Posted by: standing_baba | July 12, 2011

Germans Igel & Paola Tricycle Across Asia

Left to right: Paola & Rambo (super dog), Igel & Caramba (super dog in training)

My German friends Igel and Paola—owners of the Casa de Ciclista in Colombia—recently embarked on yet another epic bike adventure. After pedaling 30 European and American countries—many with their super mutt Rambo—they’ll now explore Eastern Europe and Asia, this time with go-kart-looking trikes and Rambo’s energetic daughter, Caramba.

Click photo for more trike photos

Unfortunately for MB&S’s English-reading audience, Igel and Paola’s bike blog is German-language only (add Googletranslator to your browser here). If you’re planning a Eastern European or Asian bike tour it’s worth sifting through the awkward machine translation for golden tips within—or simply contact them in English, Spanish, or German. Igel and Paola are true travelers, cycle enthusiasts wise from the road, and they’ll be happy to hear from you.

Check out their blog here.


Sushi night with friends and roommates

FOREWORD: (Buenos Aires, Argentina) I find interesting roommates wherever I choose to live, here and here for example. Buenos Aires—my home for the past two months—has followed the same fortunate sequence: sift through for-rent announcements, use intuition to find excellent people, move in, become friends. Especially in non-English-speaking countries, I prefer living with local roommates to learn languages and gain first-hand information about their country, which many times is different from the official story repeated by news networks. Given the Greek economic crisis which has been widely compared to Argentina’s in 2001, I was curious to hear what my current Argentine roommates experienced as teenagers during that turbulent time. Below, with my English translation, are their experiences in their own words.

NAME: Lucas Villamil
PROFESSION: Journalist
AGE: 27

“2001, as the world knows, was the year in which an economic crisis bankrupted Argentina, the country in which I grew up and still live. That December 21st I was in a friend’s house in La Horqueta, an exclusive neighborhood in northern Buenos Aires. My group of friends and I had just finished our last year of high school and were planning a January trip to Brazil together. It was a sunny day, we had played soccer and eaten an asado [Argentina BBQ], and the Argentine peso was still fixed one-to-one to the dollar.”

“I remember the news arrived first via alarmed mothers, then later by television. In many suburban zones people were blocking the streets and looting the supermarkets to stockpile the food they could no longer buy and, in some cases, to steal the things they could never afford in the first place. The TV, as usual, rejoiced in the violence. Some of those supermarkets full of desperate people were just a few blocks from were we’d spend lazy summer days in the local pool. Surprised, we watched as a needle popped our private school and basic needs bubble.”

“Little by little the hypothesis, the blame, the names, then later, the pots and pans in the street, began to sound. I was in my house and heard the metallic sound of social unease for a very long time. The middle class, scared by the violence that hunger and inequality are capable of generating, went to the streets to express their discontent like never before. Afterwards, all the rest happened.”

“I can’t claim to have been immediately aware of those events. A few days later, for the first time in my life, I saw the Racing Club, my club, become champions in the Argentine soccer league, and in January I was naked in Brazil, despite all that had happened. Upon returning to my country, one Argentine peso was no longer one dollar, and the pots and pans continued to sound. Now I understand something has changed, but not everything.”

NAME: Tomás Bullrich
PROFESSION: Environmentalist
AGE: 28

“I remember various things that affected me, the famous asphalt pirates that stopped truckers to steal their merchandise. I remember one cattle transport truck was traveling just outside Buenos Aires when a group blocked the road, intercepted the truck, stole its cattle, and later butchered them for food.”

“Businesses and supermarkets were looted, initially for extreme basic food needs, then later the thefts were distorted and done criminally to include appliances and electronics. Local shop owners lost everything during this looting. I remember the case of one Chinese businessman that committed suicide because they had looted his supermarket and he couldn’t afford to restock the shelves.”

“Comedic television programs that normally recorded live decided to not go on air out of respect for the country’s difficult period. The people’s outcry manifested itself non-stop as self-organized pot-and-pan protests and a slogan shouted in unison “QUE SE VAYAN TODOS! [Everyone Out!],” referring to our political representatives that demonstrated apathy and little support. There was police suppressing the protests, shouting, chaos, and the certainty that everything must change.”

“Huge multinationals fired en masse their employees and the national government responded with a plan to double unemployment assistance (two monthly salaries per year employed instead of one).”

“In short, these unerasable images and memories help to remind us of the historic turning point in our beloved land that was devastated by a system that should change but doesn’t seem to have taken into account that which has already happened.”

NAME: Tomás “Rolo” Fox
PROFESSION: Actor & Art Gallery Owner
AGE: 28

“My 2001 crisis memories are unerasable. I remember seeing the many images that were later aired on television. I’ll never forget my brother on the balcony pounding away on drum, nor my uncles carrying my cousins to the square in front of the congress building to demand that the politicians leave office, others too leaving their routines to protest in the street. People were fed up and had said ‘enough.'”

“But more than those images, what I most remember is the sensation I felt during those days. A sensation that I’ve never felt before and haven’t felt since. It’s difficult to describe in words, but if I had to choose one word to explain it I’d say: apocalypse.”

