Monday, August 24, 2009

Taking a Holiday

All this writing these past weeks have left me with a writer´s cramp. Therefore, I have called in a guest writer all the way from China that small country tucked away down there. Jed has taken to a new sport besides setting the record of doing research in only your boxer shorts. Enjoy.

What I think I'm enjoying most right now in my China life is my burgeoning athletic career. I wake up at 6:15 every morning and go and play Chinese hackysack with this group of grizzled old dudes down in Ditan (temple of the earth) park. I'm pretty F'ing good; modesty be damned.
One of these guys I've been playing with has been talking to me about "Chinese-style wrestling" for the longest time, so a few weekends ago I thought I'd give it a try. Fast forward to today: I have made a terrible mistake. I'm bruised. I'm battered. But I've become the star attraction at the weekly 2-day tournament. Here's how "Chinese-style wrestling" goes down: two dudes, both wearing traditional wrestling vests cinched tightly with cloth belts, square off in a 16ft dirt circle. The key in Chinese wrestling is "fist work;" to get a good hand grip on your opponent. And the objective is simply to throw your opponent to the ground or push him out of the ring. There's no punching, no kicking, it's just pushing and pulling on each other's vests and attempting leg sweeps. It's scored: one point if you both fall, two points if one of you is still standing, and three points if you still have your cigarette clenched between your yellowed, scraggly man-teeth. Arrrgh!
The first time I showed up, the call went out to scour the park in search of a sporting opponent. I was poked and prodded and asked how many push ups I can do. Bear in mind "push up" is a euphemism for sexual prowess in China. We did not know that, Dude. After much mocking about my lowly number, I was paired up against this 55 year old, who was a good 4 inches shorter than me. Seemingly impossible, I know. (midget jokes, ha. ha. . . . ha.) Dude was 160 lbs and all muscle. Our bout, which is scored to 10, lasted about 6 minutes and went something like this:
Jed: Ok. I'm just gonna' play defensive. Let him come to me and use his ....AKH!
Him: Grunt ::sticks leg behind me, shoves me over::
Crowd: ::unconcealed mirth at my defeat::
Repeat 10 times.
I was sore as anything, but laughing stupidly the entire time. It was actually really funny standing up and getting thrown down in this constant repetitive stream. He kept somehow getting inside my guard and just flipping me over his hip. Just stalling and trying to hold the guy off was one of the most grueling exercise experiences I've had in a long time. I did not realize I had muscles in my palm that could seize up. I now have random strangers coming up to me in the park -- and on the street in odd places -- giving me advice about "fist work" and telling me I'll only get better if I practice and listen to my teacher. Gotta' love China.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Banal Tale

It has been weeks since I have shared my experiences with you and for a brief update, we are currently in Mancora, Peru enjoying our (well my) last days of holiday. Usually through the last five months, I have been able give you anecdotes of our experiences that move away from the banal..."then we went here....and then we went there and ate that..." Yet, over the past three weeks, there has been a certain void of anything exciting to mention or relate. So, you´re welcome, I have saved you from certain boredom. Sam and I have come to the end of our holiday road. While living in Mancora, a beach town in Northern Peru, constantly has the holiday vibe, we have come with a mission to set up our life for the next year or beyond. In all honestly, there have been effermeral moments of activity the last three weeks: we went to the championship baseball game of Granada and Esteli in Granada, walking the boardwalk in Guayaquil, doing two land border crossings. However, we were spent, literally with our budget and our spirits and most of the time took time for ourselves. We had seen all that we could. We came to Mancora to get our roots down. Coming to Mancora has been a bit of whirlwind, but has settled down. We have set ourselves up with an awesome family here which is so beneficial for speaking Spanish and feeling like part of the community. The best part is the father Tato, retired only in employment. He has so much energy and is full stories which most of the time, Sam and I can only decipher 40 percent of the story. He ends his story or his advice of the day with, and sometimes in the middle of his speech, with a WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, always. He is full energy and greets us in the morning with a soldier´s "Hello, howare (joined words) you" That is the extent of his english. It is great practice for both of us and a scary insight to how I probably sound to people when I speak English minus the WOOOOOOOOOO at the end. The mother, Maritza, is the care taker and is always too accomodating giving us food when the family eats and helping us with our conversational spanish. She also will speak her mind, but defers to Tato when he gets rolling.
Aside from family life, Sam has been trying to get some semblance of an income which is tough in a small beach town, We have been told it is hard for a foreigner to get a job, yet Sam has already been hired at a bar and then quit two days later. She has now taken up teaching English to a Peruvian kid, who would rather have hot coal pokers stuck in him then learn. More teaching jobs have sprung up thanks to some friends we have met here and Sam will be able to float by hopefully for the next six months or so. She will be primarily working for Technoserve, a volunteer organization, online then doing field work for them in six months. As for me, I am getting more and more excited to start training and get to meet the staff and kids at Mama Cocha. For those of you who dont know, I will be project director of their Mama Cocha/ Early Bird Center here in Mancora for the Kiya Survivors organization: I am nervous to begin, but I know that this will be an immense challenge, but an absolutely rewarding one on all levels.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Reflection of Frustrating Things

I looked at Sam last night as Granada's night life swept by us and wondered how we got here and that coming to Granada, let alone Nicaragua, was not even in our plans two weeks ago. We are in the last throes of this five month travel holiday as we are off to Peru so I can start work.
Our Nicaraguan experience started just over the Costa Rican Border in San Juan del Sur. We stayed in San Juan del Sur with my friend Zach Lunin, who has married an unbelievably awesome Nicaraguan woman and has set up a business in reality- in San Juan and all over Nicaragua. Traveling around town with Zach was something special, because Zach only had one hand on the steering wheel, the other in a continual waving motion to other people he knew. He knew every property 50 kms to the north and to the south. He was the living almanac of property values and ownership of this town and surrounding area. He knows the back stories behind the ownership (some clean, some dirty shrouded in corruption or mystery.) Through this property knowledge we learned about and became interested in the history of Nicaragua. It makes our traveling much easier since we have an understanding of Nicaraguan politics and how they are applied to what is happening in Honduras now. I am reading La Prensa, the historically liberal newspaper of Nicaragua, and their view on the whole situation is quite belligerent, and to an extent, inflamatory. Charicatures of Zelaya in regards to his association with Chavez and the others in his ALBA union are shown daily. They depict that Zelaya is just another cronie in the whole Chavez plan. What's more is that Daniel Ortega, the main leader of the 1979 Sandanista movement and current president, is trying the same card as Zelaya- he is trying to enact a constitutional reform to keep him - or the Sandanista party - in power forever. For many in the country and according to La Prensa, this is unacceptable. It spits in the theory of the true 1979 revolution. One opinion writer poignantly wrote that the Sandanista Revolution was based in throwing out a despot(Somoza- who FDR famosly described as a SOB but he is our SOB) because his corrupt regime had been in power too long. Now, the Sandanistas are going against their own philosphical tenants and trying to entrench themselves in power, which is what, in part, they rebelled against 30 years ago. Whatever romanticism is left with the revolution is now gone. I could go on about the history of brutality, from the US, Somoza and the Sandanistas, but I believe I heard a couple of heads slam against their key board in boredom.

Welcome back, I would suggest before reading further to wipe away the F key that has become stuck to your face after the face plant. After traveling for so long, there seems to be some recurring (and as this title points out, Frustrating Things that are unavoidable when traveling).
I dare you to leave your hotel/hostel without a map and then pick some arbitary business or semi unknown monument and 1) find out where it is 2) see what time it is open. This process is pretty much impossible. As Sam and I have seen, we always get contradictory answers, sometimes with so much conviction a person will tell us the place is closed or doesn't exist when in truth, it does and has been open for a solid 30 years. Some people just have no idea. However Sam and I have devised a full proof plan. One, when we go out, we wear a trench coat and old 1940's newsman hat, when being a detective one has dress for the part. We have an idea where or what block to go to, so we ask shop attendants in the area. The key is not to ask one, but upwards of three to four different people and from their information piece the clues together. Sometimes you call the witness again to give their testimony twice or three times to fully guarantee succes. Often their memory will change depending on the minute so it is better to get concrete answers. For example, our travel computer is dead. Our Hostel told us their is no computer service here. Without getting down, we investigated. It turns out their is one, but a few blocks away. We went to the computer shop in question and it was closed. Seeing that the adjacent shop- a Camera store - was open we went in to inquire further. There are just far too many tourists here for computer repair serivce not to be readily available. The camera lady full of conviction (or frustration that we were ruining her tv time?) told us that there was only stores like that in Managua. Saying thank you and telling her we could be i touch for another statement, we stepped out of the store, looked across the street, and there was a sign that advertised computer services. Again, most of the time it is in the area where you believe the place to be, just keep asking. Part of the problem is that directions in Nicaragua are based on monuments, certain focal points rather than actual street numbers. Suyen, Zach's wife, explained that their address is 10 houses east of the restaurant El Timon. Sounds fun huh? So to find X cafe, you got to turn left at the bagel shop then walk three blocks to the stationary store, and it should be across from Juan, the local hot dog seller, unless it is Tuesday, Wednesday or really any dau fo the week, becuase Juan works when Juan works.
Adding to the confusion is that locals focus on their immediate surroundings, like most of us do when comfortable in a place, and most of the time tourist inquiries and destinations are way out of that surrounding. Ask me how to get to the USS Constitution in Boston and I am in same boat. We have grown accostumed to this minor delay and always make sure we get at least four testimonials from locals before preceeding.
Finally, traveling in a Spanish speaking country presents quite the ironic situation. Obviously everywhere you turn people are speaking Spanish, this is super for building my converstaional skills, but sometimes I want to read a book in Spanish in my own privacy. This is the quandry. Every place we stay only has books in English - most of the time cheesy romantic novels and novels that you question who was reading this book and the value of tv. The few Spanish books that are available are ones lean towards... the battle between Christ and Satan or is God with you? Inspiring reading for some, but I'll pass. It is quite unbelievable to me since a lot of places offer Spanish teaching and books are a super way to learn. What really shocked me was going into a cafe that was also a book store as well in San Juan. This was the most well stocked store I have seen in a while, two huge book shelves two meters long dominated the cafe. Excited by the prospect of getting a good Spanish book, I perused the books.
To fully understand what transpired, I will give you this pertinent ancedote. When I was in Australia, I had the opportunity to go to Tasmania, which is part of Australia and is the island below the mainland. Mainlanders make fun of people from Tasmania for being backwards and behind the times and Tasmanians, for their part, are fiercely proud that they are from Tasmania. When I was there with my mom and our neighbor Jane, we went to a restaurant to enjoy some good italian food. The wine list was given to me and I saw how the different bottles were broken down


Interesting since inherently Tasmanian wine IS Australian wine. Therefore making the menu utterly redundant and full of spite.
This pecularity presented itself again in the book store. The majority of books were in English, however, in a small section there was a shelf dedicated to foreign languages. Failing to find the Spanish section, I asked about where I could find Spanish books thinking there was its own section. Guess what, Spanish books were in foreign language section. Incredulously, I asked why, by the way I asked this question in Spanish, to which I got shrugs and small timid laughter and an answer, again in Spanish, that it is just like that. In this pervese cafe world, Spanish was a foreign language, even though the menu was in Spanish and all the waitresses spoke Spanish and we are in Nicaragua.
My only solution for this problem is to keep looking, put on my detective garb and see if any street hustler is selling Spanish books, possibly like illegal drugs, for a " a good price."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mal Pais

I have had a few conversations with people over the last couple of days and some of them (mostly coming from the parental units) have told me that I haven't written a post in awhile. I said I knew, but most of the time I have something to write about; but for the past three weeks, we have just absolutely relaxed. We met up with good friends from Sydney and spent 10 days in Caye Caulker. Basically, that is all that I care to write about the place as all four of us just hated being there. We moved to this beautiful, secluded spot at Mal Pais, Costa Rica. We have been staying here for the past ten days, reading, swimming and relaxing at this house that Sam found on the internet. I highly suggest coming here. The complex is called Casa de Soliel and is run by an ex-pat named Trent whose family is great and being here has been so easy. So there is my perfectly laid out excuse to why I have fallen off the grid. We are moving to Nicaragua tomorrow and staying in San Juan del Sur for the foreseeable future - the idea is to stretch our last pennies as much as possible as well as talk to people in Spanish. Mal Pais is a funny town. The place is a surfer's paradise and people from the states and all over the world come here to lose themselves in the waves and the laid back lifestyle. Here, English is the dominate language and seeing butt cracks from shirtless surfers dudes is the required style and obligatory fashion. If you are into that, welcome home. For us, it is not our scene. Mal Pais and the town next to it, Santa Teresa, are connected by one bumpy dirt road. On it you will find people on quad bikes hauling their surfboards to the next break, and people just randomly going nowhere. The town is less hippie than I expected but still it has all the familiar trappings of a place where reality goes out the window. The town itself is almost fiercely exclusive: tourists are treated as ghosts. The locals, mostly ex pats not Costa Ricans, are wary of others and exude this smugness about the place. It is not an outward explicit attitude, but it is the subtle words, the names they drop or don’t drop that give us an idea that: we are on the outside, dude. The place is gorgeous though and the waves are great. For basically a week, Ben and Andrew have told me that if I wanted to learn to surf, this is the place to do it. Three years I have avoided surfing even though I lived next to the beach. I have never found the idea of surfing in Australia, or in general, to be that enticing. Furthermore, surfing in Australia, to me, represents a bad drunken dare, a heedless, hedonistic affair that the outcome brings you one step closer to death than to personal enjoyment. You have to battle rips, sun, other surfers, monster waves and let's not forget sharks. Even this can happen when you are surfing in Australia: I think my favorite story about the death dance surfers have with sharks and the complete apathy of Australians is when a reporter went into a Shark copter- Helicopter that patrols beaches looking for sharks - and during their time in the air, they spotted over 30 sharks in swimming areas. One time the patrolman said, look there is a pod of hammerheads near people, no warning. I mean where do I sign up. Here is a different story, nothing to worry about except for a rip, but if you get pulled out, instead of floating over the side of the world like in Australia, here you have a good chance of being picked up by a boat. Sam and I rented a board that had seen better days. One look at it and I asked the renter if they would pay us six dollars to rent it. It had more holes than the bucket, dear liza, dear liza. Being supremely tight with our money, we got a lesson from my friend Ben, who is an experienced surfer, before he left. On towels, outside of our pool, he showed us the steps: lie down, paddle, arch your back then do this crazy back flip, 18o turn around where your left leg is behind your right. Both of us said, got it, and practiced a couple of times. I must say I had confidence in that I would be able to do this. I am athletic and so is Sam. Our towel boards gave us no trouble and this would be a cinch.
As a pulled myself out of the washing machine that is the ocean here, wiping the sand from every hole and nook in my body, placing my arm back into its appropriate socket and draining my head that brimmed full of salt water, I realized that this would not be that easy. We could walk out into the surf and we were catching the whitewash - the aftermath of the waves as it tumbles towards the shore -, but still the prospects of surfing were grim. My first three attempts left me legless, a face full of salt water and nowhere near surfing. I thought of the towel surfboard and cursed Ben. I was determined to do this. I battled back out to the surf. Waited patiently for the next whitewash. It crashed 4 meters before me. I paddled. I caught the power of the wave, the board started to move, I felt the lift. I did the arch of the back and...... It's funny when you know something is going to hurt. I was powerless to stop it. Maybe because I was destined to hit head first into the water with my arms serenely out to the side. Apparently, I had given up on surfing and was trying my hand at flying. I emerged from the water, wrapped in the leash and laughed at by Sam and the birds in the sky. This time I told myself, take it slow, do the steps. I did the exact same thing as before: waited, waited then got my wave. I paddled and while being propelled forward, I got my feet in the right direction. I stood (wobbled?) up for the first time. Overjoyed with my success I forgot Ben's last piece of advice: stay low and balanced. I was stiff upright and vulnerable. It might have been two seconds before the wave, clearly upset it hadn't put me through the second round of spin, jerked with more energy. My collapse was epic. The surfboard just stopped, I kept going. I tried to bail, but as I did the surfboard moved again like it was magnetized to me. I went down, knee first on the back of the board, then my other leg, then my chest to finally oozed, a broken man, into the shallows. I tried one more time after my success (dumb luck?), but this time I pressed down too hard on the front and water rushed into my face forcing me to go butt over ankles into the water. I clearly had done my time for the day. It was enjoyable, I suppose. I guess I am just going to stick to the surfer's fashion here: Shirtless and all butt cracks.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Unknown Enigma

