Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Monday, June 18, 2007
Wow, it still is hard for me to understand. I’ve been going about my daily business, playing guitar, reading books, getting everything in order to go back to school in July/August. But it just doesn’t seem real. At first, I was overwhelmed by reverse culture shock. “Where am I? Where is this place? Why is everything so orderly and clean? Why does everyone speak English?”. That lasted for about a week. It was hard, because I didn’t want to let go of this feeling I had, this feeling that everything was just kind of strange here. From the roads to the houses to the supermarkets, it was just a realization that the United States, and especially Marin, are really different from so many places in the world. I didn’t want to let go of that feeling because it was like seeing the world in which I’ve lived all of my life up until now in a different light. It was especially hard for me, because as much as I didn’t want to let go of the feeling, I knew it was inevitable, that I was just feeling the effects of change, and that no matter what I did, I would eventually get used to living in America again.
And I am, slowly.
The weirdest thing is that every once in a while, I can get a feeling as if I never left, and I just wonder, where did the past 7 months go? But there are subtle things that remind me, things about myself. Because I am different. I’m not a different person per-se, but there are little things. I don’t mind washing the dishes or cooking, I enjoy going out for a bike ride, I feel comfortable with the Bay in a way I didn’t before, like I can see it as a part of a bigger picture, as opposed to an isolated bubble set aside. I see my actions as impacting that bigger picture. I feel the size of the economy around me, of the commerce, and of the industry. I find myself asking all the time these days, “Where did that come from? How did it get here?”.
This entry has been a long time coming. It seems like I’ve settled into a routine over the past few months, writing a really long entry, getting burnt out from writing it, going three weeks without posting anything, building up ever increasing guilt to the point that when I finally get up the motivation to sit down and write, I write a mammoth entry trying to encapsulate everything I’ve been doing and feeling, get burnt out and then wait a few weeks for the guilt to build up again.
Its an amazing fact to me, that this journey is over, and it still hasn’t really sunken in. I actually don’t look at it as over…
…I just see this now as the American leg of my journey.
I’ve gone through so many different phases and stages, states of mind and relationships to my traveling; that it just doesn’t seem like it was all one trip, all the same trip. To me, it seems to break down into 4 different phases:
Phase 1: Leaving, Traveling with Ben
Ecuador (Nov.1-10) - I finally get up the motivation to leave home with the catalyst of Ben Lawson having a planned trip. The plan is to go 10 days in Ecuador, 5 in Peru, fly to Santiago, Chile, and spend a month swooping down through Patagonia and up to Buenos Aires. I leave on Nov.1 and have a plane ticket back for Dec. 15 or so, home for Christmas.
What a different world it seemed like. In my mind, I had no specific goals, no idea where I was going or why. The trip was going to be a precursor to other trips, to Guatemala(to do the work I’m doing now), and to South East Asia. I was just going to build up my nerve, my travel sense, and get SOME sort of momentum going on all these grand plans I had for my deferred year. After quick trips to New Orleans and Brazil, I found myself stuck, static in the bay for 4 months, taking a long deserved break, having great experiences playing music, but always with this pressure of knowing that I was continually pushing back farther and farther any plans I had.
And Ben Lawson really helped me out with that. I remember the moment, walking around the hills in China Camp for my mom’s birthday, the big 6-0. I was walking with Nick (Broten) and Stephanie (Lowe), all of us singing Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluiah”, practicing for the Sunday Supper. Coming over one of the hills, we went the wrong direction, and by the time we got back on track, the rest of the group had caught up with us. I found myself walking alongside Ben’s parents, and they just casually mentioned that Ben was planning to go to South America in November. I gave him a call a few days later, and before I knew it, I had a ticket too.
I wasn’t planning on splitting ways with Ben, I didn’t have any plans of my own, but two pretrip moments still stick out in my memory.
One, sitting in my room, looking at the Lonely Planet Bolivia book that Renee(who I later met up with in Buenos Aires) had accidentally left me, I remember seeing a picture of Salar de Uyuni, the piles of sand surrounded by an inch of water, reflecting the sky in all directions, and having that be the only thing that I really ever saw in one of those books that made me say, “Wow, I want to go there, I want to see that, that can’t possibly exist”. I also remember thinking, “There’s no way I’d ever go to Bolivia, its way to dangerous, I could never do that”. Irony being that I did end up going to Bolivia, whether intentionally or not, and I did end up needing that Lonely Planet that I left at home. (After losing my Lonely Planet “South America” back in Arequipa, I ended up “exchanging” for a Bolivia book in Loki hostel in Cuzco, (ok, stealing, but there was a justifiable reason, I can’t quite remember why now, but they was at the time ).
Two, sitting at the kitchen table, looking at a map of south America, realizing that if I split with Ben at Cuzco(I originally wanted to see lake Titicaca because it was so close), then I could, hypothetically, take a bus all the way from Cuzco down to the very southern tip of Chile. At the time, it seemed impossible, ridiculous to even think about. I remember thinking “but it looks so small, its only a few inches”, and then realizing those few inches were the equivalent of basically crossing America. I remember fantasizing about a lonesome thoughtful road trip, from deserts to snow covered mountains, and thinking how cool, but unrealistic I would be. Little did I know that I would actually do it. Ok, not exactly that way, not through Chile, but through Argentina mostly.
Three (I know, I said two, but I just remember the real first thought of South America). Mule days. June 2006. Bishop California. Before there was ever a roadtrip to New Orleans with Me, Nick, and David (Bolin) (Link), there was a gathering of all of us, plus Stephanie and a few more Swedes(Marcus, Leo), coming together in Nick’s home town in Eastern California for the annual celebration of all things Mule. It was an unlikely situation, spawned by crazy ideas hatched after an impromptu acapella jam session in front of the I-House front desk one day. It was only a few days, and we there under the auspices of playing a concert to raise money for “Katrina Relief”, (aka Gas money to get our Van down to New Orleans). The first morning, we woke up to catch the end of the main Mule Parade, thousands of half breed horse-donkeys, followed by tens of sanitary street sweepers to clean up the whole mess. We wandered down the street and curiously stopped to check out a photo gallery that just seemed out of place. It was filled with all the photos from a single person, and her journeys around the world. I remember one photo in particular, a huge wall portrait of wild horses running free in front of a steep mountain face with a jagged summit that seemed to define physics. The info read, “Wild horses, Torres del Paine, Patagonia”. I remember thinking to myself that such a photo was impossible, that in these days of Photoshop, no such place could actually exist, it must be doctored. I also remember thinking “I should know this, but where exactly IS Patagonia”. I’d be ashamed to admit it, but it speaks to how surreal it was that in just a few months time I actually found myself there, somewhere that I didn’t even know where “there” was a few months earlier. While I didn’t end up going to Torres del Paine itself, I sat and walked around the same Patagonia, and even had the surreal moment of seeing wild horses run through that open field in front of a huge Patagonian mountain (Volcan Lanín really), the picture come to life.
I’ve just gone into to all that detail to help myself realize how different it all seemed back then, my concepts of South America, of travel. That was the mindset I was in when I got on a plane for Quito with Ben Nov. 1. I didn’t know where I was, why I was there, or what to expect, and I didn’t see the need to. I remember from my very first personal journal entries(which were sadly lost in Bariloche, Argentina) that my initial intentions for this trip were entirely personal, not to see, not to do, but just to observe myself, put myself in new situations and see how I react, to not expect, but to accept what I find and learn from it.
It felt odd, those first two weeks, in Quito and Cusco. I saw other travelers, and just didn’t identify with them. I was surprised to find a whole backpacker culture which I remember writing on the first day, seemed like I-House on wheels. A group of international (mostly European, British Commonwealth, and Isreali) people hanging out, exploring new places together and forming a tight (yet temporary) group that could insulate you from the enormity and foreignness of a place, and provide a community in which you feel safe, no matter how strange an environment you might be in. Not to mention they partied a lot.
I just didn’t identify with them, they had been traveling for so long, me just a few days. That would ask “Where have you been? What have you done? Where are you going?”, but I didn’t really know. I would ask, “Why are we traveling? Where are we coming from? Why are we here and not there?”, but neither of us would really know that either. We were all trying to answer our own set of questions, in our own way. For me, the irony, was that I knew that I couldn’t just go find an answer like I could climb a volcano or visit a ruin. I wasn’t convinced there was an answer, but I was more convinced that the openness of the search itself would bear its own rewards in time. In many ways, it felt like a free ride, because all I had to do was sit back and enjoy, and whether my travel “plans” worked out or not, everything was equally part of the search, and had its own reward to bear. As I used to say with Amalia on our trip to India, “Everything is just bonus”.
Phase 2 Traveling with Myself
Peru (Nov 18th- December 10)-.....
But that'll have to wait for another day,
Ciao for now from Marin,
Friday, June 8, 2007
It´s as hard to write as it is for me to wrap my head around it. I´m coming home. Tomorrow.
My flight leaves at 7am, I´ll be back in America by 11am, and, after a 3 hour layover in LA, back in the bay by 3pm. I´m coming home. Tomorrow.
I´ve been intending to write an entry just filling in on the details of my life in Xela. Not much too much has happened, but small changes are felt more when you live a domestic life.
My private little situation living with my loving homestay got invaded about a month ago. Sara, from the United States, but with an Argentinian accent moved in. For the first time in my life, I had a feeling of what it was like to be an older sibling, to have all the attention that used to be focused on you robbed by the new child in the family. Sure you´re more experienced and get to guide them as they get their feet on the ground, but there´s always that resentment, just sort of sitting there in the back of your head :). Ben! I understand now! well... maybe just a little bit.
Jose got married! It had been on his schedule for a while, but he finally had the civil ceremony and made it official. (Sorry the pictures are blurry! I didn´t want to be too invasive and take lots of pictures with flash). Sandra, his bride, is a warm and lovely person who´ve I´ve got to know after the past few weeks, and she has a bright sense of humor that matches Jose´s perfectly. I broke out the old shirt that my dad gave me, (ugly green plad), for the occasion and was not only the ´photographer´ but also the entertainment! As we sat around eating cake afterwards, they asked me to break out the guitar and I played what I could for them. The highlight was a song I wrote for Mamá Cony on mother´s day, ¨The song of Mamá Cony¨ a.k.a. ´A Comer...´. Look for it on music shelves soon :). As part of the marriage, he moved out of the house and into the 3rd story of the piñata shop in La Democracia. We helped them decorate and they´ve turned the space into a real cozy apartment area. A paticularly memorable experience was helping them move their giant gas stove, a wedding present. Riding through the streets of Xela at night in the back of a pickup, securing the stove so it dosen´t fall out, we couldn´t actually just carry it up to the 3rd floor because the stairs weren´t big enough, so we devised a quick makeshift system of tying a bunch of ropes, pushing from below while pulling from above, and hoping it wouldn´t fall and crush us. It looks real good now in their apartment by the way...
Jose moving out left room for...
My house being invaded again! Another Sara, friends with the first, also from the US, but without the Argentinian accent, moved into Jose´s old room and became my new cottage-mate. For all the talk of invasion, both Sara´s are actually very wonderful people, and I´ve enjoyed their company very much. The only trouble was deciding what to call them. We have different naming schemes, Sara and Sarita, Sarita and Sara, Sara A and Sara B, but I think we decided on Sarita Uno y Sarita Dos.
So things went very well at home. Saying goodbye today was very tough, and the cause for some tears. I just stayed home so much that I really felt like I became a part of the family, and I´ll miss them all very much.
On the work front, I did accomplish something. I finally ended up completing my prototype filter, a ¨UV Tube¨, that disinfects water with UV light, and out of all locally available products too. I also set up the foundation for a collaboration with another NGO, Cantaro Azul, which has developed a degree of expertise about UV tubes in Mexico over the past few years (Also run by a UC Berkeley student). In the process of doing so, I realized that what puts the appropriate in appropriate technology is really considering the specific situation and needs of the community in which you look to implement your technology, and I finally started that process towards the end, going out into the local communities and talking with the people, taking surveys, about their water situations and quality. I feel like its starting a shift in the way AIDG approaches their technology development, and its something that I feel both very good and proud about.
Life besides that was filled with lots of little details. The Super Chivos (our local futbol team) won the Guatemalan championships and the town went nuts for at least a week. I went to the hotsprings up in the mountains (Giorginas) with the family, getting a good natural hot tub that made me oh so homesick. I went to El Salvador with Vinay, Giovanni, and all of Gio´s family...
Wait that last one was a big one. But it´ll have to wait for another day, because it´s late, and I´m getting up at 5 tomorrow morning to hop on a plane for home.
It still hasn´t sunk in. It´ll take a while I´m sure. I´ve started a retrospective entry, started it a while ago actually, but its such a massive task that it ended up delaying this entry for a long time I think. So yes, more to come, as my journey continues, continues in America!
But from the last time for the meantime in Latin America, this is Jesse saying...
Thanks so much for reading my entries everyone who has been. It´s great being able to keep in touch with you all, to have you know what I´m doing, to talk to you and have you say, ¨Oh, I´ve been following you´re travels on facebook-your blog¨. It´s been a long journey (7 months), and it was never intended to be this long. When I left in November, I thought I was coming back in December. Ha! Well, I´ve never traveled for this long, and I´ve never traveled alone before, and I totally didn´t imagine in my wildest dreams when I left that my journey would end up the way it did. But it has, and I´ve really loved it, really enjoyed, and really been glad that I could share what I could of it with you all. Even just knowing you´re out there reading this was always a comfort, a way of feeling at home, no matter where I was, and I thank you for that. I hope to see you all soon, and VERY soon if you´re still in the Bay Area, so do keep in touch.
Well, here I go... Home I come! In the words of Paul Simon...
Home... where my thoughts are leaving... Home... Where my musics playing... Home... where my love lies waiting quietly for me... quietly for me.
Or something like that :)
Thursday, April 19, 2007
After spending almost two months basically as a city dweller, you'd think I'd almost have forgotten how to travel. And you'd be right!
I finished off my time in Rio in a wild rush. I tried to get everything done that I hadn't done for the past two weeks. To get everything done.... in two days. I finished off my guitar, pandeiro, and Portugese lessons (Thanks Janda!), looked to buy a pandeiro, met up with friends that I sorely hadn't met yet (Sorry Camila and Lulu! I promise to not be such a ditz next time!) and somewhere in the mix get a nice stylish Carioca haircut. I'll save you the suspense, among the rush, I didn't get a pandeiro(yet) and I didn't get a haircut(yet). "P
I did at least manage to meet up with all of my in those last couple days, Juliana, Vivian, Camila, Lulu, and Mikhael and his girlfriend Janda (Who, if you put two and two together, you´ll figure out was my Portugese teacher as well!). Mikhael's family was spending their vaction visiting and showed up a week after I did. I was lucky enough to come along for a couple family dinners, and even more lucky to find that we were on the same flight out to Panama! This was really quite great luck as the flight left at 6 in the morning, meaning we had to be there by 4, meaning there was very little sleeping to be done, and I didn´t have to catch my own cab all the way out to Tom Jobim national airport which is a good deal out away from Copacabana.
Its worth noting that I stopped writing this entry here at this point, and have shamefully let it sit here silent while I´ve been bumbling about Guatemala for the past two weeks.
So Lets Cut to the Chase... As I write this entry I am currently sitting in the office of Xelateco offices, the center of the appropriate technology company Xelateco, located in (not surprisingly) Xela, also know as Quetzaltenango. It´s 5pm, and I´m finishing up a day of work on my water filter project, so I can feel justified in writing a bit on my blog. I´ve been living a life of a pretty steady routine for the past few weeks, working on developing a water filter for implementing in the local communities, living with a local Guatemalan family(la familia Cony), going to Yoga, at least before I got sick last week, but I´m gonna start going again. Either way, the image I´ve been drawing is one of relative stationary work weeks, 1:30 lunches with mom´s and papa Cony, play a little guitar, go to bed, wake up and do it again. All in all, not a bad life, and definitely a big change from the life of the traveller, but how did I get here...
Well, Back to Brasil. Having finally conceded that I couldn´t possibly fit everything I wanted to do in my last day in Rio, I let some things slide. I didn´t get a haircut. I didn´t get a pandeiro, although I went to Rua Carioca, searched all the shops, found the perfect used one for 40 dollars, just went out for 5 mins to check one more store, and they sold it in the meantime. But such is life, lessons in letting go of expectations in the way you thought the world ¨had¨ to be. I ended up using my last sunset in Rio to just take a quiet walk down the beach by myself. I walked from Ipanema to Leblon and back, watching the sun dip behind the favelas, feeling the sand beneath my toes and realizing that it wasn´t in my faintest imagination back in November, that come April, I would be back there in Ipanema, just strolling among the straggelers as darkness set upon the beach. It was a nice walk, and I was even treated to a lightening display walking back down to Posto 10 where Mikhael´s parents´ hotel was. I tried not to think too much about the fact that I´d be flying in that lightning, but there was no need for my flight still wasn´t for 6 hours. In those hours I met up with Mikhael´s family, and we did the only touristy thing that I did in my whole time in Rio. We met up with Vivian´s family and went out to dinner at the Garrota de Ipanema restaurant, supposedly where Jobim and Morales first wrote the tune, but now its just a fancy churrasco joint for tourists. Regardless, it was a great time and felt like a good capping experience on my time in Rio. Of course it wasn´t quite my final experience, as I still had 3 hours before the flight, and Camila happened to be hanging out in a bar next to the hotel, so I went and got one final dose of the Rio nightlife before heading off to the airport.
The flight was fine, but I didn´t sleep. We landed into Panama City jetlagged and groggy, said goodbye to Mikhael´s family, and then I was on my own again. A bit of a scary feeling, but I had forgotten how good it felt. Having no plans... no needs to do anything... except get on the next plane that was leaving in ten minutes :). Which I did. Flying in the air I struck up conversations with the people around me. A young guy from Ecuador flying to visit friends. A middle-aged missionary from Spain who had spent about 15 years doing work in Guatemala. It was about that point, about halfway into my two hour plane flight, that it occured to me that I was no longer in South America, that I was about to be in Guatemala, and that I knew absolutely nothing whatsoever about it. History, culture, food, religion... I was as jumping blind. But the nice missionary man gave me a quick crash course in the basics, not to mention practice for my spanish because I had been speaking portugese for the past month and it took me a good week to finally switch back, although I think I´m better with both languages for the whole learning experience.
