What I Learn when I Travel

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What I Learn when I Travel

The locals, I know, exist on even less than I do. I see communities of square concrete blocks, corrugated metal roofs kept on with nothing but some rocks. The empty squares of hole-in-the-wall “windows” gape at me as I drive by. I wonder how the homes do when it rains. Electricity is rare; indoor plumbing unusual, climate control, unheard of — even in most hotels. People walk or take buses. Or don’t travel. The cost of gas for Peruvians is roughly the same as in the states — the price of gas is pegged to an international standard. But income isn’t. To own a car is a tremendous burden. The lines on people’s faces tell of lives much harder than my own. Stray dogs wander the streets; the spare energy to round them up and adopt them out or put them down — or neuter family animals that are cared for — just doesn’t exist.

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Appropriate Technology

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Appropriate Technology

The Uros people survived the ravenous Incan Empire, the murderous Spanish Conquistadors, and now face the unquenchable curiosity of global tourism. Somehow, through all of that, they have maintained a largely intact community, with many customs and traditions preserved (though they lost their original language some decades ago). They face the Peruvian government and the hordes of tourists with cautious welcome while striving to improve their security and stability in ways that make sense for their culture and way of life.

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Alone, but not Lonely

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Alone, but not Lonely

I sit by myself in a corner, my faded and stained khaki zip-offs and sneakers contrasting with the cosmopolitan decor. I imagine I’m an international food critic or writer for Lonely Planet as I listen to an audiobook and sip from a glass of Casa Silva. I am a foodie -- one of my few indulgences, other than kink and body work, that highlights my hedonism. I relish my private dinner. I don’t know that I would have enjoyed it more if I had to navigate the social complexities of sharing it with a partner. I would have -- at minimum -- worn different pants, lest I reflect shame on someone better groomed.

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A City Carved Out of the Jungle

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A City Carved Out of the Jungle

When Hiram Bingham slashed his way through the jungle to this place on July 24, 1911, he found two local families still living in the city. They were growing food in the terraces. As is the way of most “discovered by European stories,” he did not truly find Machu Picchu. He merely exposed it to the world. The locals knew, and kept the secret from the Spaniards for 500 years.

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A Letter from my Professor

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A Letter from my Professor

My main reservation about travel classes is the carbon footprint we create by our activities when we do these classes, particularly flying. My purpose of this email is not to make you feel guilty but instead to inspire you to make the most out of the footprint that we left behind by doing this trip. We have discussed many of the major anthropogenic impacts on this glorious reef system. In addition, many of you have taken other environmental studies classes from me. We know that there are many environmentally based existential threats to humanity. Based on what I have seen in the scientific literature, we can realistically expect to keep the warming of earth's surface temperature to about 3 degrees centigrade.

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The Inca Will Have the Last Laugh

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The Inca Will Have the Last Laugh

In Qorikancha, a temple/museum/cathedral, I learn that the Spanish built the Church of Santo Domingo over-top the Incan Temple. Two earthquakes brought part of the church down. The masonry stone and arches crumbled. In the aftermath of the quake, the foundations of the Incan temple stood prominent and proud among the rubble.

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Interviews with the Other

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Interviews with the Other

I’m jaded. I’ve moved, on average, once a year for the last ten years. I’ve spent four of the last ten years living abroad. Some of the students have asked me how many countries I’ve been to and it took me more than a minute to figure it out. I’m still not sure if I’ve remembered everywhere I went in Europe. Does flying through connecting airports count?

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Last Nights on the Reef

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Last Nights on the Reef

Our group stumbles around in the dark in the cramped confines of Goliath, stowing our backpacks and shoes in the unlit cabin, debating whether we’re going to wear our rash guards. One by one, students fit on their fins and masks, acquire their torches, and drop into the water in pairs. A handful of students depart with a guide.

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Lost Valley

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Lost Valley

The corollary to urban/suburban life, at least for me, is that I find it hard to live sustainably in other ways. I must drive most places and there’s nowhere here for me to grow even a tiny fraction of what I might consume. I’m highly dependent on the grid—everything in my apartment is electric—and limited in how I might reduce my impact. The convenience of urban life is also the temptation of urban life—I am highly, highly dependent on Amazon delivery, far more than I have any reasonable need to be.

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What do you do?

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What do you do?

Ken Ward is the guy we imagine we all would be in the face of great ethical and physical crises.

He would have been the Quaker ushering fleeing slaves into his basement within hearing distance of the hounds that tracked them.

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Lost Connections: Part One

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Lost Connections: Part One

Enter: Lost Connections, By Johann Hari.

I connect to this book. It might have been more useful to me as a manual about a year ago, or even two years ago, but chances are good that I wouldn't have had the resources--mental, physical, spiritual, environmental--to put anything into practice. Funny how that works. Tragic.

Solid read. The author wrote this book as a personal project--he shares his own experiences with the escalator of psych meds he started as a late teen. I appreciate that kind of passion in an author. He traveled all over the world, talked to experts in a variety of fields, looked at the social psychology of depression, its prevalence (or lack thereof) in different cultures. He distills his findings (which he does not claim are comprehensive) into two main sections, which I will briefly cover. 

Photo taken by See.

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When Scientific Rationalism Isn't Enough

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When Scientific Rationalism Isn't Enough

I grew up without religion. My mild curiosity in second grade led to a trip to Easter and Passover services, respectively. My parents then allowed me to go with our neighbors--Jehovah's Witnesses--to one Sunday service. When I showed danger of being converted, I wasn't allowed to attend again. There was no Hebrew School, no Bat Mitzvah until I was an adult and on Birthright. We celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah, both in a secular way (that is to say, I got a lot of presents as a kid).

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Retrotopia

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Retrotopia

John Michael Greer's Retrotopia is a piece of narrative fiction that takes place in November, 2065, in the fictional Lakeland Republic, one of several new nations that came out of the dissolution of the United States in the aftermath of the Second Civil War, which takes place some decades before this book begins.

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Made by Hand

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Made by Hand

In my other blog I talk from time to time about the process of making something while engaging in all the contiguous steps needed for the entire enterprise. In the course of that linked post, I discuss all the inputs that go into the butchering and breakdown of a sheep, from rendering pieces of flesh into jerky to tanning the hide. In that process, we collect our own tanning materials and even flint knap the cutting tools we use in the butchering process.

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