Boring Rice

Just a quick blog entry so that I don’t forget to write down something funny that happened the other day…

At home, I was served a dish which was very close to risotto, one of my favorite dishes of all time. I commented on it to Gladys, but she said, “No, it is just chicken and rice.” I then explained that in the US (and Italy, where it comes from) we use a kind of rice called aborrio rice (arroz aborrio) to make risotto. She chuckled and said, “You use boring rice?” (¿Usan arroz aburrido?)

And thus, I understood my first Spanish pun.

Busco un mecánico de motores dieseles

Hoy he tratado una vez mas de encontrar un mecánico de motores dieseles. Quiero aprender las cosas principales que necesito aprobar antes llamo un mecánico verdadero, y las cosas que puedo reparar facílmente con solamente mis manos y mente. Cuando navigaba en Wonderland, leía los libros sobre motores de mar, pero todavía necesito escuchar a un maestro y ver un motor verdadero. Varios veces preguntaba a personas como mis compañeros de trabajo y mi familia donde puedo encontrar un mecánico, pero todos no sabían.

El lugar mejor para encontrar un mecánico es en el terreno cerca la oficina. Allí, ellos estaciónan los autobuses cada noche. Siempre hay joven allí con manos aceitosas. Pero cuando visité ayer, recibí un recepción muy friá.

Hoy, estaba hablando con un hombre quien trabajaba cerca de mi casa. Le pregunté sobre un mecánico otro vez, y él me ofreció para presentarme a su primo quien es un mecánico. Etonces esta tarde nosotros caminamos arriba dos caminos y encontramos al mecánico. Fui muchas mas amicable, pero dijo que no hay mucho trabajo en diesels aquí. La mayoría del trabajo se hace en la capital o en Xela.

Voy a continuar buscando a un maestro aquí, pero es posible que no puedo encontrar le aquí.

Por lo menos compré un helado mientras que fui caminando de nuevo a la oficina.

In English

Today I tried once again to find a diesel mechanic. I want to learn what things I need to check before calling a real mechanic, and the things that I can easily fix myself with only my hands and my brain. When I was sailing on Wonderland, I read the books on board about marine diesel engines, but I still need to listen to a teacher and see a real engine. Several times I have asked people like my coworkers and my family where to find a mechanic, but they all don’t know.

The best place to find one would be in a property nearby the office. There, they park the buses every night. There are always guys there with greasy hands. But when I visited yesterday, I got a cool reception.

Today, I was talking with a guy who works near my house. I asked again about a mechanic and he offered to introduce me to his cousin who is one. So this afternoon we walked over a couple of streets and met the mechanic. He was much more friendly, but he told me that there is not much diesel work here. The majority of the work is done in the capital or in Xela.

I will keep searching for a teacher here, but it is possible that I won’t be able to find one here.

At least I bought an ice cream while walking back to the office.

The Last Chapter on Airtech

I flew to Cancun using Airtech for just $250 round trip. What a deal! The only thing you have to do to get such a good price is not have any fixed plans and be willing to put up with slightly bizarre customer service.

Today, I got this email from the President of AirTech. I asked him if I could post it because it seems to provide a fitting close to the story of my AirTech customer experience. He gladly gave his permission, and commented that one of the nice things about owning your own company is that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Indeed!

From: Michael Esterson
Subject: blacklisted

Just kidding,

but you are a snide little basterd, glad  your trip went well
and that you chose us over airhitch, you seem to enjoy toying
with human emotions, stick this on your blog if you dare, you
seemed to be well traveled, if not slightly stoooopid... Thanks
for the mention, i subscribe to the  notion that all publicity
is good. BTW this company used to have about 15 employees now
we are down to 4 but now  i am getting rich be-yatch!

Michael Esterson
President, Airtech

To anyone who is considering flying AirTech out there, my advice would be… go for it, but only after reading my entries on it (#1, #2, and this one). Understand you are not exactly dealing with United Airlines, but for at least one flight, AirTech got me safely and cheaply to Cancun.

Robbed in Santiago Atitlan

Well, it had to happen sooner or later. The good news is I didn’t get hurt, and they didn’t get very much from me.