So yah, here I am, landing into Guatemala City, and having no idea about where I was, what I was really doing or where I was going to stay that night. A lot like first landing into Quito, except at least then I had a place to stay (oh Centro del Mundo Hostel, I´ll never forget you). Based on what I heard from the plane, I decided to not spend the night in Guate (what they call guatemala city) and just head straight out to the tourist safehaven of Antigua. It was only a 45 min micro drive and I was pleasantly surprised to have an eager van waiting to take me there for a small fee. I was unpleasantly surprised to find that I couldn´t change my 200 Reals that I still had from Brasil anywhere in Guatemala. Only US dollars. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I wouldn´t be needing to since, back in the 3rd world, my money is ridiculously powerful down here (7.5 to 1). As of time of this writing, I´m living on about $8 a day, which is good, since I used up basically all my money in Rio.
So I hopped in the van, with 3 other people. I tried my best to look around, to absorb the new surroundings around me, but the most descriptive impression I could muster was that it looked bassically like the Mission in San Francisco, only larger. Then, after 30 hours without sleep, my head hit the seat, and I woke up in Antigua. I do recall waking up at one point and us driving down an INCREADIBLY steep hill, the driver put the car in first and we hummed our way down hundreads of meters in a matter of minutes. When I really woke up in Antigua, I found myself surrounded by a beautiful colonial village, with volcanoes on two sides, and antique churches where ever I looked (I think I read there´s something like 70 of them in a few square blocks). The two other passengers had hopped out at a fancy hotel, and I was left with a Thai girl who seemed to know where she was going. Having long been devoid of any guide books for quite some time now, I was really just relying on someone knowing where they were going and latching on to them. Of course, I wasn´t disapointed as she got off at a tipical backpackers hostel (the Yellow House, I think) and I decided that was a good a place as any to get off as well.
What ensued was a nap, a meal of fried chicken and rice, and then one of the longest best sleeps I´ve had in my life. Life reviving, world shifting sleep. 16 hours, from 6pm to 10am. I think I was finally catching up on all those sleepless nights in Rio, in Buenos Aires, and not to mention on the plane. Either way, I awoke to find myself in a different hemisphere, a different culture, a different world. The people spoke spanish, and were catholic, and had a large indigenous population, but besides that it was all new.
I guiltlessly spent 2 days wandering around Antigua with no plans, and no objectives. I strolled, and Antigua is perfect for that. Beautiful Colonial architecture lines every street. Ancient churches, destroyed from volcanoes. Small art gallerys in every nook and crany. Spanish schools densely packed into every available space. A tourists playground, and very safe. It reminded me a lot of Parati, Brasil, just south of Rio, the only thing missing was the sea. In replacement of that, however, were two GIANT volcanoes. VOLCANOES! I hadn´t real volcanoes since.... since... well Ecaudor! or Bolivia! Yah, there was one on the Bolivia-Chile Border... but that´s besides the point.... VOLCANOES! Tropical ones at that.
Or... sort of tropical.
If there is anything that has suprised me most it is the Guatemalan climate. I came thinking, Central America, hot, humid, tropical wonderland. But what I´ve found has been anything but that. Admittedly I´ve spent most of my time in Guatemala´s self proclaimed highlands (around 7000ft) but still, whats been most amazing is how similar the climate is, the trees. The name Guatemala is supposedly a bad spanish interpretation of what Guatemala´s northern mexican neighbors used to call it, ¨The Land of Many Trees¨. Not many jungles, although it has many of those too, but many trees.
After the two day transition period I allotted myself in Antigua, I decided it was time to hop a bus to Quetzaltenango, also commonly know as Xela, from the Mayan name Xelaju, just a couple hours down the road from Antigua (Yet a good part across the whole country). I thought about trying to find a 1st class shuttle service, but none left directly from Antigua, and that morning I just packed up my stuff walked down the street and hopped on to what the tourists call a ¨Chicken Bus¨, which is really just a brightly coloured school bus, headed for Chimaltenango, which was my transfer point to Xela. Even though I remember part of the sales pitch by the salesman in REI for my backpack was that when I´m in Guatemala, I don´t want to let those ¨campesinos¨ just throw my bag up top, not knowing if it will be there when I get off. That´s why I needed a small backpack. Well... yah, it didn´t really work like that. More like I could hardly get the pack off my back before it was whisked up to the roof and tied to one of the sidepoles in a slightly comical yet probably sufficient manner.
But the trees. Driving up to Chimaltenango, we rolled up in the hills, curving on ever windier roads up out of the lowlands and into... a pine forrest! Not just any old pine forrest, but a pine forrest on the same continent, nay basically the same extended mountain range as my beloved Sierra Nevadas back home. I knew I had a bad case of the been away from home for a long time´s, when the very sight of the trees made me overcome with excitement. I just couldn´t get over how much it looked like the sierra nevadas. I mean, this wasn´t the Andes anymore, this wasn´t the Patagonia mountain ranges, I swore on my life that I had found myself surrounded by northern california pine. And it brought back all these memories of home, and for a second I even fooled myself into thinking that this little chicken bus was going to drive me all the way back to the front step of my house in Marin. OK, so I was full of it, but it all led me to the thought that now that I was in Central America, there technically was one continuous piece of pavement that connected the ground where I was standing with the front steps of my house. It was just a total mind shift. Unreal. And I don´t care if the Panamerican Highway is dirt in someparts or whatever, I don´t want to hear it. I like the image. I like feeling the concrete (pun only marginally intended) connection between my feet and home.
So my bus ride to Chimaltenango was actually quite pleasent. I started to wonder what all this chicken bus nonsense that tourists make such a big deal about was all about. Arriving into Chimaltenango wasn´t so much of a bus stop as the side of a highway in the middle of a city. I was quickly popped of the bus, backpack still intact, and instructed to go wave something down on the other side of the street. I saw a group of french girls packed together with equally confused looks upon their faces, but they were going to Atitlan so instead of latching on to anything, I just sat there on the side of the road. People were more than willing to offer their services, ¨Xela, xela!¨in helping me find a bus. It took about 20 minutes. I was origionally thinking of waving down a Linea Dorado, a nice ¨1st class¨ bus, but they´re were only two a day, and I saw the chicken bus coming down the street with the XELA written all over it, so I hopped on, based on my last ride, how bad could it be?
Well it was obvious from the start, that this was not the same as my first bus. I didn´t see where they put my backpack among the mound of stuff up top. I didn´t have time. As soon as they took my pack off, the bus started pulling away with 3 people still hanging out the front. I squeezed in for my spot, because Hell if they´re going to leave with my backpack and not me. I wondered why people wouldn´t just go in, untill I finally made my way in enough to see that the whole bus was packed 5 to a row. Now, when I say 5 to a row, I mean 5 average adults, maybe 6 with some children, with 2 on each side and one person sitting in the gap between the two bus seats, seeming held up by nothing other than the sheer friction with the other passengers. Theres something to be said as well for the jarring sight of seeing full grown people, albeit small people, packed into seats designed for children. It just had the surreal look of a strange movie, with a palpable irony that I couldn't really describe with words, but could feel when I finally tried to squeeze my knees into a seat that they hadn't occupied since 8th grade. I stood there standing for a second until I realized that the guy behind me was still hanging out the door! With many ¨con permiso¨´s and ¨disculpe¨´s I wound my way to the back of the bus, carrying my guitar high above my head of course.
It was at that point that I had an interesting realization that they don´t just say ¨excuse me(disculpe)¨ here, they say ¨with your permission(con permiso)¨. I felt like I really needed their permission, forcing old ladies to squeeze against their neighbors as I snaked my clumsy through the tightly-knit matrix of packed Guatemalans, mostly old women in traditional outfits giving me glancing mildly curious looks. I worked my way to a spot in the back where I fit into one of those aforementioned cracks in the center of a row and sat back to enjoy the ride.
I looked out into the surrounding countryside as the road winded higher and higher into the steep cliffed hills that characterize Guatemala's highlands. VERY steep. Bolivia/Peru steep. But the earth was decidedly softer, lots of brown lush dirt, lots of trees, until even the trees became scarcer as we reached up higher. We drove up into the clouds into the climate which I've been living for the past two weeks. I'm living in the clouds. Even if there are no clouds in the sky, they'res always a white, visibility obscuring haze present in the air, that can't just be accounted for by smog or burning of trash (of which, there is a lot of both). As the cold high altitude air filled the bus, I became glad for the body heat of my tightly packed companions.
The driver didn't drive TOO crazy, compared to all my other experiences. I think other tourists call them chicken buses because you wouldn't be too surprised to see your neighboring passenger is actually a chicken in a cage, but as we passed car after car on windy, two lane, blind turns, I began to develop my own theory that its from the drivers kick of life that he gets from playing chicken with oncoming traffic as much as possible.
The ride was full of memorable experiences, a real wild ride, but a great experience. What should have taken 2 hours ended up taking 4 and I realized that not all hours in a bus are equal. Through south america, I became accustomed to long bus rides, 12, or 20 hours were not uncommon for a days travel. But somehow this 4 hours becoming intimately familiar with my neighbors was somehow a bit more of an adventure than a 10 hour Argentinian, Chilean, Peruvian, or even Bolivian bus (I took some good buses in Bolivia). Among other factors, I think it comes from the distances being smaller, and people being willing to accept a bit more of temporary discomfort based on its being temporary.
