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Beauty & Menace: The Perils of Rugged Mountain Life (Part Three)

Snakes & Scorpions of South Yungas, Bolivia

Introduction: I moved from New York to Bolivia in February 2020. It’s been quite an adventure. Having come dangerously close to stepping on a rattlesnake while living in South Yungas, Bolivia, I decided to research just how dangerous a rattlesnake bite can be. I found the subject so interesting I’m considering writing about it. I was astounded at how many species of snakes there are so I will probably focus on the sub-family of pit vipers.

The rattlesnake found in southeastern Bolivia is commonly referred to as South American Rattlesnake, tropical rattlesnake or neotropical rattlesnake. Herpetologists call them C. d. terrificus.

From Wikipedia:
“Bites from C. d. terrificus in particular can result in impaired vision or complete blindness, auditory disorders, paralysis of the peripheral muscles, especially of the neck, which becomes so limp as to appear broken, and eventually life-threatening respiratory paralysis. The ocular disturbances are sometimes followed by permanent blindness.[13] Phospholipase A2 neurotoxins also cause damage to skeletal muscles and possibly the heart, causing general aches, pain, and tenderness throughout the body. Myoglobin released into the blood results in dark urine. Other serious complications may result from systemic disorders (incoagulable blood and general spontaneous bleeding), hypotension, and shock.[2] Hemorrhagins may be present in the venom, but any corresponding effects are completely overshadowed by the startling and serious neurotoxic symptoms.[13] Acute renal failure is considered as the main cause of death.[14] The mortality rate of cases without specific serum treatment is 72%, and 11% in cases with specific treatment.”

Wow. At first, while researching poisonous snakes, I read that the percentage of deaths due to bites is extremely low, although of course, it depends on whether or not the bite is treated. The mortality rates for this particular venomous snake are incredibly nigh.

One evening I noticed my NYC cat Louie obsessively pawing a rock wall on the patio. There are scorpions, huge aggressive spiders with a stinging bite and massive cockroaches (larger than a chicken egg) in those rocks. To prevent an altercation I placed a bench and egg crates along the wall. A bit later Louie was on top of the wall, pawing beneath a pile of tools. I went over to see what he was chasing and saw a small snake with bands of yellow and red-orange. Now, I’m not an expert on snakes, but I recall learning that venemous snakes usually have bright colors. I pictured Louie squirming in agony after being bitten and almost shit myself. I trapped the snake in a box, brought it down the road and threw it in the woods. Months later, when I had access to the internet and did some research I discovered that this was a coral snake.

The Rattlesnake Incident

One morning, a couple weeks after disposing of the small coral snake, I decided to wash clothes in the outdoor sink that is our washer. My wife was in La Paz shopping for supplies we can’t find locally. After hanging a few pieces of clothing on a line to dry, I made my way back to the sink. As I was about to descend the steps to the lower level my eye caught movement directly in front of me. I’m extremely fortunate that I paused to see what it was. Exactly where I would have stepped in a couple seconds was a snake. It was about three to three and a half feet long and as I looked closely, I realized it was a rattlesnake. I’d never seen an actual rattlesnake before, only on television or in a documentary film, but the pattern is easily recognizable. I didn’t want to get any closer, but I’d left the water running on dirty clothes and needed to turn it off to avoid running out of water. I walked in the opposite direction and circled around to avoid a confrontation (that I would surely have lost) to get back to the sink. When I came within a few feet of the sink I saw the rattler. An odd thought came to my mind at that moment: it’s one thing to see a rattlesnake (or any venomous snake, for that matter), but it’s quite another for a rattlesnake to see you. Strangely, I didn’t feel fear and I wondered if I was losing my mind. While I wasn’t afraid, my senses were on high alert. Everything seemed a little different than usual. The light from the sun and the colors of the trees, bushes and flowers were a bit brighter and I thought I could hear every sound around me louder, separately and clearly.

When I reached for the faucet handle the snake was about four feet away. I quickly turned off the water and backed away a few more feet. The ground is uneven so I looked down as I moved so I wouldn’t lose my balance. When I looked up the rattler had moved about another foot away. I never heard a sound, not even a rustling of leaves. And I had been listening intently for any sound of the snake moving. It was still too close to the steps for me to get by so I stomped my feet to get it to move further away. As I did this I heard the distinct rattling sound – the warning of a potentially fatal encounter, and the rattler crawled under a pile of wood at an incredible speed. I suddenly felt a pain in the pit of my stomach. Not only was there no one else at the cabin, there are no neighbors close enough to hear me call for help and I had no phone. There’s a very good chance I would have died if not for being extremely cautious – apparently a 72% chance, according to Wikipedia.

