Norway – Fall 2010
Going to Norway was my first time travelling alone, first time out of the country, I was leaving my career of being a fireman and stepping into the unknown. I had been a fireman and EMT for four years, and truly loved the occupation. Excitement, brotherhood, and getting to save lives. When I started training at 16, I had recently left my families church. The church I had spent my entire life in and where almost all of my friends were. I had left because I felt in my heart that rules imposed upon me were not truly understood by the people who had authority to uphold them. After leaving the church I was lost and confused, never before had I cried in loneliness. To top it off, I had not been selected by the lottery for the level two carpentry class, which I had thought would be my career, so I chose Fire science on a whim. In Fire Fighter school I was made fun of everyday for having long hair and being skinny. The following summer I put on 25 lbs. and cut my hair to join the next level class the following year. I became stern and hardworking, learned to stand my ground and join in the crude jokes. This transformation led to me being promoted to an officer.
In college I started taking philosophy and humanities classes. I began to spend a lot of time with artists and dreamers. I would go to work at the fire station in uniform and leave to join my friends putting on wild clothing and face paint for concerts and parties. At the Fire house, I climbed the ladder and kept secrets. I felt like I had split personalities, I was an artist and a gentleman, a man of society. Wondering why I couldn’t be both tore me apart and led me to search for a higher truth. I didn’t want to get loans for college, but I wanted to keep learning. Norway had a free education system even for international students. When I didn’t get accepted I decided I would go there anyways. I figured learning the language and checking out the country would give me a better chance of getting acceptance the next year.
While I was planning to go to Norway I was so afraid to tell anyone. I hid in my car every night for months listening to books on tape to learn Norwegian, constantly looking over my shoulder to make sure no one would catch me. I planned everything on my own and didn’t tell my family until two weeks before I left, like I was giving them my notice. My dad worried I was making a huge mistake, but was reassured because I had already told my Fire Chief, who was extremely supportive, and gave me three months leave-of-absence, after which I could return no problem. My mom took it more personal and cried every time she saw me those last two weeks.
The plan after a month in Norway, checking out the college, was to travel down the coast of western Europe. I made a huge mistake when I didn’t do what every first time traveler should do, and take a long walk with my fully packed backpack. I realized too late, while in the airport, that I couldn’t walk with my pack more than 30 minutes. I am glad I didn’t make the other mistake many first time travelers make, and plan every detail of the trip ahead of time, because I would have been suffering lots of cancellation fees. Nothing goes as expected when travelling. I pretty much decided within the first week I wouldn’t go down the coast of western Europe. I said to myself it wasn’t as much about seeing a bunch of countries like I originally planned and more about the people, ideas and cultures I encountered. This was only the beginning of my bag drama, eventually it exploded. In the end I flew home with my things in a trash bag. Once I finally made it to Norway, Irmelin & Jefro who I found on Couchsurfing picked me up at the airport and they led me to their tranquil retreat in the Norwegian back country. While I transitioned to this new world, Irmelin’s motherly warmth kept me from homesickness and Jefro’s adventurous and musical spirit led us to a secluded lake in the middle of the night where a bonfire, wine and drums solidified our friendship.
After staying with Irmelin and Jefro for a week I headed to the capital of Norway, Oslo. Thankfully they allowed me to leave half the stuff in my bag at their house so I could actually walk. Irmelin also lent me a cellphone with a plan for my whole trip for free. On Couchsurfing I had gotten in contact with Ole, an artist and DJ who lived in Nessoden across the fjord from Oslo. Staying with Ole was my gateway to exploring the art district of Grünerløkka and meeting so many wonderful artists, many of which I ended up crashing with. Anton a British musician lent me his couch for over two weeks in three different stays. We were both broke so to save money for a beer at night we would fish for diner. We went to a chess club on Tuesdays and Thursdays which was actually a cover for untaxed beer and pot smoking. Above the club was an anarchist news paper. Later on the owner of the newspaper would ask me to write an article about shamanism.
Anton introduced me to his spiritual brother-in-law, Anders who brought me to my first Ayahuasca ceremony held in a wooden Viking Tepee for three days. Iremelin and Jefro joined us. The first night I laid in my sleeping bag the whole time. I imaged the sleeping bag was a canoe which was floating down a really beautiful colorful river. Some darkness and pain happen for a while until eventually I puked and felt better. I believe there is a connection between the spiritual center or the health and happiness of someone and the level of terror they face from Ayahuasca. Jefro, who was one of the healthiest, happiest and most interesting people I’ve ever met, didn’t even puke, and he drank twice as much as many people who had been training to be shamans for years. Anyone who meets Jefro can tell that he is really in tune with his sacred self. Some of the people there were regular everyday citizens who had never tried any sort of hallucinogen, and happened to stumble upon the transformation possibilities of this ancient plant. A few of these people faced some very hard realization that first night. The next morning when we talked about it, many of them realized their need to find a healthy life style and lose weight, to rid their lives of so much stress, anger, greed, envy, etc. The confrontation of these attachments and issues during the trip were so vivid and difficult, they could not imagine to continue the bad habits they had built for so many years or to continue behaving in the way they had realized was wrong. Even after the horrors they faced, every single person was ready and knew they needed to go again the second night. For me it was an easy decision.
The second night I was much more interested in sitting up and connecting to the real world. About 25 of us surrounded a big bonfire in the middle of the tepee. I felt like we were all thinking one unified thought. At some point I became frustrated because I felt we were not fully embracing the power this plant was giving us simply sitting in this room. Laying back hallucinating with no purpose is escapist I thought. I felt helpless sitting, watching the spectacle the shaman was performing for hours and hours. We had been told not to leave the tepee. I rebelled and left to go for a walk. I had a revelation of the power of nature while standing underneath a tree listening to the leaves rustle in the wind. I told myself that “this was healing”, I didn’t need all of the fancy showmanship going on inside. Eventually, after sitting on the rocks by the lake starring at the stars for what seemed like hours, I decided to head back in. I walked back up to the viking tepee, where Anders, who had organized the whole event waited outside. I thought he would be upset with me for breaking the rules, but he wasn’t, he smiled as I approached him and grabbed me in a hug massage combo and told me I was a powerful person. We reentered the tepee just as the ceremony ended and a man who reminded me of a lion pulled out a guitar. I grabbed a drum from the collection of instruments and joined in with his rhythm. We grooved together splendidly and several people stood up to start dancing around the fire. When the song ended the lion man came to me and handed me the guitar with a little bow. Now, I’m not what anyone could call a professional musician, but perhaps he could tell I had a flow going by the way I played the drums. A flow that was moving the people, and if he had realized that, he was right. I grabbed the guitar and began to improvise a few chords with a passion and since most of the people in the tepee only spoke Norwegian I sang a made up language. I had never sang and played guitar improvising like that before. The whole tepee came to life cheering me on and danced around the fire. I drank more ayahuasca than the shaman that night, and never puked. I only felt more and more connected to the strangers I had just met the day before.
(chefs pick up couples / families by boat for an exotic meal on this island lighthouse)
My last few weeks in Norway were spent with the students and anarchists of Oslo back in the bustling center of the city. I had been there at least two months and had done nothing more than walk past the university I had planned the whole trip around visiting. I finally stayed at the college with more couchsurfers who at one point had a pot luck with 12 people where six languages were being spoken, and one girl happened to know all six languages. My first experience to such a cultural caliber. Where I got in with the anarchists was the Blitz vegan cafe, one of six or more different anarchist squats in Oslo where various activities are conducted outside of most legal regulations and taxes from the Norwegian government. It was a lively atmosphere and the liberating successes of these radicals was enthralling. One of the anarchists I had started to grow close to brought me to a secret meeting which he wouldn’t tell me much about. After he consulted the group they decided to let me join. It was a meeting to plan where the next squat was going to be. They had maps of abandoned houses all around the city they had already scouted out. This was one of the last meetings in a series, that day they were actually deciding which house they were going to take over. The next morning we met at a central train stop to visit the house, quietly snoop around and plan what would be needed for the actually take over.
