Twentieth international day of the Worlds indigenous peoples.

Twenty years ago, on the 9th of August 1994, the UN held the first international day of the Worlds indigenous people. The date marks the first meeting of the UN working group on indigenous populations of the subcommission on the promotion and protection of human rights in 1982.

Every decade had his theme and objectives. It began with the goal to strengthen international cooperation for solving problems faced by indigenous peoples in such areas as human rights, the environment, development, education and health.
The second international decade had the theme “partnership for action and dignity” addressing the international community to financially support the program of action, as well as focusing on the mentioned areas including economic and social development.

Now stepping into the third decade the theme calls “bridging the gap: implementing the rights of indigenous peoples.”
Despite all the efforts of all sorts of organizations, including the UN, indigenous peoples keep living in marginalized positions. Through those organizations they have gained more recognition and acclaimed their rights, but there is no reason for a party. There is still a long road ahead. The rights of indigenous peoples keep being violated and many of them are living on the brink of extinction, where the fire of their ceremonies are slowly dimmed. Like the Awá who live in the rainforest in Brazil. The Kogi who live in the Sierra Nevada in Colombia and see ‘development’ damaging their land. Or the Penan who live in Malaysia and see their home being destroyed by logging.

Elena Perez is an indigenous Maya woman from Nebaj in the department of Quiché in Guatemala, the worst hit region during the 36 year civil-war led by a militairy government. Family members have been brutally murdered during that time. The indigenous society still waits for justice and conviction of the former leaders.

Maria

A small path curls up the mountain, sweat dripping down my face onto the earth leaving no trace on the dusty soil.

Coffee plants standing in row, waiting for the right season to be picked. A young boy digs in the ground, making small irrigation canals so the water to come will know its way. He smiles friendly bathing in sweat and welcomes the break to have a little chat in this humid climate. He works for one of the land owners in preparation for the harvest season.

The gravel road continues with unseen ends. Within the green there moves a figure, small but upright. Light filters through the trees. Maria, mother of six children, grandmother of five, has been a widow since her husband died at age 42. She stayed behind with the work on the fields and her children to feed.
She pushes a wheelbarrow loaded with wood up the road towards her house. Firewood for cooking. Without, no warm food, coffee or thee. Every other day she needs to fetch her burning fuel. The load she carries now is small she says and won’t last long. “Tomorrow I have to go back and find more.”
Her dog accompanies her along the way.

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Francisco

It’s about nine in the morning and people are gathering at the schoolyard to form a circle. I’m looking for some shade, because even at this hour of the day the heat is intense.
As soon as everybody arrives Francisco get’s a small instrument out of his pocket and starts to play. He opens a ceremony with his mouth harp, a traditional instrument of the indigenous Wayuu. It makes a stirring sound, a vibration that even makes the air seems to listen.

We’re in the Indigenous Reserve el Cerro de Hatonuevo in the Northern department of La Guajira in Colombia. A handful of clans, those with the same family name, live here. The Wayuu represent the biggest indigenous group of the country with about 300.000 people. A semi nomadic pastoralist culture which has lived in these regions for centuries.

Don Francisco, a silent, but kindhearted man, is a very respected member of the community, while he is one of the village elders and contains ancestral knowledge.
He has seen changes over time. Used to herd cattle and grow his own crops he is now tied to barren land. His people have been bought of their lands by Cerrejón, one the largest open coal pit mines in the world and has been appointed to live in a reserve with set boundaries. At times the man’s eyes seems to reflect a longing for days in the past, a history only reflected in the memory of this elderly man.
When I leave after I’ve spent weeks in this area to learn more about the situation of this region, we shake hands and look each other in the eye. He thanks me for my interest and nods. For a moment there are no differences between us and I thank him for his hospitality and the opportunity to stay here.

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Jorge

At Peñol there reads a sign “Welcome to the rock, the most beautiful view in the world’. National and international tourist climb the more than 700 steps in this massive stone to see the view from the top. Back in the small colorful town called Guatapé the same tourists room the streets. Here a local farmer stands out in the crowd, waiting on the corner of the street for his ride home.
Having sold some of his lands harvest, Jorge will return to his village nearby, where you will find hardly any stranger at all.
We are not far away from Medellin, one of the country’s biggest cities, which has been at the center of the cocaine business for decades in Colombia.

