Archive for category Travel

The Urine Drinkers

I am spending two weeks in Portland with my brother and his family. They are about the finest people on the planet. They live and thrive here, but after just a few days I miss my revolvers. It is probably a good thing I left them at home.

Really, it is hardly possible to imagine a city more different from Oklahoma City than Portland. This place is chock full of crazy folks, and offers all sorts of things nearly unavailable in Oklahoma City. The usual signs of decay are present, including in abbreviated form all the moral depravity exhibited in San Francisco. Aggressive, alcoholic, drug-addicted and urine-stained homeless; public fountains used as lavatories; parades of homosexuals working their obscenities in broad daylight; gaggles of teens festooned with tattoos and piercings; used needles (and other used devices) littering streets and byways; parks rendered unsafe when the sun goes down.

Welcome to Portland!

The reasons for this public depravity are the usual ones.

Since the 1950s, if not earlier, Portland has strongly favored the Democratic Party at all levels of government. Although local elections are nonpartisan, most of the city’s elected officials are Democrats. Democrats also dominate the city’s delegation to the Oregon Legislature.

Are we surprised?

Some mayors of this madhouse deserve special mention. The present one is Sam Adams. He is an outspoken sodomite. He likes little boys whether or not they like him. He has the habit of exposing himself to random folks just passing by his house. Another mayor, Neil Goldschmidt, liked little girls whether or not they liked him. Both Goldschmidt and Adams have a great deal of political power here, of course. They are among their own kind.

Quick: Guess their political party! Hint: It is the same as that of sodomite Barney Frank, girlfriend drowner Ted Kennedy and socialist liar Barack Obama.

What is it with Portland? There must be something in the water here.

Perhaps we should do a mind game. Imagine a child raised on natural spring water. Around the age of 5 the parents begin to place a drop of urine into his water every day, increasing the amount of urine over the years. By the time the child is an adult he is drinking pure urine. So accustomed to urine does he become that the taste of spring water becomes unpleasant. He cannot understand why some people drink spring water, and he believes them crazy for doing so. He also thinks that the legions of illnesses he gets from drinking urine are not really illnesses, but rather signs of a healthy mind and body.

Such is the current state of much of the good and true people of Portland. They are really urine drinkers, and have been for a long time. So many Portlanders have been drinking cultural urine that they have lost the ability to discern disease from health, good from evil and truth from falsehood. The result is confusion everywhere and at all points—moral, political and theological.

Need I add that Portland has the lowest church attendance of any mid-size city in the US? And that there are more strip bars and sex shops per capita here than any major city in the world? And that entire sections of the city are given over to sodomites and lesbians? You can observe them working their depravities in public, if you have a strong stomach.

Who would choose to raise children in this grotesque and cut-rate Gomorrah? Actually, this is not a worry, for every year schools are closing due to lack of kids. Lesbians and sodomites are not known for their ability to generate children, though they do on occasion resort to the adoption agency and the test tube.

And just as naturally Portland is a haven for all the political idiocy known to man. The urine drinkers here are in lock step with the media and the current regime in Washington DC—and pardon that redundancy. Portlanders think themselves sophisticated because they all agree among themselves on the essentials of what passes for educated opinion on: the role of he UN, multilateralism, religion in the public square, US foreign policy, the military, the Kyoto Treaty, public education, abortion, environmentalism, global warming, conservative thought, liberal thought, affirmative action, the death penalty and the 2nd Amendment. Portlanders affirm each other, refer to each other and congratulate each other. There are no real public dissenting voices here. None could survive without a titanic struggle, but local radio guy Lars Larson soldiers on, right in the belly of the beast.

When Christ comes back, He will have it out with this city. It will well deserve its fate.

Anyway, I am thoroughly enjoying my time here. The company is the best around, the food is good and the talk is refreshing. And I have lots of beer.

Amazon Twaddle

While wandering around Amazon—the website, not the jungle—looking for a book about the Amazon—the jungle, not the website—I came across a book I might buy. It looks entertaining. Alas, its author, David Grann, is a bit of a fool. He has become infected with the environmental claptrap that has surrounded the jungle and that has ruined more minds than malaria ever did.

His illness is revealed in an interview.

Q: What are your thoughts on the deforestation taking place in the Amazon?

DG: It is a great tragedy. Over the last four decades in Brazil alone, the Amazon has lost some two hundred and seventy thousand square miles of its original forest cover–an area bigger than France. Many tribes, including some I visited, are being threatened with extinction. Countless animals and plants, many of them with potential medicinal purposes, are also vanishing. One of the things that the book explores is how early Native American societies were often able to overcome their hostile environment without destroying it. Unfortunately, that has not been the case with the latest wave of trespassers.

