On the Chupacabra Trail

A document of my super sized vacation through Central and South American

Home again, home again, jiggedy jig

I was supposed to come to New York and take a bit of staycation.  I was planning to see friends, retrieve some of my colder weather clothes, get my grub on, go to some of my favorite spots, and just enjoy the city.  Then I was going to go back home to Mississippi.  The fact is that I can’t afford to stay in New York. I don’t have enough left in my savings to fund a long term job search, if it comes to that.  And in New York there’s just too much opportunity and temptation to spend the little money I do have.  At home I have a place to stay and food to eat.  Home is like being in stasis.  I may not move forward, but at least I’m not sliding back.  It buys me time to figure out what I want, perhaps find a job and save a bit of money.  Although at 29 years of not knowing what I want, I don’t imagine that it will suddenly come to me in MS.  But… it buys me time.

But best laid plans… blah, blah, blah.  My friend, in a bid to never get me to leave the city ever again, offered me part time temporary work to help do outreach for an event she’s planning.  2-3 days a week she said.  I figured it would just be food money for the few weeks I was here and I could stand to spend a couple days a week working to subsidize my food budget.  Maybe it would even be enough to buy me some time to search for work. 
Well, fast forward: my more practical friends encouraged me to apply at my old job.  At the very least, it would be a way to sustain myself in New York until I found a job I like more.  So I did.  And I now have a job offer to work at the place I was so desperate to leave to begin with.  I have to reason to believe things will be better this time around.  Even before I left, I realized that a lot of my issue with my work wasn’t the work, but with particular people I was working with and working for.  My team was known for having demanding clients and for working late.  This time I will be on a different team working with different people, and I think it might be better this time around.  
I’m still working at my friend’s job, but even though I wouldn’t start my re-job until after this position ends, I think I’m calling it quits at the end of this week.  It’s actually 4 days a week, not 2-3, completely ruining my idea of taking a New York staycation. I’m not sure exactly why I hate this job so much.  Perhaps its the pay, that is downright insulting and unmotivating.  Perhaps, it’s because I am soon to start a real job so the pennies I earn at this job don’t make it worth it for me to spend my last 2 weeks of freedom in an office.  Perhaps its because I don’t like how things are managed here.  Perhaps, I’m just not used to the drudgery of office work.  Either way, I sort of dread coming into this office.  The friend who is employing me will balk, and perhaps I should be more conscious of the needs of the person who has been letting stay with her rent free.
So that’s it.  I’m not a traveler anymore.  I am back in New York.  Still homeless, but now partially and soon to be fully employed.  This isn’t the final posts.  It’s hardly and update. I’ll try to update this blog with back posts, but I’ll be moving my blogging elsewhere.
Stay posted.

Locked and Loaded

Well, it’s official.  On September 28th i will be flying into New York.  It took a while to buy a ticket.  I debated on the exact date.  Then when I arrived at the complete purchase page, I just stared at the screen double and triple checking the dates, trying to convince myself to COMMIT, MAKE PLANS, and press the “COMPLETE TRANSACTION” button.

Now that I’ve committed to an exact date of return, I’m eager -and a bit impatient- to go back.  I’m not excited about not having money, having to find employment, or living with my parents.  But this is the next stage of my life, and I’m ready to begin it.

I’m also deciding how to spend my final weeks.  There are plenty of places to go and things to see in Colombia.  I’ve visited very few of them, but my energy has dissipated.  I can’t muster much energy to see new places, or meet new people.  I haven’t even been drinking or going out that much.  My lackadaisical mood is likely a result of the fact that from now until my flight, I feel like I’m just killing time.  It’s the waiting room of life: the moment preceding a major change.  I’ve unfocused on what’s now so that I can look at what’s next.

