Sunday, December 9, 2007

Surprised? Probably not

Hello all:

Cash was correct--a major change has happened for the p:w crew: I came home.

On the road I realized that it was time... Time to come home and to marry my beautiful fiancé. It's as simple as that. Every day that I have been on the road (for about 2 months now), has been a mixed blessing. Yes, I am experiencing all of this new stuff, but at the same time I am doing it without the person that I want to share my life with. There was joy, but there was always an underlying frustration and loneliness.

So, Cash and I had a heart to heart and decided it was best to walk our own paths. We still had some money to fool around with, and Cash was excited at the prospect of really being on the edge. You have to understand, Cash hasn't ever been in a space to survive solo--to get his own place, find his own job, and to create a social network from the ground up on his own. He is changing a lot, and I believe that our brotherhood and our quest has catalyzed a new level of focus and commitment from him.

In accord, we would travel to Panama City together, block out a Maslowvian scheme for survival, and be on with it. We also agreed to one last rager in the City! With our finances and some other logistical concerns squared away, Cash now has an excellent shot to hit his stride there in the Middle of the World and make it at least until February when we were scheduled to hit Argentina.

As for me, I bought the next ticket home: Panama City to Guadalajara to good ole Portland, OR USA. I didn't tell Mo either... The other night I just showed up and she opened the door for me--it was perfect. Sarah, the clan mother, aided and abetted the scheme. It has been wonderful since.

The tentative plan for this member of p:w is to go back to school to complete my physics and math undergrad (for those in-the-know, long overdue), continue my training in kajukenbo tum pai, and to get a job I truly enjoy. Mo and are currently living together and this upcoming week we'll be trotting down to the courthouse to get married. The reception of course will happen when Cash makes it back to the States for a short stint before heading off to Alaska to do some resourcing to further his expansions down in Latin America. I hear there is a lot of vespene up there, and by the sound of it, Cash may require more shortly!

For those curious, I will continue to post on p:w from Portland, as Cash will continue to relate his experiences from Panama City. For me, the trip was a success: I got to that magic threshold of self-sufficiency, and this was the proof of concept. Could I make it indefinitely as an expat, and not just survive, but thrive in the process?

The answer is reflected in my posts: I learned how to surf, improved my cooking, vastly improved my Spanish, undertook an art project that was immensely satisfying, generated some job offers, and I made a ton of friends and contacts. Stepping back, I realized that I could drop everything and do it all over again if I wanted to... The world is ever so close, and walking the path is as easy as your resourcefulness and commitment affords.

So here and now I would like to build something else. A family and a career path, and I am excited to do it! I will continue to wander and to blaze my path here, and someday--sooner than I think perhaps--I will be back out on the road that leads to Everywhere and Nowhere.


Saturday, December 8, 2007

¡Viva Panama!

We bid farewell to Costa Rica on Wednesday. We said goodbye to Rocking J´s around noon - J gave us some beers for the road and invited us to return if we got the chance. Then it was a final walk through Puerto Viejo, drinking out of coconuts and having a leisurely time. The bus to the border took about an hour, and most of that time we were crammed into our seats with our bags on our laps. I still dont know why they didn't let us store them under the bus. We will miss Costa Rica, but it was really good to get moving on.

The border crossing was very cool. We had to get our exit stamp from Costa Rica, which took no time, then started into Panama. To do this you have to cross over a wide, muddy river. The only bridge is an old rail bridge built by the banana companies long ago with some boards thrown on top. A constant stream of people were going back and forth as we swayed over the river. The customs and immigration people in Panama were very bored-looking and we breezed through. They didn't even check if we had an ongoing ticket, which is good because we didn't have anything of the sort. An interesting side note is that the official currency of Panama is the US Dollar! No more figuring out exchange rates or converting prices.

After the border crossing we took a cab to the nearby town of Changuinola. This is the global headquarters of the Chiquita Banana Company, but it looks like some random slum thrown into the middle of the jungle. I was glad we only spent a few minutes there before cramming onto a small bus to David, on the Pacific side of the country. The bus across the continental divide was crowded and slightly dangerous as the driver had little regard for speed - especially when going around sharp corners at high altitude. After five hours or so we reached David, where the express shuttle to Panama City was waiting.

Of course, it cost $30 to get both of us to Panama City...and we only had $20. So I asked a cop where an ATM was, and that one was out of order. So I started walking around town asking people in stores (I figured asking people on the street was asking to get robbed). I finally found a working ATM, but it meant we had to wait for the Midnight bus to Panama. so we sat around until it was time to go. The express buses are large double decker rigs. They have comfy seats and air-conditioning. The thing is they have too much a/c. It is downright cold on those buses. So bring a blanket or something. Dave had no trouble sleeping, but I couldn't quite pull it off with a blast of cold air coming right down on me.

I was so happy when we finally got to Panama City and I could get off the bus. It was 7am and the temperature was a lovely 70 degrees. Yeah, it can get pretty hot here. We caught a cab to the middle of town, where the guidebook said our hostel was. It was only $4, cabs here run for real cheap, unlike CR, so it was worth it. Of course the hostel wasn't there, our guidebook is the 2004 version and it moved about 2km down Via España, one of the main streets here. So we walked, navigated with map and compass and found the place. After so many hours of traveling it was so nice to put our stuff down and take a shower. After all the cold showers in Costa Rica, this one was actually lukewarm! It is hard to describe how awesome little things like that really are. Cleaned and unburdened we headed out to explore the city.

Panama City, including the suburbs, is only 1 million people. However the place feels more like Seattle than Portland. There are a crapload of skyscrapers and it has a very international feel. We had brunch in a diner that almost resembled a Shari's. While there we ran into an Israeli guy we had met in Tamarindo named Nir. We chatted with him for a while, then he took a cab to the airport and we went to the waterfront, which is an interesting place. On the horizon you can see a mass of ships lining up to go through the Canal, while nearby there are local fisherman, plying the dirty waters of the bay. The skyscrapers come right down the to water, creating a strange man-made cliff face. The waves crash into the boardwalk and sometimes will send a huge spray up onto the sidewalk. The first time it happened Dave and I thought the sidewalk was collapsing. There was a big cracking sound then we saw white spray in our peripheral vision.

We followed this into the heart of downtown, where we had an afternoon snack. This consisted of sitting on couches on the sidewalk, smoking a hookah and drinking mint tea while eating fruits and Mediterranean appetizers. All the while the place next door was playing French jazz as a soundtrack. It was a surreal, yet incredibly enjoyable experience. After that we walked down to the old colonial district (Casco Viejo), bordered by slums to the west and the rest of the city to the east. While wandering Casco Viejo we walked right up to the doors of the Presidential Palace before realizing what it was. Of course there were alot of police and a few soldiers around, but still, try to imagine walking down a narrow street, turning a corner and you are next to the White House. We had a good time strolling Casco Viejo before returning to downtown for drinks and dinner.

We drank at a supposedly Irish pub, but there was nothing Irish about the place. It was an American Sports bar, with huge plasma screens showing basketball and bull riding. The view was nice, as it was several floors up. After that we went to...the Hard Rock Cafe, Panama. Yeah, so other than the waitress not speaking English it was like any other Hard Rock Cafe I have been to. They had a 2 for 1 deal going with Hurricanes, so we were really drunk by the time we left. I don't really remember much after that, but somehow we made it back to the hostel without getting robbed, so things turned out all right.

Well, internet is alot cheaper here than anywhere else I have been in Central America, but it is still not free. I will post again soon, as there are some significant events that have befallen Project:Wanderer the last two days. But for now, that fills in the middle of the week. Until the next post - Pura Vida.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The prodigal poster: with good excuse

Hello all--

I have been conspicuously absent from the posts lately due to a project I have been working on in Puerto Viejo. Our current hostel, Rockin'Js, is a pretty incredible joint. This place is set up to handle the masses with dozens of comfortable hammocks, dozens of tents, spaces to do your own camping, as well as private rooms. There is a treehouse commons with tv, a restaurant and bar, and the entire compound ('cause that's really what this is) is strategically studded with tiled stalls and cold water showers. There is even a community kitchen. To boot, the entire place is covered from roof to floor with tile mosaics. It is brilliant. Beautiful, easy to clean, and by offering guests the opportunity to create their own murals, the owner "J" gets a bunch of free art and labor while everyone else gets to leave their mark. The entire place is just a stone's throw from a sliver of beach that gives way to a portion of turbulent Carribbean reef that produces La Salsa Brava.

Here are the dorms. We splurged to stay in tents for the storage, but I have enjoyed a few nights here listening to the surf pound and day dreaming.

The commons

Just one of the myriad mosaic walkways

Anyhow, after J approached me to do a mosaic I got to thinking. I thought of one of my favorite pictures of my fiancé Monine, and then made the decision to try her face. I went to the internet cafe, printed out her picture and bought a few more sheets of blank paper and went to the hostel bar to brainstorm. I grabbed some charcoal from the bonfire pit and started sketching her face and blocking out colors over drinks. The next day I picked out tiles and a suitable section of wall and started transferring my sketch. The rest of the time was devoted to breaking dozens of tiles, hand carving some that were stubborn, and learning how to use the cement and grout.


In all it took about 40 hours, with close to a quarter of that time working by the light of my headlamp. I have lived an entire lifetime in it. I went through scrapes, and cuts, and cracking fingers from cement for about 6-8 hours a day. During the moments I was working on this, I realized I was living a statement... I was loving Monine through my hands and out through my fingertips. It is the closest I've come to touching her in weeks. It has taught me a lot of compassion for myself and my work.

I used cut glass for the nose ring

It was also meditation for me. I had nothing to do but listen to the ocean, sleep in a hammock, and work... And I worked baby. I worked through fear, self-loathing, hope, lust, appraisal, form, frustration, love, loneliness, and joy. She was with me. The only tools I used for the majority of the time were a pocket leatherman and a round river stone.

Whew! 40 hours and uncountable beers later

I have hated and loved this thing several times in quick succession, so I don't know what I think of it... it changes with my mood. It is a living entity and I will feel a slight pang leaving it to time and space. It has been a satisfying week though. I spent hours on little details, so that when you see it in real life it jumps out at you.

The inspiration for the piece

My contribution to the mosaic farm here at Rockin' Js. Cash got a little taste of the action with me the last night. He helped me by scrubbing and polishing grout until about midnight. Thanks Cash!

So now that this is done, it is time to get work in Panama City. Here's to work and play, to friends and lovers, and to rambling on down the road for another day.


Another day in Paradise

The boys: cue music