Tourism: Lose Yourself to Find Your Selfie Stick

‘Tourist’. That dirty blasphemous word! Surely not us? Ogling, colonial cameras on legs that doof on ancient Mayan land with half a bag of ketamine up each nostril, leaving a crumby trail of Pringles as they stagger from van to Destination to hostel bunk. Wait, what’s this I hold? A selfie stick? The externalisation of my ego, a phallic bayonet that asserts my overpriveleged claim to this alien terrain? I’m on a colonial quest to find myself, I paid $2000 for a return ticket so I’ve got more right to this bus seat than you. Feed me a taco and pop me a pinger, senorita, because I’m here to party and learn some shit.

 

We came to Central America for an authentic experience. This isn’t Disneyland, we’re not Eurotrash gap-year twelvies on a Contiki tour, we’ve been to India, we came for the real deal. Central America. From Australia, this mythic middle earth was shrouded in mysterious mists that don’t often appear on our Facebook feed. “The southeast Asia of our parents’ generation.” We were buying into a warmer #americabutsouth – smoking volcanoes, chickeny villages and smiley locals ready to feed us corny corn for less than the price of a shittyrail train ride. Not as touristy as Bangkok or Paris, far away enough to feel like an odyssey, we boarded our flight keen and clean and ready to drown in the dirt of a third world entirely different to our own. Two months later, we are reflecting on the journey and realise we haven’t been able to totally refrain from buying into the tourist package that Central America sells on every corner with a side of taco and a sprinkling of fake cocaine.

 

So, what is an authentic experience?

 

How have we come to value couchsurfing as more ‘authentic’ than a Contiki tour? How do you dodge ‘tourist traps’? What makes a trip ‘worthwhile’?

An ‘authentic experience’ is a truth – it does not pretend to be something that it is not. As per manifesto item #6, the truth is cool but it is unattainable (keep on looking).

The first thing that comes to mind when we say ‘authenticity’ is an off the beaten trail struggle through mountains with nothing but a rucksack, and shacking up in a shanty town where you need to bribe vigilante policeman to enter an occult treehouse you heard about from a gypsy who sold you a beaded necklace made from the ashes of her Mayan ancestors. And sure, that’s a unique and authentic experience – if that’s what you signed up for. However, experiences can be authentic in their inauthenticity. Can we really argue that a Contiki tour is inauthentic if it fulfils all the promises it makes on the brochure you were given at your uni open day? Tulum, a town constructed entirely for the purposes of tourist activities (diving, ruins, margaritas) does not advertise itself as an ‘undiscovered gem’. Signs are in English, activities are accessible, the tourist gets what it came for and is satisfied with minimum fuss. Tulum’s gringo culture is honest and observable. You will not find Mexican culture therein, but it makes no attempt at hiding that. It’s just as truthful as the roadside puebla that wasn’t listed in Lonely Planet.

Couchsurfing, one surefire way of getting down and dirty with the locals, is inauthentic if your friendly 25 year old host Josephine turns our to be José, 40 year old Redditer with one bed ‘to share, no?’. Elitist travel snobs like us can’t make snide comments on the genuineness of different trips – hitchhiking vs shuttlehopping – if the traveller is satisfying their own expectations. Travelling is selfish, after all. We’re all here to enjoy our time off, and our time off includes techno and street food. If your time off includes five star hotels and prepacked lunches, good for you. We all seek authenticity, and it delivers in different forms.

 

One question we’ve struggled with on this trip is whether it’s fair to pigeonhole more arduous travel experiences as ‘better’ than accessible tourist hotspots? Why does ease and accessibility relate to ‘good’ or ‘bad’? Machu Picchu in Peru is a must-see for all South American adventurers. However, the ultimate question about the M.P. experience is how you got there: did you purchase the one-stop train ride up the mountain and then wander around with an audiotour, or did you fork out for trekking boots and hike the four day Inca Trail to arrive at the Sun Gate in true intrepid style? Which journey is more valuable? Do we have to endure a ‘rite of passage’ to legitimise our awesome experiences? Is it really important to trudge through mud and wreck your knees in order to experience the same overrun ancient city as the traingoers? Is a third world trip a trip if you don’t get Bali belly? Travel is a leisure activity, the point is to enjoy yourself, so… why not order another piña colada and pay for a donkey to shepherd your bags up a volcano so you can enjoy the view at the top without the arthritis?

BUT. Those of us who come home harangued, intestinally damaged and culturally brainfucked assure those clean-fingernailed pussies that ‘it was worth it, man.’ After all if you’re going to seek out homely comforts abroad, why leave home in the first place? Yet we’ll be the first to admit that we happily welcome an hour-long instagram sesh in the comfort of a hostel bar after an eight hour chicken bus ride.

 

‘Comfort zones’ are another buzzword for the First Worlder abroad. A bit like ‘tourist’, it’s a pejorative term we love to sling at other gringos, particularly Americans. We saved up in Sydney so we could enjoy our time overseas, and part of that includes wifi (dnms with mum, sharin pics with homies, consulting Resident Advisor) and clean bedsheets (we have asthma and Ella grew up in Bronte). An authentic experience doesn’t have to mean living like a refugee, so if we’re going to Lesbos, we’ll be taking the yacht option over the Syrian raft. Therefore, accessibility and comfort (much like authenticity) are standards to set for yourself. Ella once met a dude walking from England to South Africa. We’d label him a sadistic traveller: he finds pleasure in the painful journey, rather than the comfortable destination. We merely dabble in the BDSM travel lifestyle. Bad Decisions & Silly Memories. We’ll climb the volcano but whinge for a hot bath at the end. We’ll eat pig’s tail in a roadside tent, but Ella has a first world pussy and it demands a toilet seat to perch on.

 

If authenticity and accessibility are variable and subjective, what defines a good trip? Can we imagine a universal barometer for measuring the worth of different journeys? Travel is inherently selfish, but it shouldn’t be thoughtless. Every tourist, regardless of mode of travel, needs to consider what they want to get out of a trip and their footprint on the culture they are guests in. Are we remembering our manners? As we interact with foreign cultures we simultaneously imbibe and vomit out our own preconceptions and new perspectives. What are the effects of this double-ended digestion? How can we qualify it?

 

What makes a good tourist, if there is one?

