Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Monkeys and Whales in Nicaragua and Burning Man

“Remember when the bus pulled over so we could pee on the back wall of the church next to the chained up monkey?”

Yes, that really happened.

“We were sitting inside the orca during the dust storm when a woman took out her violin and performed a solo for the next half hour.”

Yep, that really happened as well.

Different places a month apart in time, 3600 miles apart in distance, polar opposites in humidity (tons versus none) and yet they were the same experience. No, I have not been doing drugs. Unless you call grand adventuring a drug.

Let’s not get too literal. Peeing on a church wall next to a monkey isn’t at all like listening to a concerto in a whale. And before you call me a heathen, I didn’t realize it was a church until I looked in the front window of the cinder block rectangular building and saw the altar in the back. Look, to me, this earth is my church and sometimes mother nature is a man’s bathroom so I thank the lord, baby Buddha and your mother too that I got much necessary relief. On the church wall next to the chained up monkey. Ugh.

The monkey happened two weeks ago in Nicaragua. The orca happened a month and a half ago at Burning Man in the middle of a desert. Nicaragua, Nevada; not the same thing at all. Or is it?

My Burning Man campmate and bestest friend forevermore Tory has been investigating an opportunity to support a charity that builds entire communities for poor people in Nicaragua. They buy land, help them build houses and the infrastructure and clear fields for agriculture. They help set up distribution and create a better life for these people that had next to nothing. Once the community is set up and running fairly independently (7+ years), the people own their land and houses and are self-sufficient. Tory and I went to Nicaragua for a Vision Trip – an investigatory outing to learn about the charity organization, see a community that is advanced and see the community that we might support.

The charity organization is Agros. Everyone we met associated with Agros was great and it looks like something we want to support. This is a faith-based organization which is a bit out of my comfort zone when it comes to religion and its place in the communities. To each their own and I’m cool with the Nicaraguans’ faith. There were other people on this Vision Trip representing their church in the U.S. and quite often incorporated their faith into this outing which again, to each their own, but it wasn’t the angle Tory and I have for being involved with Agros and the Nicaraguans needing our support. We just want to help them live a great life and be happy regardless of their religious beliefs.

When the participants of the Vision Trip all first met up, introductions were made and everyone tried to get to know the basics about each other. Imagine twelve super religious people asking Tory and I how we know each other.

“We are travel buddies.”

“Oh, you aren’t married?”

“No, we aren’t even dating. Just friends. We both have someone at home.”

“So how did you meet?”

“At Burning Man.”


“Burning Man.”

“Is that in Arizona?”


“What is Burning Man?”

I have trouble explaining Burning Man to super liberal crazy people that have an idea what it is about. It’s really hard to explain to these people when most of them are over 65 and they just finished devotion over breakfast together.

“It’s a week-long temporary city constructed by participants in the desert. It has tons of art, creativity…”

The glassy-eyed looks came fast.

“It’s kind of like trying to explain the color green to a blind person.”

Full on look of bewilderment. So I went for the impossible explanation.

“It’s actually quite a bit like what we are doing here. Burning Man is about love and giving. Participation without judgement. Radical self-reliance and yet a community working together to take care of each other. Tribes within a tribe. Isn’t that what we are trying to do in these communities in Nicaragua?”

I think we were being full on judged and their lack of understanding combined with our lack of religion made for an interesting group. Thankfully, they were very nice to us and we all got what we wanted and needed out of the trip so it was all good.

Tory and I are getting a kick out of the fact that we are the only two people not pictured at all (other than one obligatory group photo) in the multitude of photos published in a series of blogs put out by the church group regarding the Vision Trip. Hard to believe a couple loud mouths like us apparently didn’t officially exist with the church people. Halleluiah!

Here is what I saw in Nicaragua. A whole bunch of beautiful people working their respective asses off as a community with a great appreciation for music, giving, relationships and love.

Here is what I saw at Burning Man. A whole bunch of beautiful people working their respective asses off as a community with a great appreciation for music, giving, relationships and love.

Okay, I saw some other stuff too. And the Nicaraguans are a year-round community that sustains their entire life and well-being whereas Burning Man is a week-long event (ignoring the year-long planning and other events) that isn’t all about survival (although it sure can be).

Everything is relative. Who am I to say what is a good life in Nicaragua? Who am I to say how one should spend their week at Burning Man? But I do know the Nicaraguans need and want our help. Whether its money support, a hug, building a relationship or working in the fields, I’d like to be there for them. Just like at Burning Man. Whether its support, a hug, building a relationship or working on the playa, I am there for my Burning Man family.

