The rest of 2014, and starting 2015 in Germany

Hey so it has been a while since I made a post about what I have been up to. Mostly I have been making posts about ideas and thoughts I was having. Most of what I was doing during the second half of 2014, after Africa, was writing, reading and thinking, but I did go on a few adventures. During the beginning of the summer I lived in Fairfield, Iowa for a month or so. Fairfield is a super chill town where the Maharashi meditation school is, small and friendly it is a wonderful place to stay.

After that I went to the Rainbow Gathering, which was held in Unita Forest near Salt Lake City, Utah this year. At the gathering I ran into a friend from Occupy Chicago who invited me to join in her and her cousins VW van, we went through Idaho, and up into Oregan over a few weeks. Once we were in Oregan I was contacted by a friend from highschool who happened to be in Seattle and ready to drive to Montana’s glacier national park, camp deep woods then drive the rest of the way back to Chicago. Of coarse I took the next ride I could find to Seattle to join him. We had a great time driving, camping and not getting eaten by bears.

Once I was back in Chicago I hopped in with my family on a vacation to Costa Rica. I went a week early to visit friends I hadnt seen since I stayed in Costa Rica a few years back. After the vacation I hung around Batavia for a few weeks before suddenly deciding to fly to India to inquire into a love interest, and curious about the state of the religious mindset in India. I didnt stay long because I was tight on cash and flew back to work.I worked for three months, the last month at a German Christmas market, whom the owners of invited me to come help at their New Years Eve party. Christmas passed and next thing I knew I was on a plane to Berlin.

I guess it seems like I have been doing a lot more than just reading and writing, but really that has been my main focus, all this travelling stuff has been my relaxation time if anything. Though Im far from completing the ideas I desire to write, the process has been somewhat sucessful, not only in generating material, but also winning a writing competition for a Sociology & Political Conference in honor of Hannah Arendt named The Unmaking of Americans, and attended by some radical minds. Here is a ted talk about fixing our broken legal system, from one of the speakers. Here is one by Lawrence Lessig, whose ted talk about how our legal system is choking creativity went viral. George Packer, who wrote the number one selling left wing book of 2014, and Charles Murray who wrote the top selling right wing book of 2014 were the first to debate. Though radically different minds in how to solve the problem, it was fascinating to see them agree so readily on what the problems were.

These are just a few of the amazing discussants at this conference, and here is the article I wrote. Basically, what I’m trying to bring notice to but use big fancy philosophy words is our need for community, and public (political) action together to make decisions important to us. I connect this to the word ekklesia which was the greek word for assembly  and a word which Jesus used often when telling people to go start churches. I imply the possibility that Jesus was really trying to start a political rebellion against Rome by inspiring these ekklesia assemblies. And perhaps, when Jesus died the Romans turned the word Ekklesia from assembly to Church based on the word Lord, or master and made Jesus’ revolution into a way to control the people. Ultimately, if all the churches in the world realized their political roots to make democratic assemblies together, and utilize shared cooperative local businesses, a sort of religious revolution could do great things for the world.

Now to Germany and 2015

First thing I did after arriving in Beriln was go to the state of Turingia for the New Years Eve Party. Two other friends from the market Maria and Tina who live in Germany came to work as well. We spent most of the day preparing and designing these amazing dishes you will see below. Claudia used to own a catering company in New York and is a master chef. The other pictures are of the restaurant, house, and banquet hall they live and work in.

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For some reason the main pictures of the food at the very end are missing, so I will have to get them from someone else who was there….

After the New Years Party I went up to the Baltic sea with Maria to visit her sister and her boyfriends family who were going to jump in the Sea for a sort of Polar Plunge. This is the city of Rostock where we were.
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These are pictures from Berlin, new and old buildings, War memorial, an Elevator that goes inside of an aquarium and the Brandenburg gate which was one of the closed entrances to the city by the Berlin Wall. It is so crazy to see such old buildings, because in the US we dont have anything quite so old. Berlin is full of culture and history.

At some point we helped out at a homeless shelter that was overcrowded because of all the refugees from Syria.

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The last trip we made was to Maria’s moms village, where one of the oldest medival walls still stand. We drank coffee, played cards and climbed to the top of this tower to get a view of the surrounding landscape. It was a fun and relaxing stay. IMG_20150110_131154 IMG_20150111_121229 IMG_20150111_121714 IMG_20150111_121718 IMG_20150111_121724 IMG_20150111_132207 IMG_20150111_132211 IMG_20150111_132215 IMG_20150112_123828 IMG_20150112_124303

Now we are back in Berlin deciding what to do next, thanks for reading!

Religion 2.0

Religion 2.0 is the idea that religion is being updated to a linear style of organization, opposed to the classic hierarchical management. Many religious movements, and even business models are moving toward this style of direct participation by it’s members. (article)  The importance of directly involving members, is empowerment, because people who feel empowered are more likely to have purpose and be active contributors to their community. Empowerment also leads to inclusion, because empowered people want other people to feel empowered, leading to a domino effect. (youtube how to start a movement, dancing guy) What we are talking about here is the feeling of God, Spirit, or Freedom people feel when they experience something so right, they can’t help but share the “good news”. Like the many people who rave about meditation, rainbow gathering, or an amazing music video, people want to share what makes them feel good. 

