Jun 22, 2006

Delicious Denver Daydreams and Delightful Delusions

It's been a while since I last blogged, and much has happened so I've got a lot to recap. When last I wrote I was living in Colorado desperately looking for work I could believe in. Much has happened since then, so I've got a lot to catch this blog up on.

I made it back to paradise. Last night I was lounging in a hammock on the north coast of Colombia, sipping a warm beer and chatting in my near-perfect Spanish with a lovely bikini-clad Argentinean. Looking for work up in Colorado was entirely too stressful. It turns out unemployment is more work than work but pays a lot less.

Having gotten fed up, I went back to Parque Tayrona, a coastal rainforest with unbelievable beaches that Tyler and I visited way back in October. Through some outrageous good fortune, several characters from the trip were there. Andy and Io were kicking up their tired feet after the long hike in, Ben was smoking rollies, and Wim figured out some way to make Beef Medallions in the tiny beach kitchen. Patricia made the long trek north across all of Brazil to be there for my vacation from unemployment.

Last night, while watching the lighting across the Carribean Patricia motioned, with a smile, to come a little closer. I slid close enough enough to smell the salt water drying from her hair. She leaned over to whisper in my ear, winked, and said,
...in that obnoxiously electronic way she has. Really loud. Right in my ear. As I blearily blinked my eyes awake all I could think was: "that isn't very adorable at all."

It was my cell phone screaming at a painfully early hour. And I wasn't in a hammock being gently swung by a Caribbean breeze. I was waking up on a mattress under a half a pool table in my aunt and uncles basement in Colorado. But thats only part of it; the alarm clock was going off because, get this, I had to go to WORK!
So, which life is real? And which is the fantasy?
Truth be told, it's not entirely clear to me. While in Colombia Tyler and I spoke a lot about what we wanted out of life. Although thouroughly enjoying our time in paradise, we also fantisized about our ideal life after the trip was over. We imagined ideal jobs, ideal living situations, and ideal lifestyles. With little to limit our daydreams we'd spend entire days chatting about any life we could imagine. Tyler imagined himself leaping into an entirely different career path. I imagined a career of using technology to mitigate the damage due to technology. We talked about businesses we wanted to start, political campaigns we wanted to run, and how we'd both get in Mr. Universe shape. We both wanted to live in Colorado, a fanciful place we both left as children. We daydreamed about getting a kickass apartment, downtown, together. It all felt vaguely outrageous, ridiculous daydreams for a couple homeless drifters.

And it is still anticipation, but now it is wobbling on the precipice of plunging into full reality. Last June Tyler and I gave up nearly everything stable in our lives for a broad lifechanging experience, of which the trip to Latin America was only a part of. We wanted to restart everything, to find entirely new anchors to build brand new lives around. And now, over the past two months we've been building the context that will define what new chapters of our lives will be written about. We moved to Colorado, inserted ourselves into a large family network, both got jobs BETTER than we daydreamed about, and are due to move into our kickass downtown Denver apartment in one week.

So which is the dream? Hanging out in a hammock looking out at the Carribean with dear travel buddies or living well while watching outrageous daydreams turn into reality in front of my eyes?

PS Speaking of daydreams turning into reality, does anyone out there ever imagine living in the fantasically cool city of Buenos Aires, Argentina? You could study tango, learn Spanish, or just live in a city that everyone who visits loves? I'm asking because Patricia lives in a cozy apartment in heart of the city and she is looking for a housemate. She is really friendly, has lived in BA for most of her life, is well-travelled, internationally minded, speaks fluent English and would be an all-around great person to live with (I wish I could!). It's a great deal at $200/month so if you are curious at all check out some some pictures and then write to me (MicahMacAllen@LiveDeliberately.org) so I can put you in touch.
PPS She also promises to never wake up her new housemate by screaming "BRAA-BRAAA-BRAA-BRAAA-BRAA-BRAAA" in their ear. If only I was so lucky

May 11, 2006

Naturally Networking

    There is a lot of information out there about how to go about getting a cool job. There are tons of books, thousands of websites, and billions of people with jobs that could clue me in as to how to go about it. Now that I'm in this game, I've been sampling enough of those resources to discover that 99% of them share one piece of advice that I didn't want to hear. They almost universally say the most important thing is "networking." I hate that term. It sounds so cold and calculating, like you're treating people as opportunities rather than humans. I want my dream job, of course, but I worry that I don't have it in me to be like that term sounds.

