A collection of brief travel anecdotes, observations, tirades, stories, and reflections, mostly gleaned from my ragged travel notebooks.
Just a Bum Again - Impressions of a travel day
Crossroads - Should I just go home, or keep on travelin'?
-- Planning --
A Time to Splurge - Living it up in Costa Rica
Through the Glass - Social distance in Mexico
-- What to Take --
The Gringo Market - Travelers trade in Guatemala
The Chinese Clock - Items you wish you weren't carrying
A Book Story - Books you wish you weren't carrying
Galapagos Photography - Nature photographer's paradise
The Rush to Pack - Hurry up and relax?
-- On The Road --
On The Road Again - That wind-whipped Yippie! feeling
Road Signs - Words to live by, from the highway department!
Long-Changed - Dealing with honesty in Pakistan
Not a Drop to Drink - Dry days in Yucatan, Mexico
-- Transportation --
Syrian Bus - It goes when it wants to
The Kunming Train Syndrome - The Mecca of train stories
Hurghada Passage - Shipped out on the Red Sea
Shanghai'ed - Luxury cruising from China to Hong Kong
Iraqi Hitch - You meet the darndest folks hitching
Tales from the Back of the Bus - Non-stop bus stories at full-tilt boogie
-- Life On The Road --
Jungle 101 - A startling Introduction to Howler Monkeys
The Simple Life - Life on the Road is so simple...
My Postcard - From the edge...
Eggs, Eggs, Eggs - Egg stories by the dozen...
The Volcano Climb to Hell - Reality meets hikers in Sumatra
Mosquito Heaven - Where the little buggers hold conventions in Mexico
A Letter from Ray - Ray sounds off -- and on and on -- from the Mexican jungle
-- Shopping --
Market Day - In Chichicastenango, Guatemala
Bargain Hammock - How to keep from buying one?
-- Bureaucracy --
Japanese Customs - The red lights started flashing and I was led off...
The Power of Apology - Asian bureaucracy and survival ettiquete
-- The People You Meet --
Tout Realities - Touts have their priorities in Morocco
A Street Exchange in Delhi - Street touts in India show true grit
Other Travelers - Our closest friends
Ron - Finding a good friend on the Road
Long Noses and All - Foreigners go by many names...
What Goes Around...- Comes back around eventually
Candidasa - Tourist and Traveler meet in Bali
Father Paul - Everyone's favorite missionary
-- Security --
Chinese Exchange - Money laundering the Chinese way
Bad Customs - Run-ins with Nicaraguan customs
-- At Home On the Road --
At Home - So, do you live here, or what?
Inscrutable - What you don't know in China would fill a travel book
What's Going On? - Will you ever find out? No!
Doing What? - Relief at high altitude in Bolivia
Masculine Dress - The man's way in Jordan
Americans Abroad - Culture shock in Australasia
The Worst Toilet in the World? - Is it in Nicaragua? Almost...
Homesick? - Here's the cure
Compared to What? - Trying to make it real?
Paradise Lost? - Just stay another week or two
Just Another Day in Paradise - Travel psychology from a Bolivian truck
In a $30 Hotel Room - Doing a little Grieving...
Going Home! - It seems to be Ned's worst nightmare
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Just a Bum Again:It's 7 am.
My breath is white and my toes are numb.
I feel the rumble of the bus engine warming up
As pools of sunshine huddle outside on the frosted mud.
I can smell all the familiar local smells -
The people, the food, the animals, and the diesel -
They are now a part of my life.
I can hear the familiar sounds, see the local colors,
Taste last night's all too familiar supper.
It's just another work day - a travel day to be endured.
Suddenly the bus lurches out with a roar and a gnashing of gears,
The wind gusts into my face through the jammed window,
And the countryside opens out before me in all of its untamed squalor.
Then my heart picks up the rhythm of the clamor of the Road,
A wild rogue grin smears itself across my face,
And I thank the Lord I'm just a Bum again!
Another perfect tropical night on Holbox Island, Mexico. Never mind that the mosquitoes were man-eaters a few hours ago. They are all put to bed now and the wind is warm and balmy. Sitting against the wall on the porch of the hut, I gaze up at the moon between the crooked palms. The moonlight paints a squiggly trail out across the sea, past the old wooden jetty down the beach. The Caribbean laps against the crumbling front steps of our hut, the palms rustle and the sky gushes with stars.
Across from me, Ron strums his guitar with his customary passion and fervor, the sounds drifting away on the wind. Just like last night, and the night before. But tonight I am thinking: I'd better figure out where the next place is. That's what I'm doing here, I'm "resting up" to think about the future. The traveling was pretty tough out there and I was beat! I got fed up with the hassles, too. It really ain't easy, that's for sure... Hell of a trip, though. Hell of a trip.
Maybe I'm just not up to this travel stuff anymore; too old, too set in my ways... It ain't easy... Maybe I should just hang it up and go back where I belong. Sometime, I've got to decide if I'm going to keep on going, or if I'll just hit a few more beaches and head on back home.
I look over at Ron in his shorts, strumming away. I look down at my sarong blowing in the breeze, and back down the silvery beach. I think about the stories we heard of Nicaragua and Costa Rica from the Danish women. Sounds pretty wild, alright. I look up at that big round moon and its brightness seems to fill my face with a smile.
Then it hits me. This is where I want to be! Of course! How could I be so stupid? How could I possibly have thought of going back home to look for a job, to pay rent every month and trudge to the mailbox every day for more bills and coupons and credit card applications, to drive a car to the supermarket and catch a movie on Saturday night? This is It! Right here. Right here On the Road is where I belong - this is where I want to be. I may never go back! My smile bubbles over into a big long laugh, and the laugh rises from deep inside of me. The tears roll down my cheeks and soon there is too much happiness for the laughter and I let out a great big "Whoa! WaaHOOO!"
Ron just looks over from his strumming and smiles his inscrutable smile. He knows.
A Time to SplurgeCosta Rica used to be one of the more expensive of relatively cheap countries in Central America. I happened to be there when the bottom was falling out of the economy, and watched the value, and the buying power of my dollars triple. But still I maintained my habitual frugal life style -- until I met some friends from earlier in my travels. I invited them to dinner at my favorite local cafe, where the cost of a good meal had dropped to about 35 cents US.
"No way!" They exclaimed, and introduced me to the concept of really enjoying my money while I had the opportunity. We visited some of the finest restaurants in San Jose, enjoying American steaks, Japanese, and French cuisine. We never paid more than $3.50 for a meal, often including beer or wine. I had enough culinary splurges to last me an entire trip, without jeopardizing my budget.
Internal air fares were still fixed at the old official rates, and I was shocked to get a local flight for just $3, only three times the cost of the 6-hour bus journey, which I had already taken twice.
Through the Glass
Yucatan. I had been traveling in Mexico for some months, mostly by local buses which were incredibly cheap. But in the Yucatan, where bus service was very sparse, I usually hitched. One day I got a ride with some Canadians in a beat up old van. There were then 5 of us in that van, and we spoke together in English, mostly about Mexico, while we passed a bottle of tequila around.
After a while, I noticed something strangely different about traveling in this van. All of the Mexicans were outside, and all the Gringos were inside. This seemed a very strange situation to me. It was like watching television, and I wanted to get out and join the Mexicans again.
What To Take
The Gringo Market
There used to be an institution in the traveler's hangout of Panajachel, Guatemala, known as the Gringo Market. It came and went, as the travelers did, with the political tide in that country, and I suspect that it will thrive again. It was a small market held on Saturday mornings for travelers and semi-resident Gringos to gather and sell or trade whatever they wanted to get rid of. Unlike the local indigenous market, which started daily at dawn, the Gringo Market kicked off about 10 am, or whenever the travelers rolled out of bed.
There were people selling homemade cakes and sweets, lime and papaya juice, and whatever had gotten too heavy in their rucksacks. As in most of the Third World, all that hi-tech camping gear they paid so much for at home was worth precious little to travelers and locals who had little to spend. But it was great entertainment watching the local indigenous people come by to see what the Gringos had to offer. Travelers who would normally bargain hard for the last centavo over a tomato or an avocado in the marketplace, would turn livid with rage when the locals offered them $5 for their expensive camping gear.
"What?! Five Quetzals?! I paid 75 US Dollars for this at home! Get out of here!" The locals would laugh, shrug their shoulders, and go as high as 6 Quetzals, as the traveler spewed and stomped. Occasionally, someone would get desperate enough to actually sell something.
The Chinese Clock
I first met Sam in a dorm room in Jiayuguan, China. (We later met up in Turphan, Kashgar, Bali, and Rawalpindi.) We were the only two foreigners in town. No sooner had we introduced ourselves than his pack erupted in a loud ringing sound. He went over and pulled out one of those big old-fashioned alarm clocks with the two bells mounted on the top. It was as big as a camp stove! He explained that a week earlier, he had desperately needed an alarm, and this was the only thing available in the Chinese department stores. Since he bought it, he was loathe to toss it out, despite its incredible size.
A Book Story
My mother tells a story about two women who went on a group tour to China together. One of them brought along two really fat novels, and her friend complained that they were a waste of space and weight. The first woman explained that she had no intention of carrying them around for the entire trip. Along the way, as she finished each chapter, she ripped the pages from the book and tossed them out.
Now her friend was aghast at the cheap treatment of these fine books; she fished the pages out of the bin and began reading the book herself. By the end of the tour, both women had read both books. The first woman was left with a nice empty space in her luggage for a few extra presents, while the second came home with both books, wrapped in elastic bands.
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