I went for a day trip to Santiago Atitlan yesterday. It is an easy trip; you just take the boat over and back. I was only planning on walking around town, seeing the market, having lunch, and coming home, so I didn’t take much with me, not even my backpack. Just my camera in one pocket, and my wallet in the other.

I had a nice time shopping before lunch. I found some soap that my grandmother asked for, and a cloth bag to carry the soap and other stuff in. I went to a nice place for lunch, and had virtually the same lunch I had several times in Senegal: roasted chicken with carmelized onion sauce. Chickens, charcoal, and onions seem to be some of those universal constants in the kitchen. The other is “a small white fish, fried whole and put on a plate”. I’ve had that served to me in two places in Senegal and about 5 places here. For the record, it never really gets easier to politely deal with all the bones. Not my favorite dish, due to the sheer inconvenience of it.

After lunch I decided to take the long way back to the boats to enjoy a little walk and see a bit more of the town. The course I charted for myself was about right… down through a neighborhood to the fields at the edge of the lake, then follow the lake around to the embarcadero. On my way through the neighborhood, a kid walking towards me tried to snatch my watch off my wrist. The kind of watch band I have (The Band, from Chisco) does not come off like that, so he didn’t get it. I turned around and just watched him walk off, thinking to myself, “What a complete asshole.” As I turned to keep walking, I made eye contact with a girl who saw it happen and she seemed unsurprised but maybe a bit cognizant of how behavior like this from her neighbors makes people feel about coming to buy things from her.

I continued my walk, which turned out to be a mistake. Clearly I was outside the allotted zone in Santiago Atitlan “Where We Don’t Rob Tourists”. Alas, on my way out of the fields, about 50 meters from town, I got stopped by two kids. The one in front had a machete, and it was him I concentrated on and dealt with. I suspect the other one was simply along for the ride. The kid in front grabbed my wrist first thing. He never really threatened my physically with the machete, but as he approached to grab my wrist, he showed it to me.

After a tiny struggle where we came to equilibrium, he understanding I wasn’t going anywhere and wasn’t going to resist physically, and I certain I wasn’t in any physical danger from a knife. So I looked at him and stupidly and clumsily said, “What do you want?” As though I didn’t have a clue. I don’t know why, but my instinct was to take things slow, to be slow and stupid, and waste his time. It turned out to be a pretty good idea, because he knew he was exposed where we were, and needed to get this transaction over with rapido. He answered, “Dinero. Rapido, rapido.” Which was fine with me, because I had considered what I’d do if I got robbed before, and knew I’d happily give them all my money. As a result, I never carry much money. I had about 300 quetzales, or $40 dollars.

Then something mildly amusing happened. Or at least the only thing amusing I can take away from getting robbed. He was holding my right wrist, tight. As I went to put my right hand in my pocket to get the money it was clear to both of us this wasn’t going to work. He seemed unsure what to do about the problem, so I put my other wrist over by his hand for him to take so he could still hold me, but also get his money. As kc says, I need a bumpersticker that says “Sysadmins: we fix stuff.”

Clearly he hadn’t done this much before. Of course, he looked to be only 15 years old or so, so he hadn’t much time to practice.

So I get out my wallet and pull out all the money and give it to him. He wanted the wallet, but I told him, no, take the money (which was a pointless argument because there was nothing else in the wallet; my cards, passport, etc live other places). Somewhere along the line, he grabbed the gold chain I wear, which was a present from kc. That really pissed me off, but I was too busy dealing with the money and his other demands to do anything about it. I really regret now that I didn’t figure out a way to trade him the money for the chain… it was worth much more to me than to him, and I’m sure the time it would have taken to argue about this would have been all good for me and all bad for him.

Then he asked for my camera. It was put away in my pocket and I was certain he had not seen it yet. So I said that I didn’t have one. This was a bit more of a risk than I should have taken, because (1) it is insured, and (2) it’s unclear how things would have worked out if he’d found the camera afterall. Again though, I was helped by the fact we were in broad daylight on a trail with a lot of traffic, he was in a huge hurry, and I was under no real physical threat. So after asking a few more times, tugging fruitlessly at my watch and my new bag securely on my shoulder, they gave up and took off. I watched them head on down the trail to see if any witnesses would show up, but alas no one did.

I walked up the trail and asked the people sitting on a doorstep if they knew the two kids that walked by. Without a beat they said, “Did they rob you?” So clearly they either knew the kids or knew their reputation. I told them yes, and they asked how much I lost. I told them only 300 quetzales, and they said, “No we don’t know them. Nope.” Which I’m pretty sure was a lie. I think they were just calculating the various costs/benefits of turning them in. Probably they needed to know how much I lost to calculate the kickback they would be getting from the thiefs. But I was in a pretty dark mood then, and perhaps they were just telling the truth. But I doubt it.

So lessons… Don’t keep walking in a neighboorhood after the first robbery attempt, no matter how fleeting. Continue not carrying much cash. And, if time is on your side (it is daylight, you can expect other foot traffic), and you are not actively being threatened with harm, take your time and waste theirs. The sooner they give up and take off, the less you lose.

Oh, and I didn’t report it to the police. The travel insurance I have does not cover cash, only stuff. So it would have just been a waste of time, and contrary to one of the cardinal rules of travel in Guatemala: the less you have to do with the police the better. Yes, even walking into a police station to report a robbery is, alas, breaking that rule. It is not inconcieveable that you could walk in to the police and end up set up for some other crime! Oversight from the capital is apparently not a top priority for the police.

Big News in the Family

This weekend one of Paulina’s daughters (Paulina is mi abuela or grandmother, here) flew to Canada for a 4 month internship. She will be working with a program in Saskatchewan that provides services to rural communities. She’s pretty good at English (about as good as I am at Spanish, I guess), but she’ll be getting quite a lot more practice in Canada, that’s for sure! She will be in Vancouver the first week for some kind of orientation, then she will move to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for the duration of her visit.

She normally lives and studies in Xela. She’s one of several kids Paulina has in Xela. Last time I was here I noticed her making way more tortillas than even I eat and asked why. Turns out once a week she sends a batch of tortillas to Xela on a chicken bus unattended. At the other end, one of the kids picks up the tortillas and distributes them. She says she does it because corn is cheaper here in San Pedro. Also, I suspect it’s a matter of time, and motherly love. She’s got the time to do the work here, and her kids don’t (so the would have to eat machine made tortillas, which are more expensive since you have to pay for the shop, the equipment, the labor, the profit, etc).

Finally, in Latin American cultures, it’s always worth considering the gender aspect. At least one of her children in Xela is a man, and men don’t cook. In fact, when I express interest in what’s going on in the kitchen the women here are a little surprised (but not too much, as they have had gringos living with them for years now). Time and again I wonder what life would be like here if I were a woman traveler. I suspect there are some walls between me and the mothers who feed me that would fall away after a bit.

This is the first person in the family to travel outside of Central America. In honor of her trip, the entire family traveled with her to Guatemala City to send her off. They all got up at 2 am this morning and took the bus in, then returned this afternoon. I think there were at least 6 people traveling with her to the Guatemala airport.

It was heartwarming to see the same kind of excitement, sadness, and fear before a big trip in this family that I see in my own. Paulina washed her daughter’s backpack for her (just like my Mom helped me do earlier this year!) and all the women worked together in the kitchen preparing snacks to take on the bus with them.

After dinner tonight, Paulina asked me, “Are the taxi drivers in Canada dangerous?” She was worried because with layovers and whatnot, her daughter will not arrive in Vancouver until 8 pm. Arriving in a strange city at 8 pm in Guatemala is a big no-no. When I am traveling here, I always aim to be indoors in a safe place (like my hotel or family) by sunset. Once I know a city a bit more, I may stay out after dark, but only after getting a feel for it during the day. So, you can understand this Guatemalan mother’s concern. I reassured her that Canada is a much safer country than Guatemala is, and that in particular the taxis are safe.

The other thing Paulina probably does not know about Canada is how long the summer days are up there. Something that I really miss about summer in the tropics is that the days are still about 12 hours long, instead of the amazing 16 hour days we get up north. According to sunset comes at 8:15 pm this time of year in Vancouver, whereas it comes at 6 pm down here.

