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.

In addition to helping build vocabulary, my daily habit of trying to read a local newspaper every day while I traveled through Central and South America also had several unexpected side benefits. First of all, it was an incredibly effective way to meet local people. I did most of my daily translations while sitting in cafe’s, restaurants and bars. At least a dozen times (if not many more), my translation sessions were interrupted by a friendly local who wanted to “practice their English” and help me learn Spanish. As a matter of fact, this technique for meeting locals worked so well it was amazing. I would strongly recommend it to anyone who is out there world-wandering and trying to learn a language except for the fact that local newspapers are a dying resource. Computers, phones and iPads, don’t do the trick. Staring at technology seems to create a barrier or shell that separates people from the outside inter-active world. Nobody wants to bother you. In my more recent years of world-wandering with my own personal screen to stare at, I’ve never been interrupted by a “nosy local” who wanted to practice English. I guess there are probably ways that technology makes communicating with locals easier (translation programs). But there is no doubt in my mind that screen technology inhibits real communication and connection between people a lot more than it helps it.

The other great side-benefit of my newspaper reading habit as I traveled through Central and South America was that it introduced me to political perspectives outside the US mass media bubble. Honestly, I was so naive and brainwashed before my first trip that it seems incredible in retrospect. But really, if you grow up inside the US and are immersed in the mass media bubble and are “educated” in the schools here, it is almost impossible to escape the dominant narrative. It is not as if I learned the narrative and chose to accept it as truth. But rather, the narrative was/is such a part of day to day existence that it had become my de-facto reality. Don’t misunderstand. I wasn’t stupid. I was a very educated young man. I graduated magna cum laud from university with a degree in Literature and Philosophy. I also graduated near the top of my class from a top 20 law school and I was a voracious reader of literature, philosophy, politics and economic theory. I had even read the Chomsky-Herman masterwork on the power of propaganda (Manufacturing Consent). I understood intellectually how mass media corporations used image and messaging to sway and manipulate the general public into supporting government policies. But I always believed that my extensive reading put me above and beyond the sheep of the American public. I understood and still understand the US legal system better than the 99%. Nevertheless, my understanding was so polluted by the background dominant narrative that my overall world view was hopelessly distorted and fundamentally naive. Until, of course, my world travels cracked the bubble of the dominant narrative…

After the young lady sat down at my table that morning at the cafe’ in Bogota, we proceeded to have a fascinating conversation by passing the dictionary back and forth. In truth, her English was a little better than my Spanish but I had been in Latin America at this point for almost four months so my Spanish had improved significantly. I could even, on occasion, string enough words together to form a complete sentence. We exchanged info about families, home towns and plans for the future. She was from a smaller city on the coast but had moved to Bogota to study nursing at the university. She was surprised to learn that I was from the US because she had guessed I was Dutch or German. She was also surprised to learn I was a lawyer because I didn’t look like one (no aparace como un abogado). What is a lawyer supposed to look like? Perhaps I was in need of a haircut. Most importantly, she wanted to know why I was in Columbia. I tried to explain that I was on vacation but she seemed to doubt me. “Americanos no go on vacation to Columbia,” she said, “they only come here on business. Drug business or government business.” I insisted that I wasn’t there on business and tried to explain with broken Spanish that I was on a journey of self discovery… A quest. I was making my way to the southern tip of the Americas and I was just passing through Columbia. But still, she didn’t seem to believe me or understand me and I wondered why. Was I using the wrong Spanish words? Finally, she came right out and stated her concern out loud. “I think maybe you are CIA or DEA,” she said. I was totally flabbergasted by her suggestion. “Oh my God no,” I said in English, “I am definitely not a US government agent.”

Ultimately, she must have believed me because she invited me to join her and a group of friends on a picnic in a park on the outskirts of the city the following day. Actually, it was probably my inability to speak Spanish coherently that convinced her I was telling the truth. The US government would not realistically send an agent to a country where he couldn’t speak the language. Unless, of course, I was only pretending to not speak Spanish as part of my cover. I remember being a little bit paranoid that evening when I returned to my room at the Hotel Italia… Maybe Angela didn’t believe me? Maybe she still thinks I’m CIA or DEA? Maybe she’s a secret member of FARC or some drug gang and tomorrow’s outing is a ploy to kidnap me… In the end, my curiosity about local culture overcame my paranoia about kidnapping and I decided to go on the picnic. Besides, Angela was super sexy and that fact helped me overcome my paranoia too.

The next morning, I went to meet Angela at the same restaurant where we had our initial conversation. She was there with two friends from the university (one young man and one young woman). After introductions, we proceeded to a nearby bus stop where we hopped on a bus that took us across town. We changed buses twice and were on the road for almost an hour before we arrived at a very nice state park. I have no idea the name of the park because it was more than 25 years ago but it was somewhere in the vicinity of Bogota. There was a small lake in the park and walking trails through a forested area. There were some wide open expanses of grass and a couple of pavilions as well. I specifically remember some giant boulders near the lake that we had lots of fun climbing over. It was a very popular park for families from Bogota. Lots of people were having picnics. Kids were running all over and parents were chasing them. In many respects, it was idyllic and peaceful and tranquil, like from a Hallmark card or a Norman Rockwell painting. It almost didn’t seem real because it was nothing at all like the image I had in my mind of crazy, violent Columbia.

When we arrived at the park, we were greeted by seven or eight of Angela’s other friends from the university (a mix of young men and women). Our total group for the picnic was more than ten people. I can’t remember any of their names now but I do remember that one of the young women was nicknamed “Gringa” by all her friends because she spoke very fluent English. Indeed, it was the presence of Gringa on the outing that made the whole experience so memorable. She served as the translator thereby making it possible for me to communicate clearly with everyone in the group. It’s amazing how much you can learn about a country by spending a day (or week) with a group of college students. A couple of the guys brought kites for flying and someone else brought a frisbee. We walked the trail through the forest and hopped across the big rocks by the lake. No one went swimming in the water because high altitude central Columbia was fairly cool in temperature. But we did sit on big rocks lakeside and dangle our bare feet in the cool water. There was a cooler full of beer and someone had a small bottle of aguardiente (sugar cane liquor) but we didn’t get drunk. The alcohol was merely with us to accompany the incredible barbecue lunch we (they) prepared in one of the pavilions. I was hoping someone would have marijuana and offer me some. But no one mentioned it and I was afraid to ask.

The incident I remember that helped pop the proverbial bubble occurred while we were eating lunch. I sat at a picnic table with Angela, Gringa and a few of the guys. I looked out over the expanse of grass and watched dozens of families enjoying a sunny afternoon in a beautiful park. There were frisbees, kites and lots of little kids running around laughing and chasing each other as smiling happy parents looked on with approval…

“I can’t believe this is Columbia,” I said out loud, “it doesn’t even seem real.”
“Of course it’s Columbia,” said Gringa, “what did you expect?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I replied, “more guns, drugs and violence. Isn’t there supposed to be a civil war going on here? And a drug war too?”

“But you are from the United States,” said Gringa, “the most violent country in the whole world. Don’t you have parks where people enjoy themselves? Why would Columbia be any different?”

“The US isn’t a violent country,” I said somewhat defensively, “we haven’t had a war there since the 1860s.”
In response to my comment, Gringa actually laughed. And then, to make matters worse, she translated my comment to everyone at the table and everyone at the table laughed. They then proceeded to all talk simultaneously in Spanish so fast that I couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying except for the names of several countries where the US military had recently been involved in conflicts. “Panama, Grenada, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Kuwait, Iraq.”

“I don’t understand what you guys are all saying,” I responded, “but what I meant was, the US hasn’t had any internal wars since the 19th century. The conflicts you are talking about are all external ones.”
“Si’, se vende guerra afuera y no tiene guerra al dentro. Que mierda.” (Yes, you sell war to the outside but don’t have war within. What shit!). Said one of the guys at the table in a rather hostile tone.
There was no need for Gringa to translate the statement exactly because I understood it rather clearly just from the tone in his voice. I had an uncomfortable sensation at the center of my being. I felt a little nauseous. “Some American companies may sell war but I don’t,” I answered sheepishly, “and neither does the US government.”

