Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Seeing the Gocta Waterfalls with the French (Part 1/2)

The top cascade of Gocta Falls,
the third largest waterfall in the world.
Shot by Paul Cook on a iPhone 6
Dimitri and Solan, a French couple, and I, were at the top cascade of the third largest waterfall in the world; when we approached it, we could feel the blasts of air and water and mist spray our face. It took three hours to get there from the nearest village.

The night before, over wine, we all agreed to go to the falls together. At the hostel, after offering the two wine, we talked about how I went to France and how I had a bad time in Paris. I was only 19 then, and I didn't speak French or try. Hence, the people weren't so friendly to me.

I also told them that I lectured in Aix en Provence, which is in the South of France on international law. Even though they told me that the people there aren't so open to people, I told them how wonderful and lovely they were to me. I also told them I ate the best appetizers in my life in Aix en Provence; it was foie gras ravioli.

I would go out on the streets and say: "Seva," and the people on the streets of the South of France would shout back: "Seva! Seva!"

Dimitri and Solan were from Paris. They told me no one is nice there, though Dimitri came originally from Normandy, where so many Americans shed their blood to win the war. They too both quit their jobs and went to South America.

Since I bought the wine, they cooked for me. It was an excellent and delicious French meal. I remember when the onions grilled against the oil and made the kitchen smell beautiful. They also fried in their vegetables, cream cheese, and sweet potatoes. It was very good. I wish I remembered what we talked about, and I do remember it was small talk. But we drank so much wine and laughed so much, I can't really recall.

And we talked so much, that at 10:50PM, a guy from the next room came and said, "Hey, keep it down." We were thinking, what the Hell, it's early. He needs to get a life.

Dimitri thought he was German.

So, we went upstairs and started talking. I told them I wanted to go to Gocta, which is made of two waterfalls into one. But if we did a tour that we would only see the top part of the falls. To see both parts of the cascade, we needed to do the tour on our own. The guidebook Lonely Planet was wrong about how to get there too. (I'll write how to get there at the end of the next post as an attachment.) Dimitri made us shake on it to agree to go.

Then, from downstairs, around 11:00PM, a lady says in a thick accent: "Hey, guys keep it down." Solan said, "She must be German too."

We were upset. I mean a hostel is supposed to be a social place, and it wasn't 03:00AM. Solan said that she must have been the girlfriend of the guy - and they had bad sex. So they were blaming us for it.

But we listened to her, and went back to our rooms. We agreed to meet each other at 07:30AM, and I'd make coffee for them then.

I was in a shared room with four beds. One girl was already asleep. I took the other bed.

* * *

Then at around 06:00AM, a tall guy with huge pegs in his ear arrived and woke me.

Oh no, I thought. I have a long hike, and this guy comes and wakes me up. 

He was wearing a black hat. He came and chose the bed next to me.

He says, "Lo siento," I'm sorry in Spanish.

Oh, lo-siento-yourself, I thought, but said nothing.

He removed his black hat and revealed his really blonde hair. He also had ice blue eyes. He was really tall. He looked like a party European.

I glanced at him and already knew, Oh, this one's going to be trouble. Big trouble.

My vitamins were at the nightstand between us. (I left our area a mess, because I lost my sandals and removed all my items everywhere to find them.) He asked, "Are you sick?" with a European accent. I thought he was German, but couldn't tell for sure whether he was Scandinavian or not.

"No," I said. "They're just vitamins." (I didn't tell him I take it to keep me looking young too.)

Already, I'm annoyed he woke me up. I need my sleep, I thought.

I tried to go back to sleep, but remained in a half awake state until 07:45AM.

Already, we're starting late, I thought.

I woke up tired. I went to the kitchen. I started brewing coffee.

I haven't seen the French I thought. That's good. I hope they sleep in to.

At the table, three German girls are talking only in German. I pretended not to listen. I pretended not to understand.

And truth is, I don't know what they're talking about fully, but I picked up bits and pieces here and there. One girl says she's from Memmingham, in the Allgaue in Bavaria, Germany. (I took a flight out of there once to Cinque Terra, Italy.. But like I said, I pretend that I don't know anything about what they're talking about.) After eating, they leave.

The coffee is ready. Then a girl with black hair, who was in my room, points to a coffee can and asks in a very cute way, "Can we use this coffee?" By her accent, I already know she's Italian. And she speaks with a very cute accent.

"I don't know. But I don't think so. I think it's the hostel coffee." I answer.

