Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 in Review

Where to begin with this...2012 has been the best year thus; so much has happened that it is quite challenging to recall. Let's go month by month, albeit in brief summary fashion.

My band, The Dread Crew of Oddwood, launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund our newest/third album, Heavy Mahogany, and it worked! Went extremely successfully, grossing 150% of our goal. For the promotional video, Reece shot at me with a .60 cal flintlock pistol charge, which I assure you is a slightly foreboding experience. I went into the studio to record all of the primal drum tracks to start off the album, the performance of which I'll be making a video of, and later on, backup vocals (and lead on one song, Immortal Souls), marimba, steel pans, and tambourine.

Went to Nicaragua. Landed in Managua, went immediately to small town Masaya and the old port city of Granada (which was sacked by Henry Morgan in 1665). Crossed the ginormous Lago de Nicaragua, saw no bull sharks, but beautifully intimidating cone volcanoes. Travelled down the Rio de San Juan to the old Spanish fort in El Castillo, briefly trekked through pristine rainforest jungle, swam in a crocodile river, and ate massive river shrimp. Went by bus through the central interior to El Rama, took a boat out to the old pirate city of Bluefields, met a kind-hearted, hard-working family and stayed with them. Went on the most harrowing boat journey of my life through tumultuous jade Caribbean swells, soaking down to the bone and catching severe heat exhaustion. Whiled away a week on the Caribbean island Little Corn, eating pan de coco, snorkeling, and trying out the island lifestyle, albeit restlessly and unsuccessfully. Met an awesome Swedish dude named Gustav, who is essentially a great chef, and learned much about Scandinavia. Took a cargo ship back to the mainland, more bussing out to León, where I trekked an active volcano and saw my first (and certainly not last) lava-filled crater. Spent more time back in Granada, met some amazing people and opened up Central America, Colombia, Europe, and extreme hitchhiking to my wanderlust-filled brain. It really was a life-changing experience!

Reconciled with a former love, played 54 theatrical music shows at Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and acquired some strange, inconclusive Nicaraguan virus that left me pretty floored for a few weeks.

Oddwood opened for Rhapsody at The Grove in Anaheim, which rocked. Enjoyed summer days in San Diego.

Toured with Oddwood from San Diego up through Vancouver, B.C. Canada, and had a most splendid of times seeing all-new cities and performing at various pubs, as well as a formidable two weekends at Washington Midsummer Faire, whose entertainment director and staff were (mostly) incredible, real, and hilarious. Had my mind focused on the immediate future, which included starting up my wedding entertainment company and attending my upper-division schooling at UCSD.

September–early December:
Started school off with a bang, had a blast learning about all kinds of intellectual viewpoints, identities, and histories surrounding Brazil, the Caribbean region, and world cities. On the topic of identities, I became engrossed in atheism, secularism, and humanism, as these subjects have been shunned and ignored by bureaucracies and closed-minded/judgmental/religious people for a long time, yet are gaining a strong foothold in the U.S. Spent far more time hanging out on campus, which is really a cool place to relax and be studious.

Registered my entertainment company, and realized a surreal sense of clarity in my life. I am now a business owner! Never before this time have I known so strongly what I'd like my future to consist of. I cannot wait to help people in a professional business setting, far more extensively than I have done as a wedding disc jockey and master of ceremonies in the past. I want to contribute a lot of my energy into helping people have fantastic weddings, a result of my developing expertise in the field, and to build a company that I can employ the talents of my many musician/photographer/artist friends when possible, as well as scale up and expand into other additions. The fruits of this labor are beginning to ripen and are still coming.

This sense of clarity has given me this profound happiness, a sense of contentment and appreciation of the gift of Life. I've also decided that it is an honor and a privilege to be alive, and therefore should dress accordingly well. I've donated a large portion of my old wardrobe, continuing the switch to clothes I enjoy wearing, and nothing more or in excess. And I'm still moving along with my personal challenge to grow out my hair.

I've spent several months downsizing my worldly possessions by force, donating books and electronics and furniture and toys to those who would be better off with them. Living with less is great, because we're always acquiring more stuff! George Carlin explains this perfectly:

Mid-December through today:
Following my intense 30+ pages of finals (which turned out great, but a lot of work), I've had a lot of other goings-on going on. Just sold my Corolla, Ol' Bessie, whose five years of service and memories shall be ever-cherished. Been preparing to move out of the Polkinhorn Household, whose 17 months of countering my ridiculousness with ridiculousness of its own have been so appreciated. They've greatly contributed to this positive, upward progression of my life, graciously allowing me the continued pursuit of my ultimate future lifestyle after going through some chaotic times. A kind thank you again, Harry and C, if you read this).

Playing an Oddwood show on New Year's Eve with the infamously virtuosic Buckethead, an avante-gard guitar shredder who is famous in the music world. Oh yeah, and the world didn't end, just as I presciently foretold, but I did realize that Generation Y (the Millenials, born from 1982-2000) is helping the world shift in paradigm within some fields, as a conscious effort towards morality is underway. We'll see how far it gets.

The future:

Oddwood is direct support for Turisas and Firewind; Turisas being a viking metal band who dons war paint and plays folk metal, and Oddwood being a "heavy mahogany" band who dons piratical garb and sometimes war paint, this combination is going to be awesome.  2013 will have not one but two Oddwood tours—a brief one in March up to Seattle and back, and one in August to (hopefully) Bristol, Wisconsin and the East Coast, and more of the nation.