“To see those anarchistic images in the streets, hungry people begging for food, customers banging on bank doors because their life savings were stolen, the president escaping from La Casa Rosada [the presidential office] in a helicopter, pots and pans sounding in front of Congress (and in every neighborhood) while “Que se vayan todos!” [Everyone out!] was chanted loudly, looting rumors not only in supermarkets but in private homes as well.”

“The state’s declaration of martial law and other apocalyptic-type rumors made me believe the country’s end was near, that everything had collapsed and that nobody knew what tomorrow would bring. Not to mention the future. It was an extreme situation on a massive scale. A terrifying sensation, as if on the border of an abyss.”

“Finally it passed (like everything in life) and little by little a sort of normalcy returned, although it was difficult. We’re still here, in the same place, in the same country, but nothing has been the same since those days.”

Posted by: standing_baba | June 28, 2011

VIDEO: Fuerza Bruta Interactive Show

Photo by: The Lighting Syndicate

FOREWORD: (Buenos Aires, Argentina) Fuerza Bruta, according to their badly translated website, is “…a phenomenon natural and inevitable. The result of millions of years…[it] doesn’t have a purpose. It is.” If it wasn’t for a recent conversation in which a friend and I marveled at the sequence of events that allowed our words to fly from our mouths into each other’s minds I’d have pegged this theater description as artsy fartsy filler, like excessive adjectives wrapped around a humble merlot.

Luckily, the conversation prepared me for an Argentine theater group’s evolution-of-fun (non)concept: as long as crazy, technical, purposeless entertainment is possible humans will bend it to breaking point, delimit the limitation and press on, not because the human race’s survival depends upon the advancement of perfectly syncopated strobe lights or because in the art world retreat is defeat, but simply because backward is boring.

The Fuerza Bruta show is everything but boring: it confuses the mind in the most innovative ways. Depending on how much purpose you try to pull from the purposelessness, questions begin to pile upon the bass line: what does it mean?; what does it mean?!; what does it mean!?! Below each of the following videos I filmed during last week’s show I’ve attempted to transcribe my exact mind confusions at that exact moment they took place—my brain in real-time! Trippy, yeah?

Check out the Fuerza Bruta official site here.

…We run without movement, without purpose, we sweat until it seems we’ve accomplished something. This goes on for years, from childhood until that golden age of adult when all that running and so little attaining begins to click, click, click, then pause—a long pause, like a failed mechanism—and some subtley walk away, slowly this time, unharmed; for others, it hits like a hammer coming down, a bullet, and they continue, sweating purposelessly, their entire lives. Funny, so many differences wrapped in similar skins, clothes, equally measured strides. When a real triumph—the trust of someone special, the warmth of two bodies—crashes accidentally into our aloneness, our horizon-bound gaze can’t pause to see that the non-movement, the silence, the stillness is actually a built-in mechanism to hold us in one place long enough to love. We ignore this because it doesn’t click like a machine….

…I’ve walked the world in three languages and picked a handful of dialects from the gutters, yet I know nothing: the world would still be flat if fate had thrown me to a past century. The world may be a computer program, a space station, when I’m born two thousand years from now. Anything is possible—we float on a rock that floats on nothingness. Ah, the perfume is thick here. Why circle back to the beginning?…Women know nothing of men; men know nothing of women. They float on the flat side of each other’s tiny worlds, upside down and opposite each other’s tiny moves; our feet trace each other’s gravity but each half of our wholeness steps its weight, its lifetime of momentum into the skin, a little too hard, a little too soft, mostly forcing disasters….

Walk across the Atlantic or tunnel through the Amazon? Fish feet or ant hands, boat flight or submarine drive?…What is this!?…Can fish see the sky too? Do they think clouds are cotton candy? (No, they know nothing of cotton candy). Are satellites always the bug-that-got-away? Flies die the worst deaths, swallowed, sucked dry. Spider, you’re not evil but why don’t I believe you?…Vortex!? Time doesn’t exist! I was once the size of a dime in a place like this. Then I expanded, screaming at the world. Skin is not sound proof…Shine the light on loneliness. Shadows are alter egos. Is this what it’s like to be famous, a thin layer between the masses, faceless hands reaching skyward, perfect faces treading them like water? I want to be famous, I want to look down from above, swing from the rafters, slide across the waves, fly without checking the bank account, be touched, then read a book before bedtime with the lamplight on.

Posted by: standing_baba | June 25, 2011

Turks & Brazilians. Guns. War. And a Cute Kitten.

Right now, a silent war is taking place….
Two countries are engaged in an epic battle….
Two ideologies push against one another for dominance….
Two languages clash with ferocious sounds….

Who are these titans and what do they want?

I’ll tell you….

But first, a video of a cute spotted kitten.

This war of all wars began with an e-mail from my friend Colleen, a veterinarian at the Cincinnati Zoo who helped bring this ocelot into the world through artificial insemination:

My boss is attempting to name our most recent creation. The zoo keeps referring to her as a miracle kitten, which is what they named the first one we produced for them, but my boss finds it offensive (I think its hilarious and threaten to call him Saint William if he performs a 3rd miracle)…Anyway, thoughts on how to say ‘nasty little package’ or something to that effect in Portuguese? She is spunky to say the least…Hope you can offer some naming expertise!

