Nov
26
2009
18

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.

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Written by in: Ruminations | Tags:
Oct
15
2009
16

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

Illuminati

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?

Masons

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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May
27
2009
2

Cool Websites

Short post today. Just wanted to share with you a few websites I’ve become enamored with:

  1. Wikitravel.org

    It used to be when I wanted to find out about traveling to a country I would consult the Lonely Planet listings. They give a nice summary of a place, the basics for what travelers need to know. But in recent years Wikitravel has far surpassed them. And while Wikipedia is good for facts about a country (geography, history, government, economy, demographics.. similar to what the CIA World Factbook lists), Wikitravel lists things you as a traveler need to know – transportation, where to eat, drink, sleep, staying safe, what to see and do. Plus since it’s a wiki, it’s improving by leaps and bounds daily. I do my part to improve it by adding listings for hotels I like, correcting mistakes I’ve found, etc. As an example, compare the listings for Medellín in Lonely Planet, Wikipedia, and Wikitravel. You’ll see what I mean.
    It’s nice when the world coalesces around one site for a given topic. You want to know about a film you go to IMDb, want to know about a band you go to AllMusic. It’s the same now with Wikitravel.

  2. Google News Alerts

    I realize this may not be new to a lot of you, but I recently started using it and love it. You just tell Google what keywords you want news about and it will collate news articles, web mentions, blog postings, etc into a daily or weekly summary and email it to you. It’s a great way to keep tabs on disparate subjects without having to go searching for the news. I’m currently tracking news on Colombia, Merce Cunningham, and Ecuador.

  3. Google Maps / Google Earth

    You’re no doubt familiar with these tools for checking out your neighborhood, office, driving directions to Aunt Patty’s house, etc. But did you know that their coverage globally is quite good, and the community of people geotagging photos and videos from all over the world is a boon for everyone. Say you’ve read all about a given destination, but still don’t have a feel for it – what it would be like to walk down the street there. Then try these tools. People upload an amazing range of benign photos and videos – their local supermarket, the kids playing in the street, etc – but the upshot is that it gives you a real sense of the place.

  4. Couchsurfing.org

    Although I’d read about this site before leaving for my trip and was told about it again by a traveler in Guatemala, I only finally checked it out a week ago.. and discovered the answer to my prayers! As a tourist, it’s difficult to truly get to know a place without the benefit of local knowledge. But I’ve always been vexed by the problem of how to meet local people. Sometimes I’m lucky and they just come up and befriend me, like in Honduras and Barranquilla. In Santa Marta I even successfully broke the ice with a group of locals at a club, but I had a wingman egging me on that night. Usually it’s just too daunting. No more – Couchsurfing to the rescue! As the name implies, it is a social networking site designed to put travelers in touch with locals to crash with. But it’s far more than that. Many people on the site (myself included) are fine staying in hotels, but simply want to meet people for coffee or drinks to get the lowdown on the local scene, or just have a bit of human interaction. One reason it took me so long to sign up is I thought there wouldn’t be that many people on it in these non first-world countries.. boy, was I wrong. In Bogotá alone there are over 2,000 people on the site! Even in the smaller remote towns of Colombia there are dozens of people signed up. Woo-hoo! Wikipedia has a good summary of the site here. If you’re already a member of the site (it’s free if you’re not), please “friend” me, so I can get my profile up.

Extra geeky info, for iPhone owners only:
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Written by in: Ruminations | Tags:
Jan
23
2009
3

Ups and downs

Traveling certainly has it’s ups and downs. Lately I’ve been down. I don’t know if it’s the heat, lack of exercise (due to the heat), not eating well or what, but I’ve been in a funk. Listless, lonely, bored.

I’ve always had full confidence in my self and my own abilities, but pay far too much attention to other people’s moods and how they relate to me. I’m getting pretty tired of the typical reaction from locals. For example, I walk into a restaurant and say “Good morning!” This is met by silence, accompanied by a glare. I ask for a menu. With great effort, as if I’ve interrupted some fantastic movie they were watching, they dain to bring me said menu. This goes on. No “thank you’s” or even smiles like we do in the States after a purchase is made. No “you’re welcome’s” after I say thank you, like politeness calls for. The guidebooks make a big deal of the importance of manners in these countries, but I see scant evidence of it. I have the most manners these towns have seen in years.

Intellectually, I know I shouldn’t take it personally, for I surmise I’m completely projecting all that hostility, and it probably has very little to do with me. That’s just the way they are. It’s like when the dancers used to glare at me and I would take it personally until it was explained to me that they weren’t glaring at me, they were upset because they had just been given a correction or some such thing completely unrelated to me. In fact, it’s incredibly egotistical to take it to heart. But that’s easier said than done.

Marissa came up with a great line that I’ve been musing over: what if the glass, rather than being half full or half empty, is exactly the right amount? I interpret this to mean that life is what it is, independent of how we interpret it. “Life is empty and meaningless”, therefore it’s up to us to impart meaning into events that are by nature completely neutral. There is no “bad” traffic, traffic simply is. We can interpret traffic to be an aggravating mess, or as a useful hour to catch up on listening to our favorite podcasts. This is what I am struggling with at the moment. It has to be done in the moment, to catch my thoughts before they turn negative. This morning at the grocery I was ranting to myself why I have to stand in two lines, one to weigh the fruit, then one to pay – why can’t they do it all in one line, like in the States? But negative thoughts like this are useless – I need to embrace the differences, and find positivity in them. After all, that’s the point of traveling.

So just when I’m feeling morose about the locals, a few key experiences happen that reinforce my faith in humanity.
First, to tell you where I am geographically. I spent a couple of nights in Santiago, an uneventful small city on the Pan-American Highway. From there, I day-tripped up to Santa Fé, a wholly uneventful town that I toured in about 10 minutes, only to spend another 2 hours back on the bus.
Panama is much longer than any other Central American country – I’m still closer to the capital of Costa Rica than I am to the capital of Panama, and both capitals are roughly in the middle of their respective countries.
After Santiago I based myself in Chitré, the largest town on the Azuero Peninsula that sticks out south into the Pacific. Chitré has a pretty church, and in a tree between the church and the market I heard these crazy birds:

The peninsula is very hot, dry, and flat. One day I took buses to several small towns along the peninsula that are supposed to be pretty. [By the way, I wish guidebooks would be more opinionated – instead of just the facts (“preserved colonial town with nice church”), couldn’t they just say, “if you’ve seen colonial towns in Guatemala or Nicaragua, skip these, they can’t compare”. Particularly the Central American guidebooks, whose customers are probably indeed trying to decide which are the most important places to see! But I digress..]

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