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April 30, 2005

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The east coast is really fun i'm finding out. my time in new york has been really good, i got to hand out with nick again, i managed to go catch a beer with a friend i made when i was in jail for the RNC (it was fun introducing her to my cousin as someone from jail, hehe), had lunch and walked around brooklyn with justin from the israel trip, did some really fun solo rides all over manhatten, drank a good amount of beer with mikey, and had a nice dinner with aunt freddi and uncle david at a very manhatten-y italian restaurant in their neighborhood. the weather has been cool for spring, which for me is perfect after the sweltering sweltering heat of the caribbean coast.
yesterday, friday i guess it was, i caught the chinatown bus out here to philly. i'm staying at my friend kelsey's house, and have made fast friends with her roommate anthony. last night we found a sweet bike for me to ride, and went out on the critical mass bike ride. tons and tons of folks my age were waiting in front of city hall, and we rode around for about 2 hours. at times i have my reservations with critical mass, especially when people in the logjammed traffic behind us have to get to work or pick up their kids. Then i think about all the times when i was messengering or just riding and drivers endangered my life, and about all the myriad of problems arising from the necessity of securing oil for our 1st world convenience, and i smile and wave to the backed up traffic. it's also a nice social event, kelsey and anthony have been great about introducing me to tons of the kids up here. This city seems to have a good youth culture, everyone is quick to boast about their town and all the activities available. i would definitely consider relocating out here if and when i decide to move across the country. it's either here or nyc, and though it is much larger and more expensive, new york is still ahead in the running. nothing could possibly match it in the world in terms of variety and diversity, it's pretty amazing. that said, it will be a while before i try anything like that.
i fly to new mexico on tuesday, then probably sat. i will get my cousin to drop me off on the highway towards reno. my summer plans are cementing together, i'm probably gonna fly back out here, then drive across the country with mikey so he can visit the west coast and we can go mountain biking in western colorado and utah. so i guess i won't have a stable place to live for most of the summer, till i move back into the purple house in the beginning of august. i have to say that seeing all the things that large american cities have to offer has me thinking of san francisco. it will be good to hop off the chinatown bus in a few weeks and ride up mccallister street.

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April 26, 2005

Exploring New York

so i've been here almost a week in New York. it's been really fun, i've been hanging out with my cousin Mikey a ton, riding bikes all over, seeing live music, and eating vegan food. I've also had the opportunity to hang out with Nick Johnnides, a supercool guy i met when he lived up in Portland. Nick and I went and walked on the high line one afternoon, it's 2 elevated abandoned freight tracks that run down the west side of manhatten. they are overgrown with weeds and there is tons of graffiti and metal sculpture. i had read about this place a long time ago, and it was excellent to go check it out.
sunday i went up to westchester to have dinner at my aunt's house. the last time i had been there i was 19, but the small town they live in seemed like it hadn't changed at all. we had a nice meal and sat around chatting all about our family, which was fun for me cause i've grown up so far away from everyone.
today i went riding all over manhatten on mikey's roommate's bike. it feels so good to ride again, my legs aren't nearly as strong as they were, but it looks like i will have the opportunity to get them worked back into shape before too long. mikey was accepted into cornell vet school in upstate NY, and during this summer it sounds like he's gonna drive out to visit reno and sf and then we're gonna go do some mountain biking in moab and western colorado. it turns out that daveo and i both are tight for cash and would be extremely pressed for time if we were to try and ride all across the country. now i'll have more time to go up and visit portland, and to look for a job in sf once i move there in august. i am applying for the court interpreter's program at ucsf, first i have to pass a fluency test, but after that i have high hopes that i will be accepted. i have been studying some books that were recommended to brush up on for the fluency test, and i think that having just spent 3 and a half months in s. america will help as well.
i'm planning to head to philly to hang out with my friend kelsey forbes this weekend, she said that there will be cool stuff to do there, vegan potlucks and bands playing and biking riding, which are the things i dig the most these days.

i was quoted in the reno news and review in an article about some moron republican asshole that nevada elected to represent them in their jingoist rantings.
all is well.

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April 22, 2005

New York City

so i'm sitting at my cousin Mikey's apt. here in Chelsea, Manhatten. it's sunny and brisk out, and people on the streets seem very happy. Spring in this city seems to do that.
i arrived 2 days ago, landing in La Guardia after an early morning flight out of Ft. Lauderdale. i caught a bus and then the subway to my aunt Freddi's house, and hung around all day, relaxing. since then i've been staying at Mikey's house. He just got accepted to the Cornell vet school, and is moving up there in a few months. we've been walking all over the city, catching up since the last time i saw him, when drew and i were out here for the RNC. last night i commented on how it's a shame our folks didn't stick us on airplanes more when we were younger to come visit, but at least now it's excellent to have a relative my own age who's becoming a good friend.
I'm still a little discombobulated after the flight home, in the same way i was when i flew down to Ecuador, nearly 4 months ago. when possible i prefer to cross all the borders overland, you get much more of a sense of the distance instead of a sudden change. being back here in an english speaking country is nice, i'm still answering waiters and folks at the bagel shop in spanish, and it's novel to be overhear so many conversations just walking down the street. anytime anyone sneezes, i say "jesus" or "salud," instead of bless you or what ever.
before is started my trip i had decided on returning to try and move out to the east coast, either here or philly, however, i found an interpreting program online, it's based at UCSF and seems challenging and interesting. So i'm going to head back to SF by the 20th of next month to take a fluency test, and if i pass that i will attempt to enroll in the course. my old housemates at the purple house are amazing and are pretty much saving a room for me until august, when i will be returning from riding across the country with daveo. then i will move to s.f. and hopefully begin school, and a year later i'll be able to work as an interpreter. in so many ways this is very exciting, i love sf, and during my absense reading all the emails and looking at megan's photos of the city made me homesick as hell. now i'll be able to jump back into my old life and take part in all the tons of stuff that city has to offer. at the same time though, part of me wants to balk at living somewhere i have already lived, when there is the whole country and indeed the whole world to try out. still, i think i will be busy and content, and a year isn't that long of time, really. i can always move to senegal afterwords.
so tonight we're going to the brooklyn brewery and then the brooklyn underground film festival. i also plan to hang out with some of my few friends who live out here, including nick, tamara and justin. i also want to take the train to philly to hang out with kelsey forbes. it was a good choice to stop over here before heading back out west, i plan to take more of the 200 dollar round trip sf-nyc flights so that i can visit next year.
so all in all, life is good. what is even better is that we're finding a loaner bike for me, and i'll get to ride bikes today after not doing so at all for 4 months. i'm very excited about that.

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April 19, 2005

Caracas, Venezuela (last international post)

so i made a mad run from Paramaribo to here. 3 solid days traveling, and i fell off the bus yesterday morning into crummy Caracas. i hopped on the interweb and started checking flights, and the best thing i could come up with was leave today, tuesday, to miami, find some place to crash in miami, and then head from ft. lauderdale to nyc tomorrow in the afternoon. so just like that, my trip here in south america rumbles to a close. this always seems to happen, that the end of a trip springs up on me, and i'm left to reflect back on it. last time in panama city i headed home cause i was dead broke, this time cause i'm ready to do some excellent different things back in the states. looking

back on everything i've done, i must say that the highlites were doing so much cool stuff with buzz and kristy, including the jungle trip, one of the coolest things i've ever done, and getting to hang out with my father down here. i always keep a written journal when i travel, and this time i've been very devoted to it, but haven't reread a single entry. i'm saving that for one of the flights back towards home, i'll sit in the cramped airline seat, looking out the window at the clouds between reading entries about all my good times. i'm looking forward to that a lot. so on one terribly annoying note, i made it through my entire trip without being robbed, only to have the Caracas police shake me down this morning for 30,000 bolivares. they made up some lie about me having to have a license to carry a pocket knife around (meanwhile people are walking around with revolvers all over the place i'm sure), and since i was flying out this afternoon, i didn't have time to go to the embassy and fight the lame injustice of it all. the police seem to gravitate towards the hostel i was staying at, on average they rob about 3 tourists a week. so fucking lame. i'm trying not to let that cloud my judgement about venezuela, but it's hard. of all the countries i've been through, i can say that Colombia is the only one i'm certain i will visit again. this country has a lot of amazing things happening here, but for some reason i just don't find the people that friendly or interesting. maybe i'll give it another try sometime.

next entry will be from NYC, i will be hanging out with my aunt, uncle and cousins tomorrow night. weird.

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April 14, 2005

Paramaribo, Suriname (2nd Entry)

so my pops and i just got back from the Central Suriname Nature Reserve. the whole trip out there was the highlight excursion of our trip, the flight in a tiny cessna, the miles and miles of jungle spread out before us, the 6 hour roundtrip hike out to Voltzberg during which we saw 4 different species of monkeys, the lodge in which my father and i cooked and hung out by ourselves, the only 2 tourists in a national park the size of new jersey, and the last night, when we got to attend a birthday party that featured rad food, rowdy local kids making fun of me in countless ways, and the local band that played drums in what sounded like rad traditional african rhythms along with singing in the local tongue, sarantango. totally excellent.
so the bad part is, i have 50 hours of bussing to get back to caracas, and my ipod just died. shit luck, that. more reading i guess. excited to get back to the states, visit the relatives in nyc and n.m., then visit reno, and s.f, then ride across the whole damn country.

