… and I am Somebody male. in my thirties. recovering alcoholic. live in minneapolis. work in progress. gay. serenity please.

You Wanna Massage?

07.25.2010 · Posted in Travel

Vallarta Day 9

The garden at Coco’s harbors a lot of mosquitos and my legs can’t take many more bites, so I opt to go directly to Dee’s and order the breakfast bagel sandwich with egg, cheese and tomato. It’s okay, but Dee’s specialty is really in her drinks and desserts.

A man on the patio is chewing Dee’s ear off, but she’s a good listener. From the sounds of it, he owns a handful of restaurants and bars. He seems like an unhappy person – angry, blaming others for his problems, laughing at his own jokes. He’s funny enough at first – asking me about my iPad and the keyboard dock.

“Does it give blowjobs?” He asks.

“I haven’t found an app for that yet.”

“I don’t want one then,” taking a drag off his cigarette.

Charmed. I look away and continue typing.

One of the men who took my picture with my iPad yesterday, comes in today with a friend. He’s got his own iPad – I guess he was delighted with the keyboard.

I head to the gym. It’s Saturday and they operate on a reduced schedule from 8:00 – 4:00. David isn’t working, nor is Aaron around – just the non-English speaking lady who usually does the cleaning. She’s smiles at me, I at her. Surprisingly, a number of people come in – including three new people. I haven’t seen it this busy since I was here over New Years.

I head out and it is still cloudy from the overnight rain. A bummer, since I was hoping to go to the beach. Instead I head home and shower up. Maybe I can get a haircut or a massage.

I head down to the Choco Banana corner where Angel works. I met him on the beach on one of my first days. He’s a young kid who does massage. He gave me a bit of a taste on my shoulders and he’s got surprisingly strong hands, as well as gives strong hugs so I’ve been on the lookout for him, but it seems my schedule doesn’t coincide with his.

My previous attempts at massage in Vallarta over New Years was less than pleasant. One guy wanted to get in my pants and the other guy wouldn’t push hard enough, even after several pleadings of “Mas pressure, por favor.”

Perhaps the sky was cloudy for a reason, because as luck should have it, Angel was working and available. He took me over two blocks and up one. I was under the assumption his place of business was right next to Choco Banana, but it’s not – that’s just where they market themselves for better visibility.

I’m a little leery of the business. It seems there are 7 or 8 staff milling about the spa and I see no other customers. And while Angel seems like a sweet guy, I can’t help but wonder if his name is made up. Is it normal for people in Mexico to name their children Angel?

Angel leads me to an air-conditioned room in the rear of the building and instructs me to disrobe and lay over the table on my stomach. He leaves and I place my clothes on a small rack in the corner and hop on the table. I stare down through the face-rest and think I should have placed my clothes (with wallet inside) where I could see them. Then it occurs to me that I can always hear if somebody enters the room, so I’ll be fine. Then I start to think – what if they have a secret door?

I am a sick one …

Angel returns and starts off with some aromatherapy I’ve never experienced before. It’s quite nice and opens up my sinuses it a refreshing way. I enjoy the massage and my fears were unfounded. Nothing went missing and Angel was completely professional – though he did end the session with a little kiss on my forehead. I can’t imagine that was in the training, but this is Mexico.

I get dressed, pay, tip Angel, and head out. I haven’t eaten since before the gym and I’m starving. Walking down the block I notice an army of ants – quite literally an army. There are thousands of them, marching up and down the block on the corner of the sidewalk. Walking in one direction they are empty-handed, but in the other direction, they all have fragments of leaves on their back. Aside from a PBS special or National Geographic, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Near the end of the block I see a pile of sand and a hole dug into a retaining wall. There’s a bit of a traffic jam at the entrance, but still things appear to be working in an orderly fashion. Images of the PC game, Lemmings appear in my head and I wonder, do these ants perform all this work based on instinct? Instruction? Are they trained? How do they know how to go all the way up the block and return with the leaf fragments?

I head over to The Coffee Cup. They’re up the block from Dee’s and make smoothies and protein shakes as well as espresso drinks. They’re never as busy as Dee’s. I think the lack of a patio has something to do with it, but Dee’s charm and menu probably keeps people on her end of the block.

The guy working behind the counter was here the other day when I stopped in. I forget his name, but he’s a cute little guy fond of smiling and always flirting a bit. He speaks well enough English and we get to chatting a bit. He tells me he lives about 10 minutes north of here – too many temptations to party all of the time here. He doesn’t drink and likes to go to the gym. And he’s a sweetie. I like this one! Turns out he’s 30 years old, but looks like he’s 19. Not really my type, but he’s a doll. I’ll stop back again.

I peruse a couple of shops but don’t find anything I like. I stop in at home to pick up my backpack, iPad and umbrella in tow and head to the Alano club. I’ve been hitting up the AA meetings at 6:30 regularly, but Robert had shared that he also goes to the NA meetings at 5:00 and they’re sorely lacking much long-term clean time, so I decide to stop in.

Sam is the trusted servant and is a familiar face from one of the AA meetings. In total there are only 6 or 7 people in the meeting. Sam announces that Saturdays are supposed to be reserved for a speaker, but being unable to find one, he reads the day’s reading from Just For Today instead.

The reading is about masks – a common topic in rehab, and also a good topic for newcomers in the meetings. After the reading, Sam opens the floor for comments on the topic or anything else pertaining to NA.

After a few moments of silence, I introduce myself, “Dan, addict.”

“Hi, Dan.”

I identified with the reading, as I found myself always wearing masks prior to entering recovery. Though I can still revert to a mask, I try to be true to myself without them. I talk about how prior to recovery, I would often play the jokester, or the token gay guy. For years I was “Sparkles” in the office and afterwards at the bars. I went so far as to get personalized plates on my car with the name and played the part at every opportunity. Many people in the industry knew me only as Sparkles, without knowing my real name.

Sparkles was both convenient and damaging for me. He allowed me to put up a false front that people might enjoy, at least for a bit. I could crack jokes and make people laugh. I thought I made friends and contacts, but the truth is I was usually drunk and remember only a handful of folks. To this day somebody will call out “Sparkles” to me, and I will have to search through my memory for any trace of who the person might be.

But Sparkles was also a defense. He held people at bay. Sparkles was only so deep, and once you hit that depth, the personality went no further. People didn’t get to know the real me because I wouldn’t let them. This was out of fear that if you got to know the real me, you wouldn’t like me. This was rooted in a couple of things – I didn’t really know who I was, and I didn’t like me, so why would you?

As I said, Sparkles was both convenient, but damaging, in that it let me continue to put on the charade – never requiring me to figure out just who I was.

Others shared. Some said they still didn’t know who they were, some still wore masks. Some were just trying to stay clean for 24 hours.

I chatted with Carlos, a local English-as-a-Second-Language guy. Some of the local Mexicans come to the English-speaking club like Carlos. Some to improve their English, some because that’s where they found recovery, and some because they think it’s safer than going to the Mexican meetings.

I’m not sure why Carlos was there, but he has nearly 90 days. This is his first time at the rodeo and hasn’t relapsed. He’s about 28 and was recently deported from the states, where he was arrested for transporting drugs. He has a kid there, but the authorities told him he has to stay out of the country for 5 years, after which he can reapply if he likes. He told me that he’s met the most wonderful people in NA and has begun working the steps with a sponsor. He tells me he lives an hour north of the city and rides a bus here most days. That’s dedication!

Another man, Reggie, came in late and is clearly the happiest person in the room! He’s got over a year clean and is grateful with a capital G! He’s an energetic guy in middle age and has an uncanny ability to pull appropriate lyrics out of pop songs that fit within a conversation. He’s really quite a talent!

I decide to stick around for the AA meeting that begins shortly. It’s a speaker meeting and Dale, the trusted servant, has asked Jim, a visitor from San Antonio, share his experience, strength and hope. I’ve seen Jim in a couple of the meetings but I’ve never heard him talk. He appears to be in his 50s and walks very slowly. I do not have high hopes for his story.

But again, I am a poor judge of character. Jim’s share in really quite remarkable. He has just celebrated 30 years of sobriety and has lived a full life. He’s a little slow these days as a result of a couple of strokes, but he’s still very sharp. He tells us how he was born into a family of four brothers. His mother warned them at an early age that all of the men in her family died of alcoholism, and that they must be careful. Jim and two of his three brothers went on to earn Ph.D.s and of course none of the brothers heeded her warning. Jim’s three brothers went on to die of alcoholism, but Jim was blessed with finding recovery at a relatively young age.

He was working in academia at a university in the middle of Silicon Valley. When he finally did venture into a meeting, he was expecting to find homeless bums from the street. Instead he found a room full of successful people, starting computer companies out of their garages, Fortune 500 company CEOs and executives, and professors at his own university.

He talked about “misunderstanding the assignment” that first night and ended up getting a sponsor and going to his house right off the bat to begin reading the big book – all in one night!

Arriving at his new sponsor’s house he was impressed by the home’s size and the gated community it was located within. He was curious, “What do you do?”

“None of your business,” responded the sponsor.

“Oh, well, ummm ….”

“People will find anything they can to differentiate themselves from others in AA, when the important thing is that we help the newcomer identify. We focus on the solution to alcoholism in AA and one’s occupation has nothing to do with that. From now on, you don’t tell anyone in AA what you do.”

And Jim reports that from that time he never did tell people what he did at meetings. I got the feeling he had many friends who knew his business, but he never discussed his work at a meeting. What a great idea, I thought!

He went on with his story, telling us that he eventually left academia and started his own company, which had him traveling and living in foreign countries. He has attended meetings all over and has found comfort in the rooms wherever he is. He eventually sold his company and “retired” back to academia, where he teaches at a University in a Texas border town.

He told a fabulous story, and I need to learn not to be so quick to judge.

I opted to eat alone and skipped fellowship with the meeting. I had a sandwich at a small cafe and went over to A Page in The Sun cafe for a little dessert.

The prostitute from the bushes yesterday was perched on the steps to my building upon my return.

