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 (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 :-)

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