Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Captured by the Religious at an Ostrich Ranch

Emu grabbing me.
I regretted going with the Peruvian newlyweds to the Ostrich Ranch, near a beach. It was a mistake, because once they got me, they tried to convert me, and they tried really hard to convert me. I wouldn't have any of it.

At the hotel lobby, a Peruvian man approached me and asked if I wanted to go with him and his wife to a tourist site. I would have usually said, No, but because I thought it would be an opportunity for my Spanish to improve, I went with them.

They seemed happy and merry, in a way only newly weds could be. The wife spoke fluent English. The husband asked me if I was Korean. He spoke some Korean.

I find it interesting that so many people in Peru guess that I'm Korean and not Filipino. In the States, I always get asked if I'm Filipino. I've been asked if I was Columbian and Ecuadorian too. I guess I can pass for any race of a third world country and perhaps some first world ones too.

The husband was so proud of himself that he lived in Korea for three years. He told me all about it. They were also surprised I could speak and understand Spanish. I told them it was mandatory for me to learn in high school.

And I hated learning Spanish in my high school Sierra Vista, mainly because the Spanish teachers, Peterson and Ellis, were such terrible people. My Spanish teacher was Marilyn Ellis - and her daughter tragically died in a drunk driving accident while I went to school there. We genuinely all felt bad for her when it happened.

Unfortunately, she kept teaching instead of taking time off. And one time in class, a student, who was admittedly lazy, didn't do his work. She said in front of the whole class, "It should have been you that died - not my daughter."

She was a real nut. Her daughter was a law student at Pepperdine Law School when she died. I told her once I wanted to go to law school too. And she told me that I would never make it to a better law school than her daughter. (From what I know, UCLA was and is ranked a lot higher than Pepperdine, and I was the first one from Baldwin Park to ever attend UCLA Law. Oh yeah, by the way, the Ellis family came from wealth; she never told us though if it was old or new wealth.)

I'm writing this story, because this was the kind of education I received in Baldwin Park. I'm sure if a teacher told a student you should be dead in Beverly Hills High - some form of reprimand would be in order. But in short, Baldwin Park teachers were abusive to their students and kicked them down rather often to hold them in place from advancement. No wonder US News reported that Baldwin Park's education system ranks as some of the worst in California.

Back to Peru. They took me to an ostrich ranch. They were eager to eat there because they never ate ostrich meat. I told them that the meat would be red, like steak. Ostrich was more like beef than chicken.

When the food came out, it looked like a bloody steak. They also ordered an omelet, which was huge. They asked me to eat some. I said I would, but just a little.

I told them I had an ostrich omelet before. It was in Australia - when I was a university student doing fieldwork in the outback. We stayed on a cattle ranch, but they also owned an ostrich. The ranch cooked us up an ostrich egg omelet - which was the size of 25 chicken eggs.

I remember it being a bit too old, and I had diarrhea later from eating it. The best memory I have of that Australian ranch was when a flock of Apostle Birds descended on us. They're owls, but they're called Apostle Birds, because they come in twelves, like Jesus and his disciples. They were very amusing - and they watched us eat dinner over the campfire.

The Jehovah's Witnesses brought their own wine. Their "sister" made it. It was good, but it didn't taste commercial.

I made a toast. But they refused to clink their glasses. Then they told me they were Jehovah's Witnesses, because it was pagan in origin. (Note to self: Don't trust people who don't toast.)

Oh no, I thought. I wish I could run away. Why did I come with them?

Then they asked me to go to one of their services back in their hometown. The guy explained he was in Korea because he was studying the Bible there.

Then they gave me this big lecture on heaven.

And I thought to myself, Whatever they think heaven is, I don't want to be there.

I was hostage. And then I had to hear them talk about inner peace. And it was so boring to hear this talk.

They told me how inner peace was better than drinking and smoking and drugs.

So, I told them, "But God made tobacco."

"No, Paul," she said. "God didn't make it."

