DR Part 1 – Thursday 5/30/13

I landed in the capital, Santo Domingo at 1400 and meet Danny. He leads me to the parking lot and we crack open our first jumbo (32oz) Presidente Cervesa in the airport parking lot. We have 2 little plastic cups that they give you at just about every place you can buy beer. Our ride is a gray and black Nissan truck from the 90’s with a 6’ bed, roll bar, and brush guards on the front and back. The truck often misses gear when we accelerate causing us to make quick stops on the side of the road to put the thing in park, then drive, before heading back out on the road. We continue drinking our beer as we pull up to the airport exit (no problems with drinking and driving here). But, we are denied at the gate for not having paid and getting our ticket punched. We back up directly from the toll booth and onto the shoulder. Danny gets out and runs to find the pay station after explaining that this is inconsistent with previous airport trips. I sit in the truck with the door open and finish my plastic cup of beer and I watch as cars pass by and one after another is rejected by the attendant at the gate.

Once we get out, we head west into the city of Santo Domingo and discuss the history of the city. Danny comes to the city from time to time for work and shows me most famous tourist spot in downtown while we’re here. As we pass over the famous bridge that spans the Rio Ozma (river) which divides the city between east and west, Danny explains that the bridge was the location of one of the key battles between the Dominicans and the once powerful Haitian army. Today the river is home to mostly poor families whose shacks littler the banks. The river is brown and dirty and full of trash.

As we drive down along the river the bridge is now a few hundred yards behind us. We are at the mouth of the river where it meets the Caribbean Sea. We park across from a port where large cruise ships dock to allow passengers off to see the city. We are now at the remains of Spanish forts with rusty canons and statues of Columbus and others. We walk up the stone steps and reach the square. The main square is lined with vendors and cafes. The first person to approach us is a pimp who offers us the chance to sleep with one of his 200+ girls. We decline the nice guy and he laughs. We are walking among tourists who have just exited the cruise ship. Danny and I pop into a small café and order two overpriced beers and eat peanuts. We try and figure out where the passers by may be traveling from. Our guesses range from Russia to Argentina but we don’t ask them. But, we are certain that these tourists have just hopped off the large rusty cruise ship that sat docked near the parking lot.

We admire the Haitian paintings across the street and finish our beers. We walk back down to the truck and discuss the Spanish influence in the city’s architecture and street signs which resemble the painted tile signs found in Barcelona. We talk about Danny’s future movie to Madrid for school and my future move to Montreal for Elizabeth’s internship. We realize that there is much to do before those moves and plan to make the most of this weekend. When relaying Elizabeth’s worries and requests which included: don’t do anything crazy like drink too much, or do drugs, or jump off cliffs. Danny reveals that that is the plan.

After a quick walk from the café, we get back in the truck and fill our cups with our now warm Presidente and drive out from under the bridge, and west down the coast. As we drive along the beach, I notice that the traffic resembles that of Mexico City. But, there is a bit more of a friendly island vibe. For instance, when passing a large truck or bus while on a narrow two lane road, it is customary to beep before passing and they will give you a bit more room by taking the shoulder. But, don’t get it twisted, this drive is still very dangerous. There are not only cars and trucks and busses but large gangs on motos. Tigre gangs race up and down the highway in groups of 20 often turning and driving against traffic. There are children and adults walking all over the highway selling nuts, mangos, coconut bread and other tasty snacks. If people on bikes or walking aren’t looking, we give them a honk to give them fair warning. The last thing we need is a 14 year old kid on a scooter to pop out in front of our truck. Danny says that kids get hit all the time.

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Our first destination today is Danny’s office in Barahona. Barahona is about 4 hours west of Santo Domingo on the southern coast of the Island and a few hours from the Haitian boarder. After one stop for fresh cold coconut water and a few quick driveby handoffs of snacks from the kids who stand near their town’s speed bumps in order to maximize facetime with drivers, we arrive in Barahona.

The office is a few blocks from the sea in the middle of this small city. The large open office is empty except for a folding table, some plastic chairs, a bookshelf with papers and dishware, a poorly constructed sink and table, and a few futons. The office also has a bathroom, but no running water on this day. They are having a shower installed and we would be meeting with Danny’s plumber tomorrow. Danny checks his email while I look around and lean over the second story balcony peering down at the empty street below. Most of the shops are closed today for some Saint’s day. After a few minutes, we head out and drive another 5 miles south to the shack.

Danny lives in a shack in an area called Jose Estiban. The road that runs along the coast bisects Jose Estiban. Danny lives on the southeast side of the road on the edge of a cliff no more than a stones throw from the water. The shack shares property with two other small homes. Danny tells me that the woman who lives in the first house is his landlord named Giarda and that she is a cunt. She bitches at Danny each time we walk past. Her cunty attitude is due to Danny having acquired a puppy named Luna. She doesn’t like that Danny treats the dog as a companion and allows it in his shack. Dogs are treated like shit and often spend their lives on a short leash. Their function is an alarm system to bark when people walk by.

Giarda has some children and adults living with her. The kids are known as “Cinderella kids”. They have been dropped off by their parent who doesn’t have time or money to care for them. This is much more common that I would have expected, as Danny points out. There are Cinderella kids everywhere we go. After receiving our warm welcome from Giarda, we drop our stuff and walk to grab some food.

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There is a small house/restaurant which is serving two food items this evening, fried chicken and fried plantains. Both are fried in soy oil, covered in salt, and served with ketchup on the side. We consume the food along with half a bottle of rum mixed with Sprite. Danny tells me that this is a very Dominican meal. As we eat we sit with some of the staff/residents who are all very friendly. Other restaurant patrons all come up to shake our hands or dap knuckles when they arrive. There are a number of workers loading a brand new dining room set into the house (which has no lights on at the moment). Danny tells me the family was just complaining about not having money, but are now receiving a brand new set of chairs and a table. The lights often go out which Danny tells me is standard. The power grid down here is not very reliable, and most people have a back-up system hooked up to batteries that charge when power is supplied. When it gets dark, we use candles to eat. A giant spider walks along the wall behind me, and a giant beetle or roach lands on Danny. We finish our food and drinks under candle light, and one of the locals laughs as I jump out of my seat when some large insect lands on my foot and vibrates its wings. The guys hanging out all seem really nice and try to speak to me in English. They call Danny Danilo Presidente, which I later learn is the name of the DR’s new President. There are little kids walking around in diapers chasing the insects.

Danny and I make our way back the dark road to the shack and drink more rum. We make it to bed fairly early and listen to a podcast by Dan Carlin on the history of the Mongols.

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DR Part 2 – Friday 5/31/13

We wake up fairly early. I am soaking wet and have been since I landed. The temperature is 89F and does not change. I felt like the night had been no cooler than the day. And, I slept very little. We were woken up by Luna barking and the rooster (who I hadn’t met the first day) crowing. Danny suggests a morning swim in the ocean. I say ‘fuck yeah’ and we walk down the steep path. Luna follows us down and takes two shits. We walk down the beach until we reach some calm teal water between rows of flat rocks. We swim out about 20-30 yards and then return. The water is calm, but not without a few waves that could put you down if you weren’t ready. After the swim, we got showered and drank some coffee and planned out our day. But first, we took a tour of the shack:

We would head back into Barahona to grab food, meet the plumber at the office, stop at the market, and then we’d head south to check out a surf competition in Playa los Patos. I met one of Danny’s neighbors. He was a 14 year old kid named Niko. He asked me if I lifted weights. I told him yes. We tried to communicate a bit. But, Niko spoke as much English as I did Spanish. We dapped knuckles, said “hasta manyana” and Danny and I drove to Barahona. With yesterday being a holiday, the streets were empty, but today they are busy. Many of the men work in Barahona by driving around on their motos and giving rides to people. Danny tells me that much of the income here comes from Dominican neighborhoods in NYC so that families can make it here without working. The few people that do work are selling fruits from the various farms up and down the coast. Another important place of business that is open today is the restaurant. Danny takes me to his go-to spot next door to his office. The woman speaks English but we order in Spanish. We get eggs with veggies and bread and coffee with lots of cream. After our brunch, we head stop in the office to meet the plumber and admire the new shower he installed in their bathroom. We check online for when the Pens play, and shoot the shit with the plumber about his new jeans and shirt. We then head to the market. The market is packed into a narrow alley way where they sell squash, peppers, shallots, garlic, and spices. There are big bags of cumin and curry and big bags of beans and rice. We grab some veggies and stop in the local grocery to grab pasta, cheese, and beer.

