6.1.10 Disasters of the Natural Variety

Well. It’s been a month since Stu gave that final wave, wedged between 2 locals in the front cab of a shuddering/falling-apart pickup truck. I’m still in San Pedro on the beautiful lake of Atitlan, still illegally working at the Italian restaurant, still watching streams of backpackers come and go, and since his departure I have experienced 3 natural disasters for the first time in my life. I still miss him.

Our tee pee compound in San Pedro lago Atitlan

Juggling and twirling in our front yard.

I moved. Instead of babysitting daredevil children up in the hills for $2.25 a night, I am now on the lake with a private room, bathroom, and hammock for $1.75 a night. I went in with some friends, and we rented what was supposed to be a private get-away for travelers but wound up an abandoned paradise full of decaying TeePees for a month. It’s hard to leave that hammock overlooking the water when work time rolls around sabes esta.

Rain sunk boat

Rain sunk boat

 

2 weeks after Stu left, the rain started. True, it is technically the rainy season, but C’MON! I’ve never seen rain like this. Every day it rains. EVERY DAY. I don’t own a single dry article of anything. I would take some clothes to the lavanteria to dry them, but then how am I supposed to get it back home? It’s RAINING. Thing is, I have seen rain like this, but the other thing is, I’ve always had a car or dry mode of transportation between destinations before. I walk everywhere here, which means I arrive soaked to the bone, and I can’t describe my hatred for walking around in soaked jeans and wet socks, can’t stand it, so I basically live in my bathing suit and flip flops and my lack of coping to wet clothes has earned me a nasty cold.

The other day, during Spanish class (1-on-1 for $4 an hour + free kayaks and horseback rides haaaaah) the earth started acting funny. My teacher was talking about god knows what and suddenly we were dancing the Rumba in our chairs, the palm branches from our grass hut started shedding all around, and I asked “is this an earthquake?!” My teacher smiles, braces the quaking table with his hand and says “Si, entonces, no anglais por favor.” As if it’s nothing, as if it’s not my first earthquake, as if my outburst in English was more incorrect than the solid earth shaking. Forgive me for not knowing the difference between por and para (both mean “for” by the way) because my notes are soaked in pee.

Pacaya behind the Antigua arch.

Pacaya behind the Antigua arch

About a week later, Thursday May 27th to be exact, a volcano an hour from here erupted in a town called Antigua. Pacaya, as the lava oozing ash spraying thing is called, was climbed by none other than Stu only 1.5 short months ago while I was sitting on the jon battling a particularly nasty bout of Montezuma, and now Guatemala City’s international airport is closed until Friday. We have refugees! When Alfredo (the amazing Italian chef) hollered, “Alex! It’s raining stones!” I thought he meant the torrential downpour had turned to hail, “NO! Real stones! A volcano over there has erupted!” I thought he meant one of the three volcanos on the lake and I nearly started making out with the closest girl to me not wanting my mummified remains to be forever remembered serving a plate of pasta. “No you idiot! In Antigua, lava is shooting a km high! When are you going to learn Spanish?!”  Some hostelers and expats attempted to form a rescue committee, and I considered making the trek but it was dissembled after learning that all the roads were closed, due to 5 inches of ash.

Landslide in San Pedro 2010

Landslide

2 days ago, (Saturday May 29th) marked the second day of Agatha, a tropical storm that turned the rainy season into flood season, and mudslides devastated all of Guatemala. Something close to 100 lives were lost, and now all main roads (that were only covered in ash) are now closed due to the mudslides scarring all visible landscapes. We had a mudslide here about a 5-minute walk outside of town, amigos and amigettes, it is horrifying. I’ll attach pictures as soon as I meet someone with compatible camera/computer parts. Raw freaking mother nature devastation. I’m surprised only 2 people (both children) died in it, because at least half a dozen homes were ripped in half and buried under the mud and massive boulders. A VERY drunk (and I don’t blame him) man named David was telling the weekly sunday BBQ his story of escape.

Landslide San Pedro 2010

Landslide clean-up crew

He heard something, looked outside, saw a river of mud, trees, and boulders spilling and tumbling straight for him, he dove under his pila which is a concrete sink type thing where you handwash clothes, and then his house disappeared, his world filled with mud, and he nearly drowned. None of his 3 pets survived, and insurance doesn’t exist here. There has been a digging party at least a hundred locals strong for the past 3 days clearing out the mud, digging out houses, searching for bodies. The vibe here is pretty sad at the moment, no more “buenas dias” when you pass in the streets, only “hola” or nothing at all.

Despite it all, this place is still truly amazing. Somehow the natural disasters only emphasize and heighten the life here. Everyone comes together digging with shovels, pick axes, and hoes instead of massive earth moving machines. The funerals last for a week each and are attended nonstop by dozens and dozens of people from all over the lake. Food for volunteers is heaped up at churches, songs are sung, hands are held, tears are shed by the entire town. It’s incredible.

