Is it dangerous outside of the U.S.? Here are some photos from living over a year in Latin America. You decide.
(The following photos are from 2 separate trips, a year apart, paid for in full by working entry level jobs at restaurants.)
STOP! – Put on some music. Music and pictures go together well.
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One of the beautiful things about the Guatemalan culture is their practice of total impermanence. Everything is a quick, temporary fix, because after all, everything is always changing. Leaky faucet? Put a bowl under it. Need new door hinges? Install them under the old ones and then paint over the bad ones. Paint peeling after 2 months? Slap on another coat.
This is the same shoddy craftsmanship that drives us Westerners crazy (Europeans really) when we are having a defensive, egocentric day. On our peaceful, observational days, we admire and muse over these same modifications.
“Awareness is without choice, without demand, without anxiety; in that state of mind, there is perception. Perception alone will resolve all your problems.”
Life came to this planet a long time ago. It mutated into what we’ve discovered and not yet discovered using the same basic elements of an ever changing code. We are here as long as life has use for us. I plan to take pleasure in as many irrelevant, useless activities as possible.
Sadness is like photography in the morning. There’s plenty of light, so open your aperture and turn up the shutter speed to 1/200.
Humans are like bacteria. Different cultures all trying to take over their host. Sometimes the cultures mix and one tries to annihilate the other. It’s interesting to read about wars and then afterward the cultures return to doing what the humans do most which is just living and consuming.
This is one of the local bars I worked at called The Snug. Probably the smallest bar in Antigua. It felt full every time there were between 3 and 39 people.
They have some tasty treats, too.
It gets easier living somewhere after you accept things as they are. It’s good to challenge things, but trying to change too much just makes you frustrated. I realized that I can’t change every person living in Guatemala to my liking. Reminding myself this allowed me to laugh when salespeople lied to my face and everyone (including myself) was 30 minutes late if they showed up at all.
It’s not actually that I love a place, but rather my adaptation to it. When things aren’t going my way, I do not enjoy the place. But,today I finished work swiftly with a few bucks in my pocket and went home to sit on my comfortable cot and play music. Things in my work and home life are set up the way I like. My mentality is set to view the happenings with a neutral, abstract tranquility. This style of management can make any town seem like the place to be.
The best description I’ve heard so far (by David Gerow) is that Antigua is like a cartoon. Illegal mezcal bars and blues singers with one-eyed dogs.
Guat City is bike and art friendly. And their coffee/food scene kicks ass.
The mercado is definitely the place I’ll miss the most in Antigua.
I lived 2 blocks away and went almost every morning for a chihuahua-sized bag of freshly chopped fruit for 5 quetzals = $0.65
I’d like to know where us gringos learn to get angry when we aren’t in total control all of the time. It’s not all gringos, only about 80% of them from what I’ve seen. I think it’s a misconception that latin people explode with anger. Maybe I’m in the wrong parts, but in the 16 months or so of living/traveling in 9 latin countries, I can only remember once someone going on a yelling rampage. Guatemaltecas just don’t have that emotional eruption inside themselves.
I’ll miss walking aimlessly around town with my camera.
And of course I’ll miss free bananas in the back yard.
The inside is like Cracker Barrel, but the food is fancier. Pretty decent cappuccinos. My guess is a gringo from the South got homesick.
I asked my friend if the guy lying on the sidewalk needed help. She said, “He’s just drunk from watching soccer.” I laughed and said that’s just like football fans in the States. Pan y circo. I used to think it was trickery to control the masses with entertainment, but on this day I realized it’s not control. They need it.
I joined my girlfriend Gaby for coffee and dessert. After our how-are-ya?s I start talking about how I am working too much. Instead of sympathizing as usual, she said, “Always.” That stopped me in my verbal tracks.
“Always?” I asked.
“Yup.” She said.
I didn’t know what to say. I guess I’m always whiny. Why is this? All of a sudden, I realized Guatemalans are better at life than me, probably better than most white people. They have far fewer resources, a relatively higher cost of living, and still pay the bills. If 2+2=4 in the U.S. then 1+1=3 in Guatemala. Man, I suck. Back to the drawing board.
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Instead of dealing with volcanic ash, my brother has to sweep mayflies off the boat. They come for half an hour every dusk to die.
My friend Eli noticed that our eyes can’t track their flight, so I turned down the shutter speed on my Nikon.
Stop taking home monkeys!
Instruction manuals are rulebooks. Children are told what is and is not possible. This severely limits imagination and reasoning skills. If you don’t understand then you’ve probably never left the land of guard rails and warning labels.
That’s CARVED from a TREE. Good luck even trying to imagine doing that.
My good friends Karlita and Elito.
Separating Lake Izabel from Rio Dulce, this is supposedly the tallest bridge in Central America.
Side A – When I walked around the tree and noticed this guy was 2 feet from my bare feet my voice got all cartoony and high pitched like Butters on South Park. I said something like, “Ugh guys, I don’t think we should walk on this nature trail!” Looking back I just think: What a pansy I was!
Side B – The middle of this 5′ dude was easily as big around as my calf.
So if you’ve never been stoned for 7 days in a jungle with naturally heated water falls, howler monkeys, some kind of skin-softening hot spring mud, and the Nat. Geo. soundtrack on ∞.1 surround sound, go ahead and put that on your calendar. I finally understand why people like living in Rio Dulce.
“Anything that challenges what you believe is going to make you feel unsafe.”
If you want the majority of a country to be trained a certain way, you DEFINITELY don’t want them traveling. Even the most unobservant people start questioning their belief systems.
It’s nobody’s fault for the things they were taught when they were 3 years old. The understanding of what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” probably starts with breast feeding. Happy emotions vs. angry/sad emotions are learned from family, teachers, church, and all other members of society.
When you go to a new cultural system, people do things that they were taught are “right”. In parts of the world it’s perfectly OK to pee on the side of a busy road in daylight or to stand against the next person in line at the grocery store or to set a backpack in a stranger’s lap on the bus. In one part of the world it’s ok to let children run and yell because they are kids. In other parts of the world kids are punished for acting like kids, depending on who’s around or where they are.
What I’m getting at is this: what is “right” in one place is “wrong” in another but both are possible and don’t really harm anyone or improve survival.
We get information about different cultures, not from the culture itself or even people who have experienced that culture. We learn about the world through the tinted lenses of television, Hollywood, and the news. Only after enough people have been paid do the remnants of truth trickle down to us in our plastic bubbles.
As a young American from a small town in Georgia, this is what I learned:
Mexicans and Indians are roughing it. Africa is fucked. Europeans have a little bit going for them. At least they look like us. And they drive nice cars. Even if they talk funny and wear clothes a little too tight, they are the most similar to us. So, we’ll consider their method of living to be acceptable even though they aren’t quite “right”. One thing is for sure— you don’t want to end up in a place where you can’t blend in. All other species of humans, especially the one’s that look different, are very, very dangerous.
It amazes me how much of the U.S. believes this.
Nothing grabs your attention quite like a pack of little kids sprinting toward you with huge smiles and even bigger knives.
Birth right is a pretty messed up concept. Natural born citizens act as if they demonstrated some herculean effort to have earned their “rights”.
“Pride is a sense of worth derived from something that is not part of us.” -BL
To visit the U.S. requires total proof of returning home and costs a Guatemalan $150 (a month’s rent in Antigua) plus all associated entrance and exit fees and transportation. This is possible if you have adequate sponsorship from a U.S. resident. Multiply the cost of your rent by 6. That’s the relative price to step foot in this country.
Some argue this difficulty is to prevent immigrant labor from working harder and cheaper and longer hours than the spoiled citizens of ‘Murica. It’s ok to manufacture goods in less developed places like India or China and pay them next to nothing, as long as we don’t have to look at their ghettos every day. It’s smacks of the same flavor when we send our youth to foreign soils to get shot at and kick down strangers’ doors. Do we really have to ensure our way of life at the expense of theirs? I have to admit it was thoughtful of them to install those nets at the Foxconn factory (Apple and Hewlett Packard) in China to catch the employees after 14 killed themselves by jumping out the windows. But, I digress.
So what is the real reason we defend our borders from our more friendly, lively, and compassionate neighbors? My mind immediately goes to real estate value. No doubt the problem is complex. The way I see it, my life could have just as easily started in Madagascar. I wouldn’t know the difference.
