Looking back on these travels, forward to Christmas at home and… do I live here now?

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I got an email a couple of months ago which informed me that my travel insurance was approaching its expiration date. Reading it was slightly surreal, I experienced it as something significantly more than a pinch but much less than a lightning strike: I had originally only planned to be away for six months. How much has changed in that time. How much has changed in that time?


I heard an interview the other day with some old cricket commentator who was retiring. He had one of those accents which makes BBC news reporters sound common, as though his throat was acting as the thumb over a hosepipe of perfectly pronounced words destined to be aired. He had retired and when the interviewer asked him whether it was a sad moment to give up something he’d done for so long he responded that although there were one or two who “blubbed” he was able to remain detached and dispassionate lest everything become “rather untidy”. Which struck me as an almost violently British response.

I’ve never been away from home for this long, 9 months and counting. As time has gone on, and the more I spend time with people from almost everywhere, I’ve become more attuned to moments as “British” as that interview. It immediately struck me as familiar, the ridiculous rejection of a request for a simple display of humanity, and I can’t help but miss it. I hear it’s getting cold at home now. I haven’t been cold for 9 months.

By comparison, when I now go food shopping, I walk into the supermarket and, if I’m feeling emotionally stable, down the “foreign foods” aisle, which is lined with pasta and olives and pretzels and Thornton’s chocolates and it’s all ludicrously expensive. That aisle is a teaser of a level of familiarity so deep, and now so infrequent, it provokes in me the kind of smug smile that only a thick duvet in the depths of winter could help muster.

So I now have tickets back home, I’ll be there from 16th Dec to 6th Jan, message me if you’ll be around. But I guess if I’m essentially “holidaying” back home then that means I live in Medellin now…


This whole trip came about because after being made redundant around the same time the lease on my flat was up, all I really had was redundancy check and a lack of responsibilities. I was looking for work and flats, but in looking for work I had stumbled across the option of volunteering for charities in places like Mozambique and Peru. The company in Peru got back to me first. I figured I had enough money for six months so I told myself I’d volunteer for three months and travel for the other three. Oh, how I’d missed traveling!

I didn’t even know whether I’d go north of Huanchaco after I’d finished volunteering or south. I had no idea what I’d do when I got back to London and I’d been deliberately hasty and rough in my finance calculations so that if it turned out I didn’t have enough I could invert some plausible deniability on myself. Too much diligence in this area might lead me round in a circle to realise I actually didn’t have enough, and that would be to explore the issue too far.

This was almost the first test of traveling, could I still do the no-planning, sort-that-out-if-and-when, fuckit-let’s-see-what-happens approach? And not just in a “shall we go to the pub tonight?” way but in a more “shall I commit at least 6 months and thousands of pounds to something which may well turn out to be detrimental to my career?” way. I think working in an office – thinking through every permutation of decisions, careful career positioning, delicate (or not, in my case) diplomacy and maneuvers – causes one to run in the opposite direction.

I didn’t really know anything about South America. I knew the country names, the fact the Spanish had once taken a trip there, and that there were some big mountains and old ruins. And a sizeable rain forest, right?

I’ve traveled a bunch before, I knew I could meet people and make friends easily, I knew there was a network of hostels loaded with travelers waiting to have fun with whomever walked through the door, I knew not knowing didn’t matter – in fact it’d be an advantage – and that I didn’t need to decide what to do or where to go until the day itself. I knew the infrastructure and personal resources existed not to have to plan. I knew it all without having to think about it. So, off I fucked.

The initial three months volunteering were exactly what I wanted them to be. Scarce familiarity, lots of people to get drunk with, a small surfing town, interesting things to do, new experiences and challenges, no real comfort zone, etc, etc, etc. Then halfway through my stay a flood decimated a series of shanty towns we had been working in. And I was thrown into the best week or two of work I have ever done, and will probably ever do. I remember driving through a shanty town in a pickup truck with water loaded on the back, on our way to dish it out to parched residents of the newly wasted land, thinking “this… is not what I thought I’d be doing when I left.”

I’ve managed to travel half of Peru, Ecuador and half of Colombia so far. Which is only a fraction of the trail which starts in either northern Mexico or southern Argentina and heads toward the other. Traveling was everything I remember it being and everything it was supposed to be. One of traveling’s traits is unpredictability, another is ‘better than you previously had the capacity to imagine’. I knew these two to be true and the potential potency of their combined effect, yet I’m still surprised that these travels have been what they have. I’ve learned things I wanted to know, things I didn’t know it was possible to know and, best of all, utterly useless things. Met some of the best people, who I dearly hope I will be able to meet again, be it by design or happenstance.

As I had been away I clocked on to the idea that I could work online. I was vaguely aware of this “digital nomad” term, but it doesn’t really pan out like it’s portrayed. It takes a colossal amount of work to build a freelance profile to the point where you’re well supplied and well paid enough to doss around traveling. Or it means being a highly skilled software engineer. It’s usually done by people who’ve worked their bollocks off at home, who leave once everything’s ‘up and running’. But the more I thought about it, and the more people I met, the more I realised it might be possible. But, honestly, my attempts were half-hearted.

Somewhere around Ecuador’s southern border Medellin became the point where I’d jump off the traveling train. I’d find work there as an English teacher if nothing else, learning Spanish was proving difficult because there was no one to chuck me in the deep end. Teaching would do the trick. Plus it’d be a way to be far more in touch with the culture. And I’d always wondered what I’d be like as a teacher, I expected I’d learn a lot from it.

But then I arrived here, Medellin, and emailed an online news website which some other traveler had told me about. They weren’t looking for writers but their sister company was a PR firm in the process of building a newsroom. Would I like to be one of the first writers they hired? Despite reservations about what kind of newsroom might ensue from a company starting to hire people with no experience, I accepted.

And it seems to be shaping up well, I’ve realised that all the stuff I used to do – trying to guide and shape the company I was working for – is not actually unenjoyable. It just used to be unenjoyable because I was working in ‘business-to-business marketing technology’. A phrase which brings a little bit of stomach contents to the throat. Moreover, I had to work with leaders of a sales teams, who are, as a concept, arguably one of the business community’s most insidious afflictions on society.

When people left that company and tried to articulate that they’d like to work somewhere they cared about without insulting those who were staying at the company, my response used to be “don’t worry, the phrase ‘i’m passionate about B2B marketing technology’ has never been uttered in sincerity”, which was usually greeted by a knowing smile and a relieved “well… yeah!”

There’s no guarantee of work off the back of anything, journalism must be one of the most oversupplied professions in the history of professions. But, for now, I do know that this is the third time – the first two being my first set of major travels and going to university – I’ve taken a life-decision not because I should or could or because it was “sensible”, but just because I wanted to. And that brings with it a level of contentment unknowable to those who’ve never tried it.


 

Being away does come with its challenges, things don’t get “shit” or “good”, those concepts don’t exist; circumstances blow right past them to “really fucking shit” or “absolutely fucking brilliant”. At least, on an average day, I can have a cigarette on the balcony looking out over a sunset-lit Colombian valley host to a city so good at being itself. I just need to learn Spanish.

Millennial Fear and Loathing: Why Hunter S. Thompson Matters

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I have a feeling there are answers in the past somewhere. That, to us millennials, “the 60s” are rightly venerated, but viewed for the sake of vicarious nostalgia rather than guidance. There is too much similar between our generation and the baby boomers to be ignored. The millennial generation is characterised by an insistence on looking forward; which consumes our perspective despite being one example of a parallel with said past. So we don’t learn as we might from their successes and failures, but instead look back with a playful and dispassionate interest at characters like the Good Doctor: Hunter S. Thompson.

When you mention his name it usually results in a confused look “…no”, until you offer the prompt of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. “Oh, yes! The film?” Yes, but it was a book first, he wrote the book (1972). There is sometimes an awareness that he did a lot of drugs and that Johnny Depp is rumoured to have locked himself in his basement to take all the drugs Thompson took in order to play him in the film. Less known is that he was a political journalist writing for Rolling Stone, and less still that he was part of the left-wing “freak” movement of the 60s even going so far as to run for mayor of Aspen in Colorado with a peyote flower as his emblem. And he nearly won. There is an outside chance that there’s a knowledge of Hell’s Angels, his book derived from spending two years with the biking outlaws as part of his social circle. But less still that the type of ethnographic journalism that he engaged in to write that book contributed to the foundations of modern long-form journalism.

Beyond being very bookish or a real politics geek there isn’t any real reason why anyone would be familiar with his exploits. He had studied his morality – from the ancient Greeks, through Shakespeare, Jefferson, Horatio Alger and wider. A deep, scholarly understanding shone through his drug-fuelled soliloquies. I’ve envied both his ability to write in stream of consciousness with such eloquent passion and breadth of reference, and – with a certain Utopian defeatism – elements of his approach to life as a hedonist and an outlaw. Though he took firm political stances it was that hedonistic approach to life which informed everything. As Oscar Wilde did with aestheticism, Thompson took something seemingly superficial and gave it weight and gravitas – he gave reason to what seemed merely indulgent. That might sound like a post-hoc justification to get fucked up and disabuse yourself of responsibilities, but it came with huge self-imposed political responsibilities and, further, can guard against the plethora of modern life issues: all the reasons self-help books, psychiatrists and feel-good pharmaceuticals are such big business.


The subtitle to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is A Savage Journey to the Heart of The American Dream. I’ve read plenty of his stuff and am still no closer to understanding the link between the story of Fear and Loathing and The American Dream. During the road trip with “his attorney” he completely botches an attempt to cover a race in the desert and is then reassigned to embark on a hilarious visit to a police conference about drugs, all the while completely fucked on a series of substances mostly unknown to polite society. (“KNOW YOUR DOPE FIEND,” a police chief told the conference on the topic of weed, “his knuckles will be white from inner tension and his pants will be crusted with semen from constantly jacking off when he can’t find a rape victim.”)

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Maybe the link is no more complicated than the juxtaposition of succeeding in out-sinning Sin City in the face of this “Dream”. In any case, his work from the 1968 Democratic National Convention onward was devoted to the idea that the promise bequeathed to post-war America was not only hollow but disingenuous. And it is that promise – that you can be whatever you want to be no matter your background, that The War is over and everyone can focus on prosperity and that there is little in the way of being able to live The Good Life – which is not only at the essence of The American Dream but also behind the implied support and optimism offered to The Millennial Generation.