Religion 2.0 also inspires people who do not already have a religion to establish belief systems from the ground up. Having a spiritual, or not spiritual community (whatever you want) is important to life and happiness. Whether the community is physical or online, the same applies. We need reassurance from peers that we are not crazy for feeling good about something, anything. What ever you believe, I am sure there is someone else out there that believes it too. I read an article some time ago about how the internet is connecting people all over the world, who before felt alone and alienated. Homosexuality was the main example given, through the internet, a community of homosexuals were able to connect and work together to fight for their rights. People being oppressed in the Middle East is another great example, through the internet they can connect with people who support their struggles, all over the world. The article claimed that a Jew in NYC may connect more to an atheist in Australia because of their similarity in music tastes, over the other Jews in their neighborhood.

One major realization likely to result from the transformation religion is going through is our bond to people we already live near. We probably have a lot more in common with our neighbors than we realize, but we are too distracted to take the time to find out.  One facet of religion, especially the religions of Abraham, I would love to see more of, is the calm optimism and faith in life that allows one to sit back and relax sometimes. Heavens, we might even Bring Back the Sabbath Day. 

Before India

When I came back from South America I was still very confused. When I had first flew into Ecuador I had been reading the Bhagavad Gita, but lost it within a week at a hostel. The book had really inspired me and I continued reading it when I got home. I ended up getting into Yoga and Meditation. Every minute I wasn’t working to save for India, teaching myself Hindi and reading the sacred texts I was in my parents basement doing hours and hours of yoga and meditation. I was hooked on meditation and yoga like a drug, spending upwards to six hours a day practicing various techniques I found on the internet. I kept thinking that I needed a teacher to show me the next step, that there was something more. We will see in the story of India what I realized. The funniest thing is that I found my Guru just one month before in my home town. He opened a yoga center and gave me basically free classes for a month to prepare me. I never met a man in India who treated me with so much respect and inspired me more than this Guru ji.

Australia 2014

Australia, flying out of New Caledonia so close to you at the end of last year, I thought perhaps it would be a while yet before I saw the beauty of your rocky shores.

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An end, a death to the voyage at sea, is found here upon your vast soil. Here the dead laugh watching over the waves as they tickle the massive fortification, Poseidon never penetrates.

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Though death is not something to laugh at here, where you make the ocean seem small and weak. You sent a beautiful beast to remind me of this, the first morning I awoke, my nose nearly caught in the spider’s web.

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Canberra has a few creations to cherish.

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Though Sydney is where it is at.

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Chinatown has super cheap fruits, veggies and nuts, in a bustling barterers market. 2014-02-22 19.00.022014-02-22 16.24.262014-02-22 18.52.432014-02-22 16.27.08

The beauty of the beaches is something to behold but I think even more is the artwork it is lined with.

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Even at Hogwarts (University of Sydney) in some places this art is accepted.

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The gays of Sydney bring even more color, especially during Marti Gras, where funny friends dress up like fools.

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Obviously the city space is a small part of it all. Venture out side for fruits and Giant Merino’s

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Unending wildlife

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And the best part, the blue mountains. (The Three Sisters)

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Minni Ha Ha Waterfall

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Perhaps someday soon I will come back with more time, and get a car like this one. Wicked car rentals only $20 per day, they also do camper vans.

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After I came home from sailing I again felt overwhelming pain seeing my friends and family lives where they seemed happy, but constantly complained. I felt that people force themselves to have a positive attitude to mask the constant suffering they feel. No one wants to talk about their day at work, their love life, or their addictions to coffee, marijuana and drinking. I looked again at what to do next and was accepted to be a dog sled musher in the Yukon territory for the winter. I doubted if dog sledding was what I really wanted to do and felt like all I was doing was making a name for myself as some adventure junkie.  I felt like I needed to do something for this world rather than escape it. I needed to find a way to put the patience, charisma and holistic view of the world I had gained to use. I started researching into Volunteerism and what sort of things were happening around the world to make a difference. I found many volunteer organizations that had a terrible record and plenty of evidence that the money was not being used properly. I found one organization that had a really cool story and seemed to be dedicated to ensuring sustainable projects. They happened to be nearing their bi-yearly hiring process. The first stage was an open application and essay. The second was a minute long video showing your full capability of charisma. Several thousand applied for the first stage and only a few hundred were accepted to the second. The third narrowed us down into 20 people for skype interviews, and only a few would be hired. I was hired and they flew me out to Australia with in two weeks.

We would be going to two universities per week, two days each, with one partner, the first day we would spend 10 hours running non-stop between the largest lecture halls possible to make 60 second announcements, at least 4 an hour, the second giving info sessions. Circling around our lecture halls we looked for the professors who arrive early to ask them about doing the announcement when their class started. We would have to judge the attitude of the professor and the distances between lecture halls. Sprinting between each we would burst into the lecture hall and scream at the top of our lung about volunteering  the next holiday and throw a handful of fliers inviting everyone to detailed info sessions the next day. There would be die hard competition on each campus with up to four other organizations try to do the same thing. We were known for being the best and our training reflected it. In the vigorous training we memorized the 60 second announcement and ran sprints while screaming it. Did group building excises and individual empowering group competitions. They taught us to look at people like zombies, who would be convinced by using hang gestures, using sneaky sales tactics and averting certain questions. The 45 minute info session was where we made the sale. I was told I couldn’t talk about my independent travels because that would make people think they could travel without using a their volunteer agency. They convinced me to keep working by making me feel like I was respected above the others, and in line to become a volunteer leader who would be paid to stay in different countries taking the volunteers (a high majority beautiful women) on amazing adventures, zip lining, scuba diving, and more. After a few weeks out recruiting I began to question what I was really fighting for. I thought I was giving people a new freedom, that would change their life. I began to realize that most of these people would spend a bunch of money to go for two weeks, live in a planned safe environment,  take pictures to show their friends, and go home thinking they had seen the world.

I was frustrated by the lack of spirituality the recruiter job entailed. We told ourselves we were working for a higher purpose, but everything manifested in self service. When we did announcements in front of 1000 people lectures halls, we often woke people up more than coffee at 7am and received standing ovations. Never had I felt so powerful, but what was the power for? We were encouraged to go to college bars to show our faces around campus and how cool we were. When I told my bosses that I didn’t like the idea of drinking all the time they said well maybe the recruiter life isn’t for you. I felt like my team was doing great and after three hard weeks my partner and I had really bonded. One day our boss showed up on campus and I knew something was wrong. They said no, no everything is OK, I’m just here to help because the campus is big. I knew this was a lie and continued to probe deeper. Finally they admitted that they were here to watch our performance and at the end of the week would fire my partner or I. I immediately quit and said he could keep the job. He was younger than me and much more into it, competing was not worth it. I barely saw my partner during the first day of campuses because we would be on opposite sides. So later that day I asked him what our boss had said and he said ohhh they said they fired you. I laughed and told him the truth. I was pretty angry that they had lied about that so I immediately went into our messaging group and simply said that I decided the recruiter life wasn’t for me, and that I decided to go to Africa to see what this was really about with my own two eyes.

Now I’m in Johannesburg, South Africa, and loving it so much. I met a local artist in the Airport who took me to this new area of town Maboneng right in the center (that used to be the most dangerous) where a rich artist bought 40 buildings and is basically giving them to anyone with motivation and a good idea to reconstruct the area with art spaces, cafes and vintage clothing shops. Like the hostel I’m at now, run by a 21 year old guy, opened 2 months ago, with art work all over the walls and couches made out of recycled tires. There are guys on every corner with huge machine guns to protect the neighborhood. I feel the heart of Africa and look forward to its embrace as I wander (after 1 month of volunteering at Lydenrust farms that is)

 

Thank you Australia, until next time.

 

Ps. Unfortunately, I had to leave behind my parents house, and the beautiful art space we created there as they are moving. Here are some pictures in memory.

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Motorcycling India, Leh deep in the Himalayas Spring 2013

Jammu and Kashmir is the northern most state in India. The state spans from the smoldering lowland city of Jammu, bordering Pakistan and ripe with political conflict, to the isolated Himalayan outpost of Leh. Leh is only accessible by road from Srinagar, situated on the infamous Dal Lake, for three months of the year and from Manali to the south one month. This rugged road with hundreds of hair pin turns raises the hair of hundreds of daring cyclists each season.  The Jammu-Srinagar-Leh-Manali Loop is over 2,000 km. For me it was 4,000 wandering all the back roads.

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Last post I bought Rah, a 2003 Bajaj Eliminator in Dharamsala and took it for a test tour around Rewalsar Lake. Going to the lake I took the well paved Mandi road, heading back north I decided to take back roads, which turned out to be unpaved 75% of the time. A route on Google maps said this road to Nurpur (gateway to Chamba) takes 3.5 hours. After 8 hours of riding and still hours away a tire popped. Luckily right when it popped, in the middle of nowhere, there just happened to be a repair shop. The mechanic dropped the bike, breaking the brake handle and the foot rest, otherwise after two hours I was on the road again. Feeling exhausted deep in the Kangra valley, the temperature was 35C (95F). I was sweating and freezing. Luckily the loop was closing in and rather than continuing onward to Nurpur I crash landed back in Dharamsala with a group of Yoga teachers I knew would still be there. I laid shaking sick on an extra floor mat for 3 days, nurtured by the Kundalini Mothers Lauren and Liya. Sat Nam.

 Excited by a revelation in my sick hallucinatory state that reassured me in my path towards truth I was ready to go. The 6 hour rugged detour to Chamba was a welcome challenge. The little hill station of Dalhousie appeared two hours short of Chamba, allowing much needed rest. 

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Only two hours to Chamba, the next day I spent an afternoon in the Mini Switzerland of India. Khajjiar, a plateau meadow, 2,000m above sea leavel, surrounded by snow caped Himalayas, cradling a tiny stream fed lake, is a favorite for Bollywood films. Also a popular destination for zorbing, the extreme sport of gentle hill orb rolling.

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Chamba is so so beautiful. The town surrounds a huge park filled with smiling people day and night.  The market is always bustling, different than any other city in India. The population is diverse between Hindus, Muslims and Tibetans, especially seen in the delicious selections of food. I was embraced by everyone as family + guest (which also means god).

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The owner of a restaurant took me down to his favorite fishing spot. Once a week  he has special fish fry night. Using only a net, he can catch huge trout as long as your arm in this rapid river.

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Plenty of Indian tourists were found everywhere around these hills. Westerners were nowhere to be seen. Rolling into Chamba on Rah created a splash which rattled the fabric holding together this quaint community. The fish guy and a nearby vegetarian restaurant owner got into a yelling match after I ate the other guy’s veggie meal the next day. A group of guys my age I had played pool with conflicted with another group I had drank whiskey with.  I found them all standing around Rah one morning waiting to see who I would spend my day with. When I didn’t want to spend it with anyone it created a commotion which drew a crowd. This drew the police chief,  who threatened to impound the motorcycle because I technically wasn’t the legal the owner nor did I have an international license. Luckily I had visited the Fire department the night before and dropped the fire chiefs name which got me off the hook. By this point there was a crowd of nearly 300 surrounding us. I left my bike there and started walking out of town. I met a guy who invited me to come eat diner at his family’s restaurant. After hours and hours of eating and several Indian men drinking way too much. I asked to be taken home. On the way back I started getting a really bad feeling as he turned onto this back road. I jumped off his moving motorcycle in motion. It turned out it was really just a back road and he took me back to my home stay. When we arrived I realized I wasn’t wrong about the bad feeling. He wouldn’t leave and started telling me he wanted to sleep with me. The noise in the street woke the family I was staying with. The drunk guy started fighting three men from the family and refused to go home. Finally he left. The next morning walking to the market for breakfast I received an unprecedented amount of attention. Good and bad. A crowd of people followed me back to the home stay where I found the father of the house holding the morning’s news paper. The front cover was a huge picture of me with the police chief  and crowd all around. Why is This Wild American Man in Chamba?  The article was full of interviews with random people who had encountered me. Most were friendly but some were saying I was making people drink and fight each other. To my own dismay I packed and left that afternoon.

Again I chanced a back road, directly toward Jammu. This time the road was well paved and full of stellar sights.

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The first few hours it was cold and raining. Escaping the pour, I stopped for a while at a little school where the teachers had me meet all the children. The school was on the edge of a dry river bed which seemed endless. I could hardly see the other side. The teachers said this river was full and deep in the wet season. The road continued down and down, never ceasing it’s drop. Evergreen mountains, turned to jungle then to desert. A temperature change of 10C (50F) to 40C (104F) happened in only 300km or 5 hours. Ridding shirtless, dripping sweat, the wind was a hair dryer in my face. Far down below a huge lake taunted me. Some policeman on the side of the road said it was impossible to get down there for a swim. The next dirt road I challenged that notion. Down at the bottom three women carrying baskets on their heads looked as if they had seen a ghost. They turned to run, so I yelled रुको! कृपया! बहुत गर्म, तैरना तैरना, Rukō! Krpayā! Bahuta garma, tairanā tairanā, “Wait! Please! Very hot, swim, swim!” They signaled for me to follow. Led me to their house, and made me a cup of chai. This was the first time I was alone with people who spoke no English. Putting months of Hindi practice to test I learned that the men would be home soon, I should stay for diner and that in the mean time their children would take me down to swim.

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Eventually the father came home and we played cricket. It was very difficult to understand the rules in Hindi, considering it was my first time experiencing cricket. Realizing that I was batting in the middle of the field and could hit it any direction was very difficult to grasp. Some bees had made a home in a nearby tree and to celebrate my visit the guy harvested some honey. In the process he was stung right above the eye, which you can see in the picture above (guy on the left wearing brown). He said the honey was well worth it. They invited me to spend the night, so I shared a queen size bed between six men. The story I was able to translate from Hindi was that this family was from the city Shimla. The man in brown and his wife standing next to him married because of love. This was the first and only love marriage I saw in India. She was from a high caste family and he is from a low worker caste. Since he is the oldest son and took care of his whole family, they were all exiled. They moved far from any town and built this small house. They were all very happy, but very very poor.

A chicken wandered onto their property earlier that week. None of them had ever eaten meat before, but since the exile they wanted to break old Hindu restrictions. Handing me a big knife and a live chicken, they said they had no idea what to do. I didn’t know much more, but I’ve seen enough movies to improvise. I cooked them chicken over an open fire. We stayed up half the night singing and joking, while a huge storm shook the desert. Leaving the next morning was difficult, especially navigating back up the now muddy broken road. There was a long way to go yet. Rah and I were hardly at the foothills of the Himalayas.

Skipping Jammu one hour north, the road turned toward Srinagar and started to rise again. Hair pin turn after hair pin turn, flooded with army convoys. A long army flat bed didn’t make his turn, wedged in a pin blocking all the traffic, I weaved through, leaving hours of clear road ahead of me. The lack of traffic was a gift as I entered weeping valleys, where the clouds sat on the road, blocking vision and soaking me from head to toe.