Where, oh where, to begin?

Eco types love, simply love, to claim that the Amazon jungle—they use the term “rainforest” rather than jungle—has lost territories as large as European nations to deforestation. Perhaps true. Perhaps not. In either case the size of ‘deforestation’ is irrelevant. In the lowland tropics every instance of man doing anything at all presents us with a case of ‘deforestation’. Whether he builds a school or a hospital or a city or a Greenpeace office, plants had to die to create space for the project. And this is also true of those Manhattan enclaves so beloved by environmentalists. Manhattan was once a home for trees and cute little animals. Now it is a home for Starbucks and cute little Yorkies.

Eco types have trouble with simple arithmetic. They will list every instance of some jungle tree being chopped down but ignore every instance of jungle reclaiming that very same land. And anybody with any experience with jungles will tell you, it can reclaim land faster than the Marine Corps can reclaim Fallujah. Just building anything out there in the jungle—and trust me, the wilds of the Amazon are well and truly “out there”—takes a tremendous amount of time and effort and money. And mostly all of this is for naught. The jungle is faster and more patient than any bulldozer.

Just ask the Brazilian government. It once had this fantasy of building a system of roads through the jungle to connect widely separated parts of the nation. This system is called the Tranzamazônica. Or, more accurately, “roads to nowhere” as it is called in the Brazilian Handbook. After decades of effort and billions of dollars the Tranzamazônica is reverting back to forest. It has proved quite impossible to keep the jungle from reclaiming its territory. The Brazilian government has surrendered. Now the entire system is impassable in the rainy season, and even during the dry season parts of it are nothing more than muddy tracks extending for hundreds and hundreds of miles into scarcely tracked jungle.

Oh…do you think that environmentalists will count all that reclaimed “rainforest” when they shriek about ‘deforestation’?

And irony of ironies, the greatest deforestation of the Amazon is being done to plant soya, a pant beloved by vegetarians. Most of these folks are natural environmentalists. They demand tasty vegetarian dishes made with soya. Brazil accedes to their demand and plants soya, cutting down the forest in the process. This soya is then shipped to those nations where almost every environmentalist lives—not in the Amazon, but in the US and Europe. The vegetarian then feasts upon his tofu while prattling on and on of the evils of meat. As the Brazil Handbook—itself no stranger to the environmental illness—says, “the vegetarian option is as complicit in death and deforestation as hardwood tables or beef.” If your average vegetarian really wanted to “save the rainforest,” he would throw away his tofu and order a Big Mac.

Grann laments about indigenous peoples that are “threatened with extinction.” He was not speaking of the Mohicans or the Iroquois or the Arawaks but of some of the literally hundreds of Indian groups living in the Amazon who have hardly any contact with Western Civilization. These are not so much “threatened with extinction” as they are in danger of having their subsistence cultures overwhelmed by the vastly superior culture of the industrial world. You can believe whatever fantasy you want about native peoples happily running to and fro in the jungle, but the fact of the matter is that these folks live on a level scarcely above that of the animals they hunt for food. What I wrote more than one year ago about one tribe living such an existence needs to be repeated.

They represent an almost complete devolution, an absolute regress, from the beginnings of civilization as presented to us by the Sumerians 6000 years ago. Their degraded existence is one no man would choose, not even the most addled and deluded Greenpeace type. They live out their abbreviated lives among the bat, the serpent, the scorpion, the puma, the crocodile, the spider, the hornet and the mosquito. Their bodies are home to a host of worms and diseases. For all we are concerned that tribe may as well be composed of aliens from another planet.

Grann himself rambles about these people being able “to overcome their hostile environment without destroying it.” But the indigenous tribes overcome nothing. The life of a typical Amazon indigenous is a Hobbesian one—“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” They do not control the jungle, the jungle controls them, defines them, limits them, provides them with a meager existence and then claims their lives as readily as it claims that Brazilian road.

And will we ever stop hearing of how the Amazon has all sorts of plants and animals “with potential medicinal purposes”? This is consummate foolishness. The jungle is host to the most terrifying diseases known to man. Look up Onchocerciasis and Leishmaniasis and Trypanosomiasis just to get a sample. And what of malaria? That disease still claims millions of victims a year. The jungle does not save, the jungle kills.

I should add that it is well-nigh impossible to read any book written about the Amazon within the last 40 years that has not swallowed whole the environmental claptrap about “the rainforest.” Once you understand this you can simply ignore it and get on with the reading of the book.

And that is just what I will do with Gann’s book, as it looks like a fascinating read. I will thereby contribute just a bit to his income. I hope he will use his profit to learn more about the Amazon than that which is found in the prattle of a typical environmentalist.

