Tuesday, January 29, 2008

6 days, 2 4x4's and many kilometers

I am at the close of my annual birthday trip, 6 days in Costa Rica.

Prior to leaving I lacked the usual gusto to travel because I have been traveling so much recently -- 3 consecutive weekends at December-end and new year -- so much so that I missed being in New York!

What was I thinking? I quickly came to my senses upon landing in Costa Rica.

This trip was Costa Rica for the third time. I overcame my travel snobbery-desire to travel to new and (as yet by myself) unexplored places and decided Costa Rica tambien to meet a fellow travel mate with whom I shared about one month in Tanzania.

We are good travel mates. His Parisian fits my New Yorker in moments when needed. Mostly, we share a drive to try to the fullest extent in the travel endeavors at hand, whether that be the attempt to visit Corcovado National Park, yes I said attempt (more below) or the wait for a rare, richly plumed bird to return to its nest, even though it means waiting an hour with uncertainty that the bird will return while we are present and with the daylight falling. More importantly, given equal positive and negative information (or as the case may be when traveling, non-information), we align in the hope for the best.

Well, we hoped for the best but were for the moment foiled in the attempt to visit Corcovado NP, a virgin, Pacific rainforest on the Osa Peninsula, southern Costa Rica. We were impeded by changing regulations and a non-sensical system (perhaps concocted to keep travelers at bay, perhaps to stem corruption, as park agents and the national park office are not allowed to accept payment, one must show up in person to obtain the reservation and at this time must shuttle back and forth between bank and park office, if the bank is open, grrrr....)

Our very best effort included a treacherous drive up the Rincon River Valley (criss-crossing the river many times -- very rocky and at times somewhat deep and on a sketchy battery that was recharging after not starting properly that morning) and the hike to the ranger station at which point they would not honor our reservation request (which at that point, truth be told, we did not realize we had, or perhaps we would have argued further...)

This attempt entailed a 11 km walk back to La Palma *with all those river crossings in reverse except this time by foot.* Further mishap resulted in us crossing each other and missing each other, myself in the car to retrieve my mate with the non-river-worthy shoes, especially since while walking ahead *due to my tevas which allowed me to cross rivers without taking off shoes and going barefoot* I lucked out and found a ride back to the guesthouse, only to find the gas tank drained and after a while in the middle of the road the car moving no further, probably due to hitting some rocks the wrong way despite the high carriage 4x4. (Thus the title reference, the rental car company had to send a replacement.)

After a failed attempt to procure permission in person at the Puerto Jimenez park office, we finally gave up in disgust, well really we had no choice. (But we did not lose the ardent desire to see this Corcovado National Park and all the animals that populate it!).

Anyway, we made the most of the time with a 22km hike around Mt. Chirripo. We met some special friends: (in addition to the scarlet macaws seen upon leaving La Palma)8 peccaries, a toucan and a pair of quetzals, very beautiful, especially the male! Today my calves are sore due mostly to the mountainous ascent...

It has been one of those trips that make people say, 'I need a vacation from my vacation' with our early morning risings and departures to make the most of the time and some long drives on these unnamed, ill-signed, Costa Rican roads.

All these days here I have had many vivid dreams of sweet, beautiful times and friends, except for my last night/morning waking to dark, heavy dreams. Philippe is on his way to Corcovado armed with all the necessary information including but not limited to: hand-written detailed map of the hike to and from La Sirena; hand-written, detailed map of Puerto Jimenez, tide time table for the next few days for the ability to cross 2 rivers that are impassable at high tide. As for me, it's back to Gotham.


Osa Peninsula view from afar:

Waterfall seen during the hike at the Cloudbridge Preserve:

At Mt. Chirripo NP, the clearing between kilometers 10 and 11:

Feet on the ground, head in the clouds:

Our friends the Peccaries:

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Reunion in Berlin of Tibet September '06 Alumni

December 7-8, 2007

Monday, April 30, 2007


On the Road Home by Wallace Stevens

It was when I said,
"There is no such thing as the truth,"
That the grapes seemed fatter.
The fox ran out of his hole.

