A Reality Based Economic Model

Silly Socialism and Crazy Capitalism met at the local bar
They drank beer and chatted about economics
After a few beers,
Their conversation became an argument
They switched to tequila
The argument became a fight
Fisticuffs,
Broken chairs
Rolling around on the floor
Pulling hair, biting, scratching, and punching
Nobody called the police
The fight just went on and on
Eventually,
A stranger, c^2, broke up the fight
Separated the combatants
And called a truce…

But it was a fragile truce,
Silly Socialism did not trust Crazy Capitalism
Crazy Capitalism did not trust Silly Socialism
Anxiety and anger lay just beneath the surface
Another eruption was possible at any moment
The stranger tried to calm the situation
Offered the adversaries a new kind of drink
A different flavor…
Not beer or tequila or whiskey
But an elixir of unknown origins
Silly Socialism took a slow sip and smiled
Crazy Capitalism took a big gulp and laughed
Then they were both laughing
It was all so very funny
Until a good song came on the jukebox
And they started dancing…
Together?
That’s when the stranger slipped away

The story is…
Crazy Capitalism and Silly Socialism
Left the bar together
Nobody really knows what happened 
But, apparently,
They couldn’t go to Silly Socialism’s city apartment building
Because Crazy Capitalism thought it was too crowded
And not very private
And they couldn’t go to Crazy Capitalism’s mountaintop mansion
Because Silly Socialism thought it was too isolated
And not very secure
So they ended up at a roadside attraction motel
Near a closed national park
A taxi dropped them off
They got a room
Went inside
Closed the door
Pulled down the shades
And turned out the lights…

The next day on the golf course
Crazy Capitalism bragged to his buddies
About his great accomplishment;
I did it, he said, I really did it
I fucked Silly Socialism
I fucked her good
Not sure how it happened
I always thought she was boring and annoying
After a few drinks with her at the bar
I wanted to beat the crap out of her
But then, I noticed
Underneath that bland and superficial exterior
She is also kind of hot and sexy
So I went along with some of her silly ideas
And listened to her explain her elaborate plans
Even pretended to agree with her a few times
She’s actually quite funny
We laughed and danced
And then we “mutually agreed”
To leave the bar together
We went to a cheap motel
And I discovered a surprising secret truth
In the darkness of the night
Silly Socialism can be very free
Wow,
She totally rocked my world.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town
Silly Socialism was at the cafe with her friends
Talking about her big night out;
It happened, she said, it really happened
Crazy Capitalism and I made love
We bonded together in a very special way
Not sure how it happened
I always thought he was rude and annoying
After a few drinks with him at the bar
I had an urge to slap him
But then, I noticed
Underneath his loud and obnoxious exterior
He is also kind of tender and sweet
So I laughed at some of his ridiculous jokes
And listened to him explain his crazy ideas
I even pretended to agree with him a few times
He’s actually quite nice
We laughed and danced
And then we agreed
To leave the bar together
We went to a quaint little guest house
And I discovered a surprising secret truth
In the darkness of the night
Crazy Capitalism can be very giving
Wow,
We made us some beautiful sweet tender love…

So what is truth?
Did Crazy Capitalism fuck Silly Socialism?
Or did Silly Socialism and Crazy Capitalism make love?
Perspective… subjectivity… narrative
Tell the story how you want
The end result is the same
Crazy Capitalism got knocked up by Silly Socialism 
And gave birth to an idea
Or Silly Socialism ate the apple that Crazy Capitalism gave her
And discovered the idea herself
What is the idea?
Very simple
But not easy
A reality based economic model:

e=mc^2

e = Capitalism
m = Socialism
c^2 = Free Will or Uncertainty

Temptation in Paradise 

Coast of Venezuela; December, 1992.

So I had the dream again. The nightmare. The same dream I had many times in Central America. The apocalypse highway dream. I won’t write it out again now. It was intensely the same. Strangely enough, I hadn’t had the dream since arriving in Venezuela four days earlier. Indeed, I hadn’t been dreaming at all the previous few days. I don’t know why. But the damn dream came back when I fell asleep in the hammock in the garden after breakfast. I can remember it now because of the vivid wake up experience that was rendered particularly confusing because of the hammock. As usual, the dream climaxed with black helicopters shooting at me among the fleeing refugees on the highway. Normally, rolling around in the smoke on the ground to escape helicopter gunfire was the thing that woke me up. Reality was usually sweaty, panicky and disorienting for a little while and this time it was especially surreal.
Upon opening my eyes I found myself trapped in a new kind of nightmare. I was restrained in a straight jacket. I tried to roll and shake free but the tangle of cloth and fabric around me only seemed to tighten. There were palm trees with coconuts up above. Blue sky and jungle. I wasn’t on a desert highway, I was, I was….. Where was I? I shook and struggled to release myself from the restraints.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. Somebody steadied the hammock. I heard a voice. “Patrick. Wake up. Your having a nightmare. It’s Stuart. Your safe. You are far away from Caracas. Wake up.” I finally opened my eyes wide and sat up and steadied myself in the hammock. I was okay. Reality came to a steady state and I knew where I was.
“You okay,” said Stuart? 

“Wow,” I said, “that was some nightmare.” My body was soaked in sweat and my heart was racing. “But I’m okay now.”

“Probably stress induced,” said Stuart, “did you dream about Caracas?”
“No, not at all,” I said, “it was this same crazy dream that I’ve had over and over for the last several months. Refugees on a highway and black helicopters shooting at them. Started as a fever dream when I thought I had malaria. The fever went away but the nightmare keeps coming back. It has nothing to do with Caracas.” 

“Nightmares in paradise,” said Stuart, “what a drag. Why not get up now and go to beach? Maybe we can meet some of the bikini birds from yesterday.”

I sat up some more and looked around. Gaya and Pierre were nowhere in sight and the breakfast dishes were all cleaned up from the picnic table. “What time is it? Where’s Gaya and Pierre?”

“It’s almost noon,” said Stuart. “Gaya left an hour ago for Macuto to get supplies and run some errands. She promised to be back in time to make dinner. Pierre went out walking in the neighborhood and said he would find us later at the beach.”

“Almost noon, wow. I really slept. Totally crashed out,” I said. “But yeah, let’s go to the beach.”

Down at the beach, we set our blankets up right near the sign that separated the public from the private beach. We were close enough to see that the flock of beautiful young ladies in bikinis from yesterday were back again for more sunbathing. If only a few would decide to walk along the shore towards public property, we might get a chance to meet them. In the mean time, all we could do was enjoy the sun and sand and surf. This was the first time I ever really talked to Stuart at length. I remember learning about his job. He didn’t like his job much. He was just glad he got six weeks vacation a year. This year’s six week excursion to Venezuela was by far the wildest thing he had ever done.

“I’m in hardware,” he said. “I sell screws.”
“Ah really….” 

“Not those kind of screws,” he said with an awkward laugh. “Real screws and nuts and bolts and clasps and clamps and all sorts of similar items. I work for a company based in Manchester where I live but I drive all over England to hardware stores selling and delivering supplies.”

“Oh, I get it. That makes sense. You sell hardware.”

“I know,” he said, “it’s boring. I’m not a spy or a super hero or a revolutionary. I’m just a boring normal hardware guy.”

“You are certainly not boring,” I said, “not with a lady friend like Gaya… and there’s nothing wrong with working in hardware if you enjoy it.”

“Of course I don’t enjoy it,” he said, “it’s work. And Gaya is the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s not like I hook up with African goddesses back home in the Manchester pubs. I’m just a screw guy who almost never ever gets screwed….”

“Oh” I said, stunned by a confrontation with reality. 

“Do you enjoy what you do?” he said.

“Uh, uh sort of. I mean, it’s a good job, good career. I’m a lawyer. But I’m in the middle of taking a year off to travel and I like traveling more than I like work.”

