Monday, 28 November 2011

The face in the mountain

A few days ago I stopped in Mount Shasta, a small town close to the magnificent mountain with the same name. There was some kind of street festival going on and I mingled with the locals. I was suprised to see many new age shops. Surely the spiritual needs of the local people could be met by one shop and a dozen churches of different orientations. I met a guy who had a spiritual talkshow on the local internet radio. He told me you could clearly see a face on the mountain surface. Since it was already dark I couldn't see it. He showed me some pictures of the mountain, but you needed a lot of imagination to see a face in it. Imagination is something those spiritual relief seekers in general don't lack. He told me to go to a shop where they have the 13th maya cristal skull. My curiosity got the better of me so I went there. The woman in the shop told me mount Shasta is exactly opposite Tibet and is one of the earth chakra's. A lot of people come here to yeah, to do what exactly? She also told me some things about this 13th cristal skull (I only knew those skulls from the last Indiana Jones movie), apperantly it can change shape. I asked her where it was. The woman said you can only see it on appointment. Ofcourse, I could have guessed that.

Next day was a clear day, the first time I saw Mount Shasta summit. I tried to see a face in it, pinching my eyes a bit, but nothing. It was only on the highway going south, leaving the moutain behind me, that I saw in my rearview mirror the face of Elvis.

You have to be blind to not see a face in this mountain.
Picture from the internet by I don't know who

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

What time is the resurrection?

A while ago I finally went to Tierra Santa. The worlds first religious amusement park. Last time I wanted to go there I was stopped at the gate, because in my enthusiasm to photograph everything I got my camera out at the gate and was told that I couldn't enter with a professional camera. I tried to convince them that it's a semi professional camera, but to no avail. So while in Holland I bought a canon powershot for the sole purpose to use when visiting the park again. (how crazy can you be?) However I found out that they changed the rules and that you can enter with a big camera now, as long as you don't point it to much in the faces of the people who work there and who are all dressed up as either a roman centurion (all masculine guys who also double as security guards I guess) or as Jewish people (some with Arafat scarfs though, I didn't know Jewish people in the times of J.C. wore Arafat scarfs).

That crown fits us all

So I enter the park after parking my bike in the parking zone (5 pesos) and paying the entrance fee (35 pesos). First I am treated with a show called the nativity which shows the stuff that you hear about with Christmas with a lot of bombast: a thundering voice explains the immaculate conception of Mary, the birth of Jesus and the star of Bethlehem and the 3 wise men from the east while mechanic figures and a light and smoke show take care of the visual part. It's overwhelming, especially the voice, although I didn't know what it was saying. After that we are let in the broad day light again and we find ourselves at the gate of Jerusalem.

"Whip me" said Jesus and god saw it was good

The park is modelled after the old city of Jerusalem, well kind of. Everywhere are dolls depicting the life of Jesus and everyday life from the first years of our calendar. All the time and everywhere you hear religious bombastic muzak. It really enhances the experience which in one word is hallucinogenic. It's so surreal. I have difficulty not to start laughing out loud, so amused I am and surprised. Here you see 2 employees walking in their Jesus jumpsuits carrying their lunch and a coke bottle. There is a centurion with a whip in one hand and holding a walkie talkie with the other, while a bit further is a young guy wearing a long dress guiding a group of visitors, explaining everything through a megaphone.

I notice that even though we are in a sub tropical climate and they could have put real palm trees, the designers of the park choose not to do so and put fake palm trees instead. It just ads to the experience. Around the main square there are some restaurants, one has a ancient Jew sitting at a table eating a pizza. Also this is new to me, never knew pizza was that old. Probably the Romans brought it with them when they conquered the holy land. I get the impression the management of the park isn't to concerned about showing the truth. After seeing a show called "the creation" which according to the small booklet that you get says it depicts the creation of the world with the first animals in it till Adam and Eva I am positive about my suspicion. Where are the dinosaurs I wonder? They are not shown. Only a elephant, zebra, lion and monkey (of course not in connection to the first humans). Also the crucifixion of Jesus is depicted of course with the Roman soldiers looking extra mean. I climb the hill to see JC hanging from the cross. (it's always good to see him suffer, so I can sin some more) The park is located near the airport so you can have a nice picture of Jesus hanging on the cross, some evil Roman soldiers around, some mourning women and a airplane flying over.

At a certain moment I walk around and a centurion comes to me. He says another show is about to start: the resurrection. According to the booklet the resurrection is another favorite with the audience and a technical miracle with a 18 meter tall Jesus with 36 mechanical movements. The music, the special effects and Jesus blessing everybody create the ideal atmosphere to live a magical experience in the park. I can't miss that, so I go to the main square where everybody is waiting with anticipation for the return of the lord. And there he is: a huge Jesus is moving slowly upward to the sky. Everybody is delighted to see this miracle. Many take pictures of course. When it is raised the mechanical Jesus turns his body from left to right a few times and moves his arms a bit in a rather mechanical way. And then it goes down again. After it disappeared all the people start clapping! It surely is one of the many highlights for many visitors to see the return of JC, maybe some of them feel really like they have been blessed. After this incredible experience I walk around a bit more until I decide that to every good thing must come an end and also to this mind blowing experience. Don't miss it when you visit Buenos Aires.

Jesus blessing all the visitors

"Thank you, see you next week!"

For more photos of Tierra Santa click here

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Garbage never tasted this good!

It's been a while since I blogged, in this time I transformed into a experienced urban hunter gatherer. I have been in the community for a while now. And it's a very good and interesting experience. I'm grateful for the people who live here and opened up their heart to me and excepted this stranger that hardly speaks Spanish in their group.
Let me first tell you something about the place. On the terrain of the "cuidad universitaria" there are 2 foundations of huge ugly 70's concrete monsters that were never build. One of these construction sites is now overgrown with vegetation and trees, giving it a kind of 70's post nuclear war sci fi feeling with plants growing over the concrete floor and pillars. Together with the hippie graffiti on the pillars this picture is complete. It's all very symbolic with nature reclaiming the space.

Come fly with us

The people who live here build a shack out of adobe and thrown away material. It has a nice outdoor kitchen attached to it. They don't sleep in the shack though, most people sleep in their tents which are dotted around the place and some in constructed domes. They practice organic farming, but most food is provided by recycling e.g. dumpster diving. Now when I say dumpster diving I guess some people will frown and I admit I also had to turn a mental switch with recollections of seeing homeless people eating out of trash bins. This is different however. The food is collected by going at specific hours past grocery shops just after they put out all the food that has lost their economic value but which is, if treated, still eatable.
You have to be quick though because he garbage truck (our natural enemy) is there roaming the street to collect it. The food is of course cleaned and all the bad parts are cut away. You won't believe how much is collected every time. We easily collect 3 crates every time. It seems stupid to pay for food here with the relative high prices of it. Why work in order to pay for something that you can also get by just picking it up from the street? That is the general thought here. And it fits in the recycling spirit.

The profits of a normal day dumpster dive

It's good to meet people who think about this here because in general the people are to ignorant or apathetic about the state of the environment. In supermarkets you always have to say you don't want a plastic bag and you can notice that the cassiere is not used to this. Sometimes they, being on automatic pilot, get confused when their work rhythm is broken by somebody who doesn't want 5 plastic bags for his shopping. The state of the buses makes it more polluting to take a bus then driving a car I think. The number of bicycles is growing but still very small, it's more used for recreation then for going to work. And of course most people eat meat, lot's of it.
So I learn a lot about sustainable living, recycling and different permaculture techniques, one which involves making "balls of life", a technique developed by mr. Fukuoka. Here you put seeds in a ball of earth which you throw everywhere and then you let nature do it's job. Since permaculture is all about making as little change as possible to he environment it also fits in my philosophy of being a lazy ass. It's nice to plant seeds and see the plant starting to grow after a few days. It's nice to chop wood, making a fire, make bread, being freed from the work - consume cycle.

Testing a bike construction

The people who live here are all very nice, interesting people. The only thing in which I differ from them is that I'm a typical down to earth Dutch guy and most of them are into the Maya calender, mysticism and more of that. Ah well, live and let live.
So I'm really excited to live here and be part of this unique place, to only thing which I don't agree with is the mosquitos, there are so many of them. But it's gonna get winter here soon so they will be gone to come back in spring.

A slideshow of the place can be seen here

Candomble on the beach

While in Montevideo there was also a candomble ceremony. Candomble is a Brazilian religion with African roots but it is also mixed with Catholicism. About 10 percent of the people of Uruguay practice it. I don't know much about it, but it seems that there are people who act as priests who get possessed by spirits and they can cleans people by whipping with their hands over their bodies and snapping their fingers. A lot of people think that they can get cleansed and are lining up for this. One guy who was possessed had a really ugly expression on his face with the corners of his mouth curled down all the time. The cool thing about is that they drink alcohol and smoke cigars or cigarettes to get in a more spiritual mood. That usually works for me too. On the second of February they make small boats out of foam in which they place offers for some sea goddess. I was walking from amazement to amazement on the beach. One guy that really got my attention was getting attacks every 15 minutes or so and in between the attacks he was blathering away.

The guy with the attacks

Standing in line to get cleansed

I did some healing myself

Elvis was also there

The guy with the ugly grin

Getting ready for another attack

More pictures of candomble can be seen here

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Ta ta taa ta ta

I went to Montevideo for the carnival because Uruguay has a stronger carnival tradition than Argentina. This most have to do with the fact that the black population of Argentina "miraculously" disappeared in the 19th century. Many died of diseases and many where given front row seats in the wars against the Spanish and Paraguay.There are different aspects of the carnival. You have the llamadas, which I prefer. The groups performing in the llamadas consist of about 20 to 30 drummers playing forceful rhythms to which a group of people dance.

The people dancing depict people from the days of slavery. So you have some women dressed up as the woman from Uncle Ben's rice, a guy with a walking stick and a bag with herbs dancing in a rather spastic way depicting the medicine man and a lot of barely dressed women. I don't know what they depict but they surely got my attention. One was dressed only with some tiny decoration put on her nipples and crotch. She could just as well have gone naked.



The groups practice the whole year and in general are made up by people who live in the same neighborhood. So it works like a kind of glue for the community.

The girl I was staying with says that the whole year on Saturday she can't go to sleep before 12 because the neighbourhood is practicing. There is no much use trying to get some sleep when 30 people are beating the shit out of some drums ion the street. Most groups are only from 2 neighborhoods: Palermo and another one which name I don't remember.

These neighborhoods used to be and still are neighborhoods with a big black community. I heard that until 20, 25 years ago the carnival was really a black thing, but that after the dictatorship also the other people got interested in the carnival. Although the carnival of Uruguay has a lot in common with the carnival in Brazil when it comes to the dressing up (or rather dressing down) of the "dansmariekes" (Dutch name for the girls that dance in the carnival parade), the rhythms are different. It's not samba, it's Candombe (not to be confused with Candomble about which is my next post).

And the rhythm goes a bit like this: ta ta taa ta ta. Okay not much sense in trying to describe it. It's ear deafening for sure. The drummers give 100%, at the parades I saw some drummers with big blood blisters on their hands. Every bang must hurted like hell.

The other element of the Uruguayan carnival is the murgas. This consists of a group of people dressed up like harlequins singing in a kind of off tune voice accompanied by a guitarist and a drummer. The songs are mostly about (local) politics and events and are supposedly very funny. I don't know; my Spanish is still very basic and my knowledge of Uruguayan politics is even worse. It was nice to visit the carnival also to be out of Buenos Aires for a while and also because Montevideo is a really cool city. It's so quite, streets are virtually deserted during the day, it has more the feeling of a pueblo. I wonder how the rest of Uruguay is since the capital is already so laid back. It also has a lot of colonial architecture almost crumbling down.I wanted to check some beaches in Uruguay but a check on my bank account made me return to Buenos Aires to the freegan community immediately.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Going back to nature in the big city

Tomorrow a new episode in my life will start. I will become a urban hunter gatherer (well at least for the moment). Since I go live in a vegetarian community it will be more gathering then hunting. So doing perma culture and recycling of materials, including food (well if it doesn't kil you, it will only make you stronger right?) I will probably step down on the social ladder a few steps but this is not something I care about. And my social statues was already low: in Amsterdam one time I was called a "sad case" by a junkie haha.

I have always been interested in different ways of live instead of the destructive lifestyle most people live (anyone with a common sense should be, this also means less flying from now on) and since my money is going fast, this is a good opportunity to try something else. So it's killing 2 birds with the same stone except for the fact that that is not done there off course. The only thing I'm worrying about is that I will turn into some kind of hippie. Well I can't grow my hair anymore so that is a good thing. Okay I will keep you updated on my experiences.

Oh no, to late!

Ciao for now


Thursday, 14 January 2010

From outlaw to saint

Hola, I haven't written much since I came to Argentina, mostly because I haven't done shit. I was in a state of laziness for a month, doing nothing mostly, enjoying the air conditioning in my room. I started to feel like a sloth but on the 7th of January (my birthday) I went on a pilgrimage (I'm always interested in scenes of mass hysteria) to the grave of Gauchito Antonio Gil. Now you may ask yourself: "Who is this gaucho Gil?" Well, gaucho Gil was a gaucho. Now of course you want to know what a gaucho is. A gaucho is a kind of cowboy, but then Argentinian style. The gaucho is much nestled in the Argentinian identity (Argentinidad), just as tango and beef. Many people are proud of the gaucho heritage and some still feel very gaucho, in fact are gauchos. They live the gaucho lifestyle. Riding horses, handling cattle and dressing up funny. They wear colourful gear including a wide brimmed low hat, loose fitting trousers (bombachas) that disappear into high cowboy euh I mean gaucho boots complete with spurs that resemble castanets which they use for dancing by stamping on the ground, and of course a knife to cut the beef.

A gaucho on his favorite place: a horse

They live primarily of beef and mate. The beef is prepared on the Argentinian barbecue: the assado. While on a normal barbecue the meat is neatly cut, the Argentinian way is to put a whole cow or pig on it, with half a kilo of salt sprinkled over it. Mate is the national drink, a kind of herby bitter broth that is sipped through a metal straw. In Argentina the rule is: don't leave home without your mate. And drink mate with your mate(s). It is a social thing, kind of the passing of a joint for the Dutch (the ones that smoke of course).

Now that's what I call a Gaucho Gill tattoo

So Gil was a gaucho that served in the army, however he didn't feel like fighting anymore and deserted. He became a outlaw that stole from the rich and gave to the poor. A kind of Argentinian Robin Hood. Apparently he also did some hand curing. However one day Gil's luck ran out and he got caught. A sergeant took him out to a place near Mercedes and hung him upside down to a tree and tortured him (people can be so cruel). Gill pleaded him to safe his life and told the sergeant that his child was very sick and that Gil could safe him. Not being moved by the pleads of Gil and in a blood thirsty mood, the sergeant cut Gil's throat. Upon returning home he found out that Gil was pardoned (whoops) and that his child was indeed very sick. However the child soon recovered. Gratefully the sergeant returned to the place where he had killed Gil to give him a proper funeral (the least he could do) and tell everybody who wanted to know and didn't want to know what a great guy this Gil was (that he killed). Although not recognised as a saint by the Vatican, many Argentinians see him as one and he is very popular. You can see many red flagged shrines for him along the roads (that's how I found out about him last year) especially in the North of Argentina. And many cars that you see have a red ribbon hanging from the rear mirror. Many trucks have the text "Gracios Gauchito Gil". So he is kind of the Saint Christopher of Argentina.

What started off as a simple shrine turned into a complex of restaurants, campsites and souvenir shops (religion, like sex, sells, you can ask that to the Vatican). And many go on pilgrimage in the week of his death (the 8th of January). A lot of stuff that is sold is of course made in China. I saw many Chinese lucky charms for sale with the picture of the Gaucho put over the face of the Chairman.

A vendor selling gaucho Gil souvenir, made in China

The shrine is 9 kilometer outside the otherwise sleepy town of Mercedes. Luckily it wasn't so warm because I heard a few days before the thermometer hit 49 degrees! Arriving at the shrine I saw a cue. After making sure it's not for the toilet I join the cue, thinking it will probably not gonna take to long. Many people around me are wearing a Gaucho Gil t-shirt or something else red. Either brought with them or bought from the street vendors that walk around. Red is the colour of the Gauchito because it resembles his red scarf (apparently it got a bit bloody when he got killed). The cue moved very slowly forward, I think every 5 minutes a meter or so. And I start to think that it might maybe take a bit longer then expected. Mind you: tens of thousands of people visit the shrine this week. I see many people wearing Gaucho Gil tattoos, one even covering somebodies whole back. Also a lot of people are drinking. Imagine that at Lourdes: pilgrims walking around bare chested with tattoos of the Virgin of Lourdes, getting drunk. So I get more the impression I'm at some 3 day music festival then on a pilgrimage. At some places bands are playing folkloric music. For the untrained ear it sounds a bit like tex mex but not so fast.. I'm not a big fan of it but it's always nice to see people enjoying themselves.

This is what Gaucho Gil probably looked like.
A Gaucho Gil impersonator standing in the cue

A accordeon player is giving some relief to the people who wait in line

One or two hours further (my sense of time is disappearing) I'm still in the cue and the point which I thought/hoped would be the destination is just a turn off point. I get a bit annoyed and ask myself who is more crazy here: all the other people who came to ask favours from a dead gaucho, or me, the unbeliever who is joining them, just to take some pictures. We pass (very slowly, approximately speed is 100 meters a hour) many stands and assado restaurants (for vegetarians there are biscuits at the kiosk). At many moments (actually all the time) I think of just stepping out of the cue and just wander and wonder around, there is enough to see. But for some reason I don't. It's the gaucho that is pulling me to his shrine. Such magnitude he has on me. After a few hours and a few turns more my mind has become totally numb, it's like I'm in a state of meditation. No thoughts at all.

Imagine this at Lourdes. A pilgrim drinking
one for the gaucho inside the shrine

Then finally after the last corner I can see the cue is directed between some riot fences into a make shift open construction with a roof over it. Until now all the people have been very calm, but now they get a bit more pushy and things get a bit crammed. In the construction there are a few police men who try to bring a bit of order in the chaos. Every time the let approximately 20 people in for 1 or 2 minutes. You can feel the tension mount, like you are at the start line of the 1000 meter Olympics. People get really excited. Finally after about 5 to 6 hours in the cue we will be let into the shrine, this is what everybody came for. Some will ask for help during their studies, for a good or better marriage or maybe for a divorce, for good health, for finding a good job. You can ask the gaucho anything and he will ask god for you. That is basically the idea. You also vow to return the next year if your wish comes true, since so many people show up every year it really is a miracle.
Then the whistle blows and we rush into the shrine, everybody starts touching the statue of the gauchito and doing their wishes. They also give offers like bottles of wine or tie a ribbon or a small flag to the construction. It's all very hectic and intense after 5 hours hardly moving. Then after one minute or so the whistle blows again (well several times actually, some people are not finished with their wish list to the gaucho I guess and want to stay as long as possible) and we have to move from the sanctuary. It's time for the next group of devotees.

I feel exhilarated and ecstatic, going along in the flow of excitement and hysteria (it's that easy). But fuck: I was so busy taking pictures I forgot to make any wish, oh well I will come back tomorrow, then I can stand in the cue again :-) I walk a bit around the area of the shrine, at some places people are getting a fresh Gaucho Gil tattoo, their pilgrimage isn't complete without one. There is also a museum but there is a cue for it and having enough of cues for today I decide to go back to the hotel.

Two pilgrims next to the shrine, if you look closely to the statue
you can see that Gil also had three testicles

Next day I go back not to stand again in the cue, but to see what's going on more. I see a lot of drunken people, some of them look a bit rough. This is not a good place to walk around in the dark showing off your digital SLR. At one point I notice my bag has been slashed, luckily nothing got stolen. Apparently there are some people here that follow his example of stealing from the rich (me, although it's not true, my bank account is dramatically low, I didn't even have enough money to buy a return ticket to Argentina, so I bought a single one :-)) and giving to the poor (themselves). So I carry my backpack in front of me and walk around. At a few places there is live music and at some times the dancing gets quite intense (amazing how intense some people can dance to such lame music). It's a beautiful sight. Gaucho's, ex convicts (after the bag slashing incident I'm convinced every dodgy looking drunk guy is a criminal) and normal people (well if it's normal to believe in a dead gaucho to grand your wishes) dancing their ass of. Some of the gauchos stamp on the ground, producing a extra rhythm to the music with their spurs. The gauchos are dressed at their Sunday best, with embroidered patterns on their clothes.

Foot stomping music. A gaucho creating a rhythm with his boots

Everybody was having a good time, except maybe this woman

I visit the little museum and wonder at all the gifts for the gaucho, a lot of bicycles, car plates, wedding dresses and photos. One even thanked the gaucho for passing the exam at the University for the course "air conditioning and refrigerator techniques" Didn't know that was a University course :-)
On some of the peoples faces the signs of drinking for days in a row are very clear and they look more rough then they normally do. What a difference with Buenos Aires with it's hip and chique people. About 7 I decide to go back before dark.

Having a one on one with the gauchito

My last day in Mercedes I go back to the shrine. Most people have left and it's much quieter now. I can just walk in the shrine without having to cue for 5 hours. If I had known that 2 days ago! Well yeah, it's all part of the experience right? Anyway now I do my wish to the gaucho. I don't know if you are supposed to tell your wish, but some of the people who know me will know. Yes indeed: a lot of se.. euh worldpeace.

The gaucho can use some new paint

Doing my wish to the gauchito, little did I know
it would be granted the same night!

Later I take a taxi back to Mercedes and shared it with 2 drunk, 130 kilo Neanderthal looking pilgrims.They shared their wine with me and the driver (why not, Gil is looking over us). 5 hours later I see them again on the bus station when I want to catch my bus. At this time they are really drunk, not much light coming out of their eyes. Like always when I take a bus in Argentina it's a total chaos and the bus I intented to go on was full so I have to wait for another one. In the mean time I witness a fight between some drunken racist Argentines and some Africans who have been standing on the market. It seems there are enough drunken Argentines willing to jump in, the atmosphere turns really bad. But things quiet down thank god, and no lynching is happening. Then I finally can board a bus, taking the last seat, all in the back. And next to who am I sitting? One of the neanderthals of the taxi. Everything is cool until he starts putting his big hand on my knee (well actually I'm fine with that if it's a sign of comradely non sexual feelings). However his hand starts to move more up, over my thighs towards my crotch, feeling a bit around. So here I'm sitting in the nights bus with no other seat available getting touched at my private parts by a 130 kilo sweaty drunk Neanderthal looking guy, most probably a ex convict, who's intentions I don't even know. Is he trying to rob me or sexual abuse me? Or maybe he is just mixing work with pleasure and doing both. After a few times putting his hand back where it belongs and saying I'm not into this kind of thing, since I have never been to prison and so I have never been introduced to this kind of brotherly love, he gets it. Well I wished for world peace and there you go.

I go to sleep a bit worried (to say the least), but to my delight I wake up to find my wallet still there and my ass still virgin. My neighbor doesn't say much and when he leaves he doesn't say goodbye. Maybe he was still hurt by the rejection or feeling pissed off of not being able to rob me. At 3 in the afternoon (after having a flat tire, I guess nobody on the bus praid for the journey back) I arrive safe back in Buenos Aires and so came a end to a crazy weekend. It still puzzles me, I will never understand religion and all it's crazy aspects. It's a complete mystery to me. I know now that many Argentinians are less rational then I expected them to be.

Ciao for now


You can see a slide show of the festival here