"Oh yes, he did. And he made cocaine too."

"No, Paul, but that's all artificial. And it's temporary."

"It all grows naturally. When I was in Iquitos, I chewed on cocaine leaves. I didn't feel anything, but it grew from a tree.

"Also, if you do it every day, it's no longer temporary. Then why have inner peace?"
Interesting lighting on the ranch

The lady didn't like that I was outarguing her, and doing it to spite them. I couldn't believe I fooled for it. They captured me.

Well - we then went on a tour of the ranch. Our guide was a young Hispanic guy. The lady asked him, "Are you Mexican?"

He said, "No. Why do you think so?"

"Because you used a Mexican phrase."

I felt that his heart was beating faster and that his body language reflected nervousness. I could feel my heart beating faster too. She caught him, and she didn't even know it. (I think he was a fugitive too, but perhaps I'm just too imaginative.)

Well, he gave us a good tour. I understood almost all of it. There were Australian emus and Peruvian emus and African ostriches. One thing I learned was that African ostriches have a powerful immune system. I never learned that before.

More effects of lighting.
After, the guy wanted another omelet. Because there were clouds and the setting was designed for it, I took some self-portraits because the lighting was so different on the ranch. I wonder if Spielberg knew how to get this kind of lighting.

Afterwards, we went to a small beach nearby. There were a number of abandoned boats on the sand.

I took photos for them, because it was their honeymoon. They kept asking me to go to their religious meeting. I didn't want to go. And they weren't getting the point.

After the sun started setting, they took me back to the hotel. I was tired from being around them. So, I took a nap.

* * *

When I woke up, grandma was working at the hotel, so I started talking to her.

Some Peruvian beach with abandoned boats.
I told her, "I went to the ostrich ranch."

She said, "You did? Did you like it?"

"Yeah." I showed her a few pictures of it on my iPhone. Then I said, "The couple took me. They're Jehovah's Witnesses."

"Witnesses what?"

"Jehovah's Witnesses."

"Oh, Jehoavh's Witnesses. They are?!"

"Yeah, and they're crazy. They just keep talking about taking me to church. Why would I want to go to their church? Crazy is crazy."

She just said, "Mmmmmm..." and nodded.

"They just got married."

"Is that so?"

"Yup. He's from Chiclayo. She's from Lima."

"Oh?"

"But they're crazy. Because they just want me to go to their church. I don't want to go."

Anyways, I tried to reflect and think through all the signs of how to spot a Jehovah's Witness behaves, so that doesn't happen to me ever again. I wouldn't mind going with some normal, kind people to the ostrich ranch, but no more going with people who intend to convert me.

(And I probably wouldn't have been so annoyed with these Witnesses, had they not been so deceptively nice in the beginning. Their only intent (or at least it felt to me) was to convert me.)
I look like the character in the video game, Assassin's Creed.

My client says the cat looks evil.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Funny Conversation with a Peruvian Grandmother

Photo by Konstantinos Arvanitopoulos
I took a break from Chiclayo and went to the beach and stayed at a beautiful hotel that only cost me less than $11 a day. I was the first person to stay in the new room. I didn't really do much at my days at the beach: I ran on the beach, read, watched movies, studied Spanish grammar, napped, ate, drank, and talked with this Peruvian Grandmother. She was funny.

At the hotel there worked a grandmother who liked to talk to me. Whenever I went down to the lobby to use the wifi, she would just sit next to me and start talking to me in Spanish. It forced me to put my computer away and talk to her.

She asked me where I was from. I said the United States.

She asked "Why I had Chinito [Chinese] eyes then?"

"Because my parents were born in Korea. What's your name?"

She said, "Me? Isabel."

I said, "Isabel is a beautiful name. It was the name of a queen in Spain."

"Si, and she married Fernando."

"And Fernando was a weak king. Isabel was the most powerful queen of Spain. She sent Christopher Columbus."

"Yes, and he took over South America and stole our gold."