    After the trip I went to Massachusetts to visit with my former boss and friend, who started asking about what I wanted to do now. After I talked a bit, he mentioned that he had a few friends that were doing cool related stuff in Colorado and asked if I'd like to speak with them. Hell yeah! This can't be networking though, it is just taking up a good friend on the offer of a favor, right?

    Speaking of friends, last weekend, I had a chance to connect with a couple old pals. Shawn came out from California to visit Tim and I, and we had a long merry weekend. It started with a visit to the Coors brewery in Golden Colorado, proceeded through a couple wild nights, and finally ended up on a pleasant Sunday afternoon in the park; Shawn teaching me a little Cappoeria while Tim sprinted continuously for an hour and half in his amateur soccer league.

    I've known Tim for longer than almost any non-family member. He has been living in Denver for most of this millennium. The two of us have some remarkable similarities. We were both: born in Colorado, moved to Guilderland, NY in time for middle school (where we met), love cycling, love the outdoors, are handy with math/science stuff and care about environmental issues. We even kind of look alike, a description of one of us given to the police would get us both in the lineup. It's no wonder we ended up friends. The similarities, however, don't end there. Tim is graduating this weekend with a degree in building systems engineering, his focus on sustainable design and energy efficiency. This, oddly enough, is almost exactly what I did in school. So now we are both looking for the same sort of job in the same region at the same time.

    If I really was a cold hearted networking machine I suppose it'd be a good time to end the friendship and engage in a ruthless competition. But, we're just too good of friends, so instead we've decided to use eachother as respective resources towards our common goals. It is, thus far, the coolest thing that's happened to me in this whole job search. I studied what I did in school because I earnestly believe that it'll be up to my generation of engineers to use appropriate technology to save us from ecological woes. The fact that someone whose intelligence and passion I've respected since middle school came to the identical conclusion is profoundly validating. And, honestly, I'm sure there will be jobs for us both. The earth needs all the help she can get right now.

    So, job hunting is no longer as lonely as it was a couple weeks ago. Now I've got someone to swap leads with, read over resumes, and empathize with the ups and downs of the search. And one day, hopefully soon, we'll both be hired somewhere spiffy and each have the other as an ally doing something related nearby.

Wait a gosh darn second.
Is "Networking" just a fancy word for friends?
Micah and Shawn

May 6, 2006

Charming Chicks

    The MacAllen Brothers have been in Colorado for over a month now and so far the trips good luck has been holding. I have however, fallen behind in telling our traveling tale, so let me catch you up on this past month.

We're blessed with kindhearted relatives scattered all over the state who we've been leaning on as we struggle to get to our feet. Most helpfully, we've spent the bulk of our time at our aunt and uncle's house in Lakewood, a suburb of Denver. They've been wonderful, generous, thoughtful and didn't hesitate to invite two furry travelers and all their possessions into their home.

    As further evidence of how fortunate we are when we're together is the amazing fortune we've had with housemates thus far. I mentioned before our delighted surprise when we returned to Albany to find that Madre MacAllen had rented out spare rooms in her house to, as it turned out, two lovely ladies. Well, within a week at Buz and Nancy's home in Colorado we found ourselves sharing the house with a dozen cute chicks. Sweeeeeeet!

    We've spent much of the last month running around visiting people and have checked in with many of our family and friends, save a few stragglers we're still trying to hunt down. A lot of folks insist on seeing us, personally, before they'll trust that we're actually here. You see, I'd been promising to move to Colorado "very soon" ever since I was getting ready to come back from Denmark in 2002. One thing kept leading to another and I didn't get out west for longer than few brief visits. Tyler joined me in issuing earnest, but untrue, promises when two years ago we jointly declared we'd be here for good in 6 months. It's not really our fault as the MacAllen brothers aren't known for our sense of direction; we moved to Colorado via Central and South America.

A cute chick    We're here now and are working hard to commit ourselves to this state. Although we're both proud bicycle commuters, neither of whom have owned a car for years, it didn't take long to come to terms with the fact that the wide open spaces of the west make for a hell of a lot of pedaling. Despite a very respectable mass transit system here in Denver, so much is out of reach to one without a car. So, last week, the MacAllen brothers both went in on a shiny '95 Honda Accord. I almost pity the nice guy we bought it from. He had no idea he was dealing with a team that had spent most of the last year bargaining with Latin Americans for everything from food & accommodation to package tours. We smiled, chatted, and ended up talking ourselves into a 30% discount from the asking price.
Tyler looking dapper
    Even more has changed than the spontaneous existence of the motorized MacAllens. The earth very nearly shifted on its axis when it suddenly saw Tyler shed his beads, and looking rather dapper in a suit, on his way to an interview...