You...You said,
"There are many truths,
But they are not parts of a truth."
Then the tree, at night, began to change,

Smoking through green and smoking blue.
We were two figures in a wood.
We said we stood alone.

It was when I said,
"Words are not forms of a single word.
In the sum of the parts, there are only the parts.
The world must be measured by eye."

It was when you said,
"The idols have seen lots of poverty,
Snakes and gold and lice,
But not the truth;"

It was at that time, that the silence was largest,
And longest, the night was roundest.
The fragrance of the autumn warmest,
Closest, and strongest.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


For future readers who might peruse this site looking for information on places to visit, here is an index with links. Where the entry did not fit neatly into one category, I placed it in the most relevant.

Seoul - EWHA University
Gyeongbuk-gung Palace
Reunification Observatory
Street food and observations about Korean life

Great Wall - Simatai section
Summer Palace
Food market
Xi'an Terracotta Soldiers
Mt. Emei

About the train to Tibet
On the train to Tibet
Mt. Kailash
Imbibing Tibet
Guge Kingdom
State of mind
EBC Accident
Goodbye Tibet

Perfume Pagoda & Water Puppets

Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh food
Phnom Penh - Killing Fields
Siem Reap - Angkor Wat
Siem Reap - Angkor Wat adventure

Laos I
Laos II
Laos III - Vientiane

Overall SE Asia:
Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos rankings

South Africa:
Cape Town - Robben Island
Eulogy for PW Botha
Cape Town - Table Mountain
Cape Town - Cape Point
Driving in Johannesburg
Kruger NP
Johannesburg - Melville

Etosha NP
Skeleton Coast
Cape Cross

Okavanga Delta

Glimpse of Zambia

Dar es Salaam
Dar es Salaam adventure
Mafia Island
Selous NP
Mikumi & Ruaha NPs
African journey
Near accident in Karatu
Ngorongoro & Serengeti NPs
Christmas Eve in Endallah
The road to Endallah
Lake Manyara NP
Tarangire NP

Ethiopian calendar
Addis Ababa
New Years Eve in Lalibela
Rockhewn churches in Lalibela

Pyramids at Giza
More on Aswan



Barcelona and Girona
Gaudi and Barcelona


To carnival
Rio is the most beautiful city on this earth
Manaus to Belem
Sao Luis
Want to own a hostal?
Advice on Brazil

Easter Island:
Easter Island I
Easter Island II

Puerto Natales
Torres del Paine NP

Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia
More Ushuaia
Austral autumn
El Calafate
El Chalten
Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires intellectual life
Iguazu Falls

Tacaurembo & Estancia Panagea

Why I travel
My life in NYC
Typical tidbit of my mother
Sweetest Home
Closing thoughts

Or you could just read everything from bottom to top! If anyone wants specific travel details or other information, just post a comment with your email address, and I'll reply.

For all the questions regarding safety, not one thing happened to me during this trip, not one crime or dangerous incident, not on this trip or any of my previous trips. Yes, when it happens, some of it is just plain bad luck, and there are things you can do to minimize the chance, such as don't walk on deserted streets late at night alone -- a good rule for most any place! The closest event was an attempted pick-pocketing on the bus from the train station to the medina in Fes. I foiled that pick-pocketing attempt, and a similar thing happened twice in New York, once foiled my me, once foiled by my friend. So you see, despite what some people say, one need not be too intimidated by possible crime to travel!


Back in BsAs, winding down, thinking ahead and moving forward

How has this trip changed me (besides the obvious, such as no manicures/pedicures in 9 months or the fact that I am now a lot poorer (!) and excluding the physicial, such as the 3 bug bites from early September which STILL itch)?

Well, I have acquired new eccentricities and amplified some others I've always had. New ones include I carry a set of 12 colored glitter pens arranged in ROYGBV, and I hoard plastic bags. Amplified ones include the fact that other language dictionaries are some of my favorite reading, and I can spend whole days with iPod earbuds installed in my ears listening repeatedly to one particular song that fits my mood, until I drain the freshly charged battery, and I can do this with the same song for days in a row depending on my mood and the song.

What remains the same? I still carry too many books, usually equal in weight or greater than all my other stuff! I have and always will write wherever I am in spite of all conditions, including lack of light, moisture, being in motion and/or in an upside down state. This blog has been a creative outlet for me, and a reason to keep writing all along the way. By the way, I have drained the ink of 4 pens on this trip.

It's come to me in a very powerful and personal way what I can do in this world full of poverty, injustice and evil, and that is first and foremost on a one-to-one level conduct myself in all my relationships (first of all with myself) in a generous, just and good manner. This may seem obvious, but when I look around the world, it seems rare -- there's plenty of unnecessary bullshit all around! And yes, Dan, in answer to your question, there is more to hope than to fear in the world as I've experienced it!!!

Probably the biggest change is my upcoming plans to move to Korea for about one year. I have always wanted to live in my ancestral homeland and wondered how I would fit it into my life with all else. If I am going to do this, I believe now is the time. In Korea, I should be able to work in my field and thus keep my career on track. So, I will be back in NYC for the summer and go to Korea in September. I say about one year, because I want to avoid the monsoon season (July - August, unbearable!) Of course, plans are always fluid and changing as the view must necessarily change from the outset as one moves forward.

Many thanks
Thanks to my family for understanding my desires, even though they are not your own! Mom, I know you told me to come back with less itchy feet, but that's not possible for me, at least not yet. Thanks, Sarster, in spite of your busy schedule for taking care of all the details that needed to be handled from the U.S. while I was away, I owe you a huge debt of gratitude for that!

Thanks Dan for your iPod after I lost mine and for the musical accompaniment to my feelings! Thanks Daniela for the maglight, the perfect, small-sized back-up to my headlamp for helping me to write in all these varied conditions! Thanks Magnus for loaning me your camera (!!!) so I could post photos on this blog to accompany my thoughts! Thanks for my sarster and my friends who in email have accompanied me all along the way of this trip! In the first entry, I said (and I quote), "For me travel is transformation, so when you read my blog and follow me in my adventures (albeit in the comfort of your living room or home office), you bear witness to me. For that I am grateful." So to my readers, thank you!

A parable for my return
A wise and worldly man told me a story about 2 gauchos who traveled to a nearby town one weekend. On their way back, the younger one said to the other, "We had a nice trip, but we didn't see much, don't you think?" The other, older one answered, "Well, the journey really begins when one returns to home, when you come back with stories about your experiences of the places you visited and people you met, and in telling these stories you realize how you have changed and now you must go through life in a different way. I tell you that one time I went to Montevideo and when I began to tell everyone what I had seen, I realized..."

Bests and worsts
And now for my list of bests (which is necessarily plural) -- not in any particular order:

Most amazing landscapes: Tibet, Namibia and Patagonia
Best wildlife viewing: Tanzania
Most amazing historical sites: Tibet, Easter Island, Cambodia and Egypt
Best places to feed the spirit: Tibet and Cambodia
Best food: Korea (of course!), Vietnam, Cambodia and Egypt (including previous trips, the list would be augmented with Thailand, India, France and Italy)
Best music: Brazil
Friendliest strangers: Brazil
Best for adventure: Tibet, Tanzania and Brazil
Best circus-life: Brazil and Morocco
Best for relaxation and natural life: Uruguay
Places you must see before you die: Tibet, Easter Island, Patagonia and Namibia
My overall favorites: Tibet, Cambodia, Namibia, Easter Island and Patagonia

Now for some worsts --
Worst bus rides: Laos and Argentina (yes, Argentina and even on the sleeper (full cama) buses! They intentionally never stop long enough to let you go to the bathroom, and they act only in accordance with their own convenience! and don't let me get started on how they treat foreigners trying to buy a bus ticket!)
Worst landscapes: Zambia and the east coast of Argentina
Worst food poisoning: Zambia, Tanzania and Tibet

Of course, this is just my opinion, and I reserve the right to change it at any time (wink)!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Live from Montevideo

I'm in Uruguay's capital, Montevideo. It's a pleasing place, easy to traverse because of its organization (with everything emanating from the main road, 18 de Julio) and relative convenience and compactness (at least with regards to those things that concern me). Despite being a busy city, Montevideo still possesses many tree-lined streets in the city center whose members arc and bow toward each other from opposites sides of the street, creating leafy, shaded pathways for vehicles and pedestrians.

Yesterday night with some fun folks, I went out in the Ciudad Vieja for some live music. The band was talented and fun, playing a variety of styles, including salsa! Hearing the syncopated rhythm of son and dancing salsa felt so good after these many months of times of sitting on a bus or train, listening to music on my iPod while dancing in my head.

Time is winding down fast. Tomorrow I am moving onto the historical town of Colonia, my last place in Uruguay, followed by 3 final nights in Buenos Aires. I fly home on May 1. Gulp.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I can't wait to meet my newest nephew or niece! Congratulations Richard and Dosun!

Gaucho life becomes me

For the last week, I lived the life of a gaucho (South American cowboy) on a rustic estancia (cattle and sheep ranch) in northern Uruguay, about an hour from the town of Tacaurembó and far, far from the mechanization and over-commercialization of modern life. These were days I felt happy, full and free and were some of the best times of my trip!

The name of the estancia is Panagea, which means the mother, omni-continent of the earth when all continents were one landmass. Panagea is the business and home of two long-time world travelers, a couple, one Uruguayan (born and raised on the very land) and one Swiss. Many of the estancias in South America that take tourists are landed estates with luxury hotels, but not real, working ranches. In fact the primary business of Panagea is animal husbandry, with hosting of visitors as a side activity. And so daily rhythms are based on the sun, the land and the animals, in the manner of real life of this region of the world as it has been for many years now.

Though I learned about Panagea because I happened to be browsing a travel site online and went spur-of-the-moment (even to the surprise of my hosts, hee hee), I had the sneaking suspicion that I would love it, based on my own long term plans after New York City to live on a farm in the countryside where I will cultivate butterfly gardens, make my own wine and grow my own non-GMO food...with animals all around me.

I began my days with the sun, crooning roosters and scores of birds who nightly inhabit the tallest tree not too far from the house. Day's work began by leaving the house at 7:30am under a new morning sun to ride through vast fields of low, grassy hills carpeted with pinky-finger-tall pink and yellow and wild flowers. We had shallow creeks to cross on an otherwise rocky and thinly soiled terrain to various fields to round up and herd the cattle or sheep for various activities. We could be found checking sheep for sores or wounds (which if left unattended during the hot, wet season would fell the animal in as little as 4 days), vaccinating the cows against worms or "dipping" the cows in an anti-tick repellent (impelling them through a corral at the end of which is a pool of repellent through which the cattle swims briefly to the other side).

Driving cattle or sheep with 2 expert gauchos and 3 ranch dogs (the smartest and best of whom was the worth of 2 people more) while riding very smart horses who knew exactly what to do in their 8 or more years experience meant that little thinking or skill was required of me. Though we were well resourced, we knew full well that one minute the procession might look orderly and then suddenly and quickly all could be lost (which almost happened once with the sheep but we prevailed!) I participated and could be helpful, and I had copious appreciation of the skill and fast reflexes of the others around me.

We returned to the house for a long mid-day lunch break (always scrumptious, nutritious food, homemade bread and surprises of sweet treats for us) and siesta which during the summer months is an absolute necessity in the heat and humidity. Afternoons of another few hours in the field completing the day's final tasks meant that we were heading back to the house under a tinted pastel, setting-sun sky along with the birds returning to their roost in the one tallest tree, calling and gossiping about all the days' events. I found the land to be so beautiful, wild and natural, an exceedingly rare place in that the land is healthy, working, harmonious and balanced.

Being on the farm meant we had plenty of sweet, clean well water to drink with running water powered by a windmill (no wind could mean no running water, a non-issue during my stay). Hot showers could be had when the fire in the kitchen stove had been stoked (and because dinner was in preparation upon returning in the early evening, I always had as I wanted). Because of the remoteness, evenings began and ended by candlelight, with electricity for 2 hours each night by generator-power, which ran the movies (of the 921+, ever-expanding collection) we watched after dinner. Nights were million-star skies.

One day we went to a horse auction where healthy, ready horses could bought for $230USD! A trip that I am dreaming about for the future is a 1-2 week ride to and along the Atlantic coast with my own horses bought at auction, camping at the beaches all along the way.

I stayed over one week (and I wanted and would have stayed longer were my trip not very soon ending!), and so I had the chance to see a few aspects of the process and help close a chapter. For example, the cattle on whom we had worked that week, on Friday we loaded onto a truck to close a sale. I felt a satisfaction that comes with completion. And in that time I think I became a better rider, at least I am not always white-knuckle-gripping the saddle handle (riding on a South American style saddle was helping me to break this bad habit).

The time at Panagea felt rich in so many ways. We had long talks, lots of laughter and I even cooked Korean food one night! My gracious hosts treated me fondly like family or old friends.

These happiest, fullest and freest times will I carry in me. When life gets rushed and hectic as it surely will soon, I will look within for that immense quiet and harmonic, natural balance that was all in a day's ranching at Panagea.

Ready for work:

An orderly procession:

Cattle awaiting treatment in the corral:

Silly-looking beasts:

A doe-eyed cattle:

Sheep in their corral:

Lambing season has just begun!

Dr. J. saving sheep from dying:

Sheep in the light of the rose-lit dusk:

No wonder sheep are so dumb, they can't see!:

A river flanked by forest and rock for climbing:

At the horse auction:

One of the house gates:

Horses and prayer flags:

Sweet sunset:


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Toward Tacaurembó and estancia life

I am now in Uruguay, changed my travel plans on the fly. My intended destination is near Tacaurembó, about four hours north of the capital, Montevideo, to an estancia (ranch) that is another hour distant. I will spend a week on horseback working on a cattle and sheep ranch helping with all the tasks at hand.

I fully expect to earn a sore arse!

Friday, April 13, 2007


Iguazu Falls, Argentina:

I arrived to the falls early, and I decided to walk the Green Trail to the Upper and Lower Circuits first to see the falls at a distance. This was the right decision! A gaggle of monkeys greeted me -- 4 adolescent boys (playful, wrestling each other in the trees) with their father close by. Then, when faced with the decision whether to start with the Upper or Lower Circuit first, a coati, which is a snout-nosed creature with a raccoon-like body, tail and behavior (they are scavengers), beckoned me along the upper trail. I followed it. After about 50 meters, it turned around to walk right past me. I thought that unusual, but it was walking toward its family, about a dozen more coati. The coati family stayed until some very loud, oblivious tourists approached. (They were the bane of my existence some hours that morning, they talked like shouting and I finally evaded them by waiting at the side of a path about 45 minutes.)

The falls are amazing, breath-taking and left me humbled thinking about the power of their water and height.

I felt awe and intense optimism upon seeing for the first time in my life this precious sight: the water mists feeding the air, becoming clouds. Whenever I see factories or trucks emiting clouds of polution into the air (as I did every single day in New York City and most other places in the world!) I wince, wondering why people don't realize that poluting the air is like shitting in your food before eating it... Well, at Iguazu, the rushing, falling water creates a mist so intense that it rises up into the air to become clouds.

For me, river waters feeding the sky in renewal is one of the most beautiful and hopeful things to behold!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Life of the mind

Here in Buenos Aires, there is a fierce intellectual hunt for self-knowledge through the lenses of culture, society and politics. This tenacity of the search I have seen in few other places...

I have found in quotidian reading debates and viewpoints that would never be found in widespread media in the U.S. nor in much of Europe (with the exception of France). Here is a sampling of recent topics in a weekly news magazine: "The Black Book of Freud" (article with several excerpts from a recently published book in France which brings to light many of the controversies of Freud, such as he consumed copious amounts of cocaine, he fabricated patient histories to fit his intended views and homophobia tainted his clinical views -- facts that scholars have long known which have not reached a level of public awareness); "The Culture of Lies (in Argentina)", and countless articles criticizing the government. The publications are skillfully written, weaving together many historical facts and examples of Argentinian life past and present with articles by different authors refering to issues raised amongst themselves (so it conveys the sensation of a roundtable of people in an active, multi-layered discussion, quite a feat for a 2-dimentional medium) with a firm belief in public discussion for the goal of social-actualization and personal and social improvement.

I appreciate it immensely! I realize this life of the mind is largely absent in the U.S., even in New York City.

Yesterday was a huge demonstration in the streets of Buenos Aires against police brutality (a teacher was killed by a gas canister fired by a policeman last week) and against the goverment which is seen as institutionalized corruption. Schools were closed and mid-day public transportation was temporarily halted. Tens of thousands of people participated (the streets were packed!) in a relatively peaceful manner, so far as I know and experienced myself as I walked around and took photos. It was refreshing to see so many people physically supporting and contributing to a public debate about the role and specific acts of police and government.

The Presential Rose House (in the background), besieged with peaceful protesters:

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Nothing too delicate of course

There is a cool, humid breeze on this polution-hazy autumn day in Buenos Aires. I am listening to music, the chords of which make me feel like laundry I am rinsing - scrunched, wrung and released, repeatedly (nothing too delicate of course), released of residue of the times, and afterward, refreshed.

BsAs is like a run-down, dirtier version of a European city, perhaps Madrid. Like New York, it is vibrant with the arts. Occurring now is the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Film. Later this month (and while I am here, yeah!) will be the International Book Festival! Good jazz can be found here.

While I could wile away the days easily, I want to do some traveling! Certainly I will go see Iguazu Falls. Then I will spend some days in Uruguay. Then I will return to BsAs to imbibe the city life for my last week or so prior to (gulp) the end of my trip... So that's the plan right now which is fluid and always changing.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

His Majesty Mt. Fitzroy

I'm trying to find that quiet place in myself so I can tell you about Patagonia and what it means to me, but when I am singing and my heart is happy and full, I'm not articulate in words, and that is now how I feel.

What is Patagonia? A place of ethereal emptiness, expansive vastness, oxymoronic contrasts, extreme climactic elements, a canvas for personal exploration and expression, for me a physical complement for the metaphysical exploration of what is within.

These last few days I've spent in El Chalten, a young town of no history birthed in recent years around tourism for Mt. Fitzroy, towering granite castles on the northern end of the Southern Patagonian Icefield, cultivating clouds, snow and glaciers, reflecting sky, sun and changing light. Here is different from Torres del Paine in that gratification is immediate! The "Tour of Pain" (as it was called by a fellow hiker and recent days' consort) is completely unnecessary to enjoy the mighty monarch in all his finery! The view coming into town reveals his commanding majesty; he can be seen from within town consulting with his ministers, Mt. Torre and the Sun; upon approach, he reigns upon all the view of the sky. Magnificent.

And though I can't convey the fullness of the experience in words in this inarticulate state of mine, I can't fail to mention the fun of driving to the end of the road (to which a lake across the ferry would have led to the overland route to Chile); nor the ardent, passionate, operatic singer of tango tunes who croons in vibrato the same repetoire of 5 songs every night in a small, local eatery with less than mediocre food where we had drinks one night and dinner the second; nor the free feeling of flying down a paved part of the famous Ruta 40 going very, very fast (and no I was not the driver), in concert with the ferocious winds across the vastness of the Patagonian steppes!

Tomorrow I leave Patagonia, and I have strong feelings of longing and loss. This is a most special place on the earth, that which inspires and nourishes that inner exploration from a vantage point of being rooted in the earth.

At the same time, I miss city life, and I want to loiter in grand bookstores and drink great espresso and hear live music and dance tango. And so I am off to Buenos Aires tomorrow.

Suerte. Buenas noches. Buenos sueños.

Mt. Fitzroy above, town below:

On the way to Lago del Desierto, which was as close to Villa O'Higgins (the entry to Chile's Carretera Austral) as I would get on this trip (I must save the Carretera Austral for another trip). It was great fun going as far as the end of this road as we could that day!

One of the many fine views of His Majesty we would have that day:

His Majesty's court, the lakes and glaciers:

Mt. Torre, tallest massif in the range: