Viaje al otro mundo

Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the travels category.

Costa Rica and a recount election

The first 4 weeks of my trip did not feel like a vacation (and weren’t meant to). The last week, in Costa Rica, certainly did. But I just so happened to be around for a key presidential election. Bands of supporters for the two main candidates were out in force — some on motorcycles, some in cars, some standing on the streets — all with flags waving. Alcohol sales were banned on the days on either side of the election. And the two main candidates — Óscar Arias of the National Liberation Party (PLN) and Ottón Solís of the Citizen Action Party (PAC) — represented stark differences for Costa Rica. While Costa Rica is the only Central American nation to withstand Washington pressure to sign on to CAFTA, Óscar Arias ran in part to move CAFTA forward, while Solís ran on an anti-CAFTA platform, saying the deal had to be renegotiated for Costa Rica to sign it.

And while former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Arias was a 20-point favorite going into election day, the results were so close that a manual recount was ordered and the election is still too close to call. Though Arias held a slim lead on election day, the recount has swung in Solís’ favor, and both candidates appear to have gotten above 40%, making a run-off election unlikely (if no candidate gets above 40% a run-off election is held between the top two candidates).

While Costa Rica is known for its smoothly functioning political system and transparent elections, this time around irregularities are being reported and complaints are being leveled. It’s clear that whatever country you live in, you can’t take your voting system’s accuracy for granted.


Travels of a stranger in a strange land

First, I should say I have been immeasurably humbled by my recent experiences. Being an outsider trying to understand the political landscape is just one small exercise in humility out of an unrelenting barrage of them.

So that 4-day hike on the Inca Trail — I couldn’t do it. I started off proud that I was doing it the ‘real way’, with my full pack and all. I wondered at the orientation the night before if those who were hiring porters were taking hits to their pride (the age range in my group was mid-twenties to mid-thirties). During the first day — as I caught my breath from the neverending yet mild uphill trek — I sought comfort in this ‘real way’ thing. After straining my quad muscles during lunch sitting improperly on the little folding stools they give us, I realized that the discomfort was something worse, and the final 30 minute walk to our campsite was excruciating. A porter took my pack, but things just got worse — my muscles went from burning to cramping, and I was lucky to make it at all.

I hoped that a full night’s rest would fix things, and I opted for a porter for the second day which is widely known as the hardest (five hours up, two hours down). After an hour uphill, I couldn’t tell if my legs were improving or getting worse. After the second hour, in which I pushed myself well beyond my comfort level, and in which I was far behind pace, I realized I needed to give it up. I had to retrace that morning’s work, as well as the entire first day of hiking, and by the time I got to the start of the trail I could barely walk. One porter had to run (with my pack) down the trail to catch another who was helping my fellow drop-out to get back. And it was far. Then he had to make his way back up to reconnect with the group. Watching these guys dance their way up and down those mountains with ease is mind-boggling. There goes that humility thing again.

After a day of pure rest, I was still in bad shape, but I caught the necessary trains and buses to make my way to Machu Picchu to meet up with my group. I got there early, and what an amazing place to be. I tried to balance soaking it up with all my senses with trying to get the best photos… and I’m glad I did because…

Trying to get from Peru to Venezuela quickly, I flew from Cusco to Quito, Ecuador. From there I took a bus to the border town of Tulcán. As I was getting ready to leave there in the morning for Colombia, I realized that my fancy new cell phone and my fancy new digital camera had been stolen. I think it must have been a guy who was on the bus at Quito, who (seemingly) worked for the bus company. He had helped me put the bag in the overhead shelves and had said it was prohibited to have the bag down on the seat with you. After putting the bag up, the driver and I stepped off the bus to put my backpack in the side storage compartment. It’s impossible to know exactly what happened or where, but just like the Inca Trail, I keep replaying in my mind just what I could have done differently to change the situation… For starters, I could have kept my valuable electronics someplace other than the most easily accessible part of my bag… Anyways, I’m happy I went iPod-less and laptop-less to South America.

The range of emotions I’ve been going through on this trip has really spanned the spectrum. But right now I’m just rolling with the punches. It helped that right after the whole incident I met a nice Colombian girl who took me out to lunch in Ipiales!

Looking forward to reaching Venezuela for now…


peru, peru

It has been over one week now in Peru — a couple of days in Lima and a week in Cusco (with a 20+ hour bus ride in between). The people are wonderful, there is lots of clear poverty, and lots of corruption in government. What’s new?

I just finished a one-week language class along with a homestay here in Cusco, and my español is better for it. We had classes of only 4 students, lots of fun in class, and incredible activities every afternoon (mostly visiting Incan ruins around Cusco). I am hoping that by the time I get to the World Social Forum I’ll be able to understand everyone and communicate. For my 5-minute speech (in Spanish) I didn’t waste the opportunity —  I spoke about the WSF and its history and impact.

Very early tomorrow morning I leave for the 4-day hike of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and I can’t wait! 

Viaje al otro mundo

I am off very soon for South America — on a five week journey which will take me to Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, and Costa Rica.

After finishing up over 6 years of work at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, I suddenly realized that I could finally make it to a World Social Forum. And not only that, but it was going to be in Venezuela!

The slogan of the World Social Forum, since its inception in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001, has been um outro mundo é possível (Portuguese), otro mundo es posible (Spanish), or, another world is possible.

More recently, people have been saying that another world is happening, and indeed it is. In Venezuela, oil revenues are helping build a social infrastructure. Argentina and Brazil, under left-of-center leadership, have decided to pay off World Bank loans early as a way of breaking free from oppressive chains. And Bolivia, with its majority indigenous population and large reserves of natural gas, has just elected its first indigenous President — Evo Morales. Upcoming elections throughout Latin America in the next year promise to further weaken Washington’s neoliberal power grip on these nations.

Another world is happening, and I am very priviliged to be able to witness it first hand.