Friday, November 14, 2014

Gratitude


Rights should never override gratitude.  We miss perspective when we lean on any kind of entitlement.

Any grants bestowed by law are part of a social contract in which we agree to give and receive, not because of a divine right, but because of a historic lesson.

It’s foolish to perceive ourselves as immortals just because a law grants us the right of living.  That law is not there to protect one singular existence but the harmonious coexistence of the group. The enforcement of that law and the attainment of that harmony are imperfect and incomplete.  But even in the precise art of clock mechanics, a certain level of imprecision is expected.  It’s not gratuitous that in certain languages that inaccuracy is called “tolerance”.

We can’t take law personal because it’s not personal, it’s social.  It’s meant to keep your state to collide with other state, not to solve any issue that may arise between you and your neighbor.

It’s tempting to regard the rule of law as code for moral conviction, so everybody want a bill pass to reflect their beliefs, as if they were in need of some sort of official enactment.  This may be a reverberation of the religious nature of earlier social contracts.  Now we need to learn that laws are not an enumeration of principles but a set of practical rules that, over the course of history, we have come to regard as practical for the good of society, but not always for the good of an individual.

The media is particularly interested with those exceptions when somebody is victimized and even more when acquitted by the legal apparatus.   That gives us the false impression of a “broken” legal system, while nobody gives much publicity to those cases where it actually works.  Precisely the fact that a fair verdict is not news is good news.

Those of us that came from abroad had the experience of living with overgrown government and systematic corruption.  Those who came here after not having the American system are prune to gratitude before criticism.  The endeavor of perfecting the law is way easier that the bloody task of establishing it.  The journalist business of entertainment will not persuade me otherwise.

I love this country, not for the obligated call of duty but for the warm whim of choice.  I love the attainment of the present and embrace the dream of the future. What America gets with new immigrants is more than cheap labor; it’s a wave of gratitude.  We renew the spirit of this country for those who have never skip a meal or sleep on the floor to attain their goals.  We keep coming in, from England, Spain, Cuba, China… and we are here to give, not to take.

This call is not for the natural born, but for my comrades, the newcomers.  We came here as guests and as guests we should behave in the table.  It doesn't matter what your papers say; don’t feel entitled.  You know better how fragile those “rights” are.  Never demand respect, earn it.  Some groups are marked for the ingratitude of others that came here to demand things or even to destroy.  Instead of begging to be perceived as an exemption, be exceptional.  It may take more than one generation to clean up the bad reputation our grandparents delegated to us, but we are here to give, and even with nothing in our hands we can always deliver humbleness.

Laws will come and go.  Forms will be filled and “rights” will be granted.  Take the bread but never demand it.  Let’s build a new reputation.  Let’s compensate for our broken English and dislocated manners with an irresistible disposition towards gratitude.  And when your children start to grow spoiled, buy them a ticket to your country of origin and ask them to try to get a job.  You need to experience some scarcity before appreciating this land of abundance.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Why the Mountain?



Why man climbs the mountain? 

I wanted to experience the highest altitude in Costa Rica, El Cerro Chirripó.  3.82 Km above sea level.  Pretty much a third of the altitude a commercial fly has.

I checked with everybody and there was a myriad of reason for not doing it: people with office jobs, people afraid of the insects, the rain and the exercise.  And those who had the physical condition told me that you need to reserve space three months in advance because there are only 25 permits a day.

So I decided to go on my own.

I picked up the phone, asked for the next available permit and I got it for the very next week.  Then I went to the bank, payed the fee ($24) and faxed the slips to the ranger’s office.  That granted me a stay for one night in the hostel of Crestones, into the park.  I needed to arrive to the closest town to get the actual paper permit one day before start hiking.

I packed my things and hit San Isidro del General, a small city three hours south of San José.  I almost forgot the excitement of traveling in El Cerro de la Muerte (Death Hill) while the bus driver was passing trucks through dense fog.  They gave up placing crosses along the road.

