September 10, 2008
OK, for all two of you who have been coming to this site wondering "Where's Pedro?", I am finally getting around to an update after a ridiculously long absence. After wandering around Mexico for almost two years (perhaps I will some day get around to posting some of the highlights of that journey), I have taken the leap and flown to Brazil for a lap around South America. I've been here since the first of August and all I can say is Wow!!! I can't believe it's taken me so long to get down here. I've only really been to two places so far and I've already fallen in love with Brazil. It's such an amazing place.
I flew into Manaus, which is a city of 2 million people in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. It's a bit overwhelming at first. From the center of the city, you'd never know you're in the middle of a rainforest. It is crowded, lots of traffic, polluted, everything that comes with a big city. A 10 minute walk, however, brings you to the port, which is like the main highway through the Amazon. It is also where the city's main market is located. So it's obviously quite busy there but you start to get a sense of the vast jungle and immense waterway that surrounds the city.
I have been travelling off and on with Mali, the Mexican woman that rented me the last apartment I stayed in Mexico and ran the hostel that was attached to it. It's been kind of a mixed blessing. She's the one that got me to come to Brazil in the first place, for which I am ever grateful. She mentioned that she was planning to come to Brazil and invited me along. I said that I've always wanted to come to Brazil and figured it would be great to have a travelling companion. Unfortunately, our compatibility has proven to be less than ideal since then, to the point where she actually kicked me out of her place when my rent was up a week before we left for Brazil. We have made peace somewhat since then but our differences flare up again every so often. It's kind of like being in a relationship without many of the benefits. She is an amazing person and a very talented artist (which she is trying to use to help fund her travels through Brazil) and I wish her the best of luck but we were obviously not made to travel together. Fortunately, it seems like it should be easy to pick up travel companions whenever I want along the way.
One of the big shocks of coming to Brazil has been how expensive it is here. I kind of assumed it would be relatively on par with Mexico, maybe a little more expensive. But it is somewhere on the magnitude of 2 to 3 times more expensive. Even shopping in the supermarket does not necessarily save money. Fortunately, I have saved up a fair amount for travelling and Chase Manhattan Bank has unwittingly contributed to the cause as well. Nevertheless, to see all that I want to see in Brazil is going to put a much bigger dent into those savings than I had originally planned on but I'm pretty certain that it will be well worth it. I can always try and settle down somewhere and try to get some more work to replenish the savings again but a potential wrinkle in that plan is that technically I can only stay for a maximum of 6 months on my tourist visa here in Brazil. So perhaps I will try to cover as much as possible of Brazil in those 6 months and then try to some work in a neighboring country that will hopefully be a bit easier on the pocketbook and have more flexible visa regulations.
Another fairly major concern is the level of crime. My computer and all of the associated gadgetry I have adds quite a bit of bulk to my luggage and I am wary it makes me an easy target for theft. I have already heard many stories of people getting robbed. Thus far it has been fairly carefree but I think that once I get to the coast it will be another story. I already talked to someone that was robbed in the market in the next city I am heading to - Belem. It was early in the morning and she said she should have known better but someone just walked up to her and flashed her a machete and she handed over her purse - just like that. It seems that they can smell when a tourist is where they shouldn't be. Obviously I'm going to avoid walking around with my valuables as much as possible but I still need to get from one place to the other. I have been thinking that perhaps I will try and choose some home bases to use to stash my computer and stuff and then travel back and forth from those bases. One thing that should be helpful in accomplishing that strategy is my use of the CouchSurfing and HospitalityClub websites. These are websites where people post their profile and offer to put travellers up free of charge in their homes. I have already used these sites to hook up with other travellers in Mexico and back in the United States and have met quite a few really nice people that way. Hopefully I might be able to stash things with kind souls from those sites along the way. Another thing I have considered is sending my valuables ahead using the mail or some sort of messenger service but I am not so sure how well this strategy will work as I'm a bit skeptical about the cost and reliability of doing this. Obviously I'd prefer to send as much of my heavier belongings as possible this way but that will undoubtedly drive up the price as well. Still it's worth checking into.
