GEOGRAPHIC Spring 2012
Faces of Route 100
Muros de Barcelona
Driving into Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom Finding art in the shadow of Gaudi
Kento Mizuno Avery Shawler
Namibia’s New Order
Voices From the Oil Patch
Decay in the Rustbelt
Down in the Boondocks
A shifting paradigm for wildlife conservation
Drilling in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale Going for broke (and losing) in San Juan America’s industrial heartland
Hiking the Appalachian Trail
Cover and inside cover: Namibia (Kento Mizuno)
A Taxi Ride in Amman
Navigating the political-personal fault line
Camps Bay, Cape Town, South Africa (Kyle Hunter)
From the Editor: In an interview 15 years ago, Pico Iyer, the essayist and cultural critic, noted: “our grandfathers could never enjoy the illusion of knowing Pakistan — it was on the other side of the world and they hadn’t even seen images of it…the fact that surface and depth are themselves changing their relations in the information age…We see more and more images and we don’t know how deeply they go into us, or how to sift the ones that are fleeting from the ones that are eternal.” The question of how we interpret the images we see, and what sort of knowledge they impart on us, comes up frequently as we choose articles that are often (though not always) about distant or unfamiliar places. These questions of honesty, context, and power are not easily resolved in this short space, but all our contributors tackle the uncertainty of being a “visitor” with care. They walk the line between the political and personal with a keen awareness. It might seem somewhat puzzling, too, that as we spend more and more time in front of a screen, Middlebury Geographic has chosen to stay a print publication (albeit, with a web presence). Despite the ability to integrate different forms of media in an online space, there is something unique about holding a physical magazine. The physicality of a printed photograph (or the printed word) lends it more depth, and demands that we consider it more closely. There is no option to click through. It helps us sift. With that in mind, I am excited to see how Middlebury Geographic will continue to evolve and grow beyond my time here. As always, enjoy the journey. Sincerely, Kyle Hunter
Venice, Italy (Carly Shumaker) 2
Photo by Madison Kahn, French Ridge Hut, Mt. Aspiring, New Zealand.
FACES OF ROUTE 100 BY
orthern Vermont, early Winter 2012. The four men sit outside the Troy General Store on Route 100. Dressed in worn jeans and Carhartt jackets, they drink coffee and talk politics in the same way they have for the last 35 years. They speak an old Vermont Yankee dialect that is quickly slipping away with each passing generation. Their scraggly beards and flannel shirts 4
Route 100 snakes its way through some of the most remote parts of Vermont, ending near the Canadian border after striking through the Northeast Kingdom.
stand as a testament to the Vermont that raised them. They live next to reflective rivers, tree-lined mountains, and red barns. They are the American stereotype of bucolic farm country. But they don’t exist, or at least not how you think they would. I’m in dairy country, five miles south of the Canadian border at the entrance to Route 100. While the majority of the area remains farmland, the dairy country is rapidly changing. In 1960, Vermont had over 8,512 farms; in 2010 that number dwindled to 1,055 and today it continues to drop. Nowadays, the average Vermont dairy farm has 130 cows, while other operations milk well over 1,000 cows. I’m driving through Orleans County, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, and besides a dwindling farm economy the region has lost nearly all forms of industry. As a result, locals are forced to relocate or undertake new business ventures. Nonetheless, nearly everyone I met retained a sunny disposition toward life in Vermont. Just nine miles down Route 100, I stopped into Degre Auction House (Westfield) to learn more about the changes to the region’s farming landscape. Inside I found Jen Degre, a warm woman who until 2004 owned a dairy farm of 180 cows. But despite her family’s farming presence in the area since the 1800s, Jen was forced to sell her cows. The changes in industry have put Jen and many other small farmers out of business. Despite the pains of starting an entirely different line of work at age 50, Jen wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. When I asked her about the best part of life in Vermont she gave a swift and passionate response: “It’s the best place in the world around here” After meeting Jen and hearing how factory farming forced her to get rid of her cows, I expected to find a new farming industry replete with heartless owners who cared more for profits than quality. Instead, I found Kirk Lanphear of Lanphear Farm in Morrisville, Vermont. When I met Kirk he found me trespassing through his multi-million dollar milking parlor. In an age of private property and fenced off neighbors one would expect Kirk to forcibly remove me from his property or promptly call the cops. Instead he greeted me with a warm smile and spent over an hour showing me through his 700acre farm. He explained the history of the land and its evolution from a tiny family run operation to a 500-plus 5
cow farm that births a calf every 12 hours. Several times during our tour Kirk, a genial man in his forties, apologized to me (the trespasser) for taking up so much of my time. He certainly was not the mega-farm owner I expected to encounter. Vermont farmers have two options: “go big” (buy more cows) or leave the business. Before Kirk was born his father set up a dairy farm on the property, and until 1999 they ran it as a small farm with around 100 cows. The entire business was family owned and operated. But as Kirk described, small farms are hard to keep out of debt, and increasing farm size is the only effective means of boosting revenue. Nowadays, the 500 cows produce over 30,000 gallons of milk per-day. But gone are the days when the Lanphear family milked all the cows themselves. Kirk employs five people from outside the family, including three Mexican migrant farmworkers. The farm also utilizes a state of the art milking parlor, and a barn that automatically cleans itself eight times a day. Kirk admits he is a farming anomaly. Very rarely can a single-family owner independently maintain a farm of his size. And as I learned traveling the Northeastern Kingdom (NEK), if you’re not as lucky as Kirk, the region has very little to offer by way of employment. There is no industry in the area. That is, no industry, until you hit Stowe. Compared to the NEK, Stowe feels like a fairy tale—and it is. Instantly, images of rural poverty are replaced with the idyllic Vermont village. Stowe is Vermont’s postcard. It is the picture of quaint beauty. It symbolizes every suburbanite’s image of rustic rural simplicity. It represents a place where folks from New Jersey and Massachusetts can forget the doldrums of life next to a strip mall. But as you drive Route
100 from Stowe to Ludlow, a stretch of highway lined with ski resorts and second homes, you sense something eerie. You begin to notice that the more travelers try to use Vermont to get “back to nature,” the more the state resembles exactly where they came from. And while Vermont’s visitors believe Stowe to be the epitome of a pastoral village, in reality it’s nothing more than an architect’s vision. The real “villages” of Vermont, which you see in between the ski resorts, bear no resemblance to these touristic ski towns. Yet behind the ritzy villages and the ailing economy are the people that live here year round. To out-of-staters, Vermont is stereotyped as a bastion of granola-eating hippies spread through a state of cow farmers. But as I traveled down Route 100, I learned that one can’t typify the state. There is no single Vermont. During my travels I interviewed over forty people and discovered the only unifying trait was a willingness to share their story. There aren’t many places where a farmer will find trespassers, and instead of grabbing his gun, will take them on an hour and a half tour of his land. Or a business owner will stop her work for over an hour on some idle Thursday to regale her visitors with old stories of life growing up in Vermont. Sure, the landscape of the state is changing, but one aspect holds fast—despite the cold winters and the even harsher economy, Vermonters are a kind bunch with characters as varying as the seasons.