The reason it took so long is that the whole road between Guate and Xela was under construction. This meant that every 15 minutes or so, 8 times in total, we would stop for a mile long road block as we waited our turn to be let through the construction zone. Instead of proceeding in an orderly single file manner when our turn finally came to proceed, the line of cars would break into a mad scramble to be the first through the one lane entrance. Every time, without file, a mile long line of cars would dissolve into a 3 lane rush, cars squeezing eachother at every angle, skirting inches past eachother, people running back to their cars to not get left behind, having been passing the wait outside, and all the while, a huge cloud of dirt rising up from the poor road. The scene resembled something out of Madmax. People hanging to roofs, dust rising in some sort of mass exodus. Well, thats what it should have resembled, but for some reason to me, I couldn't help but think of the mediocre movie "Rat Race" that came out a while ago and hearing the theme to "Benny Hill" running through my head the whole time. (Ba du du, du du du du, du du du du....). Viewed that way, I just couldn't help but laugh eachtime we all made our clownish mad dash to be first.
The most memorable of these roadblocks was right in the middle of a steep hill. I don't think it was intentionally a road block, but more of a functional one due, to the fact that a fellow chicken bus was stuck, diagonal across the whole of the road. We were high enough now that it was a bit damp, and the dust on the road from the construction had turned to wet sand. This left the bus in such a position that it had no traction to make it up the steep hill. Rather than have the people get out of the bus, a few people jumped out and threw sand underneath the wheels, and putting a stone behind the back wheel. The bus would stutter, start, make about a foot uphill and then start a diagonal slide, hydroplaning, off towards the side of the road, where a 4 foot drop awaited the poor passengers. Luckily, they would always seem to manage to stop the bus before it every actually slipped off into the sandy construction side pit. We watched the whole scene unfold for 20 minutes from an awkward position of being right in front of the bus, facing downward on the equally steep slope. But we had good brakes and a good conservative driver. As soon as any space opened on the road, other cars tried to make their way past the struggling bus, of course only making the situation more precarious and more dangerous. We held our ground. The bus behind them didn't even wait for a space to open up. They tried to hop the 3-4 foot gap down to the dirt construction road to sidestep the whole issue. The bus eventually made a run for it, it was VERY close to tipping over the edge for a second, until the people came upon a strategy. They learned that they could use the hydroplaning to their advantage by getting a bunch of people to push the bus from behind as its wheels spun furiously with the sole effecting of reducing the friction with road. And thus the bus made it up the slope. Sideways. Wheels spinning, hydroplaning, being pushed from behind and from the side to keep it at least straight enough so it wouldn't meander into the oncoming traffic, including us. Once it finally made it past us we kept going on our way, only the pass the unfortunate bus that tried to pass the first bus on the side. It had managed to get its two right wheels off the 3-4 foot drop onto the construction part of the road, but only those two wheels. They were precariously trying to land their front left, but had managed to position the bus so that it wasn't very clear if when they put that wheel over the edge, if they would flip over. It's quite a sight to see a big yellow school bus on the verge of flipping over on its head. Very surreal really. Like something from a twisted kids movie. Well... the bus just went for it. Spun the wheels with all its might, teetered, tottered, and thankfully for all involved got a little friction under its wheels and came bouncing down on its four wheels. We just slowly made on our way, thankful that our driver wasn't such a risk taker.
And that was it. An hour later I came into Xela, hopped in a taxi and showed up on the Cony Family doorstep. That first night I was accepted warmly and openly into the Cony family. We stayed up, sitting around the dinner table, playing guitar, singing and generally enjoying eachothers new company.
But what am I doing now?
So, Me! I'm in Gutemala right now! Quetzaltenango to be specific. Working with a nonprof, AIDG to design a water filter for a company Xelateco to sell to other NGO's (and eventually hopefully community members themselves) to install in local communities. Its a different
type of NGO, because we're not just going installing stuff, we're doing our best to incubate a Guatemalan company that can take over the reigns and sustain itself, continuing to serve the local communities, long after we've picked up and moved on to Haiti, Indonesia, or wherever to start another company. In principle, its a great idea, and it certainly gets the donor dollars flowing. Practically, its been pretty sucessful so far, but AIDG has provided the money for most of
Xelateco's instalations, so it's really crunch time here, because Xelateco has got to step up and secure some customers for themselves. And yet all we can do is support, they really have to take control or the whole point is lost. Also, AIDG's been here for about 2 years in what was envisioned as a 3 year plan, so NOW is the time Xelateco needs to step up, and to add to that, this is AIDG's first incubated business, so if it dosen't work here, that's it, you're not going to get money to go try it in some other country. So, my role in it all, is to work on developing a filter which is cheap, effective, and can become part of Xelateco's product line that will hopefully become it's bread and butter of sales. Up till now, most of their time was spent constructing a hydroelectric installation for 200 familys, which was both a blessing and a curse. It got everyone motivated, showed that they're adept at a quality large installation with metalworking, casting, and electronics, and was a PR goldmine for donors. It came very quickly after the setting up of Xelateco, however, so most they're time so far was spent on it, which means that the other technologies which should be the bread and butter of their portfolio are not as developed as they should be, especially given that we now find the business 2 years old, so they'res added expection of what a 2 year business should be bringing in, even though the product line isn't quite there yet.
So, its make or break time, which is quite exciting, but also leaves you unsure if your work will still be here in a year or two. Like I said, make or break. It also seems to weigh on the AIDG'ers more than the Xelateco'ers because this isn't just the sucess or faliure of a business, its the proving of a incubation model which they hope to someday apply globally. Sort of the microfinance of 3rd world infrastructure development.
And that's the best I can do to describe what I've been up to.... from
9-5. Outside of that, I've been living with a cool family about three blocks from the intern house. A family of 6, the house is constantly filled with Mama and papa(Carlos) Cony and their children Elizabeth(mid twenties, owns a pinata shop), Jose ( 23, plays guitar, really fun to hang out with, bassically the Guatemalan version of me, except that he has a 6 year old child in Chimaltenango. I'm sharing a 2 room minihouse out back of the main house with Jose.), Dulce Maria (around 10 years old, and TOO cute, irreseperable from her sister Eva), Eva (around 6 years old, prone to giggleing, can be found with her sister taking piano lessons on little casio keyboards, or watching pirated DVD's of Titanic at least twice a day). This family really has been WAY too nice to me, I don't deserve it for the 6 bucks a day I pay to stay there, but they give me my own room, 3 solid meals a day, and more importantly, treat me like one of the family. I can even regularly be caught calling them my family, saying something along the line of "I've got to go home (to my family) to dinner".
In full disclosure, those last paragraphs were stolen from an email I wrote, but in all fairness, its 8:30 and I'm late for dinner with the family. Of course, I've had more experiences and done more things, and all that, but hopefully I won't wait another 3 weeks before writing my next entry (I only have 5 weeks left!) Scary! And hopefully I've given you all, and myself, a little sense of what I've been up to during all this radio silence.
My best love and wishes to you all!
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
It seemed not too long ago I was first starting out on this trip and now, as of the time of writing this, I have four days left in South America. That´s not to say that my trip is ending, its just changing, as I´ll heading to Guatemala to work work work :) for AIDG (The Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group).
So, it makes about a month and a half ago now that I wrote from another transition point in my trip Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. At that point, I was struck by how I had travelled there from the equator, almost entirely in bus, slowly making my way south through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. As I went, I more or less was a tourist. Going from thing to do to other thing to do, always with an ever changing group of fellow travellers.
Ushuaia marked the end of that. From there, I flew to Buenos Aires and started what I would call phase 2 of my trip, Big City Life. In Buenos Aires, I more or less just lived. I did my laundry, got groceries, "worked" recording music, hung out with friends, and went out at night. Sure I spent a few days seeing the sights, but my time was more spent just absorbing the life of a "porteño". It was a refreshing break from the months of moutains and natural desolation in Patagonia.
When I left Buenos Aires, I had a brief respite of laid back beach life in Florianopolis for a few days before catching my bus to my new home for the next few weeks, Rio de Janiero.
So what did I do when I got there? What have I been doing all this time? Lying on the beach sipping cocktails?
Well.... a little bit.
But not as much as I could have or probably should have. I´ve actually been working quite a lot. And while I´m not being paid (on the contrary I´ve paid quite a lot), I feel like its really been paying off. I came to Rio with a pretty directed mission, to learn Samba and to learn Portugese, and that has shaped my whole experience of the city. I haven´t gone to the touristy things like Pão de Azucar or Corcovado, although I did go to a Futebol match at Maracana, the largest soccer stadium in the world, and I haven´t spent as much time on the beach I could have, but instead I´ve been taking Portugese lessons, and Guitar lessons, and Pandeiro lesson, and practicing my butt off, much like I do at home.
To give a taste of my day to day life, I´m going to describe my day today.
Today I woke up around noon, after going to sleep at 4 yesterday, and ran out from my hostel in Copacabana (about a block from the beach). I walked up to Rua Barrata Ribiera, grabbing a pastry for breakfast on the way, and hopped in a public van (R$2 ~1 dollar) headed for PUC, the catholic university that all the IHouse Brazilians went to, which is located in Gavea, past Ipanema and Leblon. A walked around the campus for a little while before meeting up with Juliana, my friend from IHouse way back in the day. It was great to see her and we caught up on all our IHouse gossip as she gave me a tour of the campus (Rochak! We´re talking about you, Mr. Wedding in November!). I also met one of her friends, Edson, who is going to come to Berkeley in Fall and I´m make sure to look up and hang out with when he gets there.
