Archive for the ‘Travel Log’ Category

Lady of the Flies.

A lone mosquito has found it’s way through a small hole in the floor of my van and keeps buzzing in my ear. It’s still cool enough from the summer desert night for the windows to stay closed. I expect this state to last less than an hour without insulation. My permanent insulation will not arrive back home until this trip is over…back orders and timing. I’m not putting my temporary insulation, currently a supremely fancy anti-reflective tarp, up this morning because I’m driving off this mountain after I type this. Well, after I get dressed. And have some coffee. And take down the shower where I’ve hung my laundry. And decide where to go. So, in a few hours. I’m supremely slow these days.

Drella at Fly Mountain

I haven’t written a travel blog for awhile. Hello. I’m traveling west to grieve…well, a lot of things. The state of the world, what cancer took from me, some other stuff. Thanks to my friend Dustwig, I’ve got a big circuitous route in Google Maps of places that sound remotely interesting that I might want to go see. So, I can just keep following it when I’m undecided. Remove stuff when I’m ready to decide. And, change course as needed. Also, I’m going slow as hell, so no promises. On anything. This is for me.

Except, I promise. I’m driving off Fly Mountain (no, that’s not it’s actual name) today. For some reason, every type of massive biting, buzzing, weirdly shaped and sized fly has swarmed this mountain. And thanks to my hike yesterday, I have proof that something in my meds or my pheromones (maybe flies like anti-estrogen), attracts them more than honey, trash or feces. I know. I’ve seen honey, trash and feces. They like me more. I’ve showered twice in two days. Didn’t help. Last night, I contemplated whether I had entered Hades, if perhaps everything here was actually dead. Perhaps, I had died and these flies were actually feasting on my corpse. It’s not the first manifestation of strange insect behavior on this trip either. My friend’s house is ridden with an abnormal amount of mosquitos, even for the woods. At a rest stop in Pecos, TX, bees found a tiny hole in the back of my van and began flying in one by one with no clear direction, except to be in my hot van. With me. What does it mean spiritually when insects start swarming you? Are drawn to you. Am I dying? Is my soul dying? The latter makes sense. Butterflies are said to be attracted to light souls, right? So these trash and blood seeking insects seeking my soul in its current state doesn’t seem like such a stretch.

Only 27,346?? Sus.

This trip to Fly Mountain, okay, Guadalupe Mountain (which is lovely underneath the layer of flies), is the beginning of a pilgrimage like many other in my life. With the ultimate purpose maybe of keeping the darkness at bay. That’s why people go on vacation after all, right? I think? I don’t really know why neurotypical people do things. But I think it’s a stopgap to the boring, the drudgery, the parts of life that one hates, to do something they love? What I know is that I generally require month(s)-long retreats from my life for perspective. I think this “perspective” is to keep my own version of darkness at bay, the ennui, the purposelessness – to reposition towards my nontraditional path and not get sucked into other people’s goals and plans for me. But this time, the darkness feels different.

In the past, much of the darkness has felt more self-directed. Self-harm, self-esteem issues, addiction-spiraling, etc. Never before has a trip felt so intensely like a stopgap to keep the dark side of my personality from taking hold. Sure, all of my life I’ve danced on the edge of the seductive muse/femme fatale archetype. I’ve not really the body for that anymore, nor the estrogen…thanks cancer. I don’t even have the brain type for that without estrogen, interestingly enough. Perhaps I’ll explain that later. Whatever archetype I am now though, I’ve never felt this type of darkness towards the rest of humanity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not over here with a shotgun, or anything. I’m talking about a darkness that shows up in loss. A loss of hope for my fellow humans after our collective experiences in 2020, a loss of trust: the feeling of being left battered and abandoned by the medical system in my own personal battleground of the last year and a half, and feeling like I’m constantly on the losing end as a parent while my own dreams are put on pause. Leaving me at a starting place of disappointment, disinterest, distrust, and dislike with other humans. This is not my normal. Whatever has always been wrong with me, of all of the multiple battles that I have survived, I have maintained hope for most of y’all. Right now, not so much.

I do not like where this puts me as a human being in the world. Obviously, it doesn’t feel good for me. And it doesn’t make me a good parent. I expend a tremendous amount of energy daily to fight against these feelings everyday with my step-teens, to be the best for them. The medical system doesn’t really get that grace, nor has it mostly shown it to me, but at the end of the day I also fear that if I’m disliked at the doctor’s office, it will subconsciously affect the quality of my care. P.S. Doctors, if you care for your patients, I challenge you, get involved with the systems you work with. Analyze how simple it is for your patients to navigate them. Call anonymously and try to make an appointment as a new patient. Talk to billing with an issue. See what happens. Humans in general, stop doing the bare minimum. Someone is picking up your slack. It really sucks. Think about others. For at least an hour a day. Preferably longer.

This is my disappointment face.

