Battle of Wounded Knee

Wed. 25 May 2016. 16:13
Niš, Serbia

8 days on the road, 580km. Took the scenic route. Searched the wild path. Forked into the unknown. Chose the mountain forest over the river highway, just to keep things interesting. Camped 7 of 8 nights, rained out the odd one, nice to have a room. No rules, no record to break, nobody to brag to, no rush, no destination – just a vague direction. Riding to ride, to be present, not to get anywhere. Stopping often to take it all in, snap a picture, ingest calories like an animal without formality; more often letting the beauty pass by; you need to draw a line somewhere, and stay in the saddle, skip the photographic memory. Leg and core muscle memory came back surprisingly quick. Attitude fell right into line, about hills and rain and traffic and bothersome thoughts. Positive thinking, or the neutral, empty, meditative, fully-present void. I did all right.

serbia_i5822-2

Early into Day 7, my old friend the Wounded knee, returned. Stay calm, give it love, massage the tender tendons which burn during stationary moments, sensitive to the touch, stretched too tightly across my kneecap. You’re doing great. And together we managed 96k that day. Ow.

Day 8, maintaining a high milage to stay one step ahead of pending rain, today we’re tackling the incline of all inclines: straight up to 800m for the first 12k; and upon hitting the asphalt we learn today’s 2nd crucial fact: there’s a full-on head wind, like 50km/hr head wind. Up we go, so slowly, in my first gear, wind pushing me and my 115 pound bike back down, but my will makes sure we’re making a net positive.

All this alone time has, for once, been its own challenge. See, my mind’s currently still a muck of unresolved feelings regarding a troublesome epoch of my recent past. This undistracted vipassana leaves plenty of opportunity for me to deal with these thoughts; it’s all an exercise of moving on towards lighter and happier things, and it takes a tremendous discipline to dwell in the light.

This hill presented me a with an interesting proposition: Get to the top without stopping, and I’ll give you the power to say No (to temptation) and Yes (to discipline) regarding a certain nagging loose-end. So I basically challenged myself to a task of strength, will and endurance, in order that I may arrive at a place of greater discipline at the top, another greater ongoing and permanent challenge, the implicit agreement that accomplishing the former will give me the strength to tackle the latter.

Slowly, surely, with absolute resolution that it was a fact that I was going to the top, I pedaled into the sky. After an hour or so, enticed by a lovely lookout and picnic area over the city far below, my empty stomach growled loudly at me, and from the looks of it we might actually be there, so I checked my odometer for the first time that I dared to: 8km. The sky really opened up here, I watched my eagle brethren hovering in the updrafts, and the wind increased, blasting from the sides in addition to the relentless head wind. Up up and away, swerving and shaking resolute to my destiny.

serbia_i5948-3.jpg

 

Finally, at 14th km, the upward tilt was over, but the wind grew only stronger. My gut and I were anxious for nourishment, but in this simultaneously hot and sunny, freezing windy highland there was no shelter, so we ate at the road’s edge, all my things flying away including my patience. Where I anticipated the usual reward of a big hill: some down-hill, there was none, just gently rolling unprotected gusty highlands… for the next 20km. I recalled an audio snippet I made a couple days back, while moving at a good clip up a considerable incline. I screamed: “It’s my life.! It’s my challenge! It’s my glory!” But I wasn’t feeling the glory any more.

Alas came a descent, and 1km-down I stopped at a petrol station cafe to enjoy an orange Fanta – not at all too sweet in Eastern Europe – and the temporary lack of wind. I wanted to regain my composure so I could enjoy the descent. Topping out at 64km/hr on the steepest grades, my greatest highs seem to come with getting low these days. I’ll spend my next 3 days happily grounded at a friend’s place and resting Wounded knee for the next battle.

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Not Safe For Camera

2 March 2011 6:33 PM
Encarnación, Paraguay

EnCarnavale, as I’ve been calling it, has been a swirl of crazy since I got here. The energy is so animated, and for a tiny town, they sure love to party. When in Rome…

The other night I nearly killed my camera again. I was acting the fool. Friday, Carnival night #1, I cooked up some veggie soup and drank some wine. Then met up with a bunch of couchsurfers from here, Spain and England, finished my box of wine. Went to meet-up with another bunch of grapevine gringos at a hostel, drank a bunch more. (Things get fuzzy about now.) We go to Carnival, I’m wearing my cool new white Slash t-shirt, get f!n messy, sprayed with foamy stuff all nite, covered in glitter, don’t remember much after a little while there.

