The Creators

Yesterday I saw my friend Anthony. Three years ago we backpacked from Costa Rica all the way to the southern-most town in Tierra del Fuego and then back up into Brazil. Two years before we roadtripped from Miami to Montana and spent a summer working as bus drivers for a whitewater rafting company. He’s a good travel companion.

But nothing epic happened yesterday. I drove to his house in the afternoon and spent a little while helping him and another friend, Ben, clear out some vegetation in Anthony’s garden. We got some dinner at one of our old highschool hangouts and drove over to another friend’s house, who recently finished law school and had two of his law school buddies over.

We all watched the Heat game and after Wade and company had sealed the game, Anthony and Ben got up and started kicking around a soccer ball. I joined them. None of us are anything special with a soccer ball, but we took turns dribbling and making little precision passes to each other in the dimly lit backyard.

It reminded me of things Anthony and I’d done in South America. A solo Japanese traveler named Minoru whose path sometimes overlapped ours had always kept a soccer ball on him as a way of making friends. It worked with us; as the three of us had waited at bus stations for upcoming departures we’d kicked around and tried tricks.

Now, Anthony, Ben, and I were doing the same. Anthony is going back to Colombia in about a month to teach English and see more of the country. Ben has talked to me about wanting to live in Buenos Aires for awhile. I’m heading back up to Pittsburgh pretty soon so I can work a few freelance editorial projects, save up, and travel again.

There was a good vibe. It feels good to be on the verge of departure. The three of us hustled around the ball for awhile and finally Anthony smiled and said something.

“The lawyers are sitting over there. Talking. The artists are over here. Creating.”

I rolled his words around in my mind. It was true. Even if dribbling a soccer ball isn’t much, we were creating. Not to mention Anthony and Ben are musicians, and good ones. They make their living elsewhere but both are big talents on the drums and guitar respectively. They are creators. I’m a writer, and I hope a good one. Starting this blog has helped me keep creating.

And what might be more creative than anything else is that we’re travelers. The trips we take are our creations. We take pride in them and often eagerly present them to the rest of the world. We do it in our music, writing, pictures, however we tell our stories.

My recovery’s almost over. I have one more follow-up with my surgeon. I can barely contain my excitement to be out in the world again. Creating.

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2506 and the Forgotten Man Still Alive

I think this happens to most people: an obscure or forgotten historical moment seizes their interest at a formative time in their lives and stays with them forever. The moment embeds itself into their developing character and permanently alters their worldview. For me, it was the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

The Bay of Pigs was important when it happened, sure, but 50 years later it is essentially forgotten. Its legacy is completely overshadowed by the sequel episode in the Cuba-USA-USSR drama, the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is also sort of forgotten.

But about six years ago, when I was 20, I became fascinated by the Bay of Pigs. As the son of two Cuban exiles, I wondered how different my life would’ve turned out if things had gone differently that day, the logical conclusion of course being that I wouldn’t even exist because my parents would’ve never met in Miami. But I also wondered how different things would’ve been for all the exiles. What if the invasion’s promised air support hadn’t been grounded, if they hadn’t run out of ammunition at the most critical moments in the battle, if the location of the beach landing hadn’t been changed from a more favorable location to a swamp, if they hadn’t already been forsaken? Just writing about it gives me goosebumps.

The exiles are one of the America’s great immigrant success stories. They’re prosperous, they’re an integral part of one of America’s largest cities, there are several high-profile Cuban-Americans in American pop-culture (from Gloria Estefan to Marco Rubio to Pitbull), and the exiles have an exceptionally powerful lobbying presence on Capitol Hill. The argument can be made that political backing from the exiles determines the next president, since they tip the scales in the most crucial purple state. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Kennedy severely damaged the political future of the Democratic Party by disenfranchising the Cubans, although I also don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Republicans have been exploiting the exiles for decades with their cries of “Next year in Havana!” every four years.

Yet despite their success in America, the majority of exiles, even today, more than 50 years later, still dream of returning to Cuba. For some of them, it’s practically all they talk about, even now. I’ve met older exiles who justify their unhealthy habits by the fact that they won’t get back to Cuba before they die anyway, so they might as well keep drinking their cafecito even though their doctor gave them explicit orders not to. Learning about the Bay of Pigs helped me better understand the agony of the exile’s loss, their drive to succeed in America, and their permanent connection to Cuba. Even so, my interest in the Bay of Pigs eventually faded. I keep up with the story of the exiles, and I always will, but mostly I’ve just gone on living my life in America.

And then can you imagine how shocking it was when one of the forgotten pages of a history text was for an instant still a man alive here in the world? He was small and hunched over and walked crooked because of a limp in his right leg. I spoke to him only because someone else at the party I was at told me he was there on that day.

“Tell me about what happened to you. I want to know.”

We walked away from the speakers blaring salsa, merengue and other music that sounded even sillier than usual, and he told me of the things I’d read about, how they ran out of bullets, how they could see an American cruiser offshore that didn’t help them, how they were captured and held in camps and how Fidel had random groups of them publicly executed to keep them scared. He told me with tears lining his eyes. I hated myself for being taller than him and bent down to listen. He spoke until he didn’t feel like it anymore and then limped away. “2506,” he said, turning his head back towards me for a moment, “but that number means nothing to you.” “It was the number of your brigade,” I yelled after him, but he couldn’t hear me over the music. He folded back into the crowd like a random page in a book and that was it.

About That Title

Welcome to my website, Curious Traveler, which I hope will be just as run-of-the-mill and forgettable as every other homepage designed by a travel writer who thinks he can somehow carve out a niche for himself in an absurdly bloated market. The idea behind Curious Traveler is that travel writers must be curious; that the world is interesting and therefore worth exploring must be a core belief. But almost by definition travel writers end up being just plain curious, by which I mean weird. That’s part of their glory.

I’ve got five basic categories:

“Diatribes” is my rants and raves section, a cocktail of intellectual inquiry, humor, and pretension.

“Mental Mastications” is for ruminations, meditations, contemplations, and stuff like that. The thing is I wanted to use a less commonly seen -tion word, hence mastications. I also like the image it gives me: a travel writer crouching in a pasture like a cow, endlessly chewing grass.

“Perils Averted” is for adventures and other outings. That’s what most travel writing is, I think: just another dangerous situation the writer inserts himself in, like the plucky protagonist he is, only to narrowly escape, totally unscathed.

“Profiles of Interest” is stuff about people whose stories are more interesting to write about than my own. There will be many.

And lastly, “The Catharsis of Wilderness and Corresponding Nonsense” is, of course, nature writing.

I’ll be updating the site a lot. Check back often, or, better yet, subscribe in the lower right corner.