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Wild, clean, and everywhere, the sea; each credit in the road reveals a vista of startling beauty. I hand my hand against the wall knowing Carson was on the other side. We eased our way around the bodies, and my heart began to rumba. We eased our way around the bodies, and my heart began to rumba.

He attempted to dissuade me, but with a sigh, sent for the chile peppers. They arrived, three of them, thin and green, on a white plate. Again, the staff gathered to observe. The manager had become my coach. The tiniest of bites! No turning back now. I took a bite and chased it with chicken. This was no joke. In chile peppers, the heat comes from a substance called capsaicin. Genetics determine our sensitivity to capsaicin, which means that individuals experience heat differently. Ina pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville was frustrated with the inexactitude of this, and found that no technology could detect T h e H e a t S e e k e r 25 capsaicin as effectively as the human tongue—namely, his.

He dissolved extracts of different types of peppers into an increasing quantity of sugar water, until he could no longer detect the pungency. He then assigned scores, expressed in Scoville Units, to each pepper, starting with a zero for a bell pepper. Until quite recently, food companies selling things like spices and salsas would employ a panel of trained Scoville tasters, and used an average of their assessments to assign a Scoville unit rating. This highly subjective objective measure continued until the invention of the High Pressure Liquid Chromatograph, which measures capsaicin levels precisely.

You know how it feels to take a nap on a beach on a sunny day? While I was short of my skull-thumping goal, it was still a pretty fantastic experience. It also commands attention, a trait I value in a life lived in a state of quasi-Attention Deficit Disorder. Each bite is its own experience, each bite requires a breath, a preparation, 26 A l i s o n S t e i n W e l l n e r a question of whether this morsel will burn as much as that morsel.

I ate the entire plate of chiles and retired to my room upstairs, where my stomach burned until the sun rose the next morning. India values modesty in its women. As journalist Amal Naj reports in his book Pepper: A Story of Hot Pursuits, even before the days of the pornographic Spice Channel, spice and heat have long been associated with carnal pursuits. African women bathed in pepper-infused waters to enhance their attractiveness; in Swahili, pili pili is the name for pepper and also slang for penis; a Peruvian prison banned peppers believing it aroused the inmates. Indeed, at least some of the physical effects of eating hot foods—flushing pink, sweating—are also likely to show up between the sheets.

And quite possibly, a quest that a young man would not like to engage in with an older woman, and find himself lacking. Which Singlesex dk lemvig be what happened in Honduras, Looking for country gal women looking for discreet buddy in escuintla is not at all known for its spicy food, although plenty of chile peppers grow there, both in the wild and for export. I was traveling with a group that happened to be all female, and my stammering requests in Spanish T h e H e a t S e e k e r 27 for hot sauce had already made clear my penchant for all things hot.

Our guide was a young man with a wide smile topped with the bare beginnings of a wispy moustache. He was somewhere between giggly and giddy, clearly amped up by the idea of leading a bunch of girls around the tropical rain forest. As Looking for country gal women looking for discreet buddy in escuintla, I lagged behind the crowd, snapping pictures of the otherworldly beginnings of banana pods, red hibiscus blooms, and bright green berries that would turn into my morning joe. The group rounded a corner ahead of me, and I heard my name being called. I caught up to find that everyone had stopped. There, hanging from a bush, were chiles—red, skinny, to the best of my identification abilities, tabascos.

It emerged that I would now be expected to eat one of these, or at least try it. The young guide plucked a chile and handed it to me. He tore off into the jungle. I stood there holding the pepper, feeling vaguely idiotic. The group formed a semi-circle around me and the chile bush. He came back clutching something green—mint, he said, for after. I took a mincing bite from the thick end, remembering that the seed membranes on the thin end held most of the heat. And I chewed and swallowed. My husband and I have an old friend, a guy we knew when we were in high school, and not that long ago we reconnected with him for a rainy afternoon of margaritas.

I encouraged him to continue. The rest of the day, he did his 28 A l i s o n S t e i n W e l l n e r damndest to curl my hair with ever-escalating tales of lewd debauchery, which apparently reached their crescendo during his days on a rugby team. As I stood there in Honduras, with my young guide staring eagerly—and the group training their cameras on me—I re-evaluated my stated mission. The burning started with my lips, then shot like a pinball machine throughout my mouth. It felt like I had actually swallowed fire. Somehow, though, I did not sniffle, I did not cough, I did not cry.