I was going to stay in Bogota for the remainder of my time here, but Bogota’s climate is unpleasant.  It’s chilly and often overcast.  The difference between the colder climates I’ve experienced in Latin America and cold weather in New York is the lack of indoor heating.  New York may snow and reach temperatures far colder, but indoor heating is mandatory.  In Bogota, I’m cold indoors and out.  If I’m soon to return to fall weather in the United States, shouldn’t I treat myself to someplace warmer for my last weeks of freedom?  Perhaps some days relaxing on a beach will allow me to both do little, and stay warm at the same time.

Decision time

So today, I seriously thought:  I want to go home.  I’m hungover, so not in the best of moods, but it was a pretty strong feeling of just not wanting to be here anymore, which is odd because I’ve had a lot of fun these past 3 nights in Bogota.  

I only have enough money to support myself for another month or two anyway without having to resort to prostitution.  So perhaps I should go ahead and buy a flight.   I think having a set date of return will shore up my positive feelings about going home.

So when should I make my triumphant return?  Exactly a year from the day I left? Tomorrow?  Beginning of October?  

I’m finally resigned to my fate and it feels… okay.

1/100 - Valentin of the 100 Strangers Project

Author’s Note: I know, it’s either flood or drought with me and this Tumblr.  Forecast: Heavy showers today.  But, like the last post, this one was actually written many moons ago.  Actually, I think it was written the day the photo itself was shot, because I wanted to remember everything my subject told me. 

It was my first (and currently only) entry into the 100 strangers Project, a project where you meet and talk to strangers, and take their portraits.  Below is Valentin and his story:  

Valentin 1

Valentin was not my first choice of subject.  Rather, my first choice was a woman in a beautiful outfit: full length red skirt skirt with white polka dots and a rich red velour short-sleeved top with flowers embroidered across the chest.  It was the type of mixing and matching of patterns that only the truly skilled can pull off, and she was among the chosen.  The first time she passed I thought “that’s a banging outfit”.  The second time, I thought, I should have asked her to be my first subject.  I kept a look out for her to return, certain that if I saw her again it was destiny, but (alas!) there was no third time. 

Valentin came instead.  He didn’t ask me if I wanted to buy the sunglasses he was selling, because I was equipped with my own.  Instead, he asked if I was from Cuba.  No. Then San Francisco?  Wrong again! I had to tell him I was from New York.  With no invitation, he sat down at my table.  I figured my prospective subject might never appear again, and no time like the present.

Valentin, says he is 54, but also that he was born in 1961.  I speak Tarzan Spanish and failed to properly explain how both things could not possibly be true (Mental note, learn how to say “Does no compute!” in Spanish).  He’s originally from Tapachula, Chiapas (I could be wrong about the city, I didn’t recognize the city name when I heard it, and later googled what I think I remember).  He has been living where this photo is taken, in Veracruz, Mexico, for 10 years.  He has never left Mexico. 

Valentin’s wife passed away 2 years ago.   He has two sons (or a son and a daugther, I heard “hijos” and failed to ask the sexes), 26 and 28, both living in Tiajuana.  Valentin quit smoking and drinking about 6 or 7 years ago and feels better for it.  He likes to dance to rock or salsa (also, later mentioned a liking for banda and reggaeton). Apparently he also had a liking for me, as he wanted to walk me back to my hotel and kiss me.  Even my imaginary American boyfriend didn’t deter him.  Awkwardness aside, I’m pleased to have my first willing subject (although he had no interest in getting copies of what I shot). 

Once, about 9 years ago, I did a portrait of a close friend as an assignment for a photography class, but that’s the last time I remember doing something similar.  My usual subjects are generally inanimate or animal.  I don’t take photos of myself or other people often.  Occasionally, I do generic posed snapshots of groups of friends and family.  I prefer candids, which are difficult to procure as humans feel the need to pose when they notice a camera pointed at them, and also that the expression that are captured in 1/200 of a second are not particularly flattering or even interesting.  Sometimes, I take long-range shots of interesting-looking strangers as well, but they can also be very hit or miss.

