Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Holidays....

Life in El Salvador is seemingly easy and tranquil, maybe the friendly and relaxed nature of the people here is a result of them making up for the years of violence and hardship that they have for so long endured. Now and then I have a desire to move on and see something new, but I continuously just find myself making my way up and down the coast, hanging with different people, surfing different breaks. My main method of transportation of late has been hitchiking - a method I recommend for anyone who really wants to immerse themselves and get to know the people. Of course, its not something you can do anywhere in Central America, or anywhere in El Salvador for that matter, but along this stretch of coast I think its safe, easy and fun, and it definitely beats waiting for a loaded chicken bus. One of the most interesting days I´ve had thus far occurred while I was hitchiking.
A few of us had gone to El Zonte to surf for awhile, but when the waves failed to come we packed up in haste to return to El Sunzal, our preferred location. It was not until I got back that I realized I forgot my hat, my beloved travelling hat. I had to go back. I ran to the beach for a quick session, showered, then hit the road and stuck my thumb out. Almost immediately a fancy looking SUV skidded to a stop, which surprised me because usually I´m picked up by a rusty pick up truck. I hopped in the back and immediately I was greeted by a firm handshake, a strong Texan accent, and a politician like broad smile - his name was Scott. Scott sat in the passenger seat while his El Salvadorean brother in law, Omar, drove. They told me that they were headed to El Zonte as well, to Scott´s new mansion that he just finished building. After a little more small talk Scott began to get excited to show me his mansion, and I was admittedly excited to see it. We turned down the bumpy dirt road towards the beach and then turned into a little driveway where a local awaited us to open the gate. As we pulled into the gated property I was tempted to reach for my passport - I was leaving El Salvador after all. Once inside I was showed around; we toured the observation deck, the fountain filled pool, the quote "Scarface staircase", and I was even informed that the house used 6 times the amount of energy to cool than the average air conditioner. I thanked Scott for showing me the place and told him I had to get going, I was on a mission to retrieve my hat. I walked down to the beach and found the hat, not before running into a friend that I had met earlier in Antigua, Guatemala. I eventually made my way back up to the highway, but as I passed by the mansion I was greeted by Omar - he was waiting there for me specifically to invite me back in for lunch and drinks. I went and got my friend and we returned - we ended up staying late into the night eating all kinds of food and drinking beers at the pool bar. I felt somewhat guilty indulging in all this behind a closed off fence, especially after living among so many locals for so long. I was even a little more disturbed when I heard that they almost didn´t pick me up because they thought I was a local. In the end though, despite the differences of opinion, I was grateful for the generous hospitality, and I was admittedly enjoying the sojourn into a life of luxury - knowing that it would be short lived. It certainly made for a fun, and cheap day, and all because I forgot my hat.
I spent christmas, which is celebarated on the 24th of december here, in El Sunzal with an eclectic group of people from around the world and from El Salvador. We prepared Pina Coladas and various dishes of fresh seafood for christmas dinner, while our host family made delicious tamales - a traditional El Salvadorean christmas food. We even bought a Santa Claus piñata and filled it with candy - the local kids had a great time destroying Santa with a stick, I wonder if there is more behind that symbolism....
As a child I remember always hoping for a white christmas; always waking on christmas morning and looking out the window expecting to see snow draped trees and a driveway to shovel. That desire was always stronger when we had been without snow for several weeks. Here though, it was something wholly different that I hoped for. Although we had been surfing consistently almost everyday, the waves had been weak and not very exciting for the two weeks before christmas. Then, when I awoke christmas morning and made my way down to the beach and saw the thick hills of water forming in the distance and growing into perfect waves, I knew the christmas swell had come, and I had gotten all that wanted for christmas.
New years was a seemingly more important celebration for the locals here, and they certainly make it known. The people here in El Salvador, and everywhere else I´ve been thus far in Central America, are absolutely obsessed with fireworks. They all seem to get this great sense of satisfaction by blowing up ever larger and ever louder explosives. Most of the fireworks do not even have spectacular sparkling displays, they just blow up, some are literally the size of dynamite. On new years eve we piled into a van and drove to Puerto La Libertad, the closest city, were we found streets packed with vendors of solely fireworks. It had the bustle of a fresh fish market, but for explosive devices. The family I was with bought several grocery bags full and we returned to the beach. At midnight, I was in a war zone, and searching hard inside I regretably just could not find a way to enjoy this cacophony of explosions that they all seemed to enjoy so much. I went and looked at the main highway a little later, it was covered in fireworks casings, I wondered who would clean it up. The mot disturbing part of all this is that the people setting off most of these explosive devices are children - little, innocent children! I´m still waiting to hear the tally of limbs lost that night.
On boxing day the friends that I had been with for a while decided to pack up and head to Nicaragua, I was in no rush though and opted to stay put in El Salvador for some time more. I made my way back to El Zonte yet again where I stayed for a few days, and there I experienced something else that I wasn´t prepared for. The holiday season had brought many people to the beaches, especially the city dwellers of San Salvador. Many come to the beach to relax in the sun while drinking alcohol and swimming in the ocean. These beaches though, where people come to surf the powerful waves that roll in, are not conducive to safe swimming, especially for those who do not understand the ocean well. There were about twelve young men that came together on a bus for a day of fun and sun, little did they know that they would likely remember this day for the rest of their lives. They had all been drinking on the beach and then decided to go out for a swim. I had already been in the water that day with a new surfer, trying to help him out a bit. We were at the beach break and I remember swimming out beside him while he paddled and quickly realizing that I should not be out there without a board, and that he should not be out there in those conditions at all. Luckily I was able to body surf back in before it was too late. The twelve guys eventually got in the water and began to swim, I didn´t witness it personally but apparently they were all quickly caught in a rip current and carried out before they could realize what was happening. Many of them were not strong swimmers, and likely they were fighting the current - people on shore began to notice that they were struggling. The waves were mushy that day so there were hardly any surfers in the water to lend a hand, eventually some people paddelled out and began collecting them. Twelve were sucked out into the ocean that afternoon, and an hour later, only eleven were on the beach. I came across the guys immediately after the fact, they were clearly exhausted, their hair tossled, covered in sand and looks of shock and sadness on all their faces. Many just stared at the ground, still trying to accept what had just occurred. Boats patrolled the waters all day, but the body didn´t turn up until the next day, the family had been alerted and was waiting on the beach as it was carried ashore. There was a feeling of sadness and uncertainty in the air for that 24 hrs in El Zonte - a feeling of sudden death that for my whole life I had never really been exposed to. Everyday I am in those waters, and when I picture that boy in the water, struggling, panicking, and finally giving up and realizing that the ocean was going to take his life, a chill goes through me. A friend mentioned a quote in the midst of this all - "He who does not fear the ocean, will surely eventually drown". There is much truth to this, but as a surfer, I feel that it is not fear that guides me, but rather a profound respect and appreciation for the power and energy of the ocean.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


