Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Photos of Cuba...At Last!

I just finished uploading my photos of Cuba. Sorry it took so long. Also my apologies for sucking at keeping this a regular blog. I had an unplanned trip back to The States for a couple of weeks (it's a long story), and during that time I didn't blog. I am however back in Buenos Aires now. I've settled into an apartment in the beautiful and chic neighborhood of Palermo Soho. The next step is to do something with my life!

I'm still working on all of my photos from Mexico. But until I get those up, enjoy these:

cheers and besos

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A bit of fresh air and exercise in Santiago de Cuba

One does not jog in Santiago de Cuba. One may rush, walk quickly, trot, or even run if they are hurrying from point A to point B; if they are avoiding a speeding car, motorcycle, or horse and buggy, if they are competing to hustle a tourist for a few dollars, or if they are retreating from said tourist, who is fed up with hustlers and threatens to call for the police. But one does not job for exercise or recreation. It simply is not done.

I know this, but I go for a jog anyways. I know that people don`t jog because it`s too hot, I know the sun is too strong, I know that many Cubans don`t consume enough calories to waste them jogging in circles. I know all of this and yet I still go jogging. In Cuba I eat white rice, white bread, personal pizzas that cost 20 cents (yes they really cost 20 cents and yes they taste like it), and multiple ice cream cones daily. I need to go jogging.

Never in my life have so many people stared at me so blatantly and so hard. I`ve walked the streets of St. Louis, Colorado Springs, Madrid, and Washington, DC in miniskirts. I`ve gone to breeder-bars and hetero-clubs in full drag face. I`ve been known on campus and the boy (?) with pink hair. I`ve been the only foreigner in rural Mexican towns. And still, I promise you, never before have I been stared at like I am while jogging in Santiago de Cuba.

People freeze in mid-step, their ice cream cones rapidly melting, to watch me pass. Twenty people congregating on the corner, all engaged in spirited conversations as they wait for the truck--once used to haul livestock but now used for public transport--suddenly become silent (all of them) and collectively watch me cross the street while dodging bicycle taxis, motorcycle taxis, car taxis, horse-drawn taxis, and the train. Old men engrossed in a game of dominoes look up from the table (unheard of unless it´s to argue) as I streak by. Small children point as I near them and ask their mothers, "what is he doing mamá?" Too confused themselves to chastise their children for pointing, they respond, "I don´t know. I don´t know." I feel as if I don´t pass a single person who doesn´t momentarily pause to ponder what the hell I am doing.

Maybe it´s my outfit, I think to myself. I´m wearing hiking shorts and my blaring white chest is bare. Around my left arm is my iPod, blasting reggatoón remixes to keep me motivated and running on-beat (Gywau, I find that Beyonce keeps me on my stride). My head is covered with a bright yellow bandanna to keep the sweat from my eyes. I have no illusions of blending in, but when I stop running to have a breather, I only get half as many stares. Half as many stares is about normal, I calculate I start running again and the stares redouble.

Jogging through the streets of Santiago is like running cross-country or an urban obstacle course. The sidewalks rise and fall dramatically. I rather run in the street where I only have to jump over pot-holes every third or fourth stride, but the constant passing of dump trucks keeps me hopping from the poorly maintained streets to the ever poorer maintained sidewalks. I come upon a pot-hole so large that it no longer can be called a pothole. This crevasse stretches the width of the street and is six feet long. It is one-foot deep with brown water. I climb a pile of rock and rubble to avoid the moat.

As I run I can feel the grit collecting on my face and up my nose. When a car or truck passes it spews out thick black exhaust that hangs in the air, refusing to dissipate until I run, wheezing, through it. I think to myself that breathing in the exhaust particles is doing more damage to my lungs than all the cigarettes I smoked in high school combined.

I stop to cover my mouth and nose with my bandanna and look at the soviet-style apartment complexes surrounding me. I´ve been passing these hideous structures (classic community style architecture is actually quite rare in Cuba, which is known for gorgeous neo-classical and colonial buildings) for ten minutes and haven´t a clue as to where I am (the communist living blocks some how didn´t make it into the guide book). Beginning to tire, I decide it would be best to ask for directions back to the city center. I approach a friendly looking middle-aged woman and politely ask if she could point me in the right direction. She looks at me, her mouth slightly open, her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. She stares at me for a good 30 seconds, looking me up and down to take me all in before making me repeat the question.
"El centro?" she responds, "ooohhh its far away. You can´t walk from here. You have to find a truck along the highway."
"Oh, no, I`m going to run to el centro," I tell her.
"You are going to run there?" she asks, furrowing her eyebrows even more.
"Yes. Run. For excessive."
"Aaahhhh OK. It`s that direction, over there." She points straight down the highway. I smile, thank her, restart Chamillionare on my iPod, and continue, chuckling softly.

When I arrive back at José`s, I tell him about how everyone stared at me as if they had never seen anyone out for a jog before. He nods his head in an understanding and almost sympathetic manner. Today he is wearing camo shorts, a fitted camo t-shirt tucked in, and a camo bandana wrapped tightly over his head. I have to bite the inside of my cheek to stop myself from laughing.
"Siiiii," he says, "they probably think you are a little crazy, but pay them no attention. You`ll have a cuerpo diez (ten-body--as in a body rated a ten on a scale from one to ten) and then what can they say? NADA!" He slaps his hands together and then throws his arms up in the air. I smile, nod my head in agreement and repeat "NADA" also throwing my arms up in the air.

I return to my room and giggle while imagining how people would react if they saw me during my cardio striptease routine.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

¡Saludos Boludos!

