Tuesday, September 28

Here's To You, México

Dear readers,

I wrote this short poem in Mexico City two months ago (August 2010).  Enjoy.

The seeds of the sandía* are sperms
searching for flavor
and companionship

The caballero's* guitar strings
are a loom
to weave boleros*
of Metallica

Rain causes blackouts
and floods the streets
like a protest

The cheep plastic fork
scrapes my mouth
to make the chille covered fruit
burn brigher

Here's to you, México.

*type of Latin American song with a slow tempo

Friday, September 24


Yesterday I visited the Tical ruins, near Flores, Guatemala - they are the largest of the Mayan ruins and from the tops of the pyramids you can sit back in the shade and cast your eyes on miles of jungle in every direction.
That evening I took a half an hour boat ride around Flores, which is an Island.  I had awful luck with transportation yesterday - I actually swore out loud in English for the first time since I left the US. This morning I was supposed to wake up early to find my way to the bus station and figure out how to get to Belmopan in Belize...but I overslept. I was just about to leave the hostel when a guy walked in and said "bus to Belize!". As Westly Snipes ones said: "Even the sun shines on a dog's ass some days". I just crossed the Belizian border and am riding in a minibus, in my favorite spot - the front seat.

Top 5 comments about my visiting Belmopan, from various Latinos and foreigners alike:

1 why would you want to go to Belmopan?
2 there's nothing there!
3 all they have is a marcado
4 why would you want to go to Belmopan?
5 where?

At any rate, Belmopan is the capital of Belize, and I'm going to spend a day there on my way north.

I've had two month now to reflect on the challenges and strategies of traveling through Latin America. It is not always easy to find experiences that are meaningful to me. The most common budget traveler's strategy is to go from one tourist destination to another, staying in hostel dorms and seeing sites. I like to do this occasionally but get tired of it quick. Another option is to stray from the beaten path, to visit smaller towns and villages (capital cities?) and to wiggle your way into less conventional and usually more interesting situations and to meet people from that place. I tend to prefer that way but it can really wear you out and involves more risk - I spent about half of my time here with one health problem or another, partly because of my risk-taking. This two-pronged approach has done me well, it's been an incredible and eye opening few months. It's kind of the same as my radio-listening strategy at work: I start with hip hop and street humor on JAMN 94.5 - when it starts to drive me crazy (so sexist some times) I switch to NPR; when I can't take that white liberal voice anymore I go to conservative sports radio. When I've had more Obama bashing than I can take...I sing to myself and then repeat the cycle.

In spite of my fears that I wouldn't learn much Spanish, I am now a semi-proficient speaker. Just in time for Belize...where they speak English!  It was a British colony. But soon I'll be back in the Spanish speaking world of the Yucatan in Mexico.

The Next Morning

After a full day of traveling (5 busses, 2 taxis and a good 3 miles on foot) I am now in Tulum, Mexico.  Oy!  Belmopan was great - I was litterally the only tourist there and took a packed local bus with students and people returning from their work day both ways.  Then I tried to find a hotel to camp out in Belize City for the night...but they were really hard to find!  And I was starting to look like an easy target to the local hustlers, I got a lot of attention as the sun began to set.  I ate three fantastic things in Belmopan: a cup of soursop juice (sour, sweet, refreshing), a scoop of ice cream from a fruit I've never heard of (creamy, fruity) and a plate of stew beef with rice and peas, potato salad and pickeld onions.  It occured to me that black Carribean food is a lot like Persian food.  Rice dishes, stew dishes and pickels.  The only thing missing is the yoghurt.  I know in some carribean countries there are big Indian (from India) populations, Indian food shares roots with Persian food.  From what I could tell, Mexian and Guatemalan food was not terribly influenced by Spanish culture.  I read once that early conquistadores almost exclusively ate a salad of avacado, tomato and bread crumbs - they couldn't manage much more.

The tourist bus station had closed for the night by 6PM so I hopped on a 3 hour local bus to the mexican border (packed to the gills with people going back to their houses, isles filled with people.)  At midnight I crossed the border back to Mexico (and got royally ripped off in crossing charges by the border guard; I suspect late night oppertunism), then got a taxi to a bus station just across the border that happened to have a bus leaving for Tulum (a beach town 2 hrs south of Cancun) at midnight.   I managed to find a hostel that let me in at 4AM, caught a little sleep and enjoyed a cheap crepe this morning.  The family that runs this place is really awesome, it's nice to be off the road.  I think I'm going to take them up on their offer to rent a bike and snorkeling gear for 100 pesos.

So far I've only seen the town but the beach is supposed to look like this:

Tuesday, September 21


My father's new Iranian passport arrived yesterday; it took the better part of 7 years for us to get it.  With it I will be able to apply for my own Iranian passport and, with luck, will make it to Iran to visit my family there before I go back to work in February.  I'll be in the city of Shiraz with my aunt Shalah and uncle Abbas - here's a picture of a Shiraz mosque, though it is most famous for it's gardens:

I got the news at an internet cafe in Guatemala city, where I am now visiting the family of my aunt Betty and cousin Ian, who are originally from Guatemala.  Rosa and her son Yankell have been incredibly kind and welcoming.  It has been so nice to be with family, for the first time in months.

In the email about my dad's passport arriving, my stepmother told me they needed some things from me in order to send in my passport application: 10 passport photos, in full suit and well groomed, a copy of my passport and an official copy of my birth certificate.  Incredibly, Yankell just happened to have a suit and tie hanging in his mother's closet and while Doña Rosa was at work I walked to a nearby barber and have a set of somber looking (this is the islamic republic, remember) passport photos taken.  And then I was able to mail it off with 6 day delivery.  The incredible things is that if I had gotten word in most of my other destinations, that simple process would have been way more compilcated- the suit, the photos and expideted mail.  Guatemala city looks more or less like this from the neighborhood I'm in:

What have I left out; I never wrote much about San Cristobal de las Casas, the old city in Chiapas where I spent a really nice week.  I ended up in a place with a working kitchen and spent every other day in the marcado buying fresh foods and experimenting with them at night.  Sucesses included roasted chiles with fresh fava beans and chicken marinated in this rub made of chiles and ground pumpkin seeds and then fried.  San Cristobal:

There I with a friend to a nearby religious center (on horseback!), rented a scooter to visit a park 10km away and climbed massive hills that lead to two citadels on opposite sides of the city, overlooking the opposing buildings and mountains.  From San Cristobal I took a passenger van across the Guatemalan border (about a 12 hour ride) through luch rolling hills and mountain-top towns - and through incredible rain, blinding fog and areas where rockslides forced both highway lanes to share one lane (often overlapping with the blinding fog; I practiced not looking and trusting the driver).  I arrived that night in the city of Antigua, at the foothill of a giant active volcano:

Today or tomorrow I will probably move on to Livingston, Guatemala which is on the coast near Belize.  From there I'll move on to Belize and then back to Mexico to the Yucatan coast.  Then back to Dallas to see my uncle Craig, who has been a gracious host to me in Texas...

Tuesday, September 7


As I make my way farther south in Mexico I often think of one of my favoirte Chris Sand songs, "Belmopan is Belmopan":

Mexico city
is a lotus land
and Veracruz
it is a candystand
and Chiapas...
it is a desperate man...ay...
but Belmopan is Belmopan.

I haven't written any new songs in a while but have found new creative outlets, like poetry and list making.  Yeah, for some reason I feel inspired to make really great lists.  I played a guitar for the first time in a month yesterday - my calouses are all gone.

I just left a very poor rural area where I was taking language classes.  The landscape was lush and green (it being the rainy season), the air smelled of burning wood which reminded me of New England.  I have four more minutes at this internet cafe computer in San Cristobal where am now staying for a few days.  Next stop, Guatemala.

Saturday, September 4


I got really sick here in Oaxaca and some new friends came to my rescue.  I probably wouldn't have been able to find the hospital without Carmen - let alone navigate the Mexican health care system and get the antibiotics I needed.  Then I stayed with her and her siblings for two days while I got over the worst of it.  Mexicans have been extremely generous with me everywhere I've been.

If I understand correctly, Mexico has socialized health care.  Even for me, a foreigner, I had to pay only a few dollars for my doctors visit (which couldn't have covered the labor involved in diagnosing me and cleaning up the mess I left on their floor.)  The doctor was friendly and un-harried; the medications were free if they had them in their state run pharmacy and a few dollars (in the 50 peso range) to buy in the commercial pharmacy.  There are also a number of natural health stores, where herbs and traditional remedies can be found - as well as a surpising number of homeopathic stores. 

At 8PM I'll get on a bus for Chiapas and on monday I begin Spanish classes at a school run by the Zapatistas in a place called Oventic, one of the 5 "Juntas of good government".  They just sent me a conformation email and said I needed to buy galoshes because it will be muddy. 

And I'm learning my first Mexican song, "Cielito Lindo".