Next morning, or rather 2PM the next day, back at my apartment, I wake up naked and bit by bugs, looking at my stuff strewn all about the room – where’d that 3/4 of a pizza come from? My white t-shirt is purple. And my backpack, also purple. Look inside, a f!n bottle wine, half empty, no cork! And I pull out my camera, its case drenched in wine. Wtf?! Where I got the wine I don’t know, why the heck I put it in my backpack, open, spooning with my camera, a real lapse of good judgement. But it still works. A little wine in the lcd, but I’m grateful that’s all.

My cultural appreciation of the night before’s events is uncertain, although I saw a lot of feathers and butts. So I set out to a village 30km away to the Jesuit ruins of Trinidad for some history. Buying my ticket, I hear from behind: “New York!” Had they not called me out, I honestly don’t think I would have recognized them as the very same gringos with whom I spent the night before!

Mighty impressive, I didn’t even regret skipping the circuit of missions near Santa Cruz, as these are reportedly exquisite examples of the Jesuits’ work in South America. Unlike some other sites I’ve seen which required much imagination, this Unesco-declared World Heritage Site was finely preserved, with much to see and explore, albeit it very-restored.

Riding back on the bus, seemingly all of Paraguay (including our bus driver) was watching the fútbol match between Asunción’s two big teams. As we arrived back in EnCarnival, for the last two kilometers actually, the sportscaster was screaming Goooooooooooooooool! and the game was ostensibly over. I’ve never actually been in a riot before, but this was how I’d imagine it to be. People lost their minds! Spontaneously, a city-wide parade of horn-honking, flag and jersey-waving, ghetto-blasting, chanting, singing, or screaming fans on four wheels took to the streets. After an hour of uprising flooding the streets to critical mass, I wondered, already covered in foam, how many cars were in Encarnacion, and how this dancing in the intersections would spill into tonight’s Carnival.

The funny thing is that, while the nation is equally divided in their fanfare between the two capital city teams who played tonight, the resulting uprising would be identical regardless of the outcome. Just imagine, country-wide… Paraguay simply loves to party! You can’t bottle this enthusiasm!

My crew was quite fun, and so we decided to stick together for yet another night of Carnival. And so ensued a second feast of drinking games, boobs, butts, feathers, foam, glitter, dancing, clubs, and drinking máte with the sunrise. This time, however, I didn’t lose my head, I remember it all, and my camera slept safely at home.

Next day I went out on a bike ride, to clear my head, and collect some info for my onward voyage to Argentina. Little did I know that warfare raged in the streets! As I rolled-out of my bright green gate, water balloons rained down from rooftops and fire escapes everywhere. Back inside I dashed to ditch my camera and zip-lock my phone.

Cruising out to the main drag, I encountered a boulevard of teens armed to the teeth with colorful globes. Quickly I retreated down a side street, with a lone goal of arriving at the bus station with some shred of dignity left in my brave-heart bosom. To the delight of half of Encarnación, I was a moving target, and luckily, I was thrilled to engage in the defensive. On every street corner, mischievous gangs toted buckets of ammo, and like rose petals being strewn before me, watery explosions paved my way through town.

Vigilant and quick on my green machine of freedom, I dodged black-tinted vans screeching around corners, opening-fire on many a poor wretch, who sometimes looked as if to burst out in tears. How exhilarating to contend with those who took the game way too seriously, and were unleashing their fury of adolescence upon those they could dominate. Unfortunately for many wet targets, they lacked the same means of escape that I had. In nearly two hours of this amusement, I managed to come out dry, though I couldn’t rest my eagle-eye or Rambo reflexes until after nightfall.

My wheels took me to the national border, where I learned that, contrary to my intentions, I couldn’t bike over the bridge to Posadas in Argentina. This frontera was wild too, but much different than my last time. As I approached the rotunda Sagrada Corazón de Jesuscristo (Sacred heart of Jesus), a clown car full of girls rode alongside me, blowing kisses and exerting a collective prowess of persuasion.

The sun plunged into the river, and in my eyes this industrial-commercial frontier was on fire, completely deserted save for Sunday evening security guards, but ever more-so mine for the taking. Border zones can be dodgy, but with only my bike and iPhone to lose (as you couldn’t steal my triumphant street-war dignity), I went exploring, snapping sunset photos till the cows came home. I didn’t fix my faulty cyclo-computer until later that evening, but I was riding so fast on that emblazoned tarmac that I almost bounced myself off on multiple occasions.

It was the last night of Carnival, and I debated going, but instead spent the night-in, till about 1:30am when I decided to stroll down to the thumping river-front boulevard, which I could hear all night anyway, being only five blocks away.

Still going strong, I almost paid the $5 to enter again, but decided to put boobs and butts behind me. Strolling back to my free wifi spot on a bench in a flowery intersection, I realized, with sober eye, that you need not be in the grand stands to be in the action. While I’ve sat here each day, exercising my thumbs without fear, on this particular evening I had to watch my back. For 2:30AM on a Sunday night in a tiny town, there was a lot of traffic, seemingly all of it full of shouting passengers, and drivers saluting me with beer, or pausing to drop the bottle out the door. One truck kept looping back to spray me with foam, and motorbikes with helmet-less drivers were cutting corners (on the sidewalk). I was too wary of water balloons to comfortably wield my iPhone anyway, so I soon retired.

Funny thing is, I came out around 11PM on the following night to call my Mom (-2hrs) and it was the same scene, only it was Monday night, and Carnival was over! She urged me to get out of the intersection…

I worry about you!

Fronterror – part 2

Iguazú Falls was incredible, mighty, beautiful! I don’t usually write about run-of the mill tourist landmarks, so I won’t, but I had a blast.

Quick Stats: the Grand Canyon of waterfalls, 23km (14mi) of 275 falls, some falling 70m (229ft), in lush tropical jungle. Species: 200 trees, 448 birds, 71 mammals, 36 reptiles, 20 amphibians, 250 butterflies.

The moment in which I peered into the largest fall from above was truly humbling, and so dramatic with pouring rain and mist…what a rush. A 20-minute walk out on an elevated path takes you to the middle of mighty Río Iguazú, where you can look down into the furious horseshoe named Garganta del Diablo (Devil Throat), which I suppose in fair weather is photogenic, but in this drenched moment I didn’t dare draw my camera from its waterproof bag. Que lástima. Without a doubt however, the memory will instead be etched into my little soul.

Other highlights of my couple weeks in Paraguay include a stay for a few days in the campo with some Peace Corp volunteers, tending to the mandioca (yuca) plants and biking around on muddy backroads, swimming with cows, and putting a sick dog out of its misery. I didn’t do the actual deed but I heard it, the bludgeoning sound like chopping wood, which was so sad.

surfing campo style w Kristin, turtle and Jacob
Patrick & I surfed couch w Angelic, "Goat" & puppies in C. Olviedo

Next morning after Iguazú I reluctantly broke down camp. With the thrill behind me, weak body (no dinner or breakfast), un-caffeinated brain – in no mood to charm authorities! – it was time to face the reality of immigration. Feeling quite ill*, I approached the frontera again.

(*For some reason, I can’t find veggie food lately, and consequently I’ve been eating very little. More accurately, I’m tired of the ovo-lacto diet, and my body is telling me via reduced appetite that it’s grossed-out with eating cheese, eggs and bread all the time; all non-meat options always have at least one of these things. So, having fallen into lazy habits, I’ve whittled my ready-to-eat options down to fruit and biscuits, and I’m feeling quite shit about it. Finally recognizing this as a transformation, I’m cooking again :)

feeling big-time sluggish

Drenched again in the morning showers, I arrived at the ferry, went straight to immigration to check-out of Argentina, but was directed to purchase my passage first. (No consistency!) Mid-interaction, I almost decided to skip the immigration part (as I should have last time), but the officer came out of his box to announce his post with importance: “Immigración!” He checked my ticket, and stamped me out.

