"The world does not reward honesty and independence, it rewards obedience and service. It’s a world of concentrated power, and those who have power are not going to reward people who question that power."-Chomsky

"The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management." -J.H. Kunstler

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."-Dylan

Monday, February 14, 2011

2/8-2/14/11: San Cristobal-Jose Luis and the Galactic Station

Jose Luis
I loved Jose Luis’s place immediately! His was a large guest house in a farm-like setting that  reminded me of Asheville, North Carolina. The house consisted a large main room which worked non-stop as the kitchen, dining, and living area and maintained a rural Montana or New Mexico vibe. The wood floors creaked constantly enhancing the rustic, frontierish ambiance.

I found Jose Luis to be one of the youngest 57-year olds I’d met. He spoke good English thanks in part to having lived, married and had children in the US, and acted as though we’d known each other for years. I thought it was because he had met Chris in January, but this was just how he was with everyone

Jose Luis's Place

Bordering the large shared horse-pasture was the landlord, Olivier’s, peculiar three-level house that was home to several tenants including James the Brit and his Estonian girlfriend, Maarja. The building was intricately decorated with large horse-themed figures painted on the exterior and adding to it's distinctiveness was the shape: the main building's width was excessive in relation to depth; so much so that it almost appeared to be a converted barn. With mountains as a backdrop in the distance, everything combined to create an atmosphere that encouraged “presence”; potentially the perfect place to transition to Mexico. Even the dogs & horses had character! 

The Couchsurfer Wing was a rather large bedroom with a small, single bed along side several inflatable mattresses standing neatly made in anticipation of the Couchsurfer Invasion due over the next several days. This was, by far, the most elaborate Couchsurfing situation I’d seen or heard of!  He clearly had completely embraced the spirit of  Couchsurfing and was well on his way to becoming San Cristobal’s unofficial ambassador. 

We had arrived at Jose Luis’s just at the point where I was, physically, nearly ready to expire. My voice was virtually gone, barely a broken whisper and getting worse, but I ran on adrenaline long enough to get acquainted but before long the idea of hunkering down for a week allowed both mind and body to exhale...and my strange, persistent illness to take over.

I needed rest. That’s exactly what I did for the next couple of days. Aside from a trip to the downtown market for food and daily walks to the neighborhood restaurant, Sol y Luna, for huge dinners, there wasn’t much socializing. So little, that I became concerned that I was alienating myself from our host! Couchsurfers each day and, as our little room was quickly filling, I was lying in bed most of the time. 

I was feeling much better as the week went on the parties wound up. Jose Luis’s place became a beehive of activity hosting Couchsurfers from countries including the US, France, Romania, Spain, Argentina, and others. 

Among them was a group referred to simply as “The Hippies” who had arrived in a large, veggie oil-powered bus similar to the one Chris and I passengered to DC in ’09. Their unquestioned leader was a 20-something, dreadlocked, McGyverish character who could usually be seen tinkering with something  while heard speaking, knowledgeably, on everything else. My general opinion of hippies is documented, but as a well rounded man-of-skill, he was fucking impressive! 

James, Maarja, Jan, Alex
In addition to captaining the USS Veggie, he led a nearly cliche’ “hippie-band”; one evidently successful (and good) enough to fund their travels. The band/crew included his mother and two young French women: one extremely attractive and the other eccentrically odd. The latter reminded me of the woman in the old Hungry Like the Wolf video. I never felt safe within striking distance; she seemed ready to...bite.

Another interesting pair were Jan (yahn) and Alexandra, from Spain and Romania respectively. They had been traveling around the world for more than 5-years nonstop and had seen Europe, Africa, Iran, Pakistan, China, India, and almost everywhere else. They had recently traveled the States and were planning a visit to Cuba before turning toward Central and South America.

While I’m not typically impressed with other travelers, these two impressed me. Especially their original anecdotes and opinions about places like Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and Africa. It’s all relative, but that made my hopping of freight trains and hitching Idaho seem a bit...stale!

Alex impressed me with a dose of much-needed frankness and unfiltered honesty. She was a traveling rarity in that, in private conversation at least, she was unconcerned with spreading sunshine and moonbeams. She possessed a blunt, honest authenticity combined with a pragmatic eastern European attitude; she wasn’t frightened to violate the warm & fuzzy Moonbeam Code and would tell you what she REALLY thought of people, places, and cultures--and it wasn't always positive! That kind of honesty potentially rubs Moonbeamers the wrong way!

Sound like anyone you know?

Laryngitis, and not speaking Spanish to begin with, brought a quick, rather intense, and important self-realization: until then, I failed to realize just how difficult it is for me when I'm unable to articulate and express thoughts effectively! From antiquated alcohol abuse, to radio, even to this writing, frustrated, self-destructive, often subtle tendencies became apparent--usually erupting when, due to either a lack of access to the words, or worse a base inability to interpret my own internal codex, I found myself being the metaphorical mute flailing in frustration at the world. 

As they say happens with the blind, this experience served to heighten another sense: listening and observing and, later in the week, when we joined Jose Luis and a friend for dinner and drinks that culminated with some influential insight into who Jose Luis was and a glimpse of what lies beneath the surface of San Cristobal, Chiapas and Mexico overall. Chris and I had already taken a rather keen interest in the Zapatistas and I always have an intense curiosity about various, hidden political & sociological layers wherever I am. Little did I know until that moment that we were staying with a relative expert on both.

Apparently, Jose Luis had been heavily involved in Mexican politics. So much so, that he had traveled to Cuba to “learn weapons” and at one time been courted to run for high national office. To hear him tell it, he somehow ruffled enough political plumage to find himself in jail; arrested by the corrupt elements in the government on fake drug charges...as a warning.

Through the conversation, Jose Luis freely admitted that since he’s left politics, he’s struggling to find a way to redefine/engage his political and social beliefs; a feeling I understood well. Jose Luis never dictated his manifesto, so I can’t say for sure that he was involved directly in the 1994 Zapatista rebellion. What I can say is that this conversation was educational, rather intense, and nudged open a door that, to that point, I had been quietly sitting outside since my arrival in Mexico and, with help, would silently tiptoe thru later.

Our conversation took place about the same time that Wisconsin’s teabagging, austerity hound governor was working to break his state employee’s union. Joe Luis had been watching CNN with disgusted interest, pointing out that his kids were Americans and US politics always affects Mexican politics. We shared a disturbed amazement that, considering our intense history with corporate Labor Wars, Americans were so eager and willing to rescind their own worker’s rights in the name of nothing more than Fake Tea. I’m stunned to this day how people will be manipulated into voting against their own DIRECT interest.

As my brother-in-law perceived well over a year ago, my political conversations and social beliefs often end friendships. This time, however, they forged one. I’d liked Jose Luis from the start but, not requiring anything worthy of authentic respect, it’s easy to be “liked”. I gained a great deal of respect for Jose Luis, and after hearing what I had struggled to say (at proper tone, for once!), I’d repeatedly hear him tell people that I have a “good political mind”, although I would always insist that, no matter what he said, “I wasn’t sleeping with him!” 

The first party was at Jose Luis', and an incredibly eclectic collection of nationalities, personalities, and ages. A traveling road-dog from Mexico City named Norberto was now among us inhabiting  his Couchsurfer Wing, and he turned out to be an incredibly charismatic guitarist providing live entertainment through the weekend.

Beyond his impressive musical skills, I was surprised to play witness to what I can only describe as an impromptu, interactive jam session, led by Norberto, and joined in by everyone else--on whatever they could find to play: cans, pots, pans, tables. Whatever.

It was fun to experience this spontaneous communal recital of The Rolling Stones Satisfaction and Sympathy for the Devil although having neither rhythm nor an ounce of musical talent, I excused myself by filming it! As the evening went on, we found ourselves chatting almost exclusively with James (the 25-year old Brit living next door) and his girlfriend, Maarja. I also found myself laughing a lot in the process! 


Seeing James for the first time, I didn’t know what to think other than “blonde Ronald McDonald with a prissy little accent!” However, he proved to be much more interesting than that. They had already traveled all over Central and South America with an impressive flair for adventure.

Since arriving in Mexico, they had stayed for an extended time in Guadalajara, had bought a VW Combi in Mexico City, and were now staying in San Cristobal for a few months and waiting on a replacement for James’s stolen passport. From Mexico, they were planning to take their VW and explore the US . When they invited Chris and I into San Cristobal to find some live music, even though I was still feeling far from prime, we agreed.

Saturday’s tequila-filled party was next door at Kitti’s place, an exotic, exquisite Hungarian who lived in Olivier’s building along with her Argentinian boyfriend, Mauricio. Norberto reprieved his role as The Entertainer, and the party was again followed up by a trip downtown with James & Maarja. Growing quite fond of this couple, I remarked that I hadn’t laughed so hard and so often in a VERY long time. 

A wad of pesos and a bottle of James’ rum later, we’d learned that they had nearly been held up at AK-point on a Venezuelan beach before their borderline-psychotic Colombian companion had intimidated their would-be robber with nothing more than gall by charging him and screaming something to the effect of, “You think your fucking gun scares me, Venezuelan? I’m fucking COLOMBIAN!!”

They told of scamming their way aboard a Caribbean-bound boat by telling the captain (falsely) that they were seasoned sailors, managed to pull it off for an extended time, and how James had been nailed by a stingray in the process. James told of visiting Machu Picchu and about getting a severe case of dysentery and having to be flown to Lima for treatment.

This was exactly what I needed to hear looking forward, and I was happy to be in the company of people who had done more, much more, than I had. When the four of us offhandedly discussed the possibility of taking their Combi to see the Mayan ruins in Palenque, we planted some incredibly significant seeds.

Carrie made another, rather surprising, pleasant appearance at Jose Luis’s Couchsurfing Compound over the weekend and suffered a shockingly (to me), intensly adverse reaction to Alex’s “generalizing” opinions on people, places, and things! I also learned that Carrie’s dad broadcasts Major League Baseball on the radio, and himself played for several teams in the ‘80’s. Our common interests in radio and baseball gave us something besides our slightly antagonistic world views to chat about, and triggered (rekindled, really) nostalgic second guessing that would nag to the end of my stay.

Our “plan” (ha!) from the beginning was staying with Jose Luis, at his “Galactic Station” as he liked to call it, for up to a week. Our last night there was Monday, Valentine’s Day and several of us Couchsurfers went out for posh, and expensive, stiff alcohol that comes in different flavors, to celebrate a birthday. It was a great, albeit pricey, way to wrap things up, however Jose Luis was conspicuously absent. Since the end of the weekend’s fiestas Jose Luis had become a bit reclusive, and it was clear that, for us at least, it was time to go...