Anyway, I’ve booked my flight for Buenos Aires the 15th of June. I’ll be spending my birthday (June 9th I’ll be 25!) surrounded by short-known yet long term friends surrounding a massive bon-fire in my front yard amongst scattered teepees and most likely scattered showers.  And after visiting distant relatives (Paul’s as in Hale and Paul’s Nephew John and his wife Sybil) who live just outside of Antigua for a couple days I’m finally off to South America! Who would have thought that 6 months was not nearly enough time to go from Mexico City to Buenos Aires by land? I only made it to 2 countries! I’ll be meeting my mom and sister down there the first of July, then a stream of friends are making their way down one by one trickling in over the next year!

You guys are great, thanks for keeping up,

Alex

Posted in Guatemala, San Pedro, Travel updates | Leave a comment

5.4.10 Solo Yo

Guatemala Coffee bag

The Indian in the mountain.

Alone in the dark and scary jungles of Guatemala without a single friend in the world I squat with my knife in my teeth and just wait to get mugged by a gorilla or a guerrilla or a small Mayan child or a tree. Stu has left me. Due to unfortunate pressing family issues Stu had to depart from our little eden here in San Pedro on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. I don’t have the energy or even want to wipe the big soggy tears from my face to look up where our last update left off, so I’ll just guess. We crossed the border into Guatemala and after a night on an island called Flores in the middle of a lake, we hunkered down in Antigua for a week or so. It was full of active Volcanos and dive bars, specifically Cafe no se, which befriended us and let us stay after the oppressive nationwide 1:00 am curfew on bars. We took a shuttle from Antigua to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan and that ride gave me a veridad religious experience. As an Irish dude later put it, “that ride had me chewin’ a hole in the seat wit me arse!” We were driving in what later became a hail storm around blind single lane hairpin curves going about 90mph in a church van that was skidding and fishtailing around. The driver was actually wearing a tshirt that comically listed in english the dangers of Guatemalan driving involving careening over cliffs and ending up in fiery explosions. HAHAHA…NOT FUNNY. I wore my seatbelt for the first time in 3 months, and I even made up my own rendition of hail mary something something and grace, since I never learned it, and crossed myself. But we made it. Hopped a boat to San Pedro arriving in more rain and stumbled into the cheapest hotel I have ever stayed in. $2.50 a person. Oh, let me rant on the Guatemalan Quetzal for a moment. They suck! I’ve discovered I’m a peso man. 1 Quetzal is worth about 12 cents, which is hard math, especially coming off of the peso which is 10 pesos = under a dollar, so it has a connotation that you are saving money, while the Q (as it’s lovingly referred to here) has a connotation that you are getting ripped off constantly. 20Q for a liter of beer!? In Mexico it’s only 20 pesos! But the worst part is, all the money resembles monopoly money and it all looks alike. So you have a huge wad of cash aka a bankroll feeling all suave and gangster, but you really only have about $5 and you don’t even know it, b/c a 10Q looks EXACTLY like a 100Q. The WORST part is…they have 1 Q notes. Allow me to remind you, it’s worth 12 cents. I have so many freaking worthless 1 Q notes in my wallet I sit on a tilt. Ok, rant over.

Our first full day, we ran into 5 different groups of friends we’ve met previously throughout our journey. Mostly all from our stay at San Cris, but also a bartender from Café no se. Traveling is so much fun, especially when the world’s size is put into perspective. We wound up running into our favorite couple in the world named Claire and Alex. It’s safe to assume that all our adventures from here on involved them too, since we were pretty much inseparable for the 2+ weeks that we’ve been here. Alex (from here on out will be referred to as Big A) is also a freestyling lyrical genius, and we get along swimmingly.

Fata Morgana's

Fata Morgana's the best Italian in the 3rd world.

The next part is sort of hard to write down in a linear fashion since so much was going on, but all the while so little was happening it was an oxymoronic 2+ weeks. Within a couple of days Stu and I both found ourselves no longer staying in a hotel or hostel, but in separate private rooms connected to a family who keep a better eye on their chickens than they do their children. The price for board seems to be so cheap bc we are expected to run a babysitting service as well; apparently. At one point, in my broken Spanish I was yelling at a child to stop jumping from the roof with jagged rusty metal posts sticking every which way, while simultaneously trying to defend the dangling 5 year old from his brothers’ attempts to peg him with a hard plastic ball. Stu and I also found ourselves employed. That’s right ladies and gents, we are hard working illegal immigrants working in a kitchen and serving up the best pasta you have ever had in a 3rd world country. Our Italian chef, Alfredo, (I know, hilarious right?!) is a 53 year old ex drug smuggler who learned to make pasta “the old school way, from my grandmother.” We get paid less than a dollar an hour plus free meals, and I don’t mean to brag or anything, but there has been no need for the term diarrhea diaries since I’ve started working. The best job I have ever had. It’s a pleasure to go to work every day, (I work 5-7 hours a day 6 days a week) my job description consists of rolling silverware, sweeping the floor, hanging out with cool people, watching the happenings of the street, drinking free coffee, occasionally taking an order, occasionally walking 3 steps from the kitchen window to the table delivering a plate of steaming pasta, hanging out with more cool people, maybe have a free cocktail, eat, play cards, go out with all the cool new people I met. For instance, I am currently at work right now over looking the street watching the hustle and bustle of new arrivals from the dock sipping on delicious locally grown coffee. Stu was Alfredo’s protégé. Everyday it was Stu’s job to make up a new special (that usually contained heaps of vegetables since travelers are sick of tortillas and beans) then chop some stuff, hang out with me and all the cool people, enjoy a free cocktail, eat, go out with all the new cool people we met. It’s the life! I can’t wait till the day when I get to tell my kids that I worked for less than a dollar an hour at one point in my life, so they can quit complaining about mowing the lawn for a heaping $10. Our friends Big A and Claire discovered this place, and have literally eaten here every single night, the food is so good.

