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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.

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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!

 

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What the flipping fuck!? Live de Leven is back!!?

That’s right maggot, Live de Leven is back in business. Before the storm comes silence. The silence has been, so you know what that means.

Things will be different though. This time, Julien and me will not be traveling together. We’re going solo and we’re moving in different directions. I hope that Julien will also make the occasional appearance on this blog, but I can not make any promises, because, as we all know, he’s a lazy bastard (but we love you Julien).

I just spent half a year working in the Netherlands. That’s done.

And I just spent a couple of days with lovely Chaz (or Charley, or Charlotte – she goes by many names) in England. We met in Peru and have been seeing each other quite regularly in Europe now, despite the distance between The Netherlands and England. And they say romance is dead…

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When we met for the second time in Bolivia.

DSC_0480In London.

From England I took a plane straight to Montevideo, where my bike has been parked for half a year. I’ll recollect it and finish the unfinished.

What’s the unfinished? The super short recap of what happened during the previous lifespan of livedeleven.com.

In September 2014 Julien and me flew to Vancouver, Canada. There we bought two motorcycles. We rode down for 33,000 kilometers past Mexico, Central America, crossed into Colombia by boat from Panama, rode through South America and finally reached Montevideo, Uruguay.

The plan had been to ride all the way to the most southern city in the world: Ushuaia. Unfortunately, we never took into consideration that even in South America you have winters, especially as you get close to Antarctica. Who would have thought. 

On top of that, Julien was broke. And on top of that, I was more than broke, being heavily in debt (but thanks for lending me the money, mom, dad). So we parked the bikes in Uruguay (safely), and decided to call it a day and fly to the Netherlands together. That was July 2015, and it was the day that the great silence on our blog began.

A recap is no recap without some pics of highlights!

bikes-first-picBuying the bikes in Vancouver.

moneyshot-cropped-smallMade some riding friends in California.

DSC00398“Working hard” in Mexico.

DSC00893Living with a Guatemalan family for two weeks to improve our Spanish.

DSC00767Realizing how not-waterproof our tent really was.

DSC01477Riding death road in Bolivia.

DSC01591Riding through a motherfucking snowstorm in the desert. Julien’s battery didn’t work, so we needed to jumpstart it about 5-10 times a day.

DSC01568My frame breaking in half in the middle of the desert. Solution: tie the frame back together with rubber.

DSC01053Petting a very fat dog. Definitely a highlight.

DSC01636After almost a week of waiting on the snow to clear up finally being able to cross from Chile into Argentina.

DSC01649When we made it to Buenos Aires we drove our bikes onto a square in the centre and violently kicked our bikes onto the ground. That mess you see is champagne.

But does the bike still work after 33,000 km?

Barely. It has suffered. But, it is a KLR. A trusty, mighty, indestructible KLR. I’m carrying a bag filled with parts to get it back up to speed. So the first week or so will be spent in Montevideo, giving my old friend some sweet loving.

About the silence: what we have been doing for half a year

First, we partied. Then, we partied some more. We also got drunk. Then, we partied a bit more. It’s good to see your friends again after 10 months of being away, you know. 

We did more than partying though. De Leven also has to be Lived while not exactly traveling — even though one might say that life is one big trip — but that might be just a tad too much of a cliche.

Alas, let this be the main topic of this blogpost, and let us call it The Half Year of Silence Saga. A saga divided into 3 episodes, because let’s be fair, a blog post spanning half a year instead of the usual 2-4 weeks seems daunting.

As life is rarely chronological, neither will these episodes be.

The Half Year of Silence Saga – Episode 1 – The Housing Crisis

Being unable to pay for hostels or an apartment (do you understand just how broke we were?), and having no place to stay in Amsterdam, we faced a housing crisis that we both stood up to in our own way.

Julien is no stranger to crises of this nature and it wasn’t for long until he came up with a bulletproof solution: couches of friends. Friends’ places in Amsterdam that he’s crashed: Vigo, Nynke, Melanie, Remco, [Floris, Bart, Girish, Constant -> one house], mine (back when I still had an apartment) and certainly many more that I can’t come up with right now. This is a foolproof solution that has been thoroughly tested in our research facilities, certified by Livedeleven.com(tm).

My solution: a caravan.

DSC_0202Isn’t it beautiful?

You might wonder how I got my hands on a caravan. That was Robbin’s gift. He uses a caravan in summer for a festival that he works at, to live in it for a few months, but outside of summer he has no need for it. I did, so he lent it to me. Thanks, Robbin.

You might wonder where I parked it. On a dead-end street. Conveniently placed right in front of my friends’ house, which gave me some of the perks of living in an actual house: running water and electricity. Thanks, Floris, Bart, Girish and Constant.

Then you might also wonder how I was able to illegally park it on a street and live in it for three months without getting caught or kicked out. I wonder that too.