Like Einstein picking up the phone when The Manhattan Project called, I responded casually, naively, unaware of my words’ far-reaching consequences:

Chispa (pronounced sh-is-pa): spark, flash, and apparently ‘genius’ according to an online dictionary but I’ve never heard it used in Portuguese that way. To sweeten the pie, 1) it’s used as a word to shoo cats when they’re naughty and 2) it sounds like a Brazilian Simba, and Disney already did the marketing for you. It’s the perfect name, in my humble Portuguese third-language opinion.

I soon learned that all was not tecnocolor Disney. Chispa had another meaning I failed to predict in that first fateful message. Where there are sparks, there are fires, and this tiny spark is now ablaze with violent competition.

Whhhhhhaaaaatttttt?!? Whyyyyyy?!?!? Whhhoooo?!?

I’ll tell you….

But first, look into the eyes of this rare baby Brazilian ocelot.

This is Chispa...well, not yet....

It’s the Turks. And the Brazilians. They’re fighting. Right now. War. Guns. Name calling. Bad stuff. Real bad. They want this little baby ocelot…dead…no, no, no, wait…sorry…they want…this little baby ocelot…named in their respective native language.

The Brazilians want this ocelot to be named Chispa. This makes sense: she’s a Brazilian ocelot, and she should have a Brazilian Portuguese name.

The Turks want this ocelot to be named “Ayla,” which means moonlight in Turkish. Poetics aside, Chispa is Brazilian. The Turks have no business here.

Until July 1st, 2011 the Bridgeport Beardsley Zoo is conducting an online vote to officially name this baby ocelot. My recommendation, Chispa, is on the ballot. And so is Ayla, the name with the most votes thus far.


Posted by: standing_baba | June 20, 2011

TIME SENSITIVE POST: Learn Any Language & Declutter Your Life

Yeah, me on a Pringles can.

When it comes to learning languages, my dad thinks I’m talented.
When it comes to achieving my goals, an ex-girlfriend says I’m lucky.
When it comes to traveling the world, many claim I’m blessed.

The truth is: I’m none of the above.

My perspective is just different.

Here’s the short of it:

1) Languages are not undecipherable codes

Languages are a human form of communication that children around the world learn with a 100% success rate. Think about that. Anybody can learn any language. The Australian author of my favorite book Shantaram didn’t use grammar books or take intensive courses to learn the “difficult” Indian Marathi dialect; instead, he used his passionate interest in Marathi speakers and their culture to interact with them in their language. It wasn’t always easy, but hey, he now speaks Marathi. Similarly, I’ve focused my interest in Latin America to gain fluency in both Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese, the latter being learned in a matter of months.

2) A goal is just a passion defined

If you’re passionate about something, you go for it. And you get it. There is vast difference between feeling you should do something and genuinely wanting to do it. For example, I should learn Mandarin to make myself more marketable in our ever-changing economy. Do I genuinely want to learn Mandarin, is there a passionate driving force that consumes me with that goal? Not really. Unless the passion for learning Mandarin arises, all efforts to achieve that goal will end in failure. It’s better to chase your passions than to circle around empty goals. This bike tour was a passionate albeit crazy goal that I never doubted for a second. Two years later, I have zero regrets and countless memories thanks to that initial, small, passionate decision to just do it.

3) Travel is just a decision away

Here’s a little secret: travel is not difficult. First, you decide to travel. Second, you rearrange your life in order to free up time and money. Third, you go. Everything else will fall into place. What is the solution to the time/money problem? Simplify. By simplifying all aspects of your life the travel question answers itself. I saved money for this bike tour by prioritizing my resources, not buying useless things, then selling the few items I owned before departure. At the moment my worldly possessions fit inside a backpack, and I’ve never felt more free.

Ok, language, goals, and travel. So what?

If you read this blog, you’re probably interested in these “unconventional” things.
If you’re not, I’m surprised you’ve read this far.

My language and travel knowledge is the result of hard-earned personal experience, which is not the most efficient way to learn. A better learning method is to study those who know what you want to know or live the way you want to live.

That’s why I’m writing today.

A few bloggers I respect have put together a three-day sale with 22 ebooks from 25 authors. (Note: ebook meaning electronic books, audio interviews, how-to videos, photos, planners, etc). Last October I purchased a similar package from this sale’s organizers and learned an incredible amount of real, practical information that I’ve applied in my daily life ever since. In fact, I learned so much that I’m stamping this current sale with the MB&S official seal of approval.

All the ebooks relate in one way or another to language learning, travel, and achieving goals. Of the 22 books there are 3 which alone would justify this purchase:

1) “The Language Hacking Guide” by Benny Lewis (retail US$67)

2) “Sell Your Crap” by Adam Baker (retail US$47)

3) “Focus” by Leo Babauta (retail US$35) – A practical guide to simplifying your life with 3 audio interviews and 5 videos.

I won’t be purchasing the ebooks in this sale…but only because I have already learned the hard way—through years of trial and error—much of the information in their chapters. I wish I would have learned sooner the language and travel hacks that now seem second nature.

I believe MB&S readers will benefit from this sale’s fast-track knowledge, especially those wanting to learn a language or kick start a project—any project.

Bought separately these books would cost US$1,087. Is this is an inflated price? Probably. Is the US$97 sale price too expensive for information that, if put into practice, will postively change your life in unimaginable ways? I don’t think so.

