Just need to save this

This TED talk by Aaron Koblin is amazing.

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These two showed up next to each other in google reader today…

First I saw this.

Someone bring me a pocket fan so I can drift around the yard

Then this, the very next article.

Swing Picture

So cool! And yes, I’m re-reading xkcd’s archives, 3 comics per day.

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Living in Guatemala: Visa Renewal Trip

On Wednesday, November 4, I went to Mexico for about 3 hours. It was a silly, nearly all-day affair that is necessary every 90 days for those of us who are kind-of, sort-of living here.

Guatemala makes it difficult to get anything other than a tourist visa. It’s at least a couple of year affair to get temporary residency, and most people decide that it’s not worth it, especially considering that your 90 day tourist visa can be easily renewed at the border. For those of us living in Quetzaltenango, it’s especially easy because the Mexico trip can take less than one day if you do it right and are lucky. Here’s what I did:

The parents of one of my students (I’m tutoring high school math) were driving from Xela to Coatepeque and had offered to give me a ride. This was very nice for many reasons, but the main two are that it was much faster and much more comfortable than taking the Xelajú bus that makes the same trip. This took a little over an hour. We left at about 8:15 AM and by 9:30 I was in Coatepeque on the bus to Tecún Umán, the Guatemalan border town that I was headed for. This trip cost Q7.

At the border, I didn’t have any trouble. I bought a Q2 pineapple juice in a bag, then sauntered towards the migración booth. I waited in line for a minute drinking my juice, then the lady took my passport and stamped me out of Guatemala, charging me the semi-legitimate Q10 fee for entering or exiting the country.

I walked across the bridge to the Mexican side of the border, waving away offers from the bicycle taxis that wanted to give me a ride across. The woman at the Mexican migración was smoking outside but had a look at my passport before making me go inside and fill out a form. She wanted to know where I was going. I told her Tapachula, which was a possibility, but my real plan was to hang out in the border town (I don’t know its name) for a couple of hours before crossing back. She was a little skeptical but I think it all came clear when she asked how long I was going to stay and I said, “the shortest time possible.”

So I spent two and a half hot, incredibly sweaty hours in this town. I eventually stopped walking around and managed to be slightly less hot and sweaty. Sitting in the shade, drinking a banana smoothie (13 pesos) and reading my book was a nice diversion for 45 minutes, but eventually I made my way to a restaurant for lunch (35 pesos) and then headed back for the border (a block from the restaurant, and about three blocks from the central park where I was hanging out most of the time I was there).

Going back to Guatemala, the Mexican side was super easy. They just took the form and stamped my passport without a word. One blistering bridge walk later, the Guatemalan lady did basically the same thing. So I paid my Q10 and I was free to be in Guatemala for 90 days more. Incidentally, I’m pretty certain the Guatemalan border agent was the same person I had checked out with 2.5 hours earlier. She should have cared, as what I was doing is technically against the rules (you’re supposed to leave for 72 hours), but I’m glad she didn’t mind.

Bus to Coatepeque, Q7 more, and the Xelajú back to Xela was Q17, making the total cost of the trip: dirt cheap. I was back at 4:30 PM, too, so I consider that a success: I was sweaty and gross all day, but got it out of the way. Doing it a few times is fine, but I can see how people who are here for several years get really sick of this and pay the 500Q to the sketchy guy to take their passports to the border.

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Cuesta Cinco Quetzales

Just a quick comment on one aspect of how things work here in Guatemala. Zach, Mikhail and I went up to the track at the sports complex yesterday morning to run an interval workout. The cost to use the track is five Quetzales (about $0.65). No problem. We have the money, we’re ready to pay, we’ve done this once before… but…

Here’s how it usually works: When you enter the Complejo Deportivo you have to turn in an ID and get in exchange a visitors badge. Just around the corner from the entrance is a little office, where you go to pay the 5Q fee and are given a nice ticket to use the track:


You never actually have to use this ticket for anything, but it’s probably a good idea to pay the fee and keep it in your pocket just in case.