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We walk to the square just a few blocks from the office. Lots of people and stray dogs walk past us and stare. We are the only white folks around. When we do see other white people, they always greet us. But, this time in the square, the only familiar sign is the redsox logo on the local sports book. Danny explains a bit more about Dominican culture as his plumber walks over to us in his brand new clothes. He is very happy, almost to the point of dancing. Danny points out that while many people here have very little, that they stay fresh by getting weekly haircuts and always keeping their shoes shined. He also told me about the racism that exists between the light skinned Dominicans and the dark skinned Dominicans, or even worse Haitians. He talked about a movie he recently saw where a man could change his skin color when he went out. But, when he woke up in the morning with a girl in his bed, he turned black again. The girl would scream and flip out. We finished our beer in the park and headed south to Playa los Patos. It is about a half hour drive and Danny points out the few haciendas along the way that look like hotels, but are used as rent by the hour beds. Since most people don’t have privacy in their houses, they have to take their girlfriends to these places in order to have sex. On our way to check out the surf competition, we stop a few times to take pictures and videos over the cliffs near San Rafael Beach.

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The cliffs and pebble beaches are white and the water is teal. Once we made it down to the town, we park at a place where Danny used to live. All of his old neighbors and the little kids come over to greet us. The kids say Que loke? (What’s up) and stick out their knuckles to dap. We leave the truck and say hello to everyone and check out Danny’s old place. There was an old yoga mat left rotting on the floor. We walk down to the beach. The beach sits on the north edge of town which butts up against the mountains. A spring flows out of the mountain and is pumped under the bridge leading into town and into a rock lined pool before spilling over into a wide flat stream bed and into the ocean. They say it’s the shortest river in the world. The flowrate is about 1000 g/m based on my estimate. As people drink and swim and walk along the wall of the pool, loud music is playing and the restaurants along the beach are busy. The beach extends out into a peninsula with the river on our left and the sea on our right. As we walk out past the last cabana, I tell Danny that this is one of the best beach landscapes that I’d ever seen. The sediment bank from the river runs parallel to the beach. It is an incredible contrast where the blue ocean hits the beach which is only a thin peninsula with the river on the opposite side. We walk down to the beach and hear “Danny!” behind us. Walking toward us are two young girls. One is a weird tall blond girl who tells us that she just joined the peace corp or something and is going to be working to improve education. She makes a poor joke about the area. The other girl is a young Domincan girl who is in love with Danny. I can tell he feels bad brushing her off. As we walk away toward the surf tents, he tells me that she liked him, but was really young. He pointed out that many young Dominican girls want American or white looking men because they assume we have money. They want to fall in love, move to the USA, get married, and buy shiny shit. But they fall in love too fast, and too young. So, we continue walking down the beach. We make it to the surf competition but quickly realize we need a beer. We walk up to the corner store and end up stopping at the open bar with a pool table across the street. I smoke Danny in pool in about 6 minutes. We head back down and watch the surfers for a while before heading back to the river to cool off. When we arrive at the fresh water pool, we buy a coconut, which happened to come with a 9 year old kid in his underwear who followed us for the rest of the day to play catch with our football. We walked around and threw the ball, swam in the river, and swam in the pool. They were freezing and full of fish (some over a foot long). The fish and ducks (which the place is named after) feed on pizza crusts that kids throw out into the water. We sit down after our swim and eat some whole tilapa which was spicy and covered in cumin, fried plantains, beans and rice, and a crab curry. We are stuffed and decide to wash it down with a bottle of rum. Our little friend stopped over and squirted ketchup on his palm and ate it with a toothpick. It looked like this was not the first time he had done this. We fed the fish heads and scraps to stray dogs and ducks. Around this time, a girl named Lauren stopped by. Lauren had a nose ring and a short Dominican friend who quickly ran off to fall in love with the boys in the pool. Lauren said that she was from Boston and was designing a latrine out of used plastic bottles. I struggled to understand what a latrine was outside of a place shit goes. But, without my hand held google machine I had to assume it was a big hole full of bottles soon to be full of piss and shit. Lauren left to find her friend, and Danny and I bought some juice to mix with our rum. The juice was from a mango concentrate. The girl who mixed it put it with water and a half of a pound of sugar. We mixed our drinks and walked back to the beach to play some volleyball. Danny got us in a game already in progress to which we held our own. Two games and two drinks later, we each had some decent digs, spikes, and blocks. As the sun went down, the view of the mountains and beach were incredible. It looked like a storm was rolling in, so we made our way to a beach bar called Hollywood run by some swarthy looking Italians. We finished our rum and bought a beer. After it rained a bit, we drove back to the shack. We planned to keep the buzz going by picking up some weed from his co-worker, or stopping at a bar that holds cock fights, but she wasn’t home and the bar was not open. We had a drink or two at the shack and played dominoes late into the night. We discussed the next day’s plans which were to include some or all of the following: surfing, cliff jumping, watching the Pens’ game, and/or dropping acid. I got a bit more sleep the second night, but not much more. Luna still constantly walked by and licked my face or barked. The rooster still crowed early as hell, and after sitting by the river, I was covered in mosquito bites. The only thing that saved me from the itching was large quantities of Vicks vapor rub.

DR Part 3 – Saturday 6/1/13

Saturday and Sunday are party days in the DR. We planned to make the most of them this weekend. We started the day with coffee and eggs cooked over the small propane burners. We quickly got ready and made our way south to check out the surf competition. We parked near Hollywood (another place called Hollywood just down the street from the place we were the day before). There were a group of old Dominican men playing bones and talking mad shit while as they slapped the dominoes on the table. Typical Saturday according to Danny. We watched both the surf and boogie board competitions for a while and drank a few beers.

There was a surf board that we were offered to borrow right near us. Danny and I decided against attempting to surf using a short board. It would likely have been a waste of time. Instead, we were going to head to the cliffs. The girl Lauren with the nose ring stopped by. This time she was with a very disobedient puppy and was again looking for her young friend. She asked if we were going to the cliffs, to which Danny answered “yes” and asked if she wanted to come. She did not, but said that we should meet up later. But, we wouldn’t see Lauren again. We finished our beers and headed south.

We parked along a mountain road about 3 miles south of Playa los Patos. We walked down a dirt path past many little shacks and a number of people bathing in the aqueduct which paralleled the path. After cutting down through a corn field and making numerous wrong turns through the jungle through thorny trees, we found ourselves standing over blue water crashing into sharp building sized rocks. If we jumped straight out, it was nothing but blue. If we jumped right, we may have had to contest with a strong surf. We looked over the edge for about 30 minutes discussing where to jump, how to land, and various other subjects to psych us out. We did discuss the places to jump that weren’t so high, but both of us knew that we were jumping right here at the highest point of the cliff.

After tossing a few rocks over the edge and roughly running the earth’s rate of acceleration formula, I suggested that the water was much more than the original 50’ discussed earlier. Further calculations put our estimate around 75 feet. The scary thing was not the distance of the fall, or the 10 minute swim back to the beach that would follow. What made it scary was the fact that only 3 people had actually jumped out of the 20 or so that Danny knew to walk up to this edge. And, that those 3 people may be the only people ever to have jumped from this spot.

But eventually, I tell Danny to go. He does, and about 5 seconds later I follow. We are both sore for days after hitting the water at roughly 45 mph. The adrenaline rush was amazing and made it all worth it. After collapsing onto the beach, we scaled the side of the cliff to grab Danny’s flip flops that he left at the top. I saw a bunch of weird crabs on the climb back up. They looked like spiders. The climb along the side of this cliff was not a safe one, and these creepy spider crabs were not making it any easier.

As we walked back to the truck, we chatted with a Dominican man who was walking with his horse. We admired his amazing view from over 150’ up above the beach. He offered to sell the property.

We drove back to the shack to cook up some pasta and veggies that we got from the market. Danny made a hell of a good vegetable sauce to go with the pasta despite his lack of Italian blood and previous track record of gross food. I often witnessed Danny’s meals either in our old office in Virginia or before rugby practices in DC. Dude would mix green beans with spaghetti, or jelly with tuna fish. But, this was good food.

After our dinner, we drove to the office to stream the Pens’ game on Danny’s laptop. The Pens shit the bed in Game 1 of the ECF against Boston. We don’t let us get us down. We’re drunk on rum and the high from cliff jumping. We head a few blocks down to the main beach front avenue to drink beer and rum and to listen to bad techno at high volume. There were so many motos. We spotted one with 6 people on it. And the speakers were blasting music so loud that we couldn’t even talk. We could not fight em, so we joined em. We smoked some hooka on the street and then went into a small club that looked like a scene out of scarface. It was old and poorly designed. It was crowded and only salsa songs brought the dancers to the floor. We were a drunken mess by the time we left. We had drank the better half of a handle of rum during the Pens game along with the most delicious peach juice ever. We drank a few jumbo beers on the street, and a small bottle of rum in the club.

It is a good think we could only drive 20 mph on the way home. It was still really dangerous when leaving Barahona. Some drunk guy stepped out from behind a bus and we almost hit him. So, we crashed around 3am and a few hours later the rains came.

DR Part 4 – Sunday 6/2/13

I would guess the rain started around 5 or 6am. A big storm blew in over the water. While the shack will normally serve its purpose of shielding us from the weather, I happened to be sleeping in the wrong place at the wrong time. The wind was blowing the rain sideways through the opening over the door and through the shower/bathroom. The rain started hitting my bare feet then my back. I pulled the sheet up over my head, but there was no escape. The sheets were no match for the rain. And, before I knew it, I was completely drenched and the storm was over. I tried to curl up toward the top of the futon away from the wet, but I couldn’t fall back asleep. The wetness and the humidity that followed as the sun came up forced me up and out of bed.

I think it was around 8 when I burned the first pot of coffee. I made another pot and then started on some egg and cheese burritos. Danny didn’t sleep too much longer as he was half soaked. So were are both up, and contemplating how much we drank the previous night and laughing. We talk for a few minutes before Danny pulls out The Hobbit on DVD as he’s searching through his bookshelf. He opens it up and a small plastic baggie falls out. I asked if he had found the LSD that his fried had left in the shack. He did. A few days earlier, Danny and two friends took a trip and hiked up one of the mountains near the shack. He said that it was pretty intense, but that the other two guys had taken a double dose and that communication had suffered somewhat because of that.

Danny said that today was the day that we trip. It was going to be great weather, and we would hike up past the coffee plantations and into the cloud forest. He had heard that there were some really good places to hike with great views in an area about a mile south near the Laramar (rock) shop.

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After a few hours of prep time/hangover recovery time, it’s on. We sit on the bed and use the small Swiss Army scissors to cut the square cardboard blotter paper. Finally, with a small bag packed with water, bug repellant, a headlamp, a camera, and my iphone, we both dropped our hits onto our tongues. We sadly had to ditch the neighbor kid named Niko who wanted to come. But, it had to be done. We didn’t know what to expect on this trip. But, we weren’t about to have a 13 year old kid tagging along.

It would end up taking about 2 or 3 hours until we reached the best spot on the hike, but we wouldn’t find that out until we arrived. We set out on foot to a path about 1 mile south along the road. The road ran along the coast and we looked out through the palm trees. We passed the entrance for the Laramar mine and walked up the hill over the bridge that crossed the river and passed the cock fighting bar. The bar was playing salsa music at top volume but there weren’t many people there. We made a right down the hill passed the bar. By this time, things are kicking in. We walked down a wet road littered with bottles and trash to the river. We should have, but we did not expect that the river would to be so high. All that rain from the morning made it appear nearly impassable.

We walked up and down the bank discussing options and contemplating alternatives. I didn’t want to get my camera wet, but we also couldn’t just to throw our bags 40 feet to the rocky bank on the opposite side of the river. We’d stop and we’d stare at a tree covered in little spikes for a few minutes and then we’d change direction. Up the river and then down again. Finally, Danny yelled across to a man napping on the bank and asked him where we should cross. As he got up and walked towards us, we realized that he had the upper body resembling that of a shaved chimpanzee. He wades toward us in waist deep rapids encouraging us to stop being pussies. I show him my bag with my camera, which he must conclude is my purse and that I don’t want to get my tampons wet. He shrugs, walks away and goes back to napping in the sun on the white rocks along the bank.

We walk down stream to where the river flattens out wide. But, when we get there all we see is rapids. The river meanders a bit leaving some dry land in the middle. We jump to that and continue walking in circles until we are near more people who live along the river. We stand out so much. We’re hiking around in our outdoor performance gear with beards and white faces. The children see us and in seconds are running circles around us asking where we’re going. Danny says that we’re looking to cross and they immediately start to lead us around pointing where to go.

Behind the kids are a number of shacks with women and children hanging around. They just put down some pots of slop for their pigs. Upon further investigation, the alpha pig in their yard looks to be about 400lbs. I laugh and point as it bucks a smaller piglet into the air for getting their snout too close to his pot of slop. The giant pig is sort of scary.

We follow the little kids up the middle of the river until we run out of island and find ourselves with a shit-or-get-off-the-pot moment. This acid is kicking in and we are deaf from the sound of the river ripping down stream on all sides. I take off my shirt and wrap it around my camera and phone and shove it back into my bag (purse). Danny starts out across, and I follow (holding my bag in case I need to launch it). Mind you, these kids ranging from 4 years old in diapers to about 10 are all hopping around next to my feet, carelessly jumping and swimming. In any other situation, we would have managed this obstacle in 2 minutes. But now I’m slowly walking through water that is slightly over my knee after an hour of deliberation. It is now nearing 4pm (2 hours into the trip).

We both make it across easily. But, it was not without a bit of nervousness adding some fuel to our already agitated state. The kids keep following us. They are pointing out coffee fields which are covered with black netting (maybe to keep out bugs). We walk along the fields on a muddy road for a few hundred yards bumping into the occasional farmer or gecko moving quickly along the netting. We make a right onto a rocky path that leads up the mountain. The path is right across from the point where we first reached the river. As we walk upward, the kids drop off. Possibly they found new friends in the half dozen or more hippie looking local kids we pass only moments into our ascent. We wonder where they were coming from. There must be lots to explore in this cloud forest.

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We reach the top of the hill and completely escape the shade for the first time since our walk up the middle of the stream. It is so bright. As we reach the top, we tell ourselves to remember to come back down before it gets dark. The rocky road is wet and muddy. But, how are we going to remember? We just say “future Steve and Danny, remember past Steve and Danny told you to make sure you walk down before it gets dark”. We crack up. Later we would thank past Steve and Danny.

We walk around the crest of the hill and are instantly struck with an incredible landscape stretching over 5 or 6 sharp mountain peaks covered in green. The taller mountains in the distance are in the clouds. And, clouds move through the distant valleys. We pause briefly and admire the view as an old woman and her young child pass by. I took a video on my phone, but we couldn’t narrate at all. We continue walking down over the top of this hill and into the valley where we again find ourselves in the shade again and at a fork in the road. Left goes down and deeper in to the valley, and right heads up hill. We choose right, but we don’t make it far. We are quickly distracted by mangos all around on the ground and covered with bugs. A giant moth flys past my face and lands on a leaf that mirrors its shape. I try and point it out but then the moth turns into a bat. I can’t tell what I’m looking at as my eyes play tricks on me. The shadows allow for more contrasts and the dark spots leave my mind guessing. It is not as pleasant as the sun.

