Sunday, October 29, 2017

Learning to Surf in Peru

My first surf lesson was awful; it really was. I instantly knew it was going to be bad when I met my instructor - who also has a reputation for being a creep in town. I stood up on the board, but the problem was I didn't feel like I learned anything or had control in the water.

But one day at the hostel, I met a girl from San Diego, California named Jennifer. She surfed all the time. She told me that she taught the little girls to surf here. 

I asked her to teach me. I told her the bad experience I had. She felt bad for me. 

She said, "Surfing is one of those things that should be taught for free. We're going to go out. I want you to enjoy the water." 

She added later, "Don't worry. I have a one hundred percent standing rate." 

On a sunny afternoon day, we walked to the beach together. Even though she was the girl, she insisted on carrying my board, because she was the teacher. She didn't bring a board. 

On the beach, we stretched. It was like doing yoga on the beach, though I've never done yoga. The people on the malecon were watching us from above. It looked like they never saw a girl teach a guy how to surf.

In this town, the surf guys have an association that is a monopoly. You can't make money off of surfing or renting surf gear without their permission. We call them the "surf mafia." But, because surfing is such a macho sport here, the men teach it, run it, and own it, no one sees a woman surf instructor teaching a guy.

So back to yoga stretches. The women watching us seemed like they wanted to join us and do yoga on the beach. We did a lot of squats and stretched our legs out a lot. I felt like we were like zen masters on the beach.

Then Jenn drew a surfboard on the sand, an imaginary surfboard. We practiced what she called "Ninja hops" onto the board. After a few jumps, she said I had it down. The people were still watching us from above.

We paddled into the water. Jenn swam next to me like a seal, shouting commands about where I should place my body. 

Every time a wave came, she would say, "Push up!" My board and body would brace the wave without being pushed back so hard. She was attentive.

Whenever I made a mistake, she would say things like, "Remember to push up." "Paddle." "Feet together."

After getting some of the basics, Jenn pushed me into a wave. I stood up, but it was only a half stand.

After paddling back out there, Jenn pushed me into a second wave. I popped up like a ninja. I stood up on the board. It was awesome.

Jenn wanted me to do another one. I told her, "Let's end on a good memory, so I want to go back out." 

While walking back, I told her, "I felt pressure. I didn't want to ruin your one hundred percent stand rate."

She gave me a high five and said, "But you did it. I felt pressure too. Everyone was watching me teach you."

We walked back. I was smiling when we got back. Jorge, the guy who runs the surf rental shop, saw me smiling. He asked, "Was she a good teacher?"

"Of course," I said.

Well, I told everyone in a hostel what a great time I had and how Jenn was a fantastic teacher. She really was.

* * *
Next week, Jenn was going to take me out again. People wanted to join us. So, this time, a number of us all went out together to surf in a Peruvian beach underneath the sunset sky. The sky was washed in colors of pink and orange.

It was fun to go out in a big group. 

When Jenn did the yoga lessons for the whole group, she drew a crowd - who all wanted to know what was going on. The girls say they didn't enjoy the attention. I don't believe it.

Jenn was like a little seal again, paddling around the beginners and shouting instructors. We had more advanced surfers too - who were also able to give attention.

On this round, I stood up twice on the board. The people saw. We all had a good time.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Learning to Surf

With the lifting winter, the sun beams down warmth and happiness on us, and during these days, I met a surfer girl who teaches children how to surf. I asked her if she'll teach me. She said she would. But in exchange, I need to teach her French cooking. She tells me - "You know, surfing is one of those things that one should teach for free."

A French girl and an Australian girl is coming out with me today. So, I'm going to learn to surf today. Hope everyone is doing well. (I was going to write on corruption today, but the day is too beautiful to discuss such topics.)

Friday, October 20, 2017

With Argentinian Gypsies in a Village by the Beach

Me, with gypsies
Like a lost cat, I wandered into a Peruvian, beach surf town. It kind of reminded me of the scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when the children enter a new and different world - a world so different than the one they knew.

After washing up on shore of this little beach town, I fell in with a group of young gypsies - who work for housing. I followed along and started volunteering too.

