The State In Me

There are walls within walls here and my fingers clutch at the hardened skin. It is not like an onion, I say to myself, it is more like bark that protects the tree and at the core reveals a soft life. I peel back and push towards the center, slowly at first and then quickly to the center, growing weary at times, but an urgency pushing me where things will make sense and where the underlying natural order of all things consensual, humane and rational will surface.  Just push back the sticky web of things that have stunted movement as if the web hung above my head interfering between me and the forward push into a calculated darkness. The spider’s head contains a big grin that leads me down the rabbit hole. I fall, paws to the ground, I claw and dig cold, wet dirt,  and then gaping spaces where things fall endlessly into emptiness, into the unremembered.

In sociology class everything points to things being broken. If we were studying the body of society in its wholeness and balance, Guatemala – brain, body, lungs, stomach – in its state of decomposition and fragmented into a pool of blood, water, cells and organisms competing for mutual survival, would be a patient stretched out on cold metal in ER. Winning would be the entire self surviving, but the zero sum game survival here is piecemeal and the parts win individually if everything else loses. The part only knows its only winning and the whole doesn’t exist outside its borders. Survival is in isolating the damage.

I hit metal when I dig. I tell my professor this. He waits patiently. People have gone crazy this way, he tells me.  Since a completely rational society is inevitable and bureaucracy is the most rational form of societal management, we close the door on our own iron cage. Worse still the cage disappears and is inside of us. More metal. But it’s of our own choosing. We have the most democratically-elected cage. It is a tall cage with many bars, I ask if its the same cage for all of us. Silence. My classmates’ cages must be more colorful than mine. I am looking for the ground now. He waits, arms crossed in front of him, at the front of the room.

What if the door was already closed when we got there? I ask. That’s not choosing. It’s a societal contract, he says. The empty bureaucracies that no one understands that is the most rational form of societal management, actions that are simply done from the rote memorization of one’s role in society? What if those actions were completely devoid of meaning, whatever shred of meaning having vanished in its own mechanizations, emptied of content and the players stopped believing in it long ago? Fijese seño that’s just the way things are done, its policy. It’s not a cage, it’s a castle. There are long corridors. Our stability hangs on the ballots in November. We are close to going back to war, he says.  His mouth is a thin straight line now.

The walls are hard black metal that disappears into the night. How can we be that close to being the way we were? The bottom of the cage is the sinkhole that stares back at me, the one that swallowed up the three-story building, the taxi, the poor man making the call at the payphone. At night the hole stares up towards the stars – a mouth, a wound, a wormhole, an open dried up vein.

So You Wanna Learn Spanish, Eh?

Awesome – you should. Check out my Spanish teacher’s new Skype-based school Mundo Del Español. Classes are 1-to-1 with professional, accredited teachers living here in La Antigua Guatemala. It’s super easy and secure to purchase class time, and you can try a 15-minute trial class for free! Hazlo!

Mundo Del Español Talk

We’re At It Again

This time we’ve done it, we lost the thread and picked it back up again between knots, loops and thread on the point of breaking. We’ve strummed it like our own guitar. We’ve reach almost three months in Guatemala and there’s no more time to spend in transition. It’s the critical election season in Guatemala and so our latest project is:

VOZZ kids

Fifteen years after Guatemala’s Peace Accords ended 36 years of civil war, many young Guatemalans continue to be marginalized from political life. While 70 percent of the population is 30 years of age and younger, voter turnout statistics reveal that few young people register and exercise their right to vote, the online magazine Albedrio reports. Political parties, in an effort to capture this untapped resource, have led strong campaigns on youth marketing issues. However, many young candidates and members of youth organizations say this does not translate into real and effective participation. Youth are interested in participating in political life, but most parties are not willing to give them space as they do not have the financial resources to fund a campaign. Moreover, there are high rates of voter abstention and limited representation by women and indigenous people in democratic institutions.

VOZZ will be a citizen journalism training project in which young Guatemalan citizen reporters aged 16-24 years old – the ages of the highest abstention rates in more than 40 percent of the population – learn the fundamentals of journalism and reporting in Spanish and Kaqchikel. The project will be launched in Guatemala as a test pilot to coincide with the 2011 presidential election.

Vozz, a name created by youth in Guatemala City’s crime-ridden Zone 1 to capture the spirit of having a voice or voz to their stories, will create opportunities for youth to be trained by local reporters and seasoned election trainers, to share their stories from their municipalities, and to distribute those stories under a Creative Commons License on

Nadia Sussman and Kara Andrade will work with a core group of young reporters (2 youth from 20 municipalities) to first hold a two-day “bootcamp” in Guatemala City to train them on the fundamentals of journalism, election reporting and multimedia tools for reporting. We will ensure diverse coverage of stories concerning the election from rural, indigenous areas where very little reporting is done and from a youth perspective that is very seldom heard. Guatemalan youth will be trained as citizen reporters to produce this body of multimedia stories before, during and after the 2011 Guatemalan presidential elections and will travel to their communities, as needed, to help them with the reporting and production.

We are fundraising from other sources for the total $5500 budget for the project, but the $3000 raised on Spot.Us would go towards:

Student Travel (42 students X $40 each roundtrip with meals from their rural communities): $1,680

Nadia Sussman Travel from New York: $500

Meals: $820

Total: $3,000

Wanna help? Just click the green button:

Romulus Rising

Guatemala has not been kind this morning, in fact it was chewing me and spitting me out to splatter against a surface. The few things left unbroken or hanging by a thread, so thin, so fine, have fallen to the ground. Passport renewals, airplane reservations, Internet, toll free calls, pens with ink, military checkpoint in the airport, my lost voice all falling inward, creating this vortex that has its own gravity, sucking you in towards its infinite darkness that you think to leave bread crumbs, scramble for a stick so long someone must be able to pull you out no matter how deep you go, or just blast it like the Starship Enterprise and gain forward momentum out of its orbit, into another life, another place, a light that lies just beyond that your fingertips tingle from its proximity.

Ya no aguanto mas,” I can’t stand it anymore, the woman at the airport says to her friend as she tries to input my passport number into her system only to face a blue screen. She paused and reads the small type above her bifocals. Her friend files her nails at the other station. “He’s driving me nuts,” she says over her shoulder.

My woman continues scanning the passport over and over and over again in the same way as I wait with my forehead on her counter. My head has become a bowling ball and I can’t stop coughing. I hear her long beautiful white nails that click loudly on each key after she scans. “Hmm, I guess the system is broken, seño, I won’t be able to check you through,” she informs me after 10 minutes of this.

I am numb, I don’t respond, I don’t care, I’ll fall asleep right here and slip away into an ether. She asks between chewing gum smacks, “What happened to your permanent passport anyway?” She is more interested in hearing that story than inputting me into her system. She’s bored, she wants me to entertain her. It’s not genuine interest.

“Ma’am, can I go now?” I ask her, barely raising my head above my arms; I’m not willing to oblige her. There is nothing left of me, I haven’t slept because of a maddening cough, my voice is gone, my plane reservation had been cancelled and re-booked three times while at the Delta ticket counter this morning, I ran out of funds on my pre-paid phone so I couldn’t call anyone, Delta couldn’t let me call Delta because their 1-800 numbers don’t work here, our backpacks were stolen a week ago, my husband called to tell me the city attorneys had stupidly sat him across from the man who bought our stolen laptops at the Torre de Tribunals while awaiting the judge to release our things from custody, our hired guns were on their way, but God knows when, and now my flight was two and a half hours late. I would probably miss my connection to D.C. I felt my chest tightening for another cough, my entire body ready to explode with the cough, before she let me pass. She waved her hand at me, like swatting a fly.  I somnambulated to the security checkpoint, untying my shoes for an eternity between each loop. A whole world of pauses.

It’s not going to get easier here. Mayugada, the Spanish word for bruised from continued battering, I think of a banana that is mush on the road, a palmetto bug burned by the bulb. Everyday we get a new dent in the truck. Everyday the big things are treated in such a small way and people just shrug their shoulders. Justice doesn’t benefit anyone here when it’s an entire system of people doing favors for one another and getting kick-backs.

What does it take to live in a developing country? What does it take to live in my country of birth which has and shows no signs of being anything other than a developing country? The fact that it’s the country of my birth and my family affords me no emotional distance to be able to apply some romanticized notion of progress from my own work, from a larger vision of how technology could actually make a difference here in a place where the fundamentals are still not in place for people to really feel safe, protected and an overarching sense of justness and fairness. I think of the word “resiliency,” a trait that you’ve either got or you don’t.  ¿Hay o no hay? It’s not something you’re born with, it’s not something that’s taught, it’s something that like a fruit tree that makes it through droughts, endures and prevails in difficult situations only to weather the next drought, more upright, with a new skin protected by the one before it. Perhaps I write it too hopeful when the fact is that it’s a hardening.

A Thief in the Day

Inevitably, we all reach that moment in our relationship with Guatemala that has to go beyond dating. That moment that tests our meddle, commitment, intentions, our resiliency and our very capacity to overcome. It’s a loss of innocence and of a romanticized notion that a halo of protection exists around those of us that are here to do good.

That moment happened on Friday, June 3 when we stopped at Esso Las Majadas in Guatemala City, behind Las Majadas shopping center as we made a gas and ATM pit stop before heading to Chiquimula and Puerto Barrios to visit family. It’s a self-service station with three main points of entry to two freeways (one leading you to the historic district, then further East; the other leading you to the wealthy Zone 10) and just behind it the two large malls, Tikal Futura and Miraflores, that serve as anthills of consumerism. The police use it as their coffee stop, two security guards with shot-guns stand at each corner of the store, an endless number of attendants buzz around checking oil, pumping gas, flirting with the women drivers. One man by the front pump area writes down license plates of all the cars that come in and out of the gas station. By the gated fence that separates it from a bank, young guys sit on the grass, chow down on their sandwiches laughing while traffic remains at a standstill just beyond the gas station. It is an intersection space, tricksters congregate and things move quickly between breaths.

We pulled up to the rightmost pump with the most space, Brad got out to pump, I put my cellphone in the glove compartment, got my wallet. I then walked in front of the truck and told Brad I was going to the ATM. He nodded and proceeded to pay with his debit card. I looked around and got the lay of the land before crossing. Once inside I began my battle with the ATM machine which continued to refuse my card. I tried a second one and finally it worked. With money in hand I I felt an itch to grab some drinks and snacks for the road so we wouldn’t have to stop too much.

I reached the cashier and she took ages to get my change back. Brad had finished pumping and saw me talking to the cashier. Through the outside of the window he waved at me, I told him everything was fine, but asked him with my fingers indicating cash if he had cash to pay the gas. He didn’t understand me, so he walked into the store and I asked him if he had cash. “Oh yeah, the card worked,” he said right next to me at the cashier’s registrar. That’s strange, I thought, that my card didn’t work. I wanted to get back to the car and just start our trip because it was already 12:30. I got my change. “Let’s go,” I said and we headed out the door quickly.

Once in the car I opened the glove compartment looking for my cellphone to call my cousin and give him a heads up that we were running late. But I couldn’t find my phone, not in the glove compartment, not in the side door, not where we put the drinks. So I figured Brad had hidden it for safety reasons. “Where’s my phone?”

“I dunno, babe, you’re always putting it in different places, why don’t you just leave it in your backpack?” Maybe it was in the backpack. So I turned around to reach for the backseat where all three backpacks with Brad’s MacBook Pro, my MacBook Pro and digital camera were all side by side like small obedient children.
But only one of them was there, which I found odd. I looked around and then asked.

“Did you move the backpacks?” Annoyed he said, “No I didn’t move the backpacks, why would I do that?” And then we both turned to the backseat, looked at one another, looked at the back seat and then yelled, “SHITT!!” It was a moment of sheer panic. We looked around immediately, I checked the camper shell to see if it was broken, nothing, I asked the guy taking the plates down if he’d seen anything, nothing. I asked the guards, they shrugged. I asked the guy selling lottery tickets, nothing, the attendants, nothing. The guys sitting on the grass, nada. Nobody, but nobody had seen a thing.

“Let’s check the cameras!” Brad said. And that’s exactly what we did, we ran towards the convenience store, went behind the cash register and asked the camera guy to rewind the tape to 12:20 and to let us watch it with him. We told him we’d been robbed. He obliged and slowly rewound the tape. Everything was in slow motion. And then we watched the crime unfold. It was both a gift and a curse. We saw our truck pull up to the station from two camera angles, the attendants, the people entering the convenience store, me getting out of the truck, we saw all the action from a third person perspective, the way you imagine you would watch your funeral if you could somehow stage it like a Fellini film. Course it makes you realize why the soul can’t bear to watch its down death because the reality is too stark.

In black and white we watched how around 12:22 PM the thief, a thin, short man with short black hair, a long-sleeved white shirt and dark pants – he looked like a “waiter” Brad said later – walked up to the truck, looked inside, opened up the passenger seat, took two backpacks from the back seat, closed the door, walked across the parking lot, right in front of the guards with the shotguns, the man taking the plate numbers, the three gas attendants and the guy selling lottery tickets. He got into a black or dark green (depending on who you ask) van that already had its door wide open like a big black yawn. Barely able to hold up both laptops because of the weight of each he climbed into the van whose plates could not be identified by the camera. He then drove onto the bumper to bumper traffic and disappeared into the smoggy afternoon. Two minutes later we popped out of the convenience store and got in our truck. And then we got out again, frantically into the world.

I wanted a copy of the footage. Brad wanted to call credit cards. I wanted to call the police, but nobody knew the number until someone said *110. Brad was pale and livid and my hands were shaking as I held the phone. “Guatemala Police Department Unit, how can I help you?”

I was surprised how calm my voice sounded: “Buenas tardes seño, can you please do us the favor of sending someone out to Esso Las Majadas? We’ve been robbed.”

I Registered To Vote in Guatemala for the First Time in My Life

There are some things you just can’t pass up in life, no matter how late you are for dinner or in this case, to the gym. I was dashing across Central Park in La Antigua when right in front of me in the municipality building was the first voter registration table manned by the TSE,– the Tribunal Supremo Electoral, Guatemala C.A. I slowed my pace down, not quite sure how fast this registration process would be, curious, but not ready to commit. Then the significance of it hit me: I had never registered to vote in Guatemala, the country of my birth, ever in my life. Not only that, but here I was a journalist, just finishing up a two-day international conference for journalists specifically focusing on the upcoming election on September 11. Was I about to just cruise on by? I don’t think so. But first, I popped out my cellphone to record a video of the process:

It took a total of five minutes, the fastest process I’ve gone through in Guatemala other than buying saldo or pre-paid funds for my phone. All I had to do was present my DPI, Documento Persona de Identificación, or my cedula, tell them where I live, sign the form, give a fingerprint and then I was done! At the end I got this voter registration form that I’m supposed to take with me in order to vote:

Since the TSE website informs us that the end of voter registration is only 13 days, 23 hours, 2 minutes and 27 seconds away (a lot less after you read this), I felt an urgency to start reading the voter guide. I put the registration form into my pocket, put my cellphone away and then I asked the incredibly helpful young man who walked me through this process (after he got through his initial disbelief that I’d never registered to vote) if he was going to give me a voter guide. He looked puzzled.

“What do you mean, a voter guide?” He asked more curious now than befuddled.

“Oh, something to tell me who the candidates are, what political party they represent and educational information about their position statements on main government topics.”

“We’re non-partisan, ma’am,” he said matter-of-factly. I smiled and told him that many countries provided educational information so voters are informed about the basic information and that that doesn’t mean partisanship, it just equates to an informed voter. He nodded his head and then his face lit up with the answer.

“That’s easy! You can just look at all their Facebook pages and find all their information there. Some of them have their own websites, but definitely, I’ve seen them all on Facebook.”

Mexican Birthday Tattoo

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being in Oaxaca, Mexico for my 37th birthday. To celebrate, I went to Granpa’s Tatuajes and my man Jessi gave me the wonderful gift of great ink.

Life Simple

Some cities you just can’t sleep in and Oaxaca is one of those for me. I wake up Sunday morning on my second restless night of sweaty half-sleep. The rings under my eyes are dark and deep. I’m exhausted, but ready for the road to Tuxtla Guiterrez and possibly San Cristobal de las Casas. Before starting our climb back into the Sierras, now lush and green, we pass by Matatlan which the sign in large type over the road tells us is the “Mezcal Capital of the World.” It’s a sleepy dusty town with houses converted to storefronts selling bottles of mezcal.

