viernes, 28 de diciembre de 2012

Km 27,053: Images of the average (Villach, Austria)

Austrians, if you are to believe what Julia says, are the most average people in the world. She claims that there is nothing special about Austria nor its people. They are just regular and absolutely inconspicuous. Now, I don't regularly hear much about Austria in the news, but the TV has taught me that Austrians excel at two things: skiing and locking people up in basements for extended periods of time. 

When I started planning my trip to Austria to go visit Julia, I wasn't really sure if I would like the country and what it had to offer. I have never skied before and the idea of living in a basement for a few years didn't seem particularly appealing. I wasn't really comfortable either with the idea of locking someone else in the basement. Trapping people in basements might be the work of lunatics, but it takes a responsible lunatic to keep your prisoners alive. You have to check on them and bring them food regularly and, with plants dieing on me because of my neglectful attitude, I'm not really sure I'm ready. With all these concerns, I wasn't really sure if we would find anything non-average to do and have a good time in Villach.




Villach and its surroundings was just as average as Julia had warned us it would be, with all these dull landscapes unremarkably covered with snow and illuminated by the most unexceptional light ever. 

However, we still managed to have a good time with Julia and her inconspicuous Austrian friends and family who were all very kind to us and didn't try even once to push us into their basements. We went to a Christmas market for hot cider, to a techno party for vodka tonics and to Julia's neighbor's house for some schnapps. We had delicious food for breafkast, for lunch and for dinner. We waltzed, we Gangnam-styled and I even danced polka with Julia's grandmother. I doubled my money at a Slovenian casino's roulette table, sipping some red wine and looking down on middle-aged Italian med gambling their money away. I even went on a full moon hike with lamas on a snowy mountain.



On a second thought, Austria and its people may not be as average as Julia said it was. You can't be average when you have lama hikes in the Alps under the light of a full moon.

Km 26,847: Hunting for deer in Venice

Momo by Michael Ende is one of my favorite books. As a child, I would stay up late and read it under my bed covers with a flashlight. Momo lead to the Neverending story which, in turn, pointed me to a book of short stories by Ende called "The Prison of Freedom", which gets its name from one of the stories.

The truth is that time has blurred my memory and I have a hard time distinguishing between what actually happens in "The Prison of Freedom" and what I think happens. Accuracy is irrelevant: "The prison of freedom" tells the story of a boy who is taken by his wealthy father on a perpetual business trip throughout the world, while being left in the uninterested hands of a neglectful butler very much fond of prostitutes, and a succession of inexperienced teachers lacking character and personality. With no other family and no long lasting friends, the boy grows up virtually on his own. After a few years of living in luxurious hotels all around the world, this boy realizes that people around him keep talking about a strange concept that is completely unknown to him. Whatever "home" may be drives his curiosity and he starts asking people around him (the teachers, the staff from the hotels, his neglectful butler and even the prostitutes) to tell him more about their "home". Home seems to mean something different to everyone and involves all kinds of places and people, but he realizes that everyone smiles when they talk about it and "home" emanates a feeling of belonging. To his despair, he finally understands that there is no place on Earth that means anything similar to him.

Father dies and the boy, now a young man, inherits a great fortune that he spends on solitary trips around the world, looking for a place where he belongs. He finds himself one foggy night walking through the narrow streets of Venice, more depressed than ever. Maybe he was blinded by the fog, maybe he tripped on purpose. Either way, he falls into one of the canals and is miraculously saved from drowning by a man. Surprised, frustrated and embarassed at the same time, he runs into the labyrinth of streets until he is completely lost. He stops and looks into the window of a shop, where he sees a painting of a hunting scene. Several men, the hunters, are shooting arrows at a deer. Upon closer examination, the deer is in fact formed by the arrows that are being shot by the hunters. An inscription in latin says something along the lines of "The object of your quest may not be known, but it is the quest itself that will show you what you are looking for". The shop is an antique store selling all sorts of objets, paintings, maps, compasses. The young man, captivated by the painting, walks into the store and finds exactly what he was looking for.

I was in Venice on a foggy day last week. I'm persuaded it must have looked exactly the way Michael Ende imagined it for this story.

jueves, 27 de diciembre de 2012

Km 25,005: Madame Michemouche in Montpellier

My only evening in Brussels was well invested in a hearty dinner with lots of wine, ribs and nice company. We visited a Christmas market where one could buy all sorts of expensive holiday paraphernalia and drink enough hot wine to not care anymore about their prices.

The trip from my hostel bed in Brussels to my sister's apartment in Montpellier was uneventful (other than the loss of my little gray hat). I was picked up by Bea at the bus station and promptly taken home for a quick lunch and a long shower. Bea had to go to her university for an exam, so I was left behind for some city exploration. I walked to the city center, which holds some sort of similarity that I can't really define with other Mediterranean cities like Cagliari in Sardinia or Split in Croatia. I did some extensive window shopping and then strolled through the Christmas market, which had the same gorgeous little presents at the same unreasonable prices as in Belgium.