I spent a nervous hour waiting for the next ferry, too crappy-feeling to make myself a luke-cold Nescafe, imagining my impending maneuver over and over in my head. When it arrived, they washed the boat thoroughly, making red muddy falls over its edges until we boarded. Seeing that I needed to fix myself, I bought some peaches from a lady onboard, and finally made some conversation with a kid in an arm-sling until we got to the other side.

As the cars filed out, and I rode on one side of them, so I could maybe use them to block me, but the queue stopped at immigration. I hid, until an officer waved to me from between cars, as if to say come out this way. I took this to mean PEDDLE, so I continued, on my side of the cars, until I popped-out in front of the stopped line of cars, and with purpose, as if this was exactly what I was supposed to do, I didn’t look back.

It was a massive hill leading down to the dock, and up it I peddled quickly in my granny-gear, making an absurd getaway at 3mph, for at least a kilometer and a half, dripping sweat in the intense humidity, not stopping until I was up safely on the main road. Adrenaline pumping, I took off my shirt, and continued on back into the Ciudad del Este, where anything goes.

Smiling again, I was back in Paraguay, and Paraguay smiled back. I felt a little exposed, as I don’t usually ride without my shirt, but in hot humid Paraguay shirtless is the fashion for men, and the breeze of emancipation on my wet skin felt great. Even more de la moda (fashionable) is, if you’ve got a big gut, to just roll the shirt up over the gut. Damn sexy. Maybe I was feeling a bit self-conscious though, because with each terere-sipping family or group of kids in school-uniform I passed, I received huge smiles, lots of thumbs-up, and much laughter. Just because I’m a dreadlocked shirtless gringo on a green bike with fluorescent yellow panniers? LOL.

Captured!

17 Oct 2010

It is the eve of my exodus from Chile. I wasn’t sure at first, but now having spent a month taking in Nature’s Greatest Hits Vol. X and XI (the regions we explored via Route 7, the only road that goes down here), I happily report an overwhelmingly delicious after-taste. My beautiful impression of this pepper-shaped country – which is as tall as the US is long (but feels so small! – is rivaled only by the growth I’ve had in overcoming the challenges of adapting to nature’s forces new to me with little respite.

Jeff and I have taken on wild Chilean Patagonia by road and bike, pedaling every day towards some faint and distant short-term goal (ie. somewhere in the south, when it gets too cold), camping out and cooking most every morning and night. Honestly, if we weren’t doing this I don’t know what we would be doing, as it’s not exactly a land geared for tourists. Granted, we have arrived well before the onset of the high tourist season.

We made a new friend, Jorge, the Cazador de Ciclistas (hunter of bicyclists!), when he literally captured us upon arrival in his village of Mañiuahles, and made us stay in his Casa de Ciclistas, where we used his laundry machines and internet, hung out in his Salon de Spinning (where he does bike fitness classes), cooked in the kitchen, had out own beds, took HOT showers… really making ourselves at home with an overt invitation to stay as long as we needed… all for FREE. His only request of us was to sign his guest book, which was filled with well over 100 loving entries since 2008. He estimated about 300 cyclists will pass through here in a year, Jeff and I being #3 and #4, preceded by our Basque acquaintances who we met 2 days prior, who Jorge also hunted.

Cazador de Ciclistas
Jorge & his prey

Speaking of small country, some days later, after attempting to catch a boat done to Laguna San Rafael, an overnight cruise into the southern ice fields to explore a sea of glaciers, we were biking further South and none other than Jorge, his wife, daughter and mom ambushed us again on the highway, to pull me over and say hi. I was especially psyched to meet his beautiful Colombian wife, 9-months pregnant, who I only saw in pictures. In our 2 nights there, he only spent a fraction of that time in town… an hour after our capture he had to leave, completely trusted us with keys, his dogs, primo Ricardo (who would stop-by intermittently), and the promise to make ourselves at home. Aww, I love the whole bunch of them, so cute, smiley, with hearts of gold, and the uncanny ability to be everywhere, over 100km from where we met this last time. This last thing, we have seen is unmistakably Chile… it’s so small, socially, that you are never alone, or far from friends or to-be acquaintances.

Case in point, we emailed another cyclist, Ido, that we met at the airport in Santiago about the Cazador de Ciclistas, with his address should he pass through Mañihuales. Tonight we boarded a ferry bound for Chile Chico, our exit point from Chile, and who else but Ido was on the same ferry!

Ido Lasman
Ferries have been an integral part of making our way South, as Chile increasingly narrows and becomes an archipelago, accessible at times only via a detour through Argentina (which means crossing a mountain pass through the Andes), otherwise by car ferry. We’ve had to take three to stay on route in Chile.

ferry 1ferry 2ferry 3
I’ve been captured in many ways: by the people, who are sincere, generous, so chilled-out, playful and beautiful; by the grandeur of it’s wild places, which seem remarkably plentiful and unspoiled; by the freedom we have to enjoy it (nobody hassles you, it’s fine to camp almost anywhere); by its honesty and lack of greed or malice – I never detected even a hint of these in any person we encountered, not even smart-ass kids! by the cold: the lack of sensitivity in all my digits, still numb from frostbite 2 weeks ago. It’s weird, I’m captured now, but soon I’ll free again.

21 bottles of beer…

Sun Oct 17, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jocelyn! In honor of your 21st birthday, here’s a list of 21 things I love about the last couple days (ie. your long birthday weekend which I’m celebrating down here).

A fair warning to my weary-readers… this list of doom is long & random, written for the girl whose ear I’d chew-off (not Mike Tyson style) if I only could spend it with her tonight. It’s been too long. Here she goes:

First, I’m most pleased with this FOGATA (campfire) I just made. Raging, keeping me warm, effortless to make in this dry desert-scape, it’s my finest inferno to date. I’m burning COW PADDIES. This fucking rules.

dulce fogata
no these aren't the cow paddies, they're dulce de leche! Happy bday to yoooooo...!

Third is Jeff’s PASTA. He’s outdone himeself this time. Merquén spaghetti, onions, garlic, potato, TVP (veggie-meat), carrot, ginger, arvejas (peas)… omg how does he make it so good? We make consistently amazing food – like $14.95 good – every night. But this is a pasta nite to remember (of which he is usually chef). Somehow we always innovate, using mostly the same basic ingredients. Innovation #33: Cold oats & coffee (separately). Who needs hot water? Nescafe & instant oats are both great with cold water, who knew? Not prime examples, but hey, we’re camping. Saves lots of time in the morning not to boil. Blam!

My specialty is RE-INVENTING LEFTOVERS. Last night it was rice & dal turned into patties (w a little flour & water), pan fried & topped w salsa.. Mmm! A pasta-cooking snafu in Coihaique inspired crazy creativity: next day breakfast I fried up onions, carrots & spinach, mixed in the soft spirals with spices & flour.. fried em up in patties.. Home run! And so much fun!

Back to what makes me really happy.. Campsite SHEEP! Who can ask for better neighbors? (Almost as cool as beach cows in India.) And it’s lambing-season, meaning they’ve all just been born. So at every turn, extreme cuteness! Really. Freakin’. Cute. I love hearing their tiny bleats before I even open my eyes! Yes, I count them.

Speaking of seasons, MERQUÉN is the best seasoning ever: smoked coriander mixed with chile pepper.. mmmm it goes in everything! And it’s OFF-SEASON for tourism down here. There’s Never anyone else around, camping, hiking in national parks, at hospedajes (guest houses) and restaurants. It’s pretty awesome though. We get to see Chileans in their natural flow, before they’ve got their tourism-faces on, or not at all! Upon entering Parque Nacional Cerro Castillo, we find a well-equipped campsite with gates closed (to cars) & no Park Ranger. The ped/bike entrance was certainly open & passable, so in we pedaled! Over firm snow we roll in & choose the pick of the litter, with fire pit, picnic table, a shelter to cook in & block our tent from wind. We melted the snow (4 feet deep in some places!) to drink over a roaring fire of winter’s fallen branches… all alone in our own National Park (again, as always :). There was even chopped firewood at every site! Wth?

I love the availability of CLEAN WATER to drink, clear & delicious. Melting snow was an exception to our usual method of just filling up at streams and waterfalls. It’s way preferable to the tap, which is actually treated & chlorinated, yuck! You can fill-up wherever it gushes from forests and mountains, just Not farm-land :)

Cerro Castillo
the source: Cerro Castillo

Speaking of which, the water I just attempted to drink is frozen! This fire is warm but it ES CHILE out tonight! Tee-hee, (that joke never gets old.) I’m also still up almost 3 hours after Jeff went to sleep.. Me time! Double tee-hee!

Back to the SNOW, I’ve never appreciated it so much before. Usually I wouldn’t be caught dead sleeping outside when it’s freezing. But these white-capped mountains have won my heart. And even more special is seeing it melt, clear veins lined with bright green, cutting though white fields, or revealing the bold colors of crisp mountain faces. Never seen anything like it, feel so luck to be here during this brief and beautiful window.

Snow also makes Nepali/Indian-style RIVER-LAUNDRY possible! After 2 days in what felt like the Outback, with a backdrop of the towering jagged sno-capped Cerro Castillo mountains but without any fresh water to drink, we manifested a stealth campsite next to a raging mountain stream. After hydrating, next order was to FJORD into the middle to wash clothes in a sunny spot on nice big rocks. Now we have clean clothes (and all the Patagonians near the 46th parallel sigh in relief!) Today, in Reserva Lago Jeinemeni, another National Park that we had all to ourselves, it was necessary to ford a river with our bikes to get in. How cool is that?!

fjording
fjorded that, yip!

Ah, the elements. The WIND is so strong these days, great for air-drying! Pitched the tent in a grassy clearing behind a dune for shelter, and near to a fence to hang and let those babies dance! All dry by bed time! Head-winds while cycling, on the other hand, will cut your speed in half & make your life tough, while Tail-winds make you fly like superman.

I’m liking this new weather. No rain lately! Clear skies, 4 days straight. It’s this region on Lago General Carerra, near the Argentine border. Conquered the hills and now the weather is amazing. Still freezing-ass-off cold at night (fogata required), hot & sunny by day. Love it. Love being DRY. Love campfires with dry wood 3 nights in a row. Mmmm! Star-shine & Star Walk-ing.

We’re past our biggest in Chile, but I sure do love those HILLS. They keep me warm, and my legs & core strong (by keeping upright & balanced with so much weight at low speeds). They reward me with the best views, a sense of accomplishment, and speedy downhills (74.7km/hr out of Cerro Castillo!) We climbed in a headwind all day into those glorious peaks, then cruised down easy the next to savor the luxuries of town. Balance.

balance
Balance.

How good is BEER ON TAP?! My question for you is whether it tastes as good without the sweet triumph of under-age deception? Only the 2nd time we’ve found it in Chile, today’s being a local variety, so good in tall 600ml mugs and with English futbol on the tele. Forgot it’s name, but it’s clever tagline went Patagonia con Cerveza. Heehee, they’re all about conservation down here, (see http://patagoniasinrepresas.cl for more info.) I relished every drop and wanted so bad to Saturday-it-up with another, but we had some riding ahead of us, little did we know it would result in…

SWEET FAILURE, ie. turning back when appropriate. We set out last night on a scenic route to our port town destination, which would pass many lakes & be SUPER-bonita (as my friend Poonam’s doppleganger in the reiki tourist office promoted, who was not the first tourism professional in Chile to use this adorable prefix!) The back-country road was tougher than any we’ve encountered, impossible to stay balanced and moving on our loaded touring bikes up & down relentlessly rolling hills of loose gravel. It was, however, some of the most idyllic scenery to date (sculpted desert canyons w lush green accents), and for that sweet taste it was worth the abuse. (I will be back to Wwoof there, mark my word!)

You can take this city boy far from the big smoke, but you can’t take away my IPOD. Thank goodness for music. I dunno how Jeff does it without. I must be gettin old, but it’s been all 90’s greatest hits in my ear lately: Biggie, Wu-tang, ODB, Kool Keith, SP, Beastie Boys, the Offspring, the Prodigy, Marilyn Manson, Nirvana, Deftones, GnR, NIN, Stereolab, Boards of Canada… in this way I actually feel old, but I’m happy to finally experience this universal age/musical phenomenon first-hand, where my soul sings for the Classics. I listen to new stuff too, but I welcome the Comeback, esp. the old school hip-hop. Joc, is your Classic still cranking out the Modest Mouse?

chowfacedoggieface
a couple more classics

Even though I’m happy spending these hours writing to you, I don’t miss the net at all. I love being UNPLUGGED. Even though I’d Skype you up if I could to wish you well-done on achieving legal drinking age, the slow satellite connections here probably couldn’t handle it anyway. You can barely find pan (bread) in a village on Saturday let alone find an Internet connection. So all I’ve got are these thoughts of you, my iphone to write ’em (just recharged via my wee solar panel!), and my analog cosmic vibrations.. hope you feel ’em!

Te Amo, JOCELYN, debajo de (from under) tu constelación, Libra. (Yes, I can see you getting fresh tonight, snuggled up between Venus & Mars!) Wishing you a naughty birthday from Chile Chico, 15km from Argentina, our last stop in Chile! Tomorrow, when we cross, it will be our 1000km milestone! Neat huh?

Besos, Anthony

… And they will know us by the trail of Dead

Tuesday, Mar. 2, 2010. 9:36 PM
Dunedin, New Zealand

Murder in the streets! On the corridor from Cromwell to Queenstown, a mere 70km or 5hrs in the saddle, I saw an unbelievable number of furry crime scenes. How many? By my calculations, today’s death toll numbers 700.

Rabbits and Hedgehogs take 25% of the total each, Possums and Stotes (which are a lot like ferrets) take a close 20% each, and then birds, the occasional cat, and unrecognizable smudges make up the balance. Call me morbid for taking in the details, but I couldn’t help it, nor could I resist smelling the occasional stench of death, which, I’m happy to report, was exclusive to those few with freshly spilled guts that looked like the cornucopia from Thanksgiving illustrations.

Attempting not to obsess, I couldn’t help but wonder how many unfortunate run-ins lay in my path, so I counted, in hopes that I would then know and be able to get past it and focus on more pleasant things. In the space of a kilometer, on three separate and distant trials, I counted an average of ten kills (from 9, 10 and 12), which is how I came upon my hefty figure.

What does it all mean!? Well, there’s an abundance of critters, and likewise a lack of natural predators. The poor buggers aren’t too bright, nor do they learn from the mistake of their family members who have crossed in their path before them. Which reminds me, I saw a chicken near the road and chased him back into the farm to safety, laughing all the while puzzling why is he crossing the road in the first place? Cars drive either too fast to avoid this sad result, or they don’t care.

I have to myself admit to hitting two birds during my 6 weeks of road trip in the van, as well as having other near-misses with critters scurrying across. One time I was going 100 (the speed limit, ~60mph). He hit hard and probably died, rather I hit him hard. The second time I wasn’t moving as fast, and the sweet little green and yellow bird was flying along just in front of me, keeping up for a few moments, up and down, up and down, then whack! he bounced off the glass – I think he might have been ok – which is when I reasoned that at 100, there’s nothing a spooked animal can do to avoid us, which probably explains why I didn’t see much roadkill in India, where 90% of the traffic on the roads are tuk-tuks going 40.

I’m not looking to point any fingers, but another thing I thought of is that animals are attracted to the road, as they are everywhere. Heck, in Laos it was standard behavior for dogs to sleep in the road, and, same as in India, they fared OK. After all, that’s where all the people and other animals hang out, and also yummy morsels (our trash) to munch on. Speaking of which, another observation: most of the trash on the roadside is from fast food: McD’s, Subway, KFC… and not much else. Which prompts me to ask, in a country where a majority are mindful to keep the countryside clean, who are these people who think fast food garbage belongs on the street?! I actually saw someone in Christchurch traffic just throw their fast food beverage cup out the window into the road and I practically vomited in outrage. Who are they? Anyway, I think they’re a big part of the problem. Another questionable observation was finding many pink items along the side, little underwear, an odd Croc (size 2), tattered t-shirts… WTF? Perhaps pink just stands out, but in such abundance of tiny sizes, odd.

A friend told me today that in Australia she saw 20 Wallaby roadkills before she saw a single living one, and that’s the biggest difference between Oz and NZ: the size of the animals. Otherwise, same story. On that note, I’ll leave you with a snapshot of the local menu at the Puke Pub in Pukekura, population 2: