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A Ragged Ride to San Diego (No Pictures)

I had met Gil on Craigslist and he was to meet me up at North Berkeley BART station at 8am. It was the day before Christmas. He’d be driving me about 9 hours south, close to San Diego and the Mexican border. That was the plan. My goal was to get to Mexico and out of the USA, then meet friends from Amsterdam in Guatemala for a music festival of which I had never heard about nor knew any of the artists but for reasons unknown to me at that time was simply where I had to be.

I was still drunk from the night before and hadn’t slept. I left the apartment of a new friend in the Tenderloin at 630am after a rumbling night of clubbing and navigated my way from downtown San Francisco to North Berkeley in the morning light. My mouth felt like an ashtray and I could feel my dry contact lenses sitting uncomfortably on my red eyes but I had made it. I arrived pretty much exactly at 8am. I felt a little ashamed for showing up directly from an after-party but as long as I didn’t let it show I’d be OK. I reminded myself that it was all jokes anyway.

He was about seven minutes late, so I had enough time to pretend like I’d been waiting a while and put my game-face on.  There were more people waiting for this ride than I thought. I was surprised to find out there were two cars, with two drivers, and a total of four riders, including myself, which suddenly explained all these people I saw waiting around awkwardly in the same spot checking their phones. Gil was driving down to the Palomar Mountains with his brother Mateo to drop off one of the cars to their mother and spend Christmas over there. Gil was tall and thin. I would have guessed he was around 60, but looked young for his age, like an ex-athlete or yoga practitioner whose body was finally showing signs of aging after an active, yet punishing life. He had short black-grey hair in a crew cut and blue-green eyes which weren’t very bright but still held their colour in the light. The creases on his face were in the right places, which is to say, he looked like a sort of guy who had smiled a lot in his years and it showed.

We stood outside of the car and I paid Gil $40 for the ride, which is at least half the price of a bus.  We introduced ourselves and talked a little bit while we waited for a girl who never ended up arriving. I had almost been falling asleep on the train ride to North Berkeley but now I felt better. Talking was keeping me awake.

After the boring small-talk had ended and everyone had paid their money we split up into the two cars. Two of us would be riding with Gil and two of us with Mateo, we made polite plans to “switch things up a bit” which never happened. Mateo drove up ahead of us in a Red Prius while Gil would be driving myself and a guy called Sasha down in his van which was a white beast that reminded me of a van I had owned once in Australia. I never mentioned that to him though. I talked briefly with Sasha before getting in the car. He looked someone who had finished college recently and was trying to figure out what to do with himself. He had a friendly, familiar face and looked like he smoked weed. He reminded me of a shorter version of Zach Braff if he had tried to grow a beard. I noticed his polo shirt didn’t really fit him very well and the collar was half popped like he had just rolled out of bed which he probably had. His jeans were dirty but mine were probably worse although I had made a bit of an effort to pull my shirt over the worst of my stains. My head was hazy but I felt a certain chin-out swagger about myself which came from a mixture of the beer I had been drinking and the sense that I was doing a decent job of keeping a cheeky secret about myself that the others weren’t yet aware of. 

I took the backseat of the van. Gil had removed a row of seats in the back so there was more legroom than the front seat. I was glad I was riding with Gil and his van, I had nothing against his brother’s Prius but I feel when it comes down to it you should always choose to ride in a van over a car. Gil asked me if I wanted to sit up front with him as Sasha moved in and sat down at the back. I told him I’d prefer the limo seat and sat down next to Sasha who then moved up front, apologizing to me for some reason as if he had taken my seat. I felt as if he had secretly wanted the back seat but our cards had been played. My drunken confidence won me the entire back row, which I felt I deserved for some reason.

A big smile broke on my face as we pulled out of the car park and started rolling. I felt my heart beating faster and my eyes opening more, things were moving and we were on our way. We drove through Berkeley, past large houses with trees on the front lawn with a few people walking around on the street, I had to remind myself it was eight o’clock in the morning.

I was careful not to talk too much in the beginning. It might have blown my cover, I didn’t want to let my confidence morph its self into arrogance and socially-unacceptable rowdiness. With Sasha and Gil sitting together up front, I figured it was up to them to guide the conversation anyway so I sat there listening for a while, half-bored. They were talking about the houses and how houses in the Bay Area are very expensive but they used to be cheaper. I agreed with them, but there wasn’t much else to say about that topic.

We pulled onto the freeway and I decided it was time I told Gil and Sasha about my last-minute plans to get to Guatemala. The music was playing fairly loud out of a speaker on my right side (a Budda Bar CD that Gil owned) so I felt I had to shout quite loudly to get them to hear me. They didn’t give me any weird looks so I must have had my volume about right, in fact I think they appreciated my interjection in their tedious discussion about the housing market, especially Gil. He loved my plan and told me that he had lived in Guatemala for over ten years in the 1980’s, where he bought local crafts with his girlfriend and sold them on the East Coast of the United States. They had made a fortune and then broken up after 10 years, they had never married and their business ended with their relationship. And to this day they are still friends.

The next two hours or so passed in a bit of a blur but before I knew it we were probably 120 miles out of the Bay Area and I was leaning forward, resting my elbows on my knees, still talking to Gil about Guatemala and history and travel and women. I was still shouting, but it was more to do with excitement than a need to speak over the music which had been turned down by Gil as we got to talking. My inhibitions about talking too much were gone, I wanted to know more about his life. He had briefly lived in Amsterdam in the 1970’s with a Dutch girlfriend but they had broken up after a couple months. He told me that everything was temporary anyways when you think about it and I enthusiastically agreed with him. I decided I liked Gil.

We continued talking and talking and after a while I noticed that Sasha had fallen asleep. I could see him in the side mirror with his head leaning back on his thick mane of black hair with his mouth wide open. He didn’t seem to have much to contribute to our conversation so he had passed out at some point and I had taken a while to notice. We both had. Gil glanced over to Sasha and turned towards me and smiled. Nothing really needed to be said, we understood each other.

He pointed out to me an aqueduct which runs North to South almost along the entire length of California which carries water from the rainy North to the dry South. It runs mostly along the I-5, which was the road we were driving on so I tried to see if I could keep track of where it was. It doesn’t run in a straight line and sometimes I’d lose sight of it so I’d ask Gil where the aqueduct went. He always seemed to know where it was, he had done this drive many times before.

When you’re comfortable with someone you can sit in complete silence and nothing needs to be said. Overly polite people try to jam conversations through when it isn’t needed and Gil seemed to understand that. I was feeling a lot less tipsy and energetic and I was starting to crash a bit so sometimes I’d stop talking and Gil would as well. I kept on trying to find the aqueduct, scanning to my right and left, scouting for the soft shimmer of water off in the distance. Sometimes it was closer than I expected, and other times it would be getting pumped up and over a hill, passing underground, or making a detour of several miles out of sight from the cars barreling towards Southern California, or charging north to the chilly Bay Area I had been a few hours ago.

Off to my right somewhere over some hills was the 101 freeway, which runs largely along the California coastline and is a beautiful road to drive on. I had driven on that road a few years ago on a motorcycle. It cuts in and out from the coast, all the way down from Olympia in Washington State down to Los Angeles. On that trip, I had joined the road somewhere near Eugene, Oregon where it lines the coast and then through Northern California and the Redwoods. At night, the trees become shadows and their silhouette towers above you like monsters standing guard over the night. When driving, it’s easy to become distracted, especially if you take a detour through the “Valley of the Giants” or cut through onto my favorite road I have experienced in the US, Highway 1, which is as far from a transit road as you can get. You can jump across to Highway 1 from Leggett in Mendocino county  which are some of the best bits of coastline California has to offer. On some days you can even get sprayed with water that crashes on the rocks along the coast and spits out onto the road. When coming into San Francisco, there really is no other way to do it, you wind in and out through the coast and the monstrous trees and push out the other side across the Golden Gate Bridge and you keep right to ride through Golden Gate Park and off onto 19th Avenue in San Francisco. 

The I-5 is not a touristic road, but there are always things to look at. When the mind is active, there is no such thing as a boring road and the absence of beauty can become a beauty of absence. When I got bored of looking for the aqueduct I would try to look at the cars and the people we were driving past. I liked looking at the number plates, and I tried to find the ones that interested me the most. I saw a few cars from New York, Florida, and others from the Midwest. The most interesting one I thought was Maine, it was probably the furthest distance away and I wondered what they were doing here. It was a couple, probably in their mid-30’s and they looked like the type of people who would pick up hitchhikers.

Gil had been selling his Guatemalan products on the East-Coast, and had family in Connecticut so we talked about that for a while until we pulled into our first stop at a town called Los Banos at what must have been around 11 o’clock in the morning. We were making good time.

Sasha woke up as we stopped and bashfully apologized for falling asleep. “No need to apologize my man. You must have had a big night!” Gil said which I thought was hilarious given my seedy situation but was careful not to laugh too hard. Some time later, I told Sasha about my big night and he thought it was funny too. We met up with Mateo and the other two riders whom I never learned the names of and went into the store to buy some food while the cars were filled at the petrol station.

I bought two Vitamin waters, some dried banana, two packets of chips, and a chocolate bar. I realized I had not eaten anything aside from a stolen hostel sandwich on my rush out the door in San Francisco. I was starving and this would hopefully keep me awake down to San Diego. The cashier was an old man with a big smile on his face. He had a blue vest on and a name-tag which read “Steven”.

He was talking with every customer and seemed to have something new and funny to say every time which was very impressive. It took some people by surprise but in my sleep deprived state it made me smile. I fumbled my items onto the counter and he examined what I was buying as if he was some kind of detective. “Let’s see what we ‘ave ‘ere” he said in his best detective voice and I laughed and said “It’s the best hangover food I can find”. He named each item out-loud when scanning it and checked it off an imaginary checklist as if he were some sort of doctor now. He asked what my opinion on bags was, and I joked that I didn’t think they existed. He pulled a bag out and then hid it behind his back, as if he were performing a magic trick and cracked a big smile, his old benign face creasing up and shining through his eyes, like Gil, he seemed like he had been smiling most of his life. “Oh you’re probably right!” he said Safe travels!” he chuckled heartily to himself and waved on the next customer awkwardly waiting behind me and I picked up my food and drink and almost dropped one of the Vitamin Waters on my way out the door.

