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

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?


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.