Pensive thoughts

A pensive post today.. forgive me if it’s depressing, but I feel that the blog should accurately reflect what I’m going through on the road…

I must admit that one of the reasons I’ve viewed Lima in a negative light is that I’ve been in a funk the last couple of weeks. I think it’s a combination of things – leaving Kathy, concerned about money, questioning what I’m really doing here at all…

I’m having a classic ex-pat existentialist moment. I left my country for specific reasons and don’t want to return (other than to visit you family and friends!), yet I clearly don’t fit in here either. So where is my home? Where are my people? I trust that when I finally do land, I will find (or form) that group; but in the meantime I’m struggling.

Allowing negativity to get the best of me, I’m constantly annoyed by the smallest things – employees that follow me around stores like I’m about to shoplift; the fact that one can buy 20 kinds of potato chips yet not a single bag of corn chips. I know, it sounds ridiculous.. and is clearly a manifestation of larger issues.
I’ve become jaded to things that used to excite me, and the amount of things that continue to grab my interest is waning. I blindly follow the guidebook suggestions without really knowing why, and just end up seeing the hundredth church / ruin / mountain.

I’ve been holing up in my room aimlessly surfing the web instead of going out and interacting with people, which would probably be good for my spirits. But good god, how many times can I have the same introductory conversation? Where are you from, what do you do, where are you traveling, for how long, ad nauseum.

And then I get mad at myself for wasting time and money spinning my wheels like this and not pushing forward (physically – “you should be exercising every day! Yoga! Get moving South!” as well as mentally – “why aren’t you studying those Spanish books you’ve been toting around for the past year?!”). Clearly I need structure – a routine – and yet can’t seem to summon the discipline to provide it for myself. In the face of ultimate freedom, it turns out all I do is wander around aimlessly. I need direction and purpose.

continue reading the rest of this post (and view the photos)…

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Conspiracy Theories and the expats who love them

It seems that I bit off more than I could chew. I started writing this post about two months ago and it’s slowly grown out of control. I became fascinated, and just a little bit obsessed, by all of the conspiracy theories I’ve been hearing around town and the bigger view of what makes people believe them. Following links endlessly down the rabbit-hole, I’ve spent many a day and night researching each of the various tangents. It’s given me interesting insight into the human condition and social theory constructs. I hope you find it as fascinating as I did in compiling it. And please comment!

Many thanks to Wikipedia for the wealth of information, much of which I’ve paraphrased below. As this post is simply a rumination and not an academic paper, I haven’t bothered to exhaustively credit or footnote all of the sources.

Note that this discussion only represents theories (which locals take as fact) that I’ve heard discussed around here in Vilcabamba. There are many wonderfully more outlandish theories. Here is the full list, and here is a sampling from A to Z.

The seminal reference book General Psychopathology defines three main criteria for a belief to be considered delusional:

  • certainty (held with absolute conviction)
  • incorrigibility (not changeable by compelling counterargument or proof to the contrary)
  • impossibility or falsity of content (implausible, bizarre or patently untrue)

Many, if not most, of the expats living here in Vilcabamba exhibit the classic indicators of delusion.

New World Order


One theory holds that the Illuminati is behind the so-called “New World Order“. This is ironic, since the organization was originally set up by freethinkers, secularists, liberals, pro-feminists, etc who were bent on overthrowing the existing oppressive ruling class of the 18th Century. Of course, some believe that the Illuminati have been operational for thousands of years. Others believe that Skull and Bones and other modern secret societies are today’s continuation of the Bavarian Illuminati. By the way, the Wizard of Oz was an Illuminati mind control project funded by the CIA. Where does it stop?


Then there are the Freemasons. This conspiracy theorizes that the founding fathers of the United States interwove Masonic symbolism and sacred geometry into the Great Seal of the United States (on the one-dollar bill – the words “Novus Ordo Seclorum” means “New World Order”… well, actually, it doesn’t, but wouldn’t it be creepy if it did? It makes you think, doesn’t it?), the National Mall, and even the street layout of Washington, D.C. All as part of a great plan “to mystically bind their vision of a government in conformity with the Luciferian plan of the Great Architect of the Universe who has tasked the United States with the eventual establishment of an hermetic ‘Kingdom of God on Earth’ and the building of the Third Temple in New Jerusalem as its holiest site.”

Masonic Washington, DC“The Pentagram connected to ‘The White House’ is geographically up-side down. A classic, or rather the classic logo of Satanism! Also important to point out is the fact that ‘The Pentagon’ is angled at thirty-three degrees (as in the thirty-three degrees of Freemasonry) and that at this angle appears as an another upside-down pentagram!” Notice how the large pentagram on the left is completely arbitrary – any geometric symbol could have been laid on top of the street layout.

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Old vs. New Media

I figured out how to listen to my favorite podcasts again, even after having the iPhone stolen. My Palm Treo (which was my backup, now my primary phone) has a memory card slot. I go to a net cafe and download the MP3 files of the podcasts from the various websites, save them to an SD card, and insert it into the Treo. Then I had to find an adapter to allow normal headphones to plug into the phone. The whole process is clunky and slow, but I’m thrilled to be connected again.

If you’re interested as I am in the ongoing debate between old and new media, there are two recent podcasts I recommend. Both are from This Week in Tech, a freeform roundtable discussion featuring different guests each week.

TWiT #197 from about 5 minutes (skip the opening banter) to 25 or 30 minutes (things get geeky after that) features a discussion around how internet startups have upended the business model of old media behemoths that have failed to adapt. A couple of quotes to whet your appetite:

“The biggest lesson of Google in creating platforms is that when you lose control of something, when people surprise you and take it over, that’s when you’ve really won; as opposed to the old centralized, big media corporate way of looking at things in that they thought their value was in controlling something.”
“Craig Newmark, when he made Craigslist, didn’t know that it was going to destroy the business model of newspapers as we know them, or that people would use it after Katrina to find each other.”

TWiT #199 from about 17 minutes to 40 minutes features a discussion around the failure of the major news networks, and how they’re no longer the first place to go to for breaking news – instead, Twitter is. Myself, I first found out about the Honduran coup and Michael Jackson dying (which peaked at 15,000 tweets a minute) from Twitter. From the podcast:

“I was watching Twitter live, people saying ‘I am being tear-gassed right now!’ You even can see Moussavi’s tweeting, saying ‘they have got me under house arrest.’ I’m thinking, oh my god, this is huge. The election is being stolen in Iran. Quick, turn on CNN! What?! It’s a Larry King rerun with American Chopper. MSNBC, Fox, all the major networks were running reruns.”
“The Iranian authorities immediately turned off text messaging, they blocked Twitter on the internet, they did everything they could to keep people from getting out but people still had Twitter applications on their phones and tweets were still getting out. And if you were reading those tweets you were watching a revolution in the streets live in real time, and meanwhile CNN was showing you how to build a motorcycle.”
[Interesting aside: Twitter had scheduled an operational downtime during all of this, which the U.S. State Department asked them to postpone since Twitter had become critical to the revolutionaries.]
“The New York Times though did an excellent job – it’s ironic. The newspapers did a brilliant job on their websites, they even had video. So I think this might be a turning point – if you want to see breaking news, you go the web now. You do not turn on the news stations.”
“There’s another irony which is that when the networks did start to catch up, what did they do? They read the Twitter posts on the air!”

Speaking of CNN, I recently witnessed an interesting contrast between developing / 3rd-world presidential press conferences and the same in first-world nations. After Manuel Zelaya (the ousted President of Honduras) tried  to return to Tegucigalpa but was unable to land, he held a press conference in San Salvador which CNN Español broadcast live. Everything about it was ghetto. First, although the other Presidents of most of Latin America were in attendance, it was held in somebody’s rec room at old wooden tables with fluorescent lighting. Really? You couldn’t get everybody to a TV-quality studio? Next, the video was transmitted via Skype from a camera on the floor, degrading the quality even further and providing a strange angle to the speakers. When it finally began, I was expecting a few brief remarks from the president of El Salvador before introducing Zelaya. The “introductory” remarks rambled on for 40 minutes! Then Zelaya, looking every bit the cowboy in his 10-gallon hat, grandstanded for another hour. Although I couldn’t understand most of the specifics, it was clearly a rambling, emotional, off-the-cuff speech. I was impressed, however, that CNN Español broadcast the entire thing.

Contrast all of this with the press conference that President Obama and Russian President Medvedev gave yesterday. As one would expect, the entire enterprise was tightly scripted and controlled, everything from the flags in the background to the podiums carefully planned out.

This isn’t a judgment – there is certainly a case to be made for the more raw but real Latin American press conference – but it’s nonetheless interesting to observe.

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Traveling Updates

A short post today to update you on the bigger picture of my travels.

I’m taking the more-established western route down South America. While in Colombia I was tempted to hop over and see a bit of Venezuela, but travelers I met coming back from there told me it’s not that cheap and the people are not particularly friendly, especially towards Americans. Still, it would have been nice to see for myself. Continuing that eastern route south would have led to the Guyanas, Suriname, and Brazil, none of which are cheap, and all of which require yet another language. I saw a bit of Brazil when I was on tour there in 2005 and absolutely loved it, but I’m saving the rest of the country for another trip. It’s daunting how massively huge it is.

So this western route allows me to go through Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, all of which are rich in culture and comparatively quite inexpensive. I’m trying to stretch my time in these northern countries so that by the time I get down to Chile and Argentina the winter will hopefully be over, and spring will have sprung. Southern South America is best not seen in winter, as you can imagine. But I will have to make a choice then – Chile is the most expensive country in South America, and depending on how much money I have left at that point, I may only be able to see a bit of it and/or a bit of Argentina before needing to high-tail it to Buenos Aires in order to find a job. You may recall that B.A. is my current end goal.

By the way, I’m working on a Google Map that will show exactly the route I’ve taken so far through all the countries, but it’s taking a while.
Someone asked me why I didn’t just buy a car and do the trip that way. While it would be fantastic to have that freedom and mobility, it would also serve to remove me from the culture I came to see. Plus, I would be too paranoid about theft and corrupt police. Much better with just a backpack and my feet. A motorcycle, on the other hand, would be an interesting way to go. I actually considered doing this entire trip by bicycle, but decided to save that for another time.

You may also recall that I was going to try to meet my friends Jessica and James in Peru, right.. about… now. As much as I’m bummed not to see them, I decided it was too rushed – there is so much more I want to see in Ecuador. Being seasoned long-term travelers themselves, they understand. Speaking of, it’s freezing up here in the mountains – I’m heading to the beach! Originally I was going to skip the coast of Ecuador (since I’m more of a forests than beach kinda guy), but decided that was stupid.

Although everyone says not to skip the Galapagos Islands, I’ve decided to skip them. The $1,500 I would spend for one week there would last me five or six weeks on the mainland. And as much as I love nature, I actually prefer cultural things. I’m sure the islands are amazing, but it’s just a lot of money.

Did you receive a postcard from me recently? About six weeks ago I sent out around 20 of them, but nobody’s mentioned receiving one. What a bummer if all that time and money was wasted. I no longer have anyone’s address since the iPhone was stolen, so send me your address if you would like a postcard from down here.

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