Yes. It’s me. Flying over the jungle like Tarzan. A clumsy, terrified Tarzan, to be sure. A Tarzan shouting, “Oh sh*t!” rather than “Aiyeeaiyeeaiyeeeeee!” or whatever he shouted as he swung from his vines. But today, Lorri and I did what we promised ourselves we would do at least once on this trip despite any quibbles and cowardice. We went zip lining.
It was harder for Lorri because we had to climb for 45 minutes to get to the top of the mountain to start the course. Aside from just getting over the effects of drinking some Don’t-Drink-the-Water, she has health problems that made it a struggle. Lucky for me, my dogs have kept me in good shape so I enjoyed the climb. For Lorri-the-Brave, it was an act of endurance.
But holy cats, the downward journey was heart-stopping. We were both scared out of our wits the entire time. But so proud of ourselves afterwards.
And here’s Lorri, zipping down the steepest and most heart-dropping leg of the course — with rocks and raging water below (though unfortunately you can’t see those in the pic).
A few pix from my adventures. Apologies to those on slow connections, but I haven’t mastered the art of creating clickable thumbnails on this site yet. I’ll work on that.
This is the view — such as it was — from the window of our $8/night hostel (in the local Big City where we spent our first three nights). Wasn’t as scary-bad as it looks, though it was definitely very “basic.”
How the other half lives. We've seen a ton of contrasts here -- sumptuous wealth side-by-side with deep poverty. But this yacht -- complete with private helicopter! -- took the conspicuous-consumption cake. Spotted at a marina near the local Big City, it seemed likely to belong to a rich American. Later, we ran into a number of American boat-dwellers, most living way more humbly than this.
Speaking of contrasts, this is the village where we stayed in the Wayback-Outback. The two-story house to the left of the bridge was a chief’s house, where we rented rooms (thanks to friend-of-friend connections). Though one of the more “modern” homes in the village, it had no electricty or indoor toilet, and I saw water come out of the taps only twice. The structure is of concrete with a corrugated metal roof, but three walls of our bedrooms were of woven bamboo — whose gaps theoretically let in light and breezes, but actually mostly let in noise.
Birthday girls. On the right, my friend Lorri. On the left, a 90-year-old whose name we never did catch. We were invited to her birthday party after I used my few words of Furrin to tell everybody we met that it was Lorri's birthday. The women of the Wayback-Outback were marvelously imperious and clearly ruled the roost. Though we towered over them, they could make us feel we were being thoroughly looked down upon and judged. But they had a great sense of humor, too, and could be a hoot once you got to know them a little.
The first thing to know about “indigenous” villages, if you didn’t already, is that they’re claustrophobic. And almost totally lacking in privacy — especially if you’re one of the rare foreigners to stay within their borders. The sheer Novelty of You makes you a public attraction, no matter how much everyone tries to be polite.
One of the first things to know about “island paradises” is that they mostly aren’t. Islands, yes. Paradises, nope.
Another thing I didn’t know about villages is how F*&&^%%ing noisy they are. OMG, OMG, OMG!
My friend Lorri and I spent most of a week on an island in a blue, blue, sea. An island that was no more than a few hundred yards wide and not terribly much longer (though if you counted up the whole little string of island-ettes that were connected and divided by swamp-ettes and canal-ettes, the length might have been a mile).
Despite that, from most places in the village, it was impossible to glimpse that blue, blue sea because of the dense housing. And when you did get close to it … you might wish you hadn’t. That’s the first place where we noticed the part about paradises not being paradisical.
I don’t mean to sound like a crusading Greenpeace member. But that blue, blue sea was awash — not in water and fishes, but in food cans, shoe soles, candy-bar wrappers, empty (I hope) motor oil containers, and of course the omnipresent plastic water bottles.
And I’m not even mentioning what the built-over-water privies add to the mix. That’s a whole ‘nother blog entry.
