Monday, July 26, 2010

yo no sé mañana

It´s about that time again to update ya´ll on my goings. This month marks my sixth month of traveling here in South America, so much has happened, but it surely does not feel like half a year has gone by. So to backtrack here from the point at which I left Iquitos. I took another cargo ship, loaded with many chickens, pigs and people headed towards Pucallpa. They had told me the journey would last 3 days and 2 nights when I boarded ship yet the whole trip took 9 days and 8 nights as they stopped at pretty much every town along the Amazon river to load cargo. I was left with nothing else to do but lay in my hammock, read, and watch the river floating past small, isolated, jungle communities along the river bank. Of course, after that long haul I was left very sick and I had been sick with various symptoms for the last 2 months. A doctors visit informed me that I had not one, not two, but three different parasites floating around in my gastrointestinal tract, some bacterial infection in my blood, and a minor intestinal infection. The news explained a lot of my lethargy and indigestion problems, but it was nothing a round of antiparsitics and antibiotics couldn´t fix.

Pucallpa is the industrial center of all the Peruvian rain forest with a large port that exports lumber, oil, and every other jungle export that is valued by foreign consumers. Thus, the regional economy is entirely dependent on deforestation and foreign oil companies. I was shocked to see the amount of lumber companies that provided the sole source of income for almost every small village that we passed on the Amazon. To think that thousands of villages rely on the deforestation of the most biodiverse and lush forests in the world seems so entirely hopeless. Moreover, as of recently much of the Peruvian rainforest has been sold to foreign oil companies only further compounding deforestation and also robbing the land from indigenous groups. While in the Amazon, I was made aware of a tragic massacre that occurred between the Peruvian police and a group of peaceful indigenous protesters in Bagua, Peru. Following a free trade agreement that allowed multinational companies to have free access to the natural resources of the Peruvian Amazon, over 30,000 members of inhabiting indigenous groups went on strike, blockading the roads against oil drilling invaders. On June 6, 2009, police dispersed tear gas and opened fire on the indigenous, killing 31 and injuring over 150 people. Not surprisingly, the Peruvian media blamed the ¨savage indians¨ and the global media failed to pick up on the story. If you would like to learn more about this incident, Democracy Now did a good bit of coverage.

¨We´re here to protect you, until you die¨. Machine gun equipped policemen vs. peaceful indigenous people.

After a short stop in Pucallpa, I headed to San Francisco, a Shipibo community located on the Yarincocha lake. This wonderfully peaceful place is inhabited by the Shipibo-Conibo tribe, an indigenous group that is most well known for their tradition artisan work that is influenced by the hallucinogenic plant called ayahuasca. Throughout my travels, I found the Shipibo community to absolutely have the most beautiful artwork I had seen. All of the houses and their clothing are filled with intricate designs and bright colors that tell the stories and preserve their ancient folklore.

En route to Lima, my bus was held up for 3 hours due to a landslide that had scattered debri all over the road. Whilst waiting, I made friends with two travelers whose car was parked behind my bus. I said, ¨Damn, I wish I could spend some time in the high jungle¨, they said, ¨Come with us! we´re going to Tingo María,¨ I said, ¨Let´s go!¨. And so they let me stay at there place in Tingo María, the beautiful land of the the 3 C's: coffee, cacao, and coca. All three crops are exported abroad to happy, high spending consumers, while the farmers are left behind to be haggled daily by the D.E.A of the U.S.A. as well as the Peruvian military. Tingo María always had the beating vibration of US helicoptors floating above our heads.

This is where chocolate comes from, raw cacoa is soo delish.

Beautiful Tingo

The coolest bar I´ve ever been to, the whole wall was filled with jars that had fermenting roots, fruit and leaves in them. The bartender, who appeared to be about 16, knew what every unlabeled jar contained and made the most delicous concoctions.

I did a short stop in Lima, staying with the family of my dear friend Nelson. They definitely treated me right, giving me a proper bed and a hot shower, my first in 4 months. I traveled with my friend Imran to Cuzco to attend the Inti Raymi festival, the annual Incan gathering during the winter solstice to worship and pay homage to the Sun God. The weekend was filled with parades, dancing, and drinking in the streets. Following tradition, a llama was slain and its heart burned on an alter to ensure good crops for the year that would ensue.

The Andes

Inti Raymi festival

Thereafter we made our way down to the Chilean border to renew my visa. Realizing how much money we were wasting on transport, Imran and I decided to hitchhike the remaining 1100 miles from Arica, Chile to Pisco, Peru. I tell you, there is no better way to travel the Pan-American then in the elevated cab of a semi-truck with a panoramic view all around. The stretch was next to the ocean the majority of the way and it was absolutely stunning. We met the coolest truck drivers, like the salsa loving Horacio and chain-smoking Jorge who skipped his sleeping break to drive through the night and take us all the way home.

