I’m no one to pass judgment. In my seven football seasons abroad, I’ve only missed a few LSU games, either due to traveling on the day or monumental internet collapses. More or less, I visit ESPN.com daily, and I read at least one piece a tabloid fluff a week, either pulled in by the promise of juicy shots of a hot celebrity or news about an upcoming film. When I’m feeling socially responsible, I delve into a few political articles. I keep up with my Words with Friends games, check Facebook’s latest, and post weekly blogs (as you already know). I’m constantly on travel websites, reading and researching for articles, and on good weeks, I spend around 20 hours in front of the screen writing.
So, I’ll do my best to simply make observations. The first one I’ll make is that this hotel is my fucking house, and if I’m going to subject myself to this obsessive online opulence, there is nowhere else for me to do it. I’m not on vacation here, not on a weekend or year away, and most of the time, I’m not playing a damned game. As a writer, one might even defend Words with Friends, an admitted weakness, as a skill-builder. Most of the time, however, I’m doing some sort of work, or at least distracted myself from doing it. Perhaps that’s why I give myself a little bit longer leash, or perhaps it’s simply because I want to stay online, too.
When I began this blog entry, there were six hotel guests that I could see, and five of them were on some sort of portable device, only two of them were speaking, and the one person not using their own laptop, iProduct, or WiFi wizardry was looking at someone else’s. Earth Lodge has one of the best views I’ve ever seen. People come here specifically to enjoy it. Sure, there are a few hiking trails, a decent restaurant (great dinner chef), a well-stocked bar, and a set of cornhole boards out front, but these are all, one assumes, a result of people coming primarily to see, to sit and enjoy a one of the country’s great vistas. It’s weird that no one is looking.
Daily, I fight the internet here, a system run off of cellular service, impossibly slow for today’s standards and constantly on the fritz, in need of rebooting, unplugging, and always a reliable source for that circle of death in the middle of the screen signifying the computer is “working” but getting nothing done. In the middle of this small village in the Guatemalan mountains, amongst 400 avocado trees, and with a volcano spitting out smoke not forty kilometers away, one of the five most frequent questions I’m asked is if the WiFi is working. Hell, there is even a TV with a thousand or so films and shows for us to choose from, but I rarely see anyone boob-tubing it anymore. We—the staff, the guests—all know it’s shit, but we keep trying.
In past blogs, I’ve admitted my own dependence on www-world—both at work and at home. I can readily acknowledge so much good, the more regular long distance contact for much less cost, the ability to keep abreast of local and world news from Thailand to Timbuktu, the chance to enhance the world to the wonders of Tiger football via pirated live streaming. My new career choice, travel writing, is on the endangered list save the online publications. I’m even happy to report that the computer-bound guest next to me is actually a travel writer as well, which gives him a viable excuse, and that one of the aforementioned devices is a Kindle, what once would have been a perfectly acceptable book. But, Jesus Christ, this is depressing.
It’s one thing for a teenager to spend hours searching for porn, for gamers to lock themselves in dark, dingy apartments for hours and days at a time, wiling away all their free time like techno-vampires. It’s one thing to nine-to-five it and get home ready for a little mindlessness, flip on the computer the way we used to TVs, and settle in for a few waning hours with DrawSomething, social networking, or YouTube! entertainment. It’s one thing to check your personal email a couple times a day…maybe. It’s an atrocity that we, the travelers of the world, the people of Earth Lodge, the former jugglers and card sharks of the backpacker trail, have turned away from one another to turn on our portable distractions, detractions to what we’ve set out to do: experience a place.
I wish I could conceive of a happy ending to leave you with. Maybe we all should just get off the computer and have a conversation with someone, get out of touch with who we are.
Sheelagh Gallagher, aka Emma’s mum, arrived in the first week of August, carrying with her a replenishment of hooks and yarn and enthusiasm. She had a pattern for her favorite flower to teach to the crochet circle. (Oh, the image is just divine: Twelve sixth graders sitting around gossiping as they twist their hooks a couple of afternoons a week.) Throughout August, Sheelagh has joined the group and reports back in astonishment at how some of the kids can now simply look at a picture in a book and recreate, not even needing a pattern.
Maggie Bingham, aka my mom, got here on the fifteenth, bringing hooks and yarn and a friend, again another bump of energy for the final push. So, for a couple of sessions, there were five gringas in the group, the Mum and the Mom blending in and sharing tips, Debbie (the friend) more or less getting lessons from the group, our Earth Lodge regular Jess, and Emma as the head maestro. Everybody was making flowers, stockpiling for a fabric floral display something equivalent to the collection of throw-rugs in a 1950s nursing home.
Elfa Bingham, aka my grandmother, who passed away some years ago, finally received her honorable mention as motivation for Las Mano’s/El Hato school’s English classroom (2011), which now also functions as GUPP’s crochet locale. On the night my mother arrived, we had an appropriately humble dedication, revealing a beautifully painted wooden plaque (Emma’s artistic prowess) to hang in the classroom. For dinner that night, the Lodge served grilled cheese and tomato soup, Elfa’s favorite meal. In addition, we also created a keepsake for our two moms (this was their first meeting) with the names of each of our grandmothers and mothers on it.
So, the last couple of weeks of the project have, especially to my mother’s delight, been an ode to moms and matronly love. Perhaps, for me, the highlight was the collaborative yarnbomb our mothers created to add to Earth Lodge’s corner of colorful yarn displays. It was a mad rush of crocheting until the last moment of my mother’s stay, Wednesday morning, but in the end, she got to see it in all its glory, wrapped around a hammock post and bringing a smile to all involved. All in all the piece is about six feet high, and Debbie would insist that I mention her contribution of tassels, which she informed would blow out in the wind for added effect.
So, I must say that, as they did a couple of years ago, when we were here on behalf of Las Manos, Mum and Mom came through for us like champs: yarn, hooks, international support, personal visits, time contributions, and genuine interest in the project. We are lucky to have two lovely women willing to engage in the lives of their wandering children and the lives of the children we are working with and for. Sentimentally speaking, it does say quite a lot for the love that our mothers bestow. Thanks to both of them for wanting to be a part of this and us.
We’ve been back for two and a half months now. I’d like to say we eased back into our roles, barely made a ripple in the calm façade we like to pretend exists here: the chill, the hammocks slung lazily between post and tree, rainy day fireplace crackling for guests to cuddle round. The view: There is always the inclination to just sit and look, to lose yourself in the stare and forget two-three-four hours of life. I think, I’m fairly sure, that’s the point. Whatever it is, I still love it here. Emma still loves it here. Though, easing has been pretty far from the truth.
My hands. I don’t know what the fuck have happened to my hands, but for much of the last couple of months, they’ve been perpetually sore. My fingers feel thick and tight, and I fear they might be in the beginning stages of turning into sausages, something akin to what old working men have. Other than that, they are permanently busted up, ripped by errant screwdrivers, smashed by a misdirected hammer, sliced, nicked and nattered. They have slowly, steadily moved away from the keyboard and come to feel slightly out of place dancing atop it. It wasn’t what I envisioned but isn’t all that surprising.
Regardless, f-ed up hands haven’t stopped me from tilting the bottle a little more than I should, from finding last night’s tab got into the double digits, discovering that somehow half a pack of smokes has singed my lungs and filled me with renewed vows to cut back, to go at it less. It hasn’t stopped me from pulling off bar chords, playing for two or three hours in a night, once I get going, find someone, a few folks sitting around ready to a hear a tune or two. It hasn’t stopped my from stumbling home too often too late, Emma a little fumed at me having stayed up longer than promised, another round, another cigarette or three.
Last night, as last nights go, Sophie and Becca, part of the reception team who have become what I proudly heard Emma calling groupies, listened to me leaning drunkenly over the guitar, waiting for “Going Out West”. They anticipate certain lines: “I got hair on my chest! I look good without a shirt!” and “My friends say I’m ugly! I got a masculine face!” The group built up then waned then settled into about eight of us. It—that song—always seems to be the crest of the evening, and almost suggests that nothing else good can happen for the night. After it, people start trickling off to bed. After it, I should probably just stop. I generally don’t.
I often make mock statements of change in the morning, swearing off the booze and cigarettes for good this time, turning to a life of the straight and narrow, until the afternoon hits, my hands with a lingering ache in them that seems only comforted when wrapped around something cool, say a bottle or two or I forget. And, overall, it’s a different ease than easing going, an ease that I don’t all together reject but one that keeps the surface ever-rippling, something like rolling gusts of wind that blow things just askew enough to keep it interesting. One thing for sure is that it is easy to stay and put off worlds elsewhere.
One measure of success, of progress, in the crochet game is seeing the spools disappear, and last week saw the class finish their second 55-gallon bag of yarn, which must mean things are going pretty well. The kids have finished their individual projects, beautiful branches covered in yarn and accented with leaves and flowers that they created. They’ve just finished their group projects, what they are calling scarves for trees. The next step is their collective piece.
In the nick of time, courting a suitcase of “wool” (i.e. yarn), Emma’s mum, Sheelagh arrived this past Saturday bearing gifts a-plenty, including the aforementioned yarn, a stable of hooks, and our first international flower chains, one crocheted by Sheelagh herself and another by Emma’s fleet-fingered friend Jo. They are beautiful and full of new flower designs for our budding hook-smiths to see. Additional thanks should be sent to Helen, Tracey, and Rosalyn for their contributions to the cause.
Other news is the introduction of Kerry’s replacement, Jess the Yogi, who has been going to the sessions regularly since last I wrote. Established and comfortable with the group, she’ll be leading the class later today. Emma, Sheelagh, and I are headed off for a three-day holiday to Lake Atitlan, but because of Jess, the children will be able to continue with their bobbing-and-weaving uninterrupted. Thus, yet again, and gladly given, thanks are in order.
As a final thought, we’d like to remind everyone that it isn’t too late to join the project by creating your own flower chain. We are on the last leg now, month three, so time is tight. Nevertheless, we’d love to have some more outside contributions. For details, you can visit earlier blogs or shoot either Emma or me an email and we’ll set you up. For now, that’s all folks. We’ll be blogging to you again soon.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m the dinner chef here at Earth Lodge, six nights a week left with the task of feeding a house full of guests, a staff that has tasted most of the tricks I know, and the occasional whims of a wife, a saucy French foodie, and a pregnant boss. It’s a job I love, take on with relish (yes, I pun with relish, too), but one that, from time to time, has me scratching my head for new ideas, new recipes, new twists on old favorites: vegetarian jambalaya, BBQ spaghetti a la Memphis, soya kofte, curry pasta, whole wheat bread pudding with lemon rum sauce, etc. These days I’m wrestling with something else: avocadoes.
For those of you who don’t know, Earth Lodge is half hotel, half avocado farm, complete with 400 trees that line the mountain below the cabins, the pathway leading down to our little paradise. The trees yield crops twice a year, around July-August and December-January. This, of course, means we are now in the thick of it, the restaurant, the food bodega, the tool shed stacked with baskets of avocadoes, all of which have that precarious expiration date nature puts on natural things. The first harvest is hitting waves of ripeness, sending me 50…80…100 fruits, all to be used today, whatever day that might be.
I’m going to assume that most of you know what guacamole is, how the main ingredient is the fabled avocado, usually a little side of tortilla chips to scoop it up or spicy burrito to spread it on. Some of you may have even ventured to try the au naturel avocado, maybe a sprinkle of salt, a squirt of lime to jazz it up. It’s not all that uncommon to toss them onto salads or slice’em up for sandwiches, and in all the world’s fantastic food fusion, a sliver of avocado has become a regular in the sushi show. These are all great choices, but they have one thing in common: The avocado, more or less, is left as is, uncooked, the same basics—lime, salt, jalapeño—to accent it.
However, on the old avocado farm, the boundaries have to be pushed, the EL bread and butter mutated beyond expectation. Sure, people are game for the standard hits, but undoubtedly, during this time of year, the goal is to shove as many avocadoes down the mouths of our customers as possible. Luckily, they are usually quite willing participants in this. Which brings us to this morning: I got to spend a few hours in the kitchen experimenting with a pretty endless supply of avocadoes, stealing ideas from the internet to come up with my own weirdly delicious uses for our crop. It was definitely a few hours of knowing I was where I should be.
So far, there have been avocado-chocolate truffles, avocado-mint ice pops, baked avocadoes stuffed with pico de gallo and topped with cheese. We already had avocado pesto sauce and a couple of versions of avocado ice cream. Avocado bread, similar to banana bread, has long since excited customers looking for a little ‘cado-quirkiness. I’m currently working out the details of a creamy black bean soup in which the avocadoes are cooked into the soup rather than added as chunky afterthoughts. It’s making me popular around here, and consequently, I’m proposing avocado recipe trades for any of you out there who have stumbled across something fun.
This blog occurs once a week, the entries being thematically mixed between expat life in Guatemala and life as an NGO groupie. The photos for this blog, website, and my life are all provided by my beautiful wife Emma.