To Thompson – as I’ve found with the most salient political and social commentators – daily life and high politics were intimately linked, almost one and the same. Politics was simply a term for the process by which we all decide to live our daily lives together. So there was no difference between him wanting to take a blast along the highway on his Vincent Black Shadow and Congress deciding which laws to pass or fell. The politicians were simply there to make sure he and everyone else had the infrastructure to be able to live their lives the way they wanted to. The ideas of trade and economics and social justice and welfare were all higher-order issues. Important – vital, even – but ultimately not the foundation of politics, they were the issues which arose as a result of discourse on the question of how to live. And should be bent to social will without being contaminated by short-termism or back-door diplomacy.


The baby boomer and millennial generation share more in common than I have seen made mention of. As they had the end World War II we had the fall of The Berlin Wall. As they shook the status quo with the counter-culture of sex, drugs and rock & roll so we do with the internet and technology. As they blazed forward with civil rights movements we saw left-wing politicians govern and campaign – offering tangible hope – more effectively than ever before. And as they watched their movement crumble during the 70s with the elections of Nixon and Thatcher, we were smacked over the back of the head with Trump and Brexit. The following quote is from Thompson’s autobiography and to swap out some names and dates it could easily speak to the current political climate:

“the general political drift of the 1960s was one of the Good Guys winning, slowly but surely (and even clumsily sometimes), over the Bad Guys … then with Agnew and Nixon and Mitchell coming into power so full of congenital hostility and so completely deaf to everything we’d been talking about for ten years… it took a while to realize that there was simply no point in yelling at the fuckers. They were born deaf and stupid.”

Or how about this one, feel free to swap “America” for “Britain” and find it no less appropriate:

“Mr. Jones does not even pretend to know what’s happening in America right now, and neither does anyone else… there really is nobody flying the plane …. We are living in dangerously weird times now. Smart people just shrug and admit they’re dazed and confused. The only ones left with any confidence at all are the New Dumb. It is the beginning of the end of our world as we knew it. Doom is the operative ethic.”

Thompson first used the phrase “fear and loathing” in a letter to a friend after JFK was shot. Kennedy was his guy, his candidate, the one who was going to advance everything he held to be a virtue, and then, “there is no human being within 500 miles to whom I can communicate anything – much less the fear and loathing that is on me after today’s murder.” But it was five years later at the Democratic National Convention when the protesters he was part of were rounded up and beaten by a coordinated police attack that the scales finally fell and he realised The Establishment and American democracy were not all they were claimed to be:

“It seems to me that the underlying assumption of any public protest—any public disagreement with the government, “the system,” or “the establishment,” by any name—is that the men in charge of whatever you’re protesting against are actually listening, whether they later admit it or not, and that if you run your protest Right, it will likely make a difference… So in the end the very act of public protest, even violent protest, was essentially optimistic and actually a demonstration of faith (mainly subconscious, I think) in the father figures who had the power to change things—once they could be made to see the light of reason, or even political reality… [They] only needed to be shaken a bit, jolted out of their bad habits and away from their lazy, short-term, profit-oriented life stances… once they understood, they would surely do the right thing.”

But it had to come to that assumption being destroyed in order for it to be realised. The same, but worse, was on its way in the form of the Kent State shootings in 1970. The establishment had heard them and wanted them silenced – with lethal force if necessary.


After Brexit and Trump I didn’t really know what to think. There are plenty of talking heads, politicians and journalists trying to explain what happened and why, most of whom are still so far from any form of understanding one wonders how they collect a pay check for their ramblings. I hadn’t read anything from Thompson for a while, the stuff I had read was characteristically laced with the phrase “fear and loathing”, but towards the end of 2016 the phrase somehow took form, it stuck and felt appropriate and meaningful.

Us millennials grew up during the 90s when there was very little by the way of war and huge promises were afoot in the shape of Clinton’s and Blair’s elections. The world felt rested and at ease, many of the old divisions sewn up and progress felt inevitable. We didn’t even know all of it was new – it was normal to have things like the minimum wage introduced, an army sat twiddling their thumbs and a fully functional NHS. The Home Front, at the very least, felt progressively secure. Francis Fukuyama went so far as to publish his theory The End of History. Even once Cameron was elected he was still a liberal enough conservative to pass gay marriage and Obama was in The White House. We are children of the long summer, and we didn’t know how fiercely the cold would bite until 2016 collapsed onto us like a creaking, asbestos-lined roof, letting in the gales and squalls we assumed had subsided. And we now fear and loath the prevailing edifices. We now look back as Thompson did in 1971:

“that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now… you can go up on a steep hill… and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

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Hunter S. Thompson shot himself in 2005 aged 67. He left a cryptic suicide note which spoke to his claim that he was always going to kill himself once he got to 50 and hadn’t done, so it was time. There are many theories as to why he did it. Some say the years of drugs had taken their toll and he was in constant pain, others that he had developed a persona of a wild and crazy presence to be around and was bored of acting up to it. I won’t pepper you with more quotes just yet, and there was definitely no single reason. But it seems to me that he had watched the end of what he referred to as “The American Century” and with its closure George W. Bush was elected, The Twin Towers fell and The West went to war in the Middle East.

He had accepted that his movement, his purpose, his life’s work and the work of his friends had failed – and with that it was time to accept reality, a desire not to be constrained by bastards and swine had left him with one final choice. And with that his obituary to “his attorney”, Oscar Acosta, now seems most fitting to himself, “and there he goes. One of God’s own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

It’s a sombre note to strike and I only mention it to round off the Thompson story rather than any form of defeatist proposal. The world he relieved himself of is now ours. We watch Brexit and Trump rumble on with winces, cringes and rolled eyes – with fear and loathing – but we are still that generation of the internet, change and progress. The promises of the 90s – of being a generation that could be for the sake of being – don’t feel over to me. Progress is just harder to come by than we first assumed; and let’s be honest that assumption was arrogant. Careers and responsibilities and shit elections might close doors meanwhile we are the first generation to grow up with the knowledge of a “mid-life crisis”. Watching the phenomenon unfold in older generations, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has thought “fuck that!” Could it be any worse than reaching 50 and realising something intangible that was implicitly held dear is lost or late or broken?

And indeed I am not the only one. The generation which was ridiculed for the indulgence of a “gap yah” has turned into a generation intent on traveling with the utmost frequency, if not indefinitely. The number of travelers who earn as they go and stay away for years or who have what we refer to as an “early mid-life crisis” and “sack off work” now almost outnumber the gap year set. Traveling isn’t The Answer for everyone, but it’s an interesting development. Though it feels like those who’ve found an answer, in travel or elsewhere, are a tiny portion – most people I know would far more readily relate to the insipid, standard issue “Happy Hump Day!” memes. Hardly the sentiment of a free and content self, or a purposeful generation.

In the face of 2016 and being confronted with responsibility I see little from us millennials which speaks to any real autonomy, no real desire to deviate from “the path”. So how can progress on any scale be expected? We can’t simply expect change from our environment without being different. We are at once confused by the political trajectory and on course to make all the mistakes we have been taught not to make. While it’s admirable that there’s a focus on the plight of others it seems to have displaced a focus on that which we already have answers to, to the detriment of both. We must achieve what our counterparts in the 60s did not. And if the politicians won’t listen we have to start at home, redraw the life-politics link without which politics never made any sense anyway. Easy it is not, but it is where previous advice can be sought and better developed. In 1958 a friend of Thompson wrote to him asking for such advice. He replied humbly (“To presume to point… with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.”) the full letter is worth looking up. But I’ll end with this excerpt:

“So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know— is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.”

Last of Ecuador. And Colombia: Best Country I’ve Ever Visited

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Fuck I can’t really remember where I left off before the political rants (I can’t promise there won’t be more of those). I think it was the Amazon, I can’t remember writing it. It’s one of the best things about traveling that so much happens in such a short space of time. Leaving Huanchaco to work in that hostel in Mancora feels like a year ago but was really ten weeks or so ago. It’s something to keep an eye on, people complain about everyone taking pictures rather than being “in the moment” but if you’re going to get the best out of traveling you need some help remembering stuff.

After the Amazon we went to Quito, capital of Ecuador, which was way nicer than anyone had made out. We walked around the old town which is lovely and stayed in a great hostel with a brilliant view over the city. The Basilica there is one of the nicest cathedrals I’ve walked around, albeit with some slightly tacky installations like Mary Magdalene with LED lights. We didn’t want to stay too long because we were itching to get into Colombia so we attempted a night out but it was Monday so it didn’t really work. We just got drunk in the hostel. I had fun in Ecuador but it made it difficult at times. I tried my hardest to be tolerant but realistically the food is awful, it’s all expensive because they use the dollar, the people are nowhere near as nice as Colombians and the scenery isn’t as pretty as Peru. Usually when travelers discuss plans someone will say they’re having to skip something. If someone tells me they’re giving Peru anything less than 6 weeks I can’t help but feel disappointed, and show it on my face. But if someone says they’re skipping Ecuador… meh.

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Our first stop in Colombia was San Augustin which was an excellent place to stay after four days in the Amazon, a night of getting very drunk and then nearly 30 hours of buses and bus stations. The town is small and very pretty and the hostels are all placed around the edge of the town looking down into it. We picked up a horse tour to go and see some of the 3000-year old stone carvings, some of which still had their colour, and stop off at a few incredible view points. Riding the horses round was pretty nuts as well, I’ve never been on a horse and we spent half the time galloping… actually galloping, racing each other. So much so I had to raise the height of my stirrups to stand up properly when the horse decided to bolt or when I wanted to overtake the others.

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The election was on while we were there and because of the time difference we were able to watch the results come in between 7pm and 2am rather than having to stay up crazy hours. We got through a pretty impressive haul of booze during proceedings, though we were limited to Sky because the Beeb won’t let us in from over here. Pretty much everyone who’s traveling is thoroughly enjoying not having to be home to watch the shit show unfold first hand.

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We stopped off at the desert for a night on the way to Bogota, Colombia’s capital. The scenery was fucking cool. Unfortunately we couldn’t see any stars because there were too many clouds. But it was worth a quick dip into, the variety in Colombia was already making itself felt.

