Daily Prompt: Zip-Lining In Puerto Vallarta

Hey, folks. Yesterday’s Daily Prompt was all about stories. Specifically, the story behind your appearance in a recent photo. This actually ties in with my trip to Mexico a couple of weeks ago; I’d promised to write about the zip-lining excursion separately, and this prompt is perfect for it.

I’m not going to post the photo for various reasons, mainly because I’m not sure if the other people in my group want it displayed, I’m shy, and that I look ridiculously awkward. Considering how many photos I’ve posted, you may have noticed that I like being behind the camera, not in front of it. Pictures of me are few and far between (especially online), and I dislike all of them; for some reason, I never look good enough. This time, I’m standing amongst a group of six by a rock in the middle of the jungle. We’re outfitted with harnesses, bandanas, and helmets, mere minutes away from making the first of many zip-line runs. It’s just a generic photo taken by the company’s staff, something you’d put up on Facebook after getting home.

What the photo doesn’t show, however, is the exhaustion. Before getting to this point, we woke up at dawn, ate breakfast, got ready, and had to ride out to the El Eden zip-line. That involved us taking a taxi to a nearby OXXO (think 7-11, Mexico-style) and waiting for the tour truck to pick us up. The truck itself was a strange blend of pickup and flatbed; the back was decked out with half a dozen rows of benches and topped with an open-air canopy. It’s surprisingly good for taking photos, as long as you don’t mind the smog and noise of Puerto Vallarta’s early morning traffic. The ride was pleasant enough in the city – our driver made an amazing three-point turn on a hill when his normal route was blocked by construction – but things changed once we left the streets. As we thumped over the first pothole and onto the dirt, we realized there were no seat belts, and seemingly no shock absorbers. To call that hour-long ride into the jungle “bumpy” would be a gross understatement. By the time we reached the zip-line, several passengers were sore and glad to be on solid ground again.

One of the neat things about El Eden (aside from it being the filming set for Predator – they even have a statue of the alien!) is its natural waterfall and pool. After spending an hour climbing through the sweltering jungle, the water seems so tempting. Or you could go their well-furnished restaurant and enjoy some food. We’d planned on doing both, as this was supposed to be an all-day excursion. However, we failed to read the fine print; our tour scheduled us doing the zip-line, relaxing for half an hour, climbing back into the bus, attending a tequila factory presentation, and going back to the hotel. Of course, we didn’t find out about the plan until it was too late. We’d come out there with towels, beach stuff, and were wearing our swimsuits under our clothes. Yeah, imagine traversing the jungle with layered clothes and climbing gear.

Unsurprisingly, I was struck with heat exhaustion near the end.

Let me preface this by saying that I’m in reasonably good shape for a 30-year-old. I don’t have a six pack (it’s more like a one-and-half-pack at best), but I eat healthy, and I’m not diabetic. I swam for hours at the hotel’s pool, and walked for hours every day on the beach. I run up stairs. My sprints to catch subway trains are the stuff of legends. I used to hike and camp all the time as a kid, and I can still walk all day without any trouble. I walked 11 miles across San Francisco on a random whim not too long ago. But that doesn’t make any difference when you’re deep in the jungle, weighed down by clothes and gear, and don’t have any water with you.

I’d had a couple of cups of juice in the morning before leaving, but I somehow completely forgot to rehydrate myself before starting the course. I’d done zip-lining before in Maui last year, but that had only 3 lines. This had 12, all of which required some uphill climbing to reach. There were cups of water handed out after every four or five lines, but it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t enough. My steady pace devolved into weary stumbling, my face paled, and my skin went cold with sweat. I couldn’t even remove my helmet, which suddenly seemed tight enough to choke me; it was an older model, which meant I couldn’t adjust the straps by turning the mechanism of the side. The body harness was digging into me, and the drawstring on my swim trunks was shoved into my gut. The staff were pros at these kinds of situations, thankfully; it took about 4 cups of water and 15 minutes of rest to get me back into fighting shape, but I decided to call it a day.

