Hey Richie, you got change for a Quetzal?
…if this leg goes I’m going to miss it. Man, we’ve had some good times together. I think what I’ll remember most is playing soccer with it.
Shit, this looks and feels awful, a puss-filled skin volcano that’s ready to erupt all over my right leg. My favorite leg. It’s cute almost, with conical shape, and reminds me of all the volcanoes I’ve seen thus far on my travels. Another trip to the doctor yields another round of antibiotics. Dont touch it! But, I can’t help it! Stop poking at it! Nein! Well, we’re in the third world and it’s all part of the game now. I guess.
Why don’t the guidebooks ever give you real information? You know, the important stuff. Tell us all about the thousand yard stares, the mangy dying dogs in the street, the souless ninos begging for quetzales, the glue-sniffers. Tell us about the leishmaniasis baby. Inquiring minds want to know.
Travel Tip: Don’t drink the water in the 3rd world and don’t eat the food, ever. It’s crawling with worms and parasites. It is rumored to be that I ate once in Guatemala and was violently ill for days. Fortrue, it had been a really long time since I had ever been that ill, halucinating and shivering in bed with a dangerously high fever. I was really sick, man! I had to poop in a cup and have it tested for cholera and typhoid, diseases fazed out in the states a hundred years ago. I remember my characters getting these while playing Oregon Trail on an Apple Macintosh, lo so many moons ago; and they always died. Terrible deaths that lasted for many screens. The lab tested for parasites too and when the results came back negative for everything I was elated and raised a weakened fist in triumph. I’m still here; a small victory in a battle barely fought. But it’s just another thing to add to the list, another notch in the Mexican leather belt. The truth is that it is incredibly easy to get sick down here and when you do get sick or have an infection it’s hard to get well again. The climate, I guess, has a lot to with it. The heat, the dampness, and the alternating heat and cold cycles of the highlands weaken the immune system I imagine. No one washes their hands. I’ve had several fevers, a bunch of weird infections with bubbly puss that wouldn’t go away, and pink eye. And there is always the leishmaniasis.
Max Headworm (Johnny Gusanic): My spanish teacher told me a story about her friend who was walking down the street one day when she suddenly went blind. It was only for a few minutes, but then she started having other symptoms, like problems with her balance. Apparently the amigette had eaten some undercooked pork which contained a parasite which then burrowed into her brain. The little gusano will be with her always, because you can’t kill it. She has to take medication which puts the worm to sleep instead of killing it, but also makes her tired all the time. Believe it or not, but be warned. I wonder what that worm be dreaming of yo. Brains probly. Un paraiso de sesos.
Travel Tips: Look it’s all fun and games but If you have to eat something in Central America just be smart about it. Eat at a place where other people are eating already. The ciudadanos of the 3rd world don’t drink their own tap water and they don’t really possess any special abilities to ward off germs or parasites so they’re not going to eat at a place that constantly makes them sick. This is common sense advice, but it’s important because sometimes people don’t always use common sense. I meet a lot of palefaces who think that by drinking just a little bit of tap water each day and then increasing that amount the next, say a spoonful and then a cupful, that they will gradually adjust their bodies to it. Un poco retrasado, no? Right? I dunno, maybe that works, but I doubt it. I didn’t follow my own advice and thought I’d be safe by just ordering up a slice of pizza somewhere. Pizza is safe right? I was hungry. An empty restaurant and soulless, million mile stares from behind the counter should have tipped me off.
Boxed-text Travel tippet – Caca en una bolsa: It’s all the rage in the 3rd world. Another story. Kids who can’t afford glue to sniff will shit in a bag and leave it in the sun for a few hours and then huff the contents. The rotting sewage produces methane, which evidently gets you high. Is it worth it? No se. These are lives snuffed out before they even began. Welcome to the Promised Land dog. I’ve never seen this before and never ever want to, although we’ve run across some glue sniffers, who are not as ubiquitous as you might imagine.
All this nonsense makes me pine for the states at times. One more thing, for those who haven’t been down south, know that you can’t put used toilet paper in the toilets in Mexico and beyond and instead have to put it in a garbage pail. This means that there’s a big stinking pail of used toilet paper in every bathroom, even in the choosiest of places. It’s gross man and you face this stark reality every time you go to the bathroom. It’s always there, sometimes out of sight, but siempre within arms reach and you can’t help but think about it. The heart reels for the high school nerd, face down in that mess and forced to inhale, requisite Mexican bully gripping the neck hard.
Subcommandante Dickie, you been doin’ all this dope bloggin’ you aint had a chance to show ’em what time it is.
It’s Eastern Standard Time pibe, same as old New York and we’re doin’ it live.
I’m in Panama now, looking for a way out of Central America. I wan’t out. I’ve had enough.
…which is not to say that the badlands south of the border and stretching all the way to the jungle are all that bad. They’re different indeed and, at times, exceedingly beautiful. But I’ll never be able to reconcile the crushing poverty and class dichotomy with all the rest; the smiling caras blancas and the dead inside ninos and street dogs. Some can. But to turn a blind eye to all of that wouldn’t be…honest.
OK, 1…2…3 everybody jump at the same time and throw your hands in the air with big smiles *click*
I dunno che, I’m just calling it like I see it.
We’re just looking for the Promised Land right?
Mexico: It was a weird weird world then, full of cacti, when the CB nosed towards old Mexico and indeed, it’s a weird world now. The hysteria surrounding travelling through Mexico is un poco surreal, mythic even, inspiring real fear in even the most intrepid, and tepid, of souls and souless wanderers. The reality is that the situation is entirely worse in every nation south of Mexico and one stands a far better chance of experiencing something truly awful in, say, Honduras, than New Spain. The media has been hitting old Mexico hard as of late. The drug mafia. The swine flue. You’re gonna die, dog. All that stuff has put a huge dent in the number of estranjeros pouring into old Mexico. Believe what you will, but remember that it’s always best to stick to reliable sources of info, like this blog, and then make up your own mind. I won’t lead you astray, I promise. No mames, Guey. Anyway, Mexico is great and will always hold a top-secret special place in mi corazon. Goat heads, tacos, culos, pyramids, cacti…old Mexico has it all. Personalidad, guey! Le extrano, mucho.
Pyramid of the Sun: Awe-inspiring if only for its size and astronomical precision, which I wasn’t able to verify, having left my collapsible travel-astrolabe at home, next to my bulky life jacket and pantalones that convert into pantalonetas. A strange place to say the least with a decidedly negative vibration. Bad things went down here; you can feel it. But don’t tell that to the large group of new age palefaces humming and chanting and being urged on by their spiritual guide to feel the engergy! They won’t listen to you anyway and I bet they all went home with terrible sunburns. The urge to roll heads down this thing was strong. Powerful strong.
The CA-4: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua comprise the CA-4, a loose conglomerate of nations in Central America that are supposed to share some sort of trade agreement or something. When you enter Guatemala, you get a stamp in your passport that is supposed to be valid for 90 days in all four nations but this is never the case and the only country that seems to be somewhat aware of this is El Salvador. I spent 2 months in the highlands of western Guatemala more or less trying to learn Spanish, which proved harder than I thought. It’s my own fault mostly. I spent a lot of time badgering my teachers into teaching me slang and bad words. I’m bad with languages on the whole I think, even English, and it all just reminded me of chemistry class. Lots of memorization. I have no patience for it all. Mamame la, puta! Guatemala was an introduction to the third world. Scenes of striking natural beauty punctuated by garbage everywhere. Mayans on every street corner in colorful dress. Volcanoes blowing their tops. Everyone is really short. A weird scene. El Salvador was surprisingly orderly and clean for the most part, at least coming from Guatemala. Everyone, it seemed, spoke English, having worked in the states for many years. It’s a small place and you can ride it in a day and get to know everyone there if you really hustle. I saw a dead guy in the road. A motorcycle accident no less. I spent an extra day there checking out Laguna Alegre, a sulfurous lake set in the ancient cone of a dormant volcano. Within the cone is also a soccer field, a true field of dreams. Encuentrame there, para un partido…porfis? Honduras is a forgotten place and dangerous, at least up through Tegus and on through to Nicaragua way. It’s everything you’ve ever been told Central America is. Nicaragua was surprisingly clean and safe, with great roads and the best food since Mexico. Behind the ancient church in Leon, a couple of ladies man fritangas and sling all sorts of delectable barbecued meats and other fried edibles of which I could not identify. Muy saludable. Nicaragua was a total surprise and it was even full of nerdy backpackers. I predict it will become the new Costa Rica. I’ll remember Granada for the seedy market behind the main square. There’s a carniceria (butcher shop) there, the worst I’ve ever seen. We’re used to buying meat that gets sliced off hunks on hooks that are hanging out in the open air by now, unrefrigerated; this is the norm from Mexico on south, but this was different, with great stinking stalls of gray meat idly hanging in the stagnant tropical superheated air beneath a tin roof, flies buzzing everywhere and foul smelling street dogs lining the floor, children racing about up and down screaming, the thousand yard stares of the women tending the stalls, and the sun streaking in casting weird light and giving it all a sickly pallor.
The gente in Central America unaminously hate Mexicans and Costa Ricans. Too arrogant they say, but it’s just an obviously veiled form of jealousy. And America too, is universally hated, although everyone wants to go there to work and make money because there’s none to be had here. All of these nations are desperately poor. There is no money here. The halloween head I have strapped as a masthead to the CB has been doing a great job for diplomacy though, and is universally loved everywhere. People love to touch it, especially Hondurans.
Costa Rica: Sort of second world now. I’d been here before with lil’ Marlo some time ago and wasn’t really looking forward to it. A shock-intro to Central America maybe it was, but I was put off by it. A second chance was given and the most was made of it, although I was in and out in a few days and I’m used to all the dead-doll eye stares by now. I hit up some old haunts down in the Carribean and was pleased. Completely idyllic tropical beaches studded with palms and empty and alone, stretching as far as the eye can see and then evaporating into jungle. Pura Vida ineed son. Food and gas and beers are expensive here, the stapes of life with New York prices. It was here that I would become Coconut Hunter M.D., scaling tall trees and trepanning even the most resilient coconut husks with my small, yet practical knife. I forgot how hard coconuts are. Once you get one out of the shell a couple of really hard smacks against a tree trunk or rock will crack them open but man, I couldn’t imagaine having to crack one of them open against someone’s skull like Rowdy Rodrigo Piper did to Jimmy Snooka so many moons ago. It would kill a man. That had to be a trick coconut. Was there milk inside? Rewind the tape. Piper is still trying to sell it after all these years. Muy profesional!
In my arsenal now is a recipe for turtle.
I got it when I was camping behind the bombero station in Almirante, waiting for the ferry to Bocas Del Toro. A lot of the coastal blacks in Central America speak English, descendants of slaves they are, and I was able to gleam this gem from Burton, one of the bomberos. Look, I could have hashed it out in espanol but it was a treat to speak English again to someone other than a tourist.
What the hell is that?
It’s turtle mon.
Dame la receta.
Receta para tortuga:
Costilla Criolla (packet of spice)
Caldo de Pollo (chicken broth)
Gallinita con sabor y calor (another packet of spice)
Salsa de China (soy sauce)
BBQ sauce (if you so desire)
First wash the turtle meat with some lime seasoning and a little water. Then dip the turtle meat in boiling water for 15-20 seconds and remove. This will clean the meat and help even out the flavor. In a large bowl, mix the meat with the aforementioned spices to create a marinade. After marinading, brown the turtle meat in a pan, next adding your vegetables, thyme, and garlic. Best served with coconut rice and pigtail. Boil up some coconut milk, then add rice and simmer with a piggilytail. Easy. And if you want to be a real hero, fry up some Besks, little delicious hotcakes. Make them with flour, a little baking powder, salt, sugar, water, and a couple of eggs. Delicious. Receta by Burton.
Camping out in garbage-strewn godforsaken Almirante, getting the turtle recipe from Burton, and watching Chiquita banana trucks rumble by in the dying sun while drinking beers in my tent and getting leishmaniasis from a mosquito was my favorite part of Panama and what I’ll remember most about it. All this happened my first day there, more or less, and was punctilliated by getting lost in the banana plantations that morning (there aren’t any signs in Panama either). Banana trees stretch for what seem like a million miles, tended to by the modern day slaves of the banana barons who sit behind desks supping besks in distant lands. Bocas Del Toro, the supposed turistic mecca and paradise, was overhyped and full of garbage too, partying tourists and opportunistic locals alike.
Outside of Panama City, the rest of Panama is desperately poor; lots of people living without dignity; rude and angry. Something I did not really expect. I didn’t like it and it was a weird way to put a cap on Central America. But so be it, the time had passed for me to move on and I began counting the days…
Suicide Showers: For those not in the know, hot water heaters rarely exist south of the border. What you have instead for taking hot showers are electric shower heads. Almost all of them are sloppily wired and spliced to an existing wire and appear deadly to anyone from the first world. They’re safe I guess, but only some of them make the water truly warm. I bought one the last time I was in Costa Rica. The novelty hasn’t worn off yet and I love them very much.
So there we are, goodbye North America.
We’ve come a long ways yo. We remember the rains of Alaska, the stink of the Salton, the food and the drink of ol’ Mexico, and the dead souls of Central America, although we must keep moving and push on. Adios North America. I’ll see you in my dreams if you’re lucky.
But don’t be sad because the time has come now for Incan dreams, with colorful frocks and bowler hats.
I’m going to the Sun, putas.
Photo montage of ol’ Mexico:
Chapulines -Fried Grasshoppers down old Oaxaca Way. Not bad, really. I was figuring them to have a peanuty taste, but they just taste like whatever they’re cooked in: garlic, limes and chile, and other assorted flavors.