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 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.
When your body is calm and unmoving:
And you can maintain the One and discard the myriad disturbances.
You will see profit and not be enticed by it,
You will see harm and not be frightened by it.
Relaxed and unwound, yet acutely sensitive,
In solitude you delight in your own person.
This is called “revolving the vital breath”:
Your thoughts and deeds seem heavenly.
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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.