Apr 30, 2012

Morning Glory

Four beautiful sisters, none more beautiful than the other
The first one was Crimson star
The second was The Heart
The third was Melancholy
The fourth was named Moongirl



morning glory

Morning glory

morning glory

Road to London

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be a young Colombian scientist trying to find a job in Europe or abroad? Sometimes I've wondered whether an application I've submitted for a job in Europe has been rejected just because of the complications that are implicit when hiring a non-European migrant and not because of insufficient qualifications. The same I should say for the States.

Am I worth less just because I was born in the third world? Sometimes I wonder, sometimes I can't stop myself from feeling that way.

I started looking for a job during summer 2011, knowing that my contract in France would end at the beginning of February 2012. I thought I had started looking with enough time in advance, so that I could transition jobs immediately after ending my contract. I had just signed in February 2011 and a couple of months later I had to start looking for a new job, funny. I think it should be illegal to grant contracts for less than two years, or how can you focus on your current job when you have to be thinking on what's going to happen after it's over. Not only thinking, but doing job applications, grant applications, visa applications (if you even get that far). Most of the time it will be a waste of time, and quite a substantial amount of it. I don't complain, it's reality, and after all you only need ONE to be successful. In any case, it's the end of April 2012 and I have not yet started on my new job.

I sent many applications to available positions at different companies. Mainly research positions in bioenergy production using photosynthetic organisms, which is my expertisekind of. I was positively surprised by the great number of available positions, yet the only thing I got back were automated responses acknowledging the receipt of my applications. I sent applications to some labs at different universities too, yet silence was the most popular answer. By mid September 2011 I saw an advertisement on nature.com for an available postdoctoral position at Imperial College London, with a deadline for the 19th of September. It fitted my professional profile almost perfectly. I did applied with high hopes, and at the end of October I was told that I had made the short-list of candidates and that I was invited for an interview to the lab immediately. Awesome, I thought, then I remembered I was Colombian and that even thought I had been living in Europe for more than six years and even thought I lived and worked in France, I had to get a visa to take a train to London for the interview, yet I scarcely was going to stay in the UK for 24 hours. After postponing the interview, getting an invitation letter to take to the embassy, paying all due expensive visa application fees, and waiting a couple of weeks for an answer. I managed to go to the interview a month later than it was planned. Do you see how a Colombian is at a great disadvantage?

Early in September too I had contacted my PhD supervisor in Sweden to let her know that she might be contacted for recommendation letters. Unexpectedly, she told me that she might get some money to hire a postdoctoral researcher and that if she got the money and I was interested, she would contact me again to consider the possibility of returning to Sweden. I was very excited about it!

It was not until the first days of 2012 that I knew I was not selected for the position in London. Just one month before the end of my contract in France. All parallel applications I had submitted had remained unanswered to the date. My PhD supervisor had not contacted me neither, so I had already suspected that she might have encountered some problems regarding the chance of hiring me again. She told me later that she had the money but was unable to hire me, basically because hiring me to work at Uppsala University being a graduate from the same university would be a lot more expensive for them than hiring someone else with a PhD degree from another university.

I had been already hired for two years in Paris, my boss had moved away from France and had started a new lab in the UK, at Imperial College London too. I was told that because regulations at the CEA, the place I was working, it was impossible to continue working there directly after a postdoctoral position. My last option was to ask my current boss for the possibility of hiring me again and thus joining him in London. Fortunately, he told me that I could continue working for him in his new lab. What no one knew was how hard and complicated it would be for a Colombian (or better, a non-European) to be hired and get a visa to work in the UK. It's almost impossible, it so hard that in 2012 only three Colombians have obtained visa to work in the UK. One of the greatest difficulties is for the company or institution to demonstrate why they have to choose a foreigner for the job over a UK citizen or a national of the EU.

I started then the application process to join my previous boss at Imperial and getting everything ready for the visa application at the end of January beginning of February 2012. It's the end of April and I'm still not finished with the process.

