Is Interjet a Budget Airline? Guadalajara to Lima: A Review

interjet mexico city lima

Yesterday I flew the Mexican airline Interjet from Guadalajara, Mexico to the illustrious city of Lima, Peru. Which means I’m now in Peru. I’ll give you 16 opportunities to guess what I’m doing at this exact moment. Coffee shop? Damn.

Yes, I’m in a coffee shop called Cosmo Beans located in the homey Magdalena del Mar neighborhood where I’m staying for a week, drinking an americano I expected to be much (much) better. It tastes burnt. And to top it off they served what I thought was going to be sparkling water in a small glass next to the americano, which is something they usually do south of the equator and is awesome, but instead it’s just still water.

But back to Interjet. Interjet, with their marketing and logo and whole vibe they give off, seem like a budget airline. And they sort of are. But they have many characteristics budget airlines don’t have. For example, I could’ve checked a bag yesterday weighing up to 55 kilos. Fifty-five kilos! I barely weigh 55 kilos. I could’ve checked a mastiff, or a crate of iron ore, but instead I just checked my duffel bag, which is getting really annoying to travel with, but contains my tent and sleeping bag and so I can’t ditch it.

I had aisle seats for both flights, which was fortunate, because they didn’t let me choose my seat when buying the flight. The first thing I noticed upon sitting down was how much legroom I had. At least it seemed like a lot of leg room. I’d gotten up at 3:30am that morning, and was pretty out of it. But it seemed like quite a bit of legroom, and also the aisles seemed wider than normal. Everything seemed more spacious than normal. I put on the song “La Follia” by Vivaldi and we taxied to the end of the runway, and took off just as the song got intense. I don’t usually listen to music when traveling, but this was a good decision.

On the flight to Lima the flight attendants served mango granola bars and sandwiches on orange bread with lettuce that look like it might’ve been from sometime in the late 90’s. But it was better than nothing. The couple next to me proceeded to order every sugary drink they could imagine, and I realized why Mexico’s obesity problem is starting to reach epic proportions. The flight attendants were very nice but one of them was speaking in her “flight attendant voice,” i.e. a voice you could tell she used for a job she didn’t really like dealing with less-than-grateful customers. There was an Argentinian guy across the aisle who somehow got drunk during the flight, despite the fact that I only saw him drink one beer. He wore sunglasses for 98% of the flight. When we landed in Lima it looked like an inch of stubble had grown on his face, and he seemed thoroughly hammered. I don’t know what happened.

All in all the most important thing about Interjet is something I still haven’t mentioned: the price. My flight to Lima from Guadalajara cost $175, which you can’t beat. Which means all the previously mentioned things are just luxuries. Legroom on a budget airline? Free food and alcohol? A checked bag weighing as much as a small manatee?

Which begs the question: Is Interjet really a budget airline?

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And That Was How I Left Guadalajara

The other night I woke up and thought someone was in my room and let out a yelp and then felt ridiculous and wondered if I’d woken up the neighbors. There’d appeared to be a black shape in the doorway, a man approaching me, but it was just a combination of the upper part of the door and my early morning brain.

The night before I’d gotten spectacularly drunk with Jason and Gizelle. I had two Licor 43s mixed with milk before meeting them, then beer, then mezcal, then more beer. I don’t remember going home. I do remember being at home and making myself yet another cocktail of Licor 43 and milk and then drunkenly messaging Yunuen telling her “My name is Mark” and “I’d like to meet you.” The next day I contemplated saying, “I’m really sorry for the drunk messages last night. That’s not cool,” but within a day she responded, “I think I’d like to meet you, too.” Then last night she texted me a litany of things that “weren’t cool” about me or how I’d treated her. She said it wasn’t cool the way I’d talked to her at the end of our relationship, when we were “breaking up,” that it wasn’t cool how I’d written so many times on this blog that I had no friends in Guadalajara when I knew her, that it wasn’t cool I referred to her as “someone who gave me an aloe plant” or “Y” when really her name is Yunuen. I read all of these message and went into a brief depression, which I combatted by watching chess videos. I was already feeling sad and melancholy and weird about leaving Guadalajara, in some respects like a failure, and getting these messages didn’t make things better. I responded, “Thank you for sharing how you feel and what you think,” and this morning went into an inner rage about the messages. Why the hell would she send me that shit on my last night in GDL? Why would she send it in the first place after a month of no contact?