Now it’s time to build my Nicaraguan family.

Friday, September 30, 2016

This is Why I'm Going to Nicaragua Tomorrow

Somebody asked what I do. There was a time when I’d say I’m in advertising. Or I’d even admit I own a small ad agency. It’s fine, I’ve asked the same question eleventyseven hundred times myself. Certainly there are conversations, people and situations where what I do for a living is relevant and can be part of a meaningful discussion. But usually “what do you do” is small talk. The asker probably doesn’t really care and the answer is going to be pretty standard.

It’s like the old, “Hey, how are you doing?” The response might accidentally be, “Not much.” Or the question is, “What’s going on?” And the answer is, “Great!” Sometimes neither person realizes the mistake. We are all robots with ADD.

Lisa’s mom was in town and I had the pleasure of meeting her. I was warned ahead of time that her mom is quiet and conservative. I was asked to be myself with slight modifications. Of course I wanted clarification so I asked if I could mention butt sex. I also asked if I could swear and drop pet names for her hoo-ha (Lisa’s, not her mom’s). Those were the tame things. Since those were shot down immediately, I didn’t bother asking about everything else.

I met Lisa’s lovely mom over lunch. She was indeed quiet. Not a problem since I’m a blabber mouth and Lisa is no slouch in that area as well. Her mom finally asked a question. “What do you do?” I looked her square in the eye and said, “I’m in importing and exporting. Of an international slave trade of children.” I was more worried about Lisa’s reaction than her mom’s. Luckily her mom smiled and Lisa piped in with, “Yeah, its why he’s going to Nicaragua next week.”

So, what DO I do? Well, I’m a father of two awesome kids that I’m trying not to screw up. I travel, write, play, read, socialize, masturbate, live in the moment, own a small ad agency; I don’t know! I have experiences.

I was hiking with Lisa one day and we were talking about books. At the time I was reading something stupid like a John Grisham or Christopher Moore and she was reading Plato. We came upon a creek and I was referencing a lame story line full of clich├ęs and she was quoting Heraclitus. Um. So yeah, let’s focus on her book.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Before I rave about how awesome that quote is, can I just say I wish I could rename my kids to Heraclitus? They are so lucky I was too busy reading Louis L’Amour and didn’t know about Heraclitus so I ended up with a Will and Drew instead. Heraclitus is so awesome; I’d give them both that name. Tapping into my inner George Foreman.

Anyway, back to the quote. Two obvious interpretations jump out. We are always evolving so whenever we step into that same river, the experience will be different because we are in a different place, per se. Also, the water is flowing. It’s not the same fricking water in that same fricking river! I love that quote as much as I love the name Heraclitus. Thank you new Vegas name!

Every visit to the river is a new experience. I don’t want to take that for granted. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was a supreme court judge that said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” Yeah, I dig. Like I dig Oliver’s mustache. Rollie Fingers has nothing on Oliver.

What do I do? I have experiences.

Which made me think about what experiences I’m lacking. I landed hard on something that doesn’t seem lacking on the surface. Giving.

Don’t judge! I give. I’d do anything for my friends and family. I go to Burning Man which is all about giving. I write checks to numerous charities. I support my friends’ philanthropic efforts. I buy way too many Girl Scout Cookies. We do pro-bono work for great causes at my company. I give my heart to those I love. I give. But man, I’m not getting my hands dirty.

This whole election season is an embarrassment. I’m not going to go too far into it but between that and the problems we have with cops killing Blacks and race inequalities/abuse in general, this country has some serious issues to resolve. In spite of these things and many more issues, we are lucky to live in the greatest country in the world. I am privileged to be an American even if I’m completely embarrassed by our politics and disgusted with our race relations. I mean, is it wrong to pretend I’m from Canada when I go to Nicaragua tomorrow?

Anyway, America is great. I am lucky. Other people here and around the world are not so lucky. So I’m going to give mo’ bettah’. My super awesome friend Tory that I consider family has introduced me to an organization that builds entire communities in Central America for families in deep poverty. Tory and I are going to Nicaragua tomorrow with a group of people to check out this organization’s work, meet some of these communities and investigate getting deeply involved in helping a community of our own. I’m excited. I have more to give and this seems right.

We may or may not also try to have some fun one night in Grenada because we want to give to the economy as well. But mostly this is the first step in a new experience of giving at an entirely higher and more intimate level. We are ignoring the U.S. travel advisory warnings for Nicaragua and the fact that a woman from this organization was murdered a few years ago and are going to live in the moment with open minds and hearts. Hoping we can give.

