I’m not through with you just yet Friday, Mar 19 2010 

So for my own bookkeeping purposes I’m going to continue this blog.  Any notion that I even went to South America seems like a dream– it’s too bad that things we leave in the past can’t be recalled fully in the present. I want to remember exactly what it felt like to squish muddied clay roads under my toes; I want to once again pick the ticks of a loyal street dog.

I’m also left wondering about these people that so fleetingly passed in and out of my lives, staying just long enough for me to fall in love with them as my brother, sister, friend, only to disappear from my life. What became of the children that I so often doodled with on 30-hour bus rides? How is Don Pancho doing? His mighty 99-year-old self may have 10 years left to chop wood and stew Ayahuasca.

Unrecorded memories of South America keep making their way into my brain, and now, a year (?!) after my departure I’m trying to record in web-permanence some memories that I have yet to write down on paper.

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To begin, here’s an essay that I recently wrote about my time in South America.

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Times like these made me feel so grateful to be in South America. The clouds licked at our faces and obscured our bodies, huddled in a warm mass under a gigantic wool blanket. Just a few hours before I had been waiting impatiently for a bus to show up in the town square of Ollantaitambo, a small town in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Across the cobblestone road I watched as a little old lady athletically hopped under the tarp of a mighty, 20-foot-tall produce truck; my heart quickened, and I knew that I had to hitch a ride if I could. Yellow backpack in tow, I asked the driver if he was headed to Santa Maria. He looked at me with shock and awe, as if to say “Are you crazy? You want to ride with us?”

Here’s the cast: one tiny old woman, perfectly wise and kind; a little girl, quiet and spunky; the uncle that still hasn’t gotten married, and the big, grumpy aunt that makes everyone laugh and shake their heads, smiling. The next twelve hours were spent in joyful community; each Quechua song that the little old lady would teach me was returned by my singing her one from The Beatles. As our little engine- that- could chugged ever higher up the treacherous pass, the frosty mountain air made the hairs rise on the back of my dust-caked neck. My socked feet were cemented to my hiking boots, (which might as well have been mud-pies.)  And I couldn’t have been loving it more, sitting on top of potatoes and beans stacked 6-parcels high in the back of a produce truck.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what gives this memory its symbolic value. Maybe it’s that hitching a ride in rural Peru gave me a sense of divine freedom that comes with experiencing something completely unfamiliar. Maybe it’s that I lived for these sorts of experiences, the memories that could never have been created if I were at university or if I were part of a guided, expensive tourist group. My decision to take a year off to work, save money, and embark on an unplanned, self-funded three month adventure through South America has been essential in helping me realize that I had been looking in all the wrong places for spiritual and philosophical inspiration, that God can be found as much in the smiles of strangers as in the mist surrounding clouded mountains.

In my hometown I was disturbed by the common expectation that one should sacrifice freedom for the sake of normalcy, and I quickly grew restless and felt the need to explore the world. In this way, my decision to journey alone to South America was an effort to right myself spiritually. I expected to be enlightened in a way that could give guidance to the years in college that lay ahead; what I found was that my adventure broke down the Western notion of independent enlightenment, and replaced it with one that is distinctly communal. In South America I did not find the kind of self-serving “enlightenment” that many associate with travel. Instead, I was surprised to have this expectation of a lonely journey for truth, so familiar to Western youth, destroyed by memories like my ride in a produce truck. South America never failed to turn on its head my expectation of an existential journey for truth—I now laugh at this concept and its inherent self-pity. In the United States, I found humans beleaguered by their routines; in my iconoclastic search for self-definition, I was among them.

In South America I found an immediate sense of the brotherhood of mankind. Many things that Anglo-Saxon culture would consider uncouth—public breastfeeding, naked children, affection to strangers—were commonplace in Peru, Bolivia, Brasil and Colombia. The attitude that made all human beings equal in our common experience of life was evident everywhere in my journey.

The South America I fell in love with burst at the seams with love and celebration of life. Celebration was on the smiling lips of children running butt-naked down a muddy Amazonian road to their swimming hole. Celebration was in the loving eyes of a mother breastfeeding on a crowded bus in Bolivia. Celebration was infectious in the incessant, morning-to-midnight dancing of families and their neighbors on stoops in Colombia. I’ve learned that I want to live with a full-throttle, urgent love of life. To live with our hearts, doors, and produce trucks open to strangers is the only way to create a society in which love is the first order of importance.

back to the land i love the MOST Thursday, Jun 11 2009 

But first, a couple of things that I have yet to tell you.

 

-went to Parque Nacional Tayrona, which was beautiful. Secretly camped on a beach that happened to be infested by giant, 2-foot-wide crabs.

-saw a squid while scuba diving that changed its color and its pattern based on its surroundings- SO COOL

 

and after being lost in Barranquilla on foot for 4 hours, I finally found my way to the airport. Flew to Cali, then to Medellin, then to New York. Got here this morning at 6:30. I started smiling uncontrollably when NYC appeared below the clouds- we really live in the best place in the world. I’m psyched to be back in the States.

 

 

 

 

oh:  a very silly thing that was written about the park- http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/AmazingAnimals/story?id=7803259&page=1. The show goes on tonight, IMA GONA BE A STAR MAW! but really, this whole thing is ridiculous.

OH! Monday, May 25 2009 

thanks to everyone who wished me a happy birthday! I had a really good night of jungle adventuring. i feel so ancient! what happened to bloody knees, ice cream cake, guinea pigs with ribbons and turning double digits! damn

leaving a place, once again Monday, May 25 2009 

It always seems that once I start calling a place home, I have to leave! I had to force myself to leave Parque Ambue Ari the other day. My love for that place is all about the cockroach-infested hay mattresses, the 2 pieces of bread I get for breakfest, freezing cold showers after sweating in the rainforest all day, waking up at sunrise to birds and monkeys all around my cabin and the late nights with candles spent playing Israeli card games. I love it ALL! Life is exhausting, but so deliciously good in its exhaustion.

A couple of days ago I got to spend some time with puma triplets. Pumas are the most athletic big cats of the Americas. They have the perfect tail for balance, and so they are very graceful when they run incredibly fast or jump great distances. These puma triplets were rescued from a market in the Bolivian altiplano. They were raised by humans from the time they were little babies, so they are very affectionate. I can´t believe I was so blessed that I had the opportunity to cuddle with a 60 kilo puma sitting on my lap. They were in heat, so they were screaming all day at the top of their lungs and all they wanted was love from me.

On my last day at work I got to walk a jaguar named Amira through the forest! Amira is a baby jag, one and a half years old, that was rescued from a wealthy Lebanese family who were involved with drug trafficking in Bolivia. Nothing could have prepared me for how incredibly striking she is! I turned a corner on the path through the woods and seeing her took my breath away. I can´t believe how incredibly beautiful she is. Amira  is about 70 kilos, hugely powerful and muscular, but a huge sucker for a belly rub. She´s a lover, not a fighter! All day she lazily groomed me with her spikey tongue and nuzzled my side. Amira is also the only cat at the park that swims underwater.  She has really endearing antics- when she first decides to get in the water, she is uneasy about getting her paws wet and tests the temperature like a baby. Once she´s in, she tumbles around and somersaults with joy. There is a wooden raft in the lagoon with her that she´s really afraid of for no reason. She swims a huge circle around it, looking at it fearfully,  just to get out of the water.

Hilarious thing about jaguars- did you know that after jaguars poop, they sprint and jump out of the forest? Nobody can explain why, but all jags do it. It´s hilarious, and when Amira sprints,  she carries she drags two men behind her attached to a rope.

I hiked a tiny mountain two nights ago to get a good view of the surrounding forest. I saw an incredibly lush explosion of green living things, but I also saw terrible things. The park in which I was working is a small oasis of protected forest. the rest is up for grabs for ground-burning farmers and clear cutting. Every year the forest around here is less and less, and nobody with any real power does anything about it. The only people protecting the land are the small social entrepreneurs who work years and years to secure a small piece of land to protect. It´s a terrible situation. There is good money in the clear-cutting business, and much demand from western countries to buy the fine woods that are found here.

I was hitch hiking the other day with two men who worked in the clear-cutting business. You really can´t hate these guys, because they are really hard workers and really love their land. They just don´t have time to think about conservation. An 18 wheeler completely full of planks of wood passed, and I asked them how many trees they needed to cut down to produce one bus load of wood. They said that they needed to cut 24 trees, a meter in diameter, to produce that much. They are cutting the oldest trees in the forest, and in the place of these trees, banana leaves grow like weeds all over the place! The wood industry is not sustainable, and it´s getting worse every year as demand from the United States increases. Much of the furniture that we buy in common stores in the United States sells wood that is either illegally or legally cut down in the jungles of South America. To everybody- please make sure that you know where your wood is coming from. It´s such a shame to sit by the side of a south american highway and see huge trucks full of ancient, 8-feet-in-diameter trees speeding down at all hours. It´s really, really a shame.

Anyways, I´m really sad to leave, and I reccommend this place to ANYONE who wants to really experience the jungle. This is a spectacular landscape, and I wouldn´t have done it any other way. I am in Villa Tunari right now, on a wild goose chase for a letter that my family sent me. Looks like it´s not here! oh well. I´m off to La Paz hopefully tomorrow, and after that, Lima. I think I´m gonna be flying to Colombia, I have an (unfortunately) EXTREMELY short stay there. Everyone I have met in my travels says that Colombia is way way better than all the countries they´ve ever been to. I guess I´m gonna have to come back!

something to contemplate

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTE-b6aRKTE