Taste of the indigenous colors

A taste of indigenous flavor

So far, as far as activities go, we haven’t done all that much out of the ordinary. Karaoke, charity parties, kayaking, hiking, drinking massive amounts of coffee, going to Mayan discussions on the end of the world, swimming, playing dominos, gin rummy, hearts, throwing kids around, walking. The local people here are the nicest people I have ever met by the way. They are eerily nice, like what are they getting at smiling at me on the streets and saying hello EVERY TIME? Are they mocking me? Nope, they are just SUPER NICE ALL THE TIME. They don’t drink, maybe that’s it. They have this innocence about them, their friendly smiles make you feel ashamed for the late night shenanigans that occur so frequently here by the streams of backpackers (yours truly often included.) There are rumors of vigilante groups busting into the bar scene and macing travelers, but I have yet to see a single violent gesture. They are very secretive though, so maybe it’s only on the surface, they don’t seem to trust outsiders (for good reason) and the ongoings outside of the travelers’ district is mostly a mystery to everyone I talk to. They speak in the amazing Mayan language called Tzotujil that involves a lot of grunts and tzi tzi cuh hondo sounds. Our lovely dishwasher Lydia, her husband Berto, and her daughter Juanita like to teach me tons of Mayan phrases to much laughter, then see what I remember the next day (which is absolutely nothing every time) to even more laughter. When they’re fed up with my poor understanding of Spanish they dismiss me with a quick blast of Mayan then slowly push past me and do whatever they wanted me to do themselves. My Spanish is coming along though. Nothing like the embarrassment of waiting on a table of only Spanish speakers to get me off my butt and start pounding the books. “Voy a poner la cervesa en el refrigaradora”

Anyhow, this is how we lived happily for 2+ weeks on the beautiful lake of Atitlan. Then tragedy struck. I don’t know the respectful amount of information to disclose since it’s a family affair, and not my family’s affair, so I hope this isn’t disrespectful or crossing any lines since I’m the one writing and revealing this sad news, but Stu’s Patriarch of his family, his grandfather Poppy, passed away (march 26, 1928 – may 2, 2010), and Stu decided to quickly return to the states. I think his family asked him to stay and to continue on with our journey of a lifetime, that Poppy would have wanted that, but Stu didn’t feel right being away from his family in this sad time, and sorrowfully decided to go home for a bit. Thankfully, someone reminded us that we have traveler’s insurance… We had completely forgotten, and that covers flights home for family emergencies. Within 1 day, Stu bought a ticket, turned in his notice at work, paid the $14 for that week’s rent, and was gone the next morning. Just like that, like a bandaid, like a sad and painful bandaid.

Stu's last night

Stu's last night

We managed to have a bit of fun on Stu’s last night which included a performance by Big A and the Yo Mama’s hostel band at a bar, where Big A might have announced that his good friend Stu was leaving, and ladies, brothers, amigos, let’s send him off right, which may or may not have ended in a early morning group dip in the lake. As I write, Stu is in the air and will be picked up by his family in the Atlanta airport in a few short hours. I’m sad of course, and miss him already. In fact, I keep seeing gangly phantom stus strolling down the street. Music is speaking to me as if I’ve just broken up with a long term girlfriend, “When you’re on a hooolidaaaay, you can’t find the words to saaaay…on an island in the suuun something about fun and done” WAAAAH! Much like the bullfight, I feel that salty sting of tears welling up as I write. I was sitting at a café talking to friends online and was feeling sort of blue and slightly jealous that Stu (even under the worst circumstances) gets to watch TV, flush poo paper, take a hot shower with pressure, and see all his family and our friends stateside. I took a look around, noticed an umbrella had been picked up by the wind and a stream of Mayan children were chasing after it, I looked down at my feet and saw a street dog twitching in her sleep as she slept in the sun, Lakefront CafeI was listening to 2 bakers babble to each other in Spanish over some menial task and I saw the big profile of an indian laying on his back in the silhouetted-by-jungle-plants profile of the volcanos overlooking the lake and thought to myself, “it’s not so bad, the adventures must continue!” Stu is rejoining me in Buenos Aires in June and in the meantime he is going to work, refilling the till (hopefully he will share) and I’m pushing on, flying solo, getting into trouble, and keeping a strict journal so he won’t feel that he missed a beat.

Until next time muchachos and muchachas, a little blue, but otherwise happy as a clam,

Alex sans Stu for now.

Posted in Guatemala, San Pedro, Travel updates | Leave a comment

4.21.10 Casualties

Ok ok, it’s been a while since the last update, and I have no excuses, I apologize, because you’ve been kept in the dark from quite an adventurous adventure. So adventurous in fact, not every moment of it has been pure bliss if you can believe it. It’s sad to say, but we’ve suffered a casualty and all we got from it was a good story. The plastic thingummy that connects to our computers and allows us to download pictures from our cameras is now in about 6 pieces. For those of you who are less tech savy than others, plastic thingummies that connect to computers should never be in 6 pieces. And there is a precautionary technique that they don’t tell you in the manuals of plastic thingummies, and that is, if you want to keep it in 1 working piece that still has pretty flashing lights, you shouldn’t pack it into a 60lbs roller luggage, then throw that luggage out of a bus going 60 km, thus causing it to bounce and tumble down a cliff face on a puke inspiring road in Mexico. But let me start from the last place we left off…

We were marooned in San Cristobal, Mexico for 2 weeks waiting on the mail. An ATM machine had gobbled up my card in Pochutla, and thanks to the most moronic bank policy ever, they sent my card back to the states instead of allowing me to collect it the next work day. Usually, to receive mail in Mexico from the states (when FedExed or UPSed) it doesn’t take 2 weeks, but we were victims of Semana Santa, the Easter holiday week that is equivalent to Spring Break in the US.

Jesus parade

Romans who whupped Jesus

Latin American tourists poured into San Cristobal like moths to a Jesus night light, and the town responded with parades of New Orleans-esque floats depicting a huge smiling Jesus, bikini-clad girls throwing candy, a live rendition of Jesus getting sentenced, beat up, and paraded around the town in a bloody mess. It was…weird. A week of this, and blood seemed to be theme, at least for our adventures, because that week myself, Stu, and our friend from San Miguel who met up with us for awhile named Ouida, all went to a Bullfight. We figured, it’s a cultural thing that we can’t pass up when the opportunity arises. Yay, it will be fun and inspirational, just the way Hemingway romanticizes it. We show up, and there are protesters holding signs of cartoon bulls with X’s in their eyes that say, “Bullfights are Murder” (except, you know, in Spanish) that we had to walk through in order to get to the ticket booth. I secretly thought to myself, “silly vegetarians, don’t force your beliefs on me, that’s rude.” We enter the ring, and before we even sit down, Ouida is sobbing. We arrived just in time to watch the first bull, who is pouring blood from a giant wound between his shoulder blades with colorful hooks stabbed in pulling the gaping wound open, who’s tongue is sticking out of his frothing mouth from exhaustion, who’s wide-eyes showing white from terror and confusion, gets stabbed 4 times with a sword, but the dern blade keeps ricocheting across the ring off his soul or will to live or our misery which was protecting the blade from this majestic beast’s heart. In the end of that first bull’s life, the pinche cheating Matador brandishes a special cheater’s sword and severs the bull’s brainstem, immediately flooring the bull to loud boos and curses. It was AWFUL! HORRIFYING! TORTURE! MURDER! I’ve never wanted to see a man get gored to death in my life, but I was pulling for that bull. We watched one more torture and murder, which was actually done ‘perfectly,’ and the poor thing was stabbed through the heart, coughed up blood, wavered, then died to roars of applause and shouts of “Maestro! Maestro!” Mexicans waving single white handkerchiefs which is a sign for the president to award this Matador the bull’s ear as a sign of honor. He then paraded around the ring, which was now raining roses and sombreros. We left. I’m actually tearing up just writing about it. I truly did not expect my reaction to that event. I knew exactly what was going to happen, I just didn’t think I would be so revolted. Anyway, we made a point to walk by the protestors and shout, “you were right! That was murder!” Ouida converted to vegetarianism and as far as I know, she has stuck to it. I think we all three cried at that bullfight, and I’m not ashamed to say it. It was the first time I witnessed something that I consider majestic get slaughtered in front of me, and it took something from me for sure. It was truly a life-changing event, one of those few that will always stick out in my memory that definitely changed my character and outlook on life and the world.

Blurry dive bar

Somehow a blurry image best describes San Cristobal during Semana Santa.

Anyway, San Cristobal was amazing otherwise. We stayed at a hostel for 2 weeks and met approximately 4 waves of travelers as they came and went. Stu had his birthday there and despite limited funds, we went out and had an epic night. It involved fake mustaches, Stu climbing up on the DJ stand exclaiming that it’s his birthday so it was ok, him picking a playlist that we all danced our butts off to, befriending Mexicans who bought all our drinks, and never seeing a single person who was there that night ever again. In our stay, we started up a game of collapsing in the middle of the Zocalo in front of a bunch of strangers and having our friends pretend like it was nothing but a narcoleptic fit and assuring all the passersby that there was nothing to see here, move along, until the collapsee stood up like nothing ever happened and off we went on our merry way. Nights were mostly spent around the nightly hostel bonfire meeting people from all over the world passing a tequila bottle and sharing stories. Jumping forward, we’ve run into more friends we met in San Cristobal than anywhere else.

Stu dancing on the bar

Stu stripping on the bar

We left for Palenque with a little sadness from leaving our new home. Especially since we met a new group of people that morning who were excited to see all the places and do all the things we recommended them, us being the town veterans. But we had to get a move on. We boarded a bus to Palenque where the promise of a short ride would lead us to amazing jungle ruins and a town of hostels full of new backpackers. The bus ride was vicious. A group of girls we met in San Cris had taken a daytrip to Palenque a couple days before we departed, they came back with dried tears on their cheeks from their experience. One of them had become violently ill on the bus probably induced by the infamous speed bumps taken at 50km/hour and the hundreds of cliff climbing 90 degree switchback turns taken at 60km/hour. The girl started uncontrollably throwing up without a barf bag and despite their fluent Spanish, the driver refused to stop. When the entire bus petitioned after about half an our of this, a nice lady knocked on a stranger’s door and asked if the poor girl could clean herself up in their (stationary) bathroom. The entire time she was in there, the driver was honking his horn and revving his engine to hurry her up. When they finally got back to the hostel, a quack doctor, after insisting she was pregnant, forcing the girl to scream so the whole hostel could hear, “I’m a virgin!” diagnosed her with Salmonella, Tonsillitis, and an ear infection even though her tonsils were removed as a kid, and her ear didn’t hurt. She drank some water and was fine a couple days later. Anyway, this was the bus route we boarded. After 3 hours of our supposed 5 hour hop to Palenque, the turns and bumps were so violent that everyone’s luggage pounded against the compartment door with such force that the locks burst and everyone’s bags started spewing out of the speeding bus and tumbling down the cliff face. This is where our thingummy died; RIP. After our bags were more or less returned to the compartment, it was diagnosed that the locks were busted and the doors wouldn’t stay shut. So we crept along at a gruelingly slow pace, yet still stopping every 10 minutes to collect our escaped luggage for an hour or so until we reached a place where they could fix the locks. Half an hour later we were back on the road, and the vomit inducing breakneck speed of turns and speed bumps resumed. Another half hour later, we were broken down on the side of the road, the bus leaking fluids like it had Montezuma’s revenge, 3 of the 4 engine belts were shredded, and the radiator was over heated. The thing about Mexican buses in our technologically advanced day and age is that they don’t have radios, because everyone has cell phones. Unfortunately, when you’re in the Mexican mountains, cell phones don’t get service. You can see where this story is heading, and I’ll skip the next 4 hours of no AC in the jungle on a broken down bus with only 3 english speakers myself and Stu included. We hopped on another bus having eaten only potato chips from a roadside tienda and made our destination, Palenque, Mexico at 12:30 at night, merely 9 hours after we left our beloved San Cristobal.

Ruins in Palenque

Mayan deity hangout in the ruins of Palenque

Well, when you arrive in a town of hostels built solely for people who are there to wake up early and hike to ruins 4 hours later than when you said you would arrive and it’s past midnight, reception desks tend to close. Every single one in the whole dang town in fact. There we were, after an exhausting bus ride, with 60 lbs roller bags on a dirt path in the jungle, hauling from closed reception desk to closed reception desk until we finally accepted the fact that the entire town was shut down for the night. It took us about 1 minute of desperate silent stares at each other until we collectively said, “whatever” (except it began with an F and ended with an it.) We stashed our crap in the jungle and headed for the nearest bar. The night ended with us sneaking up onto the balcony of a hostel office, pulling off the lawn furniture cushions and camping out on the concrete floor. That night I had my first experience of howler monkeys. What sounded to me like a Jaguar fighting a grizzly bear, turned out just to be these loud apes whose name is unsurprisingly befitting. However, Stu slept right through them and in my delirium, as I lay awake wide-eyed staring at an apparently deaf sleeping Stu, a thought entered my brain that I had been cursed by a Mayan spirit who protected the ruins a couple kms from where I uncomfortably laid clenched tightly into a fetal position. It was not a welcoming experience. We saw the ruins, they were cool, it was hot, I’ve never sweated so much in my entire life, we left for Guatemala. Adios Mexico, it’s been real real.

My reaction to Jungle climate

My reaction to Palenque's muggy jungle climate

This all might sound a little miserable, or a little scary, or like we may not have been enjoying ourselves, but trust me when I say this, we’ve been having the time of our lives. Every new debacle is accompanied with hysterical fits of laughter as we gleefully yell at the top or our lungs, “We’re in Mexico!” or currently, “We’re in Guatemala!” This trip would be nothing if it went smoothly for a single moment, and we’re glad to endure through the hilarity of it all.

 

This is the end of part 1 of 2 of our latest adventures. We’ve been to 3 more towns since Palenque, and more news is to be told, but for now, this email is already too long. Stay tuned though, here’s a sneak peak: Stu climbed a volcano while I sat on the pot and 3 days later it erupted (the volcano not the toilet) very sadly killing tourists very similar to your handsome friends.

 We love and appreciate you all,

Alex and Stu

Posted in Mexico, Polenque, San Cristobal, Travel updates | Leave a comment

3.25.10 Mazunte, a Mexican Eden in Hell.

I’ll start this update by stating that paradise is like body surfing in the ocean, you’re crashing along having a great time, until you get tired and are ready to get out– which is when you realize the waves won’t stop sucking you back in, tumbling and cartwheeling your butt over your head and you end up with sand in your shorts and tangled up in some hippy’s nasty dreads.

Mazunte. Honeymooners (and I know there are a few of you out there who are reading this) beware.

Faux waterfall of calcium

Cascade of Calcium outside of Oaxaca.

After an amazing stay in Oaxaca that included reuniting with a fellow traveler from Italy who we met in Mexico City, and an incredible waterfall made of Calcium, Stu and I took a 10 hour overnight bus that was plagued by a driver with a foot of lead and about a bagillion 90 degree turns through the mountains leading due south to the Pacific coast of Mexico. We figured, free night’s sleep on the bus! Instead we got to know our neighbors in the seats next to us a little too well, since we traded sitting in their laps, and them in ours for the duration of the ride. We arrived in Pochutla at 6 in the morning looking like we just got out of a washing machine, and were immediately bombarded by about 15 cabbies asking if we want rides to Zipolite, a beach renowned for their hippy party scene. No thanks. I’ll go ahead and clear the waters, Stu and I don’t like hippies, especially hippies with dreads. We opted for Mazunte, the Mexican hang out 2 beaches up from Zipolite. After talking our cabbie down from 180 pesos for the both of us to 120 pesos for us and a couple from france, off we went to discover a little slice of Mexican eden, where Mexican Adam and Mexican Eve probably chomped down on the manzana which led to a little thing we like to call Mexican sin.

We were dropped off at a basketball court, the town’s ‘center’ at 6:30 in the morning, without reservations, without coffee, and with two 50 lbs roller bags on a road made of sand. We tilted our ears to the wind and heard the faint rhythmic beatings of waves and headed in that direction. 10 minutes later we were approached by a boardshort clad mexican man in his sixties with a tan, a washboard for a stomach, and a train of chickens to be envied who asked if we were looking for a place to stay. How did he know? He led us 10 steps to “Mama and Papa” who took over and showed us to our new digs– a palm branch roofed hut made of drift wood with hammocks blowing in the ocean breeze.

Hammocks on the beach of Mazunte

Our humble abode on the beach.

After our eyes recovered from the initial shock of being blinded by the sunrise reflecting off the ocean, we blinked a few times and realized we were in heaven. I’m attaching pictures so I don’t have to go into gross detail about how secluded, beautiful, and amazing this place is. Initially, it reminded me of stories I’ve heard from newlyweds returning from their private beach honeymoon in the Caribbean, except instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a bungalow on the beach, we were paying less than $4 a night for hammocks on the beach. Refusing to give into sleep, we changed into our bathing suits (the only clothes we wore for about a week) and B lined for the crashing waves.

AK-47 and AMR taking a break from the rap game with some coco locos

AK-47 and AMR taking a break from the rap game with some coco locos

Befriending a bunch of French people our first day who became our motley crew of bikinis, sunburns, hand gesturing, and incorrect translating– our adventures began. The highlights include playing hours of cards, sunbathing, body surfing, rapping (AK-47, StOOG, and AMR,) drinking, and discussing our topless neighbors’ exercise routine. Also, we frequented a point called Puente Cometa, a secluded cliff that you have to hike to get to, which is known for it’s amazing sunsets. There is a natural pool off this point that the locals call “tha Jacuzzzzzziiii!” because a narrow break in the walls of the pool allow the outrageously enormous waves to come crashing in and spin you around like you’re in a giant flushing toilet. On the other side of this point is a beach about the size of a football field that is completely hidden and untouched. The double overhead waves crash right on the beach yet somehow so gently that you can jump back on them and float down through the chaos like an angel floating to earth on a cloud. We spent our St. Paddy’s day sunset there with giant beers and a bottle of tequila between about 10 of us.

Mazunte's Jacuzzi

Tha Jacuzziiiiii

Oh yeah, and there is a crashed plane 1 beach away on Ventanilla. A CRASHED AIRPLANE ON THE BEACH! Where else can you find that but in Mexico? The story goes that it was a bunch of drug smugglers and they got shot down, you can see bullet holes in it, but we asked some locals and they said it just crashed, and the bullet holes were post crash, which looking at it we must concur, since our investigatory skills led us to the conclusion that the bullet holes made no sense.

Plane crash on the beach

Plane wreckage on the beach

All of this took place in our first 4 days, and it was absolutely amazing. Something about waking up with the sunrise and not having to leave your bed to enjoy it is impossible to put the joy into words. You sort of just open your eyes, reborn to the world with a smile on your face, you hear the chatter of fishermen grabbing coffee at the restaurant attached to your hut, you hear the waves crashing and you remember, I’m in Mexico, and life is good. 4 days of this is perfect. We, however, were there for 7 days. The novelty of paradise wears thin after the hammock pinches your sunburn at 3 in the morning one too many times, and the salt from the ocean cakes onto your peeling skin making you look like a leper. The sand is EVERYWHERE and rubs your flipped flopped feet raw and chafes your butt and thighs as you hike to the basket ball court to grab some slightly overpriced tacos. Then, the issue with no telephone lines sinks in. No ATMs, no credit cards are accepted, and no internet exists. You check your wallet to pay for the beer you just drank and realize you have to catch a 30 minute ride to Pochutla, the worst town on the face of the planet, to use the only ATMs in a 50 mile radius. This means, everyone in the town is waiting in a line to get to the bank, and it’s 200 degrees outside, and there is no ocean breeze. Then you realize, the ATMs eat your credit card, the banks close at 3, it’s 4:30, and tomorrow is Sunday. Dang. In our case, we had already checked out of our hammocks, and were forced to accept the invitation by a bunch of hippies to stay for free at their hippy yoga retreat where they don’t allow meat or alcohol. Paradise lost.

Paradise lost

The unforgiving paradoxical eden at sunrise.

My bank card was sent back to the states by the most moronic bank policy known to man, and I’ve noticed Mexicans mumble when they know they’re screwing you, so I had to find very nice Argentinians on the street to translate the mumbling into clear spanish and broken english. I learned the Banamex policy for ATM cards found in the machine is to send it back to the United States…where does it go in the US? No idea. If I have my passport can I have it back? No. If I give you money and my passport can I have it back? No. If I put a gun in your face, put money in one hand, and my passport in the other, can I have MY BANK CARD BACK?! No. Please leave…

We made our escape despite our limited cash, a missed collectivo ride, a bus station that doesn’t accept credit cards, and only one available seat on the bus. Some evil demon was plotting our demise there, I’m convinced of it, but we passed the test, and are now in San Cristobal and enjoying the indigenous lifestyle of wearing llama fur skirts, eating 2 peso tacos, and drinking real coffee, not the dreaded yet ever popular NesCafe.

Well this update was long enough, fraught with adventure, laziness, terror, threats, and daring escapes. Check our blog for more fantastic fake adventures in the next couple of days.

adios amigos,

Alex & Stu

Posted in Mazunte, Mexico, Oaxaca, Travel updates | Leave a comment

3.14.10 RE: Grandma Betts

Alex and Stu, We have really enjoyed your newsy letters and can’t believe all the folks you’ve met and experiences you’ve had. You two are quite remarkable young men.

Alex sorry you encountered Montezuma’s revenge. I’ll tell you the ultimate inconvenience that a good friend of mine had with the illness. She was my parapro when I was teaching and went to Mexico for a few weeks to improve her Spanish. The curse hit her just as her plane was taking off on her way home. The flight attendants refused to let her up and she christened her clothes, seat, aisles etc. with the revenge. She didn’t have any clothes in her carry on so when she was finally allowed up she tried to wash out her pants in the bathroom between throwing up. She had to endure the curse as well as the aroma and hate stares from her nearby seat mates all the way to back to Atlanta.

You boys have fun but keep safe. I’ve shared your letters with one of our good friends and they were very impressed with your adventures as well as your excellent writing.

Love to both of you, Betts

 

Posted in El Aguaje, Mexico, San Miguel, Travel updates | Leave a comment

3.9.10 Montezuma’s House

The last time you heard from your 2 favorite gringos, we were in San Miguel soaking in the beautiful sun and views, flipping around the air with highflying freaks, and partying with artists from all over the world.

Guanajuato Cliff Face

We were staying...let's just say the top.

Since that last epic tale, one of many in the Latin American saga that is the Diarrhea Diaries of Alex and Stu, we left San Miguel, returned, then left again. Our first departure led us to a college town (young people hooray!) built on the cliff-faces of a Y shaped valley called Guanajuato. Unfortunately for me, that cursed curse that is so lovingly referred to as Montezuma’s Revenge had caught me with my pants down the night before we left. 12 hours of dehydrating misery followed by 3 days of stomach cramps. I had pulled just about every muscle in my torso during the violent heaving, and when I described the town as on a cliff-face, I mean it was 106 uneven gut-wrenching consecutive steps to our friend’s house where we were staying. The screaming muscles and stomach cramps admittedly slowed me down a bit, a little to Stu’s irritation, but even he often suggested we take breaks when we were conveniently among the many University students. We filled our days with hiking, getting lost in the tight, winding, catacombesque streets, checking out evidence from a particularly gruesome battle during the Mexican Revolution, and our nights consisted of rooftop birthday parties, salsa clubs, and reggae bars all sharing the common themes of dancing the night away and speaking to locals who refuse to use English, insisting we learn Spanish, which was such a relief from Gringo majority San Miguel.

San Miguel Circus Performance

The real deal

After 3 nights of Guanajuato, we decided to swing back into San Miguel to see the circus performance on opening night, which was of course incredible. That night we were also cordially invited to an after party at a castle. We later learned the castle was built for drug lords awhile back, but was seized and resold. The castle was built on the mountain face and you enter on the top level then descend down and outside– then down more steps lined with pools designed to spillover creating waterfalls down down down to a massive open-to-the-elements building and dance floor. The first thing you notice is the music thumping up the stone walls, then of course the fire dancer spinning flaming balls on chains, then the dance floor, which was packed yet surprisingly still. We changed that. Highlights included Stu in circus makeup with a false mustache doing the rooster, our friend Laura from Emory randomly running/dancing throughout the crowd, and the dancefloor opening up for a little salsa dance from yours truly. Intending to leave the next day, we were easily convinced, instead, to go to the hotsprings featuring a thermally heated Olympic sized pool. When we arrived, we realized it was full with people we knew and their families. We drank Bloody Marys in the springs and threw the Frisbee around and let kids climb all over us for hours, it was awesome.

Alex in an Oaxacan Tunnel

Oaxacan Tunnel

Now, we’re on the road again. We caught an overnight bus last night down to Oaxaca. Say it with me, Wah-Hock-Kah. You can remember it bc it’s like, Oaxaca Boom Shakalacka. This place is awesome. We arrived at 4:30 in the morning with all of our luggage and no open hostels or internet to get in touch with our contacts here. So instead, we decided to hoof it to the centro and watch the city come alive. It was beautiful, mountains everywhere, you can taste salt in the air, enormous palm trees, fountains, and parks everywhere, this city is very walker friendly. We are staying in a luxurious hostel tonight with flat screen tvs, a library of bootleg dvds, foosball tables, orthopedic mattresses the works. Something like $12 a night, which is pretty rich for our blood, but we’re hoping to meet up with some couch surfers tomorrow for a free place to stay. Also, there are Zapotec ruins just outside of town, an entire abandoned ancient city that was never conquered by the conquistadors and was left untouched for hundreds of years. Maybe we can just crash there. If all else fails, we will just catch another bus to the coast and pay $3 a night for a hammock in a hut on the beach. Life is pretty tough down here, but we’re managing to get by.

Keepin it real,

Alex and Stu

PS- Read my Montezuma Journal entry at Journal-3. (Not edited. BEWARE, only for readers 16+.)

Posted in Mexico, Oaxaca, San Miguel, Travel updates | Leave a comment

2.26.10 Bench Warrant

(The names and places in this post have been edited so that the blatant lies are not seen by lawful eyes. PS: I’m ashamed of exploiting cheap low-blow depictions of Mexico in order to get out of a backwoods speeding ticket.)

Dear Judge Bloomingdale,

My name is Alex Kenemer, and I was issued a ticket on January 8th, 2010 for speeding in Barlow County. Unfortunately, I left the United States on January 14th for an 18 month journey through Mexico, Central, and South America. Before leaving, I called the number on the back of the ticket twice in an attempt to pay the ticket, but an issue with the police officer not having filed the ticket yet made it impossible for me to pay it. Since then, when I flew into Mexico City, I logged onto the internet and attempted again to pay the ticket. I don’t know if it is because I was in Mexico or if it was because I have a Macintosh computer, but the www.payyourtix.com/barlow website would not allow me to pay the ticket. I left Mexico City, and have been volunteering in a small town called El Aguaje, Mexico, where there is barely electricity, let alone the internet, so I haven’t been able to follow through on the predicament. I am now in a more civilized area known as San Miguel de Allende, where I have internet again. I went back to the website, and again was unable to pay the ticket. I’m afraid my court date was Feb. 9th, and I fear that is a problem. I’m not a lawyer or anything, but I assume there is now a warrant out for my arrest, along with late fees for the ticket. I truly am sorry for not showing up at the court, I imagine that is frustrating for you as a judge. Would you please advise me as to what I need to do? I don’t have a telephone, but I should have access to the internet for the next couple of weeks, and I really would like to solve this problem. It it helps, my citation number is 999999.

Thank you so much for your time and advice,

Alex Kenemer

Posted in El Aguaje, Mexico, San Miguel, Travel updates | Leave a comment