Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Taking That Once in a Lifetime Photo

Picture of a Kea - the only Alpine Parrot
Photo shot by Paul Cook on an iPhone 6
on the Kepler Trek
I snapped a picture that every tourist wants - at the ridge of a mountain - which was so high - you were walking in the clouds and being pelted by snow and hail. This is the story of how I got that picture.

I journeyed to the Fjordlands of New Zealand, which is in the Southwest corner of the country. Fjords are where the glaciers have cut through the mountains and the forest and have let the ocean flow in.

I hiked the three night - four day - Kepler Trek. On each night, there's a cabin with about 50 beds in it for travelers.

On the first night, I hiked up and up and up to through the forest, all the way to the top of the mountain ridge. I was slow because my pack was heavy. My pack was heavy because I packed too much food and good food.

Most people pack dry food, like instant noodles and spaghetti. But how could I eat like that? Seriously: cardboard and dust. I don't think so.

So, I packed wet food, like potatoes and steak and smoked salmon and red wine poured out into an empty coke bottle. Of course, this added to all my weight. And that, in turn made me slower. This is an important fact for later.

On the first night of the hut, I met some Irish people; some English people; a young Canadian; and some high school boys from a New Zealand school. The New Zealand boys were the first to say to me.

On my first night, I ate boiled young potatoes and steak and had a cup of pinot noir. The other hikers couldn't believe I ate like that.

The next morning it snowed, and it was beautiful. When I woke up, this is what it looked like outside the cabin:

View from the Luxmore Hutt on a snowy day

On the second day, I walked on the ridge of the mountain. The mountain ridge reminded me of walking on the scales of a dragon's back, with sharp points and constant hiking up and constant walking back down.

The mountain was a mile above sea level, meaning I literally was walking through the clouds and the gale force winds and snow. The winds were so strong, if a snow flake hit your face, it felt like a rubber band being shot at you and stinging you.

I was by myself on the ridge because my pack was heavy and the other hikers were further ahead. Then, the bird spotted me, screamed, and called out to me. I looked behind me and it was about 300 feet away. I could see him standing at a scenic point (which you could see in the next photo.)

I dropped my pack and walked back to him. At first, he let me get about a yard away. I talked to him calmly. So, he let me closer to him. And he was making eye contact and scoping me out. Once he found me safe, he let me get half an arm's length away. I could pet him, but the keas are rumored to bite and claw; so, I didn't.

He let me snap a number of photos of him. Then, I asked him to fly - and he did. And I took the shot above.

Then we talked some more, and he got bored after 30 minutes, and flew away. At first I thought he was after food, but I don't think he would've spent so long getting to know me if that's what he was after. The Kiwis say the bird is as smart or smarter than a dolphin.
Kea perched on a scenic point on the Kepler Trek.

On the next day, we stayed in a cabin in the rain forest. There, I met two young flight attendants from Air New Zealand. It was one of their birthdays, so the other one baked her a cake and brought a candle. It was quite an amazing thing to do for her friend. The cabin sang happy birthday to her.

On this night, one of the high school teenagers gifted me with smoked bacon because they were leaving the next day. That was kind.

The next two days were spent walking in the rain forest, which was interesting but not as spectacular as what I've shown you above.

On the final night, I made smoked salmon and risotto. It tasted really good, but was far too difficult to cook for a hike. On the other hand, you need rice or bread when you hike long distances. And this was a good tasting one.

But, I made too much food. So, I had two and half meals from it.

On the last day, I walked out through a swamp and made it back home. The last picture I'm showing you is rare sundew plant, which is a carnivorous plant. The fly gets stuck on the sticky tentacles of the plant, and the plant eats it. I was surprised to see it.

Red Sundew - a fly eating plant - taken in the Kepler Swamp.
I finished the trek on the fourth day. My knees hurt from all the weight and my shoulders were sore too.

Anyways, it was worth it, and I enjoyed it much.

Next destination - Stewart Island.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Father's Dangerous Journey Back to America

A Family Torn Apart
Today, my client Rafael Valdez will be walking to the American border and declaring asylum, which means his life is being threatened in Mexico. For security purposes, I won't be telling you when or at which border, until he makes it across.

