Friday, February 1, 2013

Paying Rent To Jesus

The first thing that happened to me this morning was Jesus asking me to do the dishes.

It's been a long while since you last heard from me, but rest assured I've been writing. This last year has been a very pivotal year for me because not only have I figured out my life path, but I've actually been working towards it as well. The form this path has chosen is a book, and since I don't have a clue how to write one, it's been a very interesting year of challenges. The book will undoubtedly be called something like "100 Ways How Not To Write A Book" but I'm damn well going to try. I've also been working on video editing and a website, which my amazing friend Riccardo has been helping me with.

I have two free months before I'm heading back to Austin to be in my best friend's wedding, so I decided on a little journey back to Guatemala. Guatemala has always been special to me, it's one of my favorite countries and I constantly think of returning. When my good friend Styx told me he was down here with his girlfriend Lo-Arna, I didn't need to think twice. So here I sit on my balcony, staring out at the calm blue water of Lake Atitlan and breathe a deep sigh of happiness and joy.

We have rented a house here in San Pedro, and I couldn't have asked for a better one. We live above the Coffee Baron of the town, so below us they roast coffee all day long. Above us is a panaderia, and the smell of fresh baked bread fills our patio like sunshine. Basically we live in Heaven, which is probably why we pay rent to Jesus. Sounds like a country song. All of this, plus the most stunning view of the lake for 1,600 Quetzales a month, roughly $200 for the three of us.

Jesus is our landlady, the mother of the Coffee Baron. She's a sweet little Mayan lady who putters around her side of the house, weaves on a loom at least ten feet long, and rules the roost with an iron fist. Everyday she wears traditional Mayan clothing: a bright, lacy top with puffy sleeves, a thick embroidered skirt of the local fabric, and a long, hand-made belt she wraps many times around her waist. All are different colors, all are beautiful, and she consistently reminds me of a walking flower.

Styx you might have heard of before. We met teaching English in Vietnam four years ago. He stayed with me in Christchurch, New Zealand right before the earthquake, came for a visit on my boat in Puerto Rico, and we meet up again here is sunny, tranquil Guatemala. Another traveling kindred spirit, this time he has bought what can only be referred to as a tank and has decided to drive it from California to Argentina. Styx's truck, "El Nino" is a retired Discovery Channel storm chaser. With this beast, they have set out on a journey mixing business and pleasure known as "El Vagabundo Mundial" which is Spanish for The Worldwide Vagabond. I have teamed up with them for the time being and it has been a whirlwind of fun. They sell jewelry, clothes and coffee, teach yoga, do massage, reiki and many other odd assortments. You can keep up with us online, follow along with the journey, see pictures and maybe even meet up later in the world at

For the time being though, I'll satisfy Jesus and get started on those dishes.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Shamans Don't Laugh: A Tale of Machu Picchu

Staring up at the mountain in front of me, so high that it strains my neck to see the top. Hundreds of years filled with the Andean culture of the Incas. Four days of hiking the Incan Trail is ahead, the ultimate goal of Machu Picchu. Sweat pouring, legs aching, and the hike has not even begun, only the promise of one of the most famous, sacred, spiritual and protected sites in the world. I watched the hikers, mentally and physically preparing for some of the hardest days of their lives, from my climate-controlled train car, sitting in a nice chair while the stewardess served me coffee and fresh fruit for my hour and a half train ride to Machu Picchu. Suckers!

For the last few days I've sat down to write about Machu Picchu, but I am still having trouble finding the words. "Stunning" and "amazing" are useless and empty in comparrison to that feeling of standing on top of the world in that sacred space and time, feeling the energy coming out of the mountains and witnessing with my own eyes one of the last intact sites of the ancient Andean people. It is truly a spectacular sight. Instead of trying to force out words I can't say but only feel, I'll just assume you're all jumping out of your chairs, quitting your jobs and getting a babysitter so you can go see Machu Picchu for yourselves. Here is some advice for when you get there:

1. Get there on the first bus, ay 5:30 a.m.
2. Bring food, water, and your passport, because you're going to need all three.
3. Go for two days, because it's worth it.
4. Rent a Shaman.

