All posts by rik

Who am I? In biographical terms, I am a very ordinary human born to members of the underclass of my culture who were subjected to many personal traumas as well at the collective traumas and tragedies of their era. Are specific details about my 'identity' all that relevant in describing 'who I am'? Only if you wish to pigeonhole me into a convenient mental slot... and thus freeze me... in stop frame moments... thereby missing noticing that I am ALIVE and that in the context of LIFE, I continue to change and learn and grow. Have experienced many transformations during the course of my existence. Have made an effort of 'pay attention'. I remain ever curious about 'the human condition'. A quote from Socrates (from Plato's Apology) that he uttered during his trial that ended with an ultimatum of 1. being exiled from Athens or 2. a promise of lifelong silence while there or 3. death. The quote: 'the unexamined life is not worth living'. I seem to have been doing my share of 'examining'. When I contemplate a question or an idea I like to trace it back (to the extent of my ability) to it's origin(s). It seems to me that the origins of things reveal that all ideas are generated by fellow humans. It seems further, that all so called 'knowledge' is merely speculation. I most admire and am grateful for the intellectual honesty of Lau Tzu and Sextus Empiricus and am equally grateful for the depth of human love as expressed in the examples of Buddha and Jesus, and many more recent examples. Life is a wonderful miraculous and precious gift. That we are capable of noticing that we are being eternally invited to participate in the 'creative process' is for me, definitively inspirational. To test, experiment and ponder the results of our own personal investigations is part of what it is to expand the possibilities of the 'human condition'. Appreciate everything. Truly enjoy all that you can. Distinguish for yourself the deeper meanings contained in the concepts of 'profane' and 'sacred'. Let no one do your thinking for you. Harm no one, for in causing harm to others you harm yourself. Pay attention. Enjoy the process of being alive. SHARE YOUR LIFE WITH OTHERS. What else is there?

Beautiful Banos

P1000314Was in Banos during the 7 day ‘blog blackout’… No internet steady enough to post.. Took the above pic of a poster displayed in a shop window. Recognize the ‘floating rock’ idea? Ever see the film Avatar? There are scenes in Avatar that are very much like this poster. Banos reminds one of that mythical, far away, (Pandora)place in the film.

internet everywhere(Photo credit: Where’s my damn signal… one bar… zero bars… wtf…

The good: makes me focus on what is actually in front of me… the actual terrain, people, food and how it all affects the real me. The bad: Feeling ‘out of touch’ with the people who know me and who (I am happy to report) are interested in my whereabouts and my experiences.  The ugly: Not much of that to report except for the feelings (inside me) of frustration that were the result of MANY attempts this week to be faithful in the updating of this blog. Latest instance of that frustration came in the form of two electricity failures in my new digs. The other frustrating part of not being able to post regularly is that it breaks up my sense of momentum. I miss the ‘feeling’ of steady movement/motion when it’s absent.  Makes me feel ‘out of control’.  OK. I get it. Lesson learned. I’m NOT in control.

Despite the fact that the connection here (now in Loja) shows all five bars!… I was in the process of posting when the power went out, not once, but twice. The first time, no one was in the office to whom to report the outage . Had to shout (politely) and wait. This prompted a young lady (under the guidance of an Ecuadorian gentleman guest) to flip the MAIN breaker back on. It worked… for about an hour and a half.  The second  time, also just as I was about to post… no electricity.  I went downstairs again (three flights) and saw the gent who checked me in supervising two men who were (apparently) replacing the ‘faulty’ main breaker (for all the electricity in the entire hostel). I was told it would take ‘media hora’ (half an hour). Two hours later electricity seems to be holding steady. Internet  connection strength showing five bars!

What do I learn while traveling? Lots. About specific differences in specific locales, about ‘cultural contexts’, about how environmental factors affect the specifics of a particular culture, about how there are numerous different ‘cultures’ within the boundaries of so called ‘national borders’, and about how my own internal environment (personal thought life) is affected during the course of my experience of traveling.  Travel can and often does, make me feel ‘crazy’ one minute and ‘wise’ the next.  Sometimes I feel lonely and other times I feel connected to everyone. Travel (my brand of it) is a way of experimenting with/testing  one’s personal ‘beliefs’.  Travel, to me, is simultaneously challenging and personally edifying.

The more I do it, the less I can be ‘sure’ of anything and the more I realize that the world of ‘certainty’ is an illusion, and the more I realize that to go through life being ‘uncertain’ is perfectly fine. To understand that I live in an uncertain world is to gaze unflinchingly at  life and to recognize myself as a man who is daily surprised at the complexity of the process of ‘disillusionment’. Be careful what you ask for. Ignorance, it is said, is bliss. Maybe; but you can’t ‘dis-cover’ anything if you choose to remain ignorant. The process of ‘dis-covery’ is the process of knowing yourself and your relationship to the world you inhabit.  Such as it is.  (P.S. There is no ‘is’… your world and everything in it, including you, is always changing)

BANOS – (supposed to be a mark over the ‘n’…  Spanish pronunciation is: Bon-yoce)

P1000185(my pic) Painting in museum inside the ‘Church of the Virgin of the Holy Water’.  Yep.  In the painting is the local volcano, Tungurahua (pronounced: toong goo raw wah, emphasis on ‘raw’). Last time I was here it was actively spewing ash all over town. This is not unusual around here. It is the heat from Tungurahua that heats the water that fills the public mineral baths. Zero cost to ‘heat’ the water. Nice, huh? (if you can tolerate the uncertainty of being buried in hot ash some day) The painting also shows ‘the Virgin’ who is reported to have been seen by a few local believers in times past. There have been many ‘miracle cures’ attributed to the baths.

I say; let those who will, believe what they want, long as they don’t make me a ‘bad guy’ for believing what I want. What I know for sure is that it makes me feel great sitting in the water of these mineral baths. I know from past personal experience that ‘transdermal uptake’ of minerals is (for me) real.

Banos has been a ‘tourist destination’ for many decades. On weekends the place is packed. It is a destination for Ecuadorians from all parts of the country as well as people from other parts of S. America and the world. It is considered a major ‘extreme adventure’ destination. You can hire guides from any number of scores of different companies that specialize in adventures that include: 3 to 4 day trips in the jungle,  ‘canyoning’… (get in a wet suit and helmet and rappel into deep gorges with water gushing down around you) ‘swingjumping’ (Jump off a bridge in a harness, without the ‘stretch’ of the cord) paragliding, horseback riding, rent a quad or a motorcycle or a bicycle and traverse the ‘rutas de cascadas’ (route of waterfalls).  Competition is abundant here so it tends to bring costs down and variety/quality up. That include the restaurant fare.

P1000231Cuy (guinea pig) being cooked over a charcoal fire directly in front of a restaurant, as seen from the sidewalk. (my pic)

Hard not to like the place. Very easy to get comfortable here; not conducive to continuing the travel process. Only complaint (as noted above) was  internet service. The story was that there was this one special person who understood the mysterious workings of the internet (The town’s ISP guy) and that he was away in Quito and would not return for at least 48 hours. (…six days later, the internet was iffy everywhere in Banos). I tried to post while at a restaurant that advertised wi-fi. The service was interrupted every 10 minutes. Frustrating to the point of quitting or throwing a fit. I opted to accept it as a ‘local condition’, and no longer bothered myself by attempting to log on to that frustration.

P1000310Lots of waterfalls to experience here

After a 25 minute hike down to bottom of the trail I was winded. The 35 minute hike back up kicked my butt. I’m in need of a physical overhaul.Sitting on my butt watching the world go by from the seat of a a motorcycle for a year and a half was not like roller blading across the country.  Bottom line: I need more exercise to feel good about myself.

P1000305(my pic) Pristine pool formed by the falls

The hike comes at the end of the ‘chiva’ ride from the town. You view several falls along the ‘ruta de cascadas’ along the way. A ‘chiva’ is a tarp covered bus/truck with rows of seats for tourists. The route takes you through about 3 tunnels carved through solid rock. You can rent a bicycle (all downhill) and traverse the route (about 30km). P1000258(my pic)Yes, that rock is directly over the chiva and the roadway.

There is a stop where you can allow yourself to be harnessed up and connected to a cable that will zip you (hence ‘zipline’) across a gorge to a lower station on the other side. The drop below is about 300 feet. The span is about two football fields long. This is NOT Disneyland, nor is it an online game. Some folks hang upside down all the way across. No kidding. I chose to sit that one out. Obviously works great for a lot of folks. I didn’t have confidence in the equipment.  I did get on a cable car that whisks across a span further along on the route.

P1000279(my pic) View of Manto de la Novia falls taken from a cable car spanning the gorge

Drop below is about 200 feet.  There were 9 other folks on the cable car. It shudders to a stop in two places for folks to take pictures. Once near the falls (here) and once directly in the middle. You can see parts of the cable car in the lower left and right of the pic.  Manto de la Novia means ‘the Veil of the Bride’.

P1000287(My pic) View of Manto de la Novia from other side of the gorge





Thoughts Between Otavalo To Banos

CentralOtavalo(My pic) Central park in Otavalo

This post is playing ‘catch up’… arrived Banos 3 nights ago.

Here are a few ideas about how the experience of looking out of a bus window might be  analogous to the experience of forming ones ‘worldview’.

Imagine you are on a bus and looking out the window. You are in a window seat on the left side of the bus. Your view, therefore is approximately 90 degrees (to the left) of the direction that the bus is traveling.  Now, imagine that the bus is on a two lane road with a center dividing strip. Along the route, in the center dividing strip are planted trees at regular and irregular intervals. On the other side of the center dividing strip is the other lane of traffic traveling in the opposite direction from you, you see cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles heading your direction and you see the left side of them as they pass your window.

One the other side of the road there are shops and houses and yards with trees and animals and people in the yards. You can see that just to the rearof the houses is a steep decline.  You can see that the decline goes down to a river.  You can occasionally see the river. Off in the distance you can see the other side of the river and you see that the terrain begins to slope upwards. Further off in the distance, you see that the incline crests and beyond it you see that there is another mountain chain behind it. You see the sky and clouds above those distant mountains.

BusQuitoQuitumbe bus station in Quito taken while waiting for bus to Banos

What I have described above is a series of parallel features of a passing landscape. There is the 1st ‘layer’ of the trees in  the center strip that pass by your view not more than 4 feet from your window. There is the oncoming traffic ‘layer’ that passes by your window maybe 20 feet away.  There are the varying ‘depths’ of objects in the scenery on the other side of the road, beyond the oncoming traffic; the roadside stands (25 feet), the shops and houses (between 50 and 75 feet), the trees and people and animals (between 25 and 75 feet). There is the river a distance down from the slope behind the shops, houses, trees, people, animals, (300 to 600 feet).  There is the scenery on the other side of the river and up the slope on the other side (200 yards to a 3/4 of a mile). There is the mountain crest  beyond the crest of the immediate one (3 to 5 miles or more). There are the clouds above and beyond the distant mountain crests (5 to 15 miles or more).

Your eyes and your brain process ALL of these parallel features simultaneously as you look out your window, and as the bus is in constant forward motion. The road the bus is on is not straight, it has many curves. The road is not on flat terrain. The bus route has inclines and declines as well as the curves. Your eyes, your brain, and your MIND process all of these passing images/features and movements as they occur to appear out your window.

Are you experiencing BEING with all of those images/features as you pass through the land? In some mysterious way, you must be because you ‘take them all in’ as they pass before your eyes.  There is not  time nor opportunity to become ‘personally involved’ nor to develop ‘opinions’ about any particular image or feature, but you do ‘take them all in’, do you not?  This is what seems to me to be an example of ‘observing without judgement’, and without ’emotional attachment’. There is nothing to lose nor gain by simply being the observer of the passing views.

One can only experience, now.  There is no such actual thing or place as ‘past’. There is no such actual thing or place ‘future’. Notice the operative verb: ‘is’.

