Yo. Lots of stuff to update. Stay tuned from stories around the world, including a motorcycle trip through Central America (without knowing how to ride a motorcycle), a hike through Columbia, Europe, and a move to the best city in the US of A, New Orleans.
40 friends were replaced with 40 strangers as bus 394 hurled down curvy mountain roads through the blistering Israeli dessert. I was on my own after a ten day trip. I would have to start thinking, asking my own questions. My beard, dark eyes, and eloquent nose blend me in. A few grunts, simple yeses and no’,s and the unsuspecting think I am on of them. The Israeli’s are blunt, aggressive, and they are totally okay with it.
boulders and canyons resemble something of a stone city. i start to see alleyways and buildings before the mirage fades away. short shrubs dot the land.
it has been a long time since i back packed, and the familliar feeling returned to me as the bus pulled into a new city. i waved away the taxi drivers and set to find someone friendly to ask for directions.
eilat is an unaasahmed tourist city, saved by some extraodinary views and the welcome absence of any golden arches.
If traveling is all about abandoning routines, then settling in a city is all about finding the right one. Wake and bake, drink and think, eat and meet, commute and salute, call and watch your heart fall. Somehow, I will have to fit it all…
Stuck in New York making a buck. no travel for me but the travel in me. maybe i can find my luck.
for those of you who don’t know me, i’ve been able to go traveling thanks to a funky little website my partner and I came up with a few years back, where you can learn to dance. go on and check it out, and if you have a blog of your own, send me a link to http://www.learnclubdance.com,
big brother G Google loves it when people link to your site. so if you think your readers would like to learn to dance, or if you want to set up some affiliate type of thing, then check it out. the website is http://www.learnclubdance.com.
thanks for reading brothers, and i’ll be back with some posts in no time!
It was pitch black at the entrance to the cave. We heard bats. There was also the sound of moving water a river.
Our guide handed us one candle each. They would shine our path for the rest of the trip. We were in the Samuc Champay caves, located under the breathtaking scenery of the central Guatemalan highlands.
My companions were a nomadic spiritualist from India, who claimed she could see energy fields emanating from people, who walked with her own personal guardian spirit, a black panther. There was the adventure seeker from England, who never went to university, but commanded dog sledding teams and conducted white water tours, who hand glided in his spare-time. Then there were the two Argentines, tour guides from the mountains of southern Patagonia who were seeking work in the states. They were traveling at a lightening speed pace to make it in time for ski season.
I felt the cool water of the river as soon as I stepped forward into the cave. A few steps later and I waist deep. Candles held high above our heads we had to swim to get to higher ground. I was enshrouded by darkness, with only the faint flickering of my candle to remind me of the unknown.
A trip such as this couldn’t possibility exist back home. There were no helmets, no protocals, no forms to sign – just the friendly voice of our guide, instructing us to swim slightly to the left as the invisible rocks on the right would be painful to cross.
I never knew what to expect. The trek through the Samuc Champay caves was constantly an adventure. At one point we arrived to a cascading waterfall where the guide held out a rope and simply gestured up. Fighting cold rushing water, I tried to find my gripping as I pulled myself up about 15 feet.
The real test came later when under the cover of darkness, the guide instructed each of us to jump off of a cliff into the river below. With fingers crossed, secretly hoping there were no rocks in the water, each of us took the plunge, one after another.
Our faith in the guide did not end there. On the way back, he took us to a gapping hole in the ground. I went first. Squeezing my body through the hole, I hung on tight with my hands. Then on the count of three, I was told to let go, absolutely uncertain of what lay below.
What followed was something of a natural water slide, made so from thousands of years of erosion. The drop led me deep into water. I felt a hand, it was my guide’s. He stood ready to pull each of us out of the water. Just 18 years old and barely 150 pounds, he’d been doing this all of his life and knew the cafe like the back of his hand.
On our way out, we had been secretly hoping for sunshine. It had been raining all morning and a thin ominous fog hovered around in the air. The truth is, the rain only added to the sense of adventure. Samuc Champay lies relatively off of the grid. Eight hours of precarious mountain road deters many a tourist. The rain that morning deterred even more.
With practically the entire landscape to ourselves, our guide took us to a turquoise tinted river running beside the cave. We were off to go tubing for 3km along its tumulus rapids. On the way, we passed by a rope swing about twenty feet high. Taking turns, the guide sent us flying into the river. I took a few less than graceful head first splashes into the river.
The turquoise river actually began from a waterfall upstream and that is where we headed next. We were walking on a bridge to get there when all of a sudden the guide stopped. He told us we can jump into the river if we wanted to. Without thinking, the Englishman leaped straight from the bridge. One of the Argentines quickly followed.
Seeing that I had no other choice, I trpidly climbed the banister and stood barefoot on the edge, clutching what I could behind me. Pines and needles in my feet, I knew I had no way to go but down. We were about thirty feet high and without thinking about it any further, I took a step forward.
Silence. I couldn’t hear anything while I fell, just the view of the upcoming wall of water.
Wow. What a relief when I finally came up for air. I had hurt my thumb with the impact but I had done it, and the feeling was incredible.
Onwards we went until we reached the idyllic pools that fed water into the river. Each turquoise colored pool fed into the next, a waterfall composed of calm swimming pools. These pools are what really attract visitors to this far flung destination. It was one of the greatest natural wonders I had ever seen. Hidden, empty, it felt like we were on the verge of a special secret.
It’s something about their eyes. About the devoutly religious I mean. Wide eyed, trance like, my Spanish teacher’s husband preached the words of the bible to me this morning.
It’s a conversation difficult enough in English. You can imagine it in Spanish.
I made the mistake a few days ago of confessing to my evangelical professora that I did not believe in God. Now she’s dragged me to her humble home set high on a hill to meet her husband.
I tried to hide behind my sunglasses.
But I was getting bored and restless feigning nods and grunts of acknowledgment as he rambled away. Plus the conversation was taking place on my Spanish lesson’s time – so to get the most out of it, I decided to take on the preacher at hand and challenge him with some questions.
If there is a God, then why do some people die in the most gruesome of manners?
>God tests your faith in him by putting you through hard times
Then why do some people get killed and others get spared?
>It is the devil that tempts the sin in man to commit murder, etc. God does not actually kill you.
If it is the devil that induces murder, why do some innocent people still die prematurely, say through sickness?
>It’s another test from god to see if you will continue to believe in him.
Then it’s god that causes illness? Why do some people get sick and other’s don’t?
>Because some people are more devout than others.
But what if there are two people, and both believe in God, and both are good and moral people. Say one of them gets sick and dies but the other one lives on. Why has that happened?
>Well it’s actually the devil that chooses people to get sick, sometimes randomly.
It is nearly impossible to have a rational conversation with religious folk as their faith is so irrational. He wasn’t able to see through his hypocrisies and often referred to memorized axioms from the bible. Religion is a cultural defense mechanism that people have developed to cope with difficult times.
My Spanish teacher and her husband believe that those who are rich signed a pact with the devil. Poor people would have their turn in the next life.
As we stood on their hill overlooking the lake, I thought back to the Mayans who were so devout that they actually wanted to be sacrificed. Competitions would be held and the winner in gladiator type battles would be the one sacrificed, not the loser. I could see how an entire population, even slaves, could be kept at bay using religion.
Here were two people standing in front of me, using religion to justify their meager existence, content to live in poverty so long as they go to church twice a week. I’m so fortunate to come from a place and time where I’ve learned to question everything around me. Behind my sunglasses, I shuddered at the thought that had I lived in a different time, I might have been as lost as well.
I’m the only tourist here. Friendly smiles and curious eyes confirm it so. It’s late October, and I’m in San Jose, a small lakeside town nestled in the low lands of northern Guatemala.
I’m staying with a host family. Their house is just a few steep meters from the center but their means are modest. The walls are bare and grey with exposed cement blocks. There is no ventilation in my room and at times it feels like an oven.
There is no living room and a plethora of kids crowd around a tv in Marie’s, my host mother’s bedroom. She lives next door to her sisters, cousins, and mother; each home surrounding a sandy courtyard. The children are on vacation and watch tv all day. Marie says she prefers it that way as it keeps the children indoors and out of trouble.
When the adults tune into soap operas, the kids filter out to play soccer on the street. Marie’s family does not have any soccer balls, but they improvise with various plastic objects.
Although everyone in town seems to be equal, there are subtle differences. Of her sisters, only Marie has electricity. She is also the only one with a shower. The rest of her family bathes outside with well water. The mayor sits considerably better than everyone else. His vast house with a bright blue exterior and sun patios and decks overlooks the lake.
