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When: November 1, Dia de Todos Santos (same day as Mexico's Day of the Dead)
Where: An elevated soccer field by the cemetery in the town of Sumpango in the department of Sacatepéquez, supposedly 45 minutes but actually 2 hours from Antigua because, as mentioned, the whole country of Guatemala was there.
What (full disclosure - loose translation from Wikipedia): Festival de Barriletes Gigantes de Sumpango. Legend has it that bad spirits were invading the cemetery and pissing off the good spirits who just wanted to chill underground. This made them up and leave and roam the open spaces in Sumpango which in turn pissed off the living. Living peoples of Sumpango decided to ask the old wise people what the hell to do, and the recommended solution was to tie rocks to paper which would fly in the wind and chase off the bad spirits. It worked, and good spirits went back to chilling in peace.
You can see from these pictures how giant those "rocks tied to paper" eventually became. The competition for biggest, most beautiful, and most time spent in the air was fierce.
Also awesome were all the people hanging out with their passed on loved ones in the beautiful elevated cemetery. With the help of two other photographers I got pulled up to one of the masoleums pictured above which is where this little kid already was flying his kite and I could take these.
Did you know that "Amtrak" comes from "America" + "Track"?
This July, I quit my job in Washington DC and was about to move to Mexico City. Before I left the United States, I knew that I had to do one last thing: take the Amtrak cross-country. It seemed like a fitting way to say goodbye to the country I had spent the last 5 years in.
Many have made and raved about this journey before. For more practical and detailed information, see here, here, here, and here ( the ones I chose to read pre-trip), or, you know, do some google sleuthing. What I have is below.
The hours, hours, hours,
You go to "bed" making your seat as horizontal as possible
Decompression. Dirty junk food packets. Beer bottles (Legal? Only if purchased from the Friendly Train Snack Cart.)
Listening to the voices, accents, cadences, of people around the country, outside of the country, from other countries
(oh the infamy of this trip!)
People who enter the Observation Car to Observe. Out of the feeling that That is the Thing That You Do On This Train.
(From a plane, not a train.)
This was my version of an Amtrak adventure (green = where I got off) :
*Slight hiccup, I got tired of the indefinite delay of my first train and hopped onto a bus to Pittsburgh thinking that I could later claim the fare back from travel insurance. Rookie mistake - I would learn quickly that indefinite train delays were an unavoidable part of this experience. So, Amtrak trip started proper in Pittsburgh.*
Alliance - Cleveland - Elyria, Sandusky - Toledo - Waterloo - Elkhart - Southbend
Naperville - Princeton - Galesburg - Seminary - Burlington - Pleasant - Ottumwa - Osceola - Creston - Omaha - Lincoln - Hastings - Holdrege - McCook - Fort Morgan - Denver - Fraser-Winter Park - Granby - Glenwood Springs - Grand Junction - Green River - Helper - Provo
Salt Lake City
Elko - Winnemucca - Sparks - Reno - Truckee - Colfax - Roseville - Sacramento - Davis - Martinez - Emeryville
Martinez - Davis - Sacramento - Chico - Redding - Dunsmuir - Klamath Falls - Chemult - Eugene-Springfield - Albany - Salem
(all the previous stations in reverse) - Oakland - San Jose - Salinas - Paso Robles - San Luis Obispo - Santa Barbara - Oxnard
Van Nuys - Burbank
(2,438 + 1,911 + 698 .... = 5,047 miles!)
Sadly, we saw no horses. Which was kind of the whole reason why we chose to go. But it t'was lovely nonetheless.
Maybe not the getting attacked by sand flies at the (otherwise beautiful) beach part.
But that sun. And that green.
My first day in Havana, Cuba, a (slightly nuts but entirely wonderful) Chilean lady brought me out of the city to a place I don't quite know how to describe. Rural farmland? Suburb? I don't know if these terms apply in Cuba. There was a group that was going to do a performance art piece. I understood nothing of the theme, nor did I know anybody, I just watched with extremely piqued interest. At first I thought it was a feigned wedding between a bunch of different women and a bunch of different men. The female figure stood out in all its variety, magnificence, and levels of exposure. It was beautiful. We listened to folkloric-ish stories about the the entire sweep of humanity and went from house to house. There was abounding sensuality, gender representations in all its fluidity, love without expectation. Some of the residents started following us. After a while, I wasn't merely looking anymore, I felt like a participant.
This one piece had a fully nude lady (with something I didn't comprehend traced on her body) standing between two whiteboards.
At first, our participation was entirely unwitting. We were all given plastic cups of what looked like honey water in it and because of near-death levels of thirst we drank it all. It turned out the we were supposed to each go, one by one, up to the lady, and pour that "honey water" on her, as she'd write how she was feeling and responding on the white board.
Oops. No matter, we asked for some more, and then did our part.
This was my first time traveling entirely by myself for 3 weeks with zero plan. Highlights include getting fired from my "hostel job", following a miner up a mountain on horseback in Cajón del Maipo, and catching a bad (and my first) case of fall-in-love-with-fellow-traveler syndrome.
The home-base of choice was Santiago.
A bit of elaboration on the miner on a mountain part:
Here I am, I look around and I am smack in the middle of what looks like a highway. That yes, leads to nowhere. Although I am surrounded by the most spectacular mountainous view, I still feel somewhat perturbed by the fact that I had just spent 3 hours taking maybe 8 buses at the advice of roughly 15 people, and nowhere in sight are the natural springs and tourists on horseback that Google Images had showed me the night before. Naive 21-year-old Larissa is in for a ... ride.
So begins the walk, aimless, and with creeping fear in my chest region. The only other person remotely close to me, and in fact the only other person I've seen since arriving, is a man with a backpack. He is relatively middle-aged and has a kindly face. I trust faces. Also, he doesn't look lost. We walk and walk, cognizant of each other's presence, but only after a good half an hour of individual mountain-appreciating do we begin a conversation.
He's a miner, his name is Marcelo, and he is on the way home. I learn from him that the red patches on the mountains are copper, and we take a detour to la boca de las minas, the mouth of the mines. We even drop by someone's house (or maybe it is a restaurant, I have no idea how to tell), where he gets a coke for me and a beer for himself. We sit and drink, mostly in silence.
We arrive at El Volcan, which is where (I think) I communicated to Marcelo the horseback riding was. It looks completely dead. Marcelo is still my only company, and I happily follow him, expecting the horses and tourists to show up anytime soon.
He asks me, is 5,000 pesos okay?
Yes of course, I reply.
He walks away, and 15 minutes later, reappears accompanied by a friend and two horses.
So, Marcelo is to be my guide. And we are going to ride up one of the surrounding mountains. And I get to ride the horse myself! Marcelo laughs and gently swats me away as I try to uselessly help him with preparing the saddle.
We're off. His instructions are simple; pull right on the rope to go right, the same for the left, give the horse a hard kick on its sides to accelerate (this part was emotionally difficult for me to accept). We ascend; he speeds off, I embarrassingly lag behind, he stops and waits for me to catch up.
And so it goes.
I didn't think it possible, but the mountains look even more ridiculously amazing from up there.
Two little dogs trot along next to us the whole time. My legs start to die almost immediately from clumsily kicking the sides of my horse, which Marcelo does with complete ease. Clumsiness notwithstanding, feeling the slope of the mountain right by my side was nothing if not incredibly vivifying.
Do you want to run?
Of course I did. We find a flat enough path, he shows me how to kick the horse with just enough strength to make it gallop. Cue more awkward leg movement, and I was off.
We ride back down, and I am still breathless from how amazing everything was. It is still a good two hours before the bus that comes twice a day is to arrive. So, we head over to his house, which is a mere five minute walk away from the horses. We drink his coffee, slowly and silently again, and I stare at his things. We begin to talk, and talk, as he savours his many cigarettes and strokes the cat on his lap.
Further cause for amazement - had I really been speaking to this guy in Spanish for five hours? Without spluttering from embarrassment and language self-consciousness, as I have been doing ever since I arrived in Chile a week ago? He finally says how glad he is to be able to do this for me, someone from a random other country on the far side of the world, and that he would probably never see another Singaporean again. It's a good reason to appreciate the two hours left that we shared.
The next day in Santiago I traipse over to Barrio Brasil and the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, where my energy level, exhausted from my day with Marcelo, simply fails in doing justice to the gravity and import of the subject matter. So I run off to the nearest restaurant I can find before brain and body were to crash. I drink onion soup as the waiter asks me, in a reenactment of the patterned conversations between insider and outsider who both have the mutual desire to understand, if I am from Japan, or maybe Brazil, oh where is Singapore. Just as so many others have asked. I am not tired of these questions yet.
Peace Village, Catskills Mountains