The work visa to the UK follows a point based system described on a 100 pages handbook. You have to complete some points for a Certificate of Sponsorship, that is a certificate provided by the hiring institution confirming that you will be contracted. You have to get some points for the salary, so that it's high enough. You have to get some points for maintenance, so the applicant must demonstrate that he or she has £800 intact in his or her bank account for the last three months, or that the sponsor will provide that money. And finally some points for language, so in order to work in the UK you must have some level of English. The funny thing is that if you miss any of those requirements the visa will be rejected regardless of how many points you make rendering the point based system pretty useless. Now, one way to demonstrate that I speak English is by having obtained a degree equivalent to a UK bachelor's or above taught in English. I did my PhD in Sweden, absolutely everything was taught in English yet I can't use that as a demonstration, just because some agency decided that a PhD in Sweden was not good enough for the English requirement. So, I have no other option but to do an English exam...

Let's not talk that much about the price of the work visa, £480!! Which makes it pretty much the most expensive visa I've ever encountered. And let me tell you, I have encountered quite a number.

I have so far overcome all obstacles and difficulties: it has meant at least three months without a salary, a great deal of money, and an almost unbearable amount of stress and anxiety... because it doesn't matter how many times you tell yourself that everything is going to be alright, you'll still feel that at any step something may go wrong and all you've struggled for will just crumble down. Next Saturday I'll present the English exam, once I obtain the results I'll be able to complete everything I need to apply for the work visa and with some good luck I'll be traveling to London at the beginning of June. Almost one year after I started looking for a job.

Apr 21, 2012

Nostalgia Drive – Steins;Gate review

Imagine you have created a time machine. Now, imagine this time machine can only send text messages to the past using your mobile phone. What would you text yourself besides the winning lottery numbers? How much do you think a single text message could change the future? That's what Steins;Gate is all about: a new take on time travel.

The story is very engaging, thrilling, hilarious, and dramatic. I strongly recommend it to all of you that like anime and a bit of crazy science fiction. I personally loved it.

In the future SERN is an evil organization that controls all time machines to bring about dystopia. SERN is a deliberate misspelling of the real CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). In the present, SERN has developed the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) in order to create mini-black holes and research time travel; they have succeed in creating the mini-black hole but they have failed to send any living creature through time. Houoin Kyouma, a self-proclaimed Japanese mad scientist has developed the Futuristic Gadget No. 8, also called the Phone Microwave, or in other words the very first successful time machine. He and his team hooked a mobile phone to a microwave oven and this somehow can send short text messages, in the form of e-mails, to the past. They called an e-mail sent to the past a d-mail (or Nostalgia Drive). After Kyouma and his friends have sent just a few d-mails, things are already out of control. When they succeed altering the past, their memories would automatically be altered to fit with those changes, thus forgetting their former reality. However, Kyouma was able to retain his memories even after the past was altered, that was his gift, 'the magic eye: Reading Steiner'... and the fact he had this power made him destined to save the world from dystopia, the choice of Steins Gate.

Later, they upgrade their time machine to a 'time leap machine'. With this upgraded machine Kyouma is able to send his memories of the present self to himself in the past using a cellphone. In the story, the problem with time traveling is that they can only send a few bits of information through time; that's why they are limited to sending short text messages. To overcome this problem, they first convert the memories of the person into a digital file and send those remotely to SERN's Large Hadron Collider. They then use a mini-black hole to compress the memories to just a few bites, return them to their computer and send them by phone to the person's brain in the past. The great advantage of this form of time travel is that only memories are transferred so no unintended alterations of the past are caused.

Things get complicated and tragic and no matter how much Kyouma tried to repair the past, it seems that—after all—certain things are meant to happen no matter what. In order to save his dear friends and the future from SERN's dystopia, they have to significantly alter the course of time and reach 'divergence 1%'.

