All posts by nathauribea


In this plane begins a new adventure. Another attempt at expanding my knowledge of the world, a response to my unquenchable thirst for seeing and understanding the different ways that as human beings, we have come up with for living. Cultures, worldviews, perspectives and realities all inherently moulded by our genetics, our environments, and our decisions. My wanderlust is, in principle, a way of exposing myself to different combinations of all these factors and examining (or merely admiring) their outcomes. Travelling inevitably allows me to increase the differences in the nature of the stories I encounter. It increases the pool of backgrounds which in turn lets me see the different ways in which lives unravel across nationalities, political ideologies, cultures, histories, and personal quarrels. Filipinos, as I have learnt while chatting with the flight attendants, count in Spanish regardless of the province, and one of them is actually officially Spanish-speaking. In Davao City, the city that would host me for the next 8 weeks, curfew for minors is 10pm and smoking publicly is illegal. As the locals tell me, Mayor Duterte has made the city much safer and according to it’s ranked high on safety despite a very low purchasing power. As life would have it, I met him three weeks later. But, later.

For now, there I was in a 13-and-a-half hour flight between Vancouver and Manila feeding my passion for knowledge and experience, learning as I take off and soaking up the feeling of being alive.

El Nido, Palawan. Philippines, 2015.

Earthscapes. El Nido, Palawan. Philippines, 2015.

Power, Knowledge & Imaginaries

I am Latin American. Oddly enough, I cannot say the same for my knowledge. A long colonial history in which the United States has imposed its dominion on Latin American countries has deeply affected the ways of knowing and knowledge itself across Latin American countries.

Recognizing ‘American’ power over Latin America, the upper classes saw the US as a model to strive for. They want their children to grow up with ‘culture,’ to be ‘educated’ and ultimately to dominate within their own countries. So what they did, and I speak for personal experience, was to enrol their children in international (usually American, but like with the World Bank the US likes to see itself as a representation of the world in general) schools. So my textbooks were published in the US and my teachers were American (many of them did not even speak Spanish at the time). Like the fish that doesn’t know it lives in the water, I did not know that what I was learning was not universal. To me, those were facts. History was absolute.

We, the children of the Latin American upper classes, then grew up with an untold expectation that, since we had the resources to do so, we should strive to leave our countries and study in a good university. We Googled the top University rankings that naturally, are dominated by Western universities. So up until then, my knowledge had been produced mainly by the colonizer’s idea of Latin America. We weren’t told that the CIA had been behind the assassination of many Latin American presidents during the 60s and 70s, instead we were told that our governments were corrupt and didn’t want to cooperate. I didn’t know Canada operated and exploited most of the land mines in Latin America; instead I knew guerrillas and rebel groups were violent. They were ruining our countries. They were people you could not reason with. As for customs, there was always a strange collision between holding on to our Latin roots while dancing salsa or becoming hip and nodding your head to techno music. My particular imaginaries have been shaped by both. My experience has told me Latin Americans are friendly and warm while my news channels, owned by the American-loving elites, have said they are dangerous.

What I mean to say is that what we believe counts as knowledge and ‘universal’ truths are really shaped by the context in which we find ourselves. More often than not, our perceptions are imaginaries which tint the glasses we’re looking through.

NOTE: my parents are AWESOME, I’m not criticizing them for their decisions. their perspectives too are products of their context.

Through a Lense

Through a lens. San Franciso, CA. 2015. Taken by Astrid Arlove.

Huitoto: natives of the Lungs of the World

“You would die if left alone in the rainforest; I would die if I stayed in your cities” -Ráfue, a Native Huitoto in the Colombian Amazon.

In the Amazon Rainforest lies an alternate reality. Life is different there. Wealth is measured in terms of knowledge acquired from nature, their ultimate treasure. The natives have a use for resources in their entirety and waste is not a component of their system. When I immersed myself in this alternate way of living, I had the pleasure of talking to Ráfue, the son of the Shaman of a small Huitoto tribe, who gave me a small insight into their belief system. Their myths are structured around four pillars that are represented by the four columns that support their Malocas, or ancestral long houses used for rites and ceremonies. To the East lies the first pillar, representing plants and animals. To the west, the second pillar represents the knowledge and respect of and for nature. To the south lies the third pillar symbolizing water and its necessity for life. Finally, the fourth pillar points towards the north and represents fire, or Buinama, and sustenance.

