Wednesday, December 19, 2012

social action? yes! whatever that means...

The other day was a friend's 27th birthday. So I did what any good long-distance friend would do, I signed into facebook and clicked on his timeline. I browsed through all the digital expressions of good wishes, amazed at all the many different ways you can say 'happy birthday', when I came across this:

Painfully Earnest Birthday Message for my Friends (this is long, heads up):

So, okay. Tomorrow is my birthday. I will be twenty seven years old. People have asked me what I want for my birthday, and there IS something I want, something I DESPERATELY want, from ALL of you.

You probably know, if you've been watching this space, that I have been involved for a minute in the anti-hydrofracking movement for the last year. Becoming politically active and participating in anarchic decision making processes has been a great privilege. Edward Abbey says that conviction without action is the death of the soul; I believe that's true, and that the corollary is also true, that becoming active brings the soul to life, and marks the beginning of a singular personal transformation. Unless you've experienced it for yourself, you will never know what a holy thing it is to work for something that isn't money.

For my birthday, I want you to get involved. I mean it. Many of you are already involved in various struggles for a socially just and environmentally sustainable world, and that is beautiful. This post isn't for you. This post is for my friends who aren't yet involved in any kind of action.

I'm pleading with you to get involved, for a number of reasons. First, you will discover whole new genres of joy and pride and satisfaction. You will meet people who are better than you thought people could be. We tend to think of activism as a depressing thing, but political activism contains profound personal rewards for those who do it. Trust me. Second, our world is in really rough shape, so much so that the notion of moral neutrality has no substance anymore, if it ever did - as the old saying goes, if you're not part of the solution, you really are part of the problem. Sad but true. To be inactive in the face of the climate crisis, the class war, or any number of other current realities is precisely what Arendt meant when she talked about the "banality of evil." And although I might not always say it to you, it honestly DOES make a difference to me when I hear you talk about your beliefs and then I don't see you doing anything.

You can always come up with a thousand reasons not to get involved. Activism requires work and time - researching an issue until you have the confidence of your convictions, participating, learning to work successfully with different people. And you might not want to look silly. You may be really, really busy (who isn't?). However, the truth is that, with very few exceptions, everyone is capable of getting involved to some extent. You are neither too stupid nor too smart. You are not too dull or too creative. The truth is, we need YOU, specifically. We need you desperately. If you don't know where to start, let's talk about it! There is no conversation I am more eager to have.

I'm honestly less concerned with what you choose as the target of your activism. That's your decision. If you decide to do anti-racist work, union organizing, queer activism, climate work, or some brilliantly articulated combination of those, that's all fantastic. Just as there are a million problems, there are a million ways you can decide you want to contribute to the solution. The only intolerable option is not getting involved at all.

Start doing activism and you will be participating in history, you will receive rewards beyond price, and you will touch the closest thing to the sublime that the material world has to offer. Trust me.

That's all. Thanks for listening.

Now this was something different. A plea for action. Social action.

I wrote my happy birthday wishes on my friend's timeline and signed out. I refrained from inescapable downward spiral of facebook browsing. This time.

I turned off my computer, but my friend's message stayed with me for the rest of the day. Like a transitory rain cloud, pleasantly lingering, yet noninvasive. Thoughts swarmed. Am I participating in social action? Can I do more? What do I believe in? What is responsible social action anyway? Each question a world, each answer a novel.

Alisa's Concept Social Action Timeline

Pre 5 years old: be a good person.
5 years old: don't steal, don't lie, don't cheat, be nice, share
15 years old: the world is full of injustices and it's my job to fix them. protests. petitions. ani difranco. boycotts. conferences. ripped clothes. punkrock.
17 years old: civil disobedience. protests. bob dylan.
19 years old: protesting may have worked in the past, but it doesn't work any more. journalism is corrupt. education is the key.
23 years old: be in nature. educate. government is obsolete and needs to be re-created.
24 years old: there are things in life I can't control. there are things in life I can control. flow with them.
25 years old: real change comes from my actions. i must live my ideals. and until I do, I have no right to tell others how to live. self sustainability is the ultimate form of social activism. learn everything.
26 years old: with self sustainability, government ceases to be important. smile. play. flow. positive energy.
27 years old: be a good person

Life is cyclical. And sometimes the simplest answer is the most practical and the most effective. Why complicate things? Human beings tend to seek complications and extremes; sometimes we forget the importance of basic, simple, humble, and easy.

'Be the change you want to see in the world'. I couldn't agree more. Avoiding blame, pointing the fingers at others, and focusing on the outside problems may feel good, but isn't very productive. It is a stressful, uphill and nearly impossible battle to try to change others. We often do, though, only to avoid looking at ourselves, our actions, and our areas of improvement. Looking inward is a tough journey. But there's so much more potential. And how can we tell others what to do, if we ourselves are not walking our talk?

