Afterthoughts from Backpacking in Thailand, Cambodia & Laos

DSC_3494Satisfaction and confusion were the emotions I saw most often. Although, it is debatable whether they were truly the emotions of others, or created in my own mind and then impressed upon others.

Then, along came the Doctor, and I don’t think either of us knew what to do.

What was right for Me?

What was right for You?

What was Just and Fair? And for whom was it Fair to?

Of course, nothing from before mattered anymore. Not when there was so much immediate brightness. There was only now.

“There is only one day left, always starting over: It is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.” — Jean-Paul SartreIMG_2499The act of love is the only true form of love. There is no meaning to it except what we give it. The value of any belief is nothing more what we assign to it and there is no love aside from the deeds of love.

To be a great man, or woman, requires the strength and courage to create and habituate  a solitary existence. The worlds greatest lie; that we have lost control over what is happening to us, and our lives are controlled by an unknown fate.

“What a man thinks of himself, that is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.” — Henry David Thorea

Accepting there is no universal standard means only I can deem an action correct. What passes as custom today may seem barbaric years from now. To avoid the risk of jealousy, or misunderstanding we must each as individuals be truthful and transparent.DSCF5434

“If I satiate my desires, I ‘sin’  but I deliver myself from them: If I refuse to satisfy them, they infect my entire soul.” — Jean-Paul Sarte

Life and Love is an action, not a thought. A courageous man is not born a courageous man, he becomes one through courageous acts. Just as a coward is not born a coward, but becomes a coward when he commits cowardly deeds. The goal of our life is to be, or do — it is a constant project, and reevaluation of our goals, desires, and morality.

Without other people, a large part of who we are would remain unknown. We reflect back to others the important parts, as they reflect back to us, what we need to see. We are not what we have done, but constantly free to do, and become who we want to be.

“I exist, that is all, and I find it nauseating” — Jean-Paul Sarte

It is existence itself, the creating anew, which give existentialists reason to continue. Although for us, existence and hell are somewhat the same (and heaven for that matter).

So really, the point is; there is no point, unless you decide there is.
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On the left is the original copy of my book. And on the left is the version I got printed where they print the pirated versions of books they sell on the street.

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Dr. Nina and me at No name bar
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Working on my second book. Pai

 

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Now I am back in Vancouver, Canada. Living on a small island most of the time and working on my second book, I Killed a Black Dog

Live Video of my Audiobook Recording at 60 Road Studios in Siem Reap, Cambodia

DSC_4059At first I wasn’t sure whether to have my book narrated by a professional or record the audiobook for my true story Five Weeks in the Amazon on my own. With the encouragement, and support of Brennan McClay (my good friend and co-owner of my book’s publisher hmmediahouse.com), I decided to narrate it myself.

Steve editing

For the past few weeks I have been recording the audiobook for Five Weeks in the Amazon at 60 Road Studios in Siem Reap, Cambodia. There have been two major challenges I face every time I enter the studio. First is having to relive and re-enact the same five weeks I have spent the better part of the last two years living in.  Second, it’s hard to read aloud and with emotion and not screw up! Check out the video for a live example of one of my recording sessions (mistakes and all).


I could only record for about two hours at a time before my voice and brain would get too exhausted to continue, and so far I have 10 hours recorded. Which, in terms of completion, is about halfway done. Although, I think I may be able to read the second half without making as many mistakes, which would shorten the amount of time it would take.

Recording shot #2

Stay tuned, and sign up here for my next update from the road…Which will be the other side of the world, one week from now.

If you haven’t checked out Five Weeks in the Amazon, you can order it here. But, if you just want to read the chapter I was reciting from it is called:

Five Weeks in the Amazon - Ebook Cover

Making Medicine

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 10

8:30pm, my tambo

When I woke up this morning, I was sore again. The sun was just coming up and I listened to the birds warm up their voices and find their harmony. Steam rose from the plants where the sun’s warmth melted the night’s wetness. And what started out dark lightened and the sad, painful, parts in me seemed to evaporate with it.

The sunlight becoming more intense and the day already heating up, I went and rinsed off in the watering hole, then came back to my room to write and find some shade.

I was lying in my hammock when I heard the crack of an axe echo through the jungle clearing. I threw on a T-shirt, brushed my hammock aside, and walked out of my tambo to see what was happening. There was a man standing with  his back to me under the open-roomed building at the top edge of the property. I hadn’t walked up to it yet because it was still being built.

When I walked up, I saw the man’s coal gray T-shirt had a stripe of sweat running down the spine of it. Under the raised building, he had two small fires smoldering underneath two massive stainless-steel pots. From my online research, I knew he was preparing a batch of Ayahuasca, which meant it was going to be brewing for up to 24 more hours.

He was standing next to what looked like long branches and using the axe to split them into smaller, two-foot sections. When he was done, he piled the pieces on the ground next to a small blue tarp that had a rock holding down each corner. He sat down on a log next to one of the edges of the tarp and motioned for me to sit down on a log opposite him.

I hesitated to get closer, unsure if I was disrupting the Ayahuasca-making ritual. I wondered whether I was an impure gringo. Do I have to be “cleansed” before sitting down (like when I have a plant bath before a ceremony)? Will the batch be tainted from my dirty presence?

I thought about it for a second and then thought, fuck it. With a smile and an outstretched hand, I approached him the same way I approach every stranger.

Hola,” I said.

Buenos dias,” he responded.

Mi nombre es Sean.”

Hola John, mucho gusto.” He reached out his hand and introduced himself as Nino.

I sat down across from him on the log and watched him bash a two-foot section of thick vine with a stronger thick branch. His grin was filled with such perfect white teeth, you’d think he was raised by a dentist in the city, not a shaman in the jungle. After he’d smashed the section of branch about 20 times, its internals were torn open. Then he threw it on top of the blue tarp and the plant’s nectar oozed from its tender meat.

“Ayahuasca,” he said pointing to the chopped pile next to him.

Si.” I nodded at him, the purpose of this mysterious activity now confirmed.

A flashback from last night popped into my head. After the ceremony, I had been walking up the hill and seen a fire flickering right where we’re sitting now. There were the sounds of a man singing in Spanish, and it was gently wafting through the thick night air. He must have been making more than one batch and been here all night tending to the fires.

I wondered what would happen if you didn’t brew it properly. Maybe a bad trip? One thing’s for sure, Ayahuasca couldn’t taste any worse no matter how you brewed it.

I gestured and half-asked in Spanish if he wanted me to help him smash up the pile of vine pieces. Smiling back at me, he reached behind his seat and passed me a hard stick for me to use. I leaned forward and grabbed a meaty piece of vine. I noticed it was wet where it had been cut at the ends and was about three to four inches in circumference.

Imitating Nino, I started hitting the piece of vine against the log I was sitting on with another big stick and before long, we had the whole pile laying smashed to bits on the tarp between us. The emulsified pieces of vine had stringy pieces of bark hanging that looked fresh and juicy.

When we sat down for a minute to take a break, he wiped the sweat from his golden brow with his dirty sleeve and motioned for me to follow him. Standing, he bent down and split the pile in half. We transferred the two halves by the armfuls into the boiling cauldrons, the water instantly turning a slimy green. When we were done, he led me down the hill to where a small mound of shrubbery was growing beside Otillia’s house.

As we walked through the grass, some of the deeper sections were still wet, and I felt the blades sliding through my toes as I followed him. He had been carrying two buckets and handed me one. The bush was big and leafy, to me indiscernible from any of the other big, leafy plants, but he said this plant was special, and tore off one of the leaves putting it in his bucket.

Chacruna, es especial plantas para Ayahuasca,” he said.

Que nombre?” I asked. “Chacruna?” I used my limited vocabulary mix with mimicking what he said to ask if that was the name of the plant.

Si, Chaaaa-kkkkkkrrrrrruuuu-naahh,” he said slowly so I could understand.

I repeated the word, and imitating what he’d done, I ripped a leaf from the bush and dropped it in my bucket.

Tres cientos,” he said, picking another leaf.

I didn’t understand, so Nino picked up more of the leaves, counting them out as he went along, “Uno, dos, tres…es importante para tres cientos.” He put down his bucket to clarify with his hands that he was saying three, three fingers and then two zeroes. Ok, so we each pick 300 leaves, I thought, but why 300? 

At times I got lost on the specifics of our conversations. I tried my best to ask him about what we were doing now to prepare the mystical Ayahuasca brew.

Chacruna y Ayahuasca es para Ayahuasca medicina, y visionnes? Si o No?” I posed the simple question, asking if it was the second plant that I knew must be added when making Ayahuasca. It was confusing because the vine had the same name as the finished product and that threw me off at first.

Chacruna es luz,” he pointed at the sun, “Ayahuasca los plantas, esta curador, es para curacion y es professor de vida.” He pointed up the hill to where we had sat and smashed up the vine. Turning back to the bush he continued, “Chacruna es para visionnes: mas Chacruna, mas visionnes.”

I thought about what he said thoughtfully. More Chacruna equals more visions, so no wonder some of the gringo shamans all offered “strong brews.” It was easy: all you had to do was throw in some extra leaves. I was learning the name gringo shaman was synonymous with anyone who wasn’t a local and makes these intense brews. Fittingly, there is an influx of tourists that want to find someone to follow as they hallucinate and trip out, and more of these shamans are showing up around here. God bless America…

In town, Raul told me that Otillia prepares Ayahuasca for more of a teaching/healing experience. Which makes sense, and I’m guessing that’s part of the reason I haven’t been gripped by intense visions. She must use a relatively small amount of Chacruna and more Ayahuasca.

Some of the other gringos I’ve met in town told me about some shamans, most of them white guys from America or Europe, who make crazy mixtures of Ayahuasca. They mix in things like mushrooms, cocaine, peyote, san pedro, or any number of other wild plants. They add this to their brew to make the trip more intense. Of course it gives a person extreme visions, but it isn’t balanced and these shamans don’t seem to give a fuck what the outcome is.

To me it seems irresponsible and unnecessary. As a drug, I’ve already learned how unique Ayahuasca is, and that it’ll do what it wants, when it wants. That is why I believe it’s important to have a shaman who you trust lead the ceremony.

I have faith in Otillia, and the way she prepares, and administers Ayahuasca. I believe it’s more aligned with how indigenous people meant for it to be used thousands of years ago when they learned how to make it. I thought I’d need the strongest Ayahuasca I could find when I first got here so that I could have intense visions.

It made sense; strong trip equals more growth, right? However, I’m beginning to think that’s not true at all. If I trust nature’s medicine, and I trust Otillia, then I should use it in the way it was meant to be used. For some reason us gringos (foreigners) just love pushing boundaries. In a way, I feel like my entire soul is in the hands of the plant medicine, for that reason I respect its power.

Nino finished picking the 300 leaves before me and walked back up the hill. When I joined him, he motioned for me to dump my bucket of leaves into the second pot. It was bubbling and boiling with a green, frothy layer of foam on top. It looked like magic potion being brewed in a witch’s cauldron.

We sat back down on the logs. It was cooler now that we were in the shade, and we took a break to cool down. When I offered Nino one of my last American Spirits, he exposed his bright smile once again and accepted my offer. I watched him light it and take a slow drag. He looked down at the burning tip of the foreign cigarette and took a second pull. It was a new kind of tobacco for him, from a different part of the world, and he’d never tasted one like it before.

Muy suave,” he commented and rolled the cigarette between his fingers, looking at the American Spirit logo stamped onto the filter.

I smiled back and said, “Si, muy suave.” Suave?

The indigo smoke from our cigarettes drifted past our heads and blew away with the smoke coming from the fires under the pots. Watching it drift across the property, I felt happy. I hadn’t been planning to help Nino prepare the Ayahuasca, but I’m glad I did. There was something about the process that brought us together.

As I sat there, I remembered seeing that the bottle Otillia poured our shots of Ayahuasca from last night was getting low. That must mean we’ll be using the batch we just made soon.

Smoking the last of my cigarette, I thought back to last night’s ceremony. It had been a progressive step in the direction I want to go, and a positive experience overall. It led me to the conclusion I’m not just to here to pursue a psychedelic journey; I’m here for much more than that. Ayahuasca is one of the means which will bring the true end I am here for, but there is a lot for me to accomplish before then. My purpose in the jungle is to find answers and heal myself. Already those are being given to me.

My purpose is to heal my body from years of eating a shitty American diet.

To heal the physical injuries I’ve accumulated from a decade and a half of skateboarding.

To heal my mental wounds from failed goals and deserted dreams.

And to heal the emotional wounds from my shattered relationships and loves lost.

Most people probably come here to do Ayahuasca because they’re lost in their life and have no connection to their spirit. Contrary to what I thought before I got here, the healing I need isn’t so much spiritual—for the most part my spirit is fine—it’s all the other shit in my life that’s the problem. In a way I already knew that.

Normally, the effects of a substance are relatable to the amount, or purity, which one consumes. However, Ayahuasca works differently than anything else I’ve tried. My second ceremony was a completely different experience from my first time even though I drank the same amount of Ayahuasca.

What makes it different from alcohol, pot, mushrooms, caffeine, cocaine, cigarettes, or any other drug is this: even though both times I had the same dose of Ayahuasca, from the same bottle, it was a totally different experience. It was so different, if I didn’t know better, I would say it was a different drug.

I feel like a good person, but for God’s sake, isn’t everyone more or less a “good” person? I think we are, but the problem is that most of us are wrapped in cloaks of vice, and are ignorant about who we truly are. Maybe beneath those dark robes we are all filled with goodness, but I don’t know.

The spirit I’ve been referring to is the essence of who I am. It is my character, my personality, my soul if you want to call it that, but most importantly it is who I am. I could lose an arm and still be me; I could win the lottery and still be me. It really doesn’t matter because this part of me, my spirit, is unchanging. It is the intangible, an immaterial part of me, and this is what I will call, for lack of a better word, my spirit or soul.

Part of the reason I wasn’t scared the first time I took Ayahuasca was because I already knew this. I want to continue to learn about myself. I don’t know myself as well as I could, but I know that who I am is nothing to be scared of.

The intangible: it’s what ties all humans, plants, animals, and binds the entire universe together. It is the reason things work out the way they do in life. Everything is connected and we are all one. The body is just hunks of meat and bone but the brain is like a computer. With an incredibly elegant design, it controls our operations. But who is the individual, who is the “I” and where does the essence of who I am come from? I really can’t say, but I know it’s the part of me that is my true self.

If there is any spiritual guidance I need, it’s how to be more confident when facing the anguish and despair that overcomes me as a single individual cast out into the world.

If I think about the first ceremony, all I remember is how painful it was, like getting run over by a truck. The second ceremony hurt my body less and I didn’t get a fever or the chills like the first time, but it still hurt.

When I walked into the main room and sat down, I started heating up again. I started sweating profusely for no real reason and my skin felt like it was on fire. It went away after 20 minutes or so, but I was left wondering why I had such weird heat flashes at the beginning of both ceremonies. Am I nervous and I don’t know it? I thought.

I sat there in the dark room in the middle of the jungle, in the middle of the night, listening to the shaman sing for hours on end. My mind wandered and I thought about all kinds of crazy things, but it seemed more like I was daydreaming than tripping out. I felt like at any point in the ceremony, my sober mind could interject.

I felt like I was about to fall asleep. Lying there, my mind slipped into a state somewhere between waking and sleeping. Immersed in my thoughts, it was like half of my brain was creating thoughts and the other half was observing them.

Whether or not these were “visions” I don’t know, but I remember thinking Otillia is here to help me heal and make my time here less difficult.

—There was a point later on during the ceremony when I knew I was going to purge. I felt like I was being guided outside and went to the edge of the clearing where it met the jungle and puked. Drenched in moonlight and bright stars, I saw the vomit as part of the darkness that lived within me. I was purging the darkness that was stuck and needed to be released—although that could have been just a borrowed notion, like the geometric patterns. I went back inside and lay down again.

I was on my back, arms by my side, when I imagined a medicine lady with buckets of plants coming out of the jungle. My body was opened up, split down the middle with my ribs pulled back and my chest cavity spread apart. She kept filling me up with buckets of plant medicines.

Later, as I lay on my side in the fetal position, my back sore, I imagined pain and darkness pouring, oozing, and shooting out of my back. An unfathomable amount of darkness rushed out from each of my lungs, and out onto the floor behind me. For a long time it kept pouring out of my back, and as it did the liquid coming out became cleaner, and my back began to hurt less.

I am here to break some of my old habits, some of my bad faith as Jean-Paul Sartre called it. As an adult I have never felt as clean as I am right now. The nagging voices that speak on behalf of my vices are less obtrusive than usual.

“Would you like a cigarette?” my mind asks.

“Yes, but not right now, I’ll have one later…”

Maybe it’s the organic fruit and veggie diet combined with the fresh rain forest air. Or, it could be the plant medicines. Whatever it is, I feel a sense of somatic tranquility.

Pai, Thailand – There Is No Such Thing As A Coincidence

Three girls in a pool - PaiTo confess, I am John in the following story. For me it’s easy, always be honest and have nothing to hide.

I am honored to have met a young woman in Pai who is going after what she wants with so much enthusiasm.
Nothing is created without destroying what was once there before. This story was written about a girl who met me and, well she’s honest about our experience together.

Before you read her thoughtful essay I will expose my history with the moments before my book Five Weeks in the Amazon was published. Every day during the final week working over last minute editing details I would have to step outside to puke. This story has much more to it, but I feel honored to have such a revealing post written about a guy named John….Pai

Wild Spirit Wanderer

..or maybe it’s just fate.

Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” His eyes pierced through me as he quoted the famous author and proceeded to tell me that if I didn’t feel the need to vomit after finishing a writing piece then maybe it wasn’t good enough. For two days I couldn’t get what the young Canadian man I had met at my hostel in Pai said out of my head. Maybe he was right because as I am writing this my stomach is turning and I am unsure of the reasons why. Writing is quite funny, I don’t realize where a piece of writing is going until I actually finish it. It’s as if I didn’t have a draft already written down in a notebook, ready to be typed up when all of a sudden as…

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Teaching English at a School for Orphan Children in Cambodia

I stayed at the Funky Flashpacker when I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia and I feel a bit guilty for being such a “bad” tourist.

Mr Ross school - pics.009I never went on the floating village tour. I never saw the Angkor Wat temples. The only thing I did besides DJ pool parties and take on the responsibility of “VIP Concierge” at the Funky Flashpacker (which was awesome, and part of why I stayed two weeks) was to spend my afternoons at Mr. Ross’s Orphan School.Mr Ross school - pics.002

Every couple days I would go visit, usually bringing tourist friends with me to teach English, or help out around the school yard. The owner of the hotel was happy to send some of the staff with me. He even donated the money needed to repair one of the classroom walls before the rainy season.Mr Ross school - pics.008

The way I heard about Mr. Ross was from my old babysitter in Canada. She was giving me a haircut on the day I drove 24 hours from Los Angeles to Vancouver. I was about to go give a book reading at her dad’s art show opening and wanted to look less dishelveled.Mr Ross school - pics.007

“If you are going to Thailand, and think you might go through Cambodia, please go see Mr. Ross and his children for me” She said, after explaining that she had taught there ten years ago.

So I did, when I got to Thailand I didn’t have any plans and so I took a bus to Siem Reap. and every time I went back it made me happy. Which isn’t the emotion I expected would come from visiting an orphan school in Cambodia.
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Kids will be Kids

Kids will be Kids – A Short Story from Colombia

They were sitting on the grass across the street from him. It was dry now, but it wouldn’t be later. The rain always comes in the afternoon and most of the time it was after he had taken lunch. It never lasted long, and it never got cold enough to need a jacket, but every day the rain would come. It was something the man had come to expect and it didn’t bother him anymore.

There were two girls leaning against each other and two boys sitting on either side of them. A third boy was lying with his head in the lap of the girl who had jean shorts and a new tattoo. One of the boys, the one with the hat, stood up and began to lean to the right, then he leaned to the left, and then he fell down in the exact spot where he had been sitting. The group erupted in laughter and the man continued walking.

One of the girls was holding a beer and took the last sip before placing it on the grass beside her. She pulled out her cellphone and said something to the others while pointing at the man who was watching them. The girl next to her was playing with the hair of the boy whose head was in her lap. She looked up curiously at the man and he was already looking at her. From where he was, he saw the sun reflecting off her shiny, smooth and slightly tangled blond hair but he looked down when he caught her looking at him.

Beginning to walk a little faster he looked away and felt a nervous wave of self-consciousness wash over him when he realized they were talking about him. The only reason he had been watching them so closely was because he remembered the girl with the new tattoo. She had come in three different times last night, each time a little more drunk.

The girl with the new tattoo spoke with rapid, confusing English words and the man couldn’t understand anything she was saying. He liked her voice though; it was soft and clear, but also piercing in its honesty. Slowly walking along the sidewalk the man listened to the foreign words and wondered if he would ever learn English one day.

The group stood up together and looked towards him. He had no doubt anymore; he knew they were going to follow him and he walked even faster. Without stopping he bent down to pick up an empty beer bottle from the sidewalk and stole a quick glance towards them.

Across the street he saw one of the boys grab hold of the one who had been lying down and pulled him to his feet. The two girls stood beside them adjusting their shorts and tops. When the third boy stood, he put his arm around the girl with the new tattoo, but she slid out from under his arm and turned around to face him. Grabbing both his hands she started skipping backwards leading him, and the group, playfully across the street.

The man saw that they were getting closer when he looked back. He used his good hand to help him climb the short staircase. He stubbed his toe and stumbled, but kept hold of the railing along the stairs. At the top of the stairs he reached out and threw the beer bottle he’d picked up into the trash. The group had almost crossed the street when he looked again and suddenly he felt rushed.

I wonder how long they have been waiting for me, he thought, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a big key ring filled with keys of all shapes. He coughed a little to clear his throat, then bent down on one knee to open the giant padlock attached to the bottom of the metal door. He jiggled the padlock loose and with a surge of effort slid the metal door upwards. As it rolled up, it clicked loudly at each fold. He stood back up and tried to find the other key he needed to get inside.

He slid the key into the deadbolt and turned it counterclockwise until the bolt slid back into the lock. Swinging the door open made the bell, which was attached to the hinge of the door, jingle cheerfully. The sound of the bell had been burned into his memory and by this point in his life it gave him a feeling like deja vu every time he heard it. Before stepping inside he slid a rock across the ground with his right foot to hold the door open. He looked back over his shoulder one last time and shuffled inside as fast as his old body would let him.

The group jumped up the stairs cheering. The beer store is now open.

The Wait – A Short Story from Colombia

 

The Wait...

“Excuse me, will this bus ever be coming?”  The man looked at her, but how should she have any idea?  She sat here almost every day wondering the same thing.

“I guess it will get here when it gets here, sir.” her voice was low and she was uninterested in starting a conversation with this man.

“I was told I should be here at noon” he looked at the other people with concern on his face, “Is that the correct time?”  He wondered how they could be so laid back all the time.

She turned to him and said, “Sometimes the engine gets too hot coming over the pass and they must wait until later in the day when it cools down.  Then they can come down without them brakes getting too hot.”

“Yes, but will it be much longer? I have a flight to catch.”

“I really can’t say sir, there is never any way to know and so we must wait.”

“Thank you, and I am sorry to bother you, it’s just that I have been told my son is sick and I must return home immediately.”  When he said this his brow furrowed into deep lines and his worry was intense.  She thought to herself that he looked like he was wishing the bus would come as much as anyone she’d ever seen.

“I am sorry sir, things are just very slow here.  The bus will come, it always does, but I cannot say when.  And I wish your son well; having a sick child is always quite frightening.”

“Thank you and yes; yes, it is indeed, and I am aware that things are very slow here.” His voice wavered slightly, “that’s the reason I came here, to be honest.”

I was honored to be welcomed and taken in like family and when the brother of a good friend passed away this was his last dance before being laid to rest.
They rocked his tiny coffin, his last dance before being laid to rest.

It was a waste of time to talk to this man and she knew it, but she asked him anyway, “And where are you from sir?”  The breeze was pleasant today and strong enough to keep the temperature right on the edge of where she liked it.  This man surely was strange to be here at a time like this.  She wondered what he would have been like before, in the good days.

“He is damned sick,” he said, “It’s happened before with him; they say I must come immediately.”  Preoccupied by the heat, he didn’t notice the breeze.  It wasn’t much but it blew small gusts from the west.  The man sat hanging his head.

“The bus will come sir; you mustn’t worry, it is just that things are slow here.”

“I know” He said, his head hanging even lower, “that’s part of the reason I came.”

He never expected when he was younger that this is how it would end.  Although he knew it wasn’t truly the end, he just felt closer to the end now than when he was younger.  Now he could hear the sound of the clock, counting the seconds in his race against time.

“He will get better I am sure; the last time they said it might happen again, but I pray he is in good hands.  Perhaps Marie-Angel or his sister Olivia have found where they took him.  I just need to get on this damned bus.”

“I understand sir, but it’s hot right now and maybe that bus is waiting till the suns drops down past the other side, then it can come through the pass with no problem; it is an old bus.”  She shook her head slowly when she said this to him, she was staring straight ahead now looking up the pass.  Didn’t this man know anything?

She turned back to him one last time; in her mind it all made sense.  “It happens mostly after the big rains, when it gets real hot, most times after lunch, but now it should come any time; won’t rain for a couple months I guess.  You will get to the airport for the night flight; will that work for you? The night flight?”

“Yes, the night flight will be fine, as long as this damn bus ever shows up.”

“It’ll come like I told ya.  Did ya happen to know they used to bet on it?”

“Bet one what?” He raised his head slightly.

“The time the bus was gonna come in.”

“Who would bet?”

“We all would, but the men on the platform ran the bets.” She nodded towards a few of the guys leaning against the wall who had their shirts up above their bellies to stay cool.  He hadn’t seen them but she knew they would all try to hire on as a porter when the tourists came in, if there were any left.  “Them boys and us would all wager on what time the bus was coming in, but now of course we all stopped.”

“What made you stop?” The man picked his nose, the dry air always made his nose itchy.  He was sitting with his head raised.

“A lady they all say was a witch cursed the bus one day and it crashed coming down the pass and everyone on it died.”

“That is a horrendous tragedy, I am sorry for any losses you had.” He looked towards her now.

“Yes, so if you don’t mind I hope you can understand why I would not like to talk about what time the bus comes anymore.”

“Yes, yes; I am very sorry to bother you, I only worry about my son, they didn’t tell me much over the wire.”

“The bus will come sir, things are just slow here.”  She looked away.  What a waste of energy to talk to this man, and at a time like this?  There was nothing to do but wait.

Day is done, gone the sun

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Day is done, gone the sun

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With Love, The Bar Staff… – A Short Story from Colombia

“Can I please get an Aguila?” he said this politely, but he knew things were different after last night.  She looked up at him from her phone.  She was damned pretty he thought.  Like so many girls he had known before, her eyes held the truth and most of her beauty.

Of course things would be different now.  They were always different situations in situations like this, and her eyes looked sad and maybe a little angry.  Her beauty could not hide, but the truth he’d seen last night was protected by her absent gaze.

“Here,” she placed the beer on the warped and worn wooden bar in front of him.

Como estas?” he smiled, trying his best to speak her native tongue politely.

Tu es loco!” there it was, the truth and beauty became bright in her eyes now.

“No….” He grinned and said sarcastically.  “Yo todo normal…”  He laughed when he said it because they both knew he wasn’t normal, and maybe she liked crazy guys.  So he asked, with a more serious tone, “Ti gusta loco chicos?”

“No se.” Her eyes flashed away and then she flashed away, spinning on one heel towards the sink behind her.  He had seen it in her eyes though, it was quick, but she’d been thinking about him too.  It made him happy when her eyes softened.

Just then the Australian couple with dreadlocks walked into the bar and sat down on the stool next to him and the .  “Dos Mojitos, poor fave-vor” said the big, tanned Australian guy.

Turning to the man sitting next to him at the bar he said, “Oi mate, how ya going? Ya shoulda seen all these cunts out in the water today.  Mate, I tell ya it was outrageous.  One of the poms that’s staying here, he went and puked right in his mask 5m down and all these fish started coming up and eating it.  Mate, I’m telling ya it was the best shit I’ve seen in a long time.”

“It was rank” his girlfriend added, “the guy said he was eating pizza and drinking rum and coke last night, it was mess!”  She would have been a lot more attractive without the dreadlocks but her face was beautiful and you could tell she knew it.  They both smelled the same, it was a clean smell.

One of the things the man loved about the bar his beer was sitting on, was how it turned into an ongoing organic art piece as the night continued.  The cold glass beer bottles would sweat and water would drip down over the soggy label onto the wooden bar.

It would create circles on the bar that varied in size, depending on how fast you drank your beer.  The circles would be a light grayish color on the dark-stained bar.  If you sat in the same seat and drank enough beers, over time, they would join together and create circular designs which only make sense at the time, and were always gone in the morning.

The man looked up at her making the drinks.  He liked the way the bartender looked from behind.  Thinking back to last night he remembered how soft her skin had been and he wanted to touch it again.  Those legs, the color of cafe’ con leche; her calves ascending toward the back of her thighs and then disappearing into the shadows of her short dress, and her light summer dress which blew flirtatiously in the wind.

She was mulling the mint leaves and lemon syrup and her hair looked pretty, she was freshly showered and wore a tight braid.  He hoped when she turned around things would get better but the Australian turned to the man at the bar and said “Oi mate, we saw you and ol’ miss here having a toss in the hammock last night!  Good on ya, fine piece of tail for a place like this.”

“Andy shut up.” His girlfriend punched his huge shoulder with her tiny hand.  Australians were never conservative when they drink, were they?, the man thought.  The bartender looked pissed off.  “Would you like to pay cash or should I put these on your room?” she asked this as she slammed the drinks down hard, causing one of the mint leaves to fall off the edge of the glass onto the bar.

“Oh you can go ahead and chuck ‘em on the room, and don’t worry sweet-stuff, your secret’s safe with us, I was just taking the piss out of ol’ mate here.”  All the hippies the man at the bar had ever known smelled like patchouli oil and body odor but the two Australians always smelled like the ocean and nature and they never smelled dirty even though they both had dreadlocks.

The bartender didn’t look at any of them, she got red in the face and turned around quickly and busied herself by cleaning up after making the drinks.  Embarrassed and angry and this damn Australian wasn’t helping anybody out, the man at the bar thought, and tried to change the subject by asking for another beer.  “Una mas Aguila?”

Pulling open the door of the fridge, frosty air poured out into the warm Caribbean night.  She grabbed an icy cold, sweating beer, and placed it in the center of the water circles stamped in the bar in front of him.  She did all of this without looking at him but he couldn’t stand it.

Gracias mi amor,” He said smoothly and with a confident voice.

Her eyes flicked up and in an instant her truth and beauty were there.  Her cheeks were flushed when she looked into his eyes.  The thing he never could have known was that she desired him as much, if not more, than he desired her.  That was what made her so angry.  He was just a boy and she had let herself get too drunk.

“Con mucho gusto,” she said with a mix of confidence and humility.  His heart melted and he fell in love with her all over again when she said this.  It reminded him of the bedroom last night and the thankfulness she had expressed in her soft Spanish voice.  He wished he could make her thankful again right now.  She was so distant and he wanted to see her truth and beauty.

Their eyes were still locked, like they had been last night, well before at least.  Before it all went to hell.  It had started when he opened his bedroom door as she walked past it after coming downstairs from the bar.  She looked up at him with a look of yearning and then fell into his arms and without a word they had their first kiss.  Her tongue and her lips were as soft as anything he had ever touched, but there wasn’t time to think about that now.

“How’s about some tequila’s darlin’?” The Aussi guy said, with so much volume and force they both turned to look at him.

“Do you want the good stuff or the shit?” With her Latin accent it sounded so cute even though she was angry.

“Get us the good stuff and throw it on my tab and you two cunts have one with us, will ya?!.”

The bartender shrugged.  The man at the bar looked over at him and then back at the bartender and shrugged as well.

“Ok then,” she said half cheerfully, it was just business and there was no truth or beauty in her eyes when she lined up the four shots and cut the slices of lime.

So that’s what is going on, the man at the bar thought to himself, he had a flash and remembered the prices of the expensive tequila and he thought about how fresh and clean the hippies always were, even with their dreadlocks, and he decided at that moment they weren’t real hippies.  It was all an act, they were fake-hippies.  Fancy Australian fake-hippies.

Salud” the bartender tipped her head to them and then tipped it backward, downing hers before any of them had picked theirs up.

“Here’s to you two lovebirds!” the Aussie guy always seemed to shout when he spoke and he winked at the bartender and raised his glass.

“Andy shut your trap, ya dick!” his girlfriend tried to punch him, but this time he leaned backwards on his stool and her fist swung past his chest and missed him completely.  The force of her punch sent her tumbling off her stool and into his lap and her tequila shot spilled onto both of them.  Unfazed, the Aussie guy raised his shot glass a little higher and looked at the man at the bar and said with a slightly cocked head, “Cheers mate!” they crunched their glasses and a little spilled out of both.

When the man at the bar tilted his head back the last thing he saw was the big grin of the guy with dreadlocks, his wet shirt, his girlfriend trying to climb back up from his lap, and on the other side of the bar was the furious stare of the bartender.  That image of her face confused him, which confused his stomach and in the seconds afterword, he tried to ride the crashing wave of nausea without succumbing to its strength.

“You’re a dick, Andy!” his girlfriend leaned over and shouted from the barstool she had returned to.

“Oh, you love me sweetie, you know it…” His grin had the qualities of both puppy and child which made him seem like one of those guys who would be impossible to get angry at.

“You’re an asshole; he’s an asshole, right?” his girlfriend turned towards the bartender and slumped both elbows down heavily in front of her on the bar.  The bartender wasn’t going to say anything to confirm her accusations, he was an asshole, but she was an asshole too, they were both assholes and it was her own fault she had fallen out of her chair.

“I’m going to bed Andy, why don’t you stay here with the people you LOVE sooooo much.  I’ll be in bed, you’re such a jerk.”

“Oh relax will ya? Don’t get your titties tied.  Sit down, you’re all right.” She was standing now and had been about to walk away but instead moved closer to him.

“Have another drink; you’ll be fine.”  He reached over and touched her when he said this.  Pulling her closer with one hand, he slid a dreadlock behind her ear with his free hand and then leaned forward to kiss her gently on the cheek.

The bartender looked away.  Love was weird she thought, it made you do the weirdest things and she turned her head back and forth slowly.  His girlfriend reached her tiny hand up into his massive pile of matted hair and pulled the fake-hippie guy toward her so she could whisper something in his ear.

“Well kids, that’s it for us!” he shot up straight and quickly finished the last sips of both their drinks.  When he stood up from his stool he was surprisingly bigger than his girlfriend.  He bent down and grabbed her around the waist and straightened his legs to stand up and when he was standing he swung her around and placed her bent over on his right shoulder.

“Old lady told me she wants to watch some porn and get kinky tonight so don’t bother coming to find us for a few hours!” He shouted this back towards them and they didn’t know it at the time but that was the last words either of them ever heard that fake-hippie guy say.

His girlfriend was still shouting as he carried her across the bar and down the stairs, “You’re such an asshole Andy, put me down, I AM NOT having SEX with YOU tonight you pig, and you sure as hell ain’t getting kinky, you can’t say that type of shit, ANDY, put me down….”  But he had already carried her down the stairs and out of the bar and they were gone.

The bartender looked at him, the man at the bar who was really a boy.  Alone with him she had no one else to be angry at.  She stared her icy stare at him, even though she liked him.  She leaned onto the bar and he leaned onto the bar and he smiled even though she didn’t.  Her hardness softened as she stared at him, and into him, and he realized he was close enough to kiss her if he wanted to, so he did.

“Stop it!” She slapped him and recoiled, “Why the hell did you do that?”  When she said this the truth and beauty was there, though now it was a rage of truth and a blaze of beauty and it was all of her.  She splashed the ice out of the cups from the finished mojitos and then walked out from behind the bar towards him.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything, I just thought…” His voice trailed off, she looked angry.

“You’re a real asshole” she slapped him hard across the face and it stung.

Tranquilo, princessa.” He stood up over her and grabbed both of her wrists before she could slap him again.  “It’s all good.”  His voice was calm and he pulled down on her wrists and it brought them closer together and then she stood up on her toes and kissed him gently on the lips.

“I really liked last night,” She said this as she was taking a half step backward to look up at him in the innocent way all women do to a man they admire.

“Me too.” He smiled at her and she couldn’t help herself.  Her arms were around his neck just like when he had opened the door last night and before either of them had time to think she kissed him with a real and true kiss and he felt it in his whole body.

He grabbed the small of her back and pulled her towards him kissing her deeply.  They bumped into the bar and then turned and they were still kissing and then they bumped into a stool and it fell over.  She pulled his hair a little to pull him away and said, “No, I can’t, I won’t… You’re just a boy.”

“Why?” Was she crying, he wondered?

“I can’t, OK; I just can’t.”

“OK, OK, relax…OK?” She was crying and he felt awkward.  Woman are the queerest things he thought as she broke away and he saw now that she had big wet tears in her eyes.

“You don’t understand; you’re just a boy; boys never understand.”

“But…” and then there was no one for him to talk to.  She ran across the room after her last statement and he heard her feet hit each of the 12 stairs and the sound of her flip-flops as she ran down the hall and her door opening and shutting quickly.

“Women!” he said to no one and reached down to pick up the barstool they had knocked over.  Afterwards he walked around behind the bar to grab a beer from the fridge.  Digging in his pocket he found the correct change and left it on top of the register for whenever she came back.

He stood in the place where she had stood all night and drank his beer quickly.  In this heat you only had approximately 12 minutes to finish your beer before it got warm and too flat to enjoy.  He opened a new beer and set it on top of his old circles on the bar and stood there waiting for the bartender to return.

Another girl and her friend came up the stairs and into the bar, they were nice girls but they weren’t the type that would understand his condition.  He sold them a beer and put the money on the register and then told them he had to go.  At this point he didn’t have time to explain anything.

Walking past them he went downstairs to find the bartender.  When he got to the bartender’s room she wasn’t there.  She didn’t come back to the hostel that night and he left in the morning for home and they never saw each other again.

Colombia’s Caribbean to Canadian Forests

Each morning I would wake up with the sun and work on my writing until mid-day.  When I was staying in Bogota I would explore the the city on my skateboard when I was done writing.  I found a really great book store in the city but my time in the country living on a farm was the most productive and inspired of my whole trip.

My morning work station on a small farm outside Bogota

When I was in Medellin I rented an apartment right next to a skatepark and when I was done working each day I would go meet up with friends and skate.  Except for the times I was meeting up with cute Colombiana’s which was always fun.

Interview with the ColombianCuties
Interview with the ColombianCuties.

It was great fortune which led me to La Tortuga, a hostel in Taganga, a small fishing village on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.  The owner found something about my trip on social media and sent me a message asking if I wanted to stay for free and run the bar in her hostel.  I thought it sounded like a fun opportunity and I had heard interesting things about the town..

Bartending at La Tortuga hostel, in Taganga Colombia.

There were two things I wrote in my notebook on my way $40 flight from Medellin to Taganga.  One of them was I wanted to fish like Hemingway in the Caribbean, and the other was to bartend like Tom Cruise in Cocktail.  I loved Taganga so much that I stayed for the rest of my trip.  I made lifelong friends and without question can cross those goals off in my book.  I am grateful to everyone I met in that wild town and I hope to be back soon.

Fishing in the Caribbean a la Hemingway.
Fishing in the Caribbean a la Hemingway.

The worst part of my trip was having my computer stolen the day I arrived in Taganga.  It wasn’t anyone at the hostel, I think somehow the Taxi driver got it on my way from the airport.  How I will never know.  Needless to say, it brought the progress on my books to a halt.  The silver lining was the time it left me to practice my writing and create more original content.  I have many notebooks filled with short stories, poems, songs and all kinds of random observations but the main thing is that I truly think my writing improved.

La Tortuga bar during a World Cup game.
La Tortuga bar during a World Cup game.

Now I am back in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada.  I have a new computer and I am back to my books and working on them each morning.  It is a slow process but I am completing everything I set out to do.  Everything is pushed back a little bit, but I am closer to the end now than ever.

Flipping into waterfalls in Minca.
Flipping into waterfalls in Minca, a small town in the mountains an hour from the coast.

If you were one of the people that pledged for my Kickstarter campaign first I will say thank you again.  I want to reassure you that all rewards will be coming as soon as they are ready.  Please consider this just a normal artistic delay and know that I am forever grateful for all the support.

I will be publishing some of the short stories I wrote in Colombia on Canadianhayes.com   Click the follow button at the top of the screen to get an email alert when the first one comes out this Friday.