Sunday, May 29, 2016

What To Do, What To Do?

A Mexican magician said he would do a magic trick on the count of three.
Uno...Dos...**poof** He disappeared without a "tres"

I have a decision to make in the next couple of months. This may sound insane but I need to decide on where to go and what to do next. Here are my recent options that may be subject to change.

1. Teach English for a year in the Dominican Republic in September.
2. Teach English for a year in Mexico City or Puebla. No job offer but easy enough to get.
3. Volunteer as an English Teacher and working with the Peace Corps for 3 months in Malawi starting in September
4. Volunteer at a Monkey and Manatee sanctuary in Belize with someone really interesting starting Jan 2017
5. Teach English in China for a year in September.
6. I also just applied to a position in Puerto Cortes, Honduras. The Caribbean Coast of Honduras is spectacular, and this town is located just a short hop to Utila and Roatan. I would consider learning to Scuba (finally). I found it on, an impressive website if you are looking for international job/volunteer opportunities.

Yes, these are the choices in my life now. Without being random and heading where the winds blow there needs to be a method to my madness. Flying to Malawi then back to Belize works but is it realistic? To be honest if I put the effort into flying to Malawi and being in Africa, well I am staying in Africa. A trip to Malawi would then include trips or working contract in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Madagascar and Namibia to start. It would also include Cage Diving with Great Whites in South Africa, climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the pristine white beaches of Namibia, the lemurs and baobab trees of Madagascar and the Serengeti Plains. This is just touching on the treasures of Africa and it is a full and well thought out commitment. I am down for it and realistically I should do what I do and get out of my comfort zone. Yes, Latin America has become my new comfort zone.

Via México! Although I am not living and working in an exciting city at the moment, Tehuacán does have it's charms and we all know its not the place it's the people. Last night we went to Parrillas where I devoured an impressive burger which was followed up with a short walk to McCarthy's Irish Pub where all beer was 2 for 1. It was Happy Day instead of Happy Hour. Happiness can be seen here. Teaching jobs in Mexico are plentiful. Mexico City and it's 25 million people and it high on my list. Puebla is another busy town but as I said there are jobs in Cancun, Merida, Telum, San Cristobal and so many places in between. Thinking long and hard makes me realize that there is a reason so many people over 60 are teaching here. It's easy and safe. Maybe Mexico needs to be pushed down the list and I can return in a few years. “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” -  Neale Donald Walsch and with that in mind it is time to leave my new comfort zone. It is time to scare myself a bit.

Now take what I just said and DO NOT apply it to the Dominican Republic. I can say with clarity that this little gem would be a quality challenge. I know quite a few people who have gone to "Resort Dominican Republic" but how many have ventured outside of their resort walls, with the exception of some overpriced "excursion"? I am not judging I am just asking. I think DR would supply me with just enough of an "edge and challenge" plus there are direct flights to Cuba, where I am going to visit before It gets all "Americanized".  DR you are tops on my list. Now I just need to blow the directors of the school away with a decent Skype Interview. Stay tuned.

There is something special about Honduras and the Honduran Caribbean Coast. Yes Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula are shit holes but once out of the major cities it is a whole new world. Honduras ranks 2nd for me after Nicaragua as places I have lived, worked and traveled in Latin America. With that being said a teaching position in Puerto Cortez has really grabbed me by my limited attention span. Another position I have just applied for and am waiting to hear back. It begins August 16th so that means when my current contract ends on August 13th I would head directly there. The Latin American teaching market is slowly evolving as people are heading back from well paying Asian Jobs to discover the gems that are located here. I would not hesitate to spend time here as my comfort zone would be challenged by finally learning to Scuba Dive. If I am going to be devoured by a Great White, aside from South Africa this is where I would want it to happen. Hot sauce optional.

Would I want to back to Belize after just having been there? The short answer is not really but the real answer is yes. You may be saying to yourself "Ken like usual you are not making any sense". Well welcome to the world that is my thought process, come on in the water is turbulent.
There are two reasons I would go back to Belize for a month. The first is the volunteer position is with Wild Tracks Conservation where I would help to rehabilitate monkeys and manatees. How brilliant would that be? The work would be tough and challenging but rewarding none the less. The second and most important reason I would go back to Belize is that one of my favorite people is thinking of going there to start her new life's journey and has asked me to join her. That tops everything! Shoveling monkey poo at 5 am sounds like a great way to start my day.

