South of Socal

April 15, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Posted in Culture, United States | 3 Comments
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This is my second (and final) name change for my blog. I wanted something unique at first: this blog has turned into a wellspring of my musings from my travels and I wanted the name to reflect that.  But the more I think about it, the more my identity is, and always will be shaped by my growing up in Southern California… and my journeys south.

And thus, “South of Socal” is born.  It´s name reflects the “South of Hope” article that was written about my Kiva Fellowship in the latest Pepperdine Magazine. More than that, it represents my worldview. One that has been shaped south of the border.

All this introspection started this Wednesday. The Wednesday when 45 minutes before a phone interview the carne asada burned and my mom asked me to head to downtown Camarillo to the Mexican meat market.

Carnicería. That´s what they are called. I kept looking at the clock on my phone impatiently thinking about how I wanted to be home and settled and ready to answer my phone. I walked through the shop to the back and not a single one of the butchers turned. Where´s the stupid bell on the counter when you need one.

Finally one turned around with a “Hey, Amigo” and after a brief debate, I settled on speaking English. Let´s stick with no surprises and less unnecessary conversation. Get in, get out. A “I would like four pieces of carne asada marinada dripped off my tongue”. No blonde kid should have that good of an accent and his face showed his surprise.

Get in, get out. I grabbed the bag of carne asada and headed to the check-out. Good. Only one lady in line. An old Mexicana grandma with handfuls of groceries and who constantly was browsing the snack counter behind the register. They were chatting in Spanish and I wanted to join in. Now, it feels like such a part of me, but still here in the U.S. I feel so out of place in South of the Border, Camarillo.

I was rushing remember? A second register opened and I blew out of the store without thinking about it and showed up to my house with 20 minutes to spare to answer the phone.

And in a month had forgotten all the best parts of the Latin culture. The stuff that has caused me to spend almost two years of my life there. The no rush, the never feeling like you have somewhere more important to be, the chat with strangers, the community that you create with every single person you meet. All of those great feelings came rushing back to me and I vowed to take another trip to downtown Camarillo.

Yes, I think I like it south of socal.

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A Bit of New Year´s Luck

January 3, 2011 at 9:56 am | Posted in Culture, Cuzco, Peru, Travel | Leave a comment
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Some of the things I will do for luck in the New Year… Or  Luck of the Peruvian´s? Does that exist?

I started my new year´s preparation early.  After Christmas, a bunch of bright yellow “pica pica” started appearing on the streets. Yellow 2011 glasses, yellow underwear, noisemakers, fireworks, confetti, yellow beads, balloons.  Hold up, let me fill you in: New Year´s Traditions revolve around “yellow”. It represents luck in the New Year, so you wear as much yellow as you can (including yellow underwear).  Not wanting the “street” underwear, I got a local tailor to make a more comfortable pair of yellow boxers (when in Rome right?) Alternatively, you can wear red for love in the New Year or green to be wealthy.

And started getting ready for our New Year´s Party at our house.  My roommate had ordered a 13kg lamb to roast on our roof, with a lemon yellow garlic glaze and a cilantro peanut sauce for eating. Served up with sweet potatoes and an apple salad (be jealous).

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Ok, so that wasn´t for luck (but it was delicious).  In the week leading up to New Years, I visited seven Nativity scenes and tossed coins into the wishing wells of each (another Cusqueña tradition for luck).  And at midnight, our group went to the Plaza de Armas (sorry no pictures because of the crowd, I decided it would best not to bring my camera).  To run a lap around the plaza (for luck) and eat grapes (twelve wishes, one for each month of the year as you eat them).

Most Peruvians put a boutique of wheat and fake money on their doors for New Years to bring prosperity (but I figured I had enough luck saved up for the New Year and left that one alone.)

Resolution: make this year better than the last.

Resolution: eat another lamb like the one above.

A Taste of Culture

November 3, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Posted in Cuisine, Culture, Guatemala, Travel | 3 Comments
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This is an amazing post. Or possibly it´s just an insufficient reflection of a really amazing day.  Either way, in this post you will find my cultural take on Guatemala´s Day of the Dead, see the biggest kites you have ever seen, and hear about one of the strangest foods in the world.

Putting a video so early in the post makes it seem like I´m giving up too much too early.  On Monday, I had a chance to go to Festival de Sumpango de los Barriletes Gigantes.  Instead of looking up barrilete in my Spanglish dictionary, I decided to hold out until I got there to figure out what a barrilete was exactly.  As you can see in the video, the town of Sumpango comes together and teams of 30-50 young people start building intricate and colorful 75ft tall kites in July to display in the festival.  Some of the smaller kites (still huge at 20ft!) are flown, and a competition is held to see which ones stay afloat (also check out the video to see which ones didn´t).

You may be wondering, like me, if there is any cultural tradition behind this beautiful exhibition.  As it turns out, Day of the Dead is the one day that Guatemalans believe that their ancestors pass from the grave and roam free, visiting their old homes.  Kites are flown to communicate with their ancestors, and the noise the kite´s long tails make is believed to scare away bad spirits.