It’s not like I was missing much, either. I’d keeled over after the 10th line, right before the steepest, toughest one on the entire course. It required you to have a decent mastery over the zip-line’s braking system; you basically had to shift your body and the metal handlebars side-to-side, thus increasing friction and reducing speed. I understood it from an academic standpoint, but putting into practice when you’re zooming above the trees is something else entirely. I saw plenty of people practically crash into the landing areas because they were coming in with too much momentum. If you couldn’t get braking down well enough by the 11th line, the staff would tell you to skip it for the sake of safety. Since I was too fed up and/or embarrassed about the whole situation, I followed their advice and waited for everyone at the last last line. I wearily sat down with the rest of my group for lunch, found out about the limited schedule, and had to wolf down a platter of fajitas someone graciously ordered for me. The fact that we were being rushed for the sake of visiting a tequila factory annoyed me. I don’t drink – I took a single shot of mandarin tequila and nearly spit it out – so I had no interest in the tour. I had just enough time to finish the meal and snap a few photos of the waterfall (which I’ll post later) before making the bumpy ride back.

That reminds me: They don’t let you use your own camera to record the zip-line action. I’d hauled my DSLR all the way into the jungle, only to be told to stow it in one of the lockers they had available. It’s a liability thing; no tourist wants to drop their camera (kinda hard to record when you’re supposed to be holding on with both hands), and the company doesn’t want to have to deal with that kind of mess. Instead, they offer special helmets mounted with GoPros. You record the action, they download it onto their computers, then charge you for whatever bundles/prints/etc. you choose. It makes sense – they are running a business, after all – but as someone used to having full control over my cameras and what’s being shot, it irked me. While I love a good adventure, I left El Eden feeling rushed, annoyed, and tired.

That’s okay, I’ll make up for it on my next journey. Where, you ask? Heh. Let’s just say that Fall 2015 is going to be…epic. Stay tuned.

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Happy Free Comic Book Day 2015!

Hey, folks. May 2nd was the annual Free Comic Book Day. Basically, you go to a participating shop and get a bag of free samplers (and buy anything else that looks interesting), all while enjoying whatever other promotions are going on. Fantastic Comics is only a short BART ride away, but I was kind of on the fence about attending. Then I found out Gail Simone was going to be there, which was an insta-YES condition. I I left early, assuming I’d be able to beat the line. Turns out everyone else had the same idea.

Yeah, I should’ve left earlier. It took an hour and fifteen minutes to get inside, but it went by fast. Everyone was in high spirits, particularly those who’d just seen Avengers: Age of Ultron. The kids ahead of me were debating who’d win in a fight between Goku and Superman (Seriously?! I remember high school lunch hours focused about that exact topic over a decade ago.), while some guys nearby were getting their Xenoblade Chronicles 3D on. The couple standing behind me even offered to share some pizza, but I declined. Between my DSLR, backpack, and Italian phrasebook (yes, I’m still working on that), I don’t think I could’ve juggled a freshly-baked slice.

I took the opportunity to take photos of the few – but quite awesome – cosplayers in attendance. I feel uncomfortable taking photos of people, though. I’m awkward enough around others as it is; How do you just walk up to someone as say, “Hey, you look awesome, may I take your picture?” without sounding like some kind of creepy stalker? Seriously, that’s the last thing I want; even when I’m doing beach photography, I wait until everyone is out of the frame. After taking these photos, I made sure to promise that I’d send copies to them just as a record of the event. Not sure if they believed me, but they were good sports. Check these out:

Things stayed upbeat and organized inside the store as well. The flow and layout was simple: the line was kept off to the side as much as possible, then directed to the shelves of comics towards the back. That way, customers could look at/consider purchasing interesting comics while waiting to reach the free stuff at the table in the corner. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety; I’m not a hardcore comic book fan by any means – I’m far more into literature and games – but the selection was impressive. I ended up buying a copy of Secret Six #1 and an exclusive Swords of Sorrow print by Kate Leth, then getting into another line that was reserved for meeting Gail Simone.