Tiny But Deadly: The Scorpion

When I think of describing South Yungas, one of the first things that comes to mind is scorpions. The scorpions here are very small, but that doesn’t lessen the dread of finding one in your home. As a matter of fact, it makes it scarier (at least to me). A nine inch long scorpion, like the red scorpion of India could never sneak under a door, through the crack in a window or wall or squeeze under the 1/16 inch gap between floor and wall tile. All of these unofficial entrances have been used by scorpions in our cabin.

I was fascinated by scorpions growing up. I thought they were “kind of cool” and definitely interesting. When I lived in Arizona in the late 1980s, I expected to see some. I’d been told by someone from Queens, N.Y. who’d lived for a while in Tucson that they occasionally find their way into houses. I thought that was frightening, but was still fascinated by them and hoped to see one. Outside. On the desert sands. I never saw one in Arizona. I lived in Phoenix, so I guess that’s why.

There are people from La Paz with a bit of money who decide to live in the quiet beauty of this area. They have nice, quality homes built – homes with solid walls, quality electrical services, wifi, air conditioning, quality plumbing … everything needed to be comfortable. And no cracks, holes or spaces. So to them scorpions are just something to avoid while cleaning the yard or collecting wood for a fire.

One night I awoke thirsty and decided to get something to drink. I saw our cat Nadia walking and almost stepped on what, in the dark, appeared to be a small pile of poop. Nadia suffers from a serious neurological disorder. She wobbles when she walks, has extremely slow reflexes and is slow to focus and notice her surroundings. And, she isn’t able to use a litter box (we tried but she kept missing). So avoiding stepping on cat poop is not a surprise. However, something told me to turn on a light. I did and saw that the dark spot was not poop, it was a scorpion. I grabbed Nadia just a few inches away from it and walking toward it. If I hadn’t noticed the spot one of us would have stepped on it. That’s bad enough, but this sleepy little mountain village is not the place you want to be when you have an emergency. There is no hospital nearby, only a clinic. And the clinic has “bankers hours.” There is no EMS service and no ambulance service. So being stung by a scorpion, or worse, little Nadia being stung, would have been disastrous. (The police department has only one officer and amazingly closes at 6PM AND is closed weekends. The people here have their own ways of dealing with things – many of which I’m not aware of and some that I’m not comfortable with. They set fires every day to dispose of their garbage and the smoke wards off poisonous snakes, scorpions and other assorted large, biting insects. I also found out from the locals that keeping chickens feeding in your yard keeps venomous snakes away. I haven’t been able to verify that but I have no reason to doubt it.

That’s just one incident with a scorpion. We have found one on a pillow, two on top of a bed, four or five crawling on walls and several crawling the floors of our cabin. We’ve disposed of about thirty. One of the more interesting things I discovered about scorpions is that they “play dead” to lure victims. I almost fell for it one day. Here is a photo of one of these tiny but dangerous creatures that I almost put my hand on top of while going to the bathroom:
href=”https://ashiftinconsciousness.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/9a9ca3bc-08de-496a-afa3-0841ca4788a6.jpeg”>

 

Here are photos of scorpions from the internet: 

Aggressive scorpion (Opistophthalmus carinatus) in defensive position, Kalahari desert, South Africa

Emporer Scorpions (Pandinus imperator) from West Africa.

 

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Beauty & Menace: The Perils of Rugged Mountain Life (Part Two)

Life Happens

I grew up in New York and though I’ve traveled a bit over the years, I’ve rarely been outside the United States. I once spent five weeks in Colombia, but other than that, the only foreign country I’d been to is Canada. So my move to Bolivia with my wife and cat, Louie, was quite an undertaking, an adventure I anticipated with curiosity and enthusiasm.

We landed in El Alto International Airport and took a late night cab ride to a small hotel in La Paz, where we planned to stay to “see the sights” before moving on to Uyuni where we were going to live.

Uyuni was founded in 1890 and was a popular trading post early in the 20th century. Today it is known for the spectacular Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world. Tourists visit from all over the world to see some of the most amazing sights a person could imagine. And NASA uses it as part of their Ice, Cloud and land Elevation (ICESat) mission to detect ice sheet elevation changes.

My wife had arranged for employment in a company that offers guided tours of the salt flats. I was told that if I so desired I could work part-time giving tours in English. (Interestingly, and I don’t know why, the owner of the tour company told my wife they were eager to hire me and had started adverting “a guide with a New York accent” on staff.)

                           Like John Lennon once said – you make plans and then life happens. Well, life happened and we didn’t make it to Uyuni. First, I had serious difficulty adjusting to the altitude of La Paz, which is 11,700 feet above sea level. Uyuni sits at 12,139 feet above sea level so our plan had hit a serious obstacle.

We wound up in a tiny village at a lower altitude outside La Paz, in a region known as South Yungas. We planned on staying two or three weeks, then attempting to move on to another area at an altitude between that of South Yungas and La Paz, then back to La Paz, hoping I’d gradually acclimate.

Then, life happened again.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit and we were stuck in South Yungas. No travel at first, then limited local travel. We had no job opportunities in this rugged, sparsely populated area. There is very little commerce. Most people live off small plots of land they own and supplement their existence with meager incomes from working the fields or doing minor odd jobs for people who’ve retired from other areas, mostly La Paz. We had no income, no reimbursement for a lost (expensive) ticket back to New York* and were almost broke. We’d been told that people from other countries were able to get free flights back home.

The United States, the so-called “wealthiest country in the world” didn’t offer U.S. citizens any help. None. I had trouble believing this situation at first. Then I remembered who was running the executive branch of the U.S. government at the time.

The people in the U.S. Consulate were indifferent to my situation – despite being a U.S. citizen in a foreign country with no income and almost out of money due to unforeseen circumstances. (Hopefully that attitude has changed with a new, less destructive administration in place).

We were on our own and running out of money, despite the relatively low cost of living. Medical attention had taken a large bite out of our money. So we made the best of it, but it hasn’t been easy, by any stretch of the imagination. And it’s been quite an adventure.

I don’t want to accent the negative experiences of living in Bolivia. I don’t want to appear arrogant about where I’m from or seem unfair in assessing another culture. The fact is, my experience has been far from normal and the problems that have plagued me during this adventure were exacerbated by the pandemic. Also, I enjoyed La Paz so much I’d like to leave an impression that would make people want to visit. It’s an amazing city.

                                     La Paz, Bolivia

However, I’ve spent an overwhelming majority of my time in Bolivia in a desolate part of the country that, despite it’s rugged beauty, is dangerous on a level I’ve never experienced – actually, never even imagined. I’ve lived in the South Bronx (close to Yankee Stadium) and have been in other parts of the U.S. where I felt a desperation so palpable that I wished I was back in the South Bronx. I’ve been threatened with a gun and a couple of times with a knife. But those were isolated incidents. This is a different world.

The only place we could afford to move into is a poorly constructed cabin with severely inadequate electric service, improper plumbing, no insulation, no air conditioning or heating, cracks in the walls and gaps in the door and windows. (Yes, that’s singular on door, there is only one exterior door in the cabin). To be fair, this was a rush construction job by a non-professional who was providing a place to live for a sick loved one. And this area has no building codes. People are allowed to build whatever type of building any time they want on their own property. (Politically conservative people in the U.S. would love that). And, of course, the price was right.

This is a cabin for weekend getaways. It is not meant for year-round living. But it was all we had for the time being. Besides, it was temporary.

Now that I’ve “bashed” the place, let me bring up the nicer aspects. Living in a tiny village in the mountains can be nice. It’s quiet. There are beautiful views, no traffic jams, rarely any honking horns, no putrid factory smells, no busy highways, virtually no crime and everyone seems friendly. (More on that another time). People regularly greet each other throughout the day whenever they pass. Under different (housing) circumstances it could be a pleasant place to live.

The mountains here are incredible. As soon as we step out our door there are fantastic views. The sheer size is awe inspiring and when fog comes rolling in and partially obscures the mountains, something that happens quite often, particularly in the morning, it can be spectacular.

                      The Royal Mountains South Yungas, Bolivia

The diversity of wildlife is amazing. The sounds of the many birds are beautiful, as well as interesting. There are small green and red parrots that fly in large groups and make a squeaking sound as they fly high overhead, dark grey birds that look like crows, though a bit smaller, who sit in trees in groups eating fruit, hummingbirds that dart around the patio and hover while drinking from the flowers of a tree that provides a canopy over part of the patio, light grey birds that look like pigeons who spend most of their time walking around pecking at the ground for food, tiny owls called jurucucus in Aymara (I don’t know the Spanish or English translations) that make an interesting sound at night and are rarely seen, black vultures that systematically circle the valley every day and many other types of birds.

   

                                                Birds of Bolivia

The first picture is of a vulture. I took it standing two feet in front of the door of our cabin. The vulture looked bigger at the time. We see them every day as they circle around the valley in search of food. They fly in a pattern and cover the entire area. The Aymara call them mamanis. I believe they are known in the English speaking world as Black Vultures. I’ve seen them up close. They are wary, but not particularly afraid of people. They stand about 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall.

(In Bolivia, vultures are large opportunistic birds that rip flesh from dead animals. They help clean the planet. While living in the United States, to me, vultures were corporate executives and corporate politicians who ripped apart people’s hopes and “helped” leave a dead carcass out of what was considered by many to be a democracy.)

The butterflies around here are amazing to see. The variety in size is astounding. It’s difficult to get photos of them, they move incredibly fast. That’s most likely due to the fact that there are so many predators in the area. Around here there are the quick and there are the dead. I’ve seen a few blue butterflies with a wingspan of about five and a half inches – larger than some of the birds. And then one quiet morning, while sitting on a rock, I saw a tiny white dot of fuzz floating in front of my face. I watched it a moment and saw it land, then realized it was a butterfly – or possibly a moth (it’s difficult to tell – butterflies tend to be more colorful than moths, but most of the moths are only around at night). The wingspan must have been about 1/4 of an inch. It was unbelievable. 

While the beautiful scenery, animals and peaceful atmosphere are enjoyable, there was a serious adjustment needed. There are no delis, no pizza joints, no bodegas, no bakeries, no coffee shops (no place at all to buy a cup of coffee), no Chinese food (or Thai, Mexican, Colombian, Japanese…), no laundromat, no music venue and no theatre. There is no guitar shop and my guitar has needed work since I arrived in Bolivia. There is no place to buy a CD, nowhere to purchase many household items (such as a broom, dustpan, lamp…) and no place to buy clothes or shoes. Aymara women make their own clothes and everyone else apparently travels to Chulumani (a larger town with a fair amount of commerce) which is about a 2 1/2 to 3 hour roundtrip or to La Paz (2 1/2 hours each way) to buy clothes. (More on traveling these mountain roads another time.)

Besides there not being the food places I mentioned, the food choices for cooking at home are also somewhat limited since the locals grow much of what they eat. There is no store to walk into and check out items on shelves. Stores are tiny rooms on the main road in which (usually) women have a limited choice of food and household items to sell. Customers stand outside a gate and ask for things. Sometimes they have what you request, sometimes they don’t. It’s a “hit or miss” thing.

There is no non-animal protein around here other than something called habas, which taste and smell nasty (even according to my Bolivian-born wife), but provide protein and fiber and are an efficient source of natural gas. 😮There are no beans, broccoli or peas for sale in this town. My wife and I don’t eat animals so purchasing food items with protein is an ordeal. Also, the only milk available here is cow milk. We don’t drink calf food. We buy powdered coconut milk on occasional trips to La Paz. We also purchase soy protein mixes, vegetable burgers, roasted peanuts, peanut butter, decent quality soap, kitty litter, dry and moist cat food, dog food and a few other items while there.

While food choices have been difficult, one beautiful source of food available part of the year is what grows on the property. There are more than a dozen tangerine trees and a number of orange trees, banana trees and avocado trees. I devour tangerines while they are in season, eating as many as six a day at times. Since I have a slight deficiency in potassium, it was great having free bananas right outside the cabin. And I love avocados – or “palta” as they’re called in Bolivia. We had so many tangerines that we occasionally bartered with one of the local shopkeepers, exchanging a large bag of them for food items we needed.

Another thing missing from the life I had become accustomed to is something I’ve never wanted to become dependent on, but life is constantly changing – regardless of how people feel about the changes – and I’ve had to adapt (as everyone has). There is no wifi in this area. I’m unable to access e-mail, listen to music on youtube, do any online reading or research, or access my blog with my iPad unless I make the treacherous journey to La Paz. (The only option I have is to use my wife’s phone to occasionally check e-mail, but amazingly, I’ve become accustomed to rarely doing even that since it’s an exercise in futility most of the time.) Not being proficient in the language in an area in which you live would be difficult enough with access to the internet. Being virtually cut off from everyone and everything I know is quite an experience.

While doing without so many things I’ve had basically at my fingertips for so long has been a drastic change, it’s also provided great lessons. I’m not a horribly complacent person who takes everything for granted, but it was still good to be thrown out of my “same ‘ol, same ‘ol” routine. I believe habits can weaken a person.

A few years ago I was forced to leave a situation in which I had a comfortable place to live for a very reasonable price. It was great while it lasted, but apparently it was time to move on. I spent the next few years bouncing around from place to place and even had the interesting experience of sleeping on park benches and trains. Though most people would cringe in horror at the prospect of doing that (especially in NYC), I found it to be a fantastic lesson in gratitude, patience and attempting to live in the moment. I found peace once I stopped spending time dwelling on the past (a comfortable bed, my personal belongings and a bedroom door to close) or on the future (is a cop going to kick me out of the park or off the train? Is a rat going to crawl on me while I sleep?)

It could be a little scary on occasion, but there were benefits as well. I was free to travel. I spent time in Taos, New Mexico with my friend Aaron, a Navajo artist I met at Zuccotti Park during the OWS protest; lived in Tucson, Arizona for a few months and spent a lot of time in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley, California. It was extremely interesting, often uncertain and never boring.

So, while life can throw rocks at you at times, it can also bring opportunities for experiences that add flavor and provide context in which to more fully enjoy living.

*One of the requirements to enter Bolivia was having a roundtrip airline ticket. The fact that I couldn’t breathe in most of the country, including the only area in which I had a possible income meant I had to make an important choice about a month after arriving. That choice was taken away by the pandemic.

 

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”– John Lennon

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Reality Dictionary: trumpist

trumpist (trûm’pist) 

(noun): a person who denies his or her compassion, intelligence, dignity and decency in order to join a group or organization designed to increase and normalize fear, anger, hatred, intolerance and indecency in a society;  drawn together by professional propagandists to direct attention away from attacks on democracy through a slow, deliberate erosion of freedoms. 

 

(adjective): to be mindlessly ignorant of the well-being of others, particularly those with different opinions, appearance, ethnicity or country of origin; especially of the middle and lower economic classes.

To be vicious toward people who are perceived as different, especially if they express opinions not approved by a ruling class.

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Beauty & Menace: The Perils of Rugged Mountain Life (Part One)

You Take My Breath Away

I was struggling to survive the ravages of Capitalism for a few years in my home country of the United States and decided to make the formidable move to another continent. I moved to La Paz, Bolivia in February of 2020.

Bolivia seemed to have more Socialism and less Capitalism in their system than the U.S. as well as a lower cost of living and a thriving economy. I was hoping to have an easier time financially, tired of too often having to choose between paying rent and buying food.

I had to choose wisely in deciding what to bring due to the airline industry going full-blown Capitalist in recent years. I couldn’t afford to bring more than two pieces of luggage and, unfortunately for me, musical instrutments count as a full piece of luggage despite weighing much less than the accepted weight limit. Instead of bringing two suitcases, my guitar, my bass and a small guitar amp, I was forced to bring just one suitcase (packed mostly with CDs, books and DVDs; very little clothing) and my guitar. There would be no funky bass riffs. I also brought my cat Louie, a rescue from Hell’s Kitchen, N.Y.C. That cost another few hundred dollars.

After a grueling journey of three flights that lasted about 18 hours, we landed at El Alto International Airport. Louie was terrified, but the ordeal was over once we took a cab ride to a small, inexpensive hotel in an interesting part of La Paz.

La Paz is a very beautiful city. It’s modern and bustling with activity, some of it interesting. I found one spot that reminded me a little of Greenwich Village in NYC. There was someone singing, people dancing, an artist and two comedians working a crowd. It also has an “old world” feel, with old, beautifully designed buildings, many with courtyards of stone benches, gardens and statues.


It has a diversity of people, architecture, food and art. And though there is a lot of automobile traffic and, in my opinion, not enough traffic lights or proper road maintenance, it has a very cool transportation alternative to traversing the rough, crowded streets – a tram system that extends throughout the city. 

Called “el teleferico”, it’s one of the most interesting changes brought to the city during the presidency of Evo Morales, widely considered the best president in modern Bolivian history. (Even a Capitalist Fundamentalist from Santa Cruz, a city full of Libertarians, expressed that opinion, despite the fact that he still deeply fears the word “Socialista” and ridiculously expected to lose at least one of his houses once Morales took office. Not only didn’t he lose anything, he continued to thrive financially.) 

Riding the tram system offers people beautiful views of the city, but the real attraction is what surrounds La Paz. This city sits in the Cordillera Real mountains, part of the Cordillera Oriental, a sub-range of the Andes. The views of the mountains are so spectacular that tourists from all around the world have stated that no matter where you are in this city of more than one million people you see beauty worthy of a postcard. The centerpiece of the mountain range is stunning Illimani. 

 

 

The second highest peak in Bolivia at 21,122 feet above sea level on the north face, Illimani is made up of granodiorite and was formed during the Cenozoic era. Granodiorite is a phaneritic-textured intrusive igneous rock, similar to granite, but containing more plagioclase feldspar (calcium and sodium) than orthoclase feldspar (potassium). 

Yes, that sounds boring, but much more interesting is the fact that the northern face of Illimani contains glaciers despite being only 19° from the equator. While this would seem to be impossible, glaciers can form this close to the equator under specific conditions. These conditions being high enough altitude, cold enough temperatures (obviously due in part to the high altitude) and significant moisture – in this case due to proximity to the Amazon basin.

The city took my breath away… sadly, in more than one way.

I don’t have strong lungs and expected problems with the high altitude of La Paz. I’d read that a certain percentage of people, many of whom are healthy, have difficulty with the transition from low to high altitude, especially those who’ve lived at sea level their entire life (as I have). Well, apparently I’m part of approximately 2 to 3 per cent of the population who are seriously affected by altitude sickness. I had so much trouble breathing I could barely sleep – and most of the time I slept was while in a hospital. I experienced incredibly adverse affects on my mind within one week of barely sleeping (a little over an hour per night). I developed difficulty concentrating, my memory faltered and I even experienced problems with equilibrium, banging into a wall twice. I was getting “jelly brain” – a term I’ve used in the past to describe my observations of the homeless people I’ve seen walking around dazed and confused in U.S. cities. 

Lack of nutrition will make you sick, lack of sleep will take your mind away.

I made two trips to a hospital during the first ten days I spent in La Paz. I was given oxygen and put on medication. My blood oxygen level apparently tested normal – twice, but I couldn’t take a normal breath at that altitude and couldn’t bend over or lay flat without gasping for air. The doctor was so confused he brought in another doctor to confirm his findings. Both doctors were perplexed. During the second visit one of the doctors was adamant I stay longer, but not being a citizen of Bolivia I had to pay full rates, cash on the spot. It was significantly less expensive than a hospital stay in the United States (boy, is that an understatement), but it was still too expensive for me. A few days later, someone arranged for another doctor to visit me in our hotel room for a checkup. (This was a highly respected doctor who was a political dissident, had been accused of and jailed for a horrible crime he didn’t commit, and had endured torture. A movie should be made about him.) 

This doctor advised me to spend time at a lower altitude and make a gradual change back to the (approximately 11,700 ft. above sea level) altitude of La Paz. I took a treacherous 2 1/2 hour drive outside La Paz for what was to be a two week stay to begin to acclimate to the change in altitude. I wound up in a tiny village in a region of Bolivia called South Yungas. It’s in the Royal Mountains and is situated at about 6,800 feet above sea level. Before the two weeks were up the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The country went on lockdown. No travel. Airports were closed and checkpoints were set up throughout the country to prevent travel inside the country… I became a resident of this village regardless of what I wanted. 

Breathing became much easier than it had been in La Paz, but still not comfortable. Bending over was still occasionally causing me to gasp for air. I never thought I would ever need to put effort into something we do all day long every day of our lives. 

A powerful lesson I’ve learned during this adventure is not to take anything for granted. You never really know when you’ll take your last breath… 

 

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Parasites & Idiots: Ignorance, Blind Loyalty and Obedience Can Be A Deadly Combination

Kentucky, USA: coal miners are in danger of contracting black lung disease and many are forced to travel more than 100 miles for proper medical attention. Families have tried escaping from the ever-present coal dust that permeates the area and causes severe respiratory illnesses by moving away, but end up unable to afford homes in areas less polluted. In 2000, more than 300 million gallons of coal slurry spilled into Kentucky rivers, killing virtually all marine life. Despite efforts at cleaning up this toxic waste left by heartless criminals commonly referred to as business executives, some areas have tap water that is still unsafe to drink.

And yet…

… over 60% of the people in Kentucky who voted in the 2016 election supported the presidential candidate who ignored the potential benefits of using modern technology to clean the environment and stop the ecological suicide this country is caught up in. The candidate who believes its acceptable to hire polluters to make decisions on the health of the environment. The candidate who believes wealthy executives deserve tax subsidies and lower tax rates, but that people who work for a living, who actually make things and provide services for people, do not. The candidate who admires Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler as well as modern day megalomaniacal dictators.

This bumbling knuckle-dragger also declared that he’d dump more money into the coal industry – a horribly dangerous 19th century business model that is contributing to habitat destruction while contributing to preventable deaths as well as rising rates of cancer and respiratory illnesses among the very people who mindlessly supported him to become president.

OK, that was 2016. People can change their minds when confronted with additional information. Four years later, even people who are horribly low in intelligence and with severe, fear-based psychological disabilities such as racism, sexism, homophobia, religious extremism and blind patriotism have had time to reassess their unconscionable fascination with supporting a racist sexual predator who openly showed contempt for a majority of the people on the planet while running a political campaign.

Right?

Now, with COVID-19 raging through the country, this psychopath acts as if everything is OK and things can soon go back to normal. (As if normal was actually acceptable). He lies as often as he breathes. If he’d been born poor in one of the many ghettos in the U.S. he’d be dead or in prison right now.

Recently, a poll published by RealClear Politics showed that in Kentucky 55% of people questioned are still willing to vote for this mentally ill monster in November.

Is it his fault? People voted for him after he admitted being a sexual predator and information was uncovered about his decades of heartlessly preying on fellow citizens. After inheriting a fortune. And today, after all he’s done to destroy whatever slight remnants of decency existed in the U.S. there are still people willing to risk their lives and the lives of others to show solidarity with this caricature of a parasitic madman.

Donald trump is a raving lunatic who would sell anything anytime to anyone as long as he could profit without risking his own money. He specializes in spending other peoples’ money to make money for himself. He is an insidious opportunist completely devoid of compassion, decency or integrity and is incapable of feeling the pain of others. He’s told the world that many times in various ways. And bragged while doing it. Yet, he sits at the top of the executive branch of one of the most powerful nations in history (though he’s rapidly changing that last part at a record pace).

Yes, ignorance, blind loyalty and obedience can be deadly…

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A Warning From Frank Herbert

A warning from the brilliant author Frank Herbert about following the greed-induced insanity of Capitalism:

“You cannot go on forever stealing what you need without regard to those who come after.”

Yes, it’s insane to gamble the existence of the entire species simply because you figure you’ll be dead before the consequences of your actions come to be. Technically, that’s attempted mass murder – on the level of possible extinction.

And to the people who don’t believe that those who control a majority of the planet’s resources – executives of large corporations throughout the world – steal, just think about the way they finance elections to get heartless sell-outs inside Congress or Parliament (or whatever governmental body exists in a particular country), who then put together corporate legislation which helps only the executives and the fake politicians – and hurts virtually everyone else by directing a significant amount of government spending into corporate bank accounts while leaving behind people in need like so much roadkill along the road of progress.

This sick behavior allows these predators to bypass important environmental and financial regulations. Yes, wealthy business executives actually steal from the rest of us. Corporate tax loopholes are nothing more than legal burglary.

And in the Unites States, the Environmental Protection Agency is handcuffed by corporate members of Congress through under-funding, which allows corporate lawyers to collect more money (already bilked from the public) in legal fees to help keep toxic chemicals (and other dangerous elements) that poison the planet on shelves in stores throughout the country – this is much more money than the government agency can possibly spend to protect the health of the public. (And this is when there isn’t an administration in place that appoints only wealthy executives from the industries that are supposed to be policed).

Usually, by the time EPA attorneys finally manage to win a lawsuit which will get proper regulations in place to address the danger of a particular product, the company changes a formula or decides on a slightly different (often more dangerous) material and the process starts all over again. It’s a spend-and-wait game that inevitably favors the wealthy.

So why do we continue foolishly traversing this path deeply influenced by sociopathic business executives who care about nothing more than collecting obscene amounts of wealth and control over others? Do millions of people actually believe they too will one day become wealthy?

What a trick the recent wave of Capitalists have played on the unwary among us. They have installed a parallel religion that not only borrows from the existing belief systems widely acknowledged as religions (to help build “faith” as a cornerstone of the system), it actually subsumes them without the adherents realizing it. Few people see that they blindly follow two religions – one for the purpose of collecting material wealth, the other to cleanse their consciences and provide a fairy tale of forgiveness that they apparently believe will save their souls. Very clever – and evil.

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The Wisdom Of Bill Hicks

Bill Hicks, much more than just a comedian…

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The Megalomanaical Miscreant? Misogynistic Madman? Monstrous Maniac?

I came up with a silly word game and it was so much fun I decided to post the result. I wrote something about the U.S.’s glorious leader and tried to use as many words as possible that start with the same letter. This is what I came up with:

A matrix of misused, moronic mutterings of methodically manipulative mental masturbation, a maelstrom of monstrous misdirection, mimicking meaningful mental mastery, morbidly marring morality and meandering malignantly through a multitude of monotonous mazes of misanthropic misadventure, merging mendaciously with a malicious mindset among miserable, malevolently maladjusted mental mutants who masticate mundanely misleading machinations maniacally massaged into a markedly murky message of mindless menace. A maniacal mutilation of moral merit..

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Have We Missed Our Last Chance?

I’ve been stuck in a tiny village in the mountains of Bolivia for more than 3 months without access to wifi to use my iPad. The only internet access I’ve had lasted an occasional few minutes here and there when I was able to purchase a card that I could use on a phone I procured here in Bolivia. I was able to contact family and friends in the U.S. those few times, but I spent more time trying to get online than actually online. Life in remote mountains…

I occasionally received news about the U.S. and was so disturbed by Bernie Sanders being maliciously driven out of the 2020 election that I felt compelled to write the following short “hit piece” on voters in the so-called democratic party. It’s old news at this point, of course, but I decided to post it anyway to possibly assuage the anger that still lingers in my mind. This is why we don’t have democracy. We’ve given up on it, but some of us are too blind to realize it and some of us are too hatefully ignorant to care.

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Bernie Sanders: ‘I will bring economic security to everyone; address the existential threat of human-affected climate change; seriously reduce homelessness, unemployment and poverty; attempt to provide health care for everyone; prevent corporate manipulation of our elections; eliminate multinational corporations from stashing money collected here in the U.S. in overseas accounts to avoid taxes; end state-sponsored terrorism against activists who speak truth to power and refuse to obey the dominant culture; bring actual justice to our criminal justice system and bring decency back to public discourse – and we’ll pay for our reworked economic system by having wealthy business executives who’ve gotten away with preying on fellow citizens their entire lives to pay a fair share of the tax burden.’

Democrat voters: ‘Fuck you, Bernie. You’re too compassionate, intelligent and courageous. We prefer a creep with average intelligence who cheated to get his bachelor’s degree, ignores the serious threat of climate crisis, obeys his corporate masters by going along with the foreign policy machinations of Wall Street parasites, disrespects women by fondling them and pretending to be a kindly grandpa, supports a racist criminal justice system, goes along with rewarding deeply questionable business practices and seems well on his way to developing dementia.’

Huh?

A lack of compassion? Profound stupidity? A lack of courage? At the very least, choosing Joe Biden to represent the “sane” political party is a serious breakdown in integrity and decency in the United States. Anyone who’s willing to go along with this for no reason other than simply reducing the constant turmoil of the insane trump administration instead of putting forward someone who could potentially be one of our great presidents if actually given a chance deserves to continue this spineless spiral into societal suicide.

But do the rest of us deserve it?

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What Are We Afraid Of?

I feel disgust every time I hear someone call Bernie Sanders a radical. Needless to say, I feel disgusted every day. It shows how far to the “right” of the political spectrum the people of the United States have been pushed by feamongering whores who are on the payroll of the parasitic executives who run this country.

Is slightly increasing taxes on wealthy people to help people who are dying from preventable deaths really a radical idea? How about asking people to stop mindlessly destroying our planet by reducing some of the pathetically self-absorbed behavior we’ve been conditioned to associate with success in recent decades? Is it crazy to want to move past the 19th century technology of burning fossil fuels and join the rest of the world in the entrepreneurial advancement of cleaner technologies that won’t drastically increase cancers and respiratory illnesses?

Anyone who’s read up on the subject knows Bernie Sanders can barely be considered a Socialist. He’s actually a very reasonable step in the proper direction toward a type of governing that can save us from ourselves.

People think Bernie Sanders is unelectable? What?? Donald trump is in the White House! Donald trump the racist, misogynist parasite. People who support corporate candidates say Bernie Sanders is mean and gruff? What’s meaner, speaking truths a lot of people don’t want to hear or allowing poor people to suffer needlessly? I think by “mean and gruff” corporate hacks mean honest. What’s going on here is that these people don’t want their friends to pay their fair share of taxes.

We’re listening to people who work extremely hard to reduce intelligence and increase mean and irrational behavior. How did that happen? Actually, a better question would be – why did we allow it to happen? I’ll leave that for people to ponder.

While I was sitting on a bench today a woman struck up a conversation with me. She told me how disgusted she was by how heartless so many people have become these days. I agreed and pointed to the powerful evidence that a heartless creep was our president. She then asked if I was a fan of Barack Obama and looked confused when I said I wasn’t. She mumbled something unintelligible, then told me she supports trump. Still?? 🤯 I asked how she could support someone who fights to give tax breaks to wealthy business executives while cutting benefits for disabled people. She said meekly, “he’s given us a good economy.”

That was it. Nothing more. I stared at her in disbelief. The irony could have leveled Brooklyn.