Technomad Journals

Tilcara to Mendoza and the Next Iteration

See all the photos from the final Argentina segment here…

In late 2007, after a year of traveling west around the globe mostly in a charitable tuxedo, I returned to the US and immediately launched back into my old, high-energy life. I organized a big social event in NYC and then headed directly to Maine to work at a high-minded conference called PopTech. One affliction that long stretches of traveling brings is that you quickly get used to the ease of living in the moment and your ability to create and follow intricate schedules greatly suffers. Not yet understanding this fact, I had given myself no time to acclimate and I quickly burned out. Actually, it was a very similar feeling to the edge that I’d found myself approaching a few months before this trip: way too over extended and way too much going on. A few of my friends who were also working at the conference noticed the shift in my energy but overall, I managed to keep it together. On the final day I quietly slipped off the grid, escaping to my sister’s wild life sanctuary in the woods of Ithaca, where I spent a few weeks working on web projects, helping Victoria care for broken animals and plotting my return to LA in a more mindful way.

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Chaos, Tranquility and a Cosmic Soccer Game

See all the Isla del Sol pictures here…

Back in La Paz and on second thoughts not much has changed: it’s truly an insane place. There’s no stop signs or round-a-bouts. There’s some street lights but no one seems to really pay attention. Instead there’s a system of honking: if you’re about to speed through an intersection, you honk and hope. If anyone gets too close, you don’t slow down, you just jab a series of short honks. Dogs chase the wheels. Indigenous women and children fly out of the way. It’s chaos, but it seems to work. At some of the busiest intersections you might see an odd sight; various characters trying to protect the pedestrian public. Individuals in zebra suits or the rather elaborately costumed ‘seven dwarfs’ (Snow White apparently had the day off) who run into the intersection during red lights and prevent pedestrians, and themselves, from being hit.

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Angry as Hell in a City Called Peace

See all the pictures from La Paz and Death Road here…

La Paz, goddammit, if you weren’t so damn formless and concrete I’d want to punch you in your filthy face. And just when things were going so well in Bolivia! By chance, on my last day in Sucre I’d run into Adelaide and Susie and we’d all agreed that the Bolivian crime stories we’d heard about didn’t really seemed well founded. And then you go and kick me in the nuts. Was it really necessary?

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The Devil in the Mines of Potosi

See all the Potosi pictures here…

Diego Huallpa had searched everywhere for the lost llama but there was still no sign of him. ‘Stupid animal,’ Diego thought, ‘and he was just about ready for market! My father will kill me’. By this point he was far from home, the sun had set and so Diego decided to build a fire to keep himself warm. As the fire grew hot, Diego noticed as a shiny trickle oozing from the ground beneath the fire. ‘Holy Incan Sun God!’ He exclaimed, ‘Those strange-talking, bearded white folk are going to be SO happy with me – they love this stuff!’ It was 1544 and Diego Huallpa, a local Inca had just discovered the wealth of silver that lay beneath Cerro Rico (or Rich Hill) as it came to be known. And indeed the Spanish Conquistadors were so grateful that they called in more of their friends, enslaved the locals and began hollowing out the mountain.

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The Uyuni Expedition

See all the pictures from the Uyuni Expedition here…

God damn borders. Ever since I was about nine, they’ve triggered an uncomfortable feeling in my gut. The reason? From a young age, I had collected a large array of knives. It started as the standard going-away-to-camp-for-the-first-time Swiss Army knife but soon evolved to more unique additions including a kuhkri that my sister Victoria had bought me in Nepal and a goat-skin sheathed machete from her time in Africa. Even my parents had given me knives – it wasn’t a weird fetish, just an honest, affection for the shape and design of the instrument.

So there I was, in Heathrow Airport, surrounded by 3 security guards, one of whom was gripping a semi-automatic weapon. I had just walked through the metal detector and had apparently triggered the ‘this guy has a large piece of metal on him’ alarm. My mother approached the metal detector:

Madam, please wait right there!” The guard with the gun blurted. I instinctively put my hands up.