Here’s what happened today: we went in and I handed over my driver’s license as usual in exchange for the visitor’s badge. No problem. Just as we were turning to head for the office, the second guard asks us if we want to use the track. We say yes, and he says, “Cuesta cinco Quetzales.” It costs five quetzales. I’m not really thinking (it’s early, all right) so I just go to hand him my 20Q to pay for the three of us. The first guard says that he doesn’t have any change. The two of them go into a little act like they aren’t going to get any change and just expect us to pay 20.

At this point it occurs to me that they are trying to execute a pretty simple scam. They’re the ones responsible for checking tickets, so it doesn’t matter if we don’t have them. They’re just trying to get our money. We would still pay 5Q each, so for us it really doesn’t matter. Doesn’t hurt anybody, right? Except what really happened is they got greedy, we clued in, and walked the 10 feet over to the office to pay the guy there and get our tickets.

It struck me as interesting, that’s all. Such a simple little scam that they would never try to pull on a local. And the fact that we almost fell for it even though we’ve been here a while. Maybe I should just pay the guard next time, he probably needs the money more than the local government does.

Incidentally, the sports complex here in Quetzaltenango is really nice. A newish track, a couple football fields, a baseball diamond, an indoor swimming pool, basketball courts and more.

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A Funny Video!

I’m still here. It’s been a while since video post, so here you go:

Update: this nike skateboarding ad is also pretty awesome.

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First Race in Guatemala

I ran a 10k race yesterday here in Xela, along with my friends Zach and Will. It was a great time, but was quite different from races I’ve run in the US. First, here’s the map (change it to satellite to really see the route):

Second, about the differences: I expected some of them, but others definitely surprised me. Maybe they shouldn’t have but they did. Here’s a list:

  • The race started 20 minutes late. This was certainly not surprising, but for some reason I was much less patient for the race start then I am for other Guatemalan patience-testers. For instance, when I’m waiting for a bus to leave I’m perfectly happy to just chill out and relax for however long it takes. We went for a warmup jog before the race was supposed to start, and then ended up standing around for a while while the Guatemalans warmed up. They were all just doing laps of Parque Central, which I thought was kind of funny. We ended up doing a few too.
  • The race was definitely short. And not just a little bit. My GPS, which admittedly has error, measured it at 8.94 kilometers. So there’s that. This happens in the states sometimes too, but the quality of the field here was so much higher than a typical US race that I expected it would be well measured.
  • The quality of the field: it’s not that Guatemala has faster runners than the US, it’s just that the only people running are those who take it seriously. So we finished solidly middle of the pack with times that would have put us towards the front in any big US race. A strange, and humbling, experience. Good to get the real perspective. I’m faster than the 95% of people who don’t run, whoop-de-doo!
  • People cheated. A lot. For some reason this surprised me. There was an out and back section where people were just turning around whenever they felt like it. Weird. There wasn’t even a cone or anything to mark the end, at least not that I could see, so maybe everybody was turning WAY early and that’s why the race was short. But some people were cutting big sections of the course off here. Towards the end of the race one guy who Zach and I had just passed suddenly appeared in front of us. He had run through a park while we stayed on the street. We passed him in the final stretch, though, so all’s well. 🙂
  • We paid 25Q (approx $3 US) in order to participate. This included water and a tech t-shirt. Why they had medium and large t-shirts for the almost exclusively (much-)smaller-than-me Guatemalans is a question that remains unanswered. I got a medium and it’s too big for me.

To sum up, it was a great experience. See splits at RunningAhead.

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American vs. Guatemalan: Breakfast

My take on American/Guatemalan breakfast. Guatemalans would never eat potatoes at breakfast.

The tomato sauce was a slow-cooker experiment in making salsa. We failed, and instead made delicious spicy stewed tomatoes and onions. So that’s okay.

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Eugene, Oregon to Xela, Guatemala

Disclaimer: I know that lists of travel with costs and times can be pretty boring, but I like transportation, so I thank you for bearing with me.

I left Eugene the evening of August 4th and arrived in Xela the evening of August 6th.

Greyhound, Eugene to LA, 9:20 PM to 3 PM, $84. The ride was surprisingly fine. I watched a movie and actually slept quite a lot.

Two LA Metro Buses: half an hour, $2.50.

