Thursday, September 29, 2011

Men of Colombia

Two years ago, while in Tanzania, the director of the local farm collective chastised me for taking pictures of exotically dressed villagers, tribal people and the poor. He pointed out that it gave the wrong impression of his country to the West, because I had eliminated showing all the progressive, successful, fashionably-dressed, modern-thinking people.

I have chosen the three pictures of men of Colombia without including a modern big city businessman. Yet so many other faces are missing as well, so in the end, this post fails miserably to describe this country's people or its character.

The bottom picture is Nelson, my host in the Orinoco. This seemingly simple-looking chap, together with his father, own a huge 30,000 acre cattle ranch consisting of jungle and savannah and which also serves as a nature preserve. He is now doing a little eco-tourism for the truely adventurous, since, as I have told in a previous post, it takes a three hour boat trip downriver through the jungle to get to his place. Aside from knowing seemingly everything about local plants and animals and, of course, ranching, Nelson is an incredibly accomplished oil painter and, of all things, harpist. After eating one of his sumptous all meat meals, he seranaded us. It is strange to hear such sweet tones wafting through the forest. The above photo was snapped when his son Sabastiano and he took me piranha fishing.

The second photo is of Pablo, what other name did you expect?! His family has lived along the river forever, subsisting almost entirely on local foods and making everything in traditional ways. Homes are built entirely of bamboo and palm leaves. You may think he looks primitive, but he exhibited such a gentle understanding and has clearly developed a unique level of knowledge coming from the ingestion of certain psychotropic plants.

I know the least about the top photo. I took it the other day of a cowboy who agreed to pose for me. I liked his hat, his shawl and his tough expression. So many of these rural Colombianos are so staunchly proud of their environment, their culture and their history. He lives in a enchanting valley on the western slope of the middle range of the Andes and is probably accustomed to rounding up cattle at 9,000 feet.

These fellows are small pieces in the puzzle of Colombia. I could stay here for years before I had a clue what the final picture might even remotely look like.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Brother, Can you spare me a .....?

Unlike other adventures, and especially because my guide is an agronomist and conservationist by profession, the emphasis of this trip has been almost entirely on experiencing the amazing nature of Colombia rather than its people. Nonetheless people have been asking me about what the quality of life is in this 3rd world country and about poverty.

First of all, Colombia has a population of 44 million people with incredibly diverse cultural groups and living situations. How to judge poverty would mean having criterion which is both objective and subjective. Whenever I try to get a handle on this subject, I feel like I have a mountain of sand in front of me and I need to look carefully at each grain for color, size and texture and then sort them out to understand what they mean.

First of all, it appears that rural people have abundant food and water and often share collectively in villages. The fact that they have little electricity or running water seems to be less of an issue than other places I've been. I am told, for what it is worth, that there is less craving for additional material gain than in other Western societies. They appreciate the serenity of their life style, but this bucolic description may be a myth, I just don't know. Then there are the remote-living indigenous villagers who, I am told, for the most part love their simple lifestyle, view it as spiritual abundance, and vigorously defend it from the encroachment of modernity.

The cities are a teeming cacaphony of sounds and odors, primarily from an army of obnoxiously loud-buzzing motor bikes, groaning overladen trucks and diesel-spewing buses coursing through potholed streets which lodge everything from super modern office buildings and shopping malls to barios of graffiti-littered rundown storefronts and houses. There are wealthy, fashionably-dressed professionals, intelligent-looking university students and lots of small business folk who are surrounded by a sprawling mass of humanity, who probably must be viewed as the urban poor. These people can be seen crunched on buses, jetting about doubled up on motor bikes or found relaxing or busying themselves in front of a myriad of overstocked, metal screened shops, unsanitary-looking workshops or cheap cafes. There are also the usual homeless people lying in doorways, many victims of continual coca use and, much less so, alchoholism. There seem to be not as many as I expected and, perhaps fewer than I've seen in some American cities, but I am told, exist without any support in terms of soup kitchens or temporary lodging.

