Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Time flies when you're getting robbed.

Luck is truly a matter of subjectivity. I'm tremendously fortunate that the two taxis drag racing outside my window did not choose to pick things up a notch and take on my wall of plaster. This would more than likely destroy the out-of-place yusuke urameshi poster above me, a spanish periodic table of elements to my right and the bed upon which I sit in the process. Talk about luck. Luck "is what you make of it" or "you make your own", to summarize paradoxical arguments reflecting ideologies of star-aligned destiny and that of coin-flipping Harvey Dent. I'm still undecided. Regardless, luck (or life) struck twice negatively in the past week. I'm a driver's license, a Chilean ID, 40,000 Pesos, a cell phone, an assortment of gift cards, and two wallets poorer as a result, but still like my odds. More or less, I came out of this unscathed and maybe a tad wiser. This is not an attempt to woe is me myself, more of an effort to relay two recent events that unfortunately turned out to be unfortunate. As the Chileans say, "Ah, ya."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


So it took about four Mighty Ducks theme song anthems to sit me down in front of a computer and inspire me to detail our exploits over the past couple weeks, but here I am. And what it was. I'll preface by saying that it was a trip unlike any other I've had, as far as challenges, insects, and bags of vomit go. I'll preface that preface by saying that in the interest of condensation and in an attempt to make any sense of what happened, I offer an estimated day by day running blog. Only problem is, it's almost two weeks since this all went down so let's replace the word estimated with the word guesstimated. Haha. Wait, no.

Bree's bedroom (scandalous?) Thursday 12:00-4:00 AM
What better way to prepare for a 30 hour trek north than a couple bottles of rum, a collection of youtube jams and a pair of clippers? The decision was made months ago that Colin and I would take part in some sort of spiritual rite of passage by shaving our skulls (yes I love that word in every sense of it) during our yearlong expedition. Half a handle into the rum it seemed to me like this was the time to start anew. Having done this once before under the same amount of influence, I felt substantially prepared, while Colin needed a little convincing. Upon completion of bottle number one, clippers in hand, Colin was seated shirtless waiting for our newfound barber Bree to skullify him.

My kitchen. Friday. 11:00 AM
Stumbling out of my bedroom for my brunch of tea and bread circles, I take a sideways glance at my mother sitting and reading who then proceeds to let out a shriek of horror. Not sure if she forgot that she was housing a lanky white male or if I forgot to put on clothes upon exiting my bed this morning, I stand awkwardly on the stairs in a complete stupor until I begin to comprehend that she's clamoring about the missing hair. Damn, just when I thought I was looking fly.

Iquique Bus Terminal. Friday. 2:00 PM
Here we go. Gringos unite as we voyage 5 hours north to Arica, sharing in the beautifully dubbed Die Hard 4, the first of many horribly translated action sequels we will be subjected to.

Chile/Peru Border. Friday. 7:00 PM
Flocked by crazed taxi drivers, we finally decide upon a moderately sketchy fellow to pile us in his 84 Cutlass Ciera and deliver us to the Peruvian frontier. I observe flocks of people huddled at this border crossing town with loads of packages, apparently waiting until the guard is down post midnight and can smuggle their rice bricks and other interestingly wrapped goods north. Upon driving twenty minutes through an uninhabited desert in darkness, we abruptly pull over and taxi man exits the car and heads for the trunk leaving us alone with our confusion. Potential hostage situation? Sadly, no. The engine has overheated, he makes the proper adjustments and we're off. 4 police checkpoints later, we've boarded a bus that is heading to our connection town Arrequipa. Estimated Time of Arrival? 3:30 AM. Two bottles of rum are swiftly purchased.

Arrequipa. Saturday. 4:00 AM
Hello, Peru. We enter the bus terminal and prepare for a four and a half hour layover here. Annie promptly pukes in the first public trash can she spots. The majority of the bus station seats are filled with people who look like they've been avoiding sleep and social interaction for a solid two decades. We find a wall to post up on and prepare to pass the time by any means necessary. As I attempt to add some life to a pineapple soda bottle, I glance up to notice that I'm being observed. Maybe this kind of fruit drink concotion is new to them or the concept of alcohol in a bus station has mysteriously never entered Peru, so I hide both bottles and attempt to regain some notion of normalcy. Nope. As my companions slowly begin to confirm, not only are we getting looks, we're getting gawks. Like open jaw, wide eyed, what the hell kind of humanity is this looks. I've spent a good deal of time being the random foreigner in a collection of countries, but nothing has compared to this. Whatever. Cards emerge and 8:30 arrives just in time.

Peruvian country side. Saturday. 8:30 AM-8:30 PM
Doritos, saltless crackers, and bottles of peach juice get us through this ride. Chain reaction vomiting occurrs in the seats of a number of our female counterparts which add to the fine open door bathroom bus smell. Never underestimate the value of an empty plastic bag. In my opinion, refusing them from convenient stores in an environmentalist effort is just plain idiotic after observing those able (and unable) to utilize these bags as the chunks began to fly. Sidenote observance: Peruvian women wrap their small children in colorful burlap sacks, toss them over their shoulders, and lug them around like a bundle of potatos.