One thought on leveling the playing field is that the rich will lose at the gain of the poor. I think lazy people will stay lazy and the only change is that the lazy Americans will either get it together or fall behind.
They already have huge advantages with being able to read and speak English. A taste of the world’s reality might give them a touch of humility and appreciation instead of blindly hating anything different, groping desperately for more stimulus, and following whichever side is predicted to win the next election instead of consulting your own dust covered intuition.
“People already made up their minds [about what they believe] and only listen to supporting evidence.” – Eli Vellieux
“The artless art is the art of the soul at peace, like moonlight mirrored in a deep lake. The ultimate aim of the artist is to use his daily activity to become a past matter of life, and so lay hold of the art of living. Masters in all branches of art must first be masters of living, for the soul creates everything.” – Bruce Lee
I started get skinny to the point of looking at my gums in the reflection of my tablet to see if I had any pocketing. Gross, I know. It’s time to get some nutrients. (Don’t worry, I am a hypochondriac. While working at a local school to give kids checkups, I took a blood test and my iron levels are fine.)
I didn’t start to look in the mirror until I started working more—before I had the luxury of considering my diet diversity. Before I was just happy with food. This was usually a tub of yogurt, bag of granola, bunch of bananas, and a loaf of bread. Nutrients beyond this would be from the cheap taco restaurant around the corner and in shift meals at work. Having a pretty girl take me out to dinner is nice, but makes me feel like a bum. (Mario knows what I’m talking about.)
I’ve discovered two (2) (II) (dos) (zwei) (二) ways to get by in life and I alternate between them. I would bet that most people do this many times throughout their lifetimes. Some do it only once and call it “retirement”.
The first way to get by in life is to work, and keep working, and early in the morning work some more, and at the end of the week work, and sometimes late at night work, and on the weekend work, and into the next week work, and work all week. Eventually you develop a type of endurance to the discomfort and you can just work non-stop for weeks, months, and your body starts to crave the routine. It’s not that your mind becomes numb, but it’s working so efficiently that there’s no time for refined thoughts.
I enjoy the ability to buy pizza whenever I want and have money saved up for travel and new clothes and my own transportation. I enjoy buying the good food at the good grocery stores and not having to worry about things like malnutrition. The funny thing about advertising is that it has no affect on those that can’t afford the product. As soon as I started working like crazy and had money to spend, I needed all kinds of things.
The efficient mind part is what I have a problem with. Fog. Fatigue. A new form of self-pity arises after working your 14th day straight. Part of the resistance is knowing that I’m letting go of my mind a bit. Knowing that I’m not going to be as analytically sharp or aware. It’s just one of the give and take parts of survival, I guess. Like how living in society is easy, but also voluntary slavery. I say voluntary, because the idea that the “world” is trying to make us into this or that is only our own innate tendency to regard other’s “judgement”. In reality, it’s only us judging ourselves.
The second way to get by in life is to work as little as possible and have oodles of free time for reading, exercise, art, observing, and thinking. This of course gets abused and turns into “laziness” [from Proto-Indo-European *las- (“weak”)]. Goals are pushed aside for other goals and the whole schedule dissolves. Life is grand for a couple of months until you realize that it’s not a self-sustaining system. You realize that more fuel has to be pumped in from the outside. Only pets who have genetically evolved to domesticate humans can get by with only “working” an hour a day.
After the first 5 or 6 weeks of not working, my mind becomes “fully awake.” The less monotonous, tedious, demeaning tasks you do to make other people money, the more you are connected mentally with the life-force-thing that flows through your veins, makes plants grow, and is in the sun and water and the wind. The more you curiously and freely wander the earth, the more you feel your connection to everything. You have the time and patience to watch the world. And it’s both interesting and entertaining.
But, there’s a but. The thing that allows you this freedom from worry and time to soak in 100% of your surroundings (which change constantly if you are traveling) is a pile of money. The size of the pile determines the duration and luxury. I find there is more to see at the ground level, so I don’t even bother with the luxury part. But, when the pile is low, you can choose two routes. You can figure out a way to start making money on the road or you can go back to your original source of income. Both options involve surrendering large portions of your mental faculties and significant amounts of time.
Since time moves at a constant rate, there do not appear to be any shortcuts. The best thing I’ve found is to figure out how to enjoy the run-ragged work part. It has it’s perks. Cinnamon Toast Crunch is one of them. Just don’t stay in the fog too long. It’s just anxiety vs. sadness. Anxiety when I’m running out of money. Sadness when I have to temporarily say bye to my mind, my hobbies, and myself.
But, there’s another but! There’s this thing called presence. Sounds spooky, right? It is a common theme that has been rediscovered by many influential people throughout history and it can be taught, but like anything, only to willing students. It has a myriad of other names too, all equally bashed by skeptics who don’t experiment a whole lot throughout their 75 years on this planet. “Awareness”, “awake”, and “grounded” are a few.
Basically, all you do is stop every now and then to ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now? Is there anything bothering me?” This looking inward somehow makes everything outward more clear. The same thing happens when you leave town for a long-over-due weekend to go camping. It’s like stopping to clean the glasses of life. This is my newest experiment. Supposedly it’s a game changer. As Boots says, “I’ll give it the old college try.”
When you get a key made in Central America, the key maker doesn’t hit it with a brush machine to clean up the edges. It’s obvious that it’s just a jagged piece of metal. It’s not some magical object that opens locks.
When you buy a machete, they grab a flat bar of metal, grind off one corner and wrap the other with duct tape or rubber. A knife isn’t something that can only be made by a knife maker. It’s a piece of metal that’s filed thin on one end. A shotgun is an oversized metal tube with a loading/firing handle. When you go to Little Caesar’s or the post office, or the grocery store, there are guards with sawed-off shot guns. They smile back and you realize the shotgun is a cheap tool, about as easy to construct as a coffee maker.
It is infinitely more clear what objects really are when you are not living in a polished consumer society.
“The way to transcend karma lies in the proper use of the mind and the will. The one-ness of all life is a truth that can be fully realized only when false notions of a separate self, whose destiny can be considered apart from the whole, are forever annihilated” – Bruce Lee
“It’s very strange when we arbitrarily decide on one drug. Regardless of its impact on people’s health and wellbeing and crimes committed under the influence of it. Which is one of the most devastating ones. Alcohol. And we make that our primary drug. And we just decide. You’re dealing with a sophisticated and intelligent civilization. You’re dealing with people who have previously impossible levels of access to information. In the face of all this overwhelming evidence, you’re choosing to put people in cages for plants. That’s unconscionable.” – Joe Rogan
Chairs with back rests just aren’t good for your body / health. I’ve been thinking about this for about two years and this is my conclusion. Your body has built in muscles that give you posture. These muscles, like the heart do not get tired, if you use them. If you remove their need to work (using a back rest) then, like giving money to a bum, you only make them weaker. You have a choice. You can keep your ability to support your own body (i.e. sit up) or you can throw it away like bone density by using a mattress. I’ll save the mattress for another article.
When Joe Rogan asked Jay Leno what caused the end of the era of Italian mob-run clubs and casinos, he said this: “Corporations are meaner and nastier and tougher than the mob. At least with the mob you got a free drink every now and then. Once the corporations came in, that was the end of that.”
Most love songs (unlike The Distance by Cake) rationalize the sickness that humans develop through interaction with other sick humans. I’m talking about not taking responsibility for your own emotions and not admitting what is reality.
“I realize all the uncountable manifestations the thinking-mind invents to place a wall of horror before its pure perfect realization that there is no wall and no horror, just Transcendental Empty Kissable Milk Light of Everlasting Eternity’s true and perfectly empty nature.” Jack Kerouac, Tristessa
Something I’ve learned recently is that you can look at everything in two lights. Like the idea of Yin and Yang. Here’s a story by Alan Watts explaining the concept:
The Farmer’s Horse
The yin-yang view of the world is serenely cyclic. Fortune and misfortune, life and death, whether on small scale or vast, come and go everlastingly without beginning or end, and the whole system is protected from monotony by the fact that, in just the same way, remembering alternates with forgetting. This is the Good of good-and-bad.
The greatest fear or all is fear of the unknown. That’s why traveling to foreign countries is so terrifying and interesting. Why do you think death haunts us all? Why do you think religion has been such an important part of our history? If we knew death was only temporary or a transition, it wouldn’t be so damn scary. But we don’t know. Death is very useful to us because I think you can link it as motivation to everything we do in life. It’s a good example of the duality of all things.
“Put aside your notions of how people are and the world will surprise you with it’s grace.” – Arielle 5 to 7
The other white dots in the sky are normal sized kites.
We are taught as kids that one thing is better than another.
The 40-foot tall kites are just for decoration.
Before acid, flowers just smelled like flour to me. I was always disappointed when I would stop to smell the roses. Now I get all kinds of different scents and they smell great!
The Day of the Dead is a tradition used to celebrate the lives and assist the spiritual journeys of loved ones.
Random Blog Poem
Eat food as if you are speaking a language.
Window drip like the sound of a train
Ringing silence of mosquitos in my brain
here come the bombers
Here comes the pain
Fluffy and sharp, right on time
fear begins when traffic feels first
Breath in the to lack the walls
Sell light, tickle elders.
The Mayans had some pretty clever ideas. After harvest, each pen is rotated. Animals are where plants were and there’s even a “resting” pen. This is key to “sustainable farming” or “permaculture”. Mono-cropping, on the other hand, is a short sighted, efficient technique that depletes the soil of nutrients and offers limited protection against disease. Disasters such as Ireland’s Great (Potato) Famine are the result. Dense concrete jungles are also vulnerable to viral attacks due to lack of microorganism bio-diversity. With plants, animals, bugs, and soil nearby, the local immune system is fortified.
Following their ancestors, Antigua’s Caoba Farms plant in spirals to match the shape of our galaxy. This may seem whimsical and if I go into it too much, half of you will click the Facebook notification in the corner of your screen. As a math/physics guy, it intrigues me so I’ll touch on it briefly.
In most of the world, we use a single calendar based on this solar system, particularly our relationship with our Sun. If you Google “how many stars are there?”, it says this:
That’s just what we can see. Could it be possible that there is something else influencing our world?
Around the time of the 2012 excitement Guatemala was crawling with hippies, tourists, and archaeologists. A local farmer and his twin brother decided to do their own research and see what they could learn about their ancient heritage. Emilio, one of the twins, who I’m working with on farm tours, explained to me that the Mayans actually used 23 calendars. Only one of these pertained to the physical world. They didn’t want to focus all of their attention on material items lest they live for superficial motives.
The others were based on energy because the Mayans apparently believed all life and the universe were made of energy. Picture an electron doing laps around a nucleus. Or the moon and Earth around the Sun. Or our solar system around the center of the Milky Way spiral, which I just learned is a “supermassive” black hole. Yikes!
Here’s something to bring you back to the present moment:
“I don’t know man. I just think it’s important to always try to be self-aware and self-correcting.” – Ben Hurst
So I’m riding a chicken bus back from Mexico for my 3-month visa renewal. The guy who manages the money is wearing an authentic smile and a soaked t-shirt. It’s not raining.
At first it looks like there’s no room. Even the front steps are full. Following the assistant’s instruction, I SQUEEZE to the middle of the refurbished school bus. My bag is on the storage rack, so I did not capture the amazing, everyday feats that were about to take place.
There are 3 adults in each of the 24 bench seats (built for two children), plus a FULL aisle of standing passengers. I’m comfortably sandwiched between at least 4 people. This must be similar to India, except there are no children in the overhead luggage compartments and no small crowd sitting on top of the bus.
A packed bus is no obstacle for the assistant. After taking bus fare from those in arm’s reach, he asks a young passenger to slide down the window. Grabbing the overhead luggage rack, he neatly slips both feet, hips, and shoulders out of the bus, which is traveling through the mountains at about 45 miles an hour. (A week before, my brother and I were trying to figure out how the driver was able to squeal tires around every turn without flipping.) Ten seconds later I see him standing in the back of bus collecting money. Using the seat backs as steps, he duck-walks to the center of the bus, collecting money before he Houdini’s through another window and reappears at the front of the bus.
Since Central America is still “developing”, they don’t yet have rampant lawsuits, so people are still allowed to make their own judgements when it comes to personal safety. One downside of an underdeveloped law system is the labor force is abused and the cost of living is significantly higher than the minimum wage.
Money is a tool that is over used. It’s like carrying a screwdriver around to open doors, write notes, get people’s attention, start your car, flip pancakes, scramble your eggs, eat your breakfast, and pet your dog with.
From time to time the discussion comes up about the differences between the economies of the U.S. and Central America. After pondering, reading, and discussing with a variety of world citizens, I’ve come to a common denominator.
Latinos live in the moment. Gringos live in the future and the past. Keep in mind that this is a spectrum and I’m discussing the stereotypes to help contrast.
When you live in the future, you are more prone to make responsible decisions, plan effectively, and be motivated to address your scheduled priorities.
When you live in the present, you make decisions based on what is occurring around you.
This is one reason travelers gravitate toward Latin America. Travelers, by definition, are inconsistent. They like to put themselves in situations where it is necessary to pay close attention to their surroundings. They also value experiential quality over financial growth.
As a traveler, I perceive benefit in surrounding myself with people who are more focused on what is happening now. This is one reason I prefer the service industry to the construction industry.
The way Latinos deal with “stressful” situations inspires me. When road construction consumes a sidewalk, pedestrians weave in with cars and no horns are honked except a quick beep to say “Hola!” to a passing tuk-tuk driver. The tension of judgment is simply absent. People just adapt, because that is how the body functions.
The body only reacts if something is actually happening: fire, dog bites, cold rain, being hit, etc.
The human mind works a bit differently.
The mind calculates, forecasts, recalls, extrapolates, exaggerates, rationalizes, and replays scenarios which may or may not have even happened.
The mind tells the body it is angry, jealous, resentful, sad, anxious, annoyed, and a bunch of other dis-eases, both future (fear) and past (pain). If you stop to notice, each of these emotions are tied to a physical reaction of the body. The next time you have negative thoughts, check out your body and see if you are tense somewhere.
There are also feelings reminiscence and excitement, which in excess show discontent with the present moment.
The future and past (and mind) are tools for deciding how to address the present. If you catch yourself drifting off into thought, you can say to yourself, “I don’t need to use that right now.”
The point is that if you live in the moment (the latino stereotype) you may not have a luxurious lifestyle, but you are also not a stressed-out space cadet.
A quick glance at a developed economy seems like all sunshine and rainbows, and could be, except most of its citizens are missing the show because they are too busy planning for a rainy day. Want proof? Watch a crowded sidewalk or grocery store and see how many people are actually there.
If any of that psychological mumbo-jumbo intrigues you, you can get a healthy dose from the book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. It makes sense to me, but gets quite dense after the first 1/3 of the book.
If children just arrived from a different, non-physical world, then things like bubbles would be very entertaining.
A question from last week: I would love to hear about the “drug” culture…what are the pervasive opinions? How does one acquire pot? Is it any good? etc…
Thank you for the question Brooke, and feel free to ask me anything. I will do what I can to give a helpful answer.
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“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”
― Hunter S. Thompson
Unlike HST, I am not an expert in drugs, in Guatemala or anywhere.
I am a scientist by many definitions, so occasionally I’ll put a microscope on 5 or 6 of senses and/or walk outside of my mind.
Unlike these slug addicts, I just check experiences off my list, and for the most part dwell in the common reality. My money is spent on legal drugs like caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. The logic behind which parts of nature are forbidden and who gets to decide what I consume is another topic for another day.
The simple fact is this: illegal goods are expensive. Therefore these goods are moved from cheap production to buyers. Guatemala is located between production (South America) and the market (North America).
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[Rumor has it that DMT is easy to get in Guatemala, but I have not encountered it in my 2 months here, nor in 2 months in Honduras. Because I don’t actively seek anything illegal, my knowledge is limited to word of mouth .]
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It seems that keeping a substance illegal ensures a high price, which ensures that most people are not willing to pay for it. Out of the 2-1/2 million people that die in the U.S. each year, half are from Major Cardio-vascular diseases (according to the CDC in Atlanta, GA). All illicit drugs combined amount to 17,000 deaths. Death from marijuana = zero.
Here are some reasons to visit Guatemala.
Go to an art school
with a view
and connected to the state of Georgia.
Start with the basics
and learn how to do this
or learn to bake a delicious cake
or paint madness.
They have carpentry classes, if you are looking for something more practical.
Here’s a reason for Mama to visit.
You can rent a room in a cozy house
for $100 / month
in a nice neighborhood.
You can visit weird stores
and impressive parks
or chill in the woods
just don’t forget to smell the flowers.