[If you have come from lonelyplanet.com, we welcome you and invite you to visit our most recent posting.] Love in the Time of Coca-Cola
BY VAN NEEKO CLARIOT
29,602 Words Describing A Young Egotourist's Travel By School Bus from Austin, Texas, Through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, & All The Way Back: Transient Love Affairs, & Near Arrests, & Vistas Atop Active Volcanos, & Defecations & Vomits on Mayan Ruins, Not To Mention Daily Life As Lived By The Author, Fall 1995.
San Pedro Sula
I am 23 years old, sitting in the VIP lounge of the Monterrey bus station. My last two Austin meals were Mexican and now I have no choice. After saying goodbye to friends at the Tamale House on Airport Blvd where the planes come in directly overhead, I walked (or actually strode) up the strip toward Highland Mall. Burger Tex, Builder’s Square, Payless Shoes, Cash America passed along Airport as I moved (overly conscious of deliberate steps) through the long cutgrass on the sidewalk. The first leg of a long trip should be walked. This is not a tentative test of the waters but a fully executed dive. The Greyhound bus to Laredo working its engine. I caught it, the last on, sat in the long seat next to the bathroom in the back.
A drunken, older Mexican man struggled to the bathroom as we headed down I-35. He slapped my knee in a way that was neither malicious nor friendly. Another man came on in San Antonio, he sat next to me, wore a Gators cap and held his hand to his nose as he sniffled: his pinky had a long fingernail. A girl around sixteen years old got on at New Beaufels. All the men leaning against the windows switched to the aisle seats to check her full lips, cheeks, and breasts. Later, waiting in San Antonio for the continuing trip to Laredo, I saw her change her baby boy’s diapers. Out the window hawks circled, ranches stretched, brushfields were fenced off from the road; a factory outlet complex near San Antonio. I fell asleep.
Laredo’s a bilingual border town primarily in Spanish. At the station twenty seats, ass-rounded and plastic, faced the television showing a poorly received Spanish soap opera. I walked south to see the Rio Grande. I came to the river basin but only saw a fenced-in parking lot for trucks. According to a bank’s display, the heat at 5:30 reached 97°. It left an impression on the right side of my face.
There’s not much water in the Rio Grande at Laredo. People cross the bridge for a quarter back into Nuevo Laredo where cantinas advertise Carta Blanca, collapsed walls under corrugated iron ceilings, every color in the late afternoon. There’s no point romanticizing poverty. Just across the river there’s a JC Penny in America.
The $13 trip from Laredo to Monterrey was luxurious, in a deeply reclining chair, “A Few Good Men” on the video, overly air-conditioned. “I should live by a code. I do, it is honor!” In Monterrey I bought a $15 dollar ticket to Tampico, an overnight ride on another luxury liner. Secured a place to sleep comfortably through the first night. In the Monterrey bus station, a girl came up to me, asking about a “comparison” to Reynosa. I didn’t understand her. She wanted some money, but she wasn’t a beggar. She was short on the fare for her family to visit her aunt. Her name was Alejandra and she wanted me to talk to her novio on the phone. She asked if I knew how to talk on the phone. She asked if I was scared to go outside the bus station. I was slightly paranoid of everything, cautious. She was harmless, 15, giggling. She wanted to know if she was beautiful or ugly. I said belleisimo. She was young, more cute than anything. I told her she was the first person I’d spoken to: mi primera. Relieved that young girls will come up to a stranger and play silly games and talk. Most so far are open.
I was pulled off the bus to secure a visa. The guard didn’t even make me pay to enter Mexico. I suppose because it was free, not because he liked my chest hairs.
Monterrey, Mexico 9-5-95
While I wrote the above in Monterrey, I missed my bus. At 11:17 PM, I looked at the ticket, realized I’d have to hurry and then found out the bus se fue. I ran around the terminal, asking drivers and finally was directed to an office where my Spanish was inadequate and equaled the deskman’s helpfulness. He wrote 23:00 on my ticket—the time my bus had left. After three trips back he validated my ticket for the midnight bus to Tampico. A Rambo “First Blood” movie on the video, a few scenes seemingly taking place in Afghanistan, and I slept off and on with a continual bus-stimulated erection until we arrived at 7:30 AM. At Tampico, I caught the 8:00 to Veracruz and dozed throughout as the surroundings changed from identical-to-Texas flat and drylands to rolling hills, volcanic mounds, more palms, more livestock along the road. We stopped in a few small towns, one bustling with dwarfish blacksmiths, 10-year-old boys dirty on too-big-for-them ten-speed bikes, schoolgirls in white knee socks lining up for gym class. The bus driver played Mexican pop tunes and drank Coca-Cola from tall glass bottles, he beeped at every decent woman we passed and followed their asses in the side mirror if they were walking to his left.
I’m the only American around since hitting Monterrey. I expect, once in Veracruz, to find Americans, but I’ve only seen two women who seemed more European than gringo. No resentment from the people here—the opposite, even hotel deskpeople direct me to less expensive hotels, maybe because I look scrubby. I almost took a room for 50 pesos (less than $10) but found another for 30. The room is tiled pale green like in a shower. In fact the entire hotel is equivalently tiled, the floors are checkered pale-green and pink. There’s no mildew in the caulking. My room has large windows facing the street, the breeze and the street sounds of cars making wake through Avenida Fruagua is comforting.
I left the room minutes after putting my bags down before sunset to dar una vuelta. Heading toward the water, the port directly east, I gauged the neighborhood residential. Passed an old black man with bandaged arms and a sleeping Dalmatian, met dark-brown glances, and walked along the Gulf. There was a beach soccer game on the black sand; the sky was equally black over the Gulf; an oil tanker on the horizon. I looked for a cheap restaurant and found a cafeteria where I could sit outside, watch the parade of sailors across the street getting accosted by balloon- and gum-selling Mayans. Watched the lightening to the East and counted to ten before the thunder. The wind began blowing mist off the Gulf, everyone moved inside. I said the wind “no me molesta” to the waiter who brought me a Spanish omelet with jalapanos and bread. The rain hit hard. The wind blew the plastic chairs out of position, I went inside: I ate, left in the drizzle, then got stuck many blocks from my tiled room in an intense downpour.
Veracruz streets have curbs, but no sewer system, so the water flows off every awning, off everything possible, all into the street; then the wake from the VW bugs and old U.S. schoolbuses overcomes the curb and floods everything. After an hour of storming, water in some sections reached high, almost to my knee—to the average local’s lower thigh. But generally the water kept ankle deep and flowed with a good current not strong enough to pressure your walking but fast enough so you’d look down and see a pineapple head or some tomatoes tumble by. I tried to light a cigarette but my matches were wet. Besides negotiating the flood, the wake of the traffic, the rains, there was fear of electrocution. I imagined a single relampago hitting downtown Veracruz and turning tens of thousands of its soaked population off at once. The lightening showed high off to the East with thunder trailing between five and fifteen seconds.
After an hour of stringing together awnings, pausing when the rain was coming too strong, I walked heel first through the ten-inch water and found the hotel—its long tiled corridor soaked from a busted hose. I didn't bother to apologize for my wet boots. I needed them to get down the hall. I’ve seen more rain in my life, but never so much on-land water. It’s not that the rain was incomparable, it’s that the water had no sewer system to tunnel through or no run-off potential. Flooded streets met other flooded streets at deep intersections sometimes with a strong current. So much water I tell you not even Jesus himself could of kept on top of it for twenty minutes. Myself, I wringed green water from my socks into the sink and hung my clothes to dry.
Veracruz, Mexico 9-6
Last night I dreamt of an old Mexican man who walked with me along an inlet to a large body of water. He rattled on in Spanish, but it was muffled, garbled, I didn’t understand. Not even my unconscious Spanish is up to par. Later I dreamt of a party seemingly back at college. I was going to buy beer but only with a few dollars. A friend gave me a five to make up for others but the store was closed. There was a girl I was with, but I was losing her. I’ve just noticed in the mirror above the bureau I’m using as a writing table that I have a stark silver-gray hair—my first.
This morning I ate a perfect sandwich with beans, cheese, avocado, two instant cups of Nescafe, and a Coca-Cola for ten pesos (under $2). Got a light for my cigarette, walked down Faragua. I heard trumpet and drum—one man with a limp beat a bass drum; another with a snare beat a one-handed counter rhythm and played a blaring melody on his horn. They walked on the bright sunlit side of the street, ringing doorbells, banging knockers, asking for a few pesos. Beautiful beggars.
Later . . . The old man of the green-tiled hotel lived in Michigan close to Wisconsin. He asked me in English where I was born. I said “New York” and told him about going to college in Ohio without his asking. I asked what was to the west of Veracruz. He said the little town called “Boca del Rio.” He gave me a map. I thanked him and went upstairs to shit out two days of traveling. Snakes! and I wasn’t sure about putting paper in the bowl. The long turds were enough to clog the weak toilet-water pressure and two days of traveling refused to enter the Veracruz sewer system.
I left toward the playa to the south and walked many kilometers, changed a fifty dollar traveler’s check to realize just how rich I am down here. Bought a liter and a half bottle of natural agua mineral. Walked more and more, then thru a neighborhood with oddly angled houses and mirrored windows—bleached white satellite dishes. Saw a gray iguana, almost two-feet long, tail hanging off the curb and beating it like a weapon. I approached the lizard. It fell into a space beneath the sidewalk. After walking another block down the street of this high class neighborhood, I took a right on Avenida Barracuda and saw the Gulf at midday. For some reason either my attitude or the sky here reminded me of the light just after a midday total eclipse on May 10, 1994.
I hit the pasillo along the rocky brown beach and thought about taking off my shirt along the long deserted strip ahead. But there was a kid walking behind me. I figured I’d slow and let him pass but he asked me for some water. I gave him some and then he asked if I was walking the way I was walking. He wore boots, jeans, a red shirt, hair shaved on the sides with a little bang grown out the front. I didn’t see his face really until later. He drank all the water. His name was Jorge. He was from Acupulco but left when he was fifteen and came to Veracruz looking for work. He said he was living in a small shack that he didn’t have to pay for—like a squat. A friend of his approached, young with a tattoo of a big-breasted blond, a weak mustache over his lip. They chatted, asked me for some money. I pulled out a one and a five-peso coin. He asked for the five peso coin. Jorge said that there are many young chavos por la playa because there’s no work. I told him about the Gutter Tribe in Austin camped out in front of the Insomnia coffeehouse holding road-warrior court where the judges ask for change—maybe the defendants ask for the change and share the beer they buy with the judges, who knows? He says “Si, Si.”
I still haven’t seen any gringos in Veracruz and asked him why. He said that tourists don’t come because of the crisis. I suppose because so many are out of work it’s dangerous, at least he seems to imply this. He knows only a little about Chiapas and the Zapatista Rebellion. He says it’s calmed down. I said they killed 17 people. He said “Do you know what they call this? I call this war. What do they call it where you’re from?” I said, “War.” But in the U.S. this is called a riot. If the U.S. is involved in another country this is called humanitarianism or at least a police conflict. In Chiapas the people attack the government rather than indigenous storefront windows as in the U.S. What would happen if the next inner city riot were an organized attempt against the government? What would happen if they firebombed the Lincoln Memorial after they tied a noose around his neck? Chiapas has, or had, a militant race rights rebellion.
I asked what the Mexican people thought—did they think of rebellion. No, he said, we wait for change with new government. New government is rarely leads to change—it is always the hope though. We walked a few blocks along the beach and then up toward a market he wanted to show me. We walked though the pants and shirts, everything possible for sale at stands set up beneath a ceiling of various colored canvases. The shade was worth it. My arms were red. My forehead burned and beaded, clinging to a lower level of less-damaged skin. I suppose I was cautious of Jorge—I had bought some water and he saw me pull out a 50 peso bill. Fifty pesos would feed him for weeks. I felt ashamed at having so much money on me especially in a country where it's scarce. Walking through town toward the playa I saw signs in every window advertising a task the occupant could do. Yet in Veracruz the center seems to bustle. It seems that people are working in the stores that line every street. And it seems that people are shopping.
I asked Jorge what kind of work he would like to do. He said he makes blackboards for teachers but it’s hard to find work. No shit, Jorge. He doesn’t rob though—it’s better to be hungry than in jail, he says. We walked on along the beach and then sat down at a tunnel covered by grating in the dune, all raised with concrete. We watched a woman and a man bathe in the gulf. Light waves, blue sky—a wind too strong to light a cigarette. I tried to teach him some English but he didn’t pickup on the accent. He told me in heavy slang something about kissing a girl all over at this spot, even kissing her canal. I thought he was the one doing the kissing but then I realized he just saw two kids engaging in the sport. He told me earlier he had been with a chava along one of these jetties where we had stopped to rest.
He had a cut beneath his chin and on his knuckles. He had a few whiskers on his chin. He lied about the cuts. The chincut he said was from a few days ago when he fell. The knuckles he said he cut while using some machine. He told me tomorrow he’d take me somewhere nice that he knew very well. I gave him 10 pesos to get some food later. He left.
We’re supposed to meet tomorrow around 10:30 at the place we met today but that is very far away and now I’ve got deadly chaff, crazy sunburn, aching legs. After he left I had to walk three miles back toward the city. At one point I bought a liter and a half of Penafiel lime soda water and took off my boots, my socks. My feet looked as they will when I’m almost dead. I could have peeled the skin off. I laid down against a short wide whitewashed wall, listened to the waves, felt the heat on my right cheek, hung my feet up to enliven in the wind, and looked at the particles of air bashing into each other like microbumper car races in enormity. Aerial interference. When you’re very tired you see how the air moves with light. Finally I got back to the hotel. My shoes were in the bureau drawer, the bed was made, and the toilet was filled with soap bubbles. I felt embarrassed—but then, I think I’m the only guest at the hotel.
Veracruz, Mexico 9-7
I dreamt of a catering at a beatendown hotel. The potato salad was just mayonnaise with an uncut cucumber across the top. Willie Nelson had played in 1981 but nothing like that since. A waitress named Leilani was there—I was supposed to sleep with her. This morning I had a good breakfast with a large glass of fresh orange juice. I wrote. Swam in the Gulf. Talked to Gustavo who spoke English well—he works in a hotel that costs 250 pesos a night—likes Mariah Carey’s voice. Then I went back to the little grill by the bus station and wrote some more, drank three Coca-Colas over as many hours.
Talked for an hour or more with Benito y Jorge—brothers. They sold hot dogs across the street by the bus station. Benito, “Benny,” 33, had been in the navy, and Jorge was 38. We spoke about politics and religion. Jorge said he prays for a change. I said the government is sometimes God and told him about TV evangelists. They mentioned the Pope and how one should express beliefs through action, by helping people rather than sitting in the Vatican like a politician with a crucifix. They needed some pesos for the bus. I gave them some. They said they’d give me a hot dog later.
Slept away the afternoon. Went for a walk. Three drunk guys offered me some clear whiskey. I took a swig. They asked for a “dollar.” I gave them a few pesos. I should have stayed and drank and talked with them but instead went and ate an octopus cocktail. Not much has happened tonight. Friday night. Almost a full moon over the water. A beisbol game played with a tennis ball, most in bare feet, no gloves, but organized, with uniforms and umpires. A beautiful woman my age selling hot corn—a pleasure to watch. But not much else. I think tomorrow night I’ll move on to Oaxaca. I like it here. It’s calm, the people are friendly, I’m the only gringo but there’s more to see. Even more than a giant Jesus spread out on the sand taking in the sun. Jorge told me the name of the artist—something between “playa” and “pelayo”—to fight.
Today I am, or tonight, I am in Oaxaca. The last day in Veracruz I waited until 8PM for the bus overnight to Oaxaca. A man with no shirt on the beach boulevard, bearded and somewhat Grecian, blue pants pulled above his navel, sitting the whole day on a steel patio-style bench, offered me part of his taco. I said thank you I wasn’t hungry—he left. We didn’t speak, maybe he wanted to. I couldn’t have looked starving. Stoned men on the beach drinking a 32 oz. of Sol offered me pulls on the round so I gave them cigarettes.
I’ll write about coming to Oaxaca later. All day with a German left me thinking about America—a Nazi teacher, a nationalist, said Coca-Cola would dissolve a piece of meat in one night. He meant America’s affect on the Fatherland. Here in Oaxaca Coca-Cola bought on the streets is warm sometimes, but mostly ice cold. But Coca-Cola is always around. Siempre.
Off the bus from Veracruz at 5 AM in Oaxaca. Still dark I put on all my heavy shirts in the bus station. Oaxaca’s surrounded by hills—taller to the North and always in clouds. Cool air. Walked down a typical city road, stopped at the intersection with the sign to the zocalo—the center. The sun rising, the moon setting over hills to the west. Walked down toward the center, stopped again on a narrow cobbled street to stare down the setting, almost full moon at sunrise. Continents on the moon and oceans. A deflated Spalding basketball, plastic, in the street, kicked it around. Beautiful clean treed plaza with short women running sprints in spandex. Every corner more beautiful and Oaxaca still sleeping. No sounds except my footfalls and waking birds. Sunday morning—chapel doors open. I walked in as quietly as possible. Gold interior, ornate with typical grotesque portraits of suffering. A woman in the first pew. A man in the last. Oaxaca filled with hills and narrow winding cobblestone streets lined with one story walks with chapped layers of paint and colors peeling off each façade. I walk down a block or two—a boy with a dolley loaded with eggblocks slide down a street, over a speed bump and down a street to the right. Two more chapels, all of which are large blocks of discolored yellow and white, some aged and blackish, connected by a long plaza with wide step-type seats.