“Tu pais quieres controlar todo del mundo,” said one of the other guys.
“Mucho violencia aqui en Columbia es la falta primera de los Estados Unidos,” said one of the young ladies.
“What?” I said. “I don’t understand.”
Gringa translated, “your country wants to control the whole world. And most of the violence here in Columbia is caused by the United States.”
“That’s crazy,” I said defensively, “The US believes in democracy, free markets and the self-determination of independent nations. We are definitely not trying to conquer the world. I don’t really know much about the specifics of the conflict here in Columbia but I do know that my government is not trying to control it or win it. We just provide military and financial aid to governments or opposition parties that have the same ideals as us. Some administrations or individuals within administrations may use illegal techniques to promote American ideals, but the legitimate government of the American people certainly doesn’t. Blaming Columbian violence on the US is just insane. We give you guys so much financial aid it’s ridiculous. We are trying to help you develop a strong free market democracy. You should thank us for our generosity not blame us for your problems. You should take responsibility for your own violence.”

After my rather lengthy discourse, Gringa translated it for the group. Then she herself responded to my statement in a very matter of fact tone. “Your country only gives military aid to Columbia,” she said, “no aid for education or health or anything else. They only give us guns. And those guns kill lots of people.”
In retrospect I can hardly believe my former brainwashed self but I almost responded to her by repeating that idiotic American cliche… guns don’t kill people, people kill people… (Thank god I didn’t or I would be embarrassed for all eternity). Instead, I said something more nuanced and intellectual but just as foolish. “That’s not true,” I said. “The US government doesn’t even manufacture guns; independent corporations do. The US government gives the Columbian government financial aid… money… lots of it. It is your government here that decides to spend that money on weapons instead of education or healthcare. You can’t blame the US for the choices and decisions of your own government. I agree that weapons manufacturers are bad businesses. I agree that Columbia should spend their aid money on something else. But that is just the way a free market economy works. Corporations manufacture products and try to sell them. It is up to buyers to decide what to spend their money on.”

“Escucho amigo,” (listen friend) said the guy who sounded hostile before but now sounded conciliatory. “Todo esta bien. Tu gobierno es loco y nuestro gobierno es loco. Pero, no es la falta de tuyo o nosotros.” (It’s all good. Your government is crazy and our government is crazy, but it’s not your fault or our fault). He then reached across the picnic table and handed me the bottle of aguardiente he was drinking from. “Tomas,” (drink) he said as I took the bottle, “tomas a amistad.” (Drink to friendship).
“Yes,” said Gringa, “drink to friendship, unless you are CIA. Then it is your fault.”
Everybody at the table laughed as I took a nice big swig from the bottle.

Of course, the above described conversation is not “true” in the literal sense. It happened more than 25 years ago and my memory is vague and addled. But I think it more or less happened that way. And really, the snippet of words here recorded was only the very beginning of an extended discourse that I had with this group of college students. By the end of the picnic, they all made it very clear that I was not only welcome in Columbia generally but I was welcome in their group of amigos. When the sun set on the beautiful park, most of the group adjourned to a bar in the University area and I went with them. I proceeded to get smashed out of my gourd on aguardiente and have ongoing half intelligible conversations in a mix of broken Spanish and English long into the night. They piled me into a cab when the bar closed and I made it back to the Hotel Italia shortly before dawn. Wow. That was some picnic.

The following evening I met several members of the group (including Angela and Gringa) to watch a live theatrical performance in a theatre near the University. The play was in Spanish and I couldn’t understand it at all but we went to a cafe afterwards for more conversation. The night after that I went with my new amigos to a party at someone’s house near the campus. On two other nights we all met at music venues to watch live music. The small Jazz club was especially impressive. A smaller group also took me on an excursion in the cable car that went up the small mountain to the tourist attraction church. Some of the others even came to the neighborhood near my hotel to meet me for drinks in local bars. In total, I stayed in Bogota for ten nights when I originally only planned on staying for two. I didn’t have any romantic luck with Angela, Gringa, or anyone else but I sure was lucky with the complete social immersion. I could not possibly have been more thoroughly included in the local college “scene.”

This was not the first time in my travels that I came across significant animosity directed at my government or home country (and certainly not the last). I think the first time was in Guatemala when the guest house I was staying at advised myself and the other Americans that we should leave our passports with them in the safe when we took the mini-bus to Tikal. Apparently, criminal/revolutionaries had a habit of stopping buses and robbing only the Americans. I also spent a couple evenings with some friendly Sandinistas in Nicaragua where I learned in graphic detail about US sponsored death squads during the contra war. In Panama, I received an earful from some locals about the very recent US invasion to oust Noriega that killed over 3000 locals. And then there was also some serious anti-Americanism expressed by locals when I was caught in the “revolution” in Venezuela. But the Columbia experience was more significant because it lasted longer and the critique came from friends. They welcomed me personally into their group and always treated me with kindness and incredible generosity. But they informed me in great detail about how my government was “waging war” on their country and how my tax money was responsible for so much of the violence their country suffered.

I will never forget the day I finally left Bogota and headed by bus to the tourist town of San Augustin. The military and police checkpoints seemed endless and I kept looking at all the big guns carried around by the cops and the military and wondering if they were, “made in the USA.” Then, while I rode the bus, I watched the on board entertainment videos on the screen above the driver. It was another selection of American movies with sub-titles in Spanish. This time it was a Clint Eastwood movie marathon. Bang bang went Dirty Harry on the screen above me and the great big bubble clouding my naive and innocent brain went pop!

To be continued…

And don’t forget to buy my new book about my backpacking adventure in, “The Middle East.” You can get the e-book here: A Journey to the Middle of the East

backpacking adventure in “The Middle East.”

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.

And the coyote howls…. Owooooo!

The truth is… the real reason I began the imaginary revolution during that long ago December was to “save my guilty soul” and live according to my conscience. If you take the propaganda seriously, and believe that democracy is real, then you as a citizen are responsible and culpable for the actions of your government. Secondly, despite the absurd legal doctrine that claims otherwise, the truth is, you as an investor are responsible and culpable for the actions of the “corporations,” you invest in. Over the course of my world travels, I was made intensely aware of numerous atrocities committed by “my government” and their partner “corporations” supposedly acting on my behalf (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Columbia, Bolivia, Chile, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia…etc.etc.etc…… and then there was Iraq). More to the point, I came to realize that the entire economic and legal system that I participated in was built upon a foundation of conquest and Imperialism. Once I became aware of this truth, I had a spiritual, emotional and mental breakdown. Boom… I had no choice but to start my imaginary revolution. That day in December oh so long ago when I burned all my paperwork and ran through the wintery streets screaming about freedom was one of the worst and also one of the best days of my entire life. It changed everything. And believe it or not, it changed everything for the better.

And the coyote howls…. Owooooo! Owooooo!

I was really only manic for a couple of weeks. After that my brain and body settled down to a new kind of normal. But I never went back to “reality.” I quit my job… Career … Profession. My paperwork remained burned and not replaced. I was 100 percent sincere in my decision and that sincerity set me free. A new sense of calm settled over my persona. I finally felt released from this tremendous burden of guilt and confusion. America, inc. was now a monster I could see from the outside as a sane observer rather than a part of me that I had to look at from the inside as an active participant. America, inc., is not my government. It is the government. It is not a reflection of me. I am free. Owoooooo! Owoooooo!

