Travels With Karimé

Buenos Aires, Argentina
November 2011

Tonight I white-boy danced with a beautiful tango dancer, while Karimé took pictures and laughed her head off. An evening of necessary robotourism after a mad dash across the city to make the curtain.

We spent the day on our feet — Retiro station, Recoleta, Palermo, and Evita’s tomb in a cemetery of generals who died with way too much money. Karimé thinks she could live in a house the size of these tombs, plans to move into one someday. The rest of the afternoon, we swanned about art museums in the better side of town.

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The woman in the waiting room is anxious. She leans on her cane and looks across at the friend who drove her to the doctor’s office today. She is around sixty and heavyset, with swollen ankles. She has the kind of coppery hair with gray at the temples that betrays repeated hair coloring that is beginning to fade.

“Your ex-husband had this same operation on his back, didn’t he?” she asks her friend. She speaks with an accent, not Spanish, but possibly Greek, Italian, or Portuguese. Her friend nods but her brow tightens. The reminder seems to be a sore subject with her.

“Was he able to lift things afterward?” the woman asks her friend. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to lift things.”

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The Politics

Cambodia’s government arrested opposition leader Kem Sokha for treason this month. It accused him of conspiring with the United States to undermine the government of long-time prime minister Hun Sen. Kem Sokha, the leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was arrested without a warrant by more than 100 police officers armed with assault rifles.

News reports say Hun Sen seeks to consolidate his power ahead of national elections next year. The Cambodia National Rescue Party was expected to mount a serious challenge to Hun Sen, following the party’s “unprecedented gains” in local elections in June.

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Why the Maya?

Three decades, three trips along the Ruta Maya. México’s Yucatán; Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize; Chiapas and back to Yucatán. I suppose I should explain.

I owe my interest to my teacher, William Evans. Dr. Evans was a poet, a novelist, and a farmer. In the summer of my junior year of college, he was my creative writing professor. He didn’t hold class per se. Students visited his office once a week to drop off short stories and hear what he thought of what they had written the previous week.

Dr. Evans was critical and encouraging, generous with his time. He always told me to write something every day, to write for at least one hour. Every day I don’t write something I feel I’ve let him down.

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México Coda: Safety

November 2016

People in the U.S. believe México isn’t safe. They hear tales of drug gangs gunning people down in the streets, kidnapping people for ransom, and having shoot-outs with the police and military.

Such concerns made me wary of returning to México for a long time. When you talk to people in México, you learn that the truly dangerous places are well known: the areas in the north of the country leading to the U.S. border, and the Veracruz region along the Gulf of México. Everyone here will tell you that.

I felt safe traveling in Chiapas and Yucatán. People were friendly and tolerant of my rusty Spanish. Even driving around, I felt secure, if not sure of where I was going.

Highlights: Chiapas and Yucatán, México

November 2016

Mérida’s little airport could use some signs. How I could end up with three other people in the wrong part of the A gates is beyond me. In my defense, it was five in the morning.

Terminal 2 in México City is a much better organized departure point than the chaos of Terminal 1 in which I had arrived eleven days before. I had only one hour to make my connection today. I made it with fifty-five minutes to spare.

It’s been twenty years since I last was in México. Much has changed. The airport is more modern, in places. The country is more modern, too. There seems to be a more stable middle class, although there’s still much poverty. Services are better than I recall.

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Mérida, México
November 2016

I tend to leave souvenir shopping for the last day or two. I’m too busy traveling and seeing things at other times. And I don’t want to accumulate too many things early in the trip, especially if they are breakable. Karimé’s shot glasses are definitely a last-day purchase.

The drawback to this strategy becomes apparent when I reach the last destination and realize that those great jaguar figurines that were so plentiful in the street market at San Cristóbal de las Casas or in the artisan market at the Palenque ruins can’t be found in the markets and souvenir shops of Mérida. I know just where one should go on a credenza in my living room.

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