School will be continuing on, as I start a full-full time course load in a few weeks, will be joining the UCSD Sailing Team, and will hopefully be able to get out of class a week early so I can do an extensive journey abroad somewhere for June-July.

Hopefully I'll be booking a bunch of brides by the end of next year and on, so I can grow this company to the grand scale it's planned around for the not-so-distant future.

But I am just a man, and thus, end with this song:

Saturday, June 16, 2012

And here we are

It's been a few months since my last post. Whether it was my thoughts of you, the reader, not being interested in my goings-on recently, or of adventures deemed unworthy of note, or as simple as forgetting I have a blog, I haven't posted since being in Nicaragua.

It must have been a few nights later following my April 2nd posting, where I consumed far too much orange juice and Flor de Caña rum, because the next morning I was sick for hours vomiting bile. Apparently, when you drink too much orange juice, the citric acid changes the PH of your stomach to a less acidic PH than normal, and thus, creates more bile to counteract the change and recreate  homeostasis within your stomach. From that moment on, I decided no more heavy consumption of rum, and no more shots. I have basically settled on sticking to good ales and the occasional cocktail for the rest of my life, and to be more wary of my drinking habits.

Since then, my band The Dread Crew of Oddwood played another crazy season of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Irwindale, CA. Seven weekends of four shows per day, scorching heat, and fun times, which kicked off the day after I arrived back in the U.S.  I contracted a strange fever within this time that lasted 2 weeks and showed no other symptoms, and after significant testing, proved inconclusive as to its origin or type. I do know that it was viral and not a parasite, bacteria, or protozoa.

The Dread Crew of Oddwood, 2012.  (Photo: Flip Cassidy)

Another curious thing happened during faire, which was reconciliation of friendly relations with a former someone. To summarize, it brought closure to the past and proved a healing experience in many ways. As well, my step-grandfather passed at the age of 91. He will remain alive in memory, and for his noble accomplishment of rescuing my grandmother from an alcoholic, abusive husband. Grandad, you will be missed.

Recently I've been contemplating why I was upset with Oddwood as a band. I want the band to succeed to the degree where we tour internationally and have national distribution or join a label or hire a booking agent and play huge music festivals. I figured that not everyone in the band was willing to drop what they're doing given opportunities that will surely come up in the near future. Turns out my arguments were all hypothetical and thus, pointless, which caused me even more frustration...what was the point I was trying to get at? And a few days later it struck me...I have a limited amount of time left in the U.S. to spend with Oddwood.

 My plan is to study abroad for 3-6 months at the near-end of my senior year at UCSD, perhaps in Argentina, and remain down there following graduation. I would begin a journey up through several countries, via hitchhiking, busses, and my grand idealization of buying a horse and horseback riding up the continent. Sounds crazy, I know, but I will do it. This may take up to a year outside of the U.S., in which time Oddwood will have to hire a replacement or a substitute drummer.

Depending where I'll be mind-wise when I return, I may want to re-join Oddwood or move on, and again is all theoretical at this point. What I do know is that I have roughly a year and a half left to pillage the world with Oddwood, and I had a selfish-yet-selfless idea to drive Oddwood's efforts up 150% to play overseas or on large festivals, because I know we may never get to experience that opportunity in three years, if the band is still together and depending on everyone's life status. I know that right now we are into the band, have the resources available, and have the momentum with new fans to make something big happen. But will it? Another big thing I've solved in my mind.

I began a new "stabilizing" job recently, which is something I do because I enjoy working (to a degree) in sales, startup companies, and business-type environments. I call it a "stabilizing" job in that it assists me monetarily while I continue my freelancing musician and DJ efforts. And now, for a much bigger piece of news than a new job:

I've decided, from this moment forth, to grow my hair out. Long. I've always been against the idea of growing my hair out because 1. I like how I look with short hair  2. I don't believe I'd like how I look with long hair and   3. To maintain a somewhat "professional" look for jobs. I can sacrifice #1 to test #2, and #3 doesn't mean so much, since I freelance as a musician and wedding DJ. As far as my occasional "stable" business-type jobs, there are many available that don't care about the length of your hair, but rather about your results. One can still maintain a professional look with long hair.

After sharing the stage last night at The Grove of Anaheim with Rhapsody of Fire and the Aussie band Voyager, I realized my hair is too short. Furthermore, my rekindled interest in heavy metal music as a killer genre and professional career is strong. And frankly, headbanging is really awesome. It can be used for everyday antics, at shows, and for making fire. My last haircut was sometime in March of this year. My next one will simply remain indefinitely postponed.

We're touring in August up the West Coast to Vancouver and back! Our first official international tour, with plans for stopping at the Olympic National Forest (North America's only rainforest), and beautifully large Vancouver Island (hopefully).

That's all for now, and more for later. Until then, this is Drew Peters.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Return to Granada

So from León (in the last post), I caught a bus northbound to Estelí, which is in the central highlands of Nicaragua. The area is full of hills and coffee plantations, with far more favorable weather in the night. I spent a good three days up there and met some more cool people. I´ve also aqcuired a new pair of leather riding boots, seeing as the city is not only a college town, but a ¨gaucho¨ type town filled with cowboys and leathercrafts of all sorts.

