Comment

Los Boys

Choosing a spot on the beach should be easy. Facing the sea with a little shade and catching the breeze… Not much else to worry about. Unless you’re a female surfer in a small Latin American surf town trying to find a place to hang and watch the waves undisturbed by “los boys.” Roughly the same in every spot, an unruly group of males from grom to grandpa hang in packs and shoot the shit. They’re the first people you meet when you arrive at the beach. Heads snap towards you as though brunette-to-blonde follows some natural law of magnetics. You hope to learn where the rocks are, if there’s a sand pit, if the spot is tide sensitive. They hope to bang you. 

And so an unusual friendship is born: one of pained tolerance on the part of the woman and sidelined hope on the part of the man. As time passes, and more young blondes too, their ardor fades and you’re be able to just sit and watch the waves with less attention. You’re never completely their “friend” because most of them would still eagerly spend the night with you but you are able to count on them for a texted surf report or a lent leash. 

To sit with one is not so bad; pleasant, even. Two is still okay. But when the pack gains mass, when the crew is sitting in the afternoon and sharing whatever shriveled, brown, seeded weed someone has managed to scrounge together, then it is time to leave. No shady hammock is worth overhearing the nonsense that is about to ensue. The boasting of girls met, the objectification of girls observed, the generally vile and overly descriptive comments of things that make your blood boil because you are a woman and, hey dudes, you’re sitting right there. 

The challenge of choosing someplace else to sit is that you now know the content of the conversation. You know that to sit away from them is to be observed by them, to potentially become fodder for their commentary. This is challenging enough when you’re out surfing and you’ve already worked hard not to let their imagined laughs at your wipeout halt you from still going for the next wave. Does it have to follow you everywhere you go? Is there no place on land or sea that is free of their eyes? 

It feels unfair. It feels as though you’re stuck in a perpetual junior high, the Groundhog’s Day of adolescent-level male attention. You want to change it, transform it, encourage them to be better versions of themselves. You’ve experienced them as individuals when they show you their true potential. You’re convinced you can be the impetus of their evolution (you can't).

You can tsk tsk, argue, shame, shout — they will undoubtedly enjoy it. To engage is what they crave. You can also try to be “one of the boys,” shocking them with your equal capacity for vulgarities. They will enjoy this too. To participate in any way is to encourage; you will never win, never place yourself on top and in control of the conversation.

Their capacity for surfing is not the result of their idiocy. You are in no way required to act and speak like them in order to surf like them. When the flow of viable surf tips is tapped in favor of pointless drivel their usefulness has subsided. When the groups congeals it’s simply time to leave. Your departure is the loudest statement you can make. 

Comment

Skin On, Skin Off

2 Comments

Skin On, Skin Off

I am covered in my wolf’s skin, wandering the wilds.
I follow the call, pulled by an invisible energy.
A human presence
and I flee.
I seek out the quietest corner and curl myself to sleep.
I carry my home on my back, unbound by external needs.
I eat ravenously from whatever I find,
juices dripping down my maw.
Always tense, sprung, quickly assessing
I dart from this to that.
I howl in delight
at the empty sea,
thundering down the broken cliffs
to tumble in the sand and the crashing waves.
I flop on the warm earth and pant in the sun.
Covered in burrs and scrapes and burns,
fur matted and salted, I stare wild-eyed at the emerging moon and stars.
Days and nights pass, no other living thing in sight.
My solitude begins to transform
and loneliness creeps into its place, pulling at little corners of my mind.
There were others once. There was more than myself.
I remember the warmth of the indoors; four walls can be a home and not a cage.
I am drawn by the smell of your cooking fire.
I see you, Man, and I remember and know you.
You have embraced me, once, twice,
maybe countless times.
I sniff at my ragged form. Am I a wolf, even?  
At the place in front of my heart I find a hole in my coat.
When I reach in it unravels and my fur slips from my shoulders.
I shed my exterior
with all its power and strength
and underneath I am naked, 
alabaster vulnerability.
I can join you inside now but I also need you. I can’t protect myself in this form.
I am supple and tender and I give in
to a confounding desire to lay exposed with you.
You have stolen my strength.
Where have you hung my glorious fur?
I am drowning in sensitivity.
My weakness attracted you when it was a hint. As a reality it repels you.
I cannot count on you, I never could, I never can. 
When your back is turned I steal back my freedom.
I pull on my thick exterior and I am a wolf again.
I run. 

 

2 Comments

It's A Cold World

Comment

It's A Cold World

I am freezing. I can't feel my toes, which I visually confirm are still attached to my chapped, red feet. Out of the water, one hand holds the zipper pull of my wetsuit as I brace myself to expose my skin to the chill winds...

I'm in Santa Cruz, California, and you'd think it wouldn't be so cold, but it is, I swear. Sure, I'm being a little dramatic too, but apparently it's the coldest time of the year here. 

"Did you know it's the coldest time of the year here?" surfer dude #1 asks me. "Hey dude, this girl is out here in only a 3:2 with no booties or hood!" he says to surfer dude #2. 

"Dude that's gnarly," says surfer dude #2.

Thanks, surfer guys, thanks; I appreciate the laudation... but I still can't feel my extremities.

For the cold, I couldn't feel my feet on the board. I wiped out a lot. A couple of days later, with a 4:3 and booties, I still couldn't feel my feet (booties are like blindfolds for your feet). I wiped out a little less. 

When accustomed to tropical sandy beaches, California's craggy coastline is otherworldly and magical. 

When accustomed to tropical sandy beaches, California's craggy coastline is otherworldly and magical. 

I love the terrain of California's central coast; fat, wooly palm trees tower over fragrant, evergreen shrubbery, clinging together to the broken cliffs that fall away to deep emerald, kelp-filled seas. Crisp, salty winds rush up from the white froth that pounds against the rocks where sea lions sunbathe their corpulent yet lithe forms. The biting breeze is infused with eucalyptus, juniper and jasmine as the sun bakes the redwood duff, its piney scent rising up hotly from the dirt like cookies from an oven.  

But I'm cold, so cold. 

Lots of people hear "California" and think: sunshine, t-shirts, short-shorts, skateboards, sunglasses and bikinis on the beach. It's true that mid-afternoon during the summer temperatures can really peak, but you better have a sweater and a beanie in your backpack because by 7 pm those temperatures will have plunged right back down. And while it's never going to be objectively cold — it's rarely ever below 50 degrees F — it's not going to be all that warm either. 

While outsiders only think "Sunny California," native Californians are well familiar with the phrases "May Gray" and "June Gloom."

While outsiders only think "Sunny California," native Californians are well familiar with the phrases "May Gray" and "June Gloom."

Families do run, laugh and play on the beach here, just in wetsuits. Anywhere north of LA, you'd be hard-pressed to find beach babes tanning on the sand outside of those few precious summer months. But even when summer finally comes and the beaches fill up, very few of those beachgoers are going to dip more than a toe in the water. Perhaps that's why, in Central Cali, if you don't surf you don't get in the ocean. 

The cold waters of California are a gift of the North Pacific Gyre, the main current that circles around the Pacific Ocean, delivering nutrients, sea life, killer swells and frigid temps to North America's western coastline. But it's a process called "upwelling" that really creates the cold; the influence of the Coriolis Effect causes a convergence of surface winds, sea currents and the earth's rotation to push away the sun-warmed top layer of water from the coast, allowing the deep, frigid waters to rise up and take its place. 

Image courtesy of Bay Nature

Image courtesy of Bay Nature

This phenomenon is responsible for the density of fish and the marine life that feed on it, making otters, sea lions, sharks and sea birds your surf buddies.  It's also responsible for the chilly fog that famously blankets the Bay Area. The cold marine layer — which can include fog or not — sucks inward at night, drawn by the extreme inland temperatures which chase the sun as it leaves the sky, unconfined by the humidity-free air.  It makes summertime night-sweaters a necessity; even in the valley in August, if you go out at night you carry a jacket. 

If you know your enemy and you know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself you will succumb in every battle.
— Sun Tzu, "The Art of War"

Know your enemy... perhaps that's what I'm doing by studying the source of the cold: understand it to overcome it. Know yourself... I have also learned that I likely have Raynaud's Syndrome, the narrowing of blood vessels due to cold, which causes pain in the extremities when chilled. I can't quite equate surfing to a battle, because you need to succumb to the wave rather than defeat it, but I can say that the knowledge of myself and the ocean are both useful in some way. To know what you want and where you belong are incredible gifts; I know I belong in the sea albeit a much warmer one. In the meantime, I can happily enjoy the time I have here and love this place for what it is: cold, refreshing, beautiful, challenging and self-illuminating. 

Comment

A Good Time Or A Good Story

1 Comment

A Good Time Or A Good Story

The figures of the policía and their drug dogs twist and wobble in the blazing midday sun. "No se mueva!" they hiss at the Israeli rabbi who keeps trying to wander away from the police checkpoint to take a piss. Inside, our driver and his backpack full of weed plus a shirtless Italian hippie with an expired passport are being searched and questioned. I sit in a sliver of shade on the pavement next to my sun-bleached surf buddy who has snagged herself a metal folding chair. "Well, it's always either a good time or a good story," she says, "and it looks like this time it's the latter."

A little misadventure can be a good thing, but since departing Puerto Viejo, the series of travel-fails have seemed to make my life appear a little bit like a joke. But then again, I could've started this post with "a rabbi, an Israeli, an Italian hippie, and two surfer-girls get into a car..." so maybe I should just go with it.

When I left the Caribbean of Costa Rica, I made the bold choice to do it via Panama. I had shed a huge portion of my belongings when moving away but I still had far too many possessions. My surplus bag of food and snacks broke as I got to the first bus of the day at dawn (necessary if you want to make the trip in one day) and while I picked up the pieces the bus driver left without me. As a result, on the next bus I met some travelers desperately late and trying to make it to the airport in Panama, who covered the cab to the Pacific in exchange for the same amount I would've payed on the bus. So I got from one border, through Panama, and to the next in impressive time. 

It's at this border that I met a chain- (joint) -smoking Israeli who offered me a lift to Pavones; another score. And so I made it to the goofy-footers mecca, the second longest left break in the world, in time for a sunset surf. Sure I cut my feet up pretty badly getting in and out with the rocky shore that I hadn't anticipated, but what harm could come of that? I was surfing front-side in peeling, glassy waves, and it wasn't even "good" swell.

I surfed as much as I could in the little time I spent there, but I left early due to an incident in which I accidentally consumed a cookie laced with LSD and promptly decided that I was no longer fit to share dorm rooms with 18-year-old backpackers. Do you know how hard it is to throw up an acid cookie on an empty stomach in between surfs? Almost as hard as watching the waves while waiting to see if you're about to trip your face off or if you can actually get another session in. 

At this same time, I was being beckoned by friends who were surfing up the coast in Playa Hermosa, the offer of another free ride by the Israeli, and a general desire to be out of a popular tourism zone before the impending Semana Santa (Easter week) vacations descended. So I packed up again, donating a huge portion of my belongings to whomever I could encounter, and set off on the ill-fated car trip north. 

Despite late departures, being held and searched by the police, and nearly missing the last bus north after the driver decided to try and replenish the weed stores that the cops had just confiscated from him, I did actually make it to my destination (not with enough time for a sunset session). However, the wind had turned onshore and the swell had faded, so after a couple of days of waiting for waves, I decided to make my way out of Costa Rica (after shedding another load of belongings, yet again). 

It takes more buses than one would like to imagine to go from Playa Hermosa to San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua. You can take a private shuttle, sure, but local buses only cost about $25 door to door, which is a more than a third of the shuttle price. What it saves in money it costs in time, and when I finally arrived in Nicaragua I was exhausted. But I was picked up by buddies and driven up to their insanely beautiful, nearly-finished surf camp on the hill overlooking Maderas. 

Sunset and small swell in Playa Maderas, Nicaragua

Sunset and small swell in Playa Maderas, Nicaragua

The next week of relaxing and surfing passed without any major issue. The offshore winds were very strong and the water very cold, but the waves were packed with buddies and the boys of Machete Surf Shop just so happened to have a spare women's wetsuit in my size. It was a nice time to just eat and surf, hiding from the corporate beer-sponsored parties that were taking over every other beach town in Latin America. I had a great time without a care in the world until the holiday passed and I was ready to continue on to El Salvador.

A day of travel later I was there in that beautiful country where a meal is less than $3 and the waves never quit. The only problem was that the ATMs wouldn't work. Or was it my card..? Turns out that while I was relaxing in Nicaragua someone had copied my card info and drained my bank account. It also turns out that during the 24 hours of bus travel — with my feet stuck in shoes — had caused those aforementioned foot-wounds to become infected with staph.

Big swell in beautiful El Salvador

Big swell in beautiful El Salvador

And at this point the comedy of errors had become just too much for me. Limping around, the challenges of trying to recuperate my money, receive a new ATM card, and to find a place to stay or a way to eat without either were just too much. On the brink of a breakdown, I started laughing and couldn't stop. After all, it was actually pretty funny... Better to laugh than to cry.

I bought a ticket for California and accepted that sometimes it's better to just accept that things aren't going to improve without taking a step back to recollect yourself. And in the end, you'll have your solid ground plus a truly killer story to tell. 

1 Comment

Comment

Accidental Sobriety: A Year Of Unexpected Clarity

I did not set out to stop drinking; I didn’t set out to do anything, really. It was nearly the new year and I hadn’t yet come up with a resolution so, on a whim, I decided to do a year-long minimal drinking challenge. That’s no more than one drink per day for a woman or two for a man… for 365 days…

I already hadn't been drinking much while in the wake of having had dengue fever, in order to help boost the energy levels that the mosquito virus notoriously saps. I was essentially already limiting myself to this degree, but for some reason I got very scared (terrified, really) of this particular undertaking. I tried to sort out the root of my hesitation and, while hazy, it seemed it had something to do with a fear of how this would affect my social life. Would it be hard to connect with people? Would I feel less at ease? Would I be less interesting?

I've enjoyed some great resolutions over the years — ask the other person about whatever you were about to say about yourself, keep a positivity journal, do a sun salutation every day — all challenging and transformative in their own ways. But none of these was hard for me to start, only to maintain. To drink only a little required a greater leap of courage than I could have ever imagined.

Yet once I had begun, not drinking became easier and easier. It turns out that only one drink is not that enjoyable. I realized that I'd rarely ever had just one at a time in my life. I'd had two or three and done some night-math that made it only one in memory. However, now fully committed to this resolution, there could be no creative accounting of the night's activities. One drink didn't alter my state of mind or really do anything except make me want another drink. 

First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

So one drink a day quickly became one a week... and on the days-after, I started really feeling the effects. Nausea, tiredness, headaches — a whole slough of less-than-pleasant sensations were shockingly strong on the day following just one beer or glass of wine, even one taken with a meal. And so one became none.

Every day I found myself still going out but only buying a water at the bar. If someone offered me a drink, I said "no thanks" but made no declarative statements about my predilection for alcohol. It wasn't "I don't drink" but "I don't like drinking" that defined my choices, and my choices started having an interesting affect on my experiences. 

Life became more clear and more vibrant. I felt the breeze prickle every hair on my arms, the water in the surf glide like silk over my skin, I saw the colors and textures of the world with a potency more electrifying than any experience on drugs or alcohol had ever offered. I felt the pure joy of dancing in the middle of a group of friends on the dance floor, I felt the ease of walking away from a negative situation, and I remembered everything that happened each day and each night. Every breath was an expansion, every kiss an explosion, every moment an eternity. 

Drinking had dulled the experience of living, robbed me of the full wealth of my humanity; now I was truly — tritely — high on life.

I also noticed my body change, growing firmer and stronger; my energy and sleep improved; my relationships became easier and less stressful; my surfing became more consistent and powerful; I had a lot more money in my bank account. I still went out almost every night. I still went to work each day. I still had fun. I still made new friends. I still laughed and danced and skinny-dipped and flirted. So what was it I had used alcohol for in the past?

All the things that being drunk or stoned had allowed me to do I was completely capable of doing on my own. What I had used them for was as an excuse for my actions, but enjoyment was a behavior for which I was completely capable of without them. Why is it that we seek to credit an outside force for our own magnificence? I had thought of alcohol as a hindrance to my happiness but in truth it was more aptly a distraction from the fact that I already had it.

Low self-esteem is a part of the “need” for social substances, to be sure, though not because we need to cover up a lacking personality but because we’re afraid of crediting ourselves for that which we put forth. If it wasn’t us — but alcohol — dancing last night then no one can criticize our dancing abilities. But we also cover up our gifts: the fact that we contain the pure joy and gall to go out and make a fool of ourselves in the name of fun. Without being drunk, dancing like an idiot can actually be a confidence booster.

Drinking a non-alcholic beer between surf sessions in Mal País.

Drinking a non-alcholic beer between surf sessions in Mal País.

Most often, I hear people react by saying that they could never do it, that they could never go out, socialize, and have fun without at least a drink or two. As we first walk up to the bar, I hear them say that they’re not “ready yet” to go dance or to talk to a guy that they like. This arises in me a frustration roughly identical to when I would go to the beach as a kid and I wanted to jump straight into the ocean to play but my dad would tell me that he had to warm up before he could enjoy the cold water. The problem is that I can’t bring a plastic pail full of ice-cold happiness and dump it over my friends’ heads, ready or not.

It’s not alcohol that’s the issue here but it’s acceptance and contentment with who and what we are. I hope everyone can learn that they are just as compelling and charming without alcohol as they are with it. And if without it they truly don't like where they are or with whom, it's not the sobriety that's the issue: it's the community. 

For me, this week marks a year without alcohol; 14 months after my resolution, I still find the act of not drinking easier than that of drinking. Will I decide to drink a beer tomorrow? Who knows; it's never been a hard and fast rule that I cannot drink. I only know that I am more capable of choosing that which serves me and that which doesn't. Now that I can sense my own wants and needs so much more clearly, I'm more open to taking risks and exploring new avenues. I am more connected to those around me and more at ease in social situations  — and now I know that I will never need to depend on alcohol to supply that.

Comment

Wipeout Central: Off-Season in Nicaragua

Comment

Wipeout Central: Off-Season in Nicaragua

Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.
— E. E. Cummings
Dawn patrol at El Yankee before getting crushed by barrels. 

Dawn patrol at El Yankee before getting crushed by barrels. 

I've been holding back a lot lately in the waves and I don't know why. A few weeks back I had a killer trip to the Pacific and was going for it, without fear, and reaping — er, ripping? — the benefits. But something changed when I got back home: suddenly I was pulling back on each wave, second-guessing and over-analyzing my every move. 

Was it that the waves were easier where I had been? Or was it being in a different place altogether, without the eyes of the people that I know? Either way, another surf trip seemed the obvious solution and I was due for a new stamp on my passport...

Are you familiar with the concept of a border run?

While we're super blessed with powerful passports that let us have unplanned tourist visas to pretty much any country, there is a time limit to how long they'll let us dick around inside their borders. And while three months in a place may sound like a long vacation to some, us permanent travelers and over-sea dwellers find it a little constricting. But without a foreign resident visa, we're required to leave and re-enter in order to renew our visas every 90 days. So why not make a surf trip out of it?

The waves are pumping on the Caribbean side right now so we headed for Bocas del Toro, Panama, one rainy dawn morning. There's been a lot of drama at this border recently after an illegal passport-stamping scheme was busted. One of our crew was denied access for having a suspicious stamp so, after a long and dramatic near-arrest (not her first one!), we accepted defeat and headed back for Costa Rica. This time with five days to spare before her visa would expire. 

So, ummm, Nicaragua? Porque no!

In Nica, it's currently the season for blasting offshore winds of nearly 30 mph — the kind that make it hard to even see where you're surfing cause there's so much back-spray in your eyes. There also wasn't much swell, and what waves we could find were crowded beyond function. So we went and harassed some locals at a surf shop into taking us to some better, emptier waves.

Nena Belen of TuCamino Travel skateboarding around the surf shop... SDJS has lots of fun, paved hills.

Nena Belen of TuCamino Travel skateboarding around the surf shop... SDJS has lots of fun, paved hills.

Well, apparently all our frothing made us appear a touch more advanced than we really are, cause we arrived the next dawn to a fast-barreling wedge. Well, shit. Guess we gotta at least try, no? 

A wedge is a strange thing, a magical meeting of two waves at opposing angles, creating a very cool and confusing wave. We barely had time to sort it out and get some wipeouts in before a whole crew of talented, back-paddling bros showed up. We cut our session short after being frustrated by a lack of wave-sharing.

But we both dreamed of the wedge that night. And again the night after. A crowded day at one of the easier breaks had us ready for another try. This time it was barely waist high, so no barrels were really on offer, but there was nothing serious to be afraid of either.

I'm not gonna' lie, we ate it... a lot. But we also went for it.

The beauty of a wipeout is it represents a risk taken — a willingness to push yourself. Sure you chance failure, but if you don't venture out there, you also chance missing out on greatness. 

And so, now back home in the waves I know so well, I'm going for it again. A little confidence and a lot of audacity go a long way. 

Comment

Lost Time: The Merits of Determination

Comment

Lost Time: The Merits of Determination

“Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it.”
— Leonardo da Vinci

What would my life be like if we never left Hawaii when I was a kid? Or more importantly: what would my surfing be like? My childhood years in North Shore Oahu were spent bonding with the ocean but we left just around the time surfing piqued my interest. Now, learning to surf as a 30 year old woman, I can really bug out thinking about the two decades that I "missed" out in the waves. 

Perhaps it's this sense of lost time that has me so urgently and fervently practicing surfing; can we make up for lost time? Or is this mentality actually a deterrent to the learning process?

To bemoan what I cannot have certainly doesn't serve me, and it absorbs time I could otherwise spend learning and practicing. It's quite clear that these activities provide significant results, whereas the former only provides distraction.

So every chance I get I ask the other surfers for information and take it in and practice as hard as I can. That which I'm not yet capable of is merely something I haven't learned yet, and no one ever learned anything by not doing it. 

12558539_733840406747052_2081105602_n.jpg


But it's not so much what I put out that ushers improvement, rather what I take in. Every ripple and wave I watch, every question I ask, every view of a better surfer performing; all of this fills me with a potency that has very little to do with — well — me. 

I often relate paddling out with going to church, which makes the ocean a sea of prayer, which makes me a vessel for its positive energy. My abilities bloom when I let myself be empty enough to be filled by the knowledge of the waves and the surfers around me. 

Here are my current mental training approaches:

  1. Don't be afraid to ask your questions more than once; you never know what you missed the first time around.  
  2. Be humble and hungrily accept criticism. Be grateful for the outside perspective because it's something you can never provide for yourself. It's pretty special that someone will expend some of their precious energy for your benefit. 
  3. Dont forget to enjoy the moment. Training can take over your mind and distract you from the joy that got you surfing in the first place. 
  4. Commit. Your biggest challenge is your own self doubt.  
  5. Don't be afraid to eat shit; every mistake is a seized opportunity to explore the extreme edges of possibility.  

I leave you with this quote:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” - Michael Jordan

Comment

Comment

Cooking With Amigas

It's almost impossible to describe how vast the improvement in my surfing has been thanks to my blessed time working with Surf With Amigas. I improved more in six weeks than I did in my six months of prior surfing. The gratitude I have for the incredible women who run and teach at those retreats is enormous; I hear their voices in my head when I'm out in the surf and each wave gets better, longer, grittier... frothier. 

And what's more, the unexpected education in the kitchen was equally transformative. I have never been in the position of teaching advanced culinary techniques before, let alone within the context of another language and culture. It is incredibly challenging to work outside of your comfort zone, and I was frequently asking this of both myself and the local women whom I was managing. 

Working our way around language barriers in the kitchen at Kayu Resort in El Salvador. 

Working our way around language barriers in the kitchen at Kayu Resort in El Salvador. 

I'm definitely spoiled by the embarrassment of riches the United States enjoys; I'm accustomed to a kitchen with advanced equipment, refrigeration, and layout and it was truly difficult to work without those things. I had to adjust my expectations constantly and come up with all kinds of alternatives for grinding, liquifying, and even storing foods. 

I'm also used to a certain style of cooking, an inherent knowledge of European traditions deeply ingrained in my brain, which were so utterly foreign to the local women that I hardly knew where to start explaining. Considering my Spanish is still basic — and that culinary terms vary radically from region to region in Latin America — our communication process was... creative. I relied heavily on Google image search and hands on demonstrations before even beginning shopping for supplies.

Getting very clear with plating instructions and meal counts was essential... Never assume that a meal that you think is universal is, in fact. Sometimes even an iteration of something as "simple" as huevos rancheros can be radically different from what you expect.

Getting very clear with plating instructions and meal counts was essential... Never assume that a meal that you think is universal is, in fact. Sometimes even an iteration of something as "simple" as huevos rancheros can be radically different from what you expect.

If it sounds like it was an unwelcome challenge, I must adjust the picture I am painting: it was amazing. My own personal growth was huge, not just as a cook and a manager but as a human. I practiced patience with myself and others, observation of my complete surroundings and potential future outcomes, sensitivity for the states of others around me, communication of the most kind and effective sort, and acceptance of the limitations of a situation. These are essentially the same concepts that I practiced in the surf, and the complimentary nature of two efforts is not lost on me.

And so, with gratitude, I cook and surf onward, very much looking forward to my next opportunity to work and learn with Surf With Amigas.

 

Comment

Comment

Two Months In A Van

My bedroom is small but my living room is enormous.

My bedroom is small but my living room is enormous.

I just collapsed onto my air mattress bed in the back of my mom's old minivan, parked in an overly-lit gym parking lot, with rain pattering on the roof. I'm so exhausted from working a double today that I can't quite yet muster the strength to make the walk into the gym (that acts as my bathroom) so that I can shower and brush my teeth. Yet if I let myself rest here for even a moment I might succumb to sleep, and this is not a viable parking spot in the city unless I want to be woken by either thieves or the police. 

In Santa Cruz, California, the varying degrees of homelessness can be observed everywhere. Vandwelling has become so glamorous on Instagram that most people have forgotten that there are actual homeless people living their lives this way out of necessity. Vandwellers generally classify themselves as "houseless" rather than "homeless," and tend to know how lucky they are not to be sleeping under a church awning that night. 

That I have a roof and a door that locks and a vehicle for transportation fills me with gratitude. That I can afford a $30 per month gym membership so I can actually bathe is a blessing. That I can earn money — even if not enough to afford an apartment — is an advantage that I do not overlook. 

On most days, the freedom of living in a van outweighs the challenges. Sure, I'm frequently cold and I can only eat fruit and snacks and I have had to learn the key-code to every business' bathroom in the city... But I can also park my home near where the waves will be best the next day or take off on a whim without ever having to pack or plan. 

Home is where you hang your wetsuit.

Home is where you hang your wetsuit.

I honestly believe I will miss my van-home when I head back down to Central America and I'm bouncing from apartment to hostel to residency hotel. I think, in all likelihood, I'll be back searching for a new van sometime soon; a little home that follows me wherever my heart takes me. But maybe next time with standing room and a stove.

Comment

Sticky Fingers

Comment

Sticky Fingers

"You shall find out how salt is the taste of another man's bread, and how hard is the way up and down another man's stairs." - Dante Alighieri

Living with other families is strange. I always knew it was hard to live with other people (roommates, boyfriends, etc) but another family is a whole different story. You really get a chance to see just how thoroughly different other people are from you. Their eating habits, laundry routine, the way they say good morning/goodnight/I love you — everything is alien to the way you conceive as home.

You know that smell of another persons’ house? That strangeness that you know is their particular aroma and it fascinates yet concerns you? Every experience is like that smell.

That said, I truly enjoy the place I am now. I live on a under a thatched roof on a wallless platform that contains only a bed, mosquito net, and a shelf. Yet I don’t have the choice to play music in the workspace, and I miss it. I don’t have the freedom to twerk all over the damn place, and I miss that too. Nor is there a suitable location to practice yoga (except the beach, which is not all that bad, obviously). 

 

I am learning; maybe not as much about bread making as I might have imagined a live-in apprenticeship at a bakery would teach me, but about work itself and being part of a small, local business. I am learning about bread-making too, though this type is childlike, occurring slowly through observation and by mirroring the work of the skilled hands around me. It's humbling, tactile and pure.

When my hands first touched the dough they were foolish, clumsily gumming their way through spongy masses of gluten. I couldn’t keep the dough from sticking to every part of my hand — like having the hand of a gecko — as I pulled pieces away to weigh each individual loaf. And attempting to pull correct weights was a process in itself. It is important to consider that for an imperial system-trained mind to suddenly work in the metric system feels impossible; trying to change the brain from cooking by volume to cooking by weight is a drastic shift.

However, it is beginning to work even if I still can’t wrap my brain around it logically. At first, when I pulled a piece that was the correct weight, I knew it was a fluke, whereas for the others around me it was expertise. Now I'm beginning to understand the difference between the various doughs of bleached and whole grain. They rise at different rates, require different approaches with your hands, and have drastically different weights by volume.

Waiting for the last load of loaves to be ready to come out of the oven...


I’ve learned too that whole grain bread has very little whole grain flour in it (or at least here); the ratio of white to wheat is somewhere around 4:1. Not so whole after all. And I question the health and sustainability of bread as a food in a region where it can’t be grown effectively. I desire to challenge this system... Yet the question is: am I here to change the world or only to witness it?

I know that right now I’m in a place where I have to observe, to see how things work with as little judgment as I can muster. Then one day when I am in a place to influence, I can do so with more understanding. Not just of food itself, but of how everyday people interact with and are affected by it.

Comment

Funeral March For A Butterfly

Comment

Funeral March For A Butterfly

Buying a moped has taught me many new feelings: the simultaneous joy and terror of whipping down the highway with the wind wrapped around you, the sting of rain in your eyes as your drenched body speeds toward home, the smell of the damp earth, the rotting earth, the fragrant earth, all filling you up as you explore it. And of course the pain of little bugs slamming into you, having their lives ripped away from them for the sake of your need to travel with speed.

On one particular day a butterfly of deep black velvet and vivid blue crossed my path and hammered into my chest. It's surprising density crunching against my soft flesh, it then softly fell into my shirt where it's corpse began tickling my skin. When traveling at high speeds on the highway, one cannot simply stop to remove the dead butterfly from one's cleavage. One must accept that it is there and ignore it, lest one become like the butterfly on the windshield of the car behind.

For 10 kilometers I carried it's body, an unexpected funeral march for a butterfly. It's weight was heavy, not in grams, but in guilt. Why must we travel so fast? Why do I need to always go? How many creatures must I sacrifice for my own greed?

Finally, the stopping of a bus in front of me allowed me to slow down, and I anticipated the moment to send my hands searching for the body, ready to release my morbid burden. But as I slowed and the soft breeze moved through the folds of my blouse, the butterfly emerged, unscathed, and danced off into the sunlight. 

Comment

Comment

TRY GOOGLING: HOW TO ILLEGALLY CROSS BORDERS

"Never look back unless you are planning to go that way." - Henry David Thoreau

I sit cross-legged on the musty couch, weighed down by the yellow light that presses from the singular ceiling bulb. Black flies buzz on windowsills and geckos chirp, more distinct than the drone of traveler’s conversation that pools around me. I'm not in the mood for company but there is only one hour of Internet in the evening and the signal doesn’t reach up to my bed in the attic's dormitory.

A couple days rest in this lagoon-nestled hostel is necessary but I'm anxious to get back on the road so I can make it back to Mexico in time for my flight. So I sit, scouring message boards for information on how to illegally cross the Guatemalan border.

A comically strong Australian accent leaps into my right ear as I realize I’m being addressed. I look over into the leathered, lined face from which glimmer the little aqua eyes of the proprietor. “Right-o, miss, I always take the right opportunity to find out where everyone comes from, what they’re about, and where they’re going.”

After probing me for my tale, he proves as knowledgeable as he is interesting, loaded with details on every Guatemalan border and stories of traveling the world by boat. Layered in swaths of Aussie slang, I get the lowdown on three border exit points that will hopefully spare my limited funds from being exhausted by paying off border guards. I had asked other hostels, travel agencies and locals along the way, seeking advice on what to do if you’ve managed to miss the exit station of one country (because you wanted to save money by walking to the border instead of taking a taxi) as well as the entrance to the next one (because the borderline is actually a loosely defined patch of geography navigated by two hours travel by both boat and bus). In every instance I was laughed at heartily, “¿Ilegal en Guatemala? Cómo es posible?” but given no answers.

Thankfully, this salty old fella’ has some insight for me, but I'm no more at ease than before. As expected, it will all come down to how much I am willing to pay to have my passport issue overlooked, or how adventurous I am feeling to try and avoid borders altogether. Here are my options to consider:

 1. “The Most Expensive.” Go on the gringo trail. Via Flores and east to Belize,which I know as I took it the year before. But to deal with the pricey, invented border fees that exist there even without passport issues, plus cross through multiple countries, would only be worth it to go back to Caye Caulker. Already feeling the strain of one mosquito-born illness, I figured it was a lot of hassle to head straight into the thicket of buzzers during wet season. 

 2. “The Most Time Lost.” Go back the way I came. It’ll take me back through Flores for another overnight on the miniscule island, back through the border town where I spent my lovely night sleeping on the porch clutching my knife, and racing toward a night bus which I may or may not make in time. Then it’s still 18 hours ride to the Caribbean coast of Mexico. The upside is I know the lay of the land and can avoid passport scrutiny due to the less than defined nature of that border. 

 3. “The Most Mysterious.” Head through Flores to a lesser-known northern crossing, mostly used by Guatemalan day laborers and errand-goers who cross to the more developed Mexican town on the other side. I am assured by the Australian sailor that it is a lax border. In the mornings and evenings no IDs are even considered as people are allowed to move through the gates in large groups. From there a few buses can get me to an overnight bus to the east where my flight to the US awaits me.

The latter option seems the most viable and I finally retire, exhausted, to my netted bed upstairs. The only other person going to bed as early as I am is pre-grade school.  

Comment

Comment

Kombucha, Kombucha, Kombucha

"Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity." - Hippocrates

My breakfast just arrived at my table, a large goblet of unnaturally pink yogurt pooled around layers of banana and granola. I long for real yogurt so intensely that I close my eyes and picture it in the aisle from the health food store. Those large white cylinders, words promising well-being glinting under the reflected fluorescent lights. My vision blends with a memory from sleep, draws from my brain a fraction of last night's dream.

I am running through an enormous, gleaming health food store, wildly pulling things from the shelf and tossing them ecstatically into the grocery cart. Sauerkraut! Yogurt! Chia! Kombucha, kombucha, kombucha!

Why can't I be where I am? Why can't I enjoy the present moment? I have arrived at my destination, the pilgrimage nearly complete. I am eating the aforementioned pink yogurt on a breezy veranda overlooking the rushing river at the base of Semuc Champey, that most glorious mecca for which I have longed. So I suck it up, take a deep breath, see out instead of seek within and head out to finally see the falls. 

The glorious falls. The cliffs to jump from. The friends I make, climbing an hour deep into a cave with nothing but stubby candles in one hand, held above the water while we swim through black, icy depths with the other. The splif we smoke on a rocky outcrop as the fog descends on us with the dusk, and we try to do nothing but laugh for five minutes. 

And I begin to remember what it feels like to enjoy traveling. But I also know that it requires a strength and well-being that I lost with that fever. The dreams of health food aren't something to be ashamed of, they are the call of my subconscious telling me to stop acting like an explorer and start acting like a patient. 

I move the date of my flight back to The States up by two weeks.

Comment

Comment

The Familiar and the Unknown

"You do not travel if you are afraid of the unknown, you travel for the unknown, that reveals you with yourself." - Ella Maillart

I have been to Flores before. On this tiny island in the lake — wound up in the central-most of its few streets — I have been in this very hostel before too. Almost exactly a year before I came here with a friend from Brooklyn half-way through a trans-Central American journey. Here the travelers' paths (lovingly coined the gringo trails) split into two common directions: 1) north-east through Tikal and on to Belize or 2) south to Semuc Champey and on to Honduras.

I hadn't intended to come back because, well, I'd already "done it", so to speak. And what I hadn't done the previous year was Semuc Champey. The promise of those seven magical, glittering waterfalls — that every vagabond had raved about after we had committed to Path 1 — has brought me back to Guatemala determined to get there so directly that I've made many missteps in my rush.

Deep down I know that the art of traveling is to flow from one place to the next. To move like a bead of water down the rocks, pooling where you are welcomed and trickling out where it is full. But what I know to do and what I can do don't always align. I'm stuck, stubborn, and starting to think I shouldn't be traveling. My body is depleted from the mysterious tropical fever back in Mexico. My spirit is broken because I allowed other people's opinions of me (my whiteness, my nationality, my motives) to define this journey, rather than just the experience of it. And mostly I'm completely lost about how to reset that.

So I will see the goddam gleaming falls of Semuc Champey, buy a ticket back to America, and be done with it.

Comment

Comment

An Unusual Crossing

I’m a Barbie bandit, face tied in a pink scrap of fabric — hours earlier around my eyes to block the night’s floodlight — now slipped down over my nose and mouth. It could be 6 am or noon with the daylight so thoroughly shaded by the canopy of vine-snared branches. I search for my watch wrist, wound intricately in the thin sheets that have snapped away from the corners of the mattress. It’s 9:30 am, and much later than I’d like, but I pack swiftly and sacrifice breakfast, though largely only because I can’t tolerate another crap meal after I hear that the Internet isn’t working to distract me from it.

I still feel that I’m getting an early enough start, but it turns out that I’m not. The first two hours of my van ride I am able to distract myself by reading, but the carsickness settles over me like a fog, and I begin my lifelong tradition of trying to find something outside the window that doesn’t move. It all moves. Through my sunglasses the window bleeds in light in an ominous red, mutated by the overlapped layers of tints. The gray skin that has peeled from the corners whips desperately at the window, drumming a vibration, as it oscillates between adhesion and departure.

Here the land is more open, more farmed, and mounded with tree-dotted hills that would make Dr Seuss erupt in rhyme. I arrive in a little town and defiantly walk to the boats; I will not be overcharged once more. I was wrong, this is a very long hot walk; where’s that taxi? But feet work and I get to a broad brown river, where I am approached by a boy who seems simply helpful at first but is simply trying to sell me a boat ride. Something about this causes me to break, lip quivering, tears building behind sunglasses, as I relent to a lofty boat fare to Guatemala.

Deep breaths and the vibration of the motor soothe me to stillness, that kind of empty exhaustion a child feels after a fit has worn out. And I’m dropped at a muddy shore whose banks I climb tentatively, affected equally by its muddy slope and groups of men calling out, “Hello Blondie.” These calls are automatic, expressionless, vocal eruptions that lift the teeth from over the tongue, clattering shut once the force of air has passed. 

A rather nice local woman with startlingly blue eyes helps me change some money and book a bus ticket. I wait on the bench, reading, and when the transport is late I pull out my pillow and lay back. The sun splatters through the leaves even though it is raining at the same time. The hefty mango branches above me keep me dry and monkeys crawl down them to the ground to play with the dogs. Oh well if I get stuck; I’ll pop my tent in a field in this peaceful village and go in the morning. I smile at the charming little thought; how lovely life is! But the bus really doesn’t come and this is no longer a fantasy. Where will I sleep? 

A cement porch, it turns out, belonging to the friend of blue eye’s friend. I set up quickly under the single light bulb that dangles from an extension cord and the long line of male stares from next door. Once inside, I tie my pink cloth scrap over my nose and mouth to choke out the smoke from the nearby trash fires and then I’m asleep. 

Like all late afternoon naps, I awake in twilight, perplexed. And starving, but I still feel all those eyes still on me, and I resign myself to spoonful of nutritional yeast and a glass full of soluble fiber. I convince myself I can handle this. The morning bus comes at 6 am and I can survive that long. I try reading; try sleeping; my stomach squeals and whines, begging for more. I affix my valuables on my back and walk out into the night. 

 It’s only two blocks, but it unexpectedly requires me passing a cantina and it’s Saturday night. I head with as much not-weird speed as possible to the tienda across the street, and buy a “dinner” of chips and rehydrated soup. Some men venture near as I eat the half-cooked noodles, fork scratching, rubbery, at its Styrofoam walls. I pay and hurry home, though I am followed, calls begging my attention in my wake. Monotone, guttural, “Excuse me, baby, excuse me, excuse me, baby.” As always, the words eventually fall away with their owners, but I tie my tent’s interior zippers in double knots anyway. Inside I finally, ravenously, finish Lord of the Flies, finding it the appropriate final inspiration to clutch my knife to my chest as I slide into my sleeping bag. I hear grunts of nearby pigs as a dreamless sleep takes me. 

 I wake up to any sound that can be interpreted as footsteps, but eventually exhaustion grips me so hard that it holds me to the concrete with an otherworldly force. Around 3 am I noticed that my protective light bulb, swinging from its cord above me, has been turned off. Something is different this time, there really are footsteps slowly maneuvering the gravel. But that heaviness of sleep has taken over me and I fail to pull myself up from its depths. The knife is still in my hand but my grip is soft, tingling numbly with dreams. 

 I think I hear the sound of the pigs again but it’s snores. The full moon outlines two feet, gingerly crossed, pressing into the fabric of my tent, where they press rhythmically from the hammock that cradles the rest of their attached body. I consider both violence and sleep and the latter pulls at me, dragging me to the floor of my tent. I fight it feebly. 

 And then come the honks, furious, almost hilarious, as a bus careens through the streets in the dark. But I know I can’t break down my tent fast enough, and that mysterious body is still snoring outside. It’s only 4:30 am so I start packing softly inside, expecting another hour before the next bus. I don’t want to emerge unprotected from my fortress before then. And I time it almost right, but as I sit exposed outside, tent stowed away, the drunk unfolds himself from his hammock, stretches, and croaks, “Buenos días.” I nod, attempting that particular balance of politeness and non-engagement. He squints one eye, leans toward me, lips parted dryly. “Buenos. Días,” he says, drawn out, with force. I nod again, drawn out, with force. 

 The man stumbles off around a corner from which a bus emerges mere minutes later in an immense cloud of dust. My hand written ticket remains un-checked in my pocket as I climb on, joining the large number of men already headed toward work. Most of them attempt to sleep as I keep an eye out for the immigration station, which the bus rolls right past after a quick glance proves it empty. My driver informs me that it must be closed and shrugs when I ask if I’ll have trouble without having my passport stamped. I accept there’s nothing to be done except shrug along with him. I wedge my jacket against the window and join in the napping.  