...And one morning I woke up and decided that the key to finding true love, a meaningful career and the solution to world peace was to drag a very sharp blade over my shaggy face.

DSCN1195-->Beardless Micah!
I feel Naked!

Apr 8, 2006

Rambling to the Rockies

    It took me 23 years to do it but I finally moved back to Colorado. Tyler and I just moved to the Mountain state from New York, a round trip starting a little before Christmas in my sixth year when my family moved the opposite way.

    We almost didn't make it anywhere back in 1983; on our way to NY we were caught in the worst snowstorm seen in years. When the engine of our tiny Honda Civic stalled out under a thick and falling blanket of snow on a desolate stretch of highway our our eastbound motion disappeared but more importantly it took the heater with it. The car was tiny, so small that when our family of four moved across the country we didn't have room for luxuries like winter coats or boots. We huddled as much as we could, but it got cold really fast. A guardian angel trucker eventually picked us up and brought us to the nearest motel but I still see the look of fear in my mothers eye when she tells the story. Happily, I was oblivious to everything. My biggest complaint about the whole experience was that my feet were freezing when I had to walk across the snowy parking lot of the motel in sneakers.

    Tyler and I both travel light or at least we thought we did. We've lived out of a shrinking backpack for much of the year and returned home to purge even more. We intitially figured that because our family of four could move to NY in a little Honda Civic the two of us would surely be able to move back to Colorado in something similar. But, the more we piled stuff up the more we saw it wasn't to be. Our computers and camping gear alone would fill out a trunk so when we added a couple guitars, three bicycles, a couple dozen books we couldn't bear to part with and a feast of Madre MacAllen cookies we reluctantly gave up. We rented a mini-van and still just barely fit it all.

    The ride itself zipped by as quickly as 30 hours of mostly flat straight highway could. We drove in shifts, listened to a Harry Potter audiobook and daydreamed about what we're getting ourselves into. One odd highlight of the journey is a random rest-stop we pulled over in Iowa, the Herbert Hoover memorial rest stop.

    I've been fascinated with Hoover for years, much to the chagrin of those I inflict Hoover trivia on. His life was incredible. He went from working in the bottom of a mine to being the most highly regarded international expert on mine engineering in the world within ten years. He found a treasure map to an ancient and lost chinese treasure mine and then proceeded to find it ( organizing the defense of a city during the Boxer rebellion along the way). Although he was a Republican he was also a pacifist, so when WWI broke out he focused his formidable energy and resources on keeping european non-combatants fed and healthy. By the end of the war he brought 34 million tons of food, clothing, and supplies to people in twenty nations. He was elected president on the strength of his massive humanitarian achievements and then muddled up his presidency so badly it soured his reputation ever since (even though he did equally amazing stuff after). He is one of the few people that has ever walked the earth that can count the human lives they've personally rescued in the MILLIONS. So, as I walked around his Memorial rest stop I couldn't help but think one thing... "I hope no one ever tries to remember me with a rest stop."

    Undeterred, but slightly exhausted, we finally made it to the state of our birth. Tyler and I rolled into view of the mountains listening to John Denver's Rocky Mountain High trying to imagine what'll happen next.

Rockies Landscape

Apr 4, 2006

Courageous Convoy to Colorado

Downtown Albany

    When I hit the post button on this blog the MacAllen Brothers will officially be back on the road. We've spent the last five weeks reconnecting with our roots in the northeast and time has flown by much faster than we'd thought it would.

    Our long streak of good luck has continued unabated. When we learned, while in Peru, that Madre MacAllen started renting out rooms of her house we were a little nervous. We needed to remind ourselves where we came from, and there is nothing like stranger housemates to turn a home into a house. We arrived home to discover that our new housemates were two lovely and talented art grad students named Lisa and Mihee. The awkward introductory phase lasted all of 3 seconds before their sweet and friendly nature took over and made us feel like we had returned home to dear friends. Although we've got the relaxed daily schedule of the broke and unemployed we found our selves spending the month running from one merry reunion to another.

