About the differences between tripping perspectives – a reply to Hendrik Relve’s comment

In one of the Estonian newspapers Postimees Arter in December 2009 there was a story by an acknowledged nature man and traveller Hendrik Relve. Among other things he mentioned the travels of us, the Avantourists. Relve mainly refers to our journey on The Galápagos Islands and but with  a certain critical note he questions our ethics concerned to environmental behaviour. Since Relve writes that he is still thinking what it is and how to interpret it, we decided to take a chance and explain our motives and principles of the case in Galapagos and at large.

Sections in question are:
Many use the so called beach-bar version, but the youth certainly go on trips. Tripping goes something like that, you hitch hike or take a budget flight to some far away and unfamiliar place, but you have your laptop and phone with you and you’re communicative. In a half  a day you’ve found new friends. How much is it of youthful protest and hedonism and how much of exploring the new world and yourself is in the hands of the young himself. 
But one thing has put me thinking. For example, two young women Berit Renser and Terje Toomistu have written in their blog how they went tripping and found themselves in Galapagos. They didn’t have much money but they made friends easily. Local men took them on their boat and together they went to an island which is under protection and where no one without a permit should go, and where hunting is illegal. But the girls write with proud how their friends shot a few deers and they caught a couple of crabs, and then they lit a bonfire, cooked and had a great party. I still keep thinking what is it and how to interpret it. 

We’d like to start a bit further than The Galápagos Islands and explain the term “to trip”. As a word as such doesn’t exist in Estonian, it was loaned from English and thus it has got a certain field of use, which is affirmed by the existence of one of the biggest travelling portals in Estonia, trip.ee. In Estonian “trip” mainly means a short journey. In slang “tripping” is usually a combination of physical and mental joruney, which doesn’t necessarily have to dddrugs.

We’d also be glad to call our journeys trips, but we don’t recognise ourselves in the description brought by Relve. For us tripping has a little to do with a laptop and a mobile phone since we usually don’t bring neither of those along, but it certainly has to do with cheap flight tickets or hitch hiking. How open to new social and cultural relationships made at a trip anybody is, is of course in the hands of the young himself.

It is mainly connected with the motives of travelling. Hendrik Relve has a background of natural sciences but ours is of cultural studies, this might also be the reason why our interests on our travels are different by nature. A natural scientist is interested in natural environment with its flora and fauna, and he also acknowledges the necessity of conserving it. No doubt an ecosystem as unique as the one of the Galápagos Islands needs conservation and certain measures have been put in practice by both national and international organisations.

But you can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that a human being is also a part of ecosystem and thus has its “culture”. Being the representatives of anthropological viewpoint, our point of interest is rather on understanding culturally constructed fields of meaning than projecting western discourse of thought and values on the culture under observation.

Differences between those two viewpoints and our understandings are explained the best using a term known in anthropology: dichotomy – ethical and emical, first of which is dependent on the beliefs and traditions of interpretation of an external researcher, the other springs from the inner dynamics of the observed culture and its cultural meanings. Thus our aim was not to give ethical values to the inhabitants of the Galápagos Islans  but to understand the backgrounds of their behaviour empathically.

The inhabitants of Galápagos who took us to another island in the morning darkness and with whom we sat there until it became dark again, explained us the reasons of their behaviour. Having born on the island each of them told a melancholic story of how in childhood they went fishing with an uncle or how turtles splashed in a meter-deep water exactly where there’s a great harbour at the moment.  In the middle of the twentieth century measures and laws for conserving nature were started to put in practice, those measures were mainly originated from the western discourse in which nature and humans are contrasted. This was very disturbing for the locals and thus a situation arose in which they tried to protect nature from the nature protectors.

Theoretically the locals of our circle of friends agreed that the Galápagos Islands needed and still need a wide range plan for preservation, but at the same time there were many facts that made them reluctant.

