Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy Hedonistic Holidays (My Spring Break Christmas)

I'm sitting on a king size bed right now. The TV, a nice flat panel widescreen, is playing in the background, and I'm sipping a good cup of coffee. Today however is the last time I will be enjoying this luxury. We check out in a few hours, and head to the airport tomorrow for our next destination where, borrowing the term from some bad spy movies, I will be "going dark". No internet, no room service, no pool, no endless supply of booze, and no topless women.

That's right the hedonistic holiday is coming to an end. It's been a hell of a week! First I must thank Dave and Carol for treating Nat and I to such a great vacation, which is exactly what this was, a vacation. After a couple of weeks of sleeping on lumpy mattresses, purifying our drinking water every day, and having to forage for food it was nice to suddenly put all that behind us and enjoy a life filled with creature comforts.

It was also a little weird. I mean suddenly we were surrounded by whities. They were everywhere, on the beach, the street, in the restaurants and bars. Whities, whities everywhere. There was also the fact that a significant portion of the whities were topless (and given the small thong bottoms most of the women were wearing almost bottomless as well). Fueled by free booze and encouraged by the resort staff to partake in games like amateur pornstar contest, race to blow the balloon up with a bicycle pump (the catch being you aren't using your foot you are using your best humping technique), sex and excess were in the air. As were fake boobs. Not only were they in the air, they were in the pool, the restaurants, the bars, the beach, the rooms. How many people in this world have fake titties? And do they all come to Cancun for vacation?

A fun week to be sure, but a little unsettling at others. Every time I would catch part of a conversation in which a burned to a crisp whitie would say to another burned to a crisp whitie "Mexico is such a poor country, these poor waiters make only 4 or 5 dollars a day, and are really lucky to have these jobs." I wanted to scream. There were other ridiculous comments as well. Such as "This is my fourth time in Cancun, and this place is paradise. The problem is most guys come down here and get totally wrapped up in trying to *insert expletive used to describe sex here* a *insert explative used to describe a woman here*, but they miss out on just enjoying paradise. There are beautiful women everywhere, it's gorgeous, and you can drink as much as you want. All you need to do is relax, enjoy paradise, and before you know it you will be *insert explative used to describe sex here* a *insert expletive used to describe a woman here*.

Moments like these and many others left me on edge a lot. I wanted to scream at some of these people. I wanted to tell them how fake their lives were. How ignorant they were of the outside world, of the challenges that face a nation like Mexico. I wanted to strangle the stupid motherfucker next to me every time he said the words *insert expletive used to describe sex here* a *insert expletive used to describe a woman here*. Then I remembered "Hey! I'm on vacation, I need to relax.", and would swim over the poolside bar, order a drink, and enjoy the view. I had to agree the guy. The view was pretty great.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Mexican Mishaps

I'm in Cancun right now, I have been here for four days now, and have slipped into a strange world that I do not fully understand. I will be describing my hedonistic holidays in a separate post, but first here is a quick update on three adventures that befell Nat and I over the last few days.

Departing San Cristobal for Cancun we knew we were in for a long ride. "Great", I had said as we queued up waiting to buy our tickets, "I can't wait for another 14 hour bus ride." If only that had been the case. When we got to the front of the line and purchased our tickets we discovered that we had underestimated the return trip, and would be spending 18 hours on the bus instead.

Our bus was not leaving until the following afternoon so we began searching for a cheap hostel to spend the night. The last hostel we had stayed at in San Cristobal was full, and after wandering by several other places that were either full, or too expensive we settled on Ek Balam more out of desperation than anything else. While we both have probably spent nights in worse accommodation in our lives we probably haven't spent many nights in sketchier places. The problems were too numerous to name them all. The lock on the door was busted. The guy working spent about 15 minutes trying to find a key for it, and finally gave up and showed us that if you just jammed a key in the lock really hard and shook the door for a few seconds it should pop open. This seemed to work pretty well, so stepping over the piles of hair and cigarette butts we made our way to the bed.

