A Travellerspoint blog

September 2013

Shamelessly Seeking Devotion & Love

8 More Ways to Help Your Friend, the Writer



It wasn’t until I started writing semi-professionally that I realized how important it is to have people gush over you. Not only does my fragile ego need it, as there are still more rejections than victories, but my writing—from the first words on the screen to the articles on the sites—needs it as well. It’s nice to be reminded what you are laboring over matters to someone other than you and that, in the end, people will be reading it, if all goes well, voluntarily.

The support I’ve received over the last two years has been incredible. Old friends have come back into my life to Like & Share & +1. New friends have rallied to the cause and helped me promote my writing. I honestly couldn’t ask for more, and what is incredible is that people still often ask me what more they could do. So, as a service both to myself and to those other writers still nickel-and-diming their way into a living, I’ve compiled a list of things that might honestly help me…us. (But, if you’re reading this, mostly me.)

1. Drop a line letting us know you’ve liked or simply read something. To be honest about being shamefully self-involved, I become consumed with everything I put out there, revisiting sites to see how many people have “liked” it. I’m giddy every time somebody bothers to leave a little comment on Facebook or at the bottom of an article or blog post. For me, it means someone actually read it, possibly even from top to bottom, and that is just awesome. I was never a particularly needy writer before being published, but after a little recognition, it seemed my need for more grew insatiable: Did they like this one, too?

2. Share what you like. It’s amazing what happens when people start to share on Facebook (and like—but sharing reaches more people), retweet, and/or +1 an article. More often than not, my articles settle in somewhere between twenty and fifty likes, but a few times, I’ve watched the good stuff skyrocket: 100+ Likes, a dozen Tweets, etc. I don’t know how it used to be, but these days writers spend a lot of time promoting their publications on social media. To see something get this sort of visible applause is so reassuring, both that the writing is okay and that the incessant posting isn’t annoying the hell out of people.

3. Join in on all the social media outlets you use. When I promote an article, I put it up on no less than five different outlets at a time. These outlets have become so important to writers. The number of followers, friends, connections, and links we acquire means a tremendous amount in terms of the likelihood our latest article will be read by as many people as possible and, in turn, of our writing being a viable commodity for publishers. Writing now must compete with YouTube!, Vimeo, and the like, so it’s becoming unprofitable for sites to buy anything but bulleted lists and Miley Cyrus stunts.

4. Let us know what you want to know. I started off as a poet, and one that expected readers to recognize genius (whatever I decided to write). Now, I realize that what I really want to write is what people are interested in reading. Fortunately for me, the expat life is one that yields a lot of material, and unfortunately, a lot of that material becomes a little too typical after a while. Sometimes it’s a struggle to weed through what’s too basic and what’s too specific. Publications, especially, want those articles people (you) will click on, which might not be “Four Awesome Multi-Purpose Tree Projects in Guatemala”.

5. Actually visit our website from time to time. The cyber world keeps track. The same way an article that receives a lot of attention will benefit its publisher, a website that gets a lot of traffic will benefit its creator. One of the first things I do every morning is check how many people visited my site the day before (usually between 50 and 150 a day). When the site’s traffic gets to a certain point, I’ll be able to monetize the site selling ad space, using affiliate programs (where I’m paid a commission), and garnering more attention from paying publishers. It’s a more stable income than selling article freelance.

6. Set our websites as your homepage, if only for a week or month. This is crazy devotion and beyond any realistic expectation, but essentially, it would mean that you visit the website daily, possibly distracting yourself with an article before getting down to business. In my case, I update my website Welcome page about once a week, which would mean opening up to the same thing so often it might drive some friends into an intense hatred of me and all things associated. I wouldn’t want that, but…
My mom asks me a lot about how she can help. Like moms tend to be, she’s really proud I’ve managed to get my name up in luminous places, glamorous websites like Transitions Abroad, BucketTripper, and BootsnAll, and she wants to show me. I know she has likely shared my every publication with my aunts and uncles, her friends and colleagues, probably a few people down at Friday happy hour. She’s never been bashful (though I may have been) about talking me up. This sort of devotion…she’ll love me no matter what, no matter how many times she sees my stupid website when she logs on.

