Dear Fellow Travelers,
For most of this Sendero I’m deviating from the norm to present a list of some of my favorite things. Most are things I use every day, or almost every day.
It’s my hope some of the items may prove useful to you, as well.
First, however, I want to make a brief comment on one of the seminal events of the modern epoch… Brexit.
As I do, I’m listening to the Redemption Song by Asaf Avidan. If you’re not familiar with the singer, I can almost guarantee you’re in for a surprise.
BREXIT - More Than Meets the Eye?
On the whole, we humans tend to be a passive lot, the proof of which is established by a quick perusal through history.
How else to explain why the Aztecs were willing to let their leaders devolve into a blood-soaked death cult? Or, allow a handful of Spanish adventurers to enslave their nation? Or the Zimbabweans allow Mugabe and his friends to use their country as a personal ATM for the better part of a half of a century? Or the average German in WWII allow themselves to be ruled by madmen?
You get the point.
In modern times the populace has been dulled into accepting a creeping erosion of common sense and even what passes for reality thanks to the strategic gradualism of the rent-seekers.
These are individuals who contribute nothing of any real value to the progress of civilization. Quite the opposite.
Collaborating with useful idiots in the media, the rent-seekers use linguistics and half-truths to create new cadres of entitled persons, and massive make-work projects which, if presented without softening the ground with years of propaganda, would otherwise be dismissed out of hand as folly or worse.
Recently I re-read a book called Panic for Democracy in which the author, a friend of mine by the name of Rex Van Schalkwyk, a former Supreme Court Justice in South Africa, describes how in the 1940s, two linguists Edward Sapir and Lee Whorf developed the appropriately named Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.
Their work concluded that the language we use has a dominant influence “over all thought processes on social issues” and can be used as a “major force in (the perception) of reality”.
The rent-seekers were quick to grasp the propaganda value of Sapir and Whorf’s conclusions, introducing new descriptive terms into the language, or re-purposing existing words and terms, all toward achieving a political end.
Over time, as those words and terms become part of the lexicon, anyone not using them in their new context is castigated as being anti-social or somehow deviant… a racist, a bigot or just a grumpy out-of-touch dinosaur.
To name just one example, in some countries it’s a now a crime to call someone by a different gender than they ‘identify with’.
That term right there, ‘identify with’ is a good example of what Sapir and Whorf were referring to.
Accept that term in it's current meaning, and you accept it is normal in our society for men, who are men, to instantly transition into women. Next thing you know, you have men who identify as women beating the crap out of women who are actually women in mixed martial arts matches previously limited to women.
Today we - and by ‘we’, I mean the average person who harbors increasingly skeptical and even heretical thoughts about the new “social norms” - are being asked… no, make that ‘told’... that we have to embrace wholeheartedly that the climate is teetering on the edge of catastrophe, that kindergarteners should be lectured regularly in the joys of transitioning to another gender, that the European Union and similar supra-national bodies are benevolent protectors of society, that countries should open their doors to any immigrant, without exception or basic screening, etc., etc.
Buck the narrative and risk being painted as a social outcast, or even ending up on a government watch list of potential trouble-makers.
The rent-seekers behind this onslaught of insanity - Al Gore being the poster-child - are able to secure their pay for doing little more than jetting off to five-star resorts where, over free lunches and dinners, they strategize on new ways to elevate their nonsensical causes, and their salaries.
Yet, history also demonstrates that we humans have limits to what we will tolerate. In our heart of hearts, most of us know when we are being manipulated to serve someone else’s ends. And most of us can add 1 to 1 and know the answer is unconditionally 2.
Living here in rural Argentina allows us a certain distance and, I hope, perspective on the modern madness. Viewed from the sidelines, there have been times when I thought there was no hope.
With Brexit, I can again find a reason for optimism.
I won’t rehash the whole UK vs. the EU argument here, other than to comment that what was originally supposed to be a free trade agreement quickly morphed into a Supra-National Government where the unelected high priests of meddling routinely gutted less-politically connected businesses on the alter of the ‘common good’.
And in the process, created a fat haven for tens of thousands of rent-seekers.
For a quick overview of just some of the madness associated with the EU, check out this video from the father of Brexit, Nigel Farage. It is very worth a watch.