The last week or so has afforded me with the most time I´ve had thus far in my travels to think and reflect and write. Ironically, I feel as though this last week has been the least productive for me. I´ve been living in a little shack on a beautiful and relatively remote beach, away from the bustle and stench of the city, close to the energy of the Pacific. I made my way over the border into El Salvador without a problem and was dropped off at a quiet beach called El Zonte, where life is simple and the locals are warm, where the waves break hard and perfectly. I ventured around clumsily for awhile, carrying my pack, guitar, and surfboard, trying to find the place I would settle for awhile. Eventually, as I was crossing over the point, which separates the beach and village by a little stream, I came across Raul and his tranquil abode. I told him I was looking for a room and he said he had only one. It was a simple room, with nothing but a bed, there was a toilet outside, but it rarely flushed, and the shower was a good old barrel and bowl - but this was all I needed. The real selling point was that this shack was right on the ocean, directly on the point where the waves break best, and I had it all to myself, or so I thought. My first day there I went for a walk on the beach with my guitar, and when I returned I was greeted by five fully equipped police officers standing outside my door, in camouflage, toting sub-machine guns. Their conversation seized as I came into view and every one of them locked their eyes on me. I was a little surprised to say the least but I played it off as if it were no big deal and I greeted them and made my way to my room. As I walked, trying to be as casual as possible, they all followed me with their stern looking eyes. I put my guitar down in my room and stood there awkwardly, unsure what to do at that point as they were all still staring at me. So with no other options I walked back out and attempted to start a conversation. They told me immediately to go get my guitar, so I did. Then they wanted to hear a song, so I played. As I started playing, I thought I might as well go all out for these guys and I started bellowing lyrics - smiles began to form on their faces. The song finished and they were all really happy by that point, and so I spent the next couple hours just conversing with them about El Salvador. I never really figured out why they were there, they told me that there were problems at this beach but I don´t think that was the case, I think they were just getting some R and R in the shade next to the cool ocean breeze.

The place I stayed was perfect, it was beautiful, there were hardly any foreigners, and there were lots of waves. When I was stuck in the city it was exactly where I envisioned myself being, where I thought I would be most happy. However, such beauty it seems, is better shared, and I quickly realized that I wanted others there to share it with me. I can only share so much through my lonesome writing. Thus, despite the perfect setting, the last week has been all but perfect, and the only times I really felt completely comfortable and at peace was when I was in the ocean surfing, which was certainly quite often. That being said, I´ve been surfing some incredible waves every day, and the last week has afforded me with some of the best rides I´ve ever had. Unfortunately, my board has taken a turn for the worse. It was an old board to begin with, but the last month of traveling without a board bag surely didn´t help, and after only a few sessions it began to leak and developed what the locals here call "el cancer". At that point, alone and a little lost in my head, I decided to cut my losses short, sell the board, and head back inland for awhile to figure things out. So off I went on a chicken bus ride with another lone traveler who I met in El Zonte to the heart of the country, San Salvador.

