Monday, March 24, 2008

The Rat (or Rut) Race...

For me one of the most eye-opening books I have read in the past 10 years is Mind the Gap, by Graeme Codrington. He is a South African who has done considerable research into ‘generational theory’. The reason I this was such an eye-opening book is that while Codrington emphasises the fact that they he is not attempting to make generalisations, he does notice some interesting trends within groups of people of similar ages. So what has this got to do with anything? It’s just been interesting to see trends within groups of people of the same age even in different parts of the world – perhaps especially as they have spread across the world. Since I left South Africa in 2006 I have been fortunate to meet a range of people from different parts of the world doing different things and for different reasons, yet at the same time I’ve noticed trends.

I guess the group that I’ve found really interesting – and I’ve met numerous people in this kind of situation in South America – are those who are questioning life, purpose, meaning etc or perhaps they just need a (temporary) change. I have met people who like what they do and know what they want to do with their lives, yet they’ve chosen to take time out to explore the world before they’re perhaps too old to do everything they want to do. I met 2 ladies from somewhere in Western Europe a few months back who had sold almost everything (like their cars and apartments), left their jobs, put the rest of their stuff in storage and decided to see the world. Here in Cusco I have also met numerous people who for whatever reason have become disillusioned with life where they’re from (quite a few from Western Europe) and have decided they want a different pace of life and a different lifestyle, even if the financial benefits could be better back home – some of them are not big fans of the ‘rat race’. Then there are still others who have not necessarily decided to settle here, but for now they’re just hanging around and taking life as it comes while trying to figure out what they want to do in the long-term (that’s if they come up with a medium to long-term plan anytime soon).

So what’s the point of all this? Well, for me it’s been interesting considering some of the supposed prerequisites for proof of maturity (I hope that sentence makes sense). The way I see it is that these supposed prerequisites not only involve joining the so-called ‘rat race’ but for some it means ending up in a rut too. Okay, I understand that history of South Africa (and especially for some communities) has meant significant isolation resulting in perhaps limited ways of seeing things. I guess what amuses me at times is that 10 years ago I was on what some would regard as the ‘right track’ – I had a full-time job, I was studying and paying for it myself – perhaps all I needed was to find a wife, the house with the picket fences, the cars and perhaps some kids a few years later. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to ridicule that way of life or those who want that (in fact I see lots of good in it and perhaps can see myself in the future), but it’s not the only road to walk. Now I may not be on that ‘right track’ anymore but in so many ways I feel as though I’m taking responsibility for my own life and making my own decisions as opposed to succumbing to the dictates of the ‘rat (or rut) race’.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Heading into the Sacred Valley (part 2)

After spending Friday morning in Pisaq I moved onto Ollantaytambo that same afternoon. Ollantaytambo is also in the Sacred Valley less than 2 hours by road from Pisaq. Compared to places like Pisaq and Aguas Calientes (the closest town to the famous Machu Picchu) this town has lots more character. One of the things that stood out (something I became aware of just before my visit there) is that some of the cobbled streets have been there and continuously inhabited since the 13th century. One of the photos I took while there was of a recently stalled door using an opening in a centuries-old wall leading into a courtyard still inhabited today. I guess in some ways I saw it as evidence of the old (and perhaps sacred to some) coming face to face with present day practicalities.

But it was the fortress over-looking this charming town that was the main reason for my visit. At this fortress Manco Inca successfully resisted the advancing the invading Spanish, although unfortunately the victory was short-lived. Although there is no way that I can downplay the historical significance of the place, the site was captivating all on its own. While Machu Picchu is definitely a highlight of my time here in Peru, Ollantaytambo has somehow also left an indelible mark on my memory. In the same way that I imagined little children running around the citadel I found myself trying to imagine that fort during the time of Manco Inca. As I struggled to the summit of the hill, not only due to my lack of fitness but also because of the 2800m altitude, I imagined the warriors literally running for their lives up that same hill.

Apart from successfully appeasing my need to get out of Cusco for a couple of days I also found this trip being yet another catalyst for some of the other thoughts that have been going through my mind lately. These are not thoughts specifically about my own adventure, but rather about the world around us. Themes relating to these thoughts will be showing up at soon…

For pictures of the fortress and town at Ollantaytambo, as well as views from the summit go to:

Heading into the Sacred Valley (part 1)

For a while I had been feeling that I needed to get out of Cusco for a bit – not to mention that there are a number of pre-Columbian sites that I want to see before I leave Peru next month. So, on Friday morning I got on a bus to Pisaq, a small town in the Urubamba River valley (this valley is also known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas).

I honestly didn’t think too much of the town, but my main aim of going there was seeing the ruins above the town. The ruins are all that is left of an Incan citadel that was full of life a few centuries ago, and it has a number of small collections of dwellings as well the obligatory ceremonial centre. The ruins are also known for the agricultural terraces running down the southern and eastern slopes. One thing I remember about being there was imagining that citadel teeming with life a few centuries ago. I had an image of people working on the terraces and little kids running around, just being kids. Okay, so there is quite a bit we don’t know about civilisations like the Incas and those who came before them, but I guess I let my imagination run away from me a bit while I was up there. At one point I thought maybe my mind was playing tricks on me, because as I sat amidst some of the ruins I imagined hearing some sort of wind instrument being played (something like a wooden flute or anyone of the wind instruments still played here in the Andes to this day). Fortunately I realised that there actually was someone playing an instrument.

On that morning the best part was just getting away from everything here in Cusco. While Cusco is not a large city (under 500,000 by many estimates) even here I’ve found it’s easy to get stuck in the daily routine and lose perspective. While I was there among the ruins I was able to put the office where I work, the noise in the streets, as well as the weekly events etc out of my mind. After my 9-March blog entry I guess you can imagine some of the things going through my mind, but that was just what the doctor ordered. I still don’t have everything figured out, but at times I’m starting to enjoy being in that kind of space…

For pictures of the citadel above the town of Pisaq go to:

Sunday, March 9, 2008

9th March - Two years on...

Here I am on 9 March 2008 sitting at my regular spot in Cusco, The Real McCoy and thinking about the fact that 2 years ago today I climbed onto Air Namibia flight SW743 and left the sunny shores of South Africa. I have not been back to visit since then although around this time last year a trip back "home" (if that's what it is) was on the cards.

Most of my time since then was spent in the UK, with the last 7 months or so spent here in Peru. It's been quite a rollercoaster ride in a number of ways - different towns, countries, jobs, friends, lanuguages etc along the way. Sometimes I do wonder what on earth I'm doing here (this happened occasionally in London too), yet at the same time I wouldn't change it even if I could - well maybe a few minor details.

More and more I have come to realise the benefits of this kind of lifestyle, even if just for a short while. At college and through other avenues I came to learn quite a bit about the world around me. On the other hand being challenged by living in different places and learning about new cultures (and languages in the case of South America) has been the kind of education that cannot be gained in any classroom. A few months back I came across the term "global nomad" and while I have not seen as many countries as some people I know I have come to regard myself as someone without a home at the moment and travelling with the aim of gaining wisdom and knowledge - with wealth a bit lower down on the priority list.

Something else that has happened over the past 2 years has been my growing awareness of things happening on the global stage. While I had a minor interest in social, political and economic matters before leaving South Africa the chance I have had to live and work in diverse settings - London's South Kensington with it's Aston Martin driving millionaires versus Cusco where the locals struggle to scrape together a living - has been quite an eye-opener. I don't know what I'm going to do with what I am learning and what I have seen, but I'm hoping that I will get the opportunity to develop my thinking academically and/or put some of this knowledge/passion into practice somewhere.

So that's me at the moment... Two years after leaving "The Mother City" and not knowing exactly what's up ahead in 2008 and beyond... But for now I am going to continue to live by the phrase I coined a few months back: "Don't spend your entire life preparing to die comfortably."