Phew. So that’s where we’re starting. Yesterday, I went for a hike. A lot of starting a road trip in a van that you’re building out while you’re road-tripping, is hard. It’s a learning process. It takes time. It takes a lot of testing things out. And things not working. Then, making something else. And testing it again. It invariably takes lots of unsexy time to stop and park (and probably sleep) in a Walmart parking lot and discreetly use power tools inside your van instead of continuing your trek to the next destination…then falling asleep mid-project on your twin mattress next to your drill because you really just have a foam mattress on the floor and all of your stuff in “organized” boxes and bags on the floor next to you at this point, so there’s not much room between the drill’s “spot” and your mattress. And it’s hot. And you’re tired. Well, I anticipate that’s today’s itinerary. Yesterday, I went for a much more sexy 4 hour hike to the Devil’s Hall. We’ve already established this mountain is actually in Hell right? Remember the flies? Remember the whole testing things we mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph?

The glamorous life.

Well, yesterday, I went back to my van no less than 7 times after setting out towards the trailhead because I forgot things that I should probably have for my trek, just in case. Among these things? Sunglasses, knife, bug spray, a mini packet of sunscreen to reapply (which I didn’t do), zip ties in case my repaired goodwill boots weren’t up to the task, a compass, electrolyte packets…there was more. Losing estrogen causes cognitive deficits. This doesn’t just mean forgetfulness. For me, it means aphasia, but also most relevant to this discussion, suddenly having ADD. I’ve never had ADD. It’s strange. Besides the multiple trips back, the preparedness is nothing new. I’m often mocked for it. However, let me tell you. When the anticipated disaster strikes, everyone is awful glad that I was prepared. Not that I get thanked for it really. Cuz, it’s just assumed that I’ll be prepared. Buuut, that’s a whole ‘nother topic.

In this case, I’m the one grateful for being prepared. Because the whole damn sole of my boot fell off. Then the other one did. Seriously. Not just one. Both soles. Of both boots. Because I’ve pissed off a god. It’s the god of the flies. Whoever knows which god that is, please let me know. It started with 3/4 of the right sole peeling straight off toe first when I was about a quarter of the way back home. Two zip ties and a couple of kind strangers handy with a knife got me another quarter of a mile, plus some guardians for the rest of the trip. The toe zip tie had to be replaced about ten minutes later. Then, the heel of the left boot gave way with a little over a quarter of the way back left. I’d actually glued the right heel before I left. The only part of the boots that didn’t fail, coincidentally. Another zip tie. 10 minutes later, we stopped and preemptively zip tied the left toe as well. By the time I made it back to my camp, the soles of my boots were barely hanging on by zip ties and the kindness of strangers alone. Much like my soul. Well, a propituous start to a journey indeed.

Zip ties. For President.

So, the boots failed. Not all humans are trash. Drella is a boss. It’s hot. I’m tired. I move very slowly. And I still don’t know where I’m going or why. Or where I’m sleeping tonight. Until next time.

Devil’s Hall.

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I’m not sure why this photo seems to have a bluish tinge to it.  It was taken on my archaic nokia cell phone in 2010 when at the very end of 2 months in Peru, my digital camera just stopped working.  That’s right, right in time for Machu Picchu.  But I snapped some photos with the cell and honestly probably wouldn’t have posted or thought much of this one if it wasn’t for this photo challenge.  But now I’m seriously wondering…why is it tinged blue?  It has undergone absolutely no editing.


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Together-Weekly Photo Challenge

To me, this photo shot at a strip mall in North Carolina of all places, while I was on tour with Piccadilly Circus and the Espanas, represents this week’s The Daily Post weekly photo theme of ‘together.’  No circus performer can make it without working together.  We are sometimes literally the legs each other stands on.

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I am writing now from the crisp fall mountain air of Cuzco.  It is 11,200 feet where we are according to one of my fellow circus folk.  I´m not sure if that´s exactly right or not, especially since the next statement out of their mouth was that is either twice or four times the height of Denver, our own mile-high city.  Not exactly scientific, but this is what happens when people are not connected to the magic Blackberry-Iphone boxes at their hip to fact check their conversations as if we were writing term papers.  This is how legends are born.  And maybe I´d rather live in the legend…afterall it doesn´t really matter to me whether I´m twice or four times as high as Denver.  It matters to me that there is a rationale for why I start panting mid conversation because I can´t get enough oxygen.

The cool air was a welcome respite though from the 20 hour bus ride from Chincha.  15 hours of that time is on tight cross-winding mountain roads which make one feel exactly as if they are lost at sea in a dinghy riding out a tumultuous storm mid-ocean.  Our first clue should have come when they handed out plastic barf bags immediately after dinner.  Nice really, that they give you something to fill your stomach, so you´ll have something to expel later.   Unfortunately, I was sitting behind (though luckily across the aisle from) a 72-year-old man who was quite ill and having diarrhea every hour or so in his seat.  His daughter had to change him something like 14 times and at one point, his pee actually showered down through the seat crack onto my friends Calypso and Tom´s feet!  Yikes.  This and the inevitable barfing made the trip a bit of a challenge. 

Despite this, I feel we survived our first long bus trip together with dignity, peace, grace and a surprising amount of positivity.  I mean we weren´t singing in the aisles or anything, but at about hour seventeen, there was the most beautiful sunrise at the top of our mountain and it was literally like we were sitting in the clouds watching it.