Quickly I realized that San Salvador was not a place I wanted to stay for long. I read in a guide book that San Salvador is not as dangerous as people make it out to be - as long as you don´t walk anywhere after dark. I thought that there were lots of guns in Guatemala, but here they are even more prevalent. At least in Guatemala the guys with guns had uniforms, in San Salvador there are guys standing outside of stores in flip flops and Nike t-shirts toting shotguns, with hand guns stuffed in their jeans. Of course, as expected, the pollution here was shocking as well, but I came to notice something about El Salvador while driving into the city. It seems that there is an extreme polarization between the opulent and the destitute, not only economically like the rest of Latin America, but visually. You will be driving through slums where garbage is burning and half dead dogs are limping around and then separted by a fence, and of course armed men, you will be in a pleasant palmtree-lined neighborhood where the grass is green and luxury stores and American restaurants abound. And of course, these are the neighborhoods that the guidebook recommends to stay. Personally, a mere glimpse of the "good" life that probably 5% of the country lives is enough for me, I´ll wait until I´m back in North America to experience that again.
There were several things I needed to get done in San Salvador, and this meant making my way around the city. One of the most daunting things for a traveler in a big city where you don´t speak the language I think, is to try and take public transportation. The temptation to just hop in a taxi and be taken directly to your destination is strong, but it is cetainly not very thrilling. I chose to try and take some buses instead. The first time I just walked to the street that I needed to be on and then got on the first bus heading in my desired direction - this is not advisable. I ended up in the suburbs somewhere in some neighborhood that I probaby shouldn´t have been in. After, when I began to feel a little more confident with my Spanish I began to simply ask people what bus I needed to take. Occasionally they would send me the wrong way, but it all worked out in the end.
Since I´ve begun travelling, time and time again my negative expectations have been shot down. I´ve found that positive reviews from fellow travellers tend to usually be true, and that warnings and negative reviews tend to be unfounded. It seems that the more warnings I get about places being dangerous, the more the people in those places tend to be warmer and kinder. The people that I´ve met here in El Salvador have been so helpful and kind, so much so that it is the first place that I´ve felt comfortable hitchiking, which seems to be quite easy here.
My plan was to take a bus to Honduras to do some scuba diving for awhile, but then I got an unexpected email from a friend I met in Guatemala saying she wanted to come and surf in El Salvador. And so it was that I made my way back to the coast.
Now I am here in a village called El Sunzal surfing again and feeling much better about things.
Tommorow I´m going to pick up a board from a local in El Zonte, and I think I will be staying here in El Salvador for sometime. Hopefully, I will get to know more intimately both the ocean that I surf and the kind hearted people that make this country so inviting.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Going solo...