It was a bit of a challenge.  It was a bright day.  In my viewfinder Valentin kept coming out dark and featureless.  With flash, he looked too bright.  It was hard to look in my viewfinder and see how accurate the exposure looked (I’ve since learned that this is what the histogram is for).  Also, despite his willingness to sit for a photo, Valentin’s expression in every non-candid photo looks like he’s in pain.  When he smiled in a photo he looked like he was in even more pain.  The best photos, the ones with the most natural expressions, were the ones when he wasn’t prepared for the photo being taken. 

Here’s what I learned that I need to learn: 

First, I need to read up on how one takes portraits.  I have no guidance in either technique or method. 

Secondly, my Spanish needs to improve to include phrases that would help me direct one in how to sit for a photo.  Things like, “hold that pose”, “tilt your head” “turn sideways” or “pretend the camera isn’t even here” (although that last one never worked for me in English, either) would be useful. 

Third, I need to work on lighting.  With buildings or inanimate objects it doesn’t matter.  If the light is wrong I can come back when it’s right.  That building ain’t going nowhere (Ha! Double negatives).  Valentin was around for a while, but I don’t expect everyone I meet to be able to sit and chat for a bit.  I need to make it work in whatever lighting I’m given, and I need to be quick about it. 

I’m also need to devise a formula for how to choose subjects.  Because I’m a woman, men are easier to ask for things than other women (and easier to meet).  So, the first rule is that of 100 portraits only half can be of men.  I’ll consider other rules, such as foreigner versus local, young vs. old, etc later.

valentin 2

A few more pics of Valentin are in my Veracruz set, located here.

Veracruz: The Dancing Salsa By Moonlight Edition

Veracruz square

Author’s note: Today is just one of those days where I’m taking a renewed interest in this blog.  It won’t last.  But sometimes I have to seize the moments I have motivation and produce something with them.  This post was, oddly, written months ago, though I still needed to pull links to photos and outside sources.  Due to laziness and lack of interest, it had yet to see the light of day until now (as have many other of my partially-finished ramblings which might later appear here).  So here it is: The next installment in city reviews, Veracruz-style.  Also, even though many months have passed since I’ve visited some places, I still intend to write about them.  Hopefully the photographic evidence will help me jog my memory enough to write something about them.

So I can’t say I heard much good about Veracruz.  I was told by Patzia to skip it.  Most people who have traveled around Mexico never mentioned it as a must-see.  Outside of people going there specifically for Carnaval (like I had once planned to), no one seemed to be heading that direction.  But I was determined to visit. Hell, I visited everywhere else.  Another place with no hostels, so I didn’t meet any other travelers.  Although the Lonely Planet recommended “hotel”, was priced less than my hostels in Morelia and Guadalajara.  Funny how that’s the case sometimes.

I was hoping to see some fellow black people there.  Veracruz does has an African influence, and once had African slaves.  Perhaps they are more heavily located in other parts of the state of Veracruz, but not the city of Veracruz.  Perhaps most of the physical African characteristics were mixed and muted by racial blending.  Anyhoo, I didn’t see anyone who resembled me there. Sad face.

It’s not a particularly pretty town, but it’s a-ight.  It’s got it’s charm.

cristo vive

town square


It has a beach that you can go to and hang out in, but its not the type of place one goes for the beach.  There are much nicer beaches in Mexico.  The weather was nice and warm though. 

And even though I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was, Veracruz had a nice, lively vibe to it.  The downtown seemed to have salsa bands playing every night and people dancing to the music in the main square.  Salsa and outdoor dancing are two things I can always get down with.  In most places in Mexico, I hear more banda and Mariachi music performed more than anything else.  Mariachi, I’m cool with, but if I never hear another banda song, it will be too soon.  Viva la salsa!  I prayed the non-banda trend would continue throughout my remaining tenure in Mexico.

So I walked around, did some beach reading.  Saw some monuments. 

