Here’s the third entry in a series of blogs from writer, rider, and environmentalist explorer, Michael Kristensen. He’s a native Dane riding through South America, exploring opportunities and cultural challenges to sustainable environmental practices.
His Facebook page is here.
The original blog appears here.
Every week (possibly more often) Michael will be riding through South America, remarking on his experiences, and blogging at length. We at Tessera Guild will follow him every step of the way. This week marks the third leg of his journey. His second week is here.
Please note: these blog entries are direct from Michael. No editing. No proofing. As raw as any blog you’ll see.
Sustainability Tour of South America, “riders with the storm” volume 3
Challenges, not a day without challenges:
The purpose of my trip is to report about sustainability, which I haven’t been too successful with yet. Admittedly I have also been way too ambitious, my goal was to find 3-4 projects per week to report about. I must realize that it’s close to impossible, the daily tasks of finding projects, doing the necessary research, finding accommodation, planning my route, getting something to eat is way more than a full time job. I will in the future try to report about 2 projects per week. That seems a bit more realistic.
I am in Argentina now, and it has been a somewhat challenged marriage, I am in love with the bird, but damn this Latina woman makes me work hard every day, and I have little or no time to do the necessary research. Well I will tell more about my challenged marriage later in this blog.
The challenges I have experienced here reflect the challenges the great people of Argentina are going through daily. I have had the privilege to live close to a very big family for 5 days, a mother and her 10 children and all their family and friends coming and going, it has given me an of course limited insight in how an Argentinian family live and which challenges they are facing and fearing.
I interviewed some of the younger people I have met, to get their view of climate change and sustainability, it’s not a big surprise to me, that it’s not a topic they are hugely engaged in, its not to say they don’t care, because they do, they are just having other more basic stuff to deal with.
The economy here is not at its best. The pesos has been devalued 53% within a year. For the younger generation this fact has made it hard for them to get a place of their own, or for that matter to get a job, the youth unemployment rate is close to 26%, the interest rate is at an astonishing high of 62% initiated by the national bank to try to control the inflation, so no wonder that the youth has other priorities than sustainability and climate change.
The young women are also dealing with a more present problem “gender equality” (SDG goal 5) they feel discriminated and targeted, can’t walk alone after nightfall without being afraid of being assaulted, feeling a lack of opportunities and fighting for free abortion. Latin America is a very male-dominated region, with that in mind it’s very understandable that especially the young women have other priorities.
When talking to the older generation I get the feeling that they have given up, they don’t trust their politicians. Everyone I talk to say that corruption had taken hold of everybody including them self, corruption has become the norm, especially among the politicians. (SDG goal 16) one of the men I talked to said “we only live try not to think”. Most of them don’t feel represented politically, they don’t feel they have a voice, and when asking them what they think should be done regarding sustainability, they don’t know what they as individuals can do, they are well aware of the problems we all are facing, but find it hard to give me answers to what they can contribute with.
When I drive through the Argentinian landscape, it’s obvious that ranching is an extremely important part of the economy (third largest meat producer in the world), there are cattle and horses everywhere for miles and miles it’s what dominate the rural part of the countryside. Gladly the thousands I of livestock I saw were all free grazing. The sad story though is that huge areas of the famous pampas has given way for crops, Argentina is now one of the worlds largest soybean and corn producers which ironically mostly is exported to meet the demand of the rapidly growing Chinese cattle production. In short terms the cow production has gotten pushed out of the pampas and in to feedlot staples, subsidized by the government using corn as the main source of feed. Some estimates say that 80% of the production now is feedlot cattle. There are strong movements trying to move the beef back on grass, but it’s a hard battle between the crop farmers and the ranchers. One of the solutions could be having free grazing cattle on the fields, letting them fertilize the area for 5 to 7 years, them letting the farmers grow crops for a short 2-3-year period, in a way more sustainable circle.
On the positive side in regard to sustainability, I saw thousands of birds driving thorough the countryside, and plentiful of them were birds of prey, falcons, Eagles, hawks and much more, I have never seem that many birds of prey anywhere. And the cities are full of trees and have parks on abundance, Especially La Plata the capital were very green with a park each 6 blocks and trees everywhere. On the negative, As everywhere else I have been recently, the absence of insects is obvious.
The Good, the unbelievable friendly people of Argentina, I have met so many giving warm people, they have been absolutely fantastic. I am met with curiosity and open arms, I have been invited to dinner, beach volleyball, tango, doing my laundry, beer and friendly talks about all and nothing. I highly recommend visiting this great country just to meet and talk with the people. Mate, the special herbal tea of this region, is here there and everywhere, its cute how the carry their thermos and cubs of Mate around like small babies, young and old are sipping Mate on every street corner. The list of health benefits this tea is supposed to grant you is as long as the plains of Patagonia. I have gotten to like it in its raw bitter form, so well maybe I will arise as a new healthier version of myself.
And they really like motorcycles, they like to ride them and admire them, there are lots and lots of bikes here. I have gotten so many compliments on my bike and numerous pictures has been taken by all from Policemen to small kids. It’s been a great way to start a conversation.
The present exchange rate is not bad either, things here are very affordable. Beer prices one LITER (a quart) domestic beer cost 100 pesos (1.80 $) in the shops and 200 pesos in a bar an import 150 pesos and 250 (5,50$ equal 1.80 for a normal serving) in a bar. I like that they serve Liter beers without asking.
The Bad (surprise) wauw Buenos Aries rush hour traffic, that’s was kind of a surprise. I arrived late afternoon by ferry from Uruguay, to my luck I had met a local on the ferry and we got to talk about where I was heading. He told me to follow him through customs he was also driving a Florida reg. bike, so he had to go through the same process as I was including getting a TIP (temporary import permission) waiting to the customs to do their thing, which by the way was fast efficient and free it took less than 15 min. he asked me where I was going, he laughed you better follow me I will show you through rush hour traffic. Wow I am glad he offered that, I mean I have been driving in south east Asia, and its crazy there, but I tell you Buenos Aries beats Asia, mostly because of the speed they travel at, in Asia at least things are moving slowly and organically like one big organism. To be honest it was not the cars that was the worse, there was unbelievably many cars, but they mostly drive ok, it was the Motorcycles that swarmed around me as irritating mosquitos, small stinking MC’s coming from everywhere crisscrossing in and out of all lanes form left and right. To skiers, it was like having thousand snowboarders passing you from all angles not obeying any of the “rules” we skiers follow 😊. Well my new found friend he was a local and he drove as one, I suddenly found myself riding on the freeway shoulders passing the slow moving cars with 60 miles an hour, crossing in front of cars mingling in between them from left to right, I decided to stay on his tail because I wouldn’t have been able to find my way without him, looking at my GPS and navigating through the hell was not an option. I managed to stay close and only lost sight of him a few times, he didn’t wait LOL. But thanks, my friend for guiding me to my first accommodation in Argentina.
The Ugly, being robbed is never an experience you grace and wait for to happen. I was aware of the possibility of having things stolen, somewhere/sometime throughout my trip of 6 months, but being robbed only spending 3 days on the road was not what I had dreamed about.
I had carefully planned my next move on day 3, downloaded off line maps, booked a place to stay for the next couple of days, and was well un my way beating Buenos Aries traffic without problems before 12, it started out as planned but an hour into the drive I lost my phone, it was a stupid move by me driving 70 miles an hour trying to correct position of the phone in my gas tank bag I flew out of my hand, there was nothing I could do but swear at my self for being so idiotic, well the phone was gone and I had a spare. I found a place to stop and got my spare phone out, I only had one problem with that, I had no charger cable, it’s an iPhone and it won’t hold a charge for long. So I decided to make an unplanned stop in La Plata hoping that stores in the capital would be open on a Sunday, to my surprise was the city almost shut down, Not a single store open driving down the main avenue, once more swearing at myself I did another stupid thing, there was a bunch of street salesmen probably illegal since all their stuff was on blankets, easy to pull together and get out of there in seconds, I knew they would have cheap shit copy charger cables, so I stopped a bit desperately hoping to buy a cable, since I needed a charged phone to GPS my way to my accommodation. Sure, enough they had a shit copy charger cable, and shit as it was, I couldn’t let my phone charge on my USB outlet on the bike. I thought “let me find a café and charge the phone for an hour get some coffee and a bit to eat, and then back on the road” hey it was 2 o’clock midday in the capital of Argentina what could possible go wrong, as an answer to my prayers not even a block away from the street sales guys there was an OPEN café, I considered very carefully how I would park my bike on the sidewalk, right in front of the café in plain site not 5 meters away from where I could sit at a table that had e plugin for my charger, watch my bike and relax for an hour, I didn’t get to that, before I knew it my sissy bar bag was gone , I didn’t even see them taking it, it was tied with straps to the back seat and quite heavy, not an easy steal , but it was gone just like that I lost most of my belongings, computer, iPad, rain clothes, sleeping bag, hammock,700$ cash credit cards, my Green card and more than half of my clothes.
I was in a state of total disbelief, how that hell could that happen, me being so damn careful, I really didn’t think I had been reckless or naïve, I truly felt I had taken all necessary precautions, and yet here I stood like an idiot robbed blind in the middle of the day on a busy street in the Capital. I of course called the police and they wrote a report, well knowing that this was all they would ever do, they were very nice and pretty efficient, maybe because they couldn’t wait to get pictures taken with an on my Harley.
One thing is to loose a lot of stuff and having to deal with that heartache, another thing is to regain control of your life, seriously it took me 4 days, and I am not done with the insurance yet, I had to close cards, order new, offset all passwords and create new ones, buying a new computer and a phone isn’t easy because there are limits on how much one can charge on the one credit card that wasn’t stolen, then setting up phone and computer again, not to mention downloading all the damn app’s that we need these days, damn it I was near giving up on the whole thing and just go home where stuff wasn’t so complicated.
Nothing is so bad that’s its not good for something. I have had a wish to travel lighter, but couldn’t get my self to get rid of the stuff I had brought along, especially to many clothes, well now that was taken care of, and it was WAY easier to pack my bike when hitting the road. When things like this happen the most wonderful people enter your life, a couple og days later I got an email from a total stranger, writing me if I had lost a Green card, driver license and some clothes, I couldn’t believe that he had gone through the trouble to pick up my stuff he found on the road, finding my email on one of the flash drives that was part of the lost items, getting in touch with me and delivering it back to me with a big smile on his face, refusing to let me pay him a reward for his help, all he took was a picture of my Harley LOL.
I am back on the road, Argentina she didn’t turn out the way I had hoped for, I spent way to much time dealing with the robbery, making it impossible for me to do the research I had planned.