Greetings from California,
No. I did not fall off the edge of the world as numerous friends have speculated. I’ve been in hibernation since my repatriation... since early May. Such a hiatus has occurred after every return from an epic foreign expedition over the past ten years. Why I turn turnip each time I plant my feet back on American soil I don’t know.
The previous postcard started its journey through cyberspace on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Then, on the first of May I left the islands myself heading west and slinked back into the country where I eventually collapsed into my cozy mountain cave for some long overdue deep meditation and anonymity. Weary and dealing with minor symptoms of diabetes I abandoned earlier plans to hop over to nearby Cuba before heading home, but not before pausing briefly in Miami to contemplate a renewal of plans to further explore the Sunshine state.
Once back in the mountains I pretty much cloistered myself for long periods of meditation interspersed sporadically with attention to my various writing projects and marathon Internet searching sessions. Computer technology made astounding advances during my long absence. I needed to get caught up. Studying the latest computer technology developments I soon discovered all sorts of essential gadgets demanding my personal hands on evaluation. The quad-processor hp XW8200 Workstation is fast, stable and easy to use. The new Dell display is a dream (amazing what a 24 inch, high resolution flat panel LCD monitor will do for septuagenarian vision!)
May 10th found me enjoying the clean cool mountain air with a few good friends from the writers group providing a warm welcome-home, complete with a birthday cake baked by the group's mountain gourmet. Another of our more exuberant members had acquired 80 little candles and tried to stuff 72 of them into the cake's frosting. We managed to convince her to count most of them as representing 10 years to prevent the arrival of fire trucks. The New York Times, in honor of my birthday published results from yet another survey about the president's declining popularity. It now looks like my disillusionment is finally shared by a majority of Americans. Hopefully that means the electorate will choose future representatives who favor a massive overhaul of our country's disastrous foreign policies.
Highlights of this Latin America exploration unquestionably must include climbing around the ruins at Machu Pichu. Running close seconds would be the wet approach to the San Rafael Glacier face and my return visit to the world’s most spectacular waterfalls at Iguaçu. The trip down the Astral Highway through Chile where small rustic cabins clustered to form frontier villages within vast areas of cleared forest is also memorable. The mugging and sprained knee in Cuenca Ecuador is not easy to forget either, nor are the visits to South America’s most famous islands in the Galapagos and the huge stone monuments of Easter Island.
What did I learn during these past ten months? Immersion in the Spanish language for so long led to an effortless accumulation of a rather substantial vocabulary, if poorly pronounced, still adequate for expressing most ideas that came into my head by the end of the trip. Often wondering if my inability to speak the local languages produced warped impressions of local realities, this time contact with ordinary people using their mother tongue proved my concerns unwarranted. Most of what I learn on these forays I learn with my eyes and my feet. Ah yes, there were blisters. They visited toe after toe, sometimes not waiting for their predecessors to retire. I watched as new blisters formed under tender skin still drenched in the plasma filled balloons above them. I also learned that my tolerance for the tedium of travel changes as the trek drags on; novel new experiences become dulled by romantic memories of prior exploits. I've also learned the importance of traveling light. Every trip I try to take less than the time before. Other savvy world travelers have come to the same conclusion. One of the best discussions of sensible packing is by Rick Steves.
Since leaving North America last year I have been without telephone communication most of the time. Longtime readers of my postcards will recall I switched to exclusive use of cell phone service years ago and the day I left on this last trip I canceled that too. Then in Honduras I got my first hands-on experience with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. It is widely used in cyber cafes throughout the region. Always ready to jump on a bargain and intrigued by innovations of any kind, I made my first dirt cheap Internet phone calls back to the U.S. Later, in Cayenne French Guyane I watched a guy jabbering away to people all over the world like they were next door neighbors using a headset he plugged into the USB port of an Internet machine. "It's free!" he repeated several times. That started my love affair with SKYPE.
Since then the availability of simple VoIP gadgets has grown explosively with plummeting prices. Naturally, I had to experiment with several of the available solutions: first, with separate microphone and computer speakers; then with a combined headset. Next, I bought a $50 mPhone, a corded handset with built-in Skype software that starts automatically when plugged into any computer's USB port. It appeared to be a perfect solution for world travelers, but proved awkward in regular use at home. Next, on eBay I found a tiny $30 USB interface device called SkypeKey. It allows an ordinary desk phone to remain attached to the Skype service as long as the computer has Internet access. Ordinary telephone service is rapidly being replaced by a flood of VoIP products; many TV cable services already are offering them. For about $3 a month I now have 805-322-7409 which works pretty much like an ordinary phone for callers... and I can be anywhere in the world when making and receiving calls. The service includes voice mail for messages when I am not online. Give me a call and try it out... wherever I am.
I have long been an apologist for religions, especially Islam, noting one finds all kinds of people professing adherence to every faith under the sun: good people, bad people, smart people, dumb people… and that most of those asked assure me they derive significant benefits from their choice. But, slowly my reflections on Islam have convinced me it is rarely a force for good in the world. One of the most vitriolic, but credible presentations of the evidence for a harder line is offered by Dr. Ali Sina, a pseudonym. He is an Iranian academician who immigrated to North America just before the Islamic Revolution. Check out one of the websites hosting his work.
I plan to remain in seclusion for a while longer. Conditions in the world demand deep reflection. It seems to me that a majority of humanity is determined to push civilization back into a new Dark Ages. Has it always been so and I but blind? Repudiation of abundant scientific evidence has cast doubt on the most carefully crafted theories about how the world works. The English language has a new word: idiocracy. If you doubt it, do a Google search on the word and read one of the first few hits of the two million found! You may find the subject amusing… or not, but provocative it is. While you are at it, repeat the search on the word “idiot.” Amazing, huh?
So, what are we to do when the power elite are determined to establish a theocracy in America? In the past we could count on the "silent majority" to nudge their representatives back toward the safe, uncontroversial middle ground. Today, spin doctors and strategically funded propaganda campaigns can pretty much guarantee public support for any radical idea those in power concoct. Like Winston Churchill observed last century, "Democracy is the worst form of government... except for all the others." If we can just survive another 14 years, trans-human machines may come to the rescue, even though well capitalized organizations with faulty concern for the long range needs of humanity will be among the first to seek ways of exploiting the new technologies. I suppose thinking people should be addressing that coming transitional era with some urgency today.
Was Albert Einstein a Buddhist? In response to a friend's assertion that "Einstein believed in God," I checked the Internet and recorded a few observations, some rather surprising. If Einstein's ideas about religion interested you, you may well find "Killing the Buddha" by Sam Harris enlightening as well. I did.
Now it is time to return to answering old email messages and studying destinations for my next adventure, possibly Bhutan. It has been surprisingly chilly up here in my lakeside mountain cave. No new photographs for this postcard edition.
Fred L Bellomy
|How ignorant we are!||Below are two recent collections of information reflecting humanity's failure to adequately educate its members. On the left are data about belief in the evidence for evolution around the world. On the right is a graphic presentation of how tiny and insignificant is our little Earth when view from a cosmic scale. (Thanks to readers of previous postcards for sharing their discoveries.)|