Los Llanos touring and Manizales teaching

I arrived in Colombia 2.5 weeks before I needed to be in Bogota for teacher-training.  They gave us 9 days of training for how to teach English in Colombia in a public school, so I know that I’ll be fully prepared for my Manizales teaching LOL!

There were two routes I considered for my two-week time, since I didn’t want to waste all the time in Bogota.  Both of them were going South and both of them were to places I hadn’t visited before… either west to Cali and cities nearby or going east to the Los Llanos region.  Because I had friends in the eastern direction (in Raquira), I decided to go east this time, first staying with my friend Linda in Bogota a couple days and then going to visit my friend and his family in Raquira where they do a lot of clay artisanal goods.  After partying ‘til way too late (5am!!!) in Raquira, I got sick LOL and stayed a couple days in Villa de Leyva, which is one of my favorite cities in all of Colombia because it’s quaint and with really great restaurants.  I then went to Playa Blanca, a nice beach/lake near Sogamoso, and enjoyed loud music and talking through the whole night for two nights (partying Bogotoans) and finally entered the “actual” Los Llanos region through their capital, Yopal.  Apparently there’s not a lot to do in Yopal – they don’t even have a tourism information office!  LOL.

The landscape here, especially in Sogamoso and in the Los Llanos region, is quite different from what I’ve experienced so far, both in Colombia and in South America generally.  Its a mix of savannah (grasslands) and rainforest-like plants.  I dont think Ive seen grasslands intersparsed with such lush plants and trees, only one or the other but not both together.  Beautiful!

 

Friends and Acquaintances -> Connections

I’ll be honest.  The best part of this 2.5 weeks is making friends!!  And it’s easy for me to make friends, yay!  Remember Linda who I stayed with while in Bogota a couple days?  I met her at a practice-English-event that my friend’s language school put on, and afterwards we just stayed in touch for 8 months!!  Turns out she’s amazing at dancing, though not the only one who was good!

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Then I stayed with my friend Andres and his family in Raquira, again meeting when I went there 8 months ago and then just stayed in touch throughout the months!  He was busy, unfortunately, but when you’re friends with someone in Colombia, you are also good friends with their family – and he and his 2 brothers went on a hike with me to a sacred lake in Villa de Leyva!  Beautiful!

I arrived in Monterrey, one of my new favorite cities in Colombia (which is a tiny village in the Los Llanos region I just talked about) and after talking with a girl in a papeleria (where they sell paper and crafts supplies), I got to know her, her fiancée and his family, then her sister and her sister’s family, and then numerous friends of theirs!  I now have around 10 friends in that city, which is crazy for arriving without knowing anyone at all when I arrived!   They even took me to waterfalls and rivers and gave me a free hip hop dance class!!

 

davdavdavI even made friends when looking for apartments here!  I find it very easy, just be open to people and take the time for small talk.  I know it’s kind of weird, because in America, there’s a lot of resistance to wasting your time and small-talk and going through the motions for “politeness”, but in Colombia, that’s super important.  You have to greet everyone when you enter a room, you have to ask them how they’re doing (and you have to say “todo bien” or “bien bien” or something like that lol), and then greet everyone when you leave.  Rules of politeness seem a bit more … time-consuming, but relationships are super important here in Colombia, and if you have to be late to your next thing, then you’re late and don’t worry about it.  I know that I’ve gotten much better at being chill and relaxed, asking how are you, what’s going on, taking time and patience to listen and enjoy listening to them talk.  🙂

 

Routine:

You know what I most look forward to in Manizales?  A routine!  Every decision you make takes some amount of mental energy – and for me, because I like to entertain as many possibilities as possible, this is especially draining.  I need to find some way to outsource some of my decisions (either letting someone else make decisions for me…but I’m too self-determinative for this to be really feasible) or outsourcing it to a routine that I develop (like when to wake up, what to eat, what to wear for clothes, what transportation to take, etc.)

When I’m traveling and have to make every decision for my entire day, all the time, I find that I don’t have much energy for doing the things that are more important to me, like stretching, meditation, and reviewing Spanish.  Which is too bad because those are more important to me, but they get shafted by “necessary but not important” decisions.

“Good is the enemy of great”, as they say!!  Anyway, I look forward to Manizales where I can outsource much of that energy into a singular routine or routines (such as a daily or weekly routine), then I believe I’ll be able to free up so much mental energy and when I’m making a routine, I can organize my day to accomplish the things that I consider to be important.  It’s going to feel so great when that happens!!  LOL.

 

Teaching and Life-Creation!

I mean, yeah, I’m obviously also really excited about teaching!  Teaching the kiddos, grades 9-11, at a public school.  It’s going to be a blast.

4 things I like in particular about this program:

  1. I get teaching English experience!
  2. I get teaching high school experience!
  3. I don’t take anyone’s job away (I’m “added” to the already-existing teachers)
  4. I earn money. I’m ready to receive money and be able to decide MYSELF how to spend it!  Instead of “working” for room and board which takes away the freedom to decide what I’m going to eat, where I’m going to sleep, etc.
  5. The teachers seem to like me. My mentor, the head teacher who helps me with problems, finds my sarcasm very funny.

But while I’m on the topic of good things, let’s go over the bad things.

  1. My schedule is Mon-Fri from 6:10am to 12:20pm.
  2. I have to ride a bus in to work, meaning I have to leave at 5:30 to get there at 5:50 and have time to kind of prepare for the classes, get the room ready, etc.
  3. If I want to eat breakfast, meditate, do a quick work-out, and stretch in the mornings, I will need to wake up at 4:45 at the latest. That is going to be insane.

I think that I’m going to do really great at teaching, but I’m committing to myself to learn all of their names, to play games with them, and to get along really well with the principle, the vice-principle (they call it the administrative coordinator) and my co-teachers.  Thankfully, the teachers will already have experience with other gringos (foreigners), so they should be used to being open-minded (trying new things, new games, etc.), and incorporating the native speaker into their teaching, etc. But I suppose one never knows.  I’m just excited to get there, get started, and get a life started!

It’s been a while since I’ve been so excited about starting a new life!

BTW, we went through and talked about both personal and professional goals.  I decided that my professional goal would be to see 10 students (out of … 350?) see marked improvement in English and also…for me to have much greater comfortability in making fun of myself.  As for my personal goals, I want to work on my accent and become a C1 speaker (almost fluent…as I understand it, A1 is absolute nothing, A2 is barely anything, B1 is sentences, B2 is conversational, C1 is pretty close to mimicking the accent, and C2 is native-sounding, full-fluency).  I think I’m B2 now, so I need to work on it a bit more to really push me over the edge.  I’ll be taking classes or tutoring or whatever I need to do to get this done.  Then, I also want to be learning a skill, ideally a martial art in a gym and an intellectual art like mathematics or computer programming (Javascript).  I’m thinking Jiu-Jitsu, Tai Chi Push hands, or Muay Thai but obviously it depends on what options are available here!  Oh, and I want to get pretty good at Latin dancing (salsa obviously comes to mind but they have others here).  Not to be like top 1%, but I would like to consider myself in the top 5% of the population at salsa dancing.

OK well I’ll have a lot more to talk about soon, but for now, I’m off to the races.  Gotta buy some dress clothes because I have 2 dress shirts and only jeans.  I’ll be wearing tennis shoes during the day, so I want to at least have khakis to make it look like I take myself A LITTLE serious.  🙂  Not too serious though.  🙂  My speaker for the class (dances, songs, etc.) is in the shape and appearance of a mini-soccer ball.  Hahahaha.

Some experiences to remember

As you may remember from my previous post, I had a really amazing time at the brewery.  The people I was with, as often is the case with me, made it memorable and special.  But not just the people!

One of my favorite experiences of being in Cerro Castillo was being accompanied by a beautiful black dog named Jimmie, whose owner I met while staying at the hostel.  Jimmie is a big dog, and dogs in Patagonia are very aggressive, or at least recognize the importance of appearing aggressive.  I remember during many of my walks with Jimmie that he and one of his favorite dog companions, who was safely locked away behind a fence, would run to face each other, growl and bark and bare their fangs and run from one side to the other.  They barked and were being aggressive the whole time, even running their teeth and body into the fence separating them trying to “get” at the other.  And then after they do this 3-4 times, running back and forth along the fence, Jimmie would come back to me as if nothing happened.  Actually, he’d come back with his tail high in the air, and I interpreted that as him feeling proud.  Over time, I realized this was his way of saying hello to his good friend behind the fence – in a no-risk-but-watch-out-for-me kind of way.