The following morning, after breakfast, I decided to show Natalie the torture apparatus that our posh room had been equipped with. Running from the only electrical outlet in the room was a long electric cord with the end stripped back to reveal several inches of copper wire inside. "Watch this!" I said, picking up the cable and touching the ends together. A brief blue flash and a shower of sparks shot out from the cable, and then darkness enveloped us. I had just blown out the circuit for the majority of the hostel. We used our headlamps to back our bags and left promptly.

Once at the bus station we began to wait, and wait, and wait finally an hour after we were supposed to depart for Cancun our bus showed up, and 20 minutes later we were underway. The going was slow and it was quickly apparent that we were not going to get to Cancun in 18 hours. We passed the time watching movies, the first of which was American Gangster, which had not been dubbed meaning that we got to enjoy it in English. Next came The Godfather (El Padrino in Spanish), which was exciting for about 30 seconds until it became apparent that this was not THE Godfather. Instead it was some insanely low budget flick (I'm talking a D movie here) starring, and directed by, Damian Chapa, who will now haunt my dreams forever. Forced to endure Damian Chapa's acting we suffered on until it finally ended around midnight. At which point they started it over again.

Finally, 24 hours later we arrived in Cancun. We made our way to the resort, had dinner, and promptly went to sleep. The next day we spent hours trying to figure out what to do when the airline holding our tickets to our next destination decided to cancel our reservation. Then, after spending the morning at the airport desperately searching for a way out of that mess, we made our way to the beach to finally relax.

We spread out on a bed (yes there are beds on the beach!!) and began reading our books. I had finished about 2 pages when I heard the first scream. A high pitched, bone rattling, scream of someone experiencing sheer agony. I looked up in time to see three guys dragging a woman out of the water by her life jacket.
The men carried her over to a bed and I ran over to see what was going on. The first things I noticed were the cuts on her leg. Certainly not life threatening, but none to pleasant either. More concerning was the odd angle of her hip, and the bumps protruding from it. I quickly ascertained that there had been a Ski Do accident and asked the men if there were paramedics on-sight. They said yes and that they were going to get them now. Thinking I would only have to deal with the situation for a minute or two I began my scan of her body, and another woman rushed over to help. After a minute no paramedics had arrived and we were then told there was no one on staff. While Natalie set about making sure that an ambulance had been called we bundled the woman in towels and tried to keep her calm though she continued to scream about her broken pelvis. It was a tense situation made worse when her friends came rushing over and started screaming and crying next to her. I monitored her pulse and kept her talking. From time to time she would black out and I would need to lean close to her chest to make sure she was still breathing. The throng of spectators had grown thick, and plenty of people tried to give advice. “She's passing out, give her sugar”, one guy sagely advised me. “OMG get fuck out of here.” I wanted to scream at him. Finally after about 30 minutes (though others have put it at more like 45) the paramedics arrived. With their help we cut her life jacket away and carefully rolled her onto a backboard. She was taken to the hospital and that is the end of my involvement in the story...almost.

The next day I was standing at the bar ordering drinks when I overheard a man relating the incident to some other guests. It went something like this:

“I saw these guys drag this woman out of the water screaming. She was bleeding REALLY badly from these HUGE, DEEP gashes in her leg (again, they were nasty cuts but not the biggest issue by far). Luckily she was a doctor and was able to keep herself conscious to direct people how to stop the bleeding because she knew that if she blacked out and they did not stop the bleeding she was going to bleed to death. Her blood was soaking through these towels and she kept taking to the people, who didn't know what they were doing, and finally got them to stop the bleeding. Then after an hour an ambulance FINALLY showed up and took her to the hospital. She was lucky she was a doctor or she would have been dead.”

