Terror Alert: Elevated. Just when I thought I might have some peace and quiet, some time to relax and reflect on my travels upon Andy’s departure, my roadmap to peace was shredded by some reinforcements. My newest and final travel companions, Sam, who you may remember from such episodes as “When Humans Attack (animals)” and “Livin’ la Corrida Loca”, his brother Tim, and our friend Dave, arrived on a plane to Santiago the very night Andy left. We continued the worthless, gringo lifestyle over the next few days, taking side trips to the nearby port town of Valparaiso, and the beach resorts of Viña del Mar, Siestaville, and Liquorton. This just in: Beaches aren’t fun in the middle of a cold, rainy winter. But good relaxing times were had with long-time friends, until I looked at my watch. My my God god! I only had five days to get to Lima by bus before I missed my flights. That distance turned out to be 3,528 km, or 2,116.8 miles for you metrically challenged folks. Either way, “Ouch!”
But the real ouch came on about the third straight day of bussing north up the windy Pan-American Highway, which snakes its way the entire distance up the west coast of South America. Over the course of ten weeks of overland, bumpy, cramped bus travel, I had developed a rare condition I call Knees Ruined, Angry, and Broken Syndrome or KRABS. Even with ample legroom on my most recent rides, I did have time for the pain. While keeping my legs in one position for consecutive bus rides of 28, 12, 13, and 10 hours, respectively, I developed an extremely uncomfortable case of the KRABS and I was constantly squirming this way and that.
The pain in my knees from KRABS led to complications as well. Unable to sleep due to the discomfort, I progressed rapidly to the next stage: Hallucinations After no Rapid Eye Movement, or HAREM. Three days and nights without a wink left me fairly schizophrenic. On one particular bus ride I remember continually trying to shut my eyes for some sleep only to convulse from a half-dream state, as we rounded bends over steep cliffs at high speeds, and accidentally smack my seat partner with my left arm. After the fourth time, I decided that sitting on my hand was the only way to prevent whatever quasi-hallucination was occurring.
My KRABS and HAREM did give me much more awake time to appreciate the wonders of northern Chile. That is, I WONDER if the scenery could have been more redundant. Over the thousands of kilometers that flew past my window I saw more rocks and dirt and treeless, rocky, barren, dirty plains and rocky, hilly, dusty, stone-filled dirt farms than I ever thought existed. Given, as northern Chile fans will point out, there are highlights nestled into this immense area. But even as much as I love predominately barren wasteland, in my hurry it was probably a good idea to skip through these deserted deserts. One of these deserts calls itself, teleologically speaking of course, ‘the driest place on earth’, although it may have just been the dustiest and rockiest. I admire deserts for their toughness, however, and just when I least expected it, I found exploitation surviving quite well in an area where I thought nothing could live.
Bolivia and Chile have been pillaged for their abundant natural resources since the dawn of Spainkind. The Spanish did it the old fashioned way: guns, germs, and stealing. But they always pulled out when the cash crops, gold and silver, were cashed out. Metals such as tin and copper are in much more abundance and have helped maintain the prosperity for people for much longer stretches of time. But whose prosperity? In Bolivia, for instance, there was a war for the desolate land of the Chaco. It was creatively called ‘The Chaco War’. But who would want the rights to the barren Chaco? When US companies began prospecting for a possible oil source in the region, Bolivia and Paraguay quickly laid claim to the never before disputed territory so as not to be outdone by each other or the sneaky Yankees. North American oil companies then randomly took the respective side of either of the two countries in order to incite a battle, which would weaken both sides. And it worked. 80,000 troops were killed in the three-year war, which decimated both populations and would have favored the prospects of the North American oil companies moving into the region…had oil ever been discovered. But it never has been to this day.
Chile’s example seems much less dramatic because present day exploitation comes often times in the form of globalization, which is a silent war, a financial battle won by CEO’s and lost by the common man. Near ‘the driest place on earth’ is ‘the world’s largest copper mine’. And this is ‘the world’s most pointless superlatives travelogue’. Anyway, 25% of Chile’s export income comes from copper. This lone pit delivers half of these exports. And guess which country contains the majority of companies that have slowly taken over copper production in the last 15 years (the Chilean government produced 88% in 1990 and now only 30% in 2003)? USA, you say? That’s right! In fact, the US first made inroads in the 1930’s when its companies started mass-producing cheap copper down south. Now, as supply is incredibly high from the foreign companies’ exploitation and cheap exportation of the metal, Chilean companies are going out of business, their copper-based economy is slumping, and the foreign companies do not have to pay taxes on their exports. What a deal.
You see folks, exploitation, colonization (which I think this example is an unfortunate predecessor to), globalization, covert political agendas: They’re all out there, you just have to open your eyes. (Check out www.globalpolicy.org if you care) The USA Today is not going to report to you what companies are bending over small children in Asia so their earnings go up ¼of a percent and the stockholders can live ¼% “fuller” lives. The sponsors of the media wouldn’t allow that in the paper because the sponsors of the media are these same multinational corporations. The US government is not going to talk about the fact that they supported Saddam’s regime longer than they had opposed it. They aren’t going to volunteer the fact that they send clandestine operation units and money into foreign countries in order to start uprisings to oust leaders who will not cooperate with the US vicious foreign policy or appalling and increasing need for resources. It’s old news that many Central American governments were ‘replaced’ by the US during the 80’s. South America has the same stories that have transpired, if not by physical force, then by economic pressure. The US has commonly held the G-dub adage, “You are either with us or you are against us” to its true meaning. Books have been written (probably). The knowledge is out there. True, it’s not just the US doing all this. The US used to BE an exploited colony; in fact they learned colonization from the best. But they learned it well. The point is, not everything in this world can be taken at face value. Come along with me and call US foreign policy what it is: Colonization. Repeat after me: “World trade” is globalization. Say it loud: Multinational commerce is exploitation. Maybe I am just paranoid and have read 1984 too many times (not possible), but Orwell said it best: War is peace, ignorance is strength, and freedom is slavery.
“A well-armed populace is the best defense against tyranny.”
You can take that literally or figuratively.
But in summary, I seemed to have forgotten to write about traveling much in this volume. So keeping with the thematic of this travelogue I say to myself, “YOU’RE a contradiction, Tyson!” Why? When I finally arrived in Lima after a day of sand boarding in the giant dunes of Ica, Peru, powerful forces from deep within my unethical, contradictory soul, for millionths of a second, told me what I needed to do. As a final act of personal contradiction and exploitation, I paid my dividends to two of the best globalizing/ colonizing/ child-laboring/ heartless/ multinational/ demonious/ wife-beating?/ resource-depleting/ enslaving/ exploiting companies of all time, when I walked into a McDonalds® in Lima, Peru and purchased a Coca-Cola®.
(No, I didn’t forget about Nike®, Phillip Morris®, and Star*ucks. I just didn’t have time for them.)
Later that day I boarded my American Airlines® flight (their motto is “One World©”) to head “home” to Las Vegas, Nevada. As we lifted off my stomach sunk. Damn, I was going to miss the fun and freedom. I could see the edge of the continent disappear to the south as we crossed over the north coast of Ecuador. And that was the end of the Contradiction and Exploitation of South AmericaTM. Or has it just begun?
Next stop: Birmingham, Alabama.