Saturday, February 18, 2006


¡welcome to colombia!

and so this is the question: you are a wealthy landowner in the states. you have a nice home near a small town. you also have a large farm in the country which is tended and maintained by hired farmhands. these farmhands live on the premises in servant’s quarters that are in close proximity to another house that you also own. a country home. you have spent the day at this country home, accessed by a half mile dirt road, and you are ready to head home, get some dinner, and call it a day. you are driving along this dirt road that you have driven a million times before and you are just about to meet the main road. it’s a predictable pattern that you have followed for years. it’s almost automatic what you are doing. however, this time is different. you meet two cyclists, from colombia. of course, you don’t know they are from colombia yet, but let’s just say that you are sure they are not americans. they are hot, sweaty, smelly, filthy, and they have all these weird bags on their bikes. one of them has a very sweet beard. they motion for you to stop. and so, here is the first question: would you stop? honestly, would you? or would you put the windows up, hit the automatic locks, avoid eye contact at all costs with faces facing forward, and jam on the accelerator? ok. so, let’s say you stop. you put your window down. and one of the cyclists, the one with the sweet beard, says that he has been riding his bike for 7,500 miles and that he is looking for a place to camp. he says he has everything he needs; a tent, a sleeping bag, food, water. he says all he needs is a little bit of flat ground, maybe seven feet by three feet, to spend the night on. he asks if he could do this on your property. and so, here is the second question. what would you say? only you can answer this. but let’s say you are feeling kind and in good spirits and so you say sure. and let’s say that you make a u-turn and tell the cyclists to follow you to your home. and let’s say that your home is surrounded by beautiful flowers and turtles and turkeys and peacocks and geese. and let’s say that you, rather than simply offering flat ground to these cyclists, you open your home to them. you give them a room with a fan, a bed, a place to shower, offer them food, tell them to take the next day off and just hang out in your home if they so choose. you’ve never met them, but you do this, and you tell one of your farmhands to look out for them and help them with whatever they need. and then, with these complete strangers on bikes that you just met five minutes ago, who are in your farm home, without a second thought, you return to your home near the small town where you live. and you don’t worry about what they may or may not be stealing or destroying, because you realize that it’s when you worry about stuff like that is when it actually happens. and so the next morning you wake up and drive your whole family out to meet these guys on bikes and offer them coffee and see them off and wish them a good journey and good luck. is this realistic? it is in colombia.

this is me at the hypothetical though actually real farmhouse putting things into my mouth. pretty much, if i´m not cycling or writing or sleeping, i´m putting things in my mouth.

no matter where you are in the world, if you leave one ocean and go to another, you will inevitably pay for it with a climb. so when i left the atlantic to go to the pacific, i knew what to expect despite the fact that panama, at least to me, has never been synonymous with mountainous. and so the climb began. and so, of course, the rain began, seconded by a ferocious wind. and the grade was so steep, that when my back tire lined up with the painted white line on the road that i was tight-roping on the climb, and if i were pushing on the pedals during this alignment, my back tire, a new one at that, would lose grip and spin uncontrollably necessitating me to throw out a leg to maintain balance. it was definitely a punishing climb. but a beautiful punishing, because i traversed several small indigenous villages, and i love observing, however briefly, how others live. in one of the valleys, i stopped to buy a pound of strawberries (small ones, not the gigantic whitish ones like we have in the states, but small beautiful red ones, about the size of your thumbnail, bursting with flavor) and some bananas. as i sat with these indians and ate, i noticed that at the sound of any approaching vehicle, they would run, actually sprint, to the road, hoping the contents of the vehicle would stop to make a purchase. after watching this for some time, i realized these short dashes into traffic seemed almost desperate. they wanted money. they needed money. they weren’t making very much money. they had kids. kids they dreamed of sending to school. kids that would probably not go to school because there wasn’t enough money. they had thatch roofs. roofs in dire need of repair before the rainy season. roofs that they hoped would one day be corrugated iron. roofs that would probably always be leaves and twigs because there wasn’t enough money for corrugated iron. it was at this point, not the first point, but one of many points, where i silently cursed myself for constantly and drastically oversimplifying things in my head.

this child may be doing this for the next 40 years. there are very few options for him. this is a reality i need to more often acknowledge. not that there is anything undignified in what he is doing, he is serving a purpose. but the point is, it might and probably is not his purpose of choice.

like this guy. does he choose this life? maybe he does and that´s great. but i have to wonder...ifitistobeisituptohim?

