Thoughts #9

calle libertad guadalajara

The witching hour. The time of night when the light becomes crepuscular. When YOU become crepuscular in your thoughts and deeds. When you take a familiar route and suddenly notice that your surroundings are no longer familiar, that you’re lost. When you get home and the lights are off and all is silent. This is the witching hour. And it’s my favorite time of day.

Anyway.

Hello.

It’s Sunday night. And today has been great, but for no particular reason. I watched an episode of Black Mirror with D, a phenomenal show, and then we went to a sort of cafe with seating that was sort of outdoors and sort of indoors, a sort of open air, Caribbean feel, and I commented to her that I felt like I was “back in Cuba,” or “back in the Dominican,” despite the fact that I’ve never been to the Dominican.

When I got home I watched the Dortmund v. Hannover game, in which Christian Pulisic, my favorite player, had some wonderful dribbles. And then I worked my Instagram job, which I STILL somehow haven’t been fired from, and went out to wander a bit, and when I exited my house the light was perfect, the temperature was perfect, and I looked up at the treetops and suddenly my life was perfect, and I thought about how today will never be repeated, how each moment is a wonderful thing, and yes, one day my body will be in the ground, it will decompose, but for right now I’m fighting to add content to my life, to add meaning. I’m fighting to read poetry, to write poetry, to take pictures, to go surfing, to talk with friends, to help people, to learn, to teach, to love, to fight, to cry, and all that stuff. I’m fighting for living.

My first stop was El Expiatorio where I got a tamal rojo. I sat on the steps of the cathedral eating it and looking out over the plaza. Some people I met right when I got to GDL came up to me and said hi, and we talked for way longer than I expected, and the conversation was strangely refreshing. Then I walked to La Teteria, where I had a mocha frappuccino, talked to some friends on WhatsApp, worked a bit, and wrote in my journal. I’ve been keeping a journal religiously lately, thought I don’t know what kind of religion. It’s not catholic. It’s not muslim. It might be buddhist.

The light continued to be perfect at La Teteria. My mocha frappuccino had coffee beans in a it for decoration. After finishing it I walked into the cool, night air, down Libertad and over to Miguel Blanco, where I stopped at Aero Pizza on the way home. Tonight seemed like a perfect night to sit on the couch and eat pizza and watch a movie. I’m going to watch the new Tomb Raider movie with Alicia Vikander, mostly because I used to be obsessed with this video game and also because Alicia Vikander might be one of the most attractive people on the planet.

It’s been a pretty ordinary day, but it’s been a good day. It’s been a pretty ordinary week, but it’s been a good week. I plan for this trend to continue (minus, at times, the ordinary).

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