The Machete Heist

I am literally writing this with blood on my hands.  O and if you are my parents, lets just skip over this blog post.  This happened less than one hour ago, and is the most crazy thing that has ever happened to me in a South American country.  I mean more crazy than being robbed in Guatemala City, or having a tire iron being waved in my face by a taxi driver in Argentina, or even seeing 4k of coke being pulled out from the seat in front of me the last time I was here in Peru.

Here is what happened. This morning, I decided to go for a run to start training for the Inca Trail or even more immediately, my potential backpacking trip to the Lares valley next weekend.  I headed up to the Temple of the Moon (ok, I didn´t run up the hills, but did some trail running once I got up there) where I had gone hiking with some friends the week before.  At the end of my run, I decided to hike up to the top of the tallest hill in the valley to rest and take in the view.

As I approached, I saw three 15-17 year old Peruvians coming up at the same time.  I didn´t think anything of it until I saw one coming up my left hand side, and the other two (one in a Yankees cap…I think this speaks volumes) walking behind me.  My very imaginative mind flashed to all sorts of movies where they were surrounding me and cutting off my exits and saw a place straight ahead where I could run down unobstructed.  I immediately dismissed this as ridiculous because this only happens in movies right?

Less than ten seconds later, the kid I saw on my left hand side ran up and sat down by me, put his arm around my neck forcefully and said “tienes sencillo” more or less meaning do you have exact change.  I jumped up realizing what was happening and tried to throw him off me when I saw the kid in the Yankees cap with a two and a half foot machete run up and tell me to hand over all my stuff.

The rest is a blur. I remember trying to get loose and telling them both ok I´ll hand over my stuff (then I thought about my brand new canon camera and my credit cards in my bag and knew I didn´t want to do that) but told them to let me go first.  I remember thinking about yelling, but who was around? I remember the kid in the Yankees cap holding the machete low and swinging it at me and me jumping back. And I remember trying to grab the machete so it won´t hit me. I remember finally grabbing kid A and throwing him into the kid with the Yankees cap and rock hopping and scrambling down the mountain.

Then, I all out sprinted a kilometer (which is superhuman at 12k feet) through some trees downhill to the Temple of the Moon (they chased me for a while, but thank God for long legs).  I got chased by the dog of a couple of older Peruvians who I warned about the robbers.  And finally, finally, I made it to the security guard who stands guarding the site, and told him all about it.

I ran/jogged back into the city with a don´t mess with me grimace on my face. I don´t know how all of it happened, but I assure everyone that I am fine, that I will find people to hike with, and that the cuts on my hands from scrambling and from the fight will heal.  Below is a picture from the moon temple. It all went down on the hill a little to the left of the photo:

From Templo de la Luna

Getting in the Christmas Spirit (Read This)

Merry Christmas! This post is a MUST READ and is partially a carry over post from my minimalism post on Black Friday, and partially its own entity about making the holidays worthwhile.

First of all, I love Christmas. The tree, Christmas lights (you can ask my parents about what I did to our house when I was a little kid), hot cider, going over to Grandma´s house on Christmas Eve, eating tamales (everyone has their own Christmas traditions), the stockings, Eggs Benedict Christmas morning, watching my Beagle open up his gifts.  The feeling of being around those who you love and those who love you.  I love all of it.

As I search for meaning over the Holidays, I reflect on what I would change about all of it if I could.  And (I know I am not original saying this) I think that we mistake all the great feelings that culminate in Christmas for what we give and what we receive instead of the traditions and the people that really matter.  More than that, I–and I´m sure I´m not alone in this–find myself buying gifts that people don´t want just for the sake of giving them something.

My advice: if you run across that person that has everything this holiday season, instead of buying them another thing that they don´t want or need, get creative.  Buy> my shameless plug goes here: buy Kiva gift cards (you are giving something and helping entrepreneurs around the world!) Or buy gifts from social responsible and cause related not-for-profits like Ten Thousand Villages or Nightlight International *great handmade jewelry! Or give the gift of time: I remember one of my favorite gifts as a kid was a book from my Dad full of outings to the beach, ice dream, hiking, Disneyland, etc. It becomes more than a gift, but an excuse to spend time with your loved ones.