The anime is actually based on a visual novel released for the Xbox 360 at the end of 2009. It aired in Japan during mid 2011 and it was made into 24 episodes by Studio White Fox; a relatively new studio that also produced Katanagatari, another pretty awesome anime series. The animation quality of Steins;Gate is neat, fluid, and beautiful. I recommend it to all anime lovers.

Apr 19, 2012

Bonelake

A lake of bones. Cranium, clavicle, pubis, rib, humerus, sternum, mandible, tooth, bone by bone. No, not a place for fish or boat, not a place for the living. The lake of bones is the final resting place of all that lived, the place where life very own waste will rest till the end of times. Far beyond eyes can see and minds can imagine the lake of bones reigns. Some say it has no end. Some say the bottom of Bonelake is where hell begins. A realm of darkness, starless, skies covered with clouds of desperation, waves of death underneath an eternal storm, lightning and thunder binding hopelessness to overwhelming frustration.
“We have arrived,” said Batar. He spread his enormous bat wings excited. The wings protruded from the upper part of his back where shoulder blades are, black like onyx.
“So this is Bonelake,” said Siáh. “I never imagined it was all so literal.”
“It is a lake of human bones, my dear,” the winged man answered while Siáh smiled. “How are we going to cross it?” Batar asked as he picked up and examined a femur from the banks of the lake, with a piece of dry tendon still attached to it.
“You will fly,” Siáh answered. “You will continue without me, you go home.”
“I will not abandon you here. I will carry you,” there was a bitter tone in Batar's voice. They had traveled together a very long way. Not an easy way that was, a way of self-hatred, of colorless sadness and solitude, of black tears shed in silence, of pain and blood. He would not abandon her here, he would not arrive home alone. Yet they both knew somewhere deep inside that it was the end of the road.
Batar’s body was not corpulent at all, it was the body of a man that had known famine and starvation. Very thin muscles covered with a pale gray skin that turned black on the bat wings, a skin never touched by any clothes. His hair was like molten gold never touched by any comb and never caressed by any hand. Blue inexpressive eyes decorated often with the rain of sadness. His penis most of the time was coiled like a dying slug; from time to time it rose up with the sun to prove that it was still alive. The black wings were the only trace of a mighty being condemned to a sepulchral body, large, strong, and tireless as the heart of a generous mother.
Without muttering a word Batar slid his arms around Siáh's torso and embraced her tightly, his chest against her back. He flapped his wings violently and so they flew over the lake of human bones.
Perhaps what some said was true and Bonelake had no end. Perhaps the planet and Bonelake were one and the same thing. Perhaps such place called home never existed at all and existence was only a hallucination. Perhaps Bonelake was infinite, the graveyard of hope.
Batar flew and flew bearing Siáh in his arms for a thousand years, but bones was all there was to see. Exhausted at last, he lost all height and their feet were almost brushing against the bony surface.
“Let’s walk, you need to rest,” said Siáh breaking a century old silence.
“You know we can not walk, we will die consumed by the ocean of bones.”
“This is the end Batar, we always knew!” she screamed while tears burst out of her eyes.
“We can not die, we can not!” the winged man exclaimed resolutely. He inhaled deeply and a surge of strength flowed through Batar's soul.
It was too late though, a wave of bones rose up furiously from the surface, the harbinger of death. The wave of bones opened a gigantic mouth and in a single bite cut half of Siáh's body off. Siáh did not scream of pain, she was strong.
“Leave me, fly away home. Leave me please,” she said to him and then died.
“Don't die, don't die my friend!” He cried refusing to believe her fate, refusing to let her body go.
The wave of bones opened its mouth once again and devoured him entirely still holding what remained of Siáh's body in his arms. Their meat was consumed by a myriad of hungry skulls, muscle by muscle, fiber by fiber, organ by organ. Only bone was left.


Apr 18, 2012

Tanai's mighty and awesome tuna stew

I was inspired today and decided to create a new delicacy never seen before in the history of mankind and womankind. Tuna stew Colombian style. Easy to make and infinitely delicious. It is possible that after eating this magnificent dish the eater will cry of happiness deeply touched by the gorgeous taste of this stew.

