Travel Advent Dec. 7: Atando Una Castaña

Siempre  tomo el tren a casa después del trabajo. Es una oportunidad para ver el mundo pasando enfrente del vidrio. Es como estar  atrapado en una burbuja de metal, y solo tienes que leer el mundo enfrente de ti. Es un purgatorio de pensamientos, no tienes que pensar en las cosas del trabajo, ni en los problemas de  casa — solo en lo que aparece enfrente de tu burbuja. A mi me gusta esta soledad, este tiempo sin pensar en nada.Me da un momento  para reflejar, pero también para ver el mundo. 

La naturaleza de la jungla concreta es un milagro de deseos grandes y sueños desaparecidos. Puedo verlo en los rascacielos encima de la pobreza y el grafiti que está abajo. Puedo oler todo el benceno y cemento caliente desde mi burbuja. Puedo ver también a las personas, mis compañeros humanos, que están pasando tiempo conmigo en el tren. Pero siempre quiero permanecer en secreto. Quiero quedarme en esta burbuja sin nadie, sabiendo que estoy mirando por la reflexión desde la ventana de la burbuja. Solo conozco a mis compañeros de sus reflexiones, porque no quiero mirarles en tiempo real.

¿Y por qué no? No quiero molestar ellos. Un estudiante, repasando la preparación de  su exposición  de mañana. Una señorita de camino a ver a su novio, escuchando música  pop muy fuerte, mascando chicle tan dulce que puedo sentir el azúcar en los pelos de mi nariz. Ellos son mis compañeros del momento. No nos conocemos, pero somos una comunidad de pasajeros del tiempo. 

El tren hace una pausa para la próxima parada, estoy mirando desde mi burbuja las luces de la calle como se encienden  para iluminar la calle a oscuras, y el tren continúa su destino. Desde la reflexión, puedo ver que tenemos un nuevo compañero, también porque puedo oler algo más agrio en el tren. Mis ojos empiezan con sus pies, que son dos botas de cuero muy pasado, y siguiendo a su cuerpo muy demacrado. Ahora sus manos, su mano izquierda tiene una castaña y en su mano derecha hay una fibra muy fina, y él intenta  atar la fibra alrededor de la castaña. Mis ojos siguen, y cuando miro a sus ojos estoy sorprendido de que sus ojos están mirándome desde el reflejo de la ventana. 

El hombre me mira muy intenso, y después de un minuto ríe y me dijo “atar una fibra alrededor de una castaña es cómo atar una fibra alrededor del mundo — puedes tener el mundo en un mano, y la fibra en la otra, pero nunca puede atarlo alrededor del mundo. Siempre  desliza, sin importar lo que haces.” Giro mi cabeza para ver al hombre, pero cuando giré no había ningún otro, (nadie más) que el estudiante leyendo su libro y la señorita mascando su chicle.  


Travel Advent Haiku #1

A bit of backstory: I love writing little stupid Haiku’s with whoever I happen to be traveling with. They’re often quite terrible and crude, but they make me laugh so I hope you enjoy.

January 2018. Somewhere in the Dordogne, France

Old Stones soaked in wine
Rise from the Encroaching Mist
Gourmand Perfume Calls

Cat on my bonnet
Blue hippopotamus roam
through my verdant field

Licorice Pernod
Coursing through my every vein
Who needs a brain uuuhhh….

Here’s some duck, eat it
Here’s some wine, I guess it’s red
Shut your stupid head

(This was inspired by a French waiter who, rather than explaining the dish, would simply state the obvious fact of what it was. “Uh…here is some..uh. Duck” or “Here is some uh… red wine…” I suppose it was from lack of English confidence but it was still funny.)

Let’s paint in the cave
Who put this dick on the wall?
Why did we bring Og…

(Inspired by the caveman pervert who drew dicks and vaginas on a French cave wall thousands of years ago)

Where’d you get those lips?
Can you get your money back?
Your face is melting

(Inspired by a Parisian with a few too many surgeries.)

Travel Advent Dec. 5: My Second Worst Poop Experience

This is by no means my worst poop story, but it was certainly the scariest.
Lost somewhere in Northern Borneo exploring a Sun Bear preserve in the early hours of the morning, nature called and she rang her bell-like a bullhorn. Off to the tropical bathroom I went, sporting my long adventure pants that make the shoop-shoop sound when you walk and my long white shirt, already drenched by early morning Bornean dew.