Now, for the real mind bender.  What if everything is ALL ‘now’? What if (as in looking out the window of the bus) it’s ALL one enormous simultaneous event? What if there is no ‘separate’ anything? What if there are no ‘different’ times or places or individual components?  What if, (like looking out the bus window) our ‘consciousness’, creates individuation and otherness because we are not yet practiced enough to ‘take it all in’ alexgrey_vajrayana_1240204364_1240219437simultaneously?

If you find the above observation useful to you in some ‘parallel’ way, please put it to use in some pleasing way for yourself and others .  If not, that’s OK too. Nothing is wrong.

Have been noticing that everywhere there are experiences that lead me to contemplate life as ‘omniplex’.  (Vajrayana, the diamond way… one pathway to ‘enlightenment’… Gee whiz, kids!… are all those rituals really necessary? )

Meanwhile, back to describing the journey.  (de scribing… isn’t that…  un writing? mmmm)

On to the next post.



Surreal cemetery, living green sculptures and white stone sepulchers

Been a few days since the last post…

Got a taxi from the Metropol in Ipiales to take me to the border. The immigration process exiting Colombia was very simple. Next, walked down the steps of the building and across the bridge into Ecuador I went. There is a pedestrian walkway that runs in the center of the roadway. About 200 feet from the Ecuador side of the bridge is the immigration office there. There is a large parking lot in front of the entrance. Entered and was given a blank form to fill out detailing my info and purpose of visit. Many countries have similar forms… but not all.


The immigration officer asked me if this was my first visit to Ecuador (trick question… because I had a brand new passport). If I had answered no, hoping that they would not check and then they discovered that I had been there before, it is unknown what might have happened, but for sure, it would not have been to my benefit. I did answer the question in the affirmative, stating that this was my fourth entry into Ecuador.

The man turned to his computer and asked when was my last visit. I told him. He tapped his keyboard a few more times and then grabbed his stamp machine (the magical temporary visa stamp!) and then took a pen and wrote something over the stamp he had made in my passport. He placed my passport in the metal tray under the thick glass between us and slid it in my direction. I retrieved it and inspected the stamp. He had written over it with his pen, ’57 dias’.  That meant that my stay in Ecuador was limited to 57 days. 

The normal stay for people visiting for the first time is 90 days. Ecuador calculates their ‘year’ as 365 days like everyone else. Difference here is that many countries do a ‘do over’ at the beginning of every ‘calendar year’.  Not Ecuador. They calculate their ‘year’ as counting the time spent in their country beginning with your last entry. My last entry was sometime in May of 2013. I spent 23 days of my 90 days. So, my next 90 day period does not begin until May 2014. 

I already had US currency (that is what is used in Ecuador) so no need to exchange currencies. Total time elapsed from arriving at the ‘border’: 70 minutes. Now, having officially exited Colombia and having officially entered Ecuador I was ‘free’ to proceed further. Got a taxi to take me directly to the cemetery in Tulcan. Ride took less than 10 minutes. Fare 3 dollars.

The municipal cemetery of Tulcan, Ecuador is something that I stumbled across on the web. Didn’t know it existed. It is highlighted in most guidebooks as an interesting site. It is.

Words and  pictures can only begin to give the reader or viewer a sense of this incredible place. It is magical in an eerie sort of way.

EntranceCemeteryTulcanENTRANCE TULCAN CEMETERY (my pic)

The topiary gardens cover over a hectare of land. A hectare is about two and a half acres.  There is not one piece of the topiary that is identical with another. They are all different. Topiary is the art of trimming a living bush, tree, or shrubbery in a way that closely resembles the way a sculptor chisels a piece of marble or granite to create a sculpture. The difference of course is that marble and granite are rocks and bushes, trees, or shrubberies are living things.

(From Ecuador News Magazine: Tulcan:

—Creator Jose Franco himself is buried within his cemetery under the Sculpture of the Green Holy Field. Franco left a written ode that reads, “In Tulcán, a cemetery so beautiful that it invites one to die.” His five sons continue the maintenance of the Topiary Garden Cemetery and the creation of its fascinating shrubbery to this day.—)



What a marvelous idea frothy with contrasts!  This place is one man’s idea of a sacred dedication comprised of living beings from the plant kingdom contrasted with the remembering of departed humans (which in scientific terms are animals) living plants/dead animals. Jose Franco began his life’s work in 1957.

Some of the sculptures are repeat forms of a series of arches. Some areas give the feel of being enclosed in a kind of massive green, castle courtyard.  Some of the sculptures are of various human forms, some animal forms. Some whimsical, some sacred. Some of the sculptures resemble large green ‘tiki gods’ reminiscent of Easter Island. Some are like totems. 

Standing at the entrance to the cemetery one can only see one of the walkways. The experience of ‘perspective’ is powerfully present. One can see that the (approximately 15 foot) walkway is lined on both sides with a near continuous hedge of topiary. Off in the distance are glaring white stone edifices. These visual feasts are contrasted with the sky that is filled with white to grey long clouds that loom against a blue grey sky. I took many pictures and a few videos. Upon reviewing them, it is evident that they in no way capture the scale or the variety of the place.



Tulcan (as are all parts of South America) is home to indigenous tribal peoples.  These humans have made this their home for at least 10,000 years. Some archeological evidence suggests a human presence in South America as far back as 20,000 years. Long before the European/Spaniards arrived, there existed these tribal human cultures.  One can sense an ancient connection to this land, this place, in the faces of the inhabitants. The faces here have the appearance that tells of strength, health and overall contentment.

Why some humans seek to rule, dominate or control others is something that I do not fully comprehend apart from recognizing that it is so. 

From what honest investigators have discovered (have actual physical evidence of) is that the first humans were all African. From Africa we (as a species) began fanning out all over Europe, then East to Asia, and then floated to Melanasia, and Australia (the Australian aborigines are still very much a mystery). The best guess at interpreting the evidence is that there were at least two different times when the earth went through ice ages followed by thawing events.

It was during the ice ages that humans migrated from Northern Europe, across the Bering sea on an ‘ice bridge’ and into what we now call North America.  The first human immigrants fanned out across the North American continent. Gradually more humans migrated Southward.  It therefore, seems to me, that South America is indeed, the real ‘New World’ as far as humans are concerned.

