A Restaurant in the Middle of Nowhere

The Amazon Jungle is a long ways from the Middle East. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a location more geographically re-moved from the Islamic World.  Nevertheless, it is all connected by the international news media and all the victims may yet unite against the common aggressor. This week’s story re-examines last week’s fear of travel theme from a different perspective.  It is a mirror in the fun house to last week’s story. Same author, different time… different reality.  If you read the two stories together, it is almost like passing through a time/space portal.

“But is it real?” says Ms. B. from the front of the camper van, “or are you making stuff up again?”

The story is fiction but it is based on a real experience.  In 2002-2003, I went on a 5 month journey that began in Rio De Janiero, Brazil and ended in Lima, Peru. I found the overall experience so intense that I wrote a novel about it.  The novel is not exactly auto-biographical though. The main character is a young and naive American on his first ever traveling adventure. He is also carrying a big bag of cocaine.  When I traveled all the way up the Amazon River in 2003, I was a fairly experienced traveler with many overseas journeys under my belt and I wasn’t carrying any cocaine.  But I did go to all the same places at more or less the same times as the young hero(David) in the novel and we did have several similar experiences.  The incident in the restaurant at the center of this week’s story really did happen to me but it happened in a different small town.   What is truth?  What is fiction?  You tell me because I don’t know anymore.

This story is also one chapter in the long novel.

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A  Restaurant in the Middle of Nowhere

April 2003.

David awakes in his hammock in the early morning and the area around him is a bustle of activity.  People are scurrying about, taking down hammocks, packing up suitcases and backpacks.    They are all getting ready to get off the ship.  He rubs the sleep from his eyes, climbs from the hammock, walks to the rail and looks at the river.  Sure enough, a rather large town is up ahead.  By the time he takes down his own hammock, packs up his pack and organizes his stuff, the boat has just about pulled into dock.  The final photos and goodbye hugs are being exchanged among the passengers.  A few people shake his hand, say goodbye in Spanish or Portuguese and even ask him to join in group photos.    The spontaneous short term community is breaking up.   The old guy, “Bobo”, is not around and neither are Catherine and Giroux, but the three Colombian amigos are there taking part in the fond farewells.  They approach David and offer to escort him to a hotel on shore.

A line has formed by the gangplank and passengers are now filing off the boat.   David and his three amigos join the line and are soon on the dock, solid ground; land again after seven days.  It feels kind of funny to walk around.  The legs need time to adjust.    They wait by the dock until they find Catherine and Giroux.  They lingered in their cabin before exiting so as to avoid the crush of the crowds.  When they see David, they wave and rush over to him.  Their mood is extremely optimistic.

“Feels great to finally be on shore again,” says Catherine. “Do you know where you are going to stay?”

“Bobo recommended the Garcia Guesthouse,” says David, “but I have no idea where it is.  These guys offered to show me the way.”

“Residencia Garcia?  That place is recommended in the guidebook,” says Giroux. “We looked it up last night.  It’s in Leticia, not Tabatinga.”

“Leticia is supposed to be a better place to stay,” says Catherine.

“Where are we now?” asks David.

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The Fear of Travel

Ms. B. won’t let me take little A. to the Congo yet so we are all going to Florida on a camper van journey instead.  Most likely, this first ever full family wander will involve at least a few escapades worth writing stories about.  In the meantime, I will be continuing with my series of stories about traveling in Islamic countries.  It will be interesting to see how family travel now in America juxtaposes against independent travel in Muslim countries then.  Perhaps there will be a way to mingle stories from the opposing worlds for interesting literary effects. Hmmm…  I guess that all depends on what happens.  Anyway, this week’s story is from Jordan in 2013.

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Amman, Jordan (February 2013)

The Fear of Travel

 The verifiable truth is; a lot more Americans die each year in household furniture accidents than die in terrorist attacks.  But household furniture accidents don’t sell news coverage; household furniture accidents don’t sell advertising revenue; household furniture accidents don’t sell weapons or war.  Household furniture accidents are boring.  As such, most people are blissfully unaware of the great danger household furniture poses.  That is unfortunate because… the good news is… your chances of getting killed in a household furniture accident are greatly reduced during the entire time you are traveling out of the country. But most Americans never travel out of the country. Less than 30% even have passports. Many people won’t travel because they are afraid of terrorists. And there you have the paradox.  While it is true that traveling outside the country may slightly increase your chances of getting killed by an act of terrorism, the reduction in the threat from household furniture more than makes up for that slight increase.  Reality is sometimes confusing but it does make sense.  Don’t be afraid of terrorists.  Be afraid of household furniture instead.  Go traveling.  You won’t regret it.

After my hike in the canyon near Dana, I linger at the Dana Tower Hotel for a couple extra days.  The food is incredible there and the couches on the rooftop terrace are nicely atmospheric for creative writing.  Indeed, I manage to complete my non-traditional story about Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments before I leave town.  I also have several interesting encounters with some fascinating people.

On one particularly delightful afternoon, I share a shisha on the rooftop terrace with an older backpacking dude from Austria.  As luck would have it, he is a man with a traveling gene similar to my own.  He works seasonally in Vienna and world wanders when he is not working.  He is presently in the midst of an extended Mideast journey that began in Turkey and circled through Iran and Oman before bringing him to Jordan.  He tried to go through Saudi Arabia as well but the Kingdom would not let him in.  With the worst human rights record in the region and perhaps the world, the Saudis are not too keen on independent travelers.   The only westerners allowed to visit them are oil buyers and weapons sellers… not tourists, travelers or journalists.  Now isn’t that just a fascinating little factoid. Meanwhile, my extended tour of the Mideast also began in Turkey.  I, however, circled through Cyprus and Egypt before arriving here in Jordan.  I, too, suffered through a case of journey interruptus for political reasons.  The passenger ferry from Cyprus to Haifa in Israel no longer runs so I caught a cheap direct flight to Cairo instead.  The best laid plans of world travelers are so very often interfered with by the mice and men of world governments and their petty disputes.  Sometimes, the world is just not fair.  Oh well, the Austrian and I meet at the crossroads of a roof top in Jordan and trade our traveling tales.  As the shisha smoke swirls up into the atmosphere, the stories stack together like stones in a stone wall.  How much fun are humans allowed to have?

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The Heart of Borneo

This is another story in my series about the incredible good times I have had traveling in Muslim countries.  I am attempting to provide a small measure of antidote to the Islamaphobic stories in the mainstream media.   This tale takes place on the island of Borneo in the nation of Indonesia.   The country of Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country on earth but the community where this story takes place is a mixed community of Muslims, Christians and animist natives.  Indeed, the couple that saves the day is a mixed couple with a Muslim husband and Christian wife.  Religion does not come up directly in the story because that is not what the story is about.  But I include this story in the series because of the important part religious and ethnic tolerance plays in the background of the story.

I should also mention that the character Hans Clean is the fictionalized version of a young German guy I met on a boat dock in Borneo and ended up traveling with for two weeks.  This story is one chapter in a book I wrote about the entire crazy adventure.  In the book, certain aspects of  “Mr. Clean’s” personality were emphasized in order to help the grand sweeping metaphor.  But in reality, “Mr. Clean” was not so bad.

Finally, I realize that certain aspects of this story are, perhaps, a bit sappy.  But this was all written right after I almost died a horrid death in the deep dark jungle so of course I was feeling sappy.  If you want to know what happened in the deep dark jungle you can always buy the book. http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/patryantravels

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The Heart of Borneo

Tiong Hong, Kalimentan, Indonesian Borneo; March 10, 2010.

It really is a beautiful universe.  The kindness, generosity and open hearts of the vast majority of human beings that occupy this planet never ceases to amaze me.  Yeah, I know, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.    With all the war, murder, rape and torture we hear about on the news, one could easily be led to believe that the vast majority of human beings are evil, rotten, nasty creatures.  But I disagree.    There may be a few nasty people out there, but they are really just a very small percentage of the whole population.   The conflict and despair we all suffer derives most frequently from miscommunications and cultural misunderstanding, not from evil people acting in evil ways.   Perhaps I’m overly optimistic, but I believe that if we strip away the metaphors and illusions that confuse us and look inside the hearts of human beings, what we will find at the very center is not fear, hatred and selfishness but a natural instinct to reach out to others with love…

When I awake on my fourth morning in the jungle, I am very happy to be alive.  I reach up and touch my neck and head.  Yup…it’s still attached…no blood, no scars, no open wound.  I guess the Dayaks really have given up headhunting.  I crawl from my tent and see my guides drinking coffee and laughing.  I’d sure like to know what they are laughing about.  They pour me some coffee and I offer thanks and then I say with a smile, “so, are we all ready to go to Tanjun Lokan today?”

“No,” says Rabun, “we return to Tiong Hong.”

“But look,” I say, “the river is down so we can go forward over the mountains.”  It’s true.  It didn’t rain during the night so the river has receded to the level of the first day.

Rabun points at his knee and says “pain.”

I do some charades to tell Rabun I will throw him over my shoulder and carry him over the mountain.  I also communicate to Tiong that he can have my tent if we go to Tanjun Lokan.  But the truth is; I have given up the possibility.  I’m no longer arguing with the guides, I’m just joking.  I’ve accepted defeat so I make light of the situation.  After a while, the guides realize I’m joking.  They are happy that they are getting their way.  I’m not sure if they laugh at me or with me but they do laugh.

Mr. Clean awakes and we pack up our stuff.  We start early, before the bees arrive.  The journey back is not particularly bad but not particularly good either.  The jungle is still beautiful but it loses a lot of its magic because we’ve seen it before and are now backtracking.  We stop at the first campsite to eat some rice and fish and are once again inundated with bees.  I don’t get stung anymore but their swarming behavior is an unpleasant reminder of the hell I have already suffered.  Thankfully, the stings on my leg and foot from last night did not excessively swell and my hip is doing much better now.  As a matter of fact, my only remaining bee issue is my swollen forearm that looks like Popeye.  But I’m pretty certain that’s going to be all right as well.  As we continue, we get harassed by more leeches and the air is oppressively hot and buggy, but these things are expected on any jungle trek.  So all in all, it’s a fairly typical all day trek through dense virgin tropical jungle.

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The Endless Journey

I gave up on mainstream news and network television almost twenty years ago.  After several trips overseas and an opportunity to look in on the U.S. from the outside, I no longer believed in the dominant narrative.  “America” has an agenda and the corporate mass media force feeds the public that agenda however and whenever it can.   I prefer to avoid exposing myself to that agenda.  A couple years ago, however, I joined facebook.  I am no great enthusiast for the time drain of social media but I am self employed and I thought it would be a good way to promote my business. Unfortunately, facebook comes with a newsfeed.  And the only thing worse than propaganda from the empire is propaganda passed on by my “friends.”  Ugh.

Honestly, I really can’t handle the Islamaphobia.  I realize that the Empire is waging a number of wars for asset control throughout the Islamic Middle East.  I’m aware that they have to demonize the people who live there in order to justify their imperialism.  But seriously, how can ordinary humans take that shit seriously?   I’m no expert.  I haven’t studied the Koran or taken college courses on the subject matter but, in the course of four separate journeys, I have spent over 16 months wandering around Islamic countries.  And my impression of Muslim people is so different from what I am exposed to through the media that it seems like a whole other universe.

For the next several weeks, I will be posting stories about my travels in Muslim countries.   This week’s story is an excerpt from one of my books.

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Attar, Mauritania; Jan. 19, 2009

The Endless Journey…

It’s five in the morning and there’s a knock on my door. It’s hotel reception informing me that my ride awaits in the street below. I stuff my pack full and descend to the dark street to find four Africans putting various belongings into the trunk of a 1970s era Mercedes. I approach the group and say “Noahdibou”; the name of my destination which is 400 kilometers away on the other side of the Mauritanian border. They don’t speak English but my meaning is clear. They nod yes, take my pack and stuff it in the trunk. Generously, the three younger guys crowd into the back seat and allow me the front with the old man driver. In a few moments we are driving through the dark streets of Dahkla, Morocco and on our way to Mauritania.

I arranged the ride the day before through a contact at the Hotel Sahara because there is no official public transport between Mauritania and Morocco. The reason for this is the long history of animosity between the two nations. The Western Sahara province of Morocco was once a Spanish Colony, was once independent, was once part of Mauritania and is now part of Morocco. The border area between now has a whole lot of landmines and many people have died in the relatively recent years trying to gain control of this territory. As the sun slowly rises and we make our way down the road, I can’t help but wonder what the hell they were fighting about. Nothing but sand and rock and dirt as far as the eye can see. Sure, it’s beautiful in a desolate, empty, awe-inspiring way. It brings to mind images of human insignificance by its vastness and endlessness. But fighting, dying, and killing for such nothingness just seems pointless. Actually, I had the same thought the day before when I made my way from Essoiara to Dahkla.   It was a 28 hour bus ride that only passed four towns but there were six different police checkpoints where they examined my passport and questioned me about my profession and family. Why all the fuss about infinite sand?
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Hiking with Allah

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Hiking with Allah (Dana, Jordan; February 2013)

So, here I am, wandering all alone on a trail at the bottom of a deep canyon somewhere inside the nation of Jordan.  I’m not lost.  The guesthouse and small town I stayed in last night is only seven miles up the steep hill behind me.  But I’m not exactly found either.  I’m a white guy… a westerner… and I am making my way on foot through the very heart of the Middle East.  This is Bedouin country… Arab country… Muslim country.  The  people who live here worship Allah and follow the teachings of the Koran.  Is that bad?  Is that dangerous?  Should I be afraid?

I hear a loud commotion up ahead.  A cloud of dust rises from the landscape.  The sound of stampeding hooves reaches my ears.  And then I see them.  Eight men on horseback are riding towards me. They are apparently of military age (20s and 30s) and are dressed in the traditional Islamic clothes of the region.  Turbans cover their heads so all I see is eyes and beards.  Not surprisingly, they also carry an assortment of dangerous weapons.  They have a rifle, several pistols and a number of machetes with which they could easily chop off my head.  I am, of course, unarmed and the barren rocky landscape provides no place for me to run and hide.  They can see me anyway already.  I have no choice but to face them out here, in the middle of nowhere, all by myself…

After my pilgrimage to the world famous ruins of Petra, the next place I want to visit in this fascinating country of Jordan is a national park that is called the Dana Biosphere Reserve.  According to my guidebook, it is a hidden gem of Jordan with many miles of trails for hiking and a great variety of flora and fauna.  Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to get there from here.  The access point for the national park is a small village called Dana and it is only about 100 kilometers (60 miles) by direct road from where I am in Wadi Musa.  The public buses, however, don’t go directly there.  Instead, I will have to go way past Dana on the main highway; change buses twice and backtrack to get there.  The journey by public bus will probably end up taking me all day.   I could, of course, sign up for an over-priced guided tour and thereby travel by minivan directly, but I’m a low budget traveler so I insist on taking the public transport route.

But alas, sometimes I get lucky and the gods do smile upon me.  Just as I’m checking out of Valentine’s in Wadi Musa and getting ready to go to the bus station, another traveler arrives there by private taxi from Dana.  The taxi is empty for the return journey so the driver offers me a ride for the same price as the public bus.  Oh yeah!  What a deal.  Imagine that; cheapo budget traveler me touring Jordan by private car.

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City of Light

In a balanced universe, you can’t really have a city of darkness unless you also have a city of light.  As such, this week’s story is the companion piece to last week’s story.  It is also one of my personal favorites  For many years, I told several different versions of this to various audiences.  Indeed, if you are a friend of mine in the real world you have probably heard it before. Nevertheless, it was never printed or published in written form until now.  It’s amazing how much the world can change in just a few short weeks.    Happy New Year!

 

CITY OF LIGHT (Varanasi, India; January 1, 2001)

What is the essence of wonder? From where does the light derive?

The sun is high in the morning sky, when by train I arrive.

The smoky platform is busy and lively but not overwhelming. I was here in this city two weeks ago so everything is familiar, but somehow different. The train station is awake. Instead of sleeping piles of flesh, the humans are up and moving around now. Positive energy lights up the air. “Tchai, Tchai,”“Omelet, Omelet” shout out the vendors. Crowds circle around me. “Rickshaw sir, you want rickshaw?”

I know where to go today.  I’m not confused. Up the stairs, to the left, then right.  I exit the building and find myself by the cluster of rickshaws. I need a rickshaw to the ghats.  There is an empty cycle one right there. I’ll take that. “Twenty rupees to the ghats?” I say to the driver (peddler). Rickshaw man smiles big and shakes his head yes. I climb into the seat and off we go. My golden chariot takes me into the magical kingdom.

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City of Darkness…

For several years around the turn of the century, I went through a phase where I thought I was a poet rather than a  story teller.  During that time period, I went on three of my winter wanders.  One season I was in South America, another trip I was in India and another journey brought me to Southeast Asia.  As a result, three of the notebooks from my scribbly notebook collection of  world traveling adventures are filled with incomprehensible epic poetry rather than my normal rambling prose. Some of the stories from those trips are rather incredible and definitely worth sharing but, unfortunately, the only written versions I have are in the form of vague and confusing, poems.  What can I say, I was overly creative with form and messed up all the substance.  So now, here in the present (December 2015), I am attempting to transform those old confusing poems into brand new stories.  I like to think of it as the re-incarnation of words.  This week’s story is my first attempt at this process.  This real crazy story did  indeed happen to me (as best I can recall) in Varanasi, India.

CITY OF DARKNESS   (Varanasi, India; December 17, 2000)

What is the flavor of darkness? What is the scent? The sound?

I arrive at three in the morning, and darkness hovers around.

The train whistle blows as we pull into the station and I am greeted by a smoky platform and rushing crowds of people. The flow of humans moves in both directions simultaneously.  I hop from the train with my pack on my back and am immersed in the middle of the swarming masses.  Which way do I go? The crowd surges up the stairs and I am swept along.  Strange little men reach out to touch me and offer their services.  “Rickshaw sir, where you go?” “Rickshaw, Hotel, Rickshaw” “This way my friend, follow me.” There are tchai servers, peanut sellers, omelet makers and everything vendors. The lepers huddle in the stairwell and reach out their stumps as I pass.  “Rupee, rupee, rupee,” they say, over and over and over again.

Everywhere is bustle and squirm as the floor is covered with people sleeping in rags.  It is big mass of human flesh like a single living organism.  It is tough to decipher where one human ends and another begins. The odor of sweat mixes with roasted  peanuts and burning garbage. There is choking smoke and foul air. Don’t step in the shit… human shit, dog shit, chicken shit and shit from some undetermined species that I don’t even want to think about. How can there be so much shit inside the train station? Finally, the exit.

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