Preserving Net Neutrality is Now Up to Congress: Thoughts For My Congressman

Congressman Brat,

First, I wrote you last month expressing my opposition to a provision in the initial House tax bill that counted tuition waivers for graduate students as taxable income. As this provision was removed in the final bill that passed Congress, I wanted to thank you for any support you lent in the removal of this provision.

Second — the crux of why I am writing — is to urge you to work quickly to preserve net neutrality after the FCC’s repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order which provided a regulatory framework for insuring that internet providers do not unfairly favor or block web traffic. With the FCC’s change in policy, it is my understanding that the basic tenets and protections of net neutrality will be best preserved and guaranteed through federal legislation. Representative Blackburn’s proposal ( is a good start, as it would ban both the blocking and slowing of websites. However, I would note that the current version of this bill does not ban providers from selling “fast lanes” to specific websites willing to pay a fee — this was previously disallowed under FCC rules. Therefore, I encourage you to advocate for the addition of some reasonable rules around how and when these “fast lanes” can be sold, as “fast lanes” will inevitably put start-ups and small innovators that cannot pay for this preferred service at a disadvantage.

Finally, I am angry that the recent FCC’s decision to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order was based partially on the premise that broadband investment declined from 2015 to 2016 because of the 2015 regulations, which the FCC Chair called “heavy-handed.” (The data behind this is detailed in the FCC’s annual report on the competitiveness of the wireless industry:  I am hoping you — as a trained economist — can join me in refuting this ridiculous assertion. Pointing out the slight drop in investment from 2015 in 2016 and then arguing this drop must have occurred due to the change in regulations is quite a leap in logic. As any economist worth his or her salt knows, correlation does not imply causation. Before leaping to conclusions, one must ask, are there other factors at play? For instance, could this drop be due to the fact that investment in broadband technologies may be cyclical, as providers move between generations of technology, i.e. between 3G and 4G ( Also, do we have a sufficient dataset? Wouldn’t any careful analysis look at overall trends in data prior to the imposition of the 2015 regulations to see if blips are expected or normal? Once you include this data, you would notice that between 2013 and 2015, before the net neutrality rules were in place, there was also a drop in broadband investment (investment was $33.1 billion in 2013 compared to $30.9 billion in 2015, Shouldn’t that fact be considered before assigning causation to the regulations? Finally, should the FCC ignore the claims of the major telecom companies themselves when they insisted to their investors that the net neutrality rules the FCC enacted in 2015 would not slow their investment in new broadband technology ( As a former professor of economics, I am sure you would have sternly corrected any student that came to you with the “analysis” the FCC has presented to the American public as “proof” that the 2015 Open Internet Order caused investment in broadband to decrease.

Aside from the fact that a major reason for the change in FCC rules was sold to the American public based on a comically faulty economic analysis, I could buy the argument that the FCC’s current framework for insuring net neutrality for consumers is overly burdensome and out-of-date, given that it relies on the classification of internet providers as utilities under Title II of the Communications Act, which was designed to regulate 1930’s era telecoms. If that is the case, then fine. Let’s create or change the law to create a more sensible approach for broadband in the 21st century that adequately protects consumers against the whims of gigantic corporations. (For the record, I do not think that the “promises” that these major providers have given not to change how they provide internet service after this recent change is sufficient.) Therefore, I encourage you to work with your colleagues in Congress to shore up legal protections for us in the wake of the FCC’s decision.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, and I look forward to seeing you move forward productively on this issue that is so important not just to the day-to-day functioning of the American economy, but is also essential in insuring a vibrant democracy.


