Survival advice from South America – Part 1 – The Arrival

With your host, Catagory5

(click on photos to enlarge)

“My biggest setback was being born white, male, middle class and a citizen of the U.S.. Those identities come with lots of unearned privilege, which tends to make people stupid. When one is born with unearned privilege there is an incentive to stay stupid about the nature of the system that gives us those advantages. So I had to overcome the instinct to embrace stupidity…  If resilience is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, we should not overlook the importance of intellectual resilience, the ability to avoid getting locked into perspectives that keep us from reassessing our own ideas.”        Robert Jensen

“My single greatest advantage is that I had life go terribly wrong early and then had life go terribly wrong on a regular basis. The short form is that I am pretty inoculated to the things that would make most men eat their gun.”                        C5

Before I tell you what I am doing here on another continent where I don’t speak the language or understand the culture and plan to stay for a year, it’s first important to write down what I see. My 1st impressions: those things my subconscious will notice instinctively.  This is my priority at the moment. First impressions will fade quickly as this brief metaphysical newbirth becomes normal: As it becomes something I see everyday and then ignore.

People’s eyes look downward. Not forward, engaged with the world. I don’t know if this is a sign of colonization or perhaps it is the history of Catholicism with their minds focused inward in prayer or contemplation. Though I am basically one big 6´3 walking Mardi Gras float amongst these people, few people choose to look at me or meet my eyes.

As I have noticed before in my travels, everything is secured behind gates topped with steel spikes. Incredible amounts of labour and material have gone into building these. Layers upon layers of security and yet I see freedoms that you will never see in a Northern city. A paraglider just passed over my head by 50 feet or so. This is a major city of 10 million yet it flew between a couple of buildings. I thought it might even land on one of the penthouse apartments. No flight plan to be lodged. No police helicopters quickly dispatched to force it down. No police waiting at its landing.  The class disparity between those penthouse paragliders and the need for well crafted, sharp security spikes on any surface that might entice a desperate cat burglar is evident.

Rust never sleeps. All those expensive security systems are disintegrating with rust. I notice the barbed wire ready to fall apart. The electric fence wire I figure I have a 50 50 chance of them not being able to carry a charge if I grab them. My guess is that at least ½ of the security cameras are in the same condition. They look high tech but I doubt the electronics have any staying power. I have seen all this before. It is why I created a C5 rule of survival: “All of civilization is held together by paint”. Any object we own returns to the earth the moment consumer paint disappears. It begins to happen the moment you have too much stuff to care for: The moment you ignore it. “If you love it put a ring on it. A ring of paint… or oil or wax or fucking animal grease if that is all you´ve got.”  I noticed a lamp post where the street lamp was half rusted away. No one had the incentive to remove the lamp but the base of the poll had been painted for about three feet up so the poll wouldn’t rust and fall. It was still able to hold a few electrical lines to buildings. Any Canadian code inspector would have apoplexy.

There is a duality here of high security and high freedom. High wealth and sophistication, high desperation. There is lots of very low skilled jobs that seem hard to justify but the poor are sort of employed. I hate to think what these people are actually paid though. There are lots of jobs to paint over rust by people whose faces tell me they are completely checked out. There are lots and lots of security personnel hired to just stand there. Excessive amounts of security. It is not lost on me that the people doing these checked out jobs are darker or shorter. The larger of the darker skinned, standing still people, wear Kevlar vests and revolvers. Every ATM or bank has at least one armed darker skinned security guard. They are just slightly less checked out than their slightly smaller brethren without the revolvers. A wealthier woman with a small dog and far more European Spanish features actually looked me in the eye and smiled after I did something unmemorable. There was no desire in me to explain to her that my social class was somewhere between the armed, dark, checked out security guard and the unarmed, slightly smaller checked out security guard.

I have landed in a bubble. This is the wealthy zone. I am not here to see this. I am not even here to see the middle class zones. I am here to see the places where my life might be in danger. That is where this survivalist, semi-expert might learn something new: Something different than I already know at home. Real people facing real adversity as real life. They might not know it but for the next year I see these people as my gurus, my senseis, my teachers. I will share the little I have learned already.

What I have figured out already is that this city’s growth and prosperity is completely false. This city is unsustainable and thus, this city is doomed.

Blood will run in these streets. People will starve if dehydration doesn’t take them first.

And the weird thing is I am finding more and more people that keep agreeing with me.

In my life, The Three Sisters that weave the fates have seemed to assign to me the role of Cassandra: The person that could see the future but was powerless to change it. To be ridiculed and rejected because I tell them what is simply obvious. Those things that polite company have mutually agreed to ignore. To deny. To reject as ‘negative’ and just damned rude dinner conversation. The man with no guile gets no respect…and few dates.

When people, en mass, are starting to agree with me and actually already know these statistics I quote, well, the apocalypse is not just nigh. It is already starting to be seen in the rearview mirror.