 

The Cusco Christmas Market

My final thought for the 1st of December concerns my own holiday plans.  With some of the people in the office, we are pooling our money to buy food, toys, and small gifts for the poor that come to sell handicrafts at the Cusco Christmas market on the 24th.  I am putting forward $50 with another $100 or so from my co-workers.  I have never been one to ask for money; however, if this is something you are interested in giving money to, feel free to donate (right hand side of the page) and (like Kiva) 100% of the money given will get to the families that need it most on Christmas Eve.  And you can count on me taking pictures and blogging about the project after its through!

Merry Christmas from Down South

Living with Less

I remember coming back from college the summer after freshman year, looking at a room full of stuff that I hadn´t used and wondering how I got it all.  Then, I just started giving it away.  I didn´t even realize that it was a part of my lifestyle until when at my college graduation party, my mom mentioned this habit as something she admired.  Now, I am spending July to March traveling and working in South America, out of a backpack, and I continue to wonder, what do we really need?

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less” – Socrates

So, here are some of my random thoughts on minimalism, “Living with Less”.  It seems that as Americans, when we are bored, we consume.  We buy new DVDs or invest money in new hobbies.  (I do all this).  Then we look at a blank shelf and wonder what we could put there and we head to Pottery Barn or an Antique Shop for that perfect “thing” to fit that hole on the shelf. (Guilty).  Consider even, the stimulus package: it was given for the purpose of consumption under the pretense that buying more would be good for the economy.

And at the end of the day, we end up with rooms, houses, garages, and storage units full of stuff that we have used once or twice and left by the wayside.  And I wonder if this consumption inspired by boredom is what we must really do to be happy? And I wonder that if everything I own was stolen, would I be less content?  I think back to the robbery in Guatemala, and sad as I was that all my stuff was gone, I realized that it wasn´t the end of the world, and that I could survive without all the stuff that I had lost.  Packing as I did for Peru, I realized that all I am taking in my 55l Osprey is all I will really need for the next few months.  More than that, I realize that I would be satisfied with what I brought for longer than a few months.

My revelation lies not in the desire to give up everything we own, but the evaluation that the things I own don´t make me who I am.  It lies in the realization that the most spectacular parts, the best memories in your life will never be created by the things you bought, but by people you were with.  So, endeavour, as I do, to make your life less about what you buy and more about those with whom you can share your life with.

Borrower Visits Here

Maybe I have written too much in the past, but now that my camera is back, I can load my posts with amazing “I wish you were here” photos.

Yesterday, I went with one of Asociación Arariwa´s (pronounced Ararigwa. who would have known?) loan officers into the Sacred Valley of Cuzco, the provincia de Urubamba to the town of Chincero.  There, I was performing a “BV” or Borrower Verification.  It´s to make sure that the loan information, the loan use, and the borrower match what is posted on the Kiva website.  Anyway, I´ll let the pictures speak for me:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Save Me, San Diego

It´s not a daydream if you decide to make it your life – Train

It has been a while.  And typically with my schedule as it was in the states I would never have the chance to get on and blog.  But here I am.  I think its only because I am trying to put off packing for as long as possible.

I visited a ton of people (and I´m super bummed about those that I never got a chance to hang out with!) and tomorrow, I leave for Cuzco, Peru.  As I leave, I wonder what would happen if I stayed.  If I would get a job, if I would be happy back in L.A. or the U.S.A. for a while.  But if I did, I would wonder what sort of adventure I missed out on down south.  Which is why I try to continue to turn my travel dreams into reality.  Over the next few months, I´m going to live at the base of Machu Piccu, explore Patagonia, and continue to serve as a Kiva Fellow in one of the coolest cities in South America.

It´s with a mix of nostalgia and excitement that I leave the U.S. because when you get down to it, nothing in the world beats a California sunset or crusing down PCH.

Guatemala Rundown (2)

I apologize for the uncreative title. I could title this “Stuff I won’t miss” or “Guate Culture Shock” or “Welcome Eric, this isn’t your country”, but true to form, this is my second (personal) decompression of the country where I have lived for the last few months.  And lets face it, everyone secretly likes the movie The Rundown with the Rock and only is reading this to see if I will reference it. WELL, I DID.

