Monday, April 28, 2008


It wasn't until I tasted my own blood did I remember my old love. Not until my spit looked like fruit punch Gatorade or Powerade or whatever artificially red tinted sports drink you want to use, did I understand what my friend Lindsey meant when she said "boxing is part of your being." I could feel fragments of my upper lip getting stuck between my teeth from not wearing a mouthpiece in order to be fair with my opponent who couldn't afford one.

By the second round I had him figured out. I fought on the inside, bouncing 3-4 punch combos off his head until I made him quit in the 3rd. The coach forced us to go on and only then did I realize I wasn't going easy on him. They told me afterwards that he was only 16. Damn. Now I felt like a bully. But we also had a friendship, an unbreakable bond that only those who have stepped through the ropes would understand and not even the profit driven glitz of the professional ranks could take that away from us.

In Leòn for once the trainer does not want his fighters to go pro. Coach Javier Medina says the sport is beautiful but the business is dirty or as Katherine Dunn once eloquently wrote, "the different between the gym and the klieg-lit show ring is the difference between the garden and the sprig of celery in your Blood Mary. They're related, but they're not the same."

He runs by far the most underfunded and overpopulated gym I've stepped into. Rounds on the heavy bag have to be limited to accommodate for the 70 or so participants, gloves are passed between bell tones as if it was an automatic routine, and the foam on the best pair of mitts burst at the seams, loosely held together by strands of overused leather. The coach donates his time for nearly nothing, in fact I'm still wondering how he pays for his costs of living, and the sheer volume of kids that train make it impossible for them to all believe they could all make it. But they still show up everyday, like the purpose was beyond making money. And Medina says the point of the gym isn't to make champions in the ring, but to teach the youth something that will hopefully take them somewhere.

Back in Managua the vibe is the complete opposite. Fighters train to be professional, to get paid, but the core reason is the same. They box to survive. A boxing gym is where you'll find some of the kindest people. I've been touched by how these fighters are willing to share the little they have with someone they barely know while maintaining common courtesy and politeness. Despite most fighters' salaries being barely enough to scrape by (often times insufficient to where they'll have to "retire" to find full time work) and trainers usually making even less, I've been treated out to drink and food by both, all with the response of a head shake when I reach for my wallet and a "para un amigo, tranquilo" (for a friend, chill out). Even when I tried to pay the remainder of the tab a drink vendor mistakenly undercharged us for, they adamantly refused and instead insisted on a young boy running a block and a half after the boxer who had originally treated us out, even though it was only 10 cordobas, equivalent to about 50 cents.

Because the trainer's nickname is once again, "Chino", I'm always confused as to who the boxers are talking to, but one day when I turned my head to a request of the coach, the fighter (pictured above) smiled and for the first time I've been in Central America said to me, "Tú nombre no es 'Chino', tú nombre es Nicolás Wong" (you're name isn't 'Chino', you're name is Nicolàs Wong).

I've also been fortunate enough to stumble across the biggest boxing promoters in Nicaragua, Prodesa Boxing (only Carlo on my left is actually from the company), the element of the sport that I hadn't planned on interacting with. When I asked them why they decided to be boxing promoters, they said "to give something back to society." I found it interesting to hear a response that you were more likely to hear from someone who started a non-profit organization, especially when promoters have the reputation of crooks and thieves, but they began by holding amateur matches where the winners would walk away with a basket full of food for their family and now they've changed the standard pay of 60 Cordobas (3 dollars) a round, to 1000 Cordobas a round (50 dollars), which here is a livable wage. In all of this they tell me they have yet to make a cent back, but they didn't start this to make money. They did it because they loved the sport, and more importantly, their country.

Now perhaps this was all a lie, a show to put on for the visitor traveling under the guise of a journalist, but I'd like to think they were being sincere, because I'd like to believe in something again, even if it's not real.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Searching for Something

My friend said that the 4x4 motorbikes they rent at San Juan Del Sur were fun. I told her yes, up until the road decides to sporadically rise on one side and toss you off a small cliff.

Two days after my birthday I had an accident bad enough to where the few bystanders thought I was dead upon impact. Looking back on it I'm quite lucky. I walked away only sore and scratched up, nothing broken, not even the glasses I was wearing at the time, and the damage to the vehicle only amounted to $25 despite it flipping over in the air. What worries me were the thoughts right before the crash, which were nothing. They say your life flashes before your eyes the moment you're about to die, but all I remember was this feeling of apathy, like the question of my life was left to be answered by someone else and I really didn't care what the response was.

The only thing I remember being disappointed about was how these injuries would affect my travels with boxing, not so much for myself, but to be able to continue collecting and retelling the stories of these boxers. I wouldn't say that therefore I am sacrificing myself for them or even that I am doing anything important, but there is some unrecognized value in these stories. They deserve to be told.

The only thing I hope for myself is that maybe in all of this I can find something that will flash before my eyes in my final moments, something worth living for.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Happy Birthday - Photographic Summary of My 24th

(On the show "Hit Deportivo" with host Fenner Mena)

(From Left to Right: Daughter of Alexis Arguello, Me, VP of Prodesa Boxing Promotion, one of the biggest sports radio hosts in Managua, and one crazy-ass British boxing fan)

(Two Aries: At the Birthday Party of Former Three-time World Champion, Former Vice Mayor and current candidate for Mayor of Managua, Alexis Arguello)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

She Lived Under a Mango Tree

I came to León not really knowing what I was looking for, not really knowing why when the weather is warmer than Managua, but perhaps fate leads you where you need to go. It was here that I found my roommate Gloria.

We met a dance club the night I arrived and somehow the conversation moved to my inability to find long term housing. She offered me her spare bed provided I paid half the rent and helped out with chores. Now it could have been foolish to accept such an offer from a complete stranger, perhaps downright dangerous, but it was an exact solution for my predicament and after my first encounter with a hostel owner telling me I wasn't from the US because I had "slanty" features, and indicated this by pulling back the skin around her eyes, I damn sure wasn't going to spend two weeks in a traveler's hostel.

Located on the outskirts of town, about half an hour from the Center, I have been living in a place much like the homes of the boxers I visited in Honduras. Well, to be fair, their homes had a lot more.

Lizards crawl through the cracks of the concrete walls, water needs to be splashed onto the dirt floors to prevent excessive dust, and the aluminum roofing make the mangoes that fall at night sound like gunshots. I'm back to bathing myself with a bucket in our all in one shower, laundry, and dish-washing area. I haven't had hot water for about 3 months, although taking a warm shower in Nicaragua at this time of year would be cruel and unnecessary punishment. The bathroom is merely a hole in the ground, but has oddly been the cleanest smelling toilet I've had thus far. She warned me that there wasn't much before I moved in, but this place has grown on me. I've learned to duck under the barbed wire clothesline at night, no longer startled by the horses and roosters in the backyard when I wake up, and have finally been receiving the chiropractic benefits of sleeping on a bed as hard as a plank of wood. I've had a hammock and a fan, really more than I could ever ask for, plus a wonderful roommate.

Gloria's life story breaks my heart for reasons I won't disclose and makes me realize how inconsequential my feelings of loneliness were when she's been on her own since she was 13, alone for the past 8 months. Really alone. Sometimes she would even cook and clean for me, since every time I attempt to she just laughs and tells me I can't do anything correctly. She tells me that she'll miss me when I leave, that my presence acted as a reason to tidy the home. She too motivated me to bathe and brush my teeth everyday since I was going to be around someone for two weeks. Now you all know what sort of grimy bastard I am. It was nice having a familiar face everyday, finally having someone other than yourself to talk to. It's hard to let that go and even harder to accept that you may never see them again.

One question on the Bonderman essay prompt is "the most significant challenges you anticipate encountering". Now due to our narcissistic nature, in hearing the premise of traveling alone for 8 months, one would think it would have something to do with being by yourself. But it isn't the solitude that is difficult, it is being forced to let go of the people you meet and reliving the feeling of departure over and over again. It is having these meaningful relationships quite maliciously uprooted and thrown into a realm of uncertainty that is becoming unbearable.

Most of the friends I have been meeting do not have emails or even physical addresses and long-distance phone rates are too ridiculous to justify a call that I would struggle to understand. I probably won't see any of them again. I guess the best I can do is associate the experiences with something; the tune of a song, the scent of a particular detergent, or the taste of a mango. Something to make these memories firmer, more concrete in my mind so I can grasp onto them as hard as I can, because I'll probably live in these moments only once.

Friday, April 4, 2008

I Am

I am a kid in a candy store. I am a wide-eyed adolescent standing in awe of his childhood superhero. Managua, Nicaragua. Here boxing is the second most popular sport after baseball. Here everyone knows the name Ricardo Mayorga. Boxers are regarded as heroes. Kids playbox in the street, mimicking the stance and style of the last contender they saw on television. People have hour long conversations about how to throw the proper jab, whose jaw can withstand the most damage or argue over folklore tales of whether Alexis Arguello used to train every morning crawling on his fingers or his hands.

Almost everyone here has gloved up once in their lifetime, as if it is a rite of passage; that gives you an idea of the skill of those who continue in the sport seriously. This is my Manchu Piccu. This is my Patagonia. This is my wonder of the world. I'm going to Leòn for two weeks to prepare for the immense ass-kicking I'm about to receive. I couldn't be more excited.