Peru – South America- A Traveler’s Journey

The following travel essay is an excerpt from my travel book South America – Pictures, Prose, and Poetry.

I had a good conversation with a Peruvian gentleman on the bus to Puno, Peru. Sharing a common birthday we naturally struck up a quick friendship.

He was a traveling salesman returning to Lima, where he lived with his family. He had a particularly favorable opinion of the Bolivian women in Santa Cruz. He established distribution contacts for the company Nestle throughout Bolivia. He was formerly an engineer recently downsized to make room for cheaper trainees. He said multinational corporations have been conducting this management cost measure of its employees for the last few years. On a macroeconomic level, Peru’s economy and standard of living have improved within the last ten years, now reaching a level near par with Chile.

However, these statistical improvements tend to shine brighter on the accounting ledgers for those in the glass offices. The reality of improvements for those within the middle and lower class ranks tended to be less distinct and measurable.

While our bus waited outside a village marketplace, I pointed out to my gentleman friend the enormous bags of pasta to which he did a surprising facial double take. He explained to me best not to say the word “pasta” when in Peru for the word may get confused with a similar Peruvian word that means “cocaine” and official ears could get nervous.

Within this region of South America all roads north lead to Cusco. Wonderful fellow travelers I’d met as far south as Ushuaia, Argentina and all points in between weeks ago would reappear on the city streets of Cusco. Our origins covered the globe yet we shared a simple lust for life and a yearning for healthier, happier roles for ourselves within life’s intricate web. Some contemplated relocating themselves in South America, utilizing their skills in ecology and biology.
One Brazilian I met was from Porto Alegre, Brazil, where the World Social forum was held, a humane based forum established to counter the gathering of the world’s powerful in Davos, Switzerland. His band had performed for this year’s gathering and he was was currently traveling through other South American countries to learn new styles of music.

Other travelers include the various Motorcycle Diary adventurers who were spotted along this Andean Gringo Trail circuit. Throughout these human encounters the global dialogue exchange was always revealing, extremely informative and vastly entertaining.

The journey from Puno to Cusco is extremely scenic, especially through the lush, verdant mountainous terrain and river valleys that to lead to the ancient Inca capital.

I wish I could have told the bus driver to stop so I could take photos. The rural scenery is always the most picturesque, the passing people, livestock, adobe abodes and beautiful landscape. Along the drive we did stop at some interesting Inca ruin sites and some baroque Spanish churches. Conducting the observations via tour group style is just not the same however as when I have a freer independent approach to my observations. Maybe I should rent a motorbike and conduct my own motorcycle diary journey.

The Spanish colonial churches that were established along the former Inca trail bear a heavy, oppressive, spiritual load within the darkened confines of the church. Dark wooden crucifixes, brutal Biblical scenes and ominous looking saints and bishops, all draped ostentatiously in boastful gold trim, seem to send signals other than love, peace and tranquility to its parishioners.

The Catholic followers who enter the cathedrals and churches are quick to create with their index finger the sign of the cross in a very nervous, stressed manner, fearful of the alleged consequences if they don’t.

Nestled within the Andean highlands is the town of Cusco. The downtown section is quite stunning, especially at night when the plaza, cathedral and neighboring smaller churches are illuminated. It evokes memories of Old World European cities at night. Many of the church structures have kept the older Inca stone walls and foundations both for their durability and cultural appeasement value.

Adjacent to the churches, above street level, are restaurants each with wooden balconies that offer excellent viewing while you’re sipping your coffee. Traditionally dressed men and women still carry their wares on their backs through the plaza on their way to market.

One Friday morning, a group of protesters came marching in solidarity through the plaza. A dose of reality that was refreshing compared to the robotic atmosphere of the street peddlers or the incredibly boring military parade last Sunday. Their chants were in Spanish, but the tempo was strangely familiar, strongly resembling the anti-globalization protest rhythm as in Seattle and Prague. No doubt the subject dealt with either indigenous land rights or better working conditions for local laborers. The political climate in several South American countries, of late Bolivia and Ecuador, is turbulent yet somehow swiftly civilized and bloodless, going through presidents at a rapid pace, almost between coffee refills.

Presidents and revolutions may come and go, but the little boy who sells you finger puppets in the streets still continues as before…

Fortunately, in Cusco anyway, the wave of theft that used to occur has been dealt with and conditions for tourists, as well as for local Peruvians, are quite safe. This has occurred in part due to the past government’s crackdown on the notorious rebel group, The Shining Path, which had wreaked havoc upon the poor villagers of the Andean highlands.

As far as my observations, whether in Bali, Peru, or Costa Rica, the new world economy of tourism within the pristine and culturally stimulating locales of developing countries has led to an overproduction of commercialism, obviously promoted by large corporations.

The usual methods of mass marketing techniques such as television, shopping malls and brass neon signs does not apply in these locations. To adjust, large corporations recruit a legion of locals from these communities to distribute the goods and to personally promote these goods at a more direct level to the public. Often the sales are conducted just as dispassionately as by the multinational’s top executives, and with this emotionless unspoken assumption that all tourists must consume, all items, all the time.

True, there are supply and demand needs being met and overall individual income levels aer being raised, though not as proportionately as the levels of the multinational corporations. However, could there also be detrimental personal impacts upon the developing countries’ population…perhaps some moral value and /or spiritual questions that should also be addressed?

For example, what happens to a community or society that becomes over-dependent on a certain intangible economy, or what becomes of a new generation within these developing countries that is learning a questionable value system i.e. the dollar is everything.

Of courser, environmental issues, such as non-biodegradable products, have become another recent, grave concern since the rise of the new tourism economy, and the proper disposal of these products. Fortunately, there are people trying to address this problem like a couple I met in Copacabana who are introducing a recycling program in their town. And fortunately there are admirable individuals like the inquisitive Peruvian college student who sought knowledge from me, the outside world, in order to better understand his evolving world. I’ll sip to that.


Please feel free to comment. Click ADD COMMENTS/FEEDBACK section located on web site’s right side column.

To see more of my South America photography or to peruse my other travel books, please visit my site

Posted in philosophical, S. America travel, Travel | 11 Comments

The Evolution Will Not Be Televised – Part II (The Revolution, However, May Be Videotaped)

“It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.” Song verse by the band REM

A few days ago, during an idyllic Indian summer afternoon, I was relaxing in my backyard, playing my guitar, soaking up the energizing sunshine. Several beautiful migratory birds stopped by, smiled, and enjoyed a quenching sip from the fountain before continuing on their journey. Suddenly from high above a less appreciative feathery friend let loose a messy blob that nearly knocked me off my chair.

This startling display of harsh reality sent my thoughts reflecting upon the latest display of corporate executive arrogance and avaricious behavior, perpetuated by the current global financial “crisis”. I thought, you know, the world would be a much more peaceful, harmonious place if it wasn’t for those few rich, greedy, powerful CEO, CFR, secret hand-shaking Freemason, Illuminati, nudge nudge wink winking Skull and Bones world dominating thugs and thieves periodically dropping a massive load on the rest of us, messing with our lives.

The same players who brought us S&L bank failures, Latin American bank loan failures, massive Wall Street financial fraud and now the housing market fraudulent irresponsible manipulations, are once again gorging themselves at the taxpayers’ trough, demanding a bailout handout; corporate socialism at its best. This blatant arrogance would make Marie Antoinette blush.

Why, after crashing peoples’ housing prices, destroying our economy, creating unemployment, depleting many Americans’ life savings and even breaking the kids’ piggy bank, while THEY continue to live an opulent lifestyle, do we still put our trust with these guys and their rigged financial institutions?

I’m reminded of the scene in the movie Animal House where Kevin Bacon’s character, desperate to join the evil-minded fraternity, is on all-fours in his underwear getting whacked by a wooden mallet screaming “thank you sir may I have another!”

I would think a more appropriate response from people today would be to open their window and, like in the movie Network yell “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Where are those courageous folk who used to throw pies at the corrupt CEOs?

If these financial institution leaders’ actions have done you harm you may be tempted to contemplate a scenario where these rotten scoundrels are brought to massive public trial, justice determined by a five minute speedy deliberation followed by a good proper hanging.

Another idea could be the creation of a reality show where everyday people get to hunt CEOs, and other corrupt business executives. The average American gets to select the crooked businessman of his choosing to hunt in the wild with paintball guns, a mild form of retribution but certainly cathartic for him, or her, and an appreciative audience.

