16 November 2011 § 1 Comment
I should have posted this earlier, but I’ve been traveling for much of the last 10 days. (I’ll be writing about that in a future post.)
My first article after a pretty long break from reporting came out last week. In it, I detail the situation of the Colombia office of the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees, and what the office’s significant funding shortfall in 2011 means for the country’s millions of internally displaced persons. Read the article here.
20 October 2011 § 2 Comments
Monday was another holiday here, so Isa and I went to the Amazon. The flight from Bogotá to Leticia, on the Amazon River at Colombia’s extreme southern tip, takes about 90 minutes, so less than five hours after leaving our apartment we were in the jungle.
Leticia is a town, so we weren’t under rainforest canopy—but we weren’t far from it. The town only has about 35,000 people, and outside there’s not much development, so if you want to get deep into the jungle, you can do so from Leticia.
With two days there, that wasn’t our plan. We arrived Saturday afternoon and spent the rest of the day exploring Leticia and its neighboring border town, Tabatinga, on the Brazilian side. Our hosts, parents of friends Isa made in France, live in Tabatinga, so we got settled at their place, walked back to Leticia, and with Isa’s expired driver’s license rented a golf cart that we took turns driving through the two towns and to the Amazon River. We ate an early dinner and, tired out by the extreme heat, fell asleep at about 8. (Isa was later woken up when our hosts got home and began chatting her up—a conversation that lasted three hours.)
The next day we did an all-day boat tour on the river. From Leticia’s little “port”, we set out to cover 90 kilometers (each way) and make seven stops. The first stop had macaws, a friendly monkey, and water lillies. The second, “La Isla de los Micos,” had dozens of monkeys. The third was an “indigenous community” that was actually a community of desperately poor Colombians descended from indigenous people who live on the riverbank and perform their “tribal dance” when tourists come. They also sell crafts that were clearly not made there, as many of them include well polished wood, and there were no tools anywhere in sight. (This whole environment upset me enough to make me, after about five minutes, wait in the boat for the rest of the group. Interestingly to me, the rich Colombian tourists from Bogotá immediately accepted the offer to join the “tribal dance” and had a great time dancing, unbothered by what upset me. I didn’t see whether or how much they gave to the “indígenas.”) The fourth stop was a small national park with huge trees and a group of Colombian soldiers setting up camp as part of a training exercise. The fifth stop was lunch, accompanied by this guy, who apparently is some type of monkey. The sixth stop was Puerto Nariño, the second-largest Colombian town on the Amazon River, which, as Wikipedia explains, “is entirely pedestrian, no car or motorcycle being allowed, as an experiment in an ecological community. The traffic with the smaller communities along the river, and with Leticia, the only other Colombian municipality in the region, takes place by motorboats.” Our guide, who was from Puerto Nariño, explained this to us and didn’t mention whether he or others in the town resent being unable to participate in efficient modern commerce or large-scale construction. For what it’s worth, the town is quite pretty. The seventh and last stop mirrored the fourth. In the painfully named Puerto Alegría, Peru, we were introduced to a few dozen impoverished “indigenous” people whose only visible means of sustenance seems to come from showing tourists their exceedingly cute animals, including sloths. Again I was very uncomfortable. Finished with the tour, to get back to Leticia we zipped along the river for another hour as the sun set.
On Monday we did very little: We walked some more through Leticia and Tabatinga, we tried to rent a buggy to move around faster, we had lunch, and then we flew back to Bogotá.
We were treated perfectly by our hosts, who housed us, fed us, and transported us around.
Despite not putting on any insect repellent, I got bitten only four or five times over the weekend. I only had to swat bugs away once.
I absolutely loved walking around and seeing Portuguese everywhere, as it is in Tabatinga. I’m not sure whether I’ve written about this here, but I’ve fallen in love with Portuguese from hearing and seeing some of it, and I really want to begin studying it when I feel I’m done studying Spanish.
This weekend, for the first time, I:
- Went to Brazil.
- Experienced a rainforest, sort of.
- Witnessed the vastness of the Amazon River.
- Spent time in three countries (Colombia, Brazil, Peru) in one day without being in a single airport.
- Drove a golf cart on regular roads with car traffic.
- Held a sloth.
I really enjoyed the environment and hope to be back in the Amazon before too long. When I was in Peru, the one large destination I missed was Iquitos, also on the Amazon. Now that I’ve been to Leticia, I can see how easy and how fun it would be to make the three-day boat trip between those two towns. Someday.
