The Phantom Card The most important credit card you'll never have

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, girls and girls, girls and older men, older men and boys, boys and boys, welcome to the phantom guide. This is for credit card that doesn’t exist. Because it doesn’t exist, it can never be destroyed, stolen, mutilated, coveted, or prized away from you on some kind of filthy subway system, or lifted, or jacked, or thieved, or any other such malice that could cause it to no longer be in your possession. Thus it will be the most important card you ever (don’t) own. It will be immortal in that it will exist forever, or at least as long as the expiration date. Formless and beautiful.

If you read yesterday’s blog entry, you’ll remember that yesterday I found out some slimy thieves in Florida (though actually they’re probably not in Florida) tried to use my debit card, which means now my debit card is blocked, which means I have to use my backup card, from Homestreet Bank on Bainbridge Island, which is actually not a half-bad backup card at that. This is the first time I’ve traveled with two debit cards. I’ve always traveled with a debit card and a credit card. And actually I’m sort of traveling with a credit card, though not the actual physical card. I’m traveling with the phantom card.

Imagine the following happens to you: You’re walking along the street in Paris, smoking a cigarette and thinking about what charming jazz club you’ll frequent that night, when a man steps out of the shadows and hits you over the head with an oven mitt full of quarters, takes your wallet, and then runs off back into the shadows. You wake, confused, and smoke a cigarette to calm down. You have 20 euros back at the hotel you put in your backpack because you didn’t deem it necessary to be walking around with so much cash. But other than that you now have no plastic. Your debit and credit card were in that wallet. You have no back up.

Or do you (not)?

You then remember you’re a cunning weasel, almost as cunning as the brute that just kissed the side of your head with an article of clothing filled with monies, and that everything should (and quite possibly could) be OK. In fact, in today’s electronic, peer2peer economy, you might not even a difference.

You call Charles Schwab and they agree to send you a replacement card on the double (see: triple). In the meantime you figure you can do the following: Because you have all the information from your phantom card — number, expiration date, security code — squirreled away on a sheet of paper or maybe just in your brain (the actual code is in a safe location far way), you can still make Airbnb reservations and thus have a place to stay. You can also take Ubers because your phantom card information is already in the Uber app. You can even eat, because with all the food delivery services you can just order food via an app and have it delivered right to your Airbnb door, while you stand out front talking to the Uber driver. Everything is peer2peer. We’re all sharing. We’re all in this together. In the year 2050 you’ll get in your car to drive your kids to school and someone will hop in the back seat and say, “Mets Stadium, please,” and even though you’ll have no idea what he’s talking about, you’ll think, Ahhh, I must be an Uber driver now. Or something. Peer2peer everything. Individuality is dead. You will then drive to your nearest bakery, take a picture of an almond croissant to show everyone what you ate, upload it to Instagram, and throw it in the garbage.

The point is that to be a successful traveler in today’s dog sniff dog world you must have a card in your repertoire that’s not actually in your repertoire; in other words, a card whose number and expiration date and security code you have so that you can use it to buy things online and on your phone in the case of an emergency or even non-emergencies.

I recommend the Chase Freedom card, because it has no interest for the first 15 months, which means you can rack up all the debt your little heart desires — your “phantom debt” — until, one day, it becomes all too real, at which point you’ll experience phantom sadness, phantom anxiety, and possibly even phantom trouble with the law, or at least a collections agency. But why dwell on something that may never happen? Didn’t Montaigne say, “I lived many a great tragedy in my life, most of which never happened?” Yes, of course he did. In other words: out of sight, out of mind. Just like your new card.

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.

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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Couch Musings with Dandruff

el monosilabo guadalajara

Yesterday was a good day here in Guadalajara. I still haven’t moved out of my current house, which was my plan for this month. But this isn’t all bad, as I’m mostly happy in my current house. Mostly. I still sometimes want to murder the neighbor’s dog, and actually the other night lost it a little bit and screamed, “Por favor!” when their dog started barking at 11:30pm and woke me up just as I was drifting off to my colicky baby sounds.

But that’s OK. 

