Diary and Commentary

Page 10


Well. Nine days into my year of living dangerously and things are going swimmingly cool. I am averaging $17 per day including hot showers, cable TV, all transport and cold beer. I have just returned from backpacking near Iruya. In two days I leave for Arica, Chile, and Lauca National Park.

Already my past life---the last ten years---seems as a dream. It was truly the most formative time I had ever had. This year of travel is a transition, perhaps---but to what? Only God knows, and He has not told me---yet. There will be surprises.

Credence Clearwater is playing on a CD at the internet cafe where I am typing. While in high school 33 years and one thousand summers ago I memorized every one of their songs for guitar. I still remember, and fantasize yet about playing Green River on my Parker Night Fly into a loud---a very loud---Fender amp. Ah...Heaven!

Which reminds me: I miss the guitar. I have not played for almost two years---planning this adventure, finishing up at Lincoln and designing my web site having taken up my time. Another reminder: playing the guitar, teaching, writing and bartending are the only things I do well. Seems to be enough. Oh...I cook a pretty mean tuna casserole.


Katherine Hepburn died. She was a bit before my time, though I enjoyed The African Queen. She had a reputation for class: upper-class New England accent, high fashion, and their like. She won several Oscars.  She also committed adultery with Spencer Tracy for decades. (Perhaps her adultery was upper-class as well: like the Kennedys, Bogart and Bacall, Gable and Lombard.) I hope and pray that before her death she confessed her sin. For as I write she is standing before a Judge who has no interest in the Oscars. Miss Hepburn, requiescat in pace if you can.

(Update July 11:  Here is a moving and sad commentary on Miss Hepburn. It is worse---much worse---than I thought.)

Much of the US news media still trumpet idiocy about Iraq. Since Mr. Bush proclaimed the end of the war 22 soldiers and Marines have been killed there. More servicemen are killed in peacetime---about 130 per year---than have been killed in Iraq since May. More Americans have died in cars and in home accidents during the same time. Yet one hears, "Quagmire! Vietnam! Defeat!" and so on.


The US is engaged in the most dramatic case of 'nation building' since 1953. She is creating the first democratic Moslem nation in history. She is good at this sort of thing. The US rebuilt Western Europe, Japan and South Korea. The difficulties in Iraq are nothing compared to these. All little history here please.

This Iraqi woman in Baghdad gets it, even if the New York Times does not.

Oh...one day last week there were over 600 patrols by the US military in Iraq. Two of them came under fire. Guess which patrols were mentioned in the media as representing the American presence there?

One more thing and then I am done for now. Mr. Bush got into some trouble with the jellyfish-backboned set when he said, in response to a question from the media about Iraqi killers ambushing American GIs, "Bring 'em on!" Love it! Pure Texas---and pure American. The US presence in Iraq is attracting a tremendous variety of American-haters throughout the Middle East: Hamas, Hezbollah, Syrians, Iranians, Palestinians, even some stray Chechens. Good! Come one, come all and fight the US military. Come and concentrate yourselves in one place. It is convenient and will allow the US to kill you and send you to your virgins.

Bring 'em on!


Here I am in Arica, Chile, after a 21 hour bus ride from Jujuy. Imagine a being in a vehicle smaller than a classroom and filled with 50 persons breathing, sweating, snoring, eating, drinking and urinating for almost an entire day and you can get a picture of what it was like. Fun stuff! I much prefer buses to flying, though, as I get a chance to see the land over which I am traveling and to rub elbows with the locals.

The road followed and old Inca route across the dry and salty altiplano. There were ruins of an Inca tambo, which once functioned as a rest stop for the couriers that the Inca  would send down to the coast. Often this was to procure fresh fish for the Inca. Runners could make the journey from the altiplano to the coast and back in four days and return with fish wrapped in ice. Not a bad deal if you were the Inca.

Tomorrow I leave for some days in the Chilean National Park of Lauca. Much of what I have seen of it reminds me of the backpacking I have done around Bariloche, Argentina. This park extends to the Bolivian border and is filled with lakes, high mountains and animals---including puma. (By the way, the word puma is a Quechua word.)