Due to the infrequency of these posts, combined with many amazing personal experiences, it is difficult for me to discuss everything that has occurred since I last wrote.
Leaving Xela took longer than planned for a number of reasons. When you stay in one place for at least a month you develop relationships with people that you don't want to end. I suppose that is one of the great paradoxes for the traveller - when travelling you meet some of the most interesting and like-minded people whom you connect with instantly, but the connection is always fleeting, as there will inevitably be a parting of ways, and likely you will never see those people again. The other big factor that kept both Liam and I in Xela is that we finally got what was coming to us, we got sick to the stomach. This is a topic that might as well be breached, because it is an inevitable occurence to anyone travelling long term. There must have been something bad going around Xela because it seemed that 75% of the foreigners I spoke with were ill all at the same time. Getting sick when travelling can be one of the most dangerous things that can happen to you, both physically and mentally. It is difficult to think positively or clearly when you are really sick. Being confined to a dingy hostel bed and spending hours in a stench filled baño is when you begin to doubt yourself most, when you begin to long for the comforts of home. I heard of a few people who even decided to pack up and head home after failing to get better quickly.
I decided that we were only going to get better with a change of scenery, and so although we were still ill we braved a bumpy chicken bus ride out of Xela to the famous place of Lago Atitlan. The bus ride there was not so bad, and as we neared the lake, and drove along fog filled mountain passes, I started to feel much better about being out of Xela. The last hour of driving was incredibly surreal, the road was narrow and lined with flowering trees on either side, and beyond the trees was nothing but dense fog. It was as if we were driving along a tree lined bridge high in the sky. When the emerald expanse of Lago Atitlan, surrounded by mountains and mist emerged into view, it was at that point that I understood why Aldous Huxley called it the most beautiful lake in the world.
We stayed in a Pueblo called San Pedro, a place were travellers and hippies from the world around come to live for a while. There it is easy to find whatever it is you desire, from space cookies and reiki, to painting classes and horseback riding. It was beautiful but it wasn't a place that I wanted to stay for long, as it was still not the warm weather and the ocean that I had been waiting for. Moreover, the magnificent surrounding was once again spoiled by an abundance of garbage and pollution, something I'm beginning to get used to here in Central America. I told myself that I had to go swimming in this lake, and when I finally jumped in on a windy and wavy day, I found myself wading in waste, with pieces of garbage sticking to my body from the pushing current. I was disgusted and angered. I've put a lot of thought into this issue of pollution that is so prevalent here, and although it is hard for me to admit, it is really not something that we can blame the people here for. After spending some time here it is easy to see how the environment is less of a concern for many. How can people care about the natural environment, or the rights of animals, when many struggle to survive themselves? That is not to say that many people here aren't conscious and caring about their environment, but to act on those concerns seems to be difficult here. Besides, what happens here is really not much different than in North America. It is not as if there is more garbage here, it is just that they have developed the same methods of mass production, excess packaging, and consumption that they were pressured into adapting from us, except without the means or infrastructure to deal with it, or "hide" it like we do.
This discussion brings to mind an interesting conversation that I had a few days ago that really challenged my beliefs. This fellow, who happened to be from the United States, felt that tourism was terrorism. He felt that is was harmful for people from North America, or Europe, or the "first world" to travel to countries that were not as "developed". By us being here, he reasoned, the locals begin to mimick and adapt the harmful lifestyle that we show them. I think that there is some truth to this, especially when people travel without an effort to learn or become a part of the culture. Naturally, if it will bring more tourists and more money, then locations will create an infrastructure that attracts tourists. They will build big hotels, and set up McDonalds. I guess this is why I support a kind of travelling that is not necessarily exclusive of tourism, but is conducive to the maintenance of traditional lifestyles. I suppose this is being idealistic, but nevertheless, I still maintain that the crossing of cultures and the exploration of the unknown certainly has more benefits then it does disadvantages to the human condition...Just a thought.

Various circumstances have unfortunately led Liam to cut his trip short, and he has decided to head home to Canada. Liam and I were not always travelling together, and over the last month we didn't even see each other very often. I have always maintained that travelling alone is the best way to travel, and I am anxious about what the future will hold for me, but admittedly I am going to miss that feeling of comfort that I had knowing that a good friend was always close by, especially heading into El Salvador. Pero, que es la vida...

Currently I am in the colonial city of Antigua, and am creeping ever closer to the ocean that I've been longing for. Tommorow morning I will hop on a shuttle which will take me over the border into El Salvador to a quiet beach where I plan on surfing for a long while.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Salud, Dinero, y Amor...

When one sneezes in Guatemala you say "Salud", if they sneeze again you say "Dinero", and if they sneeze a third time you say "Amor". Health, money and love, these are the only three things you apparently need in life. Here, there is at least a lot of the latter.

I still remember my first night in Xela, Guatemala, it was November 4th, the night of the American election. Ironically, in a place called the Guatemalan cultural centre there was an election party under way where the many Americans around Xela gathered to celebrate Obama´s impending victory. I was tired after travelling and after checking into a hostel I went in search of food and found myself in a quaint little restaurant where wonderful aromas crept from the back and an old television buzzed in the corner. I ordered the special of the day and spent the next few hours watching the election coverage in Spanish with the owner of the restaurant named Renee, and his amigo. Renee was a perfect example of the kind of person you find here in Xela, a perfect example of why people from around the world come here to learn Spanish. Renee had the patience to sit through a long conversation of my severly broken Spanish regarding politics and world issues, always with a smile and a look of intense interest. It was invigorating for me, and it was the perfect start to a complete immersion experience studying Spanish here.

It´s been over two weeks since then, and my level of optimism, naturally, has faded as the frustration has set in. Learning a second language is no easy task, and I knew this coming in, but the more people I meet the more I want to be able to converse in Spanish - it is a feeling of hopeless desperation when there is something you want to say to someone so badly, but the words are none existent to you. I´ve been persistent though, studying hard and trying to think in Spanish all the time.

It has been an experience here in Xela with both positives and negatives. I´ve lived with two different families in two weeks, both completely different from one another, and if they have taught me anything, its that I cannot fully escape the needy North American in me, try as I may. The food in Guatemala is incredibly tasty, but the portions that my families would feed me always left me feeling hungry and more often than not I would end up buying a second meal. Besides that problem, and a lack of hot water to shower with in the frigid mountain air, the families have been a rewarding experience. Talking with them during meals, learning about their everyday lives, getting drunk and laughing uncontrollably with them, have been moments I will remember forever.

