Butterflies Before the Deadline

I was starting to get very close to the end of my trip. That meant two things were catching up with me. First, that fact that I only had time to do a few more things. Second, the weight of the sentence, “What am I doing next?”. While in Oaxaca, I heard that there is an annual butterfly migration that terminates in Mexico. I was already supposed to go shopping in a nearby city, so butterflies sounded like a good activity. I hopped a bus (through Mexico City) to Morelia, Michoacan. To save time, I took a night bus.

I don't normally have problems with night buses. However, I had a layover for several hours in Morelia where it was both freezing (ok 6C) and unheated. I started out by being surprised that it got cold in Mexico. Gradually my surprise shifted from that to how cold I really felt. By the end of my layover I had opened my luggage and started to layer my clothing. I had also started to curse the architect who had taken a pause in his career as a wind-tunnel designer to design that bus station.

The butterflies hang out near Angangueo (which is further up the mountain from Morelia). I arrived there in the morning and managed to find a nice, cheap, totally unheated hotel there. Afterwards, I took off for the butterflies. That was humbling. The general direction to the butterflies was up. They hang out about 2 miles above sea level. The buses, however, drop off quite a bit lower than that. I learned that hiking from 10,000 feet to 11,000 feet is hard. I went up with a guide. He seemed to have forgotten that it was hard (or possibly that hadn't been covered in his training). Watching him, I felt incompetent. Fortunately, I was walking up with a normal human as well and his struggles made me feel much better. That might have been the only time in my life that walking winded me enough that I had to sit down. It made me better understand how my grandmother feels.

In the end it was worth it; I learned how many butterflies there are in the world. I don't know an exact number, but I'm pretty sure it's more than a million because that's about how many I saw. The trees weren't green, they were orange. There was a constant noise (did you know that butterflies are noisy? I didn't.) of butterflies. They weren't afraid of anything. I took some of the best pictures of my life. I took pictures of me with butterflies climbing on me, clouds of butterflies flying, butterflies up close...

The Jaded Traveler and the Quest for the Seven Moles

Before the sun had come up one chilly Oaxacan morning, Ze6ke, the Jaded traveler, was dropped off at the local bus station. Oaxaca is a town in Mexico. But not just any town. Oaxaca is culinary haven famous for 7 flavors of mole, a special style of sauce. That is what brought our hero here, he had come to find and conquer each of the flavors.

Ze6ke knew that the quest would be difficult, the flavors were certainly more than he would be able to conquer in on sole day. So, he began by finding a safe haven to rest and recover from the onerous battles with the local cuisine. After walking for some time, he came upon an inn called “Hostal Pochon” and decided to make his base here. But, he had not even arrived at the hostel before being confronted by his first challenger at a local market. His challengers were a Natilla (a type of Mexican stirred pudding), Arroz con Leche, and pumpkin juice. This enemies were quickly dispatched, even though it would be incorrect to say that they were dispatched before before breakfast. The Natilla was quite pleasant, the Arroz con Leche was good, and the pumpkin juice was strange. Our hero also encountered many of the seeds of his challengers, but, as a gentleman, refused to engage them until they had been fully developed. His wallet lightened by 33 pesos, our hero felt that he had started his quest well.

In the afternoon, Ze6ke felt ready to engage the king of the moles, the Mole Negro. This mole is famous for consuming some 20 spices in its production and is so successful that it has spread its darkness through much of the world. Our hero had decided to engage it in its own lair. Leading up to the Mole Negro, it was necessary to dispatch several minions: a Tortilla Soup, Horchata, and a Crème Caramel. The Tortilla Soup was bristling with flavors and textures, ranging from the hot and crunchy of the tortillas and pork rinds to the cool and smooth of the avocado. All this was supported by a flavorful soup base. Fortunately, even after 2 years without significant exercise, the taste buds of our hero were still well developed and highly skilled and he quickly routed the soup.


The Mole Negro, however, had complexities of flavor to be found nowhere else. Mole Negro in other environments has several layers of flavor that can stun a novice gastronome, but that is a mere shadow of the beast that lives in Oaxaca. The ingredients in Oaxaca are much fresher which allows hundreds of new flavors to hide inside of the devilish black paste. All this was sitting on a perfectly cooked chicken breast and accompanied by rice. After the first taste, doubts entered the mind of our hero. But, he had learned that doubt never lightens a loud and he charged ahead with everything he had; eventually triumphing; wiping the last remnants of the mole from his plate using the rice. The only true cost of the meal being 50 pesos (about $5).

On another day, Ze6ke decided to go to the haven of all flavors in Oaxaca, the central market. He knew that this could be the most dangerous of his missions, so he went with a party of four brave adventurers. Shortly after entering this dark haven, they were accosted by a Chapulines saleswoman. Our hero, showing his bravery, quickly accepted the offer to eat a Chapulin (look it up), but decided that, though it was pleasantly crunchy and had a nice earthy flavor, it was prepared with an unfortunate amount of lemon and decided to not accept the challenge of eating an entire bag. One other of the adventurers later accepted the challenge and agreed that the lemon was unfortunate. After having traveling for less than 50 feet through the crowded market, Ze6ke was accosted by a new challenger, Champurrado (a drink made from chocolate and corn). The beverage was better prepared than the Chapulines had been and was a pleasant way to consume chocolate. After an hour of exploring (and helping someone purchase a stylish hand-woven bag), the party arrived at the inner sanctuary. This was a giant cavern filled hundreds of merchants clamoring to rid themselves of their cursed moles. One vendor in particular offered Mole Rojo for the price of 25 pesos. Unfortunately, our party got what it paid for. The chicken was overcooked and flavorless. The sauce itself was smokey, but didn't have much depth to its flavor. As any brave adventurer would understand, our hero left feeling unsatisfied by not having been offered a worthy challenger.

It was two more days before the next serious challenge was presented. The challenge came at La Casa De La Abuela, which would turn out to be a veritable minefield of local cuisine. Here Ze6ke encountered El Amarillo. Not to be confused with the yellow mole. No, this dish is so famous and powerful that it only has one name, like a rockstar. This, however, doesn't give a true sense of the gravity of the battle that was about to take place. On this same day, in this same venue, a battle would also be waged with Almendrado. With the gravity of this encounter, our hero was almost totally overwhelmed and failed to photograph the food. El Amarillo was a simple sauce that could almost be compared to a typical green salsa in any Mexican restaurant. Though it was well prepared, it was not a worthy challenger for our favorite gourmand. He left the vanquishing of the Amarillo to his shield bearer. Our hero tackled the Almendrado. The Almendrado could easily be compared to a Korma curry from India. It was a marvelous balance of flavors; a worthy opponent for even the most trained palate. In the end, both plates were well vanquished. But, the cost was high. In addition to 120 pesos per plate, our hero's party had to rest, speaking of philosophy for two hours before moving on.

Through the rest of the time in Oaxaca, our hero battled Guave Mole, a smorgasboard of Oaxacan foods and one more encounter with Almandredo. On researching the enemy, it was discovered that one of the 7 moles, Pepían, had already fallen in Guatemala. Unfortunately, the Green Mole showed great cowardice. That battle will have to wait for another day.


Oaxaca

Two events inspired me to come to Oaxaca. I liked my first hostel in Mexico city (from 2 years ago) and they advertised a hostel in Oaxaca (I think). I figured that meant I would be able to find a pretty good hostel. Second, I really liked the Coloradito I ate in Mexico City. It was at a Oaxacan restaurant. I had heard that there were several other types of special salsa as well. Those reasons might be a little arbitrary, but the beat any reason I had to be anyplace else.

It turned out that Oaxaca is pretty studly. I was right about the hostel. A steady flow of interesting people passed through, typically staying between 1 and 3 days. It's relatively uncommon that I expect to maintain a long term friendship with people I meet in a hostel. It might happen with a few people here.

Most of my travels have been based on living economically. The second easiest place to save is in the pantry. I've eaten some amazingly meager meals. Also, I consciously avoid writing about food (to not let myself fixate). But, that went against the reason why I was in Oaxaca. I came to eat. So, that's what I'm going to write about in

The Jaded Traveler and the Quest for the Seven Moles!

But, that will come later, for now, I'm just going to write about what I did.

I am told that Oaxaca is famous for art. Apparently its not quite so famous that I would have heard of it, but other people seem to have. I ended up spending a lot of time in art galleries. The reputation is deserved. During the artist tour of one gallery I saw a remarkable female silhouette. There were three in succession, the last featured a hollow spot where the woman had been and a silhouette shaped piece on the floor below. Being uncultured, I asked. Apparently, she really had fallen out of the painting.

I was a good tourist (thanks to the help I got) and made it to some of the big sites near the city. One of the big sites is a tree called El Tule. Apparently, it is has the largest trunk of any tree in the world. If I hadn't lived in the Northwest for so long, I would probably say it is the largest tree in the world. However, It isn't quite as tall as General Sherman in California. I also went to a natural soda fountain. They call it Aguas Hirviendas and it's a carbonated spring. Some of the sedimentary formations are pretty astounding, everything that touches the water crystallizes. I got a few a pictures of it up on the web. I even borrowed a better camera for a little while to take pictures. I was astounded by the difference between my camera and the good camera. The good camera was like a magic wand that made great pictures of whatever it was pointed at. If only they made those magic wands smaller.

Unfortunately, the springs were too nice and we hung out for several hours (after the last transport left). We asked in the nearby village how we could get back to Oaxaca and they told us that we could wait until the next day and there would be public transport. Being practical, I led my group to take care of the most pressing thing: dinner. Right at the start of our meal we saw the very last vehicle leave the springs. I interrupted my meal to flag them down. We ended up hitchhiking for an hour to get back to the city.

It's Hanukkah, so we celebrated that. I don't know an awful lot about Judaism, so I'm not sure how close we were. We put 4 candles on stick, sang some song, and then ate chocolate candies. I was told that that was a real part of Hanukkah. I realized, while doing that, that I'm about as Jewish as I am Christian. I started to wonder why I celebrate the holidays I celebrate. I might go shopping for something new.

Juchitan

“Everybody get off right now! Hurry!”

The bus to Juchitan caught me off guard. At some intersection they stopped and made everyone get off the bus. I didn't really understand why or know where I was. After looking around a while, I learned that I was, at least, in the correct city. Being practical, I started with the most critical matter: lunch. After lunch I asked around and learned that the bus station was about two blocks away. Since I didn't have any plans for Juchitan, I went to get my ticket right away. That effort, however, was not as fruitful as I might have hoped. The station was locked down; no buses were being allowed to enter or leave. There had just been a kidnapping. It turned into a very police filled day. At least I got to watch an arrest to keep myself entertained while I was waiting for the station to reopen. After I had enjoyed the police entertainment for a while, the station re-opened and they let me buy a bus ticket for 11:30 PM.

Juchitan was a pleasant town for reasons beyond the police being fun to watch. After I getting my ticket and leaving the bus station, I was followed down the road by an AIDS day parade. After the parade, I decided to sit in a little park near the main drag. Right before the sun started to set, I got a concert from the local birds. It was a pleasant afternoon and evening. In the end, I boarded an 11:30 bus for a good night's sleep.

Arriaga

Arriaga felt like it was almost a tourist town. There is a lot of eco-tourism nearby, but all of it left me uninspired. Again, I was in a city that just didn't feel like it would make a good base for any length of time.

The hotel options were markedly different than in Tapachula. I ended up paying $15 for the night. There was a hotel for $6, but the idea of sitting on the beds there made me uncomfortable. I didn't want to even think about sleeping there. I don't remember the last hotel I saw that was too skeezy for me.

I was following the Pan-American highway, so I figured that it would be easy to find direct buses to any other location on the highway. I was mistaken. There were no convenient direct lines to Oaxaca, so I was going to have to spend an hour or two in a town called Juchitan.

Tapachula

I didn't really know what I was going to do with myself next. I went to the bus station without really having a destination set and settled on Tapachula, Mexico. I arrived mid afternoon. This was my second time in Tapachula, but I didn't leave the bus station the first time. The character of the city changes once you get to the square; outside of that small area, it feels quite dirty and unpleasant, but inside is quite different. There were several bands playing the night that I stayed there.

I arrived looking for my place to hang out and hunt for work. Tapachula clearly wasn't my big stop. I made plans to leave town after one day. It was easy to find buses that headed to Arriaga. Not that I knew anything about Arriaga, but I found it on the map and it was on the way to Oaxaca and near the coast.

It was strange adjusting to being back on the road. I stayed at a $5 hotel that didn't have bugs or hot water.

Next Round

I said goodbye to Xela. On my way out, I taught my teacher how to make cookies. I think that she was impressed by me. I'm mostly saying this because she told me that I was almost perfect. However, I took that with a grain of salt; she said it right after having tried one of my cookies :)

I realized that I've become a long-haired hippie. I haven't had my hair cut for almost a year. The last time was in Brazil. I'm not sure how much longer it will be able to hide out before attracting the attention of a barber.

However, the big news is that I took my GMAT. I did it in the capital city. My results were good enough for everything that I'm trying to do, but I can't claim that I ground the exam into a fine powder like I had been hoping to do. The best part about having taken my GMAT is that I no longer have to take my GMAT. How exciting.

I started appreciating my freedom by trying fresh coffee. Fresh coffee looks about like cranberries. The berries are sweet and have a very unusual green flavor, kinda pleasant. The beans are the seeds of the berries already pretty hard by the time the berries are ripe.

And then I left.

A Week

One of my target schools offers a service of assessing one's chances of being accepted to its MBA program. It starts with a web form and some short essays. A while back, I felt this would be a good thing to do, so I filled it out. They promise a response in 15 business days. Their response was a short email asking me to call them. Initially, I took this as a good sign, because if I was clearly not what they were looking for they wouldn't need to talk to me. Being in Europe, their day starts unnaturally early and I had to get up that early to call them. I called them, but didn't get through. Feel free to reread that last sentence about 10 times, because that's about how many times it happened. I became a little frustrated and decided to email to make sure that I was calling at a reasonable time and to see if I could set an appointment. They didn't respond to the email. After a week of waiting and infrequent calling, I began to wonder what was up. Did I do something so offensive on the voice mail that they decided to screen my emails and calls? I decided to be more pointed in my pursuit and went to the web to find all the details about the person who contacted me. There is a web form to contact anyone at the school. I employed it to ask what was up. Shortly after sending that off, I realized that my first email had been sent to the broadcast email address and not to the email address of a person.

Those activities didn't actually happen this week, more last month. But, I had to do something to keep myself occupied until this week arrived.

This week started with my accidental, regular travel companion leaving. I have no plans to see him again (which was the case every other time one of us moved on). It was quickly followed by my aunt dying. Fortunately, not an aunt I had ever met: the sister of my host-mother. That changed the tone of my house, everyone is active mourning and sometimes crying, but never eating. I believe that happened on Monday.

On Tuesday, I finally connected with the school about my chances at their MBA. They wanted to confirm that I really haven't worked for three years. They told me that I was well suited for their program, but that potential employers would not be happy with my giant vacation and that I should get a job. Getting told to 'get a job' is normally bad, but not in my case; I had thought that getting a job now would hurt my chances because it wouldn't be at the level of my previous work and I was therefor trying to survive on a very tight budget until school started. Everything they told me was good news.

I spent Tuesday night updating my resume. I have planned on moving away from tech for a while, so I didn't have an up-to-date technical resume (or anything even close). I sat down and wrote a new resume from a blank document. I managed to get the whole thing produced in three hours and it passed the first review. That had never happened before; resumes usually take me about one month to write.

The week was getting warmed up by Wednesday. I was digging right in in deciding what to do for work and focusing on where I wanted to be doing it. My big targets are New York City, near either of my parents, Portland, and Europe. I got a wonderful surprise when I learned that I get a permanent Irish green card in under 2 years after minimal hoops. To say that I was excited to learn that would be an understatement. On first inspection, I found several jobs that are right on target for what I'm after and capable of getting. I'll keep looking to see if there are other good options on the continent, too.

Anything else interesting happen? I learned that I might get a visitor next week and I was asked to perform a marriage, but it's only Thursday morning.

Learning to Write

Of late, the biggest part of my life has been preparing for the GMAT. I think writing is particularly important, and there's an essay section on the GMAT. That has been my biggest area for of focus. I invested a real effort looking for good tools to help my essay writing. Apparently, this is not the primary focus of the rest of the world: nobody sells anything specificly targeted at the GMAT essay section. Peculiarly, the essays are graded, in part, by a computer program. The makers of this program also sell automated online writing coaches. I felt that that would be the right place to apply my energies.

Selecting the right coach turned out to be a bigger challenge than I had anticipated. From the outset, I was pretty sure that I didn't need the “Faith and Values” writing coach. I decided to go with the “College” writing coach before I realized that it hasn't yet been released. I broke down and asked for help. They recommended the “Professional” writing coach. I ran with it. They caught me off-guard when the first lesson was based on an essay justifying censorship in school; I had been pretty sure that I hadn't bought the “Faith and Values” coach. None the less, I plowed through the lesson and got to my first assignment.

I like my writing: I enjoy reading my casual writing and I feel that my more formal writing is very effective. The computer does not like my writing. Ironically, the more I like the writing, the less the computer does. Fortunately, I get feedback. Why didn't it like my writing? Good argumentative writing can easily be identified because it has a thesis, three supporting arguments, two points to back up each argument, and 1 SAT word per paragraph. I didn't know that. I had thought that good argumentative writing just had to persuade a reader to some idea.

Though I find the lessons disagreeable, as long as I only have to use the skills they teach on one exam, I can handle them.

Teleported to Real World

Last week, my biggest stress was figuring out what shoes to buy. This week, the stress level increased. It started when I went to learn how to certify my Spanish ability for B-school. I learned that I had missed the last opportunity to certify on this continent. Apparently planning ahead 11 months isn't enough. I got really upset by this and didn't understand why. Later, I realized that it was because this was a sign that I had to come back to the real world from my long vacation. It took several days to adjust.

One of the big tasks that I had been blowing off while on vacation was fixing my computer. I have the install disks for windows, so I threw away enough files that I could back everything up (15G of music gone), backed it up, and then stuck in the reinstall disks. Things were going well. Things went well all the way through the point where the install erased my hard drive. Unfortunately, the very next step failed. Apparently the install disk had a problem. Because it had a problem, so did I. After 6 attempts to install the OS, I got the process down to about 1.5 hours and can do it with equal ease in English and Spanish. Once I finally got a valid OS installed, I learned that I didn't have any drivers. That meant that, even though my computer “worked”, some things weren't at top notch. I didn't have sound, couldn't connect to the Internet, and if I let my computer sit for 5 minutes, the monitor stopped working. After one more day of wrestling, it seems to be in peak form.

Another thing is that I hadn't set a date for taking the GMAT. I'm hoping to take it right before Christmas. I'll start studying in earnest tomorrow.