Who does not want to spend a year in China? The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, Terracotta Warriors, Huangshan, Nanjing, Tienanmen Square and so much more. However like Malawi and Africa if I head to Asia I am staying a while, possibly a long while. China holds so much plus would have new challenges for me to tackle and I would welcome those challenges. I do not have any desire to learn Cantonese or Mandarin but those negative thoughts face when you can not buy a bowl of soup at a local small town shop. Aside from Eastern Europe (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) Asia has been calling out to me for a long time. I have been to Japan twice and that was a great safe introduction to the insanity that can be Asia. I would move from China over to Cambodia where ESL jobs are plentiful then onto Vietnam because, well it's freaking Vietnam! My interview is next month as they do not want to talk to me until I half way through my current contract which I respect.

These are all theoretically realistic so to speak and I will have to make a decision within the next month. There is a trip back to Canada (possibly) in the middle of August to regroup. I need to update my passport as it is about to expire and nobody will let me into their country if my passport has less then 6 months to live (remember that for future travels). I have to do the dance with the CRA and get my taxes taken care of plus I need some of Mom's home cooking.

I adore Theoretically Realistic.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Tehuacán Mexico

What comes to mind when you think about Mexico? Warm weather, 5 star all inclusive beach side resorts, tequila, tacos, siestas, drugs and crimes. Cactus, tumbleweeds, donkeys, dirt trails and good weed? All of those things and many others exists here in this kind and generous country. However I can say with certainty that Tehuacán, capital of the Mexican poultry market did not spring to mind.

As things go Tehuacán can be considered a bit isolated in a broad sense of the word. To get anywhere takes time, commitment, patience and the ability to sit on a bus for an extended period of time. The good news is the buses are pretty darn modern and comfy. One hour from Puebla. 3.5 hours from Mexico City, 3 hours from Oaxaca, 10 hours to the Pacific beaches of Hualtulco or Puerto Escondito or 5 hours to the Caribbean beach of Veracruz, which is not worth the effort unless you are training in running scared for you life.
The Mexican flag has a great story behind it, and it started here around Tehuacan
That being said Tehuacán is clean, safe and thriving and maybe just a bit on the boring side, like a good accountant in sensible brown shoes. Sure, there are bars, restaurants and local charms but I sadly stare at the gorgeous mountains surrounding the town knowing they are to dangerous to explore. Yes Narcos (drug runners) drugs, guns and getting killed  are distinct possibilities if you are a Gringo hiking. There not "gold in them thar hills" there is "danger in them thar hills.

As teachers with Heslington we get hired for one term at a time which lasts 4 to 6 months. There are teachers here on their second term who literally have mentally checked out with 6 weeks to go. They have that bored to death stare that one gets by being somewhere that does not excite them just a bit to long. I will keep that in mind come August if the opportunity presents itself for a second go around. I am counting my chickens so to speak but this is the town for it.

Downtown Street View
Bored is a relative term. What is boring to one person is top end excitement to another and I can certainly keep myself busy for 85 more days. I am gaining valuable teaching and classroom management time plus learning to teach the Cambridge Exam preparation course. We will see how that goes as I have 4 days of 90 minute classes to teach mid teenager aged students who want nothing to do with it. Yippeee! Good times.
On a more "my life is getting sadder by the minute" note, learning the rules of grammar is exciting to me now, I never saw that one coming. Then there is my bumbling of Spanish which I can practice at any time plus the streets here have fantastic finds such as woman who sell delicious food outside of the windows of their homes. If you ask they will open their doors and you will literally eat in their kitchen. There is beer to be enjoyed on sunny days, well rainy days now. Euro 2016 is about to start and there is an Irish Bar in town which should provide enough amusement to last a while.

Yes Sir. That is a Woolworth. I ran in looking for the lunch counter to no avail.
This is not a tourist town, this is a working town. There are no cheap backpacker hostels or hoards of lost 20 somethings wandering around  dazed and confused looking for the latest "I heard it was cool" thing to do.  There are some nice hotels as you would expect in a town of 250,000 and a quick check on AirBnB shows a few cheap places to bunk for the night. If you are traveling and have been on the road for a while the attraction here is that there is no attractions. That can be very appealing especially in a large, clean, inexpensive and safe city. The only non Mexicans I have seen in this town the past 3 weeks have been the teachers of Heslington and a tall blond German girl hanging off the arm of a much shorter local. The Germans, like Coca Cola are literally everywhere.

