Monthly Archives: March 2013

Serendipity

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Never in a million years could I have imagined that I would be awoken by the gunshot like sounds of mangos falling from their tree onto a tin room that covers my hammock in an abandoned orphanage in a small town next to Lake Nicaragua let alone being invited there by its current inhabitants after a chance meeting at a gas station convenience store. And then there is that half of that family is from Utah. It is a strange and wonderful world.

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Jeff Chapple

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Zombie Apocalypse ATL

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Atlanta Hartsfield is one of the busiest airports in the world. From that, it follows that it should be busy pretty much all the time. Well, not so much. I arrived at 11 pm, late but not super late. Already all the shops were closing down. I stocked up on supplies for my all night layover. The bar tender slid a couple of unopened beers to me for free after hearing I was spending the night. I then set off to find a nest. For future reference, Terminal E (the old international terminal) should be your target.

Anyhow at about 12:30 am just about every other human being evaporated from the immense airport. I found myself quite literally alone. This was both fortuitous and unnerving. I strolled around the departure halls for hours seeing little more than a cleaners here and there and only one other passenger. I found a couch of sorts and bedded down. Airport CNN doesn’t seem all that loud when the terminals are full but god it’s loud when they’re empty. The 30 minute loop of the day’s news became a constant annoyance. Finally I put my headphones on and drowned it out with music.

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I awoke several hours later completely surrounded by people awaiting their departures. Going from zero to a million people in a subjective blink of the eye was very disconcerting. Lesson here: add ear plugs to your list.

Jeff Chapple

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Belize & Mutant Fireflies

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As we laid down to sleep, we opened the the screens surrounding us, leaving the world outside open to our eyes and closed to the night-bound critters. As we relaxed and admired the sexual dance of the light night bugs. I felt was Thad’s  body tense with an exclamation of awe and admiration. As I looked to his side, I saw something that I will consider unnatural and impressive, a lightning bug shining in all its splendor . The lightning bug surfed the air like an acrobatic plane, its light on without stoping. It passed his window and went to the front of Wiggles, where we could no longer see it. As the lighning bug appeared on the other side of the window, we could see it was still “on” and strong, below it you could see the illumination  of the ground, a natural flashlight. The lighning bug traveled as the alpha it was, and we cheered him on.

Angela Arvizu

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The Life of Oranges

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After 4 cloudy days, we find ourselves siting in the middle of an orchard of orange trees. I look out the side door  into the trees displaying the life cycle of the orange. The budding young deep green fruit usually acompanied by a few sibilings sprout from the stems of the best suited branches and grows to become a yellow and green fruit that is just right for harvesting, the fruits that matured on the tree become the perfect target to the incredible number of birds that roam the orchard. Birds delight in picking the fresh mature fruits. Some of the fruit will fall aided by gravity and become the food of bugs and other land creatures. The fruit will become a reddish, then brown, and finally display a deep black color of total decay. The loud birds sing during the early hours of the day. The sometimes uncoordinated song of the birds have a base of a woodpecker and distant hum of cars passing on the freeway that heads towards Tikal. Tikal is our next destination, it’s only 9 am and is already hot.

Angela Arvizu

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Sandy Fun

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The beach called Chachalacas, a well known spot in the North of Veracruz, sandy beaches, huts selling sea food and blue warm water. After a wonderful run, we encountered the sand dunes, they were calling out to us to run on them, to disturb the smooth pyramids made of sandy fun.

Angela Arvizu

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Cozumel

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We watched for cars, bikers, or anyone else that might spot our crossing spot. “Ready?” Angela asked. “Yes” I replied. “Ninja time” she said as she began lifting her clunky rental bike over the short wall that separated the roadway from the wild jungle. I tossed my stuffed pack over the wall and then lifted my creaky bike and lowered it down. On the other side we pushed through the thick tangled green until we found a reasonable spot. Beneath a palm tree we smoothed out the ground, removing small rocks and sticks, checked for signs of an anthill, and then began making our bed. This was the very first time I had slept outside in a non-desert without at least having a backup tent. We were just out there, in the middle of it all, in the jungle of Cozumel, with a single sheet between us and the bugs. With the sheet tucked in all around us, and over our heads, I began thinking of our future destinations and schedule. At that point in occurred to me what the date was, the 7th, and I turned towards Angela and said, happy anniversary. We both began laughing.

We rose before the sun and started riding our bikes along the coastline. Fisherman were sipping on coffee, a few people were out for an early morning run, and a pair of men were down by the water practicing boxing. As the sun scratched its way past the horizon one of the anchored ships began to glow red. We decided to start by darting across the island and then looping all the way around the bottom. The trees shaded us as we cycled into a rhythmic trance. When we reached the eastern shoreline we stopped for first breakfast, a couple of hardboiled eggs with salt. A few vacant shacks, which evidently served as restaurants during the busy season, dotted the patchy shoreline. And right where we were standing was a sign, in English, saying ‘Nude Beach.’

Half way down the eastern shoreline we stopped at a small place called Playa Bonita, and climbed its quaint wooden platform to enjoy the shade of its palm-thatched roof. It was a perfect place for second breakfast. Back on our bikes we casually swayed from one side of the road to the other to see colorful flowers, to get a better look at a bird or a plant, or to see the military officers with guns walking the beach – presumably watching for drug traffickers. As we rode past a particularly rocky patch of coastline we heard a very loud sound and had to investigate. Leaving our likes we danced through the twists and turns of the sharp rocks until we came upon the source – a very powerful blowhole. As I looked towards the blowhole it spat out at me and ripped my hat off my head and launched it into the sky. It was quite funny. Angela’s hair would breathe, being pulled down, and then violently all thrown up in the air as if she were skydiving without a helmet. Cozumel’s secrets were delightful.

All day we were the only tourists actually exploring the island on bikes. Some people rented cars, jeeps, or mopeds to drive around the island, but not many. Of those that did, we never saw any of them get out of their cars to actually see these spots. The other side of the island, where the international cruise ships were ported, offered snorkeling, and suburbia, and I suppose that’s what most tourists want.

As we left the famed island of Cozumel I smiled. We had seen the island, had touched it and gotten to know it a bit, and although we were in one of the most expensive places around we stayed within budget J.

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Cliff Jump “Nemesis”

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Rainy days are very beautiful, and most of all, cool. Rain also cleans the leaves making the green of the plants become more brilliant and alive. On one of these rainy days, I meet my nemesis and, consequently, learned some lessons. Here is the story:

The 25 foot jump was something I had done before, even higher jumps… I have done those with little  hesitation.  My nemesis (the 25ft jump) must have called unto the rain gods and told them to drop cold, cold rain. I found myself shivering even before getting into my swim suit, then, as I was soaked by the rain, my body went into survival mode. It said, “If you jump, WE WILL DIE”. I stood at the edge attempting to jump, my body and my will competing – body and mind moving in different directions.

I had to work myself into it, starting with a 4 footer, 7 footer and then finally my successful nemesis jump. My body was sure that if i jumped into the water I would get even colder than I already was. Lesson learned is that if you are already very cold, you will have a harder time getting into running water.

I jumped from my nemesis multiple times thereafter, just to assure my mind that it had won, and to teach my body of the block it had, I pushed myself to jump from it over and over again, cold or not cold.

Nemesis, I conquered you.

Angela Arvizu

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Real Mexico you say?

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The use of the phrase “Real Mexico” was coming out of my mouth enough times to make me stop counting. The more I used the phrase, the more I realized I had not asked myself the original question. What is “real Mexico?”

These are my thoughts concerning the question:

Metropolitan area, covered by smog, with an air of wild freedom, modern cars and attitude. Metropolis of twisted commercialism and attitude of action, and a not forgotten memory of class separation.

Towns encountered between metropolises inspired by the touch and solidarity and sociality, where the people know each other and vendors stay on the middle of the street during the hot hours of the day selling pineapples, mangos, fruits with a relaxed sellers’ attitude – a catwalk of advertisements and dead commercials of things from the past and political propaganda. Hidden natural spots where the moon shines inside cenotes, through palm trees or the sound of waves where lovers loose themselves at the tune of nature. Islands, cascades, cenotes, sand dunes, city lights, trash, city buildings, cathedrals, dogs, cats, music, color, rain, sun, waves, vendors, children, mennonites, asians, fat tourists, pyramids, hitchhikers, street food, cannot be condensed to “real Mexico”.

Do I have the right to simplify all of what Mexico is? If attempted, I would still fail and miss completely what “real Mexico” is.

Angela Arvizu

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“Doggy Bag” you say?

As we drive,  I look out of Wiggles’ window searching for oddities and curiosities. Most of the time these are provided by my fellow humans, I will write about an exemption. The oddity has to do with a dog adaptation, or something else.  This dog with its waggly tail had a heading, a mission, dismissing all humans and cars, he went on his merry way. This dog was carrying in his mouth a plastic bag containing what I assume to have been food. I wonder how he knew he could carry the bag and its contents. Animals here are much more adapted for survival. But it does give a new meaning to “doggy bag”.

Angela Arvizu

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The Umbrella

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The freedom of traveling with your home is the opportunity to sleep at random spots. The sun had gone down and we were looking for a place to park. We took a side road and parked next to tall plants. The next morning we woke up to the sound the breeze blowing through leaves. The sound of the tall sugar canes hitting against each other, the sun hitting them and welcoming us up to a new day. As we ran through the field and played, I saw an umbrella that must have blown there. The umbrella had found a home between the sugar cane. I check it out and it was in working order. I played with it a bit and found that it had a few tricks to make it work properly. Since I misplaced my polka dot one, this was a great free replacement. Thank you sugar cane field.

Angela Arvizu

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Agua Azul

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Agua Azul translates to Blue Water and the name is well deserved. The water was blue and clear. Agua Azul’s clear blue water reminded me of Havasupai in the Grand Canyon, where the water shares some of the color. As we swam from one side to the other, I had a rush of adrenaline, when I felt the waterfall dragging me towards it, but I was already at the end and only had to swim a meter or so more. It’s all good. Since the day was cloudy, we only saw 1 other male/male couple in the water. I’m starting to think that people don’t like to swim. The water was only cold for 5 seconds after jumping in.

Angela Arvizu

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Agua Blanca

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With the windows open and our humidifier spraying us every few minutes we realized it wasn’t cutting it, so we turned onto a road with a swimming sign. It was time to cool off!  It was early in the morning, about 9 or 10 am and we knew the heat of the day would only increase. We went through a small town. We asked where the swimming was at, they told us about 3 kilometers more, so we went on. As we parked in front of the place, we realized we were the first there. We raised the top of Wiggles and decided to make breakfast burritos with eggs, beans, rice, avocado and salsa. After a few burritos, we got out of Wiggles and saw people coming in, the fee was 15 pesos per person.

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They informed us of some caves we could check out. As we climbed up towards the cave we didn’t expect to encounter a 3 exit cave that took us at least 3 hours to go through. The cave had its own bridge, an area full of sleepy bats, a cemetery of snail shells, and many places to investigate.

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After a long, amazing cave experience it was time to get to the waterfalls. The waterfalls were fed directly from the mountain, an area that was flowing from within the mountain and exiting into a cave then the water would fall  into hundred of small and medium waterfalls forming rock falls of many shapes and styles. It was play time.
Right before closing, we were ready to leave. Exhausted and our hearts feeling like those of children full of adventure we headed south, thinking that this place was one of the most filled with adventure and cheapest of the trip. Dinner was guacamole and chips.

Angela Arvizu

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A joke worthy of laughter

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Cemeteries are a common sight. The picturesque Mexican style of honoring and remembering their dead comes with a grandiose display inspired by their desire for emotional abundance. As we passed through a small town, I saw a cemetery approaching. I really enjoy looking into them, and admiring the unique style of Mexican cemeteries.

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Cemeteries resemble a small version of a colorful town. The houses vary in sizes most are the size of a man or smaller. Pastel colors flash throughout the small streets the size of two people side by side. The immense amount of flowers of different colors, material, shapes and styles, are in semi-strategic locations. The crosses of different sizes adorn the top of some of the structures, like a city where every third house is a church. The shrines are decorated with a random styles of candles, some with imagery depicting saints, the virgin Mary, Christ and many other religious symbolisms.

The beautiful display loved ones have created for their deceased is for the most part found unwatched, unseen. On a few occasions you might find a caretaker or someone cleaning the family grave. There is an exceptional exception, where the town cemetery full of color and beauty was highlighted by a group of 3 men hanging out, laughing as they hold their stomachs, rocking back and forth, creating a blurred connection between life and death.

The cemetery and the laughing men seem to make a perfect show of how frivolous life is. Not having fear of death they laughed in the cementery.

Angela Arvizu

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A refreshing river shower

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Playa Hermosa, we took a shower in a  beautiful clean river meeting the sea about 30 meters from where we were. The fishermen boats, the light blue water of the sea and a cold welcoming to a clean body. Life is just amazing!

