The Game

All that love and romance is just wonderful, but now it’s time to return to my non-traditional adventure traveling roots. In that regard, I have been editing and organizing a number of stories from my extensive collection of hand written notebooks. If I don’t get too overwhelmed with stonework, I will continue posting these new old stories in the coming weeks. Additionally, it occurs to me that many of these stories vaguely refer to my radical theories on international politics and economic systems. As such, it might be helpful to occassionally spell out these theories more clearly so that the vague references of my main character (me) have some substance behind them. Accordingly, I am going to start adding short essays “explaining” some of my various theories. The long winded traveling tales will continue, these shorter blogish things are going to be an added feature. This is the first one.

The Game

Let’s not kid ourselves with weasel words like globalization and neo-liberalism, the name of the game is world conquest, and USA inc. thinks it’s going to win. There are, however, several other big players at the table. China inc. and Russia, inc. still have strong positions, and you can’t forget the Euro, inc. or India inc. or Brazil, inc. either. South Africa, inc. is rising fast while Great Britain inc., Canada inc., and Australia inc., still like to pretend they are independent of USA, inc.. A good part of the world consists of subsidiary corporations who operate with a veneer of independence but are mostly managed by USA inc..

Realistically speaking, neither China, Russia, nor anyone else is going to “win” the game. Indeed, some would suggest that they are not trying to “win” but are merely trying to stop USA inc. from doing so. It is, you might say, the ultimate question on the international stage for the 21st century. Are we going to live in a unipolar world with USA inc. as the big bossman with their currency involved in every asset transaction and their military on the scene to provide protection for assets. Or are we going to live in a multi polar world with many smaller governments, decentralized power and localized control of the environment and natural resources?

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After the Apocalypse

An honorable man does not go galavanting around South America or Africa for the winter when his lady is home pregnant in freezing cold upstate New York.

Yes, it’s true, Ms. B. and I will be having our first child in early July.

And that explains why I am not on the road wandering for the first winter in 15 years. Instead, I have been posting old stories from my notebooks. I have been concentrating lately on stories from the first trip that Ms. B. and I took together in 2011. It’s interesting to see the parallels between the present and the past. I’m thinking about combining them all into a book. This week’s story would be the finale of that book.

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After the Apocalypse…

Canoa, Ecuador, March 15, 2011

It’s a classic moment in the history of the Universe. Nature’s wrath has just reduced a complex human civilization to ashes and mud but many humans survive to start over and continue on. Civilization builds itself again until nature’s wrath reduces it to rubble again. The cycle repeats itself; over and over. Civilizations collapse… they always do… but humanity continues. In this particular story or myth, the catastrophe has only just passed and but a few survivors remain. A man and a woman are standing together on a beach in the aftermath. Their world has been destroyed. Everything they knew and believed is no more.

“We have nothing,” says the man, “what shall we do?”

“We shall begin again…” says the woman.

It takes us about an hour to walk down the beach from the Coco Hut in Canoa to the remote location of the Sundowner Inn. With all our belongings on our back and the hot sun bearing down, it’s not exactly a pleasant stroll. But I do my best to embrace the struggle and I try to think of it as an important element of the overall experience. The excitement from yesterday’s Tsunamai warning still lingers giving the world an exaggerated intensity. I feel a little like a character in an epic adventure story. The empty barren beach all around us adds background atmosphere. Me and my woman are slowly making our way in a post apocalyptic world…

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Tsunami Warning!

Nothing quite like the end of the world to put things in perspective. This was a crazy day. Not only because of the horror that hit Japan but because we thought the horror was headed our way. My thoughts and prayers and condolences are, of course, with the Japanese people who truly suffered the consequences of this Tsunami and this story is not intended to make light of their tragedy. But it’s interesting to read this old notebook and witness my own self responding to apocalyptic possibilities. Me and Ms. B.; riding the storm out…

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Tsunami Warning!

Canoa, Ecuador; March 2011

It’s early morning but after sunrise. I have a hangover and a headache. I awake groggily to the sound of sirens and loudspeakers. The words are in Spanish; I’m half asleep; I can’t understand. I get out of bed and go to the window. We are staying in a beach front hotel. Only a dirt road and about 100 feet of sand beach separate us from the ocean. We can watch the waves wash on shore from our bed. But we closed the window last night because of bugs. Now I open it and look outside. There are several police vehicles driving up and down the dirt road and on the beach. Sirens blaring, loudspeakers blasting. Evacuation!! Evacuation!! We are under a Tsunami Alert. Evacuation Evacuation. The hostel erupts into chaos. People run around in a panic; shove things into backpacks and scurry about as they talk excitedly. An earthquake has hit Japan. A tsunami is coming here. Evacuate. Evacuate. Holy Shit, we have to evacuate… Hmmm…. I guess that means I should probably wake up Ms. B…