Yesterday I had two articles published on sites that aren’t Ordinary Nomad: 1) This article on Roads and Kingdoms, a site that’s published three previous articles of mine. This article had already appeared here, albeit in a slightly different form. Roads and Kingdoms likes to make edits, and they don’t like to consult you about them. I don’t know if I’ve ever liked an edit they’ve done, and this makes me feel like a real writer, since apparently real writers flip shit whenever anyone threatens the “artistic integrity” of their work.

But that’s OK. 

The other article was on Fear the Wall, a Borussia Dortmund blog. This blog gets TONS of traffic, because instead of writing about themselves and things like what they had for breakfast (!), they (WE) write about something people actually care about, i.e. Borussia Dortmund soccer, one of the biggest teams in Europe. I got into Dortmund because of Christian Pulisic, who, at 19 years old, is already the best American soccer player to ever exist. And at 15 he moved to Germany to play for this team, and has never looked back. I, and I imagine many other Americans, have never looked back in my devotion to him.

Which is special. 

(Note: The Fear the Wall article has 27 comments. I’m terrified to read them, even though they’re probably only about soccer. This terror stems from the comments on one of the first articles I ever had published.)

Two of my English students have canceled on me today, which on the one hand is good because it makes my day a helluva lot easier, but on the other hand is bad because it means I’ll make less clean, crisp $$$$$$$$. I need $$$$$. I live for $$$$$$. But today I’ll make less $$$$$$, because I’ll be working less.

Which is fine.

The greatest thing about one of the students canceling is now I’ll get to watch the Borussia Dortmund game in its entirety, as opposed to in its partiality.

Which is wonderful. 

And now I’ll go seize the day. I’ve already had my budin, which means my stomach is primed. My brain is primed, too, ready to take on whatever Guadalajara might throw at me. Though at this point I already have a good idea what it might throw at me: mate, a delicious lonche de pierna, a chat with Marta,  a couple of English classes, a bit of writing, a bit of reading, a tamal by the Expiatorio, and maybe even a  night stroll along Calle Libertad.

Which is…

 

 

A Cafe Called “Starbucks,” Krakow, Poland

starbucks krakow poland

Originally published on Cappuccino in Lviv! on March 26, 2015

Now listen, before I even start this review I need you think about why you hate Starbucks. Because the coffee is bad? Because everyone else hates it? Because your little kitschy shop down the street is so much more quaint and you know the barista there? Starbucks, for whatever reason, seems to be a fairly polarizing place. Some people wouldn’t be caught dead there. Some people wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere else. Me? I like to think I’m indifferent. But when I was walking through the mall today in Krakow and I saw Starbucks I thought to myself, “I’ve reviewed all these places but I haven’t even reviewed the giant itself!” I decided it was time to spend some quality time in the most famous cafe around.

First of all, let’s get one thing straight: Starbucks does not have bad coffee. Listen, its coffee might not be the best in the world, but it’s definitely not bad. You don’t get to where Starbucks is by having shitty products. Listen, I realize that marketing plays a massive role, but you have to have a decent product, too. Half the people at Starbucks are there for image purposes but there are at least a fair portion who legitimately like the coffee.

Now to the actual review.

The woman working the cash register was extremely kind and taught me how to properly say “for here” and “to go” in Polish. I think people underestimate the value of these two phrases, considering they’re involved in literally pretty much any food purchase. Listen, I realize there are more important words like thank you and hello, but these definitely rank right up there. And listen, I realize some of you may be thinking “What’s the point of learning a couple words when you’re just going to leave the country in a few days?” but listen, I love languages, and when I travel I find it fulfilling to learn as much of the language as I possibly can, regardless the circumstances.

The actual cappuccino made me realize something: Do I even have any idea what cappuccinos are supposed to be like? I’ve basically formed my opinion of what they’re supposed to be like on what I’ve been given, but I’m not sure that’s a 100% effective way to become an expert on something. Listen, trying tons of cappuccinos in different places doesn’t hurt, but I should probably do a little background research at some point as well. As for this cappuccino, it was extremely foamy. It had bubbles. Listen, I like foam as much as the next guy, but this seemed to be a bit much. This reminded me of Kredens. Listen, I’m sure the barista knows what she’s doing, but isn’t it possible that she messed my cappuccino up? Listen, I realize it’s not likely, but it could definitely happen.