Richard Andrews

Signing off from Guatemala with the Country’s Top Entrepreneurs

Richmond, Virginia, United States

And just like that, my three month stay in Guatemala, bookended by two weeks in Chiapas, Mexico is over. Moments after returning to the United States, I found myself in the Atlanta airport, munching on a Chik-fil-A Chicken Sandwich (they are in short supply in Guatemala) and converting US dollars to Guatemalan quetzals in my head (“Really? I just spent nearly 40 quetzals on this?”). Contemplating the deliciousness of my chicken sandwich despite its high quetzalian price, my thoughts drifted back to Lake Atitlán and the tastiest food I experienced there: a bag of popcorn bought off of a roving street vendor, known fondly to my friends and I as “The Popcorn Lady.” This local Guatemalan would boldly venture into the bars of San Pedro late at night, capitalizing on the inebriated gringos and their lowered inhibitions with a laundry hamper full of popcorn bags for sales at an impossibly low price of 5Q a bag (a little less than $1 USD). Night-after-night, I marveled at this enterprising Guatemalteca as she exploited this golden market opportunity, and my view of her began to shift from that of friendly street vendor to plucky entrepreneur, providing a top-notch product to a segment of the San Pedro community rife with spare cash and a willingness to spend it (specifically: drunk Americans, Europeans, and Australians). This experience with “The Popcorn Lady” led me to begin taking note of other entrepreneurs in Guatemala who were making the most of the limited opportunities offered in a country with a national poverty rate around 60% and a per capita GDP of less than $8,000. As my observations of these go-getters accumulated, I began nominating “Entrepreneurs of the Week” for particularly exemplary examples of business ingenuity. And now, looking back on the nearly three months I spent in the country, these individuals flood back into my memory, and so, while they are still fresh in my mind, I would like to highlight a few of my favorite Guatemalan entrepreneurs that, at one time another, were recipients of the esteemed “Entrepreneur of the Week” award.

Jorge and His Rope Swing

Roughly a 30 minute canoe ride from the island town of Flores in El Lago Peten Itzá lives Jorge, his family, and his famous lakeside rope swing. Jorge charges visitors 10Q (~$1.50 USD) for access to his twenty-foot high rope swing and his accompanying lakeside hangout that includes hammocks and a diving platform (about 15-20 feet high). Further demonstrating his enterprising spirit, Jorge, having noticed that his steady stream of visitors are often hungry and thirsty after their boat ride across the water, also sells modestly-priced hot food and drinks (a delicious plate of his nachos for 25Q goes great with a cold Gallo for 15Q). This humble tourist attraction has improbably climbed up to TripAdvisor’s #2 spot on “Things to Do in Flores,” a popping tourist destination given its proximity to the world-renowned Mayan ruins of Tikal, roughly a 1 hour drive away. Quite refreshingly, Jorge fully embraces the tropical island vibes of the Flores area by waiting on customers without the unnecessary encumbrances of a shirt or shoes.

Photo cred:

Miguel, Coffee Plantation Owner and Lakeside Sunrise View Facilitator

Miguel is the owner of a coffee plantation situated on the ridge of Indian Nose, a popular hike for tourists looking for a brilliant view of Lake Atitlán, particularly at sunrise. Miguel is in a fierce competition for customers with the owners of the viewpoint from the top of Indian Nose (Miguel’s property does not quite reach the top but offers views from the summit ridge). However, Miguel is holding his own in a number of ways. First, he undercuts the competition on price by charging about 50Q less than what it would cost to reach the top for only a marginally better view of the lake. Second, at his highest viewpoint, Miguel provides his customers some luxury via a few hand-crafted benches and cups of freshly-brewed coffee from his plantation. Finally, Miguel effectively employs the disinformation strategy in sales know as FUD (“fear, uncertainty, and doubt”) by labeling the owners of the top of the ridge as “bandidos” that will “steal your money.” Given some TripAdvisor reviews that suggest robberies have occurred in the area, I find this strategy of Miguel’s especially compelling. Fight on, Miguel, fight on!

Enjoying Miguel’s coffee from his beautiful viewpoint

Keith, the Chocolate Shaman

Keith may be the most controversial member of this list, given he is originally from Pennsylvania and one of the goals of the “The Entrepreneur of the Week Award” is to elevate the locally-run enterprises. However, given Keith’s incredibly unique entrepreneurial play — that of chocolate shaman — I must give the man his due. Keith and his cacao ceremonies have attracted a devoted following in the Lake Atitlán village of San Marcos La Laguna, and although I admittedly never attended one of these ceremonies, I heard quite a bit about his business proposition from some of his customers and I found it be utterly brilliant. Keith charges each attendee of his biweekly cacao ceremony 200Q (~$30 USD), which comes with a cup of hot cocoa and a 4-6 hour service, replete with spiritual revelations conjured up through the cacao (at Keith’s urging) and Keith’s long meandering monologues about whatever he chooses to expound on that day (one of the more exciting monologues I heard about focused on aliens and how they influence our daily lives). Keith works on Wednesdays and Sundays (the days on which he holds ceremonies,) and, thus, has five days off to brew cacao and enjoy his sizable profits. It really is a wonder that more kids don’t want to be chocolate shamans when they grow-up!

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Photo cred:

The Popcorn Lady of San Pedro La Laguna

And of course, we must end with “The Popcorn Lady” of San Pedro La Laguna. She produces some of the most delicious popcorn you will ever taste. A perfect balance of salty and sweet, her popcorn is best washed down by the Cuba Libre, Gallo, or shot of mezcal that is sure to be in your hand as you are frequenting one of the bars on the “The Popcorn Lady’s” route. Throughout my time in San Pedro, I was never able to down her irresistible calls of “¡Poporopos! ¡Poporopos!” (Guatemalan for popcorn) and, at a price of 5Q/bag, who could?!


And with this homage to some of the most interesting and enterprising individuals I met throughout my time in Guatemala, I am closing out my tales from Central America as the holidays have blown me back to States. However, the travel bug has not been quite cleared from my system as I will be flying down to Colombia for the month of January and I’m sure some tales from there will find there way to the pages of this blog.

Wait…But How Serious is the Mueller Thingy for Trumpy? A Summary of Jeff Toobin’s Fantastic Legal Analysis

The media frenzy surrounding Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s campaign and its possible collusion with Russia has made for some salacious, exciting reading that is rife with conjecture, theories, and prognostications of impeachment. It is also the subject of intense skepticism and ridicule by conservative media outlets and the White House, which has labeled the investigation a fruitless “witch hunt” that is only months (or weeks, if you are Trump’s lawyers) from being abandoned. I, like many, have been eagerly inhaling all of this media exhaust, but it was not until I came across Jeffrey Toobin’s clear-eyed, legal analysis of the current status of the Mueller investigation in the New Yorker and his subsequent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross that I realized how little I understood of the investigation and its potential ramifications for Trump. What I discovered, perhaps unsurprisingly, is that the dangers that this investigation poses for Trump’s presidency lie somewhere between the calls for impeachment coming from the mainstream media and the collective eye roll coming from the pro-Trumpers. I highly recommend that you check out both the New Yorker article and the Fresh Air interview. However, in case you are short on time (the content is lengthy), I gathered some of my high-level takeaways from Toobin’s thoughts below.

Q: What crimes may Donald Trump have committed that Mueller is investigating?

There are three areas of criminal inquiry of the Mueller investigation:

  1. Illegal lobbying activity of Trump campaign associates – Trump is not under investigation here
    • This focuses on Trump associates (Manafort, Gates, and Flynn) and is unlikely to implicate Trump directly. However, Mueller may use discoveries of wrongdoing here as a bargaining chip to extract more information from those close to Trump. Specifically, he will be looking for more information on the next two areas of the investigation detailed below that would implicate Trump more directly.
  2. Collusion between Russia and the Trump Campaign – Trump looks suspicious here but likely not guilty
    • “Collusion” is not a crime under federal law, so Mueller is likely looking into possible criminal activity related to collusion. Toobin surmises that both are related to WikiLeaks and its hacking of email accounts associated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Two potential crimes are:
      • The Trump campaign received “in-kind” donations from WikiLeaks in the form of information (emails) that they hacked. Since federal law prohibits political campaigns from seeking or obtaining contributions from foreign individuals or entities, proving this would be a crime.
      • The Trump campaign aided and abetted WikiLeaks hacking of emails, which is illegal.
    • Proving criminal activity for both will be difficult as for the first, Mueller will have to use the novel argument that “information” constitutes an “in-kind” campaign contribution and for second, Mueller would have to prove that the Trump campaign somehow helped WikiLeaks hack the DNC or, if they did not know about the hacking before it occurred, make the argument that the Trump campaign distributed these emails knowing they were obtained illegally (proving this “knowledge” will be very difficult). Finally, it is possible that Mueller can link some of the crimes above to Trump’s associates but not Trump himself.
  3. Trump obstructed justice – Trump is almost certainly guilty, but can he be prosecuted?
    • There are two cases where Trump appears to have obstructed justice:
      • Trump fired James Comey for “corrupt motives,” i.e. to stop the investigation into himself and his campaign. Trump essentially has admitted to this on two separate occasions: 1.) May 10th in a meeting in the Oval Office with the Russian Ambassador and Foreign Minister, 2.) May 11th, in an interview on NBC with Lester Holt.
      • By asking Comey to “take it easy” on Flynn when Trump knew he lied to the FBI. Trump admitted he knew that Flynn had lied to the FBI via a tweet on December 2nd.
        • It’s an open question if he pressured Comey (Trump denies Comey’s account) and, if he did, Mueller would have to prove that Trump knew before this exchange that Flynn lied to the FBI.
    • Trump is likely guilty here but it is an open constitutional question whether or not a sitting President can be prosecuted for a crime while in office. This is the crux of Trump’s lawyer’s argument that he cannot be charged criminally with obstruction of justice.
    • However, it is a clear-cut matter of historical precedent that Presidents can be impeached for obstruction of justice (see Nixon and Clinton).

Q: There’s been a bit of chatter about Trump and team’s possible violation of the Logan Act between the election and Inauguration Day, specifically as it relates to discussions they had with the Russians. Why does Toobin not this reference this as a potential problem for Trump?

The New York Times editorial board recently suggested that Trump, if he ordered Flynn to negotiate with Russians ahead of his assumption of office, could possibly have violated the Logan Act, a federal law which states that private citizens cannot negotiate with foreign powers without the consent of the current President’s Administration. However, Toobin likely left this out given that many legal experts argue that any attempt to prosecute Trump and team under this law, which has never been successfully enforced in over 200 years of existence, could successfully be rebuffed by claiming “desuetude” status for the law (desuetude is  the legal doctrine that posits criminal statutes may lapse if they are never enforced).

Q: Outside of criminal behavior, what else could be problematic for Trump?

The impeachment clause of the Constitution states that the President can be impeached for the “conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” so, in addition to “high crimes and misdemeanors” committed by Trump, Mueller is likely looking into possible “bribery” given his extensive business dealings with Russian interests (which would be the reason Mueller is allegedly interested in Trump’s bank records). “Treason,” on the other hand, is defined in the Constitution as “levying war” against the United States, which is likely inapplicable to Trump’s conduct.

Q: So what are the potential outcomes of Mueller’s investigation?

There really are three potential outcomes, which are listed in increasing order of likelihood according to Toobin:

  1. Mueller finishes his investigation and says “no crimes or anything to report” as it relates to Donald Trump. – Unlikely
  2. Mueller brings criminal charges against Donald Trump for obstruction of justice and/or the crimes related to collusion above. – Could happen but would be unprecedented for a President to be charged of a crime while in office and would raise serious Constitutional questions.
  3. Mueller provides a report to Congress, detailing all of the dubious connections between Trump’s campaign and Russia while details how Trump may have obstructed justice – This the most likely outcome

Q: Ok, so if Mueller produces a relatively damning report of Trump, then what happens? Impeachment?

If Mueller provides a report to Congress, then what Congress does with the findings of his investigation becomes a political matter, i.e. is Congress willing to move forward to impeach Trump? In all likelihood, impeachment will happen only if Democrats control one or both house of Congress (as a matter of precedent, impeachment proceedings have only started when the majority party in Congress differs from that of the President). In short, the 2018 elections are just as important in determining whether or not Trump gets impeachment as the substance of the report that Mueller produces.

Q: Wait, so really, in the end, the outcome of Mueller’s investigation really just comes down to politics?

Yup, that’s right. Welcome to Washington, D.C. folks.

Palenque, Roberto Barrios Falls, and Alien Rumors in Chiapas, Mexico

Palenque, Mexico

The road from San Cristóbal de Las Casas to the Palenque ruins is a tortuously winding, pot-holed affair that left me nauseous and then relieved once we arrived at our first stop along the road — a Mexican breakfast buffet that came complete with tortilla chips and chicken enchiladas (which, sadly, I have been lacking as part of my breakfasts these past 31 years). Along the way to Palenque, my tour stopped at two waterfalls: Agua Azul (the name means “blue water” in Spanish but, that day, the water was bizarrely a murky brown due to a mysterious project going on upstream) and Misol-Ha (featuring a bat-filled cave behind the waterfall that I ventured into for a cool ten pesos — or roughly 50 American cents). Including these two stops, it took us nearly eight hours to reach Palenque, a major city of the Ancient Maya which, along with much of the Mayan civilization, strangely disappeared in the 10th century A.D. (My favorite theory: The Mayans were descendants of aliens and simply returned to their home planet. The more plausible theory: Draught due to deforestation caused them to abandon their cities and scatter in the search of a more hospitable environment).

Only 4% of the Palenque ruins have been excavated but that small area is quite impressive. The main excavated ruins area is relatively compact and organized into three major groups (Templo de las Inscripciones and El Palacio Grupo, Grupo de las Cruces, and Grupo Norte). You can easily see all of the major buildings in less than two hours, including the time needed to climb up the buildings still open for public scampering. Upon entering the park, you are almost immediately greeted by the iconic Templo de las Inscripciones, a Mayan pyramid that rises nearly 90 feet over eight tiers above the green, manicured grass and, under which, the most powerful king in Palenque’s history (Pakal), is buried. The royal palace sits adjacent to the Templo de las Inscripciones and provides a number of different ancient rooms, passages, and, restored for your viewing pleasure, toilets to explore. Mind-blowingly enough, there are also a number of preserved carvings depicting scenes from Palenque circa the 7th and 8th centuries that are decidedly trippy in nature — many have hypothesized that these scenes are likely inspired by the psychedelic mushrooms that grow in and around Palenque (after observing these carvings myself, I found this logic pretty airtight — see pictures below). Beyond the palace, is the Gropo de las Cruces, three temples that back into the jungle and are the work of the Pakal’s son, Kan B’alam II, whose street name was a much more intimidating Jaguar Serpent II. Each of these are scalable, provide beautiful vistas of the ruins below and valley beyond, and are replete with the requisite mind-bending carvings. The final group is the Gropo Norte, which seem to be the red-headed stepchild of Palenque as most tours ignore these beautiful buildings in favor of the slightly more impressive Palacio and Cruces Grupos. And I can see why — after only two hours exploring the other two sets of ruins, I already had a well-developed sense of Mayan ruin snobbery, as evidenced by the “mehh, I’ve seen better” I muttered under my breath as I walked by.

I had arrived in Palenque via an insanely itineraried one-day tour that left San Cristóbal at 4:30 am and would return at approximately 10 pm. However, in a moment of sanity, I decided to stay the night near the Palenque ruins instead of taking a six-hour bus back to San Cristóbal. I found a spot to stay just outside the ruins in El Panchan. My accommodations were in a place ironically named “The Jungle Palace,” which is basically just a set of shabby cabanas in the jungle. However, the price of 120 pesos/night/cabana (~$6 American) was hard to beat and Don Mucho’s Restaurant nearby promised live music and cheap beer, so I took the bait and spent the next two nights there.

The next day, after the first night in my “palatial” cabana, I ventured to Roberto Barrios Falls, a set of ten different blue waterfalls and crystal clear pools, a 35-minute drive from Palenque. I went via a guided trip to this spot that is decidedly off the main tourist route and found myself in a group composed primarily of Mexicans, an interesting change from Guatemala where I didn’t meet a single local tourist (a per capita GDP of 3x in Mexico certainly explains much of this disparity). Our guide was refreshingly unencumbered by trifling worries like customer safety and liability as he nonchalantly walked us up, over, and through a number of the slippery falls to show us underwater caves, rocks to slide down on top of empty 2-liter soda bottles, and harrowing jumps. (When the “landing pools” were a bit on the shallow side, he told us you were were fine as long as you “made like a bomba” when you hit the water. Thus, several times I tucked my feet upon impact to “make like a bomba” and avoid a debilitating injury.) My favorite co-touree was a short, smiley Mexican lady in her 40’s who did every single jump, cave, and slide while speaking a rapid-fire Mexican Spanish to which I could only reply “Si, si, si!” After one particularly unintelligible request from her, I found myself traipsing across a waterfall to join her for a photo in the middle of one of the pools. The man who took the photo from the bank looked over to me after I returned to dry land and, in what little English he knew, laughingly remarked to me, “This lady…crazy!”

I ended my last night in the Palenque area at Don Mucho’s, which, as promised, offered live music and cheap beers. I was joined by two Irish I had met in my hostel at San Cristóbal; this brother and sister were traveling through Latin America together for several months together with their other brother and his girlfriend. We chatted at length about recent Irish history and politics as they are from Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, which is still part of the UK. (Fun fact I learned: The impetus for the Irish independence movement and civil war was the result of England reneging on their promise to grant Ireland self-rule for their support during World War I — which is still a sore subject for the Irish.) And, of course, the conversation did at one point turn to Donald J. Trump, the specter that follows every traveling American around. They asked me the simple, justified question of “Why?” which I hear from almost all other international travelers, who are universally flabbergasted at the onslaught of disturbing news and tweets generated by this man who, to them, represents the epitome of close-mindedness and hate. However, I have learned to steer clear of this rabbit-hole and, after assuring them that I was asking the same question myself, moved on to more hopeful topics…like 2020.


San Cristóbal de Las Casas: Cocodrilos, Controversial Catholics, and a Clandestine Army

San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Mexico

I have finally ventured beyond my Latin American home-away-from home — Guatemala — and into the southernmost Mexican state of Chiapas, a region that was actually once a part of Guatemala. My first destination: San Cristóbal de Las Casas, the cultural capital of Chiapas and center of the Zapatista movement, a left-wing political and military group standing up for indigenous rights. This group is still technically at war with the Mexican government, but fortunately for me (and other visitors), after an armed resistance in the 1990’s, the Zapatistas have moved from violent to peaceful tactics that are focused on civil resistance, enhanced cooperation with other global left-wing movements, and the development of a vast array of hipster-friendly coffees shops in San Cristóbal.

I arrived in San Cristóbal this past Thursday evening after a ten hour journey from Lake Atitlán, and, exhausted after the trip, laid low that night. I spent most of Friday, my first full day in the city, taking a free walking tour of the town in order to get a better feel for this artsy hub of Mexican counter-culture. A youthful, lanky Mexican named JP led the relaxed, five-hour amble through the town’s two main “walking streets” (i.e. closed to auto traffic), Real de Guadalupe and 20th de Noviembre. JP, despite having only lived in San Cristóbal for six months, provided the other two tourers (Laura, an Aussie, and Eva, an Irishwomen) and I a wealth of information on the city’s history, culture, art, and top dining and nightlife spots. JP, who would joke several times about how people come to San Cristóbal for vacation then end up never leaving (which would be repeated by several others “locals” I would meet around town), would solidify the quality of his recommendations by proving himself as a man about town — I would bump into him three times over the next few days at different separate spots he had recommended. My favorite recommendation of his was La Abuelita, a local Mexican eatery near Guadalupe Church where I would improbably eat my favorite rendition of three separate Mexican staples: refried beans, chicken enchiladas, and a chile relleno. (For all those doubters out there, Mexican food is, in fact, better in Mexico.) My second favorite tip of JP’s was his observation that the festival of the Virgin Guadalupe was in full swing in San Cristobal, as later the next night, I would find myself stuck in the throngs of a parade marching the streets of the city, chanting “¡Viva la Virgen!” Having learned the legend of Guadalupe from JP, I was able to enthusiastically join the locals in this chant, which, without context, is certifiably creepy.

After spending the majority of my second day in Zapatista coffeeshops, contemplating whether or not the Zapatista Army may have the need for a 31-year-old white male with an intimate knowledge of online programmatic advertising, I sprang back into action the next day with a boat tour of Sumidero Canyon, about an hour drive from San Cristóbal. At a sprightly 35 million years old, this canyon is a contemporary of the Grand Canyon of the United States and a point of pride for Chiapas, as a particular view of its expanse is represented on their state seal (which also curiously includes what looks like a lion tickling a palm tree). My boat for the tour was stocked full of two dozen gringos who would all nod in collective false comprehension when our Spanish language-only guide gave a bit of information on the impressive number of canyon features and wildlife we passed on our way through the canyon. The showstoppers were the crocodiles (one swimming, one sunbathing — both visibly annoyed at the gawking tourists), the spider monkeys (we were close enough to these playful branch-swingers that if one missed a jump from one tree to another, it would have fallen into our boat cruising along the riverbank), and a canyon-side waterfall shaped like a Christmas tree (which is cool…I think?). At each of these highlights, my boat neighbor (Cam, a recent university graduate from Quebec) and I would snap photos then turn to each other and comment at the relative absurdity of this exercise, “Welp, ya really can’t capture that, can ya?” After several hours in this canyon with walls that reach up to 1,000 meters (~3,300 feet) above the water at its highest points, we returned to the boat dock to finish the tour exploring the nearby pueblo of Chiapa de Corzo.

Today, my fourth and final day here in San Cristobal was highlighted by a horseback ride up to the indigenous community of San Juan Chamula, which is best known for its main church — Iglesia de San Juan — that combines Catholicism with traditional Mayan pagan worship. Although I did not witness it in my walk through the church (it was relatively quiet when I was inside), the pagan rituals include chicken sacrifices and drinking Coca-Cola or “pox” (a local liquor) in order to induce burps that release evil spirits. (I will be sure to reference this ritual the next time anyone looks at me in disgust after a shameless belch.) Unsurprisingly, this rebel church is only loosely connected to the official Catholic church given its drift aways from Catholic rituals — the only contact it has with Catholicism is a priest that visits once a month for baptisms and the icons of Catholic saints that line the perimeter of the church. Aside from the church, there is not much else to see in Chumula other than some innovative fashion so after about an hour, my fellow horsemen and horsewomen jumped back on our steeds to gallop back to the environs of San Cristóbal.

Despite greatly enjoying my time in San Cristóbal, I have politely turned down the Zapatista’s invitation to join their movement (although I did let them know that I would reach back out this time next year if my job hunt back in the homeland is not going well). So tomorrow, I am off to Palenque, the site of a major Mayan ruin that, sadly, was not used as a filming site for any Star Wars movies. And then, it is back to Guatemala City for my return flight to the United States on December 12th, just over three months since I departed on this random adventure.