Once there, I asked for the next bus to San Gerardo de Rivas, the town where the rangers seal the permit.  There was only one bus and it was scheduled to make its second and last trip at 2PM.  I had up to 4:30PM before the park’s office close, but I didn’t want to gamble, so I took a cab.  When the driver got to the main road to San Gerardo, he found it was closed.  A guy sitting aside told us that it was under repair and it won’t open until 4:00PM. It was midday.  So the cab driver took an unknown route through the hills.  Fortunately, it was a 4X4 car. The trail was just suitable for horses and dirty bikes.

The guy found a way around and we managed to get to San Gerardo de Rivas.
The whole town is nothing more than a soccer field, a church and a bar.  There is a welcome sign that says “San Gerardo de Rivas: inhabitants 305.  Leave only your footprint and take only your memories”.

After getting my permit I spent the afternoon in the local bar, where almost everybody was speaking English.  Bohemian characters from all over the world in that foggy isolated place surrounded by dense vegetation.  A young man made conversation with me and dip into my nachos while he was asking for his tenth beer.  He told me that he knew dear secrets of the USA government and the CIA was after him.  Then he diverted his attention to a group of Canadians to whom he was trying to sell parts of crashed planes.

I slept in a local set of rooms that I wouldn’t call an hotel.  Next morning I had a good breakfast cooked by the wife of the owner, a woman in her 50s that was born in that place.  The owner of the cabins offered me transportation to the entrance of the trail that goes into the mountain, a couple of kilometers from there.

Just at arrival, a group of Germans were descending.  They told me it took ten hours to come down starting at night and they weren’t able to complete the whole trip.

I started at 7:00AM.  That was late but I didn’t know it.

My heart started pounding strongly with the first slope.  I was sweating and gasping just like in my regular workout, but this one was estimated to last eight hours.   There are 15 kilometers to the Crestones hostel and then 5 more to the mountain’s summit.  After half an hour climbing, I was already hearing that popping sound in my ears that indicate a change in altitude.  But I was very disappointing when I read the milestone and found out that I was just completing my first kilometer (0.6 miles). 

The place is beautiful and the silence is so deep you can only hear your own heart.  Long trails packed with leaves cracking under your feet and a green wall of moss decorating the stone walls.

Another thing I didn’t know was that you can actually pay for a horse and have all your gear been transported up to the Crestones hostel.  But I was climbing with all the weight of food, a spare pair of shoes, sleeping bag, everything.

At 11:00AM I was midway to Crestones.  At the kilometer seven a ranger asked me why I was getting there so late.  - Is it? -  I asked.   I thought I had plenty of time before dawn.   Yes, I did, but there was another consideration: weather.  Starting at 2:00PM it started to rain nonstop.  That added weight to my already oversized load. 

Here is one interesting aspects of extreme physical stress:  At one point you want to give up, but then, when giving up isn’t an option, you feel like you can go ever farther.  The main weight you carry is your mind.    

The walk would be tortuous if I was thinking in the final destination for nine hours.  Instead, I narrowed my conscience to the next step, and then the next one, and then the next one.  I wasn’t trying to climb the mountain; I was just been this climbing wet creature which existence was constrained to this very moment.

I got to Crestones at 4:00PM   I took off my wet shoes.  The hostel’s attendant was kind enough to borrow me the dryer machine.   He let me know about the cargo service and I set apart all those things I won’t need tomorrow.

The place has WiFi so I had the chance to send some pictures and updates.
I fell asleep as early as 7:00PM. The walking to the summit was resumed the next day at 3:35AM

I joined a group of climbers that were guided by a guy familiar with the area.  The idea of getting up this early was to see the sunrise at the top.   But our guide lost track when we were half an hour on the trail.  The darkness was complete and not even the moon was showing up that night.  At some point we ended up with the shadow of a hill in one hand, the sound of a creek in the other and a labyrinth of trails over the rock.  But our guide was able to find the path and he signaled us with his lamp from the distance.

We made it.  The sun covered the shoulders of the mountain with a coat of shadow.  A quiet lake, flat as a mirror, reflected the sky so clearly that it looked as a hole in the ground filled with clouds.

A couple from Quebec joined us and started to climb the last stretch with four limbs.

What really moves you on the top is this sensation of everlasting calm; a silent that has been there for tens of thousands of years.  The air is so clean of noise we could hold a conversation with people that was still at the bottom. 

Physically I felt great, and I naively thought that going down must be easier.  That was my last mistake.  I really took my time in my way back to Crestones, taking pictures and contemplating the landscape that was hidden from me at night.  I only had one chocolate bar, so I convinced the cook to sell me some rice and beans before heading down. 

I was doing a good time, like three kilometers per hour.  One thing you remember while walking downhill is that your feet are not designed to fight gravity.  I took the stress on my knees without a problem, but something strange started to happen with the nails of my toes, they started to detach from inside.  The constant pounding of the toes against the shoes over the course of hours creates an internal hematoma and, all the sudden, you can’t walk anymore.  Your muscles are fine, but you feel that something very painful is happening with your nails. 

With seven kilometers left, my feet started to swell.  Had I kept my current pace I would be at town by 4:00PM.  But at the third kilometer a heavy rain started to fall.  To slip up with wet feet adds more pain to every step.  Whit the help of a stick, I was barely at the speed of ninety years old.  The sky was dark and the sun keep going down.  I knew that in minutes the road would be completely dark.

I hit the main road of San Gerardo just at sunset.  Not having an idea where to stay for the night, I kept walking very slowly under the heavy rain with my stick aid.  By the way, don’t try to do this without hiking poles.   I learned this the hard way.  I stopped at the first light I found and that was a beautiful hostel.  I showed at the main entrance begging for a room.

The next day I was able to walk normally again.  La Casa Mariposa turned out to be an excellent discovery.  I went to the “Asociación de Arrieros” were my backpack was waiting for me.  I had enough time for a delicious breakfast in the local bar, which also functions as a restaurant and massage center. I would love to have one for my feet but had no time.  By then the road was open again, so I took the bus to San Isidro, then traveled from San Isidro to San José and a few hours later fly from San José to Fort Lauderdale.
My feet took a couple of days to recover, but the purple tone of my nails is going to stay for a long time.

It was an excellent adventure.  Don’t think those tours offered by local hotels are overpriced.  Pay for a good guide, order your food to be served at Crestones, stay two nights in the mountain (not one) and be ready to be wet.  Don’t forget to rent hiking poles, you will love them in the way down and you will avoid the nail injury in your feet.

Also, if you haven’t walked for nine hours straight in a single day, practice in some smaller hills.  San José has a famous hike called Monte de Alajuelita.  Is a populated area and you can hardly get lost there, especially if you carry a phone with two batteries.   Have a lamp if night catches you outside and never get out of the trail.

The park and the hike are loosely regulated, which is nice but risky.  If you twist an ankle and you can’t walk, you may have to sit that night under the rain until the horses pass through at dawn.  There’s no communication for miles and you may be the only human soul in the forest.

So again, why man climbs the mountain?  I have made an observation in every hiking: the higher I climb, the more interesting the people I find.  At the summit, there’s just a bunch of achievers.  Back in the city, all those square lives with many reasons for doing nothing. 

That’s why man climbs the mountain.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Behave as Your Dream

You start a journey to lose weight and you end up in the business of knowing yourself.  So many analogies in life are concentrated in the simple task of physical training that you can’t help but waking up.

Our language is infected with common places like “just be yourself” and you immediately agree with your counterpart in the other side of the table.  But the reality takes the “just” part off of that sentence. 

Been yourself, confronting what you have, and most importantly what you don’t, is a titanic task.  It’s an endeavor we can postpone forever with clothes, entertaining and postures of self-confidence, but one that is going to catch up with us the minute we rest our head in bed.

Physical exercise exposes you to objective, measurable and indisputable limits.  Then it probes than breaking those limits are not enough since you need to be able to come tomorrow and do the same.  It makes you quit, it makes you try again, it makes you try different things.  Then you go to the corner of pain, frustration and good arguments for giving up.  But the call is in your head and sooner or later you are back in the ring.

What we may be missing is the value of frustration.  If we are not getting results, or we are getting a bad deal between effort and results, is because we are forcing our body to get ahead of our character.  You can’t have the body of a winner with the attitude of a looser.  You can’t look like a passionate person while nothing really ignites your ambition, makes you dream or moves you to tears.  You can’t look like a god while behaving like a worm.   

You don’t pursuit a healthy body to artificially and sporadically show it off in the beach, and answer to the question “have you been working out?” with a hypocrite “some”.   You get that body because it’s an unavoidable reflection of what you perceive as worthy.  You got there because your perception of beauty and your constant enjoyment of open spaces made it impossible to accumulate more fat than necessary, because you are not eating to distract yourself from a job you hate, because you increased the intensity of your workout very gradually, always feeling it as an experience not as a routine.

After 10 years of writing down every little thing I ate I started to find patterns.  I get in shape when I’m working in something I love or just creating.  I lost shape when I fulfill social compromises; people which company I no longer enjoy but keep gravitating around.  I get in shape when I run little but regularly.  I lost shape when I work out fiercely but irregularly.  “Starvation mode” is a myth: when your body needs something, it asks for it.  Diet should never include hunger and exercise should never be painful.  You are not doing this because you “hate” how you look, but because you start behaving with dignity.

I covered the wall in front of my bed with portraits of people I admire: physicist, conquerors, artist, entrepreneurs, writes, actors, philosophers… My mantra is this: If I walk into a bar and see all these guys sitting at a table, I want to behave as one who can pull off a chair and have a beer with them.    

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Bless of Stupidity


For a long time I thought that stupidity was the enemy.  All the crisis in the world, the credit card household finances, the marketing victims, the cult sheep… all that looked like the result of not enough thinking, not enough data, and the lack of scientific method.

But then again, who is going to buy municipal bonds? Who is going to have children on their own, even with all the liabilities associated and the cost of education? Who is going to vote? Who is going to drive that brand new car out of the dealership so I can buy it for 20% less some months down the road?

I’ve been served for stupidity as much as from the smartest products of humankind. If not for stupidity nobody would take care of my childhood without collateral.  Without stupidity I wouldn’t have free collage education in my country to get pay better in another one that doesn’t tax its business so heavily (to pay for free college education). Without stupidity I wouldn’t enjoy the products of so many endeavors that operate with pitiful margins or loss, nor would I have the advantage of technologies subsidized for overinflated stock prices.   And let’s face it, without stupidity more than 80% of IT professionals wouldn’t have absolutely anything to do.

We complain about reality TV, ethnic wars, budget deficits and congressional lockdowns; but after getting over the first rush of indignation, we realize what really is in front of us: a vast ocean of opportunities. Stupidity is better than crude oil: we never run out of it.  You don’t need to cheat or lie, not even mislead. People will defend their own fallacies with their lives and force bills into your pockets.

But beyond the parody and the sarcasm, who is to deny that love can’t be smart? The unselfish service to another human is the key for survival and one of our strongest evolutionary advantages.  So if we get too smart we face extinction.

This paradox seems to be a matter of semantics. When we talk about smarts what we really mean is “individual” smarts. The concept of a group that is collectively smart is not that obvious. By been individually stupid and collectively smart, we guarantee the survival of the species above any particular individual, just as our cells die anonymously for the wellbeing of the whole body.

Conscience is the misleading factor in this equation.  Because we are individually (not collectively) conscience, everything we perceive is absurd.  Of course, it's individually absurd, but superb in the aggregate. Since we don’t have the capacity to enjoy as a group, we suffer as singularities, just as a clumsy spermatozoid bouncing against a sterile wall who finds no consolation in the idea that “one of us will make it”. But he keeps trying because he has no ideas; we do. So we stop, we think and by thinking we quit trying, and by quit trying we kill the whole system.

Stupidity seems to be necessary for the survival of our species. A system composed of selfish smart individuals will cancel itself by logic. Stop complaining about the irrational population and bless them as the key element of our long term resilience.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Match Yourself


I haven’t been inactive since my return to Florida. The stimulating trip I took helped me to sense the non-sense of the life I was living. The world is full of people that give up and disguise its inertia as prudence. It’s nothing but cowardice.


Some visits to my family got me extra pounds, so the next step was to lose weight. 

Every time I need to wrestle with my own body I find a hall of reality that I can’t fool. My system will react to effective measures, nothing else. Good intentions and dreams have not the slightest effect on my waist line. But long term results are the product of self-knowledge more than bare effort. 

From many years now I have been trying to find my formula to control weight. Since I was in my twenties I ran into the error of explosive training and demoralizing crashing. Then I tried long tern discipline, just to crash in several episodes instead of one. 

My error was seeing my body like a separate project of my existence. A lazy mind can’t wear a strong body. You can’t have a body that doesn't match your mentality for too long, the same way you can’t wear that Halloween custom every day to the office. 

First thing, my goal can’t be being attractive (external reward) but being worthy (internal stimulus).  I love the image of that old man that wears a tie even when retired. He’s not trying to follow anybody’s dressing code but his own. If you shower and shave just when there is somebody watching, then you are really a beggar in disguise. The ONLY person who cares is watching all the time, yourself. 

Once you understand that simple fact is when discipline starts to boil in your hart. 

Romans had a word for this: “Dignitas”. It’s the root of the modern “dignity” but for Romans it was deeply personal. Having “dignitas” was to behave, look and match the way that person conceived a worthy life. When you find your “dignitas”, the rest of your physical manifestations follow, including your body. 

That clears the path between the mind and the body, but still you need to go through the technicalities of known yourself. Your body is unique and there is a distinctive way in which it reacts to different combinations of nutrients, tasks and circumstances. At some point you need to stop listening to diet experts and take note of those things that have a real and measurable effect on your system. You will be surprised by who far you may be from the statistic average. 

The good news (great news in deed) is that controlling your body is not a challenge of will but one of self-knowledge. I got rid of sixteen pounds with a mild cardio workout of 40 minutes every other day and I feel better than when I was a teenager. 


 I’m not doing this to impress anybody but the guy in the mirror.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Road Trip Benefits



I want to wrap up the experience of the last road trip in a practical way.  What is in for you?

First, your job may have you trap in a vicious cycle.  The cycle takes your time and gives you money.  With that money you buy things that consume the rest of your time and, sometimes, demand even more money.   A road trip not only cuts the cycle, but also shows you that:
  • The world is big.
  • There is thousands of ways to make money, some of them more profitable and less stressful than the path you have chosen.
  • People are really happy with very little IF their social capital is big enough.
  • None of the adversities you have encounter compares with the adversities of the people that made the places you will see.
  • You will feel the obligation to match the beauty and the majesty of the landscape.
  • You will fall in love again… several times.
  • You’ll feel the urge of handwriting.
  • You lost weight, especially in cold weather.
  • For some reason you never get sick.
  • You’ll not want to be anybody else on Earth.
  • You feel (not just understand) that life can be lived in many ways other than the half dozen you ever considered. 
  • You realize how useless pictures are to grasp experience.   
  • You feel the distance.
  • You feel the silence.
  • You feel time.
Feeling is the missed piece of this Google generation.  It’s not enough to see the numbers and say wow!

I circled the whole country and the distance I covered was less than the one I used to drive from home to the office in one year.  So I was already covering the distance, but with a boring path.

Ok, yes, I’m single.  But having a family makes the trip even more enduring.   Remember this:  a relationship is a collection of common experiences.  So don’t use your family as a supporting pretext for inaction, make it a point in behalf of the action.

If you are happy, ignore me.  You are there.  But most of the people I have met know deep inside that there is something else in life.  They are just afraid to lose the little piece of bread they have if they go for the oven.  If you are in that state I have good news for your heart and bad news for your guts: you are wrong.  Yes, life is a miracle, one that is worth to be repeated and propagated.

You know that you are really happy when you don't want to have sex, you want to impregnate directly.  It’s an urge for giving.  Is this assurance that the source of your happiness can never be exhausted because it falls all over like rain.

Cities are not another choice of living.  They are the bad choice.  They generate humans alienated of their own nature, cynic as Scrooge, sarcastic as teenagers, indifferent as portraits, and bitter as bus drivers. 

We can confidently demolish all the existing cities and start from scratch.  There is so much arid space that it’s unnecessary to knock down a single tree.  A healthy city must expose the inhabitants to light, water, plants and animals.   Public transportation should not be crowded by losers.  Affordable facilities should be the reward for good character, not lame performance.

So, if you suffer from chronic depression, you may be mirroring the mood of the city.   You can’t pretend health with an unhealthy baseline.

But you don’t need to wait for the creation of the perfect town.  You can give yourself a good dose of city at some point of your life and then move to a more natural environment.  That requires a disposition for change that is rare in city rats.  Road trips are just a mild exercise to build that disposition; to remind you over and over again that your world is not THE world.

You don’t have to wait until 65 to retire.  You can retire from your past life and start a new one every 7 years or so.  Don’t commit the sin of getting stuck in the same routine.  That would be like living in Paris and having lunch every day in McDonalds.  Don’t pass on the stimulating resources of life.

video


Friday, December 7, 2012

What Can A Mountain Do For You?



I’m back to the starting point; back in South Florida, where everything started.

12871 miles and 583.49 gallons of gas later, I’m here to evaluate the products of my journey.

The first think that happens to you after a long trip like this is that you can’t see home the same way.  This place looks different.  It hasn’t change much, it was me who changed.

After traveling through the best and the worst of US, I have to admit that Pompano Beach is ghetto.  I walk with ease here just because I come from Central America, but for USA standards, South Florida is not one of the best places.

I saw that they are making pathetic robberies like grabbing your cell phone and running away.  That’s revolting.  It’s even better to have a gang of Colombians storming a bank with high caliber weapons.  For that you need to have two things: be organized and have ambition.  These criminals are just picking the wrong venue.  With two more ounces of brain they may get into politics and rob in an order of magnitude of thousands of times more, all while attending social events and been applauded in the red carpet.  But that you get with courage and organization.  The kid that runs frenetically with that purse will never get there because he is already thinking too small.

And you may tell me: well, the damage is small too.  No, it’s not.  A raving dog can be spot, vaccinated, trained, caged or ultimately killed.  Small bugs instead are everywhere and infest the whole place beyond repair.  If the mayor of Evergreen City makes headlines because he was caught cutting red tape for his fellow contractors, does that keep you from buying a house in there?  But if the windshields of the cars are constantly crashed by bandits looking to steal CDs in your neighborhood, can you sleep well?

The face value of the damage is not the only variable in the equation.   Big conglomerates of anything can be identified, controlled or eliminated; while small amounts spread as viruses and demand many times more resources in order to be controlled and eradicated.  The big fish can be articulated within the system and even contribute for a while.  The virus has nothing but the small goal of survive.

If you change the goals of a brave criminal, you get a brave entrepreneur.  That’s easier and more rewarding than trying to infuse ambition in a coward.  Even when the coward changes his ways, he lacks the drive to accomplish anything, no matter how noble the goal.

And that’s what mountains will do for you.  They will call the giant within.  They will filter the petty calculation that ties you to a salary.   This city is full of sickness: an endemic testosterone deficit.  Too many men giving too much and trembling for too little: “Yes sir, no sir…” what kind of man is that?  You give that level of submission on battle, no at the office.  If you are right, you are right and bleed all the way through.  If the corporation can’t share your principles you make the move; you convince others of your principles.  If still they don’t get it, go where others bright like you, or bright for your own. 

Oh, morality; you will find those questions in the road.  Just be sure to make it big. Don’t be like the petty teen that runs with the lady’s purse.  It’s never wrong when you win, just after you die and your enemies tell the story.