Jul 30, 2005

My Malaria Malaise...

For the last couple weeks Tyler and I have both been in an odd mood. We have been going from one phenomenal experience to the next but along the way we´ve been feeling kinda disengaged and uninterested. We both loved Casa Rosario and really miss our teachers and the wonderful friends we met there. But by the end we were both kind of sick of it. Not really upset our unhappy but we had started feeling detached from a place we had cherished as a really wonderful home away from home. We didn´t really talk about it because we barely noticed it ourselves and everything seemed to be going well. We left San Pedro with a little geek graffitti in the dead of night.

Geek Graffiti

From there we got to travel with our dear friend Kristina through Coban and onward without a hitch. It was fun, mostly. We had no complaints and had a good time with great company but I felt only partially engaged. Not that I don´t have my down moments, but I generally try to engage with life. I like to choosing what I do and then pro-actively throwing my whole self into whatever that may be. That´s what ´Live Deliberately´ is all about. And I was doing that, I suppose, but for some reason I sort of felt like I was going through the motions. From there we went to Semuc Champey which is heartbreakingly beautiful. We ended up spending two full days exploring this phenomenon where crystal clear water (with an emerald green tint) cascades through a series of natural pools via waterfalls.


Although there were others there, it wasn´t uncommon to have one of these clear pools to oneself. I´d swim with tiny brightly colored tropical fish, exactly like those I had in a ten gallon aquarium in Albany when I was 13 years old. We swam in awe, looking around at the massive cliffs and jungle around us and thanked the universe for letting us be here. I enjoyed it,loved hiking around it and swimming amongst it, but oddly when I wasn´t totally dazzled I felt just a little detached from it and from myself.


We visited Semuc Champey as day trips from the nearby town of Lanquin, where we were staying at El Retiro a paradise of another sort. Nestled in the crook of a rapid river we could tube in those emerald water from some distant caves to the little collection of thatched roofed buildings we called home.


El Retiro was laidback and fun with a running tab on inexpensive food and drink, and a preponderance of hammocks. Not to mention there were so many scantily clad lovely travelers it was the place of my adolescent (and honestly, my current) dreams.

The Dutch Flower Sisters

Tragically I wasn´t, frusteratingly enough, the Don Juan my fevered pubescent adolescent self imagined I would be. It was still a wonderful place, I met some really cool people and the place was so comfortable that it was still just as much fun to stay solo. It´s not that I´m a playboy ever, but it did seem odd that for the entire six days we were there I barely even flirted with anyone. Have I just inexplicably given up on women, one of the better parts of my whole life? Although we were happy to stay there five days, on our last Tyler was chomping at the bit to leave this paradise as well.

It seemed odd, because it was a place designed for laidback human interaction with folks from all over the world. Or, in other words, Tyler`s ideal habitat. Tyler shares a very similar ´Live Deliberately´ philosophy with a powerful focus on the connections he makes with other people. Those of our readers who know him understand that when Tyler is with you he is focused on nothing but you which can make him intoxicatingly charismatic. But, oddly, Tyler was anxious to leave partially because he didn´t really feel like he was deeply connecting with anyone. We had a wonderful time I´d recommend to anyone but were happy to bust out of there and race north into the mosquito filled jungle around Tikal.


Tikal is amazing, it was the capital city of one of the largest and most sophisticated civilizations ever to exist in the Americas. But around 900AD, when the civilization collapsed, the city was misplaced. It´s hard to imagine that a city of upwards of 100,000 people could just be lost and forgotten but that makes it all the more fascinating. It wasn´t until 1848, nearly a millenium later, that a Swiss scientist stumbled across these ruins deep in the monkey filled jungle. Although only a small fraction of the enormous stone structures have been uncovered what there has been is staggering. Tyler and I spent a full day strolling around caught a sunrise and sunset from the top of two enormous temples and spent the night in a hammock sharing the jungle with screaming howler monkeys.


It was a phenomenal experience, of a life altering sort for a burgeoning history buff like myself. It´s a pity that we were both so blase about the whole thing. Don´t get me wrong, it was really cool and I´m glad we went. But it was so hot and humid that we were almost too tired to slap at all the potentially malaria ridden mosquitos circling us. So, after we´d seen and done enough to feel we´d been there we high tailed it out of there for a little Ecotourism destination called Finca Ixobel.


There we got to hang out with the house parrot, eat a great communal meal and swim in their pleasant little pond. While there we got to climb a "mountain" that was a perfect pyramid. After seeing those uncovered at Tikal Tyler and I are certain we were standing on an undiscovered Mayan temple but were both too apathetic to bring a shovel. Finally, one of us broached a topic that both of us were feeling but neither of us wanted to bring up. Why was it that while living such an utterly wonderful life were we not totally enamored and connected to it? Where did this subtle malaise come from and why were we both so uncharacteristically apathetic? We traced it back to three weeks ago, right before we left Casa Rosario. But what could possibly have happened?

A hill, or an uncovered Mayan Temple?

Three weeks ago we started taking our Malaria pills, Chloroquin. We´d heard of all sorts of awful side affects that people experience while taking their Malaria preventative medicine: uncontrollable diarrea, pain, nightmares, depression and violent rages. A week before we went into a malaria zone we took our first pill in the weekly dose with trepidation, unsure of what we were in for. By the next day the only side effect we´d had were some really vivid and bewildering dreams. That night, and I´m not joking, I was car-jacked by a very grumpy looking Napolean. It was more fun than anything, and we started joking about taking all the pills at once to see how cool our dreams would become. Now I´m rocked back, more aware than I´ve ever been of the subtle effects drugs can have on our thinking and our lives. More than that, because of how it suddenly appeared and subtly affected everything I´m painfully aware of the insidious effect of long term depression. It´s been the first really hard lesson of my trip.

Jul 24, 2005

Pictures and Ponderings from a Pleasant Place


... but more on that later, when I get some pictures ready for stories.

Until then I´ve been doing a lot of thinking about life the universe and everything lately. This trip thus far is starting to act as a small microcosm of my my whole life until now.

We´ve been gone for about a month and half (I haven´t a clue what the exact date is today, and love that fact). Through good fortune and helpful advice Tyler and I were able to hit the ground running and grinning in Central America. After a month of classes our Spanish while not fluent can get us from here to there and in a babytalk conversation along the way. We´ve cut our teeth on crowded chicken buses, obscure little towns and the joys and pitfalls of travelling in a developing country. People we´ve met along the way have been kind and helpful and without them this experience wouldn´t be a fraction of what it is. But lately I´ve been feeling a tug that there should be something more. Its hard to sit in the paradise I´m at and look out onto such poverty and imagine that all is well with the world.

That mirrors much of my life in the past 28 years. Although I´ve had my share of challenges I´ve also lived a fortunate life that I´m deeply grateful for. Through generous people, rewarding experiences and more grants than I can count the world has really taken a gamble that I´ll somehow contribute at least as much as I´ve been given. In my youth throughout grad school, despite doing what I could, I definately felt that I was being offered far more than I was offering. The last few years of working and paying bills felt like in the grand scheme of things I was (and am) breaking even. Although the world, through some particularly generous people, were still investing in the man I may become I was also doing my share to make their investment worthwhile in the short term. But that, when I am honest with myself, doesn´t begin to pay back my karmic debt for the many things I´ve been given. I´m not sure how, or what, I should do. I just have an increasingly nagging feeling that I should do it.

Tyler and I, by mutual desire, are fully aware that we´re in the pure vacation part of our trip and that its end is approaching. We´ve spent a month with people teaching us Spanish, visited spectacular natural wonders and are looking forward to ancient ruins and a couple weeks living the beach bum life in Honduras. But although we´re comfortable and happy we are starting to wonder what we can do to help. We´ve lined up some volunteer work already. We´re helping out in an ecovillage in Ecuador and spending a month or two working on some South American organic farms. But we´re both getting antsy to leave Central America a little better than we found it. We´ve caught wind of a way to spend some time building Nicaraguan homes with Habitat for Humanity and another helping out a beleagured species of Sea Turtle. With that in mind we can thrive on the bliss we´re in now knowing that our turn to help is coming soon.


Jul 19, 2005

Whoa Nellie...


While in Antigua Tyler and met some great people and totally gave up on spending an entire month in some tiny little mountain town called San Pedro. We went to check it out mostly just because we said we would but only would stay a few days before we'd return to Antigua for classes. That was over one month ago and we've only been able to tear ourselves away for a handful of little half day trips because life out here is so great.


