Friday, March 25, 2011

Pisco and the Earthquake

Cleaning up the city with murals

Morning with all the Volunteers
  Before you get too riled up, NO, I wasn't in an earthquake. But had I been in Pisco on August 15, 2007 around dinner time, I could have been in the shake, rattle and roll! An 8.0 tremor roared through town and left demolished rubble in it's path... Still to date, nearly four years later, families continue living in plastic and cardboard shacks, piles of rubble are taller than the door heights, while running water and flush toilets remain a luxury that some simply cannot afford.

what parts of the city look like
  A group of volunteers from around the globe gather here for a minimum of two week stays, while many commit for several months! The objective is to make change and improve the community. Building simple, sanitary, structures for those in need is the focus, but truthfully, it's a living breathing organism!!! For the peak of my duration we something close to 90 volunteers, about 15 projects each day, and a celebration every evening back at headquarters. It's all building projects, but in different ways. Teaching English and IT to the public, interviewing families for future projects, designing and submitting plans for Earthbag homes to continue building in a more ecological and environmentally sound fashion, community development and city planning, working in schools... if you can dream of a project all you have to do is propose it and do it!

"Old-West" Home Front
Lisa working with boo
Terry, project funding and design

  I was able to stay for two weeks and in less time a group of four of us constructed a 5 metre x 6 metre home for Myrah and her beautiful 8 y/o daughter. The buildings vary from recycled pallets for pre-fabed panels, to bamboo, to brick and stone, to earthbag, to conventional... earthen construction isn't exactly available as the nearest clay deposits are more than 10hrs. drive away! A huge contrast to the Sacred Valley where everything is built from the earth! The home I worked on utilized bamboo for structural support (walls and roof), a cement pad for the floor, and dimensional lumber to frame an exterior facade on the dirt street-side, similar to any storefront in the wild, wild west!

 Myself and a friend, Brandon, had a hammer shootout in the streets complete with eerie whistling and bursts of dust, when a man across the road working at some sort of outdoor factory pulled a pistol from his belt and waved it in the air.... we immediately took cover behind our storefront and began hammer-shooting through the window and door... we all had a good laugh about this, Peruvians and gringos together. 
  Seeing as our space was living and breathing, each day there were tasks assigned to keep our "home" clean. I cooked dinner a few times, cue the music.... bom ba da dommmmmm... WELCOME TO THE GAETZ GOURMET! We hooked it up with a wicked taco feast, home-made tortillas and salsas and guac... scrum-didly-uptious!
On the weekends after noon on Saturday we were free to do as we pleased. Both weekends I went to Huacachina the sand dunes. My first weekend was spent in misery on the toilet, gripping my belly... poo poo pee pee butt! So I redeemed myself and rocked out the following weekend with a small group of friends. We rallied with a driver in our 9-seater dune buggy all over those sand mountains! It was like a never-ending roller-coaster ride for two hours! We had occasional breaks to shred the sicky gnar freshy pow pow - sand boarding! I whipped a backside 540 misty-flip... in reality it was more like I just went rippin' down the hills carvin' some pretty turns... it's the closest I'll get to the snow this year so I was happy to get a fix of some sort!
Reed mat

Myra and the Girls

Ride that pony!

First Earthbag building in Pisco!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Mother Jungle, Puerto Maldonado, Peru

new found friend

view from the front porch
the humble abode
nature made
From the high mountain towns you're man on the move went to the mother of them all, the Amazon! Nearly a stones throw from the Bolivian border, it was a quick 1 hour flight from the tops of the Andes. My reason for going, aside from cultivating the adventure of a lifetime? I made some solid friendships this past summer while in Portugal building for a psychedelic-trance music festival, one of which is a Shaman trained in the Peruvian Amazon. I came to his home in the jungle for a week of medicine ceremonies and deep introspective work. Let's just say I got what I was asking for...
  Upon arrival to the teeniest, tiniest airport surrounded by the largest swath of lush, green, vibrant, life I was easily noticed in the crowd deplaning and collecting my backpack. The "Guy in the Kilt" typically is easy to spot, no?
Our water chariots
leaves on a log... duh
Hair look familiar
  I was one of four travelers to come and join Fernando and his extended family for the week and the only native English speaker of ten peeps. We ranged from Spain, France, Mexico, Peru, and of course, the good ol' US of A. It certainly put my spanish to the test, beyond the test really, but when it was far too difficult to articulate myself the group was great about making translation for me. This came in handy in the evenings after our ceremonies as we would share our experience from the night before much like a support group and sharing circle.  
Little baby bats

