MICHA.ELMUELLER

 

Elf Pavlik & Moneyless Living

About five years ago Elf Pavlik visited me in Ulm for a few days, when I was still studying there. He voluntarily lives without money since 2009 and shared my interest in free software and (at that time) open data. I found his lifestyle very interesting and we spent a few days together and I took this opportunity to ask him an infinite amount of questions. I recorded some of these conversations and had always planned to cut them together and put these recordings online. For various reasons I didn’t do that for five years. My main reason (which seems a bit silly to me now) was that I had owned my camera only for a short period at that time and was unsatisfied with the way how some of the material turned out. But now I finally did cut a short clip from it! You can see the result here:

 

Moneyless Living / Elf Pavlik / Ulm 2012
(the original file can be downloaded under this link as well).
 

It was very interesting for me to see how different worldviews can be and meeting Pavlik definitely had an impact on me. Pavlik told me about his further travel plans; he had planned to first travel to Paris for a few days, then Lyon, then to Italy to visit some people and then further somewhere else. I found this quite remarkable, he wasn’t constrained by finances in any way. Money just didn’t play any role for him when planning where to go next (or his life in general). This is in stark contrast to how many people would e.g. plan a trip to Paris (train tickets for probably 100-200 euros, booking an accomodation there, etc.).

Also, my dorm refrigerator was never this full during the whole time I lived in this apartment as it was during the time when Pavlik visited me (because of dumpster diving). Certain things which he said (often casually, when talking about something different) stuck with me as well. Sentences like “what some people consider borders” and other thoughts which are mentioned in the video as well.

B/W Devil’s Mountain

Went to the old american field station on the Devil’s Mountain in Berlin and took some black/white analogue photos.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Experimenting with black/white film

 
 
 
 

Going Analog

 

I got myself a little present: a nearly forty year old analog film camera — the Olympus OM-2n with a 50mm f/1.8 lense. I have quite some fun with it and since two weeks I photograph solely with this camera. I don’t even take a digital camera with me anymore.

The photos in this post have all been shot with the OM-2n. It is noteworthy that I haven’t post-processed them further — no color grading or other effects — these are the photos as I got them straight from film development.

 
 
 
 
 

Backpacking South America (Part 8)

 

Right now we are back in Germany and look back on a wonderful time. There were also negative events during our holidays — we nearly got something stolen three or four times, strange remarks on World War 2 directed to us, tourist agencies overly stirring the fear of criminality for marketing purposes, or nasty ways of trying to get money from us — but I barely mentioned them here. I feel that the good parts of such a journey should — and do — stand out more. There were also a lot of small incidents when I had to chuckle. I remember one particular time when we were getting breakfast in a peruvian upperclass hotel (i.e. not really “upperclass” and quite cheap) and I noticed that the forks, knifes, etc. were a wild mixture of pieces from different airlines imprinted with labels such as “LAN Airlines” and little plane logos :).

Back in Germany I am amazed by how much the landscape and culture here differs from Peru. I am currently in the south of Germany and the summer, the dense forests, and the wide fields amaze me. Today I had a longer train ride through this rural landscape, mostly along the Danube river. This amazed me a lot and I spent most of the time just looking out of the window. There is so much beautiful countryside here! I would love to show some foreigner from e.g. Peru around. I would probably take them on a walk in the nature along the Danube, which is so full of green and sprouting vegetation at the moment. I would go on a hike to an alp hut with them and eat a cheese platter there. I would take them to an original German brewery restaurant with thick and tasty beer and rich food. And I would take a long train ride in a rural area with them and visit some old town district. There are so many details when living here which are different to the cities which we visited. On the first day back in Germany I saw a kindergarten group doing a leisure trip on a nice summer day. On a secluded train station in the middle of nowhere they were waiting for their next train. Each kid held hands with another kid and they were lined up in pairs. Two very enthusiastic ladies were looking after the whole group. To me this feels like something very characteristic to this country and it was quite nice to have this kind of “welcome” here.

Nevertheless, it needs time to get accustomed to being back here. On our trip we tried desperately not to get into contact with other Germans, but here they are just around everywhere! Furthermore I can now safely keep my mouth open when showering, I can now actually use zebra crossings again and in cars I need to remember that there are safety belts. Pleasantly, the noise level in cities here is very low, especially compared to large cities like Sucre or Lima. Lima is actually so disturbingly loud that there are “horns forbidden” street signs. Besides the constant horns triggered by vehicles there are many other factors which increase the noise level. For example, the streets in many areas are so bad that passing buses trigger the theft alarms of cars which are parked on the street.