And everyone on this day (besides visiting the cemetery and their ancestors), eats fiambre.  Fiambre is a cold dish because originally it was placed on graves for their ancestors, and is made out of every type of food imaginable.  Seriously. I´m talking pieces of chicken, hot dogs, 5-10 different types of sausages, anchovies, tuna, peas, green beans, pickles, cold cuts, queso fresco, beets (gives it the purple tint), corn, cabbage, and anything else you can imagine.  Here is a video of the dish:

I know that kite festivals occur all over the world, but Barriletes de Sumpango is definitely one of a kind.  Additionally, if you are curious about the location of Sumpango in Guatemala, check out the interactive travel map I have created for my trip under the Travel Map tab.

Guatemala Rundown (2)

October 28, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Posted in City, Cuisine, Culture, Guatemala, Guatemala City, Travel, United States | Leave a comment
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I apologize for the uncreative title. I could title this “Stuff I won’t miss” or “Guate Culture Shock” or “Welcome Eric, this isn’t your country”, but true to form, this is my second (personal) decompression of the country where I have lived for the last few months.  And lets face it, everyone secretly likes the movie The Rundown with the Rock and only is reading this to see if I will reference it. WELL, I DID.

Safety. I have been robbed three times in my life. The first in Rio de Janeiro during carnaval (my wallet got lifted out of a friends purse), the second in Tijuana coming back from building a house (locks got punched out on the van and my backpack with my tools, phone and car keys got lifted), and the third here (window broken at 9am and laptop, two cameras gone in the first week).  I had heard that Guate City wasn’t the place to dance in the streets after nightfall, but I wasn’t expecting everything I had brought to get stolen the first week.  It’s a matter of fear and i’m not the only one who feels it.  The papers tell of mass murders in restaurants in the downtown, or armed bus assaults, or how 12 and 13 year old boys get paid Q100 by gangs to kill random people (Guatemala laws protect minors from going to prison).  It’s a sad reality that where there is poverty, there is crime, and I hope that for the sake of all Guatemalans the streets are cleaned up.

Food. Ok, this isn’t entirely a negative.  I have a love hate relationship with the food here.  I love the typical Guatemalan food: the tortillas are out of this world, as are the tamales, the shukos, the beans, the plantains and the soups (minus the revolcado).  But they consume limited quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables (makes me wonder where the huge bags of carrots and truck loads of pineapple go), and a lot of fast food.  I guess what I am saying is that I have ate more McDonalds here than my entire life in the states (exaggeration? possibly, but close), and although I love American culture, I like to leave it behind when I travel.

Loneliness. This isn’t Guatemala, it’s me. From my year in Argentina to my summer in Spain and Israel, I have always had a ready-made group of friends.  Travel is easy when you speak a foreign language 50% of the time and still have the comforts of your own culture.  Here, my English has deteriorated.  I love living with a family, but I speak Spanish at work, then at home.  I guess after a while, I just start to miss well America (in the form beyond fast food).

Videos of my visit to Iximche, Mayan ruins outside of Tecpan, microfinance thoughts, a new Kiva blog post, and a street food post soon.

Guatemala Rundown (1)

October 27, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Antigua, Culture, El Salvador, Guatemala, Lago Atitlan, Mountains, Travel | 1 Comment
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So, in exactly 8 dias, my feet will touch U.S. soil once again.  Now, this usually isn´t a feeling I have when I´m traveling, but I´m ready to go home.  It´s not that I haven´t enjoyed Guatemala; it´s just that i´m ready to move on to the next adventure.  I have basically finished my Kiva workplan for FAPE (at the start of the fellowship 770 hours of work), and am (minus a couple of field visits) just bidding my time.

But before I go, I wanted to post a short series (and will help keep me busy) about Guatemala: my favorite and least favorite parts and what I have learned about life and microfinance.

Lago Atitlan. For anyone that has visited Guatemala, they would list this as a highlight.  Six years ago, I came to Guatemala on a high school trip building a school and besides the sacrificed goat on the steps of a church in Chichicastenago, the iconic image of three volcanos shrouded in clouds was forever burned in my memory.  And thankfully so, the film from six years ago was ruined and my camera this time was stolen before I could back up the pictures.  Particularly jumping into the pristine water from the cliffs in San Marcos and eating the fresh burritos and drinking coffee from a nameless café on the waterfront will inevitably be some of the highlights of my trip.

Antigua. Is it too touristy to say this? The pristine colonial city nestled in the mountains just minutes from Guatemala City was my refugee multiple times from the city.  There are more extranjeros in a 10 block radius here than the rest of Guatemala (ok, I made that up, but its true), and more cafés than natives, but the presence of an additional police force keeps the streets clean and I can´t think of a better place in the world to spend an afternoon drinking a coffee on the patio of a café overlooking its cobblestone streets.

Totonicapán. Or the Xela and the surrounding mountains. The only place you can get a real taste of Guatemala.  Small towns, beautiful churches, comedores serving a hot caldo de res (soup) on a cold day, and untouched mountains.  Where corn is more popular than McDonalds (and more prolific: think corn tamales, tortillas, atoll (corn drink), corn liquor, and whatever else you can dream of) and where hospitality is a way of life.  My two weeks living in a small village in Aldea Nimasac and being the first gringo that most of the kids had ever seen was unparalleled.

My reason to return to Guatemala: Tikal, the Mayan ruins in the Peten district to the northeast. Yesterday, someone asked me my favorite parts of Central America, I replied that lets take the food, culture, Lago Atitlan, Antigua, and combine them with the beaches in El Salvador.  Ideal.

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