I lay in the shade of the eastern chapel with my head on my backpack. A boy appeared in the plaza with an American football, then six more, then a full plaza game of football—3 on 4. One boy of about sixteen outclassed them all and delirious from travel and in love with Oaxaca I offered my service to the losing short-handed team. A few interceptions, a few touchdowns, and a few touchdown passes until the sun began to climb over the eastern chapel and mass began in the western chapel. Searing and sore we stopped and talked a little. They invited me to play next weekend — Sabado y Domingo se juegan. A few well-placed passes to a ten year old can win him over. After some time looking for a hotel, found one for under four dollars but too stuffy and I planned to leave the next day.
That night I wandered around a beautiful semi-touristic plaza. I sat and thought there should be music. The police band started up accompanying regional folkloric dance; then a youth orchestra, out of tune playing classical and the “Mexican hat dance,” then more dancing women with pineapple and permasmiles. Just wandering watching a full-out karate fight of fifteen kids under 3 feet tall. They actually ran around a rosebush and threw kicks at each other’s heads.
The next day I went to change money and found what seemed an American goateed guy in chincilla, chinos, Nike boots, a Georgetown Hoya hat, waiting outside. German. I showed him where I was staying. We ate breakfast. We went to climb the hill to the south. He spoke fluent English with not an overly Germanic accent. Within minutes of walking outside the central region we were in real Mexico—poor with dirt roads and walls of beercan sheet metal, orange juice containers—all metallic, roofs of corrugated iron. Dogs in the street. We greeted everyone. Most tourists sit where I’m sitting now and never venture the neighborhoods. Probably leave with an image of a wonderfully quaint town, not of how people live. The people who come up juggling limes or offering nothing but charity.
The German guy, Andres, and I walked through these neighborhoods, constantly moving upward towards the hills. Through more neighborhoods built on hills and angled off created fully out of sheet aluminum that did not get pressed into cans. A boy walked by with fronds of dried palm, said something about the pyramids of the little grandfather: Los Piramidos del Abuelito. We kept moving upwards through the residential hills up a path where a few rocks served as shaky stairs. We came to a white iron cross looking over Oaxaca. The German wanted to stop here. He was afraid of snakes in the tall grass if we beat a path. But then a boy came down diagonally on another path and I said “We move on” so we moved father up.
He said it reminded him of the Scottish highlands. At every step a hundred grasshoppers lept and the view on the otherside of the hills showed greenfields, winding paths over hills, mountains in clouds, and a ruins site on the top of the third hill to the south. We decided to try to make it and walked on.
We disturbed a goat herder and his dogs barked and the horned goats stood up. The herder sat in the shade and nodded. The walk, the path went straight up, again a few well placed stones served as accidental stairs. Very dry, some cactus, jade, sometimes a single flower growing beneath a rock. I thought of snakes speaking to me though an overly reverbed amplifer, “This is not your land. Turn back now -- I shall pierce you!” And I thought I was saying “But here I am, show me your domain.” Something like that. But no snakes, only a spider which we batted away with an empty water bottle. In full sweat we reached the ruins and took a Coke, a Marlboro, then saw the ruins. In the middle of the ruins I taught the German American slang—both jive and hick. Beautiful Japanese women.
The view atop the hill over the hill we had climbed down past Oaxaca, rain coming from the hill to the east. We left. I tried to talk to my parents but couldn’t hear them because the army was marching with drums and trumpets, goose stepping. I sat down. A man said “Where you from? You don’t like to smoke grass?” The German had been speaking about weed all day -- he wanted a smoke. We bought some wrapped in newspaper, he was with two French women of around 30 years old. We gave him 20 and he left. Andres thought we were ripped off. But he returned. We followed him around, gave him forty more, went back to the hotel and smoked a joint finger long and as thick and then got hassled by a Costa Rican hippy in our hotel for some weed, couldn’t deal at all but gave him some on his dish, then walked around.
Andreas was controlling, not understanding things, not believing I knew where I was going, constantly hungry or thirsty. I’d rather move alone than with a 6’5’’ German who’s paranoid and self-conscious and believes he intimidates everyone.
He bought a warm Coke and the vendors seemed false for the first time. He never smiled with the Mexicans. He didn’t seem to watch them with as much curiosity as they watched him. Some boys playing soccer in the same plaza as the one I played football. He said “They’re putting on a show for us. This is all for us.” We were as much the show and after awhile there was no show—they played, we talked. He said that this day was his greatest since the jungle when he stayed with a derechos humanos group in the rainforest of Chiapas protecting indigenous villages from army attack. With a white man there they would not attck. The indigenous folk with machetes; the army with machine guns and tanks.
I just translated a letter from an American Indian, Navajo woman, to her boyfriend in Oaxaca. They have a six month old son in Arizona but he cannot speak English. I translated his Spanish to English and wrote a letter to her. He needs money to go to Arizona. The envelope was postmarked September 1; the letter was written December 6. I gave him no money. Not a scam at all unless I was supposed to give him money for his trip. I’m surrounded by kids—a juggler, a kid who draws for coins. The juggler tosses four limes superfast, actually green oranges. This kid doesn’t go to school and he’s not going to understand nada, but nevertheless, I’m bargaining with them about how much I will give them.
Last night I dreamt of Leah. We were in her white station wagon Subaru about to drive to Texas or Mexico. I had to get a haircut and say goodbye to my parents. I realize I never said goodbye to my parents in person but I was half a country away. Not that I feel any guilt. It seems part of the ritual that was left out. I’ve already left home so I leave my new home not my home home.
Two days ago I did very little but write and talk to the child beggars, made a sandwich of avocado, tomato, jalapeno, and cheese. Surprised the lime juggler Alejandro by not eating in a restaurant. Drank a few beers with Ralph my new German roommate in the new hotel. He’s a taxi driver. Environmental engineering major with a Frankenstein-like scar along his neck where his lymph nodes were removed after a time of severe backache that lead to a year of chemotherapy. Much more intelligent than Andres, or more cultured, knows Gunter Grass, Oe, American novelists, and is familiar at least with Anselm Keifer’s name.
The highlight of the evening was a mishearing of the word “ecotourism” as “egotourism.” Gave me an idea for a story in which a hotel caters to the ego to a point at which the ego collapses from overindulgence and carries on without any more sense of self.
Yesterday I woke up early and walked to the northern hills. The neighborhoods to the north are more middle class than to the south. Still there are donkey shacks with metal walls next to semi-modern houses with garages and satellite dishes. I climbed the paved streets toward the hills which never got too close, came to a dead-end. A woman in Guatemalan garb seated on the curb showed me how I could go down to the creek and walk along to the otherside. A small stream, not much water, hopping to whichever side of the bank was drier. Ran into a kid trying to take a shit. Finally made it up the otherside into another neighborhood. Up and up until a man showed me the path to take. I was on a red clay path with no houses. The hills dark green and in the clouds. The man said that it would take five hours along the path to reach el cielo. To reach the heavens, only five hours.
The red clay path transformed to a wide paved carretera cut out of the limestone hill, but cut deeply like a ravine with a road instead of a river at the bottom. The limestone was collapsing along the side of the road making any travel by car almost impossible. One vista led uphill, yellow-red walls thirty feet to each side and at the end of the road only sky. It banked around then the road contoured downhill and straight, not up to the hills, but another path curved almost straight up in a parallel direction. Patches of corn. A fallen tree with redroots in the air and blackened leaves on the path. On top of the next hill there was a covered cross, a wooden cross, then a larger iron cross about two feet by two feet on a concrete base with three Jesus candles and covered by a corrugated iron roof about fifteen feet high.
The view of the valley was more clear from here than Monte Alban. The valley extended far to the east and the south. I passed this place and tried to move on but the silence made the flies and bees and other unidentified insects incredibly loud. I feared snakes at every step. A lizard made me jump. I went back to the cross and a boy sat with his back supported on the woodcross overlooking the valley. He said there were almost no snakes around this point. Farther up in the hills, yes. I sat a few yards in front of him at the edge of the hill watching a hawk, listening to the crickets, donkeys, roosters, televisions, radios, buses, all muffled in the distance. The valley seemed occupied, exactly that, as chaotic as it must be. A miracle we survive. In the hills, in the silence, it seems there is at once hope and no hope for those below. The valley of life and death.
I took a bus down the hill back to the Zocalo, ate a fancy lunch. Soup and bread and chicken with mole (like a thinner darker roux). Alejandro the lime juggler sat down and talked. He juggles for his mother. A man came up in a thin yellow buttondown shirt, thin long red pants, stood in front of the table, extended his hand to shake mine and held on strong for too long. I didn’t know him and scanned my memory to place his face and couldn’t. He was obviously drunk, trying to focus by closing one eye. Said he loved my legs. He looked like he was Italian but then said he was from Jupiter. Then from Israel. I said burakatah adonai. He said I was so pretty, kept trying to look at my legs. He raised an arm to salute two blond girls walking past, jumped up and said that I was shy and that I should show my legs. I told them in English I had no idea who this guy was and apologized, indirectly asking for help but they left. He said, “Now you hate me,” and then he left. It seemed entirely unreal to sit tired from a huge hike and satisfied with a great meal, sitting with my friend the lime juggler, and to get hit on so entirely and forcefully by a drunken guy from Jupiter. As soon as he left it was as if it never happened.
There have been demonstrators everyday in front of the Governor of Oaxaca’s building. Taxi drivers, and yesterday, a Zapatista demonstration in which they burned an American flag in observance of the anniversary of the day after the Mexican surrender to the U.S. in which six young Mexican soldiers wrapped themselves in Mexican flags and burned themselves. The protest was not against the U.S. itself or individual North Americans but against the cultural and economic imperialism that the U.S represents. Economic warfare is deadly, invisible, slow and always retains the hope that things will get better especially as they grow worse and the people more hungry and the poverty more pronounced.
Last night I dreamt . . . of a hound dog that ran away from me and rounded up, perhaps ate, six cows. I left the dog to roam, found myself in uniform and waiting for or watching a pro basketball scrimmage. More like a pickup game, then they made substitutes and I entered as a forward and played impressively. Rosie was in the stands, then she left, the game halted, in the middle of the court was a long table and all the pros were sitting there in their black suits, talking feverishly. I went up about the wooden stands, stood by the door and asked if we were gonna play some hoops or just sit and eat, they said no more hoops, so I left and walked home. My mother had bought loads of alcohol for my birthday. We drank some, someone asked for a punk rock beer so I gave him a Budweiser then Jeff and Ian and I went to the Lawrenceville tennis courts with beers to play. We were arrested by a Canadian ranger who told us that young blacks were leasing Mercedes and driving around Princeton and I gave him our credentials, the date of my birthday and the tickets were ripped up either by us or by them. Later we were at Lovejoys, they gave me half a pitcher for $3, the walls were painted over, the decorations gone. Somehow we were a few blocks away trying to work the jukebox as if it were a game of golf except we were using a hackeysack for a ball.
The last days in Oaxaca spent writing and reading. I finished the blue notebook and it went well towards the end. Reading “Autumn of the Patriarch” by Marquez, long pungent sentences. I spent time with Mayco, the kid who drew for pesos, just sitting or playing games of flipping coins to twenty. I won the game but gave him the peso. Thursday the 14th I spent waiting for the 15th the day before Independence Day. I met a German/English couple who were going to San Cristobal and needed some grass, we walked around the Zocalo just before they had to catch a bus to San Cristobal—they were headed to the coast to scuba dive or something. So in effect I was on the lookout for the two Oaxacan dopesellers—the only Mexicans with shorts.
I have trouble remembering with any clarity the night before Independence day. A few days before, at 8:30 AM, I woke up with my bed shaking. I tried to lay still but the bed kept shaking—later someone asked if I had felt the earthquake. Over 400 houses towards Mexico City were destroyed; only 14 in the state of Oaxaca. The 15th was unexpectedly sober. The Zocalo was loaded with natives waiting to hear “el grito” or the fireworks, with music, every type of vendor selling huge fantastic chicken quesadillas with hot salsa on brownish tortillas for four pesos. Balloons, hot dogs, Guatemalan clothes, cheap sunglasses, games of chance and accuracy, fifteen foot long “Viva Mexico” balloons and tiny flags and confetti eggs. Drinking most of the afternoon. Camera broke right as I tried to take a shot of an exceptional guitar player, old blind man, sitting crosslegged on a street with no traffic. The camera’s motor buzzed but nothing. Lots of wandering, I bought a 32 oz. Corona from a vinos y licores and walked around with the beer in a black plastic bag. Sat in a cafe, a 19/18 yr old married couple two weeks pregnant sat with me, gave me a cigar, we talked somewhat but then a parade of children marching and goosestepping, police bands, army bands with bugles and machine guns, horses crapping on the cobblestones—then the fireworks, white fire streaming over the Governor’s building, typical explosions in the sky above the trees of the Zocalo with some of the ash reaching the street still on fire. I sat down in the square, a Mexican woman said Hello American boy saying she had an American boyfriend in LA but no more and she wants another and Call me tomorrow we’ll go to a bar where the women dance topless.
I took her phone number. She wanted me to dance with her in front of the mariachi stage between the Governor’s mansion in all the lights. I said sorry. I tired to call her the next day as I waited for the bus to San Cristobal de las Casas, but couldn’t find a public coin operated phone. After the fireworks the Zocalo died down and I wandered off towards some discos and bars east and went into BAR LONDON because I heard a band rocking out “Love Me Do” or something equivalent. The bar tried to simulate fifties nightclub with low tables and black-n-white photos of big breasted sexy blond women and strong biceped shorthaired white men, like an Obsession commercial. A picture of the Beatles, Paul Newman in his prime pulling on a cigarette, every table full. The band seemed composed of not-so-popular teenagers. They broke into “I Was Made for Loving You” by Kiss. I broke out into a demented smile, leaning against a wall disbelieving as the shaggy bearded thin Chicago Bulls shirted singer hit the chorus. Hey Jude. Get Back. All the favorites. The tables singing along. A Mexican kid straight out of Blue Velvet asked me to join his table—then I had to stay for a beer, already sufficiently drunk with the weed I had eaten fully in effect. Took 45 minutes for the beer. The conversation was forced but I was is “in awe.” The objects of desire—these were those who strove for or bought American cultural stereotypes. It is not always a question of American exportation, it is also welcomed and imported. One man’s cultural crap is another’s relish.
I left thinking about how the Blue Velvet guy had mimed a square to describe the place; he was from Mexico City, presumably much cooler. I left, walked back through the Zocalo, a kid around 15 was playing an out-of-tune Spanish guitar, a “D” chord over and over. I passed him then double-backed. I asked if he wanted me to fix the strings. He said “no” and I laughed as if that were the crux. Outsiders’ interpretation of the situation and their ability (arrogance) to fix the problem. Mexico will never be independent if it relies on six-foot tall gringo tuning.
Spent the next afternoon with Mayco sitting in the Zocalo waiting for a seven thirty bus, doing multiplication problems, ABCs, etc, and two Austrian women from the same hotel as mine came up and admired my boy Mayco. I said he needed a new friend since I was leaving, but they were leaving to Villahermosa at seven. One woman had short cropped hair, glasses, a white tanktop and impressive hard-nipple/no-bra breasts. She made some jokes, looked at me strangely. I said I’d show them to the bus station, they got their bags, and they wanted to go to a panaderia to buy something for the trip. I bought a piece of wheat bread and an old slice of chocolate cake with coconut. The clouds were dark blue after sunset. They gave me their addresses and a friend’s address in Costa Rica.
The busride to San Cristobal started off so hot and winding, sitting in the second row, the windshield showing you the curves and the near collisions. Two British in front of me—one quickly got sick, although on Independence Day he was crowned an honorary Mexican toward the end of the night after being kicked out of a bar. He was surprised he did not come home with a Mexican wife. After about three hours of sweating and curves and then intense air-conditioning, the bus stopped. I smelled a cigarette, ran off the bus, puked a mixture of chocolate cake and wheatbread, bought some water and sat recovering with the English guy and his girlfriend, Dex and Andrea, and a German woman in tight white pants.
The last of the ride somehow passed. Somewhat deliriously we arrived at the station in San Cristobal, gray morning, the German woman had a guidebook so I spoke to her and we searched out the center of town. I followed her to a hotel. She wanted to get one room so it’d be cheaper, they only had a single bed then or later they’d have other rooms, so we waited awhile, got a room, chose beds, then went around the town, to a loaded market with meticulously stacked potatoes and bananas, every variety of bean, roots and herbs, live chickens that men took in their arms through the market. Ate breakfast in a French-owned gingerbread-like restaurant near the central catedral. Karen, aged 21, hailing from what used to be East Berlin. Now I had a companion with huge green eyes and the tightest buttocks ever.
We went to an indigenous village called San Juan Chamula. The ride went though the hills around San Cristobal—outside the city’s center are shacks with a few feet of land each like suburban neighborhoods only on a much smaller poorer scale. We reached Chamula, where it is forbidden to take photos of the church or the rituals inside. The town consisted of a scattered ebbing market with lots of roaming dogs and radios, basketball shoes for sale, a whitewashed colonial church. Inside, thousands of candles on the floor in spaces cleaned of the pine needles which covered everything else. Rows of glass cabinets along the walls with plastic statues of Jesus and saints in front of each hundreds of candles. The rituals are performed with candles, chanting in a voice beginning loudly then descending on each monosyllable in depth and loudness, bottles of Coca-Cola or Penafiel or just clear jaras of alcohol, kneeling drinking chatting. In one case a whole family lay on the floor in front of candles. The oldest woman held a rooster and swung it back and forth in front of the candles. She held it still on her stomach with its neck erect at a 45 degree angle like a poultry penis. She broke its neck as an offering to Jesus or whatever mixture there was after the Spanish introduced the Lord to the indigenous culture.
We sat in the church for an hour taking in the incense, the chants, the candlelight, sitting in an respectful seat towards the front. There were no pews, no service, no preacher, all individuals but done as a group within the same setting. Alive with prayer and with a mass spirit conjured by the chanting, light, smoke. Outside the sun blared, firerockets popped, we climbed a dirthill though the fields and the neighborhoods and sat on some concrete over a cornfield. She said it wasn’t fair that I made her feel like a beginner in English just because of my accent. There were hundreds of butterflies around a fence. Gray clouds, blueskies, poverty and beauty almost inseparable. The beauty would disappear behind a Ford truck and a satellite dish. We sat and two drunk indigenous guys in ritual black wool garb staggered up and one asked me over and over to buy him a refresco but using an Indian word. The other in white wool held him back and shook his head, no. The sun was directly behind their heads, afternoon. We sat, they stood and swayed. The overly drunken one had the flat inward stare and mumbled about a refresco, then turned on his friend who tired to push him along the road. His slow punches were enough to set him off balance. He fell and I picked up the other’s hat. We went back down to the hill toward the pueblo center. I looked back and the drunk in black wool could not be seen, only his hat—it seemed he fell in a ditch. We walked down. Karen sold me a ring of grass for a peso like street kid. Comprarlo. Un peso. Three dogs ran at us barking then stopped to watch. We both walked as if dazed by the beauty and lack of sleep from the overnight trip. We went to another lackluster indigenous town, kids were playing basketball, Karen ate corn, then we went back to town, we talked for awhile—I was delirious and possibly entertaining then I went to sleep until almost midnight when Karen came back after a nap and a margarita. That night I dreamt of basketball and feasts and bloodhounds and cows and alcohol and tickets and next morning we went to Semidoro Canyon by bus.
We bought a nudie comic and I translated. We had good chemistry and a definite attraction—she wore short shorts skintight with orange, red, green, and yellow vertical stripes. The sweat on her legs on the bus was enough. We drove though the mountains like we were falling through clouds with the valley a mile below. Vultures. Mira.
At the dock of the Canyon river we waited three hours for 12 people to show up to fill a boat. Twelve never did. After an hour of waiting and talking of East Berlin before the wall came down , ten Mexicans showed up in a combi, studied the map of the canyon, walked in circles in front of the ticketbooth—then left. Still there were two. She said that democracy brought freedom but with freedom came problems—that everything was not structured and arranged. Everything was taken care of and now most that was gone. We compared democracy to our decision to try to get to the canyon without the tour for ninety pesos. Without a sterile tour we had instant adventure, and so sitting in the family restaurant on the river with the sun reaching around four, we hesitates making other planes, even just sitting there till sunset and getting drunk; I sang Prince songs slowly so she could hear the words, a couple with a driver showed up, then a combi of two more couples, so they’d take us for 45 pesos each. The boat had four benches and driven by a sandyhaied 20 year old manning the outboard. We said it front. He pulled it into the river downstream, did a circle then coked., picking up a girl in a Mickey Mouse longshirt. We bounced quickly downstream, down the canyon with walls at least 300 yards high, sun getting low to make the light perfect, a man working on a hydraulic pump waved towards the back oat a crocodile moving into the water, floating then going under. We went into a small cave supposedly filed with sleeping bats. Another cave lined with pink rockwalls and a twenty foot above river altar to the virgin only reached by a ladder that seems impossible to reach anyway And so much garbage, gasoline, and a plastic bottles collected in pickets along the river at the site of the pink walls, there was a deflated basketball floating among the muck.
Further down there were more crocodiles but smaller and quicker or hide in the water The views of the canyon as we followed a curve and the lights ashore across the let wall of the right leaning along a ceiling of sunlight above, Further, a 2000 foot waterfall, probably longer, that was shaped like a Christmas tree. I told Karen, “Tannebaun,” that waterfall went over, or somehow constructed large algae-covered leaves that fanned over towards the water. We motored under the mist of the falls. The Mexican tourist behind me with his video camera muttered “La Cascade de Navidades,” and his wide looked at her two fried fish. She couldn’t manage eat on the boat Each turn was more impressive—it reminded me of Yosemite if it were flooded or any isolated spot, but still the driver zig-zagged around sheets of oils and garbage. Finally we hot to the end, an electrical powerplant farm—the 2nd largest in Latin America, the 5th largest in the world. These were only a few towers, nothing like Niagra. An island close to he dam had a hundred birds circling its summit and it’s woods lined with pelicans and cranes. On the way back we raced a white heron. I watched the clouds, no more crocodiles, we returned to the restaurant and we got a ride back to San Cristobal. Karen sat in the seat in front next to a couple from the Netherlands; I sat next to a couple from Madrid. The hills in Chiapas are like overgrown shrubbier jutting straight up and narrow and the roads wind around, the stars came out, first Venus, with two pink strips from the just–set sun reaching all the way then more and more stars. The Milky Way and a shadowy hint to all the other stars beyond the few that are seen in the valleys or the areas with so much light. I felt I should have names the constellations. One was a group of small stars forming one half of a hallmark-style heart. The ride was free, more of a hitchhike than getting a combi. We ran back to the hotel through the town to get warm and get our legs breathing, Karen said she wanted to get too drink. We wound up going to eat and then to a hippy caribe bar with posters of the Doors ad Marley and then a Latino band opened with Santana’s “Samba Pa Ti.”
She said in Berlin she and two friends spend hours preparing to go out dancing and I laughed thinking of her American equivalent. Told her about Austin, about the lack of love—loneliness. On the way out of the bar she spoke of her need for love and fear of being alone. She seemed she would cry. Over the two days we’ve done everything together in a blurred way mixed with honest exhilaration of the country, situations, mutual attractions. So typical me shy sat in the courtyard of the traveler’s equivalent of Melrose Place with Italians smoking reefer and Germans drinking Tecate and all bohemian and beautiful, and sat out beneath a thatched table,on plastic chairs, she beneath her sleeping bag, watching me shiver and shake my head almost as an act—she said you are a little stupid so we started kissing. A few seconds before she said I had two options to cease my complaining about the cold: go to bed or get a blanket. Ah . . . the third. Back in the room I pretended to go sleep in my bed then she made me move to her larger one and awkwardly we kissed but then stopped. It felt odd. She said she felt for me as a friend more than a lover. So I laid back and listened to her. Pretended to sleep, knowing that we’ll fool around, feeling her hand move to my stomach then further, then moving around my chest and stomach, then her lips slowly quietly just sitting on my lips and her tongue wetting my lips and tongue running through my mouth but all slowly and slowly I touched her side and moved around finally to her breasts with nipples twice as large as the actual breast part. In the morning more of the same, I got a condom on and came into it as I tried to work my way inside her. She laughed at the phrase “sorry I blew my load so soon.” But regardless I decided to go with her to Palenque. That day I talked to my parents, bought a $60 camera, and took the long five hour winding road to Palenque. It’s like an overnight trip. We sat together once it got dark—wonderful way to endure travel by bus. Palenque’s a strip town in support of the ruins. We had dinner, or she did, I drank two Squirts and some of her quesadilla and spoke of relationships. I told her about Leah and Rosie and how Rosie was in the basketball dream. In the bus station the day before she told me she dreamt of a boy in her elementary school she wanted but never fooled around with. This night she said she did.
We went back to the hotel. Took showers, whatever, went to sleep, fooled around for an hour then when I was thinking about sexin’ she was thinking about being faithful to her new Berlin boyfriend. I moaned and turned my forehead in her breasts and we eventually slept to love it up in the morning.
Palenque was the same except not cloudy and therefore not as mystical. The jungle did not hang in the fog. We sat around the ruins playing games then went off into the jungle. There was a waterfall with the same sort of structure as the Christmas tree falls and we swam in the deep pool at the fall’s base. There was a small cave right behind the falls where it hit the water. I sat there like a jewel in an oyster or a toad in a larger toad’s mouth. Everyone left, we changed clothes naked next to the waterfall. Walked around more thorough residential ruins, then heard a roar out in the jungle which scared us enough to hurry back to the main ruins. The roar came from back toward the waterfall where an older possibly lesbian couple were getting naked to swim. I wanted to find the jaguar but decided against it. Karen thought she heard a shot but it was just someone cutting wood. A guard said there were only medium-sized monkeys. They sound to the New Jersey ear more like jaguars.
We exchanged addresses in the courtyard of the main palace. Kissed, then I bounded off down the ruins, back to town, got my bags, again walking by myself, got some food, got my ticket and waited. She showed up and we said goodbye again although it was somewhat anticlimactic. I got on the bus, ate some marijuana and quickly felt glued to my seat, to a steady stream of positive memories, sleep, San Cristobal, where, walking the streets back to the same hotel I felt a little cynical of the four day love affair, its manner, its ease, of Karen and especially myself. Why did I want her? Because she appeared right after I threw up, not like I was looking for her, we took to each other for companionship and security. I made her laugh in full-goof mode and she made me drool whenever she moved. A positive exchange—not so much a meeting of consciousness but of shared experience of Chamula and Semidora, Palenque, etc, mixed in with a nice love affair rather than sitting in a Guatemalean pizza place digesting pasta and tea. I heard a remix of Funky Town. The ride from the border to Huehuetenango—a ’78 Bluebird midwestern school bus from Iowa with six Guats in each bench. The front decorated with Dios y Jesus stickers. At one point the road had collapsed into the river. We went around off the road to the left. The river through the mountains was muddy and rapid. The bus driver’s helper kicked the shit out of the guy next to me on the bus who lied about having paid. The liar threw fruit at him from his bag. You can tell right away the difference in wealth between Guatemala and Mexico. The roads around Huehue are hardly roads at all—the taxi driver said all the money’s in the mayor’s pocket. Welcome to
Huehuetenango, Guatemala 9-21
Todos Santos. Two point four thousand kilometers in the mountains, thirty kilometers from Huehuetenango—a three hour busride in second gear, dirtroad falling off into a cornfield, three to a 1973 American bus seat, natives of Todos Santos in red pinstriped pants, white embroidered shirts with huge intricately designed collars, a mother breastfeeding, five tourists, sixty natives, up and up to Todos Santos. Ten thousand people spread through a narrow valley in the mountains, five television aerials, more tied up pigs than limping mongrels, turkeys with long red gizzard poaches, a few burros, a few cows, children saying “hola” and smiling real carpenters working with shaved wood curls up to their ankles, on every point almost a woman on her knees at a loom. The clothes here at the Casa Familia are all labeled with names of those who made them. The hills in front of the patio here are now covered in clouds at 10:30 AM. This morning the light was brilliant but shaded by the bedsheets drying on the line. Supposed there’s a 70 year old American man living here for many months. For just over two dollars with as many warm wool blankets the temptation to stay five or six days is strong and I still may. The view of the mountains makes it almost impossible to get bored, the existence of the hills around me enough excitement, the possibility of a night entirely filled with stars, more points of light than darkness, in the expectation. At night it smells of firewood burning stoves. How am I somehow in the mountains of Guatemala?
Todos Santos, Guatemala 9-23
I’m still in Todos Santos somewhat recovering from an intense sickness, somehow not diarrhea or anything expected but a fever and weakness of limbs, insane headaches amplified by imported Mexican pop music. It’s difficult to say how this sickness came on. I guess I was a little sick or had been sick since arriving in San Cristobal, but I didn’t do anything to make it worse, In Todos Santos I smoked a few cigarettes, unfiltered, with a French guy named Etian. Coughing. The next day was Saturday, market day with hundreds of Todos Santos hipsters walking the dirtroads selling potatoes, yarn, meat, I took a picture of a lamb’s head with blood where the neck had been, shit talkers trying to sell ginseng as a miracle drug. You could play soccer all day then still have energy to go all night! I walked with Etian up to some ruin site which really was just two blackened crosses around a grave of pines and a good view over the town. There’s another East German woman 25 years old physical education. Geography teacher who told me some of the same things Karen did about needing companionship, someone to eat with, fool around with she told me things as I lay in bed with just my head exposed. We talked about drugs, experimentation, because she’s a teacher she has an opinion on 15 year old acid use that differ from mine. We then went to the Comedor Katy for a bowl of soup, which I hardly ate and then eventually threw up in a plastic liter water bottle, the only thing around. Some women —one from Amsterdam, another extremely short Italian/German woman, myself sitting on a bed wrapped in a wool blanket moaning behind a conversation about Kuwait Steph was having with an older man who says he’s been blacklisted in Switzerland in the entertainment business and hails from what was once known as Babalonia. And Katy a 19-year-old lady from Wesleyan who reminds me of Leah, but a little hipper.
Then Adam showed up, a Californian who runs a language school here and some of us went to his house to listen to music. Some rap with the Brand New Heavies, then a Winterland Dead tape from 1972. Steph and Adam were getting drunk talking about Isreal, my bones were aching and it was getting late so I left them to their devices while I wandered back to the Casa Familia, taking wrong turns and almost walking off the end of a path onto some roofs. The stars are larger here. I slept form midnight until two o’clock and Steph brought me hot lemon water and sugar and aspirin and some food later on. Then I spend most of the afternoon talking to Katy. A good friend of her goes to Oberlin and lives in Tank. She slept there.
Todos Santos 9-25
Many days later in Antigua upon rereading I most note that that night at Adam’s he gave Steph a pair of wide wale cords to wear and to keep. I thought that was smooth—to give her pants to wear so he could get into them. He’d be familiar with the zipper.
Somewhere in El Salvador near a lake I cannot pronounce staying for free in the combination lobby/dining area of the Balneario Obrero—the Worker’s Spa. The lobby’s roof slants almost at a 45 degree angle, crisscrossed with red and off-red supports from underwhich bats climb out and head away from the florescent lights above the far wall, which is really just a closed grated iron fence. El Salvador is the next step in incremental funkiness. I’m traveling with Katy. We left Antigua Monday morning for Guatemala City. The road to the city wound just like the road up the Delaware to New Hope. As we approached Guatemala City we passed Merck and Upjohn Pharmaceutical outlets, came closer to the city and passed a real true-looking Burger King, another Pollo Campero, maybe a Wendy’s, at least billboard advertising Wendy’s, and our bus spat its way close to a hotel where we were to meet an Austrian friend of Katy’s named Utlah or something we decided to pronounce like “Utter.” The city’s ravaged with hundreds of school buses spitting exhaust on pedestrians and produce somehow for sale on the sides of the streets opening up to shoestores, comedors, mechanics and finally the Hotel “Descanso de Touristas” where Utter left Katy a note that began a goosechase around the zones of the city. I decided to just get a visa at the border of El Salvador and pass on the opportunity of traveling by bus to some distant zone and then having to quickly take a bus across town. So the 37 passed but we took the 85 around to Zone 9.
The city reminds me Trenton’s worst main shopping steets multiplied thousands of times plus equivalent amounts of exhaust in the street. In New York there’s visible clouds of pollution but it’s all overshowed by the skyscrapers and the rail-thin models, in this city the pollution over the one-story buildings floats over the horizon.
I tired to focus on a few examples of the city to remember like snapshots and can only remember a few colegio students and one with lighter features, freckles, eating a cracker waiting for a bus otherwise all the life blended into what may be a daily misery for everyone. A man in a suit got on the bus, it was full and he hung from the ceiling’s balance bars—I figured he earns the situation he has to deal with. I sat behind the driver looking over his left shoulder seeing Guatemala City in this space, just beneath a sticker of a bigbreatsed pencil-waisted woman on her knees floating in silhouette on the windshield. An crazy old woman sat next to Katy behind me asking if she was married, or did she like her hair cropped like that—finally we got off, got two plastic bags of lime Crush, and wandered around looking for a 2nd class bus station. Everyone we asked knew nothing but insisted on giving some sort of direction anyway usually telling us to get on another bus. We found that somehow we had passed the bus station which we found and which offered a trip to San Salvador for more money then we had. We sat in the office asking to get to the border for cheaper but that was impossible so we bussed back to another bus terminal and got led around by an almost black man in dark tight Jordache to an office that was the same trip to San Salvador for too much so we left and bought some great french fries from a thick-stubbled man in those weird green tie-dyed jeans everyone was wearing, then we got chofered around again from bus to bus, I bought some orange drink, she bought some chocolate and sugar-covered peanuts and somehow we made it to the border in a bus sometimes packed.