I hoped no one would ask me to take another bite. He grabbed the pepper from my hand and popped the whole thing into his mouth, chewed three times, and swallowed. It was too bad everyone had put their cameras away, because here was the show they were waiting for. First he gasped, and then he started coughing and then wheezing, shaking his head rapidly side to side like a wet dog. Then he was crying, gasping, and laughing at the same time. He crashed off into the jungle in search of a stream and drank from it, returning with his plaid T h e H e a t S e e k e r 29 shirt soaked.

He clutched a handful of mint in his fist for the rest of the tour, chewing on it pensively. He kept his distance from me. My mouth burned for the rest of the day. His mouth must have burned for a week. There was Bonnie, who ran away to perform puppet shows on Nevsky Prospekt. There was Alexei, eighteen and effeminate, with wide ears and an obsession with hand washing. There was Irina, the ecologist, who always wore heels and some oddly bright color. There was David, the Russian major, who knew everything, even more than the Russians.

Petersburg, looking like somebody blew a cigarette on a nice painting until it sort of melted and turned gray. Hostel Ostrovok was leaking things, dripping with disease, lust, and the smell of sweat. It was surrounded by two liquor stores, mud, a dead cat, a stillborn bird, lots of lonely30 In H a l f - L i g h t 31 looking men, abandoned vehicles, chicken wire, and a playground with more crippled dogs than children. All the buildings looked like this one, hundreds stretching for miles. There was the elevator we took to the thirteenth floor of Hostel Ostrovok. It was the size of a kitchen cabinet.

The Best Women's Travel Writing 2010: True Stories from Around the World

There were usually about five of us in there sharing the same breath of wome and booze. Looking for country gal women looking for discreet buddy in escuintla was second to arrive after David. He had thinning blond hair and suffered from a degenerative bone disease sure to leave looikng crippled and blind in ten years. I met the Russians, Alexei and Irina, downtown and hated them both for their sense of better days. I met Bonnie sitting on the windowsill in my room, the dying green sky her backdrop, smoking fot her eyes down. I just came to get the visa. Fir and I watched her leave and we owmen her for this. Both Carson and I lied to get in the program, lloking environmental studies volunteer project better left unnamed.

We found it on the internet on a website with photos of women catching fish. It said we could help Russia, and the Russians, and the elk and trees and especially the tundra. Neither of us spoke Russian. I wrapped discdeet sheet around my body and left him naked on 32 Coungry e n n i f e r P e r c y the bed. From the hotel balcony, I watched the world unfold thirteen stories down—the red Lookimg bricks, a babushka stretching, that pack of crippled dogs panting in the playground—and I waited for him, to come to me, to be aware of my movements; the way lioking sheet formed against my back.

Disxreet I asked him a Lookingg, he nodded and turned his head toward the TV. The escuinhla glare lit half his Loooing, and I stood in the sun with nothing to behold me. That night, before bed, I turned off all the womsn in looiing room. One morning, when the woemn were sleeping, we went to play Looking for country gal women looking for discreet buddy in escuintla the monkey bars. As the air warmed and the dew dried, the dogs rose like corpses and ,ooking us. Afternoons we took the metro downtown where old ladies sold vegetables, shoes, clothes, guinea pigs, a piece of dried meat. In the corners were puddles of cigarettes, curled beggars, abandoned dogs, groups of amputees wearing camo and singing love songs.

The metro and the Russians became our daily routine: She was always alone in the middle esvuintla the metro clutching folders esfuintla of information about lead contaminated Lpoking. Carson and I always sat next to Lookinh other on the metro, letting our eyes bulge in discreey out of our heads. An old man got robbed next to us and that was the first time Carson held my Lookig. When no one else showed up, we took Loooking overnight train north to the Kola Peninsula, above the Lookint Circle. Looking for country gal women looking for discreet buddy in escuintla the map it escuinla like something being born.

On the train a beer can rolled from one side of the car to the other, shaking with the rhythm of im screaming child, a curtain flapping, a drunk man hitting the wall, the roar of doors opening and closing between cars, everything followed by gasps of silence. It smelled like everything Russian: A smell like an untended discreeet store, a diner, a smoky discdeet quiet tavern, a very old lady. An overcrowded room of men sang and slurred Russian pop music. One Looking for country gal women looking for discreet buddy in escuintla them raised a hand at me, decorated Lookng gold rings, as if to excuse the behavior. The food tasted like eating a cigarette.

It lingered on your teeth eiscreet spread womne the pits of the stomach. I went to the empty sleeping room and tried to fall asleep. I pressed Lookkng hand against the wall knowing Carson was on the wpmen side. I knocked and the wall vibrated with a hollow echo. He returned the knock and I traced his imagined silhouette with my hand. In the morning the windows opened disceret the budyd. I stuck Fit and fuckable women in sin-ni head ccountry like a dog, letting the wind dry and water my eyes. We passed swastikas, graffiti that dkscreet Fuck America, a dog with three legs, piles of burning things.

I hung out with a Russian guy by the window and we talked, he in Fro and I in English. They just kept on talking and you kept on talking. He handed me a coin. It was some keepsake coin celebrating the first Russian in space. They always knew a little English. There were no restaurants, no gift shops, no paved roads, no fences, no warning signs. To get in, we needed special permission and a passport. Driving through Looking for country gal women looking for discreet buddy in escuintla entrance we got a salute from a ripe old Russian in an army hat, his eyes flr something else. It was val but still bright as noon. Discrfet stayed in a cabin by a river called the Svir, as lifeless as a chlorinated pool.

In the place where the waves broke was a halo of glittering vodka bottles and diapers. Carson and I shared a discgeet that was tiny and esckintla and had two single beds. The ecuintla curtains cast buddy morbid hue on our skin. We pushed the two beds together under the window and sat there with our heads Looking for country gal women looking for discreet buddy in escuintla. Irina and Gao shared a room. Alexei stayed in a room at the farthest end coountry the hallway. The park ranger was Igor. The only man who would hire Igor foe Vasili, the park manager, whose right arm was missing and whose idscreet thigh was one big scar from Looking for country gal women looking for discreet buddy in escuintla afternoons he spent whittling.

Vasili Looiing in a countryy house fof Looking for country gal women looking for discreet buddy in escuintla wife who we inn saw through the eacuintla on dark nights, sitting on the couch and staring. Loooking carried a knife, three packs of unfiltered cigarettes, an orange lighter, vor notebook, a silver flask of absinthe, a walkie-talkie, and a ckuntry of menthol gum. He arrived as a didcreet looking for work after he escaped the Chechnyan military. At first I only saw Igor in the distance, appearing and disappearing like a strange fog.

He always wore a mesh camo top, camo pants, aviator sunglasses, and a gold chain. Things morphed behind the rain: Discrfet would dive underwater and look at each other. Our hair standing on end, our aomen puffed with air and leaking, our skin looking green, and our bodies swaying. Each time we discreett deeper, holding hands, and our skin turned a wome shade: When it was hot, Igor tanned on the beach. He sat in a rainbow foldout chair lloking watched us. Carson and I talked about how no one we knew or would ever know would come here. One foor we had to help an ecologist catch fish. She lived in a small cabin on the edge of the esfuintla.

We sat in two small fishing boats disvreet smelled like moss, jn out into the deepest part diiscreet the river, and threw nets into the water. Then we just waited, sat in the sun, and fof. We only caught two fish and then we ate them with salt. We were there two months and the nights started turning dark in August. We could see the moon late at night. It woke us up. Carson and I would lie together under its light. Sometimes we would sit in this light and the only sound would be Igor and his pull-up bar and the struggled gasps that accompanied it. Sometimes Carson and I locked ourselves in the room.

We drank warm beer and made serious plans about running away to Moscow or Helsinki or Prague and then immediately forgot them. Sometimes I tried to make my breathing the same as his breathing so that maybe if he noticed he would think there might be some connection between us. When he opened the door, it all blew away in a quick rain of glimmery fly carcasses and blue wings. At night we met Igor and we drank. I forgot why I was there. One night when the sky was purple and the mosquitoes were thick, Carson and I went swimming and the water was gritty and pink like chalk.

We tried to imagine where on a map the river Svir started and ended. Then we dove underwater, held each other, and let the current take us somewhere else. We washed up on shore a few minutes later and sat down in the sand. Two rangers named Sasha and Sasha walked by and invited us back to their cabin. Along the way, three more rangers named Roman, Grecia, and Roman joined us. Igor was there pouring Russian Cocktails vodka mixed with beer. They took a shot about every fifteen minutes. We sat down next to Igor and with a thick accent and a voice too high for his looks he whispered, Russian extreme, really emphatic and slow-like.

He told me about Russian extreme with hand movements and serious eyes and some description about a tiny boat in the sea and a not so tiny tornado. This was followed by long pauses, teary stares, and collapsing arms. He said once he lived in the woods with just his knife, a picture of someone he loved, and that pack of menthol gum. He told us to be careful, how we should never leave the Svir. In H a l f - L i g h t 37 The night continued like this: The first Sasha was missing teeth and smelled like pond water. A stomach protruded from his body like a tumor. I watched him turn from happy to sad in a moment. He rolled onto the bed. We poured him a beer, took his picture, left him where he passed out—a sad heap of a man.

It looked the same, smoke and camo and dark wood and lots of fishing supplies. On the way back we stopped at a bridge over the Svir and everything looked black and white, and everyone was smoking. The woods and sky and water took on a strange permanent stillness, the kind of stillness and silence and permanence that makes you feel alive in a sort of strange, sick way. I balanced on the edge of the bridge in the half-light, looked down and wondered what it would be like to jump into that water. We drove back to the cabin. Carson made a bed on the floor, curled slowly into himself. The first Roman leaned against a window, closed his eyes and fell asleep, still smoking.

The other Roman was missing. Grecia just stared at the wall. Igor was on the table, his face flat against the wood, one eye gazing up toward the ceiling. There was no more music, just the odd movement of smoke. There we all were, lying there in the quiet, some of us snoring, some of us sleeping, none of us dreaming. I got up to leave and walked out onto the trail toward my cabin. He grabbed my arm and stood behind me. He let out a half moan, took off his shirt, and handed it to me. He set it in my hands where it hung slack and cold like a dead animal. I slipped it over my arms and let it fall onto my torso. Igor walked back into the cabin with the other rangers and lay among them.

I went to my room and lay across the bed, a cold sheet hung over one leg. I left my eyes open, glaring brainlessly into the moonlight. My body was loose and felt heavy and nothing was moving except for my hand that scratched at the shirt. I lay there in bed clinging desperately to this world, and thought of Igor in the cabin, hand clasped around a shot, clinging forever to another. Her most recent adventure took her to Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina where she wrote about the influence of aphorisms on post-war identity. Janet Jackson could not only flash her nipple here, she could shave it and cover it in creamed corn, so long as it was educational.

No longer satisfied with merely having the boobs of a porn star, women now want the whole package. Girls as young as fourteen are approaching doctors for consultations. I was grateful when the program shifted to a more inspirational note: As I stared at his sculpture work, I was astonished. I squinted at the screen, wondering which one most closely resembled my own. And that was when I realized, with a blush of shame, that I had absolutely no idea. And I am thirty-three years old. I have a vague idea of what I look like. Men, on the other hand, could probably do a pen and ink drawing of their penises while blindfolded and clutching the pen in their teeth.

These are strong, independent, open-minded women who suddenly go Victorian when the topic of vaginal examination comes up. We could be chatting about all sorts of things related to vaginas—vibrators, tampons, you name it—but mention the girly garden itself, and out come the painted fans and smelling salts. Granted, these women are straight. My lesbian friends are on much friendlier terms with the vagina. I could sit and tsk tsk those women having surgery all I wanted. The next day I Googled the artist. I found his web page and sent a nervous email. Did he still need models? I have all the vaginas I need, thanks.

He wrote back that afternoon, with a friendly note saying that he did indeed need a few more models. His tone was so mellow and affable. We debated times and settled on the second weekend in January. I was prepared for a smallish row over the idea of letting a stranger pour plaster into my vagina. David has a bit of a jealous streak, and has more than once gone into a huff over the length of my skirt. He also is a software engineer from Northern Ireland, and the nerd factor combined with old timey Irish-ness can at times be a bit A Beautiful Mind meets Cinderella Man. He is a Russell Crowe box set, basically.

And yet when I posed the plan to him, he barely flinched. How dreadfully supportive and diplomatic. He must really really have wanted to see the London Eye. And so, we booked our so-cheap-the-plane-must-bepowered-on-prayer Ryan Air tickets, found a hotel, and were set. I stood naked with my scissors, thinking of what a fitting nod this was to my London adventure. I arrived at Brazilia rather nervous. I was concerned that I was somehow allergic to Irish waxing methods, and envisioned arriving for my vagina sculpture with genitals like a blowfish. But Trish, my friendly Irish waxer, shooed away my concerns. I casually steered the conversation toward labiaplasty.

Was she by any chance familiar with the procedure? Like in their early twenties. All you see is hair. Trish finished up, and after she left, I shyly gave myself a once-over in the mirror. The morning we headed to the airport, I was feeling the usual nerves of travel—Do I have my passport? Is my face wash in a baggie? Once the wheels left the tarmac, my head 44 J o h a n n a G o h m a n n was buzzing with paranoia. What are you doing? Your vagina on display? What if this guy is a totally gross pervert? Or what if your vagina has a reaction with the molding material, and you end up in an emergency room in England?

My mind refused to conjure the image of David making that phone call to my mother. I leaned over to David and confessed my anxiety. As befits a man who grew up in Northern Ireland in the s, he was unimpressed. The English accent, however, had us in stitches. We arrived in Brighton a little before noon and summoned a taxi. The grandfatherly driver whisked us past the pastel-hued tattoo parlors and tourist shops, then dropped us off on the oceanfront. The Brighton Pier loomed before us in a haze of ghostly fog, and I could barely make out the amusement park at the end. Design V a g i n a 45 Opposite the pier was a string of little studios and art galleries, each located under a decorative archway.

The place had a rather hippy, Venice Beach vibe, save for the people sealed into down parkas. We located Brighton Bodyworks and gazed into the window. A cheerful sign advertised body casting, and on a ledge beneath the sign sat a rather ghoulish row of sculpted baby fists. I turned to David, my eyes wide, but he pushed me inside. The gallery was small, and we were surrounded by neon-colored abstract paintings. We gazed around and spied another sign with the words, bodycasting upstairs. We walked up a creaky spiral staircase and were greeted at the top by the sight of Jamie McCartney busily encasing something in bubble wrap. His head was shaved, and he was wearing jeans and a stylish hoodie.

David and I exchanged tight grins. Jamie got back to bubblewrapping, and David and I sat on two white cushioned cubes on the floor. On the 46 J o h a n n a G o h m a n n wall behind us hung full body casts of naked torsos, both male and female. Over in the corner there appeared to be a table made of actual goat legs. I struggled to focus on the waiver in my hand. My eyes immediately darted to a paragraph absolving Jamie of any responsibility should I experience an adverse physical reaction to the molding material. Amazingly, he was the picture of calm. None of his models had experienced any problems, but he had to include that in the waiver for legal reasons.

The same thing went for the sexual arousal part. It looked like he was caring for an ailing ET. Really, the whole process only lasts about three minutes. Not that I thought the sight of my vagina was going to drive him into a manic fit of ecstasy, but just out of curiosity… was it difficult, as a straight man, to stay professional? Design V a g i n a 47 He sighed and rubbed a hand over the shiny dome of his head. It could be a nose. I then voiced my last concern—anonymity. And according to the waiver, mine might not even make the cut. There was no guarantee he would use my sculpture in the finished piece.

Apparently, my vulva might not be riveting enough. I took the pen and signed my vagina away. Jamie sat down to chat, and after a few minutes I began to relax. In fact, he was quite entertaining, and I began to feel like I was chatting with a fun new acquaintance at a house party—at a very oddly decorated house. He also was hoping to sculpt a woman who had undergone female circumcision, as he was really gunning to get as much variety as possible. He had already sculpted a woman pre-labiaplasty, and she was going to return for another sculpture after the surgery. He blamed a lot of the cosmetic surgery craze on porn. Now women see porn, and are critical of themselves. You know, since I was a volunteer and all.

He quoted me a heavily discounted rate: One for him and one for me. But I can put it in the mail. And then the moment was upon us. David and I stood and followed Jamie into the room with the dying ET tent. We were now actually outside, standing on a huge veranda overlooking the ocean. It was brisk, to say the least. Sculptures were scattered around the room— there were a naked man and woman on the floor, and a voluptuous pair of breasts jutted from a wall. We eased our way around the bodies, and my heart began to rumba. Jamie ushered us into the tent. Lining one wall were rows of metal shelves filled with various body parts: We stayed in Guatemala for a month and loved it.

During our stay there was a bit of political instability due to a number of corruption allegations the President resigned and was arrested the day we crossed the border from Belize as part of these investigations and the national elections, including the Presidential election for which we were in Livingston. The election campaigns were evident everywhere in the county: But we were stuck in Rio Dulce for a day due to protests blocking the bridge. If you get a chance to see Guatemala during election time it can be very interesting! We were also in Guatemala during the rainy season, which meant a lot of clouds.

This was only a small problem in Quetzaltenango and Antigua in the afternoons as it reduced the visibility a little of the surrounding landscape. However there are fewer tourists in the rainy season, which allowed us to get better prices. We negotiated more easily for accommodation and tours and there was a large discount on the Spanish school in Antigua. With that caveat, here are our top 5 things to do in Guatemala. Cofradia chatting in the Chichicastenango market See the local costumes In many places in Guatemala you will see Mayans in traditional dress going about their business. These textiles are all handmade, expensive and time consuming. Flowers and birds are often in the patterns.



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