    I have a selection of former lives to return to, so I chose another of my favorites and revisited the Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts where I lived for two years before the trip. I caught up with old friends, stayed with a sweet and generous dancer and generally just thrived on watching spring arrive to one of my favorite areas in the world (which means we had a 3 week winter this year, I should migrate below the equator every year!). I went in to my old office one day to check in with friends there, and accidentally fell back into my routine. It took me three days of going back to my old job all day to help catch up with a deadline of theirs, reacquaint with that whole "work" thing and remind myself of what a good life I had. I really miss everything about the valley but mostly the people.

    Such a wonderful time at home made me wonder if leaving this side of the country again was a good idea. But the wheels were already in motion. Tyler and I had rented a big van, loaded it up with all our worldly goods and are momentarily going to leave for a mad dash halfway across the country to Colorado. Is it a good idea? Methinks the universe approves and it's letting me know by a bit of chronological mathematical magic. We officially will transition from this life to another at time so special it won't happen for another hundred years...
...It is exactly 01:02:03 04/05/06

Mar 13, 2006

An Albany And Amsterdam Ancient Affiliation

Amsterdam?  No, Albany
My hometown Albany, NY

    The difference between traveling and vacationing is who returns. After a vacation I return recharged and refreshed but ultimately the same person who left. A traveler, on the other hand, lets the experience wash over and change them. Coming home after trip like ours can be one of the most intense experiences of the entire journey. Suddenly we're somewhere that I know should be familiar but it's changed because there is a different person seeing it.

    For example, the Albany I left was nothing special. It was just the city I grew up in. But last weekend I wandered downtown with a friend to catch the St. Patrick’s Day parade and snapped pictures of the amazing architecture until my camera’s battery died. The city felt both familiar and foreign but it was also familiar to something foreign which blew my mind.

    Downtown Albany has many brownstone buildings; tall narrow buildings clustered so close to that they can lean on one another. The architects had to show their creativity with only the facades, the windows, roof gables, and other architectural details on the narrow wall facing the street.

    That makes it look like another cool city I have visited in my travels, Amsterdam. In the Middle Ages the city of Amsterdam charged property tax not based on the size of home, nor the plot of land, but it's frontage to the street. So, the narrower the house is the less they needed to pay. When the architects were limited by width they went to great lengths to make the facades, windows, and the roof gables distinctive.

    Coincidence? Not really. A little detail from the dusty recesses of my memory floats up. In a middle school I learned that that the Dutch colonized much of New York, and founded Albany, long before they gave it to the English. They established some cultural traditions, like our annual Tulip festival, as well as built buildings. They created places like they knew, like home, like Amsterdam. And even after the English took over the next generation designed buildings to fit the already existing feel of Albany. In other words, Dutch.

Amsterdam Roof peaks
Amsterdam, Holland the former capital of my colonial city

    A highlight of traveling in Latin America was the countless colonial cities we visited. Throughout the trip I wondered what it must be like to grow up in a place influenced so much by an ancient European power.

It wasn't until I got home that I realized that my hometown, and a house I lived in, was shaped by a Dutch tax code from the Middle Ages..

Mar 10, 2006

Computation Conclusion Catalog Coda

    It's finally official. The (first) MacAllen Latin America Epic is over. We got home, to Albany NY with one day to go before I plunged headlong into the last year of my twenties. My birthday kicked off a long week of parties and happy reunions with friends and family so it still felt like the trip was going all the way until after our Homecoming Hullabaloo party over a week later. Madre MacAllen was kind enough to throw us a homecoming party and the house filled up with smiling friends bearing great food and wine. People came in from four different states, and were nearly overflowing out of the house. I'd like to thank everyone who helped and came to the party. It really meant a lot to both of us that you took the time to share this moment with us!