Our Rent-a-Shaman, Juan de Dios Garcia Garcia, appeared through the mist near the bus stop early in the morning. We saw him from across the road walking slowly and, by the look of him, was either a drunk man trying to get home, or our Shaman. Drunkards don't usually carry condor feathers and incense home from the pub, so we waved and he ambled over, high as a kite and smiling, leaving a trail of coca leaves in his wake. He met the group and walked to the front, where one of our number, Rand, was chatting up three pretty, blonde Scandinavians and feeling pretty good about himself. Now, I have seen many things in my time, many odd experiences have knocked on my door, but I have never, never seen anyone get cock-blocked by a four and a half foot tall Incan Shaman at five a.m. It was so incredible, I had to name it "The Shamaning." Rand glared down at the little man as he stepped between him and the ladies, shooed them onto the bus and put us on the next bus. Too shocked by what had just occured, we all burst into laughter and the thoughts of killing our Rent-a-Shaman slowed faded from Rand's face. Juan de Dios Garcia Garcia didn't laugh. Shamans don't laugh, they shaman.

Once on top of the mountain, looking through the clouds to the ancient ruins and waiting for the sun to rise, our J.d.D.G.G. took us to a special spot, a giant rock once used as an alter and holy place. The ancient Inca and pre-Inca civilizations then and now believe and worship the natural world around us. They built temples to the sun and moon, stars, thunder, and the rainbow. They celebrate the Pacha Mama, or Mother Earth, as well as Taita Inti, Father Sun. Their life energy flows from the mountains, from the springs, from the wind, and they praise the equality in all things. We sat with our Shaman to talk of these things, to have a ceremony for the strength, beauty and balance of Nature. He spoke to us of his ancestors, about stating intention for ourselves there on the mountain, and pushing that intention out into the world. We made an offering to the Pacha Mama, adding quinoa and corn from the earth, coca leaves for medicine, our intentions, different colored carnation petals for power, energy and knowledge. He put in llama fat for the animals, fabrics for people and industry, and little bits of candy because, as our Shaman says with a secretive smile, "Pacha Mama, she likes candy." After the ceremony was over, hardly and eye was dry in the group, and we finished by being told we had to hug each person in the group individually, which I think made some of the men nervous and some of the women cry harder.

Unfortunately you can't light fires at Machu Picchu, it being sacred and all, so we folded up our offering for the Shaman to take home on the mountain and finish his Shamaning by offering it to the Sacred Fire. Sceptics will scoff and say he went back to his city apartment and threw it in the trash, but not our Shaman. Our Shaman is Incan and pre-Incan, he is past, present and future, and he is with me now as I write. He is the Pacha Mama, the Taita Inti, the stars and the rainbow, the corn and the coca leaves. But then so are you. So am I.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Pisco Sour Llama Hunt

How to make a Pisco Sour:

-Pisco, a Peruvian grape liquor
-fresh lime juice
-a raw egg white
Put everything into a blender and press the button.

In any other country in the world, adding raw egg whites to your cocktails would get you closed down, but here in Peru, it just seems to make sense. Especially when you're 11,200 feet above sea level and your head has been spinning for the last few days and you're contemplating buying a baby llama.

The last month has been a bit of a wild blur. Pete had been in a cast the month before with a fractured toe, put on him by the free, public hospital staff in Quito, but was having severe ankle pains. Finally it got so bad we just cut the cast off ourselves to find his ankle severly deformed and swollen. We hobbled over to the closest, most expensive, private hospital we could find where they took some more X-rays and found two other fractures in the ankle that the first hospital had missed. They called a Traumatologist from a specialist clinic to come take a look, and he declared that Pete needed surgery. It would cost five thousand dollars. I almost passed out.

Needless to say, we did not have five thousand dollars. Luckily Pete is from England, where the surgery would be free, so after a long talk we called his parents and told them he was coming home for an extended visit. He flew home a week later. Once again flying solo, I had decided to get back on the road. Although we have plans to make Quito our next home, it felt big and empty without him. I finished up work and headed to the beach for an overdose of sun I had been missing whilst living in the mountains. I spent a week in Canoa and Montanita, both on the Ecuador coastline, and then hopped over the border into Peru and down to Huanchaco to meet up with my good friend Riccardo. By "hopped" I mean it was a twenty-three hour journey on four buses, where I was bombarded with people selling everything from chocolates to Jesus to a ginseng extract that apparently cures AIDS, cancer, and malaria. So to all you suffering people in the world, there is a small Ecuatoriano man selling the cure on a bus between Guayaquil and Huaquillo.

After I arrived half dead on Riccardo's doorstep, wishing I had bought that ginseng, like any self-respecting Italian he took me down to the market for some fresh breakfast pizza. Apparently Little Italy has moved to Huanchaco, because in my few days there I met way more Italians than Peruanos. Yet my experience would have never been as wonderful without Luca and his home-made vegetarian breakfast pizzas. I would have stayed longer in that sweet, little surfer heaven but I had to book it down to Lima in time to meet my family.

Months ago I convinced my Dad and stepmom Jas to come climb Machu Picchu with me, and they showed up a few days ago with a big group of their friends on some whirlwind tour of Peru for two weeks. Travelling with parents is always fun because the quality of my food and the softness of my bed have increased dramatically, and the minute-by-minute itinerary is continuously amusing. While the rest of the group is out and about, my Dad and I have been enjoying some quality time running around Cuzco out of breath, chewing coca leaves for "altitude sickness", trying to find a baby llama for me and a roasted guinea pig for him. I do not intend on eating my llama as my father intends to eat his gerbil. In a few days we'll head down to the Sacred Valley and then up to the top of the mountain.

I'll keep you posted on the Pisco Sour Llama Hunt 2012.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How Many Ecuadorians Does It Take To Turn On A Light?

Yesterday we checked into a grotty little hostel in Quito, Ecuador. A few hours before sunset I look up and realize that I have no light switch. I have the plate that guards all the wires and screws, but no physical switch. Just a hole. I walk down stairs and talk to the two managers, Jose and Carlos. Jose is in his sixties, about four feet tall, constantly smiling, and once told me that he was the King of the Americas: North, Central and South. Carlos is much younger, much taller, and everyday he wears a suit jacket, slacks, and rainbow flip flops.

How To Change A Light In Ecuador

Step 1: Put your finger in the open hole to make sure there's no running electric current, and to see if there's a way to get it to work without having to fix it.

Step 2: Swear colorfully as you chip off the paint from the screws that have been there twenty-odd years.

Step 3: Once the plate comes off put some electric tape around the loose wires.

Step 4: Once you realize that you need those wires for the new plate, take off the tape and shock yourself. Then push the wires into their respective holes.

Step 5: At this point you will realize that you have bought the wrong plate, and that there is no way to connect it to the wall. Take a screw, hold it with a pair of scissors, and burn the end using a lighter. Once hot, try to burn a hole through the thick plastic plate. Try again. And again.

Step 6: Once you have failed, pick up your electric tape, tape the switch to the wall, and walk away. Done! You have successfully changed a lightswitch in Ecuador!

I'd be lying if I said Ecuador wasn't a weird country, but maybe that's why we like it so much here. It's way more tranquillo than Colombia, much cheaper, and clean. For those of you who have never been to Latin America before, you might not understand how amazing CLEAN can be. The large majority of Cetral and South America is covered with trash, every road littered to the extent that it makes you sick. Common practice is to throw your trash out the window of the bus when you are finished with it. Mostly this is due to education, or lack thereof, on the subject. Sadly, most people just don't know that throwing your trash on the ground is bad for the environment, pollutes the city, and makes it a worse place to live. I'm not saying that burying it under the ground is a viable solution, but at least we're not walking around in our own filth. Ecuador, by comparisson to its neighbors, is spotless.

