Saturday, November 14, 2015

Cigerones Part 1 And The Seven Lessons Of Nick

              I look out the window and see the familiar mountain sitting alone to the east of the runway. The engines decelerate and the humming turbines slow as the captain prepares for landing. It was strange but somehow amusing to be landing at the same airport again, It's rare for me to ever return to the same place twice. I can remember almost as it was yesterday the last time I touched down in Malaga Spain, nearly 5 years prior whilst chasing a romance I had on two Swedish girls around Europe. I'm amused to no end thinking that I was chasing the idea of falling in love with a Swedish girl more than the reality of it, truth is I didn't know which one of them I liked more, but it was a great idea!


                    Only a few weeks earlier I had quit my job in Canada and high tailed it across the country to catch the last plane to Ireland for the season. Only days after quitting my job I emailed my friend Nick from England. Nick's reply was very short but direct. "Yo Bro. I am near a place called Orgiva called Cigerones. Fly to Malaga or Granada. Its totally great here. I'm living in some ancient ruins. There is a room for you too. Building started this week. Alls all go matey. Also had the first combat school session this week. Meet my mum at the Malaga airport 2 pm, November 3rd. Get on down"

Lesson # 1 Nick is a special breed.

I had the pleasure of meeting Nick while working for a tree firm in Australia, my first impressions were he was laid back, had a receding hairline, and a lazy Englishmen that was way too old at 28 years old to be bumming around, this was the first of many inaccurate judgements I made about this English bloke of a special kind. I got to hang out with Nick a couple times for beers after work during that short stint with the tree firm before I got fired and spun up dirt in my boss's driveway with my 1988 1.6 liter Toyota Corolla. Nick was laid back, but smart as whip. Super friendly and had a couple of university degrees. One of his distinguishing features as you will come to find out in a moment is that he loved his marijuana, he would smoke it and read books and think about some crazy psychedelic shit, not what I was into but he did it with such grace I couldn't help but to respect him for it. Only a week before I got fired from that shitty job I had told nick that I was just saving up a bit of money before hiking 1000km's over 2 months across Australia's south west. I can still remember his ear to ear grin with a subtle head nod 'Cool man, that sounds like a right great trip' and that was the last I spoke to him before being fired and leaving in a hurry. I had no email, no facebook, no means of getting in touch with him again, just another transient relationship.. So I thought..

              Two weeks into the two month hike across the south west, I arrive at the campsite mid afternoon, tired, weak, and in need of a rest. As I approach the campsite, I can see someone standing on the top of the picnic table, arms crossed and looking away towards the forest in a ratty sweater, ratty shorts, and a full brimmed hat. As I get nearly to the hut, the guy turns around, he has a corn pipe in one hand of his crossed arms that's full to the brim with smoldering weed. "Oi mate, I finally caught you!" There was Nick, with that unmistakable ear to ear grin looking down at me. Turns out he liked the idea of going for a hike so much he quit the same job only a week later to join me, he got his housemate to drive him to the start of the trail and picked up all his supplies on the way there in about 30 minutes and spent the past week chasing me down and trying to catch me on the trail. What a cool guy. I remember seeing his crappy gear, lentils, noodles and a few clothes wrapped up in black plastic garbage bags. I had spent over a month preparing for the this trip and acquiring all my high tech gear, which obviously made me more capable right? Wrong... The second time I would judge Nick would be that night when I told him he would never make it to the end of the trail... Lesson #2 Never underestimate nick, he's a breed of a special kind



              That message was the last communication I had with him three weeks prior to actually touching down in Malaga Spain, Nick was one of those guys who you just have to trust and feel completely alright with it. So there I was in Malaga airport looking around for Nicks mom, likewise Nicks mom was also looking around for me. I think its just Nicks way keeping the world simple by not giving either one of us any details or information about the other. And simply enough, as I sat there under an information sign in the arrivals hall, long after everyone else had found their family or chauffeurs, I saw a middle aged woman looking around for someone, she likewise saw me looking around also, low and behold I was the scruffy ginger guy named Joe (what the hell Nick? Really?) and she was Nicks mom on her way to visit nick in Cigerones as she hadn't seen him in over a year. She was a lovely lady, I can see where nick gets his kind manners and her boyfriend Phil was a prude and a bit of a dick. As we drove from Malaga to Cigerones in a hired car, it was clear that neither one of us knew what to expect, this whole Cigerones thing was very vague, in fact so vague it wasn't listed on google maps or any information about it online at all. But it was Nick, Nick could convince a herd of cows to swim to America if he so pleased. So there I was on my way to see Nick for the first time in three years to train Martial arts in the Spanish mountains in a secret place of ancient ruins called Cigerones.. Holy shit was I wrong! Lesson #3 When dealing with Nick of a special breed, NEVER assume anything.