This ebook sale will take place for the NEXT THREE DAYS ONLY. If interested, click the icon below for more information. You can also purchase these downloadable books using the same icon. (It is secure—I’ve purchased with them before).

Click here for more information

Posted by: standing_baba | June 9, 2011

South America Bike Tour Statistics (The Reveal All Edition)

At close to 4,000 feet, Peru

FOREWORD: This is MB&S’s last statistical update. Though it has been fun tracking every sweaty mile and unimportant penny, it’s time to shelve the calculator. As with all the words written on this blog, this last statistical update reveals a great deal about Bob, Surly, and I’s personalities but also the mechanics of our long pedal across South America. For example, we’re good for Brazil’s economy (US$ 11,770.40 spent in that country), bad for Bolivia’s (US$ 13.41 average spent per day there) and statistically we enjoy kicking loose more than clipping-in (only 18% of travel days spent in the saddle). It is our hope, our minor legacy, and our cyber goodwill, that this information will help future cyclists and travelers plan for their South American adventures. Check out each week’s specific statistics by clicking our Weekly Statistics category. Of course, if you’d like futher information write any time.

Paria Beach, Trinidad


(Week / US$ Spent / Days on Bike)

Week 1: US$ 153 / 0 Days
Week 2: US$ 194 / 0 Days

Total Weeks in Trinidad & Tobago: 2
Total Days in Trinidad & Tobago: 14
Total Days on Bike: N/A
Percentage of Time Biking: 0%

Total Mileage: N/A
Average Mileage per Week: N/A
Average Mileage per Day: N/A

Total Money Spent in Trinidad & Tobago: $347
Average Spent per Week: US$ 173.5
Average Spent per Day: US$ 24.76

Me and Kat in Caracas, Venezuela


(Week / US$ Spent / Days on Bike)

Week 3: US$ 88.81 / 0 Days
Week 4: US$ 250.00 / 0 Days

Total Weeks in Venezuela: 2
Total Days in Venezuela: 14
Total Days on the Bike: N/A
Percentage of Time Biking: 0%

Total Mileage in Venezuela: N/A
Average Mileage per Week: N/A
Average Mileage per Day: N/A

Total Spent in Venezuela: US$ 338.81
Average Spent per Week: US$ 169.41
Average Spent per Day: US$24.20

First day, Cartagena, Colombia


(Week: US$ Spent / Days on Bike)

Week 5: 167.10 / 2
Week 6: 92.99 / 4
Week 7: 100.95 / 5
Week 8: 165.06 / 2
Week: 9: 203.23 / 0
Week: 10: 138.96 / 0
Week 11: 155.90 / 3
Week 12: 98.59 / 2
Week 13: 179.87 / 5

Total Weeks in Colombia: 9
Total Days in Colombia: 63
Total Days on Bike in Colombia: 23
Percentage of Time Biking: 36.5%

Total Mileage in Colombia: 1,232.81 (1,984.02 km)
Average Miles Biked Per Week: 136.98 (220.45 km)
Average Miles Biked Per Day: 53.60 (86.26km)

Total Money Spent in Colombia: US$ 1,302.65
Average Spent per Month: US$ 578.96
Average Spent Per Week: US$ 144.74
Average Spent Per Day: US$ 20.68

Climbing out of Quito toward the Amazon, Ecuador


(Week / US$ Spent / Days on Bike)

Week 14: 227.85 / 2
Week 15: 299.20 / 0
Week 16: 148.01 / 0
Week 17: 126.17 / 0
Week 18: 106.75 / 3
Week 19: 137.22 / 0
Week 20: 88.34 / 0

Total Weeks in Ecuador: 7
Total Days in Ecuador: 49
Total Days on Bike in Ecuador: 5
Percentage of Time Biking: 10.2%

Total Mileage in Ecuador: 304.78 (490.50 km)
Average Miles Biked Per Week: 43.54 (70.07 km)
Average Miles Biked Per Day: 60.96 (98.11 km)

Total Money Spent in Ecuador: US$1,133.54
Average Spent per Month: US$ 647.72
Average Spent Per Week: US$ 161.93
Average Spent Per Day: US$ 23.13


(Week / US$ Spent / Days on Bike)

Week 21: 59.54 / 0
Week 22: 25.61 / 2
Week 23: 44.56 / 7
Week 24: 85.61 / 4
Week 25: 81.51 / 5
Week 26: 78.72 / 0
Week 27: 61.70 / 5
Week 39: MISSING
Week 40: 101.58 / 3
Week 41: 215.66 / 4

Total Weeks in Peru: 10
Total Days in Peru: 70
Total Days on Bike in Peru: 30
Percentage of Time Biking: 42.86%

Total Mileage in Peru: 1,183.41 (1,904.51 km)
Average Miles Biked per Week: 118.34 (190.45 km)
Average Miles Biked per Day: 39.45 (63.49 km)

Total Money Spent in Peru: US$ 1,302.65
Average Spent per Month: US$ 521.08
Average Spent per Week: US$ 130.27
Average Spent per Day: US$ 18.61

Hiking in Torres del Paine, Chile


(Week / US$ Spent / Days on Bike)

Week 28: 309.07 / 0
Week 29: 64.33 / 0
Week 30: 30.21 / 0
Week 31: 285.32 / 0
Week 32: 109.00 / 0
Week 33: 134.51 / 0
Week 34: 128.84 / 0
Week 35: 95.40 / 0
Week 36: 170.83 / 0
Week 37: 85.60 / 0
Week 38: 91.40 / 0

Total Weeks in Chile: 11
Total Days in Chile: 77
Total Days on Bike: 0
Percentage of Time Biking: 0%

Total Mileage in Chile: N/A
Average Miles Biked per Week: N/A
Average Miles Biked per Day: N/A

Total Money Spent in Chile: US$ 1,504.51
Average Spent per Month: $543.08
Average Spent per Week: US$ 135.77
Average Spent per Day: US$ 19.54


(Week / US$ Spent / Days on Bike)

Week 42: 74.56 / 2
Week 43: 85.29 / 0
Week 44: 68.33 / 5
Week 45: 39.57 / 4
Week 46: 85.56 / 1
Week 47: 108.14 / 0
Week 48: 207.54 / 4
Week: 49: 94.29 / 0
Week 50: 81.46 / 1

Total Weeks in Bolivia: 9
Total Days in Bolivia: 63
Total Days on Bike: 17
Percentage of Time Biking: 26.98%

Total Mileage in Bolivia: 701.07 (1,128.26 km)
Average Miles Biked per Week: 77.90 (125.37 km)
Average Miles Biked per Day: 41.24 (66.37 km)

Total Money Spent in Bolivia: US$ 844.74
Average Spent per Month: US$ 375.44
Average Spent per Week: US$ 93.86
Average Spent per Day: US$ 13.41


(Week / US$ Spent / Days on Bike)

Week 51: 131.62 / 5
Week 52: 99.84 / 6
Week 53: 81.08 / 4
Week 54: 152.11 / 0
Week 55: 197.30 / 0
Week 56: 142.97 / 0
Week 57: 224.58 / 4
Week 58: 157.63 / 0
Week 59: 204.35 / 3
Week 60: 500 / 0
Week 61: 168.38 / 3
Week 62: MISSING
Week 63: 197.74 / 0
Week 64: 178.53 / 2
Week 65: 175.75 / 2
Week 66: 141.24 / 3
Week 67: 166.10 / 2
Week 68: 180.79 / 1
Week 69 – 92: 8,002.00 / 0
Week 93: 287.81 / 5
Week 94: 174.59 / 1
Week 95: 59.60 / 3
Week 96: 146.43 / 5

Total Weeks in Brazil: 45
Total Days in Brazil: 315
Total Days on the Bike: 49
Percentage of Time Biking: 15.56%

Total Mileage in Brazil: 2,730.67 (4,394.59 km)
Average Miles Biked per Week: 60.68 (97.65 km)
Average Miles Biked per Day: 55.73 (89.69 km)

Total Money Spent in Brazil: US$ 11,770.44
Average Spent per Month: US$ 1,046.28
Average Spent per Week: US$ 261.57
Average Spent per Day: US$ 37.37

NOTE: Monthly students loan payments of US$90 are included in the Brazil expense breakdown.

Traversing the sand bars of Laguna Rocha, Uruguay


(Week / US$ Spent / Days on Bike)

Week 97: 120.24 / 2
Week 98: 153.11 / 1
Week 99: 134.22 / 0
Week 100 – 101: 703.48 / 2

Total Weeks in Uruguay: 5
Total Days in Uruguay: 35
Total Days on Bike in Uruguay: 5
Percentage of Time Biking: 14.29%

Total Mileage in Uruguay: 440.77 (709.35 km)
Average Miles Biked per Week: 88.15 (141.86 km)
Average Miles Biked per Day: 88.15 (141.86 km)

Total Money Spent in Uruguay: US$ 1,111.05
Average Spent per Week: US$ 221.21
Average Spent per Day: US$ 31.74

Recently arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina


No money or mileage was tracked in Argentina.


TOTAL HOURS TRAVELING BY BIKE: 1,032 (8 hour days)

TOTAL MILES TRAVELED BY BIKE: 6,483.51 (10,434.21 KM)


Posted by: standing_baba | May 26, 2011

Book: Shantaram: A Novel

FORWARD: (Buenos Aires, Argentina) As far as the internet world is concerned I’ve been thin air for the last three weeks. My inbox is littered with e-mails awaiting responses and this blog has been time-frozen on my last post, a hodgepodge of generalizations about a retrospectively paradisiacal country called Uruguay. Much has happened since then. I took a boat across a dirty river called the Mar de Plata, entered a new country Argentina, was visited by friends and reunited with others, pedaled half the city’s streets and walked the other half’s avenues, rented a house with three social Argentines, organized samba classes, and learned that my brother will marry. There is no shortage of topics to write about. It may come as a surprise then that after such an extended silence, with so many new happenings in hand, I choose to share quotes from a 900-page book about India. “Shantaram: A Novel” by Gregory David Roberts, an Australian convict who escaped to Bombay to begin a new life, has been just below the surface of these past three weeks, a slowly scrolling movie in my mind, or music in my headphones that no one else could hear. In so many words, it’s the most interesting book I’ve ever read. For more information about the book Shantaram click here.