The Melian Dialogue

One cannot travel without books, and I mean real books and not just guide books. (I will write about these soon.) Right now I am reading Thucydides´ The Peloponnesian War for the third time. This is a history of the war between Athens and Sparta (431-404 BC), a war that ended with an Athenian defeat but destroyed forever the political and social structure of the ancient Greek world.

We learned in school that Athens was the democratic and freedom-loving ideal, and that Sparta was a military slave state. Thus has this war been portrayed as a sort of 2500 year old Cold War.

Not so fast.

The truth is that Athens was an imperialist power that kept its empire---all of which were Greek states---in check with its naval supremacy. No state was allowed to leave the empire. Athens collected tribute and used this money to finance wars of aggression against her fellow Greeks.

Athens wanted the island of Melos forcibly brought into her empire, but Melos  wanted to remain neutral between Athens and Sparta in the great war. Nothing doing. Some Athenian delegates and some representatives from Melos debated the issue on the island. This dialogue is one of the many high points in Thucydides and bears reading today, especially today.

Athens´ argument was from pure power, and would have made Nietzsche---or Napoleon or Caesar---proud:

The standard of justice depends upon the equality of power to compel and that in fact

 the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept. (5:89)

Our opinion of the gods and our knowledge of men leads us to conclude that

 it is a general and necessary law of nature to rule whatever one can.

This is not a law we made ourselves nor were we the first to act upon it

when it was made. We found it already in existence and

we shall leave it to exist forever among those who come after us. (5:105)

Here it is then in a nutshell: the ruling philosophy of governments from Sumer until today. Here is a partial list of nations that have practiced this sort of thing to a greater or lesser extent: Nazi Germany, the USSR, Communist China, the USA, the Inca Empire, Mexico, the Romans, and on and bloody on.

Oh...what happened to the Melians? Her men were put to death and her women sold into slavery. Athens then re-populated the island with some of her own citizens.

What a world!

I will turn 50 while in my tent somewhere in Lauca National Park. One is supposed to be wise and experienced at that age. I cannot wait! That should be exciting!


I just spent the three coldest days of my life backpacking around the Chilean town of Putre, a place that  provides access to  Lauca National Park. My plan was to walk across the park, taking perhaps five days or so. Since I came from Arica on the Chilean coast, and Putre is 3500 meters above sea level, I needed to spend some time acclimatizing before walking around the park, most of which is at 4500 meters and higher.

I walked out of the town in a bright sun and soon was climbing through a valley that provided stunning views of  two snow-capped peaks ahead and of Putre now far below me. I set my tent and prepared dinner. When the sun disappeared behind a rock face the air became at first chilly, then cold, then absolutely bone-breaking frozen. Inside the tent was not much better. My sleeping bag was good to 15 degrees Fahrenheit; the tent was only a three-season with a lot of netting. I was barely comfortable all night, and all the water I had collected had frozen solid. I was effectively trapped in the tent until the sun appeared the next morning. The next two days were similar.

My plans for walking through Lauca were put on hold until I could return with proper gear. A different bag---the Marmot Aiguille---for one, and a full-fledged mountain tent---the MSR Fury---for another. But  return I shall, as this area of Chile is some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen---beautiful, and spectacularly cold, deadly cold.

I am not really bothered much, as this year-long expedition is mainly for jungles---anything below 3500 meters really. Some of my journeys involve crossing passes at 4500 meters, but camping far below this. This means that I will not be going to the Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash in Peru, as I am not going to risk freezing again. I am not, after all, a Canadian.

I leave tomorrow for Arequipa, Peru to hike the Cotahuasi Canyon. It will be warm there, praise God!

I must have sinned. As I was sitting in a restaurant in Putre early one morning awaiting breakfast, a swarm of Frenchmen entered. They were two families, both laden with children. The silence I was enjoying was broken by the chatter of the French tongue.  I survived.

The next morning there they were again in my restaurant. Any thoughts of a peaceful breakfast were destroyed---again.

The bus back to Arica was French-free, thank you God. Alas! When I checked into my hotel, there they were in full force.