We decide that this area is too dark, weird, and buggy and that we would return to our sunny hilltop view and try and explore that area more. Danny picks up a fallen mango out of the bunch and we make a u-turn. Even though it had only been a few minutes, the path back up the hill was totally foreign. We had crossed into another level of this trip. We get distracted on the way back up by every bug, bird, butterfly and flower. While staring up into the canopy of another mango tree, a few fall just off the road and cause us to jump. We quickly realize that it was just ripe fruit + gravity.

As we reach the top of the road we pick our spot. It’s about 100 yards out into a pasture on the side of a grassy hill in the sun. Danny finds a hole in the barbed wire separating the road from the pasture and we crawl through. We are careful not to place a palm in shit, or into cactus or the barbed wire. After some low crawling followed by some high stepping over and around prickly tropical plants we try to tell future Steve and Dan to remember that path. But, the lines of communication between present Steve and Dan are becoming difficult at the moment. Our full attention is placed on moving forward in the same direction and maintaining an up right position on two feet.

We finally reach a point on the side of the mountain to stop and chill. Dan sits down and looks out into the mountains and fog. He fixes his shoe and starts eating his mango. I can’t find a seat or a good flat spot to stand, but I’m not at all distressed. I keep turning out to the mountains and around to the plants around us. In the distance we see mango and palm trees. There are huge magnolias and oaks covered in Spanish moss. The trees in the valley are different from those on the hills. I turn around again to get a zoomed in view of the pasture floor. There are bright green cactus with gold spikes. There are thorny little trees with leaves the color of toothpaste. There are flowers with purple and white pistols hanging from thin vines that seem to tangle themselves around anything in their reach. The similarity of the scene when facing the mountains is mindblowing when I turn around to see the same bio-diversity there on the ground where we stand.

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We are standing just a bit below the top of the hill. And, as we near ours, we decide to make our way upward and onward for a better view. It only takes a minute and we are faced with a nearly 360 degree view of mountains. We stare out quietly at times for minutes before someone says something funny or interesting and we go down that path. We talk about science and chemistry, nature, physics, history, and politics. The stories and subjects have ebs and flows that seem to shift with the changing weather. The bright sunshine seemed to lighten the mood. But, maybe it was just the change in conversation that made it seem brighter.

We told hilarious stories of other trips and how this one compared. We discussed the history of acid and psychedelic drugs and their effects on modern culture. We talked about our generation and about how to come up with great ideas that could change the world. I think we agreed that the value of practice and the ability to cultivate diverse skill sets give us a good chance of success. And, I felt like I discovered how to begin to look at ideas as if they are tangible objects. The symmetry of the flowers and trees reminded me of the similarity between rivers and tree limbs, and how they mimic the veins and nerves in our body. The symmetry in the leaf patterns on the weeds around my feet follow the Fibinacci sequence. Why would my thought patterns be any different? One idea can split off into two choices, just like two limbs from a tree. Then we look at the pros and cons of those choices. Those possible outcomes are multiple limbs that sprout from the split limbs. Each idea and each decision results in additional variables that can spiral like a Mandelbrot structure.

Trying to explain this while tripping balls on the side of a coffee mountain in a cloud forest in a remote region of the Dominican Republic can be quite difficult. At one time or another, both Danny and I met each other with confusing thoughts followed by confused looks. Ebs and flows.

After sitting, standing, cleaning out shoes, inspecting bug bites, and removing whatever animal’s shit that lives in the pasture from our clothes, we decide that we have crossed the half way point of our trip. We start to feel more comfortable describing our fears from the river, the darkness under the mango trees in the mud, and the elation once we came across this spot just in time. The trip was nothing if not amazing, breathtaking, hilarious, and physically and mentally exhausting.

I personally gained a new respect for the power of LSD as well as a new appreciating for my connection with nature. We questioned how to gain good perspectives from tripping. And, I am writing this to improve the way I process ideas. But, I think it comes with practice. But for me, with LSD, it is not feasible to practice regularly. Great ideas come out of every experience if you can learn how to spot them, and how to lead them down the right path.

We retraced our footsteps out of the pasture a few hours later. We thanked past Steve and Dan as we reached the river just before dark. We were not out of the woods yet, and it took another hour or so to make it to a different crossing farther downstream, up a very steep hill near a hotel, and along a very dark road with one head lamp. Once we finally reached the small restaurant where we had eaten the chicken and drank the rum on the first night, we were quick to buy some mango juice and be on our way.

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Still feeling a bit weird upon reaching the shack, we opted to make some coffee, drink some water, and chew some tobacco while we sat outside and threw bones until the early morning. We both passed out pretty hard on our wet sheets.

DR Part 5 – Monday 6/3/12

We slept in until around 10am. The coffee was so good. We made two pots. Danny made some eggs and tortillas. We sat around as Danny tried calling one of the local fishermen he knew called Big Baby. Big Baby is a very popular guy in town because he works. He has a nice truck, a moto, a boat, and he makes a good living selling fish at the market in Santo Domingo. When Big Baby didn’t pick up, Danny and I showed up at his place. He was sitting with his mom and daughter with a broken phone and a massive hangover. We asked to go fishing. He said no. But Danny asked again and he changed his mind.

It was about noon. Danny and I would go get gas, oil, and beer and meet back at Big Baby’s place at about 1:30pm. By 2pm we were loading his motor into Danny’s truck. Before we leave, Big Baby passes around a warm bottle of rum. We drink and head down to the boat. Big Baby doesn’t keep his boat on a dock or in a marina. These boats are just on the beach. When we arrive, everyone greats us “Que loke”. Baby is like the mayor. Soon, 10 people are helping load is 18’ fishing boat and pushing it over boards down to the water. Danny and I admire the earlier crew’s haul of 3×4’ dorado/Mahi and a 175lb Marlin. They hung it from a spring scale in a tree.

We jump in the boat, not sure what we are in for. We have no poles. Only, a GPS tethered to Baby’s jeans, an old plastic fuel tank full of spools, hooks, and tricks, and a cooler full of beer, water, and rum. The boat moves slowly down the shore before heading out to sea. Baby tells the driver how to drive from his spot in the middle of the boat. The driver stands in the back steadying himself with a rope tethered to the boat in one hand, and the rudder in the other. Danny and I sit on opposite sides straddling the metal bench seats. Once we take off at full speed heading out to sea, we are forced to hang on for our lives. Each time we hit a wave, the boat flys and we smack back down hard. This causes us to smack back down on the metal seats. We groan and Baby laughs as he instinctively bounces up to avoid impacting his nuts and asshole.

Danny misinterprets Baby’s Dominican Spanish to mean 5 minutes when he really meant 5 miles. We slammed our asses on every wave for 5 miles in this boat. It took 20-30 minutes to make it out to our destination. We finally reach the spot marked with a big white buoy. We are so far from the land that you can only see blue in all directions unless the light was hitting the island just right. Deep into the Caribbean Sea Baby throws a 1” jig over one side and his driver the other. Within seconds he hands me the line and says “rapido” and I pull quickly hand over hand and lift an 8” tuna into the boat. Danny pulls one in also. Then, we pull in a few mackerel and some other blue fish. We catch fish on almost every cast. I dip my hands in the water to rinse them off after tossing my fish into the well. Baby says “Pescado” and points to me. I happily say si, but humbly try to explain that the fishing I’ve done is much different than this. Moments later, I learn that these fish are just the bait anyhow.

I can’t even stand up on this boat without holding on. The waves aren’t knocking us around, but it is far from calm. However, as fast as a professional chef dices up an onion, our driver fillets a tuna using a piece of drift wood and a 2’ rusty machete. I seriously can’t stand, and this guy just made chum out of the fish, baited a line and fashioned it to two large empty jugs of soy oil. The chum is thrown over the side and sinks along with the baited hook. Baby passes around the rum.

This was not what I was expecting. This is fucking combat fishing. Just then the boat spins around and I slide out from my corner of the boat and my knee crashes into the bench and starts bleeding. Baby helps me up. After telling him that I’m fine, he says that I have thick skin. We catch 5-6 more bait fish before Baby spots our soy oil jugs dipping below the surface. We drive over and he starts pulling the line out by hand. When the fish gets near the surface, he hands me the line and extends a 4’ broom stick with a rusty hook on one end to yank out our dinner. It is a 3’ long tuna weighing around 10-15 lbs. Baby cracks it in the head with a small wooden bat and baits the line again. Combat fishing. No time to sip beer. Only quick swigs of rum.

Danny passes on the rum and pukes up his lunch over the side of the boat. We had such a nice lunch at the place next door to to the office in Barahona when we went to get gas. We walked in, the lady said “Danilo Presidente”, sit. We didn’t even order. They brought pork, rice and beans and we poured our own beers into their water cups after we drank them. And, now it was gone. He just lost his lunch to the Caribbean Sea.

I was feeling great and trying to keep up with Baby on the fish and the rum. But, I had no clue what was going on. We landed another big fish using the chum and drum method. This time it was a Dorado/Mahi. And, now he has me holding the live bait on the line while it floats down with the chum. No jug. He says if you feel it, pull.

I am working the bait for about 5-10 minutes before I feel a few light nips and on the line. The next nip I feel, I set the hook. And instantly out of the water jumps a 6’ Dorado. Holy Shit! Baby grabs the line and says something in Spanish. He and the driver frantically bait lines and toss them out. Danny and I are completely confused as all the lines get twisted. Minutes later we see 4 maybe 5 dorado jumping all caught on our twisted lines. We found escuela (the school). But we only ended up landing two of them.

I pulled in one, and later Danny pulled in the other. We didn’t understand what happened until later that evening that the first fish that I had caught was the alpha. But, because I had a very thin line, we had to let him run and focus on catching the others. The alpha determines where the school goes. And if you catch him with the thick line, you just let him fight and keep him near until you catch all of his friends. We could have landed 10 big fish. But unfortunately on this afternoon, I caught the alpha with some thin line and he got away.

The day’s take was 3 dorado/mahi each about 4’ long and one big tuna. The Dorado were some of the most beautiful fish I’d ever seen. They were bright with yellow and blue spots and seemed to reflect like chrome and change color when they moved. We pulled the boat on shore around dark. The crew of the boat made our way to a hotel (which was more like a big concrete shack with no power). We dropped off the tuna to be prepared and we all went to go get showered up.

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We met back at Baby’s house for beers before dinner. There was a crew of dudes in his driveway loading up about 30-40 fish into the truck and cleaning them. Baby will make a run to the capital when he has about 3000lbs of fish. At this point he had around 2000lbs and one more day before they had to make it to market.

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We drank our beers on the way back to the hotel which served up the tuna along with plantains. We laughed around the candle light for hours eating and drinking. I received a complement from Big Baby by him saying that I was Dominican because I didn’t mind eating and drinking with just candle light. I asked Danny to translate that I had mucho respect for them and their fishing skills. Baby said he was happy to show an American fisherman how they do it in the DR. And, I think he was right when he said that it is more fun without poles. For the first night in the DR, I finally got a solid night sleep. Tomorrow I’d be taking the bus from Barahona to Santo Domingo and flying back home.

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Pyramid Philosophy

We all can recognize a pyramid. The structure is seen throughout history. Pyramids were constructed in Egypt and all over the ancient world. When I was younger I just thought that the reason for their almost omnipresence was simply because of the minimalist structure. If your society had no means to anchor steel beams cased in concrete into the bedrock, but you also had a desire to elevate yourself to new heights, how else would you do it? You would need to build something with a wide base. The wide base is important. It symbolizes stability. It provides the top of the pyramid with security and safety that it will always have something to stand on. This structure of the pyramid is the basis for my own philosophy of life. This particular philosophy was something that I came up with a few years ago. And, I’ve since learned that it has similarities to that of the levels of Hinduism. However, I have constructed this independently not as a societal philosophy, but as a personal one. Also, I don’t know shit about Hinduism. But, let’s back up a few years. I first became enamored with the Pyramids when I was 17. I leafed through Heaven’s Mirror by Graham Hancock and dialed up some internet articles on the discussions of the symbolism and historical unknowns that surround the pyramids. I remember regurgitating the findings of one of the articles at my camp to some friends and suggesting that they may have been built by aliens. It is very likely that I quoted Nostradamus. After years of seemingly ignoring the subject while never really losing curiosity for it, I found myself constantly faced with the pyramids displayed on our money and public buildings. Always with the All Seeing Eye at the top. Maybe this was the seed that drew roots down into the base of this philosophy. See, around 30 years old I started to appreciate the art of self-reflection. I became less self-conscious, more self-aware and more comfortable trying to explore my own mind. I found peace ingesting edible cannabis and doing yoga or going for a long run during the hottest part of the day in the DC summer. I found myself listening to podcasts and lectures by modern gurus, philosophers, and lecturers. I kept notes on my phone when I read an interesting quote, received a book recommendation, or had what I believed to be an original thought. I began to live life more in the moment, take better care of my body and mind and began spending more time trying to figure out the meaning of life. Maybe not the meaning of life . . . But, I was trying to figure something out. One thing that kept repeating itself was advice I’d heard on how to live life to the fullest. Learn, follow your dreams, do what you want, be nice to other people and just be happy and appreciative etc. But, this all gets very confusing when you try and live it. I understand the point of living in the moment. The moment is all we have. And, I understand the process of doing what you love to do. But, I also understand the logistics of living in this modern society with a wife, friends, a job, and a social construct built on consuming things in a free market. I also realize that doing what you love is hard when you can’t figure out what it is you love to do more than anything else because you’re always finding new things to appreciate. I also realized that everything you can do starts and stops at the individual level. In order to be a better friend, brother, husband or person the first order of business is to focus on improving oneself. We can each only control the actions of ourselves, and with the right actions we can become a more complete person. What is a complete person? Well, this is where I came back to the idea of the pyramid. I looked at life (or at least one’s life) as a pyramid. For example I, or my soul, or my mind or whatever we call it will attempt to construct itself like a pyramid. The blueprint is simple. But, making it complete or perfect nearly impossible. The top of the pyramid is enlightenment. The all seeing all knowing, Buddah, Yawei, Jesus, Mohamed or whatever. We can all strive to be Christlike, Godlike, perfect, but we all know that this is not possible. So, let’s just start at the base. The base of the pyramid is critical. It is basic, simple, building blocks aligned in a square. It must be broad and flat. In life these are the blocks represent the golden rule. Treat others as you should be treated. These values are taught at an early age. Share with each other. Don’t steal, don’t hit. We learn these basics as a child. I learned them through good parenting, and a catholic school education that taught the lessons of Jesus. But, as previously stated these lessons are basic and broad and are the lessons learned by most every child on earth. They are the shared views of all religions, races, cultures, humans. This is our foundation as a person with which we build. As we learn and hopefully master the basics, we grow older. We expand a bit further in terms of how to act within our culture. We learn manners. Beyond please and thank you, we hold the door open for people. We take our shoes off. We don’t talk in the theatre. Continuing on we learn how to treat others by making people feel welcomed and how to be a gracious guest. We learn how to function in our own society. We learn how to contribute to the community, to a business, to a friendship. We grow and learn and continue building. As we venture further up the pyramid and further outside of our individual boundaries we begin learn to appreciate other cultures. We must adapt as we begin to understand the true history of humanity. We learn about our place on this planet as it exists and how it once was. We study history, art, science and mathematics. We become more evolved and are able to cross cultural boundaries with reverence and respect. We can operate in different realms of business as we follow the basic rules we’ve grown to master. We learn from the rules we and others follow. We can share moments with strangers in an elevator or a train and put a smile on each other’s faces simply by shooting an almost serendipitous glance that communicates that we are all brothers and sisters and we are all the same while simultaneously living different lives. . . Maybe that’s too advanced. But, we can make small talk as we become educated, learn lessons, make and correct mistakes. With this we become aware of our own personal imperfections, and strive to be better. We study philosophy and metaphysics and search for a philosophy of life. It becomes beautiful as we reach closer to the top of the pyramid. But, the top is unattainable. We can never know it all. We can’t be everywhere at once, and we never know when we will make yet another mistake, slip and need to step back and seriously rebuild. But, for the sake of understanding the pyramid, let’s just assume that we can even begin to understand enlightenment. But, for the sake of getting on with one’s life, let’s just understand that it is always a work in progress. Constantly reaching for that precipice will ensure that we will make mistakes. Mistakes are what keep us in check. They make us double check where we went wrong. Hopefully it is not the base that needs adjustments. That would be a lot of work. But, it is okay to step back and rebuild. It is imperative in order to move forward. This is obviously a work in progress. But so is life. Philosophy

Nunavut

It was about 6 months back when I first spoke to OJ about possible projects. OJ runs the environmental branch of the Canadian business and would be my direct report for the entirety of my secondment in Montreal. During our call, he mentioned the chance to do some drilling in Nunavut or Nunavik. During this call, I’m sitting in my pajama pants at my ‘home office’ in Madison WI. I scribble down the names of these place I’d never heard of, and we continue our conversation. After the call I check google maps and am immediately blown away by how far north I had to scroll. Untitled I once incorrectly answered a trivial pursuit question that asked “Which country has the longest shoreline?” The correct answer is Canada. And, after learning this, I said “Oh, yeah, there are all those fucking little islands way up north covered in ice”. Well, those islands are inhabited much to my surprise. A large portion of those islands in eastern portion of Canada are part of the Canadian Territory (slightly different from a Canadian Provence) of Nunavut. The capital of Nunavut is Iqaliut. And, the second largest “city” in Nunavut is Rankin Inlet. I would come to learn that Iqaliut has about 5-6 thousand inhabitants while Rankin Inlet is home to about 2500. While the population numbers of my home town were never staggering, to compare the two places based on just these numbers would be a huge oversimplification of the different worlds that they are. Shortly after arriving in Montreal in August, I’m provided opportunities to work on a few of their projects. One is a local golf course/landfill owned by some savvy businessman named Glen. He’s a native of the Mohawk nation and has made a dickload of money by taking advantage of his non taxed, non regulated properties and by taking truck load after truck load of “potentially” contaminated materials and using them as “fill” for his golf-course-to-be. This crash course in Canadian vs native politics and relations was just what I needed in order to get that first bit of culture shock. The only way to shock myself quicker would have been to fly to Nunavut directly from Madison. Nearly a month has gone by. In the first week of September, I’m prepping for a 3 day trip to Boston which will include various meetings of the minds followed by nights loaded with alcohol and overpriced crustaceans. Just a day before departing for Boston, Oscar calls from his cell, emails me and my office mate to notify me about an eminent need to get boots on the ground in Nunavut. I tell him that I’m happy to go. On this Monday afternoon, I tell him that I will be in Boston from Wednesday until Saturday afternoon. We come to the conclusion that the following Monday I will fly to Nunavut. The prep can mostly be handled w/o me. All I would need to do is read some reports on the plane and figure out how to use survey equipment. View from the office in Montreal Montreal Three days in Boston:

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Walking through downtown Boston

Mike and I get started the first night and eat sushi and watch the Sox game. We meet up with Josh and drink lots of beers at various pubs south of the Seaport. The trains from NY were all fucked up and nobody got in on time. We used this as an excuse to drink. I had gone to the GB BJJ in the Back Bay earlier in the day to burn off some jetlag from my 40 min flight and choke out some girls. The next few days are filled with meetings and buzzwords. Synergies were found and wheels were put into motion. We drank lots to celebrate on Friday night for Andrew’s birthday and were even granted the opportunity to watch a very un-athletic group of trashy Boston kids beat up one of their peers who had started a fight by taking of his sneaker and whipping another guy in the face. I return to Montreal on Saturday and sleep it off. Elizabeth and I hit the market on Sunday and on Monday morning I pick up equipment from the office (bumping into the CEO in the elevator) and head to the airport. I came loaded with the warmest clothes that I own, plus a 4 liter box of wine for a guy named Matthew who would be my host in Iqaluit for a few days. Upon learning that Nunavut was an option, I told everyone that I know. A girl that I work with in Boston happened to have been born in Nunavut, and her brother (Matthew) was currently living in Iqaluit. She offered me his couch; he confirmed that I was indeed welcome to stay at his place. Due to its remote location, getting any sort of goods is both difficult and very expensive. I ask Matthew what I could bring. He asks for a 4L box of sharaz. Although it is against provincial law to transport this much alcohol across territorial lines, Matthew says it shouldn’t be a big deal.

Rankin Inlet: The first flight out of Montreal stops in Kuujjuaq which is (I think) part of northern Quebec called Nunavik. From this point, half of the passengers stay on the plane, and half get off. Then, 30 minutes later, half of those who exited get back on. This is weird. I tell the crew that I want to get off and check out Kuujjuaq, but I only make it a few steps past the last step of the stairs before the freezing rain and wind force me to immediately regret the decision to get off the plane. After I snap a few pictures of the pine trees that surround the airport, I get back on and we fly to Iqaluit. This is the next layover and the place where I will return in 2 days to stay with Matthew. But, first, I need to get to Rankin Inlet to do some work. I arrive in Rankin to meet 2 of my colleagues from Toronto. We have never met. I am introduced to Arash and Lindsay. They are both working on an expansion of the Rankin airport and making sure that the structural integrity is sound while blacktop is being laid down. We awkwardly chat in the airport while waiting for my 6 pieces of luggage. We load everything into the rented 1997 Dodge Durango and head to the “bed and breakfast”. The place is pretty much a hotel. But, it lacks a few of the items that I most recently remember from the Seaport Hilton in Boston. There is no elevator, but the place is only 3 floors. There are probably 30-40 rooms in the hotel. There is a restaurant area, a conference room, a gym, and a “bar”. We are told that the kitchen has closed (at 7:30 pm) but that the “bar” will open at 9. Arash and I decide to meet at the bar at 9, and we go our separate ways until then. I take this time to drive around and take some pictures. While the town is only about 3 square miles, I get lost. All of the roads are dirt. And all of the street signs are in Inuit language (Inuktitut). I am on the phone with Elizabeth, tooling around in this broke ass Durango for a half hour before I finally find my hotel. I only remember that this non descriptive building is mine because of the glowing clock that stands across the street between the hotel and the Inuksuk up on the hill.

Inuksuk in Rankin

I drove past loads of school age kids playing soccer and football on their new outdoor field turf across from the large man-made lake that would soon be frozen. The dirt roads are full of holes. Many of the buildings are painted bright colors to make up for the lack of natural beauty on the glacier beaten land. We are well above the tree line here. Just below the arctic circle near the 63rd parallel. The sun sets at about 7 at this time of year, but due to the position of the axis, sunset lasts about an hour unlike the 15 minute display that I’m used to. I make it back to the hotel just before dark. I sit in the lobby and try to upload pictures to instagram. The hotel has wifi, but it is only 2-3 gigs. In Montreal at the time we had 29-30 gigs. I don’t know much about communications, but I know a slow connection. This was quite slow compared to dial-up, but still amazing because we are in a town that can only be reached by air or by boat. After submitting to defeat, I sit and look around at the pictures in the lobby until 9. At that time, Arash arrives and we follow the bellman with the greasiest hair I had ever seen to the “bar” in the back. An old Inuit man follows us. We purchase some cans of Canadian beer for $8.50 a pop. There are strict rules here about when booze can be sold, and which types are available. I don’t ever get a good grasp of these rules. But, it is apparent that beer along with every other thing is quite expensive relative to the quality. Arash and I trade work stories and learn a bit about each other and how we’ve come to meet here in Rankin Inlet. We will have to get a lot of work done in the next 48 hours. And, we will also need to keep good contact with our local clients who are part of the Nunavut government. So, we hope for some luck, we finish a few beers, and we plan to meet early in the morning. I arrive at breakfast just before 7. I walk in and make a plate from the buffet. There was a poor excuse for scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, and bacon. After loading up my plate and sitting down, an old Inuit woman walks out of the kitchen and asks me directly, “you with construction?”. I say “Yes”, and she leaves me to my meal. They have no coffee. Arash arrives a few minutes later and we eat. He tells me that “construction” consists of a French Canadian company who are re-building the airport. They have a negotiated an agreement with the hotel as well as other businesses to provide their guys with food while they are there working. We just got a free meal. We head to the site and I begin to conduct my survey. I don’t know what I’m doing and my equipment only has 1 bar of battery life. It’s not a great start to the day. Arash is directing a white guy to dig holes down to the top of the permafrost (1-2M) so he can check the soil. He describes this guy as a “proper Nufie” from Newfoundland. I don’t get a chance to speak with him too much. But, I hear that their accent is a hilarious mix of Irish and Canadian dialects. Arash gets the chance to have lunch with a number of the Nufies that live and work here, but his impression of it did not live up to his description which included the word hilarious. After recharging my equipment, a quick meeting with our contact with the Nunavut government office, and a trip back to the airport to attempt to locate my missing survey stakes work presses on until dark. I surveyed about 400 locations and took 20 or so pictures. I was constantly distracted by the rocky outcrops on site and the locals who passed by and asked questions. Also, with Hudson bay just a few hundred meters from where I stood, the view from the outcrops on site were unlike any that I’d ever seen. The geology of this area is part of the Canadian shield. Some of the oldest rocks on earth poured for thousands of years out onto the surface of the earth long before the first life would begin. These were the first rocks to float and become the crust. All prior volcanic rock had been recycled back into the mantle. But, these rocks have seen every type of climate from global warming (#noah) to miles and miles of traveling sheets of ice which grinded, scarred, and distorted them from their original form. The land is beaten and with no trees, you don’t have to be a geologist to see that this ground has seen some hard times. At the end of the day, the work is as done as it is going to get. We are out of daylight and getting hungry. But, first, Lindsay (who has been in Rankin for the past 2 weeks) offers to drive us to a cool area outside of town. There is a national park only a few kilometers west of the town where many of the locals will go to “get away”. We reach our first stop along a small lake. There are a dozen or more cottages and a wooden tipi. Inside of the tipi (which we were granted access) was a fire ring with a grate for cooking, and surrounding benches covered in giant white pelts. We pick up one of the pelts (which are from arctic foxes) and discover a small mouse living in the folds. It pops its little head out a number of times and then scurries away. We take pictures with the fox pelts and continue down the road.

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We reach the park just around sunset. The first hill that we drive up is capped with an Inuksuk. The Inuksuk are statues which were traditionally used to guide home fishermen. Now, they are a symbol of Nunavut. We take some pictures of the Inuksuk which stands only 2 feet high but is backlit by a full moon. The scene overlooks lakes and estuaries that connect the Hudson bay from the myriad of interior waterways. We can see the bright lights of Rankin Inlet in the distance. After a few minutes, the whipping wind drives us back into our truck and we drive on. Around the next bend there is another Inuksuk. But upon closer inspection, we see that a large white bird is perched on top. We stop and the bird turns to us. We all gasp in excitement as Lindsay points out the obvious. We are looking at an arctic owl. It is huge and impressive. As it looks at us, we stop the truck and turn off the engine. I try and zoom in using my iphone as Lindsay attempts to lower the window. But, as I’m taking the picture, it flies away. We were able to admire it for a few seconds, but then it was gone down over the hill. Arash ran up the hill to see if it may have landed nearby, but was not that lucky. To see an arctic owl is quite rare. Many people live in the north and never come across one. It made our night. inuksuk 3 We drove around for another half hour or so. We took pictures of the sunset and visited an old traditional sod house. The arctic sunset was unlike any that I’ve ever seen. As the sun dips slowly at such a low angle across the horizon, the sunset tends to envelop you. It is setting all around you. No pictures can do it justice even as we attempt to steadily swing around collecting panoramas of the area on our phones and cameras.

Arctic Sunset

Arctic Sunset

We head back to the hotel for steaks and poutine. But, no beer is served with dinner. For that we will have to wait until 9 when the bar opens for an hour and a half. We eat and then unload our equipment from the Durango. At this time, we discover that I left the lights on. The battery was now dead. While there is a plug hanging from the side view mirror of all of the vehicles up here; that plug is used to keep the engine from freezing up in the winter. That would do us no good. We call the haka rental company to come and give us a jump. They don’t pick up. We decide that it will have to wait until the morning. We sit at the bar with a couple of the French Canadian construction workers and down a couple of beers. We watch some awful reality show about bartering before calling it a night. The next morning, we jump the Durango and head to the site. I finish the last of my survey points before heading to another meeting with the Client. While I finish, the battery dies again. In the final lap, I rely on Arash and Lindsay to pick me up in Lindsay’s truck. We barrel through another drawn out meeting and then separate again. I drop Arash and Lindsay at their next meeting and begin preparing for my flight. I pack up my equipment and check in at the airport. Since this is such a small place, it is very easy to show back up at the airport right before the flight and just get on the plane. The people who live here even know the flight patterns. This is obvious by the artists selling their carvings in the airport that show up just as flights come in and tourists or newcomers gather around the works of art on display throughout the airport. I pack up my equipment and take a few last minute pictures of the site. I feel like the job is not done because Arash is going to be staying for another day to complete the geotech study, and Lindsay is likely on board for another week in Rankin. I however, have completed what was asked of me, and I am keeping my itinerary intact as planned. I stop at the local co-op for a $10 sandwich which tastes awful. I drive Lindsay’s truck onto the runway of the airport. My Durango is still dead. Arash will have to take it from here. I walk into the airport from the runway. Their staff asks me how I got there. I told them that I was with “construction”. They don’t give a fuck. I get directly on the plane to Iqaluit.airport Iqaluit Airport My coworker Jamie had arranged for me to stay with her brother Matthew in Iqaluit for about 2 days. I had only spoken to Jamie 3 times, and I’d never met her brother. However, the arrangement would be amicable. Matthew was to pick me up this Wednesday at just after 4pm. Since I wouldn’t be driving, I took advantage of First Air’s policy to provide free food and wine on all flights. The food sucks up north for the most part. I noticed this on my first flight. They had those little cheese wiz packages of 4 crackers and the little red stick that you got in elementary school. There were little packages of cheese wiz in the hotel, but the only crackers that came with them were saltines. For the most part, the food was bullshit. But, I can dig it. It’s so far north that any food that comes up fresh would cost an arm and a leg to rush. So, I arrive in Iqaluit which is the capital of Nunavut. I only assume that I know what to expect when I meet Matthew. He said that there is “always lots to do in Iqaluit”. But, from what I gathered, Matthew had only ever lived in Nunavut. So, if now he was in the capital city, of course this would be a place where there is always lots to do. But, I didn’t presume too much. Matthew met me at my gate (which is the only gate in this airport) and we gather my pile of checked luggage which included a cooler, my huge bag, and a number of boxes and cases that housed survey equipment. Matthew must have walked over or taken a cab because he only owns a 4 wheeler. So, we take a $6 cab back to his place. I’m still in work mode at this point and scramble to download the final bits of data from my survey onto my computer. I can’t get any emails to send out that have more than one attachment, so I have to verbally ensure my office mates back in Montreal that I’ve got everything taken care of, and that I’d sort it all out once I got back to civilization. During this time, Matthew and I exchange some stories about how we’ve come to meet. He is a very nice guy who works as a writer for the Nunavut government. And, even though it is only 3 days before the election, Matthew will sacrifice hours of sleep to ensure that I enjoy all that is Iqaluit. Matthew is a huge fan of art. He plays interesting music while we chat. He tells me that it’s one of his favorite bands, but that he just downloaded their newest album and hasn’t yet decided how he feels about it. He shows me the pieces of art that cover the walls and tables in his modest apartment. Later in the evening he showed me the book that he recently had published about his grandmother’s escape from Poland at the beginning of WWII. He is a student of history and knows so much about it that I struggle to keep track when he drops references that one should have memorized in order to support the event that he is explaining. He spent some of his childhood years in Cambridge Bay, which is above the Arctic Circle. He explained how the ground is constantly frozen and covered with snow and ice in Cambridge Bay (unlike the subarctic tropical tundra of Rankin Inlet or Iqaluit where permafrost exists 3-6 feet bgs). After a few minutes of chatting, Matthew tells me that we have dinner plans and that we need to go meet with some of his friends and acquaintances at the best restaurant in town. We hike up a very steep dirt trail through the downtown past the new Igloo shaped church and icecube shaped school. This hill is going to be a headache if we eat and drink a lot. It’s getting dark, and I’m wishing I brought my headlamp. We arrive at dinner in the largest of the three connected buildings on top of the hill. This megalopolis of square architecture is home to Iqaluit’s premium hotel the Frobisher Inn which goes for $250 per night, a very popular bar (which we don’t make it into because the line was tremendous) and the “best restaurant in town”. The group is sat at a long table and we are the last to arrive. We make our introductions and sit. The people at our table are from all corners of Canada. There is one other American at the table who moved to Yellowknife a few years back. He was an architect in his past life. He lived in Brooklyn and did work at small firms in midtown. We get along pretty well. He’s the first American that I’ve met in Canada. The crowd at our dinner is more cosmopolitan than I expected. There are professionals who work in the heathcare industry, lawyers, and anthropologists. There are young hipsters and young mothers and teachers. But, the group is very friendly. The conversation is interesting. And, the arctic char was delicious. This is the best thing I’ve eaten since Boston. Unfortunately, they were out of the caribou and the musk ox. But, arctic char was just right. And, I would get my fill of “country food” tomorrow. We leave dinner and split from our group in pairs. Matthew and I pick up the other American guy and head to the other bar inside of the large building. The line is long, but we stop and have a chat with a few Quebecers outside for 15 minutes. Matthew seems to know everyone in Iqaluit and people greet us with nothing but smiles. He introduces me as his friend Steven who is visiting for a few days. Most people are surprised that I’m American, and I struggle to answer the question “Where are you from?”. We finally make our way back down the hill. It is completely dark out, and I can only picture sitting in the waiting room at the Iqaluit hospital to get my noggin stitched up if I slip. As we hit solid ground we pick up speed and crash into another hotel bar. There are 5 or more people standing on the steel steps out front smoking cigs. We enter past the front desk and into the bar. It’s fairly crowded and we take a table in the back next to the large fireplace with the caribou mount above. We drink some Rickards red beer from Newfoundland. It sucks, but we knock back 4 or 5. At this bar, along with the last, and just like in the airport, locals are selling their artwork. It is beautiful stuff. But, I can’t justify buying a walrus carved out of stone with ivory or caribou horn tusks for $75. Matthew buys a drum and tells me that if I don’t find anything that I could buy it from him for the same price ($30) which he says is a steal. The coolest items were the stone carvings or the antler carvings. I even saw a snow owl necklace carved into baline from a blue whale. I don’t buy anything this night, and we leave. When Matthew and I get back to his place, we mix up some rum and cokes and talk shit about politics, music, art and travel. We had a good night. Matthew provides some linens for the tiny couch. I slept okay considering that I was much too tall for this couch. Matthew got up and went to work and I slept in and ate his cereal when I got up. He left me with some suggested places to visit and keys to his 4 wheeler. I told Matthew that I’d pick up some food for dinner. He told me the place to go, and said that if they had any caribou or musk ox that I must get some. The place was called Iqaluit Enterprise. The shop was tiny. It was one small room with a counter and three deep freezers. The guy who worked there was named John. John could talk for hours, but I only picked his brain for about 45 minutes. He was from BC but lived and worked all through the north. He knew where every piece of meat in his freezers was killed, when it was frozen, and who did what from the time that shit was swimming until he sold it.

Muktuk

Muktuk

And, the best news was that he had caribou. He said that someone shot it on Monday. They butchered it and flash froze it on Tuesday, he received it on Wednesday, and I’m standing in his shop on Thursday buying one of the 20 or so pieces that he had left. He was sure that the meat would be gone by the weekend. I also picked up some smoked arctic char. He explained to me the whole “cold smoke” process and shared with me a few recipes. John was also a chef for about 14 years all over the north. Along with the char and the caribou steaks, I had to try some muktuk. Muktuk was a traditional Inuit food. But, it’s also one of the roots of the word Eskimo. Eskimo is a word that means people who eat raw meat. And, this muktuk is just that. It is the raw skin and blubber of a whale. This particular muktuk was harvested from a Narwal which was caught up the coast during its fall migration. John explained to me how to thaw, cut, and serve muktuk. He explained that the outer skin was the best part and that usually only Inuit eat the blubber and that they called it bubblegum. I would soon find out why. I took the meat and packed it into Matthew’s freezer and unloaded the mushrooms and onion that I picked up to help form some sort of accompaniment to our feast. I then set out to explore some of the coast on the 4 wheeler. I’d been driving in town, but now I was heading north out of the city toward the river. It wasn’t far past the airport when I reached an amazing lookout at the edge of a steep cliff. waterfall I took lots of pictures, but it didn’t take long for the wind to convince me that it was time to go. I rode back toward town stopping a few times to take pictures. First, I stopped when I saw owners feeding their sled dogs. eskmo dogs dog There must have been 50 dogs all chained together feeding on piles of raw frozen fish. I took some pictures of the ones who didn’t appear to want to bite me. But, these dogs are too unpredictable to get within leash length. I kept my distance and used the optical zoom. I also stopped at the lagoon just south of town. I was quickly asked to leave because it is not for the public. It is a large water treatment area with no roads. The quickly changing tides are pretty dangerous to navigate along the rocky coast. So, I made no arguments to stay. pipe lagoon

Iqaluit

Iqaluit

I rode back to town and started our dinner. Matthew got home and we drank some drinks and ate the muktuk and caribou. The caribou was one of the best pieces of meat that I’d ever tasted. The muktuk was subpar. But, the experience was well worth it. I’m bringing the remainder to Montreal to share with all who enter my apartment in 2013-14. After dinner a number of other residents from the Iqaluit House (Matt’s apt bldg.) came to join us for drinks. We planned to convince the crew to join us at the local legion for karaoke and beers, but were only successful in getting one of them to join. No worries. We had made friends with the whole bar by signing once we arrived. karaoke

After last call, we went back to Matthews and smoked copious amounts of ditch weed and listened to music while playing with some Inuit toy where you swing a thingie onto a stick. We went to bed around 3am. I don’t know how Matt got up and made it to work. But, I think it had something to do with the wrong number who called his place at 7am. Lucky for him. I fell back asleep and spent my last morning and lunch eating leftovers and wandering around Iqaluit wondering more about the place. I had some good chats with Matthew about the atrocities that were brought upon the people when the white Europeans came to the north. The missionaries seemed to have really done a number on the people, and public relations will forever suffer. The last few hours that I had before heading to the airport were spent walking around the town alone. I tried to understand fully that I was standing just a few miles from the Arctic Circle in a land that I may never see again. I walked down to the water to admire the bay and the boats sitting up on rocks, stuck until the next tide came in. I made my way back to the center of the town and walked through the artists’ garden near the local college. The decorations that adorn the town are all homemade by local artists. They include intricate metal works, and massive stone carvings. I took a few more pictures and then meet Matthew at his place. He borrowed a car from a friend, and drove me to the airport.

IMG_2161 IMG_2168 IMG_2163  inuksuk

I got back to Montreal around 8pm. I took a cab home, and then jumped on my bike. When I met up with Caity and our friend Megan at some ironic hipster bar with a miniature bowling alley in it on the Plateau that we would later discover was a gay bar; I couldn’t stop thinking of Nunavut. The contrast between Montreal (which to me is foreign enough) and Nunavut are just massive. I will always remember it. And, if you enter my apt in 2013-2014 you will get to taste a bit of it.