I have been here before, yet when I arrived at the boat dock to head off to Caye Caulker, an island 35 minutes away from Belize City, I did not recognize anything. Previously, it had been a rough and tumble dock with this small window to buy tickets to ride the boat. The times were scratched on a chalkboard and you weren't sure if this timetable was followed anymore or it was some relic of how it used it work when the boat service to the island first was conceived. Now, it is a mini mall: fresh tiled floor, kiosks, a circular booth selling tickets- with a computer system- instead of hand written tickets, ac pumping making any polar bear jealous, and various other outer-worldly pleasures. It was strange and made Belize more morass for me than ever before. The change between Belize and Guatemala is stark. One thing it is English speaking, and culturally 15 football fields apart. For the past month, tortillas reigned king, now we are drowned with rum punch. I will self confess, even though I had been to Belize, that is about as much as I knew. I had a similar experience with India, but I had some general knowledge and was up to date on the current events regarding India, but with Belize, I am not sure Belize has been in any current events for the past 5 years: Hurricane brought it on the map as far as I know. Sometimes, I know I can be ignoramus, but this area interests me, yet this nation is hardly mentioned. My lack of knowledge disturbs me sometimes so I investigated. I now present you a little get to know so you won't be bewildered or left in the dark. I feel someone has to know about Belize. Without completely putting you to sleep here are some facts, serious and funny about this enigma of a country in Central America:
1) Belize used to be called British Honduras until its independence in 1973 when it changed to its current name.
2) Guatemala refuses to recognize the sovereignty and Britain is forced to station troops on the border to make sure nothing happens. After doing the land crossing between the two countries, there is no way there could be any semblance of troop movement. The road, if it can be classified as that, is to be polite, under construction. It makes Route 95 in Washington DC, on a Friday, seem quick. There is a massive jungle that, most of the time, laughs at the sun in its futile attempt to break through. Belize would have trouble rallying around the musical rhetoric of Reggae or, Bob Marley, which in turn would make it hard for Guatemala to take over since I am not sure people from Belize would even realize.
3) Go Slow is the unofficial motto. Getting a better picture?
4) Off of the Belize coast is the second largest barrier reef. Incredible from personal experience, but it is in danger from mass tourism.
5) The motto of the country is: "Sub Umbra Florero" Under the shade I flourish. Not the greatest motto when I associate fungus to things that flourish in the shade, but appropriate in this climate, when the slightest movement provokes sweat not unlike playing game seven in a basketball championship.
6) The prime minister is Dean Barrow, recently under fire for marrying his girlfriend in the USA instead of in Belize. However, as a personal accolade, he was the first black prime minister of the nation when he took office in February.
7) Skype, in all its glory, is banned here in Belize. The governmental phone company BTL has come up with a new product- money making scheme to screw over nationals and internationals alike - which is like skype except: it is not free and surprise surprise, no one else in the world has this program on their computer making its value completely neglient. Skype is blocked and one has to use some back door, smokey room program that I am pretty sure the Chinese employ to get internet. The only thing that is guaranteed is that your computer will get something, could be the access to Skype or some virus. But remember Go Slow.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Looking for some answers

For you all this is my shameless plug blog. I need some help and I would appreciate the help. When you have too much time, El Remate will do that for you, you come up with crazy ideas. Mine is to sell my photos of travel. I have started an awesome new website solely devoted to my pictures: Have a look and help me out.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

So quiet you can even hear a mouse

We have just completed all of our required sights in Guatemala - we went to Tikal this morning - and now it is just three more days of relaxing in the town of El Remate about 25 Kms outside of Tikal and 25 kms outside of the town Flores. Flores, for those of you geographically challenged is in the Peten Region of Guatemala. It has been a full circle of weather systems as here, jackets and scarfs are replaced by sombreros and no shirts- We went to a restaurant where the entire male family who belonged to the restaurant, three year olds to a 50 year old, were shirtless, so I decided if it is in fashion, then go for it. What is strange is that we expected Flores to be like any town that is basically known for getting to Tikal: McDonalds, shops that only cater to tourists, hawkers and mounting frustration to leave tourists. In one case, even before getting to Flores, Sam had a go at some 20 year olds, because for the entire trip from Coban to Flores they would not stop complaining. After the fifth hour, Sam with steam coming from her ears turns around and says...well if you hate it so much then go home. The heat really makes your nerves fray sometimes. In any case back to Flores, we expected to be packed with tourists, yet we arrived to a city - Flores is actually an island while the main land is Santa Elena - that was completely void of tourists and in most cases paved streets. It slowly was turning into an old western ghost town, I kept turning to Sam telling her we should really get out of dodge. Yet , the more we looked at it, the more we liked it. The town is not overbearing and lacks the over the top tourist feel. Even the muddy causeways in between shops added to the down to earth feel- yes again the pun. As we walked, we got more comfortable, but the persistent question was ¨where is everyone?¨The answer: not here, nor will be. Traveling through Cambodia and India, we saw first hand the devasting effects of the economic crisis and in India´s case from the bombing. A lot of the times, it seemed if Sam and I were alone in towns in India, but it never has felt like this, Agra was filled with people eager to see the Taj. Tikal is the mother of all Mayan Ruins and Flores is the point of travel, but last night as we walked around, I saw restaurants with many tables empty and in some cases, non existent clientele. Restaurants that looked like they could host a banquet and could have once held jovial convival affairs, now limited to one person enjoying a coffee. A part of the problem is a result of the crisis, but the Swine Flu has really hit this place hard. Prensa Libre in May crunched numbers and there has been a dip in international and national travel: and here What it says for those who don´t speak Spanish that people are canceling trips throughout the region; people destined for Mexico and Guatemala cancel the entire trip instead of going to Guatemala and just byspassing Mexico, even though there have been limited cases here and the US would be the most dangerous place to go. At our Spanish school in Xela, Ulew Tinimit, the amount of students is at an all time low. Sam and I were the only two for three weeks. Groups were cancelling without explanation or warning.
It is sad, last night as I walked home, I passed Tucan restuarant in Flores, a lonely tv shown and no one was in the place. I stopped to bask in the glow of the tv when an eldery woman, the patron, said come in please. I politelty declined giving some terrible excuse and said I was only looking at the tv, she said she knew and said come in anyway. I stared hard at her and had to leave for fear of throwing my wallet to her and then performing a collective sob induced hug for hours.