Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Sharing LSD via Bluetooth at the Oldest Place in the World

A friend from the US, involved in one of my current projects, wanted to go to Angel Falls, inside the Canaima National Park, this December. He invited me to come along and discuss our plans while we were there. I got a tour at a reasonable price, departing from Caracas, staying one night at Ciudad Bolivar and departing the next day for Canaima, where we stayed 3 days and 2 nights. The place was excellent and I really felt an interest in geology for the first time in my life. Knowing that the rocks where we were standing were almost as old as the whole planet made me realize the relative insignificance of every human and, at the same time, admire the fact that we are here and as ephemeral as we are, we are much more complex both in physiology and behavior than any inanimate structure. The feeling of humility to the universe that such structures impose is overwhelming.

In the boat ride (3 ass-numbing hours) to the falls, we learned the Transhumanist meaning of extreme sports: Whatever activity that implies risk, Alcor says they cannot retrieve your body if you die during it. Near the falls we took a very impressive shower with the mist that came down from them, clothes and all.

The guides were aboriginals, from the Pemon people. These guys spoke Spanish, a fairly good English and their own language. On the night previous on our excursion to the Falls, I was listening to music in a new phone-camera-MP3 player (Nokia 5200) that I got as Christmas gift from my father, when our Pemon guide asks me if I have music that he might like. He had a phone with Bluetooth capacity also and much more sophisticated than mine. There, at less than two miles from the Angel Falls, in the heart of the Jungle (with capital J), in the deep of the oldest geological formation in the world, the Macizo Guayanes, information wanted to be free. I showed him the playlist of the phone, not a lot of music, and my taste is somewhat strange. But something got his attention: Beatles-Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (LSD). That was the almost the only thing he asked me to send him. And so did I, swapping files using modern high tech in that strange place, hostile to mankind, with a member of a people that have lived there since long ago, slowly mutating their ways to adapt the modern life, but still living from the jungle, albeit in a different sense today.

The Pemon people have been exposed to modern technology and they use it frequently. The above picture, albeit fuzzy, shows a Pemon on his traditional hammock, listening to his iPod (Hell, most of the people I know, and that includes me, do not own an iPod here), at the camp, less than two miles from the Falls. They have also DirecTV antennas and computers back in the town. The antennas are not for the tourists, it seems, since many of them are in particular households. They use e-mail and cellphones to coordinate with the tourists and get more profits, cutting out the middlemen from travel agencies and tour operators. The drawback of all this is that the village was very neglected, unpaved roads, very clean, but there were parasitic flies that attacked an otherwise beautiful dog that was there. iPods and DirecTV but bad roads and ectoparasites are not promising symptoms however, I can understand that paving the roads and establishing pest control programs are fairly expensive initiatives that need a huge local commitment or government's funding, but buying an iPod, a DirecTV receiver or a computer can be done with no other approval than self and is comparatively modest, these people get good money from tourism. I can see kids using XO laptops here, getting connected and contributing to the web. Maybe they will set up a live webcasting from the Angel Falls or put a webcam in a viewpoint, so people from all over the world can see its magnificent beauty and they will get even more tourists. Maybe they will request hybrid or totally solar off-shore engines for their boats, as these oil based engines depend on oil supply and pollute a lot the otherwise pristine rivers. But certainly it is a problem that all the use they have for the latest tech is entertainment while many of their needs are still unmet. They have solved their income problem using the Internet, now, what else can they solve by themselves if given the tools? This is a very interesting question that I hope to see answered in few years. At least it is obvious that they can use the Internet as a tool for getting a better life and network with people from all around the world (The camp was full with Australians, and I realized sadly that I cannot understand Australian accent, and sometimes, not even British). In these days the Pemon are also Globally Connected.

PS: The tour operator that prepared our trip was Osprey Tours:
This operator is ideal if you want to leave everything in their hands, arrive in Caracas and just leave for the Falls, no worries about cabs, airplane tickets or light aircraft (the scary Cessna single engine planes that we used to go to Canaima). They were extremely helpful and responsible, we didn't have any problem with them and all I can say is that if you want a headache free tour, they are the right people.
If you prefer to get your plane tickets from Caracas to Ciudad Bolivar and back, the taxis, and live the Venezuelan adventure with no assistance (As a Venezuelan, I would not recommend it to foreigners), but arrange better prices, you can contact directly to the Pemon operators here:
Excursiones Kavac:
m16_sapiens[at]hotmail.comm (Anthon Alex, one of the guides)

WARNING: The tour can be somewhat expensive depending on how you choose to pay. If you pay in dollars, using your credit cards, you'll get 2150 bolivares per each dollar. If you exchange your dollars in the black market, on the street, and then pay with bolivares, you can get a much better exchange rate (But I cannot say how much, it is illegal according to the Venezuelan law). What is legal, however, is to exchange your dollars at a border, for instance, in Colombia to Colombian Pesos and then exchange to Bolivares, you'll get a fairly good rate, but not as much as you could on the streets, however, in the streets you could be ripped off. Be aware of that and you are advised that it is illegal.
But, nobody really cares a lot about this law. Besides getting the bolivar at the right prices, you'll have to visit the banks and deposit money, you will also have to get the plane ticket and probably deal with people that cannot speak even the most basic English.

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Álvaro said...

Excelente historia. Bien contada. Muy buenos datos para quienes soñamos con poder visitar esos inusuales lugares

Guido said...

Muchas gracias por el comentario. Me alegra que te haya resultado útil la información y que te haya gustado la crónica.