Listen, I’m not here today to tell you Starbucks has the best coffee in the world, but the cappuccino I had today was definitely decent. Not great, but decent. Listen, better cafes are definitely out there, but listen, if you need a decent cup a joe in a pinch, listen, Starbucks will definitely do the job.

Cappuccino rating: 5/10

Overall experience rating: 5.1/10

Next on Cappuccino Lviv: Is Krakow the Starbucks of European cities?

 

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Roberto Bolaño and the Only Way You’ll Ever Be Great

I woke up this morning at five something because of an intense desire to urinate, and couldn’t get back to sleep for the rest of the morning. That is, I don’t think I got back to sleep. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. On the one hand I like to think I didn’t lay there for two hours, since I didn’t actually exit my bed until 7:30am. And even then I didn’t exit completely. I got out of bed, checked the ripeness of my avocados (I bought a bag of five yesterday for just over a dollar), opened my curtains to let in the fresh Guadalajara morning air, and then got back in bed and rated Instagram ads for exactly 18 minutes.

I still sleep with white noise for colicky babies, because it drowns out most of the annoying sounds sometimes produced by my neighbors and roommates. The shower knob, for example, is about 16 inches from my head as the crow pecks, and makes a terrible squeaking noise every time it’s turned on. Yesterday, my roommate, Rodolfo, must’ve showered for 45 minutes. After he was done he had to mop the floor, such was the deluge produced. And yet, I get the feeling this is normal for him. Maybe he doesn’t bathe often, but when he does, he really bathes. Come to think of it, yesterday was the first day I’d ever seen him bathe. And it’s not like he smells. Rodolfo is a wonderful guy. Our conversations now include jokes on a regular basis. We often talk about Bill, my aloe plant. Today the first thing I did when I got up was check on Bill. He has a new shoot sprouting right in the middle of the two main shoots, and this shoot looks fairly healthy. I still think Bill has a good chance of surviving. His main fronds, though, worry me. One looks like it might be dying. I don’t know what to do at this point. I’ve talked to several people about aloe plant care. I’ve consulted websites (*website). And everyone says the same thing: “Aloe plants are so easy to take care of.” Which doesn’t really help me. Imagine if you went to the doctor because your baby was sick and the only thing she said was, “I don’t know what the problem is. Babies are so easy to take care of.”

Last night I fell asleep reading the book La sombra del viento (The Shadow of the Wind) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I didn’t like it at first, because it seemed too simple and predictable. It had one sentence that was something like, “The first thing my dad told me….” or “The first thing I remember…” which is such a cliche sentence, something I would write, so I was ready to put it down, but the book was steadfast. What do I mean by steadfast? I mean that it didn’t deviate in tone, that it wasn’t self-conscious, that it didn’t doubt itself, that it gave you the feeling — and I’ve talked about this before — that: “This is real. I mean, it’s a novel, but it’s real. And if you don’t think it’s real, then (expletive) you.” This is how Roberto Bolaño books feel, though Roberto Bolaño takes it a step further in that he doesn’t take it anywhere at all. His books say: “This is real. I mean, it’s not real, but it’s real. And I don’t care whether or not you think it’s real. Thinking about what you thought about this novel would never in several millennia cross my mind.” This indifference towards the reader is key if you want to become a great novelist. You must not care about what the reader wants or needs. But it mustn’t be disdain. It must be indifference. And indifference is impossible to fake.

I haven’t acquired this indifference, and I don’t know if I’ll ever acquire it. I care about what readers think. When someone says they liked a blog post I immediately re-read the blog post in question, congratulating myself on my good writing (all the while wondering whether it’s really good). And when someone says something bad about a post it ruins me, even though a voice deep down wonders whether they’re wrong. And this is what I was getting at with Bolaño. It’s not like he cares about whether he’s right or you’re wrong when it comes to his books. It’s that your right to an opinion doesn’t exist.

A special thanks to Starbucks and it’s kitschy atmosphere for unwittingly supporting this blog.

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La Teteria

la teteria guadalajara

When I come to La Tetería, Guadalajara’s premiere tea house and where the song “Here With Me” by Didot is currently playing over the speakers, I usually order a matcha frappe. But sometimes, as the waiter Gustavo just informed me, who is quickly going from being just a waiter at a tea shop to a kindred spirt (he’s Argentinian and there’s been talk of us drinking mate together), they have “stock problems.” Today is one of those days. There are no matcha frappes. There are no green chai frappes. And the girl sitting in front of me, who might be part goddess and who I’ve spent the last five minutes staring at, just ordered the last piece of cheesecake.