When we asked where the swimming beach was, we were loaded into a dugout canoe (motorized, but judging by the sound of the motor, just barely) and we were efficiently put-putted a full hour from “our” island to … well, picture that famous “desert island” you’ve seen in a thousand cartoons. Yes, that island. Except there were three palm trees instead of the standard one and four bamboo-and-grass huts sometimes used by workers or travelers. But the whole thing couldn’t have been more than 75 feet wide and 200 long. And there, on a white-sand beach exactly the size of the one in those cartoons, we had a delightful time swimming in warm, clear water and gathering humongous entire sea shells.
This is a picture of the actual desert island from which we swam. Our little beach begins on the lower right. The huts are empty when not used by occasional plantation workers or travelers.
But even there, the island was covered in old pairs of jeans, Pepsi cans, used diapers, and depleted bottles of suntan lotion. I’m afraid stuff like that will be our main memory of “paradise.”
We got in exactly two hours of swimming and beachcombing before our guide (who spoke no more of our language than we did of his) communicated that we had to go back. Never saw a beach again until we flew over some on our way back to civilization.
Don’t mean to whine, though. Being in the Wayback-Outback was one powerfully interesting experience in “the other side of life.” No electricity. No Internet. No post office. Running water that rarely actually ever … er, ran. When it did run, householders would quickly fill buckets to cover all the times it didn’t.
Most houses had bamboo walls and thatched roofs. More modern ones were built of crumbling concrete and tin. For most of a week, we didn’t see or hear a single bit of news. Never saw a newspaper. Nor one wheeled vehicle (the streets, such as they were, were often too narrow, or the house roofs too low, for even a bicycle to pass). Men carried burdens, including coconuts, bananas, and in one memorable instance, a string of five-gallon propane bottles, slung from thick branches over their shoulders. Women carried baskets of wood on their backs, supported by a strap across their foreheads. (And each and every one of them looked as if the thing was giving her a roaring headache.)
Yet oddly enough, there was cell service and many young people had cell phones — though we saw those used primarily as cameras. Didn’t see a single soul walking around with phone clapped to ear. That was nice.
Without electricity, you might ask, how did the cell phones stay charged? Well, a few grass roofs did sport small solar panels, and the handful of tiny stores (such as they were) were wired. If you knew where to look, you could pay a business between $.25 to $.50 to charge your phone.
Free enterprise; ain’t it grand?
I can’t really say we had a great time. But we had an enlightening time. And there were plenty of good things I’ll try to tell you about in the next few days. Like the food.
But the noise … OMG. From firecrackers going off at 4:00 a.m. to dueling radios blasting from the village’s two small squares all day, to domestic arguments under our wall to barking dogs to just-plain chatter, chatter, chatter and kids playing soccer in front of the house at all hours … we barely slept the whole time we were there, and once into civilization again we each collapsed for 12+ hours.
Oh … and for those who were wondering after the earlier thread about Don’t Drink the Water kinda places … I survived the Wayback-Outback unscathed, thanks to scrupulous drinking of bottled water, a few uses of a SteriPen water purifier, regular dosing with doxycycline, and three tasty acidophilus chewables a day — much of this thanks to recommendations from blessed blog readers. I did defy the “don’t eat any vegetables you haven’t peeled yourself” rule to enjoy a couple of irresistible salads. No problem.
My friend Lorri, however, didn’t luck out so well. She was fine until, on our last evening in the village, she accepted a glass of Tang at a birthday party. She’s a more experienced traveler than I and should have thought twice. But she reasoned that since one of the village chiefs (our host) had told her proudly that they had five miles of water pipe, it meant the water was piped from five miles away, from some safe spot. She was halfway through the glass when it occurred to me that he probably meant there were five miles of pipe running back and forth under our feet, not running from somewhere else, and that the source of the water in those pipes might actually be unthinkable.
She’s still not feeling too well. But we have pills and potions for that, too.