As Dutch autumn ungracefully kicked in and struck down upon me with furious anger, a caravan started to seem like less of a sunny adventure of happiness as it once did in summer. My clothes were wet. My sheets were wet. The mighty caravan seemed waterproof, but in constant rain the humidity did seem to sneak in through the creaks.

Luckily, but also sadly, an opportunity arose. Our beloved Girish, also known as Gier, Jesus, Huisgier, etc., was moving out. We’re still unsure why, but we believe that some birds’ feathers are just too bright to be caged. Obviously, I was first in line to occupy his now empty room.

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Missing: Huisgier

However, there was one caveat. The house being designated student housing legally only allowed students to live there. A loophole had to be found. The loophole came in the form of someone who probably prefers not to be mentioned by name as I’m now about to describe a practice that is illegal.

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This person wasn’t officially registered as living anywhere, besides at his parents. He is also a student. Which means he could officially register at the place where I wanted to live, and I would compensate him for the rent he paid, and I could sneakily live in the room that he was officially renting. Very cheeky indeed. 

The plan worked.

After taking the mattress from the caravan and throwing it unceremoniously on the floor of my new room, moving in was a finished project. It felt good to live in a house again, and it felt good to officially live in my favorite house of Amsterdam together with close friends.

Let’s introduce them.

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Luuk. The undisputed leader of the house. He is strict, yet fair.

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Floris. A true optimist. He can see the positive and the funny side to pretty much everything. If you ever feel like getting carried away and changing your perspective, have a chat with him.

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Constant. A major force behind Zuiderzee BV, the company that takes down walls relentlessly. The other day I saw Constant looking in his box of fucks that he gave, but the box was empty.

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Bart. Keeping classrooms under control like it’s nothing. Smackin’ babies at their christenin’. Meester Bart is masterlijk hard.

The Half Year of Silence Saga – Episode 2 – The Great Escape of Julien Soudy

As the bottom of his wallet was approaching him with lightning speed, The Great Soudy knew that drastic measures were imminent. He’d have to come up with a plan. A plan that would be so crazy, so crazy that it just might work.

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He sat straight up on his couch. One of the many couches that he held so dear. Couch life is certainly not a bad life, The Great One decided. As he looked out of his window, he contemplated the impending doom of being out of money. Actually, to be fair it didn’t scare him that much as in his soul he found courage and bravery from being nearly broke for years. He tapped into this courage and knew that he would, as ALWAYS, come up with something to keep on traveling and never actually work.

You need to be a certain kind of man to be on the road for 4 years. The Great Soudy is exactly this kind of man.

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You have to be willing to give up your comforts. You have to go further than that and not simply live without comfort, but in a constant state of discomfort. That might sound unpleasant, but I told you before that it takes a very certain kind of man to be able to do this.

You have to not give a single fuck. Don’t give a fuck about eating like shit, sleeping in a tent, in the dirt, at a gas station, and working ridiculous “jobs”.

You shouldn’t only be indifferent to these things, you need to like them. You need to love living your life like this, in a way that many people would consider impossible.

The Great One loves it. And he is good at it. Some say he’s the best.

IMG-20160114-WA0005Discussing a business strategy in Amsterdam with Robbin.

So what was his plan this time?

It involves the United States of America, not being too bothered with breaking the law, and being there in the right season. It involved working with a certain type of plant. Let’s call it gardening.

He’d become a gardener.

Having made lots of other gardening friends on the trip, he was well set up to become a great gardener and work on fantastic gardens. How this eventually turned out, you’d have to ask the man himself. I can reveil merely a tip of veil, but I would be out of line to fully disclose this adventure, which is rightfully its own saga.

The Fantastic Soudy looked out onto the horizon of the shores of Zuiderzee and he knew it. It was time to leave this shithole and get rich — or die trying.

The Half Year of Silence Saga – Episode 3 – Get Rich — Or Die Trying

Now my story of getting rich — or dying trying — in The Netherlands.

I’m a programmer. That means I type code, and then you get software. I focus mainly on writing software for the web, so usually I’m programming websites, or applications that have a lot to do with the web but aren’t exactly websites. I do this in various programming languages, mainly these: PHP, JavaScript, CSS and HTML.

So you type stuff like this:

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And then you get stuff like this:

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A good thing for me is that I run my own business which goes by the name of Webvalid. That doesn’t mean I have employees or a fancy office somewhere, but it means that I’m unemployed. Makes it sound a bit less impressive, but this gives me great freedom, which is fantastic if you like to travel.

So I work for other IT companies that basically don’t have enough employees, or that don’t have employees with a specific skillset. I’m the reinforcement for those companies. I usually work for a company like that for a couple of months. In these months I don’t become an employee, but they outsource their work to my company. This is called contracting.

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As mentioned a couple of times already, I was super broke at the end of our last adventure. I needed work fast. I already started looking for work while I was still in Argentina, knowing what date I would arrive. I spoke to a recruiter, who found me a potential job. The potential client: Us Media.

