Friday, May 18, 2007

The End

My arrival in the U.S. has precipitated a slow and surprising descent into modern affluence. Running water (hot or cold?), Light at the flip of a switch, the amazing roadway system, no cracked windshields; my surprise on arrival may only be understood with a perspective of where I came from.

This blog's primary function has been to chronicle in some way the events of the past 9 months. The snapshots of my life which it contains are often blurred, and never sufficient. Peru has many internet cafe's, but the minimal price hardly makes up for the sluggish connection which plauged us the majority of the time. I have spent many hours throughout Peru trying to communicate with the "Outside" world, trying to understand what was happening in a far-off home, trying to recount what was happening in my own world. I will never regret the effort.

This is an ending. My year, to my own surprise, has come to an end. Experiences precipitate changes; as long as I can remember the experiences, I know the changes will remain with me.

And so, without further ado.....

the end.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Lessons from Peru

This year's passage has come suddenly, I have been here an eternity, I have been here but a moment. Lessons learned usually come hard, and never without a repetition or struggle. When I return to the United States, the passage of time might all too easily erase that struggle and it's accompanying lessons. I will enumerate a few lessons, and then try to explain why I find them so important, and so difficult.

1. Live Simply. I realize Prioritization is easier here. Nevertheless, I idealize, maintaining the superior lifestyle of good sleep, food, companionship, and daily cold showers.

2. Communicate Directly. Vague communication precipitates vague conclusions, leaving both parties feeling vaguely resentful, forever to roil in endless vaguery. Unfortunatly, hinting and speaking indirectly are often mistaken for courtesy, resulting in nothing but prolonged misunderstanding.

3. Embrace your own Weakness. God has an impeccable track record when his power united to people who realized they were absolute wimps.

Why is this so difficult?

1. Life, especially in the U.S., is busy. In fact, you probably think everything you do that makes you so busy is quite important. In many cases, I just like being busy. But, "business" can be like static on the radio. If you are too busy, you might not get a clear reception from God.

2. I don't like to hurt people. I want to please everyone. In fact, laying your thoughts out on the table can be painful. However, I beleive that ultimately, clear communication is absolutely necessary to maintain healthy relationships.

3. Weakness and insufficiency are never espoused as being ideal character traits. It stings to be told you are a wimp, but why? Pride? Absolutely. Like Gideon, we have to own up to being "the least". Until we let go of our own self-sufficiency, we can't excell for God.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

What do you think? Why?

Feeling Heraclitian? If so, you may enjoy a few of his cryptic sayings.
"Death is all things we see awake; all we see asleep is sleep."
"Lifetime is a child at play, moving pieces in a game. Kingship belongs to the child".
"The way up and down are one and the same."
I don't like this one--
"The same... living and dead, and the waking and sleeping, and young and old."
I really like this one for it's masterful brevity--
"It is disease that makes health sweet and good, hunger satiety, weariness rest."
What do you think? Why?
What about Parmenides. Anthony Gottlieb says "He (Parmenides) held that one cannot meaningfully think or say anything about 'what is not'. In his view, this would amount ot speaking of nothing, and a man who speaks or thinks of nothing does not succeed in speaking or thinking at all." (The Dream of Reason, p. 26).
Ok, that is his hypothesis, ready yourself for some wild (but very logical) conclusions.
1. Everything is Eternal.
2. Nothing can Change.
3. Nothing Moves.
Now before you dismiss this as nonsense (as it evidently is to our common sense), address his hypothesis. What do you think? Why?
For dessert, some Zenian paradox.
In loyal defense of his teacher Parmenides, Zeno came up with some ingenious paradoxes which seem to deny the reality of motion. The passage of the ages, and the development of the Calculus have brought a few issues to light, but the paradoxes continue to be what they originally were, "paradoxical".
1. Zeno approached the famous runner Achilles at a national greek tournament before the start of a foot-race. Beginning to reason with him, Zeno seems to pursue the following line of reasoning. Before Achilles can run the full distance, he must run half, and before he can run half, he must run 1/4, and before he can run that distance, he must run 1/8 the distance ad infinitum. Achilles is in trouble. He evidently must cross an infinite number of distances before he may reach the finish. How is motion even possible?
2. The second paradox imagines an arrow in flight. For the sake of theory, imagine the arrow frozen in a particular moment, and in a particular section of space exactly the length of the arrow. As you analyze each instant in the flight of the arrow, you realize that in each moment, the arrow occupies a different space. When does the arrow have time to move?
What do you think? Why?