I was pumped up for this project, but I began to realize the fun I saw, was quite serious for these radicals. They were risking arrest, living in a house which probably wouldn’t have power or water for some time. I hadn’t packed for the Norwegian winter, especially for a house with no electricity or heat. Besides my visa would be up long before the fruits of our labor would be seen. I did contemplate illegally over staying my visa, but it would be a great risk, since getting arrested at least once was almost inevitable. I informed the group of my doubts and told them I wouldn’t be bringing the five gallon water jug (what I offered to carry on the night of the take over), I gave goodbyes to all the friends I had made. It was heart breaking leaving the possibility of being a homeless anarchist in a squat house. Oh beautiful Norway, your hills and women, the love in each heart of your sour cream and jam covered Vaffles, mushrooms in the cemetery, and head banging heavy metal through the dark winter: Someday we will be together again.
Occupied Education – 2011
Norway was amazing. I had a sour taste in my mouth coming home to obligations and questions regarding my future. My parents didn’t understand why I quit the fire fighter gig, and the 60k salary. Why couldn’t we have a system as beautiful and supportive as Norway? I dove into political theories enthralled by Russian communism and anarchist ideologies. The French Revolution and History in general was riveting. I spent months digging through every subject creating a curriculum for my self education from articles and nearly a thousand dollars in books. I spent months in my room 10 hours a day absorbing as much knowledge as I could. I flew to NYC to attend a WWP conference and met up with some young radicals and IWW members along the way. I watched the Arab Spring and knew that we would do the same in the US. I knew we would be creating camps as well, especially after what I learned in NYC. I prepared by spending a lot of time in Chicago, surrounding myself with radical anarchists, immigrant worker groups, communists, US Uncut flash mobbers, and any other people assembling in the street. I read Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and learned that being an organizer meant staying in the back ground and empowering the people so that they would survive without you, so they didn’t even know you had inspired organization at all.
In between protests and studying, I managed a restaurant and taught myself Spanish. Went dancing with my co-workers and to family parties so I could fully immerse myself in their language. When the Occupy movement was called for in the US I headed to LaSalle and Jackson to Occupy the street in front of the Federal Reserve. Never before had I felt so alive, had so much hope for humanity and so immediately connected to people like the fellow occupiers. We received immediate support. The second night a young couple brought 30 boxes with filet mignon and we only had 15 people out there. The movement grew and blossomed within days to a system of committees organizing everything from food, art, outreach, teach-ins, security, media, web, and much more. I saw what could happen if people got out of their house for a purpose, something they believed in. Twice I visited Occupy Wall Street in NYC for a few weeks, where some of the largest events were happening. I saw Naomi Klein speak, and a rich European art exhibit on wall street decide to dedicate their gallery to us. I traveled around the other smaller occupies to combine visions and witness the miracle. A week in DC, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, and Los Angeles. After about 2 months, I realized that the Occupy movement, was really a work of art. The movement was a romantic movement that was intended to go outside of the box, to break structure. There was never enough unity to build anything new in it’s place.
I hopped on a road trip to California, and then ended up in Colorado for a while before I saw an article about a new treaty signed by all the South American countries, named after Simon Bolivar. Bolivar had the dream of unifying South America as one country. The prospect of making that large of unity and the history of struggle from that part of the world sent me searching for more political answers. I decided to go to South America myself and see what was happening.
Ecuador – Spring 2012
Guayaquil, Ecuador where the people called themselves Los Monos Locos (Cracy Monkeys) was my port of entry to South America. Truly was Guayaquil crazy, a bi-polar city with beauty and squalor side by side. The streets were chaotic and disorderly, with traffic crisscrossing and street vendors yelling their deals. Police officers carried machine guns, people told me stories of muggings and murders and advised me on how to avoid danger. When I was invited by a girl I had met on Couchsurfer to her Carnival birthday celebration in Montañita I was relieved. Montañita was my first experience with the insane night life of South America. A beach town where the majority of the population was there to party and the rule of law was void or hiding. I was ready to leave after one crazy night but during carnival the buses were booked for days. We ended up staying one more night and hitchhiking in a pickup the next morning. Luck was on our side when the very first truck stopped. Also when we didn’t die hanging onto the back going over 80 mph. This civilian pick up truck actually got away with having lights and sirens on top of it to pass other cars.
Next stop was Banos, named after the waterfalls surrounding the city. On the bus ride over we met a group of Argentinians. Together we went on a bike ride the next day, 61 km downhill along a highway mostly used by oil tankers with ditches on each side ( I met many people who did this same ride and got injured). A short video of the road we took. The next day, we went to Puyo down the same road, a jungle town 30 degrees warmer. After visiting the monkeys we continued heading north to Quito the capital of Ecuador, high on a mountain.
After a week speaking Spanish with the Argentinians my confidence was much higher but my accent had been permanently altered. Forever La playa (the beach) would be La Plasha. They headed for La Plasha (still spelled playa but pronounced sh) and I continued completely alone for the first time, southbound. Cuenca was the next stop, a colonial town similar to Quito except in size. There I was treated by locals to Coi, a large guinea pig with 0 cholesterol fire roasted on a spit. A surprisingly delicate and delicious meat. Before this trip I was a vegan so it was a challenge to eat everything. I left the best parts, the brains & eyes, to the locals. Again I witnessed the full nature of night life, first at a club then an after party where the center piece of the room was a big bowl of cocaine. (Using cocaine, and making coca tea was so relaxed here, it was like sharing sticks of bubble gum)
After Cuenca, I continued down the road to Loja for a quick stop, and onward the same day to “the town of Longevity”. Vilcabamba is a popular town for ex-pats and known for a man in his 100’s. There is a picture of the man in the downtown park. One day while we were looking at his picture we turned and saw him with the same smile sitting on a park bench. The rolling hills of the Podocarpus forms knife edge mountains all around the city. The “mountain” or hill has a perfect peak with a walking path sometimes as thin as 3 feet with hundred foot drops on either side.
There are two ways to get around Vilcabamba, pay $5 to pack as many people inside and out of a pickup truck.
Or pay $20 for 8 hours of a horse’s services, if you can last that long. Careful going in the River, if you aren’t well footed you will be in for a ride.
I was uncertain what to do next after Vilcabamba. I had planned a back road way to cross the boarder into Peru and the idea became so popular about 10 people wanted to go to, and I could only say the more the merrier. I didn’t feel right about leaving this way and contemplated joining one of the other groups leaving in different directions. The night before I was suppose to leave, I met a Swedish girl. We stayed up all night kissing and listening to music. The group got up at 5 am to catch the bus and they said they tried to wake me. Supposedly, I stood up, walked around mumbling then laid back down. I finally woke myself at 5:50 and ran down to catch the 6 am bus. I knew as soon as I had gotten down there I didn’t want to go. You can see me in the picture below standing off to the side of the group. We all ran into each other later in Peru and had a great laugh about the moment the bus pulled up and I said F this and ran back up to go to sleep.
