The Beach

16 03 2015

A lot of the traveling culture here in Mexico is dictated by sun-seekers from the north – people who have come to the same town every year for thirty years, or who have gotten stuck in a honey trap running some bar or hostel. Everyone who is traveling here has a special place, its name spoken in hushed tones in a crowded bar, the place at the end of the rainbow. It’s an old tradition. In “The Shawshank Redemption” it was Zijuatanejo. In “Y Tu Mamá También” the two heroes try to cover their asses after inventing the magical Boca del Cielo. Everyone here is looking for their beach.

And I guess I’m on a similar mission, when I think of it. It’s a pretty irresistible treasure hunt. From the start, I knew I wasn’t coming here to travel but to settle and live for a little while. And my standards have quickly mounted about where that would be. So let me walk you through the stops so far on my search.

Stop #1: Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo. I stayed there for two weeks, knowing I didn’t want to stay any longer, but also sticking in the quintessential honey-trap of a hostel where the group of friends was way too tight-knit, the hammocks were way too comfy and the beer next door was way too cheap. It was fun I guess, and interesting to spend a bit of time in. But I don’t feel called back.

Playa del Carmen is in the “Riviera Maya”, a.k.a. the strip of Caribbean beaches and resorts that attracts the most tourists in Mexico, crowned at its northern tip by the wan and twisted jewel of Cancun. (If you’re already pretty weirded out by the name of an indigenous people, who has obviously dealt with poverty and persecution in modern Mexico, being used as part of the marketing for a glitzy American-dominated “riviera” which doesn’t involve them much… then we’re on the same level. If not, I apologize, because this post is already way too Santa Cruz.)

So, the Riviera Maya. Obvious downsides: expensive; quite touristy, lots of private land (i.e. resort beaches). Not-obvious downside: it surpassed even my expectations how everything was privatized. The famous cenotes – underground lakes that dot the Yucatan by the thousands because of the porous rock – are almost completely privately owned and run by the people whose property they happen to be on, with no sort of cohesion. Imagine if Yellowstone was a pay-by-geyser basis, and there was no Park Service to tell you that Old Faithful exists. The whole thing was shockingly non-user friendly.

There were upsides, though. Certain beaches were truly gorgeous, with thick pale silty sand and a turquoise bathwater horizon striped by dark lines of rocks and seaweed. The other thing is that Playa wasn’t that segregated. The whole place was rich and expensive, with tourists walking out their hotel front doors downtown and strolling the same cheesy main promenade with everyone else. There was no market; the locals shopped in nice air-conditioned supermarkets (though you could find your cheap food if you wanted). The only thing that was pretty segregated was Spanish-speakers from Mayan-speakers, but it seemed like the Mayans lucky enough to be from this boomtown (or those unlucky enough, but plucky enough to adapt) have done pretty well. Lots of beautiful houses in town bore plaques on the front gates saying things like “Familia Ix’bele”, and billboards all over advertised the bilingual elementary school.

But after two weeks I felt trapped, not cradled; and so it was time to hit the road, newly partnered with my Playa co-worker Tamar, to find our own paradise.

Stop #2: Bacalar, Quintana Roo

Bacalar is at the southern end of the state of Quintana Roo, where the Cancun suburbs peter out and the madness dissipates, near the Belize border. Bacalar was just our pit stop on the way to the next horizon, but a really detailed hunt for the Beach would entail some more time coastcombing in the area, because I think it was a promising candidate. (Shoutout to Punta Allen, which one acquaintance of ours spoke of wistfully as his magical Beach. Unfortunately, it was too far out of the way for us.)

Bacalar is way, way tinier than any of the other towns listed here. And it’s actually a lake town, which was really refreshing (ha, ha). It’s only big enough to have a little town square with cool buildings, a bandstand and an old Spanish castle. It’s surrounded by jungle, and from the town square, a sleepy Malecon lined with vacation homes and cottages runs along the side of the lagoon. They call it the Laguna de los Siete Colores – the Lagoon of Seven Colors – because of its beauty, but also because it was formed by seven cenotes that eroded together.

The hostel we stayed at in Bacalar was extremely lovely. Pluses: a dock on the water; tons of cute dogs; an awesome array of hammocks. The water was so pleasant to swim in, and that night we watched in awe as a bloodred moon rose over the lagoon. Minuses: rather expensive. Rather too small of a town to accept that big a community of paradise-seekers without feeling segregated, honestly – though there were obviously Mexican tourists outside our hostel somewhere, and the town was fairly friendly. It helped (hurt?) that our hostel was weirdly overrun with Germans. I love Germans, but when you’re not in Germany and you’re frolicking by a lake with two Mexican hostel employees, two Brits and eighteen Germans… it does sort of set the tone. My Beach has to be fairly international, but also dominantly Spanish-speaking and Mexican. On we went.

Stop #3: San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas

This small mountain city is not a beach town, but rumors of it had drifted up to me in the North already, because it’s a major honeytrap where hippie travelers find their Beach. Extremely cold, extremely old, extremely beautiful, it’s the kind of place where even the gas stations and chain stores have been opened in priceless colonial buildings. The streets are cobbled and hilly and terrifyingly one-way, the roofs are of red tile, and the houses are painted a riot of colors that defies comparison – somewhat Spanish, somewhat Italian, a fever-dream of architecture that could really only be called San Cristobal-esque. The indigenous population was huge and non-Spanish-speaking and wore traditional furry scarves and dresses around the street, chattering in Tsol’tsel. They were honestly a majority. Churches were everywhere, painted pastel colors, their bells ringing and ringing.

San Cristobal is also known for its key part in the Zapatista uprising. On New Year’s Day in 1994, an army of socialist separatists 3,000 strong – mostly indigenous, claiming the Mexican government to be illegitimate – declared war on Mexico and descended from the mountains to take control of several towns in Chiapas, including the large and important town of Ocosingo. They laid siege to the city of San Cristobal de las Casas, setting fire to police buildings and breaking open the jail. On January 2nd, though, the Mexican military arrived with reinforcements. They pushed the Zapatista army back from San Cristobal and there was a fierce battle for Ocosingo. The rebels lost, and they retreated into the mountains.

Today, though, there is still Zapatista territory up in the backcountry which is completely out of Mexican government control. The Zapatistas have their own school system, healthcare system and army, and apparently the villagers who live under their control enjoy a good standard of life, thanks to sales of trendy fair-trade socialist coffee and the like in the hip circles of places like Germany. You can see the start of their territory from the city of San Cristobal, beyond the radio tower at the top of the furthest mountain. On the bus we took through the countryside, all kinds of houses and shacks along the road bore the words in messy graffiti, “ZAPATA VIVE”.

