Cockroach

There you were, naked. As the rain started falling, I knew this meant the end of one of us. If I could survive a nuclear holocaust, you’ll be damn sure I’ll survive you.

At first I tried to escape, like those who came before. But it was useless. The walls around me, the water rising – it was now or never.

I felt the fear creep in, but I would’t let it win. Not tonight. Not me.

I ran for what felt like an eternity, sailing through the endless ocean. There you were, at last. As your shadow darkened my eyes and victory felt closer than ever before, I f-

Dude, the cockroach in the shower tried to attack me. I’m changing hostels tomorrow.

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Sea Horses

“Where are you headed, chele? I’ll get you a ride!”

It’s 5am and I’m waiting for a bus on my way to the port of Moyogalpa. A dog barks loud enough to seem twice its tiny size, waking up the lady that runs the vegetarian restaurant. She comes out of her house smiling, offering me a cigarette while she calls her brother to ask him if he can give me a ride. Only here, I think to myself.

I’ve spent the last 3 days of my 10 days stay on the island of Ometepe at a small town called Santo Domingo. Days go by walking along a shore hit by winds strong enough to bring down tightly tied hammocks, interrupted by seemingly wild horses and cows that casually drink from the waves of fresh water.

sea horses 2

I couldn’t make this up.

The island stands still in a lake so large it takes several hours to cross by ferry – granted, it’s not exactly a 2015 model, but this thing is MASSIVE. It houses not one but TWO volcanoes, one of them still active. Getting here feels like landing at the island from that show Lost, minus the polar bears.

IT'S A LAKE.

it’s a lake. A LAKE.

My first week was spent on the opposite shores of Santo Domingo, in another tiny enclave called Merida. From there, you can hike one of the volcanoes to get to a crater lake where it’s freezing and raining because you’re surrounded by an almost-permanent cloud. It’s kinda like hiking Mordor with no ring.

This is a strange, amazing place. Naturally, a place of such singularity can only attract peculiar characters. Only in the past 72 hours I’ve met TWO couples of 60 year old backpackers (both bought me beers), a runner that came here to enter a 100km race that requires you to hike both volcanoes (one of them twice) and a local tour guide that fluently speaks SEVEN languages but has never left the country, defying every theory I have about language learning.

Back in Merida, I met a German dude who left his town 4 years ago for what was supposed to be a month-long trip and has never gone back. He traveled for a while with an Italian personal trainer who abandoned the shallow lands of Miami to work with fat people all over Central America. He says it’s more rewarding and I believe him.

I’ve crossed paths with the same British scholar 3 times, each time at a different and extremely distant point of the island. He happens to come from the Sandwich Islands – yes, where the actual word originated – which I find hilarious.

As I get to the port, I meet again with the fine vessel that brought me here: a two-story boat made of wood that leaks enough water to have a bottom floor pool about 4-inches deep (fear not! I’m wearing flip-flops this time).

aboard the "Karen María"

aboard the “Karen María”

I think about the weird, interesting discoveries I’ve made on this island.

Ometepe is unique because it’s not trying to be so. Like art, it’s only interesting because it doesn’t feel forced. It just is. As Nicaragua plans to build a second inter-oceanic canal through this very lake backed by Chinese capital, I can’t help but wonder about the island’s soon-to-be floating Asian neighbors and the changes they will bring.

I came here to travel, but mostly to travel within. I had grown tired of the music business I encountered in NY. It felt like entering the same rat race I had worked so hard to leave behind, this time packaged in a form of “art” that seemed far from it.

I feel different as I leave. Like I’ve left something behind. Not sure yet of what it is, but it’s more than the sea horses.

there were cows too.

there were cows too.

Twice A Whore

I spent the past few days with an Argentinian couple that I met while traveling. Among the many great things that came out of their mouths, I’d like to focus in this gem of a profanity:

“Hijo de la remil puta que lo remil parió!!”

If you’re told this, it basically implies that your mom is a whore – actually, she’s a thousand whores. Therefore, you’re naturally born to a whore a thousand times.

Since they add “re” as a prefix to every other word, and “re” means twice, you’re basically a son of not one but two thousand whores.

South American cursing is all very colorful, but argentines win the Grammy by a long shot.  They “re”win.

Dating Chávez

“Venezuela? Don’t worry brother, this one’s on me!”

It’s amazing how much clout you get when you’re a Venezuelan in Nicaragua. My country’s apparently limitless benevolence for the Nicaraguan people has gotten me plenty of smiles, coffees and beers for free.

Such aid comes largely in the form of bold amounts of cash and oil that are largely unaccounted for at both ends and that spread through Nicaragua in rather discretionary ways. I presume some sort of opposition exists, but out in the countryside I haven’t met a single person that doesn’t support the Sandinista movement. Since all Venezuelan goodies seem to be delivered directly to (Nicaraguan president and life-long revolutionary) Daniel Ortega’s living room, my passport can open many doors here.

One of those doors belonged to Marvin, a coffee grower in the beautiful area of Miraflor, in northern Nicaragua. Guests of his are greeted by a large 2015 calendar with a dramatic image of no other than Hugo Chávez, framed by many of his self-proclaimed-famous quotes.

at least I could look at this instead of Chávez on the wall.

at least I could look at this instead of Chávez on the wall.