I get to the airport this morning at almost exactly 4am and give the driver a 10 pesos tip. It’s the first time I’ve ever tipped an Uber driver. I woke up last night at 1am, 2am, and then 3:15am and got up for good. I lay in bed for a moment, checked my phone, and then I got out of bed and carried the glasses of my own urine to the bathroom, where I emptied them into the toilet and then peed. I’ve been peeing into glasses for the last two and a half months in the room where I stayed in Guadalajara to not have to leave my room. I’d pee in a big jar and then the next day surreptitiously ferry it to the bathroom, where I’d empty it and then wash it.

People filter into the waiting area for the flight to Mexico City. An announcement comes over the speakers for a Volaris flight somewhere. There’s a commercial playing on the TV over and over. A kid to my right just got told by his mother to get off the railing. A guy in front of me is taking pictures of his friends. I count the money in my wallet. Twelve hundred pesos. I need to change this in Mexico for Peruvian Soles if I can, and if I can’t I need to change it to dollars and then Soles and thus get screwed on the exchange twice. But the alternative is waiting until Lima, where I might not be able to change it at all.

There’s an announcement for Copa Airlines flight 723 to Panama City.

The last announcement for the Volaris flight to Mexicali.

Our flight is supposed to board in 15 minutes. Thank God for aisle seats. People are still  filtering in and I think about how I’ve been here for almost an hour and a half. The air smells vaguely of farts. My stomach has been severely messed up since the night of drinking. I didn’t eat dinner last night. I had a chocolate croissant. And this morning the only thing I’ve had so far is mineral water.

Finally they make the boarding announcement for our flight, and I put my computer away and go to the bathroom one last time.  I get my ticket out, and hope there’ll be plenty of overhead space. I think about what I should do on the flight, and decide I’ll read my book about uncontacted tribes in Brazil and listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

The woman takes my ticket, rips off the stub,says, “Buen viaje,” and I walk down the walkway and get on the plane, touching the metal outside of it in the superstitious way I’ve done for many years now. On the plane one of the flight attendants says, “Buenos días,” and I make my way back to 15c, where there’s enough overhead room for my bag, and then sit down. I watch the people shuffle slowly down the aisle, and get out my headphones, put on the Autumn part of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and close my eyes.

And that’s how I leave Guadalajara.

Sunday Night Thoughts #11

bosque los colomos

Feeling anxious. Tomorrow’s my last day in GDL. And the two companies I worked for here both owe me money, and I think there’s a decent chance one or both might try to not pay me. Which, financially, is not a big deal, but I fear how I might react. I could see myself making something of a scene. And I don’t want any scenes tomorrow.

Sitting at home now, playing chess and thinking about whether or not to drink milk. Or have more spinach. Or have water. Or go lie in bed and read my eBook about uncontacted tribes and wonder if the neighbors’ dog is going to bark and if I’m going to have to yell at them. My flight to Lima leaves at 6am which means I have to take an Uber to the airport at 3:45am. Then a flight to Mexico City. Then the flight to Lima. Get to the Lima airport, go through customs, and take an airport to my Airbnb in the quiet neighborhood of Magdalena del Mar, two blocks from the malecon. Teach English on Thursday. Teach on Friday. Walk to Pan de la Chola and get overpriced baked goods. If I remember correctly, their almond croissants are divine.

There’s a decent chance this blog URL will change tomorrow, though I’m not sure to what. It might change back to whereswetzler.com. It also might change to something else. It also might not change tomorrow, since there’s no hurry. But I sold out calling it Ordinary Nomad. I don’t like the word nomad, since I feel it’s overused and misused. So why did I pick it? I thought I had to cater to the masses to have the blog get popular. But fuck that. That’s exactly how you kill a blog, or, at the very least, kill your soul. So the URL is probably going to change, and probably soon. Maybe in conjunction with the trip to Lima.

Had a frappuccino with J and G at Starbucks on Chapultepec. How ironic that a week before I leave I make friends. We got pizza at Little Caesars tonight and sat on the planters in front of the University of Guadalajara, eating our pepperoni pizza, drinking our Dr. Peppers. And I was truly happy. In that moment, talking to them, I was happy.

And then I came home and ate raw spinach and now I’m on the couch and it’s so damn hot and I really hope the neighbors’ dog doesn’t bark and I hope they pay me tomorrow and A’s not a jackass and that’s about it. And I hope I eat better, but that’s not something you hope for, that’s something you just do.