“They should sell shots at each tumulo, (speed bump)” Brad says stating the obvious fact that we’re not on an autopista toll road. We’re on a curvy libre winding in and around the mountains. Sundays are great driving days in Mexico and Guatemala, no one is on the road and whoever you happen upon they’re not in a hurry to get anywhere. I imagine I am back in California headed to Big Sur. I scrawl the words at 45 degree angles as Brad rounds the corners adjusting to less speed, less ground. He loses patience fast. There’s no rushing through this terrain. Two hundred twenty two kilometers of this and I can see why we have a nine-hour day of driving ahead of us.

We go through three military checkpoints and are asked to go through a full inspection during one of them. Brad turns on my phone camera  and keeps it on throughout the inspection. Where are you from? Where are you going? What’s in the back of the truck? Why are you crossing to Guatemala in La Mesilla and not Tapacula? You’re a student? Journalism? Yes, journalism.

Tehuanatepc 187 KM. The Sierra de Juarez is diverse – alternating from fertile green to dusty burned soil, both remote, raw and uncompromising. The guys in military fatigues with guns bigger than the length of their bodies, stare me down. I am direct and don’t chitchat. I prepare for the Guatemalan soldiers who have no sense of humor. I ask how long to Tuxtla Guiterrez, they say nine hours and I feign disbelief. They smile. “Depends on how fast you drive.” I can drive fast, as long as I don’t have any mezcal.

They smile big and nod. “Have a good trip, ma’am,” they tell me. We drive. That’s all we do at this point, drive and drive past desert, mountains, brush, vast swaths of agave, orange trees hugging tight turns, making sudden stops for tumulous at small towns where often it’s just one person writing for who knows how long until the next bus to take them to their destiny. We’re close to the Pacific, Puerto Escondido, Bahias de Huatulco. We’ll be leaving the state of Oaxaca soon and entering Chiapas. Brad starts a Devo playlist on his iPod, the complete opposite of what’s outside. We eat lunch at Mojades, in a small restaurant run by women cooking up fried fish fillets, tortillas and tamarindo. There’s a baby sleeping in a hammock in a tight little knot of hands, feet and head tucked into itself.

We sit on plastic lawn chairs watching the random car drive by, the neighbor across the road sweeping her one-room home and porch. The sun is so bright the dog at the bottom of the stairs squints in our direction.

A camioneta (bus) with “Oaxaca” pulls up next to our truck and the waitress comes out of the kitchen to warn the little boy playing with the soap bottle, washing the dirt: “Alli viene tu papa.” He timidly smiles and throws himself in the hammock. Out of the bus hops the ayudante, the helper, who lifts his son, kisses him, strokes the baby now in another woman’s arms, grabs a big bottle of tamarimdo juice, hops back on the bus where arms dangle out into the heat. and waves back to his son, nods his head and says “¡Provecho!” I sprinkle big grains of salt on my tomatoes and cucumber salad, squeeze two lemons on it. There’s a simple way to live. But not necessarily easier.



Brad’s Got a Brand New Tattoo

We’re really the worst tourists ever. Instead of touring Oaxaca, we got Brad a new birthday tattoo. Video of the whole thing will be posted up next week! Later in the evening, we see Brad continuing his birthday celebration well into the night.

Peeing and Protesting in Mexico City

After a good hour of holding it in through the nightmare that is Mexico City traffic, I finally had to pull over and drain the main vein. The fact that we were rolling bumper-to-bumper through one of the busiest arteries of Mexico City didn’t stop me. Imagine Market Street, Cesar Chavez and Divisidero twisted into one giant congested stretch. That was the scene and as my grandpa used to say, “my teeth were floating.” So fuck it, I forced my way off onto a minor artery, pulled out my major artery, and sprayed my name all over the side of a wall- Mexican placa style, homes!

So now the problem wasn’t my bladder- it was getting back onto that crazy freeway. You’re thinking gee, if there was an exit, surely there must be an entrance in the next kilometer or so, right? Ha ha ha you foolish, logical gringo. No, that periférico was totally adios, so Kara took out the Guia Roji and mapped out an alternate route.