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There was a noticeable shift to a Muslim majority after passing Jammu. I learned to say As-salam alaykum (Muslim hello), Namaste elicited very negative reactions up there. Getting to Srinagar took three days, one I spent resting because of bad weather. The first hotel was strangely fancy, with 50 rooms and no guests. The second was a closet above a Muslim truck stop restaurant. I felt scared at first staying above the truck stop, especially because everyone said Muslims were taking hostages and bombing places in Srinagar.  In the end it was beyond a doubt friendlier than the fancy hotel, and an educational experience. A wonderful picture of the truck stop owners sitting on Rah was lost among a bunch of other photos in this leg of the journey.

Dal lake was majestic to say the least. Covered in house boats for rent, from a $1 a night rotten log to $500 a night mansions on the water. In the middle, a $5 stay in a family’s spare room included usage of their canoe. The only way to the house boat was by water taxi or canoe, same for the floating market.

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That is Danielo in the canoe above. I was walking around the town when I saw this beautiful chewbacca man walking down the road trying to hitchhike out of town. He had been hitching all around the world for the past seven years. His last dream before returning home to Brazil to see his family was to get to Leh. He looked pretty worn after hitching trucks on the Jammu – Srinagar road so I told him to stay at the houseboat with me for a good night rest and a hot meal. We became great friends over night and the next morning I ask if he wanted to join Rah and I. We made sure we could fit his backpack. It was heavy and awkward but doable. We enjoyed one more day in Srinagar before continuing.

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The first day riding was the most beautiful but also the most intense. Just outside the city we passed by the famous horse nomads of the Himalayas, on their way north with the spring. Surrounded by glacial mountains we climbed Zozila Pass 11,400 feet, one of the highest road passes in the world. There we took a sled ride from friendly locals who were hoping to make tips from tourists. A snow slide blocking the road created a line up of several hundred military vehicles and a few other trucks and tourist 4x4s. We weaved right on through to the front of the line, after waiting ten minutes the road was cleared and we were flying ahead of everyone.

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Flying ahead of everyone for a little while at least. The glaciers lining the road formed puddles every 100ft. Usually at least 1ft deep, the photo above was taken at the very end. We were so freaked out we didn’t think to take photos at the biggest puddles.

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These are someone else’s photos but basically what we were going through over and over for hours. One very rapid glacier melt like the one above knocked Rah and I over into the water. Along with Danielo’s entire back pack, I was soaked head to toe and trapped underneath the bike. Danielo ran out and rescued me, I really don’t know if I would of made it without him. Freezing cold and extremely tired, I had been driving the whole way, my hands were covered in blisters. The next puddle was even bigger than the last. I just stopped the bike and sat down on the side of the road. Danielo had already waded to the other side of the puddle before he turned around and saw me sitting there. He ran back across to see if I was ok and asked if he could try crossing. He hadn’t driven a motorcycle in years but had dirt bikes through out his childhood. Before he finished asking I said, of coarse! “Really I can drive?” He hopped on the bike and flew across the puddle like he was on a boat. There were only a few more puddles to cross, but still over 100km to the next hotel where we could dry ourselves and the gear off. Riding on the back was so much warmer, Danielo was an amazing driver, he saved the day.

After sleeping in Drass, famed for a fluke day, which gave it the titled Coldest city in the world. We made a fire right in the middle of the courtyard to cook  breakfast eggs. The hotel wanted us to pay a ridiculous price to use their kitchen. Building a fire in their yard was probably rude, but they had been rude to us from the beginning and it was hilarious how many Indian tourists came and stood around our fire with us. Before we left we climbed to the top of an abandoned building to get a good view of the town.

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After Drass everything became super dry, leading into the area known as the Himalayan Desert.

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After a long day of desert mountain navigating, civilization was nowhere to be seen and soon it would be dark. We tried searching for a cave to sleep in but found nothing in the loose stone. It was about to get really really cold. There was a tiny road stop with a possible place to sleep hours behind us. Instead of turning back we chanced going forward. Only 15 more minutes up the road we spied a little stone structure. We quickly collected wood and rebuilt parts of the structure that had fallen apart. Keeping the fire going all night barely kept the cold out. The smoke definitely stayed in. It was home sweet home.

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Leh Leh the Tibetans say. Hey hey from Danielo and me. Buildings rising high on cliff edges. Happy people who survive most of the year on a single barley and apricot harvest. Less than three months of road access, nothing is shipped in by airplane. Only Thenthuk soup and butter tea to ward off the cold.

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For some reason both of us were feeling antsy still. After such a long journey to this destination, once we arrived we said “what next”. The very next day Danielo decided to start hitching back to Delhi for his flight next week, back to Brazil. I decided I didn’t want to wait around for the Manili road to clear up from the snow, which would be at least another month. The next day I met a German guy at the internet cafe, when I was printing out flyers to sell Rah. He bought it, we went to diner with his friends. The next morning I flew to Delhi, where I waited two days as they cancelled flights because of a 45C (113F) heat wave. Om Nama Shiviya, full power india, with out the sour, 24 hour.

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Crossing the Pacific

After nearly 3 months and 7500 miles to cross the Pacific from the Panama Canal. Now back home, with wobbly legs it all seems a distant dream. There were ups and downs, triumphs and doubt. Staring so long to the surrounding blue sky and blue sea was pacifying. The moments I expected more were trying. When I accepted it for what it was, a freedom, it brought ultimate tranquility. Moreover, relationships brought trials beyond the internal. Accepting that the blue is just the blue is one thing. Accepting your shipmates eating particularities, conversation habits, and smells were another. Long nights of rough sea with little sleep and resource conservation could make even the closest friends think of personal survival. The nature of a sailor anticipates change, and so these conflicts were always quickly forgotten at the marina bar. Once you have fought nature, and survived, a crew is eternally bound together. Putting man on the ocean, where he never belonged, something strange and great is accomplished.

First I’ll tell you about this luxury pleasure yacht. 42′ and 12 tons, a feather on the water, the motion of the ocean was entirely different than the previous huge steel boat. A giant weight in the bottom slides back and forth to compensate the turn of the waves. This creates a very jerky motion in high seas, but an extremely steady balance during the calm. Eating is 110% of sailing and on Sea Quill we did it with style. Two refrigerators, a freezer, three burner stove + oven, and two basin sink with sea water foot pump surrounded by an open kitchenette containing a large table and chair space for six. Outside was another table nearly as large and capable of full enclosure for poor weather. One tall mast and a jib off the bow gave us the sail power to keep a steady pace of seven knots and sometimes up to ten. When the wind wasn’t strong enough we had a parachute sail called a spinnaker, which almost kept speed with the wind at eight knots. A  state of the art AIS system drove most the time, and warned us of any danger. Until near the end that is. We were getting tired of sitting around reading and eating all the time anyhow.

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The previous crew woman that decided to stay in Panama left me her guitar, computer and of coarse her room. We stayed on the Colon side of the Panama Canal for a few days before crossing, waiting for permission. During this time I was able to explore the surrounding jungle where several US military bases now lay abandoned.

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Crossing the Canal is an expensive and complicated process. Boats which can not maintain above eight knots must stay the night in Gatun Lake, make the entire process about 24 hours. After five hours of rest there are about 30-50 miles of river before the last five locks.

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The first night, crossing four locks, we followed a huge freighter and tied along side a tug boat as you can see in the picture above.

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Gatun was a beautiful river, and passing by all the freighters and bridges was surreal. The second day we went through the locks all by ourselves, using ropes tied to four corners slowly slacked as the water level lowered. On the other side in Panama city, we stocked up with tons of vegetables, fruits and of coarse rum.

One night at the marina bar we were having a casual meal and drink when a woman from Columbia began to hit on us. I immediately put up defenses. She focused her attention on the two other guys and whenever I interrupted she would look at me with eyes like the devil. I didn’t feel like my crew mates noticed this, perhaps they were too drunk. She tried to reach her foot between my legs underneath the table. I pushed it away, it felt huge and scaly. Our captain was playing along when she told him to touch her breasts. He laughed and loudly repeated her question. A group of people were beginning to watch what was happening at our table. The woman started to focus her attention on the other guy that was around my age, and he seemed to be very intrigued by her. She began to lean over and kiss him. I felt helpless to do anything and when she reached her foot over to touch the captain he laughed and yelled “hey I never said you could touch my Pe-Nis!” in his strong french accent. He was laughing when she asked our other crew mate if she could come on the boat that night with him. The captain said it was his choice and told me to come with him so we could let him decide what he wanted to do. We walked over to the bar where a group of waitresses ran up to us asking us what we were doing. They said this is not a woman this is a man. We ran back over to our friend and told him we needed to leave. We never told him he was kissing a man.

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We stopped in Isla Pedro Gonzalez, a tiny island town where we chanced upon a few papayas and some outrageously energetic American sailors.

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Crossing the ecuator

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Galapagos was surprisingly cold. The islands are located at a meeting point of three currents, from the north, south and west. At the beginning of September when we visited, the Humboldt current from the Antarctic glaciers brought a southern chill. The beaches were lined with sea lions baking in the sun. In the night they would climb onto our deck to sleep. Well, sleep is one way to look at it. When they hop up every night, flapping around and howling at the moon, one doesn’t feel as bad to return the disturbance. We had a special stick to scare them off and took turns being the one to wake up and do it. The sea lions were typically harmless, as long as the ornery bulls, who often took over park benches on high ground, were avoided.

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The authorities will only allow a sailing vessel to stay for 36 hours to fill water, fuel and restock food supplies. Otherwise there is a $600 cruising fee. The downtown was empty during the cold slow season. The famous Galapagos orange was still readily available along with the perpetual hospitality of the locals. The customs agent who assisted us every step of they way, getting fuel and water, brought us to his home for a snack and to meet his children. When we left he rushed out to say good bye carrying a whole banana tree which we hung off the back of the boat. (Seen in the photo below)

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After Galapagos a little over 3000 miles separated the next  island of Nuka Hiva, French Polynesia. The sea was so incredibly calm 18 days of the 21 day crossing. We saw whales swimming along side us for several hours, though too far for pictures to capture. At one point, we were just sitting down for lunch when the Captain hopped up anxiously and said “What is that coming in the distance?” We went outside and saw a wall of white water coming our direct from at least two miles away. For a few minutes we were all in incredible fear thinking of a tsunami or storm. A closer look with binoculars revealed a stampede of dolphins. Within the next minute somewhere between 250 – 500 dolphins were jumping and splashing passed the boat. One hundred broke off the pack and swam in front of us, racing along, jumping out of the water for over an hour. One small, young looking dolphin, full of energy, became a story like inspiration to us all. As all the other dolphins leisurely jumped out of the water one to two feet, he would be seen cutting below in the clear water at full speed. Launching himself in the air 10 feet, he was a complete anomaly among the others. A Johnathan Livingston Seagull.

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The blue provides tranquility for those who let it in. Madness for those who fight to keep it out. Anger and anxiety for others who let it in but hide it. 21 days are not so many in the span of a life, or the life of the universe. The life in the single room of a boat can be a prison cage where a wild animal paces back and forth, or a floating achievement of freedom, a testament to the future of the human race and what is possible. Christopher Columbus sailed with three ships crewing about 40 men each to cross the Atlantic approximately 3000 miles. They took five weeks while we crossed in three with three men. Soon the speed at which we travel in space will also increase. Our space ships already function with few astronauts on board. Either way, as we shouted Land Ahoy we felt like space men after a long journey through vast emptiness. Wobbling, taking the first steps on land, we were taking the first steps on a new planet.

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The tiny Island of Nuka Hiva has a population of 2,600 of the most friendly people you could ever meet. At one point we were walking back to the boat with groceries when a truck  stopped and offered a ride, we graciously accepted. Crime is nearly unheard of. The island only has two police officers. One supply boat comes per month, filling the empty shelves of the two grocery stores. Several other boats had just crossed the Pacific. During our five day séjour we became a big family. The last night we made a huge fire on the beach, where many locals joined us in celebration. That night captain reminded us of his ability to drink. He was an old man and we worried he would wander off, swim by himself and drown. Another friend in his 20’s got so drunk he went home with a old not very attractive local woman. We kept trying to tell him to come back with us, please come with us you don’t want to do this. He would shout no no, I know what I want, look at this beautiful woman, I am going to sleep with her. The next morning we found him sleeping by the marina. When he woke he told us how he didn’t remember anything, woke up in her bed in the middle of the night and ran away. No one wanted to say goodbye, but we were racing the cyclone season and everyone took off, some to the north for the Cook Islands others south towards Tahiti. 

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A boat full of fruits, freezer full of fish, and a sky of rainbows. Yet something was off in me for the next island hop which was only 800 miles or five days. I was stuck thinking about love after meeting a beautiful woman and regretting a missed opportunity to join another boat that was heading to uninhabited atolls to snorkel with reef sharks. I beat myself up about it thinking and thinking. Depression, diagnosed in 7% of Americans, is characterized by lack of motivation, paranoid antisocial behavior, anxiety and destructive habits.  While I was feeling off, I didn’t want to do anything, but felt I had to. I had to keep studying French, I had to try and talk to my crew mates, I had to eat, I had to pretend I was OK, but I didn’t want to do anything. It felt like there was no energy anywhere outside myself, and every time I tried to make some excitement it was only disorder.  I was spiraling downward and the more I fought against the current I sunk. Returning to lessons of meditation in India, of detachment, I began meditating. I had nothing to do and nothing I wanted to do so I just sat there. Sometimes with my eyes open, sometimes closed, sometimes looking around at things and other times just one thing, for hours. After three days I was quiet, regaining balance, returning to the brimming cup of joy I generally have. Is there some profound psychological understanding within this experience? Perhaps it is the constant struggle to maintain a fruitless routine which perpetuates depression? Depression and anxiety could be an indication of a peaceful soul waiting to relax and accept the human condition. Whatever it is, I thank the crew for being understanding and supportive.

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Sailing into Raiatea, a small island of trees marks the skinny passage into the Atoll. An Atoll is an old volcano island that had a high ring of coral grow around its base. As the island began to sink from the middle with age the coral reef eventually is higher than the land in some areas. This creates a barrier that breaks the waves creating calm blue water full of colorful fish. 

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We climbed to the top of the mountain to take pictures.

A couple of young sailors were sponsored to sail around the world in their 14′ boat. Their mast had broken and after waiting two months for it to be shipped from France we were there just in time to help them put it back together. We had a few mechanical difficulties also. Our generator broke on the Pacific crossing and Raiatea was the first stop where that could be fixed. We also noticed that a pulley block had broken at the top of the mast which we replaced. We thought everything was ready to go. After filling fuel, water and food supplies we set off, but eight hours out our auto pilot broke. The first boat from Miami to Panama never had auto pilot and that was fine. In this case we were concerned because a small catamaran like ours is a bit more difficult to pilot due to its jerky motion and light weight. Also the captain was 69 years old and had been known to be a bit disoriented in the middle of the night or early morning. Almost every morning I would wake him for his watch and he would have to be reminded who I was, where he was, and what he needed to do, usually taking about 30 minutes and a cup of coffee. With only the three of us it would mean eight hours a day steering. The captain decided to head back to Raiatea and luckily we were able to fix the problem. At least we thought we had, but this time it broke after three days. Later we found out it was because the guy that fixed it put a tiny pin in the hydraulic pump where a bolt was required. Now we had no choice but to steer for the next 12 days to New Caledonia. Personally I was very happy for this, because I was ready for a bit more adventure and I realized I hadn’t really been sailing sitting indoors all day reading. We were very sore. We bonded over the trial of our physical and especially mental endurance. Celebrating we stopped in the Ils de Pines just south of New Caledonia, a magical place.

