An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.

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Choose the Change-The Interactive Humanitarian Adventure


We interrupt this Aussie adventure to introduce the newest World By Sea initiative. As you know, many of my voyages are spur of the moment, based on the opportunity that knocks the hardest. However, this is an idea that has been haunting me for months now and I can no longer avoid it. Introducing:

Choose the Change

I’ve realized that most of my adventures have been sort of one-sided. I travel to some distant land. I write about the people I see. I volunteer and take photos. Granted, many of you have donated to the needs of the people, but even those needs have been something I determine and decide. Until now! I want your help. I want to hear what inspires or moves you. I want to share your passion with the world. Here’s how it works:
1.    You Share.  Tell me a place, a project, a people. I want to know of a need or cause that YOU are passionate about. It can be anywhere in the world, abstract is good. However, the more detailed information you provide, the better. If you know of a need-that’s good. If you know of a person or organization already plugged into the need-that’s GREAT!

You may submit your suggestions privately (by emailing or share them with the world by posting them on the Choose the Change idea box on the left hand navigation menu. Over the next several weeks I will collect and review every idea submitted. Then I’ll pick 3-5 of the top submissions.

2.    You Decide.  Once the suggestions have been narrowed down to the top 3-5, I will post each suggestion and a descriptor under the Choose the Change tab. Then, let the voting begin. Maybe you’ll connect with the vision of one of the suggestions. Maybe you just want to learn more about a certain area, people, or need. Maybe you just want to see me travel to the most uncomfortable location possible. Whatever your motivation… the vote is yours!

3.    I go!  Simple as that. I’ll contact the organization, project or person that was most voted for and let them know we’re coming. In the meantime, I’ll be raising money. As usual, 100% of the money raised will go towards the needs. Once again, I will video, photo, and blog about the volunteer work. Once again you get to watch your dollars at work, except this time it is for something YOU are passionate about.

So there it is. I’m putting the reigns back in your hands. I want you to be involved. To share. To decide. To be a part of making a difference. You choose the change we make in the world. Now… Let’s get to work!

July 11, 2009   1 Comment

Henning to Habibi

Once again the rain greeted the rising sun. The Henning cab wasn’t leaving until 11:00 and I refused to let the rain dampen my spirit. Laced up my runners, put my-pod in a plastic baggie and took to the streets. It’s a good feeling-rain running. The world is your own. Parks are empty. Streets are quiet. From the back roads of Cairns to boat docks, and along the water’s edge, I ran until rain turned to sweat. That’s when I met my first Aborigines.

A small group was huddled beneath a park awning laughing, carelessly exchanging jokes. My kind of people. I veered my course as close to the party as possible without being obvious. As I approached, the conversation became staring. “Hey, come here!” I heard over the background music of my ipod. Perfect. I pulled the D-train into the party station, yanked out the ear buds and introduced myself. “Where you from?” “United States,” I said. Of the three men and one woman, all had weathered but gentle faces. One was more interested than the others. He asked me where I was running to (in the middle of a downpour), observed how white I was, then shared some of his favorite Jackie Chan movie quotes. We shared a few laughs then I shook hands and found my way back to the hostel, where I spent my final moments in Cairns.

I wish I could explain the feeling that pulses through your veins when hour after hour you watch kangaroos emerge and vanish mystically in an ocean of grass, or the way time slows when your gaze turns to eucalyptus tree tops only to realize they are filled with cuddly koala bears. I wish I could… but I’ve never felt anything like that. Unfortunately, the only “animal” spotting in 9 hours of driving was one lifeless ‘roo on the side of the road… which I still feel a bit guilty for getting excited about.

When we finally stopped it was in Airlie Beach, gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, which pains me to remind you is where the Island Reef Job was based. It is also appeared to be the Mecca of backpackers. The streets were crawling with young adventurers from all over the world. Every window was filled with a picture of a sailboat, a beach, a couple of models lost on some sandy paradise. What started a simple stroll to stretch our legs, ended in feelings of want. I guess after a full day of driving, and a couple days of rain, Mandi and I both started to feel like there might be more to Australia than the backseat window. Then this:

3 days-2 nights on S/V Habibi (meals included)/Snorkeling on Great Barrier Reef/Whitehaven Beach/2 nights at Airlie Beach hostel/2 nights at Hervey Bay (Gateway to Fraser Island)/3 days-2 nights self-drive and camp on Fraser Island—Cost: $299 (Aus Dlr) per person.

Mandi and I stared at the pull-up display like orphans at a candy shop window. “What do you think?” Mandi asked. I licked my lips, swallowed and we bought our tickets on the spot. I was a little sad to break the news to our German friends  (Henning-the driver, the guy who stared out the window and never spoke, and the other guy who sat in the front seat asking for advice on his love life) but it was a sadness easily cured with a drink and trip on a sailboat.

Tomorrow, I board the great Habibi and sail the Great Barrier Reef!

July 1, 2009   No Comments

Ride or Reef

Aussie Word of the Day:
The Dunnie (n.):  Australian for toilet.  Unless referring to a porta-potty, in which case you would use the term Drop-Dunnie or Long Drop.

I woke up to the pittering of rain off the tin awning of my hostel. Generally the sound of rain falling is a nice ingredient for sleep, but when accompanied by squawking parrots it becomes less soothing and more, say… annoying. That is until you realize you are waking up in Australia, Cairns to be exact.

Cairns is one of the most northerly towns on the east coast of Australia. It’s is known for things like the saltwater croc, or the cassowary (an ostrich-like rainforest bird with a colorful scalp and a massive block on it’s head), but mostly it’s known for the Great Barrier Reef. You’ve maybe heard of it—that little World Heritage Site stretching almost 350,000 square kilometers and home to 2,900 reefs, 918 islands, 2,800 kinds of fish, 215 kinds of sea snake and 6 kinds of turtle… Yeah that’s the one.

You’d think a place known to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world might have some pull on a guy with basically no plans. But I’ve always been kind of a sucker for cheap transportation. So when, the first morning in Cairns, I noticed a paper dangling from the hostel bulletin board my wheels started turning. It read something like this:

I am a 22-year German guy. I will be driving to from Cairns to Melbourne on Thursday morning. Have space for 1-3 people looking to go to Brisbane, Sydney or anywhere along the way.

Now look, before you start judging, let me defend my logic. Traveling around the world for 18 months can get expensive, even after you’ve sold your house and lived as frugally as possible. Second, although the US dollar is worth more than the Aussie dollar, it doesn’t go as far down here. Finally, the Great Barrier Reef is always going to be there, but this ride-this ride was leaving in two days! See what I mean? Makes sense, right?

Well it made sense to me; however, I wasn’t traveling alone at the moment. Mandi is a good friend, and a flight attendant. She also has a big heart and the superpower of discounted tickets—except not in Australia. It has always been a dream of hers to see Australia, and she was taking some vacation time to start my trip with me. I showed her the flyer, bat my puppy eyes, and agreed to spend the day exploring our options.

I looked at flights—expensive. I looked at car rentals—expensive. I looked into bus, train, even into buying a junker car which I would sell (hopefully) at the end of my trip—all expensive. All day I looked but just as the rain fell from the sky, so did our options for cheap transport. I mean yes, it is the Great Barrier Reef. But this… This is opportunity. This is a free ride down the coast of Australia!!

That night I called Henning. We would leave the following morning.

June 28, 2009   No Comments

The Beginning of Oz

Aussie Word of the Day:
Cuppa (n.):  Australian for drink (usually hot in nature). Most likely rooted in English term “Cup of (something)” Can be used at any time of the day, but is most often heard in after a meal when the host asks, “Would anyone like a cuppa?”