 

If we can agree that travelling is a fundamentally selfish hobby (you have saved up the money to pick a trip of your choosing where you will be master of how you spend your time and your money) then we can establish that the ultimate goal of a trip is self-enrichment. Rephrase this however you like: ‘education’, ‘finding yourself’, or ‘gaining experience’, or ‘being inspired’; we all hope to come back home with our brains and backpacks a little more full. Knowledge is the noblest pursuit: learning should colour every moment of a trip. “I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.” (Bill Bryson, Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe). intelligent traveller (read: wanky first world student) makes interesting guesses and interesting conclusions, absorbing their experiences passively and then thinking about them actively to determine some greater meaning and discover the poetry in motion. (Did you know we write a blog?)

 

One doesn’t learn the definition of difference until you live it. You can watch films about Nigeria, read articles on Iraq, but you don’t become aware of your first world privilege until you’ve seen a line of limping lepers in the flesh…or lack thereof.

Something as menial as ordering a taco from a street stall can quickly become a crash course in cultural difference. One begins the lesson by navigating a menu aplomb with foreign ingredients, equally difficult to pronounce as they are terrifying to taste. Said traveller then proceeds to order randomly chosen dish in the foreign tongue they should’ve spent more time studying on Duolingo. This is lost in translation but thankfully an eavesdropping expat intervenes. Señora Masterchef is in no rush to cook; conversing with the regulars comes first because ‘to lunch’, almorzar, is a verb, not a one-stop fuel-up. You’re pissy but you have no reason to be because the office isn’t waiting and as you sink your teeth into señora’s mystery dish your palate is schooled in the wonders of spice, grease and colourful condiments. Later, as you shit lava into the seatless toilet and dispose your toiler paper into a nearby bucket because in 2016 this country hasn’t yet worked out its plumbing you grimace and reflect: Lunch has not only given me diarrhoea but a little more faith in strangers, a big lesson in patience and a lotta love for the luxuries of my life back home, which is something you don’t get at Guzman’s.

 

This passive absorption of knowledge and accompanying (albeit accidental) self-enrichment is the best thing about travel. And the growth is two-way: as you sponge up cultural capital you become aware of your own footprint and consider ways to reciprocate this education. An informed traveller doesn’t blunder by giving to Indian begging rings or American-run travel tours; they source locally and therefore link globally. Tourism can leave a positive footprint on a country if the traveller is sufficiently self-conscious. By buying a streetside taco I’m supporting an industry that wasn’t constructed to cycle into itself (unlike chain hostels) – I’m helping Señora Masterchef put her little señoritas through school and participating in the local economy.

But even the best-intentioned traveller’s footprints tread dogshit over foreign carpet. Particularly at natural wonders, the environmental damage of tourism is ugly. It’s amazing that one can admire the pristine beauty of a crystal clear cenoté, or marvel at hundreds of manta rays gliding through lilac Belizean ocean, and still butt ciggies in the sand presuming that WALL-E will rock up and clean up after you. Don’t be a tosser, it’s a dirty look.

 

Litter thoughtfully to the side, our very presence inevitably dilutes the ‘local culture’ of a place. There’s nothing worse than walking into a town where all you can hear is English, and as you think ‘fucking tourists’ you realise you’re part of that very problem. But fellow tourists are inescapable because at the end of the day, hotspots are hot for a reason. You can spend your whole trip trailing from blip-on-map to unknown village, but you aren’t going to get any good selfie stick footage out of that. If you didn’t get it on film, it didn’t happen… Was your whole trip a dream? Refer to your snapstory to verify.

We personally experimented with ‘veering from the path’ by throwing warnings to the wind and stopping at a middle-of-nowhere town in rural Belize, Orange Walk. There was nothing there (not even tourists). We left photoless. Was Orange Walk a worthwhile stop? We have nothing to frame this measurement of worth with; it’s not in the guidebook and we have no proof we even went there. But it was part of the story, with no TripAdvisor recommendations to fill up our day with five star activities we resigned to mandatory meditation (aka doing nothing) and this lead to some deep epiphanies about shit. Worthwhile! Like the above arguments regarding authenticity and accessibility, ‘worthiness’ cannot be charted on an Excel graph. Memories of a trip are more akin to a Pollock painting; a mesmerising mess of colours and shapes. You don’t know why, but it’s pretty to look at. ‘Art’ or ‘accident’? You decide.

 

People don’t recommend that you visit towns such as Orange Walk because they have all they need, and without superfluous additions (ancient sites, galleries, museums, jewellery shops) there’s nothing for a tourist to ‘do’. Tourism is an active verb, so it implies doing and not just allowing things to happen around you. “Most tourists feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter. Unsure of other responses, they take a picture. This gives shape to the experience: stop, take a photograph and move on.” (Susan Sontag, On Photography).

Here is the difference between tourism and travelling: you do tourism, while travel happens in and around you. Sitting in a bus watching at least 100 messy-haired, brown footed kids waving at the passing traffic from the roadside is travelling, enjoying a fresco within visiting hours is tourism – we need both. We struggled with travel in Central America because it doesn’t integrate the two things together very well. Actual physical travel is hard (shit roads, mountains, bad public services) and therefore Destinations have been created and shaped and shined and curated into easy spots (and therefore good spots) to go to. Compare this with India, where an excellent train system connects the tourist-traveller from Delhi to Bikaner, if they so choose, and most locals understand at least some English, and every second, even the shit ones, are so foreign and delightfully disgusting that you are accidentally learning while touristing and travelling (and eating, sleeping, shitting, etc).

 

We caught glimpses of the ‘real Guatemala’ from behind the tinted windows of transport shuttles, TURISTICO blazoned across their bonnets, which safely deposit blinkered herds of gringos from Destination to Destination. The biggest culture shock we’ve had is from other First Worlders and how they interact with and occupy a foreign space. Hostels! The closest relative to this strange modern invention is a boarding school – irresponsible, smelly kids sleep in bunk beds and think about fucking each other. You play getting-to-know-you games and have the same conversation with every headliced, beaded runaway you come across. Hostels are a melting pot of distinctly identifiable cliques. It’s as awkward as a high school formal until everyone gets enough happy hour drinks into them to loosen up, at which point you find yourself speed dating between dnms and saying “Sydney or Melbourne?” a lot. These gringos are a race of their own, as observable as Mayan indigenous groups. They – we – are a nomadic tribe crawling across the planet from beer pong tournament to book exchange, losing ourselves to find ourselves and all determinedly pretending real life isn’t waiting for us back home.

Organising gringos into their separate subgroups is a form of bitching we’ve very much enjoyed on this trip. Five minutes of observing your clothes, tattoos, language, food choice and smell can categorise you into Boys on Tour (matching hats, rarely sober), Basic Bitches (friendship bracelets, move in impenetrable groups), neo-hippies (psytrance, delusionary definitions of drugs as ‘medicine’, uniform of hemp), old-timer runaways (divorced, likely reading Eat Pray Love), and general sickcunts (us, and more often than not, fellow Aussies and Dutchmen). The different forms of tourism can also box you into a clique: voluntourists, drug tourists, sport tourists, photography tourists, gap yearers,

Another lesson from Central America we’ve come home with is that at the ripe age of 21, we’re too old for hostels. At times we’ve felt like grandparents interacting with tweenieboppers, and now that we’re in a relationship we’re kind of uninterested in the ‘never have I evers’… two months of 24 hour contact have dissolved all remaining notions of privacy. Ella shat the bed, Thors copped two needles up the arse, and we give each other fart ratings out of 10.

 

On that adorable note, this long-winded whinge should probably wind itself up. Conclusion: Tourism is weird, but as the greatest artist of them all said, ‘Turn, and face the strange (ch-ch-changes)’. Travel changes you in obvious and subliminal ways, and you won’t be able to recognise them until you’re back home searching for the non-existent bucket to deposit your toilet paper in. Turn, and face the strange. If you don’t let life affect you, you’re not evolving.

 

xx Ella & Thorsten, wanky bloggers/tourist extraordinaires

 

“who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind    

nothing but the shadow of dungarees and the lava and ash of    

poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago…”

– ‘Howl’, Allan Ginsberg

 

 

Tulum

We promised we wouldn’t be sucked in to the overtravelled black hole of the Yucatan peninsula. We promised we wouldn’t pull shakkas and deal speed at BPM. We promised we were above matching outfits, raucous cab rides, group photos and saying “I cannot even deal right now”. We lied. 
Four days in Tulum was enough to turn us into something pretty close to the typical gross gang of travelling Australians we have judged harshly throughout this trip. The highwayside town is on all the top ten Mexico lists because it combines all the things visitors love best: Mayan ruins, natural wonders called cenotes, tropical beaches and cocktails. It’s another spot that is casual and honest in its inauthenticity; the town was constructed because of the nearby tourist attractions and it doesn’t pretend otherwise. Unfortunately during our stay the Mayan weather gods were grumpy and we never got to experience azul skies over lime foliage and crystal waters – the whole effect is slightly diminished by a drizzly grey ceiling – however, I can see what people mean by the magic of Tulum. It’s another one of those places where time doesn’t exist and whatever you wake up wanting, you know you can find some able-bodied Carlos or Adolfo who can get it for you. 

  
The Tulum story has to be characterised by a few select events. I’ll save the best for last.
Night one: after a joyful reunion with the gang and a chattery catch up over horchata, chocobananas and (dun dun dun) some questionable tacos, I found myself woken up by the sleeping demon that has settled itself in my tummy throughout this trip. After forcing my bodyguard Thors on a 1am quest for Coca Cola I found myself bent over the toilet bowl reacquainting myself with dinner, only to be distracted by a buzz of news notifications on my phone: to make matters even worse, Bowie had just gone and died. From here the dramatic evenings escalate…
‘Why not?’, we ask – ‘we’re pretty much in Cancun, we are Australians, we all own bucket hats, why not go to BPM?” For the uninitiated, BPM is a massive electronic music festival held for ten days in Playa del Carmen every year. The crowds are 99% BROS – think stereosonic, think steroids, think singlets and limos and $15 beers – but gross crowds aside, the best DJs in the world show up and spin phat beats to their undeserving audiences in an unreal location. 10 days of BPM is straight up impossible, but we thought we could handle a day party for one afternoon to catch lord selector Mano le Tough play in a beach club. The Playa del Crack crew (Harmony, Millie, Romi, Thors & I) accepted the challenge of dancing through the bros and embarked on a 6 hour dance marathon through club Canibal Royale. It’s safe to say we were the hottest attendees and the numerous paparazzi knew it so for the first few hours before Mano showed up we pretended to be VIPs with personal photographers on lounges and in the rooftop hot tub. A post-party prance through Playa saw us ravaging a souvenir warehouse and of course emerging with matching hats (“don’t you know we’re boys on tour?”)

  

  
The culmination of the Tulum roller coaster was the festival we’d commuted for: Comunitē, a one-dayer supported by Boiler Room on the beach right next to the Tulum ruins. The festival was in its first year and it kind of showed; for a party to go all night is one thing but in a tropical climate where violent storms are possible, some sort of indoor area should be available. You can guess what happened: hurricane Katrina’s little sister came to play and challenged us boogiemen and women to party on through the monsoon. It kind of sounds like an ordeal but actually being forced to dance for 12 hours straight to keep warm made the whole festival stupidly fun. It was some of the best music I’ve ever heard, NO psytrance, incredible sets from Moodymann, Andrés, Barac, Nicola Cruz, Tin MAAAN and more unnameable lords. At one point we got five people in the shelter of a portaloo. We adopted some hot Dutch boys (my favourite kind) and met an absolute lunatic of a woman from Brooklyn who lived on the beach in a tent with her vibrator and gave us strawberry burritos and free freaky candy. Shoutout to a fellow blogger, Travel Deviant, who responded to our 7am pleas for “who has free drugs?!” with a story about a £4000 handjob and an aderal. Cheers mate xo

  
We left Tulum in a haze of guacamole and cheap tequila for our final stop back in D.F. where we plan to do nothing but eat before flying back to cafe culture and the real world of Sydney. Part of me wants the adventure to never end, and there are a lot of places I wish I could have made it to – northern Mexico, Nicaragua, CUBA! But at the same time my bank account and bowels are basically empty and I could murder a good Asian feed. Mia’s Vietnamese updates have me craving some pho and if I’m honest my tummy has had enough tacos to carry me to the next day of the dead. 
Speed dealers and sandy sound systems,
PT

Belize 

With a few days to spare before the next festival back up in Mexico, we decided to break up the long road journey, ignore warnings of a country of overpriced ‘meh’ and check out Belize. If you’ve done any of the reading we have you won’t have found much to say about Belize; few people seem to stop there mainly due to the higher prices and the only ‘attraction’ I’d heard of before arriving was the great blue hole (irrelevant if you can’t scuba dive). 

These lame reviews end here! Belize has got to be one of my favourite countries I have ever visited. Step over the border from Guatemala and suddenly people smile and throw jokes around and they’re black and sassy and they speak English and want to help you with things instead of sell you tours. The people are honestly the nicest I’ve ever come across, but also sort of cool and groovy and witty – think the friendliness of Cambodians married with New Orleans swag. 