This reality, so often considered inferior by the “Western man,” sees him as an Erudama, or younger brother, who should be cared for and taught in the right direction. The Huitoto believe that the Western man was born just yesterday and still has much to learn. Contrary to colonial thinking, all sources of native knowledge including their own come from the roots of nature since the beginning of creation which is why they have access to the secrets of nature and an inherent connection to it.

This intricate connection with nature is seen in every aspect of their lives, ranging from myths and stories, to medicinal, religious, and spiritual traditions. Present in the everyday lives of adult males, the Huitoto believe to have come from the female Mámbe, coca leaves after they have been toasted and ground, and the male Ambil, a semiliquid form of tobacco. A central part of every ceremony, coca, tobacco, and cassava, must be provided by the host community and any gathering. In the centre of the Maloca lies a pot of Ambil that is licked by every adult male and which signifies the unanimity, connectedness, and solidarity of those involved. Mámbe is used daily as a source of positive physical and mental energy as well as to avoid fatigue, but it is only to be used by males who have successfully completed the rite to manhood, which requires surviving for three months alone in the depths of the rainforest. Upon their return, men are received with a feast and a lifelong commitment to Mámbe and Ambil.

As a means to strengthen their connection with nature Yagé, commonly known as Ayahuasca, has a profound spiritual significance. Adults in the Huitoto communities have approximately three Yagé ceremonies per year to purge their souls and bodies, and as means to enlightenment and guidance throughout the path of their existence. All ceremonies are lead by their Shamans who guide it and interpret their visions. 

In order to walk the forest at night, they use Luciferosa, a fungi that grows on fallen leaves and glows faintly when the moon’s light is not enough to penetrate the lush canopy of the forest. As Ráfue talked about the uses of a vast repertoire of plants, I could not help but feel awed by their knowledge; how is it that the ‘civilized’ man had undermined it? They manage to survive extreme living conditions without the use of our science and technology, and not only do they survive but they live in a way that harmonizes with the ways of nature and protects it for the use of the coming generations. To me, it seems ironic. Isn’t living with cooperation and connectedness as core values, and with practices that ensure the wellbeing of nature and everyone in the community infinitely smarter?

Mimesis. This picture was taken in Leticia, Colombia in July 2014 during a visit to a Huitoto community, whose constructions are built with the rise of the Amazon river in mind. Pictured is the Vicoria amazonica, the largest species of water lilies endemic to the Amazon region.

Ways of Knowing.

Like Kant suggested, I believe I cannot know the world in itself, but only how it is for me. Thus, I am fully aware that all the constructs of my head are products of my environment, but I also know that sometimes these skewed perspectives can go unnoticed. When thinking about what ‘the situation’ was like in Canada, I always admired this country because it seemed to have it all figured out. No one seemed to live in poverty, it seemed to have achieved social equality, and all ethnic groups seemed to have equal opportunities. But this was only relative to what I had seen in Latin America, to the drastic gap between the highest and lowest classes, the open chauvinism seen so often regardless of social class, and the ever-so-present racism that painted the social pyramid. With this preconception in mind, I overlooked the possibility that Native Americans in Canada might experience unjust living conditions and was quick to propose that social efforts should be focused somewhere where it was ‘really’ needed. I called this preconception into question once with Kanahus Pelkey, the Native Youth Movement Mother and Warrior from the Secwpemc Nation of British Columbia, and a second time upon attending a talk by Dawn Evans, the representative for the Coast Salish peoples in relation to food insecurity in the Vancouver Board, who said that local peoples belonged to what she called “the 4th world,” which to her meant living in a developed country with the living conditions of the lower classes in developing or underdeveloped countries. And then it struck me that often the term ‘civilized’ became an antonym with ‘native,’ and that pigmentocracy was not an issue solely of developing nations, but that it also happened right here where, for better of for worse, this is not easily noticed.