Bea and I met in the city center after her exam and strolled around the streets in Montpellier, talking and people watching. We decided to stop in a burger place to get food with rock n' roll names and meet up with Bea's boyfriend. I got an Unforgetable burger, with honey and goat cheese, but seriously considered having a Highway to hell which had bacon inside and didn't look half bad. And then, while we were in the queue to order our burgers, we met three charming Montpellierians: Jeanne Michemouche, a pretty pink paper butterfly with sparkly wings, and Sarah and Victor, two slightly drunk and very entertaining students. As they recounted, their friendship with Jeanne had been short but very intense as they had picked her up from the garbage only minutes before, saving her from humiliation and a certain death. We were touched by their story and couldn't refuse an invitation to join them for a beer on the chilly terrace of a bar. We were caught in the rain but insisted on staying in place by pulling out a children-sized umbrella to protect our food and beers. We went to another bar for a drink and to dance some reggae and salsa. We decided to go for one last drink before the shutdown of Montpellier's public transportation system at one in the morning, and enjoyed some sangrias on the terrace of another bar. Before parting, we exchanged phone numbers, Facebook profiles and good wishes, while giving Jeanne Michemouche a Mexican name, Juana Michimucha.

I'm not really sure what there is to see or do in Montpellier and for that reason, can't really recommend it to anyone. But if you're ever in Montpellier and bump into a pretty pink paper butterfly with sparkly wings, please send some greetings on my behalf as I've been unable so far to find Jeanne Michemouche on Facebook. Maybe she's adopted her Mexican alias and gone somewhere else for the winter..


lunes, 24 de diciembre de 2012

Km 23,548: A capella in Bruges

I've been living in the Netherlands for almost two years, catching on to typical Dutch habits like keeping my beer outdoors during the winter and biking past a windmill on my way to work every morning. Despite this fact, or perhaps because of it, I sometimes indulge in little outbursts of Mexican bad habits, notably poor planning. The last episode was only a week ago, when I realized, first, that the flight I was taking to see my sister in Montpellier in a few days was actually a day later than I thought it was and, second, that no matter how early I left Nijmegen on that day, it was impossible to arrive on time to catch my flight in Brussels Charleroi. As a consequence, I now had an extra day of vacations and had to spend the night before my flight somewhere near Brussels. In an effort to protect my pride from the fact that I had to spend the money I had saved with my cheap Ryanair ticket on a hostel, I decided to make it worth it.

Bruges is my white whale; every single plan I've ever made to visit it has failed in the past couple of years. Everyone else has already been there and doesn't want to go back. Patching my frustration with my credit card, I booked a bed in a hostel in Bruges and decided to go by myself.

After an unexplainably long train trip from Nijmegen to Bruges, some wandering in dark alleys and checking my map, I arrived to my hostel in time for Happy Hour. Except it wasn't all that happy, because the bar was occupied by two radically different species of humans: autistic travellers, busy with diverse electronic devices and with no interest in social contact, and socially awkward locals, excessively eager to buy you a drink and take you for a romantic walk through the city. I decided to forget about socializing and wander through the city at night by myself. I walked for a couple of hours, visited a few monuments and the Christmas market and did some window shopping, without the hassle of the troupes of tourists.

The next day was equally lonesome but, to be honest, it didn't really bother me. I woke up early and, armed with a very cool map I got at the hostel, visited every single highlighted location I thought was interesting. I had a lot of time to walk about, to take pictures, to sit around and to think. I made plans for the evening, to visit in Brussels a long lost friend from highschool for "all you can eat" ribs and some catching up. I had lunch and visited the last highlighted location on my map: the museum of lace.

Now, now. I can hardly think of a museum that sound even more dull than the museum of lace (the museum of buttons in Mexico City is probably close). But the museum of lace in Bruges is remarkable for two things. The first one is that for The same €2, you also get an entrance to the creepy Jerusalem chapel next door. This bizarre church has the honor of owning, hands down, the eeriest altar I have ever seen along with intimidating inscriptions about God's awareness of your deepest thoughts (even if you don't really want to share them with Him). If this uncomfortable religious experience doesn't cut it for you, the museum of lace is also remarkable for it's collection of award-winning lace and live demonstrations of how lace is handmade.

Creepy altar in Jerusalem chapel
 A small piece of handmade lace that would sell for €10 takes about 10 hours to make. If deductive reasoning is on my side, a piece selling for €100 would take, say, 100 hours to complete (I'm not sure if the complexity/price relation of lace grows arithmetically or exponentially, but I'm going to settle arbitrarily on 100 hours. Just because). This means that the extraordinarily complicated pieces they have on display in the museum may have taken hundreds or maybe even thousands hours to make. And that puts a lot of things in perspective. The only things in which I have invested hundreds of hours of my life is in studying medicine and perhaps in playing the Sims (which is definitely much less glorious).

