Tuesday, January 26, 2010

So while I do have a blog chronicling my misadventures...

...I figured that after 6 months of not saying anything, it was high time to put up a blog post.

Peru is lovely right now. That might simply owe to the fact that I'm on vacation and can do as much or as little as I want in a day. This will be changing soon, so there may be a sudden drop in the fuzzy feelings.

Awesomeness of living within the tropical zone of the world aside, I want to dedicate this blog entry to things that I miss like nobody's business. I'll be walking along on an average day here and suddenly get hit by an image or memory of home in a fashion similar to a metaphorical sledgehammer. Yeah.

-Pacific Northwest Fruit: This includes good, crisp apples, a nice variety of pears, berries of any type and quality whatsoever, lemons (because they don't believe in them in Lima). The tropics are nice for some exotic new and delicious ones, thousands of potatoes and sweet potatoes, purple corn, etc, but it'll be too long before I have a strawberry rhubarb pie.

-Dairy: See, the dairy here isn't half bad, but it's very different. It's not an average part of the diet, I don't think, and it costs more. Remember when Charlotte came out west in 2006 and you all brought gifts of dairy, a Christmas tree, a watermelon, and Ben got cured of paraplegic paralysis? Can at least the first part of that equation be revived when I arrive?

-Obsession with High Fructose Corn Syrup as Opposed to Sucrose: Gosh do they like sugar here. Everything is sweet. Everything. Empty carbs and sugar are a basic part of the average person's lifestyle here, whether it's by choice or by necessity of poverty or a combination of both. I don't like HFCS much, but I can avoid it in the states.

-Hugs: While the hugfest that was Christmas Eve left me aglow, 364 days is a long time to go without strong hugs. It's just not a part of the culture here. I'll just add that some handshakes are pretty weak, too. The dead fish phenomenon doesn't even seem to be something that people ridicule here.

-Music: There's this song "I Know You Want Me," and every time it comes on I want to destroy things. Unfortunately, it is a popular hit on the radio. I was lucky to meet a guy from NYC with a similar hatred. He joked, "Dude, something is wrong. I don't hate this song as fervently as I used to. I'm getting complacent." Please, please, please stop playing the same songs on the radio.
And this just has to do with me, I think, but as I'm not Peruvian, nor do I immediately hear and understand song lyrics, a great number of the songs by certain Peruvian groups all sound EXACTLY the same. If I found the arrangement they've decided to use pleasant, it would be one thing, but they have chosen what (for me, mind you) sounds just utterly grating and whiney. I'd like to think that this might just be culture versus culture, but they ADORE English and American music (at least my 15 year olds do). Maybe I am just a snob.

-Seasons: Lima's not exactly prone to variation, I'm afraid. Some sun, some clouds, and lots of humidity. It can get pretty chilly in winter, but not the kind of beautiful cold that we have in the States, where snow has artistic power and the mornings can be crisp.

-Friends: This is where I get to the point. The number of times that I've regaled my community (which is lovely) with anecdotes about adventures and misadventures and witticisms of the friends I've had since JHS and the amount of entertainment it has brought and the number of fond memories it's given me the excuse to revisit and treasure has been a bittersweet blessing.

In spite of what was a little bit more of a whiney post than I wanted, I want you to know that life down here is, in fact, good. I'm in great shape and speak Spanish at least proficiently and enjoy my farmer's tan (it's getting intense) and trying out foods that don't exist in the States, but every once in a while, things just aren't like home in a way that makes for a very bitter sting. Know that you're missed. My travel blog is http://miguelylima.blogspot.com and is more upbeat than this, usually, although with less point. Much love and missage from the Southern Hemisphere. Enjoy the rest of winter, because our summer's halfway through and gosh I can't believe that I'm missing my fifth Oregon spring in a row.

Keep in touch, por favor.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hey So...We're on Twitter...Don't Throw Your Shoes At Me PLZ

user name: mmmgravy
password: (Shh our high school shhh!)
followers(so far): 2 randos wut wut!

so i was drunk and angry that all my good twitnames had been taken by jerks who only posted twice. then it hit me. i have to protect mmmgravy!!! so i did.

and then i selected an assortment of awesome people we should follow. and ken.

aaaand just requested to follow Bieze. yeah so i'm aware that i'm missing the whole point of this thing. except that i hope Pat will drunktweet for us. cuz THAT would be worth reading.

but yeah, everyone can and should use it. just sign off with your name maybe. yeah and follow whoever you deem funny/relevant. i did mostly comedians I like+Taylor Swift cuz i gotta stalk her if she's ever gonna be my gf. cuz that's how that works. c'mon, it's gonna be fun. fun i tell you!

(pss ian help! i can't get it show retweets. pss everyone else: feel free to customize it. except don't change my Dino J pic)

i freaking love the guy and can't wait to see what's next

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dispatches From Guatemala

Welp, I couldn't join in on the New Years' insanity, but I hope that I had some comparable adventure down in Guatemala again this January.

The goal this year was to construct the footings of two bridges, survey for a third which will become my senior design project, and demonstrate a single family scale water filtration device. All of this in 15 days, which was no small feat to say the least. We met these goals and demolished them, pouring both abutments for our first bridge and pouring one abutment and preparing another for the second. Whew!

Our first week was spent in the community of El Aguacate, Quiche, Guatemala. They needed a 30-foot concrete cast beam vehiclar bridge to replace their old one which had been underdesigned and was, until they demolished it a few weeks before our arrival, being propped up at the foundation with tree limbs. So all 16 of us jumped in and started working on that. At this same community we planned to work on our water filter. We invited both communities, a couple of Peace Corps workers, and a group of Jesuits from Mexico to come and watch us build one. The filter consisted of locally obtainable materials-- sand and stone-- run through sieves made of chicken wire and mosquito netting and placed in layers in a locally-purchasable water container. You can run 5-10 gallons of water per day through one of these filters, and thanks to the wonders of mechanical filtration (and later on a biological process which develops too), clean water pops out the other side. People seemed quite interested in this, and were taking notes in English, Spanish, and the local Mayan dialect of Quiche.

El Aguacate was a very interesting place. There were a lot of English speakers who had just returned there from America either due to deportation or leaving the country due to a lack of jobs. It costs roughly Q40,000 (US $5000) to pay a coyote to get you across the border. Given the national minimum wage of Q50/day, this is a HUGE investment. Some people had been in the US for as long as 9 years before leaving again. It's also getting harder to run the border-- one man who we talked to had crossed twice. The first time, he took about a day to cross the border. The next time he was walking around in the desert for 5 days before being able to cross. A lot of people die out there according to him.

After playing around with power tools at El Aguacate for a week, we packed up and left via private chicken bus for our next community of Tres Cruces. At El Aguacate we were spoiled-- we got to sleep on the tile floor of a house. Tres Cruces had us camping literally on the side of a mountain. We found a small flat spot that we could get a couple of tents on, but other than that... well, don't lose your footing! It got cold at night up at this site, but that was just because the coldest weather in 8 years was rolling through Guatemala. 40's were the norm, not too bad for Wisconsinites. And the tradeoff was that we were able to shower in a waterfall fed by a mountain spring a couple of times.

The kids at Tres Cruces were adorable when they weren't dragging us down hills, learning how to do the fist bump really really hard, clinging to legs and being carried around that way, running around with a wheelbarrow trying to ram people all day, or babbling on in Quiche (they don't go to school at Tres Cruces because it's really hard to get there without a bridge, so very few kids in the community know Spanish, the second language up in the highlands). We did manage to teach them one word in Spanish-- dulce (candy)-- by the end of it. And how to say "MU rocks" and "I'm the boss" in English. Their moms must hate us. We also befriended the fattest puppy I've ever seen in Guatemala. The kids learned that when we got pissed off they could hand us the puppy and instantly make things better. Many offerings of the puppy were given.

Tres Cruces was a pretty difficult site due to high water levels. We had to fight the river the whole way with two nonfunctioning pumps, sandbags, and eventually a bucket brigade. Before we could pour footings we had to pour a subbase which consisted of soupy cement and huge rocks thrown or pushed off a ledge. This artificial rough surface will allow the footings to stay in place and prevent the river from scouring them out so we don't wind up with the original El Aguacate bridge.