Xela is such an interesting city, and under careful inspection many oddities abound. While I was travelling through Mexico I witnessed several violent incidences. On one occasion I saw a taxi driver stop the flow of traffic to get out and lay a few punches to the face of a jokester playing dangerously with fireworks. On another occasion I watched a man get knocked over unexpectedly from behind and then relentlessly kicked in the face. This left me with the impression that Mexico can be quite the violent place if you don´t watch yourself. Here in Guatemala though, I´ve yet to witness anything of that nature, but the people talk as though violence is a norm, and that the streets here at night are a dangerous place to be. After attending a lecture about the modern history of Guatemala this is not surprising at all. The last 50 years here have been comprised of military dictators, guerilla warfare, and violent massacres. They say that the term "Banana Republic" comes from a coup d`etat in Guatemala orchestrated by the C.I.A and the highly influential United Fruit Company, whose main export was bananas. Evidence of the war can be found in not only the cautious and weary mindset of the people but also the abundance of weapons. People carry guns around in Xela as though they are umbrellas on a sunny day. I watch people on their way to work dangling their shotguns precariously at their side. The other day I went for a morning coffee in a cafe, and I felt safer than ever sipping my steaming drink with an armed guard watching the door...

Visually, Xela is a beautiful city, but one of my biggest problems with it, and a big reason why I´m anxious to move on, is the pollution. There is garbage everywhere in the city, and when you try to escape into the mountains, or along a path that you find, the garbage only seems to get worse. Every night I walk home past this one quiet intersection close to the central market where the people have decided that they would leave their garbage. They all pile it up on the road at the end of the day, the swarms of stray dogs have their evening meal here, and what is left is then burned. There is nothing like the smell of burning garbage when you wake in the morning and stroll to class.
Xela is nestled within mountains, and this geographic feature, combined with an abundance of old cars and absolutely no emissions standards, means a giant pit of smog. The roads are always swarming with quick moving vehicles billowing black smoke as they go, stopping for no one. In Guatemala, cars always seem to have the right of way. There are buses everywhere, of all shapes and sizes and fabulous colours, its incredibly easy to get one and they go everywhere you need. Public transportation here is hilarious, it is not a service as much as it is a commodity being sold. Walking along the street buses always roll by with a fellow dangling on the door screaming locations as if he is selling them. Often, this fellow will point at me shouting his destination at me with devotion over and over, even after I say no thank you. Perhaps here in Guatemala people often give in to these tempting rides on buses to places they don´t need to go, but I won´t let them get me...

I´ve enjoyed my time here in Xela, but I am more than ready to move on. It really is the loving people that make this place so attractive, I´ve met amazing locals and foreigners alike, many whom I know I will remember forever. That love though, comes at a cost, and the longer I stay here the more my money seems to escape into the masses of needy hands, and the more my health seems to be exhaled away from me...

Soon I will be in El Salvador, a place that seems to be considered the forbidden land around here. The weary locals say El Salvador is even more dangerous than here, and most travellers I come across seem to have passed over El Salvador, or intend to. To me, this sounds like the perfect place to go. And besides, the waves abound in El Salvador...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dias de las touristas...

