Category Archives: Learning

Shit I Learned About Peruvian Elections

About a month ago, I was fortunate enough to be in the county’s capital city for the recent elections. They weren’t for the big job, the president, but for all of the governors and regional representatives around the country. Without getting into the nitty gritty, there were a few very interesting things I learned while being in the country during this period.

1. Everybody seems to get involved.

And by everybody, I mean mostly the elderly representatives of the country. They are out, they have their signs, they are protesting until they are hoarse. Many of them have their houses painted with political propaganda to show their support for their candidates. Candidates also paint any free standing structure they can get their paintbrushes on including cliff faces, gutters, bridges, you name it. The thing is, these people remember a time when things were much worse than they are now, so they are heavily on it with protests and campaigns.

2. To vote you have to be in the jurisdiction of where you vote.

Unlike with other countries, if you’re registered in Cusco and currently in Lima for work, you cannot vote. To vote, you have to be in the actual region where you are registered and go into a specific office that they allocate you for voting. That means on voting weekend, transport and booking buses is a nightmare because if you don’t vote, you get fined. It is compulsory.

3. There are political parties, and then there are political parties.

You will see many symbols down the road for different political parties that people are representing in Peru, such as the Maicitos, Somos Peru etc. but of more interest to me as a foreignor were the actual parties. In the lead up to elections in an attempt to convince you of their awesomeness, candidates will have street parties. One blocked off our road in the middle of a tour to Chavin as they were handing out free chicken, rice and potatoes off the back of the truck to all who came and sat in the square to listen to the propaganda. This is mild campaigning.  Some take it to a whole new level.

Back in Huaraz, an entire hostel of very shitty people trying to sleep for trekking at five am, were enduring a party in the middle of the street attended by about twenty people with flags. Why was this a problem? Because they had a stage with a ten piece band that had been playing from 1pm until 11pm and at that stage still weren’t looking at stopping, despite a crazy English girl in the hostel hanging her head out the window and abusing them in Spanish for their lack of consideration of others.

I went briefly to investigate this fiasco while on the hunt for food and discovered that not only was there a band, but they had back up dancers in g-strings and I could see what they ate for breakfast. My sensitive western ways wanted to blindfold and cover the eyes of all small children everywhere to protect them from the sexually provocative images being promoted to urge people to vote for this clearly above board chap. But then, maybe I’m just a prude.

However you look at it, they aren’t campaigning with good values in mind, well most of them…. So what values are they campaigning for?

4. Politicians in Peru earn a shit ton of money.

I have it on authority from a local that many of these low level politicians can be earning as much as $8000 USD a month!?! Yep. That’s even more than most westerners earn and we’re talking about a country where the minimum income is a bit over $200 USD a month. So despite not knowing what you’re doing, you ain’t really got a whole lot to lose by running for parliament. As it was, in the area of central Lima alone, there were over 450 candidates running. No wonder people have no idea who to vote for and no wonder it winds up being a shit show.

5. Roadworks tend to increase when elections are called.

An insight from a friend’s Peruvian mum is thatroadworks always start happening when elections are on. For two reasons. Firstly it is the most blatantly obvious way to point out to people that something is getting done. Because hey have to deal with it every day.

Secondly, because based on a survey of the average cost of a kilometre of road around the world, the cost of road in Peru is approximately three times larger than that of road in Europe. One has to wonder where exactly that money is going, and one can also take a pretty good guesstimate that it is going straight into the coffers of those in fear of not being re-elected. You know, saving for a rainy day, when your opportunity to steal from the general population disappears….. Last minute panic.

About a month on and everything seems to have settled back to normal. The houses are still painted and there are still billboards and advertisements everywhere, but the hype has definitely settled and it is back to business as usual. Less roadworks, as they have now started to steadily cease. And backpackers everywhere rejoice because they can sleep without the noisiest of campaigns happening outside their windows.

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Why Attitude Is Everything

So in the last couple of days, I could have thrown a strop, carried on, got depressed, felt sorry for myself and told myself how stupid I was. You see I went horse riding in the Podocarpus National Park in Ecuador and at some point while I am happily trotting my way down steep and bumpy hills, my backpack zips have opened themselves up and strewn every single thing inside all over the trail. A non-comprehensive list of shit that I lost is as follows:

  • My water bottle
  • My favourite jacket
  • My spare camera (that if I am to be a bit honest was a little bit fucked in that if you wanted to use the thing you had to keep the battery turned the wrong way while not in use so that the whole thing didn’t die in thirty minutes and you couldn’t change the settings or do anything. Half the time it started recording for shits and giggles).
  • My black bikini (good luck to anyone who gets their hands on that one and manages to find someone with boobs big enough to fit in it to sell it to).
  • My sarong
  • A 9/10 empty bottle of sunscreen
  • A 9/10 empty bottle of bug spray
  • Medicines
  • The hostel room key

Within thirty seconds of realising that this had happened, I started to laugh. I could have got upset with myself for not noticing. I could have got annoyed with myself because I should have zipped it down the side and maybe the pressure of the trot wouldn’t have opened my bag. I could have gotten upset about losing all of my things.

Instead I adopted the ‘shit happens’ attitude that my mother always harped on about, laughed and got on with it. The thing is, one of the biggest lessons I have learned in this life is that it isn’t what happens to you that is the most important thing. For the most part, we cannot control much of this anyway. What is most important, is how you choose to react to it. And yes, I use the word choose.

So much stress is created in this life by people getting worked up about things that shouldn’t be important. I looked at it this way. My good camera was still in my bra. I can buy another water bottle (the old one was shit and leaked anyway. The new one is still shit and still leaks anyway, but not the point). I have another bikini. Who needs a dirty sarong anyway. And jacket…. well, I am sure it will make somebody else very happy and warm. The thing that irked me most was losing the hostel key because it wasn’t mine to lose, but they didn’t care either. And thankfully I decided not to take my wallet with me that day so that I could go to the bank. I avoided losing my ATM card by doing this. And as much as they said that they would “look” for it, I know that this is Ecuador. There’s no chance in hell I was getting any of it back.

But things are things. They are material possessions that we shouldn’t place so much attachment to. And yet we do, all the time, get worked up about these material possessions when they break, go missing or whatever. The truth is, by doing this, we are creating our own stress. I would prefer to believe that someone else is now with my stuff and using it for their own use, just like I used the umbrella I coerced from a security guard in the English pub under the theory of the “lost goods karma train”. OK, I was drunk at the time, but the theory stands. I lose something that someone else finds and uses, I find something that someone else loses and use and love that until it dies, which I did with the umbrella.

We tend to forget that as humans, we make mistakes, things go wrong. People blame themselves and experience guilt for the most menial things at times, like losing all of your stuff. But in these moments, there is nothing at all you can do except accept. Accept that this is the circumstance, that it is how it is, and move on with a smile on your face. Because I could have let it ruin my day. But I chose not to let it. I chose to let the incident go and laugh about it, and that is what makes all the difference. If as humans, we could learn to forgive ourselves easier, forgive others easier, and learn to let things go, we would save ourselves so much stress in the long run.

And yet, we don’t. We get angry, worked up, overthink and can’t let go. We make things so much harder for ourselves than they need to be in so many cases. OK, so a guy or a girl was shit to you, get rid of them and move on. Who needs to spend all day analysing why this other person is or behaves like an arsehole. So you accidentally dropped your favourite piece of food on the ground and ruined it. Meh. You accidentally shrunk your jeans in the dryer? Give them to someone who needs them and move on. These types of thinks are not worth a second thought. So don’t badger yourself about them. Because it is how we approach the trivial things in our day to day lives that affects most our overall happiness. You can choose to be stressed and angry,  or you can choose to let it go and just be happy.

 

Stop being lazy and ignorant! Learn the Language!