“Every free minute is a short story with a happy ending.”

“…every human will has the power to transform its fate. I’d always thought that fate was something unchangeable…but I suddenly realised that life is stranger and more beautiful than that. The truth is that, no matter what kind of game you find yourself in, no matter how good or bad the luck, you can change your life completely with a single thought or a single act of love.”

“Poverty and pride are devoted blood brothers until one, always and inevitably, kills the other.”

“You can never tell what people have inside them until you start taking it away, one hope at a time.”

“There’s a truth that’s deeper than experience. It’s beyond what we see, or even what we feel. It’s an order of truth that separates the profound from the merely clever, and the reality from the perception. We’re helpless, usually, in the face of it; and the cost of knowing it, like the cost of knowing love, is sometimes greater than any heart would willingly pay. It doesn’t always help us to love the world, but it does prevent us from hating the world. And the only way to know that truth is to share it, from heart to heart….”

“Civilisation, after all is defined by what we forbid, more than what we permit.”

“The two fastest ways to develop a healthy loathing for the human race and its destiny is to serve it food, or clean up after it, on the minimum wage.”

“Fear dries a man’s mouth, and hate strangles him. That’s why hate has no great literature: real fear and real hate have no words.”

“…justice is not only the way we punish those who do wrong. It is also the way we try to save them.”

“I didn’t know then, as I do now, that love’s a one-way street. Love, like respect, isn’t something you get; it’s something you give.”

“The facts of life are very simple. In the beginning we feared everything—animals, the weather, the trees, the night sky—everything except each other. Now we fear each other, and almost nothing else. No-one knows why anyone does anything. No-one tells the truth. No-one is happy. No-one is safe. In the face of all that is so wrong with the world, the very worst thing you can do is survive. And yet you must survive. It is this dilemma that makes us believe and cling to the lie that we have a soul, and that there is a God who cares about its fate.”

“‘You are a Christian fellow?” he asked. “No, I don’t believe in God.” “There is no believing in God,” he declared. “We either know God, or we do not.””

“The truth is that there are no good men, or bad men…It is the deeds that have goodness or badness in them. There are good deeds, and bad deeds. Men are just men—it is what they do, or refuse to do, that links them to good or evil. The truth is that an instant of real love, in the heart of anyone—the noblest man alive or the most wicked—has the whole purpose and process and meaning of life within the lotus-folds of its passion. The truth is tht we are all, every one of us, every atom, every galaxy, and every particle of matter in the universe, moving toward God.”

“Optimism is the first cousin of love, and it’s exactly like love in three ways: it’s pushy, it has no real sense of humour, and it turns up where you least expect it.”

“‘Fanatics,’ Didier mused, ignoring the rebuke, ‘always seem to have the same scrubbed and staring look about them. They have the look of people who do not masturbate, but who think about it almost all the time.'”

“I also agree with Winston Churchhill, who once defined a fanatic as someone who won’t change his mind and can’t change the subject.”

“There’s a kind of luck that’s not much more than being in the right place at the right time, a kind of inspiration that’s not much more than doing the right thing in the right way, and both only really happen to you when you empty your heart of ambition, purpose, and plan; when you give yourself, completely, to the golden, fate-filled moment.”

“Every human heartbeat…is a universe of possibilities.”

“I heard a warning, deep within—we usually do, when something worse than we can imagine is stalking us, and set to pounce. Fate’s way of beating us in a fair fight is to give us warnings that we hear, but never heed.”

“A mujaheddin fighter once told me that fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies, and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we’ve loved them, left them, or fought them.”

“There wasn’t any glory in it [war]. There never is. There’s only courage and fear and love. And war kills them all, one by one. Glory belongs to God, of course; that’s what the word really means. And you can’t serve God with a gun.”

“When you judge the power that is in a person, you must judge their capacities as both friend and enemy.”

“The first rule of black business everywhere is: never let anyone know what you’re thinking…always know what the other thinks of you.”

“One of the reasons why we crave love, and seek it so desperately, is that love is the only cure for loneliness, and shame, and sorrow. But some feelings sink so deep into the heart that loneliness can help you find them again. Some truths about yourself are so painful that only shame can help you live with them. And some things are just so sad that only your soul can do the crying for you.”

“…the real trick in life is to want nothing, and to succeed in getting it.”

“You know the difference between news and gossip, don’t you? News tells you what people did. Gossip tells you how much they enjoyed it.”

“I lived in a little hut like this in Goa for a year once. And I was happy. There isn’t a day goes by when I don’t feel like going back there. I sometimes think that the size of our happiness is inversely proportional to the size of our house.”

“…it is a part of growing up, learning to control our suffering. I think that when we grow up, and learn that happiness is rare, and passes quickly, we become disillusioned and hurt. And how much we suffer is a mark of how much we have been hurt by this realisation. Suffering, you see, is a kind of anger. We rage against the unfairness, the injustice of our sad and sorry lot. And this boiling resentment, you see, this anger, is what we call suffering.”

“If we do not suffer from our pain, then we have not learned about anything but ourselves. Pain without suffering is like victory without struggle. We do not learn from it what makes us stronger or better or closer to God.”

Read more about or buy the book Shantaram click here.

Posted by: standing_baba | May 15, 2011

Week 100 & 101 Statistics


DATES: May 1st, 2011 – May 15th, 2011
START LOCATION: Montevideo, Uruguay
END LOCATION: Buenos Aires, Argentina

TOTAL DISTANCE CYCLED: 125.14 miles (201.4 km)
AVERAGE DISTANCE PER DAY: 62.57 miles (100.7 km)
LONGEST DAY: 87.34 miles (140.56 km)
SHORTEST DAY: 37.80 miles (60.84 km)
TOTAL DISTANCE CYCLED TO DATE: 6,483.51 miles (10,434.21 km)


US $1 = 18.849 Pesos Uruguayos
US $1 = 4.084 Peso Argentinos



Posted by: standing_baba | May 5, 2011

Uruguay: First Impressions

FOREWORD: Below are some of my first impressions of a beautiful, little-known country in South America.

MATE ADDICTION: Uruguay, like most countries, has drinking and driving laws. Interestingly though, two laws are on the books: one against alcohol, another that prohibits mate, a bitter tea that is slurped from a hollow gourd with a metal straw then refilled with hot water from a Thermos. A tricky sequence. Traffic accidents were on the rise until politicians discovered that two hands for three actions didn’t add up.

There is no law, however, against drinking mate in every other imaginable place. On sidewalks, in parks and cafes and public buses, anywhere people gather, dominant arms fold like protective wings over Thermos bottles while the other hand is held in a permanent 90-degree angle so as not to spill the herbage from the gourd’s wide opening. It’s a national phenomenon that makes for interesting, sometimes comical people watching. At any given moment, based on my unscientific calculations, three out of ten Uruguayans are drinking mate, and the other seven are either waiting for their friend to pass the gourd, or are driving and will drink upon arrival to their destination….

Montevideo grafitti: "Meat is death"

MILITANT VEGETARIANISM: In Uruguay there are approximately four cows for every person. Uruguayans are very proud of this ratio. Much as mate is a national pastime (if not an inherited trait, passed to newborns like a natural disposition toward pickles or baldness), the asado, or BBQ, is the ultimate expression of the Uruguayan social scene. With the alcohol and food tab divided between all in attendance, people relax around the grill in a state of general timelessness as a variety of flanks and ribs and sausages slowly sizzle to perfection.

With so much social importance attached to the asado, a curious movement has emerged in the capital of Montevideo: the militant vegetarian. In no other city have I seen so much graffiti dedicated to stopping the asado, to saving the cow, to informing the world that animals feel pain too. Phrases like “Meat is death” and “VEGAN” are spray painted on major monuments and government buildings. A rodeo stockyard wall was tagged in big block letters with “Meat Parade of Ignorance.” This post neither approves nor disapproves but instead acknowledges that the graffiti achieved its mission, the mission of all conscientious graffiti: it made me think. Hyperlinked here are some staggering facts about meat that I’ve since read….

Uruguayans, kissing.

MEN KISS MEN: In public. In private. At work. In restaurants. At the asado. Helloing. Goodbying. The masculine ‘kisses’ that take place hundreds of thousands of times per day in Uruguay are not really kisses at all. They’re more like mafia cheek pecks that display each clan’s loyalty to the other, much like how the handshake evolved from the medieval days in which knights clasped each other’s forearms to prove no weapons were concealed there.

Of course, handshakes still exist—you’d almost never “kiss” a man upon meeting for the first time—but as encounters increase in frequency the man-kiss is essential to developing the relationship. Despite my foreignness, the male friends I’ve made now greet me by rubbing their scruffy cheeks against mine in a quick bro-hug reminiscent of Sicilian hit men. Woman-on-woman and woman-on-man kisses are as normal as mate, the difference being both are served up with generous sides of touching and lip smacking sound—two faux pas that will move your man-kiss in the realm of questionable macho-ness….

House in Cabo Polonio

GYPSY PROPERTY LINES: Excluding the 1.3 million stronghold of Montevideo, the average size of the Uruguayan city is 30,000 people. From the Brazilian border to the fashionable Punta del Este, my low-season experience in the abandoned beach towns and forgotten villages the line the Atlantic was closer to 1,500 people. I came to view the house clusters as islands that faded in and out of pastureland, their shapes archipelago-like in smooth oceans of field, little dots on a pancake expanse so flat that they could be viewed seemingly huddled together from even the smallest hilltop.

After visiting these communities a doubt began to sing louder than the mp3s in my ear buds. Something, I noticed, was off. In Cabo Polonio, the remote fishing village timelessly surrounded by sand dunes, the off-ness was more obvious, or at least more concentrated. Here my unease became a metaphor: it was as if a Gypsy oxcart had pushed across Uruguay throwing off its extra weight, and where the accordion and tea kettle and wooden chest full of denim and corduroy matching suits crashed against the ground, there bloomed a village.

Since my Uruguayan friends won’t appreciate the Gypsy comparison I’ll be less subtle: Uruguay is the first country I had visited in which social contracts and property boundaries seemed to be an after-thought. Three in-country weeks later, I now know this is not the case, that law is a highly respected Uruguayan institution, especially when land rights are involved. However, the ramshackle of shelters piled atop each other in creative and spontaneous ways, like Gypsies circling ox carts in a Walmart parking lot, made me wonder whether disputes were settled with knife fights and horse races, girls seduced with mullets and sheep counts, property purchased with whisky bottles and man-kisses….