Ingredients for 4 or 5 persons:

500 grams of tuna fillets
2 tomatoes
1 onion
1 big carrot
Half large red pepper
1 cassava (yuca), say about 300 grams
1 plantain, the green one
1 coconut or a small can of coconut milk
Salt
Ginger powder
1 liter of water

Preparation:

1. You should either make the coconut milk or buy it ready to use. If you want to make it yourself, cut the coconut soft white flesh into pieces and liquify them in a blender on a bit of water; then with a sieve, separate the coconut residues from the milk.

2. Cut the plantain, cassava, tomatoes, onion, carrot, and red pepper into small pieces; boil them in water and coconut milk on a pot until the cassava and plantain are soft to the bite. Add a tea spoon of salt and ginger powder.

3. Add the tuna to the pot and let it boil for another 20 minutes.

4. Serve with a plate of white rice on the side.

Now you're ready to enjoy Tanai's mighty and awesome tuna stew and experience true happiness.


Apr 16, 2012

A moment in time eleven years ago

The following I wrote eleven years ago when I was eighteen. It is a moment in time, a bit of reality and fiction threaded together in two paragraphs. First, dear reader, you will find the Englsih translation and after the original in Spanish. 


Moment

And in the middle of the room still filled with the heavy aroma of another lunch, rice, beans, oat drink, he lay down over an improvised bed, two stools facing each other and mattress on top of them. Asleep or dead, it does not matter, but he was lying down there, his thoughts were trying to find something that of course was not in his mind, a sound, another sound to bind it with the former, and so on until a concert for piano was put together, it would be called Opus 4, Number 1. But his mind empty to the sound could only bring images, one after another, until a new life that he was not going to live was put together, a better life.

He is not in bed anymore, he is standing up by the window observing other windows and their curtains, cloudy sky, light drizzle followed by indecision, whether to open the umbrella or not, the stray dog constipated abandons its filth on the sidewalk. One image and another, and another life that he will not live because it is impossible to undo his life and implant a new one in his body. He thinks that it is his natural condition, that the wonderful and deep mystery of animal development would have forged in his mind what he was, unmodifiable in essence, of accidents so variable and futile like the diversity of insects found in the forest understory; all the contrary, so rigid and transcendental like the invariable sea in its neverending routine of waves, foams, fishes, and plankton. He thinks it would be nice to hear the sea, to hear his mind motley with images. The second theme would be exposed by the clarinet and the oboe, calm, the strings would accompany with pastoral rhythms, and at last the piano would enter, very subtle, fresh, frolicsome, retaking the theme of the winds. With an air of tranquility and gallant as if it was Classic. But there was not a single sound, only the word and the image creating unlivable lives. A woman holding the flute with curved lips, the window and the house, the smell of cooked beans, all the dishes dirty, a quarter to two, Molecular Biology class at three, half hour walking.



Momento

Y en medio de la habitación, cargada aún con el pesado aroma de otro almuerzo, arroz, fríjoles, avena, yacía acostado sobre la improvisada cama, dos taburetes entrepuestos y un colchón sobre ellos. Dormido o muerto, qué más da, pero estaba allí acostado, sus pensamientos trataban de hallar algo que por supuesto no estaba en su mente, un sonido, otro sonido para unir al primero, y así sucesivamente hasta armar un concierto para piano, sería llamado Opus 4, Número 1. Pero su mente vacía al oído sólo podía traer imágenes, una y otra, hasta crear una nueva vida que no viviría, una vida mejor.