It is a really sad thing when you come across people who have been travelling in a country for a substantial amount of time or have moved there to study and after three months of being in that country, they have made no effort whatsoever to learn any of the language. For me it is something that just happens. I am interested in it. I want to learn. While I don’t profess to be able to speak any languages fluently, I am quite proficient in Spanish after spending 8 months in Central America and then another 8 months in South America, where I returned to Spanish school to get my head around more of the culture and to be able to connect with more of the people here. I do not, like so many other, just expect that because I am a tourist, that you should have to learn English to speak to me. That to me is ultimate disrespect towards the people you have traveled to meet. Not even trying to meet them halfway in their own country, where I’m concerned, is downright rude.

Of recent times, I have travelled through several Arabic speaking countries and have had the locals teaching me how to say things in Arabic. Despite my limited amounts of things that I could say, most locals were amazed at how ‘excellent’ my Arabic was. And by amazing I mean ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, ‘how much?’, ‘do you have change?’, ‘is it free?’, ‘don’t touch me’ and ‘pigs might fly’ among a few other silly phrases I would use to joke around with the locals. They would literally tell me ‘wow, you Arabic very excellent’. I guess this is quite a rarity for them. But these things enabled me to walk down the street and manage to order myself a kofte on my own and pay for it, and afforded me a form of independence from the group trip that I was on. Most of the others on the group trip looked at me like I was insane for even wanting to try. Too much effort.

Another language that I found super useful was learning some Indonesian. When heading into the wonderful world of Java, or anywhere outside of Bali to be honest, the English becomes limited. I have quite fond memories of really disjointed conversations I have had in Indonesian/English with local people. Especially the three women I met on the bus coming back from the Dieng Plateau who were also teachers and were quite sassy ladies. They told me I was beautiful on a bus full of strangers and they all started hollering and hooting at me. I got quite embarrassed but it was also quite amusing.

At a minimum, when arriving in a new country, you should learn to say ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, ‘please’, and ‘how much?’ I know that sometimes in European countries you are changing country and language every week and this makes it difficult to retain or learn very much at all. But if you are going to a country and planning on spending a couple of weeks to a month there, do yourself a favour and start to learn some language skills. You will find that the locals will be more receptive and helpful to you, and that you will learn so much more than you bargained for about the people and the culture because you have bothered to make the effort. It shows you have a respect for and an interest in the people where you are visiting. And that in itself, will act to enrich your travels and your life for the better.

Lost On The Road: How To Find Direction When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing Anymore

I won’t lie. In the last couple of weeks I have started to feel a little lost. It is something that happens to all of us when we spend such a long time travelling. For me, I will have been on the move for fourteen months now and I still have three more to go.

The idea of getting up in the morning and having to pack my bag is exhausting. Having to go through the same monotonous “get to know you” conversation with everyone you meet is boring. Doing the same activities day in day out and spending half of your waking hours on the bus is tiring just thinking about it. So what do you do? Pack up? Go home? Forget the dream and pack it in? Or keep going in the hope that something will ignite in your soul and give you the fire back.

For me it took having a rest. I went to a small little community in the hills of Ecuador, checked in for five days, did yoga every morning, sat in a hammock and read, had an afternoon nap, and had a massage every other day. And I didn’t much speak to people. I read about mindfulness and neuroplasticity and tried to apply some of these principles to my everyday life. One of the quotes I read greatly resonated with me:

“Being lost is greatly underrated. It can mean you are in a place of unknowing where the rational mind cannot go. In the way that we need darkness to see the stars, we need unknowing to become a beginner again and engage with the mystery and wonder of it all.”

And so I took from this that it was ok to feel lost. It was ok to feel like I was floundering. Because somewhere underneath the struggle, there was something to learn that I do not yet know about.

But as always and in the meantime, as I figure out what these things I am supposed to learn are, there are things that I can do to make life a little more interesting. And as they say, change is as good as a holiday from your holiday.

1. Take a detour

If all you are seeing right now are cities, go to the mountains or the beach. If you spend all your time looking at churches, go to a museum. Templed out? Go see something different. Doing the same thing repetitively isn’t exactly inspiring after a while. So change it up.

2. Treat yourself

We forget as backpackers on the road to do things for ourselves because we are so hellbent on saving cash every single place we turn. Take some time for you. Go out for a really good meal for one at a restaurant and savour every bite. Have a massage. Go to a yoga class and stretch your body. Have a manicure. Do something that makes you feel like you’re investing in yourself.

3. Ask different questions

One of the most mundane parts of meeting people is the same bloody questions and answers over and over again. So develop an arsenal of different questions that enable you to crack through the surface of people quickly to see what they really are about. It will be more interesting than the “where are you going?/where are you from?” bullshit that you encounter everywhere you go and will allow you to make better connections.

4. Pay attention

People miss the small things in life. Sometimes it is nice to sit back and really take in what is happening around us. Attune your ears to all of the sounds about you. Observe the different colours and activities of people around you. Observe your own body moving through these environments and how you react with them. It will create a peace and a feeling of being one with where you are and will help with feeling lost and detached by rooting you in your environment.

5. Slow down

Sometimes the pure pace of travel will wear you out and drain you of your enthusiasm for things. If it is a luxury you can afford, slow down. Stay in one place a little longer and get to know the place and the people a little better than normal. Remember that it is ok to take a day to do nothing and just sleep, read or rest. We all need to be grounded and centred in one place at times to get the rest and recuperation that we need to move on.

6. Reflect

Especially on long bus rides with nothing to do, it is nice to just stare out the window and reflect. What is it that you are feeling and where you think those feelings are coming from. Having an inner awareness of self allows us to process and find the solutions that we are looking for. It allows us to think, feel and then grow. And as mentioned in the quote above, you cannot see the bright and beautiful stars in the sky if not for the darkness. Sometimes it is good to not know everything. Sometimes it is good to not even know where we are going. It is even better if you can learn to let go of needing to control these things and go with it. The world will often take you to where it is that you need to be to learn the lessons that you need to learn.

So have faith and trust. Feeling lost is yet another type of speed bump in the emotional roller coaster of life. But if you are good and kind to yourself, try new things to stimulate your brain and remember to rest, everything else will eventually become clear. You will find your purpose and direction again, and when you do, you’ll never have to question it, because you’ll have worked hard on the process towards knowing.

 

Shit I Learned In Ecuador – Part 2

In a follow up to Shit I Learned In Ecuador – Part 1, most of which was fairly ridiculous, I would like to touch on some other interesting shit that is not so ridiculous in the funny sense (and then maybe round it out with some more ridiculous in the funny sense).

Politics

  • According to the last census the country had in 2010, Ecuador consists of 70% mixed race populations (Spanish and indigenous mixes), 7% indigenous, 4% Chinese and 2% white people.
  • Ecuador prospered under their president, Rafael Correa, who put a lot of money into the development of roads, hospitals and other social programs in Ecuador. But then, like all good politicians, he realised, “Oops, I fucked up and spent too much money… what am I going to do to get it back?”
  • The method for making back the money was to then kick all of the indigenous people off their land so that the government could then go in and mine it for oil and minerals…….
  • The country had a referendum and decided that as a country they did not want this because Ecuador is known for its biodiversity and they don’t want the government going about fucking shit up for everyone and kicking people off their land because they are greedy bastards looking for the easy option.
Some jungle that will fail to exist if the powers that be start digging

Indigenous Tidbits

  • The indigenous community of the Otavalos in the north believe that hair contains their energy. Cutting the end of your hair off is bad news, whether you’re a man or a woman. Looks like when I go home I will just tell my mum I’ve become Otavalan to avoid a haircut. Though it does tend to break a lot…. I wonder if that means bad energy for me.
  • The reason that many of the indigenous communities here have such fabulous fabrics is because the Spanish used them as slaves to weave fabrics.
The Nizag people of Alausi doing traditional dance
  • They teach the Quechuan language in schools to help maintain the native language here. It is the native language of the Incans though there are different dialects throughout. Some Quechuan words that I learned are:
    • Mama – mum
    • Wawa – baby
    • Achachai – how cold
    • Ararai – how hot
    • Chichaqui – hungover

Random rituals

  • So it comes to be in a random shaman’s office in Quito that I am introduced to what my guide calls “the shrunky head” or more officially known as a tzantza. So, in the Amazon, it was a rite of passage to sever off your enemy’s head, peel all of the skin off, chuck it in a pot with some herbs and other shit to shrink the skin, then carefully remould the facial features so you can put your new little totem on a stick and carry him around with you everywhere. Not joking. Apparently carrying such heads of enemies with you is good luck and shrinking them means the soul can’t escape and wrought revenge upon you……
A fake ‘shrunky head’
  • On New Years Eve there are loads of different rituals that people partake in for different reasons. If they want more money, they wear yellow underpants. If they want to find true love, of course, red underpants. If you want to travel then you pack your suitcase and cut laps around the block with it to bring in the new year. Oh and you make twelve wishes by stuffing twelve grapes in your mouth, making each wish as you jam it in there.

 

Shit I Learned In Ecuador – Part 1

It has been a while since I learned some shit that is entertaining for others to read. Don’t get me wrong, lots of learning has been happening, some of it life changing. But as I moved my way in and out of the glorious streets of Quito with a fabulous guide by the name of Stefani, I was certainly educated on some interesting things in the Ecuadorean cultural sense. Here is what I learned…..

Cuy

The word in this region for guinea pig. Also considered a delicacy that I am yet to try. I just cannot seem to eat the face of my childhood pet, Muffy, that my sister and I used to shampoo and then blowdry in the sink much to the horror of my mother who thought we would kill it. That and a typical garnish is a tomato helmet. I just can’t even….. Anyway, here is what I learned about them.

Tasty snacks and energy healing weapons running around the floor of an indigenous house
  • The name ‘cuy’ comes from the sound that they make “coi, coi, coi, coi’.
  • They are sacred animals and used to live in the houses with the indigenous people.
  • They are not only considered sacred, but are used in ritual cleansing of the body. Not even kidding. Here’s how you do it.
    1. Start feeling unwell and think ‘hmmm…. something is wrong with me. I know, the guinea pig will tell me what is wrong’
    2. Grab the guinea pig like a body wash sponge that you would use in the shower and rub that squirming little animal all over your body. The animal will apparently extract the bad energy and give indications as to what is wrong with you in autopsy. (PS. I am sure from the shock of having to see and touch your naked body, this will cause the guinea pig a horrific and terrible death in which it will die of extreme shock).
    3. Guinea pig autopsy. Cut the thing open and examine all of its organs. Whatever appears to be wrong with the guinea pig is what is said to be wrong with you. Our guide said that she had a parasite and after rubbing the guinea pig on her stomach that when they autopsied the dead pig that shit was wriggling around in its stomach. Ewww…..
    4. Four. Eat the meat of the guinea pig I suppose unless there is some muscular problem and get on with your day, now well and purged of illness and bad energy.

Bones

Bones are considered to be a protective force in the culture of the Ecuadorean indigenous. They would use the vertebra of dead humans and sometimes cows hooves to decorate the entrances of the houses to ward off the evil spirits and for good luck. Oh and to ward off the evilness of people who don’t believe in Jesus….. yeah I know?? Hmmm…..To the point where people started digging up bodies in the cemeteries so that they could keep human bones in their houses. Sometimes they keep a single bone of a loved one that they have buried in the house as that is also thought to be a form of protection for the house and people who live in it.

Human vertebra and stone floor in an entrance way to a house. Didn’t stop my non-Jesus-believing self from entering. Clearly doesn’t work.

Encebollado and bones

So the most famous soup of Ecuador is called Encebollado and it is literally everywhere. They tell me that it is a mix of all of the ingredients that would normally go into a ceviche but with a different type of fish. There was one dude in Quito who had what was considered the best encebollado in the entire country and people would come far and wide to sample it. People were scrambling for the recipe and to figure out what he did that made it so special.

What was the secret ingredient you ask? Well the man, superstitiously for the last seventy years had been stirring his fabulous broth with a femur. Not just any femur though, a human femur. An actual real fucking human femur. I say no more.

Other tidbits

  • All of the roses used in the British Royal wedding were from Ecuador. They also used roses from Ecuador to film The Beauty and the Beast. When the last petal fell, it was from a cursed Ecuadorean rose.
  • Don’t fuck with Ecuadorean artists. One of them was commissioned to do the trimmings on a house in the old town but they refused to pay him the last instalment. As an ode to ‘fuck you’ to both the owners of the house and of course to the Catholic church, he endowed one of the lovely cherubs with the most giant penis you’ve ever seen on a cherub, waving its engorged salute to the church directly over the road.
Check out the schlong on that thing!
  • Ecuador first started to export chocolate in the 1820’s and thank god for that. I am pretty sure that since arriving here I have become about 70% cacao.

Given the sheer amount of shit that I have learned here over quite a large amount of time, stay tuned for Shit I Learned In Ecuador – Part 2, coming to you next week!

Writing Book Is Frustrating

“It’s hard enough trying to write a book about my life where I don’t have to make shit up. Imagine being a fiction writer and having to actually make shit up. And then fact check it. Fuck that. Preps to those guys” – Dano, the other day while trying to reach her 2,000 words-a-day limit.

So many people have told me that I should ‘write a book’ about what I have done in my life because there are just so many stories that I have from travelling. As a singer-songwriter who has released albums, I have probably still had more people tell me to write a book than to write a music album.

But writing a book is frustrating. When I first sat down to start, my journalist friend told me that he read somewhere that Stephen King says you have to write at least 2,000 words a day to consider yourself a serious writer. “Oh yeah, righto,” I think to myself, I got this, that is like writing a university essay every single day that I don’t have to research. I used to do that shit all the time.” All I had to do was hit 80,000 words to have what is deemed to be an average and acceptable sized book and I could do that in forty days, or just over a month.

For my first time, I managed it easy. And the next day wasn’t so bad either. I managed ten days straight and then hit a wall.  Because this is like running a marathon, and I fucking hate running. The first part, easy. The last part, I assume is easy mentally because you don’t have far to go, but that middle part? That is what will kill off the dreams of the best of people. I am trudging and trudging through ideas, can’t remember what the fuck I did that time in Guatemala in a drunkenly fuelled state, figure I probably need to omit that story because people don’t want to really know about that stuff or its just too personal and confronting for me to want to put it out there to the world.  I write five hundred words here. Give up, find somewhere else to write five hundred words. Give up and then find somewhere else to write five hundred words.

What I have currently is a disjointed piece of rubbish that I have finished about three out of twenty chapters. Then there came that point where I found my journals from South East Asia. 44,000 words, it said. Half a book, I thought. I can just edit these. But the reality is, I can’t. The reality is, my journals are not entertaining, funny, or cohesive. I can work with them, but that would take time and be annoying and everything I have seemed to have written about is breakfast, lunch and dinner which isn’t overly entertaining because the general masses don’t care to know about all the different forms of curry I had for lunch in Thailand.

The other problem is structure. I don’t know what era of my life to discuss. I don’t know whether to start with the early days, which are a whole lot more boring than some of the other trips. A compilation of the best countries around the world that has no overall cohesion. Or is it better to pick another time in my life and start with that. Or should I just write until I have no more stories and make several different books worth of rubbish.

I don’t know. But what I do know is this. Writing a book is frustrating. And it is fucking hard. When people told me I should do this, I knew that it was going to be hard work. I knew that it was going to be a rough time. What I didn’t realise was how much of a mental battle this was going to be every single day I sit at a computer. I am used to fighting my way through pain and discomfort in a boxing ring or with other physical forms of torture and the mental game has always let me win. But this mental game goes for months. It is a whole other type of game. But eventually I will win. I will get 80,000 words together. And then I am going to have to confront the even more boring and even more arduous task of editing. But one thing at a time. I better go and get on it. 2,000 words of ridiculousness awaits.