Category: Travel

Silence Is Beholden

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I was on a solo hike a few weeks ago on a beautiful northern Californian day in Shasta Trinity National Park. It was a weekday morning, so I had the place to myself. I followed the Waters Gulch trail for about a mile or two as I trekked the path toward Packers Bay. The river (pictured above) was low, exposing the golden sediment beneath the thick green trees. It wasn’t long into the trail when the bustling world outside the Park faded and the world hushed. Though I knew I was walking through a vibrant and wild ecosystem of life in many forms, I was awed by its absolute silence.

Not a car. Not a plane droning above. Just my boots on the gravel. It was divine.

I wanted to capture that moment to take with me back into civilization, but I knew that some moments are better left uncaptured, free to roam on in time for the next eager seeker in need of some bliss. But I think some ought to be documented, if only because places like that — where noise doesn’t intrude on the soothing symphony of nature — are an endangered species.

And that’s why I suspect Gordon Hempton has the best job in the world. He’s an “acoustic ecologist” who records rare nature sounds and the few places on earth where silence still rules. He’s also the founder of One Square Inch of Silence, a research and advocacy project to protect the naturally silent habitats of the Olympic National Park in Washington.

I learned about Hempton through On Being, a podcast hosted by Krista Tippett I recently started listening to. It’s a great interview series featuring makers and doers of many stripes. Some recent guests include a Zen master and poet, a mathematician, a physicist, a pastor, and an oceanographer. Each has their own area of expertise and interest, but what I like about the series so far is how each show, despite the varying subject matter, still lives within the same sphere held together by the centripetal forces of truth, discovery, beauty, and meaning.

Tippett’s conversation with Hempton was so serene and poetic and enlivening. He defines silence not as merely the absence of sound but instead as “silence from all these sounds that have nothing to do with the natural acoustic system.” He sees the world as a “solar-powered jukebox” and links our modern world’s lack of silence to our inability to listen.

I don’t need an excuse to seek out quiet. My introversion calls for a degree of separation from the world in order to recharge, and often that separation leads me to a quiet place, where I can only hear waves overtaking shoreline rocks, or rain falling on leaves. It’s so hard in an urban setting to escape the noisiness of the world, but it’s important to do so. Quiet, as Gordon Hempton says, is a “think tank of the soul.” We don’t have natural ear-lids for a reason.

Chacho En Bogota: El Fin

I’m sitting in the El Dorado airport in Bogota, waiting to board my flight. I’ve been here for 100 days, and I must say it will be bittersweet leaving Colombia. I met some great people here and got to live in another country and culture for a prolonged period, which has always been a personal goal.

I will miss the food. I bought freshly made bread at a nearby bakery what seemed like every day. The croissants were especially tasty. It’s something about the altitude that makes baked goods especially succulent. I’ll also miss empanadas, ajiaco (a soup), and lots of other foods.

I will miss the family I stayed with, the Encisos. Jorge works as the pastor at Iglesia Comunidad Viva, which is a great community of believers I came to really enjoy and respect. It was great living and working with them every day. The two girls, Maia and Matilde, were also a ball when they weren’t screaming their guts out. I’ll definitely miss the hugs they gave me randomly throughout the day. If you can, please support Jorge & Ginny in their ministry. There is information about how to do so on their blog.

I actually won’t miss the climate. Crazy, right? But as a native midwesterner, I need me some cold and snow once in a while. If 60s and 70s every day with a little rain is your thing, than Bogota is the place to be.

And so ends another chapter in my life. I don’t know what my future holds yet, but I’m glad I got to live for a little while with the good people in Colombia. Gracias a todos y que estén muy bien.

Chacho

Chacho En Bogota: The Napkins Are Free, Right?

So in the time of my last posting, two milestones were passed: the one-month-left-in-Colombia date, and the 55th anniversary of lightning striking the Hill Valley Courthouse clock tower on November 12, 1955 at 10:04pm. I’m here, I’m a nerd – get used to it.

In other news, on Friday Jorge brought out the ping-ping table into the street in front of the house so we could play with a few of the neighborhood hooligans who have caused Jorge and the family some consternation in the past. It turns out these kids were all right and just needed something constructive to do rather than drink beer and be disruptive. We played ping pong for at least four hours, during which I won (I kid you not) about 25 straight games. Granted, the kids weren’t the best ping pongers, but still. Afterward we watched Into the Wild and they stayed until about 11. It was great progress for starting a relationship with these kids.

Tonight, I just got back from an outing with Jorge and some of his friends. Two of them, a married couple, are starting a restaurant and they toured us around the place which is still under construction. It sits on top of a valley, so the view is incredible. Very spacious and chic. I hope I can eat there someday.

After the tour, we went to dinner at Andres Carne De Res, which is apparently a very famous – if not the famous – restaurant in Colombia. This means it was very expensive, but the food was incredible. Seriously, it was probably the best steak I’ve ever had. The restauranteur-friends were telling me that the owner of the place is filthily rich and a huge jerk. (He was actually eating a few tables away from us.) There are currently three of his restaurants in the world – two in Colombia and one in New York – and the Bogota establishment alone made him $20 million in personal wealth last year. In spite of this, the man takes 3% of the 10 percent tip the waitstaff gets from each bill.

