about the giant douche and the turd sandwich!

One of the biggest short comings of today’s democracy’s is the illusion of choice, expressed in the offer of only two unfavorable options.
This is seldom more obvious than at the current situation with the US Presidential Election.

Mathematics demands, that you will always end up with two major parties/candidates/options in a “first past the post” system. (watch CPG Greys explanation, why this is the case)

“A first-past-the-post voting system is one in which voters are required to indicate on the ballot the candidate of their choice, and the candidate who receives more votes than any other candidate wins.
To a greater extent than many other electoral methods, the first-past-the-post system encourages tactical voting. Voters have an incentive to vote for one of candidates they predict are most likely to win, even if they would prefer neither candidate to win. A vote for any other candidate is considered to be likely wasted and bear no impact or benefit on the final result they would prefer. The system is widely used in the United Kingdom, United States and India, most of their current and former colonies and protectorates, and a few other countries.”

Summarized; this has a systematical effect in which you have to choose the lesser of two “evils”, rather than the party or candidate that you actually would like to be in office. Unfortunately, rather than acknowledge the short coming of such a system, the blame will normally rest on the candidates or the party without a promise of a change. Remember: Most systems don’t have mechanism to replace/optimize them self and you have to feed on the explanation of “tradition”.

Now, how did the United States end up with these two candidates? I won’t claim that the voting system predetermined Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as obvious candidates but it does predict that you will be left to choose between a giant douche or a turd sandwich! Its as simple as that. The USA is stuck in a repetitive dual Party dry hump. So is the UK an any other state that still determines representatives with the “first past the post”voting system.

It is fairly depressing to choose between two unfavorable options in every day life, doing this for the governance of a nation lets you faint and shows how little progress we made in the field of decision-making.
But this year the choice must be rather clear. In this election, one choice is not just unfavorable but actually unacceptable and dangerous.
I understand the frustration with the political system and the demand for change, a demand that Hillary Clinton most likely will fall short, if elected. But the alternative is so unprecedented unacceptable that you just have to vote for her. If your choice is drowning then even a shitty life west is unquestionably the better option. The possibility of Donald Trump becoming President, of the most powerful Nation, will have so far reaching consequences that you can’t withdraw from it, no matter where you life. He claims climate change is a hoax, he changes his statements and opinions like a madmen, he feeds on anger and fear. The list of scandals and insane proposals but forward by Donald Trump is just endless and its even sold to his credit as “say what he thinks”.
If you have ever wondered about history, how a truly bad idea or person came to power, then history is written today! It doesn’t matter if you are a US citizen or home to any other Nation. If Donald Trump becomes President of the United States this will have negative consequences for every citizen of this Planet. We’re at a very fragile point in climate change negotiations, having a person at the helm who not even accepts the scientific consensus on the topic may just reverse the little progress made in Paris.

No matter how much you dislike or disengage in politics, it is the process of making decisions applying to all members of each group, you can’t not care about that. If you think the current process is fraud, broken or disappointing than its our all responsibility to do something about it. Or as Joseph de Maistre put it “Every nation gets the government it deserves”.

My advice to the US for now must be:

1. Vote for Hillary
2. Change to a proportional voting System.

Giving advice from the other side of the Atlantic seems fairly easy at this stage, so I’ll turn the page here.
What is valid for the election of the government should also apply for ideas. Even in a proportional direct democracy like we have in Switzerland we are still stuck with the illusion of choice if it comes to decision-making over ideas. You’re either for or against an idea! There is no option C or D on the ballot, as this system also lacks an alternative to majority decision-making.

I’ll leave you with this thought: What if the method of decision-making has more effect on the outcome than the actual people involved in voting?

Sailing across the Atlantic!

Every year hundred sailing vessels set out from the Canary Islands, or from southwestern Europe, with the aim to sail across the Atlantic Ocean to reach the Caribbean Islands or the American Continent. The World Cruising Club provides a frame for this yearly migration, known as the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers). Around 200 boats and 1’000 sailors from all over the world join this event every year. The ARC provides a frame for additional guidance, security and community and is very popular for the less seasoned ocean sailors. But also some veterans enjoy the social aspect and the networking of this event.

The participants and sailing vessels of the 30th edition (2015) ARC are as diverse as their reasons for joining. The vessels range from single handed 28ft (8-9m) mono-hulls, to racing crews with up to 16people. It’s fantastic to find boats with half the number of sleeping bunks as they have crew on deck, some who will have to deal with 3-5 liters of fresh water per day (including drinking, cocking, washing up and probably no showering), just to find next to them a floating “catamaran-hotel” with a high-output water marker, which can produce thousands of liters of water, so they can run their dishwashers and showers. Due to my previous sailing adventures I am used to the “basic” boat life: shower with a bucket of salty seawater and share the few square meters with strangers, whom you will know better than your friends, after some weeks of “shared privacy”.

I am lucky to find one of the few vacant crew spots. Mainly due to my previous sailing skills, travel experiences and being a vegetarian (sometimes it can be an advantage). Jonathan, who runs a property company, planned to cross the Atlantic Ocean with his 44ft Island Packet already in 2009, but had to postpone it to the current year. Together with his cousin Paul and Ole who holds a PhD in Chemistry from Norway we are a crew of four people. As Paul and Jonathan are Jewish, the boat promises to be a kosher place, with lots of Jewish traditions, a topic I didn’t know anything about at that point. Between the four of us we should find sufficient skills to be able to handle all the situations that might be thrown at us in the weeks to come.

Provisioning for weeks at sea takes some planning and its seldom without misunderstandings. The local vegetable and fruit deliverer misreads our order and deliveres bags in kilos instead of pieces. A mistake that becomes fairly obvious once the truck starts to unload 25kg bags of Oranges, Apples and Avocados. At least we know have a vegetable marked on our pontoon. We fill all the tanks with water, top up on diesel, store all the provisioning and spares away in the boat, and we get ready to leave the marina next day.