It’s about 4 in the afternoon and the sun shines bright. The town murmurs quietly.
Being 82 Jorge has a sore back and has difficulty moving, but he has to work on his land to earn an income.
“Now I’ve sold something. O, how happy my wife will be if she sees the chicken I will bring home” he says with a twinkling in his eyes. “She will cook a wonderful meal!” he continues, tasting a delicious meal already. This soft-spoken and friendly man seems happy and content with this image in mind. I sense a hardworking life sits inside this man.
I shake his hand and wish him the very best for the years to come.

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Victor

When I spoke to him he was 99 years old.
Born in 1914, he turned 100 at the end of last year.
Still a vital man, with an astonishing good memory. He has twelve children, of which eight are woman and four man. He lives alone with his wife. His twelve children all spread out over the country.

Victor and I talk when I walk up the mountain. We are close to the Sierra Nevada in Colombia in a dense, green, forestry area full of life. A beautiful region far away from city noise. The only thing you hear is nature. A river’s flow crashing on rocks, birds singing their song. There’s a peaceful harmony here.

Few houses are scattered around in the forest. Nearby is a cacao farm where they make their own chocolate. Not much further a biological reserve where they preserve medicinal plants from all over the world, owned by a German scientist.

Victor lives in a small house, build by himself in the 40’s, “when materials where still cheap” he says. “All my cousins helped me. Back then the road was still good, so cars could come up here. And you know what”, he continues, “cement costed only 500 pesos per bag en wood was almost for free. Neighbours say it is the best house in the region, still standing!” he says proudly and smiles.
In 1941 he met his wife, who’s forefathers came from France. A few years later they married, settled here and never left. He loves this place and probably will take his last breath in this beautiful green jungle.

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2013 Reflections

The last day of the year, a day to look back on what has been. And to look forward on what will come.

A year, again, full of movement.
It started in the Guatemalan highlands, doing incredible hikes and visiting indigenous communities.

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These hikes continued in Holland, doing unplanned trips and campouts in the wild. It’s good to be under the stars in an open field so close to home.

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It wasn’t always unplanned. There was also a very welcome canoeing trip from Germany to Holland that came to an early end at the monstrous IJssel which had a high tide. Camping in the wild was a must.

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And not even long ago, my path led me to the highly complex, but beautiful and very interesting country of Colombia. Again visiting indigenous communities and doing hikes in the serene mountains.

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There is more to come and to discover. But keep your eyes and ears open for stories to reveal itself from my stay in Colombia.

Future expeditions will follow.

For now I want to thank everybody who blessed me with their hospitality, with their joy and friendship. I wish you all a wonderful and inspiring new year!

El Mercado

An old American school bus pulls up with a loud roaring sound of the engine and leaves a big dense cloud of exhaust fumes behind. A young boy hangs out shouting where the bus will go. People on the side of the street pull away their belongings, so the bus can pass, I step aside so I won’t be run over. Hiding in the crowd I hear salsa music coming from a boom blaster somewhere from this mass of people.
I am at Quetzaltenango’s biggest market ‘Mi Nerva’, situated right before the city’s bus terminal. Walking down these narrow streets dazzling with people can make you go crazy and excited at the same. The small wooden stands are packed together and it seems as if there is no order in anything here, but all seems to find its own way. In this labyrinth of alleys it is often hard for two people to cross each other.
Sunlight filters trough, shades glide over the supplies. An odor of fresh fruit,  herbs and all kinds of food comes to my nose, it’s an overwhelming sensation of the senses.
I take one turn and dive into an oasis of brightly colored flowers, where after I almost bump into a woman wearing her traditional clothes, carrying her baby on her back. I have to dive a couple of times, not to hit my head at something sharp or an overhanging wooden bar. Going inside the building it looks like it’s more ordered, straightened paths and high ceilings, sections of goods, but still the paths stay narrow and the crowd big. I end up at the meat section, it has a vicious strong smell and go outside again. Here, most of the fruit and vegetables are sold, where woman site in the midst of their groceries, selling and socializing with their neighbors. With water they try to keep their vegetables wet, fresh and look better.

The very same happens at ‘Democracia’, the other big market more at the center of town, but where the streets are somewhat wider. Fruit and vegetables are sold outside, on the side of the streets and all the other merchandise, from ropes, clothes to meat, herbs and food stands are more inside in the labyrinth of paths and the murmur of people. It’s cozy, all those persons wandering around, the familiar dealing with people and the social act of buying in these kind of places. People are friendly and there is a lot of laughter.
After some time people become familiar with you and you start going to the same places to buy your groceries. You get the idea of supporting these people, supporting families. Families that so much need the extra income. It is estimated that 53% of the population in Guatemala lives in poverty and 13% in extreme poverty. Whereas indigenous woman, boys and girls in the highlands are among the most vulnerable group according to the World Food Program.