We finally wind our way up into the mountains of southern Spain to the base of a small town named Orgiva. Nick told his mom he would meet them at the bar at the bottom of the hill just across the bridge at 6pm. Well it was nearly 8 and there we wait in the darkening evening for Nick to appear, from where, no one knew, nick always had a way of being places when he wanted to be. Phil was a quick temper, boiling up in frustration that Nick wasn't a punctual kind of guy, obviously the type of guy who would show up 20 minutes early for his desk job everyday to make sure his pencils were sharp and the printer's paper tray was full as to not inconvenience his day in anyway. Lesson #4 When dealing with Nick, never expect anything in a conventional way. To the east there was a road, to the west there was a road, there was even a smaller dirt road that snaked its way down the mountain among the olive trees, but there emerged Nick, with his lovely girlfriend in tow, walking barefoot, hand in hand directly down the river bed and under the bridge on gnarly round and awkward rocks. They looped the base of the bridge and emerged on the bank to the opposite side. Filthy Nick, clothes ridden with holes and solid stain of dirt covered his exposed skin only darkening worse at his hands and feet. No matter the filth on his body, that distinctive ear to ear smile pierced the grime and his white teeth seemed to illuminate his face. That was Nick alright. Lesson #5 A special breed of Nick, not overly punctual but reliable as ever.

 
It's all so vague still, all of us loaded into the small rental car continuing on up the valley further into the mountains to this mythical place called Cigerones, Nick has a way of convincing you to do anything without giving away any details about what it is. I can smell him and his girlfriend, they're pressed tight against me in the back of the car, a very distinguished and clearly settled smell of body odour overpowers all other fragrance available in the air of that small European Skoda. I get a closer look at his state and can see the dark, heavily packed dirt under his fingernails, I notice his fingernails because he's chewing a long open wound running down the entire length of his thumb. The conversations went back and forth between Nick and his mom catching up on the little things, but he took a repose to look over at me and said with his convincing little grin "mate, you're gonna love it here, you'll fit right in" saying it in a little chuckle, overly amused about the fact that I hadn't the slightest idea of what the fuck I was about to be get into. Damn you Nick, I blindly booked flights to the other side of the world on a whim and you're chuckling at my feeble ignorance of what the next three months of my life are going to be like. Damn you Nick, I feel like a herd of cows swimming to America. Lesson#6 Always trust Nick, even if he makes you feel like a cow.

We turn off the main road and enter into a small kind of run down village, jeesh I thought to myself, he might be so dirty from working in one of these farm houses. Oh no, not Nick. He Navigates for Phil directing him down past the village where the pavement finally runs out, Phil is outraged because its pitch black now and he can't see anything, furthermore he's cursing the entire situation because the rental company claims that damages to the car wont be covered on dirt roads. Nick chuckles and soothes Phil's growing frustration that its all going to be all right. In all fairness it was the middle of the night and we were literally driving up the center of a massive river bed in some unknown valley headed towards a place called Cigerones not mentioned on any maps or signs anywhere. Ten minutes of rough rocky and pitch dark driving Nick points off to the right and we drive up a steep little hump of dirt out of the rocky riverbed and into what's lefts of riverbed that hasn't yet been eroded by the spring time floods. The very first thing we see is what seems to be the remains of an old caravan, or a rubbish dump that had been blown up with a few sticks of TNT, it was hard to tell in the night. All around in the brief attention of light from the cars headlights were old broken cars, caravans, small piles of debris, and every now and then there would be a half finished cinderblock structure that had at least ten times more effort and time put into the artwork and paintings on its exterior than what went into the initial construction of the .... Whatever it was.....
Nick was ecstatic, chuffed at his own accomplishments of organizing this all three weeks prior with a single message. We hear an old fashioned fire bell being cranked by hand in the nearby distance, it was dinner time. Nick led us flawlessly in the pitch black, barefoot, dodging the broken bottles and random overturned rakes deliberately and instinctively as if this were his garden of a laborious love. We emerged from a thicket of canya bushes into a medium sized clearing of a mix between patches of grass and dirt. Off to the far right corner was a large circular structure appropriately named the dome. It was a framework of steel draped in layer after layer of blankets, old rugs, and a waterproof membrane to finish it off. Dim light could be seen from within the dome via its translucent side fabric. It was what seemed the only light in the entire surrounding acreage apart from the very seldom head torch seen coming and going, but mostly, just like Nick, barefoot people appeared and disappeared through the one opening in the dome with no aid of light at all. We remove our shoes, the only clean and fully assembled ones to be seen at the entrance. We enter the dome and packed full of roughly 18 people, men women, young and old, bodies where scattered between musical instruments and half a dozen burning candles. My first impression was that everyone was dressed in clothes cast for the inhabitants of Zion from the Matrix trilogy, not all though, some had smart shirts and the youth looked like they had recently returned from school, I can say thought that there were more dread locks in one place that I'd ever experienced before. There was a mixed smell of herbs, marijuana, wood smoke and Body odour, a little intoxicating for the newcomers, but no one else seemed to know there was any smell at all. The food came in three large saucepans, couscous, rice, fried veggies, and a tomato type of paste. Everyone broke from their silent strumming of instruments, group massages, and tokes from their pipes to indulge in the feast. There weren't enough plates for the 18 people and washing dishes seemed to be a sore spot for the communal census so it was suggested to eat it African style with only fingers and the thought was quickly swallowed up as the plentiful hands went into the dish from all 360 degrees. Trying to hide my discomfort, I joined in on the frenzy of feast, but after only my first handful, almost instantly the image of nicks oozing thumb and dirty fingernails came into my mind. Needless to say my appetite vanished.