I smiled to myself, shook my head, grabbed my Tequila Sunrise, and headed back to the beach. I was finally beginning to relax a bit.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Amigos y Extranjeros

It's crazy how often it happens. Everyone I know who has traveled has experienced it, and people write entire books about it. It doesn't matter where you go, whether you have the same skin color, the same religion, or even whether you speak the same language, it will happen to you. I am talking about the kindness of strangers (which, as I have mentioned before, happens to be the title of a pretty great book). Every time I experience it I am filled with more emotions than I can possibly describe. The obvious ones are gratitude and joy that there are so many kind people in the world, who for no reason other than kindness will invite you into their homes, share their food, and go out of their way to make you feel incredibly welcome. Then there are the other feelings it invokes. The ones that aren't as pleasant. There is a bit self-loathing, why don't I ever do the same thing for others? Never once have I invited a stranger who I have nothing in common with, but would like to do something nice for, into my house. And then there is that little voice in the back of my head saying "careful here, don't be too nice they might be trying to rip you off." Never once has that voice been correct, but it is always there, always causing me to be on guard, to make excuses to leave early, or otherwise excuse myself from the situation.

It started Friday night with a mildly intoxicated Mexican shouting out to me "Hello, where are you from." I was walking away from him at the time, headed in search of my favorite warm weather treat, ice cream, and did not stop to talk with him. After sating my craving for ice cream Natalie and I were walking back down the street in the opposite direction, and there in the same place was the same man sitting on a chair with two other guys drinking beer and listening to music. Clearly I was not going to be able to avoid them unless I acted like a total dick and just ignored them. This really isn't my style so I decided to go right up to them and say hello. Before I knew it we had been introduced to all of them, the man who had called out to me was named Julio Cesar, and he was with his father Julio, a now retired boxer who had apparently made a bit of a name for himself as a boxer and was nicknamed Chocomilk. Within a couple of minutes chairs had been brought out for us and we were sipping beers with Chocomilk and Julio Cesar. Jokes were told, and as a true test of my Spanish I actually was understanding them. We laughed and drank beer, asked each other questions and drank beer, and simply sat in the street and drank beer. When all was said and done Nat and I were both feeling a bit drunk and excused ourselves for the night, but promised to visit their restaurant the following day for lunch.

True to our word we showed up at their restaurant planning to be polite, buy a small lunch and then say goodbye. As a quick aside, Paradise, which is how I will refer to my place of residence for the past week (though that is not it's name), had only two drawbacks, the mosquitoes and the prices of food at the restaurants. Therefore we were a bit weary of going to a beach side restaurant where the owner had promised to cook us a feast, as this could quite possibly cost at least an entire day's budget. Julio was not there when we arrived, and so we sat on the beach sipping a soda and waiting for him. After finishing our sodas he had still not arrived and so we ordered a beer. When Julio showed up he was quite busy as he had just returned from the nearest town with everything he would need to operate hit taqueria that night. After about ten minutes he called us over to the kitchen and introduced us to his entire family. His four children and his wife politely greeted us, and then he showed us to a nearby table (I should mention that despite the fact that Julio has four children, the oldest of whom is 18, Julio is only 33). Soon the music was blasting, and a very fresh shrimp salad had been placed on the table in front of us along with two more beers.

There was only one problem. I'm allergic to shellfish. I had mentioned this to him the night before, but in our inebriated state it must have slipped his mind. Therefore I did my best to pick around the shrimp without anyone noticing, all the while encouraging Natalie to stuff her face with shrimp. "You are eating for two." I told her, and when her fork would lie resting on the plate I would shoot her a pleading look, and beg her to cram a few more bites into her mouth.

After the shellfish came a freshly cooked plate of beef that would be chopped into the filling for the tacos he would sell on the street that night. I'm not much of a beef fan, but this was truly fantastic, and of course was accompanied by more beers.