One time, I laughed because the fence wasn’t closed all the way and the car gate section was open.  Jimmie, not realizing the end was open, ran to the end where he normally does, realized that the fence was open and that they were both on the inside part of the fence, and they both stood there not knowing what to do.  After a brief second, Jimmie ran back to the other side where there was a fence barring them from each other and they started barking aggressively again and trying to bite each other through the fence.  See!  I knew they were good friends!  They didn’t want to actually hurt each other.

Isn’t this illustration so much of how dogs interact?  They need to appear brave and aggressive, even if they’re not, and this happens all the time for dogs in the Patagonia region.  One sees this in smaller dogs especially, but if/when a dog actually calls them out on their aggression, they run away to hide and, then when they feel safe, start barking aggressively again!

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My town!  Cerro Castillo!

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Gotta love hikes while it’s snowing outside

At the brewery, we had two dogs that we cared for.  One was named Bordo because he came with tourists who left him behind, and the tea package that nobody likes is named Bordo, so he got the name.  (Sad, right???  Well, it wasn’t my call.)  Bordo is a completely lovable, non-aggressive dog.  He almost never barks, despite every other dog barking like mad all the time, and just wants loving touches.  He’s a complete sweetheart, and a bigger dog, so maybe his size gives him some level of confidence.  The second dog we have is named Woofie (LOL, right?) and he was much more aggressive.  He would bark and bark and bare his teeth and this turned out to be a bad idea one day.

I had come from a hike in the mountains and my favorite dog, Jimmie, had accompanied me.  He came with me to the house, and I told him to go home, but he wouldn’t listen.  Probably the language barrier.  😉  Anyway, at the house, Bordo is cool and Woofie is like “who’s the new guy?” and just barks at the poor fellow.  All night, Jimmie handles it in stride since he’s bigger and not afraid.  The next day in the morning, I go out to see how they’re doing and they’re still being aggressive.  Whatever, I think, and I head back inside.  Well that afternoon, I decide to go on a hike and Jimmie is still in the yard waiting on me.  We all go out together, but this time, Woofie has been barking and baring his teeth all night, all morning, and all afternoon, and I’m a little sick of it – I’m sure Jimmie is too.  I barely walk out of the yard when Jimmie decides he’s had enough of this aggression.  He barks back at Woofie and they start fighting OMG WHAT DO I DO?  I tried kicking but they just move out of the way.  They’re biting each other, attacking, and Woofie starts yelping because he is getting manhandled by Jimmie LOL.  I mean, I felt bad, but it was kind of his fault anyway.  Jimmie pins him down, and Woofie stops barking.  I assume at this point that Woofie got the message: he’s going to lose this battle.  I’m relieved, but then as I walk past, Woofie barks and here we go again, he starts attacking Jimmie and Jimmie responds by attacking him back.  Finally, Mario at the house comes out with a big stick and tries to bring it down on them.  They all scatter and Jimmie runs away, back to his own home.

I’m not going to lie, from this point onward, I didn’t really connect with Woofie.  I would affectionately stroke his head and he would accompany me on walks, like he always does, but I just never felt like we would be good friends.  I analyzed this thought and realized that I view Woofy as a coward and I don’t like cowards.  What do I mean?  I mean, if you can’t back up your words with actions (or in Woofy’s case, your barks with willingness to fight), then I view you as a coward.  It’s a matter of honor, maybe even integrity – at least for me, and maybe I should say for human persons.  It’s like when I got mugged in Colombia.  Two guys, both much larger and bigger than me surrounded me and ripped my shorts off to grab my stuff.  They didn’t want to fight; they just got my stuff (well, one pocket’s worth of stuff and my sunglasses that were hanging from my shirt) and were quickly walking to leave, but I wouldn’t let it go.  I pursued them, got thrown to the ground, got up again, and then one of them threw a big rock at my face, which I dodged but did slipped and fell again to the ground.  The point is, I felt my honor was at stake, and that was worth defending even though it was hopeless (I’m not trained in fighting or combat or anything, and they outmatched me in size, experience, and … numbers.  (Thinking about this, it might be different with a knife or a gun, just because of the danger level.)

So anyway, Woofie got on my nerves, which really is just another way of saying it’s all about me and not about him, and I wondered why I was feeling this way.  Is it because I feel like Im a coward?   Is that why I was upset?  Even now, I’m not sure how I feel about myself, whether I feel like I’m a coward or not, but I do recall that I felt like a coward in my jr high and high school years, and I am disappointed, frustrated, and kind of ashamed at who I was back then.  I just had no confidence in who I was at that time, and I think Woofy just represented, to me, my past self.  I probably need to relate better to this past self, or past interpretation of myself.

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Just another beautiful day in the neighborhood

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A nice sunset hike

While working at the brewery in Cerro Castillo, I was sitting on my bed, thinking about changing out of my clothes but not feeling sure what to do next.  I had so many options!  I could go outside, and either be productive by drilling Spanish vocab or just relax and listen to music or a nice podcast.  Conversely, I could stay inside and relax with Netflix or my kindle.  There were so many options to choose from, and I had no sense of what I actually wanted to do.  Sure, I had the sense of what I was “supposed” to do (i.e. review Spanish), the senses of what I had done in the past, a kind of compelling by habit (walk/hike while practicing Spanish vocab), and the sense that I had experienced joy in the past and would likely experience joy with them in the future (listen to music and do a hike).  But I had no sense of what I wanted to do at that moment!

It was then that I took a moment to assess how I felt, and how I felt was an abiding sense of happiness.  But this sensation had two distinct-yet-unified components.  (The image that comes to mind is an H2O particle, where the two distinct-yet-unified Hydrogen particles are united to the Oxygen particle.)  The first being that I love being here, and the second, that I’m so grateful to be here – and I was thoroughly inhabited by this thought.  I was happy for the great food that I’d had, for the fresh bread and butter, for the opportunity to speak English and be understood when I wanted to, for the very friendly and generous couple that had invited me in and made me part of their home.

Work on the brewery was so different from many previous experiences.  I was instructed on what to do for my task and then left alone.  They trusted me to do what was necessary, according to their instructions, in as quickly a manner as possible – and with a few post-cleaning hiccups, I’d like to think that I rose to the occasion.

It made me reflect on my experiences at the Credit Union.  Our world is becoming increasingly quantified, and we see this everywhere!  Whether it be goals to lose weight (measuring calories burned, measuring caloric intake), goals to increase quality of sleep (I use my Jawbone Up3 to measure how many minutes, and times, and total time that I spend in all 3 different stages of sleep), goals to achieve at work (too numerous to count), etc.  Now I’m not a crazy anti-quantify person (I use my Jawbone Up3, for instance, and I see the usefulness of it at times), but I also recognize how precious my brewery experience was for contrasting so sharply with that.  I think the reasoning for quantification of others, though it could also apply to ourselves, is generally as follows: we either don’t trust others to do their best work apart from close supervision, or we believe that we know how much time is optimal and don’t trust others’ judgment in making the best use of their effort/time.

At the brewery, I was instructed in what to do, what the task required, and then was left alone.  They didn’t come in to check on me that I can remember.  If I had questions, they quickly answered the question and then went back to what they were doing, trusting me to do what was necessary for my task.  I will close by saying, though, that Mario and Root were very, very intelligent, and they could keep track of how well I was doing even apart from watching me all the time.

 

I think it was my last day on the ranch when I came down with an infection and was sick.  (I got better after taking antibiotics.)  I knew I was coming down with something, as the fever had sapped my energy completely and my headache was growing stronger over time.  I was completely drained and just wanted to sit down and collapse – but I was receiving room and board based on my work in the ranch, so I couldn’t do it.  I felt like I had to keep working.

We were finally about to leave, and the rain was coming down harder.  We had already cleaned up some trash, wire, and sticks which, in theory, would allow the grass to grow faster for the cows to munch on, and were on the way out when he asked me to open/close the gate so the car could go through.  I got out and went to the gate, untwisting the wire that “sealed” the gate and tried to lift the gate out of the mud to move it.  I failed the first time because it was so dang heavy and because my footing in the mud wasn’t steady.  I tried again and got the gate open, though I was a bit embarrassed at my inability to get it the first time, especially with him just watching me.  After he was through, I went to lift the gate and move it closed, but this time, I couldn’t quite wrap the wire around the post – I needed the gate closer to the post to get the amount of wire I needed.  My friend got out of the car to help and said, “Joshua, you’re so weak!  Why can’t you get the gate closed?”  I responded that I’m tired and sick and I was sorry I couldn’t get it closed.