And perhaps what we scold others for doing, is really a reflection of what we don't like about our own behavior. Our comments, complaints, compliments and suggestions say more about us than they do about the person we are directing them at. So, slow down, stop, retract that pointer finger. Point it inward. The peace you aren't finding in the world, can be found within you.

There are things in life we can control. There are things in life we can't control. However, although we may not be able to control our bosses, families, friends, significant others.... governments... we can control our own actions, the choices we make, and how we let those around us affect us.

So act! Find what you're passionate about. Do what you love, act with your heart, do it deliberately. If you don't like something in your life, change it if you can. But if you can't, change how it affects your energy. That you can always control.

Thank you, Patrick, for your eloquent, thought-provoking, inspiring message of hope, passion and power. And happy birthday.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

I wrote an article the other day.

It was published in the Summer 2012 Kids Can Make a Difference Newsletter. Check them out here:

Going off the grid: A big city girl goes rural
By Alisa Gragert

I grew up on the system. Yes, a Manhattan apartment with all the modern conveniences. Potable drinking water gushed from the faucet lights switched on and off appropriately, gas hissed from the burners and expertly heated the oven to pizza-sizzling temperatures, neatly tied garbage bags were whisked away, and the toilet flushed down all unwanted wastes.  My parents simply paid monthly for these services, and I never gave it a second thought. Until now. When my friend, Guillermo, bought a two hectare piece of land in a small dustyroad Argentinian town, we were elated with the prospect of living in the midst of trees, soil, and prickly vegetation. The land was wild, as in it had no human-made structure. The sun was our alarm clock, the dried leaves provided the crunchy carpet, and the birds sang the soundtrack of a wonderfully peaceful wilderness. Bliss. 

But reality kicked in. No more modern comforts of living in a sturdy four-walled structure. No electricity. No water. No garbage removal service. Our own wellbeing was in our hands and certain sacrifices had to be met. It was time to roll up our sleeves and get to work!

Liberating oneself from dependence on the system is no easy feat. Going cold turkey off of the grid requires knowledge, commitment, and a certain degree of creative problem solving skills. That said, steps of all different sizes can be taken to slowly make this project become a reality. 

We've made tremendous progress. I can't say that we're completely off the grid or that we will ever be, but we are a whole of a lot closer than I've ever been. There is a certain satisfying independence knowing that you are responsible for your own life. It's been tough at times, but step by step we're reducing our dependence on outside resources. Among our projects are resolving the lack of electricity, water, food, and waste disposal.

Electricity serves many useful purposes in modern daily life. We use it to heat, to cool, to cook, to illuminate, to entertain, to communicate, to charge, to preserve, to shred, and to direct traffic. If a blackout struck your living situation right now, how would you be affected? Perhaps most of us would mention our TV or internet or music-playing device or a word-processing apparatus on which to write an off-the-grid kind of article. Perhaps we'd be affected by our refrigerator ceasing to refrigerate. Perhaps our oven and stove are electric. Perhaps our heating. Our air conditioning. What do you plug in? What would you miss the most? And... what can you actually live without? 

Yes, certainly no electricity means no internet (gasp), no TV, no i-gadgets. Whew. I say, Thank goodness. I have all the entertainment I need, thank you very much. Large iguanas stroll leisurely through the kitchen. The hungry neighborhood cat looks for an opportunity to grab a chunk of bread. The ants march in and steal everything. The stinkbugs enjoy making us cringe. The neighbor's rooster keeps our clock ticking to the rise and fall of the sun. The parakeets squawk in early morning light. Friends pop over for afternoon lemonade or a chat. And there are always plenty of chores to do. 

However, I decided that although I was okay with not having internet at home, I do need to communicate to my family every so often. I go to a friend's house or an ice-cream shop with WIFI and connect. Yes, as long as I'm living in another country, I will still remain (albeit rarely) plugged in to the online community. And I'm okay with that. And I take the opportunity to plug in my cell phone at the same time, just in case I decide to use it. 

With the installation of solar panels a few months ago, I'm happily typing away this article plugged into a power source that isn't entirely ecofriendly because it requires certain imported, commercially produced plastic structures and a toxic battery that needs to be replaced every few years. But we're experimenting, we're learning, and much like everything in life, it's a process. 

Water. The last time I checked, water is water is water, and is necessary for survival. If you decide to dig a well, you get as much water as you can from underground pools, usually using electric pumps. When the well runs dry, you dig a little deeper. If you decide to connect to the town's water grid, expect to pay less than 10 US dollars a month and get unlimited water. Knowing that water is such a scarce and precious resource, our approach was to try to use as little water as possible, and then reuse that water as many times as we could. 