On a more optimistic note, the current global financial crisis may be evidence of the necessary breakdown in public trust toward our global and national institutions that will lead people’s belief systems to transcend to a higher level as we approach the Mayan prophesied date Dec. 22nd, 2012. Wishful thinking?

Let’s look at the tremendous success of, a financing organization that puts its trust in the compassion and kindness of everyday people. Here’s a micro-loan financing organization, where no profit is sought, where the default rate is practically zero, and is currently so successful that KIVA is asking loaners to be patient while they try to find more eligible loan requests for people to loan to.’s peoples banking system: a fine example where an individual can choose to trust in people helping people rather than our unreliable, corrupt institutional banking systems.

Of course the corporate socialism policy our government leaders have eagerly adopted doesn’t stop with financial institutions. The bailouts, preferential taxbreaks and corporate welfare continue with the auto industry, airline industry, big oil, big agribusiness, large pharmaceuticals companies, etc., rewarding bad business practices and sticking us with lower wages and higher prices at the pump, the grocery store, the hospital, and exorbitant debt.

What’s a better choice? Don’t rely on these crooks. Don’t live beyond your means and be indebted to them. Consume less, live more. Don’t allow your government and its business cronies to pick your pockets while they rummage through your luggage at the airport. Our society is entrenched in this atmosphere of distrust created by the very people who should not be trusted, and is a prevalent perverse philosophy throughout Corporate America.

Long ago, I worked for a government defense contract corporation where corporate executives instill an atmosphere of employee distrust primarily because they know they themselves can’t be trusted, as proven by their morally questionable billing practices, so they assume all people can’t be trusted. How about WalMart whose corporate ethical practices are questionable yet enforces a policy that questions your integrity as a customer by assuming you may be stealing that product you’re carrying out the door.

Our patriarchal systems and institutions say to blindly trust their authority yet as noted by acclaimed author and professor of psychology, Dr. Robert Hare, there is strong evidence that many corporate executives exhibit psychopathic behaviors. Still trust these guys?!

These high profile powerful predators prey on your weaknesses. Don’t capitulate; get strong, get smart. Explore new ideas on how to live our lives and build a better a world. Who is more trustworthy to make better decisions concerning your life than you?

Consider the approach to social/economic solutions mentioned in E.F.Schumacher’s book Small Is Beautiful – Economics As If People Mattered such as Buddhist economics. As an individual, apply Kristnamurti’s philosophy where one is encouraged to question authority. Also, educate yourself to become a citizen of the world, not a globally employable worker as promoted by our corporate influenced educational system.

Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan’s recent apologetic admission that he had not foreseen the potential human irresponsibility and wanton greed inherent in the current financial structures may ring hollow coming from its premier architect; still, it’s a telling confirmation that their economic philosophy is a failure.

We may take encouragement from the Czech and Slovak Republic’s peaceful Velvet Revolution example in which the people just stopped listening to the failed totalitarian dogma.

This troubled period may be the necessary collapse in the failed dogma of unbridled capitalism, greed; institutions’ unchecked governance designed for the benefit of the select rich, powerful few. This is our wake up call. Rome may be burning, but the clever Phoenix is rising from the ashes.

We’re witnessing a pivotal moment in our history to rethink and reform our society; time to deconstruct our institutions, create decentralization and “small is better” solutions that better serve the people and the natural environment.

Look at the recent trend in the medical care field, thanks to new entrepreneurial companies such as House Call Doctors, where doctors are again making house calls, improving medical care while lowering costs. There’s also the innovative approach taken by, an organization which financially promotes social entrepreneurs; those individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing problems. Social entrepreneurs find what is not working in government and business sectors and solve the problem by changing the system, creating solutions, and persuading entire societies to join in the change.

When able, I like to test the human range of generosity within a corporation, and on a recent roadtrip to the Pacific Northwest, I was able to do just that with my morning coffee craving.
It may be McDonalds’ policy, or it may be mine, either way, I apply the free refill theory to all McDonalds’ outlets as I travel across country and without hesitancy, the employee gladly refills my coffee. While conservative and Christian radio reigns supreme over radio airwaves in America’s rural heartland sowing seeds of hate and discontent, I try to counter the corporate sponsored airwaves by initiating pleasantries and discussions with the good service industry folks you meet along the road, bringing smiles to both our faces.

Will this recent financial crisis help people recognize and understand the impermanence of market values, whether held in one’s stock portfolio, house or commodity prices, and gain greater appreciation for the true tangible values of love, friendship, good health and happiness?

Given to me as a gift by some newfound friends in Brazil, I carry in my wallet a list that contains the five principles of Reiki, Buddhism influenced principles that help me stay spiritually grounded. The five principles are: Just for today, I will give thanks for my many blessings, I will not worry, I will not be angry, I will do my work honestly, and I will be kind to my neighbor and every living thing. They help me keep life in perspective.

One may even find the occasional voice of reason within the ranks of the corporate elite. “I think that the heavens, or natural common wisdom, may be suggesting that we try to live more down-to-earth and honest lives”, says Kyocera’s Chairman Emeritus Kazuo Inamori, who is also a Zen Buddhist priest. He says profit is society’s reward for serving its interests. “In order to restore and revitalize capitalism, it is crucial that business executives regain this attitude”.

As I journeyed down the Pacific Coast, basking in the coastline’s natural beauty, my thoughts about humanity’s silly antics fading away, I was awestruck by the majestic redwood trees’ silent grandeur and the refreshing barks coming from the sealions on the ocean rocks below; Nature’s enduring symbols that supply us with a sense of spiritual clarity and humility.

And now, back home, sitting in my backyard, the sun still shining, the sky an aquamarine blue and the birds still bathing in the fountain, I think I’ll go back to playing my songs and reading my five principles.

*Please feel free to comment. Just click the ADD COMMENTS/FEEDBACK section located on the right side of this site.

Posted in philosophical, society | 4 Comments

Tahiti – French Polynesia – Paradise Lost, Found, and Reclaimed

The following travel writing essay is an excerpt from my travel book Tahiti –Pictures, Prose and Poetry

I find traveling the greatest form of education an individual can obtain of the world we live in, and have a wonderful time in the process. The art of traveling requires a myriad of personal character-building skills. Travel is passionate living. It takes a person of grit to lug around that backpack, from country to country, continent to continent. Low budget travel forces you to mingle; to learn how to meet and communicate effectively with people. Travel breaks down preconceived cultural barriers, helping the individual to appreciate and understand different cultures.

Travel broadens perspectives and teaches new ways to determine quality of life. A good traveler is flexible, able to adjust to each new situation, and to adjust the pace to one’s own style. Traveling may be the last bastion of ultimate freedom.

The backpackers I’ve met here in Moorea are a very savvy, mature group of world travelers with keen insights about their travel experiences. The topic of discussion and laughter include customs, money exchange scams, bartering, and the different treatment of innocent travelers by custom officials, depending on their nationality. Stimulating conversations that cover similar and varied observations of people, cultures, and their respective governments, the locales ranging from Nepal to New Caledonia, Fiji to Chile, to Syria and Easter Island.

As the days moved on, so did different segments of travelers, the European nationalities and languages always changing around the campground. Strong friendships would swiftly emerge, and it was always a warm, emotional scene at 1:45 in the afternoon as we said our goodbyes to the travelers departing on the bus that would eventually take them back to Papeete, Tahiti. Fortunately, for those staying behind, a quick in the cool clear lagoon would swiftly help dissolve the tears.

Over the course of our stay on the islands, each traveler, through our daily discussions and actions, conveyed an intimate sense of what their idea of paradise would be and how they’re discovering it within their reach here in French Polynesia.

For Diana, a Canadian woman from Toronto, in her late 30’s, she’s discovering her paradise in her daily walks around the island of Moorea. An early to bed person, like many folks on the island, she’s up before sunrise to begin her walk toward Cooks Bay. Through these walks, Diana has found the solitude, the quiet delicate beauty of the flowers and the warmth of the people was providing an inner peace like none she has ever known. She says she’s the happiest here she’s ever felt in her life.

For Miguel, our lovable hearty sixty-seven year old Italian gentleman, he was discovering his paradise by engaging in youthful company, conversing with fellow kindred spirits who also enjoyed traveling and the invigoration it brings to oneself. Miguel said he’s the only person in his small hometown in northern Italy of 4000 inhabitants that has traveled beyond Italy. His wife and neighbors were old in spirit, and spoke of life in depressing terms. There was too much life breathing in Miguel’s bones to submit to that lifestyle for very long.

For Luke, the artist, an English bloke living in Zurich, these islands helped him find the inspiration to paint and to photograph.

For Walter and Carol, a middle-aged Canadian couple in Toronto, they are finding their own paradise by enjoying the pleasures of life through modest budget traveling, stretching their few dollars further by sharing a tent. Walter had always wanted to dance among Tahitian dancers and was thrilled to get his chance.

In the holographic universe, there are no coincidences, only holographic signposts. For Walter, this signpost came in the “chance” meeting of an older gentleman who offered him and his wife Carol a lift back to the campground. The man said he was originally from Croatia and had immigrated to French Polynesia thirty-nine years ago. The man then began to sing a Croatian song that Walter had not heard since he was a child, sung by his mother; he sang along with the man. Walter said it was very difficult to restrain the tears.

For Beverley, a beautiful British blonde, her idea of paradise was to complete the remaining days of her travel by finding a great beach and getting a perfect tan before heading back to London. Gradually, the gentle appeal of the surroundings would cause her to pause and begin to recognize a deeper richness in the meaning of her serene environment.

For a young Norwegian fellow, a financially successful salesman for a Norwegian telecommunication company, it meant leaving the rat race and pursuing his own creative artistic endeavors. He wanted to find inspiration and confirmation from others that his dream was the right course to follow.

For Dan, a young accountant from London, paradise meant the freedom to roam, to choose, to sit and marvel and take in the whole beautiful scene.

For two young French girls, paradise was a place where they’d find romance. For a young Frenchman from the south of France, paradise meant always to be by the sea, while for others, paradise was simply a place not to be in a hurry.

And finally there was Hermes. A French Adonis, his broad shoulders, tan, muscular physique, dark wavy black hair, and deep resonant French voice could easily make any woman swoon and undoubtedly a few ladies have, as I enviously bored witness. Yet, I saw no desire by Hermes to take advantage of this power he could easily wield over women. Over the course of the few days I was able to get to know Hermes; he truly was a very sincere, noble gentleman, who also genuinely loved to sing. He could have easily been the French version of Elvis. It became obvious that being a gigolo to silly American women was not the level of conduct he wished to choose. His idea of paradise was sought elsewhere. Like Gauguin, Hermes decided to journey by freighter to the mystical Marquesas islands. As we bid good-bye at the campground washbasin, Hermes demonstrated with curving hands that the women on the Marquesas are most curvaceous and beautiful. He boasts a very broad smile. Even our jovial French Adonis may find his own paradise.

For me, the Marquesas will have to remain a mystery. The paradise I was looking for I’ve already found.


You may ask yourself, is it possible this place called French Polynesia could seem so ideal, a paradise that still exists in a world that often appears over-wrought by human tragedy and suffering. Have I painted an accurate picture of this environment and its people or are there signs within this culture that describe a paradise lost?

There were indeed indications of a paradise under gray skies. The city of Papeete lacked any visible aesthetic charm except for along the waterfront. Debris littered the downtown streets. Clouds of exhaust billowed from the numerous passing trucks, cars, and motorcycles, practically asphyxiating me as an innocent passerby. Cleaner gas and catalytic converters must have been considered unnecessary concerns by the Peugeot dealerships.

Ominous signs of Western influence were not limited to Papeete either. An observant eye could hardly ignore the plastic debris which lay strewn along the beaches of Bora Bora, or the discarded structural debris of a hotel conglomerate’s abandoned plans.

The people were not immune to unsavory outside influences as well. To circumvent the prudent land ownership provisions of the Tahitians, which restricts the ownership to locals, not foreigners, the French banks have insidiously encouraged wanton materialism and exorbitant debt among many of the Tahitians. Not accustomed to this financial practice and responsibility, payments inevitably can not be made and the banks seize the land which was put up as collateral.

And while storms were thankfully limited to weather disturbances in French Polynesia, storms of political unrest were gathering in earnest across the Western Pacific theater. At a Tahiti hostel, we couldn’t help but laugh at the misfortune of a Swiss traveler who had stumbled upon every “hot spot” in Oceania on his transit here, including New Guinea, New Caledonia, and Fiji. “Man, don’t bring bad luck to our paradise here!” we exclaimed.

Yet, this rising tide of negative influences can still be halted. The people can become educated and encouraged to have a greater awareness of the destructive effects that modern debris has upon the environment. Efforts could easily be made for a community cleanup effort, and the establishing of recycling facilities.

The people of French Polynesia are amiable but far from unaware, to be easily duped. In 1996, the Tahitians voiced their strong dissent against French nuclear testing and the practice has been halted. No, I think the human tools needed to resist the pillagers and profiteers are present among the fine Tahitian people. Paradise lost can quickly become paradise reclaimed. It just takes effort.

Please feel free to comment. Click ADD COMMENTS/FEEDBACK section on right side.
Also, my travel books and Tahiti photography are found at:

Posted in philosophical, Travel | 7 Comments

EXTRA! EXTRA! Read all about it!


As I left the house, I glanced at the outdoor thermometer. It read five below. Thankfully the car started. Once on the road, as I approached my destination, in the still morning darkness, I turned off the main road and followed the line of red taillights up the hill’s dirt track toward the well-lit tents above. Through the frozen tundra, I walk from the car to the first tent, greeted by warm smiles and friendly exchanges as I checked in, thankful that the changing room was amply heated.

After six prior workdays, the changeover from civilian to period western clothes was old hat now; long johns first, quickly adding shirt, pants, each with numerous buttons, suspenders, boots, jacket, work gloves and hat, all the while chatting with my fellow comrades. Next, stand in line to get grubby, as hair and makeup girls dirty you up. I look in the mirror, wondering who that desperado is that’s staring back at me.
Finished, I throw my civilian jacket over wardrobe, and walk back outside into the frigid air, trying not to slip on snow, ice and cables as I slowly venture toward the dining tent for some quick breakfast and necessary hot coffee. People are mostly subdued inside, something to do with the numbing cold.

A heavily jacketed girl with a headset steps into the tent and yells to us “The van is here!”. Begrudgingly we step back out into the cold, slide into the vans and travel toward the western town that’s just beginning to emerge in the dawning light. Crawl out of the van. If the temperature rises above freezing, the snow we’re trekking through will become a muddy mess later. Somebody yells “there’s Props” and we go and outfit ourselves with our guns and holsters. More salutations from bundled crew members as you stroll toward the holding facility hoping for one last cup of coffee which of course is not brewed yet. Too late anyway, you’re needed for the first shot of the day. It’s time to play make believe. You find solace thinking at least Russell Crowe and Christian Bale look cold as well.
You glance around at your surroundings and say. “Hey, here I am, standing in the middle of a Hollywood movie, ready to play a gunman in an Old West town.” There’s only one person I know who would be silly enough to put up with these conditions fr so little pay…I MUST BE A MOVIE EXTRA (or background artist as we in the business prefer to be called). Forget about my close-up shot, I thought. Just place me in the warmth of the sun!

And so begins another day as a movie extra on a movie production set. Usually the weather conditions aren’t so extreme as this particular New Mexico January day was on the set of “3:10 To Yuma”, but when they are…well, that just adds to the story.

Given these conditions, why would one want to be an Extra? Is it for the money…hardly, although for many it is a paying job which people are finding harder to come by these days. Is it for the chance to see your face on the silver screen, if only for a second? There’s the carrot on a stick enticement, the possibility of getting a speaking part, which immediately catapults you to a higher pay scale, and a cooler pair of shades. The rumor whisperers proclaim, “You know so-and-so big name actor started his career as an extra”.
How about the opportunity for a departure from the everyday routine, playing a character that’s quite different from your normal self?
Other reasons could be the social benefit the extended family bond offers that develops among fellow extras who have worked together on previous movie productions; the ability to observe moviemaking firsthand; and the ego boost you feel when you receive a friendly nod or salutation from a major movie star. And yes, there’s also a reasonable paycheck and complimentary food.
For me, it’s all these reasons, and most assuredly for the stories.
In recent years, Hollywood has arrived with a vengeance in New Mexico, a state with a moviemaking history as long as the industry itself. When I first moved here in ’94 several movie and TV productions were ongoing. A lady friend of mine told me about a casting call. I stood in line in the hotel lobby until someone in casting took my Polaroid and asked if I was available in two weeks. One surprise phone call later, I was trying on my new western wardrobe for the TV mini-series “Buffalo Girls”. I’ve been mostly available ever since.

Movie activity quickly lapsed into a lull during the late 90s; however, new tax incentives for the film industry (and our much cheaper labor force) created a resurgence in moviemaking within the past five years.
Today, while the tediously long casting call lines and Polaroid headshots have given way to new methods like Internet announcements, digital pictures and e-mailed resumes, life as an extra has remained relatively the same. One moment hasn’t changed; the way you feel after a long twelve hour workday, having worked since before dawn to sunset; you’re cold and tired, standing in line in the dark waiting to return your wardrobe so you can check out and go home…all at once exhausted and gratified.

If you’re looking to pursue background extra work as a full time profession, my advice would be: best to keep your day job. A flexible work schedule (unemployed being the best) is a prerequisite for working as an extra. The nature of the business is to be ready to work at a moment’s notice which is near impossible if you work a regularly scheduled job.
It’s no wonder Hollywood enjoys working with us New Mexicans, and many production people will gladly state this fact. The majority of extras I’ve worked with are very courteous, amiable, uncomplaining, cooperative, tolerant lot, far different we’re told from our “big city” cousins back in LA. Of course, even within this fine group of New Mexico extras there are always those exceptions, the annoying standouts: The Braggart, whose alleged credentials are easily challengeable; the Movie Star Wannabee Schmoozer who is desperate for the big chance, willing to cling and cajole anyone who they think will help move them up the stardom ladder; and of course, every large group has at least one chronic complainer. Fortunately, these individuals get weeded out pretty fast.
I appreciate the eclectic, independent, iconoclastic type individuals who often gravitate to this flexible creative line of work: the creative, independent individuals (artisans, band roadies, jack of all trades); the worldly iconoclasts (hippies, travelers, philosophers); the hard-working, generous blue-collar souls who love the chance to act out different roles in the movies; the future film makers; the unemployed; the curious; those looking for a loving, caring family; musicians between gigs; ex-veteran pensioners; those people who come from unhappy homes and financial situations looking for escapism and happiness; the real cowboys; those pursuing film production careers; the good souls whose honesty and general kindness has hurt them in the cruel, real world of business; and those individuals stepping out of their habitual routines.

Learning the Hollywood lingo is part of the job’s charm: phrases such as “back to one”, “that was awesome—let’s do one more”, “martini shot”, “checking the gate”‘ “that’s a wrap”, “silence on the set”‘ “checking sound”, and “Action!” For a veteran background artist, this movie jargon coats you in a mantle that’s fun to wear.

What is a typical day on the set? Days are long. While on some productions you’re working a good portion of the day on set, often you’re waiting in some holding room or tent, perhaps hours in duration, nine hours my record, before you’re called for a scene. During these off camera moments, it’s up to you whether to make the most of the waiting situation either through social conversations or by quietly reading a book, playing cards or chess, eating snacks, or, as what happened after nine hours of waiting on “Beerfest”, breakdancing and lap dancing. Otherwise, you can choose to whine, pout and be generally bored. That person can always go back to work at the exciting vocation of bank clerk.

Regretfully, as an extra you are kept mostly in the dark as to the storyline and how your small contribution applies to the context of the film. Very little is told to you about the scene or what type of character you’re playing, so often that as an extra you tend to create your own character story, pantomiming your imaginary dialogue with others as you sit at a table or walk down a street. Suddenly the director yells, “Great…that was awesome, everybody” and the scene is over. This means your cognitive instincts for the scene were spot on brilliant, or your presence wasn’t even on camera so it didn’t matter what the heck you were doing. I tested this theory out on “Into The West” by performing Monty Python style backward funny walks during my background crossings, and the scene was perfect; just as I thought, not on camera.
A given certainty however is when you are visible on camera, and you’re not doing what the director wants, to your knowledge or otherwise; a director’s tongue-lashing can occur, much to your humiliated chagrin.
When a director, AD, AAD or our own casting director does enlighten us extras as to the context of the scene we’re about to film and its relevance to the screenplay, it’s greatly appreciated and helps us get motivated and enthusiastic about our role.

We’re the background color, an integral role in the scene’s final outcome. We complete the scene’s environment by bringing “the set” to life, providing the social ambiance from which the principle actors play off of, instead of forcing them to work in a vacuum.

Sometimes one’s first-time extra experience can be difficult. One poor lady on the st for “Wild Wild West” fainted hard after succumbing to the combined effects of August heat and suffocating corset. Stoically, she tried again the next day, only to be nearly trampled by horses during the chaos scene. Never saw her again after that.

There’s an art to getting on camera without being too pushy or obvious. Get caught mugging the camera, and, like what happened to a dear friend of ours, you’re fired on the spot, which of course now provides an opportunity for someone else. The old standby, the casting couch, or trailer, or tent, can still work, at least temporarily. I have also observed that one’s chances are greatly enhanced if they work on a comedy, for there are definitely better screen opportunities for extras on comedies than in dramas. Mostly, however, the best way, which is totally out of your control, is having “the right look” that a director wants. Before you know it, you’re placed in a scene ready to confront Pierce Brosnan or Liam Neeson. And…action!

Sometimes your camera time might include some interesting special effects and makeup. If you’ve been painstakingly, grotesquely rearranged by makeup artists to play a zombie, augmented with scary prosthetics, it may only be you that recognizes yourself when your scary face debuts on the screen.

I did a definite double-take on the “Unspeakable” movie prison set when I walked past Dennis Hopper’s head sitting on a table, and then Dennis Hopper himself passed me by in the corridor.

You may not sense the dramatic scene you’re participating in, when standing in front of a special effects “blue screen”; however, your jaw-dropping aghast response could measure your acting skills since you’re supposedly responding to a robotic monster reaching toward you, not a scraggly droopy-pants crew member.

On “Beerfest”, the emphasis was anything but real beer in our mugs. First, production tried an ineffective vacuum system designed to suck near-beer out of our mugs, often with hilarious results. Next procedure was to digitize the beer into our empty mugs. We as the Irish beer drinking team took mild offense at these methods since first, in reality, we would have out drank the Germans, and second, we could have easily drunk real beers in record competitive time!

And with set design it’s best not to look too closely, for during those dramatic funeral scenes, the somber cinematic mood might be broken if the audience knew who’s really written on those movie styrofoam cemetery tombstones like Yo Mama, Three Stooges and Jethro Tull.

In some instances the story behind the movie is more entertaining than the movie itself. The town of Madrid was chosen by Disney to represent the all-American town equipped with white-picket fences, flowers, lace curtains, warm local diner, and Chili festival. However, there are no white picket fences here in real life; more accurately associated with black picket teeth, gauged by some of the locals’ abusive usage of crack. The town’s decor is more raw and funky, than homespun, since its origin as a coal mining town and later, a hippie haven. The diner, now a tourist attraction, was built specifically for the movie and any true local would say, “We don’t need no stinkin’ Chile festival!”
There is the symmetry connection with Disney that is also fascinating. Flying over Madrid, an old coal mining town in the late 20s, Walt Disney was so captivated by the town’s twinkling display of Christmas lights, the scene inspired him to years later create the Disneyworld Parade of Lights. Disney, the corporation, had returned to pay their respects to Madrid, in their own warped corporate way.

On a number of movies our old prison has been used for multiple sets, sometimes even as an old prison such as on the movie “Unspeakable”. Over twenty years ago, the old prison had been witness to a macabre, deadly prison riot massacre and siege. Even today blood stains are still visible from that horrible event and stories ran rampant on the set about crew member’s individual experiences with ghost sightings and other eerie sensations.

I’ll often hear people ask “How do big actors behave—are the rumors true?” I know our tabloid-driven inquisitive minds want to believe the tales of prima donnas, spoiled brat temper tantrums and privileged treatments; however, in truth, the actors I’ve seen behave in a very professional, conscientious manner on the set. They listen attentively to the director’s advice and vice versa. Some actors may be very personable with the extras, other more distant, staying in character or reviewing their lines. Some actors are very at ease, taking the off camera moment to ride their horses or ride their motorcycles between scenes.
Sometimes you overhear the actor’s occasional disgruntled tone which some production member tried to quickly assuage. Heck, you hear those tones from us all the time. It was difficult however to restrain from giggling or yelling “Martin, come on!” when Martin L. consistently arrived on the “Wild Hogs” Madrid set with his bodyguard entourage, driven in a Mercedes golfcart for the arduous three blocks from his triple-decker luxury bus while a beautiful assistant carried a mini-fan to keep him cool.

The film and TV industry has been so prolific throughout the Santa Fe/Albuquerque/Las Vegas region, your daily distinctions between fiction and reality begin to blur. The moment felt surreal when, after having watched “Swing Vote”, I left the movie theater only to pass the same grandstand featured in the movie on Rodeo Road just ten minutes later. Blink, look again, and there’s “Astronaut Farmer”‘s country fair.
South of town there’s one rural stretch where I expect to come across the simultaneous convergence of “Wild Hogs” bikers, Billy Bob Thorton’s rocketship, and a rough-looking Colorado Volunteers marching regiment.
Even a street crossing on downtown Albuquerque’s Central Ave. takes on a new dimension when you have to be wary of giant Transformer robots stepping on you!

Not discounting the enormous recent successes of so many diverse movie and TV contemporary project themes made in this state, New Mexico’s core essence still embodies the classic American Western. Once you’re fully outfitted in western garb, and you take the moment to fully embrace your surroundings, a dusty, windswept street in the middle of a western town, a very special feeling envelops you. Your mind may flashback to childhood fantasies, playing a cowboy or gunfighter, remembering reading tales of the Old West or seeing your first wild west TV show or movie. On western sets. the background artists really look like our pioneer ancestors, a period of history which was really just a few generations ago.
Pierce Brosnan was fascinated by how much our motley group actually sported long hair and beards, wore cowboy hats, chewed tobacco, demonstrated knowledge of horses and guns, and who still slept in tents.
While on the set, kids quickly adjust and revert to simpler pleasures. Townsmen tip their hats to ladies in bonnets while the gunslingers practice twirling their plastic guns, hoping to be issued real guns for the shootout scene.
Western films tend to have the most difficult weather conditions, either blistering hot in the summer, blow-dried dusty in the spring, and brutally cold during the winter months, which perversely is the favorite season for most productions.
The western set can also be the most hazardous. A well-skilled choreographer and horse wrangler coordinator is mandatory for, if ill-prepared, tragedy may strike. Such were the cases on the first day of shooting on “3:10 to Yuma” where a horse was mortally wounded and rider severely injured, or the first day of filming the Sand Creek Massacre reenactment on “Into The West” where numerous horse accidents occurred.
And, during the filming of “Wild, Wild West”, there are careless acts such as the lack of notification to some forgotten extras that they needed to clear the western set before production blew it up. Fortunately, no extras were blown up! And they worry about animal mistreatment.

With the recent proliferation of movie activity, many new faces have arrived in the business, whereas many of the players of just ten years ago have left the area or gone on to other endeavors. Sometimes you have to let family members leave the nest. Except for the few envious ones, the majority of us extras are thrilled when someone from our extended family gets a speaking part.
It’s a profession where one minute you’re ready to retire, especially after a grueling fourteen hour day, but then you get the itch to get back into it, for another shot at stardom, for another interesting story, and primarily because you miss your friends.
That’s a wrap!

Posted in movies | 1 Comment

Epilogue To China

(This is an epilogue to my recent travels in China. For a review of the China travel journal I kept while on the road, please click my travel journal link located in the blogroll section: located on right side.)

In life, as in one’s travels, timing can be everything. Apparently my recent stay in China this past December was occurring during respite calm, the type of calm that lingers tentatively while awaiting the next impending storm. As the clock ticks closer toward the upcoming Olympic games, the world’s attention will soon be focused on Beijing. Since I left China in late December, the country has garnered numerous world headlines, mostly tragic in form, in places I had briefly passed through during my travels: Lhasa, Tibet, where Tibetan protests against the Chinese government were met by subsequent brutal suppression by said same Chinese government, Guangzhou; in southern China, where abnormal snow storms stranded thousands during the busy Chinese New Year holiday; and Sichuan province, where a horrendous massive earthquake wreaked havoc, killing tens of thousands throughout the rural Sichuan countryside outside Chengdu.

Accurately predicting the foreseeable future may forever be mankind’s unattainable goal, save for a few seers like Nostradamus; yet, in retrospect, there were palpable signs that hinted at several of the unfortunate events’ outcomes. In Chengdu’s Tibetan neighborhood, as I strolled past the local Tibetans I sense a subtle tension in the streets, revealed in the facial responses, including by Tibetan monks, whereas I felt no tension or discerning looks from the other fellow Chinese, merely their bemusement at this goofy bearded guy walking in their midst. The Tibetan response may have been an indication of the growing frustration Tibetans were feeling toward their government and by some odd linkage to foreigners as well that, in less than two months, would manifest itself into national protests in the streets.

Another event, the unusual snowstorms in early February, may have been precipitated by a government program I was reading about during my travels. The article spoke about China’s governmental intervention in weather patterns, utilizing an advanced yet untested form of cloud seeding. When are we, the human race, going to learn not to mess with Mother Nature.

My first and final observations of China could easily serve as a metaphoric study in contrast for China both culturally and geographically. My initial impression came from high overhead. Leaving Kathmandu for China, our plane’s flight path would immediately take us across the massive Himalayan range, the mountains which form the political border that separates Nepal and Tibet. Inside Tibet, we briefly touched down in Lhasa then continued eastward across Tibet into mainland China’s Sichuan province, ultimately landing in Chengdu. The view crossing into Tibet was both dramatic and spectacular; the massive glistening white Himalayan range, with Everest rising at the range’s apex, gradually giving way to lesser yet no less imposing Tibetan barren peaks. Tibet’s desolate rugged terrain followed; endless sweeping vistas of sparse brown-colored mountains and valleys, only occasionally distinguished tonally by a layered of white snow at the higher elevations or by the brilliant aquamarine-hued mountain lakes. This Tibetan landscape was a no man’s land of wild natural beauty, inhospitable, with few indications of human settlements.

In sharp contrast, my farewell view of China rested at sea level, overlooking the bustling Hong Kong harbor. Here, every square inch of space is crammed with millions of Chinese sequestered within the confines of skyscraper walls. The population is so dense that even the skies are crowded, inundated with tall apartment buildings that house the humanity overflow.

As I settled in for my last evening in China, I leaned against the seawall railing that overlooked the Hong Kong harbor. Earlier I had spent most of the day in transport, either by metro, taxi or train, maneuvering myself through the noise and congestion of two premier Chinese cities. I will say the methods of transport in China today are very clean, modern and efficient, greatly reducing the exhausting effect of traveling. However, checking in at the lone source for cheap accommodations in Kowloon, the Chungking Mansions, was a stressful experience, a crass bombardment to the senses. Squeezed among the prime real estate along Nathan Road, the well worn Chungking Mansions still provide budget conscious travelers and recent immigrants alike with cheap albeit cramped, basic accommodations, as well as a slew of money changing and visa-oriented paperwork facilities, where eager overbearing hawkers accost you. I think every nationality in the world was represented on the crowded elevator that led to the narrow sweatshop-looking floors above. My apartment room managed to squeeze a bed, bathroom, and TV into one tiny space.

My seawall vantage thus provided the perfect respite, letting the sea air’s refreshing scent caress my face, allowing me to think calmer thoughts. Once Britain’s flagship for capitalism and commerce in the Asian theater, today Hong Kong and its neighboring Kowloon, where I currently stood, epitomize China’s recent transformation to a capitalistic economic powerhouse. An ironic twist considering the fears in the late ’90s that the former British colony would fall to ruin under Chinese communist rule. Instead, communist China transformed into a capitalistic mecca like Hong Kong. Seems money trumps ideology.

As dusk slowly faded into night, I watched Hong Kong’s skyline transform into a neon glow, each sign marking the location of another multinational corporation or bank that had established its presence in the city.

Suddenly a pang of nostalgia entered my thoughts. I had stood at this exact location over twenty five years ago as a U.S. Navy sailor. I could still picture my ship moored in that very same harbor, dwarfed by the shadows of the skyscrapers and the taller, ever-watchful Victoria Peak. One never knows where and how our future paths will crosslink with the past.
Just in the few hours since my arrival, I noticed that numerous changes had occurred in those twenty five years: first, Hong Kong was no longer a British colony, instead an autonomous economic zone under the auspice of the Chinese government. Second, an ever greater concentration of monolithic giants existed, both in Hong and Kowloon. Gone was the aromatic colorful open air food market I remembered in downtown Kowloon, replaced by an upscale enclosed retail district. The famous luxuriant Peninsula Hotel still shined, though the years had taken their toll on its former grandeur.

The most significant change, however, existed further up harbor. On my final day while taking the metro to the outlying Hong Kong airport, we passed for what seemed an eternity the massive Hong Kong/Kowloon industrial port facility. Extending for miles was a sea of cargo containers and freighters, their presence representing the final launching point for the millions of goods now produced in China. All shipments were destined for overseas markets, America the primary recipient. Later, back in the States, while driving back home, I may see those same cargo containers neatly stacked on a Santa Fe/Burlington Northern railroad car hurtling through the New Mexico landscape, eastward bound toward awaiting American cities, thus completing their economic symmetrical journey known as global commerce. Won’t WalMart be happy.

My China experience had been brief, less than three weeks, yet sufficient at least as an introductory taste of life today in China. The Chinese I met are very friendly, very polite, very modern and eager to learn Western ways including English, which had become a mandatory subject in China’s public schools. All personal encounters were pleasant with several distinguishing themselves above the rest. Such a case was Lilly, an ebullient young Chinese woman, who was very anxious to join her boyfriend in LA someday soon and experience the American dream.
There was the Chinese American gentleman who was living the American dream in San Diego. He was back in China visiting his mother in Chengdu.
There were the young Chinese girls in Lijiang, who were eager to practice their English skills and learn about American culture and an American’s response to their culture.
There were the smiling Chinese girls that worked in a Yangshuo restaurant who loved the American CD soundtracks that regularly played, especially the songs referencing California: California Dreaming and Have You Gone To San Francisco.
They wanted assistance with the English lyrics so together through the efficient beauty of the Internet, we printed a copy of the lyrics and began singing the songs.

With the exception of backpackers like myself, the foreign travelers I met were primarily on business, they the cogs that contributed to the growing wheel of China’s global economy: the American Iranian on business in Shanghai looking for cheap clothing supplies, admittedly tentative to venture away from his four star accommodations, and a young American looking to outsource cheap light bulbs for business.

The Chinese countryside offers the most in terms of natural beauty ands serenity as well as a break from the city pollutants. Here is where you still find Chinese culture’s traditional ways at as envisioned by foreigners and described in books. Even in the depths of winter I can imagine a winter’s blanket of snow must look idyllic in the Chinese countryside, whether in Lijiang or the upper Li River valley.

And in the cities, it’s greatest charm exists in the unique character of the Chinese faces and the colorful earthy variety of shops and stalls that line the busy streets. Still, I would not recommend traveling in China during the winter months. Like Europe and North America, China shares the same geographical disadvantages the approaching winter months bring to the landscape: a bleak permeating gray tone and an uncomfortable damp chill which clings to your body. Beginning in Chengdu and following me southward, this chill was rapidly descending from the Mongolian steppes to China’s northern and central interior regions. This oppressive condition is most pronounced in the big cities like Beijing, Xian, and Chengdu, where no matter what the season the blue skies are rarely witnessed. I met travelers who had spent several months in these cities without observing a clear blue sky, thanks to the uncontrolled growth of urban pollution. I do not envy the Olympic athletes visiting Beijing’s unhealthy skies, no matte what last minute attempts are made to improve conditions. Ha the recent rush to emulate the American way of life by China’s leaders and their obliging society proven to be a less than utopian path to follow? Is China’s society just beginning to recognize the adverse effects a robust industrial revolution can create both for the environment and the people?

Of course, certainly as a whole, conditions have dramatically improved for the average Chinese citizen since Chairman Mao’s Communist State reign and his disastrous policies such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. And, as an American, one might say who am I to criticize any other society when one can observe in Nepal and China areas where they are opening their societies to new ideas and greater societal freedoms, and most South American countries are implementing greater democratic processes, yet the United States is constricting its citizens’ social freedoms. My response…I still like Cantonese style Chinese cuisine over spicy scary Sichuan cuisine, for freedom of expression and how we choose to live our lives is really what we’re all striving for isn’t it?

So, in less than two weeks the Olympic games will shine a spotlight on a China not seen by most foreigners, a China that has gone through a dramatic transformation, for better or for worse, in relative obscurity. The Chinese government has already shown an oppressive hand in demonstrating what lengths it will go to present a favorable impression including a spit and polish massive makeover and PR promotion as well as a strict media censorship and civil liberty crackdown against any overt criticism. We’ll see how willing and how able the world press will be toward presenting an honest picture in their coverage of today’s Chinese society.

I did observe a genuine pride by the Chinese people in their country and heritage and I’m sure they feel an honest portrayal would be most beneficial.

I do wish the good people of China well and hope to return someday.

(To see my photos images of China, my travel books, and more, please visit
listed in the links section.)

Posted in china travel, philosophical, Travel | 2 Comments

The Evolution Will Not Be Televised

Look closely my friend and you’ll find a quiet evolution taking place around the world. Shhh…while the lumbering, slumbering institutional giant sleeps…pass the word.

Maybe you felt a shift lately in the open dialogs you’ve been having with friends or even the passing stranger on the street. You may know someone who has dropped out of the rat race and started their own organic farm, obtained a license to practice Chinese medicine, or are striving toward self-sufficiency, disconnecting themselves from the institutional electrical grid by reconfiguring their house for solar power.

As a consumer you or your friends may be making purchasing decisions based on a criteria of whether a product is eco-friendly or has a fair trade practice seal of approval. You’ve even begun shopping at the new coop grocery store in your neighborhood rather than the national grocery chain.

Unlike a revolutionary movement, which utilizes charismatic leaders to motivate large populations, this evolutionary movement is individually motivated, driven by private personal choices that are having a subtle yet profound impact upon our societal structures.

The paths these courageous souls have chosen to achieve these goals vary yet their travels take them in the same direction: seeking quality of life improvements for themselves and others. Individuals are taking matters into their own hands.

These goals may sound basic yet the social dynamics necessary for successful implementation is radically different from today’s patriarchal dogma our societal institutions thrust upon us. Frustration has reached an apex for those who trusted their institutional leaders to represent their interests. Let’s face it…. the military industrial complex collusion fix is in and we’ve been abandoned, left out in the cold.

What’s the solution? Each of us consciously involved in this evolution is reaching a similar conclusion: that we don’t need our paternalistic societal institutions to govern our lives. It’s a concept our Founding Fathers wholeheartedly endorsed. It’s time to reassert our inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We, both individually, and as a collective extended global family, are saying in our actions that we can take care of ourselves very well, thank you very much!

In the pursuit of improved quality of life conditions, this growing segment of the population is downsizing their personal consumption habits as well as discovering a greater personal understanding of how their lives are interconnected with all other living things on this planet; how their lifestyles affect environmental and cultural balances. They’re nurturing themselves physically through better nutrition and increased exercise, and improving themselves mentally by exploring other philosophical or spiritual concepts such as those found in Buddhism or Taoism.
They’re becoming in tune to the harmonic hum.

These evolutionary changes are mainly occurring in the more affluent countries in North America and Europe as well as former British Commonwealth nations, primarily because the citizens in these countries are, in respect to mankind’s history, in an unprecedented sociological position. Since the Industrial Revolution these societies have advanced to a quality of life level where for most of us, our basic needs are basically covered, to such a level where we now have the luxury of choosing to live with less, finding less can mean more. We can choose to forsake the larger house, the bigger car, the insatiable unfulfillable appetite for more stuff, known as consumerism, and instead pursue more noble endeavors that provide us a greater sense of freedom, personal pride, and purpose in our lives.

We can start our own evolution with a simple smile to a stranger.

Lately I’ve been observing more people making the effort to engage in conversations with strangers, conversations which pertain to important real life issues. Through these healthy exchanges they’re becoming less afraid, less susceptible to peer pressure ridicule as they find solace in others who share their opinions and instinctive feelings; individuals willing to opening their eyes to the Truth.

A key benefit to strengthening ourselves as individuals is in the process by which we become less dependent on our government to solve our problems; less dependent on our church representative to help us discover our spiritual being.
People are redefining their own level of success and happiness rather than succumbing to the pressures societal dictates create.

This personal evolutionary process requires a considerable amount of effort to undo the multiple layers of misinformation we’ve been taught, however, the benefits and personal satisfaction achieved by such a personal spiritual journey far outweighs any discomforts.

One example is my buddy Ed. As a technical creator of commercials for corporate interests, Ed was amply rewarded monetarily. However, he felt a lack of personal fulfillment in his work, even a sense of guilt. Ed quit his lucrative job and found a financially more modest, yet personally more satisfying, position creating commercials for non profit organizations and third party integrity-oriented politicians. True, he had to modify his lifestyle expenditures. However, he discovered he could still live quite comfortably. He’s also much happier.

A large contributing component to this evolution is the increasing signs of altruistic behavior and a willingness to circumvent the system. Expanding upon the original altruistic concept of the Peace Corp., many new non-profit organizations are facilitating volunteer programs such as Doctors Without Borders, a program where doctors voluntarily contribute their time and skills to help those in need who otherwise would have no access or money for healthcare.

Other NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) may focus their attention on programs in developing countries such as Ecuador, programs that are designed for volunteer participation, working with environmental protection, child care and education issues.

Most of the inspirational young people I’ve met who have partaken in these programs actually spend their own money to participate in these programs.

Another altruistic example is the countless individuals who provide truthful free information on the Internet. I’m sure the powers that be didn’t expect the Internet to be used in this manner.

There are increasing examples of today’s new entrepreneurs applying humane approaches to the business model, such as profit without greed and the creation of sustainable living communities.

Many are successfully learning how to circumvent their government and big business obstacles in order to get these good deeds accomplished. Of course, a little help from other like-minded kindred spirits certainly doesn’t hurt.

Primarily for those in developing countries, where the institutional obstacles for an individual can be insurmountable, an organization named offers such help, utilizing a process known as micro-financing which bypasses the inequitable and painfully frustrating financial loan procedure that large banks require, by allowing individuals to loan these requested funds directly to these people in other countries; people helping people. Unsurprisingly, the loan default rate is zero percent.

And, to help assist folks overcome the financial burden of periodical advertising costs, a San Francisco couple started a web site called, a free service for people to advertise their property; no fee, only a promise to act courteously and not abuse the service.

A thoughtful supplier of course needs a thoughtful demander or consumer which is where individuals collectively thinking green, thinking organic, successfully fits into this equation. As consumers, we can apply the pressure on corporations and governments to convert their actions to meet our interests, or they’re out of business.

Naturally, soon after I had the idea for this essay, an exception to my original premise materialized, proving once again one should never say never. A nationally televised morning show broadcast a report on a truly evolutionary group. The group identifies themselves as Vidracco, a unique community who under the guidance of their founder Falco created the temple of Humankind some thirty years ago under the shadow of the Dolomites in northern Italy. Quietly, unobtrusively, this self-sufficient community defies conventional societal edicts. The placement of their temple thirty feet underground probably helped, a temple that appeared to be solely dedicated to love, art and all that is beautiful in the world.
Above ground are eco-friendly living quarters and surrounding country grounds, a community where human kindness, music, art and communing with nature is taught and promoted.

The gentleman named Falco was formerly an insurance broker, an obvious evolutionary vocational and personal transformation for him. I say this from experience, having been a former financial analyst for a defense contract corporation.

My naturally questioning, somewhat skeptical mind thinks perhaps corporate minds only authorized this televised coverage because they concluded this community would be considered too unique, too different for others to replicate, much less challenge the existing societal norm that institutions vigorously promote.

So, like I said, while the institutional giant sleeps, pass the word, for the real evolution is coming….

*(Obviously there is much more coverage that can be given to this subject. This article will serve as a general introduction to this fascinating topic with future installments addressing different aspects of this evolution in greater detail.)

Please feel free to add your comments. Just click the ADD COMMENTS / FEEDBACK section located on the right.

Posted in philosophical, society | 2 Comments

Epilogue for Nepal

(The writing below is an epilogue to my recent Nepal travels. For a review of the travel journal I kept while on the road, click this web site link located on the blogroll section:

After a month of travels in an exotic mystical land, what did I bring back from my journey? Was it a neon-colored T-shirt emblazoned with the word ENLIGHTENMENT, or, perhaps, an unfriendly microorganism? Or, like Bill Murray’s character in the movie Caddyshack, did I befriend a holy man and receive in gratitude the gift of total consciousness. As Carl, Bill’s character, would say, “So, I got that going for me…”

Nepal is the poorest and most exotic country I have ever visited. The ancient blends with the modern here as easily and awkwardly as does abject poverty with the sublime.
The streets of Kathmandu present the stage and testing ground for what I’ve dubbed the Zen Buddhist Chaos Theory and its unlikely natural flow. The movement of humanity through the narrow dusty city streets of Kathmandu exudes a pattern of beautiful chaos. Every inch of precious space on the main thoroughfares through town is coveted by one form or another of colorful man, woman, beast, or moving machine, yet somehow they all manage to flow without incident miraculously avoiding certain collision. Here in Nepal, the religious cultures and practices of Hinduism and Buddhism also manage to merge and blend without colliding into each other, though there is evidence that Indian Hinduism with its leanings toward materialism and class conflict is causing societal friction and fractures.

Could another question be raised that while exploring the mystical world of Nepal I had gained some new wisdom or discovered a unique sense of harmony among the Nepalese that didn’t exist elsewhere? Regretfully I would find no attendance to a teaching by a Holy man, a guru, a teacher or Tibetan monk, no golden opportunity to delve deep into the beliefs and blessings of the Hindu/Buddhist spiritual mystique. I did however get to speak with The Mountains, the Himalayas; a spiritual connection that offer a truly enlightened discourse. I also had the good fortune of listening to a portion of the Nepalese story, engaging conversations told through the personal experiences of several distinct Nepalese gentlemen, and one proud Sherpa mother; several tales which illustrated the human saga that exists among all mankind no matter where in the global community you find yourself.

The first gentleman, Ashesh, was a 57 yr. old world traveler, friend and promoter for a local Nepalese blues band. He was not happy with the recent changes in Kathmandu. Ashesh admitted in recent years the standard of living had improved for the average Nepalese in Kathmandu. Instead of walking barefoot, they now had shoes on their feet. Many even chose driving mopeds instead of walking. Yet, through his observations, he felt the air of friendliness and community among the people was diminishing. A pursuit of wealth and materialism was replacing better habits.

His range of observation was far from limited. His travels had taken him to America and Western Europe. He was well informed about American culture and politics. Ashesh was also an honest man who liked to paint an honest picture. He said, “you think you’re government is corrupt”, a reference to America. “Nepal has the MOST corrupt government.”

Ostensibly, the Nepalese had lived under a corrupt Kingdom for many years, a Kingdom quite isolated from the outside world until only a few generations ago. As in the modern world, the kingdom of Nepal apparently still suffered from the same inequities inherent in the imbalances of classic human power divisions; The Haves (in this case, the king and his family) and The Have-nots (the rest). Recent unrest among the people, instigated primarily by the Maoist rebels, had seen to pressuring the reluctant abdication of the throne by the King allowing the slow installment of a more parliamentary, democratic form of government for Nepal.

The Maoist became representatives within this evolving new government, yet, after a year of counterproductive rhetoric, inaction, and violence by the Maoist against journalists and dissenting villagers now critical of the Maoist intent, it’s becoming clear to the people that the Maoist just want a share of the spoils and power once held by the King; not to truly help the people. There would be no nirvana solution here.

Political corruption aside, an issue of greater importance to my gentleman friend was the continued promotion of this fine blues band we were listening to and the infusion of blues music into the Nepalese mainstream (yes…they have an artistic mainstream albeit mainly influenced by their larger neighbor India). The band played great classic rock songs as well including a generous helping of Jimmy Hendrix jams!

I told him about the wonderful experience I had at the village of Sauraha which lay across the river from the Royal Chitwan National Park. Situated along the camel-colored dirt riverbank, restaurants set up tables and chairs for visitors to enjoy the waning rays of the sun. Our stage: a lavish tapestry of jungle-green visible through moist-dust laden air with the incredulous backdrop of the Himalayas in the distance. The audience, a cornucopia of colorful nationalities watched in quiet awe as a glorious sunset’s subtle pastel hues bathed the surrounding jungle and mountains; an extraordinary natural performance.

It wasn’t long before pitched darkness enveloped the jungle. As we all still sat in our chairs, contemplating what we had just witnessed, I thought wouldn’t a drive-in theater size screen with the hauntingly beautiful images of the movie Baraka projected onto it be the perfect continuum compliment to that stunning sunset, utilizing the developing night sounds of the jungle for musical accompaniment.
Ashesh’s eyes lit up and he exclaimed, “Man, that would be COOL!”