I got back to the car, and immediately downed one of the Vitamin Waters and started eating my food. When we got driving again I noticed some palm trees starting to appear which is a sure way to know you’re getting closer to Southern California. SoCal palm trees tower high and look like light poles from close until you crane your neck upwards and see the bushy palms way up there which create a natural skyline of prickly clouds. Actually, Gil told me that although the palm tree is symbolic of Southern California are there are a huge variety of palms in the state, only one species (The California fan palm) is native, all the rest having been planted somewhere in the 1930’s as Los Angeles was anticipating the Olympics of 1932 as a way to promote the city as a tropical-yet-accessible destination to foreigners. He was full of interesting information. 

Sasha was more awake now and he and Gil were talking to each other up front while I munched on my chips and stared out the window. They had found something in common, they had both spent a lot of time in some town in Southern California somewhere near Los Angeles which I had never been to so they were talking about different places and people that they might know. I was happy they were talking and having fun.

I was reading Kerouac (Dharma Bums) and feeling very Zen about things so I sat back and appreciated the three of us in the van together and all the road we had ahead. I was glad Sasha and Gil had found something to talk about but was also happy I had some time to read my book and look out the window. Eating the food had made me very sleepy all of a sudden but that was also OK, a phrase from the my book jumped out at me so I made sure to write it down before I dozed off.

But let the mind beware, that though the flesh be bugged, the circumstances of existence are pretty glorious.”

Sleeping in chairs is stolen sleep, so whenever I manage to pass out in a car or a plane I feel like I’ve accomplished something. We had slowed down, which woke me. I didn’t know how long I slept so I scanned the signs to figure out where we were and guessed that it couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes. It felt like we were just a few towns over. I was still feeling groggy but curiously content in a half-dream state which I enjoyed for a good thirty seconds before coming back to reality. 

Sasha and Gil had stopped talking and we were in some sort of small traffic jam. A lane had been closed further up the road yet we were still rolling along at a decent but sluggish 30 miles an hour which was enough to cause some annoyed looks from the other drivers I could see from the window. There had been a minor accident, some sort of collision. Gil and Mateo were talking to each other on the phone about the incident. They called each other from time to time to check up on each other and see where they were. They were brothers but also good friends. Gil talked about Mateo a lot, he talked about his love of gardening and his property purchases. He talked about how he had come out to him as gay when they were teenagers and how it was one of the happiest moments of his life. They were each successful in their own way and from what I could gather generally happy people.

We rolled on and on and soon we were closing in towards Bakersfield for lunch. Gil was telling me about the time he was caught and arrested somewhere in North Dakota with 15 pounds of marijuana in his car. This was about ten years ago. He was driving it from California to help out a friend, or at least that’s what he’d told me. He got busted for speeding at first. He hadn’t noticed a change in speed limit and a police officer was there waiting for him. He almost got away without being searched, but as he was about to head off, his car was searched and the weed was discovered. He spent the night in the county jail while he contacted his lawyer friend.

Legal trouble in the United States is serious business, especially in North Dakota and especially for marijuana. Luckily for him, his friend was a talented lawyer who knew what to do. He was already pretty well off from his Guatemala money so he posted bail immediately. They had the right to decline judges (up to three), so they waited for a judge his lawyer knew to be more lenient and then accepted. He faced serious jail time, but they had a strategy.

Knowing the system, they delayed everything. You wait. You wait until someone gets caught with 30 pounds, you wait until someone gets caught with methamphetamine, you wait until someone gets shot, or you wait until someone does all of the above and then blows up a school bus. All of a sudden your 15 pounds doesn’t look so bad. If you have the money for court fees, its a genuine legal strategy in the United States to just wait until someone does something worse. During this time you’ve been busy getting character witnesses, signatories, and doing absolutely everything the judge tells you to do, even the stuff he doesn’t tell you to do. You check into narcotics anonymous, and attend every single meeting for months. You rack up the documentation. You create a nice story and you delay and hope for the best.

On the day of the sentencing which was a good 18 months after the fact Gil felt confident but his lawyer pulled him aside. “We’ve done what we can, but honestly, you’ve got to be prepared to take at least 2-3 years of jail time for this” he told him and Gil started crying, terrified. They walked in the courtroom, Gil was a mess but he was wearing a nice suit and his hair was combed just right. They had their argument and the paperwork and the character witnesses and everything else they had prepared. The sentence came down 2 years…of suspended time. It basically meant that he could walk free if he didn’t commit any other crimes during this time. He asked his lawyer if he was expecting that and his lawyer said “Sure, but you were looking too damn confident walking in that courtroom. I need you looking pathetic before that judge and terrified, that’s how we get what we want”. We didn’t talk anymore about that, and now with his cover blown he took our his vaporizer and started puffing away while driving, deep in thought.   

We pulled into Bakersfield which is about 110 miles north of Los Angeles and got out of the car. The air warmed my lungs so I took a long relaxing breath and held it, went into the sun and walked towards a taco food truck where we had decided we’d all be getting something to eat. I breathed out and stretched my back and rolled my shoulders and smiled. I could tell I was getting closer to San Diego.

I ordered first and got three tacos, I was happy to be eating again. California has a lot of Mexican food but it can be hard to find the good kind. In Mexico the salsa is too hot and comes in small plastic bags with a knot tied at the top. You have to bite a hole in the plastic in the bottom corner and then pour it out onto the tacos. That or untie the knot at the top but they always have a way of tying it making it impossible to untie anyway, so you bite it open. You eventually learn how it works. You watch the others do it, and then you try for yourself. There, the tacos are small and each are served on two tortillas, never hard-shell, that’s gringo stuff. Here out of this small taco truck in Bakersfield it was the good kind of Mexican food, two tortillas, salsa in a plastic bag with an impossibly tight knot.

I finished my tacos while Mateo’s riders were still ordering. They were having trouble with the menu which was only in Spanish, but I didn’t help them. Mateo was standing by translating because he spoke some Spanish, but they were still having a hard time deciding. That was fine by me. Sasha and I had decided to head off around the corner for a cigarette which I had been trying to avoid but decided to do mostly out of boredom and curiosity as to how my battered body would react.

I went around the corner with Sasha and lit one up but only got about half way through before I threw it away. Still not ready. Sasha finished his cigarette while talking on the phone to someone. I didn’t bother hanging around and went back to sit down. I talked briefly with Mateo but didn’t learn much about him that Gil hadn’t already told me. Gil had talked to him about me so I repeated myself to Mateo. I told him about my mission to get to Guatemala and my life and how excited I was to be getting into Mexico the next day and he smiled and approved. He was short and tan and a bit plump with small rectangular glasses and a haircut that made him look like a bit math teacher with a flat fringe that fell straight down and stopped about halfway down his forehead. I liked him. He reminded me of a friend of mine who is also called Mateo with whom I had worked at a ski resort for several years. He had an soft and disarming voice and was genuinely interested in what people had to say.

We got back in the car and set off again. My stomach was still upset from the attempted cigarette but it was manageable, I decided not to have another one unless absolutely necessary. Sasha and Gil were back talking about the common areas they knew, and I couldn’t hear much of the conversation anyway so I sat back and appreciated the road a bit. Eating food had made me tired again and that was fine by me. I kept an eye-out for interesting number plates but couldn’t find any and I had lost sight again of the aqueduct. A short while later we came to another stop at Pyramid Lake, just over the border in Los Angeles county.

The lake was formed by a hydroelectric dam, and gets its name from the pyramid mountain tops it creates as the area was flooded with water when the dam was built. The water comes from the same aqueduct which had been following us the whole way down from Northern California which I had lost sight of moments before. We walked around and I read the information signs with Gil and we talked about engineering. Sasha wasn’t very interested it the dam and was off a little ways behind us having another cigarette. My favorite part was a photo they had taken in 1972 before they had started construction. Here you could see the valley without water and really notice the huge quantity of water they had stored here and the massive power of the dam they had built. The peaking mountain tops are a lot more impressive when you can see the bottom of the mountain like an iceberg peaking above the waterline is that much more impressive if you remove the water in which it floats.

We all ate some half-melted chocolate I had found in my bag and set off again. Gil was still puffing on his vape, he didn’t pass it around but probably would have if I had asked, I didn’t feel like it anyways. As we started to enter Los Angeles we took a bit of a detour off the I-5 and drove through Santa Clarita to save some time. There had been the largest wildfire in California State history – The Thomas Fire – which at that time hadn’t been contained and off towards the coast near Ventura we could see a thick haze of smoke and knew out there were people fighting for their homes and their lives. Santa Clarita had also been hit hard and we drove past charred ground and trees and the occasional rubble of a property which had been razed to the ground by the uncontrollable inferno. We wound down the windows and smelled the air, different from the warm blanket of Bakersfield here there was a distinct smokey aggressiveness which forced anyone smelling  it to think of the chaos happening off towards the coastal towns of Ojai, Camarillo and Thousand Oaks. I had been in a similar fire a few weeks before in Mendocino County up North and knew how bad things could get with wild winds which create a panicked uncertainty as to where the fire is headed next and who will be targeted. I felt for those people but there was nothing to do about it, we rolled on. 

Soon we were in Los Angeles, back on the I-5, out of the fire zone and in the famous gauntlet which is L.A. traffic. Motorcycles split lanes with no fear while drivers bob and weave through traffic, everyone pushing and grunting their way to the head of the line cursing any and all drivers who dare cut them off, each on their own drive forward and be damned with the others. Lane closures mean a total seizure of the entire LA road system, in which case the carpool lane becomes a de facto lane for anyone who dares risk the $300 fine.

Gil drove like a true Angelo, the moment our lane slowed down he would push off to one side and cut into the faster lane, zig-zagging through the chaos as if our white van were made of water. Like pressure building up in a faucet, we made a final push through Southern L.A. and gushed out the other side somewhere near Buena Park. We were back picking up some speed and on our way again. 