Luckily for all you astute readers, our alternate route included a surprise street protest! As you’ll see in the below video, they’re all shouting “direchale!” at me which roughly translates to: “get the hell out of the way!” Once they started pounding on the truck with their fists, the exact meaning was immediately communicated, and we were Adios 5000!

What It Takes To Get Out of Central Mexico

It hailed as we drove through the Sierra Madre Sur headed to Oaxaca – first small white pepples of rock and then bigger white stones straight to earth and onto the truck windshield as the sky turned an atomic red. We landed on Mars. We stopped underneath an overpass and watched the stones bead on the black asphalt and then turn to droplets again.

It’s more rural, poorer here and Southern Mexico starts to look like Guatemala – unpainted gray cinder one or two-room houses surrounded by raw nature. It’s a beautiful drive on a two-lane toll road reminiscent of Highway 1 in California with the Pacific on your right like a still painting. Here it is the sudden drop-off into the bosom of the Sierras. We take it in, but we’re tired. It’s been a tough driving day. Morning rush out of San Miguel Allende resulted in our leaving our two prized Keetsa pillows among the general cotton ones on our friends’ luxurious kind-sized bed (oh the pain!); reaching Mexico City, Brad makes an emergency pit stop as we’re about to take the outer loop skirting downtown Mexico City and we’re stuck taking Lazara Cardenas all the way through the Zolcalo, into Lagunillas where we are in bumper to bumper in flea market traffic until the cop cars roll in and our truck is surrounded by a large group of protestors who slap and shake our car, “¡Derechale!”

We finally reach the toll road to Puebla, speeding along to reach three full-on construction roadblocks past Orizaba. The best social hour was two miles before we got on the toll road to Oaxaca and everyone got out of their cars to chat with the sudden entourage of street vendors. We waited for the machine laying down asphalt on the freeway to amble along. Then came the hail.

Now the sun is disappearing all too quickly behind the gray and we still have 90 Km through curvaceous terrain. It’s been a hard day and I am reminded of why we skip Oaxaca on our drives down. Southern Mexico prepares us and it feels like Guatemala too soon before Mexico ends in our minds.

There is still no doubt that Mexico’s toll roads are the best south of the U.S. border and north of Panama. At every construction stop the vendors pop out from the freeway shadows, an opportunity missed being worse than an unlaid road. I pull out my book and wait. Nothing, we’re still stalled. I take out our Guía Roji, our road atlas through Mexico, which has seen many a coffee spill, multi-colored highlighters, tears and yellowing from dog-eared pages. I trace Sunday morning’s route with my index finger.

Tomorrow, May 14, is Brad’s birthday, a traveling one at that and an auspicious entry into 37 exploring new roads and unknown cities far beyond the red mountainous horizon. Thirty-seven. At restaurants they still call us jovenes, young people because we have no children. Do children age you or keep you young? Do they, as mi abuelita tells me, help you mark the passage of time? Abuelita always wonders how we measure time since we don’t have children. I scoff at this narrow definition rulers for time, feeling more evolved because I use Google Calendar on my cellphone to remind me of everyone’s birthdays one week ahead of time.

As I push towards 35, I’m starting to understand what she really meant, this process of ripening, a fruit falling from the tree and that moment when it breaks from the branch as the knowledge of its own ripening, whether known or understood, saber or concur, to know or to experience it. To be so present in that moment in time that shapes what comes after. How will we measure time I wonder.

A falcon flies between the mountains, floats above the treetops ever so lightly. The air is moist outside and we descent into Oaxaca right before nightfall as the rain starts to fill the evening rush-hour streets.


Once Upon a Time in San Miguel Allende, Mexico

San Miguel Allende is far from the madding crowd, farther still from the endless asphalt dropping us closer to Guatemala. It’s Dante’s descent, it’s Hermes’ flight, it’s Persephone’s re-entering the cave – the journey becomes the mental preparation for another way of life and challenges to things we hold close to us: safety, security, consistency, continuity, the protection of basic human freedoms. I will no longer be able to go out at night alone.

Ensconced somewhere beyond the rolling hills of Guanajuato, San Miguel is a familiar place with its 415 phone code and narrow colonial streets. It’s a small pearl buried in the folds. We always come in through the back door, past all the tumulos, and the mangy street dogs that can’t be bothered barking at passing cars. It’s a dry mountain heat and there is the politeness of a small town whose local fabric remains intact amid all the arbitrary violence in the rest of Mexico.

We guide ourselves in by the light of the cathedral, by the narrowing streets, by memory. There is a psycho-geography to things and the way they imprint themselves in our mind. I remember streets as far back as five-years-old in Lancaster, Pennsylvania during my morning walk to Catholic School. I return to these streets and it’s as if a string pulled me forward along the same path. This is San Miguel, this is our journey back until we pull up to our destination.

Once inside, the winds sweep the long thin cotton curtains in our bedroom and the lightening fills the sky before the evening’s rain. The drive recedes somewhere into the backwards in our minds. We let out a deep breath and are cradled into sleep.

The Humans Must Be Crazy

They are burning the land in Nayarit to prepare it. Large plumes of black smoke fill the sky and then are swept into the white wisps hiding the sun. The road winds between wide lush valleys, foothills to mountains, the horizon ends where green meets the blue.

“We’re not making good time today,” Brad proclaims. But time makes itself and we follow it. Nothing has stayed consistent, not the landscape, not the road, not the hours, we keep losing them as we head South and East. It is foolish to even measure progress, but I tell him we’re doing fine.

Leaving Mazatlan was the maze that killed the mouse with all its detours, craters full of steel, cement, overpasses, widening and thinning roads, people as extensions of all the rubble. In the morning we saw the sun rise over the Golf of California, saw the mist over the ocean as the heat inland was pulled towards it and a few pedestrians ventured the cold, rough waters. Outside the sleepy tourist town barely opened its doors at 9 AM as we wandered  around looking for our one big meal of the day.

The Sierra Madre Occidental frames the East and we continue to push South and then inland towards Guadalajara. The tolls don’t go under $61 pesos ($5.30 USD); the highest was the one to Tepic, $171 pesos ($14.86 USD). Lovely road, but can’t say I’ve ever paid that much for a toll road outside of Mexico for a 150 KM stretch. It explains the emptiness of the roads and the sporadic Federales, federal police, who randomly pick speeders. A joke really when we’re all more than the 100 KM per hour speed limit, over by at least 30 more kilometers.

I get lost in the terrain and my foot slips off the pedal dropping my speed below the 80 MPH –Brad’s requisite measurement for our progress. He tries not to say anything, but the silence says it all. We are not making good time because of you. It’s true, I forget destinations. The journey gives me peace.  I have learned this, there’s nothing like a 3,300 mile road trip to test a marriage, over and over again.

We reach Tepic, population 336, 413. Really? Jalisco awaits and so does the four-lane freeway with triple digit tolls. We’re talking four-lane freeways of unbroken lovely new asphalt, no Federales, no topes, no towns, no nothing to stymie this forward catapult.

Pedal to the metal and Brad hits 80-85-90 MPH while I doze off. Between waking I see the steep red canyons of the Sierra Madre and they’ve swallowed us completely in their folds. We’ left the coast and it hurts me to be that far from the water. We’ve entered Central Mexico: Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, Guanajuato, Queretaro, Hidalgo, León, D.F.  The rains descend upon us washing away the insect corpses splattered against our windshield. Rains, thunder, and rumbling from the Gods.


No To the Tolls! Cuota Protest Near Los Mochis, Mexico

There’s an edge to Sinaloa. In less than two hours we go through three security checkpoints – military men with rifles, dark sunglasses and crisp blue uniforms sizing you up to determine whether or not you must get out of your car for further questioning, or simply wave you on for the next 50 KM. These checkpoints are on top of all the tolls, construction and gas stops we must make. We don’t stop for anything else.

This is the way to get through Sinaloa- as quickly and unnoticed as possible.

We’re getting closer to the Pacific Ocean, you can smell it in the air and the heat is different. It’s no longer dry and dusty, it sits under your armpits and above your upper lip. I put my hand above my brow to protect from the sun when I get out for gas. I try to talk to the gas attendants asking them what’s up ahead, any trouble, any news. The light is more direct, blinding. You’re exposed.

We drive past Los Mochis and the corn stalks start to grow in small patches and then entire deep green fields brushed by the wind and reaching as far as the base of the Sierra Madre foothills where the border with Sinaloa and Durango hangs. Closer to the Golfo de California I imagine all the fishing villages, Las Arenitas, Boca del Rio San Lorenzo, places that stand as a time capsule, a life lived as a farmer, a worker, a fisherman, the old man, the sea.

Two hours from Mazatlan and while I can’t say we’ve taken our shoes off yet, we’re definitely well inside. The road resonates, the imprint manifests from the last two trips, intelligent genes pumping their DNA into our blood streams as we inhale the landscape like air itself.

Small sunflowers grow among the corn and eucalyptus trees line the road on both sides. It’s hard to tell what lays at rest in their shade – fruit vendors, a man fixing his motorcycle, a family waiting to cross the road, a man sleeping against the trunk of the tree with his sombrero over his face, arms crossed against his chest and his legs entwined like roots. There’s nobody on the road except a few tractor trailers, and newer vehicles with completely opaque limousine-tinted windows like us. The toll roads remind you of the privatization of things that should be public infrastructure. I shake my head at the insane costs of the roads as we stop at yet another cuota. A large crowd of people in white t-shirts suddenly surround the toll booths before we reach the front of the line. Their t-shirts read “No a Las Casetas, Si a Las Libres.” No to the tolls, Yes to the public roads. The cars line up and idle as the crowd of 100 or so gathers in the lane next to us, then march over to overtake our lane.

Mainstream TV news camera crews film every car that passes without paying and I wonder what time we’ll be  the news tonight. When it’s our turn to pay, I reach for my money, look at the group of protestors, then at the toll collector and I don’t know what to do. Finally the toll collector lifts the gate and waves us through. Everyone cheers and claps. In the United States we would get  ticket in the mail. Here in Mexico, I honk my horn in solidarity and drive on to seamless road.

Por Carretera

Knowing more doesn’t necessarily equate to feeling more control, more groundedness in that knowledge. Knowing more can be quite unnerving – you are more aware of the myriad ways things can go wrong so quickly and in awe at the small needle hole that has to exist for things to go right. The question for me is always how do you stay optimistic, maintain a beginner’s mind in the face of that knowledge of the inevitable entropy of all things?

At the Nogales border it’s every runaway thought for itself, stories spun from news stories about the rising drug-related violence in Mexico, the mass graves, the bus raids, the extortions and kidnappings, the passing through a narco-war torn country. At the Aduana I pray to the Virgin de Guadelupe to keep us safe and show us the right path.

Out there is only the expanse of the desert, all brush and the heavy curtain of heat and blue sky. Everything opens into it, movement slows, things wither, toughen, create another skin – the Palo Verde blooms yellow flowers, the cacti stand eternal, and everything braces for high noon. We race across the uneven two-land road headed south to Hermosillo, the capital of the State of Sonora, our gateway into the rest of Mexico.

Discovery: El Claro, Los Chinos, El Oasis. My nerves relax into the landscape, evaporate like water from the land. Out here it’s a balance between movement and rest, openness and closure, destination and seeking.

The jagged desert rocks are painted with names “Chito y Juana” billboards for past and current loves, until the sun’s fading.

Our truck feels like a canon and our bodies the canon balls bring hurled through this terrain. Today we put our feet in the door, tomorrow we enter completely, a drive of 12 hours and the next day ten more. It doesn’t get any easier from here. We just find peace with one passing kilometer after the other.

Makin’ Copies… and models!

This is the dude who makes photocopies of your important documents at one of the many Aduanas (customs offices) in Mexico. Like all good bureaucratic agencies in Central America, they require copies of everything, and this guy is basically the on-site Kinko’s. Anyway, he’s obviously enjoyed a bit of downtime to be able to build some terrific little model cars, trucks and campers. Some even double as jewelry boxes. Here’s a detail of one of his works-in-progress:

Our Drive to Guatemala Has Begun!

Miss Newmaya strikes a rare pose at Venice Beach.

We started our drive from Oakland to Guatemala today, first stop: Venice Beach. Tomorrow we go to Phoenix and then we cross the border at Nogales over the weekend. We’ll be posting up photos, words and videos every day – stay tuned!