The Atlantic welcomes us with a good smack on the back, almost as if it wants to enforce some predigested meals as a toll to cross. A toll that seldom falls short to be paid by the ones short on sea legs, even if they pay rather unhappily. The wind acceleration zone south east of Gran Canaria funneled the wind force just short of a force 8, followed by wave swells of over 4 meters. A rather rough start, but everyone knows, there’s no turning back now.

Leaving Las Palmas 200 miles to stern we transit from offshore to ocean, the line where the rescue service won’t be able to reach us anymore, neither with their helicopters nor ships. It’s from here on where we are “on our own”. This was definitely valid a few decades ago, when communication was limited to visibility or VHF Radio range of a couple of miles, but maybe not so much anymore nowadays. You are still on your own as far as any immediate assistance would be available, nevertheless with current technology you can get Voice support over Satphone or HF Radio and in case of an emergency of life or boat, the rescue service can redirect other vessels from your premise to help you. This shouldn’t take more than 72 hours (or less) but from there it can be still up to another week to any shore based hospital. In any case, out here, you and your crew have to be able to deal with problems yourself. Broken sails, generators, rigging, pumps, you name it, the ocean will make sure to keep you busy fixing things which can’t withstand the daily pounding, wear and tear of the seas and mishandling of its crew. Over the ARC Radio Network we get the daily news regarding the well-being of the other vessels heading across the Atlantic. Medical emergencies, cut off fingers, lost sails, broken spinnaker poles and even an abandoned ship are reported from the other sailing vessels around us. To me, it’s part of the beauty, to be responsible for so many tasks, which we are so keen to outsource in our daily lives. Even as it gets uncomfortable at times. And its not as they woudn’t happen on land, its just that someone else takes care of it.

In our constant pace at 7kn (12km/h), it’s almost like jogging over the saltwater. The sun overtakes us with ease on her daily labs towards the west, but every day she returns on schedule with more intense radiation, just to leave us sweating in her peak hours, before disappearing again with a colorful farewell on our bow’s peak. Jackets find themselves soon unemployed in the lockers in exchange for shorts and sun cream.

The oceans seems to have little interest for counting days as those merge into a long memory of repetitive rolling waves, dancing clouds and empty horizons while the boat is pushed with the trade winds in a dead run for days on end. The fishing lines find the dorados, the galley gets busy, the sextant keeps oneself occupied and the crew settles into the watch system with time and a mindset to contemplate.

Soon enough one becomes aware of an unknown perception of solitude. Even having hundreds of other boats somewhere in the vicinity you won’t see anything further away than 6 nautical miles with your eyes before the horizon curves away, as far as your senses are concerned there is nothing out there but ocean. The beauty to this becomes apparent when the sun sets and the Milky Way parades over your head. You know you are up for a treat if you can’t see the star constellations anymore because there are too many visible celestial bodies bombarding you with photons. With binoculars the Andromeda Galaxy became visible and later in the night; Venus, Mars and Jupiter hunt each other in the hours before sunrise. It’s fantastic to be on night watch, to enjoy the night sky, undistracted and lone, and to become more humble about what feels important.

We made it almost across without any bigger issues, it hit us the second last night before reaching the Caribbean. It was a dark night when the squall (rain clouds who release a lot rain and wind) hit us. Paul at the helm can’t keep the course and accidentally gybes (turning through the wind with the back of the boat), we almost gets catapulted out of our bunks downstairs. Just when I get into the cockpit, the preventer line snaps and the boom swings around under 35kn of wind and disappears into the dark night with a horrendous pounding noise. Before we can interfere, Paul swings the helm back to the original course which causes us to gybe again, the boom comes back and this time hit the other side even harder with a loud crack. Something broke, but its too dark to see! Was it the boom? We manage to prevent any further gybing until we can sort out a flashlight to see the cause. The spinnaker pole that held out the genoa got torn of the mast and now tangles and banges around the foredeck. The wind and waves now hit our beam to make things even worse. It takes us a while to stabilize the boat and secure the pole to prevent any further damage, while the adrenaline is still pounding our brains. It made me again realize, that the interesting part about adventures like this are not the good days when everything goes according to plan, but those days when things go south and to find out how we deal with them, maybe its just me but this was exciting.

After nineteen days at sea, the island of St Lucia becomes visible in the first morning hours. Our emotions change between euphoria and sadness: we made it and it its wonderful to reach land after weeks on sea, being thirsty for other visuals than blue salt water. On the other hand we knew that this adventure was about to end, one that we will remember for our lifetime. We are welcomed with a punchy “Rum punch” that takes a little ease on our sea legs, trying to stand on that motionless land, that our brain has to learn to deal with again.

When Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean some 523 years ago, the main cause of death wasn’t the roughness of the seas or the seaworthiness of their boats but the lack of Vitamin C that causes a terrible disease called “scurvy”. Today, GPS navigation, autopilots, water makers, electric winches and other assistant tools allow today’s seafarer to sail across oceans with very little restriction and manageable risks. This is fairly visible in the cruising division of the ARC, as the average age is just around the retirement age, the sailing skills mediocre and the health and fitness level rather low. This is neither a complaint nor a disappointment, rather an observation what scientific knowledge and material abundance allow us to achieve. That leaves us with no excuse to go on such adventures, if it is something we are keen to do. So, lets go!

