March 2010

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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Life on Death Road

See the rest of the Death Road pics here…

That corner, we call that ‘Italian Corner’.” Our tour guide, the self appointed Speedy Gonzales laughed.

Why do you call it that?” I asked, although I already knew the answer.

A few years ago, an Italian – he fell down!” Speedy grinned, “And the jungle, it ate him. So be careful amigos! Let’s go!” Speedy pulled a mini-wheelie and headed down the rocky, cliff-side trail.

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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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OkGo and Syyn Labs Collaboration – Close to 4m YouTube Views in 3 Days!

OK, I might not have been at the taping of it, or at the launch party earlier in the week OR at the celebratory party tonight at LACMA but at least I dropped the jaws of a handful of backpackers in the northern Chile desert town of San Pedro de Atacama when I showed them OkGo and Syyn Lab’s video collaboration for “This Too Shall Pass”. In only 3 days the video has almost reached 4 million views!

Syyn Labs, LLC, a company I formed with a group of some of the brightest people I know in LA, worked on this video in a 2 story LA warehouse for the last few months. They slaved over countless takes to make sure that not only did it all get captured in 1 dipping and weaving camera shot, but it also went in time with the song! The video ends with a huge finale – AMAZING! Kudos to all involved!

It’s quite wonderful, thanks to amazing colleagues, both Syyn Labs and Mindshare,LA are doing amazingly in my absence. This is either a sign that I am good at building teams or that I should leave town more often! Hmm, ideally it’s the former with a healthy mix of the latter!
So, I’m heading into Bolivia tomorrow, and I know it’s certainly going to be the most challenging part of the trip so far. I’ll be heading through the Atacama, the driest desert in the world into one of the poorest of the South American countries. I already have a bunch of experiences to catch up on writing, and this 4 day journey through the through salt flats and desolate expanses, will certainly not leave me feeling uninspired.
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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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