Some people have thought the only cases I do are against the City of Baldwin Park because that's what I primarily write about. Nonetheless, I do have other cases that are just as important.

In September of 2013, the United States government deported the father of a family because he was undocumented in Washington State. He was brought to the detention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over a traffic stop. The Washington Sheriff asked him, "Are you an illegal?" And when he answered, "Yes," the next thing he knew, he was in federal jail - separated from his American wife and two American children.

You can read all about that story here: White American Mother Suffers Because Of American Deportations Against Latinos

You can also watch on YouTube how it affected the family: A Disrupted American Dream

Because of a complex family situation, the American children ended up residing in the State of Zacatecas with the father, while the mother worked in the States as the bread winner. During that time, Valdez's brother was kidnapped for ransom.

Also, a gang member kicked down the neighbor's door in their village and shot the victim in the chest. Nobody in town talks about it.

And there's more. Several years ago, Rafael's elderly relative was shot in the head and the throat in a field. The Mexican police decided not to investigate.

It certainly wasn't a safe situation for the American children, the father, or the mother (which is why she doesn't live there). I flew down to Zacatecas in August of 2015 to gather evidence.

My read on the situation is that the Mexican drug cartels control Zacatecas, and the government turns a blind eye to any crimes related to the cartel. (I wondered, as I saw the people looking at me, if they were thinking about kidnapping me too for ransom.)

Now that the evidence has been gathered and processed, I submitted it to the appropriate authorities. Today, the client crosses the border with his children. Please pray for their safety and well being.

To be continued . . .

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Hitchhiking Through New Zealand

Cathedral Cove - Coromandel, New Zealand
If you guessed, I was in New Zealand - you're right. I gave you three clues to guess my location.

In the last post, I stated, Here's your hint: It's a "humanly riddle", solved by the final conquest of the earthly frontier.

"Humanly Riddle" is an anagram, meaning that if you rearrange the letters you get a new word or words. For instance, "Pat" can change to "Tap." In this case, "Humanly Riddle" can change to "Edmund Hillary." 

If that was difficult for you to figure out - "final conquest of the earthly frontier" refers to Hillary's conquest of Mount Everest. Edmund Hillary was the first man (along with Tenzing) to scale Mount Everest - the final piece of land at the time that had not met human conquest. How does Edmund Hillary tell you I'm in New Zealand? Because he's a Kiwi and a New Zealander of course. 

Your other clue was earlier in the post - I told you I was at the "Edge of the World," which New Zealand is commonly referred too. This is my second home. 

I flew once again on my miles, but as a result, I had a very difficult trip to New Zealand. I had a layover in both Honolulu and Brisbane, Australia. My layover in Honolulu wasn't so bad, since it was only an hour and half, but in Brisbane, it was quite challenging. I had to wait at the airport for 12 hours - four of which, I used by falling asleep on the airport seats. That's the problem with using miles - you can get what you need, but not always what you want.

The first few days, I spent at the top of the North Island. A german guy and I found a cave up there. We entered it and it went about 12 feet underground. It was dark and black in there. You can't see anything without a flashlight. But at the top of the cave, there are glow worms - which produce bioluminescent mucus, which means spit that glows in the dark. Might sound disgusting, but when you turn off your flashlights, the top of the cave looks like a constellation of stars with all the twinkling lights produced.

We trudged through the icy waters and it eventually came up passed my chest. It hurt the most when it went to your waist, because the icy water definitely freezes the groin area, which brings pain. It was still worth it, because we could see the cave spikes on the ceiling and spikes coming up from underneath the ground.

The german spotted a crayfish, and I grabbed it. We ate it later. Too bad we couldn't find more. I spotted a blind eel in the cave. It swam away from me.

Afterwards, we laid outside on the grass and baked in the sun. We needed to warm up because we were shivering from being in the frosty and icy caves for too long. 

I stayed at a hostel - and the hostel used to the city prison. The owner of the hostel converted the prison into a backpacker's hostel, which I found to be quite the creative touch. There were plants everywhere - and the place had a good vibe to it, rather than the dark vibe of a jail. 

Finally, after my time up North, I hitchhiked back down to Auckland to catch my flight to Wellington. It took me five minutes to get my first ride. Then, it took me 45 minutes to get my next ride

I liked the guy who picked me up - who was a New Zealander, who was born in Zimbabwe. I couldn't have asked for a better hitch. The guy was a smuggler - who brought out the wealth of Zimbabwe, during his revolution. He told me his war stories and how much he knew about the world.

He then taught me about diamonds, since his brother was a diamond miner in Zambia. It was all quite fascinating. Then he told me he was barely literate and didn't learn to read until just a few years ago. He was 68.

He said he tried to read when he was 31, and attended an adult school in London. But the urchin teenagers (street kids) made fun of him every day, and he told them to stop. When they didn't stop, he brought a fan belt from his car to adult school and he whipped the street kids to teach them a lesson. Then he threatened to whip the teacher too for not stopping the bullying.

When he told me this, I started laughing. And he said, "Served them right - what I did to them. Those kids were bigger than me - so they thought they can just pick on me. So, I let 'em have it." The police got him and threw him in jail that day, but when he asked for his lawyer - they were tired of him, and let him out. In the end, he got kicked out of adult school.

It was a good ride, and I was very glad he gave me a two hour ride into Auckland. There, I met my former Judo master. She bought a restaurant and turned into a place that reminded me of place out of Seoul, Korea. We hadn't seen each other in six years.

For my arrival, she brought out fresh and raw scallops, raw pieces of fish, and boiled pieces of pork belly. The food was fresh and tasted very good. I could see why she was doing well in her business. We caught up, as best as we could, in the short time that we had. It wasn't many hours and the time went by fast.

Then, I had to leave to the airport - where I caught my flight back into my second home - Wellington. There, my former roommate FX picked me up. I took him to eat Indian food, and we caught up, again, as best we could. He prepared a spare room for me. 

We drank a couple glasses of ruby wine, and talked about our travels and our future travels. I was home.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Where In The World is Paul Cook?

It's that time again: the time to see the world. A few days ago, I took a rough journey across the oceans to bring me to the edge of the world.

I'll give you a hint as to where I am (and in a few days); I'll give you the solution.

Here's your hint: It's a "humanly riddle", solved by the final conquest of the earthly frontier.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Did Ex Felons Hijack Baldwin Park's Election?

The Real Mayor Manuel Lozano
The city election results are in, the old "gang" can't be ousted: Manuel Lozano is Mayor and Ricardo Pacheco and Raquel Monica Garcia are council members again. Pacheco and Lozano have been career politicians for 18 years now. Did the felons cheat the vote?

Cruz Baca was running against Lozano for Mayor, and with all the votes not being counted yet, she's allegedly 16 votes behind from ousting Lozano. According to the data, Lozano received 1,638 of the votes and Baca 1,622 of them.

There needs to be an investigation into this election. On it's face, there are a number of suspicious activities. For instance, most of the votes are done by what's commonly known as absentee or vote by mail. Nearly 50% of all the votes come from vote by mail. That means, that about 1,500 votes are done by mail in vote. So - what you say?
The Real Council Member Ricardo Pacheco

Well, like in the City of Bell, vote by mail has a higher chance of defrauding the votes. In November of 2011, I interviewed women in the nursing home, who told me that the Mayor was around asking them to let others fill out their vote by mail. Furthermore, other witnesses have confirmed that the Mayor's relatives pick up the votes and deliver them. Now, while those votes are in the hands of the self-interested, is there a chance that the vote can be changed? I think so.

The Real Council Member 
And when 50% of the votes are being done in this manner, can a crook win a seat for life? I think so. And when government money is given to cronies of these crooks to have free housing or discounted apartment space, do you think those cronies are going to vote for certain crooks? I think so.

Well, this year's election was extraordinary when it comes to the election data. In other words, it looks like the crooks got so desperate that they made it rather obvious they committed rampant voting fraud in this year's election.

There are two great irregularities in the numbers. The first one, is that in the first time in Baldwin Park's history, did you know that nearly 3,800 people voted.

That's a historic jump of 27% of the most voters ever coming out to election, which was about 3,000 people in November, 2011.

The devil's advocate can say, well, Paul, that's possible, but maybe it was just a great year for civic participation and the people came out?

Sure, but how come the numbers don't add up then? They don't add up because it looks like these crooks defrauded the vote and created 774 missing votes.

The data states that 3,026 people voted for the council people, but in total 3,800 people votes for the Mayor. What I'm saying, is why did over 774 people ONLY vote for mayoral candidates and not the council members or the other elected officials or the water board candidates or the school board? 774 votes are missing.

There's a discrepancy of 774 votes, not a small figure. 20% of all Baldwin Park's votes experienced a Second Coming. They voted for their Mayoral candidate, and poof; the votes disappeared for the rest. Where did their votes go for the council members?

Why should this concern you? Well, think about this. Baldwin Park is a real dictatorship because there's no way to remove these people with the vote. When the votes don't count, the people don't rule, and when the crooks rule, they can rule forever by cheating the vote. And that leads to all the problems I've been chronicling for the last two and a half years. These people do whatever they want for themselves, which essentially amounts to coming up with every way under the sun to launder taxpayer money back to themselves.

As Charles Bukowski said, "The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting."

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Perfect Day in San Francisco

When I came into the Bay Area, I told Jeffrey (who is one of my best friends) that we had to go into the City - perhaps, my favorite city in the world because it's a city where you can be free and be who you want. Jeffrey, who cares less about the City, rolled his eyes and said fine.

Jeffrey and I walked the streets of San Francisco on a perfect day in the fall; it was so perfect, you could see Alcatraz Island clearly without the rolling fog, as the glorious sunshine smiled on the City. On this perfect day, the haunted prison looked like a crown on an island.

The air was crisp, and the crowds of people walked through the streets of San Francisco too. They whispered about everything and nothing and created empty and meaningful chatter.

First, we waited in line at one of the most famous bakeries in China Town called the Golden Gate Bakery. It's infamous to be open and closed on a whim, and Jeffrey told me every time he came, it was closed. But this time, it was open. We waited in line for 30 minutes, even though there were only about 8 people ahead of us. But they ran out of their famous egg tarts, and we had to wait and wait. And I was getting impatient, when Jeffrey said, "Patience, Paul!" Just like, he would tell me in college.

I was first in line to get an egg tart, and right out of the oven, the egg tart was hot and piping and steaming, and the custard was thick and warm and when you ate it, it made you feel good. It even made me feel better that when I ate it outside, the throngs of people watched me eat the highly sought after egg tart.

After, Jeffrey and I walked to Little Italy. I ordered a cappuccino. He ordered a pastry. And we chatted about the world and everything in it.

Then, we went to the famous Light House bookstore, and I found a book for my god daughter.

We then drove to the Fisherman's Wharf and walked together - where we got lost amongst the crowds and the hustling bustling people - all of whom talked of chit chat and chatter. The sun was kind to us, and it felt like a magical day.

We ended our day by eating at Haight-Ashbury - where we ate small oysters on the half shell - which were only $1 because it was happy hour. The empty oyster shells were the only reminders of our carefree happiness and day.

Afterwards, Jeffrey dropped me off at my host's place - Frank. I felt healed that Jeffrey took time out of his day to spend time with me.

And Frank and I went back to the City to eat once again. We had a sweet potato gnocchi, which was perfect in how it was made. We also ordered a persimmon salad, which was rich in oil and sweet and fresh in taste. The pork chop was succulent and wonderful. We were in heaven.

Before that, I was in Santa Cruz with a person of knowledge. It took awhile to pry it from him, but he shared with me some deep secrets of this world, but obviously not enough. Rabbi will have to share more, next time.

I received a kind note from the Court of Appeals when I was in San Francisco. It was a good omen to say - Have a wonderful voyage away. I certainly will.