New year in Minas

New year's
The cheese is the centerpiece
Coming out
Ready to go back in
Welcoming the world
Posing in Tiradentes
In contemplation
Feeding time!
Just beyond the horizon
The maned wolf comes in for a snack
Santuário do Caraça
At Caraça

We spent the end of the year in Minas Gerais, the massive Brazilian state next door to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Because of our cat almost dying back in September, and him having FeLV, we’re still weary to leave him alone for too long. So, we didn’t want to go too far, nor for too long. Though, thankfully, colleagues of ours loved the idea of spending their end of the year at our house, bringing a pool, and enjoying their escape from the hustle and bustle of São Paulo.

The central destination of our week away was Santuário do Caraça, a former monastery and boarding school that now operates as a fancy guest house, set in a large reserve, where the primary attraction is the nightly feeding of the maned wolf, or lobo guará.

The wolf is actually a dog, the largest canine in the Americas, and a very elegant, if skinny, animal. 

Back in the 1980s, the monks at the sanctuary found that some animal was raiding the church’s trashcans at night. A nightly wake revealed the culprit: a maned wolf was snacking on the church’s leftovers. Then, to enjoy the spectacle, the monks decided it a good idea to specifically leave out food for the small family of canines, after the evening’s dinner, and this soon started to attract visitors.

At first, it was allowed to feed the animals by hand, and some photos of the priests doing that are on show at the monastery, but it’s now a criminal offence to physically interact with wild animals, in Brazil, so, now, dozens of spectators stay at the sanctuary every day, for the privilege of hanging out with the snacking canines.

You can’t blame the animal, the full-board at the monastery provides superb food. 

The park which the monastery is the centrepiece of, is pleasant and relaxed. A convenience, as we suffered an accidental, if severe, psychedelic experience, where the park allowed us to recover in exquisite calm.

Another quirk of the sanctuary is that the church has a saint on display. Or rather, a puppet in the shape of a human, where some remains of the represented saint were moved to the church in the 18th century.  

Supposedly, these are the remains of a Roman soldier who was killed for professing his Christian faith, and was giving the name Pio, after the name of the pope (Pio VI) which governed at the time of his body’s discovery.

There’s little of the man out there, except a short Wikipedia article in Portuguese, making me a bit skeptical of the veracity of the whole episode.

We stayed in two more locations during our short trip. 

First, the often-overlooked town of São João del Rei. Like many of the towns in Minas Gerais, the city has a colonial past, complete with some lovely architecture, but is often passed over in favour of the nearby Tiradentes, or the slightly further away Ouro Preto. But, its relatively limited tourist appeal also means that, virtually without tourists, and plenty of students, the place is a pleasant destination for a few days.

Then, we headed to the town of Alagoa, not-yet-famous for its excellent cheese. We left with close to 10 kilos by the time we headed home.

In Alagoa, we arrived on the day the town celebrates its anniversary. The celebration centres on a 5km float on one of the valley’s rivers, where hundreds of participants meander down the stream on their own huge inner tubes.

The town takes its anniversary seriously; a large stage had been set up for live music. I’d say ‘in the center’, but the town is so small that even the ‘center’ is hardly a ‘center’. Live music was scheduled for three days in a row, including New Year’s Eve. But, because of the limited funds of this small a town, they only had managed to get one band to play, for three days straight. We detected enthusiasm for the band had already started to wane on the day we arrived, the second of three days of live music.

Is it a coincidence that ‘Thailand’ contains the term ‘AI’?

Erawan Shrine
Coffee with apple pie
The floating bunny
And representing Rotterdam
Waiting at Central Station
Eat the rich
It's rainy in Korea
Joined at the breakfast table
A whole lot of penises
Playing with the python
On the run
Empty fields
Wat Umong
Be a man
At Wat Pha Lat
In the wild
The crowds at Beta
Happy at Beta
What's for dinner in Thailand?
At Doha airport
Ready to roll

If you’re any kind of change maker, or pretend to be one, proof that you’ve ‘made it’ is when others pay you, to listen to you speak. 

I don’t pretend to be a change maker, even if I am quite opinionated. But, just having an opinion is clearly not enough. Or, perhaps, with a more favourable reading, I just do crappy marketing for myself, in a world where everyone who pretends to know anything has a TikTok or YouTube channel.

But, for a change, I *am* now being paid to speak, while also being flown half way around the world to do so.

With Agência Pública, I’ve been working on a challenge of introducing AI, artificial intelligence, into the newsroom. We came up with two ideas. The simpler one of having a synthesised voice read news articles to improve accessibility, and a more complex one of using AI to analyse the impact of Pública’s investigative journalism on society.

From a large field of teams expressing their interest to participate, 12 were selected to take up the challenge and compete, and, eventually, five were selected to fly to Splice Beta, a journalism conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to present their work, and perhaps take home the grand prize of 25000 USD.

Splice Beta is a 2.5 day event, with a focus on innovative journalism in East and Southeast Asia, organised by a team of two, based in Singapore. The mashup with this global AI challenge is perhaps slightly unconventional, but with the majority of participants in the AI challenge coming from the Global South, it does make the connection a bit stronger, even if that meant that the two teams from Latin America, ourselves and a team from Colombia, had to travel for about 40 hours to arrive in Chiang Mai.

The conference itself was great, as were the people and vibe, even if there was not enough of a focus on technology, and its related challenges. But, I’m biased and Google sponsored the event. As did YouTube.

With the journey between São Paulo and Chiang Mai being long, and the timezone difference being quite brutal, I opted to extend my trip to two weeks, including a short stop, on the way back, in The Netherlands, where I just missed attending my high school reunion on the occasion of the school celebrating its 75th anniversary.
The journey from São Paulo to Chiang Mai included the longest flight I’ve ever taken, from São Paulo to Doha, in Qatar, at 14.5 hours.

We, sadly, didn’t end up taking home the big prize. But, the real prize was the friends we made along the way. Right?

When I briefly returned to Chiang Mai, now 10 years ago, one thing I had noticed was that the local tourist industry had started pivoting to focus on Chinese visitors. Now, I noticed virtually nothing of this pivot. Some official signs were still also in Chinese, but practically none of the tourist-focussed businesses were advertising themselves as Chinese-oriented. Apparently, the underlying reason for the surge in Chinese visits, a few films that were shot in Chiang Mai, had dried up as a source of inspiration.

I took the opportunity of visiting Chiang Mai to also join a local hash, which happened to be an anniversary run, and a tough one; a 18.5km hike, mostly flat, but with the first section a tough off-road hike up a sizeable hill, or small mountain. With temperatures over 30 degrees, this was a challenge, if satisfying.

Spending my time in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, I also discovered I had completely forgotten several run-of-the-mill features of the country and culture. Everywhere smells of incense. Ice coffee in small cans. Toasties at 7/11. Fish balls.
The quality of life is still high in Thailand, even with their recent stack of political challenges. Weed is now freely available, after all drugs being heavily criminalised for decades.
But, one major difference between Thailand and Brazil, which I now realised on this visit, is that, as a western visitor or expat in Thailand, you will never be able to completely integrate, whereas in Brazil, with some knowledge of Portuguese, it’s fairly easy to embed yourself in the country.

Of snow and ice

In which I go for a walk 60/61
In which I go for a walk 51/61
In which I go for a walk 48/61
In which I go for a walk 46/61
In which I go for a walk 45/61
In which I go for a walk 44/61

After a good month moving around Europe to collect raw material for the walking piece I was going to produce in Moskosel, in northern Sweden, I made it to my destination.

I had managed to squeeze in a week in The Netherlands, during which Natalia also was able to come over, after a conference in Perugia, Italy. The three of us, joined by my mom, amongst other things, visited the Keukenhof, which turned out to be my very first time.

Some time last year, after Natalia had come back from another conference, she brought back COVID, and gave it to a couple, and their baby, we visited shortly after. Now, it appeared that, coming back from Perugia, she again brought the gift of COVID and handed it to both my mom and myself. We tested negative, but the symptoms were there, including my losing my taste for a few days.

So, I felt a bit rough making my way north, such that I decided that I wasn’t going to spend my 9 hour layover at the Stockholm airport, but get myself a real bed in a hostel, even if that meant the night was going to be short.

In the morning, waiting for my flight to the far north, it was easy to spot people chewing tobacco in little pouches, snuz. I had truly arrived in the north.

My flight brought me to Lulea. There, at the bus station from where I had to embark on my last leg, the bus station was selling prepackaged ice creams ‘at half price’.
It was literally snowing and freezing.

A few hours later, I got to the residency space in Moskosel. It is stunning. A former vocational school which has been completely turned into an artist space, with several cabins erected on the grounds to host the current artists in residence, it’s both beautiful and tranquil. Still, I was given a former classroom in the school itself, perhaps because the cabins were occupied at the time, which came in at about 10×10 meters. Quite a luxury. 

The building is filled with classrooms converted into exhibitions, recording rooms, a few rooms to lounge in, as well as a few studios and apartments.

The village officially has around 250 inhabitants, but in practice it’s perhaps only half that. However, most of the residents I met had strong international connections. For example, an older lady I bumped into while she was walking her dog, spoke perfect Dutch, after having lived in The Netherlands for 11 years.

The exception appeared to be the few people who worked at the 1 cafe. The village has a gas station which is run by a cooperative. Until recently, it was managed by a major oil company, but they decided to shut it down for the venue not bringing in enough money.
A few locals decided to run the station themselves, as a cooperative, and now buy gas from the supplier that’s willing to sell it to down the cheapest.

They also run a cafe, next to the gas station, which sells good meals, fresh coffee, and pastries, during the day on weekdays. And, it’s a success; Plenty people stop by for a lunchtime meal.

And there’s a small supermarket, without which it would have been impossible to do the artist residency. The supermarket is not staffed, and so open 24/7. You can only get in by first identifying yourself with a Swedish bank account, or with a special key that we, as foreigners, had access to. Then, the small, but well-enough stocked supermarket, has a self-checkout for you to pay. By card only, of course.

By the time I left, the weather was lovely, crisp with clear skies. Still fresh at night, but often up to 20 degrees during the day. Even though, when I arrived, nighttime temperatures went down as low as -12.

Apparently, spring arrived late this year. Jerry, a local who helps out in maintaining the facilities commented on this: “This year, it stayed cold very long. If we are very lucky, we will have two weeks of summer.”

I’m very happy with the outcomes of my residency. The other artists were great, the facilitators were awesome, a little festival, with 50, or so, visiting artists, during the last weekend of my stay, was amazing, and I’m very content with the work I put together.

When I left, I noticed that most, but not all, snow had disappeared. The trees that were not evergreens had finally started to bud. The layer of ice had disappeared from the surrounding lakes. The sky a brilliant blue.

The village has a train station, but trains run infrequently. I had to take a replacement bus to a town some 8 hours away, from where a night train would take me to Stockholm.
For the first 200km or so, plenty of moose were on, or near, the road.

New York on the Mediterranean

In Tel Aviv I was staying in a pod hotel. The third pod hotel on this trip. This one is very slick and hip, and also not cheap. Though I discovered that Tel Aviv is insanely expensive, perhaps even more so than Jerusalem, making the cost of a night in this pod hotel relatively affordable.
It’s on the fourth floor of a 20 story building on the beach, with views of the sea. I arrived at sunset, the hotel providing a stunning view of the sun sliding behind the horizon. 

Tel Aviv is a World Heritage Site for its modernist architecture. The city ran with it, and now has quite a bit of impressive architecture. Then, also a lot of culture, good food, and a community with strong ties to the rest of the world, particularly the United States. I thought the city felt a bit like it was New York on the Mediterranean. 

Then, the biggest scare of my trip: I woke up in my pod hotel without my passport, and without my immigration card, which is what Israel uses as opposed to stamping your passport, in case you’re afterwards traveling to one of the countries in the Middle East which Israel is not on good footing with.

It made no sense; I carry my passport with me, in a hard to reach pocket, and I very regularly check whether I have everything on me that I need to have on me.
I turned over my pod three times, looked in every corner of the hotel, retraced my steps through town, but found nothing. Though the restaurant I had eaten at the night before was closed.

There was nothing to do but to get a replacement document from my embassy.
Which turned out to be closed, but supposedly responds to an emergency email address.
I jumped through the hoops, and, realizing I now could only wait, resigned myself to my fate, and headed out to see a bit of the city. 

First, retracing my steps once more, then heading to the police to report my documents as disappeared, I decided to check the restaurant again, just in case they had opened up. They had, and I found they had my passport and immigration documents.

Life is an adventure.

The highlight of my trip was my bumping into Uri Geller. He has a museum that is located next to a somewhat famous museum that was on my map and I was considering visiting. His museum wasn’t on my map, but that’s the one I bumped into.

I walked in, the door open, but a banner was blocking the way.

“Does this mean the museum is closed.”
“Yes”, someone inside said, “We run scheduled group tours, and VIP tours. It’s 270 USD, and we donate the money to sick children.”

I asked another question. Then, the kicker:
“I’m Uri Geller, I run the tours.”

The man is looking good, though I didn’t recognize him.

He asked where I was from and what I did. 

“A walking artist from Iran! That is amazing! What shoes do you walk with?”

Three woman walked up, giggly, clearly enchanted, perhaps even shy, with seeing the man. He asked where they were from.

“We are from here.” Though they spoke Russian with each other.

They had a few back and forths, and I said my goodbyes.

“Hey, come back, I’m going to show you something amazing!”

He conjured up a 10 cent coin.
“Do you have one? I prefer to use one of yours, but I’ll use this one if you don’t have.”

The women started grabbing for their purse, taking out a coin, but Uri was already rubbing his fingers on the coin. 
It came back bent like a saddle.

I took it very easy on my last day in Tel Aviv. The view from my hotel, overlooking the Mediterranean, was stunning, so I took the opportunity to catch up on some lost work while enjoying the view.
It was the day before Israel’s celebration of independence, and the Air Force was doing practice runs along the beach, I suppose in preparation for an air show.
Considering Israel is in regular conflict with a handful of nations, this did not make me feel comfortable.

When hunger overtook me, I started walking in the direction of the train station. Restaurants close to the shore are horribly priced, but, when I had walked to the hotel from the bus station, which is close to the train station, I walked through a neighbourhood that was clearly more affordable, perhaps even alternative. And, very close to the bus station, I had noticed a number of Ethiopian restaurants, too.
I found a nice place, which turned out to also be very gay friendly, it indeed was more affordable and served good food. Afterwards, I walked into a nearby park to finish two beers I was carrying around and (I assumed) wouldn’t be able to carry through security.
What seemed like a bunch of Ethiopians had also settled on the grass around me, though they also seemed more like the refugee kind.

Almost finished with my beers, two young men walked into the park, dragging a stroller around. When they came up to me, they asked, in Hebrew, if I wanted a sandwich. I thanked them, having just had lunch, and we had a chat. Indeed, they were providing a simple but filling lunch for the homeless in the park.
I asked them why they were doing this, and one, the one not speaking English too well, responded: 

“You know, happy happy!”

At the airport, I made sure to finish my big bottle of ice tea before going through security. To forget I was also carrying a small bottle. The security people didn’t care.
The blue card, the immigration card, was checked by no one. My passport was checked by ‘security’, then a woman guarding access to the departure area, then someone at the luggage check, and, finally, a biometric gate.
At the first security check, the women needed to know what kind of name mine was.

Just before the departure of my flight, nicely bookending my visit, another air-raid siren, this one to commemorate ‘fallen IDF, Israeli Defence Force, soldiers’.
Virtually every one stood up. Most of the few that remained seated, foreigners, also stood up when they realized they were the odd ones out.

It had been t-shirt weather in Israel over the past week. I was going to have a 12 hour stopover in London, where the temperature that was going to welcome me was 3 degrees. Below zero.

Religious tourism in Haifa

Much of Israel is an open air museum. The major Christian sites are the obvious locations to visit, but there is much more. 

I wanted to visit Haifa, in northern Israel, for the Baháʼí World Centre, the spiritual and administrative heart of the Bahá’í community. Then, close to Haifa, in the nearby town of Acre, which was the important port in the region for hundreds of years, until the end of the 19th century, when the port of Acre no longer was able to serve the ever larger ships, there’s the Shrine of Baháʼu’lláh, the founder of the same faith, as well as, under construction, the shrine of the oldest son of the founder.

The World Center is only fully open to followers of the faith, and visiting requires being on a waiting list for years. But, anyone can book a tour of the gardens, except that I found that, when I arrived, there was no availability to visit the gardens for the next few weeks.

I did go up to the entrance of the gardens, handsomely overlooking the Mediterranean, to shoot a piece of my film for my residency in Sweden, only to have security come up to me to ask me to stop filming. 

I asked why. 

“Ah, this is sensitive.”

Indeed, there was a surprisingly large number of security milling about, and I had the hunch, which I later confirmed, that Reza Pahlavi, the son of the last shah of Iran, was about to visit.
I’m sure he didn’t get the grilling that I received when entering the country.

The next day, I went to Acre. To find the shrine of the founder of the Baha’i faith to also be closed. I walked around the gardens, which was tricky, as this was wetland, though not very wet, while at some point I had to skirt a puddle by hanging from a wall and sliding along.
When I had circled most of the compound, encountering no one, I finally saw what seemed like a guard. 

“Are the gardens closed?”
“I’ll tell you what I tell the thousands of people that show up”, though he half swallowed ‘thousands’, realizing he was making a gross overstatement.
“If you look at the website, not at Google, it says the gardens are closed until…” making the point that it’s not clear when they will open up again.
I asked him why.
“Well, I don’t get into the politics of it all. But they have their conference next week…”, probably referring to Ridván, a 12-day festival commemorating the founder’s declaration that he was the manifestation of God.
“So that’s why they’re closed?”
“No, no, but, I don’t get into the politics…”

Both the World Center and the shrine are a World Heritage Site, and being closed to the public is problematic; Some kind of access to the public is required to maintain inclusion on the World Heritage list.

One aspect of religion, all religion, that I have the biggest issue with, is that, in the end, all religion is dogma. Baha’i is a very reasonable monotheistic religion, but still depends on dogma to define its own terms.

One ever-present aspect of life in Israel, more so in Jerusalem, is people wearing religious costumes, one type of dogma. The orthodox Jewish outfit is the obvious one, but there are several. And they are so uniform that they become caricatures of themselves.
The Bahá’í do not require a costume, though.

And with only perhaps some 8 million followers worldwide, the Baháʼí faith hasn’t yet seen major schisms, though a long article on Wikipedia details a lot of disagreement within the movement. And suggest that, as per the guard’s reservations, something rotten might be brewing under the surface right now.

Society changes, and issues addressed by the founder of a religion can hardly cover prominent developments after the founder’s demise.
One such example is that the oldest son of the founder became the leader of the Baháʼí community after the founder’s death, immediately making the movement hereditary, and thus individual followers not equal in the face of God. No further hereditary leaders followed, but deciding on whom was to lead the movement has produced perhaps the largest disagreements within the faith.

Another issue is that Baháʼu’lláh never addressed homosexuality, but that through the writings of his oldest son, homosexuality, within the faith, is accepted canonically as a disease.
This was par for the course at the time these words were written, but also completely archaic today.

In Baháʼí’s defence, the faith explicitly states that each époque will see a form of the same religion, as all religions are one, develop, to serve man in a way necessary for the times, but that also will likely mean that Baháʼí will not be immune to schisms. We’re all only human, after all.

What about Acre?

The name of the city of Acre is not etymologically connected to the state of Acre in Brazil. The name of the Brazilian state comes from the indigenous Tupi, perhaps from a term meaning ‘green river’. The original of the name of the Acre in Israel is not known, but considered to be not Semitic. Egyptian texts going back as far as 1800BC might already mention the town as Akka, which is close to the local pronunciation of the name.

Acre is a world heritage site for its Templar connections, and a small and pleasant walled city. I visited on Friday, the day Ramadan was going to end, and the city was busy with preparation for the festivities which would start at sunset.
Meanwhile, it being Friday also meant that public transport stopped running towards the middle of the afternoon, in preparation for the Shabbat, during which much of the country mostly comes to a standstill.

I left early to catch a train, to find trains were not running at all, but free replacement buses ran instead.

In the bus, a Russian grandfather entered with his grandson. Soon, a debate started on where the bus was going to stop.
The old man spoke Russian, the grandson English, the driver Hebrew. It was a Tower of Babel, but somehow, issues were resolved.

Later, going back to Haifa, the last train, and thus replacement bus, left at 1:30pm, with no trains whatsoever running during the whole of Saturday.

Besides the Templar presence in Acre, the city plays another role in European history; Napoleon suffered his third defeat in the siege of Acre, in 1799, retreating to Egypt as a consequence.

The hill on which Napoleon set up his camp, close to the location where the shrine to the son of the founder of the Baháʼí faith is being built, south-east of the city walls of Acre, is still known as “Napoleon’s Hill”. Acre also has a street named after the man, the only such street in Israel. In a folk tale circulated by Acre Arabs, Napoleon, upon lifting the siege of Acre, let a cannon shoot his hat into the city “so that at least a part of him would enter into Acre”.

There’s a strong Russian, as well as German, presence in the region. At Acre’s old cemetery, many of the funeral stones have writing in Cyrillic. In Haifa, there’s a suburb called the German Colony, and it’s where the restaurants and cafes are.

Next to the German Colony, I stayed in the Russian quarter, where a supermarket had a wonderful Russian buffet, which served me for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

One night, in my guesthouse, the owner, and some acquaintances ordered a few pizzas for dinner. They offered me a slice, which I accepted. They had a few slices left at the end, with everyone satiated. 
They offered me another slice, and I politely declined, as I had already had some wonderful fish-in-sour-cream from the nearby Russian supermarket. 
“You know”, one of the friends said, “it is like vodka. Once you start a pizza, you have to finish it.”
This is, quite literally, how I was introduced to excessive Russian drinking in 1999.
I responded with the corollary:
“But when you finish one, you have to order another!”
“Ah, if you order another pizza, we surely will finish it!”

To Tel Aviv

On the Saturday, I had to get myself to Tel Aviv, though I wanted to first visit nearby Nazareth, were according to some scholars, who believe the Christian legend of the birth of their god, Jesus was actually born, as opposed to in Bethlehem. 

The streets were deserted, because of the Saturday, but some busses did run. So, in preparation for heading to Tel Aviv afterwards, I got my luggage and headed to Nazareth.

There, when I arrived, the city was almost empty, too, except for significant numbers of tourists, in groups, visiting the few places of interest.
Essentially, this was where Jesus’ parents lived, and worked, and where Mary was told she was going to give birth to a god. Christians can’t agree on which was the actual place Mary was told this, so the Orthodox christians and Catholics each have their own church, pretty close to each other, representing the location.
Both are on top of caves, again hinting at the megalithic roots of Christian worship.

Trying to understand the public transport system, because of COVID, I was told, Israel no longer accepts payment in cash in public transport. In Jerusalem, I was told you can use a bank card on the trams. In Haifa, and, I later found out, elsewhere in busses, they use a public transport card, only.

Going to Nazareth, there was no way to buy a ticket. The driver, though, convinced what I thought was a passenger, sitting close to the driver, to take my money, presumably such that he would use his card to pay for my trip.

I got off at what, on my map, was called the Nazareth bus station. It was quiet, and nothing hinted at the existence of a bus station. All I could see was a single bus stop. Was I going to get a ticket, and a bus, back?

I walked over to Mary’s well, one of the two places where Mary might have been told of her upcoming birth, next to which there was a nice cafe. I sat down, ordered a coffee, and asked how I could get back to Haifa, or perhaps straight to Tel Aviv. 
Using WiFi, the waitress showed me I had to walk through half the city to get to a particular bus stop. 

“But, how to get a ticket?”

The waitress decided that close to what was the bus station on my map, where I had gotten off the bus from Haifa, someone would be able to help me.

After visiting the sites of Nazareth, I went back to the ‘bus station’, where the streets had now started to fill up. But where there still was no sign of a bus station.
In a mall, I asked a guard about buses and tickets. 

“From here, no. Get to ‘big fashion’. There, yes.”
I had no ‘big fashion’ on my map.
“Ask any child. They will know ‘big fashion’.”

Instead, I walked to where, in the morning, my bus had dropped me off. A bus with the same number was waiting, and I got in.

“How do I get a ticket? I don’t have a card”
“You don’t have a card.”
“I can pay in cash”
“No cash!”

The driver, again, started to talk to the passenger next to him, and they clearly were debating something. After a while, the passenger waived me through.

It appeared that these ‘passengers’ were not passengers at all, but officials in some kind of capacity.

This bus got me to an edge of Haifa. My map showed a nearby large bus station, and though a gorgeous concrete monster, also abandoned. I had to walk to another big bus station, some 7k away.
At least the walk was along the beach, which the owner of my guest house had recommended as one of the nicer things to visit in Haifa.
The walk, along the corniche, was fairly busy, families out to enjoy the weather on their day off. The bus station, however, was nearly abandoned.

How was I going to get a ticket? No ticket booths were open, and machines either required me to place my ‘Smart card’ in their reader, or complete an online purchase, while WiFi was not available.
An Israeli couple told me I had to try another machine. “Yes yes, it will work.” Which it didn’t. 
A pair of older Russian ladies had the same problem, but were convinced we could buy a ticket on the bus. On the bus, I found out I couldn’t, as you need the now mythical transportation card, which the Russian ladies had.

Waiting for the bus, the queue had swelled to more people than would fit a typical bus. When the bus arrived, I managed to get on, and asked the driver how to buy a ticket, after which the driver acted with visible confusion, clearly not knowing what to do, or simply pretending not to understand the question. 
Someone behind me shouted “Move it!, not telling me to actually move it, but explaining that what I needed was an app, Moovit, which is a popular mobile app for getting public transport schedules, globally, and apparently can be set up to pay for bus rides, in Israel.

I actually had started the sign up process with Moovit earlier, but the first thing it asked for was a phone number. And as I have no coverage outside of Brazil, I gave up, even if I could route the setup through a global Skype number I also use.
I sat down, not wanting to wait another hour for a bus, and found there was WiFi on the bus, meaning I could spend time to try and complete the Moovit sign up process and pay for my ticket, while actually being transported to my destination. 

Wifi worked for a minute or so, but then failed. I couldn’t move to step 2 in the process. 

Somewhat later, the connection started working again, and I could confirm my phone number. 
I then had to jump through more hoops, which included registering a credit card, where I also had to enter an ID number, which had to be a certain amount of numbers, only. The form accepted none of the ID numbers I offered, so I was stuck, again.

Technology is great, if you take the liberty to ignore the edge cases.

In this bus, I discovered I was sitting next to the plainclothes person that was also at the front, next to the driver, of the previous busses I had taken. This was a fairly attractive young woman who only had attention for her phone. Until we got to Tel Aviv, when she started barking commands to people and the driver, later understanding this was to avoid a demonstration that happened in the center of the city.

She never cared about anyone paying for their tickets, and so I ended up with another free ride on the Israeli public transport system.

The cost of Jerusalem

European budget airlines wouldn’t be European budget airlines, if they didn’t try to squeeze their targets in every possible way. So, Wizzair still charges you extra if you prefer to check in at the counter, instead of online.
But, after doing so, I was told I had to present myself at the counter, anyway. Supposedly for a ‘passport check’, which also meant that the digital document I received after my online ‘check in’, was meaningless.

The passport check went well enough, but the clerk, spotting a potential opportunity for charging extra, then decided that my backpack perhaps was too big to take on board as a ‘personal item’, my having refused to pay for additional luggage to take on board.

My new backpack was quite big, and because my old backpack, which I had replaced in Naples, was inside the new bag, as I needed it as a prop for the short films I’m shooting in preparation for my residency in northern Sweden, the bag was even bulkier than necessary.

But, sticking my sandals in my jacket, my neck cushion around my neck, and smushing up my backpack, I got away with what I had.

At the gate, airport security was picking out, ‘at random’, passengers for ‘security screening’. I wasn’t picked. Was it because I had just shaved?
But I was required to confirm the size of my backpack, again, for the narrow space allotted to ‘personal items’. 
I was allowed to take out fragile items, like my laptop, and easily fit the bag in the available space.

The flight was as uneventful as they come. But, before entering Israeli airspace, flight attendants announced we were required to return to our seat and to buckle up.
Apparently, this is an Israeli requirement; In 2007 Israel began requiring pilots to enter a security code, when 180 nautical miles out, to confirm to Tel Aviv Air Traffic Control that the flight deck has not been breached by hi-jackers, and to allow time for planes to be intercepted, if necessary.
It was recognised that potential hijackers might wait until this security compliance is completed before springing into action during final approach and so, to make it more difficult for them, an additional requirement of buckling up was imposed at the 180 nautical miles distance, usually implemented by airlines as ’30 minutes out’.
I can’t imagine that having to unbuckle will stop any wannabe hi-jacker, but Israel disagrees.

After landing, at immigration, I was grilled. They wanted to know if I had a second (non-Dutch) passport, and needed to see my Brazilian residence permit. After telling them I had the intention to visit the Bahá’í World Centre, they didn’t quite believe that I wasn’t Bahá’í, and twice asked for my Bahá’í card, as all Bahá’í have a personalised number and card for being Bahá’í.

Then I was redirected to a particular area in the airport, and told to wait.

I arrived with two others waiting before me, Some 20 minutes later, a few dozen more arrived in the waiting area. The rate at which those waiting were called into a private room was about 1 per 10 minutes, but this did not happen in order of arrival.
A good hour after my showing up, it was my turn. The grilling took some 20 minutes, where the woman interrogating me got visibly agitated by each of her questions triggering little boxes of Pandora, flurries of follow-up questions.

“Where have you been in the Middle East?”
“What were you doing in Afghanistan?”
“In which countries did you work for an NGO?”
“How do you work for a Ugandan NGO if you haven’t been there for 9 years?”

Eventually, I was passed on to a more senior woman, whom was told my life story by the woman interrogating me, and told to wait again, but now elsewhere in the airport.

Five minutes later, I received my immigration card, a blue credit-card sized piece of cardboard, almost like a bus ticket with QR code, with which I was allowed to leave immigration.

A few minutes later, I managed to get one of the last trains to Jerusalem. 
Finally, the weather was balmy.

In the train, a dozen, or so, Orthodox Jews, dressed up, walked by, and stopped in one of the exit areas. Then, they started to pray, not loud, but such that everyone could hear. 
Several of the passengers chimed in on a number of occasions with ‘amen’, and perhaps one or two other words. This lasted perhaps a good 10 minutes.
Afterwards, they were swaying back and forth, the kind of movement you might recognise from Jews praying at the Wailing Wall.

The next day, at 10am, as I was out for a walk on the morning after my arrival, the air raid sirens went off. Everyone paused in the street, waiting for the alarms to end. Just before, I was forewarned, by an employee at my pod hotel, that the sirens would sound as a Holocaust remembrance thing.

By 10:30, I had already been mistaken three times for being Israeli.
Close to the Knesset, I was asked for directions by someone who turned out to be a South African Jew from Johannesburg, having grown up close to where I had lived for over two years. We exchanged some thoughts on both countries.

