The Guesthouse Grapevine

Hummingbird continues…

How very strange to think about now… There was no internet at all when I went on my first ever backpacking adventure in 1992-93. My only communication with the homeland for the seven month period I traveled in Central and South America was through the many post cards I sent and occasional phone calls to my parents. I tried to stay current on international news by translating local newspapers and talking to other backpackers in guesthouses. But in many respects, the guesthouse grapevine seemed an unreliable source of information. The setting alone encouraged people to play fast and loose with the facts. Stories tended to repeat and vary and change from guesthouse to guesthouse and courtyard to courtyard. There was no official source of information to check, no Google to search it or Wikipedia to compare it to. There was only the authenticity of the speaker and the believability of the narrative. Was my young and innocent mind corrupted by the 1992 version of “fake news”? Or was my brainwashed consciousness cracked open by exposure to narratives outside the corporate news propaganda bubble?

When I first heard about the “Highway of Death,” I thought it was a bullshit story. I was in a guesthouse in Managua, Nicaragua in October of 1992. I was a naive and innocent first time traveler then who still believed in the holiness of the US constitution and the inherent goodness of “America.” I was aware of some of “America’s” crimes in Central America and was generally against US military actions overseas but tended to think the bad actions were the fault of certain bad actors or bad administrations (republicans). I certainly did not believe that the US government or the US nation as a whole was “imperialist or aggressive or militaristic.” Instead, I thought that the US was the world’s good guy; spreading democracy, freedom, development and progress to the rest of the world. But I met these two European anarchist dudes and they were not very nice. One was from Austria and the other was from France. They argued with each other about a wide range of subjects in the courtyard of the guesthouse. The only subject they agreed on was their fierce opposition to US militarism. I was the only “American” in the courtyard so they directed their anger at me. I was not really interested in defending militarism but I still felt like I had to defend “America” because “America” was a part of my “persona”. I was an “American.” They started with a rant about the US sponsored contra war right there in Nicaragua and moved on to a diatribe about Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. No it was not the “Vietnam War,” it was “The American War” against South East Asia. Then, they segwayed into Indonesia where “the Americans gave the go ahead,” for the massive slaughter of communists and socialists by mobs of coup supporters. Supposedly the CIA handed out lists of “communist names” to angry mobs and promised money for their murders. Then, in the African Congo, the CIA murdered the newly elected socialist prime minister and thereby started a long bloody civil war. Everywhere you go in the world there is a problem. And that problem is caused by the CIA or the US military… Yeah right sure guys, and the moon landings were fake and JFK was shot by Marilyn Monroe…

Somewhere during their dissertation on the crimes of America, they reached the very recent and still ongoing conflict with Iraq. According to their story, Kuwait was an asset of the United States. Oil wells in Kuwait, controlled by the US, were drilling at a slant underground to steal oil from Iraq. Iraq only invaded Kuwait to stop the US from stealing their oil. The US then used Iraq’s little invasion of Kuwait as a pretext to invade and occupy the whole region. The US military was at the beginning of a long military buildup in order to gain control of all the energy resources in the whole Middle East. They already had puppet regimes on half the peninsula and with the recent collapse of the protector state, the Soviet Union, a whole group of nominally independent states were now ripe for the picking as well. Iraq was first on the list but Lebanon, Syria, Libya and Iran were also supposedly targeted for conquest. The US military’s gruesome performance on the Highway of Death was a purposeful display of viciousness in order to scare the region into submission. The slaughter was ordered from the highest levels of the US government because the US was sending a clear and unequivocal message to the people in the Middle East… Supposedly, more than 50,000 retreating Iraqi conscripts were gunned down over a three day period as they tried to escape the war zone in Kuwait by fleeing along the highway that connected Kuwait City to Basra in Iraq. US warplanes shot up vehicles in order to cause a massive traffic jam and then started shooting the trapped and desperate men like they were fish in a barrel….

“No way,” I interrupted. “The United States military would never shoot at retreating soldiers. That’s not the way America operates. You guys are full of shit.”

“They weren’t even regular Iraqi army,” said the Austrian, “they were conscripts. Farm boys, shopkeepers, day laborers and students that Saddam force drafted into his military to fight his crazy battle. They certainly didn’t want to be there. At the first sign of battle, they dropped their weapons and fled. Some of them even raised white flags of surrender as they staggered helplessly down the Basra highway. But the US attack helicopters and jets didn’t care about any of that. They just opened fire and slaughtered. Most were shot in the back as they were running away. By all accounts, it was a merciless massacre.”

“I don’t believe a word you are saying,” I said defiantly, “slant drilling… yeah right. Farm boys with white flags shot in the back? Not a chance. That would be a war crime. It would be in all the newspapers. I read the New York Times regularly. If something like that happened it would have been on the front page. It would probably be in every newspaper in America. How come I never heard of it before? It can’t be true. You are making it up.”

“It’s true,” they insisted. “The Highway of Death story has been covered in many international publications. There is even a UN report. They want to bring war crimes charges but the US won’t acknowledge the court’s jurisdiction.”

“No way,” I shouted, “you guys are liars. America does not commit war crimes.” I pushed myself away from the table and stomped my way back to my room. I didn’t believe a word they said. How insulting. No wonder there are so many people who are anti-American when some people go around spreading bullshit stories like that….

It was about three weeks after my conversation with the anarchists in Managua that the malaria symptoms began to manifest. The vivid dreams/nightmares that tormented me for several years afterwards first began with that illness. At some point, I began to associate the dreams with the anti-malarial drug Lariam. But I don’t believe it ever occurred to me that the apocalyptic highway in my dream could be in any way related to the “highway of death” story from Iraq. Many years later, I made the connection because I was particularly fascinated by the relationship between “the highway of death”, the American imagination and the power of propaganda. I never did scholarly research on the subject but my anecdotal reality informed me that almost no Americans had ever even heard the story. I, myself, had only heard of it while traveling in Central and South America. For a couple of years after I got back I used to talk about it and ask people about it a lot. Talking about it while drunk always made me sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist. There was almost no mention of it at all in the corporate media so I sometimes wondered if maybe I dreamed the whole thing up. Every once in a while I’d see an obscure reference to “the incident” in a foreign policy story of a “radical publication” and I would confirm that the story was not a complete delusion. And when the Internet became available it was possible to confirm that it was, indeed, a true event. Or, at least, it was a story based on a true event. The anarchists in Managua may have been the first people to tell me about it. But many more travelers told me a similar story later on; including my Canadian friends in Costa Rica… Continue reading

Volcanic Eruptions

Hummingbird continues…

It’s true… We made a marijuana offering to a volcano God and that volcano erupted a few years later. Cause and effect? Maybe… The basic facts are indisputable. I hiked to the top of one of Ecuador’s many semi-active volcanos in the early Spring of 1993. I was joined in the endeavor by a young Canadian man. The day before the hike, we acquired some weed and a chicken bone pipe from a local campesino teenager. When we secured our permit for the trek, we were informed that the volcano was semi-active and could theoretically erupt at any moment. We had to sign a liability waiver in order to get the permit. It took us two days to reach the top. Up near the peak, there were cracks in the surface and volcanic steam rose up from the cracks and kind of floated in the air. The rising smoke against the backdrop of bright blue sky was rather impressive. It looked like the mountain was smoking something. So right up there near the tippy top, we found a comfy spot next to a spout of steam and joined the volcano in a smoke. We packed our chicken bone pipe full with weed and blew our clouds of smoke into the steam rising from the crack. How funny? How amazing? We were bonding with the volcano…. Yo Dude. Don’t you think we should make an offering? What do you mean? What kind of an offering? An offering to the volcano monster so he doesn’t erupt and consume us with lava and fire? That’s a good idea; let’s give him some weed. The Canadian guy opened up our satchel and retrieved a pinch of weed between his fingers. He offered the bag to me so I could get a pinch as well. He went first. “Here you go Mr. Volcano, enjoy the show, but try not to blow, at least not for a while. Wait until we are far away from here.” He sprinkled his weed into the steaming crack of rock. I went next. “Señor Tungarahua, my friend. Thank you so much for letting us reach your peak. I do believe I hear you grumbling. Are you getting ready to explode? Try a little tranquilo. Perhaps this offering will help you relax.” I sprinkled my weed into the steaming crack…

Of course the volcano did not erupt on us. We enjoyed our view from the top and hiked back down to the town of Banos where we soaked in the hot springs. A few years later though, 1998 I think, Tungarahua did erupt, big time… it blew it’s fricken top off. Some people were killed and there was lots of damage in surrounding villages and even in the town of Banos. I went back to Banos in early 2000 and the volcano was still sort of erupting. There were boiling, bubbling, overflowing pools of lava near the top. Obviously, tourists were no longer allowed to hike it. But several guesthouses had jeep tours to hot lava viewing spots at night. I went along on one of the tours. Lots of young drunk backpackers in crowded jeeps converged on a plateau just across the way from the volcano. It was a serious party with drinking, dancing, smoking and the popping of magic pills. I stepped away from the scene by the vehicles to get a better view from the darkness. I remembered my offering from seven years before. The cone was now gone. The place where we sat and smoked our pipes and made our offering no longer existed. It was now a steaming hot cauldron of bubbling lava. Or, at least, that is what it seemed from a safe distance. All I could really see was smoke and steam and dust rising from the center and dripping red streams spilling over the sides.

Smoldering… erupting… smoking… grumbling… steaming… glowing. Believe it or not, this was not my first ever experience with weed offerings and volcanoes. In Costa Rica, in November of 1992, I went to visit the active volcano of Arenal. It was the day after I got the results from my blood test. I brought my tent and sleeping bag and camped out at the base of the mountain. I now knew that I didn’t have malaria but I was still having the crazy malarial dreams. The erupting volcano added real-time sound effects to my nightmares… Perhaps camping next to an active volcano was not such a good idea… Continue reading

Finding the Pools of Paradise…

 

 

 

Hummingbird flashes forward…

So we got the boot from Buddha Hill and now we live back in town. Somewhat ironically, the reason given for our expedited departure was a taxation complication. Nothing we did personally. Just a minor karmic kick in the butt. Ha ha ha ha. So we had to move. The wheel of destiny spun, the door opened, and another opportunity presented itself. My friend coyote complained because our new digs require us to be the legal “owners” of the premises and he was against the whole property ownership angle. I tried to explain that ownership is an illusion but possession of a home is important. The rent we pay to the imperial masters for the right to live here is called a “mortgage” rather than “rent” but it is really the same process. No reason not to use the legal technique of “ownership” in order to take possession of an amazingly beautiful place to live as long as we don’t take on the religious baggage of dominion that goes along with the whole ownership metaphor. Coyote told me I was full of shit and went to squat in some empty Catskill vacation home he knows about. You can’t fault the guy for his principles… even if he is stubborn. No matter, we are going to meet up once a week at the cafe’ to discuss our literary project and we may even work together on a few stone projects this season too…

My version of the story left off in the Fall of 1992 when I thought I had malaria in Central America and I was having those crazy apocalypse dreams. I actually remember the one dream quite well because I had it probably fifty times in the following three year period. I even have it every once in a great while in the present if I eat too much peanut butter before bed. I call it the Highway of Death dream. Sometimes it begins in the travel clinic and goes forward to the scene on the highway and sometimes it begins on the highway itself when my truck catches fire. The scary stuff happens after the seat belt finally bursts open and I leap out of the car and run down the highway. But all that is crazy… very crazy. Indeed, the whole story of the dreams might be described as a metaphorical journey into a world of madness. It is very relevant to the overall plot of how I transformed from a lawyer into a stone mason because the dreams finally ended when I started doing stonework. Totally exhausted physically and spiritually from a day of handling rocks, I collapsed satisfied in bed each night to blissful dreamless sleep… No, no no… I don’t want to remember those long ago forgotten night time torments…

So let me tell you about the seven pools of paradise instead… I discovered them recently in my own backyard… Well, okay, it is not exactly in my own backyard but I can walk there in less than 15 minutes from our new home. It is so amazing I sometimes think it is my imagination. How did I ever get to be so lucky?

We moved into the new home in August. It is, perhaps, a bit on the small side compared to the luxury of Buddha Hill, but in the very important reality of ecological footprint it is an order of magnitude better and that simple fact provides big relief to my soul… Although we are located in town, I call the new place the Forest House because we are on a street called Forest and the vacant lot next door to us has lots of trees and vegetation. The back of our lot is a steep bank that leads down to a small creek. The creek is not connected to our lot. Technically it is “owned” by the people on the other side of the creek. But I can see it from a hammock in the trees on our lot’s hillside and access it for entertainment purposes without too much trouble. So for realistic purposes, the creek is, therefore, part of our living environment.

My daughter turned three just before we moved here in August so she is at that age where she likes to hear and tell stories. “Dadda… Tell me a story.” I’m not sure how it started but somewhere along the way we seemed to stumble upon a series… or a formula… or a continuing saga that always begins the same way…. Once upon a time there was a beautiful little girl who lived with her momma and her dadda in a comfortable little home on the edge of a forest. Then one day, the little girl snuck out of the house and went to play in the forest on her own…

Somewhat incredibly, there really is a very beautiful forest near our new home with an access trail on a dead-end street just three blocks away. I know this forest fairly well but not this side of it so much. I used to hike into it quite frequently from the access trail on the other side of town when I lived over there. Indeed, my knowledge of this forest was one of the main reasons I was very happy with our new home. Of course we don’t “own” this forest. And to tell you the truth, I’m not sure who does own it. But there are marked mountain-biking trails and even a few signs to point out landmarks so at least some of it is open to the public. I believe the mountain-biking trails are city property or high school property or both but I’m not sure. Further up in the hills; beyond a place that I call Big Rock Mountain you start to see no trespassing signs pop up and other threatening signals from deranged humans who take their ownership metaphor way too seriously. But I have never seen anybody walking around up there other than me and I certainly have not been informed in person that I’m not supposed to walk there. Actually, since I have almost five miles worth of bike trail on clear public property, I don’t venture onto the dubiously posted lands very often. It’s just that sometimes I can’t help myself. My inner anarchist emerges and the thrill of trespass is just too much to resist. Continue reading

Travel Medicine…

Hummingbird continues…

“Some people never go crazy. What truly miserable lives they must live.” Or so Charles Bukowski once said. The crazy vivid apocalypse dreams started during my hike up Mount Chirripo in Costa Rica when I thought I had malaria. I had been taking the anti-malarial drug Lariam for two months by then and in retrospect, I associate the dreams with the drug. But, as they say in law school, correlation is not causation. I only took the drug during that first ever journey through Central and South America for a total of about six months and the dreams went on an on for several years afterwards. The psychological/spiritual issues that arose when I abandoned my legal career a few years after my trip were also very close to the side effects for Lariam that the French Doctor warned me about. But again, correlation is not causation. With the wisdom of hindsight, I see the whole big bundle of variables as inextricably tied together; the Lariam, the malaria, the stress, the dreams, the mania, the seizures, the abandonment of the legal career… Does that mean the pharmaceutical drug Lariam was the cause of my transformation from a lawyer into a stone mason? No; of course not. But it was, perhaps a contributing factor….

I’m standing in front of a very tall building of concrete and glass… a government building… it goes up and up and up forever. I enter and pass through metal detectors to reach the elevators. The elevator takes me up and up and up to a floor of offices. A maze of intersecting corridors leads me to “The Clinic”. A clipboard full of paperwork is handed to me. I sit in a waiting room and look at the clipboard. It makes no sense… a foreign language? no, not even that. It is symbols or hieroglyphics or diagrams with random numbers mixed in. There is a signature line at the bottom. I sign my name. A sexy blonde woman in a tight-fitting business suit emerges from a back room and calls out my name. I hand her my clipboard and follow her to a remote office somewhere within the maze of corridors. She tells me about diseases, horrific diseases with gruesome and explicit symptoms. I am going to a dangerous place, an uncivilized place. I will need biological protection; physiological security. She recommends the first protocol and gives me another paper to sign. I am then ushered into an examination room. A middle aged woman in a nurse’s uniform is waiting with a needle… several needles. She gives me shots… four I think, maybe five. Also a couple of pills to swallow right there and then. Modern medicine circulates through my bloodstream to protect me from the uncivilized world I am entering. I also get a couple prescriptions to fill. Drugs to take once a week or once a day for the whole time I am traveling in a danger zone. The pharmacy is on the bottom floor of the building. I take the elevator down, buy my drugs and go outside.

The heat hits me on the pavement… instant sweat. The sun beats down. The air is thick with moisture. I hurry to shade spots but it does no good. The heat turns up. Even in the parking garage, the heat is oppressive. I have to squeeze through hot vehicles to reach the burning hot driver’s seat of my car. The air conditioner brings instant relief. Suddenly cool. Then too cool. By the time I exit the parking garage, I am shivering with cold and I shut off the air-con. Then the heat begins again. Out on the highway, I am sweating again, burning up. I try the air conditioner again but this time it won’t work. Hotter and hotter…. sweating… steaming… The sun beats down through the windshield. My entire body is soaked in sweat. But still shivering. And a headache. The whole body aches as it sweats and thrashes and shakes. Then I hear the horns honking. Lots of horns with different incoherent sounds ricochet around the inside of my head. I see the flames in my rear view mirror. Oh shit, the bed of my truck is on fire. Panic. The heart races. Heavy breathing. Will I suffocate? I weave across three lanes of traffic as the honking blares around me. I pull to a blazing stop on a small off ramp. The flames are near the gas tank. The whole thing is going to explode. But I can’t get out. The seat belt is stuck, jammed, broken or melted shut. I struggle and writhe in agony as the sweat streams from my pores. I can’t get out of the god damn seatbelt and the whole thing is going to explode. Oh no oh shit oh no oh shit… Struggle pull, yank, wiggle, struggle, pull, SNAP…

The seat belt releases me and I kick open the driver-side door. I leap out through the opening and start running up the side of the road away from my flaming truck. My heart pounds in my chest, sweat gushes out all over and I cough and gag out smoke from my lungs. Somewhat strangely, I look up and see another flaming truck veer across the highway up ahead. And then I see another flaming vehicle on the road to the left of me. Flaming things are falling from the sky, black and grey smoke swirls all around. What in the bloody hell is happening? And then the explosion behind me. Kaboom. It knocks me to the ground but doesn’t hurt me. I think it was my truck. When the blast is over and the smoke clears a little I stand up, turn around and look to see what happened… Holy shit, it looks like the end of the world… Continue reading

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