I would have a meeting with Us Media within a week of coming back to the Netherlands. The meeting took place on a Friday. We decided we liked each other and I went to work the Monday after.

The change of lifestyle was intense.

Just a week earlier I was camping in the desert and living like a bum. Suddenly I found myself wearing a buttoned shirt and sitting in an office from 9 to 5. That first week or so was weird. Going to meetings. Sitting at my computer all day. Pretending I wasn’t only thinking of a different life that I had so suddenly left.

While I was traveling I expected it would be very hard to return to The Netherlands, and hard to adapt. A thing that happens while traveling is that you change. Of course your friends and your country back home is also changing, but it doesn’t change as quickly as traveling makes you change. So I was worried I wouldn’t fit in anymore and that life back would become an absolute drag.

This was bullshit. Thank god.

It was easy to get used to The Netherlands. It was so nice to see all my friends again, and to see that the friend group was still intact. My new colleagues at Us Media were awesome. The work was interesting. The house I lived in was fantastic (well it was still a caravan back then, but whatever, I was sort of already living in the Zuiderzee grachtenpand). 

The lesson learned is that non-traveling certainly doesn’t have to suck, it can in fact be just as awesome. It just depends on what you’re doing. I think If I would have lived by myself again in a lone apartment it might have been a different story.

After two months the job at Us Media came to an end. A week before I finished working there, I already had a meeting with two old friends: Rob and Tinky, from The Knowledgebase Company.

IMG-20160111-WA0017Me signing a contract with The Knowledgebase Company with Mr. Strong.

I’ve worked with The Knowledgebase Company for years. Usually parttime, sometimes fulltime, and often not at all, because of other commitments. But we were no strangers to each other, even though it had been a while. In a short rendezvous it was decided I’d work for them again, for at least a couple of months. This ended up being 3,5 months, and I worked there until merely days before I left to go traveling again.

This is a fantastic company to work at. Many try to achieve what they have successfully created: a great company culture. Even though the work they do is serious, it’s fun to work there.

This means that no one shouts at you when you’re late. That you see people walk into the office at 9 in the morning with a smile on their face (yes, it’s apparently actually possible).

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Oh my god, look! It’s smiling people in an office! Arie and Joraaaaaaaaam!

But of course this also came to an end. I find it typical for my life that I’m a freelancer. So often I have to say goodbye. It’s a different side of the golden coin called traveling. For freelancing this is no different: getting to know people for a couple of months and then saying goodbye again. And you know it’s quite bonding to spend 40 hours a week sitting in a box with the same people? It’s sad, but a part of the deal.

DSC_0143Part of the job for The Knowledgebase Company was going to Denmark on a business trip. Fancy as fuck, check out the skybar of my hotel.

DSC_0145And the reception. Quite different from the usual hostel.

The Half Year of Silence Saga – Miscellaneous

Sometimes there simply isn’t that much to say and it’s better to tell the short stories through some pictures. An ode to various other things that happened in the past half year.

DSC_0187Created a fake postbox to convince tourists to put their drugs in before taking their bus.

DSC_0189The writing on it.

DSC_0135Went on a typical holiday to a Dutch island. You can not do this without renting a tandem, that would be offensive.

DSC_0119When we woke up Remco was surprised to find all his clothes ripped to pieces. You have no idea do you?

DSC_0111A wall was just standing there taking up space in our house. So we fucking wrecked the cunt.

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I just had to also buy a bike in the Netherlands.

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Family matters. Especially when they book you a flight for Thailand to come and invite you to come and chill with them for two weeks.

DSC_0338-smallLetting up the wishing balloons there made my mom a happy mom.

DSC_0302And I went on a road trip with my brother.

What’s happening right now

I just arrived at the airport of Montevideo.

I was very happy to pick up my bag from the conveyer belt, thinking that all my troubles were over. I was actually worried that my bag would get through customs, because I was carrying a goat skull with me (more on this in a future blogpost) and a lot of parts for my bike.

Then I turned a corner and saw that my bag was going to get scanned. Fuck.

Obviously I didn’t make it through without questions and I was made to unpack most of my bag. The skull? Illegal. All of the parts? Illegal, unless I’d pay taxes for them somewhere, somehow.

But there is always a solution. The face:

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And also lying about how many parts exactly were in my backpack. “Yeah just two sprockets that’s all”.

To which the nice customs lady replied:

“Alright then, get out of here as quickly as you can. I didn’t see this.”

So yes I made it through, with the skull AND all of my parts!!!

After taking a bus to the centre, which was blazing ACDC at maximum volume, I got to my hostel. It’s the same as I stayed in when I left here and surprisingly I still kind-of remember the way here. It felt strange to walk the same road with the same backpack again, but now not in the direction to the airport, but in the direction of the hostel.

In a few hours I’ll go and see my old red and black friend again. Let’s see how he’s doing, and if he’s up for another adventure.