I had a flashback. And in this memory, when I was in Turin, Italy, Ludo kept asking me, "Paul, would you like another coffee?" She had the same accent, and it reminded me of Ludo's Italian accent and kindness.

So, I tell her: "But I have some coffee. Would you like some?"

"I wouldn't want to bother you." She says. But of course, she knows she wants some.

"It won't be a bother. It's not the best coffee. But I brew it as best as I can."

"I can give you some cheese if you like. The cheese isn't very good in Peru. But I found some very good cheese here."

"Sure, I'll have some cheese. What's your name by the way?"

"It's Eliza. And yours?"

"Paul. Give me a second. Let me pour you a cup."

I pour her a cup. I pour me a cup. I drink it. It's as good as this coffee can be. She opens the fridge and removes the cheese. She gives me some. I take some. I like it.

But then, Dimitri appears. I tell him, "Sorry, I woke up late. Some blonde guy came into our room early and woke me. I'm late in making the coffee. I have to make more coffee though. I gave the Italian some."

He doesn't look too happy. Perhaps because we started late. Perhaps because Eliza took her coffee.

Eliza says, "Sorry, I took your coffee." She still speaks English like she's singing and it sounds so cute.

After the second pot of coffee brews, Dimitri was about to talk with me over coffee. But two men and a woman in their 50's to their 60's came and the staff took his seat. They paid for bed and breakfast; so, they were treated like royalty.

Dimitri had to take a seat elsewhere. He really didn't look too happy.

The three were sitting right in front of me, and I knew they wanted to talk to me. But I didn't care to talk to them. It was an awkward situation.

Jose - the control-freak-owner of the hostel, calls to Eliza and says she needs to go on her tour. I ask where she's going. She tells me to Kuelap, the name of some ruins.

Finally, after enough loud silence, the three of them start talking to me. I notice though, they didn't want to talk to Dimitri and that wasn't good.

All three of them looked like your typical middle age white person. None were fat. One was balding and had glasses. The lady looked like your typical soccer mom. And the other guy looked like an aging German.

I found out both of the men were cardiologists. The woman was a physiotherapist. The bald man was from London. The Swiss guy and the woman now lived in Canada. They told me about their failed research. I told them about a medical research project I worked on years ago.

I was about to leave the table, when the Swiss guy asked what I was working on. I corrected him and said, "Worked on. I finished the project."

I sat back down. I told them what I believe I learned in immunology.

They felt uncomfortable, because they were doctors and didn't know that much about the subject I was talking about.

Why do they even ask then, I thought. They should have never asked.

At that point Solan comes down. I ask her if she wants some coffee. Dimitri still looks unhappy. I give Solan a cup. She doesn't look that happy either.

I feel guilty. I didn't really want to give away Dimitri's cup of coffee or have a talk with these older people. And I'm tired from the German guy who had to come into our room.

But in some ways, I felt like I had to out of some Western duty to be civilized and well-mannered. I needed to remedy the situation.

So after Solan drank her coffee, I said, "Alright - let's start making our way to the waterfalls."

I told the three, "Sorry, but I promised them we were going to the waterfalls. And already we're late."

As I was washing the pot of coffee, the owner of the hostel said, "Hey, don't use too much water." I thought he was such a control freak; I was only washing the pot. He said, "We have to pay for every drop." Then he told me in Spanish, "Drop by drop, all the water will be gone."

I knew he was a control freak when I first saw him. I told the French. At this point, they didn't believe me. In any event, I wrote a bad review for him. Trip Advisor Review of Chachapoyas Backpackers.

That was how the morning started on our journey to Gocta. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Meeting Dante on my Way From the Cloud Canyon

View of a Canyon from Huancas
This is the story about how I met Dante, a local construction worker who took me on his motorbike for a ride - where we both fell into a trench and got muddied.

I wanted to do something with my time; I was spending too much time doing nothing, mainly because it was pouring rain like Noah's Flood in the Cloud City. And I didn't want to get wet and soaked.

There are two famous sites by the Cloud City: Kuelap, the ruins of an ancient pre-Incan city and Gocta - the third largest waterfall in the world. (I'll write later on this.)

My Asian MacGyver Picture
I wanted to go to Gocta, but it kept pouring.
But I really wanted to go. I had Gocta all mapped out, but the workers at the hostel told me it was impossible to go, because there wasn't enough time. But I wanted to go. Another person told me there wasn't enough time to go and make it back. But I wanted to go.