In my opinion, Brexit demonstrates that the normally passive majority still have a pulse and are reaching the point where they are willing to stand-up and shout loudly, “No, this isn’t right”.
That Brexit made it over the barriers is especially impressive because in the aftermath of the historic vote to leave the European Union back in 2016, the ‘remainers’ -- with the support of the full weight of the UK and global governments, all the major media, financial powerhouses, big corporations, etc., etc. -- pulled out all the stops to thwart the public will.
Yet, in the end, the majority prevailed.
If you haven’t yet heard the unofficial Brexit song, “17 Million F-offs” it's both very funny, and very telling. People have simply had enough.
While Brexit will not put the stake through the heart of the rent-seekers, it feels to me as though it is at least a beginning to a return to common sense.
Hopefully, a trend in motion that will stay in motion.
Some of My Favorite Things
I’ve never been particularly materialistic, though I have no beef with those who are. That said, I do believe that if one is going to indulge in glitzy trifles and expensive trinkets, one should actually be able to afford them.
In my Sendero article “On Average” I pointed out that the average American between 55 and 64 years of age has a net worth of under $50,000, which is no where near enough to retire on. Yet, you can bet most have a lot of stuff, including the latest $1,000 I-Phone.
As I grow older I find fewer and fewer “things” attract my attention, and almost all which do provide a tangible value to my life.
The list here is mainly comprised of those things, things which every day make my life easier, or more enjoyable.
So, with no further ado, here’s my current list of favorite things, in no particular order.
AVEX Water Containers
I suspect the market for portable liquid containers has grow substantially over the past decade or so. Whether it is staying hydrated while pursuing an outdoor sport, or carrying along a cuppa for the commute to the office, people want a reliable leak-proof vessel to do the job.
The average American drinks about 15 cups of water a day, but thanks to living in the high desert, I suspect I probably double that level of consumption.
Given my need to constantly carry water, whether while playing golf or riding my horses, several years ago I researched the topic and came across the AVEX product line.
Like many of its competitors, the AVEX stainless steel container is well insulated, keeping cold liquids cold, and warm liquids warm, over the required period of time. The most important feature to me, however, is that I am able to drink from it by simply pushing a button as opposed to unscrewing a top, or flipping open a tube.
That is particularly handy when riding a horse.
And I doubt any of the competition is as durable: in one test, the AVEX survived being shot and continued to function perfectly. They are well made, and very easy to clean.
I literally use my AVEX water containers (we own three sizes, large, medium and small) all day, every day. The largest, 750 ml, cost about $35, but for some reason the selection available on Amazon is very limited, and currently only seem to come in the camo design shown here.
Garmin S-60 watch
When meeting someone wearing an expensive watch a friend of mine used to take great pleasure in asking them what time it was. When they answered, he would look at his own cheap Timex and smugly comment, “Wow, imagine that! My watch has the same time”.
I confess I also don’t see how anyone can rationalize spending $5,000 - let alone $50,000 or even $500,000 -- on a time piece, when for the base function, a $50 watch serves just fine.
However, the Garmin S-60 watch, which retails at $349, is absolutely worth the additional outlay.
The Garmin is essentially a customizable micro-computer that attaches to your wrist, offering a long list of easily downloaded apps and gadgets based on your specific needs.
While many of those apps are designed for the sports enthusiast who wants to track their hiking, running, swimming, biking, etc., there are also heartbeat monitors, calculators, email apps and much more.
I use only a limited number of apps, the most personally useful being the golf function which comes pre-loaded with over 40,000 golf courses around the globe, including the one here at La Estancia de Cafayate.
A quick glance at my wrist tells me the distance to the green, and how far I hit the ball on each shot. It maintains my scores, and when I finish each round I can upload a slew of information into a database, allowing me to see each shot on colorful maps. And that’s just skimming the surface.
I also use the calculator, the never-fails alarm function, the timer and a few other apps, including occasionally a GPS feature which records the exact routes and distances of my long horseback rides.
Also very useful is a button that, when pushed, lights up the watch face and provides enough light to guide your way at night to, say, the bathroom.
Again, the Garmin S-60 is something I use every day and with the level of customization it offers, I suspect you can find any number of useful functions as well.
Anker Portable Power
We live in an era of portable electronics, and so having a portable source for recharging those electronics only makes sense.
While I am sure there are plenty of other, and maybe better, options available, a tech-head friend of mine recommended the Anker portable battery and it has performed flawlessly.
Once it is charged up, and it charges quickly, it can be used to charge any small device (cellphone, watch, kindle, whatever) anytime and anywhere, including while riding a horse or flying on a plane.
Simple and very effective.
I have also recently started using a portable solar charger on my long horseback rides, but the one I bought - which has a built-in high intensity light that is great for camping - has been unreliable so I’m not recommending it here.
I first fell in love with the Criollo breed of horses while living in Santiago, Chile about twenty-two years ago.
The breed was brought to the area by Spanish conquistadors, and was instrumental in their conquest of the continent.
They are incredibly sure-footed and possess almost mule-like strength. They are amazingly resilient and able to drag me and my fully loaded saddle bags up the steep, rocky mountain trails here in the Andes for as many as 8 hours in a day, maintaining their energy levels by eating whatever scarce grasses and shrubs are available, and drinking ditch water if that’s all on offer.
I currently own three Criollos, including my steady companion, Charming, shown here.
There are certainly prettier and more sophisticated breeds, but if you want to go from here to there, and “there” is on the other side of a high mountain, there is no better horse than a Criollo. Period.
As an addendum, last week I took a small group on a five hour ride into the wilds outside of the Estancia here. It was the day after a huge storm, and Charming and I ended up walking into quicksand twice, the second time up to his chest. That might have gotten the better of a less sturdy horse, but Charming powered out, with me still on his back.
I will never own a different breed.
Tucker Endurance Saddle
Since we’re on the topic of riding, I have to put in a favorable mention of my Tucker Endurance Saddle.
It is designed with the long-rider in mind, offering a luxurious level of comfort and made of the finest materials, to the highest possible standard.
At $2,500 they are not the least expensive option available, but when you spend long hours over multiple days in the saddle, it’s a pittance.
Oster Espresso Machine
While I am far from being a coffee snob, starting each day or two with a strong cup of espresso with a bit of milk is non-negotiable.
Five years ago we bought a cheap Oster espresso machine for our Argentinean house and it absolutely blows away the upscale and far more expensive machine we had in Vermont.
You add water, turn it on, and in about a minute it’s ready to go.
It always makes a great espresso, and it always works.
And at a price of around $100, it just can’t be beat.
That said, I just looked on Amazon and apparently these machines only come in a 220 volt model, so are not for use in the US.
Maybe the take-away here is that you don’t need to drop the big bucks to get a great cup of coffee.
Shaving Brush & Soap
I first started shaving using an old-fashioned boar-bristle brush and a tub of purpose-made soap while still in my twenties. I loved that it transformed a cursory daily chore it into something more, something hearkening back to a more refined era.
While I got away from using a brush for awhile, a couple of years ago while in England, I bought a new brush and some high quality soap.
There are a few reasons why this approach to shaving is beneficial. First and foremost, as just mentioned, it transforms a daily task into a moment of quiet reflection while you whisk the soap into a rich texture, and then apply it with your soft boar bristle brush.
The second thing is that the quality of the soap, if you get the right one, beats anything that’s going to come out of a can or a tube, so you’ll get a much better shave. I use the Proraso moisturizing soap, pictured here, and it is brilliant.
And finally, it is far more cost effective. A tub of the Proraso will last you pretty much a full year.
The first buff I ever owned was given to me as sort of a joke because we like to watch the reality television show Survivor, in which buffs play an integral part.
Since the beginning, the Buff - which is simply a stretchable, soft piece of cloth made circular - has become an everyday item for me.
It has many uses, including serving as a neck warmer, but I primarily use it to block out light when trying to sleep on a plane, or when taking my daily siesta.
If you were a bank robber, it would work perfectly, allowing you to mask your face while still breathing comfortably as you hot-footed it for the get-away car.
For many years now the Buff, and I guess there are any number of manufacturers to choose from, has been a must have in my travel kit, and on the bed stand.
A boina is what the Argentine’s call the berets traditionally worn by gauchos from the pampas regions of the country.
It is a very simple hat which, due to its light weight and loose construction, is very comfortable and highly adaptable.
If the sun is shining in front of you, you can tweak it so that it offers something akin to a lid. Sun shining behind you? Sweep it back and voila, your neck is protected.
It stays on in high winds and folds up in a jiffy so you can shove it in a pocket or back-pack, plus it is easily washed.
I’ve never been that big on hats, but my boina feels like a comfortable old friend to me.
Last year a Peruvian friend, a connoisseur of all the finest things, gave me a personalized Sato knife. As you can probably tell from the photo, it is quite short.
It is also beautifully made and razor sharp.
When I ride, I always carry a knife, because you never know when you’ll have to cut something in a hurry, like a rope.
Because the knife is short, it hangs easy on the belt and is quickly brought into use.
I don’t think these are readily available, but if you ever come across one, and need and/or appreciate a good knife, you can’t go wrong.
AfterShokz Titanium Bluetooth Bone Conduction Headphones
It gives me great pleasure to listen to good music while riding, and so I usually ride with an MP3 player and ear phones.
But wired ear phones are a constant hassle, always getting tangled or caught on things, or falling out and setting off yet another round of fiddling. As riding requires constant attention, lest the horse unexpectedly goes left, and you go right, minimizing fiddling is a good thing.
Therefore, I decided I needed Bluetooth earphones - but the last thing I wanted were those things that dangle from your ear. Primarily because I know I would constantly be knocking them out, putting on or off my hat, or adjusting my sunglasses or whatever. Which, of course, would involve dismounting and searching the trail for the missing ear piece.
And then I discovered the AfterShokz bone conduction earphones.
Rather than sticking a bud into your ear, which after a long period of listening can result in ear problems, the AfterShokz have small pads that rest in front of your ear, transmitting sound through the bones in your inner ear.
As they comfortably fit around your head, there is no chance they’ll fall off, no matter how strenuous your exercise, and the controls are very intuitive and simple to use. You can connect these to any bluetooth device, even use it to take or make calls off your connected cell phone, or just listen to music as I do.
While the quality of the music might not impress an audiophile, the average listener won’t notice any real difference from earbuds.
For my purposes, this headphone is perfect the way it is, eliminating the constant fiddling inherent with a wired earphones, and the discomfort of having plugs in your ears for a longish period of time.
Two thumbs up.
Sketchers Shoes and Boots
A couple of years back I met an Australian at a golf course in England who, like me, was about to play a round on his own before we agreed to play together.
Over the course of what turned out to be the first of two games that week, he mentioned that Sketcher’s made the most comfortable golf shoes on the planet.
As I play a fair bit of golf, that got my attention, and as soon as possible I purchased a pair. And he was right!
The Sketcher GoGolf shoes are like walking on clouds, and come at a very reasonable price.
Since then, thanks to a Sketchers store near our daughter’s university in England, I have added a full range of Sketcher’s shoes to my wardrobe.
Including a pair of construction type boots, shown here, I now wear for long rides. As traditional riding boots squeeze the toes together and cut off circulation, comfortable boots are essential. And these, which cost about $90, literally couldn’t be more comfortable.
There is one caveat, though. While the company has been built around comfortable and reasonably stylish shoes, some of the lower-end models aren’t nearly as comfortable.
So it is best to go into a physical store to try them on, or at least order through a service that allows no-cost returns, in case you get the wrong model.
Kindle Paper White
Last but not least, I have to give a warm nod to the basic Kindle model.
I own the basic, smallest, model: the one that fits into any pocket and provides me with easy access to hundreds of thousands of titles.
Many people say they prefer the tactile pleasure of a regular book, but the trade-offs for that ‘pleasure’ seem stupid to me.
Not when even the basic Kindle allows you to access an almost unlimited library anywhere and any time… with a device that weighs almost nothing… that allows you to adjust the typeface… to read at night without supplemental light… to load dictionaries so you can read books in other language but access the English translation with the click… etc., etc.
You can now buy a basic Kindle for as little as $69, though if you want one that allows you to read in the bath, the price goes up quite a bit. However, I love my small, inexpensive Kindle just the way it is - it’s all I need, and a lot more.
And With That…
Well, that is my list, for now.
As I look it over, I see many of the items have to do with my passions for horses and golf, which I guess is understandable.
Even so, maybe there’s something personally useful to you, or which will make a suitable present for someone you care about. I hope so.
And with that, I will sign off until next time, wishing you the very happiest of trails, wherever they may lead.