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Into the Atacama Desert

See all the pics from San Pedro de Atacama here…

Valparaiso, in the days post-earthquake. Even with the current situation, I could tell the Pata Pata hostel owners were getting a little tired of me ringing the bell, using their kitchen and being a wifi parasite – all under the pretense that I was visiting Alessandro, my friend who was staying there. After only sleeping at Pata Pata for one night, I’d moved to another place around the corner where I had my own room and avoided their screaming child, all for only a couple of dollars more. So in a cunning move, after a couple of days of ‘hanging out’ in their cozy lounge, I bought them gifts of chocolate and wine; this offering was well received and prevented the imminent and awkward ‘what are you still doing here’ conversation.

The TV news coverage of the earthquake became increasingly more dramatic as the situation in Concepcion spiraled into what resembled civil war. People were looting and burning stores, the military were enforcing a curfew by firing shots into the air and numerous buildings were in a state of collapse, all while the death toll continued to rise. I looked into options of heading south to offer my help but was told that the addition of my non-fluent and hungry mouth might not be the best help in this situation. However, my Chilean friend Matias suggested I share link a for people to donate and I promised to post various options here… Even if you can spare only $5, that would be a huge help!

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Valparaiso and the Earthquake

I still have to write the update from Isla Chiloe to the Las Campanas Observatory but wanted to post my earthquake experience ASAP. See all the photos here…

It had been a wild couple of weeks while I raced to La Serena, in order to catch Stella Kafka, the most lovely observational astronomer that I know, on her last night of observation at the Las Campanas observatory. I blazed through Santiago and only spent about 8 hours in Valparaiso – the most colorful and expressive town I’d ever visited. I was sad to have to rush, but the invitation was too fantastic and in the end it was absolutely worth the race – the observatory felt more like a moon base and the stars were unparalleled in their clarity. I was Stella’s assistant for her final night and kept her awake while she searched for distant suns with orbiting planets that might, or might not, be appropriately stable enough to allow for a ‘habitable zone’. (I will write this story next – very cool stuff  – thanks Stella!)

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Drugs, Orgies and Witchcraft – Willard and Isla Mechuque

Willard was aggravated. A comical fellow in a Chilean cow boy hat had just strutted down the pier and announced that the ferry had been delayed by 9 hours. Apparently, a distant storm was preventing the boat from approaching and thus preventing him from reaching the Chilean island of Chiloe. He’d planned to arrive yesterday and here he was, still wet and still waiting, in this godforsaken town of Chaiten.

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The Technomad and the Carretera Austral Highway

 

The winding road towards the Carrera Austral. (See all the pictures here…)

The Chinese maid knocked and entered my Hong Kong apartment in one fluid movement. And by apartment, I really mean a single room so compact that that if you stood in the kitchen you could reach the door, bed, shower or desk in one step. She looked at me and then her eyes drifted to the two glowing monitors, mess of cables and electronic devices spewing onto my desk. From there, her gaze traveled to my bed where a giant map was spread out and covered in red circles and writing. Then, with a look of surprise probably due to the fact that the tiny apartment resembled the den of some gweilo spy, she backed out without saying a word. It was 2005 and it was on my first Technomad journey.

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One Man, Over Land, No Man’s Land

The Fitz Roy Mountain Range, near El Chalten, Argentina (See all the pics…)

Somewhere after the second kilometer and third mangled desert hare I began to wonder if my minimally researched, impromptu hike into Chile was a good idea. I was in the No Man’s Land between the Argentine and Chilean border checkpoints, however this wasn’t the first No Man’s Land that I’ve had to trek across. In truth, it’s not even close to being the most intense either. Hands down, that prize goes to the five mile wasteland between the Kashgar and Kyrgyzstan checkpoints, traveled only by truckers and thoughtfully sandwiched on each side by border urchins waiting to con you in a myriad of deceptive ways. And I was in a tuxedo at the time.

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