Sunday Night Thoughts #11 Arequipa, Arequipa, A--

I’m in Arequipa. I survived the 18 hour bus ride, which actually turned out to be 16 hours. And I say “survived” because there were a few times last night where we took some turns and I thought, This bus is going to tip over. This is bus is going to tip over and we’re going to go careening down a 500 foot embankment, and I’m going to be OK because I’ve got my seatbelt on. Because I did have my seatbelt on. I was probably the only one, lying there completely flat, as we careened around these turns, with my seatbelt on.

I slept about eight hours which meant I was only conscious for eight hours of the bus trip. And for the first two hours I was completely absorbed in the novelty of being on one of Peru’s nicest buses, the Cruz del Sur Confort Suites, a bus dedicated entirely to first-class, VIP bus seats. These seats lie down completely flat. You get two meals. And granted, the breakfast this morning was probably the closest I’ll ever come to being in prison, but it was food.

For hours two through five I was absorbed in my dinner, cold chicken and rice, and also the movie Thank You For Your Service. I also watched the movie Paris Can Wait, and tried to extract from it what women really want out of a relationship, and came to the following conclusions: They want impromptu picnics by the river with Frenchmen, dining out, being ushered around the French countryside, and chocolate.

Then this morning about about 10:30am we rolled into Arequipa, and I had a distinct thought: I want to keep going to Chile. But of course I can’t, because I’ve already booked an Airbnb for the week, and I have classes to teach, and the real reason I want to go to Chile is because I feel comfortable there and I keep going back to Chile and I’ll probably always keep going back to Chile until one day I marry a Chilena and we live in the woods. Her name will be Josefina or Penelope and we’ll keep sheep and goats and chickens and tend to the land and make 15 babies and forget about modern society, especially things like Instagram and assault weapons. Why does her name have to be Josefina or Penelope? Well, it doesn’t have to Josefina, but it definitely has to be one of the two.

The Airbnb where I’m staying in Arequipa is far from the center and only rents out one room, which means I’m the only one here, which means I’m chilling in the cavernous living room in the semi-darkness, typing away on my laptop, not thinking about what I’m going to do tomorrow. Not even thinking about what I’m going to do tonight, or what I’m going to do in the next 15 minutes, or 10 minutes, or five minutes. Not thinking about what I’m doing right now. Just breathing and sipping tea.

But mostly thinking a ton.

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.

I’m Going to the Beach

I’m going to the beach today. Which means I must apologize because this post is going to be a bit hurried, I’m supposed to meet a guy named Joshua at the Central de Zapopan on the west edge of Guadalajara at 11am and I want to allow at least an hour to get there, just in case there’s traffic or construction or some kind of protest, which is highly possible, not to say likely.

The place we’re staying in Sayulita should be pretty decent:

Nice and cheap, which I like, and also doesn’t have wifi. At first I was bummed about this: No wifi? How am I going to check my Instagram every 3.4 seconds? How am I going to check Facebook? How am I going to watch YouTube chess videos? But then I realized that not having wifi is not the end of the world. I mean, I can think of a few things that are worse. Not a lot. But a few things.

Sayulita, in case your Mexican coastal geography is poor, is basically due west of GDL:

It’s a gringo town, which means there are a ton of gringos, and the prices are ridiculously high. I’ve gotten used to how cheap things are in GDL. I’ve gotten spoiled. Spending even $5 on lunch in GDL would be outrageous. But I’m sure Sayulita prices are the same as the US, though since there are locals living there there must be places that cater to these locals, which means there must be places that are cheaper.

I was excited to surf in Sayulita, though it looks like there won’t really be waves. There weren’t waves last time I was there. Does Sayulita ever get waves? Someone also told me the sewage system in Sayulita isn’t — well — that basically there isn’t a sewage system. All the waste from the town goes right into the ocean on the beach right in front of the town. Honestly, I’ve only ever had lunch there, but I kind of hate Sayulita. But luckily we’re not staying in town. Casa Cascada is on a 15-hectare property just outside of the town. It has a pool. And there’s no wifi.

And I don’t know what a hectare is.

And now I should probably go. I want to get a 15 pesos fruit cup before hitting the road, since I haven’t eaten anything today. Last night I got invited to a get together at an apartment in Chapalita and a group of us sat on the roof and, since it was Valentine’s Day, each gave a short speech. Mine was terrible. I said something about how being up on the roof gave me a different perspective of GDL and made me like it more. And then Kike, one of the guys there, caught wind of the fact that I was a Spanish teacher.

“All right, proFEsor,” he said, “Enlighten me. What’s the word in Spanish for when the sun paints the clouds orange and pink in the late afternoon?”

“Sunset?”

“No.”

I had no idea.

“Arrebolar,” he said. “What’s the word for the smell of rain?”

“There’s a word for that?”

“Petricor.”

And so I sat on the roof thinking for a bit about not matter how much I ever know, there will still be a sea of ignorance extending in front of me.

Which is fine. By the end of today, the actual sea will be extending in front of me.

