Journey from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Seattle, Washington
12 March to 24 April 2009
Rio de Janeiro, 12 to 17 March 2009
This place is Fabulous.
I am finding this adventure pretty exhausting, primarily because I am so excited to be in South America that I am not sleeping very well, and of course burning the candle at both ends.
Shortly after I arrived in Rio with permanent sidekick Ram, we were blessed to be joined by my half Brazilian goddaughter, Luciana Lamont, who just coincidently happened to be visiting Brazil from England. This luminous beauty guided us through our awkward orientation to the ways of Rio, its neighborhoods and cuisine. We enjoyed so many delicious Brazilian dishes, that we felt like we were already putting on pounds, and the chronic feasting of our upcoming cruise had yet to begin! So I decided we should juice fast for our two last days in Rio. This was fabulous, as the juice shops are everywhere, featuring fruits that I have never even heard of, which have all sorts of exotic nutritional elements. Also economical! After those two days I had unbelievable energy.
As we were flying into Rio, I was struck by the exotic sensuousness of the landscape, its weird mountains threaded with the waters of the bay, lined with pristine white beaches.
The earth rises up in dramatic and primeval shapes, covered in luscious tropical greenery and appearing from every perspective behind the many white highrises.
We were staying at the famous Copacabana Beach, very wide and bounded by mosaic walkways of a sensuous black and white wavy pattern. Everyone walks around in bikinis and Speedos — whatever their body shapes – tan, relaxed, rhythmic. Nearby are the upscale beaches of fashionable Ipanema and Leblon. They are all lined with wide boulevards and Fifties buildings with balconies facing out to the waters. We enjoyed time on the beaches with Luciana. The water was quite bracing and often there was quite high surf.
After Luciana left we visited the museums and the old part of the city, with its grandiose European style buildings and exquisite Baroque churches, though particularly striking was the huge Seventies Oscar Niemeyer Cathedral of Saint Sebastian, which is wonderfully reminiscent of a pre-Columbian pyramid.
Saint Sebastian, who was tortured to death, seems a fundamentally appropriate saint for South America, as I am discovering by reading its history. Armored with the entitlement of “the one true religion”, ruthless, gold frenzied Conquistadores brought down within a few years, the two great native civilizations, the Aztecs and the Incas, and enslaved the entire indigenous population of the continent. When this slave labor died out or failed to keep up with the greed of the Iberians, they imported some millions of slaves from Africa. In Rio, the descendents of these dispossessed peoples live in favelas, colorfully painted slums that spill down in the high valleys between the great monoliths above the white buildings of the city. Millions more of these heirs to the exploitation and greed of the white men of Christendom are the majority in Brazil. Happily, the country’s president, called Lula, himself from this background, has turned his attention to their plight, representing a political movement that is slowly taking over the countries of South America.
From any distance, appearing everywhere mysteriously between buildings, on a dramatic humpbacked promontory dominating the whole of Rio is a white figure that looks like a cross, but is in fact Christ the Redeemer with outspread arms.
We had the occasion twice to ascend through a green jungle to this highest of all summits. Up close and personal, the modernist statue becomes even more amazing. This divine figure is the height of a three-storey building and weighs 14,000 tons. It has been designated one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
After five days in Rio, with mounting excitement, we boarded the Amsterdam, which is to be our home for 40 days. Towards evening we set sail, gliding out of the harbor watching the city pass before us with its beaches, ritzy white buildings, colorful slums and the strange verdant primordial shapes behind. Above it all, the Christ was illuminated from behind by a white sunset.
The Amsterdam is a wonderful ship, just the right size for me, unlike the horizontal skyscraper I took to Alaska.
However, there are disappointments.
I worked on my Spanish for months before coming on this trip, but the Ship is Dutch and bears no relationship at all to South America. It is a big neutral international hotel. Most of the serving staff are Indonesians, who I have enjoyed for years in Bali, and I have lots of practice speaking Indonesian – but nada Espagnol!
Activities — bingo, gambling, adult games — have no relationship to where we are or where we are going, except for a couple of terrific lectures every day on the ports of call and the natural life of the southern cone of South America.
Almost everyone on the ship and our sub-group based in Seattle seems to be Middle American and older than I am, and Ram complains that he feels old. But there are exceptions, and every day I meet someone new or interesting.
What is neat about the ship is that it is beautiful with very lovely, classy fixtures and decor. For an old land explorer like me, the concept of a cruise is terrific. The set-up obviates the really tiring parts: finding a hotel, schlepping baggage, packing and unpacking, getting used to another home. Also, orienting to a new place is exhausting and tiring. In this case, your luxury hotel takes you to your destination and waits for you there. Anywhere you are on this journey, your comfy room is nearby,together with fabulous food and facilities. It is very grounding.
Being on “shore excursions” isolates you from almost any genuine experience of the culture, but I am already planning some kind of trip back here with one of my friends who knows Latin America well and can bring me into that dimension of things.
There are so many attractions and distractions available on the ship that one can get exhausted trying to take advantage of them all. So at first I was frantic and of course over-eating to where I was constantly in self-induced intestinal pain. After a few days of this, things have settled down.
I am immersed on my own in studying Spanish and reading the history of Latin America.
It is just like home – overeating and Middle America are there, as is approaching old age. But I create my own reality, choosing among these as I wish.
As I study Latin American History, there are patterns create
d through the whole continent: disaffected majorities of the Indian and black slaves who built “Latin America” and increasingly call for a place in civil society and the socialism that tries to recognize them, landed Aristocracy who push for oligarchic governments that serve their conservative interests, economic and political confusion no one can resolve, but greed for power always there to usurp the situation and try. Then of course, there is the military and its dictators, who seize power and eventually mess things up even more. In the Twentieth Century, these histories become almost comical. I feel ashamed that my country, with its unique combination of power and naiveté, has not always been on the right side of things, especially in its paranoia about the paper tiger of communism and resultant support of military dictatorships, which were murderously repressive. Studying this as I sail around the continent is fabulous, an opera composed in Latin music.
Argentina is the prototype. They do it all with tremendous drama and flair, but it is also tragic. All of this is expressed in its music, which I have always distantly loved, but now come more and more to understand emotionally and existentially.
Buenos Aires 20 March
If Rio was a transcendent fantasy, Buenos Aries seems most earthly.
It is almost like a European City. Like East Coast cities in the US there are many European cultural elements, but here mixed into a unique blend different from North America and with a Latin flair. It is another way of combining the elements and is fascinating on that basis alone.
Shortly before we left for the trip, we watched Evita. Now I see that she made a heart connection with the oppressed majority from which she herself came and therefore gave a compassionate, even saintly touch to her husband Peron, who combined being a part of the military with working with the unions.