Today we moved to a shared house again after having a little bit of a break in hostels with less roommates.  Our house is at the top of a ridge of Cuzco in a neighborhood called Tambillo.  Our portion is smaller, quaint is the euphemism.  But despite being four to a room, people crashing in the living room and my room being quite damp and mildewing and needing airing everyday, the space that we are staying is gorgeous.  There is a large garden between our quarters and the main house and we are literally across the street from the Incan Templo de la Luna (Temple of the Moon).   This is a beautiful rock formation with an Incan trail leading down to Cuzco proper and hills and mountains behind that lead to smaller, newly discovered ruins.  The house is also home to local ceremonies with the San Pedro cactus, which are an ancient form of native healing for everything from emotional, to psychological, to physical ailments.  The best part of our space is having our own kitchen!  I was nervous about doing group meals, but I´ve cooked a fair amount of them myself and we have some pretty good chef talent in our group it turns out, so food has been a happy thing here.   This is a nice respite after so many of us got sick in Chincha adjusting to bugs in the water or food.

Speaking of Chincha, I´d like to record a few things of that experience.  We were fortunate enough to have the perfect culmination of a slightly difficult three weeks there.  Much of our time there was crowded, dusty,  filled with daily rehearsals (and their attending frustrations and conflicts of course) outside in the dirt and heat, workshops with Mayten´s amazing kids worked into the schedule and some pretty intensely emotional shelter experiences.

Don´t get me wrong, it was also a time for caring for each other (I had to have a doctor called to the house to give me antibiotic shots in my buttocks two days in a row…he didn´t charge me a centavo.)  It was also a time for us to share some of our personal tragedies and victimizations with the girls at the shelters that had been assaulted and raped.  As trying and emotionally draining as this was for me personally, there was suddenly a beautiful strength that connected us as women (and supportive men) across cultures…sharing our pain, but also our examples of hope for healing. 

We actually finished our show and performed it three times before leaving.  Our first performance was for the neighborhood of Mina de Oro where we were staying, and for Mayten´s kids with whom playing with became such a beautiful part of our everyday and every evening lives.  We performed in the restored soccer field in the neighborhood where we´d been rehearsing everyday surrounded still by the ruins of the ´07 quake.  It was amazing to hear our small friends and Mayten screaming out our names as we came out for each scene. 

Our second show was the next day at Camino de Soledad, the shelter where the above sharing occurred.  The 40 or so young girls here are mothers because of incest and abuse.  We sat and shared and talked to each other, pealing off our western layers to reveal our own imperfections, pains and fears.  Then we put on our makeup and our costumes and our joy and shared so fully the light that still exists within for our new friends.  Then we lit our torches and our staffs, our fans and our fire-fingers and danced first with fire and then without into the night with girls that are sometimes still afraid of the dark.  We shook their shelter with laughter and love.  It will remain one of my favorite experiences here in Peru.

Our third show happened after a day off spent saying goodbye to the beach and resting.  It was at a larger shelter where we didn´t have much of a chance to connect with the girls and perhaps because I was feeling run down and a little sick that day, felt a little flat and empty and difficult for that reason.  It is sometimes difficult for me to remember that even if we´re just connecting for a small amount of time, the results of that connection for myself and the ones that I´m connecting with  may not be apparent immediately and not to be so attached to the results, just to share the experience.  A relatively tough preteen girl did come in and paint my face in makeup while I was resting that day.   While other kids were getting their faces painted, she chose to come in and do mine. 

There are reasons to be glad to leave Chincha, Cuzco is beautiful with the prospect of less illness, but there is an incredible amount to miss as well.  I will always remember Mayten singing to me through her bronchitis when I was laying ill on a mat in her front room and the special conversation that we had that day after holding each others´ hands through our rounds of shots.  I miss Paloma terribly and wish her all the bueno suerte she can have.  The heat and the beaches, the taste of fried chicken and ice cream from the street once I´d taken enough Cipro to start eating again.  These things remind me of Chincha.

And now a month in and a month to go in Peru, my place in things comes clearer, as do my plans for after the tour.  I continue to work on living simple, giving to the group, giving to the communities here.  I have become a fire spinner, playing with the staff, fans, fingers and choreographing a few pieces with friends for the show.  I do a short dance and then aerial piece in the show on a pipe suspended between two peoples´ shoulders.  As Ryan says, ¨a daring three feet off the ground, with no safety net, the amazing E-Nina.¨ But it is kind of cool.  A sampling of aerial.   And I am formulating a plan.  I don´t want to live full-time in NYC any longer.  3 months at a time, working during busy season and subletting out my apt the rest of the time seems reasonable, doable and preferable as a lifestyle for a while.  I´d like to travel and train and perform both for festivals and more established venues, but also for people who don´t get as much opportunity to see theater and art.  I´d like to work more with children somehow.  I´m not sure how it will all take shape, but I can sense that it’s coming together and I´m excited to be a vagabond for a little while (finally).

For right now, I am loving living in the clouds of Cuzco at the top of a mountain.  I love that when I walk out my door, there are still traditional women and children herding their sheep through the fields in full traditional dress and in a fully traditional manner.  That unlike their sisters dressed and posing for tips in the city below, they are simply living their lives, taking little notice of me as I walk past.  I look forward to more fully exploring the ruins surrounding our casita.