Another thing which for me is the overall conclusion of all my travels that gets affirmed more and more with each country which I visit, is how similar people are everywhere. It really is quite strange, that a peruvian man of my age who had a totally different upbringing, education, and lives in a very different cultural background, has the very same longings and goals in life. It is indeed very easy to relate to somebody in this different culture and I think that the western media and news reporting oftentimes yields a different impression of the world.

I shot the photos in this post with the same throwaway camera that I had with me on a couple of journeys before (they can be found in older posts tagged with throwaway camera). They are all analogue and I quite like the grainy, unsharp, somehow washed out look of them.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Backpacking South America (Part 7)

 

We have spent some time in Lima now. I was very surprised by how much the Barranco and Miraflores districts have a modern and metropolitan feeling to them. I think these districts could as well be placed somewhere in North America and one wouldn’t be surprised to find them there. Other districts or the city center, on the other hand, are much poorer and do represent more of the Peru which we have seen so far. It was a nice time in Lima and we had a very pleasant last evening there when we met up again with two guys whom we got to know in Iquitos (Tom and Yash).

Besides Lima we have spent some more days in the mountains. Yash had told us about the city of Huaraz and got us interested, thus we took a long distance bus from Lima to Huaraz. This is one of those bus rides where the view is quite nice and it is worth taking a day bus. There is a lot to see during the whole trip, driving along the coast was very interesting as we saw some more of the peruvian deserts and huge sand dunes. This is definitely another side of the country and I was once more surprised by the variety of landscapes which this country has to offer. I feel that it was a wise choice to take a couple of weeks for visiting this country (we have been to Peru now for around six weeks). To me the below excerpt from the book Marching Powder is exemplary for some other travelers which we have met.

Paul, an Australian, interrupted Jay.
“So, where exactly are you from again?”
“It’s hard to say, really”, sighed Jay. “I’ve been travelling for some time now. I don’t feel like I belong to any one place in the world. I’m really from nowhere and everywhere at the same time, if you know what I mean.”
“How long have you actually been on the road?” asked Giles, a longhaired backpacker from the UK.
“Oh, approximately thirty-four days,” replied Jay, nodding his head proudly.
Paul raised his eyebrows.
“A month, you mean?”
“Well, it’s not really a question of chronological time,” said Jay, sounding defensive. “I don’t measure things in that way. I’ve done more than ten countries during that time and it’s impossible to measure any cultural experience in terms of number of days. It’s more of a personal growth thing…” His voice trailed off as though he were allowing the thought to linger for dramatic effect. As an afterthought, he added, “Besides thirty-four days is more than a month, isn’t it?”
“How can you ‘do’ ten countries in thiry-four days?” said Giles, using his fingers to indicate the inverted commas around the word ‘do’.

Rusty Young, Marching Powder
 

In Huaraz we discovered a very nice off-the-beaten-track hostel, in which we stayed for a couple of days. Though technically it is not really in Huaraz since it takes a taxi drive of about one hour into the wild. And then there it is: “The Hof“, an eco-hostel with a focus on sustainability, located in the midst of an amazing view, surrounded by steep, uninhabited mountains and glaciers. There were only a few people in the hostel (or looking after it) and we quickly got to know them. Meals were served family style, whilst sitting around a table together, and in the evenings we would talk until late at night and drink whiskey or play poker. A sweet puppy dog was also around and oftentimes eager to play. I liked this chilled back atmosphere a lot and it was a nice place to calm down after having been to Lima. Also, places like this seem to always attract interesting people. There is no internet connection at the place and electricity is scarce (i.e. only available if the sun shines on the solar panels) — a reason why there is no refrigerator and thus only vegetarian meals. It is also possible to do volunteering at the place; for 4-5 hours work a day one is provided with a place to sleep, bathroom facilities, and food. I can easily imagine how one can get stuck at a place like this whilst travelling. My highlight was the hike to a nearby lagoon and a pizza night, where for the first time in my life I fired a proper pizza oven and made a pizza in it. Mhmm!

