If I were to engage in constant movement, from new thing to new place, I would never lose. My beginners luck would become transient and my inspiration peripatetic. My lack of accountability would overshadow my life — But I know that there is another source of inspiration that exists, one whose roots are in knowing places and people. Knowing patterns in color and weather that may seem tedious, but how droll is the life that draws from one source to give to the other.
after a week and a half of travelling, we have arrived at our final destination (almost.) We are in the North… Flores, a small island on lago de peten itza. Tomorrow, we´ll do the last stretch to the eco-escuela in San Andres. We´ve been caving, sleeping in bungalows, and enjoying the immense green of this place. We´re out of the mountains and into the valley. The beauty here took me by surprise as we came in and this week its back to business before we make the trek up to Tikal and then over to Belize and Honduras.
The caves we explored made for one of the most brilliant experiences I´ve had. We swam through, climbed up ladders, up waterfalls, scaled walls, cliff jumped, cut knees and feet, rubbed clay on our faces and all of this by candle light. Which means that we only had one free hand as the other was holding our candle. The cave went two kilometers in and we were in there for three hours and barely penetrated the beast. So rad. then we floated down the green river to las marias, where we slept.
Bus after bus after bus. Meeting those from all over the globe. There is definitely something about this place that is drawing me in and keeping me HERE. More swimming to do…
So we are still in Xela and getting ready to leave. Having these last weeks so focused on Spanish has improved my grammar (which is in need of work in english as well) and story telling capabilites. We will leave on Sunday for Lago de Atitlan to relax for a few days before embarking on a cross country endeavor with destination Livingston in mind. It is a small colony on the carribbean where escaped African slaves settled in the mid to late 1800s. They speak Garifuna and the climate should be quite different as is here in the highlands. Boat trips? More hot springs? Rio Dulce? I say yes. We were formally planning on going to Semuc Champey, an area that the locals call the most beautiful in all of the country. But due to heavy rains, the river is raging and the water is too high for cave diving, their bread and butter. We will try to hit it on the way back…
After Livingston, our next area of study is going to be split between ecology and Spanish. In Peten, there is a language school that partners with the largest bio-reserve in C. America, teaching about the indigenous plant (medicinal properties) and wild life and offering lots of expertise into what and how the area is protected. Also, above Peten are Tikal and El Mirador, vesitges of the some of the largest ancient Mayan cities. The latter takes five days in which we will hike a hundred miles, but I have been told that it contains some of the most lush jungle on the planet, complete with fifteen different kinds of monkeys, huge snakes and hot, hot weather.
With so much speculation, I feel like I should reiterate a bit about the past. Last weekend was one of the most challenging hikes of my life. We climbed the great Volcano Tajumulco, the highest point in Central America that stands just under 14,000 ft. The oxygen deprivation was strong due to lack of acclimatization and it rained the WHOLE time. This abetted the cold in making its way into our bones but fortunately we had packed our sleeping bags in trash bags so they were dry as we settled in to base camp at 630.
We woke up the next morning at 330 to make a push for the summit. Equipped with headlamps, we scampered to the top just in time to see the sun rise (or more appropriately, the sky light up.) There was one moment when I snuck off to the other side of the fin and a hole in the clouds opened up. I could see the pacific, guatemala and mexico in one eyeshot. Once my mind comprehended the distance between the floor and myself, I almost fell over due to dizziness and the inlets were clean and cold in my mind. We ate well and met lots of new people, including our guides… Ziggy, a Canadian. Nelly, from Northwestern France and Aron, an Israeli student of media and culture.
Everywhere I have been going here, the same song has been popping up. The link… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A63E9iVz680 –Weve been hearing it on chicken buses (the main mode of transportation) and in the markets, etc…
More to come, although probably not in confirmation of the forecasted plans. I am going to try to get out of here tomorrow, theres another bad wind coming in.
So here i am in quetzaltenango. i arrived last thursday and there is a mix of both the expected and unanticipated. The spanish study is intense http://www.celasmaya.com/ but good and the people are as warm as anywhere in latin america. Yesterday was an eventful one. we woke up early and took a chicken bus (where we met steve and johanna) to zunil (about 30 minutes up into the mountains.) we were dropped of on the roadside and we proceeded to hitch a ride of an 82 toyota pick-up farther up through the patchwork farms. the mist came in as we ascended and we learned that this region receives 10 to 25 percent more moisture from the thick covering as compared to rain. we arrived at our destination and paid the 20 quetzal entrance fee. we changed and inched our way into the hot volcano heated water. muy rica. after a few hours our skin changed to that of 90 year olds and we ate lunch only to return to the steaming water for few more hours. then we hiked through the jungle and vines.