chillin on the water

smaller than a poodle!
The pulse of life is stronger in the jungle than any city I've ever been to. The days shed little light in comparison to the orchestra of sounds played during the night! It didn't take long to truly realize just how immense mother nature really is. I came to dive deeper into this connection, with mother earth, with the cosmos and spirits, with myself. I came take part in ceremonies with some new friends from around the world and a shaman I'd met in late 2010 in Portugal. They say that what you learn in 10 days of meditation you can gather in one night with Mother Ayahuasca... now I can understand where this statement comes from, but to be perfectly honest what you learn in a ceremony is for you. No one else will have had the same experience nor faced the same inner demons or joys, and worked the same way you have... ceremony is meant for purification and transformation, and it did exactly that for me. In my own way, with Mother Ayahuasca and the Master Plant, Ajosacha, I feel like today and everyday I have an inner drive that propels me to do more. More smiling, lauging, living, creating... in trade for doing, thinking, grinding, dwelling... if that makes any sense. I faced some hard truths about myself of which I'm very thankful for. Things that I'd never had the courage to tell myself and bring into my forefront to change. Not to say that I'm on my way to enlightenment or being the best person in the world, but in this day and age I think every little bit helps... besides, the road to enlightenment is a long one, right? Here's a quote I like from my last in flight movie - Eat, Pray, Love.
     "In the end, I've come to believe in something I call "The Physics of the Quest." A force in nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity. The rule of Quest Physics goes something like this: If you're brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you." True ain't it!?!?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Sacred Valley, Peru

                        Coca leaf offering to Mother Earth
Crops a plenty
Inca Wall
  If you were to throw a dart at an over-sized map you may pinpoint where I am... but most likely be wrong. HEHE... I'm in Buenos Aires today, flying to the East coast of the US of A this evening, I've spent the last month in Peru, loving it! No matter when I travel the days seem to flawlessly zoom past and leave in it's wake a series of memories. Thankfully, those moments remain strong for some time while I get my act together and take the time to document these travels!
Ruins in the shape of a condor
Potato Fetival, giving thanks to Pacha Mama

  Initially  flying into Cusco, Peru, I was in the Sacred Valley for one week, this is where the astonishingly precise ruins from the Incas remain. Most of my time was spent in a small town called Pisac... the energy in the valley cradled me so. Like being in Alaska, my heart was content here so I traveled no further with my limit of time. On an outing I was walking through fields of corn and quinoa, coca and potatoes, meandering my way along a narrow stream gushing at high velocity. Tromping through clay-puddles I came upon a woman and her flock of sheep. She knowingly pointed me in the direction to the bridge of which I was seeking and I graciously thanked her for the assistance. Her spirit was strong and pure. Her exterior tough as nails, weathered from a life of living with Mother Earth. She was easily spotted from a distance while brightly coloured in traditional clothing against a backdrop of a million shades of green. The shield protecting her dark skin consisted of leather-strapped sandals and dark pants to the knees, but ones eye would quickly pass-over these ordinary clothes while focusing on the incredibly colourful poncho. Ahh yes, the multi-functional poncho! So many styles, feels and colours, if you were in the market at Pisac center on the right day your eyes would feast in an orgasm of bright! They use these for carrying young children, keeping warm at night, shelter from rains and sun alike, to wrap their goods for transport from the mountain tops to wherever they may be heading... and yes, I picked one up as well! Once I passed by the Shepard and her sheep, I found the bridge I'd been seeking and crossed to a world as ancient as an old-growth redwood in it's mid-life. To my eyes surprise and my souls glory I walked along a path traveled for more than 500 years... as it wound, I wound, and we (the path and I) curved upwards along the terraced hillside towards the "sun temple." When you dream about perfect creations as your subconscious runs wild in the glories of REM sleep, at the end of your tunnel one could glimpse perfect creations, stone walls joined so well together that the smallest insect couldn't squeeze it's microscopic self through. And if you find these marvels of craftsmanship, I can tell you that they DO exist... I've never seen anything more perfect made by human hands and don't know that I ever will. Dozens upon dozens of terraces staggered the hillside from bottom to top, side to side, in precise unity! To the point that recessed channels for water flow alternated from one end to the other with the slightest decline in grade to encourage ample coverage and flow through the crops.... breathtakingly beautiful! As my lungs heaved for more and more thin oxygen, my legs carried me to the entrance of the temple and as I approached, I reached my hand to the wall. Instant connection! A slight breeze of wind kissed my moist skin and carried a flute's song to my ears, the most beautiful expression of wisdom and learning and civilization and gratitude and MANY lives within this valley's expanse. Shivers ran through my insides and the hairs stood at attention on my outside. It was as if I'd been welcomed to an atmosphere that my soul knows, that ancient culture and wisdom is running through these veins and remembering is what we do as we grow older... I felt some remembrance in these walls, of something deep inside me from a time period past. For nearly a decade I've been traveling and living a life of a vagabond - where I lay my head is home. I feel like I've been yearning for a connection. A connection with Mother Earth, with the community I live with, with all the life around me and I found part of that here. The glimpse of ancient culture and indigenous tradition in the hills of the Sacred Valley enlivened my soul, embraced my spirit and was calling me back before I ever left... I hope you have the opportunity to travel here someday and feel what I felt... or something close to it... connection...