“You wanna massage?”

“No gracias.”

To which he pouted, “Why nooooot?”

I feel sorry for the man, but chuckle to myself a bit, as I’ve never heard a prostitute whine like that.

I ended the night in bed, reading an ebook and listening to the rain pour down outside.


07.24.2010 · Posted in Travel

Vallarta Day 8

Coco’s kitchen for the Vallarta Omelette, filled with avocado, topped with avocado. You can not take a bite of this meal without an avocado touching your lips. I love it. I prepared today, wearing my gym clothes to breakfast, with a beach towel in my bag. My everyday life here in Vallarta is becoming more efficient.

I’ve heard that Vallarta is slow-paced from the locals, so it’s not just my observation. People walk slower on the sidewalk. They drive slower. They talk slower. They eat slower. They prepare coffee slower. They build buildings slower. The bus comes when its good and ready. They take their time. One of the old-timers at the meeting tells me that this is part of the heritage of the town as a fishing port – as if waiting all day for a bite on your line has trickled down into the everyday culture of Vallarta. I don’t know if I buy it, but I suppose it’s plausible.

In any event, I’m fearful all of this slowness is rubbing off on me! My sponsor would say it’s a good thing – I need to slow down. When I was in Guatemala I noticed how Josh slowly made his way through town, showing patience and taking the time to speak with everyone. I struggle with that. While I love the guys at the Alano club, it often takes them 15 minutes after the meeting to decide on a venue. 15 minutes to walk there. 15 minutes to decide on and place their order. 15 minutes to divvy up the bill. 15 minutes to tell a story. 15 minutes to say our goodbyes.

That’s a lot of 15 minutes! I want to get moving onto the next thing and experience more life. Sometimes I express my anxiousness after withholding it for a period of time. The night draws to a close and I can feel myself getting more anxious as the time for departure comes. My hurriedness is perceived as rudeness, and that’s exactly what it is. Last night I tried to enter dinner with no expectations. I stayed afterwards to enjoy a little conversation and though I left before most of the others, I didn’t rush off after tossing extra pesos at the bill.

At Dee’s I order my usual Grande Americano and hammer out my writing. Coco, the stray dog about town, is sprawled out in the middle of the patio – forcing those entering or exiting Dee’s to step over her.

It’s funny how everybody in town knows this dog. I don’t know how he got his name; there’s no relation to Coco’s Kitchen that I’m aware of. He’s well-behaved and doesn’t beg for food, though everybody knows that’s what he’s looking for. He’s sufficiently plump, but I can’t tell if it’s a healthy plumpness, or maybe something akin to the swelled bellies you see on a Sally Struthers “Save the Children” TV spot. He never barks and other dogs are generally friendly with him – it’s just a shame that he has no home. The ladies at Dee’s will occasionally shoo him away if they think he’s bothering anyone, but he’ll sneak back in when they’re not looking.

A man walks by Dee’s and is staring at me as he continues down the sidewalk out of view. A few moments later he returns, his upright iPhone in hand; camera pointed my way. This is at least the second time this week that I’ve been photographed with my iPad. They’re just being released in Mexico, and other places around the world, today. People are enamored with it. One of the regulars at Dee’s suggests I offer photos for pesos.

At the gym there’s a crew installing another glass wall – this one with a couple of doors in it, on the other side of the juice bar. I suspect it’s going up to try to keep the loud dance music from penetrating into the massage rooms in the rear of the building. I don’t imagine a deep tissue massage to the sound of a remixed Lady GaGa single would be all that serenity-inducing.

From the gym I head to the beach. It’s still early in the afternoon – probably 2:00, and the sun is shining brightly. I find a little palapa for myself in the green chairs area of the beach and order a mineral water. The onslaught of beach vendors begins. Men and women. Most in white, and most with a hand towel laying over their shoulder to wipe the perspiration from their brow. It’s then that I notice many of them actually have some sort of license hanging from their bodies on a lanyard. I observe that the female vendors often sell jewelry or other hand-crafted items. If you decline them they go away. The men, however, try to sell you on the average tourist junk – the same t-shirts or blankets you find in umpteen shops up and down the beach. The exception are the henna tattoos. Many of the men, however, I’m convinced simply offer their wares as a front to offer you marijuana instead. When you tell them no, half of them are astonished that you say no. I can’t tell if their feigning the surprise, or if they’re truly taken aback when somebody turns them down. It must be an act, as they are almost always turned away.

I pull the beach towel from my bag, unfolding it to discover it’s the size of a bedspread suitable for a Queen. I didn’t think they made them this size – no wonder my bag was busting at the seems! Settling into my spot on the towel I close my eyes, roping my arm through my backpack strap and placing my sandals and sunglasses on top of it. If I fall asleep and somebody tries to take off with my bag, I’ll at least be alerted, if not able to get up and give chase.

An unknown amount of time later, I’m startled awake by the sound of a father and son mariachi band playing a guitar and a GIANT harp – right above my head, with the high-pitched yeeeaaaahhhhhhaaaaaaa drawled out with a rolling R at the onset of their song. They’re wearing bright aqua colored shirts with black cowboy hats and scarves tied in a feminine manner around their necks.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I ask aloud, though nobody can hear me over their music.

Only in Mexico.

I pack up my things and head up the hill towards home in my little speedo. For the second time this week there’s a man waiting, literally – in the bushes, at the top of the hill offering me a massage.

No gracias.

I get in the door and warm up the shower – this time trying the cold water knob for the heck of it. I hop in five minutes later and it’s scolding hot. Seriously!

I’ve been suffering through a week of cold showers because I’ve been turning the wrong knob? I should have figured this out sooner.

The Alano club is its usual self today, though there’s a new face in the meeting, C. The topic for the evening is picked out of Volume 2 of the Grapevine – a monthly periodical published with people’s written stories of recovery. This particular story is written by a woman who stops going to meetings and all of the reasons she finds not to attend.

It proves to be a bit of a controversial subject. After all, the topic of “not going to meetings” doesn’t often come up at a meeting, though as Art points out later, it’s obviously a subject people think about at some point or another because a large number of people who start coming to meetings stop coming at some time.

The shares are really heartfelt. I talk about how I’ve always gone to meetings since beginning my recovery – I don’t know how else to recover. At first I came to meetings to learn how to stay sober, but my reasons have changed over time. It’s still about learning, but meeting attendance has become more of a social thing and an opportunity to pass along what I’ve learned to newcomers.

I also talk about my feeling of gratitude for the gifts my sobriety has given me, and how I don’t want to let those blessings keep me from the rooms.

C, the guy I hadn’t recognized, shares about his recent relapse. About how he seems to have a cycle where he comes to meetings for a while, after which his life seems to get better. Once things are smoother he figures that he doesn’t need meetings anymore so he begins to stop going as frequently until they slip off the radar completely. Then his cycle of destruction begins again.

C also talks about how he’s come to realize that honesty is important to his recovery.

NA and AA refer to three spiritual principals one must be open to: honesty, open-mindendness and willingness. “With these, we are well on our way …”

C had been attending meetings and his life was getting better until he got into selling timeshares. He learned there that he had to slant the truth, skirt around it, or omit pieces of it, in order to sell timeshares. It reached a point where he was no longer being honest with himself or his clients, and it ate him up inside, leading him to drink. It was a good share.

Afterwards eight of us went to dinner – Art, Bob, Brooke, Dudley, Bill, Robert, Joe and myself. We hiked over to Cafe Bohemia in my neighborhood at Art’s suggestion. The sky was a bit cloudy, but there had been no rain yet in the day. Bob suggested we sit outside, away from the covered patio. At first I objected, but decided to let it go and try not to control the situation.

I ordered another steak. A few ordered the special – parmesan chicken. Art and Bob both liked the cafe, as it was family run and they offered good food at good prices. I was unimpressed, though. My steak was grisly and tough and my baked potato was small and covered with a layer of butter and cheese so thick you couldn’t separate any nutritional material from the bad.

Halfway through dinner, the rain came. Hard. We had to move our tables indoors. I was grumpy about it, but I got over it and didn’t utter one, “I told you so,” though I was certainly thinking it. Before long we were sitting under the awning, but the ground was quickly flooding – a river threatening to take your flip-flops from you as you ate. It was kind of comical. I stuck around for a while after the bill was paid and enjoyed the conversation with the old-timers and newcomers alike.

Heading home the rain was really coming down. At some points I thought it was actually coming through my umbrella, but I couldn’t tell. My shorts were soaked and my flip-flops slippery – squeaking with each step. I arrived at the bottom of the staircase leading up to my building to find a waterfall rushing towards me. Each step another step in the fall, creating white-capped waves lurching out at you every 8 inches up. I mounted the first couple of flights, but then departed for an internal staircase for the remainder of the ascent.

I fell asleep from the safety of a tall bed, the rain coming down in sheets outside.

Thursday in Vallarta

07.23.2010 · Posted in Travel

Vallarta Day 7

Thursday here is nice and low-key for me.

Coco’s Kitchen is open for breakfast again – thank gawd! I decide to switch it up a bit and order the Greek omelette instead of the Vallarta variety. It was a mistake – I like the Vallarta better.

Coffee and blogging at Dee’s is next. I get a piece of chocolate cake, but it’s been in the display case a bit too long and it’s sort of dry. Serves me right for having a piece of chocolate cake as a mid-day snack!

I pick up my laundry down the block and fork over $120 pesos. $10 is not so bad, I suppose – everything is folded precisely and smells nice and clean. Much better than the laundry in Guatemala, where there were fabric fibers of every color all over everything, the clothes were still a bit damp, folded half-hazzardly and tossed into a tote. Of course, they charged roughly half.

I drop my laundry off at home and find the cleaning lady there changing the sheets and disinfecting everything. Despite my efforts to communicate that she take the tip I left for her during the last visits, it was still there when I came home. This time I put the money into her hand and she thanked me.

Acqua is next. The manager, David, and Aaron, the new owner, were both there. After my workout we chat for a bit. David is curious about one of my fancy exercises Kyle at the Firm has me do. I am flattered that he’s interested and I demonstrate it for him. David makes me a protein shake from their decreasing fruit supply, leaving me little options and I complain, “go shopping!” My gym at home charges all purchases to my account, so when I order them here, I forget to pay every time and David jokingly makes fun of me for trying to run off without paying – which, from his point of view, is exactly what I’m doing.

Walking towards the beach I pass the “Bon Dom” guy and I’m surprised that he remembers the reference considering how drunk he appeared yesterday. “Hey, Bon Dom – you wanna tour?”

“No gracias.”

I walk up and down the beach a bit, sipping on my protein shake. Waving off the regular beach vendors selling wooden carvings, children’s toys, sarongs, hats, sunglasses, t-shirts, and hits off a pipe, I’m cornered by a guy who really wants to give me a massage. I’ve actually been trying to track down a guy I met the other night who does them, but he’s been unavailable – apparently he’s really good. So when this guy asks me, I sort of second guess myself. He immediately picks up on it and starts giving me a sample. I get a bit creeped out and continue down the beach, “No gracias.”

Returning home I’m greeted with a fresh-smelling apartment and a newly-made bed. The cold showers are getting a bit old, but given the heat and humidity, the cold water is almost a bit refreshing.

I nap and wake in time for the 6:30 AA meeting and head over to the Alano club. The usuals are all there. I meet another gay man named Dudley. He tells me he saw me at the coffee shop the other day and invites me to the meeting on Sunday, when they’ll be celebrating his anniversary. Here they often celebrate with chocolate cake, so I oblige 🙂

A man I’ve seen at the meetings since I’ve been in town, Robert, shares about how he’s been attending at least three meetings a day for the last 30 days and continues to relapse. He drank last night and is at a loss of what to do.

I intend to ask him to join us for dinner, but he’s surrounded by others before I can get a chance. These are good AAers.

Myself, Art, the 40 year sobriety guy, and Tommy, the med student, head over to Joe Jack’s Fish Shack for dinner. I’ve passed the place a few times, but never stopped. Art tells us that they have a great fish and chips entree, but he comes for the steak.

We’re seated on the rooftop terrace in the corner table, giving a slightly elevated view of the neighborhood. I observe the nearby buildings. Some vacant, some missing walls, some walls in disrepair, some holes in roofs, others with rusted corrugated steel roofs, some with the Spanish tile roofs, open-air rooms, lots of little balconies. I ask Art what the black tanks are that I see atop many of the buildings. He’s unsure and makes a crack about not being an engineer. They’re either water or gas, he guesses.

Art begins to tell me about how the locals get natural gas, but I’ve seen it – large trucks with industrial-sized gas tanks come up the street, with a worker yelling, “GAS!!!!” and you have to wave them over. They have a large cherry-picker type of platform with a hose attached with which they’ll fill your tank.

We all order the steak. I’m a bit leery of the smashed-like steaks with grisly meat I’ve experienced in Vallarta before, but Art assures me that this is a thick, tender piece of meat – for only $150 pesos, to boot. It arrives with a side of fried potatoes and it’s MARVELOUS. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been so long without a steak or if it’s actually that good, but either way – we all agree, it’s spectacular.

I head home and stop in at Apache’s, a local gay bar and restaurant on Los Altus. Both of the regular patio-servers there have been flirting with me for days so I decide to to get a nightcap coffee and see what they have for dessert. I’m delighted with a fruit and ice cream bowl drizzled with caramel and chocolate, topped with whipped cream. It’s a pleasant ending to a nice day.

WIthin moments I’m surrounded by a fresh crowd of people on the patio. All gringos. All drunk. A couple of old ladies with a gaggle of middle-aged gays. One of the old ladies reminds me a lot of Joan Rivers – she’s got that raspy voice with the plastic surgery, make-up and quick wit.

Somebody orders shots for the entire patio and when I decline, they start getting on my case. I finally tell them I don’t drink, but they assure me its only got a little bit of alcohol – a “light shot”, they call it. Riiiiiight, I think. I leave some cash on the table and make haste for the street.

I arrive home just in time, as it starts raining outside – the perfect sleeping weather.

My Own Private Umbrella

07.22.2010 · Posted in Travel

Vallarta Day 6

Got up around my Vallarta-usual 8:30 and head over to Coco’s for breakfast to find they are closed on Wednesdays. I’ve grown accustomed to spoiling myself in the mornings at Coco’s with her Vallarta omelette and have a mini hissyfit before heading down the block to Choco Banana to get Marcello’s inferior dish. He’s a great guy, but he just can’t compete on a quality level with Coco.

Sitting at Choco Banana, Aaron, the new owner at the Acqua gym walks by. He introduces himself. We met on the beach a day or so ago, but I haven’t made the connection to Acqua until now. I ask him if he lives in the neighborhood, but he’s just here working on a construction project. Turns out he’s an architect. (I’ve now met two architects in Vallarta in 4 days!) He wants to make sure I’m happy with the gym. I tell him it’s great – I like a smaller gym and David remembered me after I visited over New Years for a few days. He also likes David, saying he loves to work with him and citing his humility. The humility word sets off an alarm in my head and think Aaron must have some level of spirituality in his life – others don’t tend to notice that quality.

Dee’s is up next. I answer some emails and do my blogging. It seems that each additional day I’m here, I get more and more questions about my iPad. They’re not available here yet, so people are either curious about what it is, or they’re gringos wondering about getting one or opting for a more traditional netbook or small laptop. While the iPad is a nice toy, in retrospect, I think I would have been happier with a traditional netbook – and much happier with a MacBook Air, but that would have been much more money.

Pepé, the ass and pec implant “masseuse” is arguing with somebody across the street, yelling curses back and forth in Spanish as they both walk in separate directions. Perhaps a massage went bad?

Jamie and I had discussed going to Golds Gym today, but sadly I’m out of gym shorts and need to have some laundry done. After finishing up at Dee’s I check out the laundry shop down the block and see that they’ve expanded since I remember them from my New Year’s trip 7 months ago. At that time I remember them operating with only one washer and dryer and it appears now they’ve got three of each!

I feel as if I’m writing about the same neighborhood over and over again and I should be exploring the city, but I’m so content here next to the beach in the old town. I’ve heard Yelapa, a beach south of here, accessed only by boat, is fabulous. The botanical gardens a short bus ride south of here is also supposed to be very nice, and especially lush during the rainy season. I might make a trip out there with some of the AA folks. In the meantime, this small little area is my home.

I pack up my dirty laundry back at home and head back to the launderer. They perform the full service wash, dry and fold for very cheap. I’ll get the bill today, but I don’t anticipate it’ll be much more than if I were using coin-operated machines back in the States.

After three weeks in Guatemala and now Puerto Vallarta, both in their rainy season, I decide it’s time to buy an umbrella. I’d been making due with a raincoat, but the downpours we’ve been experiencing in Vallarta have penetrated my raincoat and make getting anywhere after around 6:00 or 7:00 nearly impossible. Art from the AA meetings recommended checking at Freddy’s Farmacia on Olas Atlus, so I stop in there and find a small travel-sized one for $160 pesos.

Continuing down Olas Atlus, I stop into a beachwear shop and find some shorts I wouldn’t be embarrassed wearing and seem suitable for the gym. They’re marked at $395 pesos, working to roughly $30, which I think is expensive. The man assures me the shorts are made of the highest quality materials and will complement my shape nicely. I can tell they’re the same clothes on the rack at Walmart, look at him and say “$395 is too much.”

“$350.” he offers, sighing, as if I’m stealing his children’s Christmas presents out from under the tree.

“Fine” and I head to Acqua.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of doing this with Jamie and Gold’s, but my gym habits here are hard to break!

It’s getting a bit cloudy after the gym, and it’d surely be a waste of effort to attempt any beach time today, so I decide just to walk up and down the Malceon a bit before heading home.

I’m still showering without hot water, even though Alicia, the front-desk lady, assures me the maintenance man has double-checked all of the plumbing. In some respects its a bit refreshing, considering the weather outside is much like the inside of a steam room.

After a shower and a siesta, I head out for the Alano club, where I’m to share my story at tonight’s 6:30 meeting. En route I pass a man selling time-shares and booking tours who appears a bit drunk. These guys will often say anything to grab your attention and start a conversation. He turns around from taking a swig of something and says to me, pointing, barely able to hold his finger up in my direction and says, “Bon Dom. You look jus like Bon Dom.”

I realize he’s referring to Jean Claude Van Damme, and though I have been hitting the gym, this man is clearly not seeing straight. I’m flattered by the compliment and continue my walk up Basila Badio.

Art, Bob, Bill, the three local gay old-timers are at the Alano club. Brooke, also visiting from Minneapolis, is in attendance. There are some other local regulars I recognize, including Rodrigo – a guy who just celebrated 90 days after coming back from another relapse.

After the initial AA Preamble and How It Works readings, Bob, the evening’s trusted servant introduces me and I’m invited to the front of the room to speak. I’m delighted that this evening the room seems a bit cooler than the norm – an intolerable humidity level with a couple of unbalanced fans knocking back and forth hanging from the ceiling and producing no noticeable benefit.

I introduce myself and let them know that I’ve been sober for 6 years. I talk about being gay, but not to set me apart, but rather convey a question I’ve always had about feeling different. Most of the AA stories I’ve heard begin with people growing up and always feeling different than others. That’s also the case with my story, but I never knew if it was as a result of being gay, or being an alcoholic. I used to assume it was because I was gay, but the more stories I hear, the more I think I should attribute it to the alcoholic part.

I talk about my childhood experience and how fear ruled my life. Fear of being found out (gay), fear of being left out or behind, fear of not being liked, fear of not achieving, fear of failure, fear of consequences, fear of people, fear of speaking in front of groups, fear of being judged, and on and on and on.

I explain that when I first began drinking in college at 18, alcohol released me from those feelings of fear. I wasn’t afraid of anything while I was drinking. I felt comfortable in my own skin. It gave me something I’d never felt before – freedom to be myself, or what I thought was myself. Over time the alcohol became something I depended on to feel good. I wasn’t having fun unless I was drinking. Work and drinking became my life, and work was only a part of the mix to support my drinking. I had become a different person and he wasn’t pretty.

I talk about what happened, how I trashed my boss’ office as a part of a dare to pull a prank on him. How I realized what I had done, came to some hard decisions about myself, and went into treatment – which did a couple of things for me. It gave me a dose of reality, helped me identify within a community and most importantly, introduced me to AA and the 12 steps, which is where my recovery began to take shape and transform my life.

I continue with talk about what my life is like today, operating two sober houses and being given opportunities left and right to be of service to the newcomer. I tell them how gratitude plays a large part in my life today and how the many blessings that I’ve been given don’t go unnoticed.

There is a 10 minute break after my story and the remainder of the meeting people give me feedback and tell me how they identify with what I talked about. Everyone is very appreciative and kind. Its a nice experience overall. While I had some initial nervousness, it quickly subsided and my babbling took on a mind of its own.

After the meeting, Art, Bob, Brooke and myself head to The Swedes for dinner. It’s over in my neighborhood, a block from Dee’s and just up the block from Coco’s Kitchen. A gay couple from Sweden started the restaurant after one of them lost their job in the recession a year ago. The restaurant is beautiful, perched atop a hill with a fantastic view down Olas Altus in one direction, and the neighborhood and ocean in another.

Richard, one of the couple, chats us up for a bit. His accent is classic Scandinavian and I’ve got to believe that this is the root of the Minnesotan accent.

Tommy, another guy in attendance at the meeting, joins is a few minutes later. Four of us order the Swedish Meatballs, while Tommy opts for a burger. I find it somewhat comical that I’m getting Swedish Meatballs in Mexico – a dish that’s hard to find in Minnesota, let alone south of the border. All of our dishes are wonderful, and the meatballs are quite good – right up there with my Finish grandmother’s variety!

The Swedes' Swdish Meatballs in Puerto Vallarta

The Swedes' Swedish Meatballs in Puerto Vallarta

Tommy tells us about his travel plans. He’s finished his first year in medical school at USC Irvine and will be spending a month just north of the Guatemalan border, in the south of Mexico, working on a public health project. He is unsure if he’s traveling to Mexico City or not, after spending time in Mazetlan and here in Vallarta. It seems the girl he went to Mazetlan to spend time with neglected to tell him she had a boyfriend, necessitating his rapid departure from there. The Mexico City stop is also in question, as the girl he’s to see there is also taken.

I realize that girl problems affect Southern California AAers just as much as they do Minnesotans.

Art and Bob tell stories of their past in DC. In a somewhat comical fashion, they compete for the floor. They’re both big talkers – telling long stories, and what I would consider “Hostage takers”. If one is wrapping up a story, the other is ready to pounce on the open spot in the conversation to tell their own story. I’ve only known them for five days and I’ve already started to hear some of the stories over again – I’ve got to believe they have more than 5 days worth.

Andrew, the Dark Room guy in San Marcos, and also a hostage taker, used to joke that he only had 25 things to talk about. He would cycle through them, and once he finished with the 25th topic, he’d return to number 1. Part of the joke was that people were so transient in San Marcos, so most people never heard the same story twice, but those who befriended Andrew and spent any considerable time there were susceptible to hearing the same stories more than once.

After a chocolate cake dessert and a cafe, I head home. The rain pouring by this time, I am grateful I’ve finally purchased an umbrella.

A Vallarta Kind of Day

07.21.2010 · Posted in Travel

Vallarta Day 5

Got up around 8:30. Headed to Coco’s for her Vallarta Omelette. I’m beginning to enjoy avocados more and more. Back home I never really cared for them, but since they’re served on nearly everything from here to San Marcos, I’ve come to appreciate them. Plus, I think they’re supposed to be good for you.

Followed up Coco’s with Dee’s, blogging and listening into the locals’ gossip. Couldn’t resist another piece of that blueberry coffee cake. Coffee Cake just doesn’t describe it – it’s more like High Calorie Baked Item, or HCBi for short.

Surfer lady and a friend came bounding up the sidewalk with sarongs and bikinis wrapped around themselves shouting “Here comes your favorite mermaids! We went playing with the dolphins this morning! They were jumping out of the water … ”

Some guy in a too-tight tshirt stops in and hands out free passes to Anthropology, the male strip club. I’ve got about a half-dozen now.

Pepé walks by in nothing but flip-flops and short-shorts. Victor had pointed him out to me a couple of days ago. He’s a local “masseuse” who’s solely responsible for keeping the local plastic surgeon in business. He’s clearly had a number of facelifts, but Victor tells me he’s also had implants in his pecs and ass. I look, and it’s clear – no natural human ass sticks out that far. I wonder aloud, “Doesn’t that make it hard to walk?”

A new resident hair-dresser introduces himself to several of the clientele. He’s just moved to down and is working on his MacBook.

A stranger stops on the street and asks me how I like my iPad. He has lots of questions and the new hair-dresser says he had one and the screen shattered. He recommends a heavy-duty case.

One of the ladies behind the counter comes bounding outside with a fresh pan of cinnamon rolls, shouting something in Spanish about the fresh rolls. She’s so loud she doesn’t need a dinner bell.

Headed home for gym attire but the bed was too inviting and I succumbed to a two hour HCBi coma before setting out for the gym.

Along Olas Altus I run into Jose, the cute timeshare-selling alcoholic. I wave Hola and continue walking up the hill. Though the hill to the gym is hardly steep, some of the others, closer to the mountains are unbelievable. After the Vista Grille dinner the other night, Robert, Jamie’s roommate, took the long way home and showed us around the neighborhood.

It reminded me much of some of the secluded Hollywood Hills neighborhoods in Los Angles. Steep, curvy roads winding up the mountainside. The difference being in the style of the houses and the quality of the roads. In hollywood the cement, or sometimes asphalt, is well maintained, despite the awkward angles and designs. Here in Vallarta, the roads are made of fist-sized rocks, cemented into place to create a bumpy and uneven surface. If you’re lucky, a large hill may have two vertical strips of cement with horizontal grooves in them – providing you with some sort of constant traction, should be able to maneuver your vehicle up the mountain while maintaining your perch atop the cement strips. The small valleys scattered throughout the mountain side create water traps during the rain – sometimes puddling 3 or 4 feet deep. There are very few cars in these garages. Nearly everyone who lives up here needs a Range Rover to get up the hill, so you’ll see many SUVs.

The gym is the usual experience. David is charming as ever. There are a couple of locals doing squats like I have never seen before. They pyramid their weight, starting low, working their way up to a max weight, and then coming down again. They do probably 10 sets all-together. What set their squats apart was that they put their ass nearly to the floor – but at least to their ankles. I couldn’t tell if the form was actually useful or not. Either way, it looked difficult and painful… and that usually means it’s good for you. I will not be showing my trainer this exercise.

On my way back to the house, I run into Jose again. He’s moved down to another storefront in the network of timeshare-selling and tour-booking joints he works out of. We chat for a bit. He tells me that he didn’t drink the night before. I ask him if he wants to stop? He says sometimes. I ask about AA and he tells me that he did it in the US for a while, but in Mexico they can put you in jail for being an alcoholic. It sounds like a classic alcoholic excuse to me, as I can’t imagine the police raiding an AA meeting and tearing people out of their seats to haul them off to jail. I tell him I find that highly unlikely but he isn’t convinced. I tell him about the club I’ve been attending and that’s never happened there.

A tall man interrupts us. I can smell the booze on his breath. He is American and rude. He wants to know about the bike lock on the realty office next door. Neither of us have an explanation for him. He goes on to explain that he used to work for Tennessee Williams and that he and his business partners are in competition with the locked-up realty office. He’s hoping that the bike lock is an indication that they’re not paying their rent in the office space, which would be good for his business. He doesn’t seem to take a breath, continuing to talk and holding us hostage.

I turn to Jose and say “Protección” – the Spanish version of the slang I first heard on RuPaul’s DragRace – “Security”. It’s said in a nonchalant manner to indicate a need for protection from someone. I heard some of the guys using it at Blue Chairs the other day in regards to the drunk guy yelling profanities at the queens on stage – “Shake that ass!”, “Yeah, Baby, move it like that!”, and “Pound it!”.

Jose and I just stare at him, unable to catch a break in the conversation in which to tell the guy to buzz off. He continues, saying he has the five richest gay Mexicans backing him. They’re going to develop some property into a resort and use his connections on Broadway to get the biggest stars in New York and Hollywood to buy condos. I finally cut him off, telling Jose I will see him later. The drunk American gives me his best bitchy look as I walk away.

Gawd, I hope I was never that much of an ass. Probably was.

Back at home I take a shower and a short nap, getting up in time to head over to the Alano club and attend the 6:30 AA meeting. After I sit down the resident homeless guy, Jim, sits down next to me. Jim barely speaks a word, is always smoking cigarettes and smells to high heaven. It’s the worst smell I have ever encountered. I tilt my head in the opposite direction and attempt to discreetly plug my nose while the meeting carries on. Not only is the smell bad, but it is very hot and humid in this room. They try not to run the AC to save costs, and the heat tends to amplify the smell. About 10 minutes later I am physically nauseous and fear I am risking the dignity of the person in front of me by not getting up and leaving. I decide I’m going to make a break for the kitchen for a drink of water and will re-enter the room to another seat. Of course this requires that I get closer to Jim in order to reach the door in the rear of the room. Still plugging my nose I take a deep breath and make a break for the kitchen. Opening the door in the rear of the room, which leads to an outdoor courtyard, I take a deep breath, as if I’d just been held underwater for 5 minutes.

In general I feel a bit freer to share in this group of AA. The meetings are relatively small, and the anonymity of not having a standing reputation there or knowing any of the other AAers with much intimacy, allows for a greater degree of freedom in my sharing. Today, however, I’m thrown off by the incident with Jim and just pray for the end of the meeting to come with as much haste as possible.

As if on cue, the meeting ends and the rain begins down pouring. Art, the man with nearly 40 years sobriety, Brook, the guy from Minneapolis, and Bob, another local gay man that Art has known for years, invite me to dinner at Jovita – an authentic Mexican restaurant run by Sergio – a gay man who’s carrying on the tradition of his mother’s recipes.

4 blocks and a monsoon later, we’re all sitting in the restaurant, drenched. The open-air window shows a scene outside with taxis and buses rushing down the street shooting waves of water into the air and onto any victims on the sidewalk.

I examine the menu, ask a few questions and settle on the enchiladas.

I learn more about Art and Bob. They both lived in Washington DC before retiring. They met each other in AA there and have since both retired to Vallarta. Bob worked with various treatment centers and recovery homes back in Washington DC and is determined to start some sort of recovery business here. Art pipes in, “You should talk to Dan – he owns two GLBT recovery homes.”

Art seems excited, telling me, “Really? This has been one of my pet projects while I’ve been down here. I was working with a guy who was really interested in moving forward on a plan, but he got involved with a woman and his interest waned.”

Art goes on to tell me how he would envision it working. They would rent or purchase property to operate as the recovery home and offer a 4 – 6 month recovery retreat for people in the US to travel to. Sort of a “Get sober in a beautiful place like Vallarta.”

I tell him I’m not sure that would work, and that my houses operate as a post-treatment step for people in recovery. The conversation is interrupted by dessert and we get off track. Some sort of bread pudding that’s very tasty! I get up to head out and Bob asks me as I stand up, “Are you going to be at the meeting tomorrow?”

“I haven’t thought that far ahead, but perhaps.”

“Well Wednesday nights are a speaker meeting and we’d love to have you tell your story.”

Speaking in front of a crowd is my biggest fear. I stand there without answering for a moment. Desperate to come up with an excuse, anything, but I can’t and I know one of the foremost unwritten rules in AA requires you to do something when asked.

“Sure, I can do that.”

I walk home in the light rain thinking maybe it’ll be easier than I think. After all, I was just observing how it’s easier for me to share in these meetings than at home. I decide not to dwell on it – worrying is a waste of time.

Another Day in Paradise

07.20.2010 · Posted in Travel

Vallarta Day 4

After rising I see my friend under the overturned glass on the kitchen counter and decide it’s time to free him. I go back and forth on killing bugs, but for a couple of reasons I decide to set this one free:

a. He’s huge. If I smash him, I’m going to feel it, and probably hear it. These elements seem to bring more reality to the killing.

b. I re-learned in San Marcos that we’re all connected – everything and everyone is a part of the same system.

I open the window and toss him out, but he won’t let go of the paper he was sitting on. He starts crawling towards my hand and I freak out – shoving him off the paper with the glass. He lands directly beneath the window and is still on a runaway pace to who-knows-where. I rush to close the window and realize the gap between the top of the window frame and the bottom of the window itself is nearly an inch thick. So much for energy efficiency or keeping out the bugs. Thankfully my buddy decides to head south, out of sight.

After that little fiasco I head for breakfast at Coco’s Kitchen. I have a hankering for the Ensalada de Fruito at LaPaz and order the equivalent at Coco’s. Its okay, and had I never had the LaPaz or even just the generic Guatemalan equivalent, I would have been greatly satisfied, but I wasn’t. The granola was quite plain, where LaPaz has their own variety with different seeds and raisins thrown in. The serving size was much smaller – small bowl, vs large bowl and a smaller portion of granola as well. Banana and honey doesn’t vary much, so those elements were comparable. I will say, however, that Coco’s presentation is impeccable – for all of their dishes. And the service at Coco’s is spectacular. Almost too good. You take a sip of coffee and a busboy will stop by and ask “Mas cafe?”

Next stop is Dee’s. I’m beginning to get to know the regulars a bit. Michele owns Michele’s restaurant on the corner down the block. He’s Swiss. Polite, but exudes a general air of apathy. He has a mother and son Jack Russell couple. They’re cute, smart, and love attention. If you begin petting them, they won’t let you stop – rubbing their noses into your hand, or if unavailable, your shin, then looking up at you with a cocked head and puppy-dog eyes.

The lesbian couple run the artisan chocolate shop next door. (Ex-pats)

Gary, a gay man, runs the little shop in the other direction. (Ex-pat)

Real Estate Assistant Guy (REAG), also an ex-pat, starts work at 10:00 every morning after his morning coffee and chitchat at Dee’s. He’s an ex-pat and lives in Vallarta with his Dad and his Dad’s girlfriend. He’s often talking about his Dad, his Dad’s health, his Dad’s new car, his Dad’s road-trip to Florida.

Heavy-set surfer lady. She kind of looks like Dee – with longer blond hair, but probably a little older. By her skin, one can tell she’s spent much of her life in the sun. Like Dee, always has a smile on her face and exudes happiness. She’s got a surf board tied to the top of her mid-90s Camry and I’ve never seen her in anything other than a pair of shorts and a swimsuit.

There are a couple others, but the above group can generally be counted on every morning. I’m usually engrossed in my writing during this time and don’t elect to go out of my way to meet anyone, but a few of them have become friendly with me.

I’m at Dee’s when a Facebook message comes in from a guy, B, who used to live in Minneapolis, but has since moved to New York. He had attended treatment at Pride Institute with a common friend of ours – Chris. Chris had since moved back to Virgina Beach and I hadn’t heard from him in a while, but occasionally he’d pop up on Facebook. B’s note tells me that Chris took his own life this morning.

Both B and Chris had left AA and returned to a life that included alcohol and / or drugs. I still cared for them, but with these circumstances, and the distance between us, we were no longer close.

I was sad to hear about Chris. His story is frighteningly common. Though I’ve only been in recovery for 6 years, I’ve lost track of the number of people I know who have died. The program teaches us that if we choose to continue in our disease, we will ultimately face jails, institutions or death. This is the 4th or 5th such death I can think of in the recent 12 months. Chris was always a kind-hearted person and freely shared himself with other addicts while he was here in Minneapolis trying to practice a recovery program.

It’s sad to think that he gave up, ultimately choosing death over trying to recover again. It’s things like this that remind me to always extend a welcoming hand-shake or hug, and a listening ear, to the newcomer at meetings. You never know – it may be their first meeting, or they may be coming off a recent bender. Or perhaps they’re just having a bad day. It’s not difficult for me to show a little love in the rooms, and it may help the recipient more than I know.

After finishing up at Dee’s, I head back to the condo and change into some gym clothes. I head north towards Acqua.

There are two or three others in the gym, plus David, the manager. I get a good workout in and 20 minutes on the bike. David makes me a shake and I head home again.

It’s about 2:30 in the afternoon with a lot of sun left in the day, so I hop into my box cuts and head down to the beach. On my way out the cleaning lady arrives for the first time! This is very exciting to me! I tell her she can have the change on the counter, but it seems she doesn’t understand a word of English and I return later to find the change still there.

At the beach I settle in at Blue Chairs and lie on my stomach, hoping to even out the sun I got yesterday. Clouds begin to move in and I fall asleep, waking around 4:00, when the sun is completely clouded over. I head up the hill towards home, meeting a “masseuse” halfway up the hill. He tries incessantly to sell me a “massage”. I am amazed at the number of masseurs in this town. I suspect they are drug addicts or alcoholics and I have some compassion for them – wanting to tell them there’s another way to live, but I know there’s nothing I can do to make somebody want recovery.

I take a shower and a quick nap, waking at 6:00 to head over to the Alano club for an AA meeting. Diane is reading The Keys to the Kingdom – the first story I ever read from the big book during a book study in treatment. Following the story, she shares a bit about her experience in relation to the story and then opens up the floor for others to share.

After a couple of the locals share, I talk about what the story meant to me. The narrative ends with “… in exchange for the bottle and a hangover, we were given the keys to the kingdom.” Or something close to that. That’s really been my experience with recovery. I got into recovery to get sober, but through active participation, working the steps, the grace of a higher power, and good people in my life, I’ve been given so much more. Today I have a life I never dreamed of. It sounds cliche, but it’s really true.

I also relate to continuing to take one step at a time, and doing the next right thing. It’s still that simple for me – I just keep moving forward and continue to grow spiritually as I do. That process, somehow improves my life. I don’t know how, but it does, so I continue moving forward.

I chat with a few of the other meeting attendees after the meeting and depart for Olas Altus, where I’m supposed to meet Jamie for dinner. I meet up with Jose on the street. He had tried to sell me a timeshare a few days ago and I thought he was cute, so I stopped and talked with him. We’ve now gotten to know each other a bit more and it’s clear he’s got a problem with drinking. Every time I see him he is sitting in the shade and sweating – the smell of vodka that I know so well is oozing out of him. I ask him about this and he tells me that a little alcohol is good for your health.

I laugh a bit at him and say, no it’s not.

He corrects himself, “Well, a glass of wine is good.”

I ask, “So you drink so much vodka that I can smell is sweating out of you, and you do this for your health?”

“No,” he confides. Sometimes he “Over does it.”

I tell him that I stopped drinking 6 years ago, but used to drink much like him. I tell him that I attend AA meetings. That’s all I can do. I can’t force him to a meeting – he’s got to want it and ask for it himself.

Jamie shows up and walks me up the hill to his home. He lives with a roommate, who owns the condo. It’s a great location – a block off Olas Altus. We meet up there with his roommate and a few friends and head to The Vista Grille – one of, if not the nicest, restaurants in town. I am horribly underdressed and in the company of all new people, but I make the best of it.

Robert, Jamie’s roommate, is in his mid-forties and retired from Microsoft. Another friend a Spanish Teacher, another works for American Airlines. At the restaurant we meet up with their friend Don, who as it happens, owns the Casa Cupula – the “Gay Four Seasons” of Puerto Vallarta. He is also retired from Microsoft.

In booking my stay in Vallarta I had come across Casa Cupula, but their price was double that of any other hotel – though I have to say, it looks spectacular, and the Trip Advisor reviews were some of the best I’ve seen.

Don arrives with two young Columbians. One of which, David, is his partner. Just prior to the dinner, the two of them had been at the lawyer’s office, signing papers for Don to sponsor his VISA, or some such immigration papers. It was, as they put it, as close as they’ll be to getting married. Though as some pointed out, homosexuals can now legally marry in Mexico City.

Our discussion varied, but we kept circling back to gay cult classics. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Clueless, etc.

I had a mixed green salad, the Pork special and a three-chocolate mousse for dinner.

It was a very nice night. New people. Lots of laughs. Fabulous food.

Beach, Tacos and Drag

07.19.2010 · Posted in Travel

Vallarta Day 3

Sunday in Puerto Vallarta is the day when the locals all head to the beach. Many of the shops are closed or operate during a reduced schedule, and the streets seem a little less hectic.

I get up around 8:00 AM and grab my last banana – sitting beside my new pet cockroach on the kitchen counter, held captive beneath an overturned glass. The roach is so large, were it fit for cold weather, I’m certain you could saddle up a few of them to compete in a dog sled race – it’s THAT big!

The other day, Marcello, the morning guy at Choco Banana, ran out of the shop and stopped me in the middle of the street. He urged me to come in for breakfast and have him cook for me. This morning I stop in, two other solo men sitting and enjoying their breakfast and the scenery. Marcello greets me with a menu and I opt for an omelet. He returns to the kitchen behind the bar and amps up the music a bit. Remixed dance hits suited for a gay disco playing at 8:30 on a Sunday morning would seem out of place in any other setting, but it seems appropriate here.

One of the other patrons finishes his meal, leaves payment and heads out. I turn to the remaining guy on my right. He’s of retirement age, heavy-set, bald and has a cane with him. I ask him if he lives here in Vallarta, or if he’s vacationing. He uses his cane to point out a condo across the street saying, “I live here.”

“Are roaches common-place here? Big ones?” I inquire.

“Oh yes, especially this time of year during the rainy season.”

I pull out my iPhone and begin browsing the ‘net searching for ways to keep them at bay, hoping for a simple device I may purchase and plug into the wall, or a scented candle I can burn, or any simple solution. In my reading I discover that these giant roaches crawl up out of the sewers into people’s homes!

So THAT’s what that shower drain cover was for. I had seen it and simply set it aside. I couldn’t figure out why you would want to cover the shower drain. The basin wasn’t large enough to create much of a standing pool of water and it was just another thing to wash. Great, now I’m going to be watching that drain every second of my cold shower!

The old man departs declares, “Well, we’re attracting flies.” And with that he makes his way across the street with the aid of his cane – eying up the rocky road as he goes, sizing it up for sure-footing before taking each next step.

Marcello brings out my omelet and sits to chat. He tells me about working here at Choco Banana for the last few years, clubs and bars he recommends, and how much he had to drink after his shift yesterday. He also mentions his his best friend who also happens to live in Minneapolis, though he can’t remember his name, nor find his black book to look it up.

I depart and head to Dee’s for coffee and my morning writing. I spend at least an hour prepping my day’s blog entry, all the while listening to the local folks gossip about people in the neighborhood. I’m just about finished up when a cute guy walks up with nothing but soccer shorts and tennis on. He’s got red hair, freckles and several tattoos. He’s clearly not shy, nor would I be if I looked as he does. He orders some breakfast and sits down across from me. We smile at each other and I continue working, finishing up my blog post.

Tossing my iPad and keyboard in my backpack, I stop over at his table and introduce myself on my way out. We strike up a little conversation so I take a seat. His name is Victor. British. 24. Here studying Spanish for his undergraduate degree in Spanish. He makes vague references to jetting up to San Francisco once a month or so for 4 day work trips. He’s been here only a couple of weeks and is scheduled to spend the entire summer here to finish up his Spanish coursework. We talk about both being from a colder climate, not used to the heat, and how we begin sweating just stepping outside of the comfort of our air-conditioned homes. As it turns out, he’s condo-sitting in the building next-door to me.

Victor’s friend Jamie stops by the coffee shop and begins chatting him up. We are introduced. Jamie and Victor are planning on going to the beach shortly and invite me to come along. I agree, but have to stop up at my place to change.

At home I must decide between the REALLY tiny, skin-tight swimsuit, or the box-cut, skin-tight swimsuit. I wonder what this crowd wears, and decide to play it a bit safe with the moderate pair – the box-cut.

Down at the beach I discover these guys are the barely-there-swimsuit types. Oh well, at least mine is just as skin-tight as theirs. The moment comes when all gay men are judged – removal of the shirt. I imagine my ghostly white skin blinding the Los Muertos Beach 100 yards in either direction, but it I get through it without an audible gasp from anyone within earshot.

I make a half-hearted, self-deprecating joke about losing my membership to the six pack club long ago. These two, it would appear, are platinum members.

We chat about get-to-know you topics, like where we’re from, what we do, etc. Joining us shortly is another Victor and his friend Alfredo. Alfredo has a Jack Russell named Canica that loves to dig holes in the sand, stick her head down the hole and snack on the wet sand underneath. I am guessing this is a cooling technique or some sort of instinctual behavior.

Watching the dog, I see something move a short distance away. It’s a tiny hermit crab moving it’s shell across the beach! I’ve never seen one of these in the wild – and believe me, the blue chairs beachfront is wild. We had one in Mrs. Cybibiki’s 5th grade class, but that’d had been my only exposure. I am getting overly excited about a crab.

I’m laying out, desperately trying to get some color. Others join us. Angel, a local masseuse, Adolfo, and David – a guy from Sydney who was just in Minneapolis for the Bingham Cup. Small world, indeed. They are ordering drinks and ask if I’d like one. I tell them I don’t drink. Adolfo asks, “What about candy?”

“I love candy … oh, wait. No, no candy.”

The group laughs a bit. From the looks on their faces, at least some members of this group enjoys “candy” on a regular basis.

Victor, Victor and Jamie head down to the water. I decline, hoping to get more sun. Maybe later.

A masseuse is walking by, selling foot massages and I can’t resist. 30 minutes on each foot, sitting in the sun with a Sprite.

Within minutes, the storm clouds begin to roll in and it begins to sprinkle. The wind picks up a huge, table-sized umbrella propped into the sand 30 feet away and flings it at a high velocity in my directly. I scream and form a cross with my arms in front of my face. Luckily, or unluckily, the masseuse’s head blocks the stalk of the umbrella. He brushes it off and says he’s fine. He insists on finishing the massage. Who am I to argue?

The boys are packing their belongings up and moving underneath a palapa further back on the beach. They invite me to come, but I don’t want to give up the massage or interrupt it to move. The rain begins coming down harder and I find myself as one of the sole people on the beach. The attendants have removed all of the chairs and pulled them under cover. There I am, sipping my Sprite, with my foot in the lap of a masseuse, all alone on Los Muertos Beach. I imagine this would make a poetic photo.

Up under the palapa the group has decided to make a taco run. They’re eager to show me authentic tacos. They hype the place up as having the best tacos in town and I wonder if it’s a nice place – should I change clothes? No, they assure me the beach attire we’re all wearing is just fine.

A couple of the guys have cars and we all pile in and head across town. We park on the street and cross it. There it is – the best taco place in town is an old carnival trailer parked on the side of the street with two heavy-set ladies sweating it inside and serving up fresh tacos. I’m thinking to myself … we drove all the way across town to visit this little taco stand?

The trailer is bordered with benches on three sides and I sit next to Jamie, who orders two beef tacos for me, along with a sweetened fruit drink that has a hint of some sort of mint flavoring. It’s quite good. One of the ladies was actually making the dough from scratch and pressing it into tortillas. They have fresh guacamole and salsas set out, with the regular fixings inside the trailer and served ala carte during your order.

I must admit, the tacos are quite good, and given the amount of business this trailer is doing, the secret it out.

The boys head to a pool party at The Abbey Hotel and I head for home. It’s still raining and I’m feeling desperate for a shower and a siesta.

Later in the evening I meet the boys across the street at Blue Chairs. They have a Sunday night drag show that I saw during my last trip here, and the boys tell me the performance is wonderful. I’m amazed to find out that two of the drag queens are actually twin brothers – and they both do drag. What are the chances?

The show is moderate. One of the girls really stands out, but with her fast-paced and exotic dance moves I wonder what kind of candy she’s got.

Many of the boys are sufficiently drunk by this point having been drinking since the beach in the early afternoon, followed by the pool party and now drinks at Blue Chairs. They’re having a blast and start dancing, only to end up as the backup dancers for the girls on stage. I don’t imagine the queens care for the drunken backup dancers, but they are determined to have a good time, and they succeed.

The show ends around midnight and these boys are just getting started. They elect to return to Victor’s place next door to mine. A discussion begins about finding music, speakers for the iPod, getting Vodka and mixers. I remember these days. The drunk cooperative is not a shining example of efficiency. These discussions used to drive me crazy and I would usually just declare that I would purchase everything right then and there, whatever the cost.

They figure out the logistics without such a measure – I’m surprised. These guys are good.

It’s too late for me, however. I thank them for the wonderful time today and inviting me to spend time with them. I head back to my place to the cockroach in a glass and Stigmata on the television . Patricia Arquette holding a knife to Gabriel Byrne, asking him, “How’s your faith these days, Father? How’s your faith?!”

Lightning Storms and Cockroaches

07.18.2010 · Posted in Travel

Vallarta Day 2

I woke to the sound of a propane tank delivery truck coming up Amapas. It’s not that the engine or the exhaust is loud, or the shocks are squeaking, but that it plays an advertising jingle from a loud speaker at regular intervals – like every 15 seconds. I can’t make out the words, but its sung by a high-pitched little girl’s voice, or perhaps two little girls. The melody would be appropriate for a cellphone ringtone. You know – the ringtone you can’t get out of your head once you hear it. It’s cutesy and makes you want to bob your head back and forth until you realize that you can’t stop on your own. That type of jingle. Broadcast over a loudspeaker at 7:30 in the morning on a Saturday. Repeating every 15 seconds.

Is there no decency here?

I got out of bed, threw on some clothes, slung my backpack over my shoulder, and headed out. Heading out of this condo requires climbing up three flights of stairs, and then down about ten flights to the street. The sad thing is that I can see the street 20 feet below my balcony – if there were only a rope or a fire escape, things would be so much easier. But there’s not, and that’s okay – because it forces me to get the exercise.

I stopped in at CoCo’s Kitchen my first morning here. They have delightfully unhealthy pancakes or cinnamon roll french toast, but I was able to control myself and limit it to a Vallarta Omelet – tomato, onion and avocado with a bit of bacon. That and a couple of biscuits on the side, heavy on the butter and jelly.

This morning I went directly to Dee’s Coffee for breakfast. I had spent quite a bit of time at Dee’s the day before and felt guilty for only purchasing a coffee and then sitting there for much of the morning to use the WiFi and upload photos. This morning I thought I’d order breakfast there as well and do my part to support a local small business and not just leech off their internet.

I ordered Mexicana Eggs – basically scrambled eggs with salsa. I was unimpressed, but had done my part. Then I heard the coffee bar calling my name and I stepped back inside for a piece of the coffee cake. This isn’t your light and fluffy grocery store bakery coffee cake. This is some thick, dense, high-calorie coffee cake. Of course I justify the diet choice with a variety of reasons. It’s hot, I’ll sweat it out. I have so many stairs to climb, I’ll sweat it out. I’m going to the gym today, so I’ll sweat it out.

And did I ever sweat. Still 90 degrees and humid, it’s nearly impossible not to. I’m trying to embrace it and enjoy it, reminding myself that it could be 40 below in Minnesota with a strong wind taking my breath away, chapping my lips and draining my sinuses.

After stopping at home to change, I venture over to Acqua, the gym. David greets me with a smile asking if I’m hungover from last night. “No, I don’t drink. Are you?” I ask.

“No, tonight though,” he responds.

I wonder silently, if he’s this friendly sober, what’s he like with a few cocktails in him?

There are a few laborers there working today. A new glass wall is in place since yesterday and they’ve removed the backdrop from the front-desk area. That backdrop had the gym’s name on it, and it’s removal makes me wonder if they’re changing the name of the place. Someone who I presume is directing the work and his body posture and body language suggest he’s in charge. He and David are installing various cabinets and stereo equipment. Generally David holds something heavy up, while the owner maneuvers around it with a piece of hardware or sound component. I don’t mind the show between sets.

David asks if I’d like a bath towel like yesterday, but I decline, citing my immediate sweating after the shower anyhow.

I head back towards the condo, but want to see what sort of clothes I can find in some of the shops on the way. Some of the cotton stuff I brought is simply too heavy for this humidity and I need to find some lighter-weight options.

I stop in at one store that has both men’s and women’s attire in the front window, but stepping inside it’s stuffed chock-full of women’s and children’s clothes. Or at least I HOPE those were children’s clothes, as my ass was certainly not going to fit in them.

I ventured across the street to a larger boutique and stepped inside. Again, I saw only women’s merchandise, but a lady directed me upstairs for the menswear. Then she followed me. All. Around. The. Store. She shadowed me, only a couple of steps behind, from table to table. Then I realized I had my backpack on, and perhaps she thought I was a risk for theft. Or maybe this is considered good service here? Or maybe she just didn’t speak enough English to feel comfortable trying to strike up a conversation? Or maybe a combination of the above?

I ended up buying a couple of shirts. One, a Harley Davidson T-Shirt that was obviously created illegally – the logo bleached out on a t-shirt with Puerto Vallarta underneath. I think they probably made them in the back room, tore off the sleeves to give it some flare, and then marked them up to 100 pesos on the sales floor. What a riot, I thought – I can support that sort of ingenuity! Seems almost on brand for Harley as well, always touting individualism and a “Fuck it, let’s ride” mentality.

Next I stopped into the Cyber Smoothie shop across the street from Dee’s. They double as an internet cafe, which, after stopping in, appears to be their primary business. The shop is empty, aside from the girl attendant, surfing Facebook on her laptop. She speaks very little English, but we make due and she makes me a chocolate, banana and peanut butter smoothie – just like I do at home. It was yummy and she even gave me a free ten minutes on a computer, so I was happy. The shake was a bit more substantial and filling than the watered-shakes at the gym, but it was probably three times the calories, too.

I remember that I want to buy some coffee at Dee’s to make at home, so I stop over there next and grab a half pound of ground french roast and then head back towards home.

Stepping up the initial steps I reach for my keys and they’re not in my pocket. Not normally one to lose my keys, I resist the urge to panic. I stop, set sit down and open my bag, searching through it. Not there. I remove the contents and still, nothing, not there. Now I’m panicking. I begin to reverse my steps and conclude that they must be at the gym and set out in that direction.

I arrive back at Acqua and David looks at me funny, like, you can’t really be back here for a second workout in one afternoon. I explain my situation and head to the locker room. They’re not in my locker. Had I any hair, I’d surely have pulled it out by now. In frustration I unzip all the pockets of my backpack and dump everything out on the locker room bench – and there they land.

That stressful little trek and back was like another free workout and I think this must be God doing for me what I cannot do for myself – push me further.

After a shower and a nap I get up in time to head to the Alano club for the 6:30 AA meeting. The club is located just a block beyond the gym – probably a half mile away. As I approach I see a few people laughing outside, smoking, with paper coffee cups – home at last! And that’s when it occurs to me that it’s been three weeks since I’ve been to a meeting! At home, it’s unusual for me to go three days without a meeting, and the longest I’ve ever gone without is a week.

Thankfully I’m still sober, but also grateful for the club here. I grab a seat and wait for the meeting to start. Ever frugal, the club’s air conditioning isn’t on, but I’ll survive. I can tell the trusted servant is a bit antsy. He keeps looking at the clock and rings a cow bell three minutes before the scheduled 6:30 start time. Hmph – the heat must be getting to him, I think.

This meeting is a speaker meeting, and our speaker, David F, is celebrating his 12 year sobriety birthday today. He’s brought his own cake that he had commissioned with some fancy bakery and it looks marvelous! (I do like a good cake)

Turns out David is gay and from Houston. He visits Vallarta quite often and knows many of the locals here. His story’s theme is “feeling a part of” and I certainly identify. During the break he serves his cake up and when I get to the head of the line he introduces himself and his friend Brook, who’s visiting Vallarta from Minneapolis. Small world, though I don’t recognize him.

We return to the meeting after the cake break and its so damned good I can’t stop thinking about it during the second half. Suddenly the rain starts pounding on a section of fiberglass roof and a loud clap of thunder catches a couple of us off guard. As if on cue, half of the lights and ceiling fans go out and I turn around to peer through the glass doors and view a tsunami wreaking havoc in the courtyard.

The meeting finishes up and the anxious trusted servant rushes us out of the building so he can lock up. Pushed out onto the street, I’m defenseless against the downpour and a follow a few of the guys to a little Italian joint just down the block.

It’s David, the 12 year birthday speaker, his friend from Minneapolis, Brook, and another guy from the meeting, Art. Art is an expat, having retired from a government job in DC a few years back. He’s 75, but seems to be in very good health despite the heart condition he cites on a number of occasions. He’s got a tendency to talk a lot and dominates the conversation for most of the night, but he’s got great stories and is a charming guy, so I don’t mind so much.

He talks about his five different jobs he held in DC, about his venture into his own business for five years, the failure of that business, then the year he spent driving a taxi, and finally after that, spending 17 years as a tour guide in DC. He tells us about his schtick, “My name is Art and there are a lot of buildings around town named after him, like the National Gallery of …, etc.” I can tell by David’s expression that he’s heard this story before, as I suspect he’s heard a lot of Art’s stories, but like I said – he was charming and the stories were good. They were my first time hearing them, so I didn’t mind.

He also mentions time he spent in the seminary, working in personnel, during which time he was confronted with his alcoholism at work, coming out of the closet after 7 years in sobriety, and his fear of public speaking – of which I can identify with tremendously.

David talks of his partner of the last 4 years. Living in Houston. Working as an elementary-aged special ed teacher. He also talks of living in Minneapolis for a year, having met and dated Brook there.

Brook tells me he lives in the warehouse district and attends the Central Pacific meeting in Minneapolis. We talk about people we know in common with each other. Brook’s got some sort of anxiety disorder. He stutters a bit and has some tics – turrets I assume. I politely ignore the tics and find he’s a really interesting guy. Very well-read and traveled. Unfortunately he gets dripped on once or twice from a leaky ceiling and decides to sit at the next table, by himself. He calls a few of the people we know in common and leaves messages with them about meeting me here in Vallarta. I am half-listening and find some amusement out of what I hear. I also try not to question his decision to sit at the next table and figure it’s just more comfortable for him this way. Later, he decides to pull up a chair to the other side of the table, and join our conversation from a more reasonable distance.

It’s only 9:30 and I feel ready for bed. The nightlife in Vallarta doesn’t really pick up until midnight, and there’s just no way I’m going to make it out tonight. A break in the rain prompts me to take advantage of it and take my leave of the group. I thank them all and tell them I wish to see them at the next meeting.

Back at home I flip on the television and watch some Shia Lebouf flic where his neighbor murders young women. In the light of the television I see a small spider crossing the floor. No matter, I think – maybe he’ll take care of a mosquito for me.

A few minutes later I see another movement and look down to see a GIANT cockroach scurrying across the floor, crawling directly beneath the couch I’m lounging on. I jump up, stand on the couch, and jump to the coffee table. I take a minute to catch my breath devise a plan. The bug is no longer in site, but I assume it’s still under the couch. I run to the kitchen cabinet and pull out a tumbler and slip on my flip-flops. Back at the couch, I crouch down at a safe distance to look underneath. I don’t see anything and think I may have lost it. Damn!

