Tuesday, June 19, 2007

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Monday, May 21, 2007

FINAL South American Adventures- Part 12: Ecuador, Colombia & El Salvador

Hola muchachos de Suchitoto, El Salvador!

Upon arriving in Quito, Ecuador on April 25th, I immediately felt a connection with the Lego-looking capital city of this wonderfully strange country where they absolutely love volleyball, 80's rock ballads, gold trophies and Jean Claude Van Damn movies. Just visit once and you'll concur. Ecuador was my 50th country I've traveled through in my life, so of course this was cause for celebration. Fortunately I was joined for the past 3.5 weeks by my former Semester at Sea roommate, the legendary Jaret Martin, so celebrating in style was not a problem at all. Traveling with Jaret is like backpacking alongside a funhouse mirror- You know there will be incessant self-reflection, but there's a healthy dose of unexpected comedy and strange twistedness. During lunch on my first day in Quito, I spoke the words that will forever haunt me... I said to Jaret, "My journal from this trip is by far the most valuable thing I have with me. I'd rather lose my camera than lose this journal..." Two hours later I noticed that my camera had been stolen from my daypack, as the fates delivered a swift kick to the jimmies.

We jammed extra hard in Quito that night, consuming 6 schwarma sandwiches, 8 Ted Brogans, two rounds of apple-flavored hooka and a bottle of wine for a grand total of $14.50. Gotta love South America... Apparently we were sharing a few too many good laughs, as two kind Ecuadorian sisters approached us soonafter and asked if we were boyfriends. Thanks ladies, another kick to the goods. We did end up having one of those unforgettable travel nights, and booked it early the next morning to the mountain town of Banos. A visit to the Amazon jungle, 30k bike rides, thermal hot springs excursions, a terrifying cable car ride across a 500m gorge, latenight Mirador parties, chess battles, delicious food and my worst single day of illness awaited us in this great pueblo. In the interest of brevity, I will simply say that Banos is one of my top five favorite towns in the world. Go there. Now.

While in Banos we decided that we both had a strong craving for some rigorous physical exercise. The only workout I'd had since leaving Guatemala 2.5 months earlier was the daily 12oz lifting of local beverages to my parched lips. We set our sights on Volcan Cotopaxi, an active volcano where you can look into the crater from the rim and the 2nd highest mountain in all of Ecaudor at almost 20,000 (5900m) above sea level. That's higher than any mountain in all of Africa or the continental USA, which is probably why only 15% of attempting climbers had reached the summit the previous week. This was going to be one hell of a difficult rim job. We began the trek up the absurdly steep mountain at midnight aided by tremendous moonlight, the sturdy rope tying us two to our guide, razor-sharp shoe crampones and our diesel ice axes. Seven exhausting hours later, after all others had turned back, we arrived at the "cumbre" where both Jaret and I literally collapsed into sleep in a small snow hole. The walk down was equally treacherous, but we finally made it back around 11am from what I can genuinely admit was the most physically and mentally draining challenge of my life. My respect for mountain climbers is somewhere between how I feel about President David Palmer and the brave souls who catch spiders for a living. Damn those terrifying eight-legged freaks.

The rest of our time was spent viewing the gorgeous Ecuadorian landscapes in places like Latacunga, Alausi, el Nariz del Diablo, Zumbahoa, Laguna Quilotoa (incredible), and the northern market town of Otavalo. While in Riobamba we found a $2 per night hostel, which of course seemed to good to be true. By 3am, we found out that it was. Earlier in the night I offered a drink to the lone hostel worker from the full bottle of Pisco I'd been carrying since Peru. I took note of how much he seemed to enjoy the drink, but what I stupidly overlooked was the fact that he was wearing a cutoff t-shirt and black fingerless gloves. Yes, fingerless gloves. Over the next two hours he drained half the bottle, stole the other half when I told him he couldn't have it because we were going to sleep, attempted to fight both Jaret and I separately while breathing idiot winds every time he moved his teeth, and then finally locked himself outside the hostel for two hours. Again, one of those crazy traveling nights that I will never ever forget nor repeat.

After several weeks in Ecuador we experienced your typical shady latenight border crossing into the land of drug cartels, guerrilla warfare, kidnappings, Cuartas and beautiful women- Colombia. We bounced through Ipialis, pleasant Popoyan, crazy Cali and Pasto during our week in the country. I watched a 45 year-old salsa king tear up the dancefloor with his 23 year-old wife of 7 years, frequented the casinos on various occasions, and as always Jaret entertained with actions that shall only be revealed in person. Typical quotes included, "How do you feel about your personal development?", "Do you believe prayer can change the outcome of events?", and "Oh I forgot to tell you, I had my first wet dream in years last night!" We then popped back down to Quito for two final epic days together before I flew to El Salvador where I'm traveling for four days before returning home on Wednesday. Those final Quito days consisted of perusing the Old Town, splitting the Mitad Del Mundo, Gringolandia partying and of course Jaret fulfilling his lost bet obligation to wear just sandals, boxers and my Cuzco skimask for 15 minutes on the city streets.

I return home to the good ol' US of A in about 24 hours, so this will sadly be the final update from the road. The question I keep getting asked is, "Are you ready to go back to reality?" I started to think about that notion the other day, about the concept of home and the working world. I think that people have it backwards. While traveling is a removal from what's deemed to be "reality", in many ways it actually illuminates the inner-realities of the human condition. On the road and in hostels there's no performance reviews, no paid overtime, no long weekends. There's no defined schedule, no desired promotion, and most importantly, no bosses. I do exactly what my heart and mind tells me is most desirable at any given moment, with no skew of responsibility towards any elements of usual confinement. We are all equals when we throw on a backpack, sleep in 12-person dormitories and wait an extra day to shower because the water will be hot in the next town. Class, color and creed are only meaningful when you allow them to be, and on the road we feel an immediate connection to other backpackers regardless of such attributes. Removal from one's cultural comforts forces an openness and willingness to explore both internally and externally that cannot be induced to such extremes through any other method. Each day of traveling, I inherit new knowledge and expunge myself of subconscious stereotypes and misinformed assumptions. The more I know, the more I know just how much I don't know. For the past four months I've been able to act solely on personal intuition, and what is more real than that? While I'm extremely excited to return home to see you friends and loved ones, there's a bittersweet sadness to leaving the purest form of reality that I will ever know.

Lastly, I wrote a little ditty at the Puerta del Diablo yesterday about the people I've encountered on this trip... It's probably the best summary and conclusion I can give to these writings-

Lumberjacks, quacks and exogenous ex-pats
Hippie chicks wearing sacks spitting facts through braless racks
The whispered prayers of blackmagic soothsayers
Pueblo mayors holding impenetrable pocket pairs
Venemous almond scorpion stares
Alpaca stealers, bamboo peelers, lesbian acid dealers
Chicken bus cop-a-feelers
Librarians, agrarians, political contrarians
Astral travelers, cocaine dabblers, yarn unravelers
Undereducated youth, reluctant bearers of truth
Homeless men grinning vigor through a single golden-tooth
Irish fortune-tellers, Polish jungle-dwellers
Witch market candy sellers
Scuba instructors, cock-fight conductors
Teachers and lawyers, perverts and voyeurs
Masked shoe shiners, Ecuadorian ice climbers
Father and son complejo miners
Army commanders, former Pinochet bystanders
Argentinian cantors, Israeli salsa dancers
Scandinavian jugglers, Cuban-cigar smugglers
American Buddhists, Guatemalan nudists
Local news reporters, cooks for short-orders
Customs-paper sorters, hemp-necklace hoarders
Illegal profiteers falsely guarding sovereign borders
Priests, beasts, those betrothed to the deceased
Casino looters, English tutors
Massively fake Colombian hooters
Japanese tourists, Uruguayan florists
Dancing naked flags of Bolivian futbol purists
Gently echoed sighs of Chilean rabbis
Empty-palmed Mayans blinking dignity through cancelled eyes
All while sun and moon tango to control fickle skies
They said don't go there, to the foreign place you're bound
They said you'll get lost, but look what I've found
And each tells a story, of elation and strife
Each now interwoven
In this tapestry called Life.

Challenge the Assumptions,

Final Trip Statistics
Trip Mantra- "Tourists See, Travelers Seek."
Occupation Given at Final Hostel- Unicorn Hunter
Days- 110
Hot Showers- 29
Total Intercity Bus Rides- 63
Hours spent on intercity buses- 246
Oreos Consumed- Over 300
Facial Shaves- 2
Sticks of Deodorant Used- 1

Sunday, May 06, 2007

South American Adventures- Part 11: Buenos Aires & Uruguay

Hola amigos de Latacunga, Ecuador!

In my last email I referenced the need to describe my time in Buenos Aires with my brother. Let me just preface all descriptions by saying that in 12 nights in BA, I did not go to sleep once before 6am. They say NYC is "the city that never sleeps", I say BA is "the city that never sleeps nor runs out of delicious steaks". I got the best piece of ass all trip in that city, and it was sadly from a cow. Interpret that as you wish...

We arrived from Rosario on April 11 and shacked up in our hostel on Corrientes Avenue, the city's analogue to Broadway. We first decided to get a big beef dinner and went to the best restaurant in the area (Estancia), which happened to have a tango show going on upstairs for an extra 10%. We were in. Expecting some light dancing, we received far, far more. A 70 year-old showman, whom we dubbed "Johnny Crazylegs the Dancing Machine" led a group of young tango dancers through several routines while also speaking at least 8 languages, beating drums, telling jokes, milking the crowd, rodeo-style tap dancing and crooning ad nauseam. Just when we thought the show couldn't get any better, we saw a large woman entering through the hall playing a giant drum. My first thought was, "Holy shit, some hobo broke in from the streets." Oh no, this was the hired act; an Argentinian Mama Cass who smiled broadly to everyone and no one in particular. She sang and sweated her sagging breasts off, while diner participation hit an all-time high with spoon table-tapping and matador napkin waiving. Pretty much everyone in attendance was fully convinced that she'd consumed an absurd amount of crack before hitting the stage, and she did absolutely nothing to dispel such a rumor. A hell of a start to Buenos Aires...