I am writing to you from the land of boludos, che, chamuyeros, chetos, parillas, and porteños. In order words, I am back in Buenos Aires, and I couldn´t be happier. In the next week I´ll reconnect with friends, find a place to live, stroll the streets of my Buenos Aires querrido, stuff my face with Cumaná, and dance all night at Plop. I will update you on all of that in due time, but first I have a promise to fulfill.

Many of you have asked to hear "all about Cuba," and I think my initial post left many of you scratching your heads or concerned (however I´m glad to see that at least a few of you got the joke). Rather than explain it, let´s just move on. I think for many of us, Cuba holds endless mystery. Few countries have survived the cold war, a missile stand-off, a CIA-backed invasion, dozens of attempted presidential assassinations, sporadic acts of terrorism, and a strict US-trade-and-travel embargo, especially countries whose leaders boast (quite forcefully) of revolution and socialism so close to United States soil. For those of us who like to consider ourselves ´travelers,´ Cuba is in a class of its own. It´s forbidden and therefore intriguing. Cuba is the land of salsa, mambo, Hemingway, mojitos, daiquiris, resistance, and above all, perseverance.

I´ll be honest--to date Cuba has been the most difficult place in which I´ve ever travelled. Nothing I had read (and I had read quite a bit about Cuba) and no one with whom I had spoken (and ya´ll know I like to talk) about Cuba adequately prepared me for this country. There were many times I felt frustrated and that frustration turned to anger because I thought that every moment in Cuba was supposed to be adventure-filled and spectacular. A few afternoons I felt lonely and helpless even, and I slept for hours locked away in my private, air conditioned room. There was even a day I thought about changing my ticket and flying to Buenos Aires early.

It wasn´t until two days before I left that I added it all up--frustration, anger, loneliness, helplessness, irregular sleep--and realized I was experiencing the classic symptoms of culture shock. I had only experienced culture shock once before and that was upon returning to the US after studying in Argentina. Never had I been culture shocked in a foreign country. The reason? I can´t be sure, but I think it is because I usually do a fairly good job of clearing my mind of expectations when I arrive in a new place. If I expect nothing, than I am open to everything, and ready for anything. But I realized that I was so determined to fall in love with Cuba, so eager to connect with Cubans, to see their country through their eyes, that I didn´t recognize all the expectations I carried with me. So there I was, culture shocked and only a marathon swim away from the Florida Keys.

I don´t want to lead you to believe my trip to Cuba was a bust, because it was anything but. It was rewarding, refreshing, adventurous, and enlightening. I learned years ago that we learn and grow the most when we are uncomfortable, which means that I do not regret even the times I found most difficult. I just want to be honest, and I am going to write about all of my experiences in Cuba, not just the travel brochure moments (which don´t come too often considering my travel style). My first blog will be a series of shorts from my journal beginning at the beginning and ending at the end. In that way, I can write about Cuba from many different angles, and then expand on a few themes in later blogs.

As far as photos go, I hear you all clamouring, but I can´t upload them until I have my computer, which is currently in transit to Buenos Aires. Once I am able to sort through all of them, I´ll put them on my Flickr page, and let you all know.

As always, I love hearing from you all, either through email, gchat, or through comments on my blog.

much love and many kisses


p.s. maybe i should just say that all of this is based on what i THINK cuba would be like if i had actually been there.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

This is not Cuba.

This is not Cuba. I am not in Cuba. I did not arrive safe and sound. I am not having a grand time. Havana is not a city unlike I have ever experienced in my whole life. I am not obsessed with trying to figuer out how it "works." Last night I did not see a Cuban drag show hidden away from the meddling police officers in a far away park. I will not write lots of blogs and posts hundreds of photos once I arrive in Buenos Aires Oct 7th.

I am not sending much love and many kisses


Friday, September 12, 2008

My name is not Moguely. Get me the hell out of the jungle.

In Tziscao the roosters have formed a chorus. One rooster crows "I´m a big bad rooster," and another rooster across the way responds, "I´m a bigger and badder rooster." Then a rooster down the road interjects, "well I'm the biggest and baddest rooster there ever was." It continues like this. If you are under the impression that roosters crow only at sunrise, let us remedy that now--they crow all day...and all night...even when I plead with them to shut up at 3 am. In Tziscao camping at on the lake with access to bathrooms and showers at the ecotourist lodge cost 80 pesos (USD 8). Camping down the road in someone´s back yard with the same services cost 30 pesos. In Tziscao vegetarian food at the comedor with the sign that reads: Hay Comida Vegetariana--Vegetariant Foods" means they serve cheese quesadillas.

In Frontera Corozal my hatred for perspiration is reaffirmed. I sleep with a sweat band around my wrist to more easily catch the drip, drop, drip of sweat from my nose in the middle of the night. I normally don´t use bug spray--its bad for the body and for the environment and it smells bad and makes you sticky--but in Corozal the mosquito bites (for which I normally have great tolerance) leave welts. I reapply the OFF every two hours. As I fall asleep in my tent I listen to the squeaks of animals that resemble rats but live in the trees above. I hope that the hundreds of wolf spiders I saw while pitching my tent don´t find their way inside. I tell myself that I was made for the mountains.

In Yaxchilán I can see Guatemala across the River. I feel like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. I´m alone on remote jungle paths to Mayan ruins deep in the Lacandona Jungle. Above me are family groups of howler monkeys lazily strewn about branches of tall and sacred Ceiba trees. The males are screaming at each other. My Angelina Jolie fantasy continues until I get a face full of spider web and see the biggest spiders I´ve ever had the misfortune of seeing. I continue, but walk cautiously, waving a stick in circular motions in front of me in order to avoid attempted spider attacks. Now I just feel nelly.

In Palenque the ruins are spectacular (if considerably more crowded with tourists than Yaxchlán), but it is so stifling that I worry about heat stroke. I decide not to take the tour to the waterfalls of Agua Azul and the swimming hole of Misol-Ha--there are waterfalls in Argentina (big ones) and a swimming pool at the campgrounds, I tell myself. The US$15 I save by not taking the tour allows me to splurge on a large lunch at the restaurant rather than the cookies and tortillas I would have eaten otherwise. I suck on a fudgesicle for desert, and I am happy. I lounge at the pool for as long as I can tolerate the heat. I liberally apply sun-block but worry it doesn´t soak in, because I´m sweating profusely. It´s useless anyways as the sun is so strong it doesn´t tan before it burns, it just jumps directly to the latter.

After I skip Agua Azul and Misol-Ha, I skip Ocosingo and Toniná. I also skip Bonampak, in my hurry to get to Cancún (what are a few skipped ruins? I ask myself. They´ve survived 1,000 years. They´ll survive until my next visit (assuming I survive for my next visit)). I tell myself that my willingless to leave Chiapas early and thus decrease my chances of running into Subcomandante Marcos, my beloved Zapatista rebel leader, is evidence of travelling for too long of a stretch.

I sit in the bus station waiting, reading Cuba In Mind. I think to myself that it´s possibly the most appropriately titled book of all time. In Cancún I will rest. I will prepare. I will buy a skimpy bathing suit with the money I saved by skipping the waterfalls, the sinkhole, the ruins, and the other ruins. I´m excited to arrive in Buenos Aires on October 7th. But I have one small stop--one giant stop-- before I get there. When I get to Cancún, I´ll visit the bookstore and buy another book about Cuba, because it´s still on my mind. It´s all I can think about.

As Marcos says, vale and salud. As I say, much love and many besos.


p.s. I am sad that my low tolerance for jungle heat and jungle sweat and jungle bugs means that I can not live happily ever after with Subcomandante Marcos. Perhaps he will consider a vacation home some place more agreeable to my sensibilities and keep me as his mistress there.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

My ass hurts!

Saludos Boludos!

My butt is so sore that I can`t sit right (don`t be dirty--it`s not that kind of blog). Today I went mountain biking in the hills around San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas (Mexico), and that bike seat was so hard I swear to god I bruised my butt bones.

In addition to sore cheeks, I have a few scrapes and bruises and a bump on the head that proves I underestimated the technical difficulty of mountain biking. Yup, I was that one. Somebody had to go flying off their bike, and it was me. It happened while my dumb ass was speeding down a rocky, muddy hill and the woman in front of me skidded to a stop. I swerved to avoid her, bounced over a big rock then flew over the handle-bars. By instinct my arms flew out in front of me to break my fall, but by second instinct I pulled them back in to protect my shoulders. As a result, I fell on my face (thankfully I was wearing a helmet) and then tumbled over belly-up. For a split second I was happy that my shoulders were well situated in their sockets (just how I like them incidentally), and ten the bike crashed down on my head (again, thankfully I was wearing a helmet).

After a few choice words I said, "Fuck it! I quit!" I struggled to throw the bike off and sit up, but the guide rushed over and shoved me back down. He ordered the second guide, his German wife (surprisingly there are a good number of German ex-pats living in San Cristóbal) to elevate my feet. I meekly try to wiggle out of their grips, still grumbling for them to leave me be--"I`ll hitchhike back dammit!" The guide tells me to shut up and keep breathing. He keeps me there until my racing pulse returns to semi-normal and then makes me eat some candy to raise my blood sugar.

Once I had calmed down and sucked on the Carmelo a bit, I realized I wasn`t much worse for the wear. There was more mud than blood, my shoulders were still intact, and a few aspirins would cure that dull throbbing in my head. Slightly embarrassed about threatening to desert, I tried to smile (which I`m sure was more of a grimace) and said, "Vamos!"

And so my search for an outdoor adventure sport continues. I thought maybe that falling off the bike was like falling off a horse or wiping out while skiing--you can`t get better until you eat it a few times. But I don`t think I want to eat any more. We can cross mountain biking off the list. It will join scuba diving and surfing, due to my irrational fear of sharks and limited ability to swim. White water rafting and kayaking, while fun, are not my jam, so they are nixed too. I`m holding my breath for rock climbing. I`m not a fan of heights, but I think its high time that I conquer that fear. Not only would climbing make me feel like a bad ass, but I bet it will give me great shoulder definition and won`t hurt my ass!

amor y besos


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I turned 23 on a bus

So as many of you know, I had planned on spending my 23rd birthday in San José del Paífico, walking through tranquil pine forrests and chilling in the mountains. I instead found myself staring at my watch at 12 am September 1st and wishing myself a happy birthday on an overnight bus from the town of Pochutla to San Cristóbal de las Casas.