I flip up the couch and the little fucker makes a mad dash for the bookshelf. I run after and have it cornered near the kitchen bar and nab it underneath the glass. Holy heebie-jeebies, Batman!

Home Sweet Vallarta

07.17.2010 · Posted in Travel

Vallarta Day 1

My flight from Guatemala City to Mexico City on Mexicana Air was delightful. The plane was exceptionally clean, lots(!!!) of legroom in coach, helpful & professional flight crew, and behaved children. The flight was only an hour and 45 minutes, yet they served a hot meal. For free! And, not that I particularly care, but one tends to notice a stocked bar going back and forth down the isle. These folks don’t mess around with the minibar bottles – they’ve got the full size Bacardi up there! We departed on time and landed slightly ahead of schedule, with my bag coming off the carousel undamaged. I was happy!

The Mexico CIty Airport was a maze of hallways, ramps, stairs and narrow hallways. I imagine it’s been added onto so many times that things tend to get a bit cumbersome.

The Guatemala airport, in contrast, is quite nice. Clean with expansive walkways, helpful staff and a low-stress environment. It helps to have only 20 flights a day!

My connecting flight to Puerto Vallarta was through Mexicana Air as well, though it was handled by a regional carrier – “Click” I believe it was named. Not sure if this has a special meaning in Spanish, but in English, the name doesn’t really work (or click) for an airline??

The bar may have been set too high on the first flight, but the connecting flight to Vallarta, operated by Click, was awful. Half of the plane was filled with screaming children hitting seatbacks, running up and down the isles and emitting high-pitched screeching noises I didn’t know were possible from the human physiology.

We were held on the tarmac for quite some time before take-off. No explanation was offered. Upon taking off, the passengers in on the right half of the plane in the front few rows were treated to a refreshing waterfall! I was aghast at how much water was ejected from the seems in the overhead bins! As we continued to gain altitude, the captain kept the fasten seatbelt signs on and the flight attendants continued to hit the button prompting an automated turbulence message repeated three times in different languages. This went on for 30 minutes, during which the flight crew remained buckled in and the passengers up front continued to try to dry themselves with the cabin blankets. I hope they didn’t pay for upgrades.

Upon landing I couldn’t get off the plane fast enough – you know the feeling. As soon as I stepped foot out of the plane, a toddler rammed me with a stroller. It took all of my power to just walk along.

Leaving the airport in Vallarta, a driver was waiting for me just beyond the relentless armada of timeshare salespeople. Carlos had three kids and pointed out all of the great nightlife spots in the hotel zone that I should visit as we drove by. His English was spectacular and he told me that all of the children in Mexican schools are taught both Spanish and English from an early age.

Arriving at Basila Del Mar, the night deskman gave me my keys and showed me to my rented condo. It’s down a few flights of stairs, as you enter the building near the top, with the units themselves cascading down the mountain.

The unit is about 500 square feet. It’s one large room with a divider wall between the living and bedroom areas. The bathroom has a small walk-in shower, and the kitchen is fully equipped, minus a dishwasher. The floor is entirely made up of terra-cotta tiles and all of the counter surfaces are lined with decorative tiles as well. The north wall is lined with doors that open to a large balcony over looking the neighborhood and beach beyond.

It’s really quite spectacular and I find myself wondering if I could afford a place like this and whether I could justify the cost with rental income.

The AC provided a more than adequate reprieve from the 90 degree weather and 75% humidity. The bed was quite comfortable and the pillows and linens all immaculately white.

I learned from a traveling friend years ago that you should put everything away as soon as possible. Otherwise you run the risk of working out of your suitcase for the duration of your stay – and that’s just a hassle. An empty armoire provided the necessary storage and a mirror to boot!

I checked the wifi and while it works great for my iPhone, won’t connect with my iPad for some reason. This is probably a blessing, as it’ll force me out of the house.

In the morning I was anxious to get down to my favorite coffee spot – Dee’s Coffee Company. The baked goods are fabulous and the coffee is brilliantly tasty. Plus, Dee is a hoot and fun to gab with.

On my way there a man shouted from a shop across the street, complementing me on my shorts and asking me to come across the street. His name is Jerry. He told me something I’d forgotten about Mexico – that they generally don’t wear shorts. It’s seen as a sign of laziness, as they like to be more formally dressed at all times, requiring long pants. We chatted for a bit longer and it really didn’t occur to me until later in the conversation that he’s a sales guy, pushing the various club nights, boat cruises and other tourist attractions. He was good – REALLY good!

After coffee I stopped in at a bodega and the grocery store to purchase some bananas to munch on and various toiletries.

I dropped off my goods and headed back out to get a membership at Acqua – the gym near Basilo Badilla and Constitution in the shopping district. En route I passed a shop on Olas Atlas where a man yelled out of his shop at me, “Hellloooo!”. I turned around it was Jerry again. “It’s my birthday and you have to give me a hug – it’s an ancient Mexican tradition that you cannot break!”

Another sales tactic. This guy is smooth! I gave him a hug, but then got out of there, for fear of being sucked into a timeshare agreement!

At the gym, David, the manager there, remembered me from my visit over new years. I was quite flattered, as the guy is incredibly good-looking and straight. Why would he have remembered little ol’ me? He was excited to show me around, as the new owner had put a little bit of money into the place – expanding the workout area and adding new equipment. The expansion is nice, but I was a little disappointed to hear that the place had sold – it was my dream to buy the place, even though I couldn’t afford it.

I headed back to my place again. This time I checked in with the regular front desk lady, Alicia. I mentioned I was nearly out of purified water and she sent a man right down with a fresh 5 gallon bottle.

I rested for a bit and then headed back to the gym – this time in shoes and workout attire. It’d been two weeks since I’ve been in the gym, as there were no facilities in San Marcos. Of course I dove right into doing fast-paced supersets with heavy weights. Within a matter of 30 minutes I was dehydrated – probably a factor of my time away from the gym and the heat. I continued hydrating and working out for a short while longer, but I was wiped.

David made me a protein shake and I left for home and took a nap in the comfort of the air conditioning.

I awoke around 6:30 and got myself ready to go to the GLBT AA meeting at the alano club house on Basila Badilla. After the short trek over there, I found the doors locked. A couple of ladies were there locking up and told me that the GLBT meeting was canceled over the summer due to a lack of attendance. Bummer, I thought! They directed me to another meeting across town, but I declined – I didn’t want to go across town to a place I’d never been before. I’d just come back tomorrow.

I stopped at a small cafe on Olas Atlas for a chicken salad. There was a solo musician playing guitar and singing covers of Spanish hits. He was really good and I enjoyed it. I left a small tip in his jar and headed home to read and go to sleep.

The Sounds of San Marcos

07.15.2010 · Posted in Travel
  • Dynamite explosions in the mountains, intentionally set off to initiate controlled rockslides. They sound like cannonballs and if you can spot them, the smoke looks as if the mountainsides are being bombed.
  • Roosters beginning around 6:30 and going all day. Many people here have chickens and they roam around the village.
  • Street dogs barking, screeching, whimpering – either defending their territory or fighting with each other. You can tell the street dogs from the pet dogs by whether or not you can see their ribs – the street dogs are very hungry.
  • Several different types of birds, one of which sounds much like the sound effect used in Alfred Hitchcock’s Pyscho for the scene in which the knife repeatedly plunges in the shower.
  • Shanti and Zeus – tails whacking furniture, frequent gas, shaking themselves off, scratching themselves and grooming each other. Running through the yard chasing a bird, squirrel or fallen avocado.
  • Machetes hacking at weeds to clear a path, or repeatedly at trees to chop them down, one branch at a time.
  • Fruit falling from the trees onto the roof at night, causing an alarmingly loud THUNK.
  • Rain falling onto the roof, creating a pleasant and calming background noise that’s nice to fall asleep to.
  • Boats approaching the dock at high speed, coasting over the waves, their engine buzzing.
  • Various languages – English, Spanglish, Spanish and Catchequal
  • Kids playing in the schoolyard – laughing, screaming or crying, or any combination thereof.
  • Keyboards clicking at the internet cafe.
  • TukTuk motors straining to accelerate and their mufflers blowing exhaust.
  • Splashes of water made by passing TukTuks during the rain, the driver yelling out at you, “Taxi?” without slowing down.
  • Heavy foot stomps on the stone walkways.
  • Hummingbirds in the morning at Casa de Benjamin.
  • The ice cream treat vendor shaking his bell and rolling his cart up and down the path.
  • The church sermon broadcast over loudspeaker from the church beginning at 6:30 AM, spoken in Catchequal and repeated in Spanish.
  • The wailing girl broadcast from a loud speaker near barrio uno. The girl sounds 5 or 6 years old and sings in Catchequal. None of the gringos know the words, but you can tell its a sad song. This goes on for about 20 minutes at a time, throughout the day at random hours late into the night. Rumor has it that it’s a mourning song for a recent suicide in the village.
  • Street side vendors, “You wanna banana?” or “Banana bread, cake, cookies” in a drawn out manner as if they were shouting “hot dogs, beer” from a major league baseball game.
  • Rocks being stacked to repair washed out walls from the recent storms.
  • Water lapping onto the dock, as the recent rain has risen the water level so high that many docks are now under water.
  • The kitchen at LaPaz – pots and pans banging here and there, knives cutting, and the ladies laughing in conversation with each other.
  • The World Cup. There are probably only a dozen televisions in town – many of them very small, but all of them showing one thing – The World Cup. Aside from the fans’ cheers and sportscasters’ announcements, the constant buzzing of the audience noisemakers was ever-present.
  • The town boys playing soccer in the Towne Centre. Kicks, yells, the plastic ball rubbing along the concrete.
  • Frequent thunder from the almost-daily afternoon rainstorms, lasting into the night. This was sometimes indiscernible from the dynamite blasts high in the mountains.
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