Ice Diving in Lake Baikal

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*Diving photos by Alfred Minnaar

Scuba diving is an expensive activity- it requires tons of training, heavy equipment, infrastructure, and more. So you may be asking, “how the hell does somebody like small Sasha, who travels around the world on less than $500 a month, possibly become a divemaster and ice diver?!”

Well, here’s the explanation + some information about ice diving in Lake Baikal, Russia:

Personal Story

I have a friend named Alfie. We met in Whistler, Canada, 12 years ago (2007), right after I finished high school and drove across North America on my own. Alfie’s from South Africa but also left home to travel at a young age. We got along straight away because we were both nothing but dirtbags back then :)

We were both dead broke and just lived to have fun- to snowboard, explore the world and seek out adventures. We both left Canada after 2008, but stayed in touch over the years. I kept on traveling and Alfie eventually found himself a job scuba diving in Indonesia.

In 2014, Alfie invited me to Gili Trawangan to do a divemaster internship. He never asked me if I knew anything about scuba diving, he just said, “we need some help in the shop. If you can come to Indonesia and work with us for 3 months, we can certify you all the way up to divemaster for free.”

I was located in Australia at the time and had about $1800 in my bank account, no job and no working visa. I had tried one intro-dive years before but I didn’t know a thing about diving or have an Open Water certificate… So it was pretty hard to refuse Alfie’s offer.

I checked some flights, did the math and bought a one-way ticket to Indonesia, then spent 4 months learning how to dive and helping out in the dive shop.

Learning to Scuba Dive

Every time we splashed into the water, the world above became irrelevant. The underwater world was so different; it seemed peaceful, quiet, yet colorful and alive. We explored underwater landscapes and admired the vivid sea life- fish, coral, turtles, octopuses, cuttlefish, eels, stingrays, nudibranchs, and much more.

We did 2-3 dives almost every day. I felt strong, healthy, and excited, yet absolutely exhausted. After a day of diving, I’d collapse into my bed and dream about the underwater world. Then I’d wake up and my dreams would merge with reality. It was like being in Avatar. 

In those 4 months of non-stop diving, I managed to get the following certificates: Open Water Diver, Advanced Diver, Rescue Diver, Divemaster and Nitrox. We did deep dives, drift dives, night dives and even chased after little sharks every once in a while. Between dives, we just had fun with our group of international scuba friends. Back then, none of us, including Alfie, owned a smartphone or shoes. 

I left Indonesia when I was down to about $50 in my bank account, bought a flight to Australia and found a cash job in an ice cream shop. I made enough money to buy a flight out of Aus before my tourist visa expired, then lived and traveled in Sri Lanka, Hawaii, Europe, Nicaragua and Russia. I didn’t do much diving in the last 5 years because diving is usually expensive, but I did manage a few fun dives with friends every now and then.

Lake Baikal

I came back to Russia (my country of birth) in August of 2017 and took the railway from Moscow to Siberia. When I saw Lake Baikal, I decided that I wanted to stay there for a little while. I had been traveling for over 10 years at that point, and now I wanted to slow it down, read, write, and watch the seasons change. I also wanted to see Lake Baikal in all of its beauty- to see it freeze and melt, to drink it, breath it, swim in it, and explore the world above and below its frozen winter crust.

I noticed a dive center called New Dimension in a lakeside town called Listvyanka. I did one dive with them in October, then found out about ice diving. I didn’t have enough money for an ice diving course, but this dive center said that I didn’t need one to ice dive with them.

‘Perfect!’  ;)

Alfred Minnaar

Meanwhile, between 2014 and 2017, Alfie managed to not only buy shoes and a smartphone, but a camera, computer, and underwater housing. He also learned to take great photos and successfully grew his reputation as an underwater photographer using Instagram and some good hook ups on Gili T.

As soon as I found out that you could ice dive in Lake Baikal for relatively cheap, I immediately contacted Alfie and told him to buy a plane ticket to Russia.

His response was, “it looks nice. I will try. I’m low on money… Have to buy a new camera… It’s complicated…”

So he didn’t come in winter of 2018 and I tried my first ice dive on my own, which was an interesting experience. You can read about it here.

The Real Story

After my “discover ice diving” experience, I trolled Alfie a little bit in an attempt to convince him to come to Lake Baikal and take ice diving photos :). I wasn’t expecting much, I just wanted to have some fun diving, take a few cool shots and show Alfie the lake… But Alfie managed to take it up a notch :D  Not only did he buy a plane ticket to Russia, but he also found two sponsors for the trip: Poseidon Diving Systems and Delma Watches.

And here’s the funny part that shows that Alfie is still as much of a dirtbag as me :D  – Alfie contacted Poseidon and Poseidon contacted their dive connection on Lake Baikal, which was a dive shop called Dive Center Sval. Poseidon asked DC Sval if they could help us out a bit… “maybe just give them some extra gear or some advice about the lake…”

Andrei, the owner and instructor of DC Sval, agreed.

Then Alfie contacted a popular adventure sports videographer named Nicolai Deutsch and pitched him this trip, basically making it sound like Poseidon is sending him on this big one-month ice diving adventure in Russia. Nico liked the idea, sorted out his visa and bought a flight from Germany to Russia.

Then Andrei, from Dive Center Sval, decided to ask Poseidon some very important questions, “are these guys certified ice divers? Are they certified to dive in a dry suit? Have they dived in cold freshwater before?”

The answer was, “no, no, and not really…”

Then Andrei found out that there were three of us: Alfie, Nico, and me (photographer, videographer, and dive “model?” :D ).

“Alright,” said Andrei, “that means not just gear and advice, that means a full ice diving course. For three people…”

That was clearly a lot more work for Andrei, but he was willing to do that for Poseidon because he works with this company and has a lot of respect for their gear.

However, soon after, Andrei also realized that not only did he have to give all three of us a free ice diving course, but he would also have to drive us around to different dive sites, dig new ice holes for us and participate in the making of these underwater photos and film clips.

Andrei’s wife, Olga, explained that Andrei enjoys training people to see progress and results, but what he absolutely detests is publicizing his own face.

…And soon after our arrival, Andrei found out that not only did he have to give us gear, tanks, ice diving courses, drive us around, make new ice holes, and take care of us under ice, but he also needed to be the “star” of all of our film clips and photos! AND his face might end up on the cover of a magazine! :D

Ice Diving Course

Once we started the course with Andrei at Dive Center Sval, I realized how dangerous it was to ice dive without proper training.

Andrei took us through all the vital elements and procedures of ice diving: making a “mine” in the ice, using safety line signals both above and below the ice, learning how to use a dry suit, controlling the equipment, organizing the dive, rescue diving procedures under ice, and much more.

Andrei warned us about gear malfunctioning in the cold, but I didn’t think that this would happen very often. It turned out that I was wrong. One of our regulators froze up and free-flowed almost every dive. This was probably because the three of us always took too long to get from the warm hut (or car) to the “warm” (1-degree) water. Remember, freshwater will not be below freezing, so it is warm compared to winter air temperatures in Siberia. Your equipment freezes when you spend too much time outside in the cold air, so your job is to get from warm air to “warm” water as quickly and efficiently as possible, of course, while being organized and following safety procedures.

Dry Suit Diving

The greatest challenge for me was the dry suit. Whenever I had to put it on or take it off, I felt like Jim Carrey in the movie, Ace Ventura. You know, that scene where he came out of a rhino.

By the end of the week, I learned that I had to dance to reggaeton to get the suit on without assistance.

Diving in a dry suit is much more challenging than diving in a wetsuit. There’s a layer of air between your skin, the suit, and the water, so when you descend, the air pressure decreases and the dry suit squeezes onto your skin. If you don’t add air to the dry suit, it will compress your body like a vacuum package. When you ascend, the air in your dry suit expands. The higher you go, the more it expands and the faster it shoots you up to the surface. Going up too fast is dangerous because the air in your lungs also expands as you ascend. In ice diving, there is an added danger of hitting your head against the layer of ice on the surface.

You have to release air from your suit to stop yourself from ascending uncontrollably. Air can get trapped at the feet, where there is no release valve. If this happens, you have to change your body position to move the air bubble up to your shoulder. You must learn to control that air bubble!

Our first day of diving was not under ice, but just at the edge of the frozen lake, where Lake Baikal meets the Angara River. I felt a bit shaky at first, since this was my first dive in one year, and diving Lake Baikal is so different to diving in the tropics. Within the first 10 minutes of diving, air got trapped at my feet and started pushing me upside down. I changed my body position as Andrei instructed, but got nervous and somehow choked on water, then shot up to the surface. I started doubting my own diving skills then, thinking, ‘maybe I am not an experienced enough diver to pull off this ice diving shoot…’

Andrei met me on the surface, calmed me down, took me back underwater and showed me how to gain control of my equipment. We did buoyancy exercises and learned how to control that air bubble. Once Alfie and I felt comfortable, we went for a short swim around the ice.

I am so grateful to have had Andrei as our instructor ?

Diving Under Ice

The next day, we jumped into our first mine. I felt more comfortable with the dry suit this time, but I ran into new trouble- claustrophobia.

Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world (1.6 km deep) but its depth does not change gradually, so when you dive Baikal, you either dive extra shallow (2-3 meters deep) or you dive a wall that drops down to over 100 meters beneath the surface.  

Our first official ice dive with DC Sval was in shallow water topped by 1-meter-thick ice. I knew I was in safe hands with Andrei and his divers, but it was a psychological challenge to calm my mind while floating in the 2-meter space between thick ice and the ground below. The water was crystal clear and the ice was enchanting, but at one point an overwhelming fear came over me-

‘the space between the ground and the ice is so tight! I can’t maneuver easily! I lost sight of our exit! There’s a meter of ice above my head!’

I knew that the worst thing that a diver can do is panic, so I looked down at the ground, breathed in steadily and calmed down my mind.

‘It’s all psychological. Feel the rope, move slowly, don’t panic. Breathe. Take a look at the exit. Breathe. Admire the ice and the beauty of Lake Baikal- that’s what you’re really here for, isn’t it?’

I calmed down and kept on diving. After the dive, my dive-buddy Dima said:

“when you dive in the tropics, you dive to have a look at the underwater world- fish, turtles, sea-life, and beautiful reefs, but when you dive Lake Baikal, you dive to look inside yourself.”

I kept this in mind when we dove the 120 meter drop the next day.

Diving Lake Baikal

The challenge of diving Lake Baikal comes from the conditions- freshwater, cold temperatures, and steep vertical drops. I’ve dived many vertical walls in warm saltwater and after over 100 dives in Indonesia, I never thought I would have a problem with buoyancy, but here in Lake Baikal, I felt my body plummeting down the side of the 120-meter wall. This time, I kept Dima’s words in mind, “when you dive Lake Baikal, you dive to look inside yourself.”

‘Be calm, be rational, be strong. Control your body- use your lungs. Control your mind- never panic. Control your equipment. Remember your training.’  

Andrei explained that people lose half their brain when they’re underwater. They panic and lose the ability to make easy, simple decisions that would save their lives. This is hard for people understand when they’re sitting on their couch, but underwater, everything is different.

So to be a good diver you have to learn to think underwater. Your brain has to function the same way below the ice as it does above the ice- and this takes tons of practice and training.

I got it together that time and had a great dive with Dima down the side of the wall to a small cave. I was surprised at how much light there was coming through the thick, snow-covered ice in Listvyanka.

Alfie and Nico tried out their camera equipment for the first time under ice.

Apparently, Alfie couldn’t hold his buoyancy either and was bobbing up and down like an Open Water student, which is crazy because he’s had thousands of dives!

I thought ice diving and Siberian winter was going to kill him actually :) Coming from tropical Indonesia, Alfie was absolutely exhausted after every cold dive; he slept a lot and was on the verge of getting sick. Nico, on the other hand, came from Germany and seemed to handle everything quite well- from the dry suit, to his buoyancy control, to the cold.

So we didn’t get many underwater photos from that first dive, but we got some great video footage and some pretty cool “above the ice” photos and videos.

Getting these shots was actually very exhausting. Andrei and I had to walk around with steel tanks on our backs for about 30 minutes, right after an ice dive. Our dry suits froze in the cold air and we tried not to slip on ice as we walked around the mine feeling like robots.

Diving Bolshiye Koty

Andrei arranged for us to dive in two freshly made mines in a town called Bolshiye Koty, about 20km away from Listvyanka. We paid about $100 to have each new mine made for us (because making a mine is a huge amount of work) and another $100 for a guide to safely take us over the ice in a vehicle. There is no road going to Bolshiye Koty so the only way to get there is via ice in the winter, boat in the summer, or the Great Baikal Trail.

The drive can be dangerous even over 2-meter-thick ice because you can run into huge ice cracks and sections of ice that become unstable from methane bubbles. And as you can imagine, stopping a car on ice is a bit slipperier than stopping one on land. Andrei said that he had found many dead bodies in Lake Baikal, so he was extra cautious during this drive.

The Bolshiye Koty dive sites were spectacular. The first mine was next to huge, crystal clear blocks of ice, sections of clear, cracked ice, and mountains on the shoreline.

We jumped in the mine and admired the ice cracks from the underside, then dropped down to a staggering canyon. On top of the canyon was a cross that was put there by Andrei himself, in memory of his best friend.

Each dive was usually only about 30-minutes long and we only did one dive per day. Doing more than one dive wasn’t really an option since our equipment would freeze in the cold air between dives. The air temperature was “pretty warm” while we were there (around -12°C) but that was still cold enough to freeze our equipment in a matter of minutes.

Usually mines are about 2 x 2 meters, but we asked to make one 3 x 1 meter mine to have more space for half-half shots like this one:

So for our second dive in Bolshiye Koty, we jumped into this mine:

It was a tiny bit frightening to dive into an ice hole in the shape of a grave, in what seemed like the middle of no-where in Siberia… But totally worth it ;)

Après-Dive

Between dives, we ate salo (pig fat) on bread to keep us warm, and after the dives, we drove back to our cabin in Listvyanka, unpacked and undressed, then hit the banya ;)

Banya is a Russian sauna where you warm up and unwind after a cold day. In the banya, there is a hot sauna as well as a room temperature area where you can hang out and enjoy some food and drinks.

There is also an interesting sauna ritual that I believe only exists in Russia :) -Hitting yourself or others with a bouquet of dried leafy branches. This is meant to open up your pores, improve blood circulation, and let the heat seep deep into your body. Both Alfie and Nico got a hell of a banya beating from Andrei and his friends :D

Andrei said that both the salo and the banya are an essential part of the diving experience in Russia:

“salo helps you survive, banya helps you revive!”

After a few more days of diving and a lot of help from Andrei and his crew, Alfie and Nico got enough underwater footage for the film clips and photos they were sponsored for, but now we needed some land footage.

Olkhon Island

I wanted to bring the guys to the village that I lived in this winter, around Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal. I had spent the winter biking all over the frozen lake in that area so I knew exactly where to film and stay for cheap or free. But there was one dilemma- car rental. We needed a car because we had a lot of gear but none of us had an acceptable license. Nico is German but has a New Zealand License, Alfie is South African but has an Indonesian license, and I am Russian but I have a Hawaiian license.

So rather than renting a car, we made a deal with a friend of mine who had a 4WD and wanted photos of acroyoga :)

– We said that we will pay for his gas, food, and accomodation, and take acroyoga photos with me wherever he wanted, if he would drive us to and around Olkhon Island.

He agreed!

This must have been one of the most random deals I ever made with anybody, but it allowed us to see most of the best sites on the island, get some great video footage for Nico’s film clips, and some pretty cool acroyoga shots while we were at it :D

I suppose this is one benefit to being “Jack (or Jill) of many trades, master of none” :D

This blog is already very long so I will leave it at that and share the video footage with you once Nico is finished editing. – There will be 3-4 short film clips.

Expect them to be awesome!

Enormous thank you to Andrei, Olga, Dima, Vanya, Aleksei, and everybody else at DC Sval!

If you’re looking for a good dive center on Lake Baikal, you can contact them here or here.

And of course big thank you to Alfie and Nico for coming out to Siberia and taking these great photos and video clips. And to Anton for all of your help!

Much love and aloha ;)

On the Road Again

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I’ve returned my bicycle, packed up my backpack and I’m ready to hit the road again tomorrow! I think there are few people in this world that get more excited than me about being homeless :). I love the feeling of stuffing everything into a backpack and just going in one direction. No bills, no rent, no responsibilities. Another reason I should never have a child :D

It’s been a very productive month and a half here in this small village by Lake Baikal. I’ve managed to write about 140 pages of my book, which is probably about 2/3 of the way there and a lot more than I expected to do in a month and a half. That shows me how valuable it is to set your mind on the things that you really want to do. I have to leave now because my buddy Alfie is flying in from Indonesia to do a big ice diving adventure :D Very excited for that.

I’ll be in different areas around Lake Baikal for the next month, then I’m off to Spain to meet the guys from TROM! Yaay :)

Below are a few screenshots of the rough draft of my book- just some of my past struggles with money and some funny moments-

2008

2010

2012

Eastern Indonesia, 2011

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I have about 115 word-doc pages of my book written now and I’m up to the year 2011, which means I only have about five more years to write about! That might take me a while though, since those five years were kinda crazy :D

I’ll share one of my favorite adventures with you now. This one starts off after I quit university for the fourth time and traveled through Indonesia from Bali to Komodo National Park by myself at age 22-

*this font is what I wrote back in 2011

The default print is my narration of the story. Italics are my thoughts at the time. Hope it makes sense!

[… Chapter 13]

I decided to keep on going east, where there were no tourists. I wanted to catch a bus to Bajawa, which was the closest city to a number of interesting looking native villages. There weren’t many busses around, however, and I ended up catching a ride with a tour guide for the same price as a bus. It was that cheap only because the guide was going there anyway.

The drive from Labuan Bajo to Bajawa was incredible, it went through big lush green mountain passes, weaved around the side of the ocean and up and down colorful hills. It’s no coincidence that the Portuguese colonizers called this island “Flores.” The jungle was covered in flowers!

We stopped at the guide’s mother’s house, in a small village in the mountains on the way to Bajawa. She gave us some snacks and a fresh cup of coffee, then the guide explained some things to me,

“When I was kid, there was no road here. If you want go to Labuan Bajo, you walk for four days on this path. Now the path is road.

Things change too quickly here in Indonesia. Look at my mother, I gave her a cellphone so I can call her, but she don’t understand. I call her and it rings but she don’t know how pick it up. I explain but she don’t get it.

Environment is changing so quickly, but the people’s minds can’t keep up.”

I thought about this. I suppose that’s why there’s so much garbage everywhere you look. 30 years ago, the only garbage these people had were banana peels and coconut shells. It wasn’t a problem to eat a banana and throw the peel anywhere you want, but the people’s minds didn’t change when Western companies replaced those bananas with snickers bars and the peels with plastic.

After another four or five hour drive, we made it to Bajawa.

There, again, I could not escape the constant attention. Every 20 feet I walked in a public area someone would yell ‘bule’ (white skinned tourist) at me. The thing that bothered me the most was that I felt like I could not relate to anybody. I was always on the other side, always the ‘bule,’ never another human being. It seemed like everybody just wanted something from me, that I could not talk to another human being on a straight and honest level, and that nobody could be trusted.
I was angered by this and did not want to give my money away to anybody. Because of this, rather than paying for a tour or even a motorbike ride to the traditional villages, I walked. I walked for 20km and reached the village of Bena- where they asked me for money to enter the village…
It was an interesting looking village. The houses had thatched roofs and there were graves in the front yard. There were also big stones and little thatched-roof shacks and umbrellas on their territory.
The next morning, I woke up feeling fed up. I decided that I should no longer venture further east to my next destination, Kelimutu (the volcano with three different color lakes), because it was too frustrating to deal with the people here.
I decided to spend one more day in Bajawa, visit one more traditional village or see the hot springs, then head back to Lubuanbajo and eventually back to Bali (from where I could fly).
However, I felt like it would be a shame to leave these traditional villages without learning much about the people and their ways. I read a small bit of information in my guide book and tried to find more on the internet but was quite unsuccessful. Then I decided that it may be worth it to pay for a tour as long as the guide was very knowledgeable. There were several one-day tours available and also an over-night tour where you can sleep in one of the traditional villages.
The over-night tour seemed ridiculous to me- paying over $100 to sleep in someone’s house is not what I would call a meaningful experience. If you are paying to be a guest, you are still very much on the other side, and still learning very little. Finding an intelligent, English-speaking guide for a one-day tour also seemed unlikely, I got the feeling that these ‘tours’ were actually more just expensive methods of transportation rather than enriching guides.
So I walked again. I walked until my feet ached and then flagged down a bemo (minivan). I asked where it was going, looked at my paper map and said “okay, take me there!”
I was dropped off at a vibrant market; walked around it for about 15 minutes and then bumped into a young girl who started speaking to me in English (this was surprising because most people around Bajawa don’t know a word of English). After about a one-minute conversation, she invited me to visit her village. At first, I was a bit skeptical, thinking that maybe she wanted something from me as well, but she seemed very nice so I decided to trust her.
This was (and still is) a truly amazing experience. Right when I had had it and was about to give up on Indonesia, I was accepted and brought into the other side.
My friend’s name is Asry. She showed me her village, introduced me to her family, fed me and invited me to sleep in her house. Really funny and ironic isn’t it? Her and her family are the traditional Ngada people, from the same background as the people of Bena and Wogo, the villages people tour and pay big money to sleep in.
The entire family is very kind to me, they accept me and tell me that I am a part of their family. They feed me enormous amounts of food and ask for nothing in return.
On my second day in Mala Nusa (their small village), I was invited to a huge family celebration. This was something I never expected. Asry’s family dressed me up in their traditional black cloth and told me to carry the gift for the party on my head- it was rice in a traditional basket. When we arrived, swarms of people surrounded me! There were about 200 people at this party and I think that most of them had never seen a white person before. They dressed me up even more, adding a yellow band, beads and a headband to my outfit. Then they crowded around and observed me, making comments about my nose and white skin. No one except Asry knew a word of English, but it was easy enough to understand what they were talking about.
They gave me rice and grilled meat, then commented about the way I eat. They were surprised that I liked rice and that I could eat with my hands. It was a bit difficult to pick up rice, but I didn’t really have a choice, since there were no utensils at the party.
After they fed me, they sent me to not only watch the traditional ceremonial dance, but to participate in it! They shoved me into a circle of people in the middle of the ceremony and I tried my best to copy their dance moves. Luckily, it was an easy dance, just some foot shuffling and long hand motions.
I snuck off the dancefloor somehow, then the drum circle got louder, as did the powerful yells to the ancestors, and the animal sacrificing began.
Asry led me to a small room in the middle of the big house that this party surrounded. The room had a small door and was elevated above all the other rooms in the house. Asry explained that this was the spiritual room, where the family prays to their ancestors. The door is small so that you give respect by bowing your head when you enter.
Next, I hear a scream and loud banging drums- a large pig was sacrificed outside. I looked out and saw its neck split open and blood dripping into a bucket.
Asry explained that this party was a celebration of the building of the new house we were sitting in. This house will be the “main house” of a small village, the place where family members meet, have celebrations and pray together. Animals are sacrificed on this day and their blood is smeared onto large sheets of metal which are then placed on top of this elevated spiritual room to create a special trapezoid-shaped roof. The blood of the sacrificed animals is an offering for their ancestors.
Asry left the spiritual room and I sat there with 10 very old people that gave me more rice and grilled meat.
‘I sure hope their ancestors don’t like human blood.’
I knew it was crazy to think that they might want to sacrifice me too, but I couldn’t fully get that thought out of my head, especially since I had only met Asry two days before this ceremony and everything seemed so wild! The banging drums, the black cloths, the yells, the dancing, the blood!
But at that point, I figured that if they did want to, it was already too late to do anything about it now, since I was god-knows-where and outnumbered by about 200 people.
I laughed about the fact that if anything like that did happen, nobody would ever find me!

Yeah, these were still the days before I had a smartphone.

The second animal I saw being sacrificed was a dog. The tribal leader gave it three smacks on the head and it fell dead and was hung from a rope tied to a large wooden pole. A few minutes later, they tied a second dog to this pole while the dead one still hung in the air. As you could imagine, the living dog was absolutely shitting itself.
I did not see whether the second dog was sacrificed or not. I saw it tied to the pole for several minutes, panicking and emitting so much fear that I could practically see it, then a man untied the chain and lead it away.
This made me wonder more about fear. Manu told us that fear attracts spirits. Fear is powerful. Maybe they didn’t actually kill this second dog but were using its fear to attract the spirits of their ancestors!

I’m not saying that I believed in all this stuff, by the way, I just thought it was interesting to try to understand other people’s perspectives.

Asry’s family cooked and ate every part of every animal that was sacrificed, including the dog. During this celebration, 30kg of rice were cooked, everybody ate A LOT and each family unit took home a goody-bag of rice and meat in the same traditional basket they came in with.
Later, they put up the thatched-roof shacks and umbrella-like structures that I noticed in Bena. These structures are called ‘ngadhu’ and ‘bhaga,’ and they commemorate the male and female ancestors of each family unit.

No one attempted to sacrifice me during this party, so I ended up living in Asry’s village for over a week. I felt honored to be there and to have this experience.

Asry’s house was made out of bamboo. It didn’t have running water, a kitchen, much electricity or much furniture, but it was nice and cozy, especially in the mornings.

Each day I would wake up slowly as faint sunrays shined through the misty air. Sometimes it felt a bit damp and chilly in the morning, since her village was in the mountains. The smell of smoke, fire and coffee filled the air. I stretched out my arms, took a deep breath, then slowly made my way to the family room. There were always six or seven family members crowded around a fire inside the house in the morning. Somebody would always hand me a fresh cup of home-grown coffee, the best coffee I had ever had. Then I would sit quietly on a small stub of wood, sipping the coffee and getting lost in my thoughts and the crackling sound of the fire.

In the day, Asry and I walked around the village and met with more family members. They were all so nice and they fed me A LOT! They showed me their cows, their pigs, gardens, rice fields and coffee plantations. They showed me how they made their own knives, their own furniture, weaved clothes and crafted many other products.

Asry’s family also took me on a motorcycle trip to some hot springs. On the way, we stopped at a Virgin Mary shrine, where the family members prayed to a Mary covered in their traditional black cloth. This was always awkward. I assumed that the family would believe that I was evil if they knew that I didn’t believe in any religion, so I explained to Asry that I just had my own religion, but she translated this as, “Protestant.” I decided not to argue.

Almost everybody on the island of Flores, including all of the people involved in these tribal ceremonies, considered themselves to be Catholic. During the big celebration where Asry’s family sacrificed animals for their ancestors, they were also displaying pictures and cards of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

Since I knew that the locals were Catholic (and not Muslim), I didn’t think too much about what to cover my body with in these hot springs. I brought a towel and a bikini, nothing else. And once I had nothing but my bikini on, I noticed that every woman in the springs was in pants and a T-shirt and that every man was staring at my body. It was awkward but a bit too late to turn back now, so I just went in while everybody stared at me as if I was naked. I was kind of used to getting stared at at that point anyway.

I decided to leave Asry’s village after her brother and cousin drove in on a cargo truck and invited us to go on a road trip with them. They were delivering heavy equipment between Bajawa, Maumere and Larantuka (the eastern end of Flores) and were happy to bring family and friends along.