So you can already see how this place started collecting a community of hippie travelers. Let’s get to the detriments. There’s no beach, obviously – though I’m open to the possibility that my beach may be a mountain town. Mostly it’s just fairly segregated. The hippie community is robust, white or from Mexico City, and into things like gems and juicing and flowy pants made by the local indigenous whatever-they’re-called. On the flip side of the same coin, locals are obviously pretty over playing the host. It shows, in small but annoying patterns of aggression like the fact that no one will ever, ever move over for you on the super-narrow sidewalks.

Stop #4: Oaxaca City

So we traveled onward, into the state of Oaxaca. Including Oaxaca City (actually called Oaxaca de Juarez) in this list is kind of a fluke, because it’s too big of a city to be anyone’s Beach. It’s not the end of the rainbow, it’s the center of the melting pot. But it’s my favorite city in Mexico so far, and I have to write about it.

First of all, Oaxaca City is the perfect size: big enough to be busy, but small enough to be walkable and not too globalized. It’s a bustling center, but it is undoubtedly the center of Oaxaca, where indigenous languages gaily mix and artisans and farmers bring their wares from miles away.

Those who knew me when I lived in Switzerland might remember what I always said about Bern – it’s beautiful, but all in the same way; every Disneylandish corner could be exchanged with every other. If San Cristobal is Bern, Oaxaca City is the opposite: gorgeous but grimy, historical but well-used, cheap, confusing, richly cultural. For every brightly painted building there was another one whose paint was peeling, and another one of gray stone. Instead of a sea of red roofs, its silhouette was a spiny forest of TV antennas. At times the cobblestone streets almost looked like they could belong to a semi-dumpy French city, and honest-to-God I mean that in the best possible way.

And at every corner there was another interesting attraction: a cultural center with an art exhibit, a mezcaleria offering free tastings, a huge green Gothic dome, a towering bulbous kapoc tree. Bright yellow taxis zipped through the streets. Vendors were everywhere selling cheap, delicious food: garlicky roasted bugs (yes, I tried them and yes, they were good); quesadillas with delicate yellow flowers inside; horchata with pieces of cut fruit; fried empanadas filled with chorizo and potatoes. It is true, though, that the vendors there were a little on the aggressive side – more than anywhere else in Mexico so far – and it definitely got a little aggravating.

But we had to move on, because we felt the end of our search approaching. Which leads me to my current home…

Stop #5: Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

Puerto Escondido is a surf town. And it’s not that small – think Half-Moon Bay, but more compact. I like the size. The main part of the town tumbles down a steep hollow to a gorgeous cove dotted with boats, sandwiched between a clifftop lighthouse and a long sandy surfing beach. There the town peters out into palapas, campsides and scrubby palm woods. I like the climate: not jungly, but humid and hot enough for palms, banana leaves and flowers. I like the beaches, warm Pacific swell. And I like the vibe. Considering how often I´ve seen this place alluded to – including from my former coworker, a Santa Cruz neighbor´s bumper stickers, and my living-off-welfare expat uncle – it´s obviously not undiscovered. So for it to still feel the way it does, I give the props to the people who have visited here. You have to have a damn good record of tourists with good hearts on good behavior to create a town this famous that still feels like this. (Though I´m sure the 7-hour, vomit-inducing drive through the mountains from Oaxaca City helps.)

The one thing I don´t like is the place I´ve been offered to work at. I won´t name it, because I´ve realized lately how powerful blogs can be in the post-Yelp world to make or break a business, and I bear no one any ill will. But when you´ve got a story to tell, you have to tell it, ya know?

So suffice it to say that though I´ve gotten an offer I can´t refuse (one day of work for every two days off, HEY-o), I am somewhat annoyed by the vibe of this hostel – extremely English-speaking, the type of people who take taxis into town to go clubbing and don´t even know how to get there by foot. There´s a bar here, and the worst part is that you´re not allowed alcohol from the outside. That´s like telling me this is my new home, but I can´t cook, ya know? And it wouldn´t be a problem if the bar felt like a home-base, giving free drinks with a wink and making things special to order… but the bar here does not hook it up, to the Nth degree. The only beers are Sol and Dos Equis, small size; there are no limes (and the bartender made fun of me when I asked for limes… like, okay? are we sophomores in high school?), the smoothie drinks are basically devoid of alcohol, the only mixed drink is Jungle Juice (no margaritas!), and the workers basically get 0 discount, or even slack for when we pay our tab.

So basically, it´s a completely shameless coerced take-back of the money I will supposedly save living here. Although I am fighting it. In part, obviously, by not drinking; though that´s a bit annoying in a self-proclaimed “party hostel” where my job is to mingle and play the host. And also by keeping myself firmly in check for food money, which is a pleasure – the incredibly cheap town market is nearby, and I missed cooking. Also, this hostel has a pool. So there ain´t too much trouble in paradise.

I´m eager to see how the next few days shape my opinion of this town and the little life that I´m supposedly going to have here. Updates when they arrive!

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The Open Road Calls

17 02 2015

At the moment of writing this (which is not the moment of posting it, as the following description will probably make clear), I sit in the back of a small Sedan on the highway. My rideshare companions are in the front two seats: a 30-year-old Mexican guy (Fabian) who is helping his dad (David) move from Mexico City to Cancun. My only companion in the backseat is their cat, Clara, who has no idea that she will soon be let out in a new house in a tropical beach town, with new animals and smells and litterboxes to mark as her territory. No, Clara knows none of this, so for the first several hours of our trip (starting at 5 this morning) Clara meowed incessantly and stared ruefully up at me through her cage door, obviously believing I was the catnapper.

At one point Fabian’s dad let her wander around the car to shut her up, but this backfired when he had to put her back. He spent several hilariously awkward minutes wrestling with the clasps on the janky travel kennel, always thwarted by a leg or a well-placed paw.

“Do you need help?” Fabian asked, trying to glance back and also concentrate on driving.

“I don’t need any help! Just drive!” said David, who obviously needed help. It was a battle of man versus cat; proud Mexican pater familias versus cat-er familias. Cat was winning.