But upon realizing that there is crucial change to be made all over, how does one proceed? I became overly aware of my position of power as a well-off woman seeking to ‘help’ communities I thought of as situated below me, not in terms of race and culture, but in terms of social inequality and economic injustice. What does this say about me? I can say that it says a lot about the way I was raised and the culture in which I was brought up. I could not stand in solidarity if I saw fellow Latin Americans as removed and special because of their conditions. I too am oppressed by the conditions I was born into wherein individualism, rather than cooperation, prevails. This made me dwell deeper on my values, my place in society, and on my responsibilities as a citizen of the world. Were my values and beliefs built on sound knowledge? And whose knowledge? Numerous deep-thinking sessions led me to one conclusion: no one knows for sure. Socrates beat me by a couple thousand years in knowing that he knew nothing, but coming to this realization on my own was humbling and enlightening as I recognized that there is truly not one way of knowing or of leading life ‘correctly.’ With that as a personal maxim, I could now say that my values included recognizing every source of knowledge as equally important, reminding myself that believing something did not make it true, and nevertheless, judging my actions by their intention. It is these vales what have shaped the way I see success—not by the amount of money I get to accumulate over the years, but by how happy I feel and how happy I make those around me. This could seem obvious, but it is by no means the only popular definition of success. I too, put this definition to test. Were my personal and professional goals the ‘right’ ones, or should I reassess them because they were too platonic and idealistic?

Having completed more laps around the sun, my choices seem to carry the weight of their consequences increasingly, and I have feared that my mentality could silently take the shape of a screw in the production machine. The constant pressures to engage in activities that would look good on paper and help me impress my future employers often made me consider doing so. If I am to be honest, at times, the duality between working for material goods and working towards protecting nature and humanity had occupied a large portion of my thoughts.

I have come to believe that life sends cues to dissipate these doubts and reaffirm our deepest beliefs. But then again, we might be better at perceiving that which aligns with our worldview. It doesn’t matter, as long as we strive to assess our actions and decisions so that they remain in alignment with our values and get us as close to our ideals as possible. How about protecting Mother Earth and the humans she nurtures?

Loyal to Von Humboldt's observation of Spanish America, the palm trees that used to represent an untamed natural landscape  now precede land heavily fragmented to meet global coffee demands.

Tropicality. Loyal to Von Humboldt’s observation of Spanish America, the palm trees that used to represent an untamed natural landscape now precede land heavily fragmented to meet global coffee demands.

The Latin American diaries.

It is interesting how sometimes you have to see things from a distance to be able to appreciate them. For me, South America is one of those things. I love Colombia and my latin background, but I did not really understand what my background implied historically, politically, and culturally for this inherited part of my identity. Only as an international student in a ‘developed’ nation did I begin to comprehend so many aspects of the cultures that surrounded me for so many years of my life. Growing up I experienced the Colombian metropolis which Bogotá has become, the virgin beaches and dense rainforests in Costa Rica, and the remnants of a culture shaped by more than thirty years of dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. But all f these were merely facts and touristic attractions until I was able to experience first hand an intrinsic cause of the cultural differences between the north and the south of the American continent: the first believes itself to be dominant and the latter, dominated.

When I asked why it was that we held North America and European teachings at higher standards than our own, the reply was that I had to learn as much as I could from the more influential nations to be able to apply it in our less advanced socio-political systems. This seemed like the right way to go, until I attempted to define the ideas of development, solidarity, and progress. The privileged minority, both internationally and nationally, imposes in Latin America its idea of progress, culture, and ‘better’ onto the vast majority of people whose reality does not fit the cookie-cutter that is being used to mould it.

If I’m being honest, for many years I was blinded by my socio-economic status. In Latin America, I am one of the privileged. I like to tell myself that I was always amongst the more compassionate ones on my side of the spectrum; I always felt that urge to leave the world a little better than what I found it like. However, it was only when I came to live in Canada, a country in which the majority of people live over the poverty line, that I began to comprehend how deeply many of these ideas had been embedded into me. I was one to grow up believing that I had to leave Latin America because my education would be more valuable coming from a country that already had the knowledge to exploit another. I too believed that my contribution to society would be greater if I applied what I learnt from the ‘haves’ in a country of the ‘have-nots.’ What I didn’t expect to happen was that when I came to Vancouver I ran across the thoughts and lessons of people that had learned to see the value in every kind of knowledge. I had to leave to realize the value of the history and culture of my region, and how much they could contribute to me. It is only now that I question the model of development with which I grew up. Is it wise to assume that what the wealthy nations offer is always better? But with the momentum this assumption has gathered over the years, how do we make developing nations want to strive for a more environmentally, socially, and even economically sustainable future even when it doesn’t mimic the profit-oriented, resource-extracting model of the already developed nations?

Funny how sometimes we have to miss things in order to fully acknowledge their value. In being part of the privileged minority who is able to study abroad, I have become more and more eager to go back to where I came from, but to see it for the first time with the new eyes I have acquired. I still don’t have all the details about what it is i’ll do to make things better, but one thing I can tell you is that those beautiful countries filled not only with resources, but also people rich in culture, knowledge and traditions will have a lot to teach me before I’m able to give back to them.

Fishermen’s Backyard. I took this picture in Leticia, the Colombian side of the Amazon rainforest in July 2014, just as the sun set over the floating homes of fishermen in the Amazon river.

Creation Story from the Hopi Nation

Creator: “I want to hide something from the humans until they are ready for it. It is the realization that they create their own reality”

Eagle: “Give it to me, I will take it to the moon.”

Creator: “No, one day they will go there and find it.”

Salmon: “I will bury it in the bottom of the ocean.”

Creator: “No, they will go there too.”

Buffalo: “I will bury it in the Great Plains.”

Creator: “They will cut into the skin of the Earth and find it even there.”

Grandmother lives in the breast of the Mother Earth and has no physical eyes but sees with spiritual eyes.

Grandmother: “Put it inside them.”

Creator: “It is done.”

Taking the mind for a Walk

Taking the Mind for a walk. I took this picture while travelling with friends along the coast of California. A trip of personal discovery heightened by the presence of amazing beings. Pacifica, CA. 2015

Our Minds are the Creatures

Of the things that we see and the moments we know

Who is to say that we actually can

When do we stay and where do we go

For truth holds a shape which can twist, turn and bend.


But we don’t, and we won’t, that’s the game that we play.

Forward, sideways, fragile but strong.

The point of it all is to not know the way,

to be lost and be found on the search to belong.


In such ignorance we float, yet never really still

cause we paddle like fools for a safe way to go.

Every second combines our faith and our will.

Our minds are the creatures that never stop to grow.

-A poem by Astrid Arlove



The Game We Play

Why is it that we think that we can fool life? We plan and plan, when in the end it ends up being life who decides. We can fill our minds with worries about tomorrow, but the problem is that we can never really imagine things exactly as they will happen. So, why the uneasiness? We can choose the way we play, but not the cards we are dealt. And you know something? the game already has a pre-established set of rules by which you play unknowingly because everything is so deeply connected. The issue lies in its subtlety and complexity, but that is precisely what makes the plot so interesting.

“When you realize how perfect everything is, you will throw your head back and laugh at the sky” -Buddha

So that’s it. Live lightly for everything is perfect. Life is a rhetorical question, one with no need for an answer. Live lightly and laugh with me.

A picture I took while at the Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (July, 2013).

On Individuality.

How autonomous are we, really? To what extent do our ideas become simply reflections of the ideas of others? We are unique, and important, and individual. But since we can never be taken out of context, this uniqueness is just a specific reflection of our encounters with others, and situations themselves. How many of our ideas are really ours? People– anyone: a stranger or a friend– can trigger ways of thinking or specific concepts that, if in alignment with our own reason and common sense, we will allow to grow inside us. For better or for worse.

We are constantly seeking a connectedness, a sense of belonging, and thus no one can ever fully disregard what others think. Some might be more influenced or malleable than others; some care more about fitting specific stereotypes while others are fixed on defining themselves as opposed to letting themselves be defined by others. We as humans are social, and therefore are never  completely free from our paradigms or from worrying about the outside. But these interactions and our internal dialogues between experiences and reflections are precisely what our inner universes are comprised of.

“As we journey to the stars and back, we are reminded that our exploration includes both looking outward, as well as looking back at ourselves… science & philosophy have shown us that we are not just detached observers but an integral part of this vast and interconnected cosmos, both witnessing and helping to create this amazing story” -The Earth Portal: A guided tour of the Universe and Our Place in It.