Juliana had a dentist appointment, so we parted ways and I darted across the city to my guitar lesson with Luis Brazil. The lesson was at his apartment in Cosmo Velhmo, and I took the long way to get there involving two buses and a metro! Luis is the director of Na Roda, a school of teachers, players really, who have formed together to provide quality to lessons for serious musicians who come to Rio looking to learn. He is a FANTASTIC guitarist, of many genres, not just Bossa and Samba, and has played and orchestrated for Caetano Veloso for 10 years. I´ve been taking lessons with him for the past two weeks, and with Clarice a Pandeiro (Brazilian Tamborine) player, to work on my rythem. I felt very proud of the lesson today, because it was sort of a marker of my achievement in more ways than one. I spoke Portugese throughout the whole lesson, and on guitar I was right with him the whole time, playing the rythems I´ve been learning comfortably and competently, which is to say that it just felt natural. I just felt like I was sitting out on the porch, playing music, without attention to the fact that I was playing Samba or speaking Portugese.
Thinking back on the lesson on the bus ride home to Copacabana, I realized that´s all I had wanted before coming to this city. So, yah, I felt a bit proud. Its not to say that I have mastery, after three weeks I would more say that I can play a basic samba and speak a decent "Portugñol". Functional really.
Arriving back to the Hostel in Copacabana, I put on my only pair of shoes and went for a run down the beach just after the sun set. I wasn´t alone, as the beach sidewalk was filled with walkers and runners of all shapes and sizes. If there´s anything "Carioca" really pay attention to it´s fitness. Every block is another Academia(Gym), and the beaches on a good day are jam packed with people that just, well, just have immaculate bodies. Men and Women alike, people don´t look the way they do by accident, they work for it. So, in honor of my new home city, that´s what I was doing, working for it.
After a good run, I decided I deserved a treat, so I bought an ice cold Coconut from a beach kiosk and ate it up right there on the street. The vendor gave it a few machete hacks to make a hole and the top and gave me a straw. A few observations:
1. Coconuts have a suprisingly large amount of milk. Really quite alot... and sweet :)
2. After drinking all the refreshing juice, he chopped it in half revealing the tasty white insides. He chopped off a little corner of the thick shell for me to use as a scoop to extract said tasty white insides.
3. While effective, such a scoop requires skill to remove said insides without scraping off all your fingers.
But it was a good experience, and I managed to get a good portion of the meat out without killing myself or making it so I couldn´t play guitar ever again. Also, I was suprised to find that real coco meat is actually quite good and not anything like that white powdery stuff they sell in stores.
After that ordeal, I decided I was deserving of a real meal, so I showered, and went out to my local fruit shop, picked up some apples, oranges, and mangos, and went to my local Churrascaria, and picked up a whole bucket of barbecued meat, took em home and ate them all. Just following my cravings, but unintentionally following the atkins diet :). Just taking a short break from all the beans, rice, and farrofa (manioc).
With dinner out of the way, I put in my mandatory couple hours of practice, playing the song "Chega de Saudade" that I learned in my lesson. By the time I tore myself away from that, it was time to go out. Today is Wednesday(Cuatra Feira) So I decided not to go all the way to Lapa with its big Samba clubs, and instead headed around the corner to Bip Bip.
Bip Bip is a little bar located less than a block than my hostel. That´s not a coincidence, as I moved hostels just to be close, and so I could walk home late at night without having to walk a real long ways. Its just a small bar. Not even, more a hole in the wall, a kiosk, down a walking only street, next to the beach. But despite its small stature, its an institution of Rio music. Each night, musicians from around the city crowd into the small club, and play a mixture of Samba, Choro, and Bossa Nova, while everyone sits on the street enjoying Chopps (Beer). I probably go to Bip Bip every other night and if I´ve learned anything about Brazilian music, its been there. Last night, I actually finally got up the nerve to pick up a guitar (well first I played Surdo...) and play with everyone and it was a truly great experience.
What Bip Bip has taught me about Samba, besides the basics of all the instruments, and the way they interlock, is that the heart of the music is not in the rythem, its in the lyrics and the songs. And boy are there a lot of them! I pretentiously came to Rio thinking I´m going to "learn Samba", to find that there are hundreds upon hundreds of songs, all with really poetic lyrics and beautiful melodies. Hell, single artists like Chico Buarque or Gilberto Gil have hundreds of songs just by themselves.
Why is this where the heart is? Because Everyone sings Everyword to Everysong. Its wonderful and strangely amazing at the same time. They´ve just been learning songs since birth and they´re all stored up in there. Not to take too much of a tangent, but this highlights an interesting cultural point I´ve found, which is that Brazilians seem to have amazing memories. In Brasil, services come first and you pay after. If you go to a kiosk, you sit there eating, ordering more, eating more, and so on until you´re done, and without a piece of paper, the atendent comes to you and tells you exactly what you ordered, despite the fact that he´s also had to keep track of 10 other people. When you hop in a van, you don´t pay as you get in. You ride along, sometimes for a half hour, untill you decide to get out at which point the fare collecter remembers whether or not you, among the 15 other continuously rotating people has paid him yet. When you put the fact that at a night in Bip Bip, we can go for 3 hours straight singing from song to song, no stops, and everyone sings everyword, and I think you´ve got a good case for the memory argument.... I´m just saying...
So tonight was Bossa Nova night, which means two great guitarists and 7 great female singers, doing four part harmony on the spot with just a look. I´ve taken to singing along even though I don´t know the words. It´s a bit like singing hebrew in synagouge when I was a kid :).
And after all that, I closed my day by coming back to my hostel, which is also a internet cafe (an EXPENSIVE one at that) and wrote this. Also typical of my experiences over the past weeks, as I´ve drowned many a good dollar at the altar of the Internet connection.
I don´t feel like a tourist, but I don´t feel like a "carioca", more like a wierd halfway that lives in a tourist house yet dosen´t do toursity things. Some of the most fun I´ve had is seeing old Ihouse friends. I´ve spent time with Juliana, Vivian, Mikhael (Janda, his Brazilian girlfriend is the one giving me Portugese lessons), Camila, and LuLu. Also I´ve met some great other travelers in my hostels over the past weeks. In my first hostel, some guys from Spain and girls from France, and here some guys from Colombia and girls from Brazil. Its my favorite combination, where not everyone speaks portugese, but no one speaks english.
And at the begining I said that this time is now coming to an end, Phase 2, Big city life, and its true for in 4 days I fly to Guatemala. I was pleased to find that, just by sheer coincedence, I´ll be flying on the same flight as Mikhael´s family which is in the country visiting, so that´s nice. I´ve been spending the past month and a half living up city life, city culture, seeking out music. But I´m already looking on to Phase 3, volunteering in Guatemala. I recieved an email from Benny Lee, the director of interns for AIDG today and it got me really excited for Guatemala. It´s going to be so different from everything I´ve done up until now.
First off, its a developing third world nation, and to be honest, I´ve been travelling pretty much in the first world since I left Bolivia, 3 1/2 months ago. I´m also slowly realizing that whatever I do there, is going to be pretty much up to me. I´ve been assigned to test, develop, and distribute two different technologies: Water Filtration Systems and Water Pumps. I requested to work on these and I´m really psyched and everything I´m going to have to learn to get going on them. And learn fast! I´ve really been more and more aware that clean drinking water is such a basic and necessary resource for everyone, and I´m going to be inspired and proud to be working to help some people have clean water to drink.
Anyways, that´s all for the next entry, everything now is just speculation. I think one of the best parts of the experience will be being part of the team of 5 interns that is currently working with AIDG, other grads from colleges around the US, including berkeley, who should be a great community to be apart of.
Ok, its 4 in the morning, so I´ll have to sign off if I want to get up tomorrow before lunchtime (lunch meeting in the center with Vivian!).
Much Love to Everyone!
Friday, March 23, 2007
(This is a continuation of the previous entry since it all seemed too long to put in one entry)
Looking forward... I find myself now in Florianópolis, Brasil, 2 hours before my bus leaves to Rio where I plan to see old friends again and study Samba. In Rio, I had been talking with Mikhael (From Ihouse) about spliting up the 50 hours of Bus to Rio with a stop over in Florianópolis, a small capital (300,000 pessoas) surrounded by beautiful tranquil beaches. After a 26 hour bus ride (which I splurged for Cama and slept the whole way, Best Bus ever), I arrived into Floripa. My first victory was just the fact that the let me into the country! I had a visa from my visit about a year ago, and it technically said that it was good for 5 years, but I still wasn´t sure that I would be allowed in until we were past that border and eating Feijão (beans) and rice. Oh how I´ve missed beans! For some reason, they just didn´t eat them anywhere I went on the trip, but a big serving of feijão is essential to any brazilian meal. I think it´ll be the same in Guatemala, so I have beans to look forward to for the rest of my travels...
Anyways, on the vaguge directions provided by Mikhael (Praia Moçambique, Gingi Birra Camping) I headed out from Floripa onto the Ilha Santa Catarina at around 4 pm. Hopping on a croweded bus, and transfering to another, I squished up against the normal passengers with all my big bags and guitar. Towards the end of the bus line, I realized that Praia Moçambique is 18km long and no one had heard of Gingi Birra (Gin Gee Bee Hah). Someone thought they knew and told me to get off at the last stop. I did as I was told and found myself alone on the road in the middle of who knows where brasil, looking for a campground that no one had heard of. I walk a hundread kilometers up the road and found A camping, with a nice family living in a little house out front.
Vos hablas español?
Não.... um pequinho...
At this point I went about my best trying to explain myself in my broken portugese that I had picked up on the bus reading an XMen comic book :), where I found out that I can more or less actually read Portugese, which was a bit of a pleaseant suprise. Its also where I came across the great realization that the majority of Brazilians can more or less understand spanish, even if I struggle to comprehend what they say back to me. Its all just crazy beautiful pronunciantion.
Anyways, just as I found out that they had never heard of Gingi Birra, a torrential downpour suddenly came out of nowhere as I ran around front just to keep myself from getting soaked. At this point I didn´t know what to do. Before it started pouring I figured I was just going to put up my sleeping bag and sleep the night, find Mikhael tomorrow. But when it started pouring, and it started getting dark, I realized I need a roof, and for this I needed a Pousada. The people at the campground were so nice, that they all got together and found out where Gingi Birra actually was. They even offered to drive me there. With the rain pouring like nobodys business I accepted the offer. The only problem is that the person that was nice enough to drive me was deaf! I figured he knew where he was going, but I soon found out he was expecting me to know! I tried my best to communicate with him, but the double barrier of understand deaf speak portugese was just too much for me. I had him drop me off a local pousada, where I would have stayed the night, but ironically, they knew where Gingi Birra was and offered to drive me around the corner to it.
Now when I thought camping, I was thinking trees, campfire, maybe a spot on the beach, but Gingi Birra was really just a patch of grass with a concrete floor and a protective overhang in someones backyard in the town of Rio Velhmo. To my relief, and his suprise, I got out of the car to see Mikhael just sitting there, totally not expecting me to show up this late. As I got my bags out the car, I realized that he wasn´t sitting there, but actually managing a small horde of misbehaving children who where consumed with some sort anger I couldn´t explain. Mikhael had set up his tent on the concrete and hung a giant hammock from the cross beam. I was just happy to finally arrive.
The spot was my home for the next two days, as Mikhael shared his tent and walked to the beach each day. In exchange for the basic accomadation we got a beautiful 10 minute walk to the beach, through town, a marsh, past ´watch out, killer bees´ signs, through a pine forrest, and emerging to a pristine virgin 18 km white sand beach with downright BIG waves. I went for a dip, relaxed in the sand, watched the crabs walk by, and enjoyed the realization of a whole different style of life that I could be living.
As tranquil as the beach was, life back at the camp was just as interesting. So the 4 kids that were so upset (ranging from 5-10 years old), were having to face the fact that there mother just got arrested for traffiking drugs a few days ago and would be in prison for the next 5 years. These wild children were the only ones in the camp the first day because the father, who said he would be back at 4pm, wasn´t back till 4am, was, in lue of having anyway to support the kids, was out trying to score some hashish which he could sell. He took the 14yr son of his wife with him. The family was living in the campground while the father was trying to put together some way of supporting them. We all lived together like one big interesting family for a few days.
Also interesting enough, I managed to calm them down that first day with a little guitar and beatboxing. There was one kid in paticular who took to the beatboxing in serious way. He totally had rythem at his age that only comes from just banging on everything you see and dancing all the time, you know, brazilian. Anyways, while at times I think they were on the verge of driving me crazy, I really enjoyed getting to know this crazy mixed up family living on the verge of or below the poverty line. We even got together and cooked a Churrasco (Brazilian Asado) the last night, which the kids ate for breakfast. They also had two dogs who were always so hungry, because in a family where they´res only enough food to feed the 5 children, they only got the scraps of what was left. Plus the kids would always just go up to them and kick them and hit them, because thats what the dad did when they were poking their nose where it shouldn´t be. There was also a punching bag in the campground, that the dad liked hitting alot, and when he did, he would grit his teeth and his face would get red, and you could just see the frustration and anger coming out.
It was just a temporary stopover here in Florianopolis, and I was supposed to take an 18 hour bus yesterday, but I got sick and decided to stay a night in the city and take care of myself. It was just a cold, but I´m feeling better now. Truth be told, I´d like to stay another day here, just for the fun of it, but I already bought my ticket, and I missed the deadline to push it back while writing these two massive entries :). Oh well! Rio awaits... and my bus leaves in an hour, so I gotta get outta here!
Chao amigos!! All the best to everyone and I hope to talk to you all soon!
So what have I been doing? Where am I? Where am I going?
In Short, I´ve been lazying around Buenos Aires for the past three weeks, meeting up with friends, playing some music, dancing a bit, and just living the life of the porteño (someone from Buenos Aires). After all my time in patagonia, I was eager to get to a big city, somewhere with culture, music, dancing, people, food... I was eager to get back in touch with people after having spent so much time getting in touch with nature. I was eager for all these things, and Buenos Aires did not disapoint.
First, a word about the flight. On my trip, I had traveled all the way from Lima, Peru to Ushuaia, Argentina soley by bus. So it was quite a strange thing to pack up my bags and head off to the airport in Ushuaia. It was rathere spotaneous that I bought the ticket, but it was there, it was available, it cost roughly the same as a bus would, and the 3 hour flight meant I could avoid a 50 hour bus ride. So on a lot of levels it made sense. Then again, there are some things about flying that I had forgotten in my months of buses, like checkin, security, and after all that your plane is 3 hours late getting out of the Ushuaia airport. But its okay, because it provided me the opportunity to meet Ruben (40 something porteño on the way home to see his family) and Monica (20 something Dutch girl). I had the pleasure of acting as a translator between the two of the them and enabling us all to have a good time passing the time waiting for our plane.
We arrived into BA at 2óclock, said goodbye to Ruben and headed off to our hostel in the upscale neighborhood of Belgrano(Monica had no hostel so I found her a spot in the one I was staying at). The first thing I noticed was the weather. The day that I left Ushuaia, it snowed covering all the mountain tops with a thick blanket of white. Three hours later, I found myself disembarking from the plane into a muggy thick hot humidity, at 2 in the morning.
We came in at nighttime, and what a surprise to wake up the morning, look out the window and see that I was now in the middle of a huge city. Monica and I hung out for the first few days, getting all the tourisim bugs out of our system. We walked around the historic center, Plaza de Mayo, Congresso, took a coffee in Cafe Tortorini, the hangout of the likes of Borges and others. You know, touristy stuff. One nice experience I wasn´t expecting was when we walked up to the Congress building, we stopped into a cafe along the side of the ´mothers of the disappeared´ or something along those lines. Inside was not only a café, but also an organization center for this very active group that stages protests every week demanding truth and reconciliation about the tens of thousands of people that were ´disappeared´during the military occupation from 1976-1983. Not only that, but it was also a library, the only library I´ve ever seen where the section titles read like ´Communisim, Socialism, Anarchy...´. The mothers are still very active, and for those of you who were paying attention when Bush came down to Uruguay, they were the ones that hosted Hugo Chavez in Buenos Aires at a counter rally... but more on that later.
Belgrano is a 30 min Subte(Subway) ride out from center, so I moved to Hostel Ostinatto, located in the Bohemian and touristy district of San Telmo. I stayed there for weeks more or less. What I really spent most of my time doing was meeting up with friends, both those from California and those who I had met along the way. I spent a lot of time hanging out with Rebecca, who I met all the way back in Arequipa, Peru. I helped her move into her apartment, which was a few blocks from the hostel. She moved to BA to teach english and had a pretty busy schedule each day of students (mostly tour guides). We passed the time playing guitar, and just hanging out.
I also got to see Jose Luis, my traveling companion in Bolivia who I just met crossing the border. Jose was born in Bolivia, and he really helped me have a different experience of Bolivia. Even though he´s of Bolivian descent, he´s really a Porteño at heart, having lived almost all his life in the city. When we went different ways in La Paz, we knew that we would meet up again in Buenos Aires, and after many failed tries, we finally did. He lives about an hour train ride outside of Capital Federal (the center) in a district called Merlo. After coming back from Colombia, Jose found himself to be a huge salsa fan, so we spent a couple nights dancing it up at the local salsa club ´Azucar´. One of the things I´m most proud of is that I introuced Rebecca and Jose to eachother because they really seemed a perfect match to be great friends. They both LOVE salsa, are super nice, and even Rebecca teaches english and Jose is trying to learn english. I felt really happy that after a couple nights hanging out in the salsa clubs together, they both came to me and said, ´you know, that Rebecca/Jose is a really cool person´. Jose also gave a slice of porteño life, having me over with his family friends for an asado (barbecue), and my last two nights I spent out in his family´s place in Merlo, a nice quite suburb away from a lot of the madness of the center.
But what about the people I already knew from California? Well, when I started this whole trip, I wasn´t alone, nay, the only way I got off my lazy northern california butt and started traveling was hitching on to the trip of Ben Lawson. Ben and I travelled together in Ecuador and Cuzco, but split up when I decided to stay in Peru as he flew to Santiago on his way to Buenos Aires. Well, in the two months I was slowly working my way down through Chile and Argentina, Ben was studying spanish in Buenos Aires. When we met up, for me it was a little like the completion of a cycle, the end of one stage of my journey. We passed a good day, trying to go to a Boca Juiors futbol game but not having tickets, walking around the 4 blocks of Boca that are not rundown and dangerous, but actually übertouristy, with brightly coloured buildings and tango in the streets. We walked through the sunday fair in San Telmo, checking out antiques, icecream, and yet more tango in the streets. Ben´s spanish has really improved and when I talked to him, his plans had become more ambigious with time, not sure if he wanted to stay in Buenos Aires or move on to some other country like Spain. From what I hear, the Lawson clan are on their way down right now to visit him in Buenos Aires.
A big surprise was getting a facebook message from my Physics buddy Jamie Tolan that he was going to be passing through the city. Coming off of a month of glacier and peak climbing in southern Chile, it was great to meet up with him for the three days he was there and do my inept job of showing him all the city had to offer (seeing as I had only been there for a week). One paticular friday, it seemed like the world conspired to give me too many things to do. There was a South American Music Conference all day that tempted me with its workshops working on new music production programs like Ableton Live, which I had been doing all summer before the trip. But I opted to skip that to hang out with Jamie, Monica, and Esteban and Julia, two folks I met in the hostel. Esteban is mexican american and studies moss in San Luis Obispo, and might actually come to berkeley next year. A great guy, never in my life have I met anyone so excited about moss and algae. We headed out to the Hipodromo (racetrack) and got a taste of the highlife, sitting out on the green, watching the races pass by, actually quite tranquil in comparison to the city. I lost 7 pesos (2bucks) betting on a horse, but Julia won 50 pesos(~$15).
Now, I had been reading the newspapers the day before all about Bush´s journey to the south. Irronically, Bush is really easy to understand when he´s translated to spanish because he speaks so simply :). All the accounts and stories ranged from protest and outrage to a mild nonplused. But I also saw that Hugo Chavez was coming into BA to meet with Kirchner (Argentinan President) the same day that Bush would be in Montevideo, as a counterprotest. I really wanted to go, and after the race track, I convinced the group to take the subway out to the end to go see him. What we found was really quite impressive. Crossing the traintracks we came up to the soccer stadium (Cancha) which was filled with 20,000 people, all armed with a variety of huge banners and samba drums. The seats were packed, and on the field people were mulling about. You couldn´t see the stage from most positions because of all the banners in the way, but you could hear the voices roaring over the loud speaker as the crowd responded, with shouts, cheers, and above all, banging on those drums. Some people were intently focused on the speaker, others seemed to just be walking around, and some seemed more interested in their drums than actually hearing what the speaker had to say. When we entered, a woman was shouting out on the loudspeakers in a shill tone. We worked our way across the stadium and up into the bleachers on the side where we could get a better veiw of everything. When the woman finished, Hugo took the stage, but you couldn´t tell it from the tone of his voice. He spoke in a very soft and controlled tone, talking about the need for South American independence from foriegn dependence, South America for South America and the like. His tone gradually increased and increased in volume, talking about solidarity with Cuba (which got a huge cheer) and Bush. He never mentioned Bush by name, prefering to call him ´El caballito del norte´ (The little cowboy from the north), saying basically ´No hace falta´ (We don´t need him). In terms of oration, he was really one of the better speakers I´ve ever seen in my life, with great control of his voice and the crowd. He also talked for a LONG time, in the end, I had to leave after an hour, but aparently he went on for a few more.The experience was really interesting although I have to say that I did feel just a bit out of place, I just feel for Jamie, who I dragged along and then left there, not speaking any spanish really. But he got back alright, and really was happy to have gone too. I would have stayed with him but I had to leave because I was late to go record.
Record? Oh, yes I haven´t mentioned that yet. What I did more in Buenos Aires than anything else was to help Renee, from I-house, to record an album of hers. She had been living in the city for 6 months and over that time had found herself in 4 reggae bands and knowing a bunch of producers. She took advantage of the situation to decide to go ahead and record a full length album of her songs. She got 4 reggae tracks down on record before the producer lied to her and tried to mess with the project. So, when I entered the situation I found her with a new producer, picking up where she left off and without the cadre of musicians that she previously had. In total, I probably spent 7 or so days working on her tracks in the home studio of Carlos, her new producer. I tackled the task of coming up with guitar parts that would support her songs and bring out the feel she was going for. For the songs I was working on, that mostly meant Rock. It was great to get back into a studio situation, feel the thrill (and the agony) of recording, and get to play ELECTRIC GUITAR! Oh... how I had missed it. My guitar of choice for the recordings was Carlos´s custom Fender Strat, American made, with a Floyd Rose whammy bar and fine tuners in the bridge, 9 gauge strings. A great guitar with lots of good bluesy sounds, but also a humbucker pickup at the bridge to get the crunch when I needed it. We recorded straight into the computer, using GuitarRig2 software (top of the line, what I have at home) to emulate guitar amps in the computer itself. Not quite as good as the real thing, but suprisingly close some times. If any of this means anything to you, great, but if not, just apreciate that I got to play around with a bunch of tools that I haven´t seen in a long time and it made me happy, and eager to get home and get rocking with my own home studio. Now all I need is some good monitors... and a decent midicontroller... and some pro headfones.... if only I hadn´t spent all my money traveling :).
I really enjoyed the time I spent with Renee, and in BA in general. I got the change of pace that I had been looking for, but after 2 weeks or so, I found that... I was tired of it! All the loud noises, you had to shout on the street all the time just to someone next to you. All the pollution, apparently the buses haven´t heard of smog checks. All the people, all the filth, it was just too much... I needed a break!
And with that, I finally got my act together, bought a bus ticket to Brasil and goodbye city, hello Beaches!
Saturday, March 3, 2007
Saturday, February 24, 2007
And here I find myself in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. Surrounded on all sides by lush yet jagged mountain peaks, nestleing the picuresque Beagle Bay, on the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia really does have a "end of the world" feeling. Everyday boats disembark from the harbor destined for Antartica, a growing tourist destination in its own right. This place is an appropriate place for some reflection on my trip...
According to Ball of Dirt, I´ve travelled 10,838km so far, starting at the Equator and working my way down here, bassically all via bus except a flight to Peru. This is the southernmost point in my trip, and each step from here on out is one more northward, one step in the direction of home.
Home.... I haven´t forgotten it, in fact I think about it a lot these days, all you guys sitting back in Marin. But I still have a long way to go before I come back, and many more experiences left to be had. In fact, I´m only about halfway done! I do feel like I´m entering a distinctly different phase of my travel. The day after tomorrow, I catch a midnight flight from Ushuaia, to Buenos Aires (I know that´s cheating, but its 50 hours in bus, and would cost nearly as much).
When I get there, I have friends waiting for me to hang out with. Jose Luis who I travelled with through Bolivia. Rebecca from way back in Arequipa, Peru. Ben Lawson, who I started all this trip with. Even Renee from IHouse will be there finishing up recording an album, which hopefully I´ll arrive in time to help out with however I can.
After BA, I´ve been planning to head to Rio de Janiero, Brasil, to study music for 2 weeks at a highly recommended school. And after that, the plan is to catch a plane to Guatemala, to volunteer with AIDG (www.aidg.org) for two months, finishing up in June in time to come home for JazzCampWest on June 23rd.
When I lay it out like that, it seems so small, short, contained. Bassically just 3 cities. 3 1/2 months. But of course plans always change, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I also hope to get to know these places on a deeper level than I´ve experienced my whirlwind rush south from the equator to Tierra del Fuego.
Tierra del Fuego.... I just realized I haven´t even described where I am! Too much sticking my head in the bucket of the future. Tierra del Fuego has totally superceded my expectations, primarily because I didn´t know what to expect. Leaving Punta Arenas, Chile, in a bus it was 10 hours to Ushuaia. After a short drive, we came to the Straight of Magellen, a short passage of water at our crossing point. We loaded the bus up onto a ferry and took a quick 20 min cruise across the straight. Luckily that day the water was quite tranquil despite the serious wind. Just left it up to the imagination what it must be like on a bad day.
Upon landing on the otherside, we found ourselves in a climate much like I was expecting for the end of the world. Loonnnnggg.... empty..... fields of grass. A sort of empty desolation that demands silence from its audience.
Oh, that and lots of minefields (aparently the area was victim to Chilean-Argentinian tensions from years past). The Guanaco herds didn´t seem to mind as the galloped through the fields, and I tried to avoid imagining the collision of these two worlds.
Anyways, openess... vastness... strong whipping winds. After a typically long border crossing, I was lured off to sleep by the vast emptyness. I awoke a few hours later to find us smack in the middle of a dense lush forest of beech trees. The forest rose up into sheer stunning mountains, huddleing around the lake at the middle of the island. We climbed high into the snowpeaked pass, into mountains that, for reasons I can´t really explain, striked me as some of the most beautiful in all my journey (and that´s a lot of mountains!). Maybe that I didn´t have any expectations, or maybe it was that the sun was setting, but the effect was just truly awesome. After several failed attempts to capture it on camera, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.
Ushuaia itself is quite a bustling little city of 30,000 or so people, really well laid out for tourists. A strange combination of tourist town like Bariloche, and industrial port to Antartica and ships coming around the cape.
Yesterday, I went out for a hike, taking a chair lift up into a valley and climbing to the base of, yet another glacier. It was a beautiful walk, and better than the glacier itself was the stunning veiw down the valley on the town and the bay. Also they´res a lot of israelis at my hostel so we did a little kiddush last night for shabbat, and I spent all today having a lively debate/conversation about all those things that people stereotypically talk with israelis about.
Then I was lucky enough to just find a plane ticket a few hours ago (they´re normally booked this time of year), and I´ll be off onto my next phase of my journey soon.