               The night continued a way in which could have been on another planet as far as my first impressions were concerned. Convulsive dancing, deep throaty noises, mixed with drum beats radiating from any surface that could be pummeled with a palm. It was all too overwhelming, it was a big leap from only a few weeks prior being a site supervisor on two big projects, living in a bedroom community in a house with a big backyard to siting cross legged in a candle lit fabric hut witnessing dance moves that mimicked and exorcism. Nick finally guided me through a maze of footpaths away from the dome to an old dilapidated caravan that had thick black spray paint covering the side, window and door saying "FUCK THE POLICE" Nick told me everyone referred to this caravan as the 'fuck off caravan', or as I found out later on, the place where people go to have sex during a party. The caravan had a sideways piece of plywood as a door, a roof hatch that was permanently open to the elements and a broken window. There was a foam mattress and a couple sleeping bags scattered about covering some stains in the bed sheets. On either side of the bed were roaches from joints and fully expired candles melted flat into the wood. Nick gave me a pat on the back and headed off up into the mountains to his alleged ancient ruin he was living in, which at that point, sounded like a 5 star resort. As I lay down to sleep that night in my own sleeping bag, perfectly straight like a log, terrified to roll over in either direction in fear there might be a syringe hidden in the foam mattress somewhere, I learned my last and final lesson from Nick Lesson #7 Don't let first impressions fool you, especially when dealing with people of a special breed named Nick

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Writers Block


Start.... again......

To start and stop, ponder and wait, disrupt the flow of pen strokes pondering a perfection that will never come. This is where I went wrong, trying too hard to impress, to appease a reputation that was never there. Sit and let flow, dribble the carnage of mashed words in long lengths from left to right, I forgot the reasons behind the words, the healing they did and the lust for expression they once yielded. Writers block, the invisible wall that keeps pen tips withdrawn and keyboards cold. Live and let flow, let the words tumble onto the page as they come and sort the corpses out later, or let them rot, maybe that's the imperfections that make something so perfect. Motivation is like a temperamental spring in a mountain side. When it flows don't cup your hands and drink, only to find yourself begging for it when its dry. Find a bucket and capture its lusty cold wetness; use it generously knowing its a gift and not disposable. It's mesmerizing to watch the water dribble into a bucket, watching its ripples, splashes and the chaos of unpredictable turbulence but if patients is your virtue, the jumble of words follow each other one after the other in no particular order coming to form long string of sentences that might possibly have some rhythm and melody between their improperly used punctuations and law of the written language. But to start again, like rekindling an old coal stove from a winters past, nearly dead and cold but still clinging to life, scattered by ash of old stories told, a brief history of creativity and expression lay motionless and inaudible, patiently waiting the fuel to come when it seemed hopeless, that was a hobby long lost, a spring long dried up with only fossilized crustaceans sprouting from its vein. Get past my fears and let it flow. Writing, a therapy less known, quite often stumbled upon accidentally in some cases such as my own. I would have spent my entire life not knowing of this little demon inside of me was crying out to have its story immortalised on some spreadsheet tucked into the back page of 5th grade math book in a damp dark basement. That story might never be found but those words will outlive any breathing creature on this world for centuries to come. So there you have it, a rebirth to a million ideas that constantly haunt my thought, vibrating down a triangular hopper, condensed, conveyed, and defects denied until the mash of letters fall into their respective packages and later consumed.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Blood Stain - Papua New Guinea



                                     Blood stained fat saturates the earth in crusty layers. Hordes of flies cover sections of ground like an oscillating second skin. A cocktail of rotting flesh and mortal fear lingers low to the ground in a hazy sweat. The soggy smell finds its way to our hard working tongues; it’s a blessing we only get fed once a day in this slaughter house, it’s about all the appetite can stomach. The high pitch squeal of a pig makes even the most murderous of creatures search for their own shadow after death. It’s something so human about a pig’s squeal that lingers on my conscience. Pigs are sensitive and intelligent creatures; they possess characteristics that not even dogs can equal. When a pig is about to die, it’s fully aware of the fate about to come down upon its skull. The squeal isn’t a fearful yell but a pleading cry that’s always answered devoid of consideration. But this is the cycle of carnivorous life, silencing the beat of one heart to prolong the existence of another.
                                     The first kill will forever linger in my mind. “On a farm in Outback Australia, I run my eye down the sights on a bolt action rifle, readying my shoulder for the recoil it’s about to cushion, the 1300 pound cow stares at me dumbfounded only ten meters away and completely oblivious to the peril it’s in. My sights line up with the animals left eye, dark as black marble and deeper than the furthest reaches of space. A steady exhale of my lungs combined with a gentle squeeze of the trigger and those dark innocent eyes see no more.” I brace myself on top of the small alley built of cinder blocks, but this slaughter house in the outlying suburbs of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea have no guns or ammunition, I’m handed a sledge hammer and further explanation isn’t required. The coworker behind me twists the pig's tail to restrain it temporarily. There is no language barrier here as I nod my head letting him know I’m ready for what comes next. My coworker lets go of the pig’s tail and delivers a cracking slap to its back, the pig in its last attempt of desperation runs the gauntlet only to be greeted by the business end of the sledge hammer being swung between my legs.  It dies quick, there is no pain, at least that’s what I tell myself to rationalize taking the life of another. There are some who will argue that killing is unjustifiably wrong but there is some peace found while browsing a local grocery store for plastic wrapped pork chops and instead of seeing a pink slab with a price tag, I see an animal that lived a full life and had to die so that I can live on.

                                     This is my new job, working for a Philippino run business killing and roasting full sized pigs over a charcoal fire. Clients come from all walks of life require our service to provide full sized pigs to be gutted, cleaned, roasted, and delivered to customers on aluminum foil trays. Anything from corporate Christmas parties to holiday family gatherings. Whatever the reason may be, a feast always ensues and the once trotting, squealing creature remains nothing but dry bone to which even the cartilage and marrow have been sucked clean. Jobs around the slaughter house and pig roasting compound vary from collecting water from a nearby well to supervising the cooking of the pigs and maintaining a steady supply of coals. Unlike my presence in South East Asia where white men are admired, they had little skilled use for me in the business and I spent most of my time picking chilies from the garden with the children until I was paired up with a gentle native man named Micheal to accompany him on a journey that had the potential to be the most dangerous car ride I will ever take.  
                                    
                                     In the compound we only slaughter and cook the pigs. The pigs are raised and farmed by a Chinese man in an area called 16 mile, named appropriately for its proximity to the center of the city. Naturally the further from the city one finds themselves, the more rugged and unmaintained the roads become and the less police presence is seen. 16 miles on narrow roads competing with ox driven carts and commercial shipping trucks whilst dodging pot holes and burned out cars quickly becomes less of a Sunday drive and more of a risky adventure for the average commuter, however we were anything but just passerby’s to the local rascals looking for a quick fix of cash for a simple heist. All trading in this country is done with good hard cash, the gangs of unemployed youth in the outlying suburban sprawl know that any truck heading to the pig farm has at least $500 of cash which paints a huge target on our truck to begin with, now throw a white man (me) in the passenger seat and the chances of being hijacked go from probable to very likely.

                                     It was imperative that we left just after the break of dawn, no camera, no wallet, nothing of value, one of our drivers was robber just weeks before during a late afternoon trip. Most of the rascals spend their days getting high and drunk so leaving early in the morning improved our odds due to the thugs still sleeping off their hangovers.  Michael my driver was shy at first but after our first stop at a road side vendor, he saw me buying some boa nut and mustard flower. I had no lime but he was all too honored to share his own supply of lime to complete the drug which sparked our friendship that followed. Michael spent 28 years in the PNG military being trained by the Australian and American Special Forces through the country’s military partnership. He was old and leathered but I’m sure he could still kick some ass. I’m glad we were on the same tame. I assured him I would be his security escort for the day, Michael erupted in a great laugh and grabbed at my hand in a rough shake to acknowledge the humour at my own fragility. Me being there was putting both of us in more danger than necessary but he was unfazed, in fact I felt such a sense of pride radiating from him during that day that I began to understand the faithfulness and sense of comradery these humble tribesmen had with each other. I knew from our short relationship together that if shit did go down that day, he would have been the first to take a hit or a knife for me.

                                     Our pigs were purchased without incident and the lack of urgency in the culture was apparent as we spent the rest of the day touring around the different villages his family members resided. I was shown around to some religious missions he helped build pointing out the roof he put on or the ditch he helped dig until we finally came to rest on the bank of a beautiful clean crisp river.  I’m not sure what it is about the PNG people but I’ve never connected with any other culture so quickly in my life. I hardly knew the ex-military sergeant for more than a few hours and yet we lay side by side in the tuffs of grass on the river bank exchanging our deepest and darkest secrets. We had a parallel understanding of life, a poor man helping me understand that money doesn’t bring happiness. I was talking to a soldier who grew up in a village where money would be used to start a fire or roll a cigarette. If they wanted rice they would trade it for coconut, if they wanted fruit they would pick it from the many trees, if they wanted meat they would hunt for it. They didn’t have flat screen tv’s, five day all inclusive holidays, air Jordans but yet they seemed to have everything needed to live comfortably without the complicated fabric of western demeanour. The only thing more important than a full stomach and roof over your head are the people who help you eat it and the warmth they bring around you.
“Well, Less is more, Lucrezia: I am Judged.
Thee Burns a truer light of God in them”
Andrea Del Sarto’ – The Faultless Painter.












Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Life To Your Story



"In the end the only thing that matters is your story" - Anonymous Aborigines Australian

The rock and roll of this boat sends familiar gulps of discomfort to my stomach. These waves, this tide, this sour salty smell so thick I can taste it on my tongue. A cold misty air bites at my skin and leaves its residue upon my beard. Like soft slick wet beads attaching themselves to the jagged sharp tips of freshly sheared neck stubble. I look out at the flat horizon composed of exactly half water and half clouds, searching hard to find its divide as the white caped waves blend so well to the misty white clouds above. I can’t see it yet but I know it’s there, beyond the curve in the earth is the land in which I was born, beyond those waves is Nova Scotia Canada, and beyond that horizon is my home. I can’t tell you how many boats I’ve been on since, I’ve simply lost count but this one I remember. I used to take this boat every summer to New Brunswick to visit relatives, years ago, a lifetime ago, before the days I could grow a beard in which this sticky wet air could grab. I’ve spent so many nights lying awake dreaming about the thought of my home, a comforting memory in which I wouldn’t allow myself hope of ever seeing again. I don’t why or what I’m afraid of finding in my old footsteps but I do know that being absent from them for this long was no mistake. What I do know is that we’re always searching for something whether we know it or not. To hike a mountain we aren’t looking for its peak, to kayak a river we aren’t looking for its source, to cycle a road we’re not looking for its end, we’re searching for the reasons in why we’ve originally embarked on them. To travel to world is not for the sake of chasing a sunset, it’s to discover the reason we left in the first place.
As this boat edges closer to the other side, I can’t help but to be reminded of the time I worked alongside an aboriginal Australian as we sat in the dirt next to a fire eating a kangaroo in the outback. I asked him how much money he gets paid for the work he does but what I was about to hear was the single most important aspect to living a full meaningful life. Without answering my question directly he told me this “We are the people of Arnhem Land and we believe in only one thing. Life is your book; everyone has a book be it white, black, rich, or poor. The only thing that matters is how full that book is and how well it’s written, because in the end, the only thing we have when we die is our story. All that matters between the day we are born and the day we die is the story we write for ourselves.” Ever since that day I try and fill every page per day with something worth reading, If I had to write my story it would go a little like this.
[[  There once a boy who spent his entire day standing on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean watching the sun rise over the water. He dreamed of travelling far across the vast lands and seas, believing he would find all the answers to life in the void from which the sun rose from the soil. One cold wet winter day the boy shivered away on the shore when he saw in the water a reflection of himself as on old wrinkly bearded man staring into the horizon dreaming of finding the source of the sun and the wisdom it held. Not wanting to grow old into a hopeless old man, the boy embarked on his journey and left everything he knew and loved to search for the place in which the sun rose. The boy spent years searching the plains of Europe, the deserts of the Middle East, the rivers of Australia, the Jungles of Asia, the rolling hills of Africa, and beneath the waters of the Indian Ocean. He was scared and timid at first but as the good and bad experiences presented themselves he grew braver, less hateful, learned languages, cultures, and religions along his way. Three years later, with thousands of experiences and tales of the adventures he had found on the road, he returned to the land of his youth from the direction in which the sun had set. As the man approached the shore in which he had watched the sun rise on that very same ocean so many years ago, there silhouetted on the rocks, still stood himself as a child looking for the hole in the ground In which the sun rose. The man walked up behind the boy completely unnoticed and placed his hand on the child’s shoulder. The boy looked up into his own eyes as a grown man and asked himself “Did you find the answers to my questions in the void where the sun rises?” The man smiled and said “I have found many things along my journey but I’m no closer to finding the answers you seek” The boy disappointed with himself, turned around and began to walk home with his head down. As he paced away, back against the rays of light, he noticed a long shadow of his body cast upon the ground from the early morning sun. He stopped shocked to see his friends and family were behind him only a few paces away the entire time but he had been too busy looking into the horizon to notice. The sun rose all around his body leaving his shadow cast out before him resembling a void in the earth.  The boy spread his arms and puffed out his chest until all he knew and loved fit perfectly within his shadow and only then did the boy find the answers. The man, still standing there, smiled and felt no guilt for lying about what he had really found, for he knew that if he hadn’t, the boy would have spent his entire life searching for what was behind him all along. As the child embraced his friends and family, the old man walked into the ocean and swam towards the sun looking for the things he never intends to find. ]]
I can see the land now before the bow appearing and disappearing with the rhythm of the sea swell. The freezing cold rain falls against the windows and the outer deck, 6 degrees and rain, it’s funny I’ve been gone for three years and this place exactly as I left it. The passengers on this ferry are getting antsy and moving towards the exits waiting for the gates to open. I sit here writing, watching, reflecting on my past and procrastinating going out into that weather, and ultimately retracing a road I’ve already traversed. I half hope for this boat to sink before it reaches shore so I can spend a few more months floating around the Atlantic Ocean in a life boat, giving myself more time to make sense of this crazy life, piecing together why I’ve ended up where I have and why others haven’t. Whatever I’m afraid to find in my past mustn’t be good if the ultimatum is to starve myself in jungles, exhaust myself on bicycles, and expose myself to deadly waters rather than facing my final demons found in the place where it all began. The temptation to turn south and embark on a new journey is hard to resist but I’ve been starring into a horizon for too long. It’s time to saddle up and embrace ones who have been here all along.  

 I’m almost home.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Bat Shit Crazy


                There have only been two times in my life where I’ve slept with a 7” hunting knife against my chest. One of those times was when my hotel was broken into at 2:00am by thieves in Papua New Guinea, and the other was last night In Thunder Bay, Ontario. It’s often as a traveler to find yourself being accommodated by all kinds of people varying between good, bad, and plain crazy. I can honestly admit I’ve been overly lucky with the people and strangers who have offered up their houses and hospitality in the past to accommodate me in their homes and treat me like family but luck only gets a man so far before he finds himself on the doorstep of a chick who is bat shit crazy.
                Now before I start to tell you about the revealings of yesterday and last night let me just back up a step to introduce my situation and how I got there. Traveling nowadays is made fairly easy and affordable with the internet offering social media sites specifically angled at free accommodation for travelers. Such sites in particular include the most popular couchsurfing.org which can be used for anything from big group meetings, having coffee one on one with a stranger, to offering a spare bed or room in your house to save on otherwise pricey hotels. Since starting this trip I’ve been introduced to another online site called warmshowers.org which is specifically catered towards touring cyclist who need a place to do a laundry, have a meal, and refresh before continuing on. So far I’ve had nothing but good luck with these hosts I’ve found on these sites, one of which in British Columbia was so nice I spent a week and half renovating a bathroom for them. So partially from being a male and the chances of being raped are less frequent and the good history of previous couches and houses I’ve stayed at I really had no reason to be skeptical about someone offering up their spare bed, but let me tell you after my experiences in this last encounter, I’ll be scanning profiles and choosing my host’s much more carefully from now on.
               Four days ago I sent four requests to four different people who were offering a bed in Thunder Bay, Ontario. A day later I had three replies from two guys and one girl. One guy was going to be out of town, the other had family visiting so both were unable to host with no reply from the third guy. The girl emailed me back asking if I used couch surfing so she could brows my profile and look at my references to make sure I wasn’t an “Axe murderer” as she put it. Fair enough I thought as women are more vulnerable than men when inside a house alone together, something in which I never consider often being pretty oblivious to most things and care free about all the rest. Luckily I did have a profile and sent away my info for her to make her judgments but being on a bike all day got me wondering why she would consider a cross country cyclist to be an “Axe Murderer” Personally If I was such a person, I could probably put in a little less effort than cycling across a country to cover up my serial killings but anyhow I still had the 4th guy to wait on a reply if this girl deemed me too risky to host.
                In the end I reached Thunder Bay Yesterday morning with a reply from the girl telling me her intuition is usually right and sent me on her address, still with no reply from the third guy. Having no other option and no real reason to not accept her hospitality I peddled on over to her house with nothing on my mind other than to be a little  more reserved than usual to ensure the fact that I‘m not indeed a creep or an axe murderer. Little did I know then of how opposites these judgments could have been as I spent the next 24 hours in complete and total discomfort and fear.
                The general introductions were pretty normal but it didn’t take long for her personality to start slipping past the mask and revealing itself to me in an increasingly uncomfortable way. As we sat and chatted she became comfortable very quickly whilst she read me the txt msgs between her and her girl friend which were horribly sexual and vulgar. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a bit of slander between you and a friend, and as a construction worker myself, I’m fully aware of the things discussed between same sex friends and generally those things are funnier and better kept between the parties involved. Clearly not impressed I asked her to stop but it continued as she began laughing uncontrollably and then planted her laptop on my lap insisting I read her Couchsurifng profile, and then brows her Plenty of Fish (online dating site) profile which was horribly uncomfortable as she stood above me analyzing my every reaction to her comments and pictures. The only thing I discovered was she was a crazy sex addicted single 35 year old.
                Things were getting weird way too fast so I decided we should go for a walk and tour the city and takes some pictures of all it has to offer. Well it turns out her only job is working a soup kitchen feeding the plentiful heroin addicts that littered the streets of ThunderBay, meaning that on our walk to the waterfront each one would run over to say hello while clearly off their face on something while I was introduced to these guys not knowing if they wanted me to shake their scabby hands or stab me with a syringe. After a small walk on the waterfront where she told me she hated children, she pulled the textbook “I’m so hungry, we should eat out, omg I forgot my wallet do you have any money?” Normally this shit would never fly with me but because I was staying in her house and a campground is at least $20 anyway I don’t mind paying for her meal…. At Mc Donalds I thought, plus it would be a nice to get off the streets for minute and out of the attention of drug addicts. But of course she lures me into the most expensive restaurant in town where a guest chef from Montreal was cooking a signature three course meal.
$60 and two drinks later we set off home but not before she walked directly into a door leaving a massive bump on her eyebrow. She was unsteady on her feet and I practically needed to carry her home she was acting so drunk and it was on that walk back to the house I learned about the medication she was prescribed and it clearly didn’t mix with alcohol. She kept making flirty gestures about me trying to hold her hand followed by her telling me to “shut the eff up, you piece of sh*t” and must have mentioned over ten times passively that she would smother me in my sleep that night. When we got home I made us both a cup of tea just to calm things down a bit but the computer came back out and she insisted on playing some seriously deranged animated videos of a guy sticking his fingers in his butt. She then put on a video of a naked asian man dancing around with a horse head mask on when she appeared out of her room wearing the same horse head mask which sent my effing skin crawling up my spine. I was already planning my escape but my clothes were in the washing machine and there was no discrete way of sneaking away.
Now this next part would normally be incredibly awkward but given the circumstances it was a godsend. She had been on this online dating site all night talking about the guys on there and how she never uses it, yet she calls this one guy and invited him over for fire at 11:00pm apologizing to me and acting as if she needs my approval and using me as leverage because he had also been to Vietnam, which made me wonder what she thought our relationship had evolved to. Lucky for me the guy showed up and he was normal, unlucky for him, he was coming to see her. He was nice and for the first time that day I had a normal conversation and it took the attention away from me. After he left I lay in my bed waiting for her to go to sleep and making sure she didn’t bring a butchers knife with her into the room next to me. But instead, she sat at the end of my bed for an hour asking me how I thought their date went. At least I know what a stage 5 clinger is now. She finally left but reappeared shortly after sitting on my legs and farting (listen to sound clip I recorded) Finally asleep in the next room and the attention off of me I figured it was safe to doze off around 2 am.
6:00 am I awoke, no word of a lie, with a pillow against my face with her leaning over me and pressing it into my head with a demonic smile on her face. She wasn’t pressing hard enough to honestly try and smother me, more of in a joking way, but none the less not a comfortable way to be woken up. I looked around and my clothes had been dried and folded and placed next to my head without me even knowing, my spandex pants hung from a light fixture in the corner where it looked as if she tried to dress the lamp in my underwear. She sat on my bed and wanted to talk about the guy from last who she met on the dating site and continued to rehearse every single conversation he and I had had. She then showed me the pictures she had taken of me on her phone while I was still sleeping this morning. In her defense I found out she had been in a near death car crash five years ago with brain damage and part of her frontal lobe removed and on heavy meds to combat drowsiness and seizures. Some of the memory loss and sporadic swearing can be explained but taking pictures of someone sleeping in your house roots deeper than a car accident I’m afraid.
There are pros and cons to meeting strangers and risks involved in doing so, most are good, some are bad, but sometimes you just get the one that’s bat shit crazy.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Finding Zen



