Monday, December 29, 2008

Five Reasons to Love El Salvador

1: Black sand beaches. Thanks to all the volcanic activity off the pacific coast of Central America, many of El Salvador’s beaches are made of black, basaltic sand. They are hot. They are sexy. They are beautiful.

2: Pupusas. A traditional cuisine of El Salvador, a pupusa is a thick, stuffed tortilla. The dough is either corn- or rice-based, and the stuffing is anything from beans, to vegetables, to meats, to a local edible flower. These things are made-to-order and are served piping hot, and subsequently smothered in a sort of coleslaw, and a tomato-based sauce. You eat them without utensils, so learning how much sauce you can pile on a pupusa before it loses its structural integrity takes time. The best part: they’re dirt cheap – in most places they cost between a quarter and fifty cents (depending on how touristy your location is). Getting three of them is a solid meal. Pupusas are often served by cute, and borderline predatory El Salvadoran girls.

3: US Dollars. El Salvador uses US Dollars as its currency, yeah that’s right, good’ole greenbacks. After nearly a month of using Pesos and Quetzales, using dollars is a relief. There’s no mental math required to determine whether you’re getting a good deal or you’re getting ripped off; your money is the same, only you can buy more with it. So I got that goin’ for me. Which is nice.

4: Sexually forward women. Unlike in Mexico or Guatemala, in El Salvador, the women chase you! They look you right in the eyes, they smile coy little smiles, they wave, and then – mother of all mercies – they blow kisses?!?! I have no clue how to appropriately respond to this type of attention; thus far, awkward shifty movements and sporadic eye contact, followed by total avoidance seems to work ok. [note: I only know this because I’ve been chased in El Salvador, not because I’ve done much chasing elsewhere].

5: Smiles. Seen on just about every face we’ve encountered since we left Guatemala. I suppose we’ve seen them on just about every face since we left Mexico too. Actually come to think of it, the last frown we saw was in the United States, so I guess smiles aren’t indicative of El Salvador at all, but they’re still extremely welcome nonetheless. Smiles on the faces of people we’ve asked for help. Smiles from people we don’t know, but treat us like we’re family. Smiles so big on the faces of children, you can’t imagine them otherwise.

Aaaaah Guatemala, Aaaaaah El Salvador













I know this one looks like a massive orgy -- we are actually learning Jentzu water massage.




Friday, December 26, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

CHECK IT FOOLS!

I just released a two week log-jam of blog posts. Check it fools!

Seattle friends, I know you´re just loving that snow storm you´ve been having up there....sorry I´m missing it.

FOOLS!

The Sea Turtles: Putting the Magic in the Magic School Bus


We didn’t know where we were going -- all we knew was that we wanted to wake up on a beach. We drove deep into the night, from Colima, the location of our last project, to Maruata, an area famed for its beautiful beaches. After navigating primarily by instinct, Ryan pulled Patricia (our bus) to a spot at the end of a road, right up on the sand. Before we exited we could hear the slow but powerful waves smack the shore, and the nearly-full moon gave us enough light to appraise our surroundings: a two-mile wide half-arc of perfect sand, bookended by gorgeous rock outcroppings, almost entirely deserted (save a bluish 40 ft. school bus and her crew). The first groggy members of the group dragged their sleeping bags down to the beach, and within moments encountered a man and a boy (his son?) carrying a large box of baby sea turtles. We had unknowingly camped near a turtle nesting sanctuary, and a clutch of hatchlings was ready to be released. The turtles thrashed about, overlapping in a kaleidoscopic, ever-changing MC Escher drawing.
“Holy shit, you don’t even need to take acid in Mexico,” Weldboy squealed giddily, his hands buried beneath a layer of soft shells and flippers.
After gathering the rest of TEMA, we asked a few questions of the man and his son, and snapped a few photos, but mostly just stared in a silent reverie. Our timing was uncanny, cosmic; if we hadn’t arrived at that random beach, at that exact moment, turtles would not have been part of our night. After a few dreamy minutes with the infant reptiles, we upended the box several meters from the beach and witnessed one of nature’s purest demonstrations of survival instinct: get to the sea. Programmed to head downhill and towards the water, they marched down the beach, and wave by wave, were swept into the ocean. We drifted back to our sleeping bags, where our dreams were filled with turtles and waves. Turtles and waves.