Wandering about, I took a tour of a local tabacalera, in which the entire cigar-making process is explained and shown. Nicaragua is well-known for it´s world-class cigars, on par with the Cuban cohibas, but not embargoed by ridiculous, antiquated laws against the Commies. Not that I like Communists, by any means, because I´m 100% American, goddammit. Nonetheless, it was an interesting process to watch as (mostly) women rolled perfect cigars.

NOTE: I´ll upload photos onto this blog post when I return home. I don´t want to sit around sorting, uploading, and waiting today.

The tradition of Semana Santa started on Saturday, March 30th, and is a holy week of partying, Central American style. Six to eight dollars for litterally all-you-can-drink nights (which, oddly enough, I opted out of), fireworks being let off in the street at all hours of the day, and a ramp up of promotions street-side. When I say promotions, I really mean pickup trucks and cars with enormous speakers strapped atop the roof or truck bed, blasting away at mega-high volumes well exceeding 130dB or so (you can hear them coming for blocks). So ridiculously annoying, I kept having thoughts of flipping over cars. Anyway, the locals get plastered all week long, since this is their main vacation from everyday living and working. Because many of them spend their whole time working 11-12 hour days for shite wages.

I had a good time in Estelí finishing up my book, The Hot Zone, acquired through the worldwide book exchange program that travellers use. The Hot Zone is about the history and spread of the flesh-liquidifying Ebola virus and it´s horrendous effects on humans. It broke out of Zaire and Sudan through the 80´s, and decimated entire populations of Africa. It also, ironically enough, broke out in Washington. The book is a really good read and was at one point a New York Times best-seller. The process of catching this 90% deadly virus is literally one of the worst ways to die imaginable. I´m good, thanks.

I caught a standard chicken bus from Estelí back to Managua, and from Managua, back to Granada, where I had a lot of fun a month prior. You can read that blog post here. I arrived back in The Bearded Monkey hostel, and yet again have met some cool people and re-encountered some of the same people from the month prior, which was refreshing and really enjoyable a time. We went out for some drinks, and I indulged myself in some Guinness. But alas, it was only of the canned variety and not tirado del siphóne (from a keg), and therefore not that great. I chased that with a couple Nica Libres and had a better time. It´s actually the first time I went out to drink in Granada, even after some 8 or 9 days living in the city.

We also went into the bell tower of a really old cathedral, and I took a chance against my better judgement (and deathly fear of heights) and went one step further. There´s a ladder that goes EVEN HIGHER up the tower, which wouldn´t be an issue normally, except that it´s hanging over the railing on the outside tower wall, and the fall would either impale me on the iron fence, or plunge me down some 60 feet onto the cathedral roof below. So I climbed the ladder from the inside and reached the maximum height by flipping to the outside of it to check over the jutting wall design. The ladder only led to a really narrow ledge that winds its way around the tower to the two clocks, which occasionally must break and therefore, need to be fixed. I decided I´d seen what I wanted to see and carefully descended, a proud man for punching my fear in its ethereal face.

Otherwise, I am winding down my journey with some acquirement of unique, handcrafted souvenirs for the trip back home, and will head Tuesday or Wednesday for Masaya, to the cheap market there. Wednesday night or evening I´ll need to get to the airport in Managua, to catch my 7am flight from MGA to MIA, clearing customs onward to LAX. I believe I arrive back in L.A. at 4:30-ish and will make the return ride home with my dad (and probably mom), straight to a Mexican restaurant for my desperately necessary post-trip burrito fix.

How I crave Mexican food, which on the whole uses better spices and far more vegetables than Nica food. Sorry Nicas, but your utter absence of any decent vegetables other than cabbage, carrots, yucca and potatoes sickens me a little. There´s also a lot of fried food and sugar-laden (albeit fresh and real) fruit juices here. What I will give Nicas (and perhaps Latin America on the whole) credit for is how fresh the food is, and therefore how flavorful, real, and healthy much of it is. This is compared to the chemical-laden, processed food of the U.S., which I´ve also tried avoiding pre-trip. I´ve also decided from here on out to only buy the best quality meat possible when market perusing. There´re just so many good reasons to splurge on high-quality meat, mainly in that it´s in every way a better idea than the super-available, super-processed cheaper meat we´re so accustomed to. The animals here taste so GOOD! They´re all from single farms and of quality breeding standards that are traditional for hundreds of years. Way to go. I will say, however, that the Nicas really hate dogs, constantly beating them and kicking them out of the way and nearly hitting them with their cars all the time. What a crazy world we live in.

Oh man, I almost forgot! Today is my 24th anniversary of birth. Not a bad place to be in my life right now. Got a lot of plans for the future, and specifically, of travelling more this year and next year. About 20 countries are on my must-do list for the next 5 years.

This is all for now, more for later. Until then, this is Drew Peters.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Climbing Volcan Telica and time in Leon

Wow. Leon is pretty awesome. It's ridiculously hot, with temperatures hovering between the low to high 30's consistently each day, but I am OK with that. I've already readjusted to the blisteringly strong sun in Central America, via skin destruction. Leon itself is better than Granada, in my opinion, for the lesser amount of visible tourists walking the streets. I've been told that this is a touristy destination, but I do not feel that way hanging out in Parque Central (the big park next to a super old, crumbling colonial church). I waste away hours talking with locals, being shocked at entire blocks filled with students wearing pressed, clean school uniforms, and admiring the occasional stunningly beautiful wimmins.