Well, those were my first impressions. Instincts. The things my subconscious was immediately pointing out to me before I even begin to get used to an area. I generally don’t like to know much about a place before I go there. I don’t want to be influenced ahead of time in how I perceive the first few days. There is a sort of mysticism to it. It’s the clarity of vision brought about by ascetic exposure to danger. It’s the spiritual visions of pilgrimage. Being BORN AGAIN in a new locale where everything I have known from kindergarten on is fully up for grabs.

I have been here for a few days now and already the enlightenment is dimming. This foreign world is already becoming normal. It is just another big city with people doing big city stuff. A Mega city. Sure, it is different from home but not really. People have already explained to me a few things about the culture and what I was seeing.  There is a system of internalized post-colonial racism where your position in the social hierarchy is almost entirely based on height and skin tone.

And that whole pesky apocalypse, blood in the streets, dead city walking thang I mentioned earlier… this city is basically built on a desert. It has a limited amount of water. That water comes by river from a glacier. That glacier is disappearing… in spite of that Donald Trump’s cronies believe that shrinking glacier is not really melting. It is all part of a conspiracy and that glacier is actually growing. Sigh. As we speak there is an unprecedented heatwave that the locals have never experienced before. The country just next door is on fire. The term they are using is ‘unprecedented’. Unprecedented gets used a lot nowadays. And next year will become even more unprecedented. While Canadians are comfortably thinking it was winter and it is cold and thus maybe anthropomorphic global warming might not really be a thang, Fort MacMurray, AB, part 2 is happening 8 hours drive away. Yesterday morning without warning the taps were cut off in parts of the city. Water rationing was taking place not because of too little water but because of too much water. Melting glaciers mixed with those new pesky super rain bombs were causing flooding. Thus, bolders and dirt were clogging up the dams. (note to self: store water every chance I get).  (not really a note to self).

So there is this little devil sitting on my shoulder whispering into my ear. He is saying, “What’s all this doom and gloomy talk. Are you kidding me. You are in one of the wealthiest cities in South America. They have staggering GDP growth in spite of the 2014 commodity crash. It’s like the 80s here all over again. Embrace your Don Johnson stubble and have an affair like a normal balding white guy. You are a god here.”

What a prick.

Of course the angel on my other shoulder has been telling me to eat quinoa and reduce my salt intake so I have already been ignoring him for years.

The economy here seems like an anomaly while most of the North American economy has contracted and is only propped up by toothpicks, lies and accounting fraud.  So like a good little apocalyptic reporter… I looked for someone that looked like they knew more than me and pestered them. I asked the same question I usually ask strangers in new places. “What was the effect here of the 2008 financial crash?” And lately I started adding, “…and the 2014 commodities crash?” Generally, if I don’t get a thoughtful response from them, I just can’t bother having an adult conversation with them again. They are pretty much dead to me. I just can’t bring myself to make small talk about the weather, if the local sports group will get that shiny statue thingy or what restaurants they like.

I never even got around to asking about the 2014 part before she replied, “The 2008 financial crash didn’t really affect us much but the Commodities Crash has hit us really hard. We are mainly a mining and other commodity producing nation. We now have engineers forced to drive unregistered cabs.”  Cool. She is not awash in denial like most north amerikans. Wait! Why is she not in denial? I think I will continue to talk to here.

She continues, “Most of the growth here came about because credit became available. This led to infrastructure construction projects that attracted more workers which led to more construction for housing.”

I replied, “which means it is unsustainable”, my usual subtle way of pointing out the obvious conclusions that people seem hardwired to ignore. “Exactly”, she came back with. Shocking. I hate it when people agree with me. I am just not going to be able to pull off this whole crazy apocalyptic prophet of doom schtick that I do for much longer as people begin to accept that math and physics are non-negotiable.  “Before this happened we had (mumble mumble something in Spanish) how do you say, the money kept changing? The President controlled the printer.” “Inflation” I replied.

“Si. One day the money could buy this much. The next day it was worth ten times less, then a hundred times less, then a thousand times less the very next day. And people stayed in line ups to buy things. And there was the time of the terrorists, well…people acknowledge that bad things were done by both sides, and everyone knows someone who was affected.”

Ah, that explains why she is not in denial like most North Amerikans. Things like runaway hyper inflation, ideology based violence, and unpaid civic workers like garbage collectors or water and sewage workers, is still there within living memory.

Timewarp. I write slowly over several weeks. We are now officially at day ten. All the sparkly dangerous newness is long gone. It is now just one big noisy, polluted city like any other I have visited. I may get a couple more mystical insight days as we are finally about to move out of our safety bubble, a cheap hotel in a wealthy part of town. Today we move into our new apartment in another part of town. It has an amazing view of the slums. I am probably the only person in the world that would be excited about this. Man’s adaptive abilities on view.


