I am in Ecuador right now. Chronological posting is difficult.
On April 12th I left San Francisco for Mexico City. I arrived midday.
My first mission was to get cellular service to make navigating the city easier. After too much walking I eventually located the Telcel office, a Mexican cellular provider, only to find out that their system was down. I was intending to take Uber into the city but wasn't able to get wifi. It turns out wifi was just installed at the Mexico City airport a couple weeks ago. I took an expensive cab to the Centro Historico. I arrived late in the day. I meet an Australian fellow (ironically this seems to be about half of my stores thus far have started) and we grabbed a meal at a nearby restaurant I later find out is a chain. The food is still good and I learn far too much about methods of smuggling ketamine out of India. I call it a night and thank my stars I remembered to pack ear plugs and a face mask. Hostel life begins. I am here for 5 days.
The next two days passed with me exploring the city, aimlessly wearing out the soles of my shoes.
Before arriving I started researching the Spanish Conquest of Mexico to add some background to what I would be seeing. The Archaeological Museum in Chapultepec Park was nothing short of incredible. However, like most museums, objects that would be incredible to see on someone's mantle begin to become less interesting after the thousand item. There is probably a word for this phenomena in the curatorial realm. At some point I meet up with the Australian guy and his Canadian friend to get some food to eat. Immediately afterward while walking back there is a fairly large protest of a thousand or so people, but peaceful.
That day I headed back to my hostel room to desweat a little bit and met Mike and Allan from San Francisco and Tegucigalpa, Honduras respectively. I then found out the back of my shirt was completely covered in bird shit. There is another meal and beer. The night subsides.
Mike and I make a day of exploring the city. We first went to Bellas Artes and walked through various exhibits. Art museums feel inaccessible when I haven't done any prior research. I appreciated the murals, especially Man at the Crossroads.
After wandering a market nearby I purchased some orange juice on the way to Torre Latinoamerica. Immediately my bowels betrayed me. Through running and extra-human psychic control I make it to a pay toilet and throw my money at the attendant and receive three squares of toilet paper in return. Before I could reflect on how impossible that was my life improved enormously.
Mike and I made it to the top of the tower. The view was superb. The school group of 45 children less so.
A group of us from the hostel went on a walking tour.
One of the best things about Mexico City is the sheer number of public restrooms.
It was both free shot night at the hostel (can't say no to free) and Lucha Libre at Arena Mexico. Unsure what to expect Mike and I got an Uber (only 40 MXN for a 20 minute ride for both of us) to drop us off at the arena. My Spanish being better I am blessed with the joy of navigating the way to ticket sales 80 MXN each and we have out seats. After getting lost questioning an usher who guided us (for a small tip) we settled in.
Quite the spectacle. Some team won, but it was a while ago.
When we got back to the hostel the first thing that happened was tequila being poured down each of our throats. There was not a question if it was an option. The night gets a little fuzzy from there. I do recall dragging Allan down the stairs to our dorm and putting him into his bed.
It is novel how a day can end so differently than one expects.
I had a flight for Cancun booked the very next day and a week of SCUBA scheduled in Cozumel and two days to kill. I decided to spend those days in Playa del Carmen. Allan was picking his friend up at the airport so we went together. He helped me navigate the conversation with Telcel so I finally had cell phone service and the all-important data. We said our goodbyes and parted way, not expecting to see each other again.
The flight was uneventful. On deboarding the plane half of the water inside of my body decided that being on the outside of my skin was preferable. The air was thick enough to chew. With my phone dying I found my way to a bus to Playa del Carmen and an hour or so later I had arrived.
But I had not set myself up for success. I booked my first night ahead of time at a hostel and, so I had thought, memorized the address in the very well laid out town. Not the case. I wandered for a long time before I decided to charge my phone and find it. When I got there I only heard the overwhelming beat of drum and bass. I checked in. Got a free drink coupon and put my stuff away. Two nights here.
One free drink later I decide to be social. I got tacos with this Mexican doctor I ended up striking a conversation up and then head to bed.
I then woke up to a text and realized I misinterpreted those tacos.
I spent a day reading and swimming at the beach. Playa del Carmen is too expensive.
I got an early start to catch the first ferry to Cozumel. An hour later and the knowledge that diesel fumes definitely increase seasickness I gingerly get off the boat.
It was a nice day.
I headed to the SCUBA shop to get checked in. The following day was to be a SCUBA refresher (it had been almost two years since I had last dived) and then two-dives a day for about a week.
I trudged to my hostel (which I highly recommend) and secured my belongings. After a late lunch, I then unwisely spent 6 hours snorkeling without any sunscreen.
I would come to regret putting on a wetsuit with such skin.
The next few days passed slowly. I completed my refresher and spent the rest of the day sleeping and eating in a hammock (with a bit more snorkeling). I met a guy who moved to Cozumel from Tijuana and worked at the rummy cake shop who took me around showing me all of his favorite snorkeling spots.
The first dive was nerve-racking. I trusted the divemaster but due to the significant currents outside of the coral structures we had to quickly dive to 100 feet. It's cliche but it is truly like being on another world. That moment of ascending up through a break in the coral floating along to see a sea turtle drifting slowly by while a multitude of sea life darts in and out of a structure.
I spent a total of five days diving. I was paired with a father and son from Texas. The son was about 10 years older than me. I happen to run into the son in downtown San Francisco a month later, small world.
