Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The End of the Earth has a cyber cafe...

Today I have seen the edges of the earth. I have gone to an island in the middle of the Atlantic. I have climbed the steepest cliffs to get to the highest peaks. Through fog, mist and wind I have witnessed what the end of the earth contains. And it is the “Jungle Rain Café.”
After seeing much of the coastal regions of the island, and understanding them to be usually densely populated where the terrain allowed, I proposed to venture into the inner peaks of the now latent volcano to see what structures would be thousands of meters high in the far reaches of the island. After getting above around 800m or so [the day I was driving] the air turns into a heavy silent fog. For all descriptive purposes, I was literally in the middle of a cloud hanging around the mountain. It was actually quite terrifying to be honest, not being able to see more than 20 feet or so in front of you and climbing higher and higher, all the while hoping I was going in the right direction [reading a map and driving stick do not go hand in hand]. Though it being an island, I knew I couldn’t get that lost, and as long as I kept going uphill that’s a good sign. After driving up a good ways through switchbacks and curves I finally saw a sign with a symbol of a house [one door, two windows, and pitched roof] with a smoking chimney. I don’t know what it is about the smoking chimney, but I take it to be the universal sign for hospitality, right after a St. Bernard with a small barrel around his neck. On the top of Mount Orzo I came across the “Jungle Rain Café”, which featured among other things, a hotel, massage room, cyber café, restaurant, souvenir shop, tourist info, and two other words I didn’t understand but were most likely child daycare and bowling alley. I was so surprised and shocked. If anything I supposed I would find a small cabin with a man splitting wood outside in a red flannel shirt, but certainly not the Jungle Rain Café.
Even at the inner reaches of the highest peaks, the iron fist of tourism and commerce still remains supreme. The fact that the Jungle Café was there didn’t bother me as much as the way it was built. Like most all of the homes on the island, it was built out of manufactured block with an outer stucco coating. Way over a majority of the materials needed to supply the island in its current frantic state of construction have to come from the mainland, from factories and the like making commonly accepted building materials in central Portugal. How sustainable is it to be on an island importing most all the resources you use, and the opposite question, if one place is getting the goods, who is losing them? These questions could be posed to many places with a high import ratio, US and China come to mind but it applies throughout.
Another aspect of the tourism on the remote island comes in the form of the labor used to provide the services. If one side of a wall is bathed in light in only stands to reason that the other side is in shadow. The city centers are a mecca of commerce and wealth, though as soon as you start to go into the outer reaches and between towns you start to see the poorer side of the island. The interesting thing is the construction of the homes of the rich and the poor are not truly different. In size and craft to be sure, but for the most part the same techniques used to build the quarters of trash collectors is the same as those stately residences perched on cliffs. And all of the techniques are transplants the same way many crops are to regions, with them now being commonly accepted and forgotten that they are not actually native to the region.

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