Work for Justice in Guatemala

•April 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Oakland-based NISGUA (Network in Solidarity With the People of Guatemala) is recruiting accompaniers to join NISGUA’s Guatemala Accompaniment Project (GAP).

The Guatemala Accompaniment Project (G.A.P.) of the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) trains and places qualified candidates as human rights accompaniers. NISGUA is one of many organizations around the world that employs accompaniment as a vital tool in the global struggle for the respect of human rights. In the Guatemalan context, accompaniment creates a non-violent response to the threats, harassment, and violence faced by survivors of Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war, grassroots organizations working for justice, and indigenous communities combating destructive mega-development projects on their land.

The application deadline has been extended to April 16 and the next training is planned for early June.

Visit NISGUA’s website to download a recruitment flyer, read more or start the application.


Falling on my butt in the Sierra Nevada

•March 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Believe it or not, despite being from Iowa and having lived nearly my entire adult in places where snow covers the ground several months of the year, my first time cross-country skiing was over Valentine’s Day weekend.

We were fortunate enough to have great weather and a free cabin to stay in that sat on the south shore of Donner Lake. The associated town is Truckee, and the area has  quite a different feel from it than the towns sitting around Lake Tahoe just down the road.  It’s a bit slower paced with a community vibe, as more permanent residents live here year-round.

Rather than downhill skiing, we opted for cross-country at Tahoe Donner Cross Country.  For about $34/person you get equipment and several hours of attempted self-mutilation, er I mean, unbounded skiing along paths of varying degrees of difficulty. Suffice it to say that I stayed on the beginning (green-marked) trails and stayed in the ski grooves.

To give you a sense of how novel all this was to me, when you check out your equipment they asked, “Stride or skate?”  I answered with what sounded like the right answer, if only because I thought skating meant ice-skating.  I’m glad I did because I doubt my first time out I would have been able to manage the other, which in fact is basically the movement of ice-skating but with skis on your feet.  Striding gave me a clear path and an easy introduction to cross-country skiing.  However, because I stayed within the grooves, I didn’t really learn how to stop, so when the downhill parts arrived, I resolved to 1)enjoy the adrenaline rush of acceleration, 2)panic when i realized I wasn’t in control and didn’t know how to stop properly, 3)tumble roughly or awkwardly on my ass or face, depending on my mood, then scramble to get out of the way for skiers behind me that were more adept.

Tahoe Donner Cross Country is a great place to get your feet wet, er, I mean cold.  And they have actual home-made food served up in the small cafeteria, including veggie and cornbread, which really hits the spot.  Though a short trip, the four of us (Claudia, Gloria, Wendy, and myself) also managed to fit in some snow-ball fights and a stare-down with a raccoon.

Shout out from and to MatadorNetwork

•February 27, 2010 • 1 Comment

Earlier this month, I received an unexpected and wonderful shout-0ut from MatadorNetwork.  Here’s an excerpt, see the full piece here.

“35 year old Matador member Ryan Van Lenning is based in Oakland, California, and with the activist history of that city, Van Lenning’s presence there seems apropos.”

If you don’t know the MatadorNetwork, you should.  It’s part travel magazine, part social network that includes over 10 ‘channels”–everything from travel tips (posts such as how to travel alone, how to travel to Cuba as an United States’ citizen, how to navigate Rio’s Carnival, how to couch surf, how to find a job abroad) to my personal favorite, MatadorChange, posting environmental and social change stories and tips from around the world.

The MatadorNetwork always hosts vibrant discussions and the colorful community of travelers (Matadorians) and grassroots organizations  make it not just a great resource, but a personable experience. Check it out, I guarantee you’ll find something valuable, fun, and thought-provoking.

Thanksgiving Under Yosemite Falls

•December 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Ahh, grand Yosemite!  I can tell you one thing–the Sierras confirm over and over for me John Muir’s saying, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

Also, Yosemite during Thanksgiving was even better than Yosemite during Memorial Day Weekend.  The same awesome and familiar granite friends and snow melt greeted me.  Though less water made for less robust waterfalls, the late season meant less people, and surprisingly, better weather.  On my previous trip I was awed by the valley’s grandeur and charmed by the toxic California newts that crawled about Hetch Hethchy by the thousands, but the snow and rain had put a damper on the camping.

Just a couple days before Thanksgiving this year we spontaneously decided to Amtrak it. Yes, that’s a verb, I just made it up–like BART it, or google it.

Why hadn’t we taking Amtrak before?  I’d taken it across country twice, but not specifically to get to a national park.  If I would have known how cheap and easy it was I would have made it over to Yosemite several times by now.  Since we don’t own a car, we saved money by not having to rent one, and saved the hassle of driving by jumping on the train from Emeryville to Merced.

Only 3 hours. With a table, views, and wine.