After a couple of hours Julio had to get his taqueria set up. We promised to come eat tacos that night, and as I got up I asked what we owed him for lunch. "Nada." was the reply. "Really?" I asked, "Are you sure?" He explained to me that we were guests in his house and that he was very happy to have met us and to become friends. He called me his hermano (brother), and hugged both of us as we left. He also invited us to Christmas dinner with his entire extended family.

We returned to his taco stand that night with our two German friends, with whom we had spent the week, and set about trying to eat as many tacos as we could in order to at least help him reach his goal of selling 20 kilos of tacos that night. We brought beers, and every time he had a few minutes he would come sit with us and drink a beer. When his friends would come by he would call me over and introduce me as his friend, and excitedly tell his friends about how we had met the night before.

When we were finally ready to live I paid for our tacos and was getting ready to leave a sizable tip. His 18 year old daughter, who was helping him run the taco stand came back and handed me 100 pesos which was far more change than I should have gotten back. She explained that she didn't have the proper change for me so I should just take the 100 instead. I tried to insist that they keep the 100 pesos since I was planning on giving them nearly the full 200 I had originally handed her anyway as a tip, but Julio wouldn't hear of it and insisted I keep my money.

We said goodbye promising to visit soon. I hope that I will. I hope that was not the last time I see Julio and his family. I hope that by the end of the night he had sold his 20 kilos of tacos. I hope that more people visit his restaurant, which like all restaurants there was perpetually empty. I hope that one day Julio will experience the same overwhelming emotions I did when a complete stranger decided to go out of his way to be kind, and to help me learn more about his language and his country. Most of all I hope that I will begin to act in the same way as Julio, that I will reach out to those in need, that I will be kind to strangers for no other reason than because it is how we should all try to treat one another.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The post that no one wants to read

If I were you I would not be interested in reading this post. I mean there are no horror stories about bus rides, no self-deprecating tales about my own ignorance and stupidity, no insightful observations about the social ills afflicting Chiapas (one of the poorest places in Mexico), only a few poorly worded sentences about what paradise is like.

Paradise is a deserted beach on the Pacific Ocean with warm clear waters. I start my days in paradise by either going for a 7:30 a.m. Swim (made possible by the incredibly warm waters), or by ordering a fantastic cup of organic coffee (the only real luxury available here), and reading the BBC in Spanish using the now available (and pirated from the only place within 20 km to have wifi) internet connection I have at my disposal. Following that I will wile away the rest of the day on the beach, in the water, or reading a book in a hammock. (Everyone should experience what it is like to have nothing better to do than fall asleep in a comfortable hammock whenever the mood strikes.) Evenings are spent sipping beers and playing cards, though bedtime comes early here, and I am usually asleep by 10:30. I am sleeping like a baby here, usually for about 9 or 10 hours per night.

My plans for Mexico really did grind to a halt when I arrived here. Originally I thought two or three days would be the max. I am now on day seven. Sadly, this laid back lifestyle won't last much longer and tomorrow I will say goodbye to this incredible place. It will be back to Cancun, for what will be a much different beach experience,before heading off into a much more difficult traveling/studying situation.

This experience, which has been so reminiscent of the 10 days I spent on Don Det, Laos is something that everyone really must make a priority to experience at least once in their lives. The relative isolation, the peaceful atmosphere, and the gorgeous location do not exist for a vacation destination. They exist for those who travel, for those who back their bags and go looking for them, and even then you have to get pretty lucky to find them.

Cheers from Paradise.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The redlight district of San Cristobal

I love tamales. Always have, always will. Thus, I came to Mexico in search of one thing, and one thing only: the best damn tamales I have ever eaten. That dream was realized a few nights ago in San Cristobal, and strangely enough it was with the help of the ol' LP.

A small text box in the San Cristobal section read something like this. "On Saturdays and Wednesdays follow Calle Leon past the corn fields, and look for a makeshift red light on the left hand side of the road, just before the bridge. There will be a woman selling tamales there. They are the best tamales in the world."