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For me Chincha is best represented by a little girl named Paloma.  I believe she is about four years old.  The first day that I met Paloma, she came crawling up to me on all fours meowing and then declared, ¨Soy una gatita!¨ with the biggest smile you´ve ever seen, as if I might need clarification that she was the cutest ¨little cat¨ there ever was.

Coming on this trip, I had some fears and reservations about what I would be able to provide to the chidren that we would meet.  I didn´t have my trapeze with me, nor the places to rig anything if I did…I didn´t know anyone I´d be working with from Dreamtime to prepare ahead of time for being in a show or planning a workshop.  And I feared that I wouldn´t have enough to offer, or that I wouldn´t fit in. 

Paloma changed all of that for me in the first two seconds of meeting her.  Immediately, she seemed to decide that I was worthy of her amazing friendship.  Whenever I was in sight from the door of Mayten´s house, her little voice yelling, ¨Nina!¨ and calling me out to play rang through the house.  She would make up games that we should play and insist that they be played, even horse rides (piggy backs) when my back was sore.  She listened calmly from her perch on my back one evening as Mayten explained that she should be careful with me because I had injured my back, and after sharing her prescription for what native ointments I should rub on it to heal, solemly agreed to be very, very careful with me before kicking into my sides and yelling ¨Vamos!¨ with such glee, I didn´t really have the heart not to play along.  I could always ice it later after all.

It´s hard to explain the appeal of Paloma without meeting her.  If you look through the group´s photo complilation of the time in Chincha, you´ll see an abundance of her dimples and sparkling eyes laughing from her heart shaped face.  A glow about her that defies the difficulties that she´s faced in her very few years of life. 
When I don´t understand her Spanish, she is completely unfazed and calmly and slowly and quite precociously explains it all to me another way entirely.  She may be the best Spanish teacher I´ve ever had. 

I had a dream about Paloma before leaving Chincha that I had adopted her and her older sister Cyamara.  I told it to Mayten and she said she felt the same way.  But that not to worry.  Paloma was a force to be reckoned with, a very strong little girl indeed and because of that, they´d both be just fine. 

Now, sitting in an internet cafe in Cuzco, what I have to remember Paloma is a drawing that she made of me, with pink pigtails and a shining sun (my character in the show) and on the back her and I both in pigtails, holding hands and smiling and standing on a heart the size of the paper.  When I think of Chincha, I will always think of Paloma´s laugh and the way she yelled my name with such joy.

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Peru-March 10

Ten days in Peru…what to say…where to start…

Time here seems to be blending and blurring together like the dreadlock-like formations growing in my bright  pink hair.  Just kidding, I don’t have dreadlocks, but yes, I dyed my hair pink for the trip.  It’s perfect and fun and bright and the kids are attracted to it like moths to flame.  But, what I didn’t know about pink hair dye is that it is fundamentally different than regular hair dyes.  It is like paint, constantly drying out my quite oily-slick straight hair, causing it to twist and curl in the heat like it’s never done with the hottest curling iron, making it difficult to really get it clean, it sheds pink rivulets in the shower that i find meandering slowly towards the drain as I exit.

Not that this is bad.  Actually, drying out my hair helps my aforementioned oily hair to go for longer between showers in an area where running water is an expensive luxury.  This is especially important as our hosts here in Chincha try to put all of the money and material luxuries that come their way towards the work that they do in their communities here and in Cusco.

Dad, you asked about the sociopolitical structure of the population here…I’ve been pondering that.  It’s a difficult matter to comment on after only 8 days in this community.  Especially considering that yesterday was the first day that I stepped outside our immediate neighborhood and interacted with anyone besides our group and the local kids.  But let me see if I can describe it.  Our neighborhood is called Mina de Oro, which I think means ‘Neighborhood of Gold’ in Chincha. 

Some of the kids that we’ve met have undergone severe sexual trauma and violence (often by their own families), others are still living in tents since the 2007 earthquake, but you’d never guess.  They are laughing, playing children that look out for each other, largely because of the work in healing and education that Mayten does with them.  Mayten is a deeply inspiring woman.  She is 100% committed to healing through education of anti-violence as well as instigating a cultural movement focused on recognising the values of every individual.  She is not a non-profit, just a woman who offers literally everything that she has towards these goals and to her community.  If you are interested in learning more about her work, or would like to assist in any way, please visit here.

It is interesting in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes of Haiti and Chile to be here in Chincha two years after a similarly devastating earthquake.  From what Mayten has told us, prior to the disaster, Chincha was a thriving city close to rivaling Cusco and Lima in wealth and infrastructure.  Now it looks like houses and tents pitched up around the ruins of some ancient civilization.  But these are not the Mayan ruins.  These are recent and only seem ancient and decayed.  The fear and mythologies still hold tight to the people.  They fear the ocean, and they fear another quake, another punishment. 