The process itself was quite lovely. Borneo and Malaysia in general have a wonderfully diverse and nutritious culinary culture. The problem arose in the post-poop epoch, still in the bliss of release while not quite ready to pull up the dungarees and head back into the humidity. Deep in meditation, elbows resting on my knees, my head hung down pondering the moisture accrued on my underwear like a Rorschach test — when suddenly my meditation was interrupted by a shadow disappearing under the crumpled up pants hanging around my shins.

“No…” I pleaded to some God far away in the clouds bowling with Buddha. I rationalized to myself, telling myself I was simply tired and was having jungle fever hallucinations. But that to put a pit in my stomach, as it was indeed the jungle after all and no space was devoid of Jurassic Park-sized creepy crawlies. I gathered the strength to investigate the scene. I pleaded, “Don’t fuck with me Borneo — I survived Bruneian border control and I can survive you. Don’t fuck with me, jungle priestess.” I slowly lifted one side of my pant legs, each independent hair on my legs, erect from fear, sliding up along with my shoopy-shoopy pants. The shadow began to take form as I slowly lifted my pant leg, and to my horror, the shadow began to materialize into a fuzzy spider with long thin limbs the length of my gigantic human fingers. Below me, in the warm moist crib of my shoopy pants, sat a non-hallucination spider that could easily steal a newborn baby and drag it back to its layer. The kind of spider that talks to Harry Potter, or the kind that shrink-wrapped Frodo and tried to suck his sweet Hobbity juices.

As soon as my human brain connected the dots, my monkey brain took over control, and my reflexes sent me flailing into the sky, dingle flapping freely through the moist air like a majestic hot dog being thrown during a food fight at a competitive eating contest. I jumped to the right, and the spider jumped with me under my pants. I jumped to the left, and the spider jumped with me. We danced together like this for some time, doing the toilet tango, me in the lead and my salty sumptuous spider mistress trailing me like a retired cougar coming after my moist youthful giblets.

I continued jumping around in the stall when suddenly I realized the shadow was no longer following me. “Shit shit shit” I shouted under my breath. Lifting my pant legs, I noticed that to my even greater horror, my spider mistress had decided to go to the bar for a drink instead of dancing. I looked under my shoes, around every corner of the small bathroom stall, but there was no spider to be seen. A pit dropped in my stomach, and I realized that the spider must have come aboard the S.S. Skidmark to hitch a ride and explore the amenities on board.

At this point, I felt there could be no other option but to strip and shake out every individual piece of clothing. I stripped off my sausage casing clothes over my shoes, and standing naked except for my socks and ratty Vans from Target, relentlessly shook out each article of clothing trying to expunge the demon within. I shook and shook, but no spider sprung loose from the web of my clothing. I hung my clothes up over the stall and peered around each corner of the bathroom again. You may be wondering how large this stall was, and I’ll tell you. Fucking tiny. There was no room for a spider the size of a juvenile panda’s face to just disappear.

Eventually, I gave up, seceding victory to the spider queen who had reinforced my belief that you should always poop before meeting a pretty lady. I pulled my sausage casing back up over my shaken body and emerged from the stall as if nothing had happened in the first place. To this day, I still wonder if the spider is somewhere exploring my body, always moving to be perfectly out of reach.

Travel Advent Dec. 4: Skinwalkers

I have an irrational fear of skin walkers. What’s a skin walker, Carter? Sit your mamby pampy pampers down and find out.

Skin walkers are ancient spirits or sorcerers that inhabit the bodies the souls of those they steal. They can shape shift, and kind of work in a zombie kind of fashion — as in, they multiply by stealing souls and inhabiting those meat suits. If I get any Navajo or Hopi readers, please go ahead and correct me because I’m certainly bastardizing the tale of these beings.

Anyway, I was privileged enough to go on a trip lead by my former English teacher, who had taught at a boarding school for indigenous children and made lifelong friends out of his pupils. He was a fit man, covered in turquoise jewelry his former students had crafted for him, in his mid sixties but with agelessly handsome features, and had the fiercest composure I’ve ever seen in a man. He was like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society and the Drill Sergeant from Full Metal Jacket all in one.

He always took a select group of his pupils on a 10 day expedition through the Southwest, to explore ancient and still off the beaten path ruins that the Ancient Ones have left behind. Along the way, we would stay in the homes and lands of his former students, both Navajo and Hopi, and take part in the mysterious Hopi Harvest Festival: an experience so steeped in mystery and unwritten customs that few outsiders are allowed to view.

One of the former students we were fortunate enough to stay with was also a shaman. On his land was a ceremonial hogan, a round building used for ceremonies and for housing guests. The space is blessed, and kept as a safe place from bad spirits and skin walkers. I’ll talk a bit about skin walkers, because they have their own rules. They can not break in to someones home. They must lure you out of your comfort zone, and then they can prey on you. There are countless tales of hikers in the Southwest hearing screaming babies or whimpering animals lingering outside their tents. But rest assured, there are no screaming babies outside the tent — it’s simply a demon trying to lure you out of your tent.

On this particular night we spent in the hogan, I remember vividly being woken by the sound of a dog fight. Our host housed many dogs, so this was not necessarily a shock, although it was certainly odd. Dogs are seen as a guide and protector against skin walkers, and can easily tell when a skin walker is around and will ward it away from its human companions. The dog fight woke me, and I realized I had to pee. As I stood up, I looked out into the cold night and saw the two eyes of our hosts Snoopy like dog, looking at me with floppy hears listening and a long snout sniffing at the air. I greeted him, and asked if he would like to join me to the outhouse. This was a bit of a walk, into an uncertain forest with a flashlight. I would be in the forest, but I did not want to insult our host.

I got tot he outhouse, and the dog followed with me the entire way. He waited, and walked me back to the hogan, not leaving until he saw me get back into my sleeping bag safely. I didn’t think much of it, until the next morning our teacher’s daughter told us about her night. She woke up inside her tent, a bit before I did, to the sound of a whimpering howling dog. She shrugged it off, but still believed it strange that a whimpering dog would be outside.

“Let’s check on it!” said her tent mate, an old woman who we think was dating my teacher, who did not know about skin walkers. She began to cry, as her mind woke up and realized that what sat outside the tent whimpering was indeed a skin walker, trying to lure her out. As she sat whimpering, begging her older tent mate not to leave the tent, the snoopy like dog appeared and entangled in a vicious fight with the whimpering dog. Howling and screeching that woke me up, and soon saw the snoopy dog, victorious, staring back at me from the entrance of the hogan.

I like to think the snoopy dog was there to protect me, at least from some wild dog that wasn’t hanging around to be snuggled. I’m still superstitious to this day about skin walkers, and even in Denmark I’m rarely caught without wearing a necklace made of juniper berries, given to me by the shaman to protect me from these wandering, hungry demons.

Travel Advent Dec. 3: For the Love of Yerba

I like to drink and occasionally smoke from time to time: but I can kick these poor habits quite easily if needed. There is, however, one addiction I can not and will not kick: the bitter yerba mate that has filled my veins continually for the past 10 years. Just writing about it now makes me crave its warm, filthy embrace.

Nothing else quite strokes my energy like the sweet herb. It’s kept me awake through high school and college and continues to get me through working an 8-4 job. It’s kept me from getting jittery as a trust fund frat baby on Wall Street, and beyond that has served as a cohesive social tool to connect with people — perhaps even stronger than the bond created by alcohol. I remember trying it for the first time as a boy and hating its overwhelming bitter flavor. It took me to go to Argentina at 15 to fall in love with mate.

I spent a month working in organic farms up in the northern state of Corrientes, which is one of the places where mate originates and is drunk at all hours of the day. The head of the farm would give us one 15 minute break for a mate before lunch. Not long enough for these working-class Argentines. But we’d always push his boundaries, staying and passing mate and sharing cookies for upwards of 45 minutes, occasionally with him, smiling a smile flaked with cookie crumbs in between crooked teeth.

When he would leave the farm to go into town, we would immediately sneak off and have a mate while he was gone: sometimes for two hours just sitting, sipping, making fun of each other, and gossiping. I was the only big tall gringo boy working with a group of short middle-aged indigenous women. I was always the brunt of their jokes, but as long as mate was being passed around we were as good as family.

Mate has always come up with Uruguayan and Argentine travelers. I’ve passed mates with Uruguayans in Spain and Poland and regularly share one with incoming Argentine travelers in Denmark. It’s an instant way to bond, to share not only one’s saliva but one’s time and tales. I’m not sure how this pandemic will change how we drink mate but I’ve only shared mate once this year with someone — and even then it was a cautious occasion. Not being able to share a mate puts a whole generation of socializing Latinos at risk…but we’re likely all too addicted to care once we can meet and share a mate once more.