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

The Coyote Gets the Gold

My life seems to be more and more fictional all the time.  Here is another “travel story” that is also the continuation of the previous story.  Actually, I’m beginning to think that I am writing a whole novel as I see a rather lengthy plot unfolding ahead.  Perhaps I will serialize it upon these pages…

The Coyote Gets the Gold

The Winter Solstice (part 1); December 21, 2017.

I know it is going to happen before it happens. I shuffle the cards double… triple… Extra… to try to keep it from happening. It is the morning of the Winter Solstice. My ritual of indulgence will be later… at 11:21 am. At the moment, it is almost sunrise and I am heating water for herbal tea as I prepare to choose my medicine card. I attach special significance to today’s medicine card. In some respects, it is the card for the day, the card for the Winter season and the card for the whole year ahead. I shuffle the cards more and more but it makes no difference. Of course you know what card I turn over; the Coyote.

So, here I am, riding my bicycle over the mountain on the morning of the Winter Solstice. The temperature is hovering around 20 degrees and the wind is blowing but there is no snow.. Am I crazy; no, not exactly. Am I afraid of the coyote? Well, yes, maybe a little? Is that why I’m embarking upon such a foolish adventure? No, not really, but in a roundabout sort if way.., yes. My reasoning is, perhaps, convoluted, but my determination is profound. I am riding over the mountain in defiance of the coyote. Not because the coyote wants me to ride over the mountain but because the coyote is challenging me to ride over the mountain. I dare you he says… And so I do.

Honestly, the experience is rather thrilling. It is like a quest in an ancient epic. Frodo had to make it to Mount Doom in order to ditch the ring and I have to make it over Franklin Mountain in order to get the gold for the solstice celebration. I could have taken Ms. B.’s car. It was available. But I chose to ride. The first few miles were fairly flat and easy riding but I was passed by two big milk trucks that crowded me off the shoulder. Now I’m on the four mile long continuous uphill stretch that goes up and over the peak of the mountain. The other side is much steeper and shorter distance but harder to peddle up. This side is really not too bad. Like many things in this universe, the anticipatory thought is oppressive but the actual experience is mostly rather pleasant. The ache of exercise and the blood flow from heavy breathing excite the body. It’s more like a mid-range morning workout than some outrageous, crazy, impossible physical challenge. I’m dressed warm with long underwear and gloves so I am not uncomfortable. The cold air feels good on my lungs and the warm sweat starts to flow. The only real problem I have is with zooming cars and trucks that crowd me over to the shoulder. There seems to be lots of traffic on this road now; more than I ever remember. I guess it’s the morning rush hour. Peddle peddle push, up and over the top of the mountain. Continue reading

The Tarot Card Tragedy

I should have smoked some weed and drank some whiskey before I started.  But stupid me was trying to be professional.  The whole thing is a disaster from the get go.  My set-up is comparable to a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.  I have no routine, plan or script to work with.  And I’m as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  Ms. B. lets me do a practice session on her but then she wishes me luck and scurries away to go stroll around the city.  I think she wants to be as far away from this train wreck as possible.  I am left alone to perform solo.  The jugular of my soul is exposed to the universe.  Here I am, Pat the Prognosticator, on the streets of New Orleans.

My sign says, “Not Your Average Tarot Reading.”  Ms. B. was kind enough to make it for me and it’s really quite nice.  As a matter of fact, it’s probably the single best feature of my skid row, low budget tarot display.  I don’t even have a table.  Just a plastic tub turned upside down with a sarong draped over the top and couple of camping chairs from the dollar store.  Compared to the impressive insta-theatres of the many maestros on tarot card row, my meager little venue is really quite pathetic.  But what can I do?  I had to work with the variables at hand and this is the best I could come up with under the circumstances.  Afraid of the competition, I also don’t set up on tarot card row.  I choose an out of the way spot in the same plaza but separate and distinct from the central tarot card area.  There are artists and a hoolah hooper over here but no other tarot readers.  Maybe I’ll get some spillover from the main readers or maybe no one will notice me at all.  But my little fish operation is definitely not ready to swim with the giant sharks yet.  If no customers come to me here, I guess it’s just not meant to be…

But the first customer arrives almost immediately. Continue reading