Tag Archives: South America

The Grammatic Crusade

 

“In Ecuador, poor spelling is fought with red spray sword”
Quitos’s nights can be really cold, at almost 3000 metres above sea level… but not cold enough to stop Agents X and Punto Final on their special crusade: correcting the graffiti misspellings that decorate Ecuador’s capital.

‘¿Para que, por qué, mi amor?

Por ti. Por mí.  lo siento.’

‘For what and why my love?

For you. For me. I’m sorry.’

“I used to pass in front of that graffiti phrase quite often… It looked like a love declaration, but I couldn’t stand that there were so many misspellings in it, 10-12, maybe! I just felt I had to highlight that, it was so hilarious.” Punto Final remembers laughing. That famous graffiti used to stand on a virginal white wall in Lugo’s alley, a narrow street in the bohemian neighbourhood of La Floresta.

It was his first correction. With a friend, they grabbed some red spray, an old pizza box, a cutter, and they corrected the theatrical mix of grammatical horrors, adding commas, accents, question marks, as a teacher would do with his students’ essay. The anonymous zorros signed themselves as “Acción Ortografíca Quito” (Orthographic Action Quito).

The group started the “correctional operation” in late 2014, searching for the misspelt graffiti around Quito, Ecuador’s capital. By night, away from police eyes and always protecting their identity, (“We want to share the cause, not be the protagonists”), they started to fight the bad grammar armed with the dreaded red spray.

Graffiti is by its definition a vandalistic and anarchic act – it’s a resistance, a fight against the rules and order of our society, the correcting agent explains.

“You have to be completely crazy, in some way fascist, and obsessive, to decide to go and correct a misspelt graffiti: it’s like wanting to put order into the mess, into the anarchy, into the vandalism. For me that makes it just so funny and ironic”, Final says.

Acción Ortografíca Quito signing their name
Acción Ortografíca Quito signing their name

But then, something none of them expected happened. Someone who was walking down that little one-way road, amused by the misspellings’ corrections, decided to take a picture of the graffiti, to tweet it and to share it with a friend living abroad. So, a funny but educational activity turned into a veritable movement going viral on the Internet.

“Brazilian BBC wrote an article about us, then it was BBC Mundo: I was stupefied, I just love the BBC so much!”, tells Punto Final. Local and international journalists started to seek them between the Andean capital roads, while homologues groups spread out in different countries. “They wrote us from Brazil, Argentina, Spain; people from Colombia want us to go correct their graffiti misspellings. If they pay us a ticket we go!”
But fixing all Quito’s misspelt graffiti is not a simple labour. Even if the “situation” is under control in the far north of the city, in barrios such as la Guangüiltagua, Floresta, Avenida America, much more contaminated public space needs to be tidied up. Acción Ortográfica hasn’t considered giving up because people thank them, considering what they do as a campaign, an act that can help people think more about how to communicate. Especially in graffiti.

“We happily realised that the messages are now better written, even if we know that some grafiteros hate us for what we do; but this makes it even funnier because making them angry wasn’t our purpose at all”, accepts Punto Final.
Now that the group is well known in the city, a lot of people ask Acción Ortográfica to help them with the Misspelling Purge. “We just got two beautiful new interns in our ranks; they want to be called Ninjas”, jokes Punto Final.

Even if in some unintentional way, Acción Ortografíca Quito reminds people how important a good grammar and syntaxes are. Their message inspired a graffiti artist to paint its tags (the graffiti writing sometimes used as a signature) on white walls using Times New Romans fonts.

The antiheroes, the anarchists that put order on the mess, won the respect and sympathy of more than one. For example, Susana Puente, the 75 years old owner of the wall that was first graffiti modified by the agents, decided to keep the correction because she found it funny and she is now famous among her friends for that. Acción Ortografica also brought glory to a small village in California, where lives the grandmother of Final’s roommate. She just got crazy when asking his grandchild if he had an idea about whom “these people who correct graffitis in Quito” were, she got a “he’s my roommate” as an answer. Local newspaper probably had content for weeks to write about.

'Without beer, there is no revolution'
‘Without beer, there is no revolution’

In Quito, sunsets arrive early, and the shadows allow Acción Ortográfica agents leave for their job. When I ask Punto Final which is the most difficult graffiti he found on his paths, he smiles before answering.

“It said: << god is movement… >>. And we decided not to correct it. In our society, God with a capital letter refers to the Catholic god. We think instead, the author wanted all the people reading his phrase to identify, no matters their beliefs. And we decided not to correct it” Final remembers, laughing with a red spray can in his hand.

 

Written by Sara Andreini, edited by Bethany Naylor

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In Search of Orion

I’m leaning out of the window of a bus which is hurtling much too fast down a very narrow, very bumpy mountain road. Directly below me, the land drops abruptly away, the bottom of the mountain swallowed by a darkness so heavy I can feel it. The wind whips at my hair, and the silhouetted mountains loom down at me. I feel that I have never seen anything so big in all my life as this landscape which stretches into the night in every direction. I tilt my head upwards. The stars have exploded across the sky. Have there always been this many? I cannot even see the moon. Nothing but stars and shadows and my hair leaping in the wind. I was not consciously searching for it, but my eyes latch onto a familiar constellation. Orion, upside down, blinks back at me.

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I would become accustomed to his presence. To combing the sky until I spotted him, touching base. Orion watched me zig zag my way through northern Chile, ricocheting from mountain-valley landscapes to the coast and back again. When I think of Chile, I think of beach days, mountain hikes, and impossibly vast starscapes.

I never planned to go to Chile, but the decision to take a quick detour on the way from Bolivia to Peru somehow turned into a month. A month soaked in red wine and pink sunsets; a month of cold beaches and scorching deserts; a month which drained my bank account and stole my heart. I cannot find the words to write about Chile. How can an entire country and four weeks of my life be adequately pinned into words on a page? So I’m not going to tell you about Chile. I’m going to tell you about Orion.

Watching the sunrise in the Atacama Desert, Chile
Watching the sunrise in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Orion was there the night we wrapped ourselves in blankets stolen from our hostel and felt our way up a mountain path in the dark to stargaze. The tiny town was called Pisco Elqui and it was nestled at the very bottom of the Elqui valley. The mountains which towered over it from every direction beckoned hikers and horse lovers. The main tourist attraction was a tour of a Pisco distillery. The nearest city a three hour drive away. The four of us had decided to forgo the expensive observatory tours in favour of star gazing the old fashioned way – by going outside and looking up. By midnight we had found our way to a plateau on a mountain high above the city. The only light which reached us came from our own headlamps and the stars. As we lay there, the cold seeping into our bones – “I’m not leaving until I’ve seen at least ten shooting stars!” – we could see the rotation of the earth by the visible shifting of the stars position in the sky. We talked about how even the night sky looked different here than at home. The only constellation we could identify, despite our stargazing apps (yes, really), was Orion. We watched as he slowly slipped into view from behind a distant mountain, surrounded by stars which swooped and dived on our peripheral vision.

Valle de la Luna, Atacama Desert, Chile
Valle de la Luna, Atacama Desert, Chile

Days or weeks later, I found myself cycling through the Atacama desert at five in the morning. I was with the same girls, having decided we would stick together until the border. Orion watched us, nestled in yet another unbelievably vibrant night sky hanging above a pitch black earth. Navigating our way through said blackness resulted in several wrong turns and we were soon racing against the clock to make it to the heart of Valle de la Luna before the sunrise.
This morning, which ended with the three of us cycling the entire length of the valley in the ever more oppressive heat, remains one of my favourite memories of my entire trip. I felt like I was flying as we sped down the winding roads, like we were the only humans in the world and Orion our only witness.

 

The night before I was due to leave Chile, I found myself on a balcony, overlooking the ocean. I had never felt more torn in two the entire trip. One part of me was yearning to keep moving, as ever, while the other part was desperate to stay and learn to paraglide with the friends I’d made there (after months of travelling, this did not strike me as the outlandish dilemma which it now seems, writing of it from a kitchen table in southern England). I stood there while the hostel continued to party below me, staring at the stars. And I realised that, while it was easy to be seduced by the idea of staying with new friends and learning an insane new skill, my own personal form of flight was different. I would not stay. I would cross the border into Peru and lean forward into the next adventure.

Paragliding for the first time - Iquique, Chile
Paragliding for the first time – Iquique, Chile

In the middle of such moments, soon to be relegated to the vaults of memory, I would find myself glancing up at the sky, touching base with my sole constant. And, no matter how many miles I launched myself away from my own peculiar normalcy, the consistency of the night sky reminded me that the world would keep turning, Orion would keep appearing, and my own untrodden path would continue to beckon me onwards.

 

Written by Isabella Millington

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Searching for Home

I am going home in nine days. There are nine days left before this five-month-long adventure comes to an end. Nine days left of hostel-hopping, mountain-climbing, and beach-bumming. Nine days left before I have to contend with that most terrifying of words: stillness.

I will arrive back in England to rain, Christmas time, and the ever-enthralling job market. For purely mundane, practical reasons (namely being dead-broke) it will be several months before I can jump on a plane, train, or automobile and go off exploring again. I’m trying to be positive. I have started a list of things to look forward to about my imminent homecoming, at the very top of which (naturally) is seeing my cat again, followed by seeing family and friends, rediscovering the joys of a hot bath, and inhaling a decent cup of coffee. Yet every time I add something to the list, a niggling little voice in the back of my mind matches it with ten things I will miss about travelling.

Hove beach, my favourite place in England
Hove beach, my favourite place in England

Way back at the end of August, I remember talking to two backpackers about when, if ever, they were planning to return to their respective European countries and families they hadn’t seen in several months. Both had been travelling for a year or more and both baulked at the question. I couldn’t understand, then, their apprehensive expressions at the use of the word ‘home’ and the restlessness suddenly visible in their body language. Sure, I didn’t particularly want to go home either, but back then I was more secure in my understanding of what that word meant.

My sense of home has warped and changed over the last few years. Not only was I moving from place to place with each year of university, but everyone from my best friends to my parents were moving to new houses, cities, and even countries. I learnt to feel at home in a handful of places in addition to the house I grew up in. Yet over the last five months, even my more flexible definition of ‘home’ has begun to crumble. I now understand that confused apprehension that comes with the idea of leaving all this behind. When your new ‘normal’ consists of a backpack, and an ever-shifting cast of friends against an ever-changing backdrop of vibrant cities and stunning landscapes, the idea of ‘going home’ becomes weighted down with the knowledge of all that you are leaving behind.

 one of my many temporary homes this year
One of my many temporary homes this year

‘Going home’ has taken shape as a shadow hovering on the horizon, creeping closer each day, pressuring me to squeeze as much as I can into my final days. Every decision I make is clouded with doubt. I feel I need to ‘make the most’ of every minute – a completely arbitrary idea which never bothered me before and only makes me feel vaguely disappointed in myself every second I am not taking in a beautiful view or visiting a famous tourist site. My problem is that I have ceased to conceive of ‘home’ as a place, filled with people and things that I love and miss, and think of it as merely a date. A departure time on my flight schedule; a ticking time bomb marking the end of the best few months of my life.

Finding a piece of home on the Bolivian Salt Flats
Finding a piece of home on the Bolivian Salt Flats

Halfway through writing this very article, I was sifting through some old journal entries when I stumbled upon one I had forgotten about, from almost exactly a year ago.

“When I’m lonely or homesick I’m not missing a place but a moment in time. I hope that as I grow up I will learn to leave parts of myself in places in time and space and be at peace with that, but I also hope I find people who make me feel at home even when I’m someplace unfamiliar […] I hope for happiness that doesn’t come from a screen and isn’t borrowed from a song and I hope that one day I’ll be able to look around me and say this, this is home.”

Reading that was like having a bucket of ice water thrown over me. I realised how far I had come, from that miserable girl dreaming of the end of university and barely even able to imagine how it would feel to travel the world. I realised, reading those final lines, that I have had that feeling, countless times while travelling. Of looking around me and feeling so grateful that I get to call this my life. It is not feeling at home in the way it felt to push open your front door as a kid after an exhausting day at school, but it’s still a feeling of joy and peace that comes from the knowledge that whatever you are doing is right for right now.

I have been spending my final days in paradise
I have been spending my final days in paradise

The negativity I have been feeling about going home stems from the assumption that it is akin to going backwards. I have constructed a dichotomy in which I think happiness and freedom exist purely within the ‘travelling’ chapters of my life, and going ‘home’ necessarily means a return to the mundane and the dull. But going home is not going backwards. I may not feel that returning to England and pushing open that familiar front door is going ‘home’ in the way it used to be, because I have left parts of myself scattered all over the world. It doesn’t have to be an end. It can become a part of this ongoing sense that whatever I am doing, for whatever reason, is right for right now. The ways in which I continue to change, to learn, and to grow do not come to a screeching halt as soon as I step off that plane.

Written by Isabella Millington

If the idea of going back home at the end of your great adventure is still causing you stress, check out a similar article ‘Exhausted Thoughts’ 

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When it doesn’t feel right

I recently wrote a post about that sense of recognition and belonging that sometimes accompanies travel. In that post, I said that this sensation is one reason I love to travel so much. It’s one reason I love being alive, really. Discovering places and people and things that make me feel more wholly me, more wholly integrated into this world. It is one of the best gifts I feel the Universe can offer.

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So what happens when the opposite is true?

I suppose I’m lucky in this respect. There haven’t been many times in my life, especially in recent years, when I’ve found myself tangling with someone or something that lies on the other side of the resonance spectrum. It’s not a lack of feeling that I’m talking about here. Neutral territory is something I can move through without much problem. However, when I get somewhere and feel like that place is actively telling me to leave, well, that’s when things get complicated. And I’m currently neck-deep in complications.

pisac 3
It started as soon as my plane landed in Lima. Now, I know Lima isn’t exactly an inviting city for most people. It’s big, noisy, and dirty. A major city in other words, and as such, not exactly a place that most of the chill, semi-hippy folks I enjoy spending time with like to hang out. The only time I even left the airport in Lima was for a quick smoke, and honestly, the parking lot wasn’t so bad. From an objective point of view. Yet this feeling of wrongness was busy taking root with every passing minute. Have you ever walked uphill, with the wind blowing in your face? Imagine that, on an energetic level.

pisac 4
After an overpriced but delicious meal at one of the airport restaurants, I made my way to my gate and set up shop for a few hours waiting for the plane. I was exhausted of course, so at the time I chalked up my mounting unease to sleep deprivation and stress. Then finally, I was on our way to Cusco and to my destination outside of Pisac, a small intentional community in the foothills of the Sacred Valley.
Sleep came next. A lot of it. A lot more than I needed to fight the jet lag, in fact. When I was awake, I wandered around the community, my eyes wide open and my heart yearning to feel some kind of connection. ANY connection. I felt none. Not with the land, not with the people living at the community. I knew a few of the ‘family members’ from some time they spent in the United States the previous year, but by and large, I felt utterly adrift.
I’ve been here a month, having almost left at least half a dozen times, and I feel only slightly more connected and integrated than before, purely by virtue of getting to know some individuals more.

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Still, the land itself leaves me uncomfortable. It’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong. For me, however, it’s a purely objective beauty. The more I experience this area—the culture, the music, the food—the more this sense of GTFO settles in. Maybe this is a remnant of a past life experience as well. When I went to Hampi, my soul sang. When I arrived in Peru, it began to cry. Is there healing to be done here? Or am I truly just not suited to be here in the first place?
I realised, as I was searching through my photos for this post, that I’ve been reluctant to even take pictures while I’ve been here. I have very few photos of the landscape and almost none of the people. That, in itself, tells me a lot.

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By the time you read this, I will have left the community to explore other parts of Peru and South America. Away from the mountains, away from the rain, away from the expectations and obligations (real or imagined) of the family here, perhaps I will find something that speaks to me.

 

Written by Sarah Hirsch

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A Free Bird in Brazil

When I landed in Rio almost two months ago, staring into the void of an ‘indefinite trip’, I began to listen to Lynard Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird’ obsessively. I had not been ready to leave England, either emotionally or practically. Due to a combination of unfortunate, unexpected circumstances and my natural talent for disorganisation, my ‘preparation’ for my trip amounted to nothing more than stuffing the first clothes and toiletries I could find into a backpack half an hour before leaving the house and resolving to buy my hand luggage bag en-route to the airport. I got in the car unsure whether I’d even remembered to pack underwear, hastily texting goodbyes to everyone I hadn’t had time to meet up with and, most traumatically, neglected to notice I had forgotten my iPod charger until I landed. I arrived in Rio disorientated and feeling like I was in a state of free-fall. Like Alice down the rabbit hole, I felt like I’d jumped out of one world without giving any thought as to where I was going to land. Listening to ‘Free Bird’ didn’t make these feelings go away, but it did remind me why I was there, and why I was not going to return home anytime soon.

My favourite lines in the song are: ‘I must be travelling on now/ Cause there’s too many places I got to see/If I stay here with you girl/Things just couldn’t be the same.’ They reminded me that, as terrible as the timing was, leaving was still the right choice. They reminded me that, even though I knew I was leaving behind both people and circumstances that I wouldn’t be waiting for me when I returned, to stay would have been harder. To stay in one place for an extended period of time has always made me feel trapped. Stir-crazy. Restless with wanderlust. No matter how great a job, city, or even social life is at first, I inevitably begin to resent it when I’ve been there too long. ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’ is a cliché, but it has always held true for me. For all the many reasons I had for wanting to stay, none of them could ever have been powerful enough to stave off the inevitability of my desire to escape.

Travelling is a way to perennially chase the unfamiliar. Everyday that you are away from home, you encounter new scenery, new experiences and new friendships. And I love it – of course I love it. If you didn’t love discovering and exploring the new and the unfamiliar, you probably wouldn’t jump on a plane to South America with nothing but a backpack and a vague idea of the places you might want to see. *Living* the unfamiliar, however, is never going to be easy.

The sunrise I saw my first morning in Rio, while listening to freebird
The sunrise I saw my first morning in Rio, while listening to freebird

My first three weeks in Rio were spent working at the olympics. When I left, I suddenly found myself without the solid group of friends and acquaintances I had been surrounded by 24/7 since my arrival. I was uprepared for the shock of being entirely alone and plunged into self-doubt. While I have always been happy in my own company and loved to travel, this was different. 6,000 miles away from nearly everyone I have ever known, I suddenly saw the months of unplanned adventure stretching out before me as a test I was sure I would fail. This felt like more than being in a new, unfamiliar environment. It felt like I’d finally found the end of the rabbit hole, and was struggling to make sense of this wonderland that was the world of the solo traveller. I looked around me at the seasoned travellers in my hostel and felt distinctly like I didnt belong there.

Ridding myself of this instinctive desire to ‘belong’ is my final frontier. It is totally at odds with my fantasies of freedom, of perpetual motion, of ephemeral hostel life. How can I ever fully embrace the the free-bird, hippy-kid, wandering-backpacker lifestyle that I have spent most of my life dreaming of, if a part of me is secretly yearning for acceptance in every place I stumble upon? To belong somewhere requires a stillness, a certain degree of permanence. And I am not looking for permanence. I am not looking to settle inside the familiar because, as in the song, there are just too many places I gotta see.

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I hiked to the top of Pico do Papagaio in Ilha Grande, Brazil with a girl I met the day before and was greeted by this view.

If I want to be truly free I have to make peace with the feeling of being out of place, of not belonging. Of being the new kid at the hostel or the only person who can’t speak portuguese/ spanish/ [insert native language you really should have learnt by now here]. While belonging and loneliness are not always necessarily related, to enjoy schlepping across strange continents on your own I feel like you need to be able to conquer both.

Solo travelling is a ride-or-die test of your relationship with yourself. When my iPod eventually died and I was unable to borrow a charger, I mourned it like the loss of a relative. I was suddenly forced to listen to my own un-soundtracked consciousness. Am I as interesting as a Rolling Stones song? Can my imagination compete with the poetic power of The Doors’s lyrics? Can thought alone fill the Bob Dylan-shaped hole in my heart? After successfully making it through not just one, but seven (and counting) bus journeys and one international flight without any Smeagol-Gollum like incidents, I’m more secure with my place in this strange new Wonderland. I am less concerned with looking outside of myself for that sense of belonging.

On a beach in Arrraial do Cabo on the first of many boat trips
On a beach in Arrraial do Cabo on the first of many boat trips

I could chase horizons all over the world and back, but the only thing I can know for sure is that I will always run into myself. If I expect happiness to come from the outside, from finding a sense of belonging in a place I will only have to leave, or with people I will only have to say goodbye to, then I am going to live in a state of perpetual disappointment. With my external environment ever-changing, I am learning that my only constant is me. I no longer need to listen to ‘Free Bird’ obsessively to remind myself why I recoil from the permanence of place. I am learning to live in the infinite space which exists beyond the borders of my comfort zone.

Written by Isabella Millington, edited by Bethany Naylor

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