Of course, there are complications and challenges that arise for anyone wishing to join the “imaginary revolution.” You can’t just howl at the moon like a coyote. It is a little like choosing to be an undocumented immigrant in your own country. And that is not easy… especially the way “illegals” are treated around here. The most difficult part for me, personally, was the harassing phone calls from banks, student loan creditors, collection agencies, insurance agents, and government bureaucrats. It was kind of amusing once in a while to banter with them about the fraudulent nature of my education and the illusory nature of my so-called debts and credits…. Owooooo! Owoooooo! But really, after a while, it was just annoying harassment on their part and for a couple of years it was relentless. I would tell them over and over. Go ahead and sue me. I have nothing so I have nothing to lose. They never did actually sue me because I really do have nothing. But they continued with their telephone harassment for a number of years. My student loan creditors even illegally harassed my parents about it for a little while.  My parents had to inform them that their grown son was an independent adult and they were not in any way legally responsible for his debts or behavior.

They eventually stopped calling. Still, 23 years later, I occasionally get a form letter of some sort demanding payment of some ridiculous sum….. Owoooooooo! I never actually legally declared bankruptcy. I just burned all my paperwork and stopped taking the empire and its storyline seriously. I just decided that I don’t really want or need to “own” anything. Indeed, not-owning is what the imaginary revolution is all about.

Remember, this is a work of fiction and not a revolutionary manifesto. I am merely explaining the perspective of the coyote character. None of this is real… No doubt the propaganda machine will call coyote a communist or a socialist or some other ist when they learn of the imaginary revolution emerging in their midst but coyote is none of those things. A coyote is a coyote and that is all. It is important to set forth coyote’s philosophy in some detail so that his views and behavior are not misrepresented or misunderstood.

Coyote is a firm believer in the possession of property for personal use and coyote righteously follows the common monotheistic commandment of “thou shalt not steal.” But coyote does not believe in the concept of ownership. Distinguishing between possession and ownership is the most important thing you must learn if you wish to understand the coyote and participate in the imaginary revolution. Possession of property for personal use is an observable fact in the real world. We live in homes, we eat food, we use tools and we play with toys. The amount of stuff a human can possess, however, is limited by natural law and observable reality. A human can only live in one home. A single human can only work on or use a limited amount of acreage. Coyote would never steal or interfere with another human’s possessions. Rent, own or squat… it matters not; coyote would never interfere with or disturb your living space. Ownership, on the other hand, is a metaphorical or religious construct backed by a militaristic police state. Coyote does not believe the bizarre religion and therefore does not recognize the concept. According to the the state religion something like 45% of the nation’s resources and economic value are “owned” by 01% of the nation’s population. Who are they kidding? You would have to be completely looney tunes to believe in such an absurd reality. But hey… Then again… These are the same people that believed in the divine right of kings…. If you want to live in a mansion with a swimming pool and chandeliers; that is fine by coyote and he will leave you alone. If, however, you “own” a mansion or a vacation home or an extra motor vehicle or even a bottle of wine…. that you are not actively using. Coyote will take it as his own possession and use it as he desires as is his holy right as a free beast upon the planet earth…

Ownership is numbers and legal documents and accountants and lawyers and insurance agents and registration and tax forms and more numbers and debits and credits and pieces of this and pieces of that. It is a whole elaborate mythology with millions of priests and preachers who believe it is real and profit greatly from proselytizing its message. Maybe there is a great big computer somewhere keeping track of everything. Maybe there is an objective truthful reality that outlines the proper official boundary lines of ownership for everything that exists on earth? Maybe some legitimate authority says who owns what? Why? How did they get to “own” it in the first place? No matter. Coyote does not believe the state religion or recognize the authority. He only believes what he sees in the real environment that he inhabits.

It’s been 24 years now since I wasted time on bullshit paperwork. I have not yet been sued for any of my old debts and I have not yet been arrested for ignoring all tax forms. The reason for this is simple. I own nothing and have only a very small bank account. In legal terminology, I am “judgment proof.” In other words, I am irrelevant so the Empire leaves me alone. For several years I went without even having a bank account. But as a practical matter, it is useful to have one in order to facilitate currency transfers from my clients. Bank cards are also very helpful for international travel. As a general rule, my bank account is at about 0.00 in the Spring (when taxes are due ha ha). But then, over the course of my work season (April – November) it grows. Back in the old days, when I first started to howl, I was lucky if my account would grow to $5000 by November. But now that I am more skilled at my chosen form of service to my fellow humans, it usually grows to more like$10,000 by November. I don’t believe in long term accumulation of oligarchic government currency because oligarchic government currency is really just a tiny little piece of the whole ownership religion. US dollars are particularly blood and oil soaked so there are ethical issues with even using dollars in local transactions. Nevertheless, I do use some currency as a practical matter because money is the only form of economic value that most people understand and I have to exist in the day to day world. Whenever the bank account gets too full (every November), I go world wandering to disperse the currency on far away people who provide me with food and shelter. I return to my home territory in the Spring with little or no currency left. And then the cycle of work… service for others…. begins again.

It is really a fairly simple economic formula for a very satisfying existence. Coyote is not an acetic monk wandering with a begging bowl or a poverty stricken crazed desperado in the street. Coyote lives very well in the material sense. He eats very good food and he stays in comfortable awesome places all the time. Coyote likes to work but he chooses his own work environment and he will not work for a boss. He provides a service to other humans and in exchange for that service the others give him food or shelter or herbal medicines or currency. Currency is a useful tool for acquiring possession of food and shelter and medicine without hassle. Coyote realizes that the value of currency is based completely upon an illusion of the oligarchs, but coyote does know how to use currency in a practical sense. He rents nice living spaces, he eats in restaurants, he goes to music and art shows and he travels the world.. He just has no overhead…. no insurance, no taxes, no interest payments, no debt payments, no penalties, no add-ons. So the currency cost of his existence is very low. Perhaps 15 grand a year. But the material quality of his existence is very high…

One day, the imaginary revolution will evolve and the humans in America will start creating alternative democratic currencies to replace the present oligarchic war-based currency that controls things. That is, in fact, the coyote’s hope… the coyote’s dream…. Then the “ownership” economic system will completely collapse and a “possession” based economic system will arise in it’s place. No longer will it be necessary to use their bloody money… It’s really not that hard to imagine. And it really is possible. And such a transformation could theoretically save us from the ever widening capitalist world war…. Just say no to US dollars…. Don’t sell your labor for tiny pieces of the oligarch’s pie, trade your service for the real economic value that is available in your community… That is really all the coyote is trying to say….

But no, that day is not yet here. The capitalists still rule. Nothing to do but howl like a coyote. Owoooooo!

And besides, this is a work of fiction. I am not real. This is fake news. Don’t believe a word of it!

Don’t forget to buy my new book. It is the incredible story of my backpacking adventure in “The Middle East.” The e-book is available right now. Buy the e-book here.

The paperback will be available soon… eventually…

See you Somewhere…

Leaving the Comfort Zone

Hummingbird continues…

Leaving the comfort zone and making the leap into the unknown…. Do I dare? Sometimes, you have follow the shooting star and see what happens. You just might turn into a stone mason…

I remember I used to joke about it when I was in college and law school. “I’m gonna quit everything and run off to South America.” And then, the opportunity presented itself, so I did. As I went through the motions of doing what I always said I was going to do, I sometimes felt one step removed from the actor in the story. As if I was on the outside watching the character Pat Ryan experience the great American road trip. And then I watched him push the envelope on the whole road trip story by heading South into foreign territory completely alone… without a net… Is he really going to do it just because he said he was going to? He doesn’t really have to. What is he trying to prove? I don’t know. Nothing. He just has to. The director of the play, the writer of the story, said do it. So he goes through the motions of doing it.