Skeptical, but intrigued, Natalie and I set off in search of this mythical tamale lady. We wandered out of town, past the corn fields, and suddenly there it was! The red light hanging above a door. We walked up to the house and I peered inside. "Hola" I called out, "¿uh...tienes tamales?" "Si" replied the woman, lifting the lid off of two large pots filled with tamales. Phew, I'm not just going to be some crazy gringo sticking his head into some woman's house asking for tamales.

We chose four to start with, two chicken and two pork. Sitting on the side of the road in an empty part of town we watched the full moon rise over the corn fields while we munched on what truly were the greatest tamales I have ever eaten. Thanks LP.


I've been a bit quiet on here lately. This owes mainly to the fact that I am in paradise. That's right paradise. For the time being I'm going to keep quiet about where this paradise is, and am only going to say the following:
  • It's in Mexico.

  • It has the cleanest beach I have ever seen, and the water is about the temperature of a bathtub.
  • And finally, and this is the kicker, it is completely deserted. Aside from a very small handful (probably ten or less) international travelers, there is no one on the beach, which spans for miles and miles, other than a couple of fishermen.

But let's back up a bit, there are interesting stories to be told. It all starts in San Cristobal, which just so happened to be hosting the Festival of Guadalupe, or Dia de Guadalupe as it is known in Mexico (though dia implies that it only lasts one day and that was certainly not the case). So there is some saint here in Mexico named Guadalupe, apparently the Virgin Mother (Mary) appeared to her in a vision one time told her to do something, and now she is a saint. I'm overstating my ignorance a bit, but not much.

Anyway...the story really has nothing to do with why there is this festival, but rather with the festival itself. Every year one city in southern Mexico is chosen to host the festival, and this year that city was San Cristobal. Then churches put together what I can only describe as teams of runners, who then travel from wherever their church is to San Cristobal running along the side of the highway carrying a torch. If running down the crazy-ass highways of Mexico doesn't sound terrible enough the trucks that carry the runners who are resting slowly drives behind the runner blasting a car alarm at around 100 decibels to announce its presence. Try to picture it. There you are risking your life running in 90 degree heat on these fucked up roads with vans and trucks whipping by six inches away from you, and behind you is a truck blasting BEEP BEEP BEEP, RYAA RYAA, ANH ANH ANH. Oh, and just to top it off, for some reason I can't even begin to comprehend, you have to wear a sheep hide vest over your clothes.

So I was feeling a lot of sympathy for these dedicated kids busting their asses because of their faith, and was really enjoying the festive atmosphere that enveloped the city. But that was only on the first night.

By the second night my sympathy was gone. Replaced with growing resentment, that began boiling over into outright anger. The thing was the party just never ended. Which meant the fireworks NEVER ENDED. Which meant the Mariachi bands NEVER STOPPED PLAYING. And above all else it meant that the runners NEVER STOPPED COMING, and thus the CAR ALARMS NEVER STOPPED BLAIRING. EVER.

By four a.m. on the second night I couldn't take it anymore. It was absolutely impossible to sleep. Even with ear plugs the constant music being played by a drunken mariachi band, the innumerable explosions of bottle rockets, and the incessant whine of car alarms was too much to bear. I began practicing my Spanish in my head. It was everything that I wanted to say to the all night revelers (and bear in mind this was not a one night party. I had arrived on what was either night 7 or 8 of an 8 or 9 night party). It went a little something like this (though I have translated it back into English for your benefit).

“This noise, this non-stop over-the-top fucking noise is what is causing all the problems in your society. This is why Chiapas is rife with poverty while other areas of the country prosper. This is why alcoholism is rampant, and why domestic violence has become such a huge problem. This is why children here are far behind the rest of the country in terms of education. The list of socio-economic issues goes on and on, and it is all because of this fucking noise! No one can sleep, how can the children learn anything in school? No one can sleep, how can the men go to work in the morning. No one can sleep, the men are all getting drunk. No one can sleep.

