Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tools of the Trade


Since we sold The Local, I have been using a little Acer laptop that is extremely portable… and that’s about it. I bought it because my Sony was overburdened with programs and spyware protection that clashed with virus protection. It was also bulky. I was going to go on a motorcycle trip, and I wanted something really portable. Unfortunately, from the first week I bought it, when I closed it, it would stay on and overheat, and I would have to hard quit. I remember how freaked out I was when I got on an airplane and found an hour into the trip when I reached my hand into my bag, that the computer was hot enough to fry an egg (and I was afraid a motherboard, as well). When I took it back to Fry’s, they told me it was a software problem and that they wouldn’t cove it under the warrantee. It was frustrating, but because I didn’t publish a newspaper anymore, I let it slide and just took photos figuring that someday I would have another computer that was powerful enough to run Photoshop and had a screen big enough to actually see them.

The day has finally come! I’m now the proud owner of a MacBook Pro! It is a dream come true. I can run video and photo programs without the computer crashing on a regular basis, and virus protection is a thing of the past. My skills have fallen by the wayside, unfortunately, but Mac is set up to do things for me. I must say I don’t completely trust it, and it seems cheesy, much the way that buying a pre-made Halloween costume is, but it’s so intuitive that I just go with it. I just did my first project with iMovie and garage band, and it is reopening the doors of creativity that slowly shut over the past three years.

Open the video and give it a look and a listen, if you wish. If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will recognize some of the photos, but many have just been sitting idle in a portable hard drive, and they are overjoyed to again see the light of day. The soundtrack is me playing one of the many songs that come to me when I wander, step by step into the unknown.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

State of Emergency


Today started not much different than any other. Meditation, check email on my phone, put espresso on the stove, take a few mice that were trapped last night outside, and then turn on the radio to see what’s happening. After six days, Taos is still in a STATE OF EMERGENCY!!!

For those of you who don’t know, six days ago a Texas power outage caused 32,000 New Mexican homes and businesses to lose natural gas service. About half of those without service live in Taos and the surrounding areas where, on the day of the outage, the temperatures dropped to -42 degrees with wind-chill. Taos residents were warned only thirty minutes before the outage that would affect residents’ abilities to heat their houses and use their gas stoves. By the time I found out there was an issue, the whole town was sold out of space heaters and they were talking about a power outage that could happen during the peak use hours starting at 5pm. The powers that be informed the radio that it was only a rumor, but it didn’t stop the power from going out that evening.

I’m not one to spread conspiracy theories, but little by little pieces of information have been chipped from the adobe lined fabric of our community, and now there is a pile of mud in the center of the floor that is hard to dispute. Rather than share this here, I urge you to go to http://www.ktao.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=245&Itemid=220 where you can listen to a never ending stream of callers giving first person accounts of what is happening, and go to The Taos News at http://www.taosnews.com/ for breaking news.

What I will share are some of the crazy things that I have heard and seen during the past six days. First, Taos was CHOSEN by the power company to be one of the few communities to be without service, and six days later 30% still haven’t been turned back on. Local professionals who are certified to turn the gas back on were not deployed for relighting efforts because they are not union members. Residents were told not to turn their gas on themselves. The next day they were told that if they felt comfortable, they or someone they trusted could attempt to turn the gas back on. The national guard and various other entities deployed to turn peoples gas back on are driving around confused because they don’t know whose gas is turned on and whose isn’t. Two days ago people were told to leave them alone to do their work, and now they are told to flag them down because they have no idea who still needs to be shut back on. Citizens have rallied to help each other offering wood, food, places to stay and moral support. Other citizens are yelling at the people who show up to turn their gas back on and one even threatening to get his gun because they had to wait so long. One worker got bit by a dog. 16 fires have been reported since this began. The power is scheduled to go out again this evening, but only for an hour or so. Snow continues to fall.

I have not been affected directly by this state of emergency. I live in a house where a small wood stove provides heat at night or on cloudy days, and south facing windows keep it warm during the day and well into the evening. My water comes from snow and rain from the roof and a small propane canister is more than ample for cooking. I still feel for those in the community who aren’t as fortunate as I, and I have helped out where I could. On one level I think that informed finger pointing is important. I believe that however this ends up, light will be shined on the system that we trust to support us. I fear that this is going to leave us with a sense of insecurity that could, if left unaddressed, lead to more states of emergency in the future.

When disasters like this occur, I see how much is possible when a community gets together to help themselves. Ultimately, the only control we have is how we treat each other and how we live our lives. In this situation we can see that the grid and infrastructure is fragile. What would happen if we didn’t have electricity or gas for an extended period? What if phone service wasn’t available? What if the grocery stores closed down? Scary thoughts? If so, what can we do to make them only a slight inconvenience? I’m not suggesting we all go solar or bulldoze our houses and build earthships, at least not yet. What we can do is meet our neighbors and know who is who in our area. During the time I spent listening to community members talk on the radio there were leaders who stepped up selflessly to help their neighbors. It was also apparent how powerful a calm voice can be keeping a potentially volatile situation from exploding. Thanks KTAO DJ Paddy Mac and other speakers on the radio.

I didn’t move to Taos for stability, I moved to Taos because I believe that instability has tremendous potential. We have sunshine, we have wind, we have soil to grow our food, we have resources in which to build houses and we have able bodied, intelligent neighbors who can help turn these things into a sustainable community that can have plenty of abundance to share with other communities in need. Maybe they CHOSE Taos because they believed that we were a community who was capable of going without. Wouldn’t it be great if in the future we were the first to volunteer?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Last Leg of the Journey




I'm safely back in Taos, New Mexico getting re-enchanted. Here are a few photos from the last few days of my nearly six month journey.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Why not write?




The constantly expanding space between my last blog entry and whatever day today happens to be makes it progressively harder for me to put anything up on this blog. I do, however find writing extremely rewarding and I want to get my grammatical groove back. I’m not a fan of excuses, but in the eight or so months since my last entry I have compiled more than my share of them. I’m afraid that if I’m ever gong to write anything of substance on this blog again, I’m going to have to fess up about why I haven’t written for so long.



I have done so many cool things that If I wrote about them I wouldn’t have any time to do cool things.


The weather has been way too nice.


The weather has been too nasty.


The people would have written about really didn’t want me writing about them.


Other people I would have written about get way too much attention already and whatever I would have written about them would have been redundant, superfluous and way overdone… I mean totally.


I wasn’t proud of what I was doing.


I was so proud of what I was doing writing about it would have made me feel like I was bragging.


My computer is too slow.


I drank too much coffee.


I got sidetracked on Facebook.


I was way too happy to write.


Laziness.


All of my ideas that came up on the hiking trail went away by the time I got to a computer.


The chair wasn’t comfortable enough.


The chair was too comfortable and I fell asleep.


I got sidetracked on Facebook again.


I was out of caffeine, my writing drug of choice.


Pneumonia.


I had a date.


The phone rang and I lost my train of thought.


It was much easier to just have a beer.


I ran out of beer.


The woman next to me was wearing way too much perfume and I lost my train of thought.


The woman next to me was way too pretty and I lost my train of thought.


I had to get up and dance.


I had a friend visiting from out of town.


I was out of town visiting a friend.


I got sidetracked by Facebook again.


The news I wanted to break was already broken.


I had to clean the house.


I was milling timber.


I was making pizza at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.


I was making fajitas at the Taos Solar Festival.


Selling ads for the Taos News left me feeling uncreative.


I forgot my camera, and who wants to read a blog post without a photo.


I had to move.


My table was ready.


I had to do yoga.


My favorite song came on.


I’m a total slacker.


Ok. I feel lighter now. I feel like if I put this up for the world to see, somehow it will be easier for me to follow it. Uh oh, I have a feeling I’m about to lose my train of thought…

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I wouldn’t wish you a Miramar Christmas










I spent a week in the little Caribbean village of Puerto Lindo talking to boat captains about working in return for free passage to Columbia. Going rate right now is almost $400, and though I could pay that, it hardly seems worth it. I learned a lot that week about owning a sail boat. Mainly, that they are bottomless labor and money pits. This put grease spots on the romantic vision I had about using the wind’s power to propel myself around the world for free. Besides that, having a boat anchored in the harbor makes you a target for theft. One middle aged couple had been boarded by thieves the previous night and had to chase them off with a machete. Just about the time I was ready to throw in the towel and head north, I got an offer to work on getting a wooden sailboat in working order in trade for passage to Columbia. We would be anchored in Puerto Lindo working until January 6, but first we had to go to Miramar to pick up the boat.




The captain (Captain J), the guy who was buying the boat (Guido) and I pulled up to the dock and were greeted with a cold indifference. Apparently the French guy who sold the boat was not liked by anyone in the town, because they didn’t want to let us use their power outlets or even the bathrooms, and these are Gringos I‘m talking about. We finally got them to let us use power for the welder with a promise that the quicker we got power the quicker we would be out of there. When the welding was finished Guido packed up the welder and said he’d be back in a day or two to pick us up. Captain J and I were left with a rundown boat and a marina where we weren’t welcome. When we walked into the town things got worse. We were looking for a meal, and whenever we would approach people happily chatting at various tables would stop chatting, frown and tell us that they had no food. This happened a few times and finally when we did find a place willing to take our money we were served haplessly. This was gong to be a long two days.