There was no internet in those days (1992-93) and that is kind of a crazy concept to think about now and remember. My only connection with people or society back home during my first big trip was the hand written postcards I sent to a whole bunch of people. If only I could get those postcards back now they would be great fun to piece together. Once every month or so, I would find myself in a big city with international phone call capability and I would check in with my parents. But mostly I was adrift in a foreign world with no one for company but myself. I had a notebook in which I wrote a journal and my first sort of “travel stories.” But that notebook was accidentally burned in a fire (oops). I also had a camera with film that I would only develop when I got back to the US. But I never was much of a photographer and don’t know what happened to those photos. I will say that traveling alone without internet is way different as an experience than traveling alone with the Internet. The travel game has changed so much since 92 that it is no longer recognizable. The solitary quest of the soul has transformed into a social media experience. Nowadays, you are never alone as long as you have your phone.

I guess the first big psychological leap for me was really Mexico. Yeah sure, I’d been to Canada a few times because I grew up near the Canadian border but crossing by myself on a bus into Mexico was the first real soul shaker. The act of doing it changed me as a person. I was afraid, but I did it anyway. And I discovered that my fears were exaggerated… There really wasn’t much to worry about. I didn’t speak Spanish except for a few rudimentary vocabulary words. And I think my inability to communicate was the thing that frightened me the most. But I soon learned the important truth that humans are very good at communicating about basic needs even without words… especially if you have some money to pay for stuff. Lots of people speak a few words of English and everyone understands charades. I remember thinking I had to rush through Mexico because I only had guidebooks for Central and South America. But everywhere I went, I met friendly people who led me to bus stations, restaurants and guest houses. It was, in the moment, very easy to meet all my basic needs (food, shelter, transport) so day to day, I was never really afraid of anything. It was only the overall concept of traveling on my own in a foreign country that was scary.

When I got to Belize and Guatemala, I discovered the Gringo trail. Someone had given me a Lonely Planet Guidebook for Central America. As I went to the hostels and guesthouses recommended in the book, I learned there were lots of other young English speaking travelers from the US, Canada, Europe and Australia traveling with the same guidebook. All of a sudden, there was this whole culture of people… backpackers… and I was a part of that culture. I was in. I felt like I belonged. I kept running into the same characters at the various tourist hotspots throughout Central America: the crazy Aussie, the two Dutch Dudes, the Beautiful Nurse from Montreal, the German auto mechanic, the super hot Swedish sisters, the British wanker, and so many more. We would drink beers together at travelers’ hotspots and form groups to go on excursions to volcanos or beaches or mountains. We traded stories about where to go and what to do. Sometimes there were parties. I even had a couple international romances... This traveling stuff is fun… easy. I can’t believe I was afraid to do this…. So many leaps into the unknown turn out like that. It seemed crazy in retrospect that I was so afraid beforehand.

I’m older now and much more experienced. I’ve been world wandering four or five months a year for over twenty years. I no longer have real fear about going anywhere. I love flying into strange countries without reservations or plans and just making it up as I go along. Some places over the years caused me some nervous anticipation. I remember Delhi, India in 2000, my plane arrived at 2:00 am and I had no reservation at all. Some scoundrel taxi driver tried to take me for a “ride” upon my arrival but I hopped out at a traffic light and hopped into a rickshaw that took me where I wanted to go. Zimbabwe in 2006 was scary because all the other travelers in Africa were avoiding it and warning me not to go. But I rode in on an international bus from Malawi and locals on the bus helped me find good accommodation in the center of Harare. The country had serious political problems but the people were certainly friendly and welcoming. Malaysia was a little scary too because it was my first Muslim country and I went there shortly after 9-11. But again, reality on the ground was friendly people who welcomed me to their country. I should say the Middle East was scary as well because of the dominant media image in the states, but really it wasn’t. I didn’t go there until 2012 and by then I had been to so many places that the Pat Ryan reality of friendly people on a welcoming planet had shattered the mass media reality of evil people on a dangerous violent planet. But really, it was my very first trip to Central and South America in 1992-93 that made my transformation from fearful and isolated American citizen to awake and aware human of the planet earth possible. And my unplanned journey through Columbia was probably the key event.

It was so long ago that perhaps I remember incorrectly. But I was so terrified to travel through Columbia (in 1992) that my knees were literally shaking as I crossed the border. I thought I would see gun battles or explosions before I even got through customs. All through Central America, Columbia was a popular topic of conversation. Pablo Escobar had escaped from prison and he was on the loose creating havoc throughout the country. Meanwhile, there was a low level civil war going on between the FARC and the government. Other revolutionary groups were also fighting the government and there were a variety of paramilitary groups allied with the government that were fighting the revolutionary groups. As seen or understood from the outside, through the lens of the international media, the whole country was a great big chaotic mess of violence and war. You would have to be crazy to want to go there “on vacation” or as a “leisure traveler.” Several travelers I met in Central America were continuing on to South America but they were all planning on skipping Columbia. And I had the exact same intention.

But then, I got caught in an attempted revolution in Venezuela and I was turned away at the border in Brazil because of a US/Brazil diplomatic dispute. A shooting star told me to go West through Columbia so that’s what I did… I almost didn’t make it to the Columbian border though because on my way West through Venezuela, I stopped in the small mountain city of Merida and almost just stayed there for good. Indeed, to this day, Merida, Venezuela is one of my favorite places on the planet earth. There is an awesome national park near the city with amazing hiking trails and nice hot springs. There is a beautiful square in the center of town. I had my first ever romance with a Latina woman there (she was a local English teacher who loved Pink Floyd) and I made all kinds of local friends playing chess in the alleyway that ran between my favorite bar street and the main square. But alas, I couldn’t stay. There were no realistic job opportunities for a lawyer who only spoke English and time was running out on my tourist visa. I had no choice but to continue onward to Columbia. Do I dare? No. But I had to.

I crossed the border into Columbia through the city of Cucuta because that was the closest and most direct access point from Merida. The guidebooks all warned against making the crossing there because the whole area was a scene of violent clashes between the government and the FARC. Indeed, there was an attack with explosions at the municipal building in the center of town just a few days after I passed through. I read about it in the newspapers when I got to Bogota. I can clearly remember standing in line at Immigration there with my knees shaking with fear. I actually thought they might not let me in because it was too dangerous for white American dudes. After all, didn’t all the guidebooks say not to cross there? But the immigration officer barely even looked up at me. I was in a long line of people and he just stamped my passport with a 60 day tourist visa and waved me through.

I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting to see on the other side. But I remember being rather surprised by the apparent normalcy that greeted me after I exited the immigration building. There was no chaos in the streets, no gun fights, no explosions and I couldn’t see any revolutionaries or drug runners either. It just seemed like a typical bustling little city with lots of people going about their business. So this is big bad Columbia huh? Now what? Practically speaking, I had to find my way to a bus station so I could make my way across the country. Not surprisingly, several friendly locals offered to help me in various ways. Were they evil criminals trying to lure me into a trap or just nice humans welcoming a stranger to their country? I can’t say for sure what their true intentions were but I didn’t get robbed, I didn’t get beat up and I was never threatened or seriously harassed in any way. A few locals did warn me to be careful because the city was dangerous (peligroso) for people like me but I never directly experienced any danger. An older lady walked with me to a “collectivo stop” and pointed out which mini-bus I needed to get to the central bus station.

After a short journey through town on a packed mini-bus, I arrived at fairly large bus terminal where I was greeted by a gaggle of scoundrels. But I had been traveling in Central America for several months already so I was used to such characters. Scoundrels are not particularly dangerous, they just have creative techniques for separating you from your wallet, money or valuables. Now that I have wandered a good chunk of the planet, I would venture to suggest that similar scoundrels are present in every big city bus terminal in the world. Indeed, now that I am an experienced traveler, I actually like scoundrels. They usually have good local information and marijuana if you are willing to play along and negotiate. But back then, they scared me a bit and I was alone so I just ignored them and rushed ahead to the official ticket counter.

