Neil Coppen

writings/ plays/ poetry/musings/travel journals and newspaper columns

In Search of Macondo- Travels with Gabriel Garcia Marquez (part 2)


Its not easy finding the road that leads into the fabled Colombian town of Aracataca–that is despite its reputation as s Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s birth-place as well as the same settlement that was to inspire and shape his literary plantation town of Macondo.

I was on the verge of giving up, of supposing that the town –if it had in fact existed at all –had suffered the same fate as its literary counterpart ; those familiar with Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ will recall that Macondo is obliterated in the novel’s catastrophic and concluding windstorm. Read the rest of this entry »

A Road Perilously Traveled By (The Road of Death-Bolivia)


When dealing with South American tour Agencies, it is near impossible to separate misleading myth from verifiable fact. With most setting out to entice tourists and their Guinness book of record checklists, with more often then not, bogus and euphemistic claims. Needless to say in each country I visited I was to receive contradictory claims to possessing the world’s highest, longest, deepest, tallest, shortest, coldest, hottest, oldest, most spectacular- natural wonder. Read the rest of this entry »

Travels with Gabriel Garcia Marquez (part 1) Cartagena De Indias


Far from journeying to the Colombian city of Cartagena De Indias ,seeking a Caribbean utopia (of which there are many) to sun myself upon, I had come in search of the world ,I had previously inhabited through the literature of Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Gabo (as he is affectionately known in his homeland) in case you were wondering, is Colombia’s most celebrated writer and export beyond its more inglorious industries of cocaine, emeralds and er… Shakira.Choosing to ignore the alarmist Embassy warning’s, the country shifty international rep as the kidnapping capital of the world (clinging to the intrepid: I’m from South Africa, nothing scares me motto) I had set off. My prior research having confirmed that under the leadership of President Alvaro Uribe, the nation’s priorities had turned from terrorism to tourism while travel brochures had all adopted consoling catch phrases like: The only RISK you’ll encounter in Colombia -is never wanting to leave. Read the rest of this entry »

In search of San Pedros Keys- The Wiz of Hauncabamba (Part 3)


I hold a deep respect but at the same time inherent distrust for horses. The memory of a childhood incident: a mooi river farm, tugging on a pair of reins to no effect until my dad with a gentle pat on the beast’s buttocks had transformed it into two hoofed monster-the straining, wild eyed type you see sculpted into the Trevi Fountain. Needless to say I was flung a few farm fences off and refused the invitation to ever saddle up again.That is until now, only this time I must make do with an ass (and a royal pain in the one at that). Ah the donkey, the horses dim witted (and all together gracious) equestrian cousin. They are as they appear (immortalized by Milne’s Eeo) disgruntled, misanthropic, brazen in their contempt for master and cargo. And so irrespective of how useful they may be in transporting maize sacks across mountain passes their short legs, knobby spines, deficits of attention and direction were simply not built to carry six cumbersome feet of Gringo. Read the rest of this entry »




In a continent gone loco, a universe crawling with itinerant nutters, Charles undoubtedly saw himself as a long standing pillar of sanity. I met him one evening, on the stoep of a hostel in the coffee region of Solento, Columbia. Through the clenched teeth inhalation of a joint he had cautioned me against the epidemic of whack jobs currently plaguing our globe.

“The what?”

“Whack jobs” he repeated, his fingers sifting through a tangled clump of marijuana he had removed from a zip lock bag.

“God damn South Americans” he grunted, picking through and tossing out stalks and seeds. “Why don’t they clean this shit up! That’s what we pay for isn’t it?”

Charles I discover is easily distracted, prone to loosing his chain of thought, a short term memory deficiency common to most die- hard dope smokers.

“Tell me about the whack jobs?” I encourage him.

“Oh yeah the Whack jobs, the whack jobs you gotta look out for these guys.”


“Well because they’re loonies, nutters, raging god-damn lunatics, that’s why!”

I watch as he sprinkles a pinchful of green dust onto the rolling paper while raising a cautionary brow over the rim of his glasses.

“They’re everywhere man, just everywhere. People who travel because the folks back home can no longer put up with them. So you know what they do? They pack their bags for them, even pay their air ticket, inflict them on someone else for a while. I read a book this one time” he continued , “about the turn of the century mental patients, who ordinarily would have been locked up in loony bins. Crazies who the sane population, the normal folks like you and I didn’t know what the heck to do with. Back then they didn’t have the psychology or medicine, the means to diagnose them. So you know what they did?”

I shook my head politely.

“They bundled them into Galleons, set them adrift on the open ocean. Eventually these ships of cuckoos would beach on some foreign shore, say Australia and the nutters would pour out, terrorize the natives and start their own nutter populations.”

I remark that it sounds like a pretty concise definition of colonialism but Charles is too focused manoeuvring his tongue along the edge of the rolling paper, to hear.

‘Things haven’t changed man, that’s how these Third world hostels become asylums for the unwanted whacko’s of the West. When they over stay their welcome, or at least stay long enough for everyone to realize the true extent of their instability, they just put on their back-packs and move somewhere else. You know, go and find a new bunch of locals to terrorize, god damn loonies! Oh I’ve met some prize winners in my time, prize winners!’

Back in the States, Charles told me that he worked in construction over the summer. He had no home, just a temporary trailer he’d rent over the months of his employment. He’d been doing this for several years and as a result had managed to travel the world extensively. Throughout his desultory roaming he claimed to have encountered enough whack jobs to consider himself an expert on the cause.

 “Oh I could write a book” he chuckled, “even better an encyclopaedia.”

When construction work was hard to come by, Charles would take odd jobs as an extra on film sets down in Baha Mexico. It was on these shoots that he claimed to have met some world class whack jobs. Usually unsuspecting crack pots, plucked from homeless shelters and plonked in period costumes, enticed by the promise of free catering.

“That’s Hollywood for you. One big corrupt soup kitchen .Cheap disposable labour they can throw off sinking ships without having to worry about life insurance or law suits.”

He was quick to inform me that his crowning celluloid achievement was as the ill fated fiddler in the blockbuster ‘Titanic. He urged me to revisit the film (which I half heartedly assured him I would) pause it at two hours and forty –five minutes and look for the guy on the life- raft with his back turned to the camera. “Swear to god that’s me, you can tell by my ears.”

I watched as he rolled his joint with the ease and commitment of a hardened stoner- a stoner who later confessed to feigning terminal illness back home for the benefits that come in the form of the gratis high-grade.

“Israelis” he huffs, “Look no further. They say it’s the two years of compulsory military service that does that to them. By the time it’s all over, they’re in need of a little down time, a vacation, so unlucky for us, they head out into the third world in their droves. Wherever the drugs and falafels are cheapest. When and if they get round to going back home, it’s usually gift wrapped in a straight jacket. Peru, oh man Peru, more Jews then Jerusalem. Loco fuckers too.”

He twisted his finger in circles beside his temple for emphasis, then sparked up his second spliff.

“Running through the Amazon Jungle in nothing but their underwear, over dosing on whatever mind- mangling jungle vine or mushroom they can get their hands on. It’s a lethal combination, causes hellish flash-backs from their army days. When I was down in the Amazon, by the Columbian Peruvian border, this Israeli dude licked the back of a hallucinogenic frog outside the hostel I was staying at. The locals had warned him, told him it was a trip reserved for the most potent of shaman. Did he listen?”

I shrug.

“You bet he didn’t!’ He yells, thumping his hands on the table. ‘Lost the plot, ended up stabbing himself in the neck, ten times, with a piece of glass he had recovered from the same window he had just head butted.”

Charles I gather is in his early sixties. On his right arm, I can just make out a series of faded tattoos, ink stain vestiges of his more reckless years: scantily clad girls and skulls. He wears a tie dyed shirt, a pair of seventies shades and red bandana. I can’t quite decide if his handlebar moustache ,groomed to perfection, reminds me more of a member of the Village People or decrepit Harleys Angel. He brims with a ‘know it all nostalgia’ the sort of Yanky conviction that leaves little room for objection let alone input.

“Now the French, oh the French” he sighs, a heady mist of smoke escaping from his lips, “Now there my Amigo is an entire nation of Whack jobs. I’m yet to meet one that isn’t certifiable. Rude fuckers too, wouldn’t piss on you if you were burning. Don’t want to be stuck at the dinner table with them after the tenth bottle of wine having to listen to their misinformed politics and whackjob philosophies.”

Here Charles launches into a feeble but impassioned imitation: “The Faheeeeests this and the feeeekking feeeeesheeeets that! Nuff to do your head in. Did I mention the Jap whack jobs?”

“Not yet.” I groan internally.

“Good, cause these my friend are what we call travelling pestilences, the now ya see em now ya don’t annoyances. Whirlwinds of gobbledegook and technology, ravaging the ruins and vistas with their obscene lenses and half baked curiosity. A billowing wake of their tour bus dust the only trace that they ever came at all.”

He exhales a trail of dissipating smoke for effect.

“And the Germans, now if you ask me being a Whack job is bad enough but whack jobs with out a sense of humour, well that’s just inexcusable. When it come to the Brits, it’s the Chav chicks you gotta keep an eye on, loony as hell not to mention about as common and attractive as cockroaches. Mostly they travel on the doll, either that or make part time livings jigging their sequenced ‘surgery enhanced’ titties on cruise line cabarets. Ever tried to share a dorm with these Nypho whackettes?”

I shook my head because I hadn’t yet had that misfortune.

“Oh man you don’t want to be awake when they come stumbling in during the early hours of the morning, coked outta their brains from some down- town Salsa club, and you certainly don’t want to be on the bottom bunk when they going at it in the saggy mattress above you.”

“Going at it?”

“You know, banging! Usually some beer tanked Ozzie bloke whose lucky enough to have his ticket booked on the early bus so he doesn’t have to stick around to see what she looks like in the less than complimentary light of morning. Christ these chicks must be aborting Whack job half breeds from every corner of the globe. Now there’s a scary thought. And the Dutch, take note my esteemed amigo that is what happens when you spend your entire life in a country that’s the size of a small-holding and whose principal industry is dope and tulips. No two ways about it–live in the Netherlands, come out a whack job-period!”

Charles must of gone on for another two hours: the missionary whack jobs–Christ’s noble crusaders, bible belting the decimated tribes who barely have an Amazon bush left to hide behind. The flora and fauna Whack jobs: “Try talk to them about anything other than botany and butterflies and you screwed.” The Astrology Whack jobs, congregating around the ancient sites and Machu Picchu and Nazca in the belief they’re extra terrestrial landing pads awaiting a second coming.

The suburban sicko Whack jobs: “Now these are an interesting species altogether– usually of Swiss or Austrian origin, driven to insanity by the impeccable order of their first world nutshells. Back where they come from, folks commit Hari kiri when the train happens to be five minutes late. These ‘head cases’, Nietzsche freaks, toss themselves into war zones, humanitarian nightmares for the same reason skydivers leap from aero planes. Sick kicks, cheap thrills, anything to feel more…more, god dammit whats the word I’m looking for here?”

“Um Alive?”

“Exactamundo! Met an Austrian male nurse who took his yearly vacations in places like Kashmir, Baghdad, Palestine and the Sudan. His reasoning? Said it was cheaper and there were no tourists. His most prized souvenir from all his travels was an Afghan bullet wedged in his left butt cheek. Wore it like a trophy.”

Furthermore, during my comprehensive induction into the Whack jobs’ hall of shame, I learnt about hick whack jobs, jock whack jobs, anthro, historical, journo, Homo, Paedo’ whack jobs. What Charles fondly and aptly titled - a united nations of nutters.

“The saddest thing man” he sighed, taking a final concentrated pull of his spliff so that the roach now scaled his fingers, “is these Whacko’s of the world are terrible ambassadors for their countries, for all us travellers in fact. You gotta pity these South American locals who run these hostels and tour agencies, the folks who have to put up with these deranged weirdo’s twenty –four- seven. You can’t blame them for thinking we’re all like that and I object — it’s giving us ‘normal’ folks a bad rep.”

Normal? I wondered or rather shuddered to imagine what Charles, chain smoking spliffs in garish Hunter S Thompsonesque attire, considered normal. What warped definition he might come up with if I dared to ask. I refrained from showing further interest, said goodnight– the glaring ironies of his monologue too much to endure.

How could I sit a minute longer listening to a man ranting on about the collective insanity of the world, ranting as if he were the solution when quite evidently he was the champion, the president, the international ambassador to the Whack job wonderer’s iniquitous cause.


A Travel Rant- Gripes and Tripe


Today and just today I am tired and over it all. Tired of everything. forgive me a little purging. Tired of buses, wailing babies, snoring passengers, stamps, boarders, bureaucracy, passports, ten day old pastries. lagubrious Cathedrals, oppressive histories, paper weight monuments, the obligation of sight seeing snap shots, wonder less wondering, retarded conversations, deceptive cab drivers, misjudging maps, distances, mispronouncing words, gringo charades,black snot, insipid coffee, the daily 60 m diarrhaea sprint, indifference, apathy (my own and others), the hungry eyes of skeletal dogs, hollow bellies of grubby kids. Yanky tourists fond of words like Skeeeeeedaddle and fucking A! Crooked politicians, poverty, rain, piss stained terminals, cigarettes, not enough exercise, disturbed sleep, long nights, dodgy hostels, persistent hormones, lumpy pillows, saggy beds, overhearing orchestration’s of neighborly loving/ waring through paper thin walls, cold showers, showers that shock, toilets sans seats, toilets sans paper,pubic hair clogging communal basins. Packing and unpacking, backpacking in general, buses( again for emphasis.) Spanish pop- the infernal, ever green and all night long Shakira and Enrique, Paul Simon pan pipe covers, bannanas, Che Guava, Gavarra, Guervarra-how ever you pronounce it! Expectation, altitudes, procrastination, acclimatisation, Internet cafes, soggy pits, blistered heels,smelly socks and sweaty bits, sleeping pill hang overs, old underwear, shrunk sweaters, over priced airlines, infected mosquito bites, groveling shoe shine boys, pin striped capitalists, begging misfits, blind accordionists, Barney the ubiquitous Plaza dinosaur. Bleeding saints, maudlin martyrs,words that wont settle, collaborate, wasted time, ideas, currencies and conversions- rampant crime, anthropological navel gazing, cultural pervesion. Wading through priceless Lonely planet metaphors such as : the constant hum of of hollering vendors hangs in the air like chanting in a monastery -erm??? Americans (again for emphasis) Coca cola, Beer, Aqua con and sin gas - Con is the fizzy fucker that erupts at the most inopurtune moments.The random finger lottery of ordering from Spanish menus, the culmination either tripe tatar, chicken claw soup, or if I’m really lucky- a nice wholesome plate -all expectant eyes, grinning molars, tufts of fur-of roasted guinea pig.

In Search Of San Pedros Keys (The Wiz of Hauncabamba ) Part 2


The maestro ushers me into the basement of his homestead. A cramped room with cattle hides carpeting the floor and a raised altar (messa) at its centre .The air is damp and overbearing with a mismatched array of fragrances. The Altar cluttered with a variety of swords and objects: icons of saints, sculptures, earthenware bowls, dice, sea shells , bottles containing herbs and variety of colourful concoctions. The wall papered with dog eared ID and family photos (left by past customers), spectate our negotiation.The Maestros stolid gaze gives me the Jitters, I have not the tongue or confidence to barter. I agree obsequiously to the 200 Soles fee and that settles it. The ceremony is to commence at nine and in the mean time I’m shown to the cavernous upstairs kitchen for a last supper.

Chunks of raw flesh dangle from low hanging beams. An elederly woman with plaited hair sqauts beside a cauldron spinning thread. The reel invisible on its line seems to waft magically in and out of her hand. Potatoes, a sour chunk of cheese are placed before us and it is here that I meet my fellow pilgrims and patients: a leather faced and laconic Texan and his dolled up Peruvian bookie as well as another young Peruvian couple who have travelled from Piura to seek blessings for their family and sick child. When the Texan does mumble the semblance of a sentence, its to inform me that the Maestro healed his brother from a terminal illness a few years back and is a man of extraordinary powers.

After dinner we retire to a shared dorm. Anxiety alongside the Texans guttural snores, a lumpy mattress and blanket (so full of starch it feels as it were made of concrete) forbid me a moments rest.  I lie awake , tossing and turning, my imagination ticking into torturous over drive. The a rap on the door.

It is time.

The five of us shuffle into the ceremonial room to find the blanketed Maestro nestled into his throne adjacent to the Altar. I notice the Peruvian couples unloading packet fulls of items at his feet: Wallets, hand bags, kids school text books and array of family photographs. We take our place on the cow hide rugs and are handed our keys to the ancestors in the form of a cup of San Pedro. It is a bitter tasting substance that blazes through the body like a jug of tequila might. The lamps are blown out and Don Augustin is reduced to a voice sonorous and monotonous in the dark. His shaker, like the restless tail of a dessert snake underscoring his chanting. Every once and a while, and quite unexpectedly his voice rears up with- Abajo! (down) Abajo! (down) Abajo! (down) .Cautioning our wayward demons, as a owner might -a pack of over zealous and muddy pawed puppies.

A good two hours pass and despite feeling a deep and meditative drowsiness, I am yet to unlock the gate, see a hint of celestial light or converse with long lost grandfolks.

Then the thunk, thunk, thunk of muddy gum boots announce the arrival of the maestros three henchmen. From the light seeping through the cracks in above kitchen floor boards I can just make out their burly blanketed figures, apprentices is my guess. They step forward and beckon the five of us to rise. A sea shell full of tobacco liquid is placed in our hands and on the Maestros command we are made to inhale it through the nostrils. Its an acrid tasting tar like substance and similar (I would imagine-though I am yet to try) to taking an espresso shot up ones snozz.

This activity spins the room into brief hysteria. The lot of us reduced to a hacking, spluttering, coughing mess.  Abajo! (down) Abajo! (down) Abajo! (down) commands the Maestro. Abajo! Abajo! Abajo! respond his henchmen as the next sea shell arrives, then the next.

Shortly after this, one of the apprentices takes a hearty sip from a bottle of cheap perfume and then proceeds to spit the contents into each of our faces. A chaotic confusion, repugnant profusion of fragrances engulf us. This continues for some time until finally each of our outstretched hands are doused in the scents and we are made to run it over our faces and through our hair in an act of divine benediction and prayer

Still I feel nothing, no body drifting, atom splitting, cosmos cracking awe. Nothing except the steady increase of exhaustion and persistent fire in my sinus.

The Maestro now sets about consulting each of us individually. Spanish tones ping and pong in question and response. My limited grasp of the language does not permit me to grapple with the intricacies of their conversations, but from their post enthusing of Muchas Gracias´s Maestro, Muchas Gracias! I gather his divining was more then spot on. When my turn comes, the Texan reluctantly helps to translate. I’m told I am an escritor (writer) and there shall be prosperity and perhaps more travel ahead. Perfecto! Short, sweet and without any awful future anticipations.

It is at this point that I begin to imagine, rather pray we are crawling toward the finish line. Hopes no sooner dashed when one of the Maestros trusty Henchman decides he still has some unfinished business with me the my ol demons . He lugs me outside to undergo further perfume showers and then a final cleansing that involves an ominous looking baton-about the size of a baseball bat. It is an experience not dissimilar to being harassed at an air port security check though minus the ping.The baton running, back and forth, up and down my body, between my legs, over my head while he rants and raves, grunts and snorts. Abajo! Abajo! Abajo!

Back on the cow hide mat, and still the diligent Maestro holds vigil. In my state of exhaustion he sounds like Van Morrison grumbling the lyrics to ´Rave On John Donne´´. This I find strangely comforting. Rave on , Rave On, Rave on, Rave On through thy holy ghost etc……. It must be four in the morning and I can no longer withstand the drowsy velvet of his voice. I pass out, wake an hour later with face in the dirt and mouth full of mud.

The cocks are crowing throughout the valleys. Thick mists make for a diluted and eerie sun rise. That’s when I hear them, Oh God- The sound of skittish mules traipsing through the mud outside the room. Mules waiting to courier us to the remote and sacred lakes for the second half of the ceremony.

Will this interminable exorcism, tripless purging never end? I wish to cry out, but bite my tongue and prepare to mount my equally unenthusiastic ass.

All this time the inncesant tribunal of my inner monologue mocking : Ya,Ya pesky westerner, serves you right, you and your pseudo anthropological/ spiritualistic/ journalistic curiosities. Pah!

Okay, okay I repent: I just came along to have a good time and now I’m left wondering what in gods name I have gone and gotten himself into!

And so it is that our caravan of wonky donkeys and one somewhat (okay very reluctant) pilgrim begin their slippery and fated ascent for the Las Haringas or sacred lakes.


In Search of San Pedros Keys(The Wiz of Hauncamba) PART 1


Tired of trodden trails and keen to start the New year with an experience that might set a precedent of some sort, I endure a turbulent ten hour bus ride deep into the Northern Peruvian mountains to a place known as Hauncabamba. Hauncabamba is a region that ,thankfully, has no river rapids, Irish pubs or overpriced ruins to attract the adrenaline seeking, lonely planet abiding wanderer. Rather its a gloomy misbegotten little mountain town whose only traces of life can be found staring blankly from park benches in the central Plaza. My incongruous presence no doubt a novel (but not necessarily welcome) viewing diversion. 

Hauncabambas reputation (and hence the reason for my visit) resides in its wealth of Curanderos (healers) and Brujos (witchdoctors) who surround the sacred lakes of Las Haringas . Healers and mystics, who for a substantial fee will banish ones demons (or incur them-depending what youre after) while resolving matters relating to the heart, failing finances, fortunes, health, sex drives etc etc. With no immediate ailment, misfortune or penile dysfunction to declare (Though I have always maintained that prevention is better then cure) my purpose and curiousity lies more in sampling the ceremonies obligatory cup of San Pedro. A cactus extract known to offer up intense hallucinatory revelations and insight.

According to Peruvian mythology, San Pedro was an ancient, who through the consuming of the sacred cacti, managed to retrieve the keys to the universe that God had previously concealed from man kind. I like to think then that I come in search of a freshly cut pair. A pair that might unlock the chastity belt to my supressed sub consciouss.

On arrival at the Bus Station, Im ushered into a make -shift office, really just a room with a few laminated Las haringas posters pasted on the walls. A dusty folder featuring the Ciriculum vitaes of over fifty Curanderos is placed before me. While I leaf through the file , the bus station soft drink seller (and sometime tourism lady) babbles on in an incomprehesible stream of Spanish, showering me with maps and brochures (The type of enthusiasm I imagine comes with recieving your first customer in a long long while.).In my wearied state I can only nod and respond to with my staple Si, Si, Si as if I have grasped every word, when if the truth be told I have not the slightest clue what she is on about.

At a glance, the portfolios seem identical:  the Curanderos name, age and years of practise in the esoteric arts listed . Photos pinned to each page depict men (in ponchos and cowboy hats) in their late fifties, weilding objects that look (rather worryingly) like swords. I settle on a reccomendation I was able to come across through some vigirous internet research prior to my arrival. Don Augustin a  Cundero whose business card proclaims him to be the Maestro of Maestros.

So the big Don it is: Wizard of Hauncabamba, demon buster and answering machine to the anscestors. I secure an appointment for the following evening and in the meantime crash in one of the towns dillapidated accommodations that go under the (rather oppurtunistic) banner of hostel.

Four o clock the following day, and the wrap of knuckles sounds on my door. My taxi driver come to escourt me to my Curandero appointment. A boy stands on the other side , half my age and only just surpassing my belt buckle in height. I wonder whether his feet will reach the vehicle peddles and suprisingly they do, though this leaves his eye line barely cresting the wheel. I take a deep breathe and off we scoot.  Leaving behind the hostile plaza onlookers and low lying valleys, ascending into a landscape set in regular motion with mist and rainy season landslides (which explains the locals preferred nickname- la Ciudadque Camina -the mountians that walk). 
Cloud capped peaks, damp villages marooned in bannana thickets fly by, while the occasional deranged village mutt attemtps to savage the taxis Wheels. The kid narrowly averts catastrophe by swerving and swearing (Puta Madre!) at pigs and other errant farm obstacles that litter the road. There are moments where I realise my life is in the hands of an adolescent,his need for speed - insatiable, playing the wheel as if it were a play station consol.

Outside the sun is setting and a recent down pour retreating. The wet air caught unawares in the afternoon glow ignites in a techhnicoulour blush. Thick bands of colour arch from the ground up.
Which we way to Don Augustin-the maestro of maestros- I ask the boy?

To which he points a finger to the very spot where the rainbow brands the earth.

Were off to see the wizard (i humm) the wonderful wizard of Oz.

As night settles the taxi finally pulls up outside a rustic wooden settlement. There standing in the dim candle light of a doorway-the imposing shadow of the Maestro waiting to recieve me. 


Letter from a Shipwrecked Sailor- Final thoughts for 2007


Fine place to be at the closing of the year- Haunchaco in Northern Peru. Spanish ballads aching from a beach bar stereo, beer bottle perspiring in the sunshine, the Pacific rolling on in. I’m levitating. Maybe its the bubbles on a empty stomach, maybe its not being on a twenty four hour bus, corn bites crammed between white bread for sustenance or freezing and soaked to the bone out on in the Andes.

The familiarity of a sea front, golden torsos, strutting chicas, tatty umbrellas. The delighted shrieks of bathers when toes first reach water. While I consider myself a proud son of the Indian (and to her will always owe allegiance) for now the Pacific and her frosty reception, will just have to do. I shall sit here and watch the sun sink on an old year, sit with my sea view, drink beer till my belly grows and I can call it hereditary. I shall make a toast, take a sip for each of those I love-I will be parralletic in no time.

I shall smoke cigarettes under the pretense I wont tomorrow. Make a resolution or two ,for the guilty pleasure of breaking them. Mull over moments that resurfaced on a four day trek in the Andes. Where so alone and stuck with old thoughts was I, that I was forced to excavate new ones. Something to take the mind off cumbersome back pack and blistering heels. Pain a sure way to pop creative boils. Considering that 90 percent of writing is the thinking of it, I have had ample time to re-wire, re-work, re think characters and stories. Characters previously destined to fill the mass grave of my aborted imaginings.

They must break free, live their own god damn lives. That or stay trapped (to taunt and torture) in this the limited cell of my corpus coliseum (whatever part of the brain it is that houses such maniacs). It seems that every one is in the habit of having babies at the moment. Hell, in 2008 I might just consider popping some puppies of my own. I am grateful for this time, this sea side sunset to offer up my final meditation /masturbation for 2007.

I had a surf earlier, took a step for the first time off the edge off the edge of this continent. Funny that- for this sensation- I call myself a surfer but must confess, for the moment I am more bobber, content to let the element free feet from rock, concrete, carpet or slipper.I’m drunk now, writing this in the final hours of 2007 . This letter, idea, essay will be ill formed, poorly put. Forgive me for ending the year with poor piece of writing, for this i can find no excuse except the beer.

I have rediscovered solitude and am beginning to learn that it is more of a distant relation then close companion to that which we know as loneliness.I have experienced both and more often then not confused the two (one need not go to the expense of purchasing a ticket to South America to enable such discovery) .It has been a book by Marquez ,not 100 Years Of Solitude but a journalistic account titled The Tale of a Shipwrecked Sailor which has assisted me in exploring this little revelation/tangent.

In the account (a true story) a Colombian Sailor is tossed over board from his vessel into the Caribbean sea . Here he spends ten days adrift on a sinking raft, to fend of sharks, hunger and thirst until eventually washing up on shore to find himself declared a national hero. The similarities I have with this Sailor and his predicament are of course none. My cast away status being entirely self inflicted and savoured, my daily tribulation, incomparable to the horrors and struggles he faced drifting out over that indifferent expanse ( I have gone hungry but not yet had to feed off seagulls) Yet however desultory, adrift, lost I might have felt there is always a shore in sight, and if not in sight then just over the horizon.

Solitude then is a voluntary state, life with ones anchor optionally raised- bobbing, drifting call it what you will but loneliness, that is akin to days without water. A thirst with no end , a thirst that causes the sailor of Marquez’s story to sate and further exacerbate his need with salt water. There is wisdom in solitude (And yes self absorption, the danger of crawling entirely up ones own arse,as i might be doing now) but emptiness in loneliness. The sailor says he never feels lonely as long as he can remember there are people who refuse to bury him, refuse to think him dead until proven so. The minute he forgets this, these beacons- he hopes for a quick death.

Hope I have bundles of, solitude with an end in sight. A southern tip, sea side village on the East Coast (and west). Inhabited by people who I love, aspire to. A welcome end to wondering. I need not travel to escape then (like so many I meet) rather travel to return. And its not the cushy suburb, my six nippled staffie (who i miss terribly) that I long for. The generous space, who my folks- despite my ripe age- have housed me in and thus afford such a time away. Its not that, for quite content am I with cold shower, rusty springed bed, room enough to stack my books and tuna fish. Luxury for the moment is distance and draft enough to hang hiking socks without causing neighbours (or self for that matter) offense. It is the people, their quality, my tribe that populate such hope. People capable of solitude in their own spaces, capable of self criticism, who know how much to there is to know and fear knowledge for that very reason. People who see the world for the miraculous, tyrannical,mystical, mechanical, magical place it is. People like you.

I’m losing time, as I write the light is low , the waves all rolling and misty in the bay, dusk the brief respite before night, before morning, then boom a new day, year ,when we (some) rise with throbbing heads and wonder where it all went. So for brevity (and lights) sake, I shall be brief. May each day be a resolution.Know thyself , said (was it?) Thiresieus to Oedipus. I have only just started to re acquaint with my twin and it has been agreed, on this eve, that we might be able to work toward a common future (and even possibly grow to like one another)

There she goes, gathering up the last of her golden trail. Going… Going… Gone

Here’s to a year of other halves- in self and others

It is dark and can no longer see the page.

To solitude and never Loneliness

Now is Yesterday

Happy New year

much love

A shipwerecked sailor

bobbing an loving it

Feliz Año 2008- Haunchaco and the Hurricane Protection Pitch


Strange but refreshing company I had to see in the New Year. The morning of arriving in Haunchaco, a sea side village ten minutes from Trujillo (not unlike Durbs in its grubby beach and collection of baggied and burnt surfers) I stumble upon a ramshackle bamboo surfer retreat to meet Juan, the pro Peruvian. Jaun who has that universal beach boy type down to well waxed T. Cheeky Hawaiian grin and a disconcerting gaze that seems to be constantly peering out over some very very very distant horizon. He welcomed me to his abode, pulled up a chair and offered a free breakie. Hey what choo doing ta night? On answering I had just arrived and had no plans he invited me to celebrate the neuvo año with his family.

Now Juan has a vast family, the type (and im talking immediate siblings here) that take up two very large dining room tables and require up turned beer crates for the shortage of chairs their numbers warrant.Two of its players I shall take a minute to recall. Firstly Mrs Peru on my left, the national female fitness champ ( I’m sure she said body building but so baggy was her sweater that I couldn’t be sure if those were biceps bulging beneath) and her hubby (too my right) a native stoner from Fort Lauderdale, who informs me he is an entrepreneur in the Hurricane Housing Protection business . As the evening progresses and feast commences, Mrs Peru begins to tell her rags to riches tale. How she got her ticket into the States through some body building championship she hd entered. How she subseqeuntly stayed on, working illegally as restaurant toilet cleaner. He met her one night in the restaurant( The bog? ,I didn’t think to ask) and as she put it (squeling excitedly while smothering his bald patch with kisses): Gee ,my bebeee, Gee take me to the paradise, ge marree mi and geeve me the greeeeen card. Gee make a me gees secretaree!Then Miss Peru kicks in with a demonstration (with Eliza Doolittle type elocution). A hard sell Americana infomercial, her newly acquired English now faulty with wine and enthusiasm . With trademark Miami Mamma sass she launches into -Choo better listen op coz you no wanna miz dis deal, no on your life!

The whole thing becomes even more surreal (not helped by a puff of her husbands joint) when she sees my interest as an oppurtunity to practise her pitch. She rushes off , returning with arm fulls of test samples, samples of the hurricane debris catching netting and a deluge of business cards and brochures.

En for joost so and so many dollares choo can protect your house and leeeetle dog from dose beeg bad weeends!

Ain’t she a moon beam, grins hubby while I applaud the demonstration and say were Durban drafts a threat to homesteads I would have purchased the whole bunch.

After the feast, we make out way down to the Pacific edge, the pack of brothers reduced to naughty kids, bearing a man made of straw and stuffed with fireworks (similar to the long suffering dummy we crucify back home on Guy Fawkes). So the tradition goes that each family on the eve of an old Year must burn a life size replica- standing to represent the bad energy of the past twelve months. Considering this is a family of ardent surfers (and a sister who could beat the lot of them at an arm wrestle) the dummy comes attached with old surf board. This will ensure the New Year comes full of good waves, smirks Juan as on the hour he gleefully sets the dummy ablaze.

I glance up the beach then towards the town to see hundreds of similar figures burning and imploding. A disturbing sight too one who might stumble unawares on an towns entire population, insensate to the fire that consumes them.

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