Leaving San Augustinillo and the Pacific behind me once again was not an easy thing to do. I was just beginning to find my footing and was rediscovering my connection to the ocean; my last session, I felt, took me to the next level of surfing.
I travelled with Nina and Veronika on the overnight bus to San Cristobal de la Casas, it was an arduous ride but at least we saved a nights rent. Our intention was to go see the Dias de las Muertos celebrations, one of the most important times of the year in Mexico. It consists of two days of ceremonies, the first to remember children, and the second adults. On the second day of celebrations families eat and drink in the cemetaries, not necessarily to mourn but simply to just remember loved ones and celebrate their lives. Someone later pointed out to me something so obvious yet seemingly hidden from our everyday thoughts. In North America we have nothing to keep us remembering those that died except for our gloomy cemetaries and pictures on the wall. The one cemetary that I´ve seen here in Mexico was multi-colored, and flower filled, and lit every night of the year by candles around the graves. Here both life and death seem so much more sacred, and times like Dias de las Muertos show that the people here don´t take either for granted.
For all of these reasons, it was hard for me to approach this time of importance as a tourist. I felt like I wanted to be a part of it, but I wasn´t, because I had hardly spent enough time there, and I knew very few people. Dressing up in a costume and getting drunk in a cemetary was not going to cut it, and so I sat aside while foreigners from around came and took pictures of themselves with celebrating locals, as if they were close friends remembering a common loved one. Perhaps one day I will actually be a part of Dias de las Muertos, but I didn´t want to treat it as Disneyland.
San Cristobal is teeming with tourists and travelers from around the world, and rightly so as it is an incredible little city with a unique vibe. The markets there are quite interesting, with a sprawling food market, and another market that I will call the "Western Exploitation Market". This market has all kinds of things to buy, from ridiculously cheap parkas to native crafts. While there were a few things that even I was tempted to buy, I couldn´t help but notice how many useless things could be found. As I walked through the market I started looking around in bewilderment, confused because I couldn´t understand who in their right mind would buy most of these things, but surely somebody was keeping the market going. Then the obvious came to mind, the bitter truth, we are the ones buying this stuff! All of the things being sold there are just as useless as so many of the things North Americans buy all the time. This market was staying afloat buy exploiting the Western sickness of materialism and consumerism, it was exploitation that I couldn´t help but appreciate.
I rendezvoused with Liam in San Cristobal and then we made our way over the border into Guatemala, surprisingly free of hassles or border guard bribes. About ten minutes into Guatemala I instantly felt as though I was in a different nation, if only because of the geography and the way things were organized. Now we are here in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala studying Spanish and enjoying Guatemalan culture, which is much different by the way, than that of Mexico. I´ve moved into a home with a Guatemalan family, so as to become entirely immersed, and I´ve also started volunteering with an NGO out here, but more on those next posting...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Un sueño...

“Un sueño” - a dream. Traveling often makes me feel as though I'm in a dream. Not necessarily because of the moments of beauty or the feelings of surrealism, but rather because of the way time seems to slow down. Much like a dream, when I travel it seems as though so much time has passed even though my journey has hardly begun. It's been just over two weeks now, but lately I've been feeling as though I've been on the road for months, and this is one of the most comforting feelings. Occasionally I'll find myself panicking, unsure about what my future holds, unsure about what I'm actually doing with myself out here. Then, the panic quickly transforms into a feeling of wholesome happiness as I realize that the future is boundless for me, that tomorrow I can be wherever I want, that ultimately, I can do anything that I will. It's a feeling of freedom that often induces a confident smile on my face, wherever I may be, and the first person that I connect eyes with always returns the smile, as if they know exactly what I'm thinking.

Much has happened in the last while, I'll try to relay it all as succinctly as possible. Liam and Herman and myself all left Puerto Escondido in search of a new place to surf, and what we found was probably the best wave I've ever surfed in my short lived surfing life. I'll omit the name of the place, for the sake of the locals and regular surfers there who undoubtedly would like to keep it as much of a hidden gem as it is. The break is on a beach about a twenty minute walk from a small and simple rural Mexican village. Admittedly, I was a little annoyed that I couldn't sleep near the calming beach, and I was even more frustrated that I had to pay 20 pesos everyday to gain access. Then, as soon as I experienced the pristine oceanfront, and the untouched shoreline, I realized the importance of making people walk to the beach rather then sleep there. I realized that waking beside the ocean was a luxury that I could forego in order to avoid the inevitable development of cabañas and hotels that are so common along the Pacific shoreline here in Mexico. Later, I discovered that the 20 pesos we were paying was going towards education for the local children, and I felt incredibly guilty for begrudging that fee in the first place. The whole village, as it turns out, was set up in commune style. All of the villagers were required to give a certain amount of volunteer time everyday, and in exchange everyone was provided with daily necessities of food and water produced locally. It was beautiful, and I was happy that I had experienced for the first time a form of direct and localized democracy that I knew I would find here in Latin America.

We spent three days there and then moved on again. Circumstances led myself and Herman to a place called San Augustinillo, while Liam decided to head back to Puerto Escondido. Here in SA I feel more relaxed than I have thus far, as the whole community seems to be laid back – something I think the Pacific ocean tends to bring out in people. I've befriended two amazing Swedish girls, Nina and Veronika, who are a couple of the most real people I've met thus far. It's been great lounging around, playing the random instruments that they've brought with them, wading around in the calm lagoon. SA is certainly not not known for its surfing, but the shoreline kicks up some fun waves, and its anonymity in the surfing world allows for complete freedom on the water. This morning I woke early and paddled out into a deserted ocean, and as I sat on the outside alone, waiting for my wave, I had one of those moments where I smiled broadly, to no one but myself.

Tommorow I will leave SA and head to San Cristobal De La Casas, a supposedly stunning city, and the epicentre of the Zapatista movement. After that I intend to head over the border and begin studying Spanish in Guatemala. I've picked up a good amount, but there have been too many interesting and kind people that I have been unable to communicate with, and I am now more eager than ever to learn the beautiful Spanish language.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Hidden Port...

Puerto Escondido translates into hidden port, and although this once quiet and laid back Mexican fishing town receives travelers and surfers from around the world, it still remains a place that seems authenticly Mexican.

I´ve settled in quite nicely here, especially with the assistance of an old friend named Liam who surprised me with a last minute email telling me he´s joining me for a leg of my journey. Liam is one of the most interesting people I´ve ever met, and although we have many differences, without him I would not be the adventurer that I have become.

We spent our first night in a little cuarto above the surfshop that I bought my board from. The next day we were able to negotiate a deal on a nice room in an unfinished building right on the beach.

There seems to be a lot of Canadians here in Puerto, many of them here in Mexico for much the same reasons as myself. Many of the international travelers are here not necessarily to escape or run away from anything but rather to achieve what they know is possible: a somewhat stress free life, a life in touch with nature, and a feeling of connectedness to the world. Some of the most interesting people that I´ve met are the locals. A late night of drinking and partying with locals revealed to me both the best and the worst side of Mexican culture. One fellow I met was a Mexican who had never traveled before, but nevertheless had the insight of one who had seen the world. Perhaps this is because here in Puerto Escondido, much of the world is brought to him. Although barriered by both language and intoxication, he was able to communicate to me about the many foreigners that come here only to socialize with other foreigners, and about how too many people draw borders and distinctions that are inimical to global harmony. Much like myself, he didn´t consider himself a Mexican, but rather a human. I could only look at him in admiration for holding such a mindset despite the seemingly negative interactions he has had with people from around the world. The same night I saw another side of Mexico as I found myself in the midst of what I will call "Barrio diplomacy". The Barrio is a district or neighborhood, and although I´ve witnessed localism back home, it seemed to be at a different level here. Liam and I had found ourselves in mixed company composed of a few foreigners and mostly Mexicans from two different Barrios. It was a precarious position to put ourselves in, and we´ve decided to avoid it again if possible. I sat at tables that night listening to locals conspiring against one another for lack of respect within the Barrio. I watched a man sitting across the table from me get punched in the face and knocked off his chair and simply accept it, for he was not in his own Barrio and he was in no position to retaliate. The last thing I want is to paint a bad picture of Mexico, and I´m sure that this was a somewhat isolated incident comprised of severely intoxicated people, but nevertheless it is something I experienced. Liam and I left unscathed that night, and even stopped on the long walk home for a nap on the calming beach.

I´ve been surfing everyday, usually twice a day, and its left me feeling refreshed and energized like I havn´t felt since the last time I was near the ocean. There are two main breaks in Puerto Escondido, Zicatela and La Punta. Zicatela (left), also known as "The Mexican Pipeline" is one of the heaviest waves in the world and is supposedly for experts only. La Punta (below) is a nice point break, and this is the wave that Liam and I have been surfing. We´ve befriended a fellow named Herman from Holland, an avid surfer and business man. The other day he somehow convinced Liam and I to do something that we probably shouldn´t have, although in retrospect I have no regrets. While sitting around talking one night he said that we ought to try and surf Zicatela, and try we did. It wasn´t so much surfing as it was continuous duck diving, getting tossed around, and getting held under the water for longer durations than I´m used to. Well this is not the ideal situation for a fun day of surfing, it is great training and experience.

There is a statue that can be found at the end of Zicatela beach, and I´ve learned from a local that this statue represents the power of Zicatela. It is shaped above a large rock and it is of two hands joined together at the wrists with the palms and fingers spread apart and beginning to clench together. It is the perfect symbol. The waves at Zicatela look smooth and peaceful like the fingers of a soft hand, but when the wave forms up and breaks, it relentlessly squeezes everything underneath it, like a strongly clenched hand. I felt those fingers squeeze me that day, and I´ve decided that someday I will come back here and conquer this wave they call Zicatela.

We are leaving Puerto Escondido on friday and heading South along the coast to find new waves, new people, and new experiences...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The weary traveler...

It´s all come back to me now.
The hardest part of traveling, I´ve been reminded, is the actual traveling. The long plane rides, and the lack of sleep, the contorted airport naps, and the overcoming feelings of utter loneliness are almost unbearable. Then, just when you think you might crack, you arrive at your destination and all is well.
I spent the weekend in NYC, immersed in rampant consumerism, materialism, and pollution - the eye of the storm, so to speak. It only made the contrast to where I am now so much more apparent. I flew out of New York early Tuesday morning, and I didn´t arrive here in Puerto Escondido until 3pm Wednesday. In order for me to get the cheapest possible plane ticket I had to spend one night In Cancun - the last place in Mexico I wanted to go. I took the bus from the airport into Cancun Centro, the only other option being to go to the hotel zone. There´s not much to see or do in the Centro except watch everyday Mexicans live their everyday lives, which can be interesting enough. The tourists don´t really wander into the Centro very often, but when they do its funny to observe them. As interesting as Mexican culture can be, even in Cancun, I think its as equally interesting to watch the all-inclusive tourists interact with them. It makes me wonder if I look and sound as ridiculous them.
So I checked into the first hostel I came across near the bus station, tired and feeling dirty from sitting beside a large girl on the plane who would look guiltily at me everytime she passed gas. Coincidentally, the hostel was called ¨The Weary Traveler¨. I checked into a dorm room and had a rinse off, and as I walked back into the room there was a fellow standing there, rather weary looking. I asked him how he was doing and he said not so well. He was an Israeli, and as it turned out, him and his two army pals had been arrested the night before for refusing to pay for a meal that had apparently been raised in price halfway through the meal. I felt bad for him and all, but I couldn´t help but think about how this was the first conversation I had with another foreigner in Mexico, and this was the story I was being told. I made sure to ask him what restaurant it was and then went out to grab a bite.
I flew out of there early the next morning, and after a stop over in Mexico City flew to Puerto Esconidido. I wasn´t feeling to great at this point, but as the dark and magnificent expanse of the Pacific ocean came into view from my little plane window, a feeling of calm and euphoria came over me. And now, I´m sitting in a little cafe across from the beach with the smell of salt in the air and the sound of waves crashing in the distance. Tommorow I will find my board...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Why leave?

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

It's always the long goodbyes that seem the most sudden when they finally culminate into a parting of ways. Although I've been preparing for this for some time now, it certainly has come as a shock. Nevertheless, its the path I've chosen, and I'm confident that the many sacrifices I've had to make will be well worth the experiences I'm going have.

Like most people reading this, I enjoy the comforts and securities and liberties that this society has to offer, and I certainly appreciate the opportunities that lie before me. In fact, it is because I appreciate those opportunities so much that I have chosen to do what I am doing. There are so many different societies out there, a diverse multitude of cultures and ways of life. So many beautiful and magnificent places on this earth to see. Why, I wonder, stick to just one of them when I have the ability to see them all?

After living in one place for a quarter of a century I began to ponder the purpose of my life.  I grew older and experienced and gained a heightened sense of perspective on this world and my place in it. I discovered surfing, which helped me develop a profound appreciation for the power and beauty of nature. I began to contemplate my existence, and leaving all the questions and confusions aside, the one conclusion that I could reach was that surely there must be more to life than the one imposed on us by this society. Surely, this beautiful and magnificent world is out there for a reason – for us to enjoy and to explore. Life, I reasoned, must be made the most of, and as privileged as we are, especially here in North America, to not do so would be to take this life and this beautiful world for granted.  Perspectives are broadened and toleration is heightened for those that explore beyond the familiar.  By stepping into the unknown and engaging with other cultures and environments, ones becomes exposed to experiences which increase ones appreciation of life and this world. It sounds easy because it really is, all it takes is a conscious effort to constantly widen your perspectives by exploring the unknown. The world is an immensely large place and the moments of beauty are infinite. The more people begin to appreciate what we have before us, the better we will all be.

This society often deters us from following our passions, with a call for practicality instead. But the ultimate measurement of happiness should be the fulfillment of one’s passions, despite how unconventional and difficult such paths may be. Of course life is not easy and requires hard work and practicality in order to survive, especially for those less advantaged. That, however, does not mean that we must conform to the conventions and norms of a given society.  We should look harder at the way we live our lives and at the things we actually need to be happy as individuals. It is incredible how easy it is to simplify ones needs and desires and pursue a passion, the hardest part is taking the conscious step.

This is exactly what I have done. I’ve lived a simple life over the last year, I’ve stopped being a mindless consumer and set my priorities right. I’ve worked hard and have saved enough money to keep myself afloat for a long while. I have rid myself of most of my material possessions and have settled any outstanding commitments. And now, I’ve set off on an indefinite journey of personal development to learn more about myself and my place in this world by pursuing my passion of surfing while I travel and learn a second language. All that I’m leaving behind are my cherished family and friends, who will be with me in my heart and mind, who I will see again.

I will attempt to keep these writings updated and interesting, and hope that many will read them and follow me on this journey. Leaving ones society and culture behind is not for everyone, but I know that there are many out there who long for such freedom. If there is anything that I want most out of this, it is to inspire those souls who are searching for something else but simply don’t have the courage or knowledge or discipline to find it. This is how easy it is...

“And so I stand among you as one that offers a small message of hope, that first, there are always people who dare to seek on the margin of society, who are not dependent on social acceptance, not dependent on social routine, and prefer a free-floating kind of existence.” - Merlon