So I haven't really gotten into what's enamored me of this country yet. One thing that really helped to open my eyes to the beauty here is the Ayahuasca ceremonies I have participated in here in a place called Alter do Chao. It is a small town 32 kilometers from a port town that is kind of a pit stop for riverboat journeys from Manaus to the coast. The riverboat journeys are quite an experience on their own. They last for several days cruising down the Amazon River and everyone sleeps jammed together ridiculously close in their hammocks, sometimes one on top of another. I came with a few guys that I met at the hostel in Manaus and stayed for one night in Alter do Chao. It was really nice and tranquil and relaxing but the Aussie guy I was with was ready to move on after just a day so I figured I'd join him. But then on the bus back to Santarem I overheard a Brazilian guy talking with another tourist and mention Couchsurfing. So I went to the internet in Santarem and looked him up. Sure enough, there he was, a guy called Indios, and he was part of this message group called Ayahuasca. I dug a bit further and discovered that they did these ceremonies every weekend in Alter do Chao. My curiousity was piqued so I decided to turn around and head back to Alter do Chao to check it out.
Ayahuasca is a strong hallucinogenic tea brewed from two different plants that grow in the Amazon. There is a long history of shamen in the Amazon river basin using the tea for spiritual and religious ceremonies. The place here in Alter do Chao that does it is called ComunIndios and kind of sees itself as an alternative living community. They do the ceremonies every Saturday. The tea that they make there is actually more like a syrup, slightly bitter tasting, but not all that bad. Unfortunately, the bodies of most people do not exactly agree and it causes nausea and many people vomit. Once the effects kick in, however, the side effects are largely forgotten by most. The effects vary greatly depending on the person and some people do not feel anything at all the first time. For me, however, the effects started within half an hour and included seeing swirling colors, a feeling of lightness, and just feeling very connected, both with the people around as well as with the nature. My thoughts wandered greatly from my relationships with people to all the travels and adventures I've had so far. But through it all was a feeling of lightness and I was actually laughing like a madman for most of the time.
The participants were generally about a 50/50 mix of tourists and Brazilians and that was also very nice. Although there still remains a large language barrier for me, it was nice to participate with the locals, and one way or another we managed to communicate, and everyone seemed to be supernice and remarkable in their own ways. One other thing that really blew me away was the music - throughout the experience they had music playing over the soundsystem. At first, I was a bit wary about that, because it seemed to be a bit new agey and I'm very particular about my music especially in circumstances like that. But once I got into it, the music was really beautiful. And then later on, the guy Indios and several others started playing along on drums and various instruments. One was like a clay vase that made amazing sounds like water dropping. Another was a little mouth harp kind of instrument, similar to a jew's harp but just one straight piece of metal. The sounds that he could make come out of it were just mind-blowing, though. I've never seen anything like it. I later found out that much of the music being played was actually created by the family that runs the community and I purchased several of their CDs afterwards.
That's another thing that's blown me away so far, the music. I knew that the music here would be great and was one of the main motivating factors for me to come but to actually experience the depth and breadth of the amazing music here is another story entirely. It seems that for many of the people here, the music is just in their blood and almost taken for granted. When I asked one guy playing drums how long he's been playing for, he just shrugged as if duh, all of his life, of course. And everyone seems to know lots of songs that they all sing along with. And of course, the language itself is almost like a song, the way they speak.
The amazing part, too, is that there's so many places I look forward to going to. After speaking with other travellers and the Brazilians themselves, it seems like there's so many incredible places to visit, each one more amazing. So I've got lots to look forward to. I'll do my best to keep y'all posted but it's very difficult to convey in words or even pictures the beauty of this place. I'll do my best to keep it going, though. Stay tuned.
November 05, 2006
Por La Carretera
As usual, it's been entirely way too long since my last update. For those of you that thought I might have dropped off the face of the planet, fear not. I am alive and super-bien. I have finally made good on my long ago made promise to leave the country and await regime change from abroad should it ever come to pass that George W. Bush gets elected.
I bought myself a 1985 VW Westfalia camper and hit the road for Mexico way. The van's name is Gua-Gua (pronounced WaWa, like the convenience store from the days of my youth in Philly). It's also a Spanish slang term for bus in some parts. The van has been working out spectacularly well. It's a great way to travel and has everything I need.