Firstly, they don’t accuse only fish industries and greedy colonists, who deal with expensive gourmet products at international markets, in the disappearance of spieces. The locals are also concerned because of the tourists and the conservers themselves, since because of them the population and immigration through the islands have notably increased.

It should also be kept in mind that turning Galápagos into a natural reserve was an external action, and very rarely, if at all, the locals were included. On the other hand the rise of local inhabitants is also related to the creation of the nature reserve. All this has caused a conflict that is still in the air – many activities which through generations used to be cultural, daily and vital for surviving have been limited or criminalized. This is their new social reality.

Our local friends threw parallels with a case when your house and forest is suddenly surrounded by a fence and you’re asked to find a new make of living for the future. Because of the new laws instead of animals a local sees tourists in the forests, and a bureaucracy machine that collects richness in the village. In a situation like that a person, although still a part of the ecosystem, feels that he has lost control over his dwelling.

There have been many manifestations concerning this problem, in years there have been some so serious that in the mind of protest a national institution have been lit or sea lions beaten to death.  It has to be said that not all locals are environmentally conscious, but our little circle of friends were. Often the reason for the locals’ misbehaviour is povery, often illiteracy and ignorance. But this is the place where anthropological and natural science should meet.

Of course we were puzzled at first and didn’t know how to ration the things the locals do when the eye of the law doesn’t see. The people who took us to the other island were utterly environment conscious, but not lawful. Bonfire was made where there had been a bonfire before, since it most likely was a rather popular corner for the locals. The mentioned deers that were shot belong among the species that were brought in and are thus considered tackling the natural development of Galápagos ecosystem. On many islands deer killing is a conscious and aimed activity organised by the state. Also the crabs, Grapsus grapsus in Latin, we ate that day are among the few species on the Galápagos Islands that are not among the endangered ones and which are common at the west coast of South America.

Our aim wasn’t then, and still isn’t, to evaluate the behaviour of the locals, because with the amount of knowledge you get while travelling it simply isn’t rightous. While travelling we observed the behavour of people from our anthropological interest and we describe the picture as we see it, being consciously subjective from time to time.

As it can be seen, this overlooking explanation is twice as long as our usual blog posts, which also illustrates the limits blog as a form sets. Of course it leaves some knots undone but here we are not driving to be cientifically ambitious.

We hope that this reply helps to understand our tripping style and its mediation through a blog. In the future we certainly try to concentrate on sayings that might be against our beliefs if not accompanied by our explanation. Hereby we’d like to thank Hendrik Relve who helped to draw attention to those nuances.

We wish nice tripping to all of you!


Berit and Terje


To whisper words into nothingness “I’m in love with you”

Arriving back from the trip around Galapagos to the tiny capital village Puerto Ayora we were out of breath – the great theory of evolution had laid in front of us. We had realized that good old Mother Earth had been fooling us throughout our life, because there is still places in the world where She is capable for more. She is capable of showing the breathtaking beauty that is there for thousands of years (but unfortunately not much longer). But just to imagine it being timeless – it made me difficult to breathe calmly. And just to imagine it dissapearing, which it is, made me want to cry.

But meanwhile our Mad Writer had backed off. He announced that he is having family from New York to come over. Later on we heard stories in town that memories of the war years still haunt him terribly. Fair enough.

But in Ecuador there is a big election week. The whole village is covered withugly posters, the politicians are driving on the streets and screaming electoral promises, which do not seem to us more than a profanity.
Every night on stage of the town’s main square there are beautiful Chinese sexy girls dancing in red underwear side by side with the candidates of election, who fashionably try to move themselves in tune with the beat. What is especially strange, the citizens are so generously been treated by the whole bottle of sugar vodka, or if wanted, then two.

These caipirinjad we shared with the surfer/writer from Florida gave us the spirit to hang around nightclubs and finally threw ourselves on a wall somewhere in the downtown hotels. As we woke up, still high from the elections and the powers that the beauty of Mother Earth had shared with us, we tackled the swinging road to the Bay of Tortuga.