Another fine gentleman I spoke with, Kumar, was a hotel manager for his families’ hotel in Pokhara. Kumar was smart, energetic, and had vision, both for himself, his family and for his country. He stressed the importance for Nepalese to support each other by buying from Nepalese businesses instead from India or other countries. He felt this economic policy would strengthen a sense of pride and hope among the Nepalese thus persuading them to seek opportunities within their own country rather than immediately applying for visas to pursue opportunities abroad.

Kumar pointed to the local stone his family, at his insistence, was utilizing to build an addition to the hotel. Kumar talked about the devastating effect the ten year conflict between the Maoist rebels and the Nepalese government has had upon the tourist economy that Nepalese have come to rely so much upon to make a living.

The view from the top of his hotel offered dramatic views of the Annapurna Himalayas; however the view also provided a telling tale of Nepalese reality. Pokhara’s building fronts offered a dichotomy of economies; a tale of two worlds, the western and the developing worlds. Hotel competition was prominent along the lakeshore neighborhood.

Families that owned hotels were staking their hopes that an attractive expensively built hotel would draw the foreign tourists’ business; many families investing their life savings into these entrepreneurial endeavors, taking the risk and betting heavily that a steady flow of tourist trade would come their way. Often behind the attractive facades, lay the very modest enclaves the local hotel staff and owners called home, barely equipped with basic plumbing and running water. An economic gamble often seen today in the new developing world countries, betting heavily that some form of political stability would provide the comfortable green light for foreigners to come visit their beautiful land.

Within Kumar’s Hindu family, an aura of conflict existed between his siblings, mostly monetarily driven by the patriarchal father, frustrating Kumar so. Social place and strict adherence to religious disciplines and traditions seem to divide rather than bond their family.
A very important Hindu festival, Deepawali, with its colorful Festival of Lights, was fast approaching. For Kumar the festival meant another stressful monetary obligation for it was customary for the brother to present set monetary gifts to his sisters. Deepawali represented a Christmas like celebration on the outside, with stressful Christmas style monetary gift obligations on the inside. Poor Kumar…

Local bus travel can often be a source of stimulating conversation. As we sat squeezed together like sardines on a local bus returning from the ancient city grounds of Bhaktapur, I chatted with a Nepalese guy who lived in Dublin, Ireland for the last six years, making very good money as a Hi Tech Co. manager. He was just back in Nepal to attend a cousin’s wedding. Kumar might view this man as a betrayer to the cause of a greater collective Nepalese good yet who could honestly blame him for pursuing a better path for himself. The man also spoke with good authority and humor about today’s ever changing global shift in employment opportunities, shifting from country to country, continent to continent, depending on the cost cutting/profit driven avaricious whims of the world’s multinational companies. Ireland and China were already starting to overprice themselves, even with their cheaper paid immigrant workers. Would Cambodia or Kenya be the next economic boom?

The next two conversations represented the hopes and aspirations of today’s porters and trekking guides; the first, Gopal, a young Annapurna trekking guide who loved his mountains. Gopal spoke well, was quite world savvy and very good-natured. He worked at a travel agency in Kathmandu when not on a guided trek. He attended school to learn languages. He was very good at languages and knew that multiple language skills translated into a greater realm of foreigner guide opportunities. He sent money back home to help his parents and sister.

I met the next fellow while trudging along the Everest trek, each of us moving steadfastly with our burdensome backloads, taking in the magnificent views while also carefully avoiding the abundant yak dung on the trail. He spoke about his recent years of experience, carrying goods for others, learning the trade, gaining knowledge of the mountainous terrain so he could ultimately become a guide. He also talked about his difficulties dating his girlfriend who is from another Hindu caste family; a recurring Romeo and Juliet theme even here high in the Himalayas.

Then there was the proud, gregarious middle-aged woman who owned the profitable lodge along the Everest trek trail. Her parents were refugees that had fled Tibet during the 1950s Chinese invasion. They started a new life in the Nepalese Himalayans, gradually making a good living which afforded them the ability to send her to college in India. Parlaying her new educational skills with a keen acumen for business, she along with her husband, built a good livelihood for themselves through the burgeoning foreign trekker trade while also raising three children who all now attended various universities throughout the world. Their children’s futures also held strong promise.

And, as always in my travels, there were the numerous simple acts of kindness and generous smiles and gestures from the local people you meet in the streets and along the dirt paths through the countryside fields and villages. And what of these same people that offer goodwill to the Hindu Sidhus, the Tibetan monks, or to the passing stranger. Are they not the real practitioners of spiritual enlightenment?

Are Kumar’s trials and tribulations really any different from those of a family man working in New York City? They are two individuals living in two very diverse cultures yet they still share many common human traits. Nepalese, like the rest of us, want a better life for themselves and their families. Some take too seriously issues revolving around money and social status.

Life is what you make of it: sharing a smile and a conversation with strangers. Making the effort to extend goodwill to other people such as the American I met bringing up the Himalayan trail solar water heaters to the villagers or Sir Edmund Hillary’s charitable legacy to the Sherpa villagers.

There are no easy answers found upon discovery of the world’s iconic spiritual dwellings or alleged enlightened cultures. Does a visit to Machu Picchu or a trek to a Buddhist or Hindu temple provide immediate answers to an enlightened life path? Or are the answers more subtle, found along life’s daily journey? Are life’s answers discovered during a high desert pilgrimage to Mount Kailash, a low desert pilgrimage to Mecca, or maybe by a solitary stroll in the woods; any woods.

Often I discover in my travels, it’s not so much in the sacred destinations themselves but in the journey itself, and the good people you meet along the way, where the answers to life’s mysteries lie.

My last day in Nepal, I’m standing in the middle of a busy Kathmandu street. The usual beautiful crowded chaos is passing me on either side, yelling, honking, and tooting yet now I only hear the steady rhythm of the Buddhist chant music wafting down the street. The once irritating touts are pestering me, albeit nicely, as usual however now I just politely shake my head and smile.

I’m looking around and observing the chaotic and liberated manner in which growth was being constructed throughout the city of Kathmandu; the rampant disregard for electrical, utility or building codes. Somehow it all worked; well, at least until the next blackout, which happened almost daily.

I slowly shifted my eyes, leveling my view to the city street ahead. Soon, the concrete physical forms began to blur, merging, shifting into blends of colors and movement until finally all that stood before my eyes was silence and the glimmering white sheen of the Himalayans.

As Ashesh, my Blues aficionado friend would say, “COOL!”

(To see my photo images of Nepal, as well as my travel books, please visit listed on the links section.)

Posted in Nepal Travel, philosophical | 1 Comment

And so begins our journey toward the truth

And so begins our journey toward the truth…

WELCOME to our extended cyber family!!!

To set the stage properly, I should provide some background as to who and what I’m all about. Well, here’s a start:

I believe in the US Constitution and the doctrine of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness.

I believe in the Boy Scout law, with the exception to the inference that a good citizen must give blind obedience to their government.

I believe in love, integrity, honesty, humility, and a good sense of humor, for when you look at mankind, sometimes you just have to laugh.

I believe in sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll; just act responsibly (while playing your guitar, of course).

I believe in long, passionate kisses.

I believe in the greater goodness of people to behave like decent human beings. In fact, I support the formation of a third party that calls themselves the Decent Human Being Party. I believe people must also recognize and take the appropriate action toward those individuals who demonstrate harmful, sociopathic behaviors against others.

I support better communications with, and developing greater understanding for, our global community since we’re all in this Big Blue Marble together.

I believe in the ability of all of us to become strong-minded, independent individuals, who collectively, can denounce the need for paternalistic leaders as our saviors.

I believe in questioning authority; respect should be earned, not given.

I believe in questioning institutions’ motivations toward the individual.

I believe in the hard-working, generous, unsung heroes.

I believe in the Davids who take on the Goliaths.

I believe in the creative, hopeful spirit inside all of us.

In step with Teddy Roosevelt, I support greater governmental checks and balances on the abuses of Capitalism.

I support punishing the thieves who exist at all levels of our society.

I believe in the separation of church, state, and the rest of the military industrial complex.

I believe in Leaving a Good Mark…and the delicate balance of life; yin, yang, and karma, too.

I support the advancement of homeopathic remedies, alternative energy sources and the preservation of our precious finite natural environment for future generations and us.

And last for now, I believe moist towelettes to be one of the greatest contributions to a civilized society. They’re really refreshing after a satisfying meal !

Please feel free to comment.
Just click ADD COMMENTS / FEEDBACK section located on the right side.

Posted in general, philosophical | Leave a comment