the truck met us at the top and we cruised back down through the thick fog that quieted our voices and set water drops on our eyelashes. we then returned to zunil where we saw a god named san simon, this was a strange experience, a plastic man sat in a chair smoking a cigarette that a woman attended to while m-80s were lit off outside of the room while a man eased a chicken into a fire. men with colored chalk drew the four cardinal directions on the ground while placing briquettes, gum balls, candles and rum in the middle, then it was lit on fire. i was torn between the evil of overtly worshipping this saint and the intrigue of witnessing the conglomeration of western and mayan traditions. so we left.
caught the bus where a 13 year old boy was grinding gears and then switched back to arrive in xela. (quetzaltenango) Yesterday, i saw some of the most beautiful land i have ever seen. the rolling patchwork hills had large boulders protruding from the dirt, that werent attempting to create natural boundaries, they were sporadic. and there were cabbage, cauliflower, raddishes and much more which i wasnt able to identify.
im going to switch homes tomorrow as im living in a “bomb shelter.” we are thinking about going to honduras to continue our study in a different area. the school here is great and the instruction is also very good, five hours in the mornings and one to two hours of homework a night. volcanoes rise up to 13,000 feet in the distance and the twilights have this strange lights that only lasts about 3 minutes. this soft orange that sucks in light until it turns gray.
so a few more weeks of study and then well travel to tikal (ruins) and livingstone (caribbean coast). weve been meeting people here from such places as germany, finland, britain, korea, texas, ohio, san francisco and really all over, its cool and many of the couples are on these year long excursions from mexico to patagonia. its interesting to learn how they got here and everybody really has their own reasons for coming. heavy rains in the evenings with lightning and warm temps. ill try to post photos soon.
After three classes and a four hour study session, I walked to my bike and rode that to my truck. Changed at my truck and rode back onto campus where I locked my frame to a chain link fence.
I could see it towering through the huge glass windows and it was intimidating. I sauntered in, bypassing it on my right. I needed time to build up courage so I went upstairs to the elliptical to “warm up.” I put my name and campus ID number under the 8:30 class and watched and waited with butterflies going through my head.
Five minutes passed and I sat stretching looking straight up at the beast of a wall. Different colored holds for different difficulty levels. The ropes swooping down backlit by phosphorescent lights scared the butterflies away and before I knew it, my climbing shoes were pressing the ends of my toes, my harness was double-backed and my hands were chalked. My belayer asked what my ability level was… I stopped, thought about the last time I climbed (about 11 years ago) and I said under my breath “intermediate.”
The first line was no problem. Getting your fingers deep into a hold gives such a feeling of security. The second route up was more difficult (negative face) but I even started to jump from a few grips to others. So I moved two ropes to the left to a line where I saw a guy who looked pretty experienced struggling earlier. I was about ten feet up when the negative section began. It was either go around to the right or straight through. I caught a hold to my right so I followed it and that was when I immediately lost ALL strength in my forearms. I tried with everything I had to pull myself up but couldn’t do it. So, I let go and with forearms swelled and fingers clawed, I was lowered, happily defeated.
I’ve listened to plenty of interviews with climbers and the same ole maxim always is mentioned… “When you’re on the rock, all you think about is your next move. The rest of the world doesn’t exist.”
It was the perfect way to unwind after class. So next week I’ll take a ten dollar safety course and I can climb all I want! Boo Yah! I’m exited to get to know that wall intimately and maybe one day when I have Popeye arms, I’ll be able to forget everything I’ve studied for just a few moments longer. I’m officially addicted.
It’s Tuesday night and all is well on the Kirby front. I sit in my room and the smell of the orange tree blossoms are carrying across the lawn through my open window. The past few weeks have been ones of immense blessing and this is part of the continuing reminder. School is great and becoming part of clubs has surrounded me with others that share in the same interests that I do. It’s good to be part of the forum and encouraging to know that what is interesting to me is shared. Thursday after class, I’m going to get a beer with one of my professors.
Last weekend I went to McCain land (Arizona) in a 15 passenger van filled with 14 of my closest friends and it was as much fun as say… “pootanging a poptart.” This annual tradition leaves laughter in my heart for a long time afterward and I always feel uplifted despite the junk food and smell of “Tina Turner’s breath.”
The new rock climbing wall opens tomorrow on campus and I’m exited to give it a shot. It’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while now so we’ll see how it goes. My studies today kept getting interrupted by the anticipation of pulling myself to the top.
It’s 9:30 and I havn’t eaten since 2. Broccoli salad and soup.
I am wrong again. Some part of my mind thought that when I saw something (a thought, a combination of flower colors, a new taste) that if it came to them before me, that they were before me in that realm, and that if it came to me before them, that I was before them in that realm. But this is untrue. There is no before and no after when it comes to things because those things are always there and so are we, like some strange ladder of fishing holes, hiking trails and monkey balls. It is only that part of us being turned on, like water spinning our wheels to get a new part of our lives started. So I say “I have nothing and neither do you.” It is rather ours, maybe not at the same time, but they all belong to us both.
I was going with very little training of the Indian cultural specifics but I knew that my main objectives were to learn, serve and grow. I remember in retrospect that these things never seem to happen how we envision and expect them to.
The most simple and concise definition of culture is “a shared set of beliefs and practices” and this is one that has proved to be the baseline of truth in my own studies of culture. Quite honestly, one of my fervent hopes was that I wouldn’t offend anyone. As my first time overseas, I felt as though I was diving in head first to a land of cultural extremes. Calcutta is a humongous city of about 14 million people and the influence of late nineteenth and early twentieth century colonialism is evident everywhere. The juxtaposition of derelict buildings decorated with brilliant lime and violet banners to Queen Victoria’s palace (resembling Greek architecture) was a bit jarring at first.
The city is filled with contrasts, including food, people and religions. In fact, the Missionaries of Charity home where they harbored the ostracized and dying was only a few doors down from the temple of Kali, the goddess of war and destruction.
The streets were layered in an aggregate dust that made everything hazy and unclear. Every evening off of the roofs of buildings, hundreds of kites would go lifted up into the sky, silhouetted against the muffled sunlight.
The home seemed to be a refuge from the filth outside. Clean and cool marble floors and high ceilings mixed with the pungent odor of disinfectants and distant feces made for a place of historical wonder. How did this place begin? What has happened here? Why is it so different from the world outside?
All of these factors gathered together to form my own understanding of the place I was working in. The dichotomy of my western thought with that of India differed greatly to say the least. This often led to confusion but what seemed to hold us all together was our common purpose, that being to care for these people in their last days who would otherwise never know compassion. The group working together in the home was a very eclectic bunch. People from Japan, Italy, Africa, the U.S. and India were all partnering together to achieve a common goal, that being to provide comfort and hope for these people in their last days of life.
The director in fact was a German named Andy. He was always in a hurry and his sense of time was very calculated. Having the whole operation work under his authority made it both flowing and important. He always seemed to be in the most crucial situation at the most apt moment. He created the framework for the structure and was the formal, while we were the informal. He had been there for years, so we did what he asked us to, that being administering medicine and food, massaging bodies that were sore from laying in bed for weeks, stuffing holes in a boy’s knee with gauze, bathing brittle men, washing blankets and clothes, taking chai breaks, and the like.
Our own beliefs that we carried into the organization with us were evident. It was difficult, at least for me, to overcome my Western sense of self. Having compassion on those dying men was not easy for me. Going through the motions was not difficult but letting the surroundings of destitute men that maybe weighed ninety pounds dig into my psyche was a mountainous obstacle. Partly, it was because I couldn’t quite grasp how they had arrived at their present state. Partly, it was that I had never experienced or even come close to being in such a state. The Hindu notion of karma says that they must have done something badly or poorly in their past life so the Indians ignore them, literally stepping over them in the street. My own beliefs tell me that they are God’s children as I am; that we all innately obtain the right to life and joy. Needless to say, this did not assuage my confusion. I was going through the motions in a world of white, trying to minimize suffering that I didn’t understand but interestingly, my capacity for action was never depreciated. I was following the directions of those who I believed understood the dynamics on a deeper level but my inclination for understanding seemed to share in the same diseased posture as the men I was caring for.
I still think that if I had understood the Eastern Indian culture perfectly, confusion still would have emanated my thoughts. The nuns always looked like pillars of understanding, even when they would yell that another soul had “shit” on himself and it was that assurance of purpose that we drew from. These women had dedicated their whole lives to “giving water unto these” and we were there for a mere three weeks. What could we do in such a short amount of time with such a complete lack of understanding of the invisible norms moving all around us? And what could they do, but know that our goal was straightforward and transparent? The dynamics of volunteerism are those that need to accept a lack of cultural understanding. Amazingly, our actions were not inhibited because they were so primordial and this is what they depended on. The dimensions of their work touched on such a basic level of altruism that the inflow of human resources never weaned. My own cultural beliefs warned me against becoming vulnerable, but the state of those I was engaged with pressed me to leave that by the wayside and to at least begin to try to understand the surrounding circumstances that brought them to this place of convergence while doing what was expected of me.
I just walked outside to look at the lunar eclipse but the big clouds are covering the moon. I look up and see a galaxy. I think “I forgot the world was supposed to be this.” Trees are literally dancing and the wind is singing through them. I can see my breath and the grass is wet.