Friday, June 22, 2012

In the Beginning...

Before we get properly started, with all the ups and downs and new experiences and bouts with sickness and random lodging and rideshares and other exciting contingencies that international travel can hold, I suppose I ought to tell you who we are, and why the hell I'm quoting Lao Tzu in a blog title. I'll try to make it brief, and to the point--literature is my first love in life, and I have been known to digress, but I haven't yet been accused of talking simply to hear my own voice. Besides, I disagree with Holden Caulfield--"David Copperfield crap" is sometimes extraordinarily useful for pathos, not to mention fun to rehash later in life (just look at the poetry you used to write in high school if you don't believe me--yeesh)

First things first. What is this blog about? Basically, it will serve as a record, commentary, guide to a journey that myself and two of my best friends are taking through the continent of South America. Our goal is twofold--on the one hand, having very little money, a passing familiarity with the Spanish language, and an insatiable thirst for vagabond-like behavior, we decided to throw in all bets and commence with the coolest thing that any of us has ever done. On the other, having a very real belief that ignorance and stupidity are the main causes of almost every human problem, we decided to make a handheld, cinema verite-style documentary of the trip in the process. This is to bring the experience back to those who could not live it themselves, for both entertainment AND to serve a serious purpose. In a globalized world, we need to act like world citizens, not like apes gibbering in separate trees and throwing things at one another. To be world citizens, to engage other cultures respectfully in ways that both acknowledge and respect differences, but without discrimination, appropriation, or a false sense of entitlement, is paramount to the future of both our world and our species. And the only way to do that is to GO, to become strangers in a strange land, to be a good representative of yourself and your people, and to meet other "kinds" of people in a real context. Gandhi once famously said that you must "be the change you wish to see in the world". This means that those of us who want intercultural awareness, understanding, and autonomy to replace racism, ignorance, and the (post)colonial mindset have a responsibility to one another. The exchange of information expunges stupidity, just as the exchange of culture expunges stereotypes. But I digress...I told you I would.

Santiago de Querétaro, Querétaro--the current home of Julien and I
Our approach to and goals within the project have evolved over time and planning, but the start of it all was quite simple. Julien and I were sitting outside the house one day, kicking an empty Coke bottle back and forth across the concrete and talking vaguely about the future--him about buying a house in Paraguay and starting a language school there, and me about the possibility of finding a scholarship and starting up my postgrad at a big European school, like Oxford, as much for my own benefit as to flip the bird to my tiny redneck hometown--when it dawned on me that these were rather lofty goals for the time being. Not impossible, mind you--I would never go that far--but somewhat vague and oscillating. Ever since I was old enough to understand that the world didn't end at the mountains, I have had an almost pathological desire to strap on a pack and "Jack Kerouac it" through the world and all it has to offer...hence the journeys I have taken thus far, including through the university. After all, not to sound preachy, mental terrain is just as challenging, exciting, and necessary as physical. Besides, finding a suitable vagabond-style travel partner, with the proper mixture of adventurousness and mental wherewithal, is more difficult than you would guess. We aren't new to international travel: he's French, I'm an American, we generally communicate in our lingua franca, Spanish, and this conversation was taking place in Querétaro, México, where we met and where we had both been working as language teachers at the local university. Long story short, I kicked the empty plastic bottle off to the side, looked him in the face and said "You know, bro, we could do something else. We've got good heads on our shoulders, and neither of us is ready to settle down just yet. When the semester ends, vamanós a la chingada [let's get the hell out of here]. We both want to see South America. Let's just go."*

"¿Vamanós? ¿Los dos?" ["Both of us?"]

"Si guey. Chinga su madre." ["Yeah dude. F*** it.]**

Our proposed route through the continent. Open to spontaneity, of course.
Me and Julien, gallavanting around Queretaro
From that moment on, we were hooked. It was his idea to make a documentary along the way--for my part (as much as I've realized after the fact how perfect of an idea that is, for all of the aforementioned reasons, as well as the possibility of making enough money to both pay back my student loan and to fund our next trip), at first I was ready to make the journey just for the sake thereof. Having no idea how to go about planning such a thing or making a movie, I asked all my old university contacts for advice (including a VERY helpful friend of mine in the film industry who heard about our plan, gently slapped us upside the head over Facebook chat for our hodgepodge approach, and pointed us in the right direction), made a promo video introducing the world to our plan, and began the delicate process of telling my various schools that I wouldn't be back to teach again next semester. Our third member, Aaron Grobman (another American, an old university friend of mine and quite possibly the most intelligent person I have ever met) joined our cause later. When I asked him why he wanted to be a part of the project, he shrugged and said "I have a lot of friends, doing cool things all over the world. I don't want to get old and just be that guy with the cool FRIENDS." Julien and I decided that that was as good a reason as any, and better than most. From there on out, we were three.

Aaron, apparently singing to a tree

The name of the project, as I mentioned before, comes from a quote that is quite possibly better-known than the man who said it: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" (Lao Tzu). Our journey will be far more than a thousand miles, but the sense of the saying holds its own nonetheless. The sheer scope of our journey is astounding, and even as I sit here writing these words right now (at the risk of inspiring a derisive snicker from some of you reading this) I feel myself going a bit tharn and trembling at the sheer physical and existential weight of such a distance. But that is not important. What IS important is taking that step. We've committed, we've completed the delicate business of family-communication, and we'll be on our way in just a few short months...this project is a big deal, and come hell or high water, barring death or insanity, we're going to see it through to the end.***

*Like I said, most of the conversations that take place between me and JJ occur either in Spanish or a sort of Star Wars-esque Spanish-English combo. Think Hans Solo and Chewbacca --they speak different languages, but understand each other just fine in the midst of either an aerospace battle or a drink with the Twi'lek girls. I've translated most of the dialogue into English for your benefit, but there WILL be a lot of circumstantial Spanglish on this blog. Just to let you know.

**I learned Mexican Spanish, including all its colorful little aphorisms and bad words, with my Mexican friends "en la calle". As a result, I have a bit of a sailor mouth. I will do my best not to offend anyone, if you in turn do your best not to be Puritanical...there are worse things to worry about in this world than certain phoneme combinations that have been deemed "bad". For my general opinion on profanity, look no further than these two gentlemen, whom I often disagree with politically and yet have a certain unshakeable common sense on many topics.

***...which will be much, much easier, as I launch into the unpleasant but necessary business of fundraising, if any interested parties are willing to help us out. This is the link to our current Kickstarter campaign, with which we are trying our best to raise $10,000 by July 22. If you can see your way to donating even 5 or 10 dollars to our cause, it would be both appreciated and rewarded (literally--check out the page to see the rewards we created!). Getting money isn't the purpose of this blog, but it IS something that will help us immensely in carrying out the journey.

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