The Guat/El Salvador border consists of a bridge after an immigration station with a huge German Shepherd that I petted and didn’t realize was a drug dog. When we crossed, the strap to my pack that been frayed since Spain two years before broke, then I got a visa on the El Salvadorean side—really just my passport stamped and of course the balding man in the polo shirt tried to rip me off or so they seemed in cohoots maybe with the change money man who gave five colones per dollar rather than eight. The officials valued the dollar at nine and took my 100 colones and gave me back ten—when I realized that something was wrong, the official probably hiding somewhere, they were gone and as I explained to the change money guy who seemed on my side he made frantic calculations. A vast difference between the values of the dollar and finally a balding poloshirted official appeared and we haggled and just bitched that we wanted to pay the entrance fee in dollars, finally the change money guy gave me 45 more colones so I wound up paying out my ass but forget it—always have exact change in dollars at the El Savaldoran border!
Then we got a bus to some town with the two driver’s helpers fighting in the aisles almost for our show on either side. We jumped off on another bus with stickers half way down the aisle and a blue revolving light towards the front, and music which the guy next to me said was prohibited due to old El Salvadoran ears. The driver floored it. A volcano out the window, towns with churches, growing herbs beneath shaded structures. We got to Santa Ana and everything was dangerous after dark, or so a woman said. They’d stick you with cuchillos. We ate Pollo Campero burgers and had just enough colones plus 5 centavos left over.
Santa Ana, El Salvador 10-3
Today’s my one month anniversary of traveling. I’m staying at the Worker’s Spa in La Libertad, El Salvador. Now we have permission from the Ministerio del Trabajo who is really just a well made-up secretary on lunch break more than willing to type up and white-out a permission slip. I got a slip for El Tamarindo in the Eastern coast as well for about a week from now. San Salvador was bombed in 1989 by U.S. supported planes and suffered an earthquake in 1986. It seems that in the ruins of the city they built up fast food restaurants. I suppose restaurants like “Biggest” and “Cakes Helado” are examples of democracy’s victory in the late 1980s. In Santa Ana we went to a Ropa America store like a clothing thrift store. I got a light blue soccer shirt, #37 of course, of the Immaculate Conception Crusaders. When we left Santa Ana to the lake, as we lugged our packs around the market, a man forcibly shouted “Fuck You” in my face then went off. There are no tourists here and we’ve been generally treated well, we’ve been continually warned that IT —whatever it may be— is dangerous. The ocean, the road, the town.
I’m sitting at a restaurant with thatched / corrugated iron roof twenty feet from the surf: the restaurant owners, a family, are lounging in the sand in a hammock. The Spa here is expansive, with a clean pool, basketball court, our room has six mattresses with every possible excretion. Last night we sat at this same restaurant at its concrete tables that won’t wash away in the high tide, ate fish, and drank lots of beer. A drunk fisherman named Haroldin Gonzalaz harassed us with an allegory something like “I’m a gray fish, you’re a red fish, now I’m a red fish, you’re a gray fish.” Then he talked about sharks and blood (gray and red?) and kept asking if we understand. I think he meant the difference between an El Salvadoran and a US citizen but never went so far to say he’d cut us, but then he said he’d catch a shark and bring it to the restaurant. Eventually he got annoying and we forgot how to speak Spanish in time to watch the sunset along the coast since the waters face south.
This morning we went down the road by bus to a surfing beach that supposedly has the best surfing in Central America. We had to cross a stream that quickly led to the ocean and sat around the small blackstone beach for awhile practically swam back across a deeper part of the stream, along the beach where kids collected large stones into piles where the truck waited. A beer truck had crashed on the side of the road and attracted a good size crowd where we passed early and still later on. We walked the grounds of the Club Salvadorean with perfect landscaping and a beautiful pool on the ocean that was as empty as the shining hotel—only on weekends did people come from the capitol. Today’s Yom Kippor but I’ve already eaten. One of these days I’ll have to reconcile my week and half in Guatemala—the tourism, the rain, my sickness, etc, but not now.
La Libertad 10-3
Two nights ago in La Libertad, Katy and I went to the nameless beachside comedor to drink orange soda and watch the sunset. We sat awkwardly in the sunset. We sat awkwardly in the hammock facing the water. A gringa and her Salvadorean boyfriend had a cooler of Pilsener and pulled a table out into the sand to take in the breeze and the sunset. Her name was Michelle, from Denver with dyed hair showing brown roots, rings, painted nails, sort of dumpy from the waist down. He’s lightskinned, shorts, shirt tucked in and neon yellow aquasocks, a pilot of TACA airlines, and a native San Salvadoran. They had no opener and I used the lighter she lit her Benson and Hedges with to force open their bottles. They offered me one—I accepted. Clouds came in from the north, in the distance, practically storm clouds, threatened to cut off the sunset but then only heightened it as the sun found faults in the clouds and illuminated higher clouds with orange and red. The TACA pilot noticed an opening in the clouds and fantasized zooming his jet right through, penetrating the storm clouds through to the sun. The American woman, Michelle, had lived with Carlos for two years in Belize and hated Belize City, the open shit-smelling aqueducts, the belligerent blacks that stank, but the coast—palm trees and whitesand. She imported Kool Aid from the U.S. and spoke horrible Spanish. All he really needed to survive was cable TV. The wind picked up and blew two napkins down the beach. He ate a soup called “conch”—mariscos and tomato with lime, chile, and Worchestershire. I asked Carlos about the 1986 earthquake—he sat watching TV waiting for the bus to school when everything shook and his main concern was to save the wobbling television. He stood and acted out the scene turning the beach into a fluid surface and conjuring the T.V. about to fall to an expensive end. Afterwards after a time the power returned and he saw the images of disaster downtown—leveled buildings and bleeding skulls. He smelled alcohol but ignored it, then it became unbearable so he walked down the hall to find his father’s expensive and exotic wine collection smashed and figured he’d be in trouble. The effects of the ’89 bombings were not as dramatized. His family lay beneath their long mahogany table with mattresses on every side of the table piled on tope. His mom would run to the stove and cook an egg, then dive back under the mattress-covered table. Twelve years of war—poor Carlos lost his childhood. His older brothers had 70s disco and afros but he could not go out at night. He had no childhood nightlife. Not even the son of the CEO of a national distribution company could have an enjoyable time during wartime.
He spoke poorly of communism, how it hadn’t worked in Nicaragua, Soviet Union, Bulgaria, only in Cuba and China. He mentioned nothing about U.S. influence of military interaction which supports the minority to which he belongs. Katy mentioned socialism and the former president of France. Michelle said “this all sounds political” and asked if Katy went to college. To change the subject they suggested going into town for some puposas, but I had no shoes and no desire to hang with this couple. Still we paid and left for town in their compact car, trying not to get too much sand on the floor which they said they’d clean. He stopped at the bridge before town to ask a man with a machete where “rica pupusas” were and there we went. The pupuseria wasn’t filled. A man sat in a USA tanktop. Carlos ordered five, the rest two and I had my first puposas: maiz torillas stuffed with pork skin and cheese. We loaded them with salsa; the American woman used a fork, which is not done. Somehow they began to talk about guns. About black powder-and-ball guns. About their mutual love for guns. Carlos said there was nothing like watching the fire explode from an automatic and the steady kickback on your shoulder was a sweet massage. Carlos’ uncle’s a military man and last New Year’s he brought his M-16 to the party. Michele didn’t know she’d get a chance to fire it and so was trashed on beer when the uncle invited her to the roof, pulled out the automatic, fed it a magazine and allowed Michelle to unload the clip into the San Salvadoran nightsky among all the blasts of firecrackers and assorted pistol fire. She said probably not too many people got hurt although she realized that a descending bullet would eventually reach “terminal velocity.” Carlos asked if she closed her eyes when she shot the M-16. Michelle returned: “Do I close my eyes when I have an orgasm?”
The next day it rained most of the day. I went to town alone, ate some fries, walked the pier, watched a surfer with a white helmet take the easier waves all the way in, called home and left a message (from El Salvador!) and bought Katy a fifteen colone bottle of wine for her 20th birthday. I got some crayons made in China and drew a sun and a happy birthday on the brown bag they put the wine in. Later we drank at the nameless comedor and the bottle turned out to be medicinal wine with a dosage on the label. I wanted wine from El Salvador and got shit that tasted like toothpaste created in a lab to increase strength, stimulate appetites, and help women in childbirth. We met an older tan-wrinkled woman from San Francisco who took shelter from the rain beneath the thatched roof. Her name’s Kim with a black-and-orange neutered lab/pitbull named Otis—the locals notice his lack of balls first, she says. She’s driving to Honduras and we’ve arranged to meet her in Santa Rosa de Lima in a few days. The day before at 4PM on the beach a man came up to her and asked for a cigarette. She gave him one, got “bad vibes,” and walked down the beach away from him. He reached into his pants and pulled out a long pistol. Kim and Otis ran for their lives screaming. She was afraid he’d shoot her dog. She told the police and they said you shouldn’t be alone on the beach—it’s very dangerous.
Perquin, El Salvador 10-7
I wrote the above in Perquin, El Salvador, the former headquarters of the FMLN Revolution and now the sight of the commemorative museum. We left La Libertad around eight for San Salvador, spent a few minutes in the capitol changing buses, crossing the street several times to get the right direction to the Terminal del Oriente. As usual, the moment we sat on a bus it pulled out of the crowded produce-filled bus terminal and left for San Miguel. I can’t remember much of the ride besides a few passing volcanos, especially the non-dormant San Miguel volcano which last erupted in 1976 and dominates the landscape of El Salvador’s third largest city. We spent about three minutes in San Miguel, changed buses to the north and met a Peace Corps volunteer from Wilmington Delaware wearing a faded Braves cap and a trimmed bright red mustache. He was heading up in our direction so he could be something of a guide to the “wartorn” north. We stood in the aisle hanging from the roofbars most of the way as the bus dodged a full herd of cattle heading towards us down the road. As we got further north the bus cleared out some. A blownout bridge was being rebuilt, financed by the Japanese government (A lot of Toyotas are produced in Honduras). The lands to the north at times seemed reminiscent of Chiapas with hills projected thinly straight up like hedges. Mountainous and deep in the distance the clouds covered some of the San Miguel volcano. The road lost its paving at times especially as we wound to the end of the road at Perquin. A plaza with a mural showing Oscar Romero, the priest who was assassinated who said “el pueblo es mi profeta.” We found the museum, a few buildings with fotos and bios that was about to close so we went off to the one hotel just out of town as the sun set. Mountains, rough cobblestone roads, a black dog in the street on its side with its eyes open and its stomach still. We walked down the hill making dead dog jokes. Got to the hotel. It cost 30 colones each and Katy said to the owner that it seems caro but the woman had a monopoly and a clean room with nice bathrooms and no running water. We ate puposas in town at a comedor, all the kids sat around watching the Saturday television show, something dubbed from the U.S. They’d leave and kick the dogs on the porch where we sat. Later Katy and I lay in my bed talking shit about Spain. How they stay out until morning and she said she sometimes hated these people who showed her no respect ripping her off with gringo prices and asking her why she cut her hair like that. Next morning she came into my room with the bunkbed and asked how much money I had—if I had enough to pay the hotel room because she somehow was robbed last night of 100 colones. I wondered when. The night before, in the barnlike, practically open-air lobby about 15 men sat around a 10-inch black-n-white television drinking. As we stayed up talking I could hear them going loud and late at night as I itched my thousand bites on my back and stomach. I heard a man hacking up his stomach somewhere in the building. The hotel owners left the keys in the doors of the vacant rooms which apparently worked just as well in three or four locks. Katy thought maybe they broke in while she slept or while she was in my room. Super compassionately I said I had no respect, or actually—that she deserved it if she was robbed while she slept and then I reminded her of how she questioned the price of the only hotel in town, especially in a town which fought unsuccessfully and mortally for 12 years against those with money that enjoyed North American support. We as North Americans waltz in interested in the history and the war and fight for a better deal than just over three dollars a person for a clean hotel in the mountains of Northern El Salvador! She said she hated me, which had become something of a running joke aimed at my security-destroying and generally biting sense of humor. We keep making jokes about separating on our solo ways at Trujillo. We’ve traveled together for over a week now across El Salvador of all places so we’re sort of bonded together but I need to travel alone for awhile to get my head together (whatever that means). Some more reflection rather than just very pleasant, ridiculous chatter.
The next day we went to the museum and read bios of companeros who fell in combat, checked out the AK-47s, the flags of nations in solidarity, the equipment from Radio Veneceremos, the two destroyed helicopter remains. One testimony told of the town of Mozote in the early eighties. It was written by a woman who as a child was told to flee her town with her sisters to the mountains. Her mother refused to leave her home. From the mountains they spent the night in vigil and at eight AM they heard gunfire and screams as soldiers entered the town. From the mountain they saw their house burn. A messenger said their mother was dead and they spent five days without food on the mountain for fear of patrolling soldiers. In the aftermath one thousand people were killed including children who supposedly were tossed in the air and caught on bayonets a la the Holocaust—the favorite pastime of mad soldiers. International groups lately have been inspecting the town, digging up mass graves which include the remains of children. The U.S supported the military that did this. Covert operations. The U.S. people just don’t know its county’s role in Central American life since the mid-1800s. How William Walker and 56 men took over Nicaragua, was disposed and deported, then returned attacking Honduras with a motto of “5 or none,” then was executed in Trujillo on the coast, where Columbus first landed, and where I may be by nightfall.
The bus down from Perquin to San Miguel lasted three hours, most it packed into the farthest back seat that ran perpendicular to the rest and allowed for some leg room, until a hundred Salvadorans loaded the aisle and I held Katy’s heavy pack in my lap which destroyed my ass, while a somewhat deformed bus helper with a wide, hooked nose and symmetrical harelip scars and slurred commands and ran around the bus taking fares. This guy loaded the roof with bicycles he carried up on his shoulders and sacks of grain as he yelled “Avisa Avisa” meaning wait and “Jale” meaning move on!
From there we took a bus two hours to Santa Rosa de Lima twenty minutes west of the Honduras border. The first Sunday bus was like a theatrical stage for the Red Cross, a blind guy with white eyes, an evangelist who started quiet and built to shouts and gestures and smiles. Santa Rosa’s a quiet town. We met Kim and her car to Honduras at the Hospedaje Gomez. The hotel had a crazy woman who spoke crazy English, whose house had been burned by another crazy who fled to the U.S. through Guatemala and left her hearing voices. She later offered us free pupousas. The shirtless owner smiled a lot and offered cigarettes and mints. We played with two month-old kittens. I lost my shit when Supertramp came on the radio.
Next day we loaded in the car early, myself in the back of a cushion lair reading a few pages of each book in the back, especially remembering Kafka’s epigram: “ a cage looks for a bird.” When we got to the border we met a former man from Los Angeles who lives in Guatemala. With a white shirt with a very cheesy, embroidered medallion on the pocket, crewcut, gut, and duckfooted, he looked like an undercover CIA man—and he was. He said he’d killed more men than fingers and toes on my hands in the U.S as a mercenary and now he’s a Hitman for God. He speaks fluent Spanish to save souls. Bought us an orange each. Talked some about the darkside as we prodded him about the Hitman for Jesus thing. After a time of waiting for Kim to deal with the Third World’s bureaucracy to get her proper, and peaking at her passport’s date of birth and doing the math to figure her age at about 36, we drove off into beautiful country in Honduras and by the end of the day reached Tela on the coast in time for a seemingly computer generated sunset over slow waves, mountains in the distance etc . . .
At night Katy and I bickered. I said she was polluting. A boy at the border was playing with a tampon that she said must have fallen from her pocket. She didn’t think it was very funny. I sat full from a one dollar dinner of three tortillas with beans and fried plantains, two Salvavidas beers, and wanted to wait awhile before playing pool but she left, fed up with me. I chased her down, not really, just ran into them at a gringo bar playing the ubiquitous “No Woman, No Cry. Shot some pool, gambled some 50 centavo pieces on a slot machine and won, then lost, then returned to the hotel to read out loud Cheever as Katy read her book in Spanish out loud, then fell sound asleep. Now I’m here in Tela about to go back to the hotel to see what’s up for the day, watching the Caribbean under an overcast sky, watching black Garifuna school girls in white blouses and dark blue shirts and braids. For some idiotic reason I feel an affinity to the blacks more than the latinos as if the blacks are American whereas they are absolutely a distinct Caribbean culture speaking a language consisting of other languages, well, like any language. Just that blacks are a familiar sight which reminds me of home. It’s also interesting to see another culture of blacks rather than America’s. I think I could spend a few weeks along the northern coast and then head south to Nicaragua. I’m somewhat wary of all the earthquake activity in Mexico and Indonesia and wonder if Nicaragua will get hit soon. The sky’s getting bluer here now, nice breeze, palm trees, a couple sitting on the edge of a rowboat pulled up on the sand.