    Nearly everybody's first question is "So, How was the trip?" It's a fair question but I always feel a bit overwhelmed by it because it feels too small to engage a topic so big. As soon as it's asked a landslide of thoughts leap into my mind fighting to be the answer I give. My immediate thought process is something along the lines of...
"This trip was relaxing, stressful, beautiful, easy, terrifying, delicious, horrid, hard work, exhausting, fun, educational, foul smelling, wonderful, merry, playful, serious, energizing. I lost myself, saw things I'd only known from books, got to know my best friend (Tyler) even better, fell in love, caught myself thinking in Spanish, built a building out of shit, leapt into ridiculous situations, learned html, got close friends from all over the world and ultimately found myself... Etc"
    But a tiny question begs a tiny answer. In all likelihood it was just a polite query and the person asking isn't ready to get assaulted with my verbal diarrhea on the topic. So, as these thought go streaming down to my mouth I scramble to pick a simple reply like "wonderful". Unable to summarize, I pick one phrase from the onslaught at random to answer with. Usually it works, but sometimes when the phrase that comes out is something like "I learned html" it surprises and confuses both of us.

    Even now, when I'm sitting at home with all the time in the world to compose this post, I don't know how to summarize an experience like that. Because I am an engineer, I'll put things in the language I understand... numbers.

  • The trip was 8 1/2 months long and spanned 10 countries.
    (Tyler also went to Chile, bringing his count to 11)

  • We took 5,688 pictures:
    1042 from Guatemala

    303 from Honduras

    190 from Nicaragua
    781 from Costa Rica
    201 from Panama
    526 from Colombia
    526 from Ecuador
    526 from Peru
    278 from Bolivia
    1015 from Argentina
    242 from Chile
    At least 293 of Art
    At least 176 of Tyler
    At least 148 of Micah
    At least 530 of Flowers
    At least 146 of Creatures
    (these photos are a random pic from each of these sets, click its link for a slideshow on that theme)

  • Tyler and I went through 5 cameras. We started with 1 old beat-up Canon camera, bought 4 more before and during the trip, and broke or lost all but 1 of these.
    (The old Canon made it through, and took most of the pictures of, the whole trip like a champ! )

  • We each got at least 1 infectious parasite.

  • We were both robbed, mugged, or assaulted a grand total of 0 times.

  • I spent the night in 72 different places.

  • I tried parilla, an Argentinean delicacy made with parts of a cow like the stomach and intestines, 2 times.
    (I'll try anything once, twice if it doesn't kill me, and three times if I like it.)

  • Tyler bought, made himself, or was given 23 necklaces, beads, or other pieces of jewelry.

  • Smuggled 6 bottles of Argentinean wine home.

  • We wrote 16 Blog posts in the lead up to this trip, and another 81 on the road for a total of 97.
    (98 when I press publish!)

  • Sampled at least 6 new types of alcohol.
    (Chicha, Fernat, Pisco, Vino de Cana, Singani, Bolivian Agua de Fuego)

  • Started seriously planning to start our own hostel in 3 places.
    (Panama, Medellin, Lanquin)

  • Had a merry reunion with others we met traveling at least 16 times.
    (Arwen, Katherine, Bernat, Nell, Rizwana, Kuku, Edwin, Andy, Io, Kristina, Ditte, Ben, Krista, Flor, Rose, and Patricia)

  • The biggest number, I'm sure, would be the number of times we swore we'd return to Latin America. But this number got too high to count after the first month.

    Tyler and I hung up our backpacks at Madre MacAllens home for the time being and are struggling to figure out what to do next. In many ways this trip gave us a lot of answers that we went into it looking for... what we wanted out of life, who we are and what we want that to mean to the world. On the other hand, this trip gave us more questions than answers. Tylers career and life aspirations went from including Albany and a 10 mile radius around it to a broad five year plan that puts him in an exotic country for most of it. I've got a better sense of who I am, what I want to do with my life... but have returned home to find I left half of my soul below the equator. I don't really know where I'll be in a year, or even a month... but I plan to keep this weblog in the loop. Keep on comin' by!
    An entirely new adventure begun the moment the Latin American Epic ended. And I'm even more excited, and curious, to see how this one plays out.

Feb 22, 2006

Pondering Post from Past in a Pretty Plush Place

    Buenos Aires is Big. Thirteen million people, about a third of Argentinas population, make this city the most populus in all of South America. Generally I'm not a huge fan of enormous cities but I was excited about this one. Ever since we started way back in Guatemala northbound travelers that Tyler and I met put Buenos Aires in a different class than everywhere else they visited. They would say something like:
"Quito has great mountains, there are rockin' dance clubs in Lima, Cuzco has ancient ruins and friendly Peruvians..." they would tell us before getting a goofy grin and saying, "...and then there is Buenos Aires. Well, you know, it's Buenos Aires"
    Although they might share some comments about huge streets and nice parks it was always a mystery what almost universally makes everyone who steps foot into the city want to stay for good. That's why, when Tyler and I had to book a flight home we thought this city might making a fitting finale for our epic adventure. That made sitting on the long bus ride from Mendoza a bus with Patricia curled in my arms a bittersweet moment. I was sad because the end of this long trip was rapidly approaching. But I was simultaneously excited to go to a legendary city with a lovely guide who has lived most of her life in the center of it all.

    This location, well situated on a river near the ocean, has had an irresistable allure for its entire history. It was first founded in 1536 but the natives weren't going to give it up without a fight so they kept the Spanish away for nearly 50 years. Eventually the Spanish rebuilt it, and mandated that almost all the trade from most of South America had to pass through its ports. The city thrived on this monopoly but the wealth attracted pirates and the English Navy (often one and the same) like moths to a flame. The Portugese built the city of Colonia across the river to facilitate raids and blackmarket trading and continually fought Spain for control. Eventually, when Argentina declared independence in 1816 it encouraged immigration to fill in its wide open landscapes but the massive immigration didn't go quite as planed. Many of those arriving fell so in love with the city they started in, Buenos Aires, that they never left. So the Italians, Jews, Koreans, Germans etc. collected in certain neighborhoods giving each a feel that was a combination of their old home and the new. The history of this special city had a profound effect in a couple ways.

    Although there are still plenty of people immigrating today time has blended all the disparate groups into proud porteños (people from BA). Walking the streets here, and much of Argentina, one is just as likely to see a blond Argentinian as someone with native heritage. Although many of the immigrants original cultural roots have long morphed into something new every neighborhood still retains a distinctive feel. Its many different faces is one of the many powerful allures of modern Buenos Aires. We could wake up in the morning and get a coffee in the bustling urban neighborhood of Congresso (much like Manhattan), spend the morning checking out street art in the working class but brilliantly colored Bocas, have lunch in the high cost and fancy area around Recoleta, have dinner near the Palermo zoos and gardens, and finally finish off the night dancing in the worlds center of Tango in San Telmo which looks and feels like an American movie from the 1920s. And that day only began to sample some of the faces of BA, every day there are even more places to taste.

    And a student of history trying to understand this cities mystique can't ignore one other consideration: wealth. For over four hundred years the trade, power, and population of one of the continents largest and most affluent countries (at times, it was of the most prosperous in the world) has been overwhelmingly concentrated in one Metropolis. These centuries of opulence have an effect on everyday life today. Everywhere in the world occasionally someone comes up with the idea to build something cool, start a festival tradition, make up a new dance, or coin a new word. And a people might immediately embrace it but often just wait until the person dies to do away with what they've tried to start. But some things, ideally the best things, slowly accrue as decades roll into centuries when great men and women take the time to invest their inspiration. And Buenos Aires has had the inspiration, the capacity and people for quite some time. Walking around I saw striking and grand buildings from nearly every architectural style since the 1600s. It rivals Rome in its numbers of public statues, fountains and feral city cats. The deep rooted culture extends far beyond its distinctive accent to include things like a subculture of Tangueros (people who dance, and live, Tango ) with their own words, attitude and lifestyle. It has urbane folks who regularly go to the opera as well parks where every weekend young people gather to practice circus skills (I saw a woman hang a trapeze off a tree in a crowded city park!). The city is very rich in every sense of the word.

    It doesn't have the same reputation for Carnival that Rio, Brazil does but Andy and Tyler caught up with us again in time to find out that porteños still love to party (and hose down innocents with shaving cream). When Andy found me it was the fifth time I got to meet up with our favorite Australian on this trip. And then with only three days to go before our flight home Tyler finally showed up in Buenos Aires. I wasn't looking forward to telling our parents how I lost my little brother somewhere below the equator so I was relieved to see him. He did well on his solo journey; Tyler accomplished what we both vaguely set out to do. He got some spectacular pictures and stories from his trek through Chile to and around Ushuaia (the southernmost city in the world.)

    The better life is the faster time flies by. Before I knew it, the last full day of this long journey was upon us and Tyler and I were both feeling reflective. About two months ago we were so weary that although we were happy we had more travel ahead we started looking forward to going home. But by the time our departure finally came neither of us were ready to leave, our weariness had long since evaporated and I would have leapt at the opportunity to do it all over again. After such a long and incredible journey it is hard to remember what kind of life we left and what I was thinking when we set out. And then, by yet another outrageous coincidence, I got an email that told me exactly that.

It was precisely one year ago when our crazy idea for some sort of trip stopped being a fantasy. I had just given my friend (who was also my boss) two month notice, asked my housemates to start looking for a replacement and stared down the barrel of the unknown. I was excited. And scared. I called Tyler and sipped a beer while we tried to imagine what we were in for. We had very few specific plans outside of a one-way flight to Guatemala. We had some vague ideas about going to the southern tip of South America but we didn't know where we'd go, how long, nor where it'd end up. Although I didn't remember it until now, after hanging up I apparently decided to write to my future self. FutureMe.org is a free website that you use to write an email and specify when you want it sent to your email address; sort of digital time capsule. I sat down and wrote a message for exactly one year from then. I had no idea where I'd be when I recieved it and find it it an amazing coincidence that on the very last day of the trip I got this:
From: Micah -exactly one year ago-
To: Micah -today-
Date: Feb 21, 2006
Subject: Message from your past

    Greetings Micah. So, I'm awake, a wee bit drunk, and curious who the hades you are. I'm sitting in a nice room in Northampton, Mass. with a house full of great people that are both housemates and friends. I've got a girlfriend, Elizabeth, who I'm in the early giddy stages of falling in love with and a job I don't love... but certainly don't hate. I've got really good friends, I'm living in a wonderful, practically utopian place but my wanderlust is raging.
    I don't really understand why, but I'm anxiously planning on quitting my job, abandoning my life by living in South America for a few months and then moving to Colorado with Tyler. I'm craving the change, the escape, the freshness of a new place... but I'm worried I may be making a big mistake.
    I'm wondering if you, in retrospect, will be looking back to now as the best time in your life. And if you shake your head in disbelief that I gave it all up to, well, become you. I guess the thing that gives me a measure of courage is confidence in myself, in you. I feel like if your life isn't giving you what you want you will pack up and roll the dice again with another move. If the life I end up choosing isn't, in the end, satisfying, you'll find it within yourself to fix things. I don't know if it'll always work. I don't even know that it'll work for me now,
    I guess, on the balance, I just don't know. And so I don't know what to do. But I'm pretty sure I'm going to throw lifes dice once again to see what happens. And I hope you not only forgive me but thank me. But only time (and you) will tell if that really happens.

    It's not often one asks oneself for either forgiveness or appreciation so I'll answer.
    Micah, you didn't have the foggiest idea what you were in for. It was crazy to gamble so much that you loved on the throw of metaphysical dice. As much as you knew you were going into the unknown, you were confident that you knew yourself. And that this knowledge would be a constant that would carry you through the trip and beyond. But somewhere along this trip you lost even that. I am not the same person that left for this incredible trip. It is said that "You can't find yourself until you lose yourself." You did the losing and I'm happy to say I that did the finding.
    This trip was a huge gamble. And you, you lucky bastard, won. And although I honestly don't know where our life will take me I found more than either of us could have imagined in Latin America. And for this incredible gift, Thank You!
PS Estudias tus Castellano!
Flowers and a Rock
The adventure, and this blog, aren't over!
If Living Deliberately is worth anything as a life philosophy it must apply to the world of alarm clocks and bills as well as that of mangos and the constellation of the Southern Cross.
I intend to find out and will share more stories and pictures along the way.
So keep coming back to read about the next chapter in the adventures of the Brothers MacAllen

Feb 17, 2006

An Abrupt Absence of Andes

    I feel at home in the mountains. Even when they are exotic and in the opposite hemisphere to those I learned to love as a child. That probably has something to do with why I've spent over 3 months of this trip in the Andes. We entered the Andes as we roared out of Colombia into Ecuador and kept our altitude high throughout most of that country, Peru, Bolivia, and even into Argentina. I've been reluctant to leave the thin air, but as our flight out is from the sea level its due to happen sooner or later. Fortunately we found a spectacular way to leave the mountains behind. Pato, a British friend Tom, and I abandoned the buses and rode bicycles the last 50Km out of the mountains. Quebrada de Cafayate is a national park we passed through on our way to Cafayate. We rented bikes, and hopped off the bus at the top of the park and zipped through the (mostly downhill) fifty kilometers of a surreal landscape.

