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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Day

I’m back home from school, and I have wonderful opportunities to rock the permaculture and spend some quality time in the pool.

I’ve been taking advantage of a microclimate, right beneath a ledge on the south-facing edge of one of the fields at camp.  I’m building the soil, Hugelkultur style, with rotted wood, shavings, and horse manure.  On top will go some sort of nitrogen-source (likely in the spring), topsoil, and while it’ll be SUPER acidic, the soil should be good for blueberries.  Stone wall in front of it.  No need for lifting with all of this work.

Swimming a lot!  Shooting, shooting, and running as well.  We’ll see about the fencing.

Christmas was wonderful; got to see everyone.  Water bottles and slippers off of the Clymb for family.  Built a cold-frame for my Mum.

Sometimes the simplest presents are the greatest…  I’m now the (very content) owner of a Carhartt vest, new work gloves and new wool socks, more seeds, a dehydrator, a book on wildlife/woodland gardens, a pair of new clippers, and a marine raincoat.  My family knows me well.

Building a chicken coop/tractor as well, slowly but surely.

Went for a run just before it got dark.  Found a trailhead right across the road from the camp driveway.  Beautiful trails.  The poison-ivy covered stone wall always deterred me in the summer from venturing that way.  New places to explore!

Tonight, the moon is bright as can be.  I’m going to go work on my stone wall for a while before retiring to my current book, “The four season harvest.”  It’s talking about how to grow your own food, year-round, with the seasons, without a heated greenhouse.  I’ve dabbled in such things, but I’ve always come back to the heated greenhouse.

I love stone walls.  More to come.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Eco-Aldea Velatropa

Eco-Aldea Velatropa

          In an abandoned, unfinished pavilion, next to the University of Buenos Aires, lies Ecoaldea Velatropa.  Velatropa is a community of earthy-folk that recycle, re-use, and live off of what the city throws away.  Some might call them homeless, but where they live is indeed a home.  It has more character than many a house in our unconscious first world.

            I found out about the troop a week prior to the end of my semester.  I was bummed that I had spent five months missing Slade (the co-op I live in at home) while there were great people living right near by.  Better late than never, I suppose.  I biked over, introduced myself, and offered a hand in exchange for hanging out with them.  They were happy to meet me, even though they get a lot of visitors that come and go.

            The community’s goal is to lead a zero-impact lifestyle.  In Vermont, we strive to reduce and reuse, but this is by far the most impressive manifestation of such an ideology.  It’s inspiring.  It’s magnificent.

            This whole journey is best described through pictures.  I’ll elaborate on the photos, but you have to see to believe. 

            I’ll start with a map of the location:
I've labeled "Home," "Di Tella," and "Velatropa."  The Eco-community is in the north of the city, on the water, on the edge of a the city's protected wetlands.

After the troop slowly blocked off vehicle access, vegetation slowly returned to the once-industrialized lot.  Even in the strangest of soils, crops still grow.  Two photos from 2000 and 2012:

The reserve surrounding the area is now lined with paths and dwellings of the people that live there.

One of the most impressive homes:

A Colombian lives there with his girlfriend.  The fort is only accessible by rope.  Better than a lock on your door, eh?  It’s supported by the branches and suspended from two thick ropes that stretch between two other trees.  Not a good fort if you're a sleepwalker.

Many of the other homes and buildings are made of plastic bricks, and mud.  Glass and glass bottles are incorporated into the walls to let light in.  Many are nearly ten-years old, and still standing strong.  Maintenance is required, but with neither snow nor hurricanes, and a very mild climate, there isn’t much to worry about.

These are different types of “bricks” that are used to make walls:

Outside the main cooking area and community-library and living space, which you can see at the beginning of the video, Fé showed off his home-made recumbent bike.  The pedals were too short for my legs, but it was nonetheless impressive.

Inside the kitchen were several stoves and an oven made out of a metal barrel and clay.

Rain-water was collected from the roof for dishes:

Plates and silverware:

Pots and pans:

Inside the main building were beanbag chairs and a selection of books, along with art supplies and jewelry that some of the members sell at the artisan fairs.

            Fruit and vegetable stores in Buenos Aires buy more produce than they can sell.  Losing money from spoiled food represents a smaller loss than losing customers from not having what they want.  The members of Velatropa collect “expired” yet edible fruits and vegetables with spots.  With 20 people living in the troop, the turnover of the food is relatively quick.

            What truly isn't edible is composted and used as fertilizer in the gardens.

I visited in mid-winter, so the gardens weren’t flourishing with veggies, but in the spring, summer and fall they grow a decent amount of produce. 

This is a sun-dryer, drying ginkgo and other tea leaves:

The black charcoal at the bottom heats up the rest of the system.


Bathrooms.  They have an outhouse, or “dry-toilet.”  Solid waste is composted.

“Poop here, pee outside.”

Recycling is a huge part of what Velatropa does.  Everything is re-used.

“Recycling!  Nothing is trash!  It becomes trash when you throw it away!”

“Paper”   “Clean and dry cardboard”


Obviously, bicycles are where it’s at.  This photo was taken in the early morning when I went to visit again, but the previous day the rack was full.

Recycling route with the times that stores dispose of what they can’t sell:

Like at Slade, chores are organized and divvied up between everyone:

If you see a chore/task, it’s yours.

 It's a snake!

I helped them out for the day.  We ironed two plastic tarps together to make a covering for the greenhouse.

 Buenos Aires has no public recycling program.  Trash is brought to landfills, and left to pollute the water table.  What does get recycled is picked up by "cartoneros."  The unemployed travel around with large carts and pick up plastic, glass, metal, wood, and cardboard.  They bring their loads to private recycling companies and exchange it for cash.  They also live off of what the city discards, but in a much more roundabout way.

