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

My father's best friend

When I visited my mother this summer a few times I decided to also go visit the man who was my father's best friend. He is a pensioned farmer and a friendly, characteristic man by the name of Fons Bolders. Despite his not so healthy diet: a lot of beer, sigarettes, meat, almost no vegetables and every morning up to 4 eggs with about a gram of salt, he turned 80 last year in good health. So you could say he is the Keith Richard of the farmer community of my hometown. The place where he lives is just the same as 25 years ago when I often came there with my father. Only the surrounding has changed: what was before farm land is now all industrial area. Except for his place, which is like a beacon from the past.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Peru, Bolivia, Argentina 2009: From the navel of the world to the guts ariving in heaven where the air isn't so good as they say.

The last time I wrote I was in the navel of the world, after that I've been in the guts of the world, and now I must be in heaven: after spending most of my trip in South Americas countries with the biggest percentage of less attractive (plain ugly sounds so negative) women I'm now in Argentina. And the difference is staggering.

Unlike Peru and Bolivia Argentina doesn't have a big indigenous population. The area was sparsely populated and many of the hand full natives that there where in the south got massacred in 1879 in the "Conquest of the desert". So often you more have the feeling you are in South Europe, or Bavaria, depending on the place you are, then in South America. But like I said also in Heaven. After Cusco I went to the Colca canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world. The deepest is a bit further up but cannot be walked through because of it's wild river. I hadn't done any serious exercise for months so I still had difficulty walking the steep streets of La Paz where I was a few days later. Firm on the gringo trail between Colca and La Paz is also Copacobana on the shores of lake Titicaca (whats in a name?) but I didn't stay there. Not staying there alsomeant missing out on the Poncho museum as I saw when I passed that with the bus. Well you can't see everything right? But still it's a shame. So together with the Taj Mahal and Macchu Pichu stands the Poncho Museum of Copacobana of tourist attractions that I missed out on.

Taking a stroll through the Colca canyon

La Paz is a fascinating city. Actually it was the first real big city I was in South America. Of course I was in Lima, but only for a few days and mostly only in the suburb I was staying in and it's so spread out that you don't know where to start. But La Paz surely made a impression. Arriving is already a spectacle. You enter it from one of the hill sides, passing a statue of Che Guevara done by the amazing metal sculptress Hans Hoffmann. Now with the new socialist government of Evo Morales, the first indigenous president in South America and former coca farmer and probably also the first president to go on a hunger strike (he was getting a bit fat, maybe that was the reason), the former state enemy (he was (im)mortalized in Bolivia since if he wasn't killed there and of course if that one picture of him was never taken he would never have become the pop icon he is now, images of him are seen everywhere in South America) is getting a different kind of attention from the government then before. Okay that is a long and not very clear sentence. Let's just say that old Che is looked different upon by the new government.
So you pass his statue and there in the valley below you, crawling up from all sides, is La Paz. The highest capital in the world at a altitude of 3660 meters.

Statue of Che Guivarra by Hans Hoffmann

Bolivia is the poorest country in South America and you can notice it. Almost no cars on the road, a lot of adobe houses, many of them abandoned and in ruins, a high unemployment rate, social unrest (protest are often seen on the streets of La Paz, a few days after I left I saw images on TV of crowds getting dispersed with water cannons on the same street I had been roaming for some days) and so on and so on.
Doesn't matter how bad the economy is and how poor you are, you need clean shoes. And that's where the lustrabotas (shoe shiners) come in handy. This looked down upon profession is done by many young men who, in order not to be discriminated, hide their faces behind ski masks and also dress in a hip hop kind of fashion (sweatshirts with hoods, caps, baggy pants). You can see them everywhere on the streets trying to get as much costumers as possible by all the time judging peoples shoes, pointing to them and offering to clean them. Actually I had mine cleaned and still they where pointing to them so they don't judge to hard.

Lustrabota day dreaming about shoes

I decided to do a little project on them and spent some days taking pictures of them and trying to talk to them. But it's hard because my Spanish is still very basic and also I felt uncomfortable talking to guys looking like every moment they where about to rob a bank. So most of it was done secretly with a lot of hip shots with my camera (actually I think half of the pictures I took on this trip is taken like that). But I will go back later and try to get some portraits and small chitchats. I talked to a few of them who where really nice although some of them didn't tell me the truth concerning how much they made. Apparently the earn between 1 and 2 Bolivianos per shoe shine. That's 10 to 20 euro cents. I think more often 1 then 2 Bolivianos. Average amount of costumers must be between 20 and 40 a day depends on how much they work. Many of the younger shoe polishers go to (evening)school so they don't work the whole day. So they make about 4 to 6 euro a day. The guy who did my shoes must have been really glad with the 20 Bolivianos (2 euro) I gave him, a half days work.

Lustrabota with his toolbox

In La Paz I also visited the coca museum.. It gave me some insight on coca and how it's used by the indigenous population. Actually it's one of the few things left for the native people that isn't destroyed by the Spanish (they tried to abolish it but then they found out that it was quite helpful in the silver mines: the slaves could work longer, work"days"of 48 hours where no exception, before they would perish) So the use of coca is giving the Indian population some connection with their roots and is considered sacred. It also comforts against cold, fights fatigue and hunger, helps you deal better with the high altitude and is used to predict the future. So it's quite a wonderful plant. The Incas also used it as a anaesthetic, while we in Europe used to use alcohol or a bang on the head as anaesthetic. Unfortunately the use of coca is not being advocated by a lot of other countries in the world. Since out of coca you can make cocaine. Did you know that Sigmund Freud was the first official cocaine addict? He advocated the drug and died later of nostril cancer, which means he must have powdered his nose quite often.

After La Paz I went south over the Altiplano. Alti means high and plano means flat and that's just what it is: a very flat highland. In the South Western part of Bolivia you have the salt planes of Uyuni. Miles and miles (for some reason that sounds better then kilometers and kilometers) of white salt. The deepest point being 10 meters deep. It's very crowded with tourists who all want to make funny pictures of each other (since you have a white flat background you can make funny optical illusions). Of course I wanted to do the same. Unfortunately I didn't buy a toy dinosaur so no pictures of me getting threatened by a huge dinosaur, but I have a picture of me jumping out of a hat which came out very nice. So yes, for hours you ride over this arid terrain where nothing can live only punctuated by some islands inhabited by many cacti.
Next day you visit some lagoons (a red one, a green, all with some flamingos), you see some volcanoes, lay in the hot springs, marvel at some geysers and that's it. It's nice but it's a tour and I really don't like tours. So next time I will go with bicycle to enjoy more freedom. Also the driver wasn't one of the social kind, he hardly talked and couldn't explain much about the area. And the woman of the agency was a greedy bitch, not to mention the woman of the hotel I stayed when I came back from the tour: I was shaving my head (head not beard, that will stay, don't worry Stoyan) when suddenly she came around and pulled the plug out and said "basta". Apparently electricity is very expensive in Bolivia and even in a touristy place like Uyuni the people don't earn enough to let a gringo use some electricity. My head was half shaven! I asked her if she was loco and pointed at my head, but she said it looked okay. I almost lost control, but I kept cool and just put the machine back into the socket and went on shaving. Good thing she didn't know about my computer, mp3 player and loudspeakers who had used so much of her electricity. She would have gotten a heart attack.

In Uyuni there is also a train cemetery

So I wasn't to sad to leave this godforsaken place. I went to the highest city in the world and also formally one of the richest cities: Potosi at 4060 meters the highest city and with a huge silver mine behind it, it was (past tense) indeed one of the richest cities. But at what a price: approximately 8 million (that's half the population of Holland) Indian and African slaves died during the colonial area in the mines. Even today the mine gives and takes. Many miners die after about 15 years working in the mines because of lung diseases. The average lifespan is about 45 years old. For my western mind it's unthinkable that you would risk your life for making a living. But that is what poverty does to you and also love of your family members. If you don't work you family has no food, so you do the job in the knowledge that you seriously shorten your life.

You can do a tour in the mines. I did it, met some miners, there weren't many though because next day it was the Friday before Easter and many went home earlier. To bad I missed the Friday ritual: going to there god "Tio" (a deprivation of Dio, it was invented by the Spanish to get the slaves into the mines) to offer cigarettes and alcohol and also to drink the alcohol itself. Since offerings have to be pure, so is the alcohol: they drink alcohol with a alcohol contense of 96%!!!!!!!! I can't believe they don't burn their throats. Well I guess if you are a miner in the mines of Potosi you don't really care to much about health issues and maybe it's a good medicine to get all the dirt out of their throats.. The work is done almost in the same ways as in the colonial times, although now they can use dynamite. But for the rest everything is done manual.