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Shaping Up

I turned 56 a few days ago. It was time for a tune-up, so I headed to the doctor. All was normal, even my cholesterol which was embarrassingly, crazily, insanely high 6 months ago. The good doctor wanted to put me on medication then, but I pleaded with him to allow me time to lower it on my own through diet and exercise. It worked, though I miss my weekly ice cream and my daily French Press coffee. I will indulge myself in both when I get to Heaven—assuming I get to Heaven.

As I am heading to the jungles of Nicaragua this December, I thought it a good idea to double up on my exercise to be in fine trim for the Rio San Juan down there. And where else to go for exercise tips than to the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test! It concerns pull ups, abdominal crunches and running. The highest score is 300—100 points per event—which means running 3 miles in 18 minutes, doing 20 pull ups and performing 100 abdominal crunches in 2 minutes.

There were times in my life when I could almost do this, the most recent being September 2003 when I walked out of the Andes after solo backpacking 12 days to and beyond the Inca ruins of Choquequirao. I gradually lost some of the physical condition I was in 6 years ago. Sloth, beer, ice cream and Krispy Kremes have all taken their toll. If I were to take the test this minute I would score a 125.

I need to score a 225. This means that by December I should be able to:

1. Run 3 miles in 22 minutes and 10 seconds—already there.

2. Do 15 pull ups—8 pull ups to go.

3. Perform 75 abdominal crunches in 2 minutes—40 crunches to go.

There are three elements—physical, mental and supernatural—to the kind of success I am looking for. The mental is intense desire, the desire to succeed at almost any cost—and this I have in spades. The supernatural is to be in a right relationship with God—and I work upon this daily. There remains the physical part—and this explains the Marine PFT. A body physically fit is one less prone to injury and more able to ‘walk the extra mile’ that might save your life. Here are the minimum standards:

Minimum Fitness Requirements for Each PFT Event
Age          Pull-Ups    Crunches     3-Mile Run
17-26             3                  50                 28:00
27-39             3                  45                  29:00
40-45             3                  45                  30:00
46+               3                  40                  33:00

So I am way ahead of the game. But that is not enough. Nicaragua might be rough indeed, and I very much would enjoy being able to finish the journey there. Jungles are unforgiving to the unprepared—and to the unlucky.

My desired score of 225 would put me better than 1st Class among those 46 and over. Then there is my weight, which is about 170. I need to lose 10 pounds, which comes out to one pound every two weeks.

Marine Corps Weight Chart
Height Maximum           71
Standard Maximum      197
Standard  Minimum      136

The race is on.

Again Dreaming Jungles

Some books I am perusing.

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I wonder what is on my mind these days?

I spent the entire Clinton regime out and about in the wilds of South America. Perhaps another such escape during the Obama regime is called for.

Obama cannot annoy me if I am lost somewhere in the Amazon. He cannot tax me either.

River Of Doubt

I have a message for all you tough guys out there—and I count myself as one of you, even if I am a bit long in the tooth, having turned 56 three days ago. Whatever it is you do that makes you a tough guy, you will become humble when you read this.

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This is the story of Theodore Roosevelt’s 1913-1914 journey down an unknown Brazilian river, later known as the Rio Roosevelt. And it is called that for good reason, for his expedition was the first to explore it. The tale is told by former National Geographic editor Candice Millard, a rather slight and fetching lass.

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Millard’s writing is of a type well-known to lovers of adventure lore, especially the sort who read of madmen on the hunt for lost cities or uncharted lands in South America. I have read a bunch of these myself and know the genre well. Her book recalls a world now near impossible to imagine, a world where there were rivers and undiscovered lands that had not seen the tread of white men’s boots. One photo from the book shows Roosevelt and a few of his companions getting ready for their expedition.

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The image is of the old type of explorer, one with loads of money, backing and influence—a John Hanning Speke, for example—and one with companions equally as worldly and experienced. These sorts of adventures are now difficult to find. Perhaps the world since Roosevelt’s descent of that river has become too small for men like him. So much has been mapped and traveled. Some places that were once inaccessible to any but a hardy few—Machu Picchu in 1920—can now be reached on any tour bus by the pudgy and spandex clad. It saddens.

Roosevelt himself knew this of course.

The ordinary traveler, who never goes off the beaten route and who on this beaten route is carried by others, without himself doing anything or risking anything, does not need to show much more initiative and intelligence than an express package.

What he wrote puts all the silly “eco-adventure” and “eco-tourism” nonsense peddled today in perspective.

Of all the time I have spent ‘out there’ only a little of it was doing anything remotely like Roosevelt and his river trip: crossing the Darién Gap, walking to Choquequirao and exploring the ruins of Vilcabamba. And I mostly went alone. Everything I needed—food, medicines, fuel, tent, stove, sleeping bag—had to fit into a backpack. The absolute most I can carry is 14 days worth of provisions without re-supply. For comparison, Roosevelt and his hardy companions were gone 4 months.