Concerning the above:
I realized while writing my previous two blogs there are lots of tidbits that would be terribly useful when visiting Australia, especially in the area of language. Imagine, for instance, if one night after “tea” (dinner) with your “mates” (friends) you were offered a “cuppa”, but not knowing what it was you respectfully decline. Moments later, all your friends are sitting around sipping tea and coffee, gleefully enjoying each other’s company all the while you linger on the outskirts fighting off your meal-coma. Then for the next several weeks you’re greeted with smirks of pity, and hear people refer to you as “the yobbo who fell asleep at the party.” We’re talking social suicide, simply because you didn’t know what a “cuppa” was!

Not on my watch. No sir. That’s why I’ve decided to start every Australian blog with a helpful word, phrase, or fun fact of the day. You’ve been plenty entertained, and a little education never hurt nobody.

Now let’s get back to bloggin.

When I arrived Australia, I arrived in Cairns and as usual I had no idea what my plan was. I de-planed around 11:00 pm, a bit groggy from my whirlwind 15-hour tour of Tokyo, flight to Guam, 3-hour layover and walk to the beach, then final leg to Australia. Myself and the other international zombies file down terminal to customs. The lovely customs officer then takes my passport and flips through the pages. Naturally she is admiring my impressive resume of travel. I humbly lean forward and watch. She looks back.

“Do you know you don’t have any space in your passport?” Bloodshot, I return her stare… blink. “You have no space to stamp your passport.” She repeats. “Huh?” I reply-blink, blink. “We can’t stamp on top of another stamp,” she raises her voice slightly in irritation. It was probably obvious that I spoke English based on the American passport, but I’ll be honest, I had no intent of returning to America for some fresh passport pages for her to stamp, so I did what I could: Blink, blink…blink…“Huh?” She rolled her eyes, stamped my passport, and called for the next in line.

Mission accomplished. There was some resistance, but I made it. Now I just needed to figure out what to do.

June 15, 2009   No Comments

A Beginner’s Guide to Oz: Part II

Welcome back to the second edition of The World By Sea’s: Beginner’s Guide to Oz. In this entry, we’ll continue to explore several random facts that may or may not be of any use. Please enjoy…

6.    The cute and the deadly. No doubt, Australia has the best of both. What’s more adorable than a little sleepy cuddle bear that carries it’s young in a pouch, lives in treetops, eating leaves and its mother’s poo to survive? Probably nothing, except maybe the lovable kangaroo-who also carries its young in a pouch and loves life so much it can’t help but jump everywhere. On the other hand, to balance out all that cuteness, Australia has developed some of the nastiest (in terms of death) creatures on earth. To list a few: funnel web and red back spiders (the Australian black widow); taipan, brown, python and red bellied black snakes; box and Irukandji jelly fish; and of course the prehistoric croc and great white shark. However, the winner of my personal “Bad-Ace Award” goes to the charming blue ringed octopus, who though full grown is about the size of golf ball, it still carries enough venom to kill 26 adults within minutes. Pretty bad-ace, huh?

7.    Two for Forty. There are two things down here that will cost you around 40 Australian Dollars. The first is a case of beer. That’s right, for just shy of 40 bones you can treat yourself to a dozen cold mediocre brewskies! I probably had the same initial reaction you are having right now, the first time I walked into a “bottle-o” (Oz for liquor shop) and stared for minutes at the price tag, trying to remember just what the conversion rate was from US to OZ. Eventually it sunk in that yes, the 6-pack of beer really was $18.
Luckily, if you decide to sober up and stop drinking, there’s another way to spend money–you can buy a cattle ranch. Just drive several hours from the coast and an entire plot of land also run you about $40 Australian (per acre). This sweet  fun fact surfaced the other day whilst standing around with a group of cattle ranchers shootin’ the bull. That said, I went ahead and bought the beer… What– it was a hot day.
8.    Ketchup, water and refills. Maybe it is because I’m American but there are few things I feel are the right of every human being. First, ketchup (which is referred to as “sauce” in Oz) should be a free accompaniment to French fries (which are referred to as “chips”). It should never be an additional cost of $.20 to $1… EVER. Second, if tap water is drinkable, it should be provided with a meal, or at very least not frowned upon on request. Third, and I’ll admit this is a little more flexible—soda and coffee should be assumed to have free refills. That’s all I have to say on this.
9.    Flying Foxes. Just after the sun sets there are certain areas where the sky turns dark with waves of black. At first you think crows but they are bigger. Then you realize they’re not birds at all. “Flying foxes”, otherwise known as fruit bats, by the thousand. I imagine if you owned a fruit tree you would be real annoyed. But to the tourist and young-boy-at-heart, they’re awesome.  I mean, a bat the size of a fox that will dive and swerve to avoid the sound of your clap which fires through the air like an invisible missile? Yeah, that’s awesome.