Seven of us squeezed into this giant truck- Asry, her brother, three of her cousins, me and for some reason, a five-year-old kid.

I don’t remember who’s kid he was, but I don’t think that he was the child of anybody in our truck. That didn’t seem to be so important to them though, since everyone in the family took care of all of the children. I would even get confused from time to time because Asry would sometimes refer to her uncles as her “father” and her aunts as her “mother,” even though her mother had died and her father was living with her. It was interesting to see a different perspective of the idea of a family and how to raise children.

According to the map, the drive between Bajawa and Larantuka is only about 400 kilometers, but since the road was not well maintained and weaved around like crazy, going up and down big mountains, the drive took several days.

It was a beautiful drive, nevertheless, and Asry and I had front row seats in this big truck. We drove through flowery mountains, passed by black volcanic beaches, rice terraces and lush jungles. We took breaks by the ocean and stopped to eat rice and curry in local eateries.

I remember walking into a busy lunch shack in a small village somewhere far east; we sat down, had a look at the menu, and all of the sudden the entire place turned silent. I lifted my head and every single person in the lunch shack was staring at me.

Everywhere I went, I was greeted with excitement and curiosity. Since I was now with Asry and her family, people didn’t seem to attack me for money like before, now they wanted to give me stuff instead!

We slept in the houses of Asry’s aunts and uncles in other villages on Flores. Their family members took us in and fed us until we could barely move.

October 7, 2011
Now I am in Moni, a small village below Kelimutu, the volcano with the tri-colored lakes. Tomorrow I am meant to see this volcano (leaving at 4:20AM to watch the sun rise above it!).
I am not sure exactly what will happen next, but I feel that it is time to leave Indonesia and move on to new lands…Plus, my friend is calling me to join him on his yacht in New Zealand on a two-month sailing trip!! So as long as they let me back into Aotearoa, I shall soon be writing of grand adventures in open seas.
I hope that you can now understand that although I am not in university, I am learning more about international and global studies than I ever have.

Right, so all of that Caveot font about Indonesia was originally written for my mother’s birthday in October of 2011. Not sure if that was a good birthday gift, now that I think about it, I probably scared the shit out of her more than anything else. My poor mother…  

I did the short and easy hike up Kelimutu the next morning, watched the sunrise over the three different colored crater lakes (blue, green and black), then made my way all the way back to Bali. The trip back to Bali was much easier now that I knew a bit more Indonesian and I felt like I could communicate and relate to the local people better. I took buses back and made some stops along the way. I rented a motorbike in Mataram, Lombok, and drove around the south of the island by myself, then I took a ferry to Bali and flew out to my next adventure: a two-month long sailing trip around the North Island of New Zealand…

For the Love of Ice Bubbles

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I accidentally rode my bike into a giant ice crack today. I realized I was in it only when I was about a foot deep in ice water…distracted by staring at an amazing ice cave. I kept peddling and didn’t fall into the lake. Whew. And my big fluffy winter boots are so thick that my feet didn’t even get wet :D But one of my breaks fell off and the other one froze. I’ve owned bikes with no breaks before but here it’s more of a challenge since there’s not so much friction between my boots and the ice that I’m riding on.

In other news, I’ve been head deep in my book. I’ve basically been doing nothing else but writing and bike riding as a break. I don’t even shower and I barely eat anything because I don’t want to waste time cooking, eating and cleaning it up. Today I had an onion sandwich :D Yea, raw onion on bread. Little bit of oil, salt and pepper. I don’t recommend it, to be honest.

It’s been a rough couple of day though. I’ve basically finished the first part of my book, which explains the past two or so years, and now I’ve gone back to write about my childhood and teenage years, which were fucking nuts. I cried a lot the past two days :) But after crying I always laughed at myself for crying, and then I felt good. It’s like therapy, I recommend this to everybody. Write a book about your life- it doesn’t matter if anybody reads it or not, just write it and you will learn so much about yourself. I used to think that it was just my teenage years that made me live this traveling lifestyle now, but no- it was everything.

I feel really tired, both physically and emotionally. Drained, actually, is a better word. It feels good though, like I’m draining all the shit from my life- all the bad stuff, all the stuff I’ve left behind and thought I would never come face to face with again. I brought it all back up, and then I drained it into my book and out of my life. Now I can fill myself back up with good things, like my love for ice bubbles :).

I believe that this is real art- the beauty of ice bubbles frozen in a crystal clear lake. Not this crap that they sell in art galleries for tens of thousands of dollars.

Lake Baikal- in winter

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Just a small update :)

I moved into a little house in a village called Sakhyurta, located less than 2 km from Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal. I pay 300 rubles ($4.55) a day for rent here. I found this place by coming here in December and looking for a room. I asked anybody I saw in this village and eventually came to this house. You would normally only get a room for this price, not an entire house, but the landlady offered me this small house because it is the house of her mother, who happens to have a broken leg at the moment and is not living here. It’s a bit chilly sometimes and there’s no running water, but I realized that I actually save a lot of time by not having to shower and change clothes all the time. I don’t sweat much, since it’s cold outside, so it’s not a big deal. I will wash off in a banya once a week or so.

I’m going pretty good with my book so far. I’ve reorganized and edited the first parts. You can find the old drafts here: 1 2 3 4

I’ve finished writing about my next big adventures on Molokai, Lanai, Kauai and the East Coast of the US. I decided not to put them out as blogs yet because I want to concentrate on writing for now and blogs take too much time because photos take too much time. So I will deal with them later. I’m almost done with writing about my trip through Russia via the Trans-Siberian Railway, then from there I will take it back the beginning of my life and go on from there. Seems like a weird order but I think it will make sense when you read it. Don’t expect this book anytime soon though, because there is A LOT to write and I’m only planning on staying in this village for one more month.

I also rented a bicycle with spiked tires for 350 rubles a day- and I think this is one of the coolest things that I have ever done in my life! :D Now, when I take a break from writing, I don’t just take a walk in the park, I ride a bicycle on top of Lake Baikal! :D

I’ve always loved riding a bicycle, but this is on a whole new level :D It is, by far, the best way to see Lake Baikal in winter.

Some photos came out nice, but I don’t think that I would ever be able to share the excitement and adrenaline that I feel when I’m riding this bike full speed on a piece of opaque ice and all of the sudden, it turns crystal clear and for a split second, I feel like I’m falling off the edge of a cliff or a 1.6km deep lake :D And then I glide smoothly along the glass, following shapes of endless ice cracks.

And then I stop the bike. And I’m alone. In the middle of the lake, no one in site. Hundreds of meters from land. Hundreds of meters of water beneath my feet. I stop and I listen. I feel the vibration. The lake cracks and howls. She plays drum n bass. I feel her. The boom! She’s my whomping playroom.