i used to live in georgia when i was a kid. when i graduated from college, i decided to drive back to the home where i no longer lived. there was no real reason for the trip. just like there is no real reason for this trip. and just like there doesn’t have to be a reason for anything. but i drove there nonetheless. the thing was, i really didn’t know where my house was, because i never lived there when i was old enough to drive and you know how it is when you’re a kid, you just kind of get in the car and magically get to places. but i had a feeling i could find it, and i did, and when i did, i parked my car and walked around. it was nice to be back, to kind of, if only for the briefest of moments, pretend i had never left, that i was still living there, that i was still a child. but the briefest of moments, like these, pass quickly. and after this passage, my knees kind of started to feel like jelly and i felt a sadness well up in my throat. i was looking at a house, what was once my home, nothing more than wood and glass and brick, but despite such simplicity of description, what i was really looking at was a representation of my childhood. a childhood gone. a childhood never to be had back. no matter what. and i began to cry. i cried for the innocence of my youth, now lost. i cried for my backyard, learning to catch a fly ball with my dad, finally figuring out how to throw a spiral and catch one too, and that azalea bush near which i buried my pet chameleon (it was dead). i cried for a wooden white stairwell that i used to hide under when i was running away from home (it was 20 feet from my backdoor). i cried for days in the sandbox with my sister. i cried for a door that i could remember my grandfather, now just a memory himself, painting. i cried for a patio, remembering a family reunion and all the people that once stood on it, together, with smiles, right there. i cried for the infinite woods behind my house, for the path to the creek that we would cross, for the slanted stone that someone always slipped on (usually me) thus having to walk home with a soaked sneaker. i cried for windows behind which was a room in which countless christmases were celebrated before which cookies and milk were placed by the fireplace (since then, i have traded such fantastic fantasies for facts; no tradebacks). i cried for the time my mom and i sat outside near our new hummingbird feeder and watched those magical creatures hover. i cried for the dog next door, now dead, that used to be so excited to see me when i returned from school and for the time i shared my blowpop with him. it was sour apple and he liked it. i cried for old friends, friends i have no idea where they are or even if they are. i cried for the fact that our driveway was not the massive hill as i had remember it; there was barley a slope. i cried for games of back yard tag, baseball, badminton, dodge ball, cloud watching. i cried for my old room, the security of it, the comfort of it, being tucked in my bed by my mom and dad. i cried for memories, both happy and sad, because that’s all they are now, just events that will never be repeated and perhaps, one day, will be forgotten. i cried for the pain of this fact, that none of it was ever coming back. i cried because there was nothing else to do.

this is the colonial part of cartegena, colombia, where a man i met at the airport gave me a phone number of a guy i could call on the cell phone that the man couldn´t believe i didn´t have to get drugs or girls or anything else i needed.

after reaching the pacific ocean after traversing panama from north to south, i was the proud recipient of my hottest temperatures to date. easily over 100. and neither the climbs nor the intensity of yellow in my increasingly infrequent urinations abated. and at this point, i began wishing for cold. but then i stopped, because it is a guarantee that cold will come on this trip, probably with a magnitude heretofore unknown by me, and i am sure that then, i will be wishing for warmth. it’s funny like that.

this night was perfect until the mosquitos swarmed so thick that despite an incredible necessity and urge, i was unable to stand still and relax enough to urinate before diving into the refuge of my tent. i was glad i had the spare ziploc bag after all.

this is where a pig and her piglets sleep. could you please pass the bacon? if, after taking this picture, you rotated on your feet 180 degrees, you would see...

...this. that´s me. i liked sleeping with the pigs. it was humbling. and the constant snorting strangely but gently cooed me to sleep.

i fell in love again. this time at a bread store. the cashier was obviously infatuated with me the second i walked in, but i tried to play it off and all, but doing that, playing it off, let’s face it, it gets hard and laborious, so sometimes you just gotta flow with it. so i flowed. i was asking her about the different kinds of bread and the prices, and not only was she answering my inquiries, but also, she was actually letting me touch and hold each kind of bread so that i could feel it’s softness, firmness, or maybe something in between. well, things were definitely getting a little hot, and i gotta keep a handle on myself, because, after all, wherever i go, i’m the new guy in town. and this girl could be someone’s girlfriend. so i decided i needed to get out of there with my carbohydrates of choice and so that’s what i did. i paid her and basically told her with my eyes that this early exit was for the best for both of us, but i think, at this point, it was impossible to ease her pain. but sometimes, that’s part of it, you know, causing someone else pain. but i knew that, in the end, she would grow from it. well, anyhow, once i found a tree with some shade, i sat down and felt remorse for breaking the baker’s heart, and then, as i was getting ready to eat some bread, i noticed that she had put in a free cookie with my order. and i was like, jeez, because that killed me, you know, it really did. because, yes, a free cookie is definitely a nice gesture, especially for someone you love, but i was thinking that, come audit time and all that stuff, that she might have a high price to pay for her passion. and then, i couldn’t believe it, but i started questioning if i was really worth it. and i sort of started getting a little down, you know. but don’t worry, i don’t want to give you the impression that i lost my suavity, because, while i was walking down the street foolishly contemplating my lack of worth, i caught my image in the mirror, and i stopped to do a quintuple take, and during the third take, i pointed at myself, with both hands mind you, and i shot both pointer fingers like pistols, blew them both off (separately and slowly), and knew that, yes, of course and undoubtedly, i am worth it, because as i’ve said before and will say again, i am money.