Are these Colombians poor? Do they feel disadvantaged or does feeling disadvantaged really qualify as actually being poor? Are these folks poor at all when compared to the people I saw in Tanzania or Bolivia? How should I view the poor of America, many ofwhom have a car, a tv, a cellphone and medical and nutritional support poor in relation to others who have no water? I suppose adressing these questions really would make a more thought-provoking post. Instead I must confess that my answers fluctuate daily depending on my mood and my level of caring.

I am glad to hear your voices on this subject from your own tiny soapboxes. You may think that you know this subject well from personal experience and dare to generalize. For me there is only caution. There are a myriad of lives. The beach is huge and its particles shift capriciously with the wind.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Where never was heard a dicouraging word.....

When I thought of the Orinoco Basin, I imagined steamy vegetation and chocolate-colored rivers with exotic animals lurking near the shore. My last post showed such a landscape, but that type of scene comprises only a fraction of the land. Such a jungle ecosystem is only found as narrow strips along the waterways which bisect a mindbogglingly huge savannah, the llano. This great plain stretches 350 miles East to the Orinoco River which defines the border with Venezuela and about 175 miles north and south from the ocean to the Amazon Basin. The few people who live out there raise cattle and have to travel sometimes 3 days by boat or by jeep over incredibly rough, rocky, muddy indistinct trails just to reach some semblance of civilization. Likewise, the men have to drive their lifestock these remarkable distances.

The hardy stock of residents of this desolate area are called llaneros and recall the American cowboy of 150 years ago. To get a taste of the life on the llano, our host asked my guide and me if we would like to ride out a bit to visit one of his outposts. I was not sure I was up to being four hours out and back on the saddle, but yup pardner, that's me on that white nag heading out into the wild blue yonder. I found the grassland really muddy and loaded with countless deer and families of capybaras. There were odd turtles, large iguanas and countless species of birds wherever there were ponds. In addition, numerous scrubby hillocks interspersed the landscape where cougars and jaguars sleep during the day and come out at night to hunt. Then there were the herds of cattle. This section of ranch had over 6000 head of white mooers.

After an exhausting ride in searing heat, and nursing a sore butt and bruises on my legs, I arrived at the above hacienda and was treated to a great meal and to watch horses lassoed and others being ridden for the first time.

This day showed me yet another a side of Colombia I hadn't expected. Never have I been in a country so diverse in culture, climate, geography. It is so wild and and untamed like that proud horse above.

Btw, the toothy animal in the last post was a male white spectacled caiman, a relative of the crocodile. It is identifiable by a high pointed forehead and looks like it is wearing glasses. As far as its sex is concerned, I didn't roll him over to look but was told by a reliable source! The second picture is of a family of capybaras swimming and frolicking in a pond.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Capturing the Moment

Tonight I am back in Bogota after having spent the last three days far to the northeast in the Orinoco Basin. It was an intense whirlwind trip and I am still on such sensory overload that I can barely express myself and wil be glad to share details on my next post.

I know that I toured an area so physically and emotionally distant that the remaining sensation of my travel is like the feeling I often have of struggling to hold the memory of a snippet in a dream that evaporates with the morning light. In this case I am drenched in a kaleidescopic eddy of brilliant colors, strange calls, and incomprehensible people.

The wondeful part of taking pictures is that that they play a serious trick on the amnesia brought on by the passing of time. They serve as a testimonial which preserves more clearly and convincingly some unique scenes of an amazing adventure after the magical picture book has closed.

Rather than continuing to rattle on with etherial thoughts, I decided that, through the above photos, I'd enjoy introducing you to some characters I encountered the other day along the river. Do you know what these animals are or for that matter what they are thinking? !!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Message from High

Please understand that this shot is a picture of Bogota facing West. Imagining panning the camera to the left for another 30 degrees and seeing just as many buildings!
Since we could not leave yesterday, as described in my previous post, and since the showery weather had cleared, I was able to take the aerial tram up to Montserrat, a historic church built on a ledge above the city.