A bus all the way to Bogota would take more than 24 hours so it would require overnight travel. The guide book said that night buses were especially dangerous so I decided to only go to the town of Bucamaranga which was about half way to Bogota. As luck would have it, my bus broke down twice and was delayed several times so I ended up traveling on the bus all through the night after all. No matter, we didn’t get blown up or attacked by revolutionaries/terrorists. We did, however, go through several military police checkpoints and that was kind of scary. Guys with uniforms and guns came on the bus to check identification and search for weapons and bombs. They never found anything or anyone illegal and my USA passport didn’t raise a stir. They just gave it a quick glance and handed it back to me. Maybe they thought I was CIA. When the bus broke down in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere I thought I might have a heart attack or piss myself with fear. I thought for sure that armed revolutionaries would come charging out of the forest at any moment. But the other passengers were relaxed and telling jokes about our predicament and their friendly attitudes put me at ease. Actually, the craziest thing about that first late night bus ride in Columbia was the entertainment provided. There was a television behind and above the driver and it played a continuous stream of violent American movies. It was a Jean Claude Van Dam movie marathon interrupted occasionally by news briefs about Pablo Escobar. It was all so very bizarre that it didn’t even seem real.

We finally arrived in Bucamaranga about 4:00 am. The driver’s assistant pointed me to a guesthouse that was across the street from the bus station. I went there, checked in, dropped my bags and fell asleep. I awoke around midday and felt like I was in some kind of dream. I remember walking around town in a sort of trance as I kept saying to myself… Wow. So this is Columbia. I can’t believe I am in Columbia. Am I afraid? I don’t feel afraid? Should I be afraid? Hey everybody, look at me. I’m in Columbia… In reality, Bucamaranga was a fairly typical big town (not quite a city) located in the mountains of Latin America. It a had a beautiful central square that the locals socialized in and some pretty decent restaurants. The people were friendly and welcoming with lots of smiles, “holas,” “buenos dias,” and “bienvenidos,” but they were not over-bearing. Actually, they hardly seemed to notice me except to be polite. The only strange thing about the town were the fried “hormigas” (ants) that were a popular local delicacy served in some of the restaurants. I thought eating ants would be gross so I stuck with chicken. The only indication I had of Columbia’s violent reputation was news programs that showed on televisions in the restaurants and the lobby of the guesthouse where I stayed. I can remember sitting in the lobby with several locals as we watched footage of Pablo Escobar’s latest escapade. He had managed to avoid capture once again after making a dramatic appearance in some city on the other side of the country. The Columbian police were made to look like keystone cops and the locals in Bucamaranga watching the program with me thought the scene was rather funny. Some of them even clapped as Pablo got away.

I only stayed in Bucamaranga a couple days in order to rest. Afterwards, I boarded a bus and continued on to Bogota. My second long bus ride in Columbia was very similar to the first. Except for the frequent military police checkpoints and the continuous stream of American violent movies (Chuck Norris this time), there was nothing scary or disturbing about the trip at all. I arrived in the capital city safe and sound… So, there I was, a naive and innocent young American and I was smack dab in the middle of Columbia in December of 1992. Welcome to Bogota!

To be continued…

Hummingbird Sees a Sign

Hummingbird Sees A Sign

In retrospect, it seems like it must have been a fork in the road… a turning point… a transformative experience. But now, 25 years later, I can’t really remember the specific emotions or actual details of the experience. I try to shake my head to loosen the cobwebs. I take a couple hits off a joint to blast open the rusted shut filing cabinets of my brain. I don’t have my actual notes or my journal from that trip. There is no written record. What really happened? I don’t know. I’m not sure. The objective facts are simple and straightforward. I was a successful lawyer with a promising career ahead of me. I took a year off to travel. At the end of my trip, I walked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. Two years later, I quit the legal profession and began working with stones. Did the visit to Machu Picchu inspire the radical career change? I don’t know. That is the story I am trying to remember…

The rocky road winds its way downward from the high mountain pass to the flat plateau that is surrounded by a ring of snow-capped peaks. Even without the ruins… the stacked stones… the remnants of a creative culture that give depth and nostalgia and metaphor to the place, the plateau upon which Machu Picchu sits would still be incredible. At the high end of a long River valley, backed by snow capped peaks, it seems a place where it all begins… a sacred place. But, at the same time, it seems like the very end of the road. Beginnings meet endings in Machu Picchu and the straight line becomes a circle. I arrive now by way of the Inca trail, a long hard four day hike through the mountains. I will return by way of the train; a five hour luxury ride through a scenic canyon. Machu Picchu is the place of transition. And wow, just look at all these beautiful stones…

Honestly, did I even notice the beautiful stones? I don’t actually remember. I’m sure I noticed them in 2004 when I went back because I was a stone mason then. Of course I noticed the master craftsmanship on display at Machu Picchu then. But that is a whole other time, place and story. In 1993, I was just a frustrated lawyer, I knew nothing about stones. The incredible skilled creations probably barely registered on my conscious brain. My subconscious was, perhaps, exploding with stimuli and response dynamics but my conscious mind was so overwhelmed by the breathtaking beauty of the location that the actual stonework barely registered.

Location, location, location… The place alone is like a great wonder of the world. And the experience of hiking the Inca trail in order to arrive there is absolutely inspiring. When I got there, I raced about from stone building to stone building. I visited the temple of the Sun and the temple of the Moon. I read the inscriptions and descriptions and tried to understand what was what. I hiked to the top of Huaynu Picchu for the overview. No doubt I was impressed by everything I saw, but not overwhelmed. I certainly didn’t hear the voice of God telling me to abandon my promising career and start putting stones together instead. I can’t say for sure but I believe that I was so intoxicated by the experience of the long hike and arrival at that fantastical plateau amid the circle of mountains, that I hardly even noticed the incredible stonework.

I wasn’t even a stone guy then. I had never once handled a stone hammer or chisel or even thought about carving stones or shaping stones. Stonework was not a part of my persona so why would I focus on the stones at Machu Picchu? As a matter of fact (“truth”), now that I think about it, I was a hiking guy then rather than a stone guy. Hiking was the central theme of my character. Hiking is what I did in my free time. Hiking is what I talked about. Long before I traveled the world with a backpack, telling stories of my various adventures, I traveled the trails of the Adirondack mountains in upstate New York with a backpack. I grew up in the small town of Plattsburgh on the edge of the Adirondack State Park and used to “head for the hills” with my friends any chance I got. I also worked a few years professionally at the state capital in Albany which is just South of the Adirondacks. I used to take my camping gear and go find a trailhead in the park almost every weekend. On Monday mornings, a group of lawyers from the floor would gather in my office and listen to me tell stories about how I “almost died” in the mountains over the weekend.

Wow… the human mind is an incredible instrument. I seem to have tapped a vein and now the memories are flooding back. An unused drawer in the filing cabinet has popped open…. If I remember correctly, my year long hiatus from my professional career was planned and carried out as primarily a hiking adventure. The very first thing I did after I left my position with New York State was hike the Adirondack Trail from Northville to Lake Placid. The 131 mile trek through rough wilderness took me 11 days to walk. I didn’t almost die along the way but I caught giardia and thought I was going to die for the last two days. I remember my hiking partner joking as I dashed into the bushes for another foul eruption of my bowels, “you will never make it to Machu Picchu if you can’t even make it to Lake Placid. ha ha ha ha ha”. But I did make it to Lake Placid and I was treated for giardia and I was able to continue with my journey. I headed west in a pick-up truck and proceeded to hike my way through and around every National Park I could find. The Black Hills, the Badlands, Yellowstone, Glacier, the Grand Tetons and oh so many more. A lawyer friend accompanied me for the first month or so but I dropped him in California at his new job and I continued my exploration of North America’s national parks for several more months on my own. I did visit some cities towns and tourist attractions during my trip around the United States but mostly I just hiked and camped.