Our Kitchen

Patricia’s Kitchen is so sweet. The food we cook on this trip is so sweet. We have two chefs trained at this amazing restaurant called Café Gratitude, which specializes in raw, vegan cuisine. The more time I spend with those who worked at Café Gratitude, the more convinced I become that this restaurant is the wellspring for oncoming global enlightenment. Enjoy the photos of the kitchen and of Venicio, our chef.


Gratitude







I am a dirty hippie on a bus full of dirty hippies. I have been asked to compile a list of those to whom I am grateful – call it hippy homework. Here ya go:

  • First thanks to Ryan, Summer, and Amanda – you are the mothers of this idea – without you, there would be no TEMA.
  • Thanks to all of our cash and equipment sponsors – you provided the substance with which dreams were turned tangible.
  • Thanks to Patricia. You are truly the deepest well from which the magic of this trip is drawn.
  • Thanks to everyone on TEMA – the world we’ve created on Patricia is utopian.
  • Thanks to my family for continually supporting hair-brained scheme after hair-brained scheme (and occasionally pushing me to actually take the plunge and just get on the fucking school bus).
  • Thanks to Aaron Mandel for holding my hand during those final angst-filled moments. And for letting me borrow your sleeping bag (which is sadly no longer as clean as it once was).
  • Thanks to my cycling team for blessing my presence on this journey, and for always believing in me (even when I don’t believe in myself). Thanks for trusting me – I won’t let you down.
  • Thanks to the person who donated money through my blog – I’m going to buy us some sweet matching wool arm warmers in Guatemala.
  • Thanks to all those guys (and their families) who stopped to pick us up while hitchhiking – we would never have made it to San Pedro de Pacifica so fast or so cheaply if we’d relied on public transportation.
  • Thanks to the sun – if this were high school, you’d receive honors for perfect attendance.
  • Thanks to the local flora and fauna, the farmers and the ranchers, the sun and the soil for so consistently providing us with such a marvelous bounty with which to nourish ourselves.
  • Thanks to Venicio, Hannah and Treasure for preparing such creative, healthful, and delicious meals.
  • Thanks to all those children at the village we visited last – your curiosity, your joy, and your light filled me with the same. Your response to our performance was by far the best we’ve had so far – I’m sorry I didn’t do the blue dinosaur for you (you would have loved it).
  • Thanks to that nest of ants I disturbed while clearing brush for that trail in the mangrove forest – you were fucking huge and had very intimidating mandibles – you could have bitten the fuck out of me, but chose not to.
  • Thanks those evil fucks, the mosquitoes; you make me appreciate it when you’re not there so much more.

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING THANK YOUS MAY EXPOSE SOME OF THE LESS GLAMOROUS SIDE OF LIFE ON THE BUS.

  • Thanks to everyone who calls out their farts when we’re driving. It’s so windy in there, it never lingers long – everyone gets just a quick taste and then it’s gone; why not own it?
  • Thanks to those who refrain from turning our giant communal bed into a giant communal Dutch oven.
  • Thanks to (almost) everyone for staying sober enough to NOT pee in our giant communal bed. I know we all had lots (and lots) of mescal last night, and some of us were out of our minds in a (fairly hilarious) mescali stupor, but still, (almost) all of you kept the pee where it belongs: inside your bladders, or outside the bus. To those of us who failed in this regard, thanks in advance for washing the bed, all our sleeping bags, and MY FUCKING TOWEL which you used to mop up the urine.
  • Seaking of urine, thanks to all the girls on the trip. You constantly impress me with your quiver of outdoor, public, and pee funnel urination techniques (yes we have a pee funnel on the bus). I thought as a cyclist I’d seen it all. I was so very very wrong.
  • Thanks to (almost) everyone for wearing underarm deodorant and bathing when the opportunity presents itself, especially those of you who wash your feet. Without you, the bus would (always) smell like we’ve got dirty hippies onboard (instead of just most of the time).



Weldboy Haiku

Ryan and I have
Pipsqueak mustaches compared
To Weldboy’s lion neard*.

Need a Corona?
Weldboy stocks the bays with tools
And beer. Lots of beer.

Weldboy would sleep lots
Better if we wouldn’t fuck
Up the ratchet straps.

“I don’t eat breakfast,”
He says with beer in hand while
Cigarette smoke swirls.

The beer syndicate
Is better for everyone?
‘Of course,’ Weldboy nods.




* Neard: a beard primarily found on the neck portion of a male human’s head.

Montezuma’s Revenge Expansion Packs


Here some add-ons for the now popular game:
Montezuma’s Revenge: Lost at Sea

Unlike in the United States economy, liquidity is easy to find in Mexico – often way way way too easy. This variation of Montezuma’s Revenge is what you do should you find yourself unable to produce a solid stool for days on end. The rules are much less structured than the regular game; it’s more just an exercise in visualization. Pretend you’re adrift at sea with neither a sail nor a paddle; the waves are rough and you desperately want to stand on solid ground again. Every Immodium you ingest is like an ocean current gently (but firmly) carrying you towards the mainland. Every carton of Electrolito (a beverage fortified with all the electrolytes you lose while shitting your ever-loving-brains out) is like a warm rain that boosts your strength as well as your spirits. Lastly, if things are looking extremely dire, taking antibiotics is like getting spotted by the fucking coast guard – help is not only on its way, but it’s coming fast. Tacos are back on the menu baby!
Montezuma’s Revenge: The Never Ending Story
Just because the first round of Montezuma’s Revenge has ended doesn’t mean the game is over. In fact, it’s just the beginning. You keep your score just like usual, only every time you get diarrhea or vomit you remove points based on the severity of the incident:
Nausea: -100 points
The Squirts: -500 points
Vomiting: -500 points
Shitting Your Pants: -1000 points
Shitting Your Pants in Public: -1500 points
Vomiting While Shitting Your Pants in Public: +1,000,000 points

Example: After weeks of testing the outer limits of his digestive fortitude with little to no consequences, Sam attends a graduation party hosted by a friend of the group. On the way to the party, Sam spots a pulque stand (a bizarre Mexican alcoholic beverage made from fermented century plant), and purchases a liter carton of milky liquid, served out of a large ceramic jug. It tastes sweet, sour, slightly fizzy, and fucking strong. Upon arriving at the fiesta, Sam was treated to a full traditional catered meal, with unlimited tequila. Sam proceeds to rack up nearly 300 points sampling (and then gorging himself) on every single food item presented to him including (but not limited to): tripe, cayos ( pigs feet), chicharones, carnitas, tortas de carne, three types of crazy cheese, about seven different sauces, some wacky potato-based item, and about six feet of churrros. After the meal, Sam felt slightly queasy (-100), but remained optimistic. It wasn’t until later that night that he was “blessed” with the opportunity to empty a large portion of said feast into the toilet (after a panicky waddle to the bathroom). Sam repeated this procedure four times, each time dutifully removing 500 points from his score. The next day, Sam drank some Electrolito and ate an Immodium, questioned whether he should be so caviler regarding his food and beverage choices, and prayed that his punishment be as swift as it was severe. Thus far, the gods seem to have listened with a sympathetic ear.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

So I’m a Bus Driver Now (While Still Remembering My Caveman Roots)

I’m supposed to write the blog post for Tuesday September 9th. For the most part, it was another long day of travel; however, I had my first day of driving the bus, and what a first day it was. For the most part, my drive was uneventful, with one big exception. When writing stories this ridiculous I prefer to default to my caveman alter-ego Krogg – his powers of observation are only exceeded by his way with words. Take it away Krogg:

So Monday and Tuesday TEMA have big travel days. Group decide to leave Earth Dome place early – Jeff say group did more work than he expect (plus group grumpy about building Jeff’s vacation house), so group decide go to Sayulita instead. TEMA bus drive for three hours, then take ferry for six hours, then drive for fifteen more hours, then stop in Mexican town of Tepic to stretch legs and get supplies [Krogg see many many new kinds of food in large market that blow Krogg’s caveman mind – Krogg see three-foot tall pile of Cow Stomach!!!]. After bus have new supplies, it time to go again, and Krogg try driving bus. Things start off okay. Krogg stay on road real good. Krogg take turns nice and slow. Krogg take one speed bump too fast [people in back of bus go flying!], but then Krogg learn real good to slow down before speed bump. After twenty minutes Krogg feel good – drive bus easy! Then Krogg see cars ahead slow down and stop. Krogg slow down and stop. Everyone get out of cars to see what going on. Blitz get out of bus and run up road and talk to other men in road. Him come back and say accident happen up road, semi-trailer sideways, no cars can pass, oh no! Then Krogg and Ryan notice many cars go down small dirt road close by. Ryan talk to nearby man:

Excuse me sir, do you know where that road goes?” Ryan say.

