Monthly Archives: January 2011

La Fiebre Returns!

Monday January 31-

All of the students got up around 7 this morning to arrive at the Spanish School early for placement interviews. No one complained (there has been very little complaining whatsoever on this trip), which impressed me, and the group at the far homestay were even more impressive, because they need to take a bus each way, and they were super on-time.

The students did their interviews, were split into three classes (max four people per class), and then went off for there first lessons. And I…got la fiebre again.

I’m pretty sure that I caught something last week—a sort of acute bronchitis that’s been passing around the group—and this week I caught something new. I won’t bore or disgust you with the symptoms, but they’re different from last week’s fiebre. This is an all or nothing fiebre. Either I’m laid out in bed with the grim reaper over me, or I’m walking around fine.

Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day in or around the bed. And at night I got really loopy—a changed level of consciousness, as the EMT would say. My fever never really gets about 101, so I’m not super concerned, but it’s still strange.

Thanks to la fiebre, no new pictures today. Here’s one that Julie took from the bus ride en route to Bariloche.

Stumbling around Bariloche

Guess what hour 18 of a 22-hour bus ride feels like? Yup, you guessed it. Just like all the others.

The students slept soundly in the wee hours.

After arriving, Julie and I tried to buy next weekend’s bus tickets to Santiago, only to be told that we needed to pay in cash. Cash. Really? We’re going to pay more than a thousand dollars in Argentine pesos when I can take out maybe $250 at a time with $10 in ATM fees? Try getting a POS system, Tas Choapa (that’s the bus provider we wanted to use). Julie and I decided to patch together a bus trip from two other companies that accept credit cards, perhaps with a stopover day in Valdavia.

To stretch our legs, we decided to walk into Bariloche instead of taking a bus or taxi. Poor Claire came down with the fever bug during the night, but walked the 4km nonetheless. What troopers they are.

Bariloche is great for epic background shots.

Ingmar was pumped.

We grabbed lunch at a restaurant, dropped the students off at their homestay family houses, and then crashed at our hostel.
Tomorrow: Spanish classes begin bright and early at 8:15am!

Posh Bus to Bariloche

Our first epic 22-hour bus journey! How exciting.

This morning we packed and cleaned up our apartments. A representative from the rental agency checked us out and discovered three towels missing in total from two apartments. Where could those towels have possibly gone?? Our students didn’t have them, and we didn’t go walking down the streets of B.A. in them. And when we checked in, no one counted these towels.

Alas, none of this logic worked on the rental lady. US$15 charged. Just another one of those little financial hits that are a part of this kind of trip.

We walked to Retiro bus station and waited for our chariot.

As promised, our double-decker bus was hella posh. The students enjoyed the view

and the fully-reclining seats

while Julie enjoyed the meal service

Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of the outside of the bus!

We slept as well as you could sleep on a bus. Which for me, wasn’t that well, especially with residual illness.

La Fiebre

Latin America gets the worst of the worst American B-movies. That’s what you learn when you’re sick with la fiebre (fever) in Buenos Aires.

Today I suffered from the 48-hour cold/flu/fever bug that our group has been passing around. I stayed in bed all day while Julie and Ingmar took the group to their final tango lesson and grocery shopping for the bus trip tomorrow.

And now, as to not end this post on a low note, here is a picture of delicious Argentine medialunas!

Seeing BA with a Mercedes

Thursday January 27-

A day of great group photos. Here are the students on the corner outside our downtown Buenos Aires rented apartments.

This morning we enjoyed a guided tour of Buenos Aires by Mercedes, a Spanish tutor with whom I worked over Skype in November.

We learned the history behind places that we had previously visited, like the Casa Rosada (Pink House).

The tour ended in photogenic La Boca.

Tango, dinner, repeat!

Las Violetas

Wednesday January 26-

Not much to report today. We took it easy in the morning, hung out at my favorite cafe (Confiteria Las Violetas), tango’d, and enjoyed a great soup dinner created by one of our students, Benji.

Evoking Evita

Tuesday January 25-

This was our first “normal” day of the trip. We walked the shady streets of Buenos Aires toward Recoleta this morning.

Even tiny public parks have a Facebook page, apparently.

In Recoleta we toured the famous cemetary, home of the monied aristocracy of Argentina. The big attraction is Evita (Eva Peron).

Other famous people were to be found as well.

Crypt cats lazed.

Next stop: ice cream. Josie works at an ice cream parlor in Asheville, NC, and she was sooooo excited!

Kina displayed poster-perfect ice cream posture.

Wyatt, Quinn, and Kina practiced their Spanish with a national newspaper.

Next door to the ice cream was El Ateneo, an opera house-turned-bookstore.


We grabbed the subway to tango lessons, where Alicia taught us the salida a.k.a. cruzada a.k.a. “the cross”. Ingmar and Claire demonstrate.

Jalen, one of our two vegans, was delighted to find a frozen block of squid in the supermarket—but still no soymilk.

We enjoyed a light rain on the way back. Buenos Aires is HOT, man!


Settling into B.A.

Monday January 24-

This morning our group caught up on sleep and e-mail and then enjoyed a brief picnic in Parque General San Martin. We took our first subway ride to tango lessons with Alicia Pons and hit up a gloriously large supermarket on the way home. Unfortunately, even the gloriously large supermarkets don’t have peanut butter, black beans, soymilk, and many other staples that we’re accustomed to. Nonetheless, Julie whipped up a mean Mexican-style dinner. Benji was impressed.

Jonah and Hanna loved it.

I stayed up until 11pm searching for missing apartment keys. Fun!

Exhausted Mayhem

Sunday January 23-

Few of us slept well on the international flight. Arriving at Buenos Aires Ezeiza airport, we grabbed our pre-arranged taxis to our rental apartments, moved in, and then walked to the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires, where we found an endless street fair and live tango.

Benji and Lani caught up on sleep, slum-dog style.

Ingmar, our trip leading assistant (and former Australia trip student), was already in B.A. when we arrived.

We strutted along Puerto Madero on the way back to the apartments.

Ready? Set? Sleep.

Vamos a Argentina!

Saturday January 22-

This morning Julie and I found some sleepy students in Miami Int’l Airport. Their red-eye had arrived at 5am. Our int’l flight didn’t depart until 9pm. 17 epic hours in Miami!

Eventually they woke up, and the rest of the students arrived. What a nice group we have.

On the plane we enjoyed plenty of space, a great movie selection, and sweet meal service.

A Buenos Aires, vamos!

To Miami

Friday Jan 21-

Three flights today: Eugene to Seattle to Memphis to Miami. All were pleasantly on-time and on the third I even got my own exit row! One of those minor traveler’s victories. I carried the final dose of my live oral typhoid vaccines in a tiny styrofoam cup with ice refilled from plane drink carts.

At Miami I found Julie, my South America trip coleader, and we hit up a late-night Honduran restaurant. There was karaoke.

Jules was stoked.

Goodnight, Miami. Tomorrow: llegan los estudiantes!

Fighting the Typhoid

Okay, I don’t actually have typhoid. But I am taking an oral live typhoid vaccine (over a one week period) and it gave me terrible stomach cramps yesterday. Not even True Grit and all of its epic Westernness could cure me.
Luckily I felt better enough today to bike around Eugene and brainstorm my life at Perugino. They didn’t make the fancy cappuccino flower design so I snapped a shot from my seat.

The Willamette river was running wild.

Nick and I ran wild that night. I drank a whole two beers… Whoo!

Tomorrow: Miami, and then the UA South America trip!


(My iPad blogging tool is giving me crap. Photos are coming out tiny and I’m not able to change datestamps. While figuring this out, I’m going to post multiple day’s blogs together.)

Ahh, glorious rest! Friday I lounged around Suntop (Tilke and Nick’s house), rode Nick’s bike to Paychex to discuss payroll for Unschool Adventures, lounged around a Starbucks even more, and then returned to Suntop to help vacuum for this weekend’s anticipated lounging. Luna, one of two pugs in residence at Suntop, did not approve of my vacuuming.

That night we met with Grace, Nathen, Evan, and Grace’s son, Yarid, for dinner in Eugene.

Thus began our little informal gathering known as Not Back to Not Back to School Camp (NBTNBTSC).
On Saturday we recreated Christmas morning and shared stockings with each other. Evan was chomping at the bit to open his.

Nathen’s stocking was a shoe.

Santa delivered lots of chocolate. He’s got our numbers.

The rest of the day (and weekend) was spent in discussion of topics camp-related, and those wholly-unrelated, in Tilke’s living room.

On Sunday morning we visited Grace’s “Ecstatic Dance” workshop (no photos allowed) and then returned for more discussion and life-timeline creating.

Pages from my timeline:

Yarid scratched me back. He loves it.

Nathen and Evan, each looking a bit off.


Thus ended: NBTNBTSC.

To Eugene

Today I grabbed an early lunch with my dad and then got a ride down to Vallejo, CA, where I met my craigslist rideshare going to Eugene, OR. The guy driving the blue VW was Antony, a personal trainer and non-profit owner from San Francisco. I sat in the front and we talked for a number of hours about unschooling, nutrition, international travel, and everything in between. He warned me that his recent (first) trip to New Zealand in early December–the same time that I’m planning the Unschool Adventures NZ trip–was rainy 13 out of 15 days. Uh-oh! Here we gassed up somewhere south of Redding.

Two other ride sharers were in the car, and we dropped the first one off at the Jackson Wellsprings resort in Ashland, OR. The VW wouldn’t start up again, which Antony assured us was not normal, and so we pushed it around the the muddy resort RV campground once to kickstart it, unsuccessfully, and then jumped it successfully.
At midnight I arrived at my friend’s house in Springfield (just east of Eugene) and found this note waiting for me:

It’s good to have friends in warm places.

Packing the MLC

This morning I nursed a cappuccino at the Sunflower Cafe in Sonoma and caught up on Unschool Adventures paperwork. This afternoon my sister Liza visited and challenged Ben to a game of connect four. Ben destroyed me at connect four this morning, so I cheered for Liza.

Liza also helped me trim down my first aid kit to only the bare essentials. Between that and the innovative technology of rolling my clothes, I managed to fit everything I need for the next six months into my new Patagonia MLC (maximum legal carry-on) bag. Here’s a shot of the guts:

And Liza with the demo:

Vaya Con Dios, Guatemala

100% travel today. Car to the airport, planes to Dallas-Fort Worth and San Francisco, airporter bus to the north bay, and car to my dad’s house in Sonoma. En route I ate the best donut ever in Guatemala City (brand name: “American Doughnut”) and my first salad in two weeks. I am so happy to eat salad again.

Antigua Via the Chicken Bus

Julie and I each caught five hours of winks on the overnight bus and then grabbed a taxi to Hotel San Pablo, our hostel for the evening. The nice older lady who runs the place (with her husband and one-footed parrot, Paco) let us store our bags and then dropped us at the pickup spot for the “chicken bus” to Antigua. These buses are fast and furious, and they only cost 8 quetzales (one dollar) for a one-hour ride. We spent a few hours wandering around Antigua.

We enjoyed endless tourist watching (there’s tons of them) and such luxuries as espresso drinks and a genuine supermercado. After taking the chicken bus back, we spent 20 minutes talking with a middle-aged guy on the street who claimed to have helped a girl from Colorado after she was robbed in Guatemala City. He told us that he had friends in high places–literally, in Colorado. At least I think he made that joke.

Flores Chillin’, Round Two

Guatemala in general, and Flores in particular, is plagued by a never-ending stream of firecracker explosions. Apparently it’s a custom to be woken up by firecrackers on your birthday. This morning I woke early and walked around the island, and at 7am I found the asshole who was shooting mortar firecrackers into the sky. I suspected a kid, and it was a full-grown man. Alas.

Today was a kick-back and blog catch-up day. In the afternoon, the homies enjoyed some large frosty beverages on the roof of our hostel.

And we snapped the obligatory sunset shot.

Julie and I hopped an 8-hour night bus back to Guate (Guatemala city). We purchased the tickets from a somewhat sketchy travel agent at the hostel, and at midnight a guy told Julie that he had a reservation for her seat—and he did. Jules chatted up the bus driver and made all well. Guatemala City hooo!

No Jungle = Yes Ice Cream

At 7am we dined on our last Guatemalan desayuno típico (typical breakfast) of eggs, beans, and tortillas and bolted back toward Flores as fast as our little mules could carry us. We tipped the guides, ate shrimp tacos with guacamole for lunch, checked into our 3rd-floor hostel rooms, and promptly showered ten days of accumulated sweat, grime, and vaporized mule poo off our bodies. That felt damn good.

David Evitt, our friend and former camper & co-worker from Deer Crossing Camp, found us in Flores. He’s working for two years on a low-cost, sustainable stove project with other engineers in Western Guatemala. He, Vince, and Jim planned their route for the next week (Julie and I need to get back soon to run the Unschool Adventures South America trip).

A spontaneous Flores parade appeared. To mark our return, assuredly.

Sunset from the roof top terrace.

And the rest of the day was spent…eating more food that wasn’t beans, eggs, tortillas, canned tuna, canned sardines, and white rice. Here is me enjoying my third ice cream of the day.

I counted roughly 30 total mosquito bites over the course of the trip–let’s hope none of them were malarial!

Climbing the Giant Ceiba plus a Crazy Professor

This morning we caught up on our cheap reads. Vince blasted through “Fault Line”,

and Jim admired his jungle hero.

We rode and hiked a few short hours to our last ruins site, La Florida. There weren’t many ruins, but we did find one giant-ass ceiba tree.

The ceiba is the national tree of Guatemala (which apparently means “land of the trees” as well). When it’s young, the ceiba is covered with nasty spikes on the trunk and tops of the branches, which made virtually all the ceibas we found unsuitable for tree climbing. This old man, on the other hand, had zero spikes. Like a fine wine, the ceiba gets better with age. Julie represented.

One of my favorite pics from the trip: our equipo with guide assistant Juan Carlos.

This was a tough tree to scale: our anchor saddles were roughly 80 feet up. Everyone gave the Big Shot a few tries until we finally got a successful shot. Jim demonstrated proper Big Shot form.

We snapped a few epic tree-top photos, but I’ll upload those later because they’re on other cameras. After the incident with the leaf bug, I didn’t feel like subjecting my camera to an 80-foot “whoops”. Two green parrots squawked at us on their sunset fly-by.

The other big highlight of the day happened back at the campground. We ran into another North American, a middle school science teacher from Davis, CA, named Mike Reed. Mike was the quintessential nutty professor. He had apparently visited the Mayan ruins in El Petén twice a year for the last six years, found multiple artifacts and undiscovered ruins, and participated in some sort of academic feud with Richard Hansen, the professor who originated the Mayan Petén research thirty years ago. Mike traveled with an assistant named “Hiro” who looked and spoke like Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid and force-fed canned peaches to Mike in an effort to get him moving (they were only stopping at our site for a brief respite). Walfre and Mike had worked together before, and Mike said that we were very lucky to have him as a guide. Mike also showed us pictures from his travels in the rainy season, when he would literally be swimming the same bajos (low areas of the jungle) that we had been hiking. He didn’t take anti-malarials in the dry season (now), which gave me relief (since I’m not either), but his story about almost stepping on a six-foot-long Barbara Armarilla (the most deadly snake in Guatemala) gave me pause.

Ticks and Slovenian Dentists

Early this morning the temperature dropped to around 60 – thank god – and subsequently deposited a load of dewey moisture on all our stuff. Jim had a surprise visit from the duende (i.e. Vince, Julie, and me) who hid his climbing gear 15 feet up a tree. Jim relieved his frustration by borrowing Walfre’s machete and hacking his way through the jungle back to Tintal.

Hack it, Jim, hack it!

Jim gave us his life story on the hike back, which I found fascinating. At Deer Crossing Camp we would only get it in snippits. He lived out of his car, or in a tent, or out of a trailer for many years before starting his current, stable life.

Ticks jumped all over our pants as we hiked through dense undergrowth on the way back. Permethrin is supposed to kill ticks, too, but it didn’t. Back at Tintal we caught up on our reading. I read two and a half books (1984, Fault Line, and Narziss and Goldmund) during this trip.

We ran into one small group of tourists headed for Mirador. Two were dentists from Slovenia. They said that we had very nice teeth. We stayed up late talking about pornography, technology, and Jim’s parenting concerns.

The Vicious Duende plus Sleeping on a Mayan Ruin

All the other tourists had left, so when we took off, Mirador was a ghost town.

We hiked and rode to Nakbé, a less-visited ruin site 3 hours southeast of Mirador. We set up hammocks on the top of the big “Lizard” pyramid. Jim got the best spot.

The highlight of the day was learning about the Guatemalen legend of the duende, a dwarf that wears a sombrero and steals your cigarettes and hides your stuff when you’re not looking. He looks like a child sometimes, or he can take the form of people that you know. We got as many different descriptions of the duende as the number of guides & guards we asked.

Other important business of the day included journaling and pedicures on top of the pyramid.

Also, harassing the “ant lion” creatures that build craters and wait for a hapless ant to walk by. We fed this one a spider that was crawling on me.

Obligatory sunset shots.

And self-portrait.

Sleeping in the Trees, Night 2

Today was a kick-back day at Mirador. I hung around in my hammock (45 feet up in the air) until noon reading Jim’s high-action thriller, “Fault Line”. A family of spider monkeys swung past the tree and checked me out. What’s up, distant cousins. Later that afternoon we explored the inner depths of one of the ruins after Jim got special permission from the guard.

I took a long-needed ducha (shower) in the fine Mirador facilities.

Black plastic and a bucket: that’s all you need.

The rest of the day I hung around camp brainstorming about college alternatives. Local wild (but protected) pavos (turkeys) pecked nearby.

Jim joined us in the Strangler Fig hotel this night. Four hammocks in one tree = difficult but impressive! A cool wind picked up and rocked us to sleep like babies.

Sleeping in the Trees, Night 1

La Danta is the largest pyramid in the Americas, and today we climbed it. This monumental achievement took exactly: 15 minutes.

A trail of jungle ants crossed the path to the pyramid. Ancient Mayan spirits, perhaps?

Reconstructed steps guided our way. If you’ve seen Mel Gibson’s Apocolypto, you’ll easily imagine the severed heads of defeated combatants tumbling down these.

The top of el Dante. This is the most uncovered rock that we saw the entire trip. All the other ruins just look like hills, and you take the guide’s word that there’s actually something underneath them.

Just near the top, Jim and I ran into a pack of wild boar-like pigs with black mohawks. They took one look at us and bolted. Later, the campground guard told us that a jaguar had killed the leader of their pack, and thus they didn’t know where to forage and were venturing ever-closer to tourist-land.

The view from the top. More jungla, what do you know! To spice it up I experimented with color isolation settings.

Our group with Walfre.

On the way back from the ruins we scoped out trees for climbing and found another huge Strangler Fig. Jim wanted to sleep on El Dante, so Julie, Vince and I set up our Strangler Fig hotel without him. Julie climbed up what happened to become the most important branch, and she did most of the work of tying the hammocks. She didn’t mind.

We got tuna sandwiches delivered to us for dinner. Vincey loves his atún con vegetales.

I read the Sherril Tree catalog and gawked at all the fancy devices that might have saved us time (like a $600 single-attachment tree portaledge) so we wouldn’t be rigging complicated tree hammocks at night.

But in the end I was happy to just be sleeping in a tree.

On a final note: permethrin (the anti-mosquito chemical) is a joke. Five mosquitos bit right through my permethrin-soaked socks while I climbed.

Long Hot New Year’s Walk

A green leaf bug greeted me this morning. While experimenting with manual focus on my snazzy new Canon (to capture this shot), the bug leaped at me and I dropped the camera. Nature strikes back. Luckily my camera is a champ and survived with only a scuff mark.

Julie felt much better, ready for the Mirador trek.

Vince and Jim enjoyed a good night’s sleep in the trees.

Today we walked, walked, walked. Others rode, but I preferred to walk. Mules aren’t my cup of tea, for no particular reason. Here’s what I mostly saw.

Seven hours later we ran into our first manicured Mayan ruin site.

We climbed Mirador’s second-highest pyramid, El Jaguar, for sunset. The international tourist horde joined us.

I taught them to play SET.

Over dinner we conversed with a 9-year-old homeschooling boy who is traveling around Central America with his dad for 3 months. Honestly, what an irresponsible thing to do. How will this child learn anything?