So what is a man to do if he has the yearnings to wander off to ‘wild weird climes lying most sublime, out of space, out of time’? All is not lost. Believe it or not, there is much of remote South America that still offers such things.

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Some of it has scarcely changed since the Inca. Here is a foot bridge in Peru crossed by explorer Hiram Bingham in the early 20th century.

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I crossed a similar footbridge in 2002 a few miles from where Bingham crossed.

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Some things never change. Some things should never change.

The border areas of Peru, Bolivia and Brazil are as wild as anything on earth. The entire area is rife with rumors of uncontacted tribes and lost cities, and there are more than a million square miles of wilderness still remaining in the Amazon Basin and the regions bordering it. Some rivers and lands are not yet explored, but only mapped from a satellite. What is out there?

Hey tough guy, why don’t you go and find out? If I were younger and 10 pounds thinner, I might join you.

But maybe I will go anyway. Exploring Godforsaken jungles—and all jungles are Godforsaken—is a great way to lose weight.

See you there.

Update: Here is an audio interview with Candice Millard. Here is a print interview. Both are well worth your time.

Update: Here is a guy named Ed Stafford who is walking the entire length of the Amazon. Such a thing has never been done. He started April of 2008, and will finish in May of 2010. He has been walking for 473 days.

Yeah, he’s nuts. So was Roosevelt.

Southern Guns

I am often asked if I took a firearm while spending all that time in the wilds of Central and South America. The answer is no—except for one time. The reason why is that the paperwork necessary for getting a gun from the US into Latin America is horrendous, and I would have had to do that for every country I visited. And a gun with ammo is heavy. A solo backpacker must travel as light as possible.

But there was that time in Paraguay. I was staying at a rancher’s farm and he asked me if I wanted to backpack for some days in the wilds. As he lived in the Chaco, the wilds there are very wild indeed. He loaned me his shotgun and off I went.

It was strange, really. All of my years in the jungles I have had to be aware of my surroundings at all times. One mistake might be fatal. In the US a man may be senator this or doctor that, but in the jungle he is nothing but prey. For once and at last, while I carried that shotgun I was no longer prey, but predator. I could slay at will. And there are killers out there. Wild pigs—called peccary—travel in groups of 100 or more. If you run into them you might have a bad day—a very bad day.

Once in Costa Rica I happened upon a jungle camp—what was left of it—of some prospectors who had had a nighttime visit by a herd of probably White-Lipped Peccary. There was not much to see: a scrap of bone, a ruined pot, some material from clothing.

Just bad luck.

There are also cats—big ones in fact. They will track a man, sometimes for days. They are a menace—and we can forget all of that environmental claptrap about them. Out in the wilds they are your enemy—and a very effective killing machine indeed.

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
—William Blake (1757 – 1827)

They regularly kill the natives of Central America. They usually take a man from behind, its classic killing method. He uses his front claws to rip into a man’s shoulder while his jaws clamp hard across his throat. The man is dead before he hits the ground. I like to think that the victims feel nothing. Once near Tikal a cat killed a Guatemalan worker. The killing site was found by other workers. The man’s machete was still in its holder, and was found near his remains. There was no news report because Tikal is a great money maker and tourist magnet for Guatemala. If word got out that a man was killed and eaten by a cat within the park…well, what would become of the money brought by the tens of thousands of tourists?

Even though I went unarmed except in Paraguay I still often ran into men with guns. These Honduran farmers used firearms to protect themselves against local predators both two and four legged.

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They let me hold one their guns, a Chinese made AK-47. Very sporting of them, I would say.

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Some of my encounters with men with guns had a humorous note. In 1983 I was trying to enter northern Guatemala in a rather interesting way. A border guard accosted me and began a series of intrusive questions. As I could come up with no good answers, he pointed his rifle at me and demanded that I go with him to the local police station. I had no desire to spend time in any sort of jail, and so propositioned him with this idea: instead of him taking me to jail, how about if I bought both of us dinner and all the beers we could drink? It took only a moment for the guard to come to his decision. He slung the rifle over his shoulder and we sauntered over to the nearest cantina. The result is below.

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Twenty years ago I had an entertaining run-in with the Honduran army which was watching its border with Guatemala. I was crossing into Honduras from Guatemala, and I had to walk with my backpack down a trail about 200 yards form one country to the next. For some reason unknown to me the Honduran authorities denied me entrance and told me I had to return to Guatemala. I got into an argument with them, and they called upon a few soldiers to arrest me. Some uniformed bravos leapt out of their vehicle and ran toward me with M-16s pointed my way. I turned around and ran as fast as I could toward Guatemala as the Honduran soldiers chased me. I was fast in those days—even with a heavy pack on my back— and soon the Hondurans gave up. I turned about and gave them that international signal of disdain.

Some meetings with armed men were not so funny. I was in the jungles again in 1989 camping at the Mayan ruins of Dos Pilas. The University of Pennsylvania was there as well. The archeologists were opening a Mayan tomb and asked if I wanted to get the first photographs. I set my tripod and took some marvelous photos of the bones of a long dead Mayan potentate revealed to the world after a sleep of 1000 years. There suddenly appeared out of the forest 40 men with guns—lots of them, all shiny and aimed toward the archeologists, their workers and at me. These fellows were communist guerrillas who were at war with the Guatemalan army.

They marched us through the jungle a ways, and made us stand at attention while their leader gave us a lecture about how evil the government was. They forced us to repeat some political slogans for several hours. They then took some food, some money and some kitchen knives. Then these lads lined up and one by one shook our hands, smiled at us and wished us well before vanishing into the jungle. That night in my hammock I could hear the sound of gunfire. Evidently those guerrillas happened upon a group of Guatemalan soldiers.

Just bad luck.

During that civil war the Guatemalan government would arm some of the locals who were then expected to patrol the region and report any communist activity. I encountered those guys from time to time. Those posters on the wall are anti-communist propoganda.

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I traveled through Nicaragua during its revolution, its counter-revolution and its civil wars. This was in 1983. Naturally it was difficult to get around as most transport had ceased due to the violence. I was trying to make my way to Costa Rica, and so hitch-hiked. I was picked up by the Sandinista Army, even though my nation was technically at war with it. The Nicaraguan soldiers were friendly enough, and probably saved my life when their vehicles were fired upon by some contra rebels roaming about. I was lucky then.

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Yes, I was foolish once and thought myself invincible.

Even though I do not venture into warring lands any longer I still like to take photos of men with guns while ambling here and there. This soldier was a member of the Guatemalan Kaibiles. They are jungle experts similar to our Green Berets.

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I still have the desire to head back to the jungles of northern Guatemala into the region known as Petén. I have spent many months there already, but there is some wild country to the north and west near the frontier with Mexico in that savage land that I scarcely know. There are some Mayan ruins there—El Mirador and Dos Lagunas to name just two—that are really huge ancient cities now overgrown with jungle. I would be very pleased to carry with me my .44 Magnum revolver to ward off crocodiles, cats and peccary. Some of the crocs there grow to 18 feet, and the revolver would even up the score in my favor.

I am working on that paperwork.

Southern Ruins

Mayan ruins of Yaxhá, Guatemala, 2004 

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Mayan temple at Tikal, Guatemala, 2004 

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Ruins of last Inca redoubt, Villcabamba, Peru, 1997

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Mayan ruins at Copán, Honduras, 1987

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Overlooking Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru, 1987 

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Kuelap, Chachapoyan ruins, Peru, 1998

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Choquequirao, Inca ruins, Peru, 2003

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Nakum, Mayan ruins, Guatemala, 2004

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Teotihuacan, Mexico, 2003

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Choquequirao, Inca ruins, Peru, 2003

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Choquequirao, Inca ruins, Peru, 2003

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Dos Pilas, building archeologists’ cabins near Mayan ruins, Guatemala, 1989 

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 Mayan ruins of Tikal, Guatemala, 1986

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Kuelap, Chachapoyan ruins, Peru, 2003

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Palenque, Mayan ruins, Mexico, 1983 

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Parícutin, Mexico, village buried in lava, 1983

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Tikal, Main plaza, Mayan ruins, Guatemala, 1983

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Southern Towns

Antigua, Guatemala, 1984

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Quechualla, Peru, 2003

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 Cachora, Peru, 2003

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Chachapoyas, Peru, 1987

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Comayagüela, Honduras, 1983 

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La Esperanca, Honduras, 2004

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Flores, Guatemala, 2007

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Gracias, Honduras, 2004

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Gualaco, Honduras, 2004

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Humahuaca, Argentina, 2003

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Iruya, Argentina, 2003

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Levanto, Peru, 2004

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Ocalli, Peru, 2003

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Palmar Norte, Costa Rica, 2004

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Putre, Chile, 2003

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San Miguel, Peru, 2002

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Santa Elena, Guatemala, 1997

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Cuzco, Peru, 1987

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 Slums around Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 1983

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San Lucas, Guatemala, 2004

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San Antonio, Guatemala, 2004

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Sayache, Guatemala, 1983

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Lonya Grande, Peru, 2004

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Bus station, Antigua, Guatemala, 1986

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How To Leave Home

Thinking about leaving home this summer and heading out far and away from the US? Indeed, what better way to avoid Obama than to head for foreign hills. True, Obama will still be squatting in Washington upon your return—barring Divine intervention—but any respite from that pagan narcissist would be refreshing and welcome.