I want to say a special thank you to everyone who´s been sending me letters lately. It can get a little lonely traveling alone and its been great having an inbox brimming with love each day :).
So that´s the news from lake wobegone,
Chao for now!
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
When I last wrote, I had just arrived into El Calafate, Argentina, and everthing went pretty much as planned. The next day I headed out on the "alternative" tour to Perito Morreno Glacier, which didn´t really mean anything more than it took a different bus road to get there, but such is life. It didn´t really matter that I think I overpaid for the tour, because it was really amazing. The Morreno Glacier is one of those things that you just can´t deny its grandeur, and you forget about the touristy stuff when you get there.
What is it? Its a glacier, 70m high, several kilometers long, that actually cuts a lake in two at a small channel. The two sides of the lake thus have different water levels. This, among other things, contributes to it being one of the most constantly evolving glaciers I would think in the world. For me, this meant that by midday, every few minutes you could see a chunk of ice a few stories tall fall off the face of the glacier, land in the water forming a tremendous splash, and an even more tremendous sound. Unfortunately, I didn´t get any of it on video, but the sound was really the amazing part. Like gunshots. Explosions. And it came after the sight of the fall so if you looked when you heard it, all you would see was the huge wave and icebergs emerging from the splash site. My tour include a boat trip up to the face, and a nice walk along the channel where the glacier meets the land. Very touristy, but quite spectacular as well.
But after hiking in El Bolsón, I was really feeling the urge to get out and use these new leg muscles I had discovered, thus I decided to head up to El Chaltén. 4 hours north of El Calafate, El Chaltén is a small town litterally at the base of Mt. Fitz Roy. You walk out of the town directly into Parque Nacional Los Glacieres. Funny fact, before coming down here, I thought there were only a few glaciers in the world, but then I found out that the park alone holds 360 glaciers, of which I ended up seeing about six.
I decided to take a tour to El Chaltén as well, because I´m going alone at the moment, have no tent, wanted to stay inside the park, and it just seemed to fit all of my needs. Glad I did, because it was a great trip! I think officially called "SuperTrekking", whatever that means, the real kicker for me was that we got to climbing on a glacier. We took the bus up early in the morning, a group of 4 (Lovely and active old couple, and a late twenties girl traveler, all from England.), and met up with our two guides (Lucho and Jorge) once we arrived. I really enjoyed talking with them, learning slang, how only foriegners say (uh... es possible..), and joking around as we walked. We hiked up to a lookout on Mt. Fitz Roy, but it was clouded over! Luckily the clouds lifted after about a half hour and we were treated to a stunning veiw of the truly magnificent mountain. Hiking over the mountain ridge, we decended to our campsite near the Mt. Torres, and its glaciers and lake that rest at its base.
The next morning we woke up early for what was, all told, a really long day. We woke up at 6am and, under the veil of clouds, climbed up to the Glacier Grande at the base of the mountain. To get there we needed to pull ourselves across a river on a rope hand over hand, and hike along its beautiful glacial lake. Once there, we strapped on our crampons and got a lesson in glacier hiking (Flat feet, legs apart, side step on steep surfaces, always align your feet to the ice grain). Hiking on the glacier was absolutely fantastic. I had done it before with my parents in New Zealand on the Fox glacier, but this was less travelled, no set route, with steep falls to either side, really quite an experience. We made our way up to a flatter section (I learned there are two types of sections V´s (that we were hiking on earlier, which are steeper but safer because you can see the bottome) and A`s (that are up much higher and more dangerous because the drops are covered by a thin bit of ice)). Once actually, when we were walking along, we heard an ominous booming sound with each step, and carefully moved ourselves off the hollow ice. So we walked our way up to an ice wall a bit up on the glacier, and had our lunch there, while Lucho climbed up it and attached a bolee to the top. We then proceeded to get our 5 min lesson in ice climbing,(left ice axe, right ice axe, left crampon, right crampon) and each had our turn trying out our new skills on the wall. Tirirng, but really fun. On our way off the glacier we saw about 20 people getting on, from the 5 other companies, so it was wonderful that we got up so earlier and really had the glacier all to ourselves for several hours.
From then on it was a race to hike out of the park and back to El Chaltén in time for the 6 o´clock bus. We busted our butts and got there with 15 minutes to spare before being wisked away back onto a 4 hour bus ride to El Calafate. As fate would have it, I met a musician(guitarist) named Daniel who lives with his family in El Chaltén and was on his way into Calafate to play with his band that night. Calafate was just beginning a 4 day festival of Argentinan music (Rock Nacional) and all the famous bands of Argentina were coming in to play a big open air concert. Daniels band had just won a battle of the bands in Buenos Aires, and was set to play right next to the festival in a popular bar. We talked about all things music, and ended up with him asking me if I wanted to stop by and help his band setup before the gig. Of course I said sure. When we got back I ran back to the hostel, dropped off my stuff, picked up my earplugs and headed to the festival. When I got there, I found they had A LOT of equipment (I´ve forgetten how it is with Rock bands...) but also a LOT of people to help setup, so I just sat back and enjoyed. I caught a bit of the large concert outside and had a long cold walk home to my hostal, planning to get up at 7 the next morning and catch a bus to chile.
But life had other plans. I did indeed wake up the next day, to find myself with a big fever, and there were no bus tickets till tomorrow for chile. So I slept, and rested, and nyquiled, and rested. I cooked myself some chicken soup, imitating my moms recipe as best as I could remember and I think I did a descent job. Did make me remeber that I want to learn every little recipe she knows when I get home, because they would have been so helpful on my trip :).
The next day took me across the border to Puerto Natales (still sick). Playing it safe, I decided to continue down to Punta Arenas that night to get checked up on the next day. When I arrived, I found myself straight up pampered by the loving chilean couple in charge of my hospedaje. The dad is a judge and took me to the best hospital in town where he knew the doctors and stayed with me to make sure I got the translations of everything right. Turns out I´m ok, just a little bronchitis that I´ve spent the past few days recovering from. My travel fatigue wears at me and I feel the urge to get to warmer environs of Buenos Aires, a change of pace, so I think I will save Torres del Paine for another trip.
All said, I´m still very happy I came to Chile, because I got to see a side of Chile other than Santiago, one much more friendly, casual, still expensive, but also filled with people that I can actually understand. I thought it was because I was getting better at spanish, but I watched a TV show last night and I just think its that people from Santiago speak a rare breed of spanish. In fact I´ve found that in all the countries, that the cities have their own languages which are always more difficult to understand... no difference with the US either....
Ok, Love to all, and hopefully I´ll write again a bit sooner this time :)
Oh and Pictures are coming! Many many pictures, as soon as I find a good connection.
Monday, February 12, 2007
Am I still upset? No, but I do feel more than a little foolish.
Luckily it provided me with the time to do a sublimely wonderful 4 day trek in the mountains around Hielo Azul. Accompanying me was the usual company of Kathleen, Andreas, and Katrine, but we also had the addition of Bruno from Rosario (which is a few hours north of Buenos Aires). It was a wonderful hike... heres the lowdown.
- 1st Day: 6 hour hike up 1300 meters to the base of the Hielo Azul Glacier(Blue Ice, go figure...). This was the testing day to see how my leg would fair, and it felt great! It also was a reminder of what I learned in Colca Canyon, that 1000m is actually quite a lot more than 1000 ft. :) (3.3 times to be percise). Awaiting us up top was a beutiful refugio with water pressure, home cooking and great veiws. We celebrated Kathleen´s birthday in style with the free homade beer they gave us.
- 2nd Day: We changed our plans and stayed an extra day at the refugio so that we could climb up to see the glacier. The path was steep... well no, the path was nonexistent! Which made for a great adventure on the way up and tricky footing on the way down. I walked up alone, and it was quite an empowering feeling to boulder up some unmarked terrain to a glacier up high in the Andes.
- 3rd Day: We descend to Cajon del Azul, walking for 3 hours over a mountain ridge and then decending into the neighboring valley. The thing is... in argentina, they don´t really understand the concept of ´gradual´, so on our way down we were bassically falling, running, grabbing on to trees to stop ourselves from sliding down the mountain. And of course, half way through, the trail just disappears. At that point, Kathleen and I just started running, hopping logs, really hauling, and we decended the whole 1000m in around 45 mins. The Cajon is a small canyon carved by the crystal blue river and was just beautiful.
- 4th Day: With what scraps of food we have left (I think it was 7 crackers and 2 pieces of salami) we walk back out to the road. I walked with Maria, from BA, who we met in the refugio, and we talked all about cooking zucchini. Apparently, down here they do zuchinni boats down here too, mom, but they use a white sauce! Also they use these cool round zuchinnis that they have down here... and white eggplant! I should bring some back... give you guys some variety.
So, as soon as my card arrived, I was out of there, hopped a bus that day to Rio Gallegos..... 24 hours. And not an easy 24 hours either, like in Chile, a LONG 24 hours. When I got there I was more than ok with the fact that they had no buses to El Calafate till the next day and I finally got a good nights sleep (I´ve been sleeping on bad mattresses for 10 days now).
And now here I am!
A small town El Calafate is about one thing and one thing only, Glaciers!
Tommorrow is the famous Perito Moreno and the next day I might hop the 4 hours up to El Chaltén to do some hiking and maybe even, if I´m up to it, ice climbing.
Chao and Love Chicos!