“I’ve always considered latte art ephemeral” Another morning at Cafe Blé in Guadalajara

ble guadalajara

I come to Blé again today because even though I don’t want to come here everyday because it would be expensive, it is more or less the perfect way to start a morning. A matcha latte. A thick piece of toast slathered with butter and raspberry jam whose seeds you can taste. My seat in the corner where I’m able to observe the rest of the cafe, observe Ulises, the owner, as he goes about his business, and look out upon the street.

Ulises asks, “Can I prepare you anything?” and I say, “Lo de siempre, el latte matcha…” and then trail off. I take my seat in the corner and pull my laptop from its case, which is actually just a tattered merino wool shirt. I plug the charger into the wall and then insert the little magnetic piece that connects to the computer. I turn it on and see that the battery’s at 19%. This is probably because I was playing chess last night before I went to bed. I’ve been playing chess against the computer more lately, because I do it on an easier setting, and thus win more, and thus it’s more satisfying. Even when the computer has one second to think between moves it destroys me. And this is one of the lowest settings. But when it’s only allowed to think three moves ahead I can usually beat it.

My latcha matte comes and I comment on the design and Ulises talks about how latte art is “ephemeral” and how some people notice it and some people don’t. We talk about for-here cups and to-go cups, and how a latte having a design and being served in a ceramic cup can influence its taste, or at least our perception of its taste. I make a comment Ulises doesn’t understand and rather than I explain myself I let it linger. My Spanish feels poor this morning. I’m unable to express even the most basic things. I probably need mate, and I probably need to play chess. I’ve been playing chess and watching chess lately to the point where I see the pieces moving sometimes as I lie in bed, waiting for sleep. Supposedly, chess is becoming more popular. But isn’t that what people’ve always said? Isn’t that what people have always said about American soccer? Though that might actually be true. It is true, even if soccer’s popularity still blanches in comparison that of basketball or football. It’s hard to be an accurate judge of the popularity of something you’re involved in.

The toast Ulises serves me is almost two inches thick. I take the spoon and hack a wedge of butter onto it, and it’s real butter, not margarine. Margarine is huge in Mexico, because people think it’s healthier than butter. This, of course, is a travesty. Margarine is a disgusting mix of chemicals and oils. It tastes like refuse. It looks like refuse. It has a disgusting sheen to it, and I actually thought the butter at Blé was margarine until Ulises corrected me. Now that I know it’s real butter, it looks and tastes like real butter. I don’t know how I ever thought otherwise.

Within a few minutes the toast is gone, and the matcha latte is quick to follow. I sit back in my chair and look at the blue door across the street. I listen to the reggae or jazz or ska or whatever it is coming from the speakers. I listen to Ulises talking to a customer. They talk about expensive coffee, and I think back to the time in Buenos Aires with A where I tried the most expensive coffee I’d ever had. It was also the best. It was a Geisha bean from Panama, and it tasted sweet and caramelly.

My time in this cafe has almost run its course, and I wish I could relive it. I wish I could walk in again and order a matcha latte and slice of toast, and greedily dig into the toast as soon as it came. I could, of course, repeat this experience, but it would be disappointing. I’ll have to wait till tomorrow, or the next day. The plate that once held the toast now only holds crumbs, and the cup that once held the matcha latte now has a green stain where the steamed milk once reached. The latte art is long gone, as if it never existed. And it’s ephemeral, or we call it ephemeral, because it existed for three minutes, or less, and then was gone forever. But I wonder if everything isn’t ephemeral.

 

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“When you like what you do, it’s really easy” A morning at Cafe Blé in Guadalajara, Mexico

ble cafeteria y panaderia guadalajara mexico

Photo credit: Blé’s Facebook page

I wake up at 7:11am, 19 minutes before my alarm’s set to go off. My alarm never wakes me up. I’m terrified of the sound, so I always wake up before it goes off. I lie in bed for a few moments, feeling confused. I get up to go to the bathroom, but there’s already someone there, and so I go back to my bedroom and brood. It’s a good morning for brooding. I didn’t sleep that well, I think because of all the caffeine yesterday. Yesterday I drank mate, which I had been drinking from time to time in my favorite cafe, El Rincon del Mate, but now I have a bag of the stuff, I can make it whenever I want, and so yesterday my intake was increased.

