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Will

Will Brubaker has been roaming the world for over 20 years. He has been to all seven continents, has successfully landed lucrative contract jobs in international locations, spent two winters in Antarctica, recently lived in Taiwan and is currently enjoying sunsets with his wife from his ocean-view balcony in Huanchaco, Peru.

Expatriation: A Primer

Written by Will on . Posted in Expat Life

Within minutes of the major news networks calling the 2012 presidential election for President Barack Obama, facebook came alive with people who were outraged with this particular result.  I saw a great number of people stating that they were leaving the country.  I figured since I have several years of experience living outside my native country that this could be a great opportunity to act as a consultant and posted a tongue-in-cheek status to that effect.  If only these people were serious.  The same idle threats were made by people outraged at GWB’s re-election, but at least for that group, Canada made sense, but they didn’t leave.  Let me spare you some of your valuable time right now; if your only motivation for leaving the U.S. is your disappointment with the presidential election, stop pouring emotional energy into the notion of expatriating, you’re not going to do it, deep down, you realize how easy you’ve got it in the U.S.

Before I continue, I’m going to state a few generalizations about how I view the current crop of would be expats:

  1. Their core value system revolves around being right-wing, conservative Christians
  2. They’re strongly opposed to gay rights
  3. They’re angered by the thought of socialized health care
  4. They think their taxes are high
  5. They think gas prices in the U.S. are high
  6. They’re misogynistic
  7.  They believe in strict immigration laws

With that list of beliefs & values in mind (ignoring the irony of #7), I will, through the process of elimination, attempt to find their Utopia.

The country that seems to be mentioned most often as a destination is Canada.  Given its proximity to the U.S. and mostly English-speaking population it’s an easy choice.  However, Canada does have socialized medicine, recognizes gay marriage, higher gas prices than the U.S. and recognizes women’s rights.  The Obama haters might want to give Canada a pass, as well as Australia, New Zealand & wide swaths of Europe for the same reasons.

The USA’s neighbor to the south, with it’s seemingly endless supply of small arms and Catholic majority seems like it would be a more agreeable choice of locations to expatriate to, but the conservatism of Mexico pretty much ends there.  In the long-term, it seems fairly likely that Mexico would consider joining Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Alliance for the People’s of our Americas, that coupled with the fact that the Mexican head-of-state is, well, a Mexican and higher gas prices than the U.S. Mexico no longer seems like a viable option.  Most of Latin America can be discounted for the same reasons (though socialized gas prices in Ecuador and Venezuela are much lower than the U.S.).

I’m going to get the entire continent of Antarctica out of the way by saying that my experience there was socialist to the core.  Housing, clothing, food and healthcare all provided to me by what wasn’t a government, but was the closest thing to it and was funded by tax dollars.  Guns are strictly forbidden, churches are few and far between and science is highly regarded.

There are a few places in Africa that might be considered, topping the list are Somalia and Sudan/South Sudan.  These places were mentioned mostly because you won’t be bothered by pesky governments, gun ownership is requisite to your survival and religious extremism is viewed as paramount.  The biggest disqualifier for the entire continent of Africa is the number of black heads-of-state and that’s one of the primary reasons you want to leave the U.S.

We’re now left with Asia, a vast and diverse land and I opine that there’s got to be a place for you here.  Cambodia, with its recent history of actively killing smart people seems like an excellent choice.  Too bad about Cambodia’s crack-down on guns, but if you’re not opposed to dealing with the Russian mafia, guns can certainly be had.  Since I’m talking about Asia, you’re probably thinking that the ‘one-child’ policy and Communist history are good reasons to leave China completely off of the list.  Not so, you see, if you were to do some independent research you might discover that the ‘one-child’ policy is less a policy and more a guideline.  Also, you’ve got to admit that China seems to have figured out the Capitalism thing and I think that in the long-term China might be a good choice.  Especially if they stop taking such a dim view on religion.  My number one choice, however has to be the entirety of the Arabian Peninsula.  Once you stop focusing on the differences and instead consider the similarities, I think you might find the religion quite agreeable.  Women are viewed less as people and more as property.  English is widely spoken.  Government stays out of the day-to-day affairs of people, provided they toe the religious line.  Homosexuality isn’t tolerated at all.  Gas prices are some of the lowest in the world and the economy is booming.  Oh, and as a bonus they have very strict immigration laws, whoops!

Drinking Around the World

Written by Will on . Posted in Drinking Around the World, Global Travel

Oktoberfest waitress

Oktoberfest waitressIncreasingly I am noticing that one of the ways that I like to learn about wherever I find myself is to hang out at the local watering hole.  I also tend to base my opinion on a place based on liquor laws and the quality and type of drinks available. Because of this, I have decided to start a new series here on vagabumming called “Drinking Around the World“. Welcome to the first inatallment.

In order to establish a baseline for my experiences with drinking in foreign countries, allow me to first talk about my experiences with drinking culture in the country of my birth, the USA.

The USA, in general, is a great country to drink in.  Liquor laws vary widely from complete and total prohibition in a few enclaves in the ‘Bible Belt’ to totally open and absolute minimal regulations in ‘Sin City’.  Some states allow for drive-through liquor sales, in some states bars and liquor stores are open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.

I will be using prices in the U.S. as a baseline when I speak of prices of drinks around the world, though my experience with prices may be a bit dated if you see the words ‘cheap’ or ‘inexpensive’ those will be relative to what I remember paying in the U.S. plus what my mind allows for inflation.

Here is the rundown on drinking in the U.S. in a broad, general sense. (bookmark the site or subsrcibe to the RSS feed to keep an eye out for future articles which may be more specific).

What to drink:  In the U.S. corn and barley are grown in huge amounts, consequently the locally distilled/brewed drinks will likely be made from either corn or barley.  When I try to think of what drink is unique to the U.S. the first thing that comes to mind is bourbon.  Bourbon purists will tell you that bourbon only comes from Bourbon county, Kentucky.  Bourbon is to the U.S. what Tequila is to Mexico and beer is to Germany.  For these reasons, my choice of what to drink in America is bourbon.

Good bourbons are best enjoyed either straight, diluted with a splash of water or over ice.  Bourbon is also an integral part of many classic cocktails such as the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned or the classic Mint Julep (best enjoyed during the Kentucky Derby).  For the most satisfying return on your travel/drinking dollar I would recommend a trip to Kentucky and either go on a bourbon tasting tour or visit distillers and specialty bars on your own.

Drinking culture:  Alcohol is often a centerpiece of the American social scene.  From sports bars to night clubs to the classic backyard barbeque you will never be far from a wide range of drink choices.  Alcohol in some form is usually available at concerts and events and it’s not uncommon to be able to attend events that are alcohol centric such as beer festivals and wine tastings.  In the U.S. bartenders and waitstaff earn most of their money through tips/gratuities so they tend to be heavily invested in ensuring that you have a good time.  Staff members of bars in the U.S. will appear more lively and try harder than in most places around the world.

Prices:  Drink prices in the U.S. seem more dependent on the atmosphere of the establishment than the quality of the drinks served.  Again, as I am using the U.S. as a baseline I am going to call drink prices in the U.S. average.

P.S. for bar & restaurant reviews in Abu Dhabi and the UAE please visit souks and the city

 

Sailing The Amazon

Written by Will on . Posted in Budget Travel, Living in South America, Tips, Travel, Travel in South America

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I think it’s fairly common knowledge that the Amazon River and the surrounding drainage basin are both massive. Incomprehensibly so. Let me start with a few quick facts:

 

 

 

 

  • 40% of the entire continent of South America drains into the Amazon Basin
  • The river, at its narrowest, is 1.6KM (1 mile) wide
  • The flow of the Amazon is greater than the next 7 largest rivers COMBINED
  • For perspective on the last fact, by my math (may be flawed) the Amazon could fill Lake Michigan in 17 seconds!
  • 1/3 of all animal species on the face of the planet are found in the Amazon Basin
  • The Amazon accounts for 20% of the world’s river flow

These facts do little to reveal the true scope of the Amazon and its drainage basin. I am quite simply, awestruck, after realizing that I was in constant motion for 4 days and only saw a sliver of this massive ecosystem.

The journey WAS the destination

I feel quite fortunate that this is my life. Imagine, sitting around the house one day and simply deciding to go! With no real plan we left the next Tuesday. Transport in Peru can be somewhat challenging, long bus rides cover vast distances at a fairly slow pace. Bus rides are quite commonly nine hours at a minimum. We decided that we would get a bus from Trujillo to Chacapoyas and from there make our way to Tarapoto and finally Yurimaquas where we would arrange passage on the river to Iquitos. It ended up working out surprisingly well.

15 hours on a bus got us to our first stop. Chachapoyas turned out to be an incredible place with many natural wonders and archaeological sites on offer. The area is best known for the ancient ruins of Kuelap, but we opted instead to visit the Sarcophagi of Karajía(click to embiggen).
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We also did a bit of spelunking ‘ghetto style’ where our guide was equipped with a car battery in a backpack which was connected to a homemade lamp with a couple strands of discarded baling wire.

From Chachapoyas we backtracked a little bit to the crossroads town of Pedro Ruiz to catch a bus onward to Tarapoto. At the bus terminal, a lady had called the police to report the theft of her cell phone. She was pointing fingers, making accusations and demanded that the police do something. Eventually they gave in and started searching all of the males for the cell phone. As people were done being searched and boarded the bus, someone came back from the bus with her cell phone that they had found in her seat. This incident set the tone for the next eight hours on the bus.

We overnighted in Tarapoto and the next morning arranged transport to Yurimaguas. We knew that the boat trips between Yurimaguas and Iquitos are fairly spartan, so we knew that we would need to be gathering supplies. We had originally planned on spending the night in Yurimaguas so that we would have time to procure everything we would need (hammocks, rain gear, eating utensils, water and wine) but that proved to be unnecessary as out moto-taxi driver was more than willing to earn a commission by taking us to a local outfitter. The few soles extra that we spent by going with him was well worth it!

Everything that we had read indicated that this trip would likely take three to five days, so with our supplies purchased and passage booked we settled in for the cruise. We left Yurimaguas at sunset and hadn’t even pulled out of port yet before our first river dolphin sighting.

We ended up only taking two days to get to Iquitos, but it was a very interesting two days with many stops made to load and unload cargo at remote Amazonian villages along the river. By mid-morning on the second day we had made it to the confluence of the rivers Marañón and Ucayali which come together to officially start the Amazon. From there it was only a few hours to Iquitos.

The largest city in the world inaccessible by road

Iquitos turned out to be very interesting. It’s quite a scene, to say the least. We were surprised by the expat community there with an English language newspaper! We met a very interesting character who happened to be the proprietor of a floating bar/restaurant/hostel. I visited the shantytown of Belen, and we HAD to visit Casa Fitzcarralldo (which turned out to be somewhat disappointing). All in all a very rewarding trip!

Support local business owners!

Iquitos is fairly heavily touristed. One thing that has always bothered me about places that get a lot of tourist traffic is the number of foreign business that spring up to cater to these tourists. Travel agencies, booking offices, tour companies, hotels and restaurants are nearly all foreign owned so the locals end up benefiting very little. Whenever possible, I prefer to support locals who are often freelancers. While in Iquitos, we happened to meet a jungle guide from a nearby village. He spoke very good English and was quite friendly and comes highly recommended by past clients. His name is Pedro, but he’s known as “Wolf”. If you ever need a jungle guide in Iquitos, and especially if you don’t want to take some pre-packaged tour, you should get in contact with Pedro. He can be reached by email at pedro_wildlife AT hotmail DOT com or on facebook (Pedro Peña) in Iquitos, Peru. Seriously, this guy can set you up with whatever, whether it’s an ayahuasca ceremony, hallucenogenic toad licking or remote wildlife viewing, he’s your guy.