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April 11, 2005

Paramaribo, Suriname

after what amounted to 50+ bus hours, i arrived here in paramaribo. Dad flew in the same evening, and for the first time in the trip i stayed at a hotel that doesn't warrant the prefix "cheap." actually it's very nice, it even has a pool. Dad is doing well, it's nice to see him on vacation, getting time to decompress from working too much as he always does.
our first full day, we arranged tours, and then wandered around this city. it's a nice city, and totally full of dutch people. i have always liked dutch people, they have a good sense of humor and the ability to laugh at themselves, it's nice. plus the city has tons of ethnic cuisine, which we've been gorging ourselves on. so far my favorite is roti, a hybrid mix of indian food and some other stuff. everything here is really spicy too, aaron would go nuts.
so our first tour was up to the northeast coast, to watch turtles laying eggs. all the dutch people on the tour were mostly my age, over here working on humanitarian projects or studying. we took a boat up the river that divides french guyana and suriname, and i got to see the prison that papillon tried to escape out of by jumping off of a wall, only he broke his ankle badly. by the way papillon is the best book i have read on this trip, steve especially get it before you go to ak. the turtles were huge, 1.5 meters across, hundreds of lbs, and watching them at night with no moon and the sound of the sea gave me good time to look at the stars and feel real small.
after that we came back to the city, and then left again to brownsburg, to hike through the rain forest. that was excellent as well, the jungle makes you have different thoughts as you hike through it then does any other landscape, i think it's all the vegetation and life crushing down on top of itself.
tomorrow we head out to Raleighvallen, in the central suriname nature reserve. we're taking a cessna, and won't be back till the day before dad flies out and i catch another succession of busses back towards caracas. i am having a very good time with dad, and must admit that after he leaves i will be excited to start my trip back to the u.s. and home, where ever that turns out to be.
sorry this is short pops is waiting to go out to dinner.

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April 04, 2005

Georgetown, Guyana

So it's been 6 days and 3 countries since my last entry. the overnight bus from caracas to ciudad bolivar wasn't so bad, though the driver had the music cranked all night, which made it difficult to sleep. nothing new there.
i dismounted the bus in ciudad guyana at 6 in the morning, and half an hour later i was climbing into another bus for another 13 hour ride. the bus wrangler tried to stick me and an aussie/N.Z. couple on a rickety old bus, but i insisted that they find room on the larger, more comfortable, and supposedly air conditioned bus that had just rolled in. that bus ride was hot and thankfully blurry in my mind, as i drifted in and out of sleep between listening to music and reading. seated next to me was a brazilian man who was studying to be a priest of some sorts near Caracas. his spanish was alright, though it had many brazilian words mixed in. before long our conversation turned to religion, and he stared at me aghast that i didn't believe in christ or any god as a matter of fact. he asked if i was uncomfortable talking about this subject, and i said that i wasn't, just that i was tired and didn't feel much like having to explain myself. still, we chatted about my heathenism for a few minutes more before i turned the ipod back on.
this bus rolled into santa elena at dusk, and the aussie/N.Z. couple and i slumped off the bus, wasted tired. we made it to a cheap hotel after running into somebody's pet anteater on the street, and i must say that having it's long probiscus nose sniffing my crotch in my etheral exhausted state was pretty weird. i ate some cheap chinese food, and passed out.
the next morning, after questioning tons of people, i went running to the brazilian consulate to get my brazilian visa. there i learned that since brazilian citizens are charged some huge amount from the u.s. for an american travel visa, that turn about is fair play and they charge us 100 american dollars for a 5 year brazilian travel visa. now admittedly this is fair, and the rumored immigration meetings the brazilians and pretty much the rest of the world has to go through with rude american officials are probably aweful, but it bummed me out pretty bad to fork over 100 bucks to spend one night in Brazil. still, i'm sure i will be back within 5 years, and at least i won't have to deal with it then.
back at the hotel i chanced on meeting a swedish/south african couple that, on hearing that i was headed towards suriname, decided that they were heading that way as well. i was glad, because we were able to share the cost of a taxi from the border of Venezuela and Brazil into Boa Vista, the Brazilian city we would have to spend the night in. as soon as we crossed the border, the immigration officials spoke to me in Portuguese, and i felt confusion and excitement wash over me. as our pot-bellied brazilian taxi driver thundered south across the wide, darkening savannahs in the twilight, stormclouds on the far horizon lit up hundreds of miles of sky in lightning flashes. i gazed intently ahead, trying to imagine this enormous unknown country, as vast as my own, stretching nearly the entire length of south america. the lack of communication with the cab driver and with pretty much everyone else was an eye opening as to how easy i have it in spanish speaking countries, and of how perhaps there is a bit of adventure i miss in having to struggle with a language barrier as well as cultural ones. having said this, i am thankful as anything for the greater profundity of understanding i gain in los paises hispanohablantes.
our one night in Boa Vista, Brazil was uneventful. we got a cheap room and went out wandering, and found ourselves dining in a pizza parlor. the south african guy had the usual madness of south africans, and the swedish girl was happy and excited about everything. i asked the guy a lot of questions about how living through the end of apartheid was, and he spoke intimately about how it was and what has happened since. he was curious how close to afrikaans the dutch of suriname was, and looking forward to seeing tons of poisonous snakes.
the next morning we were up at dawn, and on a bus towards the Brazil/Guyana border by 7. it was probably one of the more interesting border crossings i have ever made, though the crossing from Israel to Jordan rates first because of the starkness of the desert and all of the automatic weapons carried on both sides of the barbed wire fences. his crossing was quite opposite, with the bus stopping for us to get stamped out of Brazil, and then carrying us only a few hundred meters more, to a muddy river. nonplussed, we jumped into a canoe, and the driver spoke, in thick caribbean english, telling me to "take offa ya backpack and sittown ova theah." he motored us across, and we climbed up the bank, and into what felt a little like back in time into the colonies.
the first house we came to doubled as a restaurant and the minibus station. we marched on into the "town" of Lethem to get our stamps and change money, and they caught a ride back to the restaurant to wait the rest of the day for the evening mini bus to Georgetown. this involved playing chess, reading, and swimming in the shallow river. twice i walked the 3 kilometers back into town to look for internet and have a look around, and walking past all the houses, i imagined life here in colonial days, the white colonists driving around in carriages and later in land rovers, the slaves and serfs toiling under the hot sun. it felt strange to see vestiges of those sad times, the large colonial houses with big verandas, the land rovers everywhere.
i found it very strange to have gone from spanish to portuguese to carib english in 3 long days. the english down here has such a different rhythm and vocabulary that i always have to ask people to repeat what they have said to me, often multiple times.
the minibus departed at 9:30 pm, chock full of Guyanas and Brazilians. i managed to get a window seat, and hunkered down for the 15 hour ride. i popped my second to last industrial strength sleeping pill, and intermittenly dozed between cracking my head against the roof of the bus as we trundled along the unpaved road. the red dirt stained the side of the bus and everyone inside, i discovered as we watched the sun rise, waiting on the south bank of the Essequibo river for the morning ferry to begin. the day began with fighting our way over downed trees in the road, and repeatedly being checked at security stations along the road towards Georgetown. turned out we had an illegal brazilian woman on the bus, who eventually got off to catch a cab with her brother and another guy. my delirium increased as the day wore on, until finally we reached Georgetown.
Georgetown has a bad reputation. everyone i have spoken with advises avoiding large swaths of the city, and never, ever walking anywhere at night. nearly all of the buildings are constructed of wood, and everything feels spread out, not urban at all. the first hotel i showed up at was closed, and feeling conspicious as hell, i hefted my large backpack and wandered off looking for another. walking past a deserted gas station, about 5 youths began yelling at me, "hey white guy, come here, come here. give me some money man, i need a drink." they looked someone menacing, and as the sun was quickly disappearing, i hurried on, turned the corner, and found a cheap but safe hotel. up the stairs, i asked the deskman about those guys by the gas pumps. "stay away from them, they trouble." i took cab to a chinese restaurant, got a take away, and then returned to my hotel, where i passed out.
this morning i awoke feeling much better, which stands to reason since i slept about 13 hours. i changed some money, and caught a taxi to the surinamese embassy. after filling out the paperwork and forking over 2 passport photos, i was assured i could return between 2 and 3 to get my visa. i caught a ride back to the hotel, dumped all but a few dollars, and went out exploring.
during the day this town doesn't have so much menace to it, but it's interesting to have people stare at me. they shout "hey white guy" a lot and try to sell me stuff, and i quickly realized i can't pretend not to understand their language when they come up begging. still, it has been a good morning, made more so by the readily available indian cuisine. i wandered through the huge stabroek market, which spans several square blocks, and then got a channa masala wrapped in some indian tortilla like bread. now i am off to the embassy to get my passport, and then i am gonna call a friend of a nice woman named jennifer who i met in Caracas, who with luck might show me around this evening. wednesday morning i leave at 4:30 am on the minibus to Suriname, to meet up with my father later that day. it's been a bit of hard bus travel to get here, but it's gonna be worth it to hang around in suriname and see the central suriname nature reserve with my pops.

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