Now I just need to find out if the name Heraclitus has a Spanish version or if I just say it in my awesome Cisco Kid accent. Cuz I’m totally making Heraclitus my Nicaragua name.

Buenos noches amigos.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Namaste Nepal

My body is still cleansing itself of Nepal. Little did I know that my trip would cause involuntary and voluntary consumption of various foreign properties such as dead Hindus, Nepalese and Indian food, Sherpa moonshine, homemade wine, Kathmandu dust, tea house open fire stove smoke and pollution caused by burning garbage and ridiculous amounts of vehicle exhaust. Not to mention jetlag. The way home consisted of four flights of 23 hours in the air over a 29-hour time period.

I got home Sunday afternoon and promptly slept until the next morning with the exception of intermittent waking up from odd short dreams that left me wondering where the hell I was. I’d only regain semi-consciousness realizing I was at home which confused me because my dream had me spinning a prayer wheel in the mountains or touching a Shiva in Bhaktapur or hiking through a forest of rhododendrons, but really I was on my couch. Weird.

Some people go to Disneyland. Disneyland is for pussies. Nepal is where it’s at. You want a rollercoaster? Go trekking in Nepal. Talk about ups and downs! You know how normal trails like the ones here in the Rockies utilize switchbacks like a wide Z going up the mountain? Well in Nepal, everyone walks everywhere and everyone knows the shortest distance between points A and B is a straight line so the honey badger Nepalese don’t give a shit if that straight line is also straight up! I didn’t realize the mountain hikes would be like climbing the Eiffel Tower. Nepal is really just one giant stair master.

There I was nursing one leg with a torn ligament in my knee and it turned out my good leg was the problem when I cramped up on day two of the trek. My fault for not properly hydrating – it made for a slow ending to the day. It didn’t help that I slipped and used my left hand to maintain my balance at the expense of one of my fingernails after smashing it against the face of a rock. The rock won. At this point I felt worthy only of Disneyland. What a pussy I was! Cramped leg, torn knee, bloody finger, on top of being tired in general. I was pissing myself off.

This all sounds like hell doesn’t it? It wasn’t. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Nepal is beautiful, peaceful, friendly, spiritual, mysterious, exhilarating, breathtaking, inspiring, energizing, curious, hopeful, welcoming and full of majesty. It’s a dichotomy that actually makes it all the more appealing.

The challenges Nepal presents make all of the above positive attributes even more fulfilling. Breathing in the ashes and smoke of burning Hindu bodies is bearable when you learn you are across the river from the most sacred Hindu site in the entire world. And you are watching a ritual that has been going on for thousands of years. And then a posse of Shiva worshipping hippy babas blesses you and takes photos with you and you wonder if this is all just a fucked up Wes Anderson directed dream.

The hardships of Nepal are easy to overcome when you find yourself invited in the home of a Sherpa (and by home I mean a structure made of wood, plastic and tarps that reminds me of the forts my kids make in the basement out of blankets and random furniture) and you are chasing tea with the local hooch called washa (whiskey) or rakshi (wine) that you just watched the woman of the house make on the dirt floor of the abode. Am I dreaming again? You pinch yourself and wonder if this is all just some Coen Brothers movie.

And then you are hiking with the Himalayas towering in the far away distance and you come across a monastery that is in itself a colorful display of art that houses a real lama like the Dalai kind rather than the Napoleon Dynamite kind and you get your picture taken with the lama and then you go back outside to rolling hills and ragged peaks so you slap yourself in the face to make sure you didn’t just stumble on to the set of The Sound of Music. Nepal is indeed a dream. A beautiful dream that came to life for me.

This is just a taste of my trip to Nepal. Flavored with a little dead Hindu. I have so many stories in my head, words in my journal and pictures on my phone. 

It may take awhile to figure out how to best tell it all in a worthy way. I really got a nice dose of the country with my city tours and mountain treks. And yet time and distance wise, I really only got a sliver of Nepal. But it was enough to show me a unique land and culture that holds some sort of magical spell. A magical spell that throws a harshness over you immediately followed by a beauty that is both physical and spiritual.

As I stood on top of Pikey Peak just after sunrise, with a tiny view of Everest and a huge view of the Himalayas, I thrust my arms into the air and gave out a yell of exhilaration. 

I thought about the people I love and how wonderful a life I am fortunate to have and I gave out another warrior yell to the Himalayas. And I thanked them for having me. Physically and spiritually. It was an honor to be there. And it made me realize it is an honor to be here, right now. Take nothing for granted. Love and be loved.