After a visit to the National Library, where I had to come to terms that the insanely crazy high prices of the cafes and restaurants close to my hotel were the consequence of only marginal markups on top of the crazy high prices of Israel, I took a very roundabout way to get to the old town, first visiting some modernist architecture in the suburbs. 

Close to the old town, I stumbled upon The Garden Tomb, supposedly where Jesus was buried.

Entering the city walls, heavily armed soldiers were everywhere, mostly in groups of three. They all looked consistently bored.

Netanyahu had recently decreed that access to the Al Aqsa mosque was off-limits for tourists and non-muslims. I, quite accidentally, stumbled upon an entrance gate and was barred from entering because I was required, and unable, to say the Shahada in Arabic.
At a second gate, guards also turned me away, for the same reason.
But security at the third gate only wanted to know if I was muslim.

The dome of the Rock, and the Al Aqsa mosque, are a sight to be seen.

I visited only a few days before the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, which, I suspect, justified the relatively large crowds at the mosques. Lots of people were camping out, on the grounds of Al Aqsa, and inside the mosques it was very busy, even if it wasn’t close to prayer time, nor a Friday, with people praying, sleeping, or just chilling.
The central feature of the compound is not the Al Aqsa mosque, but the Dome of the Rock. Jerusalem in particular, and the Levant in general, have a close relationship with rocks, grottos, and caves, and the rock under the Dome is the most important one.

The ‘Noble Rock’ that the temple was built over is supposed to be the place where God created the world, as well as the first human. It is also believed to be the site where Abraham attempted to sacrifice his son, and, as the place where God’s divine presence is manifested more than in any other, the place towards which Jews turn during prayer. For Muslims, besides the above, it is believed that the Night Journey of Muhammad began from the rock as well.
Also, Muhammad and his followers first prayed in the direction of the rock, though this was later changed to the direction of Mecca, perhaps because he could not curry favour with the Jews living in and around Jerusalem.
(Incidentally, Bahá’í pray towards the location of the founder of their faith, who’s remains reside at his shrine in Acre, in northern Israel.)

There are many other churches and shrines that are centred around rocks, grottos, or slabs of stone. The Garden Tomb I had already visited earlier, the Garden of Gethsemane has a basilica containing ‘The Rock of Agony’, Jesus was supposedly born in a ‘manger’, but this turned out to be a cave, and, later, in Nazareth, sites related to Jesus and Maria also were caves and grottos.
I’d speculate that this fascination with rocks, grottos, and stones, dates back to megalithic times. Judaism and Christianity are perhaps just the iteration that survived.

Meanwhile, it is clear that, with all the ‘living past’ tangibly visible, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking the Christ, and the legends of the Old Testament, are real.

In Jerusalem, much more so than later in Haifa or Tel Aviv, I found a constant mix of stress, exploitation, and oppression in the air. This might seem obvious, but can only be experienced first hand. 
The city feels safe in that I didn’t feel I had to worry about petty crime, but the constant awareness did feel like a continuous anticipation of something cataclysmic.

At the university campus I had visited earlier, at a cafe, I had ordered a coffee and a pastry. I asked the lady working there something in English, which she didn’t fully understand. When she went looking for a word, multiple people in the cafe, some at the other end of the room, filled in the blanks for her, while no one was looking up from what they were doing. It felt like everyone had realised I was the outsider, constantly monitoring my behaviour to make sure nothing would run out of hand.

On my second day in Jerusalem, I decided it was time to visit the Occupied Territories. I first walked over to the Mound of Olives, to shoot one more video in preparation for my Swedish residency, and then, through immense Jewish cemeteries, past grassy hills with shepherds and sheep, through 5km of affluent and somewhat boring suburbs, I slowly entered hilly, and pretty, countryside.
Then, entering Palestine was effortless, though it required a walk through a narrow, tall, concrete corridor, but no checking of documents.

On the other side, a taxi driver latched on to me, and I decided that the hours in the sun I had walked to get there, on sandals that were giving me blisters, were enough for the day.

The Church of the Nativity, the popular tourist attraction in Bethlehem (in Palestine), is, like the whole of Jerusalem, immensely touristy. In the church, the supposed birthplace is a many pointed metal star embedded in a rock, which everyone bows down for, to touch.

Driving around Bethlehem, I caught glimpses of The Wall, and almost missed the famous Banksy. 

On the way out of Palestine, I had to go through a similar narrow passage as when I came in. High concrete walls, but now also full-body turnstiles that were blocked after every 40 people, or so, moved through. When they locked in-place, someone, typically, was stuck inside.

Then, a second set of turnstiles admitting perhaps 10 people at a time. This was followed by a biometric ID check, if your document allowed for it, with some heavily armed security patrolling the area.
I was reminded of crossing into east Germany in the 1980s.

At the ID check, not clear what I was supposed to do, I asked one of the guards.

“What do I do with a Dutch passport?”
“Come with me!”

Not sure if this meant another grilling, instead, I was chaperoned through the system, with no one looking at my passport.

For my video project, for which I was on my way to northern Sweden, I wasn’t yet too happy with the videos I had shot on my first two days in Jerusalem. Ideally, in the videos I shoot, there are things happening, to look at, in the background, or on the sides, but because no one is keeping an eye on the camera when I’m being filmed myself, I also can’t have the place where I film to be too busy, as that could result in someone bumping into the camera, or just grabbing and running away with it.

So, on the day of my departure from Jerusalem to Haifa, I went and shot an early scene in a prominent shopping street. It was still reasonably quiet, and though some people noticed the camera, all seemed reasonably fine.

But, what if Israeli gun-wielding security was going to question my actions? What if they were going to ask for my ID? “Born in Iran!?”

Then, a bit over halfway through, a black man walked towards the camera, very much acknowledging the presence of the device. He walked around the camera, to me, and asked what I was filming. Beckoning him to take a few steps back to limit my camera recording the conversation, and to speak softly, he made a comic jumpy apology, implying the interaction was going to be fine.
He turned out to be great; a philosophy teacher from France, having lived in Israel for 27 years and having taught at Harvard, amongst other places. 

I tried to tease out where he was from ‘before France’, but he would not budge. He was, he insisted, ‘from Paris’. When I told him I’m from Iran, he was overjoyed. 

Earlier, when in an interaction with Palestinians they discovered I was from Iran, I was told “God is great! Take the power!” Now, Shalem, which was the man’s name, wasn’t as overjoyed, perhaps, but his, and the response to my hailing from Iran, from other people I met along the way, was consistently positive.

We had a long conversation. During that, a group of Israeli security, at least not with machine guns, took up residence right beside us, clearly curious about what was going on, but I purposefully and completely ignored them, as we continued our conversation with lots of jokes and lots of laughing.

After a while, the security still present, I checked the video and realized I had shot enough. I packed up my gear and we exchanged names and numbers, continuing in a joking way. We discovered we had to go in the same direction, and Shalem grabbed my hand to drag me along, as we left. I could feel the eyes of security probing our backs as we walked away.

At some point, I had asked Shalem about Israel. “Ah, this place is the most free in the world! In France, in the USA, they are all racist, here, no! You can be free, do whatever you want!”
I didn’t bring up the plight of Ethiopian Jews, or Palestinians, in Israel.

Going back a few thousand years

Just before walking into Valletta from the airport, I had done my due diligence and confirmed that that essential chain of providers of sustenance to wary travellers had also made its services available to pilgrims in Malta.
But, this being Easter Sunday, all Lidls were closed.

Instead, walking through the center of a small settlement between the airport and Valetta, I came across a bakery selling delicious pastries which seemingly hadn’t made up their mind up as to whether they were Indian, eastern Mediterranean, or their own unique expression of flavour.

I sat down on the steps of the next door house, from where I could watch the drama unfold at the heavily attended religious service across the street, where participants were commemorating the death of their spiritual guide.
Then, the bells started to chime, heavy fireworks were ignited, and, eventually, a procession left the house of worship, a number of carriers lifting their born-again god through the entrance of the building, under a subdued applause from the congregated masses.

Malta is small; just over half a million people, four times the size of Manhattan. But, a country with history disproportionally large for its size.

Malta is home to some of the oldest free-standing stone structures in the world, megalithic prehistoric temples that predate the pyramids, as well as grooves that resemble cart ruts, cut in stone, which some associate with a lost highly advanced civilisation. (That said, the temples in Malta are predated by some 6000 years by the ruins in Göbekli Tepe in Turkey.)
The island also has, supposedly, a cave in which St. Paul took refuge, and another cave in which Odysseus was imprisoned for 7 years.

But many more made the islands their temporary home.

There’s the long history of the Knights Hospitaller, who settled on the island, preferring the climate of the islands to the colder weather up north. The church, the ‘Rotunda’ in Gozo is the worlds third highest unsupported dome, and is the spiritual seat of the Knights of Malta.

Maltese is a semitic language, originating with Phoenicians and Carthaginians. Turks raided the islands on a number of occasions, and in the mid 16th century enslaved the full population of Gozo, some 5000 people. Who were the forefathers of the current Gozitans? Maltese? Turks? Something else?
Eventually, Napoleon captured the islands in 1798, but control was handed to the British in 1814, them adding the country to their string of colonies the world over.
Only in 1964 did Malta regain its independence. But, control of the island is still murky; Investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered for her work investigating corruption in the country.

Then there’s the odd ‘Popeye village’, a fake town constructed as the set for the 1980 Popeye movie with Robin Williams.

The island is very cat-friendly. Signs warning drivers of cat-crossings remind you to make sure you drive carefully. Cats hang out around supermarket exists, knowing that shoppers occasionally will buy them cat food.

Vedi Napoli

I am not quite sure how calming it is, knowing that I can die now that I have seen Naples. Surely, it would have been more prudent to hold off on seeing Naples for a while.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe coined the referenced phrase in a letter in 1787, when Naples was the capital of the Kingdom of Naples, when Italy still was a patchwork of nations, where he presumably referenced the city’s wealth, prosperity, and scenery. And, this also roughly coincided with the rediscovery of both Pompeii and Herculaneum, the two cities that were covered in ash after the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD.

But, it seems that Goethe, and many years of recurring emphasis, has set my expectations a bit too high. Naples is a bit of a dump, trash everywhere, buildings falling apart, while Pompeii resembles many other Roman ruins.

In fairness, visiting the National Archeological Museum, in Naples, where the most impressive discoveries from Pompeii and Herculaneum were moved, it’s clear how spectacular the rediscovery of these two covered towns, in the 18th century, must have been. The level at which frescoes, paintings, sculptures, people, were preserved is astounding.
But, in the formerly covered cities themselves, only some replicas of these finds remain, among, mostly, crumbling walls, making the original sites quite similar to many other Roman ruins around the Mediterranean.

Then, perhaps the one thing I was most looking forward to see, was the Alexander Mosaic.
In Pompeii, a copy remains, in the place it was found, the House of the Faun, and experiencing just the copy of the mosaic, in its place, was, for me, grand; the mosaic is believed to be a copy of an early 3rd century BC Greek painting (now lost), which makes this depiction of Alexander the Great one of the few near-contemporary illustrations in existence.
The original was moved to the museum, and this was the one object I was most looking forward to see with my own eyes… only to find a canvas of the mosaic, instead of the mosaic itself.
Turns out the mosaic is being renovated. It’s ‘hiding’ behind the canvas, but wrapped in paper, so even my lifting the canvas meant I only saw a wrapped package hanging on the wall.

Another sad moment in Naples.

Incidentally, it was the Goethe who popularised the “vedi Napoli e poi muori” after whom the Goethe Institut is named, but it was probably not Goethe who came up with the phrase, borrowing it from the locals upon his visit.

Shortly before my visiting Naples, the city’s soccer team, once the home of Maradona, had just won some major prize, and they had put lipstick on the pig, with blue and white flags and streamers literally everywhere. But this, in a way, emphasised the somewhat dire state of the city.
It’s often said that Maradona is revered like a saint in Naples, but I always figured this was a kind of Italian hyperbole. Except, it isn’t. Maradona is revered like a saint, in Naples.

Besides Maradona, Naples is also home, or the adopted home, to a host of foods recognised the world over, though not for all can the provenance be quite exactly pinned on the city. Yet, these include Neapolitan ice cream, Margarita pizza, limoncello, a bunch of sweet cakes, including the easter special pastiera, spaghetti ala puttanesca, and mozzarella di bufala.

I’ve taken to walking from and to the airports on this journey. This won’t work in every destination, but when it does, like in Naples, it allows me to pass through a number of socioeconomic strata, from the enclave that is the airport, through the crumbling periphery, to the propped-up center. And, in Naples, to the periphery again, as I was staying in a convent, with a crucified Christ above my bed, on the outskirts of town.

Of planes, trains, and metromobiles

I arrived in Nice, close to midnight, only to have to fly out again by 10am.

Not that this was planned, though.

My host in Nice, a lovely lady with a curious old cat that went by Pistache, apologized multiple times for my misfortune in travel. She had prepared a list of things to sea, do, and eat, including the pan bagnat, a kind of salade Nicoise on bread. But with my planned 2-day stay reduced to a night’s sleep, there was little time to try anything.

Leaving her apartment in the morning, still dark, I was surprised the city was already waking up. At a fish market, where surrounding shops, bakers, butchers, were already getting ready for business, I managed to get the sandwich I had gotten my hopes up for, before the sun had even risen. And when the sun did rise, a few minutes later, the square, and the market, was in full swing, and I was digging in to my pan.

Virginia, my host, told me that the temperatures were exceptionally low for the time of year. And it was indeed fresh, at 5 degrees celsius during the night. Yet, at sunrise, a few handful of people were already in the water.

After arriving in Lisbon, leaving Humberto Delgado Airport, perhaps close to 100 Easyjet employees were demonstrating for better treatment by their company. There is not enough worker action in the world, so I warmly supported their efforts. Even when, on the evening on my second day in Lisbon, this meant that I was told that my early morning flight, the next day, was cancelled, due to ‘industrial action’.

More power to the strikers. But, did this put me in a bit of a pickle. 

EasyJet pointed me to a webportal (clearly not their first time) for the sole purpose of facilitating cancelled flights. You enter, select the flight that needs attention, and then select either alternative flights, your money back, or a voucher.

I was flying to Nice, and, two days later, onwards to Naples. A voucher or my money back was not an option.
Instead, I was given two alternatives for flights, on the same day. Direct flights, though with TAP. But, upon selection, neither flight turned out to be available. Nor was I given the option of picking an indirect flight.
And neither were there any flights available the next day.

There was a flight two days later, arriving in Nice after my scheduled departure for Naples.

This was starting to become tricky.

Very sadly, international rail travel in Europe is still not very mature. It’s mostly slow and very expensive (from Lisbon to Nice, 6 trains, or one bus and two trains via Paris). The bus connection is an unpleasant option, at 32 hours in very cramped quarters.
But, EasyJet offered, or, probably, is required to offer, flights from any other airport in the same departing country, to any other airport in the destination country.

Porto to Nice was also not available, but Lisbon to Marseille was. But only towards the end of the next day. A train could carry me from the airport in Marseille to Nice, with the expected arrival time in Nice close to midnight.

So then came the next day (I had to switch accommodation), and my flight to Marseille was delayed. Eventually by a good hour.
I had put in some slack between the arrival at the airport in Marseille, and the train leaving, but this was going to cut it a bit close.

And then ‘Marseille airport train station’ turned out to be a 36 minute walk away from the airport. As I came out of the airport, my train was scheduled to leave 40 minutes later.

But there was more; At the train station, all trains turned out to be delayed. And I only was going to have a 15 minute gap between arriving in Marseille, and catching the TGV to Nice to begin with.

Still, I managed to get an earlier, delayed, train, which got me to Marseille’s main train station, with only minutes to spare.

So, I got to Nice, was welcomed by Virginia, and Pistache, with an ice tea. Woke up early, got myself a local delicacy, and walked to the airport in Nice.

To discover my flight to Naples was delayed.

In which I go for a walk

A significant number of significant events in my life have been the result of chance occurrences. One such occurrence, though the resulting event is still waiting to be significant, is a call for proposals which my WLC colleague Andrew Stuck sent over late last year, for a 1-month residency in northern Sweden.

I responded with the idea of constructing an immersive soundwalk as a murder mystery, where those listening were going to use bone-conducting headphones to navigate through the space in which the piece was set. The requirement for the call was to use AR or VR, so I thought my proposal appropriate.

They liked the idea, but the proposal needed to also be consumable within their gallery, a shipping container that is going to travel the Swedish countryside.

As an alternative, I proposed an experience where the public, sitting in a chair in the gallery, would look through a virtual window, where, in turn, a number of vistas would unfold and where I, for each of these, at some point would briefly walk through the scene. First from right to left, then, halfway through the video, ‘arriving’ at the venue itself, and then walking from left to right, returning home.

They liked that idea too, and so now I’m sitting at the Viracopos Airport, São Paulo’s third international airport, on my way to Europe, where I will do some walking in cities and countries that will take me on a crab walk to northern Sweden, and the town of Moskosel.

At some point, the parameters of the exhibition space changed again somewhat, which will mean that my work is likely to become more immersive, less physical. On the one hand, that is going to be interesting, but perhaps also a bit more of a challenge, and, in a way, also more VR, and less AR.
I am not a big believer in VR, but also very strongly feel that (good) AR is going to change the world, perhaps as early as this year, with the expected introduction of Apple Glasses.

My plans go much further than ‘just’ an immersive AR/VR experience in a gallery that will tour the Swedish countryside. And, these plans involve some fairly cutting edge, if already immensely popular, technologies, while using them in a quite conventional, but uncommon, context.

I’m keeping the details a bit close to my chest, for now, and if I manage to pull this off, the result, I intend and hope, will question the meaning of human creativity in this day and age.
Indeed, a bit ambitious, and I’m a bit anxious, too.

On a lighter note, I will also upload one photo a day to a Flickr album, In which I Go For a Walk.

My journey will take two full months, 15 flights, and visits to 12 countries, only one of which I have not visited before, even if I nearly was able to touch it, from the other bank of a certain river in Jordan.

One practical challenge I will face is this: Even long-haul flights now no longer appear to include check-in luggage, and Europe’s budget airlines not even include hand luggage.
So, I’m traveling with a ‘personal item’ only. It feels appropriate, in an age where extravagance and minimalism live side by side.

So, here I am, at the start of this journey, in which I go for a walk.

A pacific sunset

Waiting for the bus
La Picá de Clinton
To shits
A building like a cellphone
Lula is president
Celebrating a year gone by
The last sunset of 2022
A year done
Entry to Neruda
From Ushuaia to Santiago 22/22
From Ushuaia to Santiago 21/22
From Ushuaia to Santiago 20/22
From Ushuaia to Santiago 19/22

We had planned the last stop on our trip to be Santiago, where we were expecting to spend the new year. Instead, an old friend got wind of our visit, and invited us to stay with them. In Santiago, but also in El Quisco, where she was going to spend the new year with her mom.
The chance for a wonderful reunion with a beautiful view was impossible to turn down. We were spending the new year on the shores of the Pacific.

It’s typically Valparaiso that is associated with the Chilean Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda, a diplomat and politician, a communist, and winner of the 1971 Nobel Prize in Literature. He indeed had a house in Valparaiso, but also in Santiago, as well as in the nearby El Quisco, where we were staying, a mere stone’s throw away from Neruda’s house.

Well respected both politically and literarily, more recently, Neruda has become a somewhat more controversial figure. Not unjustified, particularly in the light of a rape he confessed to in posthumously published memoirs. 
Even if we can’t expect anyone to be flawless, the legacy of any individual is the amalgamation of their life’s work, both good and bad. To me, this should at least mean that the tours you can experience in his three houses, showing perhaps surprising wealt for a communist, which focus more on the man than on his literary work, should also feature his flaws.
At the moment, the way in which Neruda is characterised feels a bit too much like the telling of a hagiography, with Neruda being larger than life in every way. This kind of characterisation makes me highly suspicious, at best, and mistrustful, at worst. Recognising the negative sides of Neruda would certainly make Neruda more human, and could result in a deeper understanding of his work.

One of Neruda’s more well known poems is Walking Around a, mostly, narrative poem in which Neruda relates to himself, and his role in society, by reflecting on the world around him.

Neruda was a communist who put his money where his mouth was; In the late 1930s, while a diplomat, he facilitated the immigration, to Chile, of some 2000 refugees from Franco’s Spain. In 1948, the then-president of Chile outlawed communism and issued a warrant for Neruda’s arrest, though Neruda managed to escape to Argentina, returning after three years and, eventually, taking up the role of close advisor to Salvador Allende.

Given Neruda’s convictions as an individual, it’s easy to see Walking Around as an accusation against the commercialisation of society, against materialism, against industrial exploitation, even against the exploitation of capitalism.

But, also, the general feeling which the poem evokes is perhaps one of futility. That is, Neruda doesn’t seem to believe he can meaningfully fight against this pervasiveness of abuse, his individual actions being doomed to succeed on a societal level.

Neruda passed away of cancer shortly after the coup that ousted Allende and which installed Pinochet, heralding the age of neoliberalism and, eventually, the capitalist exploitation of the masses after the end of the Cold War, culminating in the record profits and stagnating salaries we see today.

Perhaps Neruda was right in recognising this futility.

On the other hand, on the first day of the new year, we saw the new president of Brazil be handed the presidential sash by a diverse group of Brazilians, representing the cultural and societal richness of not only this country, but the whole world. The sash went from pair of hands to pair of hands, until the last one in line hung the ribbon around the new president’s neck.
Lula’s electoral victory was perhaps uncomfortably narrow, but still meant that millions more voted for him, as opposed to the incumbent, something unprecedented in Brazilian history.

As during his previous two mandates, Lula will pursue a strong pro-poor agenda, and will complement this with policies of emancipation targeting the underrepresented in society, most notably the indigenous population, with one major feature the complete block on cutting down the Amazonian forest. Neruda would have felt strengthened in his convictions.

Our last night was spent in Santiago, of which I have fond memories, after having had to stay there for a while as a consequence of being deported from Brazil a bunch of years ago. We found it still a lovely city, if a bit quiet during the extra long weekend around the new year celebrations. But we also found seemingly much more poverty than the last time we visited.

On the up, walking around town, we stumbled upon a rap battle between rivalling rap gangs, and a very rowdy queer catwalk. And a vegan restaurant selling a meat- and dairy-free version of the seminal Chilean dish, chorrillana.

The ugliest town in Chile

Coming in
Everybody lies
I love you, mother
Sleeping angel
San Mateo de Osorno
From Ushuaia to Santiago 18/22
From Ushuaia to Santiago 17/22

When we crossed into Chile from Argentina, we were asked for our vaccination cards. The only time on our trip this happened. We didn’t ask what would have occurred if we had had no proof of vaccination on us.

Osorno, the town we were heading to, is not the most interesting architectural gem, even if their central cathedral is impressive. It’s brutalist, and almost has a filigree feel to it.

At the same time, some, at least our host in Santiago, consider Osorno the ugliest town in Chile. Though this felt to me like a bit of a stretch.

What is surprising that, although the city was founded as far back as 1558, there is very little of historical Osorno left. You can visit the tiny remnants of an old fort, in a nearly forgotten corner of the city, but the fort is cut in half, and could easily have been a modern afterthought.

Yet there is some real history in the area.
After fighting over control of the land, which included clashes between the Spanish and the Dutch, as well as the Spanish and the indigenous Huilliche, the area became an independent indigenous territory, inaccessible to the Spanish, which lead to speculation that the area contained the mythical ‘city of the caesars, a local Eldorado. 

The origin of that myth is likely to have been an amalgamation of a collection of tall tales connected to the colonisation of the area, with one important trigger perhaps being the indigenous telling sailors about the Incan empire to the north.

After the area opened up again in the late 18th century, the Spanish moved in fast, purchasing the land from the indigenous population. An important economic driver, even today, livestock grazing, was founded predominantly by Basque immigrants.
Then, in the second half of the 19th century, the government encouraged German immigration, of which the presence is still strong, and which drove the beer industry in Chile’s south.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the city was the large number of birds of prey, hawks perhaps, who were occupying the downtown area, behaving more like pigeons than predators.

We had to rush on; we had wanted to celebrate the new year in Santiago, which was still a night bus away.

Across the void to Bariloche

Sunset in Bariloche
At Kunstmann
Huemul island
From Ushuaia to Santiago 16/22
From Ushuaia to Santiago 15/22

Like manufacturing, travel has succumbed to the joys of the just-in-time supply chain. Availability of transport and accommodation is tightly matched to demand. For the same reason that last minute travel has disappeared, as there are now only unexpected surpluses due to unexpected events, like, say, a terrorist attack, waiting with booking anything has become more and more risky.

Our three week journey was going to be on a tight schedule. I had wanted to visit Welsh Argentina, but we forwent that, when we discovered a direct connection between El Calafate and Bariloche, over 1000km apart in a straight line. It meant skipping two, or three, stops, but also changed our schedule from ‘impossible’ to just ‘very tight’.

I was aware of the economic challenges Argentina was, once more, going through, but contrary to the last time, I had not seen any mentioning of a parallel money market. Yet, when I booked the ticket between El Calafate and Bariloche online, the only one on our journey both originating and terminating in Argentina, I balked at the price, while also surprised that no tickets yet had been booked on the bus we were wanting to take.

But, with this connection only running every few days, our options were going to be limited. I bit the bullet and bought the ticket.

On the plus side, we were going to have two seats on the top deck, at the front, and the bus was ‘leito’, meaning the seats are supposed to fold back to a comfortable almost horizontal position.

Then, of course, in passing, in Ushuaia, we learnt that also during this economic downturn, the ‘blue dollar’ existed, that is, the unofficial street rate for foreign currency that’s only just short of being official, but also makes a difference of nearly 100% of the official rate.

So, the price I paid for our ticket, at the official rate, was double the street price.

Then, as we entered the bus, we found that the bus wasn’t actually ‘leito’, with seats only folding partially. And, where I had expected meal service on board, something that was common only 8 years ago, we got a grand total of zero snacks during our 28 hour journey.

Saving grace, hopefully, was going to be the scenery, said to be stunning on route 40, connecting the far north with the Deep South, and coming in at over 5000 kilometres.
But, though interesting, the majority of it was pampa, or steppe. A bit… monotonous.

On the bus, two boys in the seats next to us were traveling around the region. Now, they were going fishing together in the Lake District not far from Bariloche. But, over the last months, they had been, on and off, part of a larger loosely connected group, maintaining and building trails in the national parks strewn throughout Argentina. Their chatter disclosed an alternate version of reality, in a way under the surface, disconnected from the regular tourist crowd,  more reminiscent of backpacking before being in our now hyperconnected world.
It sounded like, in their world, last minute travel might just still exist.

The town of Bariloche was nice enough. With a hammering of chocolate manufacturers and chalets everywhere, it felt like a lower-end version of some Swiss town, on the edge of a pretty Alpine lake.

We rented a bike to tour the shore and visit a few beaches, though the water was very fresh.
The bicycle rental had a sign with posted prices for the next few months, heavily inflated for each next month, while previous months had been whited out.

Onto the glacier

Sippin' the amber
A corner view
All the way around
Showing off with the ice
Perito Moreno
Behind the trees
See through
Along the edge
Coming down
70m up
From left to right
Ice wall
The captain has arrived
Patagonia brewery
Hippies in town
The prize is ours
From Ushuaia to Santiago 14/22
From Ushuaia to Santiago 13/22
From Ushuaia to Santiago 12/22

This town’s name, El Calafate, comes from ‘caulk’, the material used to seal joints, but refers to a particular kind of berry that’s very common in the greater region. It’s even used to flavour beer from several breweries, including beer from at least four breweries in town.

The latter is testimony to how popular a tourist destination El Calafate is. Though with a bit of the feel of a border town, the central strip is very much developed, with fancy restaurants and cafes, and quite high prices.

The thing to see is the nearby glacier Perito Moreno. It’s inside a National Park, but you can just take a bus to get there.
Getting up early to catch this bus on Christmas Day, we walked to the bus station, and found all bakeries and supermarkets closed, but also plenty of teenagers coming back from their very late-night parties, still consuming their beverages. Argentines party late.

Back in Puerto Natales, Natalia and I had gotten each other presents that we were going to give each other on Christmas Eve. I had gotten her a wooly hat, she had gotten me a homemade pepper.
We used the pepper for the food we had on Christmas Eve.
When I opened the jar, the pepper released a little cloud of smoke, and it started to rise, until it was overflowing, like a little volcano, unto our table. We ate as much as we could, but couldn’t internalise everything.
Analysis made us suspect that an air bubble had been trapped in the jar which, at the higher altitude of El Calafate, had started to expend due to the lower air pressure.

The glacier is stunning, though you’re not allowed to get very close. Obviously immensely tempting, there are warnings against leaving the path everywhere. Apparently, before barriers were put up, dozens of people had died after being hit by pieces of the glacier falling down and then exploding on impact, either with the ground or the water.

The glacier is named after Francisco Pascasio ‘Perito’ Moreno, who was acquainted with Thomas Holdich, who walked the border between Argentina and Chile. The two men are linked via the work they did on the border commission, defining the separation between Argentina and Chile, but also via the rocky outcrop of ‘Piedra Holdich’, in Chubut province, where Moreno had inscribed, on a granite block, that he and Holdich had been there on the 29th April 1902.

As a ‘thank you’ for his part in the work on the border commission, Moreno, was given land in Patagonia and started to become known as ‘perito’ (meaning ‘expert’), for his work. Later, he donated land to his country, what is now the National Park of Nahuel Huapi, an area with a vast lake near Bariloche, where he eventually was buried.

Moreno himself had an English mother, and at some point managed to convince the Welsh community in Argentina to stay with the country, as opposed to allying themselves with Chile.
Yes, there’s a Welsh community in Argentina.

Moreno traveled a lot within the region, and is by some considered the last witness to the Indian world before it was decimated. In his writings, he combined travel writing with his scientific exploration, perhaps being a kind of Gonzo scientist.

At some point, Moreno was captured during a conflict between Indians and the Argentine state.
Sayhueque was the leader of all the Indian tribes in Patagonia, and he wanted to exchange Moreno for indigenous compatriots who had been captured. But many caciques, minor leaders, wanted Moreno dead. Sayhueque waited until after a particular feast would be over before making a decision, and Moreno knew that the whole tribe would get drunk on the apple-based alcohol which they brewed, a kind of chicha we later had in Osorno, in Chile.
Moreno planned to escape by a raft built from willow tree trunks, down the nearby river.

Moreno got his guards to drink a mixture of some herbs and seeds he had been carrying with him, which he knew would send them to sleep. Moreno and his two Indian partners escaped by horse the next night in the dark, leaving his theodolite under a blanket as if it was his body asleep, and pulling branches behind him to rub out the horses hoof marks.
After a week, running out of food, they saw camp smoke, fired the pistol he was still carrying, and unfurled an Argentinian flag he had kept under his military jacket.
They were picked up by a patrol shortly after.

Our journey was not as adventurous. After El Calafate, we took a bus to Bariloche, much further north, which took over 28 hours.

Marvelling at the Blue Towers

At the distillery
Coming out
The view from below
Reaching the end of the day
Looking back
A split occurred
Floating by
On the lake
In full view
Behind the trees
Babak & Natalia
Reaching for the skies
Taking up the horizon
The mountains
A pose
From left to right
Carving a path
From behind the bushes
A different view
A drink to celebrate
The brewery
A house with a view
Crashing down
A cooler view
From below
Getting together
Watching over you
The lake is blue
Reaching the towers
No torres to be seen
From Ushuaia to Santiago 11/22 | FlickrTurns19
From Ushuaia to Santiago 10/22
From Ushuaia to Santiago 9/22
From Ushuaia to Santiago 8/22

Puerto Natales serves as the base for visiting the Torres del Paine National Park. The park’s iconic features are the three ‘blue towers’, ‘paine’ meaning ‘blue’ in an indigenous language.

Typical for the region, the weather can shift quickly. Though we were expecting high temperatures and a clear sky on the day of our trek, we started off with clouds and rain, with the towers not visible due to either fog or precipitation. This, while the night before, the day of our arrival, the weather was so gorgeous that locals were wearing flip flops, shorts, and shirts, while parading back and forth on the town’s promenade.

Puerto Natales is one of those towns which has internalised that global unified standard of what it means to be a hip tourist destination for the young, affluent, western backpacker; craft beer, good coffee, boutique restaurants, all in a kind of aspiration to serve the digital nomad.
Yet, though we struggled to find eateries catering to locals, we did not fail.

The journey in to the park, with all the required expenses, small and large, becomes a wealth transfer from the global north to the global south, if we can take the liberty to include Chile in the global south, similar to how visiting Machu Picchu is also an assault on your wallet.
But then, considering how curated the experience is, visiting the park does end up feeling a bit like it’s a Disneyland for hikers.

Technically, the mountains in Torres del Paine National Park are not part of the Andes, which is part of the reason why the greater region was part of a border dispute between Argentina and Chile, in the late 19th century.

By visiting the region, in a way, we were walking in the footsteps of Thomas Holdich, geographer and president of the Royal Geographic Society, who walked the border between the two countries a good 100 years ago.

The border between Chile and Argentina, in principle, was decided as being the watershed between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Rain falling on land draining into the Pacific meant the land was Chilean, land draining into the Atlantic belonged to Argentina. 
Except, by the end of the 19th century, it became clear that the natural border between the two countries, the Andes, not quite divided the countries in exactly this way as the mountain range approaches the far side of the continent. So, as a consequence, Chile, at the end of the 19th century, staked a claim to the Straight of Magellan, and, with a slow buildup in the following years, there was a real risk of the two countries going to war over this territorial dispute in the far south.

But, public opinion rose against this conflict, incidentally mostly led by women and women’s organisations, and a considered neutral third party was called in to decide. First, the British embassy, then King Edward VII, and, finally, Thomas Holdich, by then known for having settled somewhat comparable border disputes in Asia.

Holdich walked the entire length of the border between the two countries, passing through many places where no man, it was thought, had gone before; an expedition of exploration.
As he traveled, Holdich studied the cultures of the two countries, and concluded that “Love of nature’s beauty seems to be inherent in the Chilean. Trees and flowers, clouds and sunsets, these things appeal to him just as imposing buildings, magnificent streets, miles of wharfage, and acres of whool-sheds appeal to the Argentine imagination.” At the time, Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world, with, at some point, perhaps even the highest GDP per capita. 
So, Holdich adopted this as his criteria. When there was a choice, scenic landscapes went to the Chileans, more fertile land went to the Argentines.

Edward VII announced the results, the countries accepted the decision, both stated they had been fairly treated, and reason had triumphed. War was averted, peace had prevailed.

To commemorate the process, a statue was commissioned and erected in 1904, on the border between the two countries, on the road between Mendoza and Santiago, Christ the Redeemer of the Andes.
Except, the workers had, by accident, turned the orientation of the statue by 90 degrees and, instead of pointing south, Christ was pointing to Argentina, with his back to Chile.

Passions briefly flared, but a Chilean newspaperman calmed passions when writing that “The statue is placed as it should be. The people of Argentina need more watching over than the Chileans.”
Amazingly, placated, both countries buried their arms, reduced the size of their armies, turned barracks into schools, and converted battleships for commercial purposes, signing an agreement that a permanent arbitrator, the British government, would settle all disputes between the two countries in the future.

Praised as a victory for peace, Peru and Bolivia, a few years later, settled a similar border dispute by also bringing in the Royal Geographic Society, and also settled their conflict amicably.

The long walk of Holdich had made a real, tangible, and meaningful difference in the world. 
And then, World War I.

Now, the continental deep south sees no conflict. Though talk of some kind of reparations for the small indigenous community that once lived here would not be out of order. Back in Ushuaia, in 2007, literally only 1 individual was still alive who descended from the indigenous population in the area, both countries having had a past of being quite careless with the original population of the continent.

For us, after a stunning hike up to the towers, and a perhaps even more stunning tour through the park, we settled down at the last Hope distillery, where, besides gin, they’re now waiting for their first whiskey to mature. I had a cocktail that tasted a bit like the spiced juice that pickles come in.
It was great.

To cross the Strait of Magellan

Following tradition
A wreck in the distance
Celebrating Croatians
No dignity without struggle
Leaning into it
Going up
Old things
The locals leave a mark
Denounce the sandwich
The clock's still running
The points of the compass
The Indian delivers
On the way to Chile
From Ushuaia to Santiago 8/22
From Ushuaia to Santiago 7/22
From Ushuaia to Santiago 6/22
From Ushuaia to Santiago 5/22
Just a break

The distance from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas is a mere 250km, in a straight line. But, the two are separated by the Strait of Magellan, and to get from one to the other, by road, takes about 11 hours, including a surprisingly short ferry ride across the Strait.

Magellan, of course, was the first European to discover the strait and round the Americas, back in 1519. Magellan was killed, in 1521, on the same trip, in an anti-colonial conflict in The Philippines, but his expedition became the first known circumnavigation of the world.
On an earlier trip, Magellan had visited present-day Malaysia, meaning he eventually just fell short of being the first known person to fully circumnavigate the globe. But, it’s likely to have been Magellan’s personal slave, Enrique, who hailed from Malaysia, and was with him on his expedition westward, who was the actual first known person to have circumnavigated the globe, in a way coming home shortly after Magellan’s death. (Though this is speculation, as there is no record of Enrique’s journey after being released from his service.)

After Magellan, Juan Sebastian Elcano captained the expedition, and eventually returned to Spain with one ship and a mere 18 men, out of the original 5 ships and 270 sailors.
It then took an impressive 58 years for the next successful single circumnavigation to round the globe, this one led by Sir Francis Drake.

But Drake’s party was not the second to try.
The Spanish mounted a second expedition, with the aim of circumnavigation, in 1525. Here, none of the seven ships completed the voyage. Successive chiefs of the expedition died, and some men eventually reached the Malaysian islands in 1526, only to be taken prisoner by the Portuguese. A few of the men eventually returned to Spain in 1536, via India, the Cape of Good Hope, and Portugal, completing the second (known) world circumnavigation in history. One of the only four survivors was Hans von Aachen, who was also one of the 18 survivors of Magellan’s expedition.
Unstoppable, Maestre Anes, Master Hans, then joined a third exhibition to round the globe, in 1541, which also ended in failure, even though some of the sailors also eventually came back to Spain. Though not, it appears, Master Hans.

Where we found the area around Ushuaia surprisingly green and quite lush, particularly considering the land is covered in snow for many months of the year, as we left the southernmost city in the world, entered Chile and made our way to Punta Arenas, the land became flatter, browner, and more arid.

Punta arenas is the home of Gabriel Boric, the current president of Chile. He cut his political teeth as a student leader in Santiago, but served in the Chilean lower house as a representative of the Magallanes and Antarctic district, of which Punta Arenas is the capital.

On his father’s side, his family left the Austro-Hungarian empire just before the end of the 19th century, with his great grandfather said to have been one of the first 10 Croats to arrive in the region, him and his brother joining the gold rush to the south of the Beagle channel, across the water from Ushuaia.
Exemplifying the ethnic diversity of the region, Boric’ mom is of Catalan descent.

As an aside, Boric is also the first Latin American head of state to have visible tattoos, including a map of the Magallanes Region.

There’s a substantial Croatian community in the south of both Chile and Argentina. One large driver was the early Croatian immigrant to Argentina, Nikola Mihanović, who by 1909 employed 5000 mostly Croatians from his native Dalmatia. However, he was based in Buenos Aires, far from the shores of Patagonia.

It was a second wave of Croatian immigrants to Argentina, an additional 15000 by 1939, who focused more on the south of the continent.

Then, after the Second World War, some 20000 political, instead of economical, migrants arrived in Argentina, coming from what was now Yugoslavia, initially predominantly working on Perron’s public works projects.

Now, Chile has the largest community of ethnic Croatians outside Europe and the US, coming in at some 400000 Chileans, or about 2% of the population.
Compared, the much larger Brazil is estimated to only have some 40000 Croats.

Interestingly, as they first started migrating during the time when Austria-Hungary still existed, these immigrants were first registered as ‘Austrian’, then ‘Yugoslavian’, and now Croatian.

In Chile, they eventually settled at the two geographical extremes of the country, Patagonia and the Atacama in the far north, and were joined by a trickle of Croatians who first had gone to Argentina. It’s said that the geological features of southern Chile, with its many islands, resembles Dalmatia in Croatia.

Punta Arenas perhaps doesn’t carry the mystique of Ushuaia. And, spending a few days there, we could relate to this sentiment. Though it’s a ‘real’ city, with some pleasant late 19th century architecture, and has a population of over 100000 inhabitants, it’s also quite sleepy, and without geographical landmarks of note, even if it has a few impressive shipwrecks. 
Like Ushuaia, it’s a jump off point for the Antarctic, and for too much money you can visit one of the ‘nearby’ Penguin colonies, but that’s mostly it.

On his journey, when passing through the south of the continent, Magellan reported seeing and interacting with ‘giants’, describing them as 8-foot tall. Consensus, now, is that they met a relatively tall indigenous tribe, and that Magellan and his crew were embellishing their accounts.
What is still ubiquitous, more so here, but in lesser extent also in Ushuaia and Puerto Natales, is depictions of striking body paintings of indigenous tribes as part of particular celebrations, participants decked out in minimal, but otherworldly dress.

Our last day in town was lovely; blue skies, warm, the sun shining brightly. Everyone had come out to play on the long corniche facing the strait, with many lounging in the public spaces littered around the town.
I went for a bike ride to visit an open air museum which houses replicas of some famous ships, including Darwin’s Beagle. On the way back, I cycled though the Croatian suburb and the Croatian park, which has a statue of the Croatian cost of arms. Intriguing, as Croatia only became a country in 1991, long after the vast majority of those identifying as Croatian emigrated to Chile.

A flight to Ushuaia

Remembering the mothers
A time capsule
On the edge
The what now?
Mirador Lapataia
Brazo Ovando
Laguna Verde
Michael and Natalia
Happy face
On the shore
A lonely tree
Grazing birds
Surrounded by trees
Leaning trees
A newfound friend
Tierra del Fuego
The Beagle Channel
Tierra del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego National Park
The shores of the Beagle channel
Through the trees
A horse grazing
Blue rocks
Tierra del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego National Park
Angry Birds in waiting
Laguna Esmeralda
The shores of lake Emerald
Emerald lake
At Emerald lake
The stream going into Emerald lake
Emerald lake
On the shores of Emerald lake
Emerald lake
A walkway
Trees in the water
Water and trees
Through the woods
Water and mountain
A hike
Up the mountain
The view of what's to come
On a hike
Waiting to be used
A view of Ushuaia
Going up the mountain
In the woods
From Ushuaia to Santiago 4/22
From Ushuaia to Santiago 3/22
From Ushuaia to Santiago 2/22

The deepest south, save for Antarctica itself, is on many bucket lists. It’s a kind of legendary, with the names Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego having almost mythical qualities.

Ushuaia is the self-styled southernmost city in the world. Even though it’s not even that far south, its distance from the equator being about the same as that for Belfast. There is still a long way to go south. There’s just not much more land between the fairly popular tourist town of Ushuaia, and Antarctica.

And there are even more settlements south of Ushuaia, though not in Argentina. They’re in Chile, with one, nearby, having some 1000 inhabitants, and another one, further afield, having a mere 100 or so.
Arguably, Ushuaia is perhaps the southernmost city, but there are villages further south.

Somewhat similarly, a spot inside the Tierra del Fuego National Park low-key markets itself as the southernmost point you can drive to in the Americas. Except, you have to cross the Strait of Magellan to do so.

We had been looking at what to do for Christmas and new year. Flights everywhere have skyrocketed in price since the pandemic, meaning we were considering opting for an internal Brazilian flight, perhaps to the geographical center of the country, or the continent, and then to slowly head back home, by a series of bus connections.

But then I stumbled on a cheap flight all the way to the southern tip of the continent. However, this was paired with an eye wateringly expensive return trip. And without the inclusion of checked-in luggage.

Some digging resulted in finding more affordable flights, for a return trip, from Santiago, the capital of Chile, though those with even worse conditions, not allowing even hand luggage.

Still, a plan was hatched, and we were going to head south for Christmas and the new year.

In São Paulo, we just finished a week at 30 degrees, and on our stop over in Buenos Aires, it was going to be even warmer. Our destination, though at the height of summer, was going to be slightly fresher; taking into account the wind chill factor, it was going to feel like around 5 degrees upon arrival. Natalia was taking her mountain of a coat, nicknamed Michael (hee hee), itself a challenge due to our very limited luggage restrictions.
Taking old clothes that we could discard along the way was going to help.

In Ushuaia, we discovered we were going to need many of those layers we had brought. Flying in, we could see plenty of snow on the mountains surrounding the city. And the low for the day that we were arriving was just 2 above zero, even though, with the sun out, the weather was quite lovely.

We walked from the airport to our accommodation, after which I walked up the mountains backing the city, visiting a nearby glacier and treating myself to a rather spectacular view of the town, as well as of the Beagle channel, the water separating Argentina from Chile.

Just as I arrived at the viewpoint, a hailstorm made it impossible to see anything for some 15 minutes. I waited it out under the umbrella I had wisely brought, after which the sun came out again.

It seems like every couple of years, Argentina is now going through a financial crisis (as well as a political one).
The US and Europe are, now, moving closer to breaking point, with later stage capitalism capturing the political process, squeezing more and more out of the people and subverting the people’s potential for influencing the political and social future of the majority. But, with a backdrop of racialised colonialism, countries in Latin America have a long legacy of the white elite trampling on the indigenous, black, and coloured majorities.

In Argentina, successive presidents, flipping between left and right, have seen, as a rule of thumb, the right enrich themselves at the expense of the people, which the successive left then attempting resolve this in the next cycle.
Currently, the leftist Vice President has just been sentenced to 6 years in jail by a judge favouring the right.

Either way, Argentina, like the last time I was here some 8 years ago, is going through a financial crisis.
It’s amazing that the country still hasn’t fallen apart.

Last time, international money exchanges were restricted, resulting in an official exchange rate, and a street rate. Typically, this is a recipe for disaster, with last time the difference being over 50%.
I was under the impression that, this time, there was no street rate, also because the country has even more tightly been integrated into the global financial system.

Our first few days, not having seen an exchange office, we had been paying by card. I had seen exchange rates posted, and was worried that, perhaps, the rate I was getting on my card was going to be less. But, not so.

Then, having a chat with a tour operator in Ushuaia, he offhandedly mentioned the street rate, the ‘blue dollar’, using the same term for it as the last time I visited, and things clicked into place.

We had thought prices high, but the street rate is, again, around double the official rate. From an expensive country, Argentina became reasonably affordable.

Our second day, I walked up to the Emerald Lake, an easy hike, and a very pretty lake. But though the region is relatively quiet in terms of tourism, those that do visit, all do the same trips.

Our last full day, Natalia finally was able to extract herself from work, and we spent a full day in the Tierra del Fuego National Park.
Luckily, almost no rain, and gorgeous green settings. Also, somewhat surprisingly, very reminiscent of the Scottish highlands.
Interestingly, the rocks and beaches all have a blue hue.

Taking a break, halfway down the route, a bird of prey kept us company. Three times, we fed it some snacks, and, each time, it took the bait and flew off with it, presumably bringing it to her nest to feed her offspring.

A roof tile with fish, in Goiás

Cora and Natalia
The center of Goiás
Natalia and Babak
Natalia and Babak
Babak and Natalia
Natalia and Irene
Blue and round
On the river
Selling coconuts
Cora and Irene
The Goiânia jockey club, once

Brazil has several far flung World Heritage Sites. One of them is the old town of Goiás, in the state of Goiás. These names matching is no coincidence; the town was the capital of the state until the 1930s, with the population of the state being small, in Brazilian terms and, mostly, the only thing of importance in the state being the town.
Goiânia, newly constructed, just a few hours away from the future capital of the country, took over the honours as the cultural and professional center of the state in 1937.

Founded by a Bandeirante, one of the Portuguese colonisers responsible for Brazil’s expansion westward, Goiás briefly flourished, mostly in the 18th century, because of nearby gold mines.
As a consequence, the town strongly resembles other colonial settlements in the country which flourished around the same time, like Ouro Preto, and Paraty, though Goiás is quite sleepy.
Even during a weekend, very few tourists show up. 

A more recent claim to fame of the city is that it was the birthplace and home of the poet Cora Coralina, who only starting publishing her work at 75, and survived through pioneering the manufacturing and sale of crystallised sweets, for which the town is now well known.
Strangely, Cora’s house museum spends very little time on either sweets or poems, but some of those sweets, which are sold throughout the town, are quite excellent. Though some others, like the crystallised cheese, are… an acquired taste… perhaps.

The height of the tourist season is the time around the Procession of the Fogaréu, when locals, dressed up like predecessors of the Ku Klux Klan, chase the devil out of the city.

We stayed on the edge of town, where a small lake contained a few scores of massive tambaqui, fish from the Amazon that can grow to be 30 kilos. They eat a kilo, each, per day, and we got to feed them, by hand, with fruits. When, afterwards, I was sitting on the jetty with one of my feet in the water, one of them started snacking on my toes. 
Thankfully, though there is some resemblance between tambaqui and piranhas, they have no teeth. Perhaps this could be a new kind of massage.

Goiás only has some 22000 inhabitants, whereas the capital Goiânia has over 1.5 million, with the metropolitan area adding another million.
That city is quite green, but in contrast to the nearby Brasilia, is architecturally not very interesting, even if it has a few dozen remarkable enough art deco structures.

Goiânia is also somewhat notorious for the Goiânia accident, which reads like a true-crime novel with dramatic outcomes.
In 1987, a forgotten radiotherapy source was stolen from an abandoned hospital. It was then handled by a bunch of people, resulting in four deaths. Afterwards, over 110,000 people were examined for radioactive contamination with a few hundred of them coming up positive.
Topsoil was removed from several sites, and a number of constructions were raised, with all objects within those houses seized and incinerated.

The culprit was not even 100 grams of the radioactive caesium-137.

One of the thieves at some point succeeded in puncturing the container that held the caesium with a screwdriver, allowing him to see a deep blue light coming from the tiny opening he had created. He then scooped out some of the glowing substance, and tried to, crazily, ignite it, thinking it might be gunpowder. 

He sold the container on to a scrapyard, where the owner of that yard also noticed the blue light and considered a supernatural source. Then, the material was handled by multiple individuals, before being sold off to another scrapyard. Only after more and more people had fallen ill, and some sought medical support, did a visiting medical physicist confirm the presence of radioactivity, with city, state, and national governments being alerted on the same day.

A month later, a six year old child who had played with some of the radioactive material, died of radiation poisoning and was buried inside a lead-lined fibreglass coffin in Goiânia.
A total of 4 people died because of radiation poisoning, but many more were effected.

The capsule that contained the caesium is now on display in Rio de Janeiro. 

Not that much excitement in the sleepy town of Goiás, and certainly not any of the radioactive kind.
But we did have quite a lot of very good food. Not just some of the sweets, but also peixe na telha, a stewed fish served on a roof tile, and empadão goiano, a kind of soup in bread.

30 Days of Prompts

For Sound Walk September 2022, the main event organised by walk · listen · create was 30 Days of Prompts, a continuous, 30-day event, where participants were given two prompts per day, with the aim of exploring the urban space around them.

The platform, naturally, was going to be Dérive app, though I also published all 60 tasks on a dedicated Twitter account, in case having to install an app was going to put off too many people.

Signups were promising, but, in the end, participation was limited. Except that I myself, always a sucker for events resembling a photomarathon, made a point of completing the full exercise.

My original plan was to have the event consist of 30 prompts. I upped this to 60, one every 12 hours, but I found that this was not ideal. The darker 12 hours of each day make it difficult to complete tasks, and I often found myself completing two tasks in short succession during daytime, an argument for not two prompts a day, but just one.

For myself, I’d happily redo a similar event. The marathon nature makes it challenging, and its integration into day-to-day activities livens up the daily grind, while its long duration generates variety.