To make up for this douche-move, I stole a cloth napkin. Apparently they check bags at the door for theft, so I just stuffed it down my pants. With my beer glass I got from the Bogota Beer Company, that makes two souvenirs I didn’t have to pay for. Hat trick, anyone?

Chacho

Chacho En Bogota: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Extend My Visa

I was technically an illegal alien for a few hours yesterday. I forgot to renew my tourist visa until a day after it expired, so I was nervous going downtown to the DAS office (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad). After a two-hour wait, I got fingerprinted and a woman looked over my papers, stamped my passport, and I was good to go.

No fine, no hassle. Praise the Lord.

– Chacho

Chacho En Bogota: SpongeBob

Matilde, almost 4, came to my room to show me her new SpongeBob Squarepants band-aid and this conversation followed:

MATILDE: That’s Patrick and this is SpongeBob and they live underwater.
CHAD: Yeah, they do.
MATILDE: Do you think they have special beds?
CHAD: Yeah, they probably have special underwater beds because they live in the ocean.
MATILDE: Yeah. But Patrick is a star and Spongebob is cheese so he’s not supposed to be in the water.
CHAD: I thought Spongebob was a sponge. Do you know what a sponge is?
MATILDE: No…
CHAD: A sponge is something you use to clean dishes and it gets wet, so that’s why Spongebob is a sponge because he’s underwater.
MATILDE: But Spongebob is cheese.
CHAD: OK.

Chacho En Bogota: Fortuitous Times

I took a cab by myself (in a foreign country) for the first time yesterday. I was going to an English tutoring session for two 13 year-olds and was going to bike there, but then it started pouring so a cab suddenly looked a lot better. I ended up walking back after the session, which was fortunate because I got to see a double rainbow above Bogota. Good times.

Chacho En Bogota: The Cows Are Off To Pasture

SuperVacas has ended. Ninety kids showed up on Friday. Monday there were about 50. It’s incredible how good news travels around the neighborhood. A lot of the kids were first-timers. It was an exhausting week because there were only 10 adult workers for the 90 kids that showed up, but everything got done and the kids had fun.

Also fun: Jorge’s birthday on Thursday. We had a block party – ping pong table, music, five different cakes, and lots of people hanging around. I didn’t mingle for too long because I had a pretty bad headache, but it was cool to see how block parties like that can happen, because they don’t happen often in the States – at least not as easily.

Should be going to El Centro tonight and Monday for some sightseeing and gift-buying. Report on that to come. Until then, estén bien.

— Chacho

Chacho En Bogota: Blessed Indeed

Some 70 kids came to SuperVacas today, which means the good word is spreading ’round the barrio. The kids played ping-pong and soccer today – I pinged a little pong before they did and remembered how much I loved playing. My backhand, though, is much stronger than my forehand.

The Encisos invited a boy from SuperVacas to have lunch with us today. It was a pretty modest lunch by usual standards: noodles with chicken and soup. But the boy said it’s as much food he’s had in a long time. It was humbling and a little heartbreaking. It made me realize just how blessed I am to have; three squares a day, a roof over my head and a pillow under it, the ability to come and live in Colombia for three months, family and friends who love me, money (however little of it) at my disposal, and, among many other things, an iPod and personal computer.

I’m blessed indeed.

– Chacho

Chacho En Bogota: Cows That Are Super

Today was Day 1 of, as Jorge would say, ¡¡¡SUPERVACAS!!!! It’s basically an AWANA-type day camp hosted by the church from 9am-12 every day this week. About 60 kids showed up today in total, so it was a lot of controlled chaos. It definitely brought me back to my days as a counselor at Lake Waubesa Bible Camp, but in the best way possible.

After a few worship songs and then a short teaching time (the theme for this week is “Jars of Clay”, or parrijas de barro), the kids got to actually work with some clay, resulting in many creative constructions and a lot of amorphous clay globs.

After a snack, game time. Out in the adjacent patio, the kids were divided into four teams and played racing games. The Red Team, captained by Jorge, eventually prevailed. I look forward to more craziness this week.

Chacho

P.S. Tonight, Jorge brought back Cinnabons for everyone, in his words, “for a taste of home.” I replied that anything that clogged by arteries tasted like home to me. I don’t have to go over how it feels to eat a Cinnabon, but I will say this: God bless sugar.

Chacho En Bogota: Flea Market

I played drums this morning for church – the first time I’ve done so while I’ve been here. It’s been a while since I’ve played and it felt pretty good.

After church, a couple of people from the singles group, plus the Encisos and the adopting family, visited a flea market not far from our neighborhood for lunch and craft browsing. Lots of local artisans with booths. I’m glad I’m not into jewelry because there was way too much of it to buy. I did, though, get a gift or two and a wallet for myself.

The wallet was made by a dredlocked, Madison-type hippie not much older than me. His stated price was 20,000 pesos (about $11), but I’m lucky I had my Colombian friends with me because they balked and the vendor bumped it down to 15,000 pesos. He also threw in a friendship bracelet he quickly made on the spot and tied it on my hand, after I pledged to, in essence, keep love, peace, joy, happiness, etc., in my heart always.

Deal.

— Chacho