We visited the square with the pink palace from whose balcony Evita delivered many of her heartfelt emotional addresses to the people of the country. At her ornate family mausoleum, our tour guide, a Latin charmer with slicked back hair, explained the deep division in the country about her even to this day. She came from the poor, but she died very rich by all the nefarious means of those in power, so this is the under story: power and greed always have their way with even the most compassionate leaders.
My favorite was the evening of tango, displaying its many faces and styles. What has been described as “a vertical activity expressing the passion of a horizontal one” is the Latin soul and style with which this political opera has been played out. It speaks deeply to me in its emotional longing and crisp, disciplined elegance.
Montevideo, Uruguay March 22
The day after Buenos Aires, we stopped in nearby Montevideo, Uruguay. A friend and ex-cousin, Karen Maddox, who now lives down there with her new husband, came to meet us for lunch and showed us around the city. Everyone in the country carries in their hand a mate gourd for yerba tea, and, clutched in their arm, a matching thermos filled with the hot water that they keep pouring into the leaves in the gourd. Karen called it a one armed country.
Port Stanley, The Falklands March 25
After two more days of increasing cold at sea, we put into the barren Falkland Islands, which the Argentines, with geographic righteousness, lust after as the Malvinas. After all this Latin infusion, it was strange to find myself in little old England having fish and chips surrounded by pictures of the Queen and Margaret Thatcher, but such is the strange admixture of South America. Here we were able to watch lots of penguins, whose populations are greater than all the limeys down here.
Cape Horn March 26
As we were nearing the southern most islands off the South American continent, it was cold and very windy, and the seas were quite wild. Everyone was bundled up, stumbling around as though seriously drunk. You walk outside at your own peril, as the winds are wild enough to throw you off. The sky is brilliantly cloudy and the whitecaps make the turgid sea as white as it is blue.
I think back to a family legend of my favorite ancestor, Louis LaRoque, who came to Canada, probably as a refugee from a Europe not progressive enough in that impatient time. He moved to Canada, throwing over his old religion, and changed his name to Rock. We have a photo of this dashing devil, and I always fancy I look like him. He rounded the Cape in a ship bound for California and the Gold Rush. As the story goes, when the captain tried to get him to work, he threatened to throw the man overboard.
I think of him traveling in his little ship rounding the horn in this wild sea and wonder if he could ever have imagined that 150 years later his descendent would be rounding it once again in the high tech luxury and comfort of this great ship.
The Cape is as far south of the equator as Juno is north of it. As we approach the actual island, the sea becomes even wilder. The first person to actually round it was a Dutchman from Hoorn, Holland, who gave it its name. What did he feel like in his little ship? The sky is cloudy, but the sun shines through in places in fevered shafts lighting up the boiling ocean. This high drama is a fitting spectacle for the rebirth from Atlantic to Pacific Culture.
Ram and I found a refuge right outside of our stateroom that was strangely protected from the gale force winds. We sat huddled in every layer we had with us. Bizarre and wild rock formations rose out of the sea.
Approaching the Cape, it was too wild to go around, so the ship stopped in front of the huge grey island, then turned and headed up north, the critical turn in this whole voyage.
Our confusion about this (did we round the horn or not?) was something of a comical damper on the excitement of the event, but the whole experience was wonderful.
Ushuaia, Argentina March 27
At the tip of the cone of South America, the continent, sculpted by crushing tectonic plates eroded by glaciers, is fragmented into lots of islands of various sizes. The largest and southernmost has the wonderful name of Land of the Fire, “Tierra del Fuego”. We arrived there the morning after (maybe) rounding the horn, at Ushuaia, the southernmost city on the continent. All bundled up, we took a trip up into the national forest to see the lakes and trees and snow decked grey mountains everywhere visible, and the exotic wildlife that lives there. Then we returned to the town and visited the notorious penal colony, in whose cells political and criminal misfits were incarcerated. Now it is a charming museum, with each small cell containing a different exhibit about every aspect of the area.
Enthralled, I walked around town until the last minute. Hurrying out to the ship, I passed a platform where tango music was playing. A portly couple in their seventies was dancing together. She wore long skirts, and he was in macho gaucho regalia, but under the tan leather scarf wrapped diagonally from his waist to below his knees, the bottom of his pants were white with descending rows of frills looking like the pantaloons worn by Victorian women under their voluminous skirts!?! My heart skipped a beat.
I think I fell in love with Argentina.
Life on the Ship
Last night I had again occasion to think of my great great great grandfather and his voyage around the horn. After it got dark and I could not stand the cold any more, we dressed for formal dinner, hurried off to the posh double storied restaurant, had a brilliant four course dinner, went to a big screen showing of Slumdog Millionaire (great fairy tale) then a late Greek style snack and then the late show of Indonesian music and dance put on by the staff. This is the hard life on the ship! Wonder what Louis Rock did t
he night he rounded the horn?
I now realize that the sum of advance in the century and a half that separates us is comfort.
I have surrendered to the fact that I am practicing more Indonesian than Spanish on this trip. I love the Indonesians so very much, which is nothing new, though eternally enjoyable. As I have long experienced in Bali, their egoless service of self-indulgent Westerners is breathtaking.
Last night we had a dessert extravaganza. Surrounding the pool were tables piled high with hundreds of cakes, puddings, tarts, and pies festooning ice sculptures. Unfortunately, we were on quite rough seas, so it was rather poorly attended and the water was sloshing about in the pool. Thinking of the numbers of people in the world who are now feeling anxiety about where they will get their next meal, I felt more evidence for my gathering perception that the present economic slowdown is covertly fuelled by a spiritual revulsion at the excess of our materialistic culture. This display called to mind Marie Antoinette’s vaunted dictum just before the revolution overwhelmed her world, “Let them eat cake.” After circumnavigating this display several times, and with great piety, I chose from the sugarless table only a cocktail glass filled with Jell-O stratified in layers of different shades of red. Some of this piety may have been fuelled by the fact that one hour before at dinner I had polished off a meringue filled with passion-fruit mousse and then finished Ram’s chocolate cake….
Part of what has excited me about this trip is the experience of a new continent. We all need a new continent from time to time. What that means, as it turns out, is a new configuration of perception, based on a different kind of understanding and experience of the world. This comes by glimpsing other manifestations of civilization, but also experiencing a new continental configuration and another perspective of the earth. The incremental experience I am having must be nothing to the experience of those who have traveled to the edges of our atmosphere and look back at the earth, which foretells vast and fundamental change to come.
The nature here at the southern part of the continent is spectacular, a showplace of amazing natural architecture. The Torres del Paine mountaintops march to the southern tip of Patagonia, where they climax in a dramatic meeting with the Southern Ocean. In many ways it is the kind of landscape we experienced a few years ago on a cruise of the top of the Pacific Coast in Alaska. Enormous tectonic plates have collided, throwing up spectacular peaks. During the ice age, all but the highest peaks were largely covered in glaciers, which shaped and etched the mountains and dredged the islands. We glide through these Chilean fjords in the Darwin Channel, gazing at retreating glaciers that remain, enchanted by the heavenly luminous blue that emanates from them.