I can well understand any Frenchman who wishes to leave his homeland for any reason whatsoever, but why follow me around? Begone I say!

Anyway, I will be in Arequipa on Sunday. I will attend Mass and go to Confession and so expiate my sins. I pray that by then the French will have returned  to their citadel on the Seine.


I am finally back in Peru, my favorite country outside of the USA. Why is this so? To begin...

The music: There is a style of guitar here called criolla. It is amazingly complex, and matched with the female voice is a stunning and moving thing to listen to. There is also much African and Andean influence as well. The guitar is king here, and rightfully so.

The land: There are four distinct regions, all of which were made for backpacking : coastal, altiplano, the ceja de la selva---literally, "the eyebrow of the jungle," ; that region between 3500 and 500 meters where the land begins its drop to the Amazon Basin---and the lowland jungle of the extreme north- and southeast. All has its magnificent charms, yet it is the ceja de la selva that is my main goal. Here are the many ruins of the Chachapoyan culture, most of which have not been excavated. This part of  Peru has seen the greatest discovery of "lost cities" in the world. I will write more on the Chachapoyans when I return from the ceja de la selva.

The food: Argentina has the best beef in the world---there is really no competition---but that is all it has. Peru has a culinary tradition 500 years old, a mix of Spanish, Indigenous and Creole dishes that compares well with those of Mexico. Try aji de gallina when in Peru. If you do not like it, then go home.

The people: Peru is a mix of Indigenous, white and African. All of these contribute to Peruvian culture in ways more dramatic and impressive than in any other Latin American nation.

The history: Peru's pre-history begins 4000 years ago. All have heard of the Inca (and I have mentioned the Chachapoyan), but there is more, so much more: Chimu, Moche, Huari, Tiawanaku.

Catholicism: I do not need to  explain this, do I?

To state the matter simply: Peru is the capital of (Spanish) South America. You can never understand this continent unless you understand Peru.



Anyone who visits a Catholic Church here whose congregation is mainly Indigenous will immediately be struck by how Christ is represented. There is blood, and lots of it: it pours out of His head, His chest, His hands, His feet---and all of it dripping down the cross. The most shocking Christ I have seen in my life is in the church in Putre, Chile. He was in agony, with massive cuts dripping blood over His face. There was hardly any area of His body that was not crimson. A huge mass of tissue spilled forth from His side; His knees were exposed to the bone; His knees and hands seemed to twist around the nails driven through them.

Why this grim and grotesque Christ? Why such dramatic visual effects of the violence inflicted upon Him by the Romans? We in the West are used to seeing Christ on the cross in almost peaceful repose, with scarcely any blood coming from His five wounds. This is our Christ, and represents our view of His suffering.

But what of the suffering of the Latin American Indigenous? Their Christ must suffer more than they do in their own lives. Thus the blood, the pictures of torture, the very visible pain on His face. Now, here is a Christ they can relate to.


I returned yesterday from Cotahuasi, Peru, where the deepest canyon in the world lies. Eight days were spent walking as far as I could into the place. The trail follows an old Inca communication route. Ruins and ancient terraces abound, and the entire area is clustered with villages. Quechua is the first language spoken here, and Quechua-inflected Spanish takes a while to get accustomed to. There are no roads in the canyon---to say nothing of electricity---and no possibility of getting around unless you walk. And walk the Indians do: everywhere along the walls of the canyon are myriad trails going to myriad villages whose names echo their Inca heritage: Andamarca, Quechualla, Vellinga, Huña---this last being an extensive set of ruins. I stayed in them one night (how many times does one get to camp alone in pre-Colombian ruins?) and my imagination---at all times wild and fecund---ran rife. I conjured up the ghosts of Inca long dead.

In a few days I will head to Lima, and then on to the jungles of north-eastern Peru. There are rumors of lost cities buried somewhere near the Rio Marañon. This area saw some of the last Inca conquests, and was still in a rebellious state when Pizarro arrived. These rebels against Inca rule, called Chachapoya ("the people of the clouds") actually lent aid to the Spaniards, believing that they would therefore gain their freedom from the Inca. This they certainly did only to fall under the rule of the conquistadors. Which points out yet again that as soon as the first European arrived in the New World, all Indigenous civilizations were doomed. None have survived, yet the people remain, always recalling their past glory.

Random Thoughts

The US military finally ran to ground and killed Qusay and Uday Hussein. Their earthly delights---rape, torture, robbery, mutilation, terror, murder---have ended forever, but their supernatural life has but yet begun. Any doubts about where they are now?


So the UN wants to run Iraq. What experience does it have? Well, it has run the Palestinian refugee camps for 40 years. What are they like?


The US is the freest nation in history. Witness the millions of foreigners who wish to emigrate there. The US also has the highest ratio of guns in private hands than any nation on earth. Any connection? What does this say about a nation that trusts its citizens with guns? What does this say about a nation that does not trust its citizens with guns?


It seems some Americans are leaving the US for Canada. And some Canadians are leaving Canada for the US. Cool! We get Canada's best and she gets our worst.


I am just finishing up with Polybius´ history of Rome. He concentrates on the Second Punic War (218-201 BC) and how this war led to Rome's mastery of the world. Again I am reminded of the necessity of reading and understanding history. Study all the communications, psychology, sociology, education, business and anything else you want, but unless you are well read in history you can never understand human nature. It was set with Adam and Eve and has never---can never be---changed. Many have tried. All have failed. Usually their failures rested upon stacks of human corpses.


So Canada has legalized marriage between two sodomites. But why just between two? Why not three? Eight? Fifty? And why not legalize marriage between man and beast? (This would give another meaning to "man's best friend".) The arguments in favor of the former can equally be used for the latter. No civilization in history has treated the institution of marriage so frivolously.


I have not watched TV for 30-odd years. While traveling I sometimes stay at a hotel that offers cable TV. Surfing the channels always reminds me of why I gave it up in the first place. What a tremendous and silly waste of time!


The phrase globalization is really a synonym for Americanization. American culture is everywhere, from the tiniest Andean village to the megalopolis of Lima. There is simply no escaping it, even by solo backpacking. No complaint, just an observation. 


The phrase means "Earth Mother", and it is an integral part of much of the Indigenous belief system in the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes. Many Westerners come to the Andes and comment on what they believe is the love of the earth exhibited by the people here. They fancy that the locals have some higher understanding of the environment than is possible to Westerners. They delude themselves.

The worship of Pachamama---Westerners at times identify her with their own goofy idea of an "earth mother goddess", Gaea---offers no moral code, no sacred books, no salvation here or in the hereafter. What it is is a propitiatory form of worship, rather like the religions of Babylon and ancient Egypt. The ancient peoples of Peru and Bolivia saw their world as harsh, cruel, terrifying and beyond understanding. The earth they lived on served up death in large doses on a regular basis. There is scarcely any natural disaster outside of tornados, hurricanes and the Clintons that did not visit itself upon the Andean peoples. 

The only hope as they saw it was to somehow curry favor with the earth, with Pachamama---which they identified with the female gender---in the hope that when she again decided to lay waste to some part of humanity, she might spare those who had performed services for her. And so an elaborate ritual system developed around propitiating the goddess to curb her impulse to wreak havoc.  (This idea would be familiar to the characters in The Epic of Gilgamesh.)

And so the Andean Indian would perform all sorts of ceremonies on all sorts of occasions to this end. Every time the earth was to be plowed, every time a house was to be built upon her, he would attempt to pacify the earth-goddess. Today one can see at these ritual observances alcohol scattered about, llama fat smeared here and there and the skin of a dead cat tossed around. The usual Westerner who witnesses these events thus connects them with the childish environmental clap-trap he was force-fed in grammar school. He declaims, "Oh look how these Indians love the earth!"

Wrong. The Indians do not love the earth, they fear her, and for good reason. Case in point: In 1970 the town of Yungay was buried under millions of tons of mud, ice and rock. Twenty-thousand people were killed in a few seconds--Pachamama in action. (The only structure to show through the muck was the bell tower of the local Catholic Church---showing to all with eyes who the real God is. Those interested can visit this site today.) This type of thing is a regular occurrence in the Andes, as are earthquakes, floods, droughts, cholera, typhus, rabies---a veritable cornucopia of disaster on a Biblical scale.

Pachamama is a real bitch.

Western Civ 101

Which reminds me---the first people to try and understand the earth and not just blindly conciliate her were the Greeks. It was they who developed the scientific method and saw that the world, far from being arbitrary as the Andean peoples thought, actually operated by physical laws. These laws could be studied and the world understood. The failure of the Greeks was in their incessant internecine warfare that cursed all their history with political instability.

It was the Hebrews who first understood natural law; that is, that there were things inherent in men---at first they thought only inherent in Hebrews---that endowed them with a dignity and freedom that no political system could take away. This was a gift from their God, and in return He demanded a certain moral behavior. The failure of the Hebrews was their continuous whoring after other gods.

The Romans brought the first political order to the entire Mediterranean world even while adopting Greek culture. They were true geniuses at political organization---along with the Assyrians, Persians and Incas. But unlike these other civilizations the Romans never completely accepted the idea of arbitrary rule by a sovereign---that is, there was a area of a man's life immune to the dictates of the state, subject only to law. The Romans´ failure was that they developed no mechanism to remove a ruler who ignored these fundamentals of Roman law, leaving assassination and military intervention as the only ways to effect political change. 

It was Christianity that brought all of these streams together and  wrapped them in the great Revelation of God's incarnation among His creation. It was in Christendom where our ideas of the modern world were born: democracy, human rights, capitalism, separation of church and state all emerged from Christianity and not from Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism.

Thus, these streams of thought and philosophy are what we call Western Civilization. The technical term would be Judeo-Christian Greco-Roman civilization.

No room for Pachamama there.



I leave for Chiclayo Saturday, there to visit---again---the astounding ruins of Tucume. From there on to Chachapoyas and the jungle---the magnificent jungles where lie what is left of the Chachapopyan civilization. I am bringing topographic maps of the region and using both GPS and compass. Getting lost there while alone is not something I would recommend. I plan at least three weeks there to do what I have wanted to do for years.

Developmental Econ 101

Let us speak of things as they are: much of the world is a mess: economically, politically, culturally. For now, let us just look at economics. The rest will come later.

There is an entire branch of economics that just deals with the third world. It goes by the name of  'Developmental Economics' or something similar. Its premise has always been this question, 'Why are some nations impoverished?' Economists who specialized in this sort of thing would look this question and answer it using purely materialist assumptions. "There are a lack of natural resources...or a lack of capital investment...or education...or equitable income distribution....there is overpopulation...or under population..." And so it goes.

But they look at the problem from the wrong end. They should ask themselves, 'Why are some nations wealthy?' The answer is (but should not be) surprising. Wealthy nations----Japan, the USA, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand---have the following in common in varying proportions: a system of law that serves as a foundation of property and civil rights, democracy and limited government. All must be present. No nation in the developing world has all of them. The results are what you see there---widespread poverty, lack of wealth creation, a small or non-existent middle class, and so on.

So how to go about creating them? Stay tuned...

Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones...

...A deep hole is dug in the ground. A 30 year old lady, tied up from feet to shoulders, as a stick, is lowered alive into this hole, in a standing position. Only her neck and head are visible. Can you imagine a human head sticking above ground?

When the order is given, a man throws a fist-sized stone at her protruding head. The stone hits her head with a thud. She screams in pain as the blood oozes down her face. Another man picks up a stone and scraps the side of her head drawing a lateral line of blood. She cries and screams in excruciating pain. Since it is a free for all, a teenage spectator from this open playing field, tries his luck, but misses her head completely. Another aims at her and flings it with force. The stone hits its intended target, her forehead.

She screams and cries loudly for mercy. There is now a gash on her forehead. Blood spurting out, down her eyes, nose, cheeks, mouth and down to the ground. She cries out for mercy but to not avail. The minutes become an hour, between the many misses, scraps, nicks, chips and strikes. Another spectator flings forcefully at her.