These little towns have been so good to us. For one thing, our classes were wonderful and I couldn't possibly recommend Casa Rosario any more. It hardly seems real, we're studying one on one with charming local teachers in one of the prettier gardens I've seen.

Clara, Micahs Maestre

And boring everyday life was made spectacular when in the shadow of a gigantic volcano. Be it putting out laundry, or strolling home from school it's hard not to be in nonstop awe when looking up the face of this act of geological fury. This is Volcano San Pedro, with our little village on the side taken from Panajachel on the other side of the lake.


I was well impressed with that volcano. But my sense of it, much like my sense of San Pedro changed really quickly. It turns out that this whole inland sea is actually a vast volcanic crater. And that Volcano San Pedro, for all its former fury is more like a little pimple on the real volcano. Consider my mind blown!

Goodbye San Pedro, I will miss you!

Jul 17, 2005

Studying Swedish in Spanish


One of the many pleasant diversions of life in San Pedro is the cool people from all over the world we've been meeting. We've found it difficult to get a 100% Guatemalan experience because there is too much of a World experience to ignore. For example, in the midst of our intensive Spanish studies Kristina, the Swede above, started teaching me some great words that we simply don't have in English (nor Spanish).

One such word is Lagom (prounounced Laa-gum) which kind of means 'the right amount, not too much nor too little.' So when someone asks you how much food you want, you say Lagom, which means you want a bit but that you want there to be enough for everyone. Not only do we not have that word in American English, but in the land of super-sized jumbo burgers we don't even have that concept.

Or Fika (prounounced fee-ka) which is the social act of going to eat or drink something small without specifying what. More like 'Lets go eat or drink as an excuse to talk.' This must be enormously handy when inviting a cute stranger on a first date. I know I've been accidentally rebuffed when inviting someone out for a coffee or beer and they say they don't drink either (at least, I think it was an accident. It's not real rejection without a restraining order).

Care for a Fika?

Only the Swedish could make up this splendid word for 'Not Squeaky.' For example, this desk is Pokvanligt* (pronounced perk-van-likt). This comes from the root Poka (Sex), and Vanlig (friendly). So, instead of saying: 'this desk is well built, sturdy and doesn't squeak' you simply say that it's solid enough to have sex on. Any culture that describes everyday objects by their erotic possibilities will forever have my undying respect.

*In Swedish this word has all sorts of accents that I don't know how to recreate here nor even pronounce fully. But what can you expect from a people that can say "Yes," or "Agreed" with nothing but a sharp intake of breath?

Jul 12, 2005

Good eatin'

While making plans to visit a developing country Tyler and I resigned ourselves to living a more challenging, less immediately appealing life. We knew we would have to sacrifice much of our quality of life. We were leaving behind good friends and loved ones, favored restaurants and our comfy homes.

The truth is we had no idea what we were getting into. For one thing, over the last month the both of us have eaten better than either of us have in many years. San Pedro is full of really phenomenal restaurants with cuisine from all over. Below is a picture of a local specialty Bananas Latino... Bananas fried with rum, some secret spices and a little sugar.

Bananas Latino

For less than the price of eating our fill of fast food at home we've been able to dine in a well manicured garden, sip on a glass of Chilean wine and casually watch the evening unfold. The local food too is delicious, healthy and almost always appealing. Tortillas, beans, and rice show up in almost every meal but seems to hit the right spot everytime. The fresh fruit is fantastic sliced up on the street, or blended into a yogurt licuado in front of our eyes. If only someone could convince the Guatemalans to brew slightly stronger coffee and start up a few microbrews this place would be culinary Nirvana.

The Casa Rosario Crew

To reflect a small part of my appreciation I've started a photoset of some of the food we've been having. So, click there whenever you want to wish your computer had a monitor that you could taste.

All this being said, after a month on the road Tyler and I are starting to evolve how we travel. We started going out for three meals a day. Which dropped, more or less, to two once we started classes. Lately, to save money, we've been averaging closer to one meal out and just eating some of the fruit and bread we've found to supplement it throughout the day. And we've started out this week by resisting the impulse to go out to eat at all. Last night, for instance, most of the students at our school shared all the food we'd had hidden in our rooms. What initially started as a simple dish turned into a veritable feast that left us all satisfied and smiling.

Stone Soup Meal

Buen Provecho!

Jul 6, 2005

To Climb the Nose of an Indian

The day Tyler and I arrived in San Pedro we declared two goals we needed to accomplish before leaving. One was to climb the Nariz de Indio mountain, and the other was to mount the Volcano San Pedro. This weekend we climbed former. Indian Nose is so named because the mountain range looks like a prone native, check out this view of it from our roof:


We rounded up some likeminded adventurers hitched three rides on the back of pickups to Santa Elana and started trudging up. Since we really hadn´t the foggiest clue where we were going and were too cheap to hire a guide I took over as the fearless leader and led us up a cornfield that went up the steep slope. Upon reaching the top of the farm, muddy and tired, we realized that the trail ended far from the peak. We ultimately got some advice from a farmer, tried anew, and worked our way up to the top. We stumbled across a native ceremony on the top so we had to be quiet while we ate a lunch of fruit.

Lunch on the top of
*Those of you new to Flickr, if you click some of the pictures like the one above you´ll see notes we add to them labeling things in them. Try it!

And drank in the view:


The pickup ride up was harrowing, winding up a twisting mountain road in a truck that could barely rev so we decided to walk down the long way and go straight to San Juan. Along the way Tyler came across a whole field of high altitude Guatemalan coffee; something he has sold tons of in Albany.


We made it home totally exhausted but that night we heard merrily fast music coming from next door to Casa Rosario so we investigated. We stumbled into a free neighborhood dance party complete with a great band and friendly locals and danced well into the next morning.

Neighborhood Dance Party

Ode to a Solid Stool

Toilet at Casa Rosario

Life abroad has different rhythms. Some days its fast paced and stressful, other times its slow and utterly relaxing. Sometimes people have challenges with external events, things that happen to them when in a foriegn environment. Sometimes people have internal challenges when coming to terms with life far from home. My most serious complaint about this trip so far, however, is that magical moment when internal woes become external.

You see, when a man sits in the smallest room of his house he likes to fancy himself a WWII Pilot dropping bombs rather than a firefighter spraying a fire. Or perhaps a lumberjack casting logs into a river rather than a gardener spraying down a field. And when this particular agriculturist felt an internal compunction to hose down the very same garden half a dozen times in the same morning I begrudgingly admitted that all was not well.

Today we've been in Guatemala for three weeks and not coincidentally I've gone three weeks without personally issuing anything to the world with any structural integrity. Once in a while thats ok, but I'm starting to wonder if I'll ever hear my distinctive 'Plop' sound again.

In the beginning there were plenty of good reasons for my soft disposition. A long night of drinking on our last night out; but even after I gave up the liquid diet my entrails did not. There is also my affinity for verde salsa picante, a type of liquid fire one pours on food to spice it up which later pours out with no less burning spice. So I adjusted my diet. I toned down the salsa, ate more bananas and tried to eat things that already looked like what I wanted them to a bit later in the day.

The closest I came to controlling the enslaught was to use the upper half of my body to outsmart the lower via a siege strategy I gained from my studies of war in the European middle ages. I formed a blockade on the north end of my person, and denied any food to pass. The theory was that this would disarm my more southern contingent thus rendering it impotent. It retailiated with a psychological maneuver worthy of Napolean. Despite having given it very little to work with it threatened a massive offensive, a geyser erupting not unlike the `Old Faithful' geyser in Yellowstone national park. Initially I reacteded with disdain, I knew it must bluffing because I had denied it any ammunition. But eventually, as the pressure built, my confidence broke and I ran to the ceramic bowl battlefield. When the enormous pressure building trickled out more like a leaky faucet than a volcano erupting I knew I had been duped.

It´s difficult to to win an arguement with ones own alimentary canal. Deep within myself I have discovered a capacity, possibly superhuman, to render all solids into liquids. I have been profoundly humbled by this knowledge and in my defeat have conceded some of what I´m looking for in life. Instead of demanding that my body perform solidly on a regular schedule I beseech it, with manifest humility, for mercy. My southern regions now dictate the rhythm of my days and I simply beg it to continue to giving me a little bit of warning and enough control to use that information.

Is this too much to ask?