The extra day in Vilcabamba turned into a crazy one. A notoriously safe town, that day a couple from our hostel was taken hostage. The captors told the man to come down the mountain and get all his money to release his wife but don’t call the police. The hostel was in a frenzy, we could see them on the mountain with binoculars. People were running around crying. I had told two girls I was leaving with them to Columbia, but I changed my mind again because of the madness. Luckily the woman was rescued, and I joined my friend Max on a bus down to Mancora, Peru that night. Mancora is a beautiful beach, when your eyes are closed, besides the mosquitoes. When your eyes are open you see the trash everywhere, the wild dogs, the fake police trying to grope women and the blatant use of hard drugs. I wanted to leave after one day.
We made some friends on the bus out and visited the Chan Chan ruins together. Max wanted to go to another beach not far south. I really didn’t want to go to another crazy beach town. I tried to just go straight to Lima, luckily I couldn’t get a ticket and stayed with Max because there I met two sisters who would inspire an adventure never to forget.
Peru – Spring 2012
Wow Huanchaco, this beach town is everything one can ask for. The sunrises and sunsets have just enough cloud coverage for brilliant colors, while the day is always clear. The dryness makes it feel less hot than it is and there are no bugs. The locals are friendly and inviting, especially in the beautiful little open food market. A beach a few miles north is known for having the longest left hand surf wave in the world. Huanchaco’s waves are nearly as long and surfers can be seen riding challenging waves for several minutes, flying across the whole horizon. A $.50 bus ride gets you into Trujillo, a big enough town to find anything, but not too big to be polluted and dangerous. Huanchaco was a recharge station, and where I met two of the coolest gals ever. Sisters from Canada who were ready for extreme adventuring. I mentioned in passing that there was a boat we could take up a tributary of the Amazon to the largest city in the world with no road access, Iquitos. They jumped on the idea like i was already planning on going. Well, I didn’t correct them of coarse, and said let’s go. We started preparing after one day of knowing each other and left after four.
The first stop along the road was Cajamarca, known for its Manjar or dulce de leche. This smooth caramel like sweet came in many flavors and the shops were liberal about sampling. Before we even made our way to the cheese shops we saw two other backpackers who were getting off the bus just as confused as we had been a few hours earlier. We ran straight up to them excited to see the first other backpackers in the whole town since we had arrived. We merged crews and celebrated St. Patricks day with the guy from Canada’s pro skills at facilitating drinking games in a huge hostel room we rented for $15. Three beds and a balcony looking over the city square and its pouring rain.
After Cajamarca was a gruelling 18 hour bus ride, known as the most dangerous in the world. The road twists and turns thousands of feet in the air on one lane roads with no guard rails. At the end of that road is Chachapoyas the gateway to Kuelap. Kuelap is the unknown Machu Pichu. Built with more stone and wrought with even more mysteries. Some believe the egalitarian society was partially Norwegian from Vikings that landed long before the Conquistadors. Still some ancestors have blond hair and light skin colors. We highly recommend this unknown ruin, there is very little traffic and it only costs $20 to get there and take a tour. Compared this to Machu Pichu which will costs upwards of $1000. Just beyond Chachapoyas is the Gocta waterfall, the 4th largest in the world.
We continued on our way to Yurimaguas the gateway town to the Amazon and Iquitos. There we were hurried along from our bus to buy a hammock, some food and catch the boat (the boat feeds only rice and platanos and the occasional chunk of chicken). In the end we were the first people on the boat and waited there two days as they loaded up before leaving. After the standard fee of $50 was paid, we had two extra nights of free sleeping to explore Yurimaguas and meet four more backpackers for the river ride. Normally the backpackers bunk in the lower level with all the locals, their goats and chickens. This new boat had an upper floor and since we were first we claimed it and made it the hang out spot for all the cool locals who wanted to party with us backpackers.
On the boat we met a taxi driver who offered to host all eight of us. He had as many children and lived in a very very poor neighborhood. Everyone was super friendly but we started to feel like he was only doing it because he was expecting money from us. When we decided to leave the next day he begged us for money and when we gave him some he asked for more. That doesn’t take away from the wonderful time we shared, especially going down to the swimming hole with all his children and playing with his parrots in the backyard. He did come back at one point and yell from the street up to our balcony at the hotel he dropped us off at that his daughters birthday was that day and that he had no money to get her a present. The hotel manager had to call the police to get him to leave.
Iquitos, on the amazon is notorious for its illegal poachers markets. Taking pictures in these markets is very dangerous. They sold everything from monkey, ape, boa, armadillo, sloth, and puma. Another famous thing is eating larva, this we tried.
Iquitos is also the capital of Shamanism and Ayahuasca. I had taken ayahuasca once in Norway and was supportive of the Canadian guy who had began his journey to Iquitos specifically for a shaman experience. One of the troubles of shamanism in Iquitos is the tourism and how many shamans are fakes just looking for money. The taxi driver we had stayed with took us to one our first day in town, and when I started asking him questions it seemed my little knowledge was even greater than his, and when we told him we didn’t want to do it with him he got angry. This man was definitely not a shaman. We were a bit disappointed at the situation thinking we would never find someone legitimate. The next day we met a friendly homeless guy on the street I ended up talking with for hours. We all went to a restaurant and bought him a meal. We told him about our troubles and he told us that his “father” shaman would talk to us. Even if we didn’t want to work with him, he was an elder in the area and could introduce us to many other shamans until we found someone we trusted. He took us to the shamans house, we met him and his family and immediately felt at home. He told us to fast for as long as we could (at least 24 hours) and to come back in three days in the morning and we would leave.
We walked for miles along one plank thick pathways through Belen, luckily no one fell. The water was ripe from the local fauna (people), swimming, washing, dishes and shitting directly through holes in the floors of their houses into the water. At the end of the path was a little dug out canoe, somehow we crossed the rapid Amazon river to the other side where multiple cabins sat just above the water line. The cabin was basically an open platform and two partially enclosed bedrooms. He told us to act at home and we felt it.
Three shamans (one was in training) attended the four of us. In Norway everything was so official, this ceremony was completely laid back. He encouraged us to sing along and make up shaman songs from our heart. While my other friends were deep in the spiritual realm, I was not lost in a hallucination, I was seeing between the physical and spiritual realm at the same time. That night the elder shaman taught me the ways of a Shaman. I helped my friends through their difficult inward journey with soft words, loud exclamations and song. Two of my friends had very difficult times. They could not stop puking and crying. They were deep inside the spiritual realm facing their fears. I learned to use my hands and mind to pull poison from them and vomit it into the Amazon to take away their physical discomfort. The other shamans could not help us, they were too weak on their spiritual path and ended up cowering off to the sides with their own troubles. The head Shaman and I joined into my friend’s spiritual journeys to help pull them out. We came to them as animals, to make us easier to follow. I carried their suffering and turned it into joy. They came back to the physical realm with a smile on their faces. They told us of the decisions they had made in the journey to change their life forever in those few hours. Even though it had been so painful and terrible they asked to go again. The second time for both of them was smooth. We didn’t have to help them at all, they did it all on their own. After 4-5 hours we all felt cleansed, peaceful, light and free. The ladies slept in the bedroom while the Canadian guy and I stayed up most of the night listening to jungle sounds in the hammocks. The bathroom was a gap in the planks with a little grass curtain. At one point while the Canadian guy was using the facilities he realized there was a window just level with his head looking into the girls bedroom. This led to copious laughter. We bonded forever that night.
The next morning the Shaman pulled me aside to compliment me on my spiritual fortitude the night before. He offer to give me my own cabin to train under him for a short time, then preform ceremonies on my own. He believed I would be ready within a year. I hesitantly declined. I was honored when he said I could be a Shaman, but I felt that this was not the end of my path in the search for truth.