    Cafayate itself is a city where the Andes shrink from mountains to hills to a deep flat valley. The valley itself has a hot and dry, climate ideally suited to growing grapes so its major industry is wine. It is said (by locals) that Mendoza is known for making most of Argentinas wine but that Cafayate makes the best wine. Not to be remiss in my responsibilities I sampled the wares. A lot of wares. We went from vineyard to vineyard getting tours of the vineyards, the process the little bar in the end where they gave us free samples. Being all very respectable they provided places to spit it out after tasting it so one doesn't get intoxicated. Have no fear, my dear reader, I most certainly did not spit.

    It wasn't all bike riding and wine, there was music and dancing too! Pato, it turns out, is a big fan of traditional music. So, while travelling together we inevitably end up at places called peñas. It's somewhere between a folk concert, and dinner at a nice restaurant with a dash of dance club thrown in if the mood is right. While eating dinner a succession of groups playing traditional ballads come on to perform with music, stories, and sometimes professional dancers. It's a lot of fun and as the night winds on often the crowd joins in the festivities and hops on the dance floor for some bailando!

    Interest in slow traditional music is by no means limited to older people in Argentina. I was repeatedly surprised to be at peñas where, at 28, I was older than average. Hippies and partiers who looked like they should be going to a techno dance party sat smiling listening slow ancient ballads. Knowing that, its little surprise that Los Divideros Divididos, one of the top rock bands in Argentina blends traditional lyrics and melodies into their hard driving sound. An it's no further surprise that upon hearing the Divideros were giving a free concert in a tiny town called Amaicha del Valle nearby that we hightailed there. It was a GREAT show.

    Slowed only slightly we continued our quest for wine across the wide plains on our way to Mendoza. Argentina, much like the US, is blessed with huge wide open grasslands. Perhaps not as visually stunning as mountains the plains, known here as Pampas, are invaluable for growing food. The Pampas are how Argentina became legendary for beef, feeds itself and exports food, and even produced it's own brand of cowboy. And Argentinian cowboy, called a Gaucho, roamed the Pampas on horseback weilding bolas (weights attached to a rope, thrown to tangle the feet of their target) where American cowboys used lassos. Both cowboys and Gauchos play a cherished role in their respective countries both as what little boys aspire to be and how the country sees itself. Both are legendary for their personal independence, courage, skills on horseback, hard living, and sad romantic songs. It's a reputation well earned by some and abused by others.

Lucas, the Gaucho

    It is often said that those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it but that's only half the story. Some who know go to great lengths to repeat it. George Bush Jr. has a degree in history so it's likely he knows the story of Juan Manuel de Rosas ; a man who had a similar trajectory to power 170 years ago as he has now.
In the 1820s Argentina struggled to find balance between its strong central government based out of Buenos Aires, and the desire of the more scattered rural people to have a more decentralized system sharing power throughout the country. Rosas carefully cultivated his image as a Gaucho so as he clawed his way into government he was a hero those who wanted the Big Mean Government to have less power in their lives. They trusted that because of his image he'd fight hard to maintain their indepedence. By 1829 Rosas worked his way into absolute power but proved to be a very different kind of leader. He consolidated power in his own type of Central government, one ruled by him exclusively for 23 years. He formed a brutal secret police, hung the corpses of his dissenters in the Central Plaza and put only friends in positions of power. He used fear, war, and the church (his picture was hung in churches all over) to hold onto power for decades until he was defeated and exiled from the country. There was plenty of dissent but a sizable portion of the population never lost faith in him because they trusted he was a Gaucho and never bothered to look beyond his words to his actions. I find it a curious coincidence that a man born in a mansion in Connecticut worked hard to build an image as a Texan cowboy on his ascent to power. And that he too preached the evils of Big Government before he expanded both the size and power of the centralized government. But a cowboy wouldn't ever do that, would they?

I love tree lined pedestrian avenues!

    Mendoza is, without a doubt, one of the most livable cities I've had the pleasure to encounter. It is full of vast tree lined avenues with sidewalks 10meters (30ft) across. Its a city designed around the idea of strolling down the sidewalk, stopping for a coffee at an outdoor cafe, before winding your way to the Museo de Arte Moderno. The city was lovely, the wine delicious and the weather was great. It made it difficult to leave, on a long overnight bus, to the final destination of this long strange trip... the legendary Buenos Aires.