It was totally worth the wait. She – and her husband – were incredibly nice and gracious. A lot of folks could’ve just autographed stuff and called it a day, but they actually spoke with fans  – someone in front of me took the time to show off all of his superhero-related tattoos – the entire time. I wonder how many of these signings/conventions/etc. they attend every year. I promised myself that I wouldn’t geek out too much, but I ended up babbling a little bit anyway. I’m awkward enough when it comes to regular conversation; what was I going to one of the most famous comic book writers in existence? I settled on a handshake, and thanking her for awesome writing, and how inspirational she is. I even managed to get a photo:

After that, I’m pretty sure I’d been standing there too long. I’m just one random guy, after all. There were plenty of other fans waiting. I collected everything she autographed, gave both Gail and her husband a final thank you, and left. I felt relieved to be out of there – crowded places are not my thing – but sad that I couldn’t stay longer. I nursed my regrets by going next door to Half Price Books and stocking up on a few things. I also walked to University Press Books by the campus (yesterday was also Independent Bookstore Day) and spent an hour looking over old texts. By the time I got home, my Free Comic Book Day haul included:

Autographed by Gail Simone:

Comic Book Samplers:

  • Attack On Titan by Kodansha Comics
  • Street Fighter: Super Combo Special by UDON
  • Mega Man & Sonic the Hedgehog: Worlds Unite Prelude by Archie Action
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender/Plants vs Zombies/Bandette by Dark Horse Comics
  • Secret Wars #0 by Marvel
  • Pokemon X/Y by Perfect Square
  • Teen Titans Go/Scooby Doo & Super Friends Team-Up by DC
  • Cleopatra In Space by Scholastic
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by IDW
  • Ten Year Celebration by Boom Studios
  • Simpsons Free-For-All by Bongo Comics.

Note: Photos of the above can be seen here.

Books:

Man, I’ve got a lot to read…

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Depth, Or: A Study In Curls

A Study In Curls

This week’s challenge is all about depth. I was doing this National Geographic photo assignment that required a faceless portrait, so I decided to focus on what everyone sees first when they see me: the hair. You don’t see many guys rocking this style. Upon closer (macro) inspection, I’ve just now noticed how many layers deep two feet of curly hair really is!

Does My Voice Really Sound Like That?

Good to know I’m not the only one who dislikes the sound of their own voice. I mean, I already knew why it sounds different, but I’m even quieter than I thought. Going by what SciShow’s Hank is saying, maybe I just need to hear it more often to get used to it…

Daily Prompt: Fear Factor, Or: Rejection VS Individuality

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about fear. Namely, what do you fear. Don’t be fooled by anyone who claims to be fearless. They’re either covering up insecurity, a computer, or an alien. Maybe all three. Everyone has a fear; it’s one of the defining aspects of your humanity. It’s a natural, instinctual response your body has to perceived threats. It’s just a matter of exactly what it is. For me, it’s nothing tangible. I don’t fear death, the dark, insects, etc. I mentioned recently that my fear is living a meaningless existence. Life is inherently meaningless; it’s up to each individual to find their own meaning. Putting that into practice is not only hard, but scary as well. What do you do when the whole world is out there, and you don’t have a dream? The scope of it is downright terrifying.

While this kind of fear works well for philosophical discussion, this particular prompt calls for something a little less…overarching. So, how about something a bit more intimate: Rejection. I’m not talking about the romantic kind; given the amount of barely-averted looks and flirts directed toward me, I wouldn’t have any problems…if I actually tried going with it. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a textbook introvert. I’m really shy and I try to avoid being in large groups of people. Not because I necessarily despise them, but because interactions are tiring, and I never know what to say. Hey, let’s see you bring up the psychologically manipulative set designs of The Shining or the recurring themes in Haruki Murakami’s novels the next time you’re chatting a party. By all means, go ahead. All I get those confused stares, a request to speak up, or a lingering sense that I never should have opened my mouth in the first place. I get through it with a (hopefully) charming smile and heavy doses of sarcasm. A lot of people find it endearing. Others ask me what planet I’m from. I scramble for the quietest corner, take out the book I smuggled along with me, and leave my horribly awkward real world behind.

But why?

It’s a lot easier to close yourself off from what you fear. Since I dread rejection so much, then why bother interacting with people at all? Oh wait, that’s right! Social interaction is the core tenet of human civilization. Can’t get around that one, can I? Well, technically I can, but it’d cost me my sanity. Pretty sure that’s something you want to hang on to. So since shutting everyone out isn’t feasible, that means dealing with the fear in question. How exactly am I supposed to do that? That’s not a rhetorical question; I really don’t know. It’s been a part of me for as far back as I can remember. A lot of my elders were – and still are – religiously conservative. Look, I’m not going to start a debate about this. I have no problem with religion; some folks need something to believe in. But when you use religion to oppress and slaughter people who don’t share your views? Yeah, humanity doesn’t exactly have a spotless record. Now, imagine trying to be the model son raised by conservative, often absent parents. Sound difficult? Try doing that with an independent streak as big and deep as mine. I’ll give you a hint: it’s not very fun. I was the kind of kid who’d always ask the difficult questions, the one who wanted everything explained in non-sugarcoated detail. The phrase “Because I said so!” was never good enough for me, and I refused to accept excuses. Many adults found it irritating, and it hasn’t won me many fans in my adult life. There are some at my church who still won’t even look at me.

Well shucks, I’m so sorry that I can’t just play along. That must be such an inconvenience.

I’m not trying to be rebellious. I’m really not. I just need to experience the world on my own terms. New ideas and concepts are fascinating, but not necessarily feasible for me. My concern isn’t so much about religious beliefs, laws, structure, etc. The only thing that matters is if it works. And a lot of what does work for me doesn’t do so for the people in my personal and professional life. I’d been rejected, bullied, and dismissed so many times growing up that I learned to expect it. Trying to conform to others’ expectations left me an emotional wreck. I’ve let myself become less restrictive, though. My contempt for gender roles is probably the most noticeable result. I’ve got enough long, curly hair to resemble a young Robert Plant or Dustin Hoffman’s Captain Hook. I rock the androgynous look. A lot of women find it fascinating and ask me about it, but others just frown disapprovingly or assume I’m transgendered. I stopped caring years ago. If I’m in a suit, I’ll occasionally get asked if I moonlight in a heavy metal band. I’m one of the few people on either side of my family that actively reads and writes. People think I’m weird because I don’t spend my free time on Facebook, clinging to my phone, watching sports, or going bar-hopping. I don’t know anyone else my age that doesn’t drink. You try being the only sober person in at a party. Or how about hearing the phrase, “Why don’t you have a girlfriend?” Gee, I don’t know. Maybe because it’s hard to trust people when you’re an outcast.

Just saying.

Gah, what a mess. I need to work on the self-confidence thing. How do I get over social phobia? There’s got to be a niche for me out there somewhere. If not, I’ll just have to carve out my own. That’s got to count for a little bit of courage, right?

Daily Prompt: Close Call, Or: The Sleepy Commute

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about close calls. Seeing as I already mentioned a near-fatal one not too long ago, it’s probably best if I go with something a bit lighter. When I transferred to the university for my junior/senior college years, I had to deal with the longest daily commute I’d ever experienced. Imagine this: You leave the house sometime around sunrise, if not earlier. You walk nearly three miles to the BART train station, and wait for a train that runs to San Francisco. But you don’t go to the city; halfway down the line, you have to get off and wait for a Fremont train to roll in, which then takes you down to the furthest southern reaches of the system. After many stops and delays, you stumble onto the platform, go down the stairs, and wait for the university shuttle to show up, which will whisk you away to the campus nearly 20 more minutes away. Then you will climb at least a couple of hills’ worth of staircases, open a door, and somehow find a seat before the lecture begins.

For two years, that’s how my morning commutes worked. In theory.

The problem was with the university shuttle. The last one left at 9:00 AM sharp, so there was a lot of competition to get a seat on it. The stampedes down those train platform steps were epic, glorious races; half a step, a hesitation, anything could cost you everything. Okay, not everything. But you had to wait for the city bus, shell out additional fare (a bane for any student), and endure a trip that was ten minutes longer. When you’re trying to get to your morning classes – especially when you’re coming from several cities away – every millisecond counts. So all of us fought in these unspoken wars every morning, all for the sake of scheduling. I’ve always been pretty quick on my feet and have a good sense of balance, so practically sprinting down those stairs was rarely an issue for me.

Falling asleep on the train, on the other hand…

So this one time the train rolled into my stop. But I was asleep; heated train car + early winter morning + general lack of rest = one slouching, potentially drooling student. I didn’t feel the train stop, nor did I hear the doors open. But by some instinct, I snapped awake just as the doors were starting to close. Luckily, my backpack didn’t get stuck. I groggily dragged myself over to the stairs and went down. I thought other students would be on my heels and rushing me to get down, but there were none. My heart sank when I made it down to the bus stop. Three dozen or more people in front of me. Even if the shuttle driver would let me stand, there still wouldn’t be enough room. I stood there, silently hoping that I was wrong…but I wasn’t. The last shuttle left with a small group of us standing there. I wearily sat down at the city bus stop and waited. I was going to be late. There was no avoiding it. I begrudgingly paid my extra fare – thankfully I planned for just such emergencies – found the nearest chair, and sulked.

I didn’t sleep on the bus ride up to the campus. I was too wired, too angry at myself for failing. I knew I’d have to sprint up the hills to get to class on time. Maybe the professor wouldn’t notice me. Yeah, sure. He wouldn’t notice a dude with long hair, a trench coat, and a scarf sneak into the room. Ugh, so embarrassing! I practically leaped off the bus when we finally got to campus. Up the first flight of stairs, weaving through the groups of others going to class-

“Hey!”

Someone called out. I didn’t think it was to me; no one ever talked to me. I kept going. One more flight, making a left, going up the wooded path, there’s the door to science building-

“Hey, wait up!”

It was the same voice as before. I opened the door and dared a glance back. A middle aged man in a jacket and scarf came huffing and puffing towards me, and I could see his breath in the cold morning air.

“Hey, you’re one of the students in my 9:30 lecture, aren’t you? I was on the same bus you were, but I don’t think you noticed!”

Whoops.

“…Uh, heh. No, professor.”

“Thought so. Well, don’t bother rushing. I’m pretty sure class can’t start without me.”

“Right.”

We leisurely made our way up to the lecture hall, and I tried to hide my blushing face under my scarf. I’ve had way more serious close calls than this, but I’ve never forgotten that tedious yet funny commute.

Daily Prompt: I Have Confidence in Me, Or: The Paradox Of The Shy, Adventurous Writer

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about confidence. Specifically, what you’re good at, and what you’d like to be better at. This one’s actually hard for me to explain. I understand that I’m good at writing; it comes naturally to me. I’ve only improved over time and effort. My standards are much higher than they were a decade ago. The words flow from my fingers like a river, and the ideas therein are the rocks and rapids. You know how most students loathe writing essays? I thrived on that in college. A good piece of writing is like a puzzle; each word is an individual (but essential) component of a more complex structure. It’s just a matter of examining each piece and arranging it correctly to convey your message. Oh, and the key to developing a writer’s voice? Just read what you’ve written out loud. If it sounds weird, then you know you need to change something. It’s that simple. Unless you want to sound like a space alien pretending to be human or blatantly show off your thesaurus-perusing skills, but that’s an entirely different issue…

Going on a tangent. Sorry.