7. Paying attention to certain monetization efforts, and when possible (not costing you any extra) use them. Namely, affiliate programs. This week I’ll be launching a new website www.thengolist.com, which I’ve monetized through affiliate links. These links are sort of like ads (that I’ve personally selected), only I’m paid by commission rather than for the ad space. The idea would be that, if you are going to buy a book from Better World Books anyway, knowing that my site has a link to it, visiting my site to get to the Better World Books website would mean the same cost for you and little money for me.

8. Include links on your pages and personal websites. Similar to sharing through social media, including hyperlinks or quick routes to articles you like or a website in general is an amazing way of promoting us. Many websites these days don’t even offer meager sums for articles (I’ve been paid as low $10 or, sometimes, nothing), but they offer to promote your website or blog as compensation. And, truth told, the more avenues that lead to a writer, the more likely that writer will find a fan. The fan means one more person to possible do the aforementioned things.

So, for those hundreds who have supported me and sought to support me more, I hope I’ve not overstepped my boundaries with these suggestions. Typing up the end of this blog entry, it seems a bit presumptuous to compile a wish list to tell others what it is exactly you can do to help me. But, it’s a question I’ve fielded often, a genuine interest from some, about things that genuinely make a big difference in my sometimes reclusive, overly obsessed life.

My wife, who has suffered neglectful evenings and my head-scratching frustration more than I’d like to admit, has been incredibly supportive. She’s listened to me read manuscripts aloud, offered ill-received criticism when I needed it, and always believed I could do it, whatever “it” was. She’s endured a new growing obsession with SEO-related stuff and the onset of social media fixation. She’s always asked how she could help, and she’s now partnered with me in the creation of our new, truly useful site: The NGO List.

We are doing our first big promotion of The NGO List this weekend. It’s a website that is meant to link travelers who would like to spend some time volunteering with organizations that would like to have volunteers. So, if this latest blog has you at all inspired, spend a little time on the site, maybe like the page on Facebook, follow on Twitter, and help us build a big audience on our first weekend. Like always, thanks so much for your interest.


Posted by jonathonengels 12:53 Archived in Guatemala Tagged travel ngo writing expat Comments (2)

Guatemala by Headline: 3 Quick Vignettes of the Month Gone

Earthquakes, College Football, and Independence Day in September



Whole Lot of Quaking Going On

“You feel that?” The question kind of hangs in the air, everyone twisting their heads a little as if switching on the sensors, faces growing blank with concentration. Then, the whole damned building starts wiggling, continues wiggling, completely nullifying the need for the head-twisting and focusing: When shit is rattling all around you, there’s not much question as to what’s happening.

Earthquakes have been making a comeback round these parts, and this past Friday (6 September) a six-point-five eye-opener shook the tattoo shop for a good thirty seconds while we resisted the urge to run flailing to safety. It just kept going. I’ve probably experience a dozen earthquakes here, ones that registered on my fairly dull internal Richter meter, but I’ve never felt one go on so long.

For those of you unfamiliar with this Guatemalan pastime, earthquakes, along with volcanic eruptions, a regular occurrence here, are part of what makes the Antigueño/Chapin lifestyle so exciting. In fact, quakes are the very reason that Antigua Guatemala (“Old Guatemala”) is not still the Guatemalan capital. In 1773, the Santa Marta earthquakes laid waste to Antigua, then known as La Cuidad de los Caballeros de Santiago de Guatemala (the Second—the first was destroyed by mudslides coming down from Volcan Agua).

Hey, in some ways, we should be thankful. These days, we get to this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the temperamental earth below it. Otherwise, Antigua might have been lost to industrialization and stoplights.


Mono Loco Displays Impressive Clout

The LSU Fighting Tigers have been a regular feature on Mono Loco’s gargantuan flat screen TVs for three weeks running. Hey, I’m a shameless college football fan. Shameless? Hell, I’m a ridiculously proud college football fan, and praise be to Boudreaux for whatever satellite connection Billy Burns has mustard up over at Mono Loco. I talked to him in early August about the possibilities of getting the games with lesser opponents. He assured me, with IPA-infused confidence, that I’d at most miss one game. I was impressed if not a little doubtful.