He’s been reelected four times and is surely corrupt. But as he’s secured his own riches, he has also helped the town. San Jose doesn’t have any natural industries and sits just outside of the reach of tourist traffic.
Twenty years ago the town was a dusty spec on the map with no roads and little electricity. Then the improvising mayor built a water park to attract weekenders from neighboring towns and developed a small town square that would eventually be filled with stores and restaurants. The construction boom put hundreds of men to work and the standard of living improved almost immediately.
People seem to be hard working here, providing for their families however possible. Those who dropped out of school have to resort to blue collar jobs like driving a cab or filling gas. Most people have worked in a number of different jobs. My spanish teacher’s husband is an electrician, a taxi driver, a construction worker, and a fisherman.
Luckier ones whose families have a bit of money to spare (or family members in the states) go on to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, and administrators. It’s a clientisitic system in the government and the mayor employs mostly family members and close friends.
Over dinner one night, Marie explained to me that she didn’t like the mayor much because he didn’t distribute jobs throughout the community. She used to be a primary school teacher but she quit because it took her two hours every morning to commute to a distant mountain village in order to work. Teaching is a common profession in northern Guatemala and unemployment is high as teachers vastly out number schools.
Marie’s husband David was the major bread maker for the family. He was a gas attendant with a 20 day on, 10 day off rotation. I didn’t see much of David as he would rise at 5 in the morning and return around 10 o clock at night.
Most of my meals in turn were spent with Marie and their eight year old boy Cesar. Marie didn’t talk much during our meals. She was friendly and answered all of my probing questions, but when I didn’t have anything to say, neither did she.
The portions were small. Sometimes it seemed like Cesar was still hungry after the meals too. When he didn’t ask for seconds, I could only assume that there weren’t any.
Some of the dishes were truly terrible. The thought of an egg broth soap with a floating fried egg on top still makes my stomach turn. One warm, corn based chocolate and mint smoothie elicits a similar feeling.
The rest of the meals were better. A typical dinner consisted of eggs, black beans, and several tortillas. Most dishes were also finished with a bit of hot sauce and farmer’s cheese. There was not much meat or poultry served. They saved them for holidays and birthdays.
Super sweet coffee accompanied every meal. I had to purchase my own water as Marie only had sodas and sweet juices. The children, as young as two and three also drank the coffee. I wasn’t sure why Marie would actually caffeinate already energetic toddlers but I suppose coffee is cheaper than milk.
Diabetes is a problem in San Jose. There is a hospital being built this year (another initiative from the enterprising mayor) but while healthcare is free, medicine is not.
Until then, there is one clinic in town. When I developed a rotten blister on my foot and had hypochondriasque fears of tetanus, I paid the local doctor ten bucks to check out my foot. He told me I should keep the blister hot – then in the same breath said I should get ice and keep it cold.
Unfortunately there was no ice in hot and humid San Jose so I opted for the keep-it-hot option. Marie and her sister-in-law held burning branches of wood to my blister later that night. I had been running around barefoot playing soccer with the littles ones and it took less than half of an hour to get the most painful blister I’ve ever gotten. The piping branches helped burn the skin and seal the blister.
Marie’s sister in-law lived a few paces away. She married Marie’s brother when she was 16 and has had three kids since. Girls are often forced away to run away from home when their disapproving mothers attempt to dissuade them from marriage. It is common to hear of parents literally dragging their daughters back home. Sometimes these episodes turn violent too. Recently there have been some laws instituted to protect women from these types of situations.
Most men and women do not stay single in their twenties. As a twenty five year old man, it was considered odd that I didn’t have a wife and kids. These days, most people have less than four kids. Just one generation ago, it was nothing less than normal to have six, seven, eight children. Many had more.
The town is lively for a kid growing up. He would have a dozen cousins his age to play with. There is a dock on the lake where everyone goes swimming – a lake which truly resembles an impressionistic painting. Music flows from most houses. One house played the Macarena.
At night the tranquil town of San Jose shuts down relatively earlier. By 10 there is absolutely nothing that is still open and soon after I would fall asleep – which was just fine as I had Spanish classes at 8 in the morning.
My Spanish teacher soyla embraced me with open arms and did her best to make me feel at home. She showed me around town, introduced me to her family, and even took me fishing. Her spanish classes on the other hand were a test in patience at times. There are two Spanish schools in town and I was taking classes at Bio Itze in San Jose. It was a decent refresher course though and at the end of the day, a decent place to have waited out the hurricanes.