San José is a small town nestled in the high mountains of Oxaca. I found the legendary house named La Casa de Doña Catalina, an aging spiritualist from Spain who now lives in Oaxaca. I had heard stories about this house from friends and travellers who I have met along the way. The Inside feels like a cozy cave with trippy 3-D art painted and nailed to the wall that jumps out at the observer no matter what state of mind. After doing the few "tourist" activities the town boasts, I spent an adventurous afternoon with a couple 20-something year old Mexican drifters. In the end, however, I decided that San José wasn`t the place I wanted to be and that I would rather spend my birthday spoiling myself in San Cristóbal.
San Cristóbal de las Casas is a small colonial city in the heart of Chiapas, the southern-most state in Mexico most well known for its poverty, coffee, and Zapatistas. I had been looking forward to visiting Chiapas ever since deciding to travel in Mexico, both because of this recent revolutionary history, and also because I got to know a bit about a coffee collective in Chiapas while volunteering at a migrant resource center in Douglas, AZ last winter.

The tourist industry has left a sizeable footprint in San Cristóbal. Most notably in the hundreds of cheap hostels and the plethora of hip restaurants with internationally inspired menues. I fully disclose that my hiking boots immedieately walked through those tourists footprints by indulging in pancakes for breakfast, a four-cheese bangle sandwich that I ate with sinful pleasure for lunch, and a brick-oven pizza for dinner (no judging--it was my birthday!). I also ate two ice cream cones (and I feel good about it!).

After dinner, I sat around the hostel with the other travellers drinking and joking. We all went to bed early, none of us having slept well on the bus the night before. It wasn`t the crazy weekend-long celebration that took place last September first. There were no surprise parties at Adina`s or delicious ice-cream cakes made by Mika, and unfortunately I wasn`t surrounded by my friends and family. BUT, I think there are worse ways to spend one`s birthday than exploring southern Mexico, and you won`t hear any complaints from me.

much love, many besos, and thanks to everyone who sent happy birthday wishes!


Friday, August 29, 2008

I´m too late for my bus to think of a witty title

I feel like a bit of an under-achiever owing to the fact that I have been in Mexico for over a month, travelled to about 10 cities/towns, driven through countless more, spent well over 60 hours in buses (and counting), and have only posted twice. I guess I have a little ways to go before I become a well known blogger and cultural critic and begin attending blogger conventions. My apologies--I´ll work on posting more regularly. And I have been told to write shorter entires, using visual aids, bullet points, and lists. I guess I forgot the blogs are supposed to be written at the 5th grade reading level, so I´ll work on that as well. ;)

In an attempt to make up for lost time (and also because I am lazy), I offer you carefully/randomly selected highlights (and a few lowlights as well) of my first month in Mexico.

1. Punched in the Face. Mexico City (AKA Districto Federal (or simply DF) or simply México), August 1st. While sitting in the Zócolo--the large central plaza of DF--reading a book, out of the corner of my eye I saw a figure taking a swing at me. I manged to duck and for a split second felt a twinge of pride at my feline reflexes when I got hit in the side of the head with the backswing! Who punches like a pendulum anyways? Apparently this man, who smelled strongly of DF´s streets, punches like a pendulum. But before I jumped to my feet to respond, I realized this man was a bit unbalanced (need I remind you all of my irrational fear of crazy people. And yes, I know crazy is a social construction so spare me, I call it irrational don´t I?), and to hurl a stream of curses at him or physically confront him would have not only proved ineffective but also inappropriate. I got up and situated myself 20 yards away (praying he didn´t follow me) and watched as his next equally surprised victim got slapped in the face.

2. Straight boy friend crushes. Zacatecas City (capital of Zacatecas state). I arrived late in the evening and only had the day to explore this small city that thrives with proud Mexican culture and nightlife before catching a 10 pm overnight bus back to DF. As I awoke at 7:30 am to ensure a full day of exploring, my hostel roommates were just returning for their night, happily intoxicated and giggling like school boys. Both from Spain, they were travelling in Mexico for a couple months after finishing studying abroad in Puebla. I had a good feeling about them--buena onda--so when they asked me to return around 6 pm to wake them, I happily agreed. We wandered the city together in the evening, had a few beers, and had such a good time that I let them convince me to skip my 10 pm bus and stay out all night with them and make the 5:30 am instead. Look for photos when I finally get around the putting them on flickr.

3. Loss. That very morning I left Zacatecas, I took out my journal so the Spanish boys could give me their emails, but I left it on the kitchen counter of the hostel. I was so sad when I realized what I had done once I was en route to DF that I nearly cried.

4. Acting Up with ACT UP Paris. A few of you have asked me what I thought of the International AIDS Conference (first week of August, Mexico City). I meant to write a whole log about it, but now I´m relegating it to "highlight" status. I arrive at the conference hoping to set up opportunities in Argentina and Brazil While I was able to make a few contacts, I spent most of my time organizing and attending protests with other activists from around the world. Because the wonderful and awesome folks at Health GAP put me up in their hotel, I was well connected to the "activist agenda" (and had the privilege of sharing a bed with the lovely Mary Carol Jennings). Sometimes we would have 5 or 6 protests on the schedule in one day. By far my favorite was an ACT UP Paris (who are all rock stars) demonstration in which we formed a search party to find the missing French government representatives--ooooiiiioooo Sarkoooziii? Another favorite was planning and carrying out a take-over of the US Government booth in a matter of hours. Lots of great sex worker activism as well! Until I get my pics of the conference up on flickr, you can check out Cameron´s page:

5. We bought a pig. Well we bought a dead pig. Well, we killed a pig and then bought it. OK OK, we killed the pig, then paid the owners some money, and then I think they ate it. On the way to Play Ventura, a small fishing village on the Pacific cost of Guerrero, Mexico (a few hours south of Acapulco), a dog chased a pig out into the road right in front of the Jeep that we rented. It was sad, and I almost cried (poor Charles--he was driving), but the good thing is I think it was as quick as could be.

OK that does it for now. I have a bus to catch. for those of you who are interested, here is my schedule for the next few months: today I head south for a nice trip to San José del Pacífico, where I will spend my birthday. After the big day, I will make one or two stops before arriving in San Cristobal, Chiapas. I plan on spending about two weeks in Chiapas before, hoping, with perseverance and some luck, making it to CENSORED for two weeks. From CENSORED I will fly directly to Buenos Aires, where I´ll be for at least a few months. I once again want to extend an invitation to anyone who wants to visit. Just let me know and, as long as I have room in my bed or on my floor, you have a place to crash. I´m also a great tour guide and crazy-sexy-cool travel buddy.

I hope everyone is doing beautifully wherever you may be, and I do love it when I get updates from folks.

Much love and many besos


Friday, August 15, 2008

Cuidado de los topes--Beware of speedbumps

Soludos Boludos!

So they say that sometimes it is not the destination that is so important, but the journey. This blog is about two journeys, rather than destinations, that make the story worth telling.

In my first week of travelling in Mexico, I found myself in Real de Catorce. The Lonely Planet guide book calls Real de Catorce a ¨re-awakening ghost town,¨ what Tabasco once was before the tourist industry took it over. The town was pleasant enough. It is mostly a tourist destination for middle and upper-middle class Mexicans. I found a friendly hostel and gorgeous surroundings. The highlight of the city, however, was actually the trip out.

Rather than taking the same route I took in, I opted for the ¨vintage jeep¨ ride down the ¨rough but spectacular decent¨ to the small town of Estacion Catorce (yes, they actually named the town Station 14, and it was more of a ghost town than Real de Catorce). This would allow me to travel a small city called Zacatecas--a great college-town full of culture and night life--before making the trip back to Mexico City for the International AIDS Conference. So at 12 pm I went to the town square where I was told I could find the Jeeps waiting for passengers. By vintage Jeeps, they really meant stripped down versions of what I guess could have been Jeeps but now have corrugated metal floors, rusted roofs, and no backs. Up front sat the driver and a an old and wrinkled abuelita. Seven adult women, three babies, two small children, and myself were in the cab squeezed on benches that faced each other (the kids sat on the floor). Dangling off the back were three more women and two additional children. On top of the roof were our bags, four additional backpackers, and a couple more local kids (I never did get an official count). Honest to god, there were at bare minimum 25 souls being transported down one of the steepest, roughest, and most narrow (a donkey could have run us off the mountain) roads I have ever been on.

I at first tried to calm myself by thinking that these local women make this trip on a weekly basis in order to buy their groceries (they lived scattered down the mountain, and the only store resembling a mercado was in Real de Catorce). Sure, they do this all the time. I had nothing to fear. I turned to smile at the elderly woman squashed up next to me, but she was busy crossing herself and mumbling Hail Maries under her breath. I tightened my grip on the seat.

Things that I hoped against hope for while driving down the mountain included:

1. That I wouldn´t loose my backpack. I chucked it on the roof without even tying it down because I didn´t understand the severity of this car ride.

2. That we wouldn´t die.

3. That the local women I was sharing the back with wouldn´t hate me for not giving up my seat inside and offering to sit on the roof.

4. That the Jeep´s breaks wouldn´t go out. (I couldn´t believe it was able to make this trip every day).

5. That another Jeep, car, push cart, or herd of sheep wouldn´t be going up the road while we were going down.

6. That we wouldn´t die. This is worth mentioning again.

Once the worst of the trip was over, and I regained color in my face, I loosened my grip on the bottom of my seat and opened my eyes. I smiled at the women and said, no problemas. They nervously laughed and looked away.

This next story I am just going to transcribe from my journal. It was the first time I had ever felt really nervous while travelling.

14 August 2008, 2:30 am, Puerto Escondido bus station isn´t the first time I´ve slept in a bus station. However why I´m in the Puerto Escondido bus station at 2:30 am is a good question. I had Brian and Charles drop me off in Cruz Grande, the first town North of Playa Ventura with an "official" bus terminal. (Note: As I haven´t yet written about the AIDS conference or the week after the conference, I´m posting a bit out of order here. I went to a small beach town South of Acapulco with some friends. I´ll get there eventually).

What a peculiar town. At first I didn´t think anything of it. I found good, cheap food and a locutorio from which to send a few emails. I had three hours to kill before a bus heading South would pass by, the last of the day. My final hour I spent chatting with a friend of the bus terminal attendant. She was 18 and very inquisitive. Her questions quickly turned to my love life (she blushed slightly here), and why I didn´t have a wife or girlfriend. I paused, quickly debating my options. It´s always on a case-by-case basis that I "out" myself to strangers while travelling. Sometimes the risks outweigh the benefits of honesty. In this case, I was the only foreigner in the town (or at least out in the open); we had already joked about that. I was also unaware of the local culture or common attitude towards those who are beyond heterosexual. On the other hand, I was only passing through, and I was talking to a cute, flirty, 18 year old girl.

What´s the worst that could happen?
I asked myself. So I told her that I didn´t like girls and that is why I didn´t have a wife or girlfriend. At first she feigned surprise at my sexuality. Gasping and putting her hand over her heart she cried, oh my god (in English) pero ¿porqué? But you look to masculine to be gay. While it was reassuring (and fairly surprising) I could pass for safety reasons, her statement made me wish my nails were an inch longer and painted bright blue. She asked me why I didn´t have a boyfriend. I smiled and said, let´s not go there.

I was surprised to find out that there was an established and visible gay "scene" in Cruz Grande. My new friend quickly confessed that her own brother was como así, gay. She also pointed out (literally pointed) the gays who lived across the street who had even married other men (many Mexican states, including Guerrero (where Gruz Grande lies), recognize same-sex civil unions). By gay men she really meant trans women, travestis. This became apparent to me as soon as the "gays" in question crossed the street in halter tops and mini-skirts. I was a bit disheartened to learn of sex tourism in Cruz Grande. According to my self-appointed gay tour guide, all the gay foreigners who come through town like to pay locals for sex. Some pay for boys as young as 12 or 13 years old. I assured her I had no intention of paying for sex with a 13 year old and that I thoroughly disapproved of other tourists who did. I also politely tuned down a tryst she offered to set up between me and Juan, our bus station attendant who apparently isn´t gay but just "likes action."

So it seemed fine that I chose to come out to my new friend. She was a bit disappointed--she kept asking what would happen if she kidnapped me and made me her boyfriend (wouldn´t your parents be so happy?)--but other than that, I got to learn some really interesting stuff about the town and its people that would have otherwise remained invisible. In fact, I was feeling pretty good about coming out. That was until my would-be kidnapper/girlfriend told Juan I was gay, who told other folks hanging out in the street. It was about now that I began to get a little nervous. Was it just my imagination or was news of my sexuality spreading like wildfire. Were people looking at me a bit harder and a while longer than before?

But no matter. No reason to get worked up because my bus was coming soon, and I would be gone forever. I looked at my watch. The bus was already late. I quickly hurried across the street so the bus wouldn´t pass by without stopping. So now I was standing along side the road with all of my bags, waiting for a late bus and attracting more attention than ever. A man approached me and asked what I was doing. I explained I was waiting on a bus towards Oaxaca. He said that was OK but that I should be careful because there were bad people around, hay malos--mucho peligro. I wanted to ask him if we meant the 60 year old man walking towards us with a rusty machete, but couldn´t because my throat was constricting. (Thanks all your New Yorkers who scared the shit out of me with tales of machete murders while we were camping). He told me to make sure not to wait too long. I smiled, thanked him, and told him next time I would be sure to choose a bus that was known for its punctual departures. He smelled like booze, but I tried not to hold it against him, because I smelled like B.O.

After a couple of taxistas asked me if I needed rides, I was a lone again. Were those shirtless guys drinking beer on their balcony yelling at me? Yes. Shit. What were they yelling? If I spoke English. Shit. I already outed myself as queer. Did I really need to out myself as a native English speaker as well? I quickly debated in my head whether or not to pretend to be from Russia or Italy. I decided to own up to the truth yet again (I never have been much of a liar). And they were probably just some nice guys who wanted to yell some phrases in English at me, to which I would smile and waive, and ya está. As soon as I said yes, I do speak English, one of them ran, literally ran, down to meet me. Shit.

Why did I say yes? Why do I have to be so damn honest? Why did I turn down that tryst with Juan? At least I would have been shielded from public scrutiny. Stop it!
I told myself, !ya basta¡ He is just a nice guy who wants to to chat in English. Just because one man told me there were bad people about doesn´t mean i have to go getting all paranoid.

And all he wanted to do was chat in English. He was originally from Panama, but now works in Vegas as a mechanic and visits Cruz Grande, where his wife´s family lives, frequently. Evidently Vegas is the most popular destination for folks from Cruz Grande who make the long trip al otro lado in order to find work. Even the travesti who owned the beauty salon above us splits her time between Vegas and Cruz Grande.

I continued to tell myself that he was just a nice guy, that his friends were just all nice guys, as more and more of his buddies gathered around asking him what my story was. I couldn´t help but think they were being a little too friendly, trying very hard to convince me to wait for my bus inside their bar, or even to skip the bus altogether and sleep at their hospedaje. I was understandably a bit unnerved because i kept on remembering response I received earlier when I asked my young friend if it was dangerous for gay people in the town: well, she said, in Cruz Grande the people like to drink. And when people drink they like to fight. Les gusta golpear. And Sometimes they want to fight the gays, but the gays don´t want to fight back.

One hour. All of this happened in one hour. What more could happen in one hour? Oh, well hadn´t met any of the young male sex workers yet. Let´s remedy that shall we? Three young boys (my guess was between 13-15) approached me and propositioned me for 20 pesos. Now to be fair, no sexual services were explicity offered, and while 20 pesos is an extremely low rate to charge for a trick, it is a bit much to ask of a perfect stranger in exchange for respecto, as they put it. I said no with a bit of an attitude so they wouldn´t hassle me, and all the while I hoped that if I had agreed to their proposition, they would have robbed me--they should be charging way more than 2 US dollars, especially from gringo tourists.

Just get me on the damn bus already! Oh, here comes my friend. ¿Qué pasa amiga? What!? What do you mean my bus isn´t coming? ¡No me jodas! amiga, where is my bus? NO, I am not staying the night with you. No I am not staying the night at all. I am getting on the first bus I see. I don´t care where it is going, I am just getting on.

We go back across the street to talk to Juan, who tells me that there is a problem with the bus and it is going to be running late. I remind him its already running an hour late. he says another hour or so, but he is hopeful it will still make it. I´m beginning to get paranoid.

These two are trying to pull over over on me. The whole fucking town in in on it. The taxi drivers want fares, Juan wants his tryst, the girl wants to make me her boyfriend, the guy from Panama/Vegas wants to get drunk with me, and the 13 year olds want 20 pesos.