would i be that much more money if i bought this and sprayed it on myself. oh, to have a disposeable income...

and so i followed the pacific ocean all the way to the panama canal, a place i learned about in third grade social studies, a place that always held some appeal to actually visit. there is a bridge that crosses the canal, called the “bridge of the americas,”

this is the bridge of the americas. i was wondering if you like it.

that i anxiously approached on my advance towards panama city. as i got within sight of the bridge, i also got within sight of the police, who got within sight of me and waved me over to the side of the road, and i knew that more than likely, whatever was to come next, was going to be interesting.

halt! in the name of giving us something to do!

it went something like this:
good morning.
good morning.
where are you going?
argentina, hopefully.
what?! where did you begin?
i started in vanuatu, then i rode new caledonia, then new zealand, and now i’m riding from canada to the southern tip of south america. (this, incidentally, is my most often repeated sentence of the trip, though i usually leave out the first three countries because of the utter confusion it causes.)
all of that on bike?
all of it on bike.
well, i’m sorry to say you will not be able to ride your bike over this bridge.
okay, no problem, i’ll walk it across.
no, i’m sorry, that is also prohibited.
it is a rule.
so what should i do? i need to get across this bridge...
(thinking, pondering, considering) wait one moment.
and so the congenial cop gets on his radio and requests permission for a personal police escort for me across this major continental connector. i’m watching his body language and thinking that things looking good is looking unlikely.
they say that you can have an escort. but you will have to wait some moments.
great, no problem.
so i waited maybe five minutes and was introduced to my panamanian police patrol.
i have to warn you, i am going to be very slow. (both because i am very slow and i wanted to take pictures).
okay, we will only go as fast as you go.
and so we were off, with bewildered stares from congested traffic, and me with one hand on the handlebars, one hand on my camera, and a mixture of two oceans beneath me.

during my travels throughout the hemispheres, by circumstances of my planet´s and my particular positions, i have missed autumn for the past six years. so these trees made me smile as many things do, like feeling a drop of sweat transfer from my eyebrow to the rims of my sunglasses and watching it roll down the lens while leaving behind a trail of salt.

riding into panama city, and riding into any city for that matter, is not a joy for me. but when i found the cheapest hostel i could, got gIrgIb and wAylAy up the stairs and parked into a room, and showered off all the grit and grime saturating my skin with the stickiness of sunscreen, the city indeed was a joy for me. because there is an energy in cities that i enjoy being a part of, especially when i know i will only be a part of it temporarily and that i am in control of this temporalness. so i walked around with sensory overload, tempted (though i resisted it) to buy everything i saw and start accumulating stuff. i did, however, buy some bananas, granola, and milk, and had myself a nice little feast.

all i am. is all i am an elevated outstretched palm to a person whom i will never see again? is all i am a smile, simply a contraction of certain facial muscles, to the lady hanging her wash to dry? is all i am a how are things or hello, three or two syllables respectively regardless of my language of choice, to the man riding his reluctant but obedient donkey? is all i am a good morning to the old lady sitting in the shade bewildered by what she sees passing her by? to my friends at home, is all i am this guy who comes back once a year, if that, someone to share a dinner with, a game of cards, or a short walk in the mountains? to my family, is all i am a highlighted inbox message, the occasional phone call, a cause of worry and concern? all i am. it’s not much. and i fear it’s becoming less and less.

sometimes, it is a long, lonely, dusty road...