We hop back in the car and I reflect on this experience.  He didn’t mean it in a mean way, it was a half-kidding-half-serious kind of comment.  But I still got a little upset because he claimed I was weak!  And yet he was right, I couldn’t close the gate.  So I thought more about it.  Did I pull with all my strength?  No, I didn’t think so.  I think I could have closed the gate, but if I could have, why didn’t I?  I decided I had been trying to save my energy for a future task, even though there IS no future task.  (That was the last gate.)  But why did I do that?  That doesn’t seem like a good habit to have!  Try everything with 70% effort?  Where did I get that idea from?  I remembered also having this idea during Jr High basketball practices, where we would run and I’d be so tired, but I wouldn’t run my best because I was expecting to have more sprints and needed to save my energy for those.  Looking back, that was a dumb idea.  I should try my hardest always and then, when I can’t run anymore, I can say “well I gave it my all and didn’t hold anything back.”  I think I need to work on this.

 

Another time I was walking with Jimmie through the neighborhood, and we see a group of 4 dogs walking with each other.  Jimmie watches them pass us, but no one barks or attacks the other – it’s just a group of them encountering us (Jimmie and I).  Jimmie watches them for a bit, then looks up at me wistfully, and I scratch his head.  Jimmie seems sad to me.  I consider the feeling.  First, I believe he’s happy to be with me.  Also, I’m not the only one he has.  He has people to scratch him and give him love, provide him regular food and water, provide him company and distractions (like when we go hiking or working in the ranch).  But I think there is something that we don’t give him, and that is companionship with his own kind.  Dogs, for millions of years, have been pack animals.  They would be born together, hunt together, live together, care for each other, and die together.  Their lives were done together in packs, in close-knit communities, which helped the ancestors of today’s dogs survive enemies and harsh climates and resource-scarcity – maybe even to be happy!  But now, for the majority of dogs, they are trained to be with their family and away from other dogs.  Most dogs of today, excepting packs of coyotes and wolves that we humans hunted to near extinction, don’t live in packs.  I wondered if Jimmie, even though he couldn’t express this thought to me or even to himself, could feel this lack of community, this lack of a tribe, deep in his bones (I mean, his genetics) and feel something missing.  I then wondered if people of today can feel this lack of a tribe, like how all groups of human ancestors used to live.  Do we also feel this self-estrangement, a sense of loneliness and absence and “something’s missing” when we live in isolation from our neighbors, our extended family members, when an average family sees friends for meals once every two weeks?  I believe we do, that one can’t just erase millions of years of human experience by being born with a blank slate.  I believe we feel this lack, this missing cultural tie, this communal bond – just as I believe dogs miss it too.

 

 

OK well that’s enough of my rambling thoughts for today.  I leave tomorrow at 7:45am for a flight to Santiago, and then Lima, and finally Bogota where I’ll be killing 2 weeks before my teacher training starting July 2.  Wish me luck!

 

Life on the Ranch and Brewery

Announcement!!!

I will be teaching English from July 2 – Nov 30 in Manizales in Colombia.  It’s halfway between Cali and Medellin, smack dab in the middle of the coffee region.  It has a famous yearly jazz festival and theater festival, I think both in September/October, so I’m very excited to add this to my calendar!  Also, it’s famous for being a university town and has between 6 and 7 universities in the area.  According to Wikipedia, 10% of the population is composed of students!  There are even mountains, rivers, and plenty of parks around the area!

I will get a salary, health insurance (for doctors within Colombia), and a bonus of $80 if I stay to the end of the commitment– which I will.  I will probably be working with a coteacher, but as with many programs in Colombia, you just adapt to whatever happens.  For instance, one person experienced a teacher strike that went on for a month!  Truly, you never know.

Here are three reasons why I’m particularly excited about this program and applied for it.

  1. I’ve been wanting to see if teaching was a good fit for me, specifically for older kids (high school or older). I’ve thought about teaching economics in high schools back in the states, and while I anticipate this to be a good fit for me, I don’t have any actual teaching experience in a classroom.  This would give me that.
  2. I’ve also been wanting to see if teaching English was a good fit, as many people live abroad by teaching English. Getting the TOEFL certification takes about a month and $1000, so I didn’t want to make that investment unless I knew this would be a good fit for me.
  3. I earn a (good) salary! I don’t anticipate I’ll be saving a lot of money, but I think I’ll save some, and it’s nice to earn actual money instead of just trading labor for a bed and food.  I know Walden says that trade poisons everything it touches (his reason for farming his own food and building his own house instead of working for money and using money to pay for those things), but as someone who has done both….salary (back in USA) and work-for-room-and-board (~25 hrs/wk through HelpX and workaway), I can say that it’s nice to earn actual money!

OK so announcement out of the way…

 

Life on the Ranch and Brewery

I learned that I suck at all things ranching.

I’m not super strong, I’m certainly not very experienced with ranch work, and what seemed so obvious and intuitive to them was foreign and unnatural for me.  But I did do a few things right: I tried to talk Spanish with the ranch guys (who had a heavy accent and made communication difficult) and I never complained once.  But it was definitely a more trying time for me psychically because I couldn’t express myself well (their English was at “hello”) and that’s important to me.

But I have a new best friend, Jimmie, the dog at the hostel!bty

My brewery experience, by contrast, is pretty much the opposite.  Well, I don’t know anything about beer, so it’s not exactly an opposite.  But the couple (Mario and Root) speak English, at least a little bit, and Root is fluent in English!  Also, the food here isn’t just meat-and-potatoes or meat-and-lentils or meat-and-soup or….you get it.  In fact, here at the brewery, there’s normally only meat for lunch or dinner, but not both – which is super nice for me because I got sick of meat and it’s also a lot healthier!  Also, she bakes fresh bread every two days!  Mmm bread and butter!

Life on the brewery is basically exactly as expected.  Roughly 5 hours a day, 5 days a week (sometimes Saturdays).  Actually, it’s a bit better than expected: the food is better than expected, and the people are way better than expected.  Root, a nice Thai woman, is former engineer and a really cool person, and I’m pleased to have gotten along so well with her.  She adds a nice homely touch.  Mario is also very gracious and kind, but he’s also the smartest person I’ve met in Chile.  I love talking politics, culture, economics, and history with him.  Keep in mind that I can only keep a conversation going on these topics because I studied economic development of South America for a course in college, am super interested in economic development (meaning I read and ask people these kinds of questions all over the world, and read books on the subject), and I also happen to be fairly conversant in Marxist and post-colonial theory as well.  He, on the other hand, never went to university and so only knows about this because he wants to be informed and he has such a perceptive and analytical mind.  Damn!

I feel much more settled than I have previously.  I think traveling means you are constantly on the go, and though I’ve taken steps to stay at places for much longer than most (Porvenir for 2 weeks, Ushuaia for 10 days, El Chalten for 11 days – whereas most people stayed at those places for a third of that time.   I haven’t felt very “settled” before on my journey.  This is the first place that I have felt this way, and it’s affected how I live – though I’m also staying here a month, the longest I’ve stayed anywhere, so I’m sure that’s a factor.

 

What is Joshua’s schedule/routine at the brewery?

Most days, I wake up early – my alarm goes off at 6:02am.  I usually watch an epiode of Gotham or Sense8 on Netflix.  Then, I get out of bed and make coffee and usually work on Spanish until we have breakfast from 9-10am.  Then we work from 10-3, have lunch from 3-4, and then have the rest of our day to do whatever we want.  Usually I do hikes in the afternoon.

 

Goals while living here

My big-picture goal, for the past two weeks at least, has been to do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it.  This is one skill I’ve gotten better at, mostly because I’ve gotten better at pausing and realizing “why am I doing this?  I don’t want to do this right now!” and then I get up and go do whatever I actually want to do.

Physically, I have 4 daily goals I try to do every day: stretch, meditate, do sprints, and do 75 push-ups.  I can touch my toes when I pull myself toward them, and I can almost touch my toes when I stand up!  In my entire life, I can never recall a time when this was possible, and it’s a major goal of my SA time.  I also do 75 push-ups (not all at one time!) and meditate for 15 minutes almost every day, and lately I’ve been sprinting because I eat so much bread and don’t want to get fat!  😛  I’ve still gained weight though.

I also practice Spanish every day, spending a couple hours every day (2-3 hours?) to either review vocab, learn grammar, review grammar.  Then, I also use Spanish subtitles for any movie, TV show, or comedy video that I watch.  I also have a couple videos that I use for Spanish audio – though I admit that they speak so fast, it’s hard for me to keep up.

Lastly, I’m trying to change my food preferences.  I’m trying to be less picky with food!  I used to NOT like the following food items, but now I like them to such a degree that I will go out of my way to add them to my food.  Craziness!

