Robbery on the High Seas Part 1

Bait for the thieves

Bait for the thievesColon is the city that the Americans built at the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal. It is here that we leave our truck at the port so that it can be loaded onto the ship and taken to Cartagena in Colombia. The process is pretty much straight forward: We have already arranged and paid for the service at the shipping agent’s office in Panama City and now another of their representatives guides us through the paperwork and delivers us to where we say goodbye to our home.

When we shipped our vehicle a couple of years ago from Korea to Canada, someone, somewhere, stole our 4 channel, 400 watt amplifier from inside a concealed cupboard. We don’t know whether that happened in Korea itself, as our truck waited to be driven onto the Hyundai ship. We don’t know whether it happened, instead, at the New Westminster port in Vancouver, when the truck was driven off and parked up for us to collect. Probably it happened at some point in the 21 day sea voyage by a bored and badly paid sailor.

So, of course, this time in the supposedly much more thieving-orientated culture of the Latin Caribbean, we are expecting the worse and securing our possessions as best we can. You see, the problem is, you have to leave your keys with the shippers so they can drive the vehicle on and off the boat – and our problem is that the interior of our truck is one space – a “walk-thru”, a bus, in fact, where the driver’s position is an integral part of the rest of our home. There’s no simple way to build a partition so what we do is put the really valuable stuff in the back where it can’t be reached and the rest of the stuff we cram into the shower and put a couple of locks on that. Between the shower and the front we chain up our two bicycles so that they block access into the living area for all except a determined fellow with an angle-grinder or a monkey. All our clothes, all the tools, gadgets, games, crockery and everything else that could fit in the shower is now also behind this barrier. It was sweaty work.

So then we got to the food; a few tins of baked beans, tuna, some spices and an expensive bottle of olive oil.

<<Come on, says Dunia, we don’t have to worry about the food, surely? They’re not going to steal that.

<<They’ll steal anything that isn’t bolted down, Dunia, I reply. Anything. They see it as their sea-faring right.

<<But the beans? They’ll take the baked beans? And so what if we lose a tin of beans?

<<Look, we paid thousands of dollars for all this – I’m not gonna let them take one dollar more.

We stood facing each other in a mist of sweat, the humid Hades heat obviously fuelling our conversation – one of the tins in question in my hand and Dunia brandishing another. The din of a container port thundered around us, the clock ticking down to when we must leave our precious to the obviously light-fingered and bean-hungry sailors and dock workers who were at this moment circling around us like vultures pretending to work. We were stressed, we hadn’t had nicotine in hours – we were angry and we were arguing about baked beans.

I began to feel a little faint and so I relented.

<<OK, we’ll leave the food where it is, behind the bicycle-barrier but not in the locked shower.

I replaced my tin in the cupboard but put it at the back behind a collection of plastic bags, thinking, well, it’s partly hidden but then thinking, shit, what if they steal the bags?

Dunia took her tin and placed it at the front, on the dashboard – in full view of everyone.

<<Dunia! I cried, what are you doing?

<<Andy. Calm down. For the price of a tin of beans we can do a little test to see whether this Colon to Cartagena shipping route is indeed a thieves’ paradise.

Yes, an experiment – I like them – we are, after all, a traveling think-tank researching our planet. The tin of beans stood invitingly; the bait on an otherwise bare dashboard and the only item that didn’t require simian assistance or power tools to be liberated.

So, we’ll see if it’s still there when we get the truck back in Colombia – I’ll write a blog post about it.

Shuttled out of the port, then, finally, deposited in downtown Colon in the midday, tropical sun, we stood blinking. Homeless. Two rucksacks to our names and a few litres of perspiration down. What now? I looked nervously around the decrepit urban landscape before me. Fetid, black drains, crumbling concrete – the buildings look like they hadn’t been maintained since the Americans had built them and left. We picked our way through the poverty to find a spot where we could recharge our energy and plan how we would get ourselves to Cartagena.

Colon has a very bad reputation –  you’ll read about the scary streets in the guidebooks and overlanders’ blogs… We’d like to point out here that even after hours of anti-thievery activity in the truck, hours of driving around dirty, chaotic ports looking for the right office and then thrown, mostly-naked and dehydrated into the middle of the supposedly dodgiest city north of the Darien Gap – we relaxed, refocused, and found we actually liked the place and would have happily stayed longer. Like one big, ugly industrial squat underneath the fascinating architecture, it was like the rougher parts of the capital, urban Panama without the tourists.  And it has free Wi-Fi broadcast on the streets – Internet Para Todos.

It isn’t robbery in Colon you have to worry about; not when first there is the general robbery of having to fork out thousands to get round the Darien Gap – The Price of Paradise. Then there’s the robbery on the high seas themselves. In Part 2 we’ll see if they went for the tin of beans…. Or worse.

Laid back tropical architecture.

Subtube and Subthis

subtitles, web design, etcToday we launched two projects: subtube and subthis – two arms of Earthcircuit’s quest to establish an online business – you know, the kind that can be managed using a laptop sitting under a fan at the beach bar.

Subtube.org is a very serious exercise, however. We truly believe that one day, all video will come with subtitles and  this website takes one step towards that vision by offering to subtitle everything on Youtube. The benefits of subtitles are immense and will lead to a real change in how video is accessed by the general public. For the moment, Youtube enables “automatically generated subtitles” on certain videos but their quality is abysmal – luckily they also have the ability to upload your own “human generated” subtitles. That’s where we come in.

To kick off this service, subtube.org are offering to subtitle for free any short (up to 5 minutes) video which has speech in English. Register your interest here.

Of course, we are not restricted to Youtube; we can supply subtitle files, transcription and translation for any film or video. This is one of the core functions of subthis.org – a service that will create web media content of any kind. Subthis.org will be aimed primarily at businesses and organizations looking for a cheap, easy to handle, future-proof website that looks good on the smartphones and tablets that most people seem to be using these days. Visit here for more information.

Park-Up and Volunteer

Volunteer at this farm!Travel volunteering overlander, earthship building community member, tropical enviro life affirming unconsumerist or just looking for a cool, awesome place to hang out for a while? Sanctuary Farm is an ego-free, eco-full piece of jungle perched on top of a hill on the edge of a rain forest in central Costa Rica which welcomes volunteers to come and share the creative energy and join together in this immense project.

With the new season starting a few months ago, the Farm has already seen many backpackers who have found the place by word of mouth or by browsing the community volunteering websites. This is a call to vehicular overlanders to come, stay and share your substantial drive, experience and skills. I’m told that agricultural and welding knowledge would be well appreciated at this moment in time.

Volunteer to build earthshipsThis will be a productive park-up for a week or two for any motorized (or otherwise) overlanders passing through. The track up, climbing to 5,000 ft, is pretty steep and can get slicked out in rainy season – contact the Sanctuary people to see if you can get a vehicle all the way up there. The next option is to leave your rig at the bottom of the hill (45 min walk up, 15 min down) where someone in the village there will keep a watchful eye over it for a few dollars. Alternatively you can park at the nearby town of Orosi where the Farm’s owners run the Hotel Revantazon, and then get a lift up or even… ah… walk (2-3 hours).

Sanctuary Farm is pretty much a shared experience. The main project is the construction of earthships – dwellings made from recycled materials, car tires, mud and wood, not forgetting vision and hard work. Integral to this is the vegetable garden, water catchment systems and the upkeep of the farm’s existing collection of chill-out areas, kitchen huts, tipis and yurts. Sanctuary Farm is young and now is a great time to help lay the foundations of something great – a self-sustaining community where you can barter your love for life. And don’t worry, it’s not some kind of work camp – there’ll be ample time to see the waterfalls, the hot springs, the nearby national parks or the incredible views of the lush, green valleys.

You think this post sounds like an advert? Hell, yes: Sanctuary Farm needs you. Read all about them here and here – get them on facebook here  – email contacts are here.

Dawn at Sanctuary Farm: http://youtu.be/Yd_0l5a0TBY

Sanctuary-Farm-Seedlings

Cook communally!

We’re messed up now

dreaming of time and spaceWhy can’t it be like that? You know, like a double barreled vaporizer – a little e liquid in one and a little pot in the other – a dial in between, you know, to set the ratio that you’d like. Maybe with some presets that you use often  – linked with your phone’s GPS so you hit the right mix in the right place and don’t get  fucked up at work.

Well, maybe that’s an idea for the future – why can’t it be now? It should be now. I can think of thousands of people who’d use one – it would be brushed titanium, the etched double devil logo down each side with a touchLED panel on top. Goddamit the flow of time, that partial existence given to things yesterday and tomorrow. It makes the vision of the fututre just as risky as our understanding of the past. I wonder how many oldies wanted to drag their telephones out with them, cutting the cables, squish them small and make the dial a keypad that pops up with a smart but simple finger-brush…

And so, by default, places fade into a semi-existence – given that you pass through them chronologically. Where you were before is just as historical as the time you were there. I have to say that all this air travel sure does speed up that effect. London is now pretty hazy – even though it’s only 48 hours away for us now we’re back in Costa Rica.  And before that the snowy sides of America’s Mount Shasta fogged up after only a week of  being in London. It would never be that abrupt to an overlander moving slowly across the land mass.

Of course, the above three paragraphs would be that much more of a problem if it wasn’t for the old www. The internet serves to give a little color to other places and other times. I could never forget England or California when we are chatting or otherwise stalking each other on facebook, could I? I might find myself clicking less on those links you Londoners are posting about the utter destruction being brought about on society by the Conservative Party (that seems to have almost surpassed the hatred of  Thatcher’s decade within three years – now that’s air travel and smartphones for you). But I sure am aware  of the nightmare Tory Britain and the thoughts of my social media friends living there – and will remain so no matter how many more places we travel through.

Time, the past and the future, is also made more vivid by the internet. So you could be reading this, sitting in a nicely carpeted room in London or that coffee shop three blocks west of Main and 7th. Equally you could be reading this next year or even a decade into the future. Maybe it’s 2020 and your google glasses just found this web page as you jet-packed past the tropical mountain town where we’re currently parked up. Hey, hi future, how’s it all turned out? Did those double barreled vaporizers ever make it?