A long narrow walkway meanders along the forest of grey cactuses, where time does not exist. All stands as written in stone, like in a fairy tale of the elves. Five miles later, we arrived a stormy beach, passed some sleepy iguanas and found ourselves in paradise, which had been brought down from some forgotten dream.

At night, I put down on the my travel diary:

If you’ve ever dreamt of a particular beach, a wonderful place on earth, which burns the soul with its untouched natural beauty – today I was living it. From the whole world’s timeline, from all possible moments, real or imagined, we were living this very dream into our reality.

On the bottom of the light blue lagoon rays were wondering, occasionally the sea turtles quietly emerged on the surface of the water. We sat on the beach under low light green trees, watching the birds catching their dinner, having toe massage in the white silk sand and shaking from the view over the dramatic clouds. The sun suddenly cut a hole into their dark surface and stretched its rays  to burn my bare legs. Fell to the ground, put on the head phones, breathed the air, and listened to a stabbing guitar, which excited my senses like good erotica. Breath, breath in the air… Don’t be afraid to care… Leave but don’t leave me… Look around, choose your own ground…

Dazed by life. I am living the dream that I never remembered to dream of. It arrived like a powerful secret. I locked the time, stranded on the sand to the bright emptiness and whispered words into nothingness: “I’m in love with you. In love.”

Unknown planet Galapagos

Usually the tourists have to take a very expensive, but well organised boat tour from one island of Galapagos to the other. We gave what we got and let the ocean wind carry us for four days.

Like Estonians are not bothered by a cow on a meadow, the people from Galapagos don’t mind huge turtles walking on the road in slow motion. To move on, they have to get out of their car and try to get the massive beast out of the way somehow. But these turtles are indeed, massive. You could crawl inside one shell with a friend and there still would be room for moving around. Sea pirates loved these things, as they could still eat fresh meat after a year on the sea if they would take on of those on the ship with them. Now, the endangered species is taken such care of, they’re kept in the Darwin center until they reach the age of two, before letting them out to the wild.

Families of sea lions lay on the red sand on the beach. Their ignorance comes across unpolite when we lay down next the adorable baby lions. The landscape looks syrreal again, like on an unknown planet – trees of gypsum, dramatic red canyons, arising from the light blue unresting water. Soon we realize, this is Galapagos – an unkown planet, not Earth for sure.

On another amazing beach with narrow cliffs arising from the sea on the background, we notice something suspicious a few meters from the remote shore. What we see, resembles something from a cartoon, against logic and usually non-existent that is. But when Berit admits to see the same, it has to be there for real. The guide doesn’t share our misapprehension: Of course these are sharks. The small ones, only a few meters long, he explains.
Still amazed by the sharks swimming in shallow waters, we hear him calling us to see the penguins. Equator sun shines in the sky and indeed, little black-and-white birds stroll before us, but before we manage to take action or take pictures, they’re gone.

Before dawn and breakfast, we take a rubber boat to the next island. We climb up the stairs and look at how the sun stretches its first rays over the craters on a wonderful landscape, vibrant, painting of strong shadows of red on the surface.

We cannot see anything alive anymore. The nature is covered by  black fabric in wrinkles. There’s a huge river of lawa that meanders in front of us just like a giant formalist art work.

In another beach we descend down (or fly away) t0 the world of birds. There are black birds with huge swelling red beaks sitting proudly  on bare bushes, pot-blue feeted boobies are dancing awkwardly in front of us or head straight down to the sea like arrows from air to catch something for breakfast.

Almost in every beach we also take a loot down below the blue empty surface of the sea. We head into cold water and snorkel around the colourful fish, sea turtles, octopuses, sea iguanas and sleigh through the silver rains, made of millions of small fish

Secret hunting on a secret island

The floor is ice-cold when we step out of the bed. Water is crackling like it’s about to freeze. Hair is dirty, two hours of sleep is not enough to keep our eyes open. The shower is freezing. These are the mornings you hate the most.