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I spent the entire Clinton regime out of the country, and can personally attest to the healing balm of living abroad while idiocy infects American politics. Alas, I cannot go away this summer, but here is some advice for those whose desires run to “wild weird climes lying most sublime, out of space, out of time”.

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There are four ways to journey to foreign lands. In order of difficulty and risk they are: tourism, travel, adventure and exploration. I have done all of them. I wish I were doing all of them now.

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Tourism is what most people mean by ‘travel.’ All hotels, transportation, food, photo opportunities, sights—everything, in fact—is arranged beforehand by an agency that specializes in such things. There are no surprises, for those who pay good money for such a tour do not want any. These are people who have no time to do research, learn the rudiments of a foreign language, and to make all their own travel arrangements. Tourism is easy, popular and can be entertaining though at times it can be boring. Remember, no surprises! All hotels are clean and have hot water and one seldom gets ill eating the food. You might drink too much, but that is your own fault.

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The next step in difficulty is travel. A traveler makes his own arrangements and attempts to learn street and restaurant survival techniques in a foreign tongue. This takes some time as often the traveler does not really know exactly where he is going or where he will stay when he gets there. College students making their first foray to Europe, graduate students following the ‘Gringo Trail’ from Mexico to Peru and retired folks who have time and an adventurous spirit become experts in travel. It is seldom boring, but it can be—and many times it is—trying. Cold water hostels and street food are well known to the traveler, as is the occasional bout with dysentery. All travelers get this at one point or another. Always travel with a few rolls of toilet paper in case the mood strikes while trapped on some bus.

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Some years back after a few days spent walking around the Cordillera Huayhuash in Peru I ended up in the village of Chiquián. The next day I was as sick as I could imagine. There was only one bus out that day, and not another for one week. I had to get back to Lima and the comforting arms of my Peruvian girlfriend. During the 9 hour bus ride I vomited constantly and had numerous instances of diarrhea, which forced the bus to stop many times along the way to allow me to run off and find some place to do what I had to do. There was no place to hide on that road, so I had to handle everything very much in view of the Peruvians on that bus. It took one week to recover. Trust me, you do not want to go though this—unless of course you have a Peruvian girlfriend to minister to you.

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There are some hybrids that combine tourism and travel. They usually have the words ‘adventure’ or ‘eco-‘ (as in ‘ecological’) in them—thus the odd things called ‘adventure travel’ and ‘eco-tourism.’ But do not be fooled, both are really types of tourism. All is arranged, planned and organized. The customer is just along for the ride. These trips can certainly be fun, but there is nothing heroic or difficult about them.

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Adventure requires a desire to really get off the well-traveled track, to go to the weird places, like obscure Mayan ruins buried deep in some God-forsaken jungle—and take it from me, all jungles are God-forsaken. It is also expensive, as the adventurer must have tent, stove and all the rest of the backpacking kit. He—and occasionally she—must be prepared for the unexpected—what I call the X factor—for the unexpected is part of the reason for planning an adventure in the first place. And trust me, the X factor always happens. Adventurers plan on getting sick, sleeping in odd places, being dirty for days on end, becoming unfamiliar with toilets, having close encounters with animals and very strange people, and eating unrecognizable fare—that is why it is called ‘adventure.’ Adventure types can be seen hiking frozen islands, soloing mountain peaks and reveling in avoiding death when it appears. And please do your best to avoid that unpleasantness.

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Exploration—going where few have gone—is getting tough to come by these days. Most areas of the world have been mapped and Burger Kinged. Even Everest, which 50 years ago was seen as the peak event in the exploration of the age, now is almost tourism. No kidding, about anyone can pay an agency upwards of $65,000 to take him to the summit of Everest and hopefully back down again—no mean feat, as 14 people died in just one climbing season on Everest a few years back. The Poles are well-traversed—there are tours there—Africa has given up her secret of the source of the Nile, Asia is way over crowded. The only remaining places to experience exploration are South and Central America, but even those are quickly succumbing to tourism. This is not a complaint, just an observation.

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One rule of thumb: If a bus pulls up to your camp site and unloads 50 Japanese tourists with nametags, matching suits and cameras, it is time to get out of there. When I was first in Tikal 26 years ago I was about alone in the jungle there. There was only a place to camp, one place to eat and no hotels. Now it is as crowded as Disney World on Gay Pride Day. What all this means is that adventurers and explorers must go further and further ‘out there’. Rather than Tikal one must walk to Nakum. Rather than hike the Inca Trail one must walk across the Andes to Choquequirao. And so on. But even those places will be well traveled one day, forcing the explorers and adventurers way back into the hills and trackless jungle.