At the end of the second day Captain J hung up the phone with Guido, and happily informed me that we would be picked up tomorrow at 10am. “I bet you a dollar we won’t,” I replied, hating to deflate his happiness, but hoping to at least cash in a little on our misery. Today was Christmas Eve and tomorrow, Christmas. We hadn’t heard a single Christmas song . My spirits were pretty low, dampened by sweat , mold, and the oily rat dung and cockroach infested water I had been pumping and sponging up from the bilge all day. It hurt to look at my watch, because every time I did, less and less time would pass.




Our best friends in Miramar were the two narcotics police who seemed to be about as happy to be there as we were. They would start drinking at breakfast and by afternoon be happy to shoot a game of pool with us at the local open air bar. The strange thing about that town was that people had nice cars, satellite dishes on their roofs and gold capped teeth, but no one seemed to work. Captain J said this was the sign of a mafia town. We asked the owners of the dock about this and they agreed. They told us a story about this area and about a group of tourists who found a “package” that had washed up in the mangroves. Of the three of them, one went missing, one was hit by a car and the other was found with a Columbian necktie. If you’re wondering, like I was, what a Columbian necktie is, it’s when they cut your throat and pull your tongue out and down your chest. “That must take a lot of practice to do right,” Captain J mused after the description. I agreed.




On Christmas morning we didn’t even bother trying to find a place to eat. The previous day’s breakfast was humiliating. After ordering we watched about ten people show up, get served whole fish , and leave. We were the last to get served and all we got was some little fish tails and fried plantains with a single drop of tomato sauce. Instead we decided to go for a walk to the neighboring town.




The walk between the towns was beautiful. Sea to one side of the road and rolling hills with palm trees on the other. As we got closer to the next town we could see that people were gathered in the street. The closer we got the wilder the scene. The people were all drunk. It felt, as Captain J observed, like Dusk ‘til Dawn. We wanted to turn around, but at the same time we didn’t want to show fear. Fortunately, a guy ran up to us from a house at the edge of town and invited us in. It was our security guard from the dock who hadn’t shown up the night before. He was a kid in his upper teens or lower twenties, and when he got closer we saw that his normal smile was obscured by cuts and bruises. We couldn’t understand what he said had happened, but it was clear that they beat him up pretty bad. “Peligroso (danger).” was the one thing we did understand. We were thankful that it appeared that we had a reason for being there, and that we could go back the other way without losing face.




I cooked some spaghetti that I found in my pack that night. I was grateful that I had splurged for some parmesan the last time I went to the store. The generic brand parmesan cheese was the highlight of my Christmas.




Guido ended up showing up the next day with a big truck. He and Captain J took the boat back to Puerto Lindo, and I went with the truck driver. The driver stopped twice for beers during the two hour drive. When we got there I waited for the boat and then informed them that I really didn’t need a ride to Columbia anymore. During the four days over Christmas the boat began to feel more like a coffin than a seagoing vessel, and though Puerto Lindo was much nicer than Miramar, I was overtaken by the need to be free.




The experience in Miramar is disappearing from my memory much the same way you forget a zit as soon as it goes away even though while you had it, it was the only thing you saw when you looked in the mirror. I’m back in Panama City with all of the creature comforts I could ever want. It’s breakfast time. I think I’ll have eggs today.

Danger?




I stayed in Luna’s Castle during my week in Panama City. Luna’s sits right at the edge of the nice part of Casco Viejo, right across from the Presidential Palace and the ruins of a hotel and swimming pool where Manuel Noriega used to hang out. I spent most of my nights there sitting on the balcony overlooking the skyscrapers of the city and talking to various travelers as they pass through. I heard some amazing stories about various parts of the world and people’s experiences. The other night I sat talking to a German guy who was studying in Venezuela. I have heard mixed things about Venezuela and how accommodating they would be to someone from the United States. The German guy told me of armed robberies on the campus of the school where he was studying and of a guy who held a whole hostel at gun point for hours until everyone coughed up every credit card, iPod and every bit cash. He told me that a few weeks ago he was on the back of one of the motorcycle cabs that you can take when you want to arrive somewhere faster when the driver turned around, apologized and pulled out a gun. He pulled up to a car where a woman was using a Blackberry, put the gun in her window and took the phone. I won’t be going to Venezuela anytime soon. He did say that gasoline was cheaper than water. He said that people used gas to wash their cars. You can fill up your car for under a buck, but sometimes water only comes out of your tap a few hours a day.


Another day I was sitting and talking to someone wondering if all of the firecrackers I had heard the past few weeks were indeed firecrackers, and how many were actual gun shots? About ten minutes later I left to go for a walk. Joe, a chupakabra hunter who is parked in front of Luna’s Castle looked like he had just seen a ghost. “Me and Tarzan were just chillin’ in the Camper when a bullet came through the roof and grazed my arm.” Joe was still in a bit of shock. He showed me the bullet hole in the roof of the camper and the burnt scratch on his arm where the bullet brushed him… six inches from his heart.


Joe and Ben are making their way from Texas to the bottom of South America dong a documentary on the fabled Chupacabra (literally, blood sucking goat). They are planning on walking across the infamous Darian Gap between Panama and Columbia, something that is said to be dangerous to the point of suicide. When I asked Joe about how he felt about the near miss he replied, “That ain’t nothing. We’re walking the Darian.” I made sure to get a photo of the Chupakabra camper before leaving Panama City. Check out their website: Benandjoe.com.


During my last world travels back in ‘97 I probably would have taken my chances and walked the Darian, but I was much crazier back then. I have a feeling Ben and Joe will do just fine.


 


 


 


 


 


 


 

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Diablo Rojos















My favorite things about Panama City are the busses known as Diablo Rojos, or “Red Devils.” Each of the busses belongs to a different person, and there seems to be a competition to see who can be the most conspicuous. As they approach, the first thing you notice is the front windshield, which has mirrored strips on the top and bottom with its destination and a name, and a narrow strip of clear glass in the middle for the driver to actually see the road, not that it really matters, because he is usually texting or dialing on his cell phone while changing the CD and honking a pretty girl outside. Next you notice the hood ornaments. It‘s not just one “Cadilac“ or “Mercedes,” symbol but up to twenty different figurines spread out like a battle of plastic army men.. Or Oscar trophies. On the hood there is a mural or maybe a face with worms crawling out of the eyes and mouth. On the roof of the bus there are sometimes shark fins and colored glass bubbles, I imagine, to help the bus out if the driver runs into the water because he wasn’t paying attention to the road. You don’t want anyone messing with your bus if you are on land, and you especially don’t want anyone messing with you if you are at sea! The sides of the bus are a collection of murals and random icons including: Crusaders with swords, Bart Simpson, Jesus Christ, the genie from Aladdin, Spiderman, Lisa Simpson, Mickey Mouse, Papa Smurf, Bob Marley, pot plants, Norse warriors and Betty Boop. Oh, and sometimes ninjas… and Muppets and the Statue of Liberty. The rear of the bus usually has two giant Harley Davidson sounding exhaust pipes that run up the left and right sides of the bus. These compete with their bumping stereo systems for attention. They are the ultimate hot rods! Between these giant “mufflers” there are typically two main pictures: On the little area where “school bus” used to be written, there is a mountain scene straight from an oil painted picture found in a 1970’s ski condo or the cover of a Field and Stream magazine. Below the rear window is typically a portrait of someone famous like Rambo, Will Smith, Shaggy, Jesus, Snoop Doggy Dog or members of the driver’s family. There’s also a bible verse or saying like, “There is no one greater than God,“ or “First God and then chicks.” The latter is usually personified by a small painting of a large breasted woman with a tiny bikini right below a much larger hapless Christ wearing a crown of thorns. And usually, Garfield or a Bart Simpson is snuck into the mix.





If you are lucky enough to actually ride one of the Diablos, you’re first greeted… or ignored by the aforementioned driver. He’s usually wearing dark glasses and lots of bling. This look is completed by dollar bills folded and sticking out from between his knuckels as if to tuck into a stripper’s g-string . Above the driver’s head are usually a row of fuzzy dice or a feather boa. If he’s lucky steering wheel will be wrapped in gold and leather and so will the pole that people grab onto when they get on the bus. On the walls, you guessed it, another bible verse or saying, an another Bob Marley smoking a joint or Che Guevara with a pot leaf painting. If you’re really lucky you have a strobe light that blinks to the beat of the bumping stereo.





The demise of the Diablo Rojos is close at hand. Apparently the profit margin is getting too small for them to spend money decorating the busses, and the new president doesn’t think they are good for Panama’s image. He wants to take them off the road by the end of 2010. This breaks my heart.