The Sunny Side

For the record, this egg is not over easy, it's sunny side up. I just learned the difference, but the Sunny Side sound good so I'm stickin' with it.
For the record, this egg is not over easy, it’s sunny side up. I just learned the difference, but the Sunny Side sound good so I’m stickin’ with it.

 

I’ve done it.

The odds were heavily stacked against me.

People said it was impossible, that I was wasting my time.

But I shrugged the “haters” off and used their negativity as motivation. Every morning I’d try, and fail, but return the next day with a new sense of optimism and determination. My father’s mantra looping in my head as I focused on the task at hand, “perseverance through adversity son, perseverance through adversity.”

This morning, on the fourth day of December, in the year of our Lord 2015, I finally succeeded in cooking two, not one but two, beautiful and completely intact over easy eggs.

Now, some of you may scoff at this feat.

You could be thinking, “My eight year old daughter can make over easy eggs, dude.”

You might even be laughing as you read this. But trust me, there’s nothing funny about preparing the perfect breakfast sandwich every morning, fully equipped with the finest of ingredients: freshly baked whole grain bread, organic tomatoes and spinach from the local market, a thick slice of gouda cheese and savory pieces of world-famous Spanish ham, Jamon Iberico. Only to fail miserably with the piece de resistance and pop the damn yolks in the crappy hostel frying pan.

No amount of olive oil or butter can make the pans in any hostel “non-stick.”

The pans are beat up and tired, any trace of Teflon scraped away long ago by the backpackers of yesteryear.

The deplorable condition of cooking surfaces in hostels makes runny egg-yolks a much desired commodity. A mirage in the desert that can never be reached. But this morning I did it. When I bit into my sandwich the rich yolks exploded into my mouth and dripped onto my plate, like puddles of liquid gold.

A moment I shall never forget.

The lesson is simple friends: Never give up, never surrender.

Or… if you like over easy eggs and have the room in your backpack, bring a small non-stick frying pan.

 

The man, the myth, the legend.
The man, the myth, the legend.

 

Advertisements

Pomegranate Paradise

 

Holy shit.

I joined a gym in Spain.

The act in itself is not very impressive, anyone with twenty euros can join my crappy little gym. However, that orange I.D. card with my overly-excited face on the front signifies something pretty cool.

It means that, for at least a month (I’ll be here much longer but was too cheap to spring for the three month sign up special), Spain will be my home. After such a whirlwind kickoff to my trip, it feels great to settle down and begin a bit of a routine.

I arrived in Granada two weeks ago, the Spanish word for “pomegranate” and a beautiful city in southern Spain with a rich history. As evidenced by its beautiful architecture, Granada has a heavy Moorish influence and was the last foothold of Islam in Western Europe. In 1492, Christian forces led by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand expelled the Moors from Granada and completed the 700 year Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula. In the same year, Columbus came to Santa Fe, a small village a few miles from the center of town, to meet with the Catholic Kings and solidify the terms of his infamous voyage across the Atlantic. Like I said… a rich history.

Alhambra
Alhambra means “the red one,” it’s easy to see why.
Alhambra Garden.png
The gardens of La Alhambra are vast and breathtaking.

 

Resting in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Granada has an arid climate that fluctuates drastically. If you’re on the sunny side of the street(there is ALWAYS a sunny side) during the day, it’s quite nice. But as the sun dips below the horizon the warm air leaves as quickly as it came and the nighttime temps flirt with the freezing line. For this guy from coastal Southern California, it’s pretty damn cold. Begrudgingly, I had to take advantage of the Black Friday sales and buy a new coat. Tracking down a whole turkey to roast for Thanksgiving was impossible here, but I couldn’t walk half a block without seeing a huge Black Friday sale sign in a storefront window. I guess our consumerist holidays are more profitable to import.

And yes, they have Sierra Nevada mountains here too, no Yosemite or Half Dome though. But they do have tapas, and the best part is… they’re free! You just have to order a beer, or in my case, a soda, and voila, all-you-can-eat appetizers. Drinks cost less than two euro and you don’t even have to tip. Did I mention that you can rent out a one bedroom apartment for less than 300 euro a month? This place has Aaron written all over it.

So here I am in Granada, freezing my ass off while spending almost no money and settling into my first Workaway experience. I’m working and living in a hostel slash English school slash yoga studio called Itinere. The hostel is owned and operated by a sister-brother duo, Sayano and Takashi, who are half Japanese, half Spanish, and some of the nicest people I´ve met on my journey thus far. Their business definitely has an intimate and much welcomed family feel. I work about 20 hours a week teaching English, working in the reception area and sharing cleaning duties with my fellow Workawayers. In two weeks I´ve managed to get assigned just one cleaning shift and have yet to touch a toilet brush, ha! So much for Scrubbing Toilets and Stamping Passports. Annnnnnd now I’ve most certainly jinxed myself and will be cleaning rooms all week, damn it. (Update: obviously,  I got scheduled three cleaning shifts next week).

Cleaning aside, it has been an amazing experience forming bonds with the other Workawayers that I live with. Our dormitory is like a United Nations committee with representatives hailing from South Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, England and of course the great state of California. Isolation from our respective homes, families, friends and familiarities has brought us together in a very short period of time. My Itinere family even chipped in and helped me cook a proper Thanksgiving dinner! Like I said, there were no turkeys to be had, so we settled for two roasted chickens.

Chicken
Master of ceremonies: Carving the scrawny birds

Above all, I have enjoyed teaching English. I’ve learned so much about the people and culture of Andalucía by simply chopping it up with my students. They tell me about their lives and their families and the food they eat, they ask a million questions about California and they make fun of my Mexican Spanish. They explained how the economic troubles in Spain have driven many to pursue higher education while the economy sorts itself out. The public University of Granada, a well respected and very affordable school, is bursting at the seams with over 80,000 students enrolled in its various colleges. Most of my students work part time jobs, take classes all day and come to learn English in the evenings of their own volition. Talk about a long day. They earn those siestas, trust me. My students’ hunger to educate themselves and improve their lives is both admirable and contagious.

When planning my trip, I nearly bypassed Granada entirely, preferring to head straight for Barcelona, a city I already knew and loved. But sometimes our journey seems to plan itself, favoring the path less traveled, and I’m learning that it’s usually best to let it evolve as it pleases. It can be a little scary rolling the dice on an unknown place, but the juice is often worth the squeeze. And this pomegranate juice is really sweet.

Pomegranate
Granada is the Spanish word for pomegranate. The trees are everywhere you look in the beautiful city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City of Light

IMG_1776

Paris.

I had an entire post written about it.

I strung together words about the welcoming people I met and places I visited in the city by the Seine.

I wrote about the art and the cathedrals and the sculptures.

I  described the details of my enchanting evening in Saint-Germain. I wrote about the dinner I shared with new friends. The ambiance was palpable; the conversation, the food, the music… a night I shall never forget. I even got all poetic and whipped out my iPhone during dinner and typed a note about how I felt the ghost of Hemingway swirl around me in the cigarette smoke.

Corny iPhone writing aside, I fell in love with Paris that night.

I also wrote about the warnings I received back in the States before leaving for France.

The French hate Americans.

Parisians are rude.

Pretentious. Stuffy. Arrogant.

Tell them you’re from Canada.

I listened to the warnings and stored them in their proper place, the little file in my brain called “People Are Entitled to Their Opinions, Now Go Out and Form Your Own, Guy.”

But that all changed. No need to make up that complicated story about how my Mexican parents immigrated to Vancouver when I was a baby.

Now, most of my friends on Facebook have a Blue, White and Red filter over their profile pictures. Slacktivism at its finest. But who can blame them? We can all relate to the suffering caused by the senseless atrocities committed on the evening of November 13th. For Americans, the feelings were all too familiar. The disbelief and shock, the tension endured as we waited for news of another attack to break on our television sets.

I was lucky. I boarded a plane to Morocco the evening before 129 innocent people were slain in the coordinated attacks. My hostel, in the heart of Gare du Nord, was a five minute walk from the restaurant La Petit Cambodge, where fourteen people lost their lives. A new friend, Pauline (Popo to her inner circle), a vivacious Parisian with a personality that dwarfs the Eiffel Tower, was at the Stad de France with her boyfriend when the bombs went off. I feared the worst when I first heard the news. I relay my proximity to the massacres of Friday the 13th not for sympathy or some twisted badge of honor. I simply want to explain that I was deeply troubled by the events that place that night. I had friends there. I was worried and scared and disgusted.

Ironically, I found myself in the middle of a very Muslim nation, albeit a very liberal region, when the world first learned of what was going on in Paris. As you can imagine, the warnings from back home quickly changed tune. Anti-Muslim rhetoric flooded my social media accounts at a remarkable pace. People I respect and love wrote words filled with hate, fear and anger the obvious motivators of their prejudice. Once again, I was disgusted.

This site is not meant to be a political or religious platform. It was created as a space to collect my thoughts and experiences as I travel. A place for family and friends to be entertained by my words. To inspire a laugh and perhaps plant a seed of motivation for others to venture out and gain their own perspectives. The lens in which we view others, others being different societies and their respective cultures and customs, should be calibrated through our own personal experiences. This is the aim of my journey.

I have not been on the road for long. But I have been abroad long enough to gather that most humans are strikingly similar. Regardless of creed or nationality, gender or social standing, most people simply want to be happy. Through random acts of violence, terrorists aim to propagate fear and hatred.  They aim to divide us through our self-righteous reactions and emotions. When we help them spread their hate, they win.

If, Antoine Leiris, a man who lost his wife on that fateful night can refuse to hate, so can we. I’ll leave you with his words:

YOU WILL NOT HAVE MY HATRED

Friday night, you took an exceptional life — the love of my life, the mother of my son — but you will not have my hatred. I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls. If this God, for whom you kill blindly, made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife would have been one more wound in his heart.

So, no, I will not grant you the gift of my hatred. You’re asking for it, but responding to hatred with anger is falling victim to the same ignorance that has made you what you are. You want me to be scared, to view my countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You lost. 

I saw her this morning. Finally, after nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as when she left on Friday night, just as beautiful as when I fell hopelessly in love over 12 years ago. Of course I am devastated by this pain, I give you this little victory, but the pain will be short-lived. I know that she will be with us every day and that we will find ourselves again in this paradise of free love to which you have no access.

We are just two, my son and me, but we are stronger than all the armies in the world. I don’t have any more time to devote to you, I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17-months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either.

 

 

 

Lift Off

Annnnnd I’m off!

This post comes to you from the land of fog, black tea and Yorkshire Pudding, which I recently discovered isn’t pudding at all.

‘ello London!

My first foray in Europe landed me in Heathrow Airport on a dreary April morning. As the sun rose, I peered out of the enormous airport window in the direction of London, I could sense the great Western city on the horizon. So close. I’ll be back, I thought.

I was right.

As I hopped on the train from Gatwick to London proper yesterday, I felt like Harry Potter on his way to Hogwarts. Embarrassing, I know. To my dismay they did not hand out any Chocolate Frogs or Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.

So here’s the plan:

3 days in London

3 days in Paris

3 days in Morocco for a surfing safari

After Morocco I fly to Granada, Spain for my first Workaway experience.

I plan to spend a month in Granada and then it’s back to the UK where I have been invited to pass the holidays with my friend and his family in Scotland.

I will be accompanied by Sir Fraser O’Neil of Scotland for the first leg of my trip. Fraz is a great friend from high school, more of a brother really. Fraser was a regular guest in our family home and practically lived in our living room for months at a time. Fortunately for him, my mother always loved the guy, entitling him to unlimited stay on our couch and an all-you-can-eat-pass in her kitchen. Our fraternal bond is personified by a derogatory banter that can prove a bit much for the unacquainted pedestrian.

Example:

After getting lost in the city for hours in search of me and our hostel, Fraser burst into the room, bags in hand, and exclaimed,

“There’s my bloody Wetback! How the hell are ya brother!!?”

“Oh Jesus!” shrieked Chris, a mellow backpacker hailing from Canada that had been napping on his top bunk and apparently wasn’t used to be woken by such blatant racial slurs.

Let the adventures begin.

PS: I lied to you, this post actually comes to you from Paris, France. I have been here for only 24 hours but the City of Lights has been quite impressive thus far. More to come….

 

 

DCIM101GOPRO
DCIM101GOPRO

 

Blue Mournings

When I opened my eyes yesterday morning my insides hurt.

My body ached from head to toe.

I like felt I had just went three rounds in the octagon with Ronda Rousey.

Nausea was a loyal companion all day long, never leaving my side like some damn golden retriever.

I sat glued to the couch for hours watching the Major League Baseball Network, forcing myself to relive the painful details of the season’s final game, over and over and over, as if changing the station meant admitting the season was really over.

Even the weather reflected my grief. A blanket of dark clouds hung low in mourning, blocking the sun, as a cool breeze blew through Los Angeles for the first time in weeks.

God must be a Dodger fan.

Yes, I know… this is a travel blog.

But this blog is also about my mission to live with zeal and passion. Like I’ve said before, the Gap is about “squeezing the juice out of life… every last fucking drop,” and nothing gets my juices flowing like Dodger Baseball.

It may sound silly to you. It’s just a game, you might be thinking. Not for me, not for my family. Baseball, and the Dodgers in particular, bring memories of sweet experiences shared with loved ones. For a group of Angelenos living in the desert of Arizona, the Dodgers became an identity. When I hear the famed broadcaster Vin Scully’s voice, my chest fills with warmth.

You can read more about my love for the Dodgers here: Viva Los Doyers!

So before I made the life altering decision to quit my job and book a one-way ticket to Europe I had to check one thing:  Major League Baseball’s postseason schedule. The November 5th departure date was no coincidence. If the Dodgers would have advanced to the World Series, the last possible game, Game Seven, would have been played on November 4th. I could think of no better send off then witnessing a World Series victory with my brothers and loved ones. The elation would be so great I wouldn’t even need a plane ticket, I would just point my fist in the air and fly off to London like Superman with a Dodger Blue cape.

But the Dodgers lost and I can’t fly.

Even as I sit here, brooding in the darkness of defeat, I am pleased with my decision. I mean, just look at this picture of my brother and at Dodger Stadium for what would prove to be the last game of the season, our level of excitement oozing from the pixels:

 

Mexican Greinkes

 

For three hours Chavez Ravine rocked with emotion. As the game swayed like a pendulum, we cheered in moments of  triumph and prayed to the heavens when all seemed lost, searching for hope in the bats of our diamond heroes.

When our fate was sealed we walked through the parking lot like wandering zombies, hardly exchanging a word.

And that, my friends, is what it’s all about. No, not the zombie apocalypse, the ride. The memories of loss are as vivid as the memories of victory, and I’ll forever recall the day my brother and I went blonde for the Doyers.

Not a bad look right?

There’s always next year. But until then… I think I’ll do a little traveling.

The Breakfast of Raymond K Hessel

I quit my job yesterday.

No, Brad Pitt did not hold a gun to my head and make me do it.

But my first day of liberty was amazing and he was right about my breakfast.

Every morning I start my day with a tall glass of lime water. They say it’s a great way to boost immunity, aid digestion and hydrate your body first thing in the morning. Normally I gulp down the tart tonic, bottoms up, as quickly as possible. But today, unemployed with nowhere to be, I thought, “what’s the rush?”  I inhaled deeply,  filling my nostrils  with the sweet smell of citrus. I tipped back the glass and savored every sensation, chewing the pulp as it entered my mouth. I licked my lips and smiled. I felt like my tonic tasted; fresh, rejuvenated.

To be honest, my oatmeal wasn’t that good this morning but I really wanted to use that Fight Club video so let’s just pretend it was spectacular. I ran out of milk and had to use water, gross. Mexicans love milk in their oatmeal. I once did a survey to verify my hunch. Sure enough, the results in my very official study (which consisted of me going around asking random people “how do you like your oatmeal?”) showed that most Mexicans use milk and Caucasians generally use water. But I digress.

The point is that I have officially started my journey. The Rat Race is in the rearview and it’s time for me to slow down and chew the pulp. I even did a little meditation after eating my mediocre oatmeal. I never thought it would feel so good to be unemployed. Time to start packing!

Scrubbing Toilets and Stamping Passports

I feel your pain sister.
I feel your pain sister.

 

How often do you scrub your toilet?

I hardly ever do.

Something about that little toilet brush just grosses me out.

The poor guy lives behind my toilet, sitting there all day, just waiting to get dipped in poopy water.

No thanks.

Luckily, my roommate doesn’t seem to mind using him.

But what if grabbing that little poop stick and scrubbing my Mexican heart away had larger implications? What if cleaning toilets meant I could live in places like Barcelona or Bali or Rio de Janeiro for close to nothing? Well then pass the latex gloves and prepare your bum for some clean porcelain my foreign friends, I’m about to get down in the bathroom.

And that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.

Hopefully the toilet scrubbing will be minimal, but I’m prepared for anything.

Workway.info is a website that connects individuals with families and facilities that are interested in hosting work volunteers in exchange for room and board. Since hosts are not technically paying their volunteers, no work visas are required. There are tens of thousands of workaway hosts hailing from every region of the world. Each host offers a unique experience based on their needs, here are some examples of hosts I’ve come across in the last few months:

  • A surf camp/hostel in Peru in need of a bartender
  • A family in Barcelona looking for an au pair to assist with their two young (and adorable) daughters
  • Another surf camp in the Spanish Canary Islands in need of a surf instructor and social media guru
  • A hotel on the Greek island of Aegina searching for a receptionist
  • A hostel in Thailand requiring the services of an English instructor
  • An olive farm in Italy searching for extra hands during the harvest

As you can see, the work is varied and the opportunities are endless. Most hosts offer a room and at least one meal a day in exchange for 20 -25 hours of work per week. The rest of the time is yours. Not only are you saving loads of money on lodging and food(the most costly expenses while traveling), but workways offer the opportunity to make connections with your hosts and experience the true essence of your destination. Most travelers on vacation rarely stray off the beaten tourist paths. In return, they pay high dollar for fancy hotels, tours and watered down experiences.

So you’re not making any money?

You can imagine how many times I’ve heard that one. No, I will not be getting paid. But utilizing workaways throughout my travels will allow me to optimize my savings and have experiences I could have never dreamed of back in the States. Take my friend Jessica for example, she quit her job in Los Angeles back in June, jumped on a plane and has been workawaying her way across Europe. You should see the girl’s Facebook page. So far she’s worked on an alpaca farm in France, spent five weeks on a Greek island working in a hotel, visited Paris and Barcelona and is currently building houses out of straw and clay in Romania. Her next stop will be in Mexico when Dos Equis hires her as the Most Interesting Woman in the World. Okay, I made that last one up but I’m sure she’ll be doing something awesome.

Keep your eyes peeled Jessica, I’m coming right behind you.