Ya no está en la cama, de pié junto a la ventana observa otras ventanas, y sus cortinas, el cielo nublado, la llovizna liviana que acompaña a la indecisión de abrir el paraguas, el perro callejero y estreñido que abandona su escoria en la acera. Una imagen y otra, y otra vida más que no vivirá porque no se puede deshacer de la que tiene e implantar una nueva en su cuerpo. Piensa que es su condición natural, que el maravilloso y profundo misterio del desarrollo animal habría forjado en su mente lo que era, inmodificable en esencia, de accidentes tan variables y fútiles como la diversidad de insectos bajo el sotobosque, o todo lo contrario, tan rígido y trascendentales como el invariable mar en su eterna rutina de olas, espumas, peces y plancton. Piensa que sería bueno oír el mar, oír en su mente abigarrada de imágenes, el segundo tema sería expuesto por el clarinete y el oboe, con parsimonia, las cuerdas acompañarían con su rítmica pastoral, y por fin entraría el piano, muy sutil, campante, saltarín, retomando el tema de los vientos. Con un aire tranquilo y galante como si fuera clásico. Pero ni un sonido, sólo la palabra y la imagen creando vidas invivibles. Una mujer sosteniendo la flauta con la boca torneada, la ventana y la casa, el olor a fríjoles cocinados, la vajilla sucia, dos menos cuartos, clase de Biología Molecular a las tres, media hora de camino a pié.

Apr 14, 2012

Montería, Colombia. Sinú's Pearl.

The hottest place I've ever been on Earth and probably one of the hottest places on the planet. Montería has an annual average temperature of 28°C, while the Sahara desert has an average temperature of just 30°C, only two degrees above Montería! And while in the Sahara nights could reach freezing temperatures and during the winter the average temperature is just 13°C, Montería is freaking hot every single day of the year, every minute of every hour. If you ask me, what the first thing is when I think about Montería, my immediate answer is, “hot”. I was born there, 1983, and lived there sixteen years until I finished high school. Truth be told, I have mixed positive and negative feelings about my hometown; but if you ask me if I'd like to live in Montería for the rest of my life, or if I'd like to die and be buried in Montería, my answer is an absolute no. This is my Montería experience, what I bring with me are memories and experiences of a child and teenager and on that I base this post. An extremely subjective opinion.

Montería has 324 000 inhabitants according to wikipedia and its sources; a medium sized city that actually feels like a small town. It's located in the Atlantic region of Colombia. There's a big river, the Sinú river, that divides the city in two, the city and 'the other side of the river'. People call Montería, Sinú's Pearl, because of its supposed beauty. However, I must say that the city itself is not very remarkable, there's nothing special about its architecture or history, and I dare to say that there's little remarkable about its people either, to a certain extent. And when I say there's nothing or little remarkable I mean that Montería doesn't reach globally, it feels isolated and sometimes even closed. But perhaps I'm wrong, perhaps my story and my family's position in my hometown wasn't very remarkable, that's because my family wasn't from Montería, so they didn't share most of the traditions and the cultural heritage that was typical from my hometown. It was my grandparents on my mother's side who arrived to Montería the year 1957. They were from another region of Colombia that, by Colombian standards, is very different culturally. I can imagine that such cultural differences were big enough to create a gap between local people and my family, which in turn was passed down to me at an unconscious level; so that my relatives would consider theirselves above the locals and thus distanced themselves from people and the local cultural heritage. I must say I've never felt particularly proud of being born there, maybe I'm a fool.

During most of Montería's history there was only one bridge to cross to the other side, so most of people that was on foot would cross the river using small boats called planchones. The planchón is a small hut built over two canoes. It's connected to a steel cable that bridges the river and gives direction to the planchón so that it crosses the river in a straight perpendicular line, powered mostly by the river's current. It's kind of funky and in my opinion the most interesting touristic attraction of Montería: that is, if there is ever someone that would visit Montería as a touristic destination. The fastest of all planchones was called Sinú's Bullet, and to my surprise it's still there after many decades.