The next day the older sister and I rented a motorcycle and went to a wildlife refuge, while the Canadian guy and younger sister rented a boat on the Amazon. My camera had been lost on the ferry, most likely kicked off the edge, so there are no pictures. We decided rather than reverse the two weeks it had taken to get from Trujillo to Iquitos to book a flight one week later for only $100 to Lima. From there I was suppose to go home because I had no money left. I decided to push my limits and joined the girls onward to Cuzco (the gateway to Machu Picchu), our other mate stayed in Iquitos to continue his shaman journey.
We met up with two Swedish friends in Cuzco. Luckily one of the guys was also too broke to take the “adventure trek” that the sisters planned to do for $700. He joined me on the “homeless trek” hitchhiking and sleeping and eating where ever we could. The other guy decided to go with the gals. Hitchhiking and taking cheap local buses when we could, we stopped in several ruins and famous towns including Pisac, a famous market at the bases of Inca Ruins.
Next was Ollantaytambo, a valley with terrace ruins on either side over looking the city.
In Urubamba we ran into our friends on their tour. They were staying in Urubamba for one night before ziplining and biking the valleys the next day. They told us about hot springs they had gone to the day before a few miles hike away. We went there and also found a daring cable line bridge across the river.
The next day was the longest hike of the journey, following the train tracks from Hydroelectrica to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu.
Aguas Calientes was a very over tourist-ed town. As I had said earlier I was very broke. We had met other travelers on this Machu Picchu Hobo Route as we all called it. In Urubamba we crashed in one big room with 10 people and made huge pots of spaghetti to save money. In Ollantaytambo we stayed in a homeless shelter. We found out that Macchu Picchu was $120 entrance fee which was the money I planned on using to get home, I bought the ticket anyhow. Later I found out some of my friends had snuck up to Machu Picchu in the night and hid in the ruins until it opened to get in for free. Next time I say. This time we had to rent the closet of a hostel for $2 and shared it rather than pay $20 for one room.
We climbed up Machu Picchu in the morning. It was so crowded we only stayed a few hours and rather than sleep in Aguas Calientes started hiking back right away. We made it back to Cuzco and celebrated with our friends the crazy adventure we had. I was so broke I couldn’t buy a bus ticket back to Lima to fly home so I sold food on the street. I took a huge plate from the owner of our hostel and made a bunch of Avocado, cheese and onion sandwiches using my last $20. Over 3 days I turned that $20 into $80 and bought a bus ticket. I gave kisses to everyone as I hoped on the Bus via Chicago.
India – Spring 2013
Sailing – Fall 2013 (Miami to Panama on Crazy Horse)
Crazy Horse is a 78′ 70 ton steel hull 1958 baltic cruiser with one 250 hp detroit diesel engine, 6 sails, the boom & gaff rig makes it a cutter type boat which has a 4 sided main sail which extended horizontal off the mast (most sails are 3 sided because there is not top piece). The previous owner used it as a repair shop, making the entire lower level a workshop with welding equipment, saws, a lathe, and two generators to power it all. There are two berths, one double bed in the captains room upstairs, and a bunk bed off the living room connected to the kitchen. The water tanks had rusted out, so we stored drinking water in bottles & washed with salt water from buckets. No radar, auto pilot or any of the luxuries of sailing in the 21st century. We did have two large dingys, an emergency life boat and luckily more than enough tools to pull us through the intense trials that awaited us. She sure was beautiful, and unique, everywhere we went she turned a wide eye, and she brought together five unlikely people who would never forget those 19 days at sea and 11 at port.
When I arrived the tools & equipment were everywhere because the 1st captain flipped her. While bringing her into the Miami River, he forgot to check when low tide was and grounded out tipping the entire boat over. The second captain was a crazy old man who brought the boat to his friend’s repair shop. The owner couldn’t come to the US and needed someone to get the job done. This second captain made the situation much worse and when we came with the 3rd captain he freaked out and brought a shotgun, supposedly called the CIA and coast guard on us, and came by to harass us everyday while we were getting ready.
This was the first time I had really gone sailing. I was already terrified, so when I was alone one day on the boat and this old captain came by and started pointing out all of these safety issues I started getting scared. Hurricane season had begun and we had no idea how fast this boat would go. We had no radar, or way to communicate with the coast if anything went wrong, we were going out blind. I started to lose trust in the captain and when the crew arrived and gave me a really bad first impression I decided to bail. I called the other captain because he had offered to let me sleep on his couch and teach me to sail. He was super friendly, paying for us to go out to eat and for drinks. The next day he took me to each of this three boats. One of the boats were in need of repairs and he said that if I helped him build the new boat he was working on, he would give me this old one to fix up myself. The boat most of been at least a $10,000, he said he had been trying to sell it for years and was sick of paying to have it docked up and protected during hurricane season. I felt so intrigued by this, but after calling the old captain and talking to him I decided I would go meet up with him and talk about the trip on Crazy Horse. In the end I realized that I didn’t want a boat all to myself and that I needed to face my fear, what was the worst thing that could happen? Death?
I was afraid everyone would be mad at me coming back. When I arrive the three woman started cheering, they were so happy, because they knew how much I would be needed. The next day, the weather was fair, the engine strong, we had heaps of long life milk, everything was coming together. We wiggled right beneath the 6 bridges, straight through the huge sky scrappers along the Miami River.
Not until a mile out did we begin to feel the power of the seas on this heavy boat, and I began to feel sick, not because of the sea but because I did not know what I had just gotten myself into. I didn’t feel any better when our first challenge was crossing the gulf stream, which made us move at about 1.5 knots (our destination was about 1300 knots away, and at 1.5 we would go 36 knots per day, later we averaged 4 knots which was about 100 knots per day depending on wind). We realized our trip would be at least twice as long as expected, two weeks at sea instead of the planned one. Once we got into the rhythm it was slow but smooth sailing for several days, a few minor problems where a rope snapped and knocked off an radio antenna and a small sail rip had to be repair. Then one night the exhaust started blowing out huge burning embers and pouring smoke into the engine room. The closest place we could go was Cuba. We were worried what would happen in an American boat. In the end we had no other choice.When we arrived in Cuba they greeted us with utmost hospitality and rum.
We stayed in Cuba for five days waiting patiently for the archaic system to function (yet efficient), we had a great opportunity to travel to Holguin a large city in South Cuba and get a feel for a country on the precipice of change. Only one year before there was no internet connection or phone where now you can pay (quite a bit at 3.50 per hour) for good connection and buy a cell phone of your own. Holguin had one communal TV that you could watch near the center square from 3pm to 10 pm with international channels. They were beginning to make trade agreements for foreign cars. Horse wagons ruled the street, but there were some 50’s American Chevs, Fords, and Dodge that had been well maintained.
While in Cuba there was too much drinking and even more drama on the boat. The captain had begun sleeping with the nudist woman crew member, and the other couple was a lesbian couple that got into yelling fights everyday. I couldn’t take it and kept leaving every morning to go into town away from the madness. The captain got mad and said I was losing my dedication to the boat. Then when I tried to stay and help he yelled at me all day. The gal was beginning to get sick of it too, and started to come with me to town. He thought I was sleeping with her, which was the farthest from the truth. He started getting aggressive with both of us, and too drunk to reason with. When we would tell him in the morning he would avoid the issue and say something along the lines that he was the captain and we had to listen to him or leave. We learned that this was the first time he was the actual captain. He had an amazing ability at operating the boat, repairing and keeping calm during extreme conditions. He didn’t have any skill at making sure people’s needs were being met, especially three women. The gal and I went to the airport to try and see if we could get tickets to leave, and found it would be very difficult and expensive. We went back to the boat to tell the captain that we understood he was captain, but besides operating the boat, he had no power to treat us the way he did. We said we would leave if he didn’t apologize. He got angry and said that we were starting a mutiny. I told him I realized the situation he was dealing with was a huge responsibility, so far it wasn’t going as planned and having us in rebellion didn’t make it any easier. Standing on the shore with my bags, I told him I wouldn’t stay if he didn’t say sorry to the gal and I for the way he acted and promise to stop it. Finally he said sorry and I got back on the boat to go to Jamacia.
The sea on the way to Jamacia was peaceful and calm. After we passed the windward pass around the tip of Cuba the wind and current was at our stern (back) and we immediately picked up 1.5 knots extra speed. Port Antonio was full of beauty and culture. The climate wasn’t so terribly hot and there were no longer no seeums that ate you alive at night. The marina in Port Antonio had wifi, a pool and bar, showers, everything you could ask for. While we hung out in Jamaica a few days we met some locals who took us to a beautiful water fall and then to a beach where the locals gather. A company is trying to privatized the beach. The locals defend it, because hundreds or even a thousand go on the weekends for loud music, street food, bars and a safe place to light their spliff. The police in Port Antonio had been cracking down on marijuana smoking. The monetary penalty was not severe but I was told they started cutting off people’s dreads when they take them to jail, which in my opinion is a serious human rights abuse.
There was a free concert by the reputable Jamaican artist Sizzler hosted by the up and coming phone company LIME attempting to take control of the island. The stage had a mega screen that constantly played advertisements behind the performers, and between acts performers, dancers and comedians came out and talked or acted out advertisements. The main performer Sizzler yelled “LIME” just about any chance he could during his songs. That night the captain and I had a great chance to rekindle our friendship. Our boat was anchored out in the harbor, and since we only had one boat to paddle in and out, if you were left ashore you had to swim about half a mile to the boat. We did this several times a day, but when you have had a few drinks it becomes a lot more interesting finding the boat in the dark. There was a boat in the marina that was worth about 10 million dollars. A really nice young local Jamaican and his brother took care of the boat for the last few years and had no idea where the owner had gone. We partied in this futuristic boat that seemed like a space ship.
I was still a little afraid of swimming after almost drowning in the Ganga in India. Here I had to find more confidence because of the long swims we took everyday. One challenge was swimming underneath the boat, which had a 15 foot hull covered in sharp sea creatures. The next happened one day when I saw a buoy in the distance, at least a mile away. I decided to swim all the way there. I had realized that while swimming all I had to do was take my time and float on my back when I needed a break and I could go forever. It took me at least 20 minutes to get to the buoy. The second I grabbed onto it a white snow owl landed one foot from my face and sat there staring into my eyes for several minutes. I was so recharged after that experience I swam straight back to the boat in half the time.
Back out in the open blue for the last leg of the journey. The seas were calm, without much rain until the last days. We put up the top sail and it snapped a mast shroud which keeps it up. The mast began bending and we had to climb to the very top to replace the wire . We put up the square sail which requires the wind to be directly behind and one of the spreader arm lines snapped which made the arms almost fall off, so we had to climb out on the spreader to replace this line. Our final night before arriving in Panama the batteries gave us a scare when our lights started flickering and showed only 8vs, luckily with a few attempts the generator started and we arrived in Panama at 1am. We dropped anchor next to a ship wreck (strange choice, but made for a beautiful view with the lightning that night, and also during my watch a few small whales or manatees came and hung out near the boat) Almost forgot the night before our last, we caught a huge mahi mahi, our only catch of the trip.
When we arrived in Panama we celebrated with the owner who was waiting for us at the marina with a 15 year old bottle of whisky. That night the captain and I got really drunk together alone and talked about what happened in the last few weeks. We hadn’t really talked much at all the last part of the trip. I had felt like everything was fine, but definitely didn’t feel the kinship we had shared in the beginning. He told me that the whole time he couldn’t stand being around me and thought that all my smiling was me trying to make him angry. He started pushing me, and we almost fell off the boat a few times. He was yelling that he had let me into his world and that I took advantage of it. I told him that I was very appreciative of him “letting me into his world” but that this was not a way to look at things if we wanted to stay friends. I felt better getting things off my chest but chose to get off the boat the next day.
I began sleeping in the marina lounge and planning a flight out on Wednesday four days away. I started getting anxious wondering if I should stay in Panama a few extra days or even go south and travel more in South America. The ultimate challenge was to relax and see what happens. On Tuesday only a few hours before leaving for Panama City, Sea Quill a dream yacht catamaran pulled up. A girl from the crew came right up to me to tell me how she had just joined the boat a week before, but couldn’t stand being at sea. She felt trapped and anxious and asked me if I could take her spot. They were delivering the boat to Australia, stopping at several islands on the way, including Galapagos, Marquise, Fiji and Tahiti, food and visas included, three months eta. I thought, lets go aye?
(Crossing the Pacific on SeaQuill)
After nearly 3 months and 7500 miles to cross the Pacific from the Panama Canal. Now back home, with wobbly legs it all seems a distant dream. There were ups and downs, triumphs and doubt. Staring so long to the surrounding blue sky and blue sea was pacifying. The moments I expected more were trying. When I accepted it for what it was, a freedom, it brought ultimate tranquility. Moreover, relationships brought trials beyond the internal. Accepting that the blue is just the blue is one thing. Accepting your shipmates eating particularities, conversation habits, and smells were another. Long nights of rough sea with little sleep and resource conservation could make even the closest friends think of personal survival. The nature of a sailor anticipates change, and so these conflicts were always quickly forgotten at the marina bar. Once you have fought nature, and survived, a crew is eternally bound together. Putting man on the ocean, where he never belonged, something strange and great is accomplished.
First I’ll tell you about this luxury pleasure yacht. 42′ and 12 tons, a feather on the water, the motion of the ocean was entirely different than the previous huge steel boat. A giant weight in the bottom slides back and forth to compensate the turn of the waves. This creates a very jerky motion in high seas, but an extremely steady balance during the calm. Eating is 110% of sailing and on Sea Quill we did it with style. Two refrigerators, a freezer, three burner stove + oven, and two basin sink with sea water foot pump surrounded by an open kitchenette containing a large table and chair space for six. Outside was another table nearly as large and capable of full enclosure for poor weather. One tall mast and a jib off the bow gave us the sail power to keep a steady pace of seven knots and sometimes up to ten. When the wind wasn’t strong enough we had a parachute sail called a spinnaker, which almost kept speed with the wind at eight knots. A state of the art AIS system drove most the time, and warned us of any danger. Until near the end that is. We were getting tired of sitting around reading and eating all the time anyhow.
The previous crew woman that decided to stay in Panama left me her guitar, computer and of coarse her room. We stayed on the Colon side of the Panama Canal for a few days before crossing, waiting for permission. During this time I was able to explore the surrounding jungle where several US military bases now lay abandoned.
Crossing the Canal is an expensive and complicated process. Boats which can not maintain above eight knots must stay the night in Gatun Lake, make the entire process about 24 hours. After five hours of rest there are about 30-50 miles of river before the last five locks.
The first night, crossing four locks, we followed a huge freighter and tied along side a tug boat as you can see in the picture above.
Gatun was a beautiful river, and passing by all the freighters and bridges was surreal. The second day we went through the locks all by ourselves, using ropes tied to four corners slowly slacked as the water level lowered. On the other side in Panama city, we stocked up with tons of vegetables, fruits and of coarse rum.
One night at the marina bar we were having a casual meal and drink when a woman from Columbia began to hit on us. I immediately put up defenses. She focused her attention on the two other guys and whenever I interrupted she would look at me with eyes like the devil. I didn’t feel like my crew mates noticed this, perhaps they were too drunk. She tried to reach her foot between my legs underneath the table. I pushed it away, it felt huge and scaly. Our captain was playing along when she told him to touch her breasts. He laughed and loudly repeated her question. A group of people were beginning to watch what was happening at our table. The woman started to focus her attention on the other guy that was around my age, and he seemed to be very intrigued by her. She began to lean over and kiss him. I felt helpless to do anything and when she reached her foot over to touch the captain he laughed and yelled “hey I never said you could touch my Pe-Nis!” in his strong french accent. He was laughing when she asked our other crew mate if she could come on the boat that night with him. The captain said it was his choice and told me to come with him so we could let him decide what he wanted to do. We walked over to the bar where a group of waitresses ran up to us asking us what we were doing. They said this is not a woman this is a man. We ran back over to our friend and told him we needed to leave. We never told him he was kissing a man.
We stopped in Isla Pedro Gonzalez, a tiny island town where we chanced upon a few papayas and some outrageously energetic American sailors.
Galapagos was surprisingly cold. The islands are located at a meeting point of three currents, from the north, south and west. At the beginning of September when we visited, the Humboldt current from the Antarctic glaciers brought a southern chill. The beaches were lined with sea lions baking in the sun. In the night they would climb onto our deck to sleep. Well, sleep is one way to look at it. When they hop up every night, flapping around and howling at the moon, one doesn’t feel as bad to return the disturbance. We had a special stick to scare them off and took turns being the one to wake up and do it. The sea lions were typically harmless, as long as the ornery bulls, who often took over park benches on high ground, were avoided.
The authorities will only allow a sailing vessel to stay for 36 hours to fill water, fuel and restock food supplies. Otherwise there is a $600 cruising fee. The downtown was empty during the cold slow season. The famous Galapagos orange was still readily available along with the perpetual hospitality of the locals. The customs agent who assisted us every step of they way, getting fuel and water, brought us to his home for a snack and to meet his children. When we left he rushed out to say good bye carrying a whole banana tree which we hung off the back of the boat. (Seen in the photo below)
After Galapagos a little over 3000 miles separated the next island of Nuka Hiva, French Polynesia. The sea was so incredibly calm 18 days of the 21 day crossing. We saw whales swimming along side us for several hours, though too far for pictures to capture. At one point, we were just sitting down for lunch when the Captain hopped up anxiously and said “What is that coming in the distance?” We went outside and saw a wall of white water coming our direct from at least two miles away. For a few minutes we were all in incredible fear thinking of a tsunami or storm. A closer look with binoculars revealed a stampede of dolphins. Within the next minute somewhere between 250 – 500 dolphins were jumping and splashing passed the boat. One hundred broke off the pack and swam in front of us, racing along, jumping out of the water for over an hour. One small, young looking dolphin, full of energy, became a story like inspiration to us all. As all the other dolphins leisurely jumped out of the water one to two feet, he would be seen cutting below in the clear water at full speed. Launching himself in the air 10 feet, he was a complete anomaly among the others. A Johnathan Livingston Seagull.
The blue provides tranquility for those who let it in. Madness for those who fight to keep it out. Anger and anxiety for others who let it in but hide it. 21 days are not so many in the span of a life, or the life of the universe. The life in the single room of a boat can be a prison cage where a wild animal paces back and forth, or a floating achievement of freedom, a testament to the future of the human race and what is possible. Christopher Columbus sailed with three ships crewing about 40 men each to cross the Atlantic approximately 3000 miles. They took five weeks while we crossed in three with three men. Soon the speed at which we travel in space will also increase. Our space ships already function with few astronauts on board. Either way, as we shouted Land Ahoy we felt like space men after a long journey through vast emptiness. Wobbling, taking the first steps on land, we were taking the first steps on a new planet.
The tiny Island of Nuka Hiva has a population of 2,600 of the most friendly people you could ever meet. At one point we were walking back to the boat with groceries when a truck stopped and offered a ride, we graciously accepted. Crime is nearly unheard of. The island only has two police officers. One supply boat comes per month, filling the empty shelves of the two grocery stores. Several other boats had just crossed the Pacific. During our five day séjour we became a big family. The last night we made a huge fire on the beach, where many locals joined us in celebration. That night captain reminded us of his ability to drink. He was an old man and we worried he would wander off, swim by himself and drown. Another friend in his 20’s got so drunk he went home with a old not very attractive local woman. We kept trying to tell him to come back with us, please come with us you don’t want to do this. He would shout no no, I know what I want, look at this beautiful woman, I am going to sleep with her. The next morning we found him sleeping by the marina. When he woke he told us how he didn’t remember anything, woke up in her bed in the middle of the night and ran away. No one wanted to say goodbye, but we were racing the cyclone season and everyone took off, some to the north for the Cook Islands others south towards Tahiti.
A boat full of fruits, freezer full of fish, and a sky of rainbows. Yet something was off in me for the next island hop which was only 800 miles or five days. I was stuck thinking about love after meeting a beautiful woman and regretting a missed opportunity to join another boat that was heading to uninhabited atolls to snorkel with reef sharks. I beat myself up about it thinking and thinking. Depression, diagnosed in 7% of Americans, is characterized by lack of motivation, paranoid antisocial behavior, anxiety and destructive habits. While I was feeling off, I didn’t want to do anything, but felt I had to. I had to keep studying French, I had to try and talk to my crew mates, I had to eat, I had to pretend I was OK, but I didn’t want to do anything. It felt like there was no energy anywhere outside myself, and every time I tried to make some excitement it was only disorder. I was spiraling downward and the more I fought against the current I sunk. Returning to lessons of meditation in India, of detachment, I began meditating. I had nothing to do and nothing I wanted to do so I just sat there. Sometimes with my eyes open, sometimes closed, sometimes looking around at things and other times just one thing, for hours. After three days I was quiet, regaining balance, returning to the brimming cup of joy I generally have. Is there some profound psychological understanding within this experience? Perhaps it is the constant struggle to maintain a fruitless routine which perpetuates depression? Depression and anxiety could be an indication of a peaceful soul waiting to relax and accept the human condition. Whatever it is, I thank the crew for being understanding and supportive.
Sailing into Raiatea, a small island of trees marks the skinny passage into the Atoll. An Atoll is an old volcano island that had a high ring of coral grow around its base. As the island began to sink from the middle with age the coral reef eventually is higher than the land in some areas. This creates a barrier that breaks the waves creating calm blue water full of colorful fish.
We climbed to the top of the mountain to take pictures.
A couple of young sailors were sponsored to sail around the world in their 14′ boat. Their mast had broken and after waiting two months for it to be shipped from France we were there just in time to help them put it back together. We had a few mechanical difficulties also. Our generator broke on the Pacific crossing and Raiatea was the first stop where that could be fixed. We also noticed that a pulley block had broken at the top of the mast which we replaced. We thought everything was ready to go. After filling fuel, water and food supplies we set off, but eight hours out our auto pilot broke. The first boat from Miami to Panama never had auto pilot and that was fine. In this case we were concerned because a small catamaran like ours is a bit more difficult to pilot due to its jerky motion and light weight. Also the captain was 69 years old and had been known to be a bit disoriented in the middle of the night or early morning. Almost every morning I would wake him for his watch and he would have to be reminded who I was, where he was, and what he needed to do, usually taking about 30 minutes and a cup of coffee. With only the three of us it would mean eight hours a day steering. The captain decided to head back to Raiatea and luckily we were able to fix the problem. At least we thought we had, but this time it broke after three days. Later we found out it was because the guy that fixed it put a tiny pin in the hydraulic pump where a bolt was required. Now we had no choice but to steer for the next 12 days to New Caledonia. Personally I was very happy for this, because I was ready for a bit more adventure and I realized I hadn’t really been sailing sitting indoors all day reading. We were very sore. We bonded over the trial of our physical and especially mental endurance. Celebrating we stopped in the Ils de Pines just south of New Caledonia, a magical place.
I forgot a funny story from earlier in the trip. The captain had awoken in the middle of the night while we were anchored. He freaked out because he thought we were drifting to rocks, turned on the engine and tried to drive. When he went to look why the boat wouldn’t go he fell off and before he could figure out what to do about it he decided that he need to shower. It became a joke that in case of emergency, be very patient because the captain must first shower before making any decisions. Our captain was a very wise man, with 50 years of sailing experience, but he was obviously losing some of his coherence. The other crew mate and I basically made the quick decisions, and repaired most problems. Neither of us had even been on this sort of sailing trip, but with a combination of his experience day sailing with his dad and my experience in stressful situations, at the fire department and on the last boat. We put our heads together with our captain and made it happen.
From the beginning I told them I would learn French. They didn’t believe me. They didn’t like to speak English so if I was to understand, I had to learn. With in a month I could understand. Within two I could more or less speak. By the end of three months I was getting off on the French Islands and talking to locals. This would be the fourth language I could make at least basic conversation and interactions with, after English, Spanish and Hindi. (I don’t count Norwegian, because I barely every spoke it.) Don’t ever test me on it, conversation is deeper than words.
After a few day break we jumped over to Noumea the capital of New Caledonia. This was the first “city” we had seen in three months. Seeing homeless people, crowds and super markets again was bewildering.
The plan was to wait for the auto pilot parts to be shipped from France which would take up to one month. Everything pointed towards me not waiting around. A girl back home invited me on a road trip with her. Also I wanted to get home for Thanksgiving with my family and get away from the city. Australia was the be the final destination but as we drew closer I felt less like going there. Originally I thought I’d stay and work for a while. I realized the adventure was about being in the open ocean and experiencing the French. Australia was a huge chunk of land that spoke English. Flying home from New Caledonia was cheaper, easier, and no visa was required. I still needed to purchase a visa for Australia. Something I’ve always been good at is using my two feet to change my environment when I feel it is necessary.
Our crew had a final diner night where conversation got a bit heated and we laid all our feelings out on the table. We didn’t realize we had gotten loud and the rest of the restaurant was listening to us. The finally came when the conversation reached a climax and a waitress dropped a tray full of plates in front us. After confronting all our emotions we felt closure. The owner invited us to come out back and smoke with him and his rasta son to calm down. They didn’t need me for the last few days it would take to sail to Australia, especially with a fixed auto pilot. I had a plane ticket for the next day. Our goodbyes were heart felt, I was leaving my family.
When I went to the bus I found out that there was a holiday and no buses. A local told me to walk to the highway and hitch hiking. I got picked up in five minutes and taken to a gas station near a popular intersection. The first car that pulled in was full of teenagers going camping, they were so excited to give me a ride all the way to the airport. We tried for almost 20 minutes to play Baby I’m Yours by Breakbot, the song finally came on right after I got out of the car at the airport. I dropped my bags and started dancing full power, and they screamed and cheered as they drove off. The airport exploded with laughter. An employee who was just going on break took me into a back room and we talked in French for almost an hour.
Someday I want to write a book about going home, because the nuances of travel especially of reintegrating to society are comical.
A few mention able tid bits:
The French: Our boat was french as well as our crew and generally conversation and commands were in French. Even the islands we visited were French. We ate lots of cheese, drank a lot of wine, listened to French music, watched French movies, talked about French culture and made French jokes. From the first day I joined the boat I downloaded several books and began studying. After one month I could understand most conversation, but barely speak. Speaking was much harder. Besides a few short awkward conversations forcing myself to speak to strangers, I had little confidence. One day it just clicked. With confidence, in days I was speaking at length. The accent was the hardest part. I realized if you hesitate embracing the accent, your French will be inaudible.
Swimming: After the first two challenges on Crazy Horse, I was in love with swimming. I went swimming almost every day. A third challenge presented itself on Ils de Pines. I climbed on this huge rock that had a sign saying don’t climb on it. I thought the only reason this sign was there was because there were all these cruise ships that stopped here, and they didn’t want anyone to get hurt. On the other side of the huge rock I sat out on the ledge. A couple of locals came around the corner swimming and started yelling that I needed to jump. They said that people get killed for climbing this rock because it is sacred. The drop was at least 50 ft over jagged volcanic rock. I made it and didn’t get killed either.
P.s. We can’t forget about all the squids and flying fish that hop up on the boat every night leaving ink stains, but also making a tasty meal for any desperate sailor.
Australia – Spring 2014
Home from sailing I spent a little time with my family and worked the Chicago German Christmas market to save some dough. I wondered what I would do next. I found a website, dog sled central where people will train and pay you to be a dog sled musher. I got accepted to go up to the Yukon and started buying some serious winter gear. I had doubts if dog sledding was really what I wanted to do. I wasn’t trying to build a reputation for doing crazy adventures. I was trying to help the world, trying to find truth. I felt selfish and started looking for other options.
I looked into volunteering and found that most volunteer organizations were corrupt. Many spent their money on building up their organization with little regard to making a sustainable difference. With some deep research I found what I believe was the best volunteer organization. It was started by a guy who quit his previous organization because of the corruption. He dedicated his to being sustainable and patient with new projects to ensure there was no bribery or foul play that got over looked. They happened to be nearing their bi-annual hiring for volunteer recruiters, a position that require you to have travel experience and a charismatic personality. I slide through the interview process and they paid my way to Australia after a few weeks.
We would be going to two universities a week with a partner. On the first day sprint between the largest lecture halls for ten hours making 60 second announcements trying to hit as many as we could per hour. The second day we would do a few more announcements in the morning. Then in a rented room give power point presentations 45 minutes long, four times, convincing potential volunteers our programs were the best and telling them how easy they could fund raise. At each campus up to four other competitive organizations could be there, but we were known as the best of the best, and our training reflected it.
At training we memorized our announcements, repeating it nearly a thousand times in seven days. We would do sprints while screaming it to prepare us for all the sprinting between lecture halls. We learned about facial and hand gestures to pull in attention. We learned how to talk to professors to convince them to let us announce. Most importantly we learned that people are like sheep who can be guided by loud noises and hand gestures. We would sell them something they didn’t know they wanted. We used sales tactics to keep people on topic in info sessions and avoid tricky questions. I was told I couldn’t talk about my independent travelling because people might being to think they could travel without our organization.
I wasn’t doing the best at first. I had a lot of trouble lying to people. Slowly I became more and more comfortable with “white lies”. I stuck with it because I didn’t want to fail and they encouraged me by saying my leadership skills are setting me up to be volunteer leader. I would someday be paid to take volunteers on adventures around the world, scuba diving, paragliding, visiting ancient runes, etc. The recruiters who made it through the brutal training and made their first real announcement felt at the top of the world. Other organizations would do an announcement before us and no one would clap or listen. Then we would run up full of energy and wake people up better than their coffee at 7 am, by the end of the announcement often times a thousand people would give us a standing ovation. The higher purpose I told myself I was working for kept me content with the amount of self satisfaction I was receiving. They encouraged us to go to campus bars, showing our faces and how cool we were outside of work. When I said I didn’t want to drink and party every night, I was told maybe recruiter life isn’t for me.
I thought I was giving people a way to find a better life. The reality was these people would pay to go for two weeks, stay in a pre-planned safe environment, take some pictures and go home to the same life as before. Some of them might start asking more questions, but would that give them any more answers? I had flashbacks to the times as a child going door to door inviting people to house church in my grandparent’s basement. I remembered the joy we felt when new people arrived, and their face when we accepted them for whoever they were. I remember watching hundreds of people study the Bible and turn their lives around permanently. The more I thought this the less I could focus on volunteer recruiting.
As I did better and better, I began to feel uncomfortable about how close I was to actually lying, maybe I already was lying. There was so much pressure from above to perform. After three weeks our boss showed up on campus and I knew something was wrong. They said of coarse nothing is wrong, I’m just here to help you, this is a big campus. I knew this was bull and again said why are you here I know something is up. Finally they admitted that either my partner or I was going to be fired at the end of the week so we had to compete for the position. I immediately quit and said my partner could have the job, he was a young guy and I knew he liked this life style. When I reunited with my partner later in the day he told me the boss said he fired me. All I could do was laugh.
I decided in that moment to go to Africa and to see what was really happening there.
The pictures below are put to a story of what happened in Australia outside of work.
Australia, flying out of New Caledonia so close to you at the end of last year, I thought perhaps it would be a while yet before I saw the beauty of your rocky shores.
An end, a death to the voyage at sea, is found here upon your vast soil. Here the dead laugh watching over the waves as they tickle the massive fortification, Poseidon never penetrates.
Though death is not something to laugh at here, where you make the ocean seem small and weak. You sent a beautiful beast to remind me of this, the first morning I awoke, my nose nearly caught in its web.
Canberra has a few creations to cherish.
Though Sydney is where it is at.
Chinatown has super cheap fruits, veggies and nuts, in a bustling barterers market.
The beauty of the beaches is something to behold but I think even more is the artwork it is lined with.
Even at Hogwarts (University of Sydney) in some places this art is accepted.
The gays of Sydney bring even more color, especially during Marti Gras, where funny friends dress up like fools.
Obviously the city space is a small part of it all. Venture out side for fruits and Giant Merino’s
And the best part, the blue mountains. (The Three Sisters)
Minni Ha Ha Waterfall
Perhaps someday soon I will come back with more time, and get a car like this one. Wicked car rentals only $20 per day, they also do camper vans.
Thank you Australia, until next time.
Here are some pictures in memory of my parents basement and all the artwork that went into it.
Africa was a great lesson learned. I didn’t stay as long as I expected. Only a little over a month. While I was there I again meet a bunch of young people who had educated themselves using the internet and were desperate to make change happen, but were limited in possibilities. I went further out into the country and volunteered on a farm with tons of amazing animals (see Pictures). I read The Fate of Africa and The End of Poverty to learn more about the situation in Africa. I was frustrated with the corruption I saw all around me. Especially, considering how ready and willing so many people were to actually do something for their country, but were unable, in comparison to the US were there is such an ability to participate in their country but people often don’t care. At the farm I also helped inside of a preschool for children. Sorry for such a short post, I’m more interested in writing philosophy/political stuff than travel blogs. Though, feel free to message me if you are interested in hearing more.
Germany – Winter / Spring 2015
Hey so it has been a while since I made a post about what I have been up to. Most of what I was doing during the second half of 2014, after Africa, was writing, reading and thinking, but I did go on a few adventures. During the beginning of the summer I lived in Fairfield, Iowa for a month or so. Fairfield is a super chill town where the Maharashi meditation school is, small and friendly it is a wonderful place to stay.
After that I went to the Rainbow Gathering, which was held in Unita Forest near Salt Lake City, Utah this year. At the gathering I ran into a friend from Occupy Chicago who invited me to join in her and her cousins VW van, we went through Idaho, and up into Oregan over a few weeks. Once we were in Oregan I was contacted by a friend from highschool who happened to be in Seattle and ready to drive to Montana’s glacier national park, camp deep woods then drive the rest of the way back to Chicago. Of coarse I took the next ride I could find to Seattle to join him. We had a great time driving, camping and not getting eaten by bears.
Once I was back in Chicago I hopped in with my family on a vacation to Costa Rica. I went a week early to visit friends I hadnt seen since I stayed in Costa Rica a few years back. After the vacation I hung around Batavia for a few weeks before suddenly deciding to fly to India to inquire into a love interest, and curious about the state of the religious mindset in India. I didnt stay long because I was tight on cash and flew back to work.I worked for three months, the last month at a German Christmas market, whom the owners of invited me to come help at their New Years Eve party. Christmas passed and next thing I knew I was on a plane to Berlin.
I guess it seems like I have been doing a lot more than just reading and writing, but really that has been my main focus, all this travelling stuff has been my relaxation time if anything. Though Im far from completing the ideas I desire to write, the process has been somewhat sucessful, not only in generating material, but also winning a writing competition for a Sociology & Political Conference in honor of Hannah Arendt named The Unmaking of Americans, and attended by some radical minds. Here is a ted talk about fixing our broken legal system, from one of the speakers. Here is one by Lawrence Lessig, whose ted talk about how our legal system is choking creativity went viral. George Packer, who wrote the number one selling left wing book of 2014, and Charles Murray who wrote the top selling right wing book of 2014 were the first to debate. Though radically different minds in how to solve the problem, it was fascinating to see them agree so readily on what the problems were.
These are just a few of the amazing discussants at this conference, and here is the article I wrote. Basically, what I’m trying to bring notice to but use big fancy philosophy words is our need for community, and public (political) action together to make decisions important to us. I connect this to the word ekklesia which was the greek word for assembly and a word which Jesus used often when telling people to go start churches. I imply the possibility that Jesus was really trying to start a political rebellion against Rome by inspiring these ekklesia assemblies. And perhaps, when Jesus died the Romans turned the word Ekklesia from assembly to Church based on the word Lord, or master and made his revolution into a way to control the people. Ultimately, if all the churches in the world realized their political roots to make democratic assemblies together, and utilize shared cooperative local businesses, a sort of religious revolution could do great things for the world.
Now to Germany and 2015
First thing I did after arriving in Beriln was go to the state of Turingia for the New Years Eve Party. Two other friends from the market Maria and Tina who live in Germany came to work as well. We spent most of the day preparing and designing these amazing dishes you will see below. Claudia used to own a catering company in New York and is a master chef. The other pictures are of the restaurant, house, and banquet hall they live and work in.
For some reason the main pictures of the food at the very end are missing, so I will have to get them from someone else who was there….
After the New Years Party I went up to the Baltic sea with Maria to visit her sister and her boyfriends family who were going to jump in the Sea for a sort of Polar Plunge. This is the city of Rostock where we were.
These are pictures from Berlin, new and old buildings, War memorial, an Elevator that goes inside of an aquarium and the Brandenburg gate which was one of the closed entrances to the city by the Berlin Wall. It is so crazy to see such old buildings, because in the US we dont have anything quite so old. Berlin is full of culture and history.
At some point we helped out at a homeless shelter that was overcrowded because of all the refugees from Syria.
The last trip we made was to Maria’s moms village, where one of the oldest medival walls still stand. We drank coffee, played cards and climbed to the top of this tower to get a view of the surrounding landscape. It was a fun and relaxing stay.
Now we are back in Berlin deciding what to do next, thanks for reading!