It has been much rainer recently. Towards the end of the week the weather changed from spring-like days with afternoon and evening thunderstorms to slow, consistent rain with short breaks of clouds but no rain. At least the mornings start out nice, but that can be a problem because it is easy to get caught out with shorts and no jacket as the rain starts for another 12 hours. It was quite cold this evening, as a result of the afternoon of rain. When I got back to my room the first thing I did was put on some socks! Tomorrow I think I will leave the house wearing my boots instead of my sandals.

I was hoping to go to Santiago Atitlan this weekend for a day trip, but I stayed indoors today instead. Perhaps tomorrow will be better weather, and I can go then.

Whoa! As I was writing this a giant green cricket-like thing came flying in my room and landed on the wall, narrowly missing my head. I got Paulina to show her, and she said “It’s Delores.” As I stood there, stunned, trying to understand how it was that I had lived in this house almost a month and not met the family pet, Delores the Cricket, she clarified: “In Tz’utujil, it’s called a
delores”. (I suspect I have the spelling wrong on the Mayan word for cricket, but it sure sounded like Delores.) I explained why I was confused, and they thought it was pretty funny.


Upon re-reading my own words, not even I could believe myself. How could the showers possibly be that scary? So I decided I should show you:

A close-up of the wires that worry me so.

A close-up of the wires that worry me so.

The aqua-death-machine.

The aqua-death-machine.

I talked to a tall guy from Australia, who says that he gets shocks all the time, because he’s up so much closer to the showerhead. I don’t know whether this is typical Aussie bluster, or if it’s true. I can only be thankful that I am much closer to the average (tall) Guatemalan’s size.

A day in my life in San Pedro

I’ve been working here in San Pedro for two weeks now, and I owe people an update on what I’m up to here.

The first week, I slept in a hotel and ate at the house of my coworker’s parents. I was going to move in with them when they got a bed for their spare room, but they couldn’t find a convenient one to borrow or buy. So, after a week in the hotel, I found the family I lived with before at the top of the hill and asked them for a room. They were delighted to have me back with them.

I live with Familia Bixchul, including Paula (the grandmother), Gloria (the mom), Juan Diego (Gloria’s son), and Jennifer (Juan’s sister). Both Paula and Gloria have husbands who live in the house, but for some reason our schedules never overlap, so I really don’t know them at all. It’s like this in Guatemalan families I’ve observed: the extended family lives together, but people come and go on their own schedule. The food is all the kind that tastes fine if it’s been sitting on the stove a while, so when you are ready for a meal, you just present yourself to Paula, and eat with whoever else it already there.

Speaking of whoever else, this week we had two guys from the United States staying with us. The maximum gringo capacity of this house is 3, which suits me fine. It’s nice to have some company from time to time, and also nice not to be overrun by english speakers.

As I mentioned before, it’s pretty much impossible to sleep in Guatemala after about 6 am. The roosters start at 4:30 am, the mill starts at 5:30, and by 6 am, the neighbors all have their radios on at top volume. After all, if your neighbor’s marimba music is at top volume, how else will you be able to hear your evangelical choir other than to play it at top volume? It sort of makes sense, if you think about it. And believe me, every morning I lay in bed thinking about it…

So I get up at 6:30 am or so and have a shower. I’ve long since gotten used to the aqua-death-machine that Guatemalans call a shower and hardly flinch when the lights dim, in a great approximation of the effect they use in the electric chair scenes in movies. In case I didn’t mention it before, it’s an electric showerhead. Remember how when you were a kid your parents taught you that electricty + bath = death? Turns out they what they meant was, “Electricty + bath = death, but not if you’re in Guatemala”. I cannot explain it, but somehow I have not yet been killed by the electric showerhead. I fully expect to tomorrow, as I do every morning.

Ok, I’ll stop being a joker for a second. What I’m talking about is a just-in-time water heater. We have them in the US too, for making our tea. How bourgeois. The reason I call them aqua-death-machines is that instead of being mounted under a counter, where you can pretend that water is not being mixed with electricity to make your tea, the actual showerhead is the heater. And there’s a pair of wires leading from the showerhead to the wall. Usually, in lieu of wire nuts, the wires are twisted together and have some electrical tape on them. The electrical tape is usually peeling off, as it does. And all this is suspended somewhat precariously above you.