Sinú's Bullet - First Avenue by night

One of the reasons why I think Montería is disappointing as a touristic destination is because even though the city is at the coastal region of Colombia, there are no beaches in the city. So close but so far... the refreshing breezes typical of the cities at the Caribbean coast, like Cartagena de Indias, don't reach the city, so from 9:00 to 17:00 the city feels like an oven, and if you want to take a swim in one of the many beautiful Caribbean beaches, you have to drive out of the city to the next touristic beach spot about an hour-and-a-half driving, named Coveñas. It isn't so far away, but far enough so that my family would drive to the beach only once or twice a year. There are many more beaches around but they're pretty much wasted, either because it's scary due to guerrillas or paramilitaries, or because there's no the infrastructure for tourism. What I mean with lack of infrastructure is unpaved roads to get there, unkempt beaches, no hotels or restaurants. Probably good for young people that like to be in the wild, but no very convenient for families with children.

During the 80s and 90s there was only one cinema with one single screen in the entire city. They showed the Lion King for three months straight! A second cinema was opened in 1997 and I know this because the inauguration was the day of Titanic's premier. Both those cinemas went bankrupt and are closed now. The situation changed a few years later with the dawn of the new century and the opening of the biggest shopping mall in Montería's history, Alamedas del Sinú.

Another funny thing about Montería is that people measure progress by the chain stores you find. So when someone asks if the city has changed, people say: “yes, Montería feels like a city now, there is Carrefour, a homecenter, and a new McDonalds”.

Definitively, the most beautiful spot in Montería is the First Avenue or Avenida Primera. It's a park that extends along the riverside. There are huge trees with very luxuriant canopies. I used to play there when I was a kid and collect little red seeds, the one artisans use to make necklaces and bracelets. Every once in a while it was possible to spot monkeys in the trees. After so many years it deteriorated and became a place for the homeless and drunkards. Now during the new century it was completely refurbished and families and kids are once again able to stroll and play around. Very positive. However, as I said there's nothing remarkable about the city, there's nothing else to see around. The architecture sucks, most of the traditional architecture from the Coastal cities in the Caribbean are no more; the traditional houses were beautiful, huge, tall roofs, long windows that reached the floor, indoor open gardens, very cool and fresh, very colorful. Most of them don't exist anymore and the ones that remain are falling apart. They've been replaced by concrete boxes, hot and suffocating.

When I was a kid (in green) at the Old First Avenue

The average Monterían, in my opinion, is pretty narrow minded... sorry. This is something I had to experience myself  many times. For example, if someone sees a guy with long hair, that would be enough cause for screams and scandals in the street. People would look at you with wide-opened eyes as if they had never seen anything so abominable and indecent. Imagine how they looked at me when I had dreadlocks! Don't be surprised if someone calls you satanic because you listen to some Rock & Roll. On the other hand, I've had the chance to meet very intelligent people from Montería. I must say too that some of my closest friends are some of the most intelligent people I've ever met in my life and in the world. There's something there mysterious, I think the new generations from Montería will play a big role in the destiny of Colombia and the world in the future decades. I have high hopes.

The history of Montería is pretty uneventful in my humble opinion. I don't remember anything in particular that should be mentioned, nothing epic, nothing important, nothing crucial in the history of the country, needless to say, the world. I've never been very interested in history, so it's just my biased impression. Perhaps, the most interesting part of history in the region was the presence of the Zenú people. They were the native American people that inhabited those lands, they were to certain extent, very advanced agriculturaly and reached great prosperity. They were very skilled goldsmiths and dominated the land as it has never been done ever since. However, by the time the Spanish arrived they were already disappearing. Their native language and traditions are lost forever, little remains, only the names of some towns, some handcrafts which are already very influenced by the westernized Colombia, some gold pieces, and maybe a few gastronomic traditions.