The wildfires raging had dropped a thick smoke over Los Angeles which rode the cold airs of the Pacific all the way up to San Francisco. To the West over the ocean we could see the sun which had become blood-red and hidden behind the smoke had created a thick warm blanket of orange and pink and crimson that reflected off the windows of the mansions in the hills to our East which gave off bright white lights as if we were in a stadium and the sunset was just for us which it probably was.

I saw the silhouette of a commercial airliner high in the sky which had taken off from LAX and was heading west over the Pacific. It flew up and behind the red, orange, pink haze of the smoke and began to get blurry as it passed off in the distance over the ocean, looking like an eagle off in the sun. I wondered what the view of the sunset must have been like on the plane, or the view of the pilots who appeared to by flying directly into the sun. Everyone had a spectacular show that day from their own vantage point and it was nice to think that for a nice 30 minute window millions of people in this small corner of California were treated to a special experience that only they would ever know.

The sun finally sank behind the waterline and a final burst of color exploded out from the ocean. I learned that Mateo had stopped in Anaheim to drop off one of his riders and I wouldn’t be seeing him again since we were already too far ahead. I didn’t say much for the rest of the ride down, the sunset had muted me and I was feeling pretty beat from the days journey. I listened to Sasha and Gil talk and stared out the window and also checked my phone to see how I was getting to San Diego.

I decided to get dropped off a bit further north in Oceanside rather than in Encinitas because I figured it was easier for me to take a train from there to Ocean Beach where my hostel was. It was a wild guess, but for me it made sense. Gil would be heading east from there to Palomar Mountain and would be dropping Sasha off in Escondido. We pulled into the train station parking lot and stopped and I got out and took my stuff with me. It felt like I was changing scenes. I was groggy and tired from the lack of sleep and had been sitting quietly looking at an amazing sunset and all of a sudden I was saying a goodbye to Sasha and Gil and was on my way to take a train to San Diego. We hugged it out and I left them to their conversation and the white van navigated out of the train station car park and out of my sight. I took Gil’s business card and found out he was a massage therapist and I realised I had never asked him what he did for work nowadays which it seemed both of us had decided was not really important anyway. 

It was hard to buy a ticket, I don’t know why but I got very confused. All of a sudden it was night and I was in a strange train station and trying to decide which between the Coaster, Sprinter, and Pacific Surfliner I should be taking. A homeless man came up to me offering help and asking for cigarettes for the help he never gave and I never accepted. I gave them a cigarette anyway and went to the counter which was still open and I asked for a ticket to San Diego for which he told me I’d need the Coaster. I struggled to find the platform but eventually did, which didn’t really matter because the train was an hour late which seemed like the perfect time for me to smoke a cigarette.

It went down a lot better than the one I had in Bakersfield and I felt I was back on track. I was dead tired but I had made it finally to Southern California which I could tell by the warm air which warmed my bones and the abundance of imported palm trees around my periphery. I started to get annoyed by the time delay of this train but eventually I got on board and sat down, thinking about Gil and Sasha and many other zen and not zen things which had formed my day thus far. I got into a small argument with an unsupervised child who cut me from my thoughts. He had been annoying and punching his little sister for about half an hour when he asked me WHY was I sitting where I was sitting. I asked him WHY was he being so loud and annoying and I caught the glance of his parents who were a few rows back though they didn’t get mad at me and were probably glad I said what I said. The boy inexplicably repeated himself, he wanted to know why I was seated in a single chair instead of a double. I stared him down for a good five seconds without saying anything and he went back to bothering his sister. I turned back towards his parents and they simply shrugged, they been through all this before. 

After about 45 minutes I arrived in San Diego Old Town and although I wanted to take public transport to Ocean Beach, I had missed my connection due to the delay and took an Uber which I was secretly thankful for since it only cost five dollars and I was dead tired anyway.

I got dropped off at Ocean Beach International. A hostel that I had stayed at before where a party was in full swing. I rudely cut off the volunteer receptionist as she offered me tours around the town and asked where my room was. I dropped my backpack off, organised my sheets and treated myself to one last cigarette to cap off my day. Around me were young travelers bursting with energy and cheap alcohol wondering to where the night was headed but for me there was only one destination, bed. I went to my room after my cigarette and collapsed, thinking of cheap Modelos and spicy salsas in impossibly tight plastic bags and my walk across the border to Tijuana planned for the next day.   

 

 

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Gunshots and Glitters | My Month Working at BPM Festival 2017

I was reminded on a recent flight in what is now two days I’ll be collecting my motorcycle in Uruguay and attempting to ride it through Brazil, from the Southern border to the Northern coast. It’s easy to forget, that’s why I’m here after all, and it’s the reason I’ve spent the last five months out of the Netherlands. Last year I flew to Uruguay for the sole reason of bringing my motorcycle across the border for 24 hours to renew my permit and now, she sits comfortably in a shed awaiting my arrival.

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In Uruguay last year

In a sense, I had never forgotten, but like so many assignments and paperwork I had somehow pushed it into my “later” pile only to become oh-so-crystal-clear as the date approaches.

I can forgive myself for being distracted. I have been busy. I have been in the United States for 3 months, in Mexico for a month or so working at BPM Festival, and most recently, I have been in Australia on an impromptu trip visiting friends and family.

As the image becomes clearer in my head that in a matter of days I will be thrown into the wild world of adventure riding once again, I was reminded of what I consider to be the greatest post on livedeleven written by our good friend Thomas Kuipers about our oil stained pants on our motorcycle journey from Vancouver to Buenos Aires.

The stray dogs start barking at a truck that rolls in and I wonder if I should join them. Tonight, we sleep outside the same gas station.
Sitting on the ground somewhere in the middle of this industrial park, somewhere just outside of Antofagasta, Chile, the contrast with the Bolivian wilderness couldn’t be any sharper. White snow is exchanged for grey dust. Dirt roads for a four-lane highway. Flamingos for diseased dogs. Nature’s perfect silence for the forever ongoing beeping of backing-up trucks.
But we like it here. We’ve had our fair share of stunning landscapes and challenging terrain, and we feel accomplished. The last three hours were spent in the station’s restaurant making up storylines for Italian soap operas, after which we pitched our tent in the dirt. Don’t forget that the subtitle of our blog reads ‘In the end it’s all just jokes’.

Continued…(read it now, you’ve got the time)

Of course, I shared these memories with Thomas and they remain as true as the day that Thomas wrote it down in his notebook somewhere near some shitty truck stop in Antofogasta. We both agreed that night as with many nights before that; Big, bold trips and crazy ideas should never just stay ideas, action is always better than inaction.

It is in reminding myself of Thomas’ post that I compare my recent trip to Mexico. What, if anything, did I do which might have prompted one of these brilliant “questions” to my head? Fucked if I know. To paraphrase Grandmaster Kuipers we never know the question until we find the answer, it’s all jokes anyway.

Photo on 1-23-16 at 1.22 PM

Joooooookes

So how is 3D mapping set up on a bamboo stage?

and how many free drinks can I take from Solomun’s rider until someone shakes their head at me?

How does a gang war start?

Which cartel runs Playa del Carmen?

What are the chances of meeting someone in a hostel and meeting back up as work colleagues years later?

For me? Pretty good for me it seems.

I met Aitor in San Francisco in December 2014.

We met in a hostel in the Tenderloin, we got drunk together and wandered the streets making animal noises, knocking over traffic cones, and generally being rowdy and inappropriate. The lads on tour.

We lost contact of course. For two solid years, we went on our own journeys. Thomas and I finished our motorcycle trip and headed back to the Netherlands, our memory of Aitor coming up occasionally as a funny anecdote we would repeat on occasion when the situation permitted. 

It was in September of 2016 when I heard from Aitor, responding to my facebook post about heading to California.

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We got to talking and after a few weeks of off again on again streams of messages I found out that Aitor was going to head to BPM Festival as I had been planning to, however, he wasn’t going to pay for anything since he had been working on the stage crew for the festival.

You can probably guess where this is going. This was too good to be true, of course, I asked him if he could check if there was a spot for me. He did, and after a short facebook messenger “interview” with Rodrigo I was told to book my flight, which I did. Before I knew it I was standing there in Playa Del Carmen with my trusty backpack waiting to be taken to my new home for the next month.

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A JE TO!

Introducing the Crew

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Along with Aitor, I worked with (clockwise from my position) Jacobo (El Gordo), Miguel, Rodrigo, and Tassinari (Dams Huntsman). Four Mexicans who would turn out to be some of the most fun and hilarious people to work with that I could imagine.

El Gordo falls asleep in weird places a lot. He told me a story once where he was working on a construction site near Mexico City and would strap himself to the scaffolding and fall asleep without worrying about plummeting to his death. When not helping to build stages of BPM Festival he organizes rock festivals around Mexico City.

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Jacobo (El Gordo) and Tassinari / Dams Hunstman

Miguel loves to party, and once the build was over, we would spend many a night being the last men standing of the group raging on the dance floor until sunrise. Equal parts psy-trance,  dark techno, and minimal we shared music together and danced, danced, danced.

Rodrigo is the captain of the ship, the man with the plan. His dog Jazz is from the Czech Republic and doesn’t speak Spanish. Jazz would join us on the builds, sprinting around the site securing the area.

Dams Hunstman will be heading to France soon to join the French Foreign Legion, and served as our runner. He would start our morning techno routine before work, which turned out to be a tradition that would follow until our last days in Playa.

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About A Day’s Work – Make Me A Stage-Builder

I’ve stopped setting my alarm, Rodrigo will wake me up when its time to leave. I won’t take long to be ready anyway, and at least for the last few days, we’ve still had to wait an additional hour until we’re out the door. El Gordo takes the longest to get ready usually, the man is impossible to wake up. Dams will be cooking us scrambled eggs soon, or if we’re lucky, Miguel will be feeling adventurous and cook us up something crazy. Both are fine by me, I just try to eat as much as possible.

It’s scrambled eggs, Gordo has clomped his way down the stairs and we are all eating. Aitor doesn’t eat meat, which can be a problem working on a team of carnivorous Mexicans, but luckily this morning Dams has remembered to cook Aitor a bacon-less version of our meal. Aitor isn’t always so lucky. Rodrigo has finished eating and is showing Miguel a model of the stage on his computer and discussing what we need to do today. I keep up with about 80% of what they’re talking about, but eventually, I tune out and continue eating. I’ll figure it out when I get there.