"I saw many pictures of Isabel in Madrid."

"You did now?"

"Si."

"And what do you do for work?"

"Oh, I don't work."

"Why not?"

"Because it's bad for my health."

"I see what you do. And that's bad for your health."

I felt my face turn red in embarrassment and busted out laughing.

She said, showing no teeth in her mouth: "Si, si, si."

After, she told me her husband had passed away five years ago from a heart attack. He also had lung cancer and smoked chronically.

"Well," I said, "I need to find you a new boyfriend then."

"No. I don't want to marry again."

"Who said anything about marriage? Just go and have some fun."

"I just work and read the Bible. That's enough for me."

"Look Madam, you're not a nun. You can have some fun."

"Oh?"

"What would you like for a boyfriend? A Chinaman? A Native? A white man?"

"Oh, they're all good for me. But, I'm passed that age."

"No, you're not. You can sing and dance and go eat out with him."

"I can't dance. You see how old I am?"

"Oh, yes you can. When you fall in love again, you'll have a whole new body."

She starts to laugh then.

"I know someone just for you. He doesn't speak Spanish, though."

"That won't work. We need to be able to have a conversation."

"Oh, you can talk. He speaks the language of love."

"You American only think and talk about sex. We're not like that in Peru. We don't just have sex with people."

I started laughing and said, "I never said anything about sex. I said love. Love is not sex."

"No, no, no. I know you Americans. You like to seduce and just have sex. I know Americans."

* * *

The next day I'm on my computer Youtubing. She starts talking to me. I put my computer away again.

I ask her, "Do you know Rihanna?"

"Who's Rihanna?" she asks.

"A singer. She's black, but she's American too."

"I don't know her."

"Come on. Let's watch Rihanna together." So we watch the We Found Love music video of Rihanna on Youtube. In this video, Rihanna is in a bikini kissing a guy. I wonder if Granny is happy watching.

"Look how happy Rihanna is, because she found love."

Then the grandmother tells me another story. She says her husband owned a lot of land north of Chichlayo and some mafia people took it from them. I couldn't understand how all this happened.

I said, "You need to hire a lawyer."

"We did hire one. He charged a lot. And nothing happened."

Oh, I thought. Lawyers here are the same as they are back home. Charge a lot. And get nothing done.

"Then we gave up. They started threatening us and saying they'd kidnap us."

"Oh, how sad."

"It's ok. I have my children. I work. That's good enough."

* * *

I call my client the next day and tell him, "I found a Peruvian girlfriend for you. I think you'd like her very much."

My client tells me, "What the hell are you talking about, Paul?"

"There's this 70 year old lady I met at a hotel, who works here. She's very nice. And she even cooked me lunch one day, and she didn't have to do that. I think you'd like her a lot.

"But she wasn't too happy you don't speak Spanish. I told her you speak the language of love."

He started laughing.

"But she says that Peruvian ladies aren't into sex. So, she's going to be cautious with you."

"Don't give me that, Paul."

I start laughing and say, "You should consider it."

* * *

The next day she brought her two daughters to work and she tells them: "Here's the guy who wants to find me a new boyfriend."

The daughters both say: "No! She's not marrying again."

I said "Who said anything about marriage?"

Then, this grandmother goes on and tells me more stories about her and her family . . . 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Fixing the Broken in Chiclayo, Peru

In Chiclayo, holding a Rottweiler puppy.
I fixed my J. Crew magic wallet in Chiclayo, the City of Friendship, also known as the Pearl of the North. It's the kind of wallet that has a band, which holds money beneath it. (Though to be honest, I don't know what's magical about it; it hasn't brought me a great fortune yet. Perhaps, it's magical, because it gets you out of debt.)

I had to take a three and a half hour ride from my beach town, where a little boy who sat behind me kept putting his hand on my shoulder. I stayed longer in Chiclayo than I imagined, because even though the city wasn't beautiful, the people were. And because of this, Chiclayo has a special place in my heart.

