Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Naughty Natalie And Her Romance Novel

A few days ago Natalie wrote a great post over on the Lenguajero blog about how she practiced Spanish by reading a Spanish romance novel.

From the Lenguajero blog:

NatRomanceNovel

I used to read romance novels when I was 13, and I only read them when I was babysitting. I babysat for a family that had stacks of them lying all around their house. I would start one after the kids went to sleep, and then spend the next couple of hours furiously reading it ina desperate attempt to finish it before the parents got home. When I heard them at the door I would throw the book back where I found it, and turn on the tv.

So, when I first started learning/reading in Spanish the first book I chose was a Spanish Harlequin novel called Boda de Conveniencia. It was the first in a 3-book mini-series, Bodas de Sociedad. At the time that I bought this (second-hand in Spain) I was pretty sure that Boda meant “Body”. It doesn’t. (It means wedding.)

Read Full Article

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Catchin' Up

I haven't been writing much lately. Well, at least I haven't been writing here lately. I've been doing some guest posts for other blogs (and I'm working on a couple more), and writing a lot for the lenguajero blog.

So, in an effort to catch everyone one up with the trip, here are a few photos from the last month. (Actually all these photos taken during a one week time frame, for the last three weeks we've been holed up in our apt. eating, drinking, and sleeping Lenguajero.)






Thursday, August 6, 2009

How August Learned Spanish

I'm reposting this story from the Lenguajero blog.

My first experience with Spanish was in Ms. Rose’s high school class. I believe that I actually sat through two years of that class. Somehow I managed to get through it all by using a newly available tool called “an internet translator” something my 65 year old on-the-verge-of-retirement teacher had never heard of before. I graduated without knowing how to say a single thing in Spanish, and promptly forgot all about the language, after all I was a red, white and blue blooded American, why would I ever want to speak another language, let alone Spanish?

Flash forward six years. I am now a slightly less ignorant American, and want to spend some time traveling in Latin America. I decide that the year of Latin I took at university, and a few iPod learning lessons will get me up and speaking Spanish in no time.

Two months later I end up in Guatemala completely unable to say a word to anyone. I stare blankly at everyone who tries to talk to me. I am in awe of the British girl who takes pity on me and comes to the bank with me to ask them if they will exchange some of my US dollars. “Ustedes cambian dolares aqui?” seems like an amazing phrase, and surely anyone who can say such a thing must speak the language fluently.

I spent three months in Central America, took a couple of weeks of Spanish courses, and left still unable to actually speak the language, though I had some how convinced myself that because I knew about 250 words I spoke Spanish.

About six months later I got “serious” about improving my Spanish. At first this basically consisted of feeding a BBC Mundo news article into Google Translate once a day and pretending that I had read it.

Eventually I admitted to myself that I was completely unable to speak the language, and decided that I was for real going to learn Spanish once and for all. Along the way I discovered a few things about learning Spanish that I think apply to learning languages in general.

  1. Unlike other subjects you might study you can’t actually learn to speak a language from a book. You can learn grammar and vocabulary (obviously important), but you still will not be able to speak.
  2. Speaking and listening to the language is the best way to improve your ability to speak and understand the language.
  3. Don’t try to read The Old Man and The Sea in Spanish. It is just as boring as in English, but harder to understand.
  4. It’s easier to learn if you practice conversational Spanish everyday. I had to move to Latin America to make that happen (remember Lenguajero didn’t exist in those days).
Read the rest of the story...

Friday, July 31, 2009

The road to internet induced psycosis

If you've been following the blog lately you know that Natalie and I just launched a website where you can go to practice English & Spanish called Lenguajero.com.

Until Monday of this week we had been working an average of 4-5 hours a day, and while we were working hard, we were not obsessing. That all changed on Monday when we launched Lenguajero, thus throwing ourselves head first into a slow decent into internet induced psycosis.

The first night was not too bad, it was really the second night when it finally took hold, rearing its ugly head and forcing us to obsess over every little detail to the point that, at three a.m. while we lay still in bed, both trying not to wake the other (who we each envied for what we thought was their ability to shut off their brain and manage at least a few hours reprieve) someone finally whispered "hey I was just thinking about Lenguajero", and we both realized that it was OK to begin the chattering animatedly, like to whacked out meth-heads who had convinced themselves they had just figured out a way to prove Einstein's theory of relativity obsolete. (Wow I can't beleive I just managed to fit that all into one sentence.)

Since then we have tried various methods to keep the beast at bay, but every attempt ends in failure and we find ourselves obsessing over the most miniscule of all details, things that would seem absurd to anyone not in the midsts of a crippling mental breakdown.

I do not know how much longer I will be able to write, how much longer I will be able to form coherent thoughts, or observe myself with a slightly detatched sense of bewilderment. I don't know how long it will be until the first piece of feces is thrown, or the first primordial call sounded. I do know that I don't have much time left, the person known as August is fading, and a new more beastly creature is emmerging to take his place. It won't be long now...they are coming for me...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bootstrapping from Colombia: Connecting Our Users

Over at the Lenguajero blog our week long series on how we built Lenguajero while living in Colombia continued yesterday with a look at how Lenguajero connects its members for conversations.

From the Lenguajero blog:

The goal of Lenguajero is to connect Spanish and English speakers so that they can have online conversations that will improve their ability to speak the language they are learning. With this goal in mind we knew that we needed to a simple, effective way to put our members in touch with one another.

We kicked around the idea that our members would connect using Skype, and we would simply design our site to help the members find language learners interested in the same topics they were. We would then help members arrange a time for a conversation, and give out Skype usernames when two people had agreed to have a conversation. Needless to say that idea seemed pretty chintzy...Read Full Article

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bootstrapping from Colombia: Design & HTML

Over at the Lenguajero blog we are running a week-long series of articles on how we built Lenguajero while living in Medellin, Colombia. Yesterday we looked at how we got a good site design by outsourcing the work using 99designs and Elance.


From the Lenguajero Blog:

While building Lenguajero we came up against one challenge that we couldn’t solve ourselves…the actual site design. Here’s how we got it done with a $1000 budget.

DesignCost $888

Neither of us are could described as designers in any sort of context. We tried contacting a couple of designers we knew back home. They were busy working full time jobs and/or taking care of their families. So how were we going to find a designer who could do just what we were looking for? Read full article...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Launching Lenguajero

These last few months have been busy for Natalie and I. Aside from studying Spanish, making new friends, and exploring new countries we have also been hard at work building a new website called Lenguajero.


From the Lenguajero Blog:

Our main objective has been to develop a site that connects language learners online (currently only available to Spanish and English speakers) so that they can improve their ability to speak, listen, and think critically and creatively in a new language. We wanted to create a space where users would be able to have conversation exchanges (intercambios) right from their homes... Read full article

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dia Dos de Mezcal

Last night was my second night at the mezcal festival. I spent the evening surrounded by the hordes of mezcal drinkers that had descended on the park to soak up all the free mezcal they could. And, of course, I joined them to soak up all the free mezcal I could. When all was said and done I had come to several conclusions.

  1. Mezcal can at times be one of the most delicious drinks in the world (especially the aged añejo or reposado)
  2. Mezcal often tastes like paint thinner
  3. The burning sensation means it's working
  4. If I keep consuming free mezcal at this rate I will probably end up with a pre-existing condition that will prevent me from getting health insurance
  5. I can sing English songs in Spanish very, very well when I drink Mezcal (last night was Peaches by the Presidents of U.S.A)
I returned to my hotel room last night and wrote the following (though Natalie insisted that we have a rule in place stating that I would not publish anything I wrote in such an inebriated state until I read it the following morning.) So without further ado here are my drunken mezcal ramblings.

Mezcal, mezcal, mezcal. I love you. I really do. You taste so good every time you touch my lips, and that warm burny sensation in my stomach tells me that you really care.

So it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you that I don't think I can drink you tomorrow. I'm too drunk right now, and you are too delicious, and the fact that you compel me to eat bacon wrapped hot dogs and chorizo tostadas every night after I put you in my tummy means that you may be more like the lover who hits me and then tells me they love me than the lover who really cares.

No mas! Me entiendes? No voy a tomar ni un tris de ti manana.

Pero nos vemos el miercoles.
Te amo.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Mezcal Mezcla-up*

Free booze is the stuff of legends. Unfortunately, open bars at weddings or company parties, or the occasional free glass of wine on a plane ride is about all the free booze we ever get. It is precisely because of this that last night was a life changer for me.

I had been seeing the signs all over town for the last couple of days, and was really getting pretty excited for La Feria de Mezcal, The Mezcal Fair.

Mezcal, for those of you who don't know, is tequila's older brother (both are produced from the Agave plant, but tequila is only made from the blue variety), and when people talk about "eating the worm" from a bottle of tequila they are actually referring to mezcal since the Mexican standard authority prohibits placing worms or larvae in tequila (thanks Wikipedia).

La Feria de Mezcal is a TEN DAY festival that has been set up in one of Oaxaca's many gorgeous plazas. Small wooden stands have been erected all around the park, and each one is staffed by workers for one of the hundred or so small artisenal mezcal distilleries in the Oaxaca area. And what, you ask, are they doing at each of these small stands?

GIVING OUT FREE MINI SHOTS OF MEZCAL!!!!!

There is no limit to the sampling and since each distillery has anywhere between 3 and 10 different types of mezcal available for sampling it does not take more than two or three stands to realize that, despite each shot being about a third of a normal shot, you have stumbled upon something truly special, the stuff of legends.

I made it through about 5 or 6 stands last night, before wandering (i.e. stumbling) off to devour a bacon wrapped hotdog with all the works (perhaps the best kept secret in the Mexican cuisine). I returned for one final push, before reminding myself that there was no rush. I have 9 more days of this to look forward to. Pray my liver holds out.

* in Spanish mezclar means to mix.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Oaxaca Wanderings

I am not a patient person. While I do believe that over the years I have gotten better at delaying gratification as opposed to constantly needing the instant kind, I am not a patient person.

A case study of my choices of rental properties over the last six years of my life would reveal that I basically choose the first thing I look at, every time. As a result I have lived in some rather bizarre locations over the years. The epitomy of a suburban apartment in Renton, Washington, a high rise in Medellin, the list goes on.

Of course my impulsiveness has also always allowed me to move into an apartment or house within two or three days of beginning to look for one. So yesterday morning when I set up two appointments to view apartments in Oaxaca I figured I would be moving into one of the two by the end of the day.

But no, for once in my life I did not move into the first place I saw. Oh, I had my reasons, there was one that was advertised as 10-15 minutes from the center which then turned out to be an awkwardly uncomfortable 45 min drive out of the city just to see the place (plus return trip). The other place seemed like a promising house sharing experience, a flyer having been posted in perfect English in a coffee shop. I called the guy who posted the flyer, Karim, and set up an appointment. There was a bit of confusion when I arrived around 3 o'clock to discover that yes, there was a room to rent in the house, but no, no one named Karim lived there. Maybe I wanted to talk to Tariq? The slightly creepy 60 something year old who was going to rent us his room (I have no idea where he was going to sleep).

And so the search goes on.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Playas and Grenades

I just had one of the most fantastic beach vacations of my life. I realized one of my life long dreams (to sleep in a cabaña directly on the beach) and spent six days lounging in a hammock reading books, eating fresh fruit, and drinking beer.

Beach vactions just don´t get any better than that. Indeed it seems that the Pacific coast state of Michoacan has everything a guy could want. As I drove back to Zihuatanejo this morning thinking about Mexico, the lack of tourism (the violence is keeping the numbers down this year) I thought "Man, I am glad all these people are too scared to come down here this year, it´s great having the place to myself." Then I arrive in Zihua and pop into an internet cafe to see what´s going on in the world and I see the headline in the N.Y. Times, Gunmen Attack Federal Forces In Mexico.

Yesterday as I lay on the beach all around me in Michoacan attacks were being carried out on federal forces. Grenades were thrown into police headquarters, police were ambushed on the roads I drove through today, and the "coolest place I have ever been", as the LP calls Morelia, turned into a war zone as a convoy of heavily armed "hitmen" opened fire on police headquarters. I was there last Saturday.

Yo doy papaya, I am naive. And I´m lucky. I wasn´t in the wrong place at the wrong time, luckily I stayed on the beach yesterday instead of getting on the highway, I´m lucky that this war isn´t affecting me. I sit on the beach drinking beer and 50 miles people are being blown the fuck up in a drug war. I´m lucky though. I get to leave. I wonder what that says about me.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Keeping it real - til I get the roller luggage

Last summer while driving across the U.S. Natalie and I stopped at a Super 8 motel in some backwater town in South Dakota. It cost about $50 for the night, and included wifi and a continental breakfast. We were in awe of the place. It seemed like our own little slice of luxury, the big TV, the tiled shower, the comfortable bed. After having spent the previous 6 months in fleabag hotels all across Asia, the idea that such an opulent hotel existed was mind blowing.

On my travels I have stayed in more rundown dumps than I can remember. There was the two dollar a night place in Guatemala that I stayed in for an entire week despite the fact that the shower had exposed wires, and that for some inexplicable reason every night at around 10 or 11 the whole room would begin to stink of shit so badly that I would tie a bandana around my face to go to sleep.

Then there was the enormous, and eerily empty, hotel I stayed at in Nepal. As the only guests in the hotel Natalie and I enjoyed the best room they had to offer, a corner room on the third floor with two huge windows looking out at two of the Himalaya's 8000 meter plus peaks in two different directions. The downside, the hotel was falling over and our room had about a ten degree slant to the floor making walking difficult and lying in bed next to impossible.

Or there was the time in Cambodia when I woke up to find a rooster directly below my bed looking up at me through the slats in my bamboo floor. Or the other time when I turned up at a guesthouse only to be informed that they were full, but that there were some mattresses out in the barn that I could sleep on for one dollar a night. I grabbed a mosquito night and spent the night bunked in the barn with a seemingly suicidaly depressed Thai monk as my only company.

That's just how I roll. I'm cheap, I stay in shit holes to save money, and have had some pretty great experiences doing so. But these days, I just don't think I have it in me to do it any more. I have a bit of money now, I'm not out looking for adventure, I don't need a good story to tell, really what I need these days is wifi and a comfortable bed.

I reconfirmed this last night by negating these options and staying in one of my former haunts, the cheapest hotel listed in the Morelia section of the LP. Listed as "basic, but spacious and spotless" (a gross misrepresentation) we checked in to the room and tried to look on the bright side, it was cheap and had a great location. But I couldn't look on the bright side for long. Maybe it was the rather large bloodstain on the door, the foul odor coming from the mosquito infested bathroom, the dead ants stuck all over the wall from when someone had fumagated but not cleaned up afterwards, or maybe it was the thousands of live ants forming a thick black line from the floor to the ceiling near the door, whatever it was I felt crushed. A crippling depression washed over me, and as I sat in a cafe sipping an espresso I realized that the traveler formerly known as August was dead. He simply doesn't exist anymore. Gone are my days of backpacking, replaced with my days of flashpacking, when 25 dollars a night for a hotel doesn't seem crazy, it seems downright sensible, after all there is wifi, clean towels, and cable TV.

I started traveling two years ago with the idea that doing everything as cheaply as possible would help me connect better with the people in the countries I was traveling through. I would stay in the same places they would, eat at the same restaurants they would, and take the same buses they would. And while I still believe that some of this is true (especially about the food and the buses), it doesn't seem to have worked that way. I have made far more friends and learned volumes more on this trip simply by staying in places for longer and staying away from the travelers circuit as much as possible, in the end I guess that means I have grown as a person, accepted who I am, and what it is that I want in life. Wifi.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dancing (and biking) in the streets

The gorging continues uninterrupted. Gracias a Dios para esta comida tan rico!

Today was another day filled with huevos a la mexicana, squashed filled quesadillas, and pinto beans cooked with tofu and jalapeño pepper. YUM!!!

We also took advantage of free museum Sunday to hit up the Muesum of Modern Art, and the National History Museum. Normally we would have had to take the metro, a cab, or battle walking through the crazy traffic that is Mexico DF, but again as it was Sunday, on of the main roads was shut down to cars and opened to bicyclists, joggers, and lazy walkers like ourselves. Why we don't have this in Seattle every Sunday is beyond me.


As we left the National History Museum we managed to get roped into dancing in a street performance that was being run by a couple of clowns (literally). With about 150-200 Mexicans gathered around watching we got paired up with a Mexican guy and girl, and were forced to dance (and in general make total asses out of ourselves) for about 45 minutes. At least there are no photos of the clown violating me in front of the crowd. Those have all been destroyed...or so I hope...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Viva Mexico

It was hard getting on that first flight yesterday, the one that was going to take us away from our home and friends in Medellin. Yet, somehow we managed to drag ourselves onto the plane, and after 20 hours and three flights we arrived in Mexico City completely exhausted.

After a less than stellar night's sleep (thanks to a bastard mosquito that kept dive bombing my head) we awoke with a singular purpose - to over-indulge in the culinary delights that are Mexico.

Here is day one in food (and a few other things).

Started the day with a breakfast of Oaxaqueño tamales - stuffed with chicken and covered in a dark chocolate mole sauce.


After that we worked up an appetite by walking to some of the obligatory sights like the famous Diego Rivera mural in the National Palace (Palacio Nacional) and around the Zocalo.



This led to the discovery of some great chicken and black bean quesadillas being grilled on the street and served with a spicy tomatillo sauce.


Some more aimless wandering led us to Coox Hanal a Yucatan style taqueria where we finished the afternoon gorging ourselves on panuchos de cochinita y pavo and huevos motuleños.



I'm pretty stuffed, and all this culinary indulgence has been a great way to take our minds off Medellin. Now if you'll excuse me I'm off for a couple of tacos al pastor. Jesus, I am going to get really fat here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Mi Vida Aqui

To quote Loyd Christmas "I hate goodbyes." You would think I would be used to them by now. I've done it enough times, but the truth is it never gets any easier. The goodbyes are already starting, so I guess in a way this is my own goodbye, 10 of my favorite pics of four months in Colombia. Hasta pronto parce.












Saturday, June 20, 2009

Snapshot

I often find myself in situations where I just sort of step back and think "Wow, I am so fucking lucky to be here right now." That's it, just a brief recognition of how special the moment is going to be for me, an acknowledgment of the fact that I won't be forgetting the memory, the people, the events, or the location that are contributing to it anytime soon.

Last night was a perfect example of one of these situations. Sitting around a large table with about 10 Colombian and American friends having our last Friday night in Medellin. Sitting outside drinking beers talking in two languages (amazingly everyone at the table spoke both Spanish and English), mixing the two together to form our own Espanglish with phrases like ojos en mi chimba, and other phrases which are just too inappropriate to translate here, I realized how much of an impact Colombia has had on me.

I may have been studying Spanish for months before I got here, but I didn't speak Spanish until I found a home in a Spanish speaking country, and that is just what I have found here, a home. A place where I am comfortable, where I understand the culture (well...sort of), and where I have built lasting friendships. A place where someone can say "let's get a drink tonight at Carlos E." and I say "Oh, sure, I know exactly where that is, great idea." A place where I have a regular restaurant, regular gym, pass the same people on the street and say hi everyday, knowing that I will see them again tomorrow, and knowing that we'll smile and maybe stop and chat for a few minutes before continuing on with our day. Hasta mañana, I'll say, knowing that it's true.

But it won't be true for much longer. I'll be saying goodbye next week. Sure, I'll be back, and I hope it will be soon, but you never know. Life is full of surprises. Afterall, when I arrived in Colombia I never thought I would ever be living in Medellin.

I'm glad I was able to stop and have that brief moment. One fleeting thought that somehow encompasses all the feelings I have for this place. 10 people sitting around a table sipping beers, laughing, chatting, and connecting. One brief snapshot I'll carry with me forever.

Monday, June 15, 2009

una frase que vale mil palabras

Every once in a while I run across Spanish words and phrases that are just so wonderful that I only need to hear them once to remember them forever. The Spanish language is chocked full of words that are just so great you can't ever forget them. For example paraguas is umbrella. What makes it so great? It literally means "for water". Or what about retroalimentacion which means feedback, or bendecir/maldecir - to bless/to curse, but literally - "to say well or say bad". All these linguistic luxuries have made learning Spanish an activity to relish.

And then there are the phrases. Sure we may have some great slang phrases in English, but there are just as many in Spanish, which brings me to the point of this blog post. Last night I learned a phrase that can only be described as an artistic masterpiece. The phrase: tener una cagaita en penalti. There is no direct translation in English and explaining each word and the reason that they all fit together so beautifully to convey their meaning would be a lot of work, so I am just going to tell you the closest approximation we have to it in English - I've got a turtle head poking out.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

5 Crazy Memories From 2 Years On The Road

It's crazy that I have been traveling for about 15 out of the last 22 months now. Two years ago when I was getting ready for my Bonderman trip I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Now, 22 months later, I have had some absolutely incredible moments. Far more than I could ever write down here, but when I was at the gym earlier I started thinking about some of the more...interesting moments I have had during this trip. So in no particular order here are 5 memories that I have from my life on the road.

1. Eating chapati and curry with a 19 year old Burmese student on the side of the road one night in Mandalay. Aside from the fact that I was gorging myself on some of the best food I had ever eaten in my life (a luxury that many Burmese cannot afford, despite the fact that the total meal cost about 80 cents for both of us), I remember all of a sudden thinking that it was going to be a moment that I would remember for the rest of my life. So far that's true.

2. Climbing over 5416 meter Thorong La pass in Nepal, sick as a dog with Giardia, and wondering if I was going to make it down under my own power or not. I have never been as happy to see a western toilet (a rarity in that country) as I was that night. If I had had to squat anymore I was going to need a couple of friends to help hold me up, and friends like that are hard to come by...

3. Making my first friend in a foreign language and eating a ham sandwich nearly everyday for two months straight on a little island in the Caribbean.

4. Getting tossed in jail in a third world country and becoming an international fugitive. For any of you who don't know, I guess the cat's out of the bag (sorry grandma). For more on said experience read this.

5. Lying on an undisclosed beach at an undisclosed location in Mexico with beautiful woman next to me, thinking I had found paradise, and wondering if my life would ever be better than that moment. So far, no.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

When you walk through the garden watch your back...

When you travel you hear all sorts of horror stories, and usually the worst ones involve violent crimes liked armed robberies. It sucks that it happens, but it happens, and in my mind I always think, "well it could happen anywhere right?"

And so with that attitude I just sort of bumble along going on my merry way, walking where I please and doing what I please. I have probably ended up doing a few stupid things because of that attitude, though I have fortunately never been the victim of such a crime (touch wood). I've always thought that the tourists who act like a total security maniacs (like the ones who travel about with those giant metal mesh cages on their backpacks) are pretty lame and probably shouldn't be traveling in the first place.

Then there are times like last night that make me question if it is just be sheer dumb luck that I haven't been shanked in a dark alley somewhere.

I hop in a cab with a couple of Colombian friends, Natalie, and another American woman living down here. One of our Colombian friends explains to us that even though we aren't going far it is probably to dangerous to walk to where we are going. We drive around for like 20 minutes trying to find one address (the cab driver gets totally lost) and then another 5 minutes to get to where we were going. Net distance traveled: three blocks. THREE BLOCKS!

Had I been on my own there is no way I would have caught a cab to travel three blocks (especially since the neighborhood seemed pretty nice). It's random things like this that make me feel like I need to completely re-think the way I travel and get around from place to place. After all if a Colombian says it's too dangerous to walk, it's probably too dangerous to walk, right?

Or there is this other possibility. No matter what the culture, and no matter what the country, there will always be people equivalent to those overly frightened backpackers with the metal cages on their back, and I should just be thankful that I am not one of them.

Friday, May 29, 2009

If I Poop On My Keyboard Will You Read What I Write?

I've never pooped on a keyboard before. To be honest I never really had a reason to. I mean, yeah, sure I've thought about pooping on a keyboard, you know, just as a joke, cause let's face it as Danny Devito once so eloquently put it "poop's funny".

So I admit I've thought about pooping on a keyboard, but I definitely had never thought about pooping on my own keyboard. Until last week. Now I can't stop thinking about pooping on my keyboard. Why you ask? Because of a blogger. A certain "new age" blogger who gives everyone wonderful advice like:
Make sure that when you break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend you call them every couple of days to let them know that you love them and that they are still important to you.
And ridiculous statements like (and this is only a slight exaggeration):
My next door neighbor's, son's, best friend's cat died the other day. It was one of the most sorrowing experiences of my life. To deal with such an utter travesty and to protect myself and remind myself how precious life is I spent three weeks in a state of silent morning.
And I just wouldn't be doing them justice if I didn't mention that the aformentioned blogger has based an entire career on instructing people on how to live their lives free of stress, anxiety, suffering, etc. As far as I can tell they have absolutely no professional credentials to back up all the bullshit advice they are spewing. Case in point, the first statement above, if my girlfriend dumped me, and then continued calling me to tell me how much she cared for me and that she still loved me, I would be so fucking confused I swear my brain would literally explode, like this.


So what does any of this have to do with pooping on a keyboard? This "professional blogger" has over 14,000 subscribers. If 14,000 people subscribe read this garbage surely 14,000 people will want to read what gets published by someone pooping on a keyboard, right? Let me know if you will read what happens when I poop on my keyboard. If 14,000 people will read it I will commence pooping on my keyboard on a daily basis.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Small Town Serenity

Natalie and I have been living in cities now for the last 5 months straight. Wonderful, exciting cities with lots of people to meet, places to go, and things to do, but there has been one problem with these cities. They have all been cities. So while cities have equaled lots of wonderful things they have also equaled: smog, noise, smog, traffic jams, diesel fumes in my nose, having to catch buses or the metro to go places, smog, and more smog.

For a change of pace this weekend we headed off to Salento, a gorgeous little town of about 3000 people nestled in Colombia's coffee region. Aside from great coffee and great views, there was an (over)abundance of clean air, and hiking opportunities abounded. Small town life seemed to serve as a bit of a wake up call for us. While we may love Medellin and plan to spend a bit more time here, the next stop will definitely be a small town either in the mountains or on the beach. If anyone knows of a place that matches that description give me a shout.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Funny thing about learning a new language...

...it keeps getting harder. I think I have just come to this realization in the last couple of days. Spanish is not getting any easier. In fact, beyond a doubt - and much to my surprise - it's getting harder.

Four months ago I felt like I was really starting to grasp the language. I was taking courses at a university in a Spanish speaking country, I had made my first friends in a foreign language, obviously it was just a matter of time and practice, right?

Wrong. Four months later my knowledge of the language has grown exponentially, and yet everyday I am reminded at how far I have to go to actually say that I speak this language.

Here's the problem. When you are learning a language you are really focused on the basics. I'm not just talking about the basics like Hola, yo soy Augusto and te odio. No, what I am talking about is that basic collection of say 3000 words or so, and those maybe 300 really common phrases that you will be using all the time. Those are the building blocks (along with the grammer that supports them of course) of basically every conversation. Once you have that down you can have conversations. And there in lies the flaw in my original thinking. I always imagined that when you reached that point you spoke the language. You don't.

What you do at that point is bastardize the language. That's what I have been doing for about the last month or so, bastardizing the language (I had to throw that in for a second time because it is so rare that I get to use the word bastardize, that's three). In a way it's almost worse than when you are learning the language. When you are learning the language you can always say things like "Oh I don't know the pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo yet, that's why I said that wrong." Now, I don't have much of an excuse. As hard as it is to believe I do know the pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo. So now I just go around wisely offering sage advise like "Debes demandar que ellos tragan los tiquetes." (You must sue that they bring the tickets.)

Is it hopeless? Definitely not. I've really learned Spanish. Now if I can only figure out how to speak it...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

T'was weird...

I know Diego and Angela really well. I spend at least a couple of hours with one or both of them everyday. They are our Spanish professors, and our best friends here in Medellin. I have had interesting conversations with them about all sorts of topics, and while they may speak Spanish, English, and French, they always speak Spanish with Natalie and I. So last night we proposed a grand experiment; what happens when you take four friends who always speak to each other in one language, and instead make them speak to each other in another language?

The answer? Complete and utter mystification and hysteria. As Natalie bluntly put it "I'm really weirded out right now." The implications of changing the language you speak in, and the relationship dynamic that comes with it, especially when one couple speaks their second language way better than the other couple (Diego and Angela's English is way better than our Spanish, and their accents are WAY sexier) was fascinating. Diego kept saying, "You know we are the same people right?" But it was hard to believe. There was only one thing to do in a situation like that. Drink until it seemed normal. Which we proceeded to do with great success.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Brain Is FRIED!

Sunday had to be one of the most exhausting days of my life. No I wasn't climbing a mountain or busting my ass at the gym for three hours. Instead I was at a small cabin in the mountains surrounding Medellin, eating BBQ, drinking wine, playing football, and speaking Spanish. Ten hours of nearly uninterrupted Spanish with my professor's family.

While it was easily one of the best days I have had since I arrived here (the kindness of Colombians is truly overwhelming), I am not sure if I have ever tried speaking only Spanish for such a long period of time. Arriving home that night I felt more tired than I have ever felt after any physical activity I have ever done, and as mentally fatigued as I felt after completing the MCAT. I lay in bed, not able to read, nor able to watch tv.

There is no doubt that my Spanish is improving, but everyday I encounter new situations that I don't know vocabulary for, or new situations that I need to focus all my energy on simply to have conversations. I never knew it was going to be this hard!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

My Tipping Point

I keep wondering if and when I am going to reach that special place in my quest para dominar Spanish. I notice improvements everyday and keep waiting for that moment when all of a sudden it all makes sense. When the floodgates will open and when all I will have to do is stand there and become completely submerged in the language.

I don't know if this is something that can or will happen, maybe learning a language isn't like that. Maybe there is no one special moment when it all makes sense, but in my mind there is. I always imagine one day that I am going to wake up and I will just be speaking the language without any difficulty.

I dreamed in Spanish earlier this afternoon (something weird where I was explaining that you don't go hunting when you are rock climbing to a random guy on the street). I love dreaming in Spanish. I don't do it often but when I do my speech is beautiful and rich, full of expression and always, always without a single error.

I'm wondering if I should down half a bottle of Tylenol P.M. and go to sleep listening to a Spanish podcast. It might just be the best Spanish conversation of my life!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Medellin Part II

I can't believe I have actually been back here for a week now. It really is one of those things where it seems like just yesterday I was stepping off the plane into what resembled a quarantine zone (every official at the airport was wearing a mask and there was a nurse taking people's temperature).

Within four hours of landing in Medellin my Spanish professors (Diego and Angela) had helped me find a great new apartment in an awesome neighborhood. We are settled in now, and enjoying the routine of Spanish classes in the mornings, work in the afternoons.

Other than that I just don't have much to report. I guess this blog post was prett pointless and kind of sucked. Sorry...I'll try to come up with something better for the next one. Wait! I got it, what if a giant man-pig-bear or bear-man-pig attacked Medellin. Now that would make for a good story. I'll get on that one.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Horrors and Thrills

I'm taking advantage of the free wifi in Quito's international airport, and what better way to pass the time than to recount a couple of stories to all of you, my adoring public.

I'm headed back to Medellin now, and am pretty excited to settle back into my routine of Spanish classes in the morning, work in the afternoon. These last two days in Quito have been...ummm...interesting.

First, the thrill. Yesterday I hired a Landrover to take me 4626 meters up Cotopaxi, the worlds tallest active volcano. From there we began our mountain bike decent down the winding jeep trail. One hell of a rush to say the least. First I was so cold I could barely keep my fingers warm enough to squeeze the brakes as the wind blew bits of snow and ice of the mountain stinging my face every second of the way. Eventually I reached a smoother dirt road, shedded a few layers, and finished the last 15 km of the ride in about 20 min (including two grueling uphills, that were more like mild climbs but at 3500 meters...).

Now, the horror. I am just not cut out for life in a dorm room anymore. I made it through the last two weeks ok, but Monday night was beyond a doubt the worst night I have ever spent in a dorm. At around 1 a.m. the guy in the bunk above me came into the room making a lot of noise, he managed to haul his fat ass on the creaking bed above, where for the next 5 hours he tossed and turned so frequently that the bed really never stopped shaking or creaking. OK that's not that bad but wait I'm going somewhere with this. About 15 min after he had climbed into bed I heard, how shall I put this, a rythmic thumping noise coming from the bed above me. The noise of course was also accompanied by a rythmic shaking of the bed that lasted about 2 or 3 minutes.

I think it best not to mention anymore, though I do have to include this little tidbit. At around 5 a.m. I leaned over my bed to look at my watch which was lying next to me on the floor. Unable to feel the watch I turned on my light and realized that dude had dropped his dirty underwear on the floor next to the bed, and they were covering my watch. GROSS!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Some Random Thoughts

Fidel is being a bitch. Just when the U.S. and Cuba start to make some headway Fidel feels the need to try to fuck everything up. I guess he feels that he can´t have his socialist state without having an enemy. Hey Fidel! Either shut up or die already.

Being in a Latin American country during the elections is pretty cool. It is far better when you can speak the language and get to listen to all the cool slogans that people chant at the rallies. Yo, tu, el, todo de nosotros contigo!

This outbreak of the swine flu, gripe porcina, is freaking me out. Is this how it all begins???

Saturday, April 25, 2009

It´s Gotta Go

Is it possible to sever all ties with one particular part of your ancestry? If so I think I would like to go ahead and do that. Starting today I no longer claim any Irish ancestry at all. Sorry Grandma, I know you are probably reading this right now and wondering why nice August Flanagan would want to severe all his ties with his Irish ancestry. It actually has nothing to do with the Ireland, or many of the Irish people I have met on my travels. What it boils down to is that I want in NO way to be associated with the large proportion of Irish assholes traveling the world. Like I said, I´ve met some pretty great Irish guys during my travels, but unfortunately I meet the stereotype all too often, and I just don´t want my name to be associated with them anymore.

Do you know the type I am talking about? They are the ones who piss all over the toilet seats, leave beer bottles strewn about the common room while the last few drops dribble all over the floor. The ones who make so much fucking noise in the middle of the night that no one can sleep, and then at 6 a.m. because they are so coked out of their minds they decide to start trying to organize their luggage to leave the hostel. Have you ever had to watch a trio of drunken, coked out, Irish guys try to organize luggage? I imagine it is similar to watching a trio of monkeys try to write a novel. Eventually they get it done, but mainly they just create an even larger mess while throwing feces at each other.

So there you have it. I´m done with it. Dan, when I get home our last name goes back to Esposito. I am washing my hands of this mess.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

F This

Updated 6 hours later.

Ecuador has sucked my soul these last two days. Aside from the minor irritations I encountered in Quito, I was having a pretty decent time exploring and getting to know the city. Then I left. Then it started raining. Then I got stuck indoors in a hostel full of other travelers, which might not be such a terrible thing under normal circumstances, but I am just not used to the gringo trail right now. If I have to listen to anyone else go on and on about how dangerous South America is, overhear anymore debates about why the people in "these countries" are so terrible and don't value life like us westerners do I am going to fucking scream.

So, this is the situation I find myself in right now so if any of you out there reading this feel the slightest compulsion to help me out please, please, please pray to the weather gods to make it stop raining so I can do the one thing I wanted to do here, go mountain biking.

The updated part:

The rain didn't stop, until just now. So thanks for the prayers to the weather gods people, but they were to late (or I just wasn't patient enough). I followed my own advice and said "F this' I'm going for a ride." I cocooned myself in all my rain gear rented a bike and set off on what was the most beautiful if not coldest and wettest 30 km ride of my life. The conditions were less than ideal for downhill riding, the result of which being that I am relatively certain I now have a minor concussion. I just can't stop thinking about the number purple and the letter 7...

All in all a great ride, and I am glad that I just sucked it up and did it, but now I am left wondering what to do with the rest of my week. I had been planning on staying here for a while, chilling out, reading books, hiking and biking, but due to the weather and the fact that the only bookshop/cafe decided to close its doors last night for a two week annual vacation means that I have no idea what I should be doing with myself. Anyone?!?!? Suggestions for what to do in Ecuador for 6 days without busting my ass traveling around?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Quito Bonito

Arriving in Quito yesterday I noticed two things right away. The cold downpour and the altitude induced headache. I made my way to a hostel, checked in and hunkered down. Too cold and wet to explore, and not knowing what to do with myself I spent the evening bundled in my jacket watching movies and feeling a feeling I had not felt for quite some time, loneliness.

Around 10:30 last night the hostel, which had only one other occupant when I arrived, began filling up with people and I quickly realized why I haven't stayed in a dorm room for more than two years now, the noise. I put my headphones on and tried semi-successfully to sleep, though I awoke frequently, the headache still there.

This morning didn't start out all that great either, I ordered breakfast from a cafe only to be served instant coffee and stale toast. UGH....

Then things turned around. Really turned around. Turns out Quito is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, ok, it might not be the city on the island (a little code there), but it is damn beautiful, and the vistas are incredible. I wandered aimlessly, had a couple of short Spanish conversations with friendly passer-byers. Walking around aimlessly, wheezing slightly with every hill I climbed and every flight of stairs I mounted I felt truly relaxed for the first time since I landed.

Then it happened. Making my way back to my hostel after lunch I was walking along still enjoying every sight and sound when I felt something cold and sticky hit my hat and run down my back. I reached up to my neck and wiped some of the slime away. Green paint. Green fucking paint. Someone from a rooftop above had just poured green paint on me.

There were a few people standing around looking at me, and looking at the roof, and then looking back at me. First it came out in English "WHAT THE FUCK!!!" I screamed, quickly realizing that I needed to switch my rage to Spanish I rolled out the following, some of which I am not even sure translates to Spanish but I was to pissed off to care, and felt like I needed to get my point across. "Hijo de puta, vayase pa' la mierda. Voy a joder tu madre pinche guebon." I screamed while the crowd of slightly shocked locals looked on.

I turned and began walking away when one of the guys from the crowd came up to me with a handful of tissues and began trying to help me wipe the paint of my neck, back, camera, and backpack. After a few minutes I gave up, thanked him for his help, and began booking it back to my hostel. After a shower and a change of clothes I calmed down and let it go. I still love this city!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Saddle Up Partner

I have that feeling again. That sort of tickley anticipation that creeps up inside you, starting in the stomach and expanding until it fills your chest before working its way down your arms and legs. It's the feeling that an adventure is about to begin. That not all that you knew is going to remain the same, and that you are just going to be along for the ride.

In this case the adventure is Ecuador. Solo. I haven't traveled solo in a while now, and in fact I wouldn't even characterize what I've been doing lately as traveling. I'm settled. I love Medellin, I have a nice apartment, my Spanish classes are fantastic, and I am meeting new friends. I feel cocooned by the normalcy that is my life here. I wake up have coffee and go to class. I have lunch almost everyday at the same delicious restaurant. I work a few hours in the afternoons. I spend my free time hanging out with friends or studying Spanish and watching movies. It is absolutely fantastic. Never better.

But it's time to break out of this routine (at least for 12 days). I need to climb a mountain, and then zip down it at break-neck speed on a full suspension bike. I need to hop on a chicken bus and not know where it's going to take me. I need to find that perfect little place that's all mine, that memory that's just for me. And when it's all over I'm glad I'll be coming back to Medellin. It really is starting to feel like home.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The world is not tan horrible!

Mira. I have traveled quite a bit in my day. I've even circumnavigated the globe so to speak. I have traveled to poor countries and rich countries. I have spent time in big cities and little villages. I have seen poverty and wealth on equally unimaginable scales. So while I have witnessed the wickedness that man is capable of I have also witnessed and experienced the overwhelming kindness that he is capable of.

In fact, I have experienced it so often that there really is no where I am afraid to go, especially in Latin America. No, I don't speak Spanish perfectly, but I do speak it. I can ask my own questions, understand the answers, and generally get along quite well on my own. I don't stay in four star hotels, or eat in classy restaurants. So quit treating me like a potential victim. No one is going to hurt me. Have I been ripped off occasionally? Yes. Was it ever for more than like three or four dollars? No.

I pay what things cost, people answer my questions honestly, and in general I am treated with kindness by nearly everyone I encounter, whether it be waiting for the bus or buying a beer in the market.

So, thank you for the concern, thank you for the recommendations on places to go where I can find other tourists, and thanks for telling me what I ought to pay for things. Thank you for worrying about my safety, but chillax aready! I'm doing pretty well on my own.

Dedicated to all the thoughtful, but needlessly overprotective friends I have met on my travels.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I recommend you try this

I was getting ready to cook one of my favorite dishes for dinner a little while ago when I ran into a few road-blocks. First, the dish, which is really just a derivative of another dish I cook (which in turn is derived from the other of the three things I know how to cook), is vegetarian fajitas. A simple dish of fried peppers, squash, onion, and tomato spooned into a hot tortilla with some refried beans and cheese. I don't know what to say other than; it's fucking goooooood!

So my first problem was that I didn't have a red bell pepper, one of the key ingredients. And then the real big problem came. I tried one of the unknown spicy peppers I was about to add to the mix. It wasn't a habanero, which I had previously thought was the hottest pepper on earth, and one I am very familiar with using (wear gloves and keep you hands away from your genitals is my advice for handling said pepper). No, this new mystery pepper was one I had never seen before, and after one small, tinsy, winsy nibble I realized what a mistake I had just made. I felt the scourching heat begin on the tip of my tounge and then explode right between my eyes. The pain was unbearable. I don't even know how to describe it, I guess the only thing I can say is that three hours later my lips are still swollen and the burning sensation has only just begun to subside.

So what was there to do? I was lacking ingredients, and the ones I had were clearly not all going to get tossed in there. So I improvised. I fried up some rice with garlic and onion and chile sauce, I fried the veggies and garlic like normal (but I only dropped in a few very small slivers of the pepper), and then a added the kicker, a mango. What ensued was an orgy of flavor that I can hardly begin to describe. The spicy pepper, the sweet mango, the creamy subtle flavor of the fresh avocado, and the perfectly fried golden brown garlic all mixing together in a psychedelic swirl of deliciousness.

I don't want to compare the meal to a meeting with God, but maybe it was like eating a meal that God had cooked. Hmmm...did I just compare myself to God? Well, I did just cook that meal, I think I am entitled to a bit of egotism right now.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

It's come a long way since Guatemala

First a joke: Me fui por Guatemala, pero llegue en Guatepeor. If you're studying Spanish I won't explain the joke, I'll let you figure it out (DISCLAIMER: I in no way hold these beliefs about Guatemala nor its citizens. I love Guatemala and would never say anything malicous about such a wonderful country, despite standing by my prior statement suggesting that you should violently shove old women in the bus stations there).

Last night was great, and it was great for many reasons, but for me one thing that stood out was that I was having conversations. No, I am not some recluse who has shut himself off from the world (which would make the fact that I had interpersonal conversations significant), but nonetheless it was significant.

Diego, our Spanish professor (and quickly becoming a close friend), and his wife Angela invited us to go to a party with them. We didn't know anyone who would be at said party, and there wasn't any real reason to go other than to meet a ton of new people in Spanish, and make new contacts in the city.

What was significant is that it was the first time I can remember when I was surrounded by tons of people speaking Spanish, tons of separate conversations, many which were lacking that oh so cherished companion, context, and yet I was still able to understand it. Maybe not all of it, but most of it. I understood jokes and funny stories, talked with doctoral students about their thesis, all the while marvelling at the fact that three months ago none of this would have been possible.

And then I thought back to that first day in Guatemala 20 months ago. When I opened my mouth to say something and nothing came out. Unaccostomed to such a peculiar phenomenon I tried again, only to make some bizzare gurgling noise and watch with detatchment as my body began to compliment those funny grunts and gurgles with bizzare hand gestures.

It feels good to have reached this point. It feels cozy. 20 months ago I was stuck talking with other backpackers on the travelers circuit. These days I feel like I could go just about anywhere, and talk with just about anyone. It's a good feeling. Though I'm sure anyday now I will find myself in one of those awkward situations in which I have a complete communication breakdown and my inflated self-confidence will burst. Until then I am going to enjoy pretending to speak Spanish

Friday, April 3, 2009

What do Jesus and Mother Teresa have to do with anything?

Probably nothing but I guess there livin' here these days so you never know...

It's raining again. It's always raining here. I really feel like I traded Seattle for Seattle, Latino Edition. It's green, there are mountains around, lots of neighborhood parks and coffee shops, a bit of a hipster scene in the nicer barrios, and a sculpture park, though this particular sculpture park is full of obscenely obese naked - anatomically correct if not oddly shaped and proportioned - men and women. Go Botero!

There are differences too. For example; we have a sweet metro down here that runs the length of the city, is impeccably clean, and easy to ride. (Hows that whole light rail thing going Seattle?)

Uhhh...this post is going know where, so I guess I'm going to hop the metro and go kick it with Jesus and M.T. for a while. Chao.

(Yes, I'm starting to crack a bit.)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

eso es un caballo de otro color

I love that expression (that's a horse of a different color). I never use the phrase in English, ever, but I enjoy throwing it out there in Spanish, which incidentally does not translate whatsoever.

Nonetheless, use it I do, as often as possible. Unfortunately there aren't a whole lot of times in day-to-day conversation when that phrase would be applicable, but there was one this morning, and carpe diem I did (no, that last italicized bit is not Spanish, but I figured I might as well have a tri-lingual post here).

Of course when I busted it out my Spanish teacher just looked at me like I was hopelessly babbling like a moron (something he is surely used to by now). After explaining the phrase to him, he continued to stare at me dumbfoundedly for a few seconds, and then returned to the conversation we were having about high-class hookers. Pero eso es un caballo de otro color...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Stuck in the middle with myself

I'm in a weird place right now, linguistically. I have been studying Spanish for the last year now, and obviously the last three months of traveling and formally studying in a University have really started to pay off. I wouldn't quite call myself a Spanish speaker, but I'm close. And that is where the problem comes in.

I am now able to talk with most people, about most subjects. I can clearly communicate opinions and ideas (even though words are often lacking from my vocabulary). And I can understand most people, that is to say, I can understand the opinions and ideas that they are trying to communicate, even when those ideas are filled with slang, and riddled with colloquialisms. But then it all falls apart.

I don't really understand most of what is being said to me. If I was to be completely honest I would say I probably understand less than 50% of the words in any given exchange (assuming it's not just ordering food or asking directions, etc.). Yet, I often find myself sitting around for hours at a time having conversations with people, seemingly understanding everything, all while never really understanding anything.

What is this weird middle ground I am trapped in? If any of you have any profound insight on what it is like to be at this stage in learning a language, and how the hell I can get past it I would love to hear from you!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

My one accomplishment

I think my favorite part about not working, and not really having anything to do is the fact that when I do do something it seems monumental, like I really accomplished something significant. Today's significant accomplishment was cooking lunch with Natalie and our friend Amparo. That's it. That's all I did today (well I ate the lunch as well, so I guess I did two things today).

This wasn't just any old lunch we are talking about either. This was the typical costena (put a tilde over that n cause I can't be bothered to do so) lunch. We, and by we I mean Amparo, prepared arroz con coco, platanos fritos, y filetes de pescado (coconut rice, fried plantains, and fish filetes). Well, I prepared the fish so I guess I shouldn't give her all the credit (even though preparing fish was only about 1/10 of the overall work that had to be done).

First we had to grate a coconut. Have you ever grated an entire coconut? No? I didn't think so. Let me assure you it is no easy task, which is why Amparo and Natalie did most of it while I drank a beer. Then, after that, the coconut milk had to be extracted by repeatedly mixing the shredded material with water and squeezing it through a strainer (Of course we didn't have a strainer so Amparo and Natalie had to go ask the security guard to call other apartments until he found someone who had one. Again, I sat this one out with a cold beer in my hand). When all that was finally done Amparo magically extracted the coconut oil and mixed that with the coconut milk and began simmering the rice in the delicious coconut soup.

Then it was on to the platanos. First they were sliced into chunks and fried lightly in hot oil. Then they are removed from the hot oil, mashed flat, soaked in a garlic and saltwater concoction for a few minutes and the fried again until they were crispy and delicious. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I have never had anything deep-fried that I did not enjoy.

I might as well give myself a pat on the back here and say that the fish, marinated in lime, and then fried in a delicious mixture of olive oil garlic and lime, was also other-worldly delicious.

Oh! I almost forgot the fresh pineapple juice we made to go along with it. Nothing to fancy, just the most delicious pineapple you have ever had blended with ice and served ice cold.

And that was it. That was the day. I'm not even sure what happened to the other 10 hours that I have spent awake so far. I think I just sat in a chair in a semi-comatose state marvelling over how much I had accomplished.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fotos y pensamientos

It should never take anyone a year to put a photo album up on their blog, but that is exactly how long it has taken me to get around to organizing and posting the photos from my Bonderman trip, which I finished almost a year ago (see the new photo albums section in the left hand column). It's a little scary to think that that has almost been a year already, because it sure doesn't feel like it. What's more, that means that I recieved the Bonderman almost two years ago, and that I have basically been traveling for 13 of the last 20 months.

Looking at all those photos the last couple of days made me really realize a couple of things. First and foremost it made me miss Nepal. I mean reallllllly miss Nepal. If only they spoke Spanish there....

It served as a nice reminder of how lucky I am to be spending these two years traveling and learning a second language, but it also reminded me of how much I have changed in these two years.

When I see the pictures from Guatemala I look so young, so full of energy. I remember riding the chicken buses all over the country and feeling so exilerated doing so, like there wasn't anything I couldn't do. But now? I don't know if I could handle it these days. I feel tired. The thought of enduring a six or eight hour ass-pounding, nausea inducing, leg cramping journey doesn't sound fun, or even like an adventure. It just sounds tiring. And painful.

Some might say "Well you've finally come to your senses, there is nothing wrong with not wanting to put yourself through that anymore.", but they're wrong. There is something wrong with that. I remember those days on the chicken buses as being some of the happiest days of my life. It was complete freedom. Complete and unchecked adventure. Charting new territories, and discovering new worlds. It's not there any more, that sense of adventure...I miss that feeling.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A vicious reminder

Today started pretty much like any other day. I got up, turned on the coffee maker, and made a quick and delicious breakfast of fruit, yogurt, and granola. After packing a light lunch and swallowing the dredges at the bottom of my coffee mug (they really do pack an extra punch). I walked to the metro station and headed downtown.

I suppose that is where my day would diverge from a normal work day, though in truth I have never had a single "normal" work day in my life (Woohoo for working from home!). I arrived in downtown Medellin, met a couple of friends, and hopped a nearby bus headed for an ecological reserve about 45 minutes outside of town. As we began climbing the steep and winding road out of town that was when it really struck me. What it was that struck me I'm not exactly sure, but strike me it did.

Maybe I should go back to when I first arrived here, after leaving the island. Landing in Bogota was like re-entering the world. There was advertising, new cars, proper restaurants, things that I hadn't really seen much of for the last two months. More than that, it was the choices that grabbed me. I could choose what kind of meat I wanted on a sandwich (it wasn't just ham), I could choose where I was going to buy my groceries, or which bus service I wanted to take. And that choice, those near endless options, those are what sucked me in. I was eating, drinking, and breathing capitalism, and it felt good.

Did I notice the poverty in those first few weeks? Yeah I did. Did I feel any sort of connection to it? I don't know. I know it felt awful to see homeless people on the streets. I know I gave spare change here and there to the blind beggers lining the path up Montserrate, but that's about it. Somewhere between lying on the beach, worrying about my own money situation, and simply (and perhaps unconsciously) being able to remove myself from that poverty I think I stopped thinking about it. After all it is pretty hard to notice poverty when you are able to move to a nice neighborhood, go shopping in upscale supermarkets, and spend time with middle-class friends.

And that's what hit me this morning. The poverty. It felt like it was the first time I was feeling it, at least since Mexico. Say what you will about the island, but everyone has food, everyone has shoes. Today I saw again the viciousness of life in a country where people get left behind. There was a lot of images flooding my vision, but what I will remember most, what is burned into my mind, was the man using his teeth scrapping mango flesh off a rind pulled from a garbage bag, while sitting barefoot in the middle of the street, shivering violently while the rain soaked him to the bone.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Settled...for now.

It had only been 18 days without a home base. So why does it feel like it had been so much longer than that? It feels as though I left behind my apartment on the island months ago, and as far as Seattle goes? Well, that seems like a life-time ago.

I am happy to report that, as of noon today, I am no longer homeless. Instead I am the proud renter of a two bedroom apartment in Medellin.

And what an apartment it is! Situated on the 14th floor I look out over a wide swath of Medellin which sprawls out endlessly before me. There is pool, wifi, and (at long last) the much needed second bathroom, thus ensuring zero wait time 100% of the time.

But has it all come at a cost? Sure there is the 1.7 million pesos a month, but what about the additional tax on my soul? Should I really be living in a neighborhood where the closest nightlife is the mall (though it does have soccer fields on the third floor)? Do I really want to walk past fast-food restaurants, tire shops, and car dealerships instead of coffee shops, bakeries, art galleries, and boutique clothes stores every morning?

Oh My God...I've moved to Agrestic! AAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

It's actually not that bad. It's more like I have moved to Agrestic, were it to be situated 10 minutes away (walking) from the urban environment I have so grown to love, and for now I can deal with that. It feels good to have a home again.

Now, if you will excuse me I think I'll get back to down on all the plebes situated 14 floors below me. BWHAHAHA.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Finally!!!!

I would be lying if I said that last month has not been completely exhausting, and one of the more challenging months I have ever had during my travels. The last two weeks on the island seemed to drag on forever, and despite being sad to leave our friends we could not wait to get out of there. Then, after we arrived in Colombia we had "The Bus Ride" only to arrive in Cartagena and discover that it was not the city we had expected it to be. With all our luggage (we have more than we should) traveling is not easy and the failure to find a place to settle added immensely our stress level. Throw in not really speaking much Spanish for two weeks (just enough to ask directions, get food, etc.) and we were both miserable.

When nothing is going right, and you are feeling as stressed as we were, there is really only one option, go to the beach. Which is exactly what we did. Unfortunately, it took me a couple of days to unwind at the beach (As an aside: If you ever find yourself standing in crystal clear turquoise water with a beautiful girl in a bikini shouting at you to come join her for a swim, and you are to grumpy to go do it, there is something very wrong with you, and you may wish to seek professional help. Not that that happened to me or anything.....ummmm....).

Eventually I started to unwind, it started right about the time I kicked back in a hammock for the first time in nearly three months, sipping on Coca Cola and reading Harry Potter in Spanish.


Then, to finally cement my relaxation and turn things around I discovered paradise. Again. I've discovered quite a few paradises in my day, but I'm quite certain that this one takes the cake (after all the campground in which we slept next to the beach was named El Paraiso. As pictures are far more telling than words enjoy looking at paradise from afar. I assure you it was even better than it looks!






Monday, March 9, 2009

The suppression of dreams (by an overpowering stench of urine)

Cartagena was the dream. It was always the dream. It was the dream before I had ever heard of the Bonderman Fellowship, before I traveled through Central America, before Asia. For me this trip was about one city, Cartagena.

Arriving in Cartagena after the worst-bus-ride-ever (see last post), I was tired, cranky, and hungry. It was time to decompress and enjoy the "Fairy Tale City of Magic" (as it had been dubbed by the LP).

What I found was a city over run by tourists, where I was constantly harassed by all manner of, what I would call, pushers. However, instead of pushing drugs it was taxis, hotels, water, restaurants, etc. And then there was the overpowering smell of urine. Was I back in Asia again?!? And, BALLS, was it ever hot out!!

Half broken hearted, half furious with the situation, I was about to have a melt-down when a solution presented itself. Medellin, the land of eternal spring. Within 24 hours the dream had changed completely (funny how that can happen when you are traveling), now my sights are set on Medellin and the university there, where, I have been told by numerous people, I will encounter friendly people, clear Spanish, a gorgeous outdoor playground filled with all sorts of possibilities, and only a few whities hopping around.

I fled Cartagena yesterday for the beach, where I find myself writing this post. Unfortunately this particular beach town (which technically speaking lacks a beach) is filled with far more whities than Colombians, and there are barefoot hippies everywhere! Someone tell these guys to put some fucking shoes on!! AHHHHHHH!!! I'm losing it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bogota to Cartagena. One bus ride I can't recommend to anyone.




Sometimes buses suck. That's just a fact of life when you are traveling, and I feel like I have done a pretty great job being fairly Zen about it. Just except it and move on. Unfortunately, it's not always that easy. Case in point, the worst bus ride of my life, which I just completed yesterday afternoon, and after telling this story here I never want to think about again. And yes, it involves vomit and feces.

It all started by boarding what was hands down the nicest bus I had ever seen. I mean the seats reclined almost all the way to a bed, and the leg rests were actual LEG rests not just a platform to place your feet. It was like those seats you always see in the first class section of a transcontinental flight, but never get to sit in. Instead, you just keep walking back to your cramped little seat, without the kick-ass leg rests.

And then it began...

The treacherous, winding road turned the ride into a roller coaster, made worse by the pedal-to-the-metal driving style of our conductor. This caused my seat-mate to vomit. Twice. The second time resulting in vomit on the floor, her bag, and, worst of all my bag, all thanks to a leaky plastic bag that just didn't quite do the trick. Thus, for two hours we sat in the aforementioned spewed chunks, waiting for the bus to stop so we could clean everything up.

OK, everything was clean, we had some food and the bus started out again. We could still recover from this. But then the bus broke down. And then we waited on the side of the road for about an hour as the driver tried to fix it, finally we were able to start driving again, only to be forced to change buses an hour later, which would not have been so bad except there were not enough seats on the bus for everyone. By "everyone" I mean myself and a German guy who had come along with us on the ride. And that is how I found myself lying on the floor in the middle of the aisle at the back of the bus, next to the lavatory.

Now, lying on the floor of a bus when you have a twenty hour ride (1l down at this point) is pretty unpleasant, but it was made all the more unpleasant by the fact that the toilet on this particular bus was not flushing, that the bus was not making any rest stops (and thus everyone was using the lavatory), that the sun was starting to rise, that the rising sun meant warmer temperatures, and that warmer temperatures meant a stench that you could not possibly imagine began emanating from the lavatory. Which happened to be where my head was located.

Luckily after a couple of hours I was able to grab a seat and ride out the rest of what turned into a 22 hour ride sitting in front of a kid who decided that he needed to frequently kick the back of my seat as hard as he could in order to exercise his legs. But you know what? After lying on the floor with my head next to the lavatory for two hours it wasn't so bad.

And that was my worst bus ride ever. The End.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Booyha Bogota!

Damn! Does it ever feel good to be here. I have been sipping drip coffee, using high-speed internet, and enjoying eating things such as fruits and vegetables again (I had almost forgotten that there are edible substances out there other than ham).

Last night as I lay in bed streaming the Daily Show I finally felt like I had reconnected with the outside world. A strange feeling after these last two months.

I know I am supposed to have some profound metaphor to describe my last two months, but I don't. This is about all I got: Have you ever wanted to eat a turkey sandwich, but when you went to your favorite sub shop all they had was ham? Imagine having that happen three times a day for 60 straight days, and having to wait in line for an hour each time. That was what my last two months were like.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I'm outta here!

And not a moment too soon! Not that it's been terrible here, but really there is only so much a good ol' red, white, and blue American, such as myself, can take here.

Next stop Colombia, which after these last two months has become a land where all my dreams will come true: high-speed internet, drip coffee, clear and easy to understand Spanish, Coke (no, not the white stuff, the real stuff, the good stuff, because that just does not exist here.), delicious food, and a whole lot more.

Colombia, la tierra de oportunidad, aqui vengo!

Monday, February 9, 2009

been a while...

I can't believe that I have not been able to put anything up here in the last month and a half. Most of you probably know why, and for those of you who don't you won't be getting any information out of me.

Since I can't write much (even though I have a ton to say) I will keep this very brief.

I'm having the time of my life. I've never been in a city I love as much as this one.

While most of you are probably imagining me in a tropical paradise right now the truth is that it has been fucking freezing here. Both Natalie and I wore our long underwear to bed the other night.

Spanish is a hell of a great language, but here it has been bastardized beyond recognition. I am anxiously awaiting a new country with a clearer dialect.

The food sucks. No way around it. This is the first time I have ever been anywhere where I didn't feel excited to eat the next delicious meal. Instead, I find myself dreading meal time.

Soccer is a fun sport. It is even more fun when played in an olympic swimming pool that has been drained of water.

Well, that's all for now. I look forward to writing at least one or two very long posts when I leave here in three weeks.

Ciao,
Augusto