Thursday, April 01, 2010

It's been a while...

I've been too embarrassed to write. In November, I chose to leave my adorable apartment in Austin and move in with family. Our future seemed uncertain from where we stood then. Evan wanted to become a firefighter upon leaving the army but that hiring process takes approximately six months. I was applying to law schools and had no idea where or when I would be accepted. Our lives were and are very much in the air. I think we made the right decision, but it's hard when someone asks "So what are you up to?" to say "oh.. we moved back home." So I was ashamed for living with family and at the same time having the gall to be ashamed while accepting gracious, unblinking hospitality.

And then something shifted. I realized that it's nice. I realized that I like the awkward placement of chairs around a table that is only slightly too small. I like having so many people to talk to. The house we live in is spacious and while we definitely don't trip over each other, the living situation is more crowded than we are used to. People are always coming and going; I'm never quite sure how many people there are in the house at any given moment. I like the noise that gets made by so many people. I love sitting down to dinner together and hearing details of everyone's day. I like being one big family.

Evan and I are transitioning back to civilian life and it's so wonderful to have a stable base in which to do that. For the first time in years, there is no deployment hovering on the horizon. We can trust that tomorrow will probably be a lot like today. The weight that's been lifted off of us is immense, but it's also something to learn to get used to. Essentially, we have to redefine our personal definition of marriage from something that involves a lot of waiting and promising into something that is constant.

I also realized that in many, many cultures, perhaps a majority, young people live with their parents for decades. American culture is unusual in its encouragement of young adults to leave and start over in new homes of their own. Evan and I are not so strange and I shouldn't be embarrassed by something that I'm truly in love with. I think I'll be able to blog more now.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Expiration Date

The monster that is The Army is thinking about releasing us from it's claws. We are begging and pleading with it. This terrible beastie might try to make us stay for another day. We, very gently, remind it that the paperwork is finished, we have all the proper signatures and The Great Green Stamp of Freedom has been obtained. It raises an eyebrow. "PLEASE!" we scream in unison. "We have given you three years and two deployments in this place. We have missed out on so much while we have been here. Please. It is one day. Please let us go; it is one day.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Paradise

Evan and I arrived in Puerto Angel on Monday. To get here we had to spend six hours in a 15 passenger van. We left at 5:00 AM and the sun was just starting to rise as we began our climb into the mountains. The views were spectacularly breath taking - we saw coffee plants growing wild and other amazingly lush vegetation. To say that we feared for our lives on this trip, would be, in a word, true. The roads reminded us of the back roads through the Blue Ridge mountains between North Carolina and Tennessee, but at a much higher altitude, without guard rails and a perpetual cliff edge to one side of us. Simply put, we were scared. I tried to remind myself that the driver probably had no desire to go tumbling off a mountain and that he probably makes this drive at least twice a day. But every time I saw him cross himself, my heart rate rose. ¨Don´t ask God for help; God wants you to drive slower, buddy!¨ I felt like shouting. In the end, we arrived safely. Although, at one part during our trip, as we were getting close to Puerto Angel, we had to get out of our van, and cross a bridge by foot to meet another van on the opposite side. We didn´t understand why until we were out in the middle of it. Local villagers had shut down the bridge by placing tree trunks and cement blocks in the road in order to protest the lack of education available to their children. I know this because the girl sitting next to me on the bus was friendly and eager to practice her English on me. The protesters weren´t alone - there were Mexican soldiers, heavily armed, standing in front of them. Realizing what was happening I paused to reach for my camera in my backpack. Evan turned around, just as I was bent over it and in one movement, he put my pack back on my shoulders, then pushed me in front of him and said, ¨we´re moving!¨ rather sternly. I stuck my tongue out at him. You can all blame Evan for ruining my chances at becoming a photo journalist. (And seriously - if any of you lived in a place where your children couldn't attend school, wouldn't you be out there shutting down bridges too?) As I write this, Evan is at the computer next to me buying airline tickets so we don´t have to sit on a six-hour roller coaster back to our original departure site.

Puerto Angel is a working fishing village and a Mexican Naval base. It is tiny and quaint and the fish is really fresh. The ocean is a deep, deep blue and the waves crash loud enough to hear from our room. So far, we've visited a couple of beaches and a local lagoon that acts as a wildlife sanctuary, predominantly turtles and crocodiles. Tomorrow we´re going snorkeling and if we're lucky, we'll meet dolphins and whales.

Our hotel has a summer-camp feel to it. Our room is made from concrete and we share a bath room with other guests. There is no hot water and no air conditioning. At night, we sleep without sheets, naked under a mosquito net. We have a fan, but the net stops most of the airflow. We wake up hot and sticky and a little irritated until we stumble outside and see the ocean. It feels like paradise. We might cry when we finally have to leave.

More later.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Monte Alban

The rain ended yesterday evening and although today was cloudy and cool it was warm enough to head off to Monte Alban. To get there we had to buy tickets from a bus company downtown. We were supposed to leave at 10:30, but the bus was forty minutes late. When it arrived we piled into it and covered our mouths as it belched diesel exhaust up the mountain switchbacks. The site is huge; the part available to tourists is at least one square kilometer and as we learned later, less than 10% of the ruins have been excavated. We walked around, slack-jawed with amazement for three hours.

Monte Alban was the economic, politcal and religious capitol of the Zapotec culture. In its golden age (300 - 700 AD), the population was about 40,000. It's situated on top of a mountain, surrounded by a valley which is surrounded by more mountains. Obviously, this made the city easier to defend and the choice of location was not an accident. Evan and I hired an English-speaking guide which was expensive but worth every peso because we learned an incredible amount of information in a very short time. I don't have time to write it all right now, so here are the coolest tidbits.

- The Zapotec were one of three early cultures to successfully perform brain surgery. The Mayans and the ancient Egyptians were the other two.
- Unlike most other impressive early cultures the Zapotec didn't own slaves, which means that all of their grand structures were built willingly by people who were compensated, which means that the society must have been incredibly wealthy.
- Due to their level of intellectual advancement many have theorized that they had some sort of public education system.
- There's an awful lot about them that we don't know; their written and mathematical languages remain undeciphered. There is no Rosetta Stone for Meso-America.
-The Zapotec didn't die out - their descendants are around today, although they did abandon their capitol at some point and no one knows why. There is a Zapotec language.
- We saw a tarantula! This has nothing to do with the Zapotec people, but we saw it in its natural habitat and we took pictures... with the zoom lens...

Early, (very early), tomorrow morning Evan and I are heading to Puerto Angel, which is a teeny-tiny fishing village without a single ATM, (probably not a single McDonalds, either!)

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Rain and Lady Gaga

Today is cold, damp and dreary. Evan and I woke up this morning, threw open the shutters and saw our ruined plans in the puddles. We were supposed to visit some ruins this afternoon but the rain made us hesitant to spend thirty minutes in the back of a pickup to get to the site. So we had breakfast, then walked to a huge outdoor market that sells a myriad of items, including ball gowns, spices, livestock, lumber, and DVDs. The only thing we couldn't find were umbrellas. Every country we've been to has had these expansive markets but Mexico is the first country where people didn't try incessantly to pull us into their shops in order to show us items in which we had no interest. As we entered the markets we both made a subconcious effort to keep our heads down and avoid eye contact but as we wandered we noticed that everyone was laid back. Eventually we started to smile at people and stop to smell the spices. People smiled back. No one tried to give us the "hard sell." Occasionally someone would try to talk to us in Spanish and all we could do was smile and shrug our shoulders. The response is always a reciprocating smile and a nod. No one repeats the same sentence with added volume. We've been here a handful of days and have encountered only polite, hospitable, beautiful people. Every time we travel Evan looks at me and says "we should become expats here! Lets just cash in our savings, get an apartment and some jobs." I always say something sarcastic like, "sure, where's the closest ATM?" But this time when Evan made the expat comment I looked him in the eyes and said "Yes. We Should."

Our hotel is across the street from an elementary school and at the moment there's some sort of fiesta taking place. We can see the pinatas from our window and we can hear the music loud and clear. Our windows thump with the bass - it seems to be a dance party of sorts. Evan is drinking coffee and reading his book next to me and we're both bouncing to the beat a bit. I love it here. We'll go to the ruins tomorrow. We can see some more museums today.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Yay For Clean Panties!

Our first two days in Mexico have been pretty rough. Our flight out of Houston was delayed and we got into Veracruz close to midnight. We were tired, but we perked up a bit as soon as we stepped off the plane and breathed the balmy, salty air. We were quickly admitted through customs and then stood waiting next to the luggage carousel. The wall between us and the baggage handlers was thin and we could hear the truck pull up and the men talking as they unloaded it. Passangers grabbed their bags and one by one, started filtering out of baggage claim. After about ten minutes, the conveyor door slammed shut and we heard the baggage truck start up and drive away. Evan and I looked at each other, by now the only two people remaining next to the carousel. "That's fuckin' brutal," he said. We snagged a passing airport employee and because neither of us speaks any Spanish, Evan looked at the man, held up his arms in the universal sign of confusion, then pointed at the carousel and said "Perdido," which means "lost." The guy (who's name was Juan, we found out later), squinted at Evan and in perfect English said "Are you trying to tell me that your bags didn't make it?" We nodded. Juan whistled, "It might be a while,"he said, "we only get one flight a night."

Our Mexico trip thus began rather inauspiciously. Luckily, Juan was incredibly helpful and since we weren't planning to stay in Veracruz, he was able to rereoute our bags to Oaxaca and we picked them up from the airport this morning. Wearing the same clothes for three days was unpleasant, hence the title. But now I am sitting in our hotel's courtyard, with a rented lap top on my lap while Evan drinks local coffee (which he says is amazing) on the roof-top terrace.

We spent most of yesterday on a bus. The bus itself was very clean and comfortable and if you have more time than money in Mexico, it's an excellent way to travel. We drove over mountains that started green and lush then changed to rocky and cactus-covered, then they changed to mountains that looked like rocks stacked on top of each other with very little growing on them. I closed my eyes as our bus driver crossed the double yellow line to pass slow moving trucks on blind curves. Oaxaca is beautiful. The buildings are all brightly colored and the people are amazingly patient with our lack of Spanish. Breakfast this morning was unbelievable - I ate tortilla chips drowned in red sauce then garnished with fresh onion, farmers cheese and crema. Evan had a traditional Oaxacan dish, basically a giant tamale wrapped in a banana leaf instead of a corn husk with masa (corn dough), chicken and a dark mole sauce inside. Our lives are ruined -- we will never again be satisfied with Tex-Mex restaurants in the US.

I'll write more later - we have exploring to do.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Off We Go!

I'm writing this fromt he Houston airport USO. Evan and I will be taking off to Veracruz, Mexico in a couple of hours. The original plan was to spend several days in and around Xalapa and the Emerald Coast on the Atlantic side of the country. However lousy weather has encouraged us to change our plans and tomorrow morning we'll be boarding a bus to Oaxaca, which is in the mountains near the Pacific. From there, we'll be able to see several ruins including Monte Alban, the oldest tree in the world, and maybe the adorable beach town of Puerto Angel. There should be plenty of stuff to keep us busy. For the foodies out there, Oaxacan is famous for it's mole sauces. Our tummies are rumbling already.

Evan and I packed extremely light for this trip. I brought my camera, a couple changes of clothes, sandals, toiletries, enough yarn to make a pair of socks, and nothing else. Neither of us brought our computers. I am going to make a committed effort to do a bit of blogging from internet cafes, though. Look to hear from me in a few days!