  1. Chocolate
  2. Sweets – cakes, pies, cookies, etc.
  3. Nuts and seeds of all kinds (almonds, peanuts, chia seeds, everything)
  4. Caramel and Butter toffees
  5. Butter
  6. Bread (well, it’s homemade, and I’ve always liked homemade bread but still…I’m that guy that will buy bread, and I’ve NEVER been that guy!)
  7. Pickles
  8. Parmesan cheese

 

Enjoying Patagonian winter

I’m also really enjoying the winter here in Patagonia.  I’ve liked winter ever since I took note of the symbolisms of winter.  While I don’t like the cold that much, I’m also drawn to popularized themes of winter: renewal, cold, damp, dark, patience, healing, barren.  Very plutonic, if you follow astrology.  So yes, the symbols draw me more than the actual experience of winter, but I’m not going to lie…I’ve also been enjoying the actual experience of winter of Patagonia.  The mountains are gorgeous and covered in snow, and there are outdoor trails to go walking on through the bare and frozen woods.  I do a walk almost every day, though I usually do them to practice Spanish and my bare hands often freeze holding my Spanish notebook lol.  🙂  There’s ice on the roads in the early morning and in the evening (which means I can’t do my sprints at these times), and the gas lines are sometimes frozen when I wake in the morning, but still!  How cool!

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Cerro Castillo

Yesterday, this (annoying) German girl expressed amazement, and a little disdain, when I told her that I was staying in this village, Cerro Castillo, for two months.  Girl, its my life shut up!  Also, whatever.  Water off a duck.  Just goes to show that everyone is different, I guess.

For those who may not know where this village is (I say village because at 400 people, it’s definitely not big enough to be a city, and probably not even big enough to be a town…and that’s by Patagonia standards!!), it’s on the Carretera Austral, the famous “number 7” highway from Villa O’Higgins all the way to Puerto Montt in Chile.  It’s about…halfway up?  Anyway, it’s a beautiful and quaint little town that has one of the best 4-day hikes I’ve ever done!  I was fairly lucky because I came here on a whim, not having heard of it before a guy who picked me up hitchhiking told me about it.  Also, lucky me!  I’m staying here for 5 weeks at a brewery and 2 weeks working for a hostel.

Anyway, so I do the hike – pictures below – and it’s fantastic.  I headed out by myself (on my birthday, April 4) and at the restaurant where I was picking up a birthday sandwich (wasn’t that good), I met a cool German guy named Alex who was my hiking companion for the whole hike.  I’m slower than average and he’s faster than average, so unfortunately, he was waiting on me a lot of the times, but he was charming and gracious and we had a great time together.

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a Chilean friend we met on the way, me, and Alex on the right

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we hiked up a pretty good way!

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OMG it’s snowing!  Day 3 of our 4-day journey, in the morning.

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OMG we met new friends on day 3 night, heading the opposite direction.  We camped together.

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Finally we get to head downhill!

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I finish the 4-day hike, go say hello at the brewery (they seem nice) and then try to work at a hostel to save some money while I figure out what I’m doing until May 5.  Basically, I had 3 weeks to kill.  I kill a few days staying at the hostel and figuring out what’s going on.  Then I go to Puyuhuapi where they have this lovely little national park – and it’s a very small park! – where I get free apples.

Weird story!

The people who picked me up hitchhiking (I’m always hitchhiking) go inside the park while I set up my camp.  Apparently they found an apple tree (I never saw one), picked apples, thought of me, saved me some apples, came back to find my campsite (how’d they recognize my campsite???) and left me 4 of them.  I recognized their truck as it was driving away and they stopped to say they left me apples.

Only in Chile….Have I mentioned how amazing Chileans are???  Yes, yes I have.  And I’ll say it again.

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Such nice people

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Glacial shot of inside the park.

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Anyway, cool couple down, I spend 2 nights in the park and 1 night in the village of Puyuhuapi, and then head back to Cerro Castillo.  People had told me that it was a can’t-miss area, which is why I came here in the first place, and…I wasn’t impressed, sadly.  It didn’t stick out to me at all, but ironically, what DID stick with me was the large city of Coyhaique on the way to Puyuhuapi, with its many restaurants and cafes, and everything you could possibly want to buy and the beautiful river/foothills range north of the city.  Now THAT was beautiful, and I can easily see why someone would want to camp there.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see any spots to camp there!  😦

Sometimes, it’s just nice being in a big city, you know?  Oh the Coyhaique Café!  Best torta (dessert item?) that I’ve ever had in my life – it literally melted in my mouth (not exaggerating), and it was so sweet and delicious and the raspberries were so fresh and yummy omgggggg.  And the hot chocolate that went with was really good too!!  I’m totally going to go back there hahaha.

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I come back to the city because I have carpentry work to do!  I expect to be doing it for the next 3 weeks, which didn’t happen, and I learned an important life lesson!  Or a couple.  Unfortunately, it’s one of those valuable lessons you learn because you made the wrong decision, but I’ll take what I can get.

I came back to Cerro Castillo, and lo and behold, this guy who told me he’d hire me won’t return my messages!  Whyyyyyy???  And because I had gotten so stuck mentally on doing carpentry work and getting paid for it, I just could not let it go and readjust my plans!

It is important to be flexible and not sabotage yourself because youre overly attached to failed options.

I was already feeling a little bit guilty for spending so much money on stuff that wasn’t explicitly “necessary” (though enjoyable, for sure) and also feeling constrained with money, such that that I was feeling weak (lack of money), powerless (I cant get him to talk to me), and shamed (I spent too much money on stuff I dont need).

It is important to make a decision when youre in a state of abundance, of power, and of strength. 

Needless to say, the decisions I made at this time were not the best ones because I was unable to overcome this state of weakness and guilt.  I stayed for 2 days at a hostel, paying $15/day to waste my time and have shitty wifi.  Then, instead of going after what I really wanted (carpentry work), I settled on working at a hostel for free room and board in exchange for working on their ranch, about 4 hrs a day.  All in all, not a bad gig – but not the best either because its not what I was really after.

I really wanted carpentry work and I settled on ranch work.  In fact, I didn’t even look (hard) for carpentry work!

Yes, the hostel/ranch owners are nice and I’m growing in Spanish.  Yes, I’m eating local food (which is spicier than I thought it would be).  Yes, it’s free and I am saving lots of money.  Yes, I’m learning how to repair/construct cow fences, herd cows, clean stables, and pick apples.  I’m also learning what goes into keeping cows (selling them, weighing them, anti-parasite injections, moving them around, etc.) – and unfortunately, it’s sad how we treat animals that we use for food.  But is this my best self?  No, it’s not.

For those curious, I did, however, about 8 days later, think about my time and what I wanted.  I took some time to change my state (“change your state, change your life” says Tony Robbins) and then, while in that state of power and freedom, I decided to stay here at the ranch.  I only have 6 days left anyway, and I have to come back here to work at the brewery, and I want to go hiking for another 3 days anyway.  But I wish I had changed my state to make a better decision (whether to look for carpentry work and/or travel around) back 10 days ago when it would have made much more sense!

So we’ll say that this is one good lesson learned.  Maybe 2.  🙂

Also, we don’t treat animals well.  I’m not saying every animal has a soul, but cows do for sure.  If you just hang around them any substantive length of time, and especially if you mistreat them, you’ll see it.  They have pride, a sense of dignity, a feeling of companionship with other cows, a motherly concern for their young.  So do horses.  And dogs.  Cats too.  Pigs too, so I’ve heard, though I haven’t spent any time around them – in fact, I’ve heard that they are some of the most intelligent animals on Earth!!  I’m convinced that going vegan is the only ethical option, and an obvious one at that.  Unfortunately for the world, I’m not a wholly ethical person.

Also, you know what’s fun?  To think about life design.

I took some time just to reflect and came up with 4 alternative lives (lives that I’m thinking about having when I finish this trip) and did a couple things.  First, I did a written description of each ideal life’s “best”.  It normally started out with “This would be an awesome life because…” and then I would detail what my life would look like!  That got me excited about each one.  Then, I did a list of pros and cons, what I would be giving up and what I would be receiving in return.  Then, if applicable, what I would need to make this “life” a reality.

None of them can coexist together at the same time, but that’s okay.  It’s about having each life be independent from the others (can’t live in the middle of a big city and live in a self-made cabin/farm in the woods at the same time).  And even though it was a little sad to realize I would have to take turns with them, I guess I can save some of my best living for my future too.  🙂

It’s fun to imagine possibilities, though I also admit that it leads to some sense of discontinuity in the sense of my life.  Like, how right now doesn’t feel like a part of my life…it feels like a pause on my life.  Is that a bad thing?  I just get so envious of people who feel that their travel life IS their life.  I guess, I mean that I’m acclimatized to this “pause’ of my life, but I don’t feel that it’s “my life” as much as it is a break, a time to renew myself and grow and learn new things and then take those skills, lessons learned, etc. and use them to construct an even better life than the one I had.