Being in a crazy catholic country I hoped I could witness some loco locals crucifying themselves with Easter but my sensational lust had to be tempered because the celebration was all very civilized and boring. On my last night in Potosi I was walking down the street when suddenly the person in front of me dropped some name cards on the ground. He stopped to pick them up, I couldn't pass him, neither could I go back because behind and besides me where 2 other persons. I suddenly realized what was going on and in a Hulk like fashion I stretched my arms and pushed the fuckers away. One of them got angry with me, I apologised because maybe they didn't try to rob me, but then I thought again, I also read about this kind of thing happening but then in a different slightly situation: they are very cunning. Thank god I'm a street wise person, well kind of and I saw through there cunning plans. I also had my money belt tucked into my pants, so it would have been very difficult to get something from me.

Now here is something interesting: a poster of Alfa y Omega,
a self pronounced prophet from Peru, who links Christianity to aliens.
(if you look carefully you can see some UFO's behind Moses)
I saw it in this vegetarian restaurant in La Paz I always went to.

Rosita from the vegetarian restaurant,
behind her a poster of Alfa y Omega in his UFO

which has very little leg room.

I always thought Peru and Bolivia where safe countries to travel but they aren't: in Peru I had 2 times something stolen from me. I blame it on the religion. Well and poverty of course (although I seriously doubt that the schoolkid who stole my mp3 player needed it to fill his stomach). Maybe I see it very black and white but it's true: when you are a catholic you can do all bad things and go to confession and that's it. Try that as a Muslim. You can say what you want about them but at least they have respect for property, although it's forced upon them by fear of a vengeful god and having their hands chopped off. But at least most of them keep their fingers from your goods.

After Potosi I went to Tupiza, according to the guidebook the town and surrounding landscape makes you want to stay longer. I had seen enough after 1 day. Maybe I travelled to much in my life and it is getting more difficult to get excited from scenery's that you see. It was okay yeah but not mind blowing. The only remarkable thing is that in a village nearby Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid found their ends. So after finishing the distilled form of coca that I still had I crossed the border to Argentina. (it was a hard job, but somebody had to do it). I can understand people get addicted to it because the rush only last for a hour or 2 and then this uncomfortable feeling starts sliding in and you want to go back to the first feeling again which means buying more of the Bolivian marching powder.

So now Argentina, the north west still has a bit of a Andean feeling to it. Also here the women wear hats, although more flat and more in the gaucho style (Argentinian cowboy) then the Charlie Chaplin style that's popular among women in Bolivia. I wonder where this tradition of women wearing hats is coming from. A friend of mine told me it was a kind of rebellion against the Spanish colonisation. Argentina is more expensive then Peru or Bolivia, I had a 33 euro night bus, that almost blow me of my socks. It also seems that being a artisan is the biggest profession in Argentina. You see so many young (and not so young anymore) people trying to sell their handmade jewelry on the street.

In the small towns (more villages actually) in the north you expect Clint Eastwood to turn around the corner any time. Walking around the city centre of Buenos Aires makes you more feel like you are in Paris or London then in South America. It's the birthplace of tango, that sensual dance full of passion and desire first danced between men waiting for prostitutes in brothels. Apparently at some places this tradition is revitalised because I heard there are many gay tango clubs. Which sounds very photogenic, I was planning to visit some (only out of photographic interest of course) but they where very difficult to find. Of the addresses I found on a gay site I went to look for 3 tango clubs and they had all moved or vanished, it took me some hours to walk all this distances since Buenos Aires is huge and I didn't know which bus to take. So I kind of gave up on that idea. I did however photographed an amazing tango show what was more a combination of tango and an acrobatic circus act. It was amazing. At one point one of the male dancers had the woman he was dancing with with her back on his upper leg and he played her like a bandoneon (the accordion like instrument used in tango music).

Acrobatic tango

Also I wanted to photograph Tierra Santa, the first and only religious theme park in the world. With a reenactment of the resurrection every half hour and more interesting shows. All the personal is wearing the clothes that were in fashion in the Middle East in the times of Jesus. So unlike the poncho museum I was really looking forward to visit it, also because you had the hill where Jesus got crucified with a few guys on the cross (they don't have actors for this, they use clay or some other material figures) with airplanes flying over about every 20 minutes on their way to the airport. So yes I was really interested in visiting this tacky theme park and at the entrance I took my camera out of my backpack eager to start shooting when a guard came up to me and explained to me that I couldn't enter. Did he noticed that I, unlike all the other visitors, am not a good Christian? Could he see who was genuine interested from a religious point of view and who just wanted to see this freak show? No, as he explained to me the reason was that you can't enter with a professional camera. I tried to explain that my camera is semi professional and that there are much more professional cameras then mine, and that I really wanted to see it, but to no avail. So like God forbade Moses to enter Israel, I was not allowed into this Kingdom of Kitsch. Damn, I could leave my camera behind at the entrance but what use would it have had to go then? So that was really a pity but it gives me something to come back for because I really like Buenos Aires, to the point that I would like to live there. The nightlife is very good, you can go out every night till very late. In Amsterdammost bars close at one during the week. And did I mention the women already? I think I did, but will mention them again. I mean even the president is quite a sexy women. The only bad thing that happened to me is that I got ripped off at a change office. I was looking at a change office and then a guy in a suite came to me and said he had a better rate (4.74 instead of 4.72, not that much better) so I went with him. I thought of him to be a very slick looking guy but you shouldn't always judge the book by it's cover right? And in this office another guy was calculating for me on the calculator how much I
would get. I wanted to calculate myself later but he distracted me with questions about my country and calculated himself again, I even saw the figures he was typing and it looked okay but later on I did some calculations myself and noticed I got ripped of for about 10 euro. Well I don't have any money anymore anyway I believe (I lost my bankcard and cannot check my account, but actually also don't want to know how much I have or have not left) so that doesn't really matter anyway. So okay I'm no that street smart as I first wrote.

After Buenos Aires if time permits I will go to the Iguanza waterfalls, apparently they are quite amazing. Then into el republica del plantanas Paraguay, the country outside Africa with the biggest corruption and also mennonites: a kind of Amish that speak some German dialect. And then back to Bolivia, I wanted to visit the tinku, the most bloody fiesta in the world. But it's already very soon. I wouldn't have much time to spent in Paraguay. And also I heard the people at the tinku festival are not very keen on gringos with big cameras that come to "see the show". And they are all totally drunk and very aggressive. A guy I spoke to said he got harassed all the time, people throwing stones at him, poking him with sticks etcetera. I hope the mennonites are more peacefully. Maybe I will go to the tinku next year. Well if you made it to here: congratulations, because it was a long mail. I promise the next one will be shorter, also because I'm flying back to Hollanda within a month.



Photos from Peru can be watched here
Photos from Bolivia can be watched here
A slideshow about the lustrabotas here
A slideshow with photos from Argentina here
A slideshow with photos from Paraguay here

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Peru 2009: Go Go dancing on the graveyard

Sumaq llana! Qosqo llaqtamanta pacha. That it best wishes from the navel of the earth in quechua. One of the original languages of Peru. I'm now high up in the Andes in Cusco which the Incas thought to be the navel of the earth before their empire got smashed by the Spanish conquestadors who really took them by surprise with their horses and shotguns.

I'm now over 2 months in Peru so it's about time I let something hear from myself. Normally I write more often but this time I haven't been travelling that much around, more staying in one place and I also had a kind of writing block so that's why. One of the reasons I didn't do much travelling around is because I'm doing some photo project on graveyards. So I visit a lot of graveyards. I'm becoming quite an expert on Peruvian graveyards and find it very fascinating how the people here deal with the dead. It's much different then in Holland where things on the graveyard are a bit more formal.
Here it's normal to go to the graveyard with some beers, sit on the grave of the neighbour of the dead relative and drink to the deceased.

Typical way to spent the time on the graveyard: with some friends and family chatting and drinking

Or when there is a funeral talk to the gringo who is subtle making some pictures and make jokes with him. In Holland I would have been beaten up so many times I think. I guess it says something about the differences in mentality. Traditions do vary per region though. In some coastal towns (Chincha, Ica) it's common to hold a kind of party on the birthday of the deceased complete with balloons and live music. While the live music in Chincha is often a bit tacky with electric keyboard, I witnessed some surprisingly good and passionate performances in Ica, one of a Elvis look a like (graveyard rock), bones were shaking there. The graveyard in Chincha is however more exciting in the way that it is a bit dangerous. Often I got warned that I can get robbed and the ground keeper is walking around with a homemade gun (2 metal tubes in which he puts a shot of hail).

Birthday party for deceased child

The selfmade gun of the ground keeper

The most amazing thing I witnessed on a graveyard was in Cusco where I met this Afro Peruvian family. One woman was quite charmed by the author of this article and started to twist with her tongue in front of the camera and even held her enormous breasts while doing some erotic dance. This to the embarrassment and amusement of her family. The graveyard in Cusco is until now the most beautiful. Most graves are not underground, instead they are in a concrete structure with up to 6 layers, a kind of high rise apartment buildings for the dead. The coffin gets shoved into a hole, this hole gets closed up by cement and in front of the cement are placed items that corresponds with the live of the deceased. Like mini bottles of beer, toys or very tacky things like little figurines or Santa Claus postcards (I guess the deceased had a obsession with Santa Claus postcards), or like in some cases I've seen the place is made into a mini library complete with mini bookshelf's and mini books (the deceased was a teacher) or mini turntables (the person obviously was a DJ). Some are really well done. One I saw was from the owner of a bar and it was decorated like a bar complete with a mini TV with DVD, a menu, a table and some dolls sitting on a chair.

I was to shocked to take a sharp picture

Bar Restaurant La Gordita (the fat woman)

The graveyard in Ica is as I mentioned before almost bursting with life: creolian music, wines, piscos (a strong liquer made from grapes), dancing ect. It must be ond of the most lively graveyards on the planet. I hang out a bit with the musicians, one of them, Ceasar who was the most passionate performer I witnessed there, gave me a full bag with grapes and mangos on the day I left. Unfortunatly I washed the grapes in tabwater and was sick again for a few days. Well that's it for now. I made a selection of the pictures I took from the cemeteries, you can see a slideshow of them here

Ceasar giving away a show

Laos, Vietnam and China 2008

Hi, I'm now in Yangshou, China, enjoying a rest after cycling almost 900 km in 9 days. It's been a while since I wrote a mail. This is because on this trip I don't get into many crazy situations of which I can write about. So no dick swinging Nubians or samurai sword caring Americans on a divine mission this time.
Last mail must have been from Thailand. From there I went to Laos. It is one of my favorite countries, very laid back and many friendly people. Also because there is almost no traffic it's nice to cycle. Laos is a communist country and the people are real proletarians: so many children and they all say "sabadee" and wave and smile at you when they see you. It automatically puts you in a good mood. So I did a lot of waving and high fiving when I was going through villages.

Kids fishing

Returning home after work

Sun falling on the limestone mountains

After Laos I went to Vietnam. I had heard some bad stories about Vietnam, but I was pleasantly surprised. For one thing you have to respect them for kicking the American out. Quiet diverse people though: from the very friendly to the utmost annoying; you meet them all. I had a guy who wanted to take my pants almost by force (I wasn't wearing them but had them drying on my bicycle) and another one who wanted to charge me money for walking over his rice paddy, but on the other hand I had somebody offering me a shot of heroine and one woman offering me her daughter. Some people really like to talk to you and they don't mind that you don't understand Vietnamese, they will tell you whole stories or keep on firing questions at you anyway. The Vietnamese are much more outgoing then the Laotians so you have more interaction with the local people.

War veteran with a picture of the statue of liberty

Many Vietnamese are still fighting a war, although it isn't any more against the imperialist Americans and their puppet regime (I love the communist terminology) in the hills and rice paddies. No, it's against their own comrades on the roads. The Kalashnikov is replaced by a horn which they use all the time and instead off the break. Some of the most reckless driving I saw on this trip was here. Well, travel rule number one is do what the locals do, so I also drove like a maniac. The big cities are swarming with motorcycles which make cycling not really a healthy enterprise. Although the weather wasn't so nice, it's fun cycling in the river delta's (finally flat land!) where you can see the people working on the rice paddies, which are also dotted with graves (maybe the corpses make the earth more nutritious), while you peddle by.