The entire country is quaint and adorable, like 1950s America has been transplanted to a tropical landscape. Billboards and brand names don’t seem to be much of a thing (as opposed to Guatemala and Mexico where it’s very normal to paint your home with the Coca Cola logo). All the signage and shopfronts are candy colours and hand painted in the national language of English with incorrect grammar (legit! I saw an ad for Shell saying “the engine starts even when the harvest does’nt”). 

  

Apart from awesome people Belize also has an AMAZING cuisine which I cannot believe hasn’t been disseminated throughout the rest of the world. After Guatemalan food which was mainly Mexican but bad, Belizean dishes have been a breath of fresh air. We were sceptical at first having heard that the national dishes are rice with beans or beans with rice, but oh mama let me tell you I could munch on Belizean rice with beans for a loooong time. Maybe due to the environment, the ingredients used are so unique! Coconut shavings through the rice, and sauces simmered with mango and rum and chilli and unnameable spices… Pig tail and split peas, fry jacks and deep fried corn empanadas, every meal was a ‘mmmmmm my god’ moment. Our encounter with Jenny, a bombastic melon-boobed mama with a streetside kitchen in Belize City, sums up the Belize experience well. After dolloping mammoth piles of black eyed peas with red rice, pig feet, deer, butter fried fish, okra, spinach, fried plantain and lentils over our disposable plates – “and lemme tell ya somethin darlin, now you’re Belizean! You’re gonna leave two pounds heavier in four days!” – she advised us on the spicy sauce – “hot, just like first love, honey” – and sent us off on our ferry to Caye Caulker full of gooey goodness. 
It’s true that Belize is expensive but I would 100% recommend it to anybody passing through the area. 
We stopped in San Ignacio (lime and salt chocolate, shrimp burritos, Rastas), Orange Walk (not much to be honest but a really lovely local granddaddy called Cliff who took us around his town and showed us scars on his neck where he’d fought a crocodile “like Steve Irwin”, and also a community of Minnonites, Amish Europeans who migrated here during WWII and speak an archaic form of German -?!) and Caye Caulker, an island off the capital which is the main draw for backpackers in Belize. The whole island is a postcard, complete with palm trees and white sand and Ye Olde Ice Creame Shoppes and little golf buggies that traverse the two streets. The only problem with Caye Caulker is that, as is the nature of islands, it’s a trap and you can’t escape the crazy prices. We did manage to successfully score a priceless (but not actually that pricey) lunch from a local lady’s kitchen: hudut is a local dish of a whole fish in a coconut milk soup all spiced up with jalapeños and okra and peppercorns, with little patties made of mashed up plantain to dip in it like gooey cookies. Diviiiiine darling diviiiine. Oh and I nearly forgot – we also swam with manta rays and nurse sharks and technicolor fish and snorkelled over labyrinths of alien coral underwater landscapes in crystal clear warm water in the second largest reef in the world. 

  

I know it sounds like all we did in Belize was eat, and this is quite true, but honestly there was something special in the humid air above this pretty country. There’s definitely a flavour distinct from the Latin American neighbours I have visited. Caribbean island life comes with a ‘don’t worry, be happy’ attitude to time and shoes and haircuts. Sunblushed bellied Buddhas loll around and twiddle guitars and Bob Marley can always be heard somewhere in the distance. Also the slightly metallic/powdery taste of mega hostels and the hordes of drughungry dogs that inhabit them seemed absent from what we could observe of the tourist landscape which was a lovely change. It says something about Belize that we found ourselves observing locals rather than commenting on gringo culture. I’m struggling to say this in politically correct terms, but Belize had enough third world confrontation to entrance us, but not so much as to scare us off. What’s more, the culture was a unique smorgasbord for the senses that I’d never come close to experiencing. Here I am at 21 thinking ‘I’ve done it all’, and suddenly there’s a whole new shape to the world that I couldn’t have conceived of! 

We are very out of money and in savings mode, which means battling with public transport and involved an interesting border crossing. However, all limbs attached and butts plugged with anti-diarrhoea medicine, we are back in the promised land of Mexico, heading for Tulum to reunite with swagsisters Mildog and Harms for another festival in a few days time. 
Coconut rum and conch curry,
PT

  

Antigua & Acatenango

Although we treated it as a stopoff town between Lake Atitlan and our alternate Guatemalan adventures, the cute colonial city of Antigua is deserving of a visit on its own terms. It’s saying something that despite the fact that the first night we spent here was one of the worst in my 21 years of having a butthole (sorry to the toilet on level 2 of terrace hostel, you may never be the same again), I actually loved Antigua. It’s got more cobbles and Oaxaca/San Cristobal vibes, except smaller, with a better market and less tourist traps. Of course, as a colonial town in Central America it has the obligatory churches on every corner, but interestingly in Antigua most of them are in ruins which haven’t been restored. It toes the line between creepy and beautiful and usually ends on the right side, and after seeing 10 million catedral de santo domingos etc it actually makes a nice change to see one not intact.

We abused Antigua’s delectable mercado and the best hostel kitchen I’ve come across yet (A Place to Stay Antigua, I recommend if you can manage to find it up the sneaky side street it hides on) and enjoyed cooking ourselves meals that are actually far better than what you can get in local comedores. Maybe I haven’t been to the right places yet, but Guatemalan food has not blown my mind… It’s Mexican with less imagination. Food filled in the time leading up to the main event of Antigua: summiting Acatenango volcano, the highest peak in Guatemala.

The two day trek came very close to referral descriptions of ‘hardest thing ever’ but totally delivered the goods and satisfied our desires for constructive tourist activity, nature and physical challenge – some things that have been lacking from the past 2 weeks of the trip.

The entire volcano experience reflects my experience of Guatemala in general quite well: the easy bits were unnecessarily hard, but the hard bits were awesome. (Guatemala: it’s good if you can get past the bullshit). We began by waiting nervously outside the agency who had organised our trek – nervous because we had bargained it down to a dangerously cheap price and paid a 15 year old with a calculator for our ticket, and the agency was now closed. This left us scratching the door outside 10 minutes after we were supposed to be picked up, with no gear to prepare for the 4000m ascent and no guarantees the guide would even show up. After a stressful exchange in rapid Spanish we established with a random lady who arrived at the door that appropriate gear would be waiting for us at the volcano, and all we needed to take was water. Trundled onto a chicken bus with a bunch of game gringos who turned out to be legends, we were off!

Guatemala is good if you can get past the bullshit (one broken backpack between the two of us, glutenful meals, overpriced but unavoidable beanie/glove options, 7 people in a 6 man tent, smelly sleeping bags) – take a second to get past this, and the Acatenango experience was actually really awesome. We strained our calves ascending up to 3600m on the first day and then camped overlooking a neighbouring (active!) volcano, Fuego. As the sun set you could see glowing embers and little spurts of lava shooting out of the top of it which is DOPE, something I never expected to see and can’t quite believe I sat watching while munching on roasted marshmallows.

After a frigid night of not a wink of sleep – between the altitude thumping your heart too fast, the other 6 people in your tent squiggling around, the below freezing temperature and the volcano you’re sleeping on ominously grumbling from time to time, shut-eye was a challenge – we arose at 4am to finish the final ascent in time for sunrise. This section of the adventure was the best and the worst. For one thing, it was total madness that 25 stiff-limbed gringos scramble (I was mainly on all fours) up the side of a gravelly volcano in pitch darkness and minus zero temperatures, some of us (hem hem) clad only in cotton leggings and a made in China fake puffer jacket. After about an hour of messy climbing, we made it to the peak where a panoramic vision of lit up cities and two massive smoking volcanos arose in front of our tired eyes. Epic is one word to describe the view as the sun slowly turned the sky behind the peaks pink, casting shadows on clouds tentatively gathered around their fiery mouths. It has to be one of the most incredible sunrises I’ve ever seen, but was kind of ruined by my least favourite thing: cold. Not only was it so freezing up there that none of our technology (not even the snow sport ready GoPro) would turn on, but I lost feeling in all extremities and was so distracted by the physically painful ice seeping into me that I could barely concentrate on the awesome power of nature in front of me. Despite being penguin huddled behind a rock and attempting warming star jumps (not easy at altitude) when my tantrum reached hyperventilating levels Thorsten had to talk me through the scramble back down to camp and fire. It’s not news but I’m not into cool weather.

The descent was very nice on the eyes and very hard on the knees. We return to Antigua phenomenally philthy (bum-shuffling through dirt turned out to be a good technique for getting down on the scruffy bits) and sleepless, far from ready for our nightmarish upcoming overnight bus trip to Belize. Nothing a snickers and some gummy watermelons can’t fix!

Mud and muscles that don’t exist yet,

PT

 

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Lago de Atitlan

Before I begin I’d just like to say that my previous post on Semuc Champey was very cleverly written in haikus, and wordpress messed up the formatting and obscured my genius. Go back and reread for maximum poetic pleasure.

Happy Christmas, merry new year, feliz año, arriba! My apologies for lack of grid activity for the past weeks, I’ve been too busy experiencing moments to distance myself from them by trying to record them (thanks Sontag). Live in the present etc but also celebrate the past by recounting awesome shit you do to make yourself feel more awesome in the present – i.e. write a blog that makes you sound like a sicko. Thus:

Christmas and New Years has been spent on the cinematically beautiful, ludicrously unreal pocket of paradise Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, a scrumptiously gorgeous high altitude lake surrounded by volcanoes. Sounds like the setting of a Pixar movie, plays more like a cross between Spring Breakers and Nim’s Island. We’ve swung between equally fun extremes of partying at Ke$ha level and relaxing at Chicken Joe level. For the first time we’ve hooked up with other Aussies – some mates from home and some new collector’s edition buddies. It’s been a while and there’s a lot of messy ground to cover so I won’t delve into details, but here are some important moments that stick out in the colourful kaleidoscope of Lake Atitlan.

The morning of Christmas Eve til the early hours of Boxing Day were a blizzard of barefoot bendering through the alleys of San Pedro – we crashed a house full of Aussie med students and abused their drug knowledge, marvelled at the worst DJ in history at the only club in town (lion king remix into major lazer), exchanged secret Santa gifts within our new family (Ilias, Harmony and Millie), and did not even contemplate sleep. Ho ho ho, we were certainly very far from ham and crackers at home.

One sunny afternoon after lakeside picnicking, including glutenless empanadas (!!) we temporarily left our bodies with the help of DMT, the naturally occurring substance produced by your brain at night when you dream. Smoking DMT takes you on a 10 minute journey into a surreal alternate universe projected onto the backs of your eyelids, almost like a waking dream that you’re aware of. Fun and fascinating (and, mum, one of the safest drugs to consume). I’m including this anecdote because it was special, and misrepresenting my experience in the name of PG friendly writing was relevant to the 16 year old Ella who was first in need of directions in Africa, but as a newly crowned 21 year old I’d rather have honest and informed conversations with my fellow adults than pussyfoot around topics that worry people.

On that note, Central America has opened my eyes more and more to the massive impact of drug tourism. People literally will fly around the world chasing a cheaper high – and the effects of this demand for gringo-friendly narcotics are simultaneously crippling and necessary for the Guatemalan economy. On one hand, tourism is the major source of revenue in Guatemala, and you can be sure that if drugs weren’t available here, the tourists wouldn’t come. However forcing a population to cater to a druggy economy comes with all the scary side effects of illegal trade: gang violence, corruption, militant police, and addiction. Not to mention that if Guatemalans are making money off drugs they’re unlikely to attempt to make money off positive, sustainable pursuits instead – the economy can’t grow without stimulus for growth, and we’re back to dealing dope to dopey travellers.

Over New Years we sparkled ourselves up and boarded a boat to Cosmic Convergence, a psytrance/lifestyle festival on the other side of the lake. Through the glittering gates we Entered the Void – have you ever seen yoga masters lose their minds to 200bmp screamo-psytrance? When bendy people dance sometimes you’re not sure if seizure or sun salutation. We witnessed a set of unidentifiable genres of music mashing together to somehow work (psy + flume + Afro rock + meditation dub + iPhone sound effects + hip hop MC = ?!), the best beatboxing I’ve ever seen, whole new instruments and acts who were more performance artists than DJs. If the music was unique, so was the crowd. Think Mayan warriors with the whites of their eyes tattooed black crying as the sun rises, fat Germans muzzing out in yellow track pants, one guy sitting right in front of the speaker so deep in meditation he didn’t even realise his whole body was being moved by the vibrating bass, leg-rubbing marriage ceremonies by lake locals, drunk Mexicans and sober Mexicans, fairies and puppies and children, soup genies, glitter goddesses, bad singers, renegade stages, magic tricks, useless skills, lots of leg hair. I felt quite ostentatious in my fur coat and new balance sneakers amongst a very vegan hippie community and one of the many lessons I came away from the festival with was that I’m not a doofer. The wonderful, welcoming, loving, peaceful population of dreadlocked, kombucha-drinking, friendly freaks who frequent festivals like cosmic convergence are too inefficient and nice for me. As we learned at El Jardin, I revel in the rat race and phat beats made by computers are more my jam than drum circles. At the same time I’m so glad I have swum in the puddle of that lifestyle properly and I wouldn’t say no to dipping in again – but I’m a tourist, not a full time treehugger.

I’ve also been showered with perfect presents by Thorsten for my birthday and eaten a snickers every day, so all in all Lake Atitlan has delivered. Us two partners in crime have said goodbye to the fam and are off to Antigua to climb Acatenango volcano (has been described as ‘hardest thing ever’, hopefully this is not true).

Cacao ceremonies and Caucasian Rastafarians,

PT

 

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Semuc Champey

Waterfalls and caves 

Drew us to Semuc Champey

We left with neither
Day one: rain and cloud

Day two: Ella gets the shits

Day three: time to go 
I guess it’s a shame

But Christmas is calling us

So we’re off again
Pork ribs and poo,

PT
  

Flores

After crossing the border from Mexico to Guatemala we have discerned a decidedly southern shift. Suddenly we’re in Central America, not the distinct ‘second world’ classification Mexico earns itself. 
The sky is cyclone grey, tropical trees hang with mangos and spider monkeys, tuktuks and empty water bottles pollute the streets. Actually, the drive on bumpy gravel path from the river border crossing to our final destination of Flores was a highlight of this chapter of the trip. I was slapped off my mesmerising phone screen to appreciate the cinematic landscape passing for free from our bus window. “Are we tripping?!” Soft swerves of hills peppered with improbably precarious palm trees and swathes of lush leafy clusters of well watered and – surely you can eat that – nutritious looking flora. 
After many bus changes, ATM arguments and some unsuccessful swindle-dodging we were settled in the island village of Flores. A collection of cobbled streets and candy wrapper facades is circled by a serene lake and linked to the mainland by an arterial bridge. Most tourists use the pretty town as a springboard for accessing Tikal, another impressive Mayan site, but we rethought our intentions and consulted the manifesto and made a tactical decision to skip it. Our lack of intelligent conclusions at previous ruins have left us, frankly, a bit ruined out, and spending our entire daily budget on the hour long transport to and from, so that we could duel competing selfie-stickers for The Perfect Shot, doesn’t really appeal. Maybe it’s my lack of ancient history knowledge but I find it much more stimulating to try to understand the contemporary place I’m in than to speculate about a dead culture I can’t relate to at all. 
‘But Ella!’ I hear you protest, ‘surely understanding alien cultures is the whole point of travel!’ True! I’m enjoying the anthropological exploration of contemporary cultures a lot more. Particularly, the culture of international tourists is freaky and fascinating. People-watching at monuments or in hostels can teach you so much about the 2015 breed of traveller! I’m observing the tribe from within and compiling notes for a thesis at the end of this trip (along with dissertations on the colonial nature of the selfie stick and the ethics of drop-in-pop-out travelling). The 2015 traveller community includes the distinct categories of vacationers, backpackers, refugees, voyeurs and nomads. What does the 2015 traveller eat? How do they consume news, how do they social media? Why do they travel? Why do they go home? What’s the connection between dreadlocks and woven string necklaces? Why do they value ‘local’ experiences but will pay three times the going rate for a pizza cooked in the safety of their hostel? What’s more stimulating about these questions is that they’re not just about ‘them’, they’re about ME – I’m looking for myself and losing it as I find it (manifesto #1 – lose yourself to find yourself). We flee our nests to sniff out new experiences and yet crave hostel beds that feel like home, praise systems that are familiar to us, congratulate societies that have managed to replicate western ‘superior’ institutions (democracy, supercentres, fast food, credit cards). A lot of this trip has been spent in vans and buses traversing geographical distance and every time I notice that the thing travellers hate most is actual travelling. Like junkies off the back of a hit, we’re always seeking out the next cultural high – it’s about the journey, not the destination, but what’s the next journey, man, where you heading where you been let’s go go go but wait hold up I’ve just gotta pack my bag (again). 
One of the things about travelling with a partner – and also about writing a blog to keep you fans happy – is that it forces me to think about my experiences rather than just having them. I will never be a Guatemalan local and therefore must always view my experience of their experience through my own personal (and now a bit battered after leaving them in a hostel shower) glasses. And you, through these ramblings, can only experience my experience of the experiences – through omission and selection I can manipulate your experience of a time and place, ha! 
Okay rumble ramble over, here are the gory Flores details:

– Megapaca adventure! A warehouse of second hand clothes sourced from American op shops, we overstuffed our backpacks with thrifty gold (thanks Red Cross or whoever donates this stuff, it’s going to a good cause)

– Hospital adventure! Thorsten was struck by a paralytic migraine which sent sleepy nurse Ella with her feverish patient to the emergency department to have a linguistically interesting consultation in the middle of a hot hot night with a doctor who told us it was some sort of infection. Now that it’s over we can see the funny side: picture Thorsten yelling obscenities as two fat Guatemalans hold him down and jab needles in his arse while I, overwhelmed and certainly not destined for nursing, loudly spewed up my dinner in distress or disgust in the corner. I only wish someone had taken a photo. (Parents: everything is fine, the shots worked and Thorsten is healed)

– Kayaking adventure! We paddled across the flat freshwater lake to a hidden rope swing, following directions of a guy appropriately called Geronimo. Realised I’m a total chicken and more and more of my mother is coming out in me (‘it looks like it’s going to rain, we should probably turn back. ‘Why, because our swimmers might get wet in our kayak on this lake?’)
For not the first time I’ve written too much about a pretty small place. We’re (once again) crammed with an astonishing number of people into a tiny van on a subpar road on the way to Semuc Champey. Christmas feels far away and the date keeps surprising me. 
Flooded streets and floral feasts,
PT
  

Palenque

Hola blogworld!

You are reading the brain vomit of Thorsten, Ella’s sidekick in this Bonnie and Clyde cultural killing spree across Central America. Today we cross into Guatemala so it’s only fitting that I write about the final instalment of the first Mexico leg – Palenque.

The allure of shhweaty jungle climate and Mexico’s ‘best ruins’ are Palenque’s main draw cards. We waltzed into town with a keen bean attitude but the central shopping district proved expectedly disappointing. Tour companies battle for your business and badly lit tacerias offer variations on the same theme: taco, carne, queso, salsa. I miss the culinary adventures of Mazunte and the sizzling street stalls that lined all corners of Dé Efé (D.F. – what the cool kids call the capital).

We followed our noses to El Panchan, where one can find a cute wooden cabana in the moist womb of jungle. Imagine a room where mosquito netting substitutes wall and the cacophony of a million unidentified insects coo you to sleep every night. En route a homeland acquaintance, Lachlan, hops onto our collectivo! It’s a small world after all. He waxes lyrical about a remote self sustaining eco lodge called El Jardin, run by Martin, a peace loving German hippy. We arrive at our destination, forcing hasty directions. “Follow this road (which is long) for a while and turn right on a white path (of which there are many) you will come to a gate, climb it and walk a while along a paddock until you see a broken white van, that’s where it is”. Sometimes a recommendation works on the mind like a myth. It is delivered with all the theatrics of an ancient orator and comes wrapped in mystique and madness. We, the architects of awesome on a pilgrimage to the holy grail of truth were convinced! Tomorrow’s to do list was decided on – breakfast with a healthy dose of literature, an early visit to the ruins and the quest for El Dorado!

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Upon arriving at the ruin’s entrance one is greeted by a swarm of peso hungry parasites (you know the ones that demand you buy a pile of Mayan arrows, which of course, would’ve been a tremendous purchase had I not forgotten to pack my bow) and a herd of hopeless tour groups (you know the ones that wear those dreadfully tasteless beige pants and Kathmandu trekking boots because walking on third world terrain is always such a struggle). A sour start. History is a business after all.

But the ruins were not ruined, in fact they remain very much intact! Gargantuan temples, adorned with detailed engravings, swallowed by cannibalistic vines. Howler monkeys unleash their guttural commands from the canopy above. Wet, humid jungle air clings to your clothes like molasses. It’s all very primal and yet somehow you find yourself dumbfounded. You stand amidst all its grandeur and ogle silently in a stupefied daze. THINK, PIG! The cleverest conclusion we could manage were platitudes like ‘wow, it’s so old’ and ‘how did they build this?’. Great thinking guys! We turned to our budding tourists for clevererer answers. Alas, we found an army of clueless conquistadors occupying the space with their colonial selfie sticks. Susan Sontag writes that ‘most tourists feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter. Unsure of other responses, they take a picture. This gives shape to the experience: stop, take a photograph and move on.’ Our favourite subjects were a Colombian duo who had brought a bag of props, including fedora, flag and Chanel handbag. They proceeded to legitimise their attendance with a fully fledged photo shoot, working through poses, interchanging props and scrutinising the photos until they got what they wanted: proof of the experience. But how did they experience creating that experience? I certainly don’t have any experience in such an experience so I may as well give shape to it with my favourite toy – GoPro! In response I proceeded to stalk the vapid Columbians for 8 min 37secs. The video sits on my computer. One day I will show it to you to prove my experience. With knowledge of that proof you will understand that my travels had a purpose. I learnt things about people, I was culturally enlightened, I had an EXPERIENCE!

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Ruins, tick! Off to the garden of Eden! After two thwarted taxi journeys we finally ended up at a gate. The driver pointed towards the horizon: “El Jardin, si”. All that lay before us was cow shit covered paddock. We walked. After a lost in translation pantomime with a confused farmer and another gate hop we caught a glimpse of the white van. A smiling, bare chested German welcomed us with an ohm and a hug. “Those that are meant to find ze garden, will find it”. Martin. The man, the myth, the mantra.

A magical mystery tour through the estate revealed an eco friendly paradise, aplomb with water well, ayahuasca vines, organic vegetable gardens, grazing cows, sweat tent and yoga temple. All built by Martin’s loving hippy hands. We had already paid to stay at El Panchan but the romance of clean living and unconditional love proved irresistible. The reality, however, was a bizarre, uncomfortable mess.

We lit up a pre dinner doobie with newfound legend Fin Begg, a Sydney based artist. Martin interjected and ordered us to smoke outside the property. There are rules to be followed, including mandatory attendance to post dinner singalongs, which amounted to some stinky hippies singing two keys flat about ‘eternal happiness’ as an out of tune guitar doodled beneath them. Martin whispered some spiritual buzz words and giggled like a cult leader stuck in a permanent psychosis of ersatz happiness. Next we sat in a circle and passed around a talking stick (made of ayahuasca vine, of course). Counter culture kindergarten. Martin opened proceedings by demanding positive energies, untainted by the voodoo of ganja. Great way to welcome your happily stoned guests you divine dictator. The ceremony ended with a hit of raffi, which is a combo of tobacco and mystical herbs shot up the nose via a blow pipe. It is supposed to clean the sinuses but really it just felt like a shit load of cinnamon burning my brain and resulted in a headache. Off to bed. The plan is hatched, let’s get the fuck out of here first thing in the morning!

Things we learnt from this EXPERIENCE: ambition is awesome, love is conditional, enforced spirituality is as yucky as evangelical religion and we are not hippies! We are critical, eloquent, hedonistic, hygienic, capitalistic whores. And I’m ok with that!

shanti shanti shanti,

TH

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San Cristobal de las Casas

Chapter 5: The Confusion Continues

Some things about Mexico I saw coming. I was prepared for the disproportionate ratio of gel:hair in Latin American men. Jalapeños I have encountered before. I’ve read about the mammoth portions and overconsumption of soda (although seeing a group of 3 tweens gulp down a litre of Coca Cola each in a single sitting is a bit confronting), but some expectations about Mexico are just way off the mark. San Cristobal de las Casas is where I’ve felt the most acute bafflement thus far.

We were told it was the prettiest town in Mexico, smaller and cuter than Oaxaca and not on the main gringo highway, so we were hoping for a bustling mountain village full of diminutive indigenous families (of which there are a high proportion in the state of Chiapas) inhabiting the colonial buildings left behind by conquistador architects. To an extent, we got what we ordered – but instead of salsa our tacos came with a side of ketchup.

Pastel buildings, cobbled streets, Parisian lampposts and streetside cafes, Santorini churches in an alpine mountain setting, there’s no denying San Cristobal is pretty. However I’ve got Oxford’s lecture series on the philosophy of art echoing in my newly empty skull and if you ask me (or Hume), San Cristobal has high aesthetic but low moral value. Slotted next to stores vending rugs woven by female indigenous collectives are H&M ripoffs and chemist warehouse-style pharmacies. The ‘artesenal market’ had a stall that would have gone down a treat with Bondi hipsters on Sunday mornings, but unfortunately there were then 200 other stalls with the exact same ‘unique wares’. Suddenly the value of handmade jewellery is lost when any old hand can make it.

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By a stroke of luck we could try to pass off as clever planning, we arrived in San Cristobal on the day of the festival of Guadeloupe, Mexico’s patron Virgin. The town is a destination for partying pilgrims, with a whole street named for old Guadeloupe leading up to a pretty white church perched atop a Montmartre-style hill. Sleep-deprived zombies after our 13 hour night bus, we floated through the throngs of festive families and gawked. San Cristobal’s confusing facade aside, this was Mexico. NOISE! Swimming carnival chants about MARIA MARIA MARIA, boom boxes strapped to juice carts, jeeps laden with party popping people set off their own car alarms to add to the din. COLOUR! Clashing flags of fuschia and lime green, rainbow confetti, tropical fruits and absurdly coloured collections of fluro candies, not to mention the different indigenous tribes all decked out in their own respective traditional textiles. Litres of Michelada oozing with chilli sauce are sucked up with supersize straws, ice cream drips on confetti’d cobbles, sweat, folk dancing, a black Jesus wept in the church while we wielded our selfie stick with obnoxious abandon. Footage to come.

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Item 7 of our Mexico manifesto reads, ‘the truth is cool but it’s unattainable’. So why are we as tourists continually seeking the ‘authentic’ experience? San Cristobal’s reality has evolved past the ‘authentic’ trade centre for the hill tribes of Chiapas, and now the truth is that it’s a tourist-oriented town with a pretty face. To me, the kitsch and warehouses of loud Christmas lights disrupting the village veneer are integral to an honest understanding of San Cristobal; the cherub-faced child has become a pimply teenager.

Interesting but underdeveloped point: political unrest is palpable here. My limited lonely planet understanding points to a clash between indigenous rights, colonial oppression and the Zapitista movement and you can see it in the graffiti scrawls demanding libertidad and protesting placards in the plaza. Something to read up on.

Confusion is sexy and if travelling met every expectation what would be the point? However San Cristobal has too much city squeezed inside its cobbled calles for us road-less-travelled wanderers so we are currently hitching a ride to the jungle town of El Panchan in a car with so little suspension we come to a complete stop on top of every speed bump.

Firecrackers and fiestas,

PTIMG_1413

Oaxacan Coast

Readers bewarned: this is the inevitable chapter of inneedofdirections that totally shoves my perfect life right up in your face. I’m not going to shy away from glorying in how well I’ve done at life for the past 8 days. Let no piña colada go uncelebrated!

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Sooo, yep, I’ve been living in a corona ad for over a week now. We started in Puerto Escondido chasing That Goa Feeling and expecting to party our tits off with loosest Aussie legends, etc. However after one day of wandering Puerto’s weirdly empty streets, paved with shell tiles and lined with expensive swimsuit stores, we realised we were in the Mexican Noosa, and chasing natural highs is way more appealing than drinking games with drongos. We hopped on a collectivo outta there to a back of beyond blip called Mazunte, population 150, to truly “escape”. Our most important achievement in Puerto was taking advantage of the fact that it was totally unpopulated – I have no idea where anyone was – so we broke into an unoccupied cabana and stole a dip in someone’s private pool. A backpacker budget is a speed bump not a stop sign.

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brand allegiance

Mazunte! What happens in Mazunte?? Where on earth did the last six days of my life go? I feel I’ve gone full Mayan and just sacrificed all of them to the sun gods. It’s really been a blur of swimming in deliciously warm ocean, coconuts off enthusiastic beach vendors, doobies with new mates, hammocks, yoga, sunsets, cocktails and the best food yet (!!! It keeps getting better!!). How can I begin to describe a cactus and shrimp taco to an uninitiated reader? Avocado, coconut or maracuya ice cream? Hunks of pork roasted for three hours over an open grill, slathered in oil and chimichurri? Fresh ceviche, devilled octopus and two caipirinhas for $15? Alfajores and homemade carrot cakes materialise, gluten already removed, at your elbow whenever the munchie monster is awake. We had two dinners every night. It just never gets old, there’s always something new to try. If you haven’t yet I highly encourage everyone to involve blue cheese sauce in their diet, it’s like finding faith, it’s changed my life.

We strayed from the beaten track one afternoon (got lost) and found ourselves scrambling through a ten man film crew setting up in a tunnel of undergrowth. We thrashed through them, thongs thwacking, and were delighted to discover a horse grazing in the gorgeous twilight. Cue ‘dumb tourists play with horse, horse nearly eats dumb tourist’s bag in return, dumb tourists scram’ scene. Unfortunately we only realised at the end of this scene that it was exactly what the film crew had not wanted to film, and we’d just stolen their shot. Sorry to whichever Mexican blockbuster that was…

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horsten

When you skinny dip as the sun sets on majestic ocean with strangers, those strangers become your friends, and when your friends suggest a hard to pronounce and ancient ceremony that you’ve never heard of, you say yes, and that’s how we ended up in an underground sauna with 10 other randoms screaming mythic chants and drumming while a naked shaman with scars from eye to nipple bellowed at us in an ancient tongue. Temescal is a sort of local cleansing practice where you trap yourself in an underground circular cave with volcanic steamy rocks and keep shovelling them into the hole until you can no longer see, either because there’s too much steam in the air or because you’ve fainted. Before entry the shaman told us “you’re gonna scream, you’re gonna cry, you’re gonna want to die, but if you last it’s gonna be worth it” and I was THIS close to throwing in the towel and leaving early because I’ve never been that hot in my life. The idea is that when you emerge from this hole in the ground you’ve been cooked up in Pachamama’s uterus and reborn into the night and it feels that way! Definitely one of the most archaic things I’ve ever done, pretty fun, would recommend.

A 10/10 moment: psychedelic sunset plays out in the background as a naked German man named Justus (‘Justice’) describes the Internet phenomenon of dickbutt to Thorsten. PHWOAAAR

We also went to a nudist beach and read Waiting for Godot.

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pray for us

Finding time to be affected by your environment is really nice. City slicker Sydney student life is generally full up, and doesn’t leave much room for introspective reflection or extra learning. With the fine spread of time that Mazunte has left on our hands I’ve found myself indulging in lots of self evaluation (particularly in yoga classes: “who are you? look within yourself, the whole universe exists inside you, don’t do the action, be the action, om”) and also enjoying using my freed up mind on stimulating podcasts and literature. For not the first time I am thanking Steve Jobs for iTunes U – look into it if you value free education/are curious about anything at all.

Biggest lessons from the Oaxacan Coast: – idleness is a welcome relief but I am a doer, not a Buddhist – Add all the salsas – Prep your offline Spotify tunes because wifi is as uncertain as Godot’s arrival – Be naked more

Seafood and sandy bits,

PT

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sunset in someone else’s unfinished hotel