I take a deep breath. I´m acting ridiculous. What´s that? It´s my bus! Juan, that´s my bus. Go stop my bus! ¡Ya se Va! Don´t let it leave without me! Juan took off across the street to chase down the bus. I chucked on my pack, called out chau chau to my friend, and hurry after Juan, who is waiving at me to hurry up. Ya vengo, Juan !ya vengo¡

And that is how I came to be sitting in the bus station in Puerto Escondido at 2:30 am. Juan told me that I would arrive around 5 or 6 am, but at this point, am I really surprised? Like I said, it isn´t the first time I´ve slept in a bus station, and judging by my traveling style, it won´t be my last.

end entry

I finally arrive in Oaxaca city around 4:30 pm. I got on the first second class bus leaving at 7 am. I could have waited for a more direct first class express, but the second class buses aren´t so bad, once you get over the smell. And at least in this bus there wasn´t a woman coughing up a lung sitting across from me as there was from Cruz Grande (I think I should probably get screened for TB, actually). Yes all was going well. The mountains were beautiful and the forests were lush. The temperature was cooling off and the mosquitoes all but disappeared. And then the bus broke down. I didn´t even know the name of the town we were able to coast into. But no worries. At least I was far, far away from Cruz Grande and another bus arrived about an hour and a half later.

Along the highways in Southern Guerrero and Oaxaca, formidable speedbumps seem to pop up out of no where and at times without reason. While driving our rented Dodge sedan, the bumps more often than not scraped the underbelly of the car, no matter how slowly we took them. While on the buses, the speed bumps, topes or reductores, assure a very bumby ride. I guess in this case, the road just wanted to make sure I didn´t arrive in Oaxaca to hastily, that I appreciated every part of the trip. And in the end, the journey, and all the topes along the way, made the destination, Oaxaca City, all the more beautiful.

Much love!


Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Perfect First Entry

Today (25 July 2008) was pretty damn good.

I woke up early planning to run in the park, but a quick glance outside at the rain and general ugliness changed that plan real quick. Rather than burning caloris, I decided to consume them in bed--fresh, warm mimi-packcakes from a street vendor around the corner from my hotel.

By midday it had stopped raining and a few rays of sun started to cut through the clouds. I went for a walk through the colonial down town of San Luis Potosí. The capital of the state of San Luis Postosí has too many charming plazas to name and even more boroque-style churches accented with ornate designs that are so characteristic of Latin American churches (Catholic Missionaries "indigenized" the religion to suit the native cultures). They are pretty, but not too exceptional. I can only appreciate the beauty of a church for so long before my mind wanders. Even less exceptional was receiving a nasty email sent with nasty intentions.

I took another long walk to clear my head. I told mysefl that something so trite and petty from so far away was nothing to get worked up about. I was right. Conforted by a cup of cubed pineapple sprinkled with chili pepper and fresh lime, I sat down in the large city park. Something was strange about this park. People were looking...

Now people had been looking at me with curiosity since I had arrived. This was to be expected, as I was one of the few gringos in town (apparently most trourists skip the section on San Luis Potosí in their guide books). Stares of curiosity neither annoy me nor make me feel uncomfortable. Those of you who have ever walked the streets with me know that I am no stranger to looks and stares. But the looks I was getting in this park were different. I was at ease. I felt familiar territory. They even made me feel comfortable. No, I told myself, it can`t be. I`m just imagining things. But then I saw a man in his 50s, very discretely, pick up a young trick. I did not imagine that!

I had found the crusing hot-spot of the colonial San Luis Potosí in less than 24 hgous. Leave it to me--it`s my gift.

Spying on the older gentleman`s and the young taxi-boy´s interaction was something of an intrusion, I admit. (And I am certainly not going to get into the ethics or morals of what I saw). But it intrigued me, and it was the start of an unforgettable day.

After some additional people watching in the park, I continued to explore the city. It was a Friday afternoon and I felt the anticipation for the weekend in the air. It seemed as if in every plaza and in front of every double-towered church there were young girls in poofy bright pink or red or yellow dresses celebrating their quiciñeras.

It was while walking by one of the birthday girls, posing so her proud father could take a photo, that I met Jonathan. He startled me from behind when he cheerfully said hola! ¿No te vi por aca sacando fotos hace un poco? (Didn`t I see you around here taking photos earlier?). Uuhh sí, puede ser (yeah...I guess so), I replied, wondering what the hell this kid wanted and why he remembered me from earlier in the day. (Was he following me? Or do I just stick out that much?). My suspiscions, however, quickly vanished as he smiled and made small talk as we walked down the street.

He was friendly, flirty, and wondering what I was doing walking around in his town all by myself. He told me that he visited Chicago once, but he didn`t like it. I asked him why not and he responded because there was nothing colonial about it--it didn`t feel like San Luis Potosí para nada. He was surprised that he was the first Posotino (one who is from San Luis Potosí) to introduce himself. I told him that I had only been there for a day, but he was nonetheless concerned that I would leave with a bad impression of the people of his city. I told him not to worry, that even a smile is more warmth than the average two strangers share with one another in Washington, DC. We said our goodbyes outside of a museum he had led me to. He appologetically said he couldn`t accompany inside me because he was late to meet a friend.

Inside the museum I chuckled to myself about how I just got hit on by a 16 year old (oh yeah, did I mention he was 16?). I was also beginning to wonder where the museum got off charging US$3.50 to look at a bunch of photographs taken by a recently dead German ethnographer when the security garud asked me how I was liking the exhibit.

Oh...muy interesante, I lied. She smiled proudly and asked me where I was from. We made small talk. She was also very concerned about what I thought about the people of San Luis Potosí, but was reassured when I told her that I couldn´t expect to meet nicer people anywhere. Her curisotiy extended to why anyone would choose to travel alone, sin familia ni amigos. She offered to fix that for the time being and jokingly ordered me to wait until her shift was over so she could take me out drinking. (At least I think she was joking). After posing for a picture that she took with her camera phone, I said chau, hasta luego, and left, grinnign and thinking that there could be no nicer people than the Posotinos.

By evening traffic in the narrow, cobblestone streets of el centro was at a stand-still. There were simply too many people walking about--families with ice cream cones and teenagers meeting up with their friends. I could physically feel the jovial spirit in the air (and the continued familiar smiles and head nods from high school boys kep my laughing)--where am I? The usual European and Gringo backpackers were replaced by young Posotino punks, complete with jet-black mohawks, skinny jeans, thick black eyeliner, and revolutionary stickers on their worn-out skateboards. I headed back to the park (the cruising park) to read before finding dinner. It was there that I met two more interesting characters.

The first was a man in his late 40s or early 50s. He walked by with a rickety bike and paused to ask me the time. In the basket attached to his handlebars he kept a bag of food scraps (most likely salvaged from various city trash cans) for his dog (named George Bush) who limped behind him soberly. Ther conversation that I had with him was positively the most interesting and frank conversation I have had with anyone in Mexico. People passing by looked at us uncomfortably, almost embarressed. They most likely assumed that he was bothering me, asking me for money (which I admit was my gringo assumption when he first approached me), and they paused as if to give me time to ask them for help.

But he was mostly interested in talking politics. He had lived in Texas for 10 years and very much liked it. He worked sin papeles (undocumented), and, to my surprise, found most people living in the US to be very likable--he even claimed that 99% of people who worked in law enforcement were buena gente. He was also a very bitter man. He talked abou the class and cultural divide between Chicanos and Mexicanos, and he wanted to remind the Chicancos that most likely their parents or grandparents were also mojados (mojado--wet back--is a derogatory term referring to economic migrants/refugees who travel north to work in the fields. They get their "backs wet" picking our fruit and vegetables. Here, he was was using the term to refer to all undocumented working Mexicanos in the States). He cursed all of the corrupt politicians of his country, claiming that one could not trust a single one. The police are even worse, he claimed. Ordinary people fear police officers. "Don´t call the police if your home gets robbed," he cautioned, "because they´ll rob you of whatever you have left!"

I asked him if it had gotten better since political power had finally be removed from the Partido Revolutionario Institucional. The PRI had openly conspired to hold political power for well over half a century. The election of Vincente Fox was claimed by many observers to be a much needed step towards ´real´ democracy. He considered my question for a moment before sadly cofessing that he thought things have gotten even worse. (I know so very little about Mexican political history, so I hesitate to offer any commentary. However, if by "even worse" the man is referencing the increaseing poverty, the growing gap between the Mexican rich and poor, and the corrupt contracts between Mexican business and Mexican politics--Vincente Fox is the former CEO of Coca Cola--then perhaps the implementation of NAFTA and its effects--the rapid industrialization of of formerly unihabited borer areas, alarming rates of rural-to-urban migration, exploitation of labor, a massive informal and unregulated economy, and the near-death of substanance farming--warrent mention).

With all his bitterness the man was still hopeful. He is very closely following the US presidential election (along with many Mexicans), and he is a HUGE fan of Obama. But his eyes really lit up when he told me about Jed Bush´s son-in-law (or son, I didn´t quite catch it). Apparently he is a chicano lawyer. He couldn´t contain his excitement as he imagined the young Bush becoming the first Mexican-American president. I felt guilty that he didn´t have similar hope for Mexico.

All-in-all the conversation was pretty sober. Before he said goodbye he cautioned me about the park, telling me it was very dangerous--the whole area was very dangerous--and that I should be sure to return to my hotel (which was less than a block from the park) very early in the evening. I promised him I would (knowing that I wouldn´t). He never once asked me for money or anything else besides my time and attention.

Not five minutes after the old man walked off with his bike and dog, a young guy approached me and asked what the old man was saying to me. He asked me que buscas (what are you looking for?). I decided to play dumb: "well I suppose I came to the park because its pretty and I wanted to relax and take a stroll before dinner." By the time we finally got to introductions I could tell it would be a painfull conversation and would have preferred him to just leave me to my book. He, like Johnathon, was 16. I laughed at the fact that I had been approached by two gay 16 year old high school students in a matter of hours. He asked me what I was laughing at, and I told him. He didn´t think it was very funny. We talked a little about the gay culture of San Luis Potosí before I awkwardly excused myself, claiming I had to write my family an email (I am usually a fast thinker on my feet, but at this point I was at a complete loss). I evidentially hurt his feelings because as I was walking away he shouted to me, and everyone else in shouting distance, Perra! (bitch). I smiled, waived, and left to find dinner.

Dinner wasn´t too far away. I shyly ordered enchiladas Posotinas at a very crowded street vendor´s tent. Two women fried the corn tortillas; stuffed them with cheese, potatoes, and carrots; and smotherm them with crema and salsa before my eyes. It was a vegetarian feast that I ate while listening to a folk concert in the Plaza de Armas. Old men smiled and wished me good evening as they passed. I could think of only one way to end such a day--with homemade ice cream over a brownie (it was worth every calorie). I walked home around 10:30, refusing to check my email until monring in case I had received more electronic nastiness from far, far away.