Only on the surface could Velatropa be considered a group of cartoneros.  Over 15 years, they've built a community where knowledge, chores, and companionship are shared consciously and sustainably.  The idea that people would choose to live like this is completely foreign to some.  To me, it makes perfect sense.  I'm far from being a communist.  However, on a small scale, communities thrive and carry on so much better than those who fend for themselves in poverty.  Planned economies are absurd, but depending on and helping your fellow man is something that should be much more common in western civilization.  In other cultures, perhaps Mexico, living in larger units is more accepted, but in the United States we dwell on the idea everyone should own their own large, single-family home, buy everything they need from one store, and forget about what they discard as if a garbage truck were a magical vehicle that solved with the first-world's waste epidemic.  Communities like Velatropa are at the far end of the spectrum in terms of sustainable living, but they make us stop and think.  Are we living it right?  

Do I, one person have an impact on the rest of society and our beautiful blue planet?  Can I change something if I don't like it?  Will I make a difference?


1 week after Buenos Aires

More posts coming soon...

Part I: Nature not in Buenos Aires

I’m sitting at a campground in Errol, New Hampshire, less than a week after landing in Boston.  This was originally written with a pencil and a notepad.  I do NOT miss my laptop.  After seeing some friends, spending  time with family, and eating some much-missed Mexican food, I headed into Maine’s north woods.  I took a new route to the mouth of the Rapid River, through some logging roads and across a nearly untouched, surrounded by DENSE forests, serene, difficult to access, pond.  I left one of my two kayaks at the top of the river, and then headed back down through the logging roads to the take-out.  It was complicated…take my word for it.

I fell asleep to the sound of whitewater, knowing that I was more likely to get robbed by a moose than by a human. 

Today I spent about eight hours on the river (whitewater kayaking, if you didn’t already get that).  I hadn’t paddled a boat for about eleven months, but it all came back pretty quickly.

            Last year after coming back from Madrid, I drove up to Vermont to go hiking with my friend Gretchen.  Even though cities are great and everything, after spending too much time in concrete jungles, I get wilderness deficit disorder.  I didn’t make that disorder up.  It’s totally real.  I think.  Go and read my Uruguay post.  I sort-of explain it there, but in short, humans do best when they’re surrounded by green, moving, non man-made environments.  When we stray from such places, we become less satisfied with our lives.

            Not to say that I couldn’t find trees and green things in Argentina, I just really like the biome I grew up in.  While I can’t ever get too much deciduous forest, I can certainly get too little.  After dodging taxis for five months, I’m now happy to be dodging potholes and rocks, and bombing down whitewater.

Part II: Nature in Buenos Aires

            While Buenos Aires can’t compete with the Maine wilderness, it’s certainly not bad on the nature front.  Depending on where you live, the Bosques of Palermo (parks in the north of the city) can get you a decent chlorophyll fix.  Running inside the golf course at night was also pretty nice, but after getting chased out by a guy on a bike (felt like Casino Royale), I limited my inside-the-barbed-wire-fence running.  Barbed wire does its job pretty well, both for keeping people out and keeping people in.

            Along with the Ecological Reserve on the southwest side of Buenos Aires, the city’s parks aren’t bad.  I ran 800 miles in them (that isn’t an exaggeration), all on soft surfaces.  If you’re reading this, and you’re still not sold on the naturaleza of the city, read my “Eco-aldea Velatropa” post.  Even if you’re not that into trees, it’s still WILD.  I promise you.  Go read it.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The freedom of two wheels, two legs, and two lungs; using your own body to get you places.

       In Massachusetts, I live in the suburbs. In Vermont, I live in a small city. Buenos Aires is an enormous city. These three places are listed in order of increasing convenience in regard to human-powered transportation in comparison to public or private carbon-fueled transportation.
       If I were to take the Subte (metro) to the IES center, it would take me ten minutes to walk to the train station, 25 minutes to ride the train to the center, and ten more minutes to arrive at IES on foot. I would be underground for most of the time, crammed into a train-car, and out of the dynamic city streets that crisscross Argentina’s capital. Arriving by colectivo (bus) takes around 45 minutes as well, and you have to deal with traffic and stoplights. Boring. Taxis cost a fortune, and you have to deal with traffic. Not fun.
       It takes 25 minutes to bike from my apartment to the IES center if I take my sweet time. 18 minutes if I get lucky with the lights and hustle a bit. It’s 4.32 miles…not that far. I also burn more calories (more food I get to eat), and get to see the city from a whole different perspective. I’m neither a car nor a pedestrian. I can run red lights (always look both ways before running a red light), hop up onto sidewalks, squeeze between cars and buses, and stop and start whenever I need to.
       I’ve been told that I’m out of my mind for biking in Buenos Aires. That’s totally not the case. I do seem to tolerate a higher level of uncertainty than most, but that’s only what it looks like on the surface. I don’t just hop on a bike and start meandering down the street. I cycle at home, and I biked throughout Madrid every day last spring. If you didn’t know how to drive, would driving be dangerous? If you didn’t know how to ski, would bombing down a black diamond be dangerous? Yes! Absolutely! The same goes for cycling. Even though I’m surrounded by big metal objects and very hard pavement as opposed to being inside a big metal object or moving on top of snow, it’s all about reacting quickly, avoiding bad situations, and assuming that no one is ever going to adhere to the traffic laws (are there any traffic laws?). You don’t have to be faster than the cars; you just have to accelerate quicker than they do, and understand that the lines on the road and traffic lights mean oh so very little.
       Until recently, I hadn’t fallen at all. This past week, avoiding a pedestrian who decided to walk into the middle of the road, I swerved, went flying, and ate some pavement. The problem is that people don’t look for bikes, and at that they’re easier to miss. Luckily, I just have a bit of road rash on my arms, legs, and back, and was indeed wearing a helmet.
       The last time I rode in a car, bus, or train was about a month ago. I can get everywhere I need to go with my own human-power, and I’m not contributing to the pollution that Buenos Aires donates to good ol’ mother earth. It bewilders me that people drive such short distances, or at that, drive to the gym to run on the treadmill or ride a stationary bike.
       Something interesting about Buenos Aires and most other parts of South America is that property rights are poorly defined. What do I mean be that? People steal stuff. People steal everything, bikes included. When you ride somewhere, you either take your bike inside, or leave it at a parking garage for 1 peso or so ($.20 US) per hour. I use a ~10 lb kryptonite chain to deter hoodlums, gang members, and the like.
       For something that’s such an important part of my life, I didn’t want to skimp on quality, and have a pedal fall off while I’m bombing down an avenue. I spent a good amount of money on a nice mountain bike, but things down here hold their value much better than they do in the states; I’ll be selling it before I head back to Vermont.
       I have a bit more than a month left down here. Though navigating the streets has gotten easier, I can’t let myself get comfortable with it. When you drop your guard, that’s when things go wrong. My parents don’t want me coming home in body bag. That would put a damper on things. Though riding with traffic is exhilarating, getting hit by a bus is not; whenever I can, I stick to the bike paths. Just because I can ride with traffic, doesn’t mean that I should. It only takes one more awful driver that I don’t see to really ruin my semester. That being said, a bike provides freedom, and freedom is what we like most.
       Buses and trains have set routes, taxis are expensive, and walking takes forever. Having a bicycle lifts those travel restrictions, and for me is the difference between walking normally and essentially being on crutches. Time is always of the essence (cliché, I know), and as the world spins madly on (yep, Weepies), looking up and becoming a part of what’s going on around you can turn into one of life’s great but simple pleasures.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Classes in Buenos Aires etc.