Imagine, if you will, going on a 4-day hike and then seeing a side path that is completely off the main path but is supposed to be worth it – so you spend half a day, following this path around a mountain and then you arrive at a beautiful glacier and it’s amazing, and you sit there and take it all in – and then you head back to the main path route.  It’s valuable, worthwhile, beautiful, fun, etc.  But it’s not the actual, main path either.  My current life of travels feels like that side path.

Walden by Henry Thoreau

Caveats: this post won’t have photos and won’t detail any of my travels lately.  Also, no page numbers, but Walden is FREE on Amazon for the kindle!  Buy it for $0!

Walden

I’ve been camping for much of my time since I arrived in Punta Arenas (Chile) and traveled throughout Patagonia (since Jan 25)..  And of course I relax in hostels after strenuous hikes, or have done workaways where I stay in a nice bed for the duration of my work-exchange.  I just want to say that I’ve done a fair amount of camping, whether it’s in a hostel campground or in a national park campground!  Here are two reasons I’ve done it so often.

  1. I love camping!! The sounds of nature are very soothing to me, whether it’s the insects croaking or the water going by.  Additionally, no one snores, enters way late in the night, or keeps me up with conversation or other noise.  My sleep is undisturbed – and wonderful quality.
  2. It’s cheap. It’s cheaper than a bed in a hostel (perhaps obviously), and camping in national park sites are often free.
  3. I already spent $480 on camping equipment.  So now I HAVE to, right??

I mention the camping because it’s been a catalyst for various thoughts of mine.  Also because I read my Kindle so much.  🙂  Because I love camping so much, at least when I’m warm (omg fleece sweat pants are the bomb), I’ve thought about how I can have more outdoors experiences in my life, especially my life back in the states.

First, is camping one weekend a month enough?  I don’t know.  Seems like a bare minimum for me, and not even a happy minimum – but I don’t see any more time as being feasible unless I radically alter my life.  So secondly, why wouldn’t I alter my life?  I don’t want to live out in the woods and commute in to work in the city, as I loathe commutes generally.  Thirdly, I’ve had a lot of thoughts provoked by Walden, a timely book by Henry David Thoreau – at least the first half.  I’ve been pretty bored reading the second half, so I restarted the first half and it’s as thrilling and impactful as the first time I read it.  I wanted to take some time now to discuss with you some of the themes that he mentions in the book.

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  1. Theme 1 – We make ourselves slaves to our things.

“Most of our luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.  With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor.” 

 “Many a man is harassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more respectable box, who would not have frozen to death in such a box as this (referring to those metal cargo containers on ships or trains).  I am far from jesting.”

 “The very simplicity and nakedness of man’s life in the primitive ages imply this advantage, at least, that they left him still but a sojourner in nature.  But lo, men have become the tools of their tools.”

 

It appears to me that Thoreau is correct.  Not to be glorify grinding poverty, as I’m sure Thoreau does not, but there is something really important and valuable about living a simple life.  And really what do you NEED to have?  Thoreau answers: shelter, water, food.  Shelter is quite easy to have, as Thoreau builds his own house from scratch by himself (it’s small but sufficient with a basement and a single room, 10’x12’) in 4 months (if I remember correctly), including cutting the trees down and hauling rocks on his back – and once you have it made, it’s yours for life!  Unless you rent of course.  🙂  On a simple level, the fewer things one has, less maintenance/cleaning that one now has to do.  Moreover, as Tim Ferriss says, it is hard to showcase treasure among junk, so if you have treasure that you want to display and showcase to the world, it’s best done with fewer things covering it up, no?

Now I only have 50L of things, and I really don’t think that I have many spare, unnecessary things, but I’ve been thinking about living off in the woods in an increasingly likely fashion.  And also what kind of life I would want to construct if I was back in the states.  We’ll continue this thought later.

  1. Theme 2- Self-Limiting Beliefs (4 quotes)

“It appears as if men have deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other.  Yet they honestly think there is no choice left.”

One of the best things about traveling is realizing how different people can live.  Not only just living, even, but different values.  I don’t recall if it was my first or second week, but I was at a hostel, and with me was a Silicon-Valley yuppie (basically, everything you would picture in your head was true) who was there for 8 days, me with my savings fund and an indefinite amount of time, and I was like “Wow, we are so different.”  I’ve only met more different people, for everyone you meet is on their own journey, with what they hope to accomplish or find (or not), what they hope to get away from, different constraints, different values, different ideas of success, different fears, different abilities, just pure difference.  It really is stark sometimes.  We’re all on our own path and I like how Thoreau says that he doesn’t want anyone to follow him on his path because he wants everyone to be different – just different in a way that suits them, not in a way that suits what society tells them to do, or their neighbors, or their parents, or their close friends.  Follow your heart, your true north.  And dream big anyway!  We all fail, but we all go toward what we aim at, so you might as well aim high.

For instance, why can’t I go off and live in the woods?  It wouldn’t be hard.  I could totally make it work.  I could build my own house of wood, live in a tent until it was done, dig a little cellar, cook and eat outside until my chimney was constructed, etc.  I’ve not only seen it done, and I can imagine doing the rest (or asking local villagers for assistance with ideas) but Thoreau talks about his entire process of doing so in his book!  I just don’t know if that’s what I want, and if not, what kind of life do I want to construct?  Options are too many.  Open your mind!

“I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.  If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit?  If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes.  All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be.  Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty or old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles!”

Our consumeristic society loves to tell us that we need to change our clothes constantly – different seasons, different looks are in or out, different colors and color combinations are fashionable or ugly, we need to change clothes after we use them instead of re-using them over again (I wear almost all of my clothes 2-4 days in a row.)  Thoreau reminds us to look within, to be determined by who one IS instead of how one APPEARS.  This lesson may be easier to learn while camping solo and being determined for months and months at a time by 50L of stuff (half of which is clothes and half of which is other necessary stuff, like a sleeping bag, tent, etc.)  But still, it’s a lesson I’m enjoying learning – to keep in mind the important things (which is my identity(s), to be open to new layers of self-revelation, to treasure the shadow of my own being.

“What of architectural beauty I now see, I know has gradually grown from within outward, out of the necessities and characters of the indweller, who is the only builder – out of some unconscious truthfulness, and nobleness, without ever a thought for the appearance and whatever additional beauty of this kind is destined to be produced will be preceded by a like unconscious beauty of life.  The most interesting dwellings in this country, as the painter knows, are the most unpretending, humble log huts and cottages of the poor commonly.  It is the life of the inhabitants whose shells they are, and not any peculiarity in their surfaces merely which makes them picturesque.” 

 A couple weeks ago, I camped at a place where the guy was, quite literally, building his own house, and it was super nice with brand new boards and logs and everything.  He bought it and had it shipped over so it would be to spec and proper measurements (he made cuts when necessary, but he wasn’t out in nature chopping down trees if you know what I mean).  And his house was beautiful!  No, it didn’t have that rustic charm of a log cabin that Abe Lincoln made with his bare hands because the boards had the unstained shine of new boards you might see at Lowe’s or Home Depot.  But there was an undeniable beauty in it – it was functional, specifically designed a certain way, and not just to waste energy to make it “ornate” or “pretty” or anything like that, like we do in our suburbs.  Thoreau goes on a rant about how fake beauty, or maybe I should say non-functional beauty like adding designs that doesn’t help do anything, is everywhere in the world and he condemns it saying we all know it’s a waste of energy and time.  True beauty, for him, is pure function that’s maybe hard to describe but easily recognized and perceived.  I can’t say I disagree with him for the wood or bamboo houses.

“This spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet.”

Hard to think of a better summary of one of my three reasons for traveling – the mini-retirement idea!  Unfortunately, the best time of your life to travel is when you’re young, healthy, without attachments.  But simultaneously, the best time of your life to work really hard and save/invest a lot of money is ALSO when you’re young, healthy, and without attachments.  Can’t do both – you gotta pick one.  So pick wisely!  Oh, and not choosing is a choice.