I have been tracking the stories of the 16th C explorers and how their journeys changed the world, but also closely monitoring the experience of Darwin as he covered this same continental coast. I have read quite a lot of his account, The Voyage of the Beagle, but the ship’s lecturer, who is a naturalist, has also been discussing Darwin and his adventure. Of particular interest to me is how Darwin’s observations on this trip began a process, characterized by incremental insights, by which he much later came up with his shattering theories. For instance, experiencing a volcano on an island I am just now passing, and observing the geology of the area, gave him the evidence of the vastness of time, which later became the possibility for there being any such thing as the infinitely gradual process of evolution. In the European culture he came from, such vastness of time was inconceivable. The mind resists such advances, and the great explorers of human knowledge have a unique kind of courage, akin to that of explorers but of a subtler kind.
They experience evidence that forces them to think outside the box. Here are two interesting features of this process in the case of Darwin. First of all, as to exposure to the new, when Darwin finished this long journey, he was so overloaded with new experiences that, once back in England, he barely ever left his home again. Symbolic of the resistance to new thinking was Robert Fitzroy, the captain of the Beagle, whose predecessor on the ship had gone mad at the lower tip of the continent I have just passed (it is that far out!) and committed suicide. To keep himself from the same fate, Captain Fitzroy invited Darwin, then a young Cambridge theology student, to accompany him as a gentleman companion on this long voyage. Fitzroy was a fundamentalist believer. Years later, when Darwin’s new impressions had congealed into his shocking theories of evolution, Fitzroy, despairing of his part in it, himself committed suicide.
In my own ways, I find myself arriving into newness of understanding in my own preoccupations.
Part of this is the insights occurring as a result of deep and complex meditations I am doing on the full days at sea as part of my long involvement with my mystical School, Arica. This training is too vast and secret to go into here, but in addition to the fact that its effects are intensified down here at the end of the world, Oscar Ichazo, the School’s Bolivian teaching master, presented the first training for North Americans in Chile. For almost 40 years I have been engaging with this “holy work”, but only now, on this journey, am I able to savor its subtle Latin roots. Also, the Amsterdam will be visiting that place in Chile, Arica.
Chile March 30 to April 5, 2009
Being in legendary South America is full of subtle revelations. For instance, I always pronounced this country’s name as ‘chilly’. But now I discover CHEE lay. Much more beautiful, subtle and exotic. I say it over and over to myself here, as it is a kind of sensual revelation.
Chile is a very long skinny country between the Pacific Coast and the peaks of the Andes. It is cold in the south and hot in the north, with all the landscapes to match. Our first stop was the southernmost town of Punta Arenas down in Chilean Patagonia. We drove over vast plains with the white mountains in the distance, entertained by strange flora and fauna, such as llama and reh, a species of ostrich with downy grey feathers.
We went to an Estancia, a ranch where we watched a sheep being sheared and a show of gaucho cow-herding elegance. South American machos revel in their domination of animals, a telling quality. Then greeted by the lovely mistress of the Estancia, we had Pino Saur, the strong national drink, and a feast washed down with Chilean wine, while we fraternized with the charming family that own the ranch.
The whole diet of Argentina and southern Chile is based on meat. Things like veggies are a boring afterthought. Animals are senseless creatures for human exploitation and consumption, reflecting the traditional attitude towards the indigenous peoples of the continent. This attitude is very graphically represented by the custom, in which the locals take great pride, of splitting the animal and splaying its skeleton on a rack before the fire. Having long ago tuned into the sensitivity of animals, particularly our cousin mammals, the whole business is grossly unaesthetic to me, and Ram had to remind me repeatedly to keep my opinions to myself as everyone gorged on mounds of flesh. To be a sport I had one small bite, but it brought up childhood memories of being forced to eat meat, and I discreetly removed it to the side of my plate. No one noticed, because everyone was decidedly drunk.
The more experienced I grow in the world and the more I study its history, the more I come to believe in the most concise analysis of
the evils of politics uttered in the great dictum of Lord Acton: “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Of course we see this all over the world, but Latin America, with its irreconcilable political and economic realities, and its love of charismatic macho caudillos, is its poster child.
In this regard, I see the true greatness of the American Constitution, not in the fact that it represents democracy, but that it addresses this issue of power with term limits and the carefully structured balance among the branches of government. Still, our leaders chafe at the bit, as we saw with Nixon and, more recently Cheney and Bush, who connived to redistribute this power into the Executive Branch. One of the many things I respect about Obama is that he devoted so much of his academic career to studying and teaching the constitution. There is no doubt that he understands this underlying principle, though his popularity and the dire situation left by the executive excesses of Cheney and Bush may thrust him into the position by which leaders in Latin America always become dictators.
Wonder of wonders, now both Argentina and Chile have women for presidents. This started when Peron’s widow, Isabel, who, echoing the popularity of Peron’s former wife Evita, became president. The present Argentinean woman president is the wife of the last president, Kirchner, and is regarded as just a puppet continuation of his power. Maybe the tipping point was when Margaret Thatcher thumped the macho Argentinean military dictator over the Falklands.
Madame Michelle Bachelet, the Chilean President, is a doctor. I asked a local how it is that she became president, and she said, the women all voted for her. Now there’s an impressive and worthwhile majority!
I like giving women a chance, but my uber-guide, Leo Gabriel, old friend from think-tank days, tells me that she has been very nasty in her treatment of the indigenous Mapuche. Thatcher also proved what probably should be an amendment to Lord Acton’s dictum: Power corrupts… and that goes for women, too.
The next stop of the ship, a few hundred miles north was Puerto Montt. Everything has a decidedly Bavarian flavor. Our guide, Ruby, told us at length about her Austrian and German ancestors who came there about the time Louis Rock was rounding the horn.
Spectacularly lovely was the Lake District, with its nearby snow-covered volcanoes and Andes Mountains behind. We went boating on a large luminous lake. It seemed remarkably like Austria.
There are no homeless in the country. Socialism provides minimal health care and education for all. There were many housing settlements. The government subsidizes housing that you can buy for $600 down.
Several more hundreds of miles up the coast the ship stopped in the hilly port of Valparaiso, and we drove two hours through two fertile valleys, looking very much like California, to Santiago, the huge and smoggy capital city. We stopped at the Capitol, where Pinochet’s coup resulted in Allende’s death. Pinochet presided over a reign of terror supported covertly by America. We arrived at the parade ground before the capitol just in time for the changing of the guard. The troops were elegant with their macho high boots, green riding trousers and cream-colored coats. The sergeant at arms barking the orders was a woman. Inside the capitol was the woman president, Michelle Bachelet, who, though she has not served the Mapuche Indians, has apparently done much towards creating a more civil society. This is the new wave of a Latin America democratically dedicated to the well being of the great majority instead of the dictatorship of the privileged few.
A highlight was a lunch in a lovely park, where I was joined by Marcelo Fernandez, one of the members of Oscar Ichazo’s original school here in Chile. We had an intense but short meeting about the Work of our mystery school.
The visit in Santiago ended at the old monastery of San Domenico, still retaining the flavor of a 16th C settlement, but now filled with artisans and their workshops.
My Declaration of Independencia
I am reading about how Ferdinand and Isabella combined Church and Crown to order the creation of a new civilization on this continent. Three hundred years later, Napoleon wrecked this set up in Iberia and made space for new ideas. The new world began the adventure of independence and ordering itself, a chaotic process which is still unfolding.
I have had my own little drama to reflect this. The Ship and the tour companies are aligned so that on your one day in port, you can be shepherded about the sights without chaos. It is expensive but comfortable. However, it is little more than a travelogue for consumers of packaged sights and sounds, people who have no originality or are too tired in life to exercise it. Mostly Americans over 70, they chatter away in the bus with their honky accents gossiping and making inane observations, and the whole event is exhaustingly mediocre.
In short, like the colonies, you sacrifice original self-determination for the comfort of order. And border wars begin. I have avoided traveling like this my whole life, but we had a chance to buy at a good price a whole package of tours on the first half of the cruise. Ram’s comfort margin is more developed than mine, and as there is a margin of chaos and error in discovering a new place on ones own, with the cruise schedule, there is no time for that. There is a tradeoff.
Yesterday, we had our first time on our own, and I reveled in independencia, but yes it was somewhat exhausting and we had new border wars. It was however the first time I really felt adventure not stifled by comfort, and the first time I had some chance to talk with the locals in Spanish.
We stopped in the Chilean port of Coquimbo and went to the little nearby town of La Serena, small, beautifully colonial and full of local life. Even then, for a day, you hardly even arrive before you are sailing away.
Arica 5 April
Our final stop in Chile was where Oscar Ichazo trained the group of 40 Americans in 1970, who then returned to America and started the School. The previous day at sea I had done a very long meditation and had had, as so often happens, a very high and fundamental experience. I felt such gratitude for this Work and its reward of what I most want in life, that I felt very moved when I woke up the next morning and looked out at Arica. We have no focus for the gifts we receive from this Work, nothing that we worship, so I felt a great rush as I looked out at this little place where it all began.
The little place is located in the Anacama desert, the driest place on earth. There is something unbelievably stark and radically pure about it. Arica is a small town on the sea with a great rock cliff to one side called El Morro. There a decisive battle in 1880 resulted in Chile annexing this piece of land, which was formerly part of Peru. We visited an anthropological institute in the desert and saw excellent exhibits of the indigenous cultures that have lived here for millennia in ecological harmony. Starkness, indigenous and natural consciousness, radical purity of being – all features and goals of the Arica Work.
As it turns out, the days at sea are really essential, as the traveling around during the port calls is very condensed and tiring.
My Indonesian is improving at a faster pace than my Spanish, and these little guys are so dear in their selfless service. They love that I speak Indonesian with them. They have a delightful custom, which is that each night they leave in our room a different animal cleverly created by folding white towels. Last night I went in and there was a monkey hanging from the ceiling!
I really did have a hard time with the fact that a majority of the people are Middle Americans, psychic
ally underprivileged and older than myself, but I have made my peace with it. Here is a small sample of how we do things in Arica. First I identified this as just another version of my lifelong struggle with arrogance, possibly masking my own mediocrity. Second, I realize that these older people, previews of detractions to come, constantly thrust before me my growing distress with aging. We have a mantra in Arica, WE ARE ONE, by which we recognize that all humans are fundamentally one and the same. Whenever I enter a group of those Middle Americans, I just start repeating this mantra to myself, which always catalyzes my discomfort. Then when I engage with them individually, I always find an engaging individual, often an interesting one, and so it goes until I have come to a place of peace.
Speaking of peace, just being on this great ship as it moves hugely through the waters, standing in the breeze at the rail outside our room, the sky performing its constantly changing grandeur, watching over the great blue ocean whose horizon displays a hint of the enormous curvature of the earth, rocking slightly, hearing the waters swish by…
Towards the Center
The Equator 11 April, 2009
We have stowed away our coats, hats and gloves, and now it is hot!
We crossed the equator with a visit from King Neptune and his mermaids and, in order to assure a safe passage, a ceremony traditionally performed before the assembled passengers and a tribunal of senior officers. Pirates brought out a cage containing members of the staff who were crossing the Equator for the first time, accused them of ridiculous crimes, forced them to hug a great fish, smudged them with slime in psychedelic colors and threw them into the pool.
I wandered away from all this trumped-up hilarity to a lonely place on the ship and watched the glistening vastness of the equatorial sea with considerable sadness. We have returned from the wonders of the upside- down world. It is no longer late summer, but early spring. Every other day we set our clocks one hour earlier as the ship makes its way back to California time and reality.
Much happened before we reached the Equator. After leaving CHEE lay, we sailed for a day up the coast of Peru (Pay RRU) to Callao and spent two days in nearby Lima, the capital and cultural hub. We took a break from the ship and spent a night in upscale Miraflores.
American friends who hang out in Peru had told me to forget about Lima, but I loved it. For three centuries it was the most important metropolis in South America, called the City of the Kings. All this shows in its colonial splendor, especially in the imposing Plaza Major, enclosed by grand buildings, many featuring elaborately carved wooden balconies in Moorish style. One really felt the formidable grace and power of Spain.
We had a terrific guide, Felix, who took us through the great Baroque Cathedral, featuring a tomb containing the remains of rapacious Francisco Pizarro and elaborate mosaics glorifying his crude conquest of the Inca. We then went around to the Convent of San Francisco, with its musty crypts containing fifty thousand skeletons. At one point we walked out of its gracious cloisters into a creaking library lined with walls of 16th C books and illuminated by crystal chandeliers. Suddenly I felt jolted back to colonial and evangelical grandeur with that radical recognition I have been here before …in another lifetime? Could this explain why I am so sensitive to all this?
Returning to the Plaza, we watched another Changing of the Guard before the Palacio de Gobierno. This time the dress guard was wearing red and blue uniforms, strutting about to Karl Orff’s Carmina Burana, which was somehow primevally appropriate.
We liked Felix so much that we asked him to spend the rest of the day with us, and he became our friend. He walked us through the place where the Inquisition trials took place. There, wandering among displays of torture and punishment, I had the revelation that the true antichrist is the desire for control and that the church itself has been more on this side than on the side of its loving founder. Here too power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
I noticed a preponderance of short, squat people of native descent. We walked through the old city with Felix, and had lunch in what felt like a French Brasserie. He told us the story of Fujimori. Like Pinochet, the former Japanese President did some good things for the country, but he had been ruthless in suppressing opposition. That very day, he had been found guilty of human rights abuses and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. His daughter, Kiko, who served as his first lady, is now a leading candidate for president. Such is the soap opera of Latin American politics.
After lunch Felix took us to an anthropological museum, where a refined young lady with braces on her teeth walked us through ten millennia of indigenous civilization. The last room displayed the arrival of the Spanish, who, in the name of Christ — through conquest, disease, and enslavement — wiped out about 90% of the aboriginals.
We walked around Puebla Libre, a lovely little section of Lima, visiting a wine house where they distill their intense brandy, which we sampled. Slightly altered in consciousness, we walked into a church courtyard where they were preparing for a procession. Tomorrow is Palm Sunday. It is the custom that a different family each year is responsible for preparing the platforms of the icons, which are carried through the streets in the procession. All the statues look like they came out of Mel Gibson’s PASSION. A brutally wounded Christ is carrying the cross. Mary, with glistening eyes raised upward, has ten Spanish swords penetrating her heart.
Watching this touching scene, I realized a whole dimension of Christianity in Latin America beyond our Northern world. Here is what it amounts to: after destroying their bodies and souls, the Spanish gave them a murdered god with a broken hearted mother to identify with. The little family were lovingly festooning the platforms with flowers.
After spending the night in a charming, but exceedingly noisy hotel, we went to a native market, with lots of merchants of indigenous descent begging us to buy things nobody needs.
Then, before returning to the ship, we went to a gold museum displaying a collection of exquisite items and demonstrating how the gold and silver artifacts were created and used. The Inca Empire was an ambitious and audacious civilizing project based on the harmony of the relationships between human beings, nature, and the gods. Particularly striking to me was the way these materials that fed the precious metal famine of Europe, were valued by the Inca not for any material value, but as the expression of the primordial order. Gold was the resplendent power of the sun, the masculine active principle of creation, and silver was the resplendence of the moon, the feminine principle.
The Spanish considered the Indians to be non-human.
I found everyone in Lima to be very dear and welcoming. I liked Lima tremendously and hope I can return one day to venture further into the Incan lands to the wonder of Machu Picchu.
Manta, Equador 10 April
We arrived in Manta on Good Friday. We heard there were going to be many processions, and early on, we came upon the beginning of one. It was a street pageant at a large intersection with a cast of indigenous locals taking the parts in acting out the Passion. I always choke up when I see this story, but here the feeling in my heart had more to do with the sweetness of these stunted people and their condition. We arrived to find a large contingent of the Roman Army at attention as Jesus was on trial before a rather hysterically overacting Pontius Pilate. Next to him stood the High Priest of the
Jews dressed in the costume of a Catholic Bishop. As one glimpses a truth under a slip of the tongue, I saw through this Passion into the gross sacrifice of Jesus by this manifestation of the Anti-Christ, the Crown and the Catholic Church. On one level the crucifixion perpetuates the ancient human sacrifice which Europeans cannot countenance, but which was their way of communion. On a deeper level the natives were obeying the mandate to be Christian, but the true nature of their plight was slipping out at the seams. They repeat the Passion as victims of trauma exhibit repetition compulsion.
This awareness is beginning to color the whole trip for me, so I agreed to leave the scene and carry on with our plan to have Miguel drive us out to a National Preserve.
We drove down the coast of this equatorial country, grateful for the air conditioning of our little taxi, to a charming preserve of a temperate rainforest. The place was swarming with people from our ship. A guide took us on a walking tour through the heat looking at many bizarre flora and fauna in landscape that looked a great deal like California. We came to a small lake that had a noxious sulphuric odor and were told that it was fed by a hot spring. Lots of little families were playing in it and sitting by the sides. We were invited to enter, but hurried on. Ram later remarked that he felt depressed by the small lives of the people. I could see that the whole thing was getting to him as well.
On the way to the Preserve, we had passed a large and highly unlikely sign of a Yin Yang symbol. Across from it was a large gate with NIRVANA written above it. On our return we stopped and drove in. We wound up a hill and came to a group of buildings. A younger man came out and greeted us. He seemed larger than the others. In Spanish he explained to me that he is a student of philosophy and had built this retreat on a promontory over the sea where he lived alone. His extended family was visiting for a Good Friday feast, but he left them to show us around. He took us to his favorite place at the top of the rough wooden structure, two rooms entirely open to the sea. The breeze was exquisitely refreshing in the dry heat. This was his library and meditation space. He had a lovely vibe. I told him that I was one of many spiritual cousins from this same coast way to the north on the other side of the equator, who congregate in a place called Big Sur. They live just like this, with the same rustic way of stepping out of society and contemplating the greatness of the primordial Pacific and all that it represents. Our visit with him was the jewel of our short visit to Equador.
My Mini Mutiny
The scourge of cruises is the outbreak of collective illness. As we were approaching the equator, it was announced that the ship is on a red alert, because some people are turning up with “GI Illness”, a viral infection featuring diarrhea and vomiting. In red alert, many things change. They close down the hot tubs, a minor disaster for those of us from Marin. You are asked not to touch others, even shake hands. Small dispensers of Purex are everywhere and you must use them frequently. All the food is served, even in the cafeteria, and you cannot touch any utensils used by others. If you get ill you are quarantined in your room.
That morning I had Diarrhea, but no nausea. We certainly did not want to be stuck in our cabin, especially since we were one day from Costa Rica, where we had scheduled an elaborate nature tour, the one trip we planned at considerable expense before we left. In all my travels I have certainly learned to deal with a bit of the runs. So, we didn’t tell anyone. I got real careful and used lots of Lomotil until it cleared up.
Puertarenas, Costa Rica Easter, 12 April
Costa Rica is a tiny country at the center of the Central American isthmus. Here, locals say “Pura Vida” to express everything from hello to goodbye and practically everything in between. It is rather like the ever-sunny Hawaiian “Aloha”, but you can vary its mood by the expression on your face.
Pura Vida means “pure life”, and this is the thematic beauty of this country, its upward aspiration to ecological correctness and the reason that several friends in the States are buying property down here to resettle.
Costa Rica is as complex and diverse as any place of its size on earth. Evidence of the enlightened governance of President Oscar Arias is everywhere. There are great stretches of road that are uninterrupted nature, no road signs, and a booming tourist industry based on a concept originated here, ecotourism.
I would like to have been in a town to participate in a real Easter celebration, to see how they do resurrection. However, we had arranged to see the spectacular nature of Costa Rica before we realized it would be Easter. We first went on a boat through lagoons and along a river to the mouth of the sea. The shores are lined with Mangroves, coastal trees which are wonderfully bi, having some features that relate to salt water and others that relate to fresh water. Hiding among their spidery roots were many crocodiles, large and small, their grey color blending brilliantly with the shore. We saw pelicans, turtles, sandpipers, egrets, spoonbills, flamingoes. This was an Easter for St Francis, my favorite Christian. Not too sure, however if he would have approved of our one glimpse of the Resurrected One this morning, a lizard, which, because it can walk on water, is referred to as the Jesus Christ Lizard.
We then went to another park in which we walked through a forest of herb and spice trees and gawked at spectacular varieties of snakes in cages. We finished with a gondola ride through the canopy of the rainforest in which most of the wildlife thrives—tukan, owls, macaws, huge termite nests, and sloths. I would have loved to do this in silence, but the chatter of the other tourists deafened the great primordial peace. Pura Vida.
This holy time has been underscored in each place by the presence and sometimes the absence of churches, processions, and celebrations.
In this I have experienced a gathering awareness of how the oppressed have made Christianity their very own. Some of the statues — I saw a Jesus and Mary — are dark-skinned and sometimes even black.
From studying the history of dictatorship and the power of the Catholic Church I have been flooded with the evidence that the lust for power is the antichrist. All the power of the church has been the ongoing crucifixion of these peoples and their culture.
Clearly there are levels to this. One is that much of the indigenous mythology found its way into the Christian mythological structure, so that at various locations, the indigenous roots are actually still the active element. I knew this before I came, but now I see clearly that on another level Christianity turned into their emotional way of dealing with the holocaust of the colonial process. The hidden story is their torture and crucifixion at the hands of colonialism, but, as I am now discovering, there is no resurrection.
Ram is incensed. How can they have taken on this religion when it justified their own cultural annihilation?
The answer is not only that it was, like everything else, forced upon them, but also that, as an emotional survival mechanism, they were able to take on the religion that justified their own crucifixion, by preempting it to express the tortured and broken heart of their collective tragedy.
Is my own well-being somehow tied up with Latin American misery?
In college I learned about the behavior of the White Man towards the world since the Renaissance, entitled as he was by the One True Religion and energized by naked greed. Ever since, I have wondered how, in the greater justice that Asians call the laws of Karma, we will s
ome day have to pay.
Meanwhile, I take refuge from this growing awareness in the multi-star comfort of life on this great ship. We have been aboard for almost four weeks now. We take almost every meal in a four star restaurant, where dear Indonesians in smart uniforms place a napkin in my lap and, speaking Indonesian with me, serve my every royal whim. Many of the dinners are formal occasions in which Ram and I get all dolled up in tuxedos. I fear I am forgetting how to place my own napkin!!?
Nevertheless, it seems that an angel is guiding this journey. The weather, notoriously variable in this season, has been miraculously exquisite, sometimes turning terrible just as we sailed out of the ports. One ship behind us had to return to a prior port because of the storms.
Added to this is my own personal guiding angel, who, all my life, has allowed small disasters — enough to teach me to wake up — but lovingly, miraculously saved me from real disaster.
Now we are heading for Mexico.
On this trip we have been shadowed by President Obama.
When we were in Brazil, President Lula was in Washington meeting with Obama, establishing the communalities between them, tempered as they are by the deep commonality of their early experiences among the underprivileged.
Now, as we sailed up into Mexico, Obama was arriving in Mexico City and continuing on to meet with Latin American leaders from around the Caribbean. Wherever he goes, a great sigh of relief is heard by the world leadership as he puts forth his respectful hand of intelligent goodwill. I can barely contain the relief and joy I feel at having a leader who earns my respect at every turn.
I have always dismissed Mexico as the hot slum to the south. Whenever I have turned my eyes, so intoxicated by Asia and Europe, to south of the border, I was instinctively put off by its messy mediocrity. From time to time I venture there hoping for a new impression. A few years ago, a number of my friends took refuge from the Bush years in tony San Miguel de Allende. I visited there over New Years in ’07, but I came away with the impression — bluntly uttered by a friend – of a shantytown with a few beautiful buildings at the center.
Then I read a real page-turner, Aztec, by Gary Jennings, which introduced me to the Mexica, the brilliant and sophisticated peoples of the Aztec Empire. With a few strokes, the greedy Spanish destroyed all that was great and noble, interbreeding with the lowly peasants who survived, leaving only a chaotic cultural mediocrity robbed of its soul. I didn’t want to have any part of this, not when there was ageless India and pristine Bali, where the religions and temples of the ancients still thrive. What would Latin America be if we could still visit the dazzling Aztec capitol of Tenochtitlan or the thriving Incan capitol, Cuzco?
I feel anxious as our ship heads towards Mexico, wondering if my new experience of the great continent below will change this old prejudice.
Puerto Chiapas, 14 April, 2009
In its effort to encourage tourism, Mexico is promoting new destinations in the south of the country. They are getting more sophisticated about how to do it all.
Our first stop was just north of the border, Puerto Chiapas, which offered a suggestive contact with mystic, exotic and natural worlds. Our arrival was a local event, especially cheerful and charming, as most of the ports have greeted us with piles of packing crates. Dancers in ancient costumes performed for us, and then came more traditional dances and singing as we disembarked. The port itself, dominated by two great palapa pyramids, was beautiful. One of these held a restaurant and pool, and the other, a hall of high quality shops and tourist facilities surrounding a sunken stage where local performers, largely school kids, danced and sang all day. Everything seemed fresh and fun.
My old friend Leo Gabriel, passionate activist on the Latin American scene whose suggestions have often guided me on this trip, told me that the indigenous people of the State of Chiapas are politically very active. I wondered if this innocent loveliness was a result of indigenous efforts to present themselves as hosts. If so, it was very impressive. Everybody was friendly and enthusiastic. It was wonderfully uplifting to feel genuinely welcomed.
Our guide was a very attractive Belgian who has married a local. Everything we saw seemed impeccably clean and very well kept. She took us first to visit the ruins of Izapa; a city of proto-Mayans, where scholars believe the Mayan calendar was developed. As the guide explained how this calendar was reckoned and presented in relation to the ruined structures, I was again amazed at the heights of culture achieved by these people, and how tragic it was that they were not respected and supported by the invaders, as was the case with many colonists in Asia. Destroying their culture for European wealth may have had short term gains, but is ultimately the White Man’s great loss.
Then we went to visit the town of Tapachula. The large square in the center, with its exuberant central fountain, was thriving with local life, and we spent some time engaging with it and relishing its vitality. At one point an older woman came forward clutching the hand of a little child with bright inquisitive eyes. The woman explained in Spanish that her granddaughter was learning English and wanted to speak with me. But when I squatted down, the challenge was simply too great, and the child was incapable of uttering a word. My heart went out to her, as that panic is what I feel every time I start to speak Spanish. To learn a language takes ordinary courage, but great amounts of it.