           Last Spring in Madrid, I took IES area-study courses.  To make up for the challenge that the language barrier presented us with, the content wasn’t always very in-depth.  In one course, entitled, “Spanish Language Usage for Business,” my friend Laura and I frequently found ourselves hitting our heads against the wall to escape the mundane busy-work and mind-numbing class dynamic. On the other side of the spectrum, “Latin American Literature” was interesting, stimulating, and incredibly relevant.  The class gave me a great appreciation for Hispanic literature, and literature in general.  The professor truly cared about what he was teaching, and my writing improved greatly with his help.
            This semester, in order to fulfill UVM’s International Business requirements, I’m taking three business courses at Universidad Torcuato di Tella.  UTDT has a small-school dynamic, with amiable professors who defy the Argentine-university stereotype.  They’re reachable, respond to emails and any and all questions, and make a visible effort to involve students in the course material.
            Each of the UTDT courses is worth 4 credits; the same is true for my IES Spanish course. 
            Business Organization Theory is taught by Daniel Serrot, a former Shell employee and managerial consultant.  He’s personable and the course reflects his professional experience.  Classes, texts, and readings are all given in Spanish.  Very little flies over my head.  Weekly group projects take up a good amount of time, but apply directly to the class content.
            Marketing Management has been interesting.  I had been reading the online, supplemental material, which was considerably more convoluted that the in-class lectures.  Soon before the exam, I found out that it was legitimately supplemental material, and would not be on the test.  I finished the 2-hour exam in 30 minutes.  Group sessions in Marketing consist of market research for a “Tool-kit for women.”  Of all the possible inventions, they had to assign us that.  It’s certainly not unreasonable, but it’s not a grand ol’ time by any means.  At least the lectures are always good.
            Jacqueline Pels teaches “Emerging Topics in Marketing.”  I couldn’t have asked for a better class.  Catering to the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid, service dominant logic, and network marketing are several topics we’ve encountered.  A group of Argentines and I are working on a social-network marketing campaign for Sony Argentina.  I’ve proved to be surprisingly useful given my overuse of facebook and YouTube.  I was complimented on my Flickr research, and re-wrote the survey questions after they were deemed “useless and far too broad.”  I apparently understand what people want and pay attention to in terms of advertisements and brand fan-pages.  Whenever I take a written exam, I hardly ever feel as if I’ve written enough, regardless of whether I end up with a 95 or a 75.  After keeping up with the material all semester long, I wrote everything I needed to say in a timely manner, and finished on time.
            From what I’ve written here, it may seem like my classes are easy.  Not so.  Now that I’m taking business courses with titles that don’t contain “accounting,” I immerse myself in my studies and I like it. 
I ran 80 miles during exam week, finishing my aerobic base-phase with a 16-mile long-run and 542 miles in 10 weeks.  With two and a half more years of school left, I’m finally learning how to manage my time.  Living by myself helps, however lonely it may be.  I may not be getting the full cultural-experience that I would find via going out more often, but life is full of tradeoffs.
When I say tradeoffs, I don’t mean sacrifices.  However hard it is to run, swim, listen to NPR while I cook, study, and sleep, I like it.  Is it what I should be doing while I’m in Buenos Aires?  To be honest, it’s working out pretty well.  I’m not skimping on experiencing the world around me, and I’ve been thinking so much more than ever before…about everything, really.
I’ve found a strong correlation between running and good grades.  The more I run, the better I perform in school.  A solid athletic schedule helps me manage my time.  The hard part about training for Pentathlon, however, is that I’m never finished.  It’s like life, perhaps (deep thought, eh?).
“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The east wind

       When I arrived in Buenos Aires at the beginning of February, it was the middle of summer. Literally. A month and a half after their summer solstice, it was hot. I biked to class with my shirt in my backpack, wearing jean shorts and blue sunglasses. I came back from long-runs at 9 o’clock at night, dripping in sweat. It was awesome.
        It’s fall now. The trees are dropping their leaves, and I actually wear more than one piece of clothing when I run. Autumn welcomes fond memories of cross-country races in high school, fall crops from the farms, and Vermont’s brisk morning air that rushes into your nostrils as you greet the day.
        I’m skipping spring this year, interestingly enough. I will not experience a vernal equinox in 2012. I’ll have lived through fall three times in a row, and while I’m not complaining in the least, something is missing. I can’t plant tomatoes. For a year, the days will neither progress toward being warmer nor longer.
        When the east wind sweeps into Buenos Aires, the heavy air lifts and breathing returns as a gratifying simplicity. It’s a sea breeze without the salt air, and it’s much like New England.
        Smell, sight, and the rest of our senses are what give us our memories. Though seasons are relatively long periods of time, after twenty cycles of winter-spring-summer-fall, I’m finding myself stuck in my ways. Can you blame me?

        Studying for midterms while everyone else is cramming for finals, and finishing my base and racing 8ks while the other runners are finishing their track seasons and starting their time off detaches me from the northern hemisphere. In an age so connected via facebook, twitter, email, and what have you, being the exception gives me time to think for myself. A lot. I take what I may from the rest of society, but I process it differently than I did before. Nothing is really as it seems at first glance, and I’ve gotten a lot better at stepping back, and thinking before I start, say, or write something. Re-living autumn gives me a chance to re-live a semester, in a sense. While I experience the new, I also jump over that which comes closer to being normal…that which I would have emerged from as a completely different person.

        In August of 2012, when I start another fall semester, it will be #3, and my last as an undergraduate. Three leaves in a row I’ll have turned over. That’s a lot of leaves to turn over in eighteen months, considering that these are catalpa leaves of sorts (they’re big). At the end of these four years, I’ll feel a lot older than I did in September of 2009. Seize the day once, and there you have it. Seize the day always, and you write your future.

        People say that college flies by like an amazing summer. It most certainly does, but the speed with which it flies is completely under your control. If you fill your time with great memories, good people, and life-changing experiences, that first day of freshman year will seem a lot farther away than it would otherwise. If I were given the chance to tip off my 18-year-old self…to give him advice, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Eurus greets my door,
this autumn morning.
“On with it!” he sings.
I pay heed, but what for?

Stop to ponder and wonder but gain no moss as you roll
alone and in good company differ they do not,
for you
are but a sole part
of their existence
as they are of yours.

Slip the cracks, he tells me.
Grab my hand but let me go,
for fall we will, as one...
windswept, wild, weathered, and free.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Am I living it right?

So it’s Saturday night, and after running ten miles this evening, I went food shopping, cooked dinner, and in between reading, writing blog posts, and listening to Crosby, Stills, & Nash, I felt old.

You see, while many people my age are out partying, I’m studying, reading and running. Isn’t that what 40 year olds do?

Jill put this in an interesting way:

Parties, specifically college parties, revolve around getting as drunk as possible, so you don’t remember anything, and think you had a good time.

That seems accurate. It’s funny that people call alcohol “liquid courage.” Sure, having a beer and chatting with friends is and should be socially acceptable, but I think it ludicrous that people can maintain the illusion that alcohol makes them more interesting. To be honest, I think it just makes them talk about non-interesting things, and have non-meaningful conversations, that are perceived to be profound. It’s almost like it provides a way towards a lower form of socialization. I stopped by a house party last night after trying some (bad as usual) Buenos Aires Mexican food, and found myself engaging conversations about nothing, with people whose perception of when to start or stop talking about a subject was distorted. Go figure. To be honest, I don’t dislike parties. I like socializing with good people. I just think that people should take advantage of a lot more social outlets than they do.

I’d much rather have a legitimate conversation with someone over dinner, or at a potluck than talk about next to nothing with someone I’ve just met (or someone I know who happens to be inebriated).

My point is that my generation’s socialization norms are flawed. We dismiss getting to know people via common interest, and think that friendships are made through alcohol. This of course doesn’t apply to everyone, but it’s unfortunately ever so common. I just wish people would spend time playing Frisbee, or having lunch during the day with other good people, as opposed to doing school work all day Saturday in order to go out that night.

Is this coming from some straight-edge athlete who thinks he has all of the answers? I hope not. But to be honest, I view this point (that I’ve pretty much exhausted) as a sign of immaturity. This is partially what’s making me feel old (and odd). I feel older than my peers sometimes, which is a first. I’ve always been the goofy kid that didn’t care what other people thought of me, but now people are coming to me with questions about life. They’re surprised at the fact that I cook, and at my independence. Why is this? It feels strange, to be honest.

The great thing is that I have amazing friends at home that I learn from every day, and I meet people all the time who have great things to say. It’s just that when I talk to people who don’t have anything to say (due to alcohol or what have you), it’s not fun. The worst is when people becomes less interesting with alcohol…especially friends.

When I look in the mirror, I see someone with long hair and an attempt at a distance-runner mustache. I know it’s me staring back, but it’s a different me. It love who I am, but growing so much in so little time, and realizing it at that, can be strange. I fill my time with as much as I can for a reason. The new changes me for the better, and helps me figure out who I am. I’ve said that so many times. But what if…what if…my glass is full for the time being? What if I need to step back, stop looking for things to reflect about, and just…be me? What if I’m living it all too fast, and those guys and girls who are going out at night are doing it right? I’m sure it’s not polarized like that. I know that there’s a happy medium somewhere. One of the people I look up to most in this world, Troy Woods, told me a few months ago that I’m was doing it right…that I am doing it right. For the time being, I’ll stick with that.


So after almost missing the bus to Jujuy, Argentina from Buenos Aires because I was busy buying bananas, I set out on the 20 hour lift to the north of the country.

Jujuy was a good first step in leaving the developed world. After doing a case study on Unilever’s detergent for “Emerging Topics in Marketing,” seeing people wash their clothes in the river lent some verisimilitude to my perceptions of the situation. On my morning run before leaving for Bolivia, I had to yell at a few dogs while running through the slums. Little did I know that while Northern Argentina is poor, Bolivia is a whole different world.

The night I spent in Jujuy was fine…I ran along the river, and had dinner with some Dutchmen who had been working on an organic farm in the area. They were paid $350 pesos per week, fed three meals per day and housed for the whole time. Not a bad option if you’re looking for something to do. I would try that for a stint or two if I had the time.

I walked across the Argentina-Bolivia border from La Quiaca to Villazon, paid US $135 (in perfect bills) for my Bolivian visa, and caught a bus to Tupiza. I had dinner with more Dutchmen, a Spaniard, and a Canadian who I met in the hostel. Here I started to not drink the water.

The next morning, I hopped on a bus to Uyuni, Bolivia. Dirt roads, cows, farms and other livestock lined the route. At one point we had to fill in a stream with rocks so the bus could move along. I can’t imagine trying to make my way across Bolivia in mud season.

“Big sky” is an understatement on the altiplano. With so little light pollution, you can see everything. I only knew one southern constellation that the time, but nonetheless it was very impressive. In Uyuni that night, my run to the train graveyard upped my tolerance of dodgy places. Lo interesante is that if something happens, there’s no one to help you but yourself. All of the police are beyond corrupt, and you can’t just leave such a geographically-isolated place.

I took a one-day tour of the salt flats. Totally sufficient. We stopped in at the train graveyard on the way. It’s probably coolest at sunrise, but c’est la vie.

I was hoping to buy a hand-woven alpaca sweater, but everything was machine made, and of reasonably poor-quality. I picked out a purple hooded sweater. The armpits are already ripping, but I can sew them back together.

The expanse of white was mind blowing. You have to be there to really get it, but hopefully this will help:

It’s like standing in the middle of a frozen lake, except that you’re on the bottom of the lake, and all of the water has dried up. In some places, there is in fact water under a meter or so of salt. It flows subterraneously and bubbles up in the “Eyes of the Salar.”

From Uyuni was the eight-hour bus to Potosi. My iPod saved me on this one. Music that you share so many feelings with helps with being alone. I travel alone for a reason, as it’s hard to find people who would be tolerant of moving along at the brisk pace I take. It has its advantages, but being the only American in the midst of people who I tell that I’m from Canada, and having to be constantly alert is mentally exhausting. Traveling through Bolivia let me take another step in being travel-savvy, to say the least.

Potosi is famous for once being the richest city in the world. The Spanish extracted “enough silver to build a bridge from South America to Spain,” and the city is still known for its mine. There are daily tours, which I opted out of. Asbestos dust, arsenic gas, and dynamite in a MINE in BOLIVIA with ceiling held up by wood are not appealing to me in the least. Everyone was all psyched about the mine, but after asking people who came back if they would do it again, and receiving a firm “no” for an answer from everyone, I’m happy with my choice to not go.

Meat market in Potosi:

If this grosses you out, just imagine the smell.

I slept surprisingly well at 14,000 feet. No problems.

So other than the mine and an old national mint museum, Potosi doesn’t have much. I continued on to Sucre, which was a landfill, and caught a bus from there to Samaipata.

Places like Sucre seem to be one step up from Haiti. Foreign direct investment and selling to the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid is a must here. Argentina’s private recycling firms would serve the region well. I’m not informed enough to comment on the economic situation further. That will come in time.

The 14 hour bus ride to Samaipata was… Yeah. I’ll leave the details to a good imagination. Sitting in a bus seat for 14 hours, on a winding, bumpy, mountainous dirt road was the flip side of the highlight of my trip. The best part was not stopping for 6 hours to use the bathroom. An actual plus was eating 15 bananas along the way.

Arriving in Samaipata at 0300 was…good? At least I wasn’t on the bus anymore. With very little sleep, and delirium setting in, I finally found a hostel after walking around the town alone for a good hour.

In Samaipata, the food… With an extensive organic farming community, and bananas at 60¢ per dozen, things go well. The exchange rate doesn’t hurt either. Paying the equivalent of $7 for a pitcher of starfruit juice and a large chef salad is something no one should ever complain about. This was also at the most expensive restaurant in town; at other meals I opted for the $2 chicken and French fries off the street, or just bananas for next to nothing.

It's a quaint little place:

Six miles outside of Samaipata is the pre-Incan site, “El Fuerte” (The Fort). Very impressive, all of it.

About a mile outside of town is a rehabilitation center for injured animals. As they say, many choose not to leave, and it’s a very interactive zoo. Upon entering, Simon the spider monkey climbed up onto my shoulders. We spent some quality time monkeying (I’m sorry I had to) around.

Another (howler) monkey whose name I didn’t get (she wouldn’t tell me) took a nap on my lap. I suppose other primates enjoy contact with other beings just as much as humans do.

That night I caught a taxi (40 Bolivianos = less than six dollars) to Santa Cruz. There I spent time catching up on my reading for school, and eating lots of salad. After not eating fresh vegetables (washed in non-potable tap) for about five days, greens, reds and purples were where it was at. Santa Cruz is completely different than the rest of Bolivia. Hollister and Abercrombie are common, and one third (fact check me) of Bolivia’s tax revenue comes from the city. Prices are higher, and Bolivian yuppies speed around town in their SUVs and Mustangs. People beg on the streets in Quechua, and franchises are common.

I arrived in Buenos Aires on Sunday evening, in need of some social-contact and a good door.

I’m now a completely different person than I was two weeks ago. It’s not about running around on giant beds of salt or playing with monkeys; it’s about getting there, and reflecting on the life you lead, and your own moral fiber. Originally, my parents weren’t keen on me going to Bolivia. It made them very uncomfortable, but after sending a book of emails on how everything would turn out all right, and that I was competent enough to go by myself, I got the go-ahead. One thing I thought I was ready for was the uncertainty or “sketchiness” of Bolivia. It required that I develop a whole new level of awareness very, very quickly. Let’s just say my peripheral vision and barometer of place-you-should-not-be risk are a whole lot better than they were in January, and March (last month) for that matter. It’s going to be very strange to return to UVM, and not have worry about leaving my laptop around in Kalkin or the living room.

Meandering through a third world country makes you call into question everything you care about, and thus love it all that much more. Pentathlon, school, family, friends, and the life ahead of me now hold a new level of clarity…or at least they will for a little while. Was it because I spent a week thinking? Was it one continuous long-run, or was I living in a dream? -Not a dream in the Madrid sense (lack of weather and thus lack of feeling), but a dream in that things could change so quickly, with every decision seeming so critical in the short term. Everyone I’d met that had traveled through Bolivia said “go to Bolivia.” I took their word for it. What I came back with however, was something completely different than I expected, and all things considered, I won’t soon give it back.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Meat vs. Vegetarianism: a short discussion.

So if I were to raise one cow in my own pasture, and fed it only grass, my meat-related carbon footprint would be very small compared to that from buying the equivalent about of feedlot beef from a supermarket. It wouldn't be as low as if I just grew tomatoes and vegetables, but looking at it from a calorie standpoint, it's a pretty good investment:

Say a standard cow contains about 500,000 calories. *More in my situation considering I would eat (or feed to my dog) the parts of the cow that most people don't eat (heart, liver, intestine etc.)* That's 1370 calories per day for a year in ONLY meat (and I would never eat red meat -and meat in general- every day). Say the cow feeds three people (not three of me, just three people). That's 440 calories from an animal per day. Totally reasonable, considering where the meat comes from, and how it's raised.