10.    Dishes or Toads. I couldn’t decide which insignificant fact to use for number 10, so I just going to list them both. They are in no way related.
A.    First, an observation: Once you’ve eaten your dinner in Australia, simply proceed to the kitchen, suds up your dishes and rack em. Because, down under, there’s no need to rinse. That may disturb some people, but I guess for a kid who always had a bar of soap in his mouth growing up, it sort of feels right.
B.    Second, an observation: If ever a pack of beetles are eating your crops, you would think all you need to do is introduce a pack of toads–right? WRONG! Australia tried it once. Not only did the beetles stick around, the cane toads became one of the most invasive species of all time. In other words, if you come to Australia, be ready for some sweet toad action. On a positive note, the ever resourceful Australians have taken a negative gone worse into an opportunity. You can now have for a souvenir a real life-less cane toad figurine or key chain.

Naturally there are million things to see and learn down here, but that should get you started.

June 7, 2009   3 Comments

A Beginner’s Guide to Oz: Part I


Australia… you can’t even say the name without saying “Ahhh”. White sandy beaches, the crisp smell of Eucalyptus, sunshine and a coral reef that stretches over 2000 kilometers… it’s an enchanting land, unlike anywhere else. Which is probably why it tops so many people’s places to visit list. So for those of you who haven’t yet been able to fulfill that dream, I have compiled the following list of 10 random facts you might find useful for your future trip:
(*Note: Due to the witty nature (aka-long windedness) of the following post I have decided to split this entry into two parts: Part I and Part II.)

1.    Plastic money. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant! I would kiss the man that figured this no-brainer out. If there is anything you don’t ever want to decompose, it’s your currency. Furthermore, it doesn’t rip (honestly, I’ve really tried). Finally, and most practically, when your country is an island filled with beach and surf, why not have a currency that doesn’t get soggy when you swim. Bravo, Australia.
2.    Meat pies. I’m still trying to figure why this hasn’t made it across the pond yet. Finally, someone figured out a legit way to eat pie for dinner: take the fruit out and stuff that delicious pastry with steak, chicken, peas, potato, or anything else you can dream of. Again…Bravo!
3.    Australianese. In passing, it can be mistaken for English, and while the language of Oz does share similar phrases, Australia has definitely developed it’s own tongue. At least 73% of sentences end with the phonetic emphasis of a question, where the tailing syllable raises significantly causing an English speaker to pause, review, and wonder just what the Aussie is asking. If that weren’t confusing enough they also have their own special code-talk where in every long word must be shortened, then once shortened extended with something like an “o” or “y”. There will be more lessons to follow on this subject.
4.    Travel pox. Here’s something you should be ready for: Within days of arriving on the island, you will most definitely notice a difference in your complexion. Flashbacks of puberty may rush your mind before realizing it’s not just your face… it’s everywhere. Don’t worry, it’s not an outbreak, it’s a bug—or lot’s of them. Mosquito, gnat, no-see-em, sand fly- it could be anything really and half the time you don’t notice it until you look in the mirror or something brushes against your calf and makes you want to scratch your leg off.
5.    Cockatoodle-doo. The rooster has long been labeled the animal kingdom’s alarm clock, faithfully declaring the approaching day at obnoxiously early hours. Well Australia’s got it’s own cock, who though a bit more rare, is every bit as annoying when screeching the sun up: the magnificent cockatoo. However, I will admit, once you have grumbled out of bed, to see just what might dying outside your window in the morning, it’s hard to not to appreciate such a beautiful bird as the white or black cockatoo. Also cool and obnoxious are the parrots that squawk by the hundreds as the sun sets.

…to be continued.

June 4, 2009   No Comments

Don’t Get Mad, Get Even


Ok, remember that “Best Job in the World” thing, the one where 34,000 people applied from all over the world to live on an island and blog about it? In case you hadn’t heard, here’s a quick update.

Several months ago, a group known as Tourism Queensland organized the most ingenious public relations plot I’ve ever seen. They created a 6-month position for one person to live in a beautiful house on a stunning island in the Great Barrier Reef. They would call the position “Island Caretaker”, and for $150,000 Australian Dollars the stated responsibilities would include little more than swimming, exploring, and blogging. Anyone who could make a 60 second video could apply… so more than 34,000 from all over the world did, including one small town boy from Northern Arizona.

I’ll admit, I thought the stars had aligned. I heard about the job from several of you who had emailed. I got the wheels turning, made a kickin’ video (see video above), and sent it in with hours to spare. I would be perfect (or at least I thought). Not only did I have experience, I would donate half of my salary to The World By Sea.

Well, I didn’t get it. And since we’re getting things off our chests, I didn’t even make the first cut. I know… I know. I couldn’t believe it either. In fact, for the next week or two I wallowed around in self-pity, like a little snot-nosed brat who got the wrong bee-bee gun on Christmas. Finally, after plenty of feeling sorry for myself, and questioning my existence, I decided it was time to dust myself off. Don’t get mad, get even…

That’s right–even. I didn’t need some “Tourism Queensland” to go to Australia, I could do it myself. There is an ancient proverb that when translated reads something like: “You can’t keep good man down.” Granted this is more up than down, and I suppose one could argue I don’t actually qualify a “good man,” but if you don’t mind I’m a little bit vulnerable right now. So if we could all just support me right now, that’d be great. Thanks.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “Just how is going to Australia on your own dollar, blogging and giving Tourism Queensland even more free publicity “getting even”?” That’s a good question… and I haven’t exactly worked it out yet. Maybe I’ll sabotage the whole thing. Sell sponsorships, tattoo my body, and streak through the island, drawing attention away from their little island and putting it on my…website. I don’t know, but I’ll think of something.

Watch out Australia, the D-man cometh!

June 1, 2009   3 Comments

Small But Significant

I climbed into the dusty cockpit of an old pick up truck, no surprise considering the powdered dirt roads it pushed through for a living. The driver and I immediately reached an unspoken agreement not to speak. We’d never met before, yet talking felt both unnecessary and uninviting. We shook hands. I closed the door. He drove. I looked out the window.

The light pushed the sun past the desolate mountains that boxed in this dessert valley town and with the loss of light the cold air grew more bold. I knew the school was remote, I had no idea just how remote. So as the driver silently drove without expression, I stared out the window with my thoughts while a rickety pick-up clattered loudly across a washboard road to a concert of clanks and bangs.

One dirt road turned into a lesser dirt road, which eventually became no more than a sandy wash. With the dimming sky, I grew anxious to arrive. The driver, blankly guides the truck through a pack of llama and keeps driving until finally with only enough light to silhouette the hills, we came upon a dinghy white church and two lonely buildings. The children begin to gather.

The sun had fully set. I had traveled 20 hours by bus to Salta; shopped for and bought a freezer, then drove 4 more hours to San Antonio De Los Cobres, left my bags, switched cars and drove one more hour away from the closest human to reach this school. Now I would stay for a while, drive back across the dark country sleep a few hours, then rise before the sun to retrace my steps back to Buenos Aires. I could have sent the money. I could have stopped in Salta, and bought the freezer and returned… but I needed to see this.

I’m glad I did. With no common language a woman came out to meet us. She greeted the driver, then myself, then lead me to one of the buildings. Inside a row of modest bunk beds filled a small room. One young man was in the room, he greeted me with a smile that warmed the cold room. I’m not sure if he was a student or helper, but he knew a very small bit of English, which he was pleased to share. On occasion, a young face would peek cautiously around a corner, then disappear again.

We walked into the next building over where I was offered a hot cup of matte and bread. I sat with the boy and continued to talk as much as we knew how. When our conversation reached its limits, the boy stood and returned with a guitar. Moments later the other children entered and sat around the table, all watching closely, guardedly. The young man with the guitar spoke pleasantly to the others, all younger in varying ages. He convinces them to sing.

Some of the kids grab percussion and play along. Some sit, statues staring at the newcomer. Their voices weren’t strong or especially lovely, but the moment, the memory that I will forever carry with me is both strong and beautiful. I take pictures and share each captured memory from my bright digital screen with the curious brown rosy faces. A few smile at their reflections, several bottle their reactions unsure of the moment.

In the same room where the children sang, where I grinned and took pictures, just steps away was a small cage. From a single wire, swung several pieces of raw and dried flesh. It housed the meat that made their meals and it was enough to turn your stomach. It was what they had though. It was what we would soon replace. It might have been 1½, maybe 2 hours, but every minute was special. When it was done the children were dismissed to their rooms.

In the big scheme of things, I didn’t do much. I drove a ways. I took money that you donated, bought a freezer, and made a trip to the school it would help.  I listened to children sing. I clapped. I shook their hands. But for me it was much more. I took a peek into a small, quiet existence of group of people, few ever see. And for all the waiting, for all the driving, and futile attempts to communicate along the way, it was worth every minute.

In the end, I said good-bye to every one, climbed back in the truck and pulled the heavy door shut. The driver got in and without a word began to drive. I sat, stared into the darkness, and watched my memories play warmly back.

May 18, 2009   No Comments

San Antonio De Los Cobres

When we last left off, our hero (…aka Derek) sat at some random corner in Salta, Argentina. He sat at the corner he was supposed to sit, at the time he was supposed to be there, waiting for the cab that was supposed to pick him up.  Unfortunately, the cab never showed up, and after an hour and a half, he realized it wasn’t going to. We’ll pick up at that very moment…

Everything had turned around nicely, what with my new friends and personal translators, new information (and inspiration) about the school and community of San Antonio De Los Cobres, and now a fully accommodated ride to the school and a place to stay. I was finally going to meet the kids I had trekked across Argentina to help… Except I was missing one very important piece, my ride!

In time, I saw someone I recognized who worked for Mr. Guzman. Of course he, too, didn’t speak English but he was all I had, so I chased him down and figured I’d try another round of cross-culture charades. I’m not sure if it was my pantomiming or the fact that I kept repeating the name of “Viveros Guzman”, but eventually the man called Mr. Guzman. Two minutes on the phone, he hangs up and nods for me to get in his truck. I do.

He drives across town and parks at a gas station, motions for me to stay, then runs off. Right about the time I start wondering just who my new friend had called and what was actually discussed another car pulls up. Then the man returns. He grabs my bag and carries it to the new car…who I am optimistically assuming is my “cab”. I get in, ask (in Spanish) if he speaks English-he smiles, nods and drives off. 15 minutes across town we stop again in an alley, again my driver gets out and runs off. He returns moments later with a mother, three children and bags. We load up and start to drive again.

I’m assuming my driver did not actually speak English based on the number of questions he answered only with that familiar smile and nod. “Como te almo?”, I ask his name. “Sergio…” he smiles back. Then he reaches between the two seats and pulls out a cd labeled “Folclore”. He puts slides it in.

For the next several hours a Spanish man and his guitar serenaded our drive across the desert mountains. The scenery was rugged. Jagged and naked, save the saguaro cacti that rose as fuzzy toothpicks against the barren land. Driven by his music, Sergio drove casually. His hand reached into a candy bag filled with leaves and stuffed his cheek until something like a golf ball bulged out. Explaining to me in Spanish, he says a word that sounds like “Cocoa” and pats his stomach to communicate this mysterious leaf was either medicinal or tasty. He offers. I take a few leaves, nestling them inside my lower lip.

On occasion Sergio points and explains something. I in turn look, nod, and on occasion repeat a key sound in Spanish as though I understand. I don’t, but Sergio is pleased.

4-5 hours later our car drives reaches small, desolate town: San Antonio De Los Cobres. The temperature has dropped considerably and the sun is on its way down. Sergio drops off the women and children, then drives through the dusty bleak streets until he reaches a weathered building. Another man comes out and shakes my hand. He seems to know who I am, and understands enough English for me to communicate I’ll need to return to Salta tomorrow, leaving me only that evening to visit the school. He tells Sergio one last thing, and shakes my hand again.

Sergio takes me to a small house, where a pleasant woman comes out to greet me. Sergio motions for me to wait, and drives off for the final time. I am escorted me through the house, over toys scattered across the small living room, to a separate room in the back where a bed is made with a towel and even soap laid out. The sun dropping lower, I walked back to the front of the house, where I watched my breath against the chilled air and waited for my final ride.

May 13, 2009   No Comments

Anaïs, Max and Viveros Guzman

When two total strangers offer to spend one of their days traveling to translate for you in a place where you have proven to have no luck communicating for yourself, it’s a dream come true. Fortunately, I woke to find it was no dream at all. Both Anaïs and Max were not only real the next morning they were up and waiting.

Once we arrived the office of Sr. Guzman at 9 am just as we agreed. This time I didn’t have to wait at all. Viveros invited my two new friends and I into his office and we started to talk. Not sure how much we actually knew of each other I started at the beginning. I began with the basics, explaining everything to Max who immediately translated to Mr. Guzman. I explained the website, the money you (the readers) had donated to do good deeds; I explained my connection to Pepe and Tom’s shoes and how Pepe mentioned the needs of the school Mr. Guzman represented.

Mr. Guzman listened attentively to Max, Anaïs observed from the side. Then I asked Mr. Guzman to explain the needs of the school. He told us of the community of San Antonio Des Los Culbres, an area and people all very poor. There was limited industry so most of the people in this small mountain-desert town were involved in either mining or herding llama. He told me about the small school I(we) would be helping. It sat an hour outside San Antonio Des Los Culbres, there were about 24 students and only a few workers. Most of the children lived at the school, because their families lived too far to commute on a regular basis.

As we volleyed information through Max, I grew more and more humbled. Not just by the facts of poor, but hard working community and its youth, but also by Sr. Guzman. He was a soft-spoken man who didn’t show much emotion except to express his gratitude on occasion. Guzman was serving his third term as the elected Superintendent of San Antonio Des Los Culbres. He worked a few days in Salta and a few days San Antonio. He showed his heart for the people he served, but was clearly tired. I learned later in years of Superintendent, Guzman had only taken a few days off.

Finally, I asked about the need. Pepe mentioned the school needed a refrigerator to store food. Guzman agreed. He explained they had nothing to store (refrigerate) food in, save a small area to store dried meat. I told him we’d like to purchase a freezer for them. Vivero pulled out a catalog of a local electronic store and offered to give me a ride into town. Then explained the rest of my itinerary.

I would purchase the freezer, which would then be delivered to the school in San Antonio. Later that afternoon I would meet a taxi outside the office who would drive me the 4+ hours out to San Antonio Des Los Culbres, courtesy Mr. Guzman, I would meet someone else who would then take me to the school to meet the kids, then bring me back to San Antonio.

Max and Anaïs continued to offer their language skills and rode with me to the store where we bargain shopped the biggest, most efficient freezer our money could buy for the school. Not only did we find what seemed to be a smoking deal (compared to the other freezers for sale), the store threw in a case of Argentine Malbec for our purchase.

Max and Anaïs escorted me back to the train station. We had lunch, spending our afternoon as if we’d be friends for a lot longer than one day. When the time came, I gave them a few bottles of Malbec (2 for them, 1 for the friendly hostel staff). We parted ways, Max and Anaïs to continue their backpacking adventures, me to meet my cab.

Which unfortunately, never showed up…

May 11, 2009   No Comments