Good for nutrition: a grave in the rice field

I didn't have much trouble with dogs, but that is maybe because they are on many peoples menu so they rather keep a low profile.Like in many countries bad taste and money go hand in hand in Vietnam. This especially concerns the architecture. While there are many characteristic wooden and stone houses, once the people have enough money they have some monstrous concrete structure made, all of them designed obviously by the same mad man. It's hard to describe but just let's say if Liberacy was still alive today even he would doubt to set a food in one of those houses. They are the ultimate in kitsch with a lot of fake marble pillars and the most hallucinant colour combinations. Some time the people apparently don't have enough money to paint the whole house so they only do the facade and leave the rest nice concrete grey. I always thought the Chinese earned the first price for most ugly architecture with their "school of blue windows and white bathroom tiles" but they Vietnamese surpass them easily.

Beautiful Halong Bay

Nowadays American culture is more popular then before:
kids doing some amazing break dancing on a square in Hanoi

So now I'm in China and it's amazing how different people are again. So shy in Laos, outgoing in Vietnam and here in China most of the time you just get a blank stare, if they look at you at all (even if you are the first long nosed barbarian they see in real live). Not much greeting going on here. Well that's okay, can't greet everybody here right? I mean is over 1 billion people living here, I would get a bit tired from it. So they are much more indifferent although I had also situations I was in internet shops with loads of people following every movement I did on the keyboard. Apparently it's also very funny for Chinese when they hear a foreigner say hello. They will say hello to you and when you say hello back they start laughing like it's the funniest thing they heard in years. Mmh Chinese humor, I don't know. Of course they are all very happy that they host the Olympic games this year (it's quite a hype). And they probably all think it's very rude and mean of those Tibetans that they want to disturb that. Well what can I say? Maybe electro shock therapy works against all the shit that has been put in their head all their live.
The Chinese are hard working people. They don't only work hard, also long. On the countryside you see people working the land who in Holland would already be locked up in a retirement home. Not here though, they literally work till the grave where they become fertiliser (also here are the graves often in the rice paddies). They plough the land while carrying a grandchild on their back. Many old people walk like they are still picking rice, so bended are their backs.
I will fly back to Holland on the 21st of May to start working on the bicycle taxi again. It seems my life is revolving around bicycles nowadays. So this probably will be my last mail, but I hope I will be writing you new mails next winter from South America.


Hmm, this gonna be a long one, since I found some another old email:

Hello, this will be the last message of this trip, written from the city of Amsterdam. Which means I made it back home alive. I am very lucky to have found a reasonably priced room in Amsterdam Oost and I started to work on the bike-taxi again with a lot of enthusiasm.

Some facts about the trip: I cycled about 5500 km with a top speed of 70 km and the longest distance in a day 127 km, I had a few flat tyres, broken spokes and one broken chain, got hit by a car twice (one of which was just a scrape) and once by a bat and almost hit a cow while going down a hill at 35 km per hour. That's enough facts about the cycling, now some facts about China and its many inhabitants. First of all I want to note that many people in Holland consider the Chinese to be strange or weird. We even say "rare chinees" which means strange Chinese person. But if you consider that strange behaviour is the opposite of normal behaviour and that normal behaviour is considered the behaviour of the majority of the people then actually the 18 million people in Holland are the strange ones, compared to 1.3 billion Chinese. So in that sense you can say on a global level normal behaviour is found in the countries with the biggest population: India and China. It makes you think doesn't it? Some of the normal behaviour I noticed while I was in China:

- It is either a fashion or probably just for convenience to walk around in your pyjamas on the street. Sometimes I saw people in nice matching pyjama suits strolling the street.

- Some other fashion news I have is for parents: in China the babies and little children walk around in pants with holes in them, so when they have to do peepee or kaka they don't shit or wet their pants. It looks very convenient. Fortunately they don't have these pants for adults.

- The women take a lot of care over their appearance. It's only too bad that many seem to lack any sense of taste.