From there it is about an hour and half via the timed bus (YARTS) to the park.  Because it was winter and because the lodge rooms (which I don’t have a desire to stay at anyway) and heated cabin tents were all reserved, we got a good deal at Cedar Lodge just outside the park.

From there we could catch the shuttle in and out of the park.  Once we missed the bus and decided to hitch-hike into the park (that is, I cajoled Claudia into it with promises that nothing “SAW-like” would occur). After dozens of regular American citizens (trained to have either a fear of strangers or precious too attachment to personal car space) passed us by, a nice British couple picked us up.  They were sight-seeing around California and Nevada and were on their way back to Las Vegas to catch their flight.

Because the free park shuttle stays in the valley, we weren’t able to get up into other higher elevations this time.  We had been to Hetch Hetchy (San Francisco’s water source) and Tioga Road was closed again due to snow.  It gave us a chance to explore in detail most parts of the valley on moderate hikes with beautiful weather.  We even made time for an afternoon nap along the Merced river.

I’m really chomping at the bit to get to Toulumne. Meadows.  Next time for me though it’s going to be a backpacking trip as part of a John Muir Trail Trek (JMT) next June.

There’s nothing quite so serene as a Thanksgiving dinner of sandwiches, carrots, and hummus under Yosemite Falls with a rainbow for desert.  My boulder-hopping to get to the giant crevice towards the top of lower Yosemite falls was exhilarating, though it exacerbated my rib pain that I had incurred the previous weekend at the Oakland Cafe Tacuba show when I made the unwise decision to join the mosh pit–I got pummelled.

No major animal sightings this Thanksgiving–but plenty of black-tail deer, hawks, grosbeaks, Stellar’s jays, and white-headed woodpeckers.

And I think I might have caught a glimpse of the ghost of John Muir and natives past.

More photos on My Picasa Web.

Visit Yosemite’s Live Web Cam.

Following the Final Footsteps of Gandhi

•October 6, 2009 • 1 Comment

GandhiMemorialOne of the most memorable experiences of my life was visiting the Gandhi Memorial in Delhi, India, the site of his assassination. Not the least of the site’s salience was its deep serenity, amidst a city and country that seemed to me at the time riven with conflict and chaos.  But of course it was much more than that. Gandhi has been an incalculable influence on me, though I still struggle to understand him and don’t agree with him on all points.  I have read him.  I have taught him.  The film Gandhi is still in my top five list.  I have attempted to embody and practice some of his ideals and strategies,  mostly falling absurdly short.

In honor of his birthday this week I reflect on that moment:

One solemn foot in front of the other, I follow the marked stone prints of a man who seems larger-than-life. Gandhi walked this path in his daily meditation rounds. I imagine him sitting peacefully in his simple robes spinning his famous wheel in the adjacent room where he spent his final months. A bus load of Indian school children are unloading and I imagine them struggling to understand Bapu, the father of their nation. I too want to somehow understand the man better. Continuing forward, the footprints stop abruptly in the middle of the yard. A marble stone column inscribed in Hindi marks the exact spot.

Three bullets.

A blood-soaked dhoti.

A fallen saint.

Lounging in the Turquoise Pools at Semuc Champey, Guatemala

•September 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

688097-The-Pools-From-Mirador-0You’ve been hiking volcanoes, surviving steep mountain curves on chicken buses, and processing the concentrated poverty surrounding the city’s landfills in a country still healing from decades of war. After traveling for hours by primitive roads watching the clouds of dawn dancing in valleys of lush green mountains, you finally arrive at Semuc Champey. The tranquil, turquoise pools and waterfalls here have everything you need to do nothing. The multiple-layered pools flow gently with clear mountain water, while the Cahabon River rushes underneath. Orange butterflies swirl, birds swoop, and people laze. Hike the trails above to get a panoramic view of the dazzling pozas, but you will mostly find yourself lounging around on the edge of the water. If you have monkey bones you might jump off the side of the cliffs. But be forewarned: if you stay too long, you will begin to wonder if another world even exists outside this oasis in the land of the quetzal.


Submerging Oneself Under the Falls at Misol-ha in Chiapas, Mexico

•August 15, 2009 • Leave a Comment

It’s more than a 100-foot drop into a deep pool ringed by mossy boulders wet from mist being blown off the falls. The thunderous sound of the waterfall pounds the ears, while fine mist gently soaks your clothes. Just outside of Palenque, Misol-Ha is a waterfall-lovers love affair. If you want a mini-adventure and can’t resist the urge (since you’ll already be soaked with sweat from jungle heat), venture across the slippery rocks into the chilly, but refreshing water. All of your strength is required to push your humble human body under the massive downpour. The sound roars, the pulse quickens, adrenaline surges. The cascade hits you like the weight of centuries without regard to your tiny existence, pushing you under like a cork hit by an ocean-liner. Close your eyes and allow this primordial font to baptize you.

Visit my original travel blog: Chiapas 1: Welcome to the Jungle