We arrive at the jungle stage. This is by far the largest and most complicated stage at BPM, set “in the jungle” on a private property on the outskirts of Playa Del Carmen. I took the scooter today, none of the dials work and its way too small for me but I don’t mind, it’s nice to be riding. The last part of the road is quite rocky but I don’t really slow down, the boys are ready to start working. The bike bounces and rattles over the rocks and I cut the engine and glide towards the group and after a quick cigarette break, we’re ready to start working.

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Main Stage early stages

I walk over to Dannboy and Mario, who along with Karley make up “Green Future”, a non-profit organization that holds classes on how to make everyday items out of organic materials. Dannyboy and Karley are also organizing SOL festival towards Veracruz, a three-day techno festival on the beach. They are working with Jeff, the head lighting engineer, on bamboo lamps which will be hung up and placed around the festival in certain clubs.

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Pile o lamps

Dannyboy and I like to make up fake memories about each other dating back to the 1930’s. Mario and I invented our own radio station, Radio Caguama (We have a poorly kept facebook page), where we give live commentary on drinking beer in Spanish and in English. It turns out I need a working buddy to help build the entrance tunnel and Dannyboy volunteers.

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My oldest and dearest friend Dannyboy

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Our beautiful tunnel under construction

Building the tunnel is a pretty simple job, local builders set up a bamboo truss, and our job is to get bamboo and fill in the gaps to make it look like a tunnel. The bamboo is heavy, and the sun is hot yet Dannboy and I power through. He is a fearless climber and often stepped off the crane to climb and tie something or cut something down. We talk and make up more memories about each other into the afternoon.

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On top of the crane, above the stage

It’s lunchtime. I’ve done a bunch of other things since doing the tunnel with Dannyboy and I’m starving. Mr Hunstman has been gone for hours getting us food, god knows what he was doing, but he’s just arrived back. The food is always delicious and is usually made by an old lady in a local shop about 5 minute drive away.

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Dropping our dishes back to our cooking lady, hungry Jazz.

I stuff myself with as much food as possible when I hear snoring over my shoulder. El Gordo has fallen asleep. He sometimes does that during our lunch break, it’s funny, but we all feel like sleeping as well. We take our break with “Los Hippies”, a group of 15 people traveling around Mexico in an RV meant for 7 people. They met the production manager for the festival somewhere and he offered them free tickets for their help, so they came. They are doing mostly decorations, and they are damn good at it. They weave and do woodworks. They work hard, yet in a cyclic motion, with always one or two chilling and smoking a joint, or playing with their dog which is the size of a small horse.

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OUR trusty workhorse

After lunch, we smoke some weed and get back to work. I walk over to the main stage, it looks more impressive every day. I stop for a chat with Rodrigo, who is taking pictures of the construction with his DSLR. We have to zip tie hundreds of bamboo splits all over the stage to make it enclosed and we stand there for a while and discuss that.

A shitty car comes roaring around the corner with a man in a gas mask blasting an unknown pressurized smog all over the worksite. I get a whiff of the smoke in my lungs and begin coughing, as does everyone else in the general area. We step back, let the dust settle and everyone goes back to work. It seems the only non-Mexicans, Aitor and myself, are concerned and confused.  

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Rodrigo explains that that toxic gas was to kill mosquitos, and it was only really effective for about 5-10 minutes. The car makes several laps around the site spraying us with the gas and then tears off to another site.

“You know man, this is Mexico”

On Cartels and Drugs

Work continued like this for a while, not only at the jungle but at Martina Beach Club, and Cannibal Royale, two beach clubs in the center of town. We liked the jungle stage because we were by ourselves, but we liked the beach clubs because we could walk barefoot in the sand and have a nice breeze from the ocean.

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Nightime at Martina Beach Club

Martina would be where we would see them. It was possible to drive right up to the beach and for several days we would see a white sedan pull up with four guys drinking beers in the car and listening to music. I could tell they were watching us because every time I looked over there I made eye contact with someone, it wasn’t always the same person and they weren’t staring us down, but it was enough to make us aware of their presence. That was the whole point, Dams and Gordo explained. They were not there to watch us, but for us to look at them.

It was a bit unsettling, but not scary. I couldn’t imagine what some gangsters could care about our small build crew mounting a stage. Work continued anyway, things like these are surprisingly easy to forget about when you have things to do, like dig a huge hole.

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Sand is heavy

Anyone who has ever been to BPM Festival would be lying if they told you they have never noticed a gang presence in Playa, it’s hard to miss. Blue Parrot is where it is most obvious, but in any club on any night you will see the same people, selling bad pills and worse cocaine for huge amounts of money. They do it openly next to security guards, and in many cases, the dealers are security guards.

I found it hard not to imagine at least some level complacency from the organizers. Phil was an owner of the festival, and if he wasn’t a gangster, he liked to look like one. He drove a sporty range rover with tinted windows and had one or two women with him most of the time. He always wore techno black-on-black-on-black and talked like he was in charge, which he was. He always seemed busy with something, although I was never sure what. I could have guessed that most of the time he was high on cocaine, and I probably would have been right.

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Finishing touches on Martina

All of this was, of course, a topic of discussion among the boys, and we all theorized who was paying who and for what. Was BPM a money laundering operation? Most seemed to think so. Canadian gangsters cutting deals with local cartels for the right to throw a 10 day techno festival sounds like the beginning of a cool movie script which made the whole conversation that much more surreal. It was fun to talk about at that time, but it didn’t really matter, we still had to hammer away, or there would be no party.

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Miguelon going monkey mode

Partying Until The Party Stops.

It was when the party started that this gang-activity went into full swing. This is what they’ve all been waiting for. It becomes impossible to walk the streets without being offered drugs, or sold a tour (in exchange for buying drugs). For the cartels, BPM is like Christmas, with some 70,000 pill-hungry fiends landing directly on their lap. There is no competition, no-one is stupid enough to challenge their power, so Playa Del Carmen becomes an open drug market.

Some degree of care is taken not to shock the families, who go for their morning strolls right outside clubs as steady streams of wide-eyed foreigners exit, some shouting at each other for the next afterparty, some delicately grasping a bottle of water, staring out at the ocean and wondering where the night went.

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Completed Jungle stage and 5000 ravers

Sunglasses? T-Shirts? Massages? Tour? The annoying chorus of tourism shouts in my ear as I walk through the Fifth Avenue, the main hub of all things annoying in Playa. The party has started, that much is clear, and I have been out with the crew already on a few occasions. I’ve managed to make some party friends, and I can usually guess where they’ll be. They like to stay out of the big clubs, where the crowd is pumped on steroids or silicone, and groove to the less known clubs where the crowd more resembles a legitimate techno gathering.

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With Aitor at Cannibal Royale

Parties at the Jungle stage were always the main event for the crew. We had all put in the most amount of work on that stage and it was the by far the most impressive venue at the festival, finally finished in all its glory. We smuggled beers into the venue and when they ran out, dipped into whatever was left backstage. We had earned it, our work was finally on display for everyone to see and enjoy.

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Carl Cox at the Jungle Stage

We had managed to sneak in Anne, a friend of mine from Amsterdam into Diynamic in the Jungle where Solomun played until the AM by getting in early and driving straight backstage. Miguel got a friend in as well and we bounced around through the crowd, the VIP area, and boogied at the secondary Palapa stage on the other end of the terrain.

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 Glitter Obligatory, we adopted SF Glitter queen Tanya at Diynamic and stayed until close

I attended Day Zero in Tulum, about 60 kilometers south of Playa at one of the wildest parties I’ve attended since leaving Amsterdam. I went with Anne and Paul, whom I had met in San Francisco a few months earlier. We met up with other friends from San Francisco and danced, taking breaks to swim in the natural pools on the terrain.

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I returned from Day Zero for the last day of BPM, wrecked from the previous days of dancing but feeling some vague sense of duty of being there with my friends for the ultimate day of the festival we had all worked so hard to build. The party was in the Jungle of course, and we arrived early to sneak in a few friends before the event began.

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Upon arrival on the last night of BPM 

Somewhere around 3 o’clock in the morning, I was at the Palapa stage with four friends from California and the rest of my crew when the music stopped. It didn’t cut out as you would expect from a DJ error or equipment malfunction but was slowly faded out as if the end had already arrived. I looked over to the main stage where Hot Since 82 was playing and there too the music was cut. The scene was simply a disgruntled rabble of some 3500 party-goers swaying about as if awaiting some sort of drop that would never arrive.

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With the Cali crew shortly before hearing the news

Word got around quickly that there had been a shooting although it wasn’t clear at that time what exactly was going on. Security didn’t know and just told us to make our way to the exit. A rumor spread that there had been someone shot out the entrance to the Jungle, another spread of an active shooter inside the venue. I found out through Aitor, who had spoken to the lighting engineer of the real situation. A shooting at the Blue Parrot had occurred, probably drug related, unknown deaths.

It’s worth mentioning how quickly the atmosphere changed from 15 minutes prior. Although I was drunk myself, I was glad at least I was not like most of the crowd, many of whom had just dosed MDMA or even acid before the music cut off and they were about to be taken on a trip much different than they had expected. The energy in the air was one of fear, love, excitement, panic, and confusion as thousands of eager ravers tried to figure out what would happen next. For me, there wasn’t really another option, there was no other venue open, every club in Playa had shuttered their doors after hearing the news.

I got a ride back with Rodrigo out the service entrance when we spotted my friends from California walking among the masses. Many taxi services had of course not been told about the premature closing of the party and the road was filled with thousands who had no other choice but the clog up the road and stumble to wherever they were heading. Rodrigo invited my friends in the car to drop them off at their hotel. Plans were being discussed in the back.

Drinks in the hotel room? I made a last-minute decision to join them. I had to be at Martina club at 9 am to begin taking the stage down and I promised Rodrigo I’d be there in one state or another.

We went to the rooftop of one hotel where there was a swimming pool and drank raided mini-bar supplies. It didn’t feel right to party after what had happened and we spent most of the time just talking about the events and trying to find out what had happened. The streets were dead, BPM facebook page had suggested the shooter was still active and urged everyone to stay inside, so we did. We talked with people who had been at Blue Parrot and heard first-hand accounts of what had happened at the venue. No-one had any idea what was going on.

We moved to the Grand Hyatt and chilled there for a while, and decided to walk to the beach to see the sunrise. I had to be at work in an hour and took a taxi back to the apartment for some attempt at sleep, which was never attained. I stumbled down the stairs to see the headlines.

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Shit was real, but there was still work to do. Digging through rock and sand in the sweltering heat in my sleep deprived state was bad enough but it got a whole lot worse when we moved to Martina Club and Jessie, the production manager, pulled us aside and showed us a picture on his phone.

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It was a sign that had been put up at the entrance to Playa del Carmen the night of the shooting. It read:

“This is a sign that we are already here because you didn’t align. Phillip from BPM, this is the beginning. We are going to cut the heads of the Golfos, Pelones, and Capulines. [Signed] El Fayo Z from the old school” 

This was the BPM organization, of which I was a part, being called out by a drug cartel. Phil had fled the country in the early morning as well as almost all of the office of the BPM organization, of which Jessie was now the most senior member.  Having worked since the beginning at BPM, in one night he saw the entire organization evaporate, and with it any plans for “next year”, which only a 12 hours prior we had been gleefully discussing over beers as the closing party took shape.

“Don’t wear your passes guys, I’m telling my guys they can’t work after dark”

He was scared and rightly so, with the office gone or fleeing he was the last man standing from the upper-level of BPM management and whatever grudge was being held with this new cartel and the organization. His colleagues had fled and left him to clean up the mess. I wouldn’t have blamed him for leaving,  I had thought about it myself as well.

Playa del Carmen changed that day, everyone had left and there was felt like a thick cloud of tension floating above every person, business, and street in the city. The tourists had all but left and what was left were those picking up the pieces, and a cartel hell-bent on making sure there would never be another party in the area. This was an open attack on not only BPM and its organizers, but the entire party business model of the town which this cartel felt had ignored them for too long.

The next day there was a news report of a man shot and killed in broad daylight on the 5th Avenue, and later that day cartel members stormed the state prosecutor’s office in central Cancun and killed another four people.

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A war was breaking out, and we all wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. The work remained, and we continued taking down the Jungle stage the next day. We removed all signs of BPM from our clothing and vehicles and kept at it. If there was a silver lining to be found in the whole situation it was that with the party being cut short, there was an excess amount of drinks available which had simply been abandoned. With no office crew to tell us off, we helped ourselves to cases and cases of beer and Fiji water.

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Bud light, but free beer is free beer

With each passing day, the mood improved. The cycle was becoming complete. From an empty jungle a month prior we were returning everything back to its natural state as much as we could. Security, as always, was outside the venue but the threat seemed less with every day. The shooting a few days prior had started a war, and with the end of BPM, this new cartel seemed to be focusing their attention on Cancun.  We kept a positive energy and blasted our music, getting everything over and done with so we could finally leave Playa del Carmen.

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What was left of the Jungle Stage

It’s a lot faster to take things down than to put them up. We carried and loaded hundreds of bamboo poles onto trucks and sorted through the mess. We roamed around and took everything in. This was the last ever BPM in Mexico and we were all that was left of the organization. We drank beers, and played golf with bottles of Fiji Water.

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Tiger Woods aka Dams Huntsman with his coach Aitor

The day eventually came, and we loaded up the truck to take Rodrigo’s bamboo back to his storage space in Tulum. It was in the late afternoon that day that we called an end to it, and cracked a cold, stolen beer to celebrate.

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It was a big night

We headed to the beach and had a party, as you would expect. The crew stuck together throughout the whole ordeal and suddenly there was a huge weight off our shoulders. We spent that night drinking at Rodrigo’s house and then headed out. Life could resume in whatever direction each of us had planned. For me, that involved heading to Bacalar where I would meet old friends and spend several days with Aitor, I headed back to Tulum to visit Rodrigo before my flight to Australia.

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And that’s where I sit now, back as a somewhat of a tourist in my home country, on a one month-ish stopover to continue my mission through Brazil. I leave in two days after a year away and I ask myself the same question that Thomas wrote down in that truck stop in Antofogasta,

Did I change?…fucked if I know

My experience in Mexico, as with anywhere else, only gave me more questions than answers.

How safe do I think Mexico really is?

What are other parts of Mexico like?

When can I work with the boys again?

When can I see my favorite 60 year old English madman Miguelito again?

I guess these answers will come in due time. For the moment I’ll continue not buying things I need for my trip and sitting on the couch in preparation for the mad dash to stuff my backpack with whatever I can find before I head to the airport.

It’s nice to remember it’s all jokes anyway.

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Business Back in Bacalar

Those thinking that livedeleven.com is purely about motorcycle travel best check themselves before they wreck themselves. Living de leven is about more than getting on a motorized horse and galloping through toll ways, crashing more times than any parent should be made aware of. Yes, the bikes, and our adventure keeps going, in different forms and through different mediums. Connections made on the last journey from Vancouver to Buenos Aires live strong in both of us through an intertwining and shared experiences of events. I have been following -as i hope most of you have as well- the trials and tribulations of my partner in crime Mr Thomas Kuipers.

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The great man in Bolivia

Yes that’s the one. For the moment, he is the one carrying the livedeleven torch proudly having successfully puttered his noble steed down to Ushuia. We are all living through him at the moment blazing through the red-lit eyes of the goats skull welded onto his battered and bruised but not yet dead mighty KLR 650.

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The beast lives

He has sold this bike, may it rest in peace. May the next rider have half the adventures we had with this crazy beast named Joe. As most of you might have guessed by now, I’m not with him at the moment. My black thunderbolt with the dead battery is sitting in the same garage as the red-black dragon ghost of Joe “the Duck” Harvey once sat, in a suburban garage in Montevideo Uruguay in the capable hands of our bike guardian and official friend of livedeleven.com Kevin.

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Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, July 2015

So what am I doing then? I’m not sure if i can even answer that question. As you might of read in Thomas’ recap post, we both flew back from Montevideo to Amsterdam where we both spent time living on couches and caravans and I spent additional time visiting my parents in the south eastern corner of France. From here I went to the United States and I find myself now sitting on a tire found by the side of the road supporting bits of wood arranged in a way one might call a chair, around two kilometers from a town called Bacalar in Mexico. I ask at the moment that you hold your questions about my greater direction in life and similar aspirations for the moment. My story in the United States has only just begun. Rest assured that you, dear reader, will find all the answers you seek in due time, in the form of a featured livedeleven piece or some other purchased eBook which admittedly would only serve to prolong my random, unorganized, and poorly planned world tour.

So why Bacalar? Well for starters, this would be a good time to bone up on your livedelven content (read it, seriously).

A typical “rest day”

You can see here why I chose to come to this particular spot in Mexico after spending time in the United States. In short, I was looking for Miguel. My own Dean Moriarty. A 60 something year old Englishman whose personality is unjust to attempt to describe in one sentence. He is the reason we even stayed in this town in the first place. His thoughts are a rambling concoction of his two decades living in Mexico combined with an innumerable mix of whatever he has lived before which at this time I still have no idea nor hold any aspirations to knowing in the future. The fact of the matter is that Miguel is a guy that you want to meet. That’s all you need to know for the moment.

You might not like him, he might not like you, but no-one has ever met him without knowing who Miguel is. He sits atop a blazing saddle riding the lightning rod of life, nothing matters to him except the amount of stolen cigarettes sitting in the left pocket of his worn track pants and the future prospects of more cigarettes or beer in he near future. In his pocket is probably your lighter, taken with a smile and a wink and you dare not ask for it back lest you feel bad for hassling the poor old Englishman who will undoubtedly lead you in a field of circular logic before you forgot what you were even asking about. He knows what he’s doing, and you might even convince yourself that you know what he’s doing but you don’t. This bird was not meant to be caged, but to fly free and aimlessly before likely dying poor and unknown with nothing but a used and battered overloaded passport left under his head to be used as a pillow.

All of this is a long winded way of saying that I needed to find my Dean in Bacalar, Miguel. I landed in Cancun from San Francisco with no clue where I would find him except for his last known location near Bacalar Mexico. This is not the sort of person who you can contact on Facebook chat or send an email to. My last contact with him occurred when Thomas and I drove towards Belize with Miguel standing shoe-less in the campsite we were working at smoking an joint, no doubt thinking about who would be the replacement travelers who could make shopping runs to Bacalar to buy his cigarettes. I arrived at the botadero to no avail. After walking through 1.5kms of jungle I was informed by Ramiro that Miguel was not here, but rather somewhere on the outskirts of Bacalar doing his thing with some sort explanation too complicated that even myself or Ramiro himself could even be bothered to explain or understand.

I spent new years at the botadero, with nothing better to do and determined to continue my quest to find the lunatic that I had spent so much time with a year ago. He arrived unexpectedly that night with Benji and Gerry, two doctor friends from Chetumal who had come by to spend the New Year with Alejandro, who owns the Botadero San Pastor. Gerry I knew already, he had was a regular last year at the botadero who had cured an eye infection of mine and with whom I had taken a powerful dose of DMT in Alejandro’s straw hut by the lagoon.

I was beside myself with joy as I ran towards Miguel to salute the warrior of blurred colors. I hung around him for the new year in the botadero and soaked up his energy and he wandered around the place oblivious to everything yet taking in everything. At one point I led him to the jungle where he wanted to be alone to experience perfection and he lay down among the sticks where various ants and spiders crawled over him for an unknown amount of time. I walked away and continued talking to the middle aged Swiss cyclists, picking up once again our conversation on the origin of life and the spirit of travel.

