PASTO, Colombia — As I gazed into the little white plastic cup of dark chocolate-colored, viscous liquid, I felt the familiar grip of terror in my gut. This was yagé, also known as ayahuasca, the Amazonian root used in shamanistic ceremonies and brought to the world’s attention by that great drug hound, William Burroughs in his book with Allen Ginsburg, “The Yage Letters“.

As the Cofán shaman blew strongly over the cup, I took those few seconds to contemplate how I had managed to find myself here. And it had been a long, strange trip, indeed. After more than a year on the road, from Bangkok to Bogotá, my friend Victoria Fontan, whom I had met in Iraq almost a decade ago, was in Colombia and asked me over Facebook if I wanted to take part in a yagé ceremony. Read More

BOGOTÁ, Colombia—Two years ago yesterday, I was awakened in Islamabad by an editor in Singapore calling me at 6 a.m. to tell me President Obama was going to make an announcement about Osama bin Laden.

“What is it?” I asked blearily.

“That he’s been killed,” he said, and waited a beat. “In Pakistan.” Read More

Eight years ago today, the world lost a humane and human voice for those who often have none—the civilian victims of conflicts. Marla Ruzicka, my friend, was killed in a car bomb on the airport road in Baghdad while a group of journalists waited for her at the Hamra Hotel. This is what I wrote a few days later, after the shock had set in:

BAGHDAD — Even now, I have a hard time believing that she’s gone.

Marla Ruzicka died Saturday, April 16 when a suicide car bomber blew up his car next to hers in an apparent attack on a nearby civilian convoy on Airport Road in Baghdad. She was 28.

Marla was a friend of mine here in Bagh­dad. She was a match­maker, a social hub and the heart of our journo-​tribe, both here and in Afghanistan, although she wasn’t a jour­nal­ist. She was known and loved — Sometimes through gritted teeth, admittedly — by the majority of Baghdad, it seems. Every­one knew Marla.

That’s because Marla made it her busi­ness to be known. She was tire­less and ubiq­ui­tous in her work, which was to get com­pen­sa­tion for Iraqi vic­tims of war from the U.S. mil­i­tary. She confronted, cajoled, flirted with and — more often than not — convinced generals, diplomats and politicians that Iraqi civilians were worthy of remembrance and that the U.S. had a responsibility to the families of those killed or injured by American munitions.

It was the height of the Iraq War, when the insurgency was growing in intensity by the day. Losing Marla was a shocking blow to all of us who cared about her and the civilian casualties her organization, CIVIC, worked for. Today, her successor organization, The Center for Civilians in Conflict, is active in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria—putting people on the ground to work with victims to bring their stories to the leaders and generals who often see the people in harm’s way as unfortunate “collateral damage.” They operate at great personal risk in some cases, and her organization offers a moral howl against the thoughtless killing and maiming of non-combatants. It is, of course, a tragic irony that Marla herself was such a victim, and it was a great loss for campaigners for human rights.

If you care at all about those killed, maimed, displaced or otherwise innocently affected by today’s conflicts, I urge you to donate to help the Center.

You aren’t forgotten, Marla.

I spent almost a month in New Zealand and realized, gosh, I hadn’t written much at all about this wonderful, magical place. Well, now that I’m back on dry land in Colombia, I have some time to finally catch up my blogging.

After a three day crossing from Melbourne on the Bahia Negro, I landed on Feb 23 in the pretty harbor town of Port Chalmers, which is right next to Dunedin, the “Austin of New Zealand” as I was told by a friendly barista at a local coffee shop. (There are dozens of them, and they’re all pretty good. Dunedinistas like their caffeine.) Read More

AUCKLAND—In a short while I’ll be casting off aboard the Bahia Blanca cargo ship en route to Manzanillo in Colon, Panama. I rather late in the game realized I hadn’t written anything publicly about New Zealand. This magical and marvelous country wore me out over the last month, and I feel a bit like a kid after a long day at the amusement park: happily exhausted and rather ready for bed.

You’d think the 16-day trip across the Pacific should give me time to do that. Instead, I’ll be busy working on the book proposal for Truly, Nomadly, Deeply (title suggestions?) and cramming as much Spanish into my already overstuffed brain as possible. Read More