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The last remaining areas for exploration in Central America are the far reaches of northern Guatemala and the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua and Honduras. And take my word for it, the jungles of the Mosquito Coast are a very rough go. Tales of monkey gods and lost cities abound. You will encounter weird folks and hostile animals—or weird animals and hostile folks—and you had better be prepared for a whole host of X factors. Some are fun. Some are not.

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South America offers more adventure and exploration than about anywhere on earth. You can head across the Peruvian Andes and drop down to the Amazon, and hope you do not encounter any uncontacted tribes. You can hike to the numerous tepuis that dot northern Brazil, southern Venezuela and Guyana. Most of these have not been explored. Or you can make your way across the southern Argentine Andes all the way to Chile. Rumors of lost civilizations and ancient ruins are plentiful all over South America. I would go look for some of these right now if I could.

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And if Obama wins in 2012, for sure I am out of here. I had best start saving money, just in case.

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Once Upon A Time Down South

Twice in my life I left home for one year and lived in tents and hammocks while walking the jungles and mountains of those lands south of the Rio Grande. Those years were the formative times of my life. I was one sort of man before them. I was one sort of man after them. I like to pretend I am a better man because of them, but that might be mere vanity.

I wrote about those times—thousands and thousands of words all told. First it was pen to paper, then it was cyber pen to cyber paper. I read those words today and they seem as if from the hand of someone else, a stranger even.

From Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

You have to hand it to third-world capital cities: they sure are chock-a-block full of the odd, the weird, the nightmarish, the improbable and the impossible, an odd farrago of the sacred and the profane. Whatever horrors occur in places like New York, Dallas and Chicago—leaving out San Francisco for obvious reasons—rest assured that it is much worse where I am traveling. Dante himself would be lost for words here.

From some bar in some city in Central America.

Sitting at a computer terminal for hours a day in a foreign land is a bit disconcerting. Funny mouse, funny keyboard, funny letters, funny screen, funny people next to you at other machines. You read something comical in the news, and laugh, and everyone wants in on the joke. Sorry folks, it is a private joke. Go away.

Yet there is no other way for strangers in strange lands to keep a handle on their home far away. What did they do—what did I do when I traveled?—before the internet? Oh yes, they drank, I drank. Every capital city had its bar where foreigners would go to kill a thirst and to amble about trying to nose out some news about home.

After time spent in the Paraguayan Chaco.

I am in Rio, having just spent two weeks in the Paraguayan Chaco. That place is really the end of the earth, “from here nothing beyond.” From the Bolivian border to the first real town in the Chaco the road is merely a crude track cut into the ground. Dust covered everything—every plant, every tree, every person on my bus. It was carried on the wind and breathed with the air. The heat was extraordinary, at times 120 degrees. The sweat it caused immediately mixed with the dust causing all of us to appear as if we were wearing cheap and badly applied makeup.

From Antigua, Guatemala.

Four-hundred and forty years after its founding was the year when I first pulled into Antigua, Guatemala. There was war in the hills in those days—a war both civil and genocidal. There were soldiers all about, a reasonable deployment since the communist guerrillas prowled nearby and were quite the nuisance. But not as much a nuisance as the army. This body, especially its elite Kabiles, was responsible for at least 100,000 deaths among the indigenous Mayan population. Another 100,000 fled to camps in Mexico. This war against the communists and the government was all-out, and as usual in such events the government won.

From the jungles of northern Guatemala.

There was an ocean of mud. And rivers of rain. And hordes of mosquitoes. And there was a wandering puma that devoured an unlucky Guatemalan worker. It seems I miscalculated the rainy season, which was in full force while I walked alone for five days among obscure Mayan ruins. So all was wet and muddy and bug-ridden. I was lost somewhere in the vicinity of Tikal, and using my compass and machete—always at hand, you see—I had to cut across some wild country for hours and across a croc-infested lagoon as well. And I picked up a few ticks. But still it was, well, fun. Yeah, I have an odd sense of what constitutes fun.

From Panajachel, Guatemala.

The problem was that the further I moved around the lake, the more I ran into Euro-trash hippy types. It seems that they have slowly migrated from Panajachel to San Pedro and San Marcos. These villages have developed a local part—usually away from the lake—and a foreign part filled with the tattooed, the pierced, the scantily attired, the doped-up and dropped-out, the bra-less and law-less, the shirt-less and worthless, the clueless and the shoe-less. It is bad enough that I must witness this motley and malodorous throng on the streets of my home town of Portland, at Dean for President rallies and at Greenpeace reunions but I refuse to share my vacation with them.