Over the next 12 days we explored the various neighborhoods of the city- The lush gardens of Palermo, the brilliantly painted homes of La Boca, the stunning cemetery of Ricoleta where Evita is buried, and of course the wild nightlife of a city that awakens at 2am. A friend of Scott's hooked us up with some of BA's finest partyers, led by our boy Fernando aka Chiche aka La Pirata. We never fully found out why he was called The Pirate, but I'm pretty sure it's because he's an expert at swindling booty. We spent late nights exploring the great clubs like Pacha, Opera Bay, Museum, Asia de Cuba, and others. Many dances, smiles and laughs were had by all.

Perhaps the strangest night I've had on this trip occured when we headed 30 minutes outside the city to the "best Sunday night club around". Immediately upon arrival we realized we were among the trash of Buenos Aires, but the club interior was nice and the throbbing house rhythms were infectious. After 45 minutes of music though, the hanging TV screen was raised and the music faded... Everyone moved to the outskirts of the dancefloor, taking seats to observe the stage as if they knew exactly what was coming... Suddenly, a busty blond sauntered onstage in high heels and lingerie. "Take My Breath Away" from Top Gun pierced the stank club air, and my first thought was "She's not going to...." Oh yes, she was. After a few pathetic gyrations, she removed her top to reveal silicon-enhanced breasticles. Interesting. Suddenly, a large pony-tailed man walked onstage behind her, wearing an oversized black leather trenchcoat. Ummm, okay.

She walked towards the beast and removed the dead cow from his shoulders, revealing tighty-whitey underwear and nothing else. Scott, Israeli Doodee and I looked at each other with equal looks of "Is this really happening!?" She knelt down to face the Incredible Hulk's incredible hulk, and at that point the same thought ran through all of our heads simultaneously... "Not a chance." Oh, but how wrong we were. She pulled down this dude's jock strap to reveal a freakish 11-inch ramjam boner-nation. A collective gasp shuddered through the scattered crowd, and for the next 3 minutes they engaged in softcore faux sex ON STAGE. We were in a state of absolute shock. This was a regular nightclub we thought, not Marv Albert's chamber of love. Finally the curtains mercifully closed, and Bob Sinclair's club anthem "Hold On" screamed over the speakers. We were paralyzed with "what-just-happened-to-me"-ness, but everyone else sprinted onto the dancefloor and began shaking it up like nothing out of the ordinary had just happened! Where the hell were we?! If anything, they danced with more vigor, most likely to compensate for their newfound feelings of loathesome sexual inadequacy thanks to the trenchoat-wearing tripod... Definitely one of the weirdest and funniest things I've ever witnessed on the road.

In the subsequent nights we ate great dinners with new friends at the famed steakhouse Des Nivel and the hidden "878" lounge, enjoyed the social scene and chess games at our LimeHouse Hostel, went to the stadium to watch the biggest futbol match of the year between Boca and River, attended a beautiful Friday night Shabbat service led by our new friend Sheila, flew to Iguazu to see the INCREDIBLE Iguazu Falls (they put Niagra to shame), and watched playoff basketball while consuming 4 litre beers jugs with our buddy Murph at The Alamo Bar. Murph is a 40-something American who regaled us with stories of youthful drug consumption, women chasery and crafty law evasion. His opening line to me was, "I recorded with my band at Tuff Gong Studios (inside the former home of Bob Marley). You've probably heard of us, RKWP?" When I looked at him blank-faced, he answered incredulously, "Come on man, Rich Kids With Problems!" Sadly, he was dead serious. Mark it down dude, another classic character from the road.

Lastly, I was also able to do something while in BA that I had dreamed about for years. Each of us has those nostaligic handful of songs from our youth. We remember the exact setting and details of our first listen. For me, one of these songs is Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath." While on another long-drive with my dad to an 11 year-old AAU practice, the song came on the radio. I remember it as clear as day... he immediately sat up in his seat, turned up the volume, and looked me dead in the eyes. "Oh this is one of my all-time favorites!" I had no idea what the hell was occuring, but I knew the song had to be sweet and that my dad was suddenly driving about 35 mph over the speed limit. I dug the heavy bassline right away. The lyrical delivery was definitely cool, except for the fact that my dad sang the lyrics "Runs the all-time loser, headlong to his death" as if I was the all-time loser. He got especially juiced when shouting in my prepubescent face "His woman and his best friend, in bed and having fun".. and I'm pretty sure we went over 100mph when he howled "And the all-time winner, has got him by the balls!!!" while viscerally demonstrating a testicular grip and squeeze (sidenote: at that time, my balls were nowhere near that big). The flute solo was kickin though, especially the priceless "Ugggh" grunt, and seeing this all in person when they performed at Buenos Aires' Luna Park on April 20th was a special, special memory. If you get the chance to see them live, check out "The Tull" for sure.

After Scott and I had a brotherly depart, I headed by ferry on the Rio del Plata to Colonia, Uruguay for two days with a band of merry travelers from California, Germany, England and Australia. The beautiful colonial city lent itself to some pleasant perusing the first day, and after mis amigos left me solo I rented a motorbike the second day and bombed around the coastal city streets for hours. With raging music penetrating the ear drums, wind whipping my face and sun pelting the shoulders, I felt alive and free once again... Easy Rider style.

The next day I flew to Quito, Ecuador to meet up with my former Semester at Sea roommate, the legendary Jaret Martin. We have traveled this magnificent country together for the past 11 days, soaking in its splendor and regurgitating its unequivocal radness. Although I had my camera stolen somehow during my first day here, I can say with absolute conviction that this is my favorite country in South America thus far. Details to follow in the next installment...

Throughout my days in Argentina, I spent many hours on bus rides just listening to the sounds of my breath. In Guatemala at Las Piramides, whether during mediation or yoga, the breath was constantly emphasized as a focal point of self-control and power. It is so basic, so entrenched in every second of our physical existence, that I felt a compulsion to dig deeper to find something there. In symbiotic harmony with the ever-present heartbeat, the breath is the cyclical manifestation of the lifeforce that moves through each of us at every moment. But what could I take from this? I spent hours of frustration, meandering through thoughtways that made partial sense before I finally succumbed to complacency, resolving to spend my busrides focused on tuneage above all else. But in listening closely to the lyrics of Michael Franti's song "Speaking of Tongues", at one point he says, "...and that would be a shame, because the exhale is the name of the game." The line lingered on the mental treadmill for a few days, jogging through layers of latent lessons until a revelatory thunderstorm of thoughts busted through with unrelenting waves of mental sentences, providing the long-awaited answer to the question in question-

The breath is the perfect representation of the balances we naturally create through our daily actions. We are always both giving and accepting, but the measure and contents of these acts can vary greatly depending on the decisions we make. Inhalation is an act of positive consumption, actively providing us with the essential elements of existence. Because of this, when someone says "Just breathe", we immediately tell ourselves to inhale deeply. Most of our efforts are consistently focused on the inhale rather than the exhale; the consumption of added goods to our lives seems supremely significant. We place great value on the things we possess, the things that we take in, to make a tangible part of the our reality. Alleviation from troubling issues is felt by addition, by augmenting the body and spirit. We feel stress mounting, so we take a long, deep breath inward. We draw breath and our ribcage, in congruence with our possessive value, expands.

Through a lifestyle of capitalist competition, which I agree is the best economic system, the focus becomes production and consumption. Our actions revolve around the positive elements we desire to contribute to our lives... Family, love, material success, etc. We want to inhale these assumed providers of happiness. The only problem is that sometimes we concentrate so much on the inhalation, we lose sight of what we're forced to exhale in the process. Every intake of breath necessitates a responsive expulsion. The realization was that the same is true in life's pursuit of our individual goals. There is a realized gain AND loss through each of our actions, which breathing demonstrates to us during every second of every day.

Fortunately, the body expels waste product through the act of exhaling. But this same waste is utilized by the environmental elements around us for beneficial nutrition. Each time we exhale, we are equally giving off a piece of ourselves while contributing to the realized existence of others. So we must ask ourselves certain questions... Is the inhalation of a better salary worth the exhalation of a significant friendship? How will the exhalation of what I deem my life's waste affect the common good? Am I contributing trails of trash or waves of worthiness through my exhaling actions?... The breath reminds us to always value the inhale, but we must also remain cognizant of our exhale as well. The inhale gets the fame, but remember that the exhale's the name of the game.

I hope this email finds each of you filled with health, happiness and fulfillment.

Challenge the assumptions,

Key Trip Statistics
Days- 94
Showers with Heat- 27
Song of Choice- "Foot of Pride" by Bob Dylan. Take a lyrical ride.
Book Selection- "Global Mind Change" by Willis W. Harman
Occupation Given on Hostel Registrations- Sex-change Authorizer
Quote of Note- "True, deep, abiding love doesn't create the path for others, it lights it." Thanks to my mom for that one.
Random Person- Scott Manson

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

South American Adventures- Part 10: Pictures and Postponement

Hola muchachos de Colonia, Uruguay!

I'll be writing a lengthy Buenos Aires update from Ecuador in the next few days, but I have good news and bad news, so I'll keep this brief and spicy. The bad news is that I'm enjoying the travels so much that I've decided to extend my South American stay for an extra month and will now be returning at the end, rather than the start of May. Therefore I won't be able to see your beautiful faces for a few extra weeks...