Comment

Comment

Sí, Se Puede

“Traveler, there is no path — paths are made by walking." - Antonio Machado

The air sucking into the van's open windows smells like honey, its golden scent mingling with the silvery light of the nearly full moon that lifts over my right shoulder. The van is still careening toward Palenque, though the night makes my carsickness less defined. Fields pass in flickers, brief firefly-filled moments of joy, between steeply sloped bends that spin my head with blurs of dense underbrush and fallen rocks.

Occasionally we slow to let out a passenger, to accommodate speed bumps or to rumble through dimly lit towns. Men cluster mysteriously along their edges in threes and fours, lingering like the stench of burned maize. We stop longest at a gas station, a windowless room full of faded, ruddy gas cans and plastic tubes strung about the walls. In the grocery next door, a grandmother and her granddaughter slump on a bench, staring blankly out into the night. The grandfather idly paces the rows of his store, under the dangling light bulbs, shuffling through aisles stacked 10-feet high with bags of rice and powdered soaps.

I’m dropped in Palenque much too late to wander for a hostel, and I’d still rather venture closer the ruins to find the supposedly “funky traveler’s hangout” called El Panchan. I cross the road, loaded like a beast of burden, and flag a taxi. He has other passengers so I assume it’s a collective; I assume wrong. A drunken man who appears to be the driver’s son sits in the back next to me (he occasionally sighs out “Papa,” despite being nearly thirty); the daughter sits in the front. I guess that “Papa” is making one last fare in the process of heading home with his family for the night. The son is much more drunk than I’d like, repeating himself over and over as I pretend not to understand Spanish. We stop so he can buy beer, which he offers to me once every minute as we continue down the highway into the dark. He is never chastised by his family; occasionally they snap, “Tranquila, güera,” despite my non-reaction, assuming my discomfort with the situation yet unwilling to honor their own. As we turn down into the road for El Panchan, I am still wiping the spit off my hand from an unwanted, beer-laden kiss, unable to make my fingers feel clean again.

I can’t get out of the cab fast enough, and I arrive to a confusing hodge-podge of businesses inside the single compound. I keep declining an over-insistent offer of cheap cabañas until I am finally directed up a rickety set of stairs to a barren, lightless platform for camping. My tent set up, I pee off the side of the platform, and collapse for a moment in a tangle of the contents of my pack. Only now do I notice the aggressively loud music wafting up from a few feet away. Make that three sources of music. No, four. I check my watch, realize it’s still early for “funky travelers,” and go in search of WiFi and dinner. 

Two hopeful hippies begin to follow me on my walk to dinner, inviting themselves to sit with me. They smoke excessively, eyeing me between their half-shaved heads, over their scraggly beards, and order cheap, cold beers as I peruse the menu of “fine Mexican and Italian food.” Access to WiFi is as overpriced as the fare, so I choose only the latter. It’s the most disappointing rendition of sopa Azteca I have ever experienced: roughly Campbell’s cream of tomato soup with a quarter of an avocado thrown in and chicken that just doesn’t taste right. I eat around it, pay quickly, and retreat back to my tent. 

I can’t read over the din of the various sources of painfully-loud drums and dance music. I writhe on my camp mat, attempting to suffocate the sound, until I finally fall into something like sleep. At half past five, I snap awake from the combination of a nightmare and someone’s drunken argument. I prefer the sound of the howler monkeys, which follows shortly. 

And I follow them, after hastily throwing on a shirt, and trespassing into a nicer hostel until I find the tree they are growling from. The sky is slowly lightening and I’m ready for the ruins, though I’m determined to settle myself into a quieter place before heading off. I choose the same locale as the monkeys. It takes an hour of waiting for someone to stir and rent me a room, and after tent-breakdown-and-abandon within the cabaña’s rustic walls, I’m off. 

I walk through the gate to the park, pay too much for an entry that is without map, and begin plodding down the path. A man comes up behind me and begins to make casual conversation about the park. A tour guide, he says he can escort me to the archeological zone and I won’t have to pay the second entry fee. After walking in unison for a mile or so, he brings me to an abandoned pathway, stops talking mid-sentence before he ushers me under the rope, then hurriedly says, “Go, just go now and keep walking, don’t look back and if anyone asks, you paid.” The sentence all strung into one word and the  urgency in his voice make me nervous, so I run, my gaze straight ahead. 

But the path is empty and wild and I feel free. I wander to the side of a bridge, wade into a stream beneath a waterfall, and sense someone coming up behind me, clearly a member of staff by his shirt. I am a faster hiker than him, and though I don’t run, he can’t catch up to me — still I hear his heavy steps crunching into the gravel after me. Eventually, a woman comes toward me from the direction I’m hustling toward, asks me for my ticket, then tells me to walk to the other entrance and pay. But, post-apology, as I walk the carefully restricted pathways, I am surrounded by matching-shirted tour groups and no pay-booth in sight. So I wander the ruins thoroughly, silently, finding a quiet space up more stairs than most people care to climb. Here I sit, slicing open a weighty papaya — energy I’d rather contain in my belly than expend carrying on my back. I rocket its spicy little jellied seeds into jungle on the tip of my spoon before laying into its fragrant pink flesh. 

The manicured, reconstructed ruins don’t take as long as expected to explore but I refuse to leave so quickly, finding a spot in the shadow of an enormous Mayan palace to linger over another chapter of Lord of the Flies. But even on this grand and sun-filled lawn, the bugs are persistent, so I wander off toward the exit, and out into a parking lot full of the cries of taco venders and so-called artisans. 

I’m seeking the nature trail, hoping it offers some less-observed exploration of the area. I find, or rather I am found, by a tour guide hoping to charge me 800 pesos to show me secret temples and waterfalls. But the trail is free? No, no thank you. Now it’s 200 pesos, now it’s whatever I wish to pay. I wander toward some tacos. 

After a food-funded escape, I cross to a tour-guide-less side of the road and head into the jungle path on my own. I am followed by a grade school-age boy whose yelled tour-prices fall softly to the ground like the leaves from the trees, muted by the encompassing rot of the jungle floor. Free at last, I plod happily and lightly, until two men appear in my peripheral vision. My pace quickens, my mind searches for the weight of my knife in my pack. Will they try to 1) rape me, 2) steal from me, or 3) merely attempt to sell me something? 

The gender war, currently absorbing the American media-sphere via hashtag activism, weighs on my mind; I think: #yesallwomen have to fear the first option, where men only need to fear the latter two. But #notallmen turns out to be behind me, so I am forced to be grateful to receive only the third of possibilities. 

I have thoroughly refused, explained I’m looking for a quiet walk, but am accompanied by one man anyway, as a “courtesy.” The man turns out to be not so bad to walk with, pointing out medicinal plants and sharing wild, edible fruits as we make our way beneath families of monkeys and over lizards and snakes. We reach a junction and he tells me we’re not allowed to follow the path to the right because archeologists are working beyond it, but to the left is a climb to a temple. After the climb, I enjoy the cool of a more raw ruin, molding silently in the damp quiet of the rainforest. 

On the return, we depart down a muddy, narrow trail toward a more private waterfall. Neither of us have bathing suits, but we are stripping off our sweat-laden layers anyway. The man gets nervous, apologizes for the smallness of his penis, and I plunge into the icy water in the opposite direction of him, avoiding either the suggestion of his phallus or my shame that he is as vulnerable an animal as I am, despite our respective genders. 

We dress shyly, and cut back through the thicket to the trail. He points at a similar dirt trail and says it’s another secret waterfall, though we continue back toward the entrance. Another junction, and we say a farewell as I head toward the exit, he back to the entrance. I take another side trail and meander over what is clearly one of the un-excavated ruins, cut stones jutting out from under snake-like roots, until I rejoin the path. A huge waterfall with families snapping photos from its viewing platform causes me turn around suddenly, climbing back up towards the second secret waterfall. 

I enjoy this swim immensely, perhaps too affected by my reading of Lord of the Flies, and splash around like a wild thing in the muck. Unobserved, I find myself childlike, limbs flailing around my relaxed belly. Naked as I was born (save my hiking sandals), I drink cool water fresh from the stream (through my REI squeeze filter). 

Re-clothed, I take the supposedly forbidden path towards the archeologists. Emerging from the thicket, I am greeted by a stone obelisk, rising ominously in a clearing where I find five Penn State professors, graduates, and students bent over their work. They glance at me, still discussing measurements for stones to repair an aqueduct that feeds the ceremonial bathing pool that they are excavating. They are friendly, inviting me to climb down into the pool where, knee-deep, we discuss stone construction, the Penn States fencing team, archeology degrees, and how the hell one gets to do such a cool job anyway. They let me wander around the site, avoiding piles of bagged and tagged chips of stone, and peering into half exposed aqueduct tunnels. Beyond this point is nothing but farmland, and I’ve stayed too long, though I think they would have been happy to have me hanging about all day, chatting about familiar parts of the country we are all so far from. 

I hate to leave, and as I walk back towards the exit, I fight the urge to run back and beg them to adopt me among them, to spend at least a night peppering them with questions about their experiences. But I plod on, emerging onto the highway, and walking the long, hot mile toward my bed. I am sidetracked by a field full of cows, at which I gaze intently, smelling that specific smell of dew baking out of hay in the afternoon sun. For a moment, I let the familiarity drench my brain, and I pretend I am in a place I can call home. I rest my chin on the cool metal of the pasture gate, fingers folded neatly under my chin, elbows kicked out to either side like the limbs of a grasshopper. A man on a motorcycle arrives and opens the gate, tells me he’s searching for magic mushrooms, and tells me I may walk within the grounds. I gravitate toward the cows, they gallop in the opposite direction, and I turn back too. 

I stop at a few more clear streams to refresh myself along the way, climbing up and down crumbling banks on the edges of barbed-wired properties. Figures wobbling in the shimmering heat, the old farmers who cross my path are the only other people walking along the taxi-dotted road. We smile and nod as we pass each other. 

Back in the “funky travelers hangout,” showered and exhausted after five hours of exploring and hiking, I collapse naked into my sheets. I wake after dark, brave the horror of the restaurant again, eating the subpar, pricey food next to the looming manager. He stands mouth agape, fingers clawed into his thinning, sweaty scalp, combing rhythmically, methodically down the sides of his head, staring out at nothing at all. 

I close my eyes and find the imprint of the afternoon sun still glowing red in the membranes of my eyelids. The loud band and chatter of dinner-goers melds into an indistinct hum. I breathe in the smell of the field of cows once more, the cool of the stream again rushing around my sore calves.   

Comment

Mattresses in the Sand

Comment

Mattresses in the Sand

I have long felt that the best thing about living in a place is leaving it. Even if just for a day, some perspective is refreshing. And movement is a catalyst, it activates and invigorates, generating creative energy. I have needed something to combat the stagnation, the sense of lifelessness that has surprised me in this beach "paradise."

On this day, I packed in under twenty minutes, post-surf and pre-breakfast, and I didn't want to go. I'm glad I did. I needed the motion.

In a car full of acquaintances, we headed on a generally unplanned trip in search of a so-called circus in the nearby town of Mazunte. We scouted a beach, rumored to be empty enough to camp on, and found it entirely perfect for the goal. We went back to town, most drank too much mezcal, none could see the circus through the crowd, all ate tacos, wandered to a dance party, and at some point made it to our beach. 

I don't know how, because I was sleeping in the back of the truck, snuggled soundly with a stocky pit bull. I had thrown in the towel after a dreadlocked drunk stumbled over his singular Birkenstock to demand that I dance with him or I would prove myself a square. Happy to be a square this night, I gratefully accepted sleep while those more energetic than I kept working at the dance floor. 

In the morning I emerged from my tent to find everyone entwined around the remnants of the campfire. After playing in the surf, topless sun-bathing and cowboy coffee we made our way home — I rested, the others exhausted — all glad to have had an experience outside the routine.

Comment

Comment

The Surf Gods

“Surfing, alone among sports, generates laughter at its very suggestion, and this is because it turns not a skill into an art, but an inexplicable and useless urge into a vital way of life.” - Matt Warshaw

I now know what any surfer can tell you: there is no experience more spiritual than being with the waves.

On the night before, we rented boards and went to sleep early, excited to visit an uninhabited beach with waves rumored to be even more wonderful than those of the beach on which we were sleeping on. At 5:30 am, 15 minutes before my alarm and 45 before sunrise, I awoke ready to go. In the darkness before dawn it was still cold so I pulled my shorts and sweatshirt on over my bikini. Out on the street I met the others, all bed-headed and rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. 

The five of us stacked our boards on top of the taxi we had prearranged and crammed ourselves into the four seats. We arrived at the break, La Barra, with only the slightest hint of light in the sky, stars still bright enough to reflect on the surface of the estuary and an honest-to-goodness white horse grazing untethered in the mist. I felt my cellphone in my pocket, pulled it out and took the most beautiful photo of my pals leaning on their boards against the backlight of the rising sun. 

It's the last thing my phone would ever do. At this moment I discovered that we would have to swim across a deep outlet to get to the beach and there was no way my bundle of clothing I had brought for warmth could possibly stay dry. And so I sacrificed my phone to the surf gods. 

I was rewarded by catching my first wave ever in the wild rush of some very powerful surf (such that probably should have injured me), emerging unscathed and exhilarated. Sitting on our boards out behind the breaking waves, we watched the sun, bright as blood, rise over the edge of the ocean. And over and over the sea took me and my shit-eating grin down, let me test the strength of my lungs while it held me under before spinning me back out into the air. 

After an hour of furious paddling and gallons of seawater in my nose I swam to shore, much closer to God, or death, or whatever it is that I felt more strongly present than ever before. 

Perhaps it’s good that I can’t share any photos from this day, and that I can’t look at any of them for myself. I remember the day more viscerally than I could if I had looked at it through a lens. 

And now every day without my phone is some kind of blessing.  I’m liberated from a kind of pressure to be reachable on a level that is unnatural. Every day, the only thing I’m now responsible to is my own gut instinct, without research or influence — just a glance at the water and what it calls for me to do in it. 

Comment