Speaking of adaptability, manmade climate chaos has been throwing its own party unabated. I am feeling like one of those Charlie Brown characters that has a little rain cloud over their head.  I think it is where we get the English phrase living under a cloud. I also believe there was a bit character in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series that had no idea that he had been born a Norse Storm God, had never seen a sunny day in his life, and was thus a very depressing character. It turns out, the rain clouds always followed him around in adoration trying to make him happy. Maybe I am one of those Charlie Brown characters but my little rain cloud has lightening, hurricanes, and the four food groups of the apocalypse on tiny flying horses swooping out in miniature form. I’ll leave the bizarre story of us getting our new apartment to Mrs. C5 but my part of the story is that trying to get home afterwards was a bit of a challenge. The river, a few blocks from where we were chilling , River Rimac, had finally burst its banks and was flooding the roadways. This shutdown the vehicular flow of the entire city and explains why it took us so long to get a taxi. The roadblock turned parts of the city into one big parking lot. This went on for tens of miles or so. We knew this because we were moving away from the epicentre heading in the opposite direction listening to our tweaking cab driver pointing out how bad it was. I don’t speak Spanish but I’m pretty sure he was pointing and saying ‘Godzirra!’.

Timewarp. A few days later. This is a good time to share some actual honest to goddess survival skills. For those that don’t know me well there is a modest number of people in the preparedness, survivalist and permaculture world that read me. I am not famous or anything like that. It’s just that a few key players actually go out of their way to read what I have to say.  I guess the reason is because I do rather odd things like, one year, raise a 500lb pig for meat that I would take for walks on a leash and then the next year move to another continent where I don’t speak the language and tell people what important survival advice I learn. No biggie. I have already learned a couple of new good adaptive survival skills in the last few days. Enough to keep you all coming back for a few months of blogs. Well the first wasn’t exactly newly learnt but it is the first time I have ever seen it used in person. We moved into our new apartment yesterday. It is six floors up without an elevator. I developed belly fat for the first time in my life this year after quitting chain smoking and thus playing a shit load of video games in bed to cope with almost a year of withdrawal after some sketchy chest xrays. Six floors of climbing on a daily basis is probably a good thing. We know live in a poorer neighbourhood. I should mention that part. The NGO that brought us here would not approve of the neighbourhood we moved into… so … shhhh. Let’s not tell them. Sure, there is some danger but it is a level of danger that I am comfortable with and can navigate. As I look down on my neighbours, I notice a bunch of plastic pop bottles with water in them.  It doesn’t make sense why. Solar heating? No. Security obstacles? No. laundry weights or garbage disposal or … emergency water storage? Getting closer. Wait a minute . Lightbulb moment. I just gave this advice to others. No shit.

About a month ago we flew into Ottawa to receive some cultural training from the organization we are with now. During this training one of the teachers recommended that each trainee bring a ‘lifestraw’. It’s a small personal water filter that I had recently been introduced to. I spoke up that I would also give my approval and recommendation to this product. I don’t endorse commercial products for businesses so that is a big deal. It is just a handy item if you don’t have a pot and fire to boil water in. Another trainee shared a piece of water purification advice that I thought was fantastic simply because I had never heard of it before. I will not repeat it because after thinking about it for a couple of days I realized it was a survival myth. I decided to speak up because supposedly I am a semi-expert in this shit.

I didn’t want to seem like a blowhard critic attacking the person so I figured I should give them some replacement advice. I told them that to sterilize water on the fly, try putting it in recycled plastic bottles in the sunshine for a couple of days.  Ultraviolet radiation is a powerful sterilizer. They thanked me in a pitiable way. One person was honest in saying that they didn’t feel comfortable with that advice and I can’t blame them. Immediately I felt bad that I had broken one of my own rules. I had never tried this 1st hand. C5 rule of survival: “Unless you have first hand experience assume it does not work, no matter what you thought you read or saw on  YouTube.” So here I am staring at ultraviolet water purification first hand and I figured I should recheck my faulty memory and so went online.  The Center for Disease Control recommends a ½ day in strong sunshine or 2 days in cloud and before anyone asks, glass bottles will not work as they filter UV.

This is a city of 10 million give or take a million. No one knows for sure. The water is not drinkable. There is bacteria in the water. It has to be filtered or boiled or bought and everyone living here knows this. Mrs. C5 has already had the squirts. You know what I mean. The same consistency from both holes. She hates it when I use her as the straight man in a comedy skit but sort of likes being known as Mrs. C5. She is typing my notes at the moment so I am going to hear about it… about… now! She probably got exposed brushing her teeth in the sink.

OKAY. NOW FOR THE BIG ONE. This is the reason you read my works. This is a C5 exclusive that you will get nowhere else.

There are other things you can do with a recycled shipping container.

Let’s start with that this city is basically built on a raised desert. I am no survival expert here because all my best skills are based on easy access to wood. I have become pretty good at starting fires in most conditions. I worked hard on that skill. I understand how fire thinks. Not so much when there is no wood to burn… or build with for that matter. So, the locals like brick and steel because wood is rare. I mentioned earlier something about that it is like the 1980s here. They haven’t quite internalised the idea yet that steel is rare and a one time mineral extraction in the lifetime of the planet. You only get to do this one time and it’s done for ever. Just like most of our resources.

At the moment companies are selling off cheap shipping containers and this is also a once in a lifetime of a planet experience. This has come about because they are being retired from use early. I mentioned the Commodities Crash that was a delayed reaction to the 2008 financial crash. This has caused consumer goods demand destruction. Goods made from Commodities. This has started to crash world shipping with major shippers going bankrupt. People are literally abandoning ships. The price of steal is also in the basement so there is little reason to recycle the steel. That means container costs have dropped by about a thousand dollars. Some people turn them into buildings. Good for you. Others try to bury them as fallout shelters. Bad idea. Expensive bad idea. They just can’t handle the pressure of dirt acting like a vice on a beer can. We have one on the farm and use it primarily as dry storage. It’s perfect for animal feed because it is rat and mice proof. It would probably be great for hay because hay fires happen frequently and steel doesn’t burn easy or let in burnable oxygen. It’s also unlikely to go airborne during one of the new climate change related superstorms or be burned in the ,also, man caused super firestorms.

But if you don’t want to use one of these as a safe box it can also be a damn fine defensive wall if you cut it up into usable pieces. That is my new exclusive advice. A forty foot shipping container can be cut up into a whopping 170 feet of hard steel wall plus 2 substantial swinging doors.


I first noticed it at construction sites. At home people surround construction sites with plywood. Here they use cut up shipping containers because wood is rare. On closer inspection I noticed that these metals sheets had been cut down into more manageable 8 foot sections and kept rigid by a frame of angle iron. It made sense in that moving a 40 foot length of heavy steel siding would be rather awkward unless you were cutting it down in place. I also saw some of it lifted up to be used as roofing material.


By about this point, my little overactive creative mind was tweaking into overdrive. It was like drinking too many sugary caffeinated drinks and playing with King Kong size Leggo. I started picturing a shipping container coming apart in pieces and being rearranged into nifty new structures. I have something new to obsess over. I rarely get something new to puzzle out.


Let’s step back in time a bit as, like the frantic shipping container re-structure whirling around in my noggin. There is a few different stories in my past that I need to rearrange and put back together.

To start with, a couple of years back, the missus convinced me to try and use my creative story telling skills to write a potentially money making book. I figured a fictional story about the ‘slow collapse’ of industrial society as we know it was a good way to teach instructional advice to help people adapt to that new reality as it continues to show up on a daily basis. Each chapter would give a new piece of survival advice that I had learned in the school of hard knocks but presented in fictitious form.

It turns out that I suck at this particular task. It appears that I am an artistic sprinter and not a scholastic marathon runner. My book’s basic premise didn’t help. I determined that the basic fallacy of most apocalyptic fiction is that they are adventure novels. Just pulp fiction with villains and heroic protagonists overcoming impossible odds. It goes like this. A disaster happens, POW!, and there is lots of running from the cities with race based gangs or zombies hot on your tails. Explosions are going off that the protagonists don’t look at because “tough guys don’t look at explosions. They turn their backs and walk away.” In these stories, the protagonists always seem to have a reason to stop and talk about some manly tactical tool or gun that you just know that the author just purchased at Survival-Mart the week before and now this object miraculously saves the day and the girl while committing justifiable mass murder because all the other apocalyptic survivors are gay, child cannibal, socialist bikers. (One or two of you will know the much too popular shit survival book I am referring to above. That book is going to get so many people killed. What a Mega Mia Mia Duche Bag). Oh, Hell No!  In my survival novel the protagonist would be slightly annoying with bad personal habits that only other people really notice and they will not like each other most of the time but have to figure out how to get along because that is far, far, far more realistic. The heroes in the popular bad survival novel I refer to above will actually be the delusional, religious, armed and dangerous, Christian Reconstructionist Cult that scare the local farmers enough that one day the local sheriff would be forced to arrest them with the assistance of the local pastor coming along to talk them down. Even the local rednecks have been welding up some homemade mortars to firebomb them out of the their fortified compound if the sheriff failed

…and when it was the time for that awkward story change where the protagonists find a reason to stop and talk about the cool tactical purchase that just happens to save the day and the girl… they are going to be talking about metal roofing materials. Badupdup.  Big pieces of sheet metal, as in the big pieces of structural sheet metal that could be recycled off a shipping container, just in case I have lost you already in my usual circular rambling diatribes.