And now, the photos:

Occupy Wall Street

Written by Will on . Posted in General, Global Travel

‘This country is going to hell in a handbasket’

Or, you could use any of about a million other cliches to describe the decline of the American Dream.  Unemployment is (and has been) teetering near double digits nationwide.  Americans are enslaved by debt and the government doesn’t  pay any heed to the will of the voters (take TARP for instance).  Suffice it to say that America’s problems are vast and there are no simple solutions nor easy fixes.

‘Corporate Personhood’

corporate personhood is, in my opinion, the single largest contributing factor to the decay of the American Dream.  The main aim of the Occupy Wall Street movement is to end the idea of corporate personhood.  You can read more here

To sum it up, I’ll use this bumpersticker quote

I refuse to believe that corporations are people until Texas executes one

So…that’s the pitch, and here’s where you come in:

This is something that I believe in, but my budget simply doesn’t allow for travel to NYC to be present.  I’m soliciting donations for airfare for my wife and I to go.  My personal friends will attest to the fact that I am the most qualified person to speak out against corporate injustice.   Click the button below to donate:

and, here’s the deal, if we raise any money at all, but not enough to fly, we’ll subsequently forward the donations to the Occupy Wall Street organization.  Thanks for any support.

 

This is Paradise!

Written by Will on . Posted in Budget Travel, Global Travel, Travel

private island

I’ve never really been one to take organized trips, especially when the advertisement for the trip bills it as little more than a picnic. But there was a bonus offered on this particular picnic – whale watching!

 

The Panama Island Tour organized by Boquete Outdoor Adventures turned out to be a great way to spend a day. I’m a bit of a sucker for quintessential tropical island settings, you know, the idyllic beach that looks like sugar, the water that reflects and intensifies the vibrant blue of the sky overhead, and the palm trees gently swaying in the breeze and not a soul in sight. To me, this type of setting represents “getting away from it all”.

 

The trip began with a morning departure from Boquete, Panama and a pleasant drive through mountainous tropical rain-forest. We followed the road until it dead-ended in the tiny village of Boca Chica. Boca Chica is the jumping-off point for exploring the Golfo De Chiriqui Marine Reserve. From the dock there, we boarded a small boat and cruised through gentle waters passing several small islands en-route to our destination. I made some comment about one island in particular, and how beautiful its beaches were. I was told that those beaches were our destination, but before we went there, we were going to see if we could spot any whales. Not seconds after that exchange our boat captain spotted the first whale of the day, we proceeded slowly in the direction of the whale sighting and then the captain cut the engines and we floated for only a few seconds before right in front of us, the whale surfaced. We were so close to the whales (it turned out to be a mother and calf) that we could almost reach out and touch them. It was truly spectacular. I feel fortunate to have been visiting during the humpback migration, but apparently this trip alternatively explores the nearby mangroves during the part of the year that the humpbacks aren’t migrating.

 

We made our way to our private island and disembarked from the boat. Our boat captain and the guide set to work putting up hammocks in the palm trees and preparing lunch. We were free to explore our private paradise, snorkel around the nearby reef or simply relax in the utopian beauty . It wasn’t long after the group was more or less settled on the beach that the whales decided to give us a show. There must have been at least a half-dozen whales in the distance frolicking and making a splash. The site of this left me awestruck at the sheer power, beauty and grace of these animals.

 

Lunch consisted of a simple yet flavorful selection of local fresh fruit & vegetables and meat, cheese and condiments as well as cold drinks (including cold beer…yes, beer is INCLUDED on this tour). There was plenty for everybody and something to suit everyone’s taste. For everything that was included in this day-trip, I think it is very economically priced and a great way to simply relax and enjoy your vacation.

Click on the thumbnails to embiggen: