I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, sometimes it seems like the planet earth is a vast collection of paradises all connected together by passageways through hell. As I climb aboard the sweaty, hot, packed to the brim cargo ship and discover that there are no cabins available or hammocks available or even places to sit, I foresee a torturous four day journey with much suffering and discomfort. Do I really want to go through with this? Can the destination at the end possibly be worth it? There is, of course, only one way to find out. I wedge myself onto a temporary stool in the crowded kitchen area and take a very deep breath. Sometimes in this universe, it’s nice to believe…
It’s an overnight bus ride from Asuncion to Concepcion and I arrive at 6:00 am. I walk to the city center and find a cheap but not very comfortable hotel (40,000 guaranis). Afterwards, I go to the port to find info on cargo boats. Unfortunately, I learn that all the cabins are booked so I won’t be able to get one unless someone doesn’t show up. That’s okay, it’s possible to rent hammocks on board and I have experience on the Amazon with hammock travel and I know that I enjoy it. I pay the 120,000 guarani (about 30 bucks) and obtain a ticket for a boat that leaves the next morning.
On the way back to my room, I pass a different hotel that looks kind of nice. I go inside and learn that the price is only 100,000 guarani (23 bucks). It has a swimming pool, a garden, wifi and a good restaurant. Since I’m going to be suffering for the next four days on a cargo boat, I decide to treat myself. I swallow the financial loss and switch to the new place.
I spend the afternoon preparing for the journey. I buy mosquito repellant, sunscreen, a 10 liter jug of water and some snacks. I also buy a pack of cigarettes so I can empty out the tobacco and replace it with weed. Did I mention I picked up some marihuana? I can’t tell you where because its a secret. But it sure is a beautiful universe. The thing with the cigarettes is an old traveler’s trick for smoking herb inconspicuously in a crowded location. It’s a symptom of the modern insanity that something good for you like cannabis which grows like wild in Paraguay is prohibited while something not so good for you like tobacco which is imported from the US is legal and socially acceptable. Oh well, one day the world will make sense and I won’t have to bother with such deceptions. For now, however, it’s still a variable I have to consider in the game of world travel.
In the evening time, I catch up on my electronic communications. I will be off the grid for two weeks so I have a nice long Skype conversation with Ms. B.. She finally got her ticket to come meet me in Buenos Aires in February. Yippee! I also try to finish another blog entry but don’t quite have time. The last thing I do before bed is flip through my emails and take a final look at Facebook and that’s when I read a beautiful little paragraph written by my friend Dennis. Several years ago, one of my closest friends died rather tragically while I was away traveling in Africa. And now, this year, at the beginning of my trip another good friend passed away in a car accident. In Dennis’ story, the friend who passed away several years ago is there to welcome home the new guy to the festival in Paradise. I can’t really say why, but the image is very vivid to me and it brings joy to my heart. It’s a good feeling to have at the beginning of a great adventure.
The next morning, I head to the port at 8:00 am. The boat doesn’t leave till 11:00 but I want to be early enough for a good hammock spot… Yeah right! The hammocks are already taken, the benches are fully occupied, cargo is crammed in the alleyways and the ship is packed to the point of bursting. How will I find a place to sit or even dream of being comfortable on this voyage? Maybe I shouldn’t do this.
But I’m no sissy. I can handle the challenge. I squeeze my way through the sweaty masses and find an empty stool in the kitchen by the counter where they serve food. I won’t be able to stay here at lunch time but, for now at least, I am off my feet. Hopefully, when the boat gets moving and they organize some cargo, I’ll be able to find a better spot.
The boat starts moving at 11:00 am and they start serving lunch shortly thereafter. My seat is needed by people eating lunch so I have to go somewhere else. But where? I can’t possibly describe how packed with humans the interior of the boat is. No metaphor can do it justice. In comparison, sardines have breathing room. The only option is out on the front of the ship with the stacks and piles and crates of cargo. No doubt there is a space there somewhere I can squeeze into if only I can handle the heat. But with direct relentless sunlight and temperatures above a hundred degrees (Fahrenheit), the cargo area is not exactly fit for human habitation. Having no other choice though,I slather on the sunblock, put my hat on my head, plop my backpack down on a crate for a cushion and try to make myself comfortable. It’s going to be a long and painful afternoon.
It really is a nightmare. I can only stand the direct rays of the sun for half hour periods so I have to alternate with the sweaty and crowded but shaded interior. Air-con or fans? Not a chance. Sometimes I get lucky and catch some breeze through a window but not very often. Roasting like a chicken in a fryer or squeezed tight between sweating humans are definitely not the most popular attractions on the planet earth amusement park. The nickname for this region where I am traveling is the inferno verde (green hell). As I watch the vibrant shoreline and the oppressive sun attacks my soul, the image is very real to me.
But the evening is not so bad. As a matter of fact, it’s rather nice… almost spectacular. By 5:30 pm or so, the temperature is down to a bearable level and that’s when I spy my spot. I have to struggle past a small group of teenagers and climb over a couple of crates to get there but there’s an open area to the left by the outside rail in between some gas tanks and a few crates of tomatoes and bananas. I wedge my backpack in the opening and manage to create a fairly comfortable seat. If I dangle my feet over the edge a bit and use my rolled up flannel shirt as a pillow to soften the crate I can recline completely. I’m gonna sleep here under the stars.
Sometimes living is truly glorious. A cool breeze blows and the temperature is perfect. The setting sun sparkles yellow and gold in the shoreline greenery while a variety of bird species swoop in and out of the picture. I don’t smoke my weed because of the gas tank and the wind. But that’s okay. I’m comfortable and high on life, high on existence, high on the wonder of the planet earth. The sun goes down and the sky grows dark. The stars come out one by one. So many stars… so many points of light. I see a shooting one and make a wish. The boat continues moving upstream and I drift off to sleep. And that’s when I have the amazing dream…
No doubt it’s Dennis’ story that triggers my subconscious. Through a process I don’t understand, my imagination acts upon that trigger and creates an elaborate vision inside my head. Here I am at the party and its the most incredible party of all. It’s a bit like the July Fests that Dennis used to throw only its bigger and grander with lots more people. It’s an outdoor party on a perfect summer day. There’s a band playing and people are dancing barefoot in the grass. There’s a volleyball game and horseshoes too, there’s frisbee and hackey sack, jugglers and a couple people trying to walk on stilts. Kites are flying and so are balloons. There’s bonfires and drum circles and music everywhere I turn. Big tables stacked high with food are scattered among the crowd. There’s kegs of beer, jugs of wine, bottles of whiskey and moonshine.
It’s the people at the party though, which are the best part of all. They all seem to be friends and loved ones of mine. Some of these people I haven’t seen in dozens of years. There are friends from grade school and high school and college and beyond. People I’ve met traveling are here as well as new friends from my hometown. I seem to know everyone and everyone knows me. Over and over, I am greeted with hugs, love and an unusual statement. “Hey Pat, welcome. Where you been? It’s about time you got here.” I can’t help but wonder how long the party was going on before I arrived.
After a while, I come to the strange realization that some of these people I am hugging now have already passed away. There’s the kid from junior high who died in the go cart accident and the big guy I payed hoop with in high school. Ralph is here, or as I like to call him, the angel Rafael. With a whiskey in one hand and a cigarette in the other, I’m not sure how he manages to hug me, but somehow he does. Mike is here with his big jug of bhang… a special blend he’s been perfecting for years. This batch is even better than last year he tells me. My cousin is here and so is my uncle. I see my mom and she’s rather casual about the whole thing. “Hi Patrick,” she says, “I knew you would get here sooner or later.” She gives me a quick hug and then runs off to join my father at a picnic table were he is making hamburgers.
But where is here? That’s what I wonder as I stumble around amid the incredible and the marvelous. There’s a Ferris wheel and a swing and a giant water slide. There’s hot springs and a waterfall with people inside. Everyone is happy, how can it be? I’ve arrived at the party where admission is free.
Finally, I run in to Piscopo and Glenn; two good friends of mine who I originally met at Dennis’ July Festivals many years ago. Glenn is one of those super nice guys that has a talent for being helpful. He carries firewood, strings up lights and tarps and always seems to be around when you need a hand with something. As a matter of fact, it was Glenn and Dennis that built the lean-to where I ended up living for a year. For that alone, I am eternally grateful. And Piscopo, well, he is Piscopo… the life of the party until he left us early. He passed away five years ago while I was gone traveling in Africa. As I approach them, Piscopo seems to be telling a joke (no doubt a dirty one) and they are giggling like school children. I interrupt their conversation and they both greet me with classic “love ya brother” hugs. After they release me, I ask the question straight up. “What’s going on here guys? Am I dead?”
It’s Glenn that answers, “No Dude,” he says, “not yet. You got things left to do.” And then he laughs. And Piscopo laughs with him. They are both laughing and smiling when I see the bright light and hear a loud horn. I awake on the cargo ship as we are pulling into a port to drop off passengers and cargo. I rub sleep from my eyes, stand up from my backpack bed and look around. Holy Shit! Is that really the name of this port or is the dream world trying to play tricks on me?
Have you ever awoken from a dream and found yourself in another dream rather than being awake. That’s sort of what it feels like. Yeah sure, the name is slightly different. Pinasco is not Piscopo. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty freaky coincidence. Sometimes my life is so bizarre even I don’t believe it.
So what does the dream mean? I’m not sure but I have this notion that the universe is offering me a choice. Get off the boat now and join your friends and loved ones at the big party. Or continue on the boat going upstream… against the current.
As I’m considering this, I see an older woman I met earlier in the crowded kitchen. With a child in her arms and a sack on her shoulders, she is making her way across the gangplank to the shoreline. She sees me as well and she turns in mid stride to smile and wave. “Bien suerte en tu viaje,” she shouts (good luck on your journey). “Gracias,” I shout, “y tu tambien. Suerte!” I wave back and smile. That’s right, no doubt about it, it’s gonna be a good one. I settle back down into my makeshift reclining seat and wait for the boat to continue on its way.