The first time I ever had a matcha frappe at La Tetería I was on a Tinder date with a girl named Daniela. Daniela was beautiful and funny and smart, but I barely noticed, so engrossed was I in my matcha frappe. I try to limit my matcha frappe intake, because they’re kind of expensive and very sweet. Even so, if I’m bored, or feeling a bit down, or just feeling any emotion that is vaguely human, I try to make a visit to La Tetería for one of these drinks. It would be hard to have a bad time while drinking a matcha frappe. Maybe if you were bleeding from a head wound, but even then I think you’d forget about it until the frappe was gone.

I never thought I’d be a frappe guy.

Life is full of surprises.

La Tetería is located in Guadalajara’s Americana neighborhood, a five minute walk from the American Consulate and about a seven minute walk from Chapultepec, an area (basically a street) famous for its nightlife, bars, restaurants, high prices, pedestrian walkway, outdoor market, and apparently (according to Marta, the lonche lady) weekend violence. This is the area where I work, and so I walk by La Teteria at least once a day. It’s perched on Calle Libertad, a street with low traffic flanked by all kinds of towering tropical trees that provide bountiful amounts of shade. The front part of La Teteria is a cool terrace where there always seems to be a breeze even on the hottest days. There’s also an inner courtyard where I sometimes like to go at night and sip my matcha frappe and look up at the sky and think about what might’ve been, what is, and what still could be.

Today La Teteria is slow and I’ve ordered a regular chai frappe, which I’ve already finished. When I got here Gustavo and I had a long conversation about my MacBook charger, which broke last night and which I spent all morning trying to replace. We also talked, as we usually do, about his upcoming trip to Argentina.

“I’m so jealous,” I said, “I should be in Argentina or Chile.”

“But you get to be here,” he said.

“Yeah, but…”

I trailed off, because Gustavo had a damn good point. I could be jealous of the people in Buenos Aires, but I get to be here. I could be jealous of the people in Paris, but I get to be here. I could be jealous of the people in Hyderabad, or Seoul, or Tokyo, or Regina, or Montreal, or Port Orchard, or Saskatoon, but I get to be here. Here in the shade, in a comfortable chair, feeling the breeze, sipping a chai frappe. Which isn’t matcha, but almost just as good.

A special thanks to the chai frappe currently in my stomach for supporting this blog.

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Monthly Roundup (February): Gibberish Edition

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Hello everyone, and welcome to the monthly roundup! I’m your host Mark Thomas Wetzler, or as my most intimate friends call me, “Marc.” I consider people calling me Marc to be one of the most intimate forms of address. Most people call me “Mark” for the first few years they know me. Then, when a certain trust has been established, they call me “Marc.” If a tremendous amount of trust has been established, they simply produce the “M” sound, which sounds a bit like “Muh.” The person who knows me best in the world does not even say my name upon seeing me but rather looks at me, flares her nostrils, and snorts.

I’m here today to talk to here to talk to you here today to here to you to here about how the month of February went for Ordinary Nomad. In a word: Fairly well. The traffic goal was hit, as you’ll see demonstrated in this fantastic graph (graf):

ordinary nomad stats

And that’s about it. There’s not much else to tell. I’m content with the direction this blog is going in. I’m enjoying writing it.

Also, Patreon pledges are up something like 300%. This is also nice. Again, I’m content. I’m seething with contentment.

Where I this blog this was the first I started writing this blog and last month several blogs blog posts and then mate honey and mate honey and honey (honey) on top of the mate with honey and in the mate the honey is in the mate drinking drinking and the honey and last month was a great the stats and there was this one episode that I totally thought was funny Baby Driver was that the blog the blog post honey and the mate.

 

Mate.

Goals for March:

– Exceed 1,000 views in one month (February saw just shy of 800).

Non blog goals for March:

– Run my first marathon

– Get married

– Father a child (chjild)

It’s just starting to cool off here in Guadalajara the temperature is growing cooler by the nanosecond and in just a moment I’m going to walk to the Expiatorio and get a tamal and I’m not sure what kind I should get should I get acelgas or maybe something with meat or I could always get elote but elote is kind of a sweet tamal and I’m not sure I need more sweet things after the heaping spoons of honey I just put into my mate which weirdly didn’t even make it that sweet in fact it tasted kind of disgusting which just goes to show you two things 1 that you shouldn’t drink mate cocido which is mate in tea bags and another that you should never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever put honey in your mate and now I’ve learned that the hard way and in a second here I’ll be done and I’ll go get that tamal and will I drink wine tonight I don’t know I kind of feel like drinking wine but then again I kind of feel like just sitting in my living room and listening to Pibes Chorros and eating ramen.

It’s my favorite time of evening in Guadalajara. This moment will last for approximately the next 45 minutes. Which means I must leave. I must rip myself away from you like a star-crossed lover. I must go out into the world. I must become a man. I must come of age. I must age. It is imperative that I age.

Age.

(askfjad;k)

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5 Travel Websites I Sometimes Read

travel websites

“Philosophy calls for simple living, not for doing penance, and the simple way of life need not be a crude one.”
― Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

I don’t really read travel websites. Which is a little unreasonable, because I want everyone to read mine. When I do look at travel sites, they’re usually centered around things I want: Like cheap or free flights. The problem with travel blogs is every time I look at them I experience waves of professional (amateur) jealousy. How does this person have so much traffic? How is this person doing so well? Why isn’t my blog doing so well?

1) Nomadic Matt

I mostly look at this site as a template for how to make mine. This guy is huge. He’s achieved what some might call the holy grail of travel blogging, i.e. earning enough from his blog that he’s able to go wherever he wants, whenever he wants, and document it. There’s a common theme in the most successful travel blogs: The people all have their name in the URL somewhere. Was changing from Whereswetzler.com to Ordinarynomad.com a massive mistake???

2) The Points Guy

Just look at this sample article I found on the home page. Look at this luxury. This opulence. God, how I want to fly first class like that. This guy has a whole apartment on a plane to himself. Why is it that if you were confined to a compartment like this on a the ground it would instantly be devoid of meaning, but at 35,000 feet it’s somehow the coolest thing in the world? Some mysteries are better left untouched.

3) One Mile at a Time

This is my favorite points website, A) because I think the content is great, and B) because the guy’s from Seattle. I do find it a little dubious he calls himself “Lucky.” What kind of adult calls himself Lucky? Is he a ranch hand? A craps dealer?

I had an interaction with this guy a few years back when I sent him an email asking if I could review Aerolineas Argentinas’ first class for his site. He explained that he wasn’t looking for guest bloggers at the moment, and was kind and professional in his email. Which made me even more of a fan.

4) Roads & Kingdoms

The main reason I check this site out from time to time is I’ve had work featured on it (see: buried). I’ve tried to submit a few feature articles, but they’ve always rejected me saying the pieces are too “personal narrative.” I try to explain that the only person I care about is myself, and thus am only capable of writing about myself, but to no avail.

5) Vice Travel

Very little beats Vice in terms of edgy, unique content. I don’t go to Vice specifically seeking travel content, but when I see something travel-related from them I often check it out. The Vice North Korea documentary is still one of my favorite travel documentaries. Someday I’d like to have something published for this site. I’ve submitted several pieces, but never gotten a response. Sest la vee.

Honorable mention: Scott’s Cheap Flights

I don’t have a subscription to this site, but friends often send me deals. And there have been crazy deals. The last one I saw was for a $300 round trip flights from the US to New Zealand. I have no idea how that’s even possible.

I applied for two jobs at this company and got turned down for both of them. Apparently spending half your waking hours hunched over your computer muttering to yourself and looking at Google Flights doesn’t cut it. Oh well.

What Did Lao Tzu Think of Travel?

Tao Te Ching (pronounced, more or less, Dow Deh Jing) can be translated as The Book of the Immanence of the Way or The Book of the Way and How It Manifests Itself in the World or, simply, The Book of the Way.”Stephen Mitchell

Lao Tzu was a Chinese philosopher (though it’s not clear if the term philosopher existed at the time he lived) born sometime in 6th or 5th century BC. He is known for his book the Tao Te Ching, a book I’ve recently gotten really into. Actually, I’ve been into this this book for a few years now, mostly because of the beauty of Stephen Mitchell’s translation. Stephen Mitchell does not speak Chinese. You’d think this would make the translation suffer, and maybe it has in terms of accuracy, but it certainly hasn’t in terms of beauty. He based his translation on many other translations, and also 14 years of studying Zen Bhuddism. My question is: How do you study Zen Buddhism for 14 years, have at least a vague interest in Chinese philosophers, and not learn Chinese? Was he studying in Iowa? Did he make a point of not learning the language? We’ll never know.

It is fairly clear what some of the ancient Roman philosophers thought about travel, or at least too much travel. As Lucius Annaeus Seneca said in his Letters from a Stoic, “All this hurrying from place to place won’t bring you any relief, for you’re traveling in the company of your own emotions, followed by your troubles all the way.”

Or, perhaps even more to the point, ““If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.”

Or even MORE to the point:

“To be everywhere is to be nowhere.”

OK, we get it Lucius, you weren’t too stoked on travel. You didn’t like to just grab your rucksack, stick out your thumb, and see where the wind took you. I don’t blame you! You lived in ancient Rome! Things were probably super rad! Why explores the vast reaches of ancient Europe when you could sit around talking, drinking wine, wearing plain robes, eating plain food, and striving to be content with things as they are?

Because this is common thing, both with the Stoics and with Lao Tzu: If you want to be content, strive to be content with the way things are. Don’t covet something you don’t have, love the thing you already have. He is richest who wants least. All I want to do, ever, is play chess, etc. etc. (This last one is a Bobby Fischer quote and it’s not really relevant, I just like it).

But today I want to talk about what Lao Tzu thought, a man who existed centuries before Seneca and half a world away. What did Lao Tzu think about traveling, and more importantly, living a nomadic life?

It’s important to start with one of the main tenets of Lao Tzu wisdom. One of his main teachings was the so-called art of “non-being,” or “not doing.” Letting things unfold however they want. Being fluid. The soft conquers the hard. The light conquers the dark, etc. etc. “When you are content to be yourself, and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.” – Tao Te Ching Chapter 8.

The first good clue as to what Lao Tzu thought about nomadism (I use it in the modern sense of basically being on the move all the time) comes in Chapter 15: “Do you have the patience to wait, till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving, till the right action arises by itself?”

This seems to be in keeping with that Seneca said about travel, that if you want to escape things that harass you the place isn’t the problem, you’re the problem. (Though I don’t think Lao Tzu, in his infinite wisdom, knew what “problems” were.)  Lao Tzu’s advice would be to just sit still, and not run, and wait until the correct solution presents itself. Let the mud settle. Wait until the water is clear.

But THEN, in chapter 20, my favorite chapter of the book, he seems to say something a bit different:

Other people have what they need;

I alone possess nothing.

I alone drift about,

like someone without a home.

I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.

Other people have a purpose;

I alone don’t know.

I drift like a wave on the ocean,

I blow as aimless as the wind.

This seems to contradict what he said earlier about staying still and quiet until your mud settles. This seems to promote going wherever the wind takes you (in fact it says exactly that). so whenever I need to justify my aimless wanderings, I turn to this quote. This quote gives me comfort, though not really because I know deep down Lao Tzu it’s not really what Lao Tzu meant. In other words, I don’t think these passages refer to travel so much. They refer to something else, something of the mind…

In Chapter 26, his thoughts on excessive travel become clear:

Why should the lord of the country

flit about like a fool?

If you let yourself be blown to and fro,

you lose touch with your root.

If you let restlessness move you,

you lose touch with who you are.

And it doesn’t really matter that the next line is, “A good travel has no fixed plans, and is not intent upon arriving,” because Lao Tzu believed that there was a time for everything, and that we should be like nature. “When it blows, there is only wind. When it rains, there is only rain” (Chapter 23). Which means that yes, there is a time for travel. And when you do it, do it with all your heart, embrace it fully, and don’t doubt yourself. But when the time for travel is over, let yourself be content to stay still. Don’t flit about “like a fool,” because you’ll lose touch with your root, and ultimately, with who you are.

That said, I’ve been in Guadalajara almost a month now.

Time to leave?