Although Chiclayo has a population of about 600,000, it feels like a big small town, if that makes any sense. It's success comes from being an intersection for the highlands, the ocean, and the jungle.

At my hotel, in the mornings, I wake up, and my hotel owner - a friendly man who acts fatherly towards his guests, says - with great enthusiasm - "Good morning."

He asks, "How I am?" often. And after awhile, his wife took a liking to me, and she cooked me an omelet.

He cooked me an egg once. They often ask me to sit with them for breakfast, where I drink my coffee and talk to them about life.

J. Crew Magic Wallet,
notice the bad quality of the band.
The man and wife of my hotel make fun of my breakfast too. She says, "You don't eat anything for breakfast. You just drink coffee."

One time, for breakfast, a pharmacist sat with us. I asked him what to do about the swelling from the mosquito bites. It was a complex conversation and rather technical. I could follow some of it, but not all of it. The conversation was worth a lot in terms of improving my Spanish.

In the end, he wrote me a prescription. I asked him how the active ingredient worked. He couldn't explain it to me. The hotel owner said he enjoyed listening to our conversation - as I tried to pry out as much information from him on pharmacology. (The hotel owner knew I was an attorney, but the pharmacist didn't. I think he enjoyed watching two professionals talk - which he said was different for him.)

I asked the pharmacist if he knew how to make cocaine too. He said he didn't know how. I told him I did and told him how. I said I learned how to make aspirin in organic chemistry lab, and it's a similar process to make cocaine. I told him I chewed on cocaine leaves in Iquitos, and it did nothing for me. The pharmacist only said that it was an opiate.

(As an aside, it's probably been a good change for me to stay in a place where generally only Peruvians vacation. I would have never met a Spanish speaking pharmacist at an establishment for foreigners.)

I'm staying at a family-friendly place. One big family was there. The little boy loves my computer, especially when I watch music videos on Youtube. When he hears my Spanish, he tells his mother that I'm not from here and can't speak lots of Spanish. He keeps asking about my computer and using it. I didn't let him use it, because I didn't think it'd be good for him to like such things at such an early age. Maybe I made the wrong judgment, but that's what my instincts told me.

My brother Scott bought me my computer for Christmas, after my last one broke. He appreciated that in the summer, we were in Chile together, and I had enough miles to get him a business class flight - which he couldn't stop raving about. After my computer died, (and I mean it was dead as dead could be, for I had overused it in law school and burnt it out), my mother hounded him to get me a new one. She doesn't even know how to use a computer, but she could see that I was struggling to work without one.

At the time, and probably still, I was as poor as poor could be, because I had no job, no money, not even money for Christmas presents. I had just finished passing the bar and had just started suing Baldwin Park without any cashflow and a huge student loan hanging over my head. I remember being so depressed to not have any money back then to buy anyone anything for Christmas. But that Christmas, Scott bought me a MacBook, which I've used since. Now, this little boy was fascinated with it. But I didn't think it was good for him.

Getting back to Chiclayo. There's nothing that special about Chiclayo, except that they are the most friendly people I have met in Peru. Only once, did I have a bad experience with a woman who was entitled and shoved me aside to take my seat in a colectivo.

The food is also very nice. They're mainly known for stewed goat and duck and rice. Nonetheless, I think they don't cook the duck correctly. Good duck should have the crispiest skin, because it's naturally greasy and fatty. Hence, when cooked in its own fat, it tastes delicious.

The area is also known to have hidden tombs, tomb raiders, and archaeologists. One day, I went to a recently opened museum called the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan. There was a recent discovery of some ancient graves, which had ancient and beautiful jewelry, gold and silver and copper, art, and skeletons. The tomb raiders were upset though, because they thought it belonged to them and not the government. Apparently, fighting began between the two groups, and a tomb raider was shot and killed in the skirmish.