 

Life eats life to live

Bjørnskinn is a bland town who’s only address are the two small signs that mark the ends of it. Those signs are placed so close to each other that they could almost be touched by the hundred something inhabitants, if they would form a human chain. The barn stood somewhat inconspicuously in that sleepy town. Two red freight containers, open to the top, were placed in front of the featureless stable. I’ve been told that fifteen months had passed since the inmates had moved here. “It’s always like that. Seven thousand five hundred, every fifteen months! Health Regulations!” About three hundred of them should and would leave with us. I tried not to think about it. Expectations are usually served with disappointment and today it was almost guaranteed. A small metal box of about 1.5 cubic metre lay beside the barn, just next to a side door. A couple of workers and volunteers appeared and disappeared cyclically from that side door. It looked like a family gathering, as kids and their parents helped and worked together on this cold weekend day. They were carrying out the trash. Two or three “bags” per hand, in and out of that inconspicuous side door. It required some effort to score the hole of the metal box, but they sucseeded every single time. And everytime they went back through the same side door.  After a while the cycle came to an end, the metal box must have been full, I supposed. A young boy sipped at his coffee as most of the others disappeared in the sleepy town. Time for lunsj, as the Norwegians say. I would have choosen to leave too, but now it was our turn. An elder man with proper working gear and the corresponding belly turned the valve on the gas cylinder, which was hooked up to the metal box. Meanwhile he was joking around with the young boy who still held on firmly to his coffee cup to keep his hands warm. The temperatures must have reached minus ten degree, which was kind of warm, considering the latitude above the Arctic Circle in mid-winter. About a minute or two passed by until the proper-gear-man closed the valve and then climbed into his tractor. On the first go he hooked up the metal box with the tractor arm. He could easily navigate with it, the space allowed it to, while approaching our small trailer. Nevertheless there was a whiff of laziness in the air. He didn’t bother about the awkward angle in which his tractor now stood to the trailer. And it was obvious for everyone that he would miss, at least partially. He didn’t seem to care about it and then emptied the box.  Unsurprisingly he missed the free shot..

A huge pile of dead chickens layed now scattered over the trailer and the street. Too many to even guess a number, at least for non-citizen of dead-chicken-town. A white pile of poor, considerable unhealthy, dead chickens! As I came closer, the scale of the mess just skyrocketed. I felt sick, bad and caught off guard. “Why do they still move? Bloody hell, they are still alive!” The whole heap started to move now, some of them tried to get up, dizzy, uncoordinated, poisoned. One hen managed to sit up, leaning to my right boot, with a look of half-conscious fear and doom. I picked it up, holding it with two hands like a baby cat, staring at it for a moment. I placed it on the trailer and it just sat there, still dizzy, oblivious, resting on the bodies of hundred mostly dead sisters. I picked up some more of them and put them onto the freight container next to the trailer, as if it was the decent thing to do. My mind had left the bland town. When I had been told that we could pick up chickens from a laying battery as food for the dogs, I hadn’t been thinking much about it or at least had tried not to. I had mistakenly assumed some high level Scandinavian standard, like showing the chicken an awesome movie of green grass in which they could run around and do chicken stuff, before killing them unnoticed. But now I felt like moved back to the dark ages, faced with indifference to any level of well-being of conscious creatures. Uwe, my host and employer, obviously didn’t felt much better about it. He apologized to every single chicken, while snapping their necks and telling them “you‘re already dead!”.  Proper-gear-belly-man swung some chicken around by the neck before catapulting them onto the trailer with a gesture of education to the ignorant: “that’s how to do it!”. I had enough, the few hens I had picked up still remaind on the freight container and the trailer; alive, sitting upright like candles, almost underlining the tragedy of the genocide. I went to the co-driver seat and shut the world out by closing the door.

On the half hour drive back to the husky farm I tried to get my head around what just happened. Once in a while I checked the rear mirror to see if any chickens were falling off, escaping the inevitable death by human hand to find an acceptable exitus by freezing to death. They didn’t. After parking the car in the drive way, I could have easily just stayed in the car, but this wouldn’t go away. Some chickens were still alive. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, why aren’t you dead?” Uwe got the axe, we separated heads from bodies, still too many to count. I do not doubt the imagination of the reader and will therefore spare you of the pictures.

What is the worst misery for a conscious creature you can imagine? Living fifteen months with 7’500 sisters in boxes, which are too small for you to move and have neither sunlight nor fresh air. Being kept alive only in exchange for daily eggs. Five hundred days in agony for then being thrown out like thrash, where even the decency for a fast death isn’t granted to you. I guess my image of the worst misery gets close to that! This might sound like the story of “young kid goes to slaughter house”. I assure you that I didn’t lack of experience in the transition from conscious-creature to “food”. But I rather try to not lack of indifference.

There was no shortage for thought in the time it took to gut 255 chickens. (I got to count them eventfully, there were actually 256, as I found one of them two weeks later, frozen in the woodshed!).  There is an interesting thing about indifference, about cruelty and neglect to change. The first couple of chickens of which you cut the innards out might get you to gag on, to feel disgusted and strange. After twenty slaughtered hens you get used to it. By fifty it becomes normal and somewhere along that number you might become indifferent to the task, the lives involved and the context of its misery. I heard it again and again: “well at least the dogs will benefit from it”. You might face the same situation in the supermarket: “well the animal already died, so the fairest thing is to eat it”, right?. By now I refuse to accept this argument, because finding supporting arguments for something bad or immoral doesn’t make it any less “bad” or more legitimate! It just makes us feel better about it. A mental safety trigger with the probably worst consequence: we won’t do anything about it!

omnis cellula e cellula; the realization that every cell can only originate from another cell. I like to associate this thought with the awareness that most living things can only eat or sustain on other living things, carbon based life! At least this applies for humans and similar sized animals!  Humans still do consume a huge quantity of meat and did so for a long time in its evolutionary history, but we can also choose not to!  We are a species of omnivores but with the ability to choose to care and maybe change habits if they are prove needless and obsolete. Obsolete due to the energy inefficiency, carbon emissions, the suffering involved and the lives wasted. A fact is that today we will barley face a scarcity of alternatives!

Would I still eat conscious creatures if I could get all my nutrients from other sources? Would I still demand to eat meat if I could print or synthesized a steak with all its positive sides without the negative ones? Would I still consume eggs, milk and cheese when the only remaining argument is tradition? Would I still eat food if I can stimulate my metabolism with any new source science will come up with? In other words, under what circumstances would and do I change my current eating habits? I challenge anybody, including myself, to find out what prevails: tradition or reason? Feel invited to leave your comment and thanks for reading.

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Northern Lights

How incisive climate zones educe cultural traditions is a common insight for the well-traveled. Nevertheless it is rarely tied to boredom with new adventures to the never been land. It appears to be hopeless to get a coffee here Sundays. Even its one of the bigger cities in northern Norway the Town of Bodø remains devoid not to say dead on this weekend day. A strong cold breeze batters along the empty streets and even the sun promises its return only by two months’ time. I am not staying here anyway, just passing by. I will keep wandering north, leaving the Arctic Circle behind. Towns become scattered houses and later sole wooden home’s facing the solitude.  Nature’s maternal call is constant as a reminder to the narrow viable spectrum in temperature for the human body to survive. It’s cold! The last stretch up the coast and into the fjords, I hitch on one of the former Norwegian post ship, run by the company Hurtigruten. A trolley loaded with cargo is the only thing beside me to leave the ship at 4am into the dark night of nowhere.

Spending a winter season in the Arctic came with a recommendation for engagement, mainly due to the constant absence of the sun, civilization and pleasant temperatures. From sprinkled seeds thrived the possibility to volunteer on a husky farm. What do I know about dogs? About as little as anybody else who never had one. This means all requirements for emerging new experiences, ideas and interactions are given, a good outlook for a trip worth having. I very much trained myself to anticipate these moments of ignorance as everything appears to be in reach if you don’t expect much more than to learn.

A month passed since I stood the first time in front of the kennels. Sixteen dogs barked annoyingly towards the new intruder. A moment of aimlessness familiar to anyone who intends to master a new skill without comprehending what this skill has to imply. One by one I picked up every name, learned to know their character, strength and weaknesses. By now I can tell them apart only by their movement in the dark, recognize the bark and start to feel troubles before they can arise. It might sound silly but this is how I do imagine a primary school class. There are Alpha dogs, grumblers, princesses, introverts and almost any other character you might come up with. Nevertheless there are just very view options to put them together so everyone has a good time. To be applied in the kennels, the house or at the sleds. With 3 dogs per one 40sqm kennel, they will have a great time if you don’t mess it up for them. Putting the wrong dogs together, forgetting to chain them before feeding or provoking any pack inconsistency, your furry friends will bite each other to pieces. A fact you might get reminded once in a while and these occasions will test your reaction, authority and the understanding for pack hierarchies and boy does it mess up your day when you have to throw yourself between two of them in a blink of an eye so everyone is still alive after. It could be seen as a fancy way to train leadership abilities, everything is reflected right back at you and you are most probably not becoming the Alpha dog by barking the loudest.

The dark divides its time among hostile snow storms, calm and silent starry nights and the dance of charged particles emitted by the sun, ionizing in the upper atmosphere and leading to aurora emissions. This astronomical event plays so well with an ambiguity. For most brains won’t enjoy the dancing colors any less if comprehended only the optical stimulation itself. A dance also known as polar – or northern lights.

 A small, family run farm typically expects you to be a generalist. Beside the two owners we are three volunteers who keep everything up and running. Scarcity of work is never a worry, not less as we are also renovating the guest house next door; currently still a construction side and my housing for the time I stay here. Not even the remoteness between the fjords and the mountains, almost a half hours drive to the next town with a head count of two hundred, shows much significance to tedium. The first lack of snow was easily compensated by hiking the mountains pulled by two quadrupeds. Once the street was frozen our imagination couldn’t hold us back from dog sledding on children sleds, racing around and testing the dog’s endurance. Recently the patience for snow became rewarded and it is time to go real dog sledding and prepare for the imminent winter season.

D D

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On the Facts and Morals of Transportation!

The virtue of choosing efficient transportation means.

Why should someone prefer to stay for days or weeks on a boat, to cross an ocean, if one could fly the same distance in mere hours? Why take public transportation or ride a bicycle, when the comfort of a car is available? Having been now on five continents without the use of an airplane or car, I will try to make a rational argument, that the means of transportation is not merely a question of choice but rather an obligation toward everyone else. Furthermore I will explain why it matters to care about energy efficiency and how you can adapt this to your everyday life. I would also suggest you write down the moral foundation on which you justify your use of resources and if there are any regulatory thresholds in place where you could force yourself to change. This merely as a reminder upon intellectual honesty. If there is no way to change your view toward this topic, it’s rather irrelevant to be taken into consideration.

Energy, the currency of life!

Before we get into the discussion of transportation, let’s clear the ground for the question:  Why should energy efficiency matter? Energy is the ability to do work. You can’t destroy or create energy. You can solely transform it to other forms of energy. In addition you need to know that only some forms of energy, from current scientific understanding, can be used by our technology for the required applications. Other forms are lost to us (in the form of heat or friction or other ways), as we have no understanding yet how to utilize them. Every form of life needs energy to survive, in the form of: nutrition, water, sunlight and so on. You need energy to produce these foods. You need energy to mine materials. You need energy to transform these materials into commodities. You need energy to move yourself and the commodities around. With that understanding, energy is the only real currency there is, which aligns itself with the laws of nature and therefore must be taken into account to survive long term. Different forms of energy are just useful in different applications, as you can’t eat gasoline and your car doesn’t run to well on potatoes. But as mentioned before all forms can be interchanged to a certain level and the energy content can easily be calculated. For this essay we will always talk about the energy content in kilowatt hours (kWh). To give you a little intuitive sense for that: your body needs about 2.5 kWh a day to operate. One liter of gasoline has about 9 kWh of energy. In this sense it does matter a lot how much energy you consume as the human species until today consumes more energy than we are able to make available in sustainable forms.

Pay for your choice!

“As long as I pay for my choice of transport and the resources involved, it’s my free decision to do so and I don’t need to explain myself!” Fair enough. But to clarify that statement let’s look at the semantics of it. What do you understand under the term “to pay?” For me it’s defined as: Delivering the counter value of the transaction taken. This is where you might be able to answer the paradox that puzzles me so much. What is the counter value of a resource or energy form we do not know how to replace? This seems to be a clear form of moral trespassing to me, as it is an oxymoron. But maybe you understand under the term “to pay”: The current socioeconomic, from the natural law decoupled process of, exchanging paper on which your president printed his face in further exchange for economic growth with no regard to the natural replacement of the resources and/or energy itself. If this should be the case, please declare that you feel that way.  Understanding this, combined with the moral basis of delivering the counter value, the need for sustainable and efficient transport or even energy consumption is no longer a choice. Unless you dismiss the symbiotic nature of our resources and just like to make up your independent reality!

Thinking in terms of energy!

Imagine for a moment you need cash and decide to go to an ATM. In order to get there you call a cab. The previous agreed fair to bring you to the bank machine and back is 100 dollars. Once you arrive at the ATM you withdraw 50 dollars before returning home. This obviously doesn’t make any sense if you think in terms of market efficient ways. But this is precisely what we often do when it comes to energy. You drive your car to the supermarket for grocery shopping. Now, grocery shopping is nothing else than a withdrawal of energy in form of foods. The energy you will “invest” to drive there will often outweigh the “withdrawal” itself. The same applies for your personal ability to do work, in contrast to the means of getting you to the workplace. Again, this is considered normal in the current tradition of market efficiency as its efficency is not bound to real resources. Now you might see the conflict of interest of market efficency to resource/energy efficiency.

Morals applied to current cultural tradition!

In the “real” world of today, our socioeconomic and sociocultural tradition don’t value resources and energy efficiency over market efficiency. This implies that we most likely don’t “pay” (deliver the counter-value) for our energy consumtion. Due to this fact it is an extra effort or even a conflict of interests to apply this to everyday life. I have to admit that there are some compromises to be made today, unless you strive to live complete self-sufficiently. But only because we can’t be entirely sustainable and energy-efficient, should in no way suggest that the whole topic is therefore subjective and it’s just a way of looking at opinions. With the simple understanding of the physics of movement and the real-world impact, everyone can optimize their own habits toward this. There might even be a personal value shift, not because it sounds right but rather because it’s where scientific knowledge will lead you. To end this essay, I will give you an idea on how I try to implement this knowledge within my own lifestyle as I often travel and therefore move a lot. I restrict myself from the two least energy-efficient means: I don’t fly and I don’t have a car.

  • I cycle to every place within the city and sometimes further.
    About 45x more efficient than by car.
  • I will use public transportation to go to work or travel.
    About 5x more efficient than by car.
  • I use car-pooling.
    Five persons in one car is 25x more efficient than the same five in five cars.
  • I sail or use boats to cross oceans.
    Massively more efficient.

TransportEfficency

How and why to live a traveler’s lifestyle!

Should you wonder how it happens that some people are always travelling around the world, exploring the beauty of different places, cultures and ideas, and you seem to be stuck in the chore of everyday life, then this post is for you! This may be confusing, but be aware that even if you rationally agree with me by the end of this text, you probably still won’t change your habits (Not because I say so, because that’s what the current behavioral science shows)! I do not intend to claim knowledge of what makes people happy, but I claim that most people are not actually in charge of their decisions, as preferences drawn from a single type of experience are rather useless because of the lack of alternatives. If you have driven only one car in your life, it will be, by default, the best car you have ever driven. But I guess you can see that this is not a meaningful statement. Thriving within your own cultural ideology is therefore the same analogy and this is where traveling becomes so valuable. I would define traveling as; trying different possible lives, ideas and values while learning and improving up on these experiences.

When I first gave up the the western securities like a job, living arrangements, material goods and affiliations, it was frightening to face the unknown. I wasn’t trained to be anywhere other than at a job or in-between; delivering my part to society without ever questioning what a fair part would imply or what the goal of this system would be. Since that day, I changed my life completely just by facing new situations daily and learning to embrace the unknown rather than fear it. I lost so many biases and fears that now I have a hard time “returning” to an enclosed system.

Why? At the limit of our experience and knowledge!

Imagine for a moment an artificial intelligence that is programmed to learn from its environment and copy the habits, values and the behavior of its surroundings. This AI is by default limited to its experiences and the culture it’s surrounded by. Now imagine that you place this AI in different environments over time and train it to compare the achievements of the different environments by a falsifiable and repeatable methodology (science). Now it can select the superior solutions and reject the obsolete. Well guess what, along this train of thought, the human being is limited to the experience and knowledge of its environment, therefore it becomes a virtue to seek other experiences to improve up on them. Once you understand this limitation of consciousness, you either accept your ignorance or seek the path to widen your paradigm (personal worldview). By measuring how narrow or wide these paradigms are you can almost reflect the advancement and or ignorance of our civilization.

How do I finance this lifestyle?

Spend less than you earn! It’s as easy as that. This may be hard at first, as you are probably enslaved by consumerism without actively experiencing another way, but this is just a habit too. I will have a hard time convincing anybody here if you’ve never felt the freedom of not owning stuff. Well, ask yourself, does it make you improve, free or happy to fill your apartment with stuff or does it hold you back from leaving it? How long would it take you to organize your belongings to leave for an unknown window of time? If the effort for such an endeavor is too big, then do you own the stuff or does the stuff own you? Don’t expect you to be rational about this; you probably just do as you always have. Once again you can’t imagine something you never experienced. So unless you free yourself from your material goods, your opinion on this is irrelevant as there is no ground of comparison! I’d like to add that I am not suggesting a life without the comfort of material goods, as I absolutely support the improvement of technology, but rather to change the relationship from owner to user. In the western society we are a past scarcity culture. Tools and equipment are readily available everywhere to share, so why the responsibility of owning – and bound by – them?

  If you like to talk money, here: I can cover my costs in Zürich with about 2’000 CHF a month (flat, food, transport, insurances, and all other living costs) and while travelling with about 500CHF per month. This is about half the minimum income in Switzerland but its more than most of my friends would earn around the world. These figures can vary in both directions. If you don’t have money at all, there are enough projects everywhere where you have no board to pay, or travel by bike, walk, learn skills and try to find ways. Challenge yourself to live without money for some time; travelling this way will always bring you to the local people and let you become creative and add skills to your arsenal. If you need some support or ideas, if you struggle with this, let me know. If your excuse for not travelling is lack of money then you simply didn’t try hard enough!

What do I do while travelling?

Relaxing at the beach, drinking beer, reading and talking to tourists? Well no! In general I try to blend in with the locals. Stay at their houses, do what they do and try to learn and interact with their culture. On this level it’s easy to create an interaction and exchange ideas for better solutions. Furthermore I write everything down that I don’t understand and read it up later. Spending about two hours a day with self-improvement of my scientific literacy, using online universities or reading books or journal took me on a journey through astrophysics, chemistry, modern biology, behavioral and moral science, and my favorite: the philosophy of science itself. Trying to understand how our world works changed my worldview as much as the experiences that I collected. There is no longer an excuse for not having sufficient education on hand as everything is available for free 24/7. After this there is still plenty of the day available to discover places, do sports, play cards, celebrate or do whatever you choose. There is so much space for improvement you can achieve if you’re not spending the majority part of your day with simple labor, labor that can be easily be replaced by technology today. I hope that changes some perceptions of the laziness of traveling compared to repetitive labor.

Happiness and sorrows

I asked a lot of friends, colleagues and strangers, if they are happy with their current life situation. The most common answer was: “it could be worse.” If this is your situation too, that should at least leave a lot of space to try something new. For my part, conformity makes me depressed. So what is the downside of the traveler lifestyle? I often view my life as an equilibrium between peaks of high’s and low’s. If I had to compare my former consumer based lifestyle with my traveler lifestyle, I guess the average would about even out but what changed immensely is the dynamic or amplitude of the peaks. Conformity brings often what it defines, repetition, tedium and little emotions. In contrast my peaks changed massively with the unknown. Having unbelievable, new, mind changing experience as well as the hardest and most mind bugging, sad and angry days. This dynamic let’s me feel much more alive and I collect a lot of happiness out of the peaks, even if they can be painful sometimes. Think about your past, is it the conformity or the peaks that stay with you?

Living on both sides of the fence.

Wherever I go I always hear; the next country, city, neighborhood is dangerous, don’t go there. Like the Orwellian view in 1984, we are always in war with strangers that we have never encountered. Having been in over 65 different countries and staying with every social layer there is, I haven’t found that bad society on the other side of the fence yet. Once I asked a guy in a slum neighborhood why he wouldn’t rob me, as I was obviously not from here.  He said: “ You don’t seem to be afraid of coming here an treat us like equals.” I try to look at situations by the probability of the possible outcome and to moderate my first intuitive impulses. Rational or chance based risk management doesn’t seem to be a natural skill of ours (but this is also well understood in social sciences).

Open feedback loop

Well, if anybody made it through this text and would like to comment on it, I would be very interested about your reasons for selecting your lifestyle, or the barriers that keep you from changing it! Thanks

The Guiana’s, the diverse triplets.

There are some regions on this planet which gives numerous people a hard time to point out on a map or are even completely unknown to them. These counties often share a part in history, in which they were colonized by almost every country ever visited. In this context, the Guiana’s, located in the northern end of South America, belong to that group. The Guiana’s are known as; hard to access, expensive, less developed, not entertaining and therefore often ignored as tourist destination. Today the “triplets” are named as Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana. The first impression may suggest similarity but I was surprised how different and diverse they are, therefore it’s almost impolite to merge them together into one post.

“British” Guyana

The former british colony creates the impression of the “big troubled brother.” There are only two possible land border crossings, one in the south coming from Brazil and one to the east from Suriname. Until today there is no possibility of crossing by land from Venezuela to Guyana. This led me through a long detour down to Brazil from where I had to head north again and then conquer the tiring Lethem – Georgetown Highway. The 500 kilometer “highway” runs directly through the dense rainforest. A small aisle, cut through seemingly endless rainforest, with a unmaintained dirt track makes this trip a 20+ hour endeavor. As I got on the 12 seated minibus, I occupied the last seat. But there was still another lady outside and the driver told me. “Give it a little squeeze, will ya. She comes just till Town-X, we are there just now”. I didn’t trust this comment as I assumed that this would be for about two – three hours. I had the belt-buckle already up my a** when we reached Town-X an unbearable 10 hours later. “I give you a squeeze, just now”. The road is in such bad shape that we had to stop occasionally to fix punctures, reattach the exhaust or stop somewhere so that the driver could sleep for a while. Arriving in Georgetown I felt like I was back in a city of sub-Saharan Africa. Endless piles of trash, a lot of noise, traffic chaos and plenty signs of poverty and ethnic conflicts.

Suriname

Having a huge diversity of cultures, after a long history of interchange as a colony ruled by different countries, Suriname shows  a very promising and open interaction between all the values of its inhabitants. The capital city, Parimaribo appears almost to be ruled by Chinese immigrants as they own almost every shop or restaurant in town. Like the other Guiana’s, almost the whole population lives along the coastline as the rest of the country is covered with dense rainforest. The beauty of the rainforest can be discovered with some effort. Travelling five hours south from Parimaribo to the town of Ajoni brought me to the upper Suriname river. From here the only way to head further into the jungle is by the small local river boats. Small towns are scattered along the river side where the women are washing their clothes, dishes and themselves at the same time. I alight in Guiaba, a town of about 2,000 inhabitants. Little huts, which appear to be placed randomly, create a big labyrinth of trails in between, spreading for about a kilometer into the bush. The only spoken language here is Tiki Tiki. After some awkward interaction attempts I managed to find the Captain. He is the official head of the town and in charge, in absence of any further political system. I am allowed to hang my hammock in an unoccupied hut and stay for as long as I choose. For hours I get guided around town by a guy called “Gulli”.  Everyone turns out to be from his family. I get introduced to dozens of brothers, cousins, aunts, wives and so on. Gulli himself has 10 children with a handful of different wives. This is about the norm. Extending the family appears to be the second occupation after passing time while sitting in the shade. I do have my moral conflict with the tribal mind, as certain values and habits are just incompatible with mine. Polygyny (only men are allowed to have more women), witch craft and ghosts are still widely accepted. A huge crowed gathers in the middle of the town where they beat the shit out of a guy, as they claim he is possessed by bad ghosts. In absence of a common language to intervene, I decide not to be a part of this, but it becomes ever more clear to me that cultural tolerance results in ignorance too.

French Guiana

Europa’s adopted child. Having visited almost all the French oversea departments, it was not surprising to find the same culture here as well. France has this ability of imposing its culture onto his former colonies. This is a french only society! It doesn’t matter how many languages you speak, if you visit a tourist office, the space center or a guest house, if you are not skilled in the french language then you are the narrow-minded person here. The same applies for  food, as cheese, wine and baguette is the standard consume. I like to joke about this with my generous couchsurfer hosts in the cities of Saint Laurent, Kourou and Cayenne. Kourou is also the host of the European Spaceport. The three rocket programs, Ariane 5,  Vega and Soyuz are operating manly as space-taxis for commercial satellites as research and exploration missions are quiet scares. But for most historians, French Guiana remains still in the heads as the former “Camp de la Transportation“, where France sent its prisoners, punished with hard labor for life.

Inflatable Venezuela

It’s not often that someone is willing to exchange your money and give you ten times the official value of the local currency. But that is exactly the current state of money exchange for the Bolivar. Of course, on the black market and therefore it is not actually legal.  A year ago the Bolivar would trade, against the dollar, around three times its value, by the end of 2013 around 7x and by now 10x and higher. Inflation is a common factor in the economy and there is no need for me to explain it, but I would claim that it is rare to experience the short moment of time when it explodes.

As awesome as it is for a foreign person to take advantage of this situation – of life almost for free in Venezuela, grows the disadvantage for the natives for whom their savings are worth half every other month. Riding in any kind of transportation around the country is more charged symbolically, as the dollar would buy up to 20 liters of gasoline. Prices slowly adapt to the new value of its money and imported goods are almost not available anymore. Even some basic goods start to become very scarce. Endless lines form in front of supermarkets and stores, just to buy milk or flour. 

Other than that, I felt very glad to be back in South America. Everything seems to have this extra punch of emotion. Openness and happiness as well as the disposition for aggression appear with a greater and faster dynamic than at home. Still, the shady condition of most cars make me laugh; windows attached with duct tape and couches as front seats are more the norm than the exception, but as long as it moves it seems to be legal to drive.

After travelling for almost a month with my two new found friends, Nina and Roman, it was time to part our ways and travel alone once more. On the way south I stopped at the border town of Santa Elena to climb Mount Roraima. The tallest table mountain on the planet, it offers scenery unseen anywhere else. This spectacular site is also used in the Pixar movie “Up”. The standard tour takes six days from the small town of Paretepuy to the top and back. After the physically lazy days on the boats, I though it was a good idea to join two Germans and do the trek in four days. Hiking up the mountain left me with a strange impression. Almost like entering an alien planet, which was untouched for millenia and created its own climate. Mist would appear out of the nowhere and leave you without orientation. There are plants and animals that are only found on this mountain. My tour partners pushed the pace even further and we returned after three physically challenging days back at Paretepuy, just to find ourselves there without a ride back to town. But once more spending the night with drunken locals, beer and grilled chicken would eventually make up for all discomforts.

Dark night to Trinidad

The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose. – James A. Baldwin

“No, we are going north.” That was the answer of all the sailboat owners in the Marina of Grenada. Not a single sailboat was headed for Trinidad, and definitely not to Venezuela or the Guyana’s. And a ferry service for the 100-mile stretch to Trinidad & Tobago didn’t exist. For the moment, Nina, Roman and I, who traveled here together on Ricardo’s sailboat from Martinique, spent most of the time around the Marina in St. George looking for possible onward travels. It didn’t look good for a boat heading south anytime soon. But we agreed when we arrived in Grenada that all of us would arrive at the South American continent by sea. It was only by chance that we heard about local “cargo boats” that ran the route to Trinidad once a week.

A line of fishing boats and other vessels lay in dock in the Carenage of St. Georges. We passed by these vessels a couple of times already, but I would never have expect any of them to be heading out into open sea. But it turns out that three of these boats would leave on Tuesday night for the Port of Spain in Trinidad. Captain Russell, a middle-aged local man, is in command of one of these vessels. After talking to him, he said he would think about taking us. His boat, the M/V Eldica David, reminded me of a 1940’s merge of a fishing, coal and cargo boat. It’s the kind of boat you see in the news, floating far out in the ocean with some poor refugees who paid a fortune to get to a better world. He asked for 150EC (about 40€) for the 10 hour trip.

When I asked Russell how many crew members would operate his boat, the answer was six. Including us three, I didn’t expect to have a sleeping spot for the ride, as there was only a small cabin with four beds and a bigger room with a kitchen. On the day of departure, the mentioned number of passengers was already at 24 and by the time we had cleared with Immigrations I counted over 40 passports. By now it was not only clear that no one would have a place to sleep, but that we would be spending the whole night on deck with the cargo.

It was already after dark by the time we left port. Sitting on an oily sheet that covered some of the cargo, it was better just to enjoy the stars than to think about the night ahead. Once we left the protected sea of Grenada, the waves started to pound the boat and flooded the deck. The squats started to move around the boat in search of a spot which was at least bearable. The deck was soon so wet and slippery, covered in a film of oil, that it was far too dangerous to move around, as you could very easily have fallen over the guard rail and disappear forever into the dark ocean. Most of the cargo was so loosely placed that it started to move around. We tried to hide from the spray under the covers of the cargo, but the countless holes would leave us soaked anyway along with the dirt and oil. And then it started to rain. Three hours in, I had to admit that the situation was unbearable for another 12 hours to come.

The small room inside with the cockpit was packed with maybe 20 passengers, half of them vomiting, the other half trying to find some sleep. Far in the back of the boat I found a hatch that lead into the boat. In the pitch black rainy night, I could only guess where the ladder was. Missing a step I almost fell into the unknown. I found a small uneven steel “room” hidden away in the rear. As with the rest of the boat, this room was oily, smelly and dark, but at least somewhat dry and warm. I collected Nina and Roman from the deck and we cramped together with two others into this 2x2m bowl. I think we had found the VIP seating on the boat. Not that sleep would have been possible, next to the pounding engine, but at least we could lie down for the long hours ahead.

The morning eventually arose. Tired eyes looked out of their holes and saw land was in sight. It would take another five hours until we entered between Venezuela and Trinidad and finally docked in the Port of Spain. It took more than 16 hours to cover the 100-nm from Grenada, and everyone was thankful to arrive. Adding another experience to my storybook that I am not to keen to repeat, there is a lesson learned once again. In the absence of other means of transport, people will always organize themselves. How it can be legal in these countries to keep an operation like this running, with an absence of any technical and safety standards, I can only guess. As glad as I am to have found a way to cover the distance, I can’t support it by any of my standards and can only wish for these people that a decent ferry service will become operational soon. Talking to Captain Russell after our arrival he told me that in peak seasons they would carry up to 73 passengers. Some of the passengers made this trip weekly, to sell goods in Trinidad, and then would ride back the following night.

Gypsy’s of the Caribbean

The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave. -Thomas Jefferson

The Caribbean Lagoons and Marinas present themselves with a wealthy attitude, represented by families of huge and expensive boats and often operated by charter organizations. From here you can sail around the beautiful beaches or spend the night on one of the privately owned islands. Sounds like post card paradise, yes, but because everything has to be imported, the cost of living is adjusted, creating a challenge for the low-budget backpacker for whom the cheapest guesthouse will be too expensive, not to mention chartering a sailing boat.

The “luck for the one who tries” was definitely on my side. I joined forces with Roman, who crossed the Atlantic on the cargo ship with me, and we went to the Marina in Martinique. We spent the first nights on an empty catamaran without a mast, which was a five minute dingy ride away and the last boat in the Lagoon. Ricardo, who offered us this sleeping spot, also had another sailing boat and would be heading south soon – perfect, may we join?

By the time we left we were a crew of seven people on his 10-meter sailboat. Everyone was just satisfied by having found a ride south to Grenada. It would have been delusional not to expect a very intense journey. The boat was in somewhat rundown condition. The rope work and the sails suggested lazy or unskilled operators. The interior was filthy and unorganized. The electronics were a complete mess and barley functional. From the very beginning I got the impression that seven people on this boat weren’t an exception, but rather, the norm. To give you an idea of the sleeping situation: even when two would cramp together on the small mattress and one was on the floor between toilet and kitchen, two people still had to sleep outside on deck. Whenever it would start to rain at least four would be awake – it rained every night.

We sailed along the picturesque beaches of St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We anchored for the night in the lagoons or went into town. As nice as the surroundings were, we were somewhat held hostage by the space and freedom available. If it wasn’t for the Rum and Rastaclaus, the situation would probably have exploded earlier. For the moment the boat was a minefield of emotions, which exploded occasionally during the day.

Ricardo the captain was around 60 years old and a one-in-a-billion character. Never before have I met anyone like him. With questions, you would never get a clear answer. In his limited English all he said was “more or less,” “it’s possible” or “never you don’t know.” But the most maddening factor was his boat handling. The normal order of boat owners, learned by experience over time didn’t seem to appealed to him. Basic things such as setting the anchor or sails, rope work, and preparing the dingy he would do in a different way each time, which then, of course, didn’t work. It was just madness and made me explode more than once.

After a sleepless first week we reached the peak of emotions. Now we sometimes slept on the beach or on the couches of the expensive resorts until the first employees would send us away in the morning. It became fun to observe the different worlds happening at the same time and place just a boat apart. Getting to Tobago Keys is a luxury, even for the wealthy, but still our gypsy yacht would float in the same physical space. Little subcultures started to appear on our boat. The Polish couple, Pepy, and the captain spoke Spanish and the remaining three played cards and spoke German until everything merged again to on-board gypsy English. Everyone had to submit some of their personality to the situation. You had to make enough compromises for a half stable equilibrium.

Some days it was harder to stay happy and relaxed than others. Someone would step on you because you slept on the floor. Because of this you would be awake when this person then took a shit half a meter from your head, behind a curtain. Volunteering to prepare the breakfast, you might have had to “clean” the dishes first with cold saltwater and a nasty cloth with which you just smeared the plates. And it’s so hot and humid that you’re dripping. 

Two weeks of very memorable and experiential time passed that I would neither want to miss, or repeat. Anchoring for the last time at a semi-legal spot in the Lagoon of St. Georges, Grenada we left Ricardo and his boat in quick fashion. Having my backpack off that boat was quiet satisfying, and I felt relieved even though I have to find a new one to close the last miles to South America.