The stone hits the bridge of her nose with another thud. She screams again and again. This time the blood comes down from inside and outside her nose. Probably, her nasal bridge-bone is broken, causing the bleeding from inside her nostrils as well. Though her wounds are grave, as you can imagine, her screams by now are not as vociferous as earlier, and her tears help to wash some of the blood on her cheeks. Her vision has completely gone with the blood coating. The next stone hits her again. A piece of flesh pops out. No, its not, oh god, it really can't be her eye-ball. It is so bloody that you can't really make out. By this time, blood has covered her entire face and the ground in front of her. She still makes groaning sounds. More time pass. Stoning her continues. Her sounds are less and less audible. Her face has become unrecognizable. Flesh, like mashed meat is her face, but only more bloody, as she now literally has no human face. Small strips of flesh, like locks of hair are hanging from her. Her head is now drooping forward. At this stage a hit on her make splashes of blood. She has stopped making a sound for the last two stone pelting. Two hours have passed. The...authorities check her neck for pulse. It is still beating but barely, due to the loss of blood. A flesh piece drops off her head, as the stoning process continues.

Finally, death comes to this lady. She is then left there for a few more hours for the spectators to see, because this is a public lesson for all...females, who commit adultery. Then her father and relatives are allowed to dig her body, and bring it above ground. Pieces of her flesh, lying on the ground, is [sic] collected and because she has no face, it is put back on the front of her head, and bundled up...

Care to guess which religion practices this punishment? (Hint: It is not Buddhism.) 

The Romans would stone to death mutinous troops, the Greeks used it as a from of the death penalty and the ancient Hebrews resorted to it for adultery---the crime of the poor soul in the above passage.

It was some Carpenter who once said, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone." You see, He believed in mercy.


...But Words Can Never Hurt Me.

A judge in Pakistan has sentenced a 60-year-old man to death after finding him guilty of making 

derogatory remarks about Islam and its prophet, Muhammad, a police official said today.

Chaudary Bashir was convicted yesterday under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws, said local police official Hamid Mukhtar.

He was accused in 2001 by Maulana Mohammed Qasim, a cleric in Bhawalnagar, 190 kilometres southwest of Multan, in the eastern province of Punjab. Qasim claimed that Bashir was preaching his own version of Islam and saying he had the same status as the prophet.

The conviction will automatically be appealed against in the high courts.

Under Pakistan's blasphemy law, it is an offence punishable by death to offend Islam, its prophet or its holy book."




Random Thoughts


Why all this silly talk about UN ´peacekeepers´ in Liberia, in Iraq, in the West Bank, in the Congo? There is no peace to keep.


If you had to live in Africa, would you live there before or after it got its independence from the Europeans? Is this really a question? What would today's Africans say if asked that question?



A common phrase heard among those who romanticize those Indigenous who live in the jungle is, "Oh! They have so much to teach us!"  I would ask, "Oh really? Like what?"



Without fail, whenever I wander with my backpack into some Indigenous village I am told by the bemused locals, "Why do you come here? All of us want to get out of here!"



Environmentalist goofies claim that the ´rain forest´ (formerly known as the jungle) is a veritable medical laboratory of fantastic cures---for cancer, for AIDS, and so on. Actually, it is the home of some of the most gruesome diseases known to man---Malaria, Sleeping Sickness, Typhus, Onchocersiasis, Leishmaniasis, Yellow Fever, and assorted worm infestations only comprise a partial list.



More than 100,000,000 people have died of malaria since 1972. Why is this so? Well, the environmentalists raised a ruckus about  DDT. You see, it might have caused some birds to produce eggs shells a bit thin. Ah, but DDT is the most efficient killer of mosquitoes know to chemistry. With DDT malaria was on the way to join smallpox as another extremely rare disease. Tough! Birds are among the beloved of the environmentalists. Oh...almost all of those malaria deaths were in Africa and the Indian sub-continent. Pardon me, but what color are the people who live there? But thank Gaea those birds so cherished by all those (white) environmentalists have thicker shells!


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