Angela Arvizu

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Nature’s Melancholia

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As we drove toward the next waterfall on the itinerary, we were able to admire the beautiful rain forest with fog all around. If Nature could speak by create scenes with emotions, to me the mountains with low fog, the sprinkling continuous rain, the fields of corn and sagging trees would be Nature presenting melancholia. The scene pulled a heart ache full of memory and beauty.  We drove quietly listening to the wheels hit the road and the water being dispersed by the weight of Wiggles.

Angela Arvizu

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Tick, tick, tick…

The clock seems to move so slowly now – two more weeks of waiting. I make lists of things to do, to take, throw them away and start over. Let me introduce myself, I’m Jeff and I’ll be joining the Wiggles crew, flying in to Managua after spending a sleepless night – a 22 hour layover – in Atlanta’s airport, for a too-short 22 day stay in the jungles and on the beaches of Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

The skies are so gray here in Salt Lake City, the world so devoid of color, even the sunny days seem bled of life. Suffice it to say that I’m very excited to get my ass in that plane seat and head off to join in the adventure. I’ll see you soon Angela and Thad!

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The Ever-changing Meter

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We are often diverted toward places advertised as caverns or waterfalls. As we drove towards the Biosphere of Monte Pio, Veracruz, we encountered many such signs. The usual advertisement would say “Attention, waterfall 50, 100 or 200 meters ahead”. We realized soon enough that we had to ignore most of them, since every time we traveled the designated roads, after a kilometer or more without locating the waterfalls, we had to consider they didn’t exist. When we finally gave up and decided to get back on the road, we saw yet another sign for another waterfall. It said “Waterfall at 50 meters”, as we looked towards the road, we could see at least 300 meters ahead without any inkling of a waterfall, then a small rolling hill and the road continuing for at least another kilometer. It seems 50 meters is not what it used to be. I miss the old times.

Angela Arvizu

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Palenque

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Professor Paine would surely have had thousands of things to say about Palenque. I feel full of excitement to see the place, wishing I had more time to read and inform myself more about Palenque, a place taken out of a fantasy book. As we walked through it, I could almost picture the fires around the temples, the color, the smells and chaotic noise of a city at its peak.

They have only uncovered about 6% of Palenque thus far and there still are major temples and buildings covered by trees and soil. It makes me wonder what beautiful architecture Nature has hidden over the centuries. Nature, sometimes you are inconvenient. I asked for archeological information, finding out they don’t have any digs going on currently. They informed me that a new project will possibly start next year. I will check into this a bit more, the only downfall would be the intoxicating heat and mosquitos.

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As we exited the Archeological site, Thad was going to open the umbrella for me. It seems that the trick of opening it must not have worked because he was walking away with a completely overturned umbrella, a worthy project for a shady spot. Feeling overheated and hungry, we started towards a tree laughing at the funny scene.

A few of the things we learned about Palenque:

  1. The site is only 6% excavated.
  2. At the peak of the civilization, they had cleared the forests for many kilometers around.
  3. They made mortar from dirt and trees.
  4. The buildings were covered with colorful paintings.
  5. There is a building (still un-excavated) called the watchtower, this building has a small tunnel that goes from the highest point of the city to the lowest, presumably for messengers to carry information quickly from one part of the city to another.
  6. They had an extensive network of running water.
  7. Separation between male and female bathrooms. (different stone shape)
  8. The water network would run from the sauna, then on to the bathrooms, then exit. The water was perfumed by plants in the sauna, they assume the bathrooms were deodorized that way. These bathrooms were for royalty and other lucky individuals living in the main temples.
  9. Some of the reconstruction done by the archeologists is incorrect, but they did their best and it would be pointless to modify it.
  10. If the deforestation is true, then during the summer Palenque would have been unbearable.

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At the end of the hot day, we got to shower in a waterfall outside of Palenque, not a bad way to end the day.

Angela Arvizu

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Veracruz

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Veracruz City is a place with many facets. The people in Veracruz seem to cary themselves differently. I get the feeling that it’s because they have a different attitude towards life. Veracruz is the port city where Thad and I parted ways with Chihiro and Thomas. I feel convinced that their adventures will be epic. They will encounter many that will give them knowledge, time, and new stories to tell. Best wishes for Chihiro and Thomas.

After  leaving Veracruz, we asked a local  what the cool things there were to do in the area. The young man told us of a laguna about 2 miles into the town to check out. The laguna was next to a cow pasture and one cow got especially friendly with Wiggles (he even liked the driver mirror). We swam across the laguna, to the waterfall on the other end. Thad got to work a fisherman’s boat and we took a shower in a stream. Over all it was very refreshing and welcoming.

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As we were leaving the small town and enter the main road, we saw Thomas getting into a truck. He had joked about seeing us soon, but this was ridiculously soon, only one day. Chihiro got out of a second truck, and we said hello and laughed for a bit. We had to leave soon since we were in the middle of the road and we didn’t want to disturb the traffic. Anything can happen at every corner.

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Good Sleep & Encounter

We arrived at the first waterfall, it was dark so we decided to go into a restaurant, attempting to get some kind of unhealthy sugary desert. I am sad to inform that we were unsuccessful in this venture, they only had healthy choices of fruit and flan. We decided to not eat anything and go to sleep.

We parked and went to sleep, being cuddled by fireflies, howling monkeys, a waterfall, and rustle trees, and above us the stars shined and the moon created a hammock (crescent moon) to rock the night sky and put it to sleep. Sweet dreams.

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We woke up to a beautiful cloudy day and had breakfast at the restaurant, as we did computer updates and charged all the electronics we met a couple driving a car towards Brazil. They had swam in the waterfall and were very refreshed by it. The conversation was smooth, and it was refreshing to find a couple with inspirations, goals, desires and drive.  Mutual interests were shared, the conversation was fun and engaging. Thank you travelers, see you in Facebook, and I hope some time we get to meet you in Brazil or some other destination. It seems the only people that swam that day was the couple from Brazil and us. The tourists gawked at us, and pointed like we were a bit out of our minds.  I think we all should be a bit crazy, what fun it would be if everyone was the same.

Angela Arvizu

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Howling Monkeys

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I was under a calming trance, induced by our little humming electric fan and the feel of my pillow, interrupted by my need to undertake the early morning ninja session. As I opened my eyes, the where and when of my reality came rushing back to my consciousness. There would be no special ninja skills necessary this morning. We were deep inside a sugarcane field, surrounded by two walls of thick green towering above Wiggles. How relaxing.

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I find myself very comfortable in farm country. People that grow up with the sort of work ethic that is necessary to survive here rarely get bored enough to mess with others. Plus it feels more natural to be surrounded by plants and wildlife, where you have the freedom to pee whenever you need to. I’ve learned to appreciate this particular aspect of the backcountry much more lately. There have been a few disastrous town experiences that had me wandering cobblestone streets with a pocketful of tissue paper, searching for a private place among all the abutting solid cement walls, under the strict command of my upset stomach. Unable to find an appropriate spot, I was eventually forced into a few very embarrassing situations. During the worst of those (in Mascota), all I could really do was wave and smile as midnight drivers drove by staring at me hovering above my ankles. I’m still not sure why any town would keep all of their bathrooms under lock and key. It seems mutually beneficial to have at least one always-open free public bathroom.

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The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. I don’t have time to mention every notable experience here, nor do I have a complex enough grasp of language to fully convey the color of those experiences, but I will try to give the flavor of what its been like for those of you thinking about undertaking similar experiences.

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Beyond consulting our map, we have been following random tips from place to place, stopping in each new area and asking locals that look like they might know what sort of places for us to visit. It has led us to some amazing places. We’ve been over a rickety bridge that I was afraid would buckle under Wiggles’ weight, past a cluster of women washing clothes in a river National Geographic style, splashing through mud into a jungle of strange animals, ending up in the middle of a Little House on the Prairie looking field of cows. From there we hiked to a beautiful lake where some locals were on rickety boats casting nets to catch fish. Some of the creatures we saw I can’t identify. One of them looked like a cross between a lizard and a raccoon – that’s honestly my best description.

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One particularly special occasion was when we came across a wild pyramid/temple complex that was completely overgrown. We climbed through the thick trees and vines to the top of the pyramid and found a staircase that led straight down into the pyramid’s center. Going down that stone staircase was like entering into a tomb of untouched stone art. Inside it was dark, but a glimpse of jungle green stretched to us from the distance.  Following the light, we eventually exited into another section of the jungle. It felt like a real Indiana Jones adventure.