Huatulco, Oaxaca, 15 April
The State of Oaxaca is only 150 miles from the capitol, but separated by sparsely populated mountains, so it has a destiny of it own, a sunny slow existence and a magical quality largely due to its remoteness, dry rocky landscape illuminated by bright southern light and large indigenous population.
We put into Santa Cruz, another cruise port. It was a school holiday however, and many locals were there to enjoy the picturesque little town and its beach facilities.
The shore is lined with bays and small private beaches. We decided to rent a motor scooter and head off to one of these. A Dutch friend saw us getting on and warned us about riding where there is sand, which was good, because very soon we took a small road off the main highway, and, sure enough, we did skid and turn over. Once again, the guardian angel protected us from any serious injury, but our enthusiasm was dampened. We found a lovely little bay with a river running into it. There was one small boutique hotel where we rented beach chairs and umbrellas. I wanted to get some serious reading done.
During the trip I have been reading two books. During the first part of the trip I read an academic History of Latin America, very objective and British, relating everything in laborious detail, far more than my aging mind could contain. Yet I couldn’t seem to skip over anything, and I just tried to retain the dynamic elements and general trends, because however the details vary in all the countries of Latin America, the patterns have been largely the same.
Since crossing the equator I was reading the second book recommended by Leo. This book, written by Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan journalist, is passionately poetic, but with immaculate economic and historical scholarship. It goes over the same history, but framed as the rape of Latin America. So far, I had covered the capture, slaughter, and enslavement of native civilizations; the colonization by Spanish crown and church; independence and the rise of oligarchic powers led by charismatic caudillos who combined and recombined in dictatorial gover
nments serving the great minorities and the mercantile empires, particularly Britain.
I was now beginning to read about the 20th C in which there was a new system of exploitation, the international corporations, mostly North American owned, and their continuing drainage of wealth, all influenced by my own government’s covert support of cooperative dictators, no matter how violent their methods. After Cuba went communist, any real attempts on the part of local governments to truly serve the people, labeled “tendencies towards communism”, were violently and mercilessly suppressed.
At one point, one of the ship’s lecturers, who I befriended, showed the movie Missing, which exposes the covert operations of American secret agents, who basically enabled Pinochet to overcome the long running democracy of Chile. In the early Seventies, a young, hip American disappears in Santiago. When his father, wonderfully rendered by Jack Lemon, comes to investigate, he gets the runaround. It finally becomes clear that the son had stumbled onto the American complicity in the coup and has been murdered. The horrified father confronts the American Ambassador, who, pressed into admission, says, “You sit complacently in your comfort and luxury in Westchester County and have no idea what your government has to do to maintain that for you.” This is the nub of the problem. The poor suffer so that I can achieve regal comfort on this ship, along with all these others who haven’t a clue as to what they are seeing. I was getting a glimpse. Yes, the Continent is stupendous, but the poor majority of Latin America are victims of their own natural wealth!
As we sat in our cushy white lounge chairs, I read a great deal of this part of the book. With poetic passion it powerfully dramatizes this modern Latin American drama, creating a radical sense of injustice of almost epic proportions. I felt like I was drowning in something that no one where I come from could comprehend. How could I relate this?!
When we returned from our slightly perilous motor scooter adventure to the little town constructed for tourists, I was in a kind of daze. Everywhere one sees the visible needs of the poor. Almost every person with brown skin is trying to get something from me.
Suddenly, the revulsion at their need was coming over me in a kind of psychic nausea; underneath, the sickness of heart at my European heritage, my country, my race. Everywhere, in all the restaurants, the aggressive merchants, the beggars – all was becoming a nightmare of needy outstretched hands for which my kind and I are responsible!
I stumbled aboard the ship. Blinded from the brilliance of the sun and the sudden darkness, I wandered in a daze towards our stateroom, when suddenly CLUNK…pain, stars. I had run into a post and cracked my brow. I put my hand to the wound and saw blood. Ram hurried me to our stateroom. The skin was not much broken, but my brow was already swelling. We put some ice in a washrag, and put it over the wound. I lay down.
Reality is trying to make a point, but how to assimilate this when I cannot even accept it and up to now have never been able to look at it. I fell asleep… Miranda Richardson had just died of a head wound…I might not wake up…
But once again, my guardian angel protected me from anything but an ugly bump and a slightly blackened eye.
At formal dinner that night, my run-in with the post was the cause of considerable hilarity.
Acapulco, 16 April
I expected Acapulco, the original Pacific resort, to be the slum of tourism, but the harbor itself, with the Sierra Madre Mountains behind, ranks with Rio and San Francisco. A tour of the city was completely delightful, though in the intense high rises and overbuilt hills, I could see the object lesson which is causing the very different approach to tourism we witnessed in the South.
We gawked at the obligatory divers at La Quebrada who plunge artfully 143 ft into the sea. The surrounding neighborhood began to look suspiciously like the Hollywood Hills. The place I most enjoyed was the dark pink Los Flamingos Hotel with a spectacular overlook. In 1954 a gang, including Cary Grant, John Wayne, and Johnny Weissmuller (who filmed his Tarzan movies nearby), took it over as a private hangout for their buddies. One could see the glamorous life of the good old days of Acapulco.
Just beside our port was the 17th C San Diego Fort, which protected the bay from pirates and invaders. It is now an elegant museum relating the colonial life of the area, displaying artfully a relatively few items with videos showing their context.
It was Thursday. I had read that on that day in Acapulco there is always a fiesta around Poyole, an indigenous hominy and chicken soup concoction with sides that can be added at will. Beneath the Fort, just across the street from our Port, was a restaurant with a kind of upper fiesta room. We went up there in the late afternoon just before we were due back. There were no tourists. The waiter served up our Poyole, and two shy girls seated next to us showed us how to prepare it. A show was gearing up as whole families were coming in. The female MC was pretty hefty, and, not accustomed to seeing drag in the afternoon, I asked the girls, “Hombre?” “Si”, they answered, giggling. Then two pairs of young dancers came out and muchachaed in decorous sexuality, vigorously exposing a lot, including our Northern Protestant sensibilities. With all the children running around, we could hardly believe our eyes. A sweet German friend who was with us said, “This is quite suggestive.” “No” I said, “its explicit!” I was very disappointed that we had to leave a local scene so alive and not staged for tourists. I told the girls we would wave to them as we pulled out, which we did.
Leaving a harbor as the sun is setting is always my favorite part.
Cabo San Lucas, 18 April
Our final stop in Mexico was Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of the Baja Peninsula. Pirates were the first to escape here, but this has now become another new tourist escape. It has its own style of post-modernist architecture, which from a distance looks rather like cave dwellings in Turkey or towns seen from the distance in the African Desert. Up close, it was frantically touristic.
With some friends we took a glass-bottomed boat out to a beach with spectacular rock formations, even a natural arch, the signature of the place, where the Bay and the Pacific come together in a sparkling dance. Lots of little isolated coves give the place the name, Lovers Beach. I was going to snorkel, but because of the wound on my brow, I could not put on the mask.
Then we were taken back to the hotel beach front, which, being a Saturday was pretty busy. We got the best deal on shaded lounge chairs, and I threw myself into trying to finish the book. Thus sensitized, the whole disjointed social structure was prominently displayed right there before me. Gross and sunburned tourists waited on by brown people fawning and jockeying for their business, innerly resentful, and scolding rudely another strata at the edges held away by ropes, hawkers, many of them children, laden with trinkets nobody needs, begging us to buy.
I was finding it harder and harder to be there, every interaction colored by what I was reading. In the confused faces of children, I keep seeing the shadow of exploitation — walking back to the port, a beggar here and there clutching an infant, imploring.
After all my years of traveling and living in post-colonial countries, I still freeze when confronted by a beggar. I have really worked at trying to deal with this. Now this mystery is clarified. I am frozen because I am confronted with the enormity of the economic difference between us and how, as a White Man, I am somehow responsible for this. By cosmic rights, I should just g
ive the beggar everything I have and take my place beside her.
I was relieved to get back to the ship and to be leaving this spectacle, with its outer and inner resonance. I simply can’t cope with it, though maybe that raw recognition itself is what is needed.
Part of my discomfort was that I did not know how I could express or share the deep pain of my impressions, fed and shaped by this book. My ability to communicate it to any North American seems impossible. I feel almost smothered by this.
And yet there is a new context: our unbridled capitalistic imperialism is in the process of collapsing under its own contradictions, mimicking in some ways the process by which communism collapsed twenty years ago.
Obama was now making his first visit to Mexico. Hugo Chavez, the clown of a new wave of Latin American leadership dedicated to redressing the ills of exploitation, stretched out his hand in friendship. The big CNN video-op was the “brother” handshake of these two brown men and Chavez’ conspicuous gift of the book which immediately became an Amazon bestseller, The Open Veins of Latin America, THE book I have been reading!
If our president truly reads this book, and with his experience of the other side of economic reality, is able to alter the course of our great luxury cruiser of state, things may be very different…
San Diego, California, April 20
RICH RICH RICH! This is what screamed at me as we pulled into the harbor of San Diego. Everything is bright, new, big, sparkling, and taken for granted. It felt very good to be home in my own State.
I spent most of the day with Ed Maupin who has also been in Arica for almost 40 years. He is the Rolfer Emeritus. Since the School is in effect a mysticism of the body, members help each other to be well in our bodies. Ed told me I do not walk correctly and proceeded to spend several hours teaching me how to walk from my pelvis and working hands-on to realign the musculature by which I walk. The fact that I was having to learn to walk a new way from the center seemed rhetorically appropriate at the end of this trip.
Maybe we all have to learn how to walk in a new way.
One word heard often in the recent dialogue between the American leaders, especially uttered frequently by Obama in his call for a new era, is “respect”. Respect is a kind of dull cliché, but it has profound meaning, and, I think will be the critical new element. Respect means honoring the land, the ancient culture and its wisdom, but mostly supporting the right of sovereign nations to act for the well being of ALL of its people. If democracy is real, it must raise itself to the international level where each nation has the intrinsic right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A policy of true respect will discourage the exploitation by the rich and will revolutionize the way Latin America works. If, as we profess, democracy really works, this respect will benefit everyone in the end, not just the entitled.
Instead of the hypocritical strutting of our corporate imperialism, this would be a new way of walking from the center that matches our talk.
My first impression that the ship was a floating Midwestern retirement community, has passed. Many of my friends here are from other countries. In fact, the Amsterdam is a United Nations in its own right, with passengers and staff from many different countries and every major religion of the world. Appropriately, it is run by the Dutch and owned by the Americans, and I wonder if there are secret negotiations to sell it to China.
The Last Day at Sea
The sea is wild today as we sail for two days from San Diego towards Victoria, British Columbia. The ship passes about forty miles from our home in Marin. Coats, hats, and long underwear are out once again. I have loved the way we have gone from tropical Rio to wild and cold Cape Horn, slowly made our way up to heat and humidity at the equator and now are heading back up north into the cold. A terrestrial planetary experience.
Again, a great angel guides us. Not only has the weather held and been beautiful to the very last day of the trip, but we pulled out of Mexico just when the first cases of Swine Flu were appearing there, and then the earthquake happened close to Acapulco. My own overworked personal angel kept me from getting the GI illness, which became an epidemic towards the end of the journey. It was so bad that we could not take on the 160 new passengers in San Diego who had signed on for a final four day cruise.
We have been on the ship for almost six weeks. We have visited eleven countries and twenty cities. It has been amazing to live on this grand home moving across the seas, an extraordinary experience in its own right, above and beyond the places we have seen.
It was a gracious way of life, but in its own way a kind of ghetto in which there was great poverty of raw experience. One sensitive gentleman we met said the only thing authentic about the whole voyage was looking over the rail watching the sea pass as the great ship does its thing. Indeed, most of life in the prison of the comfort zone is superficial and meaningless, but the real has been a relationship with the sea, the awesome oceanic surface of Earth.
Victoria, Canada 23 April 2009
Our last stop had an elegant irony with our visit to Victoria, gracious city, honoring the Queen of Empire, but looking rather as though it has been finished off by Disney.
This being Spring, our visit to the famous Butchart Gardens ended our sightseeing with an exuberant exclamation point! To me, experiencing their awesome crafted beauty made the point that the dream of the White Man is that order imposed on nature produces the greatest well being and aesthetic.
Before they were conquered and enslaved, Indians knew how to work with nature; how to gear themselves to it, draw order out of it, and thus provide for their real needs. They did not know the wheel, the horse or iron, but brilliant land and water management were made possible by prodigious organization and technical perfection achieved through wise distribution of labor as well as by the religious force that ruled their relationship to the earth—which was sacred and thus always alive.
The monotheistic invaders destroyed this heathen order, and sucked the blood of the open veins of the earth, conceiving of the natural wealth of South America as raw material for the riches of the White Man. Their dream, embodied in these Gardens, did not extend to the Southern hemisphere.
We have destroyed this animistic order and victimized the people for their own intrinsic wealth.
This fundamental disposition towards nature, with all its attendant excesses, has produced a super culture, which has despoiled the natural planetary home and may well, in the greater karmic balance of things, commit suicide. Either that or the ancient genius will have to be revived out of indigenous Earth consciousness to save us.
On 24 April 2009, after 40 days and 40 nights, we disembarked in Seattle at 9:30 AM.