2009 Road Trip:  Web Log


26 October

Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica

21:49 p.m.

The feeling of the Khan-pit enfolding me awakens all my corvine qualities into a feathery fluffy content and pleased whole.  The Khan is home.

But it is not home, but rather some sort of bonus home edition where all the things that were left are upon return in better shape, nicer, cleaner, better tasting, better feeling.  The transformation in Juanita's is palpable and dramatic, and the house next door is immaculate.  This is amazing.  The changes presuppose a nearly herculean will.  I am left humbled and pleasantly incredulous. 

The journey's final theme seems to involve institutional corruption.  It is troubling but telling that in our 4500 miles of travels, it was not until Costa Rican soil that we experienced being targeted and extorted by a police force.  Two shake-downs in the past two days has left us pleased to have wrapped this journey in a safe place from which to get Tico plates and registration and get beyond the immediate temptations out there on the highways.

The fajitas were very good, mine seafood, Dan's chicken, and Gaby on her second day back was great and made a good margarita, and on top of all the new props, decorations, and plants, Juanita's is back rising up its game in a town scrimmage, and I am starting to smile at the ground and field, a favorable and familiar one.

I am enormously pleased to be home and in my captain's chair within easy reach of my own bed. 

23 October

San Salvador, El Salvador

23:56 p.m.

Wow!  I am actually caught up more or less.  Got all the pictures up through yesterday and even closed out the Guatemala photo album on Facebook.  After our cigar smoking, brandy-swilling, gourmandizing final night in Antigua and a bed time for bonzo of around 2:30 in the morning, yesterday was a bit sluggish for me, and I actually napped in the car for a stretch between Cuilapa and Jutiata, or whatever those two towns are. 

The border crossing was strictly routine, no review of anything we carried.  For me, the San Cristobal border crossing was familiar, having crossed it in the opposite since with the Princess Squad last June.  And with my job being to just sit around and watch the car and look around like a rube in shorts and an oversized belly and to appear mildly confused but with a ready smile.  And after an hour, we were into El Salvador.

As I recall, the road signs are poor to non-existent, much like the black hole of chaos that is Guatemala City.  When we were sure in our perdition yesterday, a taxi cab happened to be alongside us stuck in traffic, and for $10 he wound us through a labyrinthine maze of loops and whorls and streets named and otherwise, darting across lanes of traffice and around circles and through boulevards and past police check points and finally pulled it over, charged us $10, and told us that from there on we could not lose our way.  And he was right.

Dan has researched our escape from San Salvador, and announces that it will be easy.  For my money perhaps it is worth another hand with a taxi, but he has been hard at work all morning researching online maps of town and the country, and has even gone on a short field foray one block over to check a street sign and ensure that our bearings are solid.  So, I will take my turn at the transcribing navigation instructions.  For my money, I know that we want to head southeast and not get over into the mountains to the southwest and that major boulevards that go in that direction will eventually get us to where we need to be, but Dan prefers to know where he is going, so if we just get directions, in a sense we will almost certainly be doing both, and I can have the adventure (since no directions are ultimately reliable in these urban mazes), and Dan can have his precision.  In defense of Dan's method, mine would never have worked in Guatemala City, something I knew from having gotten lost in exactly the same place last year trying to get through to the same highway.

Still, with each passage through a place I have been before, a familiarity takes seed, a comfortableness.  It is like these are my countries as well, like I was intended to be a part of it.  And for whatever the minuses to that notion might entail, I am looking at it all as win win.

Okay, time to move on to our breakfast, included in last night's $42 hotel bill.  By the way, did you know that in El Salvador, the currency is the American dollar?  Bet you didn't know that.

21 October

Antigua, Guatemala

23:56 p.m.

You gotta choose your revolutions.  And unless you're a dolt, you choose them carefully.  I am an authority of doltishness.  From me you may learn much.

But don't use tonight as an example.  Whatever you do, don't use it.

It started out innocent enough.

Two manhattans at Bistro Cinq, Calle 4 Este, Numero Siete.  It didn't seem to be in the right spot by our extended powers of street numbering philosophy engrained within us in our combined thirty or so major metropoles, not to mention po-dunk little bumfuck towns like Antigua.