Something is happening behind the door and making a lot of noise. „Girls, girls, get up, quick!” the Mad Writer is doing something in the yard. We open the door, annoyed. Jorge is standing outside, packing, with a bright yellow raincoat, safari hat, capris and swimming sneakers on, holding a thermos. He reminds me of one of those guys from the movie Grumpy old men. He tosses me a watermelon, a few kilos of weight, covers us with the same neon yellow plastic and tells us to exit the room.

It’s 4:30 AM. We walk through the town to the port. It’s so terribly wet. We don’t know anything. It’s unclear to us for some time, where we’re going.

We’re sitting in the port, no one around. Jorge gets nervous. Are we late? We were supposed to meet in this secret place, weren’t we? Luckily, the Ecuadorian time is accurate on Galapagos, too – no one is on time.

We’re trashed into a small sky blue boat with a couple of other men. We look at Jorge, in doubt, but the only answer he can give us, is I really don’t know, where we’re going.

The sky is dark, when we pull up the anchor and sail towards the Pacific Ocean in a wretched sloppy boat, salty water splashing to our faces.

An hour and a half later, the sun is up and we are arriving to some island. The boat is making its way through lava walls resembling a labyrinth, the engine rolling. Left, right, left, right, until we reach a small blue bay. Someone points out to sea turtles who are sticking their heads out of the water. Blub-blub-blub a head arises and blub-blub-blub another descends below the surface.

Finally we reach the shore. We have landed on the Moon. Everything is rock. Black ground beneath us has shattered into a thousand tiles. Bright red plants grow in the cracks. We take our time to explore the island, until the others settle in to the shore, as if they could visit the Moon every day. We find ourselves in a labyrinth of ditches covered with bright green moss. There is nothing except turfs around us, cactuses on top of them. But not the cute ones with a bit of fur you would plant in a pot on your windowsill, but massive cactus trees with agressive branches. The only plants living among them are white bushes made of gypsum. Nothing moves in that forest. Not a leave, animal, nor wind is there with us.

We walk on along the seashore. Red crabs scrabble on black rocks, hiding quickly to the cracks when they see us. Hundreds of iguanas sit on the rocks, their skin the exact same color as the rock. I lay on a rock, the sun at the zenith above me and doze off, an iguana aside me.

When I wake up, I walk back to the others. The boat driver is chopping fresh fish. Two of the men are somewhere in the woods. A couple of hours later, they return with a split-up goat. Two of the others are crawling between the rocks with a long stick and a hook, trying to catch crabs.

Of course, all of this is forbidden. No tourist has ever been here. No one has a hunting permit for the animals of Galapagos. No local is allowed to be here without a permission, even if it has been their life since they were kids.

But our men make a fire on the island, grill the goods from nature, we eat raw fish as a Ceviche and suddenly, they start to sing to me: cumpleanos feliz! Hard to imagine a better birthday surprise.

Home sweet home in Galapagos islands

Of course, he did not come. We fit our huge screaming yellow backpacks on a bench in the park. A few monstrous iguanas are lying right there on the sidewalk, and the Pelicans spin around through the heavens of the sky, like the flying lizards from the ancient times. Slightly creepy, but after all, this is Galapagos islands.

Did the Mad Writer lie to us? Was it just a big failure? Maybe something happened to him at the airport? The toll took him down or something like that… Maybe he had an accident with bus and now he’s sadly holding his plastered foot in a hospital bed? Or maybe the plane crashed down, and has gone away forever? Maybe he suddenly realized that we are not enough interesting types to match the characters of his next book after all? Or maybe he did not fly to Galapagos at all? Maybe he is currently giggling with laughter somewhere in the airport coffee shop in Bogota, waiting for the next flight to Cuba, for example?

