Hallo. Een update.

Ok. so yeah, I guess one could say that “it has been awhile” since I last wrote on this blog (I see it was on 03/03/2016…). Thanks for pointing that out guys.

There has been a “slight change of plan” on my side and it’s probably a good time to write a well overdue little update about it.

It’s late afternoon on a sunday, and tomorrow instead of heading into work to write code for a mobile application all day, I’ll head to ‘Forum’, which is the main building of Wageningen University in the Netherlands where I’ll be starting my first class for a Masters in Agroecology and Organic Agriculture. Wait – what??!!

Yep. 37-years old and going back to school. Rewinding a few months, I found myself working a job that turned out to be somewhat disappointing and in which I didn’t see myself working in the foreseeable future. Things were not going well to say the least, and when it’s like this there aren’t many choices…I chose to move on. In general, if things don’t go well, it’s often better to try and change them rather than wait around for them to magically change by themselves (that might have to do with my chronic impatience). Anyway, long story short, I found out about this Masters programme (which is actually with a French school but has its first year abroad) and even though the deadline was past, applied thinking I had nothing to lose. And I got accepted! That was a bit unexpected, and I then found myself having to make a decision quickly. It came down to two things: First, it was a big chance to get onto that programme and I didn’t think I should pass it up, and second, I couldn’t picture myself 5 years down the line spending my days doing web development, so I decided to change direction as soon as possible.

For several years now, I’ve been involved in activities in the field of agriculture (urban agriculture in London, community gardens in the Philippines, some training here and there on composting and permaculture). But I couldn’t fully commit to it, mostly due to work constraints, and on several occasions those activities fell way, way into the background. This time, I thought, I should take the plunge and go into it fully. I quit my job, we moved our stuff out of the flat in Le Puy and rented it, I moved back with my parents for a month and prepared to move to a new country one more time and change career.

I didn’t take the decision lightly. Obviously Ann is still in Istanbul, and even though me being in the Netherlands doesn’t make us physically further away (it’s as easy to get to Istanbul as it was from Le Puy), it will extend the period during which we’ll have to live apart, which is a big downer. We both accept, or maybe tolerate, the situation because it’ll be worth it in the end but it sucks. There is also the financial strain and risks associated with this going back to university as I won’t have a regular income. Should be fine for the first year but I have yet no idea how to finance the second one… will need to get creative and perhaps up my juggling skills so I can perform at the market on Saturday mornings.

Of course, on the other hand, it is tremendously exciting to be here. I’m starting a programme in a field I’ve been interested in for years, I’m at one of the best universities in the world to study in this subject, and I’ll finally find myself with people who “speak the same language” so to speak, and that should be good because it is so important to be in contact and exchange with people who have the same interests or goals or motivation.
For now, I’m in my small student accommodation, on the 19th floor of a building full of students from all over the planet, overlooking the sports complex right next to the campus, I’ve got my newly-acquired bike downstairs (because when in Rome do like the Dutch) and my thoughts are going a bit in all directions. It’s a lot of changes in a small period of time and that’s what makes it exciting and scary at the same time. Roll on a new chapter.

PS: Nope, no typos in the title, it’s in dutch 😉

An update, and some thoughts on staying focused.

It’s hard to write these days. What to say? Nothing exciting keeping me from my words. It’s partly that those moments of clarity that used to come quite regularly to me seem few, far between and nowhere near developed enough to formulate into essay format. I’ve hit a plateau on my journey of self-realisation. These days I’m just trying to remember all the lessons that sounded good when I wrote them down at the time. Not that I read myself. So cringe-inducing…like listening to a recording of your own voice. Give me nails on a chalkboard any day over reading something I wrote more than half an hour ago.

And of course not writing means slowly forgetting how to formulate a coherent post worth reading, and then the whole process of keeping this blog up-to-date seems silly. On the other hand, I know it’s good for me. And this is a day off during which I’ve decided to hole up in my flat doing things I know to be good for me because I’ve been neglecting those things a bit of late.

So if you’ll note and forgive the selfish motivation of this post, I’ll endeavour to write something worth reading.

This is such a very strange time in the world, isn’t it? Surely it isn’t just me feeling it’s all going to pot rather quickly, that the reigns are slipping from our sweaty, anxious palms, that the horses are mad and the carriage is falling to pieces and we’ve left our glasses on the night table and our near-sightedness is proving just one more debilitating factor in this journey gone awry, now seemingly destined for catastrophe.

The news seems bad all the damn time. I have to keep reading it: it’s partly my nature and partly my professional responsibility to try to understand what the hell is happening in the world. As previously mentioned, I’m limited in what I can discuss regarding the goings-on within the geopolitical boundaries in which I currently reside. And no matter how much I read, listen to podcasts, and read some more, I just can’t wrap my head around what’s happening in places beyond those boundaries I thought I understood a little better…Duterte in the Philippines…Brexit…this “election” in the United States. Like one of my Sociology professors used to say, “You can’t make this shit up.” Indeed.

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Appropriate titles don’t come to mind…

It has been a trying week.

I flew back from France to Istanbul on Monday. It was difficult to leave this time; I’ve not been back since January. Then I wasn’t quite sure how long it would be before I got back to visit, but I figured it would only be a couple of months. This time, for a number of reasons, I left quite sure I wouldn’t be back until December.

But as I got off the bus from the airport and started making my way back to my flat, the streets of Istanbul – of Kadiköy more specifically – infected me as they always do with a sense of welcome and calm…this very big city that feels like so many small towns squeezed – sometimes uncomfortably – tightly together. It was late and I was tired. A 15 minute walk is nothing too terrible, but I was weighed down with the fatigue of a 14 hour journey and 50lb (23kg) of luggage on my back.

Still, there was a gentle breeze at my back coming in off the sea, the seagulls were painting their lovely white streaks across the night sky, and the streets bustled with folks going and coming or sitting on the terrace drinking tea and smoking shisha, and within minutes I found the familiar spring to my step. In spite of the distance between C and I, in spite of the distance separating me from the plateaus and volcanoes of the Haute Loire that make my spirit sing: enough was right with the world. Things would be okay.

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On what seems most pressing right now.

As the weeks have passed since my last post, I’ve pondered what to write about on so many occasions. Discussing the political situation here is off limits – that’s part of working in humanitarian aid. While it goes without saying that everybody’s got opinions about the political context unfolding around them, we’re expected to keep those feelings to ourselves in the interests of addressing the beneficiaries we’re serving, directly or indirectly (in my case at this moment in time, it’s very much the latter). In any case, it’s not the best time in history for amateur pundits to philosophize publicly about the powers that be in just any country. Particularly this one.

I could certainly talk about my work, but the truth is that while it feels very important and exciting to me, it’s not very sexy and wouldn’t really thrill my gentle readers. More often than not, it’s a bit of a pickle even to get the people I work with excited about it.

This country and this city are extraordinary, but I still don’t feel any air of authority to opine about it, and the wonderful and terrible little quirks we saw every day in the Philippines aren’t here so much – except politically, and for that I refer you back to my first paragraph.

The distance between C and I is necessary, but it’s suffocating…I know it’s temporary, but keeping this struggle to myself has become one way of coping with it…life sometimes simply is what it is, and when a difficult thing is sure to pass, my survival instincts at present are telling me just to get on with it (though a few more months into this might bring a different perspective).

However, living alone leaves me time I never had before to explore how I use my time, and one of the things I’ve found myself doing quite a lot is suffering the shock of what feels like a world gone absolutely fucking insane.

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Memnun oldum, Istanbul.

I can’t believe so much time has passed since last I wrote something here, and the truth is that I think I’ve forgotten how to do this thing properly. Squeezing the last few months into a single post that doesn’t bore my remaining gentle readers to tears is going to be a little tricky…

Last I wrote I hadn’t yet stepped foot in this extraordinary place…and now it’s been 3 months. Man, that went fast.

And of course there are lots of good reasons – I was finishing a translation and had started a very challenging and inspiring new job (more on that later), and was negotiating moving to a new country sans my best friend and partner in crime for the first time ever (more on that too…).

All excuses aside, let this serve as a humble collection of my first impressions of this newish chapter of my life.


wheres my cay

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An Ecuadorian mapping story – Part3

So if you’ve been following along (here and here) on this brief and exciting account of my mapping adventures in Ecuador, you’ll be on the edge of your seat by now (Was he able to pull it off?), or at the end of your rope (Get on with it already!). In any case, it has been a pleasure sharing the experience with you… Now the good part:

Photo of cajas from our first hike

Everything about Cajas National Park in Ecuador was surprising. The first time I visited, we left Cuenca by bus on a day that was perhaps a little grey, but unremarkable in terms of weather. Coming off the bus we were greeted by freezing cold gusts of wind and a landscape that for me resembled nothing more than Scotland. How could that be? This planet is a strange and wonderful place. There is some sort of strange ecological kinship between the latitude of Scotland and the altitude of Cajas. As soon as she got off the bus, our friend who lived in Scotland for several years said, “It looks just like Scotland.”

Side-by-side pics of Cajas and Scotland

My first hike, Ruta 3 aka Valle de Quinuas (~6.5km (~4 miles), highest point 4136m (13569 ft), 2h40min), wasn’t too hard. I was accompanied by Park Ranger Luis Aucapiña. It should be noted that these park rangers seemed to know the trails better than I know the route from my bedroom to the kitchen, and they are really fit. Even though some of them were 10 and even 20 years my senior, they could have run circles around me all day long.

On Friday I hiked Ruta 6, Encuentro con el Valle de la Burines (~6.5 km (~4 miles), highest point 4088m (13412 ft), 2h10m) with Park Ranger Ramiro Carpio. Day two was about the same in terms of difficulty, except this route had a couple of really steep hills. I got to cross paths with the last two hikes I would do, but I wasn’t feeling too hot at the end.

I’d picked up some kind of gastro-intestinal virus at some point, probably before I even started hiking. By Saturday morning I was really sick, and feeling pretty grateful that we couldn’t hike during the week because I’d never have been able. I rested up through Wednesday and went for a couple of gentle runs on Thursday and Friday so I’d be relatively ready for Saturday. But Saturday was a lot different.

We hiked Ruta 7, Camino del Inka y las Lagunas Mayores (~18km (~11.2 miles), highest point 4038m (13248 ft), 4h30m). Senior Park Ranger Agustín Ordoñez does not mess around — at 56 he was the picture of health, and after nearly 30 years working in the park, he seemed literally unfazed by hikes that knocked me for a loop. I’d guess he measures just over 1.5m (5’) tall, and as has been previously mentioned, I’m quite a bit taller than that. Still, I had to rush to keep up, and with the slippery, muddy paths, it was quite challenging to do so. He’s also clearly dedicated to his work — I’m pretty sure he worked his weekend just to make this happen.

Ruta 8, La Gran Osohuaycu (~16.5 km (~10.2 miles), highest point 4075m (13369 ft), 4h30m), is meant to be about 13.5 km (~8.3 miles), but getting to the trailhead is almost 3 km(~1.9 miles), so it was more like 16.5 km (~10.2 miles). This last hike was by far the hardest, and to make matters worse, it had rained all night and rained on us all day. Visibility was awful because of the fog — I honestly lost Agustín a few times…dude’s fast.

So there you have it! For those of you data nerds out there, I’ll follow this up with a more in-depth exploration of how I went about all of it. This project wasn’t just about making beautiful trails in Ecuador safer for travellers like me, though that was certainly part of it. As we all know, digital mapping has so many advantages, and making that data open and accessible can literally save lives, particularly in disaster-prone areas.

Huge thanks to ETAPA (particularly to Sr. Agustín Ordoñez, Sr. Luis Aucapiña and Sr. Ramiro Carpio the park rangers who guided me on the trails so that I could focus on making sure the traces where recorded correctly, and so that I didn’t not get lost in the mountains at 4000m in rainy/foggy conditions ;)) Thank you also to Ing. Ricardo Goercke and Ing. Alexandra Parra, coordinator and sponsor respectively for the project on the ETAPA side). Many thanks also to Ryan Branciforte and Jereme Monteau at Trailhead Labs for their guidance and support in helping to make this happen.

Happy trails!

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