All Posts By

Ian Balzer

Lizard Diary

By | 2015, Asia | One Comment

Something you may not know about me is that I am an avid lizard watcher. I love the way they scurry around from place to place, displaying their impressive dexterity and agility. Throughout our stay here in Laoag, I have had ample time to pursue this obsession.

One hot afternoon I found myself down by the river, underneath the bridge, drinking a less than cold beer and chewing on some dried mangoes when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. It was motionless, about four inches long, blended in with the pillar it was sitting on. In the background some children and tattooed teenagers were swimming in the river as a man washed his dishes in the muddied water. I sat and watched this magnificent lizard for a moment, but  when I moved in for a closer inspection, it took off. With lightening speed it raced down the pillar and headed over to where a half-naked man was cooking a couple of fish that he  had recently caught with his spear gun.

As I moved closer, the man with his old portable stove-top offered me some of the fish that he had put the effort into catching, presumably for his family, who were also gathered around. I gladly accepted his generosity and proceeded to eat with them, all the while keeping an eye on my lizard friend.

The lizard slowly made its way toward a pregnant girl, who happened to be 18 years old, and holding a child that looked to be around the age of two. She told me she worked at the carnival nearby, in one of the booths, and that her husband also worked there. They were from Manila, and only in Laoag temporarily. She was very pretty, and made me promise to visit her at her booth later when she would be working. When she noticed the stealthy lizard by her leg, she shooed it away, causing it to dart past where a feral cat was lazily walking along, and, into a crack and out of sight. That was the end of that lizard adventure.

From Top to Bottom

By | 2014, Europe | No Comments

Along the trip there were not a lot of opportunities to spend time alone. When you’re camping with thirty other people there are not many places to hide. Because of this constant group immersion, a little ‘me time’ can go a long way. This is why I chose to fly solo during our day in Assisi, which also happened to be my birthday. We spent the first part of the day in San Damiano, which is the church that St. Francis repaired and lived in for some time, now serving as a monastery for Franciscan monks. After a liturgy and some quiet reflection on the hillside, I felt primed and ready for a day of introspection. I took off on my own and walked up one of many large hills in the city. Something about the human condition seems to drive us to high ground. I often feel this incessant need to reach the highest peak or tallest building, and so I continued on streets that would lead me further up. Eventually I reached a fortress that I had seen from the streets below. I stood there amidst the birds looking down on miles of Italian countryside.
From there I meandered back down to the city and found a trail that took me lower still through many switchbacks and hills that would lead me to the fields that I had previously seen from the fortress in the sky. The end of the trail brought me to a small chapel beside a river. This was not a place to cross off a list of tourist destinations, I’m not even certain it had a name. I entered the humble church on that Pentecost Sunday and sat in one of the pews. I was the only person there, but I did not feel lonely. In that small building I took a break from the world, and was allowed to simply be.

An Average Game of Chess

By | 2014, Europe | No Comments

One of my favourite aspects of this trip has been observing people in their own environments. Seeing how people spend their time in an ‘everyday’ setting can be a profound insight into the ethos of a culture. I feel privileged when I can experience such a window into someone’s average day. One of these instances happened in Zurich, where Nygel and I were playing chess on one of the oversized boards at Lindenhof.


As soon as we started playing the skies opened up and it began to rain. After the short bout ended, an older gentleman stopped by with an apparent interest in our game. I was unsure as to whether he spoke English or not because he did not say anything to either of us but as Nygel and I exchanged insults and mocked one another, I saw the man smile. About fifteen minutes passed and two more elderly men came and began to watch. Eventually, I suspect out of sheer frustration, one of the men said to me, “do you want to know how you could have ended the game just now?” They were regulars at the massive chess boards, and spoke very good English.


The three presumed retirees continued to give us advice that was not asked for, and then moved on to friendly banter amongst each other. They explained to us that they came to these boards regularly in order to talk about chess and sports, and as they spoke I could sense they had talked about these things with one another over countless afternoon chess games similar to this one. Although this experience in Zurich may have been potentially mundane, I think it will remain in my memory with more prominence than many of the more glamorous venues of tourist Europe.