Great, but where does OUR water come from? We have a water tank that holds 850 liters. Our neighbor is connected to the town's water supply. We ask him to fill up the tank every so often. Does that make us off-the-grid? Not at all, technically. But when I think of off-the-grid, I think of the philosophy behind the itself. Using one's resources wisely and responsibly is the backbone of the philosophy. Using, reusing, and then perhaps returning water to the earth in a constructive and considerate manner. So, even though our water originally comes from the town's water grid, it goes through a few different uses before we're done with it. 

Dishwashing water gets collected into a bucket, that bucket is used to water the garden, the food compost, the forest, and the dry-toilet compost. Rainwater is collected and used for watering as well, or for washing clothes. We use neutral soap that does not add extra perfumes or colors or bleaching agents into the plants. I prefer for my tomato to not smell like artificial lavender. We shower outdoors under a hose. The water runs to the plants and into the ground. It's a little breezy, but it's an indescribable experience to shower among the trees, under the magnificent blue sky, graced by the radiant smiling sun. Rad.

Now I mentioned the dry bathroom. Yes, my newest favorite addition to my life. My existence and excrement have been forever altered. I love my dry bathroom. I cannot, and will not, go back to generic, boring, unnecessary, smelly, wasteful, indoor flush toilets. Not in your life. Not for a million dollars. Not for anything in the world. Except, perhaps in temporary moments of necessity. 

The idea of flushing our human-made organic products down the drain using one to four gallons of potable drinking water as a questionable act was introduced to me at a young age. But in the city, many other options don't exist. It wasn't until I moved to a small town and read the thoroughly enjoyable and informative The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins that I learned that a super alternative existed. It wasn't difficult; it wasn't smelly. It was responsible; it was healthy; and it made a whole lot of sense. Our excrement is a product of our body. It is organic. It should be composted. Properly. Period. If you don't trust your own excrement, you probably should not trust what you're eating.

I won't go into detail, but I assure you that it is a very simple process. I thoroughly enjoy using my dry toilet in its outdoor splendor, tossing some sawdust to cover my daily donation, and then every so often contribute to the larger dry toilet compost. I'm completely converted. I love it. 

One of my passions is cooking. And lately, I've been trying to get back to the basics, meaning, learning how to make the simple things we usually take for granted. Breads, pastas, jams, sweets, soup stocks, sauces. I guess I'm steering away from more and more complicated recipes that require imported ingredients in favor of simplicity. In other words, I don't want to depend on the supermarket for anything I can make at home and get from my backyard or neighbors. Eating locally and seasonally is one of the most responsible things we can do as global citizens. And so much fun! I love being in the garden, identifying edible wild plants and supporting/bartering with neighbors for local produce. Food production using local resources and local distribution supports the local economy and promotes an irreplaceable sense of community. 

There is no garbage collection service that comes by the house. And even if there was, I don't think we'd use it. I've been to the town's garbage dump and I've decided that I want no part in its expansion. And besides, why should someone else have to deal with my trash? If I create it, consume it, or procure it, I should have to be responsible for it. So, everything is reused, burned or buried. Wine bottles are great as barriers for my garden beds. Plastics can be used and reused as homes for seedlings. Paper can start fires or get composted. Glass and metal of all kinds can adopt a new use. And anything, and I mean anything, can be painted and strung together to make shiny mobiles to scare the birds away from the garden. You just have to open your mind to let the creative juices flow.

Every day is an adventure. Future plans focus on including more animals into daily life. Chickens, goats and bees have been approved and are awaiting the final preparations. The garden is an ever-evolving challenge. As I become more familiar with the local flora and fauna, I become better equipped to defend my vegetables against ants, birds, and other predatory plants and animals. 

Knowledge is power; know your environment. Observe where the sun rises and sets. Where does the cold wind blow from? Is the land sloped? How can I use that to my advantage? 

Although my hippy-obsessed-with-sustainability-living-in-nature project is a bit on the extreme side of the environmentalist spectrum, I am learning skills that I will carry with me for a lifetime. I am cultivating a consciousness, an understanding, and awareness. When I leave my small town, I am confident that I will still be able to live without compromising my beliefs. While composting toilets may not be feasible in a large urban environment, vermicomposting (using worms to compost your organic scraps) certainly is! Window boxes (and rooftops) with fresh herbs, lettuces, and even veggies are a great way to eat local! Get in touch with your local farms; many of the things you need can be produced locally. And it's a great way to reach out to your community. Bike more! Many cities are showing their support for cyclists by adding bike lanes. Turn off lights, unplug gadgets, and use energy-efficient appliances. Even though we don't necessarily see it, electricity is not often produced in a super sustainable way. Fix leaky faucets. Use dishwater to nourish plants (soil bacteria love the organic stuff we wash off plates, just make sure your soap is neutral). And on and on and on...