After four days of fun but difficult hiking in the cold high mountains of Quilatoa, Ms. B. and I are ready for the beach. Ecuadoran Carnaval is now over so the beaches shouldn’t be crowded. I oh so badly want to kick back and relax. But not quite yet; first we have to get there. And transport between Latacunga in the mountains and Canoa on the beach is not exactly straightforward. As a matter of fact, it’s a regular odyssey. We leave the hotel at 7:00 am and go directly to the bus station. From Latacunga, we take a bus to a place called Aloag which is basically just an intersection on the Pan American highway. We cross the busy highway, dodging traffic in full packs, and climb aboard a bus parked on the opposite side of the road facing perpendicular towards the crossing road. This bus goes downhill through a steep canyon until it comes to the traffic mishap. A water bottle truck flipped over and plastic water bottles are everywhere. We are held up for a long time. Jean Claude Van Dam on the video monitor entertains us while we wait. Eventually, they allow us through the water bottles and we arrive at the crowded bus station in the city of Santo Domingo. We negotiate the chaos to find our way to another bus. No time to eat, just chips and snacks as we are rushed aboard. Another long, hot, crowded bus journey terminates at a town called Pedernales on the coast. Again we have to switch buses. We shout out the name of our destination and we are led through the sandy streets of a beach town from one bus company office to another. Eventually, we find the correct bus, load up our bags and head south along the coast for a few more hours. Finally, we arrive in Canoa at just about sunset.

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Lost and Found in Quilatoa

This right here is one of my favorite stories ever. Well, okay, perhaps the words on paper don’t quite match the experience as I remember it because words alone can never really explain such things. But it is the kind of story I want to shout from the rooftops. If only everyone would just understand…

It has been suggested by the lovely Ms. B. that I can be overly cynical. Indeed, if you read my last post you will probably come to the same conclusion. Nevertheless, I disagree. While it is true that I am exceptionally cynical about the government, the economic system and the perpetual imperial war, I am exceptionally optimistic about human nature. To my mind, the coming collapse of the imperial capitalist world order is a good thing because I believe in the power of human beings to create a wonderful world to live in. No doubt, the transition is liable to be dicey. There’s probably a 50 50 chance our entire species and quite a few others will burn out in a blaze of glory when it all unfolds. But I really don’t think so. I believe in free will and I believe we as a species will choose survival. Sometimes when I watch or listen to the news, I have to scratch my head and wonder as the specter of doubt seeps into my consciousness. But, then again, I remember experiences like this time in Quilatoa and once again I believe.

Anyway, here is the story.

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Lost and Found in Quilatoa

Latacanga, Ecuador; March 20, 2011

No doubt about it, we are definitely lost. The wide clear horse path shrunk to a single human foot trail before it petered into nothing. We have before us now; a wide open beautiful view of mountains and a valley. We are somewhere in the vicinity of the Quilatoa Circuit. There are a few houses scattered randomly in the distance but there is no definite and clear direction to go. What should we do? Retrace our steps backward to the trail we lost or continue ahead looking for our destination? I see a small group of locals picking vegetables in the field across the way. I hope that we are not trespassing. I put down the rock I carry for protection, bring forth to my face my most innocent smile and head over to the farmers to ask them directions.

By the time we arrive in the City of Latacunga, Ecuador, I am in a bad mood. I try to ignore it, put forward an enthusiastic face, but the truth is that I am grumpy as hell. The specter of neo-colonial tourism has engulfed Ecuador like an endemic disease and I feel somehow a part of that specter. I try to deny it. I’m a traveler not a tourist. There’s a big difference. Or so I like to believe. At the moment, however, I have an urge to ditch out on Ecuador completely. Go straight to Colombia or the jungle or someplace real. I can’t take anymore of this merry-go-round. Actually, what I really want now is some beach. Only a couple weeks of travel time left. I’m tired of tourist trap world and I’m also tired of the long journeys and the endless walks. I could use some hammock time on an isolated beach with a view of the ocean and no resorts for hundreds of miles.. I could use a splash in the waves… But no, that is not possible. Now is Carnaval time in Ecuador so the beaches are packed and expensive and crazy. We have to wait four more days for Carnaval to end before we can go there. Ok, what shall we do?

The Quilatoa Circuit is Ms. B.’s idea. She read about it on the internet or in the guidebook and suggested we go there. It’s a hiking circuit in the mountains near Latacunga. There’s some public transport so you don’t have to hike the whole thing. But the basic idea is that you can hike from indigenous village to indigenous village through a mountainous canyon and past a crater lake. There are places to stay in all the villages. In other words, it’s hiking with cultural exchange; my favorite kind of activity. I’m a little concerned about the possible effects of the ongoing neo-colonial tourism on the Circuit but I’m hoping for the best.

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The Conquest Continues…

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns that’s for damn sure. Sometimes, you just have to deal with the darkness. No doubt about it, I can be a difficult person to travel with because sometimes I am moody. The crazy thing is, I don’t usually get mad or depressed about normal every day things. Oh no, not me. What gets me riled up and angry and difficult to listen to is the big picture. I get mad about structural economics, imperialism and the ongoing war against the poor.

I’m not even sure where the bad mood came from on this 2011 trip. Maybe my biorhythms were out of whack or the stars were misaligned. I see some hints of it in the Chachapoyas stories but it doesn’t really become pronounced until Vilcabamba. Indeed, I posted a rather impassioned diatribe about that time in Vilcabamba several years ago and it proved to be one of my most popular blog posts ever. Yeah sure, my angry anti-imperialism is interesting for you the reader, it’s just not necessarily fun for my fellow travelers and I to put up with in the present tense. Anyway, if you are following the continuing saga of me and Ms. B. on our first trip together in South America, that popular post about Vilcabamba is the next episode and you can find it in the archives under the title “Paradise Lost.” The story I am posting today takes place a week later and I am even more riled up. Hold onto your hats and prepare yourself for a rant. Poor Ms. B had to listen to the whole thing over and over and over. Believe it or not, thanks mostly to her, we still managed to have a good time.

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The Conquest Continues

Latacanga, Ecuador; March 7, 2011

The Devil’s Nose Train Ride in Alausi, Ecuador is probably the single worst tourist attraction in all of South America. As a matter of fact, it may be the single worst tourist attraction on the entire planet earth. How bad could it be? Real bad. It makes me want to scream. It makes me want to shout. It makes me want to line the board of tourism directors against the wall and throw rotten tomatoes at them. How could they do such a thing? How could they create such a commercial absurdity and somehow imagine that it is a beneficial enterprise? They should be ashamed of themselves. It’s an absolute disgrace. It’s almost as if they took everything that is horrible and stupid and annoying and wrong with tourism and combined it into a single un-attraction. AAAAAUUUGH! I can’t believe I actually paid for this.

 

Actually, my nightmare with Ecuadoran tourism began on our very last full day in Vilcabamba. We heard from several people in town about a really awesome Hostel and Restaurant called Ixchaluna (spelling? I can’t read my notebook handwriting) that is located a few kilometers outside of Vilcabamba. We have no intention to stay overnight but we decide to walk out there on a Sunday afternoon, have some lunch and a look around. The walk to get there is fairly pleasant though a little hot and dusty on the dirt road. And Ixchaluna certainly has a great location perched upon a hilltop overlooking the sacred valley. The food in the restaurant is quite delicious and the surrounding grounds are well designed with atmosphere, luxury and convenience in mind. As a matter of fact, Ixchaluna is so well organized and put together; it’s difficult to come up with an objective criticism. Nevertheless, I hate the fucking place.

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Crossing Frontiers

It is a classic traveling tale. As I read the story now in my old notebook, it reminds me of many other stories I have in many other notebooks. A strange phenomena occurs while traveling wherein coincidences crash together and ordinary events take on extraordinary meaning. Reality twists into a kind of living fantasy and it starts to seem like you are a character in a story rather than a real live person. This has been happening to me for years and I spend considerable effort attempting to capture such experiences in words. What’s special about this week’s story, however, is I’m not alone when the story unfolds. Ms. B. is right there with me when all the crazy stuff happens. That’s right, we ride the surreal travel roller coaster together until we make it to the other side. The only thing better than living the travel adventure life is sharing that adventure with another. Thanks Ms. B.

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Crossing Frontiers

Vilcabamba, Ecuador, Feb. 14, 2011

I’ve rarely been so frightened in my entire life…  Passing on blind curves, going 80 in a 40 zone; screeching tires; slamming breaks; no guard rails and steep steep cliffs.  Who does this damn driver think he is… Evil Knievel?  Mario Andretti?  Nascar Superstar?  How did we end up in the share taxi ride from hell?  Ms. B. is crowded in the backseat with several ladies and a nursing baby.   Here I am in the front seat.  Massively hung over.  Tired and exhausted from a late night out.  All I want to do is make it to our next destination.  But my life flashes before my eyes on another blind curve, squeaking breaks and squealing tires.  I try to remain calm.  Tell myself there’s nothing to worry about.  I’ve been on a lot of crazy bus rides and car rides and train rides and motorcycle rides.  Just let go of worry.  It’s like a rollercoaster ride.  Experience the thrill not the fear.  The driver knows the route.  He’s probably driven this road a thousand times.  It’s his job.  There’s nothing to worry about….  But then, I notice the driver’s face.  He’s not a wizened old man with many years experience behind the wheel. He’s a fucking teenager.  All pumped up on hormones and testosterone and perhaps some stimulants, over excited from too much television and video games.  He thinks he’s a super driver.  He’s barely gone through puberty.  Screeching tires and squealing breaks.  Another blind curve and another close call.  Oh my God, oh my Buddha oh my Ganesh!  We are going to die.

In the grand scheme of things, I’ve never really believed much in the concept of borders.  Nation states are a stupid idea and the arbitrary lines drawn by humans separating one absurd political entity from another certainly cause more problems than they ever solve.  But what can I do?  The world is not sane.  Nation states exist, borders exist and as a world traveler, I have to deal with them.  Sometimes crossing frontiers is easy; a stamp, a smile a wave and bingo you are in another country.  Sometimes it’s complicated… long lines, searches, and endless questions.  And sometimes it’s a nightmare; harassment, bribery and deportation.  As we prepare for our journey across the border from Peru into Ecuador, I consider all these possibilities with some measure of anxiety.  But, like many things in life, there’s not really much I can do to control the outcome.  All I can do is cross my fingers and hope for luck. Continue reading

Great Wonders of the World

The next episode in the continuing saga of my courtship of Ms. B., is our arrival in Leymebamba. But I posted that story a couple years ago when I was exploring the Paradise theme so you have to pull it up from the archives if you want to read it now. For this week’s story, I am jumping ahead to the next chapter; our fantastically good time in Chachapoyas. This is another one that has to be transcribed from the hand written notebooks. Again, it’s very funny for me to read this now. It’s like witnessing a slow conversion of my own character as I learn the importance of compromise in a relationship. In retrospect, I can just imagine the eye rolls of Ms. B. as I blather on and on about how it’s more fun and exciting to experience travel the hard old fashioned way instead of the boring, easy organized way. Don’t misunderstand. Ms. B. definitely likes adventure and she does not hesitate to travel off the beaten track. She is traveling the winter with me in South America after all. She is just not overly idealistic about such things and she has no qualms whatsoever about the occasional comfort. This story is a classic case of a woman’s positive influence attempting to soften the edges of a man’s reckless extremism.

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Wonders of the World

Chachapoyas, Peru, February 2011.

Imagine the perfect moment; a full on sensory immersion in the bosom of nature; a totally tantalizing experience that pushes the possibilities of physical and spiritual ecstasy. How good can human existence possibly be? How about this? Floating on my back in a natural pool at the bottom of the third highest waterfall in the world; surrounded by green jungle, towering rock cliffs, blue sky and sunshine; blowing gusts of wind scatter the flowing water into a floating cloud of mist; sunlight shines through the water droplets and fragments inside the natural prisms to glitter and sparkle like amorphous ever-changing rainbows. My body, hot and sweaty from the long trek to get here, is cooled perfectly by the refreshing waters of the natural pool. The air coming into my lungs is rich, clean, oxygenated, and unpolluted. I want to scream, to shout; to somehow express the joy that rushes through me. Every cell and sense within me is like a sponge that soaks up the surroundings. How good does it feel? Can words possibly describe it? I am the world and the world is me. Baptized in the waters of the Gotka waterfall; the cloud of human confusion is lifted and once again I can clearly see…

After a pre-dawn bus ride from Leymebamba, we arrive in Chachapoyas in the early morning and check into a tourist trap. My brain is clouded by early morning fog or I never would have stayed there. But ah, such is life, sometimes we make mistakes. It’s called the Hostel Revash; it’s recommended in the guidebook, advertised on our bus ticket and we are hustled into it’s courtyard from the main plaza almost immediately after we get off the bus. There is a crowd of gringos, a big board listing an assortment of tours and an overly enthusiastic staff. They offer us breakfast and promise us a nice double room for 50 soles once the room is cleaned. 50 soles is on the upper end of our budget, but tired and hungry and trusting the guidebook, we register and pay for the room without even seeing it. Sure enough, it’s a shit hole. It’s dark and gloomy and cave like with a tiny window looking out at a brick wall. Actually, it is a perfectly fine room for 10 or even 20 soles a night but for 50 it is an absolute and complete rip-off. When I complain, they offer me a better room for 100. Forget it. We stay in the cave for a single night and leave the next morning.

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