On another day, I had my magic wallet fixed, as I was mentioning. At the markets, there are also these shanty repair shops. It reminds me of Baldwin Park's Swamp Meet, a kind of Latin American outside mall made up of kiosks. The main repairers fix shoes and bags and watches.

I asked the tailor where I could fix my wallet, and the tailor said try the watch repairer. I asked the watch repairer and he said to ask the shoe repairer. The shoe repairer then said I needed to find a guy named Chia - who was the expert in fixing everything.

I found Chia. I showed him the problem. He said he could fix it. He disassembled the entire wallet. Fixed the band. Stitched it back up. I paid him. He smiled. He took a photo of my wallet, because he had never seen anything like it and found it interesting.

I hope someone associated with J. Crew reads this and changes its practice. I wrote an email to the CEO about how the wallet was meant to wear out to force me to buy a new one, meaning these things are not built to last. I said it was not good practice and cheapens J. Crew's reputation.

In any event, I took great joy in repairing my wallet - which I had for five years. I have an unusual fixation in fixing objects. Anyone who knows me, also knows I even restored a classic car.

I try to fix all broken objects I love. I think I'm into restoring my stuff, instead of throwing it away, because I tell myself - if broken things can be fixed, then broke people can be fixed too. Also, what kind of attitude is it to throw away the broken - whether it's with people or objects? Finally, I believe when something or someone is fixed from damage - that area always becomes stronger. For these reasons, I have a semi-obsession with restoring worthy objects.
My memory of Chiclayo - Beautiful people in
an average looking city. 

Other than that, I just finished reading Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby. After, I reread the introduction, as I did for Hemingway's A Dangerous Summer. I read the commentator's afterthought. I told myself I'm not reading this book again; it was almost as if I forced my way through it.

It's an ugly story written beautifully. I appreciate it and am in awe of Fitzgerald's genius and imagination. But, I can't get past the fact that Gatsby is an ugly story, which really is a criticism on the ugliness of the American Dream and the formation of the American identity. This is the reason the book ends with a discussion on the West and Manifest Destiny.

I can't help but also be reminded that the tragic Gatsby story turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy for Fitzgerald. Like Gatsby, the end of Fitzgerald's life was ugly. He died young, an alcoholic (which Gatsby wasn't), in poverty, and in depression,. Some say that Zelda, his sweetheart, killed Ftizgerald, especially when she had to be locked up in asylum. In the end, Fitzgerald turned into an alcoholic in his thirties, and really after that, didn't write anymore great novels. It's very sad.

A cat that let me pet her. She has nice green eyes.
Nonetheless, here are two quotes that I found in Gatsby that I love: "No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

Here's another one: "There I was, way off my ambitions, getting deeper in love every minute, and all of a sudden I didn't care.”

After I finished Gatsby, I left the novel at the hotel. I liked the idea that wherever I went, I was leaving stories behind, unlike Daisy and Tom in Gatsby, who the narrator says: "smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, . . . and let other people clean up the mess they had made[.]" (This certainly reminds me of the Baldwin Park's Mayor and Council Members and Carrillo and others.) Besides them, I guess we all know people like that.

Well, hopefully, I'm also finding new stories and living a great one myself.

Well, that's four books down. Four books left. I started Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I realized all my books I'm reading are by white males on this trip (and probably other trips). Is that a coincidence? This trip has me thinking about all of that.

Me holding a puppy in Chiclayo.
I wanted to end this article by talking about finding puppies for sale. When I saw them, I wanted to buy them all and present them to my mother as presents.

I don't think she'd appreciate it though. I don't think Jeh Pan would want another member in the family too; he already feels annoyed by the new chick that hatched recently. In any event, the whole affair made me miss home and my family and my friends and my animalitos once again. But it's a beautiful thing that I'm reminded of them constantly; it's clear: I love them all.

Stingray tortilla with beans.