So anyway… I survive my nice comfortable shower, and head up for breakfast. It’s two pancakes and atol (which is like cream of wheat, or oatmeal, or mashed plantains). Mi abuela remembered that I can’t eat three pancakes, how cool is that? I go back downstairs and kill time for a while, studying Spanish or reading (in English so far, though I hope to read a few Spanish books while I am here).

I head in to work at 8:30 or so. Earlier this week I was arriving before everyone else, so I gave up and am arriving closer to 9 am now. I sit down and like all computer workers everywhere, commence staring at the computer for several hours. What I’m doing during that time is working on two software projects that I think Planeta en Línea could use. For both of them, I am also concentrating on how I can make them useful to the wider community. Afterall, there’s no sense having my work be stuck here at this one site.

For the techies out there, the two projects are related to network monitoring and DNS. No big surprise there. If the DNS thing turns out like I hope, it might be the kind of thing you’ll want to use in the little Internet Cafe that is your home network. If I don’t announce anything, it’s been a spectacular failure. Feel free to ridicule me for announcing vaporware.

One thing I’ve learned is how inconvient it is to live your digital life in a language other then English. How many of you out there knew that Putty has a UTF-8 mode, and that it is not the default? How many of you knew that if you only set the LANG variable to “es”, Unix does The Wrong Thing. You have to tell it which Spanish you want. Guatemalan is “es_GT.UTF-8”. For the record, Windows does this all much, much closer to right than Unix. But take a look at the first three bytes of a file saved as UTF-8 in notepad.exe sometime. (Have a vomit bag handy.)

When I’m not hacking code, I hang out downstairs in the Internet Cafe, poking at the machines and thinking about how I might make the administration of them better. Because Planeta en Línea is already doing a fantastic job, it’s tricky to figure out where I can be helpful instead of just an annoying gringo with Big Ideas. The last thing I want is to leave behind things that are a burden to maintain.

Juan and I also have been working on parts of the network, to make the wifi distribution more solid and to find and fix problems. Juan is a pretty good troubleshooter, so I don’t have much to teach. Mostly I learn Spanish as I try to explain an idea for a test I have, only to find out that’s precisely what Juan is already doing. “Ya hago,” dice con una sonrisa. Doh.

Lunch is at 12:30 or so. I trudge up the hill and eat, then hang out for a while, sometimes even sneaking a siesta in (but not often). Juan and I start work again at 2 pm. We usually have a Photoshop lesson then, but some days things come up and we don’t do it.

Monday, Wednesday and Friday I have Spanish lessons from 3 pm until 6 pm. My teacher is Jose from the same school I studied at before. He’s patient, and does a good job of mixing conversation and exercises. I have to be pretty clear about what I want him to teach me, instead of just waiting for the lessons to come. Left to his own devices, I think he’d be happy to only use conversation to teach me. Alas, I know that when I am corrected in the middle of a conversation the lesson goes in one ear and out the other. I have to learn by reading, and preferably by writing. Jose now knows that, and we are coming to a workable system. I think I’ll probably stick with him for many more weeks, possibly as long as I am here.

Dinner is around 6:30 pm. It is every day, without fail, eggs and beans (and the ubiquitous tortillas). Which is no big deal, I like eggs and beans. But 7 days out of 7 is a few too many. So I warned my family when I moved in that they should expect that 2 or 3 days a week I would eat dinner on my own in the gringo establishments down the hill. That helps me keep my sanity, and I meet interesting people too. Last night I met a pair of precocious sisters and a very proud dad. He’s brought them to San Pedro two summers in a row to help them master Spanish.

On the weekends I plan an outting for myself. Last weekend I went to the market at Chichicastenango. It was moderately interesting, but really not much different than any other market I’ve been to here. It is mostly an example of travel book hype. Sometimes you wonder if the travel book writers are actually all located in New York, and just take what other people said and fluff it up. I’m convinced that the infinite cycle of plagarism and fluffery results in things like the market at Chichi.

Tomorrow, I am going to take a hike up to the top of a nearby mountain. I managed to join up with some Aussies who arranged it. They are a really nice couple, just finished working 2 years in a health clinic in the outback. They are now blowing the money they couldn’t spend on anything in that small-town life on 12 months traveling from Mexico to Patagonia (or until the money runs out, whichever comes first).

In case it wasn’t clear (after the hyperbole about the aqua-death-machines) I’m quite happy here. This is exactly what I envisioned for myself for this time. It remains to be seen how helpful I can really be to Planeta en Línea, but I can tell that this time is going to be useful to me!

Un Entierro Guatemalteco

Jarachik, one of the restaurants/hotels in town is owned by a father and son team from Holland. This week Hank, the father, died of heart failure. It was a big shock to such a little community, and he will be missed. His son has a good support network here, so hopefully he will find the strength to get sorted out in his new life alone (his mother is also dead).

I felt a bit of connection to the family because when I arrived in San Pedro the first time, I was late to meet my contact at the Casa Rosario Spanish school. I needed to make a phone call and Mark, Hank’s son, let me make a call from the hotel desk. Later that week I met Hank in the Buddah Bar and was inspired by the story of how he and his son came together to San Pedro to open this hotel together.

This afternoon, the funeral procession passed by the office where I am working, so I joined it. Locals and gringos were carrying Hank’s coffin through the streets from Jarachik, where it had been for the wake, to the cemetary which is at the top of the hill. It was a long way to go with a heavy casket, but the men took turns carrying it, and we got it there safely. I was honored to be asked to take my turn to get Hank safely up the hill, through the winding streets of San Pedro.

At the cemetary, several people made some little speeches in Spanish, then they slid the coffin into an above-ground crypt. A bricklayer was on hand with cement, ready to wall up the front of it.

A couple memories stand out from the experience. First, because gringos are in general much taller than local men, there was some difficulty carrying the coffin. After a few changes resulting in too much weight on the tall people, people got the idea and sorted themselves into altos y pequeños. (Soy un pequeño.) Later when it came time to lift the coffin way up into the air to put it into the crypt, the call came from somewhere in the crowd, ¡Altos, por favor!

Another memory is of the bricklayer, who was standing up on the crypt structure to help get the coffin in. Once it was in as far as los altos could push with their hands, he slid it home by giving it a gentle shove with his foot. It struck me immediately as disrespectful, then immediately again as pure Guatemala: when there’s something heavy to be moved here, people work together, and they work hard. Basically the only tool they use is their bodies, and they get the job done neatly, simply and efficiently. Lest I paint the bricklayer as some brute, I should point out that his next action was to take boquets of flowers from the women in the crowd and neatly arrange them in front of the coffin. Finally, he started measuring up the wall he was about to build at the front of the crypt. I look forward to seeing how Mark’s friends help him decorate the front of the crypt.

It was a great experience. Somber, of course. But I also felt honored to be able to pop out of my doorway and walk along with Hank as he took his last trip through the streets of San Pedro, a city he loved enough to come back to again and again until he lived here.

What a year!

It’s just over one year since I’ve worked full time, and I thought it would be fun to make a bunch of lists of what I’ve done in that year.


  • About 33000 miles by airplane, visiting 14 airports
  • Around 6000 miles by car
  • 2000 nautical miles by sailboat
  • 1000 nautical miles on the Alaska Marine Highway (a car ferry)

Types of vehicles

  • My Slumbaru
  • Airplanes
  • Buses
  • Taxis
  • Pickup trucks
    • with dead goat
    • without dead goat
  • Boats
    • Wonderland
    • Ferry from Haines, AK to Bellevue, WA
    • Ferry on Lake Geneva
    • Senegalese water taxi
    • Lanchas in Guatemala
  • A camel
  • A horse
  • My hiking boots
  • A zipline


You can see a full list, as well as I can remember, at Tagzania. I ended up with 75 places, which means that in a year I moved to a new place on average every 4.8 days! Hopefully when Tagzania clears up some bugs, I can post a map visually showing all the places I was.

  • United States
    • States: CA, NY, CT, MA, NV, UT, CO, WY, MT, AK, WA, OR, AZ, NM, VA, TX, TX, TX (so big it counts for 3!)
    • Notable cities: San Antontio, Austin, Dallas, Houston, Portland, Salem, Seattle, Whitehorse, Skagway, Haines, Telluride, Hyder, San Francisco, Pasadena, San Diego, Arnold, Roseburg
  • Canada (Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon Territory)
  • Portugal (Lisbon and several other small towns to the south)
  • Spain
    • Ayamonte
    • Canary Islands (a special administrative region of Spain)
      • Arrecife
      • Las Palmas de Gran Canarie
      • Santa Cruz de Tenerife
      • Isle of Graciosa
  • Senegal (mostly Dakar, but also a village on the Saloum River)
  • Belize
  • Guatemala
    • Flores
    • San Andrés
    • Livingston
    • Puerto Barrios
    • Coban
    • Panajachel
    • San Pedro
    • Quetzaltenango
  • Mexico
    • San Cristobal las Casas
    • Palenque
    • Oaxaca
    • Puebla
    • Mexico City

National Parks

  • United States
    • Great Basin National Park
    • Arches National Park
    • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
    • Grand Tetons National Park
    • Yellowstone National Park
    • Glacier National Park
    • Klondike Goldrush National Historical Park
    • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Canada
    • Waterton Lakes National Park
    • Banff National Park
    • Jasper National Park

Work (6 out of 52 isn’t bad, is it?)

  • Tellme, Sysadmin, 3 weeks
  • Tellme (Virginia), manual assembly, 3 weeks
  • Freelance consulting, 2 sales calls (yes sales!)


  • 6 weeks one on one Spanish lessons
  • 4 classes in 3 weeks with RedR
  • bunches of American Red Cross classes

Languages I’ve heard (and sometimes spoken)

  • English (Texan, American, English, International)
  • Spanish
  • Spanglish
  • Dutch
  • German
  • French
  • Italian
  • Hebrew
  • Japanese
  • Several Mayan languages
  • Wolof and one other Senegalese tribal language whose name I forget

People I met came from

  • New Zealand
  • Germany
  • Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Toronto, Canada
  • Madras, India
  • Australia
  • Cameroon
  • Argentina
  • Uruguay
  • Spain
  • England
  • Ireland
  • United States
    • Washington, DC
    • San Francisco, CA
    • Berkeley, CA

Professions of people I’ve met

  • First time resturanteur in Haines, Alaska
  • American bar owner in Guatemala
  • Dreadlock-wearing lawyer
  • Doctors and nurses
  • MSF Logisticians
  • IT guys (but no gals, hmm)
  • Electrician
  • Tax accountant (it’s true, they really are boring)
  • Teachers
  • Civil engineers
  • Retired British Army seargent

Stuff I would never leave home without

  • My black REI One jacket
  • My (now) battered and ragged pair of Chacos
  • A notebook (mine’s from Lanzarote!)
  • Leatherman
  • My guardian angel keyring
  • 2 500ml Nalgene bottles

Stuff I keep carrying, but never really use

  • A mini Moosewood Cookbook
  • Universal drain plug
  • My Tilley Hat

My Quick Mental Checklist while Traveling

  • Can you get out of legal trouble? Have you touched your passport?
  • Can you buy yourself out of any other problem? Do you have 2 cards that work in ATM’s, more than one credit card, and some US dollars in $20’s and at least one $100? Are some of those things not in the same place as others?
  • Will you be flying? Have you touched your flight paperwork?
  • Will you be riding a bus? Do you have food and water?
  • Is your shampoo in the shower still?
  • Have you told your guardian angels where you’re about to go?

Things I learned

  • In the middle of the ocean, steering through a squall, running aground is the last thing you think of. (But when you do think of it, you feel like an idiot since land is over 1000 miles away.)
  • Construction (and most other engineering aspects of life) is the same in Guatemala and Senegal
  • How to type on a US keyboard in Spánísh módé.
  • The chicken salad sandwiches in Guatemala City won’t kill you.
  • How to unlock a GSM phone.
  • No one in London’s ever been to East Anglia. Trying to find someone who has is like trying to find someone in New York who has been to Rhode Island.