INEXPLICABLE BATHROOM SWITCHES: In Uruguay the light switches are OUTSIDE THE BATHROOM. This Uruguayan engineering is as confusing as Cabo Polonio’s backyard boundaries. What if, mid-shower, you want to turn on the heat lamp but the bathroom door opens to the living room? What if you need to short-circuit the source after a blow dryer falls in the tub? What if your toilet reading time falls on those precarious minutes between dusk and darkness when newspaper white becomes black as night? In my rational, American mind that was taught to sandpaper minor inconveniences into million-dollar patents, this unreachable light switch has become my Uruguayan glass ceiling. Until I can understand this elusive plastic button and its placement, I will never understand the Uruguayan people and the national psyche that created and embraced it….

ELDERLY EVERYWHERE: I arrived to the capital Montevideo at the beginning of Easter Week. I had been expecting youthful power walks across enormous European-inspired plazas, tight jeans and equally tight leather jackets as professional women pounded the sidewalks with sophisticated boots, also leather; men gathered in bars with wooden booths where their neutral-colored scarves hung next to their satchels on special hooks. Ecetera, ecetera, in run-on sentences with bad punctuation. Life on public display, youth raw and dripping sex, energy everywhere—this was the Montevideo of my mind, basically a mini-Buenos Aires.

Pedaling into the city, I saw none of the above. The pedestrian streets were null and void, a few cars putted along the city’s main vein avenue, 18 de Julio, and a natural wind whistled through the canyons of humble business buildings that seemed more apt to echo the urban howls of car honks and sirens. Instead, tweed jackets gently draped over the backs of café chairs, tango partners swayed to crackled speaker music in a still nameless park, and the contrasting lines of hunchbacks with canes accentuated the mostly unelectrified, shuttered-up storefronts. The average age: 70. As it turned out, the city ups and leaves during their week-long Easter vacation, to the nearby beaches, to Argentina, to Brazil. The only people who stay in Montevideo are the retired, aged 65 and over, who cannot afford to travel on their US$170 monthly pension check.

With Easter over, the streets are alive again with tight leather and fashionable five-o’clock shadows, moving above an arthritic crawl, but it turns out my first impression was not too far from the everyday reality. Uruguay is a country for old men (as opposed to No Country for Old Men, get it?) because a surprising amount of the educated, qualified youth leave Uruguay in search of economic stability abroad, mostly in Europe and the United States. Most every Uruguayan I’ve come in contact with has a friend or family living abroad….

Uruguayan political pamphlet

POLITICAL PEOPLE: In Punta del Este I witnessed something that reminded me of the chaos following the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11th, 2001: blocks and blocks of cars waiting to buy gas. When I asked a policeman who was directing traffic why they were in line, he responded, “The workers are going on strike during Easter Week.” During my three weeks in-country, the gasoline and gas industries have gone on strike, I’ve met several families whose members were jailed for years (!) as political prisoners during the 70s dictatorship, and I constantly hear snippets of heated political debate on the radio, in the streets, and among groups of youth. Everyone seems to have an opinion. Perhaps due to its size, perhaps due to this political consciousness, Uruguay has largely avoided the wide-spread corruption of its South American neighbors while maintaining a (mostly) friendly dialogue that includes all its almost four million citizens.

Posted by: standing_baba | April 30, 2011

Week 99 Statistics


DATES: April 24th, 2011 – April 30th, 2011
START LOCATION: Montevideo, Uruguay
END LOCATION: Montevideo, Uruguay

TOTAL DISTANCE CYCLED TO DATE: 6,358.37 miles (10,232.81 km)


US $1 = 18.849 Pesos Uruguayos




Books finished: 1
Unpublishable attempts at blog posts: 4 pages
Entries in an online sweepstakes for an iPad: 54
iPad Winner: not me
Entries in an online sweepstakes for a Kindle: 1
Winners: probably not me
Long-distance cyclists met: 2
Cyclists nationalities: Spanish & Argentine
Gifts given by cyclists: reflective stickers & a tangerine
Photos uploaded: many
Guilt about following behind on poetry blog: HIGH
Poems needed to catch up: 6
Dinner parties attended: 5
Spanish spoken: almost fluent again (e.g. no Portuguese accent sneaking out)
Pounds of cow grilling at the Mercado del Puerto: 7,321
Nights on the town: 4
Hours in front of computer screen: too many
Mysterious project completion rate: 40%
Movies watched: 1 (The Social Network)
Thumbs up: yeah, two of them
Reaction upon seeing Justin Timberlake cracked out in the police station: laughter
General sky color in Montevideo: grey
General character of Uruguayans: chipper flight searches: 5
Stars I’d rate my life on a sliding scale, zero being miserable and ten being a floating feeling similar to anti-gravity: 7
Coolest new trick learned: how to upload Wikipedia articles onto my Kindle
Practical use: travel guides in native languages! (e.g. Buenos Aires article in Spanish)
Strange sensation I can’t shake: time doesn’t exist
My parting question: where did this last week go?

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »


%d bloggers like this: