I’ve been wanting to write a blog post for a while, but I always put it off because I never have good enough internet access to upload and format photos on new posts. So screw it. From now on, no photos. If you want photos, go visit my instagram (@rrsuro), my twitter (@rrsuro) or my facebook page. Plenty of photos there. This is where I write.
It has also been more than a month since I’ve started my Young Explorer’s grant project. It’s too late and too much damn work to do a recap and tell you about everything that has happened so far (because a LOT has happened), so screw that too. No recap. So friends, if you want to hear my best stories from the last couple months, send me an email and ask me. I’d love to hear what you’re up to as well.
So today, I’m starting over. I’m going to write every day, and I don’t care if you read it or not. I’m doing this for me. I might not post something every day (because sometimes there really is no internet), but you better be damn certain I’m going to write SOMETHING every day. Even if it’s a sentence or two regarding my thoughts of the day. I’m in the jungle damn it. This is MY Walden pond, except way better because it’s actually in the middle of nowhere and not 2 miles from Concord, Massachusetts. I’m also not locked into a cabin.
Do I sound a bit icey? That’s probably because I totally am. I’ve had it with the smoke and the fires. Yesterday, I was driving my motorcycle down the street. I was very stressed, and wanted to take a deep breath. But a split-second before I did so, I realized that taking a deep breath would be terrible for my lungs, with all of the smoke on the street. UGH. I can’t even take a breather because of the smoke.
Overall, I feel pretty powerless to do anything about it. Meanwhile, people are burning their trash in the middle of the streets, releasing copious amounts of further smoke into the air. And later, those same people complain about the smoke. I am ready to go back up to camp. There’s less smoke there, and fewer people. Both great things. The only reason I came down in the first place was to deal with (yet another) permit I needed to get. This time for a local assistant that will be helping me on my long term orangutan follows.
His name is Midi. He’s an old dude from one of the villages, rocking a scraggly gray chin-puff beard and a pretty badass parang (the indonesian version of a machete). He’s going to be our porter when Evan (my assistant) and I are out following orangutans. We’re only carrying enough food for 5 days at a time. So when we are running low, Midi is going to go search for us in the forest and give us another 5-day resupply. The forest is a big place however. Without the right tools, he would never find us. Which is why I’m equipping him with a radio and a GPS unit. The way it works is this: he communicates with us via radio, I let him now our coordinates, he enters them into the GPS, and boom, he can find us. The only issue is that he doesn’t really know how to use a GPS yet. I’ve already gave him a training session at his village. Now that he has a permit to come to the forest, I can train him 100% until he’s a Robert-and-Evan finding machine.
I’m heading back up to camp tomorrow. Let you know how it goes.
The most recognizable variety of street stall is the Kaki Lima, which means “five legs”. The first three “legs” are the three bicycle wheels on the cart. The other two “legs” are the legs of the person pushing the cart! While the carts can all look very similar to each other, each one specializes in a particular food item, usually written with tape or sticker letters on the glass pane of the cart.
Gado-Gado (Corner of Jl. Agus Salim and Gg. 12 Kebon Sirih Barat I)
By far, my favorite street food item is Gado-Gado. Actually, on most food carts, it’s usually written on the carts as “Gado²”, which I find amusing. It’s basically an Indonesian style salad, and contains a variety of items such as potatoes, string beans, spinach, baby corn, cabbage, cucumber, tofu, tempeh, and hard-boiled eggs. The veggies can vary depending on the food cart, but in general the dish always includes hard-boiled eggs and tofu. Most varieties in Jakarta also include rice or lontong (rice cake) in the Gado-Gado. And as for the dressing, (and this is my favorite part), it’s all covered in freaking awesomely delicious peanut sauce. I may have an addiction to peanut sauce actually. To top off the dish, we get the Indonesian functional equivalent of croutons: Kerupuk, a deep-fried chip made of starch and prawn paste. Actually, labeling it as the equivalent of croutons is unfair to the kerupuk…it accomplishes the same function of croutons – adding texture and “crunch” to the dish – but with substantially more deliciousness. I always eat tons of Gado-Gado when in Jakarta, because it’s rather hard to find in Kalimantan. If you want to try Gado-Gado in Jakarta, do yourself a favor and skip the gourmet and tourist-oriented restaurants, as you’ll likely receive watered down, “westernized” versions of the dish. The real Gado² is found on the street.
2. Ketoprak (Corner of Jl. Agus Salim and Gg. 12 Kebon Sirih Barat I)
There is one other dish, very closely related to Gado-Gado, which I also love: Ketoprak! It’s basically like Gado-Gado, but it swaps a few of the veggies and rice for rice vermicelli noodles (locally called bihun). Just like Gado-Gado, the entire dish is drowned in sweet, delicious peanut sauce. I actually just tried Ketoprak for the very first time this past week, so I haven’t made up my mind whether I like it better than Gado-Gado or not. So I suppose the only solution to this dilemma is to have BOTH and have them OFTEN!
3. Satay Ayam (Jl. Wahid Hasyim, between Jl. Thamrin and Jl. Agus Salim)
My other favorite street food in Indonesia is Satay, a skewer of seasoned and grilled meat, covered in…PEANUT SAUCE. If you sense a pattern here, yes, I LOVE peanut sauce, and my favorite dishes are definitely biased towards dishes involving it. Satay (sometimes spelled Sate) is available in different meats. Chicken (satay ayam), beef (satay sapi), and goat (satay kambing). My favorite by far is Satay Ayam, and lucky me because it’s the most common kind. Satay is the kind of food that I rarely consume as a stand-alone meal. You can certainly eat it this way, and if you sit down at a Satay joint and order it in-house, you’ll get Satay paired up with rice or longtong, certainly a filling enough meal. To me however, Satay is the perfect “to-go” food. When I’m busy with errands on the streets of Jakarta, and hunger kicks in, nothing is better than running into a Satay food cart and ordering a half-dozen satay ayam skewers dibungkus (which means “wrapped up to go”). They grill them up quickly and give you your chicken skewers inside a paper bag 1/3 filled with peanut sauce. As I make my way to my destination, I shake and dip the skewers inside the bag to ensure they are generously covered in peanut sauce, and eat them one by one. They actually give you the skewer-filled paper bag inside of supermarket-style plastic bag, which makes carrying it easy, and you can conveniently dispose of the empty skewers inside the plastic bag as you walk. When I’m finished, I just dispose of the entire thing at the nearest trash can. BOOM, that’s what I call the perfect street food.
To get to the Gado-Gado and Ketoprak (they are right next to each other) from Jalan Jaksa, walk down the street (in the same direction as the traffic). On your right side, you will see an alleyway named Gg. 12 Kebon Sirih Barat I. Follow it all the way to the end, and upon exiting, you will see two food carts to the left. These sell Gado-Gado and Ketoprak. The Gado-Gado one in particular is great because they use an extremely large pestle and mortar to grind all of the spices.
As for the Satay, there are multiple places all along Jalan Jaksa and Jalan Agus Salim. There is one place in particular however, that seems to be the most popular spot. It’s located on Jalan Wahid Hasyim, between Jl. Agus Salim and Jl Thamrin (the big street where Sarinah mall is).
It’s been months since I wrote anything for the blog, and I feel guilty about it. The truth of the matter is, I’ve not done much of interest for the the past months. I’ve been mostly working or writing emails, two activities which are not worth writing home about. But I expect my life will become significantly more interesting within the next month, as I gear up to leave for Borneo. For the unaware, I’ll be studying wild orangutans in the rainforest of Gunung Palung National Park in Indonesia, as part of a National Geographic Young Explorer’s grant expedition.
In the meantime however, I wanted to share the latest news regarding the expedition: I was awarded a gear sponsorship by Microsoft! Stuart Pitts, product marketing manager for Microsoft, very generously donated a Surface Pro 3 to me and my project. This could not have come at a better time, as I was in dire need of a replacement for my aging and battered laptop which already survived a year in the rainforest and was definitely not going to make it through another one. Hell, the rundown state of my laptop is half the reason I haven’t done any blogging lately: it’s missing quite a few letters on the keyboard, which made writing a huge pain. Having a reliable computer system in Borneo will be vital, as sharing updates, photos, and videos from the field through social media are a large part of my project. The Surface Pro 3 seems to fit my needs perfectly, and after messing around with it for a few weeks, I wanted to share my first impressions.
My jungle companion, still in the safety of my bedroom office. It’ll be in wild surroundings soon enough.
What a traveler-photographer-researcher looks for in a computer
Did I make up that demographic? Maybe. But for the purposes of my project, a traveler-photographer-researcher is exactly what I’ll be, and I’m sure many people’s jobs fall under a similar category. For my life in the rainforest, I need a computer system that has the following:
Portability: something that is easy to carry through airport security, and light enough to carry on hikes in and out of the rainforest.
Capability to edit photos: something that efficiently runs Adobe Lightroom, the main program I use for processing all of my images.
A high quality display: having a sharp display with accurate color reproduction is important to photographer.
Great build quality: something that won’t fall apart easily. Life in the jungle is rugged and tough.
Capability to organize: besides photos and videos, I’ll also be working with a lot of data and field notes from my research which I’ll need to keep organized.
Optimized for social media: sharing updates is an important aspect of my project, and the computer system should make it easy.
On paper, the Surface Pro 3 fits the bill for my life in the forest just right:
It weights 2.4 pounds (with the type cover attached!), and is the size of a standard paper notebook. Last year in the rainforest, it was never fun lugging my oversized laptop on the 4 hour hike in and out of the rainforest. This time around, with the SP3, I can see the hike being a lot more pleasant.
Lightroom runs well on it. The newest version, Lightroom 6, also has a new touch screen interface mode, which makes editing photos very pleasant with the Surface Pro 3. It seems like this new mode was designed with the Surface Pro 3 in mind.
The display is in a 3:2 ratio. This is excellent for photography, as that is just the ratio that Canon cameras output natively for images. In addition, the display has been praised for its excellent color accuracy, and it can be calibrated very precisely.
It is well designed, and the build quality is solid. Microsoft has always been a software-oriented company, but with this product, they have proven that they can do hardware just as well. The Surface Pro 3 is beautifully designed. But more importantly, it is designed with practicality in mind. There is a saying that goes: it is better to whole-ass one thing, than half-ass two things. With that in mind, I was worried that as a laptop-tablet hybrid, it would be okay at either role, but not great. That worry has been laid to rest. In my mind, the Surface Pro 3 absolutely lives up to its motto: “The tablet that can replace your laptop”.
The fact that the SP3 is a tablet means that there are a multitude of protective cases available. This is important to me, as life in the rainforest will add another dimension of abuse to the computer, and having a case is vital for protecting the system. MS and their partners are sending me some cases to try out with the SP3, and I’ll be able to comment on how they perform sometime in the future. One thing I’ll be interested in seeing is how the cases will perform in high-humidity. Hopefully, they’ll have a good seal that will prevent moisture from building up inside the computer. Of course, no case is a substitute for taking good care of the system yourself. Storing the computer in a dry spot (preferably with silica gel) when not in use is necessary to keep your electronics in good health in the rainforest.
For organizing, it is designed to optimize the use of OneNote. I haven’t had much experience using OneNote yet, but I’ve messed around with it a bit and can definitely see its potential. The touch-screen and the pen make it so easy to use, and I can see myself using this throughout the year to keep all of my research related notes and thoughts organized. I’ll have more to say about it in the future.
The Metro* mode Twitter and Facebook apps make it a breeze to check my feeds and share things quickly and easily. And when I need more fuctionality, I can use the desktop browser and open up the full sites (*Metro is the touch-screen UI for Windows 8. You can switch from Metro to the more traditional desktop mode very easily).
As I begin my expedition, I’ll be able to talk more about how it performs the role as my main piece of technology for organization, communication, and productivity in the rainforest. But so far, I’m confident the Surface Pro 3 will make a good forest buddy.
My first impressions, after a couple weeks of use
After messing around with it for some time, mostly from the comfort of my bedroom in my apartment here in Puerto Rico, I’ve got a few comments to make:
The keyboard is exceptional. Typing is a pleasure, and it does not at all feel like a substitute for a keyboard. In fact, it feels better than most full-fledged laptop keyboard out there.
The mouse-pad is not very precise. Sometimes I find myself struggling to position the pointer in the exact spot I want. This isn’t a big deal when in Metro mode where everything is better done with touch. But when in desktop mode, where I prefer to use the mouse, I found it a bit problematic. However, I found an easy solution: I invested in the Microsoft Arc Touch Bluetooth Mouse. It is the perfect accessory to the SP3. It is comfortable and precise. Best of all, it fold flat for storage and doesn’t have any charging cords, so it can be taken along with the rest of the SP3 without feeling like you are carrying any extra bulk.
I write in both Spanish and English, and find myself switching between both languages a lot when I write. In my old laptop (which used Windows 7). when I wanted to add tildes and accents to words in Spanish (á, ñ, ú, etc.), I had to switch keyboard layouts. When I commit myself to writing entirely in one language, then switching keyboard layouts is fine. But when I just want to insert just one spanish word when writing in english, switching layouts is a bit annoying and time consuming. On the SP3, adding accents with the on-screen keyboard is super easy, since I can just touch and hold the letter I want to accent, and choose accented versions of it. This means I can quickly add an accent or tilde with the tip of my finger without the added step of switching keyboard layouts. It’s something minor, but a huge convenience for people who write in more than one language.
The Metro IE is awesome. It’s so great for touch controls, and in this respect no other browser comes close. When I want to casually browse the web, this is my go-to. It is very satisfying to navigate the web using only your fingertips. The lack of extension support is its one flaw however, which is why for more serious web-browsing, I switch over to the desktop mode and use Google Chrome. I use Chrome because I still find desktop Internet Explorer 11 lacking. But I hear MS is going to release a new browser soon. It’s code-named “Spartan”, and I am excited to try it out as I think it will work well with the SP3.
In terms of Lightroom 6, I found the touch-screen interface very nice to use. I’ll figure out exactly what workflow I’ll be using the more I experiment with it, and figure out how the new version of lightroom works with the SP3. For now, it seems like doing the first batch of edits using the touch screen interface, then finishing up using the standard UI, is the way to go. I’ll do a more in-depth review of how LR6 works with the SP3 later on, as I familarize myself more and more with it.
So there you have it. I’ll get more experience with the SP3 the more I work with it, and I’ll really put it to the test once I get to the rainforest. But so far, it’s been a solid piece of technology to work with. I have high hopes for it.
*For the iberolinguistically challenged, you can read the article in English below 🙂
Unas cuantas veces en las ultimas semanas, decidí salir a explorar un poco dentro di mi propia isla. Es lo que aquí en Puerto Rico le llamamos “turismo interno”. Lo encuentro un poco extraño que exista tal término, ya que si es dentro de mi propio país, ¿verdaderamente es turismo? De acuerdo al “World Tourism Organization”, el turismo se define como ¨viajar y quedarse en lugares fuera de su entorno usual, por no más de un año consecutivo, para propósitos de ocio, negocios, etc.¨ Ahí encontramos la palabra clave: “entorno usual”. Se ese es el caso, cuando alguien se va de viaje por la isla fuera del área metro, sin duda se consideraría turismo. ¿Porqué? Hay un mundo de diferencia entre la vida en el area metro y la vida “en la isla”, como le llamamos; cuando alguien del área metro entra a la isla, seguramente es un cambio en su entorno usual.
El hecho de que exista un termino tal como “la isla”, un termino que se refiere a todo aquello que quede fuera del área metro, irrespectivamente del hecho que el área metro QUEDA EN LA MISMA ISLA. La existencia del termino habla por si solo. Cuando uno sale del área metro, sí se siente como otra isla, por lo menos en el sentido de que estamos tan acostumbrado a vivir en la zona metro, que se nos olvida que existe algo más allá de eso. Ciertamente, la experiencia diaría y el estilo de vida de una persona del area metro versus alguien que vive en la montañas de Adjuntas, debe ser muy distinta.
Hablando de Adjuntas, lo tomé como ejemplo porque hace unos años yo estuve por allá con dos de mis mejores amigos. ¿Que hacíamos en Adjuntas? Ya que es una zona montañosa, y lugar poco conocido por nosotros, decidimos que era un buen lugar para hacer senderismo/hiking. Para ser honesto, en adjuntas no hay ningún sistema de senderos (por lo menos que yo conozca). Lo que sí hay son muchas carreteras rurales, perfectas para hacer ejercicio y para disfrutarse buenas vistas. Pero aparte de eso, la mejor característica de esas carreteras rurales es que están pobladas. Puedes verle la cara a las personas que viven sus vidas allá, y eso te pone a pensar. Lo primero que nos vino a la mente y que también le vendría a cualquier otra persona de la zona metro es “¿que hace esta gente con sus vidas por acá?” Teníamos tantas preguntas…”¿En que trabajan? ¿En donde? ¿Donde los niños van a la escuela, y como llegan? ¿Es buena la educación en esas escuelas? ¿Donde janguean?” Con cada pregunta, nos surgía una nueva. Osea, nosotros vivimos tan fuera de contacto de estas áreas, que me puso a mi en duda sobre mi conocimiento de Puerto Rico, y sus habitantes.
Seré yo ignorante, o solo caí en cuenta de la famosa sabiduría Socratica: Yo sólo sé que no sé nada. Vivimos en un mundo conectadísimo, donde casi cualquier pedazo de información es accesible al instante. Podemos buscar información de ciudades remotas…Paris, Cairo, Jakarta, La Paz…y aprender sobre ellas. Pero sobre Adjuntas, y lo mas seguro la mayoría de los municipios menos conocidos de Puerto Rico, ¿que información hay? Fotos, anécdotas, documentales…de eso no hay mucho, si es que hay algo. Lo que sí hay son números:
Población de 25 años o más graduada de escuela superior, o más: 58.4%
Población debajo del nivel de pobreza: 56.1%
Estos números dicen mucho. Para comenzar, es un municipio pobre. Hay falta de educación. Es claro que aunque Puerto Rico se considere un país primer-mundista económicamente, la situación es un poco mas gris. En San Juan, el ingreso per capita es $16,031, casi tres veces el de Adjuntas. Estén como estén las cosas en la zona metro, aquí en Adjuntas, y en otros municipios alrededor de PR, entramos a otro mundo. O por lo menos, a otra isla. Pero ver unos números en un documento gubernamental jamás puede comunicar la experiencia de esas personas. Al contrario, lo que logran esos números es crear más preguntas. Aunque los números digan “estas personas son pobre”, yo no quiero asumir su experiencia. Puede que sean pobres y miserables, como también puede ser que vivan felices, más felices de lo que vivimos aquí en la zona metro. Lo único que yo puedo asumir es que yo no se. Y que quiero aprender más. Quiero ver más allá de números. Quiero ver fotos, quiero ver anécdotas, quiero ver documentación. Si alguien no se tira la de “Travels with Charley” en Puerto Rico, me la tiro yo.
Un wikén de estos me tiraré a Adjuntas otra vez, y en los próximos meses me interesaría visitar a otros sitios menos frecuentados en PR, sitios que a uno no se le occuriria ir como destinos turísticos. Tengo ganas de conocer a esta isla un poco más. Puede ser que mida 100×35, pero sin importar sus dimensiones diminutas, hay una gran variedad cultural, social y económica. Vamos a ver de que se compone esa variedad. Hay mucho que ver, y muchos puertorriqueños para conocer fuera de la zona metro.
Asi que motivate, y sal pa’ fuera a aprender un poco más sobre “la isla” y quitale el misterio al termino.
The Mystery of “La Isla” and Internal Tourism
Last weekend, I decided to do a bit of exploring in within my own borders, what we in Puerto Rico like to call “turismo interno” or internal tourism. It’s a bit strange that there is a term for that. I mean, if it’s within your own country, is it really tourism? Well according to the World Tourism Organization,tourism is defined as “traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes.” There is a key word clause there: traveling to places outside their usual environment. So if that’s the case, whenever someone who lives in the San Juan metro area goes on a trip outside of it, then yes. It’s definitely tourism. Why? There is a world of difference between life in the metro area, and life “en la isla” as we call it, so whenever someone leaves the metro area, it’s surely a change in their usual environment.
The fact that a term like “la isla” (the island) exists (a term that refers to everywhere in Puerto Rico that is NOT the metro area, even though the metro area is in fact, part of the same island ) should speak for itself. When one leaves the metro area, it does feel like a different island, at least in the sense that we’re so used to living in the metro area, that we forget that there is more beyond it. For sure, the life experience and lifestyle of a person living in the metro area versus someone that lives in the mountains of Adjuntas (a municipality here in PR) must be very different.
Speaking of Adjuntas, I took it as an example because a few years back, I was there with two of my best friends. What were we doing in Adjuntas? It’s a mountainous area, and a spot that we knew very little about. So we thought it was a good spot to do some hiking. To be honest, there aren’t any trail systems in Adjuntas (that I know of at least). What there are a lot of however, are country roads, perfect for for working out on a hike and enjoying good views. But besides that, the best characteristic of these country roads are the fact that there are people living there. And that makes you think. The first thing that came to mind, that would also most likely come to the mind of anyone that is from the metro area, is “what do people here DO?” We had so many questions…”What do they do for a living? Where do they work? Where do kids go to school? Do they receive good education in these schools? How do they even get to school? Where does everyone hang out? Every question drove us to a new one. I mean, we live so far out of teach with these areas that it really made me doubt my own knowledge of Puerto Rico, and its inhabitants.
So either I’m ignorant, or I just took note of the famous piece of socratic knowledge: “All I know is that I know nothing”. We live in a world that is ever-connected, where almost every piece of information is available instantly. We can look up information about cities that are far away…Paris, Cairo, Jakarta, La Paz…and learn about what life is like there. But regarding Adjuntas, what information is there? Photos, anecdotes, documentaries…of that, there is not much. What we do have, is numbers.
Adjuntas, Census 2010 according to the Census office of PR:
Income Per Capita: $5,974 (annually)
Population 25 or older that completed high school: 58.4%
Population below poverty line: 56.1%
These numbers say a lot. For starters, it’s a poor place. There is a lack of education. It’s clear that while PR is considered a first-world country in economic terms, the situation is a bit more gray. In San Juan, the income per capita is $16,031, almost three times that of Adjuntas. No matter how things are at the Metro Area, here in Adjuntas, and in other municipalities across the island, we’re entering into a different world. Or at least, another island. But seeing some numbers on a government document can’t really communicate what the experience is like for these people. On the contrary, the only things those numbers create are more questions. Even though those numbers might say “these people are poor”, I don’t want to assume anything about their experience. It may be that they are poor and miserable, just as well as it might be that they are happy, happier than we are in the metro area. The only thing I can assume is that I don’t know. And that I want to learn more. I want to see more than just numbers. I want to see photos, I want to see anecdotes, I want to see documentation. If someone doesn’t pull a “travels with charley” here in PR, then I’ll do it myself.
One of these weekends, I’ll head down to Adjuntas one more time. In the next few months, I would like to visit more places in PR, places that one wouldn’t think of as tourist destinations. I want to learn about this island a bit more. It may be that it only measures 100×35 miles, but regardless of its small dimensions, it’s clear that there is a large cultural, social, and economic variety. Let’s found out what makes up that variety. There’s a lot to see, and a lot of people to meet outside of the metro area.
So get motivated, and head outside to learn about more about this island.
It’s still a couple months until my adventure begins, and until then, I have a lot of planning to do…website programming, promoting, fund-raising, obtaining research permits…I got my work cut out for me. In the meantime though, I’m going to be keeping this blog updated with news about my progress, and I’ll also be publishing some great stories about my time in Indonesia, that I just didn’t get the opportunity to share before (partly because the rainforest has really bad internet service, and partly because I was too deep into the jungle life).
So stay tune for more.
Until then, enjoy this photo of the Andes I took from a plane on the way to Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador. I feel a special connection to the Andes, due to one of my greatest memories: climbing the 5,897 m volcano, Cotopaxi. This was a life-changing moment for me, a moment that spurred me to try to lead a life of adventure, and never be afraid to step outside the boundaries. For each day can be an adventure, if we just reach out and grasp it.