Saturday, March 12, 2011

Spring semester senior year: An interlude.

Sometimes I can't believe I'm getting married. Especially in the midst of the extended—well, nightmare seems like too strong of a word, but dull dream sounds too pleasant; waking tedium? Coma of boredom? No, a coma would not be nearly stressful enough. Whatever it is, it's my last semester of college, and it's never. ending. It's strange to be so happy and miserable at the same time, all of the time.

This week is a good example. I spent half of my spring break working/doing homework and the other half wedding-planning. Somehow I've become the go-to person for staff and faculty at school writing their dissertations, and so I've been working closely with two over the past week, and have promised to do another in the next couple of weeks. These on top of the two dissertations, master's thesis, and book manuscript that I did in January-February. Daniel and I are also taking a geology class at a community college that has a different break than ours, so we drove down Tuesday/Wednesday to go to class.

On top of all that, I have a term paper due Monday, so I spent hours painstakingly researching and typing out eleven pages on a subject I didn't choose and couldn't care less about. Right now, I'm halfway through Monday's assigned reading, trying desperately to think of intelligent things to say so I can look like I'm paying attention in class even though I want nothing more than to stand up and say, "I hate William Wordsworth" and walk out and go do something more productive with my life, like read Slate articles.

I ask myself often what I'd rather be doing at the moments in which I'm struck most forcefully with this overwhelming sense of inescapability, this immediate and oppressive frustration that I'm trapped, proscribed, forced to prodigally spend my moments in soul-sucking pointlessness. Common triggers: comments from my precious classmates about the text we're discussing ("Have any of you heard of Hegel? He's this guy who wrote about the slaves uprising"), fifty pages of lit crit/aesthetic criticism of the Romantic Era/Heidegger to get through after I've been running from 8 am to 8 pm and before I can get in bed, professors who interpret things wrongly or who don't know the answers to questions when they should (I'm revealing my intellectual arrogance here, but I had to explain Nietzsche in class recently. I pay an awful lot of money for this education—is it too much to ask to have well-informed professors?).

So what would I rather be doing? I have such a hard time answering this question in anything other than the negative. I'd rather not be paying extraordinary amounts to be talked down to and subjected to flat-out incorrect information as often as I am. I'd rather not be compelled to spend twenty hours of my free time on term papers that a professor will spend five minutes reading. I'd rather not be stuck in the myriad little absolute monarchies of the classroom, induced to pay fealty to the profs and figure out the specific ways in which each one must be succored. I'd rather not have the tyranny of letters lorded over my head, not be induced to beg for extra credit or perform spectacularly on every single task or complete every single assignment or lie awake at night fretting about the points I lost on the last test. I'd rather be paid for my efforts.

Was I always this smug and bitter? Past blog posts/journal entries incline me toward yes. But does it help if I say not all of me is like this?

I attended the senior women's retreat a couple of weekends ago, and one of the icebreakers involved answering personal questions in little groups: "What is your favorite place?" I thought and thought of a place in which I was always comfortable, a place to which I could steal away when things were too hard or loud or much. My dorm was nowhere near this, nor was my parents' home, where my bedroom has been reappropriated and where every corner belongs to someone else. No coffee shop in the city provided such asylum for me, no park or cliff or nook. I didn't realize how uncomfortable I was in my own life.

There was an image in my head, though. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized how often I retreated there. When it was my time to speak, I decided to be honest. "My favorite place doesn't exactly exist yet." And I tried to describe what I saw in my head, a clean place, where all the space was mine, where I knew the last time the bathroom had been scrubbed and the floor had been vacuumed, where the couch was large enough to curl up on, where it was quiet, where everything had a place. Where I could come home from work and not do homework. The philosophy prof who was in my circle liked my answer, what with all its not-yet-existentness, joking that I "won" that round. But I was serious. I am serious.

So I guess that is what I would rather be doing: sitting in whatever little apartment I can manage to afford, working forty or fifty hours a week instead of, well, how would one calculate my normal schedule? Eighteen credit hours of class time, plus ten hours at the library, ten hours as an administrative assistant, about ten hours for the newspaper (depending on the week), and various and sundry hours grading as a teacher's assistant and freelance editing. And then I do homework. Supposedly, a student is supposed to have double the number of credit hours of homework outside of class, which would put me at thirty-six hours of homework. Good thing I'm a fast reader. But even if you estimate half of that, I'm responsible for sixty-six hours' worth of work, on a light week. A full-time job would be a (major) break.

So after working that full-time job (or multiple part-time jobs; I'm realistic), I'd like to come home and do things that aren't compulsory. And it would be nice if Daniel were there, too. That is what I'd rather be doing.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Port 6: Puerto Vallarta

We disembarked at Puerto Vallarta and piled onto a bus that would take us along the coast and into the mountains. We stopped halfway there to marvel at the coastline.

A day of ziplining was awaiting us. We suited up and began the path of 14 ziplines.

On the trail between ziplines. It was more than a little exhilarating to hook in and coast over trees and rivers through the Mexican jungle.

Daniel's nephew Sean coming in for a landing. Can you see how long the line is? I've been ziplining before, but never for such expanses.

The whole group geared up and ready to go.

Afterward, we sat by the river and watched others swim in the freezing water.

The ziplining establishment had a little animal hut with tiny monkeys like this one.

There were some wild animals, too—including these iguanas we spotted.

We rode the bus back to the town and walked the streets, stopping for fish tacos and carne asada for dinner.

We found the last cathedral of the trip. They were one of my favorite parts of each city we visited.

We strolled along the beachfront malecón, taking in the sights of the city.

Right before sunset, we caught these acrobats, who climbed to the top of this pole, wound themselves up, and then spiraled down in unison.

The sunset along the beach was fantastic.

Statues lined the waterfront. Daniel took the opportunity to interact with this one.

We spent our last pesos on a jamaica drink and some caramel-like candies. Then it was back to the ship for a couple of days at sea, and our final port—San Diego.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Port 5: Mazatlan

Daniel's dad had arranged in advance for us to take a van tour of Mazatlan. Mazatlan Frank picked us up from the port and took us to the northernmost edge of town and back, giving us an idea of the rich, the touristy, and the working class. It was an enlightening trip.

We stopped inside the cathedral in the middle of town and marveled at its sheer size.

The cathedral was adjacent to a popular shopping area, and we walked through the rows and rows of vendors.

We watched the cliff divers ply their trade. That man perched at the top of the stairs plunged into a shallow dive at the bottom of those rocks.

We walked the streets of Old Mazatlan, an area that has been restored and rejuvenated in recent years.

A theatre in Old Mazatlan.

We stopped by the home of an artisan couple that doubles as their gallery. I was excited to see the saltillo tiles that we have at home paving their floors.

The roof of their house contained a fantastic mosaic wall.

An example of the beautiful restoration. Mazatlan Frank explained to us that the bars on the windows, present on almost every single house we saw, were not so much a reaction to violence as a cultural tradition born out of the need to keep the doors and windows open during the hot months.

We headed up to a beach well-known for its surfing and could see the city stretch back southward along the coast.

After this, we drove through a gleaming gated community, perfectly groomed everything and white, white mansions repeated over and over, cars with American license plates sitting in the driveways. And then we headed over to the working class areas where, Frank explained, people begin with small single-level homes and eventually save up enough money to build another level on top of their flat roofs, a project he was currently in the middle of. The houses were much more colorful.

We ended the day with a sunset overlooking an island.

The whole group!

And back on the ship, we gathered once more for dinner and company.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Port 4: Topolobampo

When we stepped off the ship, a vast swath of asphalt spread before us. A giant billboard of taxi fares stood upon it. We decided to take our chances and walk.

The tiny, tiny town of Topolobampo (population 250?) was a mile or two away. We strolled the streets and encountered a decidedly untouristy village.

An extensive market was set up, with piles of vegetables, slabs of fresh meat (with the occasional cow head), and a little family of chickens, among other things.

When we were satisfied with our Topolobampo experience, we sought out a bus that would take us to Los Mochis, a larger city about forty-five minutes away. The tour guide we read beforehand had warned of the desolation between the two towns, including thirteen-foot crocodiles that apparently made it uninhabitable. We didn't see any of those rush by on our bus ride, but we did see the lonely expanses.

We were quite proud of the paltry 16 pesos we paid for our bus fare, about $1.20 and far below the $20+ a taxi would have been.

Los Mochis was a full-fledged city. We located a Best Western and put the laptop we had lugged along to good use in the hotel lobby. Living without internet access on this trip was rough; we spent a good hour and a half there catching up. We then traipsed about the city, wandering through shops and grabbing some fish tacos from a street vendor.

I don't know why this place was called El Debate, but it was ripe for a debate pose from Daniel.

We located the cathedral and peeked inside.

We successfully navigated the streets and found our bus stop again for our return trip. Those are bins of herbs and spices behind us, each labeled with the ailments and diseases it promised to cure.

Back in Topolobampo, I was ready to tromp back to the ship. But Daniel had seen a church on the top of a hill, and he insisted it would take fewer than ten minutes for us to reach it. I didn't believe him, but lo and behold, he was right.

We made our way past all manner of houses, and we enjoyed the view at the top.

If you click on this picture, you might be able to make out the white cross at the top of the hill, marking the church. This is a view of the hill on our way back to the ship.

A fiesta was waiting for us on that asphalt expanse. We watched a group of children, herded by nuns, as they had their way with the piñata.

And we returned, exhausted but well-traveled. We walked a good four hours, which probably puts us around ten miles on foot. It was a good day.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Port 3: Guaymas

In Guaymas, we piled into a shuttle to get from the port to the city proper. Daniel's nephews are in the foreground here.

The church lay in the center of town, adjacent to a square that would later fill with an ice rink and a band.

We walked the streets, getting a feel for the "gritty" town that the tour guide told us to expect.

We discovered the historical bank building that Lonely Planet said someone should hurry up and restore.

I don't know what this means, but it looked pretty gritty.

Daniel got a couple of funny stares for his headband, which I had crocheted him (we just happened to wear matching crochet accessories that day). I enjoyed it to no end.

We realized, walking through the streets and seeing pastries called "Rosca de Reyes," that the date was January 6, Epiphany. It explained the remaining Christmas decorations—for traditional Christians, the Christmas season wasn't over yet.

Daniel and I noticed the town library and decided to check it out.

It turned out to be a single room with a relatively small collection. We were very excited about the liberation theology book we found.

Along the waterfront, little boats were docked.

We rested for a while before Daniel's dad suggested we take a boat tour around the harbor.

The boat was cozy, and our tour guide was quite friendly.

We motored past tightly packed shrimping boats.

The islands in the harbor were completely coated in cacti. Eagles perched on the whitened tops.

A fort from a nineteenth-century war remained on one of the shores.

We set sail early in the evening, so we gathered on the deck to watch the launch.