I first discovered the Gringo Trail on Caye Caulker Island in Belize, Central America in early October of 1992. But I found the golden ticket that showed me the way there several months before in June of 1992. Was it destiny… Or free will… that brought me there? Or an odd combination of both? Is there a script writer or director of this crazy play? So many things happened by coincidence and serendipity that it doesn’t even seem possible. How did I transform from a lawyer into a stone mason? When I look back on the incredible sequence of events that unfolded in 1992-93; it really seems like a work of fiction. Nevertheless, I believe the story is true…
I remember now… It was during my last week of work before I finished my appointed position as an attorney for the State of New York in Albany. I had already turned down several job offers with corporate law firms because I wanted to take time off to travel. I had no specific travel plan but I had almost 15 thousand dollars in my savings account and I imagined I could live frugally for at least six months and maybe even a whole year with such a budget before I would have to go back to work. True, I did have a $400 a month student loan bill to pay and that would eat away at my savings over time, but I also had my own pick-up truck and a backpack with good camping gear so I figured I could avoid paying rent for the foreseeable journey. My immediate plan was to travel around the US and visit national parks. I was an overly enthusiastic hiker and camper and I wanted use that passion to explore the whole country. I also had a long-standing dream to visit the Amazon jungle in South America. But I had no idea how to organize such a trip and was not sure if it would be possible with my budget. There was no internet then and the only guidebook I had heard of was Frommer’s. My vague plan was to travel around the US and then maybe fly to Brazil in South America. I would have to find a reliable tour agent to set up some kind of tour. Or maybe I could somehow research a plan for visiting the Amazon jungle at the local library.
So, there I was, June of 92… playing pool at a bar called “Iffy’s” on Central Avenue in Albany, New York. Around the corner on Lark Street were all the yuppie/state-worker bars. But I worked with those people during daylight hours and I preferred a different sort of scene at night. Iffy’s was more of a working-class bar with very drunk people and a regular clientele of local weirdos. I wasn’t quite a “regular” myself but I was more of a “semi-regular ” because I liked to play pool and they had a decent table. Iffy, the Indian bartender, knew my face but not my name. It must have been around midnight when I lost my game, found a barstool, and sat down to order a final drink. That’s when I met the strange character on the barstool next to me. I can’t remember his name of course, but I do remember what he looked like because his appearance alone made me laugh. He was a clean- shaven, tall and skinny white dude but he had a big fluffy afro that was so wild it could have been a wig. He was older than me but not old… probably late thirties or early forties. Most significantly, he had a crazy almost demonic grin on his face and sparkling, light-filled eyes. At first glance, I thought he might be tripping on lsd or just plain mad but when he turned and started talking he seemed perfectly sane. He had been watching me play pool and he said something about how I was a very skilled player until my skills deteriorated as the evening wore on.
“No kidding,” I responded, “the more whiskey I drink, the less skill I have. It’s like a mathematical relationship. Inverse proportionality.” At that moment, Iffy came by and I ordered another whiskey on the rocks. After the drink transaction, my conversation with the strange dude continued and he asked what I did for a living. I told him I was an attorney who worked for the state of New York but my two year appointment was up in a week and I was planning to take some time off to travel.
“Oh really,” he said, “that’s interesting. Where are you planning to travel? I, myself, have just returned from a trip around the world.”
“A trip around the world?” I said. I almost spit out my ice cubes with disbelief. Continue reading