...and other times, my secret dream of being a backstreet boy comes true.

once, when i was surrounded by many observers who whispered and pointed as if i were a monkey, my friend said i was in a zoo. so, naturally, i began to wonder what would happen were i to stand up on the table and poop. would they clean it up, toss me some bananas, and give me big shiny red ball to bounce? the thing was, once i did it, i mean poop and all, the spectators asked, no, demanded me to clean it up and there wasn’t a banana to be found anywhere. much less a bouncy ball. and let’s face it, nothing beats bouncy balls, especially red ones..

that´s me in a hubcap.

i hope this guy found or eventually finds the light...

while in panama city, i weighed the three options before me on how to get to colombia. to walk/ride the darien gap (the roadless section of swampy jungle between panama and colombia) was verified as ludicrous after soliciting dozens of opinions. it killed me to give up on this option, but i gave up on it and forgot about it. this left the possibility of ship and plane. investigating the ships went something like this:
are the any boats going to colombia?
there are no boats going to colombia?
yes, there are some.
how many?
just one.
when will it leave?
maybe tuesday. or possibly friday. it could leave on sunday.
how long does it take to get to colombia from here?
maybe three days, or possibly two weeks.
when i get there, can i just get off the boat and start riding my bike?
why not?
because this boat only goes to coastal towns. no roads. all of the towns are only accessed by boats.
so could i get another boat from where the first boat drops me off to somewhere that i could ride my bike?
so maybe not too?
is it possible to put my bike and trailer on these boats?
that is a possibility.
well, assuming i can get a boat, how long will it take to get to the next village?
probably a day.
and then i can start riding my bike?
what? why not?
there are no roads there.
ok, so how many boats will i need to take to get to where i can start riding my bike?
maybe 2...or 5.
and how much will it cost?
i don’t know, you will have to negotiate with each boat captain individually.
about how much will it cost?
maybe $300...if you’re lucky.
jeez! ok. well, how long will it take in total?
at least several days or weeks....maybe.
other investigations led to similar discourses. because i am doing this trip because i like to ride bikes, and these nebulous answers left me with a feeling that were i to attempt taking a boat from panama to colombia, i would not be riding my bike for a long while, and during that long while, i would probably be turning shades of green while leaning my torso over railings and heaving out the gastric juices of an empty stomach, all the while hoping that the boat i had chosen wasn’t smuggling drugs and that i could possibly be used as a pawn if there were trouble, i decided i would fly. so with a glass of mango juice in one hand, some peanuts in the other, at 32,000 feet, i crossed the darien gap. i don’t know what all the hooplah is about. it was quite easy. what killed me about this was that my plane ticket was $250, and that means this cycling trip, whenever it ends, will be 16 days shorter than it would have otherwise been.

this was the life boat on a boat trip i took to some islands.

to get gIrgIb on the plane, i had to use a bike box which i luckily scored at a bike shop in panama city. can you find the mcdonald´s. of course there´s a mcdonald´s. how could there not be?

i have music now. a cheap little mp3 player that chooses when it will and won’t work. but when it works, and i can hear some tunes for a couple hours a day, nothing exists in this world but this little scintilla between my ears, and it’s like i’m watching a movie, and the people in the movie are watching me and we are just watching each other and none of it is real. and whatever song comes on having been activated by the random selection option, well, that song is the anthem of whatever i am looking at. so, little caterpillar that i just missed with my front tire and possibly nailed with my back one, bob dylan was folking it up for you buddy. and so, dead cow being picked at by buzzards and maggots, the flaming lips were performing for you pal. and for the butterfly that whisked my face and flew off to a better place, weezer was wailing for you friend. for the naked kid standing ankle deep in a puddle eating an ear of corn, pearl jam was rocking for you fellow. and for me, a hero to myself and no one else, slowly reaching the zenith of that climb, with all my actin fibers clinging to the myosins, wondering-in those extremely tense and highly anticipated moments of silence between the ending of one song and the random selection of another-what song will be chosen, and hearing that familiar guitar rif begin, and curling my lips into an admittedly ashamed but uncontrollable smile, and it’s as if that song were written for me, for this moment, because as i reach the zone where uphills turn to downhills, that precise place where struggles end and you can just take your seat and watch the world whiz by, exactly when i reach that culmination, i am standing up on my pedals, i am pointing to the heavens above with an outstretched pointer finger, my head is tilted back and my eyes are clenched shut, and for an instant, for just four words, the song that i don’t understand how anyone could not like, is magically transformed into a duet with a thunderous, “since you’ve been gone!”, and in that moment of ecstasy, kelly clarkson and i, we are one. now just to clarify, i didn’t really want to put kelly clarkson on my mp3 player. i mean, it was a friend’s cd anyhow. and she told me i had to. i mean, she practically forced me to. seriously, i think she even had a gun or something, i mean it.

this is me watching people cross the panama canal while they watched me watching them. there was this one girl on that cruise ship that was waving at me. not to the people around me. it was definitely just at me. and i almost let myself fall in love with her, until right at the last second when i decided against it. i can only take so much.

from what i hear, half of the united states would like to untie this not, and the other half would like to make it tighter. and so, is the glass half full or empty?

so colombia. yes, how is it? well, allow me to tell you. it is just fine. no, i will not be foolish and call this country perfectly safe or pretend there were and are not serious problems here. there have been more military checkpoints here than in any other country i have cycled through. and yes, at these checkpoints, there are machine gun wielding youths. but let me explain what these checkpoints involve. a slight tapping of the brakes, a smile and a wave and a pleasant phrase, and a continuation of my ride. one time, needing to acquire a colombian flag to add to my collection, i stopped, by choice, and much to the delight of the guarding soldiers, to ask them for one of their flags, which they warmly gave me. only once have i had to stop and show a passport and this was simply a matter of curiosity and boredom on the part of the soldiers. the people here, as they have been in every country i have ridden through thus far, though perhaps even more so here, have overwhelmingly been warm and welcoming and incredibly willing to help and to answer any questions i have. yes, there are dangerous places in colombia. just like yes, there are dangerous places in australia. and just like yes, there are dangerous places in the united states. so if you watch and read the fear-inducing (lock your door! pull the blinds! and by god, jimmy, load your gun!) monopolized media, you have choices. would you say that having your child attend school in the states is dangerous based on the shootings at columbine and other isolated, but highly covered and publicized, events? is that a fair assessment? and so, based on what is fed to us about colombia, you would probably never want to come here. however, if you maintain an educated and level-headed perspective, talk to and heed the advice of locals, and decide to see for yourself rather than through the eyes of cnn, you might just never want to leave.

things like this happen in colombia. did katie couric tell you about it?

a sepia of the culture and custom of colombia. but all i really wanted was a big mac.

you want to know what is money, besides me of course? being in costa rica and walking around with a guy you meet and having him say he’s hungry and you noticing a mcdonald’s and wondering if that will be where he chooses to satisfy his cravings (and it would be absolutely fine if he did this), but instead, he pretends to go to mcdonald’s and then says, “no way i’m going there, that place is el diablo (the devil)!”

a year ago, almost to the day, i was walking across the island of tasmania and somehow lost a valued possession, my spoon. but the next day, in a little cabin on the top of a hill, i found a spoon. this brightened my day. and so, i rinsed it off, licked it, and claimed it as my own. for a year, this was my spoon, because, when you think about it, you only need one. i loved this spoon. it brought many things to my mouth. it never asked for anything. it had a nice home, in an emptied out peanut butter container which, incidentally, served as my bowl, which you only need one of also. well, as with every nice little story, like this one, that has ever happened or been told, there is a component of tragedy. in cartegena, the resistance of granola and bananas sopped in milk proved too much, and upon lifting it to my mouth, silently, almost remorsefully, the spoon broke in two. it was a sad day for me, and i would like this post to serve, if you will, in memoriam of my little spoon. the spoon is gone now. gone, but not forgotten. if you feel inspired to share any spoon stories of your own, please feel free to do so in my comments section. think about spoons for a few moments. what ever would we do without them?

below, in blue, you will read things that can’t be said in my world. in pink, because i am partial to pastels, you will read what is allowed:
oh darn! the opportunity seems to have passed me by.
i am irreconcilably irresponsible for not fully investigating every possible and potential outcome that could have arisen, and, failing to do so, i fully deserve every consequence which i am currently suffering.
how was i supposed to know?
i am negligent in my inefficaciousness and in my detestable dependence on others to take responsibility for what should entirely rest on my shoulders.
too bad it didn’t work out....maybe next time.
the fact that the event that i should have unfailingly pursued in order to bring about its occurrence is a result of my own ineptitude and lackadaisicalness and hoping or wishing or desiring for a second chance as some sort of consolation is a despicable waste of time that could and should be much better spent not only evaluating my shortcomings but also in warranting that such wantonness is never again tolerated.
it’s okay, don’t worry, just forget about it and move on.
something has immeasurably disappointed me, and therefore i am an abysmal imbecile. the fact that i allowed myself to sink to such levels as to have them be recognizable by an other in as great a degree as that other feels compelled to console me only compounds my unfathomable failures. i don’t deserve solace, rather, i demand ridicule.
i think that should about cover it.

mightn´t you have a match?