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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2 Responses to Howling Monkeys

  1. CoCo says:

    Keep the pics and thoughts coming. I am jealous. Lovin’ all your adventures.

  2. TOm says:

    Hey bud. looks like you are living the dream. I am working 60 hr weeks. sometimes I wonder if its even worth it. what is money with out adventure? Man that is so awesome. 🙂