It’s important to note that Chavez died more that two years ago, forcing him to unwillingly stop his duties as permapresident of Venezuela. The fact that calendars with his figure are being produced in a foreign country so long after his passing speaks highly of his influence and reach.

Thanks to my almighty visa, I got a rare chance to discuss seriously and openly with people that support Chávez without risking death every time I said I objected him. I went through nights and beers discussing politics with people that actually fought in the Nicaraguan revolution. Having spent years hiding and fighting in the open forest, sleeping under the rain and risking their lives with every step gives these guys a completely different perspective than the one I find when I talk to Venezuelan chavistas whose only reference of fighting for an ideal is mindlessly repeating the words of El Comandante Eterno to get their share of the cake.

Some of these Nicaraguans support the current administration, some don’t. But none of them believe in Daniel or any other president as a Messiah. They understand the power and importance of taking matters in your own hands and being responsible about it. Although I’ll never support war for any ideal, I deeply respect these people’s courage for standing for what they believe in the way they did.

Growing up in Venezuela gives you a very particular outlook on life. Most things there don’t work, and when they do they do so in ways that defy any logic and make absurdity the norm. You only become suspicious when things actually make sense.

Dating deserves its own chapter in dysfunctional social dynamics. Tropical relationship will make you question sanity at short and regular intervals. Where do you think telenovelas come from? Hairdressers fighting ninja style are just a reflection of the way close human interactions are handled there.

Out of all the deranged relationships I had growing up, one deserves particular attention. It was filled with the expected whatthefuckness, but she was also bipolar to the bone and a master of responsibility disguise. The drama volcano would erupt at any given moment, taking no hostages and then blaming me for the disaster.

It took me years to leave all that behind. Just when I thought I was clear of all debris, I started dating in English. After a rather long streak of romantic debacles I realized that my ex wasn’t the only one to blame. Although I still think she’s batshit crazy, I now see how much of what happened was also my fault. In the US, I turned out to be the drama queen.


There is power in perspective. Seeing a poster of Chávez felt like these guys were praising my crazy ex without knowing the truth about her, but these meetings also provided me with many laughs, generous gifts that I received with gratitude and a different outlook on my county’s future, present and past. By the same token, I’m sure Marvin is now more cautious about his praise for El Comandante Presidente (although he probably won’t take that calendar down).

IMG_5826

even horses love Sandino here.

This power doesn’t work by itself, though. When I find myself arguing to make a point no matter what, I realize I’ve already lost. Open-minded dialogue has proven to be the most effective way to make sustainable improvements happen, even if it means acknowledging that I’ve been wrong all along.

A former teacher said, on the topic of composing, that “you can only suck less”. I think this applies to everything in life. No matter what we believe, we’re always a little bit wrong and that’s probably a good thing to remember.

Window Seating

“It’s 30 Córdobas”

That’s like… 1 dollar and some cents. A cup of coffee in the US can take you on a 2 hour trip through three climate zones up to the highest point of Miraflor, a natural reserve in the mountains of northern Nicaragua. After several days of heated hikes and beaches under spotless skies, the cold cloud forest is (ironically) heart warming.

Marvin takes me for a gringo and offers me his window seat. He’s even more enthusiastic after learning that I hail from the blessed lands of Chávez. I take his offer with gratitude until we start moving – the burning feeling in my arm reminds me of the beach and I realize that he wasn’t just being kind. Still, his joyful stories are well worth the heat. An hour later, I’m left with an empty seat to my right and an invitation to stay at his farm on my way down. I take both.

window seating

window seating

“You would’ve gotten lost, right?”

Darling (that’s her name) storms through cedar trees and neighbor’s fences until we get to her mom’s house. She’s one of Angela’s 10 kids – four of them live here and the rest are scattered all over the country. Her husband is in Managua and won’t come back until the end of the week.

I’m spending a couple nights at her house as a guest. Hosting cheles (Nica slang for foreigners) like me is one of the pillars of Miraflor’s rural economy, the other one being coffee. They charge about $20 for a full day, which includes a private room, 3 meals and insane amounts of brewed beans. You can find several co-ops in the nearby town of Estelí that can arrange this for little or no charge.

I spend the next two days hiking around the cloud forest. OMG THIS PLACE IS GORGEOUS I CAN’T DEAL WITH IT. My walks are suddenly and often interrupted by bursts of intense rain and cows that stare at me like I owe them money. Days start early here – most men work at a potato farm an hour away and have to be there by 6 30 am. Angela stays home cooking while her youngest son pretends to know the grounds to show me around and we both get lost in result. At night, water pours down non-stop and coffee follows a similar pattern.

that's one serious cow.

that’s one serious cow.

The after dinner ritual is to sit in the porch and talk. The stress of NY seems as distant as the hills I saw earlier, but not everyone here is as relaxed as me. At night, there’s also stories of the war.

I planned to end this post on a happy note, with joyful tales of Marvin, dancing horses and the gringos that un-invited me to a coffee tasting. The hills of Miraflor stand as fierce competitors in the race to most beautiful places ever seen by me. But as a sat in a gorgeous square of Granada to write, surrounded by kids playing and pastries known as “the oven things”, the guy sitting to my right suddenly broke in tears. Today, his brother would have been one year older. He died at the house behind us fighting for the revolución.

Miraflor

Miraflor, free of war for now.

War is a stupid thing. Dead brothers will linger forever in Julio’s square strolls. Lost kids darken Angela’s nights every day. Missing neighbors make Marvin’s coffee bitter even if he smiles about it. All for someone else’s interests, somebody else’s stupid needs.

It’s not worth it. No ideal is worth 10 years of Nicaraguans killing Nicaraguans. No creed justifies 17 dead in Paris. I don’t care what you believe in, killing others over it is not the answer.

Art Is A Different Kind Of Street

A few months ago I was fired from producing an album weeks short of wrapping it up. The reasons remain very much unclear but they seemed mostly unrelated to music. Still, IT SUCKED. This came appropriately timed in the middle of a major life purpose crisis, forcing me to seriously second guess my career choice to the point where I considered quitting.

It wasn’t the first time I felt like that. Self-boxing is my national sport, and in times of emotional drought these matches are far from an exception. I just didn’t know where the feeling came from.

My Middle School Spanish teacher said that communication was a two way street and I believed her because she was tall. I was only 11 years old ­- that might explain my bizarre judging of truth based on anatomy ­- but I still stand by her words. Someone speaks, someone listens. A connection is made. Unless you’re Fidel Castro, information goes both ways.

Being a language, music can be understood in similar terms. But the substance is way more complex. It involves emotions, which makes the interactions very subtle and often very personal. Someone gives, someone receives. A connection is made. This is also a two way street, of course, but the exchanges can take many many forms. (I know this because I’m tall).

After distilling enough anger to out-­rage this kid, it dawned on me that there was something wrong with my approach to music. I was angry because I had been deprived of the opportunity to receive from an interaction where I had given a whole lot, and I cared WAY too much about that.

I leaned heavily on expectations – some I deemed good, some were not that swell. Regardless of their nature, this dynamic had become extremely unhealthy. I had to fix it, or I had to quit.

A friend of mine once bought me a rear view mirror FOR MY MOUNTAIN BIKE. This is as useful as a motorcycle ashtray. Still, she expected nothing in return. Gifts ­- honest ones at least ­- are emotionally self-sustained. You’re content just by giving them. A connection is also made, but a very different one. Reciprocity is deeply appreciated but not expected. It’s a different kind of street.

Music is a language, but it is also gift. I’m not talking about a gift in the way your mom thinks you’re a “gifted” singer and OMG I can’t believe you haven’t been “discovered” yet ­- no. I mean a gift in the mountain bike rear view mirror way. You’re just happy you can give it.

As I start to think of music in these terms, my expectations have changed radically and my relationship with creativity has improved dramatically. I find myself caring less and less about the outcome and more and more about the process.

(I’ve produced plenty of motorcycle ashtrays since then)

Music is a gift.

Music To Wash Vegetables

“Yeah, it’s like EDM. It has to be sung though. You down?”

I know nothing about EDM. I consider myself a way below average lyricist. So naturally, I take the gig.

Fast-forward a few days. Contract arrives, I sign, I’m set. Let’s write.

But HOW?

Let’s do the music first. At least I don’t suck at that.

I scan through random references online. Binge on YouTube like there’s no tomorrow. Rihanna, Ellie Gould, Avicii, Pitbull – that “related videos” list is getting POUNDED. I take no hostages.

I make a KILLER beat. I’m gonna be the next Tiesto. I kill.

I listen to it the morning after. It sucks. Worthless.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

About a week later, I manage to make a half decent track. Beer ensues.

I have never thought of myself as a lyricist. I may write prose, I may write comedy, but lyrics? No man. That shit is too personal. That’s why I use notes ­- so no one knows.

I know my creative process. I need to find something that I care about way more than the fear of writing words to a song. Being broke helps but it’s surprisingly not enough.

I set out to use comedy, my greatest ally. I will write funny lyrics. But it must be a secret. This music is supposed to be serious. Let’s go.

I’m making breakfast. An omelette. I chop some tomatoes. I chop an onion. It hits me. I’ll write about the onion. I’ll write about the pain of the onion. 
I’ll write about a masochist onion that loves to be sautéed. I’ll call it: “Cut Me Deep”.

I’ve found a system, you guys. I have it. I’m a lyricist. Probably not a good one, but at least one that has fun.


Cut Me Deep

Cut me with your blade

Slice me open everyday

Don’t pretend you’re crying

I know you like to play this game

Take away my layers

Cut me open once again

Don’t pretend you’re crying

You know I like to play this game

You’re cold

You’re like steel

You cut

My skin deep

It’s hot

I’m burning

I love

How this feels

Will you cut me again with your blade

Will you thrown me again in the heat

Cuz I know that the pain will soon fade

And I like when it burns me so deep

Will you do do this again tomorrow

Will you cry while I burn in the flame

Yeah I know that the fire will go low

Cut me deep and then burn me again