My bosses appreciated the work I did, and started paying me with food, which included freshly baked bread; soy lattes, which quickly became called "love lattes"; curries; and homemade peanut butter. I laugh often to think that I get paid with food, but I guess it's nice to get paid in a currency of compassion.

Because meat is more expensive, and we have some vegetarian gypsies in the group, I began learning a number of vegan and vegetarian recipes. Generally, we eat and drink together every evening, but we have challenges to cook, because the gas range isn't strong.

Already, I've made a Korean noodle stew and ratatouille with noodles and quail eggs. The last meal, I could feel was par excellence, and I told the gypsies, I learned from the Italians, that the food has to be cooked from the heart. Everyone could tell that dish was cooked from my heart.

I don't know where I'll be going next. Only the winds know. But I'm glad that winter is beginning to vanish in Peru.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What would you do, if you had a year to live?

An hourglass
Recently, I've been thinking about what I'd do, if I only had a year to live. I listened to a TED talk about how a guy redesigned his entire company by asking this question. The result was that he lifted almost all the policy rules that were promulgated, and his company still functioned. For me, this is a good question to ask, especially, because I'm also on a sabbatical - which is supposed to be a year long. So, it makes me wonder also how I should be spending my time on sabbatical.

I think any reasonable person would say that if they had a year left, they would spend more time with family and friends. I'd also like to add that I'd like to spend more time with my pets too.

So regarding my answer, that was at the top of things to do. But then, I thought, "One year - your friends and family have to work. So - although you might want to spend all your time with them, they have to go to work. What would you do during the time their away?"

Immediately, a number of things came to mind about what I would not focus on. I wouldn't care about a number of things that other people tell me are important for life, including making more money, defining a career path, and other stuff like that. And while I'm focusing on learning languages here, that would probably go too. (But on my sabbatical, it'll still be a focus.)

I think I'd focus on two things. The first one would be living a life that one could point to as being beautiful, courageous, and generous. The second would be to write more; I'd like to record the few lessons I learned - probably as a fictional novel. I'm sure these two points are interrelated.

In any event, I believe I need to spend more time thinking about this question.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Hot Pools of El Eden

Shot from the hot pools of El Eden at sunset.
There's a beautiful hot pool spot hidden in the mountains near Huamachuco called El Eden. Generally, it's only known to the locals; so, the location doesn't appear in guidebooks. I only found out through the receptionist at my hotel.

The pools are actually carved into the mountains, and streams of hot water cascade into these pools and then flow out of them to the bottom of the river of the canyon. I stayed one day, but loved it so much I rented a room there for 25 soles ($8 USD) a night for two extra nights. (The only problem there is that you're in the middle of nowhere, except they do have electricity, but no internet.)

Me in the hot pools of El Eden
Over the last few weeks, I've definitely
developed a relationship with the hot pools of the Andes. And I can say that the soreness in my legs from hiking to the ruins of Marcahuamachuco (Read about it here: Ruins of Marcahuamachuco) disappeared. Also, the soreness in my shoulders relieved when I was in the hot pools of Yuanguat.

It's really got me thinking how these hot, mineral waters work. For ages, ancient people have known that special hot pools cure sickness. There are even two instances, I know of, in Scripture - where bathing in water relieved people's sickness.

In the Old Testament, there once was a Syrian general named Naaman, who was plagued with leprosy - a horrible disease of the skin. Elisha wouldn't even come out to meet the general, but through his servant - Elisha told Naaman he had to bathe in the Jordan River seven times to be cleansed and purified.

At first, the General thought the directions nutty and wanted to leave. But Naaman's servant convinced him otherwise, and he bathed seven times, and his skin was as pure and smooth as a baby's. (I wonder how much of a reward that servant later received.) So happy was the general, he wanted to give the prophet a mountain of wealth - which Elisha refused. Instead, Elisha's servant took it and became diseased. (Some say Elisha's servant was the first of the albinos.)