But for the meanwhile, here I am, a big city girl rolling up her sleeves, getting dirt under her nails, talking to plants, slowing down life and loving every minute of it. In an age where everything moves faster, bigger, better, I'm turning around and dedicating myself to live slowly, deliberately and passionately. Making choices that respect the environment I live in and the people I share the Earth with, is perhaps the most responsible thing I've ever done. Although I don't live completely off the grid, we're making a noble effort, learning exponentially, and having fun. And if that's not what life is all about, I don't know what is.

Alisa Gragert is on a lifelong mission to learn absolutely everything. As a selfdescribed, citizen of the world, she speaks three and a half languages, immerses herself in a country like a true culture chameleon, and is vehemently anti-tourism.  She never turns down a good strong coffee, a promise of a good adventure, or a genuine hug. She currently lives in Argentina, founded her own goat-milk yogurt and bike repair business, and gets excited every time she learns something new about self-sustainability. She may be contacted at

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

tango, vermicomposting, community-centered activities, self-sustainability

let it come to no surprise to you, dear readers, that you will not hear from me for a while.

i am deeply immersed in my projects. striving to live self-sustainably, developing my artistic dimension, and loving every moment of life. i'm in too magical a place with a sun too gorgeous to not take advantage of every opportunity to learn, live, and love.

please stay tune. feel free to sign up as a follower of the blog so when i start blogging again (and, oh, the stories i will have to share!!), you will be notified!

all the best, the girl with the purple shirt

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Waste not, want not.

The house I live in is found a little more than a stone’s throw from downtown San Marcos Sierras. Distance has its consequences. It means I’m happily and peacefully isolated in my own little project haven. It also means that we aren’t frequented by garbage collectors… meaning that all the trash we produce is our responsibility. This presents a serious question: if we don’t want to be waist-deep in waste, what do we do with our trash??

Sure, we could load it all into bags, cart them into town and have them magically disappear. That would be the easy option. But have you ever stopped to think about what happens to your trash once it disappears from your doorstep?

If you live in Argentina, it is most likely discarded onto the ever-growing piles of trash known as the local dump. The plastic, Styrofoam, glass, wood, paper, metal and organic material are then left to sit and think about their existence. Everything is mixed together. The organic material, due to lack of oxygen, then begins to ferment, producing a very unpleasant odor. Then the wind picks up and carries whatever it can into the countryside. The plastic bags cling to trees in desperation. The soda bottles await their fate in roadside ditches. Candy wrappers are whisked into streams, rivers, lakes, and lagoons. Decorating the beautiful countryside, people’s back yards, and city streets with trash.

Or… It is sometimes lit on fire and burned. Mmmmm….

If you live in the United States, it is mostly likely dumped into a landfill or the ocean.

Tada! No more garbage!

But I say, no thank you! I don’t want to participate in that destruction of natural resources. I want to be able to walk through the mountains and not see a wine bottle or a crumpled bag of potato chips. I want to be able to swim in water that isn’t contaminated. I want to be able to breathe air that is transparent. I want to continue cultivating the earth and drinking waters from the streams. And, even if you aren’t as hippie-idealed as I am, perhaps you can agree with me that accumulation of trash can have negative impacts on us and the world around us.

Sure, we can talk about recycling. But recycling requires recycling plants, fossil fuel burning transportation and processing. And, yes, it may to more good than harm… but why not, instead, concentrate on consumption patterns? Why do we create so much trash? Perhaps it would be more effective if, instead of treating the symptoms of the problem, we figure out the source. Once we have the core, the origin of the issue, we can work to find the solution.

Look at each and everything thing that you throw out. And imagine how it would be to take responsibility for that trash. To cohabitate with it. To confront its existence and your role in bringing to reside in your possession. What would you DO with such material? Every candy wrapper. Every bottle of potable liquid beverage. Every sheet of paper. Every yogurt container. Milk carton. Piece of clothing. Tin can. Everything! Everything everything! Everything we consume, and then throw away, results in a huge quantity of primarily unbiodegradable crap.

One simple solution, consume less. Produce more. Make homemade! Things are easily made in your kitchen, bathroom, back yard. Don’t be tricked into believing that they can only be bought in the supermarket. That’s what marketers want you to believe. So many things from edibles to ant repellants can be made with a little research, your own hands, and a few minutes. Don’t have enough time? Turn off your television. Or your smart phone. You’ll discover you have more time than you thought.

And… if you do consume, try to buy local and without a lot of packaging. Bring your own Tupperware, or plastic bag, or jar to the store for your milk, honey, flour, and rice. Here in San Marcos I’ve joined a community-organized purchasing collective. Great way to meet the neighbors, save pesos on ingredients I use every day, and never set foot in a supermarket.

Once you’ve reduced the waste that you produce… now what do you do with the things you DO throw out?

We separate the organic from the inorganic. All organic (veggie kitchen scraps minus the citric, meat and dairy) become pet food.