You'd never guess it but Number 7 Calle Cuatro Este turned out to be two whole blocks from where the numbering system begins, at the plaza, so its location was to understate, not at all intuitive.  In fact, we strayed so much along the way that beyond the experience we wound up with two Havana Montecristos to smoke when the moment devolved to the necessary convergence of requisites, But two blocks up from the square, corner location, we finally happened into our Bistro Cinq, scouted by the Dream-machine, joining 2% of the clientele that actually first reach the restaurant via the Internet.  We took a survey and everything.  I'm not just throwing that number around like a wave of patronymics or a round of yo momma's or even a cavalier doughboy joust into a hall of pedestrian American sophomorism and fart jokes.  And inside this staid destination, we being the first clients of the night, we stared awkwardly at the array of eight aproned workers soldiering magnificently in advance of an anticipated bugle, and the next thing you know I was doing something I had never done before.

Manhattan.  It's like a sweet martini, like vulgar love, American style.  Bourbon and sweet vermouth with a Maraschino cherry garnish, and they emerged in a chilled martini glass like a combination of two impossible fiefdoms of the spirit world to bring them into a single trans-dimensional union--Rodney King like-- into a complex dance of subjective thermodynamics and organic chemistry.  All I know is that it made the passageways in my groin open up a bit and let the blood out for a bit of a stroll.  Don't want to do that too often or it could get compulsive no doubt.  Anyway, that manhattan, made with Jack Daniels corn mash whiskey, which I am told is actually not a true bourbon but am sufficiently stymied as it to not pass any personal conclusion about these things whose identity flies of the wings of psychic ghosts pulsing out of a treasonous subconscious in the first place, was very like a Sunday trip trip around the perimeter of the merry-go-round, looking at the second rotation coming up.

Well, the first course of seasoned olives was intuitive, and we followed that off after polishing off hot fresh bread and butter with garlic butter calamari, the juices of which we sopped with a second round of hot bread.  From there we brought on the escargots, a little puddle of butter, garlic, melted  parmesan and the bodies of gastropods steamed and bathed in this saturated mass of succulence.  The final tucking into steak tartare was an adequate fulmination, and Dan paid, and we walked, Havanas in tow, on the heels of one of those classic meals that no matter how many better you ever have, you're always gonna remember.

Our side-track into Doctor No's nihilist emporium very much was a descent into a rabbit hole.  And I am not speaking figuratively.

Doctor No questioned, negated, derided, and failed to define anything and in so doing would by some measure be awarded the magna cum laude laurel of western contemporaneous transcendentalism, a kind of Hessian fulmination of the linkage between the orient and occident, between yin and yang, like the lingum and yoni weren't electromagnetic poles of an electromagnetic spectrum that whirrs through its rotations and sometimes coincides and sometimes clashes, a thing that is hard to predict, elusive to pin down, impossible to capitalize upon.

Back at the hotel, it is like the tomb here, the quiet louder than a symphony, everybody either asleep, missing, or in deep hiding.

20 October

Antigua, Guatemala

23:15 a.m.

Antigua is like an old friend, and I feel akin, somehow.  It is nice to be back.  Late this evening in this courtyard I wonder at the time in my life that I will return.  There is something about it I like.  I could like parts of the Panajachel scene perhaps, though not as fully as here, where there is a sufficient large-ness to enable a subterranean disvestiture of limits.  Wherever makes you happy has to first make you comfortable, and such places are unusual and special and to be treasured and defended.  And Antigua, I think, may be one such sort of place for me.  Not sure why, but I like it.

Dinner tonight was terrible and expensive.  Drinks tonight were only passable and mediocre in two separate establishments.  It was ultimately a three-way failure to rise to our floweriest expectations.  Doesn't mean it was canned spinach either.  But in the first bar the daiquiris were tolerable, good even, but when we went back to buy Havanas after dinner, the "lady that sold those" was gone and so you could look but no longer buy.  Strike one, hard.  The second bar could not work it out to mix gin martinis and finally came to us and begged off.  They whipped up a bloody for me and a mojito for the cerulean one, and they were both pedestrian, trafficable.  Strike two, called, no swing.  And dinner was expensive and only nominally good and packaged and I clashed with the Chola waitress, Strike three, you're out.

But Antigua is not out.  It's just beginning.

With Dan out in the night hunting outside his ethnic group, I am of this courtyard, from this courtyard, and will always remember this courtyard as formulative, as all courtyards should intrinsically be for everyone.

19 October

Panajachel, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

23:56 a.m.

We traveled less today than on any day previous, some 95 miles, less than three hours including creeping along through Solala and its spectacular vistas of Lake Atitlan.  Here at 5:20 in the afternoon, we are ensconced in a hotel with a courtyard, and after battling for the first forty five minutes with an uncooperative wireless signal, a few calls to the supplier seems to have done the trick.  For me the great importance of having wireless for furthering the real estate deal in the offing took a comical slide when the seller admonished me for trying to move too fast.  It was a perfectly wonderful opportunity for me to chill and de-emphasize things that are important or not only to the degree that importance is invested. 

It is nevertheless nice to have everything that we need, again, and tonight for only $30 US in a hotel that we have all to ourselves in this off season.

I will leave the jury out on Panajachel, though our experience upon arrival at the lake shore was anything but pleasant.  Being the off-season, the locals are starved for business, and we were hawked and barked and carney-ed relentlessly by white-shirted waiters doubling as parking attendants and beckoners of business.  It was the sort of scene that drives me up a wall, the sort of thing I hate.  But we decided to sit in one of the restaurants and have a beer and some lunch and in the end had two apiece and split guacamole and chips and a ceviche.  The first two beers were not very cold, and the second two, after a gentle admonishment to the boy-waiter were indeed icy, but mine was delivered missing about an inch and a half from the fill line on the bottle.  I questioned this, and the kid hustled it back to "change" it.  It emerged filled, but as I poured it into my glass, the head did not look right, and I tasted it before developing the theory that he simply filled the bottle up and shook the bottle a bit to mix it.  My theory was not discardable upon comparison of Dan's glass with mine, as my beer had a kind of a cloudiness to it that Dan's did not have.   I decided to not be prissy and to drink it, but the ceviche was so utterly wretched that I suddenly had a moment of clarity and pushed both away.  The bill came to around $15, nearly half of what our sprawling dinner last night ran with cocktails and a bottle of wine and multiple courses.

During the meal we were beset by vendors of trinkets, persistent ones, sell you Christmas cards in June, and an aged and sage beggar that passed himself as something else first and wound us in through willing good natures slowly into his beggar's gambit, the father of a family, the learning, the eating, the whole thing about how our donation was going to go toward pencils and tablets and learning materials for needful children.

The physical environment is nothing short of stunning, but the carnival of hawkers and beggars and merchants that convey the suggestion that it is a moral duty of the visitor to buy from them things that we don't want and don't need leave a taste in my mouth that is less than gratifying.  We will see how tonight's dinner treats us.  As I say, I am leaving the jury out on Panajachel.

19 October

Huehuetenango, Guatemala

23:56 a.m.

Even under the extra cover, I felt the invasion of night's frosty tendrils and had to tuck everything tight around my neck last night to thwart wayward drafts from this colonial age stone building that serves now as a hotel.  We made ourselves like VIP guests last night in the courtyard, extension cords to power our electronic paraphernalia as we danced our way through Facebook updates, content uploading, and the humdrummery of routine business correspondence and banking and other such tawdry affairs of mice and men.  On the non-Guatemalan front, a sudden raft of reservations has begun sloshing onto my rocky shores.  Kati did a thousand dollar booking yesterday.  I had a $750 booking yesterday and a $4000 inquiry, on top of a $1200 booking the day before.  I am here to have my world rocked, so by all means, you Christmas travelers to paradise, you may freely book at www.soldeosa.com.  Also a transcendant development, a verbal agreement on a property sale.  However, that is still in the eleventh hour of diligence and one final money detail and nothing is firm until the epoxy has set, so I am not counting on anything at this stage.  Week two on the water tank in progress in Hatillo, and I am waiting on the pipeline quote to pay that.  With that and some property information details to share with the attorney, I should be ready to turn toward the Blue Dream for a renewal of our journeys, as Dan is contentedly busy with his computer and not overly anxious yet to leave or anything.

While the day dawned grey overhead, it has mostly burned off as we near nine o'clock, the sun leaving distinct shadows inside the courtyard, and I imagine the mountains that surround are perhaps as resplendant as the quetzal, but we cannot see those yet.  I need now to post a Mexico photo album on Facebook, but from Dan's experience am seeing that the way to do that is day by day as I am maintaining the content on this web site.  The problem is that it means spending too much time in front of the computer, particularly in light of routine business affairs and communications with my staff and those other quotidian necessaries.

We have not huddled on a destination for today, but my expectation is that we will make our own little Journey to Atitlan and to circumnavigate the lake and hole up in a nice hotel at lake's edge.  We are talking about a rafting trip, but if Huehue is any guide to the temperatures we may be expecting, I am not sure that rafting will be the best of undertakings. 

We are elated to be in Guatemala.  Mexico was wonderful, and my impressions of it were dramatically shored from this experience.  Nevertheless there was always a subtext of dread inside that nation where death is such an integral part of life and where dangers are reported to abound at all the strata of society and along any given highway.  We never had a single bad experience, and at the border crossing yesterday, the Guatemalans did not even glance inside our car.  We were the third vehicle to cross the border by two in the afternoon, and the entire log of the previous  week's crossings did not exceed thirty vehicles, no more than six of those from the United States.

18 October

Huehuetenango, Guatemala

23:56 a.m.

In nowheresville yesterday we made a ten p.m. curtain call, and tonight, with even a time zone change in which we gained an hour, here just shy of midnight, one a.m. body clock, I am not completely through with what I had hoped to achieve.  But the pictures are up, and my back-home busy work is done, and we are in Guatemala, and this hotel rocks, and I had a wonderful dinner and am at peace with my gods and perhaps those of others that may have more sway here in his unusual and positively delightful place.  I am delighted to be in Guatemala, and here in this courtyard, I am chilly and going to bed.  Tomorrow is a day without too much rapid motion.  Catch you then.

17 October

Benemerito de las America, Chiapas, Mexico

21:30 a.m.

Welcome to nowhere.

It was my call that we shoot for this point on the map as a logical continuation, since we completed our Palenque tour by 2:30, too early to hole up in a hotel around the ruins.  And the drive down was pleasant, three military wave-throughs, long stretches of overhanging foliage down a nice road in a river valley.  And then we arrived upon this dump, and it was too late to try to push on, what with this being rebel country and the epicenter of drug and human smuggling into Mexico, and perhaps other things somewhere south of desireable and healthy.  This part of the country was not even settled until the seventies, just pure abandoned jungle before.  Anyway, the road was great until we hit the city limits, where road maintenance shifted from state control to municipal control, and then it began to grow clear what kind of a place we hade made our destination.

We checked out a couple hotels and tried out the AC before settling for this new one that is not finished that is vastly overpriced at $32 equivalent, but the AC is brand new, and there is secure parking.  It is clear that the only thing worth $32 in this whole town is a bus ticket out of here, and that any self-respecting self-interested human being would pay far more for that ticket, particularly if it was a one-way ticket, but here we are.  We managed a bit of Internet, and I got my photos all refined and ready to post.  The Internet Cafe, supposedly open till nine was closed at 8:15 as we went back to upload, as well as others.  We could see the shutters closing on each place as we pulled up in front of it, not just internets but restaurants also.

We finally returned to the scene of where we passed the storm and whiled away a couple beers and did some computer work with our photos in anticipation of returning to the Internet.  Dan was befriended by a positively obnoxious local drunk, who as Dan tired of him, tried unsuccessfully to befriend me.  When I asked the Senora for my tab, there were a round of cynical snickers at the table where locals began to crowd in on us, and I asked the young kid, "what, is she not married, a senorita?" 

"She is not a woman," he replied, and the pretty young transvestite seemed a bit embarrassed when I went to pay the bill, presumably over the awkwarness of these things having to be explained to me by the coarse townsmen in so vulgar a manner, and Dan's new friend wanted to join us wherever we were going, didn't matter where and needed beer and dinner and a place to stay, and we gave him the hard shake but then when our first stabs at dinner failed miserably, we scouted the main drag (no pun intended) and returned to the place where Dan's lifelong new buddy was gone, and we tucked into a total of ten superlative tacos apiece and as the last of the rain still sprinkles lightly after the passage of the fearsome storm hours ago, we are back at the hotel in our frosty climate, the Blue Dream locked up tight against evil-doers, and we have our eyes upon a hasty exit from this shithole tomorrow perhaps even before it is properly decent to get out of bed.

Truth is we have a good sense of humor about it, and we have eaten well, drunk well, are well situated for the night, got at least one dose of Internet, and know our way out of town, which is a hell of a lot more than can be said about the rest of the people in this town's forlorn assemblage of misfits, outlaws, traffickers, neer-do-wells, transvestites, travelers unstuck in time, and the gene-challenged inbred and criminally uninspired.

17 October

Cascada Agua Azul, Chiapas, Mexico

12:15 a.m.

As the pictures should later reveal, the pools are aqua and lovely, but I am not up for swimming and am holding down the fork.  The little park has a curious admition system.  You arrive first at the pay station, peopled by the descendants of Mayans, the revolutionary red star of the Zapatistas painted on the wooden wall of the hovel that they lean against in wooden benches.  They have a rope pulled across the road, and the nice man with the nice printed tickets comes out to receive the ten pesos per person entrance fee.  Then a half kilomter up the road is the sign announcing the "official" pay startion, and it is a bigger affair, with a rock portal that you drive through and a man whose features are not quite as strongly Mexican, and he has printed entrance tickets somewhat more elaborate than those of the unofficial pay station, and the fee is the same.

It is pretty hard to get an early start.  This morning we found ourselves locked in our stone keep until eight, when someone appeared to release us from our momentary prison.  The disco lasted till about four thirty or five in the morning, the boom boom pervading the night, three police cars staged around the glorieta down in front to stop all travelers for the presumptive shake down or perhaps "routine review."  We are halfway to Palenque and have descended perhaps one thousand feed from the highlands into a mixed region of forest and jungle, not torrid but outside of the mountain crispness.  We have left the pines behind, though perhaps not for the last time even in Mexico.  I know they await us in Guatemala. 

We won't even make it to the park at Palenque until one thirty or so and will surely stay in this region tonight and then wend our way around the hump that is the southeastern extent of the nation's boundary.  It may be a long drive tomorrow but we have the advantage of having all the time in the world, or nearly so.  More later; Dan is back, we have purchased sugar cane from a stunning young Mayan maiden, and my tapping on this laptop has drawn a covey of young Mayan kids that watch me type, respectfully, unquestioning.  They have clearly seen this before and know that is a "computadora."  You cannot squeak anything by kids, no matter how distant their patrimony and culture is from the heralded towers of gleaning modernity. 

On their smiling and only slightly corrupted faces, the future of the planet is carved.  In the chatter of their language, the roller-coaster toward assimilation is resisted.

16 October, sort of

Ocosingo, Chiapas, Mexico

12:15 a.m.

The only problem with the La Hacienda Hotel here in Ocosingo is that on Friday nights they have a boom boom discotheque night.  It started at eleven, and as I tap away at the keys it is a Gloria Gaynor remix of I Will Survive, itself a cover of the immortal Celia Cruz's original, Yo Vivire.

It has taken a good three hours to answer today's email and get the day's photos and map selected and uploaded and accommodated, and I am dropping with sleep and uncomfortable in the hard back chair on the brick patio where the wireless reaches my laptop. 

Ocosingo is the site of the bloodiest of the fighting in the 94 Zapatista insurrection, but today it is just a sleepy little Chiapas town.  By the way, without amplifying at this time in favor of heading for bed, Chiapas is my favorite so far of what I have seen.  San Cristobal de las Casas was amazing.   Tomorrow it is Palenque.  And that will make the big three of the Mayan ruins for me:  Chichen Itza in 1988, Tikal last year, Palenque tomorrow.

It's two hours and away and 1500 feet of so below me.

15 October

Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, Mexico


Past midnight, really the 16th of October, and the heels of a transcendant day leave me without a breath. I am sitting in a restaurant that has been closed to all but me, and I have one pre-paid beer remaining.  A shrimp dinner down, a drive down the coast in a syncopated merengue with orificers of the law, a sampling of the fruit from Heaven's orchard, a miraculous descent into a new town undocumented by the Lonely Planet without a single loss of our way and the capture of wireless Internet, guarded parking, AC, Internet, all for less than $45 per night, here in a realm where tourists dare not venture, the lifeblood of the planet coursing through steel and into tankers headed for China, and what are we?  Road bugs.  Soldier bait.  The ATMs of policemen.  The end game of shrimp.  The bane of beer.

We shrug at the notion of fairness and balance.  We tip the scales and pull down the blindfold of bare-breasted justice and wave the wood in the face of life and don't give a shit like taxi drivers, only we also don't have to worry about getting off work . . .

Tomorrow we will be in the land of the guerrilla, cocking the hammer of the great weapon, squeezing the toad, trampling the coca pulp with our noses held out against the toluene and filled with the prickly notion of a life in full blossom, surfing a galactic windstorm, winking at the full solar eclipse and in love with the crush of the ocean depths, the darkness and the imagination of the light that might fill it all in that alternate and beckoning universe.

14 October

Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico


The day dawned gloomy and cool, a greyness blanketing the ocean and this resort hotel, fading to black to the south.  But as the day matured, the sun burned the cover off, and by this advanced hour of mid-afternoon as markets around the world dance over the Dow's stampeding bulls, the air is thick with syrupy heat, the humidity like a thin fluid that drains the body of energy.  The only proper position of the body would seem to be a supine one, perhaps best within the crystalline water of the swimming pool now that the shade of the sea grape tree extends across half the shallow end.

I have been unable to escape the SMTP authentication limbo, but upon acceptance, the penury of using web mail to send off replies has proven to be tolerable, not even really that much of a hassle.  Nine tenths of life's personal satisfaction lies, perhaps, in getting used to its basic ground rules and limitations.  Today's constraints shall surely be a source of humor in tomorrow's freedoms.

Eight days into a rigorous workday, I am distracted momentarily by a young German parading around the pool in her bikini thong and generally by the litany of Aryan concupiscence that characterize not just this German-owned hotel but indeed pretty much the entire town.  There are a few Americans, but it is mostly Germans that are here.  I suspect it derives from the warnings of violence that punctuate the grammar of American discussions of Mexico.  In advance of our travel, my largest concern was this reputation for violence and danger that permeates the news waves and has become the prevailing definition of contemporary Mexico in the absence of countervailing voices.

And perhaps it is true, doubtless it is, that Mexico is a locus of extreme violence, a new cradle for the shock of violence sought by the Paki jihadis of a few years ago in their vulgar beheadings.  Violence as statement rather than as a consequence of the prosecution of a war between the opposing factions.  But it is not just the cliche of endemic and pervasive violence that has been tested by our experience on Day Eight of our trip.  Two other cliches have also been challenged by our experience.

Most tellingly, we have had several contacts with members of the armed Mexican officialdom, from border agents to federales to state policemen to soldiers, and without exception every single officer has behaved with a professionalism that borders on the punctilious and precise.  We were stopped the day before yesterday by a convoy of two police trucks peopled by ten or more officers bristling with automatic weapons.  The single officer that approached our vehicle in a bullet proof vest announced very clearly and without casing us that the stop was a routine review to ensure that the vehicle we were in was in order.  He examined the solicited documents, compared them for inconsistencies, checked the vehicle sticker on the windshield, confirmed Dan's identity, and thanked us, returning promptly to his vehicle after a review lasting less than three minutes.  He had no interest in our personal immigration papers and never asked me for my documents.  He did not look us over and get that look in his eye.  He did not scratch his head nor question where we were coming from nor what we were doing.  It was purely professional and to the point.  He was a federal policeman.

Yesterday, we rounded a bend in the nation's center of marijuana cultivation--presumably opium poppy as well, between Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido, and drove into a road block swarming with cops in black, all of them fingering the triggers of automatic weapons, automatic pistols on their hips.  They asked us to descend from the vehicle for a routine inspection, and they proceeded to go through all the likely places that we might have stashed drugs that we may have happened to be consuming, patted Dan down, grinned and joked about the cooler in back with iced down beer, and waved us on.  They were Oaxaca state policemen.  A couple hours out of Xilitla, it had been soldiers that did the inspection, asking us questions but in a non-intimidating manner.  And there was a military checkpoint yesterday as well, a series of questions, the wave through.

In every case, it has been evident that at all levels of the security apparatus of this country, its officials are highly trained and appear to be very skilled at what they are doing.  Before seeing this I imagined the narcos as the ones actually in control of this country--and perhaps they still exercise enormous control through the limitless sums at their disposal with which to corrupt not just policemen but everyday joes into a life of crime.  Nevertheless, on the basis of what I have seen, my money is on the security forces for ultimate victory in this war being waged.  It is clear that there is a political courage at all levels of government that is being exercised that warrants recognition and celebration more and perhaps less of the hand-wringing that goes on in the US press about the decay of the situation.

In my mind I have nurtured a separate cliche and perhaps a completely unfair one, that of the surly Mexican, resentful of the American, and I know that it is not a completely invented cliche but one founded to some degree on not only my own experiences when I lived here but also on pieces of information gleaned from the products of popular culture and news releases.  Yet the six days that we have been in this country have not revealed a single instance of any hint of this sort of behavior.  To the contrary, every contact that we have had with any citizen of this country, whether an official with a gun, a waiter in a restaurant, a gas station attendant, beggars in the street, and the very many people that we have stopped to ask direction from along our way, have all been superlatively friendly and polite.  We have felt welcome everywhere we have gone, not solicitously, but in a manner that suggests that this is just the way that people are treated, decently and with friendliness.

It has been a stunningly good experience.  I expected to find trouble and hardship at every other turn, and the only problems we have experienced was managing to stay on the right highway.  As a whole the country does not have the most intuitive of road signs except on the majorest of highways.  But getting momentarily lost is part of the adventure, and the saving grace of that foible is that everybody knows where the roads go, so all we have to do is ask before getting too far on a road that appears to have suddenly gotten off track.

I have nothing so far to say but good things about Mexico, and I have not even begun to extol the virtues of the cuisine and the nearly galactic assortment of high-quality beer.  Plus, for those that are counting, you can hardly beat the prices.  We are $44 in an air conditioned beach front resort for the two of us and have a comfortable room with AC, cable television, wireless Internet, secure parking, swimming pool, and all the amenities.  Last night's culinary foray into seafood included shrimp and cheese nacho appetizers and an entree of garlic and buttered red snapper with all the trimmings, a mountain of food, washed down with a litany of icy cold beers, all of it punctuated with juicy lime slices and an assortment of hot sauces and a friendly, helpful, smiling waiter, all of it for around $12 apiece.

It was so good that I think I will just have to go out and do it all over again tonight.

13 October

Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico


It feels like vacation. 

Puerto Escondido is somewhat transcendental.  Spectacular white-sand beaches.  Great hotel and food.  No travel plan for tomorrow, just the relax thing.  I imagine sleeping in late and rising to take a dip in the pool and leisurely check my mail and go about my day.  It is a great thing.

13 October

Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico


Inside the courtyard of a bed and breakfast in Oaxaca, the late light of morning filters from a skylight into a tiled courtyard.  Inside the breakfast dining area adjacent, a Canadian student of Spanish gabs with the two kitchen staff who speak pidgin Spanish to him--very loudly--a bit condescendingly in my view, almost like baby talk.  But they do it to me as well, and it is just their way of being polite and trying to accommodate for the special language needs of their guests.  It seems that most of the local people--perhaps the ones that have most contact with foreigners--expect to not understand what you are about to say and therefore do not.  They are conditioned like Pavlov's dog to say "mande" every time I say anything, even though my Spanish is perfectly intelligible, even if there is a bit of a vocabulary adjustment to accommodate to the Mexican words for things.

We are now over two thousand miles into our journey, and I expect that Dan will agree that we can now perhaps slow down a bit, giving me a bit more time to do the things that I need to do.  I have been unable to write in several days, and it gives me a feeling not unlike constipation.  The lengthy process of adapting photos and modifying maps and transcribing the mileage log, which I have not yet done, is time-consuming.  Then to discover that there is a security block that prohibits uploading content sends me off in search of another connection, and  it is all positively challenging from a technophile's perspective.  Bottom line is that I need more time seated and less time riding shotgun to be able to achieve these objectives and still get out and see things and move around.  Bottom line, it is all quite a lot of work, but I enjoy it and simply cannot let it get away from me.  It took two hours last night and one hour today just to get caught up on the pictures of two days and the maps and a few little extras.

12 October

Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico



There is not enough time to do what I have set out to do.  The accommodations, while relatively top shelf rarely have wireless Internet that extends to the room, so I have to go to a lobby or common area, like now, and it is a grind for getting work done, whether it is personal or business.  To top it off, not a single place has yet had an open SMTP server, so I cannot send emails except by web mail.  So my work backs up and the net effect is stifling.  I need a full day to regroup and catch up.  No time to do it tonight if I want to get my photos online.

09 October

Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico


This morning I was left wondering at the proportion of undocumented Americans inside of Mexico as opposed to the number of undocumented Mexicans inside the United States.  When we came across the border yesterday at McAllen and into Reynosa, it was into the sticky tendrils of a chaotic weave of intentional obfuscation and deliberate deception, or so it seemed.

Things were going pretty good until we got to the border.  We did our diligence in advance.  We stopped in Sanborn's in McAllen, and Dan got insurance, and we asked them if there were any issues with us, that we were traveling through to Central America, and the very nice attendants looked at one another and smiled at our naivete and assured us that it was the same as any other person entering Mexico, which is what we expected.  At this side of the border, I am not sure what we were expecting, like perhaps a fellow countryman to give us the courtesy of at least looking at us, but it was not to be.  The United States does not waste time examining those leaving its borders.  As a nation, we don't care about that.

On the Mexican side, the first lane to the right was for people with something to declare, and we had the vehicle so we pulled off into the little lot, where the other cars all seemed to have commercial merchandise, and when the customs guy made it over, I figured we were probably in the wrong place.  His questions were rapid fire, and his nose twitched a little bit in confusion at our load.

"But what do you have to declare," he wanted to know.

"Just the car," I kept insisting.  "The rest is personal stuff."

"But what kind of personal stuff?"

"You know, clothes, and camping things, and stuff like that."

"Then why are you here?"

"We just want to enter Mexico."

"Well, you can enter, but they'll just turn you back at the 30 km marker."

"Why would they do that," I asked him.  "I don't understand."

"You guys don't have any idea what you're doing, do you?"

I thought about this and considered that we knew exactly what we were doing but allowed him the possibility that he might be correct.  We had already decided that it would be just fine if we were mistaken for rubes at the border.

"Perhaps not," I granted him, getting a smile.

"Go see the guy inside," he waved me off.

The guy inside told us that we could not get our entry visa for the vehicle there, that as trans-migrants we had to go Puente Los Indios, which was in a different place.  I wanted to think that he was pulling our legs, but he was very genuine, officious, and even decent seeming, not unlike the first officer, who for whatever predilection toward amusement at the bewilderment of two rube gringos, nevertheless was very professional and all business. 

"Can you return to the U.S." the agent asked, seemingly in confidence, almost under his breath.

"Well of course we can return to the US," I replied, cringing at the thought of enduring an American revision of our car only ten minutes after having come over from that side.

And he gave me directions to a crossing somewhere near Harlingen, Texas, and so we set off, crushed at the notion that we were headed back into the Land of the Great Satan, but resigned, and in the congestion of lanes and conflicting signs we somehow got in the lane for the Mexicans with second thoughts that did not want to cross after all, and the agent there said to just go to Matamoros, no sense crossing back over the border, and we both breathed a great sigh of relief to imagine that this could actually be done.

And so we set off to find the elusive Los Indios border crossing bridge.  Of course its placename is different from the name given on signs, and we passed it around 5:30 in the afternoon and drove to Bridge III on the far side of Matamoros, which we found around 6:30.  We made it back and were able to determine that Bridge II was not the bridge without actually driving all the way to it, just part way, and we found the Los Indios crossing at around 8:00 p.m.  Of course it had been closed since six, so we drove back the 27 kilometers to Matamoros to spend the night, so that when we returned this morning, we had driven the 30 kilometer stretch between Bridge I and Bridge III, which includes all of downtown Matamoros a whopping FOUR times in less than 14 hours.

And this does not leave time to adequately describe the naugahyde cowboy hotel that we stayed at in downtown Matamoros.  It was a hotel that reminded me of the roadhouse in Dusk to Dawn where all the locals turned into vampires.  But we remained undisturbed by bloodsuckers and repaired two blocks down just before ten to a taqueria for dinner, and I was able to make my first Paypal transaction back at the hotel though remained locked in an smtp server dead zone, where 250 miles away I remain stuck today, even in this $60 a night hotel that might have been excised from the environs of any major American airport.

My exhaustion is too great to distill the thoughts of today and my many impressions, particularly on the heels of this grueling effort in getting the photos and other elements of this web site updated and posted.  Perhaps little by little I can stay on top and get ahead of the eight ball.  It seemed relatively easy last year, and then I had more things going on seemingly. 

Don't cry for me, Tamaulipas.  Tomorrow:  the mountains.

08 October

Austin, Texas, USA


Catching up hurriedly in Steve Thompson's dining room.  Sat up late in the shop last night over imported beers, fine bourbon, Dominican cigars and pondered all the great stories of yore and made up some more.  Had dinner at the Salt Lick Barbecue Pit, delicious, off to Mex today, probably able to catch up tonight on the trip so far

06 October

Wright, Arkansas, USA


Three days of clouds and sporadic rains now, here in soaking Central Arkansas.  Fields have standing water, and the farmers cannot get in their corn, cotton, rice, beans, and a major economic disaster is upon the region.  Here at Brodey Bend, where the fund never ends, Dan and I have spent the day attending to final details and packing the truck.  He does not have a name for it, and as it is his truck it is only fitting that he apply the moniker.  The best he has managed so far is the Sueño Azul.  To me a blue dream evokes Marilyn Chambers, and I guess I am dating myself in today's Jenna Jameson world.  For me the world has been a push-me pull-you of strange feelings in the lead-up to this departure, but I feel personally as prepared for tomorrow's launch as I have felt, arguably, for any sort of undertaking ever. 

It is a seminal moment, a demarcation for me.  It feels like a period of time has been separated by a giant punctuation mark.  Not a small period of time, but a decadal one, a true period.  I feel like I am returning not to the life that I left when I flew from Costa Rica a few short weeks ago but to a brave new world in which nothing has changed yet nothing remains the same.  The Arkansas that I am departing from feels very much like the Arkansas of always, and the Costa Rica I am going to is surely the same one as always also.  But I am not the same me, and it is with a bit of wistfulness and nostalgia that I kiss the sky and pat the earth and swill the water and raise my nose into the sunrise to smell the Autumn's advance across the continent. 

The mind, I guess, is a lonely hunter.

June 2008:  Home      Osa Pen    Playahs   Video    Photos    Chronoblog   Contact

October 2009:  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26

2009:          Home     Mileage Log      Daily Log      Web Log       Photo Log     Video Log     Links     Contact

HOME                          TRAVELER'S GUIDE