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Southern Colombia is supposedly the really dangerous part. Northern Colombia holds Medellin, the coffee region and the Caribbean coast which is rather difficult to contend with. So Bogota was the last stop before we got into a region of the world which has quickly become hallowed turf for travelers. Bogota was nice although it was pretty dangerous, everyone constantly told not to take any money out in public, at some point we were followed by some guy asking for money. He was fumbling around for something in his pocket and out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw him trying to flash us a glimpse of his knife so I decided not to look and continue the “no tengo amigo, lo siento” which seemed to work.

By this point Colombia was already exerting its influence on us. The people are incredibly friendly and happy, we hadn’t been let down on a decent meal once and there was plenty of interesting stuff lying around. The Gold Museum was great, gave us an impressive run-down of Colombian societies through to today. Seeing it all together it was interesting how the societies all worshipped nature and natural forces, Mother Nature, until they figured out how to farm. As soon as they could take more control of creating their own food and resources their ornaments all switched from symbols of nature to more abstract designs.

Once we left Bogota we had two places to tick off, one was San Gil where there were adventure sports and the other was Solento in the coffee region. I was keener on the latter rather than the former but it was slightly further away and I knew I was going to stop in Medellin so could take advantage of being close to this stuff for months ahead, no rush. San Gil was really nice, we were going to do paragliding but the weather called that off and I’m sort of glad now because I’d prefer do a skydive which has the paragliding bit built in anyway. The other two went off to do white water rafting and I opted for a day reading because I’ve done it twice previously. And a bloody good day of reading it was too. But I was quite jealous when they got back talking about it.

Medellin was immediately impressive. It’s rare for travelers to enjoy big cities, but Medellin had come with every stamp of approval possible, no one had much bad to say about it. And once we arrived it still beat expectations. The main area where all the younger folk and travelers hang out, Poblado, is really cool, if East London was in a hotter more outdoorsy climate and didn’t have so many shit buildings to contend with it might look a lot like Poblado. Or so I thought when I first got there. I now equate it to Medellin’s Soho, with Envigado or Laureles being more East London. In some sense it’s comforting to find out that the kind of style and idea of fun that typifies New York and London isn’t just a Western thing.

We rented an AirBnB and locked ourselves away for a couple of days, only emerging on the third day to visit one of Pablo Escobar’s houses in nearby Guatape. We took a tour round the buildings burned out courtesy of Los Pepes. The place was run by “Mr Williams” who Pablo took in when he was 12 and raised to be his bodyguard. When Pablo died Mr Williams stayed in the property for years eventually claiming squatters rights and now owns it (it’s worth $4 million) to run the tours from.

A few days after leaving the AirBnB we went on the walking tour of Medellin which is probably the best of these city walking tours I’ve ever done. It added a lot more context to the Pablo story and the toll it exerted on people just trying to live their lives in Colombia. The guide was also refreshingly honest about some of the cultural divides in Colombia, how the Paisa (the people who live in the centre of Colombia with Medellin as their local capital) think of themselves and are thought of. It struck me that you might be hard pushed to find a walking tour of anywhere in Britain that might go into detail about the North-South divide and the difference in culture and mindset that that entails.

Throughout the tour of Pablo’s place and Medellin the Colombian people really made their mark on me. They are all happy and friendly and proud and fun despite having been put through incredible hardships very recently and as a result their country has bounced back at an impressive rate. In 2002 there was only 50,000 tourists in Colombia, our guide told us, Medellin was the homicide capital of the world. By last year tourism had risen to over five million. Only four years ago the roads were filled with bandits and even police officers were killing random people and putting them in rebel clothes to collect a bounty. That’s all gone now. It’s not that the country isn’t still dangerous but as long as you’re not an idiot you’ll be fine. Which, by degrees, is the same as pretty much anywhere. And the thing that strikes you before the danger is how pleased the locals are to have a functioning country where they can enjoy themselves and it’s all going so well that lots of people from lots of other places want to visit.

There are still divisions, they had their own 2016 moment last year when they had a public vote on whether or not people thought the peace treaty that was signed between the government, rebels and narcos was a good thing or not. Everyone expected Yes to win comfortably but No inched it at 52% and turnout was embarrassingly low. Pablo’s name is also divisive. They say they won’t say his name in public on the walking tour, but refer to him as “that famous criminal” so as not to attract attention. The poor of Medellin still remember that he built them homes so there is still residual popularity there, but most people remember the scale of the bombings and are keen to prevent him being idolised in the tourist trade. We were told in no uncertain terms that despite any documentaries you might see called “Pablo: Angel or Demon” he was, fact, a bad guy. On the other hand the younger generations of Colombia and Medellin in particular don’t shirk from the drugs trade, and cocaine is a part of culture for them. In that sense Pablo has left his mark and it seems to be a mark that fills the bars and clubs on the weekend, though it’s the substance itself and talk of legalisation that is credited with the mark, rather than Pablo himself.

Anyway, somehow I’ve managed to get a writing fellowship as a journalist for a incubator which runs a number of tech websites. Work in a proper newsroom! One of the sites focuses on the social impact of the tech industry which sounds firmly up my street. So I’ll be here for three months at least, maybe longer if I stick around in the job after the fellowship is over. I still want to teach English at some point on the coast in Santa Marta, but there’s no rush. I’m happy to spend plenty of time in Colombia and Medellin in particular. Just need to find a flat.

Corbyn: There’s Many a Slip ‘Twixt the Cup and the Lip

Well he’s taken us all through the fucking loop, has he not? My assumption was, when Harriet Harman changed the Labour Party voting system, that she expected to let in more of the people. Blairite thinking held that the people were more centrist and reasonable than Old Labour. But instead she opened up voters to the worst form of Labourites, the ones I wrote about a couple of blogs ago, the ones satirised in The Thick of It as ;’The Nutters’, or Alastair Campbell referred to in his diaries as ‘The Trots’. And they voted for Corbyn. How happy most of my generation and younger found themselves.

In trying to undermine the never-ending electorally winning tank charge of New Labour the Tory press had accused them of not being True Red. Meanwhile New Labour initiated policies like Sure Start programmes, and working family tax credits, and a functioning education system which didn’t just cater to Oxbridge. These changes appealed to the aspirational class they bolstered, who then turned into a bunch of Islington dinner party socialists who found the Tory rhetoric, that Blair had deserted the Left, quite useful. Because they could proudly sit with their friends and, despite their newfound prosperity, claim all this bollocks about centrism wasn’t nearly altruistic enough for their tastes. They could marry the cognitive dissonance of having benefited from capitalism with their socialist – or should I say social? – badge.

The younger generation know or remember little of this, it seems. To “us” Corbyn is a return to Labour Party principles regardless of whether he actually manages to get into power and help the people he claims to care about so much. At first it was claimed he could do this my mobilising the disenfranchised youth vote. This assertion I found particularly hilarious because the youth has not become disenfranchised, it never was. All this stuff about 60’s students protesting is, well… do you know what percentage of the population who went to university in the 60’s? The old school, politically engaged youth was a prosperous and entitled one. Incidentally it was Blair who got the country to the point where 50% of youngsters could go to university – even with top up fees (in fact there’s a sharp spike in university entrants every time fees go up. I cast no view on the matter, I merely point out that it is uncomfortable, perhaps, but true it remains. Also surely his real failing is in trying to build a nation whose resource is its people’s knowledge and capabilities while not sorting out any post-graduate financing system? Fuckit, I’m off point.)

After Brexit a lot of people, including old supporters, deserted Corbyn. He just did not campaign. He said he did but, as the Vice documentary revealed, his version of campaigning involved going round talking to groups of people who already agreed with him. Instead he just complained about the BBC. Did he ever think: the BBC must be impartial, they are bound to be both by law and their own charter – perhaps they’re painting me in a bad light because my position and conduct really is that bad? Apparently not.

Then he picked up during the campaign. My GOD. He was amazing, wasn’t he? On average the polls had him jump 15 points! That is a crazy jump, to be sure, but the fact that that jump was there to be made with him still trailing is telling. Also on average the polls had him 7-10 points behind the Tories at the last, a woeful effort were it not for the 15 point jump which proceeded it. He basically put the Labour party in exactly the same position as Gordon Brown did during the 2010 election but he is seen as a hero rather than a failure. Furthermore he did it by using many of the electioneering he and John McDonnell scolded the Blair government for using.

For myself I have found him way more convincing recently, he seems to have grasped the job (though who wouldn’t have after so long?) But Let’s not focus on voter swings for once. All a swing means is that the voters used to think one thing and now they think something different. A swing does not mean that the voters will go on to think something else in the future. The Tory party had the most soulless and electorally inept leader in their history and Corbyn still couldn’t produce a victory. What next? What if the Tory party, if they have any sense, put Ruth Davidson in charge? Do you think Corbyn could beat her? I don’t. “Yay, May is screwed!” and careful, comrade, what you wish for.

I don’t necessarily know what the answer is but I found all this hysteria bewildering. This is not momentous, nor – actually – is it important. We’re in a holding pattern until someone who can actually run the fucking country comes along and asks for our votes. I know, I know, I know the Tories are a bunch of backwards fucktards. They continually use capitalism without justification as reason to do what they like, which mostly involves slashing every single social service and still trying to call our society “civilised”. And the Labout Party as a whole keep trying to come up with new ideas, there at least seems to be some acceptance that new ideas are needed. But come on. Let’s not pretend that last week was the answer or will provide the answer. Corbyn had his shot and while many of us, me included, want to see Labour in power there simply is not the evidence around to suggest that might happen under the current leadership. That’s not to say you can’t find reason for hope, but the picture as a whole put into perspective with all its complications is an ugly one.

The Left have reason to be pleased but we have fallen short of Aristotle’s first mark of intelligence: realising in the grand scheme of things how little you know. The arrogance that gaining 30-odd seats leaving the Tories only just shy of a majority and basically still able to govern how they want is a good result. The idea that just because Theresa May is fucked means the Tories are. The idea that if Corbyn can lose against a crap Tory leader he’ll be able to win when they replace her with a good one. The idea that Corbyn’s ideas have gripped the nation and swept in a new political paradigm. Don’t. Be. Silly.