I looked down feeling amazement and sadness. There just seemed that this high plain had too many people. My mind wandered to places I had been which gave massive views of cities such as the Sears Tower in Cicago, the Empire State Building in New York, The Space Needle in Seattle,the Eifel Tower, and the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro.
Damn, I thought. There are sure a lot of people. Even more, these below represented only a tiny fraction of the millions I had seen in villages and towns along the roads throughout my adventure. I looked over at the historic chapel and listened to mass broadcast through loadspeakers which blared a message of hope and faith. Trivial guitar music and the drone of the priest's voice mingled with leftover electric Christmas ornaments which littered this height.

I stood there in the cool mountain breeze and forced away my urge to explain what I saw or to come up with ideas to problems which were, in themselves, too great to tackle. So often I have said on this trip to my naturalist guide whose life is dedicated to preserve natural resources from unbridled consumption, that there are simply too many people.

I turned away from the view and began taking numerous pictures of flowers and plants in the lovely garden. I wanted to see the small more than the large. It felt safer that way.

Monday, September 19, 2011

In Rome do as the ..........?

Well this was the day to hit the road again. It was going to be a long drive to the Orinoco. Instead I am still in Bogota for a peculiar reason.

In Colombia's larger cities, to keep the already amazingly congested streets from being more congested, every workday is assigned numbers. A person is not allowed to drive on those days which correspond with the last number of the car's license plate. Today the number 8 applies to Monday in Bogota and so our rental car is out of commission. The fine for violating this rule is the equivalent of $250.00. Police are heavily on the lookout for violators. I understand it works like this: the car keys are taken to the precinct, the car is parked on the street and then after 8pm the keys can be released to the driver after the receipt is shown for having paid the fine. In this way, about two days a week, people must find alternative transportation. Trucks are exempt.

What is your opinion of this law? Does it really provide value? Should something similar be instituted in any of the big cities in America? I ask myself these questions and relish the enjoyment of experiencing the small oddities of other cultures.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Beauty and the Beast?

Once again I appreciate everyone who supported me during the tough day I had on Friday. I feel almost fully recovered and count, in a bizarre way, the disgusting event as one of the most interesting days of my life. Since I lost several days of pictures that were still in my camera, I have posted these three from this afternoon. a gray, showery, cool day.

I am in Bogota, Colombia's capital, located on a 7,600 foot plain below some amazing Andean peaks. As a child I had learned the name Bogota from collecting stamps. It had a magical, far away ring to it, so I looked forward to seeing this famous city of now eight million inhabitants with great curiousity. I arrived last night only to find a massively sprawling, chaotic and, in many parts, a particularly dirty city with little or no redeeming architectural value. Every storefront, wall or sign was smeared with graffiti. Totally disappointed, I barely wanted to leave my hotel this morning.

However, I was blessed by the good fortune of meeting Sergio, a local naturalist and conservationist who urged me to take a better look at his town. He whisked me through rather mundane or tawdry neighborhoods to see the prize of Bogota, the old Spanish city.

After plying the narrow streets filled with quaint buildings from the 17th century, we happened upon an amazing roccoco church and eventually came to the main plaza. Across from the seat of government was a massive church and the archbishop's quarters. I had seen a different and far more rewarding side of Bogota, one which showed beauty and care in its detail. I think I will remember this positive side as strongly as the negative and for this I am glad.

With the knowledge that I have scratched off one more entrancing place from my list of places to see, tomorrow I leave for the Orinoco. This river's name has always had a magical, mysterious sound, don't you think? I wonder already what lies ahead and what content it will add to my daily adventure.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Bittersweet Nature of Life

This may be the most difficult post I have ever written. My guide Emilio decided that we should revisit the paramo below the Purace volcano. On Monday we had had such an amazing time so we thought we could explore more today. The Paramo is a climactic and geographic zone so incredibly rare in the world. It is a flat cold plateau at 11,000 feet and is usually shrouded in clouds. It may rain three hundred days a year. All living things have adapted to this severe climate, which makes seeing them a unique experience.