30 September 2011 § 1 Comment
I’ve had a few bad-to-really-bad experiences getting around Bogotá recently, and I don’t want to take buses, TransMilenio, or even cabs here anymore. Of course I have to, and I’ll probably start taking more cabs to mitigate the shittiness of the other two, but the situation still sucks overall.
The good thing, transportation-wise, about being in Bogotá is my travel schedule over the rest of the year:
- Two weeks from now: Long weekend in the Amazon.
- Early November: Four days in Medellín.
- Late December: Two weeks on Colombia’s Caribbean coast (Cartagena, Santa Marta and environs, Cabo de la Vela).
- Early January: Argentina (and maybe Uruguay).
The only one of those that will be expensive is the trip to Argentina. The tickets for each of the others cost about $100 roundtrip, and thanks to friends in the places we’ll be going, Isa and I aren’t expecting to spend much money except on activities (jungle treks, scuba diving, etc.).
19 September 2011 § Leave a Comment
Months ago, shortly after moving to Colombia, I wrote a series of semi-regular posts on Google Buzz, “Small pleasure of the day.” Those included rice, “Historians Admit to Inventing Ancient Greeks” by The Onion, rain, [(my friend) Lissie Thomas]@moma.org, buying furniture and eating salad, Songs in the Key of Life, geometry, and “Waking up at 5 and being so ready for the day ahead.” In other posts titled things like “Fear of the day,” “Correction of the day/week/month/year,” “Frustrating wtf of the day,” “Sadness/happy reminiscing of the day,” “Brave act(s) of love and support of the day,” and “Beauty of the day,” I mentioned things that moved me, even if they didn’t make me happy. I really enjoyed these posts, since they were so simple and so honest, and it’s a shame I dropped the habit last year.
I may bring it back, here, since I don’t update you all through this blog as frequently as I’d like, and, when I do, I write too much for many people to read. So here’s the major update of the day, the first small pleasure in nine months, and what a pleasure it is:
Homemade mushroom quesadillas after a months-long Monterrey Jack drought.
I’ll leave it at that, since the simplicity and the pureness of the pleasure is the point.
15 September 2011 § Leave a Comment
I’m kicking myself for not have done this a year earlier, but at least I’m collecting the benefits now: I recently signed up for a Google Voice number. Some of you may already use Google Voice, but for those who are unfamiliar with it, here’s what it provides:
- A U.S. phone number that calls me through Gmail, meaning that anyone with a U.S. number can call me with no additional charge, and I can pick up the call whenever I’m at my computer (which, given my work and lifestyle, is often).
- For outgoing calls to any U.S. number, I pay 1 cent a minute. For calls to anywhere else in the world, rates that beat the competition.
- Text messages to and from my number are free (for me, and normal cost for the senders).
- Emails telling me when I miss a call or receive a text message.
- Voicemail that I can listen to as audio or see transcribed.
- A Gmail-like interface (at google.com/voice) where I can access my entire phone history, including call times, text messages, and voicemails (both audio and text).
- The ability to record calls and save the audio files as MP3s. (This can only be turned on once a call has been started, and both people on the line hear, “This call is now being recorded,” so it can’t be used as a stealth device, but it would be awesome for phone interviews.)
I guess I would be afraid of posting my number to the internet, but Google Voice’s blocking features should probably be enough to prevent me from suffering from stalkers or sales cales, so the number is [see update below]. If I start to get unwanted calls (not from friends!), I’ll take this down, so please save the number now. So far I’ve used it for about half a dozen calls. One of them had terrible quality, but I think that was a result of connectivity issues on my end that would have also affected Skype. All the others have been perfectly clear, with little or no noticeable delay. (Overall, I’d say the quality of the phone calls is nearly identical to that of Skype.)
My old U.S. number is still active, though of course I’m not there to answer it now. With my new number, you can call me just as you would when I’m in the U.S. And if I get used to having my voicemail transcribed, I’ll keep this new number as my permanent one in the future, arranging it to forward to my U.S. phone the next time I’m in the country.
Update 9/25/11: Yesterday I got a call from the Ron Paul campaign, and I don’t know how they would have gotten the number except by calling every New York-area cell phone number or my picking it up from this site, so I’ve taken it down. Please ask for it if you’d like to be able to reach me by phone.
11 September 2011 § Leave a Comment
From a blogger I had never heard of, via James Fallows:
By all means memorialize 9/11, but do so in a quiet, dignified way. Don’t saturate the airwaves with endless, over-sentimentalized retrospectives and ceremonies. That kind of overkill cheapens the event and turns genuine grief into mere spectacle. Just for once can we not go over the top? Make it solemn and proud, modest and brief. Make it worthy of the kind of people we imagine ourselves to be, the kind of people we should be.
I can’t let today go unmarked, but nor do I have much worth saying.
Love the people you love, feel that love strongly, and show it regularly. Take life seriously. A lot happens, and each of us has important things we can and should do, if we’re up to the challenge of doing those things.
As hard and sad and painful as life can be, every moment and sensation is worth the entire universe. I thank a lot of people for helping me appreciate that.
9 September 2011 § Leave a Comment
Those of you who saw me in Pittsburgh or New York heard me say, maybe more than once, that I’m getting tired of Bogotá. It’s true. The city is a difficult place to live, and it’s only getting worse right now. More importantly for me, in the ways I’ve experienced it so far, it’s not improving with time; it’s only getting more frustrating, stressful, and uninteresting.
That sounds pretty bad, right? As I was saying variations of that to a number of people last week, I could sense how bad it sounded, and I imagined a response that was never vocalized: “So what are you still doing there?” Well, there are a lot of reasons for me to stay here a while more.
But this week, my first week back after my U.S. vacation, drove home one reason that had faded from my mind when I was in the U.S.: My life here is really exciting. There’s an energy and dynamism I feel each day when I leave my apartment that I rarely feel in the U.S. Some of it is actually a result of the city’s problems. I put my finger on this in two earlier posts from months ago. First, from last September, two weeks after I arrived in Colombia for the first time:
Life here, [my roommate and I] agreed, isn’t as easy as it is elsewhere. But it is, and will be, as long as we stay, wonderful in so many ways. At the least, it’s exciting. The adrenaline released just by walking the streets is something I already suspect I’m going to miss when I leave.
And second, from the last time I returned to Bogotá, in January:
Facing my return to Bogotá in my last week at home, I was nervous about coming back. Not so much nervous that anything specifically bad would befall me, though that was a small concern I hadn’t had the first time I left (when I was one computer richer and several stabbed acquaintances poorer). More so, I feared becoming severely worn down by the city.
See, I live here now. And I have for several months. The honeymoon is over. I’ve wrung every little bit of enjoyment, wonder, and intrigue possible out of the bus rides I take. I’ve examined TransMilenio in as many ways as it can be examined. (Bottom line: It’s the best of a bad situation–transportation in Bogotá–and even that only at times.) I’ve studied the people and the streets and I’m pretty used to them by now. They’re people. And streets. Different from the ones I grew up around. But not intrinsically better than what I used to know. Even, actually, worse in some ways (the streets, not the people–I hope). No longer very exciting. Also, have I mentioned that the city can be dangerous and that that’s a real bitch, just a total drain on the psyche a lots of the time?
That was what was so nice about being back in the U.S., and what made me nervous about coming back here. I didn’t want to spend hours a day on shitty buses again, nor any time on the streets holding my bag tightly and keeping my hands in my pocket, where my phone and wallet are. I don’t have to do that in the U.S. And I hate that I have to do that here. So I wasn’t feeling great–ready, but not great–as I packed up my things and headed to the airport again.
But then I landed in South America. Instantly, things got better. The heat–relative heat: it’s only like 70 degrees here–was immediately comforting as soon as I got off the plane and into the airport. The vibe of being back in Latin America was exciting. And the fact that I got out of the cab in a new and much nicer neighborhood than I used to live in was a great surprise, in how much it both comforted and excited me right away.
This time, leaving New York’s 85 degrees, Bogotá wasn’t hot enough to make me excited to be back. But there was Latin America’s smell and feel, which I don’t miss when I’m away, but which I love when I’m here. That’s literally the best of both worlds, right?
And more than that, I’m back to my business. I don’t have the right words to explain the excitement of my work. I’m sure I’d feel similarly if I were successfully freelancing in the U.S. But I don’t have much faith I could pull that off, since I’m making things work here thanks to competitive advantage and a low cost of living. It’s really working, and I really love that.
So when I left my parents’ apartment to go have fun each day on vacation, that was great. But when I leave my apartment here to go to work, it’s even better. I miss New York already, of course, but I’m happy to be where I am.