We open our Lonely Planet around the Galapagos Islands, and in the map of the largest city Puerto Ayora there’s a grassy bold dot. Here should be his houdse, as he had told us earlier. We decided to go and look for it, our heart beating hard when reaching the massive wooden fence. Indeed, the house is exactly as he had described – a grassy garden and a hammock run-down. But what is missing is the Mad Writer.

The deep stomach feeling told us to wait for another couple of hours, but nothing. Finally we sadly started moving towards some cheap hotel… And from a faraway distance I notice a funny man in yellow fisherman’s coat waving. Is he waving for us?

As we get closer we recognize familiar glasses under fisherman’s hat frames. This is him. The Mad Writer as crazy as life itself! It turns out that he was going to the park looking for us in this very moment, when we peeked into his garden through a loop-hole.

A moment later, he throws us a the keys of the ground floor of his house.
“Probably I’ll be staying here Around Two Months. So it’s all yours!” he explains, as the old bohemian.
I found the old tapes from The Doors and breaking through the other side we clean up the place where I guess no one has lived for years. Home sweet home in  Galapagos.

The following nights are on track with exciting stories about life Galapagos before the tourists. How some lucky few have found from the home garden the ark of some old pirates and then simply changed the precious gold coins into local cash that has not much value due to strong local inflation. So as a result losing everything in the next few years… How does the National Park rules irritate local fishermen, and as a sign of protest they have burned the public offices and beaten sea lions til death. How his family had the first store in Galapagos. And how his mother took the children to live in New York City, because the sister of the Mad Writer was pregnant outside of marriage…

As all immigrants in America at the time, they were living hard times of trouble and tribulation. It was the time of hippie dream and America was losing the Vietnam War. But that was were the Mad Writer saw a solution for his family. He became a soldier and he fought in Vietnam for two years. Not for America, but for his family.

After returning the world turned even more crazy around him. He was living crazy life in New York on the fifth Avenue. Did a great career in best hairdressing salons with the most beautiful models. He ended up hanging around crazy gay-characters of the time in the coolest hang-out places and clubs of 1970-1980 New York. Nobody gave a shit what WAS going on in Studio 54. White stripes lying on tables and people having sex in public, whenever the desire was on. And it was on. It was still the best pages of the history of NYC. He got into Chippendales show, as a Manager, or. Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll…
And besides those wicked mental travels into the past of his life we were enjoying  fresh seafood in encocada sauce, cold beer and the Galapagos hot and humid nights.

A mad writer and the islands of Galapagos

“Are you flying at 11?”

I turn around to see who spoke to me. A man in his fifties with a tanned face and spiky hair handled with gel, is looking me insistingly through his red frames. A white linen jacket is hanging loose on his shoulders with an eye-catching badge. A black oddly shaped leather bag, leather bands around his wrists and big military boots give his hippie-casual urban look its final touch.
“I’m also flying to Galapagos, but different flight”
The mystery man says he’s from Galapagos, and would like to give us some advice on exploring the islands. He invites us to the airport cafe after check-in and orders corn pie and coffee like he’s done that before. He gives us that look again. All three of us probably share skepticism towards each other at that moment.

“I live in New York,” he begins his story, “But I was born on the islands”.
The old man begins the narrative with his childhood on the islands. The farther he goes, the more expressive his tone and gestures get. He tells of the lush nature of Galapagos twenty years ago and of the catastrophe that was devastating for the plants and animals. “Oil, oil, oil,” he shouts furiously so the whole airport can hear him. But we are no longer at the cafe, we are traveling with sea turtles in the bay as his story goes, or fly like birds over a stormy sea. The man has given up speaking and switched to acting as me and Terje share the picture before his eyes of dirty oil greasing his hands. I feel tears in my eyes, although I try to fight them – so stabbing are the man’s words.
A moment later, the stranger switches back to reality. We feel a magnificent connection between the three of us. We haven’t spoken anything personal, which keeps the mystery alive. We would like to ask him, who is he and where he’s from, we would like to know anything. But we know that would kill the mysticism of the moment and press down our curiosity. He’s just a madman for us.
I tell him that he’s just like a character form a book and he replies, he’s not the one written, he is the one who writes.