Sure enough, though, come game time in week two, there it was: LSU vs. UAB. UA-who? Emma had asked, as we watched the Tigers commence to delivering a lethal romping. Week three, the stakes went even a little higher (or lower, depending on how you are gauging things) when LSU took on Kent St. Where are they from? Emma had asked. I couldn’t even answer her. Kent St.? But, Mono Loco had it and, not just that, broadcast that puppy on one of the prime screens for me.

In return, it’s time to deliver a heartfelt shout-out to my hosts at the Funky Monkey, “where everyone knows your name”. Thanks for understanding the demands of college football fans abroad. Not everyone graduates to the NFL. It has been a delightful start to the year, both because of LSU’s rockin’ offense and because, unlike years past, I’m not constantly reloading my live feed on a weak internet connection that causes me to miss half the game.


Independence Day—Not Just a US Tradition

Growing up, I never really thought of the fact that other countries couldn’t give two smoked sausages about the 4th of July or that, in fact, they had their own Independence Day, like say September 15th. This past weekend, Guatemala and Central America at large set off even more fireworks than normal in celebration of the expulsion of the Spanish so many years ago. And, a lot of us—foreign and local alike—got a couple extra days off.

I’m perhaps a little remised to say that we largely skipped the holiday. Emma grew up in England, where there is no Independence Day because…umm…it was the British half the countries were winning Independence from. She never got to experience M80s in toilet bowls or disposable patriotic picnic-ware. For me, I don’t know: Aside from a day off, what is an expat supposed to say about the independence of the nation you’re not from.

Penning this on the 16th of September, having spent the 15th indoors watching “Sunday” movies with Emma, I feel a bit like I’ve signed onto Facebook and discovered I missed an old friend’s birthday (Sorry, Ellen). It’s a guilty feeling but one I (and Ellen) have learned to live with over the years. Regardless, just as on Facebook, happy belated birthday wishes are due. Guatemala, you may be getting old, but you’re still looking good.

Until next week…

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Posted by jonathonengels 15:03 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

From Afghanistan to Quasi-Vegan in Just Three Books

The Places in Between (Rory Stuart), The Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India (Rory MacLean), & Eating Animals (Jonathan Safran Foer)


I’ve been waiting for my new crop of Better World Books books to arrive, and in the meantime, I’ve nursed from the last dregs of those I have. This week’s installment of thoughts on travel literature includes The Places in Between, an amazing journey on foot across Afghanistan; The Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India, a road trip along the old intrepid traveler trail between Istanbul and, umm…India; and Eating Animals, a very sobering look at factory farming and alternative reasons (beyond not wanting to kill animals) for being—at the very least—a responsible meat-eater. It’s been a rather serious path, but one that ultimately left me feeling rewarded, a little more enlightened, and a lot more inclined to live more adventurously. Let us begin.


The Places in Between, Rory Stewart

This book intimidated the hell out of me, which is why it was the last of my last order for me to pick up. It seemed to promise such serious, hard-to-read stuff, a la The Kite Runner. I tend to find myself more often swerving towards the more light-hearted reads of the travel world and endeavoring into the serious stuff with a sense of responsibility. Whatever the case, I finished somewhat interested in visiting Afghanistan and, in the same breath, happy I’m too far away and fund-depleted for such ill-advised adventuring.

Rory Stewart, having had to cut Afghanistan out of his walk across Asia, excitedly backtracks when the country is again opened to tourism. Despite everyone doubting his ability to make across the country, especially to do so on foot without being killed or kidnapped, he does so, and his adventure puts him into close contact with soldiers, former Taliban leaders, and possible wolf attacks. Stewart’s writing made me sympathize, envy, and respect him. His descriptions of the people he meets feel incredibly honest, unflinching in the face of fear, honestly but carefully reactive in the face of appall.
Despite a heavy subject, the book never felt exhausting to read but rather an answer to curiosities I didn’t know I had.


The Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India, Rory MacLean

In the sixties, backpacking came into its own. Hundreds of thousands of travelers set out of trips seeking instant karma and reenactments of dharma. Rory (how on earth did I manage to read two authors named Rory this time!) MacLean presents an amazing premise: Travel this trail again and meet people who have remained along the route, aged hippies who’ve never pushed on, inspired Iranians who left the countries for free love and returned for roots of culture, the drivers and handlers and hostel-owners. What we get is an appropriate far-out mix of Allen Ginsberg, ex-military stragglers, and ever the in between.

What I really like about this book is its unlikely but completely accurate collection of characters you meet along the “trail”, be it the hippie trail from Istanbul to India or the north-to-south route from Patagonia to Alaska. I tend to too often lump travelers into being more similar than we are, but MacLean provides a real look at the eclectic array of intrepids out there, completely different souls on a similar wavelength. It’s an interesting thing to see your own versions of these characters in the people around you, in the homes of your pasts.

Anywhere you go, the book suggests to me, has people with incredibly heart-breaking, interesting lives to share with you, and they are all worth knowing.

*My one complaint was this one was that sometimes the “trip” was a bit too much, as if the writer became too distracted by being mystical and mythical. The stories that are more grounded in reality work much better for me, which meant enduring a bit of odd storytelling in Istanbul.

Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer

That afternoon, I’d had some heart-warming moments touring a turtle hatchery and animal conservation facility, CECON, where I got to bury turtle eggs and release a baby olive ridley sea turtle into the Pacific. They were moments that linger. After dinner at our hostel, scanning the book exchange, I spotted Eating Animals, which I’d been wanting to read for over a year.

Within twenty minutes of picking it up, I regretted it. I put the book down, if only for a minute, to mutter a “son of a bitch” before reading on. I’m no stranger to the horrors of animals in the food industry. I’ve seen a collection of online videos, watched the appropriate documentaries, and read tough stuff like The Omnivore’s Dilemma. For whatever reason, maybe the image of that little turtle climbing around in my hand, I knew this time was different.

I’ve been vegetarian for nearly a decade now, unwavering in meaty communities—Russia, Turkey, Guatemala, Louisiana—around the world. I began the book almost as another pat on the back for sacrificing on behalf of the good cause. I stood confident in my oft-repeated doctrine of “If I can’t kill it myself, I don’t eat it”. Seriously, what was there to be afraid of? I’d already taken the plunge and was living an easy meat-free existence.

This past November, my wife Emma upped the ante on her vegetarianism by giving up milk, cheese, eggs, yogurt, and all those great dairy treats—ice cream—we veggies hold dear. Hey! We still have pizza, fried egg sandwiches, and the occasional gelato, so life can’t be so bad. I resisted the change, clinched a little firmer onto my smoked Gouda. I understood why she was doing it but wanted no part.

In fact, we’d had lunch at a nearby restaurant that day, and I’d already selected my breakfast for the next morning: chilaquiles—a delicious Mexican speciality with crispy tortillas simmered in a red pepper sauce, covered in fresh cheese, side of beans, two fried eggs oozing from atop the mountain. Dinner that night had just been a precursor, biding my time for morning. Then, I found Eat Animals and read my way right out of it.


For the next twenty-four hours, the book rarely saw a tabletop. As I waited for my breakfast, minus eggs and cheese and sour cream, I plowed on.
Beside the pool with my mayo-free vegetable sandwich and beer, I waded through page after page. On the shuttle ride home, cramped between bags and passengers, I only grew stronger in my resolve: Being vegetarian—not eating animals—simply wasn’t enough.

What makes Eating Animals so powerful for me was that, unlike those other aforementioned objections to the food stuff, Jonathon Safran Foer was not out to slander. The premise of the book is vegetarian father—Foer—exploring the idea of feeding his child meat. In fact, he seems to chase every lead to make it okay, from discussing the nostalgia of traditions—Thanksgiving, his grandmother chicken and carrots—to visiting the most ethically minded animal farmers out there.

I’ve explained my vegetarianism hundreds of times over the last few years, but this book changed all of my logic. Foer’s most compelling arguments, the ones that ultimately stuck me with a choice, have nothing to do with animal rights. Rather, his data on the other implications, environmental damage and world hunger, brought about by factory farming are so disturbing I just can’t…not even if I really, really want a cheese and mushroom omelet.

He points out that the ethical choice of vegetarianism (or quasi-veganism—I will eat cheese or eggs under very specific circumstances where I absolutely know it didn’t come from factory farming)…the ethical choice of vegetarianism has become less and less about whether or not you agree with eating animals. The choice to do so these days means so much more, means supporting something with irrefutably evil ties. So, I’m left with pretty much no cheese now, no yogurt, and so on, just praying he never decides to investigate beer.

Posted by jonathonengels 14:38 Archived in Guatemala Tagged animals books farm expat Comments (0)

Quetzaltrekkers Looks Freakin’ Rock-n-Roll:

An NGO Changing What NGOs Do with Innovative Thinking


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My list of places left to visit in Guatemala is steadily depleting. This past weekend, I went to Monterrico for my first proper visit. It was far beyond what I expected: On the first morning, we spent two hours on eco-tour through miles of mangrove, in the distance, Volcan Fuego spewing smoke as the three other volcanoes—Pacaya, Agua, and Acatenango—also decorated the skyline. I visited an animal sanctuary with prehistoric fish, sea turtles, caiman, and iguanas. I buried rescued turtle eggs and released an olive ridley turtle into the Pacific Ocean. Then, there was also swimming, black sand beaches, cheap beer, and hammocks. By and large, I never heard rave reviews about Monterrico, or much of anything really. I loved it.


On to the next place: One of the remaining Guatemalan destinations for me is a northern city called Quetzaltenango (the land of quetzals), otherwise identified as Xela (pronounced Shay-la). Frankly, I’ve never wanted to go. It’s Guatemala’s second largest city. It gets cold there because of being at a ridiculously high altitude (2330 mts/7600 ft). It’s a place I best know for cheap Spanish classes, and I’ve got Emma, whose Spanish skills have undoubtedly far surpassed mine, for that. The only other thing I know is going on is hiking, and herein lies this month’s NGO and the reason Xela will feature in my future at some point.


Quetzaltrekkers is an idea I’m completely jealous to have not come up with. Essentially, there are kids in need in Xela, kids in danger of living life on the street, malnourished, undereducated, and so on, and there are people who want to help with that situation. These helpers are not necessarily educators, doctors, or multimillionaires, but what they can do is walk…trek, if you will. So, in 1995, Quetzaltrekkers—a non-profit tour company—comes into being to create sustainable funding for a school for these kids, and as many great ideas do, it grows.


These days, Quetzaltrekkers continues to work with Asociación Escuela de La Calle (EDELAC), a school in an impoverished neighborhood that provides education to over 175 kids, either from the street or at high-risk of being so, as well as operates Hogar Abierto, a dormitory/permanent residence for 15 adolescents which includes supplying them with clothes, medical care, and food. Over 80% of the funding required by EDELAC comes from Quetzaltrekkers, from tourists paying to go on their guided hikes and the profits from that going to good.

As Quetzaltrekkers has grown into its own, the NGO has become involved with other local projects. Primeros Pasos is a NGO focused on providing women and children with healthcare and treated over 7,000 patients last year. The Chico Mendes Reforestation Project is planting trees in rural areas outside of Xela, places the Quetzaltrekker crew leads tours, and it is attached to a Spanish school that helps finance its mission. And, now there is also the Quetzaltrekkers’ Scholarship Fund that provides tuition for students who have earned and want tertiary education (usually alumni from EDELAC).


Volunteer opportunities are vast and plentiful when getting involved with this project and its friends. First and foremost, Quetzaltrekkers looks for guides for its walk. EDELAC needs educators and/or helpers for the classroom. Hogar Abierto needs people to help with running the dormitory. These opportunities can all be pursued the Quetzaltrekker group, but there also chances to volunteer and work with Primeros Pasos and the Chico Mendes Reforestation Project. Oh, I haven’t mentioned the fact that a-whole-nother branch exists in Nicaragua.

So, I’ve got to go to Xela, I suppose. I really dig what this place is doing, and I want to be a part of it. I really want to be a trekker.

Posted by jonathonengels 14:26 Archived in Guatemala Comments (1)

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