We trekked out into bush and took many pictures. I even finally found tracks of the highly endangered mountain or woolly tapir which I carefully photographed. Muddy, wet and tired we returned to our car to look again at the sulphur spring which I posted about on Monday.

The top photo is the main road, a rather isolated stretch between any houses of indigenous people. Just past this spot two men dressed in military fatigues who identified themselves as revolutionaries jumped out from behind a hill and demanded we stop. One was masked and carrying a machine gun and the other packed a pistol visible from his open shirt. Anyway we got robbed. I lost both of my cameras, some money and my cellphone which only works in the States. Fortunately they didn't take the rental car or kidnap me and hold me for ransom. I also didn't lose my credit cards and I didn't have my passport with me.

Although I was calm throughout this ordeal, the shock is wearing off and I feel sick to my stomach, disoriented and anxious. I don't know anything right now about anything. My present, past and future are a muddle. I feel damaged and the adventure feels damaged. That's all I can say tonight.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lost in (thought) in the jungle

I normally post only one or two pictures, but today I thought I would make a futile attempt to convey the feeling of the vastness and complexity of the jungle. The pictures have been placed in ascending order from the bottom picture upwards. Every dot of space is drenched in radiant beauty. Life and its renewal fill the air and are accompanied by the sounds of birds, monkeys and cicadas. Sometimes there is a rustling of something moving nearby. Whatever it is, it is cloaked within a magical green garment. Who knows, it may be a coatimundi or a mysterious nothing. It doesn't matter. It merges with the light, the air, the earth, the odors, and the essence of all living and dying things. I walk through the rainforest in awe. Its message to me feels so powerful, although what that it actually says about the purpose of life, I don't really know. I experience it as an entwined vine wrapped around my trunk. Nonetheless, like all else, I live fervently under the canopy searching for light until my end.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Face Every Mother Loves?

Yesterday afternoon, I arrived in Macoa, a bustling town on the East side of the Southern Andes. It lies in the foothills and is the beginning of the Amazon Basin. It was a dramatic change from the cool mountain weather of the previous days. The plants and animals are now totally tropical. I find myself in a hot jungle adorned with palm trees, strange strangling vines, butterflies, monkeys, colorful strange chirping birds and, as shown above, in the habitat of that weird looking character, the lowland tapir.

In a small animal sanctuary owned by the district and created for illegally kept or hurt animals, I was able to see up close this amazing endangered animal, which is incredibly difficult to stumble on in the wild, since it is scarce and lives, usually solitary, in the densest of jungle.

The tapir is an ancient animal and has changed little since its inception in the Eocene, forty million years ago. It is an herbivore, munching on a wide assortment of leaves, and is distantly related to horses and rhinos, since like them, it has an odd number of toes, similar teeth and wriggles its nose. There are four species, three of which can be found in Colombia. They have strong powerful legs, well adapted for walking in mud and on steep slopes. They also love swimming in ponds, which are essential for safety from jaguars and as a way to keep cool. For more information on tapirs you may want to check out tapirgal's website at

Today we are going back into the highlands to spend several days among indigenous peoples around a sacred lagoon. I understand we will boat to some villages and meet with some shamans my guide knows. I will be out of touch during this time, but my spirit will send you loving thoughts.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In the Beginning

After much frustration, I finally have been able to access Blogger to write this post. I have no idea when I will be able to do this again since my guide Emilio and I leave shortly to a more remote spot in the Amazon basin where we should see some incredible animals and flora.

On Monday we drove Southeast from Cali to visit what is reputed to be one of the most valuable sites in the world to experience biodiversity. This lush, verdant, almost idyllic cloud forest is called the Purace, a park managed by indigenous people nestled around a 15,000 ft. volcano in the Southern Andes. It is home to thousands of different species of plants, including rare orchids,bromeliads, and giant ferns. Likewise, the animals are unique and, personally most important, contains the largest remaining population of the highly endangered mountain tapir.

If you can take the time to click on the first photo, you may understand better the deep feelings I experienced while visiting the park. I am standing at an active crater below the volcano. Hot steam and sulpher bubble out of the ground and meld with a crystal clear spring to form a creek which then flows through prisitine landscape. It is cool here and the spot is shrouded in almost constant mountain mist. These vapors promote a magical, prehistoric sensation. It feels truly like I am witnessing the source of life itself and, understanding through this scene's watery essence, that all living things receive its spark of beginning at a place like this. I imagine seeing even dinosaurs grazing among the strange plants in the meadow. Here there is such a peaceful stillness also that I know that I am before something that many consider sacred.

The second photo was an afterthought intended to thank all of you who have supported me and who have shown me such love. This petal is from an Erythrina, one of the numerous flowers that adorn the landscape. I offer it to you today as a gift from Colombia.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hail Colombia!

It's a magical theater, that's all I can say. One moment you are in your home environment and then puff, bang, you are in a picture you saw in your 8th grade social studies book.

Tonight is my first night in Cali, Colombia and, by tomorrow, will embark on a month's journey around the country to explore native plants, animals and the culture of indigenous people.

Of course I am wired after two days of long plane flights and from the excitement of having been lucky enough to pick out my guide Emilio from a throng of taxi drivers and local folks who had collected outside of baggage claim.

I know nothing yet, except that, as we sped away from the outlying airport through the darkness toward downtown Cali, I felt totally thrilled to have transported myself again to a different part of the world. I sensed a feeling of stress and toxic energy slip away that I had built so strongly these past months back in the USA.

Yes I know this is no shangrala here. I already saw all the signs of poverty indicative of this part of the world, but I am strangely unafraid. Instead I look forward to diving headfirst into a refreshing pool of ideas and experiences. Tonight I am in a clean hostel in the big city, but tomorrow we fill the car with supplies such as cameras, binoculars, identification books, and collecting jars and head out to explore some foothills of the Southern Andes. I am no Darwin nor work for National Geographic nor know the first thing about science. I am an explorer of boundaries though, so what the hell...... Livingston is that you?

Mad Hatter?

Well how does it go? "leavn on a jet plane....." This morning I am in the airport in Dallas, waiting for my flight to Miami and then on to Cali, Colombia.

I have fond memories of the airport here. When my children were young over twenty years ago, and my family was here waiting to change planes, I would keep my children busy by giving them money each time they saw someone wearing a cowboy hat. It was great competition and ilicited much speculation as to what kind of horse this Texan rode. Today I have seen no hats. Times have changed Whoops there goes a Pakastani in a turbin. Let me give you a rupee!

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Night to Remember?

I know! It is another one of those typical, sophomoric, sunset pictures. There are so many published daily and which are certainly more dramatic than this one. So forgive me for being trite. Simply put, I like the way the pointed-shaped roofline of the picnic shelter at Bend's Old Mill Park directs the eye skyward. In fact the form reminds me of the pyramids of Egypt and most of all, the delta, fourth letter and number of the Greek alphabet.

This thought stimulated me to look in Wikipedia, where I learned of the many ways the delta has been used over time to descibe amazing concepts in such fields as mathematics, physics, genetics, astronomy and, in addition, has been marginalized by the naming of airlines and hurricanes.

What I enjoyed the most was reading that this symbol also has represented the Greek mythological scientist and inventor Daedalus, who, aside from creating the maze for the minotaur, is most remembered for replicating wings from wax and strapping them onto his son Icarus. The youngster, both blessed and cursed by his father's creative dreams, proceeds to fly upward toward the sun and then melts down to his demise.

This black triangle, silhouetted by the evening sky, like a schoolmaster's pointer, reminds me tonight of the value of unbridled imagination. It directs me away from the mundane and offers me a lovely, comforting handprint of clouds floating above. Most of all, it provides encouragement that I must write these thoughts down without any other apparent reason, if only to relieve stress, and record them in this post as a reminder of a fleeting moment in my adventure.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

East meets West

To appreciate this picture it may be necessary to click on it and enlarge it!

Several years ago while touring the East Coast I found myself in a small industrial town in New Jersey. I was hungry and began to search for a place to eat with the hope of finding a mom and pop place serving local food. Much to my surprise and mirth I came upon this eatery.

Just imagine the possibilities.... a scrumptious chow mein enchilada or a tasty frijole-loaded spring roll. In any case the ownership was obviously looking for a broader appeal. Perhaps they might have thought to rename the place The Sombrero Dragon.

Personally I like both Mexican and Chinese food, but for some reason I lacked confidence in a chef who clearly had an identity problem. Come to think of it, a little tequilla instead of tea could help wash down some of their zesty Egg Foo Young. Then again I decided that a fortune cookie written in Spanish would be a major disappointment. What could it say? "Senor, you must learn to use chopsticks!" With that in mind I said adios and sayonara and moved on.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Training the Eye

All aboard! Looking through the glass window of the entry door of an idle switch engine, I suddenly had the feeling that I was revisiting a dream. It was an all to common one where I, the passenger, found myself racing through familiar landscape at the mercy of a reckless driver who I couldn't even find.

The photo works like a collage depicting my somewhat disturbed mind. There is a chair waiting to be filled and the tracks beyond. You might think that symbolically it is time for me to confidently take my seat and steer forward without Angst. Were it possible, I could, at this late date, reinvent myself and chug joyously down the line. Yet the door is locked and the seat is facing the wrong direction. It is not for me. I guess I am forever derailed! Instead my wheels happily wobble and screech and have taken me far. I have had an amazing journey and have seen countryside I wouldn't exchange for a different ticket.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Leaving Port and Pushing out to Sea

It is hard to say why I have restarted my blog after an absence of almost a year and a half with this totally dated picture. I actually uploaded this old photo at random and posted it to see what thoughts it would generate.

The two characters in this picture are my father with the flower in his lapel and his little brother, my Uncle Paul, both highly tempremental and understandably dysfunctional holocaust survivors. The picture is taken in the Winter of 1970 when I was 24 years old at my wedding to Linda Schoenfeld at her aunt's house in New York.

From looking at this snapshot so many divergent thoughts run through my mind that it is difficult to develop even the simplest of comments. Of course, my father and uncle are long dead and my marriage to Linda ended abruptly in 1978.

It would make interesting reading to express something revealing, pithy or salacious about myself or any of the above mentioned folks in order to make this post worthwhile and that, of course, presumes that any reader has even the slightest voyeuristic interest in my life.
That being said, I realize that, above all things, a feeling of lonliness and sadness is overcoming me, caused by the knowledge that I can never listen to these important men in my life who would have so much information to give me about issues I care about today.

In addition the picture reminds me that on the day it was taken, my wedding day, I had a fever of 102 due to the flu. My illness robbed me of even the slightest joy at the event. I was dizzy, overwrought by emotion and feeling once again star-crossed. My secret voice kept pounding me with the question of why I had to be a mess at this landmark moment of my life. I cursed myself and hid my inner pain. All the wedding pictures give testimony to a pale-faced boy struggling to look happy.

Well Ahoy... I am flotsam bobbing through calm and maelstom these next months. In a week at this time I will be flying to Colombia and eager to report whenever I can.

I will do my best to answer comments and visit other blogger sites whenever I have connectivity. I appreciate so much any connection. It is going to be strange out there.