I have noticed how strong the machismo culture and cat-calling are here in Leon. Every woman of decent looks who walks down the street gets constantly accosted by local guys, with whistles, kissing noises, and sometimes even direct contact! The women are so jaded by the harassment, they do a great job at not saying anything to anyone. Yet they still dress up very well everyday and are not modest about their beauty, despite what they're in for in public. Interesting.

Delicious Nica breakfast: Gallo pinto, scrambled eggs w/ veggies, real tortilla, queso, and crappy hot sauce.

"Pelibuey", which is marinated , perhaps goat meat. DELICIOUS and super-cheap.

Great salsa band.

Cool-lit official building of sorts.

I have also pissed away time in a few museums, including one showing over 300 locals who died fighting the Nica revolution during the 70's and 80's. The museum is run by a few of the mothers of these martyrs, including one I talked to whose two sons, 20 and 29 at the time, were gunned down by a helicopter outside the city. Gnarly. I also perused an art museum, Museo Ortiz-Gurdia, which has works by several Central American artists. There were some cool paintings, a series of awesome mini-drawings by a Honduran artist whose figures looked a little like those in the popular animated video series, Salad Fingers, and a couple (or perhaps several) what-the-hell pieces.

Leon by night. Beautiful, pleasantly warm and a tad unsafe.

I've also walked about the cobblestone streets, dodging aggressive drivers, buying street snacks and water bags, and being followed by the all-too-common stray dogs. The colonial churches are still all in use, but unfortunately there is little concern or education for the locals about littering, and thus many church plazas, sidewalks and streets, are all strewn in trash. So much plastic, it hurts...well, not me, but whatever oceans receive it following a rain.

I've been staying for the last 5 days in Lazy Bones Hostel, which has two large courtyards, the all-important Nica hammocks strewn about, and, best of all, a pool. It's $8 per night, which is a little pricier than other nearby places like Via Via or Hostel Guardabarranco, but you have free Internet, unlimited coffee, and available breakfast for the morning kickstart.

This weekend, March 24-25, I left Leon to embark on a scorching, 27km (16 mile) trek to a certain active volcano not far from Leon -- Volcan Telica! The volcano lies amidst the "ring of fire", a chain of volcanoes stretching some 30 miles across the western side of Nicaragua, and aptly named the Maribios Chain. Supposedly, this is one of the most active hotspots for volcanic activity in the world, yet only one volcano has visible lava. That's the one I wanted.

I arrived at 6am to Quetzaltrekkers, a non-profit tour outfit that donates 100% of proceeds to local shelters to keep kids in afterschool programs so that they don't resort to sniffing glue, which is a widely common occurrence in Nicaragua due to it's ease of use and affordability. Unfortunately, even kids in those programs are forced to be removed from their glue bottles for a few hours to do fun activities; all of which are not as interesting to these 6, 7, 8, 12, 16 year old addicts. It's a step in the right direction, but still a 30 mile-high wall to climb. So myself and a few people from my hostel (Hanalore from Belgium and Melissa from B.C.) saddled up our special backpacks and divied up the loads among each person. My pack came to 18 kilos, which is practically 40 pounds, since I carried one of our tents and a pot full of food. We met our guides, Julia (Germany) and Gelmer (Holland), and after a hearty breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and 6 slices of toast, we all left for the bus terminal.

Beautiful view. Yet again, photos do not render justice.

We arrived on the trail head, where it was a 6 hour hike through a semi-shaded dry riverbed, as the dust kicked up and the temperatures raised. I fashioned a walking stick, which did indeed come in handy throughout the trek. We spotted Nicaragua's national bird, the guardabarranco, with it's long brilliant blue tails and general timidity. We stopped every half-hour to hour for water or snack breaks, and Gelmer gave a thoroughly tongue-in-cheek rundown about the importance of drinking Tang, that powdered, chemical crap from the 90's. He explained all of its benefits: 1. Drinking Tang will improve your eyesight, 2. Drinking Tang makes you immune to everything, and 3. Coral snakes, the 3rd most poisonous snake, hates Tang and will avoid people who drink it. Except those coral snakes who have a bad nose or a cold and can't smell it-- those ones will still bite you. And the Phoenix that lives in the volcano crater will not harm you if you drink Tang. We began the long-running joke about Gelmer's Tang addiction, and everyone had a field day with a few terms I coined for use. The stuff is terrible, and I opted out after one re-introduction to the childhood drink.

My pack (18 kilos/40 lbs.) and walking stick.
We had an amazing lunch consisting of vegetables, bread, and guacamole, including the BEST cream cheese I have ever had (and I hate cream cheese normally), under the shade of a giant tree. By this point we were only near one small house, whose kids were rounding up bulls on horseback. Crazy. We finished lunch and entered into a dry, fire-decimated forest, so the sun became far more devastating, in combination with the 40 pounds of stuff I was hauling. From here the otherwise hardly noticeable ascent of the volcano became drastically steeper, and hotter, as we neared the lowest approachable base area.

We gathered firewood just at the foot of the volcanoes 45 degree slope, and made our ascent up the rocky red face. The volcanic gases steamed away above us, but I had no idea what I would see when arriving atop the ridge. It was beautiful. W could see fields and smaller towns far away and below us, which is the area and altitude we started at, 8 hours prior. At last, we had reached the volcano's crater, and had a peek inside. Yes, there was lava. We descended one slope to a level volcanic field just below the crater lip, where some trees made the perfect campsite for a starry night.