Tela, Honduras 10-10
I’m sitting at the “Rincon del los Amigos,” a semi-gringo, on-the-water bar owned by a Spanish man and a British guy, who on a boat about 8 miles off the coast of Nicargaua, while pissing off the bow at night, fell into the Caribbean when the boat hit an unexpected wave. Depressed, thinking he was dead, he pulled off his Guatemalan shorts for meager floatation support, buttnaked in shark-infested waters. At dawn he saw mountains and realized the long way to shore. Just before sunset, after battling a riptide for two hours, he hit shore at an Indian village where he was revived then flown back to Trujillo. The village runs a boat to Trujillo and they exchange letters, usually the letters he sends to the village contain lempiras or dollars. Now they’re asking John to buy them a cow. He supposes he should since they saved his life.
It’s hard to tell whether holmes actually went through this—the worst thing that’s happened in his life—or if it’s just an anecdote for flavor accompanying his perfect memory of every customer’s name. Kim brought me to El Rincon when we arrived in Trujillo. We were met by Moby Dick, a 70s-something retired Air Force man who supposedly flew 900 bombing missions over Vietnam. Now he’s trying to ease his way into partnership with John since Jose, the Spanish co-owner of El Rincon, is thinking about heading to Columbia. Moby’s missing the front lower teeth between his fangs so when he opens his mouth his tongue slides between his two long canines. He drinks scotch from a floral-patterned plastic pitcher and rides off on a moped with a radio tied to the handlebars.
I bought just under a half-ounce of seedy stemmy semi-wet reefer for the low price of $4.50. Smoked with a guy who said he lived in the Bronx for ten years but speaks sketchily and wonders what season it is over there—Is it spring?—even though he just returned two weeks ago. His partner, Omar, had a Bruce Lee patch on his jacket and a hard-on for Katy. To mislead him, I told him she may prefer the womenfolk. Katy said she would start spreading rumors about me. The Garifuna neighborhood’s where we got out hotelroom with bathroom, working shower, for $2.50 each. Last night reggae blared as we fell asleep with one candle burning stuck to a small table.
It’s great to live in a cool calm black neighborhood. In the U.S. there’s no way a white guy could get a cheap hotel and just lounge around at night around a few thatched huts with turntables beneath. Outside the first floor corridor of our hotel is something like a chained-up anteater, with its longtail and snout. We ate pieces of fried yucca with sugar. It’s like aloe gel that’s solidified with heat and burned slightly. Now within 15 feet is a panting sheep dog with four inches of thick drool hanging from its snout hair. Katya took off for the Port where Columbus landed 502 years ago. Today’s Columbus Day, the Day of the Roots or the Races, it’s a national holiday. Tonight there’s a “battle of the bands” here at El Rincon with two of Honduras’ best bands for free, dancing on the beach I suppose. They expect 200 people. We’ll see.
There are waves of depression and exhilaration while traveling, ebbs and flows, now I’m enjoying something of a flow maybe it’s just finally having a few hours alone after nearly a week and a half with a minimum of soledad. My preconceptions of traveling alone and therefore lonely, writing days away missed the German and American traveling alone and lonely and love to share dinners or just chatter. But then through El Salvador I was glad to have a companion and now in the more tranquil coast it would be nice to waste time in a somewhat productive way. It seems that the dynamic quality of traveling applies to relationships made while traveling—that each friendship should run for awhile and then pass on, maybe for solitary’s sake, but also for the renewed exhilaration of traveling alone and lonely and then breaking the loneliness with the beginning of a new relationship like a new town. It’s sort of a heartless way to think of relationships, egotistical since its focused on one’s own rather than an absolutely shared thing. If I traveled with Katy for too much longer, too much of my trip would be intermixed and become our Central American trail through the Third World as rambling gringos.
Katya I’m the worst.
Trujillo Honduras 10-12
I’ve just realized that yesterday was Friday the Thirteenth. Now the events, the misunderstanding that began around sunset are fully explained.
After spending most of the twelfth alone and writing and somewhat exhilarated afterwards, Katya, who I’ll spell with a seemingly extraneous “a” because that is her name, showed up, drank a Canada Dry as I read her what I had written. I joked that in this journal I had gotten self-critical and she said that’s a first—thinking that probably I was trying to explain away my critical occasions with her, which, due to no self-view of her own, turns around to attack myself. Not one generally to laugh at herself, a mocking criticism has no useful humor but only is heard as an attack. So I wrote “I’m the worst” for her at the bottom of the page and still have something of a dual feeling for her. Somewhat I wanted her to leave if just to mark an end to a period but then before she left I appreciated her company. That night we walked around town, got some good baleadas (AKA quesadillas) and thousands of mosquito bites. Then we went to El Rincon where bands were to play in their sequin suits through microphones with too much delay so between songs when the singer yelled “siguemos” it repeated and repeated. I went back to the Cocopanda hotel with the anteater tied up outside and put on my boots and a long sleeve to ward against the mosquitoes. Walked back with the Caribbean/Latino music getting louder and louder. We sat off to the side, on the beach at a table in a spotlight shining off to sea. I stretched on a bench and watched the band from beneath the table. Ten piece band fronted by a woman shaking her hips that grew out into chubby legs. A drunk man danced like a skinny electrocuted bird in front of the go-go salsa girl. A Canadian dreadlocked guy named Ken who flew to Antigua with hardly any money, but enough to buy a drum, and thinks he’ll get to Chile in three months, came up. He sat for awhile. Katya sat up in her chair with her legs balanced on the seat and smiled but later said he was “weird.” We walked down the beach to the east and smoked the joint. It burned slowly and we really had to pull on it. By the time we got to the small pier the joint was a roach tossed in the sea. I started believing the masses of seaweed in the moonlight were elaborate sand sculptures, thinking that maybe a couple had spent the day raising the sand into exaggerated flailing forms. Back at the bar some were dancing, more arrived. I sat by the speaker, until a power surge slowed a beat and the rest of the band faltered to the end. So the wonderful rhythm was recorded.
Katya and I went back to the room and lay in separate beds with the candles lit, reggae from the Cocopanda hut blaring. We took malaria pills as if it were hemlock. The way she asked “Will you take the malaria pill with me?” made me think of some ridiculous Romeo & Juliet gringo tour of educated fools talking trash rather either fulfilling the sexual tension or talking about it in the open. Instead there was a ritual protection from pests with hydrocortisone, OFF! and oils—I sprayed the gaps in the doorway and around the beds—my cuts burned from scratching mosquito bites. She fell asleep in her boots in what had been my bed and I made patterns and animals with my hands in the candlelight —camels that moved to the reggae. Later, as I drifted, the hut outside played original punta or some techno version with a deep drum that sounded like a super-stylized Honda with its bass on thump.
Next morning we laid around in bed then went to a waterfall a peace corps kid told us about. The corps kid looked like Marky Mark and had a fly girlie; he grabbed his balls a lot in front of her. We ran into John from El Rincon and he took us to the path toward the waterfall in his pickup. The path at times opened to vistas of palm-covered hills and blue sky, some clearings with horses, but mostly it followed a route along a waterpipe through the jungle. A bunch of students passed us, mostly girls. Two soldiers who glaringly said “Buenos.” A gringo who said to his companions that we were going to swim in trash; the kids laughed. We got to the pool as a few stragglers left. The water was deep and icy with ledges in the water to lounge, boulders, waterfalls, palms with vines and a clearing above that let in the noon sun. Another pool above the first, with deeper waters and almost a waterslide but entirely shaded. I told Katya about Ashley Allsup for some reason and the Og-Ogs, the Go Gos coverband. We lounged on a rock about one foot submerged entirely alone like in Eden but genitals covered. As we walked back Katya was attacked by mosquitoes and a thin long green snake darted from my step behind a tree and kept its head up like a periscope out of the growth. Later I heard this sort of snake’s rare and fatal. We hitched back to town.
Around sunset we went to El Rincon for the sun and a few beers and Jose the Barcelonian attacked me for not having paid for two Cokes the day before. He went on about gringos, using me as a representative, a symbol, as a part representing the whole of the U.S.’s evils in Central America, in Vietnam, blaming me for slavery, and even Los Angeles. That the U.S. has no culture. That Americas are worse than Nazis . . . At this I took offense; considered leaving, but then also wanted to wait him out until he sat up and would listen to my explanations. When I began to speak so did he. Finally I got a beer and took a seat out to watch the sun set. In the next bar two kids were fighting and four latino cops were trying to intervene, cocking their firearms, twirling handcuffs. Finally panicking and firing a single shot out and up into the sky. It never seemed to come down in the Caribe. John, the man who swam ashore in Nicaragua, came over a bit drunk. He fell off his chair as it failed to grab the sand, but he didn’t spill his drink. He gave more totally unsolicited advice and networking info. Each time I went back I muttered “Viva Franco” or something similar to Jose who eventually smoked a joint with an annoyingly indeterminate gringo who just loved the whiny cracker voice of David Bromberg.
A situation or event can entirely change a scene: I watched the sunset as the dying of the sun, the Garifunas in dugout boats struggled with their catch to get it back to shore to eek out a living—all due to a misunderstanding about two fucking sodas.
Later back with Katya, depressed both of us in the bigger bed, somehow she mentioned her grandfather the scientist had won the Nobel Prize. For some inane reason I mouthed the name a few times in a NY accent to which she took offense. She said she rarely tells people that and my accented mouthing was inconsiderate. So I mentioned that she must have related when I told her at random times that I knew Harry S. Truman’s great nephew and the son of the guy who wrote “Puff the Magic Dragon.” With this, she left. I stayed in bed not even caring. Then went off partially to find her and partially to salvage the night. I leaned against the railing of a small bridge with two Garifuna kids. We talked about the U.S. and their barrio. One kid asked me how much a truck load of Timberland shoes would cost. I didn’t know. Later back toward the center of Trujillo I say Katya and she asked if I thought what I said was inconsiderate and if I’d apologize, if I had ever apologized for anything. I balanced on a railing post over a hill which looked out over the dark Caribe below. I took her hand, and looking into her eyes, I said, “If I fall off I hope to fall to the left”—the rightside was a long roll down a trash-filled hill. I said maybe I was jealous of her grandfather whereas my grandfather was hateful then interesting once senile but never was he a human rights leader. All idiotic. Myself too insensitive she too sensitive. But then I felt hurt for having been accused and spoken to or my attitude with not even an attempt at misleading humor on her part. I kept quiet, not even thinking, just depressed and considering the constant easy opening when traveling to just take off. But she left this morning after spending the night beneath a ridiculous tentlike mosquito net. Now two weeks of traveling together are over. I’m alone now to spend alone every day. But not like she forced me along; I enjoyed being with her and followed her to the north of El Salvador and even was persuaded to go to El Salvador by her. No I’ve got some time to eat alone and read instead of chatter. Now it’s like inventing traveling over again somewhat. More time. Maybe the malaria medicine’s affected me—I heard it can make you feel depressed. Ha!
Trujillo Honduras 10-15
After eating an okay pizza and playing an unsuccessful game of hoops I walked back toward Barrio Cristales and was stopped by a squat, big-breasted but nice faced woman who asked if I was looking for her, if I wanted to chat. My first thought was that she’s a puta but then I recognized her from earlier, running with a limp on the beach. I suppose she recognized me and had some attraction and wanted to talk. She was 19 and had a girl. Both were abandoned by the father and now she’s in Trujillo mopping the floor at the restaurant where the police had fired on the 13th. She had a room with mice. Her sister dated Jose but they’ve been fighting lately. So she seems bored with our chat. Then she says God doesn’t want one to travel. God wants one to stay put, work, have a wife and kids. Give them everything out of love for them. I said that’s what my father did. Now I want more from life before sacrificing myself to stability—or something along those lines but I realized the cultural distinction of wanting to travel and making a few First World bucks then lighting out to cheaper territories. And the personal distinction of having no child to support and so I feel incriminated by my presence. We walk down the beach. She says she has to be back in a few minutes. We visit another entirely empty restaurant with a guy reading the newspaper who speak English and screws up his face. There’s a “Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black” poster. He’s telling me I should take Rosa back to my hotel room, that she doesn’t have to go cook. We leave and leaning against a wall she leans against me saying that we have to drop off some money at the restaurant before she can go out. I’m hoping that I just don’t understand. But I do. We’ve already kissed for a few seconds until cars passed, so now I’m thinking I’ve kissed a whore. I say I can’t, struggling with the words, the fact, difficult in English to explain let alone in Spanish, that there’s no way I’ll pay for sex, that I just don’t need to, I prefer free masturbation. But still she’s 19 with a kid she’s left with a woman trying to make 300 lempiras a romp to send to her kid. Rejection hurts her financially but if she actually thinks something of me the rejection affirms how shitty her history is and how squelched her opportunity.
Yesterday after Katya left I went down the beach to the west of Barrio Cristales and swam in easy blue water, cows on the beach, no one around. Sometime later I wrote some of a letter and then sat with a few Americans and a Canadian whose dad’s building a house and one of his guards had his eye cut out by a jealous husband, blamed the kid’s dad, and he was deported. A few seconds later, a man came in to us. “My name is Geronimo Diaz,” he spoke with gestures and passion one step beyond rage. “Why you fucking fuck Americans fucking shit no ask permiso of the Indians to celebrating with fucking fuck shit Americans!” It seems he was picked up on a Los Angeles beach at night, drunk, got either a $6000 dollar fine or 60 days and chose the later. He’s pissed that we just come here and enjoy ourselves on the beaches. Granted, my friend, the world’s not fair and I am not the United States. Again at the same Rincon del los Amigos, I’m attacked as a representative of the U.S. There’s an element of danger, Geronimo’s cut, his grip is strong, he’s drunk on grain alcohol—an impassioned speaker who breaks down at the word “tranquilo” and starts hugging you.
The lights later on failed. The whole county’s electricity comes from one dam which sometimes just doesn’t get the juice out to the farthest reaches. I went to the almost empty Cocopanda hut and after about ten minutes spacing out on the candle I offered, ordered a fish, met Marcos a 24 year old Garifuna who’s been drinking. I offer him a beer since he says he has nothing now that his parents are dead, later he says he has a woman and two kids, one by another. He plants grass for cows in the hills and has to cook for himself. He used to be dangerous but now with kids . . . his cousins who left for the Bronx and Brooklyn returned dead from gunshots and AIDs. The fish was incredible with plaintains and cole slaw, with three beers and two cigarettes, it cost $4. We smoked a joint each rolled in normal white paper. On the beach then more joints then he offered to show me his house. We went up that way but ran into a bunch of guys, one of which spoke English well, used to work as a waiter on a Caribbean cruise, bought his dad 28 cows. We ran into a fight, guys throwing stones but in complete darkness. Lots of stars and stoned. The waiter says he doesn’t know why people fight. He says he is a “cool fellow” who doesn’t like to fight. Afterwards everyone’s around rolling joints and finally I’m beyond comprehension of any language, but sort of chilling until I have to get my bearings back in my room while lighting candles.
Today and yesterday after odd experiences on the coast toward town I returned to Garifuna village and appreciated how tranquilo it is with reggae 24 hours and people seemingly happy to be alive, dancing, drinking, a few beers, really smiling and laughing, lounging out by the sea—but I’ve only been here a few days. The 36, almost 37 year old waiter said things here are “quemado” . . . burned.
Trujillo, Honduras 10-15
Last night I dreamt I was on a bus to somewhere towards the south. We stopped overnight at the ruin site of “Comatrono” or something similar. The ruins involved very European architecture, aqueducts, bell towers above arched pathways, a huge plaza reminiscent of Madrid or Cornell’s quad. I took a few pictures. It’s all mixed up. There was an older man who looked younger and said he was Hindu. His family had died 400 years ago, around the same time these ruined structures were created. But a Hindu man has the skin tone of a Latino. Geronimo Diaz said the Spanish only left churches and rocks. The slave trade began around 400 years ago and we were searching each foreign tourist on the bus for a red coin. I understood that we should look for a coin with a red circle in the center. But when I get to the front the directions had changed and the coin that would reveal all the secrets, the now unknown, was a Canadian coin. The red circle represents blood money? And the Canadian coin refers to the kid whose dad built a house guarded by AK47s—whose guard’s eye was cut out for an extramarital affair. Later I sat on the small curb in front of a house back in Lawrenceville with the Hindu man and another. The site was also a bench looking-out over the ruins—he played or held a guitar with no strings. I didn’t realize there were no strings so I said something full-heartedly exaggerated like “a guitar! You saved my life” and began to play a simple blues even though there were no strings. The Hindu man looked amazed and asked how. But then the low “E” had appeared , then the “A,” and I played a shuffle then a churning train engine sort of blues, then the guitar was full of strings minus one in the middle.