I spoke to a woman who was sitting at the floor just before the entrance of the indoor market where she had her little selling spot. She told me she was there for two days a week to sell the little fruit  and vegetables they had to bring home a little more income for the family. Others were cooking food or selling meat to earn just that to come by. Many people, like the woman I spoke to, come from small Mayan settlements surrounding the city and go here to sell their goods. Others rent a place and sell products for a middle man, but at the end earning a little to support their families at home.
The city of Quetzaltenango is the trading center of the Western Highlands for all the surrounding indigenous communities. So all the markets here provide an important place for people to fight poverty.

All these lives come together at these interesting, vibrant market places and you can sense the cultural diversity, the richness of the culture. The hope and faith of the people you come by and you can almost touch the lives of these people.

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Packed the tent instead…

A walk along the IJssel turned into camping near the IJssel. I decided to pack my bag and camp instead.

But before the short trip started it was delayed while we had to chase a big old dear who escaped from his territory.
We gave up the search at some point when all of a sudden, I saw the animal silently grazing under the magnolia tree. Patiently we guided him towards his own space again.

Here after I set out on foot to find a spot at one of the small ponds near the IJssel. Close to the water I sat down to have small dinner, when big, high and dense clouds drifted over and changed colors very subtle. It was as if I could almost touch them. A silent night followed and birds awoke me this morning.
How nice to be in Nature, this close to home.

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Where is that light

Where do I find that light,
that light that shines to nowhere
and everywhere at once.

Where do I find that light,
that light in thin air that lifts you up.

Where is the eye that sees the world,
where is the eye that knows.

Where is that I that is not myself.
Where is that I that is sound, laughter and joy,
that I that is pain, doubt and misery,
that I that resides in silence.

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Back home!

After going through German forests, wet feet, a noisy night close to the autobahn, a day full of strong headwind, sunburns, industrial terrains, the crossing of roads and an almost drowned canoe we had a good, long night sleep in a Dutch forest out of the wind.
We continued to Doesburg were we crossed some grasslands, dragged the canoe over land through swampy fields and when we got to the IJssel, with a strong current and high tide we called it a day..

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The Life of Water

The life of water and all the life on the planet with it, is connected with each other like in a big circle and depend on one another.

The growth of the smallest organisms in the water, phytoplankton, are responsible for the rising of temperatures in the sea. This influences weather systems and causes clouds to form, which brings rain to land and feeds rivers. These rivers flow into the river delta’s where filtered mud flows into the ocean to disappear to the bottom of the sea. Here it sometimes stays for over thousands of years before it is being stirred up by ocean winds to reach the surface and under influence of sunlight grows to phytoplankton.

The smallest organism is being eating by the biggest, the blue whale, and at the same time it is responsible for the most untouchable and elusive systems of the planet, the weather.

In just a day, one day later than planned due to rainfall, I will be on the water again, on a small creek with a canoe on a small trip from Germany to Holland.
I am looking forward to drift over the water again.

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This picture was taking during last years canoeing trip on the Berkel.

The trip has been postponed to next week, due to the weatherforcast (rainfal, nightfrost and frozen rain)

Spring has arrived

April passed by. Like in a dream, you are in the midsts of something and all of a sudden you find yourself in a different setting, a different vibe.
But what a fine shift, what a pleasure brings this new sun, the Dutch spring has finally arrived.

How nice to breath in that tasty air, that feels slightly thicker than the months before. You can see and hear the bursting of life around you, fresh green leaves burst out on the trees, birds sing their songs in the early morning.
Nature rings and it seems to show its joy of life, its fertility, after the serenety and reflective state of winter.

 

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These pictures were taken not a week apart from each other.

Nepal memories

I hear drums, the Tibetan horn, cymbals, rhythmic voices chanting and praying with devotion.
I have just set foot on land and it is my first real encounter with Buddhism here in this country with all those high mountain peaks coverred with eternal snow. I am thrilled. It would be one of many encounters in this country that has ten of the fourteen highest peaks in the world and where Buddhism is strongly present. I am in Nepal.

A moment later a deep silence takes over and some time after children run out the monastry.
Free time! In a disciplined and structured life of a monk.

 

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“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.” Buddha

This photo was taken on that particular moment

 

Nebaj a Todos Santos

There are unusual rainclouds for the time of the year that drift over the mountains. It thunders in the far distance and we sit near an outdoor fire, watching the stars appear behind the clouds.
It’s the second day of our trek in the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes, the highest non-volcanic mountain range of Central America. We have past the little settlements of Acul, Xexuxcap, Xexocom, Chuatuj and have come as far as Chortiz today. Here we will spend the night in a fairly spacious wooden shed. Wide openings in the walls where wind comes through, no electricity. Two big wooden cases holding loads of thick woolen blankets and a pile of pillows to keep us warm and comfortable during the long and cold night to come.
When we wake up in the morning and walk out the door, we see that the ground is wet of the nightly rain. It is still very misty and the sun shines lightly through the clouds and mist that drifts over the land. The first few hours we walk we have visibility of less than a hundred meters around us. It gives the surroundings a mystique glow in silence.IMG_7646-2The village we stayed in is formed in the years of the civil war, when families fled from the army and the guerilla rebellions groups, so they didn’t have to take part in either way of the fight, the immense struggle that was going on for 36 years.
The remoteness of this mountain area gave the people shelter from the war, but also gave them a rough ordeal. Those who survived knew what they could eat, how to stay warm and how to stay away from any danger. I have been told these people survived on herbs they could find for over years.
To come here the walk was long and sometimes exhausting, with big changes in climate and altitudes. The diversity of the landscape was astonishing. Where we started in a green and fertile forest environment near Acul, at around 2000 meters above sea level where people were cutting corn at steep mountain slopes. We climbed slowly up to above 3000 meters, passing some sort of pine cloud forest, where big grey rocks were spread all over, which made this place feel like something very old, fairly strange and highly remote. Not much before we passed a high pass, after zigzagging up a small ridge for a couple of hours, crossing a small self-made wooden fence what farmers closed to keep their kettle at one side of the mountain. It was here that we entered the pine forest where clouds drift in and bring a bitter cold. The two of us, who are ahead, take a rest and eat something. It is evident that corn doesn’t grow here anymore, only grass and small pine trees fall in sight, so the view seems inhospitable. Though not much further we come to a little settlement called Xexocom, where a handful of people live with their cattle.
Those who live here have adopted a lifestyle far from any comfort, in synchronicity with its surroundings and away from any influences of the outside world. We stop at a dark wooden house, what appears to be a little tienda (shop). A woman comes over with her son and opens the place. A couple of drinks and some small snacks can be purchased.

These places are slowly changing. Mainly due to development projects and organizations who have come into the area, a growing interest of the tourism industry and the migration of family members going to the United States.
Step by step the communities are opening up, some with more resistance then others, but a certain development is happening. Coming in these little and fragile settlements it is hard to imagine this route being taken by a number of thirty tourists or more, by some of the trekking agencies, overcrowding villages just by entering. We as visitors are able to make a conscious decisions, in how and with whom we travel so to be a responsible traveler. To be conscious of the impact we have on the environment we come across.
The hesitance and a certain fear among the indigenous communities for outsiders and strangers, for those who look and speak so differently and enter their world is not hard to imagen. It is not even so long ago that these places where undiscovered and were entered by any stranger at all.
Marvin, a tour guide, tells me that he had some hard encounters on a  trek he did for the first time years ago. “People were suspicious when we first came into the village and thought we were part of the army or wanted to harass their wives and children. They threatened to harm us if we ever tried to come back.”
They did come back and started the dialogue and after some time people realized there was no harm in their intentions. Economic possibilities arouses, the little tiendas opened and beds were made.
Probably the biggest change that has taken place in the last years is that we now sleep at their houses, eat with them and, like Marvin stated, some of them have become good friends.

Our last night we stayed at the top of La Torre, at an altitude around 3800 meters above sea level, in an old brick house with wide cracks in the wall, a stinging cold, a hard, brutal wind and where mice were the regular natural visitor.

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Trees and Light

A lot of words, searching in reflection, searching for identity, to a relationship with the world and with itself.
A forest where only a dying soul will disapear. The breath of life,
wind stirs the trees, leaves will let go when autumn comes. The wind will be strong,
will lie down and sit there, awaiting.
It will blow houses away, will rip trees out of the earth and let nothing in its form.

The wind came by and sat everything in motion, without touching a single thing.
Shadows walk on the ground with firm pace, not knowing.
A shining light enters, disturbs but nothing.

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A series of photos taken in Holland and Guatemala.