                The warm bead of sweat slithers down my spine in its straight cooling flow. There’s not a single nerve of protest between my shoulder blades as my skin finds comfort in this welcomed moisture. The steady rush of air streams past my ears in a gentle melody of movement. My calves bulge into tight balls beneath the knee and for the first time in my life I understand why thighs are called quads while all four defined muscles relax and contract in opposition of each other between the forward and rear push of my peddle strokes. It’s already 8:30 at night and I’ve done 155km today but my heart pounds on in a steady rhythm content of pushing on, it knows better than I. Hill after hill are conquered with nothing more than a simple downshift as if it were flat ground, they present no challenge anymore. I haven’t felt the shrill pain of pins and needles in my hands for days now, my ass is finally molded to my seat, a tough leathery skin welcomes the post for the 10th hour today.   A smile grows upon my face in which I can’t control, this is it, two months and 3500km later I finally love the feeling of keeping pace into the late hours of the night. Nothing inside of me tells me to stop, I dread the moment the tyres seize to make their gentle whooshing whisper when my ride comes to an end that day. I want it and I like it, clear mind, fresh air, enjoyment, simple and pure. I’m no longer enduring these longs days but enjoying them, it took a while to find it but now that I have it I welcome it and all I can think about is waking up and getting back on the saddle. Like the 40th kilometer marker in a marathon, similar to the weightlessness of a 20kg pack 1 month into a hike or the millionth paddle stroke in a kayak, the mind is conquered and the body flaunts what it’s been holding back all this time. My mind is free and my breath is steady, my legs push on without me needing to tell them so, it took a while but this is it.
This.. is… Cycle ZEN.
               I’m out of the prairies now, I’m out of the USA in which I have no plans to return on this journey, I’m into the isolated forests of Canada’s largest province and I love it. All the hard work throbbing up the mountains in B.C, the endless hours of scorching hot days across Alberta, the thousands of mosquito bites and freak hail storms summoned from Saskatchewan, and the merciless soul wrenching headwinds of Manitoba have all paid off as I find myself pushing out 150km to 200km a day and still finding time to go for naked swims, smelling the roses, and capturing the memories on my camera. I don’t get the hunger cravings that used to haunt my stomach. My skin is golden brown as its developed a natural deterrence against the sun. I’m fit, happy, and flying down the sealed roads edging my way closer to the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve summited the last hill dividing the water shed from the Arctic to the Atlantic, I’m still a long way but rivers are my friends now as we share a mutual destination. I passed yet my 4th time zone entering into Eastern Time, not quite Atlantic yet but I’ll envy anything providing the word east.
               Two more weeks of crossing the mogul landscapes of northern Ontario as I circumnavigate the largest lake in the world and wind my way to Toronto where friends and family await my arrival. I feel like the hard yards are behind me as I have an incredibly scenic two weeks ahead of me before reaching so many friends I’ve been anticipating to see for so long. One leg at a time is the approach to conquering a journey like this and the only bit that remains unfamiliar is the next two weeks before reaching Toronto. From there those lands are mapped into my mind with small distances between friends and family all the way to Halifax N.S. A massive endeavor in itself but I’ve come far enough to let my fantasies and dreams run free as hope of reaching home replaces stubborn determination. Pain and determination come from being tough, hope comes from the heart and unlike determination, there is nothing in which can break hope.