Hardcore Travelers

I feel I’m more well-traveled than the average American. At 11, my parents spirited me through Western Europe for half a summer—my pious father took us mostly to Cathedrals, which I probably could’ve appreciated more if I wasn’t still years away from puberty (I remember my 5-year old brother whining about how much his feet hurt a lot). I spent a couple weeks in Britain at 18. At 23, I raged through Central Europe with my dear buddy CollBall, using the Eurorail system to hit up 8 countries in 29 days. I bummed around the rainy-season grayness of the Pacific North-West for three weeks at 24, but ended up terminally drunk and sleeping in front of a church. I don’t talk about that trip much.

I’ve been to the Deep South multiple times, to Denver for the 2008 DNC, to DC for multiple Iraqi War Protests in my late teens, to Frisco to visit my sister, to Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, Arizona, Miami, Montreal, Seattle.

Castle Tam outside

House of Hardcore Muthafuckas

But to the hardcore muthafuckas I was drinking with last night, I ain’t been to shit.

When I asked a bright-eyed Wisconsin native and current Columbian permaculturalist (he reminds me a lot of Japhy from Dharma Bums) how long he had been on the road, he causally responded: “Oh…since 2009, I guess…I’ve been home since then, but after about 8 days, I get itchy.”

I told him I was 2 ½ weeks of not having a permanent address for a year.

“Yeah, the first year is more about learning who you are. After that, you learn what the world is like.”

He was engaged to a girl he had met in Columbia, and was Costa Rica for three weeks to get permaculture certification. “Don’t stay in one place too long. You start getting friends, and accumulating stuff, and then you get tied down.”

A 34-year old half-Mexican who had made bank flipping cars in Oakland told me about his craziest experience in Thailand, which, as many crazy travel stories do, started at a bar.

“…so my friend was doin shots all night, and is just like, fuckin…gone, but we wanna stay at the bar, so we kinda stuff him in a cab and pay the driver to take him back to the hotel. But we don’t see him when we get back. Then I getta phone call the next morning, and it’s him, and was just like, “’Dude, I got kidnapped.’” The raconteur burst out laughing. “He was passing out in the cab, and when he woke up, he was in the mountains. The cabbie had picked up a couple friends and drove him there, and they tried to extort him. They wanted like…it woulda been like 150 dollars. He only had 30 on him, and they were like, negotiating for an hour on the top of this fuckin deserted mountain. My friend finally told them they could come by his hotel the next day and get the rest. My friend was huge though, and was in Thailand to train for Moi Thai. The little Thai dudes never came back.”

Mid-way through the story-swap session, which was all-male up to this point, a pretty, fine-featured British girl arrived at the hostel for the night. After arranging her dorm bed, she came down to the patio, bummed a Lucky Strike rojo, and started bullshitting about snowboarding vs. surfing, bar-tubing in Laos, and drug-villages in Thailand, liberally detonating F-bombs with her refined upper-middle class English accent. She reminded of Harrison Ford’s love interest in the first Indy Jones movie. I wanted to drool.

The best story of the night (though I guess I would never would want to experience it myself), came from Marion, a younger, flat-countenanced British Columbia native. He was traveling through Central America with a fellow Canadian a year back, and had landed in Guatemala City. “It’s a beautiful city though, even if it’s kinda dangerous. I mean, it wasn’t like we were bus drivers, so we really weren’t fucked with.”

Why bus drivers?

His friend was on a city bus one day when it pulled up to a stop. Two commuters got on, paid, and shuffled to open seats. A third person mounted the bus’s steps, pulled out a gun, and shot the driver through the head.

His friend assumed the gunman was going to rob everyone on the bus, maybe hijack the vehicle. He was surprised when the other riders stood up, and, keeping their eyes to the ground, shuffled out the back door like it was a fire drill. The gunman trotted off.

He got the story later. Evidently, the local buses were controlled by the city’s gangs. Just like the gangs, the bus routes were territory-based. The driver was executed because a rival gang member caught him earning fares on an already-claimed route.

This story was confirmed a few weeks later, when Marion’s friend was walking along and saw a city bus screech up alongside another omnibus. The driver of the first bus pulled out a gun and shot the other driver to death through the window, then screeched off.

“I’d definitely go back…wouldn’t wanna go to Tegucigalpa, though. That place is untravelable.”

Wrote that one down.

I tried to offer a couple stories of my own, but I had only been out of the states for 2 ½ weeks, and both of my stories of note (cutting myself with a machete and being mugged in Puriscal), basically occurred because I was being a newb.

I want to have stories like these one day.


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