An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Posts from — December 2008


To be honest, I was torn. My week had been filled with an unproductive hope to help and when hope fell false I was ready to run. Not to abandon hope, but to look elsewhere.

The cycle began months earlier, when I started looking for a project or Argentine need to offer myself to. An idea would surface, followed by a rush of excitement, which calmed and faded when nothing came to fruition. Finally I just decided to go, and within an hour of my arrival things were looking up. Before I left the airport I met a girl, split a cab, and learned she was involved with a volunteer group helping children in a less fortunate area of town. She would check with the coordinator, get back with me, and within the week I‘d probably have a place to help.

Encouraged, I spent the next few days getting acquainted with the city. Buenos Aires is a special place. From the moment I climbed into my taxi I felt something I don‘t feel in a lot of American cities–comfortable, almost at home. There is something about it, a charm. On Sundays, you’ll find cobblestone streets covered with cloth and crafts, created by the humble hands making their living.  On quiet streets, you’ll find old walls cased with colorful graffiti, as good if not better than a lot of art I’ve seen in museums. In the air, there is often a distant drumming of people in protest (a common occurrence in Buenos Aires), a fresh and encouraging sound of freedom. There are musicians who play, couples that dance. I roamed the streets, explored the city. Things were good.

Then I heard back from my volunteer friend. The coordinator didn’t think it was a good idea for me to get involved for what would likely be just a couple of weeks. Back to square one. I had made some phone calls but had yet to hear back from anyone. Then the devils of travel began to whisper. Quickly I made friends with other travelers, anxious and eager to see and experience South America, and inviting me to join. We’d go to dinner. We’d have drinks. We would laugh and dance into the morning. But when we walked back to our hostels, the streets were filled with reminders.

There is another face to this city, one obvious but quickly forgotten. One that surfaces when businesses close, and suits go home. While young tourists sort through the streets in search for a party, young families sort through trash in search for survival. At first I thought they were looking for food, then concerned they were looking for receipts or personal information. They were meticulous, focused. As oblivious to the passerby’s, as the passerby’s were to them. I learned later, the trash strewn through the streets was in process of being organized into recyclables, which would then be exchanged for a modest return. It’s a sight rich in metaphor, here sorting through corporate waste was a people who themselves had been discarded, whether by society or circumstance.

Still I was torn. On one hand, I knew there was need. I could see it and wanted to help. On the other, I was no closer to helping than when I started a week ago and the sights of Argentina (and those visiting them) were calling. I decided to stay. I would see this through, and if all I did in the end was buy sandwiches for hungry people, then that’s what I would do.

Fortunately, things once again were about to look up. And it all started with a girl…

December 30, 2008   4 Comments

Buenvinidos Buenos Aires

I’ve been putting off South America because it’s always seemed close and somewhere along the way I developed the idea that I should start far while I’m young, energetic, and handsome then work my way back. There are a few flaws however, to this strategy: First, I think I will always feel younger than I am. Second, ever since the invention of coffee, energy is simply one cup away. Third, I’ll probably always be handsome. And fourth and maybe most significantly, South America is not really that close!

The flight from Newark to Buenos Aires is an approximate 14 hours with a short layover in Houston, where you stop, deboard, and just as the blood gets to your feet, you get back on the plane for the remaining 10.5 hours. To be honest, I hadn’t done my homework at all on South America, Argentina or Buenos Aires. I purchased the Lonely Planet, which is about the size and weight of a cement block, but after sleeping, eating and pleasure reading, the “initial decent” was announced without my even cracking the Lonely Planet block.

But it’s never too late to start doing your homework, albeit standing in line waiting for customs is cutting it close. So I got busy. Casually introducing myself  to everyone in the near vicinity, fishing for clues like a good part of town, transportation into the city, any tips that might be useful to a new non-Spanish speaker in Argentina. Before I got my passport stamped, not only had I met another guy from a town two hours from my Arizonan hometown, I also managed to split a cab with three others to the city where someone was already booked in a notorious hostel.

Unfortunately, my luck slowed a bit. We walked into the hostel, humming with young energy. Music playing. Argentine twenty-somethings dashing back and forth checking in internationals all suited with backpacks. The problem with a popular hostel is that it’s…. well popular. So with no space I hit the streets, walking to the next closet spot… full. Then another, full. Then again. Finally, with shoulders strained and sweat dripping, I found my home for the night. A 14 hour flight and city-wide hike is not necessarily rejuvenating, but when you get to Buenos Aires, you don’t have time to rest.

I tracked down my Arizona friend and we took to the streets. This place is beautiful. I’d heard it called the Paris of South America, and as much as I love Paris I was skeptical, but I can see the relation in architecture. The people are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen in the world. Every menu serves steaks of all type for five to fifteen dollars. Malbec wine starts at one dollar in the supermarket. A liter of local beer, also a dollar. Bus or train-one peso (or approximately 33 US cents).

Within two days, I experienced two amazing things. The first came walking down the streets just after sunset. Apparently it was a national holiday. One large street was closed and along the stretch of pavement stood several stages. Musicians played their Latin beats. At their feet danced hundreds of couples, but not just any dance… the Tango. Rumors of the sensual swerving all proved true. To watch an elderly man, bathed in music and emotion, take his lovely wife into his arms… pause to synchronize their souls to sound, then move fluidly, sensually, flawlessly across an ordinary street-I was moved to watch.

The second experience was equally moving but on another level. Buenos Aires is known for its late nights, and on one of these late nights I was walking along a major road when I noticed a line of people ahead of me. The queue stretched half a block. The people were dirty, frazzled, but patient. I walked to the side. When I finally reached the front, the reason was revealed. Squatted down in front of a just-closed McDonald’s, one man shoveled through two large bags of food. Hamburgers, fries, chicken sandwiches, he orderly passed out the food to those waiting patiently… hungrily.

I’ve been asked before why I like to travel. Growing up in a town of 2,500 residents, I met people who had never left the confines and comforts of “home”. When you grow up like this, your view of the world is no wider than the frame that holds the pictures others have taken. The world is black and white. But since I’ve traveled, I see there is more. And the more I see, the more colorful my life becomes.  Why do I travel? Because in one moment, on a random street in Argentina I’ll see a picture of love I’ve never seen before. Then two streets and one night later, another moment happens and I have a glimpse into a life I may never understand. And when I take a moment and stand back to look at life as I would a brilliant painting, I see colors vibrant and darker than I ever knew existed… but I see life.

I came to Argentina to find a need, and if possible fill it. Well within days of my arrival I was assured of one thing… the need is here.

December 15, 2008   1 Comment

A Moment To Remember

New York City, New York.

Yesterday was cold and spitting. Today, the sun overcame. Light fell across the city like golden ropes through a dirty sky. Beams dropped to dark streets and a grey river that swam round our Lady Liberty. She held her torch high, as an orphan raises a cup for rice. Eventually, the sun took notice pouring its warmth over our national icon. Seagulls squealed in delight dashing in and out of the fallen light.

Today is my anniversary. Exactly, one year ago today, almost to the hour, myself and an old friend from college pulled anchor and sailed East, ready to see and change the world. With every wave, we moved further from our old lives, our families, all that was familiar. The sails were high. Our goals were higher. Weeks earlier I called Dan from Flagstaff, Arizona. We spoke of dreams, adventure, boundaries. I left the establishment of comfort and security including a great job in Sales and Marketing and started this new chapter of life.

The boat glided up, then down, and continued to repeat as the sun dropped below the land etched on the western horizon. It was a beautiful sunset. Then darkness fell and like a child stripped of his nightlight, tension grew. Unlike Dan, I had never sailed before, not a day(or night) in my life. Everything was new. The sea was darker and bigger than I’d ever known. I took the first shift to sleep ( a routine we would practice for months to come). In the galley of this 33 foot boat, I laid on my back in the middle of the floor, the lowest point in the boat to minimize the motion. In my berth, was born every doubt and fear of a new sailor and life. Eventually I slept, only to be woken for my shift.

My bloodless hands squeezed the tiller. Every mistake and overcorrection was emphasized with the battering of sails asking to be filled. Every large wave raised larger fear, and unaware of the self-correcting tendencies of a sailboat the thought of capsizing was often and real. 15 hours later we reached the Bahamas, greeted with subtle seas. The sun that hours before abandoned me returned full, bright and warm. In retrospect it was a fairly mild sail, but as my first, it will be remembered as long and threatening.

One year and 16 countries later I am sitting in a coffee shop in Manhattan, thinking. I am a changed man. I think it is impossible to see so many cultures, places, so many people different from you and not come out different yourself. Yet not all has changed. I sit here with the same burning to “do” something. Not just see, not just taste–Do! There is so much to do in this world. There are so many needs unseen and untended to. I don’t pretend to be a “savior”, if anything I understand how much larger these challenges are than myself. But I am still convinced, I can do something. I can make some kind of a difference.

I battle to balance real with ideal. But doesn’t every intended change began with a dream? I don’t know what the future holds. I guess nobody does. There a lot of things up in the air. There are things I’d hoped to have accomplished by now. There are things I still hope to. I was recently able to return home, to see family and laugh with friends. It was comfortable and familiar… nice. Yet there is still more. I would like to return home, to visit my family, to hold my beautiful niece on her first Christmas. But before I do, I want to “do” at least one more thing.

In the past year, many of you have dug deep, in a hurting economy, and donated money that impacted several lives. We still have some of that money left. I have in the past months contacted several organizations to locate a need. To my frustration, several of those requested a significant amount to “volunteer” with an organized group. I understand there are costs to organize, and applaud these companies for the many good things they are doing. However, I can’t help but think we can stretch these precious dollars further. I am going to try to do just that.

With no specific need or contact I will travel to South America, to the 8th largest country in the world Famous for steak, wine, and tango, I will look for a person, a group, a need. I don’t know how or who, but I don’t think it will be too hard to find something, or someone who has fallen on tough times. And with the last of the monies raised, we are going impact somebody’s life.

Argentina… here I come.

December 2, 2008   3 Comments