I forgot a funny story from earlier in the trip. The captain had awoken in the middle of the night while we were anchored. He freaked out because he thought we were drifting to rocks, turned on the engine and tried to drive. When he went to look why the boat wouldn’t go he fell off and before he could figure out what to do about it he decided that he need to shower. It became a joke that in case of emergency, be very patient because the captain must first shower before making any decisions. Our captain was a very wise man, with 50 years of sailing experience, but he was obviously losing some of his coherence. The other crew mate and I basically made the quick decisions, and repaired most problems. Neither of us had even been on this sort of sailing trip, but with a combination of his experience day sailing with his dad and my experience in stressful situations, at the fire department and on the last boat. We put our heads together with our captain and made it happen.

From the beginning I told them I would learn French. They didn’t believe me. They didn’t like to speak English so if I was to understand, I had to learn. With in a month I could understand. Within two I could more or less speak. By the end of three months I was getting off on the French Islands and talking to locals. This would be the fourth language I could make at least basic conversation and interactions with, after English, Spanish and Hindi. (I don’t count Norwegian, because I barely every spoke it.) Don’t ever test me on it, conversation is deeper than words.

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After a few day break we jumped over to Noumea the capital of New Caledonia. This was the first “city” we had seen in three months. Seeing homeless people, crowds and super markets again was bewildering.

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The plan was to wait for the auto pilot parts to be shipped from France which would take up to one month. Everything pointed towards me not waiting around. A girl back home invited me on a road trip with her. Also I wanted to get home for Thanksgiving with my family and get away from the city. Australia was the be the final destination but as we drew closer I felt less like going there. Originally I thought I’d stay and work for a while. I realized the adventure was about being in the open ocean and experiencing the French. Australia was a huge chunk of land that spoke English. Flying home from New Caledonia was cheaper, easier, and no visa was required. I still needed to purchase a visa for Australia. Something I’ve always been good at is using my two feet to change my environment when I feel it is necessary.

Our crew had a final diner night where conversation got a bit heated and we laid all our feelings out on the table. We didn’t realize we had gotten loud and the rest of the restaurant was listening to us. The finally came when the conversation reached a climax and a waitress dropped a tray full of plates in front us. After confronting all our emotions we felt closure. The owner invited us to come out back and smoke with him and his rasta son to calm down. They didn’t need me for the last few days it would take to sail to Australia, especially with a fixed auto pilot. I had a plane ticket for the next day. Our goodbyes were heart felt, I was leaving my family.

When I went to the bus I found out that there was a holiday and no buses. A local told me to walk to the highway and hitch hiking. I got picked up in five minutes and taken to a gas station near a popular intersection. The first car that pulled in was full of teenagers going camping, they were so excited to give me a ride all the way to the airport. We tried for almost 20 minutes to play Baby I’m Yours by Breakbot, the song finally came on right after I got out of the car at the airport. I dropped my bags and started dancing full power, and they screamed and cheered as they drove off. The airport exploded with laughter. An employee who was just going on break took me into a back room and we talked in French for almost an hour.

Someday I want to write a book about going home, because the nuances of travel especially of reintegrating to society are comical.

A few mention able tid bits:

The French: Our boat was french as well as our crew and generally conversation and commands were in French. Even the islands we visited were French. We ate lots of cheese, drank a lot of wine, listened to French music, watched French movies, talked about French culture and made French jokes. From the first day I joined the boat I downloaded several books and began studying. After one month I could understand most conversation, but barely speak. Speaking was much harder. Besides a few short awkward conversations forcing myself to speak to strangers, I had little confidence.  One day it just clicked. With confidence, in days I was speaking at length. The accent was the hardest part. I realized if you hesitate embracing the accent, your French will be inaudible.

Swimming: After the first two challenges on Crazy Horse, I was in love with swimming. I went swimming almost every day. A third challenge presented itself on Ils de Pines. I climbed on this huge rock that had a sign saying don’t climb on it. I thought the only reason this sign was there was because there were all these cruise ships that stopped here, and they didn’t want anyone to get hurt. On the other side of the huge rock I sat out on the ledge. A couple of locals came around the corner swimming and started yelling that I needed to jump. They said that people get killed for climbing this rock because it is sacred. The drop was at least 50 ft over jagged volcanic rock. I made it and didn’t get killed either.

 

P.s. We can’t forget about all the squids and flying fish that hop up on the boat every night leaving ink stains, but also making a tasty meal for any desperate sailor.

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