I mentioned previously doing a severely abbreviated day trip to Xalapa.  I’m sure the town deserved better.  But I was just in a terrible mood that day.  I took a couple pictures.  To say I’ve been.  You know how I do.  Except… They aren’t on Flickr.  An oversight, I’m sure.  I’ll look into it later.



My last day I went to the Veracruz aquarium.  Love animals - I think we’ve been through this before- but I don’t generally go to zoos or aquariums while traveling.  There’s not necessarily anything location specific about most zoos to warrant going to each and every one I come across.  The whole point of the zoo is to collect animals from everywhere to view in one locale.  The only difference from one zoo to another would be the number of animals and the environments for both animal residents and human visitors. 

Secondly, while the monkeys always seem to be having a ball, if you’ve ever seen a disturbed zoo polar bear in action (or just been to a really shitty zoo - which will be coming up shortly), you can’t help but be concerned about the happiness and overall mental health of some of the animals.  Zoos can quickly go from fun to depressing.

Lastly, seeing an animal in the wild is so much more rewarding.  You trekked out to wherever.  You hiked around. You heard branches shaking, leaves falling.  You scanned the bush and the tree tops, and maybe, just maybe you get a glimpse at an animal.  Maybe you don’t, but if you do, you feel incredibly lucky.  If you see a jaguar in the wild (which you probably won’t cause they are elusive bastards), it’s amazing.  If you see it in a cage, you’re like, “Well what the fuck else would I see in the cage marked ‘Jaguar’ ?”

Diatribes aside.  I had to do something with my last day in Veracruz.  And I realized that I probably haven’t been to an aquarium in ages.  Maybe the one in New Orleans like a decade ago.  It was time.  There was a dolphin show when I got in.  So I went.  I found out in The Cove that these performing dolphins are stressed the fuck out.  It’s not the type of thing I might have paid separately to see.  I’m not a monster.  But it was included in the price of the ticket and the show was going on with or without me.  I chose with. 

Although side note to dolphins.  If you are not pleased with performing, stop looking so

GOD

God

DAMNED

Damned
 
HAPPY

HAPPY



Also, if I weren’t terrified of drowning and concerned (but not motivated to do anything) about animal welfare, I would think dolphin handling was the BEST JOB EVER. 

Turning off my caps lock now. 
Apologies.

The rest of aquarium was quite nice and despite these pictures being the literal and photographic equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel aquarium, I took many pictures.  Cause fish are cool and brightly colored and what not.  None of my snorkeling adventures can be captured with my current camera equivalent.  Got to make up for the dearth of fish pictures somewhere.

jelly fish

fish 1

fish 2



Other plus, the traditional Veracruz breakfast.  Fried egg, rice and beans, plantains, and toast.  Que rico.

So Veracruz… to sum up, it’s not a place I’d say, yes, by all means go (unless you are going to see Carnaval or to dance salsa by moonlight).  But it’s seemed sort of nice and cool and inexplicably likeable despite it not having the usual things I appreciate in a city.

Picture of fish in barrels and more are here.

I wander the halls along the walls and under my breath / I say to myself / I need fuel to take flight

My backpack ripped.  One of my storage packs developed a tear.  The zipper to my laptop bag broke.  Both zippers on my carry-on bag are no longer zipping.  My gear is falling apart.  Perhaps these are the signs that I should go home.  Well… that and my bank account.

The idea of stopping traveling doesn’t horrify me nearly as much as the idea of starting working.  But the more I think about New York, the more I get a wee bit excited to be reunited with it.  We had some fun together, didn’t we, New York?  It may be crowded, dirty, busy, overworked, expensive, cold, and stressful, but nothing feels more like home.

…Now, if I could just find a way to exist in New York that doesn’t involve the stress of steady employment, then maybe, just maybe, things might work out between us once more. 

It’s one of those malaise days.  The Temporary Boyfriend left and is on his way back home.  I’m alone again, and these situations are always hard on me.  When I get used to constant companionship, especially with the same person, it takes a while to adjust to being alone again.  

I’d been in Cartagena for over a week and I didn’t know anyone else.  With the T.B. (Temporary Boyfriend) to occupy my time, I didn’t spend much of it getting to know anyone else.  Everyone I’ve met before has surely moved beyond on, so I can’t rely on chance encounters with familiar faces.  I’m going to have to start entirely from scratch, and I’m not feeling like I have the energy for it.

In addition, the T.B. took the lead on so many things related to getting around and being a tourist.  With him, I could just be led.  With my flagging motivation for being a tourist, I need someone to take charge.  He would suggest and decide most things, and I was more or less content to follow him around like a puppy.  I actually got pretty lazy about doing things for myself, including basic exchanges regarding accommodations, restaurants, cabs, and directions. 

And lastly, I’m in a funk, because I liked him.  I haven’t liked anyone this intensely in ages.  I’ve met a few guys I felt that, had I known them better, had potential.  But I never got to know them better.  With the T.B., it was short, but it felt natural and comfortable almost immediately.  I’ve dated people for months and not felt as at ease with them as I felt with this man I met 2 weeks ago.  Should I see something more in this?  Or should I just take it as a good experience that I will remember, but let go?

It is cruel, though.  I finally meet a guy that I care about- that I couldn’t treat as a short term amusement, a passing phase, or just someone to scratch an itch with- and he leaves to resume his life in a foreign country.  

But maybe this isn’t some fluke where I met this one great guy who was geographically a bad match, and I’ll have to wait years before I meet anyone I like as much.  Maybe I’ve opened enough to have a semblance of a grown-up relationship.  Maybe I’d been kidding myself to say that I wasn’t having relationships because I wasn’t meeting the right people.  Maybe I wasn’t the right one for a relationship.  And now, maybe I am?  Maybe I’m an improvement on the old me: Presenting Alisha 2.0 (Now with more substance!).  Who knows? 

I do know that I should try this whole “letting go of control” thing more often in relationships.  It started in Medellin where I met the T.B.  Well, I met him, we hung out, we hooked up, we hung out some more.  Normal stuff.  He asked me to come with him to Cartagena.  I was going to go to Cartagena… eventually.  But, I had planned to stay in Medellin for the moment, buckle down, learn Spanish, like I tell everyone I’m doing, but don’t actually ever do.

Following along with something, especially when it’s counter to my own plans, is a patently un-Alisha thing to do.  It’s not that I’m inflexible.  It’s simply that I worry about power in relationships.  What type of woman am I if I meet a man and decide to drop all my existing plans (feel free to put quotes around my use of the word “plans”)  to be with him?  And if I started off a relationship demonstrating that my needs and wants are inferior to his, how will either one of us ever respect them as valid in the future? 

So I may have approached relationships as such: feel free to do what you want alone, while I do what I want alone, and maybe, when we both want the same things we should do them together.  I may have been single, but at least I was in control.  And in some sense, I thought that mattered more.  But with T.B. I decided to ignore what I intended to do and go with what he wanted to do (and what I wanted to do):  which is to stick together.  If that meant following him to Cartagena, then- just let me pack my bag (of course, I made up my mind well before telling him so, to make it look like I gave it more serious thought).  And in the end it didn’t mean I gave up any future claims to getting what I wanted. My wants and needs weren’t later dismissed as irrelevant based on this one act.  Perhaps he was more willing to listen to them because I’d been willing to go along with his.  It’s a small step in the scheme of things.  It’s not like I actually had plans.  But even that concession to wants of someone else is a big step for Alisha-kind.

Do you know that episode where George decides to do the exact opposite of his instincts?  I’m wondering if I shouldn’t also one day test that theory out. ("Why did it all turn out like this for me? I had so much promise. I was personable. I was bright. Oh, maybe not academically speaking, but I was perceptive. I always know when someone’s uncomfortable at a party. It all became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat… It’s often wrong." )

So I’m in a bit of a slump right now.  Between missing him, lacking direction, and knowing no one.  But these feelings will pass.  I’ll be sad to today.  I’ll miss him.  I’ll think about him.   Write to him.  But I’ll adjust to flying solo again.  I won’t be sad for long.  And I’ll meet new people.  And perhaps I’ll have the sense to meet a great guy from America next time around.  Oh! And maybe I’ll start studying Spanish again.

Hip hip for the lift / Hip hip for the drag / I want them all in my bag

So much radio silence! You can tell how involved I am in my real life by how little I participate in my online one.  This is a good thing, I guess.  Life should be lived! Since my last message, I’ve been through Panama and a bit of Colombia.  My grand plan to come to Colombia settle down and learn Spanish for the next few months has not yet commenced, even though I arrived in Colombia a month ago.  Apparently my desire to just stay somewhere and not travel wasn’t THAT strong.  

Well that, and I’ve been stalking a man through Colombia.

OK- not stalking.  I’m not creeping around staring at him sleep through windows (I stare at him sleeping from inside the same bed, like a normal person).  I was invited to come along.  But it means that instead of finding a Spanish tutor in Medellin or Bogota, I followed him to Cartagena and did nothing involving learning Spanish.  This is probably the most promising start to a relationship I’ve had in ages.  Unfortunately, he’s returning to Belgium in a few days, so it’s also the beginning and end at the same time.  Such is the nature of travel relationships.  But maybe over a week of non-stop togetherness in the travel world qualifies as about 2 months worth of quality dating time in real life.  It’s a relationship moving at the speed of light.  We’re traveling together and shacking up together, which means that I’ve been closer to him in a few days than men that I’ve dated for months.

Other than embarking on unsustainable relationships, I have been working on the whole picture thing.  You know: editing and uploading.  Rewarding when it’s finished, painful to actually do.  And perhaps I’ll return to Bogota and make good on my proclamations that I’m actually going to learn some Spanish.  Not much more time left…

I would suggest that an ideal human life lies somewhere between my own defiant indolence and the rest of the world’s endless frenetic hustle.

This article really speaks to me, and underlies part of my own ambivalence about going back and working in New York, where it’s especially easy to get caught up in the art of  making oneself busy- and seriously stressed out.

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. …I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.

Onward and Southward

Today I should have made it to Panama, but alas,  I was a late riser.  And it’s almost 6?  Where did the day go?

I made it through Costa Rica in less than 2 weeks.  I feel like I should get a medal for my comparative speediness.  I also need to allot extra time to getting sucked into and eventually escaping my next destination.  Everything I’ve heard about Bocas del Toro makes me think it will be a vortex, just like Puerto Escondido and San Juan del Sur.  I am going to get there, drink a lot, meet a bunch of people, and do inappropriate things.  I am not going to want to leave.  

In sadder news, my bank account is telling me the end is nigh!  Sure, I could work somewhere to extend my stay, but I’m just not comfortable with the idea of a pay cut.  I’m also not comfortable with the idea of returning, either.  What I was scared would happen has happened:  In a week I’ll have been traveling for 9 months, and I don’t want to stop.  Sure I want to settle down somewhere, I don’t like moving every few days.  I’m bad at it, which is why I’m still in Central America.  

I miss the relative ease of living in the states.  I joke that the moment I return I’m going to run a hot shower while simultaneously flushing toilet paper down the toilet.  I might also do this while eating a Chipotle burrito filled with Chik-Fil-A nuggets and wearing the Nicole Richie dress I loved and ruined.  And laughing maniacally - that goes without saying.  But yeah, all that on the table and I don’t want to come back.

I doesn’t so much matter where I go.  The traveling lifestyle is addictive. No responsibility, no plans, no worries.  But I guess I can’t do this forever.  I have to spend the next few months mentally preparing myself for adulthood and all that it entails.