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  1. Theme 3- The danger of consumerism and capitalism

 “When formerly I was looking about to see what I could do for a living, some sad experience in conforming to the wishes of friends being fresh in my mind to tax my ingenuity, I thought often and seriously of picking huckleberries; that surely I could do, and its small profits might suffice – for my greatest skill has been to want but little – so little capital it required, so little distraction from my wonted moods, I foolishly thought. While my acquaintances went unhesitatingly into trade or the professions, I contemplated this occupation as most like theirs; ranging the hills all summer to pick the berries which came in my way, and thereafter carelessly dispose of them; so, to keep the flocks of Admetus.  I also dreamed that I might gather the wild herbs, or carry evergreens to such villages as loved to be reminded of the woods, even to the city, by hay-cart loads.  But I have since learned that trade curses everything it handles; and though you trade in messages from heaven, the whole curse of trade attaches to the business.”

I laughed out loud (no one was nearby) when I read this by a waterfall.  Honestly, seriously, and often – our man Thoreau thought of picking huckleberries as his “real job”.

But why not, really?  I see the attraction actually.  If you have to work for someone for a wage, so that you can have money to trade for other goods and services that you want, picking huckleberries isn’t a bad choice!  I’m reminded now of some German girl who would travel every year to Australia to pick oranges as her main job for 3 months, and then fly back to Germany where she would live for the rest of the year…just off the savings she accumulated from picking oranges.  Not a bad life, really.  Work hard for 3 months out of the year, out in nature no less, and then not work at all for 9?  She must have a simple and cheap life in Germany, but … maybe I should look into that.

But even if I did…how would my pursuit of MONEY affect my satisfaction with life?  Maybe Thoreau is right, that it would poison the experience.  I kind of think he is.

Theme 4 – Who do you surround yourself with?

“Many are concerned about the monuments of the West and the East – to know who built them.  For my part, I should like to know who in those days did not build them – who were above such trifling.”

I really hate the idea that I am the average of the 5 people who I spend the most time with.  I think it’s false, but talk about a kick in the pants!  I was reminded of that idea when I reflected on Thoreau’s quote which….what a great quote!!  The people that Thoreau values are those who do their own thing, who aren’t sucked into the current world – with its specialization of labor, being told what to do, being directed by the circulation of capital, ruled by the accumulation of money, the pursuit of goods and status symbols. The ones who do their own thing, who decide for themselves what they’re going to do and go and do that, instead of submitting to others’ plans and ideas and filling a cog in a machine role.  Granted, if that’s WHO YOU ARE, then Thoreau would say fantastic, go and do that as best you can.  But he doesn’t think that the majority of people in the world are like that, which is why he laments how people just don’t seem like themselves.

And as I’ve traveled, I’ve also met some of these people, and these are truly special and inspiring people, who encourage me to be myself, to focus on what I want (or my selves want), to follow my own direction, and to not be discouraged.  I do my best to stay in touch with them, even though I may never see them in person again, just because of how much I treasure their influence and effect in my life.

 

“Not till we are completely lost or turned round – for a man needs only to be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost – do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of nature.  Every man has to learn the points of compass again as often as he awakes, whether from sleep or any abstraction.  Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”

Lest I conclude by implying that “who you surround yourself with” can only be human persons… this quote reminds me that my sphere-of-being-influenced also includes nature.  It’s the infinite extent of my relations, which is not just human friends but social groups, identities, affiliations, desires or repulsions, the natural world, the unnatural world, the realms of the internet.

Workaway in Hacienda Tres Lagos

Good morning, lovebirds.

Boy, I feel really single right now!  I realized yesterday that my 2 of my best friends, who have been single for a while, both have found partners that they’re really into, and these precious people haven’t had a life partner in years – like me.  So now that they’re all happy with this new development, and I’m glad for them, I also feel like “shit!  I gotta get on this relationship thing!”

Just kidding.  But seriously.  Also on this topic, I have written down ideas for my soon-to-be new-and-updated dating profile.  LOL.  This excites me.  Also, I have some, in my mind, really good speed dating questions and date ideas –I’m sure I won’t have any success anyway, so it won’t really matter.  Que pena!

So now that I’ve been on this Hacienda (it’s like a resort in the country on a lake that city-folks with lots of money pay to “get away”).  Funny, right?  And the best thing???  Most of them actually stay for one night, without doing any of the activities (kayaking, fishing, hikes, walking around) because they want to have a more luxurious sleeping experience than a hostel, and this is the closest thing in the area to a fancy hotel.  I just think it’s CRAZY, but then again, my world is very different from theirs.

So here I am – working 5 hrs a day for a really filling lunch and a breakfast/dinner of coffee, bread, jam, and butter.  I feel kind of scammed because if 2 of your “3 meals a day” are just bread and butter and jam, you’re kind of leading people on with the whole 3 meals a day description – even if lunch is really good and really filling and about half the time, you can have the leftovers as your “dinner”.  I finally broke down and bought oatmeal just so I can have something substantive for breakfast and when I don’t have leftovers for dinner.

But enough about my situation which really isn’t a big deal.  I get to practice Stoicism and being content in all things!  And I’m certainly not starving lol.

Time for fun things about me!

 

First, I have a nice morning routine, or a “rutina de madrugada” – I need to be ready to work at 9, and I wake up at 630 every day to see the sunrise.  Normally this means getting out of bed at 7, making coffee and oatmeal and immediately going outside so I don’t miss it!  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the sunrise more than 3 days in a row, and this will be 2 weeks straight!  Hearing the birds calling to each other and greeting the morning, noticing the sky slowly become brighter, and enjoying the crisp (cold) quiet is a different experience for me, and it’s “vale la pena” or worth the pain.  Then, once the sun is up, I go clean my dishes, change my clothes from the warmest-possible to work-ready clothes and do some boxing exercises, 75 push-ups, and yoga/stretching/meditation.  I make sure I’m ready and outside a little before 9, because I know the lady in charge cares a lot about punctuality.  Like my father, for her, early is on-time and on- time is late.  🙂

 

Secondly, my mind is basically a collection of these thoughts:  “Don’t spend any money”, “I’m broke”, “How can I make what I want to have?”, and “How can I not contribute to the excessive waste in society?”  I was reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, and he build his own house in 2 months from a pre-existing shanty (a small 10×15’ house, mind you), so I’m finding inspiration for my own life.  For instance, instead of buying things, I’ve decided to build my own table (super easy if it’s not fancy or nice), use a chainsaw to make “chairs” from tree stumps, build my own bookshelves and art shelves, and co-create my own apartment/house decorations with things from nature (except for Picasso prints which obviously are beyond my artistic/creative ability).  I don’t need anything nice, and if anyone would judge me negatively for these things, then we wouldn’t be friends!  LOL.  I’m really enjoying mentally preparing myself for minimizing purchases (either making my own things or exchanging work for products) – I like the creativity such a lifestyle evokes, and I’m gaining inspiration while I’m here on this nature resort.

 

Thirdly, I’m getting much more accustomed to … I’m not sure how to explain it better than “no-thought presence”.  I’ll find myself staring off into space, or meditating, or watching water ripple on the lake, and notice that I haven’t had a thought in some time.  I’m a little worried, if I’m honest, about becoming accustomed to this and then being disoriented when I go back to the city life where my mind is racing with to-do lists and places to be and things to buy – but I also find this new state of mind to be so valuable that I’m also worried about losing it also.  I’m excited to do a 10-day silent retreat, and hopefully more time afterwards, at some monastery, and there are a couple near Santiago that I will contact when I finally have stronger wifi.

 

Fourth, I’m trying to reshape my narrative of Argentina.  Let’s take a step back.  For the past two months while in Chile and Argentina, I would say that my experiences with Chileans have been more positive.  As a general rule, and there are exceptions of course, they seem more open, friendly, and helpful than Argentinians.  I get picked up more often as a hitchhiker (probably about twice as fast, maybe faster), and when we talk together, it does seem as if they are more open to strangers and more fun.  I once told a Danish couple about my experiences and how I preferred Chileans, and once I had shaped, formulated, and told myself this difference between Chile and Argentina, it colored my interactions with them.  Now I had a narrative with which to organize, and interpret, my experiences and memories in Patagonia (which encompasses both countries).  My mindset even began coming up with other reasons to not like Argentinians because I didn’t like how their ATMs would only allow you to withdraw $130 at a time (Chile is like $400) and then charge me $8 for doing so (versus $5 in Chile) – something that surely isn’t related to my experiences with the people.  Looking back, I realized that this mindset was paying attention to the negative experiences but would gloss over the really positive experiences that I had (with the park ranger in Ushuaia, the Buenos Aires guy during our hike at Laguna Esmeralda, my two other friends in Buenos Aires who I met in Colombia, the family who bought me a sandwich after picking me up hitchhiking, the cool guy in El Chalten who let me wash my clothes for free).

The importance isn’t in those little parenthetical notes which are for my memory purposes and not for any readers I might have of this blog haha, but rather in how the stories allow for a multiplicity of narratives.  When we have one narrative, based on a single experience, or even a couple experiences (or the media), but discount other stories that threaten that narrative, then we can get stuck in a rigid perception and our future experiences may be colored by this perception.  It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy in one way: if you expect people to act closed and stiff, you’ll act differently around them – perhaps more closed and stiff toward them which invites them to be closed and stiff toward you.  Maybe people can even unconsciously perceive this and their mind acts accordingly.  Moreover, it can be a self-fulfilling narrative even if no one’s behavior is affected, because you remember the bad times and forget the good times!

Once I realized this, I decided to change this, starting with my memories and then allowing the memories to change the narrative that I tell myself.  I remembered that I’ve met some really great Argentinians.  In fact, I stay in contact with 4 of them to this day and look forward to meeting up with them in Buenos Aires.  I thought about how my favorite cities in Patagonia were all in Argentina – Ushuaia, El Calafate, El Chalten.  I thought about how Argentina has many political and social problems (seemingly always) and yet the people persist and endure and maintain generally positive outlooks – even if not, it seems to me, as friendly as economically-stronger Chile.  I thought about how beautiful the scenery and the architecture and layout of towns are, and how I get energized just walking around them.  I thought about how Argentina has oreos, and Chile doesn’t.  (LOL haha.)  I thought about how the Argentinians are much easier to communicate with because they have far less slang than Chileans.  Some of the nicest and most generous people I’ve met in Patagonia were in Argentina.  Anyway, I’m working on doing some self-work for seeing and recognizing greater complexity and depth – even as I recognize that narratives and filters of experience are necessary as part of the human experience.

(I know this is really long but I really like this point, so please hang in there!)

 

Fifthly, and lastly, perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned while traveling is to FOLLOW YOUR TRUE NORTH.  What a powerful lesson this is, and what a blessing it is to have the insight and willpower to be able to do this.  For me, I am often swayed and affected by others – whether it’s what this group of people want to do, or pressure to follow the crowd along the “gringo trail.”  I’ve certainly gotten better at following my true north – oh my goodness, have I gotten better.  Camping and being solo, both of which take you away from most others (especially those on the gringo trail) have done wonders for me to become better attuned to myself and the depth of my own being, and I’ve done that for most of my two months here!

Anyway, as an illustration and realization, I was reading Nietzsche at the lake, and suddenly felt that on a deep level, I understand him and his points.  Yes, I think I understood his points earlier, as I have read almost all of Nietzsche’s works at numerous times in my life, but I feel saturated with him now.  Whether it’s his view on religion, memory, time, change, strength, or other topics – we are often in alignment.  In fact, Nietzsche is the only person who ever had a vision of greatness that was so grand, so powerful, so alluring, so compelling, that reading him would make me feel like my life was a failure.  Truly, no one spoke to my heart and penetrated to my depths, my values, my priorities like Nietzsche.  Nietzsche can penetrate my deep waters and stir the mud in my core until my primary values are all clouded and disturbed and disorganized.

But there is an important part of Nietzsche that I find myself in greater and greater disagreement – probably because I’m learning more about myself and am gaining confidence in who I am and my self-understandings/self-narratives.  The great man, for him, is isolated, not following the masses along with their petty problems or ways of escaping pain and slavish obedience to moral norms and social customs.  The great man is lonely.  But I know that I get great joy of being with people, even in their small problems – perhaps especially with their every-day living.  After all, that’s where I think the beauty, significance, and preciousness of life is found: in the day-to-day.  One can find Nirvana in cleaning grains of rice, as the Zen Buddhists say; don’t wait for powerful moments to hit you at certain times for life’s beauty is always simultaneously penetrating through and hidden by the mundane and the routine.  Moreover, Nietzsche’s great man is always overcoming, being self-directed, self-caused, being above the petty customs and rules of society – as Nietzsche says, “his own conclusion and his own sunrise.”  To whatever extent I agree to him and utilize deconstructionism, I am an outsider right now (in language, culture, attitude, lifestyle), and I find myself finding greater and greater affinity, resonance, and even delight with the basics of human society: customs of politeness, order and structure and one’s place, and the corresponding duties and responsibilities thereof.  (For instance, I’m really glad that I had the 4 years of experience of working an 8-5, getting promoted at my job, paying off my student loans, and saving up money.)

Thus, I feel the need to leave Nietzsche behind.  Like one feels toward a teacher who has brought you as far as they can, I feel appreciation and gratitude for their influence, but also a confidence and surety in my need and drive to move on.  I am trying to follow where my “true north” leads.  I like the picture of Nietzsche and I both being planets, having different orbital routes circumambulating around the same sun of strength and self-determination.

6 month update – new haircut…and also feeling of Dependent Independence

Hola chicos, it’s Joshua checking in.

Hey so I got my first haircut in over 4 months!  Aaahhhh!  So much better!

bty

Anyway, I’ve heard it said from 3 different people that when one is traveling, one feels a bout of loneliness at a couple weeks, 3 mos, and 6 mos – but after 6 mos, you’re good until the end of your trip (whether it’s 7 mos or 3 years).   I have, of course, no idea to know if this is true or not – though it’s testable! – and I haven’t felt (yet) the severe loneliness bout that they’ve told me about.  However, maybe it’s coming.  It’s only been 6 mos and 3 days, so maybe it’s not an exact routine, like Old Faithful.  But still, I’m super happy to be traveling!  How lucky am I?!  And volunteering soon!

Regardless, the point of this post is to go through a period of self-reflection now.  Anyway, this post has 3 basic things that I’ve learned on this trip.

 

First,

So I’m staying with a 21 yo girl right now who’s a cop in this wonderful city of Porvenir, and if you ever want to feel old, just hang around normal 21 year olds.  She watches reality TV all the time, even going to sleep with it playing softly in the background, and even if she’s not paying attention to it, it’s on.  Then, she’s always on her phone.  Like, always.  Checking facebook, Instagram, or whatever else she has, and she makes sure she knows every status, measures her likes and loves and hahas for both her and her friend’s posts, etc.  She is constantly taking photos and uploading (or sending) them.  Clearly, she is very attuned to social media, and to me, it’s bad.  At least, I judge that as a negative trait in a person.  And lastly, when I try to talk to her, though I’ll be honest that my Spanish requires her to speak simply and slowly (and she’s not as patient with me as others are), she barely engages with me.  We run out of conversation topics fairly quickly because she literally has no hobbies, no activities outside of work, doesn’t read, isn’t a member of any clubs or even a gym.  She doesn’t seem to want to better herself in any capacity (at least that I know of), and she’s stuck here for her job contract for 4 more years!  She’s already spent a year in this city and has only “friends” from her work.  I just can’t believe that someone could go through life watching TV, playing on fb or Instagram, and doing literally nothing else.

Anyway, enough about her.  I know that self-betterment, new experiences, the arts, and investing in my community are all important to me, but the difference between she and I really accentuated how much I value those things to me.  And since I’m without a lot of those same mediums (theater subscription, symphony, church groups, etc.), I’ve felt a tremendous feeling of gratitude that I enjoy the shadow of my own being, the multiplicity of my self, the variegated fantasies and journeys of my psyche – absent technology, messages to others, music, or even self-betterment podcasts (though what a treasure to have those when I do!).  Also, how I have found new modes of self-betterment and new experiences: stretching, kindle books (a lot more fiction btw), camping in the outdoors, meeting people from around the world, etc.  Things change – and things stay the same.  What do they say?  Something like “You bring yourself with you wherever you go.”

 

Secondly,

I’ve been reading this book by Tony Robbins “Awaking the Giant Within” and while it’s not as good as I was hoping (his talks are really great though, recommend finding him on Tim Ferriss’ podcast), I’ve drawn a few lessons from his book.  I’ll give a couple examples.

First, he encouraged me to reflect on my current values, especially every couple of years.  So I did a quick update on what I thought they would be, and then for fun, I went ahead and continued reading his book and spent some time analyzing them and decided that I would actually change them a wee bit.

First, I put freedom as the most important value.  Then I had friendship, independence (which is pretty close to freedom but I left it in there anyway), strength, and I forget the rest.  But after analyzing this, I realized that I really don’t need freedom that much, that it was maybe more important to me in an earlier time but that it is now an overvalued trait (based on inertia, or past existence).  Nowadays, I actually value strength, complexity, mastery and that actually mastery was a much better top-value (or maybe strength, I’m still kind of torn on the topic) for me.  Maybe it’s just me getting older and wanting to develop myself in a deeper way.  I would like to become much better trained in carpentry, for instance – also jiu jitsu – also piano.  (I’m not sure how piano is going to happen in the USA because it requires a lot of space, and then you have to rent/buy one and that’s expensive…)  I took piano for 12 years, more or less, so that’s an easy skill that I already have and that I can develop into some sort of semblance of mastery faster than if I started over with a new skill (like Jiu Jitsu since I have no experience, nor probably skill, whatsoever in martial arts).  But anyway those are my ideas.

Freedom and independence also undercut friendship and family and, to a certain extent, mastery because the only way to really have freedom is to exercise freedom.  And isn’t exercising freedom changing things?  You’re free to change things, so you change them up as an exercise of freedom?  But then, how does one develop mastery?  How does one go deep with friendships?  I think the key is to initially have a lot of friends, and then over time, as you realize who is really simpatico with you, you decide to focus more on those people.  Yes, it’s important to have a lot of friends in the beginning – and certainly I think it’s important to have a lot of friends potentially – but true success for me would be to have a couple (5?) really close friends.  🙂

He also talks about the importance of changing the words that you use when you’re in a situation that stresses you out or causes you frustration or suffering.  I already think I’m pretty good at this, since I have a fairly cheerful disposition, but I did notice myself changing the words I use.  For instance, last night it was very windy – and rainy.  I was walking back to my house from a café and on this 15 minute walk, I stumbled at least a couple of times (barely missing puddles of water twice) and I thought to myself “Man, I am just loving this wind right now!  What a unique experience!”.  This thought was a quick second-thought to my first “OMG why is this wind so crazy?” – and I attribute the rapidity of this positive-twist, second-thought to Tony Robbins.  As another example, when I had really bad hypothermia and couldn’t set up my tent because my fingers wouldn’t work and my feet were wet and frozen (as they had been all day) and my body was tired after hiking in rain and wind all day and now we had sleet hitting us in the face…I told Dor, my companion, that I was really happy we’re having this weather because now I know what it’s like to have a miserable-yet-amazing experience in Patagonia (he was truly shocked that I had such a positive attitude about it), and I think, and Tony would agree, that even if you don’t feel that way, saying that way will create a new interpretation for yourself to adopt.  Like how changing your body position changes how you think, so does saying out loud words change you think.

 

Thirdly,

One meta-lesson that I’ve learned about life and myself, especially right now, is the experience of interdependence, or the dialectic of dependence and independence.

If that sounds confusing, just think of it as the interdependence of dependence and independence!  LOL.  I want to start with a Buddha story though, and then I’ll do my take.  There’s a story about the Buddha, as retold by Hermann Hesse in his book Siddhartha in which the Buddha gives the same answer to the question, “What do you have [to give/offer me]?”

 

Merchant:  “… If you are without possessions, how can you give?”

Siddhartha: “Everyone gives what he has.  The soldier gives strength, the merchant goods, the teacher instruction, the farmer rice, the fisherman fish.”

Merchant: “Very well, and what can you give?  What have you learned that you can give?”

Siddhartha: “I can think, I can wait, I can fast.”

Merchant: “Is that all?”

Siddhartha: “I think that is all.”

Merchant: “And of what use are they?  For example, fasting, what good is that?”

Siddhartha: “It is of great value, sir.  If a man has nothing to eat, fasting is the most intelligent thing he can do.  If, for instance, Siddhartha had not learned to fast, he would have had to seek some kind of work today, either with you, or elsewhere, for hunger would have driven him.  But, as it is, Siddhartha can wait calmly.  He is not impatient, he is not in need, he can ward off hunger for a long time and laugh at it.”

 

I invite you to ruminate on Siddhartha’s answer.  However, one narrow application that I’m finding apt for my life right now is being independent, and I have two types of independence which I’ll talk about.

I, too, can, and often do, those things that the Buddha mentioned (think, wait, fast).  I can think, as I do often.  I think while hiking on long trails for 10 hours by myself, most of the time without music or podcasts or anything.  Just me and the comfortable shadow of my own being.  I think in the morning when I’m by myself in my tent.  I think in the evening when I come back to an empty tent and before/after I eat. I think while I wait, and I wait a lot.  I wait for nice people in cars or trucks to pick me up when I hitchhike.  I wait for buses.  I wait for random engagements to add variety and spice to my life (engagements in the sense of opportunities where I can engage with people, not like pre-planned meetings).  And because I wait so often, and think so often, I can feel in my psychic life and my mind a kind of tranquility, contentment, and calmness.

Like the Buddha, I can think, I can wait, I can fast.  I can skip meals – the obvious type of fasting.  But I can also fast from music or podcasts (as I often do when I’m camping and need to conserve my battery for photos).  I went a month without a cell phone at all, which meant I couldn’t do any of those things ever!  I can eat the same food for 5 days in a row (and this happens more often than one might think).  I can eat only rice and lentils if I have nothing else.  In fact, most days camping, I eat the same things: hot dogs every other day, avocado and rice and lentils every day for dinner, tuna and crackers and avocado every day for lunch when I am hiking and can’t bring my stove with me, and oatmeal with raisins every breakfast.  I can wait by the roadside for people to pick me up for hours (the longest I waited though was only 2 hours, luckily, but I did meet one guy who once waited 7 hours).  To make my time pass by faster and to give joy to others and myself, I will have one hand with the thumbs up and one hand waving at every car that passes by.  I, like Siddhartha, can wait calmly.  I don’t need complexity or variety in my life (like a variety of foods to choose from for meals), I don’t need a feeling of rush-rush-rush to feel satisfied with my “productive” life.  (Though like most people, I do enjoy that thrill, that rush of energy, at times.)

So anyway, that’s one aspect of independence.  I am calm, not buoyed tremendously by lack of choice (in food while camping, in rides for hitchhiking).  But there’s another aspect of independence that I have learned this trip: trusting myself and my own thoughts, instincts, imaginings, perspectives, and feelings.  I don’t need someone to tell me what to do.  I don’t need someone to tell me how to cook, how to camp, how much food to buy, how much water to use, where to go, how to plan my trip.  I’m doing this trip solo!  When I was a kid, I didn’t have confidence in how to do anything.  Also, I mostly didn’t know how to do anything, so it was fitting that I didn’t have the confidence.  But one day, or over many days, you come to realize that a lot of adults don’t know what they’re doing either.  There’s no man behind the curtain, there’s not always a master behind every adult.  Also, you learn that you actually do know how to do things.  And that confidence is something that really can’t be taught – it is experienced, it is lived.

Take for instance an impression I had.  This guy at a hostel seemed nice, though he kept to himself.  I just didn’t get a good vibe around him.  Something seemed off with him.  I tried hard though.  I tried to talk to him, to be open when he talked with me, and then he mentioned that he would rape a girl if he knew the world was ending, and I was like um wtf that’s not okay.  Needless to say, he didn’t like my response.  My instincts were right about him: he’s dangerous and we never interacted again.  Also, and I’ve mentioned this before, but when I compare what people tell me on how to cook, I mostly realize that actually my ideas were better than theirs were anyway.  In fact, I can only think of one family that actually knew more than I did on cooking, and they both had worked in restaurant kitchens lol!  Anyway …. turns out that I’m a great cook!!

So yes, I have learned over my six months to trust myself.  To trust that I know how to cook, how to decide for myself what routes to do, what places to visit, what people are worth getting to know and which ones are worth staying away from, etc.  I trust myself a lot more than I did before, and this trust in myself is much more deeply rooted in my psyche and in my body than before this trip.

But I have also experienced, and thus learned through life, how dependent I am.  I am often very dependent on the kindness of others, like for hitchhiking.  Worst case scenario?  I’ll just camp with my tent (the independence thing).  But I am dependent on others because I can’t walk to my destinations.  I don’t have information about where to go or what to do, and so I am dependent on the input, advice, and stories that others tell me when I’m trying to plan my trip.  I am also dependent on others, at least to some extent, when I choose to travel with them.  There’s a saying that I keep coming back to on this trip: If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go with someone.”  Plus, it’s more enjoyable to go with someone else!  So, I find myself keeping my schedule flexible in case I meet others.  I am also dependent on wifi, and hence places that have wifi, to reach out to people, to post on Facebook, to work, to buy kindle books, to get new music or podcasts, to check up on my budget and my expenses, etc.  I normally don’t have data plans while traveling in Patagonia because I change countries between Chile and Argentina so often.  But I give all these examples to show you how dependent I am.

Do I have to have wifi?  No.  Do I have to have companions on my camping trips or journeys?  No.  Do I have to get a ride within a certain amount of time?  No.  But do these things add value, satisfaction, joy, or groundedness to my life?  Certainly they do.  And thus I am dependent on them, even as I am independent from them as well.