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

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

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

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

GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH.

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

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

 

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Monday Afternoon in Lima

Monday afternoon in Lima and I’ve just done my pull-ups and now I’m drinking instant coffee in the kitchen preparing to walk to Plaza Salaverry to buy boxers. I need boxers. If I buy boxers, I can delay doing laundry a few more days.

I just sat in bed listening to Vivaldi and looking for a cheap bus to Tacna. And by cheap, I of course mean as expensive as possible. This is because I want a lie flat bed if I go to Tacna. Anything else would be a wretched disappointment. 160 degrees? No. The bed must recline 180 degrees. It must lie flat. For this I’m willing to pay top dollar.

My friend Jenny sent me a song called “Hallucinating” but I don’t like it. There are some rice puddings on the middle of the table and I’m wondering if one of them’s destined for me. I’m pretty sure one of them has my name on it, despite not actually having my name on it. Last night the Spanish guy came back from being out of town a few days. It’s still not clear what he does or where he gets his money. Today I said, “Hey, what’d you do the six months you were in Asuncion.”

He looked uncomfortable. “We, like, barbecued and stuff,” he said.

“Cool, man, barbecues are cool.”

I didn’t mean to make him think he had to explain himself to me. He can only barbecue from now until the day he dies as far as I’m concerned, and I wouldn’t think less of him. I’m sure he’d get good at barbecuing. I’m sure he’d develop coronary disease.

The real question, of course, becomes whether or not to have a second cup of coffee after I finish this one. And the answer is of course yes. The answer is mind-numbingly yes. I’ll have another one, and then I’ll walk to Miraflores, and do pull-ups and think about my English classes for tomorrow. Today’s, with Elena, was wonderful. We practiced the prepositions in, at, and on for awhile, and then we learned bedroom vocabulary. Since the activity was from the British Council, some of the words were words I wouldn’t use. Like “chest of drawers” instead of “dresser.” The word “drawers” was particularly hard for her to pronounce. Drawers. Drawers. I said just think of it like “drors,” and then she got better.

A plane flies overhead. We’re close to the airport. When planes fly overhead during my classes I mute my microphone and hope I don’t have to talk. Sometimes I just type. I don’t think my students have noticed yet. But it’s hard to tell.

Brazil Visa Now Way Easier to Get The River of January awaits

brazil

As if you needed another reason to go.

The Brazilian government has recently said (I’m paraphrasing here), “Hey, remember how our visa used to be super annoying (you had to get it before leaving the country) and also super expensive? Well, we decided that was lame, so now instead of charging $200 we’re only gonna charge $40. Oh, and also: You can get it online. What do you guys think?”

To which any of us in our right minds responded: Shit yes, how many sick days can I take this year?

Having to get the visa beforehand and also the price are the two things that’ve prevented me from going to Brazil all these years. I did go for one night during the 2016 Olympics, when the visa requirement was briefly waived. I crossed the border from Uruguay to a place called Jaguarao, where I stayed a few nights illegally, waiting for the veritable free-for-all the would be the lifting of the visa requirement. Actually, this didn’t happen (the free-for-all). In fact, the border control guys looked confused at first, but then the guy in charge reminded them that it was open season for foot-loose and fancy free Americans, and they stamped my passport and let me through.

(The best part of my time in Brazil was by far the bus ride to a city called Pelotas where I met two Mormon missionaries who sort of tried to convert me, to which I said, “Let the conversion begin.” But then, if I remember correctly, we couldn’t go into the center where they lived/worked because there had to be a man present and there was no one around. So I ended up getting the next bus out of there.

The second best part of the trip was seeing massive capybara alongside the road on the bus back to Uruguay the very next day).

“Why have you not tried feijoada yet?”

Why would you want to go to Brazil? Sorry to answer a question with a question, but: Have you tried feijoada? Have you listened to spoken Brazilian Portuguese? Have you seen the white-sand beaches with warm and only in some places (massively) polluted water? Have you seen pictures of Fernando de Noronha, the island paradise I, with the statue of Christ the Redeemer as my witness, will one day visit?

If you’re ready to take advantage of this thrice in a lifetime opportunity, the first step is to visit this website from Brazil Ministry of Foreign Affairs. You DO NOT need to go through an agency to get the visa. You DO NOT need help getting it. You can do it all through this website via the online form. The visa fee is $40, plus $4.24 in processing fees, for a total of $44.24. It’s good for 90 days.

The newfound ease in getting the Brazil visa might represent a general trend in ease of travel for US passport holders in South America. Argentina lifted their (once $160) reciprocity fee in March of 2016, as has Chile, though it still exists for Bolivia ($160), and Paraguay ($160).

The change from $200 to $44 is not insignificant, but the ease is even more attractive. Now, there’s no reason for anyone of us not to have a brief but terrifying encounter with a pitviper in the next few months. Or at the very least stroll the beaches of Copacabana and consume a heaping plate of feijoada.

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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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