Back to the tale of my intrusion into this land…

After spending a bit over an hour at the cemetery I got another taxi to take me to the bus station. Arrived there about 11AM.  There are so many people who travel by bus here that buses are going every direction at nearly any time during the daylight and often into the night. The cab driver nearly handed me off to a bus that was departing immediately. My luggage was picked up from the pavement where the taxi driver put it on the ground from his trunk…and off it went in the hands of one of the men from the bus. I paid for my ticket to Otavalo and saw my bag enter the bus I was going on.

One thing I learned having been in this part of the world before is to keep track of your luggage! Don’t assume anything. Watch, ask, and be absolutely sure. Many times (but not always) bus attendants will put a sticker on your luggage and then give you a matching numbered receipt that you must show to retrieve your luggage from the compartment in the underbelly of the bus upon your arrival. I have found that the rural Andes highland people to be generally very honest and hardworking folks. As everywhere, there are exceptions to the rule. Trust wisely.


12 Hours on a Colombian bus

Checked into the Hotel Metropol, Ipiales about a half hour ago. Glad that the report I read was correct, there are two hotels directly across the street from the bus station.  Ipiales is 5km or less to the Ecuador border.

I’m pooped. Left the hostel in Cali 8:10AM. Got to the station just in time to catch an 8:30AM bus to Ipiales.  The bus company’s name: ‘Transipiales’. There were not enough passengers to fill a big bus, so they put a 15passenger mini bus into service. We pulled out of the station about 8:45AM.

Then the adventure started.  (Will post a few pics of the trip tomorrow, I’m too tired to slog through the process right now.)

About an hour South of Cali we were flagged over by the Colombian ejercito (army). The driver pulled over to  place that was far enough off the road to make it safe for the passengers. A man in full military field dress, complete with helmet, flak jacket, etc, instructed all passengers to exit the vehicle. The men were given a full pat down search. Had to stand about a foot and a half from the bus, then lean against the rear of bus with both hands. Many passengers were asked to present their ‘cedulas’ (ID).  I was patted down, most thoroughly around boots and legs, not too much around the waist, nothing above the waist.  It was conducted without much bravado, just routine stuff to these guys, I guess. When we remounted the bus (less than 15 minute stop) I asked the man sitting next to me if this was normal. He indicated in the affirmative.  Business as usual around here.

After being underway for about a half hour, the driver pulled over to the right of the road, slowly. I detected a ‘plunketa, plunketa, plunketa’ as we slowed to a stop. Flat tire.  Left front.  The driver went right to work, opened the rear door, lowered the spare, located the lug wrench and the jack and got right on it.  Our location was less than optimum. We were on a two lane road with speed limits around 50mph (80kmph). Trucks whiz by, a few serious road bicylclists passed. Most passengers got out to smoke or urinate in the grass, being very modest in choice of location and aim.  Having been a limo/bus driver myself for many years, I felt bad for the thirty something driver. His shirt was white and spotless.


Front left flat: done

A couple of male passengers and myself stood by and gave the driver both moral and physical support. A few stood their ground about a foot into the road from the curb, so as to give the oncoming traffic a clear picture that something was going on and that they needed to slow down and/or swerve a bit to miss us.  After the lug nuts were removed and the flat was taken off, I offered to position the spare on the hub. I was wearing jeans and farm coat. I said ‘permite mi, senor, usted tenge limpia ropa’. (please let me help, your clothes are very clean). He was surprised and pleased. All I really did was help a little. No less than the other folks.  Myself, the driver and one other man made quick work of putting the 8 lug nuts back on. The driver finished the tightening, lowered the jack and put the jack and lug wrench away. The other man and I rolled the flat towards the rear where the driver placed it back in the cradle under the carriage. All the luggage was put back in it’s place. We all reboarded and back on the road.  Total time, about 25 minutes.

An hour after putting on the spare tire, we were once again flagged over by young men in uniform. Almost the same routine. No pat down searches this time. All passengers had to produce a document, me included.  Another soldier boarded the bus while all the passengers were standing on the side of the road. We could see him do what appeared to be a thorough search of the passenger compartment. I asked if I could take a photo. To my surprise I was permitted to do so.  I took a pic with a couple soldiers and myself, I hold the camera at arms length and then estimate where the lens is pointing. Got a decent pic. Took a few more of the coffee and plantain growing across the street. Total time, about 15 minutes.

Another half hour later, the driver pulled into a service area. There was a small restaurant, and a llantero (tire changing man).  All the passengers once again exited the bus and by this time some were no longer smiling.  The llantero had all the tools necessary to change tubes, tires and can get whoever pulls in back on the road asap. He went right to work loosening lug nuts, employing his jack. The driver opened up the rear door, removed some luggage, and lowers the the cradle in which rests the flat tire. He rolled it over to the llanteros shed.  The llantero had the tire clear of the rim in minutes. I went to the restaurant and got a couple small containers of yogurt. I don’t like to drink anything when riding a bus all day. No explanation necessary.

FixingFlatHaving flat tire repaired… get food… and we fix flat tires

Took some pictures of the restaurant and a few of the beautiful terrain. It was a really nice day. No rain, only partly cloudy, not humid, in the 80’s F.  The tire guy had the tire repaired and was putting air in it when I returned from the restaurant. The driver told him how much pressure he wanted in the tire 60 (somethings… I don’t know if they use psi or not). The spare tire was returned to the cradle, the once flat tire, now repaired was placed back on the hub. The lug nuts were tightened. The luggage replaced in the rear. The passengers reboarded the bus, The driver paid the llantero.  Off we go again. Time spent: 30 minutes.

About an hour later we pulled into a bus station in a small city named Pastaza. A few people get out, a few get on. Total time at the bus station: 15 minutes. Off we go again, weaving our way through the city traffic. We had  been on the road (including all those stops) for four hours.  The driver looked  confident and happy to have the flat fixed and riding with spare. The bus was full. There were no empty seats.  I asked the man sitting next to me how long would it be before we get to the next bus station, where he was getting off, another city names Pasto. He told me 4 hours.  OK.  I glanced at  my watch, 12:30PM.  If there are no more unexpected stops, we should pull into Pasto bus station before 5PM. I knew that from Pasto to Ipiales was about 2 hours.

The driver negotiated the inclines and declines and  the never ending curves as well as anyone driving safely could. There were many other vehicles on the road.  Tractor trailer trucks, fuel hauling trucks, medium sized cargo trucks, pick up trucks, buses of many different sizes, a fair share of motorcycles, and a few cars.  We were often behind slower moving semi tractor trucks.  The road was only two lanes. Never ending curves, making for blind corners, cannot see around the corners. Never ending inclines and declines. I recognized some parts of the journey from having ridden this road on a motorcycle not more than two years prior.

We were making fair progress, the driver did manage to safely pass many trucks. Clearly, to do this safely in these road conditions, is an art.  We had been on the road for about two hours and… the bus pulls into a restaurant.  There are specific stops where the buses make arrangements to stop on regular basis. This was one of the ‘regular’ stops.  All passengers exit. Some go into the restaurant and order food. Some head for the banos (bathrooms).  There was an outside sink and single faucet to serve those who availed themselves of the bathrooms. For cabolleros/hermanos (men) there is a urinal trough positioned away from sight of the mujeres (women)  bathroom.

ArbolKapokReal Kapok tree in parking lot at rear of restaurant

I like to take advantage of being upright as often as I can while I’m on these all day bus trips. I ordered another two small yogurts and walked around outside.  I think I hit the ‘tracks’ function on the Spot device at this stop.  As I was walking around taking in the gorgeous scenery, I notice a uniformed soldier walking around in a field about 200 feet away from the restaurant. He was carrying a field radio. I could see him adjust the antennae and speak in the microphone and watched as he spoke and adjusted and listened. Looked like he was looking for better reception.  I thought to myself: “Just how many uniformed young men are lurking in theses beautiful hills?”  Unknown. I also do not know if it is necessary. I just don’t have enough information to form a judgement. I have heard (and read online) that there was a time, not all that long ago, when buses were boarded by armed men (revolutionaries?, I don’t know) and the passengers were robbed at gunpoint.  I have heard (and read online) that these occurrences no longer happen or are very rare.  I asked and was again surprised that I was allowed to get a photo of two more soldiers who showed up at the restaurant in full combat gear.


The ‘regular’ stop took about 45 minutes. Once again we were underway. This time the terrain became more curvy, and steeper. More traffic. Hence, we were going very slow much of the time. We finally pulled into the bus station in Pasto about 6PM.  To my surprise, all the other passengers got off at this stop. There was only myself and the driver left. I thought we might be taking on more passengers. That did not happen.  I was once again surprised (lot of surprises happen during adventures).

After having been parked at the Pasto bus station, the driver opened the door where the passengers get in, and grabbed my ‘carry on’ bag and pulled it out of the bus. He handed it to me, and a piece of paper. He then quickly  opened the rear luggage door and grabbed my other bag and said I should follow him.  We walked briskly towards another mini bus. It was now dark.  He handed off my luggage to a man who turned out to be the driver of another company. The piece of paper my original driver had handed me was a ticket for passage to Ipiales on this new (to me) bus.

I could understand the dilemma. I was the only passenger left on the bus I arrived on.  It would make economic sense for a company to not want to proceed 2 hours with only one fare and then have to return.  I could have objected… ‘Hey, I bought a ticket to Ipiales with ‘Transipiales’ …(the name of the company I bought the ticket from in Cali).  I didn’t make  squawk because  I really understood the maneuver. I don’t know whether the driver bought the ticket with ‘cooperativa integral taxis belalcazar’ (the new bus company) or not. Maybe this is standard operating procedure. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. What matters is I got to Ipiales in the time that I was originally quoted in Cali… 12 hours.

The trip of Pasto to Ipiales did take 2 hours. It was dark. The road conditions remained, up, down, back and forth.  The last hour the bus could not have been doing more than 35mph. We were traveling safely.  The driver pulled into the bus station in Ipiales at nearly 8:30PM. Departed Cali 8:30AM… 12 hours, as quoted.  Nothing to gripe about.  Adventures… ya just gotta love ’em.

Did hit the ‘I’m OK’ button on the Spot device while standing in front of the Hotel Metropol. Hope the message got sent.  If not, this is being sent through cyberspace… now.  I’m logging off as soon as it’s sent. I’m beat.


Departing Cali tomorrow, heading South

I will be on a bus most of the day tomorrow.  Will board bus at Cali bus station, will be heading towards Ipiales, which is the Southernmost town in Colombia on the bus route. It is the ‘border town’ between Colombia and Ecuador.  The bus journey will take about 12 hours. I like to ride in the daytime so I can see the scenery passing by my window. Have checked out the accomodations at the end of the route. Will be spending tomorrow night (Sunday, Dec 1st) in Ipiales.

On Monday morning, I will get a cab from the town that will drop me directly at the border crossing. After having my passport stamped having exited Colombia, I will then walk across the bridge (crossed this bridge on foot five times at 3AM upon my last return) to the Ecuadorian immigration offices and officially enter that country.  After those items are complete I will get a cab to Tulcan, which is about 4km from the border crossing.

Plan to have a brief look at the topiary gardens there. ( After visiting the garden, I then plan to mount another bus and get off in either Ibarra or Otavalo. Will decide tomorrow night. Depends on how I feel and how long the border crossing takes.

Am feeling much better than when I arrived in Cali.  The breathing issue is under control, now that I have an inhaler.  Have gotten a few good nights of sleep. (excepting, of course, the young folks returning from salsa clubs in the very wee hours)

As always, sad to say goodbye to many folks I met here, but glad to have met them.

Barrio San Antonio, Cali On the street in Barrio San Antonia, Cali

I would describe the San Antonio neighborhood of Cali as kind of like New Orleans before Katrina, only without the Mississippi river, it’s unique history, and the Cajuns. (OK, I concede; it only has the ‘feel’ of a Latin New Orleans)

It is similar to Nola because all of the great restaurants, music clubs, and the presence of all manner of artists. There are small boutique art galleries and small clubs  along the narrow streets.

Went to a (live) comedy club last night. Didn’t understand the whole routine but I did get that it was about how people who speak different languages and come from different cultures, and therefore, don’t understand the specific idiosyncracies therein,  are in a kind of culture vacuum, even when they really try hard to understand one another.  It does make for some comedic moments. The comedian ‘polled’ the audience and found out the different places that were represented. I know he made a joke in reference to Colombians not completely understanding Ecuadorians. The audience laughed. Barrio San Antonio is home to at least one university, lots of intelligent, artsy folks around here.

Had a nice meal at a restaurant with outdoor tables covered with sunbrellas. The name of the restaurant was ‘Lingua de mariposas’ … literally the tongue of butterflies. I think it means loosely, the ‘language of butterflies’.  American jazz music was playing through the speakers, giving it the effect of a cozy jazz joint. One of the walls inside was dedicated to the words of a local, Colombian writer.  On another wall, very artfully done were the following words: ‘No se la Muerte de frio’.  I asked the waitress if she knew what it referred to. She was in her early twenties.  I told her in my imperfect Spanish that I thought it referred to a period of jazz known as ‘cool’.  Not really sure if that’s what it meant, but, that’s what I made it mean. (this would probably be fodder for the comedian that I had seen earlier)

Had 12 arepanitas  (tiny arepas… deep fried, filled pocket breads) served with with four kinds of different sauces, two cups of hot chocolate, and a cup of strawberry ice cream. Total bill came to about 5 bucks.

Hoping for another good night’s rest so I can be ready for my long journey tomorrow.

May post tomorrow night, but only  if there is internet at the hostel.


Meditation: Cultivating awareness of ‘The Flow’

I write these words from my current luxurious quarters in Cali, (self proclaimed Salsa capital) overlooking the pristine pool, under the bamboo shed roof. Beneath my computer is sprawled a large map of South America, the Amazon basin, in particular. Under my left elbow is a 1993 map of the country of Ecuador. I have gathered these icons to cultivate a deeper level of awareness of my impending adventure.

The photo above is of the Rio Napo, which flows into the Amazon

Have scoured the internet for posts of people who have done the ‘boat’ journey as far as Iquitos. One of the denizens of the hostel, a Michael, from Australia, reported to me just this morning of his journey from Leticia, Colombia to Iquitos, Peru (upriver) aboard a ‘fast boat’.  His boat got him from Leticia to Iquitos in about 12 hours. Other cargo vessels (probably what I will take) do the same journey in 3 days.

I will first be going from Iquitos to Leticia (downriver). On my ‘return’ trip, Leticia to Iquitos, (upriver).  Not sure how far I will go before reversing my direction (upriver) back to my starting point. May go as far as Manaus, Brazil before heading back upriver.  Undecided at this moment.

Have only a few options from which to launch the ‘boat trek’ down the Amazon if I wish to begin as close to the Eastern slope of the Andes as I can; which I do.

Peru: There are two such ports in Peru:  Pucallpa (down the Ucayali) and Yurimaguas (down the Maranon). Both of the above rivers flow into the Amazon.  I use the word ‘down’ as a simple means of referring to:  going in the direction of the river’s flow.

Ecuador: One port is Misahualli, and further down the Napo river, the port of Coca. I have read of,  heard of, and met others who have negotiated that route.  On my map, I see that there is a relatively new road/track that leads from the town of Puyo that appears to intersect with the Rio Curaray. The road ends near that juncture. The Curaray flows into the Napo, which flows into the Amazon.

Interesting sidenote: My 1993 map of Ecuador shows that the town/cities of Jaen, San Ignacio, and Iquitos are parts of  Ecuador; not Peru.   Ecuador ‘lost’, or gave up, (depending on your frame of reference) about a third of it’s territory in negotiations that signaled the culmination of the longest lasting territorial dispute in the America’s. For those of you who care about such things here is a starting point:

I envision a world where there are no borders. The need for separate ‘political identities’  being designated by  artificial, arbitrary lines on a map are no longer necessary nor even beneficial to humans.

When we were first presented with the picture of earth from a spacecraft that was capable of giving us that perspective, we were presented with a picture much closer to what is so. There are no artificial, arbitrary, imaginary lines drawn on the actual planet. There is only one big blue sphere, in an orbit around our local star (OR: ALL spheres are simply the effect of vast galactic electromagnetic forces, we don’t really know)

Upon the surface of that beautiful blue sphere, plants and animals, (and other ‘creatures’) exist.

We are but elements of a symbiotic relationship. We are ‘part’ of a MIRACULOUS WHOLE.

It is from that context that my adventures and explorations extend.

Completed another trip around the sun aboard spaceship earth!

Thanksgiving day Nov 28, 2013, 7PM, Cali

Today I rack up another full circuit around the sun since my current form exited my mother’s womb. That event took place in Cleveland, Ohio at 3:30PM (for those of you who may be interested to keep track of such things).

Today I find myself in the company of some very lively young folks from all over… Germany, England, Brussels, France, Australia, Estados Unidos, Spain, Argentina, Colombia, and I am sure a few others. These are twenty to thirty something folks who are out exploring the world. The ‘economic woes’ do not seem to have put much of a damper on these folks getting here. This place is packed.  They come and they go. Most stay for fewer than three days and they move on to other cities, towns, countries.

Met some folks from London yesterday. Hello/Goodbye to Lydia and Luke. Luke studied architecture and was surprised to learn that I knew a great deal about Buckminster Fuller. He was amazed to hear of my dome exploits. Luke spent some time inventing his own very unique laminar dome shape/structure. He made a working model.  Lovely couple.

P1000068Here is a picture of  the bamboo shed roof that covers tables and a bar (to the right)

Have noticed that my posts seem too long. Will make an effort to keep the length of each entry to 500 words or less, so long as I am posting daily. I may shift and change my habits around this as the internet service may get a bit iffy when I get on the river. I will then send my ‘I’m OK’ message with the Spot device, whenever I’m in between internet connections. If I find myself posting less than daily I will allow myself a few more words per post.

This is all situation dependent, of course.  Even though every day is an adventure unto itself. Some days are bound to be filled with more interesting tales than others. To say nothing of the various mood levels that I will be experiencing.  Writers report that if you are to maintain the discipline, then you need to write every day… no matter ‘how you feel’.  This is a good medium in which to practice that.

Thank you for being my audience. Every writer/artist needs to feel as though he/she is actually communicating with someone.

I miss everyone back in NH.  I miss the turkey. Maybe I ‘m not there in the flesh but we are united.  I am some kind of a link between EVERYONE with whom I connect. You are ALL part of my family.

Intercultural note:  Watched a newscast from England.  One report was from Plymouth NH. The owner/manager of the Sears outlet there is outraged that newly instituted ‘corporate policy’ now require her to be open on Thanksgiving day.  She is not going to do it, standing on ‘community standards’ grounds. Court battle ahead.

Happy Thanksgiving!




DCIM100SPORTAbove photo was taken last May in Quito. It is a motorcycle/truck beer delivery vehicle.

Am experiencing motorcycle ambivalence.

Met two gents traveling by motorcycle at the hostel. One, from Barcelona with a fabulous tricked out Yamaha  and a new arrival from Australia, riding a Suzuki enduro.  The man from Spain is heading North. The Aussie, heading South.  We chatted and exchanged tales of the road a bit. Apollo, from Barcelona left this morning heading for Cartagena, where he plans to locate a sailboat that will take he and his bike to Colon. Many bikers prefer this route/method of crossing the infamous ‘Darien gap’ to other options.

There I am seeing these dudes with their bikes, and I start to get a bit envious and nostalgic and then I think about the border crossing ordeals and I remember that biking through Central and South America has it’s drawbacks. I console myself, secure in the knowledge that I’ve ‘been there, done that’. Finally I give up my ennui and decide to be content with wishing my fellow ‘hermanos de motos’ all the best. Buen viaje, amigos.

More bikini clad ladies around the pool this morning.  Hard for me to just casually saunter by without noticing.  I do my best to not ogle.  Barring that, I am committed to  ogling sideways only. I need some sunglasses.

It's good to be the  king

It’s good to be the king!

I organized my gear a bit, changed bunks in the same room, got one closer to the door so as to disturb my fellow roomie’s less with my up and down nightly behavior.  Added a few more days to my reservation here.  Gave my imminent trajectory some thought.  I like to walk through the day of departure in my head so as to keep any surprise factors to a minimum.

With the above in mind, I mounted a local private bus service to the main bus terminal in Cali. In many C. and S. American towns, it often happens that there are more than one ‘major’ bus terminal. Sometimes there is a North terminal and a South terminal or just different terminals for catching buses to different destinations.  I wanted to get first hand knowledge of the layout  of the terminal with some time to just walk around not bothered with minding my gear (which remained safe at the hostel).  No problem getting to the station.

Located the bus services that go toward Ecuador and one that has through service all the way to Quito.  The ‘international’ bus only  departs twice a week and it departs at 4 AM. The other option is to take a Colombian bus that is not ‘authorized/licensed’ to cross borders. That kind will only go as far as the border town itself. Got the needed info and will spend a few hours pondering my options.  Had a bite to eat at a restaurant in the terminal while watching a TV monitor with news reporters  in Havana, Cuba at the ‘peace talks’ — ‘La Paz’ between the Colombian government and the farc forces. There were images of men in the jungle toting AK’s in full combat gear, sporting fatigues… transposed with images of men in suits at conference tables, from Cuba.  Interesting way for a gringo to have lunch.

Around  3PM, I tried to get on a bus to go back to my hostel. I say tried because even though I took careful note of the bus that dropped me and I asked if that bus returned to the place that I boarded… when I attempt to find the bus I was met with a host of difficulties.  One, I found a bus with the name/number that I was looking for and got on and then asked if it went to San Antonio (the barrio where the hostel is) and the driver shook his head no and pointed in another direction. Now, if my Spanish skills were nothing short of excellent, which they are not, I might do a lot better at this process. As it is, I am forced to muddle through.  Strange city (over 2 million strong). Hugely different mass transit process. Some ‘private buses’, some ‘municipal buses’.

Understand, I could have just got in a cab. That is what I did when I first arrived. I wanted to gain this new knowledge. Sometimes you can learn quite a bit by muddling through on the local buses. So, you might make some mistakes… find yourself in a place that you were not really going… etc. If you make sure that you do this in the daytime (would not recommend doing this at night)  you can see and learn quite a lot.

I found that I was directed ‘back and forth’ across the terminal to catch a bus going to San Antonio.  The problem is magnified not only by the language issue but by the simple reality that even the local folks do not always know the correct bus.  It’s not that they are actually trying to misdirect you (although this may occasionally happen) it is more a matter of them wanting to be helpful, but not actually knowing themselves.  So, you can see that all this is actually just a part of Rik’s adventure.

Wound up asking cops, security officers, bus station attendants and in the end found myself on a new municipal bus.  Had to walk through an underground tunnel to the other side of the street, walk over an overhead pedestrian walkway over another road before finally arriving at one the municipal bus stations.

The municipal buses  only travel in special lanes and have special ‘paradas’ (bus stops) in the middle of the road. The municipal buses almost never drop anyone curbside of a road, although they  occasionally do that too. You have to KNOW your route. (Did I mention that I do NOT know my route?)  By the end of my adventure I had been misdirected twice. Had to reverse my route completely, returning to and getting off at the same station I originally boarded… asked more folks… and finally got the right info and was finally on the right bus.

Even though I was on ‘the right bus’ this time, there was another out of the ordinary wrinkle.   I was lucky enough to be sitting next to a lady who assured me that this bus was going to go through San Antonio. About 5 minutes into this trip there was a uniformed man in the middle of the street waving his hands wildly and who got the driver’s attention and who spoke some agitated words to him… and off we went again. The lady said that we were going to take another route from the normal one because there was some ‘bad trouble’ of some kind on the normal route.

She assured me that this was not an every day occurrence, but sometimes happens. She was communicating back and forth with the driver in my behalf. She pointed out the stop where I should dismount the bus and gave me brief instruction about the direction I should proceed.

This big blue municipal bus that usually only drops people at the special prescribed stops opened it’s doors and let me out curbside. The bus took off. I  thanked the lady and waved as the bus pulled away.  I walked a few blocks and sure enough, I began to recognize the neighborhood. I was able to walk directly to the hostel no problem.

Stay tuned for more exciting tales…

Uploads inroads outmodes and overloads

It's good to be the  king

Inroads– As you can plainly see, I am applying my diplomatic skills in a manner that befits a man of my stature.  That’s me with my feet in the pool surrounded on all sides by nubile, international, bikini clad chicas.

Uploads– Hey, I did it! My first uploaded picture to any blog ever!  Now that’s a little progress. This was my primary goal for the day.

Outmodes– I guess that to be a ‘modern human’ requires one to not be sitting on ones hands. No sooner than when we become accustomed to some new gadget of modern technology, (‘ was going to get a new zing phone from zapple made in central east pre prussia, but then I found out that they don’t make them in fuscia or puce’) or fashion in dress or look, (‘hey man, what do you think of my new toe piercing’ … ‘I just got a tattoo on the inside of my left ear’) or  speech, (‘shiny’)  or even way of perception, (‘it’s those goddam left handed blonde siberian hermaphrodites emigrating to linguanaland that are causing all the problems’) just then something NEWER comes along and… whammmo!  we are required to adapt to the ‘new’ thing, which requires more research, more decisions, more attention, more time.

Fuck it, dude, let’s go rafting.  Bowling is sooooooo yesterday.

Overloads– Apart from achieving the goal of actually uploading a picture to this blog, my next major goal of the day is to get rid of a congested schnozola. Slept better last night than the night before (thanks to my new inhaler) but was troubled by a stuffy nose. The kind that makes you breathe through your mouth. You know the rest. Dry mouth, sneezing and tossing and turning.

Decided to cool my heels poolside while checking out the chicas. I could do worse.  The Amazon will be there next week… and the next.  I will move on when these minor (but annoying) discomforts subside.

Hope all is well where ever you may be.


New terrain means coping with new pollens

Monday, 4PM, El Viajero hostel, Cali

Spent most of yesterday juggling files from computer  and new camera to new 1tb hard drive.  By the time I was finished, six hours had passed. At least I had had the benefit of the pleasant sights and sounds around and in front of me.

When I wrapped up all my clumsy gear;  charging cords, computer, card reader device,  usb cords for hard drive and for card reader device, I was tired.  I had emptied a 16gb sd card onto the hard drive. On the computer it indicates that there is 14gb available empty space on the card. When I installed the card into the camera I was not pleased to see that there were still vids on the card and that it seemed like there was not nearly 14gb of empty space. I don’t get it. Do I have to ‘reformat’ the card or something?  Did I screw up something by deleting ’empty folders’? Should I have just emptied the files, not the folders? Mystery to me.

The weather turned  a little last night. It got overcast and sprinkled a little. It is normal for there to be afternoon showers here, followed by clearing. The temperatures range from 80 something to 50 something in fahrenheit.

A few minutes from the door to the hostel is a shop that vends a few food items.  Last night, I opted for a couple of arepas.  These are like a cross between a burrito and taco, but deep fried on the outside for flavor. Inside the pocket is beef or chicken or egg depending on your choice. I got the beef.  I always put a little picante sauce on items like this. Very tasty. Very filling. At a buck and a half apiece they are a bargain.

Laid my body down on my lower berth bunk about 10PM. Began to notice that my breathing was not optimal. I had asthmatic symptoms. I had noticed in previous journeys to Central and South America that I am subject to these occasional attacks. I had an inhaler. The medicine is called either ventolin or salbutol.  The inhaler I had was unfortunately empty.

Laid on my bed panting for air and did my best to not disturb my fellow roomies.  Got up every hour on the hour all night long. Did not get any real sleep. Rest, yes, sleep, no. About 8 AM, I walked about a block away to a pharmacy. Learned later that it is open 23 hours every day (closed from 7 to 8 AM).  Immediately put the inhaler to work, right in the pharmacy after paying for it.

As a child I got asthma regularly.  Am told I almost died at age 2 from it. Was placed in an ‘iron lung’.  I remember suffering greatly around ages 8 to 14. Then the symptoms seemed to get less and less. Living in NH for 34 years I can not recall ever having to use an inhaler.

My anecdotal report is that my body has not adapted to the new pollens to which it is now being exposed. My hope is that I will continue to adapt. One thing is for sure. I will now make sure that I have an inhaler that is not empty or nearly so.

Met a motorcyclist traveling from Ushuaia (tip of S. America) enroute to Alaska.  He’s from Barcelona and plans to bike the world before he’s done. He’s riding a Yamaha 650 dual sport, decked out with all the goodies. He’s even got heated hand grips. Boy, I could have used those a few times on my previous jaunt. I offered a few tips as he is heading North. Biker etiquette is to just tell of your experiences and leave it at that. He’s going to have HIS journey, just like I had MY journey.

That’s how it is with all of us.

Travelers (Viajeros in Spanish) and long journey motorcyclists notice that we are consciously exposing ourselves to new things all the time. That’s the whole point. We learn more about different terrains, different foods, different music, different emphases from different localities. We also learn a lot about ourselves.  That may be even more important.

What may be closer to an accurate description is that all humans are immigrants. All humans migrated from one place to another from our very origins. We continue that process to this very day.

If we think of the image of earth from space, we cannot detect any single human being. (I know that technologies now exist that makes that possible). The image I am talking about is the ‘big picture’.  The blue ball with the cloud cover scattered here and there.  No borders. One earth.

If we click to a closer magnitude we see less of the ‘whole’ and we begin to see ‘parts’ of the whole.

What I like to contemplate is that humans are only one ‘part’ of the ‘whole’. We exist as individual parts in a field of ‘wholeness’.  When I contemplate this, I contemplate the idea of no separation. In those terms, I, my individual self, is an integral part of the whole.

We are all part of an ever changing series of events.  What I am composed of came from this background unfolding of processes and can never be truly ‘separate’.

We are ‘one thing’.  Perhaps more telling is that we are ‘one process’… unfolding simultaneously.    We are part of a mysterious ‘whole’ and perhaps it is ever so.

Till next time, dudes and dudettes