Cusco. Saturday. 9:00 PM
An amazing city with a European flair. Maybe its the excessive amount of white folks that makes me feel almost normal or the ham pizza and egg sandwich we consumed for dinner. I don't quite know, but I like it. I've never been to Spain, but the city strikes me as Spanish, if I can make such an ignorant claim. Narrow cobblestone streets and impressive cathedrals adorn the main plaza, which we unfortunately had to leave behind. After locating a hostel and setting up a barricade around the trap door that led to the downstairs bathroom, I was ready for a bed and an eight hour chunk of dormir.

Cusco. Sunday. 3:00 PM
We've secured a tour for two days and nights and now are hiking up to a white glowing Jesus that towers above the city. I thought the elevation in Boulder was something. Somewhere around 12,000 feet above sea level, the air is definitely still there but steps come slower and finally we're standing under the outstretched Jesus admiring the city at our feet. Clouds roll in and soon round hail balls are pelting my naked skull and we're running for cover and lower altitude.

Van. Sunday. 8:00 PM-2:00 AM
A customary Mexican dinner was in order and then we packed bags and headed to meet Franklin and Jorge our new tour guides extraordinaires. Francisco the driver shows up with our transport vehicle, a silver van that was about to cover more ground than I ever thought imaginable. We stop to fuel up and begin to realize that a makeshift band and dancing festival was also joining us at the local gas station. Men are seated in folding chairs observing the musicians and slamming beers like its their job then grabbing some dancing women and persuading them to do the same. I dig Peru. Please note: Francisco is a maniac. He's taking us on a night time van voyage ascending 15,000 foot mountains around un-guard-railed bends while avoiding rock chunks and passing 18 wheelers at substantial speeds. Undoubtedly one of the most petrifying drives of my life. On our descent, Francisco realizes he's getting drowsy so he finds a bar in the middle of absolute nowhere and enters for a drink that I'm guessing was not coffee. As I step outside and wander amidst the dense fog to locate a cliff to pee off, I wonder how the hell my life has come to this. Francisco returns, we leave the mountains behind and enter the jungle terrain. Unpaved roads for two hours keeps us from sleeping and allows us to observe the complete removal from civilization around us. We stop upon an overturned truck in the road with families standing on the side of the road, cut and crying. Perfect. Colin and I exit our van to help overturn this truck and at this point I am completely expecting to find dismembered bodies lying beneath. Fortunately, no major bodily harm occurred after the driver passed out at the wheel and drove straight up a cliff that looked ready to landslide at any minor tetonic shift or butterfly landing. We arrive in the tiny pueblo of Santa Maria and with a little bit of wandering from building to building, our tour guides locate a bar/hostel to sleep at for four hours. Tomorrow the real fun begins.

Santa Maria. Monday. 6:00 AM
A disturbing shrill echo awakens me from confusing, sweaty dreams and after peering out our barred window, I reconfirm that, yes, last night was real and we are jungle dwelling. As we attempt to brush teeth around the outdoor sink our newfound mini-mosquito friends take to bare legs, fingers, and eyelids. More on them later. A morning breakfast of chocolate banana pancakes preps us for the day ahead. And the walk begins. And so does my discovery of the wounded female. Stories of bad break ups, lost loves, and other heartbreak happenings accompany Colin and I during the first few hours of this stretch of jungle trekking. We share a glance and lengthen strides. I motion for Jorge to get out of their pack while he still has a chance. The sun is upon us. So is our sweat, dirt chunks, and bug pee. The same 6 inch long winged creatures that woke me with their morning wail also decide to flock in groups and urinate together upon unsuspecting individuals. Refreshing in the jungle heat? Not a chance. The ascent begins. Inner confidence as a successful hiker goes out the window as I realize the next few hours will consist of us rounding mountain side bends on one foot wide trails with a possibility of death resulting from faulty footing at an all time high. Oh, acrophobia. Apart from a possible hostage situation where at gunpoint, I'm forced to decide which cereal I'll be eating for the duration of my captivity, I do not ever again predict finding myself in a situation of inner turmoil as I did throughout this morning. While my fellow hikers are laughing, tossing candy, reveling in an other-worldly view, and basically walking this thing backwards, I am clinging to every single rock face the mountain side provides me. Upon later inspection, I cut open my pinkie, palm, and arm as I groped the life out of jagged boulders. Fortunately, mountain molestation is an offense that rarely sticks in Peru or I'd be facing some serious time.

Mountain Hut. Monday. 8:30 AM
We arrive on a strategically placed restaurant/rest stop complete with glasses of strange juice, a panoramic view of the Andes, and Martin the monkey. I snag a hammock and watch Colin and Annie contract various jungle diseases from this friendly fellow who is complete with a milk moustache and an impressive human climbing ability. Ready to continue, we start our climb that will lead us up and over our most treacherous pass yet. And by yet, I mean ever. And by ever, I mean we found ourselves forming a human line and climbing straight up a mountain side, digging our feet into tentatively supportive dirt and praying that the corn stalk or whatever the hell I'm using to propel myself up this cliff will hold. Capturing one moment. I'm hanging onto a tree root, looking straight down a mountain side that would first break me and then break my momentum after a solid 10,000 foot free fall if my New Balances decide to take a momentary lapse. Looking up, I see our tour guides discovering they have no idea where the hell we are going besides vertical, because the usual path has gone ahead and collapsed for us. Wait, now I hear screaming. Oh that's just our mountain hut friends far below shouting to inquire where our bodies will be collectively flown this evening and maybe some form of monkey scolding from Martin. Fortunately we have a group who is collectively more qualified than our Peruvian amigos and our climbing unit operates with optimal efficiency. To best summarize how treacherous things have become: Kristen Mascarenas dropped an F bomb. Three times. A few more mountain sides climbed, and the descent is upon us. We've now met up with the famed Inca trail, which consists of stone stairwells along these cliffs that the coked up Incans apparently sprinted to transport goods, send messages, and inherit legendary badass status. I've taken to a crab crawl down these stairs which is fairly effective in allowing me to keep my sanity and creating the dirtiest sweatpants known to man.

Jungle Lunch. Monday. 1:00 PM
Unsurprisingly our lunch locale is unknown to our leaders, but a random 65 year old man with a backpack and apparent calfs of steel stops to reroute us down to 50, our lunch stop. Hammocks, darts, spaghetti, and shade make this one of the finest meals I've been a part of. For some reason I feel like I've returned to Thailand. Only the menu is lacking mushroom shakes and the locals have not transformed sexuality in the past five years.

Santa Theresa Thermal Baths. Monday 3:30 PM
We've arrived. Sort of. After two perilous bridge crossings, a brief deep jungle trek sans machete, and a two hour riverside stroll we have entered a very fine place. Waterfalls cascading into lukewarm pools and jungle huts providing functioning toilets have changed things up a bit. A swim is undoubtedly required and a furious game of hot potato ensues with newfound British lass. After we've deposited our layer of filth into these pristine pools we hop in a van for another ride around the bends. This man puts Francisco to shame. Unwilling to yield on roads only capable of one-way traffic, he lays on the horn on every blind turn we round. Once a situation arises where we do come across another driver heading the opposite direction and he decides to back up around these cliffs while giving oncoming traffic a death stare, I decide the time is about right for me to deposit my head into a more secure location buried between my legs.

Hydro-Electric. Monday. 5:00 PM
Named for something to do with the hydro electric power this commuter town generates up to Macchu Picchu, we unload and observe the train that is heading up the mountain and will arrive at our final destination in fifteen minutes. Our new task? Follow that train. Our 2 hour stroll as hobos becomes more interesting as darkness approaches and our ETA gets bumped back a solid 30 minutes for reasons unknown. Cell phones, headlamps, and tiny flashlights are broken out and give us ample light for this evening voyage. We lose a few people on the way, I meet some Cuban musicians, and nobody can guess who Ronald McDonald is. Surprisingly enough, all is still making some sort of sense and I haven't become delirious just quite yet.

Aguas Calientes. Monday. 10:00 PM
We eat dinner and go to sleep. Today has destroyed us.

Macchu Picchu. Tuesday. 4:45 AM
The reason we've come this far over the past five days awakens us. Dawn is slowly settling in as we begin to climb the steep set of stairs that Colin and I dominate in a record 45 minute time. Gates open at 6 and we enter the lost city. Finely groomed llamas, beautifully maintained terraces, and ancient stone formations greet us to this wonder of the world. A title it deservedly claims. The steady sunrise, structural supremacy, and undescribable mystery that surrounds us transforms our excitement into silent contemplation. (In an attempt to explain my inability to explain, I just sat here staring blankly at the computer for 15 minutes attempting to come up with something better to describe what we sat around and marveled at. And I can't. Pictures never do justice and this couldn't be a more clearcut example of the need to experience.)

Wayna Picchu. Tuesday. 7:30 AM
As if yesterday wasn't enough personal joy for me overlooking cliffside locations to plummet, we've lined ourselves up to be part of the 400 people that are allowed climb Wayna, a mountain overlooking Macchu Picchu. No regrets, right? If deaf Japanese girls, 65 year old Australians, and 8 year old children can do this, I simply can't say no. Metal rails line the majority of the stairs along this 90 minute hike that appears heaven-bound. The ultimate perch to say the least. I sit upon the rock summit overlooking anything and everything imaginable. Attempting to take everything in to the best of my abilities, I watch Bree and Colin dangle their feet off the side of their rock throne, Asians fearlessly run amok and pose with peace signs, and I receive a tie from Kristen. Awesome. Now get me off. Two individuals to thank for keeping me from hurling myself off the mountain: Katy Perry and Breanna Greene. "I kissed a girl" became a mantra of sorts and put me in a place that very few things could have at a moment like that, while Bree took it upon herself to become my human shield and help stave off a mental breakdown.

Macchu Picchu. Tuesday. 10:00 AM-3:00 PM
We meet up with Kosmo who gave us the 2 hour English explanation to this mountain city which I'd never even begin to love to explain here. Just know this: there is a lost city of Incan gold somewhere deeper in the Amazon and I plan to find it with a helicopter and metal detector. We say goodbye and stumble down the mountain. A train is soon boarded, then a bus, then we're back in Cusco.

Cusco. Wednesday. 2:00 PM
Colin and I wander around the city purchasing llama gear, miniature flowers, and ugly T-shirts. He has been moaning for hours now and I think it's due to his stomach but its making both me and the shop owners uncomfortable. We grab a few egg ham and cheese sandwiches with local sweetheart and juice maker Marika and we head to the bus terminal. 17 hour ride later, we're at our border town. 2 hours and some contraband seeds later, we're back in Chile. 5 hours and a stolen money belt later, we're back in Iquique. The longest yet most rewarding five day ordeal of my life.

The following extended Thursday-Sunday holiday weekend provided us with a visit from our southern dwelling volunteers. Standard measures were taken and Iquique did not disappoint its new inhabitants. Nor did 5 AM stale avocado sandwiches, I'm absolutely convinced of that. Another weekend has just recently passed where one mentionable highlight was spending our sunrise with some Chilean drug dealers perched outside an abandoned office building freestyling in spanish and imitating WWE superstars.

Andy's room. Tuesday. 7:38 PM
The choose your own adventure tale continues...

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I've been reading.

This is a claim I feel comfortable making after diving into a novel once every six months or so. Cosmic Banditos is currently on loan from Bree's personal library and I'm halfway through the short novel. I'm not going to summarize plots or delve into motifs and character symbolism, but I will go on to tell you that the crux of the tale is an attempt to explain the one thing each and every one of us is constantly looking to define, or at the very least, slightly understand. Life. The author chooses to have the book's crime-loving protagonist find clarity through quantum mechanics, space time continuums, and subatomic theories. Pretty heady stuff. (I attempted even to wikipedia ((possible verb use?)) quantum mechanics and understood very little until coming to: The fundamental rules of quantum mechanics assert that the state space of a system is a Hilbert Space and the observables are Hermitian operators acting on that space, but do not tell us which Hilbert space or which operators, or if it even exists. I immediately closed the window box before the gag reflex, mental breakdown, and coma could simultaneously hit.) The more or less I can wrap my understanding around is that this talk of quantum leaps and the like is based on the principle that life is not as simple as the laws of gravity that Sir Newton would have us believe. No, the universe operates in a chaotic nature with no rhyme or reason. Our reality simply culminated as a result of chance and the possibilities of other realities are just as likely as a Friday purchase of the ever affordable and reliable Ron Blanco (the finest rum of our fine city). Thrown out the window in this novel is any preconceived notions that causality or butterfly effects apply. No, more or less life is nothing but a random crapshoot and all we can do is pray for the dice to fall in our favor.

Now, where does this lead, you may ask. I really only have the slightest of ideas. To start with, as I read I began to think about experiences here in Chile, in Boston, in Asia. And while I may or may not be living a life quite similar to these subatomic particles that travel immeasurably and sporadically according to their current whim, I also can view these incidents as matters of cause and effect. Imagining the past had no effect on my decisions of where next to voyage or which pig knuckle sandwich not to eat, is simply ludicrous. Theories that are supposed to be contradictory seem more or less to be tied together and apply in all walks of life, whether it be mine or that of Neils Bohr. Thus, all I can do is to simply explain the happenings as they occur. Truly the only reason behind this blog is to do such, in the event that a larger quake than today's rumble, a larger chained bandit, or a larger junkyard pit bull decide to take my life. Why things happen and how things happen will be left to those in the white jackets. All I can do is relay to you what things happen. And so I will.

The daily grind never ceases to amaze. Take today for example. I headed to school around 8 AM EST (strangely time zones don't change while seasons and languages do). A typical Wednesday all planned out for me and my kiddos. Nope. Around 10, I get the call from the principal that we're heading to a government building to receive a mystery stereo for our school. After this unnecessary and ridiculous boombox presentation ceremony, we were flocked by the city press. Following two newspaper reporters, two television interviews, and a beachside newspaper photoshoot, a return to school was the next course of action. I was in the midst of enticing my seventh graders with a half eaten packet of cookies for whoever could produce a coherent english sentence when the students started flipping tables screaming and bolted the room. 6.0 earthquake? No sweat. Afternoon was hanging with our local surf champion stoned out of his head trying to crack jokes and give wave-catching advice til the sun went down. Chile played Colombia in a world cup qualifier tonight and dismantled them 4-0. Everytime a goal was scored, explosions rained down upon our beach town from neighboring houses. (Yes, Kyle, I am that lazy) And here we are.

Last weekend we celebrated birthdays. The theme was consumption. Saturday night we opted for liquids, Sunday night we switched to solids. In between those two festivals we tore apart a dance floor, I led a parade through the city's main street, and I had a Mercedes escort driving me to supermarkets in an all-out search for a proper ham and cheese sandwich. Allow me to explain.

Saturday night we tore apart a dance floor.

The anniversary of my school's foundation was this week. Clearly, a Sunday morning parade was essential. I showed up still feeling wonderful from the previous nights aforementioned activities and wandered amidst my students to the front of our formation. I began an improptu mock North Korean march to the beat of the army drums waiting for us in the plaza for my own amusement. Students started to chant and not wanting to make too much more of a spectacle of myself than I already was, I halted the high leg kicks and walked over to my principal and asked where I should locate myself as the parade was almost underway. Smiling, she pointed over my shoulder and signaled that I should retrace my steps to the previous location as I was about to lead this fine contingent of public school students down the city streets. Lead I did. A left-right-left cadence consumed my pace for the majority of the city stroll and I imagine those lining the streets behind metal barricades were most likely disturbed by how seriously gringo #1 was taking this joyous ceremony. Figuring I couldn't pencil in when exactly I would lead my next parade, I started busting out salutes and bows to the flag waving crowds. I was rolling.