Volcano crater rim. Photos do not do justice to the sheer size of it. HUGE and THREATENING.

It's just a 375 ft. drop to the bottom, not bad.

The 'Drew Peters' pose, coined by Preston Bewley.

Our campsite, on a volcanic plain just below the crater.
I set up all 3 tents while others rested, and then our guide Julia prepared the best field pasta ever! I ate two gargantuan bowls, and night fell upon us. Exhausted, but refreshed with food, we made our way by night across the lava fields back up a little hike to the crater rim, this time under a dark sky and headlamps. Lava is far more impressive at night - also, what I thought was only one small patch of lava revealed a massive lake of the stuff, covered up with hard lava but with many cracks displaying the Hell below. And it was loud - the sound of churning molten rock was about the decibel volume of a freeway. Oh, and the crater is 120m deep, so the fall would be just a bit too brutal to survive. We made our way back to camp for the American tradition of S'mores over a fire, even though the Canadians bragged about their "better" S'mores making. To that I would say, "Wait...where's Canada again?"

I retired to my sleeping bag, opting for sleeping outside amongst the sheer winds rather than in a tent. And how right my choice was. No one else could sleep because of how loud the wind made the tents. The next morning, feeling a bit sore from the hike, we rose at 5:30 to hike to the top of a nearby hill for the sunrise, which was awesome. The sun cast a beautiful golden light onto Telica, which gave it a powerful appearance. Everyone descended back to camp for breakfast and to pack, and I made one last ascent to peer into the crater. The volcanic gasses were far more searing on my lungs this time around, similar to Volcan Masaya (in an earlier blog post). The sulfur smell was strong, and the lava's noise was just as loud as usual.

After we left the camp, we descended the crater via another trail on the East side of Telica. This side is actually completely different from the side we ascended, as the forest is much more akin to the dry tropical forests on this side of the country. The descent gave way to stunning views, and we had to bushwhack our way through fallen and smoldering trees. Much of the forest fire that had swept through a week prior was still burning, so at times we passed trees that were on fire. Pretty fucking awesome.
The morning carried on, getting hotter as we passed through dead corn fields and occasionally rested below huge mango trees. I had plenty of time to think about more ideas for travelling and adventuring by boat sometime in the next few years.

We reached a town called San Jacinto, which contains a geothermal power plant and a field of bubbling volcanic mud pools known as Hervideros de San Jacinto. I dipped my hat into them, but they weren't very exciting. Just boiling mud holes. The girls on the trip went to a comedor to eat, and Gelmer and myself went to the nearby Aguas Termales, or volcanic hotsprings. They felt excellent and warm, despite it being pretty hot outside. By this point, my knees were not doing so well after wearing hiking boots the past two days, that do not have arch support. Apparently the whole town uses the hot springs to wash laundry and bathe, and I don't blame them. We walked back into town, joined the girls at the comedor, and caught a bus back into Leon.
We caught a bus at San Jacinto, but this family of four already had transport.
Exhausted, I proceeded to lay about the rest of the day. And I got a Quetzaltrekkers t-shirt for completing the coolest hike I've ever been on. That night I went to Via Via and ate dinner there with Hanalore, the Belgian from the Telica trek. Apparently Via Via is an international backpacker hostel chain owned by Belgians, so I proceeded to try a Belgian meal known in spanish as "drunken cow", which is slow-cooked beef in beer sauce and spices and stuff, accompanied by Belgian fries, which are the obsession of Belgians everywhere. They're basically french fries, but cut weirdly, and thusly, more delicious than I expected. We were met up by the trek guides and everyone from the trek, and we proceeded to drink three servicio completos (bottles of Flor de Cana rum accompanied by a cup of limes, a bottle of Coke, and ice.). We went to a karaoke bar nearby, I sang "Easy" by The Commodores and, at the locals' constant request, "Hotel California" by the Eagles. A little high, range-wise, but nonetheless I nailed it. It was truly an amazing weekend. And my mom turned 60 that Sunday. Happy birthday, Mom!

The last few days have been cool, just relaxing poolside, walking about town, and drinking at night. Oh yeah! And I saw an awesome band called Amalgama at Via Via restaurant on another night, who played a slew of Nicaraguan music. I got to play clave for a few songs. I also joined a table of Nicas for some front-stage conversation and views.

I think today (Tuesday, March 27), I will bus myself to Esteli for a few days, which is a cooler mountain city with delicious coffee, coiba cigars and cloud forests. I may come back to Leon for Semana Santa, their holy week of Easter, which begins this Saturday. They say it gets crazy here. I have to be in Managua by next Wednesday night to catch my 7am flight out of the airport on Thursday, but before then I will return to Granada for dinner with an internationally-acclaimed artist (acquaintance through Joe Roberts), back to Masaya for some procurement of textiles and final souvenirs, then to Managua for the plans iterated above.

On a side note, my band, The Dread Crew of Oddwood, is killing it in every way. I've been down here listening to the most recent mixes for our new album, Heavy Mahogany, and I will say that this is an incredible album on many levels. We're far better at our instruments and songwriting, and I really like almost every song on the album. We were recently advertised in the Los Angeles Times, and our fan base is growing exponentially. A lot of people know who we are in Southern California, which is a challenging feat. I am honored to be in a band this awesome, and we are going to destroy the Renaissance Pleasure Faire this season (the day after I get back from Nicaragua, I'll be kicking off my return with a weekend of craziness). Here's to Oddwood!

All for now, more for later. Until then, this is Drew Peters.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My time in Jurassic Park, Bluefields, and the Caribbean Sea

 The last few days have been relaxing, tiring, sunburnt, and delicious.

After arriving in Bluefields, I met a local family after this guy named Armando walked me all the way to the post office after my basic request for directions. They are all really cool people, unfortunately poor, but have a means to make money buy frying up plaintain chips to sell in snack bags and also selling coconuts and bananas from the front porch of their house. They also have a rooster, a chicken or two and a parrot, as well as a few stray dogs of varying size that are either their pets or wanderers they've taken in.

I ended up opting for a spare room the family had over paying ridiculous prices for a hotel. Needless to say, the room was a cement box with a halved door and corrugated tin roof. The rain comes down in torrents in Bluefields, but alas, the small cracks in the roof never gave way to ruining my night.

The people of Bluefields, formerly a pirate and slave haven, are of mixed race. They are African in descent, but have also some English, French, and Dutch pirate blood. They speak Creole, which is kind of like English, except they take sentences and crush them into short phrases and weird pronunications that make their normal conversation nearly undiscernible bunch of noise and laughing. They're always laughing. Also, everyone understands and speaks Spanish at times, and there are still several fully Nicaraguan families that live in the Caribbean port town.

I really like port towns in general, and Bluefields was no exception. Gritty, a bit dangerous, but with plenty of activity and new blends of food to try. I stayed for a few days, ultimately taking the plunge to visit the nearby islands. The Corn Islands are comprised of Big Corn (or Great Corn), which has cars and a lot of people living on it, and Little Corn, which is a carless jungle with super nice beaches and a population of 600. I chose the latter, but so did all the tourists. Uh oh.

Getting out to the islands was, far and away, the COOLEST transport I've yet taken in any travels. I bought some bags of water and juice for the boat ride, and the Gutierrez family stocked me with several bags of plaintain chips and some finger-sized bananas that are really delicious. We got onto the boat about half an hour before departure, and I had good conversation with a few Norwegians. We were all then ordered off the boat and into a line, so they could check everyone's tickets. Really efficient, after already getting settled in. My seat upon second entry was not a seat at all. I ended up standing along the starboard (right) side of the large ferry.

We parted from the harbor amidst grey sky, brown water, and some mild rain. My clothing for the trip is a necessary explanation for the story: black trousers, a wifebeter and white cotton shirt, with sandals. On my person was my camera, money belt, and a bag of all that food. We reached the inlet of the ocean, a small peninsula called El Bluff, to wait for the harbor police to assess the boat, so I moved over to the bow to sit.

Lo and behold, as soon as we reached the ocean, the enormous swells started. A squall had hit Bluefields, which was unusual for this time of year, and it certainly made for a harrowing adventure. Because I sat on the bench in front, I had the best view of the beautiful turqouise water in front of us. But it also had a good view of me, every time our boat fell over a huge swell. Occasionally I was pummeled with an onslaught of ocean water, so I bundled my camera into my white shirt and gave it to the Norwegians to hold, since they were farther back and very dry. This ocean pummelling was super fun for the first 2 hours, but the boat ride was 6.5. I sat soaking wet amidst the blazing sun and relentless winds, just trying to warm myself. I even sat next to some large metal boxes, perhaps 500 lbs or more, hastily tied down along the bow. Occasionally they would lift up after diving down the back of a wave, precariously shifting their place as if they were toy blocks.  That gave way to a serious condition of heat exhaustion, not to mention lobster-colored skin. Was it worth it? And to that I answer, Yes.

We arrived on Big Corn, and I hugged the dock and spent the next hour drying off as we prepared for a much smaller panga boat to take us the half hour way to Little Corn. A little loopy by this point, I chose to sit in the second row, next to a Swedish guy named Gustav, who I ended up hanging out with a lot on this island adventure. He's a chef in Norway and does a good job embarrassing the U.S.' lack of foreign language training with his near-flawless English. But I digress. On the panga, we were given a plastic sheet to hold over our heads for the journey, but I was laughing hysterically at the fact the front row did not have it for the journey...we held it down on our row, and occasionally we'd feel a wave spash the plastic. The ride itself was terrible. Every time the panga would ride over a 3m-high swell, we would catch air momentarily, only to be slammed back down into the nadir of the next wave. Brutal on the spine.

Little Corn
Needless to say, I spent the next day recovering from fierce exposure, only to decide the following day to join the Scandanavians for some beach action. After all, it's a tropical island in the Caribbean. Everyone on the island walks or bicycles to their destinations, and we proceeded to take a semi-paved path North, past colorful houses and mango, banana, and coconut trees. The path becomes all dirt and scorchingly hot starting at a baseball field, and from there it was all jungle to the North beach. Upon first sight of the sea, I was taken aback. I've never seen so many colors packed into one small chunk of ocean. It's exactly like the desktop screen savers of tropical places, with the palm and coconut trees hanging over yellow sand. The water was pool temperature, and there are reefs right offshore that house many fish, rays, and sharks. My first taste of the Caribbean was pretty sweet.

I spent the next few days recovering from far more sunburning, fishing, eating delicious seafood dishes (like rondon, which is slow cooked fish, lobster, and shrimp with yucca, in coconut milk), eating lots of weird foods (banana cake, sticky rice cake, pan de coco and more), and drinking. Rum. There's not a whole lot to do, which it seems was the true enjoyment for most of the travellers I met. I got pretty bored, but was still sucked into the super slow island life. I did some light wandering through the island, and I'm pretty sure I was in Jurassic Park. Look at some of the photos for an idea of what I mean. I didn't find any raptors, but I think they were all moved to Site B, off the coast of Costa Rica.

Jurassic Park, an island off the coast of Nicaragua.
Found the compound.

Great Corn, Corn Islands, Nicaragua

The awesome cargo ship back to Bluefields

I took a panga back to Great Corn on Tuesday afternoon, with a plan to catch a giant cargo ship back to Bluefields overnight. Gustav (Swedish dude) and I walked a bit on Great Corn, finding a place to eat yet more fried food, and trying to hold a conversation in broken English with an indigenous, grey-bearded Miskito. Pretty sure he was high on coke. In fact, so were a lot of other people on Great Corn and Little Corn. You see, these islands make for a convenient stop for the modern day pirates- Colombian drug cartels. Also, just 70km East from the Corn Islands are several more Colombian cartel-owned islands, the Islas San Andres. Hm. Alas, we reached the black cargo ship, and the ride was super smooth, enough to allow my sleep on a wooden box a little more comfort. Gustav got the sole hammock for the night, that asshole.

We grabbed a panga straight from Bluefields back to El Rama at 7am, and the ride was smooth and wind-chilled. We then immediately caught a 6 hour bus back to Managua over large tropical hills. We arrived back in Managua, took a cab to Transnica bus station, so Gustav could continue his journey today for San Jose, Costa Rica, where he's planning to attend a large music festival with artists like Gogol Bordello, Skrillex, and some other misc. artists. We stopped by a first world mall to eat, and I was surprised to see just how nice it was. Compared to streets filled with trash, homeless people, tons of heat, and relentless traffic and its exhaust. The choices were slim in the food court: Burger King, Pizza Hut, Quizno's, Subway, McDonald's, Mr. Lee, Pollo Estrella (Chicken Star, like Carl's Jr./Hardee's I think), and a few more fried chicken places. Nicaraguans love fried food, but especially fried chicken. Since I do not touch fast food except where forced, I opted for a Nicaraguan "cuisine" restaurant, where a lot of other Nicas were eating. It was delicious, and reminded me of my mall journeys for Indian food back in SD. Soon enough!

We parted company at the mall, and I walked over to UCA, the local university, to catch a minishuttle taxi to Leon. I got to Lazybones Hostel in a taxi ride, went straight to the computer, and listened to every song that we have mixed so far for Oddwood. And they are coming along great. It put me in a happy mood to hear those and to see the artwork nearing completion- it's all coming together! Also, I found out last night that I was excepted into UCSD this Fall! Hell yeah! University of California, San Diego, for Latin American Studies. I may minor in something else, and perhaps double major in business if I am able. But now I'm here, in Leon, and it's early morning, and I want to get out and explore the city.

This is all for now and more for later. Until then, this is Drew Peters.

Monday, March 12, 2012

My trip across Lago de Nicaragua, down Río San Juan and through the woods

I am currently in Bluefields, which is the Caribbean version of Nicaragua. The people here speak English, or rather, Creole, and Spanish, but are on the whole darker-skinned than their Pacific Coast counterparts. This is most likely from their indigenous, African descent, but the English and occasional blue eyes stem from this city´s former inhabitacion by Dutch, British, and French pirates. I am chilling out today and tomorrow here, before I part for total Caribbean immersion in the Corn Islands, just 70km off the coast of the country.

When I get there, I plan on acquiring my PADI Open Water certification, so I may legally (and safely) dive. There are two islands: Great Corn, and Little Corn, the latter of which has some really killer dive sites with plenty of reefs, dolphins, fish, and other marine life. I hope to encounter hammerheads, so I can check off a life goal of swimming with sharks far larger than myself. I also hope to round out my tan via equatorial burning, and sun-bleaching of my hair and beard. I really do not wish to shave my moustache to dive, but I may have to in order to create sufficient mask suction. NOOOOO!

Following this plan, I wish to head back to Managua via boat and bus, in an effort to catch another bus bound for either Estelí, a coffee-growing city in the highlands, or León, a much younger-populated and dilapidated version of Granada. In Estelí I´d like to stay on a farm or two and help with harvests. In León I hope to chill out at some volcanic sand beaches and climb one or two volcanoes, as part of my undying quest to see actual lava.

The most interesting man in the world.
The last few days have been an adventure. I had an epiphany in Granada, after meeting some great and very interesting people. One guy, a 41 year old bearded, long-haired hippie dude named Lesly, may just be the most interesting man in the world. At least that I´ve met thus far. He told me untold amounts of advice for travelling, stories of his crazy adventures, and gave me confidence in how to kick ass abroad. He spent one entire year living by himself in a frigid Patagonian forest, 2 hours by canoe from the nearest town. He then began his journey Northward through almost every country in South America, by hitchhiking, which is how he ended up in my hostel in Granada. He sleeps in abandoned buildings or on beaches at night, to save on accomodation and transportation. He only eats street food and cheap local eats, of course, to save money. He also speaks 5 languages and has done this in dozens of "dangerous" countries all around the world, including in Africa and Asia, mostly without problems. And for that I say, kudos dude. You´re a badass. He´s heading up through the U.S. and Canada in the next year and a half, since his paid leave from his prison guard job was recently reduced back in Belgium. Anyway, I met a pair of awesome Argentines from Córdoba, Lorenzo and Eric, who were travelling up through Mexico to attempt to work there for a little while. They also gave me some great advice and ideas for more Central American journies. I think next time I come down here, I´m going for 6 months. There are SO MANY cool things to partake in. I almost joined them on their bus to Guatemala City, to visit Tikal, and then decided I should go to Islas del Bahía, Honduras, to dive. That just recently fell through so I didn´t have to rush my trip this time around. I´ll go soon.

Good times with "El Último Maya" (a Guatemalan artisan), Lorenzo, "Culeado", and Eric. All great people.

 I left Granada last Thursday, by a 14-hour ferry to the South side of Lago de Nicaragua, the Great Lakes-sized lake that Henry Morgan himself travelled across to sack the city. The ferry stopped at the impressive Isla de Ometepe, with the volcanic cones looming over me as the sun set. I did my best to sleep on the hard seats of the ferry, but even with earplugs the TV blasted me.

I arrived at 6am into San Carlos, and had a killer breakfast. Gallo pinto (rice and beans fried together), a really interesting, slightly salty queso, huevos revueltados, and real café de Estelí, which was actually the best cup I´ve ever had. Maybe the setting made it, or maybe its organic, fair-traded arrival into my mouth. Or maybe it was the rain? Whatever it was, I enjoyed it´s rich, slightly sweet taste.

Delicious. Fried breadfruit, queso, huevos revueltados, gallo pinto, and damn good coffee.

East down the Rio San Juan, from atop La Fortaleza.

I took a panga (which is a really fast river boat) ride to El Castillo, which was a ride along some truly tropical looking landscape adorning both sides of Rio San Juan. El Castillo is so named for the massive Spanish fort constructed on its hill in 1675, in an attempt to thwart further pillaging of the Rio and of the once-wealthy shores of Granada. And their efforts mostly paid off. They stopped several future attacks, including one by Horatio Nelson, whose crew, after capturing the fort, mostly succumbed to a bout of malaria. Those remaining had the fun, macabre duty of dumping their crew´s corpses into the Rio San Juan, which contains the world´s only freshwater shark, the bull shark. And it had the fun duty of eating a bunch of corspes, which, to this day, it probably yearns for once again. Because of oversharking the Rio and the expansive Lago, the bull sharks numbers are much smaller, and thus a very rare sight, indeed. But they´re still there, along with crocodiles. So the hill with the fort protected the river, but so did two large rapids right next to the town, which were the bane of large ships trying to navigate on through.

El Castillo house.
"Camarones del río", or the largest, most delicious river shrimps ever. Taste like lobster.

La Fortaleza.
Needless to say, I explored La Fortaleza (that Spanish fortress), trying to put myself back in the time of the Spaniards when faced with an incoming onslaught of pirate ships. Also, the fort was used during the civil war in the 1980`s, with one night seeing 100 Sandinistas slaughtered within its confines. What bloodshed, and what crazy history these walls hold! Walking around the brick-paved streets of El Castillo was nice, but it´s not exactly a wealthy town. Seeing the colorful, stilted houses that have dodgy electricity and barely running water, not to to mention the terrible living conditions of the people was a humbling spectacle to behold. And you cannot help but feel `trapped´ in the city, even though you are not, with the humidity and one main road pushing you against the hill, with the river trapping you on the other side. It was a lazy few days, but much like the song, "Hotel California", I needed to get out, yet I could never leave.

I did take a tour of the nearby tropical rainforest, in Reserva Natural Indo-Maiz, Aguas Frescas chapter. This was replete with medicinal plants, 100-500 year old tropical trees (cedar, ceiba, and giant "almond" trees), bullet ants the size of a pen cap, poisonous dart frogs and what they call a "mountain chicken", but is actually a tiramook?¿ We followed that arduous, shin-deep mud walk with a brief dip into a side river, which definitely had sunbathing caimans nearby, and supposedly no bull sharks.

Shin-deep mud.

I took the 5:30am ferry by arriving to the dock one hour prior, at 4:30am, having been fooled by that damned Daylight Savings Time propganda. I had to dodge a swarm of bats and several large toads on my way to la muelle (dock), but settled in with a warm cup of coffee from a vendor who also set up shop shortly after my doG-forsaken hour of arrival. The fast boat back to San Carlos was less-than-ideal temperature wise, and super windy. I laughed at all the white egrets so humorously posed amongst the shore bushes. Like, every 10 feet there would be one, sitting still and looking intently at us as we flew past. When I got back in San Carlos, I saw a ton of children eeking out a living by shining shoes. I was harassed by so many that eventually I gave in and "hired" one to polish each of my shows, for a lousy 50 cents. They were only 10 and 12, but looked half that through malnutrition. I felt really bad for them, but I do know that you should never just give money to someone. Make them work for it, so they are taught an important lesson, and not to make an industry out of begging and goodwill.

 I took a 6 hour bus to get to El Rama yesterday, which must have honked its horn at every damned person between here and there, like one thousand separate incidents. They also stopped maybe 50 or more times to pick people up and drop people off and slow down for cows in the road and barely avoid pedestrians, etc. I was relieved to arrive in El Rama, but immediately took the next panga out here to Bluefields, which took 2 hours and was much better-received. So here I am and there I´ll go. This is definitely all for now, and more for later. Until then, this is Drew Peters.