Montería's gastronomy is not that bad, but it could be much better. There are plenty of fruits and vegetables, there are rivers and oceans, but the food people eat doesn't really reflect such diversity and natural wealth. There might be hundreds and thousands of different fruits, hundreds and thousands of exotic fishes, molluscs and crustaceans... but you wouldn't even known by the way people eat. I believe the gastronomy of the region should be one of the best and most delicious in the world, but it isn't quite there yet. It doesn't even stand out among Colombian gastronomy. You'll find a lot of unhealthy fried foods, very starchy, and very little or no vegetables at all you'd get in a traditional dish from the region. Fruits aren't used at all for cooking, not even to make an exotic sauce, they are mostly used for juices and sweets. Why, I wonder? There's only one fish that is typical and unique in the region, it's called bocachico, and although tasty it's boney and small. There should be hundreds more, I think! There are many snacks and sweets from the region, many made of fruits and very exotic, made of guava, tamarind, coconut, papaya, mammee apple, and many more; that's indeed remarkable! There are also some exotic snakcs made of yam and cassava. Perhaps in the recent years, Montería has stood out also because of its meats. There's a lot of land used for livestock owned by the few. Other exotic edible things you could find around in the streets are iguana eggs, I've never tasted that; a huge ball of pop corn, about the size of a fist, hardened with caramel, it was called Alegría (happiness); you find also something called butifarra, which is a spiced meatball enveloped in some kind of skin. Butifarra has captivated the imagination of people because they were sold in the street by boys of poorer communities, usually from the slums... so people wood say it was meat from dog and the skin was the testicles of some other animal: it was delicious nonetheless. Other exotic foods are turtle, people eat it a lot during Easter; a soup made with the stem of some palm tree, I don't really like that though; there's another soup made of cheese and yam, called mote de queso. Everything accompanied with rice boiled in coconut milk! My favorite type of rice.

It's been four years since I visited my hometown and I must say that Montería is doing pretty good, public transportation is a lot better and more modern that say for example, Lima, Perú. The streets and sidewalks are being restored, which I hope will be done for the entire city. However, there's only two or three traffic lights in the entire city and very bad signalization! I hope the city will be completely modernized and improved in the near future. I remember when I was a kid water from the aqueduct was available every other day, now it seems it flows almost every day. Progress is coming, slowly but surely.

Perhaps the darkest side of Montería are what they call, “subnormal” neighborhoods that had been created from the homeless people displaced by the violence of guerrillas and the paramilitary, or by natural disasters like floods. In this subnormal neighborhoods, the slums, great misery and unimaginable poverty are the norm. I saw some statistics that estimate the population in the subnormal neighborhoods to be about 100 000, many would say it's a lot more, so about a third of the entire population of Montería. I had the chance once to visit one of these neighborhoods and to meet one of his inhabitants. He was in his mid forties and had recently been displaced by FARC... he still had open wounds where he was cut with a machete repeated times, almost to death, by the guerrilla. His home was four walls made of wood planks, and less than ten square meters. The floor was bare ground, one bed, and I don't even know where they went to the toilet or where they cooked. In that little place lived the entire family, husband, wife, and several kids. To top it all, the owner of that miserable home used to go everyday with a meter to check that they hadn't stolen a single centimeter, if he thought they had, he would rise the rent. I've never seen such misery anywhere else. I hope today conditions are better in those neighborhoods, but I'm sure many of them have no access to basic services, clean water, electricity, internet, healthcare, or good education.

It's the paradox of our Country. Montería and the region are very rich in natural resources, there's the Atlantic coast, there are many rivers, there's jungle, there's a huge diversity, and people say it's one of the most fertile places on Earth, yet most of it is underexploited, yet there's many people living below the poverty line. People are starving living in a palace made of gold. When is this going to change, once and for all?

All in all, I think Montería has potential to become a great city, touristic, open, beautiful, and quickly. There are resources, there is the hope, the desire. If it wasn't because of corruption, the narrow mindedness of people with power, and the infestation of criminal groups in the region, I believe the panorama would be a lot brighter.

Apr 3, 2012

A Song of Ice and Fire – Game of Thrones Review

I'm addicted, I have to confess. First I saw the TV series, and I loved it. This saga, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, perhaps even surpasses Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings. After I watched the first season of the series a couple of times I read the first book, Game of Thrones. Once that was finished I immediately started devouring the second book, A Clash of Kings. At this very moment I'm half way the fourth book, A Feast for Crows. The second season of the show have also started and the first episode just aired the 1st of April: amazing. I'm very excited about it.

It's been a long time since I read something so exciting and engaging as A Song of Ice and Fire. The complexity of the story, a great number of very interesting, rich, and well developed characters, the narration of the story is also outstandingly awesome. I truly recommend it to everyone. Both the TV series and the books. The series has been very loyal to the book and because of the success of the first season, the budget for the second season was ramped up, so that they were able to film in extraordinary locations, like Iceland and Croatia. They are both truly masterpieces. However, the second season has diverged a bit more from the book although not enough to make it a dissapointment. Truly epic nonetheless!

My two favorite characters are Arya Stark, a tough little girl, and Tyrion Lannister, the Imp, probably the smartest dwarf in literature. In the series, Tyrion Lannister is played by Peter Dinklage who just won an Emmy and Golden Globe award as best supporting actor. As the books and the character develops things will start to change, the Imp who once seemed a hero succumbs to his evil side, and Kingslayer who we've hated begins to redeem himself and see the light! Great surprises await!

 Arya Stark

 Tyrion Lannister

Then there is Deanerys Targaryen, mother of dragons, Khalessi of the Dothraki.

 
Deanerys Targaryen

If you like fantasy and you haven't heard of this, then you should not hesitate and get the books or start watching the series.

Apr 1, 2012

Conga, when I was bitten by the bullet ant

Once I almost died and this is the story. I was a kid, eight or nine years old, I don't remember. I was with my father on an anthropological expedition deep within the Colombian rainforest, not so far from the Pacific cost, Chocó. My father and his team of researchers had to find a tribe of native americans, the Emberá, that was located about a day's walk from the moment we entered the jungle. I remember we got down the bus early in the morning, the only landmarks were the unpaved road and true jungle. There was not a house, not a sidewalk, not a person to be seen, not a traffic sing, not a path to follow. Just hills covered with dense tropical rainforest, and infinite ocean of green left and right.

I must say the beauty of the jungle was overwhelming. Every intensity of green has been engraved into my memory never to fade again, crystal clear brooks streamed gently everywhere decorated with huge stones covered with fresh moss. After quite a few hours of walk we found a particularly beautiful spot, there was a waterfall about four meters high, the water was falling softly and it was possible to stand underneath it to take a shower, the brook flowed like a liquid caress. We stopped to refresh ourselves, have a little swim, eat something, and recharge our energies. After a time playing in the water, I squatted down on a large rock that was bathed with a beam of sunlight. My father and his team went swimming down the transparent waters out of sight. Then, pain, a pain like I have never felt before. A monstrous ant was biting my big toe on my right foot. It was black and gigantic, fat, bigger than my toe. I can see now the ant as it was in front of my eyes, its big jaws stuck on my flesh. It was abominable and evil. It pierced my sweet little toe with its sting of doom. I was paralyzed in fear because I had never seen an ant that big and the sting hurt like hell. The ants I was used to were not bigger than two or three millimeters, the common house ants that scavenge every bit of food left uncleaned. There were some other ants mostly found solitary crawling on trees, about half a centimeter long. This ant was huge and ugly, about three centimeters long, and when I felt it I started screaming and crying immediately. In a minute my father appeared and slapped the ant with the back of his hand. The ant disappeared in a flash but it was too late, it had already injected a powerful venom into my toe. They called this ant, “Conga”.

We resumed our walk but after a few minutes I had an intense fever and the pain was so intense that I could not walk anymore. My father carried me on his shoulders and after a while I passed out. I remember arriving to the tribe, we were on a small path framed by many pineapple plants growing on the side. At the tribe the shaman gave me a strange beverage made of a mix of plants. I drank that and slept...

Our source of all knowledge says about this ant, Paraponera clavata, that “the pain caused by this insect's sting is purported to be greater than that of any other Hymenopteran, and is ranked as the most painful according to the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, given a 4+ rating, above the tarantula hawk wasp”. This ant is also called bullet ant because the sting hurts like a gun shot.