The good news is that I've finally loaded and labeled most of my pictures from this trip (and a ton from Semester at Sea), which you can view at:


Feel free to comment or hit me back with reviews.
I miss you all like barbeque sauce.

Challenge the assumptions,

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

South American Adventures- Part 9: Braun Brothers in Argentina, Part 1

Hola muchachos de Buenos Aires, Argentina!

After 2 months of traveling solo (with a brief visit from my good buddy Matt Wiggins), I have become accustomed to a certain barebones backpacking lifestyle- occasional showers, rarely done laundry, extremely cheap hostels and even cheaper food... no more with Scott "Scoot-Nuggets" Braun in the mix for a 20-day visit. He arrived toting a new Blackberry, iPod shuffle and Sidekick 3 in the spot where his bugspray should have packed. The fates laughed deliriously and made raincheck plans to mock him for this splendiferous miscalculation... Our first night together we enjoyed another great seder with the Herzberg's in Santiago, and then headed the next day to Valparaiso, a beautiful coastal city which was the former home of famed poet Pablo Neruda. After perusing the insanely cool neighborhood with multi-colored buildings and art galleries, I allowed myself to be taken to the first nice restaurant I'd visited in 2 months. We dined like royalty at a gorgeous high-end bistro with an outdoor patio overlooking the illuminating city lights... Scott chose a fine Caesar salad with duck puree dip for the bread as an appetizer, I went with french fries. The best interaction of the meal came when he asked the waiter, "So these wine prices are by the glass?" and received a shocked response, "Umm no sir, those are by the bottle." Hahaha, welcome to South American prices in the most expensive country on the continent.

The delicious dinner was followed by two brotherly Coronas at a great jazz bar, a good night sleep, and then the 12 hour-bus ride over the Argentinian border (where our bus almost left a bathroom-bound Braun) to Mendoza. We happened upon great timing with Santa Semana, the most holy and celebrated 4-day weekend on the South American calender. Mendoza was a scalding hotspot for university students on break, so we quickly met some great internationals. Our first night in the hostel we engaged in savory conversation with three Californian chicas, self-nicknamed the "Dudettes", and an unintentionally hysterical Georgetown guy named Taylor. The combination of the girls' penchant for saying "duuuuude" and Taylor's statements like, "Oh my god! This ice cream is amazing! Seriously you guys, this is the best day of my life, that's how incredible this ice cream is!" made for a great time had by all.

In our four days inhabiting this splendid city the Braun brothers ate massive Argentinian steaks for breakfast, lunch and dinner at each meal... We're real men, you can check our genetics. The second day in Mendoza we walked the city streets for hours, chilled in the sprawling park, and then headed to a bar and later discotec with some newly made Brazilian and Columbian friends. We were juiced and ready to dance, or as our dad calls his oldschool hip gyrations, "Shake it up." To our dismay, the club transitioned its playlist between awful house music and even worse Argentinian pop songs that everyone but us knew the words to... Awesome. Our diversionary entertainment was provided through a game of "You pick a girl for me to Freak On", wherein we select random lovelies or not-so-lovelies that the other must make feel like a natural woman. The debate still rages, but I think I won... Finally the DJ broke out Usher's "Yea", and from a distance I saw Scott busting some serious A-Town Stomps. Sadly, no more than 30 seconds into the song they cut to "Insane in the Membrane", so Scott gave up on all coolness and broke into a Central Middle School furious dancefancy.

The next day we spent several more hours getting to the know the city streets, had the best steaks of our lives at Restaurant Facundo, and then while changing money at the casino decided to stay for some brotherly debauchery. We hit the $10 peso blackjack tables with a fury rarely seen in the Southern Hemisphere. I immediately became fully commited to drinking as many of the free beers as possible, while dropping lovely comments towards the 50 year-old cougar seated to our right. We were breaking even while I drained brews and dropped ridiculous lines to everyone in sight... It was great. Everyone was having a blast, mainly because the Braun brothers were on absolute fire. The casino owner soon came down to meet the young Americans who had lit ablaze his blackjack room, and offered us the penthouse suite for the weekend and a free dinner the next night with his gorgeous 27 year-old twin model daughters... Okay that last part isn't true at all. What did happen was that I got cut off by the servers for the first time in my life by any establishment... And it was a casino, where they want you to get wasted! We eventually left down $50 combined after hours of fun, agreeing that it was the best time we'd ever had in a casino for such little change. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure the cougar roofied my beers. Like I said, she was diggin my flow!... Still, I respect the move. Damn you classy vixen.

By the way, a random interjection of questionitude- If you had the choice between only being able to wear kitten fur or puma, which would you choose? I'd go with puma, but only because it's the more aggressive of the two felines in question. Sometimes you've just gotta let people know you mean business, ya know? Dave Rocco knows exactly what I'm talking about...

Anyway, the next day we again walked the city through and through before taking the overnight bus to Rosario, a city famed for the beauty of its female population which outnumbers the males seven-to-one. Yup, its a rumored fact, so you know it's true. Let that one swish around the gums for a little bit... Unfortunately, I lost the bus ride gamble as I was seated next to a wickedly diesel bodybuilder whose beastly forearms couldn't help but extend into my personal prism of privacy. The apex of awkwardness was reached right away, as his mini-sleeved tshirt forced his triceps to conspicuously rub against mine because I happened to be wearing a tshit, albeit normal-sleeved, but a tshirt nonetheless. We shifted silently in obvious discomfort with the situation for several hours, until he finally placed a jacket between us and we once again felt like heterosexual men. Within 30 minutes this giant was sleeping on my shoulder, and my heterosexual pride was again stripped... When we got off the bus 14 hours later, Scott immediately told me about his ride- "Dude it was great. I sat next to that cute blond 23 year-old, she was giving me hand massages and shit, it was awesome." Adam 0, Scott 1.

Upon arrival in Rosario we checked into the phenomenal Casona de Don Jaime Hostel, where we were destined for glory. We immediately befriended two of the best characters I've met thus far in my travels- A young Israeli named Doodee who after drinking became a salsa-hipped dancefloor maestro, and a neckless 300lb Peruvian who'd been living in the hostel for a year, everyday wearing a size medium Philadelpha Eagles Hugh Douglas jersey with hot red tightpants and hiking boots. He only spoke in Spanish curses, and fittingly his name was Angel. The date happened to be April 9th, the birthday of our father. In honor of the event, I decided to make it OldSchool Erv Braun Appreciation Day, and therefore shaved down my month-old beard into the rudest mustache you've seen since Erv circa 1986. We spent an excellent day perusing the city with our new friends, and because only four of us were staying in the hostel that night, the two-man staff locked up the restaurant doors and we dined like latin kings on incredible steak, potatoes, veggies, unlimited wine and spiritual lubrication. The Braun brothers agreed that it was the best $3 dinner of our lives... Yet it only served as a mere preface for the day that was to follow.

Our time in Rosario coincided with a wild mosquito epidemic, so it came as no surprise that Scott got stung on the forehead the previous night... The kid's seriously delicious, to insects he tastes like blood-flavored icecream sundaes. What was truly shocking though, was the tumorous forehead lump that developed after the bite. It served two magnificent purposes- 1) To Scott scared shitless because everyone immediately joked in half-seriousness that it was Dengue Fever. His name immediately became "Dengue" throughout the hostel. 2) To provide me with nonstop laughter when looking at the absurdity of my mustached face next to his Dengue forehead. We were in rare form.

So as the hideous brothers awoke the next morning, we were greeted by the news that TV cameras were coming to the hostel that afternoon to interview travellers about their impressions of Rosario. Scott is a natural showman, but his skills were greatly augmented by his Borat-inspired oration that he had been delivering in horribly broken Spanish to every single female we met on the street, regardless of looks, age or Cesarian section scar. He had asked at least 100 women by this point, "Quieres ser mi esposa? Soy de los Estados Unidos, y yo tengo un television." Translation = Do you want to be my wife? I'm from the United States and I have a television. He wasn't getting any yes's, but he was getting many laughs and a few booby flashes... I kid, no booby flashes. So when the cameras arrived it was only natural that he delivered the speech to the people of Rosario while sporting Dengue forehead, and was followed by his brother who repeated the sentiments with a wink and mustached grin.

From there we headed to a waterfront restaurant with Doodee and two local girls we'd met on the busride, and within twenty minutes of being seated, our fire was fanned. A gorgeous female field reporter began walking around our table with her cameraman, apparently shooting a story on the mosquito epidemic. Scott immediately approached and proposed marriage to her, which she refused but let him down softly by insisting she interview us for her story that was going to air on the same station as the Rosario traveler piece. The only day in my life that I'm rocking a gobstopping mustache next to Dengue-horns and we get put on TV twice! The fates are funny I tell you...

The day raged on with our four-man crew of Angel, Doodee, Scott and myself going to an indoor GoKart racetrack. It was clear by the trashtalk that they assumed the races would be competitive, but they overlooked a very small but simple fact. I had a mustache. Anyone who knows racing will tell you that mustaches equal three things- speed, cornering prowess, and a lack of basic education. As expected, I ruthlessly dominated every race and celebrated atop the sweet podium that I previously thought only existed in ExciteBike.

Following the races we looked up at the TV to see our splendid mugs on the nightly news, and once again high-fives and Spanish curses permeated the cool evening air. We then went back to the hostel to eat a big dinner among fellow guests and jammin music. Scott and I were seated next to a 50 year-old German man who was traveling solo in hostels without a word of Spanish knowledge and fronting the most aggressive toupet we'd ever seen. When he said he worked at a paper company I couldn't help but respond with, "Ohhh, Dunder Mifflin?" (If you don't get this joke, buy every episode ever of The Office and watch them consecutively without blinking. You'll thank me, I promise) Scott practically snarfed his drink, and the rest of dinner was littered with immature bathroom jokes that won us no respect from our fellow diners. Still, we made some friends and the German turned out to be a great guy. Plus, Scott got bit on the forehead by a mosquito for the third time in three days. Clearly this was swift justice, Walker Texas Ranger style.

After the comida we bounced to a karaoke bar with our local female friends, and again lit the place on fire. Unfortunately we started slow, as our brotherly duet of "Summer Lovin" with Scott playing the part of Sandy bombed horribly. No one laughed, clapped or even gave us a courteous jazz-snap. The rebound was strong though, as Scott put on an unbelievable show for "Billie Jean" that culminated in him doing a chest-compression dancemove and at least 10 seconds of serious roboting onstage. He later took the mic when a friend struggled and sang "No hablo espanol... No hablo espanol. Quien quieres ser mi esposa. En serio, quien?" The people laughed their drunken faces off, and Scott became the official Diego Maradona of Argentinian karaoke. At this point we could crap gold, especially after befriending some rowdy young locals that were farewell partying for a wild friend who spent 15 minutes trying to pick up an Irish girl through his unintelligably broken English, offering her cocaine he didn't have by singing Eric Clapton's "Cocaine" into her face. "Daaaadaaadaa daaaa, da da da daaa da da, COCAINE!" he'd scream at her from three inches away, until he finally came back to the table laughing in pain, and informed us that the reason she couldn't understand his slaughtered English was because she was a native Argentinian from Rosario. We practically peed ourselves, shook it up salsa-style for a little longer, and then called it an early night at 5:30am.

The next day we bid a sad farewell depart to our great friends in Rosario, and rolled into Buenos Aires. The brotherly adventures have continued in fine fashion since arriving in this effusive city, but those shall be dispensed in the second installment of the Braun Brothers in Argentina emails. Normally at this point I would write a paragraph about some lesson that I've learned via the travels in the past week or two. However, the recent events have taught me one simple creed that all should heed- No traveler should pack a Blackberry instead of bugspray, the decision will always come back to bite you in the forehead.

I hope this email finds each of you filled with health, happiness and fulfillment.

Challenge the assumptions,

Key Trip Statistics
Days- 75
Showers with Heat- 20
Song of Choice- "Highway Patrolman" by Bruce Springsteen. Hauntingly moving song about brotherly devotion. A tip of the cap to Catfish McNamara for this gem.
Book Selection- "Socrates Cafe" by Christopher Phillips
Occupation Given on Hostel Registrations- Highlander
Quote of Note- "It is possible to have too much. A man with one watch knows the time, a man with two is never sure."
Random Person- Heather Weiss

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

South American Adventures- Part 8: Southern Peru & Chile

Hola amigos de Rosario, Argentina... the land of beautiful women and even more beautiful steaks.

Let me first thank the gracious offers that so many of you extended to visit the absurdly fictional town of Picantemanos. Many of you got that it was an April Fools edition, written in South American style (meaning late), but the second update was to see who would really believe in 12-fingered families, alpaca-chase training for mayoral slapping contests, and cocktail umbrella gang warfare in a town called Hot Sauce Hands... Picantemanos is about as real as Harrison Whitman's sister. Special bonus gullible points go out to Donnie Iyamu McGrath, Fernando and Jose Cuartas, Alyssa Dawn McConkey, Dan Rockin Teicher, P-Goo Martin, Jordan Johnson Jhabvala and John Catpiss Chernin. By the way John, I was also the one that bought the advertising space on the Daily Jolt last year to put up that frontpage ad selling your virginity. Happy belated birthday.

Onto reality... There is actually a lot to write about considering I haven't sent a factual update in over two weeks. After leaving Uyuni, Bolivia I did actually head to La Paz for two days. I went there for one reason only, to ride on a bike tour down The World's Most Dangerous Road between La Paz and Curoico. All I knew was that the Israelis refused to go out of fear and that my good friend Noah Marwil had previously written in a Bolivian recommendations email- "The next day was the best. I signed up for a bike ride down a road called "Death Valley". It's beautiful and dangerously sexy. DO THIS." Noah is a true connoisseur with over 23 years of radical experience in "sexy", so with his ringing endorsement I wanted in. What I didn't find out until we mounted our bikes was that over 7000 people have died on the road, averaging about 100 per year, most recently an Israeli tourist just two weeks ago and a Canadian six weeks before our venture... Imagine an SUV-wide dirt and rock path winding through waterfall-laced gorgeous green mountains, with no railing to protect individuals from dropping off the 300 meter edges, and you'll have a vague mental image of the road. In retrospect, it was one of the stupidest but coolest things I've ever done in my travels. The hours of riding were exhilarating, the scenery incredible, and the fact that I survived is probably my favorite part.

From there I took a bus back over the border to Puno, Peru and visited the floating reed Uros Islands of Lake Titacaca. The inhabitants explained that they were too poor to purchase real land and enjoyed the ancient traditional lifestyle of their life on these floating islands which they maintained by constantly adding new reeds to the infrastructure. Another incredibly cool place to see. From Puno I hopped an overnight bus to Arequipa, and went on a two-day tour of Colca Canyon. Thermal baths, condor viewing, delicious food and excellent company made this trip to one of the deepest points on the planet highly enjoyable. I got along especially well with a 50-something American couple who were in their fifth of a planned 25 years of global travel via the small catamaran they sailed around the world. Fucking righteous man...

Upon my return to Arequipa I went out for a great night of drinking and dancing with some Norwegian girls and a hysterical Scottish guy from our hostel. The next day was for digesting Arequipa, which is a truly beautiful city that I highly recommend visiting. The Santa Catalina Monastery is a small city unto itself with intriguing buildings and beautiful tiny cobblestone streets. The walls of each plaza and room are painted brilliantly forceful blues, reds, yellows and creams. Trust me, it's a uniquely amazing place. I normally don't fall in love with churches or museums, but Santa Catalina was brilliant and a great spot to spend a few hours in meditative contemplation and reflection.

Afterwords the overnight bus to Nazca wasn't bad and once there, I was able to sit shotgun in a 6-seater plane riding over the famed yet mysterious Nazca Lines. These are recently discovered lines carved into the salty desert soil, making massive designs and geometric figures when viewed aerially. Among the thousands of shapes there's a monkey, spider, hummingbird, trapezoidal landing strips and even a waving spaceman... but many are dated to about a thousand years ago, and can only be viewed from planes which didn't exist at that time. So these eternal questions remain- Who were these designs made for? What was their purpose? Does Luke Tedaldi really have a ponytail? Wicked cool stuff.

From Nazca I ventured to Ica to grab lunch at the Huacachina Oasis. This is a crazy little lake with surrounding vegetation in the middle of massive sand dunes. The locals say the waters have healing powers, I say the chocolate there tasted delicious. Finally the exhausting day of travel ended with a bus ride to Lima, where I found a great hostel in Miraflores and chilled out until my flight to Santiago, Chile the next day. Unfortunately my flight arrived at 2am, and I didn't feel like entering the city in search of a hostel with rare 24-hour check in. The only solution was to nap in the airport until daylight, which www.SleepingInAirports.com said was a viable option. After eventually finding a dark corner behind the worker's storage area, I hid there discreetly and stole two hours of awful sleep on a hard wooden bench. Three more hours at a breakfast buffet restaurant, eight hours of walking the city center with my big backpack, and I landed at the doorstep of the Herzberg family.

April 2nd was the first night of Passover, so my friend Suz linked me up with a Chilean family who offered to host me for the night and provide a delicious seder. It was honestly the first real house I'd entered in two months, so the wireless internet, hot shower and comfortable bed were tasty luxuries for a weary traveler. The seder was attended by both family and friends of all ages, and the table danced with conversation and song in Spanish, English, Hebrew and German. A highly memorable evening. The next day my brother Scott Scooter Braun arrived...

I know several of you are fiending for some Scoot-nuggets stories, but like any self-respecting author I know the value of a cliffhanger. The next email or two will be fully devoted to the adventurous tales of the Braun brothers in Argentina... And they will be as delicious as the 600g steak that I nearly cried while eating last week because it was so fucking good.
A perfect three-word description of our time thus far would be "Laughter through Wifehuntery"...There is no longer any doubt in my mind that my older brother is certifiably insane, but more importantly, he and everyone around him has a damn funky time reveling in that insanity... myself included.

Finally, the last 10 days, between the Herzberg's hospitality and the arrival of my brother for three weeks of siamese travel, have been saturated with thoughts of family. In my travels thus far I've met some great and some not so great people, but the consistent common denominator has been that those with a strong family base tend to have inherent levels of intuitive morality. They respect the shaded lines between right and wrong. They have open-hearts and kind words for strangers, perhaps because they are ingrained with a certain skew towards positivity that comes from a loving household. That's certainly not to say that those without this family base cannot possess the same character traits; it's just not quite as common in those who were never bestowed with the gift of family life... The ultimate reality is that no one knows your inner skin like your family, and no one deserves more credit for your outer skin than those same people. We often take their sacrifices and love for granted, but perhaps once in a while we should each take account of how important that familial love is to each of us... Gracias mom and dad por todos, and a big happy birthday to my brother Sam Braunlanga, my beautiful sister Liza, and my dad swervin Ervin.

I hope this email finds each of you filled with happiness, health and fulfillment.

Challenge the Assumptions,

Key Trip Statistics
Days- 68
Showers with Heat- 16
Song of Choice- "Speaking of Tongues" by Michael Franti.
Book Selection- "My Losing Season" by Pat Conroy
Occupation Given on Hostel Registrations- Chocolateer
Quote of Note- "Open your eyes and look within. Are you satisfied, with the life you're living?" -Bob Marley in "Exodus"
Random Person- Miss Piggy

Saturday, April 07, 2007

South American Adventures- Part 7: Picantemanos Update

Hola de Mendoza, Argentina!

It seems as though almost all 100 or so of you on my mass email list responded in some fashion to the last email... Apparently it was a lightening rod of controversy and potential tomfoolery, so let me now dispel all myths about my commitment to the people of Picantemanos and their extremely extraordinary extremities. I will be going there at the end of June, and I am sure that the craziness of the experience will leave me a stronger and better person.

To answer the questions-

1) FACT- Alfonso is real. I discretely took a few snapshots of his freak hands, but I forgot my camera cable so I'm unable to load the pics at this time (the same reason why I haven't created an online album with any of the trip's 700 shots). His father, Alfonso, is also very real as are his 12 hideous digits. His four sons, all named Alfonso but nicknamed Zo, Z, Zorge and Zoseph, all possessing normal 5-fingered hands, are great kids. His wife, Alfonsa, happens to be a sweet woman but after witnessing the respect a 6-fingered man receives in Peru, I understand why Alfonso despises the pathetic weakness of Alfonsa's genetic makeup.

2) FACT- The world's first and only cocktail umbrella cartel will become a reality, and it will exist in Picantemanos, Peru. Unfortunately, in recent years the cocktail umbrella business has become a dirty game around here, soiled by corruption and backstabbing... literally stabbing in the back with small, delightfully colorful umbrellas has become a method of persecution by local gangs. The wounds are small and non-life threatening, but it gets the message across when you're lying face down in the mud with cocktail umbrellas sticking out of your back. Yet the proud people will not be intimidated by their weaponry.

3) FACT- The slapping contest with the outgoing Jefe Superior will occur on the Summer Solstice in 2007. Apparently I have to undergo 5 days of alpaca chasing as training before the event because it will exhaust every ounce of energy that I possess. There is no loser in this contest, only two sore-faced winners.

4) FACT- Yes, the closest translation for the spanish word Picantemanos is "Hot Sauce Hands".

To those of you that showed immediate unquestioning support for my becoming mayor of a Peruvian town called Hot Sauce Hands where the people have 12 fingers, mayoral inaugurations include slapping contests, and the biggest problems are dog-shit covered streets and cocktail umbrellas cartels, especially to those that are interested in arranging a summer visit- I thank you for your unwavering commitment to the absurdity of the adventures thus far. I love you the way Dennis Stratton loves bestiality pornography. But please don't change any of your current plans because I'm awaiting to hear back from the outgoing Jefe Superior about whether other Westerners would be allowed to move into/visit the village. When I know more, so will you...

To the rest of you, I still love you, but more in the way Phil Charm loves Lion King... which is a strong devotion, but not nearly as intense as Stratton's insatiable lust for hardcore bestiality porn.

I hope this email finds your day filled with happiness, health and

Challenge the assumptions,

Monday, April 02, 2007

Hola amigos de Santiago, Chile!

Well there's an insane amount that occurred since the last update, but I'll trim the fat and get the filet mignon... the deliciously juice stuff. After Uyuni I headed back to La Paz for a few days, crossed the border to Puno, visited Arequipa and then anticipated spending a few days between Nazca and Lima. Fortunately for all players involved, the good fates blew my sails in another diretion- Towards Picantemanos. Let's take a few steps backwards... On the overnight bus from Arequipa to Nazca I was seated next to a man with a peculiar ailment, or wondrous power, depending on how you view the situation. Alfonso, my seatmate, had 6 fingers on each hand. It wasn't a situation where you would spend hours addressing someone and then suddenly notice; his sixth digit was blindingly apparent from the moment I met the grip of his elephant-hand. The sinewy second-pinky aggressively wrapped around my underpalm, and I couldn't decide whether to giggle or shriek in horror. I compromised by laying an involuntary but extremely soft fart into my leather seat to alleviate the mounting nervous energy. Over the next few hours he kept me enthralled with tales of Picantemanos, his small pueblo in the native Peruvian mountains.

Alfonso possessed a vigorously brooding hatred towards his wife of 32 years, because she had apparently "tainted the sangre pura" of his 6-fingered ancestry. I didn't believe a word of his claims of a 6-finger bloodline. Total crap. But he went on, decrying that not one of his four sons was born with six-fingers per hand, thus shaming not only himself but all of his living relatives who proudly possessed the extra digit... After several hours of conversations and catnaps, we heard a loud pop and the bus came to a slow halt. Broken axle. Shit. Alfonso laughed hysterically at the misfortune, saying that Picantemanos was only a 5km walk away and invited me to spend the night at his home... Of course I jumped at the opportunity, especially after the righteous excellence of my Guatemalan home stay with Joel Puac.

Then magic struck... When I awoke the next morning inside of Alfonso's tiny home, I was greeted by his entire family of "5-fingered freaks". During the day we toured the town, which exports papaya and alpaca wool mostly, but many of the elderly women have created a successful collective of cocktail umbella makers. They spend hours making these decorative miniature umbrellas, but turn a pretty nice profit selling to nearby resort towns... Then around 3pm we went to the bar, and we start to drink. Heavily. The 96% grain alcohol that the Potosi miners consume is also the Picantemanos beverage of choice, so in no time I was absolutely housed. We played a wild drinking game that involved dice, singing and a strange ovational dance to Pachamama, the indigenous Incan G-d who in many parts has been supplanted by some dude named Jesus. In my spiritually lubricated state I explained at length my desire to one day start an NGO that raises money at home and works with local communities abroad to create self-empowering schools of effective education. Alfonso and his compadres sang a loud "Salud!" to the concept, and the snowball began rolling...

It turns out that their annual election for the equivalent of a mayor ("Jefe Superior") was that night, and the entire community was disappointed with the two running candidates- an elderly woman who sold alpaca meat at absurdly high prices because she was the only supplier, and the husband who detested her because she allegedly killed his favorite alpaca without an utterance of request. He was running for the position just to spite her. Spurred by drunken jubilation, Alfonso and the rest of the merry bar patrons suggested I run in opposition, but I obviously demurred. At that point Alfonso's father entered the bar, and was called over to meet the gringo Americano. As I shook his hand, I instinctively felt something strange. When I looked down, I saw it- His 6th finger! The crazy bloodline was true. As the over-powering chills of fate ran throughout my numbed body, I saw the signs very clearly, and without hesitation agreed to run for Jefe Superior. Why not? How many 23 year-old Americans have the opportunity to make a real difference in a foreign community, especially through the position of Mayor?

The town gathered in the outdoor community center, and at that point the nerves started to kick in... My heart was racing, but the grain alcohol Alfonso forced down my dry throat before addressing the crowd helped immensely. I did my best to emulate the "Dwight's Speech" episode from The Office- waving oustretched arms in sweeping motions and pounding alcohol-soaked fists on the table, I felt like an crazed Evangelist. The speech simply restated my desire to empower the locals through education, and also mixed in tidbits about the need to clean up the dog shit that covered the streets, create a cocktail umbrella cartel with surrounding towns, and ended with "Viva Pachamama!" The gente ate it up. Repeated cries of "Con Juntos!", several more devilish drinks, a shouting pair of alpaca owners, and two hours later they informed me that I'd been selected by the community as the new Jefe Superior.

Brothers and sisters, I know this sounds insane, but I really think it's an amazing opportunity that cannot be passed up. I can still travel South America for the next few months because my term begins with the summer solstice on June 21st, so it's an ideal setup. I've emailed my future employer Bain and requested a one-year delay on my start date so I can join with the next incoming class, and I'm preparted to fight them tooth-and-nail to make that happen. The initiation ceremony apparently involves more heavy drinking, a 10 day retreat into the mountains to find guidance from Pachamama, and an absurdly weird slapping contest with the outgoing Jefe Superior... It should be a wild ride, and of course each of you are more than welcome and expected to visit me when I make the move to Picantemanos at the end of June. If anyone is interested in moving there with me (even just for the summer) to help empower a beautiful Peruvian community, let me know as soon as possible and I'll see if I can figure something out...

I hope this email finds you filled with happiness, health and fulfillment.

Challenge the Assumptions,

Key Trip Statistics
Days- 61
Showers with Heat- 11
Song of Choice- Just get the whole Manu Chao Live Album. Do it, do it.
Book Selection- "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Milan Kundera
Occupation Given on Hostel Registrations- Horse Whisperer
Quote of Note- "I like you. Do you like me?." - Borat Sagdiyev
Random Person- Krayzie Bone

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Hola de Uyuni, Bolivia!

I have extremely sad news to report- Before leaving La Paz the 2-month beard became an extremely itchy and hideous nuisance. I'd complain to hostel owners about the prickliness of their pillows, only to be embarrassed when they pointed out the fact that it was actually mi barda. The last straw was drawn when I took an extended hot shower in front of a mirror and decided that I honestly didn't recognize my own face... I wanted me back, so I begrudgingly decided to enter a barbershop in La Paz where a man awaited wearing a white butchers jacket, and craftily utilizing tools that I only believed existed in Dr. Seuss books, gave me a classic double cut- Both beard and hair were sliced in a brilliant 30-minute display of pelucaria expertise that featured pump-blowtorch sterilization, paintbrush shaving cream lathering, single-blade shaving-fancy, and antiquated scissors with ancient-clipper-endings. I left feeling like a new man, my old self...Adam was back.

That afternoon I took the 9-hour busride to Cochabamba, a rarely traveled city whose cuisine is supposedly just as tenderly sweet as its given name. Before leaving for South America I'd been put in touch with a 24-year old student/model named Dari who had been giving me great travel advice, so when she agreed to help host me in her fair city I had to seize the opportunity... The bus-ride through the mountains was delayed by a protesting pueblo blockading the single-lane highway in an effort to attain gas from 18-wheel tankers, so the spectacular ascent through the Bolivian mountain-range provided both a topographic and social education for the lone gringo on the bus. The planned two-day stay quickly turned into four, as Dari immediately whisked me away with a friend to an amazing churascaria called Buffalo. Churascaria means that it was a restaurant with a set price ($5) for a buffet and constant merry-go-round of waiters offering you as much meat of every variety as one can consume. I voraciously ate to the glorious point of achieving the "meat sweats", which is when an individual eats so much beef that their face becomes flush and an internal heat (often cow demons calling from within) forces the person to sweat from beef saturation. Only after completing this feat, do I consider myself a real man. They call me "Hombre Real."

The greatest part of having a local host is that you stay away from tourist traps and get to see a native area through native eyes. Fortunately, among many other things, Dari had really nice eyes. After Buffalo, we went to a great local bar where I conversed with a bunch of Bolivian 20-somethings over Taquina cervezas and finally headed to an underground dance club that played everything from The Doors to hardcore reggaeton. The next few days consisted of eating amazing food all over the city (pique macho might be the greatest dish ever), touring the massive Cancha market, visiting Bolivia's most prestigious and expensive university ($250 per month), drinking and dancing at various pubs/clubs, walking the city streets, and taking in a lively futbol match with Dari and her father... If one wants to learn how to curse in Espanol, my best advice would be to attend a South American soccer game. 25,000 strong continually sang, jumped, danced, screamed, and most importantly, spat obscenities with fervor. Cries of Spanish expletives rained onto the field like luminous verbal confetti for two hours... And when our squad finally scored the eventual 1-0 game-winning goal in the 80th minute of play... Insane Celebration. I swear some of these men were happier than when their first-born child emerged into this world.

Leaving Cochabamba was pretty tough as I ate like a king and was amongst amazing company the whole time. Dari was an excellent host and because Cochabamba is a truly Bolivian city, I only saw one backpacker/caucasion in four days, which made for an extremely authentic experience. I then took the overnight bus to Potosi, the once-richest and highest city in the world at 4200m. Upon arrival at 6:15am I took a local bus to the city centro, grabbed an American desayuno and hopped on an all-day tour of the infamous mines. The mountain overlooking Potosi, called Cerro Rico, once produced enough silver to allow the city its own mint (called Casa de la Moneda, "House of Money", which I visited two days later)... Today its resources are heavily depleted yet 15,000+ miners work over 300 mines daily in search of silver, lead and zinc. There is no government intervention or assistance, no bosses or leaders, only small cooperatives that are usually family-based and they thus determine their own hours, risks and exploration sites.

After changing into proper garb, exploring the mineral factories, and purchasing gifts of soda and dynamite for the workers (just once I´d like to get soda and dynamite for my birthday), we headed into the mine. Within about 30 seconds it became blindingly apparent that this was no tourist gimmick; we were being taken into a legit mine that was meant for tiny Latin workers, not 6´4¨, 230lb quaterbacks with laser-rocket arms. Surprisingly though, they had a large lounge setup with flat-screen TV´s, internet portals, Skype headsets and two NBA Jam Tournament Edition arcade machines!.. I kid. They had shovels and headlamps. We spent over \n2.5 hours inside of that crazy mine- crawling, coughing, feeling nauseous (many people left), watching the men work, and helping shovel exploded rocks for two minutes before sitting down from exhaustion. I spoke briefly with a 36 year-veteran of the mine who was doing a 12 hour day, and also a 24 year-old who sat beside his 15 year-old brother, both of which began working the mines at age fourteen.

Finally we blew up some dynamite outside with the extras we had purchased, and after returning to the city I gorged myself on llama steak. Like my brother Cornelio Guibunda, it was dark, slightly thin and extraordinarily sweet. I had few hours to kill so I entered the magnificent San Francisco Church, only to find myself and one other visitor being taken around by the Spanish-speaking guide. Right away this other visitor seemed weird to me. A 30-something Canadian caucasion male, he dressed every bit the part of a NYC hipster. A tight black jacket over his plain grey t-shirt was tucked crisply into jet-black pants, which were strangely squished inside his shiny black galosh boots. It was sunny and pretty hot outside. The best part by far, was that he wore a massive white Karate Kid headband with three huge Japanese letters, meaning "Fighting Spirit" as he later explained. This was definitely the kind of guy who sipped on $6 lattes daily and then bought 1-ply toilet paper to wipe his ass. Don't ask me what that means, just believe it as truth. Everytime I would translate the guide's Spanish for him, he would rapidly nod at me and say "Asah!" A Canadian white guy. He soon mentioned he'd lived in Tokyo the past 7.5 years, but I swear he said "Asah" over 50 times in the hour we were there. As he rode off afterwords in a light green mountain bike with a huge frontal breadbasket, I cracked up but immediately felt regret that I never got his name... fortunately the fates were kind.

Unfortunately though, I mistakenly missed the last bus of the night to Uyuni, so the following internal dialogue ensued- Problem= What to do? Solution= Toss a coin to see whether I stay in Potosi or head to Sucre for the night. Problem= Toss completed. Is this side the heads or the tails on a 5 Boliviano coin? Total mystery. Solution= Suchre seems more mysterious, I'm going there... After eating a street hamburger I took the 2.5 hour taxi ride straight to Suchre, for a whopping $3.15. I quickly checked into an alojamiento for 2 bucks a night and went right to Joyride Cafe, a local watering hole where I bled blackink thoughts of reflective appreciation onto the lined pages of my journal... Knowing that my 24 year-old friend had been in that dirty mine 12 hours a day during the past 10 years while I attended basketball practices and frat parties was incredibly humbling... Perspective. Appreciation. Humility. A very powerful day.

The next morning I walked the streets of Suchre, Bolivia's "People's Capital" and widely regarded as its most beautiful city with an all-white interior. After viewing the entire city from the gorgeous lookout at La Ricoleta Cafe, I hopped the bus back to Potosi only to miss the Uyuni bus for the second straight night. As frustrating as this was, I had to find some element of positivity and therefore decided it was fate, so I looked for a purpose in my Potosi presence that eve... which became immediately obvious when I noticed the raucous crowds headed to the futbol stadium. One of the biggest matches of the year against a Venezuelan squad started in an hour, so there was only one thing to do- Drain 2 litres of Potosina beer, get as distastefully drunk as possible and join the rowdiest fans in futbol mayhem... The night was a blast, although we tied 2-2 (more screams of "Puta maricone!" from all directions), and I stupidly ate a 45 cent hamburger and fries combo from a street vendor both before and after the game... An Immodium morning followed.

So the next day I boarded the seven hour bus to Uyuni. Sometimes you really hit the jackpot with your bus seatmate- a pretty girl, an intriguing conversationalist, or a knowledgeable local. On this day, I lost, and I lost badly. As the obese 50 year-old Bolivian with just four yellow teeth sauntered towards the vacant aisle seat to my left, I didn't think much of it. But when he sat down, I was smacked with an odor unfit for this Earth. I'm 85% sure that in May of 2002, during a drunken game of Truth or Dare, this man chose dare... to which his compadre jokingly challenged, "Okay, okay I've got it. I dare you to become the shittiest smelling man to ever exist on this planet"... As his friend chuckled heartily, this man looked him sternly in his patched eye and said "You don't think I've got the cajones? Alright, I'm gonna do it." Since then he has showered twice a day in 4-month old rancid milk and blow dries himself with bottled hangover breath... I would have called him out for later forging his son's ticket, but I was too scared of being stabbed with a poisonous fart.

That night I got some solid rest and the next morning joined six Israelis, all my age, on a 3-day jeep tour of the Salar de Uyuni. To say that it felt like we were often on another planet would be a gross understatement. The enormous salt flats are one-of-a-kind with miles of bleached white land, often with an inch or so of water creating a wild mirror effect. As our truck came upon the first tiny salt pyramids, a dark blur flashed past us... It was the crazy Canadian riding his bicycle into the water! Sadly, after 3 hours of riding on dry salted land he got stuck and had to turn around, so I had time to find out his name and seven-year occupation in Japan. I expected, "Well I was an accupuncture specialist, and my name is Ted," Nope, way way better. "I worked in facility maintenance, and my name is Vinna." Vinna!? Vinna!!!? Life is a trip man. Anyway, in the middle of nowhere was a huge island of cacti, later a forest of tree-like rocks, soonafter thermal pools, geysers and amazing colored lakes with pink flamingos... The 3 days were a gorgeously wicked goodtime, especially considering the seven of us shared some hysterical conversations, sing-a-longs and one excellent Shabbat dinner with cheap wine and stale bred... I'm now back from the tour, heading to La Paz and then there's another week in southern Peru.

Bolivia was a country I originally did not intend to visit. Most just don't go, so I figured why bother. A planned five days has unintentionally blossomed into two weeks. In those two weeks, between the jeep and bus rides I've probably spent well over 40 hours staring out the window through disbelieving eyes, inhaling the oceans of stunningly diverse landscapes. This is by far the least traveled of the major South American countries, but it's offered so much through its natural beauty every single day...Rigid outlines of silhoutted mountain ranges rested each morning on a technicolor horizon, only hours after the same sky was peppered with salty stars. Angry geysers hissed sulfuric fuy and thermal pools sweated steam into the chilled air as the sun awoke. Lemon-dry plains stretched towards cloud-shadowed mountains that mocked the goats, llamas and alpacas below with brown contempt. Vanilla swirls were both lost and found on the slopes of cherry clay mounds. Tired volcanoes waned through rear windows, begging to be noticed by the charitable passage of time. Lakes appeared without warning or provocation, each dyed a different shocking color- blood red, topaz blue, oak brown, jade green- perfectly placid mirrors only disturbed by the occasional movement of the resident flamingos, which lazed about like brazen birthday candles. Ruined stone walls stood as skeletal reamins to what once was, or what never became. Dirt roads caved through lush countrysides like dried veins, snaking from peak to valley with vericose intent. Serated sand dunes flexed cracked surfaces from the 10,000 winds of natural expression. Towering mountains appeared and passed like tracing paper, witnessed by the lone few in passing...

Traveling through Bolivia is a road not taken by many, which is simultaneously its greatest weakness and strength. I urge anyone who ventures to this part of the world to spend some time in this magnificent country. Two roads diverged and during these past two weeks my experience has been within the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Challenge the assumptions,

Key Trip Statistics
Days- 52
Showers with Heat- 8
Beard Status- Deceased
Song of Choice- "This Must Be the Place" by Talking Heads... Checkout String Cheese Incident's "This Must Be the Place Jam" for a rehashed and extended jam version.
Book Selection- "The Giver" by Lois Lowry... forever great.
Quote of Note- "He not busy being born is busy dying." -Bob Dylan
Random Person- Teddy "Sometimes Serious, Sometimes Delirious, Always Tiberius" Farkas

Friday, March 16, 2007

South American Adventures- Part 4: Machu Picchu and Titicaca

Hola de La Paz, Bolivia!

Immediately after sending out the last update I took several public pickup trucks to a very very remote town called Palestina, to live with a man named Joel Puac who had approached me a week earlier at Las Cristalinas and kindly invited me to live in his home for as long as I liked in exchange for some English lessons. It was a big risk to go solo into the mountains of Gautemala with just the man's name and his town (he doesnt have an address... he just lives at the end of one of the dirt roads) but it turned out to be one of the best travel experiences I've ever had.

I could write about my three days in Palestina for hours, but I'll make an attempt at brevity. After boarding a truck to Palestina several people directed me down a dirt road where I found Joel tending to his chickens. He showed me around his small property (two multi-purpose rooms, chicken stalls, three dogs, a cow, some space for growing coffee and corn). His wife and kids were in another town for the night so he introduced me to his father, a man who lived next door and only spoke in whispered "ahhs" or sighs that could express any emotion. He proudly wiped the dust off his 40 year old framed picture of the NYC skyline, and the three of us talked for several hours about life, religion, family, youth, and American vs. Guatemalan culture. Pretty soon Joel pulled out his massive portable cassette recorder, a Spanish-English dictionary and two books. He said "these are how I study my English everynight" and my eyes almost bugged out of my head...

The first book was the Bible, which I completely expected and respected. The second was a pamphlet, sponsored by Phillip Morris USA with two fakely smiling Latinos on the cover, called (I swear this is true), "Raising Kids Who Don't Smoke"!!! I thought it was too absurd to be true (like the kid I saw earlier that week in Guatemala wearing an orange shirt that said "White Plains Basketball"), but apparently life has a lot of humor to it. He asked me to read as much as I liked into the recorder, which he would then listen to via headphones everynight to improve his English... The American Dream man, the American Dream. Over the next three days we visited the indigenous town of Santa Clara, I read the first 50 proverbs from Salomon and the entire pamphlet into the recorder (2 hours worth), his wife taught me how to make corn tortillas and educated me on raising chickens, I spoke with several of his neighbors who told me a non-Guatemalan had never stayed in their village before, we walked to an amazing lookout over Lake Atitlan, and generally enjoyed mutually eye-opening conversation. Before leaving I exchanged gifts with his son Elgar, and thanked them for the incredible experience.

After a night in Santa Cruz la Laguna and another in Guatemala City before a 7am flight, I flew to El Salvador for a 5 hour layover and arrived in Lima, Peru at 7pm that night. From there, things got damn tasty... About a week earlier I had tried using a site called couchsurfing.com (where people offer travelers a free nights stay at their homes) and was led to a 26 year-old Peruvian named Henry Laureano. After some email and IM banter, he ended up deciding to pick me up from that airport, give me a brief tour of Lima that night, take me to this amazing Peruvian hole-in-the-wall hamburger joint, provide a bed at his parents' home and they drove me back to the airport at 3:30am for my 6am flight to Cusco! Henry had a real penchant for using the English word "deleeseous" when describing burgers, so I believe one sentence went something like, "McDonalds is very deleeseous like Burger King which is huge deleeseous, oh and Wendys is so so deleeseous, but I think this place is muy muy deleeseous, more deleeseous than the others because it tastes so natural deleeseous." Clearly he is the absolute man and the generosity that the entire Laureano family displayed towards me was truly unforgettable.

Upon arriving in Cusco I checked into a hostel and immediately jumped on a tour of the ruins around the spectacular city. Cusco, aka the Navel ofthe World, was the center of the Incan empire when it stood at its height before the New World took over... I went to 5 different sites, the highlights of which were the Sun Temple Qolcancha and the incredible, get this, say it aloud, Saqsaywaman ruins. Yup. Awesome. After the tour I had a fantastic 4-course meal for 95 cents with a lovely 30 year old Argentinian girl I'd met on the tour who I am hoping will host Scott and I when we venture to her hometome of Buenos Aires in a month. Always great to meet good people on the road. The next two days consisted of hours spent drinking in the city by the gulps- Cruising around the San Blas barrio, bargaining for a gorgeous piece of abstract art, witnessing a wedding at La Merced Inglesia, taking in a great cultural dance show, going out until 5am on the Plaza de Armas where every bar gives you a free drink upon enterring, learning salsa from Peruvians in an unmarked 3rd floor locals club, shopping in markets while speaking with vendors about their lives for hours, and then taking a late-night train to Aguas Calientes so I could see Machu Picchu at sunrise.

The train seated 4-people per section facing one another, and of course I got seated with a Danish family of Jehova's witnesses. The kindly 70 year-old father was politely engaging when telling me that I had to read the Bible in its entirety and recognize my path to G-d. I decided to forgo mentioning the heresy of my Hebrew tattoo, but I came very close after his wife fell asleep and he spent the next hour incessantly picking his nose and overtly scratching his balls... we were directly facing each other with less than 3 inches separating our legs, and yet this guy was pulling off the lift, scratch and tuck every 5 mins! I just started laughing out loud after one particularly vigorous ball tug, to which he closed his eyes, tilted his head back and smiled through closed eyes of pure content. Ohhh the glories of man...

To put it simply, Machu Picchu is my favorite site I have ever visited... better than the Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China, Western Wall, Vatican, the Louvre, or Christian Sorensen's left trapezius muscle. I woke up extremely early to make sure I was one of the first to enter the site at 6am, and the result was breathtaking. Misty chilled rains exuded an eerie feeling of ancient mystique. Tired clouds exhaled along the mountain sides, eventually enveloping the few silent spectators in the serene air. After several hours just staring awe-struck from a distant terrance, I explored the ruins from up close for about an hour before scaling the large mountain behind the site called Waynapicchu. The challenging 45 minute hike ended with a spectacular view from the fortressed ruins above... Again as one of the first few at the top, I spoke with a humble Peruvian groundskeeper for about an hour before descending to a slightly lower terrace, where I spent 3 hours just staring through echoed eyes, listening to music, writing in my journal and meditating. Eventually the sun shone through around 11am and motivated by the warm heat I ascended to the beautiful peak of the mountain before hiking back down, exploring the ruins further, and finally leaving around 1:30pm... 7.5 hours after enterring Machu Picchu's entrance gate. Chills from head to toe.

The natural high I felt upon returning to Aguas Calientes seeped through every cell in my body, and fed me in my return to Cuzco, immediate overnight 8 hour bus to Puno and then the 7am bus over the Bolivian border to Copucabana. From there I ventured via a \n1.5 hour boat ride to Isla Del Sol on Lake Titacaca with two great 28 yaer-old travelmates, Connie from Ireland and Joe from Australia. Lake Titicaca is the highest lake in the world at about 4000m, and La Paz in the highest capital city in the world as well... Anyway we checked into a gorgeous hostel for $2 each and hiked up the island to have some of the famed fresh trout. The result was Scott Braun (equation: Scott Braun=Amazing). After a delicious meal overlooking the gorgeous lake, surrounding Bolivian hills, the nearby Isla del Luna, and the Andes Mountains in the distant horizon, we hiked to some Incan ruins and took 360 degree panoramic pictures of what I can only describe as a draw-dropping sunset. We then returned to get another trout and mate (tea) meal in a candlelit restaurant because the island had no elecricity. Magic. Pure magic in that place. Upon leaving the restaurant we were greeted with the most brightly visible Milky Way I've ever seen and a congested sky of welcoming stars... I saw my first satellite (like a small star but moving.. sooo cool) and after the dodgy 30-minute walk back in the dark we went up to the hostel roof to take pics while sharing glorious conversation and local cookies.

The next morning we returned to Copacabana and took a stunning drive through the Bolivian mountains to reach La Paz, where we relaxed at an Irish travelers pub and I had my first-ever helpings of both lasanga and hot whiskey (great for relieiving congestion)... La Paz is a wild capital city, built literally into the mountains but a full city nonetheless... For now I'll be in Bolivia for 10-12 days before returning to Peru to travel the southern coast... Life on the road has truly never been better.