A image from the old China

- Apparently half the population is deaf or they don't know how to turn up the volume level of their cell phones, because cell phones are in general not used to talk in but to shout at.

and one from the new China

- In Shanghai it's fun to ride the subway if you want to practise your rugby techniques. Instead of making space for the passengers who want to go out, the people who want to go in block the door and the moment the door opens all try to get in as fast as possible (even if there aren't any free seats anymore). There is a saying that civilisation is just a tiny layer; having used the subway in Shanghai, I'm convinced of this. Better grease your elbows when you take the subway (or put some pins on them).

For praticing your rugby techniques: the subway in Shanghai.
But better not with the guy in the red who was quite big for Chinese standards.

- For the food adventurers, China is paradise. Everything is eaten: from the dick of a donkey (for increased potency) to the feet of chickens. And what to think of a meal called "floating bladder"? Mjammie he? The most extreme thing I ate was pork intestine, but this was in a vegetarian restaurant and so not really the intestines of a pig. It's hard to be a vegetarian here since many people cook in pork fat and they use chicken extract as a flavouring. I did a cooking course and asked what I should use instead of chicken extract since I'm a vegetarian. "Just put some extra salt" was the answer.

- Because of the Olympics the government is trying to ban spitting. But of course you cannot just get rid of age old traditions so you can still hear the scraping of the throat (for some reason this has to be done very loudly) followed by a spit in many places.

- The Chinese have a bit of a bad rep for occupying Tibet and I have to say I didn't meet one Chinese who said Tibet should be an independent country, except for my friend in Hong Kong (but Hong Kong Chinese are very, very different from the Chinese people from the mainland). It's a touchy subject which I decided to avoid discussing since they always see you as the misinformed (that's funny) stranger who doesn't understand the topic. But on average they are not such bad and evil people, although they do tend to like karaoke.

- Chinese are in general very nationalistic people, they are proud of their country (including Tibet and Taiwan of course) and their long history and culture. Only too bad that long history in culture kind of took a dip. Present day culture is not something to be proud of. Interesting Chinese bands are very rare also when you think of the amount of people living there. Although I can recommend Er shou mei gui (Second hand roses). Since the "Let a hundred flowers bloom" campaign in the 50's the party doesn't take any criticism, so artists are very careful, although I saw some "reactionary art" in a Shanghai gallery with propaganda like paintings of soldiers waving the little red book while sucking on pacifiers. So there are some interesting artists in the big cities, but considering the size of the population it's on a really small scale.

- The military is, not surprisingly for an authoritarian regime, strongly represented. On tv you see many army soaps with sometimes crying soldiers (soldiers have feelings too!!), if you zap there is a big chance you see a concert of army brass bands (soldiers are culturally minded too!!!) and the army even has news reports in which you see the presenter (of course in uniform) talk about the latest news concerning fighter jets or tanks. (This is no joke!)

Chinese propaganda movie: Comrade Ping is watching you!

- They are very surprised to see a left handed person. When they see me write or eat, they always make remarks and act like they never saw something like that before. Because in the school where I was staying we ate communal on small tables I sometimes had chopstick fights with the person sitting left from me.

- Chinese people like to sit on small chairs.

- The Chinese government is blaming Western media for being manipulative and coloured. I have to say that considering the events in Tibet indeed there was some manipulation by some Western media. But it really is a case of "the pot calling the kettle black": in general, reading the newspaper or watching the English spoken news on CCTV9 makes you wanna throw up.

- Concerning the naming of rock formations in National Parks the Chinese have a vivid imagination and they use very poetic names. I went to one National Park which had amazing sandstone rocks that were eroded into pillars which together looked like a kind of stone forest. Unfortunately the park resembled an amusement park and was very overcrowded with many Chinese lining up to pose for pictures of course making the V sign while doing that. What to think of the following names of stone formation which not even being stoned out of your mind you could see in it: "Five ladies visiting the Generalissimo", "The supernatural hawk guarding the whip", "Commenting freely on a dominant position", "The god of longevity welcoming guest" and so on.

Wulingyuan national park: enjoy the eroded rocks among
thousands of Chinese who all want to pose in the picture
doing the v sign and sign karaoke on the mountain

- Concerning the hair growing out of moles: this should not be cut or pulled out, but grown long, apparently it is a sign of longevity. It really is a disgusting sight.

For a slideshow of Laos click here
For a slideshow of Vietnam click here
For a slideshow of China click here