When I left my pick-up truck at a friend’s house in Houston, Texas, and traveled South into Mexico and Central America, I followed the same modus operandi. I took public transport from town to town and planned my stops around nearby national parks I could hike or camp in. I hiked to the top of a couple unpronounceable mountains near Mexico City and trekked up Mount Chirripo in Costa Rica. I found the peak of a volcano on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua and got lost in El Tigre Cloud Forest of Honduras. I went to at least one National park for a hiking or outdoor adventure in every single country I visited.

As I continued South, when I wasn’t hiking, I traveled by bus and boat and train and bicycle and horseback. Sometimes I hitch-hiked. The only time I flew in a plane was from Panama City, Panama to Caracas, Venezuela. If I was older and wiser, I would have gone overland through the Darien Gap into Columbia. But I was a novice traveler misinformed about the unreality of Latin America by the US educational and entertainment system. Pablo Escobar was an international media star, the Columbian drug wars were all over the news and the US state department issued serious warnings advising American travelers to avoid Columbia. As such, I was afraid of Columbia. My main interests were the Amazon jungle and the Andes mountains anyway so the chaos of Columbia could easily be by-passed. My intended route landed me in Caracas, Venezuela and then directly South into Brazil as far as the mouth of the Amazon River and then West up the big river all the way to Peru and then South along the spine of the Andes all the way to the bottom tip of South America in Chile.

But alas, destiny had other plans for me. I would not be able to travel up the Amazon on that particular trip and I would end up traveling through Columbia after all. Actually, I almost gave up on my journey all together because of the fiasco that befell me. Sometimes the gods play tricks to teach us humans a lesson. Bad luck can be good luck when looked back upon later. Or at least, that is what I kept trying to tell myself when I was stranded in the Venezuelan town of Santa Elena because Brazil would not let me in. Apparently, there was a diplomatic dispute between the US and Brazil. The US would not allow Brazilian citizens to get tourist visas for the US at consulates in neighboring countries (Canada and Mexico) so five days before I reached the border consulate in Santa Elena, Venezuela; Brazil decided to start applying the same rule to Americans. All other nationalities were allowed to get tourist visas at the border. But all Americans were turned away. What a crashing drag!

And of course, the really crazy thing was, I probably would have made it to the border before the tourist visa rule change if I hadn’t got stuck in a beach town outside of Caracas for two weeks because of Hugo Chavez’s first attempted revolution. How crazy is my life? I skipped the scary dangerous country of Columbia and flew directly to the safe country of Venezuela only to arrive just in time for a revolution.  Actually, it wasn’t much of a people’s revolution… more like an attempted cout de tat. A group of military officers (Chavez among them) attempted to wrestle control of the government from the ruling oligarchy. There was rioting and civil unrest. The government instituted a state of emergency and transport was severely restricted. So I was, quite literally, stranded in a beach town for two weeks. But all that is another story… a long story. And I’m not going to tell it now.The story I’m telling now is about how I discovered the stones. I will leave the revolution stuff for my friend Coyote.

So there I was in Santa Elena, Venezuela and I was stopped dead in my tracks. I could no longer continue South. A glance at a map of South America showed the obvious solution. I could go around Brazil. All I had to do was head West through Columbia and then South through Ecuador and Peru. But I didn’t want to go to Columbia. I was afraid of the media image. I didn’t want to get shot or have my organs harvested… So I thought seriously about just giving up and going home. I still had enough money for several more months of travel but maybe the border closing was a sign from the universe that I should go back to Caracas and take a flight home. For that matter, I could go back to Caracas and just fly to some island beach for a couple months. I didn’t have to continue South to the bottom of the continent. That was just my crazy vague plan. I could even go back to Caracas and fly South skipping over Columbia. There was no real rational reason why I had to go through Columbia unless I insisted on going overland and not back tracking…. Maybe this journey is over. I’m not going to find what I’m looking for anyway. What am I looking for? Maybe it’s time to give up and go back home to work.

Somewhat remarkably, I remember rather clearly the very long night I spent on a guesthouse rooftop patio in Santa Elena after getting turned away at the Brazilian border. I scored a joint from a local street artisan and there was a comfortable hammock and a sky full of stars.

To be… Or not?
That is the question.
What do I want to do with my life?
Go back and succeed
At a game I know how to play
Or go forth and transform
Into something else?
Maybe change the game all together?
Who am I?

Realistically speaking, I was a lawyer, with a special aptitude for corporate law. Prior to my appointed position with the state of New York, I worked briefly for a very large corporate law firm in New York City that served primarily Wall Street. The firm I worked for had offered me a full time associate attorney position with a starting salary of $90,000 a year. Four or five other large New York corporate law firms made me similar offers when I completed my job with New York State. I rejected all the job offers because I wanted to take a year off to travel. But I was fairly certain that a similar position would be available to me when I returned. Considering the fact that I had about $40,000 in student loans, a job in corporate law was extremely tempting. Indeed, it was the smart thing to do… the rational self interest thing to do… Nevertheless, I didn’t want to do it. I had already done that. I hated it. The people who worked there were so pathetic, the atmosphere so toxic, you would have to be insane to want to work there. And besides, I no longer believed the illusion so I would have to fake it. The money may be good but the quality of life for the minions of Wall Street is comparable to Dante’s 6th circle of Hell.
But what else can I do? That was the purpose or goal of my year long journey through the national parks of North and South America. I was trying to discover what else I could do?

When I was stuck in Santa Elena, I think I was leaning towards a career in Environmental Law because I thought my passion for hiking in the great outdoors could be somehow useful or helpful in such a career. Nevertheless, my experience of the revolution in Venezuela as well as some incredibly interesting conversations I had with some Sandinistas in Nicaragua also had me thinking about social and economic justice. I also had a long time philosophical interest in criminal law with some valuable experience in that regard but I couldn’t visualize myself as a trial lawyer. Of course, Corporate Law was still in the running if only for a few years to pay back my loans. But really, I was having a very hard time imagining myself playing the part of attorney at all. All I really wanted to do was hike in the mountains and have long deep philosophical conversations with perfect strangers in bars and cafe’s. But neither of those two pastimes makes for much of a career. I had to have a profession, a job… a career. Lawyer was the obvious decision. I sort of felt like I had no choice. I was good at it. My feedback was very positive. As a matter of fact, it was mostly positive feedback from my education that led the way to my legal career in the first place.

The truth is, I never really wanted to be a lawyer at all. It was happenstance and whimsy. In undergraduate I majored in literature and philosophy. I wanted to write books. My grades were exceptionally high and my professors liked me. Several professors I greatly respected advised me the same thing. “It’s hard to make a living selling long winded books Patrick. Maybe you should consider a fall back position. You are very good at understanding and explaining arguments. Have you ever considered law school? Perhaps you should take the LSAT’s.” So I took the LSATs and did pretty well. I applied to a few law schools “just to see,” and was accepted at some pretty good schools. Why not go for a year as an experiment? I didn’t do okay in law school, I did incredibly well and really I couldn’t understand how or why. I spent most of my time at the bar getting drunk and playing pool. I honestly thought the class work was easy. I graduated near the top of my class and was the managing editor of the law review. My corporate law and contract law professors were especially encouraging with their recommendations. It was actually a corporate law professor who pointed me towards the big corporate law firms in NY. “They will pay me what to work there? Really? Wow! Sure why not.” So I went to work for one of the big firms. While there, I was randomly assigned to assist one of the firm’s “most important” partners on an anti-trust case involving pharmaceutical companies price fixing and Medicaid. Somewhat remarkably, I soon discovered that the firm’s big shot partner didn’t even slightly comprehend anti-trust law. It was after I spent two weeks teaching the not very bright big shot partner the fundamentals of anti-trust law that I suddenly found myself to be a rising star at the firm. The doors of the Empire swung open and I was offered it’s warm embrace. “Do you Patrick, wish to walk in the halls of power?” “Are you ready to be a player in the great game?” (Those are actual quotes from some of those ridiculous partners at that silly firm ha ha ha ha ha).

To be…. Or not?
That is the question.
The same question every young man and woman must face.
What do I want to do with my life?
Who am I?
Is it a single question with a definitive answer
I am a…
Or is it an evolving question?
Who I am changes as I adapt to new circumstances
What if I don’t want to be who I am?
Do I really have a choice?
Does destiny dictate?
Or do I have free will?

The real world is telling me I should be a lawyer… a corporate lawyer. That is the smart thing to do… the rational thing to do. But I don’t want to. What do I want? Environmental law? Or maybe I could work for a not-for-profit doing human rights law or social justice law? What about criminal law? I don’t know what I want. That’s the problem. Maybe I want to just quit the legal profession completely? Can I do that? I want to be a professional hiker in the mountains. Yeah right, who’s gonna pay me to do that? And what about my damn student loans? No way I can quit. I have to go back. I should go back to corporate law. But I can’t. I don’t want to. What else can I do? I don’t know. Maybe I will discover what I want on this trip. Maybe I’ll find Paradise here and settle down with a local girl. Maybe I will just keep on hiking and hiking and never go back. I don’t know. I’m not ready to go back now? But I can’t go forward. Brazil won’t let me in. The only way forward is through Columbia and I’m afraid of Columbia. Please God, give me a sign. What in the heck am I supposed to do?

Did I really (truthfully) see a shooting star in the South Western sky in response to my “prayer” during that long ago night on the rooftop patio in Santa Elena, Venezuela. I don’t know. I wonder if there would be a way to fact check it with historical astronomical charts? There is probably no way to find the objective truth but I certainly remember it very clearly. Indeed, I have repeated the story many times in the past 25 years. But I was high as a hummingbird when it happened so maybe it was all my imagination…

So, here I am, lying in a hammock, watching the sky, contemplating my destiny after just getting turned away at the Brazilian border. Should I give up my journey and go home or take the alternative route through scary Columbia? I am looking at the Western sky (above Columbia) when one of the stars I’m staring at seems to start glowing intensely. The longer I look at it, the brighter it gets. Holy Shit… Is that a planet or a supernova? And then, all of a sudden, the now very bright light explodes like a firework and falls towards the southern horizon (in the direction of Machu Picchu).

So I guess the story is… If I want to find my Machu Picchu, I will to have to go through Columbia. I take another hit off my big fat joint and say out loud, “Look out Pablo, here I come…”

To be continued…

Hummingbird Begins…

Hummingbird Begins…

Cusco, Peru… Yes, I’ve been there… twice. It’s the ancient Inca city that has been transformed into a somewhat modern hip and happening city for the sake of a tourist economy. It’s actually quite awesome but no, I’ve never written a story about it. No doubt, I’ve told a few… my hike on the almost empty Inca Trail in 1993… my Inca romance… it’s where I bought my ticket home… it’s all coming back to me now. But no, I’ve never written any stories about Cusco.

Our friends were visiting from South Carolina. They own a coffee shop called Curiosity Coffee. I was high like a hummingbird and telling tales of far away travels and they asked about Cusco, Peru. They were going to feature a coffee from Cusco in their shop and were wondering if I had any stories from there…

Actually, in a way, Cusco, Peru, is where it all began because that is the place where the very first journey ended… more or less… it was a long time ago, I can barely remember… I was a novice traveler then, my first big trip. I took a year off from my professional career in order to see some of the world. I spent four months traveling around the US in a pick-up truck… sleeping on a mattress in the back, visiting the national parks and all the famous landmarks. I left my pick-up at a friend’s in Houston, Texas and went South through Mexico, Central America and South America on public transport. My original plan was to go as far South as the tip of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina. But I meandered a lot and took some wrong turns and my money ran low in Peru. I ended up buying my ticket home from Cusco because they had cheap international fares. I did dip south into Bolivia for my last two weeks, but I circled back to Cusco, Peru to catch my flight. And the very last thing I did, before hopping in the cab to the airport was kiss a beautiful young Inca woman good-bye….

In retrospect, it seems hard to believe. And it happened so long ago, I’m not sure whether the past really happened or my brain merely imagined it. But the story is… I met a beautiful young local woman while I was hiking on the Inca trail. The romance was brief. She wanted me to stay in Cusco and get a job working as a tour guide. But I had a pile of student loan debt and a promising career to return to. So I fled the scene. I had not yet discovered the power of the stones. I was still a servant of the Empire. Thinking now about it though, I can’t help but wonder if that magical night with the beautiful young Inca woman somehow planted the seed of stone discovery somewhere in my future.

It was March of 1993 and there were not many tourists or travelers wandering around Peru at the time because Peru was in the midst of a “civil war.” A rather large group of socialist revolutionaries known as the “sendero luminoso,” (the shining path) controlled a mountainous section of the country and had a significant following in the rest of the country. The government, meanwhile, was run by an authoritarian dictator who was backed by the military and an entrenched oligarchy. There were occassional violent clashes between the militarized police and the armed and angry socialist revolutionaries and innocent people, including tourists, were sometimes caught in the cross fire. There were explicit warnings from the state department telling Americans not to travel there. Nevertheless, I went.

I was a bit foolish… young… naive… oblivious. I was vaguely aware of the conflict in Peru. I had read the state department travel warnings. But there were similar warnings about Colombia and I had no issues traveling there and there were no warnings about Venezuela even though I got caught in a revolution there. So I didn’t take the travel warnings seriously… And really, the ongoing conflict was only vaguely noticeable to me. There were lots of police checkpoints and public transport searches. And there were practically no other travelers/tourists/white people around. But I saw no gun battles or explosions or military maneuvers. I laugh now, in retrospect, at my former innocent self wandering Quixote like amid an ongoing revolution.

About halfway down the long coast I met a similarly naive young Australian traveler guy named G. . We stuck together for the next several weeks as we made our way through Peru. Neither one of us spoke much Spanish and we went several places that we were not supposed to go but no great harm befell us. We were warned about “the miserable fish town” of Chimbote but we went there anyway and met some pretty young ladies in the plaza. They took us to a pizza parlor and a disco. We ended up at an all-night crazy party on a beach a few kilometers outside town… Wow… but that’s another story….

We also went to the highlands around Huaraz and Yungay for some hiking. We made many jokes about the careful use of the Spanish word “sendero” which means “path” when asking directions on the trail. No… we are not looking for “sendero luminoso” the revolutionaries, we just want the correct “path” to the campground (ha ha ha). We did see a bunch of guys in strange uniforms or costumes when we were on a mini-bus in Yungay and some of the ladies on the bus said they were “sendero luminoso” but they laughed about it and seemed to be pulling our leg or joking. But then, when we finally got to Lima, we were informed very seriously that it was a very bad idea for gringos to travel near Huaraz because of the presence of “sendero luminoso.” Oops…

I traveled around Peru for well over a month and only saw about four other gringos the whole time. Until I got to Cusco. Cusco is the access city for the world famous Machu Picchu and it was also fairly secure and not under threat from the “sendero luminoso.” Lots of international flights went in and out of Cusco so visitors could easily skip the rest of the country and go straight to the main attraction. As such, Cusco seemed rather crowded with tourists when I arrived. But really, it wasn’t…

I went back to Cusco in 2004 and then, it was crowded. Indeed, I often make the comparison between Cusco in 1993 and Cusco 2004 as the most dramatic transformation of a location that I have ever personally experienced. In 93 there were a few gringo bars like the Irish place (with awesome Shepherd’s pie) and a smattering of expats studying archeology stuff while hosting the small but steady stream of adventurous international travelers. I signed up for the Inca trail the day I arrived and went on the hike with a group of five other tourists a few days later. In 04, Cusco was like a tourist Mecca chock full of tourist infrastructure, western style businesses, and hordes of overweight pasty white people walking around in a daze. In 04, it was impossible to sign up for the Inca trail upon arrival because there was a three month waiting list. You had to register in advance by the Internet… Uggh. So I took the train instead. I probably didn’t want to hike the over-crowded trail again anyway.