Just before we step in the plane, a commitment obligatory for this kind of situation is made. He says he has a house on the islands and asks us to visit him. In a couple of hours, we should meet him in a park near the Pacific Ocean. This is the only piece of knowledge we have when we’re flying closer and closer to Galapagos.

Canoa – time in a loop, caves and Moses

Somewhere in the middle of Ecuador.

Ecuador, one of the smallest countries in South-America, is divided into three parts – costa, sierra and oriente, the coast, the highlands and the jungle.

The coast is divided into another three, based on the vegetation. The North is the most fertile – area above the equator. The beaches there are green, flowing through the narrow village roads and descends with furious speed down to the ocean under the rocks. We went to see the life in a little beach named Mompiche, which must be the most authentic seaside village we have ever seen.

Going towards South by the coast, the lush green slowly diminishes until fully replaced by red dry ground, the flora lessens. Trees without leaves on their wide crowns grow on the bumpy coast, keen on reaching their branches towards light, which makes their figure round and powerful. The massive trees rise from the hills of the desert in proud solitude.
Local travelers love Canoa. Not too many tourists, pleasant atmosphere and the surrounding is beautiful. When we found a hotel a Polish guy had recommended, we tossed a coin to see who gets which room, we ended up in the same room with that Pole. Fate.

1. He’s called Greg, a 25-year-old professional traveler. Traveled through all of South-Asia, lived in Ireland and England and finally decided that South-America is the continent for him. We shared a common interest with Greg – to see all the caves around Canoa. So we prowled in the morning fog, Berit still sleeping like a doll, through the beach far and away, until we reached the dark caves accessible only at low tide. Bats were hanging from the moist ceiling. We spent quite a few mornings in there, sharing joint, watching the sea being hungry for us more and more in every minute.
An episode from the Bible opened up before us – the one, where Moses led his people through the stormy sea. The same case applied here, only the other way around – the ground was cut into two so the sea could flow through. Which makes the one trying to get through from here, a ship. True.

Going onward, we reached the top of a cliff. We were enjoying the local Brazilian boys doing capoeira down on the beach, listening to some good music from my player. Suddenly, out of nowhere, another person was standing behind us. On a closer observation, he turned out to be our fourth companion.

2. The name’s Chuck. When asking about his age, he used to say: I´m on my easy thirties… Occupation: professional backpacker. Seriously. He traveled around in Africa for a year, some time in Asia, worked on quite a few good positions in Israel, he decided to ditch that life for a while. He put his two apartments in Israel for a rent and this is his fourth year traveling in South-America. He’s an expert on a number of things: a diving expert, traveling expert, expert musician, expert narrator and an expert on rolling joints. In addition to that, he make two twists with his tongue (the Israeli army, boring as hell and long as forever, teaches quite a few things – like how to keep yourself busy without seemingly doing anything). According to him, women were waiting in lines to kiss him! But we agreed on traveling together as musicians some day, because we had a connection there. We tried that on the beach after a late-night swim. When I get Berit to agree, we’re gonna do it.

Time in a loop
With a company like this, time and space lost its dimensions. The days in Canoa created a cycle with no beginning or end. A loop. Freedom. Infinite. Intractable flow of thoughts.

C´mon people of the village! Follow the magic-stick. We gonna hit the waves the most fantastic way tonight. In the complete dark. Follow me!

I led my people from the village through the Red Sea and embodied Moses for a second there. We rushed towards the darkening ocean, its white foam on the waves as our only guide (in addition to me, of course, the stick was left on the sand).

After that, we had lost or clothes with no hope of finding them. The waves had carried us 400 meters in the middle of darkness. We couldn’t see anything. All we could hear was the sound of the stormy sea and laughter of four people in euphoria.