Yesterday I went into town to the Mercado (market) and the Home Depotesque Sodimac hardware store.  Main Chincha has some houses that are rebuilt fairly nicely as well as a couple of modern looking behemoths of buildings just now erupting out of the earth that sit at extreme disharmony with the majority of the crumbling disaster areas that have been propped up at the bottom, left distinctively unfinished at the upper levels but are still called houses.  There seems to be some mystery about whether this is from fear of another quake, due to lack of funds to rebuild, or because there is a tax break for houses that are in construction and building slowly seems an economically intelligent manuever.

Sodimac’s shining, organised aisles of brand new pipe, lumber and office sets as well as their very American concept of an ‘impulse buy’ section at the front counter is very different than an experience at the Mercado’s sprawling maze of fruit stands, shoe and fabric stalls and tiny avenues where you have to watch not to get hit by a taxi.  Sodimac seems to hint at an upper class that hides itself somewhere, but I personally haven’t really seen it.

Evening time brings a more local chance to meet Peruvians.  We take a walk through the crumbling brick ruins of walls and the tents that have become permanent and the plastic swimming pools from Sodimac that I suspect here are used as wash basins rather than recreation through Mina de Oro to a well hidden local gem.  A friend and ally in Mayten’s fight for peace and value, is Nelly.  Nelly is the third generation owner of a small, local and organic vineyard called Jazmin after the giant Jasmine flower plant that her great-grandfather had found planted there covering the land and which mysteriously died when he did leaving the soil to become the home of grapes instead of flowers.  And so, since 1918, Jazmin has been producing Peruvian wine. 

Nelly shared a sampling of every variety of wine that she was currently fermenting, siphoned from a narrow tube by Nelly herself straight from the barrel.  Peruvian wine is much sweeter than what I am used to (as is much of the food and drink in Peru), but delicious and unique.  We tried seco (dry), semiseco (semi-dry) and dulce (sweet) versions of the three grapes she harvests: borgone, quebranta and maravilla as well as a Peruvian special wine called canchina.  Drinking canchina is like drinking the richest, freshest, most succulent grape juice with just a hint of alcohol taste to warn you not to guzzle it, though I suspect it is much less strong as far as alcohols go.

We took the walk with three teenage boys that were trying to learn English and I think that yesterday was one of my favorite days.  It was wonderful to get out and have to use my Spanish as the translator to navigate the mercado and to practice with Andy and Richard at the vineyard and to get to meet and talk with Nelly and listen to her stories about the vineyard, getting a little more connected to the area and its people.

Unfortunately, I got sick early this morning with a traveller’s bug.  I am tired and drained and must run to the bathroom every ten to twenty minutes, though I am still able to work and rehearse with the group as long as I take breaks in the heat.  I am going to be using a pole balanced on two troupe members shoulders to perform trapeze on as the sun character! 

 Each day it seems one or a few of us of us seems to be struck down by traveller’s illnesses, mild injuries or new flare ups of old injuries, jet lag, sunburn, etc.  It is making putting our show together difficult, but is also nice that aside from the sunburn which even attacked our local hosts, we aren’t totally wiped out all at once.  This leaves some of us to run workshops for the kids, rehearse individual scenes, cook and clean and take care of the ill ones.  I feel blessed to be a part of a group that deeply respects each other and takes responsibility for themselves, each other and the world.  I feel wholly welcomed and safe here despite the dangerous neighborhood that lurks quietly outside at night.  There is an aura of protection and safety around this house and our group.  And don’t worry Mom and Dad, we’re too exhausted from rehearsing and the heat to go out at night anyways. 

More to come…including pics that take a bit long to upload in addition to typing…but here‘s some from mi amiga Sophia’s blog to look at til then!

Besos, Erinina

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Peru, March 4

I’m still adjusting and having some difficulty finding the words to express my experiences.  It still hasn’t hit me that I’m in a different country (limited resources, tropical fruit and no flushing of toilet paper and all).  I’m sure it will catch up to me soon.

It looks like I’ll either be playing a water or sun element in our show.  Either with flags for the water or this weird contraption called an OMGym that I might be able to rig up as aerial equipment some places.  I may end up directing some as well and will get the chance to spin fire for the first time at some point and play with all the other circusy skills as well (hoop, contact improv, poi, juggling, stilting, knife throwing, etc).   The show is about three strangers that get stuck on a bus (probably from a storm and maybe flooding, something that the people here can relate to) and are very different and self absorbed.  Through conflict and contact with nature (animal and element characters) they come to learn to work together and form strong community.

Late last night we arrived in Chincha, a town devasted by an earthquake two years ago that still hasn’t recovered.  Many people do not have roofs, running water or toilets.  We are staying at an independent project run from a woman named Mayten’s home.  She runs a school and play area for the kids in the neighborhood in her front room as well as being active with sexually assaulted women and children in the area.  Here if you are a child or woman that’s raped (most often by family), you are placed in a shelter which is essentially a prison to keep the traumatized victim away from the community.  Very sad.  Visiting there will probably be very intense, but good for us to be able to provide some light in their lives.  The house is very humble.  Five open rooms besides her’s that include the front room that’s sacred and dedicated to the children, the kitchen/eating area, bathroom, office and our room.  We’ve taken over the one foam mattress and five straw bunk beds and concrete floor space amongst the twelve of us rather remarkably.  Those with mattresses and sleep mats took the floor and the rest of us got to have beds.

You’ll be excited to know that for at least the next nine days, I will be an officially full on vegan eating communally in this house.  This is where we are putting together the show and our classes that we’re going to teach to kids.  Though, it sounds like there are a lot of outreach possibilities here, so we may end up staying here for longer.  It’s actually incredibly peaceful and nice to be here and as I get to know the group more, I am finding that I am not as different as I felt at first, though I think that my New Yorker shell still has some crumbling to do, and I can tell that some of that is going to be a little uncomfortable.  I cried today playing with the kids, feeling so awkward and bad at relating to them, but just part of some of that shedding I think.

Peru in this area and in Cusco at least is doing some interesting things with food it seems.  There is a strong movement in this part of Peru to ban genetically modified foods and pesticides, so our food is organic and local and mostly farmed according to Peruvian (Incan/Mayan) tradition.  The fruit is amazing and there are some different kinds that I’ve never seen before!  Really interesting!  Some of the organic farmers in the US have come here to learn their farming techniques.  It is very interesting being here and hearing about the culture from Mayten’s intense socio/political eye.

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Peru, March 2

I made it to Lima late last night and we all crashed in a hostel called Hotel Espana.  It is nice and has all of us in a big room with just us and no one else and opens up onto a big patio, which is nice.  And there are three big turtles, and a big and little parrot that stay with us.  The whole place is decorated like antiquated European clutter.  I swear there are three different replicas of the statue of David.  I´ve survived my first hostel shower (there was a tiny, tiny spider), walking in my improvised sandals and ordering food without wheat in Spanish (a burger without a bun for breakfast).  Lima is a big city but run down.  It looks a lot like a cross between Mexico and Europe.   There are all these beautiful buildings that unfortunately are abandoned and crumbling up top and just cheapy stores in the bottom.  Tomorrow we head to Chincha to officially meet all together and put finishing touches on the tour.  So far, so good…

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Bench in Al Centro

Bench in Al Centro

Thursday morning bloomed bright despite predictions of clouds and the wind and chill of the previous evening.  I have scheduled to go to La Gruta, the hot spring the following day because of this chilly prediction, so I hope that the weather will hold.  Thursday was my final day in San Miguel to buy souvenirs and see whatever I haven’t seen yet in town, so I headed to the Art and Design Center, La Fabrica.  I think that someone told me that La Fabrica used to hold La Carpa, which I’d been looking for as the big circus tent that held trapeze classes and performances.  It isn’t La Carpa now, and I can’t tell from the pictures I’ve found online if its the same or not, but what I understand in my limited Spanish skills is that La Carpa is no more either way.   La Fabrica was originally a fabric factory, and now sells fabric craft work in addition to the fine art, gallerias, antique shops and artists’ studios you can find inside.  And this little gem was across the street from me the whole time and I didn’t even know it!  Sometimes things just happen the way that they are meant to happen though, and it happens this time that open studios are on Thursday afternoons!  This means that despite the fact that I can’t possibly afford the pricey works of art by these varying degrees of up-and-coming, established and famous-and-not-so-retired artistas del mundo, I get to speak with a few of them and take their pictures for my Why Do You Do What You Do project.  This is perhaps more valuable to me as a soul searching artist anyways.  I talk to Manuel Chacón, James Harvey and Mario Oliva about their art, and photograph James and Mario.  I did not have time to photograph Manuel, but I did buy a piece of his jewelry, a beautiful metal work bracelet with the famous Mexican heart on it.

James Harvey, Why Do You Do What You Do?

James Harvey, Why Do You Do What You Do?

La Fabrica

La Fabrica

It was interesting to see all of their work, but truth be told, it is Mario who shocked, surprised  and gave me the greatest gift and the most unusual experience of my trip.  He was the last artist that I met, after looking at paintings, photographs, and artisan work all day (I even saw one of Diego Rivera’s paintings, a tiny little thing selling for only a few thousand dollars!).  Nearing my limit of stimulation for the day, I stumbled into a small studio housing four artists’ work.  There was a young man painting in the center of the room, but I wish not to disturb him, or really to be disturbed.  For in this room, I found my favorite artist to date, Mario Oliva of course.  His work is passionate and psychological, using muscular figures that tell tantalizing stories through paint and script; monochromatic, vivid, striking and all seeming to be about some distant story that I inately and deeply understand.  They are a bit dark, but beautiful.  How does one paint the beauty and the light inside of the dark and forlorn, you ask?  I don’t know, but he does it.  I was staring at a work with five panels that I later learned is the story of a man carrying stones on his back, and of his discovery of a flower, his decision and difficulty in carrying the bag of stones and the flower and his pondering of whether if he keeps the flower, it will become a stone, or if the stones will become flowers.  It is a metaphysical, pensive piece, no?  What do you think?  Anyways, after staring at this piece for five minutes or so, the painter in the room ventured to speak to me at last.

Of course, it was Mario.  Duh, you totally didn’t see that one coming, right?  He gave me a little spiel and I asked him if he’d participate in my photography project.  He agreed and left the room to find something to write his answer on.  And it was then I saw it, the painting that I will remember forever.  It is called La Piel Nueva.  It is a large canvas in yellow tones of two figures embracing.  In his style, they are muscular, and intense.  There is something about the way in which they embrace, that you feel that they are holding on for their lives.  From their chest down their skin is falling off, but looks stitched on, like they are desperately repairing and holding onto it (I mean, wouldn’t you?).  But from their chest up, the skin seems to have already shed and is growing healthy and vibrant.  Psychologically, I can understand this growing of new skin.  The painting itself is beautiful to me.  But, it was before I could register any of it, it was like the moment my eyes fell upon it, I found that I was crying.

This may not seem like such a big deal.  I mean, I cry at movies, moving moments in plays, when I’m really happy.  But, there was something different here, because when Mario re-entered the room, I couldn’t explain at all what I was crying about.  I actually didn’t know.  And despite whatever I can relate to in the painting, whatever logic there is and beauty there is, I still really don’t have any idea.  I wish desperately that I could buy this painting.  But I have no idea how much it costs, just that it is more than likely more than I can afford.  I have dreams that someday, I’ll make millions and find Mario again, and have that painting, but hopes and dreams will have to do for now.  Mario, however gave me another great gift, friendship.  He was the first person to ask me, seriously, and with challenge in his voice, why it is that I do what I do.  To turn the intimate and thought provoking question back.  And I had to admit that I don’t know right now.  Normally, I feel self assured on my path and when I describe who I am to strangers.  But he probed deeper, maybe because of a language barriers or maybe because I really hadn’t made my answers or descriptions clear.  Or maybe he just had a tendency to ask about the things that I was most vulnerable and confused about.  This too, like the chance to see his painting, was a gift to my soul searching heart.  He invited me out for later that night when he would be finished working and after spending a few hours writing, I headed out to meet his friends in an old cantina.

Mario Oliva, Why Do You Do What You Do?

Mario Oliva, Why Do You Do What You Do?

In Mexico, there are cantinas and there are bars.  You cannot enter a cantina as a woman.  It is a place for men, not that they wouldn’t love to be distracted by a beautiful woman, but maybe it is a place in which they can escape and not have to be distracted.  It is a place to relax, to fight, to joke without concern for what a woman would think or say, a place where they are not trying to impress them, console them, nor need they even try to ignore them.  That is how I imagine it anyways, as despite my plans to dress up as a boy and figure it out, even a girl as careless as I deem this adventure too dangerous after two different men tell me that they think it would be dangerous for them to enter a cantina!  After all, I make a pretty scrawny and effeminate looking boy and strong as I am, if a man decides to challenge me to a brawl, I’m probably not going to last long.  So, the converted cantina that is now a bar that Mario directed me to(where women and men can hang out together!) is the closest I’ll get.  It is actually not so different than any bar anywhere in the world.  There were glamourously cute bartenders, friends laughing and drinking, some getting a little too sauced, an older man drunk past his limit was loudly hitting on every woman to catch his eye, and an escape from the days discoveries and trials was acheived for everyone.  I was supposed to go to another bar, Casa Payo which turned out to be an Argentinian restaurant that another young man invited me to.  After I ran into him multiple times in the street though, I started to feel like I was being followed, and decided not go.  Frequently, I saw him with other young Americans, but strangely this did not reassure me.  He may have just been eager to meet young people from around the world, but traveling the world alone as a woman, I trust my feelings about people and I felt like there was either some scam to get my money, or to get in my pants and that wasn’t exactly the experience that I was looking for.  Oh, how I wish men could know what its like to be a woman for just one week.  Especially a blond woman traveling alone in Mexico.

The weather held the next day, and I journeyed to the address that Whitney had given me as her temporary home.  I met Jaime and Adam and their wonder dog and we drove out to La Gruta to spend the day at the hot springs!  Today is the only day that I really relaxed like a tourist and just soaked up the minerals from the hot springs, talked with my new friends, drank a margarita and ate some enchiladas just chillin in the sunshine.  Jaime, Adam, Whitney and I tried to plan a way for me to stay another week, as they were going to be house sitting in a mansion the following weekend, with a pool even (and supposedly we’re in a drought, how extravagant! yes, that’s sarcasm).  It sounded lovely, but here I must admit that at this point in the trip I have become a little annoyed with most of the wealthy (and yes, mostly white) people here.  As Angelica said, there are people that come and become a part of the community and contribute actively in that community, and then more and  more there are people who come, gate themselves in their own ‘new’ community and contribute to only things that improve their own lives sometimes to great detriment to the community that already exists.  These are the people that move to Mexico and live here for ten years and never learn Spanish.  And these are the same people who when they lived in America would have insisted that everyone who moved to America be required to learn English first.  Its not like Mexico is a difficult place to learn Spanish.  It may in fact be the easiest place to learn Spanish.  The culture is welcoming and the people in general openly welcome the opportunity to listen to you stumble through your basic high school or college lingual skills and correct you happily and encouragingly when your tenses are (always!) wrong.  I see signs of the global depression here too, as wealthy people lose their retirement savings in stock crashes or decide that having a second home is no longer a frugal way to live and must sell.  Even here, there are no buyers.  And I must admit that I hope that perhaps the prices will fall back down to an affordable rate for the native Mexicans to reclaim their town a little before it soars back up again.  But, as Mario and I seemed to agree, gentrification, colonialization, the transitioning of cultures in and out of neighborhoods, villages, countries, whatever you wish to call it, has always existed and will probably always exist.  At least this form does not so obviously rely on coming in and killing or enslaving everyone in a village in order to claim it.  Some would argue that the same effect is acheived and some would argue that in fact gentrification does more good for people than bad.  In all honesty, I’m not sure where I stand besides thinking that if you want to move to another culture, you should at least attempt to learn a little bit about that culture and its language.

After La Gruta, we relaxed at Jaime, Adam and Whitney’s home for awhile, sipped tequila and made plans for the evening, as well as continued to brainstorm ways that we could make outrageous amounts of money for me to be able stay in San Miguel another week.

Consuming tequila at home transitions into consuming tequila out and then consuming mezcal out and even consuming chocolate covered crickets out!  Yikes!  Now, I am as adventurous of a gastronome as the rest of New York, wheat handicaps aside, but this is where I draw the line.  The little buggers with too many legs paralyze me in fear along with their cockroach and spider brothers (yes, I know they’re not really related scientifically speaking).  You really think covering them in chocolate will disguise them from me?  There is a reason that I can’t do Fear Factor people.  Climb up really high and jump?  Okay, take a deep breath, forget that you could die, throw up or embarass yourself and go.  Eat, touch, look at a creature with more than four legs?  I’m hyperventilating just thinking about it.  And I refuse to believe that this is some sort of native delicacy.  I know some cultures eat bugs, but these are chocolate covered crickets.  Some creep thought, ‘hey, you know what really freaks people out?  The idea of eating bugs, lets cover it in chocolate and people who aren’t squeamish can laugh at the people who are!’  Great.

It was around this point (remember that I’ve been drinking mezcal, some of it even with the worm, and things are a bit fuzzy now) that I start searching for someone with a cell phone in order to call Mario and tell him where to meet us when he finishes work.  However when I have no luck and am just starting to be frustrated by my lack of connectivity, he magically shows up!  It is at this moment (yes, a rather drunken realization, I must admit) that I realized that I rather liked living without the technology of a cell phone and started to formulate a plan of ditching my cell completely and relying primarily on a landline (gasp)!  I have been sufficiently mocked for this idea since returning to New York, but am still considering whether it would be possible and positive or extremely detrimental to my social and business networks.  My favorite suggestion is that I return to a pager and start a new hipster anti-tech trend!  Ha! 142!  That’s pager code for ‘I love it!’ for those of you born before 1980 and after 1985.  143 was the real pager code, meaning ‘I love you,’ because of the number of letters in each word.  Really, this was the first form of text messaging, a whole host of simple expressions that you could send to someone for the cost of a phone call at a payphone that didn’t require the time and personal touch of an actual phone call!  Brilliant!

Seriously though, I really enjoyed the much more natural pace of not having a phone while I was away.  I wasn’t constantly being distracted by texts, emails, phone calls that I felt guilty for ignoring because I was trying to live in the moment and didn’t want to be talking on the phone or texting right now, thank you very much!  Also it seemed to have an added benefit of making my time more important.  If I really commited to seeing you at three, both you and I had better show up because there can be no last minute text to cancel.  So, if I’m not sure I want to go, then I’m not going to make the plan.  I’ll just maybe show up.  And since, I’m not sure how long things will take in each moment, I don’t overplan my busy life or try to keep more things in it than I can handle.  Now, granted not everyone in the world has this same problem with technology.  Some people can distract themselves from whatever conversation that they’re having or moment that they’re living quite easily to answer the endless barrage of phone calls, text messages, AIMs and facebook updates.  Some people are okay with the fact that when they stop to have an hour dinner or drink or coffee with someone they spend most of that hour checking the time to see if they’re late somewhere else and have to leave before they’ve even really caught up.  And when they are overloaded some people can throw their phone in their bag all day and never feel remorse that it takes them weeks to never to get back to all the unsanswered messages.  And really, maybe having a landline would do little to change that last part.  But maybe it would just naturally slow down life to the people who really want to get in touch and really want to make plans.  I read a really interesting book when I got back to New York called Better Off, where a MIT grad lives on a Menonite-like farm for a year with minimal technology and reflects on many of the same discoveries.  So, I’ll admit it, I’ve discovered that when someone sends me a text saying that they miss me, they’re thinking of me, or we should get together soon, it really doesn’t make me feel more loved like it should.  It makes me feel guilty like its now my fault that we haven’t seen each other, because they’ve reached out (however feebly).  And when I do the same, why should it make the other person feel any differently?  Which reminds me, I have about ten phone calls to return that I’ve ignored today either because I was sleeping or because I was writing this posting…so goodbye invisible audience of readership and hello actual people to talk to.  Goodbye lovely Mexico and hello trying to maintain a calmer pace in hectic New York, at least for a little while yet.

Ryan and Evie waiting for me at home

Ryan and Evie waiting for me at home

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