As you will recall, I didn’t do myself any writing favours when I decided to make the story an unadventure, where there wasn’t one big event that shuts society down but it is a slow collection of regional, structural breakdowns and partial recoveries. The slow breakdown of a society that outgrew its resource base and slowly had to adapt to living with the consequences of a failing state. Once again, no zombies, no running and gunning, no heroes and villains. Just slightly annoying everyday people having to build a roof that doesn’t leak while handling 100 km/hour winds and a heavy snow load.

So, in this story of my hopelessly failed book, there was a couple who were two of the stories protagonists. They  are slightly annoying average everyday people. We meet them as they are living in a van, squatting in the backyard of the home they previously owned. This is during financial troubles very much like our own. We will just call it the next time around since nothing that caused the first one has been fixed. They had done everything right in life. They got educated, worked their way up in a company, got a mortgage on a modest house to fix up on the weekends and then got pregnant. The latest financial crisis was happening to other people… until it wasn’t.  Now they were squatting in their own yard having lost the home due to the purchase and then asset stripping of the company they previously worked for mixed with predatory lenders that wanted the house more than they wanted restructured payments. They now play hide and seek with local sheriffs trying keep them evicted. They are getting water from a hose from their sympathetic retired neighbour who also realizes that the writing is on the wall for him. The near bankrupt government has started reducing his pension by half and he suspects they will stop paying altogether. The two young protagonists were offered the chance to move onto the old farmland of a slightly eccentric, mildly alcoholic, prophetic doomer that just happens to look somewhat like me…because he basically is me… and he has a tendency to go on confusing rambling diatribes that seem to go nowhere… until it does.

Oh yeah, where was I? Because of the banks rationing of cash withdrawals to 200$ a week and many gas stations refusing to sell gas at a loss due to the collapse of oil prices, they have been saving up for this trip for a while. The young Mrs. Pregnant protagonist goes into town to spend some of the last of their final cash on dollar store pasta in bulk as a store of complex carbohydrates and a few extra Gerry cans of gas. The young Mr. protagonist, staring at the house they are about to leave, finally has his irrational SNAP moment. Looking at the new metal roof he had installed last year, he says to himself, “Fuck it! Fuck it! Fuck it! That roof doesn’t belong to the bank. I’m taking it with me.” He grabs a socket wrench and starts removing it. A half hour later, the sympathetic retired neighbour wanders up with an extension cord and a power drill. He takes a puff of his joint, hands it up to the roof, and says “I like where you are going with this little act of rebellion. Can I give you a hand?”

Let’s flash forward a bit to this slightly annoying, average everyday couple showing up to the farm of the slightly annoying, mildly alcoholic, eccentric doomer that happens to look a lot like me. Upon seeing the couple arrive with roofing metal roped onto the top of the grossly overloaded van, he says, “Good choice of survival supplies Rambo. You two might not die this winter afterall.”

This story was inspired by real life problem solving events at my farm.

As the crisis of our age quickly approaches, I wanted to be able to invite certain people to my farm because it would suck to go through such a crisis alone. There would be too much to do, too much to know and there would be too few sets of eyes. The problem was as I started to implement this plan it became clear that we just couldn’t house these people. In fact,without them prepositioning a lot of building supplies in advance they couldn’t house themselves either.

(We interrupt this charming story of sheet metal for a News Flash. A running gun battle has broken out in the neighbourhood. About 30 rounds have been exchanged. As I look down from the buck eye news copter – bonus points go to those who know this particular reference – I can see a lone police officer shooting into the air to signal to other police where he is. I guess he needs backup. That is not a great communication device in a city of 10 million where what goes up does have a tendency to come down. I guess they have a radio shortage. Well thank goodness for concrete roofs. Women and children were running to get out of the area. 10 minutes later everything is back to normal with couples doing their evening stroll down the very same walkways. BONUS! We now know that some people in the neighbourhood are packing and willing to shoot it out with the Po-Po. These are the people in your neighbourhood. In your nei bour- hood.

Another news flash just in. This news reporter has just been informed that his new official job is to wring out the handwashing in the sink because the Mrs.’ Arthritic wrists are just not up for the job anymore. No complaints. I am getting off easy. Now back to your regularly scheduled charming but rambling story about sheet metal)

Soooo, one person we had invited suggested thatched roofing. One problem. We have no straw. Lots and lots of hay but no straw.  Not to mention no building to put thatch on and no year to actually learn and implement the proper use of thatch. Plus straw will have a tendency to go POOF!, with a single random wood fire spark or a global warming related forest spark that can travel for many miles. Hold that thought. Let’s put a pin in that idea for a hundred years from now. How about the building itself? Strawbale construction was also suggested. I believe I mentioned no straw. Lots of hay. No straw. Far more important is no hay baler. I have worked behind them several times and they are just too sketchy to ever trust them to continue working in a world of diminishing returns where the parts for old balers are rare. Not to mention the only people who know how to repair and keep them running are 70+ years old, semi-retired or in some state of dead. I don’t plan on investing in a square baler, let alone the diesel dependent tractor that is a matching set.

There is something I occasionally refer to as the pioneer prepper fantasy. This is the belief that without any actual experience, post-modern man could run out into the woods with an axe and make a log cabin. Sure. It’s technically possible to make before the next snowfall in your ample free time between gathering and preserving your harvest to get you through for an entire year until the next harvest but the logs will probably be little more than 3 inches round. And you just try moving anything larger than that by hand. It won’t be much more than 8 feet by 8 feet with the cracks stuffed with grass. You will probably have to bend down inside. I have seen these in the woods. We are  still back to the same question of what the fuck are you going to use for roofing. Split shingles? You will need to have brought a saw, preferably a chainsaw and gas and oil and preferably a proper splitting frow. I almost forgot the drill for pegging them in place. And we are back to the problem of that shingle roofs have the tendency to go POOF!  You have probably noticed that this is somewhat of a rant but someone has to do it. If someone were trying to impress me by showing me their AR-15, gold coins or bug out tactical suburban 4×4, I would be apt to say, “Are you trying to hit on me? Cut with the pussy shit. Show me your sheet metal collection. Do you prefer baked on enamel roof metal or galvanized barn metal? How about alumimium siding? Whatdayougot?  Impress me. Now show me your screw and nail collection.” Wait that is a rant for some other charming but rambling time.

String is damn hard to make in nature. A working roof is so much more. We have a one time in the lifetime of the planet opportunity to have an easy to build roof that doesn’t leak.

Sheet metal is more previous than gold and low and behold there is a commodities crash happening for the last couple of years and used shipping containers are going cheap because global shipping is slowing to a crawl because people that once bought commodities can’t afford to do so anymore which is causing a feedback loop of consumption decline.

If you actually have money left, you have a once in a lifetime of the planet opportunity to own a retired shipping container and explode it into post-apocalyptic leggo construction mode.

Chances are you are so far in credit card, mortgage and car loan debt that you can’t sleep at night and you are noticed blood coming out in your stool…  but if you are not quite there yet or are one of the super geniuses with not debt, I am just saying, invest in physical steel. Well shaped steel… and paint it but that is some other rant.

We have a humble single shipping container on our farm. We have turned it into a mini mouse proof barn, all around storage building and emergency, class 5 hurricane/fire storm shelter. It has always been a bit of a tease to me. You know the type of tease I am talking about. A big wet and slopping make out session at the threshold before she says goodnight and closes the door in your face, sort of tease that leaves you ready for action but nowhere to go. One shipping container is just never enough. We eventually want to bring in a 2nd shipping container and turn the two of them into something more that represents a functioning barn for animals and hay storage.

But then I became obsessed.

Eyowww! I have had a vision Brothers & Sisters. A vision of my own personal Camelot. All it would take is 5 shipping containers. Wait! Five shipping containers and 2 school buses. Oh yeah. Just like that baby. Talk dirty to me. And a backhoe to dig me a moat that was also an earth bern that also conveniently turned out to be bullet proof. Like the master builders of the Lego movie I would turn these into a castle that could take all mother nature could throw at it. It could take a full on category 5 hurricane dead on while keeping my very expensive solar panel system from going airborne or being smashed by a flying tree. That would blow. I worry about my solar panels. Heck! Even the garden in the inner court might survive. The school buses turned hail proof, wind proof, snow load proof, apocalyptic greenhouses would still be pumping out peppers like nothing happened. The whole thing is fireproof while sparks are raining down on us. My beloved tomatoes would be safe from the starving bands of looters. And, oh yeah, baby, a completely zombie defendable zone from which mankind can start again. Oh well, zombies only love me for my brains.

The more I wanted to build it, the more it became clear to me that this was way, way out of my price range. Other than a fantastically successful go fund me campaign where we recorded the build and sent DVDs to the supporters and maybe a wildly successful national geographic episode that carefully scripted everything we did to make us look like twitchy, bat shit crazy, cuckoo for coco puffs, preppers, this just wasn’t going to happen. The dream was gone like Camelot re-disappearing into the mist from which it came.

As my obsession died, I have to admit here that part of my excitement about our permaculture farm and all around doomstead started to go with it. All things were not possible if I only believed. I lost my mojo. I was just going through the motions of growing food, gathering firewood and getting together with friends. What’s the point of achieving the minimum levels of self-sufficiency as western industrial society reaches the downslope and starts to pick up speed in its descent … without a damn fine, totally skookum, zombie defense castle.

If I can quote one of those cheezy 70s a.m. radio, break up tunes, “Something inside had died and I can’t hide it and I just can’t fake it.” Sad face.

Oh. I am being dramatic for the sake of a good story. Deal with it. There were several other things that wore me down.

Which sort of brings us here to spend a year in South America in a convoluted way to try and get my mojo back.

And we are doing this right at the point of history when it is probably a good idea to stay close to home and all of our survival supplies. The U.S. has finally gone off its medication. It’s now on the manic high of a bipolar and cocaine induced delusion of grandeur with a shit load of guns. What could possibly go wrong. Oh come on folks. We all sort of knew this would happen some day. I find myself thinking of the famous quote of the holocaust survivor, “First they came for the socialists. Then they came for the unionists. Then they came for the assorted shades of brown people with funny sounding last names and I thought to myself,” Seriously?! Are we actually doing this shit again? Really?”  Did I get this quote right?

About this point, everyone unfamiliar with my rather confusing circular logic, writing style, will probably be wondering if this is actually going somewhere. You are not alone. It drives my wife crazy. Stick with it a bit further as the circle is slowly working its way all the way around. So where were we. The entire U.S. is now a fly over country and hopefully it doesn’t spread to Canada like some more pusy version of ebola. The Energy Return On Energy Investment ( EROEI ) of oil, the lifeblood of our society is sitting at around 5 to 1 for unconventional oil. We should just start calling this stuff, things that vaguely resemble oil that are pretty much corrosive sludge that you have to sell to another country because no one that actually paid attention in auto shop class would want to put it in their personal vehicle. All the while you have to eat more fast food burgers, drink more alcohol and pack your brain with more anti-depressants and panic attack medication to simple cope with and numb out the increasingly obvious, sheer evilly evil evilness of the ecological destruction we leave in our wake by simply getting up in the morning and going to work. We go to jobs we hate to buy things we don’t need because we have lost any skill necessary to simply live without a functioning oil dependent industrial society. I am now officially off topic. Did I mention evilly evil evilness. Seriously. It’s like the biblical demon gods, Mamon and Molock, got together and had a bunch of babies. Let’s just all them… Mamolocks, and these Mamolocks where suits and hire people’s children to shovel other people’s children into the fires of industry as fuel stock. Well at least they have a job. Doesn’t the bible say, “If you don’t have a job you don’t get to eat at Jesus’ table.” That would be Industries 3:16. He was one of the lesser prophets in case you missed him. He eventually betrayed Jesus by refusing to pay out insurance benefits because he considered the whole episode as a pre existing condition.

Okay, okay, I’ll swing this back to topic. EROEI of 5 to 1 or there abouts. That means it took the energy of one barrel of oil to get 5 barrels. Just so everyone gets the predicament we are in, back in the heyday when we built our own Mamon backed auto-Molock industrial society with all the accoutrements of highways, bridges, dams, social institutions and milk delivered to the door, the EROEI was somewhere around 100 to 1. The road ahead was bright. The Star Trek future awaited. Now let’s flash forward a bit shall we. The minimum to keep an industrial society powered is somewhere around the 30 to 1 mark and you can cancel all those tractor pulls. Not to mention maintaining, repairing and replacing all that infrastructure a few times a lifetime while birthing in the next generation to keep the monster running.

What a stupid fucking system. What absolute fucking moron would think this is a good idea and be emotionally invested in keeping the idea going?

For those of you whose eyes are widening a bit and your mouth is beginning to make that circular O or ‘Oh’ or ´Ohhhhhhh!´ shape, congratulations. You are finally getting with the program. The failing dams, falling bridges, potholed highways, undrinkable civic water and crumbling social cohesion, program. For just about the full length of my lifetime the Western world has only continued to grow by accounting fraud. It was subtle at first. It’s less than subtle now. Now the pitchforky populi are rather miffed at the diminishing returns of their lives and they voted for the exact guy I figured they would. They always vote for a guy like that in times like these.

Well, Caesar can’t save you now.

No matter how big the strong man is, you just can’t win in a fight against the immutable laws of math and physics. I mentioned something about an EROEI of 5 to 1. An ideology based civil war will probably break out about … now … because it is easier to blame other people for your woes than to admit you are just not tough enough to live without your pickup truck and steroid grown steaks. To show you that my reasoning is not ideology driven it would not be fair of me if I didn’t point out that the Bernie Babies can’t perform any cabalistic sorcery tricks to increase the EROEI either. No turning water into oily wine or conjuring social programs into gold. These are not the solar power droids you are looking for. I guess I should mention the EROEI of renewables is just dismal and renewables aren’t really renewable. I’ll save that for some other rant. And as for she who will not be named, just call her The Godmother, WWJS.. That would be “Who Would Jesus Slap?”

I’m still working my way around this story so keep your pants on. This ain’t over until the circular logic fat lady sings.

Each of these competing inevitable catastrophes fast approaching the proverbial fan has encouraged us to travel now before it’s too late. A year of travel is worth two of education as these documented posts should attest. Besides, I’ve told my friends, with a wink, that I consider this refugee training. Hey, do YOU know how to be a refugee? Me neither. It certainly doesn’t hurt for me to know my way around on another continent, even as a potential illegal alien. I’ve already figured out that it’s pretty hard to be the odd man out in a culture where all the rules are different. I’ve also learned why Spanish is a very valuable language to know. Sure, Sara Connor in the Terminator learned Spanish. Other than that, I’ve never had any good reason to even consider learning Spanish. Until now that is. The Spanish imperial colonizers of the yore did conquer good chunks of the world in the past, unlike the English colonial empire that simply committed genocide making the local North Americans shrink to the point of being something for white people to feel vaguely guilty about yet do nothing, the Spanish simply put everyone else under their boot heel. The unintended consequence is that there is a very large percentage of the world that speaks Spanish or speaks it as a 2nd language or some variant of it. In retrospect, this should have been obvious to me. Duh.  I guess it was just a personal blind spot. Well, that is the point of travel as education. It brings light to the shadowy nooks and crannies of our minds.

News flash just in. Remember that little storm cloud following me around with the 4 horsemen in HO scale? I haven’t mentioned this yet but we are in the 2nd largest desert city in the world. Last night it rained for 3 hours. A local friend in the area said something in Spanish like “unprecedented”.

Continuing the circle. Most of the homes here are not detached but are built against each other. This forms impenetrable walls around a neighbourhood. (more on the neighbourhood as a castle another time). Each house has a mini courtyard up to the sidewalk. Though, some of these courtyards are wide enough to park a car in if only sideways, many of these courts are only four or five feet wide. What is the friggin point of having a 5 foot long courtyard with an impenetrable 10 foot wall topped with mankilling spikes? Ah, grasshoppers. The secret iron dragon against the flying monkey technique. It is a defensive barrier so that you can enter or leave your house without someone grabbing you and forcing entry. It even slows down someone walking up and kicking your door in because first they have to get through the 1st gate and a burglar or police office can’t do that in secret because your security fence is butted up against your neighbour’s security fence. There is no privacy to do this in secret because you are exposed to the world.

This takes me way back as I first reported this concept back in my early youtube days that no one here will remember me from. It was titled survival advice from Jamaica. This whole survival insights from South America concept is not new. The first I did from Jamaica and the 2nd from Cuba. I was a little more awkward and shy back then sharing on this subject. Much less so now as I have finally been convinced my survival series are both valid and valuable. Back to Jamaica. I noticed several houses where the 2nd story was larger than the 1st floor. Picture a square mushroom. The overhanging 2nd story acts as a type of covered porch.  Surrounding this covered porch are steel gates. I found this quite annoying as I had to get to the front door to knock and announce that I had arrived … but I just couldn’t get to it. Not unless someone unlocked the gate first. I hope you now have this pictured in your head and have all the understanding of this security concept.

Now I am about to connect the ends of the circle. Are you watching? Camelot disappeared into the mist because I just wouldn’t be able to afford 5 shipping containers and all the accoutrements but I might be able to afford 2. One as a very modest resilient mini home and the other cut up into the courtyard walls, able to take whatever climate chaos can throw at it all the while completely safe from zombies, Lego style. Camelot lives.

And on top of that defensives courtyard wall defensive security spikes can be welded on, to keep ninjas from climbing over. This is what is call a teaser for the next episode.

“Sharp and pointy things.”

I have been here in this mega city long enough that all the mysticism is gone but I already have my next handful of episodes with lots of cool pictures. Alternative forms of transport, bicycles turned into pickup trucks, a world without grid tied stoves, beautifully artistic security bars, end of the industrial world professions to encourage your kids into and sexy female police officers in riding boots on motorcycles. Yum. So stay tuned.

But before you go.

A month has gone by since I wrote my 1st lines. Do you remember those water bottles I mentioned in the sunshine, I figured out that they are just there to keep pigeons off all the ledges. It’s not water purification at all. Those cut up shipping containers? My final judgement is, nope. They are not. I have concluded that they are simply made of similar materials that can also conveniently be made into shipping containers.

So, now you have a choice to make. You must decide whether I am the dumbest son of a bitch on the planet followed second by yourself for believing my stories. Either that or I am one of those Rain Man type of geniuses that sees patterns and can follow them to their veiled conclusions as well as all the hidden possibilities of adaption … like seeing a metal door and turning it into a castle.

See.  I could smile, shake your hand, look you straight in the eye… and lie. I could. Maybe next time I will … on purpose.  It will keep things interesting. Mysterious even. It will be up to you to try out some of these skills and prove me wrong.

Tomorrow we are onto the next adventure. We will travel to a sketchy part of the city. My goal is to leave with one of my top 5 most important survival items. Oh, you know what item I am talking about. A bicycle, of course. What were you thinking? My goal is to get one for the equivalent of $40 CDN. Let the adventure begin.

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3 Responses to Survival advice from South America – Part 1 – The Arrival

  1. Lucrezia Borgia says:

    Great work C5. Keep this up and you just might be a contender for the Buckeye Newshawk Award.

  2. Gabriel says:

    Awesome to hear your story. Keep up the great work! Miss you folks, be safe!

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