The Mountainous Callejón of Guanajuato, or, Why My Legs Hurt Too Much for Adventure

Image: a steep alley staircase, with pastel houses on either side.


My taxi slid to a stop just outside of a pristine theatre, its front edifice gridded by marble pillars. People milled about on the stairs and sat in the sunshine on a warm weekday afternoon. Faith spotted me seconds after I put my first trepidatious foot on Guanajuato soil.

We talked the usual travel talk, I told her about my flight, about immigration. The sun beat down, and my friend bought be an icy, canned margarita. She then led me down an alley and to the pathway that I would come to know all too well.

I began to think of the people of Guanajuato as absurdly friendly, but this was partly because of my interactions on the daily trudge up and down the callejón. 15 minutes on rocky stairways and creeping, twisty alleys led all the way up to my friends’ beautiful, Mediterranean Sea-blue house, and this path had to be forded multiple times per day, step by painful, sweaty step. The others on the road saw my pain and knew it all too well, as this burden was shared amongst all.

I made the trek with my friends back and forth, multiple times per day, sweat pooling on my back and all over my feet. Once or twice I felt fairly certain I would just crawl into a doorway and beg for succour, plead with whatever pleasant Mexican person was inside that they just let me rest there, perhaps become a part of the family, and work towards becoming a valued member of Mexican society, so long as I didn’t have to climb any longer. Up and down we marched, and every old lady, every young man walking a cadre of adorable dogs, every posse of children and grocery shoppers and lovers would nod, smile, and wish us a pleasant afternoon.

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The Fine Art of Not Throwing Your Friends Before an Oncoming Train in Rural India: A List

Absolutely none of my friends were crushed to death below this Kanyakumari-bound train.

Absolutely none of my friends were crushed to death below this Kanyakumari-bound train.

Choosing a person to travel with is not something that you should undertake lightly. You’re going to spend a scary amount of time with them: eating, sleeping, drinking, walking, sightseeing, waiting. Trains and planes and automobiles. Ticket booths and absurdly long lines. Restaurants and toilet stalls. If you weren’t close before, you’re going to be close now.

You’re going to face stress with one another, and stress because of one another. As you scrounge for food and tickets and the best opportunities for travel, trading in your precious grubby local bills, vigorously negotiating with a hard-selling samosa man, lugging around enormous weights on your back while festooned with mosquito bites and harem pants, things will grate. You will begin to seethe. And in time, the person(s) you are with will become the focus of your rage.

Under these specific and highly strenuous conditions, what path should one take in order to ensure smooth sailing? How best should one procure an even keel, a good working relationship, a balanced distribution of cost and effort? How can you guarantee that you will not smother your travel companion on some dark night when the clouds swell and the wind is high, muffling the sound of their wails with an inflatable Hello Kitty travel pillow, and then you have to drag the body to a lagoon, and you have to decide whether dismemberment is even an option, and then regardless of your decision you still have to wrap it in a fine tarpaulin (which can be expensive in some foreign markets) and then weight it down with an appropriate amount of rocks and find a good way to bind the bundle, good thing you had those carabiners and bungee cords on your bag, but also you need a body of water that will not shift your contents or drag the corpse down-current and lead to its discovery and your incarceration, and whatever, like they’ll find you anyway, you’ll already be halfway to Timbuktu?

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A Refined, Gentlemanly Discussion on the Delicate Etiquette of Travel Diarrhea


The bathroom of our guesthouse was spacious and was home to a perfectly reasonable number of dragonflies. It had a bathtub, though I don’t think anyone had ever used it, as I’m fairly certain a wild boar had lived in it at some point. Still, we were in the middle of the jungle, and it was the nicest bathroom we had seen in a while. There were four of us using it, and even that wasn’t a problem: after long enough together, you form a mutual, unspoken agreement that bathing is a suckers’ game. The real issue was that it was kind of an echo chamber.

Indonesian food, as it turned out, was a wonder: delicious, spicy, cheap, and plentiful. Our favoured hobby in Bali was eating, and our other activities for the day took on an air of going through the motions before we could engage in our next round of local delicacies. We hiked and toured and photographed, but our minds were always fixed on curried tunas and goat meat dripping with blood-red oils. Travel is food, and food is travel.

But eating that often, and that cheaply, did not come without risk. Every time you entered a restaurant was a gamble you decided to make, a game of southeast Asian roulette. (In this metaphor, “terrifying intestinal parasites” takes the place of the traditional bullets in a game of Russian roulette.)

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Our Private Pidgin and the Great Slang Convergence

Wat Rong Khun - The roof

“Roof” or “ruff”? Well, it depends who I’m talking to.

All of us hailing  from varying parts of the world, in Korea we had a series of long arguments on the regional variations in description of carbonated beverages. Being from southern Ontario, I was staunchly in the “pop” camp, as were any others raised in the American Midwest, or who had a vested interest in Freaks and Geeks. My friends from elsewhere were adamant about calling it “soda,” while still others maintained that “soda pop” was the most righteous colloquialism. (No one we knew was in the “coke” camp, which is good, because what?)

While in my mind I championed “pop” in all situations, and would indeed do so until my dying day, when my great-grandchildren would pry a can of pop from my withered, dried old talons, in practice I had begun to falter. Around my American friends, I began to insert “soda” into my sentences, as though they couldn’t possibly understand what I might be referring to otherwise.

In time, my friends also brought to my attention that they had been doing the opposite for my own comfort. While they might not yield on pop, they were dropping Canadian, Korean, New Zealand idioms all over the place for the comfort of their listeners. Moreover, we had all been softening our accents. Ty would turn off all remnants of his Texan twang; the hollowed, rounded “o”s of my local Canadian dialect were receding. We had all been taking efforts to make our language more similar to the others’, in turn pushing them ever forward towards a mutually acceptable middle ground.

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The Lonely Tale of Fleabag, The Island Stray

Private Beach

The water is calm and dark, but the sands show the remains of the rainy season. Deep wells form and drift, brine collecting in sudden pools, and rocks and shells litter all the way back to the sturdy palm trees. There are mountains out in the water, on distant islands, ones just as quiet as this one. The wind carries black, heavy clouds, and it feels like a monsoon could open up upon us at any time. It is bright here, but it’s fragile–a storm just biding its time.

There is salt in the air from the sea, and we walk the enormous distance of the low tide to get to the water. Koh Mook is usually a busy island, but the monsoons leave it quiet, desolate. Emptied out. No one stops us from entering this private beach, which becomes our private beach simply by default. The sands and surf before us are endless, and it feels a little bit like we are alone in the universe, or at least in this small part of it. It’s the end of the world, or just after it.

There is little noise but for the slow, easy swell of the tide, and the skittering of paws from behind us. We are not so alone: a scrappy stray approaches us cautiously. He has a mutt’s colouring, the enormous paws of impending maturity, but the wary eyes of youth. This is his turf, maybe, this great, untouched swath of dark-brown earth and deep, black water. He knows every rock and cave, he knows the nearby forest. He trots towards us, this little local lord, and not long after his brother, or his loyal viceroy, sidles up, too.

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What if Leaving is a Loving Thing?

The cherry rain

Say goodbye to the blossoms and the spring.

The going away party was a hit–everyone was smiling and happy, and it felt, in so many ways, like a coming together and not a splitting apart. The music was loud, and people were overly generous in sloughing free drinks down our gullets. We wrote dozens of post-its and stuck them on people, first messages of friendship and connection, and then later insults and invective once we’d had enough drink. The night was hitchless, but for a surprise dance-off that included the Spice Girls, which just so happened to be Faith’s Trigger, and thus turned the dance-floor into an anger pit. It was the exact kind of mess we secretly had wanted.

It was perfect. All of my friends and loved ones in Korea gathered in one place to send me off – laughing and singing and being fools, the wonderful lot of them. I loved them. So why was I then leaving?

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Travel Partners, or, The Gentle Hate Cycle


Hong Kong: land of OH GOD IT’S HOT OUT HERE

It was approximately 475039 degrees celcius in Hong Kong, and I was just about done with Tony and Will.

Almost none of it was actually their fault, of course. It was disgustingly hot outside. There was a toxic, hazy fug in the air that made it near impossible for me to breathe. I am terrible at sleeping on planes, and thus our twilight jaunt from Indonesia to our stranded waylay in HK had left me woozy and sleep-deprived. When outdoors, I couldn’t walk up our downhill without feeling disoriented and weak. I think maybe also my liver was failing, and my bad hip, and also my terrible whooping cough. I was in a bad way.

Also, we had been spending roughly 24 hours a day with one another for the whole week, and I was beginning to think I hated them.

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A New Machine

A New Machine from Tony Clavelli on Vimeo.

Today I bring you “A New Machine,” an animated short film written, directed, built, and animated by my friend Tony Clavelli.

You may recall the previous movie he and I worked on together, and while I put in some help on this one (I’m grandpa! And also a doer of occasional things!) the dedication, creativity, devotion, and craft he showed in this project is goddamn staggering. Months and months of work gluing and building and chopping and fiddling and drawing and making and slamming things together. And it made this. And it’s pretty cool.

If you found this movie to be awesome, please share it in any way possible. Link to it. Embed it. Email it. Refresh it over and over. Tell people in person. Tell people through telepathy. Encourage others to view it through interpretive dance. Send it out by raven. Put the entire video into a bottle and huck it into the ocean. I don’t mean to sound overzealous, but we are really trying to get the word out about this movie, to show off the amazing work Tony put together.

Also, he’s an intergalactic space robot, and he might destroy our planet if we don’t get enough views. Just something to think about.

The Would-Be Friends

We could explore the temples together, if I actually remembered your name.

I have a lot of conversations with acquaintances in bars—it’s very nearly a hobby at this point. I know a great number of people, and have no shortage of time in which to mindlessly and mutually flap gums with them. Often in these interactions, we are struck once more with discovery: we like one another’s company! Why, we’re quite the pair! We’re both such a gas. How have we not spent real, invested time with one another before now? We are both so cool, as we make sure to say aloud and with alcohol-tinged earnestness, several times. We vow to call each other soon, to have dinner or a beer or a deep conversation about geopolitics, and we even make the bold move to exchange phone numbers, to make it a solid pact. We’ll facebook. We’ll text. Email. Carrier pigeon. Smoke signal. By rain or sleet or snow, our missives will be sent and received, and hanging out will be had.

I never contact them. And they never contact me.

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The Parade of Weird

Subway tile

My excitement to finally have a visitor in Korea was pretty palpable. That I would both be repaying a similar degree of touristy kindness to Greg and Agatha for showing me around China, hosting old friends from the university days, and showing off both the country that I’ve grown to love and the language that I speak with a kind of childish competence makes the experience all the more fulfilling. There is a lot to show in this country, but I think the primary function of tour-guiding someone around should, as always, be to immerse them in as much local weirdness as possible.

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