Yeah, it’s just a farm road, but you can get around the accident that way,” man reply.

Do you think we can fit a forty-foot school bus with a giant roof rack down there?” Ryan say.

Man stare blankly at Ryan at first. After few seconds man say “
uuuuh, sure – it should be easy,” before adding under breath “but you look like just the gringos prove me wrong”.

So Krogg nervously drive bus down narrow dirt road. First Krogg forced to make tight turn near wooden fence. Everyone yell different instructions at Krogg at same time: STOP, GO LEFT, BACK UP, SLOW DOWN, YOU’RE HITTING THE FENCE!!!!. Krogg smash fence to smithereens with bus. Then Krogg forced to make tight turn near crazy ravine. Everyone yell different instructions at Krogg at same time: STOP, GO LEFT, BACK UP, SLOW DOWN, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!. Krogg perform 17-point turn, but stay on road. Then Krogg forced to go up 15% grade. Everyone yell different instructions at Krogg at same time: STOP, GO LEFT, BACK UP, SLOW DOWN, GO FASTER!!!. Krogg gun engine as hard as it can go, and bus nearly grind to halt, and wheels in back nearly lose traction, but bus make it over hill. Finally Krogg forced to drive through narrow road with fields of sugar cane on both sides. Bus just smash sugar cane out of way, and this actually pretty fun compared to other ordeals, so this time everyone just laugh and yell YIPPIE!!!. At long last bus return to paved road and Krogg rather pleased by this development. From now on, all driving done by Krogg will seem easy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I Am An Awful Surfer

So now we´re in Sayulita, a small touristy town on the coast just north of Puerta Vallarta. It´s pretty touristy. And I can´t surf. And I´m getting kicked out of the internet cafe -- DAMMIT. Whatever. Ciao

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Building the Earth Domes

If TEMA were the Oregon Trail then we just spent the last five days traveling at a grueling pace on meager rations. By now we have a broken a wagon wheel, two of the oxen died, Paul drowned while we were fording the river, and Mary has Yellow Fever. We need a break, and fortunately, we get one. We’ve arrived at a beautiful stretch of beach at a location called El Cardinal, just north of the town of Brilles. This is the eastern side of Baja, facing the Sea of Cortez, so the water is warm, the beaches are almost as gorgeous as the snorkeling, and the sunrises – holy fuck are they amazing! We’re here for the next four days to build some very simple, low tech “earth domes,” for a man named Jeff. These domes are a pilot project for what Jeff hopes to be an empowering and contagious revolution regarding building practices, local, sustainable, and green. These structures are extremely easy to make, so you don’t need to be a experienced with construction to help, and due to their simplicity, can be made almost entirely from local materials. They are very energy efficient, and have a very low environmental impact. Earth domes are often used in disaster relief situations because they are quick and easy to build, while still being solid, safe, permanent structures. Here are some pictures of us building earth domes.

(note: I couldn't upload these pictures due to internet restrictions, but check back later, or check the TEMA website for more (note: nevermind)).



Ultimately, these domes are just going to be Jeff’s vacation home. Jeff is taking a very novel and honorable approach to building a vacation home – especially compared to the hulking mansions on either side of Jeff’s property; Jeff is adding so much to the local economy, and doing so little to harm the environment, but the fact remains -- it’s still a vacation home. There was a slight lack of clarity regarding exactly who these earth domes were going to be for. Some of us were thinking these domes were part of a larger compound (which Jeff hopes they some day will be), and there were some very mixed reactions when we found out that we’re basically just donating our labor to help yet another gringo build another house on the beach. Personally, I am interested in learning how to make these structures; I feel like that knowledge will come in handy some day. Also, while I’m certain there are far more effective ways to make a positive change in a community, there are certainly far more damaging and counterproductive ways to travel through Mexico. This is a satisfactory compromise in my book.

Montezuma's Revenge

One of the most exciting parts about traveling abroad is the chance to sample the local cuisine. Mexican food is varied and delicious, and I am eager to moisten my taste buds with new things. However, as seasoned travelers also know, being adventurous with food in far off lands can have its consequences. In Mexico the warnings regarding food are many, and I would be foolish to completely throw caution to the wind and go looking for trouble. However, as I have stated in many ways about many topics, I have never been the one to limit my realm of experiences simply due to the presence of danger. Therefore, I will be trying the food while I’m here, and trying lots of it. If something looks good, I’m going to eat it, even if the guidebook says that’s risky. I’ve got Immodium AD. If things get really bad I can get antibiotics. I’ll live. What I can’t live without is the food here.

SO while several TEMA group members and I are going to be running a fairly high risk of getting sick, I figured why not have some fun with the idea. So here ya go:








New from Parker Brothers

Montezuma’s Revenge:
Race to the Mexican Outhouse
The fun-filled food game nobody can resist playing
where the winner usually loses, but everybody pays.


2+ players.
Ages 2 and up.

Objective:
While traveling through Mexico, players will make choices about what to eat, and earn points based upon those choices. The goal of the game is simple: rack up as many points as possible without contracting a debilitating case of explosive diarrhea. The game begins when everyone crosses the border and ends when the first person is mercilessly struck down by the gods of intestinal maladies.

Players:
Montezuma’s Revenge is an easy game that can be played by any group of two or more people, provided everyone crosses the Mexican border at the same time. While anyone can play Montezuma’s Revenge, we suggest that infants, the elderly, and anyone unsettled by the idea of shitting themselves frequently or in public should refrain from playing.

Play:
Play is organized into three primary rounds per day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each round players must choose food items and eat them. Points are awarded based upon risk level and adventurousness. The goal is to eat as much interesting food as possible, without actually getting sick. Points are awarded as follows:

Unrefrigerated: +3 points
Unusual: +3 points
Undercooked: +3 points
Uncooked: +5 points
Unwashed: +5 points
Unidentifiable: +5 points
Covered in Flies: +5 points
Found on Ground: +5 points
Lettuce: + 10 points

Example: Sam steps off the bus at the first gas stop once across the border, somewhere in Baja. Instead of going into the adjacent convince store, Sam crosses the street and goes to the plywood taco shack. The shack has no electricity (+5 for unrefrigerated). Sam bravely orders the goat tacos (+3 for unusual), which had to be fished from a pot of very suspicious lukewarm chunky brown liquid, instead of coming off the grill like the beef tacos. He proceeds to cover his taco with every salsa, pico de gallo, and diced vegetable available (+5 for uncooked), most of which were buzzing with flies (+5 for flies). This makes for a total of 18 points – a very good round, especially for lunch.

Players may also participate in any number of bonus rounds, including snacks, roadside food stands, and any foraged local flora or fauna. Certain food choices are punished with point deductions. These include:

Packaged: -3 points
Pasteurized: -3 points
Boring: -5 points

Play can continue for as many rounds as are needed, and the game ends once the first player succumbs to whatever intestinal parasite or bacterial infection was lucky enough to find a home in that player’s GI tract. In the (very very) likely event that the player with the most points is also the first person to get sick, that person shall still be considered the "winner"; however, he or she obviously deserves a healthy does of name calling – preferably while that person is seated on the toilet, wide-eyed, clutching the underside of the bowl, praying that this humiliation end swiftly, and begging to be fed anti-diarrheals by the fistful.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I am In Mexico....


This was our sunrise. Lots more to come -- we have to get the bus wired for electrical, and then I can blog from the bus.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bicycle, I Have Not Forsaken You.

Hello my dearest. It’s been a while. I know things have been different recently; we haven’t been spending as much time together, my thoughts focused on other things. Burningman was a good idea – we both agree about that. You were so understanding when I told you I was headed to New Mexico to work on the campaign; the season came to a close, and we needed a break, both of us. After that, I imagine you assumed, as I did, that we would be getting back together in November, just like we did last year. But I couldn’t have anticipated the opportunity that opened itself up to me. Now that I’ve chosen to travel to Mexico and Central America on a school bus until January, I understand if you’re worried about my commitment to you, to us. Well let me make myself clear: when I return from this trip, I will devote myself to you with a focus and passion like you’ve never seen. These activities (Burningman, the campaign, TEMA) have given me great perspective about the life we lead, and if anything have strengthened my resolve to continue building our relationship. There are those who said traveling would set me back, would limit my progress, my development. I intend to prove those people wrong. We will improve next year. Dramatically. Don’t misunderstand me, I am being realistic; starting my training later will alter the arc of my fitness. My best races might not be in February, or even April. But then again, I might not have the floor drop out from underneath me in July like it did last year. We won’t be able to communicate much over the next two months; I need to focus on my current experience. But do not doubt my return.

Do not doubt my return.


Today we head to Mexico.