Pets? Yes.

I have acquired, and now feel a compelling responsibility to care for, my new pets. Well, they pretty much care for themselves; my job is to make sure that they are well fed, that their environment retains a certain level of moisture, and that they are happy.

Not only are my pets emotionally satisfying, they are of the functional variety as well. They digest organic kitchen scraps and poop out rich organic matter that is very useful for gardening. They are very low maintenance and require very little care. They pretty much keep to themselves. True, they aren’t cuddly or fuzzy. They are fairly shy. They are awesome.

If you haven’t considered wiggly squiggly worm pets, I urge you to entertain the idea.

The worms love decomposing banana peels, squash skins, and coffee grounds. I just make sure to chop everything up before I bury it in their worm haven. The question becomes, what on earth did I do before I had earthworms??

And, honestly, it’s super easy to set up your own worm box. Here’s what we did.

Went to Geraldo the worm guy.
Got to dig out our own worms.
Carried them home.
Found a discarded crate.
Lined it with discarded pieces of wood and plastic bag.
Put shredded newspaper on the bottom.
Filled with dirt.
Installed worms.
Covered with dirt.
Covered with damp newspaper.
Covered with scrap pieces of wood.
Bury food scraps in different places.
Keep humid.
Keep fed.

If you don’t feel comfortable constructing your own worm home, there are complete worm kits (with instructional DVD) for sale online. They come with everything included. My father has one in his NewYork City apartment. He is a fan. Read about it on his blog:

Avoid giving the worms citric wastes. Instead, you can use your orange or lemon peels for jam making. See “orange peel jam”. Meat and dairy scraps should also avoided in your worm care; they are, however, welcomed by the dogs and cats.

The rest of the trash we try to reuse.

Plastic bottles are great for planting seeds. The reflective interior of potato chip bags are perfect for lining the solar oven. Jars are always in demand when preparing your homemade olives, jam, yogurt, dulce de leche. Paper products are used to start the fireplace or mud oven. I’ve begun to look at everything with a different perspective. How can I reuse this? How can I transform that? Hmmm… I need a smaller watering can, maybe I can use this bottle. Almost everything in the house is recycled, reused and overall waste is thus reduced.

That which does not serve any other purposes is, yes, burned. It’s not pleasant, but it is a reminder to keep conscious of the consequences of my consumer actions.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Epic Bike Trip Reaches Intermission.

Over four months ago, a girl with purple shirt and a multicolored bicycle left comfort, certainty, and beautiful Patagonia in search of adventure. The direction was north, the path was uncertain, and a solid time frame was non existent. The decision to head off into the unknown, to let life play me like a puppet, to try something so different from anything I had ever done… was a very difficult decision to make. It meant throwing comfort to the wind and placing my life in the universe’s tentacles. It meant saying, ‘here goes everything’ and facing every bump in the road with positivity and eagerness to learn. However difficult and terrifying it seems, it meant following that little voice inside my heart, trusting that this is my path, and knowing that I’d understand why in the world I decided to embark on such a trip…when the time was right to know such information.

The reason I never put an actual physical geographical tangible destination to this trip is because having such an objective was exactly what this trip was NOT about. I knew that the road would wind. The wind would push. Opportunities would arise. Fate would step in. And that I would have to respond accordingly. And there was no telling where I would end up. Only I would stop when I knew the time was right.

Ladies and gentlemen, that time is now.

After four months, over 2,500 kilometers, one flat tire, many inexplicably kind strangers, uphills, downhills… I have arrived to many conclusions and to the first real intermission of this epic bike trip.

A new chapter has begun.

A chapter filled with high hopes and sustainable living projects. A chapter of local food production and appreciating nature. A chapter of goals of the longer term variety. A chapter of stability.

At least until I decide to do something else…

Friday, August 26, 2011

Traslasierra. Top Ten Things I thoroughly enjoyed.

The magical Argentine province of Córdoba is divided straight down the middle by a mountain range called las sierras. Traslasierra, or behind las sierras, is the name given to the land in the shadow to the West of these mountains.

When we left Villa Dolores, we bordered the sierras’ western coast heading first south along route 14 slowly meandering through small town after smaller town until we reached the city of Merlo. There we promptly turned around and then headed north. North north north! Sneaking around the northern edge of the sierras and dropping into hippie town San Marcos Sierras.

The trip, like the hilly terrain, had its ups and downs. I struggled while trying to adapt to traveling with the company of another person. Being a fairly independent, know-what-I-want traveler, sometimes traveling with others can be a challenge. But perhaps it’s another thing to learn in this great quest of mine to learn absolutely everything I’m faced with.

Because I’m falling behind on my blog writing, I won’t go into details about this leg of the trip (mostly because I have newer fresher very exciting adventures to write about). But it was an amazing adventure and I don’t want to skip writing about it all together. Maybe a top ten list will suffice…

Traslasierra. Top Ten Things I thoroughly enjoyed.