All the commentary is social-media-bubble as fuck, and until the press stop recruiting via unpaid internships we’ll struggle to inform the public in a grounded way. In the meantime feel free to gloat, feel free to be proud, feel free to want more, feel free to think more is possible. But the last three elections have seen the Tories as the largest party, albeit wavering either side of the single-party-government line. Don’t tell me the polls are crap and then tell me swings are important. From the last three elections what is demonstrable, what has manifest itself? Labour not in power, and unable to help those the party was created for. Feel free to look forward to the next election but please, for the sake of fuck, do not ignore the scale of political complexities at play. Don’t be blind.

The Last of Peru, Most of Ecuador and a Quick Touch on Politics

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Well my last note went down, as expected, like a balloon made of lead. The self-preservation instinct in people, or rather the preservation of self-identity, never fails to visit itself with force. People will happily ignore any normal social rules (like “don’t get angry”) so that their self-identity may be happily maintained. Its force is more impressively felt among those who consider themselves intellectual or academic in some way, the political self-identity seems to trump the intellectual self-identity: the latter being dropped in an instant, all ability to reason renounced, in favour of a passionate defence of the political self-identity.

Aaaaaaaanyway. That last post was some time ago. After leaving Huanchaco I took a bus north to Mancora, where there isn’t much to do. But there is a huge hostel with a big pool and a bar and after three months volunteering in shanty towns that sounded about right. I got a job there: four shifts of seven hours per week in return for a free bed, one free meal a day and 40% off everything behind the bar. The deal stood on the basis of two weeks work at minimum. I was there for three days with a friend who came up with me after the nights of leaving drinks in Huanchaco, at the end of the leaving drinks and the first three days in Mancora we were feeling pretty limited.

The 14 days which followed are now one big blur. I remember everything – most things, or maybe some things, it’s difficult to know what you’ve forgotten – but I couldn’t tell you when they happened other than a vague recollection that it might’ve been nearer to the beginning of the two weeks or nearer the end. Mancora is the Peruvian hub of drugs trafficking. I don’t have any photos of the two weeks. I remember the people, who were absolutely fantastic. I know I haven’t often laughed that much. But beyond that it’s almost right that those two weeks remain a black hole, those of us who were there could recount the times to each other but it would take another who had perceived that hostel for any of the stories to make real sense.

As I said, after three days I was feeling as though my functionality had taken a serious dent, after a week many of us were hit with borderline depression – that no good could come from staying there or maybe even traveling more generally. After two weeks we were broken, barely able to arrange a bus to Ecuador. I was going to travel with two other guys who were leaving at the same time and had a similar idea of how to do Ecuador. On the final day one of them came to the bar as I was working and told me last night must’ve been a big one because all his joints hurt. I was in the unfortunate position of having to inform him that joint pain was the first symptom of dengue fever. His face dropped followed by a pregnant – I believe is the word – pause and then “…shit”. Just as we thought the hostel had taken everything we had to offer, it gave one final kick.

We said our goodbyes and, topped up on Tramadol and Valium, jumped on a bus to Guayaquil. He Who Had Dengue, would need to rest, so The Other and I pottered about trying to make the most of being in a big and dangerous city – this took a lot of coffee on the first day. We had booked into a ridiculously cheap hotel (rather than a hostel) so we could have private rooms with air con etc. On the second day The Other came to my door and announced “bad news…” he had dengue too. That day, decaffeinated, I slept for almost for 24 hours straight. As I did the second day. I didn’t have dengue but even so the previous two weeks required some sleeping-off. After four days we were just about OK, and totally bored of Guayaquil which joins my list of Worst Cities Ever perhaps beating Belgrade but nowhere near the #1 still inhabited by Johannesburg. The only moment worth reporting was when one of the guys and I were in a shop, the other stepped outside to see a guy run out of a shop and jump on a motorbike followed by a woman who pulled a gun out of her handbag and offered a single shot in his (and other’s) general direction.

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We decided to go to Cuenca first rather than Montanita. Cuenca is a lovely Andean town with plenty of history and hikes, near a national park and has the benefit of being cool with decent beds and showers (all seem to be missing on the coast). This becomes important in South America, you spend time between the Andes and the coast, going from cool weather to very hot weather. Enjoying both but only in the context of one another. We were in a very chilled but sociable hostel where the owner hosted dinner parties each night, he mainly seemed to want to talk about sex and drugs. To be honest we were useless because we still needed a lot of sleep, but we did manage a small trudge around a lake in the National Park and a stroll up to the viewpoint over the town.

After three days in Cuenca we were ready for drink and…. And so we headed to Montanita which a lot of people have said is “just party”, and it is. But unlike Mancora where there is one hostel and all the partying happens there, Montanita is relatively safe and has plenty of hostels and bars and clubs. It’s also quite pretty, and the nights which turned into mornings continued for a further three days.

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We are now in Banos in another relatively sociable and chilled hostel. The nightlife here is good too. But there is also plenty to do. We took mountain bikes up to see the waterfalls, hiked up the hill opposite the volcano which has a pretty amazing view, and took a bus up to the “end of the world” swings to get the obligatory pictures. We found a guy who did us a decent price for a few things including a trip into the Amazon which we leave for tonight.

After four days in the jungle we’ll be off to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, for a day or two and then off into Columbia. I have no idea what to do with Columbia yet, but it may well involve getting a job teaching English and staying there for a while.

Meanwhile THE ELECTION. What fun. Corbyn is doing much better than I or, let’s be honest, anyone predicted. However, there are, I think, three important points worth noting here. Firstly that he has started to do better by employing many of the strategies and tactics which people like me criticised him for not having. These are also the strategies and tactics which people like he and John McDonald criticised the Blair government for employing. But whereas with the Blair-Campbell team their campaigning techniques were a natural and fundamental extension of their political reasoning, with Corbyn they are picked up purely as strategies and tactics thus making him more guilty of exactly the criticisms he and John McDonald throw at Blair and Campbell.

Secondly, the fact that he’s adopted these techniques has made me think fair more highly of him. I don’t think he was sitting on this intelligence the whole time, waiting to use it. And I dearly look forward to the book written by the strategist behind the scenes who managed to convince Corbyn that this stuff is necessary. At the very least it means that Corbyn finally seems to be aware of the responsibility he’s asking for. Prior to this, with him giving speech after speech to people who already agree with him, one could’ve reasonably accused him of either not wanting power or not being fit for it. Those two criticisms are now significantly, if not completely, eroded.

Thirdly, both Labour AND the Tories are up in the polls since last year. So this means that Theresa May is not losing the support that everyone on Facebook thinks she’s losing. It also means that the parties are not winning a significant number of voters from each other. The support for smaller parties, on the other hand, has almost completely collapsed. So it is here from where the Labour and Tory bump seems to be coming. We’ll find out on election day, but at the moment it looks like another election where everyone is focusing on the wrong topic. That it’s not about May being shit and Corbyn being surprisingly good. But actually the thing everyone assumed to be true, the move from a two party system to a multi-party system, seems to be in reverse.

This final point also debunks the idea that Corbyn has managed to motivate millions of young voters to the polls who were previously disenfranchised. This explanation is not needed to explain Labour’s increased popularity, most of it can be explained by UKIP supporters moving back to Labour. Thus, those who always thought Corbyn was in with a shot turned out to be right but, as ever, right by accident, not because they saw something other’s didn’t.

Still glad not to be in the country for the results of Shit Show ’17. Will probably be in Bogota at the time. And for once able to watch election results at a reasonable hour!

 

If You Really Care About Leftist Values You Should Not Vote in This Election

I’m afraid this post must deviate from the topic of traveling. I need to exorcise some demons. I am basically a lefty but the uninformed and unctuous nature of many of the same bent has me provided inspiration to explore some more right wing thoughts at one point. I was dissatisfied with any of the answers there too, but it did help reconfirm my values as leftist. However, in that time the Left has only got worse to the point where it now seems to be in an existential crisis – and I don’t just mean the Labour Party, but leftist values in general and as a whole.

Observe that if you hear of any form of mob violence or rioting in the US at the moment you can be pretty sure it’ll be from the Left, not the Right. The peaceniks aren’t always so peaceful. And it’s not always stoked by police brutality, case: Berkley students trashing their own university because Milo Yiannopolous was booked to speak. This is a genuinely absurd state of affairs if students from arguably the most enlightened campus in the world are wilfully breaking the law because someone was about to express some views and, more depressingly, in the process and by virtue of the process they chose they forfeited any ability to actually win the argument. When Nick Griffin was booked on Question Time (was that in 2009?) I was astounded at the lack of understanding of basic philosophy in the discourse. And it seems to have only gotten worse, Cardiff university students tried to prevent Germaine Greer from speaking. Germaine fucking Greer! (One almost wants to add a few more exclamation marks on the end of that last sentence.) That the Left have forgotten what socialism is used to be merely an observation, but this sometimes seems to have morphed into a campaign with the specific goal of shutting down argument and debate and therefore any hope of either the proponents obtaining a dialectical understanding of their own views or – almost more importantly – their opponents views. And these are the people who hurl the word “fascist” at others.

This is exclusively and inclusively bound to identity politics. I don’t know if over the last 25 years or so the ability of left wing politicians to actually get elected has led to the Left taking a mile when only an inch was on offer. “Our guy is in! Light the afterburners, let’s go!” seems to have been the prevailing attitude. A chance perhaps to finally get the hearing immigrants, women, ethnic minorities and the LGBT community have always deserved. I take no issue with the stated goals, but the means have created one of the most useless political forces on record.

I was speaking to a chef from Charlottesville, Virginia, while I was in Cajamarca. He used to be a vegan and seemed to be making a good fist of running a Heston Blumenthal type vegan restaurant. A paradox seemed to be at play, so I asked him what made him turn back to meat. He answered that during the shootings in Charlottesville, when various political campaigns and movements were making their voices heard, he noticed that vegetarianism and veganism were nowhere: “they totally missed the boat politically”. This is an almost satirical example of leftist absurdity. He had renounced a 10 year conviction, presumably a basis of his morals and ethics and the essence of his livelihood because his label wasn’t label enough. There was no way to say “I’m a vegan” and in so doing impart all the political information he wished to impart. Presumably that he was such a damn fine example of a human that he demonstrably cared about as many entities as it’s possible to care about while remaining unstarved, and this caring nature meant that you could deduce his position on any social or economic issue you’d care to mention. He even demonstrated this point later in the conversation when he felt the need to point out that he sits pretty far left on the political spectrum.

We have all seen the stats which describe the thundering victories for Remain and Hilary if only the decisions were left up to the millennials. For a while now that’s been a source of comfort for me and many others because no matter how badly the Tories or Republicans fuck things up it will eventually be the turn of our generation to take charge and fix things, and it’ll be piss easy to receive a mandate from the public to do so. I generally have a huge level of faith in our generation and honestly think we’re capable of things far beyond the abilities of any previous generation. But seeing the way the Left have reacted to these events has driven me to become more and more concerned by the prospect of us being given a level of responsibility we don’t seem ready for.

For left wing millennials politics is almost solely based on labels. We know of no fighting to defend democracy (in fact we seem to oppose it) and are not taught in schools about the philosophies which underlie it. We have misshapen views of capitalism and socialism, both of which have morphed into something quite different from their germinal intentions. And in their place we have labels, a shortcut to the identity one claims; which posit absolutely no new moral or intellectual philosophies whatever. They are dished out whether they are wanted or not, if you get one of the priority labels you can bask in righteous oppression and if not you are to feel deeply, deeply guilty, keep your opinions to yourself and generally subjugate your critical faculties to those on whom you’ve inflicted so much harm over the millennia. I’m sure there will be lefties reading this who take serious issue with this version of the situation but I’m afraid it’s now demonstrably the way the majority of the public think of them. And I hope I’ve gone and will go so far as to highlight the intellectual shortfalls rather than simply take reactionary issue.

Labels do no more than ask the government for concessions on the basis of sins visited upon the bearers of the label in the past, and in the face of future offence felt. The former clause causes anger and the latter the desire to shut down debate. Furthermore they are divisive, they encourage an individualistic and fractured existence – the Left have not united under the Confucian Golden Rule and said we should take care of the oppressed and needy because one should treat others as one wishes to be treated. These groups compete for priority and spotlight, membership of each label must be genuine so deferential support can be offered from outside but actual membership is set. Groups which would usually unite behind a progressive agenda have split in order to have their own identity, only really coming together at the moment of voting. The Left have strayed so far from socialism they are now violating the simple idea that by our collective endeavour we can achieve more than we can alone. It now seems to be the foundational philosophy that one should simply be angry so as to display one’s loyalty to ones label. Even the Pride movement has been sucked in having thus far been arguably the most successful civil rights movement. Finally, and unsurprisingly – almost deservedly – it’s backfired. The Right have taken their white working class labels and said “fine, fuck you, I want out of the EU and Trump in The White House”.

I will be eternally grateful to whoever it was who invented the term “virtue-signalling”, it’s something I’ve been struggling to articulate the importance of avoiding – if only to myself – for ten years or more. And just because it’s slung by the right in the pejorative does not mean it’s incorrect or misplaced. Those on the Left will say it’s not about a holier-than-thou moment at a dinner party, it’s because they genuinely care. I do not doubt that these label totting virtue-signallers also care deeply about these issues. But that’s not how the conversation unfolds, or their thinking, apparently. Which came first, a dearth of quality discourse or a complete lack of intellectual rigour? It also doesn’t seem to matter how intelligent they are, some of the brightest people I know readily succumb to this solipsistic opiate. Despite it all I have a feeling that if we could wake Keir Hardy and take him on a tour of what the left have accomplished in the time since he founded the Labour Party he would weep with pride.

There is a simple test which can be applied here which significantly erodes leftist credibility. The Left, unlike the Right, cannot even acknowledge their successes, let alone celebrate them. The minimum wage might be passed, working family tax credits instated, Sure Start programs established, but to the Left these moments merely fire the starting gun on a race for which the finishing line is a simple statement of disappointment that these policies go nowhere near far enough for their tastes. This is all the more telling given that it’s not in response to anything, no one ever says that these policies are by themselves enough to have solved the issue of social mobility. The fundamental problem is that the Left are far more interested in hearing themselves say the right things than they are in people who aren’t yet convinced hearing what they have to say and becoming convinced. I have in the past been accused (“accused” is the right term) of being a Tory because I don’t readily and wholly agree with every thrust and parry of every Labour MP. People of the Left tend to think, and some have said in public, that they generally think Lefties to be more intelligent and all round better people. This attempted moral judgement is profoundly misguided and disturbing, and ultimately self-condemning. And doubly unctuous when combined with the classic virtue-signalling trait of taking offence on another’s behalf.

It must be the case – and the Left seem far closer to this than the Right – that we are desperately in need of some new and substantial political philosophies. Capitalism has taken us so far but has no provisions for dealing with the social problems we now have the wealth to be able to solve. And socialism is no longer recognisably socialism – in that it no longer advances the idea that the state should be a manifestation of social will in order to liberate. It might even be possible to say that this is because both have succeeded. We have built prosperity on top of prosperity alongside socialised healthcare, education, pensions and unemployment benefits. Both ideologies were forged in the heat of the industrial revolution and are now running on fumes, short by a long way on guidance for 2017. It’s almost cliched to point out that the very people voting against the Left are the people who most need egalitarian policies. And in a display of the most blistering arrogance I have ever come across this leads the Left to incredulity. It does not, for reasons almost passing all understanding, lead the Left to a long moment of deep concern and self-reflection.

The term “elite” seems to have moved from the label of the aristocracy, to the label of the wealthy, to the label of the media and politicians. There is no escaping that it has ironically now planted itself on the Left, and this needs to not only be recognised but painfully felt. What the Left currently and regularly have failed to grasp is how fat and happy they’ve grown off globalisation. They can sit in their cities eating and drinking and reading, discussing the plight of the various labels, while prosperity itself prospers. Meanwhile those in old industrial towns and the countryside are scratching their head: Why is the price of everything going up? And why are my wages stagnant? This observation is far from new, you will have seen it all in Op-Eds over the last six months. But somehow it’s not sinking in. It hasn’t really registered with the Left: the pigs have turned into humans.

The “debate” between Hilary and Trump contained my favourite zinger (I bet you haven’t even got a favourite zinger?), for the first time ever one of the candidates zingered themselves. You know the “the basket of deplorables” moment. This had the intended effect of sending those with leftist sympathies the world over into whoops and hollers. But it was after this moment, in the final stint of the campaign, when the polls, then stable with Hilary ever so slightly in the lead, begun to inch towards Trump. The promises of globalisation have not reached everyone, and for those out of its grasp, wondering how on earth they’re going to pay their next electricity bill, Hilary’s campaign further entrenched leftist absurdity. These people will not disagree that LGBT rights are important but, given their situation, it would be a privilege for that to be their priority. And she then tarnishes them all as sexist, racist, homophobic… the lot. This is the moment when she looked so out of touch she almost fell backwards.

Yet again the situation in Britain is no better. Jeremy Corbyn has not developed a set of policies by going to the public and talking to them, finding out what their sources of stress are. His policies are more of a to-do list he’s had floating around at the bottom of his sock draw, unchanged, for thirty or forty years. No one was asking for nationalised railways. Getting rid of trident has never made any sense to the public, nor should it. Especially not as Trump escalates the US relationship with North Korea. But beyond that it would be utterly immoral, it’s a classic virtue-signalling policy. Sounds populist in a lefty sort of way “I’m just such a nice person I could never think of using such a weapon”. Well drat, sorry Jez, but given the circs I kind of like having them around if only to pretend we’ll use them.

We armed ourselves with nuclear weapons a long time ago when it was, without doubt, the right thing to do. In arming ourselves we added to an environment which incentivised everyone else to arm themselves. It is our duty to be part of an effort which walks everyone back from the cliff edge, not to tap out and absolve ourselves of all responsibility to fix something we helped break. If we get rid of our nukes we will no longer be part of that discussion and will have have shifted the balance of nuclear-holding power towards the more questionable states. One almost gets the impression that Corbyn thinks he’d turn up at the UN, announce we’re ditching Trident, and at that moment an epiphany would fall on the entire room. First Trump, then Putin, then the rest – they all stand on their table and salute with cries of “O captain! My captain!” as they throw their nukes in the pot as well. Do grow up.

The unions are no longer the means by which the Labour Party keeps its ear to the ground, they have their own agenda quite separate from the people they represent. And yes, Corbyn won a huge majority among a bunch of pseudo-Trots, but anyone who thinks that’s enough to win a general election is almost too deluded to be able to have a sensible conversation with. To go alongside Corbyn we have Theresa May who is slowly defunding every social service and Tim Farron whose religion has tenderly gifted him some incredibly regressive views on homosexuality and abortion. Make no mistake the situation is well below what the British people deserve as an election choice.

Leftism no longer critiques capitalism, and so struggles to maintain a base to argue from, but backwards is not the answer. That people should have the freedom not to have to be tied to a certain social strata, and that just because said social strata isn’t enshrined in law anymore doesn’t mean it doesn’t manifest itself in reality. Solving these problems would not only solve the problems themselves but would make our entire society axiomatically better to the point where the situation of every single person in the country, rich and poor, would improve and society would become more than the sum of its parts. This is a positive case of making everything better, not just a negative case for identifying problems which need fixing. But we must admit to ourselves that we have not the slightest clue how to get this done at the moment, and the Left are currently digging themselves a hole which may already be too deep to escape. For the good of leftist values the current iteration of the Left should be firmly rejected. This is not just about this election it’s about whether these ideas survive at all. The protests and marches will not go down in history as significant, they’ll be an example of a new class of people defined by their self-indulgence and complete lack of understanding.

You’ll know I’m more sympathetic to Tony Blair and the New Labour ideas than most. That’s not because of him but because together he and Clinton forged The Third Way which was the closest we’ve recently come to a new political philosophy. It was incomplete and flawed but it was at least apt for the time (how low the bar is set). I can see the start of something new elsewhere but it’s in very early days and very difficult to work out whether people will go for it. The New Atheist movement has been part of leftist secularism, and it may be that the human condition requires a self-identity, hence the labeling phenomenon in place of religion. But out of science and skepticism thinkers like Sam Harris and Jonathan Haidt have tried to genuinely understand what’s going on, and call for a New Center which asks for no more than a return the enlightenment values, a focus on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and rejection of the rise of unalloyed vanity as a political moral. There are even Labour MPs who are talking a lot of sense – see Stella Creasy’s and Dan Jarvis’ speeches and articles. But to the rest of the Labour Party these kind of ideas are a betrayal of the party’s principles.

Calling Theresa May a monster is a further example of virtue-signalling. I disagree with pretty much everything she’s doing but let’s be honest, she’s not Trump or Farage or any other form of demagogue. If the Left is to create a sustainable idea the current version of leftism needs to lie in front of us trashed and broken, which won’t have happened by dawn. The issue is far bigger than this election, it’s a question of whether the Tories will be in charge for another 10 years or another 20. I’m not voting. Yes, Theresa May will probably win and me not voting will have contributed to that. But I hope to have also contributed to growing disillusionment in the political class, maybe someone will notice and deduce that something far more adequate is required. I will not take part in perpetuating the most pernicious, counter-productive, unctuous, vane, self-indulgent and willfully obsequious form of “leftist values”. After Corbyn being elected leader a second time it was fairly normal for some news crews to visit some Labour Party members and point out to them that Corbyn might be a “proper socialist” but he’s also completely unelectable. The response was usually something along the lines of “yeah, but at least we’ll be able to sleep at night” – I will not vote alongside such a selfish and stupid sentiment, if the Labour Party has “reclaimed its values” then it seems to have forgotten a few more important ones too. Having a vote means putting your name to something you agree with, voting for someone who you don’t agree with because they’re the best of the bad bunch is not what voting is about and only seeks to elongate the ability of bad ideas to survive, delaying the inevitable at greatly escalated costs. It’s likely this election will have the lowest voter turnout in history and I will be among the uncounted.

The Ruins of Cajamarca at Easter, a Word on Religion, and Where Next

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Everything seems to have moved in the last week or two. We went to Cajamarca over the weekend which plays base camp to some interesting sites. The town has a brilliant mountain-town feel to it – I’ve never visited a mountain town I haven’t liked. Sitting around with other travelers posing questions like “where was the best place you’ve had a beer” or “where was the best place you’ve smoked a cigarette” (the two are almost mutually inclusive) I can always think of amazing settings but I always come back to The Alps as an answer. I might think Botswana in front of an orange moon, Ethiopia looking over the Great African Rift Valley, atop Ayres Rock or a New York roof bar… I don’t know, there’s something about the Alps on a clear day, skiing and drinking with mates which comes very close to perfection. That’s not to say the aforementioned places are any lesser, but the feeling of bliss and fun and happiness in a specific moment are often derived by very different means to their more elongated counterparts.

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We had four days of great fun in Cajamarca switching between drunken evenings and high days on some pretty strong painkillers a pharmacist wast nice enough to provide. Random ventures on buses to local dairy farms, waterfalls, cliffs with windows cut where these ancient societies apparently potted their dead (uncremated). And Cumbe Mayo, on the Pacific side of the Andean continental divide where a pre-Incan society built an aqueduct to channel water to Cajamarca on the Atlantic side.

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Though the most striking day was still the first. Cajamarca was the town where the Spanish lured the then – and last – Incan king to strike a deal. The room in which they met is known as The Ransom Room locally, although we sort of slipped into referring it to “the room where the bad thing happened”. Once the Spanish had the unaccompanied Incan king in their room they measured him with one arm stretched above his head. You can still see the mark he reached and it is perhaps the same height as me without a raised arm. Having measured him the Spanish decided he was too short and not nearly white enough to be king, and burnt him at the stake.

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The Spanish empire seems in many ways more brutal than a lot of latter empires (I’m not pitting them against Genghis Khan) . Most were built on trade and, especially the initial British empire, while certainly guilty of its fair share of atrocities, seemed to own countries almost by natural extension having happened upon no trading power presiding over a given land. Having said that The Crusades had taken place long before and are part of the imperial sentiment. The Spanish had their empire and crusades – or The Inquisition – basically folded into the same endeavour, so the spread of their religion – and therefore ownership – and trade was all the same thing. People of a Catholic bent might be pleased to hear that it worked, most of South America shares their religion to this day.

Burning the Incan king at the stake was (almost) a sign of respect, it was also – you may note – how witches were treated, and was the default “remedy” at the time for anyone who was suspected of holding supernatural powers. The first place we visited was a church, it was grand and ornate and beautiful. I usually get a strange feeling in churches, an emotion which almost deserves its own name.

There is a Mormon church between Huanchaco and Trujillo which we always pass on the bus between the two. We have heard the American accents which alight outside it. The buildings in this area, even those owned by the affluent, would not fit in any developed country. The brickwork is exposed in an unfinished, rather than shabby-chic, way. The grouting and cementing is lazy, most are without foundations and most have their iron reinforcements sticking out the top in case the owner wants to add another floor at some point. The affluent form a tiny portion of the total inhabitants who, as I’ve said before, live in mud constructions which can’t stand a semi-concerted downpour, plenty of which have been washed away by the recent flooding. But here this Mormon church stands, big and bold and modern. Clean and crisp. Taller and wider and grander than any building for fucking miles. The lawns lush and green and trimmed when no one else can afford water, let alone afford a garden to waste it on, let alone afford a gardener or groundskeeper who can waste their water on their non-existent garden. This building would happily sit next to London’s or Washington’s grandest structures. Except it’s surrounded by utter abjection. But happy of it’s setting, all the better to evangelise to.

This church in Cajamarca was more old school. I was struck with the scale and grandeur and the unbelievable craftsmanship which must’ve gone into it. This crossed with a melancholy which, being melancholy, can’t quite be pinned – or perhaps I just haven’t yet been able to pin it. The opulence is at once striking in all the ways it was designed to be striking, but also inherently pernicious. And then ‘pernicious’ seems like the wrong word. The effect of religion on the world is bold and vast and abhorrent, but its effects have been revealed (lol) by enlightenment thinking over a long stretch of time so it’s almost as though the fact of its perniciousness or insidiousness has been felt in reverse: receding rather than advancing.

Once we had stepped outside one of the people I was with said of churches, “they make me feel sad”. And I guess that’s about it, in a complicated nutshell. That if a cartoonist from Denmark releases the wrong sketch or a government in America wants to introduce gay marriage or a writer from Britain wants to explore the allegorical significance of a sub-plot of the Koran… this – this building, in all its glory – is the history and the epitome and the scale of the forces they are up against. And that’s only to mention the recent collisions between progress and religion, to say nothing of the rape and genocide and torture which the pages of religious texts almost invariably condone and attempt to incite.

A Spaniard we were with asked us how we celebrate Easter in the UK. We replied with various tales of chocolate eggs and a bigger version of a Sunday roast and axiomatically getting pissed. She seemed surprised that religion didn’t really play a part. I’m pleased that religious festivals can become secular, and a reason to drink and be merry with the people to whom one is closest. In Cajamarca they reenacted the crucifixion. Of course I knew this was “a thing” that happened in many places, but I’ve never borne witness to it. Watching people cheer the whipping of a crumpled figure on the floor bearing a cross, so that he might be put to death in one of the most painful ways imaginable. This wasn’t the real thing but to my mind – if not to the mind of most of the spectators – it was quite enough.

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I have since revisited the old debates I used to watch years ago on YouTube, where Hitchens or Dawkins or Harris or Dennett take on the brightest and best and boldest the religious sphere has to offer. It’s not just a case of being unconvinced of the arguments for religion, but being utterly gobsmacked at the contortions these people will put themselves through in order to justify sins which no morally or intellectually serious person could possible bring themselves to define as anything other than utterly and insufferably vile.

That being said I don’t mean to sound as though I didn’t have a fucking brilliant time. As with any travels the thoughts and memories will stay with me forever and it was so, so, so much fun. But it’s been these thoughts of religion that have lingered – festered, perhaps – and which I needed to set down.

Then Theresa May announced a general election, and I became all the happier that I’m traveling. After all, who wants to be at home right now facing down a choice between the most hilariously awful set of politicians the country has ever faced. Foot vs Thatcher might come close, and many people (probably including most of my friends and family) hate(d) Thatcher. But she was undeniably skilled. May, Corbyn and Farron are, even if you collect their best traits into one whole, as inept and they are incorrect, and as ignorant as they are selfish.

And with that the buses have opened their routes north after the flooding. They are available to book. Probably at the end of next week I will leave Huanchaco, which will be difficult, and head north to Mancora. Then Ecuador which I think I should blitz: Montanita, down to Guayaquil to fly to the Galapagos and back, to Quito, off to stay in Baños, each for just a few days and then to Columbia. In Columbia I think I should work. Work enough to get my writing profile up to a point where I can earn enough to travel on it. I can teach English there. I might stay in Medellin for a month or so. I can’t imagine staying in Bogota for long, no traveler is a huge fan of big cities. Then Cartagena. Ideally I’d find a teaching job in Cartagena, it’s on the northern coast and the first proper pirate port: fucking perfect. But if it’s not big enough Medellin may have to suffice. Of course, all of this is up for comprehensive revision. The best way to make plans is to speak to travelers as you go and make no decisions until it’s time to move to the next place. Nothing set in stone, no commitments, no responsibilities.

Entering the Aftermath, and That Puppy

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I took this photo… I took it. Me. I think it might be the best photo I’ve ever taken. We were at the end of the pier fishing one evening, there is a break just out from the pier which some of the more confident surfers visit. I zoomed in to catch a couple of them and just kept hitting the button to take more photos as this surfer made his way along the wave. This was the best of the resultant snaps. I love it. Especially as it came a few weeks after the floods had come through, and this was really Huanchaco getting back to Huanchaco again.

The locals call the floods “huaicos” which Google Translate says means “avalanche”. But really it’s something halfway between a flash flood and a mudslide. Though I have seem some US news reports referring to “an avalanche of mud”, which made me chuckle.

You may or may not be pleased to hear that the pace has slowed since I last wrote. It is an ultimately positive tone to the week: the number of people required having decreased being a healthy symptom of the increased efficiency of the aid operation. Normality is a more palpable objective, if not yet a more tangible one. We are trying to get the beat of our projects into some form of a rhythm again – and getting close to it with the schools reopening in a week or two. In any event, the number made homeless is close to 1,000 and they’re living in what are being referred to as “camps”, six of them dotted throughout the backstreets of the shanty towns.

Huanchaco proper is almost back to itself again. Even the worst hit of the bars and restaurants and bakeries have reopened, though the town is less busy. The high-tide mark is still very much marked by a line of branches, stripped of their bark by the waves and rocks, which serve as plentiful fuel for beach bonfires at night. The temperature has dropped in quite a matter-of-fact way, there’s no toying around or fluctuating like there is back home. Over the course of three days it just got lower and lower which has had a positive effect on being able to do things without sweating, like sleeping. Jumpers and potentially jeans are now for nights, and the tendency during the day is away from shade rather than towards it.

So we get back to work, though most of the volunteers teaching English have been putting on classes at a local soup kitchen/youth club to keep the kids busy and learning English. On environment we’ve been collecting what we need to set up composting and hydroponic gardens in the schools once they return. As this goes on the assistant managers have been visiting the camps to see what they need and plug holes in the municipalities funding with our disaster relief fund; water seems to be one area they need help with.

Many of us are itching to be where we are most required though this isn’t particularly simple. The main camp in El Milagro is properly set up with security etc, the other more needy camps are not, which means cars full of gringos with iPhones turning up each day will potentially become a target. The camps are open, hardly even camps by the sound of it, and the people there are facing a desperate existence. Some are just in small camping tents donated by a neighbouring council because Huanchaco council was too slow to act. But some volunteers are now visiting the biggest camp to run activities for the kids to keep them occupied and their parents less occupied.

I know you’ve been asking a lot about the puppy, Vaquita, but you can understand why I haven’t written about her sooner. She was found outside La Rampa abandoned, maybe two months old, and seemed to have embarked on the process of dying. Some of the volunteers, unsure of what to do with her, brought her back to the Volunteer House to see if they could get hold of a vet. They couldn’t (it being late) and left her safely in box in a nearby green until the morning when the vet would be working again. Another volunteer who use to live in the same house as me picked her up and brought her home. They picked 25 tics off her and took her to the vet the next day.

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When she was taken in she barely moved. She didn’t even have enough energy to move her limbs into a comfortable lying position, and she’d yelp every time she was picked up because her joints were so weak. She was worryingly thin, her spine protruded so much she wasn’t particularly nice to stroke and her belly was distended to the point of resembling a balloon. Her hips had that absurdly skinny look some cows in Africa get and she had one cloudy eye. The pet gave her plenty of medicine, antibiotics etc. She shat out some sizable worms and after a few days was beginning to eat, drink toilet in fairly healthy rhythms and quantities. Within a weeks she was trying to be a normal dog, sniffing things and walking around, albeit at a slightly odd angle.

The full transformation has been the stuff of remarks and laughter and any other reason one would own a pet or, better, rescue one. Within two weeks she was running around and had entered the puppy phase of biting everything. She is now I think three weeks on and is hyperactive at her quietest moments, in less quiet moments she’s positively manic. She will happily run from room to room finding things to grab and take with her, this will be repeated for hours on end if – as it seems to be – necessary. When you come downstairs in the morning or back home after a long day she will, having not seen you for a while, run towards you with all the enthusiasm she can muster and upon arriving at your feet do a little wee, such is her excitement. Alas, she no longer lives in the Yellow House. Her parents found work in town and have moved, so she’s still around, just not at home.

The next trick for me is to head north, hopefully to Mancora and then Ecuador, but Mancora is in the Piura region which sounds like it’s pretty much the worst hit. Stories of people still up to their waist in water. The other option is flying which will be at least £200 – so expensive given that the bus would probably be around £50. We have buses to Cajamarca booked which we need to move dates, we were originally supposed to leave the weekend of the huaico and we can’t refund them. So I’ll go there in a week or two and then shall have to make a cost calculation about whether it’s cheaper to fly ASAP or to stay in Huanchaco until the bus routes maybe open up. A quandary.

Disaster Relief: How Good, to be in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

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Wherever we drive through the shanty towns the groups of people and families we pass all call out to us “aaaagua, aaaaaagua”. The floods have destroyed the water pipes in the shanty towns which have them, which means the water trucks which usually serve the other shanty towns are stretched pretty thin. Trujillo is the nearest big city, about 30 minutes away by bus, and for a few days was completely cut off from us. We visited one day later this week to pick up supplies from the market to take back to the shanty towns – houses need mold cleaning out and roofs refitting. Driving back the stench was potent with piles of rubbish against the side of the street left and for the bin lorries which aren’t running. Up in El Milagro huge sections of houses and road have been ripped away and sewage flows down the roadside. And worst of all is Victor Raul which has been turned into a wasteland, the whole area is now clearly an ex-riverbed with clean rocks lying around and patches of sand have been given that undulating texture from the water. A few random walls and doors pepper the landscape with most stuff having been washed away, it puts one in mind of the more barren scenes of Full Metal Jacket. I picked up a brick from a collapsed wall which I could snap and crumble in my hand, they’re just mud which has been baked in the sun.

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El Milagro and Victor Raul are the hardest hit, they sit below the quarry which burst to release the torrent, but the water has to go through them before it makes it to the dry river which guides it past El Cerrito, Las Lomas and Huanchaco. They are areas not fit for buildings of any sort, except that it’s the only spot affordable for some. Families have put up some form of shelter since the flood in the form of branches holding up tarpaulin, that’s where they spend their time now. A lot of the rubbish lying around was very similar to the type of stuff we were clearing off the beach down in Huanchaco.

We started the week shoveling a lot of mud from the seafront, and diggers came in to clear up the beach properly. The businesses are approaching the point where they might be able to open but no one is using the beach and the seafront in general is very low on activity compared to its usual self. We reopened La Rampa, a small skate park in El Cerrito which is open during the summer holidays to keep the kids busy so they don’t fall into crime and the parents can go to work. I put in a couple of shifts there in the morning, just keeping an eye on the kids.

Later in the week one of the teachers in Las Lomas had managed to get in touch with other families in the area and find out their needs. We took up three big rolls of tarpaulin and cut it into 10 meter strips, one for each family. They told us what was going on and we wrote down a list of what we’d need to buy from the disaster relief fund to help them out. A lot of houses needed cleaning and a lot of roofs rebuilding. Seven families had crowded into one house because their own house is no longer adequate for even the most basic form of living.

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The next day a couple of us jumped into a car with some of the guys who run one of the surf schools down on the front. We got whisked up to El Milagro where we helped a family move house. Behind the stuff we moved there was a lot of damp, and huge cockroaches running around. We piled their stuff into a truck which had arrived, then opened up the side of the truck where there were maybe 100 2.5 litre water bottles which we dished out. That was some of the best work I’ve ever done. It felt pretty incredible to just be able to pick up something of high value and hand it out for free. The families were all so grateful and as soon as we started handing them out people started running towards the truck from all the surrounding roads (‘roads’ in the loosest possible sense of the word).

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The truck drove around the corner and down the road to another house where the family was going to stay. As we moved their stuff in the kids were running round exploring their new space, which gave the whole thing a faintly “new home” feeling to it. The next stop was to a restaurant on the outskirts of Trujillo where we marched straight to the kitchen and started packing boxes of food: three scoops of rice, two of lentils and one piece of chicken. The plan was to take these up to Victor Raul to hand them out. We were a bit late for lunch from previous work and I was surprised to find that a lot of the people had already eaten. The aid operations were now getting enough money and enough people to make a serious dent in these people’s requirements. But this could not be guaranteed for the next day or the day after, nor could it be guaranteed for water and clothing. Getting everything back to normal could take months or years, so we need to keep the operation flowing.

We never really knew what was going on, people just started doing stuff and we joined in. And we never really knew what was coming next, we just got driven somewhere and the same thing happened again. It reminded me a lot of working on a festival I used to help construct during summers. Don’t ask too many questions just get stuck in: pick that up, move that over there, hammer that nail in, fix that thing, help them do that. People are willing and dedicated and enjoy being able to help and patient and kind and it’s all, all, all simply because that’s what’s required. Having worked in “business” for five years I don’t think I could point to a single time when someone decided to be decent or kind simply for it’s own sake, the environment is driven by and for self-interest. There might be the exception of some acts during one or two redundancy processes but that’s about it, and that’s hardly a situation which occurs regularly or is to be aspired to. Here feels like working with the best of the best; not necessarily the best people from among the best people since no one was selected for this work; but the best traits of the best people.

On Sunday we gave ourselves a lie-in, everyone had been working all week – very hot and very manual work and one or two had become ill through exhaustion. In the afternoon we jumped back into a car with the guys from the surf shop, they had filled 20-30 20 litre bidons of water, and had a huge 2500 litre tank on their truck which we took to be filled up. The water in the bidons was for drinking and the water in the tank for washing since it wasn’t clean enough to drink. We drove around to a few different spots in Victor Raul and poured it into whatever receptacle people handed us, then helped people carry their full buckets of water to wherever they were living. Some of the mothers wanted to take pictures of their babies with us. We filled up the tank again to deliver to a couple of other spots, and then joined another group of volunteers as the sun set to hand out the food and drinking water they had brought.

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It will be a transition back to normality, and seemingly over a long stretch of time. The buses aren’t running between cities. I am set to head north to Mancora and then Ecuador on 10th April but if that’s not possible I’ll be happy to stay and help for a few more weeks. We know of more houses which need roofs and have plenty of tarpaulin to help fix them. But news can travel slowly so it may take a while for us to find out everything that needs doing. At the same time water and food and clothes are still required daily in the shanty towns.

We had a session with the assistant managers on disaster relief and the psychological and physical effects of being involved in this kind of thing. What struck is how long this will last: after a disaster hits comes the heroic phase, where everyone rushes to save lives, then there’s the honeymoon period where aid and altruism are still high. After that comes the long hard months and years of readjustment, rebuilding and accepting a new reality. None of us will be here long enough to see this all through and Otra Cosa has a good supply of volunteers all year round. So we must do our bit and hand over the baton. We’re currently in the honeymoon phase: long, hard work and lots of it, but these shanty towns will be in ruin for a long time to come. We have to keep an eye on ourselves to watch for signs of stress, exhaustion and much else. We’ve already done a pretty bad job of that in the last week so now is time to settle into a routine of helping inch things closer to a new normality, though we don’t know what that will look like.

Flooding and Civic Duty in Small-Town Peru

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Written at 3pm Sunday 19th March

You might’ve heard about it on the news, the death toll is now in the 60-70 region. It rained slightly the first night I arrived here and my host commented on how rare rain is in Huanchaco. Here is basically a desert, the rain is supposed to happen on the other side of the Andes; except in El Niño years. The rain that first night was gentle, “spitting” we might call it in Britain, and it’s raining in the same way now though it seems to be getting stronger.

El Niño is – if this doesn’t sound too much – a meteorological phenomenon. The water which sits off the north eastern coast of Australia just below the Philippines is the warmest in the world and it’s kept there by winds which sweep across the pacific from South America. Every four years (though somewhat unreliably) these winds die down which causes the warm water to dissipate across the Pacific to the South American coast which has two major effects. The first is that it’s a very bad time to fish, nutrients tends to inhabit cooler waters so the warm water pushes the nutrients down and out of the reach of the fishermen and their livelihood. The second is rain. The warm water evaporates into clouds which push up against the western side of the Andes and unload their cargo in areas not accustomed to such weather. Apparently the Incas used to sacrifice humans in an attempt to prevent El Niño.

When I say ‘not accustomed’ I do mean it. The pathetic annual arguments on Question Time about whether or not Britain’s roadways and airports and railways should be better equipped for snow sound boorish in comparison. (As though the government should be spending money on something which may or may not happen, and even if it does only impacts a day or two each year. Money which could be paid to any number of more useful funds. One wonders if sometimes governing politicians should reply to Dimbleby’s audience “we’re not fucking made of money!”)

Was it Wednesday or Thursday night? It rained for a few hours – what we might call “a bit of a downpour” – much more than “drizzle” but not quite “chucking it down”. Usually when it rains the host of the house we stay in cuts the electricity and begins frantically sweeping water from where it will definitely be a problem to somewhere it might be slightly less of an issue. The night started like this but escalated. I was in bed and starting to nod off, I pulled up my dangling phone charger to plug it in and found it was wet. All around my bed there was a centimeter or two of water, walking round half my room resulted in a slightly hilarious splish-splash sound. I hadn’t left anything else on the floor so there being no causalities I opened my door to see my housemates busy tooing and froing. The water seemed to be coming from behind my bed and quite a lot of it, there was some burbling somewhere which I ignored for the moment.

Downstairs two of my housemates had unplugged the WiFi router and pulled it away from the wall. There was a bucket underneath the wall fitting into which water was streaming down the cable. I revisited my room and pulled my bed away from the wall to reveal another fitting and water came pissing out of it – I think that’s probably the most accurate description. I put a bucket underneath it which I was convinced would be full in 5-10 minutes and headed for the roof terrace. Here the problem made itself known. There was a good couple of inches of standing water up there. The houses have drains but no care has been taken to situate them at the lowest point of the roof or courtyard. I don’t know where we got all the brooms from but they materialised and we started sweeping.

A pipe which hosted the internet cable down through the house had been cut too low so once the water level on the roof was above it water flowed down the pipe and, apparently, into my room and the sitting room. The next few hours were taken up sweeping and sweeping and sweeping, eventually the rain eased and we managed to cajole most of the water into the drains and mop up inside. The street outside turned back into itself having previously served as a modest river.

The next day the schools were closed so everyone teaching English had a day off, and those of us with an office shift went to a nearby restaurant to use the WiFi since there didn’t seem to be internet in the volunteer house. The following day we had a day off entirely as the WiFi in the whole of Huanchaco had, I think, been turned off (as it has now, I’m writing this in Notepad to post when the internet returns). We were told to stock up on food and water.

When it rains too much the water flows wherever it can, rivers haven’t been formed since it doesn’t rain often enough. Roads are blocked, and streets submerged – there aren’t any drains to speak of. The trucks delivering produce weren’t able to make it to Huanchaco and a lot of the stores were out of vegetables and, worryingly, beer. Later that day, on our way to the beach to watch the sunset, we were stopped by one of the assistant managers and told “the water is coming”, and we should put on trainers and head to the volunteer house for further instructions.

“The water is coming” is a phrase that’s been uttered plenty in the last few days. It means something between a flash-flood and a mudslide is on its way down from a quarry north of the town. This then flows down a dry river built a few years ago for such an event, but we don’t yet know if it works or if it will take the volume of water. The shanty towns surrounding Huanchaco are left to fend for themselves and we thought may be swept away. Our job that evening would have been to go to the shanty towns and help families evacuate. We were told the venture was both dangerous and optional, none opted out.

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In the end the water didn’t come and while some families had evacuated others were refusing. From that point, and I guess to some extent this is still true, we were on alert and were to be ready to leave for the shanty towns should the water materlialise. Nothing has yet happened though we were kicked out of the club early last night (a sort of club, and sort of early) because apparently the water was coming, but it didn’t.

It has been raining not too determinedly for an hour or so now, that being said it matters not whether it rains here, rain in the mountains is both more likely and more concerning. The quarry above us is holding for the moment but if it bursts its banks will become the character of our time for a few days. Further north malaria and dengue fever have spread to coastal regions where they don’t usually belong brought their by the standing water.

Trujillo, Chanchan and the airport are all nearby and have to greater or lesser extent felt the effects of flooding. We are in a holding pattern, unable to really do much, a waiting game with only points to be lost. Perhaps tonight we will be required, perhaps another night, or not at all. It’s impossible to tell whether the worst has passed or not with rumours, personal theories and fact being presented in the same way and almost no ability to forecast.

7pm Monday 20th March

Shortly after I finished writing that last entry the rain heavied. We were having a sort of hungover post-lunch lunch at a local restaurant and were informed fair excitedly by the waitress that the water had come. We immediately left for the dry river to observe that the water was indeed flowing. The dry river is probably 40 meters across and we estimated the water to be about a meter deep, the flow was very fast and all manner of ex-tree roots and other heavy looking objects were being carried by its strength.

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There is a muddy cliff on one side of the dry (now wet) river, above this is Las Lomas one of the shanty towns, and on the Huanchaco side there is a sizable landscaped bank. But further downstream this bank which we stood on to watch the water morphed into a lower brick wall which the river had already breached. The flow of the river was eating away at both the bank we stood on and the cliff opposite and enormous chunks of earth were being eroded. The Peruvians on either side of the river were shouting at each other to get back.

For the most part it seemed as though the dry river had done its job, if it hadn’t been there water would have come straight through Huanchaco itself causing god knows how much damage. The river had breached the wall lower down which cause some flooding near to where I live. The second issue was that the river ends at the road leading into Huanchaco which crosses it, on the other side of the road is the sea into which it must flow. The road is actually slightly sloped upwards as the river runs down which caused huge amount of water to flow down the road and flood the main coastal road through the town, together with its shops and restaurants.

We were all slightly lost, caught between marveling at the river and knowing we needed to be somewhere to organise ourselves to help. We agreed to me at the Yellow House, which is where I stay. It’s two doors down from a sushi restaurant and both are owned by the same hosts, both housing a group of volunteers. The street it’s on is only one back from the road running next to the beach and water had started gently getting higher up the street. We arrived to everyone having either grabbed a bucket to take water up to the other side of the street or a broom to sweep it away from the houses. Sandbags had been laid and we spent a while there sweeping and bailing water away from where it might do damage. The sushi place had been infiltrated but not the Yellow House.

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After this was complete we went down to the front. The water had begun to subside but was still running strong, the scene as it entered the sea was indeed a sight. The water had carved the beach deep into its chosen shape and looked to have ripped parts of the pavement to one side. The main road along the beach was almost completely flooded and the parts that weren’t were caked in a thick layer of silt which formed a slippy footing. The dry river is usually a bit of a dumping ground and the river had washed miles of rubbish into the sea. The high-tide mark was now lined with branches, polystyrene, shoes, needles and all other manner of ex-belongings. The white break of the waves had turned brown closest to the river mouth.

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That night those of us in houses which were more at risk of flooding were assigned other beds we could stay in should the water get worse, but it having subsided those of us in the Yellow House decided to risk it.

The next day, today, we woke up and the river had dried. We were meeting at the volunteer house early to assign groups to various ventures. The morning would be spent scouting the surrounding shanty towns and helping out where we could, then we would meet before the afternoon shift to collect reports and go to where we were most needed. Three of us were dispatched to Las Lomas to visit one of the local schools where some of the volunteers teach, ask around and generally see what we could see. The school was closed and deserted, the whole town seemed very quiet and we couldn’t see any real signs of destruction. We asked some of the locals who said the only problem was sweeping the rain, none of the flooding had come through and the only real problem today was that the buses weren’t running.

Having satisfied ourselves that we weren’t needed we headed back down to the dry river (which was actually dry again) and walked up it to the point where it carves between El Cerito (another shanty town) and Las Lomas. We walked up to find some of the others, they had located a well which needed fixing in the afternoon and were now on a general quest to see where they could help. As we walked up we saw some of the houses which had been partly collapsed, the river having cut away underneath their floors. Luckily this was only a few and the inhabitants told us they didn’t need much help, they were just finishing up.

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We returned back to the beach where we knew we’d be needed in trying to make a dent in the sheer quantity of rubbish which was piled up for a good mile just in one direction. It felt pretty futile but between us and some of the locals we must’ve collected nearly 100 bin liner’s worth, not that you’d think we’d made an impact from the look of the beach. After a brief rest we returned to the beach in the afternoon, this time to help fill sandbags and build a wall with them across the road. It took us a while to cut off the road completely but eventually the little wall was built up enough to prevent the town from flooding since apparently more water was on it’s way.

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The water has now come but it’s flow is reportedly much slower and it’s quantity much less than yesterday. I’m sure the piles of sandbags around the town will hold. For the moment no supplies can get through, the WiFi seems to have returned though we know not for how long, the cash machine is off or empty or both and the tap water is still turned off. The locals don’t have many resources to deal with the flooding but they are resourceful and act quickly when necessary. If no more water comes it might be a week or so before things are approaching normality. In the meantime we’ll help where we can. This is supposedly the worst for over 20 years, surely it can’t get worse?