In the second instance, in the New Testament, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus heals a blind man, by sending him to wash off the mud he put in the blind man's eyes at the Pools of Silom - which were allegedly outside of Jerusalem. I don't think it's a coincidence that like Elisha - Jesus has to heal in a similar manner as one of the ancient prophets. After the blind man washed off the mud, he could see again.

I've been thinking about these stories a lot and haven't really come to any hard conclusions. Except - I think both of the stories say that healing requires humility and faith, and perhaps the two are related.

In the case of Naaman, the general must have been irritated that the prophet didn't even greet him or his entourage when he visited with wealth. Naaman even brought a letter from the Syrian King to let the Hebrew people know how important this was to the Syrian nation.

And even then, Naaman doesn't want to bathe in the Jordan River because he says that the water is inferior to his. And when he bathes, he has to do it seven times. We don't know if his skin got better each time, or if everything cleared up after the whole process. I'm sure, after bathing the first few times though, he was grumbling to himself how silly the process was.

And regarding the blind man, John tells us this guy was blind all his life. Imagine fearing how people would laugh at you, after you washed yourself and you still were blind after it. I'm sure that fear lingered in him, while going through the cleansing process.

Besides humility, both stories also stress faith. And I'm not talking necessarily about a blind kind of faith. Both of the afflicted believed that they could be healed. They didn't give up. (Perhaps in doing so, they implicitly believed in a God and a good God, who had a solution for them.) Even though there was no known solution for their illness, they believed that one existed. Otherwise, both of them wouldn't have tried.

Finally, both Elisha and Jesus stress that one needs to bathe in a specific region. In other words, there's something special in the water that these two bathed in.

Regarding the hot pools I found, after battles, the Incan warriors also bathed in the pools because they knew it healed wounds. So, I'm confused as to how and why these pools work.

(Just an interesting FYI, according to DC Comics, even Batman's villan - Ra's al Ghul (Arabaic for Demon's Head) finds some ancient and special pools that keep him eternally young.)

It's a mystery to me how these waters heal. I'll have to think more, though, about how faith and humility gives one purity (evidenced by Naaman's skin) and vision (evidenced by the blind man's restored sight). And does purity lead to insight? 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Ruins of Marcahuamachuco

At 3,600 meters, which is 60% of Everest Base Camp, I was walking through ancient ruins, part of which was a stone fortress that was at least 1,500 years old. But being at that height, I was having difficulty breathing. Also, I had just finished walking 11 miles (16 km), and I was really tired and thirsty and had no water left. The scorching heat of the sun burnt my cheeks a cherry red, and I felt miserable at the top of those ruins.

From Cajamarca, the largest City in the Northern Andes of Peru, I made my way to a small town called Huamachuco. The French couple I met marked it on my map, and told me to visit the ruins of there. (Huamachuco had really good fried chicken, and I had my own room with internet and hot water there for only 20 soles, which is $6 USD).

A motorcyclist helps me a mile. I'm look
happier, because I'm just starting.
On the day I went to the ruins, I slept in; also, there weren't many tourists. Thus, I had to walk to the ruins, which was 10 km to the base of the mountain and then another 11 km all the way up. It was hot. I didn't bring enough water. It reminded me of the time I almost died in a Turkish desert, in the summer of 2014, right after the Director of Recreation fired Julian, who worked for him for 21 years. Almost Dying (Again) in Turkey. Except, this time, I just could feel my extreme need for water. When I was dying, my mind was really starting to play mind tricks on me for water. (Not fun.)

I arrived at the ruins around 05:00PM. I was tired. The ruins were at the top of the crest. It's built on a plain, and it's really windy up there. Scholars guess the functions of the ruins was either a place to see an oracle - someone who could see into the future. Others, guess it was a fortress. The ruins looked like this to me.

I wished I was with friends. Since it's not so popular, I reckon we could've camped inside the ruins. And that
would be a good story to have. 

At the top of the crest, 3,600 meters. You can see
the village of Huamachuco below.
Even though I was tired, the entire ruins seems to have encompassed probably a 4 mile walk. I did it. And I was more tired, after and more thirsty. 

But the ruins were vast and enormous and open and intact. It was amazing to see, which I couldn't say about the tourist trap of Kuelap. Seeing Kuelap with Tobi

I finally found a security guard before I left at sunset. He let me fill up my bottle. I drank a lot. Filled up more. Drank more. Filled up more. The whole ordeal made me wonder how camels do it. 

The guard told me there was no more rides back into town, but he showed me a foot trail that was a shortcut. It was much easier to go down, of course than up. 

At 3,600 meters again. 
Then at a cross road, three miles away from town, I hitched a ride back with a pickup truck. I sat at the back of the bed, and I could give my legs a rest. 

 I thanked my driver. That night, I ate a nice fried chicken with some red wine. I told the locals that I was getting to know - "I saw Marcahuamachuco."

Me reaching the ruins,
looking unhappy without water.
Ruins of Marcahumachuco

I'm very dehydrated and unhappy. 
My ride back down that I hitched. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

On Being Forgiven: On Yom Kippur

Close to sundown, on the closing day of Yom Kippur, I was hungry and just wanted to eat Peruvian rice and seafood. I could hear my stomach rumbling, and I wasn't keeping busy. So, I was reminded about my hunger. This year, on the Great Day of Atonement, I didn't eat or drink from sunset to sunset. In doing so, I did have an insight into my life. Although I wasn't born Jewish, this is the second time I practiced Yom Kippur. 

I tried it three years ago and almost fainted, and because of how much I hated the physical pain of fasting, especially without water, I skipped it last year.

That was a mistake, and a big one at that. It was a mistake, because I remembered that my first practice of Yom Kippur helped me focus for the year and have a greater level of consciousness for going forward into time. This year, after practicing Yom Kippur, I had the insight: I need to be kinder to my brother.

I didn't grew up with practicing Yom Kippur. In fact, a number of my atheist Jewish friends made fun of me for practicing it the first time. Yom Kippur requires that the observant, amongst other practices, not eat or drink for about 25 hours.

Why put yourself through a kind of self-restraint or pain? Yom Kippur is considered the holiest of the Jewish holidays, because the observant asks God, and all those he or she hurt, for forgiveness. It's not an accident it falls near the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. What better way to start the New Year with a clean slate regarding all your relationships?

The fasting serves at least two purposes, maybe even three. First, the constant hunger and thirst is a reminder to focus on your meditation time, generally the things you've done wrong in the year. Second, the denial of the body's craving (which in Christian theology is the origin of harming others), reminded me I'm not just body and flesh. As Jesus said, "Man shall not live on bread alone." What it means is that, as humans, we're more than just animals; we're spiritual beings that have to be learn how to overcome the cravings of the flesh. Third, in the Western World, it teaches one to say no to the excesses of the world. We're surrounded by food and pleasure, but one must learn to say no to such excesses, which in the end can cause the consumer to be harmed and blinded.

During that time, there was a lot to review in my head - a world in rewind. My own spiritual cleansing reminded me of one of my favorite poems by George Herbert, the Temple. Take a second to read it. It's beautiful.

Prayer the Churches banquet, Angels age,
Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth . . .

Church-bels beyond the starres heard, the souls bloud,
The land of spices; something understood.

(To tell you a little bit about this poem, Herbert argues that all these beautiful metaphors is what prayer is like - a kind of connection to God. I always found it beautiful that Herbert states that our prayer - our request to God - sounds like church bells and can be heard beyond all the stars of the galaxy. A beautiful thought.)

Back to my own reflections. Two major themes revisited me during this time of reflection: The meaning of family and justice. I didn't arrive at too many conclusions. But my oldest uncle on my father's side died a few days before Yom Kippur. I wasn't that close to him; I only met him once in my life. But it reminded me, how short the time is amongst each other. I only have one brother. He's younger, and I realized I need to be kinder to him, going forward.

When the sun finally set on the Day of Atonement, I thanked God for a number of things, I broke my fast with a rather untraditional meal: ceviche (raw fish cooked in lime juice), paella (rice with seafood), deep fried fish, and red wine. I was reminded: "[T]he old has gone, the new has come." (2 Cor. 5:17 GNT).