From an objective standpoint, I know I’m good at this. Getting the words together on paper (though it’s more on-screen these days) is really easy. Dealing with my internal critic, however, is a struggle of epic proportions. You probably know what I’m talking about. It’s that little voice in your head that just loves to sow doubt and undermine everything good you believe about yourself. Typing again, huh? It’s not even worth your time. Who’s going to read it? You think anyone will actually care, let alone notice? Where’s the money? Writing is your greatest skill? What a joke. Why can’t you get a real job, and be like everyone else? Failure! You don’t have a future. You’re never going to make it. You’re going to starve, man.

…Yeah, I need to work on the confidence thing.

For the longest time, I bought into all of that. On my really bad nights, I still do. But if you get me motivated and focused, I will be on fire. It’s all about the situations and objectives. The last time I did NaNoWriMo, I burned through 20,000 words in a single sitting. When I found out that that I might miss the deadline for my college graduation, I buckled down and scheduled more than a full course load, aced every single class, and got my degree on time. You give me a goal I’m interested in, and I’ll show you what tenacity and willpower can accomplish. Resolve is one of the greatest and most terrifying qualities a person can have.

My skills aren’t limited to writing, though. I’ve got a critical eye with regards to pretty much everything, so I’m good at picking up details. You know how kids are capable of absorbing tons of information? It’s kind of like that. Facial expressions, vocal tones, languages, accents, structural designs, philosophical concepts, colors, anything. It’s pretty handy when you’re tasked with reviewing something; I can take a game/story/whatever apart quickly. I can read and predict others easily. People think I’m insightful, but my observations seem really obvious. Anyone who’s ever played against me in fighting or strategy games knows what an utterly ruthless tactician I can be. It’s not about thinking outside the box; it’s about thinking outside the room the box is stored in. I’m capable of memorizing lengthy procedures and scheduling around them; I used to have my college commutes calculated down to individual steps. I’d like to think it was practicality over OCPD, but I know better.

I’m also a really good traveling companion. Whenever I travel in a group, I’m usually the one with the map or an idea of where to go. Give me a little time to figure out the layout of a new place, and I’ll quickly adjust to it. I explored Paris on Le Métropolitain, and I didn’t speak a word of French. Someone even asked me for directions! The pigmentation of my skin is ambiguously olive enough that I can pass for a local most of the time. Since I’m good at reading facial expressions, I don’t always need to verbalize to communicate. I’ve also got a cast-iron stomach; I’ve eaten local cuisine that have left others bedridden for days.

Huh. It’s surreal reading the last few paragraphs. I know I’m good at all of that, but it clashes with my personality. I’ve mentioned before that I’m introverted. It’s not a flaw (no matter what social expectations say), but it’s completely the opposite of adventurous side. Wandering a foreign city? I’m fine. Stuck in a crowded room? I’m lost. I’m really shy and uncomfortable in social situations. It’s tiring and awkward, and it makes me look arrogant and aloof. I don’t want to talk about my interests, because I just end up confusing the other person. People are sometimes intimidated by my use of direct eye contact. It’s a tactical measure; people know I’m paying attention, which puts them more on edge and gives me the advantage. I’ve also been accused of being a charmer, which always seems bizarre to me. I’m not trying to be charismatic; I’m trying to survive the conversation without making a fool of myself. You’d be amazed how far a smile, a joke, and polite conversation can get you. I’m always taken aback when women (and men, with surprising frequency) try flirting with me. I never know what to say, and I just want to back away as quickly and gracefully as possible.

Ye gods, I’m actually blushing now.

I need to work on the social skills. I get that. I’m not good at connecting with people beyond a purely academic level. It’s just scary, awkward, and unnerving. I wish I had a stronger voice, too. It’s annoying when people can’t hear you because your indoor voice is apparently a whisper. I can hear myself just fine. I wish I was more physically coordinated, too. I can hike for hours at a time, but I’m not good at conventional sports. I did pretty well in jujitsu, though…There are so many other things I wish I could do better. When I have the time – I’m heading out to a party now, incidentally –  I’ll make a list. It’ll be a long one.