Tag Archives: travel

…When I Learn to Fly

  1. “I’ll make my way back home when I learn to fly.”
    -Foo Fighters, Learn to Fly

Friends,

I’m coming up on 5 months abroad now, the last three of which have been in Nicaragua, and, seeing as I just returned from a visa renewal trip to Costa Rica, it’s safe to say I don’t have any immediate plans to go back to Canada. I do have plans and intentions but the only person I’ve really opened up to about my intentions is fellow film-maker, Alex Loubert, but even that was a few weeks back and plans have refined since then. So for whomever is interested I’d like to elucidate upon the plans which have been formulating in my head. My intention here is to not only clarify my intent for friends and family, but to give some advance notice to those who may wish to collaborate on the ongoing art project which is my life.

OVERVIEW

Over the next two years I intend to improve myself and broaden my skill-set in order that I may live on the road indefinitely, making money as I need to and not being tethered to the balance of my savings. Also, should I ever return to Canada I want to have a skill-set which will allow me to live on my own terms and not on the indulgence of an employer.
(In the words of Cam’Ron: “Nobody gonna pay you like you pay yourself.”)
Also, and this is of equal import, I wish to improve myself while at the same time seeing as-yet-unseen parts of the world which I have always yearned to see. Perhaps at the end of this excursion I may be ready to put down roots and stay in one place.
No promises though…

WHERE TO BEGIN?…

About a month ago I spent a few days at Momentom Collective, a yoga and circus focused artist residency in San Juan Del Sur co-founded by Gabrielle Buenaciudad and Therese Lowton.

It was an eye-opening stay as I was immersed in a culture of incredibly high-functioning, supportive, positive and open people. Being there really fucked with some obsolete programming I have been holding onto for years; I kinda felt like I was short-circuiting at times as I internalized possibilities for myself which were fundamentally rooted in trusting myself and my intuition. I realized how much I second-guess my inclinations and how much this tendency has stifled me and postponed my full flowering, no homo.
(*On that note, living in Canada, especially near Toronto, with its “progressive” SJW culture, has been degenerative for my psyche, especially when compounded by working in tv/film where I felt pressure to be inoffensive due to the collaborative nature of the industry. I certainly don’t wish to offend anyone but being removed from the industry, the city and the country fills me with a sense of freedom to speak which I ironically haven’t felt since I was in the military. Go figure!).
Since my time there (Momentom) I have made a concerted effort to be trusting of my inclinations and urges and to be deliberate rather than furtive in my overtures.
It’s actually a lot of fun as a big part of it is just saying whatever is on my mind. As a role model I look to Archer and just pretend I have Asperger’s -I say some real funny shit sometimes. Bartending at Surfing Turtle has been great for this because its a license to be deliberate about opening people up and the best way to do that is often brutal, hilarious and honest observation.

But, back to the topic of self-improvement….

My friend Brandon Gowe is fond of saying, “Always have at least three hustles.” There is a lot of truth in this statement, but three is a bare minimum. Right now I:

-Sell jewelry (Occasional)
-Get paid to teach yoga (Occasional)
-Chop a dime here and there (Occasional and illegal)

As you can see my bare minimum three hustles need work. Here is what I intend to do….

NICARAGUA

I have been living in #CarpeDiemEcoProject helping my good friend, Ghislain Beauchamp build the eco-resort he has been dreaming of opening for years. We get closer and closer to completion every week and things are quickening now with large-scale construction projects commencing this week which will see the camp overrun with local contractors and carpenters as well as the usual group of volunteers building with cob.
However, the reality is that it’s getting late in the season and he has floated the idea of closing the place down for the year as soon as mid-May as opposed to June as in previous years. So, using that as a rough timeline I’ve begun to plan life after CDEP.
As mentioned, I’ve been working part-time at #SurfingTurtleLodge and I’m enjoying it immensely, so I’ve naturally thought about switching to full-time. That idea certainly has some lustre and I’m not 100% against it because it would be great hostel-work experience which will be valuable for the next two years (more on that soon), but right now I feel pulled in a different direction.

HONDURAS

Pursuant to my goal of improving myself through a broader skill-set I have set the intention of heading north to Utila, Honduras and doing a divemaster certification. Apparently it can be done for about $1000 USD and it would be a pliable skill anywhere I went in the world with a coastline. Also, Utila is a paradise chock full of reefs, whale sharks and beautiful people. Being in Central America you hear a lot of grape-vine talk about hot places to go and this is one such place which is thankfully something of a hidden gem still. As a bonus, when I mentioned it to Ghislain, a dive instructor who had lived and worked there 5 years ago, he mentioned he was thinking of going back in May for a visit. This would be amazing as I would have a knowledgeable and experienced travel companion and good friend to roll with. Fingers crossed!

POST-HONDURAS

The next for-sure mark to hit after Honduras and divemaster cert would be North Africa. Timeline-wise I’m thinking I would like to get there by late 2017 or early 2018. My intention is primarily to see the Sahara and roughly re-create Santiago’s journey from “THE ALCHEMIST,” but there’s flex on start/end points and route.

To begin with, how to get there? Well, right now the most appealing option is to hop on a yacht in the Caribbean and work as crew to get across the Atlantic. That would be dope and satisfy a longing to do a trans-oceanic voyage. Ideally I would like to end up in Spain where I would begin my Alchemist journey in Andalucia, possibly after hiking the Camino de Santiago in the north (Lukazs, Tom, let’s do this!!).

Another way I might make my way to Spain would be less direct -heading to Mexico, then up the Baja California, through Cali, Oregon, Washington and BC finally seeing the Pacific Northwest that has enchanted me for so long and possibly working as a weed trimmer there if its the right time of year -As far as trimming goes, it’s great coin, but I’m more interested in doing it for the experience before everything becomes legal. In any event, once I got back to Canada I would finally hitch-hike across Canada like I’ve been intending to for years, stopping briefly in Ontario before jumping off to Spain to begin aforementioned Trans-Saharan Caravan.

#NOTHINGISWRITTEN (NORTH AFRICA)

I’m gonna immerse myself in the desert and just get consumed by the wasteland. But I’m also gonna take my time with it, working at hostels, doing workaways, woofing if possible, learning the language and making my way incrementally across the northern part of the African continent to the pyramids. If possible I would like to do more apprenticeships with jewelers, learning local styles and improving my skill-set. In Morocco, my first country after Spain, I intend to head to the Atlantic coast there and check out the fledgling aurf scene and see if my divemaster cert could be put to use.
In the desert itself I wanna go to an oasis soooooo bad. Oases have always enchanted me so I’m gonna live in one.
For the record, I am quite frightened of possible run-ins with extremist groups like ISIS but I figure I’m gonna be more of a curiosity to them than anything. I have joked that maybe they’ll kidnap and force me to make jewelry for them which would be kinda dope, but I was only half-joking: I wanna find out for myself who’s out there instead of just believing the news. Maybe I’ll write an ethnography.
If it turns out they do want to execute me I’ll try and see the humor in it and laugh on the way to my execution -it’s the only victory we can truly have in life.
This whole African excursion is gonna be gully and by the time I get to Egypt I will be ready to begin the next phase: INDIA.

PSYCH! SAUDI ARABIA…MAYBE…

I wanna see the Arabian desert because for me it represents a wasteland more inaccessible and dangerous than that of Northern Africa. Seriously, going there scares me not because of the harsh conditions but because of the strict observance of Islamic law. If they catch you slippin’, well….. Let’s just say there’s nothing scarier than an establishment that will kill you with impunity for perceived transgressions and all the while believe they are acting righteously *cough* police *cough*…
No guarantees on this one but it’s definitely a possibility.

INDIA

I have been teaching yoga for a while, and I’ve been practicing it for years, but I have yet to get certified and thus learn much of the associated theory. Certification will also lend more credibility to me when I apply to various hostels and hospitality locations looking for work. And really, what better place than India to learn yoga? There are many great places here in Central America to get certified and I will certainly broaden my yoga skill-set over time here, but remember, an important part of these next two years is seeing places I haven’t seen. So as well as getting my cert I am going to see India , feast like a king and maybe buy a monkey. Who knows!?

SOUTH-EAST ASIA

Finally, I will make my way to SE Asia. You know, it’s a wonder I haven’t been here yet. For some people it’s their first exposure to backpacking, but even after more than ten years of excursions its uncharted territory for me. As far as self-improvement goes, all along the trip I will be developing my massage skill and reiki aptitude, and here in SE Asia I feel like I could really develop my Thai massage skill-set. Beyond that I’m not sure what I want from this place (food), but I know I gotta see it as it will (mostly) wrap up all my loose ends of bucket list places to see.

EPILOGUE

I’m not sure who I will be when this is all said and done and if I will be ready to buy property and build something of my own, or if I’ll want to come back to Canada or if I’ll want to pursue trips to Patagonia, the Peruvian desert, Antarctica, Eastern Europe, etc. (The bucket list never actually ends) I can literally do anything I want to do. My biggest challenge is aiming high.

So if you don’t know now you know, nigga(s)!

EPI-EPILOGUE

I owe special recognition to two very important people in my life who have precipitated a great desire for growth within me.

First would be Ghislain -meeting him and visiting his project last year was a very serendipitous experience for me and he embodies qualities that I aspire to embody myself. He is a skilled, positive, hard-working, dynamic individual comfortable with himself as a man and as a member of a community. It is by the strength of his will that the culture of CDEP is what it is. I admire the dude and feel honored to count him among my friends.

Second would be Marijo Lariviere. She is one of the most talented people I know whose ability to thrive anywhere in the world with her skill-set has inspired me greatly in my current path. Whether it’s yoga instruction, hair-dressing, jewelry-making, etc… She has so many valuable practical skills that it really made me reflect on what I bring to the table, what I could offer others (manual labor, carry a gun), and realize that I could do better. She made me aspire to improve myself if only to be of greater service to the people around me.

In closing I want to say I can be better than I am. I don’t say that with self-denigration or regret but with optimism, love for myself, and excitement to see the man I am evolving into.

I hope you enjoy the show too.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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The 10 Laws of Adventure

Friends,

I am currently on a self-imposed lockdown for two weeks enduring what is called monk mode. I intend to write more about my circumstances and goals in that endeavour but that will be my next post. What I want to talk about now is, as the title suggests, 10 maxims I fleshed out in my journal while making my ayahuasca pilgrimage to South America for my upcoming film, Just Might Be Ok

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Pictured: Two of my favourite books.

You see during this monk mode period I have been reading Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power and it’s inspired me to present my maxims in a similar, if abbreviated, way to really hammer home their importance.

Law 1:
Be Physically Imposing

Observance of the Law:
Having been robbed on a previous trip I was more cognizant about where I slept and kept my baggage, but these considerations were not the only thing which saved me: As a fit guy with a better than average build and great endurance I made my way through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Ecuador without incident because I was (I assume) more trouble than I was worth.

Keys to Power:
Prior to departure I thought long and hard about what kit I would bring and what I would wear. I wanted to go fast and light and so abandoned the large backpack from the get-go, instead opting for a military vest with a custom pouch set-up, leg bags and a small backpack with a hydration bladder (GEIGERRIG…great piece of kit). A few days into my trip I acquired a sombrero and poncho. The entire look culminated thusly…

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“El Peregrino”
Photo Credit: Kenneth Klemens

Now that may be more comical than imposing to some and to be sure I did want to capture a certain good-natured, adventurous aspect as I was simultaneously shooting a film, but as I keep pretty fit and spry I wasn’t just some fatty at a convention cosplaying. No, everything I carried was functional and the skin I showed was calculated. It wasn’t like I could take anyone who might want to attack me, but I was imposing enough to make any comers think twice, and mobile enough to be out of range if their second thought was, “let’s fuck this dude up.”
However, the safest I ever felt was walking around shirtless or in a wife-beater after stashing my gear at my accommodations. Why? Because I have a built upper body. And without the encumbrance of my gear I was not an attractive target. The way I look and my physique (such as it is) didn’t happen by accident and a modicum of fitness is a warning and beacon to others that perhaps this dude might go the distance if they tried to pull some shit. It shows discipline, and someone who is disciplined on any level instantly becomes a less attractive mark.
On another note, people often poo-poo a workout regimen that focuses on the upper body, but if I could recommend one workout for the adventurer unrelated to endurance and stamina it would be pushups. If your upper body is built, it doesn’t matter if you have chicken-legs, as ne’er-do-wells are creatures of convenience and there’s always lower hanging fruit. So yeah.

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The Pit-Bull. Raised by a loving family it has the sweetest disposition and will allow you to scratch its belly and pet it, but its powerful appearance and reputation make the uninitiated balk. The brave and wise know that it is a powerful a loyal friend.

Reversal:
Cops. For whatever reason they don’t like you walking around the city dressed like a paramilitary, so its wise to keep aggressive-looking gear easily stowable in urban centres. With regard to being muscular, there’s always gonna be some shithead who tries to pull your card even in your hometown, but it likely won’t be on a street in broad daylight. Standard rules of preservation apply: if you go out to bars, try not to go alone, don’t eyeball people, don’t get too drunk and don’t hit on anyone’s girl and you’ll probably be ok.

Law 2: 
Always Bring a Bottle of Something

Observance of the Law:
Throughout the duration of the pilgrimage I relied heavily on Couch-Surfing as a means of sleeping for free. On my last night in Mexico, I couch-surfed with Sinuhe and his family in Villahermosa. I went out for a run in the evening and returned with a bottle of my favourite spirit, Mezcal. We sat to have a couple drinks and it turned into a party. His girlfriend and friend joined us, his mother started making food and pulling out bottles of tequila. It was one of my best nights of the trip.

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Me and Sinuhe, before eating some worms.

Keys to Power:
“Free” really means the ability to put money you would have spent on accommodations elsewhere. Like, for example, food or beverage to show your host appreciation and party with them. The benefit of this is two-fold: First, it makes it more fun. Second, Couch-Surfing is a community where people review each other after the stay, and those references have an effect on whether other people let you crash with them in the future. You could call it Social Capital, and you can increase your social capital by turning positive reviews into glowing ones.

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Jesus Christ. Where people expect water, you bring wine. A vagabond of abundance, they admire your grit, your salt-of-the-Earth sensibilities and of course your desire to make them the guest of honor at the party they didn’t know they were hosting. Then when the morning comes you are gone, having enriched their lives with just your presence. For the rest of their days they spread the legend of the pilgrim who came and made them a part of his adventure.

Reversal:
It is wise to check if the household is amenable to drinking before placing a bottle of booze on the table and telling people to fill their boots. Also, sometimes people will pick you up (if hitch-hiking) and take you home and feed you. In cases like these it is understood that they have the means and desire to treat you and in fact might be put off if you insist on stopping somewhere to purchase them a gift. Feel it out and find some other way to contribute or content yourself with paying the kindness forward.

Law 3:
Be Generous

Observance of the Law:
Being 31 on this last outing, I was more established in the world than a lot of the people I met in hostels, often the 18-23 age range. But they were cool people who I wanted to hang out with and didn’t want them to not come out or sit there without a drink because they didn’t have the same budget as me. I thought of all the kindness and generosity I had received on this excursion and previous ones and realized I had a lot of good karma to pay back. So, around me, no one ever thirsted.

Keys to Power:
I am not a wealthy man in absolute terms but I certainly have enough to buy a round of beers in Mexico, several times over in fact. And for a few dollars, nights wandering the city alone turned into nights on the town. Plus, due to the natural tendency of guys to one-up each other, buying a round meant that every other dude would wanna buy a round and it would become a party.

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The Brother. If the Brother gets 20, his brother gets 10. In fact, the Brother can’t be at ease unless his brother is taken care of. Stand together or die alone.

Reversal:
Don’t allow yourself to be taken for granted. Women are usually worse for this back home, but on the road everyone understands the value of reciprocity. Still, be careful of drinking with locals; either they’ll peg you as the rich gringo and try and run up your tab, or some blonde cunt in Mexico City will try and put a bottle of champagne on your tab because you’ve been hitting it off with her friend all night. True story.

Law 4:
Wear a Condom

Transgression of the Law:
Back in Cairns, Australia in 2006 I picked up this lady named Tania and took her back to my hostel. Since I had a shared dorm room we went downstairs into the laundry room and began to get busy. Now not only did I not wear a dome but I also failed to get her appropriately warmed up, and so when I went to stick my penis in I met resistance.
I pushed hard. Still resistance.
So I gave ‘er the old college try and –OWWW!“- I achieved penetration.
Now, whence cometh the ow? Well being an uncircumcised dude I actually tore my frenulum (the piece of “webbing” between the head of the dick and the foreskin. When I pulled out I noticed a profusion of blood and was like, “Hmmm, that’s peculiar.”
Needless to say, that soured the whole thing pretty damn quick.
She left and I looked up with my pants around my ankles and a used napkin soaking up the blood only to stare into a security camera.
Great Job!
A condom may have absorbed the brunt of the friction and torn first sparing me the embarrassment.

Observance of the Law:
I met some lovely ladies and got to stick my penis in a few of them. It was terrific.

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(…they exist, just…not available…)

Keys to Power:
Traveling through Latin America, an STI isn’t even the worst thing that could happen from having unprotected sex (BABIES!). There is nothing incredibly profound about this law I know but it bears repeating because, well…when I wrote these laws down (Jan 2016) I was really feeling this particularly strongly I guess.

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A Suit of Armor. Not to be worn all the time, it is donned during battle and protects its wearer from the ravages of love and/or war.

Reversal:
(*sigh*) There really shouldn’t be, but every guy reading knows that sometimes a girl makes a really compelling case for why you should fuck her without a condom. She’ll say something like this: “Fuck me without a condom.” And you’ll be like, “……….” And then she’ll be like, “I want your big dick to come inside me.” And then you’re like, “Fuuck!”

Then five minutes later you’re lying there beside her terrified that you just ruined your future while she’s planning your lives together.

Totally worth it.

Law 5: 
If Your Budget is $5,000, Have $10,000

Observance of the Law:
Departing for this trip I was over-prepared in many regards: I brought more gear than I needed and ultimately gave a bunch of it away; I was already fairly enlightened before taking ayahuasca which really took the edge off (more on that to come), etc. But perhaps in no regard was I more prepared than finances. Since I was on a quest with a fairly clearly delineated end-goal it was very important that not only did enough enough money to finance my mobility, food and accommodations (hitch-hiked and camped a lot which really brought costs down), but also enough in reserve to deal with any emergencies and the inevitable spur-of-the-moment decisions that one makes when on the road (See Law 6).

Keys to Power:
I never wanted for anything aside from during times of discipline-oriented, self-imposed austerity, and I was actually shocked when I saw fellow travelers leaving things like food up to chance. There is a fair amount of leaving things to chance one has to do when living on the road and I certainly didn’t go without my share of Quixotic adventures and reversals of fortune, but I decided I didn’t want to be hungry unless it was a some kind of personal challenge. Did having extra cash embolden me to make some choices which were costlier than others? Almost certainly. Do I regret those decisions? Not in the least!
This law can be interpreted in two ways. Literally it can mean, “if you’ve planned a $5000 trip, find a way to accumulate another $5000, but for most that’s wildly impractical and unrealistic. Instead, look at what your budget and then trim as much fat as you can. Time is your ally here as well as grit; if you’re willing to live outdoors and hitch-hike and deal with the resultant uncertain arrival dates, $5000 all of a sudden stretches WAY goddamn further. Also and this is just my opinion here, you don’t just travel, you have an adventure.

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A Clerical Error. Somehow, some way you were allocated twice as much as you actually need and it allows you to regularly spoil yourself in the carefree pursuit of whimsy and new experiences.

Reversal:
I like to think I travel on hard mode which is why I try and refer to it as adventure. But if I do it on hard mode there are some who can be said to do it on extreme mode. With only the proverbial dollar and a dream they eke out a living as they go and basically stay in a place until they earn enough to leave. This is also an enriching way to travel and one I haven’t yet delved into.

Law 6:
Don’t Deprive Yourself of Something That Will Make a Memory

Transgression of the Law:
In September 2006 I departed on my first backpacking excursion to Australia. Landing in Cairns I was close to the Great Barrier Reef, but I was so caught up with getting to the outback that I dismissed going diving there as too peripheral to my interests. I even used the cost to justify my decision not to go. Now I’ve seen most of Australia, but I still haven’t seen that goddamn reef.

Observance of the Law:
Departing in November 2015 I had planned to make my way south through Mexico sticking to the coast and avoiding Mexico City like the plague, as I had heard nothing but how high crime was there. But hitch-hiking is nothing if not a circuitous and unpredictable way to travel. Compound this with the fact that my espanol is poquito (i.e. language barriers) and I found myself inexplicably back on the doorstep of Mexico City after I had managed (I thought) to work my way around it. So I said, “fuck it” and decided to enter the city and hope for the best.
Turns out it was the best choice I made throughout the whole trip. The city had an amazing vibe to it, full of energy and exuberance. It was exciting, dangerous, the women were beautiful, the food was delicious. I even fell in love one night. Looking back I am glad that fortune conspired to make me reconsider my fear-based decision.

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Also, there was some gorgeous architecture in ‘D.F’

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A Stock Portfolio. The record or where you have invested your time and money. It should be diverse and robust. Not all investments will be “profitable” in the short or immediate term, but you hold onto them for life and you see their value increase over time.

Reversal:
Do it for the story can be a great mantra to live your life by but it must be tempered with judgment (See Law 7), because every choice has an opportunity cost. Don’t follow an exciting whim that will jeopardize something dearly important to you hoping that things will just work out somehow (See Law 4).

Law 7:
Find the Level of Stupidity You’re Comfortable With

Observance of the Law:
When entering Mexico from south Texas I had a lot of anxiety. Everyone I met told me it was dangerous, or I would get robbed, kidnapped, beheaded, etc. I was kind of a big bag of nerves when it came time to cross the Rubicon that is the US-Mexico border. However, skipping Mexico and heading right for Guatemala was not an option as I wanted to experience every place. So I compromised: Reckoning that the Mexican border region was the most problematic area of concern I opted to take a bus from Texas through the border and into the interior to the state of Zacatecas.
From there I hitch-hiked south unmolested and had some great adventures.

Keys to Power:
Any number of fellow travelers have passed through the Mexican border without incident and some I met along the way who told me of what a great time they had and it made me wish I had spent time there. But we all make the choices that appear right to us at the time and so it’s hard for me to feel regret. Instead I feel glad I faced a fear on my own terms and kind of smirk inwardly at the constantly-repeating situation of being scared of no more than the unknown.

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The Stuntman. The Stuntman’s raison d’etre is to perform the feats that others are either unwilling or unable to. But every Stuntman has a forte and shines most brightly in a certain area. When there are risks to take, make sure they are the ones that are important to you and that you feel competent taking them. To take the metaphor further, push yourself, but if you’re someone who specializes in getting lit on fire, don’t let them throw you off of a building.

Reversal:
If you have to impress a girl sometimes you gotta double-down on stupidity. It is a man’s prerogative after all…

Law 8:
There are No Dangerous Places, Only Dumb, Unprepared, Fearful People

Transgression of the Law:
In September 2011 I was in Madeira, Portugal, the beginning of a trip to circumnavigate the northern hemisphere. It was a vacationer’s dream and everyone I spoke with screwed up their face with disbelief when I asked if it was safe. “Of course” was the response. I got lulled into a false sense of security and my first night there I fell asleep on the beach and woke up to find all of my gear missing.
Safe place. Go figure.

Observance:
After the robbery in Portugal I decided to continue on and a few months later found myself in the Middle East. It was November 2011 and Egypt was still jumping off after Arab Spring. Naturally I decided to fly to Cairo from Beirut -I wanted to see the pyramids! I made some prudent decisions such as avoiding Tahrir Square where shit was liable to jump off at any given time (See Law 7) but on the whole had nothing but a great experience in spite of people’s warnings that it was super-dangerous. I kept my wits about me and was fine.

Keys to Power:
It is natural for us to be wary of places where something bad has happened. But when you really internalize the idea that bad has happened (literally) everywhere, what you see is that you have a lot of power to avoid getting yourself into said situations. There will always be circumstances beyond your control but you can choose what you make yourself susceptible to by being aware of bad situations as they’re developing and ejecting/aborting if you sense trouble.

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The Surfer. The surfer knows that the ocean is much mightier than he and could kill him very easily. But he understands that there is beauty in danger and it is beauty which he is in search of. So, knowing that he can never hope to control the ocean’s waves, he doesn’t fight the ocean but instead learns to ride it.

Reversal:
If your hear gunfire don’t walk into the crossfire thinking, “As long as I keep my head on a swivel I’ll be fine.” Some situations are empirically dangerous, particularly those which are not contingent upon your actions and interactions.

Law 9:
Play Dumb with Cops, but BOLDLY Dumb!

Observance of the Law:
While walking through Manzanillo, Mexico in full adventure gear I had my poncho drawn closed to conceal my equipment from view. On a whim I decided to throw the poncho back and walk around town looking like a paramilitary. Of course I looked cool walking around but it was also a controlled opportunity to see what I could get away with in Mexican towns; a trap of sorts to make 5-0 reveal their hand. In short order I was stopped by cops who had no compunction about manhandling me and asserting their presence. I played the meek tourist (a stark contrast to the calculated manner in which I was attired) and told them I was a pilgrim. The leader of the cops asked me if I was a some religious nut and then if I was escaped from a (mental) hospital (this I took to be the highest flattery) and I assured him I was not either. I showed them my journal and portrayed myself as a quixotic but harmless young adventurer (not far from the truth). As they flipped through the journal’s pages they saw that I had a picture of a girl. They asked if it was my girlfriend and I smiled like some kind of hopeless romantic and said, “maybe one day.” This really humanized me in their eyes.
But most important by far was the fact that I was so committed and bold in my portrayal as a meek, well-intentioned traveler. My feigned bewilderment brought their defences down and while they approached me hostile and defensive, they left curious, amused and perhaps only mildly annoyed.
The mark of success was that they didn’t even check my pockets or pouches even though they identified I had re-purposed grenade pouches.

Keys to Power:
Getting stopped by cops can be inconvenient, but acting bothered and inconvenienced only gives them further pretense for investigation. As Law 22 of The 48 Laws of Power advises, “Use the Surrender Tactic” -be overobedient to authorities flexing muscle. Even if they suspect that you are insincere in your deference and respect, they face a dilemma because calling you out on insincere respect is implicit admission that their power is contingent upon your accepting and agreeing to it.

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The Jester. He plays the buffoon and everyone has a supposed laugh at his expense with never more than a cursory suspicion that they might be the butt of the joke. As such he outlasts the more confrontational and is indulged by the powerful.

Reversal:
It depends on where your interests lie. The majority of our encounters with cops are them fucking with us and it is our resentment and desire to end the encounter quickly that causes us to offend them, or worse, implicate ourselves in some crime or another. This is why this rule is so important; learn to have fun with your encounters with so-called authorities as it is only when they have you scared and/or aggressive that you can truly lose.
That said, there are times you may find it expedient to answer all questions quickly, diligently and without feigned meekness. For example, if you are registering a complaint or in some way asking for their help (which as a general rule I don’t advise). They will ask you probing questions which, if you are like me, you may resent answering, but their help is contingent you being straightforward with them.

Law 10:
Don’t Carry Drugs

Transgression of the Law:
On about my third or fourth week in Mexico in December 2015, I left Mexico City for Veracruz. In VC I decided to lighten my load some more. I figured I would ditch my pipe kit as pipe tobacco wasn’t really abundant and as I went to throw pipe and kit away I had a last-minute impulse to check the compartments in the pouch. I found a joint that I had accidentally smuggled into the US and then Mexico completely unknowingly.
I ended up having a fun time that night but that’s not the point; my oversight could have been very costly had I been caught.

Transgression of the Law II and Obedience of the Law:
In Jaco, Costa Rica I was on the beach with two people from my hostel outside of a club when cops pulled up for an surprise shakedown/search. The other two didn’t know me too well and I didn’t know them and fortunately the cops segregated me from them. Playing boldly dumb (See Law 9) almost to the point of belligerence I reacted indignantly then the one cop lifted up my shirt to see if I was hiding anything and such indignance and lack of fear they seemingly took as a signal that I was not a tourist they wanted to fuck with too much. After all, lots of rich, connected bastards go to Costa Rica, and even though they are police they don’t want to create too much of a stir when tourism is their bread & butter. But, as it pertains to the Law 10, carrying no contraband on me, I had really nothing to fear; when they turned their backs on me I walked about 10 metres away to piss on the beach while looking at them and challenging them to do something (not brilliant, I know) Then as I started to get bored of the whole endeavour I hit the ground and started doing pushups. This earned outrage from my sequestered companions but to the cops it was like saying, “You guys wanna fuck around? Okay, I got all the time in the world.”
They drove off while I was mid-set and passed me closely I guess as a way of trying to intimidate me. Fags.
My companions didn’t fare so honorably. You see, they were, unbeknownst to me, carrying cocaine. And so with that fear of getting caught  they folded and the cops, sensing their fear, searched them like they hadn’t searched me.
They didn’t get arrested, but after the cops left they were visibly shaken while I was annoyed and ready to fight someone -certainly not an ideal state but better than theirs.

Keys to Power:
While it is a prudent idea not to carry contraband, the real meat & potatoes of this law is that if you feel you are culpable for some reason you will be less confident and more fearful during an encounter with authority which will cause you to act erratically and/or dishonorably as my fellow hostelers did. Better to feel righteous and carry that frame so strongly that whomsoever dares impede you starts to suspect that they are in the wrong.

Image:
The Crusader. On a holy mission from the Almighty himself, the Crusader’s moral high-ground is never in question. Should another find themselves at odds with you they will seriously consider where it is they stand and check themselves.

Reversal:
The only possible reversal is that whatever you do, whether it is carrying drugs, guns, etc. convince yourself and believe that it is the righteous and noble thing to do. The goal here is not to sweat under scrutiny and to be bold and unafraid when encountering some “authority.”

*********************

And so ends my adventure maxims. As I wrote these more occurred that I had thought over while adventuring but never committed to the original list. It may be a worthwhile endeavour to revisit the subject in the future.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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License to Ill

Friends,

Back in March of 2011 I went on what was to be my first and last jaunt across the pond in the “pre-9/11 world.”  It was a school trip to Italy and France (not in that order) and I was in grade eleven.  Like most (all?) school trips, a high premium was placed on student safety, and beyond an appropriate number of chaperones, what this translated to on the back end were room checks to curb fraternization, prohibitions on students buying alcohol (outside of beer or wine at mealtimes) and naturally, prohibitions on drug use.

Well, being forced to spend the better part of their childhoods indoors, confined to a desk and having to ask to go to the bathroom, it should come as no surprise that students are second only to prisoners when it comes to resourcefulness in flouting the rules.  This defiance was encouraged by the fact that the chaperones were mostly cool, recognizing that the trip was supposed to be fun, and their attempts to transplant Canadian high school rules to a bunch of young people in another continent were gestural.

That said, reinforced habits and the fear of punishment can be powerful deterrents as they were to me and the groups of fellow squares I hung out with throughout the trip.

IMG_4512L to R: Mike, Metro, Horesman, Scott and Me

We weren’t bad kids; we were nerds.  We were a low-priority when it came to students who should be supervised.  This became very clear to me on the second day of the trip when we were approached by my French teacher, Mr. Harper.  He told us that he had come by our room at lights-out the night before to make sure we were in bed and knocked a few times.  Figuring that we were just jet-lagged and in a deep sleep, he gave us the benefit of the doubt and went on with his room checks.  To give you a glimpse of just how goody-goody we were, he wasn’t even mad when he explained this to us but we still apologized and assured him we would be more attentive next time.

So on the trip went with us mostly staying in our lanes, taking pictures of the sights and removing our hats when entering cathedrals. However, a peculiar change began to happen.  As we observed all of the rule-breaking going on around us and the “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” attitude of the chaperones, we started to act out in our own measured way.

IMG_4511Here is us sitting on the base of a column in St. Peter’s Basilica when we were explicitly told not to.

IMG_4515
Here is me jumping into an empty fountain at Versailles and humping one of the statues.

IMG_4513
And here is me grabbing my junk in Rome.
I am a bad motherfucker, am I not?

Intoxicated with the thrill of being a rebel and wanting some token artifact as a memento of my flirtations with a life of crime, my degeneracy reached its apex in Rome on (fittingly) the Ides of March. Visiting the Coliseum I decided to make my move, climbing some decrepit wall while security was out of sight and posing for a picture while testing furiously for loose bricks which I could abscond with.

IMG_4514
The bastard love-child of Lara Croft and Indiana Jones clad in baggy dungarees.

JACKPOT!

I wiggled one such brick free and jumped down like the future traceur I would become years later.  I walked out of the coliseum as fast as I could, looking over my shoulder the whole time and feeling my heart furiously dry-humping my rib-cage.  I remembered one chick even asked me while I was up there if there was any bricks I could hand to her.  Bitch Please. I felt like that gangster in Training Day who, when Denzel demands someone shoot Ethan Hawke, places a .38 on the ground in front of him and is like,

got
You got us twisted, homie; you gotta put your own work in around here.

After we had safely smuggled the brick out in someone’s cargo shorts pocket, me and the fellowship of the brick stood in a circle marveling at its plainness and lack of any special defining features.

“Guys, this is a billionth of the Coliseum we’re holding right here,” I said.

Then my long-time friend, Michael chimed in, “Yeah, but its OUR billionth.”

Yes it was.  Upon returning to Canada I took a hammer and chisel and broke each of my co-conspirators off a chip of the brick and hopefully those chips still serve as a reminder of the day we hit back against a system and took what was ours.

url

Let’s re-cap.

Here are the transgressions I didn’t commit that others on the trip did and the potential punishments they held:

Hooking up with other students: Legal but might have gotten suspended or sent home early or both
Buying Booze: Same
Buying/Using/Possessing Marijuana:

ille
Note: These are current for 2013

Now here’s what I did:

Looting Artefacts from Roman Antiquity: “…those caught were left ‘highly embarrassed’ but were not arrested, instead they were cautioned and allowed to return home and their ancient souvenirs returned to Rome council…” -From Mail Online, 24 June 2012

I willingly put myself in a position where I could have been highly embarrassed and allowed to return home.  How gangster is that?

****

I think the moral I was trying to get across initially was that a reputation for being a goody-two-shoes is a license to be a badass, but when I found out how casually my particular offense is actually treated by the Carabinieri, it kinda changed the way I viewed my own act of flagrant rebellion.  While that original moral still stands true, I think a more apt lesson to be taken from my pilfering of precious pebbles is that sometimes you gotta break the rules for good stories and souvenirs.

It’s probably why some of my best travel stories have to do with running from the police, surfing with sharks and trespassing.

To put it in an acronym, W.W.D.Q.D.?

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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…Where Credit is Due

My Friends,
   I’m back home in Canada after circling the globe over the past 107 days.  It was in many ways not the trip I was expecting but perhaps for that exact reason it was also exactly the trip I was expecting.  For you see I was looking for adventure, something which is eminently un-plannable, and adventure is what I got.
   However, the success of this venture rested on more than just my own overtures toward worldliness and Quixotic affectations.  Rather, I was helped at almost every step by others; some I knew beforehand, most I did not.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who made my trip not only what it was, but possible in the first place.
   So, Thank-You…

To my friend Tommy and my brother Adam for helping me try to get financial assistance for the trip.  It may not have been successful but it was a lot of fun to hang out and make videos.

To Steve and Lynn from modrobes for the clothing you provided and the re-supply mid-expedition.

To Mark from Oakley U.S.A. for your generosity.

To Maria, Victor and Wilson, the first three people who showed me any kind of goodwill in my trip but whose contact information I lost in the robbery.  Thank-you so much and I will keep attempting to find you guys on Facebook.

To my parents for all of their help after I got robbed.  Thank-you for booking my flight back to Lisbon, scrounging through my boxes in the basement to find pieces of documentation so I could procure a new passport and making sure replacement cards, documents and gear made it out to me as quickly as possible.

To the staff of TAP Airlines in Funchal Airport for giving me money to buy lunch when I had lost everything.

To the flight attendants on my TAP flight from Funchal to Lisbon for giving me all the food I wanted after learning I got robbed.

To Bev and Darryn Cross, who saw to it that I had a hotel to stay in upon my arrival in Lisbon.

To Eneida and Gisella at the Canadian Embassy in Lisbon.  Thank you for all of the free calls and the speed with which you helped me out.

To Antonio, Antonio & Penelope for making my stay in Lisbon better than it could have been given the shitty time I was having.

To Vasil & Nadia for letting me camp in their garage during my last night in Portugal.

To “Belgian Teacher,” Greg & Maria, “German Couple,” Samuel, Jose, Sergei & Andrej & Dimitri, Bianca, “Hungary Dude” & “German Girl,” Therese & Stefano & Hannah, “Granada Dude,” “Guadix Family,” “Lorca Dude,” Juan & his Dad, Paul & Sonja, Andrew & Laura, Antonio, Julius, Maria Jose, Xavien, Keira & Ali, Claudia, Rene, Hugo, Tomas & Sandra, Moroccan guy who may or may not have wanted to rob me, “Gay Michele,” Dominique, Miro, Benoit, “Fronk”/Franc, Mohmed & Kh____ (x2), Simon, Gwen, Claudio, Nasir(?), Orsun(?), “Gas Station Patron,” “Nameless Dude,” “Old Dude,” Erol, Veysel, Ali, Ibrahim, Mehmet & Besir, _____ & Ramazan, “Some Trucker,” “Mini-Bus Full of Dudes,” “Big Bus Full of Dudes,” “Turkish Family,” “____ From Antakya,” “_____ & ______ From Antakya,” “Family in a Pick-Up Truck,” “German/Turkish Couple,” Hasan & Usan, _____, Mustafa & _____, The Syrian Secret-Service/Cab-Drivers, Jima, and finally Havid & Family.  Thank-you for picking me up instead of just speeding by.

To Ricky, who came out of left field to offer me his house to crash at in Rota, Spain.  Your generosity was overwhelming.

To Annelies & Annejet, who gave me sunscreen, a pink towel and would have given me a ride to Malaga but I slept in like a dunce.

To Toby, who came back and picked me up from McDonald’s just like he said he would.

To the Collet family who picked me up and let me stay in their beautiful home.  If you have any plans to visit the south of France you should definitely consider a stay in one of their residences: http://www.bormeslesmimosas.com/locationscoulomb/.

To Neil, who showed me around San Remo, bought me a bus ticket, and warned me about just how corrupt Italy was on arrival.

My cousin Steven and his family in Legnano, Italy.  Thank-you for your hospitality, helping me deal with lazy Italian officials, and the delicious food which fattened me up for the cold weather which laid before me.
To Imad and Lina who made me feel at home in Beirut, took me around the city and included me in their Christmas-tree decorating.

To the proprietors of the cafe in the Suez bus station for letting me crash in the back-room.

To Jima, who picked me up, took me into his home and broke bread with me during my last night in Egypt.

To Brian for for offering his flat in Zanzibar which I never made it to.

To Robert for sharing his campfire in Ein Gedi.

To Amina & Gulmyra, my Kazakh “aunts” who forced me to eat with them on the train and led me to the bus station in Almaty.

To “Opie,” who made my welfare the highest priority in his life.

To the Chongqing Police Force for allowing me to use your computers and inviting me to share your Christmas dinner.
To Erich and Serena, for inviting me into your home and the delicious perma-cultured eggs.

To everyone I met who posted pics on my Facebook.  Thank-you so much for enabling me to have photographic reminders even after the loss of my camera.

To my regiment and my friends back home.  Thank-you for being there if I needed something taken care of.

To all my siblings who were supportive of me through the duration of my time away.

To my sister Tanya who posted entries for me while I was in China and unable to access anything but hotmail.

And finally, to my beautiful woman, Chelsea.  Thank-you for not making me feel bad about leaving and for encouraging me in all my goals.

Nobody makes it through this life on their own and even when I felt most alone, I knew I wasn’t.


Oh the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
On the mountaintops we stand
All the world at our command
                      -Gordon Lightfoot

Stay Thirsty,
Andre Guantanamo

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Dick-Punching the Sunrise

My Friends,
   The travels go well.  I am currently south of Perris, California staying in the house of some friends whom I had the pleasure of meeting my second day in California.  But more on that later, as there is a bit of a gap between where I left off last time in Chongqing, China and where I am at now.  Sooooooooooooo, herrre it is.
   I took the train from Chonqqing to Shnghai early on Christmas morning and was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable and livable it was.  It was a sleeper car like the one I had taken in Kazakhstan but it looked quite modern and not like a Soviet relic.  Now I had meant to purchase a sitting ticket from the ticket booth the previous day, but either through lack of understanding or lack of availability, the ticket-sellers (five of them crowded the ticket window giving me googly-eyes [even the guy in the group] and taking part in the selling of the ticket process after waving me to the front of the line in front of a bunch of pissed-off locals.  Sometimes being a westerner in a foreign land pays off) had sold me a sleeper ticket.  As it was an overnight train I really couldnt lament this.
   My bunkmate was a cool guy and we communicated as well as we could with no common language.  Never got his name though… The ride was ultimately uneventful though and the most exciting break in the monotony was our actual arrival in Shanghai.
   Immediately I took the metro to People’s Sqaure in the city-center and set about finding a hotel.  There was no looking for a spot to camp in this city; I was determined to spoil myself with a bed for my stay.  I found accommodation fairly quick (got a good price by taking a room with no windows … also, there was a dead body under the bed but that wasnt factored into the price), stashed my bag and I was off.  More than anything, what characterized my stay in Shanghai was the gluttonous consumption of food; For realz, everything was so good and so cheap that I couldn’t justify depriving myself of anything.  I won’t rhyme off everything I had but honourable mention for the fried pork dumplings served at “Yang’s Fried Dumplings” (more than just a clever name).  Four big, delicious balls of goodness for 6 Yuan ($1 USD).  The old lady at the register laughed knowingly when I went back for seconds.
   Between all of this consumption of foodstuffs I also find time to sightsee.  My first night I walked to the river that runs through the city (too lazy to google the name) and admired the skyline of the city’s Pudong region.  The architecture here (and really, all over the city) is striking and very different from that seen in most North American cities.  The Oriental Pearl…

Pictured Here: Far Left and Bulbous
…in particular goes a long way to making the view very futuristic-looking and awe-inspiring.  The city also has some large malls; two of these I visited, and to deal with the lack of space in the city both were built 7 or 8 stories high.
   My second day in I took a walk south and by chance found a garment district.  While I looked at some counterfeit watches and debated having a tailored tweed jacket made, I decided to opt for small souvenir bracelets only, as I already had a watch and didn’t want more clothing weighing down my pack.  Toward the end of the second day I decided that although the view around the river was nce, the view of the ocean on the east side of Pudong must be even better.  So I took an hour long train trip to the end of the line but realized with dismay that I couldnt get through to the water because there was an airport in the way.  I entertained the notion of going around the airport but after running for fifteen minutes the road ended and I realized that if it was indeed a picturesque coastline they wouldn’t have put an airport in the way.  I made my way back to the train station, sobered and a little wiser for my troubles.
  Day three I managed to find a bookstore which had a small English section and picked up book 3 and 4 of Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series.  Its pretty good so far and good airplane reading.  After this unlikely find I made my way to the Shanghai museum where I spent the better part of my day.  It was good and all but I found myself speeding through it as I was tired and not really in a museum-going mood.  Still, I felt compelled to culture myself so I took it all in even after the point my eyeballs had gone bleary and vacant.  After a large dinner I made my way to the airport with my bag to wait for my flight and also for what would be the longest day or recent memory.
   My night in the airport was sleepless which didn’t bother me too much cause I had about 13 hours of flying to crush so I figured Id have plenty of time to doze.  One thing I will say is that ramen does not make a substantial meal on its own; I went through two giant bowls of it while I waited in the airport and still was incredibly hungry for most of the night.
   Flew to Japan for a thee-hour layover.  While Shanghai had had its fair share of whitey it was still dominated by Asians.  Not the case with the Tokyo Narita airport; not only were their a ton of white people there but black folk as well.  I literally don’t think I had seen any black people at all in Kazakhstan or China.  A lot of the white guys in the airport were also fat neckbeards which leads me to believe that they were in Japan to hone their bushido skills or were on the road to Viridian City.

Little do they know that Giovanni has a trick up his sleeve
Ultimately, it was bitter-sweet; the change in complexions was indicative of how far I had come but I was sadly, no longer the sole foreigner whom everyone was gawking at. 
   Took a ten-hour flight to LA from Tokyo and en route I finally watched Bridesmaids, The Hangover 2 and Bad Teacher, a couple films movies which I had been meaning to see for some time.  Upon landing, I shared a cab to Santa Monica with Paul.  He was killing time on a layover to New Zealand.  I had been in that situation myself a few years back and had gone to Santa Monica as well…
…so I took it upon myself to show him around some.  When we parted ways I took a train east to the city of Riverside on a whim.  Walked SE hard from the station til about 1130 pm and had one of the deepest sleeps of recent memory (remember I had been up for 36 hours because with the time change of flying east across the Pacific I essentially had the length of my day doubled and had been watching movies instead of sleeping on the plane).  I woke up to a beautiful sunrise over south Riverside.  I’m not sure what it is for certain but the sunset the night before had been equally beautiful.  Perhaps its just the smog.
   Anyway, after waking up that morning in Riverside I walked SE til I got to Interstate 215 South.  Walked along there for a while til I got incredibly tired and sore around 1130.  Hit a Starbucks south of Perris, and while there I got to talking to Eric.  Turns out he and his wife practice “permaculture,” which is, briefly, self-sufficient farming which takes care of itself to a large measure.  Their primary output is free-range eggs.  He was quite passionate about the superior quality of these oeufs  and after showing me pics of the darker coloring of the yolks I was pretty enthusiastic myself.  At length he asked if I would like to come by and try some eggs.  It sounded like an excellent idea to me.
   At his house he showed me the whole egg-farming operation they had set up and they fried me up a couple sunny-side up.  When the chickems have a more varied diet than simply just generic feed the yolks are a darker marigold colour and quite good. 
   After lunch, Eric and his wife, Serena asked me if I would like to sleep in their guest room for the night instead of camping.  How could I say no?  So I stayed and today after sleeping in til noon (hopefully getting over my jet-lag) I was taught the game, “Go.”  Apparently its a game as old as chess, and quite strategic.  It almost reminded me of a cross between Minesweeper and Checkers.  Apparently I did good for a first -timer … basically I got my ass handed to me.  Later I went to Eric and Serena’s church for their evening prayers, and afterward Eric took me around to show me the architecture as I had expressed some interest in seeing the various design features, many of which were imported from places I had been in the past few months (Doors from Antakya, Turkey for example). 
  I am here for one more night and since it is still 2011 here for another two hours I am still planning my night.  Since everyone here is early to bed for a wedding tomorrow I think I may go out a little later on for a walk around the neighbourhood.  Eric tells me that the local Mexicans play some raucous Mariachi music on Saturday nights and I think crashing one of these jam sessions could be kinda fun.  Aside from that I leave for Vegas tomorrow via my thumb and when I get there I will start making plans to fly home.  I’m pretty damn excited.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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Central Asia Recap Part One: Kazakhstan


My Friends,
   Due to the unreliable internets access I have been made to endure as of late, I havent been the prolific bloggeur I normally am.  Let me perhaps rectify this by filling in some of the blanks of the last couple of weeks. 
   I left the balmy beach weather of Israel on 16 December.  This was a significant departure because it was my final good-bye to my beloved Mediterranean.  More than simply a sea to me, I had swam in its warm waters, interacted with its peoples and used its coastline as a navigational aid for months.  I treasured my last Mediterranean sunset walking on the beach in Tel Aviv and even got a lil’ misty.
   My plane from Israel took me first to Kiev, Ukraine for a 9-hour layover.  I had planned for this and I used the extended downtime to make a foray into the former Soviet-bloc city.  Luckily, by entering the country instead of simply waiting in the designated layover area I copped some pretty new bling (read: stamps) for my passport.  The bus ride to Kiev took awhile but I actually like the city a lot.  It was very beautiful and the people seemed really friendly.  The food and drinks were cheap and although wet, it was not too cold.  My only complaint was how cozy and warm all the little shops seemed: the Christmas spirit was in the air and watching happy couples gazing longingly into each others eyes over hot cocoa/coffee by a warm fire really drove home the point of my loneliness over the holidays.  It was far easier to stick to the cold air of the outdoors than torture myself by going into these shops and getting a closer look at what I was missing out on.  I have resolved that I will one day go back to Kiev with my woman during the Christmas season and enjoy it like I was not able to during this first visit.
   Went back to the airport, waited some and got on my plane for the four-hour flight to Astana, Kazakhstan.  I had heard from a chick in my hostel in Israel that Kazakhstan was like -20C and I joked that I was going to freeze my balls off although I was secretly concerned.  But having already submitted my passport for the visa I could do little with this knowledge except steel my nerves against the expected onslaught of cold weather.  I began to think to myself that -20C wasnt that cold.  After all, I have experienced that in Canada and survived.  If nothing else, the cold weather would be a boon; people would be more likely to take pity on this hitch-hiker and pick him up.  In retrospect, such imaginings and self-reassurances seem sheer folly, but you’d be surprised what you can convince yourself of when you need to.  So, “prepared” as I was for -20C, I was dismayed beyond words when, as we pulled into Astana airport at 530am, the captain said the weather was -27C.  I hadnt planned for this, and this extra 7 degrees of coldness may as well  have been an extra 50 degrees of coldness.  I took a glance around the airplane and saw everyone pulling on their bubblegooses (puffy coats) and furs, while all I had was a Von Dutch zip-up sweater and a wind-breaker.  What the F had I gotten myself into?
   Still, maybe -27C wasnt as cold as it was cracked up to be.  I hadnt experienced it since last winter so I really shouldnt be so quick to judge, as my faculties of memory might have been flawed.  They were not.  Just getting off the plane and feeling the slightest touch of outside air chilled me to the bone.  I realized this simply wouldn’t do.  I thought long and hard about my options after clearing customs and waiting in the front entrance of the airport, shivering in spite of myself every time the door opened and someone entered.  I resolved that I would get the fudge out of the city by means other than hitch-hiking and to the former capital of Almaty, as it was at least a manageable -7C or so.  So I cabbed it to the Astana train station (of course the cabby had to be parked at the other end of the parking lot) and got a ticket for that night’s train to Almaty.  Having to wait 15 hours in the Astana train station was a trying experience: the multitudinous police and security officers present were so unaccustomed to a Westerner that they took me aside and detained me while they looked through my passport and joked about my shoes, my manner of dress and prolly my facial hair.  This particular incident happened in the morning but I had passport checks all day and was continually harrassed about where I sat, lying on my foam mat while waiting and charging my ipod.  It got to the point that I started being a little bit of a prick and whenever they would make eye contact with me I would hold up my passport and ticket and insist they check it while cursing at them audibly (they didnt understand Englirsh anyway). 
   It was so bad that my only reprieve from this intrusiveness was the dreaded cold; I made the arduous 60 second trek to a nearby cafe, almost died in the process, and spent an hour or two there drinking coffee and keeping warm.  I noticed the sun (which had gingerly risen around 10 am) during the walk to this cafe.  It sat so low on the southern horizon even at “high noon” that I swore I had entered the Arctic circle (and who knows, maybe I had; I really didnt do much research on Kazakhstan before deciding to go there as foreknowledge and preparation often preclude wacky adventures).  I dont want to overstate the cold weather but you must understand my situation: My upper body and legs were perhaps warm enough to survive for protracted periods of time in the cold (not comfortably mind you), but my footwear of choice is Vibram Five Fingers KSO Treks.  These are a barefoot equivalent shoe which mimic the barefoot very well, particularly in their almost complete absence of resilience to cold weather.  There was only 6mm of rubber between me and the snow and my toes were separated which made them chill that much faster.  I literally may as well have been walking out there barefoot.
   Whatever though, I survived the day and made it to the train (although the walk on the platform was another trying experience).  The compartment I was in had two young guys and two old ladies on it who became essentially my Kazakh aunts, insisting that I eat with them and drink tea with them.  It was a very pleasant train ride considering noone spoke English.  Also, I finally got warm.  The train itself bears some mention because it was incredibly old-looking and it seemed to me that it was very possibly a Soviet relic which I thought was kinda cool.
   We arrived in Almaty the next night and one of my aunties insisted on taking me to the international bus station so I could buy a ticket to Urumqi, China.  Almaty was warmer but still not as warm as I would have liked, and I was forced to walk outside for over half an hour, poorly-equipped.  We got me set up for a bus leaving the following night and I stayed in the bus-station dorm.  It was a fun night as I got invited to drink with some Kazakh taxi drivers taking a “vodka break” in the kitchen of my hotel (I didn’t write that last bit as a joke, but its actually kinda funny).  We crushed their whole bottle (smoothe stuff) then I figured “fuck it”, and busted out my bottle of cheap scotch from the Kiev duty-free.  We crushed that too and smoked my pipe and I woke up feeling like shit the next morning.  My wake-up was even worse because it was conducted by the Kazakh cleaning lady who was yelling at me to get out in a voice that sounded like a cross between a cat being strangled and a little girl being raped.  I had to kill the day in Almaty waiting for my night-time bus departure.  I spent a good three hours internetting across from the station.  It was during this time that I learned from FB friends that Kazakhstan had declared a state of emergency in response to unruly labourers in the Southwest who were protesting the government for something (higher wages, better hours, more jobs, etc…).  We had passed near this region en route to Almaty while I was sleeping on the train two nights before.  Leave it to me to sleep through a conflict. 
   Around 10 pm on my third day in Kazakhstan I boarded my overnight bus to Urumqi, China.  It was awesome because I was expecting to be sitting up for the whole 24+ hour ride but it was a sleeper bus stocked with thick fleecy blankets.  I dwelt on the cleanliness of the blankets for less than an instant and got to the business of sleep real quick.  My awakening the next morning was a rude one: my busmates telling me to get my passport out because we were getting boarded by the Kazakh miltary.  Fortunately this was no random passport check; it was the first (of several) passport checks to go through the border to China.  The border crossing took about two hours as all the bus companies seemed not to co-ordinate their schedules, so there was a surfeit of people trying to get through the border, and these people had seemingly not grasped the concept of “a line:” I literally had to occupy my whole border lane to prevent little Asians from pushing past me.  In this instance my backpack came in handy for occupying space as it is roughly the size of a small Asian.
   Much more pleasant than exiting Kazakhstan was entering China.  There was a 5km or so “no mans land” between the two countries which was traversed only by my bus apparently.  What this meant in practice was that all of those people from the various buses that came through all piled onto my bus and I almost didnt even get a spot.  Plus this old man who was mad that he didnt get on the bus before me kept pushing me from behind.  It took all of my patience not to clock the Kazakh fuck.  But like I said, entering China was fine: in fact because I was so conspicuous in the crowd of Asians, the Chinese authorities pushed me to the front of the line which happened to be right on front of the pushiest fucks from the bus ride over, much to their Kazakh chagrin.  It was a small victory but a victory nonetheless.  The process was delayed a little by passport control who kept looking back and forth between me and my passport pic.  He even called a friend over to get his opinion on if it was really me.  That was really the only hiccup. 
   Clearing customs was a lot like clearing customs in Egypt though; as soon as I was free of security the hustlers and hucksters wanted a piece of me.  Many were holding wads of Chinese money to change but I had read about rampant counterfeiting in China and opted not to change my money with these disreputable seeming characters.  We had a quick lunch China-side and were on our way.  It wasn’t until after midnight that we reached Urumqi, and the bus saw fit to drop us off at a hotel instead of the bus station.  This was problematic because Urumqi was not much warmer than Almaty and I really wanted to be on my way further south to the city of Chengdu in the Sichuan province.  In the next few hours I had one of my weirdest experiences thus far, but alas, that’s a story for the sequel.
Stay Thirsty
-Andre Guantanamo 

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Holdıng ın a Fart for Chına

My Friends,
   I am playıng the waıtıng game rıght now ın Ankara;: I always suspected that applyıng for a vısa was an arduous process, thus my comparıson to ıt beıng lıke wıtholdıng flatulence; I cant be bothered.  Sımply put, and thıs ıs perhaps my arrogance talkıng, but ıf a foreıgn government wants me to jump through hoops to enter theır country then ıts theır loss.  Stıll, not all countrıes are created equal, and whıle there are many countrıes requırıng entrance vısas I would be happy to say nukka peace to, Chına ıs not one of those countrıes.
   Thıs ıs for two reasons: fırst ın practıcal terms, ıt ıs sımply rıght there where I need to be.  Whıle ıt ıs technıcally possıble to move through Asıa wıthout hıttıng Chına, havıng a vısa there allows you greater movement through the contınent because ıt ıs essentıally the frıggın contınent.  Second, there ıs so much hıstory and beauty there that I would be derelıct ın my duty as a professed traveler ıf I skıpped ıt.
   Now Ive never been one for plannıng except when ıt comes to parenthood, so naturally I dıdnt purchase any vısas before I left Canada.  However the research I dıd before I left ındıcated that I would be able to purchase a vısa upon entrance lıke I dıd ın Turkey.  Yet I thought ıt prudent to check the Chınese embassy ın Ankara to confırm that before I left the cıty.  Sure enough I would have been ın for a nasty surprıse ıf I trıed to land there wıthout prıor approval.  So thıs left me ın a bıt of tıght spot because ıt was thursday at around 1030 am, I had to get a letter of confırmatıon of ıdentıty from the Canadıan Embassy stıll, and the Chınese embassy ıs only open Mondays Wednesdays and Thursdays untıl noon.  Quıckly I fılled out all the forms as best I could then set out for the Canadıan embassy runnıng as fast as I could wıth my backpack.  Luckıly I had passed the Canadıan embassy earlıer searchıng for the Chınese one and I headed back there to get my confırmatıon letter but they wouldnt let me ın.  In fact the guards couldnt even speak Englısh.  I started flashıng my passport and makıng demands lıke get me someone who speaks Englısh.  That they responded to my demands was lıkely due more to theır seeıng my desperate state rather than any bass ın my voıce.  They got a dude on the phone who ınstructed me I was at the Embassy Resıdence and not the Embassy.
   The guards called me a cab and I got to the rıght embassy a few mınutes later.  By the tıme I made ıt through securıty I was dıshevelled to say the least.  I had to waıt for some couple to fınısh theır ıntervıew as I watched the mınutes race by.  FInally ıt was my turn and to the guys credıt he typed up my letter of confırrmatıon pretty quıck but then lıke a douche he charged me 50 bucks for ıt (Note: one thıng that has been made paınfully obvıous to me ın the last couple of months ıs that consular servıces are not cheap.  I prolly could have saved a ton by stayıng home, throwıng my backpack ın the garbage, tuckıng my passport ınto my ass and hıdıng behınd a tree.  Lesson learned).
   I made haste back to the Chınese embassy and handed the lady my passport, vısa applıcatıon form and letter of confırmatıon wıth 15 mınutes to spare.  Her next words were lıke a dagger ın my heart: Do you have a passport photo?  WHAT PART OF THE GAME IS THAT, LADY?  Then I remembered I had had pıcs taken for my replacement passport ın Lısbon and they had gıven sıx when I only needed two.  I searched through my stuff but they were not there.  I was at a loss.  Sensıng my desparatıon and takıng pıty on me the lady formulated a plan of actıon whıch ıncluded her helpıng me beyond regularly scheduled embassy hours and holdıng onto my passport ın lıeu of pıcs, a detaıl whıch I glazed over at the tıme as I was payıng heed to her ınstructıons and quıte frazzled by thıs poınt.
   So off I went to book accommodatıon for one more nıght and secure some passport photos, happy ın the knowledge that I was gettıng specıal treatment and all I had to do was have a mını nervous breakdown.  The detaıl of the passport she was holdıng onto came up not long after though when I pulled out my wallet to show a dude what I meant by passport photograph cause he spoke no Englısh and I needed dırectıons.  I realızed ıt was gone.  I mını-panıcked but I remembered exactly what I had done wıth ıt so that kept my manıa at sub-crıtıcal levels.  I ran back to the hotel I had stayed at to book another nıght and call the embassy to confırm that she had ıt.  The hotel was full but they let me use the phone and when I called her she seemed annoyed at my further questıonıng because ın truth she was already goıng above and beyond for me by seeıng ıf she could get me rushed servıce so I get my vısa by today.   Nonetheless she confırmed that she had my passport, although her words carrıed the ımplıcatıon that I was somethıng less than a man to her.
   I cursed myself for a fool, havıng lost track of the one pıece of ID I have ın thıs world.  Frazzled or not ıt was an unacceptable lapse.  But then the sun peeked out from the clouds and I was suddenly overcome by a sense of mırth.  After all, as long as Im alıve Im alrıght, rıght?  If I get my Chınese vısa ın one day of frantıc runnıng around and ın spıte of the ınadequacıes of my applıcatıon ıt wıll be a great moment ın travel hıstory.  If not, I spend the weekend ın Ankara; not the worst thıng ın the world as the new hotel Im stayıng at ıs cheap enough and the guy who drove me ınto the cıty mentıoned a hıkıng club whıch hıkes the beautıful mountaıns around the cıty that only meets on weekends, so even faılure could be a blessıng ın dısguıse.  Perhaps the latter outcome ıs even better because as my woman can attest to, I have thıs notıon ın my head that I can get by ın any sıtuatıon wıth no plannıng by just pullıng a wın out of my ass at the 11th hour wıth persuasıve arguıng (or cryıng as the case may be); a notıon that I sorely need to be dısabused of.  However, ıf I get my vısa today that wıll only bolster my confıdence and who knows what sıtuatıons I mıght then get myself ınto.
   Heres hopıng I get the vısa today.
Stay Thirsty,
Andre Guantanamo

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