The greatest lesson I've learned in the past two weeks has been to take chances; trust in the inherent goodness of others. As a traveler you are often told not to trust anyone. Keep your eye on your bag and your hand on your waistpack that should be tucked as close to your goods as possible. Well, the recent exposure to people like Joel, Henry, Joe and Connie have taught me that great people do exist in every corner of the globe, but their light can only shine when you remove your personal blockades of inherent fear. Perhaps it's naivete on my behalf but this trip has certainly had its few downs and many ups so far, and the greatest highs have only been reached through the trusting interactions and guidance of others. I have no guidebook with me, just the kind words of advice that I receive from fellow travelers and locals. I urge anyone who has read this far to take a chance next time you hesitate to trust a friend or a stanger. Put your faith in the inherent goodness of others, and the positive vibrations you spread will likely be reciprocated exponentially... and if that doesn't work, try couchsurfing.com :-)

Challenge the assumptions,

Key Trip Statistics
Days- 44
Showers with Heat- 5
Beard Status- Semi-Wolverining
Song of Choice- "To Let" by Xavier Rudd. Didj, guitar, throbbing drums and a spicy time had by all.
Book Selection- Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre... Hysterical first-person narration with biting wit.
Quote of Note- "Knowledge can only take us to the end of the diving board. It's faith that gives us the courage to jump." -Elizabeth Lesser
Random Person- Richie Sambora

Sunday, March 04, 2007

South American Adventures- Part 3: Silence and Fire

Hola amigos del mundo!,

If it's possible to extend a hearty hug via email then I'm doing that now. I hope that this update finds each of you in a great mood, and if not then print this up and read it on the toilet later today. Trust me, it's a great time to read excessively long emails… I'm currently in San Marcos la Laguna, Guatemala at the Las Piramides meditation center. I've been here for a little over three weeks completing their "moon course" that, in case the name didn't give it away, follows the lunar cycle. To give a brief description of this magical place, which every single one of you should absolutely visit no matter where your commitment to spirituality stands-

Las Piramides was started by a Guatemalan woman named Chati, who comes from a family of healers and astral travelers. During one particularly powerful vision she was told to create her spiritual center near the three volcanoes of Lake Atitlan, which led to her selecting the quiet holistic town of San Marcos. I assumed this place would be a hostel with meditation and yoga classes, but it is actually far, far more. It is a community of people, that are rapidly unified through a deeply significant experience…Each full-time resident (at the present moment there are 13 of us from the US, Canada, Ireland, Chile, Israel, France, Japan, and the Cayman Islands) lives in a pyramid-shaped small wooden hut on the verdant two-acre property and is expected to attend the four daily courses that last about an hour and fifteen minutes each. The courses all take place in the candle-lit pyramid-shaped Sun Temple next to the medicinal herb garden.

You just can't help but feel something mystically present upon first entering the beautiful wooden structure, which has space for about 15 people seated on mats in a circle around the small center pyramid. There's no major lighting at night so either you grow accustomed to walking around in the dark or some people use flashlights occasionally. We share a kitchen with no dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave or toaster but most of us cook every single meal ourselves. We hand-wash our clothes and hang them to dry on clotheslines, often flush the toilets but dumping a jug of water in the basin, and generally live in a pretty naturalistic state. It takes a few days of acclamation, but it's absolutely great. Actually in my first hour here I tried to strike up a friendly conversation with two guys who refused to respond. It turns out they're part of the 3-month sun course, which includes a 40 DAY vow of silence that they are currently undergoing. That's tough.

Below is the daily schedule I kept throughout my first week here-
6:30am- Awake to go watch sunrise over the lake
7am- Hatha yoga
9am- Cook breakfast of 4-egg Rocky Mountain Toast
10am- Meditation followed by metaphysics lecture
12pm- Create broken-glass artwork with crazy Frenchman nicknamed Merlin
1pm- Make two PB&J sandwiches for lunch (thanks to Ryan "No Limit" Silva)
2pm- Swim in lake, treading water for 15 mins, jump off 45 ft cliffdive
3pm- Catnap a la Shaun McNamara
5pm- Meditation followed by spiritual introspection exercises
7pm- Hatha yoga
9pm- Cook dinner of either rice or spaghetti dish
10pm- Journal and go to sleep

Needless to say this is easily the healthiest living I have ever committed myself to… Days are passed in meditation, reading or journaling in shaded gardens, swimming in the pristine lake, cooking deliciously uncreative meals, and all without indulgence in any substances that poison the body. Along with a few others I recently completed a 5-day course on how to give an Ayurvedic Indian head massage… so I got that going for me… which is nice. Hysterically it was taught by a Bulgarian woman named Nadie, so the quotes like, "you girls need to verk your muscles, your hands are so puny and veak! hehehe" were amazing. In our metaphysics courses we've learned and discussed theories of astral travel, lucid dreaming, spiritual health, esoteric religious mysticisms, balancing one's chakras, kabbalah, tarot, numerology, astrology, kyballion, and the deepest levels of introspection possible. The days pass slowly but gently here, although in retrospect it feels as though my time here has passed far too quickly. The final five days were spent in complete silence, something that is way harder than I ever realized… The purpose was to save the energies normally expended on conversation, and direct them towards deeper self-analysis of one's own spiritual existence, ideals, realities and ultimate mission… Obviously it was highly intense, especially with the almost cult-like but amazingly cool closing ceremony. Overall though, a truly phenomenal experience.

I could write about the beauty and depth of the experience that this place provides for the next 100 pages, but I will simply say that I highly recommend spending some time here for any individual. Just as I have often described Koh Tao, Thailand as my closest conception of physical Paradise, this is my Eden. The indigenous peoples are a beautiful race of welcoming souls, and the ex-pats who have moved here are all great, funky people. As one guy said to me recently, "Look at this place, it's seriously camp." It's almost as though a bunch of random people decided that they wanted to do the one thing that made them happiest, which they lacked the talent to do professionally in their home towns. One guy moved here and opened the restaurant Unicornia, simply so that he could start a band which he fronts every night as if he is a rock legend filming an episode of VH1 Storytellers. He does 10 minute sound checks before songs, tells absurd stories that no one believes are true, has a 1980's psychedelic visualization playing on the big-screen behind his amateur three-piece salsa band, and wears outfits that would make Grand Master Flash proud. The crazy Frenchman who runs brokenglass artwork classes fervently dislikes Americans, solely because he believes he was a Native American in a past life and had his land stolen. His real name is Alan but here, he actually goes by the name Merlin. During parties at homes or bars there's always a mix of jugglers, fire dancers, yoga-pose performances, guitarists, djembe and dijereedoo players, and there's even one guy who puts on a devil sticks performance with fire!! I mean, really?! Devil sticks man!

On several afternoons I've taken the public transportation (about 50 people standing while holding onto a metal pole in the back of a pickup truck) to the surrounding towns on the lake to play some pickup basketball, buy groceries at local markets, take in the beauty of the lake via a trip to the tranquil beach of Las Cristalinas, and checkout the nightlife scene over in San Pedro (an extremely cheap hub for backpackers looking to enjoy a town where cool movies are played every night at restaurants with excellent food, weed is practically legal and short local women seriously walk around with chocolate cakes on their heads throughout bars at night hahah… they clearly know how to cater to their crowd). Each of these ventures has further given me the impression that Guatemalans are among the kindest people in the world, as they continually greet strangers with toothless smiles and warm calls of "Hola amigo! De donde esta?"

Possibly the best night of the trip so far occurred earlier last week when a 41 year-old ex-pat named Rick threw a birthday party at his house. On a whim we went with the mohawked, tattooed Julie (who two weeks ago told us at breakfast that she'd been crying the night before because, "After 27 years of existence, I finally realized that I am gay." Wow, talk about sharing with new friends) through the unlit dirtpaths and rocky hill up to Rick's house… The scene was absolutely awesome. About 40-50 people from every corner of the globe, each uniquely true to their own self and style, had gathered to share one great night in the presence of one another. A sick electronic DJ played throbbing beats throughout the house/patio as people talked, played djembe drums and danced. New friends conversed in the kitchen, others seshed in the dimly lit rooms of the guest area, and the massive patio doubled as a great dancefloor under a brilliant star-salted sky… each person just finding their own groove, their inner jam, expressing themselves in whatever way felt right (which for one guy was putting on a 15 minute fire-twirling show)… Again, impossible to describe, but easily one of the best party scenes I have ever been a part of… very reminiscent of the small but amazing nightly gatherings in Koh Tao.

I feel like this email hasn't been too overtly dramatic for a 3-week period, probably because it is truly impossible to accurately relay the internal travels experienced when spending weeks calming one's mind to a state where continuous revelations are illuminated and explored. One thing I'd like to share is a realization I had during a very simple yoga exercise the other morning, which anyone can do now by taking one minute to stand up, place your bare feet together so ankles are touching, and close your eyes. Take off your shoes, stand perfectly straight, so as to draw a straight line from the top of your head, through your pelvis and down to the heels of your feet. Attempt to maintain that position with your eyes closed for a minute, and see what you feel in your body… Go ahead, just try it. I'll wait about a paragraph away in time…

You will invariably notice that the maintenance of balance requires many, many small movements. Tiny distributions of weight from one area of the body to another are necessary to retain a position of comfort, consistency and strength. The metaphor in this basic exercise seemed so clear when considered- Like life's path, even when we think we are remaining in one place we are constantly in motion through innumerable modifications and shifts. At every moment we are altering ourselves both internally and externally to accommodate the dynamism of existence. While that point of perfect, immovable balance will always be present, it can never be fully attained. It is like the shadow which can be intuitively felt within grasp, but never wrangled into our absolute physical possession. The best we can ask of ourselves is to place pride and honor in each of our adjustments, whether large or small, acting with conscience and nobility at all times… The tiny actions may seem insignificant, but they collectively allow us to stand tall.

Challenge the assumptions,

Key Trip Statistics
Days- 30
Showers with Heat- 1
Beard Status- Respectable fullness, unrespectable length... but getting there
Song of Choice- "Longtime" by Salmonella Dub… its sunshine for your ears.
Quote of Note- "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time." –Richie Havens
Random Person- Mr. Belding