At this point I hung out at Ben’s house chatting, drinking beer, and eating delicious homemade pizza until about 11 PM. I had an early morning ahead of me so went to bed.

SuperShuttle: 3:45 AM to 4:30 AM, $27.

Mexicana: 6:45 AM to 12:30 PM, Los Angeles to Mexico City; 1:50 PM to 3:30 PM, Mexico to Guatemala. Roundtrip cost $215! Short layovers in Mexico City suck bigtime. Both of mine consisted of sweating a lot in the immigration line followed by sweating a lot as I ran through the airport trying to find the stupid gate. I also made it both times, but I’m not sure my seat-mates appreciated the smell.

Taxi, airport to bus station: 20 minutes, Q70 approx. $9.
Alamo pullman bus, Guatemala City to Xela: 5:30 PM to 9:30 PM, Q60 approx. $7.50.

So I made it. Woo!

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I’m in the USA!

Currently, I’m in LA, but I’m heading up to Oregon tonight. I’m going back to Guatemala on the 6th of August. Get in touch if you want to hang out!

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We Kayaked Around Lago Atitlán… and Survived!

Two and half weeks ago, my friend Juan Manuel mentioned that he wanted to kayak around the entirety of Lago Atitlán. The lake is big. Naturally, I thought this sounded like a wonderful idea and agreed to join him in his craziness. We wrote a story about our trip, and here it is:

June 12th, 2009, 4:00 PM – Two courageous adventurers begin what will become one of the most fantastic trips of their lives. After an uneventful afternoon bus ride from Xela, they successfully rent kayaks in San Pedro La Laguna and set off in the direction of Santiago Atitlán, where they spend the night. The kayak man watches somewhat fearfully as the two gringos locos paddle off into the waning light. Little does he know that the two who have just rented his kayaks have a total of approximately 4 hours kayaking experience in their lives.

7 km / 2 hrs / tired, but optimistic

June 13th, 2009, 5:30 AM – At sunrise they set out from Santiago. The lake is calm for the first few hours, but they are fated to spend nearly 12 hours in their tiny boats on this day. Around noon they rest for an hour in San Lucas Tolimán, devouring local dishes at the edge of the lake. They are tempted to spend the afternoon in this tranquil town, but nobly choose to suffer onward. Three miserable, windy, sun-filled hours are immediately followed by three more hours spent fighting a rainstorm and waves pushed against them by the unexplained phenomenon of the Xocomil. Arrival in Panajachel is a bittersweet reward. Our sunburned heroes are forced to carry their kayaks and belongings up the hill to an overpriced hotel. After sating their gigantic appetites with fried chicken and tacos, they both collapse into their beds at 8 PM and sleep solidly through the night.

28 km / 10 hrs / exhausted, covered in second degree burns, and happy that the journey is “almost over”

June 14th, 2009, 6:30 AM – The last push. Only 14 short kilometers lie between the somewhat refreshed kayakers and their goal. The lake cooperates and the beautiful scenery slides by quickly. Two days on the water has created, if not expert kayakers, at least proficient ones. Lanchas pass throughout the morning, crowded with waving tourists and curious locals. As San Pedro draws ever closer, they begin to taste the sweetness of success. A final effort sees them cross the blue deeps of the lake and reach the final shore. Hasta nunca, kayak!

14 km / 4 hrs / almost unable to walk or lift their arms, but thrilled to have completed the adventure

As we have described it here, our trip sounds quite terrible. In reality, we were able to spend a weekend looking at one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Throughout the journey we were happy with what we were doing. In fact, we’re going to do it again in a couple of weeks, this time in four days rather than three.  49 kilometers and 16 hours of kayaking are too much for three days. Also, we’re going to take more sunblock the next time.

Necessities: Sunblock, rain jacket, hat, water, snacks.
Costs: We spent 400Q each for the whole weekend.

So that’s the story. We submitted it to the local english-language magazine here in Quetzaltenango, XelaWho, and I think it’s going to be published in the July issue.

It got published: San Pedro Day Tripper: We Kayaked Around Lago Atitlán… And Survived!

Also: I made a map!

View Around the Lake by Kayak in a larger map

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