Staffelegg to Brugg (Jura Crest Trail)

Yesterday we almost hiked from Staffelegg to Hauenstein and we almost saw its five passes. Instead, due to an unjustifiably confidence in my prep skills combined with me field testing a new hiking app, we took the wrong turn after getting off the bus and went in the opposite direction.

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I recently read about the power of visualizations so for this hike I prepared: I visualized where the sun would be during most of the hike, where we would begin and end. I also flew through the route with Google Earth and visualized us walking it. Now, yesterday provided us with an incredibly valuable learning experience, I learned that: the brain won’t remember a thing out of visualizing a whole route through Google Earth, remembering where the sun will be during a hike is useless when it’s cloudy, the weather app’s “clouds” tab is actually the “rain” tab, the “clouds” tab is the tab with the little cloud on it, when you don’t see your destination in signpost after signpost it’s a heavenly sign, pay attention.

In any case, I’m sure it rained a lot on the other direction.

A wooden owl.
A wooden owl .
One of the various forests we crossed.
One of the various forests we crossed.

The Jura Crest Trail is one of the seven Swiss national hiking routes and it connects Zürich with Genève. Yesterday the weather was so bad over most of Switzerland that we had barely any options. Compared to our previous hikes the most salient parts of this hike were how smooth the landscape looked and the lack of cowbells, people and sunlight.

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A future pizza.
A pizza in the making.

While we were eating our home-made hummus half-way through we met a friendly local from Aarau who was training for a multi-day hike later in the year. His dog liked to break branches apart with its teeth and I got to practice my German listening skills while Loes did the talking. I was really happy to catch most of the conversation although I wasn’t able to express it in words.

Spotted on the garden of a house in Via Enzo Ferrari.
Spotted on the garden of a house in Via Enzo Ferrari.

We also came across a 700 years old lime tree outside of Linn whose falling branches were being held by tight ropes. A couple was setting up a picnic table next to it with huge clouds in the distance.

A coming storm (no, we were faster :D).
A coming storm next to the couple setting up the picnic tables.
Arriving to Brugg AG.
Arriving to Brugg AG.

It wasn’t the hike we planned but we got valuable memories from it.

Brooklyn (2015)

What if an Irish girl emigrates to America, gets in love and has to come back Ireland?

This movie is set in the Ireland and New York of the 1960s and I found the story beautifully told. The main topic is immigration and what is “home” but it also touches on love, career and duty to your family. Given that I’m an immigrant myself I thought this could add another perspective to my experience.

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**SPOILER ALERT**

The main message is clearly spelled at the end of the movie:

[Some day…] you will catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past, someone who’s only yours. And you’ll realize that this is where your life is.

In my experience that is true. Since I graduated from university in 2010 I have been lucky enough to live in three different countries: Ireland, the US and Switzerland, but I met my wife soon after moving to Ireland and she has made me feel home since then. Would I have gone back to Spain or stayed in Ireland had I not met her? I don’t know. Part of my family lives in Spain and the other part in Japan. I look forward to visiting them every single time but whenever I visit them it doesn’t feel that I should have stayed there. It feels a bit like a level you have cleared in a video game. It brings you wonderful memories but now you are simply in a different place.

For me leading this nomadic life, which is a step up from moving back and forth between two countries that Brooklyn talks about, has the significant downside of making it quite hard to form intensive life-long connections and we are starting to feel the need to settle down. But whenever people ask me I recommend them to at least try the immigrant strategy over the “stay at home until you die” one: you get a better understanding of the world and exposes you to more views of life, it makes you stronger and you get more options both in terms of relationships and in terms of career which means more likely to lead a happy life. I wouldn’t have met my wife nor most of my friends had I stayed in Spain, I wouldn’t have the wonderful job I currently have and I wouldn’t have learned a big part of what I’ve learned.

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So yes, I would recommend the movie to most people, specially to those who haven’t left their home country, it may resonate with you and trigger an experience that may change your life :-).

The Fugitive

What if a doctor who has been wrongly accused of killing his wife and sentenced to death escapes from prison?

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What I liked the most of this movie are the main characters: Harrison Ford as Dr Richard Kimble and Tommy Lee Jones as Samuel Gerard, the US Marshal who is tracking him down. Richard is trying to figure out who killed his wife. He doesn’t care going being so close to the police and he cannot help but save lives when the opportunity arises. Meanwhile Samuel is giving all he has to catching Richard. He is rough and he is also the epitome of rationality: although his primary goal is to catch Kimble he doesn’t let that stop his skepticism and the questions that start appearing in his head.

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**Spoiler alert**

The other thing I liked about the movie is its tension: if you empathize with Robert you literally feel that you’re being hunted all the time. The symbolism is also everywhere: Richard is a doctor saving lives who is accused of killing his wife. The murder is actually missing an arm. Richard risks his life and his freedom multiple times trying to save other people like the cop at the beginning and the kid at the hospital.

So, what did this movie tell me about life? Society isn’t always just, sometimes you have to break the law if you want to have justice.

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Venezuela is in trouble

This article on The Atlantic and this New York Times one give a grim look of Venezuela today:

  • Children are being robbed.
  • Courts are closed on most days.
  • Lufthansa just announced that it’s cancelling all flights to the country.
  • Lack of medicines is causing people with curable illnesses like epilepsy to die.
  • Entrepreneurs are being threatened with jail because of toilet paper.
  • The government says it can no longer fund school lunch programs.
  • Burglars have assaulted 11 times in the last year the university where all the country’s response to tropical epidemics comes from leaving them with no equipment to do anything.
  • Low oil prices (the country’s main export).
  • Oh, and there is a drought on a country with crumbling water infrastructure and one of the worst Zika epidemics.

The article’s reasons for how things got this bad? Corruption and Chavism mixed with major bad decisions and bad luck. Example of bad decision making: the government fixed prices on basic goods with the goal of ensuring that everyone would have access to them. Sounds reasonable but the problem is that once you fix prices if costs go up for the producers they will stop those basic goods and you won’t be able to buy them anywhere.

Einsiedeln to Schwyz (Via Jacobi)

Today’s adventure started in Einsiedeln, in the canton of Schwyz. This time we decided to one stage of the Via Jacobi which is part of “El Camino de Santiago”.

The first part of the hike ran through a wide valley outside of Einsiedeln. The weather looked challenging but the forecast promised no rain over the following hours and we are trusting people.

View right outside of Eisiedeln.
View right outside of Eisiedeln.

We saw various small Christian chapels and altars along the way as well as a fancy-looking convent for Benedictine nuns. Like in previous hikes we came across few people, mostly runners, mountain bikers and old people strolling around.

The other photo we took of us was at the top of the mountain and we look... let's fresh, let's put it that way :D
Posing while we still had energy to smile 😀

A couple of hours later we found a bench right next to the river, literally a meter away from the water, to refuel. And then we started the ascend. The sky was still covered with clouds but luckily, a bit later, when we reached the top it cleared up and allowed us to enjoy these views:

Mount Kleiner Mythen (Smaller Mythen)
Mount Kleiner Mythen (Smaller Mythen)
Approaching mounts Kleiner Mythen and Grosser (bigger) Mythen.
Approaching mounts Kleiner Mythen and Grosser (bigger) Mythen.
Kleiner Mythen on the left and the Alps at the back.
Kleiner Mythen on the left and the Alps at the back.
The alps in the back with Lake Lucerne in the front.
The alps in the back with Lake Lucerne in the front.

These surroundings make me forget about work, about projects and basically about everything. It’s one of the most powerful tools to develop mindfulness and to relax. When I’m in these kind of places my mind shuts up and looks, it’s breath-taking.

Anyways, after enjoying the views we started the descend which took us through a dense forest down to the town of Schwyz.

Cookie Monster inside a tree.
Cookie Monster inside a tree.

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And after a few more fantastic views we got on the train, saw a lot of people with hiking gear that we had no idea where they were hiking, and eventually we got home happily tired.

Lake Lauerz
Lake Lauerz

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Today’s trip made me think how amazing and humbling it is that all of this beautiful complexity developed from something as simple as atoms of hydrogen colliding which each other, slowly building up to more atoms with different properties, and slowly getting together to form planets, mountains, lakes, life and us. I find it fascinating.

One Small Step Can Change Your Life

#kaizen #self-improvement

This is one of the two most valuable books that I’ve read in the last year about self improvement. In recent weeks I’ve put it into practice multiple times and it’s helping me get over bad habits that I haven’t been able to make a dent before. Recommended to anyone frustrated with repeated failed attempts at getting rid of bad habits.

There are two basic approaches to changing things: big steps (innovation) and small steps (kaizen). The main idea behind One Small Step Can Change Your Life by Robert Maurer is that the kaizen way is, in most cases, more effective than innovation. Why? When we try radical changes like completely revamping our diet or trying to keep a life-long habit like smoking, we are pushing ourselves way outside of our comfort zone. At the beginning the passion to change may be strong enough to start but when the passion effect wears of what’s left is basically fear. When we feel fear our amygdala, one of the most primitive parts of our brain which pushes us to fight or flight, wakes up and blocks access access to the only tool we have to override our habits, the cerebral cortex. In other words, when you try a change that is too big our reptilian programming kicks in and prevents us from overriding the old habit that we want to change.

The rest of the book explores how to apply kaizen at various levels. Here are some of the ideas that resonated with me:

Adults say they feel stressed instead of scared because there is this belief that once you’re an adult you’re not supposed to feel fear.

Questions focus our brain exceedingly and that makes small, non-threatening questions perfect for creating change, eg: “What is one small step that I can make today towards reaching my goal?”. When you ask big questions like “How could I revolutionize my industry?” you are putting the mind in a scary position which, again, will wake up the amygdala.

The brain cannot tell apart what’s real from what’s imagined. That makes visualizing a great technique for creating change because we can do it any time and for free. This is specially useful when practicing is impossible or too dangerous (eg: talking in public, reacting to your boss’s tantrums, etc).

We are culturally conditioned to expect change to happen instantaneously, to require steely discipline and to not be pleasurable but that’s just wrong: research shows that that’s wrong and that Kaizen works (and not just for the Japanese), we know we are biologically programmed against change and we have limited time and energy that we need to spend in other areas.

Small changes are, in many cases, all you need (Pareto Principle).

Small rewards work better than large rewards because large rewards tend to shift people’s motivations from intrinsic (doing something good because you think it’s the right thing) to extrinsic (doing something because someone else will give you a lot of money if you do it).

Saving Private Ryan

What if an experienced squad is sent behind enemy lines to find and bring back a soldier in the middle of World War II?

This movie is graphically brutal: every body part that can be shot, vaporized, burned or mutilated gets such treatment. But behind the surface there is a series of moral dilemmas and statements that will make you think.

"Well, it seems to me, sir, that God gave me a special gift."
“Well, it seems to me, sir, that God gave me a special gift.”

**Warning: spoiler alert**

What does Saving Private Ryan say about life?

The story starts and ends in a cemetery and, near the end of the movie when Capt Miller is dying, he asks Ryan to live a worthy life. So obviously the movie is trying to show us what that a worthy life means.

During the movie Miller faces multiple moral dilemmas, some examples: he has to follow non-sensical rules, he risks his squad’s life going out of their way to kill a dangerous enemy sentry so that they won’t kill fellow American soldiers, he lets a prisoner of war escape when nearly everyone else in the squad wants to kill him and he needs to find a solution to rescuing Ryan when he doesn’t want to be taken away from the battlefield. Living a worthy life seems to mean upholding certain values even when your life is on the line.

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I took all the movie’s chaos, randomness and violence of war to represent life: things happen that make no sense or are unjust or painful. We try to rationalize them (Miller justifies deaths of soldiers under his command by assuming that he saves 10 lives for every soldier he loses) but in the end this is just a way of coping with reality.

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Besides Miller’s dilemmas what does the movie say about specific virtues? Caparzo dies trying to save a little girl that reminded him of his cousin, so mindless compassion isn’t good because it gets you killed. Horvath, Miller’s friend, dies in the final battle. Reiben, self-interested and arrogant, survives. Jackson, the deadly sniper who recites Bible verses before taking every shot, is pulverized by a tank while he’s camping at the top of a church tower. Wade, the medic who throughout the movie desperately tries to save lives, dies after bleeding out from the nastiest wound that the team suffers. Upham survives but the movie shows him as a sensitive person who wants to do the right thing but lacks the courage and moral strength of Miller: he is unable to shoot Germans soldiers that end up killing his teammates and eventually he kills a German soldier that, earlier in the movie, he defended and prevented the rest of the team from killing.

Of the original squad of eight the only two survivors are the coward and the selfish. The movie appears to be saying: those values may prolong your life but that kind of life isn’t worthy.

Ryan, who doesn’t want to abandon the battlefield because he thinks it’s unfair to his team, also survives. At the end of the movie, when he’s in front of Miller’s grave he states, tearfully, “I’ve tried to live a good life”. When he asks his wife if he has been a good man his wife replies affirmatively. Which reinforces the movie’s idea that happiness consists on living a good life.

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Have you watched the movie? Did you get a different message?