“A lawyer huh?” He said. “You don’t look like a lawyer. Maybe that explains why you are so thrilled by all this revolution and socialism stuff. Me. I know nothing about it. I’m just normal guy… A screw guy. I want nothing to do with the chaos in Caracas. I only want it to end so I can keep on traveling.”

“I do find it interesting,” I said. “I’m even tempted to go there.”

“I know,” he said, “and that’s crazy to me. You and Pierre get so excited in your debates. Me. I don’t understand and I don’t care. Capitalism, socialism, what’s the damn difference? I just want to hang out, drink beer and meet birds.”  

Just as Stuart made his comment, three beautiful young ladies in bikinis came strolling along the shoreline from the private beach to the public beach. We were sitting on blankets about twenty feet back from the water. We both fell totally speechless as they walked between us and the water strutting their stuff. Oh my goodness. I had an urge to call out to them, say something, scream or howl. What would be a good beach pick up line in Spanish? But my tongue was tied. I said nothing and neither did Stuart. When the girls were about twenty feet beyond us, they turned around to look at us over their shoulders? They smiled and giggled when they looked but they kept on walking.
“Why didn’t you say something?” said Stuart when they were out of hearing.

“Me, why me?” I said. “You’re the one that’s good at meeting birds. Why didn’t you say something?”

“I was waiting for you to speak,” he said, “you are the handsome American lawyer. The ladies love that. You should call out to them when they come back..”

I got my opportunity about twenty minutes later when they came walking back down the shoreline towards the private beach. As they passed near our blanket, I shouted out, “permiso, excuse me, do you ladies speak English?” They stopped walking and looked briefly at each other before smiling and turning to walk towards us. It was one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen. Wow. Three perfect bikini bodies, glistening in the spray and sun like a vision from heaven. Holy Smokes.  

“Yes,” said the middle girl in the blue bikini. “I speak English little bit. My name Theresa and this is Maria y Caterina. What you want?”

“Well,” I said, “my name’s Patrick.”

“And I’m Stuart,” chirped in my companion.

“And we are tourists,” I continued, “who got stuck in Macuto because of the troubles in Caracas. We rented a cabana here,” I pointed behind me towards the jungle, “to wait for chaos to calm down. But we don’t know anyone here.”

“Touristas?” She said with a smile. “Where from?”

“I’m from the US,” I said, “Estados Unidos.”

“And I’m from England,”chirped Stuart, “Inglaterra.”

The three young ladies looked at each other like they were confused and started giggling. But they didn’t speak. 

“And what about you?” I continued. “Are you from around here. Local? Aqui? These parts.”

“We are from Caracas,” she said, “we came here for weekend with school program but now are stuck because of the trouble. We were to go back ayer… yesterday. Now we don’t know when we go back.”

“I think we saw you yesterday,” said Stuart, “when we accidentally trespassed on your private beach.”

The girls giggled. “Yes we saw you too,” said Theresa. “Security not nice there, no?” They giggled again.

“No,” said Stuart, “security was not nice. And we had no idea it was private. Our trespass really was accidental.”  

The girls did not respond verbally to Stuart’s spirited defense of yesterday’s transgression. They just giggled and talked among themselves in fast Spanish that I could not understand.

I remember being dazed and confused by their dazzling beauty and not really listening to Stuart drone on with awkward conversation. The ladies were so frickin hot and they were standing about four feet in front of me and they were practically naked. Was I speechless? Tongue tied? Probably. But then I heard Stuart invite them to join us.

“Since we are all stuck here because of the chaos in Caracas,” he said, “it makes sense that we be stuck together. No need to separate public beach from private beach. Why not sit down and join us for a while? We have beer in the cooler.”

The girls giggled and whispered in Spanish between themselves for a moment and then Theresa spoke on their behalf. “Today no,” said Theresa, “We have classes at 2:30 in conference room. We have to go. But maybe tomorrow during midday break if we are still here and no go back to Caracas.”

“Midday Break?” I questioned.

“The teachers are stuck here with us so we have a schedule like in Caracas. Classes from eight in morning till 11:30. Then afternoon classes 2:30 until 4:00.”

“So you can meet us about noon?” said Stuart.

“Si,” said Theresa, “if no go back to Caracas, we can meet you tomorrow midday?”

“Aqui no,” said Maria, “las professoras son cerca. El otra lado.”  

“What?” said Stuart, “no comprendo espanol.”  

“Better to meet at other end of beach,” said Theresa as she pointed away from the private beach. “Here too near school.”

“That sounds great,” said Stuart. “We’ll bring a cooler of beer and set up our beach blankets at the other end of the beach tomorrow before noon. It will be a party and you lovely ladies are invited.”

The girls giggled.

“Just out of curiosity,” I said before they left us for their 2:30 class, “what kind of school program are you taking at the beach. Is it college or university or what?”

“Es un colegio privada solo for mujeres.”

“A private college for girls.” I questioned.

“Colegio,” repeated Theresa.
The realization hit me like punch to the gut. Oh no! Oh shit. I remembered the Spanish word from my translations. Colegio is high school not college. I probably stuttered incoherently when I asked. Truthfully, now, 27 years later, I can’t remember if I asked in Spanish or English. I will certainly never forget their answers. “Cuantos anos tiene? How old are you?” I said.

“Diez y siete,” said Theresa. “Diez y Seis,” chimed in the other two. They then all said in unison, “hasta manana.” And turned to walk away down the beach shaking their beautiful bikinied butts in the sunshine. Wow! Holy shit? Was I a bad, bad man? I sure wanted to be.

For the rest of the afternoon, Stuart and I discussed the age of consent laws in Venezuela as we drank beer, roasted in the sun and swam in the ocean. How old is old enough? They certainly didn’t look like high school girls. At the time of these events, I was 27 years old and was certainly no innocent virgin in the sex department. I’d had more than my fair share of sexual experiences throughout college and law school and first few years of my professional life. But I hadn’t had much luck in the sex department during my six months (so far) traveling adventure. There was a little bit of loving with the American sailboat girl on the beach of Caye Caulker island and the Swiss backpacker woman on the ranch in Guatemala but no luck at all with local girls. Indeed, my inability to speak any Spanish had proved rather detrimental to my pursuit of “chicas” so far. The young girls on the beach near Caracas were a golden opportunity. Would I pursue it?

As Stuart and I walked up the hill back towards the Cabana, he asked me not to mention the teenage girls to Gaya. He didn’t want her to be jealous.

“Do you think she would be jealous?” I said. “It’s not like you are married and we haven’t even done anything with the young girls yet. We just said hello on the beach.”

“I know,” he said, “but if she finds out that we are meeting them tomorrow she will be mad. She may even try to interfere.”

“But we’re not meeting them tomorrow,” I said. “We are just going to the far end of the public beach to hang out and drink beer. If super hot young teenage girls happen to come by and join us, it’s not as if we planned it.”

“Exactly,” said Stuart, “we can’t predict the future. Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. Maybe the girls will go back to Caracas and we will be all alone. So no need to talk about it tonight with Gaya.”

When we got back to the Cabana, Gaya was cooking up another feast in the kitchen while Pierre dozed in the hammock. Another big night of eating and drinking in the garden lay ahead. 
 
Temptation is the key

That unlocks the temple door

Dissatisfied with order

The senses will seek more

We try to fight the instinct

And pretend that we are good

But we’d sacrifice the virgins

If we knew we could

An apple is eaten

And a people are free

The ruler is overthrown

Thanks to you… Eve

She shared it with Adam

And though he tried to resist

He traded in paradise

For a spectacular kiss…
To be continued…

Collateral Damage in the Eco War

Every silver lining
Comes packaged in a cloud
And good news only whispers
While bad news shouts out loud! 

It’s not exactly a secret
Because it is so plainly clear to see
Nevertheless,
You are not allowed to talk about it
Social pressure is strong, insistent…
Don’t you dare mention it
Total crash to cocktail conversation
But the truth is, 
Corona virus is very good for the health 
of the planet earth…
And I’m not talking about the body count
Thinning the herd and all that…
People die… that’s a fact
Collateral damage
It’s part of the deal
Because you get to live
You have to die sometime
That’s the bad news.

Every silver lining
Comes packaged in a cloud
And good news only whispers
While bad news shouts out loud!

The good news is
Corona puts a pause button
On the global economy
Slow down… don’t move so fast
Stay close to the ones you love
Transportation and energy use goes way down
Global tourism industry stops
Cruise ships don’t float and airplanes don’t fly
Carbon emissions drop 
The earth breathes a bit more fresh air
And we should too
Factories Slow
Supply chains break down
Not so much “stuff”is needed
Streamline the economy towards the necessities
Food, shelter, health, medicine
Workers stay home
Priorities
Focus on the important stuff
Take care of family
But that is bad news for the economy.

Every silver lining
Comes packaged in a cloud 
And good news only whispers
While bad news shouts out loud!

Bad for the economy means…
Good for the earth
Good for the economy means…
Bad for the earth
The corona pause reveals 
The underlying truth
Corona shows the way
Takes back the curtain
Shows off the wild joker 
Hiding in plain site
Mathematical opposites
One is the inverse of the other
In the great big equation
Economic system vs. ecosystem 
That’s the secret
Hiding in plain sight
That we are not allowed to talk about.

Every silver lining
Comes packaged in a cloud
And good news only whispers 
While bad news shouts out loud!

Conquest of the Earth
Dominion
Ownership
Control
That’s what the stock market measures
That’s what economic success means
Fossil Fuels and human intellect and a system
Transform the living earth
Into material, measurable, quantifiable wealth
Capitalism winning means
The earth is dying
If capitalism ever wins the big one
The whole earth will be dead
That is the design 
Corona is the earth responding to capitalism
Slowing it down
Wrenching it’s gears
Fighting back
The virus is an anti-body
Protecting the living earth
From the disease that
Invades it.

Every silver lining
Comes packaged in a cloud
And good news only whispers
While bad news shouts out loud!

Humans will die
Lots of them
Maybe friends and family
It will be sad
It will be dreadful
But humans are not the target
Of the tiny Corona Knight
Charging into battle 
Against the great monstrosity 
Oh no
Humans are not the enemy
Humans are not the disease
That the virus fights against
No indeed,
Humans are part of the living earth
The disease which infects the planet is something different
Something distinct
Something exceptional
It is an ideology… a metaphor… An economic system….
That sets humans apart
Dominion, ownership, control, conquest, capitalism
That is the thing the earth is battling against
Some humans have the disease…
Their lives are ruled by the metaphor
Some don’t
But all humans
Are caught in the crossfire
Collateral damage
In the Eco vs. Eco war.

Every silver lining
Comes packaged in a cloud
And good news only whispers
While bad news shouts out loud!

The Travel Book

Venezuela; November-December 1992

I’m not a particularly religious person. But I’m not anti-religion either. I tend to think of religion as the metaphor we humans use to spiritually understand the world in which we live. I’m certainly not an atheist. I’m not even an agnostic because I definitely believe in something. I’m just not sure of the proper metaphor to adequately symbolize and express my true beliefs. I’ve dabbled in Buddhism, Animism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Druidism, Paganism, and several Native American mythologies as well. I do manage to find some truth everywhere I look but my own subjective truth is elusive. That’s why I make up stories. Stories are the mechanism I use to search for my own subjective spiritual truth. 

In 1992-93, when I did my first backpacking trip to Central and South America, I was more of an agnostic leaning towards atheism. I had grown up in a very Catholic family and had gone to Catholic schools. But I was never a very enthusiastic Catholic and I completely rejected the Catholic church as my religion sometime around my sophomore or junior year of college (1985). I didn’t really embark upon my deep dive into world religions until the late 1990s so when I was traveling in 1992-93, I was kind of in that in-between state. I didn’t believe in anything except science and rationality so I was… more or less… an atheist.  

But I did believe in books… great works of literature. I was a voracious reader of anything and everything I could get my hands on. To my 27 year old mind, “the truth” could be found in Shakespeare, Dostoevsky,Faulkner and Steinbeck… I remember facing the big dilemma before I crossed the border into Mexico. I was going to be traveling in Latin America for six to eight months. I might not come across English books the whole time. What books should I bring? How many books should I bring? Books are heavy and they take up space. There were no iPads or e-books in 1992 and I was not aware that English books would be available in backpacker hostels. I was convinced that I needed some thick heavy substance for those potentially long lonely nights in far away foreign rooms so that’s what I brought…. some thick heavy substance to occupy my brain; the Brothers Karamazov; Les Miserable; One Hundred Years of Solitude; and the Bible. The Bible was kind of an odd choice for a semi-atheist like me. Throughout my formative years, I was exposed to lots of Bible stories. They were always presented to me out of context from the overall narrative and they were used to advance moral arguments about particular subject matters. As such, I never liked Bible stories. Nevertheless, when I was getting ready for my big trip and looking around for long thick books to read, I saw the Bible on my parent’s table. Why not? I’d never read the whole thing from beginning to end as a single unit. It is one of the most famous books of all time. I didn’t have to think of it as a religious text. I could, instead, try to understand it as a literary creation. So that’s what I did. I read the whole darn thing: The Old Testament in Central America and the New Testament in South America. For what it might be worth to the overall plot, when I was stuck in paradise because of the revolution in Caracas, I was just finishing up the Old Testament and starting on the new…

That first night there in paradise we feasted on grilled fish, fried plantains, spicy Caribbean coconut rice and a fresh fruit salad. Gaya, the master caterer, demonstrated her super hospitality skills. She set the table, prepared and served all the food and cleaned up afterwards. All we had to do was eat like kings at the table and then adjourn to the garden for smoking, drinking, and relaxing. That’s right; Gaya had even found us a little bit of marijuana to smoke. We were truly living the paradise dream.

But the dream was interrupted every half hour by news briefs on the radio about the chaos in Caracas which was less than an hour away. According to the radio, there was a state of emergency declared for the whole country with a shut down of public transport, curfews, checkpoints and a general lockdown. Apparently, a small faction of officers in the military, claiming to be “socialists”, turned against the central government and attacked several military command posts and the Presidential Palace. A few thousand people, also claiming to be socialists, went out into the streets of Caracas to protest against the government and riot in support of the rebellious military. A few hundred people in a few other cities also protested and rioted. The attacks by the “socialist traitors” in the military were repelled but thousands were still rioting. The loyal military was now out in force on the streets in order to calm the rioting. The state of emergency would continue until order and calm were completely restored.

“Of course we can’t trust the numbers on the radio,” said Pierre, “the radio supports the government. A few thousand in the streets or a few hundred thousand? That is the question.”

“I don’t understand,” I said, “is it a military coup or a revolution or what?”

“It’s hard to know for certain,” said Pierre, “are the socialists in the military acting as the leaders of a genuine socialist movement from the streets or are they just greedy generals trying to take over from other greedy generals? That’s what usually happens down here.”

“The numbers make all the difference,” said Stuart, “if there are just a few thousand in the streets like they are saying, then it’s not much of a revolution. It has no popular backing. But if there are a hundred thousand or half a million in the streets, the socialist generals could be riding a wave of revolution. But Pierre’s right, the radio will never announce big numbers because they don’t want to encourage others to join. Same type of precaution as the state of emergency, curfew and public transport shut down.”

“We don’t even know for sure that the attacks on the Presidential Palace and the command centers were really stopped. Of course the radio will say that. No mention that the socialist generals were captured or killed. That makes me think the attack is ongoing,” said Pierre.  

“I’m curious about the chicken and egg question,” I said. “What came first? The military coup attempt or the crowds of people rioting? Did the military socialists coordinate with the street socialists beforehand? Or did they just use the distraction of protesting crowds as an opportunity to make their move?”

“Protests have been ongoing in Caracas for weeks… months… years,” said Pierre. “Always protests here. But they are not organized socialist protests with plans for taking power. They are angry poor people who hate their government without particular ideology. Sometimes the protests are small and sometimes they are large but they always fizzle out. Usually, they are easily avoidable and they don’t interrupt travel plans. The government occasionally has to call in the military. A few years ago there was a bad one. Protests spiraled out of control and the military cracked down and killed people. But even after that one; things went back to normal. The coup attempt in the military is something different. That’s someone attempting to seize the levers of power. Maybe they are real socialists who will re-organize the economy to help those people who are suffering in the streets. But probably they are just a different set of wanna be oligarchs using socialist advertising to take over the oil wealth.”

“That’s exactly what I’m getting at,” I said. “The socialist military faction doesn’t represent the street protestors. They weren’t elected to anything. Maybe they have similar political philosophy but they have no legal relationship. Venezuela is a democracy. If the socialists have a plan to make Venezuela a better place, they should present it to the people and run for election.”

“You Americans and your elections,” said Pierre sarcastically, “all your colonies have pretend elections. Venezuela is an oligarchy. The only way for the people to take power from oligarchs is to seize it.”  

“Venezuela is not a colony,” I said. “It is an independent nation. Maybe it’s an oligarchy. I’ve read that there are great extremes of wealth and poverty here. And maybe they don’t have good elections. That doesn’t mean some different oligarchs should just seize power. The first step is to fix the elections. That is an area the US can help with. Bill Clinton was just elected President in the US and his administration’s diplomacy will be promoting human rights and democracy instead of capitalism and military aid.”

“Yes,” said Pierre, “fix the Elections. That’s what America is good at. Fix elections and control the economy. Shake down the colonies. That’s why Venezuelan oil is owned by Miami and Wall Street.”

“Miami?” I questioned.

“Yes,” he said, “The old story. Haven’t you heard? Miami is the real capital of Latin America. Venezuela has the third largest oil reserves in the whole world. The Venezuelan oligarchs who control that oil have second homes in South Florida. They spend more time there than they do here. The profits from that Venezuelan oil are managed by American Banks and invested in Florida real estate and the American stock market.”

“I don’t know about any of that. Miami? Really?” I said. “All I know is that coup de tats and rioting in the street are not the solution to problems with the government. Non-violence is the only way. Peaceful protest and democratic elections. If the socialists have a plan they should present it to the people, promote it through the press and run for office on a platform.”

“Elections are just a show in Venezuela. They are bullshit and everyone knows it,” said Pierre. “And the socialist plan is very simple. Share the Venezuelan oil profits with the Venezuelan people instead of giving all to America.”

“That seems sensible,” said Stuart, “if that is really the plan. But I’m still wondering about the numbers. The radio wants us to believe it’s a small number of violent rioters to justify the military crackdown and persuade everyone to stay home and inside. If they are telling the truth, the chaos should be over in a few days. But what if it’s a huge number of protestors? What if it’s a real revolution with big numbers in the street? Caracas could be crazy for a very long time!”

“That’s right,” said Gaya, as she emerged from the kitchen with a bottle of rum in her hand. “Caracas will be loco for long time. Boom boom bang bang shoot em up. Crazy cops shoot at crazy protestors. And sometimes protestors shoot back. Bombs too and tanks. Not safe place. Smart gringos will stay here and party in paradise with me.” As Gaya reached the picnic table, a commercial on the radio ended and a Bob Marley song began. She turned up the volume, took the cap off the rum and began dancing and singing the lyrics as she made her way among us adding rum to our drinks. “Don’t worry, bout a thing, every little thing, gonna be alright, be alright.” We stopped talking about the revolution/coup de tat’ and just sat there and watched Gaya perform.  

It was an amazing display of artistic virtuosity. The garden was her stage and she was the star of the show. I was in one hammock, Pierre in another and Stuart was at the picnic table. Gaya moved among us, dancing about, smiling, refilling our drinks, making jokes and singing along with the music. She scoffed at the “locos in Caracas” on the news updates who were fighting, fighting, fighting, instead of loving, laughing and living. She promoted the party lifestyle with great enthusiasm and somehow managed to flirt with all three of us at the same time. She was definitely “Stuart’s bird,” but that didn’t stop her from trying to tease Pierre and I a little too. Thanks to the continuous refills of my fruity rum filled coconut I got rather smashed. I remember that I was not attracted to Gaya’s sexy moves early on because I was still thinking about the bikini clad beauties on the beach earlier and Gaya was rather large in comparison. She’s all yours Stuart. As the evening wore on, however, and the rum flowed in my veins, the temptation within awakened and a few devious thoughts ran through my brain. I even joked with Stuart that I would wrestle him for the right to take Gaya for myself. Stuart claimed a war injury and said I would have to wrestle his chosen champion… Gaya instead. Against her I wouldn’t stand a chance.

Eventually, I got so drunk that I could barely get out of the hammock to go pee. And then, after I peed, I was too drunk to climb back in the hammock. So I went into my tiny bedroom and passed out. I awoke early the next morning with a slight headache. But I smelled coffee brewing in the kitchen and that convinced me to get out of bed. When I emerged from the bedroom and walked down the hall to the kitchen, Gaya handed me a cup of coffee. She smiled big and bright and said, “good morning Patrick. How you want your huevos? Frito o revuelto?”

“Scrambled would be good,” I said, “I mean revuelto.”

“You want breakfast in garden? it is nice temperature outside now.”

“That sounds good,” I said. “Can you bring it to me there?”

“Yes sir,” she said, in a way that made me feel slightly uncomfortable.

“I mean please and thank you and gracias. I would really appreciate it if you could bring my breakfast to the garden.” I said.  

Outside… the garden was empty of people. Stuart and Pierre must still be sleeping in their rooms. There were four simple place settings on the picnic table with a bowl of fruit and a basket of croissants in the middle. My newspaper from yesterday was also on the table and my Spanish/English dictionary was next to it. I tried to read through it as I sipped my coffee and ate. Gaya brought me scrambled eggs, black beans, and tortillas to go with the fruit and bread. But then she returned to the kitchen leaving me alone. The information in the paper was the same as what we heard on the radio the night before. After eating, still alone, I decided to relax in the hammock with one of my books. So I went back to my room and got my daypack full of books and brought it out to the garden.

I remember that I was sitting in the hammock with my daypack open trying to decide which book I was going to read when Pierre came out into the garden to eat his breakfast. “Good morning Patrick,” he said with a friendly smile.  

“Good morning,” I said. As I pulled free a Marquez book and dropped my pack to the ground. I’m not sure how exactly it happened but somehow the pack turned upside down and all the books tumbled out into the dirt. I can clearly remember even now the bizarre look that came over Pierre’s face when it happened. Shock, amazement, confusion. Like he just got hit by lightning before he sat at the picnic table. He had a sudden realization!

“I see… I see…” he said, “you are one of those?”

I couldn’t correlate his look with his words. I thought maybe I broke something when I dropped my books. But the books just landed in dirt. Then I noticed the Bible was one of the books there in the dirt and that was what he was looking at. Could he be offended because I got the Bible dirty? He was a socialist. Why would he care about a dirty Bible? I leaned over from the hammock to pick it up and brush it off? “One of what?” I said.

“You are one of those fundamentalists!” He said.

“Oh my God no,” I said, “I am definitely not a bible thumper?”

“Then why you have a Bible in your backpack?” He spoke with accusation. Like I was some sort of criminal defendant on trial for reading a Bible. I actually felt embarrassed, guilty, like I had to confess the truth…

“I’m reading it for fun,” I admitted, “you know, like a work of literature… an epic. The Iliad or the Odyssey or Don Quixote… It’s a great travel book.. chock full of exciting stories.”

“The Bible? Full of good stories? Like what?” He demanded to know.

“Exodus is a good one…. One of my favorites,” I said. “Hollywood even made a movie about it starring Charleton Heston. You’ve probably seen it.”

“Stupid movie, full of religious nonsense and bad acting,” said Pierre. “I hope there are better stories in your epic than that.”

“You’re right,” I said, “the movie is bad. Too many special effects buried the plot. But the story itself is a good one. An original travel story; the journey from slavery into freedom.”

“I thought it was about a cult that worshipped the white master’s law,” said Pierre.

“Okay then, you don’t like Exodus,” I said, “how about Genesis? That’s a good story. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and along comes a Serpent with a special offer. A story of temptation, disobedience and revenge. The original soap opera… every soap opera since has been a spin-off. The fundamental human drama brought to life in a few short pages.”

“More religious nonsense,” said Pierre, “so what if she eat the serpent’s apple? And where is the revenge? The guy eats the apple too. The guy does not blame her, he joins her.”

“But they get booted from the garden,” I said somewhat excitedly…. “That’s the whole point. The foundational metaphor of the whole book. The humans disobey God so God casts them out. Their actual crime seems kind of trivial. They ate a forbidden fruit… Big deal. It is the simple fact of their disobedience that gets them in trouble. God must have his revenge. They are banished from paradise where everything grows in abundance and end up outside in the scary wilderness with predators, prey, and the never ending fight for survival.”

“And of course, the woman, Eve, gets blamed for it all,” said Pierre. “So we have to live in a dog eat frog world because some woman ate an apple a million years ago. I say the whole story is crazy religious nonsense.”

Just as Pierre said these words, Gaya emerged from the kitchen into the garden carrying a plate of scrambled eggs, beans and tortillas for Pierre. She placed it on the picnic table in front of him and he tucked himself right into it. His enthusiasm for the feast before him gave me the distinct impression that he was no longer interested in our biblical conversation. Indeed, I sort of got the impression that the subject matter had somehow offended him. I even sort of thought that the bible incident had significantly changed our friendship. But maybe he was just hungry. He barely even looked up to say hi as Stuart came out to the garden as well carrying two plates of eggs and beans and tortillas. Stuart and Gaya sat down with Pierre at the table. They all concentrated on eating breakfast rather than making conversation. All I heard from the table was a few grunts, fork scrapes and the chewing of food but it was enough to distract me from my book. I was still quite tired too. I dropped the book to the floor and lay back in the hammock. In a matter of seconds, I fell into a deep dark sleep…
To be continued… 

Travel Light

Venezuela; November 1992.

How big is your backpack? That is a question with profound philosophical implications. That is a question that addresses the fundamental relationship between you, as a human, and the ecosystem of the planet earth that you inhabit. How big is your backpack? 

For my first ever trip to Central and South America in 1992-93, I had the biggest and fullest and heaviest backpack in the history of backpacking. It was a little insane. I had camping gear with tent, sleeping mat and a cook stove; I had guidebooks, reading books and notebooks; I had medical supplies and toiletries; I had clothes for all kinds of climates and I even had games. Somewhere in the bottom of my bag there was probably even a kitchen sink full of dirty dishes… I remember having to really heave it to get it up and on my shoulders. Once I got it up there, I could walk with it okay because I was used to hiking in the Adirondacks with full camping gear but I must have looked pretty ridiculous stumbling around Latin American cities with a mountain of things stacked on my shoulders. Getting it on and off the roofs of local buses and minibuses or into small luggage compartments was always a serious challenge often requiring assistance from two or three strong young locals. By the time I got to Venezuela, I was also very aware of the burden my extra big backpack imposed on my fellow public transport travelers. It was starting to feel like an existential ball and chain… As the years went by, I learned through experience that most of what you need is available where you go so I began to travel with less and less. Somewhere along the line, traveling with as little as possible became kind of a personal philosophy or belief system. By the time I got to 2008, I was traveling Africa with little more than a daypack. Indeed, that belief system found it’s way into my stay at home and not travel time as well. Less is more to the very core. Own nothing share everything. Happy the man who can sleep naked on a bed of grass and want for nothing… Oh yeah. That’s what I’m talking about. The realization of the obvious that contradicts the generally accepted story. But all that is later, much later. When I was stranded in Macuto, Venezuela by the revolution I had no such crazy radical beliefs. I was simply a lost lawyer on sabbatical with a very big backpack…

When I checked out of my hotel in the morning, I found Pierre waiting for me at reception. Apparently, he stayed there as well the night before and had just checked out ahead of me. The first thing he did upon seeing me was scoff at the size of my big backpack. “You Americans and your stuff.” He said. “Can you ever have enough? It is crazy.”

“But I am traveling for six months,” I said defensively, “and I like to hike and camp.”

“And I’m traveling for three months,” he said as he arrogantly swung his little shoulder bag to and fro. “And I like to surf and scuba.”

“Yeah right,” I said, “and your scuba gear fits in your purse.”   

“I can rent gear when I want it so this little bag is all I need when I move from place to place.” He twirled his shoulder bag in a show off move. “Come, bring your house and let’s go. They wait for us outside.

Parked in the road in front of the hotel was a collectivo/minibus that was packed full of people. Gaya and Stuart were on board and they waived us over. Somehow or other, there were two empty seats that we could squeeze into but finding a place for my backpack was another story. At first the driver’s assistant tried to push it into the luggage compartment behind the back seat but it wouldn’t fit. Then the driver had to get out and help the assistant hoist it up on to the roof and strap it on. The process took a while and Pierre glanced at me with his condescending smirk the whole time. That’s right, I was the asshole privileged American with tons of shit who needed extra help and thereby delayed everyone’s crowded uncomfortable journey even longer. Then, I felt like I had to tip the driver and his assistant extra for their hard work but the act of tipping them only amplified my self conscious image as the privileged American getting waited upon by locals. Just call me super Gringo with a capital G.

The minivan travelled on mostly dirt roads but I really couldn’t see well because I was crammed inside like a sardine with several bodies separating me from the window. It took a lot longer than I expected. Almost an hour to go twenty kilometers? How can that be? Perhaps it only seemed a real long time because I was so uncomfortable. They stopped at a couple other places to let passengers off before us so the vehicle was half empty by the time we got there.

No matter, we did eventually arrive at our destination and unload ourselves from the uncomfortable transport.

Welcome to Paradise. We were dropped at the intersection of two dirt roads in front of a small little general store. There was no sign actually welcoming me to a real place called paradise but that was the sensation that washed over my soul. Across the dirt road from us was ocean and a perfect beach of white sand that hugged a wide cove of Caribbean blue waters. Nice big waves tumbled towards me splashing glittering foam into the midday light. It looked like an image from a travel magazine. I turned around to look behind me and saw that the other dirt road went perpendicular from the beach straight back into fairly dense jungle with rising small mountains in the background. “Wow. This is nice. Where is the Cabana?

“From here we have to walk,” said Gaya, “but first we should get some supplies.”

The grocery store was small but well stocked with fresh fish, fruit and a surprising amount of easy to make international instant foods (pasta and rice with msg sauces). There was also a small bakery attached that sold really good empanadas and really bad coffee. I bought myself a bag of empanadas and chipped in 15 bucks to Gaya for dinner and breakfast supplies and a couple bottles of rum. I also bought a newspaper on the way out the door.

The walk to the cabana was a bit longer than I expected and the cabana was not on the ocean. Pierre helped Gaya with the groceries and they led the way as Stuart and I followed behind with our backpacks. We took the perpendicular road up about fifty meters into the jungle and then turned right onto a footpath. From there it was another 150 meters of walking uphill through jungle to reach the cabana. It was not at all like what I envisioned when I left Macuto in the morning but it was still amazing. Very Eden like with fruit trees, flowers and thick dense green shrubbery. The sound of a stream or creek was flowing nearby. But we certainly could not see, hear or smell the ocean. It was definitely not a beach front cabana…

No matter, it was a very nice place to stay for the very reasonable price of fifteen dollars a person. There were three bedrooms, a bathroom with shower and a well-equipped kitchen.  
Stuart and Gaya took the biggest room while Pierre and I had a mental tug of war over the other two. Ultimately, I agreed to take the small shitty room to demonstrate that I was not a greedy gringo American who wanted everything for himself. Fortunately, the cabana also had a very cool outdoor courtyard/jungle garden area with a picnic table, a couple of hammocks and an amazing outdoor shower to help with the jungle heat. So I left my big backpack in my tiny bedroom but spent most of my time in one of the garden hammocks. 

We arrived in the early afternoon and Gaya went right to work demonstrating her skills as a gracious hostess and all around party professional. After putting away the groceries, she went out in the garden to gather a few coconuts that had fallen from the trees into the garden. She then used a machete to transform those coconuts into cups. I was more than a little impressed by her incredible display of big blade virtuosity. Indeed, it kind of turned me on… Seriously, before Gaya did her little thing with the machete, I was not at all attracted to her. She was probably about my age, maybe a little older, but way too big and buxom for my taste. She was also very black. My internal vision of the Venezuelan beauty queen was the bikini clad, olive skinned Latina, not a machete wielding matron from Africa. I actually thought it was strange that Stuart acted like she was his hot and sexy girlfriend. She was very nice and boisterous and helpful… But hot and sexy she was not… Until she started wielding a machete. And then I was like wow, oh my, would you look at that. Stuart old boy… You sure are the man.

So she turned the coconuts into cups and filled them up with fresh pineapple, rum and coconut juice and handed a cup to each of us. She then pulled out a small transistor radio from a cabinet and set it up on the picnic table in the garden. I commandeered one hammock and Pierre laid claim to the other while Stuart and Gaya sat at the picnic table where Gaya had placed a bowl of fruit and bag of empanadas. Gaya tuned the radio to a station from Caracas that played a mix of American rock and roll, reggae, and Latin pop. Every half hour or so, they had a ten minute news break with updates about the “golpe.” The updates were in Spanish so neither Stuart nor I understood much so we had to rely mostly on translations from Gaya and Pierre. Gaya’s English was not so good and Pierre’s translations were questionable because of his overt political slant but all in all it made for interesting conversation as we all hung out in the garden courtyard drinking rum and having fun. We would talk, laugh and watch Gaya get up and dance around the yard for songs she liked as she tried to convince the skinny little nerdy Englishman to dance with her. Stuart sat at the picnic table sipping from his coconut shaking his head no. Pierre and I shouted encouragement from our hammocks but he wouldn’t budge. It was a comical scene to watch and be a part of. But then, the news break would happen and we would all fall silent and listen intently. I remember focusing my brain until it hurt trying to understand what the fast talking newscaster was saying about the golpe.

Sometime in the late afternoon, Stuart suggested we all go for a walk down to the beach. Maybe have a swim. Gaya, the incredibly gracious hostess said no because she wanted to stay at the cabana to prepare a feast of an evening meal to celebrate our first night in paradise. Pierre declined as well. He wanted to nap in the hammock to recover from his jet lag. But I wanted to go. We promised to be back for dinner just after sunset.

I remember facing the money belt/beach dilemma when I went back to my room to change into my swim shorts and get my beach bag. If I was going to be staying at this cabana for a whole week, I had to figure out what I was going to do with my money belt and passport while I was here. Obviously, there was no safe at reception and I didn’t want to keep it on my person all the time. Assuming I could trust Pierre and Gaya, my room in the cabana was very safe as long as they were there. But I just met them yesterday. It really is a pain to have a money belt on the beach. They certainly didn’t seem untrustworthy. What did my gut say? I stuffed my money belt into the bottom of my big backpack in the corner of my tiny room and headed to the beach feeling free.

The way to the beach was easy to find. Just follow the main footpath downhill to where it tees at the dirt road. Go left and follow the road to the sand and water. We walked single file on the footpath with Stuart in the lead but when we reached the road we evened up to side by side.

“So what do you think of Gaya?” He said.

“Well,” I said, “she’s very good with a machete.”
He laughed. “Yeah, that’s for sure. She’s good at a lot of things.”

“I can only imagine,” I said, shaking my head as I tried not to visualize.

“That’s not what I mean,” he said, “but yeah, she is good at that too. But she’s also good at lots of other things… amazing in fact. I really like her. And I’m afraid I misspoke about her when we were talking the other day.

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“I think I gave you the impression that she was some kind of whore or prostitute. I talked about her in an improper way. She is not like that at all. She’s more like a girlfriend. I really respect her and I want you to know that because I want you to respect her too.

“No worries,” I said, “I respect any woman that wields a machete like she does. I thought she was a room broker you were dating not some hooker. I think she is nice and fun. Though I have no plan to move in on your action. I’m just glad you guys invited me to come stay here. This place is incredible.” As I made this statement we reached the white sands before the ocean and the view before us put an exclamation mark on my words.  

“I’m happy you came along,” he added as we stopped walking to take in the view, “and Pierre too. Gaya is lots of fun but the two of us alone on a romantic honeymoon would be awkward. She is the kind of bird that thrives on a social atmosphere. All of us here together is very much better.”

“And cheaper too,” I said. “Wow. Look at those waves. Makes me want to dive right in.”  

“Do you think it’s safe,” he said. “What if there is undertow? You know, rip tide?”

I looked up and down the beach for other people swimming. Our end of the beach was fairly empty with just an old couple sitting under a big beach umbrella and a small group of six teenage boys playing soccer. Down towards the middle of the beach there were a few sunbathers and a couple people splashing in the water by the shoreline. The far other end of the beach looked kind of busy with picnickers, sunbathers and swimmers. There even appeared to be a roped off area with lifeguards there and a few small buildings in the background. It looked like it might be some type of private resort. We walked across the sand away from the soccer players to the middle section and laid out our towels and beach bags near the shoreline.”What do you suppose all that is,” said Stuart as he looked towards the far end.

“Looks like some sort of private resort,” I said.

“It’s probably safer to swim near a lifeguard. Maybe rip tides here.”

“I doubt it,” I answered, “this is a public beach, if it was dangerous there would be warning signs. And look at those people right there.” I pointed to a couple frolicking in the waves a short distance away and then I sat down on my towel.

“I’ll bet there’s some nice birds down there by the lifeguard,” said Stuart. “Birds in bikinis on the beach. What could be better?” He sat down next to me

“Are you saying we should move our stuff all the way down to the other end?”

“Not now,” he said, “here is fine for now. But I would like to check it out sometime. Maybe even today before we go back.”

“I’m good with that plan,” I said. “A little sun and splash here for a while and then a stroll down the beach at sunset to check out the scene.

Swimming in the ocean there was incredible. Big waves tossed my buoyant body about like a rag doll. It was exhilarating. It was glorious. I ran forward in the shallow water and leapt into the curling whitecaps of foam. I informed Stuart that there was no riptide and no danger so he was willing to make the plunge after me. We couldn’t swim at the same time though because Stuart had his wallet with him and he didn’t want to leave it untended in the sand. So we took turns swimming and sunbathing. I read a chapter in one of my books and Stuart dozed in the afternoon sun.  

Soaked, salted and baked, we packed up our beach bags and set out on our stroll down the shoreline towards the more crowded far end of the beach. As we got closer it appeared like our initial guess was correct. There was a roped off swimming area with a life guard that was not exactly packed full but was significantly more populated than our section of beach. There were at least fifty or so people scattered about in small groups around the sand and there was also a cluster of luxury cabanas just back from the beach. It appeared as if this section of beach was part of some resort and I wondered if all of the beach goers were guests. Stuart and I pretended like we were looking for shells and stones at the water’s edge as we walked along but we were really scoping out the beach for beautiful young ladies. Holy smokes… We were outrageously, incredibly, miraculously surprised….

“Do you see what I see?” said Stuart as he stopped to pick up a shell and show it to me

“That depends,” I said “are you talking about those two super hot chicas on the green blanket just to our left or those three super hot chicas on towels by the red and white umbrella straight ahead.

“Birds in bikinis, birds in shorts. Birds, birds and more birds,” he said. “We seem to have stumbled upon a flock.”

As healthy young men in our late twenties, it was a little like walking into a sex fantasy. There were a few normal looking humans on the beach… elders, perhaps, or guardian/chaperones sitting here and there or strolling about. But mostly, it was just beautiful young ladies in bikinis… lots of them. And no young men to go with them. It had to be a special organization, or school or club. That’s it; it was the super hot ladies of Venezuela club and we just accidentally walked into it…. But alas, fantasies don’t usually come true. Real life has complications

“Let’s keep walking.. and looking at shells,” I said, “but I sort of have a feeling that we are not supposed to be here.”

“It’s a free beach ,” said Stuart. “There were no signs or barriers to block our entry. Just because there’s a flock of birds doesn’t mean we can’t be here.”

 “Let’s just be inconspicuous,” I said. “Watch the shells and the shoreline. Try not to look at the ladies. Oh my god… Do you see those two over there in the beach chairs. Wow.”

“The blue blanket,” he said. “Four of them. Beauties. Here stop look at this shell.” He stopped, leaned over and picked up a shell.

Of course our little shell game wasn’t fooling anyone. No doubt the chicas were checking us out just as we were checking them. They pretended to not notice us… the two strange white dudes who were trespassing on their beach. And we pretended not to notice them… An extraordinarily high concentration of super sexy beautiful young ladies assembled on a small stretch of beach. To my 27 year old self, it seemed like the entire beach was pulsating with sexual energy. I could feel it in the air… taste it in the wind. I had an urge to prance about and show off my masculine virility. I wanted to strut and howl… But I didn’t. Instead, I looked at Stuart’s shell and waited for the great weight of reality to crash through my fantasy.

I saw them walking across the sand out of the corner of my eye and turned my head away hoping to not see them. Authority was coming to enforce the law. Two guys in uniforms, not sure what kind of uniform but official looking enough, approached us. They were unarmed and not aggressive but they wanted to know what we were doing on la playa privada. They didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Spanish but we did our best to apologize and say we didn’t know it was privada. We acted out the part of the goofy confused tourists who wandered into the wrong place. The two uniformed guys escorted us down the beach to a point about fifty meters past where the water was roped off for swimming. They drew a line in the sand there and pointed to a sign that was posted a short distance from the water. We honestly hadn’t noticed the sign on the way down. Oh well. Sorry. The other side of the line was playa publico this side was playa privada. Okay then, from now on, we won’t cross the line

As Stuart and I headed back down the beach the sun fell closer and closer to the horizon. We were on the north coast of Venezuela on the western side of a jut in the shoreline. As such, the sun seemed to be sinking into the ocean just off shore straight ahead of us. We were walking into the sunset.

“Tomorrow,” said Stuart, “we should set up our towels right next to the line. Maybe some of the birds will do a beach stroll.

“I’m all for that,” I said, “that was unreal… incredible. Too many to count. Do you think they will still be there tomorrow?

“I sure hope so,” he said, “I wonder who they are?”

“Models on a beach fashion shoot,” I suggested

“Good guess,” said Stuart, “but too many birds for models and no blokes with cameras. I would guess something educational… Students from university… A weekend educational retreat on a subject that only women are interested in. Feminism or something like that.”

“You think they were feminists taking a break from a conference to sunbathe? Really? No way.”

“Sure,” he said, “why not?”

“Feminists don’t sun bathe in bikinis,” I said. “If it’s gotta be an educational gathering, I’d bet on beauty school.”

“Whoever they are,” said Stuart, “I would like to get to know them better.”

We turned left away from the water just as the sun disappeared beneath the waves. It only took us ten minutes to walk from there uphill to the cabana. When we returned, Pierre was out cold asleep in the hammock and Gaya was cooking up a storm in the kitchen. The entire cabana smelled like a delicious combination of Caribbean spices and my hunger instincts responded enthusiastically.

“Welcome home my darlings,” said Gaya, “you are just in time. Wake up Pierre and take a seat at table. I hope you are ready to eat.”
To be continued…

  
 

A Conversation at the Crossroads

Where does memory end and imagination begin? That is the issue that arises as I try to write the story of the past from the perspective of the present. The focus of this narrative is a series of inter-related events that occurred from 1992 until 1995. I have no written record and no photographs of these events. I don’t even have a copy of my old passport. All my former paperwork preceding the imaginary revolution was burned as part of the revolution so all the documents that might demonstrate the veracity of the underlying story no longer exist. Nevertheless… I do believe it is true… I was a smart young lawyer with a promising career ahead of me. But I quit. I could no longer recognize the legitimacy of the government or the insane economic system that it managed. To continue practicing law for a legal system that is fundamentally illegitimate, is to practice hypocrisy. So I ceased practicing law and started practicing anti-law… some people call it anarchy or anarchism. To emphasize the transformation I envisioned, I also gave up the philosophical concept of ownership. Is it possible to design an organic dynamic economic system based on economic value utilization and sharing instead of ownership and competition for control? Well, yes, of course it is? But to implement such an economy would require a revolution…. Imagine that?

A couple years after the imaginary revolution, I discovered the power of stonework and the stones made it rather easy for me to live a good anarchist life. They also made it possible for me to live the traveling life. That is why I believe an underlying travel gene had a lot to do with my radical transformation. Realistically, as a lawyer, I never would have been able to backpack all over the world. I remember thinking about it at the end of that first big trip in 1993, when I was still a lawyer and I was looking for a new legal position. A very big part of me wanted to find a temporary position so I could travel. Something that would end in a year or two and I would have enough cash to go traveling again. But I also had this resume and connections that set me up for long term career opportunities. Even though I rejected corporate law after that first big trip, all the not-for-profit public service organizations I applied to wanted a long term employee as well. I said the same bullshit in every interview; “That’s right, sir, mam, dude, dudess, your honor, your highness, your majesty, mr. president…. my year long backpacking experience through the Americas got the adventure out of my system. It was the trip of a lifetime but I don’t think I will ever do it again. Right now, I am ready to settle in for the long term and do some good important work.” Ha ha ha. Kind of makes me laugh to think about it. I can see my younger self in my mind’s eye uttering those ridiculous words. In reality, I quit a year and a half later when I had the imaginary revolution. As part of my new lifestyle, I started doing stonework on a seasonal basis. I earned enough currency from April to November to take Winters off for traveling. For almost twenty years, I traveled for four or five months every single year. Given this reality, and looking back from the present perspective at those long ago job interviews, it seems as if I must have been lying when I uttered those words. But if my memory serves me correctly, I didn’t think I was lying at the time. I really believed I was telling the truth. I thought I was prepared to settle into a long term career as a public service attorney. The voice inside of me telling me to give up the 9 to 5 and find a way to keep traveling was just a random deviant thought. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t reality. Or, at least, I didn’t think it was.

The same issue arises now. What is reality? The present keeps crashing into the past. I’m writing about my first ever backpacking trip in 92-93. I was still a lawyer then. It was two years before the transformation. That trip must have been a major catalyst. But I don’t remember the particulars very well. It was 27 years ago and I have been on almost twenty long distance backpacking adventures since then. The details of the many places get confused together and some events blend into others. But the mind is a strange and wondrous thing. I focus my attention on an event or place that I vaguely remember and start to write. As the words go down on paper, my mind fills in more and more of the scene. Is it reality I’m remembering or a story I am creating. I really don’t know. I could, of course, supplement my memory with some research. We do have internet now. All those crazy far out places around the globe that I stumbled through randomly now have websites and Facebook pages. I could look at maps and read old lonely planet descriptions to refresh my memory. But would the story be truer if I supplemented my memory with knowledge? Or would new knowledge so pollute my memory with reality that I would have no choice but to write fiction?

Panama: November 1992. Think think think. Focus. Dig deep but let the brain muscles relax…. let go. Open up the mind… It’s happening. It’s all coming back to me. The file cabinets in the brain are shifting and the teleplay of the story is downloading to my internal video screen…

Shortly after my breakfast with Gunther on the hotel balcony, I took a mini-bus across the Isthmus of Central America to reach a port or harbor that theoretically had boats to Venezuela. Panama City is on the Pacific side and I was looking for transport across the Caribbean so I thought I had to go to the other coast to find a boat. I’m not sure where I got this information, maybe from my guidebook or maybe from Gunther or some other traveler at the hotel. Fortunately, the minibus stop was near my hotel and the journey across the narrowest part of Central America only took an hour or two. When we reached the opposite side of the Panama Canal, the minibus turned South and traveled along the coast until it reached a harbor with lots of boats. The mini-bus dropped me off in front of a very big, official looking building. I went inside to find out information.

Nobody was selling boat tickets to Venezuela inside the building. As a matter of fact, nobody was selling boat tickets to anywhere inside the building. Actually, nobody spoke any English so I had a difficult time determining what they were doing in there. It seemed like government offices of some kind. Maybe customs or trade or boating regulations. Everyone seemed very busy. Lots of intense conversations in Spanish and lots of scurrying between desks with stacks of paper in hand. Phones were ringing and typewriters were clattering. I did see one bulletin board but I couldn’t understand the Spanish notes that were posted on it. There was certainly nothing on it about boats to Venezuela. There was no specific help desk or reception area either. I tried asking a few random people with my broken Spanish. “Permiso. Yo quiero information about barcos to Venezuela.” But everyone just looked at me like I was crazy. After a while, I gave up and went outside.

The harbor near the building was exceptionally large with hundreds of boats in all different shapes and sizes. There was an extensive network of wooden docks that went out into the water and surrounded the boats. It was still fairly early in the day as I walked along the docks and examined the boats. Could one of these boats take me all the way to Venezuela? Except for my day trip in Belize to the coral reefs and a few short lake journeys in upstate New York, I had no experience with boats. I could barely distinguish a sail boat from a catamaran. A trip to Venezuela would take at least several days… maybe a whole week. Could my landlubber body handle it? What if I got sea sick? Perhaps this whole plan of traveling to Venezuela by boat was a bad idea.

“Hey Gringo, que pasa! What you look for amigo? You want to buy boat. My name Carlos and I can help you.” I turned to see a friendly young local guy walking towards me on the dock. He raised his hand in the air to give me a high five and I acknowledged his gesture with the appropriate slap of the hand.

“Nice to meet you Carlos,” I said, “my name is Patrick. But no, I’m not looking to buy a boat. I’m just looking.”

“Nobody just looks,” he said. “Everybody wants something. What you want amigo? You want to go somewhere? San Blas maybe? Or all the way to Cartagena?” Continue reading

Do I Dare?

Panama City, Panama; November 1992

Waiting for the Sun to rise… desperately. My head hurt and I was very sweaty. I didn’t want to shut my eyes anymore because I was tired of the dream. I couldn’t deal with it anymore. There seemed to be a dim light in the atmosphere. It had to be almost dawn. I wanted to get up and face the day. I wanted the shitty night to be over. I had things I needed to do. I was in Panama City. I wanted to continue South to South America. The only possible way to go overland to South America was to go through the area known as the Darien Gap into Columbia. The guide book warned that it was a dangerous route filled with drug smugglers and paramilitaries. Indeed, the tiny Isthmus which connects Columbia to Panama had become sort of legendary among the many backpackers I met traveling in Central America… Have you done the Gap? No way man, the Gap is too dangerous. Si’, the Gap Es muy peligroso. I want go Gap? You too? Do you dare to do Darien man, cuz it is danger zone….

As a practical matter it was very difficult to “do Darien” because the area was mostly a very big swamp with only a few passable dirt roads. Control of the few roads was often in dispute between various rival paramilitary factions so much traveling in the region was done by speed boats or small plane. The guidebook recommended getting on the ground, up to the minute information before trying any route through the region because the security situation there was always in flux. Part of me wanted to do it, but mostly I was afraid. With all the news stories about Pablo Escobar and violent drug wars in Columbia, I was thinking about skipping Columbia altogether. I really wanted to hurry up and get to the Amazon. Couldn’t I by-pass Columbia altogether and just quickly cut through Venezuela to Brazil?

According to my guidebook, it was possible to go directly by boat from Panama City, Panama to a harbor on the coast near Caracas, Venezuela but it was not easy to arrange passage because there was no official public ferry plying the route. There were a few private cruise ships that connected the two destinations but passage on cruise ships was expensive with several pleasure stops along the way. It was also possible to charter a boat from the Panama City harbor to the Venezuelan harbor but that too would be very expensive unless you were part of a big group defraying the costs. For shoestring travelers, my guidebook recommended asking at the private cruise lines for a job as a deckhand in exchange for free passage or going to the harbor and checking bulletin boards for notices of groups that might be looking for sign-ons. So that was my plan for the day. Head to the harbor to find out about boats to Venezuela and scope out some on the ground, up to date information on the Darien route to Columbia.

The sun was definitely up. It was light out. I climbed my hungover, sweaty self out of bed and went across the hall to the bathroom and showers. I had to brush my teeth about six times and submit to a blast of very cold splash, but I felt mostly sane by the time I dressed and headed out the door to find breakfast. This was 1992, so I was traveling without cell phone or iPad and I had no individual timepiece so I never really knew what time it was but I was guessing it was about 7:00 am. The price of the hotel room theoretically included breakfast that was served from 7:00am -10:00am in the balcony sitting area so that is where I went. A young local man dressed in waiter whites greeted me as I approached and asked if I wanted coffee or tea. I scanned the scene. Only a few tables were occupied but there was Gunther sitting at the same table as the evening before. He saw me as well and gestured for me to join him. I told the waiter I wanted coffee and went to join my new Swiss friend.

“Good morning my young gringo friend,” he said, “I trust you found some food last night and got yourself a good night sleep.”

“Sort of,” I said as I sat down. “I went to the Irish place and had the Shepard’s pie.”

“Not exactly Panamanian cuisine but delicious nonetheless.”

“Sure tasted good,” I said, “but it didn’t do well in my belly.”

“Now now,” said Gunther, “don’t blame da pie for da problem of da whiskey.”

“Very perceptive,” I said.

“Or da problem of da tequila,” he added. His wrinkled eyes twitched sporadically as he smiled like a dirty gnome in possession of incriminating secrets.

The realization hit me with a wave of nausea. “Oh my god, you were there. Did I see you? Did I talk to you? I hope I didn’t say anything offensive. I’m sorry if I did. I was really drunk. I don’t even know why. I honestly can’t remember seeing you at all. For that matter, the whole night is such a blur that I hardly remember anything. I was so wasted I think I even threw up in the plaza on the way home. Could someone have spiked my drink?”

“Perhaps,” he said, “but probably not. I was only there for a half hour around ten o’clock. We didn’t talk because you were busy doing shots of tequila with some bar friends when I saw you. I waved hello but you didn’t seem to recognize me. My educated guess is that it was the tequila that made you sick. Someone else didn’t spike your drink. You spiked it yourself by switching from good clean whiskey to dirty yellow piss water.”

At this point, the waiter in white arrived carrying my coffee. He was Panamanian but his English was very good. There were three breakfast options; pancakes, eggs or fruit salad. Gunther already had the pancakes in front of him and I chose the eggs (huevos revueltoes). After the waiter was gone, I sipped the coffee and tried to relax. But the caffeine gave me the jitters.

“So now what?” said Gunther inquisitively. “You heading towards da Gap very soon or you planning to stay around and take in some Panamanian attractions first?” Continue reading