Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Chicken Bus Fever: Part III Mal Estado

The trip from Huehuetenango to Coban by collective bus shortly took a place among the most miserable bus rides in my memory, which I will describe now: 

 The most painful bus ride was from San Cristobal to Palenque and back, a 17 hour affair involving a million speed bumps that actually injured my neck because the seat had no head rest and I wedged my body in a corner at a bad angle so each speed bump caused my head to snap forward across my shoulder and then slamp back into the window frame, so my neck and head were injured for about 10 days after that trip and I have almost no memory of the tourist sites we visited because the majority of the day was spent with my face buried in the seat in front of me. Many times I actually moaned in pain or screamed in agony. We departed at 5am and returned at 10pm. Insane. It is simply a foolish way to travel because the natural and archaeological sites should be enjoyed for more than 1 hour and the vehicle travel should not exceed 12 hours. If you drive 8 hours to walk in a circle among Mayan ruins and then get back in a van and drive 8 hours back to where you started then you are an idiot. The better way would be to take a big bus to the city of Palenque and sleep there and visit the site and then go back to the hotel and then take a bus back to where you came from. Trying to visit Palenque on the same day you leave Tuxtla or San Cristobal is an insult to the restoration work involved in that site. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Chicken Bus Fever Part II: Sierra Madre High

 A Note on History: I've been enviously reading Paul Theroux's The Old Patagonia Express. I'm not envious because he went places I want to go; I'm envious because he fills a page so naturally, is not apologetic of his personality, and does not toss punchlines around casually. But he also includes historical backstory that I'm not accustomed to duplicate. I don't trust 'history'. One person says "Columbus discovered America'. Well, what does that mean? Who cares? I can write Guatemala was once the generic name for all of Central America. So what? I can research the years of founding and wars and earthquakes but these mean very little because I am taking someone else's word for the truth and passing it along as derived truth. I do not know what Cortez saw during his trip, if I can trust Cortex existed at all. I can stand before a plaque claiming Cortez was once on such and such peninsula, but the plaque is not a guarantee. I can guarantee the plaque exists, but not that Cortez was once standing there. See? It's merely words carved in iron. Furthermore, I vigorously doubt that the teaching of history prevents one from repeating it. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. I'm even skeptical that it makes one more informed. Maybe a person using common sense and critical thinking is the difference, and the trivia they learned from history books is irrelevant. Maybe research needs to be done on the present, not the past. Consider this passage: "After 1,500 years of Canaanite rule over Palestine, the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea fell under the rule of numerous invaders, including the Philistines, the Israelites, the Phoenicians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Macedonians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Crusaders, and then it was ruled by various Islamic Caliphates from 1291 until the British mandate in 1922."  Really? That's all indisputably true? If so, why does it matter today? I read that passage like I'm reading an ancient magical spell intended to defeat demons. Even if it is true, where are the demons I'm defeating? Since I can't embrace this kind of history-fetish I don't want to pass any history on about what I experienced. See? I suspect the main function of 'history' in modern times is to collect innocent children in a room, for instance, and tell them, "[Insert ethnicity here] murdered your great-great grandparents during [insert war date here], and this is why you must hate [insert ethnicity here]..." or "Back in [insert date from several centuries ago here] a [insert Race here] person defiled the grave of [insert another Race here] and this is why you must always distrust [insert Race here]." That is how I see history being applied today and it does more harm than good.
Maybe conflict is fueled by an overemphasis on the past. Maybe a disputed past is best forgotten because the present is where we live and the future is where we are going. The past is not trivial, but harboring grudges based on the past does no good. Honor and respect are earned on a day to day basis, cultures develop based on current accomplishments, not grudges and revenge.

Finally, better historical summaries have already been written so why am I going to edit them further to pretend I am well informed. My goal is to see and describe what is before my eyes, not justify why it is there and rationalize its existence. Once in a while I'll discuss history, but mostly for comic value or to advance my specific political agenda. End Note.

Quetzaltenango (shortened to Xela or Shay-La) is at an altitude of 7600 ft and the trip from the coastal town of Champerico is only 100 KM, or about 60 miles. Where else in North America are you going to climb 7600 ft from sea level in less than 60 miles? That is a geography question for the quizical. I believe the Sierra Madre Occidental in the Mexican state of Sonora and Chihuahua is the best place to look because the high peak is 10,000 ft and is around 60 miles inland of the Sea of Cortez, but you don't drive to that peak and you do drive to Quetzaltenango. A little research directs me toward island peaks such as Puncak Jaya in Indonesia and Manau Kea on Hawaii, which is barely 40 KM from the sea and is 13,000ft high. I don't want to argue about the specifics, but it's a dramatic change in climate although I was told June is winter in Champerico. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Make America Think Again

I can understand Reagan using this generic slogan toget rid of Jimmy Carter's pitiful farm ethics, but the rhetoric the Republicans have been slinging recently is so grotesque that it is actually contradicting their own slogan. One after another Republican hate monger said, "America is the greatest country on earth." Ok, that is generic and can't even be defined or verified. So many things are wrong with that statement but the one that I hate most, as a writer, is the word "great". This is comparable to the word "really" or "just". It is a horribly generic word. I will say that it is a 'Walmart Slogan' because Great Value is one of their generic economy brand names, the boxes that Oggy survived on when he had no money. I don't like this word "great" at all. When used in this manner it has almost no meaning. It is like the word "super". What the fuck does the word "super" mean. It can be applied to a market, or to a hero or to your boss. "Great" is even worse. I understand that in improvised speech we will say "great" and "Really" and "just" and "super" because we don't have time to sit around and think of a synonym that will make us sound intelligent. Ok. BUT WHY THE FUCK IS THE REPUBLICAN PARTY USING THIS WORD FOR IN THEIR SLOGAN? They have no excuse because I assume they did not improvise the slogan stolen from Reagan era propaganda. So, in 36 fucking years they did not find anything wrong with that slogan or no way to improve it? Man, what bullshit.

 Let us break the whole slogan down.

Make America Great Again.

Make: Another lazy verb. It is the generic action verb when a person can not think of a better verb. We make furniture? Or do we construct furniture? Do we make a baby? Or do we conceive a baby? Do we make love? Or do we fuck? This word 'Make' is lazy and generic, pointless, awful.

America: Ok, it involves the word of the politicial name of this specific geographic region of North America. I get it. But what the hell does it mean to do anything to a mental concept of a geopolitical designation? America is an invented, manufactured idea, like all contries, not an actual tangible object. So, to take physical action, such as would be implied by the verb 'make', on an idea is simply impossible. Another fail.

Great: Firstly, the word "great" is pathetic, sloppy, lazy, generic. Do you understand that Tony the Tiger was using this word back in 1959 to sell Frosted Flakes? Ok, I accept a speaking and walking carnivorous tiger who eats and shills wheat products can't think of a better word...but what is Reagan and Trump's excuse? Theeeeey're Great! It's bullshit word that can substitute for any adjective that can never be defined or verified. I hate this word, like I hate the misuse of the word "just". As I wrote above, this is a lazy qualifier, generic, walmart vocabulary, insulting, empty, fucked up frosted flakes talking tiger bullshit. Get rid of this fucked up word. It means nothing and is used when there is no way to verify anything. This is exactly the word propaganda merchants use when they want to flim flam a 8 year old kid into smoking or eating fake chocolate or drinking ovaltine. It is meaningless and has no place in politicial discourse. God, this is an empty word. Great. When speaking I understand that it has a place, but if you are writing or planning a motto then how can you not think of a better word? This word great is the absolute last word you should use to describe what the hell you are trying to accomplish in a complicated subject like the philosophical concept of a country. Awful, dumb, stupid, retarded word.

Again: Here we have the ultimate in contradictions. What the fuck is this word doing in the slogan? The slogan would not be harmed if it was simply "Make America Great" but they include the word "Again" because they want to imply it is not great. Obama has made America 'not great' and Republicans are coming to save the world and make America great again, I guess as 'great' as when Reagan was funding genocidal dictators all through Central America. I get it. BUT WHY ARE ALL THE SPEAKERS SAYING, "America is the greatest country on earth."????

See, you can't have it both ways...America can not be the greatest country on earth, but require some kind of action to make it great again. Do you see the contradiction? If America is great, then it can only be made more great, or to use Walmart vocabulary...greater. "Lets Make America Greater" Now, that is a true white-trash Simpson's slogan. But at least it won't be contradicted when some asshole says America is the greatest country on earth. 
Who needs vocabulary when you have money?

My point is that when no part of a slogan stands up to philosophic scrutiny then what does that say about the people or talking tigers behind the slogan?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Chicken Bus Fever Part I: Pacific Blues

Note: This is the first in a 9 part series of essays about a bus/collectivo trip around Guatemala in the Summer of 2016. The links to all the essays are at the bottom of each essay. Mark Twain once wrote, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness." I tried to prove him wrong, but the man was wise. You be the judge...

I have some time to kill and that is probably the main motivation for travel writing, also travel reading. The process of remembering details or taking notes as one travels actually corrupts the experience, and the act of reading about travel dilutes future experience. I totally oppose identifying travel photos on the Internet and my reasons are simply that the human brain can barely differentiate between a photo and real life, so seeing enough photos of a Mayan temple is mentally not much different than visiting the site itself, but the experience is completely different. I took a panga boat taxi to a rural peninsula in search of a rarely visited Mayan site in northern Guatemala and stumbled on the overgrown ruins of some kind of Mayan plaza and a plaque that said Hernan Cortez had visited that specific location. There were no trails or guides or admission fees and rain was pelting me and dogs were barking in the low fog. My shoes were squeaking. I was lost. It was an experience. So, someone may look at a photo of Yosemite Valley, which I urge you NOT to do, and think they want to visit Yosemite Valley. But the surprise of seeing Yosemite Valley for the first time, something early pioneers certainly felt, will be slightly ruined by the past experience of seeing the photo. It is like watching a movie trailer that includes every plot point and good joke. I applied to many National Parks Concession services in 1990, and when I received an offer of employment from Yosemite I had no idea where I was going. 1990 was before the Internet and I had never visited California and the employment application was a generic form with no photos and I applied to so many national parks that I could not research them all in library encyclopedias. Thus, I left Fairbanks, Alaska in March 1990 with a backpack and an axe and hitchhiked in the direction of Yosemite Valley with no idea what to expect except a valley of some kind. I arrived at night in the back of a lurching pickup truck driven by some restaurant workers taking a trip to Merced and back. The journey itself is another epic saga I won´t go into right now, but by the time I reached Yosemite in April I was a physical and mental mess, delirious, starving. I could hear water and figured there was a river nearby. I actually camped illegally in the forest because I had run completely out of money at the time and could not afford a real campsite. I woke up the next morning and saw Yosemite Valley and the many cliff Waterfalls in full Spring explosion for the first time, which will drop anyone´s jaw. That experience was only possible because I never researched my destination and never saw a million photos of the valley first. So, aside from one video, I will not include photos of my travels because I must identify where I went and the photos would dilute your experience if you ever follow my footsteps. Also, a writer is supposed to write. However, I am not opposed to taking photos because writing and photography are two different mediums. Taking photos is a slight distraction, but if I'm trying to develop the literary ideas of an experience then the photo will be a distraction to the reader. There is no short cut to experience and I'm not writing this as a surrogate travel experience for the readers. No, the writing is an essay or 'assaying' of the landscape of my own experience the same way a surveyor traces the contours of the hills and maps out boundaries. Photos are photos and essays are essays and the two don't have much to do with one another in my mind but posting photos to the internet tends to diminish the excitement and mystery of the locations that I visited and I don't want to do that. I don't even want to risk doing that so I will post few photos. I read some silly essay by a writer who argues that not taking photos makes him a traveler, while a photographer is a tourist. I think that's a simplistic and vague distinction. Taking photographs doesn't mean you are trying to 'capture' the moment because you don't appreciate it; photography is another art form just like writing doesn't mean you are trying to describe an experience so others don't have to attempt it. The suggestion that reading Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck means you don't have to look at Dorothea Lange's dust bowl photos is as ridiculous as suggesting either Lange or Steinbeck were travelers or tourists in 1933 California. They were journalists employing different mediums and my final thoughts on this subtopic is this: a writer and a photojournalist have a responsibility to their subject; a photo or an essay should communicate truth and not misrepresent. Let this, at least, be the goal.

A wise man once said, ¨Don´t take a map, make a map.¨ This is my map.

My objective in returning to Guatemala was to explore the regions (I'd already lived there, left, returned and then left and now returned again) that I knew would destroy my van if I tried to drive there.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Maldito Amor

 I am learning this song on the mandolin. Vicente has the strongest voice of all the Ranchera singers but I think I can tame the melody to something in my range. The lyrics basically curse the woman who broke his heart, or maybe they curse himself for falling in love with the wrong person.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Q & A With Oggy

Q: We´re here with Oggy Bleacher, the Man in the Van. How you feel, Oggy? Still shitting the bed?
Oggy: My stomach felt like the spawn of Satan had been implanted in my intestines and was gestating. The things that came out of me could be villains in a low budget TMC movie. The toilet was begging to be euthanized.
Q: You do look horrible.
Oggy: Thanks. I am better now. Mostly.
Q: How much do you weigh?
Oggy: If Miley Cyrus ate a whole pizza. That is what I weigh.
Q: So, like, 100 pounds?
Oggy: Depends on the toppings.
Q: Any other news?
Oggy: The world is fucked up.
Q: Care to elaborate?
Oggy: Current events are fucking with my head. You got Tamir Rice, executed in a park by police while playing with an air pistol. If his mother took a belt to his ass to punish him for playing in the park with an air pistol then she would go to jail for child abuse. But the cops executed him for the same reason and no charges were filed. That is fucked up right?
Q: I don´t get involved in controversial issues. I just ask the questions.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

That Thing When You Shit Your Bed? That Sucks.

I tried to get to the Capitol but ended up near Honduras, sick, coughing, and then I woke up and shit the bed. I farted and followed through. It is the damn water and the bowel parasites. No projectile vomiting fortunately, but I shit puddles on the floor and then walked in it on my way back to bed. Oh well. At least this bed has springs and some padding for my skinny flanks. I am so thin my shoes are falling off. excuse me, my ´check colon´ light is blinking. gotta sign off.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Modern Pirates

Carlos, on the left, asked me to take a photo of him and his friend Taco. Classic.  I tried to find them again to give them a copy. In an alternate universe they are morning radio talk show hosts.

About 1000 percent humidity at this spanish castle. My pirate costume did nothing to make me feel less hot. I felt like Captain Jack Sparrow could arrive any minute.
I've been fighting a cold for a month now and coughing and sweating and generally dying slowly at the hands of better bacteria. But wandering through Guatemala, regretting my past, mulling the future. My trip is unplanned, but that doesn't mean I am unprepared. There is a fine difference. I got on a bus yesterday thinking it was going one place and learned it was going to Honduras. Wait wait wait, I don't want to go to Honduras. So I had to get off and get a bus back and then wander for a cheap hostel. I've been thinking of a reality show called "Hostel Makeovers" and this developed my a recent experience where I think I slept on the worst mattress in Guatemala and deserved a t-shirt. That made me think of an interesting quest to find the actual worst hostel in guatemala. or maybe find the worst hostel in the world. that would be fun. it is easy to find luxury, but imagine how hard you will have to look to find the worst? and then I thought, well, if I found the worst then maybe I could film the process of making it slightly better. But the fact it is the worst is sort of a source of pride and could be advertised. "Stay in the worst hostel in Guatemala! We dare you!" that type of thing. all these reality shows and I think one in which some people wander around the world improving hostels would work. I mean, try to make them slightly less filthy, keep children away from the dorms, keep lights off when they are directly outside a window, hey, maybe even provide a clean sheet and a mattress that is not a thin veil of cotton drapped over a torturous nest of rusting wire? I don't know. call me crazy. I am sick and coughing blood all over this keyboard so someone else will get sick. Awful.
Built around 1650 to repel Caribbean pirate attacks.

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.