What Airbnb Ratings REALLY Mean

apartment

If you travel enough you’ll inevitably stay in an Airbnb. I like Airbnb for the most part, it can be a great way to meet people and a cheaper alternative to hotels. But one thing I don’t like about it is how inflated the ratings are. My rule of thumb is: Don’t stay anywhere with less than 4.5 stars. Which is ridiculous. Four point five stars should mean amazing! Four point five stars should mean your expectations were exceeded, the bed was perfect, you were greeted with fresh mint tea, you made friends for life, and had the kind of experience you’ll remember forever. But these days 4.5 stars means nothing. Five stars almost means nothing. Airbnb ratings are pretty much like Uber ratings: If the driver gets you there without killing someone or killing you or verbally harassing you, you give them five stars.

Thus, for the sake of clearing things up a bit, I’ve created this guide: What Airbnb ratings really mean.

5 stars:

The place is probably pretty good, and could even be great. But, due to rating inflation, there’s no way to tell. Until the place I’m staying in right now in Guadalajara which reminds me of a prison cell but still somehow has 5 stars, I’d never been disappointed by a place with 5 stars. Usually 5 stars is pretty solid (especially considering it couldn’t get more solid).

4 stars:

If a place has four stars it means at some point something significantly bad happened to one of the guests. Maybe the host wasn’t in town to receive the guest. Maybe the pictures in the ad showed a completely different place. Maybe there were cockroaches. In the letter grade scale 4 stars should be at least a B, but on Airbnb it’s a D. Again, my rule: never stay anyplace with less than 4.5 stars.

3 stars:

If you see a 3-star you’re in for a treat, but not one that comes from staying there. Instead, read the comments. You’re almost guaranteed to come across, at some point, the following elements: insane accusations, personal attacks, acid-like sarcasm. Something like, “The host seemed pretty nice at first but then he stayed outside my room all night making slurping noises and yelling the words, ‘Mi piace!’ in Italian.” You’re also usually guaranteed a similarly hostile rebuttal from the host/hostess. A 3-star rating is enough to ruin a property.

2 stars:

Someone died in this apartment.

1 star:

I’ve never seen a 1-star rating. I don’t think it exists. If a place did have a 1-star rating it would probably be removed from the Airbnb website. However, just for the sake of this post, let’s pretend you did somehow manage to book and stay at a 1-star property. I imagine your stay would go something like this:  You open the door to the apartment/chalet/house/cabin. Someone promptly bludgeons you over the head. Two hours/days later, you wake up in a basement chained to a ventilation pipe, where you’re forced to watch episodes of the Big Bang Theory/have bamboo shoots shoved under your fingernails until you divulge some kind of information and/or die.

If you’re like me you now want to explore the Airbnb site just so you can see how low a rating you can find and what kind of comments there are. I wouldn’t recommend it. The internet comment world is dark and dingy and smells like aftershave. When in doubt, stick to my rule: 4.5 stars and above: OK. Anything less: Keep looking.

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Sunday Night Thoughts #1

“So, Max goes for the Ruy Lopez, and it’s not very clear if Max Deutsch really knows that this is the Ruy Lopez.” — Agadmator

I’m  testing the waters with this “Sunday Night Thoughts” thing. I figured it’d be a good way to recap the week, reflect on things that went well, things that could’ve gone better. I can also talk about how this blog is coming along as well as my writing career. For example, Ordinary Nomad almost hit 100 views/day the other day, which isn’t a big deal, but considering how new this website is, it kind of is. Of course hopefully soon 100 views will be laughable, to be replaced by 200, and then 500, and then 1,000, and then….

I might have to do a little spam for that.

Another exciting thing that happened this week was I got my first donations, both on PayPal and Patreon. This is one way I plan to monetize this site. I’ve been (weirdly) watching a shit-ton of chess videos lately, mostly by this guy “agadmator” (link to YouTube channel) from Croatia, and I like how he has clear ways to donate and also displays the name of people who’ve donated and amount (“Hello everyone!”). So I’ve added this to the sidebar on my website. The weird thing about watching all these chess videos though is that I have no desire to actually play chess. I just like watching good moves. It’s soothing.

I might have to get drunk tonight.

OK, well maybe not drunk. But I’m staying in this Airbnb in GDL that’s depressing, and I’m also a bit depressed because I just spent a week in a beautiful place surrounded by people (even if I wasn’t constantly interacting with them), and a wonderful dog named Laila and Laila’s best friend, a cat named Campanita.

Now I feel like I’m in prison. There’s an American dude staying in the room across from me. His room has no windows to the outside world. He’s constantly talking on the phone to who knows who. His light isn’t even on. So I guess I should retract my statement about feeling like I’m in prison. THAT guy feels like he’s in prison.

But it’s cheap. And it looks clean. And there’s a courtyard I could actually be chilling in instead of chilling in my cell. And the people that live here, a couple named Rodolfo and (I think) Adriana, are nice. I had one of my usual nomad moments of despair earlier in the park today, but now I know what to do: Quit complaining, think about all the good things in your life, do little things to make your life better (like sit in the courtyard), and quite bitching.

And maybe get drunk.

That’s it for tonight’s Sunday Thoughts. What’d you think? Should it be a regular feature? Should it condemned to digital draft oblivion forever? Why does this place smell like toast?

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