Note: Peru has proven to be an excellent forum for philosophy. Well balanced by a rigorous work-load, daily devotionals, and good sleep, I can participate in philosophical gymnastics, but manage to land on my feet every day on the mat of life.

"Philosopher" is a word often saddled by an unusally heavy load of connotations. Embittered crictics who decry the entire undertaking as "the endless spinning of dusty cobwebs" would be far from the mark except for a few of history's more ambitiously vague and archane so-called "philosophers". Today, philosophy is distrusted by some, and with cause, because of the hazy blanket of Rationalization, in which many of it's modern-day proponents are firmly ensconsced.

I wish to take a fresh look at the issue, stripping away layers of preconceived connotation which the word has accrued on it's long and wending path through the milenia.

William James, a psychologist by profesion, described philosophy as "a peculiarly stubborn effort to think clearly". I like that. Thinking clearly is the most important life skill. In this sense, philosophy is an attitude that demands questions, chews them for a while, and then forms an answer that is based on good reasoning, formed from a plausible hypothesis. In this light, philosophy may be seen as the minds filter, straining through muddy issues in an effort to separate the drinkable and the pathogenic.

Philosophy may not be seen as it's own field, unless the term is used loosely, as to accomadate numerous other fields of inquiry. Anthony Gottlieb puts it well in his history of philosophy "The Dream of Reason".

"The traditional image of it (philosphy) as a sort of meditative science of pure thought, strangely cut off from other subjects, is largely a trick of the historical light. The illusion is created by the way we look at the past, and in particular by the way in which knowledge tends to be labelled, chopped-up, and re-labbeled. ... Yesterday's moral philosophy becomes tomorrow's Jurisprudence or welfare economics. Yesterday's philosophy of mind becomes tomorrow's cognitive science. And the road runs in both directions: new inquiries in other disciplines prompt new questions for the philosophically curious." (Gottlieb, ix).

Whether or not philosophers have traditionally followed these terms in unimportant. I choose to make philosophy the tool by which I clarify my opinions, not muddy them. I also choose to apply the same rules for clearheaded thinking to a broader range of life than the field to which philosophy is traditionally limited.

Most importantly, I choose to base my thinking in "the Fear of God". The great philosopher Solomon, said "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction". (Prov. 1:7). God is the ultimate reality, and many is the great philosopher who ultimately fell into distraction by failing to realize it. I acknowledge him as the beginning, the end, the ultimate dimension, the creator, and ultimately the redeemer.

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths". (Prov 3:5-6 emphasis added).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Alexander von Humboldt

In his book Brave Companions, David Mccullough dedicates one of his biographical shorts to the extraordinary life of Alexander von Humboldt.
Through Mccullough, I knew I had gained a great friend and aquaintance, indeed, one of histories' greatest.
In his twenties, Humboldt set off with a companion named Aimè Bonpland, for South America; backed by his newly-inherited fortune, and his inquisitive mind.
Over the next five years, Humboldt explored the Amazon, hiked through the Central Andes of Peru, attempted to climb Mt Chimborazo (nearly succeding), and simultaneously collected countless specimens and observations. After a succesful, but dangerous trip throughout the Amazon (they had, among other things, experimented with electric eels, receiving massive electric shocks for their pains), Humboldt and Bonpland sent their wealth of aquired specimens back, along with a letter explaining they didn't expect to survive further exploration; and then, continued on.

Later in life, Humboldt wrote the 5-volume encyclopedia called "Kosmos", bringing together the various branches of learning in the world, into one vast compendium. He died, at age 89, still working on volume 5.

I admire Humboldt for his obvious passion for learning. His prolific life was filled with the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. He was a giant of his day, but seems forgotten, relegated to that class which lived in the quaintly dim light of this painting, long, long ago.

Specialization has created some problems. I cannot know everything. However, I hope that I can somehow adopt the attitude of Humboldt, the attitude that motivated him to push through mosquito infested jungles, and over frozen tundra above 19,000 feet. May learning, and pushing the boundaries of my field (whether academic or physical) become my life's vocation.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Love, John

Hey Mom and Dad, Paul, and Barry.
I write from an internet Cafè in Iquitos, the world's largest city whose only access to the "outside" is the river and air. It is incredible to consider that everything came by boat or plane.

The trip was truly incredible. Let me try to outline it for you, although I think it may be difficult to delineate the days because of the lazy and obtuse nature of the journey.

Day 1-2. Monday-Tuesday. We pack up and leave Km. 38 for Pucallpa. In peru, it is highly advisable to get to the launch 6 hours early (dad might just love it here?). You then have a good chance to chose a good hammock spot, before the myriad of mothers, children, fathers, cows, pigs, chickens, and giant bundles of plàtino arrive. We accordingly arrived at about 10:00 A.M. to hang our hammocks.

Multiple considerations come to bear when choosing your hammock spot. Not to close to the bathrooms (they stink), not to far away from the bathrooms (you have to crawl under hammocks, over plàtino, and into various oddities before releiving your need). Not to close to the lights, (they frequently leave them on all night), avoid speakers at all costs (they blare music all night). Get close to the windows. Face away from the TV, infamous for endlessly showing gratuitously violent films, or music videos of boring, explicit, and undadulterated love making.

Once we had puzzled through where to hang our hammocks, we took shifts of leave, always leaving someone at the boat to watch the gear, while the others made last minute preperations for the trip (e.g. buy a bag of Soda crackers, extra water, eat one more Menù, go to C`est Si Bon for one more icecream, email home one last time).

The original plan for the trip had been to take the whole group. Dr. Matthews (fondly known as Doctòr), Jenni, Karen, Anthony, Ansley, Jackson, Alex, Ryan, and myself. As the date of preperation neared, we found, to our consternation, that Dr. Matthews had to attend examinations in Lima, and so was unable to come. Jenni was sick, we didn't know if she would make it. Karen and Anthony had to leave for Lima the next Monday on a bus, and weren't sure the timing would work.

And so we found ourselves, in a state of instability, compounded by the fact that the boat, which was advertised to leave at 5:00 P.M. this Sunday, did not leave that night, nor the next day, and only at 10:30 P.M . the next night. The problem, as it appeared to me, was that a truck bearing cargo for the launch was delayed, and the launch master, unwilling to leave the cargo, opted rather to wait, at some expense of the passengers. Ansley and Alex decried my interpretation, and proceeded to tell a darker story, (which I think was probably more accurate). "Not satisfied", they said, "to leave with such a paltry assortment of passengers and cargos (the launch was crammed), the master, or captain, had decided to wait until his craft was more amply supplied, at the considerable mercy of the passengers". To Ansley and Alex, forgive the paraphrase, I don't know exactly how you phrased it.

Whatever the case, we eventually found ourselves leaving approximately 34 hours after our intended departure. Jenni, who had stuck with us for the entire period of waiting eventually considered she was too sick to go along. Anthony and Karen also jumped ship (2 hours before departure), on the impression that they would not have enough time to get back for the bus on monday. Consequently, Ansley found herself (as I fear she often does), in the midst of 4 boys, heading for a place we didn't know, on a big, endlessly moving, river.

Day 3. Wednesday. I woke up in my hammock surrounded by strangeness--- bumped into Ryan (lying in his hammock in close proximity to myself), was startled from my sleepy fog by the vigorous banging of the cook's metal spoon, on the cook's metal pot. This, then, was the signal for breakfast. My back hurt, and the acrid smell of cigarette smoke played and sizzled in my nose. Time for me to get used to life on a launch.

Spent the day, as I would spend most days on the launch, alternatively reading, gazing at the passing scenery from the freedom of the deck, or sleeping in my hammock.

We arrived at our destination that evening, a little town on the river named Inahuaya. Carrying our baggage, we walked down the plank connecting us with the boat and the river bank, the eyes of silent and listless passengers following us all the way.

Checked into a small hostel, made the aquaintance of our supossed guide (a sprightly fellow named "Caiman"), and went out to find food. Took a refreshing shower from a barrel (using a pitcher), the water was river water, disgustingly brown. Caiman seems to have high hopes for the following day, I sleep in restless anticipation.

Day 4. Thursday. The adventures of today surpassed all adventures of the trip. We were headed for Hot Springs, to be reached by a "Chalupa", or as we might say in Maine, an aluminum skiff powered by 40 horses.

We boarded the skiff with 3 others, the boat guide, a man named Julio Navarra, and a friend of a man by the name of Walter. Permit me an excursus.

The boat guide: typical Peruvian build, slight, but quite apparently very strong indeed.
Julio Navarra: A fellow with interesting history. Knew Dr. Matthews and Jenni quite well. Had nearly been baptised as an Adventist, but was dissuaded or unpermitted for some unknown reason. Had run for the political position of Alcalde (Governor or Mayor) of his town or district and lost. Seemed to be of sufficiently ample financial means, but appeared to live in a tavern.
Friend of Walter: Jackson had worked with Walter before we arrived, but had not known where he lived. We encountered him here in Inahuaya and enjoyed his company over the next several days. He intended to come with us on the chalupa, but at the moment of departure had vanished, leaving us to wonder, as we sped down the river. His friend, had not departed, and we were fated to spend the day with him, who seemed to be altogether a nice fellow.

We headed down the river, taking about an hour to arrive at a little town downriver from Inahuaya. From there, we hiked over some steep hills to arrive at the hot springs, which proved to be some of the most amazing I have ever seen.

Apparently, the water was heated by some sort of volcanic action beneath the earth, and seeped out in various places in a small river. Seepage was sufficient enough that at one spot we absolutely could not immerse ourselves. Julio took us further upstream to a place where a cooler stream flowed in, and here, we were finally were able to relax in the hot stream. The idea was strange enough, it was hot enough outside, but somehow the hot water was enjoyable, and we soaked, explored, and jumped off waterfalls. It was, quite frankly, incredible.

We left there at about 2:00 P.M. for our chalupa. Once arrived, the motor wouldn't start, despite the concerted efforts of Julio, our Boat guide, Jackson, and myself, the most effort by far being expended by Julio and the Boat guide. Nothing worked. It rained, with the savage tempetuosity so familiar to the jungle. Finally, at about 4:00, we got a peki-peki, a long canoe strangely equipped with even stranger motor. (See previous blog). We loaded the Chalupa on top of the peki-peki, and set off for Inahuaya, this time against the current, and with a very heavily laden, small-motored boat.

The next 4 hours were terrible. The rain soaked us, the wind chilled us, and the warm Peruvian sun went to bed. Jackson and I sat enthroned on the Chalupa, which sat precariously on top of the Peki-peki. I at least had my raincoat, (not to mention a synthetic t-shirt), but jackson was clad in a green cotton t-shirt and boardshorts. Needless to say, we were all very, very, cold. Jackson and I, shaking uncontrollably, opted to lye down on the floor of the chalupa and cuddle. I am not ashamed of the fact, because I know it gave us each vital warmth that could be obtained in no other way.

Finally, arriving in Inahuaya, we ran back to our rooms, and changed into warm, dry, clothes.

Day 5: Friday.
Alex, Ryan, and I spent this day waiting at the port for a launch to take us on to Iquitos. Jackson and Ansley, already aquainted with the place, opted to wait in Inahuaya over the weekend before heading back to Pucallpa by launch. Jackson and Ansley were with us almost all day, companiably swatting the mosquitos that had launched an all-out attack. Around 5:00 P.M., they assumed the launch would not come before sabbath, and although they said their adieus before going back to the hostel, we all expected to spend the weekend there before leaving to our respective destinations. Around 5:30, the launch appeared around the bend in the river, and we were able to board, pay our tickets, and set up our hammocks before the arrival of the Sabbath.

Days 6-7: Sabbath-Sunday. We spent these days restfully floating down the river. Because this is "Semana Santa", (the week observed over the day of passover), not many people were on this second launch, which proved to be a real blessing. We had room to stretch out and meander about. On our same boat, were the first Gringos we had encountered in our journeyings. Suitably eclectic, they brought color and humor to our lives. A social worker from Spain (he had a closely shaven head with dreadlocks hanging down the back), a cabinent maker from Canada, and two social workers from the Netherlands.

We arrived in Iquitos the same day of my writing, that is, Sunday evening, at about 6:00 P.M. We are checked into a nice hostel, which should house us until we intend to fly back to Pucallpa.

Forgive the extraordinary length of this epistle, there was a lot to tell.

Love, John

Sunday, April 01, 2007


I must give Alban total credit for these pictures. Although I had recuperated to the extent that I could stagger down the trail (in the rear), I had not the energies to exercise photographic inclination. At least I had the good sense to turn the camera over to Alban, who captured all of the following brilliant photos.

Gocta falls was accessed by steep and treacherous trails, however, it proved well worth the effort. The falls are composed of two cascades, the composite of which seems to be the recorded height. We hiked in to the bottom of the second cascade, although there is also a trail to the upper cascade as well. Anonymity has lent special charm to this experience. Like Cinque Terra in Italy (at least a few years ago), not many people have been to this spectacular natural wonder. In a few years, this sight will be overun by tourists, driving by to snap a picture on the paved road, or the affluent taking a helicopter ride for really spectacular views. As for myself, I was blissfully happy to stumble down the muddy trail in search of an amazing falls which few know anything about.


The Countryside.

The trail, beleive it or not.

Chan Chan

Chan Chan, ancient, vast (the largest adobe city in the world), brown, dusty, and I feel sick. Pardon my excursus, and let me explain.

We were in Trujillo, and so had to go to visit Chan Chan, a prominent archeological site here in Peru. It is on the coast, so the inhabitants ancient did some fishing. They left us a legacy of vast brown walls stretching over 20 Km, a few parts of which were covered by a milieu of fertility symbols, fish, and pelicans. It was stupendous, to say the least.

Note the Pelicans

"Re Copado" meets "Muy Chevere", the result is fantastically "cool".

The main square in the palace. Note the pelicans ;-)

El gran viaje de "Gocta"

The Team

The 4, with our guide, incindentaly, an adventist.

Myself, well, after 20 hours of bussing.

Aaron, what a guy!

Cousin Alban, "Lo Maximo".

Ansley, Primita. (She is holding sand for Laurie Gauthier.)

It was a great trip, need I say more?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

over hill and dale

I have just come back from another epic journey with my two cousins Alban and Ansley, along with their friend of the summer past, Aaron. Covering vast tracks of land by bus we went from Lima to Trujillo, onwards to Chiclayo, from thence to Pedro Ruiz, Chachapoyas, Tarapoto, and finally back to Pucallpa. The most notable thing about the trip was the incredible amount of bussing. I think Ansley and I logged almost 100 hours. I have covered the bus experience in a previous blog, so I leave readers to imagine, and not underestimate that number. Pictures will come later.