Rudy Michael, sells firewood and “stuff like that,” Plymouth
Eastman “Eastie” Long, maple syrup maker, Fayston
Kirk Lanphear, owner of Lanphear Farm, Morrisville
Kevin Dumas, runs Missisquoi Lanes Bowling Alley, Lowell
Adam Greshin, co-owner of Sugarbush Ski Resort, Waitsfield
Dan Hescock, fire warden/mechanic, Wardsboro
Hank Schwartz, master glassblower, Jamaica
Dennis “D” Vadnais, tavern owner, Granville 7
Finding art in the
shadow of Gaudi
left the humorously located outdoor shop in central Barcelona with a Suunto compass, prepared to navigate whatever it was that the jagged maze of the old city had for me in the two kilometers between me and my destination to the east.
Of course, I found trouble almost immediately. Blocking my direction was a posse of policía violently subduing a suspect just off of Plaça Reial. I went south to avoid the bottleneck of police and people converging to see the commotion, ostensibly those who had not signed the petition for the successful Catalan ban on bullfighting. Even with the compass, I ended up good and lost down the backstreets of the old city. Captivated by the collaged walls of the medieval maze, I eventually lost all urgency to escape and stayed until the sun set. They do say the best way to get to know a city is to lose your way. The walls and doors are the city’s canvas, and the city is quite an artist. Radical pamphleteers, nightclub promoters, searching animal owners, and irreverent graffiti artists leave their marks in paint,
paper, and paste on the old and weathered buildings, creating a collage authored by everyone and no one. Aesthetically, the wall’s collages contain fields of two- and three-dimensional textures, a wide palate of color, and typography, as well as brazen blasphemy, altered pop culture figures, verbal graffiti, and stencil. The countless layers and authors of the surrogate canvas provide a poignant juxtaposition to the Museu Picasso, just down the street. While the walls’ aesthetics alone have enough allure for casual appreciation, one must examine collages’ text in its cultural context to truly explore the phenomenon. Besides commercial advertisement, the text in many of the walls’ collages illustrates the long tradition of political radicalism and
unorthodoxy in Barcelona, from the anarchists and socialists oppressed under the totalitarian Franco, to the politicized squatting of the Okupa movement or the Catalan independence movement. Distrust in the state belies paranoid warnings of authoritarian society: la televisión es mentira (television is a lie). Anarchists encourage participation in “muralism” as a form of education, and one can find “the free university of stencil” tagged everywhere. More popular still might be the sardonic adaptations of the pop cultural and commercial, such as the alteration of the name of the lollipop company Chupa Chups to Chupa Sangre (Suck Suck to Suck Blood). A tone of absurdism runs throughout all of these politicized statements, subversive messages, and aesthetic graffiti for graffiti’s sake, perhaps best represented by a tag I saw that read basura visual (visual garbage). The collage is just like the city it inhabits: a product of the marriages of and clashes between different styles,
filled with self-contradictions, difficult to navigate, protean, and incredibly beautiful. I hope people stop and look at this urban collage as they hurry from one Gaudí building to the next. Every guidebook lists the same refined destinations of museums, Gaudí buildings, markets, and streets, obviously catering to a romanticized Woody Allen interest. But these visits leave the tourist lacking any sort of commentary on anything but haute couture. Many visitors treat travel like a sabbatical, an opportunity to learn and to tour, and thus so many leave empty handed and empty headed. But to those who wish to take in the rough as well as the polished, there is a free museum throughout the city: on its walls, signs, doors, and manhole covers. Nobody said it was easy to feel a city’s true ethos or aura. But I suppose it is right in front of everyone, written on the wall. 11
Michelle Fechtor 12
here’s no shortage of sky in these lands. The clouds hung low, their bellies nearly touching down on the stretch of highway before me. The yellow plains rolled from the road until tucked neatly away into the curve of the horizon.