I’m still traveling, but now I’m in a place where I can satisfy my news addiction.
It seems that a lot of 10-year-old articles about the census are turning up right now. Which isn’t a bad thing (though some of them should have been updated first and most should be more clearly marked for what they are).
Ran across this one by Dave Kopel that reminds of yet another reason to tell the census-taker to go to hell: because information about you will be sold to marketers and some of it could quite easily be personally identifiable.
The main thing that’s out-of-date about all these old articles is that they refer to the “long form” that some households felt compelled to fill out back then. That’s no longer part of the census, of course. Instead (oh lucky us!) the long form has become a permanent fixture of the corporate state in the form of the separate American Community Survey — a creature even more resistible than the census. And even more useful to the marketeers at gov.com.
Hey! I’m here. I have landed in a part of these Furrin Parts where I’ll have pretty reliable Internet for at least the next few days. I’ll soon be writing about our recent experiences in the Wayback-Outback. (Most of a week without electricity, running water, news, English, or even wheeled vehicles — oh my!) But for now, here are two observations I penned (computered?) just before leaving the local Big City for Remoteland.
It’s great to be back in touch for a while.
More Unamerican things
Yet another unAmerican act observed taking place right out in public: Lorri and I stopped in a supermarket in the local Big City to get food for our upcoming days in the Wayback-Outback. And there, right in a center aisle — in front of the entire world, children and all — a young lady was handing out free samples of rum. Yes, Demon Rum.
Quite strong rum, too. And good. Something new from Guatemala. Don’t ask me its name. I was too bedazzled by the brazen act (or perhaps the bedazzlement was due to the half-ounce of rum I drank as I ambled through the grocery aisles) to get the brand name straight.
But can you imagine? If any chain of stores handed out free booze samples to random customers in the U.S., M.A.D.D., Alcoholics Anonymous, half the churches in the land, and no doubt at least a dozen other moral busybodies would toss such a crusade, the entire chain would probably be driven into bankruptcy. Or at least driven into multi-million-dollar frenzies of public apology, followed by promises to set up 501(c)(3)s dedicated to curing addiction. For the Children.
Here? No big deal. It’s just life.
Adventures in lingo
One day in the local Big City, Lorri and I had a wonderful guide, Daniel. He drove us hither and thither in his taxi. He showed us the sights, took us grocery shopping, found me what might be the only Internet cafe in the land, and kept us from stumbling into the kind of places where (he tells us) it’s possible to buy — really buy — a young man or woman for as little as $200. (One of those places is the barrio we had to traverse to get to our hostel.)
He also spoke excellent English, which postponed for at least one more day the perils of being on our own with the local version of Furrin.
But we had a couple of delightful confusions. Early on, he pointed out a street he translated as Central Avenue. Lorri, my good Christian friend, misheard because of his accent. “SINFUL Avenue?” she asked incredulously. And I must admit, the street did have that sort of look.
We all cracked up over that. And for the rest of the day “Sinful Avenue” it became.
But the real crackup came later when the eloquent Daniel made his one-and-only English-language error — and a pretty mild one, at that. He was driving us to a vast field of ruins, some of which seemed to have undergone a touch of restoration. He referred to the work as “remodeling.” As we gazed out over acres of crumbled stone, Lorri immediately made some wisecrack that I’d have been far too diplomatic to come up with. Just some remark about it being “one heck of a big remodeling job.” But all three of us doubled over with laughter, Daniel the hardest of all.
Well, if anybody’s going to make wisecracks over language errors, every native we meet will be howling at Lorri and me for the next three weeks. It really wasn’t fair to Daniel. But it was funny. Maybe it was funny in that “you hadda be there” way. But the three of us darn-near veered off the road. (Maybe it was that free rum we had. Oh, but that was later.)
No we are on our own. And we’ll miss the informative, helpful, and eloquent Daniel.
And I should take the time to publicly thank S., an ex-pat who put us in touch with Daniel, supplied us with a local cellphone, and did many things to make this trip not only possible but delightful.
(I’m now off adventuring beyond the reach of wireless. So here’s a post I wrote early-early on. I’m getting a tad more used to things now …)
The first thing you notice about furriners is that they speak Furrin. (Never mind that I’m now the furriner; don’t Americans always think of themselves as the center of the universe?)
I’m not opposed to speaking Furrin. I’ve tried to learn to do it myself, twice. One time, I managed to get two years’ worth of straight As, become a tutor to several of my own classmates — and still never was able to speak the language in question, though I could grope my way through reading, writing, and mumbling a few words of it. (But even all these years later, should you happen to need a verb conjugated, I’m your girl.)
My particular problem right now is this: The dominant form of Furrin spoken here is a close cousin to the Furrin I once tried so hard to learn. And every time I have to say, “Please,” “Thank you,” “Where’s the bus depot?” or “Yes, we really are relieved to have gotten rid of George W. Bush, and you’re welcome to take Obama off our hands if you think he’s so hot,” what little I can manage tends to come out in the other language.
Which sounds just enough like the local lingo to make everybody think I’m hideously fracturing their native tongue. Which leads them to assume, quite politely, that I’m an idiot. Which may not be far from the mark.
Since they can also clearly detect my US-ian accent, I hope they’ll at least give me credit for trying, in this world where most Americans are notoriously lacking in any variety of Furrin.
Shortly, my friend Lorri and I will be headed into the wilds, where most people speak a language so obscure that no phrasebooks or CDs teach a word of it. Communicating with gestures and smiles, I’ll probably appear more intelligent. At least I hope so.
An out-of-order post. Though you’re seeing this after I’ve “escaped,”** I’m writing it at 3:45 a.m. in the sleepless hours before my flight from the U.S. I’m at a friend’s house in the big city, connected to a network one of their zillions of neighbors left handily unsecured.
I’m still excited about my trip, but I’ve been struck by pre-flight paranoia.
It started yesterday as I packed. Deciding to take tea along, I slipped some regular old Lipton, then a few Earl Greys into a baggie. Finally, I tossed in a couple packets of my favorite treat-tea, the lovely stuff I drink when I’m feeling indulgent. As I was about to pop all that into a corner of a carry-on, I looked at the brand name on the treat packets: Ahmad English #1.
Ahmad I thought. Sounds Arabic. And I turned the packets around so the brand name wouldn’t show.
Paranoid? Yep, completely. The only question is: Whose paranoia? Mine or the TSAs?
Then last night before bedtime, I read this oh-so-very-heartening article on the realities of The New Security (post-crotch-bomber). And now, while I still feel brave about this morning’s flight, since my subversive Arab-sounding tea is concealed, I dread the return.
And with the mention of so many passengers’ hands and belongings being swapped for alleged “traces of explosives,” I recall the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven. I know that things as non-boomacious as playing cards, plastic wrappers, and ordinary household cleaning products can test positive … and then what?
And as many as four out of five passengers selected for “special” screening in some places? How very special is that?
I wonder what awaits when I must return to the Land of the Formerly Free?
I hoped to keep the travel posts as chronological as possible. But realizing I might not even find an Internet cafe, let alone a conveniently unsecured wifi, network in the first week of travel, I hope you won’t mind one or two out of place. And I hope you won’t mind if I’m not completely coherent. Haven’t had my “terrorist tea” or any other caffeine injection yet this morning …
** I HOPE you’re reading it after I’ve escaped. After writing it, I’ve gotten trapped in the travel hell I wrote about Thursday night. Although I’m leaving this up as a scheduled post, at the point of this edit, I have no idea whether I’m even going to make it to my destination. I’m still sitting on the floor of the extremely over-air-conditioned Miami International. It’s midnight and I’m cold, exhausted, and unsure of what tomorrow will bring.