After backpacking somewhere in Central America.

There is a certain scent that one takes on around day three while doing such things as I do. It is a combination of old sweat, new sweat, bug repellent, sun block, rotting plant life, dried saliva, animal feces, spilled food, dirt, mud, blood, the pulp of crushed insects, stale tobacco and yesterday’s rum —not quite Paco Rabanne. It is unnerving at first, but then one accustoms. One always accustoms.

From Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

A man came into the hotel lobby with a bag in which he said was the skin of a cat. He took it out of the bag and there it was: the skin of a cat sure enough. A big cat. With stripes and claws and teeth—lots of them. He was selling it. Truth be told, it was beautiful. I did not ask how the creature met his demise. A pity, really. I have imagined a cat rather like this one tracking me in some jungle in Honduras—and myself tracking him. Not to kill (at least on my part) but just to see. Wild. Up close and personal. Alive. With all the savage vitality that nature put in it, not as some adornment before a fireplace. A damn shame.

From Cotahuasi, Peru.

I returned yesterday from Cotahuasi, Peru, where the deepest canyon in the world lies. Eight days were spent walking as far as I could into the place. The trail follows an old Inca communication route. Ruins and ancient terraces abound, and the entire area is clustered with villages. Quechua is the first language spoken here, and Quechua-inflected Spanish takes a while to get accustomed to. There are no roads in the canyon—to say nothing of electricity—and no possibility of getting around unless you walk. And walk the Indians do: everywhere along the walls of the canyon are myriad trails going to myriad villages whose names echo their Inca heritage: Andamarca, Quechualla, Vellinga, Huña—this last being an extensive set of ruins. I stayed in them one night (how many times does one get to camp alone in pre-Colombian ruins?) and my imagination—at all times wild and fecund—ran rife. I conjured up the ghosts of Inca long dead.

From somewhere in the Honduran jungles.

Sico is on a river that connects with the Rivers Platano and Paulaya. These are in the heart of Miskitia—the largest jungle area north of the Amazon—and where the Golden Monkey God of the Chorotegas and the Lost White City of the Maya are believed to be hidden. We will see. From Sico there is a jungle route to the coast, along which one can literally walk 300 kilometers east or west if he be an idiot.

From somewhere else in Honduras.

You should know that in most of Central America, as in the Andean nations of South America, one can walk literally anywhere. The locals do all the time—but of course they have no real choice. There are footpaths and mule trails wherever one wants to go. Purify all water, carry all of your food, be overly friendly, camp away from villages, cover as much of your body as you can against ticks, scorpions, spiders and mosquitoes, watch where you place your hands as it is best not to grab hold of a snake, take good care when crossing rivers—they tend to be alligator infested— and keep your wits about you. If you travel without a machete and a very good and long and sharp hunting knife, you are a fool and deserve what comes your way. Oh, and do not wander about at night unless you want a close encounter with a cat. But then, these felines might track you during the day as well. As I said, keep your wits about you.

Summing it all up.

All was new. I went to places I had dreamed of but never visited. Iruya, Argentina—a type of village one cannot find elsewhere: shimmering in frozen sunlight, shockingly beautiful huddled beneath its canyon walls, hovering in crystalline air. Putre, Chile—a delight, all small and comfortable, guarded by a family of ice-capped peaks, living under sun-soaked days and frozen nights. Cotahuasi, Peru—the deepest canyon in the world, home to Inca who still speak Quechua, reached by vertigo-inducing stages of descent (and not for the faint-of-heart), where the route passes pre-Colombian ruins. Camp there—you will be alone—and hear the voices of Inca long-dead.

Summing it all up again.

Cities long-dead drew me to Peru; they draw me still: not Machu Picchu this time—that I had conquered long ago—but the ruins of the Chachapoyan—a vanished threat to Inca imperialism who left behind the astounding ‘7 cities of the Condors’—Kuelap, Gran Vilaya and scores of others yet uncovered; Choquequirao, an Inca site that dwarfs even Machu Picchu in its spectacular setting in the high Andes. Walking there and then continuing across two Andean passes—120 kilometers of footwork, 10,000 meters all told up and down—took every ounce of my physical and mental discipline—but it was Christ who carried me; the Hellishly hot Paraguayan Chaco, abandoned by God except where His Mennonites have settled, the only light in near absolute darkness; Rio, a city that boasts the finest location in the world, cursed by a venal and corrupt political class, diseased by a nightmare of narco-violence—but all the while enjoying the blessing of the soothing, oh-so-democratic and rejuvenating beach.

A soon as God gives His permission, I am off again to those “wild weird climes lying most sublime. Out of space, out of time.” What is He waiting for?