Traveling is Cheap

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So here’s the total amount of money I spent traveling around Mongolia for one month* This includes everything: transportation from “home” (Irkutsk) to Mongolia and back to “home”**, all transportation within Mongolia (going from northern Mongolia to Ulaanbaatar, Lake Khuvsgul, Gorkhi Terelj National Park, to the Gobi Desert, many places in between and back to Ulaanbaatar and the north); all food, all accommodation, horse riding, motorcycle and quad riding, seeing beautiful mountains, hills, boulders and lakes, a trip to the Khongor Sand Dunes, the Yolin Am Canyon, Mukhart Shivert and White Stupa. Plus much more :)

Grand total= $323

Here’s the breakdown (in USD):

Transportation:
$38

    • We mostly hitchhiked, which is free, but we also paid for a bus, train, taxi, or a dead sheep van here or there. Clearly, public transportation is cheap in Mongolia. Read my blogs and do the math yourself if you don’t believe me! :P

Food/drinks/groceries:

$84

    • What’s in the magical bag of groceries that cost less than $10 almost every time and lasted for so many days? If you want to make your money last long, you can’t be too picky with what you eat. Don’t buy pesto if you’re not in Italy, don’t buy fresh tuna fish if you’re not by the ocean. Figure out what the locals eat and go with that. We bought things like noodles, rice, bread, onions, cabbage, garlic, and other random grains and vegetables that I don’t know the name of ?. Some Russian products, like buckwheat, are also cheap in Mongolia. Less than $1 for a kilo, which makes 5 hearty and healthy meals for 2 people (100grams of any grain per person per meal is plenty). We also bought things like oats, dried fruit and nuts for breakfast and hiking. You can go with cheap nuts like pumpkin or sunflower seeds instead of your expensive almonds and hazelnuts. When we bought food to cook in a hostel, we often went for beetroot, since it’s super healthy and super cheap, but is heavy and takes a while to cook (meaning a waste of your camping gas).
    • Basically, we looked for cheap and healthy (plus long-lasting and light when hitching/hiking). I often buy stuff that I’m completely unfamiliar with just because it seems to fit the category. For example, we randomly found a big bag of dehydrated soy meat for about 50 cents. It was perfect- very light, full of protein, quick to cook, could be added to almost any meal and it didn’t need to be refrigerated. We even soaked it in water one day, put it on a stick and BBQed it on a fire like chicken. Delicious ?
    • We could have gone even cheaper if we wanted to, completely getting rid of anything unnecessary. Our bag of groceries sometimes included cookies or sweets, jams, juice, alcohol or spices. -None of that stuff was necessary and most of it is unhealthy but, what can I say, we had a lot of fun ? It’s up to you to figure out the right balance between funds, fun and necessities.

Accommodation:

$79

    • We paid for accommodation for 13 out of 30 nights. Accommodation ranged from 0 to 8 USD and included anything from camping to couchsurfing, to sleeping in family homes and yurts, in a train, Airbnb, hostels, motel-like yurts and cheap hotel rooms. You can see detailed examples in my previous blogs.

4WD Tour to the Gobi Desert:

$100

    • So we caved in and spent a third of our entire budget on a three day 4wd ride to the Khongor Sand Dunes in the Gobi Desert. It was worth it, but now that I know the situation better, I would prefer to try to hitch a lift to the dunes instead. I mentioned in this blog that we met a guy who managed to do that even in November. We also later found out that there are some buses that go further into the Gobi Desert to villages like Gurvantes, Servei, Noyon and Bulgan; so that could be another option for those who want to save some money and travel off the beaten path. I don’t have much information about those buses (besides the map below), but if you make it to the local Dalanzadgad bus station, I think you could figure it out ?.

Miscellaneous (shower, gas, souvenirs, speaker):

$22

    • There will always be some kind of extra stuff to buy. Here, again, it’s important to find that balance between funds, fun and necessities.

Total: $323

    • If we hadn’t paid for that Khongor Sand Dune tour, the total for the entire month would have been around $230.

Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip:

#introducemyself to Steemit

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I haven’t posted here in a little while because I’ve been backpacking through Mongolia. I’m going to share that experience with you shortly.

I’ve also decided to post all of my new blogs on Steemit. The thing about Steemit is that the content has to be posted there first, before it’s posted anywhere else on the internet. And then you can somehow earn cryptocurrency. I don’t really understand how it works hehe but I like that people on there actually read and engage with each other. The first thing I should have done on Steemit was make an introductory post. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that before, so this will be my 7th Steemit post. Better late than never, right?!

Here it is!:
https://steemit.com/introduceyourself/@smallsasha/traveled-for-11-years-now-i-sit-and-write-for-you

If I can make some kind of money from this platform that would be great, since I’m pretty much gonna be foocked in 6 months or so, when I run out of money and will be forced to find a useless job somewhere to continue to live on Earth. So if you’re on Steemit, please check out my blogs ?

Sailing Is Not Just for Rich People

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The topic for my last TROM discussion was meant to be ‘money,’ with a focus on how money is a fictional reality (i.e. the money system works only because we all use imagination), but I accidentally spent the first hour of our meet up telling everyone stories about my sailing adventures in New Zealand and the Caribbean ?.

You see, I used to think that sailing was just for rich people until I lived on a yacht myself and met all kinds of people that sailed around the world with almost no money :).


Here’s how it happened: I was studying at Sydney Uni when I was 22 and wanted to snowboard in New Zealand for my winter break in June/July. I didn’t have that much money so I searched for people to stay with for free on couchsurfing. I came across a very interesting profile of a Brazilian guy who worked in Wanaka as a skydiver. I didn’t know any skydivers back then, nor had I tried skydiving, so I was really excited to meet this person. Unfortunately, he wrote back saying that he was in Aruba all winter and wouldn’t be back until October. But he also wrote that he read my profile and would love to meet me because there aren’t a whole lot of “us” in this world. Then he invited me to sail around the North Island of New Zealand in his little yacht at the end of October for a couple of months.

I thought it over. Flew to New Zealand. Snowboarded and hitched all around the South Island, met a bunch of nomadic travelers and skibums, and admired New Zealand’s dramatic beauty. I also visited Christchurch and saw the aftermath of the devastating earthquake (this was 2011) and talked to many people that had been affected by this disaster.

When I flew back to Australia, I decided that opportunities like this don’t come around very often, so I have to accept this sailing trip. I dropped out of university for the third time. Wrote a long letter to my mother, promising her to come back and finish one year later. Then I worked every day and every night for one month (in 3 Wise Monkey’s Pub, Sydney), saved as much money as possible, caught a ride with an aboriginal friend to Alice Springs, hitched to Darwin, then caught the cheapest flight I could find out of Australia the day before my visa expired. Then I had 2 months to exist somewhere on Earth before I could fly to New Zealand (because of more visa bullcrap). So I spent two months “existing” in Indonesia on a budget of $10/day and traveled from Bali to the eastern-most tip of Nusa Tenggara and back by myself.

Here’s a picture of me in East Nusa Tenggara :). (but that story’s for another time :)).

I flew into Auckland at the end of October and hitched a ride to Tauranga, NZ. There, I finally met Jon- the crazy Brazilian skydiving sailor. Interesting fellow he was, around 30 years old, tall, brown hair, somewhat attractive. He was extremely interesting to talk to and gave me a bunch of books to read. One was “A Culture of Make Believe” by Derrick Jensen- brilliant and shocking book which exposes the horrors of our make-believe culture while exploring the relationship between hate/exploitation/destruction and economics. Jon said I had to read this book if I wanted to stay on his yacht :).

Another book he gave me was “Maiden Voyage” by Tania Aebi- really interesting true story about a girl who took off on a sailboat in the 1980’s (before GPS) when she was 18-years-old, and spent two and a half years sailing around the world by herself. These two books changed the course of my life just a little bit.

So we worked on Jon’s boat for a couple of weeks, then took off on our first sailing trip- to Mayor Island, just off the coast of Tauranga. We left in the afternoon, sailed past the sunset and into a brilliant starlit night.

There was a big swell that night, about 3 meters or so. Jon’s 37’ steel yacht crashed into these icy cold waves with immense power. I was absolutely terrified, yet incredibly excited. The sound of the wind, the sound of the sails getting hampered and turned, the waves- crashing against the hull, weaving, swirling, disappearing into the dark obis. Reappearing again, crashing.

Down below it was the worst. I had no idea that you would hear such sounds inside of a sailboat- the sound of crashing waves was maximized tenfold, as if the boat was getting beaten down by the ocean. There were vicious clanking sounds from the steel hull, as if some giant was hitting the boat with a hammer. It sounded like the boat was going to fall apart at any moment! I couldn’t be down below for more than 10 seconds. You couldn’t stand down there as the boat rocked you from side to side, back to front. And I felt this intense heaviness as soon as I stepped down below, as if the mass of my body had suddenly doubled, and the mass of my head had tripled.

On the deck it was calmer- ride the boat up the wave, roll it down the wave, then crash into the next wave. Ride the next wave up again, down again, crash again. Stay in the cockpit and hold on, if you fall out, you’re dead within 30 minutes.

Each crash was spectacular. There was bioluminescent phytoplankton in the water- plankton that light up like stars when agitated. So every time the boat crashed into a giant wave, the little plankton appeared like a galaxy on our deck, then rolled down and vanished like shooting stars. I was mesmerized by this sight- stars above, stars below, the wind, the elements, the waves, the ocean. This is what life should be about! Not learning how to make some business plan in university!

I remember this moment perfectly because I fell deeply in love right there and then. Not with Jon :), but with sailing, and with life.

When the waves got stronger, Jon made me go down below and sleep. I was absolutely terrified down there, but that heaviness pinned my body to the bed and knocked me out cold and fast.

I woke up a few hours later to the sound of calm waves and easy rocking. We were anchored.

Jon took my hand and said he wanted to show me something. We went onto the deck, the night was calm and dark, I could see a halfmoon bay and black mountains in the distance.

Then he asked, “do you believe in magic?”

I replied, “sure” :).

And he took a stick and crashed it along the water. The ocean lit up like the Milky Way.

In the morning, I stuck my head out of the hatch. Felt the cool wind hit my face. I smelled salt, dirt and lush vegetation.

I heard birds diving into the water, and the sound of small waves crashing on sand. I looked ahead and saw a perfect bay. No people, no other boat in sight. Just a deep dark green forest of interwoven trees and vines reaching out towards the crystal blue water. We had breakfast then took the dinghy to shore and explored the rolling hills and fantastic views of New Zealand.

We did this for about two months, sailing to different islands and back to Tauranga from time to time. Being in Tauranga was great too, since we lived in Jon’s yacht and talked to many other people who lived in their yachts as well. That was when I figured out that sailing was not at all ‘just for rich people.’ In fact, it seemed like everyone in that harbor was dead broke!

Our neighbor Dave, one of the nicest little Kiwi guys I’ve ever met, barely had a penny to his name, but he lived for sailing. He dreamed of sailing to Antarctica and around the world one day. He lived on his boat year-round and worked odd jobs to pay for food and boat maintenance.

I also talked to many old people, sailors that had been all around the world. And I decided that if I ever grow up, I’d like to be just like them :).

You see, real traveling is not about ticking off a list or taking selfies in pretty places, it’s about the people you meet. And trust me, you’ll never meet these kinds of people in the lobby of a Marriott.

At the end of December, I flew to New York and Jon went back to skydiving on the South Island.

New Year’s Day, 2012, I get an email from Jon saying that he’s in the hospital and paralyzed from the hips down.

Later that year, I visited him in NZ and he was already planning to participate in the Paralympics.

Two years later, he invited me to sail a boat halfway across the world (from St. Maarten to NZ) and film a documentary. I met him and two other friends in the Caribbean in spring of 2014. We spent a few weeks fixing up the boat, then sailed a bit around St. Maarten, then across the Caribbean Sea to Aruba. Long story short, I got kicked off the boat in Aruba :). Then Jon sailed to Panama with another friend. That friend left there. Then Jon sailed from Panama to New Zealand by himself and became the first paraplegic that had ever single-handed a yacht across the Pacific Ocean.

We are no longer friends, but despite that, he is quite an inspirational person. You can find his blog here- jonmartins.com If you ever write to him, just don’t tell him you found his blog through mine :) ?.

So, none of those adventures took all that much money. Both times sailing, I pretty much only paid for food. Plane tickets are probably the most expensive thing, but you can get around that as well if you have ‘open time.’ Here’s how- 1. Hitch hike 2. Hitch a boat :D.

You see, it’s difficult to sail a yacht by yourself- you have to constantly keep watch to make sure you don’t hit anything. So when people go on long journeys (like across an ocean or sea), they usually need crew. There are many captains who don’t have much money and don’t want to pay to hire experienced crew, so they will look for random people that can help them keep watch. -That’s basically the main thing they need, just for someone to stay on deck and make sure there are no boats in the way while they sleep. There are websites, such as findacrew.net where captains will post where they’re going and what kind of crew they need/for how long/etc.

Sailing experience helps if you’re looking for a boat ride, but it’s not always necessary. Also, be careful before signing up for a long journey (especially if you’re a girl) because there are a lot of crazy captains out there. Get to know the captain face to face before you decide to cross an ocean with him or her.

Before leaving for my second sailing adventure (which was meant to last 8-9 months and go halfway around the world) I did three things: 1. I took a beginner sailing course 2. I saved about $3,000 (AUD) 3. I read a few books written by people who survived on a dinghy or liferaft for several weeks or months after their boat had been capsized in the ocean. I figured, if shit really hits the fan, it doesn’t matter how well I know how to sail, what I would really need to know is how to survive.

Jon recommended three books:

1. “Adrift: 76 days lost at sea” by Steven Callahan. Amazing story of a man who survived in a liferaft in the Atlantic Ocean by himself for 76 days. He almost died several times as he got caught in storms, attacked by sharks, was constantly on the verge of dying from dehydration, and had to fix his deflating liferaft to save himself from drowning.

2. “Survive the Savage Sea” by Dougal Robertson. Six people- husband, wife, three kids, plus a crew member survived in a liferaft and dinghy for 37 days in the Pacific Ocean in the 1970’s.

3. “117 days adrift” by Maurice and Maralyn Bailey. Wife and husband survived in their liferaft for 117 days in the Pacific Ocean, catching fish, seabirds and turtles by hand and with safety pins to stay alive.

These are all true stories written by the survivors. I think these books impacted me far beyond what I had expected. Aside from learning that you have to have a very strong will to survive being lost at sea (and also be a lucky motherfucker), I learned about reality. You see, in a situation like that, nothing matters but survival. What do you need to survive? -Drinking water, food, flotation device. All three books described the devastating times when they had but 3 drops of water to drink in a single day, and those times when they managed to collect a large amount of water. All three described how rich they felt when they had a lot of water. All three described that the fish’s eyeball was the best part of the fish :) because it holds the most water. Water is all you need! (Okay plus some food and a flotation device).

You can extend this to your own reality. Think about it! If all these people can survive in the ocean for months with almost nothing at all, surely you can survive on land!! I think this is why I’m not afraid to never have a “real job” and in general to have “no security” (no income, no health insurance, no home, no home-base, no car, no retirement plan, nothing really- I love it! :D). I am on land! Not in the ocean! And on land I don’t even need a flotation device! I just need food and water (ok plus shelter and clothes here in Siberia), but the rest is just extra.

I think that most people today are so caught up in our culture of make believe that they have completely lost touch with reality. To understand reality, you have to try to understand your existence in relationship to the Earth and the Universe. Who are you? Just a little human who needs food and water to live. That’s all.

The Game of Trade

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Last week in my “better than your average conversation in Irkutsk” meet up, we watched the following video on ownership and social status:

I was pretty stoked that after watching the video and having a short discussion, everyone seemed to agree that this idea of owning something exists only in our imagination. You don’t really own anything. The only reason you think you own something is because you believe you own it and everybody else believes that too. But imagine telling an alien that this house is yours because you have a piece of paper that proves it’s yours. Surely the alien would tell you that your piece of paper means nothing :P. When you die, all the stuff you’ve acquired will remain on Earth and there is no cosmic law that can prove that you own anything.

One very important question from a newcomer: why is this important?

It’s important because this belief in ownership is at the core of the game that we all play here on planet Earth. Take a look at this book to understand what I’m talking about.

    • We believe we own things (we all use imagination)
    • Because of this we try to acquire things- phones, clothes, houses, cars, money etc.
    • In order to acquire things, we need to play the TRADE game
      • I trade my time/effort/skills (work) for money
      • I trade money for food/cars/house/etc.
      • There are many other types of trades- using money is just the most common way of trading. See “the origin of most problems” book above to learn about other kinds of trades
    • In order for this whole thing to work, businesses engage in trades
      • Example:
        • Farmer trades time and labor for money
        • Result: cotton
        • H&M needs cotton. H&M trades money for cotton
        • Cotton is transported to a factory
        • Factory workers trade time and labor for money
        • Result: shirts
        • H&M trades money for advertisement
        • Advertising agency employee trades time and skills for money
        • Result: ads to sell more shirts
        • H&M trades shirts for money
        • People trade money for shirts
      • Doesn’t sound all that bad, right? Jobs! Stuff to do! And that’s just business as usual, right? …But here’s a list of crap that comes out as a side effect of such a trade (and mind you, if you look deeply into any trade, you will very likely find some list of crap)-

These are all problems that are very real and I’m sure you are well aware of them. If not, I’ve included a short list of documentaries to watch about such crap that exists in our world (below**).

I am sure that there are some companies that try to minimize the crap they create, but mostly, when a company is driven by profit (when its primary aim is to acquire as much money as possible) you will see loads of crap.

So think about the bigger picture. The world as a whole. Almost every person on the planet plays this trade game. The trade game is dominated by big businesses*. The aim of the game is to acquire as much as possible- the purpose of business is to gain profit. The side effects are the crap we see in the world: inequality, poverty, pollution, environmental degradation, overconsumption, slavery, war, corruption, and much much more.

Random person: “Ok maybe I get it… But that’s just the way our world works, what could we possibly do about it?”

-Well first, understand the core problem: the trade game. Understanding is very important. Most people do not understand that trade itself is the problem.

Then we can work towards understanding (or creating) a solution. But don’t expect the solution to be quick and simple. You cannot find an easy answer to such a complicated problem, as the solution will require significant restructuring of both infrastructure (the society) and values (human mind)

See these books to learn more.

*Actually, the entire world is basically owned by about 175 monopolies (from food to entertainment, to clothes, housing, healthcare, everything!). Tio made a search engine dedicated specifically to exposing just how big these giants really are. You can use it to look up almost any brand/artist/movie/company/etc. and see who it’s owned by. Check it out: www.tromsite.com/tbf/

**Documentaries recommended by Tio:

The Men Who Made Us Spend -to understand how this notion of “spending” got into our society and how easy people are to manipulate.

Merchants of Doubt -perhaps the best documentary that showcases how science can be corrupted. very mind opening.

Human Footprint -very interesting to see how much a human consumes in their lifetime.

The Traffickers -8 captivating parts that show in detail how there is a black market for basically everything.

Exodus part one and part two -millions of poor people migrating because of poverty. 2 parts, 4 hours. Very interesting.

Machines -it is hard to believe this documentary was filmed in 2018, it looks like it’s from 1918. Unique documentary showcasing slavery in India. Very sad.

Life in A Globalized World -how people are becoming depressed because of our lifestyle: jobs, buy, ads, jobs, buy, ads…

Dark Side of the Tea Trade -workers in India living in poverty and exposed to highly toxic pesticides working for tea companies (some “fair trade”).

Sweatshop: Deadly Fashion -working like slaves for H&M (second biggest clothing company in the world).

Britain’s Modern Slave Trade -workers being enslaved in the UK.

Complicitworkers in China getting sick from working in factories producing iphones.

The Dark Side Of Chocolate enslaved children in the chocolate industry.

The Rich, The Poor and The Trash -documentary about people who work with and live off of trash.

The True Cost -enslaving workers in the fashion industry and overall about the fashion industry.

Poverty and Profit- the Business of Development Aid -this documentary analyses the political background behind public-private partnerships in development aid.

7-Eleven: The Price of Convenience -working like slaves for 7-eleven (largest supermarket chain in the world).

Slaving Away -working like slaves in the “fruit and vegetable” industry.

Sex Slavery – slaves in the sex industry.

Behind Closed Doors – maids being enslaved.

Migrant Dreams: Canada’s Broken Promise -workers exploited in Canada.

Trafficked in America -workers enslaved in US.

Myanmar’s Youngest Maids -maids exploited.

Apple’s Broken Promises -more apple slaves.

See more here!

And have a nice day :)