Malaria Dreams…

Hummingbird continues…

Time and place; place and time. Events happen in sequence. But when we look at the sequence in reverse, it all takes on a whole new meaning. Where do we go from here? What happened? Snippets of memory flash through my brain but I can’t hold on to them. I can’t stitch enough together to make a story… A whole story… It was the Fall of 1992, a long time ago. I was traveling through Central America. My first ever journey. I was a novice backpacker. How did I get from there to here?

Fever dreams on Mount Chirripo… For me, at least, that’s when the apocalypse started. That’s when the crazy vivid dreams began. I had been wandering through Mexico and Central America for over two months. Which means, I had been taking regular doses of the anti-malarial pill called Lariam for over two months. Did the drug cause the dreams or the fever cause the dreams? Or a strange combination of both? I was staying the night in the Refugio at the base of Chirripo peak. It had been an exceptionally long hard hike to get there during the day because I was not feeling very well. My body ached way more than usual for such a medium difficulty trek and I was sweating intensely as I walked. I remember joking with the German guy I met on the trail that I felt like I was “hiking with malaria.” Indeed, I had felt similar symptoms to a lesser extent for several days before. Excessively sweaty with a minor headache, I stumbled around the capital city of San Jose’ in a daze. I attributed my discomfort to side effects from my anti-malarial drug- Lariam. But I had no sleep issues, high fevers or intense headaches so I didn’t think I was really ill. And I was not about to let a few minor side effects from a medication stop me from hiking to the top of Central America’s highest peak.

When I finally arrived at the camp/shelter on the side of the mountain, I felt like absolute shit. I was soaked through with sweat and aching all over. Costa Rica is tropical. Chirripo is a fairly hot mountain and it was a long hike. But that wasn’t the source of the discomfort that was crawling through my body. I was very ill. I clearly had a virus of some kind… maybe malaria. Nevertheless, I did not want to admit it. I was determined to climb to the top of the mountain. I refused to give up. I remember stumbling around the camp/shelter in the early evening with my macho American individualist persona on complete and full display. I made my packet of noodle dinner on the camp stove, rolled out my sleeping bag in a comfortable spot and tried to pretend nothing was wrong. The German guy I met on the trail was in the shelter and he kept pestering me about my physical condition as I arranged my spot in the corner for sleeping. “Are you okay,” he said, “you don’t look so good; maybe you should go back down in morning. Wait and climb Chirripo another day.”

“I’m fine,” I said, as sweat dripped from my forehead, “I just got the woozies from my malaria meds. No big deal. I’ll get a good night sleep and bag the peak in the am.” I took off my boots, stripped to my shorts and climbed into my sleeping bag.

“If you say so. I don’t want to tell you what to do. But mountain not more important than health. You should go back down if you are sick.”

“I’m not sick,” I insisted, “it’s just the medication. I’ll bet I beat you to the top in the morning.” I pulled the sleeping bag up over my head and closed my eyes in an attempt to sleep. But I didn’t sleep right away. My head ached intensely. I could feel the sweat beading up on my skin. I worried. Was I really sick? I couldn’t have malaria because I was taking the pills but maybe I had something else. I felt chills. My body ached. I heard the group of French hikers arrive at the shelter but I didn’t emerge from my sleeping bag cocoon to greet them. I stayed hidden quietly in the corner suffering with my chills and sweats and aches until I finally lost consciousness. And that’s when the crazy dream began… Continue reading

Lost and Found

Hummingbird continues…  (this is also the second half of the Way of the Serpent story)

Lost and Found

Somewhere deep in darkness… Can’t see the burning sun… Lost.. The sensation of not knowing where you are… Found… The sensation of realizing where you are…

When we first turned out our flashlights in the middle of the Serpent’s Cave, I didn’t think we were lost in a serious way. We still had the rope. Chris was right. We could always re-trace our steps along the rope and go back to the entrance cave. It would be confusing because Angel wouldn’t be there. But it wasn’t really a big deal. It wasn’t as if we were lost in the middle of a crazy underground labyrinth and might never find the exit alive… That was, however, the thought that started racing through my mind. Oh my god oh my god oh my god, what if we can’t find our way out of here. But no, there was nothing to worry about. We could always follow the rope back…. Where does paranoia come from? What is the source of unexplainable, irrational fear? I don’t know. But the mind sure does play tricks sometimes. Especially if you are sitting with the lights off in the middle of a deep dark cave…

The darkness enveloped my eyeballs. Chris and I did not speak. Silence echoed and darkness was total. My ever expanding pupils searched out for light, they scanned the surroundings and stretched to find it. But there was no light anywhere to be seen. I could hear the sound of my heartbeat and my breathing. I could hear the sound of Chris breathing. I could hear the drip drip of water falling somewhere. I could hear the squeak squeak of rats and bats. Everything had a kind of faint echo or reverberation off the cavern walls. Where is the light? Where is the light? My mind wandered… I had a very vivid flashback.

I was having dinner at the Windows on the World restaurant on the top floor of the World Trade Center in New York City. It was my 25th birthday. There were hundreds of lawyers gathered from the firm’s offices around the world. It was the firm’s annual dinner celebrating another very successful year. As a new “summer associate” and recruit for the firm, I was supposed to stand before the microphone and introduce myself to all the lawyers. Since there were more than fifty of us summer associate/recruits, each individual introduction presentation would necessarily be very brief. The event was hosted by one of the big shot litigation partners at the firm who later became an important person in the “Clinton Regime.” After each presentation by the summer associate, the big shot would welcome them to the firm and ask a question or crack some kind of little joke about the presentation. Indeed, as I listened to the people go before me, it seemed as if the big shot was really quite an asshole. Many of his comments were fairly harmless barbs directed at the quality of the law schools attended but sometimes he was rather nastily sexist and even a bit racist. Apparently, this whole introduction thing was some kind of a test or initiation ritual. He was trying to provoke the young summer associates under pressure. All the associates who went before me responded calmly to his insults and provocative comments. There were no outbursts or displays of anger. Some people fired back with witty repartees that got cheers from the lawyers in the audience. But most of the other associates just smiled obediently and tolerated the insults as a fact of life and demonstrated their strength of character by not letting such harmless banter ruffle their feathers. Or so it seemed.

It was almost my turn. They were going in alphabetical order so I was near the end but they were already at the letter M so I was coming up soon. I could feel the sweat pooling in my armpits. My tie was tight and choking around my neck. My suit jacket was a size too big and my pants were a size too small. It was a bad cut, a weird fit. My heart was beating a bit too fast inside my chest. The delicious looking steak was still sitting untouched on the plate in front of me. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t relax. I would eat after my introduction. I wondered how the big shot partner would provoke me. Two other associates were from my law school so he already used his bit on that. He won’t go there again. I’m not a minority or a woman or gay so he can’t go there. If I talk about my small hometown maybe he will attack me as a country bumpkin. I can’t believe I have to go through with this. How stupid. How demoralizing. How degrading. I heard them call my name. I pushed back from my table, stood up with shaking legs and walked across the dining room to the microphone. Continue reading

The Way of the Serpent

I took a wrong turn on my way to the Amazon and ended up at Machu Picchu… Really, is that the best I can do? What about ruins? Didn’t I stop to see other ruins along the way? Before Machu Picchu? Actually, yes, I stopped to see lots of them. Did the ruins effect me… change me… inspire me? Hmm… Maybe…. I don’t know.. Let me think. Tikal….yes… That was the first big one; but that is also where I got lost in the cave. It was all because of the guide… Angel… and the cave I got lost in was called, “la cueva de el serpiente.” It’s a story yes, and it’s true, but it wraps itself around in my mind like some kind of crazy mythological metaphor. Did it really happen that way or is my mind re-constructing reality now to meet my mythological expectations? I don’t know; but the basic facts are fairly straightforward and believable. I’m a stone guy now. That’s who I am and what I do. But back then I wasn’t. I was a lawyer… a lost and confused lawyer. And the first real awesome overwhelming, significant experience I had with stone happened at Tikal in Guatemala in 1992. But that incredible experience is completely blocked from my brain because on that very same afternoon I also got lost in the serpent’s cave…

Honestly, now that I think about it, ancient stone ruins were not even on my radar as I went South into Latin America from the United States in 1992. I was an outdoor adventure person not an archaeologist or stone mason. I was thinking about mountains to hike, rivers to paddle, jungles to explore and beaches to swim in. Aztecs? Mayans? Incas? Who? Yeah, I’ve heard of those guys. They have what down here? Ancient civilizations? Stone ruins? Sure, I guess so. I might go see some if they are near a national park. That sounds cool… But I went to the big unpronounceable ruins near Mexico City and was not impressed at all. The cheap hotel I stayed at arranged the tour; the guide barely spoke English; it was hot, dry and there were big piles of stone that sort of resembled buildings; so what? Who cares; Are there any more mountains nearby to climb? I didn’t even bother with Palenque or Chitzanitza as I headed South because they were out of the way. Indeed, I probably would have skipped Tikal too except everybody on my canoe trip in Belize was talking about going there.

The canoe trip in Belize was rather incredible. It was my first adventure in the Central American interior after my week of intro to backpacking on Caye Caulker Island. There was a small town on a river near the border with Guatemala. I stayed at the same guesthouse in the town as several travelers I met on the island. Someone arranged for a two day and one night guided canoe trip up the river and into the jungle. They invited me to go along and I did. It seemed like the fulfillment of a vision from a childhood dream… paddling through the jungles of Central America. I always wanted to go to the Amazon and this experience was very much like I imagined it would be. Yeah sure, this was not quite the Amazon yet… But I was on my way. The grin on my face must have cracked through my earlobes. The whole experience was perfect. We saw abundant wildlife, we swam in the river and we even had a riverside campfire at night. There were three canoes with three people in each canoe. Six travelers and three guides. And two of those other travelers were two very attractive Canadian nurses. I was really starting to like this traveling game. How much fun are humans allowed to have?

I remember listening to the nurses by the campfire talk about how they were going to Tikal next and I didn’t even know what Tikal was? It sounded like the name of a volcano or jungle God. Later on in my tent with a flashlight, I looked it up in my guidebook and I was disappointed to learn it was just an archeological site of ancient Mayan ruins... I guess it can’t be too boring if the hot Canadians are going but I wonder if there are any good hiking trails through the jungle nearby or maybe even another canoe paddle like this one.

The other backpacker in my canoe was a slightly older Australian guy named Chris. He was also on his way to Tikal. He spoke decent Spanish and seemed like an experienced traveler. I did not want to seem like a tag-along but that is exactly what I wanted to do. “Can’t wait to see Tikal,” I said, “nothing like a great big pile of stones in the jungle to get the heart pumping.”
“Are you going there next as well?” He asked.
“Of course,” I said, “it’s next on the way in Guatemala. I will stand there amid the stones in the the jungle and imagine how the people of an ancient civilization lived…”
“I, personally, like to have a good guide when visiting archaeological sites so I know what the piles of rock mean,” said Chris, “are you planning to hire a guide there as well?”
“I guess so,” I said, “if that is what you are supposed to do.”
“If you want, maybe we can share a guide to save on cost.”
“That sounds like a great idea.”

Of course, now that I am older and wiser, I don’t like having guides to show me around ancient archaeological sites because I like to bond with the stones and experience the stonework of the ancient masters on my own. But now I am a stone guy. Indeed, after twenty three years of handling stone and touching stone and working with stone, I am now definitely a stone guy. But back then I was just a lawyer… a lost and confused lawyer. Back then I needed a guide. Someone had to show me the way… An angel perhaps? Continue reading

Backpacker Madness

Hummingbird continues…

I saw the guy with backpacker madness in Managua, Nicaragua. He was pacing back and forth on the street in front of the guesthouse shaking his fist and shouting at the full moon that was high up in the sky…. “Homeless and broke on the streets of Managua. YES!! The perfect backpacker experience. He kicked me out. I can’t believe he kicked me out. The money is coming. I swear it is. He will get his money. All of it. Every penny. I can’t believe he kicked me out…. Ha ha ha ha ha! What an experience! Totally broke and homeless in Managua. I can’t believe this is happening to me!”….

I didn’t stop to talk to him. He had the moon for company already. I had met him a couple times before inside the guesthouse and I didn’t really like him. He was a talented artist, but he was also strange and not very nice. Now he seemed totally insane. I tippy-toed on past his rantings and ravings and slipped in the front door of the guesthouse.

The trail of privilege stretches all around and through the many different countries that make up Central and South America. It is a network of guesthouses, hostels, bars, restaurants and cafes that are all very Gringo friendly. Travelers of the lighter shade who usually speak some version of English (Europeans, North Americans and Australians) are always graciously welcomed at such places and are made to feel safe. Accordingly, such places always have an abundance of lighter skinned, English speaking travelers thereby making them even more inviting to other such travelers. Attempting to be as non-racist as possible in describing this phenomena, I would say that strangers in a foreign land are naturally drawn to other strangers who look and act like them. Some of the bigger cities even have a whole street or a particular plaza that such travelers tend to cluster around. Before I went traveling, I had no real conception of this phenomena at all. I first experienced it personally over a few months of Central America travel in 1992 and I have since seen it at different levels of intensity in every one of the fifty or so countries I have traveled in world-wide. I am not trying to say that these clusters of familiarity, these simulacrums of home culture are a good thing or a bad thing. I merely point them out as a true phenomena that does indeed exist. If you are a Gringo (white westerner), No matter where you go in the world, a psychological safety zone is always somewhere nearby. There’s a signpost up ahead… next left… the gringo trail… This simple fact makes international travel a heck of a lot easier.

In the Fall of 1992, the Gringo Trail in Central America was a very social route. There was no internet then but I had my “shoestring guidebook,” to show me the way. As I made my way from town to town and tourist attraction to tourist attraction, I also went from guesthouse to backpacker hostel to pension to hospedaje to guesthouse. Everywhere I went, I always encountered small groups of white westerners (gringos) who were easy for me to socialize with. Frequently, it was the same small groups over and over in different cities and countries because we were all traveling with the same shoe-string guidebook. We all hung out together. It was a little like a traveling circus or a caravan. There was no internet in those days, so no one ever had a reservation. The public bus would pull into a station and we would all jump off and spontaneously huddle together on the platform and compare guidebook reviews of places to stay. The local “scoundrels” would surround us trying to sell us on some “new” place while we would discuss back and forth the shoestring options. “I’m gonna try this one.” “I think we will check out this one.” “I’m gonna have a look at this one first, it looks cool.” “And look here, there is a bar called ‘Che’s Lounge,’ it is supposed to be a good travelers’ hub for information.” All right team backpacker… let’s break. Everybody dashed off into the streets to find their accommodation. It was a little like an Easter Egg hunt for grown-ups. A friendly competition to see who could find the coolest and cheapest place to crash for a while…

Continue reading

Discovering the Gringo Trail

Hummingbird continues…

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

Escaping the Bubble

Hummingbird continues… (the story of why I quit the legal profession to become a world-wandering stone mason instead).

Escaping the Bubble

So, here I am, sitting in a small cafe in Bogota, Columbia in December of 1992. I am attempting to read a local newspaper with the help of my Spanish/English dictionary… Holy smokes. If I understand this article correctly, there was bombing last night in Cucuta. I was in Cucuta just four days ago. Some of the pictures accompanying the article look rather gruesome. Did the FARC do that or some paramilitary group? On another page there is a photo of Pablo Escobar riding a horse through the central square of a town. He is surrounded by what seems to be a cheering crowd. I wonder if the authorities caught him yet… As I flip through my dictionary to figure out some words in the first paragraph, I hear a voice. “Hello Mister. Where you from? Can I practice English with you?” I look up from my newspaper and see a very beautiful young lady. “Sure thing,” I say, “have a seat. My name is Patrick.” She pulls out a chair and sits. “My name Angela,” she says, “nice to meet you.”

Perception management. Manufacturing Consent. Brain washing. Propaganda. Reality control. Why do we believe what the media teaches us? Is it even possible to get beyond the illusion? Where does truth end and illusion begin? Here in the US that question is especially perplexing because over 90% of all media outlets (television, movies, newspapers, magazines) are owned by one of the same five corporations. And all five of those corporations are heavily invested in (intertwined with) the military industrial complex. If you live inside the US, it is very hard to escape the bubble. No doubt the different outlets provide thematic variations and they sometimes seem in complete opposition to each other on superficial topics like “politics” (Fox News vs. MSNBC) but the underlying dominant narrative of them all is the same and that narrative is American Exceptionalism… which is a slight modification of the concept of manifest destiny. The story goes like this: USA is the leader of the “free world.” We are the “good guys”. We are spreading the goodness of democracy and freedom and economic development to all other countries who are suffering under various types of dictatorships and bad economic systems. All other countries and people should look up to us and admire us. They all want and need to have governments and economic systems that work as well as ours. Most people on the planet earth really just want to leave their miserable undeveloped countries and move to the USA where they can live free in a developed modern democracy. But we can’t realistically take everyone into the USA so instead we use various types of aid (military and financial) to help other nations develop strong free market democracies for themselves…

When I began my very first journey to Central and South America in 1992, I didn’t speak any Spanish. I had taken a couple of Spanish classes in college but that was in the mid 1980s and barely a word had stuck in my brain. (Me llamo Patrick. Donde esta el bano?). But as I made my way South through foreign territory, I made a significant effort to learn the language. The method I employed to learn Spanish was fairly simple and straightforward. Every single day, wherever I was, I bought a local newspaper and did my best to translate it using my Spanish/English dictionary. I must say that my technique worked fairly well. Immersed in a Spanish speaking world all day long and slowly building my vocabulary with my daily lessons, by the end of my seven month journey, I could speak and understand a fair amount of the language. I certainly wasn’t fluent, but I could have real conversations and make myself be understood. Continue reading

Call me Coyote…

Call me Coyote….

I am a fictional character. I am not real. I am fake news. Do not believe me when I tell you about the revolution. It is an imaginary revolution. It is not real.

I first began to howl in December of 1994. That was the moment when I divested from the Empire. I cashed out my few “financial investments” and stopped “investing” any money in “corporations.” I stopped voting. I stopped paying taxes. I stopped filling out any and all paperwork relating to the US government except for the bare minimum necessary to renew my passport for international travel. I stopped believing that the US corporatocracy was a legitimate government and no longer recognized its authority. I live and work within the boundaries of the US but my way of life and my own personal economics are completely independent from those psychopaths in Washington, D.C.. and New York who claim to be my rulers. Fuck them. I don’t want to fight them. I don’t want to take over. I just want to ignore them. And really, for 24 years now it has been fairly easy to do that.

Remember, this is fiction, I am not real.

I am also not an anarchist philosophically. I believe that human beings have a social instinct and a natural tendency to come together in groups. The creation of government or law is the real world application of that natural instinct. Nevertheless, I am a practicing political and economic anarchist because I oppose the present ruling oligarchy/corporatocracy that calls itself the US government. Elections are a carnival act and so called “leaders” are clowns. Power structures need to be decentralized and democracy needs to be more direct. The war against the world must come to an end. I believe the practice of non-violent political and economic anarchy are the most effective means to assist the inevitable collapse of the present broken system and help humans through the transition to a saner way of living and societal organizing. Ignore and avoid the federal government as much as possible, that is what the imaginary revolution is all about. Create a beautiful new world in the midst of the shitty one collapsing all around us. Continue reading