On my final day I went out with two Norwegian fellows I had met at the hostel that were also diving. Somehow I got home.
I managed to catch the early ferry back. Through some cruel twist of fate seasickness and a slight hangover was accompanied by blasting trumpets busking feet away.
My next stop was Valladolid. While I had no strong interest in Chichen Itza I thought it the proper tourist thing to do and check it off my list.
I met a French couple starting their second year of round-the-world travel.Somehow
We explored Chichen Itza, which was impressive but amazement fatigue had set in. A quick stop at a cenote and the day ended. On the morning I planned to leave Valladolid I woke early to swim in the cenote in the middle of town and had it all to myself. It was difficult to shake the idea a swamp monster would pull me under despite the clear irrationality of the thought.
A humid two days exploring Mérida and reading in a hammock suspended over a pool quickly happened before flying to Mexico City.
I went through Mexico City for a couple more days and bused my way to Guanajuato. Much can be said about Mexican buses, but I'd take a first-class bus in Mexico over most forms of travel.
And a whirlwind happens. Alberto, the school director at Escuela Falcon, gives me a mini-tour of the city and sets me up in my new room. Room, is a generous phrase, but for the price of basically free compared to West Coast city rents isn't bad.
I start school and boy does it feel good. I am forcing myself to speak only in Spanish and noticing progress rather immediately. I have to play the trade off drinking and speaking Spanish all night but being in a poor state for class the next day or having full attention for class. It is a delicate balance.
Guanajuato is a stunningly beautiful city. Pictures make it easier to appreciate but it is gorgeous nonetheless. Debauchery of many a stripe.
Allan happened to be passing through Guanajuato and we met up for touristy things like the mummy, torture, and mining museums, steps of the university, climbing to Pipilla, and joining in the parades that happen around town at night.
Not planning leaving so soon I book a flight to Oakland so I can visit Ashley and volunteer and Camp Grounded, a summer camp for adults, for two weeks in Northern California.
I was hesitant to head back so soon, but the price and time frame made sense.
I arrived in Oakland without a phone, without cell service, and all of my electronics dead. Ashley didn't know exactly when I was arriving and had already left for camp. I conspired with her coworkers to arrive after she left and to get what I needed and surprise her at wear their crew was making camp for the night.
I walked through West Oakland to the factories where the office is located. I was locked out and without a way of contacting anyone. I was told someone would be there to open the door. Frustrated I took a nap only to find a friend of someone who works their stepping over me to open the door to get her sewing machine she left behind.
After getting my keys and other stored belongings I headed out.
Switching back to English and adjusting to the sticker shock of everything wasn't great.
The surprise wasn't really a surprise. She saw me from a short distance. Meh.
Sleep came quickly. I'd been up for 35 hours due to planning my logistics around the schedules of retirees to save $20 only to spend an extra $20. A reminder to not be cheap when it requires outrageous actions.
The next four days were setting up for camp. This mostly entailed moving heavy boxes and doing oddly repetitive tasks like folding down the lid of some 400 thin-cardboard boxes.
I am skeptical of camp. I like my fun precise, technical and poorly planned. Camp is maybe one half of one of those.
But then camp happens. You're listening to a clever diddy about consent, performed at a campfire surrounded by 300 people entranced by song, pretending to be a reporter and not be overwhelmingly biased when you two question interview The Wild Reeds while not fainting, you're sitting with eight people in a large canvas tent blanketed with carpets drinking tea as a earnest, curly-haired man explains the finer details of time travel, or your entering receipts into a computer system hating that everything isn't computerized.
Once the first session was over there was an in-between period. There was a little bit of time to restage the space but otherwise it was mostly free. I spent almost all of this trying to learn to juggle hula-hoops by spinning them on the ground. Almost worked.
And then it happens again and, as most things go, it is suddenly and completely over.
Ashley and I head back to the city and get the guest bedroom at her old house. Lunch happens and a couple days pass and it is suddenly and completely time to fly back to Mexico to resume class.
But things don't always happen as they are planned or with the reasons that one would expect. On a Thursday night, expecting to fly to Guanajuato I purchased a ticket 6 hours before my flight to New York to go to the other Camp Grounded with Ashley. I left that morning and arrived in New York for the first time. I stayed in Harlem with a camp friend for two days and than caught the train up to Cold Springs, New York.
And camp was different but an experience.
A week later I spent a night in Queens at another camp friends house than flew in to Guanajuato.
I hadn't planned out my sleeping situation when arrived in Mexico especially well. I arrived at midnight and couldn't find a free hostel and ended up plunking down 500 MEX for a room for the night. The next morning I showed up at the Spanish school I had been attending to see if that had any housing options. They didn't have any.
Two days in a hostel and trying to find a place and I found a decent airbnb that I rented for a couple days. I struck a deal to rent it for a bit cheaper for another 3 weeks.
And then class. I struggled to maintain my motivation as I've reached a bit of a trough. But most importantly I discovered a different type of travel that I enjoyed: staying in one place and learning the city and making friends. It is the small serendipities where you happen to go to a park during a festival and run into a carousel. Fun.
It has been about two weeks since I left Guanajuato and went to Bogotá, Colombia. I didn't spend much time in Colombia and ended up making a break for Ecuador by bus after pleaseant week at a hostel in the middle of the Colombian jungle. My phone was stolen right before leaving for Colombia which has added a new layer of challenges.