Somehow in between all of this hooplah we also managed to survey for the replacement of a bridge in Joyabaj, the main city in the region. This will be a 42-foot vehicluar bridge that will serve roughly 20,000 people in the region with a shorter route to schools and markets in the city. The river there is pretty dirty, so we were very cautious when running around the place, but we got our survey done without even touching water once. We also began to chip out footings in the extremely hard rock on the banks of the river. Three days with 90-pound jackhammers led to little progress in the granite-like material. So naturally one expert Guatemalan rock splitter with a really huge hammer and another really brave guy holding a stake for him had the whole thing finished for us in a week. I think he weighed about 90 pounds himself.

We aren't sure if we'll use concrete or steel for this bridge, so towards the end of the trip we visited a Guatemalan steel fabrication plant in Guatemala City to see their facilities and process. Steel is not forged in Guatemala, so they import it from around the world (US, China, Russia, Israel) and then form it into shapes in country. The guy who ran the place was a Purdue grad, 3rd generation of the family to work in the business. It was really cool.

After all of our work was done we returned to Antigua for a free day and HOT SHOWERS and A BED. Life was good. We climbed Pacaya volcano again. It had just reopened to the public after being too active and dangerous a couple of days before. During our climb we saw a really huge amount of lava. My photos have nothing in them for scale, but trust me when I say that the lava pictures show a flow of several hundred feet rolling down the mountainside. It wasn't the thick syrupy stuff that I saw last time that is common in Hawaiian volcanoes. It was more crumbly and contained distinct bits of rock. Also some Australian girl was wearing soccer shoes during the climb and her soles melted almost all the way through. Note to Adidas: test your shoes for lava resistance next time! Our guide was very good and kept us safe. We were quite a distance away from the action, thankfully. It was still pretty damn warm.

Hopped on a bus to the airport at 4 AM and now I'm back in Milwaukee. Whew! If you want to see some trip photos, check out: http://s885.photobucket.com/albums/ac60/astanle119/

Hope to go adventuring with some of you some time again soon! If my company is still in Haiti doing disaster relief (we just got called up to help FEMA pull its head out of its ass) when I go full time this summer, you may wind up getting some dispatches from there as well. In the meantime, donate to the Red Cross. Please.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Better Off Ted, etc.

yeah so obviously that didn't air, but i just wanted to say that you should check out the two seasons of Better Off Ted at some point. i should have said that a couple months ago, before ABC decided to kill it off, showing two episodes a night along with the rotting corpse of Scrubs. Its definitely the 'smart comedy' heir to Arrested Development, and Portia de Rossi is really fun to watch as the ruthless boss. they coulda easily put it on Wednesdays and saved it, but its becoming increasingly clear that TV executives even dumber than wall street execs. Yes, i'm looking at you NBC.

so anyway i really couldn't sleep the other night and consoled myself with the fact that there are 2(!) new 30 Rock's this week. then i figured i'd put the shows i looked forward to the most in order, to show where Better Off Ted fits. (and yeah, i think 60% of the reason for its failure is that meaningless title)

Top 10 (only 10) Shows That Get Me Through the Week:

1. 30 Rock
2. How I Met Your Mother
3. Community
4. Better Off Ted
5. The Daily Show
6. The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. {Jay i hope you die of cancerous herpes}
7. The Office
8. Parks & Rec
9. Modern Family
10. Glee (I'm sorry. I'm really really sorry)

So yeah, this list one of the sadder things I've ever done. but waiting for a job/to head back down to berkeley, well its pretty boring.

I like Sunny in Philly a lot too, but we don't have cable and i have 4 seasons to catch up on so I think i'll wait until I'm trapped in a forest ranger tower. Also excited Eastbound & Down is getting a second season. looking forward to someday watching that with Pat, pretty drunk, while we wait for ken to fall asleep so we can draw on him.

i'd also like to catch up on Breaking Bad and Mad Men at some point. that is all.

Sunday, January 10, 2010