How dangerous are Central America and Mexico?

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.)

Everything is always falling apart

STOP! – Put on some music.  Music and pictures go together well.

=

= – =

=

DSC_0215

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.


DSC_0230
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.

DSC_0082

“Awareness is without choice, without demand, without anxiety; in that state of mind, there is perception.  Perception alone will resolve all your problems.”

-someone

DSC_0177

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.

DSC_0089

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.

DSC_0172

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.

DSC_0273

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.

DSC_0016

They have some tasty treats, too.

DSC_0006

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.

DSC_0004

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.

DSC_0113

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.

DSC_0006 (1)

DSC_0182

DSC_0166

Guat City is bike and art friendly.  And their coffee/food scene kicks ass.

DSC_0154

The mercado is definitely the place I’ll miss the most in Antigua.

DSC_0039

DSC_0051

DSC_0164

I lived 2 blocks away and went almost every morning for a chihuahua-sized bag of freshly chopped fruit for 5 quetzals = $0.65
DSC_0151

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.

DSC_0166 (1)

DSC_0146

I’ll miss walking aimlessly around town with my camera.

DSC_0143

DSC_0034

And of course I’ll miss free bananas in the back yard.

DSC_0131

The inside is like Cracker Barrel, but the food is fancier.  Pretty decent cappuccinos.  My guess is a gringo from the South got homesick.

DSC_0131 (1)

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.

DSC_0007 (1)

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.

 

=

= – =

=

Rio Dulce

DSC_0071 (2)

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.

DSC_0091

My friend Eli noticed that our eyes can’t track their flight, so I turned down the shutter speed on my Nikon.

DSC_0092 (1)

DSC_0001

Stop taking home monkeys!

DSC_0021

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.

DSC_0056

That’s CARVED from a TREE.  Good luck even trying to imagine doing that.

DSC_0029

DSC_0033

My good friends Karlita and Elito.

DSC_0097

Separating Lake Izabel from Rio Dulce, this is supposedly the tallest bridge in Central America.

DSC_0073

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!DSC_0076

Side B – The middle of this 5′ dude was easily as big around as my calf.

DSC_0052

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.

DSC_0001 (2)

“Anything that challenges what you believe is going to make you feel unsafe.”

DSC_0008

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.

DSC_0018

Nothing grabs your attention quite like a pack of little kids sprinting toward you with huge smiles and even bigger knives.

DSC_0169

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.


DSC_0094 (1)

“People already made up their minds [about what they believe] and only listen to supporting evidence.” – Eli Vellieux

 

Kites and Farms

Festival de Barriletes Gigantes (Festival of Giant Kites)

DSC_0034 (1)

DSC_0132

The other white dots in the sky are normal sized kites.

DSC_0221

We are taught as kids that one thing is better than another.

DSC_0194

The 40-foot tall kites are just for decoration.

DSC_0093

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!

DSC_0198

DSC_0261

The Day of the Dead is a tradition used to celebrate the lives and assist the spiritual journeys of loved ones.

DSC_0276

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.

DSC_0203

=

= – =

=

MAYANS & FARMING

DSC_0113

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.

DSC_0104

“Every sound is born out of silence, dies back into silence, and during its life span is surrounded by silence.” – Eckhartt Tolle

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:

    “There are about 10 billion galaxies in the observable universe! The number of stars in a galaxy varies, but assuming an average of 100 billion stars per galaxy means that there are about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s 1 billion trillion) stars in the observable universe!”

 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:

DSC_0109

“I don’t know man.  I just think it’s important to always try to be self-aware and self-correcting.” – Ben Hurst

=

=  – =

=

DSC_0023

Instinct-driven Simplicity

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.

DSC_0130

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.

=

= – =

=

ECONOMICS: “Developed” VS. Developing (and tangents)

DSC_0086

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.

=

= – =

=

DSC_0027

If children just arrived from a different, non-physical world, then things like bubbles would be very entertaining.

Río Dulce and Lake Atitlán

Do us both a favor and put on some reading music.  Need a recommendation? YouTube full albums by Tycho or Satin Jackets.

DSC_0109I THINK one of the most important things in life is celebrating the absolute unnecessary.  That’s why I like art.  My artist roommate in New York asked me once to describe art.  I said, “Useless” and I meant it in the way of a productive 9 to 5 worker.  She squealed with delight.  It may have been the most accurate and best compliment to her life.

Now, art is one of my favorite parts of life.  It doesn’t have to be a shining unicorn diving from a waterfall.  It doesn’t have to win majority favor.  It just has to make an insane amount of sense for the blink of an eye.  Like a good, southern biscuit.

When I write, edit photos, draw, build something, or play music, I quickly realize I have enough hours in the day.

Wanna give yourself a cheap gift? Grab the closest thing and start scribbling, drawing, balancing, juggling, doing, creating.  Keep it up for more than 60 seconds.  I know, some of you don’t have that kind of time just laying around.

Time: what an illogical yet mesmerizing concept.

DSC_0011

I like these times when I hear cavernous lungs carpeting a thumping heart.   The result is not nearly as important as getting lost in the process.

After writing this, the guilty burn of productive society’s glare is but a glowing ember in the pit of my stomach.  Now I can go across the street to eat crepes on the roof and look at Antigua’s volcanos.

From the Guanzi (old Chinese text):

When you enlarge your mind and let go of it,

When you relax your [qi 氣] vital breath and expand it,

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.

= – =

DSC_0211

In two weeks of chaotic travel, I blew all of my available money with my good friend Danielle.  She just finished 3-1/2 months of solo travel from Panama to Guatemala.  Considering the dense beauty and the intense wilderness of the Central American hostel/party scene, that is not an easy amount of ground to cover in only 14 weeks.

DSC_0025

we spent the first few days walking around Antigua

DSC_0016

Three weeks later, I’m still cooking from this cornucopia, all for $7.

Avoiding awkwardness at home is the foundation of the restaurant industry.  “He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.” – Goethe

DSC_0039

Being civilized means ignoring your instincts.  It means doing things in ways to minimize judgment by others.  Instead of living as if you are invisible, you try to go unnoticed.

DSC_0045 (1)

Kung Fu and her new neighbor

DSC_0054

Even though it’s a b&w photo, what color would you guess? (Answer at the bottom)

DSC_0050Danielle waiting for Steve and I to dinghy up to his favorite hangout.  This is the best pizza I’ve had in Central America, by far.

DSC_0058

Thermal springs become waterfalls in Rio Dulce…

DSC_0071

…where else would you hide a bat cave?

DSC_0041

Rio Dulce is the most famous hurricane hole in the Carribean.  Steve has fulfilled his grand plan, over ten years in the making.

DSC_0112

After a few days in Rio Dulce, the three of us go to Lake Atitlan.

DSC_0155Danielle jumping from the “trampoline” in the town of San Marcos

DSC_0199Across the lake is the party town of San Pedro.  Twelve towns named after Catholic saints surround the lake.

DSC_0124 (1)Find the endorphins without any help.  That’s called “Joy”, “Love”, and “Peace.”  Supposedly these don’t play by the yin-yang rules and have no opposites.

There are some forces that we don’t know about.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the last thousand years of scientific discoveries.

DSC_0189

The hippie town of San Marcos so far has the strongest pull to Steve and I.

DSC_0120A view from the place where Oba and The Dubes are living.

DSC_0176

Of course there is a Taoist temple, too.

= – =

Her airport shuttle disappears down the cobblestone streets of Antigua, leaving me on the sidewalk in front of a convenience store.  I step into the tienda and break my last 5Q bill on a cheaply manufactured chocolate bar named after one of my favorite cities ( 6 points if you can guess the name in the comments) to punctuate my situation.  Momentum.  Time to get the ball rolling again because my current inertia is pointed straight down.

In other words, the last two weeks were perfect.

As I write this, taking deep breaths of the brisk breeze, the apartment’s soft and gangster cat, Lopez, sits next to me on the cozy futon.  We watch the banana tree sway in the sunny courtyard.  The back door opens each time the air pressure changes.  I could fix it, but…why?

Once you let go of the reigns of life and feel the wind sweep the sweat from your palms, you notice the horse actually knows more about the road than you.

 DSC_0020

“Ain’t nuttin’ to it but to do it!” – a great quote from an old friend.  I use this to do gainers and other “dumb” things.  Aren’t they the dumbest, most useless things that make us stop in admiration?  At the rate I’m going, I’m going to be…what ever I want.  “There’s always time to become the person you want to be.” – another old gift that argues nurture vs. nature.

= – =

I spent a whopping ten minutes cutting and gluing magazine fragments to an unfolded piece of trash.  Some people call it a vision board.

DSC_0117 (1)

The next day my friend invited me to an organic farm to help with a promotion event in exchange for a bag of veggies.  Health and wellness.

One of the twin brothers running the farm invited me to use his welded outdoor workout gym. Calisthenics.

He said they have a big Thanksgiving dinner and that we should come. Look in the middle of the board.

They have a stage for daily stretching/exercise/dance where I was invited to be an instructor.  Yoga & Salsa on the right side.

He gave a tour of the farm and said we can come work once a month in exchange for more super foods.  El Mundo de las Vitaminas.

They are going to have weekly workshops to learn about chocolate, cooking, and a bunch of other do-it-yourself workshops.

= – =

DSC_0117

Note to self: Try to remember that you can’t be better at life than life.

Answer: Blue

“Drug” Culture of the Americas

Drug

drug

/drəɡ/

noun

 1. a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.

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.

DSC_0196

To keep the article confusing and because I don’t have pictures of narcotics, I have added pictures of some of my favorite “drugs”.  When the coffee cherry turns red, it’s ready to be hand picked.

= – =

“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.

DSC_0011

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).

DSC_0190

According to Business Insider, “In the beginning, coffee was blamed for riots, seditious speech and Satan worship.”

= – =

DSC_0289Ginger beer is high on any hipster’s list.

This is what I have gathered from living here:

  • It’s rare to walk down the street in Antigua without at least 3 people saying in quiet, bad English, “Smoke week?  Cocaine?”  Maybe it’s the earrings and colorful clothing I wear.
  • The shoe shiners, walking around all day with polish and a brush, are really drug dealers.
  • Backpackers often carry cocaine, MDMA, and marijuana.  I don’t know how they get it, but it seems to be easy.
  • Acid is rare and I have only ever seen mushrooms in at spiritual destinations.
  • It is said that the weed is pretty weak compared to places where it’s legal like Colorado, California, Washington, and Vancouver.

[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 .]

DSC_0292

It’s really just ginger and sugar.  The lime and carbonation are optional.  If you want to be really gangster about it, use yeast to naturally create the fizziness.

= – =

Interesting “facts” I have read:

  • With increased pressure on the Mexican border, drug traffic is taking a detour via boats and planes from Guatemala.
  • Somewhere between 60%-80% of cocaine in the United States passed through Central America.
  • According to SECCATID, around 3% of Guatemalans use “drugs”.  Population 15.5 million.
  • Around 9.4% of U.S. citizens use these “drugs”.  Population 300 million.
  • Possession gets you 4 months – 2 years in Guatemalan prison.  Planting = 5 to 20 years.  Trafficking = 12 – 20 years.
  • Prison population in Guatemala: 16,336.  This is about 0.1% of the population.
  • Prison population in U.S.: 2,200,000 or 0.7%, making it the largest in the world.

= – =

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.

DSC_0254 (1)

What else do you want to know about?

More reasons to go to Guatemala

Here are some reasons to visit Guatemala.

DSC_0060

Go to an art school

DSC_0088

with a view

DSC_0065

and connected to the state of Georgia.

DSC_0031

Start with the basics

DSC_0028

and learn how to do this

DSC_0076 (1)

or learn to bake a delicious cake

DSC_0030

or paint madness.

DSC_0046

They have carpentry classes, if you are looking for something more practical.

DSC_0024Here’s a reason for Mama to visit.

DSC_0160You can rent a room in a cozy house
DSC_0080

for $100 / month

DSC_0082

in a nice neighborhood.

DSC_0095

You can visit weird stores

DSC_0115

and impressive parks

DSC_0005

or chill in the woods

DSC_0132 (1)

just don’t forget to smell the flowers. 

What else do you want to learn about?

Ask in the comments!

Culture Insight: Women in Guatemala

The most requested topic from last week’s comments was: What are women like in Guatemala?

To get closer to the female population, I started saying yes to opportunities and let (insert belief system) lead me.

DSC_0024

At a local wedding, my Nikon camera got me hired as the professional photographer.

DSC_0018

My going rate is 2 cold beers/hr.

DSC_0184

My friend’s that brought me to Amatitlán.  Population: 100,000. I may have been the only green-go.

= – =

DSC_0319 (1)

To see another laid back version I went to the black-sand beach at Puerto San Jose.

DSC_0289

Unlike the famous beach at Monterrico, most visitors here are Guatemalteca.

DSC_0292

= – =

My data was still scarce.  How could I get closer to hundreds of local women?  …Zumba!!!!

DSC_0033

Antigua’s first Neon Zumba Party was expecting 150 people.  Over 500 showed, along with teachers from all over the country.

Being 10 inches taller than hundreds of people in the same room, I feel the occasional burn of self-consciousness.  This feeling flips between scoffing those in front and imagining what the people behind you think of you.  But, it’s all in my head.  This intricate self-sabotage is all but absent in the mind of the latino.  Passionate, friendly, humble – these are Guatemalans.  It’s as if the sun cooks out the paranoia their northerly neighbors exhibit.

Guys are there, too.  Dancing is part of life.  Like breathing air, Latins have to listen to music at all hours.  There are probably Guatemalans that don’t start dancing at a young age, I just haven’t met them.

In the U.S., our culture provides our first rhythm lesson as an awkward middle school dance.  For some of us, it’s the first time we’ve tried moving to the music since the last time we were laughed at.  It seems customary of the “developed world” to criticize those acting on their own intuition.  All ants should march in line with the others.  The marching orders in Guatemala range these days from Enrique Iglesias to dubstep salsa.

Another guy from the States said, “Man, you are crazy!  How did you lose all inhibitions?”  I told him, “It’s always a battle.  I constantly have to resist my western habits.  When I realize the people behind me aren’t judging me, I just listen to the music and it all falls into place.”

DSC_0110

= – =

One American girl sat by the stage and made negative remarks about one guy’s dancing.

One thing about Latin women: they appreciate effort and understand that not everyone has been dancing since they were 3 years old.  

The same goes for Spanish.  Ask a German a question in German and they answer in English.  If a foreigner gets one word wrong, American’s think it’s hilarious. Down here, the locals display infinite patience to help you learn their language.  They are honored by the gesture.

DSC_0189

= – =

In addition to this research, I work with women and have lived in Antigua for 6 weeks.  Here’s what I learned:

Women in Guatemala are the same as at home or anywhere else; that is, they are all different.

There’s a common misconception that people are different in different locations around the world.  Of course there are changes in diet, depending on economy and what grows nearby.  Construction materials and architecture have an impact on psychology (think Montana mindset vs. Manhattan).  There are also varying levels of fashion promiscuity.  But, the animal under the clothes is the same.  It makes no difference if it’s a businesswoman in Tokyo or a traditionally dressed Mayan on the bus with me and her two chickens.  The fundamental motives are the same: eat, sleep, reproduce.

Also, within any group of people, there are varying degrees of individual courage.  This determines how much that person can resist the influence of society to be “normal”.  Get 4 people from 4 different corners of the globe and you’ll have a wimp, a boss, a prude, and a slut, relatively speaking.  It’s a broad spectrum of people out there that can never be neatly grouped in categories.

That being said, there are some irrelevant trends that seem at first interesting and later invisible.

Religion 

On the surface, everyone seems to be a Christian, believing in one and only one God.

The “ancient” religions ended when the Spaniards came down to rape the people of their gold, while simultaneously spreading the love of Christ.  Before they believed in a Sun god, a Moon god and a bunch of other gods.  One list of Mayan gods has 37 entries beginning with the letter ‘A’.  When I expressed my interest in the idea of a Sun god and a Moon god, my most open-minded Guatemalan friend looked at me like I had a pelican beak.

But, being Christian doesn’t keep most people from having pre-marital sex like rabbits and a ton of other things that the bible prohibits.  “You and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals…”  So, once the thin cultural veil is lifted to drink a couple of beers, the rules are pretty much the same as anywhere else.

Diversity

***Antigua is an anomaly.  It is a cultural hub with enormous western/liberal influence.  Any night of the week you can walk into one of the 20+ hostels and find citizens from 6 continents to party with.  Therefore it is not an accurate representation of Guatemala.***

Guatemala City is only an hour away by car.  Lots of hard working Guatemalans come to Antigua on the weekends.  Last week I met a young Guatemalteca from “the city” looking for a way to keep her bed warm through the cool mountain night.

The bar scene is much like the bar scene in any other city and depends on the bar itself.  There are at least 30 to choose from.  Hopefully, you are starting to see how difficult it is to answer the question: How are the women?  Answer: Awesome.  The same as anywhere else.

Some More Boring Trends

According to one website, the average female height of a Mayan Guatemalan is 4′-6″.  In Spain, it’s 5′-3″.  Antigua is influenced from all over the world.  One of the local girls I work with has bronze skin and goes up to my chest.  Another looks slightly Japanese is almost as tall as me.

Most local food is cooked in grease or oil, so like the southeastern United States, a lot of Guatemalans are fat.  Luckily, there is an abundance of quality fruits and vegetables, far cheaper than the addicting, unhealthy food.

A strikingly large gym culture exists also, which produces people that look like they go to the gym.  My Zumba teacher can wreck my whole week just by smiling and saying “Hola!”  Someone asked me if Zumba was for women trying to get back in shape after having kids.  Some members of the class fit this description. Others are like looking into a fiery jet turbine.

A lot of Guatemalans marry and start families young.  In Antigua, the weight of society varies depending on background, occupation, and many other factors I don’t pretend to understand.  A bartender born in Guatemala but who grew up in California will have a different way of moving through life than a girl selling fruit in the market.

= – =

DSC_0209

To find a new party, you have to travel through the unknown until you hear the music.

= – =

What other subjects are you curious about?