We made a sign and figured if we played into their typically conservative, religous beliefs we´d find a ride easier. Yes, it says ´may God bless you´ at the end.

Walking across the Chile-Peru border.

And now to speak of home, Pisco, Peru, where I have been for the last 5 weeks. August 15th of this year will mark the 3 year anniversary of the 7.9 earthquake that hit Pisco devastating 80 percent of the infrastructure. To this day, the city is still a complete mess and the majority of its inhabitants have yet to begin to recover the lives they had before the disaster. As is usually the case in a natural disaster, the worst suffering is dealt to the poor. Many families are illegally squatting on land because they have no where else to go. The average Pisqueño house is made of estera, woven together cane, as well as any piece of tarp, blanket, or triplex they can get ahold of. Now, in the cold winter months, nights can dip into the 40s, leaving children with nothing to protect themselves from the cold but a thin blanket.

Side by side in an effort to eat.

I have been working with an non-governmental charity organization called Pisco Sin Fronteras (Pisco Without Borders). PSF is a grassroots effort that was preceded and handed over by Burners Without Borders, the humanitarian branch of the annual Burning Man Festival. Much like the Burning Man community, PSF changes lives by using creative solutions to solve complex problems. PSF is a group of temporary, untrained, enthusiastic volunteers who are working to reconstruct the community of Pisco. It is a coooperative of creative minds that are motivated to change the livelihoods of Pisqueños by rebuilding family´s homes, schools, and community centers. I have volunteered with many organizations throughout my lifetime, but none as inspiring and unique as this place. My first day volunteering, I went with two other people to fasten a piece of tarp onto the roof of a family´s house so the cold would not get through the many cracks. None of us knew what we were doing, but we were given a tarp, a drill, and screws and by the end of the day the house no longer had a continuous draft running through it. The family thanked us continuously for our small effort, saying that their 13 day old baby would now be able to recover to full health after having conjunctivitis since coming home from the hospital. Every day poses a new challenge, whether it is figuring out how to build a latrine, pour a concrete floor, construct a house supplied with only cane and mud, or pull down a concrete wall with a piece of rope and a jackhammer. The vast majority of the volunteers have never picked up a power tool and within a few days are able to build multiple panels to put together a modular home. I highly suggest you check out the amazingly inspiring video my friends Kelly and Jefe put together about PSF.

Me working a cement mixer, haaaarrrd work.

We had our own burning man as a going away party for the director, TBC.

And now, now I´m going home in three days. I cannot believe it is already ending. This trip has been a wild ride to say the least. Truth be told, I am still processing everything that has happened. I guess a final blog post once I´m away from this crazy continent that I love would be the best way to verbalize all the feelings in my heart and disconnected thoughts in my head.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Solo el amor es real - a la Señora Guillermina Roxsayna Yakumama

Two months living at La Quebrada del Amor taught me many things, about the simplicity of life, happiness, and love. I´ve come to the conclusion that we Westernized, consumer driven, success-oriented stress freaks from the developed world altogether miss out on what is really important in life. We complicate everything, searching for happiness like its hard to find, like its some mystery to figure out, when its all entirely simple. Many people spend their whole lives slaving for money, influence, and power, thinking that those things will bring them happiness. So much friggin confusion in this world. The only constant in this world that has the power to overcome all is love, solo el amor es real. No one can live without love.

For the Tangoa family, unconditional love is pretty much all they have in this life, and it is all they need. The eleven members of the family accepted me as one of their own. I was the hijita of Mamita, hermana mayor to all the little niños, and there was no differentiation between my race or my background and that of their own.  They taught me that love has no expectations, preconditions, or limits. And at your life´s end, all that will matter is that you have loved and you were loved in return. Such was the case for Mamita Guillermina, the 65 year old abuelita of the family, who passed away on the 19th of May. She left this world while tending to her yukka garden, she left quickly, and her countenance was left with a peaceful smile. Never would I have imagined that life would hand me this experience at this time and place in my life. Mamita was my surrogate mother within the short time I spent at the Quebrada. Sitting by my side, she would eagerly listen to my stories with her affirming, ¨Ahaaaaa¨ and advise me with all her wisdom. She would chuckle as I attempted to learn how to cook over an open fire, overcooking rice and cutting yukka incorrectly. She had the greatest cackling laugh that would show her big toothless smile. The day she passed away, I heard her laughing as if she was by my side many times throughout the day. I find peace in knowing that she is happily dwelling on her chakra, her garden, keeping watch over her family and every child of God that wanders into La Quebrada del Amor.

Her passing reminds me to follow the example of the life that Mamita led, that of love and peace for everyone. Because we all come and we all go so quickly, I want to continuously remind my family and my friends that I love you so much.  Like Mamita, you have taught me what it means to love. I might lose contact with you for a while at this point in my life, but nevertheless, you are all in my thoughts and in my dreams.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Como el tiempo me falta, rapida...

Quite a bit has happened in the last month and a half since I´ve written. I apologize, it has been quite a while since my last post. For those of you that keep up with me via my blog posts, yes I´m still alive, even more alive than my previous days actually. I guess I´ll go back and let you know where I´ve been since my last post. After Santa Marta I headed way north, to the most northern part of South America, the Guajira Peninsula. La Guajira is sparsely inhabited by the Wayuu indigenas because the terrain is straight, dry dessert as far as the eye can see. Naturally that was the appeal for me, to get off the gringo trail and head to a place that has hardly any tourist ammenities. I passed a few nights in Riohacha, the capital of la Guajira, to lay low and get rid of a 5 day migraine!! My final destination was Cabo de la Vela, a small fishing town next to the sea. Ahhh I can´t even explain in words the magic of that place, forever it will be embedded in my memory as the place that holds all of my dreams. I stayed with a local, loving Wayuu family, sleeping in a hammock under the stars, with the lull of the waves crashing on the beach putting me to sleep at night. Cabo de la Vela is not a place for people that don´t know how to entertain themselves. Being in the middle of the dessert, there is not much to do but bum on the beach, walk the endless coastline, eat scrumptious lobster, and talk to the locals who are all too willing to bring you inside their house for a coffee, fried arepa and a joint. I swear, everywhere I went people were smoking on their patios and just as soon as I made eye contact with them, they would beckon me to come toke.  Within the 6 days I spent there, I found so much restorative peace and energy that kept me glowing for days.

And the sunsets...just the best in the world.

Straight dessert

The doggies were such characters, many would follow me around all day, as if we had been lifelong friends and snarl at any other dog that tried to get close to me.

All the while I was thinking about friends and family, sending so much love.

From la Guajira I took a 17 hour bus ride (couldn´t feel my ass after that one) to Cartagena where I passed two days. Of course, I was unable to get a great feel for the place in that time, but in my short experience, I found Cartagena to have very beautiful architecture, a lively night scene with afro-colombian cumbia dancing everywhere, but absolutely wrecked with tourism. From Cartagena I took a flight to Leticia, the Colombian side of the Amazon jungle to spend my last few days before my visa expired. Leticia is the southern most tip of Colombia, at the border of both Brazil and Peru, a little map for you to get an idea where it is:

In Leticia, I stayed with the most amazingly accomadating Couchsurfing host, Vladimir, who lent me his bike to pass my days peddling around the city and it´s surroundings. Having a bike again was pure bliss, because there are not many vantage points better than on the seat of a bike. Every morning I was woken up at around 5 by a screaming  loro, this parrot that decided to make his home in a tree right outside the window from my room. He was so beautiful but his incessant, ¨MICHAEL, MICHAEL, VEN ACÁ¨ (some phrase he must have picked up from a sceraming human) or ¨BUENAS¨salutation really got quite annoying.

Suri, yummy fried worms, typical jungle treat

Evenings were spent going to Brazil. Just 3km out of Leticia was Tabatinga, Brazil, a whole other world compared to Leticia. We went to a Brazilean Air Force sergeant party where I sipped on Brazilean cocktails while simultaneously trying to learn typical Brazilean dance moves with very good looking Brazilean soldiers. Other times we went to live pagodge shows, where absolutely everyone is unable to keep their bodies from somehow moving to the beat.

En route to Brazil, I want a motorcycle.
After four days my visa was expired, but Vladimir convinced me to have my passport stamped for exit, head to Peru to get my entry stamps, and then I stayed illegally in Leticia for a couple more days. Leaving Colombia was difficult, I had fallen in love with every part of the country. More than anything else, I had fallen in love with the people, llena de vida, llena de pasíon, dispuesta a compartir todo.  

Just like Che Guevara had done some 70 years prior, I floated down the Amazon river from Leticia to Iquitos, Peru in a cargo ship. What a blast, I felt like I had paid $15 for a 3 day cruise! Everyone strung up their hammocks on top of each other and passed time talking to thier neighbors and sleeping. My Peruvian neighbors were eager to hear about my travels, share food, and guard my belongings when I would leave for a second.

The mighty, mighty Amazon river.

After 3 nights and 2 days we arrived in Iquitos, the largest city in the world only accessible by boat or plane. Although in the middle of the Amazon, Iquitos does not feel like the jungle for all the mototaxis, pollution, and lack of greenery. Thus, I decided to head to la selva; and 3 weeks later, that is where I still am today.



Amazing medicinal section of the local market. My heaven.  

His name is Pancho Villa and he would beg like a dog  to have his belly scratched.

Through a mangled series of events and encounters, I stumbled upon the opportunity to stay with a family of Kokama indians in Padre Cocha, a 20 minute ride up the Nanay river and 45 minute walk into the jungle. I am staying on their chacra, La Quebrada del Amor, which translates as the curve (of a river) of love. As the name entails, the place is full of so much love. When I first arrived, the entire family consisting of three generations hugged me long and hard, welcoming me as family. Entirely unaccustomed to such kindness and outpouring of love, I was overwhelmed at first, unable to understand their intentions. How could a family, that monetarily speaking is not very well off, open up their house and their home to me expect nothing in return? Mamita, the 65 year old abuela, calls me her muñeca barbie and hijita (Barbie doll and little daughter). On one of the first few days there, she was hugging me holding me tight, combing my hair, listening to me talk about how much I missed my family back home. She looked me in the eyes as she told me that she could fill the role of a mother for now. Feeling as if she was speaking to my soul, I burst out in tears, completely overtaken by the exchange of love we had made. This experience has marked the essence of what I am learning at the Quebrada del Amor, the sharing of love for everyone, regardless of background or superficial differences. Simply speaking, it would seem as if I come from a different world than the family, but I am accepted as one of their own, because after all we are all collectively one big human family.We live off the land, eating basic meals of rice, yukka, plantain, and on special occasions fish. Every meal we give thanks to Pacha Mama, Mama Earth, for her many gifts. We cook, we clean, we drink, we bathe in the water from the small river running alongside the house. I am feeling healthier and more alive than I ever have (save for the many, many insect bites all over my body). I am learning about living simply and about the few things that really matter in life. Moreover, I´m learning about amazing medicinal plants. The jungle seems to have a cure for absolutely everything, love Pacha Mama and all her amazing beauty she shares for us to explore.
La Quebrada del Amor

Lindo nene, el Gudro

Preparing Juanes, food of the selva, delicious rice cooked in banana leafs. I was this blue for over a week, a pigment from the seeds of a fruit called Huito. Other than looking like an Avatar, it serves as a repellant and is said to be the fountain of youth, making your skin appear years younger. Can´t wait till this becomes the fad in the US.

Lucilla and her son Gudro.

Marcelito getting down delicous guava for us to eat.

I reunited with the lovely Kelly Schiller and her lovely boyfriend Jefe about a week ago and we´re having so much fun sharing every experience together. I plan on staying in the region for a bit longer. Just like the rest of my trip, I´m not really making any plans, just following the journey where ever it takes me. Les mando un gran beso, mucho amor, paz, y luz a alumbrar su camino.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ay Ay Ay que bonita esta vida, es bonita hasta la muerte con aguardiente y tequila!

¡Oyyyy finalmente a la costa, a mi lugar preferido en el mundo! It´s so nice to be back by the ocean. I´ll tell ya, when you live by the sea and you get away from it for a while, your body aches for that cleansing salt water again. As soon as I stepped my toes into the ocean, I remembered everything and felt right at home here in Santa Marta, Colombia. Located on the Carribean coast, Santa Marta is primarily populated by fishermen and bracelet makin´ hippies. I´d say it´s where hippies go to die and, of course, to make bracelets. I´ve been here a couple of days now, loving the easy life and the hot hot heat. Today it was 93º F (41ºC), but it feels like 105º (44ºC)! The men here are pigs, yes I´m generalizing. Granted, I realize I´m fair skinned and have red hair, I stick out. But to walk 3 feet and hear kissy noises everywhere and have men watch your every step, gets a bit annoying. My tactic, make noises back at them and stare them down. I don´t think they really like it or some laugh. Ayyy, these Latin men really love women! I´ve been hassled by 15 year olds for a kiss and I´ve been told I´m old enough to date a 70 something year old guy. ¡Hombres!

Playa Grande

I would... but he´s so cute and tranquil by the sea

And now, to speak of the many weeks I spent in San Gil, 5 weeks to be exact. After 4 weeks, I for the first time realized I had been there a whole month! Something about the relaxing climate and all it´s beauty, I completely lost track of time and responsibilities. More than anything else, I made so many friends, those who lived with me at the farm and locals as well. I have never felt so at home while traveling because of the people I met and their willingness to see me as another human being rather than an extranjera (foreigner) or gringa (white gal). Surely, I will never ever forget my amazing time in San Gil primarily because of the crazy people I befriended. Buenagente, buena buena gente. I finished my sunflower garden! Clearly didn´t take 5 weeks of work, but all the same, I am proud of myself for planting 130 sunflowers all manually, working with friggin´ hard, dry soil.

My salsa teach, the lovely Autumn Z and I at Trapiche

Roomies 4 Life

Evenings spent in the park, with cutie boys always singing their hearts out to some vallenato

Chicamocha Cañon, right next to San Gil


Oyyy como el dicho de Colómbia, todo bien... just like the national saying is here in Colombia, todo bien, all is good! ¡Hasta pronto amigos!