Now that is a church entrance
I will probably need a weekend road trip soon, maybe next week. The logical choice would be Puebla which is an hour north. There is also a huge market for ESL teachers so having a look around serves a couple of functions. I also have a 5 day weekend coming up in July so that means big, busy and scary Mexico City and the ruins at Teotihuacan. One simple yet great thing about living here is whichever way I choose to walk home I have a choice of 10 shops where I can pick up an ice cold 6 pack. I can not imagine the absurdity of the antiquated Ontario liquor laws any longer.

My "go to" for immediate supplies including fresh baked bread and treats
Finally, did you know that the following sentence is grammatically correct.
 I said that "that "that" that that man said" should be underlined.
Yes sir, 5 that's in a row and its correct. As sad and pathetic as it sounds this is what seriously excites me now.  It sure makes me miss the awesomeness that is Nicaragua. I think I need to climb something soon!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Day In The Life

"We are sorry your fries took to long to come out of the kitchen. Here have some free Mezcal. OK amigo, do you want another?" And with that my first week of teaching ended and my first real weekend began.

The final English lesson of the week was under wraps and the lights of  La Choperia Tehuacán called out to us like the safety of a lighthouse beacon during an approaching storm. With a cold beer in hand and the warm blanket feeling of the weekend was quickly enveloping me so I reflected on the week that was. Suddenly and without warning Boom goes the dynamite!. My personal paradise and internal monologue were shattered back to reality by the my arch nemesis. The evilness that goes by the demon name Karaoke reared its ugly first notes.

Karaoke and I do not mix. We collide with such a force of hatred that that new weather patterns have been know to form, however I was with new friends who were friendly and funny and now was not the time. The Mezcal helped as did the Mexican Victoria which is close to being the best beer I have had while in Latin America. Her cousin Nicaragua Victoria does come a close second so with a little luck I may have to us all together for a threesome one weekend.  With Dos Esquis, Tecate and and a wide assortment of good beer to discover while I am here the threesome just might turn into a good old fashion 60s orgy. Being the light weight I am where it comes to drinking I will have to keep away from the Mezcal and Tequila regardless of the circumstances. Check that. When I find myself at a Lucha Libre match in Mexico City one Friday night anything goes.

Travel time is over and work time has begun. Here is my weekly schedule that runs through August 13th.Then its that big bird back to Canada for a few weeks to devour as many chicken wings as humanly possible. There will be odd days off, an upcoming 5 day long weekend in July (hello big and scary Mexico City) plus an assortment of tests, exams and surprise activities.

Its not sexy but it gets me to work.
Its not exciting but its a routine that I can manage. I may just have to fit in a gym membership ($20 a month) and drag my butt in there daily for an hour or so. I lost some much needed weight while working for Quetzel Trekker but was kept strong by hiking and eating well. Food poisoning took its toll on me but I gained that weight back quickly while devouring everything in sight the last couple of weeks including to much junkie type foods. No big deal, it was needed.

6:30 - Wake up and do morning stuff
7:45 - 10 minute walk to get my Combi ride to school (small van). 5.5 pesos or .40  each.
8:30 - 10:15 Teach 13 students in grades 8 and 9 at Discovery Middle School
10:15 - 11:15 Break
11:15 to 12:45 Teach 8 students in grade 7 at Discovery Middle School
12:45 - 6:00. Eat, lesson planning, studying and nap time.
6:00 - 7:00 Teach a fluency class of 12 students at Heslington Language Institute
7:00 - 8:00 Teach a fluency class of 8 students at Heslington Language Institute
8:00:01 - Run Home!

The one drawback of living in Tehuacan is that we are a bit isolated. Oaxaca is 3 hours away, Puebla an hour, Mexico City 4 and the Pacific Beaches are about 7. The Sunday 45 minute chicken bus ride to the Nicaraguan beaches of Poneloya and Las Peñitas or access to 7 very different active volcanoes are a distant memory. No worries, that is why I am living this life. Different countries, different towns and different experiences.

Volcan Popocatépetl Iztaccihuatl and Pico de Orizaba and the ruins of Teotehuacan near Mexico City are on my radar and all three of the are beasts. They rank numbers 3,5 and 8 of the highest peaks in North America, (*GULP*) and require some basic mountaineering technical skills.

Challenge accepted.

Pico de Orizaba

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Back To Work - Heslington Language

Seven weeks have passed quickly as they do when you are backpacking and around Central America. It is soothing when the only things you have to worry about are border controls, guns, gangs, bus schedules, food poisoning, dengue and Chickngunya, street dogs (not the Toronto kind that taste amazing at 1:00 am), money changers, touts, mosquitoes, spiders, giant snakes, altitude sickness, bad water, sun stroke, smelly clothes, cold showers and over crowed buses. However these small inconveniences are rewarded by swimming with sharks, amazing conversations with new interesting people, exploding volcanoes, clear views above the clouds, deep cave hikes, the overwhelming beauty of Mayan Ruins, tubing in a clear river with cold beer at 9:00 am, holding a baby crocodile, Colonial towns and busy town squares, helpful and smiling locals, great taxi driver stories, jungle lodges and the ultimate, hammocks. Glorious, glorious hammocks. Now that reality has reared its ugly but important and useful head. It's time to get back to work and find a routine for the next 3 months.

My recent contract is with the Heslington Language Program in Tehuacán which is a modern, clean and very safe city of about 250,000 in Puebla, Mexico. I accepted this position just before the New Year for the spring and summer semester and it runs May 9th to August 13th which to me is a nice 12 week program. Then it`s the big bird back to Canada from Mexico City for either a Visa run or a regroup to teaching parts unknown. Maybe its time for my great Asian Adventure, but lets not get ahead of ourselves just yet. There are other parts of Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Cuba just waiting to be explored.

40 Pesos = $2.86C at the corner market today. I could find it cheaper at the main market
I arrived in Tehuacán from Oaxaca on May 3rd and was immediately met at the bus terminal by Danny and Kaitlyn. They took me to my apartment, handed me my keys and off they went which is exactly what I wanted so I had indeed arrived. Training was to start on the 5th so I had 2 days to settle in, explore and get setup which meant laundry and groceries to start. I had not washed my clothes in the better part of three weeks and regardless of my attempt at cleaning socks and underwear by hand my clothes were nasty. Things had to be tossed out and there was a Wallmart and a Woolworth, yes a Woolworth in this town. I used to get excited about live concerts, good weed and cold beer. Now it`s Wallmart and Woolworth for new socks and underwear. How did that sh** happen? I better go look into a mirror and have a long emotional chat with myself. (That should freak out the new room mates a bit).  I will be sharing an apartment with Rachel, Scott, Cathy and Fleur who you can read about in the  TEAM BIOs

It was a busy and interesting prelude to my first day of school which is on Monday the 9th. We had a welcome/training session on the 5th where I met most of the new and returning teachers.  It is an interesting mix of 20 somethings and well NOT 20 somethings which include me in that group. Experienced veterans and brand spanking new graduates, like  shiny new pennies all mixing together. Like the scene in The Shawkshank Redemption where the inmates are betting on which new inmate cracks during their first night in the pen I have a little bet in my head as to who is going to snap first.  A man needs  hobby to keep him occupied. We are a crew of Canadians, Americans, Brits and a Welshman who although his name is Tom who is well over 6 foot, 250 lbs, long red beard and big hearty laugh. Friendly and funny he now goes by the name Thor. It was fun to share beer with him, Emma, Katy and Matthew our first sunny Saturday. Nobody and I mean nobody drinks Corona. Well nobody drinks the Corona in the clear bottles that is shipped worldwide. "Es Basura!" (its garbage) say the locals. There is a Corona in a brown bottle that I saw and will try that in the future. Saturday was all about Indio which has long been the Pabst Blue Ribbon of Mexico...good grief. It is tasty.

After 2.5 days of lesson planning, meet and greets, orientation, a BBQ and cold beer it is time to get back in front of the class. In my case, classes. Every day I will be teaching a mixed class of grade 8 and 9 for 90 minutes, then a class of grade 7s for 90 minutes. I then have 5 hours off to regroup for my Adult Fluency classes at 6 and 7. These can be long days if you waste your time. There is a small gym near me plus I can get work done during the day to free up my weekends. Night time will be Spanish study and believe it or not English grammar study because I suck at it.

My house has hot water, decent internet and no roosters. I miss roosters.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Stop Shoulding All Over Yourself

Tehuacán . I arrived alive and feeling pretty decent. I now have a full kitchen and to prove to myself I was feeling better I devoured 3 large plates of pasta and meat sauce without taking a breathe. After two weeks of soup, crackers, banana's and yogurt I had to put my belly through a stress test plus I took a minute to realized I had a massive hunger on once I got going. The pains in my belly were not the remnants of my bout with food poisoning, they were hunger pangs that I was ignoring. So stretch my stomach I did, I needed some calories man.

New, Modern and Safe..well except for the pat down and "just in case" photos
The bus ride from Oaxaca to Tehuacán was just over 3 hours. I took ADO Bus Lines. Modern, safe and comfortable. North America has quite a bit to learn about bus service when compared to a company such as ADO. Similar to an airport I checked my backpack and a crew of very clean and polite baggage handlers took care of the rest. A bus driver in a new pressed white shirt greeted me with a smile and verified my ticket and I was feeling good. Then the military police did a quick pat down and checked my day back but finished with a "gracias senor, bien viaje". I sometimes forget that I am in Latin America and there are serious problems here, especially Mexico. I like that they were taking care of things efficiently. Once aboard another person came on and took pictures of us all with a video camera. I knew why and it creeped me out knowing that was for identification "just in case". Well the window seat was comfortable, I had a hot coffee and Van Morrison on my Ipod so I leaned back and relaxed knowing that at the very least they would be able to identify my dead or kidnapped body.

Once we got outside of Oaxaca the journey was stunning. We drove up well paved and maintained mountain roads in a brand new reliable bus. This certainly was not Bolivia. The mountains came out of nowhere but suddenly they they were with deep green valleys and cactus for as far as they eye could see. The bus driver maintained a safe a reliable speed (do you hear that Guatemala?) and at no time did I feel unsafe. I have traveled far and wide in buses from Mexico to the South tip of Argentina.  Whether its a modern beauty in Mexico or Peru or a run down smoke spewing, brake squealing, 80s music blaring over crowed chicken bus in Guatemala, I like traveling by bus. I like everything about it. The people you meet, the non rushed felling (see airport stress) and having the ability to just stare out the window lost in your thoughts at the passing landscape for hours at a time.

"If I should die in a car wreck, I hope Van Morrison is on my tape deck"
-- Lyrics from U Li La Lu  by Poi Dog Pondering

In case your wondering the answer is yes. I start every bus trip listening to Van Morrison.

Not sure if I can find a cactus in this picture
I am settled into my shared apartment in Tehuacán. It will be fine for the 4 months I am here. Contract extensions are very common but we will jump that cactus when we get to it. The town itself is a non "Gringo Trial Town". If there is a back packer wandering around they are very adventurous or lost. I am betting lost. I wandered into the downtown the last couple of days and could count 1 gringo, me. The upside is that the town has a friendly non intrusive feel. Coming from a tourist town I get how you can resent them even though you need them, probably why you resent them. The circle of tourism. Here there is no need to pry my tourist dollars from my wallet. Its a robust healthy and clean town. Plus its cool. Not hip cool, temperature cool. After 6 months in the cauldron that was Leon Nicaragua I am now in the middle of a desert with cool evening breezes. There are the same roosters, all night barking dogs, random late night fireworks and car alarm but I will never escape that while in Latin America.

Tomorrow is Cinco De Mayo and I am in Mexico. It commemorate the Mexican victory over French Forces in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. I guess my main question is, what the hell were the French doing in Mexico? Anyways it will be beer, tequila, music and fireworks all over town tomorrow. How will I rock Cinco De Mayo. By being sober and in bed by 10:00 because that is how I roll.

Finally. Along the way I came across the phrase "Stop Shoulding All Over Yourself" and just love the play on words. As much as I have freed myself from many of the personal shackles, systematic belief systems, negative people, and consumerism that has steered my life, I still have a long way to go. I stumble with "shoulding all over myself" all the time but did not realize it until I read that great phrase. Like "Deaths Coming, Lifes Foreplay" before it I am going to put this phrase into my "fear bank" and use it to take what I would like to think are bolder steps forward. This is not solely about travel. This is not just about having great experiences. This is about being in the world and embracing all of it and coming out the other side with a clear vision. It may take a while and I do not know what that vision is, but I can see it in the distance.

Unless I loose my glasses then I am completely fu**ed.