A few hours ago, thank God, Fabian had the brilliant idea of putting a blanket over Clara’s cage. Thus the conniving and ingenious Clara has been convinced that it she isn’t in mortal danger anymore but that it is, in fact, naptime. So the only sounds accompanying me in the backseat are Van Halen blasting on the radio, and the rush of the crickets that rises ongoing from the jungle.

It’s just approaching dusk, and both back windows are open so the wind will gnaw through the thick humidity. We are somewhere in the state of Tabasco, which is not where the sauce comes from (it’s from Louisiana). A beetle just landed on my computer screen, and is scuttling around upon the white background of Microsoft Word in strangely cute silhouette. The country outside is dotted with little ranches and meadows and houses and comedores, all very pastoral. In the spaces between, towering thickets of twisty trees and waxy pendulous leaves cling to the edges of slow brown creeks or swampy pools covered with water-lilies. If I stick my head outside the window, I can smell something far off that could be cocoa stewing on a wood fire.

Over the last three weeks, since I drove down my parents’ driveway in Northern California, I have traveled about 3,500 miles – the furthest I have ever traveled without setting foot in a plane. The journey has followed a pretty weird hurry-up-and-wait rhythm. Right now, I’m exhausted from taking an all-day-and-overnight bus from Mazatlan to Mexico City, which arrived this morning.

I didn’t so much as pass go or collect 200 pesos before I had rendez-voused with Fabian and was watching the sleeping streetlit avenues of Mexico City trawl past from the window of their car, as we fled from the morning traffic. By the time the sun rose we had left the city. Now as we inch deeper into the wilderness of the Yucatan Peninsula, the plan is to drive all night until we reach Cancun, making this my second consecutive night in a car.

On the other hand, the first leg of my trip was extremely leisurely – lingering here, couchsurfing there – (though I can’t say I got any more sleep during Carnaval in Mazatlán than I did on the bus). It’s been truly magical watching the climate change as I made my way slowly south, bit by bit, proving to myself that places which almost seem behind a mystical curtain are indeed on this same earth.

So where to start?

I guess I should start at the beginning.

First, a word about hitchhiking. I hitchhiked almost all the way through Baja California, and though it was successful, it was definitely one of the more challenging hitchhiking journeys I’ve been on. For starters, it gave me a weird feeling sometimes. From a certain perspective hitchhiking is a form of begging, and after a few days I started to feel crass begging for charity from people who obviously have less than me. The sour looks and aversions of eye contact eventually erode you psychologically, and they made me start to ruminate: Why didn’t I just drive my car? Why didn’t I just pay for a bus?

But for me, it’s really not about begging. So let me set down a little manifesto about why I hitchhike. You know when you’re a kid and you think you have the answers to all life’s problems? Like when you hear about world thirst for the first time and say, “Well why can’t we just drink the sea?” Or you see a homeless person and you say, “Why can’t everyone just give him their leftovers?” And when you start to grasp all the petty little reasons why not, it’s just this crushing awakening to how stupid and confusing and wasteful the world is? To me, the idea of how difficult and expensive travel is is one of those little frustrations: Why must I pay so much for a plane ticket when the plane is going anyway?

For me, to hitchhike is to give a great big middle finger to all those little assumptions that clutter up the world and make childlike logic impossible. It is to say, All these cars are going where I’m going and they’re empty, and you know what, there is something I can do about that. It is to say, F**k you, world – there is enough water on the planet, we can drink the sea. It is a triumph of childlike wonder, and it is a call that there is enough energy already being expended on the planet to make things happen.

The other thing that was challenging about Baja, though, is that it was so damn empty. There were just never that many people passing by one spot, and as a result wait times were long – sometimes an hour or more. It definitely became frustrating after a few days, not being picked up by car after car in the middle of nowhere, when people knew perfectly well that no one else was coming.

You probably never wanted to know how to politely interact with hitchhikers, but I’m going to tell you anyway. Honestly, my favorite reaction from passersby is the simple lack of eye contact, because it doesn’t call me to expend any energy interacting, accepting your apology, waving, etc. My least favorite by far is when people (especially young people) (WHO HAVE ROOM IN THE CAR) wave, grin, give a hang-loose sign, or God forbid, return the thumbs-up. This is pretty much the same as going into a small, struggling, family-run corner store and yelling, “I just love you guys! You guys are so great! I’m so glad this exists! Keep doing what you’re doing!!” And then running out again without buying anything. Without fail, anyone over 30 that picks me up talks about the good old days when hitchhikers were commonplace and you could hitch anywhere. I’m only 22, but the word on the street is that hitchhiking is getting harder and harder; and as such, fewer people hitchhike. If you think it’s cool that there are still hitchhikers in the world… pick them up. Otherwise there won’t be any anymore. Period. End rant.

Nonetheless, things went pretty well. For the first two days I got a lot of very short rides from local families and one bored delivery guy – sometimes in the open beds of pickup trucks, which was my favorite. On my third morning I had a particularly long and bleak wait time, until I was finally picked up by a camper van with Montana plates. The drivers were named Bob and Billie, and they were my guardian angels. First of all, they were driving a huge distance, through some of the most remote parts of Baja. Second, they were a ton of fun to talk to – hip Jack Kerouac folk from the old beat generation, who had lost none of their values. In fact, I have never found anyone that age who shared so close to the same values as me. It was remarkable. (Case in point, they pick up hitchhikers.)

The third reason they were amazing is simply that we enjoyed the same activity while driving: commenting on the changing flora and fauna. So we marveled as we crawled south and the desert slowly grew lusher, the brown weeds sown in one at a time with weird fuzzy boojum trees like something from Dr. Seuss, then tall slender cacti, and then gnarled little scrub oaks clinging to the mountainsides. Baja California is a stark and gorgeous land. When we crossed the border into the state of Baja California Sur, we crossed an hour forward into mountain time, or “hora de Guadalajara” going by the Mexican system which names time zones after cities. Bob said it was because before the road was paved in the 90s, it was far easier from southern Baja to reach the mainland than to reach the northern cities like Tijuana and Ensenada. The road was pretty nice, but there were still a whole lot of llanterias along the roadside, hinting at its days as a car-smashing journey.

Traveling alone is so funny: you’re incredibly lonely, except when you’re not. Friends can be found in unlikely places. There was Billie and Bob on the road, and then in La Paz there was an incredibly chill house of marine biology students. Hanging out with them was so like hanging out with Santa Cruz friends – jam sessions on the roof, bonfires on the beach, the search for the best manta ray tacos – that it was almost surreal that we were speaking Spanish the whole time. The biggest shoutout ever goes to Vinnie, Rebecca and the Marixas. I think I’ll be back in La Paz just to visit them.

