Street in Quetzaltenango

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, 2008

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On the road to Xela

I’m in Guatemala on an exploration trip. There will be projects in the future, but for now we’re just trying to find out what’s going on.

After an overnight flight to Guatemala City, I made my way across town to a bus headed to Quetzaltenango. Then I got lucky to find a seat in the back — right next to the bathroom, not always a good strategy, but in this case great as I had a window (that could be opened) as we bounced our way 5 hours through the mountains.

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More from St. Petersburg

You will recognize some of these images if you’ve looked at some of the galleries that I posted a few weeks ago. This is a slide show I put together after the trip to Russia in September.

For more information about The Harbor program, you can visit their website. The music for this I stole from Andrew Osenga and Bliss. I hope they’ll forgive me. Go buy their records. You won’t regret it.

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A Strange Tour

I have been fortunate enough to travel fairly regularly over the past few years. Enough so, in fact, that I have pretty much given up on buying souvenirs. There are only so many places in one house that you can put little useless knickknacks. The wooden giraffe goes on the windowsill. The tiny little painted box from Russia (too small to hold anything) goes on the bookshelf. The orthodox icon from Romania next to the Russian box.

Quite a while ago, I started dealing with this problem by collecting small rocks or handfuls of sand. This seemed like a better way to remember the place, especially considering my accessory interest in geology. I’ve developed a pretty good collection by now which represents some of the places I’ve visited, although not all (the pebble I grabbed from inside the Great Pyramid in Giza has somehow gone missing — I’m trying to decide if I should be worried about this — and I have nothing from my several trips to South America).

All of this has resulted in a shelf full of baby food jars containing sand, which you are welcome to examine if you ever come over to my house, which leads me to the geeky part of this post. Last night I was playing around with Google Earth (rapid travel! no pesky jetlag!) and made up a partial list of the locations where I’ve gathered samples (yes, for many of these I also gathered GPS coordinates — how embarrassing).

So, while this may not be at all interesting to anyone else, I am presenting today the Google Earth file (download Google Earth here) which will allow you to tour along with me to a few places in the world which have been significant to me and from which I have brought home a small piece. So I present to you, the Sand Tour (make sure your “Terrain” option is turned on).

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Gallery: St Petersburg, Russia

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St. Petersburg is a complex city. There are hard surfaces and sharp edges everywhere. Beauty and sophistication. Warm pastels. Darkness. Closed faces.

We walked around the corner to the door of our apartment and a man was lying in the gutter, his head on the curb. It was the middle of the afternoon. He was dressed well and wearing good shoes. No one was paying any attention. Should we help? There was the feeling on the street of studied indifference, of some inscrutable narrative being played out. Why? What were we missing? I stepped carefully, holding my breath, half expecting a trapdoor to open under my feet or something to explode. We stood nearby for awhile, unsure, and then decided to go inside and lay our things down. Climbing to the 5th floor, we looked out the window and he was gone. Where did he go? Had I imagined him? Like dark water, the city seemed to have pulled him under, not a ripple left behind. He stayed in my mind all evening.

Here are a few of my pictures (another gallery from a previous trip can be viewed here.)

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Gallery: Courage

Courage gallery thumbnailI just returned from a trip that included some time in St. Petersburg, Russia. I don’t write very much about the work that I’m involved with on this blog, but I wanted to share these pictures. These are some of the kids that I spent time with last month. They let me intrude in their lives in a variety of ways, one of which was to take portraits of them. Maybe it’s just me, but I like these pictures and I think they’re alright just as photographs. But there’s more to it than that.

Each of the kids in these photos has a story to tell which includes more difficulty, pain, and struggle than most of us ever will face. Each of them have been abandoned (or worse) by parents, survived the Russian orphanage system, and are working to make something better of their lives. I felt privileged to work with them. The photos in this gallery are dedicated to them and to their courage.

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Antlers and Bon Jovi

panzio.jpgSpotty internet and a tight schedule have kept me from writing here, but this morning I am compelled to use a few moments while at breakfast…

We are in Hungary now, and have been for a week, with a short jaunt into Serbia. The town is called Zalaegerszeg, which is fun to say – “zalla egg er zeg”. I’m sitting drinking a mean cup of coffee in the dining room of our panzio, which is a cross between a motel and a bed and breakfast, or in this case a hunting lodge. We’ve got antlers on the wall, Bon Jovi “Living On A Prayer” playing on the radio, and wireless internet at the breakfast table. How great is that?

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Traveling: Russia

I’ve been on the road again for the past week and a half. Not that you would have noticed from my track record here. But I’m spending two weeks in Russia and then another in Hungary. I have not had much access to the internet while here, so I haven’t been able to post, but I hope that will change before long. In any case, hello from St. Petersburg.

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Driving North

I left Southern California at 4:30pm on Thursday. Over the San Gabriel Transverse Range and down into the Mojave. Unfortunate that I chose to make a 1000 mile overland drive on the hottest week of the summer. I stopped to get food in Palmdale. Too hot to leave the dog in the car. Too hot to take him out. But something must be done. So he skipped across the blazing hot parking lot to a place in the shade while I went inside.

An hour later the highway changed numbers (14 to 395) and I’m in Red Rock Canyon. The wind was incredibly hot and dry. We only stopped for a short time. Shadow, almost blown over by the wind, looked around in surprise. What kind of place is this?

One quick stop in Olancha to take pictures and chase rabbits. I took the pictures. The dog chased the rabbits. The sunset was beautiful. Suddenly the trip started to be an adventure. Back on the road, the air was beginning to soften. Pulling into Lone Pine, the open windows brought the scent of water and green grass and my head spun with delight. Have you ever smelled something that made you sad and happy and dizzy all at the same time? Strangely, my first impulse was to somehow record the experience. Camera wouldn’t do it. Neither would the audio recorder. How do you record a scent? In this day of gadgets, the smell of a thing is still unconquered. It is the most immediate of experiences. All along this drive, I found this again and again. There is no way I can ever share those moments. You had to be there.

Bishop for the night. Super 8. Terrible. Please, I never want to stay there again.

In the morning, the front right tire is flat. Perfectly appropriate finish to my stay. I’m up and ready to go, wanting to count off the miles before the sun starts to blaze. Instead I change to the donut tire and find a tire shop. They will open at 8am. It is now 6:25. So I sit still and listen to see what it is I am to learn from this. Finally by 9, the tire is fixed and I am back on the road.

The road climbs upward and eventually back down again to Mono Lake, a beautiful and alien lake. The Caltrans Adopt-A-Highway sponsor sign says “Another June Lake Liberal”. I feel like visiting June Lake. I weave my way through the sagebrush down to the edge of the water. Tufa formations. The salty water is beset with flies. The shoreline is black with them. The dog sniffs at them and then jumps back in surprise. The sun is hot. Time to drive.

Now the 395 crosses into the border of Nevada. The sky goes white hot and I swear to myself that I will do my best to never visit Carson City again, much less Reno, for the rest of my life. There is nothing there. 106 degrees Fahrenheit. No reason to ever go there again.

Crossing back into California, I forget to look for the sign marking the border. But suddenly I am noticing that things are cleaner, the road is better, the signs are in good order. I realize I am already over the line and, for some reason, breath a sigh of relief. It is nice to feel at home.

At Susanville I decided to take a detour. I won’t spend the time to write about Mt. Lassen other than to suggest that, if you are driving in the area, you take the time. I mean it.

Late afternoon, driving flat out and fast for Alturas. The long slow summer evening stretches out across the valleys and make me feel peaceful and in love with the land. More of the smell of dirt and sand and water and summer. Ash Creek Wildlife Area feels like a holy place. The barn owls peer down from the rafters through the murky darkness. The avocets stalk gracefully on the mudflats. Finally it is dark and I am safe at home at the Rimrock Motel.

In the morning, I climb northward out of the valley into the high desert of southern Oregon. Lakeview is small. The people who live here must either never drive their cars or they drive them for miles and miles. There are no other options.

And finally to Bend which seems a little like a heaven on earth. The evening skyline is one of the best. I’ll try to post a picture of it. Any town which features “floating the river” as one of its main attractions on a summer afternoon has my vote. And the fact that as you float, you float right past the back door of the Gap makes you realize that this is a different kind of place. Here they use SUV’s to carry their kayaks, not to ensure that they have lane changing rights on the evening commute.

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