VO I C E S F R O M T H E O I L PATC H DRILLING IN NORTH DAKOTA’S BAKKEN SHALE
A mind could get lost in this space if you let it. A herd of cows roamed over the prairie, picking over the husks that had snapped in the cold of winter. I pulled off the road just before reaching the exit to Dickinson, North Dakota. A few feet in front of my car, a deer lay on the side of the road. Its right shoulder slumped over the rest of its body, and a thick pool of blood gathered beside its crooked neck. Behind it, a billboard called out to future truck drivers and crane operators, urging them to join the team for a Career Driven by Horsepower. An oil company truck sped by, stirring dust over the deer’s body. The number of vehicles driving through Wiliston’s single lane highways has tripled in the last five years. Some carry
doubled in the last three years. North Dakota’s towns can’t build apartments, homes, or motel rooms fast enough for the current of jobhungry workers flooding the region. Williston’s Wal-Mart regularly runs out of milk, eggs, and frozen pizzas by 4 pm., and its parking lot has transformed into a permanent campground. What happens to a small town when a nomadic industry takes it by storm? Even worse, what is the town to do when the industry leaves? I came to North Dakota to understand how oil developments might have caused a cognitive disconnect to the local landscape. It is our experience within a landscape that transforms space to place, and our memories of place define the spaces we call home. With the
What happens to a town when a nomadic industry takes it by storm? Even worse, what is the town to do when the industry leaves?
P H OTO S A N D T E X T B Y ALEX G ELLER 14
modular homes, others carry pipeline segments, and many carry oil. North Dakota’s sitting like a bull’s eye in a modern day Manifest Destiny, and the Missouri River marks the beginnings of the new west. As global oil supplies near their point of depletion, our reliance on nonrenewable energy sources is only growing stronger. Governments and corporations around the world are racing to seize what’s left, and in the western belt of North Dakota, the industry’s geographic expansion is spreading faster than its internal capacity allows. Neither the oil companies, nor the towns housing the industry, can keep up with its demand on human, manufactured, or natural resources. The population in Williston has nearly
drastic changes to private property, local towns, and the region’s physical landscape, I wondered if residents of the Oil Patch could still call North Dakota home. I first met with Dr. Woodrow, Chip, Poland, chair of Dickinson State University’s Agricultural and Technical Studies Department. He’s a landowner and a rancher himself, living just north of the town of Dickinson. I asked him if a tension existed between the state’s agricultural and oil industries. He asked me to trace my question back a bit further. “Tension is something that one perceives. We have severed the legal relationship between the surface owner and the subsurface, or the mineral owner. So now, technically, you have 15
WHEN A ONCE OVERLOOKED REGION IN MIDDLE AMERICA SUDDENLY BEAMS LIKE A POT OF GOLD, JOB HUNGRY WORKERS FROM ALL OVER THE COUNTRY COME RUNNING FOR A PIECE OF WEALTH.
two people that own the same geographic space.” It’s easiest to describe property ownership like a layer cake. An individual can own the mineral, surface, air, or wind rights within an allotted space. The state of North Daktoa first divided mineral rights from surface ownership in the 1914 Agricultural Entry Act, when the state sought to reserve oil and gas rights for energy development. For the purpose of this metaphor, let’s call the minerals the richest, bottommost layer to the cake. When an oil company negotiates a lease with the mineral rights owners, they have between three and five years to begin oil production. If the company is able to begin producing within the allotted timeframe, the lease permits them to drill as many wells, as often, and as densely, as they choose within the spatial extent of the lease. To get to the oil, however, the industry needs to dip their fingers into every other layer of the cake. While the mineral owner reaps the benefits of the company’s production, the proprietor of the land, air, or wind rights above that oil don’t receive a dime — or even an apology note. “I, as a surface owner, have little control because I have to provide access to the mineral owner. Once the oil company decides where to set that well, I have little or no say over where that site goes,” he continued. Small torches of fire burned over North Dakota’s Badlands. It looked as if someone had placed hundreds of prayer candles atop the rolling plains. The flames danced in and out while the crimson sun set to the west. Streaks of 14 18
sapphire smeared over the night sky, and the light dusting of snow turned the hills to silver. It was a beautiful scene, really — the snow-swept hills beneath the violet sky, the tiny lights flickering in and out, the clusters of pine trees, the strips of yellow grass and red clay. Yes, it would certainly make for a beautiful postcard, I thought. My car dipped down from the hills and as I drove closer to the flickering lights, I could see the dim silhouette of a wellhead behind each flame. Their rigid geometric lines cut across the evening’s soft backdrop. They rocked up and down with a steady pulse, pumping crude oil from the earth while the torches of natural gas burned into the night sky. The flares burn through the night and day. Without a pipeline in place, North Dakota’s oil companies use flares to create a pressurized vacuum, pulling natural gas from the currents of crude oil they are drilling from the ground below. North Dakota, is currently flaring more than 150 million cubic feet of natural gas are flared each day — enough gas to heat half a million homes for the same amount of time. As I made my way north, closer to the heart of the oil patch, I saw hundreds of campers, tents, and RV’s parked along the side of the road — each covered with a thin layer of frost. I wondered if the riggers inside were connected to a source of heat. Edwin and Jodi Egly own a farm in Belfield, North Dakota. The town itself is made up of two gas stations and a steakhouse. I drove through miles worth of farmland before finding
the pastures where their cattle were grazing. I counted eleven wells on the road up to their house. The air smelled like rotten eggs and tasted of salt. “I can’t even smell it anymore. The cows don’t mind it, neither,” Edwin said. H2S, or Hydrogen Sulfilde, is a highly toxic, invisible gas often found in sites of petroleum and gas extraction. Prolonged exposure can paralyze the olfactory nerves, meaning you can’t rely on your sense of smell to detect its presence. I didn’t know how to tell Edwin he was living in a wasteland. Edwin’s an Irish with an Irish temper —or so he said. He spoke with an honesty that threw me off guard. In the last boom, the oil companies buried frack water in his fields. “You dig a post hole where they used to
by the independent “fly by night” companies. “They’re here to make a quick buck and they’re out of here,” Jodie told me. “The state is just letting this get too wild. They’ve let out too many leases, and now they have to play catch up. They say on the national news that there are all these jobs in North Dakota, so everyone comes in and they’re staying in these truck camps. Everybody’s just running over everybody.” Jodi brushed the dark bangs from her eyes, and offered me a soda before I headed for the road. “You can’t stop the oil field,” Edwin said as I walked out the door. If North Dakota’s farmers and ranchers felt they were losing control of their land, I wondered about the population who had roamed the landscape before land ownership ever came into play. The Mandan, Hidasta, and Arikara make
The flames danced in and out while the crimson sun set to the west. Streaks of sapphire smeared over the night sky. dig the trenches, and it will just ooze out of the ground. The feds clean up the spills now, but they do more damage than they do good. They cut out all of my top soil.” In the last boom, Edwin lost two horses, eight bulls, and close to 100 cows or calves. No one even knows they hit them. “I jockeyed how I move my cattle a lot with where the most activity is. If they’re drilling in one area, I try to keep my cows on the other side of the pasture..When they build their locations, they’ll go through your fences and cut roads right through your pastures, they even run a well right down my water line. When they came in to fix it, they threw a band-aid on the pipe and called it good.” When a once overlooked region in middle America suddenly beams like a pot of gold, job hungry workers from all over the country come running for a piece of the wealth. The state is issuing more drilling leases than it has the capacity to drill, facilitating irresponsible drilling
up the three affiliated tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation. A long string of semi trucks led the way north, to New Town. Every time another semi bowled down the single lane highway, I felt my car keel over with the shift in air currents. As the evening wore on, the wind picked up, and began stirring the snow up from the road. Soon I couldn’t see more than ten feet ahead. Snow swarmed from the badlands. I was lost in a total white out. Somewhere between the ground and the sky, a small torch of fire burned ahead of me, and I wondered just what kind of hell I had entered. I crept along another mile or two before finding a gas station where I could wait out the storm. For a late Tuesday night, the gas station was packed. I waited while a tall man in workpants and a thick wool hat filled his Styrofoam cup full of coffee. He nearly backed right into me when he turned around. “Well what do the hell do you think—“ 15 19
he paused and blinked when he finally turned all the way around. “I’m sorry ma’am, I didn’t realize there was a woman behind me.” “Oh, it’s no problem —“ “Shit, Miss, I really do apologize. I just never see any women up around here.” “Really, it’s alright,” “I mean maybe once or twice at the watering hole, but — Oh I’m sorry, I just — It’s usually only men up at this hour. And they’re all damn ugly too — well that’s pretty much a job requirement. Shit, ma’am. I’m sorry.” He mumbled apologies all the way to the register. A brass bell rung as he walked out the door. I took it there weren’t many women working the rigs. At the register, another man hung around the front desk, hassling the cashier behind the register. She was the only other woman at the station. “Joan, baby, when are you gonna to marry me?” the man teased. “When you get a green card,” Joan replied. The following morning, I met with Elgin Crowsbreast and Kalvin Grinnell, the Historic Preservation Officers of the Three Affiliated 20
Tribes. “Historically we considered ourselves the keepers, or the users of the land,” Elgin said, his voice low. The Fort Laramie Treatie of 1851 was first to introduce the notion of ownership to the tribes, pushing them into a specific territory, or reservation. Thirty six years later, the Dawes Act divided the reservation into either privatelyowned allotments, or community lands within the Tribal Trust. The legislation separated and shuffled a native population that had once settled as a large community around Lake Sakakawea. Establishing schools, health systems, business, and rural water networks was like trying to restart a chess game after the pawns had been pushed off the board. Just as the pieces began finding their place back on each square, the oil industry’s development returned to slice up the chessboard. “It took a long time for the tribes to understand the concept of ownership — of something being theirs — because before that, ownership never was.” “Most of the people working in this industry have a disregard for the land,” Kelvin
added, “they’re not from here. They’re after the oil, and whatever they need to do to bust up the earth and break it open is what they’re going to do.” The industry has encroached on sacred praying sights, medicinal plant fields, and teepee grounds. Scoria roads and wire gates are cutting up what was once an infinite grassland. Well sites are popping up over sacred cemeteries and erasing the traces of an already disintegrating tradition. The traditional spiritual practices began to dissolve with the flooding from the Garrison dam. Now, with the industrial invasion of a sacred landscape, a return to the former kinship seems unlikely. “It’s not their homeland. It’s not their land. All this development is for the almighty dollar. They’re going to stay here as long as they can suck the oil from the earth, and we have to live with what’s left over when they leave,” Elgin said. It’s easy to villainize the oil industry— but there are additional culprits at play here. The state is issuing drilling permits too quickly, and in doing so, it’s pulling the rug out from its own local towns and communities—Putting
them at risk for a loss of autonomy, broken social structures, and an increased dependence on external organizations. And then there’s the national demand for oil. Consuming 18.8 million barrels of oil a day, the US is the largest consumer of petroleum in the world. 55% of that oil comes from domestic sources. North Dakota’s private landowners, native populations, and local communities suffer the burdens from pressure exerted at the larger scales. We live in a society where the site of production, for most of us, is spatially disconnected from the place of consumption. As a result, the federal government, the state, and even we as consumers, turn a blind eye to those living in the places that fuel our cars, make our plastics, and insulate our homes. With global supplies dwindling, scientists predict that by 2041, oil will be incapable of meeting even 33.6% of the world’s energy needs. Within the next two decades, the oil industry will pack its bags and head out of North Dakota—probably more quickly than it came in. In the meantime, our growing demand for energy cannot justify an irresponsible extaction of supplies. 21
NAMIBIAâ€™S NEW ORDER Photos by Kento Mizuno Text by Avery Shawler
Namibia has set itself apart from other developing nations through its aggressive conservation programs that integrate wildlife conservation with development programs aimed at putting control back into the peopleâ€™s hands.
The Namibian government has built a strong framework for community-based conservation that is turning into a model for other countries endowed with high levels of biodiversity. They have created a system of communal conservancies, whereby the government grants communities the rights to manage wildlife and resources in specially demarcated areas as they see fit. The combination of state-run Protected Areas and communal conservancies offer some of the best possibilities for protecting biodiversity in southern Africa.
Namibia is one of the least densly populated places on earth. 1.8 million people inhabit a country that is twice the size of California. 24 20
Each community conservancy has a constitution, members, game guards, and a management committee, and together they control how their resources will be used and how members will benefit. Consumptive use of wildlife includes use of game for trophy hunting, human consumption, commercial sale of meat, or the capture of game for live sale. Nonconsumptive uses include tourism ventures such as safari camps. The Himba people picture here are one community that has benefitted economically and politically from these conservancies, as they have been able to regain control of their ancestral lands.
23 27 22
Human-wildlife conflict is still a problem, particularly when it comes to poaching. But Namibians are now at the forefront of managing and protecting the countryâ€™s endemic species. Keeping the wildlife populations healthy and stable has ecological benefits, and brings monetary returns for some communities in the form of tourism. Yet it is not a perfect system. As with any commodity in the global tourism market, the threat of overuse, exploitation, and corruption comes with the money that tourists bring.
Going for broke (and losing) in San Juan
ibby and I drove to Boston through the night. I switched into cruise control, and we rolled southward down I 89 - away from our small college town in Middlebury, towards the Logan airport in Beantown.
Four days earlier we had purchased flight to Costa Rica for spring break. I had intended on skiing in Colorado with the College team during the weeklong vacation, but had been sidelined by a knee injury. Libby had recently broken up with her boyfriend of a year, and sought distance from the memories of them together. At the time, Costa Rica presented itself as the best option. It was inexpensive, reasonably close, and tranquil. One week later the Central American nation would prove to be the opposite - far from home, expensive, and frenzied. A sign on the side of the highway indicated a rest stop at the next exit. We turned off, and pulled up to the well-lit building. Exhausted, we were mosquitoes attracted to the fluorescent light of the vending machines. Libby bought us each a FourLoco, the energy drink beverage of choice for col-
lege students that year – a lethal combination of caffeine, taurine, guanine, and death. “I think this has bull testicle in it.” She laughed, and smiled at me. “Pura Vida baby.” Twitching our way down the highway, we arrived at the airport, and left the car in the long-term parking lot. I tucked the keys in one of the back pockets of my knapsack, useless until we would return six days later. Six hours later our plane circled above the capital city of San José, the largest and most densely populated city in Costa Rica. Small tin roofs melded together, creating silver snakes across the land below. For much of the 20th century the capital city was an agricultural hub, pumping out coffee and bananas for a bustling export economy. Following the end of the Second World War, San José’s population increased rapidly as people flocked to the cities. From seeds and modest
homes to factories and shantytowns, San José became a hive of crime, poverty, and uncontrolled urban architecture. Engines quieting, our plane dove downwards, breaking through the white-translucent barrier of the clouds. We caught a cab, and Libby instructed the driver in shaky Spanish that we wanted to go to the Hostel Pangea in the Barrio Amon district – a popular traveler’s destination four blocks from the center of the city. Torn posters were still plastered to the concrete walls, remnants of the Presidential election held a few days prior to our arrival. The taxi driver told Libby of the victory of Laura Chinchilla, Costa Rican’s having voted for the first time to elect a female president. The car lurched to a stop, brake pads suffering in the dry heat. There was a black
said, looking through the articles in the larger pocket of my bag. “My whole life is in this bag.” I moved my passport, camera, and sunglasses into the center of my knapsack, placing them beside my laptop, wallet, and phone. Libby nodded and shrugged. Our stomach’s directed us out of the compound and onto the street. Latin music blared out of small storefronts, and the smells of marinated beef skewers, cooked rice, and baked rolls wafted onto the street. Voluptuous women walked the hilly city streets, and stray dogs wandered amongst feet and barstools in the small cafés. We tripped along broken sidewalks in search of food. “Chiquitas aqui!” a man called to us from inside a shadowy restaurant. The sign outside of his restaurant advertised pinto gallo, the traditional Latin American bean and rice
Faces blended together in the crowd - dark features and deep-set eyes, skin creased by the hot sun. rot iron gate in front of a thick green metal door, protecting the hostel from the street. “Is the place Libbs?” I asked. “Yea, I think so,” she said, “- But, it didn’t look like this on the website,.” We rung the bell, and the gate slid back, clanking along it’s metal track. We were greeted inside the dark entrance by the freshly-shaven face of the bright-eyed, male receptionist. “Welcome to Costa Rica chicas! Pura Vida!” He said, sliding the complimentary vodka shot tickets across the counter. He told us that our rooms hadn’t yet been cleaned, and that we would have to come back in a few hours. “You can leave your sacks in the storeroom,” he said, “it’s just behind you on the left.” Examining the door, it became clear that the converted closet was never locked. Libby decided to leave her backpack in amongst the piles of identical Arc’Teryx knapsacks, and North face carrier bags. “I don’t think I want to leave this in here,” I 28
dish. While tempted by local fare, our stomachs hadn’t yet adjusted to the continental shift. The small bakery that appeared on the street in front of us seemed more appealing Libby and I had met at international orientation two years prior, in the days before our freshman semester in college. She was from New Zealand, and I from Canada. In between orientation square dances and black light parties we found common ground in our age, having both taken two years off in between high school and college. Such compatibility would repeatedly identify itself over the next two years. In the weeks following our respective break ups Libby and I found mutual solace in the aromatic buzz of Vermont cafés – their brickwalled interiors and slow drip espressos reminding us equally of the comfort of home. The wooden sign on the curb in front of the bakery in Costa Rica advertised agua dulcé, pan de maiz, and tamal asado. Agua dulce 33
When I returned to the United States, I worked for months to piece my identity back together. means coffee, and Maiz means corn, so we entered. The plastic display in front of us showcased roughly sliced cornbread squares, crusty rye rolls, and almond-stuffed pastries. Libby grinned as I walked up to the counter and selected a torta chilen – a multilayered pastry filled with dulce de lece. I placed my backpack on the stool behind me and turned to pay. I pulled the small stack of pesos from my back pocket, and handed a bill to the woman behind the counter. She grabbed the pastry with rusty silver tongs and slid it into a while paper sleeve. A man entered the store behind us and began to shout hysterically in Spanish. I turned towards him and saw him gesture towards his back, mimic placing the straps of a bag over his shoulders, and rev his arms. “Oh my God Bron, your bag,” Libby said. We ran out of the bakery and scanned around us for a sign of the black North Face knapsack. Libby grabbed a man from be-
hind, thinking she spotted my bag. His bewilderment was genuine, he was innocent. We kept moving. Faces blended together in the crowd - dark features and deep-set eyes, skin creased by the hot sun. I struggled to move forward through the mass. The gravity of the loss began to break through my fight and flight response. The contents of the bag spun through my mind like the blurred pictures on the wheels of a slot machine - My passport, wallet, phone, camera, Laptop all my work, my pictures, my writing – my sunglasses, necklace, iPod, and cash. I ran through an intersection and cars honked leaving rubber tread on the steaming tarmac. “Bron- Stop it! It’s not worth getting killed,” Libby yelled at me from behind. My birth certificate, my keys. Jesus, How are we going to drive my car back to Middlebury Jennifer Marks when we get home? I don’t have a spare set,” I said. We headed to the police station and I spoke with a young office worker in the claims department. He sat calmly in a black swivel chair, his pen poised over a white legal pad. “One black North Face knapsack?” He asked. “Yes,” I confirmed. “One Nison camera?”
San Juan, Costa Rica (Tim O’Grady)
“Yes.” “One black wallet with 400 American cash inside?” Each question stabbed a little deeper than the last, the loss becoming a reality. “One silver Macintosh computer?” “Yes.” “Do you know the serial code number for the computer?” he asked. I looked down at my hands, holding the total of my possessions: Three 1000 peso bills, one gum wrapper, and my bar ticket from Hostel Pangea. I looked at Libby and she let out a laugh. It was a shame I never tattooed the serial number of my computer on the inside of my wrist. “No, no serial number.” The man informed Libby and I that the comisaria would undertake a formal investigation. We were led upstairs to the office of the dispatch team. Middle-aged Costa Ricans sat at wood-plastic desks and used walkietalkies to send messages in Morse code from one cubicle to another. I recounted the story to Miguel, and Libby inserted her mild assault as one of the account’s highlights. The officers led us out of the station and seated us in their cruiser. Two larger, older cops sat in the front, and a third, younger, greener, officer sardined himself in the back with us. The first and only stop on the investigative trail was the bakery where the incident had occurred. When we arrived the junior cop sprung out of the backseat and walked inside shop. His enthusiasm for tracking the backpack evaporated as he preoccupied himself with the more intriguing pursuit of the attractive shopkeeper. “No. Nada,” he said, shaking his head as he walked back towards the cruiser Libby flung her arm around me as we walked back through the gate into the Hostel compound. We recounted the story to a sympathetic staff member, and explained we would have to stay in San José for another day. I had to get a temporary passport at the Canadian consulate, and we needed to wait 26
for another student-visa to be shipped from North America. He pointed to colorful map on the wall beside him, and explained that we could take a daylong bus to the coast. It was only 8 hours away, and popular with tourists - there were waterfalls, beaches and minimal theft. We booked our tickets. Over the next 48 hours: The Canadian embassy would inform us that they could not take my passport pictures. We would locate a photographer in his basement studio on the other side of the city. We would enter his lair, his camera would break, and we would be forced to find another location. We would eat the best tasting Mexican rice and beans of our lives. I would cry. Libby and I would cry laughing. I would bear hug the Canadian flagpole, passport in hand. Libby would buy me a new backpack, wallet and journal. The laminated photo beneath the Canadian coat of arms in passport would show me: greasy-haired, blurry-eyed and pasty. That night Libby and I walked into the center of the city, and sat down in a crowded north-American style eatery. “Two cervezas,” she said to the waiter. “You’re buying right?” Libby asked, laughing at me. I shook my head, smiling. “Thank God you’re here.” When I returned to the United States I worked for months to piece my identity back together, trying to prove my identity to the Canadian government. Eventually I received a new birth certificate in the mail. Later, I got a new bankcard, my driver’s license, and a health card. I bought a new laptop and was able to reactivate an old cellphone – I used it to call my parents and thank them for their generosity. I did not return to the land of Pura Vida the following spring break, but I retained positive memories of the week spent on the coast of the small Central American nation – of waterfalls, sandy feet, and pinto gallo – what I should have ordered in the first place.
A hiking trail in Kilcrohane passes through sheep fields as it approaches the coast.
The English Barn
DECAY IN THE RUSTBELT BY REBECCA TH ARP
Vast numbers left the Rust Belt cities to relocate for better wages and more work. Many cities, including Utica, were left unstable and devastated. Economies turned and populations dropped drastically. While some residents stayed, many had no interest in denying the oncoming disintegration of their city. A site for neglect and decay — it transformed into a broken, spiritless mold of itself. We drove through towns, small, seemingly nameless towns — the kind of towns that you pass through without having to blink. There are so many that it’s hard to know their insides, it’s hard to know their guts. It was an ongoing narrative of these near indistinguishable spaces until we reached Utica, whose main street is almost directly off of the interstate. 38
Structures seemed to float and merge with one another with little interaction or integration.
Utica is a city grappling with its historical status and its persistent refusal to sink. The space held both well-kept, inhabited homes and large, abandoned houses, collapsing from the inside out. The city seems to have transformed into a living contradiction of itself. Abandonment neighboring thriving life. Forgotten remnants of a fallen space. Many believe that the city will never be what it once was. Others are still waiting for it to become something better. Here in Utica, there are those that try to dispel the doom of its history. There are those that believe that revitalization can turn even the most tragic conditions into something like success.
Map by Ali Andrews
/ I’m proud of where I docks…” While we may not all hail from came from / I was born and raised in the country, and we were probably only fooling ourselves, Little Big Town’s lyrics, the boondocks… feel no shame
Our dissonant harmonies rang deep from the four of us: Nick from Chattanooga, Benjy from Birmingham, and Tommy and me from suburban New England. “One thing I know/no matter where I go/I keep my heart and soul in the boon-
however melodious, swelled over McAfee’s Knob and wavered in the air two thousand feet above the Catawba Valley. The Knob lived up to its billing as the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail; flat rock protrudes out from tree cover and over the valley, providing
an almost 270-degree panorama of the North Mountain, Tinker Cliffs, and the Catawba and Roanoke Valleys. Naturally, individual photo-shoots located dangerously close to the edge followed. It took thirteen hours, 754 miles, and countless Little Debbie’s cookies to drive from Middlebury, Vermont to Daleville, Virginia. Matt, our chauffeur from the local outdoor outfitter, drove us the final leg
from our parked car at the endpoint to the trailhead — a three day hike, or a five day hike the amble of four college students on spring break. On our first day we hiked Dragon’s Tooth, a rocky monolith jutting up from the ground at 3,000 feet of elevation. On an average day, the haphazard rock features flagging the path would make for a fun hike. However, cold rain and low fog 43
made for slippery rocks and poor visibility, and a tough first day of hiking. The most effective distraction was to belt out Enrique Iglesias’ song “Hero” while considering the likelihood that we were actually walking through Middle Earth and not Virginia. It was well worth it, as everyone woke to sunshine in great spirits. After some Tang and oatmeal we cruised down to our first road crossing. Shortly thereafter was one of my favorite spots on the trip — our first stream. The stream provided an opportunity to bathe; that is, to precariously dip our heads while balancing on protruding rocks. For complete revitalization we used Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, soon to be known as St. Bronner’s for our reliance on the wonders of its minty freshness. A wooden bridge stretched over the water, which winded out of the woods and into rich farmland. A unique part about hiking on the Appalachian Trail is that it is truly crosscountry, encompassing not only mountains but also the roads, train tracks, and farmland that shape the valleys. For much of the second day we tramped over rolling cow pastures. Old barns peppered our path, and the kettle of turkey vultures which had so disconcertingly escorted our ascent the previous day was now a harmless fleck dotting the sky. After a close call with an electric fence and a short climb back onto a small ridge, we located John Spring Shelter, our only night without tents. Burritos, campfire beats, and easy company ruled the evening. Back on our merry way we went, down from the peak and out onto the ridge we had been gazing at from the Knob. We trooped all the way to a gap at the foot of Tinker Cliffs and set up camp. We could not have timed our day any better. We had 44
eaten Mac n’ Cheese, washed dishes, and set up tents just before the sun dipped below the mountains across the valley. The next morning we were all sluggish, but after a thorough rinse in a creek, multiple water fill-up breaks, and a hearty lunch, we finally started making progress. By four we had only hiked two out of our eight pledged miles, and the prospect of a short hike out the next morning was slipping away. As we ascended an especially rocky ridge, we noticed the ominous storm clouds travelling behind us. We reached a gap and looked out over the valley just as the wind started to rage. A cluster of houses and school buses peeked out from around the corner, signaling our impending convergence with society. With a storm at our backs and civilization on the horizon, we charged onwards with disregard for the growing shadows. We found a campsite near an Appalachian Trail sign, which pointed behind us: 12.2 miles to Tinker Cliffs. We had traveled over 10 miles since lunch, and more importantly, would only have a half mile to hike out the next morning. We tore off our packs and assembled our stove as the wind picked up, this time in cahoots with rain. The sudden deluge cast askew by the wind sent our tents flying. Five minutes of jostling and silent cursing later, our tents were up, dinner was cooking, and, of course, the rain had stopped. We bounded our last half mile to Rt. 220 the next morning and eagerly dumped our gear at the car. Some people lament the transition from the woods back to ordinary life. However, for the four of us, nothing made us happier than the sight of a Waffle House and the prospect of an AllStar Special — no shame, indeed. 35
A Taxi Ride in Amman Text by Ricky Chen Photos by Kaveh Waddell
The urban monotony of Amman’s skyline stretches out from the center of the city.
in Amreeka? I love America; I love New York.” Mohammad’s face radiated with excitement when he heard that we were Americans studying Arabic in Jordan. It was the first time that I saw him smile. Mohammad was our long-limbed, slender taxi driver who wore a beard that hugged his strong cheekbones. Between sips of Turkish coffee and long drags of his cigarette, he asked us a series of questions about Obama, Eminem, and the War in Iraq. I turned around to check on my friends in the backseat. We laughed as Mohammad showed off his extensive knowledge of American culture in his thick Jordanian accent. I could see that one of the backseats was slightly ripped open where the squashy cushions were exposed, but the girls did not seem to mind. It was the eve of September 11th, 2011. A few of my friends and I were sharing a taxi-
cab in a place I could never have imagined myself visiting. But on the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we were in a taxicab in Jordan. A few days prior, I had boarded a plane in New York City and journeyed to an area of the world that was more often than not unfairly portrayed as a backward and war-torn region. Despite the reports of political upheavals and violent revolutions in the region, Jordanians carried on with their daily routines. And on that night, Mohammad’s car maneuvered effortlessly through the dusty streets, dodging pedestrians and crossing roads. A meditative recitation of the Qur’an softly emanated from his tape deck. The warm night breeze flirted with his greasy dark hair. He told us that he was 32, but he donned a weariness that made him seem older. Just to confirm that Mohammad knew 45
where we were going, I repeated my request in the most polite manner possible: “Jabal alQala’a, low samaht.” I was positive that this was the location of the memorial concert, so I was surprised to hear Mohammad respond, “Aysh?” What? But the car continued to accelerate. I threw in the towel. Trying to navigate the Jordanian capital, Amman, was impossible feat. Even after the city had adopted new street names in honor of major donors, Jordanians insisted on referring to places by their old landmarks and neighborhood stores. Three-story buildings have been torn down and replaced by strange shopping malls, but their old names still lingered in people’s memories. The maps we had with the new street names were futile. The taxi zipped by the university district before decelerating in front of a mass of red lights. Impatient drivers honked anxiously. Moments of awkward silence passed before Mohammed decided to light another cigarette. To avoid the traffic, Mohammad took a sharp turn to the right and dove into a narrow side street. As the taxi began to climb, he asked where I was from. I delivered the speech that I had rehearsed many times in Arabic class: I am from Taiwan; I go to school in the United States and am on a program to study Arabic at the University of Jordan. In an effort to keep the conversation going, I asked him where he was from. “I am from Palestine,” Mohammed answered. “And your family is there?” I inquired. “No, my family is here. I was born here in Amman, but Palestine is home.” So I asked, “When was the last time you were home?” “I have never been to Palestine.”
I tried to make some sense of his response. How could someone consider a place home without having stepped foot in it? To me, home is rooted in geography, in a specific location where one has lived, went to school and spent considerable time. To me, memories of home had more to do with my grandmother’s apartment and our neighborhood park where I learned how to ride a bike. Home is topography, not imagination. But as the semester crept by, I realized that most taxi drivers would give you the same response as Mohammad had given us. For approximately 70% of the population in Jordan, home was somewhere 40 miles to the west of Amman. Even if they were born and raised in Jordan and Jordan was all they knew, they would still consider themselves Palestinians. It was no wonder why people often called Amman a “transit city.” Mohammad’s cell phone suddenly went off. For the next ten minutes of the ride, Mohammad spoke softly with one hand on the phone and the other hand occasionally on the wheel. Uneasy, I looked out of my window and admired the neon green glow emanating from the minarets. Mohammad explained that it was his wife on the phone, and he turned toward me and grinned, “And do you know who has to pay the phone bills?” I knew the answer before he continued his diatribe. “I drive 15 hours a day to pay for the phone, the house, the water, and the electricity. 15 hours! Have you ever driven a mattress?” With my head tilted, I looked at him, confused. Mohammad continued, “I drive so much that in my dreams, I drive, but I can never find the stick shift on my mattress!” A wooden pedestrian bridge spans a lake in one of Jordan’s few wildlife reserves.
Two children run along tracks left by jeeps driving through the Wadi Rum desert. An Aqaba beach resort seen at sunset. 46
Columns line a plateau in the ancient city of Petra.
I turned around and looked at my friends. Suddenly, we all broke out in laughter. If he did not mean that as a joke and rather, it was a serious commentary on the economic hardships in Jordan, then in retrospect, we were being extremely rude by laughing. As he protested the long hours of monotonous driving that he had to endure, I could sense something in his voice, a kind of silent dissatisfaction at a life that was just fleeting by him like the hazy streetlights whisking by our vehicle. He knew the sandy hills and the dusty streets, but he had never had the time to let them sink into his bones. Mohammad had to keep going.
Not long after, the car began to slow down, and I looked outside. Some of our friends were waiting by the entrance gate. “What is today?” Mohammad asked, wondering why there were so many people in front of al-Qala’a, an ancient roman citadel whose ruins rested on one of the seven hills in Amman. As I attempted to count the unfamiliar coins in my hand, I told him that we were going to a memorial concert for September 11th. Mohammad thought for a few seconds before he said, “I am sorry.” I didn’t know what to say as I climbed out of the taxi, so I replied, “Thank you.”
Shopkeepers prepare colorful fruit stands for Aman’s Friday bazaar.
A stairway cuts through one of Aman’s many hills.
El Calafate, Argentina (Isabel Shaw) 5048
Venice, Italy (Carly Shumaker)
Calafate, Argentina (Isabel Shaw) Venice,ElItaly (Carly Shumaker)
Editors in Chief Kyle Hunter Alex Geller Isabel Shaw Senior Editors: Tim Oâ€™Grady Alex Jackman Carly Fink Kaveh Waddell Editors: Claire Lewandowski Harry Wise Melissa Mittelman Nat Drucker
Advisors: Lyn DeGraff, Reprographics Jeff Howarth, Geography Department
Join the Adventure!
Sponsors: Student Government Association Geography Department
If you enjoyed this issue and would like to be a part of the next edition, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org Check us out online at: go.middlebury.edu/middgeog
El Chalten, Argentina (Isabel Shaw) Back cover: Kathmandu, Nepal (Melissa Mittelman) 54
Middlebury Geographic Spring 2012
Middlebury Geographic Sprng 2012 Photo by Madison Khan, Approaching Mount Cook, New Zealand
Middlebury Geographic's Spring 2012 issue, featuring writing and photos submitted by Middlebury College students.