The Coyote Lives…

This is a new “travel story,” and also a continuation of the previous story.  It is presented as fiction… one part of a serialized novel.  The events may be true but the narrator is a figment of my imagination…

Winter Solstice 2017 continued…

The waffles are delicious and the moment is almost here.
How to begin? I don’t know. Have I reached the wall? No, there is so very much more to say… The coyote.. The solstice moment. How did I get there? How much does the reader need to know to appreciate the significance of the experience? Can I capture the transformation of reality into fiction?

I started the ritual 22 years ago as an experiment. I used to suffer from severe Winter depression. How much of that depression was a product of my insane real world lifestyle… trying to be “successful” in a fucked up capitalist world…. and how much of that depression was a product of my own internal “chemical imbalances” is an open question. But I abandon my insane real world lifestyle and started my own little “imaginary revolution” to deal with the fucked-up capitalist world. And I started the annual ritual as an experiment to deal with the “chemical imbalances.”

My working theory on the chemical imbalances was rather sensible. Every winter, my emotional and mental health system would run slightly off track. The remedies I usually used to treat the sadness of daily existence no longer worked. I would have to take more and more remedies to less and less effect. It was as if my system was overloaded with remedies and they all just cancelled each other out and remedied nothing. I felt nothing in winter time… I felt dead inside. That is why I decided to try re-booting the system… my own internal system. How?

My four favorite indulgences or remedies that consistently brought happiness and joy to my physiological reality were fairly easy to identify: whiskey (alcohol), weed (THC), coffee (caffeine), ice cream (sugar). I decided to cleanse my system of all these remedies before Winter began so they would all have their full remedial power during the long, cold, dark, depressing Winter months. For no real reason in particular, I thought approximately six weeks was a sufficient time period to cleanse the system. So I started my first cleanse in early November of 1995. Actually, I think I started the first one on the morning after Election Day for symbolic reasons… It was the first Election Day of my adult life that I did not vote. But that’s another story…

So I went cold turkey on all four indulgences giving them all up totally and completely. No weening, no cheating, no finger crossing. It really was a bit like hell for the first week or so but after that it was kind of nice. It was a fascinating and healthy process to think actively about my internal biological system. I could feel my body changing… transforming. I drank lots of lemon water and herbal tea and I walked around with this notion in my head that my system was getting washed clean. And then, of course, on the moment of the Winter Solstice, I drank a strong Irish coffee with whiskey and whip cream and took a couple of great big bong hits… Continue reading

The Coyote Gets the Gold

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

The Coyote Gets the Gold

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

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

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

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

Another Coyote

The Coyote continues…

I will state once again for the record: this is a work of fiction. The story may be “true” but the narrator is not a real person….

Three days after the coyotes appeared in the pre-dawn forest, another coyote appears.. this time as my morning coffee card. It is the 16th of December and I am planning to drive into town to get supplies for the Winter Solstice. I have gone almost six weeks now without my favorite indulgences; I want them to be on hand when the moment comes. I don’t have to pick up weed because it is going to be delivered here tomorrow; but I have to get coffee, alcohol and ice cream… I also have to go to the bank.

“Are you sure you want to go?” questions Ms.B.? “I have to go into town tomorrow anyway. I could just do your errands then.” She is aware of the coyote’s appearance as my morning card and she fully understands the implications.

“I refuse to let a card game change my behavior,” I answer, “I’m not afraid of any coyote. I’m going to town.”

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The Lycian Way II (The Cost of Being Alive)

Here is another one from the archive of hand written notebooks.  It is also a chapter in a new book I am working on about traveling in the Middle East.

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The Lycian Way II (The Cost of Being Alive)

Patara, Turkey  March 2013

Everything is free… Nothing is free…  Aye… there’s the rub; the fine line which fractures humanity.  The question arises every single day.  Why do we have to pay money for food and shelter?  The spiritual traditions tend to teach the opposite…love your neighbor; practice compassion, the golden rule.  For me, at least, the spiritual traditions are but metaphors to describe an instinct that is real and present in all humans.  Indeed, to push the concept into the realm of the radical, I would even suggest that the instinct is not just a human instinct but rather a fundamental force in the formula of the whole darn universe. The prophets call it kindness or love.  Scientists call it entropy… the opposite of energy.  The truth is; humans and all living things have a communal or social instinct.  

No doubt, we have an individual instinct too.  The other side of the equation.  The energy that opposes the entropy.  The two forces counter-balance one another and free will comes forth from the center. Unfortunately, these days, civilization is way out of balance.  The controlling economic system penalizes the social instinct and rewards the selfish instinct.  As such, finding that middle path in between love of self and love of others can be rather difficult.  In other words, it’s not always easy to “be nice.”        

As the cold rain pours and the harsh wind blows outside, we are warm and cozy inside with candle lighting and amazing food.  Ms. B and I are in the common room of a guest house on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. We are the only guests so we have the place to ourselves. But then, an angry young woman comes forth from the storm to interrupt our private romantic dinner. I am correct in my guess about her nationality. She is American.  She is mad because she had arranged a free place to stay in the nearby village of Alinca but found the house closed, locked and empty upon arrival.  Furthermore, the Turkish cell phone she bought for the trek is not functioning so she can’t call her friend back in Fethiye to find out why the house is locked and nobody’s home.  The blowing wind and rain is a nightmare outside so she can’t set up her tent.  She desperately needs a place to stay.

“No worries,” I tell her, “they have plenty of room here.  It’s only 40 lira (20 bucks) with dinner and breakfast and the food is really amazing.”

“But I don’t have any money with me,” she says.  “I was planning to stay everywhere for free.”

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Manifest Destiny

Hi everyone.  I’m back. This website is now renewed for another year and my stonework season is finished so I will continue again with weekly postings of crazy travel stories and radical essays.  This is a travel story from my archive of handwritten notebooks.

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Manifest Destiny

Istanbul, Turkey and Amman, Jordan; February 2013

The story is… We have been following each other around the globe for all eternity.  In 1992 I was in Costa Rica and in 1993 I was in Ecuador.  She was in Ecuador in 97 and Costa Rica in 99.  In 2001, we were both in Southeast Asia (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia).  But we didn’t know each other then.  It’s possible we collided inner-tubes on the river in Vang Vienne or shared a shisha lakeside in Phnom Penn but such encounters are neither documented nor specifically remembered. In 2004, we were both in South America.  She was traveling with her sister and I was on my way to meet an Argentinian love.  We knew each other then, but just barely.  Same hometown. Social acquaintances.  Friends of Friends.  We even exchanged a few e-mails.  Perhaps we will meet up in Bolivia.  But the timing didn’t work out.  I was in a hurry to meet the Buenos Aires Babe and she was on her way to Machu Picchu.  In 2007, we were both in Mexico at the same time.  We were pretty good fiends by then and I thought seriously about going to see her in San Miguel.  But she was involved with a friend of mine at the time and he was not with her.  Avoiding temptation, I went to Chiapas instead.  Then, of course, there was 2008-2009.  My harrowing trip through North Africa where so many things went wrong.  No, she was not traveling in North Africa that year.  She was home in Oneonta reading my travel stories about North Africa on the internet.  She was also the first person I saw on the streets of Oneonta when I returned from that trip broke, defeated and slightly traumatized.  She gave me a hug on Main Street and welcomed me home.  She offered to make me dinner some time for a proper welcome.  She was no longer involved with my friend.  I went to dinner a few days later.  And the rest, as they say, is history…

We’ve been together for almost four years now but I do not discard the possibility that we were together in past lives or future lives as well.  Sometimes it seems as if we have a connection that lasts for all eternity.  We’ve already been on a few long wanders together.  A big romp through Peru and Ecuador was the honeymoon trip and we also went on an extended journey through the campgrounds of the Southern United States.  She’s a good travel partner.  We always seem to find ourselves inside of fun little adventures.  This year, I came to the Middle East on my own for a couple months but she is meeting me for the second half of the journey.  These past two months of traveling is my longest time away from her since our togetherness began.  I just want to put my arms around her and give her a great big hug…

In two more days, I am flying from here in Amman, Jordan to Istanbul, Turkey in order to meet Ms. B.  Before I leave Jordan, however, I really want to see the ancient ruins of Jerash.  It’s only an hour or so away by public transport.

I set out after breakfast in the early morning.  Thankfully, I stop and talk to the guy at reception on my way out the door.  He tells me I want the north bus station for Jerash and he writes it down in Arabic on a piece of paper.  He also gives me a hotel business card with the name and address in Arabic. “If you get lost,” he says, “just give this card to any taxi anywhere and he will take you here.”

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The Promised Land

 

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The Promised Land

Amman, Jordan; February 2013

I think they are from Iowa in the United States, but I can’t say for sure.  They are middle aged with grey hair, expansive waistlines and Midwestern accents.  “I can’t believe we are really here,” says the woman.  “This is where it happened.  This is where it all began.  God told Moses that the lands of Israel belong to the Jews.  Look honey.  Isn’t it amazing?  The map points everything out.  All of Israel is before us.  Can’t you just imagine God and Moses standing here, on this very spot and God pointing it all out. All this land belongs to your people Moses.” 

“That’s why they call it the Promised Land,” says the man, “God promised it to the Jews.”

I am standing about ten feet behind the couple.  I am politely waiting for them to finish their turn at the lookout before I step forward to check out the special view.  We are on Mount Nebo; another Biblical tourism hotspot.  It is the dramatic setting for the closing scene of the Book of Exodus.  According to the story, God talked to Moses here and gave him the lands of Israel. Walking around the Mountain, it’s fairly easy to understand the origin of the story.  The view is spectacular.  All of Israel is literally spread out before me like a single plot of land.  I, myself, can almost hear the voice of god talking. “It’s all yours my son, it’s all yours.”  No doubt about it, the guy who wrote the story probably sat on this very spot and dreamed the whole thing up.  Sure, why not, a complex metaphor, a well designed plot and lots of interesting characters.  Put it down on paper and it will be a best seller for years to come. 

If you ever find yourself in Amman, Jordan, or anywhere else in Jordan for that matter, you have to try the lamb mensaf.  As a general rule, I like to sample a great variety of meals from the many different cultures I visit and when I arrived in Amman I intended to work my way through the full range of culinary possibilities.  But I had the lamb mensaf my first night there and I could not bring myself to order anything different for the whole week afterwards.  Oh my god… so delicious.  I could probably eat it every day for a year.  One of these days, I’m going to have learn how to make it myself.

When not eating lamb, I drink coffee and tea and smoke shishas.  I move from cafe’ to café and restaurant to restaurant.  I wander along the wide streets and meander through the narrow souks of the big city.  I don’t see many tourists or Westerners; it’s a very Arab and very crowded place.  There are ruins to see in the city; some ancient columns, a citadel and a Roman theatre.  I also have a couple of excursions planned.  I am going to see Jerash on one day and I want to go to the Dead Sea and Mount Nebo on another day.  I’m saving Jerash for the very end though and the Mount Nebo thing is complicated by the lack of public transport there.  I don’t really want a tour and hiring a car and driver for a day is a bit pricey.  While I hesitate, I have a few days to just hang out here in downtown Amman and learn a little about the proverbial Arab Street.  Continue reading

The Jihad Cafe’

As the vehicle slows to a stop in traffic on the interstate and the baby cries in the back, I can’t help but wonder if the traffic jam we are encountering was caused by the wreck of the Republican clown car.  It was not our intention to arrive in South Carolina on the day of the Presidential primary, it just worked out that way.  The great American spectacle unfolds and we are driving through the middle of it as we meander south in the camper van.  The TPP is approved, the largest US military budget ever is passed, more and more NATO military assets are moved closer to Russia, the blown up financial system is ready to pop but HEY everybody look at Donald Trump!

When I was in junior high school I used to watch professional wrestling on tv. Then one day, my older brother informed me that wrestling wasn’t real.  It was acting.  The wrestlers are characters in a story who are following a script.  The outcome is pre-determined.  I have thought the same thing about US politics since the 1990s.  This year’s presidential performers are sure putting on a show…

This week’s travel story is from the Middle East a couple years ago.  Not surprisingly, it has some connection to the ongoing presidential extravaganza.

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Amman, Jordan; February 2013

The Jihad Cafe

The first one I went to was in Turkey but I have probably been to a hundred since then.  I go almost every day.  They are everywhere in the Islamic world.  Comparable culturally to sports bars in the United States, smoking cafés are ground zero for male bonding and intense conversation.  Muslims don’t drink alcohol so tea and coffee are the only beverages but a variety of tobacco smoking options are also available.  I don’t speak Arabic or Turkish, of course, so I don’t understand the conversations going on around me.  But I like to sit in the smoky atmosphere and listen to the flow of foreign words as I sip tea or coffee.  As a general rule, I don’t enjoy tobacco products, but this whole shisha thing is kind of fun.  I’m not an addict yet but I am becoming an aficionado of cultural immersion.  If I want to understand their ways, I have to participate in their rituals.  We drink beer and argue about sports and politics in the U.S. while they smoke shishas and discuss Islam and jihad in the Middle East.  It really is the same bowl of potatoes.

So, here I am again, at another café drinking tea and absorbing the scene.  I have a balcony seat today.  I am overlooking a busy street in downtown Amman, Jordan.  Meanwhile, just inside this glass door there are dozens of crowded smoky tables effervescing with animated conversation.  I am searching for a sliver of peace in between the chaos of the outside and the chaos of the inside.  The server comes out the glass door bringing a bucket of hot coals and the loud conversations from inside come roaring out to the balcony. I am trying the mint flavored tobacco today.  The server uses some tongs to put hot coals in the basin of the shisha.  I inhale deeply as the tobacco lights up.  I know it’s not good for me but still, the burning sensation on my lungs feels good.  It has some kind of mystical power.  The server turns and goes back inside and closes the balcony doors.  I exhale a rather large cloud of smoke towards the sky above.  It feels as if a sensory volcano is erupting inside of me.  And then, all of a sudden, something remarkable happens.  I overhear a conversation taking place just inside the glass door of the balcony.  Somebody is talking in English.  And the subject they are discussing is jihad…

Amman, Jordan is the original Philadelphia that the Philadelphia in the U.S. was named after. The City of Brotherly Love in Jordan should now, however, probably change it’s motto to the city of Refugees.  Located at a crossroads of several war zones, Amman and its environs are home to one of the highest concentrations of war refugees on the entire planet earth.  There are Palestinian refugees and Iraqi refugees and Syrian refugees.  They crowd the cafés; fill up the buses and occupy space in the overflowing streets.  There are now more refugees than official citizens but the country keeps welcoming more.  Give us your tired and your poor and your hungry and your war torn.  We have no more space or resources but we will accept them anyway.

I arrive in the afternoon but the bus does not stop at a Central bus station.  Instead, I am somewhat unceremoniously dropped off on the side of a busy highway underneath an underpass.  There are, however, a bunch of taxis there so it’s not a problem.  The taxi takes me to a cheap hotel on Faisal Street somewhere near the center of all the action in downtown.  The ancient Roman theater is around the corner on the main road and the Citadel is straight up the hill that rises behind me.  But those are the tourist attractions.  For now, at least, I’m more interested in the everyday attractions.  I hope there are some good restaurants and cafés.

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