Trujillo, Honduras 10-16
The joy of travel no not quite but at least a day of travel and then some San Pedro Sula Friday night diversion. Woke up in Utila. Thought it was a beautiful day—another day to laze and snorkel, sun etc . . . but as me took-a-me mornin’ coffee dah rahn fell to the windah an on me back a now. So me walkame down pah dee buckabeblo bar to dah sidewalk café and so much a rain mon the spider’s webs dey hanged down. So I trying to a take-a-me coffee, lidnin’ to zes Arabic gurl and California boy taka bow de droughts and the muhrdah in LA now and in walk ze gurl from the blue bayou pier I spenda dah day wid widout changing a word. The snorkelin ‘neath the grey clouds wonderful mon, thought I’d drown. Or a cutta me knees on the corel reef but me gotta dah hangadit. Italian gurl really bella bella she said hiya to me earlier and I fantasized in me head goin to ze bayou and meeting her. Butta nudah couple of italianos smoking ganga stuck to her. Bello day mon and me snorkel again when the sun about to set and all the seafloor shimmering a zigzagged light. And deh parrot fish rainbow colored and the brain coral wid the covering like a maze and the red coral shape licka heart wid the purpil tail lika fin comin’ out and four yello fish a decoratin her. In de deepah water like ya flying. I found a plastic rose walking back to town and sang “it’s only a plastic rose, it looks pretty good but it has no nose!” and wanted to present it to the Italian girl but instead passed her and her friends and raised the rose as a toast saying “La Dolce Vita.” Later I passed where she stayed and out of her window Carly Simon sang “You’ve Got a Friend” and in a way she was me muse for a day and a half. Five thousand sandfly bites. A night passed with East German guy, reminded me of night chatting to Ralf, he beat me at chess. Next morning horrible stomachache, really sore from food and drink. Tonight I saw a football game and “Mundos Acquaticos”—Kevin Costner’s “Waterworld” on the walk home a prostitute watched me in a shoestore window reflection and an older stumbling man dragged a machete.
San Pedro Sula, Honduras 10-20
To do justice—the island of Utila is more than just the diver and backpaker’s paradise I thought it would be. The islanders are either white, black, or latino or mixtures and all seem to speak both Spanish and a sing-songy almost British dialect. The British colonized the islands and the old woodfloor bars like the Bucket of Blood Bar are empty except for a table of locals slamming dominoes. One narrow street along the water, another intersecting and running uphill winding past a few nice Victorian homes painted rich blue and hundreds of spider webs like netting against the mosquitoes and sandflies. The road to Pumpkin Hill is paved and sidewalked for a hundred yards then it’s a long walk though the mud with lots of bluecrab holes and long lines of migrating ants carrying sails of torn leaves. I played God with my walking stick and took a few out to see how they’d react. I didn’t get out to the beach. That night I drank Salvavidas with the East German guy I met in Todos Santos, He said after the wall came down he went to Frankfurt to fly to Spain and no one asked him what business he had or why or where and he didn’t know what to do. I wrote on a bar dock called “the Seabreaker” each morning absolutely alone. Such a pleasant day on the Blue Bayou pier just lazy and vibing with La Italiana who I called Della. A couple from Dublin, Korea, England, Italy, and myself. If I had spoken to Della maybe I wouldn’t now be in Comayagua with about $3 in lempiras on a Saturday afternoon. Tomorrow I will be fucked most likely but for some reason I’ll probably just do myself by seeing a movie tonight. While I waited for the boat to La Ceiba I spoke with a 73 year old islander who spent many years in Manhattan working and was worried about getting his Social Security check. Many on the island put in their time on the mainland—The U.S.—and now live on their checks.
Later . . . Seems now I’m financially secure even on the Sabbath thanks to a closet door that opens to a minibank behind a shoestore near the central market with all its watches, plastic everythings. A guy tried to sell me ginseng in English; I said “for the sexual potential!” Bought a too much money teeshit, faded green with white lettering saying I survived the “Hawg Butcher” with a smiling outline of Porky’s head. Later as I passed the Ropa Americana store wearing it the woman inside laughed. Wait til American youth hear about the brilliant finds! Met a soldier from a nearby base, a helicopter mechanic who along with 500 troops probably just sits around waiting to fuck Honduran women. He was wearing a Budweiser shirt, although if the price had been right I may have been wearing an old “Lite” shirt with navy blue trim around the collar and sleeves. Not to mention troops I saw “Crimson Tide” about a mutinous submarine with possible orders to fire on Russia. Of course no nuclear holocaust but still I felt the eyes afterwards on the gringo whose people make movies about the reality of U.S power to destroy the world. These movies come down and possibly say “Yo! There’s a big motherfucking red, white, and blue ghost floating above you and putting cheap tee-shirts in another language on your back.” The coincidence is . .. the dream I had in Trujillo about the coma algo something like thunder, “trono” truned out to be “Agua” and the redcoin—the crimson tide—too far? Now, trono means throne. Eat throne?
Comiagua, Honduras 10-21
Isla del Tigre, Amapala. It rained all night. The 9AM air is cool. The sky’s gray. Reminds me of a trip to the nursery’s greenhouse on a similar day. Bags for last night’s frescos laying around the streets like jellyfish. My breath stank last night of fish and beer as I got woke up by Gerado, a Honduran cook on an oil stand out in the Gulf of Mexico who runs .38 and .45 pistols from the U.S. When he comes back to see his wife Margarita, to carry his wife in off the pier where she lay almost spread eagle, passed out. Gerado had fallen and blood ran down his elbow. Earlier he had busted up his little toe and it seems at least dislocated if not broken, locked his keys in his room and had to bust off a corner of the doorframe with a crowbar, shattered either by accident or force too many bottles of Imperial. Before all that he was robbed at gunpoint of either 500 lempiras or dollars at two in the morning. Long curly hair to his jaws, shaved underneath and sometimes pulled back to a ball, something of a stubby goatee, dark brown skin, Pierre Cardan stylee shirts, Lee jeans, he says, “Holmes, talk to me, so what the fuck are you doin’ downtown Holmes?”
When I shook his wife’s hand it felt like a folded cloth napkin. I figured she was a junkie, frail despite slight chubbiness, baggy face, pallor. For the first hour we all sat around the Hotel’s living room table drinking beer after beer she only said “Give me your eyes” and blew kisses at me. She has a bruise around her left eye in its last days, lots of thin parallel scraps down her left arm, and a huge larger than cigar-sized scar o her right inner thigh. She’s 37 with a 17 year old daughter. Gerado’s 35. The couple came to Amapala with Francisco who they call “teacher” in English. He taught physical education at a bilingual school five years ago. I met him first and thought he was a delivery man bringing in the beers and Coke for the hotel. He was happy drunk, spraying saliva, buying me beer after beer saying “Yo soy yo y no me perezo a nadie!”
Yesterday at this time they woke me up with cries of “Henry!” That’s my nickname. It refers to a joke about a crucified parrot. Someone comes up to the parrot and reads the latin above his head on the crucifix and reads “Henry” and says so Henry how long have you been up there? Henry says 300 years. Why? Because he made a long distance call. Where the fuck did you call Henry? . . . That’s the joke as I understand it. Lost in translation. At 9 AM they knocked on my door and put a beer in my hand and told me to drink it all down. I drank most of it then we spent a few hours in the balcony lazing around, watching the fisherman putting their boats out in the low tide, the Teacher whistling piropos to every woman who passed below. The lovely couple in the X-position in the hammock. A young fisherman in long blue shorts and low-tide clay to his knees held some fish in his hands. They whistled at him and asked how much. Two hours later we had about ten fried fish on a plate, tortilla, lemon.
The island may or may not be a volcano. The view off the nice new pier is across the water in El Salvador the volcano of San Miguel in the distance and another closer and larger on the coast. The sunset right behind the closer one. The island’s 18 KM round—I walked, since the hotel folk said it was only 6 KM around the whole island; on the otherside is a view of another volcano in Nicaragua. Really poor thatched houses, naked kids, walls that are only poles. But although the island seems poor, despite the small naval base, the atmosphere is very tranquilo, people working on the streets at least, There are two Israelis here next door—they say the Gulf War was fun and Kabbalah is black magic.
Amapala, Honduras 10-27
The Hotel Internacional. I have the first room upstairs. Huge windows with no screens or drapes, just wooden shutters. The rats in the walls are bats that come into the corners of the roof and disappear at dawn. This morning Lucy and Irma, 17-year-old secretarial students from the capitol woke me up, hiding behind the opened double doors to the long balcony. Hammock, table and chairs, a view of the pier, water, the San Miguel volcano, a Coca-Cola stand where folks gather to watch afternoon soaps on the color TV. It’s probably almost 7:30—the restaurant outside’s playing Mayan heavy metal—one table still left singing along, drinking beer from Saturday night that’s now Domingo. A few nights ago when Gerado fell, he fell off the pier! The tide comes in and out quickly—now it’s all the way in. At 2:30 AM when he fell there was no water. He bashed his arm and shoulder on the rocks twenty feet below! It’s a wonder he lives.
The joke I now understand: the parrot gets crucified for a long distance call. They place him next to Jesus. Above Jesus on the cross ENRI is written in Latin. The parrot wondering how long he has to stay like this asks Henry how long he’ll be up there? Jesus says, 360 more years—the parrot says where the fuck did you call Henry!
The guy with the huge scab on his temple and “Nothing Butt Racin’” shirt, slanty eyes, calls Gerado Henry now and asks him in English for cigarette. This morning a construction worker, fifty or so went by in a “Bon Jovi Rocks Your Ass Off!” tee shirt. Two nights ago was the anniversary of the Naval Base and the owner of the hotel who doesn’t speak but always carries a portable radio went to the end of the pier at sunset and caught a three foot long red snapper. In the dried scales, held up to the light, you can see the Virgin Mary.
Amapala, Honduras 10-29
Getting on now, a month ago I think I was in Antigua, getting ready to enter El Salvador and now my third day in Nicaragua is about to be capped with a plate of rice and beans. I blew it today when I said my luck had been great the whole trip. I woke up in Maysala, said goodbye to my 19-year-old servant girl love / momma of two—told her maybe I’d be back, wandered around the bus terminal to find no bus to Rivas. I had to go sit on my bags by the highway. Played games with the kids on the crowded bus for the entertainment of a few Managuans drinking grain guaro and chasing it with strawberry Kool Aid-in-a-bag and peanuts. The countryside’s rather flat, almost tropically bland, dry even though it’s the rainy season. Always shadowed by a volcano that appears and as it finally passes out of the bus’ sight another appears up ahead in the distance. Clouds always hang around the peak like smoke so its hard to tell if a volcano’s active or just covered in clouds. Everything worked perfectly since the border. I met a girl on the bus to Chinandega who’s friends with the daughter of the Hotel Chinandega’s owner—the hotel I planned to look for. The city’s streets were lined with stores and homes with warped woodplanks, political graffiti for Daniel! (Ortega). In one wall of rusted and flattened-out tin oildrums a hammer and sickle, FSLN, appeared through all the colors of the rust. In another similar wall after a while I saw a map image of the U.S. appear with Chemicals for America written beneath. Trees they’re trying to grow along the sidewalk are protected by barbed wire wrapped around their supports. The local correros transportation look like bicycle powered ice cream carts. Maysala’s bus terminal has two open air pool table-covered shacks with pictures of topless women on the beams supporting the iron roof. A band of drums and trumpets blared in the meat section of the market. Everyone asked what I was looking for?
Maysala—I took a bus to Caterina, walked through the town to the mirador, a lookout over the supposedly healing water of the Laguna de Apoyo, a little land holding the city of Granada, the northernmost part of the Lago de Nicaragua, a possibly volcanic mountain to the south. Every hill is possibly volcanic. The arrangement of water, land, water, sky, surrounded by hills was soothing, a nice form—all wondrous spots are nice forms. Yah Yah. Then I spoke to my love, the maid, beautiful in a rocking chair watching the door, 19, with two kids of course. Married to a boy who pulls up on a bike and hands her a banana ice cream. She gives me the ice cream, she prefers coco or mango. She’s reading a Jehovah’s Witness magazine that’s been translated into Spanish as well as 125 languages. When Jesus comes down, the earth shall be a paradise. I ask what she thinks of paradise? She says it will be a place all ordered with no malditos. She loves horror movies. She’s seen all the Chucky movies about the killer dolls. We talked some about how things were better with the Sandinistas. She was amazed that I was an only child and I was amazed she had eight siblings. For some reason, well for financial reasons, I took off early for the Isla del omeltpe (Twin Peaks) hoping to find Leslie in her peace corps habitat and maybe get a place to stay for free. Off the busride which pulled into Rivas accompanied by Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” I got a taxi which picked up a nice guy going to the isla. We jumped a ferry loaded with beer and truck loaded with powdered cement. He knew Leslie and took me to her house. She wasn’t home. Got a room for $2, walked around, fended off a silly girl who wasn’t married. Fell into a game of baseball with a tennis ball batted with your fist, only two bases, the field a volcanic blackdust street. We lost the ball to a neighbor who kept it. I tried to get everyone between 5 and 12 years old to start crying, taking salvia from their mouth to their eyes. Spoke to a family, they gave me two oranges. Their two month old puppy slept in my lap.
Isla del Omeltepe, Nicaragua 11-1
On a passenger ship from San Carlos to Granada twelve hours across El Lago de Nicaragua. We left at 4PM. Only one gringo on board. Police in apronlike suspenders walk around but there’s really no stopping anyone from picking up an unattended piece of luggage. I left my backpack with my disgustingly skanky clothes unattended . . . Full moon tonight; sun down, only a few orange spaces between the clouds. In two or three hours the moon will be overhead—full glow on el lago all night.
I woke at seven in Costa Rica and started traveling. Nothing happened besides travel. Finished Grapes of Wrath then forget it on the bus, took a boat up a river in between Costa Rica and Nicaragua—various aquatic birds—heronlike with huge wingspans. Collected Coke cans as fellow passengers finished them to keep the cans from being tossed in the river. San Carol’s immigration dock was sinking, rusted and missing planks—only two dollars to reenter Nicaragua. Mostly one story corrugated iron roofs, rusted, the ship looming, the concrete seawall that probably keeps San Carlos from collapsing mentions el gusano barrenedor which is laid by flies in open wounds then winds through one’s muscles. This may be an odd full moon sort of night.
Costa Rica can be summed up by my last night there in Fortuna, or at the base of Volcan Arenal. One of the most active volcanos, covered by clouds, at night we saw a few spots of lava—the popular metaphor was campfire, but I preferred pigroast. Older American tourists saying this sure isn’t Hawaii. Younger tourists with parents got cynical—“Oh there it goes again.” With binoculars I saw gray lavaflows—sometimes an area of the flow would light up like a dying down piece of coal. But the real highlight was the tourismo. The modern bus with MC Costa Rican guy throwing in more than ample “you knows” and “Let’s say.” The international chatter, the price, the stop at the two dollar hotsprings—all tourists must group together in the lot pool. Myself, and two eco-entrepeuner Americans, lounged in a secluded pool and got real cynical and relaxed and clean. Egotourism is not, or, has nothing to do with eco hotels, tours, or kissassing English-speaking waiters and doormen. Egotourism is Love in the Time of Coca-Cola—it is the preference away from tourists, English, U.S. cultura (expect when it comes to gratifying T-shirts and U.S. jive); it is the sense of discovery, quest—the mindset of the bargain conquistador.
I spent two days with Paul in La Cruz watching rain, eating “Pollo Frito rico rico” sitting in the mirador drinking Superior, talking streams of serious chatter. We went to a disco Friday night which played latino beats, bad pop, and gave away pollo frito. A woman wanted to dance with me. I didn’t understand, at least I said I didn’t. Pal turned her slowly during the slow song. Later we got all drunk at the Hotel Faro with Ronnie who’s girlfriend’s from Illinois. He got seriously searched at the airport when he visited her. He admired the two lane highways, passing lanes etc . . . I can’t imagine living in La Cruz for almost a year but I can imagine Paul there. Then I left for Alujuela, ate salad at a Pizza Hut, dogs barked at me, read Steinbeck in an expensive hotel. Next day I tried to go to Volcan Poas but failed. The taxi to and from the park cost more the $15 entrance fee I didn’t have. And so intent on leaving Costa Rica for the sunny slopes of Nicaragua, I headed to the border but then stopped in San Carlos and decided to see the Volcan Arenal. Pizza Hut, McDs? I think I’m begging to develop a ritual of eating fast food US-style in touristy spots. The translated menus are fun and it seems so risqué. McDonalds was as bad in San Jose as elsewhere but never so exotic. At least the meat’s local.
Now Nicaragua in refreshing. A cauldron of coffee heated on the rocks with wood. People grab wood to light their butts, two dollar passenger boat, crashed in the corridor beneath a full moon, kids playing checkers in a lighted area that’s filled entirely with platanos when we stopped at the Isla del Olmetepe. Huge baskets loaded into trunks by taxi drivers holding them on their heads. A man said Nicaragua’s problem comes from the enslavement of a large indigenous population. Since then there’s been a maldistribution of land. In Costa Rica they just killed off the natives and almost everyone got a chunk of land—ensuring a large middle class. He said simply the Sandinistas were a response that got too totalitarian and paranoid during the Contra Wars but did improve the lives of the campesinos while in power. Thanks Reagan.
Granada, Nicaragua 11-7
For some reason I foreshortened my Nicaraguan experience today. I thought I’d spend about a week in the North Central region but it seems I’ll leave tomorrow for Honduras. It’s really just for the cheap orange juice. Not so many conversations with natives, they seem more skeptical or colder, a few great ones though. I think it’s just that I want to push father along towards or maybe towards more dynamism if just bus travel. Just got interrupted by journalist and a dancer. The dancer’s wearing a strawhat. Both are very drunk. The dancer said he was a “hombre sexual.” The journalist wants to go to Sarajevo. They roll their “R’s” too much and slur. Despite Nicaragua’s wartonness, this town Esteli is bustling with plastic toys, oranges , radios, tapes, shoeshiners, watchrepair, Eskimo-brand ice cream, Delicious-brand hot dogs, everyone selling and people buying. Full-out small-scale capitalism like Canal Street. Saw a kid with plastic fangs; a kite fall out of telephone wires, a guy on a bus from Managua to Matagalpa stared at an article for a least a half hour, maybe he can’t read well or was just zoning off.
Yesterday morning I went to Volcan Masalya. Got there before it opened, got a ride up to the crater on a motorbike from the guard with his automatic rifle strung across the handlebars. The crater spat sulphoric fumes, yellow smoke. Around the otherside you could see the hole—la boca del Infierno! Red-hot heat, no lava. Spent a night with two Dutch women and four Israelis I’d seen four times down the road ever since San Cristobal. Talked about two German women who were raped in Guatemala, another time in the same town the Israelis were robbed and chased a Garifuna through the jungle with sticks. Unfortunately the older Israeli, 23, said the black guy ran through the jungle like a monkey. They worked in North Carolina as plumbers and were traveling in their small posse down to Tierra del Fuego. The Dutch women were heading North from Chile. A kitten with blue eyes sat in my lap. I rolled him up in my shirt. He fell asleep.
Esteli, Nicaragua 11-10
Last night I dreamt of the same hotel but on an island. A typewriter with keys at first like a telephone who various letters for each, then no keys but one still could type. At a table with Katya, Die Steph and Argentine-Dutch guy. Before that Katya asked me why I don’t type something interesting, so I type, on a typewriter with no keys, interesting things can be so bland. Then we’re going over our German words and I say Judenfolk and Auslander Aus and upsetting the Argentine who runs down a smooth hill street, sliding practically skiing in my treadless sandals and cut around through doorways to evade them. Later I bounded down the hill, like the volcano, and passed Jenny from the bakery in Austin talking sweetly with a Californian guy—from Utila? Later we try to go to a wedding but are underdressed. The mother of the couple we don’t know was the hotel duena from Granda. Michael Stipe showed up (always a warning sign) and asked if we had some reefer. I slipped some from my pocket to his hand real-secret-like but if turned out to be green string.
Danli, Honduras 11-1
Back in Tela, spent most of the day bodysurfing perfect waves, holding onto my shorts, until the winds changed and the Caribe got choppy and I realized my back was sunburned. I needed a stint in Tela to relax after three days of straight traveling since Granada. I tried to go to Matagalpa Nicaragua, succeeded but then decided to keep on to Esteli, wrote a good letter to Alex. Next day I tried for the border but didn’t cross until almost sunset. Stayed in Danli, two kids took me to a theater that had been converted into an evangelical church with the screen intact and the lobby tiled over. Met a younger kid who said there was nothing to do but smoke and drink. Nice mountain town, next morning I tried for Valle de Los Angeles, but the bus missed my dropoff and so I tried for Lago de Yagoa. I arrived at an idyllic resort and instead of hitching 7 kilometers uproad to a cheaper place, I hitched back to the highway and got a ride to San Pedro Sula, eating tejadas and sitting on my bags slumped over in the aisle of a packed bus. Saw “Desperado”—a perfect movie to see in Honduras with its stereotypes well played in Latin American culture. Talked to a blackman from Belize who parked and washed cars. He spent 11 years on a banana boat. Next morning I debated then decided to go to Pulpahazak Falls. No one was there, cost 50 cents, intense 200 foot falls, mist and rainbows, dead centipedes at the viewsite rocks, a few orange juice containers. Swam in a pool 100 feet from the falls, the current somehow turned upstream and there was a shallow area in the middle. A Coke bottle and an aerosal can floated around. On the way back to San Pedro, the bus had a flat, quickly fixed, and I went back to Tela. A Garifuna who offered to sell me piedra last time I was in Tela recognized me, “you’re back,” and left his toothbrush and other stuff in a plastic bag with me as he swam at sunset in his flower trunks. Today I spent swimming, reading, talking to a defenseless Canadian woman who’d been robbed the day before on the beach. She’s very cautious and walks like a beaten dog. She asked if “negros” were the squiggy people in NYC. Another man from Vermont, 27, worked in Alaska making cavior for the Japanese. When he goes into the woods in Alaska he’s not scared of bears but moose—they’ll stop in a path and fight for the passage. They’ll beat you down with their hooves. Egotourism is a collection of travel tales like mental postcards to the future. In Thailand the guy from Vermont switchbladed cockroaches with his girlfriend who turned the light on and off to draw them out.
Tela, Honduras 11-14
I suppose the highlight of the day is almost getting arrested for public urination.
Copan Ruinas, Honduras 11-16
And it seems the above was all I could manage to put down. Minutes later I slept with the lights and my boots still on. I arrived at Copan Ruinas around one, got a hotel with the unwanted help of a 13-year-old kid who wanted me to do everything: ride horses, soak in hotsprings, all for too much. The next day around 8 AM he and his friend were sitting on the bridge on the road to the ruins rolling a joint. Alba the 18-year-old maid is not even married. I paid 30, all my lempiras, later changed money, then tried to give Alba the 10 lempiras I owed to pay the 40 she said. She shook her head vigorously, I said “so 30 them.” She thought I was giving her a tip or a bribe to be my evening’s bride. Later I walked around the cobblestone town, bought film at one of very touristy shops with Visa signs, shorts, postcards, well-displayed bottles of purified water. Towards sunset I deliberated then decided to buy a two dollar 1/5 of dark Flor de Cana rum, found a nice perch on a concrete rising off a tailor shop’s porch, read Kafka’s “Amerika,” slipped the rum I hid behind my flannel and chased it with pieces of vanilla crackers. As I finished the bottle my focus slowed when I turned. The sun set behind the hills, a man stopped making a wall for a clayshed. I walked around some, definitely drunken but in control, found a hilly empty lot that seemed to serve as a garbage dump and let loose some urine—halfway through I heard “Hey you!” from behind me but ignored it until I was zipped. Unfortunately I had pissed across the street from the police station. They invited me inside. Four cops set on a bench, one not in uniform but jeans and a denim button down with a small baton beating in his hand. The man who had invited me inside asked if I knew why he had called me in, of course I said and apologized—he said I was pissing in front of the whole town, in front of senoras etc, do I do this in my own country? Yes in fact my friend had the same problem once but the police just talked to him and let him go. What country are you from? Estados Hundidos (sunken). They laughed and now I had them. Passport? No, my passport is in my room at the Hotelito Copan. My number is 150038 . . . uh, that’s all I know. Well, either pay us 100 lempiras or 24 hours in the cell. I said I already paid 40 lempiras for my room at Hotelito, I’ll come back tomorrow and stay the night, is that OK? They laughed again. The man in blue denim with the baton started asking me about racism in the U.S., and I said that I am not the United States, and gave my talk about competition and overpopulation in L.A., Houston, Miami. Then there was a pause. I looked at them extending my thumb shaking it for the verdict. Then backed up against the wall with my arms out like Jesus and said “I am at your service. Ojala that you let me free!” That said that I was drunken a bit, I said only two beers but I weigh 200 lbs so no problem. I gave them the whole story. How I traveled all of Central America now except Panama for two months and for almost a month I’ve been all over Honduras, my favorite. He said next time use the bathroom in the cantina. The man who asked me inside extended his hand. Then said que le vaya bien. Next day I saw one of the cops guarding the main square with a machine gun. He smiled and waved. I showed him my passport from 100 feet away. Next day I paid for whatever sins I’d committed. I woke up a few times in pain and all drunken. I walked to the ruins with a bottle of water, in pain, my stomach sore to the touch. The ruins were perfect in the morning. I shared the ruins with another couple, a number of workers cutting grass and working on the restoration of the ruins, two deer. As I climbed the ruins—not as restored as others but more interesting with areas well defined, others in rubble mostly from the roots of huge trees growing out the sides with vines hanging almost to the well trimmed nice grass—I felt intensely sick, sweating, cramping, mouth like cotton despite the water which hurt to drink, sitting on top of a ruin overlooking the site. Finally I vomited first the water, then last night’s cream sauce for the spaghetti, then a lot of rice which must have come from a shady fried pastel I ate outside Santa Rosa on the bus, then the rum. Walked the nature trail, back to the ruins, the stellae—large rectangular engraved stones—and sat in the shade near the stellas. A monkey walked across the site’s lawn with his tail wrapped through his legs then back and around the base of his tail. He stood on his hind legs and watched me as I approached. A guard told me there were two monkeys that were brought to the site. The other was a white-faced monkey destroying the fronds of a palm. Ruins and monkeys. It’s the recent past and the superdistant human. Ruin sites are really just parks to soak in the ruin. Ballcourts are stadiums, dig? Temples. Tomorrow back to Guatemala for a time to Mexico to Texas. Last night I dreamt Brooke lived in the same house at the back of the Santa Rosa hotel. Stu had suddenly left on a bus. Jen Ghiradi danced in a 70s disco jumpsuit in a table. She was a movie star.
Coban, Guatemala 11-17
I figured out the apocalypse. In the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel, humanity is punished for building a structure to the heavens. They are thrown throughout the world and their tongues speak different languages. Now the U.S. is the modern Babel. All of the tongues are unified in English and with this multinational union under a single language the U.S. was the first to detonate atomic weapons. Remember the celestial force did not want a union of languages because, united, they would overstep their boundaries—build a tower to the heavens, or discover the power to destroy themselves. Many cultures predicted the end around 1000, 2018 for the Mayans. Perhaps the end will come from the land of the original Tower of Babel, from someone willing to punish the west for their union against him. The second coming, the Revelations, Judgment day, Doomsday, 1999 a la Prince . . . all because the nations joined under a single tongue and instead of creating for humanity’s sake created to usurp the power of the natural, the power to destroy.
In other news . . . I sat in a cave with a flashlight and a candle and watched thousands of bats pour out the cave’s mouth all around me. Last night in Coban I saw “The Best of the Best II” a wonderful karate movie—in the gallery, 75 cent tickets. Ate good barbecue in the square. Waked around in circles stepping over these multipatterned-skirted Mayan women who look right through you or try to sell you cheap, loosely knitted hammocks. Hung out and drank coffee with dyed black-haired German woman and a Brown University Peace Corps kid. Among other things he’s studying howler monkeys in the mountains although he’s never seen one.
Lanquin, Guatemala 11-21
Yesterday was Thanksgiving. Hardly the Northeast of the U.S., Livingston, the Northeast of Guatemala, has that Garifuna touch, good music, food, many opportunities to buy ganga, crack, lots of handshakes, where you from’s, women with Pan de coco, dreads, and as in Honduras a relief from Latino culture; in Guatemala, the indigenous. Livingston has more tourist culture than the barrios of Trujillo and La Ceiba, maybe because Livingston is a predominately Garifuna town. The bank’s guarded by a huge Garifuna with dreads to his ass, uniform, machine gun. Thanksgiving dinner—a grilled fish with French fries, a 7-Up and a few beers, Gallos, with two Quebequers and a British Colombian fishing guide who talks incessantly about Zipolite, “Pana,” Antigua—he beelined from Antigua to Tikal to Livingston and now to Utila to dive and maybe get a ride to the U.S. on a ship.
The conversation gravitated around the word “Canada.” Quebec is not Canada say the two identically bodied Frenchspeakers. They’re thick, their breasts are big and spread out by running bras. They wear aerodynamic Oakley sunglasses, and when they get too drunk and high, they run around an almost entirely shutdown town screaming for papas fritas. Getting crazy with the cheese whiz. A bunch of loser Canadians who only speak enthusiastically of sports besides Quebec, beer, and Australia. A Canadian who grew a goat, speaks slang, knows Nas, gets amped to get wasted and then tries to play up anything he doesn’t know with enthusiasm. The three of them sit in the floating dock of the Texaco off the Rio Dulce, legs hanging, drinking Pepsi and Rum. With his back against a pole the Egotourist sips rum soberly but touched enough to revive the Whitman Foundation League out of exactly one year of existent, when the name was founded by Trevor after Thanksgiving dinner in Austin. Talking shit about how Quebec’s loss of their hockey team to Denver, or at least the Blue Jays and the Expos are the beginning of an eventual U.S. expansion for the 51st State. Manifest Destiny North. Listening and sometimes difficultly spitting out a word is Frank, from Portland, who horribly stutters.
Colin, the fisherman guide on Quattro, is a loudspoken drunk. He swings a bottle of water around. Fanny and Peggy are the drunken types who walk out into the distance, lay down to sleep on the street, get up and squat in the shadows. Over dinner they told stories about commando missions to steal something from a friend etc, with no zeal but lots of gestures. Three Canadians to share Thanksgiving dinner. Myself with my head on the table. But what do I expect?
Besides the disappointing Canadians and the intrigue of secession, Livingston’s highlight was another spectacular nature scene in Guatemala. Los Siete Altares, waterfall pools that climb up the river. I trekked through the jungle’s exposed roots, sliding downhill on my sandals, holding a zigzagging system of vines down a muddy slope. I left the Canadians and headed upstream alone cautious of the machete bearing toll collectors who ask for everything you have. Up and up until I stood above a waterfall for 15 minutes trying to calculate the depth, if a rock was just beneath the darkgreen pool’s surface below. Finally I jumped feet first and the water was no problem.
Last night Garifuna kids hung outside the bar that advertised Life Music, one with braids, a Boy London shirt, two others trying to scam some Quetzals from me to buy rum before they played. These three played Garifuna style on congas but sang too quiet. Then a larger older Garifuna with huge dreads taught them each what to play and led them through call and response songs. A woman with a fine booty shook it.
A few days before on the 22nd I hiked 10 km, or eight miles, from Lanquin through winding uphill dirtroads through coffee, corn, and orange fields to Semuc Champney. I hiked with a tall long-haired Holland-born Dutch boy named Olfa, very straight and quiet, well traveled in China, Pakistan, Tibet, and plans to travel this hemisphere for two years. We made it to Semuc Chapney without much talk, sweat, or trouble. Passed a naked boy getting a haircut in front of the house, laughing kids playing soccer in front of a church, the Californian from Utila whose friends were shot in Los Angeles. “Little Drummer Boy” on a restaurant radio.
Semuc Chapney, entered paradise for a dollar. A river roaring and rapidly disappearing into a cave and comes out two hundred meters later. Above the cave are four deep blue pools with waterfalls, jungle all around, hills in the distance, roar of the river, exposed roots from the trees everywhere like swampland, trees on stilts. Forty seven days it took Douglas Jackson to come out to the otherside when he fell in last year Nov 27, a South African. Seven years ago a priest fell in. I sat on the edge, beneath me the water fell down, crashing, took the skin off the rocks probably at 100 MPH. Three hours by bus, two hours on foot, and then three hours at paradise. Beauty and danger. The water was violent. The pools above so blue, diving beneath eyes wide, almost breathing through the water and probably contracting beaver fever from it. Next day woke at 3AM caught a bus hours later, another bus with a nice Italian maid from Guatemala. Another bus with an ex-wetback cook turned fuel-injection entrepeuner. Another bus with a puppy in a box beside me. I got to Frontera and slept over 14 hours and woke up having sprayed my shorts with shit.
Livingston, Guatemala 11-24
Early. Slept in the ADO first class bus station for a few hours after arriving at 1:30. I’ve seen the sunrise the last four mornings—a personal record. The first sunrise: After writing and talking to the folks I suddenly decided to leave Livingston because it was cloudy, still early, and I couldn’t think of much to do besides get in trouble with a young dope dealer. Took an almost empty boat down the river. The driver and the other passenger laying down on the boat’s floor to sleep, leaving the tiller to an eight-year-old boy. I lay on the bow. It was raining. In Frontera I spoke with a German and a 18-year-old who from NYC who got rejected from Oberlin and spoke in a accent somewhere between Frank Burns and Elmer Fudd. They were going to the Finca, a backpacker’s paradise in the middle of the jungle. At 6 PM we bumped off into the Peten towards Tikal. The bus slid sideways and forwards and the driver remained in control. About 11 PM we reached an area where the tracks in the mud were three feet deep and a line of trucks and buses stuck on the side of the “road.” After waiting on the bus in the dark while a drunk passenger with an afro made silly comments, a Pullman luxury liner passed going south—twenty Guatemaltecos pulled it with ropes. The bus spun and slid and seemed about to tip over.
We pushed ours, rocking it back and forth in the mud. It seems a bridge was out. Around the missing bridge or the destroyed road was a mass of confused buses and trucks each in the other’s way. Finally we passed and after a four hour pause bumped on and on until almost 9 AM. A Honduran behind me was trying to get to Belize. An Australian in front of me kept saying “Buenos Dios amigos” too loud. A fat Guatemalan kid asked me about Selene and Ace of Base then fell asleep, knocking my ribs with his elbows. Finally we got to Santa Elena, took care of business and I ate with the Australian guy, named Lee, and then minibused to Tikal. German tourists took zoom photos of thatched houses on the way. Olaf, the Dutch traveler from Semuc Chapney, bought his ticket in the minibus in front of mine.
Later, in San Cristobal de las Casas . . . Slept through a Wesley Snipes movie and a bad sexist Mexican movie about a blond-haired weightlifters. Back at the Casa Magarita, the backpacker’s hotspot—looked into the room I shared with Karen.
Palenque Mexico 11-28
San Cristobal’s bustling and definitely not Third World, not Central America. Although it’s having hard times now (eg, people eating tortillas and salt), the infrastructure, the shops, the attitude remains from better times. People are not used to hunger, eating only tortillas and salt as in El Salvador and Nicaragua. In Central America rarely do people complain of hunger. They’re used to beans and tortillas and things are liveable.
To recap: Tikal. The effect of the ruins and the site is about equal. The ruins rise out of the jungle. From the top of Temple IV, the tallest in the Mayan world, you see three other temples, a pyramid, and jungle to every horizon. I wandered around with the Australian guy, met another Aussie woman who was trying to maintain the celestial grid focusing universal energy to achieve ascension. I asked if she was named Quetzal—the woman who swam naked across Lake Atitlan as a test to see if the world could survive. She was arrested for nudity before she could reach the otherside. She had ripped up her passport because there are like no boundaries on the earth. So the Aussie woman went on about how people were sleeping and then contradicted herself talking about moving beyond judgment. When I brought this up, she said she didn’t care anymore.
I watched the sunset from Temple IV talking to the guard about the possibility of sleeping up there. It started to drizzle but the sun was beneath the clouds towards the horizon and left a perfect arching rainbow from the jungle to the Gran Plaza Temples. I’ve never seen a rainbow touch down entirely intact, and certainly never from a point above it. Watched the sunset from another pyramid which once was the observatory. Talked to an older Englishman who’d been studying anthropology in South America and Africa, then became a banker interested in developmental finance, and is now just a banker. His favorite pianist was Monk. He invited me to stay the night in his room, a two-bed, $40-a-night bungalow. I decided to spend the night inside the ruins. I climbed the temple near the pyramid after wandering back from using my flashlight to show the English guy the way out of the site.
Sat on the top of a ruin called “El Mundo Perdido” watching a few stars, Orion rising, a crescent moon starting down. The jungle dripped. Insects turned. A flashlight showed on a pyramid a hundred yards off. I curled into the fetal position behind a raised area on top. Nothing happened. I rested on my back with legs straight out. Watching the stars. I heard steps on the pyramid, panting, a flashlight. He was running and went past me, off to the side, and ran in and out of the little rooms on top. When he started back down the steps, I was in his light. And of course it was prohibited to sleep inside the ruins site. It was 8:00. I had to leave.
“Oh it’s eight. I fell asleep watching the sunset.” We chatted about things I already knew. He asked some questions. It would cost 50 quetzals. He said in the U.S. you have 5 star hotels, how many stars is this one? I said it’s a very old hotel . . . . A thousand stars. A million, he said. How much? I asked. Sixty quetzals. We talked more about other things. I paid 40. The guards were scared of a “commission” which polices the guard. The commission never came. Freezing and shivering I curled up in a room, and still freezing, I had to take a shit. I didn’t have the time to get off the temple, to squat in the jungle, and so I looked around for leaves, found a plant with large leaves and squatted hoping to shit off the side. It all piled right at the edge and I wiped with damp, prickly leaves that left me raw. So now I’ve excreted abject substances on Copan and Tikal. Perhaps these places have curative powers that force impurity from my system.
I kept shivering harshly. Supposedly the spirits are very strong between 8 and midnight. I passed the time, stretching, doing deep knee bends, trying to build enough heat to fall asleep curled on my side—the minimum of surface area. Allocating pieces of Snickers for energy. Finally I slept and dreamt, waking, marking the time by the position of Orion. Before I fell asleep, in the time when thoughts are free roaming, a voice said “you’re kidnapping me” in English. Later I took this to mean trying to experience the feeling, the spirit of Tikal, the ruins, the jungle. When Orion had passed two-thirds of the sky I left El Mundo Perdido, changed batteries in my flashlight, walked a few paths through the jungle to Temple IV.
To climb Temple IV you hold onto roots that are exposed perhaps because they grow on a narrow depth of soil over the unexcavated of the temple. I got to the top, climbed the ladder, and sat watching stars, estrellas fugaces, only a few dropping bright and slow, most just reflecting or bouncing off the atmosphere. Then I went to the otherside of the top, away from the ladder, so that when the morning sunset watchers came at dawn they wouldn’t see me.
I almost stepped on someone huddled against the wall, knees to his chin. He was from San Franciso but only would speak Spanish. The fog was covering the jungle. We were alone on the temple probably about 3 AM, above the fog. Howler monkeys started as the sky got lighter. The other temples appeared. A few flashlights below, laughing. Finally the sky was light, Temple IV was lined with tourists who made it to watch the sunrise. Two howlers exchanged calls. They’re like primates crossed with crickets—they howl for changes in temperature not anger or sex or territory. The guy from San Francisco brushed his teeth and spat over the edge. We looked at each other each saying was that you? He didn’t pay, he had hid in the brush on the side of the temple. Shaggy bearded, big smiles and wrinkles in his face—cool American kid sleeping on the Temple.
Later I wound up getting a tour of the jungle from a guard who stopped me from exploring by myself. For a couple of bucks he took me around the jungle, some underdeveloped ruins where the poor lived and had their tombs. We found a perfectly preserved monkey skeleton on the path. Maybe it had fallen. We threw the bones off the path. I pocketed part of the skull. At first he asked me if I had my ticket. I said of course, and unsuccessfully searched my bag, pretending I had only come into the ruins this morning to see the sunrise. After two hours of lying, we split up and I eventually found the Australian Lee and made it back to Santa Elena. We found a cheap hotel, slept from 4 PM to 3:30 AM when we woke to catch the bus to the Mexican border.
The bus left at five. I talked to Julio who packs CDs into cases in Anaheim, 12 hrs a day for $5, six days a week. By 11 AM we made it to the river, where the boat cost $23. A Filipino / German woman thought this was thievery. She would never return to Guatemala. A Spanish guy from Madrid bought me a ticket—I’d pay him later. After a while of listening to her bitching, I told the Filipino / German woman I’d flick my cigarette butt on the roof of the thatched dock as we left. The ride took four hours—almost worth the price—wide at times, entirely narrow at other times, some rapids, mountains to the west, good sun, everyone sharing butts and crackers, water on the boat. When we got to the dock the rate to change money was ridiculously low, 5.5 per dollar as opposed to rumors of 7.9. Took a bus to Tenosique, everyone relying on the Madrid man, tan tranquilo, lending out 100 or 50 peso bills at random. Took a train, after hours waiting to Palenque. I offered my pack to a man sitting on the arm of the missing seat next to me. I fell in and out of sleep until the train stopped, people ran off and two shots were fired—they sounded like dropped tape cases. In Palenque—a new first class bus station. I slept four hours or so in the corner with my pack for a pillow.
San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico 11-29
Zipolite Mexico. Throughout the sunset and early night I considered myself bored—not relaxed, how can I relax?—but the boredom passed to drinking happy hour Dos Equis and liters of Carta Blanca on the beach suffering through a Mexican blues band changing tempos through Doors songs. But a fire, a three-quarters moon, the “seductive songs of the smashing surf,” which supposedly killed a Mexican man two days ago—a whirlpool in a rocky area not two hundred yards from my $3 second-floor cabana with two hammocks, desk, three chairs, thatched walls and roof, windchimes of shells and feathers, trapdoor window held up with a knotted rope through the slats of cut bamboo.
Ninety-nine percent tourists, a few Americans lots of Germans hanging out in the sun naked entirely brown offering 15 almonds home-roasted for one peso, marijuana. He stands and stretches in front of seven-year-old Mexican girls. The heralded riptide and crosscurrent don’t seem in full swing—it’s hard to get out to where the tides could get you because of the strong waves. When you’re bodysurfing you always drop clean into a soup which twists your shoulders against the sand.
Zipolite, Mexico 12-1
And so my shoulder scabbed and my head sobered up and I only got caught in a three-day whirlpool. Now my lips are chapped, the corners of my beard, my hair around the temple, are blond. All my skin radiates burntness. In Zipolite I ran into the Italian man from Utila who talked about the phosphorescent fish. He’d been at Zipolote three weeks, fishing. I asked what he did here? He said, “Sell fish. Well . . . actually I’m an altruist.” Funny Italian. Della’s name is really Olestra or something—she’s from Roma.
A very long beautiful woman from British Colombia didn’t or couldn’t keep up with me and since I hadn’t spoken to any one for awhile I was raving . . . We spoke maybe for two hours about everything but without a real connection. Forced talk because we thought we’d like to get it on. If I were smoother I could have easily worked it but alas I went back to the cabana, swung myself to sleep. I dreamt the next morning after having gotten up just past sunrise to bodysurf naked and then returning and falling back asleep . . . I dreamt of New Years Eve with Tasha and Jeff and three minutes to midnight—we shook hands when the ball hit . . . then dreaming about a riding a train without tracks that circled out into the sky. I thought this is great but how are we going to get back. We arrived at an Elvis memorabilia shop then a theatre that doubled as a cave. A few hours later I left Zipolite suddenly, passed behind Michelle on the beach but left her lying still, then while waiting for the bus eating two tostadas I realized I was in Cafeteria Elvis. Coincidental? My dreams are all U.S.-based starring friends and familiar faces. That could only mean time to go.
On the bus to Oaxaca some drunks rumbled in the back. Everyone cleaned out to the front except the two fighters, or really the one punching and the other taking the blows. I sat two rows from the back reading. The one getting smashed in the face sat down next to me and hid his face in my lap for protection. He drank some of my water and cried, then got off. The other sat down and slurred then kissed my hand before he got off the bus.
Oaxaca, Mexico 12-5
And so folks they checked my bags and my arms for trackmarks, a black lab with watery red eyes sniffed all my shit for contraband, and yes, Welcome to the United States of America! The first red-blooded white Americans I see are four or five real Texans with white hats, blue shirts, and tight dark-blue Wranglers working on putting up a sign for a bank. I thought they’d drawl welcome back, boy, now get to work! Instead I cash five $20 checks in a bank with Latina tellers bleachfaced with powder. Now I’m in the Greyhound Terminal getting amped on M&Ms and a mistakenly purchased O Henry! Bar. M&M’s for 6.5 lempiras! Caro! But already it’s just part of a dollar. Twenty-four hours ago I was on the bus from Oaxaca to Mexico City. Started yesterday at 8 AM, getting cut in front of by two Oaxacans in line to change money. Then bused and bused. Took a taxi to change stations in Mexico City. VW bug with no passenger seat, barely avoiding six accidents—count ‘em!—“Hungry like the Wolf” and suffering through Phil Collins until 1-2-1-2-3-4 Prince’s “Rasberry Beret” came on but I got out just as the purple one kicked the bridge, “rain sound so cool.” Then for a mere 244 pesos (roughly $30) I jumped a 16-hour luxury cruiser with reclining chairs and leg rests, a typical 1960s Mexican movie about an Indian woman who’s mistakenly elected Mayor of a small town—then the Mask with hardly any sound. “Smoking” is translated as “ardiente.” At 3:30 AM a Federale checked my bags, scrutinizing my aspirin, asking if I had any marijuana, putting his fingers to his lips for the international sign of “smoky smoky.” Yeah, Senor, I have like half a kilo tucked behind my balls.
I drifted with images of Texas people, forgotten names. I’d place a face and then run through a list of names until I found one that fit. The sleep disturbed by the radio playing Lucille in Spanish. I’m not sure I’m ready for rock-n-roll. I could handle Selena but Soundgarden? There’s a 16-year-old girl here with a blue knit sweater with an American flag on the chest. She has a little baby. No different than Guatemala just the bilingual U.S. girl has jeans and nice boots, giggles like a chainsaw, shit. Her hips are too small to let loose a baby, maybe she has a C-section scarred stomach?
The Egotourist is expected to arrive in Austin, walk a few blocks past the Burger Tex and Builder’s Square etc and show up at 4812B Caswell Ave, listen to Grant Green’s “Bedouin” for closure then chill and figure out how to get out of Texas, across the country to the frozen north. I look good, I think. My clothes are manageably torn, I’m thin, my feet reek, my skin has that healthy orange tone. I sneeze here in Texas and the woman next to me in red, white, and blue says “Salud” and counts her change.
Laredo, Texas 12-7 (Pearl Harbor Day)
“I’m not a fan of Elvis but I’m a huge fan of Elvis impersonators.”
“Star 69 is so named since the six and nine are backwards each other and so a phone call is turned on itself.”
“L7 is a box.”
“Raising the speed limit will increase the number of toxic chemicals in the air.”
A dog groomed like a lion watched over the yard. A dog with a doghouse lit up by electric light. Stop-N-Go cards for cigarettes an attractive 20-year-old woman who lacks ID and then will not take my money or accept my identification since we’re obviously in cohoots. There is a longer required time elapsement than two minutes. Craig, the Stop-N-Go teller, lacks sleep—you can tell from his eyes. Craig? Where’s your boss? In the back watching you on the camera behind your back which is connected to a television which shows the Egotourist telling Craig “America is Wonderful” as he leaves the store.
Three votes short on an amendment against flag desecration. There’s the real issue. A woman asks “They can change the Constitution?” Gregorian chants and bagels. Big woman with big pure-breed dogs; they wear little headphones and get into their cars. Ethnicity and miscegenation leads America to loveliness. Although in some places you would never know. Meant to tell an embarrassing moment outside a Baskin Robbins last night after Thai food with Courtney and Kerim, speaking too loudly I said the first time I had sex . . . but I was interrupted by a woman walking up behind me who without hesitation continued into the bleach-smelling ice cream joint. The last three nights I’ve woken at night around three with heartburn. Now I have cherry Rolaids. They don’t yet make a difference. A woman from Wisconsin who looks like it and has white-laced legs like a Playboy Bunny says sublime is a word that doesn’t come into her vocabulary often. The fungus circle on my arm is ringworm. It can be cured with black walnut oil. Aisle 2, Fiesta Mart. She’s a nutritionist at Fiesta. She loves me. Keeps her eyes on me and smiles but sits on the floor and rests her frosted blond curls between Troy’s Wranglers. He directs the procedure upon entering the Christmas Party. Put an ornament on the tree. Introduce yourself to as many people as possible.
The men walk in oohing and ahhing over white-flavored coffee, probably car salesmen, one with a mullet. Woman wear jeans, shorts and running shoes—they drive cars, wear sunglasses to cover over a cheeklong scar. Supermarkets are warhorses lit with fluorescence. The old man is here who gets plastic sacks of muffins and bagels every Tuesday. He gets the same two-day olds and takes them to a homeless shelter. My greatest opportunity and my life’s love were both in Austin in October and where was I? Accused: the embodiment of evil—the United States. But just the politics: the people just speak a bland English in bakeries. There are scatterings of Asians who stand in front of trees and swing their arms around. That car in the Fresh Plus parking lot could easily have been mine if Electra with the sno-cone hair hadn’t sold it to a mechanic. Fresh Plus could easily be Flesh Pus. Gregorian chants of “Losing my Religion and Smells Like Teen Spirit” from the Benezedrine Monks, better than Hooked on Classics. I wish I could have been the first to watch the days get longer after the Winter solstice. Instead, as if there were some sort of possibility, I am tired, somewhat hungover, filled with heartburn, sitting beneath masks of sad clowns, faces growing butterfly wings, a jester, a leprechaun, and a long-lipped African chief. Pepper, sugar, and sugar substitute on the table—not just a bowl of thick salt and some chili.
Joy! To bring the dead alive and Mary’s son to the crucifix. Joy! Children play string instruments shakily, mostly it’s the tuning but then its the civilization too. Who designated the earlobes to bear the responsibility of sexuality? Imagine teaching band? Or just being in a helicopter tight now? Or just owning a minivan, not being able to believe it , but it is so practical? Or losing your wife toward the end of your Golden Years and retiring to an apartment, booze, daily letter writing, wearing red suspenders and growing out your beard, and publishing your poems on the bakery bulletin board like Alfred Huffslicker?
I do not threaten to brake stones.