Which goes a little something like this

I learned later that he had taken eye drops of liquid LSD with Benji and Gerry and the whole crew had been completely in outer space. It just seemed like normal Miguel to me. I went to bed relatively early, drunk but not much more and in the morning Miguel told me to come and crash at his place which I did several days later. The botadero had changed, Miguel had been thrown out in a confusing power struggle involving Alex (Alejandro) as well as Ivan from Mexico City and a gang of french volunteers, one of which Alex had been having sex with with but now were long gone. None of it reality mattered. I tried my best to understand the situation as Miguel’s mind back flipped and somersaulted around the topic and eventually resigned myself to the fact of things as they were. The botadero with Miguel was no more, but another adventure was just beginning.

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The jungle road to the botadero

When I arrived at Miguel’s house which he had always held since he was working at the botadero yet never talked about I descended into a world that I had been a part of a year ago yet had taken a form of which I had never experienced before. The struggles were still present. I need two packs of cigarettes a day, my pan dulce, my coffee, and my weed every single day, that’s what I need, my parachute. The parachute he referred to was his travelers pouch he wore on occasion through his journeys through the streets of Bacalar where he wandered into every store he could find and would always came out with something.

On one such occasion, I was in an internet cafe while he was sorting out some sort of deal to smuggle cigarettes from the free zone towards Belize and sell them to stores in Bacalar. He was meeting with a buyer out the front and I could see them crouching on the sidewalk. At one point I overheard “El Caballo Loco” as he is known in town, getting mad and wandering off. He came back 10 minutes later and walked into the internet cafe, barefoot as always, and holding a hamburger. He hugged everyone in the cafe and pulled me out so we could sit down and have a meeting. It was a matter of great importance, much more important that whatever I was doing. We sat down out the front of a bank and he ripped the hamburger in half. There was no point in me asking where he got that from or even trying to understand what happened with his smuggling operation. He’d tell me when he felt like it and I probably wouldn’t even understand when he did.

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Sitting in the dirt and being confused since 2012 (photo in Bulgaria)

It is like this that I found myself scrounging through my backpack for loose cigarettes, sitting in the dirt while Miguel anxiously waited his morning fix. Of course, I had the money to pay for pretty much anything that he wanted, but rather I chose to tell him I had no money and to enter the game with him. Ok, here’s the sketchy plan… he would say, which always prefaced a rambling idea that usually involved hitting up some hostels for some free beer and the chance to steal some lighters. We’ve gotta go hit up Marco, that way we can sort out the sink situation, he’s got a part for me that I need to finish the snake…(two months later, the sink situation is not fixed, his “snake” he is decorating the sink with is in the same situation)… he’s said he can let us use his boat to take some girls on a tour of the lagoon if they buy us a six pack then we can make a few hundred pesos on the side for ourselves how does that sound? Sounded like a good idea I guess, although I only half understood what he was trying to say.

As usual, it was hard to tell if even he knew what he was talking about. There was never anything set in stone except the prospect of pan dulce, cigarettes, weed, and maybe the errand beer or two along the way. This mission ended predictably, Miguel made a date with the girls who never showed up. Marco’s boat wasn’t there, neither was anyone in the hostel we knew to steal their boat for a joyride on the lagoon. We wandered the streets towards more friendly territory, Casa Lulu’s where Miguel managed to get both of us drunk for free by convincing the entire hostel that it was my birthday. On the way back we ran into a french couple out the front of the bus station who had arrived late in Bacalar from Cancun and didn’t have a place to stay. They spoke no English but I served my role as Miguel’s French translator by wrangling them off the streets and giving them a free place to stay at Miguel’s house in the simple exchange for paying the taxi ride for the four of us and buying a six pack of beer.

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The casa

I came to realize that nothing had really changed and that our experience in the botadero had been one which had wholly to do with the experience of having Miguel there. I followed him where he went our of sheer curiosity like how traffic inevitably slows down to look at an overturned car by the side of the road. A “Haight Kid” (a term referring to young homeless people who wander around Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco) whom I met hitchhiking back from Willits in Northern California to Oakland had told me that Money is Free and I was starting to realize how right he was. Miguel didn’t need to be told that, and bringing that conversation up with him would only succeed in being labelled as a hippy.

The simple exchange of goods or services for other goods or services was all that was needed. Martina didn’t agree of course. She had been living with Miguel on his property and was outraged that we had invited the french couple to put up the tent on the grass for only a pack of beer and a taxi ride. Her protests fell on deaf ears. Miguel didn’t understand her argument and I didn’t care. I avoided a long walk back to Miguel’s house and earned three beers for the simple cost of having spoken French for a bit and meeting people that I found interesting enough to write about in a blog post two months later.

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Poco a Poco, that’s all you can do

Santiago, the Negro, and Tarzan came over from time to time, sitting on crusty old stumps of wood and smoking joints with Miguel and I at any old time of the day or night. They were Miguel’s old friends, the originals, of which I have no doubt have a deeper and more profound understanding of Miguel that I could ever hope to attain. Santiago is a 72 year old native of Quntana Roo who speaks more Maya than English although has a burning desire to learn he whatever can from everyone he meets. For myself, it was to speak English and I would spend many an hour with the man drawing out sentences in the dirt and getting him to repeat phrases.

He had a part of his foot blown off by a shotgun which had fallen out of a tree a few decades ago which he has remedied by melting bits of rubber onto his shoe to account for the different heights of each leg. One of Miguel’s plans once he has money is to take Santiago to Chetumal to get special shoes made for his friend. The cost would be somewhere around 2,000 pesos, or around $110USD which neither Santiago or Miguel have any chance of having any time soon. It’s a distant project which is unlikely to materialize. Santiago doesn’t care, and even if he had the money wouldn’t be spending it on fancy shoes for himself.

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Artwork at the campo

This is Miguel in Bacalar. He admittedly says he has no clue who anyone is. Don’t ask them what their names are; that way you don’t have to remember them. This being the case, there are a small group of people of which he has taken the time and the effort to remember their names. I guess I’m lucky enough to consider myself one of those people. Those who make the list generally have known him for years and include the likes of Santiago, The Negro, Tarzan, the Gordo and Linda. Most of which are not actually their real names but have been insisted by Miguel such that family members of those people call them by their honorary Miguel-appointed names.

During this time, there was an anxiety that floated around in the air as Miguel spent a large part of the day planning his departure. I had been living with him at the campo for around two weeks and he was planning to see the full moon at the mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala.

This is Tikal

His land situation was confusing at best and I tried my best to understand. On the Yucatan peninsula, foreigners are not permitted to own land that is 50kms from the coast or 100kms from any border. It rules out a large part of the peninsula, places such as Tulum, Chetumal, Playa del Carmen, Cancun, San Cristobal, Palenque, and of course Bacalar. As with most cases in Mexican bureaucracy, there is a way around it. Foreigners are allowed to “start a company” anywhere meaning all you have to do to own land is to say its a company. This is what Miguel has done, but he was running into troubles and growing tired of the whole ordeal. He had come to the conclusion that he needed to move on and was running around frantically trying to sort out deals to get rid of his land so he can make his way further south.

In the mean time, I continued my own sketchy plan by heading to BPM Festival in Playa del Carmen for my second year in a row to get a healthy dose of techno before heading back to Bacalar. I managed to hitch hike from Bacalar to Tulum in one hit and then took a collectivo straight to a liquor store before heading to my hostel to prepare for my most anticipated night of the festival and the only event for which I had bought a ticket in advance, Keinemusik. I went to two other parties there before deciding to head to Tulum to see Maceo Plex play in a cenote on the outskirts of town. I showed up at a hostel and bought a bottle of Mescal and got to work before wandering off down to the road to try and hitch hike to the party which was about 5kms away from town. In drunken confidence, I felt that I could walk that distance if need be but I stuck out my thumb anyway in the hopes of getting a ride.

BPM Festival 2015

It didn’t take too long before someone stopped, although it wasn’t the free loving hippy van I had been hoping for. It was the Tulum Municipal Police arriving in a pick up truck. Great! The cops are going to give me a ride! I thought but I was quite wrong. They came out aggresively and started shouting at me, asking what I have. COCAINE?! ECSTACY!? WHAT DO YOU HAVE! WHAT HAVE YOU TAKEN?! They shouted. I had nothing, and I told them that I was simply drunk, and on my way to a party. They handcuffed my hands behind my back and threw me into the back of their pick up, lying me on my back with my body weight crushing my hands and the cold steel digging into my wrists. They rummaged through my pockets and seemed to get even more angry when they realized I had nothing. They drove me to the police station for additional questioning as I protested, shouting that I just wanted to party. I’m just drunk, I want to party! I shouted to no avail.

We arrived at the police station and they un-cuffed me, and soon the prisoners were leaning through the metal bars to get a look at the scene which was unfolding. They asked for my name and my date of birth, pointless information that I was happy to give up if it meant that they would let me go. I stumbled over to the wall and sarcastically asked them if they wanted to read my height too and a confused rookie walked over and noted how tall I was. I kept on asking them if I could smoke a cigarette but they told me I wasn’t allowed to smoke in the station. The prisoners started yelling at me, asking for me to throw them cigarettes. I managed to sneak a couple to the cells by flicking them while the police weren’t looking but on one occasion I was caught and the officers decided that I probably wasn’t worth the trouble. I was making too much of a scene. I had noticed that while they were rummaging through my pockets they had taken 100 pesos from me as well as my sunglasses. I pointed at the man who took it and told everyone what he had done. They police just laughed. I got progressively more angry and the captain eventually grabbed me on the back of my neck and threw me to the curb. I foolishly threw my only lighter to the ground in frustration and I lost it in the darkness. It was now around 2am. I had wasted two hours, I had no more money, no lighter, and I had been driven around in circles and no longer had any clue where I was. I just wanted to get to the party.

I didn’t know what else to do so I stuck my thumb out. The first car that stopped was a young man who amazingly was heading to cenote dos osos as well to see Maceo Plex. He could take me there, the only catch was that he wanted to stop by his house first to drink a beer and smoke a joint. That seemed fine by me. I arrived at the party finally and managed to meet up with Federico who I had met at Playa. Maceo Plex was still playing and Agents of Time would play well into the morning. I stayed there until around 11am and hitch hiked back to Tulum where I already overstayed my check out time but decided to just fall asleep there until I was kicked out. They never came and I stayed an extra night in Tulum and secretly slipped out of the hostel without paying the extra night. I got a ride back to Bacalar in an 18 wheeler and before I knew it I was back among the Miguel madness.

By the time he left on the 20th of January, nothing was sorted out of course except that he would be heading to Tikal. He picked up his army rucksack which must have weighed close to 40kgs and hopped in the back of Teresa’s truck to be driven to the intersection for Escarcega where he could hitch hike to Palenque and from there cross the border to Guatemala. This is your place now, you can do what you want. I suggest you get some guests, charge them 50 pesos a night, then you got your cigarettes and your pan dulce if you know what I mean! Alright then, Chingaroo was the last scattered phrase he told me before leaving. I was at the campsite with Martina and now there were just two of us.

Within a few days, some friends of Martina came over and about a week later there were seven of us. Kia was from Chile and traveled around by making jewelry and selling it to tourists. Hugo was Martina’s boyfriend and was a painter also from Argentina. I had been sitting in a cafe in Bacalar when a Canadian girl called Cheyenne walked in saying she had recognised me in Playa del Carmen and Tulum, apparently we had a conversation which I had forgotten. I invited her over for 50 pesos a night. Two Mexicans were there as well, Juancho and Jarocho (pronounced HA-RO-CHO), who lived in Bacalar but needed a place to stay.

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Myself and Jarocho at the campo

Here is where I would assume my de-facto role along with Martina of being a sort of a land owner and camp site manager, with all the ups and downs that come along with it. We never intended to make any profit from the site, but merely make enough money to feed ourselves and others. Much like Miguel would do at the botadero, never having any cash on hand but always having something to eat, smoke and drink. I did a lot of writing in this time, heading to the lagoon to work on my book about my time in California and I also hung around with Juancho and Jarocho, sinking cawamas and distilled sugar cane at the camp site.

Daily tasks revolved around the simple things. Working the machete to clear up more land for campers, collecting fire wood, making sure we have water, and general cleaning. I took a particular liking to the machete, clearing jungle in the sun and taking breaks to drink some coffee or to write a bit. Martina mostly stayed to herself and hung around with Hugo, while Kia spent a lot of time towards the lagoon at Casa Lahar, a hostel where she had friends. Cheyenne helped me with the machete and sung songs while we worked. Jarocho had several bits of land where he spent time working and Juancho had his friends in Bacalar where he spent a lot of time during the day.

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All business Jarocho

Like at the botadero, every day was Sunday in the campo and the daily missions took up most of the day, with the remaining time being spent chilling out and taking it easy. Like any place where there are more than one person living together politics took hold after a while as Martina attempted to assert her dominance among the group, which didn’t take kindly to her outbursts. Juancho, Jarocho and I dubbed her mama Martina as her most common outburst revolved around trivial placements of items such as where we should keep the water jug and how to stack the pots and pans. It didn’t really matter, and after arguing with her once I quickly gave up and decided she wasn’t worth it.

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Juancho agreed, he would rather get shitfaced and wreck shit.

One day she brought back a French couple from the cafe in town where she worked who would be staying with us. Their names were Charlie and Steph and they were wholeheartedly on board with our idea of working for your stay. Charlie was energetic and got to work with trying to fix the roof of the ktichen/dining room/living room which would leak badly when there was rain. He found bits of scrap metal and hammered them in place and ran around looking for his next project. Steph was outgoing and eager to learn Spanish, and spent a lot of time with Kia learning how to make crafts.

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Carefree Steph dancing away in the sun

It was beginning to be a big group living at the campo, and surprisingly it all worked out quite nicely. Large group meals were cooked in the fireplace every night and we ate well. I spent a lot of time talking with Hugo, who at first I didn’t like but after a while I grew to consider him a friend. He was an interesting character who would at time walk off from a conversation to sit in a chair and think silently before coming back 20 minutes later and continuing where we had left off with a new idea to contribute. He thought deeply about everything and he taught me to do the same. Thomas hit the mark when he wrote that travel never answers pre-determined questions, but rather, opens the door to answering questions you had never thought of before.

Through Hugo, I was learning that through travel you can also learn the ability to question the known answers, as well as answer the unknown questions. I downloaded for him The War Against Cliche by Martin Amis and we read it together and discussed the book. He would read excerpts and, not being a native English speaker, would ask me what they mean and I found that I wasn’t even quite sure myself. We discussed phrases such as “It is the summit of idleness to deplore the present” going back and forth and repeating it to each other until we came to an understanding. Once the light bulb flashed and we understood the phrase he would gleefully skip over to Martina and explain the concept in Spanish and seemed frustrated at the blank stare she gave at his explanation. He would spent the rest of the day repeating that phrase to himself while painting, and reading more pages with intense concentration.

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I feel well, also I am seated well.

The time came however for Martina and Hugo to leave, along with Kia. Kia was, as most travelers in Bacalar, heading to Palenque and San Cristobal while Martina and Hugo were heading to Tulum where Hugo had his apartment. I got the impression that Martina was finally caving in to pressure from myself and the others who had been largely ignoring her for the last few weeks. As a last act, she charged Charlie and Steph 500 pesos for staying at the camp site which she slid into her pocket and told them not to tell anyone (Charlie told me as soon as it happened). As she left, we decided we would be having a bonfire and a party which we did later that night.

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We opened “The Bar” when Martina left. Every beer must be opened with a machete.

Things have a tendency of simply happening without cause or reason in the campo, which is part of the reason why I enjoyed it so much. One such occasion occurred when Charlie, Steph and I were having a tea at around 10pm and Juancho arrived on his bike roaring drunk. MY FRIEND HAS A BOAT, LETS GO ON A BOAT RIDE!! He exclaimed. I saw no reason not to so we broke out the cana and started loading up some pre-drinks while Juancho spent the next hour on the phone drunkenly confirming his plans. By the time it was more or less organized it was close to midnight and Jarocho graciously offered to drive us to the lagoon to go and collect the boat.

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Discussing further boating operations

Of course, Juancho’s friends never showed up so it looked like we were the ones who would be captain of the boat. We loaded up six cawamas and zoomed off into the lagoon. We took turns driving the boat at full speed, myself foolishly trying the sharpest turns I could in a stupid plan to capsize it which I thought would be funny. We arrived at an abandoned building and walked around before getting back in the boat and gunning it further down the lagoon, twice getting it stuck in shallow water.

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Easy does it now…

We kept driving and drinking and shouting when the motor came to an abrupt stop. We had predictably run out of gas in the middle of the lagoon, around 6kms from where we were meant to return it. Without much choice, Charlie, Juancho and I stripped down and started swimming, pulling the heavy boat around 2kms back to shore where luckily we ended up at the Casa China, where we knew the owner Dario.

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Officer Charlie taking matters into his own hands

An angry German got out of bed and stormed down to the dock telling us to be quiet and I calmed him down before loudly laughing as soon as he went back to his bed. Juancho got on the phone to Dario to see if we could steal some gas from him. He gave the OK and we began to siphon gas from his boat, using empty beer bottles to move the gas from Dario’s boat to ours. During the process, one of the bottles inexplicably broke inside the gas tank but we decided to plow on.

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Gas tank full of broken glass? No worries here mate

Once we left we ran into Juancho’s friends who had come out looking for us since we had been gone for hours. We were once again on the verge of running out of gas and they decided to tow us back to the dock. Stumbling back to the campo, we got back at day break and had a last beer before heading to bed.

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Juancho, myself and Charlie taking the HMS Campo on its maiden voyage. 

At any given moment at the campo, anyone can arrive a point which illustrated with the arrival of four people at some point in late February. Two Italians Davide and Gianluca had met with Miguel where he was staying in Chemuyil and had been sent our way by the man himself. Along the road they had met two Argentinians, Flor and Julia who arrived along with them. I didn’t even bother trying to ask them for money, they seemed like people who would get it and they did. With Steph, Charlie, Juancho, Jarocho, and myself we were once again nine people and without the cloud of Martina looming above us, the campsite ran as smooth as ever. The company was very welcome, however life pleasantly remained the same. Everyone seemed to have something to teach one another, whether it be juggling, crafts, cooking, solving a Rubik’s cube (my skill), language, job opportunities, singing, dance, building or simply thinking.

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Juggling, dancing and general derping about

In this time, contrary to when Kia, Martina, and Hugo were there, we stayed mostly at the campo and chilled out together. Davide and Gianluca were an impressive couple, they had been living in Berlin for the last few years working for a French call center and spoke English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian fluently. Things we did, we did mostly as a group. One night we decided to support our local crew member and go to the local bar where Juancho was playing with his band. We arrived at the Galeon de Piratas, as Juancho was beginning to play with his band, who play a delicious mix of tribal and reggae. Juancho was far too hammered to play his drums and spent most of the concert shouting into the microphone to the small crowd.

At one point, he began to simply play whatever he felt like as his band grew tired of his drunken tomfoolery. The concert had to be stopped for a moment as he began to pass out in the middle of the concert and the band ended up leaving the stage prematurely. Juancho didn’t care, at least not at this point. He was a band member and therefore could get free drinks at the bar so he started lighting up cigarettes inside the venue and stumbling around the place with a beer in each hand. I wish I could say that I wasn’t egging him on, but I was. The whole scene was hilarious. There I was with a big group of friends in my defacto hometown in Bacalar Mexico, enjoying a spectacle for the four walls to see.

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The calm before the storm

A mix of joy and sadness occurred on March the 2nd. It marked the day that Charlie, Steph, Gianluca, Davide, Flor and Julia left together for Palenque, while also being the day that Deborah (whom you will recall from this blog post) was scheduled to arrive in Bacalar. They left early in the morning and we said our goodbyes. Davide and Gianluca would be taking a bus while the rest would be hitch hiking separately from the road to Escarcega towards San Cristobal. We said our goodbyes as I saw them drift off into the distance, onward to new adventures. I met up with Deborah that night and introduced her to the crew, Juancho and Jarocho. We all got along well and broke out the cana to celebrate.

Myself and Deborah AKA Dbag, Debaroo, D-money etc

My time in Bacalar with Deborah marked in some sense the end of the camp life but a taste of my old life of being on the road was creeping into the back of my tongue. Dawning on me was the reality of my black KLR650 waiting for me in Uruguay and all the adventures that await me over there and in Europe. We stayed a night at the botadero, and I introduced her to Ramiro, Gerry, Alejandro, Eric, Cesar, Norbi, Julian and the botadero dog named Oso.

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He runs things around there.

We spent about a week in Bacalar hanging with Juancho and Jarocho before it came time for us to make the trip up to the north to meet up with Miguel in Chemuyil, 20kms to the north of Tulum. He had stopped by in Bacalar to meet up with some old friends from England and we spent a day with him when he gave us the invite to stay with him there. Hitting the road again sounded good to me.

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Hitch hiking the wrong way

We went to the side of the road and stuck our thumbs out and within around 15 minutes we were picked up by a property lawyer who was able to drive us straight to Chemuyil. It seemed like a good time to do some business so I shook his hand and accepted his business card. It’s always useful to have a lawyer’s card when in Mexico I thought.

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Getting property advice and a ride to Chemuyil

We met up with Miguel at Cavelands, which was a high-end campsite owned by his Dutch friend Renzo. Drama was in the air as Miguel explained to us that we would have to be paying for our stay. He had invited a Finnish girl, Tully, and she volunteered for a week with Renzo while Miguel was away in Bacalar. When he arrived back things had turned sour between Renzo and Tully and she was asked to leave. Renzo was a drunk, and not the jovial kind. He woke up with tequila shots and 8 o’clock in the morning to get his day started and continued on the same trajectory until he had insulted everyone he could. That’s at least the story I heard from Miguel. The money was getting to Renzo and he didn’t seem to concerned with housing “poor” campers. With Deborah and I he was decent enough but the tension in the air had us considering if we even wanted to be there.

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Rich person’s tipi and our pathetic little tent, crammed to the back of the site out of view from the upper class.

The plus side was that there was a Dutch couple there who were wildly interesting. The man (although I forgot his name) was the owner of a large motorcycle magazine in France and in Holland and his wife (also forgot her name) had traveled all over Africa and around the world. With Miguel thrown into the picture any sense of weird tension from past events more or less was blown to the wind. The camp site was beautiful, with -as the name would suggest – caves. We spent our time here hanging around with Miguel, Renzo and the Dutch couple as well as making day trips to Turtle Beach (there are no turtles there) and Tulum.

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A cave with hammocks? Yes.

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Still wearing the same clothes in every picture.

As Miguel inevitably left once again towards Palenque, we decided we would head to the beach in Tulum for some camping. Here we wandered around in the sand, swam in the waves, threw bits of seaweed at each other and laughed. It was my holiday away from a holiday. Sadly, too soon the time came from Deborah as well to continue on her own journey back to the United States. I accompanied her further north to Cancun where we stayed the night at a hostel before she had her flight early in the morning.

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The next day, after a rushed but heartfelt goodbye I began to pack up my things once again for the final trip back to Bacalar. I took collectivos to Tulum and stuck out my thumb, not far from where I had been picked up by the police two months before. It took me 8 hours and four rides to get back to the campo where I am currently staying with Jarocho. Juancho at the moment is playing with his band in Cozumel. The campo I know is in as good hands and I can imagine.

I will be hitch hiking in three days to Cancun where I have a flight to Brazil, to Porto Alegre where I will take a bus down to Montevideo to see my motorcycle. I have the parts I need to get her ready to ride, however I lack the funds to travel for any meaningful amount of time. The goal is to get it ready for my next trip, set for next year, to ride the coast of Brazil. I will need to ride my bike out of Uruguay for 24 hours in order to renew my 1 year permit, meaning I’ll likely be heading towards Argentina for a short trip before heading back to Uruguay to park ol Denzel back in the capable hands of Kevin.

I hope to see my friend again…

My time left at the campsite I am spending writing as much as I can and reflecting on what has become a new home here in Mexico. I walk around the campo and see all the little improvements to the site that I have been witness to in my nearly three months of staying in this sleepy little town by the lagoon of the seven colors. Hugo made most of the “chairs” at the camp site, battering them into place with old planks of wood we found lying around. He painted them with palm trees and vibrant colors and each have their own quirks. Davide made the ashtray from an old coconut and twine he had in his backpack. He painted the coconut and made a basket, hanging it from the ceiling. Martina painted most of the kitchen with beautiful white silhouettes, although a drunken Juancho painted over it in a thuggish blue. Our little sayings are plastered around the place, a mix of Miguel-isms such as “Poco Poco” (little by little) as well as sayings that are strictly campo. The paintings of “con calma” on the wooden planks by the fireplace and “si hay, no hay” painted on trees by the clothes line remind me of drunken paint parties had with Juancho and the crew. Charlie’s work on the roof is still holding strong and the Chia trees I planted when I first arrived have begun to sprout new leaves. Towards the bench, by the entrance to the kitchen is a painting by Flor.

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“My mother told me to gather flowers, that I should go to the campo to find love”

I’m not sure what to make of that, but I know I’ll be thinking about the people who have passed through the campo whenever I think about that song that we all sung so loudly together. I’ll be back in a year’s time, to visit the  campo again and to visit my  friends, whomever they may be. In the mean time I guess the only thing to do is to keep on living the leven.

Until next time.

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It’s never over

One day two boys sat on a beach in Istanbul. They had met some people that were riding bicycles from Turkey to Kenya. This impressed the boys tremendously, and they dreamt that one day they would also do something great and impressive, just like that. Why don’t we ride a motorcycle all the way from North America to the southern tip of South America, one of them suggested. (Funny, I don’t even remember which of those boys made this suggestion.)

413612_4327078699439_1260763351_oJulien and me four years ago.

Four years have passed since that day the boys sat on the beach, dreaming. One and half years have passed since they stopped dreaming and left Vancouver.

And now, 42,000 kilometers later, one of those boys is in Ushuaia, the most southern city of the world.

A dream… completed? I thought I’d feel like that. But I don’t want to feel like that. And I don’t feel like that. If a dream is completed that means it has ended. Dividing life in chapters, consequently closing them, moving on to the next one. Fuck that.

I’d rather want my life to be one grand blurry dream, never stopping, never pausing. I’m not going to look back at this trip as something I did, I’m going to look back at this as something I’m still doing. Realizing that life is the dream is the only way of living the dream. To add some emphasis to these words: I’m going to keep this blog alive. De Leven will be Lived.

For a next trip, how about Bangkok to Amsterdam, in which countries like Burma, Nepal, India, Pakistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Kazachstan will be crossed? Let’s see what happens.

For now I owe you the story of the ride from Uruguay to Ushuaia.

Continue reading

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Man vs. Rust

I successfully brought a lot of parts into Uruguay. Great.

Next step: say hi to my KLR.

I actually wanted to do that as soon as I got there, but it appears that mechanics and bike-storage-people also have weekends, so I needed to wait until Monday. It was Saturday. Hmm, what could I do while I waited… That’s right, get fucking trolleyed.

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My hostel, the Willy Fogg (will he fuck?), proved to be an excellent location to do just this. There are rumors going around that there is a time warping vortex lurking on the roof terrace which makes hours feel minutes and weeks feel like days. Although these claims have not been scientifically verified.

This situation intensified when some very excellent musicians from Chili showed up.

DSC_0496The things we do.

DSC_0542And making friends with very touchy transvestites.

Because of the roof terrace, it didn’t take long before it was Monday. I showed up at Willie Motos and was very, very, VERY pleased to see my bike!!!

DSC_0570There he is, shining bright like the star he is.

I kind of forgot how much of a wreck it was. I wasn’t expecting that much of it, but still, goddamn what a piece of shit. Love it.

DSC_0569On the IV. Do we have a pulse?

Also the rust really took its toll. A couple of months ago we got an email from Kevin, the dude that we stored the bikes with, saying that our bikes were rusting really badly while they were parked in his storage. He asked if we had been driving anywhere with lots of salt. Hmm, how about the salt flats? It would have probably been a good idea to wash that salt off before storing them for half a year.

The next step was to install all the parts that I brought. Willie recommended against doing it myself, because the bike was so fucked. But as you know I’m stubborn as fuck so I went to try it myself anyway.

DSC_0573Roadside mechanics.

I parked the bike on a street near my hostel and got started. Replace a cable here, replace one there and now let’s undo some bolts. Hmm, stuck. This one? Also stuck. Fucking hell, everything is stuck. Rust sucks! I wasn’t even able to get my rear wheel off. With my tail between my legs I pushed my bike to a nearby mechanic to ask for help.

That turned out to be an excellent, very perfectionistic dude that sanded most of the rust off the most important parts.

DSC_0578Fernando, my savior.

With a new chain and sprockets, my bike was starting to look ridable again. There were a couple of more things that needed to be done that were beyond my powers. For that I raced back to Willie again.

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Things like an oil leak. And taking the forks apart.

But once that was done, the bike was really done!!! Back in very good condition, or well, very good at least considering how it was before. It’s probably now in better state than it has been since that crash in the US.

DSC_0491I also spent lots of time with Eddie, a video editor from Amsterdam who’s ‘sort of’ living in Montevideo. He has a Vespa, that he likes taking on rides to ‘Noord’. 10/10

There was one more task though, maybe even the most vital element of the whole bike fixing mission.

If this would fail the whole trip would have been fucked.

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Obviously I’m talking about the goat skull that my friends in Amsterdam gave me. Thanks so much again, best gift ever. It needed to be installed on the bike.

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For this I didn’t need a bike mechanic but a welder. The dude above matches this description.

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It just took him like 2 hours and that too was DONE! I just needed to install the lights myself and I was completely ready to go.

DSC_0596Vakmanschaft is meisterschaft.

So all in all fixing the bike went well. I couldn’t do as much myself as I’d hoped, but this only set me back an extra $100 or so, so I can live with that. 4 Days of crossing around Montevideo and no major hiccups.

The day after everything was done I left.

But not in the direction of Ushuaia.

See, someone told me that there were excellent parties in Punta del Este, which is 180 degrees in the opposite direction. So that’s where I’m now. Just a few days here, and then my direction will be south!

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Cheers!