Thursday, August 3, 2017

Border Hopping Out of Peru Into Ecuador

At the Peru-Ecuador Border
After I cancelled my flight back home, the way I felt and thought about the world changed; it was as if an earthquake shattered the structures and foundations inside of me. I instantly realized I had to renew my Peruvian visa. It wasn't expiring immediately, I had over a month left. But, I didn't want this problem lingering in my mind throughout my trip. Also, I was only about 150 miles away from the Ecuadorian border. It was time to go to Ecuador - where I was last year - mainly to see the Galapagos.

Some background on this visa problem. I didn't know that you're supposed to ask at the border how many days you want to stay in Peru; for an American - the maximum stay is 183 days. (Let that be a lesson to me - research more thoroughly visa issues before going to the country, but then again, I needed something to do and figure out. Maybe, it was for the better all this happened.) At airport checkpoint control, I stated I would stay a month; so, the guy gave me 60 days. You can't renew your visa within Peru; you have to border hop, meaning you have to leave the country and then come back into it. You could also overstay your visa, and you're fined $1 USD a day. It's not a bad price, but after being put into Russian house arrest once because I had visa problems, I wasn't going to go through that again.

I took a collectivo - a shared taxi to the Ecuadorian border, to a city called Macara. I had to wait about an hour for it to be full, and the company said that the car was "completo" when we had four passengers.

I sat shotgun. The driver wanted me to share my shotgun seat with someone else. That would make six people, and it'd be an uncomfortable two and a half hour ride to the border. There was a cranky and older woman who sat behind me, and when we had to wait for another person, she said, "You're a liar! You said only four people. You're a liar."

I really liked her.

Then she said, "I'm only giving you 13 soles. It's always been 13 soles."

The driver said, "No, it's 15."

She said again, "You're a liar."

I didn't like my driver. He must have been the meanest person in Peru I met so far. And add to it, that he was also a greedy man.

I told him, "I'm not sharing a seat with anyone."

He said, "It's always 6 people."

Another lady in the back of the car said, "I'm going to change companies."

I asked her, "There's another company?"

She pointed at it and said, "Yeah, it's over there."

I told the driver, "If we don't leave soon, I'm changing companies too." I opened the door, ready to leave.

He said, "Get back in. We're going. But you people! It's always six in a car."

This is interesting. My trip started with a semi-mutiny in a collectivo.

So, he drove through the bad roads of the City of Sullana. It was not paved. And the ride was rough getting out of the city.

In an hour into our drive, he stopped the car and got out and urinated on the side of the road. I had to do it too; so, I went out. A guy sold me a coconut while I was waiting in the collectivo, and I drank it.

When we got back, a poor-looking mother and her son, about 15, needed a ride to the next city. The driver said, "He's going in front with you."

I said, "That's fine."

The mother put a large bag of supplies inside the trunk and went in the trunk. She laid on top of all the luggage. She didn't complain, and if anything, she started laughing about the whole thing. I felt sorry for them. I don't know exactly why.

We rode another hour towards the border. The boy was nearly so close to me, my elbow was in his rib. I wondered if I should strike a conversation throughout the trip or just mind my own business. I choose the latter.

The mother and son got out about an hour into the ride. The first thing the boy said, when the car stopped was, "Mom, we're here. Are you ok?"

I felt like I should've paid their fare. And it wasn't because I was being cheap, I didn't pay it. I just thought it'd be strange to pay it. Who does that?

I didn't pay it. But I told myself, if something like that happens to me again, I will pay it. It's not going to change the world; it's most likely not going to in the grand scheme of things make their lives better. But it's still something I can do. No matter how weird it is.

At the border, we all get off. The cranky lady gives him 13 soles, instead of 15. He screams at her. She tells him, "It's 13." And she turns her back towards him, not being affected by his anger whatsoever.

I thought to myself, I hope when I get that old, I can be that cranky and get away with it too! I was definitely smiling inside.

I asked the driver if I could pay 13 too. He said, "No!"

I said, "But I"m hungry and poor and have no money."

He said, "That's your problem."

I handed him a 20 note. He gave me back 5.

I was really wishing I had small change; so, I could've also given him 13 soles and turn my back towards him too. The difference of 2 soles is $0.67. It's nothing for me. I just didn't like the guy; it was kind of a negative tip, to subtract instead of add, you know?

I walked up the street to the border control, which was a small kiosk. There were only five people in front of me. But they're much slower at the land crossing checkpoint then at an airport.

The lady at the checkpoint tells me that she can only give me 90 days. I asked for 183. She said, "No." I was already in the country for 25 days.

She stamps my passport with an "salir [exit]" stamp. I walk ten minutes into Ecuador. At the crossing, I fill out my paperwork. The guy at the Ecuador checkpoint asks how long I'll stay. I tell him three days. He stamps my passport and puts 3 on top of it.

I walk back to the Peruvian checkpoint and the lady says, "Nope. This is wrong. I can't give you a new entry stamp until you have an Ecuadorian exit stamp."

I walk back to the Ecuadorian checkpoint and the guy says, "I know what you're doing. And it's illegal. You can't just come in and out of here for a new visa. It's illegal."

"I don't speak Spanish. I don't understand."

"You don't, huh? Seems like you know some stuff. You need to stay in Ecuador for 24 hours before I left you out."

"24 hours?"

"That is correct."

"Please. Isn't there something you could for me? 24 hours is a long time."

"No. That is the law."

"No one will know if you let me out earlier."

"No. It's 24 hours."

I walk across a bridge further into Ecuador. I see a car passing. I hitchhike. The car stops for me. He lets me in.

I introduce myself. Ask him questions. (It's easy for me to get a ride hitchhiking. But it's never free. I have to pay with a conversation.)

He says he's going into Ecuador to fix his car. But I can't understand his Spanish - he has such a strong accent. He says he's from Peru. He says that it's cheaper to fix a car in Ecuador. I ask him over and over again what's wrong with the car - and he says nothing. The guy keeps changing his story. Who knows why he's really going to Ecuador? I'm sure it's about some kind of illegal activity. 

About two miles from the border, we enter into the City of Macara, Ecuador. I get out. I thank him.

I find a hotel. It's $10 USD a night. I brought some US money with me. The guy running the hotel is 19. His father owns the hotel. He has this I'm-a-cool-kid-because-I-have-money-to-show-off-because-of-my-dad feel. We all seen the type in school. But I liked him, because he was eager to help me and was not entitled. When I thanked him for fixing my hot water device in the shower, he seemed pleased with himself and said it wasn't a problem.

I take my first hot shower in over a week. I'm still annoyed at the mosquito swelling above my eyebrows.

After my shower, I go to a pharmacy. I buy some anti-histamine cream.

Then, for dinner, I eat fried chicken and rice. After, I find a place that serves me a glass of wine. It's decent, but not great.

I go back to my hotel. I sleep decently.

In the morning, after coffee, I walk two miles with all my stuff back to the border. On my way, I spot a large lizard that looks like a Gila Monster. It was probably about two feet long.

At the Ecuadorian checkpoint, there were two lines. And I see that the guy from yesterday was there again. Oh no. He better not spot me. I haven't been in Ecuador for 24 hours.

I go in the other line. I turn my back towards him. I use people to shield me from his view.

When I get to the front of the line, the lady takes my passport. She reviews my file in the computer. I look to see all the information on me in the computer. I see what she's doing. I'm memorizing their processes. I'm a bad little boy. And like a computer, my eyes acting as a lens, records everything their doing. She knows I'm watching. In the end though, she stamps my passport with an exit stamp.

I walk to the Peruvian checkpoint. The lady that was there was back. There are about 8 people at the checkpoint. I cut in front of all of them, since my paperwork is already done - and theirs is not. (Remember, I tried the day before; so, I had the paperwork done already.)

We argue and haggle for 10 minutes. I ask for 183 days. She says No. She speaks so fast, I can't understand everything she's saying, though I can make out the gist of the conversation.

She said the maximum entry time is 183 days per year. At first, she says she can give me 90 days. I get her to 100 days.

Then, I ask for 150. She says no such thing exists. I ask for 120. She says that doesn't exist either. What can I do? I give up.

She stamps my passport for 100 days more. I ask her if I need to pay for a visa. She says, "No, it's free," missing the idea that she could've made some extra money on the side.

I did it. I got my visa. I walk back into Peru.

I hail for a collectivo. The guy is around 25. He's blasting loud and ugly Spanish music. He drives fast and gets me back a lot quicker than the last guy.

I tell people in my beach town I renewed my visa. Since, it's such a small town, everyone is talking about how I went to Macara to renew my visa. Apparently, tourists don't usually do such things around here. Now, they know how to advise tourists what to do about visa problems, that is, if anyone ever finds the small beach town I was at. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

On Ganas (the Passion to Live)

On my thirty first day of my sabbatical (the day I was scheduled to come back, that is - until I cancelled my ticket back home) I decided that I needed to show myself and the world what it means to live a beautiful life. On this day, the young guy at the front desk of my hotel turned up his Latino music in the morning and was singing to it.

It woke me. I would usually have been annoyed to be woken up from my restful sleep, but he sang well, and I started liking the song too.

I went to the front desk and asked him in Spanish, "What was the name of the song?"

He said, "I don't understand."

I said, "What's the song called?"

"What song?"

"The song you were singing."

"Ah," he said. Then, he told me.

I started listening to it. After listening to this song, which seemed to say to not care about anything and live in the moment and fall in love every chance you get, I realized how fortunate I was.

Although it's been a hard year for me in my profession, and at the higher court I lost my cases (incorrectly by the way, from all perspectives and angles), I was truly grateful for all that went well this year too.

I paid off my student loans, all of it, which freed me from all debt. I lost 15 pounds and was around or below 10% body fat - something I have never achieved in my life. My Spanish was getting better and improving quickly and happily and fluidly and proficiently. I was on an indefinite sabbatical.

My life, indeed, felt like one large celebration.

And I missed my family and friends and animalitos. And they missed me too. And I've been constantly asked when I'm coming home. Although I feel sad to say: "I don't know," our separation and desire to see each other again is a beautiful thing; for it's nice to be loved and to love others.

In fact, on my thirty first day of sabbatical, my friend texted me and said to come to Korea, immediately. He would pick me up from an airport and set me up with a job. Though I didn't care to work yet, I  knew I was fortunate to have friends all over the world - who wanted to see me.

He says I should make a lot of money. I tell him, "I think God made me an artist - not a businessman. It's probably not in my future to make tons of money." He responded by saying that what I said was funny and also nonsense.

I also listened to a talk on passion by the most-read Spanish author - Chilean writer - Isabelle Allende. And in her talk, she says this: "Heart is what drives us and determines our fate. That is what I need for my characters in my books: a passionate heart. I need mavericks, dissidents, adventurers, outsiders and rebels, who ask questions, bend the rules and take risks."

And with wit, she adds: "Nice people with common sense do not make interesting characters. They only make good former spouses."

(That made me think, I certainly don't have commonsense, as commonsense would demand that I work, save money, buy a house, start a family, and get back into a debt - which would take 30 years to pay off. Not right now. No thanks. Just been there. Just done that.)

When I heard Allende's talk, I hope I had paid that price of ganas, the passionate spirit inside of us that calls us to show the world what extraordinary things we can do and calls us to endure through all that pain needed to achieve it. This is so my life, and not my words, could speak the importance of living a beautiful life. And in that spirit, although I gave up a lot to fight against those who abuse their power, and do it with impunity, only time will tell what I actually gained and inherited too.

I guess the big takeaway from all this, if there is one, is to remind myself of this Jewish proverb. "What is truer than truth?"

Answer: "A story."

And want to know what's truer than that? "A beautiful life" - Me.