But this story is about 93 not 04. And hiking the Inca trail in 1993 was one of the most amazing and significant experiences of my early adult life. My tour group consisted of a West German couple, an East German couple, a Dutch guy and myself. We were accompanied by a local Inca guide, a porter and a cook. Not insignificantly, there was one other group hiking the trail at the same time as us. It was a group of six Europeans with another local guide, porter and cook. The guide for the other group was the only female Inca or Quechua guide at the time. The absurd thing is, I can’t even remember her name. I will call her Ms. Inca. I do remember that she was one of the most incredible humans I have ever met.

Our paths crossed frequently over the four day hike. The different groups were staggered along the trail so people could hike with some solitude. But I was always at the front of our group while Ms. Inca was at the back of the group ahead of us walking with that group’s slowest hiker. As such, I would hike up to her and pass her at some point during each day. She was impressed by my athletic strong hiking ability and my boyish overly enthusiastic American charm. And I was impressed by her. It was her job to hike the Inca trail every week. She also spoke five languages fluently (Spanish, Quechua, English, French and German). Exceptionally beautiful with the whole exotic local look, is it any wonder I walked the Inca trail like superman to catch up with her every day.

But we did not have any sort of romance along the actual trail. A very slight flirtation perhaps. But not really. She treated me very professionally. Our relationship was strictly guide/tourist. She was the guide of a different group but a guide nonetheless. Romance with clients was strictly prohibited. Considering the number of tourists who probably hit upon the only female guide, a no romance rule and flirtation avoidance behavior was a necessary part of her chosen profession. She talked to me about Inca culture and Inca mythology and told stories about the incredible landscape we were hiking through and she occassionally laughed at my bad jokes. But she gave no indication whatsoever of any extra-curricular interest.

We did pass through the Gate of the Sun (inti gate) together and that was kind of special. But that was more random coincidence than a planned or orchestrated romantic moment. All the groups time their hikes to arrive at the Sun Gate for sunrise. The Sun Gate entrance is, perhaps, the highlight of the whole Inca trail experience. We camped out the final night about an hour away from the gate. I awoke before dawn so I could reach the gate for the magical moment but so did everyone else. Ms. Inca was explaining the history and the significance of the gate to several members of her group when I arrived.

The Inti Gate is situated on a high mountain pass on the western side and up above the plateau that holds the ancient holy city of Machu Picchu. Between the two tour groups, there were close to ten of us who stopped there to watch the show. The famous stone city lay beneath us in a shroud of mist. Up ahead, at the end of our long stony pathway, a shadowy outline of stone structures seems to arise from the nothingness. I can barely make it out in the dim morning light. But then, suddenly, the sun rises above the ring of mountains in the east and rays of light shoot down upon the holy plateau. The mist dissolves, the stone city sparkles and the whole universe seems to shimmer with holiness…

“Behold Macchu Picchu,” says Ms. Inca, “the sacred city of stone.” She just happens to be standing a few feet away from me as she speaks.
“Holy shit,” I say, “that’s fucking amazing.”
“Interesting choice of English words,” says Ms. Inca, “but yes, it is amazing.”
“You’re right, no need to swear,” I say, “But wow, does it always happen like that? with the sparkly, glittery magical appearance in the nothingness stuff? It doesn’t even seem real.”
“That effect is caused by the ring of mountains that surround the plateau and the heavy blanket of moisture that covers the valley each night,” says Ms. Inca, “By the time the sun gets above the rim of mountains and reaches the plateau, the rays are very direct so they burn off the fog very quickly. It’s not always exactly the same but it is usually something similar. I get to see it once or twice a week and it never stops amazing me.”
“Do you hike the Inca trail every week?”
“Yes,” she says, “just about. And sometimes twice. It is my job.”
“I think you have the best job in the whole world,” I say.
“I don’t know about that,” she says, “but it is a pretty good life. I get to share my culture and meet people from all over.”
“The scenery and daily exercise are pretty awesome too. What fun. You are really living the dream.”
“And what about you Patrick?” She says, “What is it you do back in the United States? What is your job?”
“I don’t have a job at the moment because I’m traveling” I say, “but I am a, a, a,” . For the first time in my whole life, I am embarrassed to admit my chosen profession. My throat swells and my tongue goes numb. I mumble. “I’m a ……”
Ms. Inca actually laughs. “You don’t seem like one of those,” she says. “Is it fun? Do you enjoy it?”
“There is more to life than fun and enjoyment,” I say. “It’s a good profession… an important profession… an honorable profession….”
“Enjoy Machu Picchu Patrick,” she says, “I believe you are about to have a very fun day.”
I look down the hill to the end of the Inca trail and see the sacred city of stone awaiting my exploration.
“No doubt I will,” I say, “see you later.” I wave good bye and head down the hill ahead of the other hikers.
“See you somewhere,” I hear Ms. Inca say behind me as Machu Picchu awaits in front of me….

To be continued….

Coyote and Hummingbird

I think I’m going to call the new book “Coyote and Hummingbird” because those two characters from my medicine cards keep showing up in my day to day life.  Somehow or other, they represent the oppositional aspects of the metaphysical quagmire that I am trying to understand.   In other words… sometimes I feel like Coyote and sometimes I feel like Hummingbird.  This new book, the one I am writing now, will contain stories and essays from the perspective of each character.

Coyote exists to disrupt the Empire. He is the trouble-maker, the scoundrel, the outlaw. He is the metaphorical embodiment of the imaginary revolution. He wants to see the whole horrible evil empire come crashing down and he is on a continual quest to help make that happen. His quest, however, is complicated and also rather reckless. By challenging the empire philosophically, economically, politically, and artistically, he puts at risk his own very good life. Luckily, he’s a fictional character.

Hummingbird, on the other hand, can’t be bothered with the evil empire. He just wants to enjoy life and live the now. He has a good life with a wonderful family, a happy home, and a moderately successful business. He travels the world and tells fun stories about his various adventures. The empire is obviously collapsing anyway. It doesn’t need to be challenged. Hummingbird plays enough of the reality game to stay out of trouble and tries to create oasises (oasi?) of beauty amid the horrors of the modern industrial civilization. Hummingbird is also a fictional character.

The overarching story of the book will be relationship between the two characters. Will hummingbird lead coyote away from trouble… Or will coyote eat hummingbird?

A Journey to the Middle of the East

A Journey to the Middle of the East

It’s about time… My brand new “literary masterpiece” and “fun adventure story” is now available for purchase as an e-book. It is called, “A Journey to the Middle of the East,” and I really hope that everyone will want to read it. You can buy it here: New book

In the Winter of 2012-2013, I went for a real life four month “wander” around a few countries in “The Middle East.” Over the course of my travels, I wrote a whole bunch of stories in my spiral notebook about my various experiences as I traveled. Some of the stories I posted on this website as rough draft travelogues while I was actually on the road. Other stories were only outlined on the road but I worked on them when I got back and posted them randomly over the next several years. A few of the stories were never posted in any form. All of the stories have now been edited, refined, shaped and sculpted into a single continuous narrative… The fictionalized story of my own personal quest to discover the meaning of “The Middle East.”

I really hope people enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed putting it together. It was a truly amazing process. Sort of like watching a flower grow or a butterfly emerge from a chrysalis. To some degree, I was strangely removed from the final creation. I wrote each of the stories as individual units and then attempted to unite them as a “symphony” of stories afterward. But, ultimately, they came together in a way that I had not imagined before hand at all. It was almost as if I discovered a very old story hidden inside my brand new story. Wow… that’s about all I can say.

Only the e-book is available for purchase at this moment. I am planning to give away “Free” paperback versions as a promotion sometime very soon. The paperback will be available for purchase eventually and maybe even an audio version.

Buy it now: A Journey to the Middle of the East

Thanks so much,

See you somewhere…