In no particular order.

1. Climbing a walnut tree and harvesting the few lonely nuggets still hanging from the branches.

2. Meeting the apiculturist. Hearing his story. Meeting his bees. Eating the most delicious honey. Paradise for my taste buds. Paradise.

3. Artisan ice-cream in Merlo on a very hot day.

4. Nighttime truco tournament in the tent. After losing the first two nights, I launched a major comeback and won the next two nights. Especially interesting when there’s betting involved.

5. Countryside dirt roads. Wide open skies and vast prickly views. Of even more countryside. Singing at full volume into the wind. Waving to the families in scattered houses staggered along the twisting turning winding climbing road.

6. Museum Rocsen. The most satisfying museum I have ever been to. If you are every graced with the opportunity, I implore you to go explore it. You will not be under whelmed.

7. Experiencing for the first time, the wind-shield effect of traveling in pairs. It’s amazing. The first cyclist blocks the wind and the other cyclist tailgates. Basically rides for free. Then switch! Alternating being human shield, you use less energy and pedal the same distance. The laws of physics never cease to amaze me.

8. The Cordoobés accent.

9. The in-your-face contact with nature. Leaving the main road and disappearing into the back country. Barefoot. Listening to the trees; it‘d been a long time since the trees had talked to me… or maybe it‘d been a long time since I’d sat to really listen. Playing with cold stream water. Watching the moonrise over the glistening golden red sierras. Admiring the waxing moon as it slowly swells to full capacity, threatening to burst wide open, throwing moonlight shamelessly down at those brave enough to face it. Bouncing along unpaved dirt roads, avoiding rocks, thorns, and washboard bumpity bumps. Cooking by campfire, cautiously aware of the firewood used and the responsibility involved in aspects fire-related. Basking in the sun’s radiant energy cascading down from the cloudless sky.

And, 10. arriving to San Marcos Sierras

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

orange peel jam

When orange trees are a common sidewalk occurrence, consumption of their citric fruits is almost morally obligatory. Whether in a orange-banana-honey smoothie or as a surprise ingredient in homemade goat-milk-farm-egg flan, fresh picked oranges are in abundance and always looking for ways to incorporate themselves into the daily menu.

But what to do with the peel? Sure, you can dry them and use them to flavor up your mate or you can place them near the crackling fireplace and fill the room with warmth and a citric aroma… but there are just so many peels. My newly inaugurated compost pail is easily overwhelmed when faced with too much citric acid; it craves a balanced diet. And our new pets, the earthworms, aren’t too well equipped to deal with citrics. So what to do with all those peels?

Orange peel jam. Obviously.

I first tried this delicious preserve over a bowl of creamy ice-cream at a get-together on a hot sunny day about a week ago. And I was sold instantly. So I decided to learn to make it.

Here’s what we did:

Obtained freshly picked oranges from our Tango teacher's backyard.
Washed six of them.
Juiced them.
Cut the peel into thin slices.
Lit a fire in the fireplace.
Boiled orange peels and some pulp in water over hot embers.
Added sugar.
Kept boiling jam.
Tasted jam.
Filled three jars.
Drank the leftover orange juice.

More recipes to come :)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Recent happenings

I’m falling way behind on my blogging. To tell you the truth, I’m finding it very hard to sit in front of a screen these days. And, even though there are so many beautiful things to write about, stories to tell, and laughter to share, I’m opting to dedicate myself to different activities and, in turn, neglecting my blog writing.

What in the universe am I so busy with to the point that I can’t document it? Let me give you a little inside glance to my recent happenings.

I’ve been waking up in the sparse moments before sunrise, feeling completely rested. Conversing profoundly with plant life. Painting. Reading Argentine poetry, sometimes outloud, listening to the sounds of each consonant patiently, yet decidedly, guide their vowel partners as they leap and slither and drip from my own lips. Picking arugula from the garden. Preparing “rifles” (the Cordobes beverage of choice). Dancing cumbia. Soaking up the sun’s rays. Eating homemade sausages and accompanying them with homemade bread. Waving at everyone. Communicating with water. Playing dominoes. Drinking herbal infusions. Learning to appreciate life’s elements. Getting the hang of the earth oven. Familiarizing myself with fresh goat milk. Repairing bicycle tire tubes. Singing. Smiling. Listening to the wind. Observing moon phases. Searching for my guitar. Eating lechon. Re-planting edible plants. Laughing at drunk hippies. Listening to my body and its relationship to everything around it. Getting soil under my fingernails. Licking local honey from the spoon. Registering the sun’s position in the sky, and contemplating how it affects everything. Eating freshly picked oranges from the Tango teacher’s backyard. Learning Tango and loving it. Using fresh local olive oil for a myriad of different purposes. Watching the Simpsons. Walking barefoot, feeling the breathing earth radiate through me. Learning to identify, and then sympathize, with native trees. Goat milk flan. Foot-powered washing machine. Compost. Politically prompted festivities. Local food production. Overwhelming bird song. Epiphanies. Hummus with fresh ginger. Climbing walnut trees and gently coaxing the nuts down. Walking on dusty dirt roads. Admiring, accepting, transmitting. Following the river, picking thorns from my flip flops. Finding peace. Writing. Breathing and thinking deeply. Cutting aloe vera from the patio for my sun burns. Being in nature, and realizing that here is where I’m meant to be. Skinny dipping. Learning and getting excited about building houses from the earth, with green roofs. Coming thiiiiiiiis close to eating a freshly picked avocado. Closing my eyes and not believing this is all real.

Monday, August 15, 2011

villa dolores. nothing short of awesome.

Villa Dolores is where I fell in love with Córdoba. Who would have guessed? Villa Dolores is perhaps the most populated town in the Traslasierras. It’s not exceedingly beautiful. And, now that I’ve seen much more of Córdoba, it still surprises me that I decided then and there to fall head over heals. But I did. And I think it was the people.

Melisa was my couch surfing host for 5 nights. She is true Virgo and unexpected fernet-inspired partier. She’s a cordobesa and a world traveler. She’s interested in social change at small town level. And she found me a job for a day. She’s pretty awesome.

Thanks to Melisa, her family and friends, I found it very hard to have a boring time.

The first two days were rest days. I needed some rest days.

The third day was a work day…? Work? Yes, work.

It’s elections-season in the Province of Córdoba. And it’s obligatory for all citizens to vote. So, the campaign trucks are out in full swing. The plaza is colored with banners, the ground littered with pamphlets, and the streets full of cars with huge speakers blasting propaganda.

My job was to hand out political pamphlets. I was a promoter. Yes, the political t-shirt, tight pants, and makeup wearing girls who walk down the street getting all the attention. They asked me to wear high heals, (I don’t have high heals) but they didn’t ask me to actually know anything about the candidate. All they asked me to do was to look nice, give people pamphlets, and smile.

Now, this isn’t a job I’d normally take. Nor do I think I’ll follow this career line in the future. Why? Because I was paid to sell a political party with my image, not my knowledge. And that’s not in line with my normal philosophy. But they paid surprisingly well and it was only for 4 hours. So I whipped out my smile and started littering the streets with paper for a candidate I may actually have been interested in if they had taken the time to inform me.

That night the boys arrived. Guille, a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in three years, and Miguel, the French backpacking couch surfer, arrived. That night it also happened to be Emilce’s birthday, so we got rowdy in the YPF station in Villa de la Rosas dancing quarteto, drinking beer, and causing a ruckus.

That night we threw some mattresses on the floor, and crashed.

The fourth day, we walked a lot through the city. I laughed out loud when I saw the palo borracho tree in the park. And instantly wanted nothing more than to climb it

The sunset provoked a late afternoon bike ride. We picked oranges from the sidewalk trees. It’s exceeding beautiful to me when I walk down the street to accompanied by orange trees, branches heavy with fruit. Even if no one cares for the trees and their fruit is bitterly acidic. Having fruit trees adds color to an ordinary concrete sidewalk. The oranges may not be edible, but they are useful for juggling practice and for making daquiris. So we did both.

That night was the big party. To sum it up: fernet, wine, guitar, singing, empanadas, a very very delicious cake, some dancing, and a whole lot of ruckus-causing. Sadly I have no photos to publish.

The next morning left us almost out-of-commission. But we got up relatively early anyway. Why?? One word: LOCRO!

Locro is a typical Argentine dish. It’s a stew of beans, meat, bacon, squash… una bomba! I had never tried it. Melisa’s mother was appalled when she found out and a few days later she prepared my first locro.
Of couse we picked the hottest day of the week to eat it (it is normally a cold weather dish, check out the ingredient list!), but it was amazing. I ate two heaping bowls.


We packed up the mate and sat at the dique sipping and chatting.

Diego (yes, Diego from Mendoza) showed up on his motorcycle and joined in for the asado that night. Guitar, singing, food, drink… En fin, another amazing night.

The next day was departure day. After five spectacular event-packed days, we said goodbye to Melisa and her amazing clan of friends and family, and pedaled away.

We? Yes. I have found someone crazy enough to hop on a bike and accompany me for the next 200+ km.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The road less travelled

Yes, that road. The one that passes through the unknown. The one that passes through long stretches of inhabitable countryside. The one that inspires philosophies The one that begs you to follow your heart.

On such road, important lessons are learned. Your instincts may take control. Your reason may shake hands with your imagination. Your intuition is tested.

Route 20 through the northern stretch of the San Luis Province is pretty desolate. Or so they told me. They told me that I would find nothing. And a whole lot of it.

I didn’t quite believe them. There is almost never nothing. There is almost always something.

And plus, if there really really wasn’t anything, just think of the adventure I would have!

I left La Tranca under a light dusting of precipitation. It was cold.

I passed a parked car on the side of the highway. I wouldn’t have stopped except that I saw a huge bag of bread in the back window. And I needed bread.

I slowed to a stop and asked the two guys sitting in the car if they would please sell me some of their bread. Hugo and Franco, two personalities from San Juan were on their way to go fishing for the weekend. Their car broke down and the third person, who I never met, went back for help. So, there they were sitting in the car waiting waiting waiting. They pulled out some bread and treated me to homemade sausages and whiskycola. People are awesome.

Back on the road with a fully belly and four graciously donated breads, I pedaled along. I passed the fork in the road and took, yes, the road less traveled.

I pedaled and pedaled. Urging myself to go a little bit further. I passed a few lonely houses. I laughed at people’s notions of this supposed nothingness.

And then I learned a few good lessons.

Number one. Arid countryside usually means thorns. Everywhere. I propped Tioca against a sign and went to use the bathroom. When I returned to the road, I noticed the tires decorated with thorns of all shapes, sizes and generosities. Oh no, it’s only a matter of time… Lesson: don’t go off road in prickly countryside if you don’t want to learn how to patch your tire tubes.

Number two. Just because there are houses doesn’t mean that there are people. Many gates were closed and locked. I clapped and clapped and yelled. Sometimes there just isn’t anyone home. And then, night approaches.

Number three. Sometimes country folks are a little creepy. I saw a purple pickup truck parked on the side of the road. Getting a little desperate for a place to sleep, I approached. The man in the truck gave me some advice. His green eyes and stutter caught my attention. But what really caught my attention was when he started following me at a distance. That’s when I started to get a little nervous.

I pedaled and pedaled. Getting more and more tired with every kilometer, every locked gate, and every abandoned house. I knew that there was a town in 60 kilometers, but that would mean night biking, which I wasn’t to keen on trying. Especially fatigued. Even with the absence of heavy traffic.

I finally found a gate that was closed, but not locked. I let myself in and found Leo. I was so relieved when he let me pitch my tent in his tool shed that I was speechless with gratitude. That night I drank sweet mate, made small talk, and dined a polenta-soy-wild quinoa concoction. That night, the grey sky blew a harsh, but understanding cold. And I wallowed in my relief.

In the middle of the night, the tapping of rain on the tin roof was silenced. In the morning, I opened the tent flap and understood why. SNOW! Huge white flakes cascaded down to the ground. Snow. Snow snow snow.

Tioca was quiet. I gave a loving pinch to each tire. Tada. The moment I’d been waiting for! My first flat tire of the trip! Leo helped me patch her up and soon I was ready for the next adventure.

Lujan was the next blip of human civilization on my radar. To get there I had 50km in front of me. Each day my body was getting a little more tired. But I wanted to arrive to Villa Dolores. So go go go!!

I passed the electrical plant. A nauseating monstrosity. I stood for a moment underneath thick wires that hummed a deathly terrifying hum. An electrical current buzzed through the air. Everything vibrated. It is horrifying the cancer that humans are to the planet. It depresses me.

Lujan is a small town with very very friendly people. It was a cold Sunday. Businesses were shut and no one walked the streets. In the province of San Luis, there is free WIFI in every city and town. I sat in the plaza and froze my fingers typing and skyping.

It was 6pm when I left. Usually the sun sets around 6:30. With 90 kilometers left to Villa Dolores, I decided to push just a little farther before resting for the night. The dusk was cold. My toes were numb. The sun settled beneath the horizon. I arrived to a chapel.

The family living behind the chapel treated me to mate and torta de rescoldo and allowed me to sleep in the chapel. I lit a candle before settling into my sleeping bag, thanking the saint who gave me the four sturdy walls and roof to spend the night.

The next day was very long. My legs were very tired. But I pushed and pushed the final part of the way to Villa Dolores. I passed Quines with very friendly people. I passed a lot of countryside. I was stopped by a family in a car who took photos of me. I arrived to the border of the province of Córdoba and shared mates with the police officer on duty. I witnessed the first snowy mountains I’d seen in many days. I pedaled and pedaled even when my body thought it could take no more. I arrived to Villa Dolores and kept pedaling.

I met Melisa in the GNC station at the other end of the city. I unloaded my bike, took my first shower in 6 long days, and fell in love with Cordoba. I had pedaled 430km of desolate countryside in 6 days. I had snow, wind, rain. I had my first flat tire. I experienced fear, joy, relief, and everything in between. But the toughest leg of the trip was behind me; I had made it.