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We have seen people employ every technique imaginable to get us to buy their products. For example, the rope trick (where a chord of some sort is strung across the road with flags on it to get you to stop), or the tope hangouts (where people are selling EVERYTHING through your window (I’m still wondering who buys a calculator on the road? Food I get, but who is driving through the jungle thinking, ‘I could really use a cheap calculator right now’?) Then there’s the street kids that ask for 10 pesos to watch your car as you enjoy the hike, with the implied bluff that if you don’t pay, a break in might occur. For the most part this is simply a play on tourist expectations – an attempt to profit off of the fears that people carry here with them. That sort of malice is not natural here and it is easy to see right through the ruse. The eyes give it away. They have not hurt anyone before without making amends. They don’t have the dimmed eyes of true businessmen or the violent thugs I encountered in county jail. Except for the way our hearts go out to those that are in positions of relative poverty, all of this has been fairly simple to navigate

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We’ve been cliff jumping, exploring random beaches, finding rivers and waterfalls of all sorts to take showers in, and getting more and more used to this kind of travel. The showers are one of my favorite parts. I remember an episode of Sienfeld were Cramer installed an elephant showerhead that was superpowerful. I relate to the pleasure now. Standing in a waterfall that almost pushes me to my knees is delightful. Instead of worrying about getting clean I just try to stay on my feet and come away all smiles.

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Every now and then I feel bad for the older men in farm towns that have crooked fingers, the ones that never went to the hospital to straighten them – either because they couldn’t afford it, or because they were being “tough guys”. I suspect that the reason isn’t just money because the poverty level here isn’t what I was expecting and from what I’m told, there is some level of nationalized medicine. It is worth noting, however, that despite things like crooked fingers, the people here seem to smile far more than people back home. And from what I’ve seen so far, I’m a little jealous of the average childhood experience here – minus the lack of in-depth education

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To Mexico’s credit, exposure to natural dangers, to real life, is greater here. The adults seem to make very little attempt to steal their children’s curiosity from them via guilt, or to beat their explorer’s heart out of them. Just like the dogs around here, the children are far more-free than their compliments in my childhood culture (excluding perhaps those that grow up in Mexico’s big cities). The likelihood of physical injury is a bit higher, but at the same time they seem to do a better job at holding onto their humanity as they transition into adulthood.

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From my perspective, the dogs and humans here also seem to grow up with a richer/more healthy understanding of the complexities of social interaction. In the US many people, like I did, grow up to be very shy. By the time we are young adults we are technically dysfunctional when it comes to getting along in the world, crippled by our social anxieties. It takes a long time, if ever, for us to overcome those debilitations – to cast off the suffocating shelter/safety net that was handed to us “for our own good.”. Here people (and dogs) intimately learn what it means to be social. From an early age they are exposed to the scrapes and cuts that give them a complex understanding of how to balance interactions with others without sacrificing the need to be honest to yourself.  The dogs here are not owned by anyone, yet they never lash out at humans, or try to bite anyone. And although the humans are relatively poor, they value humanity in general far more that they otherwise would. At least that’s my take.

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So far my Mexico experience gives me much to be pensive about. As a child I was taught that my country was the greatest – that it was the land of the brave and the free. Then I watched as safety was propped up as the reason we should give away all of our freedoms. In mob fashion, and largely during my lifetime, Americans sold their potential to escape their fears. They have forgotten that brave and free go together. Now they have very little to fear and very little to live for. Depression is now the national state of being, promoted by commercialism, dogma, and nationalism. The more I travel the more I appreciate the good things that the US does have (beautiful landscapes, diversity, education, abundance, creativity…), but I am also beginning to more clearly understand the sickness that is hurting its people. Happiness has been drained from the people’s veins, replaced by nerotic pulses of sensory overload, video games, violent movies, the notion of instant gratification, etc. All of this has led to a shallowing of thought in general, which in turn has left millions with lives that are vacant of meaningful emotional interactions (a Twitter post now counts as a social interaction).

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Just before Thomas and Chihiro parted ways with us in Veracruz, we all slept at a beach together. In the morning we explored the beach and found some giant sand dunes jutting right up out of the sea. As we climbed to the tops of those dunes, jumping off the cliffs and flying down walls of sand, I felt almost weightless. I wondered how many other perfect places there were in the world, waiting to be explored. I found it amazing that out of all the people in this world we were the only ones there, playing in Nature’s sandbox.

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It was great exploring this part of the world with you Tomas and Chihiro. Such memories will always be with us. I look forward to your random updates and your fantastic pictures. Good luck on your journey. Thanks for having the guts to explore as you do. Until our paths cross again.