So I've kind of set up shop for the time being in La Paz, near the tip of Baja. I found this shark and ray conservation group Iemanya (pronounced ya manja) on the web and have been doing some volunteer work for them. One of my main tasks is to clean up their website, so keep that in mind if you check it out. It should be looking better fairly soon, hopefully.
So I spend my days keeping up with my freelance programming work for Simple Star as well as working on the Iemanya site. We also occasionally take a boat out and go searching for Manta Rays and Whale Sharks The guy that heads the Iemanya office here, Paul, is trying to study the Giant Manta Rays, but unfortunately they are rapidly disappearing and I haven't been able to spot any yet. Paul was able to spot one very briefly recently, so there's still some hope.
So yeah, that's a brief update about what I'm up to. I really promise to try to post updates on a more regular basis but in the meantime you can check out my latest picts.
Hasta la proxima.
February 19, 2006
Island of Women
Well it's been WAAAAAAAAAAAYYY too long since my last update, but it's finally here. I hibernated south of the border for most of the winter. I spent the last month and a half on an island off the coast of Cancun called Isla Mujeres (or Island of Women). I managed to talk myself into a job taking underwater pictures of scuba divers and selling them on to the divers CD afterwards. You can check out some of the highlights here:
Also, I met up with a friend who travelled to Cuba, but for reasons of the asinine and unconstitutional restrictions on US residents travelling to Cuba, wishes to remain anonymous. Therefore, I am posting his pictures for him. You can check them out here:
Stay tuned for some travel stories and observations from both myself and my American friend...
May 13, 2005
Well, the spending bill that contained the RealID act passed unanimously in the Senate the other day and was signed into law by GW. The law doesn't take effect for three years so there's still a chance it can be stricken and there does seem to be some opposition but I can't say that I'm very optimistic at this point. The bill was ostensibly to "support the troops" by sinking another 80 billion dollars into the quagmire that is Iraq (along with additional funding for Afghanistan and Tsunami Relief). As if those issues weren't divergent enough, here's another little gem contained in the bill:
"SEC. 102. WAIVER OF LAWS NECESSARY FOR IMPROVEMENT OF BARRIERS AT BORDERS.
Section 102(c) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (8 U.S.C. 1103 note) is amended to read as follows:
`(1) IN GENERAL- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive, and shall waive, all laws such Secretary, in such Secretary's sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section.
`(2) NO JUDICIAL REVIEW- Notwithstanding any other provision of law (statutory or nonstatutory), no court, administrative agency, or other entity shall have jurisdiction--
`(A) to hear any cause or claim arising from any action undertaken, or any decision made, by the Secretary of Homeland Security pursuant to paragraph (1); or
`(B) to order compensatory, declaratory, injunctive, equitable, or any other relief for damage alleged to arise from any such action or decision.'"
In human speak, this basically says that the Secretary of Homeland Security is above the law as long as he says his actions are meant to rapidly build fences around "the home of the free". How's that for superpowers?
Woops, upon further checking it appears that someone came to their senses and had this modified to make it slightly less omnipotent. The bill now reads:
`(1) IN GENERAL- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive all legal requirements such Secretary, in such Secretary's sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section. Any such decision by the Secretary shall be effective upon being published in the Federal Register.
`(2) FEDERAL COURT REVIEW-
`(A) IN GENERAL- The district courts of the United States shall have exclusive jurisdiction to hear all causes or claims arising from any action undertaken, or any decision made, by the Secretary of Homeland Security pursuant to paragraph (1). A cause of action or claim may only be brought alleging a violation of the Constitution of the United States. The court shall not have jurisdiction to hear any claim not specified in this subparagraph.
`(B) TIME FOR FILING OF COMPLAINT- Any cause or claim brought pursuant to subparagraph (A) shall be filed not later than 60 days after the date of the action or decision made by the Secretary of Homeland Security. A claim shall be barred unless it is filed within the time specified.
`(C) ABILITY TO SEEK APPELLATE REVIEW- An interlocutory or final judgment, decree, or order of the district court may be reviewed only upon petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States.'."
Nevertheless, it's still pretty far-reaching.
All I can say is, I can't wait to move to a country where backhanded politics like this face much more resistance than what the TV-sedated masses in this country seem to be able to conjure.
Towards that end, I'm flying to London on June 6 and will be coming back on July 20 but hopefully only for long enough to pack my things and move on to my next big adventure. While over in Europe, I'm planning on going to see my sweetie in Germany, scoping out places in Spain, and hopefully catch up with a few other amigos while I'm over there. I can't wait.
May 09, 2005
Just wanted to urge any of my fellow Americans that care about your privacy to go check out this and please, please, if it makes you as mad as it does me, take a moment to let your representatives in Congress know about it here. The vote is tomorrow so time is of the essence. More on the subject can be found and here and here.
April 30, 2005
OK, it's been ridiculously long since my last update. I arrived back home about a month and a half ago and I gotta say it's been very anticlimactic. There wasn't even any real culture shock. I just quietly slipped into my same old routines and I've gotta say I'm quite bored of it by now. San Francisco is still definitely a great place but it's lost a lot of the allure that brought me here in the first place. Also, it has taken a remarkably long time but I do feel that I'm coming to the limit of new places, spaces, and things to explore in the general vicinity. So yeah, I'm sort of whiling away the time before I go to Europe and visit my sweety and go scope out places to live in Spain. If all goes according to plan, that should be in about a month or so, so that's what keeps me going.
Just a brief update, there was one guy in particular that my mate Elton introduced me to in Thailand. His name is Chai-T and he ran a bar in Ton Sai, one of the places directly in the wake of the tsunami. I was quite worried about his welfare afterwards, but thanks to the wonders of the internet, I discovered that Chai-T is alive and well, much to my relief, and continues to be the host with most on the little piece of paradise known as Ton Sai. It seems that Ton Sai, in general, managed to escape the worst of the wrath of the tsunami due to the fact that it's in somewhat of a bay and has a couple of islands just offshore that helped to protect it. I did hear several stories of rock climbers there, though, that had to scramble for safety when the tsunami struck. Thankfully, things seem to have pretty much returned to normal there now.
So I've also moved my site to a new host, graciously provided by my brother Philip. In the process I've added a few upgrades. You'll notice that there's now a link to my latest photo gallery on the right side there, and for my plugged-in techie friends, the photo gallery now has its own RSS feed, so everyone should now be able to keep up with my latest photo submissions. Speaking of which, there is now posted photos from my travels through Laos, and hopefully coming soon will be pictures from the rest of my trip -Thailand and Indonesia again. So stay tuned, y'all and drop me a line if I haven't from you for a while. Hasta luego, Pedro
March 13, 2005
The following is a dispatch from Prashant, a guy that I first met in New Zealand and travelled around Cambodia and Laos with:
Hey all, I just wanted to show you a passage from my diary, I wrote it about a week ago now:
"I've just got back from the restaurant having watched a video focused on the bombing of Laos during the war, and the lasting legacy that the campaign has left behind. A lot of the material I've already read about but seeing the words put into pictures has left me feeling deeply moved, sad, infuriated and ashamed. The estimates vary with different sources but the exact figures dont matter- its the sheer magnitude of them that do.
One plane load of American bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years, costing over $2 million a day (back in the 70's). Thats between 0.5 and 2 tonnes for every man, woman and child in Laos: 1 million metric tonnes in all.
After the bombing of Vietnam ceased, all american firepower was concentrated on the utter demolition of Laos... the secret war that no one back home knew about, and most people today still dont know about. Even congress did not know about it! Often bombs were dropped by US planes returning from missions in vietnam ealy due to bad weather or anti-air defenses, simply becuase they did not want to land with unexploded ordance on board.
So what do u do?
drop it wherever you happen to be at the time.
Where is that?
Criminal. Nothing short of criminal
One of the main problems is that a lot of the bombs dropped were anti-personel bombs, i.e. cluster bombs that contain dozens of ball bearings that fly off in all directions at ballistic speeds. Some would say that the lucky ones died, the unlucky were left mutilated for life, while families were torn apart. All in the name of fighting the ''evils of communism''.
One of the scenes in the video is of an accident... a young boy of 9 or 10 lies lifeless on the ground, a ball bearing stuck in his skull, the mother greiving over a lost son. A scene powerful enough to make any man cry: many of us did.
Cluster bombs are still being made... they are not made in order to destroy military positions... a cluster bomb would do fuck all to a tank. it is purely designed to hurt anyone standing in the area, irrispective of whether thay are military or civillian. They were used by NATO in Kosovo, theyve been used in Sierra Leone, Somalia, Iraq. They are weapons of pure evil, designed so badly that they often resurface decades later when a 6 year old boy thinks he's found a new ball to play with. If he is still alive, he'll have no arms left to play with a ball.
They claim that they manage to clear away 10,000 'bombies' a year, potentially 10,000 lives saved. but at this rate it will still be decades before Laos has been cleared of mines and bombs. not years but decades. And they are found all over the place; schools, paddy fields, rivers... all places where children often roam.
We in the west, we'll see images like those on this video, we'll say ''Oh my God, that's awful, really horrible'', and then we'll go back to eating our dinners. Take me, I'll probably write a guilt-inducing email to all my friends, I'll give 15 dollars to the organisation and then 2 weeks later I'll be in a pub, somewhere in Thailand with a group of bubbly travellers, chatting away about the next great place we're gonna go too, and not a thought about that one-handed 17 year old boy from who I rented a bungalow from and chatted to for 15 minutes one afternoon, not a single thought about that boy will have crossed my mind.
The people of Laos should not have to live in this constant fear. They do not deserve it. They are loving people who have forgiven and now welcome foreigners with open arms despite what we have done to them, what we have put them through. We are all ignorant to these problems until we ourselves come face to face with... and even then after a couple of days we forget all about it again.
Please visit www.magclearsmines.org. MAG (Mines Advisory Group) are an England-based organisation that work around the globe to help rid the world of mines and unexploded bombs, to try and let people carry on their lives normally without the constant fear of this moment being your last. Please donate to them. Please forward this mail to your mates and family. Please talk about this when you're drinking in the pub. Help raise awareness about the problems. This wasn't an email that was supposed to be anti-american or whatever, just thought-provoking. What's happened has happened, we can't change that- the hands of time cannot go back. But we can help now, help make the future better for those that we never think of. So please spread the word.
Laos did not deserve this. Laos does not deerve to have unexploded bombs lying around next to countryside paths. (I walked within an inch of it). And neither does any of the other countries that have to live through such ordeals on a daily basis.
Here is an account from the website:
Back in the cave the village headman is very complimentary about MAG's work:
"At last something is being done here to make this land safe. Unexploded bombs have killed ten people here. Just a few months ago a boy was killed in the village digging for crickets. When the war finished, this place was like the surface of the moon and now it has come back to life. But death still lurks under the ground. The team hear is changing people's lives. Every time we dig the rice paddies we have been afraid. Soon things will be different."
March 04, 2005
March 01, 2005
Change in Plans
So it turns out that Lola is going to be back in Indonesia for a little while starting next week. At first I decided that it would be more logical and cost-effective to wait until I can fly out to see her in Germany rather than changing my plans and flying out to see her now. But love is not very logical and she convinced me to get my butt out there and see her now. So I'm flying to Jakarta on the 6th of March where she will meet me, and then we're gonna go together to a bit of a family reunion she's put together in Sumatra where she's originally from. Should be pretty interesting and it will definitely be great to see her again before returning home. So I hop back on a plane to Bangkok on the 13th and then another flight from Bangkok to Taipei to San Francisco on the 14th. I'm really not looking forward to all that time cooped up in a cramped airplane seat, but what can you do? Hopefully, I'll be able to post some pictures from Vietnam before I go back to Indonesia. Oh, and for those interested, I'm in Pai right now, a great little mountain town an hour outside of Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. It's really quite a groovy place. Hasta la proxima, Pedro
February 12, 2005
OK, just a quick note to say that I'm in Laos right now. Haven't gotten around to my observations about Vietnam yet but in the meantime, you might wanna check out my friend Jenni's.
I've gone ahead and booked my flight home from Bangkok to SF on March 6 for an amazing $450. It's on China Airlines though, who had their last crash only three years ago, so keep your fingers crossed for me. I still might move the date back a few days to get my last look at Asia for a while, but should be around then. I look forward greatly to hooking up with all my old friends back in the States and preparing for my next big adventure, probably the biggest one yet, so stay tuned.