But finally, the hostel owner called me and cut me off, while I explained my plan. (I could tell he was a control freak.) He told me how to get to the waterfall on my own, but said I needed more time or I wouldn't return. Instead, he recommended I go to the local village about 7 miles away and to see the view of the canyon.

I relent and go and take a colectivo to Huancas, the local village. From there, I hike up a hill to see a view of the canyon. It's cloudy and misty and drizzling. Some local tourists from another part of Peru are also there and taking photos the way tourists do. (They remind me of Chinese tourists taking pictures of everything.)

After, I walk down a trail, hoping it'll lead me back to the Cloud City. I walk for about half an hour. But then the fog rolls in, and I realize it's too dangerous for me to go further. The myst transforms the forest into a ghost forest. I could be stuck there in the evening, and then I'd stay up all night and be cold without food and water. Forget it. I backtracked back to the village.

I ask the lady at the front of the road where the track leads. She says it doesn't go to the city. Instead, it goes to the bottom of the canyon - where the river is. I think to myself, I'm glad I didn't take that track back. Then, I'd be in real trouble. 

At the village, a lady at a restaurant wanted to sell me a deep fried guinea pig. Although I was adventurous trying the ant cocktail, for now, I passed on the guinea pig. (It was expensive too.)

Instead, I had some of the local sausage, and it tasted really hearty and rich and fat and crispy. It was wonderful. Later, I'd crave more of it.

After, I wanted to walk back. I needed some exercise. So, I walked on the roads - getting wet and muddy and cold. I probably walked about 4 miles, when a guy in his late twenties or early thirties on motorcycle went passed me and stopped. He asked me if I wanted a ride. I wasn't going to take it, because I needed the exercise. But I did, because I didn't want to refuse someone who was being kind.

I hopped on the bike, right behind him. But I couldn't find my wallet in my pocket. And as I was trying to get off the motorbike to find my wallet, I dragged my rider down with me. We both fell in the mud. We were really muddy. My driver only laughed. (Remember; I only just met this guy and accepted his ride and now I dragged him down with me.)

I found my wallet in my pocket. I hopped back on. He was worried he could get a ticket for riding me back into town because I didn't have a helmet on. There were some local children playing in the dirt about 100 meters away. My rider asked them, "Are there any police officers around the corner?"

"No," they said.

So, he rode me on his motorbike. I knew the guy was a good person, because he didn't mind I made him fall in the mud. He was laughing. There was now mud on my legs and shorts and shoes. His pants were also muddied.

On the bike ride he told me that his name was Dante and that he was a construction worker who had a wife and three children.

He dropped me off at the outskirts in town, because he didn't want a cop citing him for me not wearing a helmet. He told me to come see him. His wife worked near a local bakery by the bus terminal.

I asked him, "But doesn't her restaurant have a name?"

"No," he said. "It doesn't. But I'm sure you'll find it."

I thought to myself - how am I going to find this place with such little information?

I walked for about a half mile, and I was back in the main plaza of the Cloud City. I went to my hostel and removed my wet clothes as fast as I could.

I dried myself and put on some dry clothes. It felt so good to not feel soaked anymore.

I heard a bird screech outside my room. Outside was a French couple in their 30's smoking. The guy had dreadlocks and was tall. The girl was small.

I asked them in Spanish - "What is it?" (I didn't know they were French at the time.)

The guy said, "I don't know."

"Is it a bird?"

"I think so."

I needed some red wine. I walked around town looking for my favorite Peruvian wine. It wasn't raining anymore. I found it and took it back to the hostel. I started drinking a glass.

The French guy saw me drinking. I asked him if he wanted a glass. He said, "Sure." I poured him a glass. We started talking.

His girlfriend saw us. I asked her if she would like a glass. She said, "Yes," too. I poured her a glass. And then we began talking through the night. . .

Friday, August 25, 2017

Arriving in the Cloud City in Peru

View of Cloud City from my tower
I was going to go to the next city South called Trujillo, but the French couple at the beach marked up my book to show me where to go and told me to go to the mountains to a small cloud city called Chachapoyas. In Quechua (the indigenous population before the Spaniards), it means cloudy.

My journey, like most people's journey into the Cloud City, was not easy. It was an 11 hour bus ride, and I only slept about 5 hours on it.

I could have gotten more sleep, but a man next to me played his music. I liked the Spanish music, but I was tired and didn't need to be awakened.

I told him to turn it off, because I didn't like it. He looked like he understood but kept it on.

I told the conductor on the bus, and the conductor told him he needed to turn it off because people were sleeping.

He still didn't. Then the conductor threatened to kick him off the bus, unless he did. He finally did. Then, he gave me a dirty look. I didn't acknowledge it and tried to fall back asleep, but I couldn't.

The morning light lit up the mountain road and streams and forest. It was beautiful.

Raining in Chachapoyas - the Cloud City.
I arrived at 07:00am in the morning. After finding a hotel, the first thing I did was went to the cafe for gringos and ordered a cappuccino. It tasted beautiful since I haven't had a proper coffee in awhile, and I savored all of it.

The first few days in the Cloud City, I found a hotel that put me up in a high tower, overlooking the city. It was a beautiful view of skyline, but the problem was I felt like I was a prisoner in a tower room. It had a very isolating feeling, and the hotel didn't seem to encourage guests to talk to each other. So, I was feeling lonely in the tower room. But I thought the experience good for bringing out my artistic thoughts and spirit and heart.

When I arrived, I texted my younger brother and told him that I made it to the Cloud City, and that there was some secret temple in the cloud forest where a wind monster lived. If you killed the wind monster, you would get a crystal that would bring you the wind power of the region. He didn't text back to my proposal that temples of dooms and magical crystals were in the region.

In my first few days in the Cloud City, I went to an Amazonian fusion restaurant. There, I ordered a cocktail made out of dried jungle ants. I drank it. It tasted chocolatey. I ate the ants too.

Me: Pointing at an ant in my cocktail
An ant cocktail

When I sent the photos of the ants to my friends, my white friends were generally rather grossed out. My Asian-Americans friends asked how it tasted? It was kind of bitter and crunchy. I had no problem eating it, but I wouldn't spend the money on it again.

At the same bar, I met a young English guy named Piers - who kind of looked like a hippy. We had coffee together at night. He said he went on a waterfall trip and that we should meet his friends on the trip.

We waited in front of the local church for his friend from Lima and a girl from Bolivia. Although it was sunny in the afternoon, it was raining really heavy. The water was pounding hard against the ground and roofs and splattering all over the floor.

We all went to the local bar. They were kind of boring. All of them, actually. And Piers got upset whenever I translated anything for him from Spanish to English, because he claimed he knew what the people were saying in Spanish. (It wasn't true though, because I could tell by the difficult vocabulary words that he couldn't.) I gave up on him. He told me about all the drugs he did and liked and would do again. It was boring for me to listen to them.

These people weren't that interesting for me. So, I went back to the hotel and slept.

After spending a few days in isolation in the tower though, feeling as a Rapunzel trapped in a tower, I had to leave. I packed my stuff and moved to the backpackers across the street.

It would be at the backpackers that I would meet a whole new set of interesting and uninteresting people from England, France, Germany, Italy, and Canada. Anyways, that's how I arrived into the Cloud City of Peru. There, a whole new journey would start for me.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Conversations with the World in a Peruvian Beach Hotel

The Peruvian grandmother, who worked at the hotel, was excited one morning and was telling everyone that she met some Mexicans. I asked her, "What did they want?"

"To take a shower," she answered.

"And did you charge them?"

"I did."

"And did they pay?"

"They did."

After telling me, she went around the hotel telling people that she met some Mexicans, who were asking for a shower.

I haven't met any Mexicans in Peru; so, I guess it was rare for them to come this small beach town.

On the weekend, the hotel had a full house. And full houses bring a new life to a place and gives it a different energy. It becomes alive.

* * *

Another day, a 27 year old Australian guy from the Northern Territory came. He was tall and had a clueless feel to him.

He talked to me some. I told him I went to the Norther Territory before. (For those of you who don't know, it's just south of Indonesia.) It's sweltering hot, and Crocodile Dundee was filmed there. The capital is Darwin.

I found out he was an electrician.

Grandmother tried to speak to him in Spanish. But because he was only traveling for a few months, he couldn't communicate well with her.

One day she asked me in Spanish, "Where's your Australian friend?" We speak in Spanish.

"He's not my friend," I told her.

"His Spanish isn't clear."

"That's because he's Australian. You know, Americans are smarter than Australians." (I should have also told Grandma that originally, criminals founded Australia.)

"Is that so?"

"Yup, Americans are smarter than them." I smile. (Being that I'm part New Zealander, I have to do my duty for Australians. We used to say at work that when Kiwis left New Zealand, that they did the world a favor. The average IQ of both countries went up.)

* * *

Another day, a French couple comes. They're older, in their 60's. I liked them.

I met the wife first in the kitchen. I was drinking a glass of Chilean wine. I liked her. She could have been any mother of a white picket fence community. It was like going to my friend's house in the suburbs and having dinner with them. I poured her a glass and offered it to her.

She took it. Drank it. Liked it.

We talked. She told me about her travels in the Pacific. How they lived in France. How they were tired of traveling for several months and didn't want to go to the nearby tomb museum. (I mentioned it on the blog post.)

I told her I went to France. I lectured in Aix en Provence in the South. But I didn't tell her what I lectured on.

She tells me they're from the South as well.

After dinner, her husband met me in the lobby. I offered him a glass of wine. I offered her another glass. They both took it. Drank it. And liked it. The husband looked a lot like my lawyering mentor.

They traveled most of their lives. They asked what I do.

I said, "I quit my job. I took a sabbatical."

The guy told me, "I did that too, when I was 34."

I smiled and asked him: "Why?"

He then tells me something cool: "I told myself when I die, I want to say I knew the world. So, that's why I travel a lot."

They're very lovely people. I keep pouring the wine until it's all gone. They speak good English and tell me about their time in the Pacific islands. They lived and worked near Fiji. They told me their favorite places.

They're scuba divers. They retell me their favorite dive sites.

And the husband says, "There's a great one in Australia. I forgot the name. It's off Townsville."

"The Yongala?" I ask. The Yongala is the ghost ship wreck. The huge boat got caught in a storm and sank it. The crew all died. It landed in a place with many currents, and turned into a kind of reef. The fish and other animals grow to epic proportions. Apparently, you can still see the skull of a crew member on the wreck, though I didn't see it. I did, however, pick up a sea snake (the most venomous snake in the world) that was almost as thick as a coke litter bottle. The fish were as huge as a VW beetle.

"That's it," they both say. They're smiling and happy I recalled it for them.

"That's my favorite dive spot. I did it twice. I was in my early twenties then," I say.

"Oh, we did it too! It was great! The fish were just huge," the wife says.

I think what's the odds I met someone who dove perhaps the greatest shipwreck in the world. They told me about other shipwrecks they did, but they still loved the Yongala the most.

I said, "The problem with me is that I dove all these great sites when I was younger. I was doing my field work in Australia then. Now, everything isn't as great as the places I started in.

"Anyways, do you like coffee?"

The wife says, "Of course, but we gave away our good coffee in Cusco. It's the end of our trip."

"Not to worry," I say. "I'll brew you some tomorrow."

We chat until we're tired and ready to go to bed. Then, I say in French: "Good night." And hug them.

Grandmother watched our conversation. Even though she doesn't know English - it appears like she got the gist of what we were talking about.

* * *

The next morning, I wake up late, which is usual. I can't find the French couple. I go to the kitchen and brew some coffee.

They find me in the kitchen. The lady says, "We tried to find you. But the hotel owner said you were still sleeping."

"I sleep a lot," I say. "It's what keeps me looking so young."

They laugh. I laugh too. "What about coffee?"

"Oh, we already drank coffee."

They gave me breads, and she says, "We got this for you. It's very good bread."

My heart warms up, and I say, "Thank you very much. You didn't have to do that. Let's have a seat at the lounge. I'll pour you some more coffee. There's never enough."

I take three cups and the coffee pot. We walk to the dining area. I pour all of us a cup of coffee.

The husband tells me more about his life. The wife marks up my guidebook and tells me where to go in Peru. She writes down her contact information and tells me that if they're in, to visit them in the South of France.

I said, "I will. What are you going to to today?"

They tell me they're going to the Tomb museum after all.

We talk more, but after awhile though, it was time to say good bye.

I tell them in French, "Until we see each other again."

The wife says, "Oh, you speak some French."

I tell her, "Just a little. Some French tourists liked me on the Galapagos and started teaching me French."

She smiles.

We kiss and hug and say good bye.

* * *

One day, the owner of the hotel gives me a ride to the two neighboring villages. It was there, I wanted to get to the bottom of it.

I ask him, "How did Isabel lose her land?"

"The mafia took it."

"But how? I didn't understand her."

"They falsified papers and claimed it was really their land."

"Why didn't she get a lawyer?"

"Because the courts are controlled by the mafia. You need to watch the movie on Pablo Escobar to understand how it all works."

That's when I finally got to the bottom of Grandma's story. 

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."


"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?"


"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."


"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.