And then on the boat the weird encounters continued: I ran into a fellow UCSC student with whom I have mutual friends, and together we made friends with three guys from the North on a massive bike tour together, and with a Mazatleco named Brandon going home. The six of us formed a sort of crew and hung out in Mazatlán for a few days, seeing two sides of the city: an extremely gringoey hostel, and Brandon’s world of favorite hot-dog stands and hikes to secret lookout points. Honestly, to me they didn’t seem very different. The Mazatlán I saw everywhere – and the one Brandon showed us – was a relaxed and liberal beach city, like many in California. Just with better street food, greener cliffs, crazier traffic and a starker, hazier subtropical light.

I think Mazatlán is MexicoLite in a different way than Baja, which is also MexicoLite. Baja rolls out the red carpet of English for its massive expat and tourist community, but the place itself is still very poor, rural and traditional. Mazatlán does not seem to be owned by foreigners, or cater to them too much – but it’s rich and modern to the point where it feels fairly globalized. The culture shock there is only a little zap.

So we fast-forward. Through the bus ride, further southward through the end of the desert: a mountainous, subtropical scrubland, like something from the north of India. Through the car ride, which had some minor incidents (a flat tire) but has generally been good, but long. Two interesting things about road-tripping in Mexico: Not only is shitty highway a serious danger to your car that you must consider, the toll stations all have randomly different prices, and David and Fabian would judge the coming highway based on the price. Whenever we were driving on a road full of potholes, they’d either say “No wonder, it was so cheap this time”, or “Can you believe we paid 150 pesos for this!?”. This is also how I was first introduced to the Mexican love for complaining about the government. But that’s an observation that I’ll expand on as it unfolds. The Mexican government, and people’s relationship with it, is obviously no small beast to snoop about nor to write about.

And I’ll sign off for now. I think with this part of the journey, I’m done with my addiction to following the open road. Like my many red and irritated mosquito bites, it has been scratched to oblivion and no longer wants any scratching. And I’m satisfied, but ready to rest my head somewhere that is not a moving vehicle. Next reporting from the shores of the Caribbean!





A Tale of Two Californias

3 02 2015

International borders fascinate me. I know that when you cross a border it’s the same air, the same climate, the same sky, etc. That it’s not some magical portal to another dimension but just a line drawn in the sand, a figment of the human mind.

But when you cross a border like the one at San Ysidro, you can’t help but get a mind-boggled high at how powerful the human mind is, that a physical border made of cement and barbed wire and can hold back the tide of non-physical things. Norms of dress; styles of cooking; family values; arsenals of jokes and decision-making methods. Here a curtain of concrete holds back the tides of two of the most hegemonically dominant, populous and powerful cultures in the world: Anglo and Latin America. Dark twins like the sun and the moon, cousins so similar (and so unable to see it) that they can do nothing but bicker.

Allow me to explain myself. I see this part of the world as an alternate reality, a slightly diverging string of history from my own. One hundred and sixty-seven years ago the United States army pushed the Mexican one across the Rio Grande, a treaty was signed, a line was drawn, and my homeland as a political entity was created. Since then the lands on either side, once one, have developed in different ways. Different heroes have won them, different people have flocked to them, and different governments have sowed them with highways. But the reflection is there, I can’t help but clearly see it. I’m still in California – a phantom, alternate-reality California. Guys my age in skate hoodies weave down the sidewalk in longboards. A cute girl with a scene haircut secrets a colorful little glass pipe into her purse. The streets are laid out on an Old Western-style grid with the only numbered streets I’ve ever seen in in Latin America – Segunda, Tercera, Cuarta, Quinta.

Walking across the border was as easy as pie, which was part of what made the whole thing so surreal. It was still late afternoon, and a plump moon, soaked with sky like a Tres Leches cake, hung low over the slum-covered hills. I walked over a long cement footbridge which wove as practically as it could above the maze of honking lanes, military enclosures and Mordor-like gates below. The crossing into the United States: that’s where the real madness takes place. And where, I’m reminded, I face repossession of my car if I ever again wrongly take the accelerated Fast-Pass lane. But that’s another story.

I reached a dramatic, final turnstile which you obviously could not return back through, over which the word “MEXICO” was emblazoned. I went through, and poof!

Okay, I admit the magic didn’t happen until I crossed the rest of the pedestrian walkway and descended the stairs into the steaming, hulking maze of the city. But suddenly then the streets were cobbled and had wide sidewalks and smelled of cologne and motor oil; old men were pulling grates over the storefronts; families lounged in plastic chairs in the shadows of long alleyways or weird half-built alcoves where wires spit electric lights; all the houses were painted garish colors, advertising their wares with even more garish photographs; and a bubbling of noise reached me: the noise of people out on the streets, getting their business done or returning from it as twilight closed in.

Tijuana is an unfortunate Gomorrah, half-hearted and embarrassed as it tries to python money out of visitors in the only way it knows how. It’s funny – as white Americans we imagine Mexico as a crazy loud place, because Mexicans get so silly with their friends, and our little middle-school selves consequently form frightened impressions of them whistling and shrieking with giggles on the bus. And it’s true, there are a few pieces of European comme-il-faut that collapse here (like traffic laws). But let’s dispel this now: on the whole, it seems to me that Mexico has a very shy, polite, sweet and spiritual culture. The hagglers in the streets here let you wander onward with a simple moment of eye contact and a “No, gracias.” The prostitutes lining up along the walls were mostly apple-cheeked mestizas, their doe eyes lined with thick kohl. Whenever I passed one I gave her a shy, apologetic sort of smile, and generally received the same smile back. It seemed so vulgar and sad. No slutty cackles or dance moves, with the exception of one older lady that slapped my ass. No faking it – just an offer implied, yup this is my job, no questions asked.

When I arrived I had recently eaten, and I don’t like girls. Tijuana is a terrible place not to be straight or hungry. Pretty much all that’s on the menu is girls and tacos (and the same few meh local beers, with Tecate, tragically, leading the charge).

I tried half-heartedly to find a hostel, but hotels were shockingly cheap, so I just grabbed a room. The hotel manager gave me a towel, a personal toilet paper roll and a bar of soap to take to the room myself. I got there and found that I could hear mariachi from the street drifting through the paper-thin walls, which were randomly red trimmed with turquoise. I imagine the way Mexicans paint houses and rooms, haphazardly: “Well, it can’t be beige, Mari-Flor down the street just did hers beige, how about red and turquoise?” I wish that would catch on in my neighborhood. If I ever inherit my parent’s house, I shall have this discussion with my sister. Sorry, Mom and Dad. Or rather, sorry, future next-door neighbors.

