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38 years
Traveling is my passion and photography tends to be a good companion activity for that passion. After returning to Albuquerque from a two-year traveling stint through South America, Southeast Asia, India and Nepal, I decided to dive into the city's thriving arts scene. I was lucky enough to land a role after my first audition for The Vortex Theater's production of The Motherf**ker with the Hat. I had a blast and I hope to continue exploring other artistic outlets, including photography.
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Funny, inspiring, and disturbing stories of wanderlust

When Food Fights Back: Eating Iguana on Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh Trail

Monday, 30 May 2016 05:28

I jabbed at Bob with the tip of my knife. “Are you okay?” Bob did not move. The beautiful Vietnamese waitress standing next to me giggled and gracefully ran her hands down the silk ao dai tightly hugging her svelte curves. “Bob cannot hear,” she said. “He is prepared for you.” In one swift motion, she grabbed the iguana off the table and sliced him into eight pieces. I stared at Bob’s dismembered legs, torso, head, and tail as they landed gently on a bed of salad greens. She turned her gaze toward me, brought her long, slender fingers to her mouth, and coquettishly rolled her eyes as if to say, “Oops, did I do that?” On her way back to the kitchen, she paused, turned around, and mouthed the words, “Bon appetite.” Chris looked stunned. In the two weeks we had been traveling together through the Mekong Delta, that expression of bewilderment and expectation never quite completely left his face. It gave the impression that he was about to say something really important, but never got around to it. We had met when I pulled up to a roadside food stand near Ho Chi Minh City. While he waited for his bus, I chowed down on pho and listened as he explained that he was writing articles about exotic dishes for his college newspaper in Quebec. “I’ve heard they eat grilled rat, roasted sparrows, and bird’s nest soup in the Mekong,” he whispered in the conspiratorial tone of an alien abductee describing cavity probes. “You had me at grilled rat,” I said. “Screw your bus, ride with me!” On my small moped, Don Efraín Quixote and Sancho Chris Panza set out in search of culinary adventures. Co-traveling on a moped was challenging. When he would get on my nerves, I threatened to leave him in the next village, but then he would look through his book of handwritten notes and say something along the lines of, “I think the next village serves snake bile in rice wine.” “Snake bile in rice wine, you say?” I would ask, my mouth watering. “Fine, we’ll stick together until the next village but then we’re parting ways for sure.” And so it went for two weeks. On our way back to Ho Chih Minh City, I got a tip on a secret restaurant. It was hard to understand my source’s accent, but I think she said they served horse penis. “Make you strong,” she said, bending her arm upward at the elbow while eying my crotch. We followed her directions to the restaurant. “We’re here for special food,” I told the waitress who came to our table. “Ah! I understand,” she said with a smirk. “Follow me.” She led us through a door and down what I thought was a very narrow, long hallway. Behind me, I felt Chris tugging at my shirt. “Look up,” he whispered. I looked up and saw the moon; we were in an alley. We arrived at a locked door. From the other side we could hear shrieks, barks, and howls. The waitress turned around and with a grin slowly asked, “Are you sure?” Chris and I nodded. She unlocked the door and we stepped in. My stupefied look matched Chris’s. “Where are we?” I asked. “Is this a pet shop?” “It is your menu,” she giggled. Tanks, cages, pens, and crates containing creatures I had only seen in magazines filled the small room. Chris and I deliberated on what we should order. “Iguanas aren’t endangered,” I reasoned. Pointing at the feistiest iguana, I told the waitress, “We’ll take that one. And we’ll name him Bob.” That night Bob got his revenge. Between the explosions erupting from multiple orifices of my body, I writhed naked on the shower floor of my dingy hotel room. When the cold chills got to be too much, I would turn on the hot water and let it wash over me until I lost consciousness once again. Eventually, my dry heaves and groans woke up my neighbor. He knocked on my door and yelled something in Vietnamese. I wrapped a towel around my waist and hobbled over to crack the door open. The tiny, old man burst into my room past me with surprising agility and quickly scooped out goop from a small jar. Before I could stop him, he began rubbing it underneath my bellybutton so vigorously that the towel loosened and fell to the floor. I stood there naked, wet, and woozy; too consumed with fighting back an imminent bowel eruption to fend off the decrepit, vibrating hand. That’s when I heard the ungodly sound coming from behind me. It took me a moment to realize it was a human shriek. “What the hell!” Chris yelled in horror, from the doorway. “Is there nothing you won’t try!!!” Eating Iguana in Vietnam Note to reader: eating iguana in Vietnam is a eat at your own risk proposition. The post When Food Fights Back: Eating Iguana on Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh Trail appeared first on Aimless Vagabond's Short Stories - Disturbing, Inspirational Travel Tales.