Say I raise two cows. The marginal cost of raising a second is much less than that of initially buying a first. In addition, besides vet bills, the opportunity cost of time, and the energy I would have to use to freeze the meat or turn it into jerky, this would be a money-saving operation.

So, which is more economical:

a. growing your own vegetables (that you have to freeze or preserve for the winter as well)


b. growing your own animal?

Being a vegetarian is great and all, but if you're doing it for environmental reasons, how valid is it? Extremely valid if you don't have the means to hunt animals or raise them for food, but less valid if all you say is "Oh me oh my! The cattle industry produces so much greenhouse gas!" (Solution: don't buy unsustainable meat).

Know what you eat, and where it comes from.
Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
Know where your meat comes from, if you eat meat.
Make reasonable decisions and weigh out all of your options in regard to your diet.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Road Racing in Buenos Aires

This past week was a great 45 mile week (mileage is going up slowly, and I like it).

Monday I had planned a day off as usual, but ran home in my underwear in order to get to class on time.

This was my Facebook status that day:

So after giving myself two hours to find a specific bank-like establishment, I found myself out of luck with 45 minutes left until my first class. I was a 30 minute walk from home, and school is a 25 minute walk from my apartment. I was pretty gross, so I had to shower, get my things together etc. I think to myself, "If I run, can I get there in time? Of course. The problem was, I was wearing jean shorts and a cotton t-shirt. Who runs in cotton? The solution was the synthetic boxers I was wearing. They're not that much different from running shorts (longer, in fact). Today I went for a run in my underwear, down the streets of Buenos Aires. Has anyone else ever done this, or am I THAT strange?

I think that sums it up. I got whistled at by women, which was an interesting experience.

Tuesday and Wednesday were back to back 8 milers at night on the golf course, followed by descending 1000's and 600's in the park on thursday. Friday was meant to be a 10 miler, but I ended up incredibly dehydrated so I ran home for 8 again. Listening to your body FTW. Saturday night was four miles around the race course as a pre-race shake out with strides. Apparently at night there are prostitutes that line the streets where racecourse is during the day. They hiss at me and say things that only prostitutes would say. Go figure. I stay away from them. I think that's the epitome of sketchy, no? The strange thing was that there were families walking around the park as well.

On Sunday, I raced a 7k. I had never raced a 7k before. It was either going to be a 5k with 2k of extra pain added on, or a shortened 10k. Since I'm not trying to peak right now (I'm trying to not peak right now), I'm not going to hammer anything. I thus opted for a good competitive tempo run. It was nice. I like tempo. VERY humid. They told me wearing the race t-Shirt was obligatory (most everyone else wore it), so I wore it too, only to find out that singlets and going shirtless is completely acceptable. That was the only bad part. "Suns out, guns out" is 100% preferable.

Before the gun went off, everyone was dancing up a storm, while I was warming up, doing drills etc. They treated a 7k like a marathon! The races attract so many people, that they have to make them all a big deal. There must have been 600 people in this race, all wearing blue shirts. Talk about not being able to stick out in a crowd. I think I still managed to though.

The race was a fundraiser for UNICEF, which is an NGO that provides humanitarian aid to children and mothers in developing countries...this race was specifically for education. It's always good to run for a cause, and I'm not just saying that. I cycled 192 miles for Dana Farber in 2009 across Massachusetts. The kids on the side of the road with signs saying "I'm alive because of you" really made me think about what I was doing and why.

Anyway, I finished 25th out of 3,768, which was second in my age group, running about 6 min pace. It was the shirt! It was totally the shirt! I'm going shirtless next time even if they try to arrest me. Lots of fun for a good cause: Buenos Aires edition.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Don’t cry for me Argentina? Sometimes I want to.

Looking at what’s been difficult so far in Buenos Aires. Part 1.

Today I went for a run. Cool. Thanks for sharing. What’s new?

Well, I’ve been running in the park every day, and the grass and the trees make it so I don’t succumb to wilderness deficit disorder. This morning I thought I’d run along the river. I ran up Pampas (that’s a street), and got to the river. Floating trash was what I found.

Buenos Aires at first glace is a cosmopolitan, South American headlight with rich European roots. At second glance, it’s covered in dog poop and trash. That is not an exaggeration. Because Argentina has changed governments so many times, there is a complete lack of structure. People litter because there are no laws against it, and no one says anything if you let your dog poop on your neighbor’s doorstep. A common response to the lack of a litter law is “How would it be enforced?”

Trash is taken by garbage trucks to large landfills outside the city, and left to forget about.

As far left as anyone says Argentina may be, they don’t do a whole lot to stifle the free-market. Though the free market doesn’t stop people from littering, it’s done something else that’s pretty interesting.

Buenos Aires has no government-sponsored recycling program. Private enterprises fulfill said roll. They offer a monetary incentive for bringing them reusable materials, such as cardboard, plastic, metal, and paper. Some people get it, and separate their trash. Others do not. “Cartoneros,” who are made up of the poor and homeless, go digging through everyone’s trash to reclaim recyclable materials. They take them in their giant carts to the private companies in order to have money for food.

Though I perceive this to be a pseudo-bastardized version of a private welfare-system, it extremely interesting from an economics perspective. I just wish the city would also offer an incentive for cleaning up the streets of the city as well.

On my run today, I passed a rainforest-charity organization in the park that was collecting plastic bottles in order to recycle them. It helped me realize that even though Buenos Aires is dirty, and only cleaned by the rain that falls from the sky,
“Hay gente maja por todo sitios,” which means that there are cool people everywhere. People are inherently good, and when I see the opposite of apathy manifested throughout the world, it makes me feel better. It makes me feel at home, and it makes me feel like I’m not the only one who wants to at least try to create a better future.

Living in my apartment for the first two weeks, I assumed that to the Argentines, recycling was a nuisance, and that I was going to have to get used to throwing cardboard away. I’m happy that I was wrong.

95% of my trash is either recyclable or compostable. The other 5% is made up of the bags the store owners give me before I can say “I don’t need a *silent expletive* bag.” I figured out the recycling deal, but what do I do with my banana peels? In a landfill they turn into methane, which is a greenhouse gas WAY worse than carbon dioxide, and I can’t just throw them in the woods like I do at home when I’m too lazy to bury them in the garden.

The railroad tracks in Buenos Aires are lined with broken bottles, plastic, and other sorts of trash. Since “littering” is legal, I figure I’ll make my own compost pile, which will just turn into soil. No one will think twice about it. All of my waste is now sorted out. Strange, huh?

I’m fully aware that I can’t change the Argentines. They have to realize for themselves that living in a landfill with dog poop everywhere is disgusting. They have to realize that leaving diapers on the beach is absolutely foul, and that when you throw your bag of chips out the window of your car, no one is going to pick it up, and if karma is real, your child has a good chance of choking on it. That being said, getting used to all of this for these first two weeks has made me have to step back a few times and tell myself, “This is why you’re here.” Going out of your comfort zone is how to mature as a person, not because you’re making yourself do things you don’t like, but because you force yourself to adjust to what you have, and make something new a part of you.

I won’t cry for you, Occupy Wall Street: Part 2.

Remember the cartoneros? The people that dig through the trash in order to eat? Some of them are older guys with scraggly beards. Others are families. Some look just like the kids I take kayaking at summer camp…the ones that I sing songs with? Yeah, they’re digging through the trash so they can have dinner.

There are social problems in the United States. Everyone should have healthcare. The rich take advantage of the poor. Our financial sector is corrupt. I’m a yellow-dog democrat, and I fully understand the cause of Occupy Wall Street, even if those who are protesting have no idea what they’re marching for. What I’d love for them to realize is how good they have it compared to these kids, and how much opportunity they’ve been given just for living in the United States. Would their time be better spent helping those who are even less fortunate, instead of protesting income inequality? The thing about income inequality in the United States is that the only thing you need to make it is knowledge, common sense, and desire. Humans are capable of so much more than we think we are, and seeing those who are leagues poorer work twice as hard for a quarter of what we make might make us reconsider asking for help from our government when we don’t necessarily need it. Occupy Wall Street makes people think; I think that is its biggest achievement. Beyond that, I think some of the squatters might do better to vote and support the American left, and go find a job as opposed to complaining about not having one.

Was that last paragraph insensitive? Yes. Unemployment is very real, and I’m someone who has always had enough good food to eat, good clothing, a good education, and a loving family. You have the right to tell me to shut my mouth because you and other people have it way harder than I do. What I’m saying here is that some people, not the hard-working, yet unfortunate populace, don’t believe in themselves and look to and blame Uncle Sam for everything. My point is that that isn’t how it works. While I firmly believe in wealth re-distribution programs, pulling ones own weight is something people need to start doing more of; somewhere there’s someone who has it three times as worse, but works three times as hard to get one third of the benefit.

More commentary on Argentina's current and past political predicaments to come. I don’t know enough about it to pass judgement right now.

My daily life on the surface, February 26th, 2012.

Buenos Aires has taken some getting used-to, I think I’m doing a decent job of working through that stage.

I live in a nice neighborhood. It’s called Las Cañitas. On the street below me are several small supermarkets, a fruit and vegetable store called “Frutihorticola,” a fishmonger, a butcher, a cheese shop, about five bakeries, and a natural foods store with a really cool young lady who runs it.

I’ve joined a gym with a pool. It’s 400m away from my front door. The pool is closed until 2/28, so I’ve been walked 30 minutes/2 miles to another branch. The sidewalk there is pretty clean and smooth, so I can walk barefoot without worrying too much.

I was running in the parks and on the sidewalks for a while, but cement is so incredibly hard. I now run nightly on the golf course after it gets dark. There is never anyone out there, and I just duck through a hole in the fence. I sometimes see dogs, but they just run away. The only think anyone could really do is tell me to leave, considering it’s a public course. I still do tempo workouts in the park on the smaller dirt loops. They’re great for intervals, but the perimeter of the golf course is 1.63 miles…something I can’t complain about.

It’s pretty common in Argentina and Latin America for guys to yell pickup lines at random women on the street. When I run in the park, I get yelled at by women, and I’ve heard that it never really goes that way. Sure it’s a compliment, but it’s kind of annoying after a while. I suppose I’m asking for it though, with the short shorts, shirtless frame, fast and light running form and long blonde hair flying in the wind.

In the few weeks before classes start, I’m taking an intensive Spanish course at di Tella. It’s interesting when we have political discussions, but I already know all of the grammar specifics that we’re learning. The grade doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t transfer back as anything, so I’m really there for the Argentine culture and to meet people. Not a bad deal.

With some extra free time, I’ve been cooking a lot. Here are some of the things I’ve made:

-Salmon in the oven with rice and green beans.
-Rice and beans in lots of varieties
-Mussels with rice pasta and sundried tomatoes
-Lots of eggs and tortilla with beets and other vegetables when I don’t have the energy to do something new
-Steak with potatoes and home-made ketchup
-Beef heart with onions, carrots, and potatoes
-Rice flour and sugar-free banana bread with pecans and amaranth seeds
-Spinach salad with blue cheese, apples, walnuts, olive oil and balsamic vinegar

I don’t really like cooking chicken, but I supposed I’ll have to get over it. It’s not the texture or anything, I’ve just always like cooking other things. Gretchen made chicken, pesto, and tomato crepes the other day which were really good. I might have to try something like that.

I’ve been trying to staff of wheat lately, specifically because I just feel a lot better when I don’t eat at lot of it. The only things I’ve tried are the Argentine pastries, as life is too short to not enjoy sweet things on occasion. Chocolate and dulce de leche ice cream is also amazing.

This is a general update of what’s going on. Other posts will be more in depth, of course.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia

There is far too much beauty in Chilean Patagonia for my words, pictures and video to show, but I’ll do my best. If you’re reading this, and have questions about traveling to Torres del Paine, please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions.

The night of Feb. 1st, I spent the night in Puerto Natales. It’s a small port (on the ocean) at the foot of the Patagonian Andes.

It’s incredibly reminiscent of Telluride, Colorado.

Really nice people everywhere, and great food on every corner. I ate at a vegetarian café called “El Living.” I highly recommend it, vegetarian or not. Super inexpensive for what you get, and super healthy.

In the morning, I took a bus up to Torres del Paine, and talked to family that was traveling around South America for the year with their 11 and 13 year old daughter and son. They’re learning Spanish early, and becoming quite wordly, which is incredible. Evelyn, the daughter, told me “If you ever have kids, you need to take them here when they’re our age, and not wait until they’re older.” The parents and I agreed and chuckled. We saw Andean condor, flamingo, guanaco (wild llama), and Darwin’s Rhea (flightless, ostrich-like bird) from the windows.

At Hosteria los Torres, I took a right on the Paine Circuit, and headed towards Campamento Seron.

There isn’t much I can write to describe the deciduous mountain landscape that is Chilean Patagonia, but I can show you.

I hike alone, so lots of thoughts and songs fly through my mind as I walk. Like running, it clears my head to say the least, and I find myself in a place of deeper thought, while at the same time not really choosing what to think about.

My pack is lighter than others. It’s a 45 liter ultralight (if you will), so I can’t fit the kitchen sink in it. This is what I had with me:

Food (heaviest item…calorie dense is key, since I chose not to cook with a stove):
Banana chips
Sunflower seeds

Sleeping bag
Sleeping pad
Bivvy (Small one-person tent)
First-Aid kit
Water bottle
Water purifier (which I didn’t need)
Contacts, glasses, travel tooth brush + paste, but nothing more as far as toilettrees go.
Wallet + Passport + Phone (lifelines)

No cotton except a bandana
Wool socks + light synthetic socks
Hiking boots (zero drop of course)
Wool long johns
Zip-off light weight pants
Short sleeve tech top
Capilene long sleeve top
Heavy fleece

The only thing I forgot were my rainpants…I unpacked and packed my pack to make sure I had everything, and forgot them on my bed in Buenos Aires.

Passing Seron, I headed to Camping and Refugio Dickson. It was a long day, about 17 miles. Walking is different than running, especially walking with a pack, so I was decently sore.

At Dickson, I met a nice couple from San Francisco who had been traveling down South America. The bugs were pretty bad, and I’m not allergic to mosquito saliva, so nothing happens when they bite me, but even so having 20 on my leg at once was annoying to say the least.

Refugio Dickson is similar to a hut on the Appalachian Trail. It’s on the side of Lago Dickson, which is a glacial lake. The water is incredibly cold, and you can drink it straight up. It tastes great!

In the morning, I started another 17 mile day to Campamento Paso.

I passed Campamento Perros, where Charlie the fox was hanging out.

There I bought some salami. Animal fat is an incredible fuel, especially when walking. Nut and seed fat/carbs/protein is great, but you can’t digest it as well.

After Perros was the John Garner Pass, which everyone talks about. It’s a part of the circuit that takes you higher up, and through the weather. It’s like the top of any mountain in the white mountains…lots of rocks, cairns etc. I walked through a snow storm, but the sun came out afterward, and looking down over the glacier was incredible.

There's a bird in this picture:

I continued down through the woods to Paso, where I set up my tent, and ate my granola and sunflower seeds with some students of Santiago. Some Chileans speak well, but these kids had rocks in their mouths. I speak Spanish, but Chileno is ridiculous.

Day three was incredibly long. 22 miles from Paso to Refugio Cuernos, in the rain.

This section was about 80% burned from a fire that an Israeli Tourist set by lighting his toilet paper on fire. It’s not like there are a huge amount of signs specifically telling you to pack out your trash toilet paper or anything…

The fire was devastating, depressing, and is going to take 80 years to fully recover. Fires help coniferous forests open their cones and drop their seeds, but that’s a different biome than Torres del Paine. It’s a temperate deciduous forest, which fire isn’t a part of. Even though it rains and rains and rains, the intense winds dry everything out making it just…burn.

Passing Italiano, which was closed, I continued for another 90 minutes to Cuernos, which was packed, as it’s the only open campsite between Grey and Refugio Torres.

The wind was insane that night. I’ve never seen so much wind. Ever. Consistent, 50 mph+ gusts, blowing the water up off the lake. Tents were literally flying away. Think Wizard of Oz. I set up my bivvy underneath some bushes, and the wind didn’t touch it. Definitely a plus for having a small tent.

Sat on the porch with three Chilean dudes and played the ~5 songs I know on guitar, and sang to theirs. They knew how to play Californication, but didn’t know the lyrics. We did some entertaining.

Day four was rain, sleet, hail, and snow in the same day. I hiked up the French Valley to Campamento Britanico. I was so incredibly wet…wringed my socks out, after taking off my “waterproof” hiking boots a few times. Oh well. Valle Frances was beautiful though.

That night I brought my sleeping bag (and myself) into the refuge to dry a bit, and talked with a couple from the Netherlands who were traveling during the recession. They had beef WOOFing for a bit, and were working their way down Chile. I also talked to some climbers from Montreal about climbing…something I’d like to take up in the future.

Day five, I walked over to Hosteria Los Torres, took a nap after eating a wonderful cheeseburger, and then walked up to Refugio Chileno to try and get a sunrise glimpse of the towers. It rained all night, and my bivvy was a lake. Next time I use it, I will be bringing a tarp and rope to actually make a decent rain fly. In the refuge, I talked to a girl named Mica who working there. She was marrying her fiancé in the fall. He was from Punta Arenas, but they had met in Colombia. When I walked into the hut, she had The Tallest Man on Earth playing, so that started our conversation. She had just finished a masters in public health at BU, had an undergrad degree in anthropology, and had studied in Bolivia a while back.

There was an MRG sticker on Chileno!

Day six was more rain, so I hiked back down the trail, and took the bus back to Puerto Natales.

I found a hostel, had an amazing (for about $20) dinner, and crashed. It was salmon wrapped in jamon Serrano, over potatoes with cream, spinach, and walnuts, with blueberry jam on the side. I even bought calafate (Patagonian blueberry) mousse for dessert. So good. The one souvenir I bought was a Patagonia flag. Definitely worth it.

This was February 7th, and I had one more day in Chile before my flight back, so I decided to go riding in the mountains with some too-legit-to-quit gauchos, but that’ll come with the next post.