When I look at the time and patience required to make a piece of lace by hand, I wonder what will happen with handcrafts that go at a slow pace that just seems incompatible with modern life. After going to school or work, hitting the gym, catching up on Facebook (or 9gag or whatever your online addiction may be) and spending time with your loved ones, who will have time to work on their lace project for hundreds of days on end? What's more, what will happen to those with stereotypes associated to gender roles? My mother is capable of sowing, knitting, crocheting and embroidering in a way that I probably never will be able to achieve. But just like playing with dolls, learning to knit or embroider never sounded like a thrill for the younger version of myself (although I recently developed an interest in knitting and picked it up, mostly from the internet, partially from a group of young women with a somewhat obscure interest in making sweaters out of balls of wool). Will the popularity of these crafts shrivel? Will they end up being kept alive by small groups of people with something which will be considered an outdated or obsolete hobby?

I think I would rather invest hundreds of hours of my life in studying medicine all over again rather than in making lace by hand. I'm not so sure about the Sims though. It might have been a waste of time that I could have spent working on my handmade lace project instead.

Map of Bruges made out of lace

jueves, 29 de noviembre de 2012

Of menstruation and other demons

Beverly Strassmann wanted to know more about an essential force which has shaped the evolution of our species: the natural pattern of sexual cycles and reproduction in humans. Dr. Strassmann, an anthropologist, made her way to Mali in the 1980s to live for two years in a Dogon village and follow the menstrual cycles of all the women in this village. Dogon women reach menarche (the first menstrual cycle) at the late age of 16, after which they will menstruate on average 7 times per year until their first pregnancy. The ten first years following the first pregnancy are a seemingly neverending cycle of pregnancies and breastfeedings that reduce the frequency of menstruations to only 1 per year and finally, menopause creeps in around the age of 50. Thus, an average Dogon woman will menstruate around 100 times in her life. Meanwhile, an average Western woman will reach menarche at 12, menstruate 350 to 400 times in her life and reach menopause at age 51. Meticulous statistical analysis is unnecessary to conclude that women taking birthcontrol to delay their first pregnancy are having many more menstruations than they're supposed to. In my so far sterile 15 years of fertilty, I estimate to have had around 190 periods, which is twice as many as any woman under natural circumstances would have in an entire lifetime. 

Still, despite what every other woman with who I have discussed the topic has ever told me, I must confess that I don't mind having my period. Actually, I'll go as far as saying that I like having my period and I know I will miss it when it's gone. Every single menstruation is a reminder that I'm still young and healthy and that I have the infrastructure to bear a child (a hypothetical child who makes me feel a mixture of motherly horror and misdirected tenderness).

Ruminating on the internet, I came across an article that discussed women's sexuality in wars and conflicts. Menstruation, both its presence and lack of, were a big deal for women in concentration camps in World War II. Most women stopped menstruating shortly after arriving to the camps, both due to stress and malnutrition. Testimonials from these women reveal that they felt as if yet another part of them had been ripped away and they had been deprived of their youth, their femineity and their ability to bear children. For many of the survivors, being able to conceive a child after the war was a major achievement and proof that not all was taken away from them. Meanwhile, the few women who still menstruated in the concentration camps had difficulties dealing with these unexpected and especially unwelcome menstruations, as they didn't have anything to help them keep clean and often their menstrual blood would stain their clothes. Menstrual blood stains would be a reason for public exposure and degradation and these women would be beaten by the camp guards, humiliated and forced to clean after themselves.


Humankind has invented an extensive catalog of devices to deal with menstruation and menstruating women, ranging from menstrual huts to temporarily ostracize women, bedikah cloths, rags, reusable pads, disposable pads, tampons (made of papyrus, wool or cotton), menstrual cups and yes, even menstrual belts. Call me a feminist, call me a radical second-wave feminist (or don't). But I honestly think that menstruation has a worse reputation than it deserves. 

Now, I'm not saying we should rip our sanitary napkins off, throw out those tampons, embrace our menstrual blood and go back to the medieval days of indifferent bleeding into our clothes. After all, we are having periods 3 or 4 times more frequently than we're evolutionarily designed to. But I do think that the concept of menstruation as some sort of ethereal punishment that women have to endure or as a state of non-kosherness is obsolete and that idea is something that we should rip off and throw out. 

I was slightly horrified when I got my first period because my first assumption was simply that I was dying. At the young age of 12 and in seemingly good health, there I was, bleeding to death for no good reason in a bathroom stall at school. I could see the headlines "Promising student dies tragically at school. Family grieves her death". Quickly enough, I realized that this was probably one of the most illogical deductions I could have made and understood that I wasn't experiencing near death, just my uh, debut into womanhood. My mother however went on a motherly menstruation shopping spree and got me flowers, a package of sanitary napkins and a box of tampons. Her friend gave me a big kiss on the cheek and hollered "Welcome to the club! Some of us are joining, some of us are dropping out!". I guess I'm only halfway there.

martes, 20 de noviembre de 2012

Stains

As I said in my previous post, I was in Amsterdam a few weeks ago with Marcel, who happens to study photography and had come to Nijmegen to visit his next photography project, me. We found ourselves in Amsterdam, a bit uncertain of what to do after our very successful hitchhiking adventure. After running into a few posters advertising Diane Arbus' photo exhibition, we decided to head towards the Foam museum and check it out. Foam is, by the way, one of the catchiest names ever given to a museum. I'm uncertain of what would happen if the MoMa and the Foam would fight to death for the title of "best museum name". Perhaps they would have a child, the MoFoMa. But, I digress.

In addition to an interesting collection of pictures, the exhibition also contained a few rooms dedicated to Diane, her personal life and her writings. On one wall, there was a quote from her that really caught my eye and that fits quite well her work.

[About photographies] “They are the proof of something that was there and no longer is. Like a stain. And the stillness of them is boggling. You can turn away but when you come back they'll still be there looking at you.”

And in my own rip off of Diana Arbus,

 Picture taken by Marcel. Check out his website and portfolio (http://marcelnaumann.com/)

miércoles, 14 de noviembre de 2012

The unforeseen consequences of talking to strangers

I love my parents to bits and pieces, but in the 27 years we've known each other, I have received lots of useless recommendations from them. However, the single worst piece of advice my parents have ever given me is not to talk to strangers. 

True, there's a certain type of stranger that you should avoid altogether. As a child, the television taught me that those who hide candy and puppies in their van or those who claim to keep rollerblades in the back of their shop are probably not as cool to hang out with as they sound. As a grown up, this definition has expanded to include men who persistently invite you to go to their house while putting margaritas in your hands. But, despite what the TV says, the percentage of depraved sexual predators and cannibalistic serial killers in the population is quite low and statistically, you're more likely to be physically hurt by someone you know than by a stranger. So love thy unknown neighbour, damnit.

A couple of weekends ago, Marcel came to Nijmegen and stayed over at my place. I had met him once in New York, at a Couchsurfing meeting and we had e-mailed a couple of times ever since. We hitchhiked to Amsterdam on Saturday morning and we hitchhiked back in the evening. In other words, I totally dismissed the rules of common sense that my parents once injected into my education by having some dude (who doesn't even have a Facebook account) stay at my place for the weekend, a guy that I had met once in the company of some more random people from the internet. And then, we got into cars with people we didn't know (although, in all fairness they never claimed to have candies or puppies in the back of their cars), people who for no good reason were willing to take us to Amsterdam and then did the same thing on our way back, but this time with the added danger factor of total nighttime darkness. And then, as if that wasn't enough, we ate food from the garbage.

Marcel showed up on a Friday afternoon after a 25 km bicycle ride from Kleve. We caught up on what we had been busy doing over the past few months since the first and only time we'd seen each other before. For him, it involved a cross country bicycle and hitchhiking trip through the US and Canda. For me it was a couchsurfing trip through the US over the summer. We ate some food that Marcel had dumpsterdived, played the guitar and made our way to the city center. We went to the riverside so I could dip my hands in the Waal for the first time in my life and then had some hot chocolate.

We woke up early on Saturday so we could make it to Amsterdam and enjoy a full day there. We were on Graafseweg, on a secret hitchhiking spot on the outside of Nijmegen that we found on the internet by 9:30 and, by 9:32, we were in the back of a van on our way to Den Bosch with two guys, a set of tools, nails and a pile of wood. They were kind enough to go out of their way to drop us off at gas station on the highway to Utrecht and Amsterdam. There, we harassed some people we didn't know (and thus, became the creepy strangers), asking them if they were headed towards Utrecht and after 10 minutes, got our second ride to Utrecht, which ended up dropping us off in Amsterdam. They were a very nice couple who had never hitchhiked nor picked up hitchhikers but they were on their way to Almere (the Dutch mecca of tumbleweeds and crickets) and thought it would be fun to take us with them. They dropped us off at a place where we took a ferry to Amsterdam's central station and started walking from there. On our way back, a man took us from the outskirts of Amsterdam to Breukelen, from where a girl took us to the outskirts of Den Bosch, while recommending Ruigoord to us for trance parties and reggae festivals and finally I got to practice my broken Dutch with our last driver, who didn't speak much English. I managed to explain to him that we were headed to Nijmegen, but if he could drop us off in any train station we would be really happy. I then went on telling him what I believe was the story about how and where Marcel and I had met, what I was doing in the Netherlands and that I thought the Netherlands was a very cool country. I might have been telling him a fantastic story that made absolutely no sense about how we didn't know each other but had met that day in Amsterdam and decided to hitchhike from New York to Nijmegen, but it was dark and nobody wanted to pick us up anymore because I really like the Netherlands but I'm actually from Mexico. I'm not sure if I got all of my ideas across, but at least he dropped us off in the train station in Oss and gave answers to my macaroni stories that, to my mind, made some sense.

I could ramble about a lot of things for a long time because this post involved hitchhiking but also some echoes from Couchsurfing. When I created a profile on Couchsurfing at the beginning of this year, I did it because I was lonely and I didn't know many people in New York. With this in mind, I never could have imagined the impact it would have on my life, all the amazing strangers I was going to meet and who would become such good friends, all the interesting conversations held with people that I didn't know in a bar, on an emergency staircase at 4am or walking down a street that are still resonating in my head. 

It's been almost a year since I met my first friend ever from Couchsurfing for brunch. And it's been one of the richest years in my life, I have met so many wonderful and inspiring people, I have learned so many things and I have had so much fun. I am really grateful towards all the awesome strangers who did something nice for me, be it letting me sleep on their couch, sharing a meal with me or giving me a ride to Amsterdam. They didn't have to do it because they didn't know me but at the end of the day, I am grateful towards all these people that didn't need a reason to share their time with me and teach me something. My parents were wrong when they told me that tattoos and piercings are for criminals but they were even more wrong when they told me not to talk to strangers.



Playing on the swings in Amsterdam

martes, 6 de noviembre de 2012

Meer liefde voor Nijmegen


I guess I have been busy with too much excitement and adventures to update in the past few days. Little hearts have been popping around Nijmegen in the past few weeks. Graffiti hearts, that is, along with the sentence "Meer liefde" (more love).



I've also noticed that, when riding the bridge on the right bicycle lane from Nijmegen towards Lent, there are metal hearts nailed to the the structure of the bridge. I really wish I knew the story behind this one and I wonder if the idea behind both streams of hearts is the same...

I have been raking my brains trying to find something insightful to say about love or about whatever pushed these urban artists to embark on this bizarre graffiti "liefde" and "meer liefde" campaign. I end up censoring myself, with the excuse that the things that come to mind sound foolish and naive or sometimes a bit cynical. I'm going to skip the ramble about people I love or things that make me feel loved, to ramble about why this graffiti has caught my attention. Another frequent graffiti in Nijmegen, a cartoon bird with little Xs in its eyes (for everyone to know for sure that it's dead) has been appearing over the last couple of years on electricity boxes in Nijmegen, but it doesn't really intrigue me. I've also gawked at the "Pirates of the Waal" graffiti on the way from the train station to the university and stopped to take pictures of the menacing shark and octopus, but I don't sit down to wonder who did those.

But this one really makes me sit down and wonder. Who is this graffiti Jesus who wants there to be more love? And why does he care enough to vandalize public property asking us to love more? Is the message behind the graffiti that we all take a conscious and collective decision for "meer liefde"? What are we supposed to do with this additional love? Should I examine my own life and ask myself if there's enough love in it? I'm not sure what it is, but I'm under the impression that graffiti Jesus is on to something...

In other news, Markus and I have managed to find Orion's belt up in the sky, visible around 2 AM.

jueves, 18 de octubre de 2012

Loafing in Nijmegen

Alright, you got me there. 

Last time I wrote, I was in the middle of a post-travel low and I was feeling a little bummed out, trying to find my own space again in Nijmegen. The months I spent abroad had been full of excitement and adventures and life in Nijmegen was missing a little oomph. Where are my unwilling midnight naps on the subway? Where are Elia and her Amazon order for 35 boxes of cereal? Where are Julia and all the Couchsurfers showing up at my house for mexican wedding dances? And, most important of all, where are the "moves like Jasper" on Friday afternoons with my friends from the lab?!? Well, they're not in Nijmegen and it's been a bit hard to come to terms with the fact that a very happy moment in my life is over and that there's just no pieces to pick up. So, here I am, starting all over again.

Since my last post, I've kept myself busy with a healthy balance of work on my PhD and more or less successfully forcing excitement into my life. You could say I've been trying out a few different activities to find those that work best with my new, uh, lifestyle (whatever that may be). Last week, I had a try at knitting a deformed scarf and I took an extravagant historical tour of Nijmegen, which were both nice but were still missing some punch. Things kind of picked up on Friday and I started off the weekend by stuffing my face with sushi at the "All-you-can-eat" sushi restaurant in Nijmegen.  Saturday went on with some shopping for gramophone records and birthday cakes, going to goodbye parties, going to birthday parties and dancing Gangnam style until we got kicked out of the club at 4 am, when I still had a lot of party left inside of me. Sunday started off with a full morning of basking in bed and then continued with a coffee, a walk and a nice talk in Berg en Dal and meeting Alex for dinner. We've made plans for our next stop: Antwerp and Brugges in November!

Monday was very rough. I had to pass out in the evening, trying to recover from the weekend which, I must say, was watered with an excess of beer. When I woke up, I had dinner with my roomie, Markus, and somehow convinced him that the best thing to do on a Monday at 10:30 pm is to go for a bicycle ride to the other side of the Waal and have a beer by the riverside (I'm pretty sure though I had him at "beer"). We biked there, found a spot to chill out and drink a beer and then went all pretentious, trying to identify the stars in the sky. I failed at finding Orion's belt, which is the only constellation I can recognize but Markus swears to God he found the Big Dipper. We then took the car bridge back into Nijmegen and had a hot rum cow to some Pink Floyd.
Nijmegen from the other side of the river (left) and Markus, who hates having pictures taken (right).


Since then, there's been more dinners with good friends, congratulations for jobs well done and some guitar playing. I've been dancing some more Gangnam style (I'm trying to get that sideways shuffle down), trying to recover the ability to stand on my head, learning to play the berimbau and lending my face to an ageing make-up class. I think that, despite the lack of midnight subway naps, I might have found some excitement and adventures in Nijmegen. 

We'll see...


Ageing make up... Looking good

lunes, 8 de octubre de 2012

Km 23,329: Nijmegen

I've spent some time the past few weeks thinking about what I could write about, now that my trip is over and Nijmegen is not an exotic destination. I just didn't feel like I had anything to sit down and write about. I think I may have an amateur version of writer's block.

I've also been busy trying to pick up the threads of the life I left in the Netherlands a few months ago. Tyler Durden, always a wise man, once said that nothing is static, everything is evolving and everything is falling apart. So it shouldn't be a surprise that quite a few things have changed while I was away and that more than picking up threads, I sometimes feel like I'm pulling on them, with occasional unexpected results. But I don't want to talk about that tonight. I want to write something about Nijmegen to reflect that I'm happy to be back and that I want to experience this city in a new way.

I went to capoeira class tonight, after nearly eight months of sedentarism which, oy vey, have resulted in the loss of my ability to stand on my head. The class was in Lent, a city on the other side of the river that is slowly growing to become a massive suburban appendix of Nijmegen. For me, Lent is just a far away land to which I had never ventured by bike. As half of Lent is still under construction, at night it becomes a maze of mud and half-built houses that you have to solve while riding your bike in absolute darkness. I was getting tired and blasphemous after half an hour of blind biking in circles, but found the way back to the city. Then, I arrived to the river that separates Nijmegen from Lent and stopped to catch my breath and stare at Nijmegen's skyline and the reflection of its lights on the river. And it made me very happy.

After visiting Berlin, I found out that water brings cities to life. Paris, London, New York, San Francisco, Barcelona and Seville are just a few examples of cities that wouldn't be the same without their bridges and rivers or their beaches and seas. After visiting Berlin, I decided I wanted to live in a city where there would be a large waterbody, because it would make the city alive and beautiful. And now I do, and I have to say that it makes me very happy.

So there. Now, you get some pictures of bird graffitis on the tables in Dutch trains.

 

jueves, 20 de septiembre de 2012

50 days of Julia


I always cry when I have to say good-bye. It's one of those things I've picked up as I've grown older, like feeling anxious during airplane take-offs and landings. After almost two months of travelling with Julia, we split ways yesterday as she stayed in San Cristobal de las Casas and I headed back with my parents to Mexico City.


Driving through Zapatista territory

After a 5 hour ride on the pothole-ridden road from Palenque, we arrived to San Cristobal de las Casas on Monday night. We stopped twice on our way, to see the Misol-Ha cascade and later on to have lunch and swim in Agua Azul. Unfortunately, Agua Azul ("blue water") did not do justice to its name that day and had a murky brownish color due to heavy rainfall in the past days. Our arrival to San Cristobal was uneventful, as Monday nights don't seem to be party nights for coletos (the people from San Cris).
   
     
Misol-Ha and Agua Azul

Our next day started out early with a very aquatic agenda, as we went to see the beautiful lagoons of Montebello and El Chiflón, another cascade. The drive to Montebello was (surprise!) long and bumpy, but definitely worth it. The Montebello lagoons are composed of 26 individual lagoons which vary in color, ranging from dark blue to turquoise to green and with names just as colorful as the water, such as Laguna de Ensueño and Laguna Encantada. We stopped for lunch and had amazing cheese, zuccini flower and mushroom quesadillas with handmade tortilla. We moved on to El Chiflón, where we climbed our way up to the cascade and got totally drenched from the water that was carried by the breeze. Our second night in San Cristobal was very tame and we had some typical Chiapanecan food like sopa de pan (a soup made with bread, vegetables and banana), mole chiapaneco and coleto ham. 


Lagunas de Montebello
Our third day was less active, as we took a boat ride in the Cañón del Sumidero and then headed out to Chiapa de Corzo, a colonial city nearby. It was quite surprising to see that the zocalo (city center) in Chiapa de Corzo is decorated in a mudejar style, a type of architecture that is a fusion of moorish and spanish styles and is typical for areas of southern Spain. We had some more typical food for lunch and I had some chiapanecan enchiladas with a little too much Escherichia coli. 

     
Cañón del Sumidero and Chiapa de Corzo

We spent the rest of the afternoon in San Cristobal de las Casas, where I explored the city and its markets with the Acuñas while Julia went to the hostel were she will work. I went to the textile market and the handcrafts and sweets market with my mom and dad, walking down several streets and visiting churches on our way. San Cristobal is a beautiful and very enjoyable city. I only wish I had more time to stay.


   
San Cristobal de las Casas


At night, we met up with Julia's new found hostel friends in a bar, to have a beer and meet other travelers. This seemingly mild plan of going out for one drink was quickly watered with pox (pronounced posh, is not a deadly viral disease but a chiapanecan liquor similar to mezcal or tequila, although they probably make you feel equally bad the next morning). This slowly degenerated into a salsa class, more beers and unwanted invitations to elope. Julia and I made it safely back home through the rain and puddles. It was a very nice last night out.


Pox

For our last day, we visited San Juan Chamula and I think we couldn't have picked a better day. It was the day of San Martín and the entire village was a big party with music, firecrackers and pox. San Juan Chamula is special enough to deserve its own blog entry, so I won't go any deeper into it. We then went to Zinacantán, where we visited an indigenous family who works making textile handcrafts with a telar de cintura (a waist loom) and had lunch with them. Finally, we drove back to San Cristobal de las Casas to leave Julia in her new home for the next few weeks and then made our way to Villahermosa to take an airplane back to Mexico City.


I always cry when I say good-bye. It's one of those things I've picked up as I've grown older.


viernes, 14 de septiembre de 2012

Rocio Acuna, professional karaoke singer: A night in Mexico City

After a brutal return to un-beachy reality, our week was well spent in tacos, coffees and beers with friends, pyramid visiting and quality time with the Acuñas in Mexico City.

I don't really think that Mexico City is known for it's vibrant night life, especially on an inconspicuous Wednesday night. However, going out helped me rediscover the chilango party scene and remember that there are some pretty good places to go out in Mexico City that I never really dug much into. I even made some money on the way.

Julia and I went out with Michel (a brother from another mother) for a couple of beers in la Roma and la Condesa, some sort of Mexico City version of New York's East Village. It was really nice to see him (as it's been really nice to see everyone after a couple of years away). I think it's really special when you can pick up right where you left, despite two years of silence, as if the last time you saw each other was a few days ago. I have come to really appreciate this natural spark that comes when interacting with some people, I think it shows that your relationship to someone isn't circumstantial but that you're bound by something that doesn't change, even if the rest of your life does.

I digress.

We were at a bar having a couple of beers, when a group of people promoting a soft drink showed up by our table and offered us cash in exchange for some karaoke singing. Man, I like money. And after two months of vagrancy, I can use all the money I can get.

Julia spun a giant-sized pirinola, a typical mexican toy, which had marked the type of music and the prize on the side. I got Rancheras for $150 (roughly 12 dollars). Now, this would have been fine but for two things: there is no such thing as a ranchera song in English (making the entire process more difficult for co-singer Julia) and I don't know the lyrics to many ranchera songs myself due to a general distaste for the genre when I'm sober. After some struggles, the ranchera turned into Soda Stereo, which went a little smoother and we got our pic taken and our money.

Ever since, I've been considering dropping my plans for the Netherlands and the PhD to pursue a career as a professional karaoke singer. I could seriously do this for a living, they didn't even hear me rapping.

lunes, 10 de septiembre de 2012

Km 11,631: Mazunteando

After an adventurous night in which the roof of our cabin was almost ripped off by a gigantic storm, we started to make our way back to the airport in Puerto Escondido to catch our plane back to Mexico City. Our bus ride was livened up by a vendor who was selling ointments with natural ingredients capable of healing ovary pain in grown women and treating bedwetting in children (note: the ointment has to be rubbed on the right side in girls and the left side in boys for it to be effective). He also had chamomille extract drops to treat all eye ailments, ranging from infections, to cataract, myopia and retinal diseases. Su precio habitual es de 60 pesos, pero sólo por hoy, llévese uno por 30 pesos o 2 por 50 pesos. All this to the sound of a neverending marimba concert.

We made it back home to Mexico City and we actually hit the 12,000 km mark in the process. I promised I'd upload some pictures, so here they are.

Landing in Puerto Escondido
View from our cabin

Sunset at Punta Cometa

Sunset at Punta Cometa

Jules and I (Punta Cometa)

Sunset at Punta Cometa

Freakishly large praying mantis that kept flying into our faces, trying to mate with us and rip  our heads off

Luisandoval, renaissance man

Dogs chilling out under the sun

Luisandoval, the dog whisperer

Beautiful little Mazunte


domingo, 9 de septiembre de 2012

The happy life in Mazunte

I am one terrible blogger and lack the discipline to sit down and write about what I've been up to or about the cool places I've had the chance to visit. In any case, I downloaded the Blogger app for iPod this morning and I'm currently using up some of my free time to finally write an update. Pictures will follow... eventually. ;)

We've made it to Mexico and what's more we've made it to Mazunte, which must be one of the happiest places on earth. Mazunte is a gorgeous little beach on the coast of Oaxaca, between Puerto Escondido and Huatulco. Mazunte is inhabited by about 700 locals and a bunch of imported hippies, who've brought along a series of alternative businesses and shops. This includes several pizzerias (one of them is owned by an italian couple who figured out they'd be better off spending their retirement money on a beach in Mexico than in Italy), european bakeries, vegetarian restaurants, yoga studios, cafes and bars. The last time I was here, there was no cell phone signal and internet was only available through satellite. Now, WiFi has spread throughout the town, giving Mazunte's hippie population the chance to earn a living by playing poker on internet casinos, while sipping on café de olla, with the sea breeze in their hair.

Either way, it's always a pleasure to come back to Mazunte to relax for a few days. Despite its warmth, the sea is quite rough and you need to watch out for raping waves, which will throw you to the ground and rip your bikini off. True story and no surprise there, as neighbouring beach Zicatela is a premium surf spot. I wish I could give some sort of update on the amazing things I've done here but, truth be told, I've spent most of my days doing unproductive things: swimming (while holding on fiercely to my bikini), laying in the sun, playing cards and eating stone oven pizza.

So, instead I want to tell a nice little story. A few years ago, I came to Mazunte with Rodrigo, my boyfriend at the time, and we went on a boat ride to swim with turtles, snorkel and see dolphins. On that ride, we met an Australian couple who told us that they decided one day that their routine on Australia was unbearable, so they resolved to sell their house and use the money to do a 2 year long trip around the world. Back then, I had never heard of anyone doing anything like this before and I thought it was very cool and very brave. I still think it's very cool and very brave and I hope their trip around the world worked out safely and beautifully for them. Now I know a whole lot of other people who decided one day that their routine or their job or even their life the way it was at that moment was not satisfying and they chose to do something radical about it and find something else to do somewhere else, even if it wasn't a safe move. And I very much admire all those brave people who decided to get off the path, even if it was for a few months, and I'm happy to see that there are seldom regrets. So one thing I learned in Mazunte a long time ago (and that has only been confirmed ever since) is that taking risky decisions to end up doing things that make you happy tends to be more satisfying than sticking to a secure but unsatisfying life. So there, coming to Mazunte is not totally unproductive. I sometimes learn life lessons here.


miércoles, 22 de agosto de 2012

1741 km of Nevada, Utah and Arizona landscape

I have to be honest. I'm not really in a narrative mood because I'm kind of tired and I'm kind of waiting for our flight to Long Island, which should take us to Oakland but there's a thunderstorm and it looks like we might miss our connection. Either way, I do feel like sharing a couple of pictures from our extensive roadtrip through the great states of Nevada, Utah and Arizona. We visited quite a few things, of which I may or may not write later on (mainly, the glorious town of St. George, Zion National Park, Grafton ghost town, the Coral Sand dunes, the even more glorious towns of Kanab and Colorado City, the North and South rim of the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell and part of Route 66).

First of all, tons of credit is due to Julia, the human GPS who took us through the entire road trip without a proper map. Credit is also due to our wonderful rental car, Mac K (which I call fondly "the Culky"). Culky did us a great service, taking us 1741km across all sorts of terrain in three states. He was a fine car to drive, didn't get stuck when we tried to drive through dunes, gravel and random sandy places. And Culky was a good place to sleep in when we had to improvisedly camp at Lake Powell to spend the night.

Now, pictures.

Leaving Las Vegas (Nevada)
Somewhere between Las Vegas and St. George (Arizona)
Somewhere between St. George and Zion Park (Utah)
Close to Grafton ghost town (Utah)
Somewhere between Grafton and Colorado City (Utah)
Coral Pink Dunes (Utah)
Somewhere close to Zion Park (Utah)
Somewhere near Kanab (Utah)
Buffalos near the North rim of the Grand Canyon (Arizona)
Middle of nowhere (Arizona)
Somewhere near Page (Arizona)
Somewhere closer to Page (Arizona)
Vermillion cliffs, (Arizona)
Somewhere between the South rim of the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff (Arizona)
Somewhere near Flagstaff (Arizona)
Route 66 (Arizona)
Hoover Dam (Nevada)