Later that day, I got a call from one of our school administrators who I had spent a Friday afternoon sharing buffet steak and casually hitting on, allowing me to acquire a tutoring position for her 7 year old terror. She proceeded to ruin my planned Sunday of Slumber and swung by the house post parade to take me home to babysit young Ivan. Realizing that I couldn't play PS2 with her son on an empty stomach, she procceded to make stops at every supermarket that would please a delicate American stomach. Four grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and a pint of peach juice later, I met Ivan's entire Star Wars collection (a brief light saber battle occurred), rattled off some xylophone jams, and got bunny ears'd in a family portrait that I'm expecting to be mantle-worthy.

And then it was time for a proper birthday feast at MacKenzie's. An ideal 24 hours undoubtedly. A five day trek to Macchu Piccu followed by a Thursday-Sunday independence day celebratory binge awaits. What will happen will happen.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Family matters?

I live with a host family. As do the six other individuals joining me here in an attempt to find out what happens when they stop being polite and start getting real real real. Therein lies the problem. Reality hits during a 5 AM beach jaunt or when the sun goes down on our caged basketball courts, both situations which could be used as justification for a bootknife purchase in the near future. But as for bringing the real to these real folks housing me for a solid four months, keeping things PG is my only interest and concern. Showing up at Colin's house with an entire night's preparation to watch an unknown tennis match at 3:30 that morning has tamed us a tad after his family sat in awe and watched our own personal attempts at verbal volleys. Unforced errors galore.

Norma is my new mother. Surrogate mother of the ghetto side of town, she's retired but still housing, educating, and feeding the Iquique youth in ways that would shame the local orphanages. Her English suit is not the strongest and with this she holds firm to the idea that the louder the words are spoken, the more sense I will make of them, whether be it Spanish or English. Along with our Bolivian maid (I guess is the right word?) she's a cullinary wizard. I've yet to have the same meal twice since I entered the home and comida complaints are at an all time low.

Next up is Juan. Serbian roots and a love for poetry has created this clean shaven 65 year old gentlemen I spend morning van rides with. While a solid average of two sentences are shared per ride, I cherish the way he follows my form by spending every other day at the gas station pushing that gas needle up to a sixteenth of a tank. Awkwardness abounds during most meals where the women of the household basically spoonfeed, bib, and wipe the two of us traditionally dominant males. At day two here I hit the end of new conversations to bring up to Juan so my daily queries to fill the everlasting silence that our meals consist of have come to attempted would you rathers involving walls, newborns, and puppies. Well, not quite yet, but we're closing in on it.

And then there's Ilona. A sixteen year old Catholic school girl who I imagine the nuns have already pegged as a future replacement. Ilona delights in Saturday mornings, where she receives math tutoring and later joins her local church group in the evenings. She brings the most personal amusement in the household due to her incorruptible attributes. I've yet to beat her at a board/card game where I haven't cheated and I've at the very least attempted to warp her impressions of American cultures with fables about daily activities. Hot tea must be drank with two hands at all times, it is acceptable for me to currently have more than one wife because they share the same name, and a popular condiment is freshly ground bar soap.

So that's the fam. Although it's a trip back to age 15 with weeknight curfews and daily "how was school" interrogations, I'm enjoying the experience that comes with spending a signficant time period within the walls of a local household. My spanish has no choice but to improve along with bedmaking skills and table etiquette. And they still keep things fresh. Last weekend, after visiting and feasting at the masonic lodge father Juan is a proud president of, our car ride home took a turn for the what the hell is going on as he and his lodge companion Dario decided to pull over on a random side street without a word. They then proceeded to surround a red Hyundai station wagon parked on a dirt patch in front of a small home. Eventually the home's owners noticed two senior citizens ravenously circling and prodding their car and went out to investigate. Three minutes later, Juan and Dario have acquired the keys and taken off in the Hyundai to locations unknown, returning roughly fifteen minutes later. I'm on my fourth game of cellphone snake at this point, which I was using to keep my mind off the possible hijacking I just witnessed. Two minutes upon return, Juan has his checkbook out and is dotting i's and crossing t's on his one million peso purchase, which was as simple as three glasses of wine, one candy red station wagon, and twenty minutes of consideration.

Understandably, each of here are getting our own unique taste of family life. Bree has siblings who insist on being our own personal weekend chauffeurs, Kristen has a swimming pool, MacKenzie has Lola, and Annie has a fetus. As for Colin, a few days earlier I asked about his current state of affairs and when he'd be ready to head to a soccer match. His response, "Actually, no not yet, probably not for a little bit. My host dad has just taken over my room and is playing a flight simulator on the computer in there." Well, he has that.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Like the desert's masquerade"

Today, I really screwed up. Separate reprimands occurred when I touched two flagpoles, stood on a cement block, closed a taxi door, and expected government service past noon on a weekday. And, this is Chile. Land of the backwards, slow, incompetent, ineffecient, and homeless. But honestly, I love it. Why bother crossing borders to get a taste of the usual? Adaptation will occur and especially with a future four month stop in the ever-so-slow tropics, our eventual return to the pace of Boston will hit harder than a bowl of speed, brown sugar, and oatmeal.

Onto a week's recap. Last night was a high school tournament of the cuerca. A dance known for its white bandana twirling, spurred heels, and a moustached man screaming CUERCA over his guitar beat, it made the most of our Tuesday. In preparation for the dance-off me and a few ladies hit up a grocery store to find a bag of frijoles to share. I actually ended up purchasing some fruits from the finest of clerks who sat back and watched as I asked about the price range of her box of oranges. A basic translation of what transpired: "I'm sorry, I have no idea what you're referring to. These round, orange, citrus fruits you're pointing at clearly are not oranges. Go ahead, ask me about them again. Oh, I'm sorry, do you mean the mandarinas? Yes, dumbass, they're 20 peso per fruta. Now please place that pineapple down and do not strike me in the skull with it." Two wrongs never make a right, but I now feel like I've been granted at least one future opportunity to play dumb and distatesfully sit and watch an Asian/Mexican/Alabaman-American struggle over the proper usages of much vs. many.

Considering other moments to sit back and marvel at... Last weekend a tame Friday night was in order. We accepted an invite to a high school karaoke night only to discover that this was a teacher-only event. And an event it was. Three standing mics were placed for those singing chorus, a few microphones were dispersed amidst the rest of the audience, all facing the projected karaoke music videos. After an awkward entrance, we slowly worked our way into their graces as we embraced these spanish jams for what they were, brought in a few slow claps and chimed in with the lalala sections, which the majority of their songs featured. Then came the chorizo. To explain, it's no more than a 6 inch sausage (jokes stop there) which can be covered with the wide array of condiments (and there) that they utilize for nearly every meal of every day. A man who I pray is not allowed to call himself a teacher was in charge of distributing these grilled meats to all and he decided that these sausages were so other-worldly that they should be celebrated as such. Thus, he screamed "Chorizo!" to every single individual he provided one to. And to those he didn't. And to every pause in a karaoke jam. Chorizo Man eventually made his way out to the improptu reggaeton 40 plus dance fest that broke out post barbecue and felt that his twisting hips should be complimented with joyous sausage shouts. I'm learning so much.

To add one other evening of note was our attendance at a school competition that was culminating after four days of athletics, eating contests, and dance-offs rewarded with an unknown prize. Intensity and hormones at its peak. A sampling of competitions to note: Music. Harmless, harmonius, and as we first walked into the school gymnasium, Kansas' Dust in the Wind was being played and sung flawlessly. Following this fine melody? A swimsuit grind competition of course. Where thongs and onstage body meshing was in order all for the watchful eye of the middle aged male teachers judging the talent pool. Next were the three live music videos which revolved around empty beer bottles, impregnation, and pimps. Colin and I had averted our views to the fourth floor railing and were watching paint peel at this point. Students offered freshly cut locks of hair to gain more points and we were just leaving as three bra-piles were being made on the stage to signify which team had the biggest, let's say winners. American high school has never felt so lame.

The rest of our days have been additionally enjoyable and interesting. I awaken at 630 most mornings to a rooster crow who continues until the sun rises over our easter sand hills at around 930. During a breakfast of tea and bread, I'll sit and listen to either the propane tank truck drive around the city while its spoon stocked percussionist stands in the back of the truck clanging away or the man in the egg-van announce via megaphone that he has the best eggs in all the village. A few hours of teaching gets thrown in here and there and then I'll eventually make the fifteen minute stroll south to the waves which are alarmingly growing by day. Surf lessons have begun for us, as have the subsequent bruises, scrapes, and welts. One fine game of tennis ball ocho once has been created and occurs regularly until vagrant dog decides to join. And today I attempted to walk only in 90 degree angles, which basically backfired during our visit to the dead alligator glass exhibit. This is what I'm working with and have no problem enjoying it for what it's worth. Chao chao.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"You know you've entered the desert when chalk boards become street signs."

It's been a week and a half. Slacking, Andy, slacking. School has hit full swing and beyond the daily shout outs and juice box offerings, I've started to settle in as a staple at my Croatian colegio. I've come to the realization that while Asia rivals my Chileans in the height department, they have unquestionable ownership as English speakers. I imagine a decathalon is in order. (I'm not quite sure why thoughts of leading revolutions with my newfound apprentices in my current nation of residency is so appealing.)

Breaking down the number 18 and the word "good" to fifteen year-olds has slowed planned classes substantially, but my role here is teaching by whatever means. Things get more difficult with the realization that basic topics such as family members and homes are sensitive issues. A greater portion of my beloved students come from single-parent household, living in projects within the drug-infested regions neighboring the school. Foster homes are also the norm and if parents are still in the picture, it is not uncommon that so are alcohol or prostitution. No storied success has ever been brought about through the ease of a football jersey in room of inebriated freshmen ladies. And like the freshmen male dropping every possible human connection along with a 100 pack of Solo cups, 4 ping pong balls, and a promise as permanent marker slut to gain entrance to said party, I eagerly accept this challenge and marvel at the smaller successes as they come.

So really, what have I done? Lots. We went to a club not named Kamikaze and cleared out a gringo quarter of the dance floor, while staring up at a wall of males with gold chains and gel observing the female dancers in a three-deep ring as if they were preparing to purchase a steed at auction. We spent one night beachside til the hazy sunrise, enduring a few car chase sequences. Another beach night just passed and this one began with verbal battles of sexism and nearly ended with a personal battle of yours truly with a lad whose fist was amusingly wrapped in a chain as a he prepared to connect it with a skull two feet higher than his. Oh yes, we also met a supposed Al Qaeda member who promised our death on one truly purgatorial Saturday of wandering under gloomy skies amdist abandoned alleys. In all honesty, tennis ball craving dog packs have been the only things to make me truly fear my surroundings. We went to Pica. An oasis two hours from our beach town, we bathed in clear blue skies, nearly clear blue hot springs, and certainly not blue rock-face purification. Bus rides were spent creating new sounds of music (patent pending) and rejecting mayonnaise sandwiches. Would you rather spend the rest of your days living in a desert hut or on a sailboat in a never-ending ocean? My first voyage to the desert had me opting for the latter. Beautiful in many ways, I couldn't escape the desolation and loneliness offered by the Atacama, the world's driest land of sand. I enjoyed some of the best mango drinks of my mango career, although the how and why of an oasis was never realized. Three days in this sunny oasis brought us back to Doggis. Hoo doogy doggy doggy. Hot dog value meals have never looked so appetizing.

And, in closing, Dia de los Ninos. Another silver platter to the 7 volunteers from America. Of course, the twenty-somethings were provided gifts of shaving cream, socks, and keychains for this day celebrated nation-wide by pre-schoolers. Personal gratitude will never equate the overwhelmingly welcoming arms of our families and friends here in Chile. The best service I can do to repay them is to carry their smiles and selflessness with me on my way.


Transitions, transitions. An ever-changing daily itinerary and lifestyle provide me with precious few moments for self-reflection. Thus, this writing is both inner relevation and constant bewilderment at my current surroundings. I have spent the last week or so coming to a realization that my life no longer revolves around the Wednesday night Gauntlet, thursday night Qdoba, and the ever-popular ever-deadly Mad Dog Friday (some traditions need to be continued regardless of income or supposed maturity).

Putting college debauchery behind me, I hit the Asian circuit and hit it hard in the incomparable illumination of Tokyo. Good times were had, good time passed and Taiwan embraced me as temporary resident. The planned final stop of the Hear Candy duo's tri-country yearly adventure, I found a second home in this happy, humid island nation and greatly anticipate my return to Luxy, Guting, and midnight basketball. Thailand wreaked havoc on my inner and outer self for a few weeks and I left craving a vacation from this vacation. Stateside was both welcoming and white (the snow not the people). Families and friends were years older yet recognizable. Bad habits die hard as do good ones and the daily routine I had been accustomed to for the first 22 years of my American life seemed to be waiting for me as I eventually succumbed over the next few weeks. Culture shock will always hit but will never compare to its reversal. So you're telling me that while my last turbulent 15 months have been surprise after ball pit after chicken cartilage, the motions have simply been continued through here back home? You can never return expecting the same and when that's what you receive, another global expedition is required. Welcome to EF Tours, college campus bottled into a ten story office. Motivation here was not the beeramids stacked in manager rooms nor the goal-hitting taco bonus. No, a paycheck called me to a corporate world I had never wished to be a part of. (A holler at CUSTOMIZED) Dreary January led way to a balmy July departure as South America beckoned. And now this. Reality shows, 10 dollar Mexican meals, and Orange Jubille have since transitioned to street-roaming mutts, oases, and Sunday night Arabian musical performances echoing down from my roof.

When does this all end? Only time will tell. Maybe the "settling down" ideal will hit and finally stick. Maybe deportation charges will limit further travel. Or maybe there is no end. Recently purchasing insurance from the ironically named Global Nomad Co. may have been a declaration of this lifestyle under possible careers. Until then, where I am is where I am meant to be and no one can tell me otherwise.

As an anonymous dude once said, "The beautiful thing about life is knowing that we're the ones who get to put it all together."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

If I wasn't a celebrity...

Seriously, this is ridiculous. Gringo takeover is in full-swing here in Iquique and I couldn't be more intrigued, disturbed, nor in awe of my own white skin and green eyes. Besides entering every high office in this regional capitol, being interviewed for newspapers and nightly news, and treated like Victorian royalty, our entrance to our respective schools was overwhelming. Having taught before in Worcester city public schools, I was used to the blossoming high school sophomore females telling me they'd "show me a trick or two" in the parking lot during lunch hour. Having taught in Asia, I was used to the wide eyed fascination as I towered over World of Warcraft wizards and lonely housewives alike. But this was something new. While scraping my brain to try and find suitable comparisons to my welcoming, here's what I'm getting. Joaquin Phoenix as newly appointed emperor Commodus' extravagant entry to Rome in "Gladiator" is a clip you might want to view. And then double it.

Yes, every square inch of the halls, overhangs, and stairwells were flooded with curious eyes. But so was the courtyard where I sat alone in a folding chair, flocked by 700 students. Where they danced for me. And sang. And presented me with gifts of stale candy, plastic bracelets, high fives, and shouts of "te amo". What time did you line up the human sacrifice? Connecting with the scene from Gladiator more than anything, was my own feeling that this was all unwarranted. What have I done besides hop a flight south and take a four month adventure in a semi-developed country? I've got the transfer of wine to urine down quite nicely but water to wine wasn't something I was ready to produce quite yet in front of the adoring throngs. Brad Pitt's never had as much sympathy. While the impossibility of making more than 6 inch strides due to a 10 student deep personal circle of worshippers is not something I currently have any qualms with, I can't imagine this going on for four more months. And maybe it won't. Fads ebb and flow, and if I have to analogize my school experience with Pogs, that's something I can be content with. Interestingly enough, the school has such low standards due to its socio-economic position in the Chilean grand scheme of things, that a weekly Simon Says and possible Pictionary lesson might just be all they're looking for. But just hearing the unfortunate plights of the majority of these students, does not allow me to give just that. Intrinsic value for education somehow peaks with the underprivileged and at this critical juncture in their lives, being an educator is more powerful than any other career imaginable.

After speaking with my fellow volunteers, it seems that they too received deity treatment. Extending our own personal popularity to those less fortunate within the school is just as much our responsibility as an hour of present continous verbs. If this is my fifteen minutes of fame, I'll take it. Now fork over another package of oreos, Gabriela.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Where to begin?

I'm happy. I'll start with that. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind, a mix of late nights, awkward looks, treacherous hikes, and painful classrooms. Attempting to take every moment in for what it is and not consider what it isn't, this trip has so far been more than I could have imagined. Talking with counterpart Colin last night as to how to summarize the events of the previous days: Connecticut to New York City to Bogota to Santiago to finally Iquique, it's just beyond the realm of possibilities. However, sharing an inside joke an outside joke or a disturbingly awful pumpkin ice cream joke will still at least allow me to keep track of this year's adventure that we set out to achieve something. Whether be it peace of mind, the allure of the open road, the beauty of a drunken tumble down a sand dune, or pure and simple freedom, I can not say, nor may I be able to when all is said and done. And off we go. Too many points of no return have been crossed and I could not be more satisfied and impressed with myself and my fellow travelers for doing so.

Prior to becoming a bloggist, I decided to yahoo search the bag out of insightful travel quotes to reveal my inner author. Check it out, I'm legit, I'll inundate you with Mark Twain and Confucius. No, that can't be me. If someone even finds the effort within their basement twilight hours to read this, prepare to be not disappointed by me. Jesus, look at that gem I dropped right there. Anyways, I'll give you what I've got. Drunk bloggings will never look or feel so good. Nor will Southern Americans females, or as the Cheyennese say "them woms". Showing up last thursday, expectations were high. Toothless wonders offering jewel encrusted denim on the streets of Bogota got things started off proper. A city to behold. Surrounded by massive cliffs on three sides, the city spreads and like all ciudades, has its good and its bad. We didn't hit the posh areas where our future brides awaited, but we got a real look and I enjoyed the way the numerous threats from security and information about the city's dangers were quickly washed away with an absurdly sweet bottle of coca cola. Little to our knowledge, our third traveling companion Bree has been taken out of her airport bathroom stall she was starting to flood with vomit from the previous night's activities by colombian police. Not exactly the best way to start a journey or the people I'd choose to share it with. Spanglish opened the door to allow her womanly ways to start an improptu english class with the officials eventually allowing her to go to our terminal with some hydration salts and a pat on the ass. No, that's not true.

Hello, Santiago. Goodbye sense of sight, respiratory system, and liver. Our hostel awaited the 80 volunteers hailing mainly from the US. First impressions are book covers. It's amazing what a week can do. A climb up the impressive and spiritual Saint Cristobal Mountain upon sunset whose beauty mirrored the Christ the Redeemer of Brazil only in Virgin Mary form. Ricardo, the troubled uncle and his two sherpa nephews led the way up slopes lined with Peligroso, and I have my Rainbows to thank for their tenacity as we endured this two hour ascent up cliff after boulder cliff after forest hook up interruption after an eventual summit. Pope John Paul II said mass here and for very good reason. With the Andes on your left, the stone altar and entire city of Santiago ahead and below and a sunset on your right, all your missing is a massive statue of Mary. And there she is behind me. So, as all nights begin, a few beers were in order upon return and that led to citywide latenight exploration. And god are we good at dancing. Wait, me grabbing your waste and moving sideways is not a dance in this country? Some salsa needs to be acquired and fast before the molestation charges hit. The next seven days can be summarized as such:

Drug induced hostel receptionists asking if they can be Mr. Burns
Hoo-doggys galore
Stammering former english teachers attempting to provide insight on classroom management
3 mile runs through the smog-ridden streets. hike the pants boys and girls.
do i remember packing my bags?
the finest bus ride of my life.

Seriously, I don't know what to say. We took the best out of Santiago we could with the seven days we were given. A moment wasn't spared and a lunch lady wasn't left without a box of strawberries...or pepperoni pizza. Our volunteers are amazing. They share a willingness to get out and help in whatever way they can. Again, I was reminded why I take these chances, jump on a random bus, and talk to that shady homeless guy. People never cease to amaze.

And to conclude, Iquique. Wow. Beyond the geographical contrast of towering sand hills to my right and perfect blue waves riding into our shores a few miles west, I'm the midst of a natural disaster nightmare. A rainfall brings our mudslide demise and an earthquake leads to nothing more than a city-wide tsunami. God's on our side. Juan, the community leader and possible mob boss led our way to family birthday party then governor's office then to seaside hotel. It was miraculous, the week-long hangover telling us it cant be real, but somehow here we are. The last two days we dazzled local news reporters and spent time deciding with our teachers how to force english words down the Chilean throats. Colegio Republica de Croacia, named for the zero Croatians residing in or founding the school, promises cement blocks and a loving fanbase of students. Expectations have been set extremely low by cooperating teachers and locals, so when I lead this band of rebellious impoverished youths down the city streets to spend our classes playing futsol on the beach's sand, I'm not expecting much criticism. I honestly wish I could have written less and spent more time with my new familia or conquering sleep depravation, but that's the minimal gist of our travels thus far. Until next time.