Safety. I have been robbed three times in my life. The first in Rio de Janeiro during carnaval (my wallet got lifted out of a friends purse), the second in Tijuana coming back from building a house (locks got punched out on the van and my backpack with my tools, phone and car keys got lifted), and the third here (window broken at 9am and laptop, two cameras gone in the first week).  I had heard that Guate City wasn’t the place to dance in the streets after nightfall, but I wasn’t expecting everything I had brought to get stolen the first week.  It’s a matter of fear and i’m not the only one who feels it.  The papers tell of mass murders in restaurants in the downtown, or armed bus assaults, or how 12 and 13 year old boys get paid Q100 by gangs to kill random people (Guatemala laws protect minors from going to prison).  It’s a sad reality that where there is poverty, there is crime, and I hope that for the sake of all Guatemalans the streets are cleaned up.

Food. Ok, this isn’t entirely a negative.  I have a love hate relationship with the food here.  I love the typical Guatemalan food: the tortillas are out of this world, as are the tamales, the shukos, the beans, the plantains and the soups (minus the revolcado).  But they consume limited quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables (makes me wonder where the huge bags of carrots and truck loads of pineapple go), and a lot of fast food.  I guess what I am saying is that I have ate more McDonalds here than my entire life in the states (exaggeration? possibly, but close), and although I love American culture, I like to leave it behind when I travel.

Loneliness. This isn’t Guatemala, it’s me. From my year in Argentina to my summer in Spain and Israel, I have always had a ready-made group of friends.  Travel is easy when you speak a foreign language 50% of the time and still have the comforts of your own culture.  Here, my English has deteriorated.  I love living with a family, but I speak Spanish at work, then at home.  I guess after a while, I just start to miss well America (in the form beyond fast food).

Videos of my visit to Iximche, Mayan ruins outside of Tecpan, microfinance thoughts, a new Kiva blog post, and a street food post soon.

Guatemala Rundown (1)

So, in exactly 8 dias, my feet will touch U.S. soil once again.  Now, this usually isn´t a feeling I have when I´m traveling, but I´m ready to go home.  It´s not that I haven´t enjoyed Guatemala; it´s just that i´m ready to move on to the next adventure.  I have basically finished my Kiva workplan for FAPE (at the start of the fellowship 770 hours of work), and am (minus a couple of field visits) just bidding my time.

But before I go, I wanted to post a short series (and will help keep me busy) about Guatemala: my favorite and least favorite parts and what I have learned about life and microfinance.

Lago Atitlan. For anyone that has visited Guatemala, they would list this as a highlight.  Six years ago, I came to Guatemala on a high school trip building a school and besides the sacrificed goat on the steps of a church in Chichicastenago, the iconic image of three volcanos shrouded in clouds was forever burned in my memory.  And thankfully so, the film from six years ago was ruined and my camera this time was stolen before I could back up the pictures.  Particularly jumping into the pristine water from the cliffs in San Marcos and eating the fresh burritos and drinking coffee from a nameless café on the waterfront will inevitably be some of the highlights of my trip.

Antigua. Is it too touristy to say this? The pristine colonial city nestled in the mountains just minutes from Guatemala City was my refugee multiple times from the city.  There are more extranjeros in a 10 block radius here than the rest of Guatemala (ok, I made that up, but its true), and more cafés than natives, but the presence of an additional police force keeps the streets clean and I can´t think of a better place in the world to spend an afternoon drinking a coffee on the patio of a café overlooking its cobblestone streets.

Totonicapán. Or the Xela and the surrounding mountains. The only place you can get a real taste of Guatemala.  Small towns, beautiful churches, comedores serving a hot caldo de res (soup) on a cold day, and untouched mountains.  Where corn is more popular than McDonalds (and more prolific: think corn tamales, tortillas, atoll (corn drink), corn liquor, and whatever else you can dream of) and where hospitality is a way of life.  My two weeks living in a small village in Aldea Nimasac and being the first gringo that most of the kids had ever seen was unparalleled.

My reason to return to Guatemala: Tikal, the Mayan ruins in the Peten district to the northeast. Yesterday, someone asked me my favorite parts of Central America, I replied that lets take the food, culture, Lago Atitlan, Antigua, and combine them with the beaches in El Salvador.  Ideal.