Despite my lack of hunger for girls or tacos, I went out anyway. I avoided a totally empty club painted with the rainbow flag and advertising “CLUB HAWAII – BODAS GAY,” and ended up following a street barker to an upstairs club where he promised me a free tequila shot. The club was throbbing dance music, and I was the only one inside. I bought the promoter a shot too so I wouldn’t take mine alone, and he hung out with me for a few minutes on the balcony, telling me about Tijuana. I can only imagine his boredom and desperation trying to to that job on a Monday night in February. Eventually he went back down to the street to continue the barking, and said that he’d be down there if I wanted to give him a tip when I left.

A more naive Ben of years ago would have been shocked that my conversation was only worth money to him. And after I bought him a shot too! But that was before I had been much exposed to the way poverty can shape a city and its culture. I now realize that that’s just what’s for sale here – love, sex, a trip of the mind, even a friend – all from people scrounging together another peso, another dollar, for years at a time. They flock here to hunker down and wait, wait to cast their dice, to risk everything for Tijuana’s biggest and most dangerous export of all: freedom.

I’m not in the market for that either. I gave the barker a tip on his way out.





Road Trippin’

31 01 2015

Well, I have recommenced my life on the road. And traveling is the main thing I do that’s interesting, isn’t it? So I suppose I shall keep this blog alive by writing updates about where I am and what I’m doing. I am now a traveloguist, self-indulgent and pretentious tho that sounds. I guess self-indulgence is the elephant in the room of all blogging, so. let’s embrace it.

I have spent the past week or so road-tripping around the Southwest with two friends from Chile. well, a friend and his brother – and there’s been plenty of awkward brotherly fights for me to ignore. But they have been perfectly lovely travel companions as we explored the deserts and mountains of the West.

Winter is a weird time to go on a road trip, but I felt the time was right with the following reasoning.

1. I hate to admit it, but the fracking gas. (That’s not wordplay. I mean, the gas from fracking.) It’s so damn cheap.

2. Travel is about finding experiences, not necessarily about being physically in a new place. Spending some quality time with friends who live halfway around the world is an experience not to be missed.

I’ve been thinking recently about Annaïs, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you have to just act as if any time with people you love is your last, because you never know. Time is truly precious. My friend Cristián had to return home to Chile from his exchange in California, early and abruptly, because of a similar tragedy to Annaïs’. And when he started bringing up the idea of a road trip, it was clear that we both ought to take advantage of this time together and go with the flow.

So we embarked – me, Cristián, and his brother Santiago. (Cristián and Santiago have a dog named Santiago, and they live in the city of Santiago. Don’t ask me if I understand Chileans, because I don’t.) Our first stop was Reno, where we stayed with Santiago’s former host family; after that we camped in Bishop, beneath the towering eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada. It’s a strange and lonely land, the Eastern Sierra: all sagebrush shivering at the skirts of the snowy mountains, and road signs that bear columns of the same word, in glowing letters, one above the other – Tioga Pass, Sonora Pass, Ebbetts Pass – closed, closed, closed. The passes were snowed in, but at the base of the mountains and onward down, all was solid brown. PRAY FOR RAIN OR SNOW, read the marquee of a church in one of the tiny towns along the highway.

Our first night camping in Bishop was freezing. The following day we drove and drove, determined to get to Zion National Park by that night. We drove through long gray deserts, and stony canyons, and then longer deserts again. We listened to dubstep. We listened to CCR. We listened to anything that would make the desert seem less monotonous. We entered Arizona – a land of utter emptiness. A few minutes later we crossed into Utah, which was much more populated. Orderly. Full of friendly grids of streetlit streets and a panoply of whitewashed names, sin ‘san’s or ‘santa’s: Ogden, Big Creek, that sort of thing. Welcome to the Mormon homeland.

Before we knew it we were setting up camp in Zion Canyon, completely in the dark. The first unzipping of the tent the next morning, revealing the red cliffs all around, was majestic despite the sleepy gray winter light. All day we drove from one viewpoint and mini-hike in the canyon to the next, seeing new vistas of the massive orange or pale yellow mountains; the endless smooth cliffs to which piñon pines cling. I can confidently describe Zion Canyon as Yosemite Valley with less waterfalls and more orange.

From there it only became more of a if-it’s-Tuesday-it-must-be-Utah experience. We decided to spend a few hours walking around Las Vegas, vowing not to indulge in any vices that would hinder our driving onward. (I did have a decaf cappucino, at an elegant Italian cafe in one of Vegas’ many elegant marble hallways. If it had been 10 in the morning and I’d been better dressed, it might have been very grand.)

Even without vices, we managed to get very lost wandering through the grand squares and galleries. It’s capitalism at its finest: magnificent malls lavishing expense to make their front yard more beautiful and elegant then the one next door; and fantastic people-watching, of the most American people in America, dressed their best. We parked in the Mirage, where there was a monorail. And a fake jungle. I think that all observations about consumerism put aside, on some level Vegas is just an adult Disneyland.

We drove on from Vegas and spent the night in a cheap motel somewhere in Arizona, where we lied about how many people were with us, and where I didn’t have to provide an ID or a credit card. It would have been an excellent place to hide out à la “Gone Girl” (if you haven’t read it, no spoilers cuz I didn’t tell you WHO was hiding or from WHAT, or blah blah blah, you r getting sleepy, u didnt hear anything.) (Ahem.) The next morning we drove through splatters of rain to arrive at an extremely misty Grand Canyon.

At first we couldn’t see a damn thing except a cloudy edge-of-the-world kind of situation; but lo and behold, the mist started to roll aside- the mountains swam in and out of miles of air, like approaching ships- the Chinese tourists oohed and ahhed- cameras clicked- and the clouds revealed the maze of weird valleys, plateaus, and jagged rock formations through which the tiny shining Colorado River winds. The amount of space was stunning, it was immeasurable. It was also very, very, very cold. (Cristián: “This is like the freezer room at Costco, where you have to go hunt for the vegetables!” You know you’re upper middle class when you a) compare a frozen mountaintop in winter to the produce room at Costco; b) go “hunting for vegetables”; c) all of the above.)