Quito, which has a bad reputation outside of Ecuador, is a beautiful capital city of 2.2 million people. There are massive, clean, well-kept public parks all over the city, a great transportation system, a stunning Centro Historico with sprawling plazas and elegant cathedrals. In 2011, Quito was voted Cultural Capital of the Americas. The city center also boasts twenty-seven churches, monasteries and convents, twenty-three plazas and monuments, thirty-four museums, ten cultural centers, and seven theaters. Surrounded by mountains, it's about 9,000 feet above sea level, and for the first few days you will feel constantly out of breath. Sweet little indiginous ladies walk around in delicately embroidered skirts, white blouses, a colorful shall, and for some reason, a fedora. Children laugh and run after pidgeons.

Oh, and when you ask for a cafe con leche (coffee with milk) you'll get a steaming hot cup of milk and a perfume vial of espresso for you to pour in at your leisure.

Monday, February 13, 2012

I Have A Dream

I'm currently reading a book entitled "Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings." The author, Rob Brezsny, calls for me to read Martin Luthor King's "I have a Dream" speech and then write my own. Although nowhere near as eloquent, I will try to harness Dr. King's passion and fervor to state my own dreams for this world. Also, I fully encourage you to write your own and send it back to me.

If you would like to first read the original, click here:

I'll also include an excerpt from "Pronoia":
"I have a dream that we will take everything we need and give everything we have. We'll be both selfish altruists and generous braggarts, libertarian socialists and capitalist humanitarians. That'll be the law in the New Earth-different from the Old Earth, where you can blindly serve your own interests or devote yourself to the needs of others, but not both."

I Have A Dream

We all have dreams for our world. Some I see in the bright, optimistic future and others are so close I can smell them. Some dreams can even be a reality today, in this great year of Two-thousand and twelve, if we are willing to fight for them.

I have a dream that all children of all countries will be able to read and write, with an opportunity for further education and a degree from a University, if they so choose.

I have a dream that World Leaders will rise up past the bureaucracy and start living up to their promises and their people's expectations. That they will find the poorest person in their country and walk a day in their shoes. They will no longer be able to accept money from large corporations with greedy agendas. They will no longer stand by while their government takes money from its people, while their banks print money illegally and separate families from their homes. They will know the difference between capitalism and totalitarianism, socialism and communism, democracy and tyranny.

I have a dream that all borders will disappear and people will be able to see the world, provide for their families and not feel the chains of an invisible line in the sand. I dream that the United States will make all illegal aliens rightful citizens who have been living there over three years, which enables them to pay taxes, contribute to their community and send their children to school. Free language schools will enable our new, hard-working, tax-paying citizens to integrate into society and better themselves.

I have a dream that siesta time will spread to all countries, and from 12:00-2:00pm the world shall know peace by the sound of silence (in their different time zones, of course.) In the future it will be illegal to work over five days a week and mandatory vacation time will be instated for employees by their employers.

I have a dream that coffee planters, sweatshop workers and rice paddy farmers will someday be paid fairly for their hard, back-breaking labor. This can be done today if we stand up as one and refuse to buy cheap, ill-gotten/stolen food, garments, diamonds, etc. Look into Fair Trade and find out which companies are playing by the rules and decide for yourself who you would support. (

I have a dream that people will realize that all religions are basically the same and stop killing their neighbors over a disagreement of interpretation. The Pope will no longer be asked for political advice that he knows nothing of, and will also receive a tax audit. If he complains, he will be held accountable for thousands of deaths. I also dream that people will stop worshiping materialism and return to the natural splendor Mother Nature graces us with every day.

I have a dream that Burning Man will become a year-long festival that all people can afford and enjoy. I dream that someday the word "hippie" will be synonymous with positive strength, blissful magnetism and energetic integrity. Men in suits will no longer be afraid to frolic in fields of posies without being judged, and individuals will be cherished for exactly what they are: Individual.

I have a dream to introduce teaching morality in schools. Children receive no direction in this if they are not taught at home, which is all too often the case. I dream that parents will start taking an interest in their children's education, because they are the future and the future starts now. Art, poetry, music and singing will be taught equally with math, science, grammar and history, not just as an elective. Sex education will be re-instated in the South, instead of teaching abstinence, which they currently do in Texas. All those in favor of teaching abstinence in public schools will receive a chastity belt for their "services" to humanity.

I have a dream that it will be illegal for the government to continue to control the media; what we call the "Free Press." The First Amendment seems to have disappeared in this Land of the Free, and I would call that the journalists recently jailed for publishing the truth be released. Fox News will have to close its doors with these new laws, and the watered-down tripe the American public receives will be rejuvenated with Actual World Events. In addition, good news will be reported in equal measure with the bad.

I have a dream in zero tolerance of racism, sexism, rape, bigotry, police brutality, and accordions. People are people, we are all made of the same atoms, blood cells and water, no matter our sex, skin color, or who we love. Same sex marriages will be legal, and all opposed will also wear chastity belts for their stupidity and close-mindedness. Police brutality and those charged with assault will be punished by forced encampment at a Rainbow Gathering until they've calmed down. Same goes for accordion players.

I have a dream that all McDonalds will have to close on the grounds that they are directly responsible for world obesity, ruining hundreds of thousands of small businesses, and the selling of chemicals labeled "food." I dream that people will start paying attention to what they put inside their bodies, instead of chemicals that look like food, taste like food and smell like food but in fact, are not food. While I'm on the subject, cigarettes will also be illegal once the companies are no longer allowed to pay off the government and the FDA, on the basis of willingly addicting and killing millions without flinching. Marijuana will of course be legalized as a medical substitute to overpriced drugs that only the rich can now afford.

I have a dream that people will take themselves less seriously, live their lives to the fullest, and love openly. I wait for a future filled with silliness and adventure, remembering that we have but one life to live and that this is no dress rehearsal. I invite you to laugh at yourself before anyone else can, wear funny hats, kiss your children and hug your neighbors. This is my dream for a better tomorrow.

"Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back." - Dr. Martin Luthor King

Monday, February 6, 2012

Soup For Breakfast

The man stared at me like I was insane.
"Really?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied, smiling.
"Really??" he asked again, shocked.
"It's true," I said. "In America we don't eat soup for breakfast."

The rest of the conversation consisted of me explaining what Americans might eat for breakfast. As I listed off different options like eggs, toast, assorted meat products, cereal, fruit, coffee, he stood there listening and shaking his head. At the end of my little speech he decidedly told me that what I wanted to order wasn't good and that he would bring out a better breakfast. My multiple attempts to explain that I was a vegetarian fell on deaf ears as he had never heard of one before. Pete's addition to all of this was to laugh quietly and drink his cup of warm cinnamon tea. What came after was a simple Colombian breakfast of two bowls of soup, one potato and one an unidentifiable meat soup, a giant platter of rice, beans, avocado, plantains, yuca, bread, and the biggest slab of meat I have seen in a long time. So we sat at a cafe in Yopal, Colombia and had soup for breakfast.

Colombia has been a wonderful surprise in so many ways, even though we're back in that world I know so well with undrinkable tap water, cold showers and no flushing the toilet paper. Yet everywhere we go I feel safe and secure. The people are some of the friendliest in the world, if not some of the strangest. I feel that about 95% of what I knew about Colombia before getting here was completely wrong so here are some things you might not know about this great country:

1. Colombia is the fastest growing economy in South America. The reason it is still a bit untapped is mainly due to the old Pablo Escobar stigma, but if you're looking for a great trip at a reasonable price, hurry and get here before they build a Disney World.

2. Everything is sold in bags. Water, Coca Cola, milk, coconut milk, ketchup, mayonnaise, pasta sauce, and of course soup. I have been searching for beer in a bag, but so far my efforts are in vain. Aguardiente, the local hard liquor, is sold in juice boxes. Coffee is served in shot glasses. Obviously.

3. I am convinced that you must be beyond medical help in order to drive buses in Colombia. I have taken a fair few scary rides around this world, but Colombia might take the cake as they all seem to be in a hurry. There's nothing quite like overtaking a giant truck labeled PELIGRO in big, red letters with a skull under it whilst on a blind corner of a narrow mountain path in a thick fog when it's raining that gives your heart a chance to remind you that it's still there.

4. Although the climate is perfect for growing chili peppers, the food is quite mellow and filling instead of spicy. Tamal, similar to the Mexican tamales, is a staple food wrapped in a banana leaf and usually consists of meat, corn, potato or yuca. As per usual, I carry a small bottle of hot sauce in my purse to bring up the temperature whenever we eat out.

5. Only drug dealers speak English. Now I have only found this in Cartagena, the tourism capital of Colombia, and it's really annoying. Unfortunately, it's true. In three weeks I have only met a handful of Colombians that spoke English, but as soon as we arrived in Cartagena we were followed constantly by young boys who could probably be putting their education to a better use, especially at 9 a.m.

6. I'll never go back to box juice ever again. Ever. It's not juice. It's fresh squeezed or nothing from now on. You can buy a massive cup of juice squeezed right in front of you for about a dollar. Pete and I try to get a big glass every day.

7. The police are awesome. Even ten hours off the tourist track in tiny little towns there are two police officers on every corner. It's comfortable, it's helpful and it's bringing Colombia up and up. It's a nice, friendly presence not designed as a fear tactic but as a safety net. Never would I walk up to a police officer in America willingly. Or England. Or Europe for that matter. That guilty feeling comes up, like you're doing something wrong even though you're not. Here I walk up to them all the time, ask directions and even have conversations about life. They are really welcoming and I think this is what has really turned Colombia around in the last fifteen years. May I also state that there is a clear difference between fear and respect, and I feel that those lines have become blurry in the western world, and help no one.

Currently we're in Medellin, the second biggest city in Colombia, and the home of the most expensive metro line ever built. This is probably due to siesta time. Today Pete is at the skate park with his BMX that we travel with and practicing his Spanish. I'm sitting in the shade listening to a girl sing and play her guitar, but soon I'll be off the see the history museum. We'll hold the fort down until you can get here, wherever here may be.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sun is Shining

It's been a long time, yet here we are again. I wish I could have been writing to you over these last few months, but the truth of the matter is that some stories are better left unwritten on the World Wide Web. I'll just leave it at that.

The last month Pete and I spent our holidays in a small town called Clevedon, outside of Bristol, with his family. Although it was cold out, his family was warm and welcoming and we had ourselves a wonderful traditional English Christmas. I had a great time meeting all of his friends and I learned the lesson of all lessons: Stay away from rough cider or it will destroy you. The last few days I went to London to spend time with my lovely friend Amy from New Zealand, Shaun of my "Toy Story" days and I went to see Everton lose with Alex. Again.

As most of you know, I'm not one to stay still or stay cold, so after a few plane rides we found ourselves in Bogota, Colombia! For all of those who have never been to Colombia, yet instantly have a negative opinion of it, I can assure you that you are very, very mistaken. I myself was very, very mistaken. Thoughts of kidnapping, theft and cocaine dealers on every corner floated in my mind, but my biggest mistake was listening to people who didn't know say, "Oh don't go there, it's dangerous." Nonsense. I've never felt better.

Bogota is a great city. Yes it's a little rough around the edges but that's just part of the charm. People are friendly and the food is delicious. In the last few years Bogota has really stepped up it's game to make the city safe again, for residents and tourists. There are, quite literally, two police officers on every single corner of the city center. The streets are clean, the city is prosperous, half of the walls are covered in art, people smile at strangers as they walk and there is a sense of tradition, respect and culture. . We took the gondola up Monserratte, Bogota's holy mountain, and had a good look at the city. With a population over eight million, no wonder it's enormous.

Three days into our tour and the warm sun of South America is already shining in my heart. Since Pete and I have no desire to plan anything I'm excited to see where life takes us. In a day or two we'll head north towards Santa Marta, but as it's a twenty-four hour bus ride we've decided to break it up into a few days and stop where we feel like it. Until then, safe travels wherever you are. I'll keep you posted.