While lying in bed someone comes into the kitchen and starts making breakfast. I immediately want to strike them. How dare they make such noise. I think it’s Rodolfo. His phone beeps from time to time from (probably) messages, and I want to get up and scream at him to turn it off. But instead I lie in bed rating Instagram ads for Appen, the job I still haven’t been fired from. I rate six ads in 21 minutes, deliberately taking a long time to do so. If I rate the ads too fast I won’t work the full hour, and won’t get paid the full hour. So I take my time. I minimize my usage of my phone’s speech to text capabilities, since that generally makes things go way faster. While I’m rating I continue seething at what’s going on in the kitchen, the beeping of Rodolfo’s phone, the sound of whatever he’s frying, probably heated-up chilaquiles from the day before. And then when I’m done I get up and get dressed so fast I almost pull a leg muscle, and then storm out of the house in a huff.

And all is well.

It’s cold outside. Daylight savings just kicked in, which means what’s 7:30am used to be 6:30am, which means when I wake up it’s much colder, and in the evening it’s hotter longer. The temperature change came quick. In February it rained and I wore my hat everyday and sometimes even my wool jacket, and now every night while going to bed I lie on top of the sheet with no shirt on, covered by nothing, listening to whatever TV program my neighbors are watching. My neighbors are an older couple often visited by their wayward son who has a dog that might be a boxer or a pitbull. They  mean well, but I don’t know how conscious they are of how close I sleep to the entrance to their house. I essentially live in their living room. I can hear almost everything they say and do. I can hear when they yell at each other. I can hear the dog eating its dog food outside, and I can hear the woman filling up her bucket with water every night, though why she does this I still have no idea. I’m separated from them by a single plate of glass, and in the middle of the window there’s not even glass; it’s just a sheet of plastic. To say the neighbors and I live in close quarters would be a statement.

I get to Ble, the cafe I’ve been coming to lately, and say hi to Ulises, the owner. There’s no one there. I’ve only ever seen one customer there besides myself. We make two seconds of small talk and I order the matcha latte and slice of toast with butter and jam I get every time I come here. There’s good, hipster music playing on the speakers, which he quickly changes to something softer. I wonder if this is for my benefit.

The first thing I do when I sit down is deactivate Facebook, and then I start looking for flights. I think about where I’d like to go in 2018. I decide the following places are must-go’s: Svalbard, Norway, and Bergen, Norway. Svalbard I must visit because it’s the furthest north place in the world that has commercial flights. And Bergen because my favorite author, Karl Ove Knausgaard, lived in Bergen ( for 14 years?)  and wrote Book 5 of his series My Struggle about it. Those are the only two places I must go. There are other places I’d like to go. I’d like to go to Siberia. I’d like to get lost in a small, Russian town. I’d like to go to Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. I’d like to go to Vladivostok. I’d like to go to South Korea. I’d like to go to North Korea. I’d like to go to Bhutan. I’d like to go to Japan. I’d like to go to Little Diomede Island, and Big Diomede Island, and Quebec City, and Chicoutimi, and Ushuaia. But Bergen and Svalbard are the only places I must go.

I sit in the cafe staring out at the street, listening to the music, wondering what I’m going to do until I teach online at 2pm. I’m getting sick of teaching online. I’ve stopped planning the classes, and the quality has suffered because of it. I don’t care. These classes will run their natural course. My teaching career will run its natural course. I think I’ll always be a teacher in some capacity, from time to time, sporadically, but I think what I teach will vary, and that will allow me to keep my sanity. I think about how I have exactly a week until I leave for Lima, where I’ll stay for at least a week. I think about the chess video I’m going to watch when I get back to my apartment after Ble, the mate I’m probably going to drink, and the Instagram ads I’m going to rate. I wonder if something extraordinary will happen today. I decide it probably won’t, and the thought briefly makes me sad.

And then I get up to pay and leave.

 

A special thanks to EAW and RR for their contributions to this blog.

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Struggling

karl ove knausgaard

Sitting in Starbucks in Providencia talking to my friend R. R is a writer, as in R actually gets paid to write. I’m also a writer, in that I also get paid to write, though it’s not my full time job. Someday it will be my full time job. Of this I’m completely sure. But right now it’s not.

This morning I woke up and prepared mate. First I poured a bit of the leaves into my gourd, and then poured room temperature water over the leaves several times, not drinking it but rather spitting it into the sink to get the powder out.  The powder’s a result of the leaves being in packaging and getting ground into a fine dust; too much powder means an upset stomach. While I was doing this I heated the water, close to a boil but not quite, and then sat in the living room sipping the delicious, barn-flavored tea.

While I was sitting there I began to think about my upcoming trip to Lima. I’m staying in an Airbnb for $10 a night in a neighborhood called Magdalena del Mar, near San Ysidro, near Miraflores. Whenever I’ve gone to Lima I’ve essentially gone to the same places, i.e. Miraflores. This is where almost all tourists go. It’s a beautiful neighborhood, right on the top of the bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. You feel like you’re in Santa Monica, or Venice, or San Clemente, or Santa Barbara, or Santa Cruz, or Pismo, or Marina del Rey, or San Onofre. But you definitely don’t feel like you’re in El Segundo.

But this time I’d like to see more of Lima. Would I like to see more of Lima? Actually, I might be pretty content just staying between Magdalena del Mar and Miraflores. My Airbnb is two blocks from the boardwalk. I envision myself taking walks every morning on the way to a cafe, smelling the Pacific Ocean.

R’s talking about how she’s thinking about buying some KOK, aka Karl Ove Knausgaard, aka the author you should be reading right now, and I said, “Have you ever read him?”

“No,” she said.

“Christ, R,” I said. “Start now.”

“Where should I start?” she said.

“Book 1.”

I think the frappuccino I just drank has started to kick in, because I feel a little jittery and a little excited. In approximately two hours I’ll feel the opposite. Is it worth is? Absolutely. Because when I get home I’ll just have a little more mate.

“I just ordered it on Amazon,” R says.

“Mother of God,” I responded.

I hope R likes his books as much as I do, though that might be impossible. I think the only who likes KOK as much as I do might be Zadie Smith, who once said, “I need his next volume like I need crack.”

Not that Zadie Smith has ever smoked crack. But you get the idea.

Sunday Night Thoughts #10 Taking advantage of new subtitle capabilities.

Chilling at home in Guadalajara after four nights in a small town near Ciudad Guzman, next to the Colima Volcano. It’s strange to be back in GDL, which after almost three months sort of feels like home. Emphasis on the “sort of.” There’s only one place that truly feels like home for me. It’s the Northwest corner of United States, and specifically the Northwest corner of the Northwest corner of the United States. I won’t give it away completely, but its name rhymes with “Preattle.”

A week from Tuesday I head to the South American capital of Lima, where my life, at least for the first couple weeks, will probably continue much like it has the last few months in GDL. I’ll do my Instagram job, I’ll teach online, I’ll walk around, I’ll go to cafes. But then after Lima I’m hoping to get off the beaten path a bit. So far the top two destinations in mind are Bolivia and Brazil. Brazil recently made their visa for Americans much cheaper, and much easier to get. Before it cost around $200 USD and you had to get it before leaving the country. Now it costs $44 and you can get it online. So, the Amazon?

I still really want this blog to be successful, and to do that I think I need to start doing more things worth writing about. Benjamin Franklin once famously said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” To be honest, I’ve been a bit frustrated with how slow the progress with this blog is going, and I’m not exactly sure what to do. A writer friend of mine said I should make a decision: Either make it super introspective, first person narrative, basically embracing the journal angle to the fullest, or write things that people might find useful, like travel tips, reviews, etc. So far Ordinary Nomad has been kind of a mix. When it comes to blogging, I don’t really know what I’m doing, despite having done it for a long time. I know what I’m doing when it comes to traveling. I know how to find the cheapest flights, good, cheap lodging, good restaurants and cafes, and I have an ability to get myself into interesting situations, in places most people don’t go. But so far it hasn’t translated to blogging success. And it’s frustrating.

I’m waiting for my pizza to come, which is sausage and black olive. This is my new Sunday tradition. I order a pizza and I sit watching an episode of Black Mirror, or YouTube chess videos. In El Fresnito I played a lot of chess, against the computer, because at night there wasn’t much else to do. And thank God there wasn’t much to do. The best moments this weekend consisted of lying in the grass and looking up at that clouds.

I hope this post finds all of you well, wherever you are in your corners of the world. I like to imagine where you are, you few readers, when you read this. New York? Seattle? Somewhere in the Philippines? This blog, weirdly, gets a small trickle of traffic from the Philippines. I have no idea why.

I awoke this morning full of hope for April and for the future, and that hope continues. It was right around the height of this hope that I took the picture featured on this entry, from a bus window, of the Nevado de Colima. I realize the horizon line is tilted. But I like this photo because it’s ordinary. Even if that’s something I don’t want this blog to be.

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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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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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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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