Fiends in the valley
Just the way I like it... mud and earth!
Who is this guy anyway! Did he dress himself today?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Last True Wilderness?

Ice like no other...
  I've been traveling to Antarctica for the four years now and it still continues to feed my heart and nourish my soul. When I talk to folks about the frozen continent I usually use the same line... Alaska has my heart, but Antarctica's got me by the balls.

  This season we were adventuring with Marina Sveateva, a Polish built, Russian designed vessel made for servicing and bunkering oil to other ships in the Russian high east. In comparison to other ships I've worked on she certainly had the feel of a working ship. The exterior had ribs all along her body made for protecting her from contact made with other vessels. Her ice-class is higher than many vessels putting her just below "ice breaker" due to how many ponies she had pushing her along, and she was put to the test more than once! Complete with a helicopter hanger, sauna, plunge pool and heaps of deck space we were happy to give her second life, back in her "home away from home."
Antarctic Peninsula

Friendly Humpback Whale

A story of past life told by ice

A few thoughts from mid-season this year -

"The ice has been super thick, more plentiful than I remember in years past, creating an exciting dynamic to our program for our daily operations. Being here early season and seeing Antarctica in all her pristine glory... I'd forgotten how magical it is here. Everything is blanketed in snow now, but won't last long. As the sun continues to shine and the penguins keep to their daily activities much of the white will change to green, orange and red very soon.

  My energy is lofting between the cosmos and the ocean, finding a balance when being the "go to guy" certainly is a welcomed challenge... the to do list is ever growing while my "quiet time" equally dwindling! We've joined together as a solid team with two voyages under our belt and the family is gathering for our third go. Old friends and past romance is here in front of me and I welcome all equally and smilingly... looking to remain equanimous for my days on the water and hoping to remain connected if only by a fraction of a hair to my outside life, the connectivity goes so quickly!"
Chillin' with the homeys

Gorgeous isn't it

Freaky Ice!

Another classic shot
  Highlights are too numerous to list therefore I'll cover simply the tip of the iceberg... hehe. These photos are a compilation of a few of my favorites from this season and last. If you'd like one for your home or a gift to a friend, let me know and I'll be happy to hook-it-up!

  This season the Marina Sveateva showed us what it means to be "ice-strengthened" on the southern ocean!
  While traversing a passage just south of where the "typical 10-day traffic" flows and an area I refer to as the "weekend getaway" we encountered a vast expanse of 1st year sea-ice, only a few metres thick. Most ships guided by their captains would turn, tail between their legs in fear of damaging their vessel... ours eagerly set her at 10 knots steaming straight ahead, barreling for the roadblock head on! The best part of all is that when this was begining one of our passengers came sprinting into the dining rooms and told everybody to get the "F" outside... "you don't wanna miss this! It's amazing!!!"
  So, the dude abides, and all the eager adventurers do as well by running out to the ample deck space with mouths agape, cameras and face united as one. Our ship was entirely surrounded by ice and trudging forward against the heavy mass. About mid-way through we'd reached our limit. Captain reversed about 200 metres and out the pedal to the medal once again and away we went, crushing through sheets of fracturing ice shelf, prevailing on the other side! In my opinion, the captain stopped in the middle for dramatic affect and to get his camera. None the less it was a sight to be seen and one that I'm not sure I'll witness again!

Early morning light

 Kayaking in the polar regions is always a highlight. Serene, tranquil, epic paddling is waiting for any and everybody, so long as they sign up early enough. Camping on the snow and ice happens nearly every voyage but is subject to weather. In early January, just after solstice there is still abundant daylight. One evening in the Argentine Islands we set out with 35 campers, a sunset at 10 past midnight and big ol' Grandmother Moon rising across the placid waters at the same time. To my hearts content I don't think I'd had a more perfect moment in all my years in the south!
Resident Leopard Seal

   Working with One Ocean Expeditions has been a blessing in so many ways. From the Bad-Ass Mutha F'ers that I see everyday down there and now call my family, to the challenges of dynamic conditions. Throw on top the fact that anything and everything you saw the last time you were there has changed and in a gust of a katabatic wind you have an adventure of a lifetime!

Check out OOE at
  I have few stories to share over a beer the next time we meet, just remind me about... a zodiac on the loose, the ships sprinkler system, 3 drifting zodiacs in the Errera Channel, and my favorite of all - the epic saga of a zodiac, a schoolbus and a forklift... what a life!
Black Browed Albatross