Male Pruning, Celebrity, and the Greener Grasses of Africa

Tuesday, 22 March 2016 18:47

Note: African circumcision practices vary by tribe and region, but it is a male rite of passage in many East African tribes. The room darkened as the sun dipped behind the lush hills surrounding the shores of Lake Bunyonyi, making it even more difficult for me to see the cue ball resting atop the derelict billiard table’s frayed felt. I took aim, while the small group of villagers that came to watch me, the muzungo, observed and commentated in one of the multiple languages spoken in this area of Uganda. The bartender lit a candle, pawed at her hefty breasts with one hand and used the other to pat the braids on her head to relieve the itching. She giggled and whispered something to my opponent. “She said if you win, she makes a baby with you,” he interpreted. I looked her way and in the candlelight caught a smile slash across her dark face. “Victor, you don’t have to translate every single thing they say about me,” I said, trying to hide my annoyance. I had sucked down the contents from two plastic pouches of waragi, the local moonshine, and my diplomatic patience was running as low as my sobriety. Being granted instant celebrity just for showing up somewhere has its advantages, but the constant scrutiny is not easy to get used to, especially when hearing things like: “They said your feet and hands are very small and your chest is very big and they want to know if all muzungos smell strange like you. Also, is it true muzungos have hair on you asses?” After losing the game, and disappointing my would-be baby mama, I asked Victor if we could go drink somewhere without a crowd gathered to gawk at me. In the dark, he led me on a hilly trail serving as the village’s main street. I tried, and utterly failed, to maneuver past the many potholes and rocks jutting out of the dirt, while silhouettes of women carrying huge jugs of water on their heads gracefully sauntered past me. Every time I stumbled, I could hear explosions of laughter and gibberish erupt out of the darkness. “They are saying you are drunk,” Victor said. “Yeah, they’re very perceptive… but that’s not why I’m stumbling,” I groaned. “How do you people see in the dark?” “Muzungos walk like zombies,” he stomped his feet on the ground. “You cannot walk in the dark like that. For now, just use your phone light and let’s go for a short call.” A short call is code for taking a piss. We stood side-by-side on a ledge of a cliff overlooking the lake and unzipped. “Point the light this way,” he said. As I did, the light caught a stream arching over and behind his head, nearly twice his height. “Now you try,” he said. “I’m sure I don’t have your talents, but I’ll give it a shot,” I slurred. I pointed skyward, pushed the jet out as hard as I could, and braced myself to be sprayed in the face, but to my surprise it was easy to clear my head, which left me wondering how this party trick had never occurred to me in college. “Why aren’t you circumcised?” He asked. “Because my mother didn’t believe that babies come equipped with spare parts that need to be hacked off.” “They say it makes it grow. An American doctor did mine last year for free.” “Those do-gooders are butchers. No different than the religious colonizers staking their claim on African souls. Pruning is for trees and from the looks of it,” I gestured downward, “it doesn’t do much for growing penises.” He looked down, laughed, and said, “But at least now I can’t get HIV.” I cringed at his words, which I knew were probably not said in jest. “You’re depressing me. Let’s go drink more and talk less.” After shaking our pruned and non-pruned members off, we continued our walk until we arrived at a hut not much bigger than a typical Western playpen. I followed Victor as he ducked into the doorway and took a seat on one of the benches against the wall. Once my eyes adjusted further to the dark, I could make out three men and two women huddled in conference, obviously discussing me. One of them said something to Victor and they all laughed. “She said …” “Victor, please! No more translating about how much I stink or how weirdly I walk or how… Just order more of that home brew stuff for us… and another Bell’s.” As I gulped down my beer, a chicken came in and started pecking at the dirt floor around my sandals, followed by a naked toddler who crawled over to me and began rubbing his cheek against my leg. “He’s not used to seeing hairy legs,” Victor laughed. The lady talking to him got up and handed me a 2,000 shilling note. Victor chimed in, “I know you don’t want me to translate, but she says she wants to buy you another Bells beer because you’re a guest, but she doesn’t have enough money, so she hopes you can pay the other 1,000. Also, she wants to ask you how things are different here from your home.” I thought about it for a while, then shooed the chicken away, picked up the giggling, naked baby, and said, “The grass is greener here.” – Names and situations are changed to protect the innocent, guilty and pruned. Note: East African circumcision for males is a rite of passage in some tribes’ cultures. The post Male Pruning, Celebrity, and the Greener Grasses of Africa appeared first on Aimless Vagabond's Short Stories - Disturbing, Inspirational Travel Tales.

Learning to Run Kenyan Style

Tuesday, 22 March 2016 01:17

We’re not going to make it!” I yell into Babu’s ear so he can hear me over the revved-up sputtering of his tuk-tuk’s engine. He expertly maneuvers all three wheels of his tiny vehicle between buses, semis, and pedestrians. “Just trust,” he says. For added reassurance, he flashes his brilliant, toothy smile my way. We speed past hundreds of cars inching forward in Mombasa’s morning rush hour. Even by Kenyan standards, I am running late. Really late! My bus was scheduled to leave to Nairobi a half-hour ago and we are still ten minutes away from the bus station. Babu hops his tuk-tuk onto the narrow median that tenuously protects us from oncoming traffic, although at this point, there is really nothing “oncoming” about it. Traffic in all directions has halted to a complete stop. “You cannot miss your bus!” he yells. “It is very difficult to get a seat during the Christmas holiday.” He spots a police officer up ahead and quickly drops his tuk-tuk back onto the street. “You have to alight and run,” he tells me. “If the bus has left the bus station, keep running. It could not have gone far in today’s horrible traffic.” Kenyans always seem surprised by current traffic conditions, which is strange because encountering heavy traffic in Kenyan cities is as surprising as, say, finding that water is wet. “Thanks, Babu.” I put a 200 shilling note in his hand, snatch my two bags, and start to cross the street to run on the sidewalk. “No!” Babu motions me back. “You must run on this,” he shouts, points at the median. “Too many people on the sidewalk. You must catch the bus before it reaches the second roundabout. It will move very fast after that!” I start my sprint in the hot, humid heat, moving quickly on the median until it ends beneath my sandals. I continue running in the middle of the street, dodging motorcycle taxis and weaving between cars and peanut vendors until I arrive at the bus station, dripping wet with sweat. “It left 20 minutes ago,” the doorman tells me, pointing down the road. “Run fast! Catch it before the second roundabout.” On the street, cars have begun moving again, adding deadly obstacles to my course. A matatu with the words “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” emblazoned on its front windshield honks at me and someone yells something in Swahili. From the tone, I gather my impromptu marathon is not amusing anyone. By the time I reach the first roundabout, my breakfast has crept up into my throat and I can feel my heart pounding at my temples, but I push past my lungs’ plea for oxygen. As I cross the busy roundabout, I suddenly feel the weight on my left shoulder lighten up. I look behind me just in time to spot my bag with all my belongings lying on the asphalt and disappearing out of view between the tires of two trucks. A young man runs into the roundabout and picks up my bag. I try to catch my breath to scream that I am being robbed, but before I can stop wheezing, the man comes running at me with my bag. “Where are we going?” he asks excitedly. “To try to catch the Mash bus to Nairobi.” “Let’s go! We must catch it before the next roundabout!” We begin running in tandem. My sandal breaks and lands in the gutter behind us. He goes to retrieve it but I stop him and kick off my other sandal. “Just keep going, I have shoes in the bag!” “Hurry,” he says, “I can see the bus. It’s near the roundabout!” He runs far ahead of me, his long legs gracefully launching him toward the bus. He beats his fist on the bus’s side and begins yelling. The only word I understand is “mzungu,” which roughly translates to “foreigner.” The bus stops, its doors open, and the attendant takes my bags when I finally catch up. I take out my wallet to give something to the Good Samaritan but he stops me with an offended look, then smiles and says, “Karibu, my friend. Safe journey.” He puts his hand on my back and ushers me onto the bus. The driver takes a look at my bare feet and lets out a belly laugh. “Ah, you are learning to run Kenyan style, friend. Merry Christmas.” I collapse on my seat, take out my journal, and begin writing. Merry Christmas, indeed. I love Kenya! The post Learning to Run Kenyan Style appeared first on Aimless Vagabond's Short Stories - Disturbing, Inspirational Travel Tales.

A Lesson from the Beautiful People of Myanmar

Sunday, 20 March 2016 21:50

“When I grow up I want to be a tourist,” he said. I had not noticed his presence until he spoke. He must have quietly sat next to me while I stared at the sunrise that was now silhouetting the sprawling complex of ancient temples scattered across the landscape beneath us. Our legs dangled off the highest terrace of Shwesandaw Pagoda, one of the most visited temples in the Bagan Archeological Zone. A bus ticket to Mandalay poked out of my shirt pocket. I looked at my iPod to check the time and try to relish every last moment on the ledge. “How long will it take me to get to the bus stop for Mandalay?” I asked him. “You are strong,” he said, grabbing the hem of the traditional fabric I had cinched around my waist, Burmese style. “Wearing this longyi, it will take twenty minutes. You also need thanaka on your face,” he brought his fingers to his cheeks, where he had drawn white swirls using the cosmetic paste. “A little thanaka like this and you will really look like us… but more handsome, of course.” I was used to flattery, it tends to be a salesman’s go-to tactic. Local touts usually complimented my “beautiful hair” and called me “rock star” right before demanding that I buy a trinket. I braced myself for the sales pitch. It never came. He simply stared at the sunrise in silence with me. “How old are you?” I asked. “Thirteen,” he said. “Why aren’t you in school?” “I know what you are going to say. You will not buy from me because buying from children makes us sell things instead of go to school. Don’t worry. Right now, I’m on holiday like you. No selling.” “Your English is amazing,” I remarked. “Where did you learn?” “With the monks and tourists. Now if I want to keep learning, I must pay. I need money for school and school to make money.” He sighed, put his hands behind his head and lay back to get a better view of the puffy clouds that had begun illuminating in hues of pink above us. “Is that your cart down there?” I pointed at a small wagon with a pyramid of souvenirs piled high atop the wheels. “Is there a donkey next to it?” He asked without bothering to sit up. “No,” I answered. “Then, yes. That one is mine.” “It must weigh a ton!” “I don’t pick it up,” he laughed. “It has wheels.” “Oh, right. Why do you want to be a tourist?” “Your people are strong, smart, beautiful…,” he paused to point at my iPod before adding, “and rich. My people are weak, dumb, poor, and ugly.” “I disagree. Most of my people only speak one language. We don’t have the decency to wear thanaka. And I am pretty sure most of us would have a hard time pulling that cart even one meter. So, really, we can’t be that strong. As for wealth… I don’t think most of us are rich, but we do have a lot of access to unnecessary stuff.” “Like Oreos?” “Yeah. You like Oreos?” “I love them. Tourists always have cookies.” “Yeah, we like stuff that makes us fat.” “Better than being skinny. Look at me, I can even see my bones!” He lifted his shirt and jabbed at his abdominal muscles with his finger. “Those aren’t bones, buddy. That’s called a six-pack. You’re like Superman!” He pulled his shirt back down and shook his head, assured now that I really wasn’t as smart as he originally thought. A loud commotion from behind us got our attention and we both stood up. “What’s that?” I asked. “A tour bus just arrived. They are coming. Holiday is over.” He pulled out a stack of postcards from his back pocket. “Have a nice time in Mandalay.” I watched as he approached an American couple. “Charles, don’t give him money,” the woman yelled at her husband as he reached for his wallet. “It encourages them to not be in school. There are Oreos in the backpack. Give him some cookies.” He turned to me. Smiled. And accepted the Oreos. The post A Lesson from the Beautiful People of Myanmar appeared first on Aimless Vagabond's Short Stories - Disturbing, Inspirational Travel Tales.

When Being the Messiah Goes Really, Really Wrong (featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition: Travel Nightmares)

Saturday, 19 March 2016 23:19

“Remember, left is right and right is wrong. DRIVE SAFELY!” I would have thought it political commentary, but since the words were stamped on a shiny metal plate posted near the highway, it was apparently a traffic safety slogan. In India people generally drive on the left side of the road, though it seems more a suggestion than a mandate. Regardless of how wrong right is, I frequently saw people driving on the right side, as well as atop sidewalks, and, once, straight through a municipal park. The fact that the sign was in English, though, reassured me that our jeep had not crossed any indeterminate borders. Nestled between Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, China and Tibet, the exact boundaries of this remote area are still under international dispute. The lack of customs checkpoints was a godsend, since I looked nothing like my passport picture. I had stopped cutting my hair and beard a year earlier when I left Thailand, which resulted in my head looking enormous atop my emaciated frame. Without a gym membership or nutritional supplements to compliment all the trekking I was doing, my bulky vanity muscles had disappeared and given way to bony limbs and taut sinews. Under the Himalayan sun, my skin had gotten even darker. In short, I looked like an Osama bin Laden PEZ dispenser. I had learned to tolerate having eyes on me at all times… even while sleeping. Staring is socially acceptable in many parts of the world; even encouraged. It was common to see parents physically lift a shy child’s head by the chin, shifting his gaze from the floor to my face. They would admonish the child in exotic languages, but the meaning was easy for me to surmise: “What’s wrong with you, child? Don’t look at the floor when you have a perfectly good freak in front of you to unnerve with your creepy child stare.” My reception at the villages I visited was always about the same. The children and animals would notice me first. Dolls, toys, and books would drop to the ground, forgotten, as faces turned to me, eyes wide, jaws agape, stupefied in innocent wonder. Like sunflowers tracking the sun’s movement, they would slowly move their heads to keep me in their view as I walked past. The bravest would eventually snap out of their trance and yell something akin to a war cry. This would cause a collective giggle that would trigger a sporadic dash to hide behind their parents’ legs. Then came the eerie silence as the adults gawked at me. If I was feeling uninhibited, I would do a little tap dance or make a funny face. Sometimes this would disarm them and produce a chuckle. Other times, my clowning had the opposite effect… literally… as in they would take up arms. Once, a man threatened me with a brick when I flipped my eyelids inside out and approached him with my arms out like a zombie. I immediately knew the next village would be different, though. The driver had said this village was known in the area for being the most pious. He explained that American Baptist missionaries had religiously colonized the region and turned formerly proud head hunters into self-righteous bible thumpers. I was dropped off near a courtyard where a large group of children was playing something that looked like volleyball. One by one they stopped what they were doing to stare at me, but this time, no one ran away. Instead, they all dropped down on their knees and joined their hands in prayer. One of them glanced at me and then at a pamphlet in his hand with a rendering of Jesus. That is when it hit me: “They think I’m Jesus!” It is not every day one gets to be a messiah, so I immediately seized my newfound holiness. I stretched out my arms, crossed one ankle over the other, and hung my head. I heard my followers gasp. Holding in my laughter, I closed my eyes, upturned my face to catch my best light, and basked in my divine glory. Next thing I knew I was on the floor about to vomit and grabbing at the source of excruciating pain emanating from my scrotum. A lady came running to my side and began babbling in her native tongue. “English,” I croaked. “My son hit you in your privates.” She said. “He loved his grandmother very much and he very angry.” I thought the pain might be affecting my hearing. “I don’t understand,” I whimpered. “When his grandmother died, we told him Jesus took her away.” …………………………………………………………………………………… Appeared on NPR’s Weekend Edition: Travel Nightmares   Jesus needed a Jesus shot. The post When Being the Messiah Goes Really, Really Wrong (featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition: Travel Nightmares) appeared first on Aimless Vagabond's Short Stories - Disturbing, Inspirational Travel Tales.


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