South America Trip.10 – Ecuador and Home

On September 1, 1967  I and my four Peace Corps traveling pals, who had finished their 2-year assignments in Uruguay, left Lima by bus. We were headed for the Ecuadoran port of Guayaquil. To backtrack, I met them while traveling by train from Buenos Aires to La Paz. We enjoyed each other’s company and had stayed together journeying through Argentina, Bolivia, sailing Lake Titicaca to Puno, train to Quito, Machu Picchu and Lima. The map of my whole trip follows:

My Trip: July 13 to September 5, 1967
My Trip: July 13 to September 5, 1967
Our bus from Lima took the Pan American Highway north to Equador.  Continue reading “South America Trip.10 – Ecuador and Home”

South America Trip.8 – Bolivia

Tihuanaco on the Bolivian altiplano
A farm near Tihuanaco, a pre-Inca site between La Paz and L. Titicaca

Sat Aug 19, 1967:

Departed Buenos Aires by train for La Quiaca. The trip to La Quiaca took, if I remember, two nights on the train, during which time we climbed to 11, 293 feet. My sheepskin coat came in handy. While I’m not sensitive to altitude, carrying my heavy bag from car to car on the train caused me some huffing and puffing. Starting out alone, I met four American Peace Corps volunteers on the train. They had, like I, just finished their two-year assignments. Theirs were done in Uruguay. There was a married couple and two single women in their group. I particularly remember a Japanese American named Jo Ann from Chicago who was either a Ph.D in Chemistry or on her way to doing one. She later visited me in Montréal. They all were fluent in Spanish and great company for me, alone since I let my companions George and Ian go ahead while I spent extra time in Rio de Janeiro.

We did make it to La Quiaca, crossed into Villazón on the Bolivian side, and took a second train up through Bolivia to La Paz. This was a further 16 hours or so and about another 1000′ of elevation.

La Paz Approach
La Paz Approach

I took the above slide as we descended on La Paz from above. Continue reading “South America Trip.8 – Bolivia”

On Fidel Castro

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Fidel Castro likes a good joke.
A friend sent me a 2010 Guardian article by Rory Carroll quoting Jeffrey Goldberg, a columnist for The Atlantic, in which Fidel reportedly said:
The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.
Here is Goldberg’s original article. The interpretation of what Castro meant by the crack was done by a third party present with Goldberg and Fidel. Others quoted in this and the Guardian article have added their own sauce to the mix.

Clearly Fidel’s necessarily autocratic, imperfect model has been seriously altered to deal with the decades-long US embargo. Castro’s creative genius in keeping Cuba afloat, with world-leading stats on literacy and infant survival, in the face of this assault, and others of a patently criminal nature, is close to miraculous.

All it proves is that no country in Uncle Sam’s back yard is permitted to chart its own course without crippling interference. You, kind reader, and I could both come up with a litany of less successful Pan-American attempts from Allende to Zapatista.

As I have said before, for me the telling comparison is to look at Haiti from the 1950’s to now vs Cuba during the same period. Haiti the US puppet vs Cuba the reckless maverick.

Corporation-dominated model vs state-dominated model?

In a perfect world I would prefer a cooperative, consensus-seeking road, but our current corporation-dominated, enforcement/bullying-dependent world is bound for catastrophe.  Monsanto… Nestlés… Bayer… Coca Cola… Halliburton… Shell… Lockheed……..

Waaaayyyy too much power, with no morality but the bottom line.

P.S. I love Cuba. On our second visit, in 2010, we visited several places outside the typical Havana/Varadero. We visited Havana, Trinidad, Bayamo, Santiago de Cuba, and Baracoa by public bus. We stayed in peoples’ homes – people who helped us in many ways. We went dancing six times. Here is my reflection after that visit.

P.P.S. A quick appraisal of anything Fidel has said recently must be taken with many grains of NaCl. Proof exists in this reflection in 2013 in the party newspaper, Granma, where he states that humans have been around for 230 million years. A tall tale if ever there was one. We’re closer to 2 million years, so the venerable Fidel is off by a factor of about 100 times. Nobody’s perfect.

Monsanto and Other Crap

Jeff Nguyen, the author of Deconstructing Myths, a blog that I follow, got me going with his delightfully facetious and hard-hitting “Dear Monsanto” post.

“Well put” sounds like lame praise for this creative way of addressing the ongoing horrors of Agent Orange as experienced by the people of Viet Nam and US GI’s.

I never fail to puzzle (and grind my teeth) over how Canadian and US media do their endless “show and tell” about the terror produced by foreign agents while ignoring the terror exported by (recently) drones and, in the 1960’s, Napalm and, as Jeff Nguyen points out in his eloquent “Thank You” letter to Monsanto, the long-lasting legacy of cancers and other horrors caused by using the defoliant, Agent Orange, during the Vietnam War. Continue reading “Monsanto and Other Crap”

A 75 Cent Taxi Ride – South America Trip.5

My Trip: July 13 to September 5

Part 5 of our 1967 South America trip took us from Belem to beautiful Salvador, Bahía.

Fortaleza: On Saturday, July 22 at 4 PM, after two nights in Belem (if I include the first night we spent still on the Lobo D’Almada in our hammocks) we left by plane for Fortaleza. We asked the airport taxi driver  to take us to an inexpensive but good place. Maybe we got our signals crossed, because the place we ended up at charged by the hour. It was yet another red light district. We paid less than $2 for a room with three clean beds and, judging by the interesting noises, paper-thin walls. Can’t remember how much we slept, but we were up early enough to be ready for our 5:45 AM airport taxi  on Sunday morning.

The airport taxi (10 minutes ride) cost us 2000 cruzeiros – about 75 cents!

Fortaleza seemed a pretty forgettable place in every respect other than the hotel. Things change, of course. Friends of ours recently took a very long cruise around South America. It included a visit to Antarctica, a return to Florida via the Panama Canal and a cruise up the Amazon River to Belem. Their ship stopped at Fortaleza on the way south to Rio and they were pleased with the look of the place. Continue reading “A 75 Cent Taxi Ride – South America Trip.5”

South America Trip.2

OK. Still not about South America yet, but I warned you last time. Anyway – if I hadn’t gone to teach in Trinidad in 1965, I probably wouldn’t have done the two month South America trip in 1967. So kindly bear with me, or, if not, feel free to skip to the end of this post or go elsewhere with my good wishes and abject apologies.
Boarding The Plane in September 1965 Boarding The Plane in September 1965

Our West Indies CUSO volunteer contingent (young adults with university degrees or special skills who had selected to serve in the sunny Caribbean over more distant sunny places like Malaysia, India or Tanzania – about two dozen of us in all) assembled at Ottawa’s international airport on a very chilly morning in early September, 1965. We climbed an outside ladder, waved to our loved ones and entered Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s Canadair North Star. This was not a jet, but a plane powered by four Rolls-Royce Merlin propeller engines. They were proudly termed “turbo-props,” whatever enhancements that meant. Still slow and noisy compared to modern jet planes. Simpler times. It took us 19 hours of island hopping before our 8-member Trinidad contingent arrived at Piarco Airport in Port of Spain, the North Star’s last stop. Continue reading “South America Trip.2”

South America Trip.1

TheOriginalEight
The Original Eight: L to R: Ron, Meridale, Bill, Joyce, jackie, Bob, Mary Jo and Marlene

OK I lied. We’re not technically in South America yet. This was taken at Mayaro Beach in Trinidad in 1967, the last year that the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup. I’m in the white shorts.

Trinidad is less than 30 miles from Venezuela, though. Does that count as South America? This is our group of Canadian teachers who got on Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s North Star plane in September 1965. A couple of Canadians named Bill McWhinney and Terry Glavin had had a big part in forming Canadian University Service Overseas, an organization of people with varied skills who were prepared to go all over the world to do their thing. CUSO (still going; one of Canada’s best kept secrets) was only a few years old when they sent this exuberant group to Trinidad. We were the first group to go there. We happened to be all teachers. This meant, in those young and early days of CUSO, all you needed was a degree or a technical skill you could teach. A couple of us had their Bachelor of Education already. I was one month shy of my 21st birthday when I got on that plane in Ottawa and the only teacher training I had was two weeks of orientation with over 300 other worldwide destined volunteers at York University’s beautiful Glendon Campus in Toronto, Ontario. In that two week period we were also taught valuable things like how not to bite a snake and how to eat roti with your fingers. They put me in charge of organizing activities for the West Indies bound contingent outside of orientation. Among other things we went to the West Indies Federation Club for a dinner (curry goat – yum) and a local Torontonian named Anne took us to then hippie (now expensive shoppie) Yorkville for some quality folk music and cheap beer.

I remember the guitars. The ubiquitous guitars. It was, after all, the sixties. I had never sung or played guitar in public before. I clammed up at the age of 6 when my teacher called my parents, Lou and Angel, telling them that I had a beautiful voice. In Grade One we used to stand in a double line somewhere in the hall and sing hymns like Immaculate Mary. I hated to be singled out and was incredibly shy. So, whenever the teacher passed by I would just mouth the words. At least she didn’t hit me like she did when I innocently sat on my heels while practicing how to kneel at the communion rail for our upcoming First Communions.

In my teen years I developed a love for all the Hit Parade music and would once in a while attempt something like Ray Charles’ What’d I Say while walking to the local deli for french fries and a cherry coke after school. My Lachine, Quebec friends weren’t impressed and let me know. Cruel, perhaps honest, times. I also loved Frank Sinatra. Many a night I sang myself (quietly) to sleep doing one or more of his classy hits, like Nice and Easy. I had purchased a used Harmony dreadnought acoustic guitar at 12 years old and knew the basic nut position chords. The strings were so far from the fretboard on that thing that exploration beyond nut position was impossible. Those elementary skills were the basic musical tools I possessed when I took the train to Toronto from Montreal in 1965.

Orientation in Toronto was my first public performance. The atmosphere in that group was welcoming and non-threatening. I borrowed someone’s guitar in the lounge one evening and played a song I loved: Dona Dona. Here’s the version by Joan Baez I first heard. I hereby confess to a permanent love for her pure voice. After that I was never afraid or shy to sing.

Trinidadians love music. At a community meeting it was not unusual for a person to randomly get up at the end and sing a song. Regardless of the quality of the performance, the audience was warm and accepting. While there I bought myself a cheap guitar and learned to sing and play calypso and soca tunes. I started to listen carefully to bass lines, arrangement and harmony. My favorite calypsonian was then, and still is, The Mighty Sparrow. His songs were funny, frequently aimed at politicians and, more than occasionally, just plain smutty. Here is one of my favorite Sparrow songs, full of double entente and verve: Congo Man. I saw him perform it in his prime in 1966 at Naparima Bowl in San Fernando and he blew the place away.

Who said I couldn't paint?
Who said I couldn’t paint?

In August 1967 I got home to Montreal from my two years in Trinidad and two months in South America – just in time to spend a couple of weeks at Expo 67. Later I painted this map on Bristol board and took a 35 mm slide of it so that I could show people the Caribbean islands in my slide shows. Trinidad and its sister island, Tobago, are at the bottom close to big, brown Venezuela. The Orinoco River is also shown. Jamaica is the big, pink island at the top. To give you an idea of scale: Kingston is 1133 miles from Port of Spain. Don’t ask me which are the Windward and which the Leeward Islands. I never got that right.

Oh yeah, this post is supposed to be about South America. Maybe one more on Trinidad first…

Specific Travel Area Categories Added

Over the last two days I have created separate categories for four popular areas or countries in which I have traveled and written posts on.

Some of you may be primarily interested in one country or area. Categories have been created for the following  areas so that you can see the grouped posts for them:

  • Egypt
  • Morocco
  • South America
  • Spain

Other important categories will follow, “Please God.” It’s the least I can do, since I tend to write as the spirit moves on all sorts of topics and there are well over a hundred posts since I started this blog. Thank you for patiently enduring my shotgun approach to blogging topics. I do not apologize for this style; my primary motive for blogging is not the amassing of large numbers of followers, but I am grateful for those of you who persevere and find something worthwhile here from time to time and I enjoy reading your blogs very much.

The South America category is still pretty small, but I hope to post on my two-month “Summer of 1965” trip to Guyana, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador in chronological form with stories. I have, at last, scanned my old 35 mm slides of that great trip. I’ll also include an earlier trip to Caracas, Venezuela.