So anyway. After the Grand Canyon we drove with Jack Kerouac-like determination through the darkness, tumbling down the rocky frozen ranges and the desert mountains of the West to land at last in the honey-smog summer dream of SoCal, where we woke blinking this morning. I wish I had pictures to share here of the trip I’ve described, but I’m having a phone-computer compatibility problem – it involves Linux, don’t judge me, don’t ask. So you’ll have to believe me that the rocks really were red and the canyon really was quite grand.

And as of now I guess that’s me signing out. Thanks for reading; in so doing, you have officially helped validate my dirtbaggery. Republicans, let it be on the record that I will never try to collect unemployment to sustain this lifestyle.

So. To be continued??1!?





Pigeon Point Blues

11 11 2014

Hey. You.

Yeah, you.

Hi there. Hi! …Hi.

Remember me?

Just a bit over a year after my last post, I think it’s time I reassert this blog as more than just a crusty online footprint of my adolescence. (Think about it… how many professional, well-adjusted adults today probably still have embarrassing Xangas floating around? That’s the most Silicon Valley thought I will allow myself today, but just think about it.) It’s been a while since I was in a blogging mood, and honestly I have no regret. This has been a fast-paced, overstimulating, surreal year. It’s been an academically rigorous year. I cannot have have been expected to synthesize events when I squeezed out all my articulacy on a weekly basis writing about optimality theory and the Irish copula.

How collegey it all sounds now. A caricature of academia. Here I now am, jettisoned free and floating in that infamous miasma known as The Real World. Shockingly, it’s not that different. The years of school transition quite nicely into it, or at least the path through those years that me and my friends trod. Senior year was the most real-world-esque yet. Then I had a summer job and was living in a college house, then suddenly my summer job was a normal job and I was living in a normal house. It’s as simple as that, really.

Except truth be told, I am not living in a normal house at all. The main purpose of this post is to give an update about my life nowadays, and my life is so strange that I think I’ve given the Real World a pretty easy break by assuming that this strangeness is responsible for everything that’s changed. Time will tell whether that’s unfair or fair.

Let’s start with the basics. I am not living in a normal house; I am living in a trailer, by myself, up on a mountain above Highway 1. All summer I had to commute a half hour from Santa Cruz to the hotel I’m working at. Now, I drive five minutes down the highway before the great light of Pigeon Point appears winking in the darkness, welcoming me home. Then it’s a turn onto a dirt road and up, up, up to the ranch where I’m subletting.

It’s a beautiful place, in a windswept and lonely way. My trailer itself is parked in an area of the ranch surrounded by flat brown horse corrals, the drying poop and dead gray weeds now shot through with a bright green filigree of live weeds. The whole hilltop is broad and relatively flat. From my place I can look out one window and see the pine-covered hills; look out the other window and see the ocean. But they’re distant backdrops, I have to emphasize. This is no dramatic cliffside. It’s a long shivering chapparal, the brown grass and silver-green bushes and stubby little pines all permanently twisted sideways by the wind.

Outside of my trailer I’m building something of an oasis, guided by a halcyon god named Craig and his holy bible: the Craigslist Free page. There’s a firepit and a little table with a shrub of rosemary. There’s kale planted in a tire, which is doing quite well. I hope it grows fast, because my trailer does not have a fridge, and so produce is a commodity. Long-keeping vegetables like cabbage, beets, potatoes and onions are key. (Especially beets, for reasons which I’ll leave to your imagination.) My diet consists of cooking misadventures, and that’s coming from a guy whose cooking adventures are what the rest of the world would call misadventures. Yesterday I made a project of gathering stinging nettle, which apparently you can cook and eat. The verdict: excellent! Sautéed they taste like kale chips; the tea I made out of them was smoky and almost ricey, like gen mai cha. The only thing I’ll change next time? Make sure I gather them on a hillside with solid footing. (The stings were gone by this morning.)

The main buzz up on the ranch lately has been due to a mountain lion that’s lurking about. We think it’s a mother with a cub, because animals turn up dead in the morning but uneaten, like the cub is learning how to hunt. In any case, the body count is now two goats and one llama. I was around the morning after the second goat died, and strolled out to greet my landlady, who was making her daily rounds feeding the animals. “How are you?” I called.

“Sad,” she pouted. “Another goat got killed by the mountain lion last night.” She surveyed the goat enclosure, shared by a formerly three goats and a number of bemused llamas. “You know, I got the llamas so they would protect the goats,” she said, shaking her head. “But I guess they just only watched out for the other llamas.”

I looked around. “Where’s the other goat?”

“Oh, he’s pretty traumatized,” she dished. “I put him in the barn with a mirror so he wouldn’t feel so alone.” (That’s a very her thing to do.)

After that, I noticed that an unfortunate horse had moved into the goat/llama pen. He always looked pretty sad to me, moping around lethargically munching on hay like he had been forced to hang out with the losers.

Fast forward a few days, to the night of the first big storm of the year. Everyone had been talking for days about how it was coming, and I could feel it in the air as I bounced up the dirt road to the ranch after work. It was about a week before Halloween. Now would be a good time to explain that on my way up to the ranch I have to pass through four gates, as the road goes through various properties where horses graze. That means I have to get out of the car eight times, to open each gate and then close it behind me. Wearing my nice work shirt at 11 o’clock at night, normally that’s just annoying because it’s cold. But on certain nights, yeah, it’s damn spooky.

This night was like that. It was windier than usual, and the bushes and trees rustled and whispered restlessly. Clouds covered the stars and the moon, and outside the lurid ring of the headlights it was trip-over-yourself dark. It wasn’t just the dark, though, about the clouds: without stars the sky felt surreal, like it was just the feathery ceiling of a maze built for the entertainment of the eyes that watched from the trees. I can’t help picturing them on nights like that: plump spiders and waddling skunks and yeah, mountain lions. They have night vision and I don’t, and I blaze into their world suddenly and unexpectedly in a roar of light and exhaust. I don’t think I’m being watched. I know I’m being watched.

So I’m feeling particularly prickly on this night, and after each gate I scurry back into the warmth of my car, a big metal box. Finally I get to the goat pen, where I park to walk to my trailer. The first thing I noticed was the horse. It was white, so I could see from a distance that it was trotting back and forth along the fence, tossing its head like it was restless, anxious. I had never seen any horse on the ranch act like that, let alone in the middle of the night when I got home, so immediately I thought something was wrong. As my car drew close it came to me, following my slow progress along the fence. When I drove past the gate it reached its head over the gate, like it was calling to me.

Then when I turned the corner, my headlights flashed over the enclosure and I saw something that gave me chills: the llamas were kneeled on the ground in the center of the enclosure, forming a circle with their backs to each other, facing out. I thought of my landlady’s words: The llamas just watch out for themselves. And I felt certain that the mountain lion was close, somewhere just outside my car.

And next to the llama pen was one more gate, forty feet from my trailer. So I had to get out. Flushed with adrenaline, I started singing loudly, announcing my presence as a human, as I opened the door and walked around to the shotgun seat to get my backpack. Well of course as soon as I opened the door the horse let out a high-pitched whinny. Now, I’ve read that mountain lions are grouped with housecats among the cats that can’t roar – apparently their sound is kind of a screech. So, not being used to horses, of course I jumped, and of course I pressed the panic button on my car, which shattered the spooky silence with an earbreaking wail. And of course after an awkward minute of cursing, pressing buttons, fumbling with my keys, and finally starting the ignition and shutting the alarm up, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself as I thought: Well that’s one way to scare off a mountain lion.

So I didn’t see the mountain lion that night, though the next morning my landlady (who I had been sure would laugh at the paranoid city boy) agreed wholeheartedly with my analysis of the scene. Today, what’s more, there was another casualty. Without getting out of bed this morning I took a morbid and guilty glee in sleuthing from the window of my trailer, where I saw it all unfold: saw them discover the body, saw the other llamas sniff at it awkwardly from afar, saw my landlord drive up in a big yellow bulldozer and awkwardly scoop it into the air, like a teddy bear in the glass case at Denny’s. A leg or two dangled limply from the bundle inside the bulldozer’s arm, grotesquely dead. The landlords haven’t been eating the dead goats – they’ve been burying them in the back (“we would eat them if necessary, but right now they’re just friends”). The whole thing is like a French absurdist comedy. A very black comedy, I’ll admit, out of respect for my landlords’ losses.

Besides the strange dramas of country life, my days are spent reading; writing; playing guitar – but honestly, I’m lonely. I mean really maddeningly lonely; ruinously lonely. I occasionally talk to the spider living in the corner of my trailer, who is named Big Guy. Guess how many people have visited me since I moved in? My Santa Cruz friends who live a half hour away; my parents, my high school friends who would have to drive an hour and fifteen minutes? Zero. Not one. I know this is because I work weekends, but it’s still depressing. I got two folding chairs for free from Craigslist, and yeah one of them broke yesterday but I schlepped two all the way up there for a reason, dammit.

At work I am invisible. This is not me being dramatic; it is an empirically proven fact. It’s becoming a pattern now for me to meet random travelers while out and about and have really cool conversations with them, only to find out they’re staying at the place I work and have them brutally ignore me later. The other day it happened with a very cute guy from Texas, who I ran into while biking the trails at Butano and who let me look at his map. Later the same day he came into the front desk and asked my coworker for quarters; we made eye contact and he looked right through me. It was heartbreaking, honestly. Before that it was an old Irish lady named Eileen, whom I met while picknicking alone at Bean Hollow Beach. She quit her job to travel the world and blah blah blah et cetera, and we shared our food and talked for ages. She told me what her father had told her when she was a little girl, walking by the shore in Galway one stormy day: “The sea,” she said wistfully, “is the most uncompromising, demanding, powerful thing in the world. Beware about it, for it always, always wins.”

A few days later, she was led into the hotel by an employee from the campground, who was helping her look for her keys. “Please, sir, have you seen them?” she asked in that same Irish lilt, and looked straight at me with pleading, moony eyes. Nothing. She didn’t even recognize me.

I know, I know. I know she was old, and I know she was probably distraught about the keys. But still.

The phrase “soul-sucking” came to mind.

At the hotel where I used to work in Santa Cruz, I was not invisible. At this job I just am. I don’t know why. It’s probably a mom-and-pop vs. luxury business thing. The hotel I work at caters to the glitzy and wealthy of San Francisco who want to get away for the weekend, and they can be rather high-maintenance. You know the kind: start-up bros clad in puffy Patagonias; tech princesses with flowy sweaters and perfect haircuts who waft into the room on a gust of Wi-Fi. They’re pretty used to treating service workers as invisible, and the weird part is, they’re kind of the social class – the social circle – of my parents, to the point where yesterday I checked in a guy who works with my mother. I sometimes feel like a disowned son, knowing awkwardly that I am one of them as I watch from the other side of a one-way mirror. My school wasn’t Ivy League. My company isn’t on the Forbes 500. And just like that, I have vanished into the wasteland of the middle class. Vice versa, once or twice I’ve been talking to some acquaintance of my parents, sheepish about my uncertain plans –  “I’m just working at a hotel for now” – and I feel alienated by their blank and bewildered stare. And for just a second, it’s like I’m talking to a hotel guest. And I think, Whoa. This is what downward mobility feels like.

Not that I believe I am mobilizing downward. Despite certain frustrating aspects of life, deep down I am pleased with where I am, at least for now. Why, you ask, if I’m so lonely and sometimes miserable? I sometimes ask myself, but then I am able to answer straight away. I’m paying for my own rent and saving money on the side, which feels wholesome. I’m taking time to think, and it’s working. I’m getting to know these mountains better (seriously, who knew you could eat stinging nettle?!!?). I’m detoxing from college, from the most social four years of my life. I felt stretched thin, by the end. Like I was never quite at my highest energy. Like I relied on drinking to be silly, you know? I felt… normal.

I live alone on Pigeon Point because I need to get my groove back, my zest, my high on life. I need to lower my standards again, honestly. To rediscover my sense of wonder. There are adventures on the horizon – I want to leave for Mexico this winter. And I want to be stoked, I want to be observant, I want to be ready to interact on my feet.

And there’s plenty on Pigeon Point mountain to stoke my sense of wonder, to use the less Californian sense of the word. The sky is the main thing. Mist wafts over the ranch, turning into a golden haze when the sun cuts through it. The night after the storm the clouds loomed like a city in the sky, impossibly tall and solid and dark. On nights when the clouds are low, you can see the lights of the city glowing softly in the sky beyond the mountains. And on nights when there are stars, oh, what stars. And on days when the sun shines, oh how vast is the ocean, how white the foam that crashes around the lighthouse, how bright the shimmering haze in the ruins of distant Año Nuevo Island, floating on the horizon, how wide a horizon, oh how incredibly vast.

And here I am blogging again, so as a vote for my self-inflicted isolation therapy, there’s that.

There’s certainly that.





Snow

13 03 2013

It’s ba-aaaacck!

IMG_2281

In other news, I am Jack’s hot mess of multilingual job applications. Cover letter… CV… Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren… or is it geehrten?… Je vous prie d’accepter l’assurance de mes compliments… beteiligt darin… beteiligt daran… beteiligt damit…AHHHHHH. Help me Angela Merkel/help me Lady Helvetica/help me Based God.





L’inondation frigo de 2013

7 01 2013

It’s all pretty much done. My posters are on the wall, my books are on the shelf and my clothes are all hung from my very own McGyver’d clothesline contraption on the wall. My suitcases are in storage in our own little basement room, and my name is now written in Sharpie on the letterbox next to the indie graffiti-font sticker that says “PAS DE PUB SVP”. It’s official: I now live in my very own apartment at Boulevard de Pérolles 91, second floor.

Here are some pictures of my apartment and my room (as it looked a day or two ago, anyway).

My front door!

My front door!

Our lovely hallway/common room (note: that is the comfiest couch IN THE WORLD)

Our lovely hallway/common room (note: that is the comfiest couch IN THE WORLD)

The kitchen

The kitchen

My room (pre-posters - it looks a lot better now)

My room (pre-posters – it looks a lot better now)

Moving in has been quite an adventure, but my new housemates (there are 4) have been awesome. Two of them are Swiss German, one is from Berlin and one is French, and we speak the perfect mixture of all the languages, with just enough English to keep me from pulling out my fingernails in frustration. Now, the first thing I noticed when I looked at the apartment – and the first thing you should notice about the above picture – is the HAMMOCK in the corner. Not only did it COME WITH THE ROOM, but some savvy previous inhabitant actually equipped the wall with heavy-duty hammock attachment points. This is paradise. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself to make sure I really did find this place, and that I’m not gonna wake up in Cité St-Justin to find that it was all a dream.

The apartment has a life of its own. Most of the decorations have been here since before any of the current inhabitants, and the lease is still in the name of a chick called Afra. “Afra is our goddess,” my housemate Nina said when I asked who she was. None of them have ever met Afra, but Afra doesn’t mind that she’s still technically the main renter, and occasionally she sends postcards from her travels around the world addressed to “WG Pérolles”. One came from Paris. Another came from California.

I’m also incredibly lucky that my predecessor, Bangjun, left me the room entirely furnished – he was going back to China, so he couldn’t use any of the furniture. When I found it it was pretty filthy, but Nina said he left in a hurry. (“Il avait dit qu’il allait tout nettoyer, mais puis son dernier jour là j’ai vu un petit Chinois qui court vers la porte, et là il était parti….”) Several days after I moved in, the Chinese next-door neighbor knocked on the door of the apartment and said “Bangjun sent me to clean his cabinet.” I had to really awkwardly be like, “Tell him thanks… but… I already did it…” However, he insisted I show him into the kitchen so he could check that it was satisfactory. When he saw it full of my food, he went, “Oh, yeah… I guess never mind!”

I have my own cabinet and my own fridge, and I inherited a crapload of Chinese food from Bangjun. Some, like ramen noodles and epic spices like dried chili peppers, are seriously useful. Some are things only a Californian would be prepared for, like seaweed. (For the record, I’m saving the seaweed for a day when I feel adventurous enough to google some recipes.) And some, like an open can of barbecue paste that smelled of feces, was the stuff of nightmares.

I also inherited a small refrigerator, and upon opening it discovered that over one-half of it was filled with a massive block of ice. #switzerlandproblems : believe it or not, there is a glacier in my fridge. I honestly don’t know how long the glacier must have been accumulating, because it’s huge. After chipping away at it for 20 minutes with a knife and making little to no progress I decided it’s probably not going anywhere. I played with the settings knob, considering turning off the fridge to let it all melt, but I ended up deciding against it and turning the fridge back on.

Or so I thought. I guess I didn’t properly figure out the settings, because the next day the thaw had begun. There was a pool of water three inches deep in the reservoir at the bottom of the fridge, and a new surprise was forthcoming: not only did the glacier go far back, but there’s STUFF IN THERE. Like the bodies of cavemen or wooly mammoths preserved for thousands of years, every day that the melt goes on jars of gherkins or Nutella emerge out of the ice. I’ve gotten a few items out, but some are still semi-submerged and irretrievable. In addition, I’ve now taken to keeping a coffee cup in the fridge. Every time I open it I have to bail the water out of the reservoir in the bottom, lest it overflow and flood the kitchen.

Which, by the way, happened, and if you understood the title of this post you already know where this is going. About a day or two after the melt began, I forgot the bail out the fridge before going to bed. I was on my computer in the morning when I heard my housemate cry out, “Ho, mais qu’est que est arrivé dans la cuisine ?!?”. Fuck. I leapt up, only to find a puddle of icy water probably two centimeters deep at the deepest point, pooling in the middle of the kitchen. Thank God we don’t have a flat floor.

And so, after emptying the fridge of water to prevent any further flooding, I spent my first day getting acquainted with the kitchen floor of our apartment. On the bright side, it saved us from having to mop. After the flood, I figured out how to turn down the temperature again. Since then the thaw has slowed and maybe even stopped, I’m not sure. But the glacier is still lurking in the back, diminished but waiting for revenge.

P1020313

I’ve learned a lot about Fribourg during the moving-in struggle. To make my clothes-storing system I had to find out that instead of a superstore like OSH or Home Depot, handyman supplies are sold at the small local “Commerce de Fer” store in the Old City, which I had always passed by and wondered what it was. I’ve learned how the Swiss recycling system works (the government-sanctioned trash bags are only sold at – you guessed it – Migros), and I figured out how to get into our personal basement room, which I think is such a European-apartment-lifestyle thing. The most pleasant surprise of all was finding a fat comforter and pillow in the basement room today. A comforter was the only thing I needed, and the cheapest one I could find still cost like 40 francs. And then lo and behold! At last, Lady Helvetica, you’re giving me a break. My new comforter smells strongly of must, but you know what, ok. We can work with that.

So that’s my new place, and I’ve really enjoyed vegging on the internet (I HAVE INTERNET! IN MY ROOM) and nesting myself in after my long winter travels. Which of course, will be nothing compared to the adventure I’m in for when I leave for Israel and Palestine in less than a week. Maybe for a while, this is Ben over and out.