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After Veracruz the heat started to be unbearable. We spent a day at a mechanic shop trying to get our AC repaired. It worked for about 10 minutes, then another leak started whistling. This little upset cost us 2500 pesos, which was bothering us quite a bit, given our budget and the fact that we lost an entire day but didn’t gain a working AC. So the next day, just before we left town, we went back to the shop and Angela argued for some of our money back. To my complete surprise it worked! Evidently you can argue your way out of tickets from the police here AND you can argue for money back from a mechanic. Wow.

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Trying to escape the heat of the next morning we took a detour, following a sign that said ‘cascada.’ We ended up passing through a town with about 1000 people, half of which were hanging out at the end of the road at a place called Agua Blanca. This place was paradise. It was a five kilometer stretch on a gorgeous white rock river decorated with waterfalls and pools as far as you could see. At the top of the river there was a huge cave. It took us three hours to explore that cave, because instead of sticking to the regular path we went as far up each cavern as we could. We found sleeping bats, clutched to the rock celing, nooks and crannies that twisted into each other, and huge rooms with tiny entrances. The cave went all the way through the mountain, and it had three different exits. Near the last exit I slipped into a hole, almost breaking my leg, but limped away with just some deep bruises and a bloody shin. We spent the rest of the day in the river, exploring each waterfall, swimming into recessed caves behind the waterfalls, and showing the locals how to jump into the deep spots. The entrance fee was only 15 pesos ($1.20) for the whole day. What a day!

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Palenque was absolutely astounding. It was also exhausting as it was 95° F.  After seveal hours exploring the ruins, of which only 6% have been excavated, we cooled off in a nearby waterfall, which also had a cave behind it. Just behind the waterfall, at the mouth of the cave, we met a Canadian rasta guy and a beautiful Italian girl (who was trying hard to get with the Canadian guy), we asked them how the cave was. They said it was great. We hadn’t brought our headlamps, so we felt our way to the back, squeezing my chest through the tight spots. They followed us back, and then told us that they hadn’t actaully been back there. They were afraid to come back, but after seeing us they mustered the courage to try it.

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That night we drove half way to Agua Azul, delightfully detoured again by a sign for another waterfall. This was evidently a pay area, but we got in for free because it was so late. We parked in a random spot by the trees, popped the top of Wiggles and enjoyed the cooler mountain breeze. Leaving the light off we watched the lightning bugs flash all around us. The area slowly transitioned into a symphony hall. The frogs competed with several different kinds of birds for the center stage, and then in the distance a family of howling monkeys (we think) stole the show. We never saw the monkeys, but there was no mistaking the presence of deep howling voices  We lied in the top of Wiggles, with all the windows open saoking up the music of Nature.

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In the morning we met a really cool couple. John was an American helicopter pilot about my age, with a newfound passion for astronomy, philosophy and physics. Patricia was a robotics engineer from Brazil, studying to be a programmer, with interest in psychology. It was very refreshing talking with them. They are about a year into their travels (Wandaroundtheworld.com) and they plan to land in Brazil in about another year to work again. Both were very beautiful people, full of life. John made the comment that most people say, “I wish I could travel like that, but I don’t have the money.” Then he pointed out that nearly all of the people he has met traveling like this don’t have the money. Many of them just make it happen, stop to work here or there when they run out, or they just learn how to survive off of less. Couch surfing is free, food is cheap, and once you train yourself to collect memories instead of things, life is full, rich, and quite cheap. Good luck John and Patricia. I look forward to seeing you both in the future!

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Agua Azul – made me think of Josh. Josh you would love this place. The water is the color of the water in Havasupai, and the erosion of the rocks is reminiscent of that place too. Of course, the water volume completely dwarfs Havasupai. It is wide and powerful. And there is an extra surprise – there are a bunch of excited birds that live behind the waterfall. They fly through the powerful cascade to exit and enter their home. About a hunderd at a time come crashing out of the water, chase each other around overhead, and then they dart back through the waterfall into their home where they cling to the rocks. I’ve never seen birds flying through a waterfall before.

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I’m thinking of you (you know who you are) and the conversations that we still have ahead of us. Please learn as much as you can in the mean time, experience as much as possible, love each and every day, and then we will swap stories, lessons, tears, laughter, and hugs.

Many Loves,

Thad

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