 
 
 

Backpacking South America (Part 6)

 

We have left Cusco in the meantime — after three weeks! I don’t know there the time went, but I enjoyed the time here very much. One thing which impressed me a lot there is the Greenpoint restaurant. After eating in this (vegan) restaurant a couple of times, we got to know the owner and some people in this environment and became friends with them. At first I thought this was just a single restaurant with a couple of people working there. But as it turns out there are around 70 people working in the environment of the restaurant! There was much more going on than I had glimpsed at first. The main reason why there are so many people involved is because they make practically all their ingredients by themselves — vinegar, kombucha, vegan chesse, the bread for burgers and sandwiches and appetizers, sauces, jam, yoghurt, milk, …. A reason is to guarantee high quality and to be sure where stuff is coming from and how it was made. That it is nevertheless possible to operate a very reasonably priced restaurant amazed me a lot. Furthermore, they offer cooking courses where it is possible to learn how to prepare any of the meals from the restaurant. I find this amazing, it is a very transparent way to operate a restaurant for people to be able to see how things are prepared. Also there was no resistance at all to pass on recipes or knowledge. To me this is in stark contrast to “average” restaurants where you can’t dare to ask for the recipe of e.g. a certain sauce.

As a next stop in Peru we have come to the city of Iquitos, which is located deep in the peruvian jungle. Iquitos is the largest city in the world which is accessible only by plane or boat. There are no streets to the city, the airport is very small and the boat takes a couple of days along the amazon to get there. This “endless jungle” makes quite a nice view from the airplane. Since the city is hard to access, a certain culture has established there. For example, there is a lack of cars, since it is much cheaper to get a motorcycle there. A fitting quote from Wikivoyage is: “As a city not accessible by road, motorcycles and mototaxis dominate unlike anywhere else. Imagine if an American style biker-gang had taken over a city.” When on the road you are always in a bulk of motorcycles and mototaxis and sometimes one can’t help but feel like part of a biker-gang when driving around. The vibe and culture here is completely different to the Peru that we have seen so far — which was so far only the mountain region. In fact, when first driving through the city I thought I was back in Thailand: palms everywhere, very hot and tropical, much humidity, a lot happening outside on the streets in the evening, open houses without windows, many many motorcycles and bikes. And insects of course! They usually seem grotesquely oversized and there is a tick too much of them everywhere. Furthermore there are so many fruits available here of which I have never heard before — aguaje, cuma-cuma, cocona, …. So it is possible to get quite unique juices and jam here and it was a joy to try different things.

In the last days we have done an extensive jungle tour here by which I was very impressed. It was very interesting to see this different side of Peru and our visit in this city was quite worth the effort of getting there. First of all, Iquitos is situated right besides the amazon river. I always thought this is “just” a long river, similar to the ones in Europe. But I was quite mistaken and indeed very impressed by its dimensions. I think this is one further thing which one has to experience to really grasp the dimensions (like e.g. Machu Picchu). The amazon river here is about 1.5 km wide and 4-5 meters deep. In Brasil the river gets even wider. When moving in a boat it sometimes feels as if one is on a sea, rather than on a river. From the city we drove up the river for about 2 hours and then into a sidearm for a while. There we reached a small lodge in the jungle where we stayed for three days. Each day we made explorations with our guide — a native of 30 years who got born in the jungle, grew up here, and has lived here all his live. The last time he visited a city was ten years ago. During our excursions we experienced a lot of the jungle environment, went for walks in the jungle, did piranha fishing, swam with wild dolphins, etc.. Our guide even catched a wild alligator from the river. Crocodile Dundee style. The walks in the jungle were extremely interesting, experiencing this kind of fauna and how its conditions are opposed to anything remotely comfortable. There are so many layers of plants in it: the ground which is muddy everywhere, ponds of water, rotting trees, all kinds of plants competing, huge trees, palms, etc.. And all of it is so dense that you need to make a way with a machete. And when turning around you are oftentimes unable to determine where you just came from. Everything just gets back to its previous state so quickly! It is very exhausting to walk around and there are myriads of small (and large) animals that want to bite you. This is such an uncomfortable environment for humans that in my opinion a “jungle walk” is something you do only once. Overall our stay in Iquitos and the jungle was a very unique and enriching experience. The effort of getting there was very well worth the effort. I was very surprised by how much the culture and mentality here differ from the mountains.

I have heard that there are three regions with distinct mentalities and culture in Peru: the mountains, the coast, and the jungle. The coast is the last region which we are missing and the city we head to next is Lima — the peruvian capital which is located at the coast. So I am looking forward to find out how this hypothesis holds up.

In the meantime I have read another book: the infamous classic “American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis. Valerie got me interested in reading it, she had it on her reading list since quite some time and read it a couple of weeks ago (I guess the book is even more interesting to psychologists). During that time she always mentioned stuff from the book to me. I had seen the movie some years back and liked it a lot, so this got me interested in reading the book as well. The book was a very tough read though. Some chapters are quite disgusting and very violent and it sometimes was hard for me to read on. But I guess this is the overall literal genius behind the book: creating emotions such as arousal, disgust, and empathy in the same chapter. I am looking forward to rewatch the movie now and found it interesting to read up on literary analysis and interpretation after having finished the book.

 
 
 
 

Backpacking South America (Part 5)

 

We are in Cusco (Peru) since what now amounts to, I think, over two weeks. At first we only wanted to pass through quickly, but somehow ended up staying here. I like it when this happens unexpectedly because one is surprised by a city. The same happened in Sucre and La Paz. My first impression of Cusco was along the lines of “too many tourists, better pass through quickly”. But as it turns out there is a broad variety of alternative offers and activities around here. It is very easy to get lost in discovering interesting stuff around. For example, there are many many vegetarian/vegan restaurants around here. Even though I don’t live strictly vegetarian it is still very interesting for me to visit such restaurants. There are usually a lot of ingredients involved which are uncommon in other restaurants (Tahin, Seitan, Kombucha, etc.) and this usually results in interesting dishes. Around here it is e.g. possible to find vegan cheese plates (the full deal, with grapes and wine, made from nuts fermented with Kombucha) or Tamales made from a certain type of sweet, large sized corn which is very common in Peru. Our culinary explorations culminated in an extensive vegan cooking class, which I enjoyed very much. We got to know a number of people around here and this yielded interesting conversations as well as a hike into the peruvian mountains with camping, bonfire, etc..

In the last days we visited Machu Picchu, which is surely the most popular activity in Peru. We had originally excluded this ancient Inca city from visiting, due to our assumption that this is probably the most touristy thing one can do in Peru. But as we met more and more “non-touristy” backpackers along the way we decided differently. Quite often we were told that “Yes it is the most touristy thing, but it is also really worth a visit”. There are also a lot of locals visiting and we finally decided to do it as well. However, getting to Machu Picchu is another story. Foremost, you can’t “just” go there, since only 2.500 people are allowed in each day. Thus you need to get a ticket on time, since tickets might otherwise run out. Currently, this does not seem to be an issue. Well, at least for Machu Picchu — the neighboring mountain Huayna Picchu, which is said to provide a nice overlooking view on Machu Picchu, is sold out until August (it its limited to 400 visitors a day). A next challenge is getting to Machu Picchu without spending all your money. Aguas Calientes is the city just below Machu Picchu where everybody needs to get. Most people spend a night in this city and visit Machu Picchu the next day. There are expensive trains to Aguas Calientes, but no streets. Since visiting Machu Picchu is the sole purpose of the city, prices are much higher (2-3 times) than in other peruvian cities. In order to get up to Machu Picchu (the site is on top of a steep mountain) you can either take an expensive bus with queues of >1 hour or do the free option and take a steep walk up the hill. In the end we did Machu Picchu in a cheap way by walking everything which was walkable. We took a cheap bus from Cusco to Hidroelectrica and from there walked to Aguas Calientes along the train rails. We then spent a night in Aguas Calientes and walked up to to Machu Picchu very early in the morning the next day (and later that day the whole way back to the cheap bus).

So in short, Machu Picchu was worth the visit. It really is quite impressive. This was actually an Inca city 500 years ago and when being there it also feels like one. There are temples, prisons, upperclass houses, lowerclass houses, plazas, agricultural sites, etc.. One can easily imagine how the city must have been pulsating and flowing, even though everything is deserted now. Furthermore, the location high up the mountains between other, surrounding mountains is superb and very impressive. The photos of this monument cannot convey the dimensions of this ancient city and I think one needs to be there to be able to grasp this.

 
 
 
 

About Me

I am a 29 year old techno-creative enthusiast who lives and works in Berlin. In a previous life I studied computer science (more specifically Media Informatics) at the Ulm University in Germany.

I care about exploring ideas and developing new things. I like creating great stuff that I am passionate about.

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