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


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.