I was getting pretty poetic in my four a.m. Rant, which at the time seemed to make perfect sense, it was similar to Rudy Giuliani's No Broken Windows plan for cleaning up crime in N.Y. City in the 90s. As you probably well know by now if you have ever read Freakonomics this wasn't what cleaned up N.Y. City and it probably wouldn't alleviate any of the social issues plaguing Chiapas either, but man did it feel good to rant in my head, in Spanish, at four in the morning.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

San Cristobal and the worst two hours of my life.

As I write this I am sitting in a gorgeous cafe in the heart of San Cristobal, Chiapas. I lack the words to describe the beauty of this town at the moment. It is truly breathtaking.

I do not lack the words to describe the bus ride here, however. Simply put it was probably two of the worst hours of my life. It all started after writing my last post about how wonderful all the food here is. So I'm sure you know where this is going. After spending a night and morning in my hotel room (and mainly in the bathroom) in utter agony it was time to make a decision; a.) I could stay in Ocosingo for another night and hopefully recover, or b.) I could brave two hour bus ride to San Cristobal which I was sure would be a nicer town, and was a place I had really been looking forward to getting to and stopping for several days. I chose option b.

With my stomach churning, my bowels rumbling, and my body aching I popped a Cipro and an Imodium and hopped on a colectivo bound for San Cristobal. The problem was not with me, it was really with the road. First, I must explain that Mexico has a serious love affair with speed bumps (topes in Spanish). They are everywhere. I do not think it is an exageration to say that in the 98 km between Ocosingo and San Cristobal we went over at least a hundred of them. Everytime this would happen my stomach would do a backflip and I would clench my fists and pray that I wouldn't "blow chuncks" all over the woman in front of me.

The second problem was the snake-like nature of the road. It twisted and turned in every direction possible, and, provided there was not a tope to slow us down, we whipped around the corners at speeds that would make a Formula One racer nervous. Green in the face, and in more pain that seemed normal for food poisoning I gripped the edge of the seat tightly and prayed it would end without incidence. Fortunately it did, and upon arriving In San Cristobal I checked into a wonderful posada and slept myself back to health.

So that's the story, I'm healthy again (though Nat keeps disappearing into the bathroom while I write this), and ready for more of San Cristobal's colonial charm.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Reasons I love traveling

It's strange that today is only day 4 of what could be a very long trip. Already I feel like I have been on the road for ages, and it seems like my last trip never really ended. And you know what? I'm totally OK with that.

I'm sure there will be many hard times ahead, and that I will not always feel as I do now, but until then all I can say is that I love being homeless in Latin America. Being back here is like stepping into a familiar pair of jeans, or lying in your own bed after being away from home for a while (Wait a minute! Is that a contradiction...). The point is I feel very at home without a home.

I am truly loving Mexico. Beyond a doubt the largest source of joy has been the food. How can anyone live without eating a delicious stack of warm tortillas with every meal. No matter what I eat tortillas are a part of the meal. I love stuffing a few pieces of chicken, pork, or beef along with some frijoles and picante into the delicious corn wrappers and scarffing them down. It never ceases to put a smile on my face. Also, if you can't tell from that last sentence my vegitarianism has ground to a halt. I have had meat with at least two meals everyday since I got here and can't imagine eating anything else. This morning's breakfast (which cost two dollars for both Nat and I) consisted of a quarter of a grilled chicken doused in lime and picante, frijoles, a large stack of tortillas, and an orange juice. YUM!!!!!!!!!!

OK all this talk of food is making me hungry, I'm headed to find some pork tacos. Hasta pronto.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Fucking Bus Company (ADO)

The title pretty much sums this post up. So there we were, in Cancun and ready to hit the road. We had just gorged ourselves on some delicious roadside tacos, and were in the bus station waiting to head to Palenque. The bus was set to leave at 7:30, and we made sure we were there around half an hour early.

Around 7:15 we still had not seen a bus pull in to Bay 1 which was where we had been told to wait. Natalie went to the door that everyone has to pass through in order to board and asked the woman collecting tickets if the bus had arrived. "Un momento" was the answer. At 7:25 with no bus still in sight I went up to the woman, showed her our tickets, and asked about the status of the bus. Again I was told it had not arrived. "En seguro" "Are you sure" I said. "Si" was the reply. Our conversation went on for a couple of more minutes with her again examing our tickets and telling me the bus had not arrived. At 7:34 Natalie jumped from her seat. "The bus is pulling away" she shouted, as she ran for the door. It was to late. The bus, which had been parked in a different bay, did not stop.

I began explaining the situation to another woman who had come over. Speaking in rapid Spainsh that was difficult to understand she basically told me that I should have got on the bus at 7:30 at turned her back on me. As she stood talking to someone else I again tried to question her, though she simply turned and told me to go to customer service.

I made my way to the customer service booth in a rage. Amazingly my Spanish didn't falter, in fact it seemed to improve, as I rapidly explained the entire situation to the man working at the booth. He looked up the next bus, which was only an hour later and told us that there were two seats left, but that we would have to pay again. In a lot of countries this would not be such a big deal, but the buses in Mexico are exprensive and this was a first class bus, which cost nearly $100 for both our tickets. Furious, I responded that we were getting on the next bus at 8:30, and that we were not paying for our tickets. The banter went back and forth for a minute or two until he got his supervisor, who also informed me that we had to pay. After several minutes of arguing he said they would pay %50. It was better than nothing, and we REALLY wanted to get the hell out of Cancun, so an hour later and fifty dollars lighter we boarded the bus for what was to be the most expensive ride I have ever taken.

Fifteen hours later I was lying on the bed of my private cabaƱa, happy to finally be away from Cancun and on the road.

After a day of lazing about we made our way to the fabulous ruins of Palenque this morning. Truly an amazing site (though not as great as Tikal), and to top it all off it's about 85 out right now.

I hear Seattle's expecting snow this weekend...

Well, if you will excuse me I have to make a call to the head of ADO in Cancun and try to get my money back. Wish me luck!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

And so it begins...again.

It's strange, the similarities between the start of this grand adventure and my last. Both times I packed my belongings away in storage. Both times I said goodbye to my friends and family. Both times I boarded a flight to Cancun, unsure of what lay ahead.

But that's where the similarities end, and the differences begin. Already I amazed at how different this trip is. The nervous feeling in my stomach is gone. I'm speaking Spanish well (OK not too well, but good enough for now). And perhaps the biggest difference is that I am not alone. Embarking on such a grand adventure with a partner (and a wonderful one at that) is truly a blessing. While I would not trade last year's expereince for anything in the world, I am glad to be sharing this adventure with Natalie.

I spent a good portion of my flight yesterday mulling over these thoughts as we cruised through the skies at 35,000 feet. Finally we arrived. After easily clearing immigration (something that felt like an incredible challenge last year), I stepped outside into the humid evening air with a feeling of deja vu. Wasn't I just here???

The bus ride into town was short, and it was when I stepped out of the bus station that I realized how much my last trip changed me. As we walked towards our hotel I remembered walking down the same street last year hopelessly lost, and unable to ask directions. My hotel was only four blocks from the bus station and I stumbled around for what seemed like ages before I finally arrived. This time I navigated my way towards the hotel with confidence doging traffic and potholes like a pro. As we walked through the back streets of Cancun I remembered that a year ago I thought I was in an incredibly impovershed area. Walking the same streets last night it was hard not to laugh at myself for being so naive. These were not poor barrios, whose residents struggled to make ends meet, these were middle class homes with nice vehicles parked out front. What a difference a year makes.

I'm happy, healthy, and ready for anything. Unfortunately, right now that anything is an all night bus ride to Palenque. ARGH!